By Libby Schaaf, District 4 City Councilmember

The Business of Innovation

One of my passions has been making Oakland’s government more transparent, innovative and user-friendly. One group that needs more help from City Hall in this arena has been small business. I’m excited that two business-friendly innovations I’ve sponsored just got launched!

Virtual Inspections

Most innovations start with the low-tech approach of just listening. Last year, I convened a task force of building services staff and members of the Oakland Builders Alliance (OBA) to explore ways of making Oakland’s approval process faster, more thorough and easier. Through open dialogue and experimentation, the group came up with several ways to speed up approvals and make them more convenient for contractors and inspectors alike.

But most interestingly, this Tuesday, Oakland will become one of the first cities in the country to recognize “virtual inspections” in our building code. I proposed this idea during task force discussions when I was shocked to learn that inspectors spent nearly half their time just driving between appointments. An OBA contractor tested the idea by emailing a photo to his assigned inspector documenting how he’d made a required correction. It saved everyone time, money and stress.

Virtual inspections won’t be appropriate for many phases of a project, but when used, they’ll speed work, increase documentation, and emit less pollution. Inspectors can use photos, FaceTime or Skype to provide time-sensitive advice and approvals, all in half the time and without idling an engine. Just as importantly, this new process significantly improves the end product as a whole by creating lasting visual documentation of each inspection.

Kiva Zip Micro Lending

Pollinate Farm & Garden

Pollinate Farm & Garden

One of my top priorities is growing local small businesses and encouraging local manufacturing.  That is why I am so proud to report that earlier this year, City Attorney Barbara Parker and I brought legislation making Oakland the very first municipal trustee for the innovative micro-lending platform Kiva Zip. Oakland just announced the three small businesses selected for endorsement. These businesses will be promoted to receive loans of around $5,000 each, crowd-sourced from citizen-lenders like you and me who just want to help someone’s entrepreneurial dream come true. You can start lending as little as $25, which gets repaid overtime. The first three businesses are:

LOAKal Art Gallery & Boutique

Pollinate Farm & Garden


LOAKal Gallery & Boutique

LOAKal Gallery & Boutique

Once these three businesses get their loans fully funded and repaid, Oakland can endorse three new ones! Visit Kiva Zip online to learn how you can become a micro lender and watch for City of Oakland endorsed lending opportunities.

To learn about how your business might become Oakland’s next endorsed borrower – and many other ways your city can help your business start and grow — visit Oakland’s Business Assistance Center.

Oakland can prosper and innovatively grow its businesses and entrepreneurs. It starts with listening.

With Oakland-love,


P.S.: Recognition and gratitude are due to building services staff Tim Lowe and Jeff Hutcher and attorney Kiran Jain for being some of the most dedicated entrepreneurial bureaucrats around, as well as to OBA leaders Mark McClure and Joe Sarapochillo.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

2 Responses

  1. r2d2ii

    Sounds mostly like someone is trying hard to run for mayor.

    Superficially the “virtual inspections” idea sounds okay, but in fact the process of inspections is complex and relies on much more than actual site visits. Inspectors and contractors often have good and trusting relationships (or not!) which profoundly affect inspection/approval logistics. In addition computer time can demand much of an inspector’s schedule especially when computer systems are of marginal quality and subject to slowdowns and failures.

    The “virtual inspections” effort will need to be monitored (that means useful data gathered and analyzed competently) to show whether or not it produces what its sponsor claims for it.

    I think microloans for much of economically-depressed Oakland could be an excellent idea. However a crowd-sourced program is far different from one in which Oakland invests its funds according to an overall plan for building Oakland’s impoverished community. This little effort seems quite a bit short in scope and ambition compared to Oakland’s needs.

  2. Oakie

    I have a question for you, Libby:

    According to this article titled “Oakland consultant returning to fix crime reduction plan”:

    “City Administrator Deanna Santana this week acknowledged that it [Wasserman contract] lacked the level of detail and analysis called for in the consultant’s $350,000 contract.”


    “Wasserman has already been paid the full amount of his contract”

    “Wasserman’s contract called for him to oversee the final implementation and evaluation of the crime reduction plan. ”

    So, in other words, the guy was paid in full before meeting the contractual deliverables?


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