Monthly Archives: April 2010

OMG. OMG. New OMCA is AWESOME!

What are you guys doing this weekend?

If your plans don’t involve stopping by the opening weekend festivities at the newly re-opened Oakland Museum, OMG, change them right now!

I always liked the Oakland Museum. Before it closed, I used to enjoy visiting the gardens on a semi-regular basis, and not infrequently go there to pick up lunch, since it was the only place anywhere near where I work you could find even remotely edible food. So I’ve really missed the Museum since it closed at the end of last summer. Whenever they had a special exhibit, I would try to make sure I went to see it, and I think I managed to catch most of them since I’ve lived here. And for the most part, found them really enjoyable. I recall particularly loving the ones about California fashion and Henry J. Kaiser.

Anyway, despite being fond of the Museum, I never used to spend that much time with their permanent collection, and in general I found their galleries kind of drab and unengaging. So of course I was delighted at the prospect of the renovation, even though it meant I would have nowhere to go get a decent lunch for nine months.

So I went to check it out last night, and O.M.G.! I don’t know what I was expecting from the remodel, but it certainly wasn’t as cool as this. It was amazing.

The whole place in general just feels, I don’t know, bigger. The way everything is laid out now makes it feel like there’s more there than there used to be, but also that it’s more open and spacious, which I know sounds weird, but is somehow true. And there are all these delightful surprises around, like, every corner. Like the gold wall below.

Oakland Museum Gold Art

I went to this media event for the museum renovation last December. Over lunch, they gave this long presentation about how they were all about making the museum interactive and making the visitor part of the experience and not making it like a traditional museum at all. At the time, I thought it all sounded really cool and exciting, but then couldn’t really picture what that would actually mean or what they were talking about.

They did give us a little tour of the art gallery under construction, but it was so under construction at that point that I had a hard time really imagining what it was really going to look like when it was all finished. So during that tour, they showed us this one example of their new interactive features, which wasn’t all finished at the time but I thought sounded cool, and it was this wall of self-portraits, with a little computer drawing pad next to it where you’re supposed to draw your own self-portrait and then all the pictures people drew of themselves cycle through and become part of the exhibit. How cool is that?

Oakland Museum Self-Portrait Art

And there are tons of cushy seating areas all over the place too, which I think is kind of neat, just encouraging people to lounge and hang out around the art. The painting below has these really nice lounge chairs in front of it, and they come with headphones that when you play them, take you through this exercise to help you connect with the painting. The message at the beginning said the exercise would take eight minutes, but my dates were too impatient to let me go through the whole thing, and I got called away pretty close to the beginning, while the message on the headphones was telling me to focus on my breathing. So sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to connect with this painting last night. But I’m sure I’ll be back.

Oakland Museum Art

Oh! This one was neat. Again, there are headphones, which I think are a little bit of false advertising. It says “listen to people’s conversations about whether or not things are art” or something like that, but the way it was phrased, I thought it was like, I don’t know, recordings of actual funny conversations people had in the museum that they recorded or something. I mean, I realize that would be kind of creepy, but still, the scripted (and poorly delivered) conversation on that they played for you was pretty weak. However, this little section was still wicked cool. You get to take little tickets and vote on each of the items whether or not they are art.

Oakland Museum Is it Art?

I got it wrong.

Here’s a view of Lake Merritt from the gardens. How amazing is that going to look when the 12th Street Bridge project is all finished? OMG.

Oakland Museum Lake Merritt View

So, as much fun as I had in the art gallery, I have to admit that I’m not actually much of an art person. Or really an art person at all. I love history, though, and I love history museums, so I was like, salivating all day yesterday at the prospect of getting to go after work and see what they’d done with the history gallery. Sadly, our time there was kind of rushed because they were about to close.

But from what we were able to see, it is super, super cool — even cooler than what they’ve done with the art. There are just neat little surprises every which way you turn, and all sorts of boxes and drawers and chests and stuff to open and find neat new treats inside. I loved this wall about the Europeans coming to California on their big ships, although the waves out the little window made me kind of dizzy after a while.

Oakland Museum History Exhibit

And just like they promised during that presentation in December, they really do have all sorts of ways they encourage people to participate with the exhibits.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the room was the bulletin board, and a note on it that said something like “The new Oakland Museum is awesome!”. And I thought that was so great, and I knew I had to take a picture of it. But then I walked into it more, and I saw that it was even cooler than I had thought. The sign above the desk explained that they used to take naturalists on the the ships so they could draw pictures of the new species they encountered. So I guess it was supposed to be, like, the naturalist’s desk. And they had paper and pencils and this bulletin board, and I looked at the bulletin board again, and I saw that most people had not written notes like the one that had caught my attention at first, but drawn pictures of birds. Like the ship naturalists! It was really neat.

Oakland Museum History Exhibit

So of course I just had to draw one of my own. I tried to think of something an explorer would find in California, so I decided I would draw a wolf. It didn’t end up looking like a wolf at all, I’m afraid. Or like anything. I mean, maybe a cross between a badly drawn owl and dog and fox. Really badly drawn. I can’t draw anything. And even if I could, I am not sure exactly what a wolf looks like. But I thought the idea was just so neat I had to play along.

Here is my favorite of the pictures people had drawn. If you can’t read it, the note says “I saw this in my garden this morning. What is it?” Hahaha!

Oakland Museum Dinosaur

They had a great little exhibit about the Gold Rush. Part of it was you could look at different careers and see how much they paid during the Gold Rush. Then they had a calculator and a formula so you could see how much this job would pay now. I picked one up and it was for a cook. This was interesting to me because I used to be a cook. It said that in the Gold Rush, a cook for the miners would earn like $450 a week. I was shocked! Forget multiplying it by 28 or whatever, that’s like how much I used to make like five years ago cooking at a Michelin starred restaurant! OMG.

Also in the Gold Rush section, they had this like tree stump that instructed you to sit on it and when you did, it was like you were in a photo booth. Which made me want to take a picture. Which I did, of das88. He said I could use it on the blog, but only if I made it sepiatone. So I did. Say hi!

Oakland Museum Photo Booth

There was so much cool stuff going on all over the history gallery, and we really did just have to completely dash through it, which was a little sad. But also made me very excited about going back, because there are so many cool toys to play with. They’ve got this one like, electronic map table that you can touch and go over with a computer magnifying glass and move pictures all around — okay, I’m going to stop trying to explain that one because I know what I’m saying is making no sense. But trust me, it’s like straight out of CSI.

And in several different spots in the history gallery, they invite visitors to share their experience of California. Like, they’ll have a wall that asks “What do you remember about these years?” and in front of it index cards and tape and pencils. The wall in the photo below is a big long timeline, and it asks visitors to write on a post-it note what they think was the most important thing that happened since 1975 and put it up on the wall in the spot for the year it happened.

I loved looking at all the different kinds of responses people had for this. I thought the photo below captured the kind of mix pretty well. There was another note right below the Prop 13 one that was like “My daughter was born and has brought joy to my life every single day ever since” or something like that.

Oakland Museum Post-It Wall

Here’s another of their cool little photo booth stations. This one has a bunch of labels that you can pick and hold in front of yourself, like you’re an exhibit too. All the choices were pretty cute. I was pretty amused by the ones dto510 and das88 picked.

Oakland Museum Photo Booth

Okay, enough of my photos. But I hope you get the idea. The new Oakland Museum is wicked cool. They have done an incredible job with their renovation, and I cannot wait to go back. Not only can I not wait to go back, but I can’t wait to take other people there too. I am so dragging both my little sisters there when they come visit me this summer, even though they will totally bitch and whine about how museums are boring and they want to go to Union Square instead, because I know that once they get there, they are going to flip out over how cool it is and they’re going to have a great time and won’t be able to stop talking about it.

So, in conclusion, go to the Museum. It’s awesome. As I’m sure you’ve heard, they are going to open for 31 straight hours this weekend to celebrate the re-opening, and they’re going to have all sorts of crazy events, and they’re trying to make #CALIFORNIA a trending topic on twitter on Saturday night, and it is all going to be free all weekend. But of course if you don’t want to brave the crowds, you just go and check it out next week or something. They’re open until 8 on both Thursdays and Fridays!

And, of course, you can always become a member of the museum, and then you can go visit anytime you want, as much as you want, for free.

Oh, and for higher quality pictures and some great information about the renovation, check out the excellent story about the reopening from last weekend’s Trib.

OUSD Teacher Strike coverage

No, you’re not going to get any from me.

I don’t write about the schools, not because I don’t think they’re important, but because it is a whole other complicated subject and I simply do not have the time to learn enough to do a decent job of it. But the strike is a big deal, and also I noticed that the discussion on the Great Oakland Public Schools guest post has been revived this week, so I figured I should probably at least acknowledge it and post some links for reference.

Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones has a blog up at Oakland Seen inviting community members to picket this morning and come to a rally in front of City Hall from noon to 2 to show support for the teachers. Great Oakland Public Schools posted a very thoughtful statement about the strike and OUSD’s budget situation on their blog. And I think my favorite thing I’ve read about the issue all week is definitely Robert Gammon’s great post on the East Bay Express blog about why he’s sending his child to school during the strike, which I think did a really good job communicating what a horrible thing the OEA is doing to Oakland’s children and families.

Anyway, for reports on this morning’s events (and I assume this afternoon’s rally), check out Oakland Tribune reporter Katy Murphy’s blog, The Education Report, which has from about the picket lines at a bunch of different schools. Also, you can follow Murphy on Twitter.

Oh, and for a blast from the past, check out this blog dto510 wrote four years ago about how damaging a teacher’s strike would be for Oakland’s children and public school system.

Links for further reading

Another “special” budget meeting tomorrow night

Tomorrow, the Oakland City Council will hold yet another one of everyone’s favorite events — a special budget meeting.

You may recall the proposals for balancing the FY2010-11 budget introduced for discussion last special budget meeting, back at the beginning of the month. A number of people who went to the meeting complained to me afterwards that the Council didn’t do anything. I felt bad for them wasting their time, like I should have warned them nothing was going to happen.

How did I know nothing was going to happen? Well, for one, the meeting was scheduled right after a furlough day and right before a long weekend, so like half the City was on vacation. I mean, just looking at the timing, there wasn’t even a pretense of taking it seriously. But the other reason, of course, was that they didn’t have to do anything just yet, and if we’ve learned anything from the last two years of constant budget misery, the Council will never, ever do anything until they absolutely have to.

Anyway, for those who have blocked the proposal from earlier this month out of their minds, here’s a refresher. The Council needs to close a $42.6 million deficit for the next fiscal year. Here’s how staff has proposed they do it

  • Sell the Kaiser Convention Center and other City property. ($12.8 million)
  • Cut some staff and services, cut some grants to cultural institutions, get some new revenue through additional billboards ($9.3 million)
  • New taxes on the November ballot ($20.6 million)

The recommended taxes include an additional quarter-cent sales tax, an increase in the utility tax, and a hefty new parcel tax for police.

Tomorrow night, the Council is being asked by staff to do two things: agree to let staff start the process of selling the Kaiser Convention Center and begin the process of considering placing new taxes on November’s ballot.

What’s the story with the Kaiser Convention Center?

Ever since last fall, when the idea of selling the Kaiser Convention Center (KCC) first started floating around, I often get asked stuff like “Why do they think they can sell the Kaiser Center? Who would even buy it?”. Hell, if I had ten million dollars, I would! Seriously. The KCC is an amazing building, and the City is ready to give it away for like, nothing. I don’t see why they should have any trouble finding potential buyers.

The other common reaction, of course, is people being outraged that the City would consider selling off such a treasured public resource or whatever. I love the Kaiser Center as much as the next person, really. I desperately wanted the City to do something special with the space. There are some people in Oakland who wanted it to be Oakland’s Main Library more than me, and who worked harder than I did to make that happen four years ago, but you could probably count them on your fingers. But Measure N failed, and the Kaiser Center has been closed for five years and the City can’t do anything with it and it is this beautiful building just sitting there rotting and closed to the public and I don’t see the City ever getting it together to do something good with it. So I have no problem with us selling it to someone who can.

Who would buy the Kaiser Center?

Of course, then there’s the question of who would buy it. I’m guessing that very few people would be down with the City selling it to some developer who wants to demolish it and replace it with like a 100 story condo tower, which is the nightmare scenario you always hear from the people who are against the idea of selling. But pretending, as some do, that that’s the only option is just silly.

The only interested buyer I can recall being mentioned at any of the Council’s budget meetings is the Peralta Community College District. A couple of months ago, District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel said that they were interested in using the space for a library. I don’t follow Peralta stuff that closely, but my understanding is that, while they have a serious budget crisis in terms of funding operations, they also have a rather large pot of available funds restricted to capital projects.

I think a library would be a great use of the space if they wanted to do that, and in my dreams we could do some kind of partnership and the Kaiser Center would be a joint library for the City and Laney College. Sort of like what San Jose has going on with their Main library also being the library for San Jose State University. But joint projects are tricky and so who knows if that could ever get off the ground. It’s entirely conceivable that Peralta could buy the building and not go the library route (whether joint or solo) at all, and do something entirely different with the space.

It’s not hard to imagine other parties being interested as well. Indoor sports and concerts are two obvious possible uses of the building that come to mind, but I don’t think the options end there. There are some space-intensive non-profit uses that might be a good fit, it could work well as some sort of museum or exhibit hall. Who knows? Basically, I think it’s easy to see a lot of great ways someone other than the City of Oakland could put the building to use, so I don’t think there’s any reason to get all panicked about the idea of selling it. We’ll see what happens.

What about the police parcel tax?

Obviously, sitting around imagining paying more taxes for the same level of service is a lot less fun than daydreaming about all the cool things that could happen at the Kaiser Center. And Measure NN, the parcel tax for increased police services on the November 2008 ballot, didn’t come anywhere even close to passing. What does that mean for the prospects of another one?

Well, there are a few key differences. Measure NN was supposed to increase the size of the police force, adding both sworn officers and civilian staff. There’s a large constituency in Oakland for more police, but people in general tend to become accustomed to what they already have. They will often say in the abstract that they want more, but when faced with a couple hundred dollar a year price tag to get it, enthusiasm tends to dampen. Add to that the fact that there was essentially no campaign for Measure NN, and its failure really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.

Could a police parcel tax pass now?

Well, maybe. I mean, I don’t think it’s anything approaching a given, and it might be a pretty big stretch. But I don’t see it as totally outside the realm of possibility either.

For one, the City’s budget situation is exponentially more dire than it was in 2008. Back in June of that year, everyone acted like it was a big deal having to close a $15 million budget hole. When an additional $42 million shortfall was announced shortly after the City Council elections in June, that was really kind of the first taste Oaklanders got of the painful choices ahead.

Shortly before that election, the Mayor coughed up a proposal that filled much of the deficit with one-time funds and cost transfers, but left $10 million in cuts on the table for the Council to figure out. After a lot of heated debate, they cobbled together the savings without making any really awful service cuts. So for a lot of people, things probably just didn’t seem all that bad.

Since then, we’ve gone through more rounds of new budget cuts than I care to count. In the process, we’ve slashed library services and street maintenance, given up on routine care of like half our parks and public spaces, cut City employee salaries, and made dramatic across-the-board staff cuts Citywide, many of which have had devastating impacts on service delivery. And of course, used a lot of tricks and one time solutions in the process. The one thing that’s been protected throughout the last two years of constant budget cuts has been sworn public safety staffing.

There really isn’t any other choice

There’s not a lot left to do, folks. More accurately, there’s nothing left to do. At this point, police and fire is such a huge part of the General Fund spending, that there is quite literally not enough money left to close the gap without touching them (which also means giving up Measure Y taxes too). Unless, of course, you bring in some more money. Hence the proposed parcel tax.

So when you hear the dilemma phrased as a choice between more taxes and laying off police officers, it’s not some random empty threat. Will people believe that? I really have no idea. Nobody likes the idea of laying off police. On the other hand, a lot of people really don’t trust the City with their money. And why should they? They agreed to pay more money for increased police staffing six years ago and look what happened.

Hell, I do believe they need the money, and I don’t even know if I’d vote for it. This is a totally fucked up situation both the City and the taxpayers are in, and both the impossible budget situation and the lack of trust voters have in their City government are the direct result of a series of terrible, terrible decisions on the part of the City Council going back a number of years.

Do the City deserve more money?

No! Of course not! But who gets hurt if we don’t give it to them? Not them. Us.

I’m sure that at least some of you have suffered through those just truly hellish situations where a friend or significant other or family member gets messed up in some kind of addiction or other similarly self-destructive behavior and just keeps doing the best they can over and over and over again to just completely fuck up their life and every time they get themselves into trouble, they come back to you to bail them out. And they promise if you do, it will be different in the future, or maybe sometimes they don’t even bother to promise to try to change, they just insist you have to help because if you don’t something even more terrible will happen to them, and you have to do it because you love them and know you could never live with yourself if it did. And even if you refused to help and did just cut them off entirely, even that wouldn’t make it better, because you know the consequences of their behavior are going come back on you and other people you care about anyway, and that’s going to be awful too. And this cycle of total misery just doesn’t stop and it like takes over your life and you are just so frustrated and so angry at them and the world and yourself all the time and powerless to do anything to stop it because there really just is no way to end it that isn’t just too horrible to imagine.

If you’ve never gone through that, well, you are very lucky and I really hope you never do. But that’s sort of the way I feel about the City more and more lately. I mean, it’s not the same, obviously. It’s a million times less personal and on a whole different scale. But part of the reason why I haven’t been writing as much lately is because every time I sit down and try, everything I have to say is just so, I don’t know, angry, and I don’t want this blog to become just like an endless stream of crazy ranting but sometimes I have a hard time doing anything else, because it is just so hard to find anything positive to say. I’m just a happier person if I focus on other things in my life and don’t think about the City. Because this whole budget thing? It doesn’t end well. It just doesn’t. I know people want to believe there is some easy answer and a bunch of low hanging fruit out there and all this money that can be saved without anything bad happening, but please listen to me when I tell you thatit is just not true.

I know it’s awful to think about and awful to hear, but there just really is no good answer or magic solution to this. The budget is not going to get solved without making a lot of people really miserable (likely both taxpayers and employees) at some point, and I get why people want to delay the inevitable, but at the same time it’s just like can we please get this over with already so it can just be done and we can stop worrying about it and just deal with the carnage and figure out how to pick up the pieces and move on? And watching the Council spend two freaking years just spinning their wheels and going in circles and putting off action endlessly and making temporary band aid solutions and refusing to so much as start talking about what steps we have to take to begin the slow, painful process of getting us out of this mess — well, as I suppose you can tell from my rambling above, I just don’t know what to say. It’s maddening.

Anyway, if you can stomach it, the Council’s next special budget meeting (PDF) will be held tomorrow at 5:30 PM at City Hall. If you go, or watch on KTOP, do me a favor and tweet it, cause I just can’t deal with sitting through another one and will be spending my evening at the Oakland Museum instead. But I do like to know what’s going on.

It’s National Library Week! Plus, Symphony tonight!

When was the last time you visited the Oakland Public Library? I ask, because we are nearing the end of National Library Week, and as a longtime library evangelist (and library worker), I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without some sort of mention.

National Library Week often gets a lot of buzz, and I’m not sure why it didn’t around these parts this year. Maybe because there was no big event? Often a famous writer will come speak at that nice auditorium in the Oakland Museum to celebrate the week, but this year, there was nothing, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the Museum is closed so there was nowhere to have the event? (Speaking of which, OMG, how excited are you guys for the museum re-opening? It’s only 2 weeks away, and it’s going to be awesome.)

Or maybe there was no event because the Friends of the Oakland Public Library was too busy raising money for the awesome new 81st Avenue Branch Library to put anything together.

New 81st Avenue Library

Which reminds me. If you have, like, any cash to spare, you could do a whole lot worse than sending some of it FOPL’s way. They have received two challenge grants to help them fill this beautiful new 21,000 square foot library with books. 21,000 square feet, folks! It takes a lot of books to fill that much space! But you can help. See, with these challenge grants, every $1 you give will mean $5 for the new library. The branch will serve as the library for two adjacent schools as well. Don’t let all those kids come back to school next fall and find a bunch of empty shelves! You can help out by clicking the button below and making sure you write “81st Ave Library” in the space marked “designation.”

Donate to FOPL

And if you haven’t been to your local library in a while, check it out soon. They really are amazing places.

Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra

Have you been to see the Oakland Symphony yet this season? They’ve put on four great shows (well, I can only vouch for three of them — I was out of town one weekend), and they’ve got only two left. One of which is tonight!

The Oakland Symphony is awesome, and of course any excuse to hang out at the beautiful Paramount Theater is a good one. So if you’re not doing anything tonight, why not head downtown and enjoy one of our most wonderful cultural institutions? Here’s what you can expect from tonight’s program:

The virtuosity of our orchestra will really be showcased in this concert! Strauss’ Don Quixote, based on the humorous novel by Cervantes, dramatically depicts various characters and scenes from the novel using different instruments in the orchestra. The spotlight will be on principal cellist Dan Reiter, whose cello solo represents the character Don Quixote.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 – one of the most popular piano concertos of all time and an early favorite of Michael Morgan’s – will feature rising young star Adam Neiman, hailed as one of the premiere pianists of his generation.

Our second New Visions/New Vistas work premieres tonight. Award-winning composer and performer Benedikt Brydern, who has many film scores to his credit, will offer a vibrant, jazz-infused piece that reflects his long-standing interest in old time jazz and swing.

Okay, have a good weekend, folks. Go to the Symphony! And the Library!

Oh, and tomorrow, head over to Future Oakland and wish dto510 a happy fourth anniversary! That’s a long time to keep a blog going.

Lake Merritt Station Area Plan community meeting tonight

Apologies for the short notice, but I wanted to bring your attention to a community meeting tonight on the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan.

What is the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan, you ask? Well, it’s a joint effort between the City, MTC, BART, and the Peralta Colleges to plan for future development of this area:

Lake Merritt Station Area Plan map

Lord knows the neighborhood around this BART station needs a lot of help. There really is just, like, nothing going on around here. (Except for Madison Square Park, which is quite nice.) I mean, once you get up into Chinatown (much of which is within the planning area), it’s great — you’ve got activity everywhere, and people, and stores, and so on. But seriously, the immediate area surrounding the Lake Merritt BART Station is hella depressing and it is totally embarrassing for Oakland. I work just a few blocks away, but somehow the only time I ever find myself anywhere near there is when I have to go to an MTC meeting (which is almost never a fun experience). And then, the only place around to get anything to eat or even a cup of coffee is the MTC cafeteria! It’s just awful.

A couple of months back, I was looking for a new apartment and having trouble finding anything in my price range, and dto510 found an ad on Craigslist for a place across the street from the Lake Meritt BART station that looked pretty in the photo, and kept harassing me for like a week to go look at it. And I kept insisting that it was not an option because I have no interest in moving to the middle of nowhere. He, in turn, insisted that calling the Lake Merritt BART Station, or anywhere downtown, the “middle of nowhere” was ridiculous, and eventually I broke down and went to look at it.

It was horrible! The building was disgusting and covered with graffiti. Across the street on one side of the apartment was the BART Station, and then across the street on the other side was a vacant lot filled with shipping containers! Besides Laney College and the soon-to-be-reopened Oakland Museum, the neighborhood is a wasteland, and a stunning example of Oakland’s abject failure to take any advantage whatsoever of our assets and resources.

Anyway, so the idea behind this Station Area Plan, which is being paid for by an MTC grant, is to figure out how to deal with this area so that it is no longer a wasteland. Or, as the City puts it:

The City of Oakland, BART and the Peralta Community College District, through a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, have come together to prepare a Station Area Plan for the area around the Lake Merritt BART Station. The Plan will consider land use, buildings, design, circulation, BART improvements, streetscape improvements, parks and public spaces. It will identify actions the City and the other public agencies should take to improve the area, and it will establish regulations for development projects on private property. The project also involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the Station Area Plan.

The planning area is a one-half mile radius around the Lake Merritt BART Station, which encompasses Chinatown, Laney College, civic buildings of Alameda County and Oakland and the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the estuary. Many diverse residents, businesses and students make up the community of this area, and Chinatown functions as a citywide center for the Asian community. The Station Area Plan must address the needs of the community, as well as the needs of BART related to ridership, and the needs of the College District related to education and maximizing the use of their land. BART has stated that it envisions the area transitioning from its current status as an “Urban Neighborhood Station” to a “Regional Center” station type. Completing the environmental review process is also a critical component of the project, so that issues are resolved and development can proceed by tiering off the environmental analysis.

Some of the key objectives of the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan, which will continue to be developed and refined throughout the planning process, include:

  • Increase use of non-automobile modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling, bus, BART, carpooling, ridesharing and other options; and reduce auto use.
  • Increase the housing supply, especially affordable housing for low-income residents. Specifically increase the amount of housing around the BART station.
  • Increase jobs and improve access to jobs along the transit corridor.
  • Provide services and retail options in the station area.
  • Identify additional recreation and open space opportunities

Finally, the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan must provide an impetus for real development projects and specific public improvements. The plan should generate interest, enthusiasm and consensus about new development in the area and establish priorities for public improvement projects.

Tonight is the first of a series of community meetings on the plan, and will be focused on identifying “community goals and key issues of concern.” As with any planning effort, there are a lot of different interest groups with a stake in the final plan. Smart growth advocates want density, affordable housing advocates want affordable housing, preservationists want to make sure that none of the horrible, rotting Victorians in the area are ever replaced with something better, and so on.

Perhaps you find yourself in agreement with some of the more organized advocacy groups. Perhaps you have your own ideas of what should happen in this part of town. Either way, it’s good to get your thoughts in as early in the process as possible. So if you’re not doing anything tonight, you may want to head on down to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Auditorium at 101 8th Street at 6 PM and share your thoughts. And I promise I’ll do a better job giving notice of future meetings.

Another choice for Oakland Mayor?

Based on the comments on last week’s post about your choices for Oakland Mayor, it seems like a lot of you are pretty unhappy with your options. I can’t say I blame you.

So I’m sure that many of you will be happy to know that as of today, you officially might have another choice. At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who has been getting a lot of attention as a possible contender, announced this morning that she is forming an exploratory committee for a Mayoral campaign.

From the Trib:

First-term Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has formed a committee that will allow her to begin fundraising for a possible mayoral campaign, Kaplan announced this morning.

Kaplan has not said definitively whether she will run for the post, but statements in a news release gave strong indications she is likely to do so.

“I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and tackle the issues that face Oakland at this important crossroads for our city’s future,” Kaplan said.

I’ll reserve my thoughts for a future post, but I figured the news is something you guys might want to talk about. So here’s a space to do that.

Here’s the full press release:

OAKLAND, CA April 13, 2010 — City Councilmember At Large Rebecca Kaplan announced today that she has filed necessary paper work to form an exploratory committee for the Oakland mayor’s race in the November 2010 election.

“With this economic and political environment, our community is in need of a bold new vision and leadership,” said Kaplan. “I’m looking at the magnitude of what we need to do to strengthen the local economy, attract jobs and make doing business in Oakland easier, and know it will take dedicated effort.”

Through the exploratory committee Kaplan is looking not only to identify key issues but also to invite input and involve supporters. She plans to address critical concerns including the need for more economic revitalization, local hire policies, and livable communities. Her goal is to “continue to build an Oakland we can all be proud of.” Filing an exploratory committee allows fundraising to begin as well.

Kaplan will be hosting a reception and fundraiser party on Wednesday May 12, 2010 at the historic Cathedral Building in Uptown Oakland located at 1615 Broadway Ave., from 5:30 — 7:00pm.

“I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and tackle the issues that face Oakland at this important crossroads for our city’s future.” Kaplan, who was elected to Oakland’s city-wide Council seat with 62% of the vote, is the first openly-lesbian elected official in Oakland. Helping to modernize city hall by improving its efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness will be part of Kaplan’s top priorities, along with economic revitalization and public safety.

“We need to make it possible to do business more effectively, including providing forms, fees and permits online.’’ Kaplan said. “We need to make creating jobs and doing business in Oakland easier.” Updating our zoning to attract economic opportunity will be part of the groundwork it takes to make the city more serviceable, she added.

Former director for the AC Transit Board, Kaplan, 39, has established herself as a thoughtful policymaker acting for real-world solutions, from updating zoning to landing funds to launch a new free transit shuttle for Oakland’s central corridor. Kaplan’s work experience includes providing financial education and legal referrals to residents facing foreclosure, serving as a State Assembly legislative aide, passing a new vacant/blighted property ordinance, and worked to strengthen the city budget with innovative funding strategies.

Kaplan grew up attending Orthodox Jewish day school, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree, and earned a law degree from Stanford University.

If nothing else, the election just got a lot more interesting.

Bentley School: Shady parking thieves or victim of NIMBYism?

Ah, the Bentley School. It’s this really expensive private school that has an elementary and middle school on the Oakland/Berkeley border kind of near the Claremont Hotel and a high school in Lafayette. I think I worked at catering job for an event at their Lafayette campus like six years ago. They had some kind of lamb with pomegranate thing. And pistachio ice cream for dessert. Beyond that, I don’t really know anything about them.

Except that that issues relating to their non-expansion seem to pop up on Planning Commission agendas an awful lot. And whenever they do, the item always takes a really long time. But there are an awful lot of issues that go on in the City, and I actually follow a couple of times as many of them as I ever get a chance to write about, but time is precious and there are some that I just can’t bring myself to pay attention to.

The ones I tend to ignore mostly tend to have these insanely long backstories and then every time there’s a discussion, everyone is like, really emotional about it, and my reaction is usually something along the lines of “Okay, this seems like a good time to leave and go get a drink.” Bingo is one of those things (though I believe that issue has finally been settled?). That tying up your dog outside a store controversy from a few years ago was another. And so is the Bentley School.

But then Sunday afternoon, I was watching last Wednesday’s Planning Commission (PDF) so I could write for you guys about these requirements they want to make (PDF) for anyone to tear down an old building. And once that item was over, I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to let the movie keep playing and hear about this Bentley School thing while I reorganized my bookshelves. And to my total shock, it turned out to actually be pretty fascinating.

So like I said, I have not been following this at all for the (apparently) like 5 years it’s been in front of the Planning Commission. And as fascinating as I found the discussion, I don’t care about it enough to spend weeks trying to get up to speed. So here’s a brief summary of the situation as I understand it.

Bentley School Background

Back in 1969, the Bentley School got a conditional use permit that allowed them to operate their K-9 school at this location with 200 students, but only operate between 7 AM at 3 PM and not have any events on the evenings and weekends. This school was clearly controversial even back then, cause the permit got appealed to the City Council. (The appeal lost.)

This is where the school is:

Bentley School overhead

So between 1969 and now, the school built a number of new classrooms and expanded some classrooms and other facilities, and in the process, the number of students somehow managed to creep from the permitted 200 to 352 and the school started doing all these after-school activities and holding events at night and on weekends. And somehow nobody noticed that this was totally not allowed. Oops!

Until 2004. Then in 2004, after the Bentley School suddenly discovered that they were totally out of compliance, they came back to the City to ask for a new permit that would let them have 360 students, after school programs, after school child care, summer school, and events at night and on the weekend. The neighbors didn’t like that very much.

I’ll skip over all those debates, and just fast forward to the conclusion, which is that many hearings later, on October 21st, 2009, Bentley School finally got their permit. It came with a long list of conditions.

Bentley School does not like their conditions

One of those conditions was that they cap the number of staff they had on that campus at the current level and not add any more. Another condition was that they move those members of their administrative staff whose work was not specific to this campus off campus, like, for example, to their Lafayette school.

So now, the Bentley School has decided that they can’t move these administrators off campus after all. Why? Because they need them for traffic monitoring during pick-up and drop-off periods for the school. The administrators, you see, all have extensive training in traffic management (as opposed to the teachers, who are trained only in teaching and apparently do not have room in their heads for learning how to make sure children don’t bolt into traffic).

And that’s just day to day safety. What if there’s a fire? Or an earthquake? Well, the school got themselves an emergency preparedness consultant to help their emergency planning, and he too has determined that having these administrators on campus is absolutely essential to the safety of the children in an emergency. “There is no question that the effectiveness of the school’s ability to respond to an emergency would be reduced if there were fewer administrators and support staff on campus.”

Now, as I’m sure you can imagine, the neighbors do not like this idea at all. From a letter sent by Neighbors for Safety in Hiller Highlands to the City regarding the Bentley School’s proposal to change their conditions:

As you know, all of these issues were emotionally charged and hotly contested over five years and an EIR. Major concessions were requested with the subject conditions finally agreed upon. These conditions, as set forth as part of the CUP, were specifically agreed to by Bentley. These conditions were the product of careful negotiation, consideration, and mediation. They were not to be used as a strategy for obtaining the CUP and then attempting to negotiate around the agreed upon conditions. It appears that such a tactic is being attempted at this time. Such conduct must not be condoned.

Good point.

Now, like I said before, I have not followed this issue at all, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time in Hiller Highlands, so I don’t really know all the background details, and I don’t have particularly strong feelings either way. As far as I can tell, this controversy, like pretty much every other debate in Oakland, is all about traffic and parking. Regular readers probably know that I tend not to be terribly sympathetic when people whine about parking. But the comment in favor of Bentley School was so over the top, it bordered on ridiculous. “Our beloved administrators!” Seriously, who talks like that?

Obviously, nobody wants to make light of traffic and earthquake safety. But a deal’s a deal, and if these beloved administrators were just so damn essential to keeping the students safe, it seems like maybe someone from the Bentley School would have said something about how it would be a problem, before they agreed to move them. So by the end of public comment, my conclusion was that the Bentley School is hella shady, and this earthquake scare excuse seems cooked up.

Planning Commission response

The Commission did not seem to be buying it much more than I did. Commissioner Sandra Galvez was like “So, back when you were actually planning on moving all this staff, what were you going to do about earthquakes and traffic monitoring then?” She basically did not get an answer. Commissioner Doug Boxer was a little more direct, like, are you seriously here telling me that if I don’t agree to change the conditions you agreed to six months ago that took five years to arrive at, and then some kid gets hit by a car, it’s my fault? Two other Commissioners were no kinder, and basically both said they thought, like me, that the Bentley School is full of shit. They used nicer words, of course. And everyone wanted to know, if this safety thing was so important, why is it only coming up now?

So, then I was talking to a friend about it, and they were totally on the school’s side. They said that the traffic problems in the neighborhood aren’t the school’s fault, Bentley School is one of the best schools in Oakland, that schools in general should be allowed to expand if they want or need to, because education is important, and that this thing the City dictating how many and what kind of employees a business is allowed to have is just as shady, if not more so, than Bentley School’s new earthquake excuse. And of course, that there’s no reason to think that just because an application was stuck in planning hell for five years, it’s the project sponsor’s fault.

All reasonable points. I also think the idea of the City saying how much and what type of staff the school is allowed is a suspicious thing to do. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like the school did much in the way of giving the City any choice in the matter. I mean, “Oh, we’re sorry our school is nearly twice the size you said it could be. We need a new permit with all these things that weren’t allowed before just to continue our operations. If you deny it, you will rob all these children of a quality education. Why do you hate America?” puts the City in a really bad position. What are they supposed to do, tell the school they have to close? It seems to me, the school made a mess by not following the rules in the first place, so if the City has to make some demands that would be kind of extreme under normal circumstances in order to clean it up, well, that’s Bentley School’s fault.

I pointed out to my friend that I felt more justified in my suspicion of the school based on the fact that Planning Commissioners who tend to be pretty friendly to project applicants came pretty damn close to just calling the school huge liars. (Response from one of the school people “I agree, it doesn’t sound plausible, but…”) My friend’s response? “Well, they’re Democrats. They probably don’t like private schools.” That seemed a little paranoid to me.

So, what to do about it? On the one hand, this whole discussion is about only 6 employees, one of whom actually lives at the school. So I have a hard time seeing how five extra employees coming to the school every day is going to make any significant difference on the traffic at a school where 360 kids are getting dropped off and picked up every day. And obviously, nobody wants the kids to die in an earthquake because there aren’t enough beloved administrators to lead them to safety.

On the other hand, Bentley School said they would do this. They didn’t object to this aspect of their conditions when they agreed. It took a ridiculously long time to reach that agreement. If we’re going to just run around and changing permit conditions a few months after they’re approved, why should anyone concerned about any project in the future feel like they are negotiating in good faith when trying to come up with something mutually tolerable? How are people supposed to have any confidence that conditions will be complied with?

In the end, the Commission decided to delay the issue of whether the administrators should be moved until the school had completed their traffic plan, since the real issue is the number of trips generated more so than the number of people physically at the school. So for now they get to keep working there, but won’t be allowed to park at the school or on Hiller Drive.

I’m curious what readers think of the situation. Thoughts?

Oakland: “Transit-first” only on paper

But not the kind of paper they use to print bus passes.

Do you guys remember a couple months ago when the City Council was talking about how they could bring in some extra revenue by limiting the amount of City employees who got free parking in City garages and renting those spaces out to the public instead? Except that the list was like, really not very limited (see the list here) and it turned out that all that free employee parking is costing the City like $400,000 a year?

So when this came to the Council, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan asked for the free parking issue to return to Committee, and that she would like staff to address more of the revenue implications of all the free parking, say what the monthly charge at the garages are, and explain whether there are any employees who have free parking guaranteed by their collective bargaining agreement. Also, they were going to look into the option of providing some sort of transit pass for City employees. Which makes sense, right? After all, we have terrible budget problems. And we have been officially a “transit first” City since 1996. So giving employees transit passes instead of free parking spaces that cost the City money makes a lot of sense and would seem to be consistent with adopted City of Oakland policy. Right?

Well, maybe not. Perhaps that logic exists only in my head. The free parking issue returns to Committee on Tuesday. The new report (PDF) offers none of the revenue related information requested — not even a passing reference to the $400,000 in forgone revenue that was stated at the previous committee meeting. Instead, it talks about a marketing campaign the Parking Division is going to start to advertise the newly freed up parking spaces on the upper floors of the Clay Street garage.

As for the transit alternative, well, it’s hard to imagine how that idea could have been taken less seriously. From the report (PDF):

In February, City employees with parking privileges were asked if they would be interested in receiving a free public transit pass in lieu of free parking benefits. Of the 154 who responded to a survey, 8 indicated interest and 146 did not. The most frequently cited reason for not using public transit was that employee worked late hours, need their vehicle during the day to perform site visits and other City work, make side trips before and after work such as day care, or that public transit was not convenient to their place of residence.

While current interest among City employees seems to be low, staff nevertheless explored the option of establishing a transit pass program in the City, at the request of the City Council. Staff identified three transit options provided by other adjacent municipalities. Oakland already has in place one of the three programs and may offer additional options if there is sufficient interest.

  • AC Transit Easy Pass program. Under this program, the City can purchase AC Traqnsit passes at a discounted rate. AC Transit requires that a minimum of 100 employees participate in order to implement the program. The discount increases as the volume of passes purchased increase. For 100 to 500 employees participating in the program, the City would pay between $77 and $115 per year per pass. If the City purchase 100 passes at $115, the annual cost to the City would be $11,5000.
  • Employee transportation accounts. Some municipalities crease transit accounts into which a specific dollar amount is deposited that employees can use to pay for transportation alternatives, such as BART tickets, van pool, bus passes, bicycle commuting or paid parking. The City of Berkeley, for example, deposits $20 each month into an account that employees can use towards the transportation option the employee chooses.
  • Commuter Benefit Program. Allows an employee the opportunity to set aside pre-taxed dollars that are specifically designated for utilizing mass transit. The City of Oakland already has this program available for its employees.

What’s that, you say? You asked 150 people if they would rather have free parking or a bus pass, and most of them didn’t say a bus pass? No way. I’m shocked.

Oh, except I’m not at all. It doesn’t take a Masters Degree in Transportation Planning to figure out that if you make driving cheaper and easier than other forms of transportation, people will choose to drive instead of taking the bus.

There is simply no excuse for the amount of free parking the City gives away, especially in light of the devastating cuts to basic services they’ve been making for two years, and will continue to make. If they want to reserve parking spaces for certain employees, and those employees want to pay for a reserved space, that’s fine.

The report also completely misses the entire point of an EasyPass program, which is that you give the passes to everybody. Not just people you would otherwise give free parking to. The ridiculous theoretical Easy Pass program described in the report essentially comes down to buying bus passes for the City Council and their staff, plus Department heads. What a joke. A Citywide EasyPass program for employees would likely cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 a year. Which, for the math challenged, is $100,000 less than the cost of giving away all this parking.

If cost is still an issue, there are ways to reduce the financial impact of the program. For example, instead of giving all employees the Easy Pass, the City could offer it at cost or half-cost to anyone who wants it. And not offer any free parking. This would result in a slightly higher per-pass price due to a lower number of participants, but I guarantee you that when you go around offering unlimited bus passes to people at $100 per year (versus $80 per month), you’re going to get a lot of takers.

The dismissive attitude towards a simple measure that will encourage transit use among City employees, one that is already in place and unbelievably successful in Berkeley and Alameda, is truly disheartening.

The Council is always claiming they support public transit and want to encourage people to use public transit and that they love transit oriented development and blah blah blah blah blah. But change begins at home. Apparently, in the City of Oakland, “transit first” is really nothing more than a catchy slogan.

The Finance Committee meets at 11 AM (PDF) next Tuesday, April 13th. Contact info for members below:


Related Posts

Oakland Crime Stats Update, April 2010

A couple people have asked me recently why I haven’t been posting crime numbers lately. I don’t have a super good reason, I guess. I don’t like to post year on year comparisons early in the year because the sample is so small that any percent change is basically meaningless. However, seeing as it is now April…

Anyway, here you go. Part I crimes reported through April 4th, 2010. All figures come from the Oakland Police Department’s weekly crime report (PDF).

April 2010 Oakland Crime Stats

So, there you go.

Your choices for Oakland Mayor

Mayor, Mayor, Mayor. Everywhere I go, people want to talk to me about the freaking Mayor’s race. Who is running? Who has a chance? Who has no chance? How will IRV impact the election? So-and-so should team up with so-and-so and ask their supporters to make the other one their number two vote. Who will have the ability to make this or that happen?

Get a grip, people. The election is not until November. There will be plenty of opportunities to fret about who is going to be Mayor over the next seven months. Elections are a pain. I don’t see what the point is in starting them any earlier than strictly necessary.

But since everyone else seems eager to talk about it, I thought I’d offer a little rundown of your choices, as they stand today. Keep in mind, of course, that there are still like thirty weeks before the election and several months before even the filing deadline.

Don Perata

Don Perata

Don Perata was an Alameda County Supervisor in the 1980s and early 1990s, then went on to serve in the State Assembly and then State Senate until he got termed out.

Why he’s running:

President Obama said “Yes We Can.” So we can in Oakland. It’s the mayor’s job to set the tone, provide the answers and make city hall work. A mayor doesn’t blame. He listens, assesses and assists. A mayor doesn’t offer excuses. He makes government work so there are no excuses needed.

I want to be mayor of Oakland to help get this city back on track and reach its full potential. If Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Portland and Houston can, so can Oakland, with its tremendous natural, cultural and social resources, and above all, its wonderful, generous people.

What he wants to do:

Um…it’s hard to say, actually. So far, there is no “issues” section on his website or anything else that might indicate a platform. According to a recent blog post, he seems to think that we can solve the budget crisis by getting rid of Boards and Commissions? I don’t know. It’s unclear.

Learn more at: http://perata4mayor.com/.

Jean Quan

Jean Quan

Jean Quan currently represents District 4 on the Oakland City Council. Previous to that, she served on the Oakland School Board from 1990 to 2002. She left the School Board for the City Council in 2003, just in time to not have to deal with the State bailing out the District after it spent like $60 million it didn’t have. Now she chairs the Oakland City Council’s Finance Committee.

Why she’s running:

Having served two terms on the Council, I know that we can take this community-based politics to the whole city, which is why I’m running for Mayor. I truly care about what happens in Oakland and proudly stand on a solid record of fighting for our schools, our libraries, our youth and our neighborhoods. Oakland needs and deserves visible, hands-on leadership, and I have the on-the-ground knowledge, the leadership experience, and just as important, the passion the job of Mayor demands.

What she wants to do:

At one of her “Jean Quan for Mayor” coffee events last fall, she summed up her motivations to the group by saying that she wants to be Mayor so she can fix the schools. Huh. Education is still listed as one of her issues, but she has added to the list ethical government, neighborhood safety, community and economic development, and a greener, healthier city:

It takes a partnership between neighbors and the city to make Oakland safe.

Jean authored Measure Y, which funded 63 more police officers on patrol in our neighborhoods and expanded community-based crime and violence reduction programs. She expanded after school programs to help keep kids out of trouble and worked with residents to shut down drug houses and crime magnets.

Jean knows that fighting to prevent and reduce crime must be the city’s top priority.

Learn more at: http://jeanquanforoakland.org

Don Macleay

Don Macleay

You gotta love the fact that the Green Party managed to dig themselves up a candidate whose two big things (or at least the things he has been most vocal about so far) are that he loves free parking and hates the bus.

Macleay worked as a machinist for 19 years and now owns a computer services business. He has two kids, one in OUSD and one in college.

Why he’s running:

The job of mayor involves having a vision for what is possible. It means convening and listening to visionaries in our own community, and harnessing their talent. It means supporting and empowering people in our community to create enduring solutions to problems, and together seeking positive opportunities for the future.

As mayor I will be a hands-on manager and leader. I will be a tireless advocate for the basic rights and wellbeing of people in our City. I will fearlessly create a transparent form of City government. I will take a pro-active—not reactive—approach to managing our City’s fiscal crisis. And, I will create accountability at all levels of government for service excellence to our citizens and businesses.

What he wants to do:

As Mayor I will set priorities to examine and solve some of our most pressing issues:

  • Social Issues: substance abuse, homelessness, parolee recidivism, and truancy need to be acknowledged and confronted through aggressive community involvement, sustained action, and on-going support.
  • Economic Growth: is realized when we set priorities that properly support public safety and security, encourage creative and meaningful business and employment opportunities for citizens, and develop housing for the most vulnerable members of our city.
  • Infrastructure and Development: planning and capital projects need to enhance our City’s communities and business environments in ways that best serve the majority of our citizens and businesses.
  • Fiscal Responsibility and Governance: requires being responsive—not reactive—to Oakland’s fiscal crisis by aligning resources where they are most needed, and benefit the majority of our citizens. It also requires disciplined planning and forecasting of the future growth of Oakland into a viable, sustainable, and safe city.

Learn more at: http://www.macleay4mayor.org.

Greg Harland

Greg Harland grew up in Oakland, went to Merritt College, has owned clothing stores, a computer business, and two restaurants. Now he’s retired. He has an entire page on his website about how evil Don Perata is.

Why he’s running:

Greg’s interest in becoming Mayor of Oakland is motivated by a strong desire to solve the persistent problems of Oakland.

What he wants to do:

Besides bring 40,000 new jobs to Oakland, he offers:

We must restore our police department to be an effective organization. As of this writing, our police force has been reduced to 770 sworn officers. The optimum number for a city the size of Oakland is 1050. With our current state of high unemployment, and a police department operating at only 64% of its optimal strength, high crime is inevitable.

As Mayor, I intend to rework the budget so our police department is operating at 100%.

Learn more at: http://www.harland4mayor.com/.

Terence Candell

Terence Candell

Terence Candell is currently executive director of Candell’s College Preparatory Academy, a Christian school in East Oakland. He has worked in education as an administrator and a teacher.

Why he’s running:

Oakland is a beautiful and an enjoyable city. However, there are those who do not want to enjoy this city, but wish to destroy it. There are other cities for them. This one isn’t it. Please leave. For those of us who wish to stay, who wish to enjoy the privilege of living in our city, what can we do?

Work with me. We must work to restore Oakland to the greatness we
once enjoyed! We must take very specific steps, which embrace social
and economic opportunity for our youth and for our seniors!

What he wants to do:

I will provide a brighter future for our youth, and a safer and
enjoyable city for the elderly, disabled, disadvantaged and even
the advantaged citizens of the City of Oakland. I will create a
functional and profitable marriage between business and the city.
As your mayor, Oakland can and will be a better place:

  • Socially
  • Politically
  • Economically
  • Culturally

Let’s leave a better legacy for our children and young adults! Let’s provide them with opportunities and activities of which they have been deprived for the last twenty years! It’s about time!

Learn more at: http://candellformayor.com. But be warned: it plays music on like every page!

Maya Dillard Smith

Maya Dillard Smith

No website yet, but I thought I should include her on the list since most articles about the election do mention her name. And she does have a Facebook Page.

Maya Dillard Smith is an Oakland native. She used to be chair of Oakland’s Measure Y Oversight Committee and now serves on the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth Planning and Oversight Committee. Additionally:

Maya knows municipal government. She served as senior advisor to San Francisco Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom overseeing $350 million across 14 city departments. Maya was instrumental in consolidating, aligning, and leveraging resources to protect core services in the face of San Francisco’s historic budget deficits topping $500 million. Maya also led the development of San Francisco’s first ever comprehensive violence prevention strategy resulting in double digit reductions in crime and violence. She worked closely with law enforcement and community based organizations to implement the strategy with a real focus on prevention and quality of life issues. Maya’s work included economic development, job training and creation, education, housing, youth development and community building.

Why she’s running:

We ALL deserve a leader that is 100% committed to put Oakland First! – someone who is willing to work hard to unite Oakland’s diverse and changing neighborhoods; a leader who is informed by the people and ready to shake up City Hall with bold, decisive action. I am that leader. Lets STAND TOGETHER for OAKLAND.

Learn more on: Facebook.

Okay, so there you go. What do you guys think? And remember, the election is still seven months away. So the list will almost definitely change between now and then.

Rebecca Kaplan: To Dream the Possible Dream – Fundable Projects for Economic Revitalization and Climate Protection

Happy Passover. This is a good time to reflect on how to bring about important societal change. On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council discussed the proposed Climate Action Plan (PDF).

As the report of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition notes: Transportation is the largest contributor of GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions in Oakland, comprising nearly two-thirds of all emissions.

We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, become more energy independent and create jobs here in Oakland. How?

Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

What is Transit Oriented Development?

Since we know that the transportation sector is the most important contributor to GHG, strategies to reduce consumption in the transportation sector must be central to our solutions.

It will be essential to rebuild our city in a way that makes it easy for people to walk, bike, take transit, and more — which, in addition to being one of the top ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will also dramatically improve quality of life in the community.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a mixed-use residential or commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.

A TOD neighborhood typically has a center with a transit hub surrounded by relatively high-density development with progressively lower-density development spreading outwards from the center. This is often called Smart Growth or TOD.

Funding & Planning Opportunities

In recognition of the fact that TOD is one of the top needed strategies for traffic congestion relief and reducing oil consumption, increasing amounts of funds are being made available to support “TOD” projects, at the Federal, State, and regional levels. The upcoming Federal Transportation and Energy Bills will likely include substantial new funding for TOD.

At the regional level, target “priority development areas” (PDAs) will be eligible for funding this year through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Implementation of the State of California’s own greenhouse gas reduction strategies are also anticipated to include funding for TOD projects in California. Many other opportunities exist to fund TOD projects — Oakland must ensure we are ready to capitalize on these opportunities.

What Does This Mean?

In Oakland, right now, there exists an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of jobs, in construction and improving our sidewalks, streets, bike lanes, and streetscape, and ongoing in new commercial and mixed use development and for which outside funds are being made available.

It is vital for Oakland to complete the appropriate plans to position the City for these upcoming State and Federal funding opportunities. This is a major opportunity that we cannot afford to waste. We must track the grants, prepare the plans, and seek the support we need to make this possible.

Coliseum Village

One example of a large project which would transform Oakland’s economy is the Oakland Coliseum Transit Village. A coordinated TOD improvement plan for the Coliseum BART station area should be adopted and implemented as soon as possible. This plan should rebuild the area around the Coliseum BART station into a thriving, mixed-use destination with restaurants, bars, shops, and more.

Coliseum Overhead

  • Provide an opportunity for the millions of patrons coming for games or concerts to have a great place for dinner and more (over 3.2 million visitors in 2009).
  • Thousands of jobs in the community would be created, both during construction, and beyond.
  • Make the area between the Coliseum BART station and the Coliseum/Arena into an Asset instead of an Embarrassment!
  • Improve surrounding streetscape, traffic signals, sidewalks, lighting, and signage.
  • Attract business and increase local sales tax revenue with amenities such as a Dave & Buster’s and an Everett and Jones, along with a conference center hotel where businesses and community organizations can host their meetings and then go to a game together would help establish the Coliseum Village as a sports and entertainment destination.

Coliseum Walkway

Next Steps Should Include:

  • Conduct planning/design/engineering for these projects to enable them to be ready-to-go for grant applications
  • Conduct Environment Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement as needed
  • Ensure zoning is compatible with these projects
  • Ensure these projects are included in County and Regional plans as eligible projects for funding

With the right kind of vision and leadership we can move Oakland forward with a Coliseum Village TOD project that will provide jobs, help reduce GHG emissions, improve Oakland’s image and create more revenue for the City.

Rebecca Kaplan is the At-large Councilmember for the City of Oakland.

A little too literal

The environment is good! So are jobs! And despite what Republicans say, the don’t have to be at odds with one another! We know. We all read Van Jones’s book. Also, you said so in your speech. Which was very good. And which more people probably would have listened to if they weren’t so freaking distracted by this:

Green Jobs

Illustrating the point with a green hardhat might have been taking it just one step too far.