Spotted: Near Riot at the West Oakland Multi-Purpose Center

V Smoothe, here. Your one and only source on the scandalous lives of the Oakland political elite.

Okay, it wasn’t quite so bad as the headline suggests. But OMFG, last night was like, the mother of all meetings. Well, at the very least, it was hands down the best one I’ve been to in the past year.

I need to preface this with an apology, or maybe, more appropriately, a disclaimer, for my regular readers. I know I’ve told you before that I love policy and hate politics, and I guess I realized tonight that that isn’t entirely true. Sure, I still despise the political rumor mill, and I can’t find any of the thrill others seem to get from depressing municipal scandals, but God knows I love watching some cray-zee shit go down at a public meeting.

Where do I even start? I guess at the beginning. Okay, so there’s this thing called the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. It’s funded by HUD. The idea is that basically a community knows better than the Federal Government what their neighborhood needs the most. Tons of different kinds (PDF) of activities are eligible for these big chunks of federal money that get sent to cities across the nation every year, and you’re supposed to divvy them up among all sorts (PDF) of local improvement projects. Each District in Oakland has a citizen advisory board that’s supposed to review grant applications and make recommendations for who gets funded. It’s a unique opportunity for people to make very real decisions about what programs will be the most beneficial to their community and give those programs some government cash.

So, after the June primary passed, I was left feeling kind of restless. I had abandoned my other volunteer commitments to devote all my free time to Sean Sullivan’s campaign, and over the period I was doing so, found myself feeling not nearly so negative about the city goverment as I usually do, but instead energized and hopeful about our future.

Then, the City Council elections didn’t go, um, quite the way I wanted. So that was a thing. And of course, I no longer had the campaign office to go to and spend all night on the phone with strangers, so after like two months of that taking over my life, it was a little weird to be without it. Sure, I could go back to the things I’d been doing before, but that wasn’t enough for me anymore. I wanted to do more, to get involved in something to do with the City on top of the other stuff. And so I settled on deciding I would like to join the D3 CDBG Board.

You see, the District 3 CDBG Board is, usually, well, kind of sad. Not sad because of the people involved, but sad, well, because of the lack of people involved. Often, meetings will not even get a quorum.

So here I was, thinking I’d like to do this, but a little nervous (or actually, a lot nervous) about it, what would it be like to show up out of nowhere and would people laugh at me for wanting to be involved with it, because the one thing I think I learned more than anything else during the election is that nobody gives a damn about what you do for Oakland as far as volunteering goes if it doesn’t involve a title of some sort. So then I thought maybe I shouldn’t even bother trying.

So you can’t even imagine how pleased I was when Sean Sullivan told me he was also thinking about the good we could do by maximizing CDBG funds, and was going to put together a slate for the District 3 Board, and that he’d like me to be part of it.

So (and I do apologize for making the beginning of this all about me, because this post isn’t about me at all, but I felt like I should disclose that I had put my name in the running for the elections, and if you’re a regular reader you know I can’t explain anything in an even remotely pithy way) the board elections were last night. And I show up, along with the rest of the slate, and a number of supporters. My heart sank momentarily when I arrived, as it became immediately apparent that our little group were not the only ones who had thought they might take over the Board (Greg Hodge was standing outside the building when I showed up, passing out flyers for another slate). Then, after that 10 seconds of disappointment, I woke up and realized how incredibly freaking cool this was.

There I was, sitting in this fairly sizeable room, which, BTW, was totally standing room only and completely overflowing, for a group, that remember, had often not even had a quorum at previous meetings. It was a sight to see, folks. There was some murmuring around the room from a number of people about how most of the attendees had never been there before, and how people were just “playing politics,” and I felt very sad for those who choose to take it that way. Because, damn, I thought it was inspiring.

To watch all these people overfilling the room, people who just live here and want to make this city better and don’t know what the hell to do about it, so they latch onto this one thing and they all show up here for something that has just sat, neglected by most people forever, well, that’s just so incredibly cool to me.

Um…then it went…let’s say, downhill. Once the crowd quieted down, District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel stood up and spoke. I had been under the impression that the meeting would begin with us all getting an overview of the strategic plan developed by last year’s Board, in which they had identified four key areas they believed future funds should be spent. Instead, Nadel informed us (and I am not exaggerating here, she was quite explicit about this) that she had unilaterally decided that every last penny of D3 CDBG money would be going to her personal money pit, oh, I’m sorry, I mean “teen center,” and that, by the way, the CBDG Board, which used to meet monthly, would now meet only quarterly, and its only function would be to serve as the Advisory Board to her teen center.

If you’re thinking “WTF” right about now, well, you’re not the only one. The room went crazy! Hands shot up from every corner, and angry people were throwing out questions like salt on a tomato and cucumber salad. What do you mean the money is all going to the teen center? Since when? What do you mean you’ve already hired the coordinator for the teen center planning process? Why wasn’t the community invited to give input on the decision? Why has the coordinator not been introduced to the community? Why were all these people who showed up to the City Council to support the teen center mothballed building boondoggle not consulted about this coordinator? What is the point of even having a CDBG Board if the decisions about the funds have already been made?

All good questions. In response to which Nadel informed us that the Board will help implement the teen center program and make sure the project “stays on track.” They can help decide what kinds of programs the teen center will host, in addition to the ones the kids say they want. Oh, and she’d also expect them to raise money from other sources for her.

It took a little while for the room to grasp what exactly was going on (myself included! I was just watching, in this kind of stunned daze, and then all of a sudden it hit me – omg what she’s trying to do here is like off the charts insane and why the hell am I not writing every word of this down and get your damn notebook out now you moron!), but suddenly, it was like you could practically see all the light bulbs going off in peoples’ heads as everyone in the room simultaneously realized just how much they were getting screwed. The protests got louder and louder and Nadel fruitlessly tried to calm the crowd, saying:

I hear that people are unhappy with that. But the decision has been made.

The questions didn’t relent, but they started taking a very, very, very angry tone. So, if the teen center does get all the CDGB money for all of District 3, then with that money, it will be able to open? Well…no. Nadel informed the crowd “We have a little bit of money for construction, we have a little bit of money for planning, we have no money for programs.” Just the planning process would take between eight months and a year (remember folks, we bought this building for over eight hundred thousand dollars a year ago), and when once that finished, there was still no guarantee the center would open.

More angry roaring from the crowd. A member of last year’s Board stood up to say that they had not endorsed the spending the money that way, and explaining that they had put a lot of thought into identifying four priorities for the future funding allocations, but that they had never even talked about the money all going to the teen center.

Nadel’s protests became meeker:

I felt…we have such limited funds in our district…

And the responses became angrier:

What you have done is disenfranchised everyone in this community!

Nadel grew more and more defensive:

I am cobbling together whatever money I can…Everybody in a poor community has to cobble together what money they can…I have some money for construction, I have some money for planning. I don’t have program money.

Nadel kept getting more and more flustered, and I swear, I almost felt bad for her at this point, because I really thought she was about to start crying, and she started to complain about how hard the election had been for her, but her whining was drowned out by the dozens of angry voices in the room. Eventually, somehow, everyone settled down again enough for her to start speaking, and she said, and really, really folks, this was just so incredibly sad, she said:

I’ve been a Councilmember for 12 years, and I got accused of no leadership over and over in this election, and now, when I assert leadership, people criticize that too.

I wish there was a way for me to communicate the desperate tone of that statement, and maybe a better writer could, but I wouldn’t even know how to begin. It’s hard to know how to react when a Coucilmember says something like that. I mean I, definitely, was among those complaining about her lack of leadership during the election. And it kinda tugs your heartstrings to see that she’s trying, or thinks she’s trying, or wants to appear to be trying at least, to respond to those criticisms and do something different. And I don’t think I really understood until that moment that Nancy Nadel just doesn’t have the faintest idea what leadership actually is. It isn’t “leadership” to decide you want something and not have the capacity to fundraise for it independently. It isn’t “leadership” to strip power from your neighborhood. It isn’t “leadership” to tell dozens of people you represent, all of whom want to help that you know better than them what they need. She was just so completely lost.

More of the existing Board complained that they had never envisioned the funds all going to the teen center when they set their priorities. Somebody asked if there was even a place where they could get information about the teen center. (No!) This went on for over an hour.

People got angrier and angrier until finally, Nadel eventually cottoned to to the near mutinous sentiment in the room and consented to allow the board to allocate the funds as they wish (as if she had a freaking choice.).

But the drama wasn’t over. In the midst of all this controversy over the teen center, there was a frantic frenzy of cell phone calls and text messages, because everybody was floored by the turnout and worried they hadn’t brought enough supporters, so everyone was just contacting every damn person they could think of telling them to get down here right now. Of course, at some point, actually, at a very specific point, that point being one hour after the meeting begins, the rules says that registration to vote in the election closes. This caused quite the stir when Paul and Gay Plair Cobb waltzed in at 7:45 (the meeting had begun at 6:30) wanting ballots.

People protested that those rules hadn’t been explained in the meeting notice (true), while others yelled that the rules were common sense and it was unfair that they had arrived on time and waited out the spectacle if the ultra-latecomers were being allowed to vote and that really, the election should have already started (also true). The League of Women Voters (who were, by the way, obviously not anticipating anything even remotely close to what happened and looked completely terrified) ultimately settled on giving the people who came in late provisional ballots, which, as far as I was able to understand, would only get counted if their votes wouldn’t impact the outcome of the election, which, to me, kind of defeats the point of voting at all, but wev.

You’re probably thinking there couldn’t possibly be anything more, but it wouldn’t be Oakland if that were the case, and sure enough, another minor spectacle ensued when Jumoke Hinton Hodge, School Board member-elect, who had been there the whole time but had inexplicably not signed up to vote before the deadline, grabbed herself two ballots right in front of like a dozen people. Eventually, she consented to only voting once like the rest of us and gave one of them back.

Anyway, once that had been settled and the City’s CDBG coordinator got up to explain the voting process, Nadel booked it out of the room and all that was left was for the 36 people running for the Board to speak, which they did, and they were all really impressive and clearly really cared about the community.

The building had to close at 8:30, and the voting didn’t even start until 8:20, so they let people hang out for a little while extra, but eventually it became clear that the tallies weren’t going to be in tonight and they kicked everyone out and told them to call for results in the morning. Of course, if the rumors of a City employee sickout are true (I hear they don’t like the way their contract negotiations are going), there will be nobody to call, but I’ll check when I wake up and if I do find out and anybody cares, I’ll post the results in a comment.

What a meeting! Seriously kids, it was freaking awesome. Political circus at its best. The policy wonk in me really shouldn’t say this, but the classicist in me, who has spent way too many hours of her life fantasizing about witnessing a City Dionysia and loooves spectacle, is just praying for like dozens of fed up citizens to show up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting and show some totally righteous anger during public comment, just so I can relive a fraction of tonight’s excitement. You wish you had been there. But aren’t you glad I told you about it?

You know you love me. XOXO,
V Smoothe

53 thoughts on “Spotted: Near Riot at the West Oakland Multi-Purpose Center

  1. Max Allstadt

    It was indeed a sight to see.

    I brought about 8 supporters, and I was worried that they’d be bored beyond belief. My friends were between 22 and 42, and many were disenchanted with local politics or just uninterested. Still, they were willing to support me, and trusted me enough to show up and vote, so I brought them.

    The fiasco that ensued was a blessing in some ways. I had a 22 year-old musician talking about how exciting it was and about how he was suddenly incredibly interested in the politics of our city. He actually described the event as “awesome”.

    As for me, well, we’ll see if I get a seat. I hope I do.

    As for Nancy, well… V described it pretty accurately, but I’ll just add that the people who I brought who were new to the scene were aghast and confused at her behavior almost instantly. You didn’t even have to be initiated into the political undercurrents of this mess to get that she was COMPLETELY out of line.

    She announced “Surprise, I’ve already assigned all the money to my teen center”, and with in seconds you could feel the outrage. Why she didn’t back off immediately is beyond me. No emotional intelligence what so ever! This is the kind of judgment that used to land Amazon explorers in a comfy fire heated hot-tub full of onions and garlic.

    Nancy is sweet and kind one on one, but I have never seen anything other than abject failure when she’s in front of a crowd without a dias to hide behind. I actually had been holding back negative comments about Nancy post-election. I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt, see how she did and keep my mouth shut.

    I’m done. She just tried and failed to steal $300,000 from a group that rightfully should decide it’s destination. Inexcusable ethically. Inexplicable politically. Amusing? You bet. Everyone loves watching a limo wreck.

  2. Jennifer

    Sounds like Nadel thinks leadership and dictatorship are synonomous. That’s pretty sad that she could still be so clueless and in over her head after 12 years in office.

  3. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Okay, here’s where I get to show my true ignorance… how come I’ve never heard of CDBG???????? Omigod indeed, how could Nadel think she could just take over the decision of where the funds go? And worse, even that isn’t going to be enough money????

    To me it’s the same as if she were to give MFC another, let’s say $50K, and then they still didn’t open anytime soon. It’s freaken WRONG.

    I’ve long agreed that she’s not a leader. This proves it.

    How were people notified of the meeting? You knew about it because you were interested in it, but are other people in the community just as clueless, or is it just me?

  4. Genie

    This is why I totally miss being a reporter. What an amazing story! Wish I’d been there…sounds like it was intense in an absolutely glorious way.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Last night was a lesson to me. I need to start carrying my video camera with me everywhere I go!

    Max –

    How could you not be aghast at that? I mean, I really didn’t think that woman could do anything to surprise me at this point. Of course I should have known better.

    Joanna –

    Although everyone who lives in the District is eligible to attend the meeting, as far as I’m aware, notice was sent out via e-mail only to West Oakland listservs. I’m not sure where physical notices were posted.

    SC –

    They didn’t pick out projects to support with this year’s funds, the identified four priorities that they thought future funds should be focused on. I have the thing somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it right now. One was programs for youth, I think another was like, green something, I don’t remember the other two.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh, and as for the elections results. When I called this morning, they still hadn’t finished the tallies. The nice lady on the phone said possibly by the end of the day, but definitely by Monday. I’ll keep y’all posted.

  7. len raphael

    deja vu dept. check the records for these CDBG’s in other parts of the city. a former member of one in district one described a similar override of the elected board that occurred a few years ago. he described an alliance by nadel and brunner allowing that to happen. at the time i thought he was just being paranoid…

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    I do actually have a video camera. It’s like, the cheapest one you can buy and it’s not very nice, but it gets the job done. Last night was a lesson to me – I will never leave home without it again!

  9. Max Allstadt

    I have a camera that is rather nice and yours to use as needed, V. I wish we had footage. I wonder if that woman from KALW might share the audio with us.

    Seriously, I felt like I’d stumbled into an episode of South Park.

  10. Becks

    Wow. I wish I had been there!

    Though NN’s behavior is shocking (and infuriating), it’s good to hear that the elections were so competitive and so many people want to get involved. Good luck V – you’d be an asset to any city board, commission, or committee.

  11. Chuck

    Gotta give Nancy credit for masterful use of the passive (i.e., nonagentive) voice with the “But the decision has been made.” OK, credit and scorn, both.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: V, you’re a gem. Thanks so much for the updates, and way to go to you and the other commentators for attending the meeting / bringing the outrage.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    Thanks so much to everybody for their kind words. And the results are in! The new District 3 Community Development Block Grant Board is:

    Sean Sullivan
    Max Allstadt
    Richard Fuentes
    Chinaka Hodge
    Jill Kunishima
    Scott Phipps
    Nancy Rieser
    Consuelo Jacobs
    Joanna Whitley
    Matt Novak
    Dion Nelson
    Tina “Tamale” Ramos
    Essun Orundide
    Echa Schneider (omg, that’s me!!)
    Theo Williams

  13. Max Allstadt

    Yeah, she did that passive voice thing over and over and over again. She also repeatedly concocted sentences that simply omitted any explanation of responsibility.

    These were blatant and transparent attempts to shirk responsibility for trying to make a decision she was not entitled to make.

  14. len raphael

    congrats to the new board members. let’s see if NN goes to the council to overturn the election as allegedly has been before.

    analysis of oakland muni-speak wb fun. every councilmember and higher level bureaucrcat and elected official learns it as they advance. it’s a mix of moses coming down from the mount and abott/costello who’s on first. we could submit our favorite examples in a contest.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  15. Sarah

    It was a total zoo but amazing to watch.

    I lost count of how many times I heard the word “disenfranchised” from the audience!

    It really was a train wreck. I swear, if someone had just walked in, off the street, with no prior knowledge of NN, one would have though she was a self-involved, naive political rookie who was getting eaten alive by folks who were salt of the earth, savvy and pissed-off as hell.

    They would have been right about everything except the “rookie” part.

    At the center of this spectacle was a 12 year council veteran. In past elections, she lost in West Oakland and lost big.

    Does anyone know how she did in West Oakland this time around?

    Sure is poetic justice that Sean Sullivan and the rest of his slate members successfully voted in as board members.

    SOME day she will play upon the middle class guilt of Adams Point and will get kicked to the curb.

    I’ll tell you this: NN has her work cut out for her with this board. My God. Her blood must have run cold after she read the results.

  16. Ralph

    I so wish I made that mtg. I thought about joining this board this past summer. I attended the July, which before I read the account of last night’s meeting, I thought was a complete farce. From what I can tell there appears to be a complete change in the board. I can not tell you how excited I am to see this development. For as nice as the prior board was most of them were no better than NN and ran it like their own personal fiefdom and more importantly lacked a real vision. I am glad about the change and look forward to being involved in the future.

  17. Ralph

    If I recall this correctly, the 09 – 11 Priorities were as follows: infrastructure for youth, job training for youth, and attracting green businesses. for the districts that listed priorities training for youth was a common priority

  18. Barry

    Max wrote:

    “… she did that passive voice thing over and over and over again. She also repeatedly concocted sentences that simply omitted any explanation of responsibility. These were blatant and transparent attempts to shirk responsibility for trying to make a decision she was not entitled to make.”

    Although I reget missing out on the meeting in West Oakland, I recognize in Max’s description something about Nadel that we have seen over and over again here around the lake regarding the DD bond measure (the trees, the library road closure, the loosing of the meadow.)

    She speaks as if everyone else has the memory of a gnat. She also seems to be of the mindset if one repeats a lie over and over and over again, the the greater unwashed public will eventually start to believe it. That philosophy has served her well.

    …Until last night, apparently. Wish I could have been there.

  19. Barry

    V smoothe: one last thing.

    Let me get this straight: she told a room full of people that she unilaterally decided to take $300,000 of FEDERAL money and use those dollars as an adhoc extenston of her discretionary funds for her own “Bridge to Nowhere” (the uninhabitable teen center building that she bought for $800,000)? And by doing so pre-empt the board before it took office?

    Isn’t that illegal?

    (If the Feds are interested, the League of Women’s voters asked all in attendence to register with names, addresses and phone numbers that matched their utility bills ..just in case they need should need any eyewitnesses!)

  20. John

    So let me see if I have this right: Nancy Nadel, council member for the district, made a proposal for how to allocate CDBG funds at a public meeting (for a teen center). The proposal was rejected by a majority of attendees. Then, the meeting proceeded on to conduct the scheduled election of CDBG board members. This was somehow improper or illegal because…….?

  21. Max Allstadt

    Barry,

    Whoa! Don’t go calling in Special Agent Cooper just yet. By the end of the meeting, it seemed that democracy was going to prevail. (although len’s comments make me a little nervous).

    John,

    Nancy didn’t make a proposal. She declared that the money had already been allocated. Last year’s board had not voted on this. When pressed, Nancy said “the decision had already been made.” Someone in the room shouted “by who?”. Nancy said “by me”. That is not what I’d call a proposal. More of a grab-and-say-”MINE!” type situation.

  22. Nancy Rieser

    Hi all,

    Although Nadel’s direct quotes in Smoothe’s story and the comments that follow are hard to believe, but they are all spot on. My jaw just couldn’t stop dropping all night.

    That room was filled with folks who knew that these community boards are sometimes their best shot at grass roots democracy. Yet the City employees, lead by Nadel, seemed to be hell bent on removing the democratic essence of the process.

    It also appeared that Nadel didn’t respected the collective intelligence in the room, which surprised me.

    The meeting was so bad that I was pretty sure that the ballots voting for our slate would end up in a dumpster somewhere. I was actually surprised to see that democracy did prevail for the last hour of the meeting.

    I had no idea that Nadel had left building at that point. It would have been educational for her had she stayed.

    P.S. Max and John: the level of corruption at the City is so overt, no doubt Agent Cooper and his gang read this blog (plus Charlie Pine’s website) as Cliff notes.

  23. Chuck

    The more I think about this, actually, the more concerned I become. There’s little doubt, in my mind, that the tighter things have to get to fix the fiscal f-up Oakland is in right now, the less money there will be for pet projects of public officials, and the more pressure there will be to put up some justification, or be willing to seek funding beyond that of the city coffers for such endeavors.

    Thus, I have to conclude, the more likely it is that this piracy of funding will become more prevalent since the personal entitlements ought to be some of the first things to go. That’s crap. Power to the people, people — good work, and please keep it up!

  24. Tab

    Just imagine how upset all these enthusiastic new board members will be when they learn that CDBG groups’ recommendations are subject to modification or wholesale reversal by the City Council. Where Nancy will once again show how much she values actual grass roots democracy by working to take all the money for the teen center anyway.

  25. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    V – so are only West Oakland residents allowed to be on the CDBG board? I’m on several of NN’s list serv’s and I really don’t recall getting any notice about this meeting. She doesn’t do physical notices and goodness knows she doesn’t let local newsletters (currently _JLDA Call_ for our area know anything unless giving 2-3 days notice. Not enough time for issues that go to print and mysteriously take 10+ days to come out…

    John – are you new to Oakland and/or District 3? Just curious… if you’re the same John posting comments over at Living in the O about NN Zombie’s, I’m even more curious. When I first moved to this District in 1997, I liked her. I even voted for her. But in the last election I realized that she had not done any of the things she had promised that I was interested in. And then this most recent election she was very factual that she didn’t care about ALL of her District, just a portion – West Oakland. And yet has she been effectual there? How smart is it for her to put $300K into the Mandella Food Coop and another $800K+ in the teen center, if neither are open or even about to open? Wouldn’t that $1.1million have been better off being spent on something that did get completed and did have more community support?

    Joanna

  26. Ralph

    Joanna,
    I believe each district has a CBGD Board. You must live w/in the borders of the district to be on that board. I don’t think NN ever sends out any info about the board. For a period, it was a minor footnote on her webpage. I think there is also info on the City of Oakland’d open Board positions.

    There are whole set of procedures which must be followed for agendas and election notice and given the turnout, it appears they were followed. From what i saw, the most of the board thought small and acted as an extension of NN. Only one person seemed to do the right thing.

  27. 94610BizMan

    “How smart is it for her to put $300K into the Mandella Food Coop and another $800K+ in the teen center, if neither are open or even about to open? Wouldn’t that $1.1million have been better off being spent on something that did get completed and did have more community support?

    Joanna”

    As opposed to disappearing into the pockets of NN patronage pals? Doesn’t that depend on if NN thinks she is getting “her” money’s worth in support paid for by OPM. Occam’s razor for Oakland money politics seems to me to imply: assume corruption first.

  28. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    94610BizMan,

    Well, yes, admittedly I’ve started thinking that way – “assume corruption first” – because that’s what we’ve been seeing consistantly.

    NN admits that with all the money she’s put towards the teen center that it still won’t have money for programs. To me, she’s wasting what little money there is by putting it towards the teen center or MFC. Where’s the transparancy as to where the MFC money went? Is there better transparancy for where the teen center money went? And is there a budget for the teen center as to how much more money it’s going to cost?

    I just don’t see PLANNING or thoughtful budget expenditures.

    In the meantime, the library is being asked to cut their budget left, right, and in between – oh, but don’t cut service hours and don’t cut programs. How is that supposed to happen?

    Joanna

  29. len raphael

    there was a quote in either the chron or trib recently by a mom from west oakland? to the effect that kids in oakland join gangs because they see the cops as a gang and city hall as a gang. she’s not so far off the mark re. city hall. there certainly are quite a few of our elected leaders and staff who fit the definition of a group of people who have each other’s backs instead of those of the residents.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  30. Eric

    This is shocking, even for Nadel, who has set the bar for what constitutes “shocking” to be pretty high. But congratulations to V and the other new board members! Looking forward to hearing good things.

  31. John

    Corruption? I don’t see it. A council member came to a public meeting and made an open proposal for how to spend public funds. The proposal, regardless of how it was presented, was defeated by a majority of those in attendance.

    Stripped of all the drama, this is evidence of a healthy democracy – not evidence of corruption. It is the system working exactly the way it is supposed to.

  32. VivekB

    Respectfully, I disagree John. Admittedly I wasn’t there, and know only what is in this thread, but my view is that a healthy democracy isn’t where your elected rep “informs” the populace about decisions made unilaterally and without their input. A healthy democracy shouldn’t require an uproar and raised voices in order to prevent railroading.

    But let me not just whine and tell you you what it isn’t, but also what I think it is. In my view, a healthy democracy is where a *proposal* is put forth, the pros and cons discussed, and *then* a decision is made. That was the opposite of what I read here, and why I personally believe what occurred is the opposite of a healthy democracy.

    Well, that’s one persons beliefs, anyhow.

  33. Max Allstadt

    John’s right, it isn’t corruption.

    All outrage set aside for a minute, my best guess is that Nancy came to that meeting with a game plan, but didn’t make the intuitive leap to change the plan as quickly as she should have. She saw that both of her opponents from the past election were there with large numbers of supporters and organized slates. Saying anything controversial in that environment is asking for trouble. But that’s exactly what she did.

    So a poor decision in a tense situation, but no, not corruption. I actually believe Nancy Nadel is one of the least likely councilmembers to be corrupt.

    The system appeared to work on Thursday night. If it was really healthy, Nancy would have stuck around and had a dialogue about her miscalculation of public opinion.

    If Tab is right and the council has final say, the conflict might not be over. If Nancy wants to shoot herself in the foot again, I suppose she might try to override this board. Is that what you mean by Prague Spring, Len? Offering me a little hyperbole with my breakfast? She just angered 120 people and then backed off. Would her next move really be to anger them again?

  34. Surfways

    Nancy didnt have an “open proposal” or a game “plan”. Instead, she had a directive or scheme, if you will. Short of a national security or an extremely urgent matter, there is nothing democratic or appropriate about this tactic from Nadel.

    You need to remember that she was elected to represent the best interests of her constituents. At least, that was the intention.

    Congrats to those elected onto the board! This is the best news I’ve heard in regards to Oakland in a long while. If I had a Howitzer on the premises, I would employ it to celebrate the news of the new CDGB board.

  35. Max Allstadt

    I didn’t say it was appropriate or democratic. I was just pontificating on what she might have been thinking leading up to the SNAFU. I don’t even think it was unethical, exactly. If she’d come to that meeting and the same people were there that she was used to seeing from the previous year, the whole unilateral announcement thing might not even have been all that controversial. Or it might have been handled a little more gently.

    Theo Williams, who will remain on the board this year, stated at the meeting that he disagreed with spending all the money on the teen center. But he did so far more gently than many in the room. The slates put forth by Hodge and Sullivan both had a little more emotional investment in the situation. Nancy’s big mistake was not reading that vibe and changing her declaration accordingly.

    On the other hand, from a negotiation tactics perspective, she pulled a few classic maneuvers that have benefited in the long run. (If not for the indignation she created with that declaration.)

    1. She tried to lower our expectations by saying the money was already allocated.
    2. She may have only made that unilateral declaration as a straw demand, which she would later withdraw, consenting vaguely to spending “some money” on other projects.
    3. She presented a sob story to a room full of people who’s sympathy to the plight of her project might have earned her some points.

    The sob story, the straw demand, and lowering expectations are all classic negotiation tactics presented in an awesome book by Ed Brodow called “Negatiation Boot Camp”. Whether her thinking was strategic or just unfolded naturally, I can’t say. Still, it’s pretty clear there was some poor estimation of the tenacity of her audience.

  36. Charles Pine

    Councilmember Kernighan simply appoints the board members. From her online newsletter:

    Residents and merchants are invited to a town hall meeting regarding funds for neighborhood services, which are available through the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. CDBG funds for Council District 2 are allocated by a board of residents and merchants.

    To be eligible to serve on the Board, you must live or work in the CDBG area.

    After the meeting, I will appoint the 2008-2009 CDBG Board Members.

    http://www.patkernighan.com/

    (Aside on another topic: Thanks, V, for copying our copy ( http://www.orpn.org/Perkins1.htm ) of Dellums’ so-called public safety plan and helping spread the word on how lame it is. –Charlie)

  37. Nancy Rieser

    The two Adams Point CDBG board have been dropped by CEDA.

    I just received a call from Catherine Firpo from CEDA, who told me I didn’t live in the right neighborhood to serve on the board. CEDA is dropping the other Adams’ Point resident as well.

    Apparently something changed dramatically in the income levels of Adams Point residents since the last census that makes our entire Adams Point census track not a part of the district, even though it’s in the same council district as West Oakland and Jack London Square. She also said that the League of Women’s Voter representative — who I showed my utility bill to for the purposes of determining my eligibility — should have caught the mistake at the door, but didn’t. She said there was a map on the wall that outlined the participating neighborhoods.

    Ms. Firpo also added that, “I can pretty much guarentee you that after the next census in 2010, residents in the Jack London Square District will no longer be part of CDBG district either, as that census tract will exceed the acceptable income levels.”

    I asked her if I could quote her and yes said “yes.”

    I did advise her that I served on the board about 10 years ago and although my own block could not receive economic development moneys, all our neighbors were encouraged to run and serve.

    Which I did. I found it odd that the economic realities of Adams Point have not fundamentally changed over the years — ie we have not been undergoing gentrification like other areas of the City — yet according the current standard used, our incomes are considered beyond the pale.

    All very interesting.

  38. Max Allstadt

    All kinds of weird.

    Well, if income is a determining factor, both my neighborhood and my tax returns should save me from being purged. Bummer, Nancy, I was looking forward to having your enthusiasm around.

  39. Theresa

    Amazing. Something like this happened about 10-15 years ago at the North Oakland CDBG elections, except without the Councilmember appropriation of funds discussion. It seemed that the Board (small, everyone knew everyone else, often no quorums, similar to the situation you described) had been giving grants to nonprofits run mostly by family members and friends, often with no reports or evaluation of impact and limited accountability. A group of activists in North Oakland decided to put up a reform slate for the election to hold the group more accountable for the hundreds of thousands of dollars going into the district without much impact. They got a lot of folks to show up, the place was packed, with angry discussions about who got to vote or not, accompanied by various charges of racisim, sexism and reverse-racism. Ultimately, most of the reform slate were elected, and they immediately made a difference in how evaluations were done and how funds were allocated.

    So you can make a difference – and congratulations to those who are getting involved for the first time. Be persistent (because the same-old same-old contingent counts on you getting discouraged and quitting), be transparent, and be sure to seek out new options for where to put these funds to do good for the whole community. Good luck.

  40. Colin

    I feel cheated. I went to the district 3 CDBG meeting last night and all I got was a brownie. There were maybe 10 people there (not enough for a riot), and it was all quite pleasant. The CDBG rep had missed the District 2 event, but I overheard her mentioning it to someone else, noting that it “ended up on a blog or something”.

    BTW, the reason that Kernighan appoints members to the board is that there aren’t enough people showing up to have an election. 2 women from the League of Women Voters showed up with a carboard box labelled “Ballot Box”, just in case, but there weren’t enough people to merit using it.