Monthly Archives: July 2010

Rebecca Kaplan: My solution to police pension stalemate

There is a win-win solution to Oakland’s stalemate over police layoffs. There is an alternative to layoffs and to the impasse over pensions that is financially responsible. We must act to preserve the time, money and effort that has gone into recruiting and training our new officers, avoid layoffs, and get them back on the beat. As Chief Batts has recently pointed out, crime tends to peak in August and September, we need to act now to break this impasse.

The stalemate centers around the police officers’ union (OPOA) request for a three year no layoff pledge in exchange for the Officers paying their “employee share” pension contribution of 9%. This pension contribution would be an important part of helping to build a long-term financially sustainable system.

I think we should accept and I have a proposal that allows us to do so. My proposal avoids the need for police layoffs, gets the 9% pension contribution from the OPOA and does not require our residents to pay a new $360 parcel tax.

We were asked to refrain from publicly discussing our proposals, until negotiations ended, but given the lack of a resolution and the urgency for Oakland to resolve this logjam I am putting it forward now.

My proposal is during the next three years (the duration of the OPOA’s current contract) as long as the City honors its no lay off guarantee the police continue to pay the 9% toward their pension. We can avoid layoffs both by agreeing to a retirement program and by taking other steps to improve our financial situation. In order to protect all parties to the agreement, I would propose a provision that if layoffs took place during the contract, the pension contribution would be reduced to 4%.

A combination of normal attrition and the savings from the 9% would allow us to avoid police layoffs, while also giving us the opportunity and time to reach agreement on other cost-saving/non-layoff solutions for our police force. This would meet the police union’s demands of no layoffs and take a much-needed step toward necessary structural change.

Many of the recently laid off officers are some of our youngest and most diverse. They also cost less than older officers. Taxpayers have made a significant investment in their recruitment and training. This is an investment that cannot be wasted. We save much more money by allowing more senior officers to leave the force through a retirement program like the one requested by OPOA, rather than laying-off the most junior officers.

We must include other ways to reduce costs while assuring public safety. These include achieving full compliance with the Riders settlement so that we can move sworn officers from Internal Affairs to community policing, and civilianizing certain tasks, such as intake of civilian complaints and clerical tasks, to lower costs and increase efficiencies.

Other cities are using civilians to do routine clerical tasks previously done by police officers. The civilians cost about half what a police officer costs. This frees up more cops for patrol and community policing efforts.  Here in Oakland we need to work together in a way that everybody contributes and shares in providing for the public safety and the fiscal sustainability of our city.

Rebecca Kaplan is Oakland’s City Councilmember at-Large and a candidate for Mayor. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and at KaplanForMayor.org.

Oakland’s failing streets

Do you guys remember, back in 2006, last time we were picking a new Mayor, how one of the big things everyone was concerned about with the City was the condition of the streets?

You would go to these forums, and Ron Dellums would be all “You know, I don’t have an S on my chest. Also, Oakland is on an 85 year street repaving cycle. That’s unacceptable.” And everyone would kind of shake their head in dismay and mutter about how terrible that is.

And then at work the next day, the people in the next row of cubes would be all “The roads in Oakland are so bad! I drove over this enormous pothole on the way here today. I think it damaged my car!” And then someone else would be like “Oh yeah. You know, I read in the newspaper that Oakland is on an 85 street repaving cycle! It’s disgusting! God, I hope Ignacio wins.”

I guess that last part probably depends on what kind of company you worked for. There were not a whole lot of Dellums supporters at the commercial real estate brokerage I was employed by at the time. Not that it really mattered what they thought anyway, since they all lived in Piedmont and couldn’t vote here. Anyway.

These days, of course, the City has more immediate problems to deal with, and most people are, understandably, more concerned with the recent layoff of like 10 percent of the police force than they are about the crappy streets they’ve been living with for however many years.

But just because you don’t hear so much about the street condition problem anymore, that doesn’t mean it has gone away. In fact, it’s just getting worse. This morning, the Oakland City Council’s Public Works Committee (PDF) will receive a report on the condition of Oakland’s streets (PDF).

How they measure pavement

Perhaps you recall seeing some headline in the not so distant past about how Oakland has some of the worst roads in the Bay Area. If you’re anything like me, you probably saw that headline and then shrugged your shoulders and rolled your eyes and said to yourself, “Of course it does,” and then moved on with your life and not even bothered to read any more. Because why wouldn’t Oakland have the worst roads, right?

(BTW, for curious types. The rankings come from the MTC’s Bay Area Jurisdiction Pavement Condition Summary (PDF), which places Oakland 95th out of 109 jurisdictions in the Bay Area for road quality. We beat East Palo Alto, Vallejo, Napa, St. Helena, Napa County, El Cerrito, Suisun City, Richmond, Marin County, Larkspur, Rio Vista, Orinda, Sonoma County, and Palo Alto. That’s right. We basically have rural quality roads. Hooray for us.)

So, the way MTC does this ranking and the way you rate just how bad your streets are is by using something called a Pavement Condition Index. The staff report (PDF) for tomorrow’s meeting helpfully explains exactly what the different ratings mean:

The pavement industry uses a Pavement Condition (PCI), a numeric grading system on a scale of 0 to 100, to rank the condition of streets. In this system, a score of 100 represents brand new pavement and 0 represents a completely failed pavement.

All roadways deteriorate over time by traffic loading and weathering. However, the rate of deterioration can be controlled, and pavement can be greatly preserved by applying timely maintenance treatments. Paved streets normally have three life cycle stages: 1) initial deterioration; 2) visible deterioration, and 3) disintegration and failure. During the first few years of use, the roadway surface starts to experience some initial deterioration. This stage represents a PCI of 80 or above. Preservation strategies during this period are least costly and can reduce the need for more costly rehabilitation later on. Visible deterioration shows signs of distress as potholes and crackign occur. This stage represents a PCI of 50 or slightly above. A more costly rehabilitation is required at this stage using milling and overlays to extend the life of the road. Roads not properly maintained at the above stages will disintegrate and fail.

The lifespan of a pavement is expected to be about 25 years. Cost of reconstruction after this 25 year period is moer than three times the cost of preservation of rehabilitation treatments over the same period. A successful pavement management program must focus most resources on pavement preservation rather than pavement reconstruction. According to the industry best management practices pavement network is most optimally maintained at a PCI of 80.

So basically, it’s cheaper to fix streets when they are still in relatively decent condition because the repairs last longer, and once you fall below 50, you’re going to have to spend way more money to fix them. Or, if you don’t, your street will just become hopelessly ruined.

Where Oakland’s streets fall

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that most of Oakland’s streets are not landing at the top of that scale. In fact, out of all our streets, only 7% are in what is considered “excellent” condition, with a PCI rating of between ninety and one hundred.A considerably higher number (28%) have a rating of between fifty and sixty-nine, which gets them filed under “fair.” And then of course we’ve got another 27% of our streets (222 miles) that fall into the category of “poor” condition, with a rating of somewhere between zero and forty-nine. Ouch.

How much do Oakland’s roads need?

So as depressing as this information is, it really isn’t the worst of it. You see, bad streets cost a lot of money to repair. And when you don’t repair a bad street, it starts to deteriorate even faster.

A score of 60, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), represents a 40% reduction in quality that a roadway reaches in about 20 years as its condition turns from “good” to “fair.” The same pavement, if untreated, will experience another 40% reduction in quality in only the next 3 to 5 years, turning from “fair” to “poor.” This accelerated rate of deterioration makes it critical to fund preventive maintenance teratments to sustain streets at high PCI levels at relatively low costs. Again, cost of reconstruction of pavement after its failure is more than three times the costs of preservation or rehabilitation treatments over the life cycle of that pavement.

And of course, not taking care of our streets is exactly what Oakland has been doing for…well, for a while now.

The report (PDF) estimates that the current cost of getting all Oakland’s streets back to decent condition would be $418 million, a substantial increase over the $300 million needed just four years ago. And if we keep going the way we have been, that cost is estimated to rise to $760 million by 2014.

How we can pay for it

So at the end of the report (PDF), there’s a little section about our different options for finding a revenue source to pay for all this needed street repair. They’ve got the Alameda County Vehicle Registration Fee on there, which is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. I don’t want to be dismissive of any new money coming to the City, but this $10 per car fee is not the miracle that a lot of people are treating it as. It would bring Oakland a little under $2 million a year for road repairs, which is nice. But it’s also not a real solution.

The other options are all just like, total non-starters. $200 a year parcel tax, $300 a year bond measure, assessment districts…I mean, I just don’t see any of that happening. They float the idea of a half-cent sales tax devoted entirely to street maintenance like El Cerrito has, which I suppose I would be more okay with that a sales tax that just went into the black hole of the General Fund, but still, I don’t know that I see that one passing either. And then tacked onto the end of the list you’ve got impact fees, which people at the City have been talking about for years as the solution to like, all of Oakland’s problems or whatever, but nothing ever seems to come of it, and of course, even if they do ever get it together to pass some, you’re still left with the problem that you can’t collect fees from developers that don’t exist.

Basically, there’s no sense here that we have any realistic options for getting our annual street repair spending up to the $26 million level that we would need to keep that deferred maintenance figure from continuing to skyrocket every year.

This is scary

So. It’s, like, really bad to not have roads in your city. I mean, for one, it’s dangerous. It totally ruins people’s cars to be driving on like horrible falling apart roads full of potholes all the time. And when you’re on a bicycle and the street is all disintegrating and full of potholes? OMG. Bad roads make bus rides bumpier and less pleasant. And of course, a city where the streets are in total disrepair is hardly welcoming to investors.

This is one of the serious, long-term issues facing Oakland that it would be really nice to hear the candidates for Mayor talk about. It’s all well and good and kind of cute, I guess, to sit around saying how you’re going to personally look for potholes and report them and then drive back a week later to check and see if they’ve been fixed, but that’s not really addressing the problem.

Bruce Nye: How can we fix Measure Y?

Bruce Nye is Board Chair of Make Oakland Better Now! Except where otherwise indicated, however, the opinions in this post are his, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the organization.

The Make Oakland Better Now! Measure Y Fix Proposal:

Last month, Make Oakland Better Now! proposed the following voter initiative to amend Measure Y (PDF):

  • Reduce the threshold number of officers from 739 to either 700 or 690;
  • Require Oakland to actually hire (not just appropriate for) either 690 or 680 of those officers before collecting the taxes;
  • Allow the Chief some flexibility in assigning duties to neighborhood beat officers;
  • Allow Measure Y funds to be used to civilianize some Police Department functions, freeing up ten to fifteen officers to fight crime; and
  • Make a designated portion of Measure Y funds available to allow performance and financial audits of the police department.

Our full proposal is here.

The Measure Y Fix Proposal on Thursday’s City Council Agenda:

On Thursday, July 22, the City Council will consider a proposed “Measure Y Fix (PDF)” for the November ballot. It’s anybody’s guess what the Council will adopt. But the initiative on the City’s web site (PDF) has these key elements:

  • Completely eliminates the threshold number of officers required as a prerequisite to the City collecting the Measure Y taxes (the proposal states this is a suspension until July 1, 2015, but Measure Y expires December 31, 2014);
  • Allows Measure Y tax proceeds to be used to recruit and train either neighborhood beat officers (sometimes referred to as “problem solving officers,” although Measure Y does not use that language) or officers hired to replace neighborhood beat officers;
  • Broadens the scope of permissible violence prevention programs;
  • Gives the City more discretion in its use of the $4 million in Measure Y proceeds allocated to fire fighting services; and
  • Makes clear that the City is not required to provide any of the Measure Y services when it doesn’t collect the Measure Y taxes.

The proposed modifications to the Measure Y provisions concerning recruitment and training, violence prevention programs and fire service funding are all pretty clearly responses to Marlene Sacks’ two Measure y related lawsuits against the City.

Administration’s Recommendation That The Threshold Be Eliminated:

he administration has apparently considered reducing the threshold, rather than eliminating it, but recommends against doing so (PDF) for the following reasons:

Some community members have suggested that rather than suspending the 739 officer requirement in Measure Y, that the “fix” should substitute a lesser number (e.g., 700 or 675). It is important to note that the resolution no. 82849 C.M.S. approved by Council on June 24 required the lay-off of 80 police officers. It also required that an additional 122 officers be laid off should none of the revenue measures be approved by the voters in November. As such, the non-Measure Y staffing level would be 601. Absent the passage of revenue measures, no number larger than 601 would allow for the implementation of the “fix” measure and even that number might be high if the budget situation were to worsen between now and November. Therefore it is recommended that simply suspending the 739 language is the appropriate action.

Why The Make Oakland Better Now! Proposal Should Be Presented To The Voters:

The MOBN! proposal involves significant risks. It won’t work if the OPOA does not eventually come to the table and contribute its share. It won’t work if the City does not spend the next one to two years engaging in real, meaningful, major budget reform to address its five year, $400 million to almost $600 million structural deficit.

But the risks of the “no threshold” proposal are even greater. In an environment where the Alameda County Grand Jury has twice told us our city needs a 50% increase in sworn police officers (see page 62), and the Chief of Police is trying to build a strategy to fight gangs, guns and drugs (PDF), annual reductions in police staffing are simply unacceptable, and the voters should not do anything to make it easier for the City to make such reductions. Crime reduction is the key to Oakland’s economic revival and increased city revenues. The “no threshold “ proposal sends a message that no crime reduction is coming any time soon.

Specifically, here’s what the Make Oakland Better Now! proposal would accomplish:

  • While there will be some reduction in the number of officers, the MOBN! proposal gives the voters what they thought they were getting in 2004 when they voted for Measure Y: an assurance that the City must actually hire some specific number of officers in order to collect the Measure Y taxes.
  • The MOBN! proposal might smooth negotiations with the OPOA , at least somewhat. While there is no way the City can meet OPOA’s demand for a no-layoff guarantee, the MOBN! proposal comes pretty close, since it tells the OPOA that any layoffs beyond the revised threshold will cost the City $20 million.
  • The “no threshold” proposal anticipates laying off another 27 officers in January even if the Measure Y fix passes. The MOBN! proposal does not save as much in fiscal year 2011-12 as laying off 107 officers, but then, it doesn’t result in the loss of 107 officers, either. If the appropriation threshold is reduced to 690, the actual loss of officers from FY 2009-10 levels is 23 and the budget savings is about $7.8 million. Combine that with the pension concession the City has been trying to get from the OPOA, and you’ve got combined deficit reduction measures of close to $16 million. If the threshold needs to be set lower, figure another $1.9 million in savings for every threshold reduction of ten officers.
  • The Make Oakland Better Now! proposal to fund civilianization would put between ten and fifteen additional officers on the street by moving them out of positions that can be filled by civilians at somewhere between 60 and 70% of the cost. We already know that ten of these positions can be filled for $1.27 million (PDF), as compared to $1.9 million for ten officers. If five more positions could be identified for civilianization and filled for, say $85,000 each, the overall savings would be 40% and 15 more officers could be on the street;
  • The Make Oakland Better Now! proposal to allocate Measure Y funds for performance and financial audits of the police department will surely yield a net financial gain. Make Oakland Better Now! aggressively supports the department and its Chief. But is there anyone who doubts there is at least 1% waste in the department that could be identified and eliminated? One percent of the department’s budget is $2 million, ten times the amount we have allocated for auditing.

As discussed above, both the “no threshold” proposal and the Make Oakland Better Now! proposal involve risk. I can understand why the City Council might worry that a reduced threshold proposal might not give the City enough flexibility if budget reform doesn’t happen. But the fact is, the City has to achieve meaningful budget reform, and it has to address all expenses, and revenues, or our problems with police staffing will be only a very small part of the city’s overall crisis. So we might as well roll up our sleeves and start addressing the budget. We must continue to get the involvement and participation of every stakeholder in the city, including the OPOA. And while we do that, we need to do whatever we can to keep our citizens safe.

Tax Fever, Part 1!

First, some housekeeping. Thank you so much to all of you for the warm welcome back!

For those of you who used to subscribe to e-mail updates for new blog posts, I’m sorry to say that I lost all those addresses when the site got infected in May. If you enjoyed getting updates that way, you’ll have to sign up for them again. You can do that here. It’s annoying, I know. I’m sorry.

If you want to be notified of new posts, but don’t like having notifications come into your inbox, you’ve got a couple of other options. You can follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/vsmoothe), where I do post when I have a new blog up, but I also write about other stuff too. If you don’t want to clutter up your feed with updates about my life, you can follow the Twitter account I’ve set up just for this blog (http://twitter.com/abetteroakland), where the only tweets will be notifications of new posts. You can also become a fan of A Better Oakland on Facebook, and get notices of new posts in your news feed. And of course, there’s always good old-fashioned RSS.

I know there are some other features of the old site that people miss. Please just be patient. I’ll be building the blog back to normal over the next couple of weeks. For now, I have added back the edit comments feature since you guys really seemed to miss that more than anything else.

Okay, now onto actual blogging.

On Thursday, the Oakland City Council will meet to consider placing a number of measures on the November ballot (PDF). Eight of them, actually. They won’t all end up on there, but I think it is fair to say that we can expect a lot of things to vote on. So let’s take a look at what they’re considering.

Public Safety Parcel Tax

Shall the City of oakland establish a temporary parcel tax solely to assist the City in preserving, protecting and enhancing “vital public safety and violence prevention services”, which is subject to independent, annual financial reviews and oversight by a citizens committee?

This is that $360 a year parcel tax you’ve been hearing about for a while now. The Council will have the option on Thursday of placing this public safety parcel tax on the ballot with a lower annual cost than $360, but not higher. And where will that $360 go? Well…

The tax proceeds raised by this ordinance may be used only for any of the following purposes:

  • 911 police and fire response
  • 911 police and fire dispatch
  • Community and neighborhood policing
  • Park policing
  • Police investigations and oversight
  • A minimum of 75% of the annual amount appropriated may be used only for any of the police and fire services listed above
  • Violence prevention services, including but not limited to, outreach workers
  • Not more than five percent of the amount appropriated annually for the annual costs of administering the ordinance (such as evaluation, financial reviews, tax collection, calculation of the amount of the tax for each parcel)

Um. Okay. Where do you even start with this? Let’s see. I guess it’s nice that it doesn’t tie the City’s hands too much. I suppose everyone learned that lesson with Measure Y. They’re got themselves a little kind of grab bag of public safety stuff they can spend the money on, rather than limiting it to sworn officers — it looks like evidence technicians, dispatchers, the civilianization of oversight functions that a number of organizations have been advocating for, I don’t know, you might be able to even squeeze the Neighborhood Service Coordinators in there as part of “Community and neighborhood policing.” So the flexibility is nice.

It’s also, of course, totally irrelevant. Is there anyone who thinks a $360 a year parcel tax has a chance in hell of passing? I mean, I think a parcel tax in any amount would be a really tough sell right now, what with the economy and the widespread voter distrust of the City’s ability to spend taxpayer money either wisely or as promised.

And then to make three hundred and sixty freaking dollars a year? I mean, it’s like a joke. I get that the City is broke and wants more money, and the $53 million a year that this tax would generate could come in pretty handy, but come on. There’s just no way. I can’t imagine something that high getting even fifty percent of the vote, much less the two-thirds approval that would be required for it to pass. I don’t know why anyone would even bother putting this one on the ballot.

Read the full proposed text here (PDF).

Measure Y “Fix”

Shall the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 (Measure Y) be amended to (1) clarify that tax revenue may be used to hire officers who fill positions of officers who are transferred to community policing, (2) clarify the uses of violence prevention funding, and (3) suspend the requirement that the City appropriate non-Measure Y funding each year to staff the police department at fiscal year 2003-2004 levels (739 officers)?

Basically, the City wants to be able to collect Measure Y taxes (parcel tax and parking tax) without staffing the police department at a minimum of 739 officers funded by the General Fund, which the Measure currently requires. The “fix” would also allow them to use Measure Y funds for recruitment and training of officers, in addition to paying officer salaries.

There is also a change in the language relating to fire services, which receive $4 million a year in funding from Measure Y (an aspect of the Measure that people often forget about). The existing language reads:

Fire services: Maintain staffing and equipment to operate 25 (twenty-five) fire engine companies and 7 (seven) truck companies, expand paramedic services, and establish a mentorship program at each station with an amount not to exceed $4,000,000 annually from funds collected from this ordinance.

The new version would read:

Fire services: An amount not to exceed $4,000,000 annually from funds collected under this Ordinance may be used for the following fire services: to help maintain staffing and equipment to operate up to 25 (twenty-five) fire engine companies and 7 (seven) truck companies; to expand paramedic services; and/or to establish a mentorship program at each station.

I don’t even know what I think of this. I mean, Measure Y was bad from the start. It placed way too many limitations on the City. But it isn’t like the Council stuck in all these restrictions about how the revenues could be spent for the fun of it. Measure Y came on the heels of two failed attempts to get voters to agree to more funding for increasing the police force. It was written the way it was because that’s what it took for people to support it.

So now the City is admitting that they can’t keep the promises they made in 2004, but they want the money anyway. Will people be willing to keep paying the tax without the minimum service provision guarantees? I don’t know. I mean, it seems a hell of a lot more likely to pass than a $360 a year parcel tax, but that’s not saying much. I guess the hope for this one is that people will just be desperate enough to avoid even deeper cuts to police service that they’ll agree to anything. That’s not so far-fetched, I suppose.

Read the full proposed text here (PDF).

Sales Tax

Shall the City of Oakland be authorized to enact a temporary transcations and use tax (sales tax) of one-quarter of one percent for five years with all proceeds placed in the City’s General Fund to be used for any lawful public purpose?

So, technically, it isn’t a sales tax. It’s a TUT. Don’t worry too much about the difference — they’re mostly the same in practice.

The good thing about this one (from the City’s perspective) is that it would only require a 50% yes vote to pass. It’s expected that it would generate around $8 million a year for the City beginning in FY11-12.

Currently, Oakland has a sales tax of 9.75%. This one make it 10%, one of the highest sales tax rates in the State. It doesn’t really seem like passing this would do much in the way of furthering our retail attraction ambitions, but I guess the City is just so desperate for cash that long-term strategic thinking isn’t really a high priority right now.

Read the full proposed text here (PDF).

To be continued

Okay, that’s enough for today. I’m exhausted. There are a number of other ballot measures that will be considered at Thursday’s meeting — an amendment to the Just Cause Eviction ordinance (PDF), a dramatic increase in the cannabis tax (PDF) we passed last summer, and three different utility taxes (here (PDF), here (PDF), and here (PDF)). We’ll take a look at those tomorrow.

DTO Streetcars and Shuttles at BPAC tonight

This is wicked late notice, I know. But I wanted to point out, for you streetcar fetishists out there, that tonight’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meeting may be of interest to you. I’m not on the BPAC, but their agendas always look really interesting, and members always seem to leave those meetings bubbling over with all sorts of fascinating new information.

This month’s agenda (PDF) looks especially cool. It includes an update on the Broadway Shuttle (wasn’t that supposed to start running in June?), and also a presentation/Q&A with Daniel Jacobson, author of the excellent blog 21st Century Urban Solutions, and also the Oakland Streetcar Plan, which you may have read about in Chip Johnson’s column like a month ago or today at Oakland North.

Streetcars. Eh.

I should probably say right from the beginning, just to be super clear — I’m not into streetcars. I’m not like, crazy anti-streetcar or anything. I’m just not into them. I feel like I have to say that, because so many people are so completely obsessed with streetcars that if you say anything negative about a streetcar ever or even dare to question whether or not a streetcar is appropriate for any given situation , they get all worked up about you’re a hater.

Wev. I’m not a hater. I’m just kind of like, eh when it comes to streetcars. I mean, I don’t really have a problem with them, but I just can’t get that excited about public transit that goes slower than walking. I mean, streetcars definitely have a role to play in some situations, and certainly their placemaking value shouldn’t be underestimated. Sometimes they are the best solution for an area, sometimes they’re not. If thinking that means I’m a hater, so be it. But I don’t think it does.

Portland. Eh.

The other thing that makes me suspicious of streetcars is that everyone’s example of how freaking amazing they are is Portland, where, if you listen to streetcar fanboys, the streetcar completely transformed downtown and is 100% responsible for the uber-cool revitalization of the formerly industrial Pearl District.

Again, wev. First off, the Pearl District is not that cool. I mean, whatever, it’s fine. People like it, it’s nice for tourists, there are some nice stores — sure, Oakland should have a neighborhood like that. Why not?

But I used to live in Portland, for a few years before the streetcar was built, and then for like a year (maybe two? I can’t remember, exactly) afterward. And so when I hear people attribute like, everything good that ever happened in Portland for the last twenty years or whatever to the streetcar, I can’t help but roll my eyes a little bit. Well actually, a lot. Because that narrative just does not match my experience at all. The Pearl District was already hip and well on its way to being the neighborhood it is now before the streetcar.

If there was anything that really made the area explode, it was the fact that there used to be a giant brewery separating the Pearl District from downtown, and then the brewery closed and they put lofts and a Whole Foods in its place. I mean, I have no doubts that the brewery blocks developers are happy and all they’ve got a streetcar right next to their buildings. But that was like, a fantasy location opening up, and there is no doubt in my mind that Portland would have gotten condos and a Whole Foods right there in the exact same spot with or without any streetcar.

I just have a really hard time buying all the economic impact claims people attribute to the Portland streetcar. There were so many different things all coming together in that place and at that time. I don’t think the streetcar had any negative impact, and I’m sure it did play some part in the revitalization and economic growth that happened there. But so did a lot of other things, and so when I hear people go on and on about the streetcar in Portland and how it’s like, the best thing to happen to Northwestern Oregon since the construction of the Bonneville Dam or whatever…well, it’s all just a little much. Anyway. Enough about V’s college years. I’m happy I live in Oakland now.

The Oakland Streetcar Plan

So in case you have missed it somehow, this guy, Daniel Jacobson, has put together a 140 page paper about why downtown Oakland needs a streetcar, which he calls The Oakland Streetcar Plan (PDF).

If you’re into this kind of stuff, you really should download it and take a look. 140 pages sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t a long read at all. The font is really big, and there are tons of pictures everywhere. If it weren’t all prettily laid out, it would be like less than half that long. If even that’s too much for you, you can get a solid overview of the concept by reading the much shorter Project Summary (PDF).

Basically, he proposes a streetcar route that would run from 2nd and Alice in Jack London Square up to MacArthur and Piedmont, with most of the line traveling along Broadway. He lays out projections for economic development impacts of the streetcar (new housing units, retail space, office space, jobs, and residents along the corridor), environmental impacts (reduced emissions), ridership, and costs for both building and operating. It’s thorough and well-researched.

Proposed Streetcar Route>

At the end, he’s got a little section about how the whole paper proves that a streetcar is exactly what the doctor ordered for the DTO and Oakland shouldn’t even bother with doing a feasibility study about it, because now with this plan, we’ve got everything we need to build ourselves a streetcar, and the next step for Oakland should be to start working on an EIR and lining up funding commitments.

So. That part is not realistic. This paper, combined with BART’s 2003 Jack London BART Feasibility Study, does not put Oakland in a position to get the shovels ready for a new streetcar. From my reading, the weakest part of the Oakland Streetcar Plan was the funding section, which relies really heavily on ACTIA and CBD contributions that I just really can’t see materializing anytime soon. And clearly funding feasibility (for both capital and operating expenditures) is a major factor in whether you should be planning major transportation investments.

So that little overconfident “Next Steps” section bothered me, and with that part fresh in my mind, I definitely got more than a little eye-rolly after that Chip Johnson column about the Oakland Streetcar Plan came out, watching my Facebook feed totally fill up with comments about how the fact that this undergraduate student made this great plan that we could implement tomorrow and putting it together cost like no money proves that the City is totally incompetent and can’t do anything right. Or dismissive comments about how the paper is so great, but the City won’t take it seriously because it wasn’t expensive enough to produce or whatever. Every time I would see one, I’d like sit there muttering to myself about funding sources and operations and unrealistic projections and Portland and go back and forth in my head about whether or not I should leave a comment about how it’s not actually a feasibility study that is appropriate for the City to use for a major transportation investment.

But I never left any of those comments, because what is the point of sitting around picking apart and quibbling about details of this interesting and well-done paper that this guy obviously spent like a ton of time on. So the Oakland Streetcar Plan isn’t fully baked. Who cares? I mean, you’ve got to judge things for what they are, not criticize them for failing to be something they’re not. And when you look at the Oakland Streetcar Plan for what it is — a well-researched and well-presented sales pitch for a downtown Oakland streetcar from a totally unapologetic streetcar cheerleader, it’s really good.

Am I sold? No. I mean, I think it’s obvious that we need something to connect Jack London Square and downtown. Maybe a streetcar is the thing to do that, maybe something else is. Maybe instead of having modern looking AC Transit buses for the Broadway Shuttle, we should get those ridiculous buses that are painted to look like a trolley car and say “Broadway Trolley” on them like they have in the main commercial area of the Houston suburb where my parents live, and that will do the trick. Who knows? The overall tone of the Oakland Streetcar Plan was just too boosterish for me to feel like other options had gotten a fair shake.

But I really love the idea of someone just having a vision of what Oakland needs and doing all this work to get other people on board with it. So if you’re a streetcar person, or if you’re like me and not totally sold, but interested in hearing what the guy has to say, check out BPAC tonight. The meeting starts at 5:30, and the agenda (PDF) has the Broadway Shuttle at 6:30 and the Streetcar presentation at 6:50. The meeting is at City Hall, Hearing Room 4. It’s on the second floor – just ask the guard when you go in and they’ll point you in the right direction.

I will not be attending, because I’m going to the Mayoral forum I mentioned yesterday. But if anyone does attend, I’d love to hear a little recap of the presentation and questions in the comments.

Your Choices for Oakland Mayor, Revisited

OCTOBER 2010 UPDATE: I am endorsing Don Perata for Oakland Mayor. No one else in the race has actually produced a tangible proposal to deal with the City’s budget, nor can anyone else in the race match his tremendous record of leadership and accomplishment on environmental and social issues. Oakland desperately needs his leadership. I hope you’ll cast your vote for him too.

Tomorrow evening, Oakland voters have an opportunity to hear from a number of the Mayoral candidates at a forum on public safety issues at Lakeshore Baptist Church (3534 Lakeshore Avenue, 7PM).

A couple of new candidates have jumped into the Oakland Mayor’s race since we last examined the field, so I thought it would be an appropriate, in anticipation of tomorrow’s forum, to take another look.

Since I don’t know that much about like half of the candidates, I’m not going to try to write up little intros. Instead, I’ll share some excerpts from their websites and videos if they have them, so you can get a feel for how they’re selling themselves.

Let’s start with the candidates you may not know as much about.

Joe Tuman

Background:

Joe Tuman began his career in politics as a young man in the San Joaquin Valley, watching his parents take part in Democratic Party campaigns in the 1960s and 70s. Moving to the Bay Area for college, Joe quickly became involved in local politics as a consultant and later as a speechwriter for candidates and elected officials as well as people in business. Joe holds a B.A. in Political Science (with highest honors and great distinction, as well as Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Berkeley (1980) and a Juris Doctorate from Boalt Hall (1983). In 1984 he became a television analyst for CNN during the presidential debates. Since that time, his work in television, news, and printed media has spanned two decades on both the local and national fronts.

Platform:

The threat to public safety affects consideration of other issues like economic development and jobs, effective government, and improved education. Fears about crime cause businesses to leave Oakland, robbing the city of jobs and economic benefit, and also discourages migration to Oakland for those who would buy homes here and become residents. Crime is a serious contributing cause to depressed property values, which in turn affects property valuations, and property taxes-thus robbing our schools of badly needed funding. The fight against crime consumes a disproportionate share of already depleted city revenues from the general fund. Worst of all, crime-especially violent crime-claims many victims, and is usually suffered most by the poor.

Video

Website: www.joe4mayor.com/.

Greg Harland

Background

His first start-up business was a small chain of retail clothing stores based in Manhattan Beach. After five years, he sold that business, and started a clothing manufacturing business, which employed over 50 employees. After four years, the employees formed a cooperative and bought the company. Then Greg started a computer software/hardware company, which he eventually sold to his partner after two years so he could return to the Bay Area.

After moving back to the Bay Area, he owned and operated two restaurants over a span of ten years, both of which were eventually sold. Greg is now retired and lives with his wife of twenty years, Joan, in Oakland.

Platform:

Oakland has to be a city that works for everyone. We need to build a strong economy by attracting businesses that will create enough jobs to give us full employment. We need safe streets where every citizen can feel comfortable. I want Oakland to be sought out for our great public schools. We need a city government that runs efficiently and is responsive to its residents.

All of this is possible if we decide to do it. I’m ready; so join me in my vision and let’s make Oakland the best city in the Bay Area.

Video

Website: www.harland4mayor.com/

Terence Candell

Background:

My name is Terence Candell. I was born and raised in Oakland and have lived here all my life, I am one of the 10 children raised by Shirley Etter, raised largely without a father in a highly dysfunctional family.

Still, I knew that if I used my God-given intelligence, I could make things better. If I loved hard enough, I could make things better. I love it here. So, I can make it better.

I have used this approach my entire adult life, with my wife, Dyra, who I love so very much. who was raised here; with the angel from heaven I am proud to call my daughter, Dyra the second, who has special needs and has taught me a different kind of love without measure; and with my genius son, the youngest in history to graduate from Cal State East Bay and the youngest African American to graduate from a university in the history of the United States at 14, and who demonstrates for me daily what love a man can be! Both of my children were born and are being raised in Oakland.

Platform:

Politicians will only tell you what you want to hear in order to receive your vote. Many have and will continue to bleed the city dry monetarily. It is time to restore Oakland’s beauty. Vote for someone who is not caught-up or tied down to greedy corporations or bad business ventures.

Video

Website: candellformayor.com/

Orlando Johnson

Background:

I learned that political campaigns are dependent on knowledgeable hard working staff and dependable volunteers. my mission is to support block-by-block organizing through logistics support, and taking the lead from the grassroots. I have worked to keep young people informed and involved. I also worked on the Oak-to-Ninth referendum petition gathering drive. This was a clear example of a favored developer receiving a public gift of land that would have ended up an environmental disaster, a public rip-off, and a total ignoring of a public input process. I learned how valuable legal input is to the development process. I have learned how the City Council works and the importance of everybody being aware and involved in the decision making process.

Platform:

One way or another, I will work to build a strong grassroots network in Oakland that is capable of resisting gentrification, injustice, and oppression. I know that running for mayor of Oakland Ca can give me experience in the kind of organizing that will increase the effectiveness and the smarts that we need to build that network. I am a conscious person who is willing to learn new ways of doing things. I also have lived long enough to learn that I must accept things that I can not change. But I know that through assertive commitment that much can be done.

Video:


Orlando Johnson 2010 Mayor candidate

Orlando | MySpace Video

Website:

2010oaklandcavotefororlandohnsonformayor.webs.com/

Don Macleay

Background:

He graduated from a machinist program in a Montreal trade school and followed that up with welding programs and CNC training. He got a GED in California and went on to graduate from Laney and then San Francisco State (Phi Beta Kappa)

Don believes in continuing adult education and still takes courses at Laney when possible. Most recently he took a course in Accounting.

Don was a machinist for 19 years, most of that time as a member of the machinist union (IAM). He was a IAM shop steward at Caral Mfg. of Albany CA. In his youth he worked to organize fellow plastic manufacturing workers at Rehau Plastics into the CNTU (the CSN of Quebec, Canada). Don believes strongly that all who work have a right to organize and be represented by the union of their choice.

Currently, Don owns and manages a small computer networking business in Oakland; East Bay Computer Services, Inc. He came to this occupation after a crippling industrial accident in a local machine shop left him unable to do the heavy lifting required of a machinist.

Platform:

Our strength as a city rests in honestly addressing the crisis in which we now find ourselves. This starts with asking the right questions. Success requires we apply proven research, programs, and solutions to a number of our city’s most critical challenges and opportunities.

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.

Video:

Website: www.macleay4mayor.org/

Don Perata

Background:

Don Perata has a distinguished record of civic engagement as a public servant and elected public official, rising from the ranks of school teacher to become president of the California State Senate.

A native and life-long resident of the East Bay, Don is the son of immigrant parents who taught him the value of hard work. As a youngster, he toiled at his father’s side, delivering milk door-to-door, and applied this grassroots approach throughout his career. Don has garnered a well deserved reputation as an elected public official who is accountable to his constituents – and gets things done.

Platform:

Oakland can do better. I believe it, I know it. It is unacceptable to call 911 and get a busy signal, to wait months to fix a pothole or a street light, to cut library and recreation facilities’ hours. If city hall can’t do the little things, it will never reach heights equal to Oakland’s magnificent possibilities.

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.

Video:

Website: perata4mayor.com/

Rebecca Kaplan

Background:

Rebecca serves as Oakland’s sole at-large City Councilmember. She has been an elected official representing Oaklanders for eight years, working to solve everyday problems of mobility, affordability, and quality of life.

Rebecca earned a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor. She holds a Master of Arts in Urban & Environmental Policy from Tufts University and a Juris Doctorate from Stanford Law School. A dual citizen born in Toronto, Canada, Rebecca has made Oakland her home for the past two decades. Before devoting herself full-time to public service, she worked for the California State Legislature, in the Oakland City Attorney’s office, and at TransForm.

Platform:

As the Council Member for the entire City I’ve taken a solutions-oriented approach to the City’s problems. I know the immediate need for a new direction of City leadership. In my time on the City Council, I have raised City revenues without increasing taxes on residents, cut red tape for small businesses, reformed outdated and discriminatory legislation, and expanded transit service. But there is much more to be done.

Oakland needs to be a City that works for us, to create jobs and economic opportunity, to assure public safety, to promote healthy and livable neighborhoods, and to have an efficient and transparent City government.

As your Mayor, I will draw on my energy, my experience, and my education to identify and adopt the best practices used by cities nationwide to deliver vital services, address community needs, and promote economic well-being.

Website: kaplanformayor.org/

Jean Quan

Background:

As a 30-year Oakland resident, I have dedicated my life to making government work for its residents — linking people to resources, empowering residents to make changes in their neighborhoods, and creating policy and institutions that help our youth, seniors and families thrive.

Oakland is my home. My family has been part of this city for over a century, since my great-grandfather, grandfather and his two brothers took the ferry to Oakland after the 1906 earthquake to become a part of the new Chinatown.

Platform:

Oakland’s most urgent needs are Jean’s highest priorities…

  • Ethical, Transparent, Effective City Hall

    Oaklanders deserve responsive and honest public officials who work hard to make resources accessible. With the right leadership, we can end pay-to-play backroom politics in Oakland. Our city is not for sale.

  • City-Wide Leadership for Quality Education

    To strengthen communities, build our economy and reduce crime, city government must help organize support for all schools and children to set and reach their goals.

  • Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety

    Our family’s security depends on effective violence prevention and community policing, neighborhoods organized and empowered block by block, and preparedness for earthquakes and fires.

  • Community and Economic Development

    Oakland can flourish with more local business incentives and jobs, equitable opportunities, smart planning for thriving local districts, affordable housing, access to services and resourced parks, libraries and arts.

  • A Cleaner, Greener, Healthier Oakland for All

    By creating a sustainable city, we promote a green economy and healthy environment that benefits us all.

Video:

Website: www.jeanquanforoakland.org/

More thoughts on Friday

Okay, that seems like enough to digest for today. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject after tomorrow’s forum. For those who want to attend the forum, it’s tomorrow night (Thursday, June 15th) at Lakeshore Baptist Church (3534 Lakeshore Avenue) from 7 to 9 PM.

I don’t know how many of the candidates are going to be there. Greg Harland, Rebecca Kaplan, Don Macleay, Joe Tuman, and Terence Candell have it listed on their websites, so I assume they will all be in attendance. Orlando Johnson does not, but he seems to have website problems, so I wouldn’t take that to mean he’s necessarily not going. Jean Quan isn’t listing it on her site or her Facebook, so I’m guessing that means she won’t attend. And of course, Don Perata won’t be going to any debates until after the filling deadling is closed, because he bizarrely thinks that giving voters an opportunity to ask you questions is “undemocratic”.

Oh! One more thing!

I wanted to extend my heartfelt appreciation to those of you who voted for me as “Best Blogger” in the East Bay Express Best of the East Bay Reader’s Poll. It’s extremely flattering to win the title for the third year in a row, and even more so since I have been so awful about keeping up the blog for the past few months.

But those who kept the faith and picked me anyway get a payoff for their kindness. You have succeeded in guilting me into returning to blogging. I don’t know if daily posting is in the cards for me right now, but I think that three a week is an achievable goal. I have to confess, I was really enjoying all the free time that opened up with the blog off my plate, and I had been considering abandoning it entirely. But writing about Oakland is fun too. So on the whole, I’m happy to be back.