Tag Archives: John Russo

John Russo: “Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure”

28 Apr

Disclosure: I proudly work for the Control & Tax Cannabis campaign.

Oakland City Attorney John Russo wrote an excellent op-ed about the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 that I thought was worth sharing. As the City Attorney of the first city in the country to regulate the sales of medical marijuana, Russo has seen first hand that regulation can improve public safety and believes the same can be accomplished statewide and beyond with the passage of the initiative:

As the City Attorney of Oakland — a city where dozens of people are killed in drug-related murders every year — my primary concern is the war on marijuana’s collateral damage to public safety.

Black market marijuana is a main source of fuel powering the vast criminal enterprises that threaten peace on our streets and weaken national security on our borders. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Mexican drug cartels get more than 60 percent of their revenue from selling marijuana in the United States.

Money is the oxygen of these organizations. For decades, our approach to fighting violent drug gangs has been like trying to put out a house fire with a watering can. Why not try shutting off the fire’s oxygen supply?

Russo’s right. The war on drugs has been an utter failure, not only at curbing the use of illegal drugs but also at ending violence. Cannabis regulation is a way to curb this violence and to stop needless arrests that waste tax payer dollars:

The cost of enforcing prohibition is hard to estimate. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars and countless law enforcement hours arresting people for low-level marijuana crimes, further overburdening courts and prisons. Jail beds needed for marijuana offenders could be “used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space,” the state Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

More than 61,000 Californians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2008. That same year, about 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved statewide. The reality is that resources tied up fighting marijuana would be better spent solving and preventing violent felonies and other major crimes.

Russo’s entire op-ed is worth a read so I encourage you to click through and read the entire piece, but if not, he sums up his points well at the end:

Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure. It takes marijuana off street corners and out of the hands of children. It cuts off a huge source of revenue to the violent gangsters who now control the market. And it gives law enforcement more capacity to focus on what really matters to Californians — making our communities safer.

It’s time we call marijuana prohibition what it is — an outdated and costly approach that has failed to benefit our society. In November, we will finally have the chance to take a rational course with the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act.

Oaklanders like Russo have seen firsthand that marijuana regulation and taxation works. Now it’s up to us to spread that message to the rest of the state to ensure the passage of this initiative in November.

The Council should follow the will of the voters & implement IRV

4 Jan

Tomorrow night, the City Council will be voting on the implementation and funding of instant runoff voting (IRV). This really should be a done deal because:

  1. The voters overwhelmingly approved IRV in 2006.
  2. The Secretary of State certified Alameda County’s IRV system late last year.
  3. City Attorney John Russo sent out a very clear opinion on December 16th that says the Council must implement IRV.

Russo’s opinion could not have been much more clear:

The Charter grants the Alameda County Registrar of Voters the exclusive power to determine when ranked choice voting will be implemented in Oakland by way of his determination that he is “able to conduct the election on behalf of the City.” Because the City Charter is the supreme law of the City, it can be amended only by a vote of the electorate approving an amendment to the Charter. No enactment by the City Council, whether by resolution, motion or ordinance can override the Charter’s dictates; nor does any elected official, City officer or employee have the authority to ignore the City Charter’s requirements. A charter city may not act in conflict with its charter and any act that violates the Charter is invalid. Therefore once the Registrar of Voters is able to conduct the election in accordance with the Charter, the Charter requires that the City implement ranked choice voting.

But this is Oakland, and though I’m hopeful the Council will do the right thing, it’s never possible to know until the vote happens, especially with the politics of the mayor race involved. If, somehow, the Council does not approve the implementation of IRV, they’re likely to be sued and it’s possible that results of a June election could be called into question and invalidated. I don’t even want to think about the mess that would entail.

I’ve always been a supporter of IRV – more voters turnout in November and the electorate is much more diverse. It’s also a huge money-saver in the long term. But even if I wasn’t supportive of IRV, I would still urge the Council to vote to implement because it is what the voters decided. There is no wiggle room here – if the Council does not approve IRV, they will be telling Oakland voters that our votes don’t matter.

So please contact the Council to ask them to vote to implement IRV and to full fund the public education needed to implement IRV:

Rebecca Kaplan, At-Large
RKaplan@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7008

Council President Jane Brunner, District 1
JBrunner@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7001

Patricia Kernighan, District 2
PKernighan@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7002

Nancy Nadel, District 3
NNadel@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7003

Jean Quan, District 4
JQuan@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7004

Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5
IDeLaFuente@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7005

Desley Brooks, District 6
DBrooks@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7006

Larry Reid, District 7
LReid@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7007

For more background on IRV, please see the post I wrote about the Registrar’s discussion of IRV at the November Alameda County Democratic Central Committee meeting.

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.

Oaklanders speak out for marriage equality

9 Mar

On Friday, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan organized a “speak out” to support equal rights. She invited officials, same-sex couples, and activists to tell their stories and to reflect on the prior day’s California Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8.

This event turned out to be one of the highlights of my week. It was incredibly sweet, and several of the speakers brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me what this fight is all about – love and equality. It also reminded me of the joy I felt back in June, when Mayor Dellums officiated over the first Oakland same-sex weddings in the packed Council Chambers.  Here are some photos I took at the event:

La Raye Lyles, Lisa Fujie Parks, and their daughter.

La Raye Lyles, Lisa Fujie Parks, and their daughter.

Teresa Chung (in the middle), with her daughter and daughter-in-law. She gave the most moving speech of the afternoon, in English and Spanish, explaining that her daughter's marriage is no different than her son's marriage to his wife.

Teresa Chung (in the middle), with her daughter and daughter-in-law. She gave the most moving speech of the afternoon, in English and Spanish, explaining that her daughter's marriage is no different than her son's marriage to his wife.

Samee Roberts and Karen Boyd, the first couple to be married by Mayor Dellums in June 2008.

Samee Roberts and Karen Boyd, the first couple to be married by Mayor Dellums in June 2008.

Reverend Byron Williams gave an emotional and high energy speech about the ongoing fight for civil rights, including marriage equality.

Reverend Byron Williams gave an emotional and high energy speech about the ongoing fight for civil rights, including marriage equality.

City Attorney John Russo told the audience about the resolution he introduced while on the City Council in support of domestic partnership. Even back then, he knew that was just an incremental step towards full marriage equality.

City Attorney John Russo told the audience about the resolution he introduced while on the City Council in support of domestic partnership. Even back then, he knew that it was just an incremental step towards full marriage equality.

At the end of the event, Rebecca Kaplan gave flowers to all of the married same-sex couples in attendance.

At the end of the event, Rebecca Kaplan gave flowers to all of the married same-sex couples in attendance.

The entire event was aired on KTOP and is supposed to be aired again later this week, though I don’t know when. If anyone can find out, I recommend watching it.

March 2-6 Oakland Political & Community Events

2 Mar

Monday, March 2nd – “Engage Her” Panel & Screening

Why do the vast majority of African American, Latina, and Asian American Pacific Islander women in the U.S. fail to vote? And why doesn’t anyone seem to care? Join us on Monday March 2, 2009 to view this powerful documentary and participate in a follow-up discussion with a panel including the producer and director Mable Yee.  The film introduces us to a diverse group of women who share very personal accounts of their histories, and reasons for avoiding the political process. Hear the voices of those busy raising families, working multiple jobs, and constrained by time, culture, family, history, language, and fear of political engagement. The panel will help us probe the reasons why, and begin formulating a discussion about how we might successfully engage these women. This event is hosted by the National Women’s Political Caucus and co-sponsored by several other East Bay groups. The screening will be held from 6-7:30pm at the Buttercup Grill, 229 Broadway at 3rd Street.

Tuesday, March 3rd – Oakland City Council Meeting

This week’s Council meeting looks like it’s going to be long and contentious. They’ll be voting on the taxes that were proposed at last week’s Finance Committee meeting, including the hotel tax and repealing Mesaure OO. The Council will also be approving several appointments to various committees, and they’ll vote on changes to recycling facility regulations. V Smoothe wrote an in-depth post about the recycling regulations back in December, and I encourage you to check out that post so you won’t be lost at this meeting. You can also refer to my post about how to watch and understand City Council meetings if you need some guidance on how or where to view the meeting. The non-ceremonial parts of the meeting start at 7pm, and if you’d like to see the meeting in person, head to the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Wednesday, March 4th – 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. This month, the featured speakers will be State Senators Loni Hancock and Ellen Corbett. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Democratic Party, this is a great way to do so. Last month, I was appointed as an associate member for the 16th Assembly District, so you can find me at this meeting every month. The meeting will be held from 7-9pm in the San Leandro Main Library, Dave Karp Room, 300 Estudillo Ave., San Leandro, CA 94577.

Friday, March 6th – Oakland Rally for Marriage Equality

Oakland City Councilwoman and out lesbian Rebecca Kaplan, City Attorney John Russo as well as some married couples who work for the city will be speaking out in response to Ken Starr’s oral arguments the previous day. Please come and invite all your friends! This is your LOCAL government taking action and speaking out for equality and they need your support. We can’t let Ken and his ilk dominate the news after they give oral arguments to the California Supreme Court. The rally will be from noon-2pm on the steps of Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza. Find more info and RSVP a the event’s Facebook page.

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.