City Manager: Black-owned businesses wanted

Tuesday, January 20, 2003 21:44:23
By: Chauncey Bailey, STAFF WRITER - Section: Local News

OAKLAND -- City Manager Robert Bobb admits that he doesn't like what he sees when he's in East Oakland.

"You don't see very many black-owned businesses," said Bobb.

It's a lot different from what he remembers in Richmond, Va., where he served as city manager before coming to Oakland.

In Richmond, blacks are "more engaged" with corporations, played major roles in constructing an entertainment complex and convention center, and are working on a shopping mall, he said.

Maggie Walker, a black woman, started Consolidated Bank and Trust in the 1920s and it's still open, he said.

At noon Tuesday, Oakland's fourth annual State of Black Business Address will be given at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. In recent years Mayor Jerry Brown has been a keynote speaker. This year, the organization will hear from City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.

"We have a lot to talk about," said Ed Dillard, president of the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce. "Blacks don't own much in Oakland, and certainly not downtown. We want to hear from the black business community and get their needs and concerns on our agenda so together we can work for change."

Brown -- who often shows up for the meetings with black city officials and charts -- had been grilled by African-American business owners who said they felt locked out of City Hall.

"We invited Mr. De La Fuente because he is president of the City Council," said Dillard. "And there is a need for Hispanic and black businesses to work together. We're in the same boat."

Dillard said key items for discussion include the $1.3 billion expansion of Oakland International Airport and the extent to which local minority businesses will get a fair shar e of contracts or jobs. The group also plans to discuss housing projects and gaining equity or ownership of property.

"If you look at the area from Jack London Square to Market and 12th streets, there are only two blacks who own real estate," he said.

For many African-American businesses, the downturn in the economy has been particularly devastating, and with looming government budget deficits, there's a fear a lack of access to public contracts will worsen, according to some members of the organization, which remains activist-oriented.

Bay Bridge contracts

When the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce learned that few African Americans were getting contracts for work on the Bay Bridge replacement project, they pressed state officials to act.

As a result of that lobbying and threats of demonstrations, blacks won major contracts.

Black Men First members are hoping to compile a directory of the city's 4,000 black-owned businesses so the list can be distributed -- possibly through churches -- so more blacks can begin to support African-American-owned businesses.

Dillard said he would like to see the city fund an effort to compile a comprehensive list, but limited resources may not allow it.

Black Wall Street

A number of black business owners along International Boulevard from 50th Avenue to the San Leandro line have come together to form the Black Wall Street District ( to encourage more blacks to spend their dollars in the neighborhoods.

They hope to emulate a number of southern cities -- in Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia -- where blacks maintain bustling business districts.

West Oakland's Seventh Street was once a vibrant area for black-owned busines ses. But urban renewal projects, freeways and major developments resulted in an exodus of residents, loss of housing and closing of small businesses.

Bobb, Oakland Vice Mayor Larry Reid and others are working on an African American Economic Development Corporation to spur real estate acquisition because other efforts have not been fruitful. Dillard said there are seven such groups now that coul d be supported. "We can't keep inventing the wheel," he said.

Blacks in the South had to start their own enterprises and nurtured a legacy of self-reliance, because during years of racial segregation, they were denied products or services, said Bobb.

"Oakland needs to create its own legacy," Bobb said.

Blacks should also hire family members to start more businesses, which is the case in Latino and Asian communities, he said.