What do you want to read about?

Okay, readers. I need your help.

My morning routine, Monday through Friday, goes pretty much like this. The alarm goes off at 4:45, I hit the snooze button twice and roll out of bed a little after 5. I make coffee, head over to the living room, and saddle up at my computer. I scan my Oakland-related RSS feeds looking for items to put in my news links here on ABO, then I open up my text editor and try to write a blog.

I make notes. I write outlines. I assemble lists of relevant links. Eventually, I come up with a couple hundred usable words plus a bunch of half-finished paragraphs full of lines like “[MAKE THIS LESS BORING],” “[FINISH THIS PARAGRAPH],” and “[WRITE SOMETHING WITTY HERE].” Sometimes I even get as far as making pretty looking charts to include.

But then, once I think I have something approximating a usable draft, I take a step back, light a cigarette, reread the whole thing from start to finish, and start nodding off halfway through reading it because I’m just so bored by the whole thing.

So I write, then erase, then write some more, then erase again, the write some more…well, you get the idea. But every day, after an hour or so of writing and erasing, I throw my hands up in the air and decide that whatever I’m talking about is either just too boring to be of interest to anyone or too depressing for anyone to want to read about, or (in many cases) both, and I promise myself I’ll come up with something more entertaining tomorrow, accept another day of defeat, and move on to real work.

Subjects I’ve started, then abandoned, posts about in the last three weeks include the budget, pensions, the taxes on November’s ballot, the Mayor’s race, other elections in November, the zoning update, explaining how redevelopment works, the Sunshine Ordinance, and…I don’t know, a bunch of other stuff.

But honestly, every time I start to write about any of those things, I feel like there’s just nothing new to say. I mean, there’s only so many things to say about the City’s looming financial collapse, and frankly, I feel like I’ve kind of said them all at one point or another over the last two years. On the other hand, it does often seem like a lot of people really don’t get how dire the City’s situation is, so maybe it is time for a refresher. I don’t know. Writing about the budget is just so incredibly depressing. I assume that reading about it must be too.

Same thing with the pensions, right? I mean, there’s been several occasions where I’ve started posts about some discussions about pensions at Committee meetings from the Spring, but there’s only so many different ways to point out that our system is unsustainable and only so many times you can say it before getting bored to tears. Or maybe that’s just me. Apparently, some people can talk about public employee pensions all day long without getting bored. Or, you know, all day, every day, for months on end or whatever. I don’t really get it, but each to their own, I guess.

There’s not a single candidate for Mayor that leaves me feeling anything beyond either “Eh” or “That guy seems unstable,” the zoning update is depressingly (and predictably) provincial, and I know I’ll have to go through all the ballot measures at some point, but that seems like something more appropriate to save for the fall. Same with all the other local races — I know I’ll be writing about them at some point, but I feel like I should wait for some forums or something first, because at this point, there really isn’t a whole lot to say.

Honestly, the only subjects I’ve felt at all inspired to write about anytime recently are the Council’s war on clean clothes (PDF), which isn’t timely, how excited I am about the opening this weekend of the DTO’s newest bar, Threefiftyfive, which seems kind of out of place here, and this Mayoral debate I watched the other night from February 2006, which I decided would just be straight up weird to be blogging about.

So I give up, folks. I have absolutely no idea what to write about or what people find interesting anymore. I have a ridiculous amount of information stuck up here in my head, and have gotten to the point where I’m completely clueless about what, if any, of it is worth sharing. If you guys want to know more about pensions or the budget or whatever, I can do that. If you guys want to talk about elections, I can do that. I you want to talk about something totally new — well, if it has anything to do with Oakland government, chances are, I can do that too. Except for the WIB. Don’t ask me to write about the WIB. Even thinking about it gives me a headache. I really just can’t deal.

Anyway, I do sincerely want to get back into blogging, so we’re going to do this choose-your-own-adventure style. Then I can blame my readers for the blog being boring. Mark what you want to read about in the poll below. Whatever gets the most votes is what I’ll write about next. Then whatever gets the second most votes, I’ll write about that. And so on until I think of something on my own that seems interesting enough to merit coverage. If you want to read about something not listed in the poll, write your request in the comments.

You can pick as many choices as you like, but for the subjects where there are options for both overview/summary and details, please only pick one. I’m trying to gauge how interested people are in different subjects — like, is X topic worth one post or five?

[poll id="3"]

Oh, also. If you work or live in the downtown area, or even if you just pass through on your way home, pay ThreeFiftyFive a visit sometime soon. It’s at 19th and Webster next to Burger Gourmet.

Bar ThreeFiftyFive

I know it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but indoors, it’s beautiful and classy and OMG I am just so incredibly happy to see more things opening on my side of Broadway. Grand opening is this Friday at 8!

69 thoughts on “What do you want to read about?

  1. Mike Hardy

    I voted, but what I’m thinking is that people vote with their attention, and if you posted “early and often” – which is to say small pieces that you post after a quick re-read but without a re-think, you’ll get a lot of material out there, then you can see from google analytics where folks are really hot. Or just check the temperature in the comments :-)

    FWIW, I don’t glaze on any of the posts – I think this is a really informative blog on lots of levels, and I just look forward to more of whatever you’ve got from the local Oakland scene.

  2. MarleenLee

    I’ve always wanted to know what “affordable housing” means. Do dumps in bad neighborhoods qualify? If so, don’t we have plenty of “affordable housing” already? Who qualifies? What if you’re a student making no money – do you qualify? Then what happens when a former broke student get a job that pays six figures – do they have to move out? Pay some sort of penalty? I’ve never understood any of this. Although admittedly, nobody is pushing “affordable housing” as a platform this season.

    Frankly, I think highlighting how psycho some of the mayoral candidates are could make for fun reading.

  3. Daniel Schulman

    I agree with MarleenLee that delving into the prickly issues of “affordable housing” would be interesting. I’ve been particularly curious how it ties into redevelopment, how housing policy affects broader issues of transportation and budgets, and understanding it from a demographic perspective.

    I am always interested in learning how Oakland compares to other cities. How do we compare in taxes, other revenues, police force, parkland, library budgeting, etc to Portland, Long Beach, etc. I know many of these comparisons have been made before on ABO, but I often feel it is better to learn from others than to re-invent.

    Finally, I would like a more informed view on some of the political process questions that have been rearing their head of late. What exactly are these League of Women guidelines for deciding who gets to speak at mayoral forums. Which organizations are endorsing which candidates and how do they go about their making their determinations. What happens if a mayoral candidate exceeds spending amounts. What is the legality of robocalls.

  4. Frank Castro

    I would really be interested in a detailed article on CEDA what they are supposed to be doing with their over $80 million budget. By the way, many people rely on you to get their daily fix on the 411 in Oakland. It is SO worth your time and effort to us.

  5. Dave C.

    I didn’t know Robert Raburn was running for the BART Board. After months of being depressed about the fall election, I now can’t wait to cast my vote.

    And by the way, almost all of those topics seem worthy of blog posts. If there were an “all of the above” choice, I probably would have selected that one. The only topic I’m tired of on that list is public employee pensions.

  6. Barry K

    MarleenLee and Daniel, re the OHA, I found this item I wrote to some neighbors 02/2007.

    More research: The City’s Redevelopment Agency has about $300m in bond funds. Of that 20% goes to City employees (salaries) just for this program. Of the $300m, $56m goes to subsidize no-low income housing (not counting Fed Funds for the Housing Authority).
    Here’s a $539,000 contribution from the OHA they just gave on May 26, 2010 to the Christian Church Homes of California.(But its called the Harrison Street Housing Project.)


    Where do I get in line for my handout?

  7. J

    Your doing a great job. I read your post often, but very rarely post. I find it informative and very well written. Moving on now i am always interested in what is going on downtown in general because i will soon be opening a business downtown and like to know whats going on that I, with a busy schedule, may not be able to catch up on. Thanks for the wonderful blog.

  8. floribunda

    I work on the same block as 355 and have been watching the progress… you’re right though, it still looks like a dump from the outside.

    Write about everything! And: how to pick a mayor out of the lineup.

  9. PRE

    You’ve performed a valuable service, as well as made my day by letting me know that Ms Carol Ward Allen is being opposed!

  10. PRE

    Also, stuff like why is it taking Sears so long to replace the plywood in their windows? Or what’s going on in the old chicken place next to the old Franklin Square wine bar? Or what’s going on in the cuved building across the street that looked like something was happening for a while but now looks dead. But what I’d really like to know is who killed Jack London Square, and if anything will ever happen in that multi-million dollar “Harvest Hall” that continues to sit empty. JL used to be not “upscale” but was busy – it’s DEAD now. What happend?

  11. PRE

    Last by me for today – I’d also like to know about positive things in Oakland like the work going on with the 12th St Dam, and if there are any plans to finish the rehabilitation of the Lake by upgrading the paths and landscaping on the Grand Ave side, the bird enclosure and the LM Garden.

  12. ralph

    On picking a mayor, use a method similar to what professors use to grade exams – put the names in hat, throw them down the stairs and which ever ones goes furtheres is your mayor.

    PRE, 4pm today, you will be pleased to know, the glass from China is here, Sears installing as I write.

    Plum, the old chicken shack, is coming along nicely. Shaw Plaza (curved bldg) was once destined to be a food hall, then the market went bust and the bldg is on the mkt.

    As for what I want to see, like Dan, I want to see the city compare. Long Beach, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, Portland, Denver, Baltimore and maybe SF. Breakdowns on revenue sources, assessed value, education, parkland, libraries, governance, etc…

  13. livegreen

    In anticipation of an article on the BART vote, whether it is part of a detailed look of the elections or just the ones that don’t get much attention, I want to put in a plug for Robert Raburn. Up until recently he was head of the EBBC, he’s very keen on efficient transportation that works, & has a lot of original ideas that, to a layman, sound productive and workeable.

    Besides that, he’s a very approachable guy open to discussing and learning.



    That said I’m still interested in learning more about the election & issues that both candidates represent, their history, etc.

  14. Scott Law

    Excellent blog and topics. Don’t give up… topics I would like to see explored that I don’t see much in mainstream press

    - What does the “disability payment” board in oakland do ? how much are we paying in disability costs and how are the disabilities audited ? has there ever been a exposure of the employees on fake disability. I believe this is a gold mine of wasted taxpayer money.

    - Continued followup on the Bey crime family and the concentric rings of enablers and fellow criminals that still exist. For example, what ever happened to the Bey cousins or whatever they are in the Alameda county welfare dept that funneled thousands in false childcare payments to Bey ? Are they now on taxpayer paid pensions ?

    - Agree on the Jack London square fiasco. We have lived in Oak for 25 years and have watched every half baked project from tearing down the original wooden “mall” to the ridiculous structure near the ferry dock. What is going on here ? Why are businesses/renters being continually evicted to establish empty retail space ?
    Solution for Barnes and Noble leaving ?
    By the way, I think the “commercial developer” for port of Oak was hired in to Oakland govt.. how is this possible ?

    - The Port. Who runs it ? What is happening to the plans for extending barge containers to Stockton to reduce trucking traffic ? What are the political hacks appointed to the port commission doing (Elihu harris wife, the CNA lawyer from the planning commission,


  15. East Lake Rider

    Because I’m a transit geek it’d be interesting to read about:

    - AC Transit’s labor issues and the cuts happening at the end of the month.
    - BART’s attempt to revive the OAC
    - a regular feature about “The B” downtown shuttle (new rider stories, off-the-beaten-path shops along the route)

    I didn’t know Carol Ward Allen was running for re-election. That will be a fun contest.


  16. Mary Hollis

    I wanted to vote “All of the Above” except that:

    1) That’s really not helpful to you if you’re trying to figure out what to write about.


    2) The budget mess is so overwhelming and over-riding that I don’t think anything else materially matters (except maybe new bars so we can drink away our sorrows). I can’t get excited about some zoming issue or school policy when it’s not at all unusual to hear gunshots and we’re laying off cops.

  17. oakie

    I love radical ideas. Why is it that the bankruptcy option is dismissed so easily? It would really focus us on solving the problem instead of the city dieing of a million cuts.

    I can think of a number of outrageous scandals which have never been fully explored and covered–so that maybe some kind of action will take place. I think of the Finance Dept. head (who I suspect is still employed by the city, accumulating more to his pension) who, upon exposure by the city auditor of Miss Debby’s falsification of employment documents for her niece and nephew, took hard cold cash from Miss Debby and walked down the hallway with it to “reimburse” the auditor.

    Or the well documented (on Channel 2 video) of the fire department recruitment event where “friends” of high level FD officials are instructed how to cut ahead in line.

    These are more than just outrageous. They are probably crimes for which certain people should go to prison for. And a lot of terminations for cause.

    In general, I am always interested in exposure of fraud, corruption and waste in our city government. I believe there is no shortage of material to use.

    I was also thinking the other day how all those “Justice for Oscar Grant” posters in business windows were really a demonstration of the intimidation we see in this city from thugs who threaten violence (or, in the parlance, ‘no justice, no peace’).

  18. Kai

    Given that there are a lot of well meaning, intelligent people who’s work and family life makes it difficult to read and research at the level they would like, please:
    * provide an honest, brief overview of the budget, with links to drill down for those who want to verify quickly . . . provide the information, but also point to the clear opportunities for (sadly) cuts and for better oversight.
    * would love to hear your views on the ballot measures . . . it will motivate me to research, develop a POV and then advocate.

    This is my first time on your blog – thank you for doing it!

  19. Rebecca

    I hope you feel free to post about the things that inspire you, even if they seem weird. I think that’s the only way to go without getting burned out, and you’re too good a public service for that to happen! I vote random mayoral debate from 06!

  20. Alan

    I’d be curious to know if you’re research on the budget has turned up other comparable cities around the country and what has happened to them. Any good doomsday scenarios we can look forward to? Or effective tactics they’ve used to better their situation. Yeah, right, solutions. :^)

  21. Brad


    I’d like to see some muckracking investigative blogging about waste, mismanagement, nepotism, and quid pro quo corruption in Oakland. I’d like you to name names and give specific examples. I’d like links to PDF copies of no-bid contracts.

    All cities have these things going on, I suspect Oakland more than most. But I don’t really know, because the local newspapers are practically worthless.

  22. Sean Sullivan

    Ralph, thank you for answering questions and proving that V need not waste her time answering questions whose answers have actually been reported on in the the Chronicle, the East Bay Express, the SF Business Times and other Oakland centric blogs. I’ll see you at Plum.

    I find it sad that some of the commenters here would rather focus on scandal mongering, looking for divisive topics, re-hashing bad stories already well documented, people on the Port Commission 8 years ago. Is this how we get to a better Oakland?

    I love Oakland. I think if you love Oakland I’d hope you’d be here looking for all the details on what’s wrong, so that after some grousing, you could figure out how you might contribute to righting those wrongs.

    V, were you to have the time, please tell these ne’er do wells and others with ample amounts of time about better ways to spend it than looking for Oakland’s next Watergate. Ways such as volunteer opportunities to improve our schools & communities, fundraising events for organizations that actually try to make Oakland better and yes, tell us about these great events going on in our town that make Oakland if not better, more fun.

    And where is that DONATE button? It’s sweet of you to offer up an opportunity to solicit story ideas but when people have the audacity to tell you they’d like PDFs with their blog posts, it’s time to make them pay. LITERALLY.

    Cough it up kids.

  23. MarleenLee

    Sean – I didn’t see any comments encouraging scandal “mongering.” There is already plenty of scandal in Oakland – I don’t think anybody here is actually promoting more of it. But the coverage on the scandals is pretty darn minimal. If the L.A. Times hadn’t exposed the Bell scandal, the taxpayers would still be handing over millions to their corrupt leaders. If there is an Oakland “Watergate,” then I certainly would hope a mainstream journalist or a non-traditional blogger would be interested in uncovering it.

  24. Daniel Schulman

    Well said Mr. Sullivan! I was thinking of adding a similar comment, but you expressed it much better than I would have.

    The only reason to look for problems is to also find solutions.

    I mentioned the other day to a friend the HIV Education Project of Alameda County (http://www.casasegura.org/). This small organization does some tremendous work with people in our community who have some very severe problems. It got me thinking how many other small unheralded groups are there in Oakland slugging it out each day to make our community better.

    Perhaps we need to find more ways to support such efforts.

  25. Pamela Drake

    I agree with Sean and would like to hear more about little known races like Robert Raburn’s challenge of the ridiculousness of almost everything BART does. Having been one of the first female train operators and having suffered at the hands of the good ole boy system (now including the girls), I want some suggestions on fixes.

  26. Andy K

    Like Pre said – what is up with JLS? Something is very, very strange down there. First, they tear down JL Village (been so long, it might have been called something different), close the Spegetti Factory (always packed, and a nice, affordable place to take a family with young kids), ruin the field by the ferry pier by placing an now empty building there. They build, build, build, while office, stores and restaurant spaces are empty. The Harvester Hall – looks nice, what is the real reason it is still empty? It must be nice to be able to build huge building, parking garages, and then not have to rent them out.

    As others have said, love reading what you write on almost every topic – especially the witty comments. You have made me much more aware of City government.

  27. Barry K

    Pamela- Full disclosure! z Since you’re working on JQ’s campaign:

    How about the PEC charges you filed against the OPOA when they endorsed DP at a Meet Chief Batts event?
    Nick Vigilante used the same event to promote JQ for Mayor and have her speak at this group. When she tried to hand out materials, she was stopped. He even apologized over his actions making this a political event.

    (Vigilante also filed a charge against a competitor of JQs first race for Dist #4, that the PEC dismissed as baseless. Is this practice in JQ’s campagin handbook?)

    Vigilante also JQ at the other meet Chief Batts meetings where she puts in a plug for Mayor, and has a table setup handing out materials while her assistant has people sign up for her e=newsletter that was used to get people to rally the PEC not to change Campaign Finance changes in Oakland. All this while he served as Co-Chair of MSIC; the same group that received over $3,000 from JQ’s Dist 4 funds!

    The State of CA Fair Political Practices Commission is investing JQ’s use of City funds and staff and newsletter for her run at Mayor, and trying to influence people for an outcome that she would benefit from.

  28. Dax

    “If there is an Oakland “Watergate,” then I certainly would hope a mainstream journalist or a non-traditional blogger would be interested in uncovering it.”

    Well, I’d certainly hope we would get some true investigative journalism, but given the minimal number of reporters, tasked with filling the already thin paper, I think the time or incentive they have to produce something dramatic, is minimal.

    That is unless a citizen or whistle blower delivers them the goods on a platter.
    Item #1… confirm at x, y, z
    Item #2… confirm by checking a, b, c

    Too many of the folks who could blow whistles, are like in Bell, part of the group that is benefiting.

    Oh the other hand, the Tribune with only a little effort, could inform the 99% of the public about issues they know nothing about.

    Such as my often stated, 2004 pension boost. Never, to my knowledge, covered in 2004, and still unknown to 99% of the public in 2010.
    Kind of like a non-hidden “baby” Bell.

    Few in the public know that a regular Oakland employee can go to work for Oakland out of high school (18), retire at age 55, with a 100% pension plus $425 per month for medical.
    They think only police and fire can have such large and early pensions.

    How about a major article covering all current Oakland employee pension plans, and examples of typical salaries, plus typical/average overtime+”other”.
    Regular employees and Safety employees.

    I think Oakland citizens might want to know why employee Robert G., formerly Oakland’s (xxx), is getting a pension of $195,958 a year when his highest salary was only $180,000 a year.
    Or is the public already aware you can collect pensions over 100% of salary without “spiking”.

    Anyway, the number of articles that could be written about is endless, but I’m not sure that is how the assignments are handed out.

  29. ken o

    thank you marleen.

    lots of dirt to clean up in oaktown, even as we look to solutions. if you don’t measure the dirt, how do you know if you’re clean after your solution, or if you are using the correct solution?

    mayors – who’s in the race? the full slate.
    what they say they’re for, their website, their voting record (if an incumbent or political animal). a scorecard. likelihood of them accomplishing anything with respect to maintaining public safety in Oakland, being business friendly to new startup businesses, their record on “affordable housing,” attitude toward parking and “complete streets,” level of urgency regarding roads and sewer/water pipe replacement.

  30. Thomas Van Demark

    I would like to be reading “throw the bums out in local elections” and the best opportunity is Robert Raburns challenge of Carol Ward Allen the fumbling incumbent whose political story is incredible even for Oakland. It will make compelling reading.
    Like the BART OAK extension or not, the feds made it almost impossible not to get those millions….. but leave it to our BART Board, in particular Ms Ward Allen. I think you will really enjoy doing the research.

  31. Ken

    I’d like to know more about our mayoral candidates. Right now my reaction to the field ranges from unimpressed to horrified!

    I also have have general questions about the budget. Like what amount of money is budgeted to be spent next yr, and how much revenue is anticipated to flow in to city hall to pay for it.


  32. Naomi Schiff

    A reasonably serious but not-too-in-depth-because-too-involved look at the Redevelopment budget would make sense, though it would appeal to the more wonkish parts of the audience. For 12th Street and Measure DD, the city has a decent website and there is an open advisory group you can attend, so while I am very involved in the project, it doesn’t need so much research.


    I take exception to the above assumptions that affordable housing is bad. Find out what is going on before passing judgment in a general way, please. There are many types of projects, not all alike.

  33. ralph

    Isn’t all housing affordable if you have the income?

    1) Dan got me thinking, since this is a better oakland, not find the next watergate, maybe a little menu of volunteer activities by type. Is there a way we can email you names of organizations and you can devote some real estate to them.

    i had a 2 re the budget but I will pass.

  34. George

    V, great idea for a post.

    I am puzzling through a topic for a future blog post, and your own, far more knowledgeable take would be interesting:

    The Political Economy of Oakland.

    That is, what is the constellation of interest groups, firms, powers-that-be, ideologies, and so on, that consistently lead to (in my mind) sub-optimal or otherwise ‘distorted’ political/policy performance (legislative, development, education, administrative, whatever).

    We all have our favorite “bad guys” in Oakland politics– I guess the “step back” question is why do these folks gain and retain power? What explains whatever biases exist in the policy ferment? Why does the administration in Oakland (broadly construed to include the bureaucracy and other implementers) perform the way they do?

    Given your knowledge of the nitty-gritty in the policy realm, you would have great insight into what accounts for the patterns of governance that we see in Oakland. What are the patterns and what explains them?

    As I said, I’m puzzling through this myself, and hope to have something in a few weeks.

  35. Brad

    Thank you Marleen, Ken, and Dax. While I may disagree with you often, at least we all recognize the dearth of sunshine in Oakland. Sean and Daniel, I can only reply that unfortunately, you represent well the common Oakland attitude of, if we ignore it then it doesn’t happen. It’s that attidue that has led us to where we are today. I’m not interested in scandals from eight years ago, unless they haven’t yet come to light. I’m interested in corruption, waste, and mismanagement that is going on right now.

  36. livegreen

    We need to hear about both the good & the bad. For example:
    –I’ll submit to V a post on OFCY (the bad to mediocre, depending on perspective);
    –There are lots of good volunteer groups doing great work (in schools & out) that deserve press, and won’t get any in the traditional media. It would be nice to hear from them & ways to get involved.

    This, along with continued guest posts to help spread the work (as you’ve had) would be great.

    Thanks for the hard work V.

  37. Jim

    While some people want to write about affordable housing; what about rent control. Does it work? There is no income limit to get it or keep it.
    Costs can’t be passed through easily, and
    a lot of the buildings get run down.
    Two examples. I know an owner that painted her building. She had to keep the wood windows per city historical code. The tenets leave them open during rain storms and they swell up and won’t close. She has to pay the handyman to fix them.
    Near my house a landlord tried to paint their building. Half way through the painting the tenents stopped them because they did not like the color scheme. Now it sits halfway painted. Who wins?
    Does the rent board work? Can tenets take bad landlords to it and win?
    In tight economic times, does rent control matter? Prices seem to be down.

  38. Dax

    Not sure where this post should go, although I’d like to read about basic math in Oakland.
    Does it exist in the schools?
    Does it exist in the city staff?
    Does it exist in the minds of the city council such that they have the minimal ability to use it to arrive at common sense conclusions.

    What brought this up.
    A article in today’s Chronicle which originated in the Oakland North blog.

    Its about the abuse of handicapped parking placards in Oakland.


    It was reported by them that in their observation—
    “Oakland North found that 44 percent of parked cars surveyed in downtown Oakland and Chinatown on Wednesday carried disabled parking placards. That’s 107 of the 245 cars that were parked on parts of Broadway, Franklin, and Clay Streets, as well as Eighth through 14th Streets”

    It went on about what Oakland city officials had said—-
    “The city is also aware of this problem. “In downtown Oakland alone, several hundred vehicles displaying disabled person parking placards are parked at metered spaces on a daily basis. It appears that many drivers and/or passengers of these cars are improperly using disabled person parking placards issued by the DMV,” wrote the City Administrator’s office in a statement issued November 2009. The statement said that the City Council estimated fraud costs Oakland $150,000 in yearly parking revenue.”

    Now, this brings me back to MATH…and whether anyone on the city council can operate a simple calculator with any degree of common sense.

    The city council estimated they were losing $150,000 annually.

    Not even counting the money lost due to not being able to give normal parking citations, lets just look at the $2 per hour lost at what we’ll call the “meters”.

    $150,000 divided by $2.00 suggests that 75,000 hours per year were given away when they shouldn’t have been.
    Now, not every day is busy so lets just assume there are only 5 days a week, and only 50 weeks a year, or 250 days total.

    Divide 75,000 hours by 250 days.
    That would equal 300 hours per day.
    Divide that day by 8 hours.
    That would give you 37.5 hours of illegal sticker use per working hour of the day.

    Meaning that over the entire city, during a typical hour, the city council is saying that ONLY 37 cars are fraudulently using handicapped placards.
    In the entire city.

    Now, remember what the survey showed in just that small area of the city.
    107 of 245 cars were using handicapped placards.
    Does anyone really doubt that of those 107 cars using placards, that 37 are for fraudulent use. In just that one small area of the city.

    Or beyond that small area, does anyone really think that, on average, during the typical hours of the work day, that only 37 placards are being illegally used?

    Now, my point is the following, and it applies to so many items that come before and are issued from the City Council, and from staff.

    DOES ANYONE ever ask if the numbers taken as factual, make any sense whatsoever?

    Clearly these numbers and calculations arriving at the $150,000 annual loss are absurd.
    But does IDLF, or Ms Quan, or Larry Reid, or Ms.Brunner, or the rest of them, ever ask if anything makes any sense.

    Do they ever take out a $5.00 calculator and make some common sense calculations, indicating the numbers they are basing their decisions upon, MUST be absurd.

    I’m afraid not. This is how they end up with Oakland Coliseum deals, Ice Rink deals, 35% retroactive pension increases, serial loans to bakeries, and a endless number of other insane uses of public funds that make NO mathematical sense at all.

    How often does a city council member keep a calculator by their side?
    Seriously, do you think any of them or many of them ever use one during the entire week as they ponder city business.

    We look at the recent state school test scores on math.


    Take a look at what percent of Oakland’s students score Advanced or Proficient.
    It seems to decline the longer they stay in the Oakland schools. As though the longer they stay, the worse they get.

    I guess extrapolating from that, by the time they get to the city council, they are almost all in the “basic”, “below basic” and “far below basic” categories.

    I know, I know, there are far bigger issues confronting Oakland than the dollar revenue lost due to illegal use of parking placards, but to me, the expression of inattention and lack of basic math skills highlighted in the city council report, is carried forth into ALL the financial issues these people deal with.

    The are, as a group, “below basic” in their ability to deal with math.

    And now we find we have the option of choosing between Jean Quan, of $100 million OUSD bankruptcy fame, and Don Perata of endless state budget deficit fame.

    From the 1st grader to the 20 year city council member, they just can’t do basic math.
    Either because they lack that ability or they just don’t consider it essential.

    The result is exactly what we see today.

    Oakland city leadership is like the guy in the Carl’s Jr. ads,

    “Don’t bother me with math, I’m eating”

    Don’t bother me with math, I’m conducting city business.

    OK… now back to your normal programming.

  39. livegreen

    Naomi, Thanks for the link to Measure DD. From what I’ve seen money being well spent, including the projects around Lake Merritt.

    On the other side they’re not acting on what the Measure spells out for the Creeks, and as often the case, the City doesn’t proactively finance enforcement. We have contractors dumping in storm drains with little public or city action on stopping them, or homeowners making sure their contractors dump responsibly.


    Native (yes, NATIVE) rainbow trout killed in beautiful Sausal Creek.

  40. livegreen

    Dax, Part of the reason for the score changes is families leaving the schools at different “drop off” points. Also many of the improvements made at Elementary School and marginally in Middle School, have only recently started to trickle up to High School. So it’s not just kids doing worse as they grow older.

    & There are not just two Mayoral candidates.

  41. Dax

    Livegreen, I know there are more than two mayoral candidates, but the two I mentioned, who are both in the top 3, are the ones with a financial track record.
    I don’t have Ms Kaplan’s record at AC Transit, but looking at AC Transit’s salary and benefit package, she couldn’t have done much to curtail excess.

    I believe AC Transit employees enjoy the highest “percentage” benefit package, relative to salary, of any agency, city, county or district in the entire Bay Area.

    I understand that the AC Transit benefit package is 85% of salary. A salary which is not low by any means.

    Was she some how a fiscal star while on that board?

    BTW, in news yesterday, the intention of AC Transit to lay off the entire 14 member transit information staff, to outsource it to a private New England firm.
    I don’t like that one bit even though many of them are ready to retire.
    On the other hand AC Transit says their cost to run that department will fall from $1,300,000 to only $300,000 annually.
    That is a jaw dropping decline.
    I hate it when local firms send jobs to other states where costs are lower, but the cost of those informational jobs at AC Transit are just absurd.
    I very much dislike other area employers doing the same.
    Such as CSAA (AAA) sending their customer service for California to Arizona. Many others.
    Who do they think is gonna have the income to pay for their products and services if they send all the jobs elsewhere?

    Perhaps I should have included mayoral candidate Marci Hodge of the infamous “Peralta District” credit card shopping spree?

    As to the student scores declining, as the smarter kids leave.
    I’m sure that is part of the reason for declining scores, but of those left behind, I’m not at all certain that group, as a isolate group, if followed during their 12 years, are really progressing.
    Mind you, I don’t have the answer on that one.
    I’ve seen all type of wide eyed experts and flashy private charter organizations struggle to turn a difficult group around.

    On the other hand, our city council members, if they had any inclination to do so, could ask a few simple questions about the data they operate from, and come up with the type of questions I have put forth in this example.

    It is not my understanding that they do such.
    Then we see 6 years after the fact, people like IDLF, waking up in panic about the disaster his 35% pension increase has brought about.

    BTW, there is one mayoral candidate who should be careful about that which they state as their credentials, when they are of such dubious and questionable authenticity.

  42. ralph

    “I know, I know, there are far bigger issues confronting Oakland than the dollar revenue lost due to illegal use of parking placards…”

    Actually, as you well know this is important. Downtown is a mix of govt, residential, and retail. Anytime some fraudster occupies a space all day, you have significantly fewer shoppers coming in to do business. Stores forego revenue, fire employees and eventually shutdown. We need to make prime examples of these fraudsters – tow cars first, ask questions later.

  43. OhPleeze

    Thank you V, for asking our preferences. I’d like to add one.

    Occasionally, you step back from what you’ve written, analyse it and then launch a blast against silly presumptions or actions (A recent one was roughly “Hello–who’d agree to another $360/yr tax in exchange for nothing?)

    Your reporting as well as your essays on government workings (or loafings)are tasty, but your occsional acute dissections of the excruciatingly stupid are truly exotic desserts.

  44. Dax

    Ralph, ONE…..just ONE city council person could make a issue of this.
    Keeping at it until real progress is made.
    Grabbing media attention.

    Unless they are too fearful of a small minority of excessively sensitive handicapped advocates.
    I actually think most advocates are very open to reasonable enforcement of this placard abuse.
    Even the payment of parking fees at those spots.

    It would seem that few weeks or months of stiff enforcement would greatly curtail the problem and be self-funding from some significant fines collected.

    Anyone know what the current fine is?

    According to this article its $1,400


    I wonder if the ticket must be issued by a police officer rather than a meter “maid” type of personnel.

    Seems while time consuming, waiting around, it would still be a money maker, and at the same time fixing a problem.

    I’ll tell you what, if I knew it was a $1,400 fine, I’d never ever do it.
    $1,400 is almost excessive.

    IF the city would hire me, I’d catch at least one per day, and be willing to work on commission. Say 33% for me, and 66% for the city.
    $466 per day for me and I’ll even pay my own health care and retirement. Such a bargain, and the city could pocket over $900 a day.

    BTW, I might need that health care from one or more angry scoff-laws exploding.
    Better not tell them its a $1,400 fine.

  45. Colin

    V -

    I hope you’ll stop worrying about what people want to read and go back to writing about what you want to write about. This blog is popular because of your instincts and intelligence, not because it is targeted to a market.

    If you decide to can something because you don’t think the post is interesting or you’ve already said what you have to say elsewhere that’s fine. But don’t do it because you’re worried about people not reading it.

    And if you’re done with blogging, that’s fine, too.

  46. livegreen

    Remember that ABO has a great database of past posts, well catalogued under different topics, and easy to find. Two examples of topics recently requested:

    –The Mayor’s race (under Topics – Elecitons):
    “Your Choice for Oakland Mayor, revisited”:


    –Affordable Housing (under Issues – Affordable Housing), including this Classic by guest poster Tom Thurston:

    “Oakland’s War on the Middle Class”:


  47. MarleenLee

    LG – yeah, I’ve read those, and it just highlights that I still have absolutely no clue when people use the phrase “affordable housing.” I need a post called “affordable housing for dummies” or something like that, because I don’t even understand the concept. I thought we were supposed to make suggestions on things we wanted to learn about, so I’m not sure why Naomi was offended by my suggestion.

  48. ralph

    You know, I would like to see more on Oakland’s overall housing/development plan. I somewhat mock the concept of affordable housing because at today’s depressed prices I wouldn’t be surprised if people are able to pick up property at a 1/3 of what it sold for just 3 years ago.

    The long term demand for housing is not going away and Oakland can not be the dumping ground for all of the bay area’s lowest income individuals.

  49. Chris Kidd

    Please please please write more about planning issues. You’re practically the only person in Oakland who gives them even cursory attention. I know that provincialism plays a large role in the zoning update, *but that’s exactly why you should cover it*! Expose the absurdity of NIMBY and reactionary behavior! Stiffen the planning staff’s spine by crushing them for capitulating to myopic interests! Encourage people to look past the next 5 years and hope that they may take on even the vestiges of a sustainable, progressive, comprehensive vision for our city’s future!

  50. V Smoothe Post author

    Brad –

    I actually side with Sean and Dan on this one. I am more than happy to point out areas where I think the City could function better, and I frequently do so here. But I have absolutely no interest in just looking for scandal for scandal’s sake.

    Personally, I hate those types of stories that, like, KTVU is always doing where they spend a ridiculous amount of time combing through ten years of expense account receipts until they dig up a few that, when presented in a certain way, they can make sound outrageous and then make a big deal out of advertising the story as though they’ve exposed something meaningful or important.

    The entire purpose of those types of stories, as far as I’m concerned, is to make people who don’t like paying taxes feel better about themselves for not wanting to pay taxes. They convince themselves that the government is wasteful and corrupt so they can justify their anti-tax mindset, and the kind of “muckracking” stories you’re requesting exist not to inform or educate anyone, but simply to provide people with a certain attitude something they can use to reinforce it.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are just looking for something to complain about, but you’re going to have to find another blog to satisfy that need. For me, that kind of “gotcha” nonsense holds absolutely no appeal. I write about things that I think matter because I want to see Oakland improve, not because I want to feel superior.

    Sean, Dan, ralph & livegreen –

    I like the idea of highlighting volunteer opportunities. I think I will start doing that.

  51. V Smoothe Post author

    Colin & Rebecca –

    Thank you both. I think that’s the best advice I’ve heard all summer. Random mayoral debate from 2006 recap is on its way!

    Mary Hollis –

    Haha! I kind of love the idea of a blog devoted entirely and exclusively to the City’s budget mess plus bar openings. Still, no matter how important it is, I think there’s only so much time you can spend thinking about the City budget before you just stop caring. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

    OhPleeze -

    Okay, I’ll try to be meaner in general. It does tend to be more fun writing that way. If anyone complains, I’ll blame it on you, though.

    Floribuna –

    Were you able to pop into 355 after work on Friday? I made it over there later than night, and was absolutely delighted to see what a fabulously successful opening party they had. People were just spilling out of the bar all over the street. I actually didn’t end up staying that long because it was too crowded for me. But I look forward to many visits in the future.

  52. V Smoothe Post author

    PRE –

    One cool way to keep track of the 12th Street reconstruction is this blog: http://www.oakland12thstreetproject.blogspot.com, which features new photos of the construction work almost every day. It’s really cool.

    Andy K. & Scott Law –

    It is definitely frustrating that Jack London Marketplace (which I believe is what they are now calling the building that was going to be called Harvest Hall) is taking so long to open. I believe they have having difficulty finding tenants for the space. A company I used to work for has actually leased a full floor of the building for their new offices, so that’s at least some indication of progress.

    As for the Jack London District in general, I have to say that I have been really impressed with how vibrant it seems lately. For several years, every time I would go over there at night it seemed like everything was deserted. But now, there are nearly always crowds. I’m happy that the places opening up there are enjoying so much success, although I have to admit it is kind of frustrating that every time I try to go to Chop Bar, it’s so crowded there are no seats. Bocanova is kind of out my of price range for everyday dinners, but they’ve got the best happy hour deals in town and sitting on the patio out there really is quite a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

  53. V Smoothe Post author

    Dave C. & East Lake Rider –

    I’m glad I was able to squeeze some new information for you in there!

    For those who haven’t seen it yet, Robert Raburn’s campaign website can be found at http://www.raburnforbart.com. From there, you can donate money and/or sign up to endorse and assist the campaign.

    Pamela, livegreen, & Thomas Van Demark –

    One of the really maddening things about BART is the how their structural problems are just so obvious, yet the Board seems hell-bent on making them worse. This is just one of the reasons I am so delighted that Carol Ward Allen will be facing a strong challenger who really does know his stuff when it comes to transit in November. I am sure that between now and then, we’ll have lots of opportunities to examine what’s wrong with BART.

  54. V Smoothe Post author

    Marleen & Dan –

    Actually, I like the idea of a series on affordable housing quite a bit. The way a lot of these terms get used, I often have the sense that some people just throw them around while not having the faintest idea what they mean. I will definitely put that one on the docket.

    Naomi & Frank –

    CEDA and Redevelopment is a good idea for something to look at. I’ll add them to the list.

    Jim –

    Rent control seems like an appropriate subject to include in a series about affordable housing. I’ll add it to my list.

    oakie –

    Mainly, the reason is that bankruptcy wouldn’t accomplish anything for Oakland. You can learn more about municipal bankruptcy in this blog I wrote last year, but the main thing to take away from it is that bankruptcy has a lot of huge downsides and not really any upsides. It would not, for example, be a way to avoid major service cuts. But another bankruptcy post is a good idea. I’ll add that to my list.

    Dax –

    While it may be true that most Oaklanders are unaware of the 2004 pension boost, I think it’s pretty fair to say that everyone who reads the comments on this blog knows all about it. If you come up with new information to add, you are welcome to share it, but there is really no need to keep leaving exceedingly long comments saying the exact same thing.

    The thing with handicapped parking placards is that enforcement is actually quite difficult. You aren’t allowed to just approach people and demand they prove they are actually handicapped. Most of the placards in use are probably legitimate placards, just obtained fraudulently. It is a State matter to go after the doctors approving these for people who do not need them. The City really isn’t in a position where there is much they can do.

  55. Dax

    V, regarding the pension issue. Yes, I am sure nearly everyone who is a regular reader here, knows all about the pension issue.

    I do hope new readers are joining daily.

    If they are anything like the regular public they are completely unaware of the situation and the impact it will have on Oakland finances from this year onward.
    Killing budgets for years to come.

    I might also add that the city council, other than IDLF, seems in no hurry to return the pension system to its old rates of 2.0%.
    Importantly, every single new hire that is brought on, is placed under the current system at 2.7% and legally will remain at that rate for the next 20 to 40 years, should they stay with the city that long.

    Thus, as a critical financial issue, it is more important than almost any other item.

    I won’t bore you with the math, but each new hire, done under the current system, will end up costing the city an extra $226,000 versus hiring them under the revised 2.0%.
    Say we hire or replace 100 regular workers during the next 12 months.
    Doing so under the current 2.7% system will cost Oakland over $22,600,000.

    Delaying the fix could be costing Oakland $1,880,000 per month in future costs.

    Well, there I go again, long involved numbers. IF the public knew we were wasting $62,000 per day, I think they’d get fired up.
    That is about equal to the huge annual salary of the Bell, California, city manager, happening in Oakland almost every 2 weeks.

    Headlines please!!!

  56. Barry K

    What happened to Raul Godinez II, former Dir of PWA?

    Current interim Director is Vitaly Troyan.

    My insider said that Troyan is going to be short-lived in the Dept and so many people are moving around to different departments they don’t know what’s going on. Is this shuffle an outcome of the Auditors’ report on PWA?
    Since PWA gets less than 2% of the City Budget, is there much left?

  57. Jim

    Just another idea. Sorry to jump in so late with it, but what about emergency preparedness? Oakland has its CORE program. How is it doing in these budget tight times? What about the plans the city has, are they ready to run? A friend of mine used to volunteer in CORE. He says the plans are a joke. Another friend went to a neighborhood CORE meeting. She was told everything will be just fine. Hope for middle ground or just figure it will be another boondoggle?
    There are only 40 or so OPD patrol officers on a shift. During an earthquake in the middle of the night what will they do? Head to headquarters and form up Fort Apache? Rescue city council and high placed staff?
    A friend of mine used to live east of Orville. The Sheriff would deputize responsible citizens to look out for people in the small towns. The idea was it took a long time to get police up there. Does Oakland have a similar program to augment its force?
    Does CORE have police powers in an emergency?
    Given that we are in an earthquake window it would be a timely article.

  58. John

    I am writing to second what Chris Kidd posted. I got involved in development issues in Oakland about 5 years ago and have come to believe for our City to thrive in the future we must focus higher density development on transit corridors. This is also what the City’s General Plan calls for. BUT where this would be implemented is in the zoning update and that process is bogged down in provincial short-term concerns to the detriment of our City as a whole. It is pretty wonky stuff but how zoning is written will have a major impact on what kind of a future we build in Oakland. Will it be one that enshrines the status quo that has failed us for the last 40 years? Or one that promotes the kind of density that will create a more sustainable and livable city?

  59. ralph

    I am outraged by excessive pension pymts and high salaries but I am not convinced your average person is.

    Where possible can you tie issues together – e.g. what are the trade-offs in terms of service that we are foregoing because of this wasteful spending on pensions

  60. Naomi Schiff

    There is actually quite a lot of agreement on the zoning update, density along transit corridors, etc. I think I have attended most of the meetings. The disagreements are quite localized and concern rather small stretches compared to the overall length of our so-called corridors. What disturbs me much more is the shortage of transit in the transit corridors. The best way to encourage transit-oriented growth would be to furnish transit! Instead, we are seeing massive cutbacks.

  61. ralph

    Isn’t your issue a balancing mix short term need versus long term plans. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to me force transit to TOD if D isn’t there yet. But as long as plans are in place to ensure that T develops with D all should be good in the hood.

  62. Navigator

    I’d like to read more about the big picture and less about government minutia. Also, lets deal with specific issues facing Oakland, like development, crime, image, downtown transportation, still blighted properties in Uptown, lack of maintenance at Lake Merritt, media coverage of Oakland, ideas for neighborhood improvement, accountability for problems such as dirty streets, graffiti, overgrown weeds, etc.

  63. Naomi Schiff

    Let us not fail to give credit where credit is due when something good happens, and to celebrate successes as well as mourning failures. Sometimes this site can get overly grumpy and curmudgeonlike (and I count myself as one of the curmudgeons).

  64. Dax

    “crime, we need a safer city.. everything else will follow, but first we need to redistribute wealth”

    Uh, from which Oakland residents to which other Oakland residents.

    What is the criteria for getting some of that redistributed wealth?

    Do we need a card?

  65. Erin

    I’m searching high and low for more information about the potential use of eminent domain to seize property in West Oakland as part of the West Oakland Redevelopment Project. All I have to go on is a notice I received from the city with some maps showing large chunks of “designated commercial corridors for eminent domain provisions.” Any chance you could do some investigation into this subject?

  66. Courtney

    A letter I recently sent to Nancy Nadel and others concerning my “Affordable” housing. (8/30/2010)

    Hello Councilmember Nadel,

    My name is Courtney Riley. I have a concern that I would like to express with you. I am a married, mother of 2 young children whom purchased a home in the Bayporte Village development as a newlywed in 2000. My husband and I were a part of the original group of homebuyers. We attended classes together with our neighbors, picked out carpets and countertops and shared in a new experience with others that shared our dream of home ownership and all that it implied. I actually walked through my home when it was just a frame. Over the years, my neighbors and I have noticed some issues with the construction of our homes as well as how the program was run. But just this past weekend, pipes in my living room ceiling (upstairs bathroom floor) sprang a leak. I found out from EBALDC (Eastybay Asian Local Development Corporation) that my building warranty had expired in June 2010 (10 years) and that they were aware of other issues concerning leaking and problems with the drainage in the bathroom. Richard from EBALDC offered assistance by telling me he would research and refer a contractor. My water is currently shut off due to the leaking and flooding underneath my carpeted bathroom floor/ downstairs ceiling. In May of this year we were notified that there were issues with the bathroom windows and EBALDC actually contracted with a company to come out and replace them (the entire neighborhood). I am trying to hold on to my dream but am more fearful that I purchased a home that was made to last 10 years. I contacted the original contractors with Branagh Construction Inc as I still have my original move in package and they informed me that there is no warranty (and also offered to refer a contractor). I do have insurance which will cover the work but not the materials. I purchased a home in a low income neighborhood (Redevelopment Project). At the time that I purchased my home I was told that my neighborhood was being “re-developed”. There were plans of a grocery store, less criminal activity and other retail, a “gateway” to Jack London Square was the vision. I understand that economics change. I work as an employment and education specialist for a housing program that serves previously homeless families. I personally have been close to losing my home to forclosure due to loss of employment and income. I struggle to save my dream. My 9 year old son was the first baby born on our block, a fact still celebrated by the original neighbors today. Our children ride their bikes in the streets and congregate on the porches of homes in rotation. They play like children should, like I used to when I was young. But last year when a young man was shot and killed yards away from my front door during an unusually still Sunday morning we became a little more careful (and more aware of this dream deferred).

    I am hoping that my low income home purchase was not a mistake. I am hoping that a lifelong dream does not have a 10 year expiration. I hope that my dream does not have less worth because of my income status. And I am hoping the the City of Oakland/EBALDC is not creating disposable homes as part of sustainable planning.