Tag Archives: Desley Brooks

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. Continue reading

Endorsements for the November Election

12 Oct

Even though Obama’s not on the ballot (and neither is McCain), there’s plenty to be excited about (or terrified of) on the November 2010 ballot. I know, I know, the election’s not for another month, but absentee ballots went out last week and many people have already voted so I wanted to post this right away.

There’s a LOT on the ballot this time, so to save some space and in hopes that folks would get through this entire post, I’ve left off some local races where the outcome is a foregone conclusion (like my friend Andy Katz who’s running unopposed for EBMUD or Joel Young who might as well be running unopposed for AC Transit), and I’ve skipped descriptions of some of the statewide candidates and initiatives because you can find those in many other places.

Instant runoff voting will be in place for the Oakland races. If you’re still confused about how it works, please read either the explanation I wrote last year or V Smoothe’s more recent explanation. It’s important to understand how voting works before you cast your 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice votes!

(I’m working on several campaigns and the firm I work for is working on many more. I’ve marked all of those campaigns with asterisks.)

Statewide Candidates

As you can probably tell, I’m voting the Democratic slate. One race I want to especially point out is the Attorney General race. Kamala Harris is an excellent candidate, and there are probably few people I would choose over her, but what you might not know is that her opponent is seriously bad news. Steve Cooley is anti-marriage equality, anti-environment, and anti-medical marijuana. For more on why not to vote for Cooley, check out the Not Cooley website, created by some of my very good friends and colleagues in the medical marijuana community.

Statewide Ballot Initiatives

I’m reluctantly linking to the Courage Campaign Voter Guide for descriptions. Reluctantly because I think they are off on Prop 22, which would protect local governments and transit agencies from having their funds raided by the state legislature. As is crystal clear here in Oakland, our local agencies are in huge financial trouble and the last thing they need is the state stealing their money. If Prop 22 had been passed in 2008, it’s likely AC Transit could have avoided many of its most drastic service cuts. Vote Yes on 22 to protect Oakland and East Bay agencies!

The other initiative I want to point out is Prop 19.  I’ve been working on marijuana policy reform for a decade, and I must admit that ten years ago I never could have imagined that marijuana legalization would be on the ballot so soon. Thanks to Richard Lee, it is, and thanks to the amazing team of people I’ve been working with for the past year, it looks like marijuana will soon be legal in California. This is a historic measure and even though I feel good going into our last month of campaigning, we’re going to need every last vote. It’s time to end cannabis prohibition, end the arrests of marijuana users and grower, and provide much needed tax revenue to our state and city. Vote yes and talk to everyone you know about this measure – there are few undecided voters left but we need ever supportive voter to turn out.

Local Candidates:

*Alameda County Superior Court – Victoria Kolakowski

I’m working on Vicky’s campaign, but even if I wasn’t, I’d vote for her, just as I did in 2008 when she first ran to be judge. I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten the opportunity to get to know Vicky over the past several months. I immediately knew she was dedicated and experienced, but over time I’ve learned about her level-headed temperament and compassion, which are very important qualities to me in judges. She has served for several years as an administrative law judge, and she is the only one in the race with extensive civil law experience. Why is this important? Well, governors tend to appoint prosecutors to be judges and it’s important to have a diversity of legal experience on the bench because many cases are not criminal. Issues like divorce, family conflicts, employment issues, etc. come before the court frequently.

Vicky would also bring a different kind of diversity to the courts. In Alameda County, less than a third of the judges are women! When Vicky wins, she will make history by becoming the first transgendered trial court judge in the entire country. There’s no way I can explain this as eloquently or powerfully as she does, but having a transgendered judge on the bench would be huge for the transgendered community. Transgendered people often struggle with the legal system, with issues ranging from changing their names to being the victims of violence so its important for this community to be represented well. Though I am not a person who votes for someone simply because of gender or sexual orientation, Vicky brings both diversity and experience so she is the clear choice. Please cast your vote for Victoria Kolakowski to help make history.

*BART Board, District 4: Robert Raburn

I’m not sure I could be much more excited about this race, especially since I recently moved into the district and now get to vote – both for Robert Raburn and against Carol Ward Allen. Regular blog readers shouldn’t be surprised that Ward Allen is one of my least favorite elected officials in the East Bay. She was the major champion of the Oakland Airport Connector, the half billion dollar boondoggle that will do nothing for Oakland and very little for transit riders. But beyond that, she’s incredibly rude to her constituents, telling at least one of her constituents that if he didn’t like how she voted, he should move. Luckily, I won’t just be casting a vote against Ward Allen because Raburn is a very qualified candidate for this seat. He used to run the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and has been involved with improvements at just about every BART station in the district. He’s a transit wonk, exactly what we need on this board, and has the interests of BART riders (and potential BART riders) in mind. I hope you’ll join me in enthusiastically voting for Robert Raburn for BART Board!

Oakland Mayor: Rebecca Kaplan

Though on policy Kaplan is often in line with my ideologies, that’s not the main reason I’m supporting her. There are a few qualities I’m looking for in a mayor, and Rebecca has all of them:

  1. Managerial skills & the ability to get things done
  2. Fresh ideas & the willingness to thing outside of the box
  3. Ability to work well with others

Policy is taking a back seat for me in this race because what we need right now is someone who’s ready to manage this city hands on. We need someone who will hire the right city administrator and who isn’t afraid to shake up department leadership. We need someone who will bring people together to fix our city. We need someone who’s innovative and who can get things done with basically no money. That person is Rebecca Kaplan. In her two years on the Council she’s accomplished so much, including passing a blighted property ordinance that had been stalled for years, authoring and helping pass the first cannabis tax measure in the country, and bringing Oakland the free Broadway shuttle. I can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish as mayor.

Oakland Mayor, 2nd Choice: Don Perata

I know there are a lot of people going around saying “anybody but Don,” and my response is “anybody but Quan.” I know, I know, Don hasn’t played nicely in this race and his people have done some pretty bad things. But ultimately, it comes back to the three things I’m looking for in a mayor, and Don exhibits most of those qualities. Quan, meanwhile, doesn’t exhibit any of them. She’s not a leaders. She doesn’t get along well with people. She doesn’t get stuff done (though she often takes credit for stuff other people do). She drove the Oakland schools budget into the ground, as president of the school board, and Oakland’s budget into the ground, as chair of the finance committee. I think she’d be a disaster for Oakland, just as Dellums has been. So for 2nd choice, I’m voting for Perata, and for 3rd choice, anybody but Quan.

*Oakland City Council, District 2: No Position

I’m sure I’ll get shit for doing this, but I’m not taking a position in this race. The firm I work for is running Pat Kernighan’s race, and Jenn Pae’s on the board of East Bay Young Dems with me. I know and respect both of the candidates and don’t feel comfortable taking a position in this race. I don’t live in the district so won’t have to make a choice on who to vote for either. For those who do live in the district or have opinions, feel free to discuss in the comments here.

*Oakland City Council, District 4: Libby Schaaf

The only good thing about Jean Quan running for mayor is that her council seat is opening up. Seven candidates are vying for her seat, but only one has the experience needed – both in City Hall and in the community – to be ready on day one to deal with the financial and other crises the City is dealing with. I told Libby early on that I would support her (long before I started working on her campaign) because I’ve seen how effective, intelligent, and accessible she was while working for Ignacio De La Fuente. But since working on her campaign and getting to know her even better, I feel much more strongly that we need her on the Council. Though Libby understands the deep, structural problems the City has, she maintains hope and optimism. She focuses on the strengths Oakland has and how we can improve those strengths. Another quality of hers that has immensely impressed me is how well she gets along with basically everyone. Her supporters include environmentalists, business people, housing advocates, developers, labor leaders, and just about everyone in between. We need more councilmembers who can bring people together like Libby does. I don’t live in District 4 so won’t be able to vote for Libby, but I strongly urge District 4 residents to vote for her. And if you’re already supporting her, join us at the East Bay Young Dems phone bank for her tonight at the Oakland UDC.

Oakland City Council, District 6: Desley Brooks

I know there are mixed feelings about Desley Brooks – she sticks to what she believes in and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. But I think it’s incredibly important to have a councilmember who’s willing to say what she believes, even if it’s not popular. It’s important to have a councilmember who will question an incredibly popular project for good reason when no one else is willing to. As I’ve watched council meetings over the past years, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate this quality in Desley. Beyond that, though I don’t live there, I’ve heard much from district residents about what she’s accomplished for her district, including a huge focus on parks. If you live in District 6, please re-elect Desley Brooks.

Local Measures:

  • Alameda County Measure F: Yes
  • Oakland Measure L: Yes
  • Oakland Measure V: Yes
  • Oakland Measure W: Yes
  • Oakland Measure X: No
  • Oakland Measure BB: Yes
I know there are some people who are going to look at the slate of local measures and cringe because they’re all taxes and fees, but some of them are very important. Measure F is an obvious yes – it’s just a $10 vehicle license fee and will mostly be used to fix local streets. There would also be some funding set aside for bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements, and since it’s a relatively small pot of money, none of the funds would be used for highways or transit boondoggles like the Oakland Airport Connector. Measure L is also super important – Oakland schools are terribly funded and we’re losing teachers because pay is so low. The one measure I’m conflicted about is Measure V – the marijuana tax. I think it’s inappropriate to tax medicine at such a high rate, but I fully support the other half of the measure – taxing recreational marijuana so that immediately after Prop 19 passes, our city will be able to tax and regulate the sales of marijuana immediately. I’m reluctantly supporting the measure but am disappointed about the trend of cities viewing a medicine as a revenue source.

The Sanjiv Handa Rule, needed because two people rambling at public comments does not equal open government

4 Mar

After years of trying multiple means of controlling the time Sanjiv Handa wastes takes up at City Council meetings, on Tuesday night the City Council passed rule changes that might finally accomplish that goal.

I’ll get to that part in a minute, but first, I’ll cover the rule changes that even Sanjiv supported. The Council is finally admitting that their meetings are absurdly long so they should start them earlier and acknowledge that they end later. From the staff report, here’s a breakdown of the current and now amended meeting times:












This is great news. The Council will start its ceremonial items at 5:30pm and hopefully end those and the consent calendar by 6:30pm. Even when they’re running late with long ceremonial items, they should at least start by 7pm. This will be a welcome change, since in the past, when ceremonial items dragged on, the Council sometimes didn’t get started until 7:30 or 8pm. The adjournment time change is really no change at all, just an acknowledgment that the Council almost never ends by 10:30pm (maybe once or twice a year they do). It’s pretty silly that at basically every meeting a motion has to be made to extend the meeting, so that will now be done away with.

But with the new rules on speaker limits, Council meetings could potentially end before midnight! If you’ve ever seen a Council or committee meeting, you know that Sanjiv Handa takes up a LOT of time at these meetings. He signs up for every single item and gets to speak for two minutes on each item. Sometimes the meeting chair negotiates with him and gets him to take all of his time at once and speak for a slightly shorter amount of time total. No matter what the chair does though, Sanjiv regularly takes up 45+ minutes of Council meetings and 20-30 minutes of committee meetings. It’s maddening.

And lately, David Mix has been joining him at every Council meeting so that together they end up taking up an hour and a half of each meeting! It might make them feel like they’re sticking it to the Council and standing up for Oaklanders, but their main effect is to turn people off by making the Council meetings run on and on until everyone who’s not paid to be there goes to sleep.

The new speaker limit rules seem to solve this problem. From the staff report, here’s the breakdown of the new speaker limits:


Speaker Limit

Standing Committees (including Rules)

Speakers who submit more than 4 speaker cards (excluding open forum) will be given 2 minutes per card up to a maximum of 10 minutes. If all speakers are given 1 minute, speakers with 4 or more cards will be given a maximum of 5 minutes.

Rules Committee Meetings (Scheduling Item)

Speakers will have one minute per scheduling request up to a maximum of 5 minutes, provided that total time on all items on the Rules agenda (excluding open forum) for each speaker shall not exceed 10 minutes.

City Council Meetings – Open Forum

Speakers are allotted a minimum of 1 minute and a maximum of 3 minutes (no change).

City Council Meetings – Items before Non-Consent

Speakers with multiple cards will be given 2 minutes per item up to a maximum of 6 minutes (excluding open forum).

City Council Meetings -Non-Consent Items

If 20 or total cards have been submitted, speakers who submit 4 or more cards will be given 2 minutes per item up to a maximum of 10 minutes.

What does this mean? Let’s take Tuesday’s Council meeting for example. Under these rules, Sanjiv Handa and David Mix would have each been able to speak for 1 minute during Open Forum, 6 minutes during consent, and 10 minutes during non-consent. They would have each received a total of 17 minutes, or 34 minutes combined. This would have made Tuesday’s Council meeting an hour shorter!

Handa and Mix argued that limiting speaker time closes access to the government, and Councilmember Desley Brooks agreed. But this argument is  based on the assumption that two people rambling for an hour and a half (longer than most of the elected councilmembers speak at a meeting!) equals open government. Sure, it opens the government up to two people, but it closes it off to everyone else.

The Council and their staff get paid to sit through those ramblings, but the rest of us don’t. So when we get tired, hungry, or just can’t take it in anymore, we leave City Hall or turn off our computers and TVs. If you follow Council meetings on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that between 7pm-9pm, there are several people tweeting the meeting. At 9:30 or 10pm, one or two drop off. By the time 11pm rolls around, it’s rare that even one person is left tweeting. Why? Well, for me, I have a job to get to in the morning and unless there’s something really exciting on the agenda, I can’t justify staying up so late.

With the new rules, I’ll make it through most meetings, and I bet others will too. As Brooks noted, it’s unlikely that many more people will speak at meetings, but that’s not the only important part about open government. More importantly, people will be able to sit through the whole meeting (or come close to it). More of us will know what happened at the Council, either by watching or by following on Twitter.

Thanks to Councilmembers Brunner, De La Fuente, Kaplan, and Kernighan for introducing these changes. I look forward to watching entire Council meetings and to having to use my mute button a lot less frequently.

<!–[if !mso]>












Yesterday’s budget meeting via Twitter

18 Dec

I had hoped to write a real blog post yesterday or today, but yesterday flew by and today I woke up with a nasty cold and I can’t really focus. So you won’t get a super-excited post from me about City Attorney John Russo’s opinion, issued yesterday, that clearly states that the Council must implement IRV because it’s a voter mandate. (But you should read it – it’s short, easy to read, and important.)

Instead, I’m taking a page from V Smoothe’s book and will share with you Twitter coverage of yesterday’s budget meeting. Though not a lot of new ideas were proposed, I’m glad this meeting was not delayed until January because the Council did approve some staff suggestions and gave staff direction on various other proposals. Hopefully the January budget meeting will be more productive because of this.

If you’d like to see the full budget meeting, it’s only 2 hours and can be viewed online or downloaded.

OaklandBecks: Council budget mtg just started and @Vsmoothe speaking at open forum about KTOP online streaming being down.

OaklandBecks: She’s also saying it’s difficult for people to watch this budget mtg because it’s at 10am and people don’t have Comcast at work.

OaklandBecks: City Administrator Lindheim explains that server has crashed and it will cost $25K to fix. They’re trying to fix it.

OaklandBecks: Lindheim also says it will be improved – currently only allows 250 connections and will allow unlimited connections.

SeanforOakland: @OaklandBecks Someone tell Lindheim to move the server to 365 Main in JLS and this won’t happen.

OaklandBecks: Now @MaxAllstadt is speaking. Suggests taking back $182K from Chamber of Commerce for Chiodo sculpture.

OaklandBecks: Staff – most of our budget “solutions” are one time funds and fund transfers.

OaklandBecks: City Administrator doesn’t recommend spending reductions – so little time left in fiscal year that it wouldn’t make difference.

OaklandBecks: Also, these spending reductions would decimate services, like closing 6 recreation centers or elimination of all IT support.

OaklandBecks: You can see the full staff budget proposal here: http://bit.ly/75k4Ut

MaxAllstadt: Dan Lindheim: Selling assets to cover operating costs makes no sense, but we’re so screwed we might have no choice

dto510: The problem with selling assets isn’t just that prices are low, it’s that sales wouldn’t close for a long time.

OaklandBecks: Lindheim – to close budget gaps w/o one-time solutions, we need further revenue. Asks Council if they’d put rev measures on ballot.

MaxAllstadt: Why isn’t anybody discussing the possibility of selling one of our 3 golf courses?

OaklandBecks: Parks advocate – don’t dismember the already skeletal parks staff we now have. Many parks don’t even receive routine maintenance.

MaxAllstadt: Local 21 rep wants a freeze on hiring to replace early retirees. Demands in house promotion where replacement is essential.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – we can’t put this off forever with one-time money – we’ll eventually have to make drastic cuts.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – police/fire budgets growing as general fund shrinks. Eventually have city that’s nothing but police/fire if continues.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan again recommending more billboards on freeways and more medical cannabis facilities as way to create ongoing revenue.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan – permit more medical cannabis dispensaries & permit growers for increased revenue. Permitting growers is way overdue!

OaklandBecks: Kaplan also suggests increased local vehicle registration fee for funds for road repair (which Oakland’s streets desperately need).

Why is Quan speaking? I thought she wanted this meeting to be held off until January: http://wp.me/p55RV-Ap

OaklandBecks: Quan – Mayor’s office, IT department, and police need to come within budget (they’re currently over budget).

OaklandBecks: Quan – should do citizen’s survey on funding & revenue priorities. Sounds like city-funded research for her mayoral campaign.

OaklandBecks: De La Fuente increasingly concerned about structural deficit that we’re not addressing. We haven’t had political will to make cuts.

De La Fuente says we should sell golf courses. We’d get immediate cash and they’d be managed better. That was @MaxAllstadt’s idea!

MaxAllstadt: We should sell a Golf Course: lock in huge ad valorem tax, mandate subdivision + development within 10 years, create more ad valorem tax!

OaklandBecks: De La Fuente – we need to deal with pensions or the city will go bankrupt. We need union/city comm to look at pension problem.

OaklandBecks: Brooks doesn’t think public would respond well to new tax measures since city hasn’t handled Measure Y well.

OaklandBecks: Nadel agrees with Kaplan on permitting & taxing medical cannabis growers but concerned about increased billboards.

Nadel – some neighborhoods get street cleaning weekly & could deal with less. I’ve heard this suggestion from people in her district

OaklandBecks: Why does Brunner never understand staff reports? She’s asking questions about something that was incredibly clear.

OaklandBecks: It seems so simple to understand that while $3.2 mil unspent exists, we can’t touch it because it’s committed already.

OaklandBecks: The CMs keep talking about cutting everything that is not core. But none of them have explained exactly what is core.

OaklandBecks: Many of them seem to agree that the city can’t afford to fund non-profits, outside of what’s required by ballot measures.

OaklandBecks: Brunner says we need June ballot and it should be public-safety measure. People won’t vote for this after Measure Y failure.

OaklandBecks: Also, June ballot initiatives negate potential IRV savings. We wouldn’t have to pay for June election if we don’t have initiatives.

dto510: @OaklandBecks Is that you pointing it out, or CM Brunner?

OaklandBecks: @dto510 That’s me pointing it out. It apparently either hasn’t occurred to her or she just doesn’t care.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan wants to see anticipated revenues & expenditures for next 5 years at next budget mtg to help decide about tax measures.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – before we go for ballot measure, must cut everything public sees as a waste.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan wants to see Measure Y revision on ballot but prefers Nov ballot. Not saying this, but she’s thinking about IRV.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan – who authorizes police standing around watching peaceful protestors like lockdown of City Hall Tues due to trucker protest?

Vsmoothe: @OaklandBecks Yes, who does authorize that? I had to fight for a long time to be let in for Finance Committee on Tues. Ridiculous!

OaklandBecks: Council approves staff recommendations to close part of budget & tells departments to stay w/in budget or come in Jan to explain.

Tonight’s Council Meeting: Mills Act, Solar Financing, Stimulus Update, and Legislative Agendas

8 Dec

Tonight’s Council meeting will cover a large array of issues, some of which I’ve described below.

Item 14.1: Eleven Mills Act Contract

Ignacio De La Fuente has forged an uncommon alliance with historic preservationists to propose the approval of eleven properties under the Mills Act two-year pilot program and the expansion of the Mills Act. Via the staff report: “The Mills Act Program is a preservation incentive adopted by California in 1976 that allows reductions of property tax assessments for historic properties if the owner signs an agreement with the local government to preserve and maintain the historic characteristics of the property.”

This item was heard at the Community and Economic Development Committee last week and the approval of the eleven residential properties was not contentious. CEDA staff showed a slide show of these properties, which are located throughout Oakland, and they all were characterized by charming era-specific architecture.

The more contentious part of this item is the expansion of the Mills Act. The proposal is to make the program permanent and to allow larger, commercial properties to take advantage of the program. Two commercial properties applied under the pilot program but because of their size and value, the potential decrease of tax revenue was too high to qualify under the program. Staff argued at the hearing that even though property tax would be lowered for these properties, the increased tax revenue due to rehabilitation would be much higher and would lead to a net increase in tax revenue.

Jane Brunner, in particular, was very concerned about the potential costs to the City, even though the staff report and staffers at the meeting made it abundantly clear that the maximum the City would spend each year from the general fund on a set of Mills Act contracts is $25,000 and $250,000 from redevelopment funds, and that in the past two years the City has spent far less than this maximum. So staff went back and created several charts projecting potential losses and gains to the City, and these charts show the potential for large revenue gains from the commercial buildings. Historic preservationists will be at the meeting tonight to advocate for the Mills Act, and now that Brunner has the numbers she asked for, it seems likely that the Council will vote to expand the program.

Item 14.7: Solar Financing Program Options (Report & Supplemental Report)

You might remember that last year Berkeley launched a solar financing program that is actually pretty innovative and has been very popular since its launch. From the staff report: “BerkeleyFIRST enables property owners to borrow money from the Sustainable Energy Financing District to install solar photovoltaic electric systems, with the cost to be repaid over 20 years through a special tax on their property tax bills.” What this means is that a property owner pays almost nothing upfront and spreads the cost throughout many years, but with the reduction of energy bills due to the solar energy that is captured, most owners see an overall net financial gain.

The state legislature liked Berkeley’s idea so much that it developed a statewide solar financing program called CaliforniaFIRST. Staff initially came to the Public Works Committee in May to ask that Oakland enroll in this program, but at the time, many details were not yet available so staff returned last week with further information and the committee showed enthusiastic support for the program. Desley Brooks even said she wanted to participate in the program. If the Council passes this item tonight, a pilot phase of the program will start in June 2010 so if you’re a property owner who’s considering installing solar panels, now would be a good time to start thinking more seriously about it. Oh, and if you’re concerned about this blowing a hole in the City’s budget, you need not worry – the most the City will spend is $20,000 for program set-up fees. The rest is covered by CaliforniaFIRST.

Item 17: Status of Oakland’s Grant Awards (ARRA) (Report & Supplemental Report)

At the last Council meeting, on November 17th, there was a lot of discussion about how well Oakland has done on its stimulus grant applications. Desley Brooks, in particular, argued that our grant applications have not been competitive because they haven’t been specific. She and others asked to hear more about how we’ve compared to other cities on stimulus grants.

According to the staff report, we’ve apparently done incredibly well. The report compares our stimulus grants to those received by other Bay Area cities, California cities of similar sizes, and other cities throughout the country. Besides Chicago, which is much, much bigger than Oakland, we’ve done better than every other city in terms of both the number of competitive grants received and the total amount of money received. Oakland received seven grants, totaling nearly $27.5 million, while, for example, Long Beach received three grants totaling $5.7 million and San Francisco received 3 grants totaling $17.7 million.

I’m sure Mayor Dellums will be touting this success as proof that all of his expensive trips to DC have been worthwhile. Will the Council be satisfied by this report? We’ll find out tonight.

Items 17.2 & 17.3: 2010 Federal Legislative Agenda & State Legislative Agenda

The Council will be reviewing and approving the City’s federal and state legislative agendas for next year. The agendas include specific policy and funding proposals as well as more general concepts. From the federal agenda staff report:

The strategic agenda includes advocating for legislation, regulations, and funding that are consistent with the City’s adopted goals; Public Safety, Sustainable and Healthy Environment, Economic Development, Community Involvement and Empowerment, Public-Private Partnerships, and Government Solvency and Transparency. As the year progresses, the Federal Government Affairs Team will work to identify legislation and funding opportunities that address these priorities.

Most of what’s in the legislative agendas is not surprising. In the federal legislative agenda, for example, is funding for Compstat, and I imagine that’s been in the legislative agenda for many years. But there are some new ideas, including an idea that Rebecca Kaplan brought up at the November budget workshop, that’s included in the state legislative agenda:

Utilize Technology for Parking Violations. In an effort to leverage dwindling resources, enhance the cleanliness and attractiveness of commercial corridors throughout Oakland, and keep City streets clean while reducing the amount of litter and pollutants going into Lake Merritt and the Bay, the City is interesting in researching the usage of technology, namely cameras on the outside of street sweepers and possibly buses, to issue parking tickets for illegally parked cars. Cities like San Francisco and Washington DC have the authority to use this technology. The goal of this legislation is to give Oakland and other jurisdictions the authority to use cameras to issue citations for street sweeping violations and other parking violations.

Both the federal and state legislative agendas are short and very easy to read. There’s no way I could cover everything in them here, but I highly recommend reading these documents.

The Rest of the Agenda…

Among other items, the rest of the agenda includes extending the eminent domain authority under the Coliseum Redevelopment Plan, increasing the fee for residential parking permits, approving a contract with an independent monitor for the police department under the negotiated settlement agreement, and hearing updates on several specific stimulus projects. Watch the Council meeting tonight to see what happens. And if you can’t watch the meeting but want to follow what happens, you can follow via #oakmtg on Twitter.

Oakland Public Works to BART: Oakland does have a stake in the OAC

16 Sep

Disclosure: I am working on a part-time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

Yesterday, the Oakland Public Works Committee meeting got off to a rough start for BART and stayed that way throughout the hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector. Chairwoman Nancy Nadel began the hearing by asking BART to respond to the questions that the committee sent to them last month. Tom Dunscombe, project manager for the OAC, stumbled, explaining that he had not prepared a presentation but that he was prepared to answer questions. (A kind of odd thing to say, considering the committee had already sent him the questions to which they wanted answers.) So Molly McArthur, a BART spokesperson who I’d never seen at an OAC meeting, stepped in and read off of the response BART had sent to the committee (a very late response that councilmembers did not see until Monday morning and that did not make it into the public packet).

She read about how great this project is for Oakland, claimed the OAC would provide tons of jobs, and told the councilmembers that it was Oakland’s fault that intermediate stops weren’t being built. She ended by talking about funding sources and by explaining clearly that Oakland is not funding this project, which led her to say, “Oakland does not have a stake in this project.”

I nearly jumped out of my seat to begin debating her on this claim, but instead I just wrote a bunch of exclamation points next to her remark in my notebook. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since I’ve heard this before. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty (yes, the same one who is now a Democrat) said something very similar at the last ACTIA meeting on this project. But I could not believe that BART would say this to a committee of the Oakland City Council – it is so disrespectful!

The committee wasn’t having it though. As Molly was speaking, the clerk passed out a resolution authored by Councilmembers Nadel and Rebecca Kaplan. The resolution (which you should click through to and read in full) concludes:

RESOLVED: that the Oakland City Council supports an improved connection to the Oakland International Airport, but one that does not economically jeopardize the local or regional transit, and whose fare will attract greater local and regional transit ridership and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED: that the Oakland City Council urges our regional transportation authority (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) to reconsider using the $70 million in federal funding for the current BART OAC project, and instead prioritize funding for local bus system improvements and a more cost effective and environmentally sound airport connector alternative.

After Molly spoke, Councilmembers Kaplan, Nadel, and Desley Brooks explained briefly what they think is wrong with this project, focusing on how the stimulus funds could better be used for BART and AC Transit operations, which would help the agencies avoid some of their service cuts. Brooks had to leave early to get to the Alameda County Supervisors to speak out against the rapid appointment of a District Attorney with no process (a hearing which didn’t go as well) so she moved the resolution, Kaplan seconded, and Brooks registered her yes vote before leaving.

Then the public took to the microphone to speak about this project. Seventeen people spoke against the OAC and for the resolution, including many Oakland residents, BART union members, AC Transit union members, transit advocates, and social justice advocates. The six people speaking in the support of the project mostly represented the building trades.

Pat Kernighan spoke after public comment, saying that she was not entirely decided about the project, but that she was leaning towards opposing it. She brought up four main concerns that she’d like to be addressed before the full council meeting on this issue:

  1. Whether the time saved over the current AirBART or the proposed BRT justifies this very large expense.
  2. Would the OAC reduce car travel on roads regionally? (This gets at the ongoing questions about ridership numbers.)
  3. The likelihood of the BART core system having to subsidize the OAC.
  4. Whether spending money on the OAC would take money from other transit projects.

The meeting ended with the committee directing that the resolution come before the full council on Tuesday October 6th and asking Oakland Public Works staff to provide a neutral analysis of the OAC.

You might think that BART would have heard the message loud in clear at this meeting and might have been a bit more deferential in their comments to the press. Well you would be wrong. Just after the meeting ended, I saw ABC reporter Cecilia Vega interviewing the BART rep, Molly McArthur in City Hall. This is part of what she had to say:

“We are interested in understanding what they think about it, but at the end of the day they are not a signatory to the project,” said BART project spokeswoman Molly McArthur…

“It’s shovel ready. In one week from today we’re receiving proposals on this project and we are prepared to move forward with construction,” said McArthur.

Translation: Oakland can say all it wants, but in the end, we’re building this project no matter what.

Somehow, I don’t think the Oakland City Council is going to take too kindly to that message, especially since the only reason they waited so long to have a hearing on this subject is because earlier this summer BART asked them to wait:

So clear your evening for October 6th. We need you down at Oakland City Hall for a showdown on the OAC. We need to tell BART that Oakland does have a stake in this project and that it does matter what we think. We need to make it clear why a $550 million project that is sucking money from other transit projects, won’t be much quicker than the current bus, won’t spur economic development, and is not guaranteed to provide jobs to Oaklanders is unacceptable for Oakland.

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

August 31-September 6 Oakland Political & Community Events

30 Aug

Wednesday, September 2nd – Alameda County Democratic Central Committee Meeting

Every month, the Central Committee meets to discuss party business and to make plans for the future of the Democratic Party in Alameda County. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Democratic Party, this is a great way to do so. The meeting will be held from 7-9pm in the San Leandro Main Library, Dave Karp Room, 300 Estudillo Ave., San Leandro, CA 94577.

Thursday, September 3rd – Save the Libraries Meeting

Save the Libraries aims to build and sustain an effective library advocacy network through ongoing recruitment, clear structure and regular communication. The group will be meeting this week to discuss the bookmobile, Friends of Second Start, and religious community outreach. The meeting will be held from 6-8pm at the Main Library, 125 14th Street. Find out more info and RSVP on Facebook.

Friday, September 4th– Art Murmur

Check out the monthly evening of art gallery shows and entertainment in Uptown. Read my review of the art murmur here. The Art Murmur runs from 6-10pm but individual art gallery times vary. The galleries are mostly located in Uptown, between Broadway and Telegraph, and Grand and 29th. Check out the Murmur’s website for more info.

Sunday, September 6th – Summer Concert Series at Arroyo Viejo Park

Hosted by Oakland City Council Member Desley Brooks & First A.M.E. Church, this free concert features the music ministries of Derrick Hall & Company, and the choirs of: Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Lily of the Valley Christian Center, and First A.M.E Church Oakland; and Stabe Wilson’s band. The concert will take place from 2-6pm at Arroyo Viejo Park, 7701 Krause Street. Find more info and RSVP on Facebook.

Oakland Public Works Committee strongly questions Oakland Airport Connector

17 Jul

Disclosure: I was recently hired to work part time on a short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

On Tuesday morning, the Oakland City Council, via the Public Works Committee finally had a chance to review the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). The last time they had reviewed the project was in 2006, and it has changed greatly since then, with projected ridership plummeting and costs growing. And the Public Works Committee members seemed to understand this well, asking pointed questions of BART and agendizing the project as an action item for their first meeting in September, when they return from recess.

Before the committee deliberated, BART and TransForm gave 10 minute presentations. BART’s presentation was the same one they’ve been giving for weeks – I think I’ve seen it three times now. I don’t have a copy of the Powerpoint slides, but here are the key points in it:

  • The first page has renderings of the OAC stations that are entirely inaccurate now. The airport station shows a covered walkway directly from the station to the terminal, even though this was taken out of the project due to costs long ago.
  • On ridership, BART concedes that its financial model shows that there will only be 4,350 riders in 2020 but explains that this is a very conservative model and makes the arguments that its 13,000 ridership projection from the EIR is still valid (I’ll get to why that’s wrong later)
  • BART explains away eliminating the two intermediate stops, essentially blaming it on Oakland for building a Walmart at one of the proposed stops and then saying that one day in the future the other stop “could” be built. (Yeah, because BART is so good about building infill stations.)
  • There is one slide that mentions the rapid bus alternative that TransForm has proposed and then says that BART studied it and it doesn’t work. There is no more information provided on this.

John Knox White from TransForm followed with a new presentation, which mostly focused on ridership. Check out a YouTube version of the presentation:

The presentation shows that while the 2002 EIR projects 10,200 new riders per day, a lot has changed since then. The fare has increased from $2 to $6, AirBART ridership has increased much more than expected, and the intermediate stops have been taken out. The reality is that BART’s own numbers show that there are only projected to be 440 new riders per day. Yes, you read that right, half a billion dollars for 440 new riders per day! In contrast, a rapid bus would cost an estimated $60 million and bring in 700 new riders per day. You should check out the full presentation for all the images and numbers, but this one alone is quite telling:


After the two presentations, several Oaklanders spoke about the need to study alternatives and why the current OAC is not the best project for Oakland. dto510 presented the committee with V Smoothe’s awesome presentation about financing. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out right away, as its some of her best work yet (which says a lot). A few OAC supporters also spoke, claiming the OAC was good for business and labor.

Then it was the committee’s turn, which was the really fun part. Between the four committee members, every question that we’ve been encouraging BART and MTC to ask were finally asked. Pat Kernighan started things off, saying that she wasn’t sure that she had access to all the correct info. She proceeded to ask a series of questions of BART:

  • What happens to the funds if they don’t go to the OAC?
  • What are the operations costs?
  • How many people will use it?
  • She asked for a clarification of the Port’s position, since Commissioner Margaret Gordon spoke and said the Port has asked for a study of alternatives and still has concerns about local hire requirements, and a Port staffer basically said the Port loves the project unequivocally.
  • What fees will fund this project? (i.e. airport passenger fees)
  • She asked for more comparison of a bus to the OAC, including pros and cons and wanted to know how a rapid bus would be different from the currently operating AirBART bus.
  • Are any of the funds from voter approved measures specifically dedicated to this project?

Desley Brooks followed, calling for the item to be re-agendized as an action item immediately to see if the City still wants to continue to support the project. She said that based on the information provided at the meeting and the letter from Don Perata, who was an early supporter of the project, she needed more information. Also, early in the meeting, before the presentations, she brought up concerns about hiring locally and hiring minorities, stating that BART has an atrocious record on these issues.

Public Works Chair Nancy Nadel said she wanted to echo Kernighan’s questions. Particularly, she was concerned about high costs, high fares, and local jobs. She also wanted more information on how smooth the transition would be on each alternative. Nadel ended her comments by saying that her district (in West Oakland) is seeing enormous AC Transit service cuts, and ACT is able to accommodate more people at lower cost. She didn’t say this, but I assume she was speaking to the fact that the stimulus funds, if they didn’t go to the OAC, would be reverted back to the transit agencies, including ACT.

Rebecca Kaplan, who has been a leader in fighting for a better connnector, spoke last. She explained that the stimulus money would not be lost if it was not given to the OAC, since it would be reverted back to the transit agencies. The only way it would be lost, she said, is if it is given to the OAC, since most of it would go to concrete, steel, and out of town jobs. She then asked for a legal analysis of BART’s 2006 contract with Oakland, which states that BART should give the RFP to Oakland before it is issued and allow Oakland 15 days to comment. BART did not follow this process and instead allowed Oakland to see the RFP several days after it had been issued.

Kaplan brought up the possibility of a third terminal being built at the airport and explained that at a BART board meeting, staff said that the Port would pay for an extension to this terminal if it was ever built, which is not true. She agreed with TransForm that BART’s ridership numbers  and revenue projections for the OAC include revenue from third terminal passengers but not the cost of extending the OAC to the third terminal.

Kaplan ended by making a pretty incredible comparison about jobs creations. The OAC, which costs more than half a billion dollars, is projected to generate 350 jobs, while another project that was heard at Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Committee later in the day on Tuesday, which has a similar price tag, is projected to generate 5,000 jobs.

The committee and the full council will be holding further hearings on the OAC in September, but there’s another important hearing next week before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). They will be voting on $140 million in funding for the OAC. This vote will be one of the last votes on funding for the OAC, yet BART has failed to provide accurate information on projected ridership and a bus alternative. We are urging MTC not to approve this funding until BART can answer questions that advocates have been asking for months. Please join us:

What: MTC Meeting on Oakland Airport Connector Funding

When: Wednesday, July 22nd @ 10 am

Where: MTC Headquarters (101 Eighth St near Lake Merritt BART)

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector: