This debate was really hard to judge. With five candidates, recapping is going to be extra long, so I’m breaking this up into two pieces.
Kerry Hamill went first. She said that during her 8 years serving on the school board, “I’ve had this wonderful opportunity to see people in Oakland partner with government and really transform their lives when they were willing, when government was friendly and accessible.” She said that she’s been working in government for 20 years, first for John Burton in the legislature, then later for former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, and for the past four years as a manager at BART.
Next, Frank Rose spoke, saying that he’s running because he cares about Oakland. He’s been in Oakland for 40 years, and worked as a volunteer for the last 13 years, working with NCPCs, home alert, weed & seed programs, the faith community, and other community organizations. He said that he’s worked in every area of Oakland, and that he’s the director of one non-profit and member of several others. “With a fully staffed office, doing what I’ve been doing as a volunteer for the past 13 years, I could really give you a great opportunity to have a first class Councilmember at-large.”
Clinton Killian said that we can use the resources we have to make Oakland a better city. He said he’s an attorney in downtown Oakland, and has previously served on the AC Transit board and the Planning Commission. “I want to see our city grow and reach the potential that everyone talks about but we’ve never fully achieved.”
Charles Pine said that Oakland is ranked the fourth most dangerous city in the country, and that Oakland has far too much crime (including “boom cars”). “All the major cities have 35 to 45 police for every 10,000 residents. Oakland has 18. 35 to 45. 18. We deserve the relative safety of an average American city.” He said we need at least 1100 officers, and that he will bring peaceful neighborhoods, basic services, and clean government.
Rebecca Kaplan said that we’re making a decision not just about June 3rd, but about what Oakland will look like 5 years from now. She said we need to move beyond having our city divided into people who think we are unsafe because we don’t have enough police, and people who feel unsafe because of the police, and that we should be able to hire trustworthy police and heal the rift. “I’m not only the youngest candidate, I’m also the one who spent the most time making public policy, but I’m also a bible teacher. And when asked to explain the entire scripture in one line, a great sage once said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ And this too we can do in Oakland.”
V: Okay, this debate was so hard to judge. They were all really impressive. We’re lucky to have five strong candidates running for this seat, all of whom have demonstrated a wonderful level of dedication to this community. But since I’m picking winners, winner: Rebecca Kaplan. Her message was so hopeful and sweet! She was posed, assertive, and confident. In terms of stage presence, she was head and shoulders above everyone else in the room.
Frank Rose said we need to look at unfilled positions and untapped revenue streams, like the telephone tax. He said that he would deal with vacant positions and not make any cuts to public service or public safety positions. Clinton Killian said that we need to increase revenues. He said that our sales tax revenues are low, making us too dependent on property tax. He said that half our budget is paid to outside vendors, many of whom are not from Oakland. He said that if people are going to be getting money from the city, they need an office in Oakland and need to be paying Oakland business tax. Charles Pine said that the budget is enough to guarantee basic services. He said that we went from 82 gardeners to 63 since 1989, although the city has added 557 positions, asking “What are all those other people doing?”. He said we need to look at the positions at the top, and that we need to consider scaling back on redevelopment districts.
Rebecca Kaplan said that both Oakland and California have revenue problems, and that we should advocate for reinstating the vehicle license fee. She said that the Oakland Coliseum loses $20-$25 million every year, and that it doesn’t have to be that way. She said by bringing programming that is consistently profitable, like soccer, concerts, and women sports, we can turn that negative into a new revenue source. Kerry Hamill said that administrative costs are higher than they were 10 years ago, and that we need to cut from the top, specifically administrative and consulting staff. She said we should be more careful with our overtime spending, and that we should roll back staff for the Council and the Mayor.
V: Winner: Rebecca Kaplan. My viewing partner wasn’t a fan of her response, saying “She sounded good, but we’re not going to solve the city’s budget problem with soccer.”" Obviously not entirely. But her response really reminded me of what I’ve found so impressive about Kaplan during this campaign. Last year when I heard she was running, I was inclined to oppose her (more on that later). But after reading the public safety solutions paper that she’s been circulating (I can’t find the document on her website, but she’s passed it out to audience members at Public Safety Committee meetings), I was really impressed. I don’t agree with all her ideas, but I love that she’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about Oakland’s problems and trying to come up with fresh ways to address them. Her suggestion of changing Coliseum programming is just one example of that. Here’s something that’s been steadily costing us money for years and that people are constantly complaining about, but seem to have resigned themselves to accepting as something we just have to deal with. But instead of viewing it as yet another burden, Kaplan looks at it as an opportunity. I love that. When you’re throwing out new idea after new idea, you’re going to have some duds (I recall her talking about putting officers on Segways at one meeting), but I’d rather see some silly ideas get floated if that’s what it takes to get the gems out there as well than watch a government with a near total lack of initiative (except occasionally to copy some dumb hippy thing San Francisco did). I’m not sold on this don’t-ask-don’t-tell discharged military recruitment strategy she keeps pushing, but at least it’s a new idea. Get the new ideas out there, then we can talk about whether they’re good or bad.
Clinton Killian really turned me off. I support efforts to hire local businesses, but saying that we should hire only Oakland companies goes too far. It would do the residents of Oakland a disservice to hire an inferior contractor simply because they have an office in Oakland. I also fail to see how this initiative would increase revenue. Does Killian really think that lots of businesses are going to relocate to Oakland just so they can get City Hall contracts? I find that highly unrealistic. We really don’t get much money from the business tax at all. I think Frank Rose was talking about Measure J (PDF!), which I haven’t written about yet, and based on a quick search, it doesn’t look like anyone else has either. Anyway, he had a point about untapped or undertapped revenue streams, and I agree with him that we should eliminate many of our currently vacant positions, but his response came off as disjointed, and I found my mind wandering as he spoke. This was probably his weakest response during the forum. Charles Pine was impressive (my viewing partner picked him as the winner of this one), demonstrated knowledge of the city’s budget, and spoke clearly. But as we’ve discussed in the comments on this site, I’d like to see him identify specific positions to be cut if he thinks we have too many. Scaling back redevelopment areas also isn’t as easy as some people seem to think it is. They’re a contract with the State. You can’t just get rid of them because you changed your mind. Kerry Hamill said pretty much the same thing as Charles Pine, but with less detail. She also completely obliterated any chance of my support. I wholeheartedly disagree that Councilmembers should have less staff. They should have more staff. The Mayor, on the other hand – well, I frankly have no idea what all the people in that office do all day.
Clinton Killian said that the bi-weekly Council meetings limit public participation, that the experiment has not worked, and it needs to change. He said that he would hold weekly public forums to discuss upcoming agenda items, and that he would hold open houses throughout the city. He said that he wants to educate people on how the public process works, and get them involved at the beginning of an issue, not at the end when we’re about to make a decision. Charles Pine said that we have a lot of public input, but that it breeds cynicism because when people go to meetings, they’re talked at by the officials for most of the time, and only get a minute to speak. He said that the the Measure Y Oversight Committee is appointed by the Councilmembers, and that we need to find a way to get people involved that will not make them beholden to the Council.
Rebecca Kaplan said that we need to restore public trust, because nothing will work if people can’t trust their government. She said that we need to keep our promises to Oaklanders, using the failure to implement Measure Y as an example. Kerry Hamill said that when she was first running for school board, people told her that Oakland parents were not interested in their children’s education. She started family reading nights in North Oakland, and they were enormously popular with local parents, and that they have since spent citywide. She said that people live in their neighborhoods, not downtown, and that we need to hold forums in the neighborhoods and do it regularly. Frank Rose said that we need to publicize the need to be involved. He said he’s currently trying to get seniors involved and prepare them for a coming earthquake. He said that you get people involved by showing them something that matters to their lives.
V: Winner: Kerry Hamill. Her story was really sweet, but more important, she made an excellent point about how we need to give people the opportunity to be involved in a way that matters to them. It’s hard to get your average downtowner excited about the zoning update (of course, it would be nice if we had been given an opportunity for input), but lots of people are willing to be engaged with things like neighborhood clean-ups. Many of the current City Councilmembers seem to have lost sight of the little things that government can do to improve people’s lives in a small, but real way. (Although some all of a sudden seem to be remembering now that they’re seeking reelection.) Most of the candidates echoed this sentiment, so this question was really hard to judge, but Hamill wins for pointing to something specific she’d done.
Clinton Killian was probably a close second. Those are some major promises he’s making – weekly public forums about upcoming agenda items? I think that would be awesome, although I wonder if you’d really be able to get many people besides the usual City Hall observers to attend. Regular open houses throughout the city seem more likely to get people involved. I really resisted the idea of returning to weekly meetings for a long time, mostly because I find following the meetings we have already exhausting, but I’ve finally come around. It isn’t about public comment, though – I think we provide ample time for that already. But the heavy agendas do not provide adequate time for the Council to properly consider the issues before them. They are forced to rush through most items, and rarely ask probing questions of staff. I agree with most of what everyone else said, although I don’t see how Charles Pine thinks we should staff committees other than by Council appointment. I don’t see this as an issue at all – the real issue with Boards and Commissions, as Sean Sullivan pointed out during the District 3 forum, is that the Council doesn’t treat them with respect and refuses to listen to their input. Why on earth would anyone want to join one?
Charles Pine said that it is only a small part of the youth population causing problems, and that kids can’t walk to school without passing drug dealers and can’t study without being mocked. He said we have programs, but that we need to get more people into them. He said that we need a better anti-truancy program. Rebecca Kaplan said that the lack of after school programs and crumbling school buildings denies our young people opportunities. She said we need to expand violence prevention programming, partner with schools to increase after school programming, and expand job training programs. Kerry Hamill talked about the Field of Dreams behind the Carter School in North Oakland, which had been a large green space that the school district had planned to close. She said that she spent 3 years working to subdivide the land and rehab the space and raised the money, and now the local sports teams are using it. She said that this cost the city nothing, and there are plenty of non-profits that want to contribute, and that we need to be more partner more and leverage resources better.
Frank Rose said that we have existing programs, and that he’s the Chairman of the Board at the East Oakland Boxing Association Smart Moves program, and on the Board of Students Run Oakland, both of which work with kids from 5 to 20. He said that at the boxing association, they force the kids to study for a period of time before they’re allowed to go to the gym. The Students Run Oakland program trains kids to run the LA marathon, providing discipline. He said we need more family centers and need to control truancy, but there’s a lot of things kids can do, and that the information needs to be made more available. Clinton Killian said we need to restore respect for quality education. He said we need to expand the partnership between the city and school district, and to ensure kids have the opportunity to volunteer and be exposed to career fields that interest them.
V: Winner: Kerry Hamill. Again, she gets points for pointing to something concrete that she accomplished, but mostly I was excited by her talking about the ability to provide opportunities at low or no cost to us through partnering. The only thing that’s stopping us from doing this now is a lack of energy on the Council. Frank Rose works with some awesome programs, so mad props to him. Everyone else’s answer was pretty much the same, and also bland and forgettable.
A: Rebecca Kaplan said that she supports continuing the LLAD, and that we have to do this because of unconscionable decisions at the State level. She said it is a stopgap measure, but that without doing it, it’s a threat to the our safety. She said that she will work to increase Oakland’s sales tax revenue and work to make changes at the State. Kerry Hamill said that she supports the LLAD, and that it’s an essential city service. She said that she sees a great deal of mistrust and misunderstanding about the LLAD, and that we need more transparency with how we’re using our money, and that we need to work with other agencies to maximize our resources. Frank Rose said that he supports the LLAD, and has always voted for it, but that he’s noticed that people in the hills only want landscaping, not lighting. He said that we should take the lighting funds from the hills “where people want to remain in the dark,” and use them to light the flats.
Clinton Killian said that people’s cynicism about the funding is legitimate because people have not seen the results of taxes they have voted for. He said that on a tour of East Oakland, he saw that the streets are very dark, and that people are wondering where the money went. He said we need better accountability and that he will hold the city accountable to use money as it was intended to be used. Charles Pine said that 80 cents of every new dollar will not go to parks, and it will instead simply free up money to go to other uses. He complained that we have fewer police than when Measure Y was written and that the LLAD needs to be defeated.
V: Winner: Clinton Killian. Everyone seemed to understand that Oakland taxpayers are questioning whether funds are going to be used as promised, but Killian did the best job saying it. I appreciated his insistence that he would demand accountability for where the money goes. Nobody on the current Council seems concerned with this. Frank Rose was funny, and even made the League’s moderator laugh with his line about letting people in the hills stay in the dark. I totally disagree with Charles Pine’s assessment of the LLAD, but it would take way too long to go into it now. If you want to read more about his position, you can do so at ORPN. Kaplan annoyed me with her talk of the State. If she wants to change the State’s budget, she should run for Assembly, not City Council.
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