Oakland business leaders demand city work to revive Downtown

Local chamber calls for restoration of City Hall business hours, open meetings

From left: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's Barbara Leslie
From left: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's Barbara Leslie (Oakland Chamber, Oakland California, Getty)

A third of its downtown offices sit empty. Its City Hall hours are shortened, meetings closed. Crime is up, homelessness pervasive. Local businesses are suffering.

A chamber representing more than 1,000 local businesses has demanded that the City of Oakland enact measures to revive Downtown, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce called upon officials to stop talking and take action to restore workers and tourists to the central city.

“We don’t need words — we need action. We need people to come back to Oakland,” Hampton Inn downtown owner Dhruv Patel said in a statement from the Chamber.

The Chamber says low worker attendance, crime and homelessness threaten Downtown’s small businesses and the city’s overall economy.

Business leaders want the city to take the lead by fully reopening City Hall for in-person services.

“Today, City Hall is closed. Oakland’s civic workforce is dispersed,” Chamber Chair Zack Wasserman said in the statement. “It’s time for the City Council to call Oakland’s municipal workforce back to the office and take a few additional urgent measures to restore downtown’s vibrancy.”

Oakland City Hall is currently open for in-person services, the city’s website shows, though the office hours of its public departments were shortened during the pandemic.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department’s permitting counter, which handles processing for new residential development and new businesses, is now open 27 hours a week, and is closed altogether on Fridays.

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In November 2019, before the pandemic, it was open five days a week for 38 hours, according to the Business Times.

“We have been contacted by members who are having trouble obtaining permits and necessary regulatory approvals to get whatever projects they are working on complete,” Chamber President and CEO Barbara Leslie told the newspaper.

The city of Oakland and the office of Mayor Libby Schaaf did not respond to a request for comment.

Oakland business leaders have asked the city to enact five urgent measures to bring people back to Downtown.

They include restoring in-person meetings, including Planning Commission and City Council, boost police visibility in Downtown and reallocate parking meter fees to business improvement districts to allow them to hire more ambassadors.

They also include funding a 900-officer police force, up from the current 680 cops, and address homelessness by fully implementing the city’s encampment management plan.

“Coming out of Covid, we need to create some long-term economic sustainability for businesses — get people back downtown to shop in our retail outlets, eat in our restaurants, convene together in our business districts and create that sense of vibrancy and community we had prior to Covid,” Leslie said.

Dana Bartholomew

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