Business Leaders, City Staff Brainstorm San Leandro Branding Strategy

About 30 businesspeople and city representatives came together Monday morning to discuss what San Leandro can do better and what it has to offer businesses, residents and visitors.

What does San Leandro have to offer and what can it do better? How is the city perceived by those who live, work and visit here, and how might its assets be better marketed to bring in new businesses, consumers and residents?

Those were some of the questions several city staff members and two dozen business people—many of them active in the community—were tasked with answering on Monday during the first meeting of the San Leandro Branding Marketing Working Group.

The members, led by marketing communications consultants from The Placemaking Group, were selected and approved by the City Council at its March 7 meeting.

The Oakland-based firm was hired by the city to facilitate the working group, interview businesses and consumers, develop a brand and create a marketing strategy for the city. Under the contract, services are not to exceed $10,000.

Placemaking Group President Dennis Erokan told participants Monday there are a lot of ways to get the story out, but the first step is coming up with a brand to differentiate San Leandro from its competition—which, he said, means all areas within a 20-mile radius.

He said for people who work in San Leandro, the two most important factors are  public safety and food options, because those things come into play during the lunch hour.

Consumers from nearby cities must be given at least two reasons to come to town—such as dinner before a live show or places to both shop and grab something to eat, he suggested.

Lastly, he said, residents must be told why it benefits them to shop locally instead of spending their dollars elsewhere.

"You can't tell them to shop San Leandro by guilt," Erokan said.

By the end of the session, participants agreed that part of the problem with attracting each of the three groups is the public's lack of information on what amenities the city has to offer.

"People don't know where to go," said Cynthia Battenberg, business development manager for the city.

Tim Holmes, owner of , noted the lack of press San Leandro receives in regional publications, and Bal Theatre owner Dan Dillman agreed the city is "currently operating below the radar."

And while it is not very well known among East Bay cities, San Leandro also suffers from both a perception and reality of crime, lackluster schools and a dearth of shopping and entertainment options to attract more visitors and residents, particularly of the millennial generation, attendees agreed.

Another problem that attendees said needs to be dealt with is San Leandro's history of racism.

John Gooding, who runs a consulting group that provides services to Madison Marquette (owner of Bayfair Shopping Center), said the city should have embraced African American author and local resident Brian Copeland's memoir Not a Genuine Black Man when it was released in 2006 instead of scorning it.

Holmes also mentioned how the city cancelled a book project about San Leandro's history in 2005 after the writer wanted to include a discussion of housing discrimination.

Incidents like that help bolster the perception that San Leandro is "an old town that does things the old way," said Gooding.

Many agreed with Gooding when he said that in some ways the city is holding itself back. "San Leandro has a lot of benefits that we're not taking advantage of because we don't think of ourselves that way," he said.

Some blamed such issues on a lack of vision among city leaders and fractionalized attempts to define what the city is and where it wants to be, citing the wish to bring in Trader Joe's despite demographics that are more inclined to support stores like Grocery Outlet instead.

Attendees were optimistic that San Leandro is at a turning point. By implementing unified marketing campaigns, embracing its diversity and dreaming big, the city can grow and flourish in the coming years, several people said.

"We're ready to change," said Gaye Quinn, chair-elect of the Chamber of Commerce and a real estate broker with the Quorum Real Estate Group.

Participants had no trouble coming up with a comprehensive list of San Leandro's strengths, which centered on its friendliness and small-town feel, many amenities and access to all the Bay Area has to offer, given its central location.

Other features include one of the most culturally diverse populations in the state; transit (including two BART stations and easy freeway access to I-580 and I-880); proximity to the Oakland Airport; and the marina and seven miles of public shoreline.

San Leandro also has walkable and historic neighborhoods, ethnic markets, community festivals and farmers' markets, multiple theaters, sports facilities that include Burrell Field, Farrelly Pool, the Monarch Bay Golf Club and Triple Play USA batting cages, a developed downtown and several retail shopping centers.

Restuarants that participants said should be promoted are and , both fine dining establishments. was ranked the #2 sports bar in the county by Sports Illustrated in 2005. Zocalo Coffeehouse was singled out for its recognition as a community hub.

There is also a burgeoning medical services industry, with construction of a new Kaiser Permanente facility and relocation of Paramedics Plus Ambulance Service.

On the environmental front, people pointed out the city attracted nearly $30 million in grant funding to build a transit-oriented housing development around the San Leandro BART station, is a member of the East Bay Green Corridor and has a number of LEED-certified buildings.

For example, San Leandro's new senior center was awarded the LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Institute in March.

While business efforts to "go green" are supported, there's also plenty of space to expand, since nearly a quarter of the city's land is zoned for industrial use. Some attendees expressed concern that this land is not being fully utilized.

Businesses can also take advantage of reasonable land prices and a lower business tax than in surrounding communities, Battenberg said.

Battenberg helped implement the idea of a branding study and promotional campaign after meeting with the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce and dealers at the Marina Auto Mall to gain their support for Measure Z, the sales tax increase that went into effect April 1.

Gordon Galvan, a consultant representing the auto mall, director of the organization that runs the LINKS shuttle from BART to downtown and a former city council member, said a branding strategy will help the city take advantage of its assets.

"We can do a better job of attracting people to our community and serving those who live here better," he said.

While Battenberg said the city makes it easy for businesses to operate in town, some business people present Monday said the issue was debateable.

Dillman said people tell him it is difficult to do business in San Leandro. Corina Lopez, who heads the Latino Business Council, said she doesn't think the city  currently provides enough incentives for businesses.

The group didn't discuss just the good and the bad, but the future as well.

Arlene Lum, a website manager for AT&T who heads the Asian Business Council, said there was a great opportunity to create a regional Asian shopping center, since the closest that exist are in Albany and Milpitas.

2010 census data show that about of San Leandro's population identifies as Asian.

Jenny Linton, executive vice president of operations and administration for , said she sees the possibility of creating a high-tech industry in town.

Battenberg said she would like to build more multi-unit housing downtown, as well as develop the marina to include office space and a conference and wellness center.

Dillman envisions a streetcar on E. 14th Street to shuttle people from the Bal district to downtown.

The working group will meet again in one month. Three meetings are scheduled for this spring before The Placemaking Group presents its findings to the city council in the fall.

David April 08, 2011 at 11:37 AM
so what happens when the city just never develops them or simply refuses? Wheres the affordable housing in piedmont? Has any been built in alameda since 1972? The state can go fly a kite.
Fran April 08, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Once again, I completely agree with Marga. NO new building, its simply no needed. Even if it were, has anybody seen some cities in China lately? Literally you Cannot breath. Speaking of China, that's where all the jobs went, and they are not coming back. Believing our "competition" is from surrounding cities is disingenuous a best. You want to build more housing? Okay, then build another highschool. For a city of our size to have only one HS is unheard of.
Fran April 08, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Where's the affordable housing in Stinson Beach? lol. Alameda was lucky, because they were building on federal land, they got to vote on it. I think it lost like 80% against. Now the developer, who's from SO. Cal is suing the city.
Fran April 08, 2011 at 01:06 PM
They don't tell us how we will benefit because we wouldn't. The only ones benefiting would be the developers and Wall street banks that sell the bonds needed. Not only would our quality of life decrease, but we'd be saddled with more debt. SL already has around 5% of the fund going to debt service. This is too high already.
David April 08, 2011 at 01:16 PM
So, Piedmont? What's the state going to do? call in the National Guard to build ghettos? Withhold funding? can you say lawsuit pointing out every single California community that's never built a stick of "affordable" housing the past 40 years? Where's the affordable housing in Malibu? Following the "rules" has been a losing game for decades, if it ever was a winning game. I say SL starts playing it like other cities like Alameda and Piedmont and conveniently forgets to ever build another apartment building. Especially since our affordability overall is immensely better.
Fran April 08, 2011 at 01:32 PM
I think. what it is, if you want federal/ state $$$ for these developments then a certain % is set aside for low-cost housing. If a developer wants to put up his own $$ for development then he can do whatever he wants. Can't think of an example of that in recent history. These developers are well connected and making out like bandits. They are to cities, what the prisons are to the state, what the defense contractors are on the federal level.
David April 08, 2011 at 02:02 PM
The conversation needs to start somewhere. Sure. let's start with some premises. 1) SL is already an "affordable" city relative to other areas, with over 1,000 vacant units, compared to the 100 "affordable" units proposed there. 2) The project will concentrate poverty in one, physically isolated building. 3) There are no real plans to ever build market rate housing; the subsidies are all for the housing project, and given the state of the housing market, it will be years if ever before the "market rate" housing is built. SL had a 7% growth over the past decade. At that rate of growth, it will take the next decade to absorb just the vacant housing in SL, never mind new housing. 4) It will depress market values in the area, and drive out any mid-to higher-end retailer/restaurant. 5) It will increase crime. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/american-murder-mystery/6872/ Leah, if you love the wonders of Oakland and the Dutton Manor, etc, why aren't you living there? Your daughter doesn't go to the public schools, so what's the draw of SL versus a nice tudor house in Dutton Manor just over the border? One will run you around $200k there versus at least twice as much in SL. Or a Craftsman in Maxwell Park?
David April 08, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Exactly, it's a crooked system. SL shouldn't play into it. Gov't subsidies just distort the market. They caused the housing bubble, they've caused the distortions in the Bay Area (where there are set-asides for poor people, the rich can continue to buy whatever they want, and the middle class gets screwed and leaves), and worst of all, they do it with my taxes.
Jennifer Courtney April 08, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Here's more on San Leandro's updated Housing Element in effect through 2014. There you'll find a link to a public review draft, which contains info on SL's estimated housing needs and discussions of potential sites (including the SL Crossings project). http://www.sanleandro.org/depts/cd/housing/he/2008_09.asp
Robert Fukushima April 08, 2011 at 04:59 PM
David, I think at the core, you will find that I agree with you more than disagree in terms of the subsidized housing. It does not work in any form that has been traditionally used. I am not in favor of 'ghetto-izing' below market housing, not do I think it is a good idea to develop into a saturated market. If however, you use redevelopment or Federal grant funding, you must include and build the lower income housing. I have been involved in many developments over the years, in places like Alameda, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Danville and all over the south bay area. They do have a much more aggressive approach to requiring development to fund public improvements. New subdivisions must have new schools once they reach a certain threshold, below that, they must fund improvements to existing schools. Likewise with fire, parks, police and public works. Again, if you focus only on the subsidized housing component, the TOD fails. But, at least it provides a vision, which you may not agree with, for how the rather neglected core of the City could be developed.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Are you trying to tell me something, David? You'd like us to move? I already stated why we chose to move here. I am grateful when we bought when we did in 2000 (instead of later) and didn't over extend ourselves. It wouldn't be in our interest financially to move, though. I suppose if we were looking at paying for two or more children in private school instead of one we'd be in a different situation and we would be living in Berkeley with much worse mortgage terms but no K-12 tuition payments. We are cautiously optimistic that San Leandro will fulfill its promise and begin to recognize and develop its assets like it has done in a very few cases since we've lived here. Our focus and investment must always include our children, for they are our future.
Robert Fukushima April 08, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work on schools all over the Bay Area region. Many of these schools face similar issues (e.g. Brentwood, Tracy) that we have here, some are even worse (e.g. Richmond, El Cerrito) and they suffer the same fate. You mention Piedmont, I have worked on 3 schools and 5 parks in Piedmont over the years, a difficult and very political environment. But, places like Piedmont, San Carlos, Palo Alto and Pleasanton do not compare to here in one way, they get community money. I have worked on school and municipal fields that were largely publicly funded to assure that the children had the resources that the parents wanted. It will not happen here. On the other hand, the recent Gilman Fields project is an example of a City (Berkeley) reaching out to adjacent cities to build an new sports facility.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Robert, I just walked all around the Dutton Lofts development. I haven't been there for years and years which seems really odd to me as it is about a 10 minute walk from my home. I was wondering if you would share some of your knowledge and criticism of the project as a whole. The town homes and multi-family housing in the back of the historic buildings and parking lot seem to be really well managed and taken care of. It's a bit of a puzzle how all the units interlock. I recently walked around some similar housing (though more straight forward and contemporary in style) at West Oakland near some soccer fields. Do you happen to know the percentage of affordable housing in either of these projects?
Robert Fukushima April 08, 2011 at 05:26 PM
One of the purposes of these kinds of studies is to use consultants to identify as many opportunities as possible and to create a vision for how an area might be developed. That is what a study like this does best, it should also create a discussion about how the problems associated with development might best be resolved. One of these approaches would be to make it a requirement that any new development starts to really pay for the burdens is places on the City. And I do not mean golf courses and gateways, those serve the developer's interests Make a developer pay for the infrastructure impact his project will have. Residential units pay for schools, office building pay for roads etc... I don't understand how you see the core region of the City changing if you do not build new buildings and infrastructure.
David April 08, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Then don't take federal or redevelopment funding. I focus on the subsidized housing component because that's the only component likely to get built, precisely because the developer will get taxpayer handouts--it doesn't make market sense. Additionally, it clearly doesn't make market sense to build market-rate housing either, because there is plenty of available housing. The market needs to clear before adding supply, a process that has taken years, and will likely take another several years. Finally, as you agree, the city clearly hasn't thought out how much additional classroom space etc that any new residents will require, or it would have demanded much more from the developers, leading me to believe that the crowd that approved this is either incompetent (very likely-Santos) or bought off by the developers (also likely in a couple cases).
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Change through attrition? We'd be following the Detroit plan :) I sense that part of this is getting creative San Leandro people together. From the ones I've had the pleasure of listening to it sounds like there are lots of successful models to look at. I think someone has already mentioned the Temescal District in Oakland. There isn't a lot of new housing there as far as I can tell but there are lots of creative entrepreneurs setting up small businesses. I'm sure a lot of them fail but that is probably one of the factors leading to the success of this particular model. Schools aren't terrific, I'm taking an educated guess, but many parents who have purchased homes in the neighborhood presumably send their kids to private school and pressure the local public schools to improve.
David April 08, 2011 at 05:41 PM
PS. Take a drive down E. 14th if you haven't lately. How much of that could be redeveloped? How much is blighted, vacant eyesores? It makes no sense to me to focus on building new when there are so many areas that could be rebuilt.
Marga Lacabe April 08, 2011 at 05:48 PM
David, the ones who approved the TOD project were indeed SAntos et all. Pretty much all the people in City Council today. When asked about the schools problem most of them said "it's not our problem". Prola, at least, recognized the issue and said he'd work his ass off to pass a bond to build a new school - and he would. But it's not like there is space in town for a new school. And yes, developers must pay an incredibly small amount of money towards schools when they build a new development - but it's not enough to build a school or even modify an existing one. Remember the issue is not just classroom space . MOre students also require more bathrooms, a larger auditorium, a larger cafeteria, more playground space (which gets shrunk when you build new classrooms), etc. In any case, I think these issues are mooot. The city will no longer have redevelopment money, the developers can no longer get funding/credit, so it's just the marketplace at play now.
David April 08, 2011 at 05:49 PM
You bought in 2000, so you could probably sell and buy a similar-sized house for nearly all cash over the border then. I suspect you don't want to move because you actually don't like the neighborhood across Durant. Why would you move to Berkeley, rather than living across Durant in Oakland, saving a huge amount on your mortgage and sending your hypothetical 2nd kid to private school? At least you're consistently inconsistent.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 05:59 PM
I agree that we need to focus on rebuilding, but wonder if this is in large part a discussion of semantics? Re-build, build. Whose arguing about what exactly? Same creative and action oriented people needed for either venture. The difference really is more about urban vs. suburban. In an urban setting there will always be re-building (and infill). It's one of the reasons that big builders of homes, office space and retail gobble up undeveloped land, so that they can build "new" on an "empty canvas" and create the very wasteful but idilic agrarian dream of Pleasanton's manicured lawns and hedges. This comes with devastating human created environmental impacts, of course.
David April 08, 2011 at 06:26 PM
The difference is really about what people to attract and how to do it. I do not see the need to attract an additional few hundred or more "very low income" people to taxpayer-subsidized housing. I do not see the need to put tax dollars in private developers' hands at all. I also would support identifying and removing barriers to businesses etc locating here, and, if the market supports it, to developers buying and building housing or other improvements, financed with private resources, not public funds. It's a crime, literally (theft) to take my money, give it to a developer, and then continue to raise taxes to fund public infrastructure improvements that the developer should have financed. Getting mugged twice.
David April 08, 2011 at 06:30 PM
I know, that's why i didn't vote for a single incumbent City Councilman, and certainly didn't vote for Santos. Prola is a ****ed fool. He "recognizes" the issue and then goes to mug us taxpayers again by wanting another bond. Seriously, can he walk and chew gum at the same time? But how do I really feel...anyway. Yay to the latter. the one positive from the R.E. crash is the elimination of the redev. money. As I pointed out in one of many letters to the SL times, even back in 2009, the idea that SL was going to get any money from a bankrupt state for this moronic project was laughable then, and still is now.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Our heart is where our treasure is and power mostly lies with those who control the cash. Your point reminds me of an fellow Yale/architect friend in Virginia who left her successful practice to get away from the greedy developers and their corrupting and irresponsible influence on community projects. Now she has a wonderful new government job working for a city planning office so that she can kick their large-developer-asses. Well, at least until our government is shut down. Does that happen tomorrow?
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 08:17 PM
Takes one to know one, my friend, David Neirengarten. :) I hear I'm perhaps a bit slow too, but I digress. You do raise an interesting question. Truth is, since we "bought in" in 2000, I don't think there is any place around here that would put us in a better financial situation if we sold our home now, and that includes the Durant Lofts & The Berkeley Hills. I'll try to check and get back to you on that. As for where I would rather live, OMG! I would rather live in the Castro in San Francisco, where my people are :) I'd also love to live in some trendy neighborhood in NYC, preferably near Central Park! Seattle's Capitol Hill was fabulous when we lived there around '95! London? Yes, I guess I'd take that too if someone paid me and twisted my arm. GOD doesn't love me, or at least she has a very warped sense of humor. :(
David April 08, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Of course not re: the Berkeley hills. You could, however, easily sell your house and buy a house not in Durant Lofts, but rather in Dutton Manor (the nice 1930's neighborhood east of the lofts) and have money left over, unless you've refi'd to the hilt. Or despite all your protestations for love of Oakland and SF/NYC/urban living, you like your suburban 1/4 acre lot and the trees, and are suspicious of the quality of neighborhood across Durant. In fact, I bet that you and other obvious suspects around here rather like the suburban aspects of SL (relative affordability, lower crime, bigger lots) combined with the ease of hopping over to Oakland or Berkeley or SF or Alameda for dining/shopping, without having to pay an additional $200k for an equivalent house and 'hood for that privilege I'm very consistent. I've never stated I'd prefer to live in Oakland, or that I even prefer the restaurants there. I've lived in Oakland. I don't anymore. That's a pretty clear vote, although there are some enjoyable neighborhoods. Ditto for Berkeley.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 09:13 PM
So I guess you know more about our finances than my husband and I do then? That's kind of disturbing, if true. I love parts of Oakland. I would be happy to live there if things had turned out that way for us years ago, and I think you are one of the most inconsistent-but-lovable-tea-party-leaning men I've (never) met. I think it's just as Jerry Brown said a few days ago: perhaps you need a hug?
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Have you been around Lake Merritt lately? That place is gorgeous and alive with shiny happy people. What I would give to be able to walk down my neighborhood street and have all that without getting into a car and onto 580 or 880! The only thing really stopping us is our mortgage situation. We had always planned to sell before our daughter reached high school age, but now we have tacked and are thinking we will remain in our home until after she gets into college because Bishop O'Dowd looks like it will be a really great fit. That decision is still out a ways on the horizon so we'll see. As long as we feel we are tied to the place, we do want to see it improve and be a part of that improvement if possible. I am with you about re-investing in E. 14th Street.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 10:56 PM
re: "Catering" to Whites David, I thought that sort of was the model San Leandro is infamously known for. Your numbers look fine and so do Marga's. It is always troubling when those in power don't reflect the socioeconomic diversity of the community they serve. Hopefully these cities you mention are working on this, San Leandro certainly needs to.
Leah Hall April 08, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Marga, this assessment about multifamily housing vs. single family housing is incorrect. Multi-family housing is more efficient in terms of land use, but the sky is the limit in terms of what market the owners want to target. If you want to build over a certain number of stories, the steel and concrete required construction costs will climb dramatically over stick frame construction of speculation single family housing. For one example, there is a 22 story multi-family senior residence across from my daughter's school in which only the highest income seniors can afford. Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville have been going gang-busters building multi-family housing that my family can't afford. San Francisco? Forget about it.
Leah Hall April 09, 2011 at 01:47 AM
As long as we are conversing about cities and places outside of San Leandro (thank goodness), I thought I'd look up someone I admire even more than Elisabeth Warden, California Architect and writer, Daniel Solomon. This article is about 2 years old but perhaps you'll consider taking a look. I worked for this man and still have a big soft spot for him and his smarty pants big brain. He talks about Cabrini Green in his book, "Global City Blues" and is quoted in this particular article as saying that the future of cities depends on "urban regeneration."


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