Demystifying Oakland City Council committees

8 Feb

When writing about the state of the Oakland Main Library I mentioned that most of the policy work the Council accomplishes happens in committee meetings. This makes it somewhat difficult for Oaklanders to shape policy unless we’re really engaged, partially because most committees meet during the day on Tuesdays, when most of us are at work, and partially because committees are a mystery to most residents. Sure, the engaged Oakland resident may have been to a Council meeting or two and has a sense of what they deal with, but most have not been to committee meetings and may not understand what they handle. I can’t fix the issue about meetings taking place during the workday (and believe me, I wish I could so I could attend more of these meetings), but I thought I’d attempt to shed some light on committees, what they do, when they meet, and who’s on them.

Public Works – Every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 10:30 am to 12:00 pm

Committee Members:

  • Nancy Nadel, Chair
  • Larry Reid
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Rebecca Kaplan

Public Works deals mostly with infrastructure issues – roads, sewers, street trees, traffic lights, etc. A lot of what they discuss in non-controversial, but once in a while discussions get heated, like discussions about the Oakland Airport Connector. The committee membership has significantly changed since last year – Pat Kernighan and Desley Brooks were replaced by Larry Reid and Libby Schaaf. Libby’s a perfect fit for this committee, as she understands these issues well, but Larry was a bit of a surprise, since as council president he could have chosen any committees for himself and there are more powerful committees he could have chosen. It will be interesting to see if there’s a particular reason he chose this committee.

Finance & Management – Every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm

Committee Members:

  • Ignacio De La Fuente, Chair
  • Desley Brooks
  • Patricia Kernighan
  • Jane Brunner

Finance is one of the most powerful committees, but in these tough economic times, it is definitely not a fun committee since there are no easy financial decisions left to make. This committee underwent a dramatic shift, as it used to be chaired by Jean Quan. Jean and Nancy Nadel no longer are on the committee, with Brooks and Brunner taking their places.

Community & Economic Development (CED) – Every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Committee Members:

  • Jane Brunner, Chair
  • Ignacio De La Fuente
  • Nancy Nadel
  • Patricia Kernighan

Another powerful committee – CED oversees all sorts of development – commercial buildings, housing, parking lots, and economic development projects. Ignacio De La Fuente used to chair this, but now Brunner will. And Nancy Nadel took Larry Reid’s spot. This could shift votes on certain projects and on zoning – I recall at one CED meeting Larry Reid said height limits downtown should be entirely abolished while Nadel has often supported strict height limits.

Life Enrichment/Education Partnership – Every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Committee Members:

  • Desley Brooks, Chair
  • Rebecca Kaplan
  • Larry Reid
  • Libby Schaaf

This committee handles senior issues, libraries, education, and other social services. Libby Schaaf and Larry Reid replace Jean Quan and Jane Brunner on this committee. This committee tends to have the shortest meetings and committee meetings are canceled more frequently than any other committee meetings, so don’t be surprised if you tune in and the meeting’s over or not happening.

Public Safety – Every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 5:30pm until convened

Committee Members:

  • Patricia Kernighan, Chair
  • Rebecca Kaplan
  • Larry Reid
  • Nancy Nadel

Public Safety is the one committee that meets in the evenings so the meetings are often well attended by the public and covered in the news. The committee primarily handles law enforcement and fire department issues and often has contentious hearings, including the recent series of meetings on large-scale medical cannabis cultivation permits. Rebecca Kaplan replaced Jean Quan on this committee and Pat Kernighan took over from Larry Reid as chair.

Rules and Legislation – Every Thursday, 10:45 am

Committee Members:

  • Larry Reid, Chair
  • Ignacio De La Fuente
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Desley Brooks

This is the committee I find that most people don’t know about, partially because it doesn’t meet on Tuesdays and partially because people don’t understand the power of this committee. The Rules Committee decides what issues to agendize, which committee(s) will hear the issues, and when the issues will be heard. Generally, the meeting moves quite quickly, with the committee agreeing unanimously on where and when to schedule items. But when there’s a contentious issue, determining what committee should hear the item and when can have a huge effect on policy. One example of this is when BART convinced the Rules Committee to delay hearings on the Oakland Airport Connector to buy themselves more time to move forward with the project. The Council President always chairs this committee so Larry is taking over for Jane. Libby Schaaf and Desley Brooks have taken the seats of Jane Brunner and Jean Quan.


Committee meetings generally are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month so today (the 2nd Tuesday of February) should be a day full of committee meetings, but several were canceled so there are only two meetings today and they’re both being held at special times. CED starts at 1:45 – it should be a long meeting so I wouldn’t be surprised if it went all the way up until when Public Safety starts 4:30pm. Tune in to listen on KTOP – cable channel 10 or online. (Changing times of committee meetings is unfortunately very common so always check the calendar before showing up for a meeting.)

I hope this post has been helpful and will encourage folks to keep up with committee meetings. To see if they’re discussing something you care about, you can find the calendar and agendas on the City’s website. Even if you can’t attend the meetings, emails and phone calls before committee meetings are very powerful since so few Oaklanders are engaged with policy at the committee level.

3 Responses to “Demystifying Oakland City Council committees”

  1. Christopher Kidd February 9, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Could Larry Reid want to sit on Public Works in case the Oakland Airport Connector rises from the dead?

    • Becks February 9, 2011 at 10:04 am #

      I guess that’s possible, but I really hope not. That would be an absurd reason to give up his seat on CED, where he could have totally changed the discussion yesterday on zoning for the better.

    • dto510 February 9, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

      Another possible explanation is that, as President of the Council, he needs to balance the requests of the other CMs for committee assignments, and so may have given himself an assignment that others didn’t want.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: