Category Archives: economy

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 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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Rebecca Kaplan: Building a better Airport Connector, to build a Better economy

In the debate about how best to proceed on the Oakland Airport Connector, I wanted to take this opportunity to share why I think it is so important to make sound choices. My goal is to result in a project that is better for economic growth and job creation, better for Oakland, better for BART, the Airport, the region’s transit, and the public.

The proposed $550 million project currently on the table, using “AGT” technology (an automated, elevated guideway) fails to provide any of the benefits originally promised, and also threatens devastating cuts in jobs, local transit service, and other vital public projects because it will be funded by taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from other essential services.

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The year in review

dto510 reminds us today that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. In that spirit, let’s take some time to remember what dominated the news in Oakland in 2008.

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Gentlemen of Leisure and Hypocrisy

I suppose I should know by now not to be surprised when Oakland politicians behave in a manner contrary to all logic or reason, and completely inconsistent with anything they’ve ever said before. But it still makes my blood boil every single time. And after the seriously pathetic show of small mindedness in the news this weekend, I’m tempted to just give up on following Oakland City Hall forever, and devote my time to less frustrating hobbies, because clearly whatever progress this city ever makes is going to be in spite of local government, not because of it.

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Oakland’s eternal indecision

Yesterday, I complained about the City’s complete inability to make a decision about anything and just stick with it. I’m not feeling any more positive about the City today. In fact, I spent the better part of the day yesterday thinking about how all we ever do is just go around in circles, talking about the future but never preparing for it. I swear, the City of Oakland is like the world’s worst commitment-phobic boyfriend.

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No leadership, no decisions, no progress

As of today, Oakland has gone 54 days with a permanent Fire Chief. We have gone 170 days without a permanent City Administrator. 227 days without a Planning Commissioner. The Public Safety Director position, which the Mayor fought desperately to retain during last summer’s budget discussions, has been without a permanent occupant for 199 days. Oh, and don’t forget the 353 days we have gone without a permanent CEDA Director.

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Falling housing prices in Oakland and elsewhere

So the current San Francisco Business Times has an article about how it’s rough times for developers in Oakland, in which we learn that resale condo prices have dropped 12% since last year, from an average price of $475,614 per unit to $418,901 per unit. One blogger at Curbed SF appears to think that this crisis is a result of overbuilding in downtown under the Brown era. Reading the story, my immediate thought was that it didn’t seem like 12% was really all that bad, given the current state of the housing market. So it got me wondering, what kind of drop in price did single family homes see over the same period?

So I started looking at the market profiles over at Altos Research, where I learned that the median price of a single family home in Oakland is $290,925. As for the decline in that price since last year, well, it’s a whole hell of a lot more than 12%: Continue reading