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In East Oakland, Restaurant Owners Rally to Secure a Safer Future for Fruitvale Community

Business owners say recent violence is just the latest of ongoing issues in East Oakland

A business exterior.
Tacos El Ultimo Baile is one of the Fruitvale Plaza’s newest tenants, but many of the business owners are feeling the strain of ongoing violence.
Patricia Chang
Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

When a man was shot at the Fruitvale BART station on Wednesday, May 17, it was the final event that pushed community members to voice their concerns to city officials after three other shootings rattled the neighborhood in the last two months. Local business owners and community members from the Fruitvale Public Market and Fruitvale Transit Village, held a press conference on Tuesday, May 23 to read their list of demands for city officials. Chief among them are a number of safety measures to be installed by the city paired with a desire for cultural events to be held in Fruitvale Plaza, which local business owners see as a way to make the area’s safety a primary focus for city officials while luring business back to East Oakland.

Leticia Chavez, owner of Obelisco Restaurant in Fruitvale, says she’s seen less customers come into her restaurant in recent weeks, attributing the drop in business to heightened public safety concerns. “The plaza used to be the heart of Fruitvale,” Chavez says. “We don’t want to focus on the negative. But if we don’t get support, we’ll close our businesses.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, speakers suggested both practical solutions to address crime, along with ways of instilling a sense of community pride. The demands cited at the conference include increasing Fruitvale social equity nonprofit Unity Council’s involvement in regulating Public Market Plaza, building new sidewalk barriers to prevent folks from parking their cars on curbs, and increasing the presence of public or private safety officers in the area. Another suggestion offered by local business owners includes designating International Boulevard and the Fruitvale Village area as Oakland’s official Latino Cultural District, along with planning neighborhood events at the plaza, which have been lacking in their area.

Dominic Prado, owner of ultra-popular neighborhood newcomer El Último Baile, says other parts of the town receive resources like planned events or engagements in areas like Uptown Oakland, whereas East Oakland is left to fend for itself. “It’s perception,” Prado says, “and it’s blight. There’s no investment in beautifying the neighborhood or attracting business.”

He sees the lack of interest in the neighborhood as an issue for the entire Fruitvale ecosystem, as El Último Baile and Obelisco Restaurant are just two of numerous vendors in a tight-knit group of businesses. Neighbors El Sol Bakery sells pan dolce and Churros Mexicanos fries custard-filled pastries for market-goers. Prado says folks spoke in both English and Spanish at the press conference, a representation of the multilingual owners in Fruitvale.

A safety summit was held after a shooting in April which Prado initially saw as a good thing, but there weren’t any tangible outcomes, he says. Prado says officials and community members alike are trying to help and is hopeful that a new strategy can, in his words, “tear down the walls holding back progress.” Ahead of Tuesday’s press conference, businesses in Fruitvale again met on Monday with the Unity Council and invited Fruitvale’s city council member, Noel Gallo, who ultimately did not attend the meeting. “What needed to be said was said,” Prado says. “No word from Noel, who was receiving a lot of attention — he didn’t come.” Chavez is among the business owners who also want to sit down with the councilmember to workshop solutions for the area. At the time of publication, Gallo’s office has not replied to a request to interview from Eater SF.

Despite that, Prado says there was a better sense of representation, promises made, and declarations of support from the Unity Council. Even though action is slow, he says the meeting seemed to him like a step in the right direction. For now he will wait and see if those words can turn into actions. “Crime comes and goes,” Prado says. “But how do we make the area vibrant for good?”

Patricia Chang