The popular but perpetually cash-strapped Oakland First Fridays Festival appears to be on stronger financial footing now that the city has done an about-face on ending public subsidies that had sustained the event.
Despite warning that the volunteer-run monthly street party would have to cover all costs beginning in July, the city -- not wanting the festival to go dark during the busy summer months -- has quietly continued paying the roughly $5,000 needed to cover police staffing.
Although that subsidy, too, will end, city leaders now plan on formally asking council members to commit $50,000 a year toward the event through mid-2015. The proposed subsidy -- which amounts to about one-fifth of the event's annual costs -- would come from a $200,000 community events fund tucked into the budget approved by the council in June.
If council members approve the subsidy later this year, First Fridays should have "a pretty good chance of continuing," said city of Oakland Marketing Director, Samee Roberts, who laid out the funding scenario to the council's Life Enrichment Committee on Tuesday.
The festival, which regularly draws about 10,000 revelers to the city's bustling Uptown District, has been an unabashed boon for local bars and restaurants but a vexing logistical struggle for both the city and the small group of volunteer organizers. After a shooting marred a festival earlier this year, city officials scaled back the event to lower costs and improve safety.
A recent study commissioned by the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District, which has taken a larger role in overseeing the festival, found that the average attendee spends about $80 in Oakland. The district's vacancy rate also has dropped from 47 percent to 12 percent.
"It's such a small investment for the city and the return on the dollar is phenomenal," said Shari Godinez, the business district's executive director.
Organizers raised about $10,000 last month in vendor fees and donations -- only half of what is needed to keep the festival running every month.
Although the continued city subsidy is critical, Godinez said the festival's future is dependent on obtaining business sponsorships. Organizers this month hired Oakland native Sarah Kidder to coordinate the fundraising effort. Kidder, who hasn't inked any deals yet, said that organizers won't let private money change the event's outsider charm. "I'm not looking to make the event more corporate," she said. "I'm just looking to have more Oakland business support so that we can continue it."
Halliday running for Hayward mayor
The Hayward mayoral race got a little more crowded this week, with Councilwoman Barbara Halliday jumping in.
She joins Councilmen Mark Salinas and Francisco Zermeno, who both earlier announced their intent to seek the post in the June 2014 election.
Halliday, 63, was elected to her third council term in 2012, gathering the most votes in an election to fill four council spots. Like Zermeno, she will retain her council seat if she does not win the mayoral race.
Current Hayward Mayor Michael Sweeney announced in August that he would not seek re-election when his term is up next year.
Halliday has volunteered in the city's after-school Homework Support Center for three years, and said if elected, she would work with the Hayward school district to improve safety and student performance.
Newark updates emergency plan
If a disaster of any kind hits the Tri-City area, Newark officials say they have a plan in place to respond to it. The City Council on Thursday approved the city's first update to its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan since 2006.
"It's very prudent to have a comprehensive plan in place that will provide us with templates and procedures to follow in case of a regional or local disaster," City Manager John Becker said.
Officials say several aspects of the document have been updated, including city maps, the staff telephone directory, a list of the city's critical infrastructure facilities and a plan involving Newark ham radio users.
In case of disaster, the plan calls for establishing an Emergency Operations Center, in which a planned, organized response would be coordinated among first responders, city employees and regional officials.
Within that framework, Becker would assume the city's role of director of emergency services.
"It would be very similar to my job as city manager," he said. "I would still report to the City Council."
If the city manager is unavailable during an emergency, the city's community development director -- a post currently held by Terrence Grindall -- would replace him, Becker said.
"I've designated him (Grindall) to be my backup," he said.
For more information, residents can call City Hall at 510-578-4000.