Bruce Nye: Make Oakland Better Now! – Secrets Revealed

On the eve of Make Oakland Better Now!’s kick-off meeting, we are starting to run across much curiosity about who we are and what we are up to. There’s apparently been speculation that V.Smoothe of A Better Oakland is behind the group. And there was a comment at SFGate yesterday that “this smells like a faux grassroots organizing campaign for some Oakland mayoral candidate.”

So, since none of us involved in this fledgling movement is presently interested in either “organizing for some mayoral candidate” or in remaining anonymous, this seems like a good time to provide more information.

We started as an un-named group of about twenty Oakland residents invited to meet in my living room two months ago. As a group, we decided we wanted to try to form a large, city-wide, grass-roots, issues-based organization empowering its members and all Oakland voters by assembling, publishing and advocating for well-researched and informed positions on a variety of issues in three core areas: public safety, infrastructure (broadly defined as streets, lighting, parks and libraries) and government transparency and accountability.

My wife and I have lived in the Oakland hills for twenty-nine years; since the primary requirements for attending that meeting in June were (a) we had to know you, and (b) you had to be willing to give up a couple of hours to come to our house when we weren’t serving anything interesting to eat or drink, most of the people who attended that first meeting were likewise hill residents. But our issues are not hill-based. We are committed to public safety city-wide. And our membership is not intended to be hill-based. We are determined to recruit committed members from all parts of Oakland. One of the things we’ll be looking for Thursday night will be ideas on expanding our reach.

At least when it comes to city political matters, most of us are newbie activists; we have made, and will no doubt continue to make rookie mistakes. The most recent, obvious and embarrassing one was scheduling our kick-off meeting at St. Theresa’s Church in the upper Rockridge, a location that is scarcely encouraging for people who take public transportation. Generally speaking, we will learn from our mistakes, and specifically we will find more accessible locations for future meetings.

Our initial publicity efforts have been modest, but have resulted in an enormous amount of excitement. About eight of us put on “Ask Me How to Make Oakland Better Now!” t-shirts and took a stack of cards promoting our event to the Art & Soul Festival. We handed out about 1,500 of them. But more significantly, we had some great dialogue and learned from the Oaklanders we met how hungry people are for this sort of thing. We notified the NCPCs and a number of neighborhood groups. We invited people to join our e-mail list, which is rapidly approaching 100, and, about a week ago, started a Facebook Group, which seems to be adding members by the hour and as of 12:30 p.m. today stands at 122 members. We’ve had great mentions from V. Smoothe at both A Better Oakland and SF Gate’s “In Oakland” blog, from Chip Johnson at the Chron, and most recently from We Fight Blight.

One of the things we are doing that seems to resonate is prioritizing. This group cannot be about every problem that ails Oakland, and certainly there are plenty of them. Our thinking is this: a city that cannot keep its citizens reasonably safe, that cannot build a sense of trust between its law enforcement department and those citizens, that cannot adequately meet its fire safety and other public safety obligations, and that cannot maintain its streets, parks and libraries is failing in its most crucial functions. And if the voters feel nobody is responsible, that they have no idea how to get a response from the city, then an essential critical bond between local government and citizens is missing. If the issues within these areas aren’t being addressed, just about everything else pales by comparison.

So now what do we do? Here’s what we have in mind for Thursday: As a group, we want to identify the specific issues within each subject area that we believe are most important. In public safety, is 800+ the right number of officers? Is the number higher than that? What is do be done about the relationship between the department and much of the city? What are the effects of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement? There are lots more, and similar issues and questions in each of our areas of interest. The group as a whole starts by identifying them. We will also address issues of outreach processes to make sure that all of Oakland is represented by Make Oakland Better Now!

Then we break up into sub-groups for each of the areas. These will, effectively, be think tanks in each area. To make sure we have some initial facilitation, we’ve appointed some temporary leadership for each group, who will work with the sub-groups to put together a plan to research and present positions on each identified issue. The sub-groups will ultimately select their own leaders, and will go out into the world to talk to people, read documents, and do whatever else they think is necessary to reach informed, recommended positions. And the idea is to have enough people to break this job up into small pieces. Sub-groups will elect their own permanent leadership.

When that process is done – probably a couple of months – we reassemble for presentations by the sub-groups on proposed positions on issues within their areas. The group as a whole adopts positions, we publish those in some format and publicize them, then begin screening mayoral and, perhaps, other candidates for how they measure up against the Make Oakland Better Now! issue positions. And after the election, we hold candidates accountable.

As I said, many of us are novices when it comes to city politics, and we’re making up a lot of this as we go along. Things will undoubtedly change as we learn. But some things, I hope, will be constant: the focus on our three core areas and the certainty that with large numbers and educated positions, we can become a force to be reckoned with in the City of Oakland.

Please join us Thursday night, August 27, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Church, 30 Mandalay Drive, Oakland. If you need transportation help from Rockridge BART, want to join our e-mail list or need further information please e-mail us at

14 thoughts on “Bruce Nye: Make Oakland Better Now! – Secrets Revealed

  1. VivekB

    D’oh! That’s the same night as the Rockridge NCPC meeting. They also don’t serve anything interesting to eat or drink, though.

    But, as i’m presenting crime stats, i guess I need to show up to it. If you have any online guides/activities documenting your action items and where you’d need help, be sure to post it.

  2. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    It’s also same night as the WOBO meeting that I need to attend as they are giving an update on the Urban Paths inventory. I plan on going ot the MOB Now after which means I’ll be late.

    @Bruce another lesson about the kick-off meeting, every other organization in this town plans meetings on Thursday nights.

  3. len raphael

    MOB consider Studio One Arts building for meetings. Vivek might request a Guardian Angel escort to attend, but it is convenient to Bway and Telegraph bus lines. They want to charge something, but director allowed as how he would give hefty discount to neighborhood groups.

  4. Art

    Similarly, several of the churches downtown (First Congregational, First Christian, others) have hosted community meetings in the past, too, and are accessible from both BART and AC Transit, plus have some parking. OUSD will host meetings at schools, too, but it’s a little trickier because they need staff on site, so you’d want to piggyback on another event for which the school would be open anyway to avoid paying fees.

  5. Ralph

    Dan, where is this WOBO mtg? As a guy who walks a lot, I have noticed a ridiculous number of surface lots and intersections which make my commute a living hell. Is it against the law to throw pebbles at windshields? Sometimes you need to get a driver’s attn before getting hit.

    Bruce, in the event we have more than one candidate for mayor, I could get down for this. Noble goals but honestly how are you go to pay for it. It is not like Oakland has one of the higher bay area per capita incomes. And homeowners are sprinting to the assessors office to get assessments lowered.

    Honestly, I think the best thing that could be done to preserve these vitals functions is to increase the tax base, followed by stong public/private partnerships. You can only tax the middle and upper classes so much to pay for these services. At some point, you need to figure out how to make a bigger pie. The pinheads in council can make chocolate but they have no idea how to make pie. The only person who knew how to make pie was Jerry B.

  6. hedera

    Like Vivek, I regret that I won’t be able to attend because of the NCPC meeting (I’m the secretary). However, I’ve joined the Facebook group and will be interested in following this.

  7. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    @Ralph the WOBO meeting is practically in your living room – it is at BAWT (Bay Area Wilderness Training) 2301 Broadway, Suite B – enter on 23rd Street.

    Unfortunately, I was mistaken about the time of the meeting – it starts at 7:30om, so I will not be able to attend MOB Now at all.

  8. len raphael

    attended. not a faux grassroots anything but a real mostly hills group of good govt people. in my subgroup, crime, there were a few extremely well informed people and a bunch of eager to learn others.

    great to see hills people waking up from their long muni govt sleep.

    there was quite a bit of people reinventing the wheel, deciding to do or get experts to do the analysis that V and others have done here and on other Oakland blogs and yahoo groups re opd management, the Rider’s settlement, compstat , crime rates etc. Interesting new points were brought about examining the opd to overcome opd’s omerta re opd’s inefficient management and continuing bad community relations and charges of abuse in highest crime parts of town.

    lol on broadening the membership base to the rest of oakland. good intentions and smart, fairly aware of their limits, but it still will be very hard to avoiding coming across as patrician to people in the flats.

    Just succeededing in organizing hills people around improving their three core areas, and pressuring elected officials to perform would help the rest of the city.

    -len raphael

  9. len raphael

    V, any chance of putting together an faq which could also be given to various grassroots types in town to get them up to speed. even better if the faq included differing view points.

  10. Bruce Nye

    Len and V,

    Good morning, and it’s nice to be awake.

    What a great idea an faq would be (albeit an awful lot of work for somebody). Us somnolent hill types know there’s a wealth of stuff out there we don’t know. Frankly, I can’t think of a better resource than having V, Becks, Len and others who’ve been following this stuff for ages give us their perspective.

    Thanks to you both for coming. Somnolent hill types realize we have much, much to do.

  11. V Smoothe

    Len –

    I thought I saw you there, but then I looked around for you after the meeting was over and you were gone! Come say hi next time!

    Re: FAQ. Something similar is already in the works. I don’t really want to say anything more about it right now, and it won’t be ready until early December, but it’s going to be extremely cool.

  12. Art

    For what it’s worth, I saw lots of flatlanders I know there, too. If the org is to be successful, it will be critical to break out of the hills-flats paradigm that’s dominated conversations about Oakland for far too long. The challenges are certainly different in WOak v. Montclair v. Eastmont, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of common goals.

    Also, Bruce—kudos on a terrific job running the meeting! As someone who runs lots of community workshops in “real life” (and is consequently incredibly nit-picky about them!) I was impressed—one of the stronger volunteer-led meetings I’ve been to. So, thanks!

  13. len raphael

    MOB curious how many of the participants at the thursday meeting would come to a n evening meeting held say at Oakland Tech or Studio One, let alone a location on International Blvd. A downtown Oakland church with a secure parking lot wb much better. (and having all those hills nice cars parked in temescal might attract crime :)

    hard to see how very low income oaklanders could agree on the priorities with middle and upper middle income folks.

    poor oaklanders distrust the trickle down theory many good govt activists hold dear: that making this town a safe place to live and work, which attracts and retains businesses , with an efficient responsive govt, will improve all of our lives. they might say that’s a town they can’t afford to live in, and one that eliminated some of the social programs that inefficient as they may be, are part of the fragile social safety net for them.

    if MOB wants to become more than a broader based league of woman’s voters, it could get a good start by uniting older hills people with younger temescal, dto, and west oakland gentrifiers.

    -len raphael