Group wants Oakland to have its own currency


Former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate Wilson Riles Jr., who now heads the Oakland Community Action Network, pushed the idea of Oakland having its own currency at a news conference in front of City Hall on Wednesday that was attended by six mayoral candidates.

Riles said he believes that if Oakland had its own currency it would be beneficial to small businesses and provide an incentive for Oakland residents to shop locally.

He's proposing that Oakland's currency be called Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors, or ACORN for short.

Riles said his proposal doesn't actually call for Oakland to have its own bills and coins, but instead calls for having a value storage card with a magnetic strip in connection with a municipal identification card that the city is already developing.

He said it would be an electronic debit card that Oakland residents could use to buy goods and services at local stores.

More than 60 communities in the U.S. have had local currencies at one time or another and a form of local currency called GoLocal is now being used in Sonoma County, Riles said.

The local currency would piggyback on Oakland's plan to offer municipal ID cards in the near future to illegal immigrants and other community members. San Francisco already has such cards.

City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who joined Councilwoman Jean Quan in proposing the cards last year, said today that the council will select a vendor for the cards next month and hopes to have them in place by the end of the year.

ID card program supporters say it is aimed at improving public safety, increasing civic participation, and supporting local commerce.

The card is to be accepted by all city departments, including the police department, and would become an official form of identification in the city.

De La Fuente said he thinks that having an Oakland currency "is a good idea" but "it's not feasible" at this time because it would be complicated to implement.

He said initiating the municipal ID card is complicated by itself because people will have to very their identities by providing their passports if they're from another country and will also have to prove that they live in Oakland.

De La Fuente said he doesn't think the City Council will support a local currency now because it rejected the idea when the concept was raised in the vote on the ID card last year.

At the news conference on Wednesday, Quan didn't directly say if she supports having a local currency, saying only that she supports having the municipal ID card connected to a program that would encourage Oakland residents to shop in Oakland.

Joe Tuman, a San Francisco State University political science professor and CBS 5 political analyst who is running for mayor, said he's "not opposed" to Oakland having its own currency but said he would need to get more details before he would support it.

"I'm supportive of the concept of keeping money in Oakland," Tuman said. "I want to spend money in Oakland for Oaklanders."

Green Party candidate Don Macleay said he would also like to learn more details about an Oakland currency but he supports it in concept because "it could help our economy."

"I'm in favor of a local currency," educator Terence Candell said. Candell said he'd also like to charge a 1-percent tax on commuters who work in Oakland but live elsewhere and add a toll bridge on the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge to raise funds for the city.

But businessman Greg Harland said, "I won't support it" and real estate agent Larry Young Jr. said, "I will suspend judgment until I know more about it."

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and Peralta Community College District Trustee Marcie Hodge, who also are running for mayor, didn't attend the news conference.

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