The last couple weeks have been super busy for me so I haven’t found much time for blogging. But tonight the City Council will be voting on a resolution that’s created quite a bit of controversy, and it’s made me think a lot about how Oakland citizens feel about and interact with their City representatives.
The resolution, authored by Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Libby Schaaf, opposes any purposeful upcoming or future Port of Oakland shut downs and calls on the Mayor and City Administrator to use lawful tools to prevent future shut downs.
There are, unsurprisingly, strong opinions on both sides of this resolution. And voicing opinions is incredibly important in a democracy. But much of the opposition to this resolution I’ve heard and read in the past few days has been expressed as personal attacks against the councilmembers who authored the resolution.
Reading comments on Twitter about De La Fuente and Schaaf over the past few days reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost three years ago, which seems just as apt today. So here’s that blog post, in full:
(Dis)respect for the City Council
There’s been something on my mind for the past several months that I was reminded of on Tuesday night, as I watched the Public Safety Committee meeting. I often hear Oakland residents blaming all of Oakland’s problems on one council member (the council member varies based on the person), to the point where they accuse that council member of being corrupt or not really caring about Oakland. I try not to fall into that trap anymore, but I used to harbor such feelings towards one council member, Larry Reid.
My first exposure to Reid was back in 2004, when I attended the Public Safety Committee hearing on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries. At that time, there were a dozen dispensaries, all clustered in downtown Oakland, and the City was the first municipality in the state to see the need for regulations of this industry. I remember that meeting and subsequent meetings fairly clearly, and what I remember most was how Larry Reid seemed to dismiss the needs of medical marijuana patients and sometimes sounded very rude in his comments. To our community, it felt that he just didn’t care and would rather patients go to the illicit market.
Very quickly, Reid became my least favorite council member. I knew little about the Council and how the city functioned, but I knew that I did not like Larry Reid. All the negative medical marijuana regulations that came from the council, I blamed on Reid.
Looking back, I realize just how absurd and unfair that judgement was. Reid had legitimate, though misplaced, concerns about dispensaries. He had seen rampant drug use in his district and witnessed Oaklanders who spent their lives selling drugs. So Reid equated dispensaries with the black market and felt like this land use was being pushed onto Oakland, while other neighboring cities were not doing their part to accommodate dispensaries (which is true, especially South of Oakland). And the medical marijuana dispensaries had not fully done their part in educating Reid. I doubt patients from his district or dispensary employees from his district met with him to explain how dispensaries were a vital part of Oakland.
On Tuesday night, as I watched Reid and the other Public Safety Committee members discuss Reid’s proposed curfew for juveniles, I was reminded of this. I am entirely opposed to the curfew but could see that Reid truly meant well. He sounded saddened that the curfew had not passed and explained that he was not trying to victimize youth, but to ensure young people could live in a safe environment. He called on the community to reach out to him and other council members to help develop a solution and to address the problem of youth violence.
Look, I know we’re not always going to agree with the decisions of particular council members (or sometimes a terrible unanimous decision by the Council), but to me it’s clear that all of the council members mean well. Everyone of them cares deeply about Oakland. If they didn’t care, why do you think they’d be on the Council? It doesn’t pay well, it’s an incredibly difficult job, and their motives are constantly questioned. But we all have different policy ideas for making Oakland a better place, and sometimes those policy proposals are going to piss us off. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to hate a council member or to think of a member as evil. Instead, it might be more productive to turn that negative energy into action and to try to work with the Council to make the changes you’d like to see in Oakland.