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You Tell Us: Is Oakland worth it for businesses?

on November 7, 2011

Many Oakland business people are asking whether Oakland is still a good place to invest.  When I talk to people working for big and small businesses around the city, I hear this question constantly:  “Is it time to pack up and leave?“

Phil Tagami told me that several tenants have talked to him about leaving the Rotunda building and taking hundreds of jobs out of the city.  The small shops in Frank Ogawa Plaza report that business is off 30 to 50 percent. The Tribune Tower managers say they can no longer tolerate that their building is frequently forced to close because the section of Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets is usually the epicenter of unrest.

On Wednesday, a client attending a conference at the Marriott Hotel on Broadway called and asked me if it was safe to eat at Jack London Square. I told her not to go because it had been shut down.  Another business group that has invested in Oakland brought its national board of directors to the Bay Area. They too had plans to stay at the Marriott and visit potential sites in Oakland for new investment.  Instead, they went to San Francisco fearful of riots and unruly mobs.

City officials are assessing the impact of the occupancy on our fragile economy.  They will be looking at reduced sales at restaurants, lost revenues at retail outlets, lost leases, and lost jobs.  We will have empirical evidence soon, but for people who lost a lot in broken windows and shattered confidence, and workers who have been told to go home, or have been laid off, the impacts are already known.

All of this begs the question.  Is Oakland worth it?

Not if our leaders allow long-term unlawful occupancy of our public spaces.  Not if the police are forced to hide away in the City Center parking lot under a “minimal presence” order, thereby forcing property owners to arm themselves and risk their lives. Not if graffiti and broken windows are acceptable. Not if the city does not protect the people that employ the “99 percent” and serve Oakland residents.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to say yes to Oakland.  The city is still one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  It is rich with caring, intelligent people who work hard and engage in community affairs. We have young entrepreneurs who are opening small businesses.  We have new innovative companies like Pandora, Sungevity and BrightSource Energy that bring thousands of jobs to the city. Large corporations have established foundations that give back, Kaiser foundation and the Rogers Family Foundation are just a couple of examples.

Most Oaklanders share the outrage at the failure of our economic system. It rewards a small segment and seems to ignore the plight of every day working people who are losing jobs, homes, investments, and worse, the optimism that has always allowed us to think that our lives will get better.  The Occupy Movement has brought this to our nation’s attention.  For this, we are grateful.

Nevertheless, we have to distinguish between our shared anger at Wall Street and the occupancy of Frank Ogawa Plaza and lawlessness in our streets.  Oakland’s business people are not Wall Street profiteers.  They are people like you and me who wake up in the morning and work to feed their families.

The owner of Café Teatro hires four people to sell coffee and sandwiches. She is not rich and she is not exploiting anyone.  The owner of Rising Loafer is in the same boat.  Well before the occupancy, she frequently talked to me about her outrage at corporate America. Tully’s supported the occupancy with donations of food and cleaning supplies, before their windows were smashed.  Each of these businesses will be forced to shut down, and the people they employ will be jobless, if the unlawful occupancy of Ogawa Plaza and violence in the streets continues.

I believe that this too shall pass. It needs to happen soon. If it does then, YES, OAKLAND IS WORTH IT.  But, if we don’t do something soon to change our downward spiral, we may lose the city.

On Thursday night, I took visiting business people to Pican Restaurant.  My mission was to help a local business, which has seen a 40% decline in sales over the last few weeks, while trying to give potential Oakland businesses confidence that the city is still functioning. I hope others will do something similar to support Oakland businesses that create jobs and revenues for this struggling city.

We all honor Oakland’s long history of promoting peace and justice.  Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge that there is a big difference between supporting efforts to change Wall Street and the unlawful encampment that is destroying the city, our local business people, and their employees.

I urge the residents of Oakland to tell our leaders that supporting change in Wall Street and the end unconscionable corporate greed, does not equate to supporting an on-going unlawful occupancy.  Please write to the Mayor, the Council and the City Administrator.  Tell them to end the occupancy and lawlessness in our streets.  Let them know that this caring community also cares about working people and businessmen and women who bring jobs to the city.

When we make that clear, I trust that our leaders will find a way to end the unlawful occupancy. If they do not, perhaps we will need to end the occupancy outside and inside city hall.

Gregory McConnell is president and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to the promotion of Oakland’s major businesses.


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.


  1. miguel on November 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    No mention of the fact that half the businesses downtown have had increased revenue?

    It is completely safe to go downtown, if some people have decided not to go down there it is because of scaremongering like this irresponsible article.

    • Lil Mike on November 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Miguel, if you think Oakland businesses have had increased revenues recently, you are out of your mind. You don’t own a business in town, never have, and cannot speak for the city’s small business community, or restaurants so drink a big glass of politely sit down & be quiet.

  2. Zoe Robinette on November 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    thoughtful article, yes people are afraid to go down there right now and in light of the over 100 deaths that have taken place in 2011 we need a voice of reason…thanks for posting.

    • Quincy on November 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

      What does this article have to do with the deaths occurring in Oakland? How is it a voice of reason in this regard? The reason some people are afraid to go downtown right now is because of the overly aggressive response from the OPD and the targeted media coverage of the police response and the few instances of violence and vandalism, which by the way has been condemned by OO.

  3. Kerry Heffernan on November 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    I owned a restaurant business in Oakland for 6 years, I have lived here in Oakland for most of my adult life and I love the energy and vitality of Oakland. Yes, Oakland is worth it. Here is the thing that the writer is not understanding; The behavior of the OPD as directed by our mayor was reprehensible. The storm trooper tactics, the gassing of Oakland citizens and the bullying of peaceful protestors cannot be sanctioned by a civilized society. The way a society deals with dissenters is of critical importance and there were many other options besides gassing people and shooting them in the head with rubber bullets or intentionally throwing flash bang grenades into the center of a group trying to help a wounded protestor. This attitude of indifference to the humanity of the protestors is unacceptable. First you say the business people don’t want to come to Oakland because they are afraid of riots, then you say the encampment is illegal. Which are you opposed to? The encampment is peaceful, the riots on the other hand have been incited by police hostility as directed by Mayor Jean Kwan. The police are doing as they have been directed to do and there is a fringe element of them that are bullies or who enjoy the effect of being brutal with people. That is not my experience with OPD, which has always been positive as a business owner. The protestors are a predominantly peaceful group with a fringe element, mostly from outside of Oakland, who are anarchists and bent on vandalism and destruction. I’d like to see the writer come up with another suggestion besides a blanket, “restore law and order”. That is already in effect. If you disagree with the encampment then suggest an alternative. If the largest city in the US could avoid violent confrontation, (NYC), then Oakland can find a way to honor the Occupy movement without a return to violent repression.

  4. Steve Stevenson on November 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Oakland is on the rise and you’re talking about it being on it’s way out. Maybe for you. Maybe for the people you know but there are a lot of new businesses opening here including mine. I’m sorry that downtown is suffering but it has been since well before I moved here 8 years ago and well before the occupy protests. I don’t know anyone who isn’t going downtown because of what’s happening at Frank Ogawa. They’re either not going down there because there’s nothing for them there or they are still going down because anything they want to do isn’t in the square. I think this is all a bit chicken little. I’m not saying that there aren’t issues. I am saying those issues don’t equal mass exodus from Oakland.

  5. Philip Weverka on November 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I work for a firm that leased the equivalent of one floor in the Rotunda Building from Phil Tagami. We left last spring when our lease was up because we couldn’t negotiate good terms with the landlord. We didn’t leave Oakland, but moved to a place with more favorable terms. Before Phil Tagami puts blame on Oakland he should look at his own practices. I love working in Oakland.

  6. Donald Macleay on November 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I have been running a business in Oakland for 12 years now. It is good for location and tranisit, good for hiring people, and bad for taxes, parking and crime. Neither the good nor the bad seem to be that much different than other Bay Area locations. Being centrally located does make a big difference. I find that for myself and my clients, the other option is not San Francisco, which is worse on all points. The other places people might go for business are San Leandro, Hayward and El Cerrito and north. In 12 years I have not seen one client move from here to Berkley or San Francisco.

  7. Ian Tewksbury on November 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    This is a deliberate misrepresentation, I have been downtown all day and business here is fine. I am at the Teatro which has people coming in and out and had almost every seat filled for lunch. The Rising Loafer is also busy and actually supported the strike. People need to come down and check it out for themselves.
    Furthermore McConnell is the CEO of the McConnell Group and a big business advocacy firm – to quote his own website. “Greg is the President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition and serves as JHC’s legislative and public policy advocate. JHC members are 50 of the top executives of Oakland’s major corporations.”

  8. Gregory McConnell on November 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    I support Oakland and its businesses and its residents. I want to see the city flourish. My post makes the point that many support this wonderful city. Some to the comments suggest that anarchy is OK. They make the case that all is right. That is not the case. Ask the owners of Plaza Cafe who tell me they lose $480 per day. Ask the shoe shine guy who is not shining any shoes on the plaza. Ask the flower shop who pays to be on the plaza while protesters occupy for free.

    I support protests and the right to free speech, but not lawlessness. Yes I represent JHC. Not one of our companies is on the Fortune 500 list. I wish they were. Maybe then we would have more jobs for Oakland residents.

    • Ian Tewksbury on November 9, 2011 at 7:52 am

      I do not think we should trust your evaluation of the impact on small business because you are a payed advocate for the executives of the largest corporations in Oakland. To quote yourself on the JHC: “It’s a group of 40 of the top executives from the top businesses in Oakland. We represent everything from residential and commercial developers to major employers like Comcast and AT&T and others – Health Care distributers, et cetera.” At&T is a fortune 500 company (#12 to be precise). So is Comcast (#66). Your website doesn’t list the companies you advocate for (though it does promise them ‘access’ to top officials) but one would assume the Health Care Distributer in Oakland is Kaiser – one of the 35 largest private companies in the US. Until there is real information about the economic effects of the occupation on small business I think the city of Oakland should stand with those (as the National Nurses United does) who are, in you own words, “supporting change on wall street and the end of unconscionable corporate greed” – namely, those in the tents downtown who are fighting for an end to the ruinous influence of monied interest in the political process that not only has destroyed the economies of the world but the economy of downtown.

  9. Gregory McConnell on November 9, 2011 at 8:50 am

    I am very happy to see that my post sparked many enthusiastic and thoughtful responses. I must admit that I was mistaken in saying that JHC does not have fortune 500 companies. We have three.

    For those who misinterpreted my position, I posed the question of whether Oakland is worth it and answered that I believe it is. We are not going anywhere. We will continue to try to grow this city and create jobs and housing for its residents. That is what we do.

    To the gentleman who said “no mention of the fact that half the businesses downtown have had increased revenue”, I have no idea who those businesses are. No one I have talked to has had that experience. And, I have talked to hundreds of people in the past several weeks. Oakland’s Economic Development Agency is auditing the effects of occupancy as we debate. Soon we won’t have to question each other as we will have empirical evidence.

    Thank you Oakland North for posting my thoughts and to the people who have responded. Fair discourse is good. Much better than riots in the streets.

    The occupancy will soon be brought to an end and we will move on, hopefully to do something about Wall Street greed that is hurting all of us. I pray it all works out peacefully.

    • Ian Tewksbury on November 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      I agree – it is sad this discusion isn’t taking place in a reasonable fashion. Questions like ‘Is Oakland worth it” are emotionally rousing but rationally incoherent.

      Furthermore, an advocate for fortune 500 companies should not be the one to frame our political questions.

      In the name of fair discourse you should publicly state your actual opinion which, unlike these prevarications, is a perfectly reasonable position:

      1. You feel the major corporations and real estate developers you represent are central to the prosperity of Oakland.
      2. You feel the image of anti-corporate civil disobedience undermines your effort to court and represent these corporations.

      Please let us know if you disagree with 1 or 2. Then the reasonable could agree or disagree depending upon the extent to which they think occupy oakland undermines the economic development that AT&T, Kaiser, Comcast and the big business real estate developers (whom many of us reasonably feel are responsible) offer us.

      If you are not a payed advocate of these corporations please let us know and I will be the first to apologize for the ‘misrepresentation.’ Thanks.

    • Ian Tewksbury on November 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      From the East Bay Express: But some small business owners in downtown say they don’t want the chamber and the business groups speaking on their behalf. “They don’t represent small businesses,” said Maria Gastelumendi, owner of The Rising Loafer Cafe and Bakery, who noted that her business actually increased after Occupy Oakland arrived. “They haven’t come and asked me how I feel,” she added, referring to the chamber and the business associations. “In the seven years that I have been here, they have never once approached me — because I’m not a chain. I’m not a big-box store.”

  10. Mark Gartland on November 9, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    This story feels more like a letter to the editor than a well researched article about our beautiful city. Downtown Oakland has struggled a longtime with trying attract shoppers and other customers. I for one am excited to see the streets filled with passionate young activists. Feels more like a real city than a government town these days.

    • Gregory McConnell on November 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      It is a letter to the editor. Now someone is dead. Peace!

  11. Ferris Mitchell on November 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Writer forgot to mention that the people have MORE of a right to be there than the businesses do.

    • Gregory McConnell on November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

      @ Ferris

      Who do you think own businesses? People do!
      Who do you think work for businesses? People do!
      Who do you think shop at businesses? People do.

      This has become silly. I am out. Peace

      • Lil Mike on November 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

        If you really wish to advocate for Oakland Mr. McConnell, you might need to be willing to debate the very people who also live, vote, even #Occupy and discuss issues here. I find it ironic that instead of further explaining your case, you got disgusted and logged off.

        I question the right of random people to run a never-ending unruly hobo town in the town square, but I also question the right of banks & hapless gov’t officials to run ruff-shod over the lives of people as well.

        It’s really not silly at all… If you and your colleagues in the “business community” don’t get your way, then what?

        Are you threatening to take more jobs away from the people who don’t already have them?

        I know that the atmosphere in the plaza is not a productive place for you to get your point across, but hopefully an online forum would allow the safety & space you require to make a compelling statement. Please share more of your views, no one can learn from your experience if you are not teaching what you know.

  12. fred on November 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Here’s how to get Oakland back on its feet:

    1. Evict the Oakland Perpetual Protesters from Snow Park, Lake Merritt and anywhere else they set up camp illegally. The OPP does not represent the occupy movement as a whole or even the concept of economic justice. They are only hurting Oakland and its citizens. Enough is enough.
    2. Evict Jean Quan and most of the City Council from office.
    3. Fire all corrupt officials in the city government.
    4. Cut EVERYTHING to the bone except police, fire and city maintenance.
    5. Eliminate all targeted parcel taxes and other pet project fees. Get Oakland’s overall tax structure in line with other similar cities in the area.
    6. Increase investment in city infrastructure that will help make Oakland a decent place to live and work.

    Oakland has an opportunity to be a jewel of a city. It has possibly the best location in one of the best places on earth to live. It could be a shining example of a diverse culture working and living together and prospering. It is time to wipe out the past and move forward. Fire Jean Quan and the city council and send a strong message that status quo won’t cut it any more.

  13. allan t on November 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Fred, Well said! A list of great solutions that have been needed for a long time. Business is afraid of Oakland because of the tax structure and the corrupt politics.

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