In May, after a series of violent incidents in the area, including four shootings in two months, merchants from Fruitvale Public Market held a press conference to air their concerns and present a series of demands to city of Oakland officials. Now, the merchants are once again calling for change as they say their safety concerns have gone unaddressed, and new construction is further disrupting their businesses. 

Another shooting occurred on Aug. 23, and The Unity Council, which operates the public market, has started construction on Juntos Fruitvale (Fruitvale Together). The Unity Council is a nonprofit social equity development corporation that advocates for housing, helping local businesses, and other programs in Fruitvale.

Juntos Fruitvale is a $6 million project transforming the historic Masonic Temple, originally built in 1909 and located on the other side of the Public Market at 34th Avenue and International Boulevard, into a cultural hub to serve small businesses, artists, and cultural organizations. 

Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Construction for The Unity Council’s “Juntos Fruitvale” project extends to Avenida de la Fuente adjacent to the Fruitvale Public Market. Credit: Amir Aziz

We spoke to tenants who have been at the Public Market for nearly two decades, including Ismael Beltran (Joyería Oro Laminado), Jose Flores (Bakery El Sol), Lidia Ortega (Magdalena’s Flowers), and Grisa Abundis (Nieves Cinco de Mayo), in addition to Dominic Prado (Tacos El Ultimo Baile) who moved into the space last October. All of the business owners expressed varying levels of frustration with the lack of security at Avenida de la Fuente (the plaza adjacent to the Public Market), the construction, and the outdated look of the area contributing to fewer patrons coming to the Public Market and Fruitvale Village.

Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants

Clockwise from top left: Dominic Prado of Tacos el Último Baile, Lidia Ortega of Magdalena’s Flowers, Ismael Beltran of Joyería Oro Laminado, the Fruitvale Public Market, Jose Flores of Bakery El Sol, and Grisa Abundis of Nieves Cinco de Mayo. Credit: Amir Aziz

The merchants got together to put pressure on The Unity Council and city leaders to offer concrete solutions to their requests: either private security or a police officer guarding the plaza; more communication regarding the Juntos Fruitvale project; and much-needed upgrades to the Public Market like new paint, upgraded signage, and better outdoor seating. These changes, the merchants said, will help them attract more customers and make the outdoor space feel safer and more inviting.

“We have been making noise, and it seems we are being heard,” Flores said. But, he added, “the change is happening too slow. We need security at the plaza 24/7.”

Caheri Gutierrez, a spokesperson with The Unity Council, said new tables for the outdoor area of the public market, bathroom upgrades, and other beautification efforts will be completed by Sept. 15.

Dominic Prado, who’s had a contentious relationship with the Unity Council recently, said that after putting pressure on city officials and the police department, a decoy police car began parking outside the Plaza. That effort, he said, lasted only a week. 

“It was taken away without any explanation,” Prado said. “When I inquired about it, they told me that the car had to be given to other officers.”

In an email, the Oakland Police Department said in part: “Unfortunately, due to a lack of available vehicles, the liaison officer is unable to obtain an extra vehicle for decoy purposes. When a vehicle becomes available, he will resume his decoy operations. At this time, we do not know when that will be.”

Last Monday, Leticia Chavez, owner of Obelisco Restaurant located in Fruitvale Village across from the Public Market Plaza, led a merchant’s meeting at the Eastmont police substation, asking the police department to resume securing the plaza and the village.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Gutierrez said OPD agreed to post an officer on E12th Street between the Public Market and Fruitvale Village Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In response, an OPD spokesperson said via email, “[The liaison officer] is not restricted to the Plaza as he is responsible for the Fruitvale District.”

Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
The business directory for the Fruitvale Public Market has not been updated in years, merchants said. Credit: Amir Aziz
Fruitvale Public Market Merchants
Cameras were installed at Avenida de la Fuente after several shootings occurred there in recent months. Credit: Amir Aziz

Gutierrez also said that the Department of Violence Prevention will open a satellite office this month in one of the empty storefronts at Fruitvale Village. 

“The Unity Council is providing DVP the space as an exchange for their outreach and services,” Gutierrez said. “We are welcoming DVP to operate and use community-informed solutions.”

The DVP office will have community members trained to prevent violence and provide resources for young people. They will also walk around between the Avenida de La Fuente plaza (next to the Public Market) and the Fruitvale Village, according to Gutierrez. 

The Oaklandside reached out to DVP and the mayor’s office for comment but did not get a reply from either in time for this story.

On Wednesday, Prado announced via social media that he would be “temporarily” closing his restaurant at the Public Market to focus on catering and pop-up events. The closure is in response to the disruptions from the Juntos Fruitvale project, he said, on top of the public safety issues. 

Frustrated with losing outdoor seating space due to the construction, Prado—without authorization—installed two picnic tables outside the Public Market. The Unity Council sent him a letter letting him know that setting the tables without permission violated the terms of his lease. 

Prado said the construction began in May and halted a few weeks ago. Since then, he said, the tarps protecting the work area have been covered with graffiti that he and Lidia Ortega, whose flower shop is next to Ultimo Baile, have had to clean themselves. 

“We were told that the construction would be stopped for only three weeks,” Ortega said. “There isn’t even a banner that says businesses are open during the construction.” 

Gutierrez from The Unity Council said the construction was halted due to design issues and because more time is needed to figure out how outdoor upgrades at the Public Market can be implemented into the project. Construction is scheduled to resume this week, and the completion date has been pushed back from January 2024 to March 2024.

“The Unity Council has more power than we have. They have more leverage than we have,” Prado said. “Advocate for us and set the tone for the neighborhood.”

Azucena Rasilla reports on arts and community for The Oaklandside. She is an East Oakland native and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local, bilingual journalist,...