The Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center located in East Oakland. Credit: Richard A. Walker (Creative Commons 2020)

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The Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center in East Oakland will soon be getting a new commercial kitchen after the Oakland City Council agreed on Tuesday to accept $100,000 in equipment from Google to help stock it. Councilmember Loren Taylor, who drafted the resolution and represents District 6 where the center is located, told The Oaklandside that the kitchen is tentatively scheduled to open next year. 

The rec center already has two kitchens, and the intention is to convert one of them into a commercial workspace that can be used by food entrepreneurs currently cooking out of their homes. The kitchen will also benefit residents in the area, said Taylor. “The East Oakland neighborhood surrounding the Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center is a food desert where our residents do not have access to healthy and nutritious food,” he wrote in the resolution’s accompanying report.

Taylor told The Oaklandside that prior to receiving Google’s gift, the city had planned on using a portion of its funds from the CARES Act—a federal COVID relief program—to purchase new kitchen equipment for the center. The equipment will be inspected by city staff to ensure compliance with safety and license requirements.

“We have a number of businesses that have been operating underground without appropriate licensing across the city of Oakland,” Taylor said during the meeting. “Others have paid expensive costs to operate out of commercial kitchens in Alameda, Emeryville, and those extra costs can saddle someone who’s trying to build their own financial independence.”

Food entrepreneurs will be able to rent out the space for less than what they would pay at market-rate commercial kitchen spaces, and the fees will be used to pay for maintenance. The Arroyo Viejo kitchen will be modeled after Alameda County’s commercial kitchen space, said Taylor. 

Approval of the Arroyo Viejo kitchen wasn’t the only action taken by the City Council on Tuesday intended to foster economic growth in East Oakland. The council also approved an exclusive negotiation agreement with the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative that will allow the nonprofit group to lease Liberation Park, its community space on 73rd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

The new commercial kitchen space in East Oakland is in line with other recent initiatives to provide more opportunities to food entrepreneurs. Alameda County decided in May to implement 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 food out of their homes, though permit holders are limited to making $50,000 a year under AB 626. 

Prior to the MEHKO permits, individuals in Alameda County could run temporary businesses —better known as pop-ups—out of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants and commercial kitchens, as long as certain Alameda County health requirements were met. Individuals who obtained a cottage food permit could also sell food prepared in their home, but not convert their home to a restaurant.

None of the Oakland councilmembers opposed the Arroyo Viejo plan on Tuesday. But several residents called in during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I encourage you all to vote yes—but to also let you know that there is commerce going on in that area of the city, and we would like continued interest in incubating existing businesses,” said Diane Lewis, business outreach manager for Main Street Launch, an Oakland-based business nonprofit.

Maria Alderete, the owner of Luka’s Taproom and executive director of Community Kitchens, said the new kitchen will be a great resource for local entrepreneurs. “I think we’ll be able to support food incubators in the city,” Alderete said, “and I also see Arroyo Viejo as a way to feed community members in the neighborhood. This Google gift will really help with that.” 

Note: Google News Initiative is one of The Oaklandside’s financial supporters.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.