The changing city council & why I’m hopeful about Oakland’s future

6 Jan

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.

6 Responses to “The changing city council & why I’m hopeful about Oakland’s future”

  1. Alan Tobey January 7, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    Maybe hopeful times, but what was scary to me was Jane’s public comment that the essence of her plan for economic revitalization will be to ask for a bigger handout from the federal government. That’s problematical in two ways: every other city will be fighting for the same funds — the mother of all pork barrel brawls in Congress — and that lessens the need to do what we can from grassroots up.

  2. Jason Gohlke January 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Yay for Gen X! 🙂

  3. Becks January 7, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    Alan – Jane’s not the only one on the council depending on funding from the federal government. I watched the council meeting last night, and I should have counted, but I’m guessing Jean Quan brought up federal funding 17 times during at least three different agenda items.

    Still, I think the federal funding is very important and Oakland leaders should do everything they can to get us as much funding as possible for infrastructure projects that we desperately need and that will create local jobs. That’s why I’m so glad to know that Rebecca Kaplan is focusing on this.

  4. Scott Lund January 7, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    First off..thanks for the posts, I’ve been reading for a long time and thought I’d finally start sharing my own comments…

    I’m sharing in the hoping. I think that we need to make sure that Council Member Kaplan feels that the people of the city are behind her in the attempt to put some actual action behind a plan. The entire stale council needs to see that we are serious in our desire to improve.

    The federal money is going to be pumped out into cities across the nation no matter what we think about the process… We need to do everything possible to get what we can.

    I think one of the best ways to excite grassroots efforts is to show that we as a city are serious about improving. Going in strong and fighting for a big cut of this money would show me that the Council and City Hall care. We are a very broken city right now. A sensible infusion of funds for infrastructure projects, spent well, would be a good step toward showing Oakland’s residents that their leaders are able to take action as well as talk big show. That kind of leadership could very well get people more motivated, rather the lessen their impact.

  5. len raphael January 10, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    brunner, qwan, most of the city council incumbents except dlf, and most of our mayors (exception of brown’s dreams) for the past 30 years continue to cherish belief that federal and state funding, plus jobs from non profits, will feed oakland muni government. no sign that russo has ever rocked that boat.

    Basically, our elected officials for decades acted on their shared belief that the best plan for oakland is a welfare mini state for the poor minorities, with some upscale districts for them and an upper middle class to inhabit. you fund this with federal and state grants (because if oakland didn’t provide for the poor, then walnut creek or sf would etc.).

    the variation on that theme was the real estate bubble which gave a welfare state minded group of pols, a huge pot of unexpected tax money. They promptly spent every nickle of that on union employee raises, and then put the entire city in hock for future unfunded retirement obligations.

    At the same time they “deferred” fixing streeting, sewers, public buildings. (they can say the schools aint their problem).

    unfortunately, obama’s needed public works spending will give that oakland official welfare mentality a new lease on life instead of using it as an oppurtunity to change our city’s muni goals and finances so that it can sustain itself without high levels of fed and state funding.

    -len raphael

  6. len raphael January 14, 2009 at 7:43 pm #

    Scott’s point is well taken. The devil is how to nudge our leaders to spend wisely. this sounds hardass and politically fantasitical, but enouraging the council to scale back its living wage compensation policy, might at least mispend the stimulous money over more employees and contractors, plus get more infrastructure for the buck. oakland progressive leaders can look to the wpa: there’s no way it paid union scale and benefits, though in rural areas didn’t it pay above local scale?

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