A number of residents are raising questions about a City Council Community and Economic Development (CED) decision this week to create a small business task force.
They want to make sure the task force will be sufficiently representative, including the voices and needs of nonprofits in Oakland and Black and immigrant business owners, and build on the work of existing organizations that are already advocating for creating a sustainable environment for small businesses in the city, which are being displaced at an alarming rate.
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan told the Post she supports the creation of the task- force because City Council members have the opportunity to appoint taskforce members, ensuring that it will be truly diverse.
“The task force is free to discuss a full range of issues that are not limited to concerns that are raised by the (city) report,” said Kaplan.
“The taskforce is also free to make its own recommenda- tions, including what kind of permanent (small business) structure we would want to have,” she continued. “And we should expect the task force to incorporate the needs of Black-owned businesses, which have been dealing with a whole variety of issues.”
The task force proposal, authored by Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, would create a body made up of 11 members, eight appointed by the councilmembers and three by the mayor.
The task force would meet for four months, supported by city staff, to provide the council with “facts, guidance and recommendations in the work to significantly improve the communication” between the city and small business owners.
The task force will also draft proposals that the City Council will consider when it begins its work on next year’s city budget.
While many local businesses and nonprofits are saying they are hard-pressed by rising commercial rents, which are forcing them to move, the taskforce proposal focuses on other issues.
“Some of the most challenging issues, as defined by small business owners, include contradictory regulations and requirements; difficulty maintaining a local and affordable workforce; and lack of communication between the city and small business owners throughout legislative decision-making processes,” the city’s report on the proposal said.
“The most debilitating difficulty for small businesses in Oakland right now is maintaining a local and affordable workforce,” according to the report.
The “plight “of small business owners is impacted by “unintended consequences of city legislation,” including the passage in 2014 of Measure FF, the city’s minimum wage law, and the city’s Waste Management contract, which has led to high garbage collection rates, the report said.
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s CED meeting was Mika McCants, owner for the past 11 years of “Spoiled Boutique,” which describes itself as a “trendy local boutique selling an assortment of fashion-forward women’s wear, accessories and footwear.”
McCants said she is paying $2,000 a months for a 400-square-foot space but is afraid she will be forced out when her lease expires next year.
“I can’t afford to pay $5,000 a month,” she said.
McCants said she was concerned that not enough business owners know that the city is going to form the small business task force.
Lavina Wong of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) said he task force should include immigrant business owners and that it should also pay attention to the work of community organizations that are already working to promote small businesses in Oakland.
In an interview with the Post, Sasha Werblin, economic equity director of the Greenlining Institute, said, “I’m glad the city of Oakland is looking at the needs of small businesses. The (city’s proposal) touches on some good points but could go much further.”
“The task force should listen to the small nonprofits that are struggling to survive in Oakland and are providing social services to local residents,” she said.
The membership of the task force should also encompass board diversity – of ethnicity differing business sizes and types of businesses, she said.
The proposal for the small business task force will go to the full City Council of Tuesday, Sept. 20.