The Yin and Yang of Governing Oakland

While our so-called president holds his Nuremberg-style rallies and our friends in the Democratic Party try to pull our country out of the abyss using parliamentary maneuvers, Oakland is working to address its most serious day-to-day problems with some small measure of success or at least the glimmerings of such.

Repaving our Torn Up Roads

For the last couple of weeks, the city’s transportation department, OakDOT, has held community meetings throughout the city. I understand they were well attended. But, more importantly those who did attend came away with some truly hopeful/useful information although as yin and yang go, it was well seasoned with our holey reality. [Correction: it seems that not all were well received. See Rachel Swan’s article, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-hills-residents-break-an-axle-over-13730254.php

Because many of us get our news from Twitter, the city with the least user friendly website, managed to put together a great thread on @Jack’s medium. Here it is, starting with an intro from the wonderful Sarah Fine, manager of Complete Streets Paving:

Retweeted OakDOT

“Wondering what @OakDOT is up to with our new paving plan? We’re working to prioritize equity AND street condition, and we’ve summarized the whole thing in 20 quick tweets: https://twitter.com/OakDOT/status/1110299781845446657 … Stay til the end for the survey!”

If you don’t do twitter, here are some blocks of info designed to clear a path or at least fix some of our roads. While I confess I didn’t vote for Measure KK, I now have to admit that we really did need it.

Local Streets Prioritized

Map for the Next 3 Years Based on Fixing Streets in Underserved Areas

I find this program and its outreach very encouraging and hope you will too. I believe in what the Department of Race and Equity are doing, but I understand why people are upset that their roads might have to wait longer. Perhaps some of the very narrow streets in the fire zone which are the only egress for some families, can also be considered in the ranking of priorities.

For more info go to https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/2019-paving-plan in addition to Chinese and Spanish translations.

Homelessness and Rental Regulations

A vociferous group of landlords regularly complain to the Council every time new regulations are considered. They claim the laws will make them unsafe, cause them to lose money and even threaten to take their units off the market or sell their buildings because of these fears.

None of this makes any sense. No one has to rent to bad tenants or allow tenants to make them feel unsafe, those rules are clearly stipulated in the law. https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/read-the-just-cause-for-eviction-ordinance

What I think has happened is that many regular folks, people of good will, have been dazzled by the vision of pots of gold at the end of the rental rainbow. Before the current and unsustainable boom, these same folks were quite satisfied with the reasonable rate of return they were getting and which is guaranteed by law.

It’s too bad that new regulations have to be developed but homelessness in Oakland can probably be more closely correlated to spikes in rent than the dearth of housing.

Up until Measure JJ passed by the overwhelming support of voters in 2016, Oakland had a weak form of rent control/tenant protections. As more and more Oaklanders saw a sharp increase in homelessness and the possibility that either they or their offspring might not be able to stay in their hometown, they began to support stronger protections.

Still there were loopholes that a moving truck could drive through and the voters along with the city council have sought to close some of them. So now we have the protections of just cause evictions-evictions based on violating the rules of tenancy or criminal actions–but we still have no protections for people renting in newer buildings based on the state law known as Costa Hawkins. [https://la.curbed.com/2018/1/12/16883276/rent-control-california-costa-hawkins-explained ]

But Measure Y which passed last year added the just cause protection for renters in owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes and provided a pathway for other protections to be added to that class of renters.

Implementation and Enforcement

As renters have been winning more protections at the ballot box and in the City Council, these ordinances must be implemented and violations-either by landlords or by tenants-must be monitored and enforced. So imagine my surprise then when tenants objected to allowing the Rental Adjustment Program or RAP to increase their fee in order to provide these services. A share of these costs can be passed through to renters but without them, the RAP cannot attend to all the needs of both landlords and tenants and the ordinances will just be another example of laws that go unenforced.

Here is a comparison, provided to the Finance Committee on March 25th. Please notice the cities with fewer rental units and higher fees and those with passive (complaint driven) enforcement rather than active programs like Oakland’s which includes monitoring and trainings for landlords.

From the Supplementle Report

“Staff Recommends That City Council Adopt An Ordinance Amending Ordinance No. 13497 C.M.S. (The 2018-19 Master Fee Schedule) To Increase The Rent Adjustment Program Service Fee From $68.00 Per Unit To $101.00 Per Unit. ”

Yes, that’s right, Oakland’s fee is a paltry $68 at this time and the RAP oversees approximately 80,000 units in our town and would still be lower than Alameda’s fee if it passes on Tuesday. Let’s hope it does. Like any of our other vital oversight programs-for instance, the Police Commission- pennywise-and-millions-of-dollars-foolish is not a good look.

Happy Belated Cesar Chavez Day to you all!

3 Comments on "The Yin and Yang of Governing Oakland"

  1. Oakland Tenants Union OPPOSES the proposed 49% increase in the Rental Fee at this time as PREMATURE.
    Oakland does not have “rent control,” but has “rent stabilization” — a “passive,” not “active” program. Also:

    • The last increase of 100% ($34 to $68), was just 27 months ago,
    • The 2 years of the last increase produced budget surpluses of $1.13M (2017) and $1.94M (2018)
    • As OTU had contended, the number of petitions decreased by 19% since 2017.
    • Presently, there is essentially “NO” debilitating backlog. The number of appeals is less than 30.
    • The number of appeals has decreased by 55% since the 2017 fee increase
    • Of 44 information outreach events by RAP over the 4 years of current reports, 33 were to owner groups, 14 were at general public events, however NONE were to tenants.
    • The City Attorney receives 37% of total RAP personnel costs, but only gives advice to the Rent Board.
    • The 2017 increase was the result of a “performance audit” that quantified actual needs.

    OTU is not opposed to a justified fee “increase.” Neither is OTU opposed to progressive changes in the RAP program. However, because another city has a higher fee (for a different type of program) is not sufficient reason to increase Oakland’s fee. Also, because of the many improved statistics since the 2016 performance audit and the huge RAP budget surplus, OTU would prefer to see some of the desired changes be initiated as well as the beginning of informational outreach events to tenants and tenant groups before the need for a rental fee increase can be appropriately analyzed and projected.
    James E Vann, for Oakland Tenants Union

  2. Denise Nelson | April 2, 2019 at 12:10 am | Reply

    Thanks, Pam, for your remarks and for the background stories.

  3. Thank you for recognizing Sarah Fine. You should also mention Mohamed Alaoui (Design and Engineering Manager) and Kenneth Patton (Paving Operations Manager)

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