Yesterday was a momentous day for the Oakland City Council. Not only did they swear in the first Gen X City Council Member, Rebecca Kaplan, but the council also voted in a new president. After 10 years of Ignacio De La Fuente serving as president, Jane Brunner will now lead the council.
I honestly don’t envy the jobs of Brunner, Kaplan, and the rest of the council right now. As City Attorney John Russo explained at his speech yesterday at the swearing in ceremony, the council and the city are going to have a tough year ahead of them and will be forced to make difficult decisions. They won’t only be forced to decide between services we want and services we need, but between services we need and services that are essential to keeping the city intact. (You can see Russo’s full speech at A Better Oakland.)
A few months ago, Russo’s speech might have left me feeling depressed, but today I woke up feeling very hopeful about the future of our city. One of the main reason’s I’m so hopeful is because I feel Rebecca Kaplan brings with her just what the council needs right now – fresh energy, innovative ideas, and, maybe most importantly, the willingness and ability to form coalitions between groups that do not often work together.
At Kaplan’s reception yesterday, she told her supporters that her first focus in office is to add to the infrastructure requests that Mayor Dellums drafted to submit to the Obama administration. I got a chance to talk to her in depth about her plan and asked her what her top priorities would be for infrastructure funding. First, she focused on two projects that are entirely ready to go – street paving and implementing the Bicycle Master Plan. Street paving requires no EIR and could be implemented immediately (and I think we all know that parts of Oakland desperately need it). As for the Bicycle Master Plan, the plan itself is great and the EIR is already done – now we just need the funding to complete it.
Rebecca also has ideas for new projects. The one I keep hearing her talk about is weatherization, insulation, and earthquake proofing of all city-owned buildings. I recently read The Green Collar Economy, and Van Jones pushed this idea as well. It makes sense not only for the environment, but also for long term economic planning, as the city will ultimately save on its energy bills.
Well, this all sounds great, but I know what you might be thinking: So what? Oakland always asks for funding from the state and federal government, and we almost always get shafted. It never seems that we get our fair share of funding.
Rebecca’s thought about this too, and so when she asks the Rules Committee to agendize this item for next week’s council meeting, she’s not only going to propose to add infrastructure items to the mayor’s requests. She’s also going to press to implement an action plan among council members to make sure we get this funding. Many council members already go to various conferences and meetings where they can build connections and lobby for funding for Oakland. But in the past, we often haven’t coordinated well enough to make this happen.
This year is going to be rough for government on all levels, particularly here in California where the housing market collapse has hit us so hard and the budget process in the legislature has essentially collapsed. The Oakland budget process won’t be fun either, and there are multitudes of reasons to be worried about the state of our city. I’m just glad to see new ideas and plans being developed and am hopeful that in 2009 our council will work together to get us through these difficult times without letting our city crumble.