Monthly Archives: July 2008

High school journalism

In response to my post about the Council meeting on Jean Quan’s proposed Kids First compromise, a reader sent me a link to this column, about a promising, but poorly marketed after-school program at the YCMA on 45th Avenue, which I enjoyed enough to start poking around the rest of the website. The column had appeared in The Green & Gold, a paper published by students at the Media Academy High School in Oakland, part of the Fremont Federation of High Schools.

Anyway, I don’t have the foggiest idea when the last time I read a high school newspaper was, but I had an absolute blast paging through the archives of this one. The product the kids put out really impressed me. I especially enjoyed stories about the girl who started a dance squad, students’ reactions to hearing their school called a dropout factory, seniors mentoring underclassmen with poor study habits, and clashes with teachers over texting in class. And then my favorite – a delightful little debate on a school program called code-switch, in which students are expected to use only academic English during classes. I love it! You guys should totally go check it out.

Kent Lewandowski: Good Jobs, Clean Air

I am one of the activists who participated in the the labor-environment rally and march on Tuesday, 7/22 from downtown Oakland to the Port. I asked V if she was planning to cover the event, and since even she can’t cover everything that goes on in Oakland, she invited me to submit a guest post. I figured I wouldn’t get this chance twice, so here goes.

If you didn’t catch it, there was a labor-environment rally on 7/22 from downtown Oakland to the Port. The rally was under the motto “Good Jobs, Clean Air” (or vice versa, depending on your point of view) and was organized by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. This is a group of pro-labor, social justice, and environmental activist organizations that have joined together to demand a change in the current structure for goods movement at the major U.S. seaports. At issue is the freedom of truckers to organize.

There was a great deal of noise as we passed through “Old Oakland” on our way to the Port. Note to the organizers: the air was not particularly clean during this rally. Anyways, it was loud, noisy, and people were in a good mood. It was something new for me to walk alongside Teamsters, EBASE, ACORN, and other groups. But that probably captures the essence of the “Blue/Green Coalition” – the Labor/Environmental alliance. In this case, environmentalists like me (I volunteer with Sierra Club) are collaborating with activists who are louder and “dirtier” (like the Teamster trucks lining our march) than we generally are.

The coalition has have had some success in southern California getting the Ports there to agree to restructure the Port trucking model. Known as the Clean Trucks Program, the LA Harbor Commission has adopted a plan to reduce harmful diesel pollution by 80 percent over the next five years and give port drivers the right to form a union. It’s important to note that Mayor Villaraigosa was actively involved and supportive in L.A., and that the plan had the backing of 10+ years of community organizing behind it. We are hoping for the same thing in Oakland. It was encouraging to see Mayor Dellums join Mayor V. on a podium prior to the rally and voice his own support (I was not at the rally yet when he spoke, and thus cannot comment on Mayor Dellums’ remarks). At the Port afterwards, where I was standing behind the speakers, a number of speeches were made while we all stood in the sun and (most) shouted encouragement. I recall a lot of enthusiasm (and response) to Assembly member Sandre Swanson’s remarks in particular, saying that “street heat is sometimes necessary.” Others who spoke were Port Commissioners Margaret Gordon and Tony Iton, Sharon Cornu from the Alameda County Central Labor Council, Jerry Brown, Loni Hancock and Teamsters Vice President Chuck Mack, to name a few. The mayors V. and D. were conspicuously absent on this end of the rally.

So you may ask, what’s all the noise about? Aren’t we all dependent on the Port as an engine for the local economy? Well, yes, it’s true, there are a lot of jobs associated with our Port. If you take one of their free harbor tours, the docent will tell you that 25% of all jobs in Oakland depend either directly or indirectly on Port activity (it’s hard to verify this claim, but according to their own economic impact report (PDF), the Port’s jobs effect is significant). And it’s also true that impending environmental regulations do cost money and in some cases, can cause jobs in one particular sector to be lost. However, some activists, and I would include myself in this group, feel that we don’t need to be pitting jobs vs. environmental regulations to achieve a net benefit to the community.

Currently, on any given day, hundreds of truck drivers arrive at the Port to wait in long lines of idling trucks to pick up a load for delivery somewhere around the country. Many if not most of these drivers are classified as “independent owner/ operator,” and are at the bottom of the transportation food chain. They are not unionized, and cover all their own expenses, including health care and insurance. Estimates I have read from EBASE are between $8 and hour to $10 an hour (PDF) in take-home pay for these truckers after they subtract expenses. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board, is requiring that these owner/operators retire or replace (PDF) all pre-1994 engines, and additionally outfit their trucks with diesel emission control devices. The owner/operator is then faced with the decision to go deeper into debt, to get out of the business, or to break the law. We in the coalition fear that these choices are not acceptable, and that the situation is so bad, both for the community, and for the drivers, that a new solution that mandates an employee model for Port drivers is the best step. If this means that the drivers are “free to organize” – so be it. If it means our hairdryers (if you use one) cost $12 instead of $10 – then that’s good. In the new scenario, where truckers get paid a living wage plus benefits, we’d be paying some of the “externalized cost,” in terms of health care and environmental degradation, associated with the goods movement to bring us our hairdryers, radios, TVs, apples, T-shirts and washing machines. And, due to the increase in cost of labor, shippers will no longer have any incentive to hold so many drivers idling in a queue to pick up their containers. At least, that is the idea. Time will tell if this turns out to be true. I remain hopeful.

Taking the week off

Things feel, from where I sit at least, particularly grim in Oakland lately. Thinking and writing about it just makes me really sad. So I’m taking a break.

If the Council can have nine weeks of vacation, I deserve at least one, right?

Oakland employment per capita, 1995 and 2005

If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend reading dto510′s take on Dellums’s “mistakes were made” press conference yesterday.

The whole thing is worth reading. I don’t have much to add, but I do want to respond to a challenge in the post that I’m pretty sure was directed at me:

Perhaps a more research-oriented blogger may look at how many employees we have per-capita, but since…

dto510 is in luck! Thanks to a truly amazing product called the Statistical Abstract of the United States, I, without doing any research or even math of my own, can tell you that Oakland, as of 2005, had 138 full time equivalent (FTE) positions per 10,000 residents, up from 128 in 1995. I can also tell you that during the ten years we added those 400 new positions, our payroll more than doubled, and the average monthly earnings for full-time employees swelled from $4,483 to $7,397.

How do we compare to other large cities? See for yourself (PDF).

And really, please do head over to Future Oakland and read “Dellums admits budget errors, prepares to make more.

Mayor Ron Dellums to review his own budget

So Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who apparently thinks the appropriate action to take after performing just about as poorly as a reasonable person could conceive of, and when one’s job approval is only thirty-five percent, is to strut around grandstanding, is now announcing (PDF!) “that he will be reevaluating the city of Oakland’s budget deficit.”

So…remember how all Spring, everyone was saying $50 million, $60 million for the budget deficit? Then the mid-cycle budget came out, and it was only $15 million, and it was all surprising and everyone was so relieved? Of course now we all know, as the Mayor’s press release puts it, the budget deficit “could be significantly higher than what was presented during the previous mid-cycle budget review.” So…yeah, I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that someone’s going to have to review the budget, now that we’re all aware it was wrong. And I’m sure we’re all very happy the Mayor has decided to join the party.

Let’s take a second, shall we, to step back and remember who was responsible for this budget in the first place. It’s him. The Mayor submits the budget to the Council! Remember how he turned it in two weeks late? Back then, he was all pleased with it:

This was a very difficult process, but in collaboration with city department heads, I have put forth a series of budget proposals to ensure that Oakland maintains its ability to provide the highest quality services for our residents and businesses.

You know, when I was little, I also used to resort to the passive voice when I had done something bad and didn’t want to get spanked:

Dad: V, what happened to my creepy fossil?
V: It got knocked onto the ground and broke!
Dad: How did it get knocked onto the ground, V?
V: I don’t know, but I’m going to order a review of the event.

Even at six years old, I pretty much knew it wasn’t going to work (although I think this tactic had a significantly better chance of keeping me out of trouble than my little sister’s, which was “Grandpa did it.”) That sort of crap might be mildly cute when a child is saying it, but when it’s coming from the mouth of the, as the Mayor loves to keep reminding us, “Chief Executive” of the City, the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility is just plain pathetic.

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Council says no to Jean Quan’s Kids First Compromise

The vote was 6-2, with only Jean Quan and Nancy Nadel voting in favor.

Pat Kernighan and Ignacio De La Fuente patiently provided the large audience of extremely rude teenagers very clear explanations of why the City simply cannot afford the increase, although Pat said that she would be requesting the Council increase the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth funding to either 3% or 3.5% of the unrestricted General Fund (up from 2.5% currently). I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to fly in light of a budget deficit rumored to be around $90 million, but I guess that’s an issue to be worked out later.

Ignacio De La Fuente said that placing a compromise measure on the ballot would only lead to further ballot box budgeting, and that if they consented to this, they could expect similar set-asides for seniors, parks, and whatever else people desperately want and just doesn’t get enough funding.

Jane Brunner made me happy by including a brief comment in her remarks about how programs funded through OFCY should be scrutinized more heavily for their outcomes, so that we can give more money to the ones that work better. That’s all I’m saying!

More later.

Recess, vacation

I agree that the Council doesn’t meet often enough. Meetings that routinely drag on until after 2 AM limit citizen participation and engagement in government, and there’s just no excuse, when agendas are this heavy, to maintain a bi-weekly meeting schedule.

But I am not upset that the Council, following today’s meetings, will be beginning their summer recess. Recess allows the Council and their staff some time to step back and work on things they will be bringing forth during the fall session. A lot of people seem to be upset by this. The Chronicle comments are full of people screaming about the Council’s six week vacation.

A recess from meetings does not equal a vacation. People can take a vacation during recess, and often do, because, well, it’s an obvious time to take one. But people need to stop acting like the entire Council and their staff is hopping on a six week cruise starting tomorrow morning or something. They’re just not having meetings. It isn’t the same thing at all.

Ron Dellums, making things up. As usual.

Probably the single that annoys me the most about Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is his habit of phrasing everything in these absurd, sweeping, hyperbolic statements. I don’t understand why he insists on doing it. Things can be good without being the best. Progress can be laudable without being unprecedented. The problem with using superlatives to describe every damn thing that you talk about is that most of the time, you’re going to be wrong. And there’s nothing I hate more than listening to people say things that are flat out not true.

And there’s no politician in Oakland who loves to say things that are just plain wrong than Ron Dellums. I’ve observed before that the Mayor appears to simply make up numbers off the top of his head when he speaks, just citing figures and “facts” that sound good to him, completely disregarding whether or not they bear any relationship to reality.

And so it was the other day, when I was listening to him talk, for reasons I didn’t entirely understand, about base reuse, and he proudly informed his audience that “Every study that has ever been done in this country” about base closures has demonstrated that after the base closure, the community has been economically enriched and more jobs were created than were ever supplied by the military base.

Why would anyone say such a thing? It’s just one of those statements that’s just patently, on its face, not true. “Every study that’s ever been done in this country”? Why!!!?? Why, why, why would you say that? No matter what you’re claiming, there’s going to be some study, done somewhere, sometime that says you’re wrong. But what’s even more annoying about Dellums’s assertion is that our very own EBASE released a report (PDF) on exactly that subject only a few weeks ago, and it says the opposite of what Dellums is claiming:

Replacing lost jobs with positions of equal or higher quality continues to challenge local reuse authorities. Civilian jobs on military bases tend to offer family-supporting wages with benefits, but new job creation fails to meet this standard. As shown in Table 1, at Fort Ord, none of the industries targeted in the reuse plan pay a basic family wage. At Norton, where the greatest job creation has occurred, the average wages of targeted industries fall just short of the basic family wage. Only McClellan’s reuse plans include jobs that exceed the basic family wage, but only for a portion of the jobs. In Oakland, where final decisions are yet to be made, reuse officials must choose between lower-paying retail jobs, or warehouse and logistics jobs that would pay higher wages and offer a more accessible career ladder.

Of the four decommissioned bases studied in the report, including our very own Oakland Army Base, only one has so far managed to create jobs in excess of those lost when the base closed. (Even this is confusing to me, since although the chart provided shows that 13,000 jobs have been created on the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernadino, the section that discusses that base says “To date, the businesses at Alliance California have replaced early 70% of the total jobs lost.” Who knows.)

Dellums then went on to talk about the “wonderful process” going on in Oakland right now to pick a master developer for our very own Army Base, which I actually do agree has been moving along quite nicely since the fall, even if it did take us like 15 years to get here. But he had to ruin even that, by reiterating his mindless nonsense promise about how it’s going to create 10,000 jobs:

“Whatever development that comes there will generate 10,000 jobs.

Reality check. Each respondent to the RFQ included in their response the number of jobs their concept was expected to generate. These are the totals offered by the four finalists. AMB/CCG: 3,809. Federal: 4,050. First Industrial Realty: 2,600. Prologis: 7,920.

Please, please, please, for the sake of my sanity, Ron Dellums, STOP SAYING THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE I HATE IT SOOOO MUCH IT DRIVES ME CRAZY OMG!!!!!!!

Jean Quan on waste in City spending

In Councilmember Jean Quan’s most recent newsletter (and by the way, no matter how many negative things I have to say about Jean Quan, that woman deserves major props for putting out an incredible weekly newsletter), she has a section where she discusses the parcel tax for police the Council just voted to place on the ballot, including a helpful little Q&A section, in which she addresses the issue of waste in the City budget:

Why can’t you just cut the waste/corruption?

Following from above, while I believe we can be more efficient and we may find some inappropriate and unapproved expenditures, the worst case scenario numbers we are looking at are probably not near a million at this point. There is not $40-60 million in waste or misspending. $1 million would fund about 4 officers. (emphasis added)

In the same newsletter, she discusses her proposed Kids First 2 compromise ballot measure (PDF), which the Council will consider at a special meeting (PDF) Tuesday morning. Quan’s proposal would gradually increase the amount of unrestricted General Fund revenue that gets set-aside for the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, from 2.5% currently to 5% starting seven years from now, an increase from $10 million this year to $12.7 million next year to $23 million in the seventh year. On this subject, she says:

While I am still generally opposed to measures that tie the hands of the Council basically forever; this proposal is significantly better. It is less and would be phased in over much longer period of time. Most significantly, it requires that at least 25% of the funds be done in collaboration with City agencies and that partnership should be positive. If done well, it might not mean cuts in other city programs and in the short term could increase funding if city proposals are competitive.

So…am I the only one who’s seeing something of a disconnect here? There’s less than a million dollars in waste in the entire city, but we can somehow double the amount of funding we’re providing to the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth without cutting any other City programs? How does that work?

Read more about Kids First 2 on the Oakbook.

Jean Quan continues to be totally out of touch

So this morning, Ron Dellums and Sandre Swanson held an event at the new Forest City Uptown Project to, I don’t know, talk about how great it is or something. Never one to miss an opportunity to stand in front of a camera, Jean Quan showed up. She jumped in to share her thoughts about the project, telling everyone that it’s important to remember that unlike most new developments downtown, the Forest City project is rental units, not ownership. This is true. It is important to remember that. Not nearly enough rental housing gets built in this town. But then she lost me, when she followed that statement with:

This ensures that families who can’t afford to buy condos can live downtown.

She then repeated variations of that sentence like 4 times, with multiple references to “working people.” (As if everyone who buys a condo just sits around all day eating peeled grapes and living off a trust fund or something.)

So, there’s no question that Uptown is totally drool worthy, and a wonderful addition to downtown. I’m not planning on moving in, but I am hoping to make friends with someone who does, so I can hang out at their pool. But at $2,400/month for a two bedroom apartment, I’m thinking Quan has a very different idea of what’s within the reach of all these “working people” than me or just about anyone else in Oakland.

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