I hope you guys all got a chance to visit some of the great blogs I linked to on Sunday in the first part of my great Oakland blogs from 2009 series. I’ve got some more stellar reading material for you today. Here we go, again, in chronological order.
When I picked up the paper and read the East Bay Express article about the Measure Y lawsuit last winter, it was like bizarro world. I always have this idea in my head of reporters always wanting to take any possible opportunity to make the City look bad. So when a citizen, say, sues the City over illegal use of tax revenues and wins, I have a pretty clear picture of the type of story I expect to read about it. Certainly not one where the reporter calls the citizen a “gadfly” and “busybody,” gets all the details of the law and lawsuit wrong, and says the City should be commended for knowingly ignoring the law!
I feel bad for Marleen Sacks. There is no good outcome for her lawsuit. I mean, she wins, victory for the taxpayers, oh, and the budget problem gets even worse! (I understand Marleen has a settlement in mind that she feels would be fair but not hurt the taxpayers so much, but I don’t know any details about that so if she wants to get into it, then she can, if she doesn’t want to or can’t, okay too – the point of that last sentence is not to be against her, is all I’m trying to say.) But then, what else is she supposed to do? If nobody does anything when the City just ignores the requirements of the taxes they ask people to pass, then the City will just keep doing it. That sort of behavior needs to have consequences or it will never stop.
Going back and reading newspapers from when Measure Y was on the ballot is infuriating. In op-eds and letters to the editor, opponents of the Measure keep saying the same things – we won’t get the officers they’re promising, they’ll use the money for other things, this isn’t enough money to cover the costs for the officers, and so on. All these things came true. And then you read the responses from Councilmembers, like Jean Quan, saying oh no, they’re wrong, Measure Y is the best, it’s perfect, everyone will get everything they were promised, blah blah blah. And then you watch Public Safety Committee meetings now and get to watch Jean Quan say that it was never enough money to cover recruitment, or all the equipment, or even all the officers, and that they knew that when they passed it. It’s terrible!
Anyway, I am glad Marleen has a blog, because her response to the story was just totally awesome:
Me, a political gadfly? Hardly. I’ve only been to one City Council meeting in my life. I’ve had no involvement in Oakland politics, ever, with the exception of this lawsuit. If every concerned citizen who stands up for their rights, and the rights of their neighbors, is a “gadfly,” then I guess that’s me.
Gammon claims I am pushing for a “strict interpretation of Measure Y.” No, I’m pushing for the City to follow the law, i.e. what the voters intended. The voters intended that we get 64 additional police officers, increase the size of the force, with the purpose of decreasing crime. That’s not what we got. What we got was a slush fund that the City felt it could dip into for whatever it felt like, like paying for the academy training expenses of Deborah Edgerly’s daughter, who flunked four times.
Way to set the record straight, Marleen.
If you’ve ever had anything to do with one of these community planning processes, in Oakland or I’m sure any other city, you know how stark the differences between promises and reality often are. That doesn’t make it any less sad or disappointing the next time around, though. In this post, JAMMI Journalist recalls the work that went into a community plan for streetscape improvements in his neighborhood, and then takes a look at what ended up happening:
On January 21, 2004, community members voted on the priority of 17 individually implementable projects. The final design plan was presented to the community on February 18 of that year. It tantalized neighbors with visions of tiled walls, beacons shining into the sky, trees and plantings, colored lights extending across the ceiling of the underpass and washing its walls. CEDA staff managed to secure grant funding to realize some of the ideas. Five years later, what has actually been delivered?
The answer? Not much yet.
This post is from a Livermore-based blog about State politics, but there was no way I could leave it off this list.
After four Oakland police officers were killed in March, I put up a news links round-up because I figured people would want to leave comments about it, but didn’t plan on writing anything about it myself. One of the weird things about being a blogger is that people expect you to always have something to say about everything. But when something so horrible happens, lots of people struggle for words, and I am definitely one of them. All day on Sunday, people kept asking me what I was going to write, and I was just like, how can I possibly say anything? I don’t know these men, I don’t know their families, I have no more insight into this than any other random person. After all, my blog is about policy, not tragedy.
After enough people insisted that I really had to write about it, no matter how uncomfortable I felt, I spent a couple of hours trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t come across as insensitive or stupid. I felt okay about what I ended up coming up with, but I never managed to shake the nagging sense that it was just not my place to say anything about it at all.
This post, on the other hand, OMG, this is exactly the sort of person who you want to hear from and story you want to hear when something like that happens. The post is about how one of the officers, Mark Dunakin, had been a counselor at blogger Sean Mykael’s Boy Scout summer camps, and how grateful Mykael was to him for his work there:
Some of the fondest memories of my life are from that camp…and I have to think much of the credit for that goes to people like Stan & Mark. These were guys that were 16, 17, 18 years old and some even older. They could have been spending their summers doing anything; out partying away the days with their friends or backpacking through Europe after college, or who knows what, anything. Instead, what these guys chose to do was to spend their summers with us, a bunch of dorky nervous kids, many of whom were away from home for the first time and scared. Within hours of arrival at camp though, much of that anxiousness would give way to curiosity & excitement as these crazy characters we would be spending the next week with, began to introduce themselves. We’d go on to spend the next week learning more than we ever had and having more fun than ever doing it.
Oakland government woes reflected in Uptown parking proposal from Future Oakland (April 29, 2009)
As tempting as it may be to blame bonehead policy decisions on the City Council just being clueless, there’s usually a lot more behind bad decisions than just legislative idiocy (that doesn’t get them off the hook, of course). In this post, dto510 skillfully demonstrates how the deep disfunction of various aspects of City government all came together to bring us the infamous new surface parking lot at 19th and Telegraph proposal:
While advocates were clearly outlobbied at the City Council yesterday and I find the Community and Economic Development Committee’s pro-parking decision as frustrating as everyone else, I see how the city came to this decision. It’s not just that the CED Committeemembers decided, for whatever reason, that they love parking and don’t understand its pedestrian impact, but also contributing to this result are the structural flaws that beset Oakland’s government in general. It’s the poor performance of the Redevelopment Agency, the deeply flawed labor contract, and the city’s lack of transportation planning that lead the city to push for parking lots instead of better solutions.
It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of City Hall, but it is a great read.
How often do you think about how one deals with a school lockdown? For me, it was one of those subjects that had never even crossed my mind. Inspired by a heart-wrenching middle-school graduate speech, this former Oakland school teacher spells out the ugly realities our students face:
Then there are the logistical problems. The doors only lock from the outside, so you (the teacher) has to open the door and go in the hall to lock it – which is not ideal if you’ve just heard that there’s a man with a gun running through said hall. I used to keep my door locked and just make everyone knock on it when I was in the portable classroom all exposed out on the yard. The principals always got made at me, and I always did it anyway, after the first lockdown.
Then, you have a bunch of freaked out kids who have no idea what is going on and all need to do two things immediately: call their moms to make sure their moms aren’t dead, and pee. We resorted to having kids pee in the sink a couple of times during long lockdowns – I had a blanket that someone would hold up and I cleaned the sink really well after. And I’d pass around the cell phone while we tried to keep doing school in the dark.
Needless to say, it’s an eye opening story.
Home buyers are having a rough time in the East Bay from A Piece of the Pie (June 17, 2009)
I can barely keep up with the rent on my four hundred square foot, falling apart apartment, so I’m clearly not going to be looking to buy a house anytime soon. Still, I always thought that if I did have any money, now would be the perfect time to do it, with the real estate market down so much. And while it may still be a great time to buy, this post from local realtor Farrah Wilder made me realize that it’s not quite so easy as you would think from reading the papers:
What I’m seeing is a market that looks something like a room full of a hundred hungry dogs roaming around waiting for scraps and then five scraps are dropped in that are immediately pounced on the biggest and strongest dogs. In other words, there are a lot of buyers and their agents all looking for homes in the same neighborhood and price ranges. Good, and not so good, homes are securing multiple offers in a matter of hours (I heard of one home that had 50 offers after being on the market a short time.). FHA buyers, buyers who are low balling (submitting offers well below asking or comps) and buyers who cannot or will not write offers with very attractive terms are losing out over and over again. FHA buyers and other buyers who are using special assistance programs are unfortunately having a very rough time. Bank owners (and even some non-bank owners) are notorious for preferring non-FHA or cash offers in a multiple offer situation. They’ll even select cash or conventional offers that are tens of thousands of dollars (ie $40,000) lower than the FHA offers.
Wilder does a fantastic job breaking down the realities of the home buying process in Oakland. I’d be lost without her blog.
Eastside Stories is a wonderful community storytelling project that will be part of the public art in the new East Oakland Community Library. A video pod inside the library will showcase recorded stories, music, and other visual art from community members. The project’s website archives interviews with East Oakland residents about their lives in and memories of the neighborhood, which will ultimately become part of this video archive.
In this video, one resident talks about how she remembers the neighborhood from her youth, describing a vibrant community where the streets filled with families and fresh fruit:
73rd and East 14th was anything you wanted. There was like, a men’s clothing store. There were two pharmacies right on the corner. Our neighborhood doctor was in that building with the pharmacy on this side. There was a cleaners. There was a roller rink, so we could go roller skating, where…I don’t know if it’s an old furniture store, I don’t know what it is now, but that’s where we could go roller skating. There was a little tiny library across the street from the roller rink, which is now, I guess, the Martin Luther King library at Lockwood School. So we had everything that we needed right there. It didn’t take a whole lot to make us happy back in those days. Just the simple little things.
I think back to this story every time I find myself in this area now. It’s really heartbreaking to think about what a different place it was, really not all that long ago.
I adore Oakland history. When I don’t have any meetings to go to on a Wednesday or Thursday night (the nights the Main library is open late), I like to go sit in the Newspapers & Magazines Room and read through old local papers on microfilm. I found this hilarious article in the Chronicle from like 1950 or something once that was about a strike at Fairyland, which somehow involved midgets. I can’t remember the details, though.
Anyway, one of my favorite things is when other Oakland bloggers sit down and do some crazy amount of research on neighborhood history and write about it, and in this post, Artmeis did an incredible job of exactly that. She keeps apologizing for the post not being detailed enough, and while I would have happily read two or three or five times as many words, it’s both fascinating and engagingly written, start to finish:
As Oakland’s population soared in the 1920s through the post-war years, so did Auto Row, as new dealers filled in along Upper Broadway south to Grand and north to West MacArthur Boulevard (the Moss Avenue). Many of the auto-related repair and supply shops that opened up in between the dealerships and along the side streets are still in business today, many incarnations later. Many of the residential areas adjacent to Auto Row also developed in the 1910s and 20s, so there were hundreds of new residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Mosswood Park, which the City had purchased in 1907, was also extensively developed during this period to include new recreational facilities, ampitheaters, and other community spaces at the northern edge of Auto Row. (Sadly, several of these were later demolished to make room for I-580).
Reading this post, I learned a ton of things I had no idea about before (Academy Hill!), and hopefully, most of you will too.
A couple of months ago, I attended one of the many events at which new Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts related the story of his life and decision to come work here in Oakland. It’s a good story, and he’s an engaging speaker, but after hearing it like six times, I started to get a little bored. The questions (although he never seems to leave much time for people to ask them) were always the far more interesting part of these events to me.
At this particular event, someone complained about all the negative attention Oakland gets in the media. The speaker said something along the lines of, “I live in Glenview and I don’t think it’s fair how the papers always refer to murders as happening in ‘Oakland,’ rather than in ‘East Oakland’ or ‘West Oakland’ or “98th and Bancroft’ or wherever. Can you please tell the press to start referring to crimes in Oakland by the neighborhoods they happen in, so it stops ruining the whole city’s reputation?”
The Chief didn’t hesitate for a second. He just said no, straight off. It was a while ago and I didn’t write it down, so I won’t remember exact, but it was something along the lines of “I do not want to segmentize this city. Everyone in Oakland needs to own Oakland’s problems, because if we break the city up into good and bad pieces, the people in the good parts won’t feel like it’s their responsibility to do anything to fix it.” It was a whole lot more eloquently stated than that, but I decided right then that I loved Chief Batts. Then, a few weeks later, I read on Oakland Seen’s Facebook page that the Chief was now directing the media to say the address or intersection and not the City name, and I was kind of broken hearted. But then I didn’t remember getting any notice about that (although I get a lot of e-mail, it’s entirely possible I missed it) and the papers still seem to say things happened in Oakland, not like, Dag Hammarskjold or whatever. So who knows what’s going on with that.
Anyway, this blog, which I really loved, has pretty much the same point, which is that if people who don’t live in East Oakland are all worked up about the City’s reputation and crime and so on, then they need to start caring about what goes on out there:
Tammerlin Drummond made some compelling points in the Tribune yesterday about how the city fails to reach out to East Oakland. While areas like the Dimond and Laurel are experiencing mini-renaissances, Deep East Oakland (DEO) doesn’t even have a decent grocery store. No, the MacArthur corridor from Eastmont to San Leandro isn’t the best neighborhood, but it’s part of our city. It also happens to be a part of our city that carries an inordinate amount of Oakland’s poor reputation. And yet, many die-hard Oaklanders just read about its crime in the newspaper and shit on it from afar.
East Oakland isn’t all bad, contrary to popular belief, but it is struggling…a lot.
I probably should have used this chance to highlight something arts related from 38th Notes, because Coolhand Luke and his crew cover that subject so incredibly well, but I just liked what this post had to say so much, I couldn’t leave it off the list.
We Fight Blight had some really wonderful and extensive coverage of a battle over a new neighborhood liquor store this fall, andjustalways really stuck in my head. Trying to improve this city, particularly if your efforts involve in any way working with the city, it can be – well, a lot like banging your head repeatedly into a very hard wall forever. And sometimes you get so frustrated, and so tired and just…angry.
I thought this post captured those feelings perfectly:
You’ve got to love Oakland. It is the place that people love to trash…literally. Just take a look around at the streets of Oakland. What do you see? Neverending garbage…literally. Cans, bottles, cigarette boxes, bags of fast food leftovers, condoms, candy wrappers, drug packages, and buckets of human waste. Yes, even human waste. Who dumps all of that stuff — Oaklanders.
Neverending garbage. That’s just how it feels sometimes.
Ah, the Art Murmur. I don’t really go so much anymore, because I’m usually so tired by Friday that I can’t stand the idea of doing anything involving crowds or noise or whatever at night. But it’s a fun thing to do if you have the energy.
This post, however, is not the glowing review of the Art Murmur that one usually reads. Instead, blogger a laments how the event lost its vibrancy in the process of trying to become fully legal:
As the summer progressed there arrived vendors of tamales, vegan and vegetarian burritos, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pie, cake, cookies, and even a man with a cooler who would sell a shot of whiskey and a beer. Because of expensive and restrictive regulations in American, all of this was technically illegal. And that’s were the problem started.
Last month Art Murmur just wasn’t what it used to be. The street seemed confined to a smaller area by the presence of traffic cones, many vendors were simply absent, and most troubling, there were hired security goons shouting at people for drinking on the street. My friends and i did a double take at this for isn’t Oakland the ideal place to drink on the street? My much looked forward to shot and a beer was nowhere to be found. Sadly we just found the nearest hardware store so we could huff some paint in a bag inside the provided outhouse.
Naturally, we can’t just say it’s okay for everyone to run around selling their backyard moonshine on the street. There are sensible reasons for requiring permitting and health inspections and the like. But it’s undeniable that bureaucracy and creative energy don’t always make the greatest couple. This post does a good job capturing how delicate the balance between legitimacy and fun can be.
Click through and read them, folks. They’re all amazing. And you’ve got another set to look forward to later in the week.