After the four-year snoozefest of Ron Dellums’ administration, Mayor Jean Quan is enjoying a honeymoon with voters who approve of her high visibility. To solve Oakland’s enormous budget deficit and make a dent in unemployment, she will need to produce significant gains in jobs and business taxes. Given her anti-business stances on the City Council, it’s fair to question whether she is up to the task. For all the flattering headlines, a close examination of the Mayor’s efforts at business attraction yields disappointing results.
Take, for example, Mayor Quan’s meeting in San Francisco with tech executives. While I applaud the spirit of the meeting, it was executed poorly. First, the businesses who attended seem to be chosen for their visibility, not for their suitability to relocate to Oakland (for example, Twitter’s business model / lack thereof means their taxes would be lower in Oakland than SF, but Zynga is probably better off paying a payroll tax than a revenue tax). Second, doing recruitment inside San Francisco, with a large group of high-profile CEOs, guarantees that the meeting will be leaked to the press and also encourages San Francisco leaders to respond by trying to keep the firms. In addition to being rude, recruiting businesses on SF’s turf is counter-productive – if a CEO won’t go to the DTO for a meeting, how is he going to move his entire business there? Besides, SF isn’t our most direct competitor.
Instead, it is Pleasanton that is taking jobs and taxes away from Oakland. Kaiser Permanente, the largest private-sector employer and office tenant in Oakland, has been substantially expanding business operations in Pleasanton while its presence in Oakland’s high-rises stagnates. Clorox is moving hundreds of jobs to Pleasanton. I hear that, when in town for County Transportation Commission meetings, Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman looks for companies to poach, and Mayor Quan does not seem to respond.
In a city of 200,000 jobs, landing one 65-employee bank doesn’t make a difference. A large, sector-leading employer like the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, however, would be a substantial coup. Unfortunately, the City of Oakland’s characteristic indecision and lame work ethic have resulted in an extremely poor bid to take advantage of this unique opportunity: the City submitted four sites instead of the best one (including two that in do not meet the LBNL’s criteria), and their mysterious “packet” about Oakland’s wonderfulness is surely more like MeetDowntownOak.com than Alameda’s polished presentation. With high-stakes competition for jobs and revenues, it is vital that the Mayor is prioritizing her targets and using her time effectively. Yet all indications point to the contrary.
According to her official schedule, Mayor Quan spoke on Thursday April 7 from 7-8pm at the “South Asian Middle Eastern Asian Pacific Islander Awareness Now Event” at Mills College. That night, she flew all the way to New York for an honorary feast (and undisclosed fundraiser) on Friday, and claimed to “talk with philanthropic organizations about funding programs here in Oakland.” She couldn’t have had much time to do that, though, since she was back in town for the Fruitvale Town Hall Meeting Saturday morning. Considering that Mayor Quan can’t even schedule a City Council item on time, one has to ask whether a one-day trip to New York to pick up an award is a good use of taxpayer funds or the Mayor’s valuable time.
While Jean Quan is certainly getting around, there are some glaring omissions from her schedule. Is Mayor Quan talking to merchants’ associations, business improvement districts, or real estate investors? Let alone Kaiser and the other large employers whose slow migration to Pleasanton is what’s really holding back business tax revenues. She was part of the Council majority who put some waterfront land off-limits to residential development over the last few years, but where is the effort to attract industrial businesses? The Mayor is going to have to turn her photo ops into results if she wants the City to continue to provide the services residents expect and deserve.