Tag Archives: V Smoothe

A brief break from Oakland politics & blogging

9 Oct

Note: I am no longer working for TransForm, and as always, the thoughts below are my own.

Tuesday night was a bit devastating for me. I’ve been working with so many others since February to defeat the OAC, and I had always hoped that if all else failed, the Oakland City Council would come through for us. Certainly, Oakland’s elected representatives would see that this project would cause more harm than good to our city. But back in February I could have never imagined how seriously the other side would have taken our fight. So seriously that they lobbied the Council for weeks, sent heads of agencies to speak at a meeting and stay there past 1 a.m, and of course, so seriously that they felt the need to distort facts and basically threaten the Council.

Still, the loss was difficult, even knowing that it was a basically impossible fight. So I took the past couple of days to relax and reflect. I didn’t check email or blogs and barely picked up my cell phone.

I decided to face the world again last night, and went to Rebecca Kaplan’s birthday party. It was great to see everyone and commiserate about our loss but also to reflect on the powerful fight we had fought. Rebecca told me she’d do it all over again, even knowing the eventual outcome, and I agreed with her.

This morning I read V Smoothe’s excellent post about why people should stay engaged, despite this disappointing loss:

The entire reason I devote basically all my spare time to this blog is because I want people to understand and become engaged with their local government. If you are unsatisfied with how your City is run, you can and should do more than yell at the TV or the newspaper, or bitch about your frustrations to your neighbors. You can change things. It is not something that is going to get done overnight, or in a week, or in a month. It is hard and it takes persistence and fortitude and the willingness to keep trying in the face of often seemingly overwhelming obstacles and frequent disappointment.

But it is worth it. Oakland is a wonderful city full of amazing, generous people. It also, like everything and everyone, has many flaws. That’s not a reason to throw your hands in the air and give up hope. It’s a reason to work hard to make it better.

I couldn’t agree more – I don’t intend to throw my hands in the air and I hope you won’t either. Instead, I want to shift focus and work on some proactive campaigns in Oakland, instead of reactive. I want to work to get more taxi stands, especially in Uptown, Jack London Square, and Temescal. I want to see more public art, especially art from Burning Man artists. I want to do whatever I can to help with the City’s awesome plans for a shuttle between Uptown and Jack London Square. And of course, I want to help make sure BRT becomes a reality.

But before that, I need a bit of a break from Oakland politics, and this is perfect timing for me. I recently left my full time job, after four and a half wonderful years there, and my contract with TransForm is now over. I also got engaged recently and I need some time to start planning the wedding. And next weekend, my sister’s getting married and I’ll be spending the entire next week in San Diego.

My break from Oakland politics will include a short break from blogging. I’ll still try to put together the weekly events listing, but otherwise, I don’t intend to post next week, and I might not post the following week either. I’ll be back to blogging before the end of October though.

In the meantime, I’d love to share some guest posts here, particularly non-political ones, so email me at OaklandBecks at gmail dot com if you’re interested. And if you’re still feeling down about the OAC and haven’t done so yet, please read V Smoothe’s post and all the comments in response. It made me feel better, and I’m sure it will make you feel better too.

Do you want more City Council coverage?

22 Sep

As I was writing the weekly listing of Oakland events yesterday, I realized that I was spending almost as much time writing the part about tonight’s City Council meeting as I was writing the rest of the post. I also realized that it was nearly impossible to say everything I wanted to in just one short paragraph. I could have easily written an entire post about what the Council will be talking about tonight.

I got to thinking that maybe I should be writing posts like that preceding the Council meetings so people would know what the Council will be discussing and might be more likely to attend or at least watch. Or maybe I’m too optimistic – I’m not going to get more people to go to Council so I should just write up the Council meetings after they happen. Way back when, V Smoothe used to do this at NovoMetro (now OakBook), and I loved it. She of course still covers specific Council issues at A Better Oakland, but there’s nowhere in the blogoaksphere or in the news to find a good round up of what happens at meetings.

So I’ve created a poll below that I hope you’ll take a few seconds to fill out. I’d be happy to put some more time into Council write ups, but only if you’re interested in reading them.

Oh, and if you need something to entertain you during the not-so-exciting parts of tonight’s Council meeting, when looking through the OakBook archives I found this awesome 2006 debate between V Smoothe and dto510 about condo conversion. Check it out while you put Sanjiv Honda on mute.

In Oakland

15 Sep

Posting here might be a bit erratic over the next few weeks, partly because I’m totally swamped but also because it seems that every time I intend to write about something, In Oakland has beat me to it. In Oakland is one of San Francisco Chronicle’s new local blogs, written by blogoaksphere originators V Smoothe and Jonathan Bair. The blog covers just about everything you can imagine (food, events, politics, transit, and even sports) in short form.

Yesterday, I was planning to write about the BART service cuts or the District Attorney appointment debacle, but Jonathan beat me to both stories so I felt like I was off the hook.

Don’t worry though – this is not the end of Living in the O (or other Oakland blogs). Short form blog posts are great for finding out what’s happening, but they don’t lend themselves to analysis or in depth reporting. So I may be off the hook for quick updates, but I’ll still have to write those lengthier posts.

In the meantime, check out In Oakland to find out what’s happening in our wonderful city.

Oakland Blogger Showdown: Living in the O vs. A Better Oakland

30 Jun

OK, so the title of this post might be a bit misleading. V Smoothe and I won’t be duking it out in the Thunderdome or anything like that. But we are two of the three finalists for the Best of the East Bay best blogger award.

I hadn’t realized this previously, but East Bay Express is holding another round of voting, where the top vote winners for each category are facing off. For the blogger award, it’s Living in the O vs. A Better Oakland vs. Inhuman Eating Machine. I’m not going to ask you to vote for me, but please do vote for either me or ABO – it’d be a shame if an Oakland blogger didn’t win.

More importantly though, there are lots of Oakland businesses, artists, and community members that have made it to this final round of voting, and you should vote for them too. Here are my suggestions some with links to previous posts on these places, people, and events:

  • Best Artsy Cafe/Best Cafe: Awaken Cafe
  • Best Band: Damon and the Heathens (You can find my reasoning in my last post about voting.)
  • Best Club: Uptown
  • Best Performer/Singer/Musician: Kev Choice (Yeah, he’s up for practically every musical category and deserves to win several awards. Did you catch his set at Uptown Unveiled? It was incredible.)
  • Best Festival: Temescal Street Fair
  • Best Local Book: Bryant Terry, Vegan Soul Kitchen (Help stop Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food from winning. I love Pollan, but that was by far his worst book. It was written in a hurry and didn’t really say much. Terry’s book, on the other hand, braves new territory.)
  • Best New Culture Scene: Uptown Oakland
  • Best East Bay Product/Best Place to Buy a T-Shirt: Oaklandish
  • Best Farmer’s Market: Temescal (I know many won’t agree with me on this one, but I’m loyal to my local market.)
  • Best Salvage Store: East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse
  • Best City Employee: Jason Patton (Jason is one half of the City of Oakland’s bicyle and pedestrian team, the other half being Jennifer Stanley. Also, he’s up against Ron Dellums and a bunch of other elected officials.)
  • Best Community Organizer: V Smoothe (OK, so V Smoothe is not even her real name, but let that slide and show that blogging and community organizing can go hand and hand.)
  • Best Rising Political Figure: Sean Sullivan (I’m sticking with my initial choice, even though he’s up against Rebecca Kaplan and Van Jones. Why? Kaplan and Jones have risen already and are staying put for a while, while Sullivan is still moving up.)
  • Best New Restaurant: Sidebar (See why in my initial review when they first opened.)

That’s it for my recommendations. Share yours in the comments below. Voting closes on July 6th so take a few minutes to cast your ballot now.

Celebrate A Better Oakland’s Two Year Anniversary by Donating

12 May

Nearly two years ago, I started this blog. At the time, I didn’t know there were other Oakland blogs, but I soon stumbled onto Great Expectations (now known as A Better Oakland) and Future Oakland, and began reading them regularly. I basically knew nothing about Oakland government at the time and was consistently amazed by how much V Smoothe and dto510 knew, and even more so, by how much research and analysis they put into their blogs.

So I read, and I read, and I started to become more interested and invested. I had initially promised myself that my blog would never be political because just about everything else in my life revolves around politics, and I wanted to have a different outlet. So I wrote about arts, and produce at the farmers market, and I told stories about riding the bus.

But a few months later, I found myself writing about zoning and transit planning, and then I was hooked. I blame most of this on V Smoothe and dto510 because if it wasn’t for them, I never would have had access to the ins and outs of Oakland government. I wouldn’t have realized that I could contribute something as well.

Since then, not only has my blog changed, but my life has changed as well. I’ve been an activist for all of my adult life (I volunteered for my first campaign when I was 18), but I had done little in the way of local government activism. Regular readers know that things are pretty different for me now.  I poured tons of time and energy into Rebecca Kaplan’s successful City Council campaign, I was on the campaign committee in Berkeley that defeated Measure KK (which would have endangered bus rapid transit), I helped stop a surface parking lot in Uptown, and now I am part of the efforts to turn the Oakland Airport Connector into a BRT project.

But I swear, this isn’t my fault. It never would have happened without influences from the blogoaksphere, especially V Smoothe’s writing at A Better Oakland.

Today is A Better Oakland’s two year anniversary, and in honor of it, Sean Sullivan wrote a really sweet post asking ABO readers to donate to V Smoothe. I’d like to echo his ask. I’ve been harassing V Smoothe for months, initially just to get her to put up a donate button, and later to get her to place it somewhere that’s visible. Now it’s up and we no longer have any excuses – it’s time to give, and to give generously.

Because ABO is so much more valuable than a newspaper or even a well researched magazine. V Smoothe gives us more than news. I know I’m not the only one who’s been inspired by her writing to get involved in local politics, and that inspiration is worth infinitely more than a subscription to the Chronicle.

Now, I know how these things work. You’re going to read this post and mentally note to donate someday to ABO, but then you’re going to keep forgetting and it’s not going to happen for a very long time. Well, I’m going to try to prevent that by offering  a limited time matching donation. For the next 48 hours (from 9am on Tuesday until 9am on Thursday), I’m offering $1 for every $10 donated, and I’ll donate up to $250. I’m challenging the blogoaksphere to give $2500 to V Smoothe in the next 48 hours. Whether you can give $10 or $100, it will make a huge difference. So please give today at www.abetteroakland.com/donate.

The power of the blogoaksphere

6 May

Last night the blogoaksphere won the battle over the surface parking lot. The Council voted unanimously in support of Ignacio De La Fuente’s resolution, “To spend the next two weeks confirming a plan to use the subject lot for a temporary public art installation space at no additional cost to the Redevelopment Agency…”

V Smoothe saved me the trouble of recounting the long struggle we engaged in to get to this point so if you’d like to read the history, head over to A Better Oakland. Her post was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read and it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks V!

Reading her post this afternoon helped me reflect on the process. Going into this fight, it really did seem hopeless. When dto510, Joyce Roy, Naomi Schiff and I spoke out at that first meeting, we thought the parking lot was a done deal. But we did it anyway. And throughout the process, no matter what the Council and RDA threw at us, we responded.

You know why? Because that’s how activism works. When you truly care about something, you have to keep trying, even if it seems like a lost cause. The hard part of activism is that sometimes you try your hardest, rally as many people as you can, do all the research needed, and you still lose. That doesn’t mean that you should stop trying or that you didn’t make a difference.

Because once in a while, the hard work pays off, and you win BIG. Just think about this for a minute. Our win means that instead of having to walk by an eyesore of a paved lot filled with cars, worrying about one of them running into you, you’ll instead be able to gaze at gorgeous, large-scale artwork. Like these great pieces by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito:

Part of an art piece by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, two of my favorite artists who create their recycled metal based work in Oakland.

Another figure in the same art piece.

And when you sit in the Uptown park or on the second floor of the Den and gaze out at these beautiful art pieces, you’ll be able to think: WE DID THAT! The blogoaksphere came together to fight an uphill battle, and we won. That is the power of activism.

Thanks so much to everyone who spoke at a meeting, sent an email, made a phone call, or wrote a blog post. Your voices made a profound difference.

I want to especially thank Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito. Not only did they come to the City Council meeting last night to speak, but Dan guided us through this process, offering advice and figures on displaying large scale public art. His expertise was a huge help in showing the Council that an art display was a viable option for the space. So thanks!

I hope this is only the beginning of wins from the blogoakshpere and that you feel as empowered as I do from this experience. We made a difference and can continue to do so. Tomorrow, I’ll be asking you to join me in taking action once again on the Oakland Airport Connector, another battle that everyone told me was a lost cause. Well if we work together, it won’t be.

Until then, continue daydreaming about what this art space will look and feel like. Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about how Oakland’s a lot like Black Rock City. And soon it will be so much more similar…

Previous posts on the Uptown surface parking lot saga:

V Smoothe, Rebecca Kaplan, Ignacio De La Fuente, oh my!

2 Dec

The Oakland Builders Alliance has a great speaker lineup for its holiday party and one year anniversary celebration tomorrow night: V Smoothe of A Better Oakland, Rebecca Kaplan, Ignacio De La Fuente, and Alex Gronke from Oakbook.

Check out A Better Oakland for all the details, and I’ll see you there tomorrow.

Celebrate the election & hear V Smoothe speak at Mix It Up East Bay

9 Nov

Mix It Up East Bay took a hiatus last month because most of the organizers were a bit busy with various campaigns, but it’s back this week and should be a lot of fun. V Smoothe from A Better Oakland will be one of the speakers featured on Thursday night, which is really reason enough to go. If you haven’t met her, you should know that she’s as witty and funny in person as she is on her blog. She’s a walking Oakland encyclopedia so if you have a burning (or trivial) question about Oakland, she’s the one to ask.

It should also be a great chance to celebrate some of the huge gains we made on November 4th, electing Barack Obama and Rebecca Kaplan. And we’ll of course get a chance to reflect on our losses and to start to strategize on how to overturn Prop 8 and Measure OO.

So mark this on your calendar and join me and V Smoothe at Mix It Up East Bay on Thursday night. Here’s some more info about the event:

Educating the Electorate or Stuffing the Ballot Box?
Join us to hear diverse voices discuss the influence that traditional and new media have on local and national politics.  Speakers include:

->  Echa Schneider aka V Smoothe
->  Cecilia Vega, ABC

Come on out, celebrate another election season, and mingle with colleagues and friends as we enter a new chapter for California and the nation!

When: Thursday, November 13, 2008 from 6:00-9:00 pm
Where: Arsimona’s Bar and Lounge, 561 11th St. (above Le Cheval)
More Info: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2609191582

And some good news…

25 Jun

Not all of today’s news is depressing. The East Bay Express released it’s Best of the East Bay awards today, and I’m excited about a couple of the reader’s favorites.

Earlier this month, I urged all of my readers to vote for A Better Oakland as the best local blog. Well I guess some of you did, because V Smoothe won the award! Here’s what she has to say about it:

I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me in the East Bay Express poll! I’m thrilled to be named Reader’s Choice for best local topic blogger. In your face, Mayor of Claycord! Take that, Lauren Do! Anyway, I just wanted to say how happy and flattered I was for the recognition. (And a special thanks to Becks for pimping ABO!) You guys rock.

Awaken Cafe, a new sustainable cafe and art gallery in downtown Oakland that I’ve written about several times, won two reader’s choice awards: Best new business and best cafe/coffeehouse. Here’s what the owners had to say in an email they just sent out:

We are extremely grateful that you took your time to let the East Bay know you think we’re the best! You made this happen. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We are overwhelmed with excitement and completely moved by your support. We’re clear we are surrounded by an amazing community, and that with your support behind us, the Awaken Cafe will continue to get better and better with age.

We’d also like to thank our talented staff (Elisa, Havah, Rich, and Sarah) for their hard work and commitment to excellence. Thank you to our partners for all that they give. To the CAFE CREATORs who have voted for us with their wallets. And to each of you and all of our customers who make our jobs worthwhile. We couldn’t do it without you!

Congratulations to V Smoothe and the crew at Awaken Cafe!

Vote for A Better Oakland as the Best of the East Bay

5 Jun

The East Bay Express is asking for input on it’s annual Best of the East Bay awards. As I was voting for my favorite Oakland restaurants, stores, performers, etc, I stumbled on the best local blogger category. It was one of the few in which I didn’t even have to think twice – V Smoothe at A Better Oakland is by far the best local blogger. Hands down.

She does in depth reporting on a level matched by no other by sitting through countless city hearings, even when they’re frustrating or boring, and pouring over complex reports. I know I would have been completely at a loss in some of the local election races if it wasn’t for her reporting. I also love her engaging and often entertaining writing style. And I think there are few in this city that can beat her dedication to making Oakland a better place to live in.

So head over to the Best of the East Bay ballot and vote for A Better Oakland. While you’re at it, make sure to vote for some of your favorite Oakland establishments (you have to vote in at least 25 categories for your vote to count) so that Oakland is well represented in 2008’s awards. Don’t procrastinate too much – voting ends on June 16th.

And if somehow you’ve never checked out A Better Oakland, head over there now!