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Radically Sharing Temescal

A group of artists, hackers, and other creative people have launched Omni Commons, a new community resource center in North Oakland that they hope will be an antidote to gentrification.



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Wick and Brooks said that, in light of the Nautilus Group's plans for large, mostly market-rate developments in Temescal, Omni Commons can be a uniting force in the neighborhood. And many community members agree. Araya Amare, who lives down the street from the Omni on Shattuck, used to be a regular at Good Bellies Cafe until it closed because its rent skyrocketed. "When the La Commune Bookstore Cafe opens [in Omni Commons], it will be a good place for us to gather," he said. "It's beautiful."

Lory Hayward's backyard touches Omni Commons. She's lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years. Although she said she was "cautious" at first, she attended one of the Omni's neighborhood potlucks and discovered that the Omni has the potential to bring people together. "There's a personality that's reflective of the neighborhood character, rather than having it squished out by the new developments," she said.

Although Hayward said she didn't want to pit the Omni against the Nautilus developments, she said she hasn't seen the same type of sincere neighborhood outreach and consideration from the Nautilus Group as she has from the Omni.

In the coming years, Omni Commons organizers hope to buy the building and place it in a land trust, so the building can never be demolished or purchased by a retailer. But Omni Commons is still young and faces some challenges. In order for the it to legally become a place through which community members can freely pass, the building still needs to be renovated and must have the proper city permits, which can be expensive, according to Keenan — especially for a group of nonprofits.

Keenan said that city officials have been "generally supportive," but he suspects that because the Omni is a not-for-profit organization — and therefore won't bring in tax revenue for city — city officials are less incentivized to ease the permitting process.

"Which is understandable; the city needs money," Keenan said. "But if anyone really looked at this neighborhood they would say this neighborhood needs balance. I mean, you have high density residential going up all over the place, and you have places that provide culture for the neighborhood — Rise Above, Smokey's Tangle — essentially priced out of the neighborhood. You need to have a place for the community if you're putting a community in here."

Omni Commons does have advocates at city hall. Margo Lederer Prado, a senior economic development advisor with the Planning Department and an outspoken supporter of the maker movement, said that Temescal needs diversity — "more than just restaurants." She explained that Omni Commons can attract a wide range of community members from different income levels and age groups. "It's really in the spirit of Temescal to have this kind of diversity," she said.

Corrections: The original version of this story erroneously stated that Smokey's Tangle's lease expired in December. It did not. The story also failed to mention the first name of Marina Kukso of Sudo Room and her professional affiliation. And on first reference, the story misstated the name of small press collective Timeless Infinite Light.

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