Author Archives: Greg McConnell

Greg McConnell: Is Oakland Worth It?

This guest post was written by Gregory McConnell, President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which represents major businesses in Oakland.

Many Oakland business people are asking whether Oakland is still a good place to invest. As I talk to small and big business people all around the city, I hear the constant question. Is it time to pack up and leave?

Phil Tagami told me that several tenants have talked to him about leaving the Rotunda and taking hundreds of jobs out of the city. The small shops in Frank Ogawa Plaza report that business is off 30 to 50%. The Tribune Tower managers say they can no longer tolerate the fact that their building is frequently forced to close because Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets is usually the epicenter of unrest.

On Wednesday, a client attending a conference at the Marriott called and asked if it was safe to eat at Jack London Square, I told her no, it had been shut down. Another business group that has invested in Oakland brought its national board of directors to the Bay Area. They too had plans to stay at the Marriott and visit potential sites in Oakland for new investment. Instead, they went to San Francisco fearful of riots and unruly mobs.

City officials are assessing the impact of the occupancy on our fragile economy. They will be looking at reduced sales at restaurants, lost revenues at retail outlets, lost leases, and lost jobs. We will have empirical evidence soon, but for people who lost a lot in broken windows and shattered confidence, and workers who have been told to go home, or have been laid off, the impacts are already known.

All of this begs the question. Is Oakland worth it?

No, if our leaders allow long-term unlawful occupancy of our public spaces. No, if the police are forced to hide away in the City Center parking lot under a “minimal presence” order, thereby forcing property owners to arm themselves and risk their lives. No, if graffiti and broken windows are acceptable. No, if the city does not protect the people that employ the 99% and serve the residents.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to say yes. Oakland is still one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is rich with caring, intelligent people who work hard and engage in community affairs. We have young entrepreneurs who are opening small businesses. We have new innovative companies like Pandora, Sungevity and BrightSource Energy that are bring thousands of jobs to the city. Large corporations have established foundations that give back, Kaiser foundation and the Rogers Family Foundation are just a couple of examples.

Most Oaklanders share the outrage at the failure of our economic system. It rewards a small segment and seems to ignore the plight of every day working people who are losing jobs, homes, investments, and worse, the optimism that has always allowed us to think that our lives will get better. The Occupy Movement has brought this to our nation’s attention. For this, we are grateful.

Nevertheless, we have to distinguish between our shared anger at Wall Street and the occupancy of Frank Ogawa Plaza and lawlessness in our streets. Oakland’s business people are not Wall Street profiteers. They are people like you and me who wake up in the morning and work to feed their families.

The owner of Café Teatro hires four people to sell coffee and sandwiches. She is not rich and she is not exploiting anyone. The owner of Rising Loafer is in the same boat. Well before the occupancy, she frequently talked to me about her outrage at corporate America. Tully’s supported the occupancy with donations of food and cleaning supplies, before their windows were smashed. Each of these businesses will be forced to shut down, and the people they employ will be jobless, if the unlawful occupancy of Ogawa Plaza and violence in the streets continues.

I believe that this too shall pass. It needs to happen soon. If it does, YES, OAKLAND IS WORTH IT. But, if we don’t do something soon to change our downward spiral, we may lose the city.

On Thursday night, I took visiting business people to Pican Restaurant. My mission was to help a local business, which has seen a 40% decline in sales over the last few weeks, while trying to give potential Oakland businesses confidence that the city is still functioning. I hope others will do something similar to support Oakland businesses that create jobs and revenues for this struggling city.

We all honor Oakland’s long history of promoting peace and justice. Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge that there is a big difference between supporting efforts to change Wall Street and the unlawful encampment that is destroying the city, our local business people, and their employees.

I urge the residents of Oakland to tell our leaders that support for changing Wall Street and ending unconscionable corporate greed, does not equate to support for an on-going unlawful occupancy. Please write the Mayor, the Council, and the City Administrator. Tell them to end the occupancy and lawlessness in our streets. Let them know that this caring community also cares about working people and businessmen and women who bring jobs to the city.

When we make that clear, I trust that our leaders will find a way to end the unlawful occupancy. If they do not, perhaps we will need to end the occupancy outside and inside city hall.

Greg McConnell: Oakland Shines at Jobs and Housing Coalition Legacy Event

This guest post was written by Gregory McConnell, President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which represents major businesses in Oakland.

Oakland shined at the September 21st Jobs and Housing Coalition’s Legacy Event at the beautiful grounds of the Oakland Museum of California. A “who’s who” of five hundred Bay Area leaders honored Oakland icons, Jim Falaschi, CEO of Transbay and co-developer of Jack London Square, Shirley Nelson, Chairman of Summit Bank, and John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource Energy.

Remarkably, Don Perata, former California Senate President pro Tem, and Mayor Jean Quan shared the stage as award presenters. They were joined by Nicole Taylor, CEO, of the East Bay Community Foundation, and Fong Wan, Senior Vice President for Energy Procurement at PG&E. The caliber of these people reveals the great drawing power of the remarkable Legacy Award recipients.

With the help of Michael La Blanc of Pican Restaurant and Mark Everton of the Waterfront Hotel, JHC showcased many of the great restaurants that have brought national acclaim to Oakland’s culinary scene. Dashe Cellars, JC Cellars, Rockwall, and Linden Street Breweries poured fine wines and great beers. The Oakland Youth Chorus and Terrence Brewer provided entertainment. And, as the evening wound down, Oaklanders were treated to a special bourbon tasting. As Michael La Blanc says “we added just a touch of flair.”

Many people have dubbed the Legacy Event the event of the year and surely it was a huge success. But something else happened that night that topped it off and says something special and unique about Oakland.

On this special night, recently homeless people, recovering addicts, and ex cons who participate in the St Vincent de Paul Kitchen of Champions Culinary Program mingled with Fortune 500 business leaders.

JHC invited Gary Bonney to share the stage with the above-mentioned luminaries. Everyone listened intently as he said: “I ain’t no Mayor or important guy. I am an ex con who got out of jail four months ago, and joined the Kitchen of Champions program. They taught me about food, but that is not the only thing, they gave me a chance to turn my life around. Now, I have skills, hope, and a job.” The audience gave him a long, warm, and sincere response.

This was a very special evening for Oakland and the Jobs and Housing Coalition. We are very thankful to all who attended and honored that they gave their time to help us celebrate our fifth anniversary, honor three icons, and support the St Vincent de Paul Kitchen of Champions program.

Once again we showed the Bay Area the real Oakland. It is hip, raw, powerful and compassionate. Most important, Oakland has heart!

Special thanks to our Event Committee, Becca Perata, Chairperson, Tom Guarino, Brendan Heafey, Doris Carlick, and JR McConnell, as well as, Silvia Morita Patel, event manager, and Kimberley McConnell Sharper of Kim Sharper Studio for graphic artistry. See our website for more details, www.jobsandhousing.com

Greg McConnell: Keep Chief Batts

This guest post was written by Gregory McConnell, President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which represents major businesses in Oakland.

Police Chief Anthony Batts came to Oakland with the promise that he would have the resources to do the job. Instead of beefing up the department, it has been cannibalized. We have gone from 803 cops to 656 with more losses predicted because of attrition. The city has no plans to recruit new cops. Now it looks like Batts may want to leave.

The community is saddened by this news. The Mayor expresses disappointment, but also says this may be a blessing because she could then appoint her own person. This issue, no matter whom you support, is very divisive, so I want to look at it with less vitriol and greater emphasis on what is really at stake.

The Chief applied for the SJ position in October. It could have been that the Chief was merely throwing his hat into the ring to gauge his professional appeal. Once the newly elected Mayor named Dan Siegel, a major cop critic, as a Chief Adviser, Batts may have looked at the decision and the resource problems and decided that he would consider leaving if offered the job. That is when he made it known that he is considering greener pastures.

Or, could it be that he really does not want to leave. His sudden announcement may be a ploy to register his great displeasure with a variety of decisions including layoffs, inadequate community support, and primarily to focus attention on understaffing. If this is his intention, he has played this masterfully.

The stakes for Oakland are very high. We lost 500 Clorox employees to Pleasanton and while the company publicly talks about better resource deployment, we all know that the crime problems at 13th and Broadway and throughout the city had to play a role in the decision. ABAG and MTC are threatening to leave the city and take thousands of employees to other locales. A crime dilemma won’t help those of us trying to persuade them to stay. Ten thousand residents were attracted to the city with the 10K plan, spawning new restaurants, entertainment venues, and jobs. These people thought Oakland would get better. What happens if they start believing otherwise?

Much of the current attention is focused on Batts because he has been seen as a man with a real commitment to solving Oakland’s problems. His possible loss is a real blow to our collective hopes for improvement of the city. Nevertheless, we must face reality, whether he stays or leaves, without major changes, we will have the ongoing problems of unrelenting crime, an understaffed police department, low moral, and a city that has no real plans to make things better.

I admire and respect Chief Batts. I hope the city finds a way to keep him here. With the proper tools and resources, he is capable of leading us out of this nightmare of unrelenting crime. On the other hand, even if we are successful at getting him to stay, if we don’t get him resources and clear community support, we will continue to be mired in the problems that have afflicted this city for decades.

Mayor Quan may see the opportunity to appoint her own chief as a blessing. But I predict that anyone who tries to police Oakland with 656 cops will fail. The problem is too big for one person. The community must rally behind a strong leader. We already have one, let’s support him and do our best to keep him here.

Greg McConnell: Oakland wants city leaders to attract new business to Oakland

In a poll conducted this October a whopping 96% of Oakland voters say Oakland leaders should attract new companies and businesses. This comes from residents in every district in Oakland. It includes every demographic – every age group, ethnicity, party affiliation, sex and sexual preference; in short, everybody. This is the highest approval for a single concept that we have seen in our polls since 2005.

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