Make Oakland Better Now!’s Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire was answered by 8 of the ten candidates. All of the completed questionnaires are available for viewing at our web site, here. Since some Oaklanders may want to compare candidate responses to each of the questions, we will be publishing the responses sorted by question here at Oaktalk over the coming days. You’ll find these posts for the first fifteen questions directly below this one.
In our two posts, we asked candidates about the city’s use television, media and other ways of engaging Oakland’s citizens in city issues. Now, we move to a subject all candidates – and practically everyone else – agrees is key: economic development.
Question No. 16: Many Oakland candidates and office-holders express the opinion that Oakland city government systemically business-unfriendly. Do you agree or disagree? If you disagree, explain how the city has established a favorable climate for business development. If you agree, describe what you see as the systemic problems and explain how you, as mayor, would fix them.
The city is not business friendly and is not entrepreneur friendly and needs to be. I will fix this by being your next Mayor of Oakland, a proven entrepreneur with a 25 year track record. To educate on the corruption please go to auditOaklandceda.com.
- I’ve visited with many retail business owners and one issue stands out universally as the most important, PARKING. I can’t emphasize how devastating the cities parking enforcement measures have been. The city council has obviously chosen to make this a major revenue stream at the expense of the citizens and retail operators. In the process they have done great damage to their tax base and trust of the citizens. I’ve been told of multiple instances were people have gotten a ticket while going to the kiosk to buy their parking slip.
- Two council members Kaplan and Quan want to eliminate as many cars downtown as possible and I believe this impractical and short sighted. Using restrictive policies like excessive parking fees and fines as well as changing the building code to reduce parking requirements. What happens in the near future when we have all electric cars with no place to park? This is an example of the kind of short sightedness that has led to many of our current problems.
I agree that Oakland’s government has not done enough to be supportive of economic revitalization, and that we must do more to retain and attract jobs and investment in our city. Some good actions have been taken, and I have been leading actions on the City Council to ameliorate this situation, from cutting red tape for downtown retailers to assisting several businesses through the bureaucracy. As you say, the problems are systemic and the result of an entire generation of lack of attention to fundamentally improving business attraction and retention: Oakland’s business tax on very small home-based businesses is a barrier to business expansion yet does not raise a significant amount of revenues; zoning and planning codes put desirable businesses through an unacceptable number of fees and public hearings; business attraction efforts are overly politicized and uncoordinated; and there has not been a clear message sent from our elected leaders to the professional staff that businesses are an important part of building Oakland’s future success. As Mayor I will hire pro-revitalization leaders, revise Oakland’s zoning codes to encourage business and cut red tape, revise the business tax, aggressively recruit business, and expand and coordinate business attraction efforts and resources.
In addition, I will target and fix some specific barriers to business, including our zoning code which prohibits businesses such as boutique hotels and urban agriculture, and I will make sure we are working to support and attract key growth economic sectors, including arts, food production, recycling, trade/logistics, and health care. I will work to ensure that we don’t let indecisiveness impede business development, by moving forward the process for a new recycling center and other key industrial uses on the Army base property, and harnessing the growing interest in local food to help revitalize Oakland’s historic role as a center for food production. I will make transportation investments that help businesses, like the grant-funded Broadway Shuttle I worked for, which helps downtown businesses by creating a better link to customers and to workers.
I disagree, but I know why business owners feel this way. The problems come in how we handle Permitting, Zoning, and Code and from having the highest business taxes in the Bay Area. There are times when asking for an authorization to put up a sign, to sell beer in a restaurant, or adding a pizza oven becomes a ridicules series of trials and tribulations. The new Business Assistance Center is a beginning of moving things in another direction. The taxes are another issue, and would be accepted if we had the advantages of city life more in the front and the disadvantages more under control.
That the city administration needs to become user friendly, is without any doubt, but to call that “anti-business” is a bit of a stretch. There are a long list of home owners, non-profits organizations, artists and other groups will tell very similar stories of frustration dealing with the city.
Oakland city government is unfriendly, or more properly, indifferent to businesses here, those trying to locate here and those we should try to get located here.
I can cite chapter and verse of businesses small and large that called my office for help when no city assistance was forthcoming. Building inspectors more interested in what hasn’t been done than how we can help get it done and the lack of “going to bat” with a state (ABC, DTSC) or regional agency (air and water quality) to fairly resolve issues preventing commerce from advancing.
There is an opportunity to get Costco to site a store in Oakland. To date, the mayor’s office has shown no visible interest in getting them here. It is emblematic of the way in which business has been conducted in the last four years. In a downturn economy, is it any wonder the only answer the city council has is to raise parking fees and fines to exorbitant levels and tax the use of your phone?
[CM Quan combined her answer with this question in her answer to Question 17]: I think the system can be unfriendly, but I think there has been some recent improvements with more online access and the new small business center. I think the Planning Department has to improve its consistency and streamline the approval processes more. I think the city incentives from the enterprise zone, to the business tax phase in and other programs are not easily found or marketed. I plan to have a Economic Development point person in the Office of the Mayor and would like to develop “concierge” type services in the major departments to guide new businesses through the process of setting up. This is what my staff often has to do in helping new businesses in the Dimond, Laurel and Melrose areas which have undergone major revitalization.
Our city is challenged by a reputation that suggests city government is unfriendly to new business development, and not always supportive of existing business-mostly small business. Because of this, Oakland continually loses out on the opportunities that allow cities to grow and thrive.
As Mayor, I will work to attract large companies to become tenants in vacant parts of the city’s commercial real estate properties. In recent years, Oakland has lost tenant companies, decreasing the number of large-scale employers in the city. Currently, too much of the blend for large scale employers favors public sector entities such as the federal government, the State of California, the County of Alameda, the University of California, and the City of Oakland. However, for the presence of large businesses like Clorox, Kaiser, or Dreyers, the city would be even more dependent on public sector employers to provide large employment opportunities. A healthy, robust economy depends on balance between public and private large employers as well as small businesses.
I will also more thoughtfully manage and coordinate the approach to support and nurture small business in the city. Much of the rhetoric by city administrators and elected officials continually herald the significance of small businesses as economic generators and reliable providers of employment. Sadly, ask any small business owner if the city’s deeds match their words and you will learn that the opposite is often true. From excessive efforts to tax everything from annual business licenses, business equipment, and where applicable, sales transactions to harmful and poorly considered parking policies, counter-effective zoning policies and the like, small business owners who already struggle in a challenging economy often find themselves falling further behind their competitors in neighboring communities because of city policies that lack coordination and foresight. As mayor, I will direct a review of the different points of intersection between city hall and small businesses, and work to reform policies with respect to taxation, parking, land use and competition in ways that support and encourage small business growth.
I will target and attract new industry growth by leveraging the unique assets of the city. Both reports by the metropolitan COC and the McKinsey consulting organization identified several new types of industries that represent real growth opportunities for Oakland. These include, among others, green industry, life sciences and healthcare, and digital media. While the city has made some limited progress in attracting and helping to develop these businesses here, much more needs to be done. More rational land use policy, for example, can free up currently unused space for office and laboratory sites for biotechnology start-ups. Educated workers from graduates of UC, Cal State East Bay, Mills College, St. Mary’s or either of our community colleges can provide available and stable supplies of new labor for companies interested in settling within Oakland. The same can apply for green industry-for example in solar power. China has taken the lead in manufacturing of solar panels, but installation and maintenance will still require local laborers. Additional curriculum for teaching of solar technicians can be encouraged at local community colleges, resulting in a certification program that provides a steady stream of employees for solar providers who headquarter in Oakland. This kind of leveraging can occur for all target industries if the city takes an active lead in the process.
Lastly, I will identify and develop retail sectors in various parts of the city. New retail growth will provide new jobs for Oaklanders, more choice and diversity for shoppers, economic activity for various regions of the city, and new tax dollars from sensible sales tax policies. The 10K program began the process, for example, of providing many new living spaces within the downtown area-but did not always bring accompanying development of retail space. While the city may not be inclined to court super-stores or large chains, larger retail tenants can still serve as anchors in various sections of the city, beside which small local businesses may become neighbors. The mayor’s office should be used to identify and target potential retail anchors who may have existing ties, interest in, or history with Oakland, and be willing to invest in the retail redevelopment of the city.
Every business believes that, unless they are in a position to spread humongous amounts of money around downtown, if they want to do business here, they will be taxed to the point of extinction. I plan to introduce legislation to alleviate those tax problems for new businesses so that every one of them gets the benefit,getting rid of the “paper bag” or “briefcase” politics I’ve seen practiced in Oakland.
Also, we must further streamline the construction process in Oakland, so that builders, large and small, are not forced to endure a process that takes an average of two years before they can expect to get started on projects. Oakland contractors tell me they refuse to even come to Oakland, because the process is so heinous. The Mayor of Oakland has the right to hire and fire in the building department, putting people in place who are willing to work with him to change this image and better the process. Why is it that I was approved in one day to build a room addition and a swimming pool on my house in Las Vegas, but it took two years in Oakland just to get my room addition. Yes, folks, it’s broken; but, I am not; and I will make the necessary changes.