Dec 242007
 

Oakland Unwrapped

Nonprofit lists Oakland merchants to help build sustainable community.

Erin Neel launched Oakland Unwrapped in May of this year as a way to promote local artists and businesses by providing an online market place.

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Away with the big box markets and chain retailers. Forget the swanky department stores in someone else’s city.

“Shop locally” is the slogan of commerce supporting the environmental movement. And lest you think buying your sister pink Angora socks down the street instead of from your favorite catalog store is a wonky liberal statement, advocates of shopping locally remind you that you will be keeping profits circulating in your hometown.

The Web site Oakland Unwrapped, http://www.oaklandunwrapped.com, connects you to the goods and services of Oakland’s local craftsmen and retailers.

Erin Kilmer Neel, with a degree in urban planning, realized when she married three years ago that the only place to sign up for a gift registry was with a non-Oakland department store. She wanted to change that.

Since she launched her site in May, she has welcomed 15 entrepreneurs, mostly artists, designers and craftsmen as well as two publishers and two brick-and-mortar outlets to the site, and she reports several more will soon link their products to Oakland Unwrapped.

Crafts on sale at Oakland Unwrapped 

She conceived her business as a nonprofit and, working single-handedly, Neel is busy writing grants to get each next piece of technology in place. For instance, a recent grant from Pacific Gas and Electric will allow her to emphasize ecologically friendly merchants who participate in Oakland Unwrapped.

She also is partnering with Oakland’s Cerebral Palsy Center, which has an entrepreneurial division for its clients. In the future, the center’s entrepreneurs will be able to display their products on her site.

Two bricks-and-mortar boutiques, INDUSTRIelle on Grand Avenue and Entrez on Telegraph Avenue also have presences on Oakland Unwrapped. Publishers are GrassRoutes, a series of city guidebooks, and EcoMetro Green Savings Book, a catalog of coupons to environ-mentally friendly local businesses.

Neel charges the entrepreneurs on her site 5 to 7 percent of their sales or a monthly fee of $25. Even with these modest charges, she hopes to be in the black by May, the first anniversary of her launch.

Serena Bartlett, the publisher of GrassRoutes guidebooks, was starting out three years ago just when Neel was setting her own gears in motion.

“We had the same message — shopping locally and keeping the money here. I was one of her first merchants,” Bartlett said.

Neel announced her epiphany to Oakland commerce with a bash called the Indie Awards last May when local entrepreneurs were honored. She chose the name Oakland Unwrapped “because it’s a gift site, but it also unwraps the treasures of Oakland,” she said.

Although most of her merchants have found her rather than the other way around, Neel is a go-getter, with rich contacts in Oakland business. She co-chairs the Oakland Merchants Leadership Forum, serves on the board of the American Independent Business Alliance and belongs to the international Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, http://www.livingeconomies.org, which promotes local business to sustain healthy communities.

Sales are heating up for the holidays. But she says she probably won’t be able to display several new merchants who are waiting to get on her site until January.

 Posted by at 4:16 pm
Dec 122007
 

By Francine Brevetti, Staff WriterThe Port of Oakland is sponsoring an informational job fair next week for a group of citizens who are often overlooked on the employment market _ former convicts.The Apprenticeship Expo, to be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at 530 Water St. in Jack London Square, aims to introduce former convicts to trade unions and job opportunities.The previously incarcerated _ frequently stymied in the job market by demands for background checks _ can make it in the construction trades with the proper guidance and support, said one former felon.The 28-year old woman, imprisoned for embezzlement, is today working on a construction site as an apprentice electrician thanks to one of the 18 training programs expected to attend the expo. The former banker, who asked that her name not be used, credited the Cypress Mandela Training Program with preparing her for her current career and lifestyle.“My lawyer suggested the construction industry because it’s often overlooked, but it has many opportunities and good wages,” she said. She went through the 16-week Cypress Mandela apprentice program and applied for every opportunity the trade unions presented.She said she’s found tolerance at her current job for former felons, provided they make some changes in their lives. “As long as they are willing to put behind them a sense of entitlement for quick money, rolling out of bed at 12 noon, the marijuana, the drugs and sometimes certain relationships, they can do it,” she said, speaking as one who’s had to look at her own life in a new light.Victor Uno, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a former training manager of the union’s apprenticeship program, is expected to speak at the expo.“We had many people formerly incarcerated in our apprenticeship program and we found opportunities for everybody,” Uno said. “If somebody made a mistake and did their time, we don’t hold that against them. Most employers in the construction trades don’t require background checks and we don’t do background checks for the apprenticeship program.”Other trade union representatives will also attend the expo, which is offered in cooperation with the Community Reentry Service Providers Network. and the Oakland Private Industry Council.
 

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Dec 122007
 

Commission not swayed by opposition from Parks District  

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Oakland residents and drivers traveling on I-80 can expect a new billboard in the coming year since the Port of Oakland’s board of commissioners opted for revenue instead of aesthetics at a board meeting Tuesday.Port commissioners agreed that CBS Outdoor could erect one more billboard between the two it already has on a stretch of highway near the Bay Bridge toll gate. The vote came despite protests from the East Bay Regional Park District, local nonprofit Waterfront Action and three residents from the Watergate complex in Emeryville, as well as long-standing public opposition to billboards in Oakland.

“If we don’t use this opportunity to generate revenues for the Port, Caltrans can cut a deal with CBS (Outdoor) to do the same,” port Commissioner Kenneth Katzoff said. “We do a lot of good in the community but we need revenue too.”

Caltrans owns the land where the billboard will be placed, but the port has an easement for the 3,000-square-foot parcel.

The legalities of this issue are complex, involving the ownership of land, past agreements between the port and the city over billboards and past agreements with the East Bay Regional Park District.

John Sutter, director of the park district — which governs Alameda and Contra Costa county’s parks — reminded commissioners of a memorandum of understanding he said required the port and district to cooperate on such decisions.

However, during the meeting, the port board determined the understanding is no longer in effect since the land in question is now controlled by Caltrans.

Sutter responded, “Well, if you don’t have a legal responsibility (to the Park District), then at least you have a moral one.”

The commissioners were not swayed and voted 6-1 for the billboard, which will probably appear within next six months to a year.

In another action concerning the port’s real estate endeavors, the board agreed to give developer Jack London Square Partners more time to begin construction on three projects. The board voted unanimously that the developer could begin construction six months after originally planned.

The developer is building new retail, office and hotel projects at Jack London Square.

Jack London Square Partners said the construction delay would not impact the projects’ expected completion in March 2009.

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Dec 122007
 

Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — A new grocer is finally coming to Jack London Gateway, entering an embattled retail space that has been vacant since the end of February.

Fresh & Easy

 Typical Fresh and Easy outlet

Fresh and Easy, the U.S. branch of UK grocer Tesco, signed a lease in early November with developers JLG Associates to occupy the 27,000-square-foot space previously occupied by the Eugene Market in the West Oakland shopping center at Franklin and Market streets.

Tesco launched in America two years ago, testing the market for American tastes. Last month, Fresh and Easy opened 122 stores in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The outlet in the Jack London Gateway will be its first in Northern California.

Fresh and Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott would not predict when the grocery store would open. On average, he said, it has taken the retailer less than two years to open a new store.

He also would not discuss Fresh and Easys expansion plans in Northern California or the Bay Area.

Fresh and Easy will occupy only 16,000 square feet of the space, and plans to sublet the rest to a compatible store.

While community sources have expressed the desire for a pharmacy, Fresh and Easy is not ready to comment on its choice of subtenant.

While 16,000 square feet seems modest for a supermarket (the Whole Foods that opened in September near Lake Merritt is 50,000 square feet and employs about 200 people), Fresh and Easy specializes in compact stores with plenty of variety, company representatives said.

Smaller than the usual supermarket, our neighborhood-sized stores are easily accessible and offer everything from everyday staples to gourmet items, states the chains Web site.

The chain also touts reasonable pricing.

Fresh and Easy outlets typically offer two choices for consumers, a store brand and a nationally known label — as opposed to other outlets, which may offer a store brand and a choice of two or three national brands, said Lorie Alemania, president of Portfolio Property Investors, one of the partners in JLG Associates.

Alemania and her partners have been looking for a retailer to take the place of Eugene Market, which was abandoned by its owners in February. She visited six Fresh and Easy stores in Los Angeles and said the retailer offers organic and pre-packaged produce.

It has tasting booths and high-tech scanners, she said.

Wonnacott said the new store would employ between 20 and 30 people.

West Oakland activist Marcus Johnson said the community was dismayed when the Eugene Market closed abruptly, leaving neighbors without a grocery resource and employees unpaid.

Johnson said Fresh and Easy (needs) to do some mending there. The community feels like that it has been deserted.

Besides Portfolio Property Investors, JLG Associates partners include the West Oakland Marketplace Advancement Company and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. JLG Associates is the lead developer for the Jack London Gateway, a 13-store retail center in West Oakland.

 Posted by at 11:21 am
Dec 052007
 

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — Ghermai Ogbe has driven his truck to pick up and deliver cargo at the Port of Oakland for the last six years.

His livelihood, however, may be killing him.

“If we go to the port and the port is busy, you have 150 trucks idling for half an hour. It’s not healthy for us,” Ogbe said.

A study released Tuesday by the national Natural Resources Defense Council and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, based in Oakland, said truck drivers who serve the Port of Oakland on a daily basis have a higher risk of cancer because of the emissions of diesel fuel.

Diesel particulate matter emitted by trucks is estimated to cause 70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution, the study reports.

Diane Bailey, scientist with the NRDC’s environment and health program, said the amount of diesel particulate exposure at the port increased the health risk to twice the level deemed safe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The surrounding neighborhood of West Oakland, where one in five children is diagnosed with asthma, is also at risk, said community activist Margaret Gordon, representing the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.

The study was conducted by inserting air monitors in the cabs of seven truck drivers for a total of 68 hours. When samples were taken, Bailey said, “The diesel levels were 10 times higher than the level in residential areas of Oakland.”

Five of the drivers reported health difficulties including back pain, breathing problems, asthma and eye problems, the study said.

Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said truck drivers who serve the port are helpless to change the situation. Because they are independent contractors, they cannot afford to buy newer, clean trucks or fit their equipment with technology to reduce emissions.

“They earn on average $8 an hour and have no health insurance,” Bloch said.

The coalitions urged the port to use its leverage as a landlord to exact efficiencies from trucking companies and clean up the port’s truck fleet.

However, Bailey and Bloch noted that trucking companies do not own trucks and that truck drivers themselves are ill-equipped to make these changes. 

difficulties including back pain, breathing problems, asthma and eye problems, the study said.

Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said truck drivers who serve the port are helpless to change the situation. Because they are independent contractors, they cannot afford to buy newer, clean trucks or fit their equipment with technology to reduce emissions.

“They earn on average $8 an hour and have no health insurance,” Bloch said.

The coalitions urged the port to use its leverage as a landlord to exact efficiencies from trucking companies and clean up the port’s truck fleet.

However, Bailey and Bloch noted that trucking companies do not own trucks and that truck drivers themselves are ill-equipped to make these changes. Therefore, they urged the Port of Oakland to follow through on its proposal that trucking companies employ truck drivers rather than using them as independent contractors. In this way, the trucking companies would finance the acquisition of cleaner trucks and give their drivers health benefits and a living wage.

Since the port made this proposal earlier this year, it has tempered its commitment to this plan in public statements.

Bailey said the California Air Resources Board is expected Friday to set regulations on air quality at the state’s ports.

 Posted by at 5:55 pm