Monthly Archives: May 2008


So I don’t think I’m going to be getting to those school board debates after all, and I am sorry for that. I will be putting up an endorsements blog on Monday, so I’ll have a shorter overview of those races then. Right now, I’m completely spent on election stuff and exhausted and just wish Tuesday would be here already.

When you’re stressed and tired, humor becomes especially important for maintaining sanity. So I’d like to share with my readers the three things that made me laugh the most yesterday.

  • On ABC7′s story about the District 1 Council race, Brunner mocked Patrick McCullough for being no Barack Obama. McCullough responded that she’s no Hillary Clinton. She certainly isn’t.
  • I didn’t get to watch the budget meeting yesterday, but apparently Nancy Nadel asked at it if she could have the 12 extra unpaid days off, too.
  • And the best comment I’ve heard yet on the mid-cycle budget, from a reader:

    It looks like the Mayor wants to de-fund the School for the Arts. And increase the non-sworn vacancy rates in OPD and OFD…I thought Republicans were supposed to be the ones who balanced the budget on the backs of children and public safety.

Why I’m voting for Sean Sullivan for Oakland City Council District 3

So I’d been holding onto a draft version of yesterday’s blog for over a month, and only ended up finally posting it at the forceful urging of a number of friends. I thought that the reason I couldn’t bring myself to post it was because I just wanted so badly for it to be really good and damning and persuasive and that I just couldn’t let go because it would never be good enough. But by the time I hit the publish button, I realized that it wasn’t about those things at all – the reason I waited so long to make an elaborate case against Nancy Nadel was because I didn’t really want to. Not because I didn’t believe in what I’d written (I do), or because it wasn’t all true (it is), but because I just don’t care about it anymore. Last winter, this election for me was about replacing my incredibly ineffective and unresponsive Councilmember. But I realized yesterday that over the last few months, it hasn’t been about that for me at all. It’s about getting someone into office who I really, really, really believe in. Continue reading

Nancy Nadel needs to go. Now.

I met Nancy Nadel for the first time about a week after I moved to Oakland, to a beautiful and perfect downtown apartment, when I went to a meeting I had seen a notice for in the newspaper about retail revitalization in downtown Oakland. The meeting was really weird. It turned out to not be about retail revitalization at all, but a panel discussion about the Uptown development, with some representatives of Forest City, Nancy Nadel, Danny Wan, and a reporter from the Oakland Tribune (I kind of think it was Robert Gammon, but I’m not 100% on that). Jerry Brown came in about halfway through, clearly stopping by from running around the Lake, drenched in sweat, and stood in the back of the room, watching. The moderator kept asking him to weigh in, and he kept declining, saying he was just there to listen. At the end of the meeting, the moderator again asked Brown for a statement, and he went on this really weird thing about how he just returned from a trip to Florence, and he thought it was really pretty with their cute orange roofs, and he’d really support anything we could do to make Oakland look like Florence. Later he approached me and said he liked my bracelet. So bizarre.

Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to ask my question, so afterwards, I went up to my Councilmember, Nancy Nadel, to ask her. I introduced myself and said I’d just moved to Oakland, and wanted to ask about retail attraction in other parts of downtown. She asked me where I lived, and when I told her, she said that I wasn’t in her District, and should go talk to Danny. I said that was pretty sure I was, because I had looked it up on the City’s website, and could I ask her anyway since I was already talking to her. She said no, she was sure I wasn’t in District 3, that if I had questions, I really should talk to Danny, then turned and walked away. Things only went downhill from there.

Just in case anyone reading this hadn’t already picked up on this, I’m voting for Sean Sullivan on Tuesday. And tomorrow, I’ll tell you why you should, too. Today I want to talk about Nancy Nadel, and more specifically, why it’s time for her to go. So here you go: Continue reading

DIY pedestrian safety

Way back in 2006, the founders of the Downtown Lake Merritt Neighborhood Group began an effort to get a crosswalk installed at the corner of 15th and Jackson. Residents of the Lake Merritt apartment district will be familiar with the spot, a T-intersection across the street from that natural foods store, which I totally wish had been there back when I lived in that neighborhood. Anyway, the spot was always kind of a pain to cross, and residents tell me pedestrian traffic has increased sharply since the store opened a few years ago.

Although the problems on the street are nothing even remotely close to the terrifying pedestrian conditions in the HarriOak neighborhood, residents and frequent visitors of the area know that cars can get going pretty fast along the stretch of Jackson between 17th and 15th, and it isn’t really a fun place to try to cross the street. Although there have been no reported pedestrian-vehicle collisions at the intersection over the last few years, there are plenty of close calls, and many residents worry that it’s only a matter of time until something like this happens:

(staged photo)

So the founders of the group started a petition to get a crosswalk marked at the intersection, and after roughly an hour’s worth of effort yielded 130 signatures, they submitted the petition and request for a crosswalk to the City.

The immediate response from the City’s transportation department to the request was that getting a crosswalk would be “unlikely,” since Federal regulations for pedestrian crossings require installation of new curb ramps, which would cost as much as $9,000 and reminding the petitioners that the US Department of Transportation notes that crosswalks “will not make crossing safer, nor necessarily result in more vehicles stopping for pedestrians.*

After six months of no further responses to calls and e-mails, a different transportation engineer finally informed the petitioner that the City was denying the crosswalk request, because:

Crosswalks are marked to guide pedestrians to use a preferred path. Between the two unmarked crosswalks crossing Jackson St at 15th Street, both crosswalks are equally visible to drivers. Therefore, there is no reason to guide pedestrian to use one but not the other.

Such logic may make a great deal of sense to traffic engineers, but not so much to people who just want to feel a little safer crossing the street. With no help forthcoming from the City, someone recently took matters into their own hands and dealt with the problem by buying a couple of buckets of paint and doing this:

(No, I don’t know who did it, and the petition organizer has assured me that it was not him.)

A guerrilla crosswalk is no doubt kind of cool, but it’s a sad reflection of the responsiveness of Oakland’s government to citizen needs when people are reduced to painting their own crosswalks on the street in the middle of the night.

* So I’m not really qualified to comment on the appropriateness of a crosswalk in this location (normally I would spend a couple hours researching the issue before commenting, but I just don’t have time right now. Elections!). It’s true that one study (PDF!) on the efficacy of marked crosswalks found that marking crosswalks, in the absence of other traffic calming measures, actually led to an increase in pedestrian accidents on multi-lane, high traffic streets (think Telegraph), while the impact on 2-lane, lower-traffic streets (like Jackson) was negligible, although marking crosswalks did significantly increase pedestrian traffic across marked intersections. But if the City is denying crosswalk requests because they will not increase safety, it’s the City’s responsibility to educate residents about the evidence and explain their reasoning, not just issue curt denials. One also can’t help but wonder about the inconsistent logic apparently applied to related transportation decisions. For example, evidence does not show that bicycle lanes improve safety for bicyclists more than wide outside lanes, and many bicycle advocates fear that the presence of bicycle lanes can actually be more dangerous for bicyclists, as they create an illusion of safety. Yet we plan for bicycle lanes because that’s what people want. Why does the same logic not apply for pedestrian improvements?

Banking on Nancy Nadel for a Better Oakland

Thanks to one of my wonderful readers, a great mystery has been solved! Turns out the reason the East Bay Young Democrats wouldn’t provide any justification for their endorsement of Nancy Nadel isn’t because, as I had theorized, they didn’t have one. They do, it’s just too embarrassing to publicize. She brings them chocolate! Seriously! The description of tonight’s “event” on Facebook:

Nancy consistently proves she is a good friend to the club: whether she makes us homemade chocolate; gets the City of Oakland to honor one of our own with a city proclamation; or protects the public’s health by advocating for access to health services and for a cleaner port! Let’s do what we can to turn out the vote for Nancy Nadel, Oakland City Council District 3. Join us for the 30 minutes or the full 3-hours before you head out for the evening! All are welcome.

And hilariously, the title of this post actually is what they’re calling their event.

Irresponsible endorsements

So we’ve got what, 11 days before the election? I’m so nervous! Anyway, next week’s blogs are going to be all elections, all the time, and since I’m finally done with some big projects I’ve been working on, I’ll actually have the time to write them! Part of next week’s election coverage is going to be endorsements. I take this seriously, and have spent a great deal of time researching the candidates, especially in races that I’m not terribly familiar with, because I want to be able to stand behind what I say and feel like I’ve made a recommendation based on as much information as possible.

Apparently, not everyone takes the responsibility so seriously. dto510 wrote last week about the misplaced ideology behind the Central Labor Council/Sierra Club/Central Committee/Green Party/Bay Guardian slate, a post which generated a number of comments from endorsers of the “progressive” candidates. The commenters were unable to provide any justification of the logic behind their endorsements, or answer questions about Nadel’s troubling record, instead falling back on vague statements like “V Smoothe, I know it must be eminently gratifying to pretend that people who reject your analysis only do so because of ignorance, but you know some of us pay attention and still think you’re wrong.”

What a horrible thing to say! It isn’t gratifying in the least to see people making bad choices about their government because they’re uninformed! In fact, it’s incredibly depressing! It keeps me awake at night. Anyway, while some of these groups, such as the East Bay Young Democrats, continue to fail to offer any argument supporting their endorsements (making it impossible to then rebut said argument), other endorsers of this slate have done so, and, as expected, their choices are, well, completely uninformed.

Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s endorsement of Nancy Nadel: Continue reading

Jody London v. Brian Rogers v. Tennessee Reed: LWV District 1 School Board Candidate Forum Recap

To be honest, I feel a little bit out of my league here. I wish there was someone else out there putting this kind of time into, because I’m far from an expert on the schools. I’m not a parent, although I hope to be someday, and would love to think that by then, Oakland might have a public school system that I feel comfortable sending my children to. If I had kids right now, I’d probably move. Anyway, I’m writing about the school board because of the volume of requests to cover the race I received from readers, and I spent a lot of time doing background research and I will do my absolute best to answer any questions people have. I’m doing the other school board races next week. Continue reading

CBD, back at ZUC

The Central Business District (that means downtown) zoning update is back at the Zoning Update Committee today, and even though the Commissioners directed staff at the last meeting to come back with a new proposal that does not have height limits except in the historic areas, staff has, naturally, returned with a proposal that still has height/size restrictions everywhere. Why they insist on this bizarre tower/base architectural style is beyond me. Anyway, read all about it over at

I love Desley Brooks!

Except when I don’t, of course. Desley Brooks makes me really mad sometimes (I strongly disagree with her positions regarding the Equal Access Ordinance, for example), but I really, really, really love that she consistently questions implementation and feasibility of the proposals that come before the Council to a degree that no one else on the Council does. She rocks! The proposal heard last night (resolution passed by consensus, but whether we actually do it or not will be decided during budget discussions) for a program authorizing the City Attorney’s office to prosecute infractions and misdemeanors (PDF!) is an issue that really deserves a long post of its own, and something I’ve been meaning to write about for a year now (Seriously! I found one of my old notebooks the other day, and I was reading one of my “blogs to write” lists from last summer, and this topic was on it with like three stars next to it.) and I will definitely do it post-election.

For now, you can read the staff report (PDF!), and I’ll just say that, having watched the discussion of this at Public Safety and Council, this program may be a great idea, but it really just isn’t ready at all right now, and we have no sense of how it’s going to work. Given that, it would be irresponsible to spend over $800,000 funding it at this time.

There was a decent discussion on the item last night, which made me happy. As usual, the quality and reasonableness of Councilmembers’ comments varied widely, but Desley Brooks was perfect and awesome, said exactly what I would have said if I was sitting on that dais, and I just have to share it now:

For those who don’t want to watch the whole video, here’s the highlights:

What we’ve been told by representatives of the DA’s office at numerous neighborhood crime prevention council meetings is that certain cases just aren’t being charged in Oakland. So if we’re using existing resources and a part of why they weren’t charging certain types of cases in Oakland was lack of resources, how does this program then fit in?


We’re going to say that we’ll put the money forward to have these attorneys prosecute these cases, but if we don’t have judges, then the program’s not going to work. And I don’t want to sell the public a bill of goods about what we’re going to do only to say that there aren’t sufficient resources there.

Will this program work? How is it going to work? What is the timeframe in which we expect this to happen? How will whatever program we fund or whatever ordinance we approve actually make a difference in people’s lives? These are the questions that the Council needs to be asking all the time. Real leadership demands more than good intentions, and real progress will never be made if we do not constantly keep our eye on implementation. Implementation! That’s basically the entire point of this blog.


I can’t wait for the elections to be over. I miss writing about the City Council. Anyway, quickly, here are some highlights of what you’ll be missing if you don’t tune into KTOP tonight:

  • Zoning Update: minor edits (PDF!) to the zoning code, none of which interest me all that much, but one of which got some people all worked up. Under the current zoning, to build a three unit project in an R-36 or R-40 zone, you need a Major Conditional Use Permit. Ridiculous! Staff proposed amending the code so that the need for a Major Conditional Use Permit would be triggered at 4 units instead of 3, claiming “This increased threshold better reflects the intent of these zones.”

    R-40, FYI, is the “garden apartment residential zone,” an according to the chapter (Can’t link directly, but it’s 17.22.010) “is intended to create, preserve, and enhance areas containing a mixture of single or two family dwellings and garden apartments in spacious settings for urban living.” The R-36 zone (17.20.010) “is intended to foster the development of small lots that are less than four thousand square feet in size and/or less than forty five feet in width in desirable settings for urban living.”

    When the changes went before CED, the committee changed this aspect of the plan at the request of anti-development activists so that we will continue requiring a Major Conditional Use Permit for 3 unit buildings in these zones. Final passage of the ordinance is tonight.

  • Development appeal. A Council meeting just never feels complete without one of these. The proposal is to build a 115 unit building of affordable senior housing on the corner of MacArthur and High Street. This fight has been dragging on forever. The project has been significantly altered in response to community objection, from an original plan for a 70 foot building with no retail to 60 foot (at the highest point) building with retail space.

    Under the General Plan, the site is designated Neighborhood Center Mixed Use, which would permit 156 units, so the project is actually well below maximum density under the General Plan. The old zoning, which we’re in the process of replacing, would have allowed 91 units, although the Planning Code has a provision allowing a 75% greater number of units with a CUP in the case of senior housing, so the existing zoning for this lot would actually be 159 units.

    Anyway, the Planning Commission approved the project in February, and CRADL (Commercial & Retail Attraction for the Laurel) has, naturally, appealed the decision.

    Why? Well, because (PDF!) “the location is horrible, the economic fallout for the citizens of Oakland is significant and morally the project comes very close to nothing more than a land scam with negative impacts for the prospective elderly residents.” They complain that because the building is for affordable housing, it will deprive the City of necessary property tax revenues and that it would be better for the City to have this lot remain vacant. Also because of “traffic, noise, and air quality.” The Council will deny the appeal, although it’s possible they’ll request modifications to the project.

  • Other stuff of note that I don’t have time to write about right now, but hopefully next week: $50,000 (PDF!) to establish a Food Policy Council for Oakland and $658,455 (PDF!) to have the Cty Attorney’s office prosecute misdemeanors.

And of course, I seem to be maintaining my perfect record of broken blogging promises, and am unlikely to be able to post about the D1 School Board or Downtown Lake Merritt Forum today. Tomorrow, tomorrow! Also, I have a bunch of comments I need to respond to, and I’ll do that tomorrow, too. Also, in case you’re not a regular reader of Oakbook, I wrote a profile of Patrick McCullough over there yesterday people may want to check out.