Banner summer for Oakland

So, to recap.

The general political climate in Oakland at the beginning of the summer was best summed up by the Trib in their Council race endorsements, which they introduced by saying “If there were ever a city crying out for leadership, it’s Oakland,” then proceeded to endorse the re-election of every single incumbent. Oakland voters followed suit at the polls in early June, and sent Nancy Nadel, Jane Brunner, Ignacio De La Fuente, and Larry Reid back for four more years.

Mid-June news of a large-scale gang bust by the Oakland Police Department was almost immediately eclipsed by allegations that Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly had interfered with the 2-month investigation by tipping off her nephew, a member of the Acorn gang and City of Oakland employee, that his phone was tapped.

Faced with widespread citizen outrage, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums took the opportunity to demonstrate his unique ability to find the absolute worst possible way to handle a municipal crisis, first giving her until Monday, June 23rd to either resign or be fired, then pre-empting his own deadline by sending out an e-mail on Friday, June 20th directing all department heads to report directly to him. Nevertheless, Edgerly remained at the helm at the beginning of the following week.

Then on Tuesday, June 24th, Dellums held a press conference announcing that Edgerly would retire from her post, at the end of July (although she would continue to work for the city for as long as six months while selecting her own replacement) but claimed that the announcement was unrelated to the brewing scandal, saying her retirement plans had been in place since January. When pressed for details on the search for Edgerly’s replacement by Chip Johnson on KQED Forum, Dellums Chief of Staff David Chai remained insistent that the plan had been in place since January, but refused (or was unable) to answer follow-up questions about when the search for a replacement had begun.

By Friday, June 27th, Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Pat Kernighan were calling publicly for her to be placed on administrative leave until her retirement date, and Dellums finally did so that night, naming his interim CEDA director Dan Lindheim acting City Administrator. Edgerly fired back the next Monday, claiming that Dellums didn’t have the authority to appoint her replacement, in response to which, the Mayor finally fired her on July 1st, then told reporters the following day that claims he had behaved indecisively were “absurd.” Ultimate fallout of the Edgerly scandal is yet to be determined, awaiting the results of an FBI investigation, for which subpoenas were issued in late August.

Reaction to the Edgerly mess from the rest of City Hall varied widely. Oakland City Attorney John Russo, Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby, and Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente stepped in with government reform packages, offering proposals ranging from a new anti-nepotism law to an audit of hiring practices to records reform, while District 3 City Councilmember Nancy Nadel called such actions “opportunistic power grabbing (PDF)” and warned that we should wait for all the facts before “rushing to judgement.” Calls to eliminate waste in Oakland’s government were met with derision by District 4 Councilmember and wanna-be Mayor Jean Quan, who announced in a newsletter that she believes the worst case scenario is that the City has less than a million dollars in waste that could be cut.

The administrative crisis was compounded by a financial one. The Council passed a mid-cycle budget with $15 million in cuts in June, but got two bits of unpleasant news the next month. First, in response to findings of vote counting irregularities with LLAD from activist David Mix and ORPN founder Charles Pine, the Council admitted defeat and agreed not to collect the tax, putting them another $12 million in the hole. Then Dellums acknowledged that the revenue estimates he had presented in his (late) budget proposal were inaccurate by millions of dollars and announced he was bringing in former City Manager Robert Bobb to sort out the mess and find a replacement for Edgerly. Bobb announced two weeks ago that the actual deficit was somewhere between forty and sixty million dollars. Matier and Ross later reported that Oakland’s fund reserve dropped from over $60 million last year to $22 million currently. Although the City is unable to account for where the money went, Finance and Management Committee Chair Jean Quan tried to put a rest to concerns, saying “It’s not like the money was stolen.”

Things just got worse in August, when the City experienced a spree of local business robberies that appeared to have no rhyme or reason, with targets ranging from a pizzeria on Skyline to a nail salon in Temescal to a monument to mediocre cuisine in Rockridge. Dellums responded by blaming the economy, informing the citizens that the apparent crime rise is perception, not reality, and calling in the volunteer Guardian Angels to patrol our streets. The spate of high profile crime wasn’t limited to restaurant robberies – Oakland residents also got to deal with arsons in West Oakland, a four year old boy getting hit by a stray bullet, and this weekend, the second murder this year of a pregnant teenager. A Labor Day shooting in East Oakland brought the year’s homicide tally to 95, up from 88 this time last year.

In response to rising concerns about crime, the Council agreed to place a parcel tax on the November ballot that would hire 105 additional police officers and 75 additional police service technicians over the next three years, at a cost of $275/year for Oakland homeowners. Dellums named former County Health Department director Arnold Perkins as his temporary Public Safety Director. Although the public will have to wait until September 11th to see the Mayor’s full public safety program, residents got a preview of Perkins’s answers for the Oakland crime problem in a Trib editorial this weekend, where Perkins suggests to Martin Reynolds that citizens combat the crime problem on their own by bringing fried chicken to the groups of young men loitering on their streetcorners.

You know, following this stuff day to day, you’re always angry, of course, but as with anything, after a while you just sort of get used to it. There’s outrage, sure, but somehow it just gets dulled over time. I had a wake-up call this weekend, watching the way people not from Oakland reacted to my telling them, in this kind of jaded, matter-of-fact way, about the restaurant robberies and the statements in response from Dellums and Tucker. Their response, which was just complete disbelief that anyone would tolerate living in such a place, made me realize just how totally, totally fucked-up the situation is in this town. (I am sorry for the language. Although I may have a few sailor-like tendencies in person, I do try to restrain myself on the blog, but sometimes there are no other words.) The people of Oakland deserve better, and there is absolutely no reason we should tolerate the status quo even a day longer. Immediate action is needed from City Hall. As for what that action should be, well, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow on my thoughts there. Today is just about reveling in completely justifiable outrage.

16 thoughts on “Banner summer for Oakland

  1. Frank C.

    The failure of Dellums will create fertile ground for change in the next administration, just as the failure of US healthcare will create/is creating movement for reform. Pain creates the mandate for change, not intellectual arguments. So Oaklanders must just endure a little more pain. Countdown to the election! Don’t despair.

  2. Max Allstadt

    Here’s a thought:

    Form a group of clean-cut looking men under 40 who volunteer to drive through gang-ridden neighborhoods a few hours a week. Send them in pairs in the front seat send them in Ford Tauruses. The Guardian Angels make a presence and announce they’re not cops.

    Might it not be a good idea to have people driving through the ‘hood making people nervous ’cause they look like they might actually be cops? You know, kinda like the end of “The Three Amigos”, but not…

    After the Dogtown arsons, I went for a few drives through Dogtown, making sure to double back or circle the block when I saw sketchy stuff going down. Not to report crime, not to intervene, but just to make the crackheads a little nervous. If they think they’re being watched, maybe they’ll start to move on.

  3. Mike Spencer

    Thanks again, V, for your blog. And what’s the Oakland Tribune? Wasn’t that a newspaper that was once relevant and had a voice? All of us here have a big stake in the City.

    The only think I can say is do a small part. I coach kids in Oakland. Maybe it will help one kid. Who knows. This is harsh but you can’t save the kids over 14 in messed up surroundings….The City has to plan and build for the future. Lately, the City seems so reactive in its thinking and moves….

  4. KDOGG

    To be blunt, the problems that continue to plague Oakland today are due to the lack of mainstream investment in this city which fears the ‘perception’ of high crime from the largely African-American population. The media fuels this perception with daily reports of young ‘black’ men causing crime in and around this city. It’s also exacerbated whenever one rides on AC Transit and observes black youth causing a ruckus.

    Not once in your blog entry do you mention race as an issue. In fact, most people in Oakland seem to avoid the topic as taboo. The reality is that these violent crimes are mostly perpetuated by young black men and unless this city is able to confront this issue head on, we will continue to endure these problems for years to come.

  5. mark

    We are now at the point where there are places in Oakland the the police are afraid of and will not enter without massive back-up and fire power. Our death rate is now higher than Iraq’s!How did this happen?

    This is an incredible situation that WE ALL allowed to happen. We have to get back to basics and get back control of the city. It is not like every person in east oakland is a criminal. We have a few dozen people who are ruining life for everyone. We have to focus on these groups of criminals, start a stop and frisk program, and we have to make sure that the local district attorney’s are putting all their efforts on these groups.

    We can not allow other agenda’s to interfere with the primary business of running a city, keeping us safe, protecting our property, making sure there are enough jobs, and fixing the streets.

    No one will invest in Oakland until someone is actually running Oakland and our agenda is clear.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    KDOGG, the reality is that we had just as many young black men and just as many long-term pathologies as we have now eight and nine years ago when we had a fraction of our current crime. I am so sick of people using Oakland’s demographics to excuse a situation is just completely inexcusable.

  7. James H. Robinson

    Interestingly enough, Oakland is getting less black by the day. Blacks have a plurality of the Oakland population, not the majority. Personally, I believe that plurality will be lost in the 2010 census.

    That being said, most of the Oakland homicide victims are black, as are the perpetrators. This is something the community itself needs to deal with, starting with Mayor Dellums.

    Personally, I think there is a sad subset of the black community that is like a cancer upon the rest of us.

  8. Max Allstadt

    V,

    I’ve brought up demographics too, but not looking for an excuse, looking for explanations. If we have a surge in the number of 18-24 year old men, white latino or black, does that potentially create a surge in violence?

    Or are we facing an organized crime problem that we’ve barely scratched the surface of?

    Or, this summer, are we seeing homicides through the roof because the Acorn Gang is in jail, and there’s a power vacuum.

    One thing I’d really like to see from you or Vivek B is a map showing the ten worst blocks in this city for violence. It could form part of a strategy to buy the thugs out. If we can identify problem properties, perhaps we can initiate a conspiracy to buy them and turn whole blocks. Gentrification? Maybe. But when the prevailing affordability strategy is to call thugs “law challenged individuals” and ignore citizens pleas for help, I’ll take what I can get.

  9. DP

    Amen! Thank God you are outraged! Better late than never.

    TheBoss – I’d suggest starting a meet up group at http://meetup.com to get some marchers together. You can also get a petition going here: http://www.petitiononline.com/

    Max Allstadt – great idea – can we blast Mozart while we drive around to drown out the rap? We could also set up a network on the Internet with check points around the city to keep an eye on things and keep people informed. I had a helicopter with a search light flying overhead for 45 minutes last week and I have yet to find any information about what was going on that night.

    Mike Spencer – How about putting together a NEW on-line newspaper for Oakland? I am sure there are a few people in this town that would volunteer to write some articles and you could get local businesses to sponsor it with on-line ads. You could run an ad on craigslist and see if you get any interest.

  10. KDOGG

    I brought up race in my last comment to begin a conversation about the heart of the problems we see today. Unfortunately, I believe that this involves a perception and reality of black youth, who are either caught in the ‘image’ of what it means to be living in ‘da hood’ or are part of a never-ending cycle of their disfunctional environment. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but this is an image of Oakland portrayed to the world, causing a lack of support and investment from what I consider the mainstream. Whether or not one believes Oakland needs the mainstream, without solid private investment (in conjunction with public support), cities cannot sustain a healthy environment.

    The remnants of Oakland’s past have created a ghetto landscape ‘conveniently’ located between 880 and 580, funded (as most can assume) by ‘those white folks’ living in the hills. This is a physical reminder that this city, and many others like it, is still segregated by race. Of course there are many successful African-Americans and their families living in the hills or out in other prosperous neighborhoods, and there are many signs that race relations have improved from the 60′s. But the fact of the matter is that there still remains a large concentration of African-Americans who are caught in the ghetto with a ghetto mentality, further exacerbated by physical barriers that emphasize partition.

    I don’t have any solutions, but I hope we can at least have a dialogue about the structure of this city and openly discuss race as a prime characteristic of Oakland’s struggle and greatness. As Chris Rock once said, ‘I was born a suspect’.

  11. susan

    I read that they are hiring more Police Officers and Technicians….that’s great, but what about the people who answer 911??? If we don’t get our calls answered the police won’t even know there is a problem!!! I didn’t see anything about hiring more Dispatchers to answer the phones or even keep track of all of these new police officers hired.

  12. DP

    Apparently, another issue with the system is that all 911 and non-emergency calls go through the same call center and dispatchers. I called the non-emergency number one night and spent almost ten minutes speaking with a dispatcher. Trying to make a point about the possibility of a slow response time by officers, she told me that she had quite a few 911 calls on hold – (9 or 12 calls on hold, I can’t remember which) . Alarmed, I asked if I had called the wrong number – wasn’t I on the non-emergency line??? She replied that I was but that all calls came though the same dispatchers. I asked why she was talking to me when she had that many 911 calls on hold. She told me that all calls come through the same dispatchers and that they handle the calls as they come in. I said I was hanging up and she asked if I wanted her to call me back, I said “No, answer the 911 calls!!!”

    Now I don’t know if these were “real” emergencies or people that had 911 when they should have used the non-emergency line. I don’t know if someone assessed their situation and then put them on hold or if they called in and immediately went on hold. I didn’t get the details, I wanted to get off the line. Either way, I would think that separate dispatchers might help.

  13. Greg McConnell

    Last night I was at the Marriot for a dinner meeting. The dining hall was filled with hundreds of people, all of whom seemed to be in a festive mood. The food was not particularly good, but that’s par for the course at these kinds of events.

    I sat at a table with an Oakland City Councilmember and her husband. We decided not to dwell on budget problems, crime and other topics that so regularly form the basis of conversations in Oakland these days.

    About 8:30, I felt a little tired, so I left the dinner and went outside. It had been a very hot day and it was good to feel a cool evening breeze. I spoke briefly with a man who was milling about. We exchanged pleasantries and went about our way.

    I walked up Broadway to the BART station. Along the way I saw people who were causally walking along the street. Some looked like they’d had a long day at work and wanted to get home. I entered the station, bought a ticket, and walked down the steps to the boarding area. Unsure about how to get to my destination, I asked a women for help. She smiled at me like I was a tourist, and told me which train to take.

    After a few minutes the train arrived. I boarded. I noticed a foursome who appeared to be on their way out for the evening. They were laughing and enjoying themselves. An Asian man talked on his cell phone and a young Latino seemed to be checking his text messages. Other people just sat quietly

    The train ride was interrupted briefly because a small earthquake required a system check. No one seemed bothered and we all just waited patiently for the ride to resume.

    My wife and daughter picked me up at my destination. We went home and enjoyed the rest of the night.

    It was a pleasant evening in Oakland. No drama. No mayhem. No worries.

    I think I will do something like that again next Friday night. I hope to see you out there.