A new commercial kitchen will be added to the Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center in East Oakland soon after Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to accept $ 100,000 worth of equipment from Google to aid inventory. Councilor Loren Taylor, who drafted the resolution and represents District 6, where the center is located, told The Oaklandside that the kitchen is expected to open next year.
The leisure center already has two kitchens, one of which is to be converted into a commercial workspace that can be used by food business owners who are currently cooking at home. The kitchen will also benefit the residents of the area, Taylor said. “The East Oakland neighborhood around the Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center is a food wasteland where our residents have no access to healthy and nutritious food,” he wrote in the resolution’s accompanying report.
Taylor told The Oaklandside that prior to receiving the gift from Google, the city had planned to use some of its funds from the CARES Act – a federal COVID aid program – to purchase new kitchen appliances for the center. The equipment is inspected by city officials to ensure compliance with safety and licensing requirements.
“We have a number of companies that have been operating underground across the city of Oakland without proper licensing,” Taylor said during the meeting. “Others have paid expensive costs to run commercial kitchens in Alameda, Emeryville, and those additional costs can spark someone trying to build their own financial independence.”
Food business operators can rent the space for less than what they would pay for commercial kitchen space at market prices, and the fees are used for maintenance. The Arroyo Viejo kitchen is modeled on the Alameda County’s commercial kitchen area, Taylor said.
The approval of the Arroyo Viejo kitchen wasn’t the only move the city council took on Tuesday to encourage economic growth in East Oakland. The council also approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative that allows the nonprofit group to lease Liberation Park, its common space on 73rd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.
The new commercial kitchen in East Oakland is in line with other recent initiatives to provide greater opportunities for food business owners. Alameda County decided in May to adopt AB 626, a 2018 state law that allows counties to issue permits for home-based food businesses. The Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation permits, or MEKHOs, allow entrepreneurs to make and sell groceries from their homes, although permit holders are limited to $ 50,000 per year under AB 626.
Prior to MEHKO approvals, individuals in Alameda County could operate temporary businesses – better known as pop-ups – from existing stationary restaurants and commercial kitchens, as long as certain Alameda County’s health requirements were met. People who obtained cottage food permits could also sell food prepared in their home, but could not convert their home into a restaurant.
None of Oakland councilors opposed Arroyo Viejo’s plan on Tuesday. But several residents called during the meeting’s public comment.
“I encourage you all to vote yes – but you also know that this is the area of the city that is trading and we continue to have an interest in starting businesses,” said Diane Lewis, business outreach manager for Main Street Launch, a nonprofit Organization based in Oakland.
Maria Alderete, the owner of Lukas’s Taproom and Executive Director of Community Kitchens, said the new kitchen will be a great resource for local entrepreneurs. “I think we will be able to support food incubators in the city,” said Alderete, “and I also see Arroyo Viejo as a way to feed the community members in the neighborhood. This Google gift will really help with that. ”
Note: The Google News Initiative is one of The Oaklandside’s financial backers.