Highlights from last night’s Council meeting

Did you skip the show last night? Had something better to do with your Tuesday evening than stare at KTOP for seven straight hours? Don’t worry. I watch these things so you don’t have to. Here’s what you missed:

  • Okay, first this Pay-Go nonsense. Desley Brooks turned out like an hour’s worth of really good speakers who listed the many tangible benefits District 6 has received from the type of spending Ignacio was trying to ban, including fields, skate parks, restored pocket parks, and play structures. Desley gave a long, probably a little too long, defense of her pay-go spending, and then started mocking everyone else’s spending, including Henry Chang’s $115,000 for signs at the zoo and “Five hundred thousand dollars for a panda cage for pandas we don’t have.” (Chang later defended the signs, but not the pandas.)

    Most of the Councilmembers waited for their turn in the queue to justify the expenses Brooks highlighted, but a visibly irritated Pat Kernighan just couldn’t hold it in, interrupting Brooks’s comment about some boat restoration in District 2 with “It was a play structure!” and moments later, interrupting her again to say “You know, I might support you if you don’t attack everybody up here!” Kernighan later called Brooks “one of the most difficult people I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.”

    The Council then proceeded to waste about forty-five minutes discussing the proposal, even though it was beyond obvious right off the bat that there were not five votes available for it. (This was one of three items during the meeting that made me question the ability of anyone on the Council to count.) Everyone kept saying that they’d be willing to support some kind of compromise and offering their own suggestions to make the entire situation more complicated. Ignacio De La Fuente, I suppose realizing what a complete asshole he looked like at this point, mostly kept his mouth shut and didn’t put up much of a fight for it. Eventually, he and everyone else seemed willing to just let it die, but Jane Brunner insisted on moving the item anyway, then when they went to call the roll, said they didn’t have the votes and forget about it. Of course, at that point, it was too late and they had to vote anyway. It failed.

    More than anything else, the discussion just reminded me what a complete disaster my own Councilmember is. Listening to the laundry list of park improvements and community events that Brooks provides for her constituents out of her pay-go money, and thinking about how badly District 3 could use some of those things left me seething. Four more years, ugh!

  • Nancy Nadel tried to make it illegal to hire anyone you’ve ever met, or spoken to, or maybe just bumped into in the grocery store line. Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad. But Nadel did propose an amendment to the anti-nepotism ordinance that would prohibit “cronyism” (PDF) in City hiring, and just like everything else that woman puts forward, it was poorly planned and poorly written. For the purpose of combatting cronyism, Nadel proposed an amendment that would forbid anyone from participating in any employment decision involving “a close friend, a business partner, and/or professional, political, or commercial relationship.” You’d think that the woman who got so worked up over how is invasive it was to ask people to report to the City when they’re screwing their immediate subordinates would be disinclined to add language to make forbidden relationships even more sweeping, but I guess not. The question came up among the Councilmembers several times during the discussion – what the hell is a “political” relationship? Who decides who’s a “close friend”? No answers were ever provided.

    Apparently the City Attorney’s office helped craft the language Nadel proposed, but when asked what “close personal relationship” meant, the attorney present fumbled around for a while before coming up with the loose definition of “something significant.” Not comforting. There was some talk of sending it back to Finance & Management to hammer out the details, but then Desley Brooks offered a minor language change that she thought solved some of the problems (although it did not make things any less vague), and the Council voted on the proposal with that amendment. I don’t have a freaking clue whether this passed or not. I think it did, but honestly, neither I or my viewing partner were able to tell for certain because for reasons I don’t understand, the Council has taken to just saying all together “aye” or “nay” instead of calling roll and then afterwards nobody says the final vote tally. WTF?

  • Oakland Post photographer Gene Hazzard threw a fit during Open Forum over a parking ticket he received on Veteran’s Day, wanting to know why every single employee in the City had the day off besides parking enforcement. (Really? I hope they at least made the firefighters work too!) Acting City Administrator Dan Lindheim, apparently unaware when Veteran’s Day is, eventually told him to bring the ticket to his office and he’d “take a look at it.”

  • Nancy Nadel! Ugh! Okay, so one of the items was Redevelopment Agency loan (PDF) to this company Revolution Foods who are using it to move to Oakland from Alameda. They provide healthy lunches to schools, including some public schools, but none in Oakland. Here, they serve 17 of our charter schools .

    You’d think Nadel would be thrilled about creating some low-skilled jobs in Oakland and finding a use for some of that industrial land she loves so much, right? You’d be wrong. Here’s what she had to say about it all:

    I’m very concerned about our allowing – actually, helping a company make our charter schools more competitive, more attractive to our residents than our regular schools…They get these kinds of assistance from us indirectly that makes them more attractive to the public than our regular public schools and that constantly has a bad effect on the kids who don’t have options outside of our public schools.

    Apparently, children who dare to forsake the broken public school system for something that provides a better education don’t deserve to eat.

  • The Police Department finally presented their Crime Fighting Strategic Plan (PDF) to the Council. I haven’t found time to really write about this document yet, but let’s just say that it says, um, amazingly little about reducing crime.

    Jane Brunner said a bunch of good things about how they need to start thinking about crime reduction, then told them to stop crying poor and just find the damn money for CompStat somewhere in their budget, because they have all the money in the City already. Jean Quan babbled endlessly trying to defend the indefensible cancellation of the December Academy, tossing out about six different excuses in the process, none of which were consistent with the others. Nancy Nadel told OPD to reformat their charts.

    Pat Kernighan suggested that the Department write themselves up an “action plan” with a firm goal date for implementing CompStat, noting that they shouldn’t be too worried that they’re unlikely to meet whatever goal they might create, because at least they’ll have tried. Dan Lindheim spent what felt like an hour trying to explain how the Academy cancellation and other financial issues with OPD weren’t his or anyone from the department’s fault. It just happened because they basically had no idea what they were doing, didn’t think anything through, and had planned poorly, basing their budget projections on “a little bit of hope.” (Yes, he said that!) Anyway, no use complaining about the Academy being canceled he said, they had to do it because they had already spent all their money. Desley Brooks noted that the Council had actually funded the December Academy in the budget they just passed, and that it was disingenuous for OPD to run around blaming the cancellation on the failure of Measure NN, when the real problem is their total ineptitude.

14 thoughts on “Highlights from last night’s Council meeting

  1. SF2OAK

    I caught part of the show – 7 hours of uglyness?. It seems to me they ought to limit their own speech (especially since they limit the public’s speech to 1 or 2 minutes of comments.) What struck me was Desley Brooks saying, “I paid for…, I paid for…, I paid for…” it simply is not true unless the money came out of her paycheck & then she can spend it on anything she wants but it is the PUBLIC’S MONEY. It is so arrogant of her to make her claim. She did have some rather good points though- I would like to know how Chang spent $500K on a panda cage when they only get $125K per yr. Of course it’s going to be used as an election time slush fund but good ol Desley said it. I thought alot of Desley’s supporters completely unhelpful one seemed to say if you defund the fun activities Desley provides then you’ll have to spend it on more police – blackmail and it makes me sick. If he’s so tough why not stand up to the criminals and say as a community we cannot afford you anymore and we don’t have what we need because we spend $125K per yr on a police officer. Is it possible to say to a community if you put down your weapon’s we’ll hold more fiestas. the reality that someone should talk about is that it’s the criminal element that is at fault for us needing more police and they are taking money away from the young, the sick, the needy. In any case it seems a trifling amount of money to spend so much time on. The real bugaboo is the salaries and benefits of union city workers. That is the merry go round. One community pays their workers a certain wage and because of the labor laws all other communities must be correlated to that one city pay scale- now with the BK of Vallejo, and the teetering of other cities into the financial abyss maybe and hopefully we’ll get a revamp. If not that then make gov’t small.

  2. dto510

    I don’t understand why Nadel’s poorly-conceived ordinance was passed after a majority of Councilmembers said that they don’t want “professional relationships” to preclude hiring, and that “political relationships” was way too vague (Jean Quan pointed out that everyone’s a Democrat). Also, it seemed to me that there were substantive changes made to the ordinance on the floor, preventing it from being voted on at all. The whole seemed really pointless, since the main protection against cronyism is the City Charter’s prohibition on “interference” from Councilmembers. Yet another waste of time at 1am.

  3. Max Allstadt

    It was rather an awkward moment. It looked like they all wanted to go to bed. My question is: What will happen when somebody tries to enforce this? I predict confusion and ultimately an unenforceable rule.

  4. John

    I watched the council meeting last night and was interested to see that the entitlement extension legislation was on the agenda for a vote. It seems it has not been such a slam-dunk giveaway to developers and that the City actually increased the fee from about $70 to $337, which is the most the City can charge since the fee can only cover the admin costs of processing the extension applications.

    The other issue was that the resolution to be voted on last night was for a one year extension, but Mr. Chang tried to amend the resolution to make it for three years. Of course, there were the usual speakers: Plazola, McConnell, Kuhne; 14 speakers in all with only Sanjiv opposing the legislation in his usual tactful and sugar-coated fashion (not!). Mr. Chang was hoping that his change would not be considered “substantial” so that they could vote on it last night, but the City Attorney said it was a substantial change and the item would need to be re-noticed and brought back in two weeks.

    Mrs. Quan then proposed two year extensions, instead of three, which is what eventually passed by a vote of 5-2, and will come back in two weeks. Frankly, I’m not opposed to the extensions but they should not be free or underpriced nor for more than two years.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Minor correction, John. The extension Chang proposed was not three years, it was until 2012. So for some people, that would be a three year extension. For others, it would be a one year extension, and so on, depending on when your existing entitlement expires. The idea was that rather than give a blanket number of years, just postpone everything until a time when we think the market will have recovered. Quan’s substitute proposal, which passed, gave until 2011. So again, it’s a date, not a number of years. The actual time of the extension will vary for every project.

  6. Max Allstadt


    The fee limit is because CEDA can’t recoup more than administrative costs with the fees, right?

    If developers are wiling to pay more, perhaps they’d be willing to consider taking a little spare cash (and I know there’s not a lot of it) and using it to beautify sites waiting for development. There are all sorts of cool and low cost ways to pretty up a vacant lot or a fence, and I’ll bet that a loose partnership with the arts community could make some of them happen. If OBA had a unified approach for site beautification, it would create opportunities for inexpensive city-wide art projects, which would in turn create a positive city-wide identity builder for Oakland and OBA.

    You think those sets of cut-out flowers tied to chainlink fences are cute? Wait till you see what we can cook up to out do them.

  7. Kent

    I did not see Tuesday’s council meeting but am not surprised to hear about the infighting on the council, especially involving Desley Brooks. I respect her but often wish she could just lose the chip on her shoulder. Her attitude towards fellow city officials stinks. I lose respect when I see elected officials behaving that way.

    Beyond that, though, it sounds to me like the problems go deeper than the individual personalities on the council. They are clearly not working as a team and don’t trust eachother. The Mayor should be doing a better job of keeping the council members on the same page. Management books will tell you that a certain amount of conflict among a peer group is a good way to get differences of opinion out in the open. But our council is more than just disagreeing here. They are distrustful of eachother and, while that’s not new in politics, it’s very hard to get anything done when relationships are fractured like that.

  8. Carlos Plazola

    Max, Yes, the $337 is set because of the requirement of limiting fees to the cost of services, which is probably a good notion to prevent the abuse of power by bureaucracies.

    Relative to the larger issue of buying flowers for empty lots, which I’ll extrapolate to mean the developers and builders providing additional benefits to the community, it’s certainly a conversation worth having within the context of a balanced governing body that is also willing to look at the benefits that come from the act of construction and development itself.

  9. Max Allstadt

    Carlos, I have no issues with the fee being in compliance with the way CEDA is supposed to work.

    The flowers I was talking about aren’t real flowers. I mean the ones that were on signs put next to IDLF campaign signs in fruitvale. The idea is that if OBA could coordinate a voluntary arts program of some sort on vacant lot fences, we could do something really cool, and cheap.

    Imagine if OBA or the city put together something where the plywood fences bounding construction projects were made available to a coherent art campaign. Something as simple as painting these fences with images of famous Oaklanders, or historical facts in artistically enhanced fonts, or fanciful maps of the surrounding area. Take the impact and turn it into local character. Create a graffiti deterrent. Add “brought to you by OBA”. Win win.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Sort of like Forest City had part of the wall surrounding the new Uptown park, while it was under construction, painted by the kids from the Oakland School for the Arts?

    I loved that.

  11. Max Allstadt


    yeah. That was cool. With a little coordination, at least part of this sort of wall space could be used to create a city-wide theme. There are other opportunities beyond this one type of wall too. If we expect to be stuck with a stagnant building climate for a while, why not make the most of the hand it deals us?

  12. Patrick

    V.- I’ve always loved the snippet of art that appeared on the blog banner…glad to know its history.