From left to right: Dominic Prado (Tacos el Ultimo Baile), Lidia Ortega (Magdalena's Flower Shop), and Ledy Ordóñez (Ecuador Imports and Crafts) are three small business owners part of the group demanding action from Oakland officials. Credit: Florence Middleton

Fruitvale merchants from the Public Market Plaza and Fruitvale Village gathered on Tuesday afternoon with a list of public safety demands for Oakland officials. The press conference comes a month after a safety summit where business owners shared their concerns about public safety and ways to help curb the ongoing violence in the area.

The meeting was spurred by a string of violent incidents that have rattled Fruitvale business owners in recent days. Last week, a 26-year-old man was shot at the plaza and ran into the Fruitvale Public Market until police arrived, according to the East Bay Times. The shooting was the fourth in the area in less than two months. 

Dominic Prado, the owner of Tacos El Ultimo Baile, which is located at the public market, presented the group’s demands. The list includes installing security cameras in visible areas around the plaza, prohibiting cars from parking on the curb next to the plaza’s main pedestrian walkway, adding police officers or private security guards in the plaza, giving the Unity Council—a nonprofit group that provides assistance to Fruitvale’s business community—greater decision-making authority over the city-owned Public Market Plaza, and committing to work towards designating the area a “Latino Cultural Zone.”

“This [public safety] situation has been going on for many years now without any kind of relief or remedy,” Prado said. “This has all come about because of the recent violence that has happened in the area without any kind of recourse.”

A day earlier, the group of business owners met with The Unity Council’s chief executive officer, Chris Iglesias. According to Prado, Iglesias agreed to meet with them once a month to discuss their concerns.

The business owners expressed their frustration with what they described as a lack of follow-up by the city officials who’d attended last month’s safety summit: District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo, Mayor Sheng Thao, Oakland Police Department Capt. James Bassett, OPD Deputy Chief Angelica Mendoza, BART Police Lt. William Spears, and Department of Violence Prevention Interim Chief Kentrell Killens. None were in attendance at the Tuesday press conference.

Prado said the group invited Councilmember Gallo but didn’t receive a response from his office. The Oaklandside reached out to Gallo for comment, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After a series of shootings in the area, Fruitvale business owners and community members hold a press conference at the Fruitvale Public Market on May 23, 2023, with a call to action to increase safety measures addressed to District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo. Credit: Florence Middleton
The Fruitvale Public Market Plaza has seen four shootings in the last two months.

Multiple small-business owners at the press conference shared their discontent with city leaders, describing a lack of urgency surrounding the recent violence and break-ins happening in and around the plaza.

Leticia Chavez, owner of the Fruitvale Village restaurant Obelisco, expressed her frustration with Gallo’s lack of communication. 

“We’ve tried to talk to him so he can come and sit with us to find solutions,” said Chavez. “And he has completely ignored us. We are demanding that he comes to talk to us.”

Another merchant, Ismael Beltran, owner of a jewelry store inside the public market, talked about how last week’s shooting could’ve turned out deadly. 

“The person who got shot last week ran into the bathrooms and fell,” Beltran said. “All the business owners and customers were scared and started running. We didn’t know if the shooter would come inside. This could’ve been a mass shooting.”

Community members don’t want to come into the neighborhood as a result of the violence, added Beltran, which is causing him and other business owners to lose customers.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’ve reached our limit, and we want to see changes. People are scared; they don’t know when the next shooting will be.”

Ecuador Import and Crafts is one of two businesses without a commercial space. Instead, it sets up shop outdoors on the plaza. The owner, Ledy Ordoñez, expressed her frustration over the lack of safety measures. 

“I’m tired, stressed, with lots of emotions because I see a lot of things,” said Ordoñez of the violence and drug dealing taking place in broad daylight. “Our businesses are on the brink of closure. It isn’t just the business owners who need to feel safe; we need positive change for the entire community.” 

Several small business owners and supporters attended Tuesday’s presser in Fruitvale. Credit: Florence Middleton
This portion of the Fruitvale Public Market Plaza is owned by the city of Oakland and doesn’t currently have security. Credit: Florence Middleton

Ofelia Salas and Obdulia Cruz Quintana are members of the Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center. Both held signs in support and also spoke on behalf of the elderly community who live and patronize businesses in the area. 

“We go out in fear, and we can’t run if a shooting happens,” said Salas. “We plead to Gallo to please do something.” 

Jorge Lederma and Jose Dorado, members of the Latino Task Force, a local group that advocates for equity within the Latino community, also attended to show solidarity with the group. 

“The Oakland Police Department, BART, and the Unity Council are the three entities that have to get together and come up with a comprehensive and coordinated plan to help,” said Dorado. “Fruitvale is the heart of Oakland, and its potential is limitless.”

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.