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The Malonga Center windows: A tale about Oakland city priorities
by Lydia
Friday Nov 20th, 2015 2:56 PM
Public records requests reveal that the city of Oakland prioritized the noise complaint of one individual over an entire decades-old arts community.
The summer in the East Bay was hot this year. Record breaking heat. Every Sunday afternoon I take a dance class at the Malonga Center. The studio has west-facing windows, and it seemed that even with all of them open, the heat was pouring in. On August 16th, the high in Oakland was 90 degrees. That was the Sunday that we showed up to class to find all of the windows bolted shut. Experienced dancers were taking breaks to combat heat exhaustion. One older woman nearly passed out. A notice was put on all the windows explaining that they had been bolted shut because of pigeons entering the studio. None of my friends, including some who have been dancing in that studio for a long time, had ever heard of a pigeon in there. Everyone suspected that noise complaints against the Malonga Center were the real reason. Recent public records obtained from the city confirm this theory. Although birds are briefly mentioned in one email, it is clear that a noise complaint initiated the window closure.

Work orders for the studio indicate that work started on providing ventilation on the 23rd of September. Nearly 40 days passed before Parks and Rec even began addressing the safety issue posed by the closed windows. As of this writing, there still isn’t ventilation in the studio besides the windows that dancers have pried open to protect their health. The city prioritized the complaints of one person over the safety of hundreds of artists. We already felt like our community was being metaphorically suffocated, and now that has become a little more literal.

This is not a new fight. The Malonga Center (then Alice Arts) came under attack in 2003, after it had already been an African and Pan-African arts center for 20 years. Then-mayor Jerry Brown wanted to close the center to make room for a charter school as part of his development plan. The plan was halted by a coalition of artists marching on City Hall in its defense. We are ready to defend art again. Oakland, after all, is a city that prides itself in the vibrancy of its arts community. People move here for it. Politicians tout it. However, it is clear that we take a back seat to monied interests, be they affluent newcomers or business interests who are buying up our real estate and politicians. We are tired of being used as advertisements for Oakland development while being displaced by those same forces.

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pigeonstripaFriday Nov 20th, 2015 3:16 PM

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