Monthly Archives: May 2010

More parking! Coming soon to a Lake near you!

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved a proposal to allow three-hour parking on Lakeshore Avenue between MacArthur Boulevard and the 12th Street Dam (PDF).

Now, I have never owned a car since I’ve lived in Oakland. In fact, I have never once even driven a car in Oakland. So where you are and are not allowed to park isn’t something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about. I actually only learned that you weren’t allowed to park on that part of Lakeshore on the weekends like nine months ago, when someone brought it up during a conversation that I think was about silly outdated laws or something. Or maybe it was about sideshows. I can’t remember. Anyway.

Apparently, there used to be this big problem with people cruising around the Lake on weekends. People used to come to Oakland from all over the place to drive around Lake Merritt and cause trouble. Or something like that. The friend who was telling me about this had a more colorful description of the situation, but since my memory isn’t what it used to be, I’m afraid I can’t recall the whole thing, and you’ll have to settle for just sharing the drier version from the staff report (PDF):

In 1985, traffic congestion, drug dealing, panhandling and cruising along Lakeshore Avenue were concerns of the residents and the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Today, these concerns no longer exist, and several community members have contacted the City requesting modification of the parking restrictions currently in place. OPD agrees that these limits are no longer necessary.

A few months ago, Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Nancy Nadel sent out requests in their e-mail newsletters for people to share their thoughts on whether we should remove the no parking restriction on Lakeshore or not. Not having strong feelings on the subject either way, I did not respond. 390 other people did, and 79% of them said that they thought parking should be allowed. If I had bothered to respond, I probably would have said that I thought it should be allowed also, because, you know, why not? Cruising isn’t a problem anymore. But really, I didn’t give the issue a whole lot of thought.

But as it turns out, some other people did, and two of them felt strongly enough about the subject to come to the Public Works Committee on Tuesday morning and speak against the removal of the no parking restriction. When the first of them came up and started talking about how he was against it, I totally rolled my eyes. Like, get over it dude, I don’t like cars either, but learn to pick your battles because this is just not that big a deal. Who cares if a few more people can park by the Lake?

But then as I listened to him, and the other speaker that followed, I found myself thinking that they actually had some pretty solid points. And by the end, I was not so sure that allowing the new parking around the Lake on weekends was such a good idea after all, and was definitely persuaded that at the very least, we should not be so cavalier about making decisions like this. Then I started feeling totally guilty for just assuming the City should allow the parking in the first place.

You guys should watch them. I showed the video to a friend the other night, one who is also generally not inclined to side with the cars, and he had the exact same reaction as I first had when I brought up the subject. But I was like “No, no, just watch this. It will only take a few minutes.” And he begrudgingly consented, and by the end, he was like “Hey. They actually have a good point.”

Maybe it’s okay to let people park on Lakeshore on weekends, maybe it’s not such a great idea. But it really is the sort of decision that deserves more thought than “A bunch of people told us they want more parking. I guess we should do it.” Of course if you ask people if they want more free parking, they are going to say that they do. That’s not a rational basis for transportation decision making.

The staff report (PDF) about this is like, two pages. And basically all it says is that they banned parking on the weekend in the 80s and now people want it so we should do it. But how does this fit into our other goals? Will there be an increased risk to bicyclists due to doorings, as the speaker said? How does this relate to the reduced auto usage goals that will be mandated in the energy and climate action plan?

But the point they made that got me the most was about how it may impact the experience of visiting the Lake. This is being sold as a way to allow more people to enjoy the Lake. But is surrounding a park with cars really the best way to make Lake Merritt’s natural beauty more enjoyable? I mean, look at this picture.

This is what we’ve got going on over on my side of the Lake, and every single time I walk by it, I get all stressed out and angry and completely grossed out. I mean, it’s disgusting. And it completely takes you out of the experience of enjoying the grass and the trees and the water that you’ve been walking past.

I’m not saying that it’s exactly the same thing. I understand that what they want to do on Lakeshore is allow parking on the street, not two rows of cars on the freaking sidewalk, but I do think that this decision is a good example of how the City really needs to put more thought into the choices and rules we make about parking in general, and also about how we want to encourage people to use open space.

The Committee passed the proposal, and At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan suggested (in response to other comments people had been making about the three hour time limit) that maybe the best solution for parking around the Lake would be to have no time limits and just meter it, which would encourage turnover but also allow people if who so desire to come and park and stay at the Lake for a long time without having to worry about getting a ticket. So now staff is going to look into this area and the idea of metering there as part of the Citywide parking study.

The full video of the discussion is above, if you’re interested.

Ignacio De La Fuente: No More Delays!

As those who have been following the budget process are aware, I have been extremely vocal about the fact that the longer we put off balancing the budget the larger the deficit is going to grow; unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened. The Mayor is responsible for submitting a balanced budget proposal to the council, and the council must pass a balanced budget by June 30th of each calendar year. As of today, the two year 09-11 budget is not yet balanced. In November of 2009, the projected deficit for the 10-11 budget was $25.4 million (PDF), today that figure is $42.6 million (PDF).

Since last June I have very publicly urged my colleagues on the City Council and my constituents in District 5 to put a priority on maintaining core City services while we pursue long-term options to address this economic crisis. Public Safety is a core function that ought to be a priority of local governments but in order to avoid laying off police officers, very difficult decisions need to be made and everyone needs to share the pain, including police and it doesn’t necessarily need to mean laying off 200 officers.

I have already presented a series of recommendations which would help the City avoid laying off 200 police officers. Among the recommendations I have urged my colleagues take action on include:

  • Sworn employees (police) must contribute to a portion of their pensions. Today their contribution is zero; a 9% contribution from police sworn personnel would save the City approximately $7.3 million per year. This figure is equivalent to the annual cost of 36 fully loaded (salary & benefits) police officers.
  • Cuts to non-sworn personnel in the police department would also be necessary in order to avoid cutting sworn staff. Unpopular as it may be, this means Neighborhood Service Coordinators (NSC). I prefer this option as an alternative to cutting sworn police officers because NSC’s currently cost taxpayers $1.8 million annually.
  • Creating a 2-Tier Pension system for new hires. Implementation of a two tiered retirement system, one benefit plan for exiting police (3% at 50) and a less expensive plan for new police hires (2% at 50). In the case of non-sworn employees, a plan of (2.7% at 55) for current employees and for new non-sworn employees (2% at 55) would all reduce the City’s costs.

The City should NOT be in the business of operating golf courses or convention centers, as we find ourselves today. As a means to generate revenue to address the current fiscal crisis, I have recommended that we:

  • Sell our golf courses. The sale of just half of the 235 acres entitled for residential where Chabot Golf course currently sits would generate approximately $30 million in revenue. Additionally, the sale of the 10 acres entitled for residential at Montclair Golf Course would generate upwards of $5 million.
  • Sell the Henry J Kaiser Convention Center. The revenue generated from the sale of this property is projected at approximately $11 million. We simply do not have the luxury of sitting on some of our real estate assets when we are facing financial consequences such as laying off police officers.

We are in a fiscal crisis and many unpopular decisions need to be made and it all comes down to determining what our core priorities are. If we want to save in one place, we need to cut in others, it’s that simple. If sworn personnel do not contribute to their pensions, we’ll be forced to cut officers. 265 non-sworn full-time positions have already been eliminated from the City’s budget; urge the police and fire unions to give back so that we can save as many sworn personnel positions as possible.

Thank you and, as always, I look forward to your feedback and support.

Sincerely,
Ignacio

This guest blog is cross posted from District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente’s e-mail newsletter. To receive these updates regularly, you can sign up for the newsletter here.

Alleys, Archways, and Art in Uptown

You guys know this alley? It’s where 18th Street would be if there were an 18th Street right here, and it goes between Broadway and Telegraph. There’s an entrance here to the 19th Street BART Station. Despite its location, however, the alley does not get a whole lot of use.

BART Uptown Alleyway

Probably because it smells bad, it’s often filthy, and it is poorly lit at night. BART owns it.

When you come out on the Telegraph side, you are right across the street from the Fox Theater. You would think, then, that it would make sense for visitors taking BART to Fox shows to use this spot to enter and exit the BART station. Instead, they mostly use the exit at the corner of 19th and Broadway, right in front of the Hat Guys and where Oaksterdam University used to be before they had to go get bigger digs.

Since you can’t see the Fox Theater from that exit and there is no signage anywhere directing people, they often stand there asking each other which way the theater is. Then after the show everyone pours out of the theater and walks back to Broadway to go back on BART at 19th Street again.

17th Street Gateway

I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with the way this works right now, but it definitely doesn’t make for the world’s most enticing welcome to Oakland for visitors coming to check out this thriving Uptown arts and entertainment district they’ve all been hearing so much about.

BART Uptown Alleyway

Happily, the City is doing something about it! Using Redevelopment Funds, they’re going to brighten up the alley with landscaping and cool light art! From the staff report (PDF) about this, which came to Life Enrichment Committee two weeks ago:

The focus on redeveloping this particular site, in addition to its strategic location, arose from the concerns of local property owners regarding the cleanliness of the site, the need for BART patrons to feel safer, and lack of sufficient signage alerting pedestrians to the existence of this entrance to the station. Long-range planning efforts for the Uptown District have also consistently identified this location as a key opportunity site for public art.

Redevelopment Agency staff and City Public Art staff have developed a project to revitalize the site through a collaborative design team between the project landscape architect and a professional artist, with input from community and other stakeholders. The landscape architect/artist design team will collaborate on the transformation of the existing space into a memorable, distinctive arts-centered gateway for Oakland’s re-emerging Uptown arts and entertainment district. The artist selected for the project had to demonstrate experience working with a six or seven figure budget, experience working as part of a design team, experience working with integrated architectural design and experience in the creation of light-based/new-media art installations, with transit-related project experience a plus.

Skeptical? Yeah, I totally don’t blame you. I mean, we all remember the last time the City tried to get involved with art in the Uptown neighborhood.

This is no Champions for Humanity!

So you’re probably thinking that the Redevelopment Agency would want to do one of two things. Either slap a quick mural up on the wall and call it a day, or find some kind of hideous and terrifying sculpture to stick there that will frighten all the visitors back into the BART station. Or maybe just close off the BART station exit entirely and turn the alley into a parking lot. That’s three things, I guess. Anyway.

Happily, they are doing none of those things. They’re actually investing a substantial amount of money into ensuring that we’re able to have something genuinely nice right here that will really draw the attention of visitors and make a strong impression. The art component of the alley improvements is $600,000, which is close to half of the whole project budget.

I know what the tea party contingent is thinking right about now, and you can relax. This isn’t money that would otherwise be going to policing. In Oakland, when the Redevelopment Agency spends money in an area, 1.5% of the money they spend gets set aside to be used specifically on public art in the area. Since the City has invested a significant amount of money already in the Uptown neighborhood, there is a decent pot of funds sitting there already, waiting to be spent on art.

Anyway, so they put out an invitation for artists to apply listing all their requirements, and they got 148 applications, which were then reviewed by a selection panel and they picked this artist from Seattle, Dan Corson.

What will it look like?

Well, that part hasn’t been decided yet. But I have high hopes. At the Life Enrichment Committee meeting, they showed some examples of other light-based work the artist had done, and almost all of it looked really neat.

Luminous Conjunctions by Dan Corson

This one was my favorite, though. It’s in Ft. Lauderdale. The lights on the trees change color when you walk past them. And then there are also the tiles on the ground nearby that you can press which will initiate one of four different little light shows among the trees.

You can see more of the artist’s work on his website.

Anyway, we’re going to have to wait a little while to see what he’s going to do here. When the final proposal is ready, it will come back for review by the City and the Cultural Affairs Commission. A friend of mine went to a planning charrette about it a month or two ago, and they said that everyone there’s big idea for a cool thing to do with the alley was some kind of archway. Lame! But I trust that Dan Corson will come up with something a bit more creative than a stupid arch that says “Uptown” or something equally dumb.

Anyway, I’m glad that they’re doing something nice with the alley, and I look forward to seeing the proposal when it is ready. And if you want to watch the video of the meeting, well, there it is, above.

Oakland Crime Stats Update, May 2010

It’s that time of the month again! Let’s check in on Oakland crime statistics.

Just like when we looked at this last month, crime continues to be down significantly, both compared to last year and the last few years.

The progress is, of course, very welcome. I can’t help but wonder a little bit about such a dramatic drop in rapes, though. Does that seem weird to anyone else? Just cause, in general, rape doesn’t seem like the sort of crime that would go away so quickly in response to more aggressive or more efficient policing. It makes me wonder if there’s some kind of reporting or recording issue going on there. Any insight into that one from readers would be much appreciated.

May 2010 Oakland Crime Stats

The numbers, as usual, come from the Oakland Police Department’s weekly crime report (PDF) and are as of May 9, 2010.

Your tax dollars at work: Morcom Rose Garden

It can get frustrating being a taxpayer in Oakland, huh? The City passes a tax to hire more police, you pay your tax, and you get less police. The City passes a tax to keep all the libraries open six days a week, you pay your tax, and the libraries get closed on Mondays anyhow. You vote for a tax to keep bus fares affordable, and then the State takes away all the bus’s money and then service gets cut and fares go up anyway.

But it’s good to remember sometimes that voting to give the government money doesn’t always turn out bad. The long-awaited 12th Street reconstruction project that just broke ground last week is one example of Oaklanders getting something nice in return for all that money we pay, thanks to Measure DD. And at tonight’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board meeting (PDF), we get to hear about another nice little upcoming project funded by bond proceeds.

Morcom Rose Garden

You guys know about the Rose Garden, right? It’s…well, it’s a rose garden.

Morcom Rose Garden

It’s nice. I mean, as flowers go, I personally think roses are kind of overrated, and would probably visit the garden more if it were full of some other kind of flowers that were prettier and smelled better. But it is nice. It’s just off Grand Avenue right by the Piedmont border. People have weddings there.

The Rose Garden is also where they give out the Mother of the Year award. They have a nice little rose-bush lined path where they have plaques with the names of all the Mothers of the Year since it started in 1954.

Morcom Rose Garden

The City bought the property in 1912 as a neighborhood park, but made it into a rose garden in the 1930s.

The Rose Garden is fortunate to be supported by a very dedicated group of volunteers.

The Rose Garden is getting a makeover!

Don’t worry. It’s still going to be full of roses. Maybe “facelift” would be a more appropriate term. Anyway, thanks to Measure WW, that East Bay Regional Park District bond you guys passed in November 2008, all sorts of improvements are on the way for the Rose Garden.

Of course, since the Rose Garden is a City landmark, anything you do to it has to go through all sorts of review to ensure that the historical integrity of the garden will not be compromised. And so at their meeting tonight (PDF), Oakland’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board will be reviewing the proposed WW improvements to the Morcom Rose Garden (PDF).

The project is mostly a whole bunch of kind of little improvements that will hopefully all add up to make the Rose Garden a nicer place to be (and a more desirable facility for renting).

Jean Street entrance

Morcom Rose Garden Entrance

The garden’s main entrance on Jean Street is quite pretty and welcoming if you got there by, say, walking or taking the bus. But it is not particularly friendly for cars, and if you need to park, you’re just going to be trying your luck randomly along this residential street. Which I suppose is fine for most people, but a problem for those with limited mobility. So they’re going to add a handicap parking space on Jean Street, an accessibility code-compliant ramp to the sidewalk, and a drop-off zone at the entrance.

Restrooms

Morcom Rose Gaden tool shed

Despite what some Councilmembers seem to think, parks really should have restrooms. The Rose Garden does have restrooms right now, but they are not at all handicap accessible. You have to walk up a steep staircase to get there. So they’re going to fix that problem by taking the tool shed (pictured above) at the front of the garden and turning it into a restroom. Then the old restroom will become storage.

Paths and Staircases

Morcom Rose Garden path

Other improvements include repairs to the crumbling staircases and falling apart paths, which are desperately needed. I don’t know if you guys can see in that photo (you can click on it to make it bigger), but the path there is like, completely disintegrated. It’s horrible! With the improvements, they’re going to use some kind of different material for the path (“decomposed granite”) which will apparently be cheaper to maintain and also is better for the garden’s historical integrity.

They are also adding lighting on the staircases to make it safer for the people who walk through the garden at night. Oh, and signage, which is also good, because right now, there is little to no signage at all, and what little there is kind of sucks.

Improvements to Restroom Building

Restroom Building! That’s a terrible name! They’re going to have to change the name, I guess, since they’re moving the restrooms to the tool shed. Anyway, I guess this building has lots of holes in it, so part of the garden improvements will include patching up the holes and waterproofing it so it doesn’t get damaged any more.

So, like I said above, people allegedly rent out the Rose Garden for weddings. I don’t know how often that happens, though. I have never been to one of these Rose Garden weddings, and honestly, it seems like kind of a weird space for them. I don’t really understand where all your guests are supposed to sit. I mean, I can see how this space here at the Restroom Building would make a nice place for the ceremony, but where do you put all the chairs? There’s no space for them because there are rose bushes everywhere!

Morcom Rose Garden building

There are some benches scattered among the rose bushes in front of the restroom building, but I can’t imagine them holding all that many people. Maybe it’s just a good place to have a wedding for people who don’t have really large extended families, I guess. Anyway, with the renovations, this area is going to accessible, plus they are going to move those bulletin boards off the back wall so people don’t have to have flyers and stuff in their wedding pictures. Also, they’re going to put a shelf up in its place so people can put flowers up there.

Fountain Upgrades

Finally, the Rose Garden fountain is getting major upgrades too. I don’t know a lot about fountain technology, but the current fountain cleaning system, where the gardeners drain the whole thing and scrub it clean every two weeks, sounds very inefficient to me.

Morcom Rose Garden fountain

With the WW improvements, the fountain is going to get some kind of fancy new filtration system that will allow the water to be treated without a lot of work by the gardeners. Sounds great. Hooray for Measure WW!

Anyway, if you want to learn more about the Rose Garden improvements, you can learn about them in the agenda report for tonight Landmarks Board meeting (PDF), or you could always check out the meeting in person. The Rose Garden is the only item on the agenda, and the meeting starts at 6 PM tonight in City Hall Hearing Room 1.

And if you haven’t been to the Rose Garden recently, it really is worth a trip.

Two opportunities Thursday to celebrate Oakland parks

You guys all know about the 12th Street reconstruction by Lake Merritt, right? Basically, they’re going to take the world’s shortest freeway right in front of the Kaiser Convention Center, which currently looks like this:

12th Street Brdge

And they’re going change it to this:

12th Street Reconstruction Plans

Here’s the City’s project description (PDF)

12th Street will be redesigned into a tree-lined boulevard with signalized intersections and crosswalks and a landscaped median. The redesign will create significant new parkland at the south end of Lake Merritt Park, remove unsafe and unsightly pedestrian tunnels, provide safer and continuous access for pedestrians and bicyclists along the perimeter of Lake Merritt, and improved access between the Kaiser Convention Center and Laney College. Remove of the Lake Merritt Chanel culvert at 12th Street will provide an open-water bridged connection and improve water flow between the Lake and the Estuary. Environmental benefits include improved water quality and wildlife habitat.

Anyway, some of you may remember that, a couple of months ago, there was some question as to whether we were going to actually go through with finally awarding a bid to build it due to concerns over the inability to require local hire on Federally funded projects.

Happily, the Council did decide to award the bid once the contractor agreed to commit to a voluntary local hire program. And tomorrow, 7 years, 6 months, and 2 days after Oakland voters approved the $200 million bond, Measure DD’s marquee project is finally going to break ground.

I can’t even tell you how many frustrated Oaklanders I’ve listened to complain about how deceived they feel over Measure DD and the lack of visible improvement and particularly the lack of any movement on the 12th Street project for so many years. And even when I have tried to be encouraging (“Well, you know, they’re still working on it. They’re trying to get some Federal grants. And hey, DD isn’t all bad. They’ve done a lot of work on water aeration!), I usually find my exceptionally weak attempts to defend the City met with eye-rolling. Which I suppose is probably fair, since, to be honest, for a long time, I really didn’t believe it was ever going to happen either.

But now it actually is! And if you just so happen to have nothing to do at 2 PM on a Thursday, well, you may want to stop by tomorrow’s groundbreaking ceremony:

12th Street Reconstruction Groundbreaking Invitation

Oh, and Navigator I’m sure will be thrilled to know that I was passing by there just yesterday and saw a whole bunch of people out picking up trash. So hopefully the setting for the ceremony won’t be too humiliating for Oakland.

Taste of Spring

I work near the Lake, so depending on how I feel tomorrow, I may try to take a late lunch and go check out the 12th Street ceremony. But I have to admit, commemorative shovels and ribbon cuttings and stuff like that isn’t really my thing. There really isn’t all that much to do, the speeches usually tend to be way too long, too numerous, and pretty boring. There’s only so much self-congratulation from politicians any reasonable person can be expected to voluntarily listen to, right? Especially while sober.

Basically, I prefer events that involve alcohol.

And conveniently, tomorrow, you have a second opportunity to celebrate and support Oakland’s beautiful parks and open spaces at the 2010 Taste of Spring, probably more frequently referred to as the Friends of Parks and Rec party. Like the groundbreaking, there will be speeches. And unlike the groundbreaking, this event costs money to attend. But your money goes to a really good cause. And also unlike the groundbreaking, it will have drinks and cool entertainment. Oh, and it also doesn’t conflict with most people’s jobs.

What do you get for your $50? Well, I’ll let the Friends make the pitch. From the Facebook event page:

Come enjoy a spectacular night and help raise money for our beloved yet underfunded parks and recreation centers.

Our seventh annual Taste of Spring event will feature delicious hors d’oeuvres, rare wines, an auction…and special entertainment including acrobatics, aerialists and more! Our special honoree this year is former board president Don Walls, and our corporate honoree is Alta Alliance Bank. And don’t miss this year’s community award presentation to our hometown team the Oakland Athletics.

Taste of Spring is especially important this year due to City of Oakland Parks and Recreation cuts and layoffs. All proceeds from this year’s event will go toward:

  • Capital improvement projects for parks and recreational facilities in Oakland.
  • Grants and scholarships for children of Oakland to take swimming and boating lessons.
  • Supplies and equipment for youth, adults and seniors to participate in educational and recreational programs.

The party goes from 5:30 to 8:00 tomorrow night at the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland (300 Frank Ogawa Plaza). Tickets are $50 if you buy online in advance or $65 at the door. Hope to see some of you there!

Free employee parking will be around a little longer

Do you guys remember that whole issue where it turned out that the City was giving up like $400,000 a year in potential revenue by giving free parking at the garage near City Hall (PDF) to employees? And a lot of people really did not like that?

And then the Council was like, “Hmm, this seems like a lot of money. Let’s have this come back to Committee where you can explain more thoroughly the revenue implications of all this, and also please look into providing a transit pass option for employees instead.” So then it came back to Committee, but with very little supplemental information (PDF) and a really half-assed attempt to address the transit pass issue.

Pat Kernighan proposes no more free parking

So at the April 13th Committee meeting where this was discussed, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan came out and said that she did not think we should be providing free parking to anyone because it was bad environmental policy to encourage people to drive to work and subsidize their driving. I agree.

And then the Committee was like, “Please bring this back with more answers and look into this bus pass thing more.” So then last Tuesday, the issue came back to the Committee (PDF) again. And at that meeting, Pat Kernighan started right off saying she had a different proposal than the one before them, and hers did not involve giving all these people free parking.

Instead, she suggested that we take the employees who would qualify for free parking under the proposal, and instead of giving them free parking, offer them discounted monthly rates for parking in the garage, and the cost to them would be based on how much money they make. So employees earning less than $55,000 a year would have the option to park for $40/month, those earning between $55,000 and $75,000 a year would be able to park for $60/month, and so on, up to a cost of $140/month for employees earning over $125,000/year.

So this elaborate pricing structure is like, way overly complicated and totally arbitrary and also just kind of misses the point of how we should not be subsidizing parking for anyone. But hey, at least she’s trying to address the problem in some way, which is more than anyone else on that Committee seems willing to do, so kudos to Kernighan for that.

Employee parking fees must wait for another day

So, anyway. Then this thing happened. I don’t even know what was going on here. So Pat Kernighan says she has this brand new proposal about employees paying for parking with this elaborate pay structure and everything, and the City Attorney is like “Um, hello! You guys cannot discuss this.” Because, you know, you totally can’t.

So the reasonable, and I would feel comfortable saying expected response to that being pointed out would be for the Chair of the Committee to be like “Oh, yeah. You’re so right. We totally cannot discuss that right now. Let’s schedule it for the next meeting!” And then they would, and it would take all of like two seconds. Right?

So. That is not what happened.

This is. Jean Quan was like, “Oh, whatever.” And the City Attorney was all “Um, no. I mean it.” And Jean Quan was like “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.” And the City Attorney was like “Um, no. Really.” And Jean Quan was like “Yeah, well we’re not going to pass it today no matter what, so it’s no biggie if we talk about it. Wev.” And the City Attorney was all “Um…yeah. It doesn’t really work like that.” And Jean Quan kept, like, arguing with her over whether or not they were going to discuss this proposal. And the City Attorney kept telling her that to do so would be a clear violation of the Brown Act, and seriously — we are not talking about some, like, obscure clause or something. The fact that whatever is going to be discussed at a public meeting has to be noticed to the public in advance of that meeting is like, the basic premise of the law.

And this went on for like, a minute and a half, and it only stopped because Pat Kernighan interrupted her and was like “Um, yeah. She’s right. Let’s just schedule it for later.”

And I realize this is an odd tangent and I’m sorry for spending so much space on it, but really, this was just, like, bizarre. I mean, how do you serve as an elected official for like twenty freaking years and not get the fundamentals of open meetings law? Like, what is that? I don’t understand how that happens. And transparent government is one of her campaign platform points!

I mean, I go to a lot of meetings. And a lot of times, you go watch these minor Boards or whatever and they totally do not follow the Brown Act and ignore their agendas and vote with secret ballots(!!!) and pull shit like that. And I get pretty irritated about that and really think their staff should stop them, but it’s not worth getting that worked up over because, you know, these Boards have no power and it just doesn’t matter that much. But when you’re on the City Council, that’s a whole different thing. Weird.

What about a transit pass?

Anyway. So then, the Committee was all like, “Okay, so now there’s this proposal to not give the employees free parking that we can’t discuss right now, so should we pass this plan for giving them free parking now? Oh, gee, I guess that wouldn’t really make sense then, would it? Yeah. Okay, well, so should we just pass part of this proposal now and then leave the rest for when we come back to discuss the rates? Oh, well since this is proposal is only about who we give free parking to and now we don’t actually want to give anyone free parking, I guess we can’t pass any of it. Okay. Geez. Hey! Didn’t we say something before about a bus pass?”

So. I would not hold my breath for City employees to be getting EasyPass anytime soon. At the last meeting where this was discussed, the Committee had said that they wanted to move forward with the EasyPass program with AC Transit, but that they didn’t want to pay anything for it. So the idea was that if we did it, employees could take the pass or not, but if they did, they would have to pay for it. Of course, EasyPass is a pretty incredible deal, even if you’re paying the whole price out of pocket, so it’s not hard to imagine people wanting to take advantage of it. (At the last meeting, Pat Kernighan was like “Oh yeah, I don’t even ride the bus. But I’d buy it!) And the City is broke, so I didn’t have any problem with making staff pay for the whole thing.

So what the Committee directed staff to do at the previous meeting, to see if we would be able to do EasyPass without it costing the City money, was to survey all the employees about if they would participate in an EasyPass program if they had to pay for it, So then at last week’s meeting, the Committee asked what kind of response they got from City employees about whether they would want the EasyPass if they had to pay for it, and staff was like “We asked the people who get free parking if they would rather have a bus pass and they all said no.” And the Committee was like “Yeah, obviously. We asked you to ask all the employees if they would do it. So when are you going to have those results for us?”

And staff was just like, “Oh, well we weren’t planning on asking people and coming back to you with that. We were just going to do it.” And the Committee was like “Huh?” And Assistant City Administrator Marianna Marysheva-Martinez was all “Well, since the employees will pay for it themselves, we’ll just tell people that if they want the pass at the discount rate AC Transit offers it to us at, they can buy it, and there’s no contractual obligation that you would have to approve.” And Pat Kernighan was like “Um, isn’t there a minimum number of participants?” And Marianna Marysheva-Martinez was like “Uh…yeah, we’ll get back to you.”

EasyPass Disconnect

So, um, as far as I understand it, that is not how EasyPass works. The employer enters into an agreement with AC Transit to do this program, and it’s not just like, “Okay, now you get near-free bus passes as much as you want. Just give us a call when you want another one!” You’re supposed to have a site coordinator and work with AC Transit to promote the program, and educate your employees about their transit options and also you pay for the whole program at once at the start of the year, based on a number of program participants you have agreed on.

The per participant price for EasyPass also varies widely based on the number of participants. Like, if you’re doing it for 1,000 people, the per pass price maxes out at $82/person, while the per-pass price for 100 people can run up to $115.

It seems to me that if Oakland were going to do an EasyPass program, which I totally think they should, there’s actually a lot the Council needs to talk about. Are employees expected to cover the whole cost of their pass? Okay, great. How are we going to make sure we make a deal for the right number of passes and don’t end up having to eat a fortune if we don’t end up selling that many? Who is going to be eligible for the pass? Full-time employees? Part-time employees? Temporary employees? Civilian employees? Sworn employees? Only employees who work at City Hall? Or everyone, throughout the City? If they do it for staff at all different locations, is that going to impact the pricing structure for the passes, since all these different locations must be in a variety of different level of service zones. Or is everyone’s pass, no matter where they work, going to be priced based on the level of service for City Hall? Right?

I mean, these are just a few of the questions that pop into my head about this. I’m sure that if I spent a little more time thinking about it, I would have lots more questions. The idea that staff thinks they can or that it would even be appropriate to enter into an EasyPass program agreement without talking to the Council about it is, frankly, terrifying.

But what’s even more disconcerting is that they just do not seem to be taking the direction to explore an EasyPass program seriously at all. Listening to staff talk about the EasyPass program, which they had been directed to investigate, at both last week’s meeting and the previous one, it sounded a lot to me like nobody at the City of Oakland had so much as bothered to pick up the phone and talk to anyone at AC Transit about it. And while it’s entirely possible I’m wrong about that, I would be very surprised to discover as much, because the information they are providing to the Committee seems like what you would get if you kind of glanced at the EasyPass website and didn’t even it read it very closely.

I mean, forgive my skepticism, but they couldn’t even get AC Transit’s name right in the most recent report (PDF), which, really. I mean, that’s just pathetic. And it isn’t like there isn’t precedent for staff being totally dismissive of transit options and not bothering to do any research about it whatever. I mean, back in January when the Committee asked staff about transit alternatives to free parking, staff replied with total confidence that the cost to giving a bus pass to employees was $90/month. Which is, of course, even more than it costs to buy the passes retail. And the premise in all their reports that out of like 5,000 people who work for the City, we should only expect 100 to use the program is just freaking preposterous. Anyway.

Don’t hold your breath for the paid parking either

And what about Pat Kernighan’s proposal to charge these employees different rates for parking based on how much money they make? Well, don’t be looking for that one on any agendas in the near future. Staff’s response to the proposal was that they will have to meet and confer with the unions before the Committee can talk about it any more.

You see, even though free parking isn’t spelled out as a benefit in the MOUs, since these employees have been getting free parking for so long anyway, it can be considered a benefit that’s being taken away anyhow, and so you can’t change it without talking to the union first. When the Committee asked how long it would take before the item could come back, the response they got was basically, “Don’t expect to see it anytime soon.”

You can watch the discussion below:

So I guess for now, we’ll just keep on giving an unspecified number of employees free parking that we could be renting out to the public and making money off of, and maybe someday we’ll do EasyPass, or maybe not. You know, whatever. Gotta love the City of Oakland!


Related Posts

Oakland Zoo: A jungle on either side of the fence

So. Do you guys know about this zoo expansion? If you haven’t heard of it, you can get up to speed with this article from the Oakbook a couple weeks ago and also this one.

I have to confess, I haven’t been following the zoo issue that closely. In fact, pretty much the only thing I knew about it was that a lot of people hate it, and I only knew that because occasionally, people forward me angry messages from one of the zoo neighbors mailing lists either about or to the zoo. They are always like, really angry and often full of weird kind of vaguely threatening statements like “Mr. Parrot is in for a BIG SURPRISE!! There are going to be public meetings about this someday, and then he will find out how the people of Oakland REALLY feel about the zoo!!!” Whenever I see those messages, it makes me feel kind of bad for the neighbors, because I can’t help but think about how shocked and disappointed they’re going to be when they find out that most people in Oakland do not hate the zoo nearly as much as they do, or really at all. Anyway.

What the zoo wants

So, you can get lots of information about the plans from the zoo’s website or this promotional flyer (PDF) or in more detail from this report (PDF) for the Planning Commission meeting two weeks ago. But here’s the short version.

In 1998, the City approved a zoo expansion Master Plan. Part of that plan was the addition of this whole brand new exhibit featuring native California animals. The map below shows where in Knowland Park the zoo currently sits, and where in the park the new exhibit would go.

Oakland Zoo Map

Now the zoo still wants to do the California exhibit, but they don’t want to do it exactly like the Master Plan says. So now they are coming back to the City asking to make some changes. The changes include the following:

  • They want to reduce to total area of the expansion slightly (from 62 to 56 acres)
  • They want to build an aerial gondola to take people up the hill to the new exhibit, instead of running a shuttle bus
  • They want to build a new Veterinary Hospital
  • They want to move the existing overnight camping area
  • They want to change where the fence is going to be

You can read the complete list of changes here (PDF).

California!

So like I said, the zoo expansion recently came before the Planning Commission. No decision was made — it was just an informational report. Approval of the plans will come back to the Planning Commission at a later date, and then the City Council.

So first, Oakland Zoo executive director Joel Parrot gave a little presentation about this new California exhibit they want to build. Someone told me recently that Joel Parrot is like, some kind of huge celebrity in the zoo world. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I have to say, his very brief explanation of the new exhibit made it sound pretty cool.

So to get there, you would take the gondola up, and then you walk around this path where you can see California animals like mountain lions and black bears. And also, they will have animals that no longer live in California, but that were native to the state, like wolves and grizzly bears. Here’s the idea:

Oakland Zoo Proposed California! Exhibit

But my favorite part of the presentation was him listing all these kinds of animals that would be in the exhibit that had nearly gone extinct, and how all these different animals would no longer exist except for the fact that there were these big save the animal campaigns to protect and save that species, and so the exhibit is all about reminding people that through their action, they really can make a tangible difference in the world. How sweet is that? I found it very moving.

Not everyone likes “California!”

So then they moved on to public comment. There was…um…a lot of it. Highlights include…well, basically, the neighbors really do not like the zoo expansion. You can get a decent idea of their general position from this letter, which one of the zoo opponents submitted to the City before the Planning Commission meeting. Here’s an excerpt.

Dear zoo opportunists,

I have read your letter, and I am very alarmed. Let me begin with the words in your letter: “The Oakland Zoo is breaking new ground in science education and conservation that will help save California’s rich and threatened natural history through education, exhibits, collaboration and awareness.” This statement is supported by the following catch phrases:

  • “Growing Education & Conservation Leadership”
  • “Investing in Oakland & the Bay Area Economy”
  • “Taking Care of Knowland Park & the Environment”
  • “Enhancing the Regions’ Cultural Assets”

My first scary thought on reading this was: The Oakland Zoo is taking new ground, literally. Unfortunately, I fear that you may accomplish just that, and that you may never cease taking new ground.

I decided to test your real intentions with the help of simple questions: are your intentions altruistic or not. My answer is they are not. Altruistic intentions and actions are usually modest in the manifestations and strong in results. The selection of your words is typical for propaganda cases, in short — brainwashing. For example, you tout an energy-efficient gondola in your plan to prove that you know how to conserve the energy, but if you were really so intent on Conservation and saving energy, you would not expand at all. I do not believe that through your actions that Oakland Zoo and Oakland will become a center of the universe as you are presenting it. And for Goodness sake, it should not be that way. I believe you are promising more than you really plan to deliver.

Basically, they don’t want the expansion because they like having Knowland Park all to themselves. They don’t want to have the zoo’s fence get in the way of their (admittedly stunning) views. They don’t want to have to look at the roof of the zoo’s expanded veterinary hospital. Oh, and they are afraid of the grizzly bears getting out and eating them if there’s an earthquake. Also, the zoo expansion is exactly like the Raiders deal and will cost Oakland taxpayers millions and millions of dollars every year forever.

I realize that I’m making them sound really unreasonable, but the fact is, they sounded really unreasonable. I mean, I listened to them, I watched all the public comment twice, and I really tried to see where they were coming from, but in the end, I just do not buy that the expanded zoo is going to completely obliterate all quality of life of these people. It just does not seem plausible to me. The zoo is just not that scary. Saying the zoo is going to destroy your life is like Larry Reid saying at the last Council meeting that BRT was the same same as tearing up your neighborhood and using eminent domain to build a freeway through it. You hear that, and even if you are not that into the bus and have real concerns about BRT, you’re like “Um, no. It really is not like that.”

My point is, that if these people do have legitimate objections to the zoo’s plans, they did an exceptionally poor job of articulating them. At one point, Commissioner Vince Gibbs was like, can you please list your specific concerns about this for us, so we can try to address them? And the guy who responded was like, all weasely about it, kind of muttering for a while about how he has lots of problems in general and not saying any specific ones, probably because he knows if he said them, they would sound ridiculous. I mean, he’s sitting there going on about how the gift shop is too big. Come on.

But is the zoo evil?

So, like I said, the anti-zoo people really seem kind of…well, you know. But the pro-zoo comment was also totally over the top.

They kept talking about how the California! exhibit is going to make Oakland a big tourist destination, and “put Oakland on the map.” Anytime anyone insists that something will bring tourists to Oakland, I get suspicious. I mean, I support the zoo and look forward to going to see their new exhibit. But what map exactly is this supposed to be putting us on? Because unless we’re talking about a “Zoos of the Bay Area” map, I don’t see it. Are people in New Jersey going to take their kids on vacation to Oakland so they can see a wolf? I don’t think so.

In general, the zoo people seem very delusional about their place in people’s lives. They kept going on and on about how the zoo was such a huge source of pride for the City of Oakland. I hate to break it to them, but a lot of people don’t even know Oakland has a zoo. I mean, sure, those are mostly childless people and all the people I know who have kids are aware that the zoo exists, but a fair number of them have never been, and just take their kids to the San Francisco zoo instead because they assume it is better. (It isn’t, by the way. The Oakland Zoo is much, much better than the San Francisco zoo. Also, you don’t have to worry about your kids getting eaten by a tiger in Oakland.) Anyway, maybe the zoo should be a big source of pride for the whole city. But the reality is that right now, it isn’t and people who think it is should spend a little more time talking to people who don’t work for or live next to the zoo, and get a reality check.

Anyway, with the pro-zoo comment being so over the top, and then listening to the zoo’s talk about how this plan that everyone around it totally hates was made in the 90s with extensive community input and how the people against it now never wanted it in the first place and also it is supported by Larry Reid, I could not help but think of the Oakland Airport Connector. So of course that made me think, oh, maybe I should not trust the zoo, and maybe the neighbors are right after all. But then I thought, well, it kind of seems like the zoo is right in this case, and I think that if someone didn’t know anything and just kind of waltzed into the debate about the airport connector, it would not seem to them like BART was right. I mean, it’s half a billion dollars to go three miles and it would be slower than the bus and run less and will cost each rider double the price of the current bus and is not projected to have any more riders than the bus and people will have to walk farther to get to it from the station. But it will be prettier! I mean, no objective observer looks at that and thinks “Oh yeah, this thing BART wants to do is really cool! Those people objecting to it are psycho!” Anyway. So I did worry about that. But my conclusion was that even though the zoo expansion has some superficial similarities with the Airport Connector, that in and of itself does not mean the zoo is evil.

Oakland should be excited about zoo expansion!

Again, this discussion was merely informational, and the Planning Commission took no action. They did tell the zoo to make an effort to make nice with the neighbors, and listen to them and give them an opportunity to feel included in the planning process.

Listening to the zoo presentation, and hearing the zoo talk about how they were re-envisioning everything they do and how excited they were about the new exhibit made me think of the Oakland Museum, and the awesome renovation they just did with all their galleries being redone totally from scratch. And of course I could not help but then imagine about how amazing it would be if the library had an opportunity to totally re-envision all their operations and use of space and reorganize and have all this cool new stuff for our patrons, and then I started getting really jealous of the zoo. And of course I know the money just isn’t there for the library to do something like that, but that’s no reason to be bitter against the zoo or museum. Instead, it made me appreciate even more how lucky we are in Oakland to have these great enhancements of our cultural institutions going on right now.

If the neighbors do have legitimate objections, then those should of course be addressed. But NIMBYism should not be allowed to get in the way of a project that will bring joy and enrichment to our residents, and will also give people who don’t live in Oakland a reason to come and have a more positive impression of the city. I mean, yeah, I don’t think they’ll be visiting from New Jersey, but it’s not a stretch to see it being a draw for visitors from, say, Castro Valley or something.

League of Women Voters is here to help you with your June ballot

So, believe it or not, I have encountered a not insignificant number of people in the past couple of weeks who did not know they were supposed to be voting this June. And none of them were like, clueless, non-voting, don’t-read-the-newspaper types either. They were just all like “Well, Oakland has IRV now so we don’t vote until November, and I’m not a Republican, so I don’t have a Governor primary to vote in either, what would I be voting on?”

A lot of things, actually. You should have gotten a voter guide in the mail by now, but if it’s not easily accessible at the moment, you can see what your whole ballot is going to have on it right now by going to Smartvoter.org and typing in your address.

Hot Topics: Taking a Stand on June Ballot Measures

In addition to important primary contests for seats like Lieutant Governor, Attorney General, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction, you’ve also got a number of ballot measures to vote in.

The list below features all the measures on your June ballot, followed by the State Attorney General’s summary of the measure.

  • Proposition 13: Provides that construction to seismically retrofit buildings will not trigger reassessment of property tax value. Sets statewide standard for seismic retrofit improvements that qualify.
  • Proposition 14: Changes the primary election process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races. Allows all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. Ensures that the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference.
  • Proposition 15 Repeals ban on public funding of political campaigns. Creates a voluntary system for candidates for Secretary of State to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to limitations on spending and private contributions. Each candidate demonstrating enough public support would receive same amount. Participating candidates would be prohibited from raising or spending money beyond the grant. There would be strict enforcement and accountability. Funded by voluntary contributions and a biennial fee on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers.
  • Proposition 16: Requires two-thirds voter approval before local governments provide electricity service to new customers or establish a community choice electricity program using public funds or bonds.
  • Proposition 17: Changes current law to permit insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers who have continuously maintained their auto insurance coverage, even if they change their insurance company. Will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who do not have a history of continuous insurance coverage. Establishes that lapses in coverage due to nonpayment of premiums may prevent a driver from qualifying for the discount.

Confused? Don’t worry. Oakland’s League of Women Voters is here to help! Tonight, at the monthly Hot Topics meeting, League members will break down what each of the measures would mean for the state, explain the pros and cons of each, and then share the League’s position. The meeting will be held tonight, Monday, May 3 from 6:30 to 8:00 at the Redwood Heights Community Center (3883 Aliso Avenue). Hope some of you can make it!

Candidates Forum on Thursday

I know it’s super short notice for the Hot Topics tonight, and I feel really bad about that. I totally meant to post about it on Saturday, and then when I didn’t get to it on Saturday, I was going to do it on Sunday…well, you guys know how it is. If you want to be certain to always have advanced notice of these events and not be dependent on my flaky self, you can stay in the loop by becoming a member of the League.

Anyway, if you can’t make the Hot Topics tonight to learn about the ballot measures, perhaps you’ll be able to squeeze into your schedule the League’s candidates forum on Thursday.

That’s right, it isn’t just State races you’re going to be voting on in a couple of weeks – there are local elections too. There’s not much excitement around the Countywide offices — all the incumbents are running unopposed. There is also an election for Superior Court Judge. Some of you will also be voting on County Board of Education Trustee and Alameda County Supervisor.

At the League’s Candidate Forum, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of Nancy O’Malley, current appointed District Attorney running unopposed for election to the seat, County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan, District 3 Alameda County Supervisor Candidates, and the candidates for Area 1 County Board of Education Trustee.

The forum will be held this Thursday, May 6 from 6:00 to 8:15 in Oakland City Hall Hearing Room 1. I assume also that it will be broadcast live on KTOP, because usually the forums are, but the City’s website is broken as usual and I am therefore unable to check the KTOP schedule at the moment to confirm.