Real problems deserve real policy solutions

Last night I got home a little before 9 o’clock. As I was walking into my building, I heard a terrible scream, so I stepped back on the street to investigate. A woman on the corner had just been knocked down and had her backpack pulled off. She pointed the direction the kid ran, but he was already out of my sight.

She was bruised, but otherwise physically uninjured. Mentally was another story. She was shaking and sobbing and hysterical, as people tend to be when this sort of thing happens to them. (At this point I see a purse snatching as little more than an inconvenience, but I remember the first time I got mugged I reacted exactly like she did. Probably worse, actually.)

It wasn’t the middle of the night. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood. And it wasn’t a deserted street.There were four people within a block of her when it happened. In the 15 minutes we were waiting for the police to arrive, over a dozen people walked passed us.

I had planned on using my evening to write some blogs for today – one about the BRC’s stupid non-recommendations and another about this idiotic smoking ordinance. But I found myself too restless and frustrated to write. I was frustrated at myself for not being able to comfort this terribly upset woman or think of better things to say to her. I was frustrated over knowing that this kid would never be caught, and even if he was, nothing would happen to him, since this isn’t a “serious” crime.

But mostly I was frustrated with the Council for wasting time with feel-good, do-nothing policies while they ignore the real problems facing the people who live here. I look at these agendas and watch these meetings week after week after week, and I wonder if anyone on the Council even cares about the people who live in this city. Do they ever stop for a second to think about whether what they’re doing will actually make people safer, or provide more affordable housing, or whatever the goal of the week is?

It really doesn’t feel like it. Banning carryout plastic bags from grocery stores is not going to help the environment. Inclusionary zoning is not going to provide housing to poor people. Banning smoking near bus stops is not going to reduce asthma and lung cancer risks for people who live next to the Port and have diesel trucks whizzing past them all day and night. Paying teenagers to stand around BART stations with maps for a couple of hours in the afternoon is not going to reduce crime.

Everyone on the Council knows all of this. (And if they don’t, they’re stupid. But I don’t think they’re stupid.) They know and they don’t care. None of it is about change – it’s about “making a statement.”

Oaklanders don’t need statements. They need safer streets. They need places to live. They need jobs. They need mind-numbingly boring results-oriented legislation with well thought out implementation plans and clear metrics for determining success.

In my story for Novometro yesterday, I wrote about an ordinance that hasn’t been implemented in the six years since the Council passed it, another ordinance that was passed amid great controversy and is now being repealed after it achieved nothing and the State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, a State law that we asked to have passed that lapsed because we failed to provide the required statistics about how we were using it, and another law that the Council will consider tonight that they have repeatedly admitted they can’t enforce. It’s pathetic. It makes me angry. And embarrassed for this city.

I get that crafting legislation that will make a difference is not fun. It takes a long time to research. It’s slow to write. By the time you see results, people have forgotten you passed it. It doesn’t sound sexy in the newspaper. But Oakland’s City Council owes their constituents far more than what they are giving them.

I can’t stop thinking about that poor woman last night. She was just so visibily overwrought over this horrible thing that had happened to her, and the fact that far worse things happen to people in Oakalnd every day was no consolation. She was around my mom’s age, kind of hippiesh looking, and wasn’t a smoker. But I’m pretty damn sure that she doesn’t think banning smoking near bus stops should be her government’s priority. When the Council votes tonight over whether they want to devote police time to ticketing smokers at golf courses or not, I hope they think about her instead of the sound bite they might get on KTVU.

19 thoughts on “Real problems deserve real policy solutions

  1. Incredibledaze

    I second the motion, send this to every paper that is nearby and come and read it tonight at the City Council meeting. Then help me recruit someone to run for District 3 who is interested in real solutions than feel good “acting locally” laws that amount to little more than fly swatting.

  2. Recent mugging victim

    Thank you for saying this. I have lived in North Oakland for nearly 35 years and I have never felt so afraid as I do lately. I was mugged a month ago and houses around me have been being burglarized all the time this year. I am so fed up with this city council. Get rid of them all is what I say and replace them with people who care about us. My council woman has been running unopposed last time. Im not letting it happen again.

    I don’t smoke and I have never smoked in my life and I hate smoking but give me a break this is ridiculous.

  3. Leslie O'Dea

    Amen. It is the same thing in my neighborhood by the lake. They are not doing there jobs. Please send this to every newspaper in town. People need to hear it.

  4. Kevin Cook

    Thank you for articulating what should be obvious, but seems to be beyond the current members of the council in many cases.

  5. ScottPark

    Yes, everyone has complaints. But I would have to mention what I think is obvious: the Oakland City Council is not going to stop crime. The whole notion that if the City Council really focussed it’s energy on passing legislation that addressed so-called “real problems,” Oakland would be perfectly safe secure and prosperous is absurd. Let me repeat: you elected officials are not going to stop crime. They are not going to go out and fight it themselves, or send their staff to do it. What exactly are you hoping for? What magic piece or paper is the Council going to approve to make everything right for everyone?

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    Thanks to all of you for the kind words. Pat Kernighan, Jean Quan, Ignacio De La Fuente, Henry Chang, and Nancy Nadel all voted yes on the smoking ordinance last night.

    ScottPark -

    I suppose inventing words for your opponent is one way to approach an argument, but it isn’t the one I generally take.

    Nobody expects the Council to make “everything right for everyone.” I do believe that our elected representatives have a moral obligation to try to make things better. One example of a practical policy would be Ignacio De La Fuente’s recent proposal to set aside 10% of redevelopment funds for public safety. This is an excellent plan. This year, that would be over $8 million. It isn’t a panacea, but it is a real solution to a problem that even Assistant Chief Howard Jordan was quoted in the newspaper complaining about today. Then there’s the ongoing problem of recruitment. Ignacio has also proposed initiatives that would address this, with increased hiring incentives.

    I want the Council to pass legislation that has a chance of making things better. Jane Brunner knows perfectly well that her IZ policy won’t provide any affordable housing, yet she has been pushing it for eight years and will not give up. She doesn’t care what it will do for the city or whether it will help anyone. She should be ashamed of herself.

    I don’t not want them to pass any more legislation they know will be counterproductive or ignored or will make no difference and waste resources. Anyone who works for the city and has the attitude reflected in your comment has failed in their duties to Oaklanders and should resign immediately. Let someone who cares about making Oakland not perfect, but better, take that place.

  7. Deckin

    I want to second V Smoothe’s response to ScottPark. First, there are steps the Council could take. De La Fuente’s plan would be a good start–but of course, his new conspiracy theory will keep that from happening. But there are plenty of others. As the self congratulating Jean Quan likes to point out in her most of her incessant monologues, there is a dollar amount that we know would suffice to hire more cops. She claims 50 million for 100 cops. Whatever. Anyway, in any other organization on the planet, if there was a problem that could be ameliorated with a known amount of cash, the only questions after that would be how to get it. One can either raise more or spend less. Raising more (as Dellums will soon find out if he floats a new bond measure) through taxes is out. DLF’s idea is a help. But what about other measures that cut spending? Even if they only get us part way to the goal number of cops, the goodwill and momentum may help even more. How about a hiring freeze downtown? How about not replacing retiring workers in some massively overstaffed city agencies? How about defunding some obvious pork projects (Gail Cobb anyone?). It all adds up and would send a powerful message that our Council is at least serious about doing something. Haggling about smoking while people are mugged is an insult to all of us.

    Here’s another one. Why doesn’t the City Council request John Russo to look into re-opening the Consent Decree that all agree is hampering the police? How about threatening to unilaterally cease to abide by it? The judge (Thelton Henderson) would then threaten an injunction and we could end up in court, but maybe that’s a court battle that’s worth having. How many people are going to be sacrificed to this awful settlement? What appeals panel wouldn’t be swayed by the timing and extent of Oakland’s crime wave following its implementation? Again, a powerful message is sent even if it doesn’t play out legally.

    Then there’s development. As much as Charles Pine is right about more cops, he’s dead wrong on development. As any criminologist will tell you, the one thing that definitely changes the crime profile of a neighborhood is having law abiding citizens move in. Pine thinks this brings more lambs to the slaughter, but he’s assuming that the thugs have lots of spare capacity they could use on new victims. I think that’s wrong. I think the thugs are going full tilt now and new residents would rather be a force against thuggery by creating more witnesses. The progressive lunatics harbor a moralistic fantasy that we’re going to change thugs and murderers into nice neat liberal citizens with just one more program, etc. But that’s never been confirmed by any evidence. It may well be that what’s needed is for thugs to move out (either to jail or someplace else). Of course, this violates the progressive’s mantra that to solve the problem crime must be wiped off the face of the earth. I don’t know, I’d settle for it moving down the road and development and cops can massively help that along.

    I’m sure there are plenty of others that the City Council could do, but they involve actually making hard choices and taking some heat from the progressive nut cases like PUEBLO and ACORN. Unfortunately, our Council prefers to whistle past graveyards. Maybe it’s time for a slate of candidates for all districts committed to Charles Pine’s one good idea: Public safety is the first and main function of government. If they can’t do that, they don’t deserve to tax and remain in office.

  8. Deckin

    Here’s more evidence for the view that new residents (even poor unskilled immigrants) lower crime rates. If you want local evidence, just think about East Palo Alto. Every wonder how a city that was once (in the early 90s) the murder capital of the US managed to change that? Drive through there and you’ll see the answer. Now someone just needs to tell this to Charles Pine.

  9. scottpark

    The crime-obsessed go on about it but they just don’t get it: CRIME FIGHTING IN OAKLAND IS NOT ABOUT MONEY!!! We don;t even have officers for the money we’re already spending! Look at Measure Y! How is 10% off the top of Redevelopment going to make a dent? Talk about actions that don’t do anything….

    If you take that 10% and make starting officer salaries $90,000, maybe you’re getting somewhere. Otherwise, Oakland’s not going to be able to compete.

    And I’d argue the schools are the biggest obstacle to Oakland, not crime. The fact that the Council does ZERO/ZILCH/NADA on schools is the bigger problem, and for THAT they should be ashamed. I’m a firm believer that throwing money at the schools problem will solve it. Certainly makes more sense than throwing it at the crime problem. Don’t believe me? Name a rich place in America with shitty schools.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    scottpark –

    Mocking the concerns of crime victims in Oakland is not going to quell citizen fury. If you think people are “crime obsessed,” it is become the crime in this city controls their lives. City offials should tread very carefully when talking about safety or what they think is most important when they’re talking to people who have been mugged at gunpoint or beaten in the street for no reason or had every possession of any concievable value stolen from their own home or have lost children to gun violence or, in many cases, all of the above. So on and so on. People cannot walk down the street. The Council needs to wake up and recognize that this should be their number one priority.

    As for police hiring, I noted in the above comment that Igancio has also proposed new hiring incentives to assist with recruitment issues. And while you may not think money to fund additional officers is an issue, the police department does. As I said above, Assistant Chief Howard Jordan was quoted in the Oakland Tribune on Monday saying as much. I’ll think I’ll defer to his opinion over yours.

    I really don’t follow the logic of characterizing an extra $8 million in one year for public safety as “actions that don’t do anything.” Especially considering the rate the tax increment is growing. That figure will get larger and larger every year. Compare this, a real plan, with Jane Brunner’s idiotic proposal to waste half a million dollars a year paying teenagers to hang out at BART stations with maps in the afternoon. One proposal represents an attitude that real progress is possible. The other reflects the attitude displayed in your comment, that we can’t do anything, so we might as well just pay lip service to reducing perceptions of crime.

    You’re certainly welcome to argue that schools are the “biggest obstacle to Oakland” if you like. But it is important to realize that there are both long-term and immediate needs that the Council needs to be addressing. As far as I’m aware, Oakland’s City Council has no legal authority over the schools, so I don’t really know what you expect them to do about it.

    As for a rich place in America with shitty schools? Well, I’ll go with the 11th wealthiest city in the United States (according to the Census Bureau): Oakland, CA.

  11. scottpark

    Clearly mocking the real feelings of crime victims is not constructive. Since it seems you can’t say anything about crime, or deny crime is the, yes, obsession of many many people in Oakland, I’ll just lay my victimhood on the table: I’ve had my house broken into, stuff stolen from my porch, homicide around the corner, carjacking out front, neighbor beat up and chased into my living room, meth users/dealers in an illegal unit next door, window of infant’s room broken by aforementioned meth dealers, and a (different) neighbor mugged across the street. So, there, I’m another victim of crime in Oakland and, hopefully, I get to have a legitimate opinion now.

    Crime does not control my life, nor does it control the lives of my neighbors or, frankly, anyone I know in the City. My friends and I walk down the street all the time. I have read comments from plenty of people who seem to let crime control their lives, but it’s not me. Some woman on the Rockridge NCPC list actually said that she drives to Orinda BART rather than walk to Rockridge BART, because crime in ROCKRIDGE is so “out of control.” I mean, is this type of person supposed to set the tone for our city? No thanks!

    Far, far more people I know (rich and poor alike) care about the schools. I would argue that Oakland is losing good folks and job opportunities because the schools suck, not because of crime. As you and everyone knows, there are square miles on top of square miles in Oakland where you can live safely, quietly and nicely. These vast areas are being amended to by little pockets here and there. Everyone knows this.

    Yes crime is a problem.

    The City Council not having “legal” authority to do anything about the schools is a rationazation. The City Council could put a Charter amendment on the next available ballot giving it (or whomever) control of the schools. They won’t, of course, but to say they have no legal way for them to deal with the schools is inaccurate.

    It’s political cowardice. I bet if they could farm out the crime problem to a Mayor-appointed Police Commission, they’d do it in a heartbeat.

    So, what is the City Council to do to ensure everyone that they care so much about crime? Not that they’re DOING anything about crime, but to show that it’s the “top priority?” NCPC listserve addicts repeatedly express how they just can’t understand why crime isn’t a “priority” or the “top priority.” It’s as though they need the Council to validate their own perceptions or their own lives or something. It’s weird.

    And gimme a break: the 11th wealthiest “city” is not Oakland. The 11th wealthiest Metro Statistical Area is Oakland. This includes Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Jerry Brown used the same silly stat to portray “Oakland” as the 7th best place to do business is America.

  12. V Smoothe

    scottpark -

    If you’re making an argument about the Council’s progress on improving public safety, I can’t follow it. Feel free to rephrase and try again.

    As for the schools, I’m curious what as to what exactly you think would be accomplished by this theoretical Charter amendment. What would the amendment dictate, and if it were to pass, what would you propose the Council do from there?

    The Census bureau figure I cited is not, as you assert, Metro Statistical Area. It is based on the median household income within the city itself, not other places within the county or a neighboring county. For the record, here’s the census’s list of America’s wealthiest cities (population over 250,000)

    1. San Jose, CA
    2. Anchorage, AK
    3. San Francisco, CA
    4. Virginia Beach, VA
    5. San Diego, CA
    6. Anaheim, CA
    7. Raleigh, NC
    8. Seattle, WA
    9. Washington DC
    10. Honolulu, HI
    11. Oakland, CA
    12. Charlotte, NC
    13. Boston, MA
    14. Arlington, TX
    15. Austin, TX

    Oakland is hardly the only city on the list with a struggling public school system.

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    Another thought about the school issue. I certainly agree with you that throwing money at schools is at least part of the solution. Which is yet another reason that anti-growth polices like inclusionary zoning are so incredibly dangerous for Oakland. The AB 1290 pass-through for the school district generated over $10 million for the schools this year. As growth continues, that figure keeps getting bigger.

  14. Rockridge Victim

    I’m tired and upset with our state of safety. I’m afraid to go out at night, and afraid to get out of my car when I return home. We need to demand public safety from our elected officials and make sure they take drastic measures to turn things around. I also hope Jane Brunner doesn’t run unopposed again, otherwise we’ll be in for more of the same.