Monthly Archives: August 2010

Oakland Mayor debates, past and present

So, on Wednesday night, I went to the “Green Oakland” Mayoral forum sponsored by the Sierra Club and the East Bay Young Democrats.

I’ll write more about the forum next week, but for those who wanted to attend but couldn’t, I don’t want to make you wait to see what happened. Please enjoy the full video of the event below. I apologize for the somewhat uneven quality.

I’m still digesting the forum from last Wednesday (9 candidates is a lot to process!), so today, I’m going to talk instead about a different Mayoral forum I watched recently. Totally randomly, while working on a project unrelated to this blog, I stumbled across this video of a 2006 Oakland Mayor debate sponsored by the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club. Of course, I had to watch it. For those find themselves similarly compelled, I have reposted all the video below.

It was kind of strange watching it and being reminded of how different things were just four years ago. Questions covered building the economy, how Oakland should address development on the waterfront (the Oak to Ninth project was a super hot issue at the time), crime reduction, the poverty problem, mitigating the fallout of the Raiders deal, improving opportunities for young people in Oakland, disaster preparedness, and how to better brand the City.

Ignacio De La Fuente went first with the opening remarks, and started off by complaining about the format — apparently, the candidates were all given the questions in advance — and how that leads to scripted answers.

That got me thinking about debate formats. I’m not sure how I feel about giving people questions in advance. I mean, I understand the concern about scripted answers. You want candidates to demonstrate the knowledge they have, and thinking on your feet is of course an important skill. But on the other hand, I don’t really like the idea that the point of a candidate forum is to like, catch people by surprise. Ooh! Gotcha! You don’t know anything about subject X and now you look stupid.

I mean, nobody’s going to be an expert on everything, so if you actually want to know where a candidate stands on something, you might as well give them the time to make sure they have a position and can answer your question coherently.

It’s like how two years ago at the City Council debates the League of Women Voters hosted, they asked everybody if they would support a comprehensive records management program for the City and the hiring of a certified records manager to be in charge of it, and everyone was like “Um, yeah. Sure, I support that.” But it was totally obvious that nobody had any idea what the hell the question was even about. And then of course Jane Brunner spends like two years throwing a temper tantrum about the League’s efforts to get the City to actually create a records management program (this was finally approved in July). And Rebecca Kaplan at a Council meeting in January displayed a distressing amount of contempt for the concept of putting a well-trained professional in the position, going went on about how she doesn’t see any reason why we would need to recruit a certified records manager instead of just picking anyone from the City’s existing employee pool to do the job.

Anyway, I see why people might think that giving questions in advance might result in a situation where statements are crafted to be as inoffensive as possible, but the fact is that if a candidate just wants to dissemble about everything, they’re gonna do it whether they got to see the question beforehand or not. I just don’t really think the goal of a debate should be to find out who is the best off the cuff speaker. Of course, it’s possible I just think that because I am terrible at answering any question without having plenty of time to think about it, and tend to sound like a babbling idiot when people ask me things.

When it was Ron Dellums’s turn to open, he informed the audience that despite apparently having received all the questions in advance, he was “going off the cuff.” Because that’s exactly what everyone wants in a Mayor, right? Someone who has an opportunity to prepare for something, and doesn’t because they think they’re too good for it. I mean, apparently that is what people want, since everyone laughed hysterically and clapped at that line. Oh, and also I guess cause he won.

But really, this is something that has always bothered me about Dellums, and I don’t think I’ve actually ever complained about it here. Crazy, I know. But people are always talking about how impressive it is that he speaks so well without notes, and I have always thought that’s kind of a bunch of bullshit. I mean, yes, he does sound eloquent, but when he does that he just spews all these words and never actually says anything. It’s just pretty sounding jibberish. I mean, this was the beginning of his statement:

Master of ceremonies, my distinguished colleagues, and ladies and gentlemen, it’s both an honor and a privilege to be before you, and I am proud to be before you as a candidate for the Mayor of Oakland at a very significant time in the evolution of life in this City, in this Country, in this world and secondly because this is a significant moment in the civic life of this coummunity.

What the hell is that? It is so many words for saying absolutely nothing. And I know what you’re all thinking. Gee V, you’re one to talk. But while I readily admit that parsimony is not my strong suit, I’d like to think that if I had only had three minutes to make a pitch for something, I could be a little more careful.

Oh, and then at the end, after saying nothing, he complained that that he couldn’t possibly talk about everything he was going to do in only three minutes. So there you go.

But what struck me most about the debate, especially in contrast to the Sierra Club one from the other night, was how dramatically different all the candidates were. Like I said, I’ll get into Wednesday’s forum next week and look in some detail at the way different candidates answered different questions. And some people clearly performed better than others. But overall, at both this forum and the public safety one I went to last month, you were hearing pretty similar answers to most of the questions from all of the candidates.

This one wasn’t like that at all. I mean, Ignacio De La Fuente kept hammering on growing the City’s tax base and economic development in response to like, every question, while Nancy Nadel was all about affordable housing and raising the minimum wage and inclusionary zoning and providing health care for the uninsured and all those sorts of things and how the City has been too focused on improving things for property owners and if she was Mayor, her focus would be on the 60% of Oaklanders who do not own property. Dellums, for the most part, just didn’t say anything. Model city, model city. Oh, and that we’re going to be terrorized by bird flu any day now and that the Golden State Warriors should be renamed the Oakland Warriors and that gas is going to be $10 a gallon soon and therefore nobody will want to live in the suburbs.

On the question about crime, Ignacio De La Fuente was all about how we have to admit we have a problem and need more police and crime has to go down and how the Neighborhood Law Corps is so great. And Nancy Nadel went on this long thing about how the first thing we have to do is figure out how to separate all the different types of crime and then get the State to reform the prison system.

And then there with the question about branding, Nancy Nadel complained that it’s Jerry Brown’s fault Oakland has a bad reputation because he was trying to make Oakland look bad on purpose and that the media is really mean and we need to change our logo to something that has people on it instead of a tree. And then Ignacio De La Fuente was just like, we can improve Oakland’s image by actually dealing with our problems and improving the quality of life here. Dellums, of course was just like, model city.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have a bunch of candidates who seem to broadly agree about most things, and then you get to pick the one you think would best be able to implement them versus a few choices with clear ideological differences. I suppose that if you disagree with what pretty much all the candidates we have now are saying, then that definitely sucks for you. One thing I’m definitely sure of. Debates are a lot more interesting to watch when there are clear ideological differences between candidates.

I don’t know. I suppose I don’t really have any grand conclusion about what I learned from watching the debate. I did make me remember why I used to like Ignacio De La Fuente so much, which was nice since I have found him recently to be kind of one-note and whiny. Mostly I just thought it was kind of a fun little break from our depressing current situation to go back and kind of think of how things could have been.

You know what I love? Voting!

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

90 years ago today, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women throughout the United State the right to vote.

Having been born in the 1970s, it’s difficult for me to even conceive of not being allowed to vote. But when you think about it, 90 years is really not all that long ago. The history of the battle for women’s suffrage in the United States is both fascinating and depressing (and well chronicled in the excellent anthology One Woman, one vote: rediscovering the woman suffrage movement, available at the Oakland Public Library if you want to learn more about the subject), but mostly, it’s amazing to me when I think about the absolutely relentless persistence of these women involved in the movement.

But what’s even more awesome is what the leaders of the suffrage movement did after they got what they wanted. I mean, it would have been so easy to just celebrate their victory and put the years and years of pamphleting and lobbying behind them and just enjoy finally getting to relax. That’s totally what I would have done.

But they didn’t. Instead, they decided to channel their energy and the nationwide organization they had built up into making sure women used their hard won right to vote responsibly. And thus they transformed the National American Women Suffrage Association into the League of Women Voters. They engaged in exhaustive study of issues, lobbied for what they believed in, and mostly importantly, worked tirelessly to educate voters so that everyone could make the most informed possible decision when they went to the polls.

90 years later, voter education remains at the heart of the League’s mission. For the election approaching this November, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hear from candidates for Mayor if you want to. The race will be covered extensively in traditional media as well as blogs and other online publications. There will be forums all over the city organized by all sorts of different groups. For City Council races, you will also likely have several opportunities to see the candidates speak side by side, and you can expect at least some coverage in the local newspapers.

But the sad fact is that for many of the races on your November ballot, nobody cares. It matters a lot who you put on the BART Board and the AC Transit Board and the Peralta Community College Board, but unfortunately there is simply not enough interest in most down ballot races to justify very many forums or media attention.

But there is one group of people in Oakland who work tirelessly to ensure that voters have an opportunity to hear from everyone, and that’s the League of Women Voters. They don’t endorse candidates, but they make sure you have the opportunity to make an educated decision by organizing and televising forums for all those races nobody else can be bothered with. They produce the Easy Voter Guide so that everyone can understand the issues on their ballot and make informed decisions. They produce the wonderful Smart Voter website, where you can go anytime to compare all the candidates, side by side. They send people out to neighborhood meetings all over the city to explain the Pros and Cons of each ballot measure in clear and objective terms.

This work isn’t always the most exciting. But it incredibly valuable and essential to a well-functioning democracy. I am extremely proud to be a member of the League of Women Voters of Oakland, and if you aren’t one already I hope you will consider celebrating this day by becoming one. (Men are welcome too!)

If you’re already a member, you can always help support the League’s work in addition to your dues by making an additional donation. And if you really want to join the League but are being held back because the cost is prohibitive to you, you can always contact the League of Women Voters Oakland and inquire about our dues-assisted memberships.

So please, take a few moments today to appreciate the tireless work it took the guarantee women the ability to vote, consider honoring their legacy by joining the League and finally, enjoy my favorite song from Mary Poppins.

Well done, indeed, sister suffragette!

Who’s on your ballot?

Okay folks, we’ve got 10 weeks left until this fall’s election. During that time, I plan to take a closer look at all the local elections (some closer than others, depending on how much that particular race interests me).

But for now, I thought it might be helpful to just give you guys a little roundup of all the local elections you’ll get to vote in. Below is a list of all the candidates in City, School, and Special District races that will appear on Oakland ballots this November.

I have listed the campaign websites for those candidates where I could find one. The titles after everyone’s names are the titles that will appear beside their names on the ballot. Where no title is provided, it either means that there was no title on the list I got from the Registrar of Voters or the list said “pending” in that space. I’ll check again next week and update as needed. Same with the links to the websites.

Okay, then. Enjoy!

Oakland City Auditor

  • Michael Kilian, Certified Public Accountant
  • Courtney Ruby, Oakland City Auditor

Oakland City Council, District 2

Oakland City Council, District 4

Oakland City Council, District 6

Oakland Mayor

Oakland School Board, District 2

  • David Kakishiba, School Board Director

Oakland School Board, District 4

  • Benjamin Visnick, Teacher/Parent
  • Gary D. Yee

Oakland School Board, District 6

  • Christopher Dobbins, Incumbent

BART Board, District 4

Superior Court Judge, Seat 9

AC Transit Board, At-large

  • Ellis Jerry Powell, Retired Tutor
  • Joel B. Young, Appointed Incumbent

AC Transit Board, Ward 3

  • Dollene C. Jones, Bus Driver
  • Elsa Ortiz, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District Director
  • Nancy M. Skowbo, Retired Transit Executive

East Bay Municipal Utility District, Ward 3

  • Katy Foulkes, East Bay M.U.D.

East Bay Municipal Utility District, Ward 4

Peralta Community College Board, District 3

  • Linda L. Handy, Incumbent
  • Monica Tell, Public Relations Specialist

Peralta Community College Board, District 5

  • William J. Mattox, Human Resources Consultant
  • William “Bill” Riley, Incumbent

Dear candidates for Oakland Mayor: Nobody wants to listen to your whining

Have you guys been following this ridiculous brouhaha about the
Sierra Club Mayoral forum next week?

If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. It’s a bunch of headache-inducing nonsense. You can go read the play by play recounting of the all the ridiculous bitchery that’s gone on in the last couple of days over at Zennie Abraham’s blog, Oakland Focus, but for those who have don’t have the time (or stomach) for it, here’s the short version.

The Northern Alameda County chapter of the Sierra Club organized a Mayoral forum for next Wednesday, which was going to be co-sponsored by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition. They invited only the candidates they decided had viable campaigns to participate — Don Perata, Jean Quan, and Rebecca Kaplan. I am not entirely clear on what criteria they were using to demonstrate viability. At first I was under the impression they were using the League of Women Voters criteria, then it seemed like they weren’t, then I heard they were, then…well, whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. In any case, it was just going to be for the top three candidates.

So of course, the candidates who were not invited got all upset about being excluded and then the Terence Candell campaign started firing off a bunch of crazy sounding letters about how the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters (who are not part of next week’s forum, but who are co-sponsoring a forum in September that was announced with participation criteria) are elitist and other such bullshit. And other candidates who weren’t invited sent a bunch irate messages to various mailing lists about how unfair it was for the debates to be limited to “professional politicians” and calling for people to protest forums that were not open to everyone on the ballot.

Then someone from Don Perata’s campaign told Zennie that Perata wouldn’t go to any forums that weren’t open to all candidates because it’s undemocratic or some such nonsense, even though he already attended a forum (held by the Oakland Builders Alliance) that was not open to all candidates. Of course, that was also during the period where he claimed he would not attend any forums at all because it’s “undemocratic” and “misleads voters” to have forums before the filing deadline, so clearly these statements from his campaign need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Anyway. Then the Oakland Climate Action Coalition decided to pull out of the forum altogether because too many candidates were excluded and said that they would be hosting their own forum in September. And then the Sierra Club said that their forum would be open to all the candidates after all.

What a bunch of nonsense

First, I’m really disappointed about the Sierra Club’s decision to change the criteria for their forum. I mean, I totally get why they did it, and I respect their choice, but from my perspective as a voter, it’s a real bummer. I was really looking forward to the opportunity, for the first time, to hear the people I have to to choose between speak at reasonable length, side by side, about their positions. I already went to one of these everyone’s invited forums and I’m sure I’ll end up at a few more over the next few months, so I no longer have any reason to attend this one.

And for the candidates throwing a temper tantrum about not being invited to participate in certain forums, all I have to say is this: stop whining and start campaigning.

What’s the purpose of a candidate forum?

As far as I’m concerned, there is not a thing in the world wrong with limiting participation in forums to serious candidates. The purpose of a candidate forum should be to educate voters about their choices. These things take a tremendous amount of work to organize, and nobody should be expect to go to all that effort just to provide a soapbox for people to complain about how they don’t think the City is well run. Guess what! Nobody else thinks it is either, and the fact that you managed to find fifty people to sign a piece of paper and coughed up enough cash to get your name on the ballot does not mean you have a chance at winning or that anyone is obligated to listen to you.

I was talking to someone from one of the “viable” campaigns yesterday, and they were all “Just so we’re clear, our campaign fully supports opening the all debates to all the candidates.” I was like, “Um, yeah. Of course you do. The more people less qualified than your candidate on the stage, the better it makes them look. Also, you know that several of them are going to beat up on your competitors, so it gives you the negativity you want while letting you keep your nose entirely clean.”

But let’s be clear. Having everyone running up on a stage doesn’t have a single thing to do with “democracy.” All it does is allow the leading candidates to spend less time answering questions from voters about their positions. It is always in the interest of front-runners to avoid talking at debates as much as possible.

Here are the criteria that the League of Women Voters provided when they sent out invitations to the forum they’re co-sponsoring in September:

1. Eligibility to be on the Ballot: the candidate must have correctly taken out, circulated and properly filed nomination papers

2. Viable campaign: The candidate must have:

  1. made a public announcement of an intention to run
  2. A legally registered campaign committee with the California Secretary of State
  3. Have filed appropriate financial reports with the City of Oakland and the California FPPC
  4. A publicly accessible campaign headquarters
  5. A telephone number, other than a personal or home number, listed under the campaign’s name
  6. A campaign website and/or other campaign material with articulated views on issues
  7. A campaign bank account and campaign treasurer

In addition, the candidate must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. The candidate has received 5 percent or more of the vote, tested in a trial heat in a professionally conducted independent public opinion survey conducted by an experienced political pollster based on a scientific sample of the entire electorate with a margin or error of less than 5 percent (at a 95 percent level of confidence), if such a public opinion survey is available
  2. The candidate has reported in legal documented filed with state or city government entities the receipt, during the election campaign, of at least one campaign contribution per 1,000 residents of the constituency (based on the total number of persons enumerated in the last U.S. census), excluding contributions from the candidate himself or herself, the candidate’s spouse, or the candidate’s natural or adopted children. Contributions do not have to be residents of the constituency to be counted.
  3. The candidate previously had been elected to or held, the office that he or she is seeking.
  4. The candidate sought the same office during the previous eight years and received at least 20 percent of the vote in the general election.

This isn’t some crazy nonsense that someone made up so they could exclude people at random. This is just clear, objective, boilerplate criteria for establishing that you’re a serious candidate, and it is completely in line with the national League of Women Voters guidelines for debate participation criteria. There’s nothing unusual about it and there’s nothing that should come as a surprise to anyone with any history of involvement in politics.

And frankly, it is simply not, by any reasonable measure, a high bar for demonstrating that you’re running a viable campaign. All it requires is that you make your campaign accessible to voters and that you can demonstrate a modicum buy-in from the electorate.

If you want to be taken seriously as a candidate, you have to actually, you know, campaign. All this whining about money and viability and who is to say who is viable? WEV. Those criteria have nothing to do with money. It’s about demonstrating support. Look, there are four hundred thousand people in Oakland. If you can’t get four hundred of them to give you a dollar, then no, you are not a real candidate.

BREAKING: Winning elections is hard!

So. From time to time, people who are considering running for one office or another ask me to talk to them about their plans and whether they should take the plunge or not. I don’t know that I have any particular insight into the subject, but I almost always tell them the exact same thing, and I think it’s pretty good advice. I say that Oakland desperately needs more people to run for office, and that no candidate should ever go unchallenged, and if they decide to go for it, I think that’s great. But, that if they do, they should make sure they understand before they get in that campaigning is really hard and also that they are probably going to lose.

It’s a harsh thing to say, and most people don’t seem to like hearing it, but it’s the truth.

And for those who are willing to accept the challenge and put themselves out there to run for office anyway? Whether or not I agree with their platform or even think they would do a good job in the office they’re seeking, I have an extraordinary amount of respect for them. It is so much work to campaign, especially so when you know your candidacy is a long shot. You open yourself and everything you believe and everything you have ever done up to a tremendous amount of criticism and rejection and…I don’t know, I don’t think I could ever do it. Whether you’re doing it to try to win against the odds or whether you really just have something you want to say and you’re using the election as an opportunity to get that message to the public, it’s an amazingly tough and also just wonderful thing to do and absolutely worthy of admiration.

But here’s the thing. To earn that respect, you have to, you know, actually campaign.

You want to get your ideas out there? Do it. You want people to consider voting for you? Then you have to be out there actually soliciting support from voters. And if you aren’t doing that outside of organized forums, if your entire campaign plan is to go make a bunch of noise at these multi-candidate events that other people put together because they want to make an informed decision about where their vote should go?

Well in that case, you are not a real candidate. Cause you know what? If every single person who went to every Mayoral forum in the entire city decided to vote for you based solely on your performance in those forum (which, BTW, is not going to happen — half the people who go to those things have already made up their mind anyway, and that’s being generous), you still wouldn’t win. You wouldn’t even come close. Because most voters do not attend candidate forums.

You absolutely have to be working for it in other ways. And if you’re not, I don’t see any reason why I should go spend my extremely limited time listening to what you have to say instead of hearing more in-depth responses from people who are actually trying to win.

So instead of sitting around whining about how unfair it is that you don’t meet some pretty basic criteria for viability, go out there and figure out what you’re going to do to meet it. It’s not fucking rocket science. Go get four hundred one dollar donations. If you’re serious about your campaign, you’re out there asking for votes anyway. Explain the forum situation to the people you talk to. If you’re actually working for it and making a good case for yourself, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to reach that threshold.

What’s that? Getting people to give your their money is hard? Boo fucking hoo. You know what else is hard? Running the City.

Whoever ends up as Oakland’s next Mayor is in for a bitch of a job for the next four years, there’s no way around that. So if you think you deserve it, and if you want people to take you seriously, well then, suck it up and stop whining. Accept the challenges before you and find a way to meet them. Because I, for one, have no interest whatsoever in another four years of listening to an endless pity party coming out of the Mayor’s office.

What do you want to read about?

Okay, readers. I need your help.

My morning routine, Monday through Friday, goes pretty much like this. The alarm goes off at 4:45, I hit the snooze button twice and roll out of bed a little after 5. I make coffee, head over to the living room, and saddle up at my computer. I scan my Oakland-related RSS feeds looking for items to put in my news links here on ABO, then I open up my text editor and try to write a blog.

I make notes. I write outlines. I assemble lists of relevant links. Eventually, I come up with a couple hundred usable words plus a bunch of half-finished paragraphs full of lines like “[MAKE THIS LESS BORING],” “[FINISH THIS PARAGRAPH],” and “[WRITE SOMETHING WITTY HERE].” Sometimes I even get as far as making pretty looking charts to include.

But then, once I think I have something approximating a usable draft, I take a step back, light a cigarette, reread the whole thing from start to finish, and start nodding off halfway through reading it because I’m just so bored by the whole thing.

So I write, then erase, then write some more, then erase again, the write some more…well, you get the idea. But every day, after an hour or so of writing and erasing, I throw my hands up in the air and decide that whatever I’m talking about is either just too boring to be of interest to anyone or too depressing for anyone to want to read about, or (in many cases) both, and I promise myself I’ll come up with something more entertaining tomorrow, accept another day of defeat, and move on to real work.

Subjects I’ve started, then abandoned, posts about in the last three weeks include the budget, pensions, the taxes on November’s ballot, the Mayor’s race, other elections in November, the zoning update, explaining how redevelopment works, the Sunshine Ordinance, and…I don’t know, a bunch of other stuff.

But honestly, every time I start to write about any of those things, I feel like there’s just nothing new to say. I mean, there’s only so many things to say about the City’s looming financial collapse, and frankly, I feel like I’ve kind of said them all at one point or another over the last two years. On the other hand, it does often seem like a lot of people really don’t get how dire the City’s situation is, so maybe it is time for a refresher. I don’t know. Writing about the budget is just so incredibly depressing. I assume that reading about it must be too.

Same thing with the pensions, right? I mean, there’s been several occasions where I’ve started posts about some discussions about pensions at Committee meetings from the Spring, but there’s only so many different ways to point out that our system is unsustainable and only so many times you can say it before getting bored to tears. Or maybe that’s just me. Apparently, some people can talk about public employee pensions all day long without getting bored. Or, you know, all day, every day, for months on end or whatever. I don’t really get it, but each to their own, I guess.

There’s not a single candidate for Mayor that leaves me feeling anything beyond either “Eh” or “That guy seems unstable,” the zoning update is depressingly (and predictably) provincial, and I know I’ll have to go through all the ballot measures at some point, but that seems like something more appropriate to save for the fall. Same with all the other local races — I know I’ll be writing about them at some point, but I feel like I should wait for some forums or something first, because at this point, there really isn’t a whole lot to say.

Honestly, the only subjects I’ve felt at all inspired to write about anytime recently are the Council’s war on clean clothes (PDF), which isn’t timely, how excited I am about the opening this weekend of the DTO’s newest bar, Threefiftyfive, which seems kind of out of place here, and this Mayoral debate I watched the other night from February 2006, which I decided would just be straight up weird to be blogging about.

So I give up, folks. I have absolutely no idea what to write about or what people find interesting anymore. I have a ridiculous amount of information stuck up here in my head, and have gotten to the point where I’m completely clueless about what, if any, of it is worth sharing. If you guys want to know more about pensions or the budget or whatever, I can do that. If you guys want to talk about elections, I can do that. I you want to talk about something totally new — well, if it has anything to do with Oakland government, chances are, I can do that too. Except for the WIB. Don’t ask me to write about the WIB. Even thinking about it gives me a headache. I really just can’t deal.

Anyway, I do sincerely want to get back into blogging, so we’re going to do this choose-your-own-adventure style. Then I can blame my readers for the blog being boring. Mark what you want to read about in the poll below. Whatever gets the most votes is what I’ll write about next. Then whatever gets the second most votes, I’ll write about that. And so on until I think of something on my own that seems interesting enough to merit coverage. If you want to read about something not listed in the poll, write your request in the comments.

You can pick as many choices as you like, but for the subjects where there are options for both overview/summary and details, please only pick one. I’m trying to gauge how interested people are in different subjects — like, is X topic worth one post or five?

[poll id="3"]

Oh, also. If you work or live in the downtown area, or even if you just pass through on your way home, pay ThreeFiftyFive a visit sometime soon. It’s at 19th and Webster next to Burger Gourmet.

Bar ThreeFiftyFive

I know it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but indoors, it’s beautiful and classy and OMG I am just so incredibly happy to see more things opening on my side of Broadway. Grand opening is this Friday at 8!

A fun opportunity to learn more about your government

A lot of people I know, myself included, have a tendency to complain about the sparse coverage of Oakland City government in the media. While it’s true that there isn’t as much reporting on Oakland issues as I’d like to see, our City Hall actually gets a huge amount of attention when compared with some of the other entities that make huge decisions impacting our lives like The MTC, the Port of Oakland, East Bay MUD, the Alameda County Transportation Commission, and last but not least, Alameda County.

I’m not holding out a ton of hope for a sudden flurry of media interest in any of these agencies, but I do want to share an opportunity for those of you who are curious to learn more about one of them.

Alameda County is currently taking applications for enrollment in its annual Leadership Academy. If you join the program, you will attend an evening meeting once a month from October to March. At each meeting, you will learn about a different part of the County government. Representatives from different agencies give a forty-five minute or so presentation, followed by a Q&A session with the class.

I went through the program last year, and I found it totally fascinating. The County has always kind of been like some kind of black hole for me — I would read the occassional story about budget cuts or something, but for the most part, as far as I knew, the County was basically a giant welfare agency. So of course when I saw a notice in the Trib last August about the Academy, I was ecstatic about the chance to learn more, and filled out the application immediately.

Over the six month course period, we got presentations from the County Fire Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Office of Emergency Services, the Sheriff’s Department, the Probation Department, the Adult and Aging Services Department, Economic Benefits Department, the Employment Services Department, Children and Family Services, Health Care Services, the Budget Office, and probably several more that I’m forgetting. We also got tours of County facilities like the Juvenile Justice Center and the Emergency Operations Center.

The only one of our six sessions that I did not enjoy was our final class, where we held a mock Board of Supervisors meeting about the budget. We broke up into groups. Some of us got to be Department Heads and make recommendations about how to cut our budgets by 15%. Others got to be concerned citizens advocating to the Board for their priorities. And five lucky students got to be Supes, grill the Departments about their recommendations, yawn during public comment, and decide what got the axe.

The mock Department Heads, who had been given a whopping thirty minutes to study their budgets and come up with recommendations for cuts, were unsurprisingly completely unequipped to answer any of the questions the mock Board asked them and mostly just stood there looking clueless. The mock concerned citizens made unrealistic demands, and wasted most of their speaking time complaining about how one minute wasn’t enough time to make their case. Then the mock Board of Supervisors abandoned the dais so they could make a decision together away from the angry ears of the mock public, and returned after a few minutes saying that it was all just too hard and they couldn’t bear to cut anything, so they would put off voting on the necessary cuts until a future meeting. All in all, it was just a little too familiar to be enjoyable.

Overall, I came away from the program with a significantly better understanding of how the County functions and all the services it is responsible for. I also came away with the impression that Alameda County is significantly better run than the City of Oakland. I mean, I know that obviously everyone is going to try to make themselves sound as good as possible in their presentation, but with the exception of the District Attorney’s Office (whose presentation was almost comically boring and uninformative), all the speakers explained what they do, how they do it, and how they have been dealing with funding shortfalls with a level of coherence that you rarely see come out of Oakland City Hall.

The one caveat I have is that I would not recommend the program for anyone who doesn’t have a car. The meetings are held all over the County, often in places with very little in the way of transit options. I usually had to leave work early to get to the meetings, and on several occassions, I had to leave class early in order to catch the last bus of the night. With the bus service cuts that have taken place since then, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of the locations are no longer served by transit at all.

If all this sounds interesting to you, I strongly recommend you go to the Leadership Academy Website and fill out the application quickly. I think they base their acceptance decisions based on who applies first, and I know a number of people who applied last year and didn’t get in.

I hope some of you will decide to do it. It’s fun, it’s educational, it’s not that big a time commitment (especially if you are able to drive), and I want Oakland to be better represented than it was last year. Like half of my class was from San Leandro!