It’s All Happening on Lakeshore

Back in the Elihu Harris years’ Oakland’s marketing department came up with a bumper sticker to promote a good buzz for the Town. It stated, “It’s Hot. It’s Happening. It’s Oakland.” Then the firestorm, the largest urban wildfire in history, happened and that slogan was banished.

Even as we regularly hit the New York Times Travel section in increasingly glowing terms, some of our local newspaper columnists feel they must constantly remind us of our woes. But, despite all our problems, Oaklanders continue to raise families and start businesses-a bunch of us even consider running for office-and they start lots of them here in my ‘hood, on Lakeshore and Lakepark Avenues.

Since Lakeshore established the first Business Improvement District in Oakland, it has been one of the top places to open a store or restaurant. We have had our ups and downs like other retail districts; and we’re one of the more expensive areas in Oakland to set up shop, but the cost has been worth it to many local entrepreneurs.

Relaxing on Lakeshore on a winter's day

It’s hard to keep up with the new, expanding, and remodeled businesses in our little district near the heart of Oakland, Lake Merritt, but here goes. One of the somewhat controversial additions is the Good Vibrations shop which will have its grand opening on January 28th but has already had a soft opening resulting in plenty of satisfied customers.

The Cuban restaurant, Caña,  on Lakepark which had built up a good breakfast and lunch business including takeout dinners, has recently finished remodeling its next door bar and dining room. It was already full of happy diners last Saturday when I sat down there with friends.

Cana's new bar

The Easy Lounge closed down for remodeling last summer and reopened just after the holidays but has already created a buzz with its new kitchen and fresh Farmers’ Market inspired drinks. It’s a true locally grown business catering to the neighborhood and beyond.

Two new chain restaurants will also be serving their specialties soon. Wingstop, which is owned by a local franchisee, will include freshly made salads in addition to the habit-forming fried wings. It has certainly had its detractors, but the owners have promised to be involved with our district and sensitive to neighborhood preferences.

Chipotle looks to be setting up shop in the spring where the China Lake Express had established itself before losing its lease. Chipotle is known as a green business and will serve fresh Mexican fare. Their website says, “Raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and the farmers.” Both new establishments will serve beer and wine.

Many Oaklanders know that the Kwikway has been restored to a new glory unlike the former fast food stop. Now, the old Adam’s Burger will become the Flipside, a family-style restaurant with burgers for everyone including vegetarians, real milk shakes, and salads. Look for a grand opening soon in a completely remodeled space.

We had a wonderful bedding store next to the inimitable Silver Lining Jewelry where a family from Kyrgyzstan sold organic wool combined with high quality linens. Now, Ergo Sleep Systems, offering natural linens plus organic mattresses will step into their space soon. Next to the new sleep shop is the popular Collage which really fulfills its name with boutique clothing, local art, and occasional DJs.

Upstairs from the Flavors of India-Hipline, Fitness and Belly Dance Studio, promises to help you, “Explore your inner Shakira in our signature Belly Dance Drill Class!” They are expected to arrive by February and will add lots of energy to our already buzzing Avenues.

Many of you have already experienced last year’s newcomers-Marcia Lam, former partner in L’Amyx who opened her own Asian fusion spot, Lin Jia, serving foodies from near and far and Top Dog, everybody’s favorite hot dog shop.

Halloween at Silver Lining

Some of the best window shopping can be had at the Silver Moon Kids’ Store-don’t miss the overdressed giraffe-an important addition for the buggy-pushing crowd right next to Namaste Yoga for relaxation, eclectic health info and yoga gear. If you are looking for natural art pieces for your home, check out Chi, Wind, and Water a little farther down the block, also new this year.

We now have almost every phone store known to humankind so whether you are shopping for a smart phone or are a part of the pre-text, pre-hashtag generation, there’s a plan for you.

On Saturdays it’s wise to walk to the Avenues on your way to the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market, not just because parking is practically impossible; but because you might just miss a party goin’ on-one for the whole family in the Lakeshore shopping district.

Occupy Oakland and Me, Breakin’ up is Hard to do.

Occupy Oakland took over the council meeting again last night and railed at our city government which  was in the middle of grappling with a huge state takeback that threatens many of our jobs and our future economic development. Funny, I can still remember when the Occupy movement gave us all hope and breathed fresh air into our stagnant political environment.

Not so anymore, at least here in Oakland. If you ask most city residents what OO is doing, they’ll say, don’t know, don’t care. If you ask Oakland’s progressive community with a long time history of struggling for civil rights, civil liberties, economic justice, and democracy with a small “d”, what do you say?

I say it’s time to stop besmirching our movement. It’s time to stop threatening our city. It’s time to stop having tantrums in or around our city hall. For me, it’s also time to stop ignoring my democratic choice to pick my city council and my mayor.

While we’re at it, can you really be encouraging and celebrating the-as another Oaklander put it- testosterone-fueled stalking of our first woman mayor? Can you really be wreaking havoc, or hoping to-if you had the damned numbers-in Chinatown every Saturday night-oh-especially during New Year’s celebrations?

Wait…I almost laughed when you valiantly challenged the city council to call off the cops to save money during the Fuck the Police marches. Really, isn’t that the point? You’re making the damn revolution playing tag with the OPD every Saturday night, vandalizing businesses, encouraging arson, and you want the city to call off the cops so you can do that unencumbered?! But I didn’t laugh cause I was just too pissed off.

Listening to our president the other night, I reminded myself that he probably wouldn’t have been able to issue a populist (to the extent he did) challenge to the Republicans without the burgeoning resistance that Occupy Wall Street represented. I will always be grateful to all the folks who took time out from their own private struggle, who unleashed their creativity to form flash mobs, paint signs, write skits, and ultimately, to risk arrest and injury to bring us to our senses and out onto the streets.

But like first love, we were all on our best behavior then as we moved as one down the overpass to the port one glorious summer (California summer, that is, November) evening. Even then, we were deluding ourselves as young lovers often do.

What was the reason for shutting down our port? Was it the workers in Longview, the truckers without contracts, or a reaction to the horrendous police repression? Reaction only works for so long as motivation. Trying to make us believe that every interaction with the city and even OPD was brutal is like trying to convince us that our only love can never be wrong.

One quote I remember well as I stood with a group of peacekeepers the morning of the second eviction was an astonished, “I’ve never had such a positive interaction with the police.” So the brutal second eviction, just another lie we tell each other to keep the love from dying.

Have the police harassed protestors and arrested them for trivialities? I believe they have. Sadly, we will all pay for that harassment, and we are sickened by our police force’s inability to see the need to change its relationship to our citizens (residents=citizens). Do we think these little hissy fits in our streets will fix that? Come’on.

Before I fall out of love altogether with a movement that was supposed to represent all of us, please stop issuing threats to close down our port or our city hall. Remember, threats can’t make me love you again. They can only make me flee your touch.

Occupy the Courts, Oakland Style, on Jan. 20th

Most Oaklanders have followed the Occupy movement in and out of the tents and onto various other actions, some of them controversial; but do you know that Occupy Oakland has committees working on a broad range of issues? There is an arts committee to advance street art and murals, etc, and the Occupy the Courts/Move to Amend Committee is working hard on an event to be held in conjunction with the Occupy SF/Move to Amend actions on Friday, January 20th.

The twentieth is the 2nd anniversary [actually January 21st] of the Supreme Court ruling described  in MovetoAmend.org as “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections [allowing unlimited secret corporate spending on elections based on their free speech rights as persons] and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions.”

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, federal courts around the country will experience a one day “occupation” designed to hasten the end of corporate rule. Both San Francisco and Oakland will stage activities in the morning, but Occupy Oakland is asking East Bay folks to come to the Ronald V Dellums Federal Building on Clay Street from 8 to 11 am and then BART over together to SF for the afternoon activities there. A table will remain at the Oakland Federal building for information on Move to Amend and Occupy the Courts throughout the day.

Phoebe Sorgen of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission has been working on this issue  for a decade and said that the Citizens United ruling was the ultimate anti-democratic decision after a century of the courts moving toward establishing corporate personhood. She said, “The only way to overrule the courts is with an amendment to separate corporations from the state.”

The committee has been putting together a program of speakers, skits, and music, among them Aimee Allison, Director of Roots Action, an online organizing network, and former host of the KPFA Morning Show and, Laura Wells, former Green Party candidate for governor. Occupella, a creation of Bay Area singers and cultural workers- Hali Hammer, Betsy Rose, Nancy Schimmel, Bonnie Lockhart and Leslie Hassberg will kick off the day with songs like the Belly Button Test-if it doesn’t have a belly button, it’s not a person. If you’ve been to very many Occupy gatherings, you have heard or sung along with them.

Katy Polony who runs her own business, Espresso Express, got involved through the Local Business Liaison Committee and friend, Geza Polony, suggested that she and some others from that committee set up an Oakland branch of Occupy the Courts. Katy says that more musicians are still signing up to play for the event.

There will be a teach-in and lots of information on how to get involved with MTA [Move to Amend] and fun. To paraphrase Emma Goldman, if I can’t have fun, I don’t want to be part of your revolution. This thoughtful, creative group of East Bay folks invites you to join them on Friday, January 20th, rain or shine (bring umbrellas, still legal at the federal building) to Occupy the Courts. Please see MovetoAmend.org, Occupella.org, or contact info@occupyoaklandcourts for more information.

Mayor Jean Quan:Embattled or Fighting for Oakland?

Mayor Quan with friends at Chabot event

It’s an old cliché that almost everyone who writes about Oakland feels they must use. You know, it’s a gritty city. The latest one was the New York Times article that touted our new restaurants, which are great, don’t get me wrong. But the writer still felt he had to refer to our “grit.” I’ve never quite figured out what that means-is there sand in your sheets whenever you stay here? Do you get stuff in your eyes walking around our beautiful lake? By the way, which one, we have two and there is some sand involved in both.

Ok, so the new cliché is to describe our mayor as embattled or besieged. I checked google for some of the adjectives used to describe Ms. Quan and discovered that this is not an unusual way to describe a mayor. There were at least seven other mayors so depicted on the first page.

My question is how did this get to be the cliché of choice for our new mayor? Is it a result of the constant string of sexist and racist insults on her facebook page, no matter the subject? Or did it arise from the heckling she received at the Commonwealth Club? How about the three rude people on Grand Avenue when she showed up to promote that shopping district? I know this mayor has encountered unforeseen problems, unforeseen even given the worst economy since the Great Depression (so what is this-the Not-so-Great Depression?)

But, I didn’t see an embattled mayor at the Chabot Space and Science Center on Saturday night (January 7th) nor did the 400 or so Oaklanders and their families who attended the holiday party there. In fact the Mayor seemed to be floating in a red dress among her happy constituents, neighbors and friends, her face glowing, her enjoyment obvious. Before the event, her annual one, she and her husband Floyd cooked for hours for the giant potluck. The crowd was a potpourri of Oakland and the world around it, meeting and greeting each other along with their mayor and her family.

I didn’t see an embattled mayor on Friday afternoon among a crowd of hard working men and women of the Laborers’ Local 304 who told her, “We’ve got your back.” She exudes the same earnest concern as she knocks on doors in the Elmhurst asking neighbors if they know when their Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meets and handing out meeting notices and other info about city services. She chats with the kids who can’t believe the mayor has come to their neighborhood, much less their homes.

Many folks never even meet their council members in their districts, and I don’t remember any former mayors who have stood on the doorsteps of their constituents responding personally to their questions. Is this the sign of an embattled politician, hardly? This is, rather, a mayor unafraid to bring her ideas to the folks most affected by them.

I have seen this mayor grow into her job like she was born for it. And, indeed, more than any previous mayor I have known, she has almost grown up preparing to be mayor from her poor beginnings in a neighboring suburb where the library was her solace to her years as an active public school parent, school board director, and district council person.  She has learned about Oakland the way only a true grassroots activist could.

If you get to meet Mayor Quan, I mean when you get to meet her, she attends neighborhood activities as if she never sleeps, ask her anything about Oakland you always wanted to know. Her knowledge of our history, finances, neighborhoods, topography, and its people is encyclopedic. It is difficult to stay unimpressed when you see her grasp of our needs and wants catalogued with the many solutions she is devising (and has throughout her history here).

Yes, I’m a supporter and I’m working hard to stop the recall. No, we don’t always agree on everything. If you read my blog at all you’ll see that; and I’m not quiet about it when I do not see eye to eye with her administration. But, she’s not just my mayor, she’s the mayor of folks who think the police should be unfettered by oversight because they rarely misbehave. She’s the mayor of young people who camped at Occupy and think it is the most important thing happening in Oakland. She’s also the mayor of folks who hear gunshots at night and want their children to be safe in their beds as well as from police harassment and the lure of gangs.

Mayor speaks at Oakland's Women Suffrage Celebration

She’s the mayor of residents who need a good grocery store and not another liquor store and the mayor of all the drivers (and bicyclists) who want their potholes fixed, merchants who want free parking, and seniors who want their centers open all day, every day. She’s even the mayor of the governor who used up all our redevelopment dollars-during the good times-and then- like the guy who snatched up the rope ladder after climbing to safety, well, you know what happened there.

If you spent a day following Jean Quan around-that’s a challenge I wouldn’t take-I don’t have the stamina-you’d see a smidgen of the length and breadth of her knowledge, hard work, and problem-solving skills. You’d see leadership of the not-so-slick-or-shiny kind, not the glib-easy-answer kind. You’d see thoughtful, hard working leadership in a woman who is just where she needs to be.

Mayor Quan receives resolution of support from the Norther Cal. District Laborers' Affiliates