Council gets it backwards on new parking meters, should go learn from Shoup tonight

Do you guys remember all that noise about parking meters this summer and fall? Of course you do. How could you possibly forget. Aside from the fact we have a lot of crime here in Oakland, I can’t think of any issue since I’ve lived here that has received such relentless media coverage.

Anyway, as you likely recall, after two contentious meetings, the Council voted to reverse their June decision that extend the parking meter hours until 8 and to make up for the lost revenue through a combination of steps, including the addition of 250 parking meters Citywide (PDF).

So two weeks ago at the Council’s Finance & Management Committee meeting, staff offered a list of 400 possible locations for the new parking meters (PDF). The list included the following locations:

  • Lakeshore to 22nd on International Boulevard: 160 metered spaces
  • 38th to 54th on International Boulevard: 130 metered spaces
  • 4th to 14th on East 12th Street: 70 metered spaces
  • 15th to 20th on Telegraph Avenue: 40 metered spaces

Now, almost all of those meter locations are in Council districts 5 and 2. Normal people tend not to think about things in those terms, but elected officials certainly do. So, as you can imagine, District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente and District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan were, um, none too pleased with the list.

The Committee said that Council’s original direction had been for the new meters to be evenly distributed throughout all seven Council districts, and that staff should go back and do it that way. Staff then decided that the best way to handle that was to ask each Councilmember to make a list of where they think 60 parking meters should go in their district. I don’t think I need to bother explaining why this is an staggeringly misguided way to approach parking policy.

If it isn’t obvious to you why this is a bad idea and you happen to be free this evening, allow me to suggest an event that you will likely find enlightening. High Cost of Free Parking author Donald Shoup will be speaking tonight in Lafayette. I’m out of town so I can’t go, but reports from people who trekked down to San Jose last night for the show have been uniformly laudatory.

The event will be held at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Community Hall from 6 to 9 PM at 7 PM (see Dan’s comments below) at 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd in Lafayette (map here). And no, you don’t have to drive there! It’s less than a half mile walk from the Lafayette BART station.

Here’s the event description:

Mark your calendars!! On Thursday evening, February 25th, the cities of Lafayette and Walnut Creek will co-host a presentation on “Parking Policies in the Downtown” at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center. The speaker, Donald Shoup, is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and has served as the Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. He has extensively studied parking as a key link between transportation and land use, with important consequences for cities, the economy, and the environment. His influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is leading a growing number of cities to charge fair market prices for curb parking, dedicate the resulting revenue to finance public services in the metered districts, and reduce or remove off-street parking requirements.

I really wish I could go to this, and I hope some of you will and report back to us. Shoup’s work gets referenced pretty frequently in policy discussions when parking comes up in Oakland, but the nuances of his research and suggestions are, frankly, very rarely stated accurately. I get that it’s a long book, and an expensive one, but I still wish more people would take the time to sit down and read it. Attending the presentation is certainly going to be a substantially faster way to learn.

75 thoughts on “Council gets it backwards on new parking meters, should go learn from Shoup tonight

  1. Daniel Schulman

    V. hmmm the link you posted conflicts with the event flyer I have. The flyer says it starts at 7:00pm. Also, it is not supposed to be a drop-in, people were supposed ot have RSVP’d by last Tuesday. If people want to see if there is still space, the contact info is Lisa Martin at 925-299-3201 or

  2. Daniel Schulman

    I did just call Lisa Martin, she confirmed it is at 7:00pm. She also said there are only about 10 seats left, so people should definitely RSVP if they plan on attending.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    You may want to call her again and warn her to prepare for extra attendees. The CoCo Library system and Lafayette Library Community Hall have both been advertising the event with no mention of RSVP.

  4. livegreen

    Right below V’s post is a link to an article about how some hills areas are getting exempted from parking enforcement because they yell & scream, while poorer areas are paying the fines.

    The City either needs to enforce parking rules for everybody, or not at all.

  5. Robert

    I find it ‘interesting’ that every time staff looks to raise revenue through parking the first focus is on Kernighan’s district. You know, the council member who has been most vocal about not balancing the budget on the backs of drivers. Coincidence? I think not.

    Regarding Shoup’s book, it would be nice if the OPL had a copy.

  6. Mary Hollis


    I’m going to guess that if the City really wants to maximize ticket revenue, then it would certainly make sense to put officers where they can write the most tickets in a shift.

    And riding around steep, windy, hilly, narrow streets is not going to be as effective, revenue-wise, than cruising the broad avenues of the more densely-populated western areas.

    One of my neighbors in LA was a traffic cop and, apart from the fact that he always ignored my violations (Thanks, Ed), he told me that the only limit on how many tickets he could write was how fast he could write.

    It’s a numbers game, pure and simple. Justice doesn’t come into it.

  7. Brad


    I guess you didn’t read the article then. The article relates how the parking enforcement officers blanketed a narrow, winding road in East Oakland (Outlook Ave., a nice street, I’ve driven down it many times) that is very similar to the narrow winding roads in Montclair.

    No, this was pure discrimination.

  8. Max Allstadt

    Nope. It’s not bias exactly, nor it is a numbers game.

    What happened is likely that a councilmember got an outpouring of angry emails from constituents about enforcement of the wrong-way and sidewalk parking rules.

    They then likely did what councilmembers do all the time: they violated the city charter by calling staff and telling them what to do. Mr. Abernathy, who wrote the memo which was leaked (but which hasn’t been printed yet), probably just obeyed a request from a councilmember.

    We need to know exactly which locations were subject to the exemption. Abernathy’s memo needs to be printed, and we need a public ethics investigation of the incident. If Abernathy acted alone, he should be fired. If he acted under orders from a politician, he should be allowed to keep his job if he identifies the politician who coerced him into what he did.

    Also, I got a ticket for parking the wrong way on a street in West Oakland this summer. My roommate got one for parking on the sidewalk. As far as I’m concerned, the city owes us that money.

    Anybody who got a ticket for those specific violations since July should get a refund. I’m waiting for a class action suit to start. Anybody know any opportunistic lawyers?

  9. Mary Hollis


    Let me know if you find a judge who will acquit a perp on the grounds that some other perp got away with it.

    Because I will ask for that Judge every time.

    “‘Hey, mom, it’s not fair, Johnny just did that too and he isn’t getting spanked.”

  10. Robert

    Max, you are reasonably correct about the reason for the exemption in the hills in Kernighan’s district. Kernighan’s was the first area targeted by the new enforcement team, and people immediately complained. But then the city council had a discussion of the issue, and directed staff to look into some mechanism for exempting wrong way and sidewalk parking where it was on narrow roads that would have insufficient room for the driving lane. It may well be that other people never complained to their cc member, although the plan was that the exemption was going to be city wide.

    I just googled Outlook Ave, and in general, it has plenty of room for a driving lane and two parking lanes, so the sideswiping issue raised by residents may have some other cause. While it is narrow, it is not as narrow as many of the streets in the Crocker Highlands area. Even in the google photo you can see cars totally blocking the sidewalk, but in the areas I know in the hills the cars are actually on the parking strip – which shouldn’t be illegal – and leave plenty of sidewalk to get past.

    I would be careful about a complaint from folks with an unknown agenda. My recollection is that staff had come back to council and said that it would be too much work to measure the width of every street, and maybe they could just leave it to the parking enforcement technician to make a judgment call about whether to ticket. Could be wrong, tho, about the final resolution. This may not be a rich/poor or racial issue, but have other, legitimate, reasons.

    It is not clear why wrong way parking should ever be illegal in residential streets, although in high traffic and commercial areas it makes a lot of sense for safety. Sometimes you see sidewalk parking blocking the whole sidewalk, forcing people, and importantly the handicapped, to go out in to the street, which I think clearly is a problem. This is a noticeable problem with folks who park perpendicular to the sidewalk in their driveway.

  11. Max Allstadt


    Selective enforcement and selective amnesty is unconstitutional.


    Though the papers haven’t printed the exact memo yet, it sounds like the neighborhoods they’re referring to are in Brunner’s district and/or Quan’s, not Kernighan’s

    Also, if there’s a hidden agenda from the rank and file Parking Enforcement staff, the only thing I can come up with is that whoever leaked the memo is seeking whistleblower status to create job security. Either that, or these workers have been asked to unfairly target the neighborhoods they live in, and they don’t like it. Another possibility is that Mr. Abernathy is unpopular.

    Still, a memo exists which explicitly mandates unfair enforcement. That seems pretty cut and dry.

  12. MarleenLee

    While I don’t spend a lot of time defending the City’s actions, I gotta say you folks are just jumping to conclusions. The reporting done on the “discriminatory” parking enforcement was kind of inflammatory. The City hasn’t yet explained what’s up the selective parking enforcement; I’m sure there was a reason. Until we hear what it was, I think the whole class warfare thing needs to get toned down. How about the fact that the homes in Montclair and Broadway Terrace were decimated during the firestorm? I lived in North Berkeley at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe the people in these neighborhoods feel safer parking on the sidewalk to allow safety vehicles, firetrucks etc. given the still high fire danger? (Not this time of year, of course, but during summer, the fire danger in Montclair is definitely higher than most other parts of the City). I have absolutely no idea if that’s the real reason, but I find it hard to believe that in Oakland, the real reason would be to “give the rich white folks a break.”

  13. Robert

    Max, way to dodge the issue that there may be completely legitimate reasons for the difference in enforcement. Or maybe this is just because you got a ticket?

  14. Max Allstadt

    I don’t think it’s class warfare, I think it’s selective enforcement, likely created by political meddling with staff.


    The law’s the law. Until the law itself changes, circumstances such as narrower streets don’t justify explicit directions for selective amnesty. And as far as we know now, like you said, there are plenty of streets that are narrow where the selective amnesty didn’t happen. That smells political, not practical.

    The street where I was ticketed for wrong way parking, by the way, meets the definition of “narrow” as described in Kelly Rayburn’s article.

  15. Max Allstadt

    As for the topic of this actual thread, I think what happened with the parking meters and where they ended up being recommended for installation is in keeping with the theme of the tangential issue of today: Political priorities trump policy.

  16. V Smoothe Post author

    I can’t speak to the details of the memos in question or what internal policy was in place during the summer and fall, but my understanding was that the wrong way parking on narrow streets issue was settled with the following enforcement policy, which was brought to the Council’s Public Works Committee in January:

    Staff will not enforce wrong-way parking on streets which either do not have a median or double yellow or broken yellow divider painted from one end of a block to the other end of the block.

    If I recall correctly, when the Committee discussed this, the consensus seemed to be that this would mean that wrong-way parking would not be enforced on most residential streets, narrow or not, since there are many areas where there are no lines on the street. Everyone seemed okay with that.

    Here is the report on the item (PDF) and a blog I wrote about the issue on SFGate.

  17. Robert

    The law’s the law? I do hope they start enforcing the laws about jaywalking and riding a bike on the sidewalk.

  18. Brock Winstead

    This is certainly yet another argument for using the telephone instead of e-mail. Hard to print & leak a phone call.

    I’ve been leaning toward Max’s explanation since I read the Chron story: council members got a bunch of complaints, called up Parking, and said “Lay off.” This would suck, but it wouldn’t be surprising. But now Abernathy’s extremely brief e-mail (please stop calling it a memo!) actually conveys the feeling that it was more of a two- or three-step sin:
    - council members/their staff called up and said “Lay off,” then
    - the Parking folks found (or were supplied with) some excuse for laying off (“OMG narrow streets!”) and duly put in the order,
    - BUT they failed to realize that their ostensible reason for laying off would and should apply to other neighborhoods with the same problem (“OMG narrow streets!”)

    End result: equal protection violation! Woops!

    (Maybe that’s not all that different from what Max wrote above. Just … longer. So … better? Right? Whatever.)

    Is there a “citizens/city Parking Committee” that studied this narrow street issue?

  19. Brock Winstead

    Oh, I’m certainly not clamoring for such a committee, just trying to follow the threads in the Abernathy e-mail. Because if you’re going to _say_ there’s a committee that will justify your preferential treatment of certain areas, you should at least make sure that such a committee has members and at least one meeting. That’ll look a little better when your ill-advised e-mail inevitably gets leaked to the press. (SERIOUSLY pick up the PHONE.)

  20. Robert

    Am I just stupid? How does the email linked to above support the accusation of a discriminatory policy? There is no mention of any specific neighborhoods for the warning, and I would read the memo as applying to the entire city.

  21. Ralph

    From what I recall of the policy and discsussions around the issue, council directed DPT to cease enforcement throughout the city. But I also seem to recall that some were not in favor of sidewalk parking for obvious reasons. if I were a betting man, I would go with some behind closed door shenanigans. But done with good intentions.

    Still, like the parking hours, it may have made a little bit more sense to study the issue. There was probably a very good reason for why signs are posted indicated that sidewalk pkg is illegal yet not enforced. And if you address that issue and start enforcing, you owe the residents a month of courtesy notices.

  22. len raphael

    naomi, re ACT crime levels, you and max are too rational. when a car driver decides whether to take the bus after rush hours, that potential bus rider isn’t weighing the odds of getting in a vehicular accident. We car drivers cherish the notion that we are in control of our destinies on the road, that car accidents are what happen to bad drivers, not us.

    besides the biggee “will i get to my destination on time”, and what if i have to carry packages concerns, there’s the “do i really want to stand alone at a bus stop in the dark”, do i want to walk in the dark to the bus stop, or what do i do when some wierdos like those two guys in the video get into it, because i’m trapped with them.

    so a more helpful stat, would be the stats for police calls re. various ACT lines.

  23. Max Allstadt


    I’m guessing the recipient list on that email is made up of officers tasked with ticketing in the two neighborhoods mentioned in the news.

    BTW, as usual, Matthai Kuruvila has a follow up story in today’s chronicle with pretty much all the bases covered.

  24. Brad

    Robert, Max,

    You’re both wrong, the email specifically references parking enforcement beats 651 and 643. A list of beat boundaries is included at the end of the PDF.

  25. Robert

    Max, Assumptions are a really bad thing to base reporting on. (You aren’t a reporter, so I wouldn’t hold you to that standard.)

    Regarding today’s Chron article, the headline makes it sound like Oakland ended the discrimination in response to yesterday’s SFGate post, which is blatantly untrue. If this ever was a policy, it was formally ended back on Nov 12th. The Trib article is more balanced. And I won’t even get in to Chip Johnson’s inane column.

    So why is this suddenly news now? Maybe the union is trying to position itself as looking out for all the common citizens of Oakland. Or maybe some of the parking police are facing discipline because they issued tickets in violation of the formal policy.

  26. Robert

    The 651 description doesn’t make any sense. East of Broadway to Emeryville isn’t physically possible, and east of Broadway, there is no 51st street. I would guess that it means west of Broadway and north of 51st, which doesn’t correspond to tony neighborhoods, and is not Broadway Terrace.

  27. Livegreen

    I’m still surprised about how the CC and City rushed head first into the Parking Enforcement, without considering the consequences. Especially as they’re usually so concerned about not offending anybody. For example they could have started with just one portion if it (increased meters for example) & implemented the rest later.

    I’m especially surprised the Narrow Streets issue wasn’t thought out since it’s been well known that people must park on the sidewalks to let emergency vehicles pass.

    Regarding how Parking Enforcement reacted to the outcry, a contributing factor to their poorly designed response might b the time spent on complaints. Thus has been worsened by CCP encouraging citizens to contact their offices so they can facilitate individual appeals…

  28. Brock Winstead

    True, not Broadway Terrace. Factual error in the original Chron piece.

    Still: Why would anyone make the decision to stop enforcing the sidewalk/wrong way restrictions in just those two beats? If the concern was narrow streets, then make the policy to not enforce it on narrow streets (which they eventually did; it’s not a hard policy to express and codify), not whole swaths of the city where streets are _not_ particularly narrow. That’s not (necessarily) malfeasance, just poor performance.

    When Kernighan says in today’s follow-up Chron article that “There was no policy directive or no personal request to treat neighborhoods differently,” I’m not sure if she can really know that NOBODY on the Council (or their staff) put in a call about enforcement a particular district. It certainly seems like, at least for 3.5 months, the policy was beat-specific for _some_ reason.

  29. len raphael

    lg, could also have been facilitated by parking enforcement trying to reduce angry confrontations between residents and parking enforcement personnel. the two parking people i talked to a couple of months ago, said it can get very unpleasant ticketing people.

  30. Robert

    len, Parking enforcement tends to be very passive aggressive, although there are good reasons sometimes. Parking enforcement doesn’t want to talk to people, certainly not the people they are in the process of ticketing. So they tend to act defensively when approached.

    Brock, the factual error in this case changes it from being a discriminatory policy against poor/non-white folks to being random acts of unfairness – which is a much less interesting story. Supposedly, Pinto broadened the Jul24th directive to include the whole city on Aug 7, but did so verbally. A formal policy did not come until Nov 12th. Most organizations do not consider emails to be formal policy documents, but represent the thinking of a single person.

    And yeah, there were serious communications errors between staff, council and the public on all of the parking changes last summer.

  31. Ralph

    does someone have a link to today’s story. can’t seem to find it online.

    the question is who has the bigger lobby – the people with swiped cars or the people who would be forced into the street because of cars parked on the sidewalk (parents with young children, mobility impaired, seniors)

    i’m still not inclined to believe it is about class. i thought council’s instructions were clear, but i think there were some on council who voiced constiuent concerns about the above.

  32. Max Allstadt


    I agree that it isn’t about class. I think it’s about uniform enforcement, and it seems that this has been resolved.

    The shortest summary I can come up with is that a lack of coordination between various councilmembers and the parking department created the appearance of class-based unfairness. In politics, even something appears unfair, it’s a liability.

    Right hand, meet left hand, left hand, meet right hand.

  33. Robert

    Max, with the exception of one email from one supervisor to four employees, there is little evidence that there was any intent to not have uniform enforcement. While unfortunate, that hardly seems a good reason to bash the city.

  34. Max Allstadt

    Hey, if I can get my 60 bucks back for a fine on something that shouldn’t even be illegal… bash bash bash!

  35. Robert

    OK, but since you have now admitted your self interest in parking policy, make sure you register as a lobbyist before talking to anybody in city government or you will risk a public ethics complaint.

  36. Ralph

    Robert, thanks for the links. As reported in today’s chron is exactly how i remember the mtg. Council’s intent was clear but some in council remarked that their some of their constituents wanted enforcement. But if anyone in Parking interpreted this to take separate actions then heads should roll.

    I love the way Chip excludes the facts to create an issue where there is none.

    Now on to the task at hand – reading a buttload of police docs i downloaded a week ago.

  37. len raphael

    if our officials (the gang who couldn’t shoot straight) can’t get little stuff like parking policy right, there is no hope for them solving the big problems.

  38. Max Allstadt

    Very funny Robert. But technically, in order to qualify as a lobbyist, I have to either get paid by someone else, or I have to state my support for a building that John Klein doesn’t like.

  39. V Smoothe Post author

    Robert –

    Yeah, there’s a cap to the number of links allowed in any one comment. Sorry about that, but I have a lot of spam issues and that’s one of the measures I take to address them.

    Max –

    I don’t think it is accurate at all to say that the City is responsible for “the appearance of class-based unfairness.” I’m not going to pretend that Oakland is run well or that they’re capable of competently handling anything related to parking, but I think it’s pretty clear that the “appearance of class-based unfairness” in this case rests squarely in the hands of the Chronicle, for irresponsibly printing a poorly researched article that grossly misrepresented both the memo in question and the City’s policy.

    I like Matthai a lot, and in general think his work is very good. But yesterday’s story was unbelievably sloppy at best and straight up dishonest at worst. Today’s wasn’t much better, as it went out of its way to make it sound like the ticketing discrepancies were stopped in response to the Chronicle story when in fact the issue had been resolved (and heard in a public meeting!) some time ago. And don’t even get me started on Chip, who appears to just make up whatever he feels like…

  40. Max Allstadt

    Matthai: Yesterday’s was certainly inflammatory. Todays could have been better.

    Chip: Don’t get me started. Somebody tell me where I can get paid a full time salary for 1400 words a week of poorly researched writing.

    Honestly, the person that comes out of this looking the best is Dan Lindheim. He gave straight answers, diffused the outrage, and even put in a few jabs at the union for having ulterior motives.

  41. len raphael

    Proposed budget balancing. Remind me when and to whom cc expects to seel the HJ Kaiser Center for 10Mill.

    That looked like a key part of the balancing act.

    Apparently the staff has decided that fixing sidewalks, roads, bridges, traffic lights, and street lights are not core activities.

    cop parcel tax of $90. small enough it might slide thru. cc has till tuesday to make a decision?

    Where would i find the projected revenue from that proposal?

    we know where IDLF, JB stand on more taxes, has RK taken a position publicly or do we have to wait till the last moment to find out?

    -len raphael

  42. Ralph

    len, i believe council has worked out a deal with the county assessor’s office to balance the budget by screwing some property owners this year and repaying them in a later year.

  43. len raphael

    max, i disagree with lindheim’s solution of piling on more parcel taxes, but his presentations at the cc were spot on about the dire financial situation. Do he and Dellums ever talk to each other? (i don’t Dellums as a twitter kind of guy). I thought they were very close?

    does it take a.l.’s doe eyed placititude to be a regular off hour ACT rider? max, unfair of me to ask, but what would you have done in that situation? me, i’d have headed for the exit asap.

    Judging by Dellums State of the City address, he’s got a strong dose of amber’s obliviousness to her surroundings.

    -len raphael

  44. Max Allstadt


    Re: lindheim, I was just talking about the parking thing and the way I saw him deal with the press at the protest.

    That AC Transit fight? The violence started and ended too fast for much of anything to be done. I might have tried to calm them down.

    I’m fond of taking out my iPhone when people get aggressive and telling them that they’re welcome to insult each other, but if they throw punches, I’m taking pictures and giving them to the cops. That method worked for me really well on two angry NYC cabbies last year.

    Fortunately for everybody involved, those guys were only a danger to each other.

    You know what though, as far as urban survival advice, I’m the wrong guy to ask. The right guy to ask is the guy who runs this website:

    No rambo macho crap here. Very realistic advice about how not to get into bad situations, and how to defuse them if you do get into them. There’s a lot of information here, and very little of it has anything to do with physical combat. If you end up in a fight, this guy’s philosophy is that you already failed.

  45. MarleenLee

    John Russo’s obligation is to protect the legal rights of the City. If he sees potential liability for the City’s actions, he should definitely let them know – in a confidential, attorney-client privileged memo. Publicizing his advice, and essentially inviting the citizens to sue, is completely counter to his responsibility. I can’t imagine any responsible attorney selling his client down the river in such a manner! Hey John – if you think the City is inviting another lawsuit with its continuing violations of Measure Y, why don’t you issue a memo to the City Council and send a copy to the press while you’re at it? Unbelievable!

  46. Max Allstadt

    Maybe he thinks going public with this will scare the city into making the potential plaintiffs whole before they even have a chance to file suit. It’s a cheap thing to fix, and the city administrator has already indicated a willingness to figure out who to pay back and to do it.

    This particular suit would likely be a class action, which means it will take longer to get it rolling if anybody tries it. Is he coercing his client? Maybe. But If I get my money back without a fight, that means he’s looking out for me, and I voted for him, so I damn well expect that.

    I’d support him if he bullied in the same way on Measure Y.

    There seems to be a very unclear mandate for Russo’s post. The charter makes him general counsel for the City as a corporation. But the fact that he’s elected alters his role, simply by virtue of who his boss is. The de facto situation is confusing, but I see a pretty clear analogy:

    It’s as if a corporation had a chief counsel that was hired and fired by a vote of the shareholders.

    This changes the source of power, and that means that no matter what the charter says or what state law about city attorneys says, we will see a different dynamic in how an elected city attorney carries out his or her duties.

    In short, our charter mandates one type of City Attorney by decree, but assigns power in a way that promotes a different type. Power beats decree any day of the week. I can’t blame Russo personally for being in the middle of that.

  47. MarleenLee

    Somebody posted this on my blog when I raised this issue previously – from Oakland’s City Charter: “The City Attorney shall serve as counsel to the Mayor, City Council, and each and every department of the City, except departments specifically enumerated by this Charter as an independent department of the City, in their official capacities pursuant to state law and the Charter, and as counsel, shall assert and maintain the attorney-client privilege pursuant to state law.” Here’s a good description of the duties of the City Attorney as well (from SF’s website)

    Our City Attorney does not represent us, the citizens of Oakland. That’s not his job. The fact that he is elected is irrelevant to the analysis. He represents the organization of the City of Oakland, and his duty is them. I’m not sure how that letter got released to the press. If the City authorized its release, then they have the right to waive the “attorney-client privilege.” But I don’t think Russo has the right to publicly embarrass the City, for any reason, or to compromise its legal interests. What about in a “Riders” type case, where the City could be facing tens of millions of dollars in potential liability? Would you want your City Attorney, who may personally believe that the police officers did something wrong, to publicly support the plaintiffs or potential plaintiffs in such a case? Of course not! That’s John Burris’ job! The City Attorney’s job is to protect the City’s interests, and if that means defending such a case, that’s what he needs to do.

  48. Max Allstadt

    Again, my analysis isn’t only about what the charter says.

    I can see how an attorney would think that the only thing that’s relevant here is the language in the charter. The letter of the law is important, but law only works if it’s in sync with reality.

    I’ll expand my analogy:

    Charter = Job Description
    Voters = Boss
    City Attorney = Employee

    In any organization where an employee has a boss and a job description that demand different things, there’s a dissonance that needs to be resolved.

    How that conflict gets resolved depends on all sorts of things. Is it a union job? How much autonomy does the employee get? What oversight is in place?

    But to extend the analogy a little further:

    An employee(City Attorney) rather than attempting to please his powerful boss(voters), chooses to do everything according to the letter his job description (the charter). That’s what would happen in you’re idealized scenario, Marleen, and in most real world situations, the way this scenario plays out is the employee doesn’t keep his job for long.

    I’m not saying the City Attorney is doing the right thing. I’m saying the charter and the collective will of the voters are inherently in conflict here, and if we want to make the dissonance go away, one of two things has to happen:

    A. Alter the charter to allow more freedom of action for the elected City Attorney.


    B. Alter the charter to make the City Attorney’s job an unelected post, filled by a professional staffer who’s protected by civil service rules.

    Any other way of arranging things will lead to ongoing situations where the De Facto character of the City Attorney’s office is not a match for the De Jure language in the charter.

  49. MarleenLee

    Max, you should read the article I cited to. Politics are irrelevant. The law is the law. An attorney has a legal responsibility to zealously advocate on behalf of his/her client, and a duty of absolute loyalty to that client. The client is the City. Period. Failure to represent the City as an organization is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. An attorney can get sanctioned, or even lose his/her license, for violating those rules. An attorney can also get sued for malpractice! How the heck is a City Attorney going to figure out “the collective will of the voters?” Russo can’t even figure out the “collective will” of the Council, the Mayor, the City Administrator, and the various City departments! I for one don’t want the City to spend 100s of hours trying to unravel this parking fiasco so a bunch of scofflaws can get their $60 back. But Russo shouldn’t care about what I want or what you want. His job is to represent the City, and not throw Lindheim, or the people responsible for this debacle, under the bus.

  50. Robert

    Max, I fail to see how any conflict between the ‘voters’ and the city charter is at all relevant. Russo is still an attorney, and has legal responsibilities to properly represent his clients – which is the city and not the voters. If he feels frustrated by the conflict, he can always quit.

    Marleen, can the city attorney be sued if he has acted against the interests of the city? or is that just subject to his being voted out of office?

  51. MarleenLee

    According to the newspaper article, Russo is saying there was “unequal enforcement” which is “not only unfair by definition — it also sends an invitation to litigate against the city.” He “recommended the tickets be forgiven to avoid a class-action lawsuit.” Lindheim, on the other hand, said on TV “this is a bullshit issue” (it was bleeped on TV) and in the newspaper article, he’s quoted as saying they still don’t even know whether unequal enforcement ever went into practice. So before an attorney renders a legal opinion, he should have all the facts. Lindheim is saying they don’t have all the facts yet. So the attorney and his client are saying two different things, and the attorney is making his client look bad, and guilty, at the same time. And he’s inviting the public to sue his client! How dysfunctional could things possibly get? If I screwed up, or even possibly screwed up, I certainly wouldn’t want my attorney to send out a press release concluding that I did!

  52. Robert

    So, some council members what less enforcement (Brunner) and some what more enforcement (Brooks), staff tries to give both what they have asked for, and when it blows up, the council jumps all over staff? Just another sign that the council and mayor have no idea about proper management techniques. And then the union holds a press conference to complain about something that has been against city policy since at least November, 3 months ago, and this is somehow news.

    I do agree with you Max that Lindheim did an excellent job of supporting his employees at the press conference. Something we all would want in a manager.

  53. MarleenLee

    I don’t know how that letter got released. Who knows – maybe somebody in the City released it without realizing it should have been “attorney-client privileged.” Or maybe the City formally waived the “attorney-client privilege.” But both those possibilities seem unlikely. Russo has done this before – he once wrote a “My Word” submission to the Trib basically telling the world they could sue the City because their records management system was so horrible. I thought that was truly bizarre.

  54. V Smoothe

    You leave out a third option – somebody leaked a letter that they knew perfectly well was confidential. In any case, I didn’t receive any press release.

  55. Brock

    Obviously no press release is necessary. I assume Russo leaked it to the press through another person: give it to a staffer who gives it to a friend who e-mails it to the reporter, or something like that. I’m not weighing in on the debate about whether this is good or bad behavior — you all seem to have that argument pretty well covered, and I’m content to leave you to it. I’m just saying that it seems like the simplest explanation.

    Russo has already demonstrated ambition for higher office (ran for Assembly 16 in 2006, defeated in Dem primary by Swanson that June), and I doubt that ambition has disappeared. He’s using the bully pulpit of his office to speak directly to Oakland residents about a high-profile issue in a pretty populist way. That’s just how the game is played: every office is a tool for preparing your run for the next office (or for re-election). And I mean that in the least judgmental way that I can possibly mean it. That’s the nature of the beast.

  56. Max Allstadt

    Marleen, how many ways can I say this:

    The law is not an island. The law is not omnipotent.

    If the law is in conflict with reality, the law doesn’t automatically win.

    The reality is that Russo has a mandate from both the Charter and from the 46,594 votes he received in the last election. It’s not a legal reality. It’s a holistic reality.

    Looking at the whole picture will always provide a better prediction of what will happen in reality than looking at the law. You can tell me what the law is all day long. I prefer to view reality in it’s entirety.

    In this case, the power structure and the electoral structure are not in harmony with the charter, and so the charter doesn’t run the show exclusively. Our councilmembers violate the charter all the time, not just because there aren’t consequences, but because their constituents actually want them to violate it in their service.

    The only way to have a Charter provision really mean something is for it to be in sync with the power structure, in sync with real consequences, and in sync with the real-life will of the people. Until those conflicts are resolved, it will remain a toothless catalyst for arcane debates, and it won’t do much else.

  57. MarleenLee

    Max, of course people violate the law all the time. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job. And there are miscarriages of justice too, and laws go unenforced blah blah blah. So what you’r saying is that because Russo was elected, he can try to predict what “the people” want, and if it coincides with what he wants, then that’s what he can do. And he can’t. Now, if that memo was truly leaked without anybody’s permission, I will fault him only for reaching legal conclusions without having the necessary facts. But if he had any responsibility in not ensuring its confidentiality, or releasing it, then I would not be surprised if the people he’s actually supposed to represent (Mayor, City Council, etc.) don’t get all over him for violating his ethical duties to protect their interests. There’s your political and power structure and real consequences “reality.” My guess is the memo and/or release thereof could be creating quite a brouhaha down at City Hall.

    For further reading on this fascinating topic, check out's+Charter+imposed&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

  58. Max Allstadt

    No, I’m saying that he has a voter mandate, not that he can read everybody’s mind.

    And I’m not saying the law shouldn’t be respected. I’m saying that if the law wants to be respected, it has to get in front of reality, not stand to the side of reality and demand compliance. Leadership works the same way. You don’t get others to do your bidding. You get others to want to do your bidding.

    As for flack from the council and the mayor, again, let’s look at reality: Russo’s one of the most popular elected officials in this City. There’s actually only one person in the history of Oakland who got more votes than he did in the last election, and that’s Kaplan. At times, because our Mayor and council are foot-dragging and impotent, Russo has used his position and popularity to do a lot of good, and win more popularity in the process.

    Reputation trumps all in politics, so good luck to anybody who wants to give him public flack for demanding that the city repay unjust fines. Yeah, the public really wants to hear about that. The masses will be outraged. Not.