OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Thursday unveiled a new city program that awards grants to groups highlighting what's positive about the city.
"I'm so excited to actually be here today and announcing 'Activate Oakland,'" Thao said at Latham Square in downtown Oakland.
Under this program, the city is making $400,000 in grant funds available. Small businesses and cultural organizations, particularly those in under-resourced communities, can apply for individual $10,000 grants to support special events.
"When we activate our streets, this is how we keep each other safer, we get to know our community and, of course, we deter criminals from coming in," Thao.
There's been a steady drumbeat of crime in the city's business districts.
"We know times are hard, and folks are dealing with property crime and safety challenges, and yet our businesses continue to show up and pour their love and dedication to serving the Oakland community," said Sofia Navarro, interim director of the city's economic and workforce development department.
Thao emphasized the collective responsibility of the city's residents in maintaining a clean and safe Oakland. The overarching goal is to promote a welcoming atmosphere for both residents and visitors and to dispel any negative perceptions.
Peter Gamez, president of Visit Oakland, expressed support for celebrating Oakland's unique offerings and its inherent charm.
Reactions to the mayor's announcement were varied.
Gary Freeman, owner of Oakland Kosher Foods on Lakeshore Avenue, expressed dissatisfaction with the mayor's performance, citing increased burglaries affecting his business. He reported a decline in foot traffic and the apprehension of some customers due to safety concerns.
"I don't give her any credit for anything, because since she's been in here, she hasn't done a damn thing for the people of the city of Oakland," said Freeman. "My customers, they don't want to come to Oakland, they feel it's not safe. We have people eating outside, and they park their car and while they're eating, people break into their car."
However, Shiloh Emelein, a local resident, feels safe during the day. Emelein emphasized the importance of preventing crimes of opportunity by not leaving valuables in parked vehicles.