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Join OP Oakland Project, UCOP’s effort to boost downtown Oakland

In the coming weeks, look for hanging planters on streetlamps up and down Broadway and planter boxes at BART entrances, part of a streetscape beautification effort under way in downtown Oakland.

It’s just one of many improvements being undertaken by the Downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt/Uptown Associations, the two community benefit districts formed in 2009 to revitalize Oakland’s historic downtown, said District Manager Steve Snider, who spoke at a Franklin Building brown bag on Feb. 16.

About 30 staff turned out to hear more and find out how the UCOP community can help. Some voiced concerns about walking by 14th & Broadway and Oakland’s lack of grocery stores; others pitched their favorite spots, like Modern Coffee at 411 13th St. and Maisa Restaurant at 377 13th.

“One of the best things we can do,” said Pete King, UCOP public affairs director, “is to galvanize the people who work here to patronize existing merchants, even though there are lots of vacancies and blighted storefronts.”

King is one of the organizers of the OP Oakland Project, a nascent effort to mobilize UCOP staffers to become Oakland boosters by working with the associations and forging partnerships with local vendors. Already in the works is a partnership with Oaklandish, the Oakland-based clothing shop at 1444 Broadway, as announced by EVP Nathan Brostrom last December.

Ken Feer, chair of the OP Staff Assembly, which sponsored the brown bag, circulated a signup sheet for anyone interested in participating in the project. He encouraged people to contact him, King, Creative Director Vanessa Correa, Local HR Director John Fox or Associate VP for Business Operations Michael Reese with ideas or suggestions.

The Staff Assembly is working on similar brown bags at the Kaiser Building and with groups from other areas like Chinatown, Lake Merritt, Grand Avenue and Jack London Square. Other ideas for OP Oakland Project activities include identifying opportunities for community service and even channeling UC expertise into job training for local students and residents.

Snider invited everyone to get on his mailing lists for association newsletters by emailing or Local businesses like Kaiser and Clorox have representatives on the associations, he said, and he hopes UCOP will do the same.

“We need to change the perception of Oakland, which gets a bad rap for violence and urban blight,” Snider said. He encouraged people not to be afraid to walk in any area but to pay attention while doing so and to avoid using headphones or cell phones.

Also speaking were Andrew Jones, district services coordinator, and Ted Tarver, operations manager for Oakland’s Ambassador Program, the 22-person orange- and blue-clad force that has patrolled downtown Oakland’s streets since 2009.

With a short-staffed Oakland Police Department, Tarver said, the ambassadors serve as a “force multiplier,” helping to solve and prevent petty crime, which has been exacerbated by the recent Occupy Oakland protests. The ambassadors also serve as greeters and reach out to the homeless to try to get them off the streets and into shelters.

Despite Oakland’s challenges, recent developments are encouraging, Snider said. The long-neglected Tribune Tower was recently purchased, the first Friday gallery crawl known as Art Murmur is hugely popular, and Oakland’s workforce is sticking around after hours for a burgeoning dining scene. The popuphood, Oakland Grown and other retail attraction strategies are bringing new businesses into the area.

Under the partnership with Oaklandish, the clothing shop is working with OP staff to create a line of UC-themed T-shirts and other apparel to help raise money for Project You Can, UC’s scholarship initiative.

If you want to get involved in the OP Oakland Project, be sure to contact Feer, King, Vanessa Correa, John Fox or Michael Reese.

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