So last night’s District 3 candidate forum was…well, not terribly exciting. There were no serious fireworks, and I think the questions could have been more probing. Greg Hodge didn’t show up, so it was just Sean and Nancy in hearing room 1. Now, I’ve already decided who I’m supporting in this race, so I can’t claim to be an impartial observer, but I thought that to the extent there was a winner (it was a forum, not a contest), Sean Sullivan far outperformed Nadel. Nancy Nadel kept trying to point to her record, but the problem is, it just isn’t there. The debate will be rerunning on KTOP, and I’m going to try to put up some video highlights next week, but for now, click through for a summary of the discussion. I’ve recapped each question, the answers provided by both candidates, my thoughts on their responses, and who I think won on each count. I marked winners based on what I imagine the average person would think while watching the forum, not on my personal opinions about the answers.
First, a note to Nancy Nadel: did you forget? There’s a “mammoth glut of plastic floating in the sea that is now the size of Texas.” (Note: this is actually not true.) Plastic water bottles get used once and thrown away! There’s these things called reusable bottles, look into it. Hippies like Nalgene bottles, while the more stylish prefer SIGG.
Anyway, here’s what happened.
I missed Sean Sullivan’s opening comments, but I’ve heard him speak at a house party, and I’m guessing it was along the same lines – he probably talked about his work with Covenant House and how the mother of a homicide victim asked him to run.
Nancy Nadel said that she has fought bureaucracy at City Hall to bring major changes (really?), brought neighborhood serving retail to West Oakland, has a teen center on the way in the Hoover neighborhood, and is a 27 year resident, and an 18 year policymaker.
A: Nancy Nadel responded that more District 3 residents should be taking CORE training, and that those who are interested should call up the city and have them arrange a session. She also noted that the City is about to start an inventory of soft story structures. Sean Sullivan said that he knows from his service on the Alameda County FEMA board that we aren’t adequately prepared, and talked about the Red Cross preparedness plans being developed, and mentioned the importance of having Neighborhood Watch groups develop strategies to prepare for the aftermath of a disaster.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. Sean handled the question well – obviously, he’s familiar with the issue from his work on the FEMA board. Nancy Nadel’s response reminded me why I find her so frustrating. If more people need CORE training, why isn’t the office reaching out to neighborhood organizations and local churches trying to make it happen? Why is she waiting for people to call the city? I’m so tired of the lethargic attitude at this Council office. As for inventorying soft story structures – I can’t help but have this “too little, too late” reaction every time Nancy Nadel says she’s going to be doing something. Building inventory, business attraction meetings – sure, we should have them, I’m glad they’re finally happening, but why has it taken you 12 years to do it?
A: Sean Sullivan replied that the current zoning hasn’t allowed businesses to thrive (I think he’s talking about the Jack London Square residential area, where new buildings have retail space requirements, but no retail design review or requirements. This meant we ended up with a bunch of crappy retail spaces that are too small and poorly placed to have any real use. It’s just one example of the City’s failure to take details into account when they make planning decisions.), and called the stagnation of the Jack London Square area a “failure of leadership.” Nancy Nadel said that Jack London Square has new buildings under construction, that we’ll see exciting development there, and that Harvest Hall (apparently now renamed Jack London Marketplace?) will bring gourmet food to Oakland and we will compete with San Francisco (um, I don’t think so). There’s also a parking garage under construction.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. The answer to a complaint about the status quo shouldn’t be that the status quo is exciting.
A: Nancy Nadel said that only 4% of the public comes to Council meetings. Therefore (and, honestly, I found this part so bizarre that I wondered if I was somehow misunderstanding her. I look forward to getting my hands on the DVD so I can watch the response again.) we should make sure that our meetings have something exciting for the community. Then she talked about neighborhood watches or something. Sean Sullivan said that more citizens will start participating when we start treating them with respect. He said that people who bring ideas to the Council office get no assistance, and that he will have an open door policy, and that the Council also needs to respect the opinions of boards & commissions.
V: Big winner: Sean Sullivan. Like I said, I found the thing about making meetings more exciting extremely strange. I thought at the time that I was just confused, but I asked some other attendees after the meeting, and that’s what they heard as well. Anyway, I guess that makes sense – after all, Nancy Nadel loves to sponsor pointless resolutions like the one opposing war with Iran. That one got 16 people out to speak. Of course, it also meant that we spent like an hour listening to people complain about Bush and the Council ended up discussing important things like the interim zoning controls, the Army Base RFQ really late, when very few people were awake to watch, and didn’t finish the meeting until almost 1 AM, but what the hell? At least people came out. Exciting! Maybe we should ban homicides next! Sullivan is completely right here. Being treated rudely and dismissively by one’s Councilmember turns people off of politics. Nancy Nadel has been so nasty to me in the past when I’ve tried e-mailing her about my concerns that I gave up on even trying to do so over a year ago. It’s sad to feel like you have no representation! Her habit of insulting public speakers doesn’t help.
A: Sean Sullivan said that we do need more open space, and that there is an opportunity to do that on the Army Base. Nancy Nadel said that District 3 has more parkland per capita than any other district, that we’re getting new parks as part of the Uptown and Wood Street developments, and listed parks in the District that have had improvements.
V: Winner: Nancy Nadel. Sullivan probably said more than that, but it wasn’t memorable. Nancy Nadel looked good listing off parks around the district, although I have issues with her actual record on parks. I’m sure I’ll find time to get into that at some point before the election. As for her claim that District 3 has more parkland per capita than any other district – I find that very difficult to believe, and I’d love to see some data on that. No numbers turned up in my initial search. I know that District 3 goes out into the water, but unless we’re counting the Bay as a park, it seems really odd that Districts 1 and 7, both of which contain huge regional parks, would have less parkland per capita than District 3.
A: Nancy Nadel said she would support that, and that our current records are handled poorly and not retained long enough. She reminded the audience that she voted against the current record-keeping policy. Sean Sullivan also said he would also support a records management program, and then expanded on that, saying that it would be part of a much needed more efficiently run city. He also said that we need a single point of entry and reference for people trying to contact the City with problems and questions, rather than having them have to sort through myriad departments.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. Sean did a good job in taking a boring question and sharing something productive with it. I mean, I support a citywide records management program too, but who’s going to say no to that? Random. Anyway, the single point of entry (via a 311 call center) was an often overlooked aspect of Ignacio De La Fuente’s 2006 mayoral platform, and I always thought it would be a good idea. We need a better way to track calls for service. Theoretically the Oaklanders Assistance Center is sort of supposed to work that way, but so far, it doesn’t.
A: Sean Sullivan talked about his work at Covenant House and then concluded by saying that we need to demand effective, accountable violence prevention programs. Nancy Nadel said that she brought together two opposing groups, those who wanted more police and those who wanted more violence prevention funding, and that out of that came Measure Y. She said that she’s creating two teen centers, and currently working on restorative justice initiatives.
V: Winner: Nancy Nadel. She sounded more accomplished, although she did so by saying things that weren’t exactly true. Eventually we got Measure Y (not exactly a success story for the City), but what Nancy Nadel did first was author Measure R, which was opposed by advocates of increased police presence, since it only added 30 officers to the force. Regarding the teen center in Hoover/Foster – I have seen no evidence that we’re actually going to get a teen center here. Nancy Nadel spent $850,000 in project priority funds to buy a building which will eventually house a teen center, but the staff report (PDF!) on the item says that the building is going to be mothballed indefinitely at a cost of $18,000/year. From the report:
There are no additional funding sources in PWA for this building…By adding, a new unfunded facility to Fund 4400 it will impact service levels at other Parks and Recreation facilities, as well as increase the shortfall in funding for hard costs such as utilities and building maintenance.
The subject property is ideally located for its intended use and is considered an “opportunity” purchase. There is no current, or projected, funding in the City’s budget for a Teen Center in West Oakland.
I don’t know how much she had to do with the Campbell Village Recreation Center, which opened in December 2005 as a collaboration between the Oakland Housing Authority and Oakland Parks and Rec, but I am happy that it exists. I strongly agree with Sullivan that we need to demand more accountability from the violence prevention programs we’re currently funding. We spend a lot of money on violence prevention, but the Council appears uninterested in oversight and outcomes that ensure we’re getting what we pay for.
A: Nancy Nadel reminded everyone that she rides a tricycle, then said that she’s really promoting bike lanes, and that the Oil Independence Task Force recommends using bicycles more and that their work is really introducing the importance of bicycling. Sean Sullivan said that although we have a Bicycle Master Plan, we need a plan to get it implemented. He said that we need to go out and be aggressive about getting money to fund our needs, and that we need to hire a bicycle engineer.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. Nancy Nadel did an excellent job of telling us what she does and what she apparently plans on continuing to do: talk. Promoting bike lanes, introducing the importance of bicycling – these are not going to make bicycling easier. Why has Nadel, if she cares so much about bicycling, made no attempt to address the bike parking shortage created by the Pay and Display parking meters? We can’t implement the Bicycle Master Plan because we don’t yet have a bicycle engineer on staff. People already know that bicycling is good for the environment – now we need to do something about it.
A: Sean Sullivan complained that there is no grocery store in his West Oakland neighborhood, and said that the Council office needs to work with the business community and have an open door. He also said that he wants to start a Small Business Commission so that the City can hear regularly from local businesses so we know what we their needs are, what their barriers are, and how we can be helping them. Nancy Nadel said that retailers won’t come to poor neighborhoods, and that you need a wealthier community to bring shopping, and that’s why she’s tried to bring more mixed-income development to West Oakland. She said that Mandela Foods is about to open, and that Adams Point now has Whole Foods. She also said that the Office Depot, Pak ‘n’ Save shopping center is actually in Oakland, not in Emeryville, and that people don’t remember that (Update: I rewatched the debate, and saw that she actually said this last part in her opening statement, not in response to this question. She did mention Pak ‘n’ Save, though.).
V: Winner: Nancy Nadel, but again, only because she was misleading. Between this answer and her opening statement, she made it sound like she brought Best Buy to Oakland, which is not true. The East Baybridge Center on the Oakland/Emeryville border came out of a collaboration between the two cities that began with the 1992 creation (PDF!, pg. 34) of an Oakland/Emeryville Joint Planning Authority that would negotiate the project agreement with the developer and both cities. The center opened in 1994, before she was even on the Council. And I am so fed up with the Mandela Foods Cooperative. These people have gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars of City money since 2005, failed to meet all their deadlines with their original lease agreement, and still can’t open their damn store, even after promising a November opening after receiving $200,000 from the Council in September. Last I heard, the new promise was April, but as of a few weeks ago, they didn’t appeal to be on schedule. They have harmed West Oakland residents by demanding that the new 99 cents store restrict their produce and meat sections to only 50 feet, so as not to compete with the more expensive produce they plan on offering. Mandela Foods is not something to be proud of. It’s a waste of taxpayer money. (Incidentally, the People’s Grocery is also trying to open a store in West Oakland. I’m not sure what their current timeline is, but they seem committed to finding funding sources other than government subsidy, and actually have experience providing food for residents.)
A: Nancy Nadel said that we are environmentally friendly, and that Popular Science named us the 5th most environmentally friendly city this month. I think she may have brought up the Oil Independence Task Force again, but I can’t remember for sure. Sean Sullivan said that we need smart green growth and that we should encourage construction of LEED certified buildings.
V: Draw. Both answers were fine, but kind of boring. Popular Science actually named us the fourth greenest city, and they did it in February. I find it interesting that she didn’t bring up the plastic bag ban or styrofoam ban – perhaps the Council has finally gotten the message that this kind of legislation isn’t popular.
A: Sean Sullivan said that getting public input is about respecting the community, and that Council staff should be available to listen to citizen input, and that we need to make our citizens feel valued. Nancy Nadel said that it’s possible we could have more than 1 day of committee meetings, and hold the meetings later so that more people could attend, and that she voted against the current schedule.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. I’ve said before that I think one or two minutes is sufficient, and I agree with Sean that the appropriate way to give citizens meaningful opportunities for input is for the Councilmember to welcome their thoughts before the public hearing. We have plenty of speaking time. What we aren’t getting is respect. I don’t know why Nancy Nadel kept bringing up votes she lost. What’s the point of being the “conscience of the council” if nobody listens to you? We need somebody who can work with their peers to make things happen, not someone who sits around losing votes.
A: Nancy Nadel said that we’re 47th in the country in per child classroom funding, and that she put in a reading room for parents at Lafayette Middle School. Sean Sullivan said that we need to learn how to partner and reach out to existing groups, and that we should be partnering with churches for after school programming.
V: Draw. Both answers were fine, neither thrilled me. FYI, a new Census Bureau report (PDF!) ranks California as 25th, not 47th, in per-pupil school financing.
A: Sean Sullivan (obviously) said that he was most proud of bringing Covenant House to Jack London Square and getting 30 kids a night off the street. He then responded to Nancy Nadel’s earlier claim that she helped bring Covenant House, saying that while she didn’t oppose the project, he also felt during the process that he lacked a champion in City Hall, and that she only came to one meeting. He concluded by saying that he works every day to solve the failures of government. Nancy Nadel couldn’t provide an answer. “All the results I see as I look around.” She said that it’s “amazing” what we’ve achieved, and that she’s revitalized neighborhoods, ensured protection for women accessing reproductive services, expanded the Second Start adult literacy program, brought/is bringing teen centers. She again concluded by saying that there are just so many achievements, then trailed off.
V: Big winner: Sean Sullivan. I thought it was a little sad that he had to use his time defending his work in bringing Covenant House to Jack London Square, but he didn’t really have a choice after Nancy Nadel tried to take credit for it earlier in the forum. Nancy Nadel’s response was weak. After 12 years, if you can’t point to a single remarkable thing you’ve done, it is time for you to go. West Oakland isn’t amazing. It’s crime ridden and blighted. The status quo is not acceptable, and the fact that Nancy Nadel thinks it’s something to be proud of demonstrates just how unfit she to serve Oakland as a leader and policymaker.
A: Nancy Nadel again referenced her upcoming effort to inventory soft story structures, then said that we had to sue the Oakland Housing Authority over the state of their properties, and that they have a lot more work to do, but it’s difficult because they’re not under the city’s control. Sean Sullivan talked about how he finds it much easier to get kids jobs than to get them apartments, and that we need more units, more housing for first time renters, and more participation in the first time homebuyer program.
V: Winner: Nancy Nadel. I agree with the things that Sean said, but they didn’t address the question. I was sad that he didn’t perform well on this one, since I asked him about housing rehab in the past and received a thoughtful, nuanced response. Nancy Nadel was more on point, although again, I have issues with her answer. The City Council may not run the Housing Authority, but they do control the appointments to the seven member Housing Authority Board. The City’s inattention to the Board is disgraceful, and shows how little any of them really care about affordable housing. Last summer, Nancy Nadel (along with every other Councilmember besides Jane Brunner, who abstained) voted to appoint a teenage girl who nobody could even verify lived in Oakland to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. That’s right – they appointed, at the request of the Mayor, a Livermore High School student (PDF!), not even legally able to sign a lease, to govern the same Housing Authority that we had to sue. And they appointed her to one of the two seats that are supposed to be occupied by a public housing tenant! (FYI, the girl is not currently serving on the board, and her spot was recently filled with someone else.)
A: Sean Sullivan said that he wants to see green growth, more feet on the street, and vacant storefronts filled, and that we should work project by project for community benefits. Nancy Nadel said that she authored the City’s current green building ordinance, and is working on the downtown zoning, and that it’s important to maximize density along the Broadway corridor.
V: Winner: Nancy Nadel. It sounds impressive to say that you wrote the Green Building Ordinance, although it’s somewhat less impressive when you know that the Green Building Ordinance (PDF!) only applies to buildings the City builds, and only for projects with over $3 million in construction costs, which means that it really doesn’t apply to much of anything in practice, since we aren’t running around constructing buildings. My impression of Nadel’s comments was that she endorsed the CBD draft zoning proposal, which she apparently doesn’t understand. As I’ve noted, it does not maximize density along the Broadway corridor at all. In fact, the two new office buildings we just approved last year would both be prohibited under the new zoning proposal.
A: Nancy Nadel said she has been working to help at-risk youth for years, and that she’s now beginning the effort to look at re-entry services. She said that her new teen center will be really exciting, and that there will be a youth planning process for it. Sean Sullivan responded forcefully that the work that the city has been doing is not “amazing,” as Nadel called it, but deplorable. He complained that there are young men and women standing on the street from morning to night with nothing to do. I think he talked about the diversion services provided by Covenant House.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. Sullivan is right that the City has failed to provide effective violence prevention services, and I especially appreciate his perspective as someone who has actually gotten things done and provides real services.
A: Sean Sullivan, still all worked up, called spending $3 million on a new park ludicrous, and that if we had $3 million, it should be used to improve public safety, and that crime is the first and foremost issue the city should be dealing with. He said that the Council office needs to stop fueling these battles. Nancy Nadel responded that nobody was talking about spending $3 million to buy a park, that there was some talk of trading the land, and that increasing density at the edge of the lake is innappropriate.
V: Winner: Sean Sullivan. First of all, I have no idea where the $3 million figure came from. The estimates I’ve seen of the land’s worth say $8 million. I’ve said before that I think giving an expensive piece of land to a developer in exchange for this “garden” is a terrible waste of limited public resources. I also find it bizarre that Nancy Nadel tried to distance herself from the land swap, saying “some talk,” when she is the one who keeps bringing it up, even though she has not produced a parcel to trade in the 19 months since she first floated the idea. I also find it bizarre that Nancy Nadel claims to oppose building near the lake after accepting donations from Swig, the owners of the Kaiser Center who have an entitlement to build an additional 1 million square feet of office space on the property at the edge of the lake. (Nadel’s most recent contribution list includes a $500 donation from Swig President & CEO Jeanne Myerson and $500 from Swig Chief Investment Officer Kennard Perry. Do Myerson and Perry not know that she opposes their entitled building, or is she just a hypocrite?)
Nancy Nadel said that it’s easy to talk, but harder to lead and get results. She said that she had a strong record, and that public officeholders should serve the residents, not special interests. Sean Sullivan said that he agreed with most of what she said, and that District 3 needs a passionate leader with the energy and willingness to work with the community, and asked people to look at the record.
I found Nancy Nadel’s closing remarks amusing. Of course it’s easy to talk, and harder to get results! The problem is that she has no results to point to. Of course the Councilmember should serve her constituents! The problem is that she doesn’t. Nadel’s own thoughts on what a representative should be doing are the best argument I can think of to unseat her.
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- 05.01.08 Mandela Foods Cooperative: Subsidizing Failure
- 04.28.08 Finally, a clear answer on Fresh & Easy
- 04.25.08 Who’s the developer candidate for District 3
- 04.13.08 Clinton Killian v. Kerry Hamill v. Rebecca Kaplan v. Frank Rose v. Charles Pine: LWV At-large Oakland City Council Forum Recap, Part 2
- 04.13.08 Clinton Killian v. Kerry Hamill v. Rebecca Kaplan v. Frank Rose v. Charles Pine: LWV At-large Oakland City Council Forum Recap, Part 1
- 04.07.08 Larry Reid v. Clifford Gilmore: LWV District 7 Forum Recap
- 04.03.08 Greg Hodge is not qualified to serve on the Oakland City Council