Port Shut Down Resolution: (Dis)respect for the City Council

20 Dec

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.

4 Responses to “Port Shut Down Resolution: (Dis)respect for the City Council”

  1. Naomi Schiff December 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Thank you for your eloquent pitch for civility!

  2. Tonya December 21, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I agree with this post a lot. But not 100%. However you have given me some perspective.

    I hover on a line between the dis/respect line when it comes to Reid, and often I lean towards the dis. That’s not because I disagree with his views. I think you are right that Councilmembers should be educated about the issues (through their own investigations and via community orgs). And they have every right to agree or disagree.

    What I don’t like is how emotionally charged Reid seems at times. He seems easily baited and often baits others. I haven’t gone to every mtg., so I really shouldnt base my opinion only off of those encounters, but so far it’s not good.

    You make a good point: CMs have a difficult job, and they don’t get paid much. I will give them that. But I would hope that they knew that from the outset.

    My level of respect lowers when I see officials elected by the people, looking bored, distracted, leaving the room (unless in emergency or bathroom break) or engaging in needless shouting matches. Their job, is to deal with the public– the public isn’t always nice and orderly..but that is what you signed up for. The least they can do is be present and respect the process. They are there to represent the people.. But when you disrespect the people in the ways I listed, how can you complain when the people don’t respect you back.

    On the Flipside. The ‘people’ make me wanna scream sometimes. Heckling the CMs and other speakers is not only disrespectful but counterproductive. If you want to be heard, you have to be willing to hear other people. It’s not only a free speech thing- its just a part of life! Do unto others.. Etc etc. it bugs the hell out of me when folks whine about not being heard: yell feel it is ok to heckle and shout win being confronted by opposing viewpoints. Do you think anyone is going to take you seriously? Good luck with that.

    Sorry about my rant, but I think these meetings become a big waste of time when basic decorum isn’t met. It’s really sad because some real progress can be made if both sides can manage to listen to one another.

    • Tonya December 21, 2011 at 10:02 am #

      Also sorry about the grammar and spelling. Typing on phone and Im emotional. Lol

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) December 21, 2011 at 10:25 am #

      I agree with much of what you wrote about Reid. Keep in mind that I wrote this blog post three years ago, before Reid was council president. Of course before being president he was still sometimes rude to speakers, and I don’t defend that. But now that he’s president, his behavior towards speakers has become much more pronounced and heavy handed. My point is not to excuse his behavior but to remind folks that our councilmembers have difficult jobs and that they care just as deeply about our city as we do.

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