At the center of Mayor Libby Schaaf’s economic policy is growth that doesn’t displace long-time Oakland residents through gentrification, but includes them through small business development, better jobs and affordable housing.
Schaaf’s first budget, released last month, stated her two of her top four priorities as increasing public safety, which is essential to business growth, and creating more jobs and housing, which is central to protecting long-time Oaklanders.
“Oakland will not grow unless people are confident it is getting safer,” Erica Terry Derryck, the mayor’s director of communications, said.
Big business is growing despite news of crime and protests. The San Francisco Business Times reported on June 9 that “infrastructure work has begun on Oakland’s largest active real estate project, the $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin development that will transform the city’s southern waterfront into 3,100 housing units and 200,000 square feet of retail.”
But city officials say small business development, minority-owned business in particular, remain a high priority, even if they are overshadowed by the larger issues of crime and high-dollar development.
“There is really a good feeling in Oakland right now and a lot of interest and a lot of creative financing,” Marisa Raya, the city’s economic analyst and tech development specialist, said in news reports. “People here are forming companies, and we have an incredible small business community.”
Derryck said the mayor’s priority to support Oakland’s small business culture remains high.
“She believes Oakland needs to create more housing and jobs, but do so in an equitable way that keeps Oakland affordable for residents at every income level…” Derryck said. “This includes ensuring that Oakland’s small businesses are not priced out or pushed out by economic growth and development.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said Schaaf is putting effort into her promises to promote minority business.
“I was recently joined by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other national and local leaders to launch the Progressive Agenda, which provides clear and simple policies that will directly tackle income inequality by increasing wages, supporting education and ensuring tax fairness,” Lee said.
A year ago, Oakland hosted a group of national leaders around the push for supporting businesses owned by marginalized groups. Lee was joined by Minority Business Development Association Executive Director Alejandra Castillo and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker who touted new opportunities for underrepresented business owners in the city.
Pritzker said then that the city of Oakland’s push will be helped by strong relationships with organizations like the MBDA.
“We must continue to develop economic and innovative opportunities to support small businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses, with federal resources like the Minority Business Development Agency,” she said.
The fruit of that push remains a work in progress.
Lee said the economic rise is already threatening to displace Oaklanders.
“Last year, Oakland’s rental prices increased faster than any other city in the nation,” Lee said. “These higher rents are forcing some longtime residents, especially people of color, out of the neighborhoods that they’ve called home for most of their lives.”
Lee said women, young people and marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by growing income inequality.
“More has to be done to change this dynamic,” she said.
Castillo said MBDA remains committed to the Bay Area development.
“Since my visit to Oakland this past year, MBDA has provided additional funding to our San Francisco Center to launch a pilot program focused on Technology Transfer and Innovation,” she said.
Castillo said Oakland and San Francisco metropolitan areas are home to more than 150,000 businesses owned by underrepresented groups.
“Our programs and expanded services in the Bay Area will continue to support local businesses in accessing economic and innovation opportunities,” Castillo said.
In one example of how these national and local partnerships can have a direct benefit is a contract between the City of Oakland and a minority-owned lighting company from San Jose, Amland Corporation. Amland, a client of MBDA, is replacing 30,000 high-pressure sodium street lights with energy efficient LEDs.
“This project will illuminate 450 square miles — the largest LED conversion plan undertaken by any U.S. city to date,” Castillo said.
Amland helped the city obtain a locally financed loan. Oakland will pay for the project over the next eight-to-10 years using anticipated energy cost savings, according to the MBDA.
Schaaf, who talks often about “Oakland’s secret sauce” to grow the city in a way that helps long-term residents, has embraced an all-of-the-above approach to empowering underrepresented business owners and job creation, according to Derryck, to ensure “that Oakland’s small businesses are not priced out or pushed out by economic growth and development,” Derryck said.