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Improving Oakland’s Image A Top Priority For New Mayor

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Lake Merritt in Oakland. (CBS)

Lake Merritt in Oakland. (CBS)

OAKLAND (BCN) — Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she wants to improve the city’s image, bring more shoppers to town, and visit China to court more business for the port.

In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, her fourth day in her new post, Quan was optimistic about Oakland’s future, even though she admitted it faces crime and budget problems.

Quan said she’s disappointed by a “rash of murders” of murders in the city since the first of the year, and conceded that Oakland’s murder rate “is still way too high.”

But she said the number of murders in Oakland has dropped for four straight years, and she hopes to reduce the murder and crime rates even more by trying to keep at-risk youths in school so they can graduate and get good jobs.

Quan said she will propose a budget by March and is already meeting with city department heads to see how they will handle possible cuts of 5 to 15 percent in their department budgets.

She said there could be “a lot of dramatic cuts,” and one way she proposes to save money is to share facilities with other entities, such as the Oakland Unified School District and other local governments.

For example, the new East Oakland Community Library on 81st Avenue will open on Jan. 29 and will be the city’s first new library in decades, Quan said.

She said the library is jointly owned by the city and the school district and is “a model of the future.”

Quan said she met on Wednesday with a group of local public relations professionals from local companies and public institutions in a “collaborative effort to better market the city.”

She said she wants to boost Oakland’s image by talking about good news, such as the city’s restaurant scene, which she claims is “the hottest in the Bay Area.”

Quan said she has brought in John Flores, the former Emeryville city manager and architect of the city’s lucrative economic development efforts, to serve as a volunteer advisor on budget and economic development. She wants to increase Oakland’s sales tax base, she said.

“We leak about $5 billion in sales a year” from local residents who shop in other cities or buy items on the Internet, she said.

Quan admitted the city would never pull everyone away from Union Square in San Francisco or the Internet, but she said that by retrieving half of the $5 billion in lost sales, Oakland could get $9 million to $12 million per year in increased sales tax, which could help fund important city services.

The new mayor also said she’s considering an invitation by Omar Benjamin, the executive director of the Port of Oakland, to join him on the port’s next trade mission to China to meet its customers there and possibly drum up new business.

Quan, who is Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor as well as its first female mayor, said she’s a “minor celebrity” in China and will try to use that to the city’s advantage.

“Chinese officials have money to invest,” she said.

She said she also plans to work with airlines and Chinese officials to develop low-cost flights from China to Oakland.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report)

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