Fact Checking The Mayoral Candidates’ Positions, Part Seven: Creating A Business-Friendly Environment

By Jennifer Inez Ward, Contributing Editor, Oakland Local

(Editor’s note: Oakland Local and Make Oakland Better Now! – MOBN! – have teamed up to take a close look at the accuracy of candidates’ response to an online questionnaire from MOBN!. We want to know if candidates are being truthful and accurate in their responses, or are they veering from facts and offering opinion without any solutions?

This is the last of a series of fact checking stories on seven important questions by Oakland Local.)

Sunday’s Question: Economic development–what do the candidates think we should do?

Arnie Fields

Fields said Oakland is not “friendly” for businesses and entrepreneurs. Fields said he will be able to fix this because he is “a proven entrepreneur with a 25 year track record.”

What We Found: There were no details in Fields’ answer on how he would go about making changes for businesses and entrepreneurs.

Greg Harland

Harland criticized city council (particularly Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan) on its unfriendly parking rules and trying to reduce cars driving around the city’s downtown.

“I believe this impractical and short sighted,” he said.

What We Found: Harland did not directly address the question.

Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan believes that the city has not done enough to support economic revitalization. She also believes that the city has in place a number of measures unfriendly towards building new businesses.

“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,” Kaplan wrote.

Kaplan said she will also support and attract key growth economic sectors like arts, food production, and health care.

If elected mayor, Kaplan said she 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.”

What We Found: Successfully helping and supporting local businesses will be an important key in helping the city get back on its feet. And Kaplan is right in looking towards aging and complicated zoning codes as a start in that process. However, the last mayor to aggressively court businesses, Jerry Brown, saw his some of his pro business plans, like recruiting new national businesses to Oakland, hit major snags.

Don Macleay

Macleay also attacked Oakland’s business zoning codes and said the city “without a doubt” needs to be more user friendly.

“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,” he wrote.

Macleay said despite some challenges, Oakland is not anti-business.

“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,” he wrote.

What We Found: Macleay didn’t offer any solutions to the challenges faced by new and established Oakland businesses.

Don Perata

Perata said he can cite chapter and verse of businesses small and large that called his 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,” he wrote.

Perata said City Hall has not been active in trying to woo businesses to Oakland.

“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?,” he wrote.

What We Found: While Perata was able to outline the challenges emerging and established businesses face in Oakland, he offered no specific solutions to the issue.

Jean Quan

(Editor’s Note: Quan combined her answer with another MOBN response.)

Quan said the city has gotten better about helping businesses by providing more online access and a new small business center.

Still, Quan said, the city’s planning department needs to do a better job of streamlining the process.

“I think the city incentives from the enterprise zone, to the business tax phase in and other programs are not easily found or marketed,” she wrote.

Quan said that as mayor, she will have an economic development point person in the mayor’s office. The councilmember said she would also like to develop “concierge” type services in the major (city) departments to guide new businesses through the process of setting up.

What We Found: The city has taken some business friendly steps as of late, including updating its antiquated cabaret laws, but city’s permit process and zoning requirements are still considered challenging by many.

An economic development point person and a concierge service for businesses could go a long way in fighting through city hall red tape, but it’s unclear if Quan’s plans will have an immediate impact on current business woes.

Quan also did not say how she’s helped businesses in the past as a councilmember.

Joe Tuman

Tuman said he will work to attract large companies to become tenants in vacant parts of the city’s commercial real estate properties.

He will also “direct a review” of the different points of intersection between city hall and small businesses, and he will encourage reform policies for taxation, parking, land use and competition in ways that support and encourage small business growth.

Tuman said the key in attracting larger businesses is leveraging the unique assets of Oakland. And like other mayoral candidates, Tuman wants to attract job- growing sectors like the green industry, healthcare, and digital media.

“More rational land use policy, for example, can free up currently unused space for office and laboratory sites for biotechnology start-ups,” he wrote.

Tuman said he also wants to develop new retail business in Oakland.

“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,” he wrote.

What We Found: Tuman’s economic plans are ambitious, but they’ll face several hard realities if he does become mayor.

For example, the city continues to struggle in attracting tenants to vacant spaces in Jack London Square, downtown, and long established areas like the Grand/Lakeshore district. As a result, Tuman will need to bring new ideas to the table on how exactly he’ll work to attract business during this economic downturn.

In addition, the city is battling with other struggling municipalities in attracting coveted business sectors like the green industry. So, Tuman will need to play up every advantage of Oakland to hot businesses looking to grow. That’s where Tuman will need to work closely with staff and city council on adopting smart business policies.

New retail would be a boon for the city. According to city studies, Oakland has lower per capita local sales than many similar sized cities. The city has also struggled to attract national and retail businesses since the 1980s. Downtown Oakland has only the Sears department store, operating in a portion of the old Emporium building.

While Tuman said his office will work to identify and target potential retail anchors, he’s unclear on what the city can bring to the table that would make retailers want to return after a significant absence from Oakland.

Terence Candell

Candell plans to introduce legislation to alleviate 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,” he wrote.

Candell said he would also like to streamline the construction process in the city.

“Oakland contractors tell me they refuse to even come to Oakland, because the process is so heinous,” Candell said in his response.

The mayoral candidate said if he’s elected he will work to bring the right people into the city’s “building department” to help the city develop a better process.

What We Found: Candell didn’t spell out what his legislation for new businesses would look like, and he didn’t give a lot of details on making the construction process easier for businesses.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

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