My State of the City Address

Last week the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club hosted a panel discussion called “Deconstructing Oakland Politics.” We talked a lot about the lack of leadership shown by the Oakland City Council, but one panelist noted that the new mayor was keeping a low profile and staying away from policy statements that she would ultimately be held accountable for.

Now she is ready to enter the fray and give us her take on how we’re doing and, I hope, some solutions for our problems. Here’s what I would say if I were mayor:

The first thing to do is declare a State of Emergency over the Affordable Housing Crisis. Oakland is staring over the abyss, the cliff that San Francisco fell off of. That city is now officially a museum of their former selves, the tough union waterfront town with a cutting edge culture that accepted artists, poets, musicians, and worldly misfits who made it a living breathing human laboratory of creativity and social change.

I remember. I lived there from 1966 to 1973, first in the Sunset, then the Fillmore and the Haight Ashbury to the Mission and outer Mission, downtown and finally, home to Oakland. I spent a few days in the 7th floor jail at the Hall of Justice during the Strike at San Francisco State and later drove tourists in my Yellow Cab up and down those scenic hills before I found the sunshine on the other side of the Bay.

I have to admit-Oakland was never an easy place for a single mom to survive either, especially when most of us are renters and renters “don’t get no respect” in Oakland. So what would I do in the first 90 days after declaring a state of emergency

  1. Immediately finish the Nexus study that will undoubtedly sanction impact fees on developers. Pick the highest dollar amount and insist that no projects get city approval until the fees are imposed. We need that money to begin to climb out of the deficit in affordable housing we’ve been racking up for years.
  2. Declare a moratorium on rent increases beyond the CPI. Immediately provide an adequate fund to help people stay in their rental units if they are in danger of losing them, lower the return landlords can demand on capital improvements (after all CM Schaaf  was the one who obtained the 70% cap when the CC was willing to lower it) and require landlords to go to the rent board when they need an increase. Meet with the Oakland Tenants’ Union for more ideas.
  3. Begin writing a comprehensive inclusionary zoning ordinance, which will pass state muster, to be ready to pass before the 90 days are up.
  4. Raise the percentage of Boomerang funds from 25% to 50% towards building affordable housing and rather than put all first time homeowner funds towards single family homes, dedicate some of it towards limited equity coops and other non-speculative home ownership models.
  5. Reform and tighten the condo conversion rules.
  6. Dedicate 60% of increases in revenue to building and rehabbing units in transportation hubs, include bike shares and please remember to build family-sized units.
  7. Legalize in-law units and encourage them and other infill housing in the priciest neighborhoods so more residents can share in the fun.

There’s more that can be done on housing and it will take years to catch up-better get started quickly. But public safety is still a big issue in Oakland. We recognize that our young people are still dying in gunfire at significantly high rates. So far eleven more people were murdered in Oakland this year than last.

For instance, my young friend who started the Scraper Bike Movement, Tyrone Stevenson, recently lost his closest friend to gunfire. He is heartbroken and doesn’t know if he can continue to give all the youth who work with and follow him inspiration. He has loved this town but it hasn’t loved him back. Can we show him and the Scraper Bikes Kids some love? Let’s get a city administrator and park and rec leader to work with him and provide resources into helping him and others like him in their efforts. Invent a new position and call it Homegrown Youth Initiatives Czar. Then give him or her the salary of the (former) hearing administrator who threatened to fine the churches and Humanist Hall for being nuisances with this new position.

Then I’d tell my friend, Jerry Brown, (if I were Libby) to bring back adult education. Edward Shands in East Oakland was an important institution in our city, it offered second chances for those in need of a high school education and first chances for English learners.

The next step may seem like less of an emergency to some. The Oakland Police Department under Chief Sean Whent has begun the process of reform but it’s still on shaky ground as evidenced by the shooting deaths of four Oaklanders this summer by police. Yes, we know the police are wearing cameras but they don’t seem to believe those videos belong to the public. We still don’t really know what happened to the comatose man who was shot upon awakening on the Lakeshore offramp.

We need a transparency policy on police videos, and we need a police commission before the federal oversight of Judge Thelton Henderson goes away. After $60 million dollars in lawsuits and decimated community trust, we can’t afford not to. Get it on the 2016 ballot, ferkrissakes.

Well, Oaklanders, it’s only a start. Even the mayor and city council can’t prevent the kind of ugly incident that happened on the Lake recently although they can help make rules reasonable and encourage honoring who we are. One thing they can do is make city hall welcoming. Open House for Oaklanders should be an every day event, not a special window when we are able to speak freely and even be heard.

What’s your state of the city and what would you do to make it a better place for all of us?

Wellstone Democratic Club to Host “Deconstructing Oakland Politics”

On Thursday, October 22nd, at Humanist Hall, 370 27th Street (wheelchair access from the 28th Street entrance,) the Wellstone Democratic Club will host a panel discussion on the current and historical political trends in Oakland, especially as they affect the Oakland City Council and Mayor’s office with a brief overview of the situation at the Oakland Unified School District.

Panelists will include long time housing activist James Vann, blogger and former council staffer, Pamela Drake, and Tribune Columnist Matt Artz and we’ll hear from the Chair of the Education Committee of the Block by Block Organizing Network, Sharon Rose.

Oaklanders often despair of their elected officials who seem to morph from progressive community leaders into bureaucrats unable to respond quickly to the needs of their constituents after taking office. They don’t seem willing to form coalitions to bring their progressive promises for affordable housing and police accountability to fruition no matter how loud and persistent the demands. What’s going on here?

It is necessary to understand the historical direction and the forces that bombard inexperienced politicians if political activists are to move them to act. Some of these forces will be outlined along with suggestions of how to move the city to recognize and act in a crisis such as this.

Oakland is in the midst of what some are calling a state of emergency in terms of the desperate need to prevent families, artists, and long-time residents, predominantly people of color from being displaced. If city officials and their administrative staff cannot recognize and act during this housing emergency, Oakland will become another enclave for the rich, white, and childless like San Francisco. In the process our city could see its historic reputation for social justice and its diverse culture disappear. Additionally, the climate for small business and entrepreneurialism is deteriorating leaving corporate chains to fill the gap.

But Oakland’s powerful tradition of political activism is fighting back. What are the next steps? Is there a unifying vision for a changing Oakland or will reaction thwart an inclusive movement-this is only one of many conversations going on all over Oakland during these troubled times. You do not have to be a Wellstone member or a Democrat to join the conversation and you are welcome to attend the potluck dinner (please bring a dish) at 6pm-the panel will start by 7:30pm.

For more information, contact Local Politics Coordinator Pamela Drake-pamelaadrake@gmail.com, @bethpikegirl on twitter