I met Nancy Nadel for the first time about a week after I moved to Oakland, to a beautiful and perfect downtown apartment, when I went to a meeting I had seen a notice for in the newspaper about retail revitalization in downtown Oakland. The meeting was really weird. It turned out to not be about retail revitalization at all, but a panel discussion about the Uptown development, with some representatives of Forest City, Nancy Nadel, Danny Wan, and a reporter from the Oakland Tribune (I kind of think it was Robert Gammon, but I’m not 100% on that). Jerry Brown came in about halfway through, clearly stopping by from running around the Lake, drenched in sweat, and stood in the back of the room, watching. The moderator kept asking him to weigh in, and he kept declining, saying he was just there to listen. At the end of the meeting, the moderator again asked Brown for a statement, and he went on this really weird thing about how he just returned from a trip to Florence, and he thought it was really pretty with their cute orange roofs, and he’d really support anything we could do to make Oakland look like Florence. Later he approached me and said he liked my bracelet. So bizarre.
Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to ask my question, so afterwards, I went up to my Councilmember, Nancy Nadel, to ask her. I introduced myself and said I’d just moved to Oakland, and wanted to ask about retail attraction in other parts of downtown. She asked me where I lived, and when I told her, she said that I wasn’t in her District, and should go talk to Danny. I said that was pretty sure I was, because I had looked it up on the City’s website, and could I ask her anyway since I was already talking to her. She said no, she was sure I wasn’t in District 3, that if I had questions, I really should talk to Danny, then turned and walked away. Things only went downhill from there.
Just in case anyone reading this hadn’t already picked up on this, I’m voting for Sean Sullivan on Tuesday. And tomorrow, I’ll tell you why you should, too. Today I want to talk about Nancy Nadel, and more specifically, why it’s time for her to go. So here you go:
- She has the wrong priorities.
As Oaklanders have watched crime skyrocket over the past few years and for the last year have clamored for improved public safety, Nadel made her legislative priorities banning smoking at bus stops and banning plastic bags.
Look. Oakland has serious problems, particularly around public safety. Real problems deserve real policy solutions. Crime is the number one issue here in Oakland, and people deserve at least an attempt on the part of their representatives to address the problem. Nadel just doesn’t get it. See her comments from the Public Safety Committee on September 11, 2007 and then the City Council on September 18, 2007.
And for those who don’t want to view it, here’s what she says. First:
Of course being attacked on the street is a safety issue. But smoking is a safety issue too…We can’t say one is more dangerous than the other.
Exposure to smoke can be as deadly to them as being shot in the street.
No. Just no. I don’t care how much you hate smoking, there is a difference between being exposed to secondhand smoke outside within 25 feet of a bus stop and being violently assaulted, and you can say which is worse. It’s the latter. The attitude is just not acceptable. This is just one example of Nadel’s abysmal record on public safety, but I think it’s a particularly revealing one. We need someone sitting in that seat who has their priorities in order, and Nancy Nadel just doesn’t get it.
- She does not want to work full-time for her constituents
When she was first elected, Nancy Nadel was a strong advocate of increasing Council salaries to full-time pay, because she felt that it was too burdensome to properly fulfill her duties as a Councilmember while also working another job. I agree with this position, and honestly, I think the City Council should be paid more than they currently are. In October of 1997, Nancy Nadel, then working a second job to make ends meet, testified to the City’s Public Ethics Commission (PDF!) “I’m working constantly, and it’s not healthy. I’d happily leave my other job if I were paid an equivalent amount to work full-time here.”
Being a City Councilmember, making good choices, and really delivering for your District is a huge job. And as everyone who has ever started or run one knows, so is operating a small business. It is completely beyond me why Nancy Nadel thinks that she can devote the necessary amount of time to her City Council duties while at the same time starting a chocolate company. If Nancy Nadel wants to make chocolate and help Jamaican farmers, I think that’s admirable. I really do. But if that’s her passion, then that’s what she should be doing. Even if I had no other issues with Nadel, the fact that she’s starting another business would be an absolute deal-breaker for me. We need someone in this office who is devoted to working full-time for their constituents, and Nadel isn’t. End of story.
- She doesn’t like the job, and isn’t taking the initiative to bring new things forward.
Like I said before, I know that being a Councilmember is tough. No matter what you do, you’re never going to make everyone happy, and you’re always going to piss some people off. So I understand that it must get really frustrating at times. But when you’ve gotten jaded enough to state publicly “I find limited joy in my work,” as Nadel has, it’s simply time to move on.
At the last three candidate forums I attended, Nadel, in her introduction, said that the reason she’s running for her fourth term is “to bring some long-term projects to completion.” It’s just not good enough. District 3 and Oakland as a whole are burdened with so many problems. We need someone representing us who will constantly bring forth new ideas, new projects, and new initiatives. We need energy. Representing Oakland has got to be about more than finishing what you started.
- She discourages public input.
It’s so hard to get people to go speak at Council meetings. Seriously. I’m always desperately trying to get people I know involved in City politics, and for the most part, they just don’t care at all. But even when you manage to get someone worked up over some specific issue, getting them to show up to a meeting and wait for hours to speak for a minute on one item is like pulling teeth. So I find it particularly upsetting when people do show up and speak, only to be treated incredibly rudely by the Council, and Nancy Nadel is by far the worst culprit on this. (I know people complain about Ignacio being rude to people, but I swear, I’m sure I watch more Council meetings than most people, and I just don’t see it at all. Yes, he stops people after they’ve gone 10 or 15 seconds over their alloted time, but that’s his job. Personally, I think it’s rude of those people to assume the same rules that everyone else abides by shouldn’t apply to them. But while people are speaking within their time limits, I always find him polite and respectful. At least he looks at you and pretends to listen, unlike certain other Councilmembers who can be seen reading magazines or napping during public comment.)
Anyway, Nancy Nadel is just consistently gratuitously rude to public speakers, and I find it really upsetting. A couple examples from the past year off the top of my head. Of course, there’s the time Max spoke to share his concerns about displacement, and Nancy Nadel responded by telling him that the people in question should just move. Then there was the time during the Public Safety Committee hearing on the smoking ordinance, when a bar owner got up to speak about being concerned for the safety of his patrons and the impact on his business if they were forced to stand down far down the street from his business and out of sight of his security staff at night, and she interrupted him and to grill him and lecture him about how he was currently breaking the law (he wasn’t). After the exchange, two other people who had signed up to speak tried to leave out of fear of what she’d do to them, and I had to beg and plead with them to say and talk. It was terrible!
And it isn’t just with people she disagrees with. For reasons totally beyond me, Nadel seems to feel the need to be similarly rude to people who favor ordinances she supports! Take this exchange, which I found absolutely shocking!
OK, so this poor girl seemed really nervous, which I totally get. I don’t know how many of you have ever spoken at Council meetings, but I’m not someone who generally has a problem with speaking in public, and I find it seriously intimidating being down there and looking up at all of them on that high dais and seeing yourself on that huge screen, especially if the room is crowded and you have all these people staring at you. I’ve done it lots of times, and even though I prepare and rehearse my remarks, every time I get up there, I get so nervous I shake and spend the whole time terrified that my legs are going to give out and I’ll just collapse on the floor like a freak. Anyway, so like tons of people do all the time at every meeting, this girl showed up to speak in support of something the Council was going to pass that night (as did like a dozen other people) and what does Nadel do the second she leaves the podium? Responds with a nasty comment about how someone should inform the girl that they “already did that,” which they, um, hadn’t. It was so unnecessary! Do you think she’s ever going to speak at another Council meeting ever again? I sure as hell wouldn’t.
It’s exactly like Sean said at the League of Women Voters forum (beginning of this video): “We’ll have more citizen participation in this city when we start respecting our citizens who are actually willing to become involved.”
- She’s a barrier to people trying to make a difference in their neighborhood.
Plenty of my commenters have described here their efforts to get improvements in their neighborhoods, and the resistance they faced from Nancy Nadel. People who want dog parks, stop signs, community gardens, street lighting, permit parking, and so on, all have to fight tooth and nail to get it, with no help, and often, opposition, from their Council office. Maybe more will chime in. But let’s look, for now, at just one example – Bordertown skate park. When a group of people tried to start a skate park in West Oakland, they faced opposition from CalTrans, but with the help of the City, worked the problem out. Although Nancy Nadel ultimately ended up voting for their lease, she did so only after trying to halt the project. Even after Caltrans soil tests found that the low levels of PCBs on the site where within acceptable levels, and that any environmental safety concerns would be ameliorated simply by capping the site, Nadel said that the group should simply give up (PDF!) on the site, because she was building one at Jefferson Park. This was in 2005. As we all know, there is still no skate park at Jefferson Park. Violence prevention isn’t just about police or job programs – it’s also about providing recreation opportunities for our youth. We need somebody in this office who is going to help, not hinder, ordinary citizens who want to improve their neighborhoods. It should be a no brainer.
I could go on and on and on. She’s nowhere on food security and food access. She does nothing for bicycle, transit, and pedestrian improvements. Restoring the Broadway Shopper Shuttle is part of her platform now, but it got cancelled five years ago on her watch! Where’s she been since then? One local activist recently told me he was reluctant to criticize Nadel’s newfound advocacy for transit issues, saying “Yeah, she’s concerned now that she’s running for re-election. Whatever. I’ll take what I can get.” Fair enough. But where’s she been for the last four years? And where will she be once she doesn’t have to worry about getting votes? She chairs Public Works, so you’d she’d be helping with the bike parking problem, but bicycle advocates had to turn to Finance and Management and Ignacio De La Fuente for help!
She cannot see the big picture. She opposed the Council’s resolution in support of a high speed rail alignment that would have benefitted Oakland (which would have almost certainly ended at the Coliseum BART station), delaying passage of the resolution for over a month, until after the MTC had already recommended the alternative route, and when it finally passed, it only did so after she insisted on adding a provision about boring tunnels and undergrounding BART. She can’t even be trusted to stand up for things that are allegedly her priorities. Nadel is supposed to be the City Council’s big advocate of medial marijuana rights. Why then did she vote in favor of selling one of our police officers to the DEA so they can run around busting dispensaries? She voted for it at the Public Safety Committee last November, and again at the City Council meeting in December.
She places ideology over the realities of the market and hard data. Back in 2006, I was corresponding with her about industrial preservation, trying to explain to her about the real problems I, as somewhat working in industrial real estate, was seeing with business attraction for West Oakland. I tried to offer her data about vacancy rates, lease rates, and TI costs, and her response was “If you are working for an industrial brokerage, when the brokerage closes a deal for a housing project on industrial land, you’re making a lot more money on that deal than a purely industrial deal. Your self-interest is an important factor.” Not only was this incredibly rude, it was also ridiculous. One, as a researcher (which I had already explained to her I was), I earned an hourly wage, making no more money on any one deal than on any other. Two, leases are the bread and butter of industrial real estate! Of course the brokerage community doesn’t want to lose the industrial land – if we did, they’d be out of business! But Nadel is so blinded by her hostility to the idea of anyone (gasp!) making money, that she won’t listen to the input of people who work with these issues every day.
She isn’t available to her constituents. She hosts monthly coffee hours to meet with people in Jack London Square, but cancelled over half of them over the last two years. Her approach to governance and Oakland’s needs is simply too abstract. Last week, she was talking about buses, and was saying something about how we need the bus because we’re going to be oil independent in 12 years. No! We need the bus because people need to go places. Not in 2020. Now. She doesn’t care about transparency or public access to government. In 2003, when the City was facing some budget issues, her plan to free up money was to cut the Public Information Officers (PDF!) positions from the police, fire, and city attorney’s office. I don’t even have words on that one! She’s divisive. She can’t get things done. She lies. She doesn’t listen to people. She’s fiscally irresponsible (I’m sure I don’t need to remind my readers again about the $850,000 of our money she spent on an empty building that we have absolutely zero funds to turn into a teen center (meanwhile, we cut funding for teen recreation programs at the YMCA across the street). She does not value oversight, accountability, or implementation. She says she wants to bring jobs to Oakland, but supports a zoning proposal that would hurt our ability to build office space that will accommodate large employers. This could go on forever, but I’m going to have to stop eventually. Now seems as good a place as any.
Look, I don’t think Nancy Nadel is a bad person. I really don’t. She may be really mean to her constituents a lot of the time, but I have absolutely no doubt that she cares, and cares deeply, about helping people in West Oakland. But she is a bad Councilmember, and what she’s doing isn’t helping them, and it isn’t helping the rest of the people who live in District 3, or the rest of people who live in Oakland. It’s like Sean Sullivan is always saying at the candidate forums. Results matter. This is about who can get things done, who can actually help people in need in a meaningful way, and who can best move this City forward. Nancy Nadel has consistently shown that she just can’t deliver on these fronts. And that’s why it’s time for her to go.