Op-Ed: Optimistic about Oakland

Clinton Killian www.theoakbook.com

Despite the down economy, Oakland is still seen as a positive investment. As other cities' projects are stalled, Oakland is moving forward on several important fronts.

The rebuilding of Jack London Square is going full steam ahead. Some people thought that the economic downturn would stall the project. Others thought the untimely passing of Bay Area real estate icon Hal Ellis, Jr., of Ellis Partners, and one of the driving forces of the project would slow the project down.

But the Jack London project is in full build-out mode. Partner Jim Falaschi of TransBay Holdings is fully committed to the project. Ellis Partners, under Jim Ellis' leadership, is fully committed as the co-developer. Even though they recognize the challenges, they are bullish on the Oakland market. They have a long term commitment to the project, which may take another 10-years to complete.

Already, you can see signs of progress. The multi-level parking garage with ground floor retail should be completed soon. The multi-level public market with restaurants and other commercial space should be online by the end of the year.

The market will offer year-round fresh produce. Think of a more Oakland-like version of San Francisco's Ferry Building or Seattle's Pike Market coming to Jack London Square. If you get a chance, go to the Square and see the progress and the building of a destination.

On the upper end of Jack London Square, the Ellington condominium building held its grand opening attended by hundreds of people a couple of weeks ago. And even in this market, it has had a stream of people coming to view its expensive offerings. The Ellington is a 134 unit, 12 floor condominium building located on Broadway between 2nd and 3rd Streets. It boasts high ceiling-to-floor glass walls, hardwood floors, 50-foot outdoor pool, spa, fitness center and other amenities.

Not to be outdone, the Community Bank of the Bay announced that it has posted a profit for 2008. It further reaffirmed it is bullish about the Oakland market and is aggressively expanding its commercial lending business here. They anticipate further growth and involvement in the Oakland business market.

In addition to the opening of the Fox Theater, several new restaurants and a wine bar have opened along Telegraph and Broadway in recent months - such as 2022 (also known as Ave), Ozumo, Pican, Mua, Somar, and the Den. Hopefully, these restaurants will match the strength and appeal of the old existing restaurants -- and the many cuisines -- available in the area.

This activity is a testament to the residential growth in Jack London Square, Old Oakland and Uptown. More residents mean more demand for basic services like food, clothing and entertainment. More demand means more jobs and revenue-producing businesses. Now, if the city could only get the baseball park built near downtown. If you think that 7,000 new residents can have an impact, imagine what two million visitors a year will do. But it will take leadership to get it done.

Speaking of leadership, former Mayor, present Attorney General, and potential Back-to-the-Future Governor Jerry Brown shows why he is one adept politician. He points with pride to his 10K new residents in downtown Oakland. Give him a big check mark for that.

Second, he announced that his office would file a brief to overturn Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action measure passed here in California. This is of vital concern to Oakland and California's minority businesses.

Due to their small sizes, usually, businesses owned by women and minorities at a local level cannot compete with the larger entities and are effectively shut out of the State and local procurement process. A modification of 209 will re-energize the business community.

Mr. Brown continued his deft political touch by pushing the Oakland Police Department to acknowledge the obvious conflict in the Chauncey Bailey murder investigation. His Attorney General office was the driving force behind expanding the investigation, removing conflicted officers from the case, and allowing a complete investigation of this heinous crime.

Mr. Brown's actions have outflanked his opponents, gained him tons of free publicity and set a high bar for his opponents. Believe it or not, barring some unexpected entry, like Senator Diane Feinstein, Jerry Brown is headed for the Democratic nomination 28 years after he left the Governor's seat.

Speaking of politicians, Oakland politicians have continued their lost-in-the-wilderness act. Another mayoral candidate has surfaced, former City Administrator Robert Bobb. He is currently working for the Detroit Public School system, but his name is being bandied as a potential run to the mayorship. There is still no response from Mayor Dellums' office whether he will run for re-election.

Mayor candidate Councilwoman Jean Quan has continued her push as Finance Committee Chair to balance Oakland's budget. The deficit is now over $80 million and growing. The City Council is conducting budget hearings to obtain city input.

They have approved a special election for July 2009 for increased revenue measures, such as increasing the medical marijuana tax, real estate transfer tax, parcel tax to replace the landscape and lighting district, and a sales tax increase. Even if all five tax measures pass, it is projected that the city will only have $6 million to 7 million in new revenues, about 10% of the current projected budget deficit.

It looks like the Mayor and City Council are going to have to make some hard choices to balance the city's budget. Currently, nearly 65% of the budget goes to police and fire services. All of the budget revenue reductions cannot come from the remainder part of the budget. It is time for the city to look very carefully at its spending habits and find ways to reduce its costs, create efficiencies and find savings to balance this budget.

There's a lot going on in Oakland that affects your life right now. Go explore the new developments in Jack London, Old Oakland, Downtown, and Uptown to see your city being rebuilt. Get involved in the budget process and the elections. Get ready to vote again this year and in 2010.

Clinton Killian is an attorney in downtown Oakland, an Oakland resident, a former Oakland Planning Commissioner. He can be reached at: (510) 625-8823 or email: clintonkillian@yahoo.com.

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