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Tides are Turning: Building Resilience through the Oakland Shoreline Leadership Academy

by Tamila Walker

Oakland is a rich and diverse city with deep historical roots, home to cultures such as the Hyphy Movement, Bike For Life and the birthplace of organizations like the Black Panther Party. Each have impacted and shaped Oakland into a unique city full of activists, artists and enthusiasts.

However locals often overlook the historical and cultural importance of our waterways. We forget the story of this land as industry changes our ecoscapes to be more profitable than accessible. Land that was reared and tended to by the Ohlone people for thousands of years. Land that most modern day Bayareians have lost touch with. Land that calls to those of us who listen to act. To stand up for the health, wellbeing, diversity, and protection of our most necessary and delicate systems— our streams, creeks, marshes, and estuaries.

Fortunately, waves are being made and minds are being opened to the needs and value of our beautiful Bay Area shoreline. Programs like the Oakland Shoreline Leadership Academy, sponsored by the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) — of which I am a proud member — are doing this. The Shoreline Leadership Academy provides the opportunity for a cohort of all ages and backgrounds to learn the history of our shorelines and waterways; demystify the processes of city planning; and generate and implement plans that increase the biodiversity, wellness, accessibility, and functionality of our public shoreline parks.

Already, I've learned critical skills such as how to create a city plan, and learned key information and history about the eco-scapes we wish to plan for. The biggest takeaways I've gathered include how toxic the land and waters are in Oakland; that this is because of the improper dumping and storage of toxic wastes; and the grueling process of taking toxins out of soil, sediment, and water once it has been dumped. I was amazed to learn that it can take 20 years or more of working with government agencies both locally and federally, to get recognition and support to remediate these toxic sites. Learning this changed the way I feel about consumerism and capitalism. I think it's safe to say, if we continue on this course, we will see the permanent collapse of ecosystems on our shoreline. As scary as that feels, we have time, if we act now.

OSLA gives its participants a chance to do this— to act. We speak with city and organizational leaders directly to gain much needed insight and information about the many layers of city planning. We are also building networks, and ultimately community-based, equitable exchanges between local residents, individuals, and organizations. We do this work in hopes to create a new sector of social justice-minded city planners that act accordingly and quickly to respond to the needs of the land and people.

For more information about the Oakland Shoreline Leadership Academy, or how you can support their work, contact Phoenix Armenta at

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