The Oakland Economic Development Council (OEDC) (later the Oakland Economic Development Council, Incorporated (OEDCI)) was initially a city agency that was set up in 1964 to administer anti-poverty funds received by the city from the federal government. In August 1967, the agency voted to separate itself from the city and continued to receive federal funding for community-administered social services (and even political activity!!!) until April 1971, when federal agencies ended their support of the agency.

Creation of OEDC

In the mid- to late sixties, the federal government enacted a number of laws that drastically increased direct funding to cities for anti-poverty programs1. Oakland was a significant beneficiary of a number of these federal aid programs as it was already experiencing significant problems with poverty and disinvestment in the mid-60s. With the impending arrival of new federal money, the city needed an agency to both administer the distribution of funds and also set up and manage new programs. Most of the new laws that created these new sources of funding included provisions that stated that in order to receive funds, cities had to show that the agencies that they created to administer the funds had significant representation from the communities that were slated to receive the funds (ie, poor communities should be represented in the groups that determine how anti-poverty funds were supposed to be spent)2. At that time, the city didn't really have any agency like that, so it turned the citizens' advisory committee of the Ford Foundation Gray Areas Program into the Oakland Economic Development Council (not yet clear why the Gray Areas committee was chosen...possibly because it already had a number of representatives from Oakland communities of color).

Rise of OEDC

Originally, OEDC had 25 people appointed by the mayor. It was a sub-agency of the City's Department of Human Resources. That original group already had minorities on it, but they were mostly middle class black professionals who took a collaborative approach with the City and were not seen by poor communities in Oakland as really representative of their interests. Successful lobbying by activist neighborhood groups in poor communities led the OEDC to to add 8 more people to the group who would be selected directly by neighborhood groups (NOT by the mayor)4. This was the first step towards grassroots control of the group. The new additions didn't share the same conciliatory approach as the original minority representatives and in fact took an oppositional stance - at an OEDC program review meeting on March 12, 1966, the neighborhood representative members of OEDC staged a demonstration and walked out of the meeting demanding that they receive 51% control over the board and that more of the OEDC's money be allocated for poor communities. The issue was referred to a special study committee and in fact the OEDC ended up adopting that committee's recommendation that representatives from poor neighborhoods should have 51% representation on the OEDC (how the hell did they swing that???).3

The OEDC then pressed for and won a number of fights that were of extreme importance in Oakland's poor communities including the development of a police review board, more funding allocated toward poor communities, and more. Finally, in 1967, the OEDC declared independence from the City (WHAT IN THE HELL) and became the independent nonprofit Oakland Economic Development Council, Incorporated (OEDCI). Dr. Norvel Smith, the Executive Director at the time, resigned and the new ED was Percy Moore - a total powerhouse of oppositional force who went as far as to advocate that OEDCI should use funds not just to administer social services but to foster the development of a more united political base of poor residents of color. OEDCI then continued to receive federal funds from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO, one of the major agencies that provided funds to cities - see ref. 1 below) and other bodies as if it were a City agency until 1971!

During the years of its independence, OEDCI received $5.2mn from federal agencies. Specifically, this funding came from OEO, the Neighborhood Centers Pilot Program (NCPP)6 and the Concentrated Employment Program (CEP) (under the Department of Labor). $1.7mn came from OEO. OEDCI distributed half of that funding to other agencies for social services7 while the other half was spent directly by OEDCI on "program planning, neighborhood organization, and neighborhood service centers."3 So OEDCI both delivered social services to poor communities but also used federal funds to strengthen itself and politically organize in its constituent community.

City Hall apparently begged those agencies (via letters, in person visits, and more) to stop giving money to OEDCI and the agencies continually refused. Finally Mayor Reading asked federal officials to change the guidelines for how federal money should be distributed and the CEP responded that current federal guidelines supported OEDCI being the receiving body for the funds and that the city didn't even have the "administrative capacity to run the program"3! OEDC had the complete trust of a couple of federal agencies in being the local administrator of their aid.

End of Activites

In April 1971, OEDC's extremely influential director Percy Moore declared that OEDC would use its funds to run campaigns against city council incumbents (!!!). This was completely against any terms under which federal aid dollars could be spent (they could only be spent for services and were not supposed to be spent for political activities) and the national Office of Economic Opportunity (which was the administering agency for Economic Opportunity Act funds) upheld a veto initiated by CA Governor  Reagan's veto of funding for OEDCI. The state OEO office wrote a report for the governor alleging that OEDC had "intimidated poverty council members, misused funds, and failed to act on complaints of political activity on the part of its members"3,5 - this is what led to Reagan vetoing funding for the organization.


In addition to its legacy of delivering services to its constituents in poor communities of color, OEDC was really something remarkable in terms of its ability to enact effective community representation in city government (especially in the crucial area of how funding would be distributed for poor communities - with the direct representation of those communities!), liberate itself from city government while continuing to receive federal funding that was typically meant for city agencies, and for its attempts to politically organize historically marginalized groups. There is a lot of food for thought in what they were (and weren't) able to achieve.


  1. Specific legislation that was part of federal anti-poverty direct aid efforts included the Economic Opportunity Act passed in 1964 (commonly known as the "War on Poverty") and the Model Cities Program passed in 1966. These programs were defined by 1) providing direct funding to cities for the purposes of alleviating poverty, 2) providing a lot of leeway for spending - ie, the funds could be used for a number of wide purposes, 3) the scale of funding provided was huge - in 1968, the city's budget was $57.9mn and total nondefense federal spending in Oakland was $95.5mn (although this included $24mn for the post office). With the inclusion of defense spending, federal spending in Oakland was $487.4mn [Pressman, 1975].
  2. The Economic Opportunity Act stated that programs should be "developed, conducted, and administered with the maximum feasible participation of residents of hte areas and members of the groups served." - Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, 88th Cong. 2Nd Sess., Section 202 (a)(3).
  3. Pressman, Jeffrey L. Federal Programs and City Politics: The Dynamics of the Aid Process in Oakland. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1975. p. 60-65.
  4. This change was actually also motivated by new guidelines issued by the regional OEO office in 1965 that required all local agencies that were receiving and administering OEO funds to have representation in the agency of people from the areas that were intended to receive anti-poverty funds (ie, from poor neighborhoods). (it's not clear why this change happened if the 1964 act already called for participation from communities that were intended to receive the funds...perhaps the new guidelines made explicit the requirement that the local administration agency itself have minority participation?)
  5. Check out this pretty crazy first hand account of someone who was in the regional OEO office that wrote the report that led to the downfall of OEDC. It includes a description of going to Percy Moore's office to attempt to get federal funds back. ALERT: THIS IS EXTREMELY RACIST.
  6. NCPP was created in the National Department of Housing and Urban Development, but was run at the federal level by a steering committee composed of representatives from OEO, HEW, Department of Labor, and Bureau of the Budget. Apparently a regional HUD office had allied with Mayor Reading and advocated for OEDC to NOT be the agency responsible for administering the funds, but the national OEO and national HUD were allied with OEDC and awarded the funding to OEDC over the Mayor (again, how did they swing this)!
  7. Some of the agencies that received funds included the Alameda County Health Department (for family planning clinics and dental services), Legal Aid Society of Alameda County (for legal services for poor residents), Children's Vision Center of the East Bay (vision care services for poor residents). - Pressman, 60