Last month the Mayor’s spokesperson, Karen Stevenson, came to the Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum to tell us about the Mayor’s summer Jobs Program for Oakland’s youth. She also wanted to reassure us that they were concerned about our issues. Ms. Stevenson, whom I believe to be sincere and good at what she does, told us that many in the Dellums’ administration, including herself, have been small business people. As a result of their awareness of small business’ concerns, she told us that they do not see the need to assign a staffer to work specifically with retail districts, a recommendation that had been made by the Small Business Task Force and the OMLF.

But a commercial district is much more than a conglomeration of small and not so small businesses. It is brick and mortar, historic buildings, pocket parks and parking lots, local services, family gatherings, kids playing, couples flirting, dogs sniffing, flowers growing, music wafting-the very heart and soul of the neighborhood it’s in. The local commercial district also consists of all the problems found in any given neighborhood-litter, street crime, panhandling, broken parking meters, traffic, noise, and fears of violence.

On Lakeshore, like many other streets, canvassers hawk their causes while “Street Spirit” vendors scratch out a living. Cars bump on by blaring their pet sounds, young men meet and greet young women. Some locals hold down their favorite people watching spots in front of Peets-retirees, young teachers, and little kids can spend time there together. At Starbuck’s, folks speaking many languages gather in their new home.

My daughter, who lives in Atlanta, can’t wait to get down to Lakeshore and people watch while catching up with old friends. The liveliness energizes her. Lakeshore is one of those streets where folks come from other parts of our city to shop, hang out, hold business meetings, have dinner with friends, or just pass through on the way to the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. It is more successful than some districts and less so than others; and, therefore, it may be seen as somewhat representative of the needs of commercial districts.

For as long as I can remember, no city administration has ever shown much interest in the success of our retail districts. But at least under Elihu Harris, the Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum was created by one of his staffers who was able to communicate directly with the mayor about our needs. Unfortunately, many city staff still did not get it.

Then, under Jerry Brown’s leadership, almost every position was cut, moved, or undermined. Where we had a staff person at most of our previous merchant meetings, we had none. Where we had help for our projects, we were stonewalled. Where merchants and community members, and city staff attended conferences together such as the Main Street Revitalization trainings, almost no one from Oakland attended. The city did encourage the formation of business improvement districts (where property owners or merchants assess themselves in order to provide their own amenities) after which support dwindled.

So, now we, like other residents of this city, have high expectations of this new administration. We know that there is a budget shortfall (how that happened is a whole other discussion). We know that some of the mayor’s new staff are still familiarizing themselves with Oakland’s issues; and we know that the mayor is studying the issues thoroughly before making big changes. I have heard from some city staff (whom I trust) that the mayor’s people are meeting with them to reorganize services. I’m glad about that, but disturbed that it is so difficult to find out what is going on.

More importantly for merchants, small business owners, and neighborhood folks, we want to know that this administration gets it. We need and expect a position in the mayor’s office that understands, works with, and represents the commercial districts and the surrounding neighborhoods in a holistic manner. Someone who can coordinate public safety issues with public works processes, marketing strategies with parking, and transportation issues. Isolated small business services or isolated police patrols won’t support us out here in the least or even the most successful districts.

I’m still excited about the new administration and some of the decisions that have come out of the office seem to be going in a direction I, personally, approve. I talk to folks who are still involved with the task forces (or just joined) who are happy with the work they’re doing and response they’re getting.

But here’s the thing, many Oaklanders felt left out of or left behind during the last administration; some of us even felt disrespected for our activism. It was a divisive time.

Many of us worked for and looked forward to a different kind of administration. We beseeched Mr. Dellums to come back and lead us, and I think he’s spending his time trying to find the way and the money to do that. But I have to take that on faith since he’s not communicating to us about the problems he’s encountering or the brick walls he’s climbing.

He told us he wasn’t superman and some of us were okay with that. We were looking for a partnership-not a savior (admittedly, many will always look for a savior or a fixer to take care of things). So why now does it seem that our former congressman, our new mayor, our fighter for justice seems to have gone into a phone booth rather than out on the street, a sit-down with reporters, or a walk through the farmers’ markets? Since Jerry Brown got the so-called strong government he wanted, we can no longer see or talk to the mayor at the city council meetings every Tuesday.

But Oaklanders need some reassurance. There’s a new zeitgeist in town. We remember Brenda Payton’s “prince” who abandoned us. We’re willing to open our doors as we’ve already opened our hearts but we’re also checking collars for lipstick smudges and looking for cryptic notes in pockets. We need a little face time, Mr. Mayor. We need a fireside chat here and there.

It has been announced that Mayor Ron Dellums and Council Member Desley Brooks will be meeting in District 6 on Thursday, April 26th, from 6 to 8 PM in the Frick Middle School, 2845 64th Avenue. I hope it’s the first of many regular community meetings and discussions; and that he will announce the appointment of a coordinator for the myriad needs of retail districts and the neighborhoods they provide for. Please see for more info.