Apr 212011

Many of us who live in San Leandro are frustrated about the lack of shopping, dining and cultural opportunities in the city. Even during the economic boom early in the century, San Leandro languished. Our downtown is practically a ghost town, devoid of compelling shopping and entertainment venues.  The only reason why anyone goes downtown at all is to go shopping at Safeway or get money at one of the remaining banks.   An empty downtown wouldn’t be a problem if there were other more alive sectors of the city, but that’s not the case either.  San Leandro has a myriad of low-end chain stores, a newly renovated but deserted mall and a wonderful library – but there is nowhere in town where to go for a stroll and do some window or actual shopping, no place that can compare to 4th street in Berkeley, Rockridge, Piedmont Ave., Park St. in Alameda or even downtown Pleasanton or Hayward.

The excuse City Hall has given is that San Leandro doesn’t have the demographics to attract high end stores or restaurants.  And while it’s true that San Leandro’s median household income is of under $60,000 a year, other towns with similar demographics manage to have vibrant business districts. A vibrant business district (combined with more effort putting into improving our schools) would attract a higher demographic to the city, which in turn would attract more businesses.

I think a great part of the problem is that City Hall is not doing its job of trying to attract businesses.  The City spent tons of redevelopment money on the MacArthur Project Area, but has done little to promote it to businesses that might actually attract customers and bring some life into the city.  For example, Vila Cereja (formerly Jake’s Lion), a pretty large restaurant in that area, is up for sale as the owner wants to retire.  This would be a wonderful location for an East Bay branch of a San Francisco restaurant.  The venue was remodeled recently and while it’s a little quirky (for example, it doesn’t have any windows), that could be turned into an advantage.  Its large banquet room could be used as a jazz/world music club – somewhere for grown up entertainment.   It’s right next to the freeway, so it could easily draw customers from nearby cities.  All the City has to do is find someone to invest in the business (and it’s very reasonably priced, Jake just wants to retire) and then promote it.  The idea being that once people outside San Leandro start thinking of San Leandro as a “place to go”, other businesses will think of settling here as well.

As for downtown, the City is already paying the Downtown Farmers Market $15,000 a year to operate.  It’s a wonderful FM and it seems very popular, but the City has no strategy on how to use it to revitalize downtown.  One type of business I think could do well, both in conjunction with the farmers’ market and other downtown businesses, is a nice wine/cheese shop.  It could be located in the space next to Le Soleil, which has been empty for years.  It would have to offer some moderately priced wines for the local crowd and some unusual, attractive selections – to encourage oenophiles from nearby cities to come by.  The City could start by contacting established San Francisco wine shops and pitch the idea that they open a second branch in San Leandro.

In short, what the City’s business developer needs to start doing is developing business: identifying businesses that would do well given our demographics/location/market trends and approaching those businesses to come to town.  They should concentrate on established name-brand businesses, who already have local notoriety, so that San Leandro can gain from their cache, and sell them on our great central East Bay location, starving (if limited) middle-class Berkeley-refugee base, low rents and generally easy parking.  They are not coming to us, so let’s go to them.

  No Responses to “Promoting San Leandro: a challenge to City Hall”

  1. The Vine is down there. How is that doing?

  2. I think the Vine is doing fairly well, but I don’t really know. It’s been busy whenever I’ve been there but it’s been a while.

  3. Hard to change a city’s image, though in the book Racial Propositions the whole state was more like the South than the North. The Chamber is probably more interested in protecting their current members. Also most really good restaurants are run by individual entruepaneurs not franchises.
    Culture wise I was thinking that we are in an area with a plethora of writers both fiction and non fiction as well as many film makers. I was just listening to the director of the film The Storm that Swept Mexico, whose from the area . So are many other documentary film makers. And there is no shortage of good music.
    I’ve been very impressed with how the high school uses robo calls. Maybe a monthly call about a downtown restaurant special and a speaker/film announcement might be a city project.

    • California Public Utilities Commission Code sections 2871-2876 holds political campaigns to the same rules as other organizations or businesses using “robo-calls.”[7] The guidelines are:

      A “live” person must come on the line before the recording to identify the nature of the call and the organization behind it. The recipient of the call must consent to allowing the recording to be played. The call must be disconnected from the telephone line as soon as the message is over or the recipient hangs up, whichever comes first.

      I cannot profess to have any knowledge of how San Leadro High uses Robo Calls. I can tell you that I turn in every one I can catch. These are an affront to personal privacy. That is why there is the legislation to protect us.

      • The statute excludes calls to people with whom you have an “an established relationship”. HOWEVER, the statute also explicitly excludes calls from schools to parents about attendance, which could be read to mean that calls about things other than attendance are covered. This is bad drafting at play.

  4. I’m sure that robo calls also interupt people who are watching corporate tv commercials and that is very upsetting to them . Corporations outspent everyone in the last election cycle through the Orwellian “citizens unitied” where the Republicans outspent Democrats 7 to 1 in congressioanal races and 4 to 1 in Senate races. For a community to want to inform their citizens about a cultural event or an important issue may seem like an invassion to some but in reality its part of the freedom of speech within a democracy.
    The average American watches 8 hours of TV a day and is bombarded by hundreds of ads every day. Breifly and politiely mentioning a political or cultrural event once in a while , not hundreds of times a day like commercial ads may enhance the community but from a corporate perspective may seem like an invassion of privacy.
    The robo rules generally apply to commercial not political calls. That’s the case with SPAM.

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