Today’s All in One Rant-Oakland City Council Continues to Flail, CPUC Raises our Rates, and Traffic on Grand Avenue

Today’s blog is a compilation of rants/lectures on various community/political topics happening in the Bay Area or beyond this week, including the city council becoming known as the-gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight, the CPUC raising our electricity rates while restricting public attendance, and the proposed Grand Avenue Road Diet. I’m leaving out the process for a decision on renewing use of the Kaiser Auditorium and the possible “Grexit” topics which interest me but are beyond my unpaid-grade to comment on.

1st up-My Advice to the gang-that-doesn’t-want-to-be-known-as-the-gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight.

This city council, which is full of human beings, (before you denounce them be sure you are willing to look each one in the eye and say mean or hyperbolic things. This is a small town in many ways.) many of them new to the job, has made itself look very untrustworthy recently by 1)ignoring the advice it got from the city attorney on the 12th Street parcel and 2) forcing the courts to open the meetings to the public again, not to mention silence on the mayor’s nightime demonstration crackdown which I have to mention because you won’t!

From now and very far into the future, folks who don’t even care about these 2 things will think of these guys as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight or worse, as a corrupt body of self-interested purveyors of bullshit.

I don’t believe either of the above but I would advise that each council member, recent or longstanding, who is remotely concerned about this, pull together an advisory group of diverse (not just gender or ethnicity but socio-ecnomic and political) constituents now and listen! You need realistic, down-to-earth advice from folks who will back your decisions in the future. You need to solicit new views and ideas, views of the young and radical as well as the old-and-get-off-my-lawn folks and those who don’t know the name of their council members-maybe those people are the most important because they will ONLY remember your mistakes.

I need my city to work and that doesn’t mean fantasizing that their are magical people out there raring to run who will do it all differently. We elected you all and you need to find your way fast-get some breadcrumbs from your neighbors and use them-otherwise—the woods are deep and perilous.

CPUC Strikes Again Or Watch Your Electricity Rates Rise and Wonder Why!

Last Friday I trekked into San Francisco to attend the California Public Utilities Commission and speak against PG&E’s proposal to increase electricity rates for the lowest consuming users while lowering rates for the most profligate users and imposing a flat fee on everyone which hurts the same folks who always get hurt the most but you knew that, sigh, teeth grinding…..

Initially the CPUC proposed a flat rate for everyone which like a flat tax penalizes the lower echelons and favors the wealthier classes. In other words, it’s the opposite of progressive. 350.org was really concerned that conservation would be discouraged and that people who were considering signing up for solar would be similarly affected. Part of the reasoning given by the CPUC was that conserving users were being subsidized by wasteful users-gasp-from each according to his need, etc-and that PG&E is being hurt by solar power (I don’t think they actually admitted that one.)

When I got there, I discovered something I’m growing tiresomely used to-I was told that the meeting was being held in a small room, due to some BS about construction, and I would have to wait in a holding pen, I mean, room, and then returned to said pen to listen to the remainder of the meeting. However, there were too few attendees to force us out and we sat together in the little room and listened to each other.

Some of the speakers, organized by TURN, 350 Bay Area, and other organizations like an East Oakland church (didn’t catch the name)spoke on the effects of the flat use proposal and how it would hurt seniors and others who could barely pay their bills now not to mention (which they did) that it was counterproductive to conservation of our resources! My old school chum (who didn’t seem to remember me from SDS and SF State) Paul Kangas suggested that climate change was the number 1 peril that we face and I suggested that wealth inequality was right up there with it.

Just that morning progressive Commissioner Mike Florio had proposed an alternate structure that while still flattening the rates somewhat took it back to 2 tiers (I think we have had a 4 tier system til now) and cut the flat fee in half. This is the proposal which passed-it’s better but will cause an increase in most of our bills.

While we can’t be sure of this, many noted that PG&E looked like it was just trying to recoup its losses after blowing up an entire San Bruno neighborhood and finally being fined something close to the cost of that little mishap in which several people lost their LIVES. Also, PG&E is not happy that so many folks are conserving and/or having the nerve to go solar. It’s hurting their bottom line. Please remember that while PG&E is known as a public utility because the public relies on them, they are in fact a private monopoly which is driven by profits for their shareholders, not the public good.

Back to the meeting, I was surprised by the paltry number of speakers and the limited response from a few groups who knew about this meeting and its far reaching power to affect our lives. But the pastor from Oakland set us straight on some of the reasons for this. He mentioned how interesting it was that the meeting had been changed to take place on the day before a national holiday, July 4th, and in the midst of the summer vacation season.

If you don’t know, electric power does not have to come from a giant corporation, like the one which laughingly can’t seem to keep the lights on on a sunny day, if the wind blows. Some cities and states have real public utilities, generally resulting in lower rates with greater reliability-our own East Bay Municipal Utility District could take over the job.

I learned all of this as chair of a group we formed during the Enron-induced California “energy crisis” which nearly bankrupted our golden state-we called it the Oakland Alliance for Community Energy, or ACE but it faded as 1) the faux energy crisis faded with Enron 2) our state legislators resisted real change in how we make, consume and pay for the energy we use.

At least we now will have some choice through the Community Choice Aggregation policy that allows us to band together in regions in order to purchase energy from renewable and reliable sources. But this a complex topic and I don’t pretend to know as much about it as I once did. Please go to the Utility Reform Network, turn.org, for much more info and ways to organize against future egregious increases.

Grand Avenue Road Diet-Meeting tonight at the Lakeshore Baptist Church, 7pm

As a former Grand Avenue merchant and a one-time president of GABA, I applaud the road diet proposal.It comes in various versions, only one of which includes the car-backing-into parking proposal. Another one offers a protected bike lane which would really encourage bike ridership. I might even chance it. When I had my shop on Grand, I bought a bike to ride to work so I didn’t have to take up my customers’ parking spaces or accrue tickets (you’d be surprised how many merchants do both.) But I got scared of riding around drivers and found it easier to walk up and down the steep hills in our area so I gave up.

As a Grand Avenue merchant, I tried to find out why Lakeshore was so much more successful than Grand (not as true anymore.) I consulted a retail specialist and among other things, she explained that a street that is very broad with fast traffic discourages walking and breaks up the retail frontage experience.

Broad expanses of concrete are also not attractive or conducive to folks who want to hang out with friends and family in the area. I noted with dismay that drivers seemed to think of Grand Avenue as one big freeway on-ramp. It felt dangerous to even think of crossing the Avenue.

So first we tried adding planters to break up the concrete experience, then when Danny Wan was briefly our council member I asked him to get us the sidewalk bulbouts that pedestrians now use successfully. At the time the lights only turned red when you electronically requested them to.

All of that combined to slow traffic a bit and make the neighborhood appear more friendly and cozy (the German term geműtlich describes it better) but it’s still too fast. The upper end has fewer shops than service businesses with many buildings which appear cold and forbidding. This is where traffic picks up speed, and one is inclined to utter prayers prior to stepping off the curb.

Hopefully, we have come a long way from the days when we tore up the streetcar tracks and widened highways in every neighborhood to make it safe for cars but not for people. Grand Avenue feels a little less like a river pounding through the district now; but it’s still a fast flowing stream where a meandering creek would better suit a pedestrian/bicycle/business friendly neighborhood.

I’m grateful for WOBO and the city’s interest in this issue. See you tonight.
Pamela Drake
Director of the Lakeshore BID