So on Monday I attended the Jack London District Association at-large candidate forum with Rebecca Kaplan and Kerry Hammill.
I missed my bus, causing me to arrive late (I think it was during opening statements), then an urgent personal matter forced me to leave for a while in the middle. Since I missed large chunks of the forum, I won’t attempt a detailed recap, but I will share my impressions about the parts of what I caught that I found the most interesting.
Okay, let’s get started. The first question I saw was about how they could show leadership that’s currently lacking in the City. Kerry Hamill said that leadership in the City appears to be lacking because the Mayor is a “thinker, not an actor” and has no visibility. She said that to fill the void, the Council need to start speaking collectively with one voice by passing unanimous resolutions saying what they want, and that if all 8 members of the Council give directives they agree on, the Mayor will go along. I think she’s seriously overestimating the Mayor’s ability to be a team player.
Rebecca Kaplan said that she sees the at-large seat on the Council as an opportunity for crafting policy and working on citywide issues. Then – and I swear, I got, like, stars in my eyes at this point – she started talking about the Housing Rescue Package, and what an incredible opportunity it is for Oakland and how it’s being squandered because nobody in the City is speaking up to make sure we get what we deserve out of it. (This is true! After I read this article in the Christian Science Monitor about how cities all over the country are busy lobbying HUD to make sure they get their share and to write rules for use that will be favorable to what they would like to do with it, I tried to find out what Oakland was doing. The Mayor’s office, CEDA, City Councilmembers – none of them seem aware of or interested in this huge opportunity, and certainly made no indication that they were trying to represent our needs to HUD or that they had any idea of how to spend the money.) Anyway, so Kaplan, I guess, had the same experience, but instead of just sitting there all frustrated like I did, she dealt with it by reaching out to HUD herself, getting a copy of the draft rules, and calling up Barbara Lee to get her to stand up and make sure Oakland got its share of the pie.
She stole my heart. Seriously. I was already planning to vote for Kaplan before this event, but if I hadn’t been, that would have been all I needed to hear.
Later in the debate, Kerry Hamill came back to the Housing Rescue Package issue, tacking onto the end of her answer to some other question that if there’s $4 billion available from the Federal goverment (um, there is), then making sure we get it is something we need to rely on our Federal representatives to do, and that people can’t expect everything from the City.
Kaplan responded to that by noting that other cities are asking HUD for what they want, so it isn’t like what she did was unique to Oakland, and said that people should expect more from their local government. She said that she saw it as part of the at-large Councilmember’s job to stay on top of State and Federal opportunities, and to work with those representatives to get what we need (and pointed out that until she contacted the Congresswoman about it, Lee had not been advocating for Oakland with respect to the Housing Rescue Package). More than anything else in this forum, I felt like this issue really crystalized the difference between these two candidates. One isn’t even elected yet and is showing initiative to get Oakland what we deserve and says we deserve better than we’re getting. The other warns that we shouldn’t expect so much from the City. Who do you want on the Council?
The next question was about attracting retail, and Rebecca Kaplan gave a long and wonky answer about how awesome the Conley reports are (and she’s so right!), and how Oaklanders have so much spending power that’s just bleeding to other cities. “Revitalizing our economy is central to everything else we want to do.” The problem of retail sales leakage is a “huge and solveable problem.”
Kerry Hamill responded that “it isn’t a question of what any report says, it’s a question of safety” and that she knows that from talking to people all the time and then she went on and on about crime. Of course, if Hamill had read the Conley report, she would know that they do identify public safety as a major barrier to retail. Her answer wasn’t terrible, but that line really just rubbed me the wrong way, indicating an almost Bush-like hostility to evidence and study. Of course there’s value in talking to people, and no public official should make decisions without soliciting direct input from the people they represent, but you need to look at research and data too. And it’s so dismissive of the complexities of the issue to say crime is the only problem with retail in Oakland. For example, as the Conley report points out, one of the major barriers is the lack of quality space. So you can make the City as safe as you want, but if there’s nowhere for retailers to put their stores, then we still won’t have shopping. You have to attack the problem from all angles, or at the very least be able to recognize that there is more than one part to the issue.
The candidates were then asked to provide a detailed, strategy and policy based answer to how they would address Oakland’s crime problem.
Kerry Hamill was vague once again. She started out by saying that the she wants to hold the line on police funding and thinks that the money we’re spending could be used more efficiently. I don’t disagree with that, but found the example she provided bizarre. She said that if the top brass in the department is spending a lot of money going to conferences, then we should stop that, and she doesn’t know if that’s the case, but we should find out. Huh? This really bugged, and it seemed to be a consistent theme over the course of the debate. Why doesn’t Kerry Hamill know anything? I mean, I’ll admit that I don’t know whether the “top brass” are spending a lot of money going to conferences either. I don’t really feel that bad about not knowing that since I’m not the one using it as an example how why you should vote for me. But if I had to take a wild guess, I think I’d venture that maybe they aren’t going to enough conferences, because they don’t seem to be aware of what any other city is doing. Maybe some more conferences would be good for them.
Anyway, then she said we need to have strategic deployment and to renegotiate the NSA because it costs too much and keeps us from getting officers because police don’t want to feel like they’re being watched.
Rebecca Kaplan said we need to challenge orthodoxies, look at what works and do more of it, have more evidence gathering and evidence analysis, hire more PSTs and so on.
When asked what transit-oriented development means to them, Kerry Hamill said that it’s any development within a mile of some kind of central hub like a BART station or other heavy rail. She said she saw the benefit of this as being that you can pour a lot of resources into an area right around a BART station, and it allows you to bring in outside dollars and get grants for amenities like lighting and such.
Kaplan said that development near transit was only the first ingredient of transit oriented development, and that we shouldn’t limit our idea of transit only to BART, and that other elements include transit passes for residents, lighting, and safety. She said that Jack London Square should have better connectivity to BART stations and that she’d like to restore the Broadway shopper shuttle and light to freeway underpass so people are comfortable walking under it.
Another example of how Kerry Hamill’s thinking is just so incredibly limited and, I don’t know, dated? Transit oriented means a mile from transit? That seems like kind of a lot. Also, heavy rail? An urban area shouldn’t just be a collection of little hubs around BART stations. It should be a continuous organism, with life and liveliness throughout. I don’t know, I just found the emphasis on BART so weird. I mean, I don’t have a car, and mostly I get around by walking. I end up using the bus maybe three or four times a week (I mean, it varies). I probably get on BART once a month.
Anyway, those were the parts that stuck with me the most. The overall impression I left with is that Hamill seems like a really nice, sweet, and genuinely caring person, but is far from detail oriented, hasn’t put much effort into learning about the City, and is just incredibly unprepared for the job. It would be hard for me to imagine anyone who watched the debate voting for Hamill over Kaplan, the contrast was just so stark. But then again, I don’t know what everyone else bases their voting decisions on, so who knows. And I know I sound like I’m being super harsh on Hamill, and I guess I am, but that’s just a factor of who she’s being compared to. Rebecca Kaplan is just exactly what we need in City Hall right now. I don’t think Hamill would be any worse on the Council than say, Jane Brunner or somebody.
Anyway, if you want to help out Kaplan’s campaign, you should stop by her office at 19th and Broadway and offer to volunteer. Also, they need money! The Oakland Builders Alliance is throwing a fundraised for Rebecca Kaplan next Tuesday, September 23rd. The address is 155 Grand Avenue, Suite 100. It’s at the Bank of Alameda. The event lasts from 5:30 to 7:30 PM.