21 thoughts on “Good for business?

  1. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    The issue of attracting business to Oakland came up last night at the District 3 Candidate Forum… and I have to say that I didn’t love any of the answers I heard.

    I won’t even talk about NN because as a business owner I have never felt the love from my representative. She certainly didn’t come to my grand opening, but then again, neither did the mayor and at the time he lived just around the corner.

    Sean Sullivan advocates for creating a citywide small business commission.

    As a small business owner (retail), I’d say there are a variety of organizations out there. Maybe even too many. So how do we get them to work better and/or work better together?

    The Oakland Chamber of Commerce – personally my least favorite and not at all small business oriented in my humble opinion. They care about the Kaisers, Clorox, and the Port. The Big Kahunas. For my $341 per year membership (in 2003), I got no new customers, but I did get 40+ cold calls aimed at me each week. I went to the women’s breakfasts and sat at a table of 12 each time where at least 90% of those around me were from cities other than Oakland looking to network. My business doesn’t get business from outside Oakland. It gets customers mostly from the six blocks immediately surrounding the store. Or from people who used to live or work in the area, moved away, and can’t find the level of service elsewhere. I paid $341 to put my name on a calling list? An email list? A mailing list? Yikes! That’s not what I was going for. (I hate sales calls!)

    Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum (omlf.org). They have the shopoakland.com website and do the annual Shop Oakland Holiday campaign. This sounds closest to what Sean is supporting. I don’t know why, but I’ve never found a fit in this group.

    Oakland Commerce Corporation (oaklandcommercecorp.com). Dave Johnson is the jewel here. He’s the most helpful individual I’ve met in advocating for smaller businesses. OCC was helpful in getting the City to take our mixed-use permit parking plan seriously. Before, the City would only talk about meters, and no one down here wanted them except for 1 or 2 businesses. The permit plan is by no means a win/win for all, but rather a compromise for all who live or work here in the Jack London District. He’s helped several businesses in my immediate area with problems in dealing with the City. I’ve heard some negative about this group, but personally this is the only group I’ve seen *results* from.

    There are other assorted neighborhood merchant groups – we even tried having one in the Jack London District – but few people ever showed up. Certainly no one wanted to pool money to get anything specific done. Other neighborhoods have enjoyed much more successful merchant associations. This was another reason I started the Jack London News – because I had been sending out fax notices to all the businesses each month about what was going on based on reporting on a variety of different meetings I went to. Also, it was a way to cohesively advertise (in theory). The Jack London District Association includes merchants, which is why it is not the Jack London Neighborhood Association.

    Greg Hodge mentioned the One Stop Capital Shop – does this still exist? If not, I’d say that we now have Oakland Business Development Corp (obdc.org). There’s also SCORE (eastbayscore.org). SCORE tried to talk me out of starting my business in the Jack London area. OBDC gives “last resort” loans.

    I don’t know what the answer is to attract more business to Oakland, but I’d bet that reducing crime would be the number one thing, because of the perception people have. Two, make loans easier to get – but I don’t know how you do that without taking a huge risk and possibly (probably) losing big bucks. But then I think about the Mandela Foods Co-op, and look how much money was GIVEN away with zero results.

    The other issue is density – the Jack London District is a great example. We aren’t dense enough to warrant a grocery store (yet). The population here doesn’t support the existing retail (for the most part). There’s a rule of thumb that says if you can solve four problems in one go, then you’ll go to that one hub to shop rather than shopping locally where you might only be able to get one, maybe two things crossed off your to-do list. (ie dry cleaners and grocery store)

    So yeah, I can see why 72% of the people surveyed give Dellums a poor rating. I’m surprised it wasn’t higher…

  2. Max Allstadt

    You want to attract small business? Cut out red tape. Both Sean and Rebecca Kaplan want to pull back Counditional Use Permit requirements. I like that a lot. The zoning regulations of uses in this city are absurd. CUPs also allow the planning commission to arbitrarily try to stop businesses they don’t like (Non-union Trader Joes).

    Deregulate Deregulate Deregulate. I can get behind a tax holiday too. But given what we got when the city gave $300,000 to Mandela Foods, I think direct subsidies aren’t such a good idea.

    JLS is totally dense enough to warrant a grocery store. Fruitvale has small ones. Small grocers could be encouraged to be there, particularly considering there’s already wholesale going on there. There’s also the possibility of requiring produce sales in order to keep a liquor license…

  3. Chris Kidd

    Maybe it’s just my California-ness, but I’m kinda allergic to strong deregulation. I think it all stems back to when the energy boys from Texas bent the state over a barrel for a couple years after the utlities got deregulated.

    Maybe a better way to put it would be to clarify regulation? A little bit of re-write and collaberation between planning departments, small business organizations and small business owners? I hardly think its regulation and zoning itself that is the problem, rather *bad* zoning/regulation. That’s a world of difference right there.

  4. Max Allstadt

    Maybe a better word is simplification. Focus on zoning for actual impact rather than zoning for the presumed impact of a particular imagined use.

    As for deregulation in general, I’m also concerned about dumb laws in this town, such as…

    no dogs in parks, even on a leash.

    6.04.360 Sale of novelty small fowl and rabbits prohibited.
    You can’t sell a pet rabbit, duckling, or baby chicken.

    You can’t have more than three dogs.

    9.08.070 Masks and disguises.
    No masks in public.

    9.08.080 Immoral dress.
    No cross-dressing. WTF?

    9.08.130 Pornographic material–Possession in public places prohibited.
    You can’t even POSESS porn in public. Not even if nobody can see it.

    9.08.180 Alcoholic beverages on public streets or on adjacent private property thereto.
    You can’t drink alcohol in public.

    9.08.190 Open alcoholic beverage containers.
    You can’t even have an open container of alcohol in public.

    9.08.200 Marathons.
    No public endurance exhibitions or contests. “Walkathons” “Danceathons” etc. are not allowed.

    9.08.230 Soliciting on streets prohibited.
    No selling anything on the street except newspapers.

    9.12.010 Pool rooms.
    No one under 18 is allowed in a pool or billiard room.

    12.60.010 Bicycle license required
    You need a license to ride a bicycle

    Land of the free my ass.

  5. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    When you refer to red tape, are you only referring to the CUP process, or are there other things you’d like to see made simpler?

    I don’t honestly understand the CUP process – when you need it and when you don’t. I didn’t need one to start my business. I did have to get zoning info when I applied for my business license and I can understand needing a CUP if your business is not in an area zoned for such a business. For some business types I can totally see the need for a CUP – bars, restaurants, etc.

    With the Gateway Market I didn’t get it because it was a grocery store before. It was built to BE a grocery store. Now I see that there were public funds used for that project, but when that negates a prospective tenant from opening a grocery store, there is 1) obviously more to the story and 2) perhaps it was a bad decision to use public funds to turn it into a market or bad requirements were made of the land owner.

    I can understand the need for CUP’s.

    I didn’t find it at all hard to start my business, except for financing and talking the landlord into letting me use RETAIL space as, um, uh, RETAIL space. (it was part of the conditions of approval that there be neighborhood serving retail in this building – they wanted only office or empty space)

  6. Max Allstadt

    dto, where are you? let Joanna know the scoop on these.

    Joanna, my only experience is that I own a lot and I want to put a garden on it, and they have no category for that, so I have to shell out $1900+ and call it a plant nursery.

    there are other silly things like that. and still others which have nothing to do with CUPs.

  7. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Is there more to it than just a garden? I’d think you could call it a park, farm land (the locavores would love it!), or just keeping your lot from turning into blight.

    Wasn’t there a guy in SF that did this, but the land owners wanted him to stop? I think it was because of the water being used or the fear that someone would get hurt and sue. It had nothing to do with the city not allowing a garden. (that was SF, not Oakland)

    Um, isn’t a garden a better use of an empty lot? It’s only a plant nursery if you’re intending to sell the actual plants you grow. What do you intend to do with the produce, if any? If you’re selling something, that’s a business – what is the land zoned for? Is it strictly residential? Strictly industrial? If so, then yes, I can see why you might need a CUP.

    If the $1900 is keeping you from it, let’s try to do a fundraiser or find you some grant money – but obviously the word “garden” is pretty vague. editor at jacklondonnews I’d like to hear more about your plan offline.

  8. Aaron Priven

    I’ve read the East Bay Business Times on occasion, and I strongly suspect the readers of the East Bay Business Times are self-selected for people who think that the only proper role of government includes pom-poms.

  9. Chris Kidd

    You think it’s bad here? You should try looking up some of the Blue Laws from Connecticut and Massachusetts townships. Some of them are kinda awesome in their ridiculuousness.

  10. Max Allstadt

    I misread the pinball one, thought it only banned cheating machines. Apparently it bans pinball machines that cost between 2 and 4 cents, 6 and 9 cents, 11 and 24 cents, 26 and 49 cents, 51 and 99 cents, or $1.01 or more. Wait, actually is says nothing about bills. WTF.

    I also omitted the total ban on live adult entertainment, because I was afraid that I would be berated by people who haven’t heard of sex-positive feminism.

    This town needs an enema.

  11. Jonathan C. Breault

    Ron Dellums believes his rhetoric because he is ignorant, misguided, ardently socialistic, opportunistic and egotistical. In short, he is a politician. Politicians are notoriously devoid of business acumen. In this town they get elected by vilifying and stereotyping business as evil and predatory and “capitalistic!!” Why else would anyone spend their entire adult lives working in the stifling conformity of government bureaucracy? Dellums is not unlike most of the city council who talk big about the need for business but promulgate an atmosphere stridently anti-business and restrictive of free enterprise. They are a pathetic collection of nonentities, Dellums included, with absolutely no business sense, experience, entrprenueral skill or instinct or vision. They are singularly and collectively dumb. The predictable result is the devastated, dilapidated, depressing state of affairs known as Oakland. Appalling crime rates are exacerbated by diminished economic activity which relegate large portions of the town wastelands. Dellums is a very limited intellect. He is a one trick pony. Same laughable rhetoric. Smart people have tuned him out a long time ago. Too bad Oakland has the most gullible, unsopisticated, delusional electorate imagineable. Free enterprise under the Dellums “disaster” will never flourish and Oakland is deteriorating right before our eyes and Dellums is completely incapable of righting this ship. I would love to hear from the 10% who rate him excellent or good. What is God’s name are they thinking? And what could possibly be their criterion for analysis? By any objective calculation Dellum’s performance is dismal.

  12. Max Allstadt

    I think you mischarcterize our electorate, Jonathan. Give us candidates worth voting for, and it’ll change. Maybe you should run. I also see the rising influence of blogs and the decline of local hardcopy papers as a good sign. This format we’re using here is two way. A Chip Johnson editorial is one way. I agree with Johnson and Gammon maybe 50% of the time, and the other 50% I can only talk back directly to them. Here, If V says something I disagree with, I can talk back for all to see.

    Patience. And again, maybe you should run for something.

  13. Chris Kidd


    Jonathan, was there any point to that bitching above? Other than slamming everything in Oakland for the umpteenth time? I’m getting a little fed up with the non-stop complain-a-thon without the slightest offering of even partial solutions. (huh, I’m bitching about bitching. Is it a meta-criticism of complaining, or just plain hypocricy?).

    If problems in Oakland are as you characterize them, what’s the solution? Total free market economy sans regulation? Removal of all city bureaucracy? Farm out the city government to private enterprise? I’m just trying to draw conclusions from the thrust of your rant. What would be, in your mind, the best way to break this cycle of civic ineffeciency?

    Didn’t mean to single you out, Jonathan. Complaining gets us bupkis. Maybe talking about solutions here doesn’t get us anywhere either, but at least it adds dimension to the discussion.

  14. Jonathan C. Breault

    Eliminate 20% of non-essential publicly financed employees. Maybe more if possible.
    Reduce by 75% the Business Tax rate on all businesses in Oakland.
    Privatize Public Works.
    Eliminate Rent Control.
    Restore the city jail or replace with new city jail.
    Increase OPD by 35%.
    Empower the police to do their job without undue, irrational interference.
    City Council members should be elected city wide.
    Eliminates parochialism that is endemic to current district system.
    Increases the liklihood that rational, qualified, educated people would consider public service in Oakland. As presently constituted each district is the veritable fiefdom of the incumbent and they are uniformly incompetent.

  15. Josh Abrams

    Ha! have you looked at the at-large race? they are kissing as much butt and becoming beholden to as many people as the district wide office holders are (not true for all candidates, but at least for all candidates who have any shot at winning, sorry frank rose).

  16. Barry

    Don’t blindly vote for bond measures. Freeze access to the 2nd and 3rd tier of the DD bond Meaure moneys. Studio One is done, the East Oakland Sports Complex was never seriously funded.

    The deepening and widening the channel is impossible, according to the public agencies (RR, BART, EBMUD, etc that own the utilities that criss cross a couple of feet over the watern- the ulitilities are covered and ulta high tide.)

    What’ left? Ah yes, the boathouse. That is the restaurant that is being built almost from scratch (the shell of the building is there — the trees are gone at the behest of a restaurateur who didn’t like them “blocking the view” of the water plus didn’t want to be saddled with broom duty when leaves fall to the ground.) No lease signed YET. The current contractor — a Nadel campaign donor — will be approaching City Council to ask to 1.5 mil more to complete the project.

    Solution: Nadel can sell the empty, large uninhabitable commerical building she bought with her District Pay-go money and use those funds to finish the boathouse.


  17. ETHAN

    Voters need to pull the plug and ground City Council members as if they were misbehaving teenagers Lie to grownups? Speed our tax dollars on crap?

    No more weekly allowance for you until you clean up your act or get voted out of office.

  18. Chris Kidd


    You rock! *Now* we’re getting somewhere. I can’t say I agree with much (read: anything) you’re throwing out there, but I love that you’re putting stuff out on the table.

    I’m much more in the camp of streamlining the byzantine-ness and running more departments like public-private partnerships, but not throwing the baby out with the dirty, slow, corrupt, do-nothing bathwater. Definitely agree with making public service more attractive to our best and brightest.