Last night’s City Council meeting was full of fireworks. It was not, however, full of progress. On the two most controversial items on the agenda, the Council decided to just not do anything, at least for now. But just in case you had something else so pressing to do with your Tuesday night that you couldn’t tune into KTOP, here’s what you missed.
Open Forum was dominated by representatives of LaRouche PAC, demanding that the Council support their proposal to freeze all mortgages and ban foreclosures. Apparently, not supporting their legislation is traitorous and those who decline to adopt it are guilty of treason. Sure.
You may recall the post I wrote in December about the proposed new performance standards for recycling facilities. This is part of the new industrial zoning code adopted last year – the recycling regulations will go in that code, but were not adopted along with the rest because the Council couldn’t reach agreement on them.
Anyway, the new rules (PDF) basically say that recyclers have to adequately maintain the appearance of their facilities, post signage about their hours of operation, and comply with certain noise standards. District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel, a neighbor of a recycling facility, had requested stricter standards, asking that representatives of the recycling facilities regularly attend NCPC meetings and clean up the carts and trash within five blocks of the facility.
Nadel wasn’t able to garner much support for her request, and last night the Council approved the new performance standards (PDF), which were pretty much the same as what staff had proposed in the first place. Recyclers will now have to submit a shopping cart management plan to the City, pick up carts within one block of their facility (the report I linked to says two blocks, but this was changed to one), and attend two NCPC meetings a year (Nadel wanted 6).
Before the public speakers started, Nadel admitted defeat and moved staff’s recommendation. Council President Jane Brunner pointed out to the 40 speakers who had signed up that the Council was going to do what they want, so they might want to do everyone a favor and not use all their time in what was a very busy meeting.
Then we got to watch what has to be the most disgusting and offensive spectacle I have ever seen at a Council meeting. Jay Anast of Alliance Metals got up and gave an unbelievably self-righteous speech about how the people he serves have no voice and how he’s going to hold off on ordering equipment and hiring people if the City continues to subject him to performance reviews. The whole time he was talking, he had a stream of homeless people walk up and display signs for the Council to see, and while I wasn’t able to read the signs, from what I gathered, they were about how recycling is their only source of income.
When he finished, an irate Desley Brooks interrupted the public comment to yell at him about how offensive and exploitative his little parade was, and I could not agree more.
The rest of the presentation was pretty much the same. Lots of talk about how the recycling center offers the only source of income for the neediest in society and if it gets shut down, they will all return to a life of crime (ex: “I don’t understand why you would take away shopping carts and put guns in people hands. Cause that’s what you’re gonna do.”). They even trotted out someone they had hired, not once, but twice, to conduct a study and prepare a report about desperate and poor all the people who rely on recycling cans for income are.
The whole show was just gross. Clearly, all these people Alliance bused in had been told that the Council was trying to shut down the facility, which was never the case. They were being asked to clean up the mess they create and be willing to talk regularly to the neighbors of the facility about the problems the facility creates, and the Council declined to require even that. The Alliance presentation basically tried to paint the recycling center as a social service, but responsible service providers do not lie to their clients in order to further their own ends and escape their responsibility of being a decent neighbor.
Moving on. The Council voted to place a measure on a future ballot that would raise the City’s hotel tax (PDF) from 11% to 14%. Half the money generated from the tax would go to the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the other half would be split evenly between the Oakland Museum, the Oakland Zoo, the Chabot Space and Science Center, and the City’s cultural arts programming, including festivals and parades.
A number of public speakers argued that Children’s Fairyland should also receive funds from the hotel tax, which the Council did not end up agreeing to. The discussion from the Council was bizarre. They kept talking about how tough the budget cuts are going to be, but how they would protect the funding for all these other cultural institutions anyway. Desley Brooks seemed to be the only one with any sense of reality, and pointed out that it was irresponsible for the Council to make promises about maintaining funding for anyone outside of the budget process.
So…I’m against increasing the hotel tax. I support all the cultural institutions that will be receiving the money, but at some point, the City of Oakland needs to figure out a way to live within their means. We cannot just keep raising taxes constantly! If it passes, the increase would give us the highest hotel tax in Alameda County, and tie us with San Francisco for the highest in the Bay Area. How is increasing the cost of visits going to encourage more tourism in Oakland? How is it going to encourage construction of more hotels? It isn’t.
I just don’t know how to reconcile our insane tax rates with the abysmal levels of service provided by the City. We have the highest fees, we have the highest taxes. We have the highest transfer tax in the area. Now the Council wants us the have the highest hotel tax. Stayed tuned in the next couple of weeks for them to pass an outdoor dining tax (that may sound like a joke, but it isn’t). At some point, enough is enough. The City has to stop looking for ways to bleed more money from its residents and business owners. And their moms who come to visit.
I’m especially disappointed in District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente for his support of the hotel tax increase. When your whole thing is that you want the City to be more efficient and accountable, where do you get off supporting tax increases? In the last two weeks, De La Fuente has sent out two messages to his mailing list about how he opposes new taxes on residents, and complaining that the City does not use its existing funds well. To insist that “the City hasn’t shown it knows how to use your existing tax dollars wisely” mere hours before voting for a tax increase is terribly hypocritical. Raising taxes is raising taxes, and to draw a distinction between taxes on homeowners and taxes on hotels makes no sense when the premise of your anti-tax argument is that the City isn’t managing its funds properly.
OO. We got a little under an hour of public speakers demanding that the Council not place a repeal of Measure OO on the ballot. After-school programs are important, we shouldn’t cut their funding, without them the kids will have nowhere to go and will be reduced to a life of crime. My favorite speaker was a woman who came up and told the Council that she had participated in an after school program when she was younger, and it was so good for her that now she’s the Executive Director of a non-profit that gets OO funding, so they should increase funding for these programs because it will create more people like her. I get that she was trying to point out that she’s successful, but telling the Council that they should spend money to create a new breed of people who are going to come demand non-existent funds from them isn’t exactly persuasive.
During the extensive testimony about how valuable all these programs are, all I could think about was that maybe in addition to helping kids with their homework, some of these service providers might want to offer some lessons in manners, because it is just unbelievable how rude, disrespectful, and disruptive these crowds of teenagers that keep showing up are.
Nancy Nadel patiently explained, again, that the Council was not trying to cut youth programs, they just can’t afford to double the amount of money that goes to them.
Rebecca Kaplan explained to the audience that Measure OO was not, as some of the speakers had claimed, in the spirit of Obama, and that setting aside money for certain functions without creating a source of revenue for those functions is irresponsible.
Desley Brooks gave the best speech, saying that she did not support a compromise, and that the Council should stop pandering to interest groups and promising them money at the expense of core City services. Word.
The Council split on what to do about the repeal. Ignacio De La Fuente, Desley Brooks, and Jane Brunner wanted to place a measure on the ballot that would repeal OO and return funding to the levels previously established under Measure K. Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan, and Pat Kernighan wanted a measure that would repeal OO but provide greater funding than Measure K would have. Neither proposal could get the five votes needed to pass and we get to do this all over again at the next meeting. Fun.
The final hot ticket item on the agenda was the creation of a vacant building registry (PDF), introduced by District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks. The idea is that owners of buildings (residential and commercial) that have been vacant for 45 days would have to register their building as vacant with the City. They get 30 days to register the building after it has been vacant for 45 days, and the registration costs $175. If the building remains vacant, the registration fee goes up every year. So if the property stays vacant for a year (and BTW, the definition of vacant includes a commercial building that has even one empty ground floor retail space), the registration cost for the next year is $1000. The next year, it would be $2000. And so on. If property owners failed to register their vacant properties, they would be fined $5000.
So, I’ve watched all the discussions on this proposal, listened carefully to Brooks’s arguments, and read and reread the reports, but despite all of that, I still totally fail to see what the point of creating this database is. I’m all for collecting information, but not if the information is never going to be put to use, and nobody has ever explained how the information from the registry would be used. Brooks keeps talking about how vacant, foreclosed, and abandoned properties are a terrible problem for Oakland’s neighborhoods, and I agree with her, but try as I might, I can’t see how this registry would do anything to reduce the number of vacant properties. In fact, I can’t see how it would do anything except create more bureaucracy and take more money from people, which I’m sick of the City trying to do at every turn. Yes, blighted properties are a problem. We have a blight ordinance that we don’t enforce. We should start enforcing that.
Nobody else on the Council seemed to be willing to pass it as written, so after lengthy discussion about whether we should send it back to Committee for further review, they decided to just do nothing, but several Councilmembers suggested they would work on their own new versions of a similar law, which they would introduce at a later date.