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Anti-poverty group proposes alternative currency for local economy

The Oakland Community Action Network (CAN), an anti-poverty organization, recently proposed the Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors (ACORN) plan to the Oakland Merchants’ Leadership Forum to help rebuild the local economy.

Wilson Riles, a former Oakland council member, held the meeting on Sept. 23 as the initiative will be proposed to the city council on Oct. 13.

The ACORN currency would be connected to the Oakland City ID card ordinance, which was passed by the city council on June 6. When implemented the Oakland City ID Card will enable undocumented immigrants, local minorities and homeless people to become more active in the community and economy.

A member of the Oakland City ID Card coalition and Mills alumna, Maria Dominguez, said the city ID card, along with the ACORN currency, can especially help immigrants who are without another form of valid identification and are therefore at risk of being booked by police.

“They’re living in fear of being deported,” said Dominguez. “When you have an ID card you minimize the mismanagement of the police department.”

Riles, however, said CAN is focusing more closely on Oakland’s local economy.

“A huge percentage of people working in Oakland commute,” said Riles. He explained that a local currency would “keep resources in the city.”

By maintaining money circulation within the area, Riles said ACORN currency would lend “spin-off benefits,” such as promoting the purchasing of local products and the “utilization of existing productive resources.”

This idea has taken shape in the real world multiple times before.

“It’s not a radical idea,” said Riles. More than 80 cities nationwide have implemented a local currency such as the one CAN is proposing, 13 of which are in CA including the Humboldt Community Currency in Eureka.

Riles also suggested that ACORN currency could be used to pay local workers and city fines, which would help the currency’s circulation in the local economy, and would help those experiencing financial troubles to pay off outstanding local debts.

Ideally, said Riles, those using ACORN currency at participating stores would receive a discount after accumulating “merchant credits.” This would give incentive not only to those facing economic hardship but to all consumers.

Riles also talked about the effect ACORN would have on small local businesses.

“Oakland is a very historical place,” said Riles, who believes maintaining local businesses will spur the economy. It is the local charm of independent coffee shops, boutiques, and toy stores that Riles seeks to aid with the implementation of the ACORN currency.

Those businesses using the ACORN currency would receive discounts when paying city fees, and would become eligible for zero percent loans in both the local currency and the U.S. dollar.

Riles also insists that the ID card as well as the ACORN currency “should be of no cost to the city.” He’s suggested that contracts could be made with debit card venders to eliminate the cost of the ID/ACORN currency cards for Oakland citizens, but some business people are skeptical.

“Vendors are willing to give the card for free,” said Dominguez, but their willingness depends on whether or not the card will carry debit capabilities, as businesses pay for the ability to provide customers with debit card machines.

The local ID card that San Francisco implemented in Jan. 2009 was half a million dollars to produce, according to Dominguez, but also served as a public transportation pass for cardholders.

Dominguez hopes that the Oakland City ID card, along with the ACORN currency, could hold benefits for Mills students as well. She said the card could provide students with discounts in the Laurel District, at the on-campus bookstore and at other school supply stores.