(By now you probably know that the proposed Village Marketplace has lost its second anchor tenant in three months. Leah Hall wrote a recent op-ed calling on the community to come up with a new plan. It drew dozens of response. Today former general plan advisor Fred Reicher adds his voice to the call for a fresh look at the property and its potential.)
The scramble to find a new anchor tenant for the Village Marketplace and consequent delay of the project could be a blessing in disguise. It gives San Leandro time to think about its probable future before moving ahead with the development as currently planned.
Leah Hall is right-on when she says current thinking will give San Leandro only more of what it already has. Rather, the city should see the site as an exceptional opportunity to tailor a development on prime downtown property that accommodates and reflects the changes occurring in our community.
Consider the following.
San Leandro is on the cusp of transformative change. The new Kaiser Permanente medical complex will itself bring in more than 2,500 people, from office staff to technical support to physicians. There’s no telling how many ancillary businesses will take root around the complex, bringing in still more employees.
All of these folks will represent a kaleidoscopic array of interests, needs, wants and incomes.
Perhaps more importantly the Lit San Leandro fiber optic loop matches the fastest in the nation. With its new Chief Innovation Officer, the city is poised to become an innovation center.
The city already is home to OSIsoft (which funded the loop’s first 11 miles) and several other tech firms. Now it can lure other companies that inhabit the universe of advanced manufacturing, medical research, green energy, and digital print, video and media services.
The prospect of more hundreds, even thousands, of skilled, well-paid employees in San Leandro and their beneficial impact on the community must be anticipated.
A case in point is Seattle, now the tony, high-tech center 800 miles up the road.
In the 1970s, The Economist magazine labeled Seattle “the city of despair” because of an exodus of companies, the downward spiral of the economy and deteriorating neighborhoods. Then, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Paul Allen decide to move their then nascent company from Albuquerque, a more likely venue at the time, to Seattle because they wanted to go home.
Microsoft attracted other innovation companies and venture capitalists. For example, Jeff Bezos later moved Amazon.com to Seattle because of the “availability of human capital” and financial resources.
In his book The New Geography of Jobs, U.C. Berkeley Economics Professor Enrico Moretti goes on to report that Microsoft reshaped Seattle in another way. It’s estimated that prosperous Microsoft alumni have started 4,000 businesses in the Puget Sound area. Silicon Valley/the Bay Area are analogous and encompass San Leandro.
Prof. Moretti estimates that Microsoft has created 120,000 jobs in the service sector that require limited education (services, trades, small business owners), and 80,000 professional positions.
He cites research that shows one high job creates five additional local jobs in the long term, both professional and service/trades, etc. A heavy manufacturing job creates 1.6 new jobs. The difference reflects the higher salaries of tech jobs which inject more money into a local economy and boost demand for a host of services and goods.
The transformation of Seattle into a vibrant and attractive city tracked a pattern seen in the history of innovation clusters, says Moretti. Cities become attractive because they succeeded in building a solid economic base and not vice versa. Seattle blossomed only after a high tech cluster took root.
San Leandro is not apt to become a Seattle, but it does have the assets to build a major innovation cluster. The principle at work is obvious. The implications are profound and exciting.
So the city should think again, and then perhaps again, about the former Albertson’s property. The desire to get something-anything- done now may not be the highest and best use of the site considering the community’s very promising prospects.
(From 1999 to 2001 Fred Reicker was a member of the San Leandro General Plan Advisory Committee.)
Click on the link to read more about San Leandro's Innovation Economy.