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Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Cafes

2 Jan

Several weeks ago I promised to restart my Rediscovering Downtown Oakland series and asked for suggestions on what categories to cover. I’m starting off with Cathy’s request: “how about coffeeshops? with room to sit in?” I was a bit surprised, looking back at my 2009 series, that I had not covered cafes, especially since there are several fantastic places to sip coffee and tea downtown. It seemed like an appropriate place to start, since as many of us return from vacations to work this week we might need or benefit from some extra caffeine.

Here are a few of my favorites. (Note that besides being great cafes to enjoy with friends or colleagues, all of these places also offer free wi-fi so they’re great places to work too.) Continue reading

Marla Wilson: Building a Better Broadway – Signs of life along Oakland’s Main Street

15 Dec

This guest blog post was written by Marla Wilson, Sustainable Development Associate with Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area’s advocate for open spaces and vibrant places. She has served on the Community Stakeholders Group for the Broadway-Valdez Specific Plan since the planning process began in 2008. Oakland is one of Greenbelt Alliance’s top priority cities for infill development in the region.

It’s easy to miss anything that happens this time of year. Things fall through the cracks in the crazy crunch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. That’s why you may not have noticed that the City of Oakland has released a key document with a vision for revitalizing a neighborhood that has, like several parts of the city, fallen upon hard times.

From the beginning, the City’s stated goal in creating the Broadway-Valdez Specific Plan has been to address Oakland’s retail “leakage” – the fact that only $1 of every $3 an Oakland resident spends is spent in Oakland. The City’s goal has been to create a district similar to San Francisco’s Union Square or Emeryville’s Bay Street, with at least 1 million square feet of retail – that’s equivalent to roughly 2.5 Bay Streets!

Without leadership, this vision will not happen. Property owners would prefer to sell their land for uses like housing that command a larger price tag, not to mention that there are 140 property owners who need to agree in order to assemble sizable properties necessary to attract major retailers. Yet, the economic downturn has meant that this stretch of Broadway, between Grand Avenue and 580, has become more desolate, with many “Auto Row” car dealerships leaving or going out of business. Some new businesses have arrived, like 3000 Broadway and Shashamane, but they could really flourish if more people lived nearby. Meanwhile, online sales continue to rise, leaving retailers reconsidering the role of bricks and mortar locations.

Earlier this year, Greenbelt Alliance teamed up with several other organizations to announce a bold yet realistic vision for a better Broadway. This fall, we recognized and applauded the positive impact this vision has had on Oakland’s Draft Plan Concept for the Broadway-Valdez area. Sure, there is lots this plan does not yet describe, including policies to attract quality jobs. Although it’s still largely at the 30,000-foot level, the plan is definitely headed in the right direction. Continue reading

Karen Hester: Show Up, Eat Up, Speak Out – Interim Mobile Food Policy Comes Before Council this Tuesday, Dec 6th

3 Dec

This guest post was written by Karen Hester, an events producer who lives in Temescal Creek Cohousing and often cooks dinner for her community of 25 folks. You can subscribe to her event listings by signing up on her website. She is a board member of Destiny Arts Center, a bike enthusiast and loves to eat almost any street food, including fried crickets in Cambodia.

In the scheme of things, I’m a relative newcomer to the food fights in the mobile food landscape. City staff and some local food truck operators have been pushing for a new kinder, gentler mobile food policy for almost 2 1/2 years.

Last spring Ed Manase and staff from Planning got push back from the City committee called Committee for Community Economic Development to reach out more to stakeholders and naysayers. He had tried to push through a comprehensive policy for the whole city, which makes sense, except in Oakland since Desley Brooks and Larry Reid don’t want mobile food in their districts. Which is a shame as the poorest parts of Oakland are the ones that perhaps stand to benefit the most as food trucks are a great incubator for food entrepreneurs who can develop a loyal clientele without investing in a brick and mortar restaurant. I predict that whoever replaces Larry Reid next November will realize the lost opportunity and get onboard.

So now while Ed Manase and staff work on a comprehensive policy to hopefully be adopted by the Council by March, Councilmembers Kaplan and Brunner have worked with some of us in the community to put forward an interim food pod policy that will be good until January 2013. Continue reading

Rediscovering downtown Oakland… again

29 Nov

Nearly three years ago, after dozens of downtown establishments were vandalized after Oscar Grant protests, I started a series called “Rediscovering Downtown Oakland,” in which I highlighted Oakland businesses that I loved in hopes that others would support them. Since I ended that series, so much has changed downtown. Many of the businesses have closed or moved, and so many more have popped up in their places. Looking at my post on where to grab drinks after work made me realize just how much downtown has changed, since I rarely go to any of those places anymore, and I have a full new rotation of bars I frequent.

I’ve been meaning to rewrite the series for at least several months, but I never got around to it. For the past few weeks in particular, I’ve been realizing I really needed to restart this series.

But something happened last night that pushed me over the edge. A group of people brought a resolution to the Occupy Oakland General Assembly calling for the active support of local businesses. Continue reading

Celebrate Plaid Friday – support local, independent Oakland businesses

24 Nov

Things have been pretty heated in Oakland for the last month. Many Oaklanders who have worked together in the past (some for many years) are now debating each other about Occupy Oakland. Some Oaklanders love it, others hate it, and others love the idea but have been turned off by recent actions. I’ve seen and been part of many heated debates online and in person about the effects of Occupy Oakland on our city.

Last week, I got into a particularly heated debate with a close friend of mine on Twitter that quickly devolved since there’s very little room for nuance or explanation in 140 characters. I left the conversation feeling very angry (and I’m sure he did too). Later that day I picked up the phone and called him, and I’m so glad I did. It turned out that though we had been talking past each other on Twitter, we actually agreed on quite a bit and respected each other’s perspectives.

I hope others are doing the same – having real conversations with each other about Occupy Oakland and what it means. We need to remember that after this phase of Occupy Oakland is finished, just like after elections when we might disagree, we all have to work together again. The problems in our city are not going away, and we can address them so much more effectively if we work together.

So on this Thanksgiving, I hope Oaklanders will come together and support each other. One easy way to do that is to shop locally on this Plaid Friday and this weekend. Continue reading

Oakland ballot measures go down in flames, sending $800K in election expenses down the drain

16 Nov

In the midst of Occupy Oakland, some Oaklanders might have forgotten about our municipal mail in only election. Whether they forgot or just decided not to vote, a full 75% of eligible voters did not return their ballots so yesterday evening the election was decided by just under 25% of the electorate. And that quarter of Oakland voters rejected all three ballot measures.

Since I opposed two out of the three measures (and in the case of Measure H – which would have changed the city attorney position from being elected to being appointed by the Council – I vehemently opposed it), I’m pretty happy with the outcome. What I’m not happy about is how much money, time and energy was wasted on this useless election.

Mayor Jean Quan of course blamed the failure of Measure I, the parcel tax, on Occupy Oakland: Continue reading

Oakland General Strike: Support local, independent businesses

2 Nov

Before heading to downtown for the general strike, I wanted to put up this quick blog post urging folks to support the small businesses downtown – both those that are closed today and those that are open. Some businesses downtown have been hurting for the past couple of weeks, either because of the occupation or because of the heavy police presence in Frank Ogawa Plaza last week. Sadly, a few businesses have had their windows broken by protesters.

Some are urging folks to buy nothing today. I don’t support that message. Instead, I urge you to buy locally and to spend money at the downtown businesses that have been most effected by Occupy Oakland and the police response. Continue reading

Blog roundup – green jobs, running for delegate & Safeway design review

24 Jan

No time for a full blog post today, but I wanted to point you to a couple blog posts I wrote elsewhere and an important A Better Oakland post.

A few weeks ago I started working at the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) as online organizer and program associate. Part of my job includes tweeting, posting on Facebook, writing emails, and blogging. I wrote my first blog post last week, about a green jobs report released by Next 10. The report has some amazing, colorful graphs that inspired me to want to include more graphs and visual representations when writing:

CLCV blog Next 10 graph

I’ll be blogging at CLCV’s blog Groundswell regularly so if you’re interested, sign up for our RSS feed. We tend to post 2-3 times per week so the feed shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

I also wrote a blog post last week for Emerge America. I’m currently in the Emerge Califonia program, which trains Democratic women to run for office. It’s an incredible program. We meet once a month for ten hours, followed by a two hour reception – the grueling schedule alone is good training for what it will be like to run for office! As part of the program, we all have to write blog posts and Emerge America decided to publish my post about running for delegate.

One last post you should read is A Better Oakland’s post about the Pleasant Valley Safeway design review, which will be happening this Wednesday evening. The project is somewhat improved from the initial design that united (probably for the first time) ULTRA, STAND and RCPC in our objections to the proposal. The Planning Commission largely agreed with the concerns the community raised at the 2009 scoping session so Safeway has made some changes, like slightly reducing the parking, orienting more of the retail towards the street, and moving the 51 bus stop closer to the development.

Unfortunately, the Safeway store is still way at the back of the lot so to get there, pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders will have to move through a sea of parking to get there. Our comments made a difference last time so it’s important to to continue asking for improvements, as the project could still change. If you’d like to voice your thoughts, please come to the Design Review Committee meeting this Wednesday at 5pm at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1.

Shop Oakland this holiday season

8 Dec

Holiday shopping can be stressful. Waiting in long lines, spending way too much time online trying to find the perfect gift, and driving around the Bay Area in traffic isn’t much fun. But there’s an easier and more rewarding way to do your holiday shopping – shop Oakland.

When you shop at local Oakland businesses, you’ll generally avoid the lines (and much of the driving) and find some very unique gifts. Plus, your dollars will be circulated back into the local community instead of sent off to another city or country.

Sound good to you? If so, join The Great Oakland Grown Holiday Challenge. Oakland Grown, which represents and promotes independent Oakland businesses and artists, is asking Oaklanders to commit to spending a certain percentage on holiday shopping at local businesses. You can either go all out and commit to spending 100% of your dollars here or figure out a percentage that works for you.

I committed to 50% because I’ve already done some of my holiday shopping in Hawaii and at a goat farm in Pescadero, but I’m going to try to do the rest of my shopping here in Oakland.

I signed up today for the Holiday Challenge and hope you’ll do so too. Oakland Grown will send you reminders and once the Challenge is over, if you fill out a survey you’ll be entered to win prizes from Oakland businesses.

Maybe you’d like to shop locally but are not sure where to go. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Check out the Oakland Grown Holiday Gift Guide. They have tons of ideas for local gifts you can buy at stores and online from jewelry, to furniture, to gifts for the little ones in your life.
  2. Go to the Crucible’s Holiday Gifty Art Sale this Friday-Sunday. I go to this every year and always find many incredible gifts. Not all of the artists are Oaklanders but many are and the rest are local to the Bay Area. If you’ve ever thought about taking a class at the Crucible (or gifting one), this would be the time, as they’ll be offering a 20% discount this weekend.
  3. Don’t have much time to do shopping or just want to get it over with? There are two Oakland stores that could each fulfill all or most of your gifting needs. I’ve written here before about Rockridge Home, where I’ve purchased dozens of gifts over the years. Since I’ve moved closer to Piedmont, I’ve discovered Nathan & Co, which is now my go to store for gifts. Both places have a huge range in prices, items, and styles – kitchen tools, books, jewelry, clothing, furniture, art, and just about everything in between.
  4. UPDATE: Somehow I didn’t find out about this until just now, but Oakland Urban Paths is hosting their First Annual Walk & Shop this Saturday. The walk will wind through three business districts via historic stairways and pathways. Sadly I have a meeting this Saturday, since I’d love to check out more of the stairways in my neighborhood, but luckily they offer a map so you can do the walk and shop on your own, which I plan to do.

Now that you know where to shop locally, sign up for Great The Oakland Grown Holiday Challenge. You’ll be joining Mayor-Elect Jean Quan and Councilmember-Elect Libby Schaaf in taking the challenge. (I suspect this challenge won’t be too hard for Libby as I’ve never met anyone as committed to shopping in Oakland as she is.)

If you want an awesome Oakland Grown shopping bag to use while you shop locally, stop by Farley’s tomorrow (Thursday) from 5-9pm for the Oakland Grown Happy Hour. Farley’s will donate 20% of the proceeds from the evening to Oakland Grown, and it will be a great chance to meet business owners, artists, and supporters of local businesses.

June 14-20 Oakland Political & Community Events

14 Jun

Monday, June 14th – Oakland Community Budget Forum

Even after drastic cuts, layoffs and furloughs, we still face a $31.5 million deficit for FY 2010-2011. How we solve it will shape arts & culture, recreation, senior and youth services and public safety for years to come. Hear the options from City Councilmembers and the City Administrator and give your input. The forum will take place from 7-9pm at Eastmont Substation, 2651 73rd Avenue.

Tuesday, June 15th – Oakland City Council Meeting

At this week’s meeting, the Council will be discussing several taxes and fees, vacating part of Peralta Street and giving it to the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency, Measure Y, issuing layoff notices to 200 police officers, sewers, billboards, and more. See the full meeting agenda and check out my post about how to watch and understand City Council meetings if you need some guidance on how or where to view the meeting. The non-ceremonial parts of the meeting start at 6:30pm in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Wednesday, June 16th – Happy Hour Fundraiser for Rebecca Kaplan

Please join Rebecca Kaplan and supporters at Somar Bar for drinks to celebrate the work of her Exploratory Committee for Oakland Mayor. This is an opportunity to talk to Rebecca about her vision for Oakland and to learn about how you can get involved. The event takes place from 5:30-7pm at Somar Bar, 1727 Telegraph Ave. RSVP at Rebecca Kaplan’s website.

Wednesday, June 16th – Oakland Rising’s Young Progressives Party

Oakland Rising educates and mobilizes voters in the flatlands to speak up for and take charge of the issues impacting their lives. Oakland Rising is teaming up with Oakland’s Young Progressives to usher in a new era of political power that is committed to building an Oakland for everyone. Oakland has a long history of progressive activism and, like you, we want to see our legacy grow. We have an amazing group of young progressive leaders who are proud to serve as a Co-Hosts for Oakland Rising’s first Young Progressives Party and we want you to join us and Oakland Rising as part of a new vanguard of progressive leadership ready to lift Oakland to new heights. The event takes place from 5:30-8pm at The Den, Telegraph at 19th Street. Suggested Donation: $25-250. No one turned away for lack of funds! Find more info at Oakland Rising’s website.

Thursday, June 17th Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Meeting

Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meets monthly to discuss bicycle and pedestrian issues. This month the BPAC will discuss MacArthur BART Bicycle/Pedestrian Access and High-Capacity Bike Parking, Bicycle-Friendly Communities, MacArthur Blvd Bikeway, High St-Midvale Ave, Design Review, and Fruitvale Pedestrian Wayfinding Signs. The BPAC is extremely inclusive – any Oakland resident who attends three consecutive meetings becomes a voting member of the committee – so if you’re interested in bike and ped issues, you should consider attending. The BPAC will be meeting from 5:30-7:30pm in Hearing Room 4 of City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Thursday, June 17th – Temescal Street Cinema Opening Night

The Third Annual Temescal Street Cinema returns to 49th and Telegraph (Bank of the West Building) this summer for another year of great, free, locally made films! There’ll be live music and free popcorn at every show, with events getting started at 8 PM every Thursday from June 11-July 16. Movies will start when it gets dark, no sooner than 8:30 PM. Come early or bring a chair! Opening night will feature Pelada, in which former U.S. college stars looking for a soccer fix travel the world to play in pickup games ranging from converted landfill tournaments in Africa to rooftop Japanese club games. Find out more details at the Temescal Street Cinema website.

Saturday, June 19th – Make Oakland Better Now! Budget Strategy Meeting

If you are a Make Oakland Better Now! Facebook member, you already know the City Council is talking seriously about eliminating 200 Oakland Police Officers in order to balance Oakland’s budget. And if you are a member of Make Oakland Better Now!, you already know our response is going to be “absolutely no way!” There has to be another way. Work with Make Oakland Better Now! to formulate a practical, achievable alternative we can present to City Council. The meeting takes place from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Rockridge Public Library, 5366 College Avenue. Find more info at the group’s website.