Oakland business owners go on strike amid crime spike, call for meeting with Gov. Newsom

ByAnser Hassan and Lena Howland KGO logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Oakland business owners go on strike amid crime spike
It's not business as usual in downtown Oakland on Tuesday morning as store and restaurant owners go on strike over rising crime.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- It's not business as usual in downtown Oakland on Tuesday morning as store and restaurant owners go on strike over rising crime.

Business owners say the goal of this strike is to send a larger message to City Hall. They want better protection and support so they can safely operate their businesses and make a living.

RELATED: Store owners to strike Tuesday to protest crime: 'Oakland is beautiful. We have to keep it safe.'

Many of the participating businesses gathered in front of Le Cheval for a news conference on Tuesday to voice their concerns. The restaurant is closing at the end of the month because of the crime and slow sales post-pandemic.

Participating merchants say, just like Le Cheval, they're losing customers and foot traffic because of car break-ins, carjackings, robberies and assaults.

They say it's come to a point where insurance companies are denying renewals to Oakland businesses because of it being considered "high-risk."

"Oakland has been known as a city that is OK with violence and crime, we're not," Nigel Jones, the owner of Kingston 11 and Calabash restaurant said. "Look at all of these people here, we're not OK with this. We want to be safe. We want to be functional and we want a city that we can come back into town square."

Organizers of the Oakland business strike say when a legacy business like Le Cheval restaurant in Oakland, which has been opened for the past 30-plus years, is forced to close due to crime, it's time to demand more.

"Demand that our governments - city, state and federal - fulfill their end of the social contract to provide basic safety in our streets," said Jennifer Tran, Ph. D, President of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, to applauses. "Without basic safety, there is no business. Without basic safety, there is no community. Without safety, there is no city."

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Oakland City Council passed a new resolution aiming to grow and retain police department staffing and increase video surveillance.

Many of the Oakland business owners who did close their stores, showed up for a rally in front of Le Cheval on Tuesday morning. At one point, chants of "Enough! Enough!" broke out.

Some of the demands include a meeting with Governor Gavin Newsom and small business owners, state grants for struggling businesses and more police.

"If you look at Richmond, there is nothing like that. It is only Oakland. If there is something wrong with Oakland, they need to fix it," said Ahmed Dabashi with the Yemeni American Association, who addressed the crowd.

Derreck Johnson is the founder and owner of the popular Home of Chicken and Waffles. He closed for a few hours in the morning as part of the strike.

"What I hope and what I urge that comes out of today, is that the city wraps their arms around Le Cheval and those of us that are struggling to stay open," says Johnson.

In a statement to ABC7 News, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao says that she has been meeting with dozens of small business groups, "to fund and support initiatives that deter crime and promote safe streets."

MORE: Thieves in SUV hook chain to Oakland store gate, drive away to yank it open

She goes on to state: "I appreciate that folks are frustrated - I'm frustrated. We are working aggressively to make our communities safer and we're going to keep doing that. We welcome the opportunity to meet with any business owner that wants to work on collective safety solutions alongside our office."

In a separate statement to ABC7 News, the city of Oakland points to efforts already underway, such as expanding police foot patrols in commercial districts, having CHP helping with traffic enforcement, $2.5 million to improve the 911 response system, as well numerous small business assistance programs.

At last Tuesday's city council meeting, the council members approved several new initiatives to tackle crime, including calling on the FBI to assist the Oakland Police Department with investigations.

Johnson says he supports city leadership, but that policies need to be in place now.

"My rebuttal to that is, than you go open up a business and have payroll every two weeks. And see how much time you have. We don't have time," he says. "Car break-ins. It's not an exaggeration. It happens every single day. It has to stop."

Organizers say 213 businesses took part in the strike, 80% doing a half-day strike. But some businesses, like Senor Sisig restaurant in downtown Oakland, tell ABC7 News that management knew about the strike but decided to remain open.

MORE: 'It's a war zone': Oakland business owner chases down man stealing his tow truck

Kaumudi Misra, Assistant Professor of Management at Cal State East Bay, says it is very unusual for businesses to go on strike. And adds, that the city needs to recognize the impacts of increasing crime, especially coming out of a global pandemic.

"Recognizing that this is a unique moment in time, and changing strategies to adjust to that emergency situation," says Professor Misra.

Ali Albasiery owns several businesses in Oakland and is one of the strike organizers. He says this strike likely won't be the last.

When asked if the strike would be effective, he responded by saying, "Of course it will be effective! Every voice effects everything. We are part of the community. And, they have to listen to us. If we don't speak, nobody listens."

Tuesday's strike also comes in response to Oakland missing out on millions of dollars of grant funding to fight retail crime from the state after the city missed the deadline to apply.

"And also we are asking for public safety measure from all different government levels, city, county, state and federal governments, we need your help," Carl Chan, a public safety advocate, said.

MORE: OPD risks losing state funding if city's 911 response times do not improve

Participating business owners said they're calling for an increase to 1,000 officers in the Oakland Police Department.

They're also asking for city officials to declare a state of emergency to leverage more resources from outside agencies including the county sheriff, CHP, the FBI and ATF.

Organizers say today's strike was primarily from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. so merchants don't miss out on a full day of sales, although some business owners are choosing to close for the full day.

The city of Oakland released a statement Tuesday that read in part:

"The City of Oakland is working every day to strengthen community safety for our residents, small businesses and visitors. In just the last few weeks, we have expanded foot patrols in commercial districts citywide and partnered with business groups to encourage public space activation that brings visitors to our businesses and promotes safer communities. In the coming weeks, we will disburse grants for community ambassadors, safety programs, and small business assistance.

Community safety is a citywide challenge and every department has a role to play. We are actively partnering with businesses, nonprofit groups, state and regional governments to reduce crime.

The City of Oakland values its longstanding relationships and engagement with the business community and will continue its dedication to engagement and constructive collaboration to address these issues."

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