Friday, February 26, 2010

Our Mayor Spoke

Monday night I attended Mayor Ron Dellums State of the City address in council chambers. It needs to be stated that Mr. Dellums has a great voice, a lot of charisma, and an almost regal presence. In fact, when I listen to Ron Dellums speak, I am captivated for that moment in time—a true “Dellumsist.” It sounds so good.

I have always liked this guy. I voted for him for congress and still agree with much of his thinking. However, if I really believed that Ron and the Council were blazing the trail he so ably described, I would support him and vote for the Councilwoman. Sadly, this is not the case.

I agree heart and soul with much of what Ron outlined during his address. On crime he spoke of programs that are music to my ears—programs incidentally that have been recommended for years. One that sparked my applause is a program that ensures youth offenders are enrolled in programs before they get released.
And of course no State of the City speech is complete without running down the former Bush Administration for wasting our wealth in Iraq or advocating support for national health insurance—things we all can agree on. Sure, he wants various components of the city to work well together; don't we all? And, he advocates long term cooperation between the powers that be in Oakland for the mutual benefit of all. Who would disagree with this idea? The problem is that it is too long overdue. Rounding out his list of things upon which we can all agree, Ron supports the schools and their local control, and he advocates grassroots citizen participation in local government. When it comes to policies, I am very pro Ron Dellums. The problem has been in the execution of his policies.

Now, while Ron continues to advocate more citizen input at City Hall, he stated—in an odd twist—that we now have it. Huh? If I get the reasoning right, and no I have not looked over a transcript, he considers having accepted a large number of recommendations from his citizen advisory committees (clusters), and filling most of the citizen oversight board positions, a significantly higher degree of citizen control. Ron kept repeating that we the residents are now inside City Hall and we’re making the elected officials listen to us; that we the community are part of the process; and that we the community have been empowered and should not give up that power. Really?

I almost felt embarrassment for him. For here was the Ron Dellums that some of us older activists had for years considered the inspirational progressive voice when it came to Vietnam, Central America, South Africa, Iraq, and much more related to foreign policy. This is the same Ron Dellums who took on critical domestic issues such as basic civil rights, labor rights, and national health care. For these things, Ron Dellums commands and deserves the respect and good will of the progressive community—including me.

However, what troubles me: does he really think that Oakland has undergone some kind of citizen integration with local government? What results do we have to show for such an assertion? Frankly, it sounds like exaggeration and wishful thinking. I do share the wish and think there is much more to do before we get there.

The other main point Mr. Dellums kept repeating was that Oakland is a model city. During his speech he kept returning to this same theme. He claimed that certain ideas were first proposed by Oakland or that Oakland is in the lead in the region, state, nation and even internationally. Yes, we are in the lead in the submission of grant proposals on these issues. If Ron's numbers are correct, this is great. On the other hand, I somehow doubt that Oakland is the only place that told the Obama administration that we wanted to use short term stimulus funds to enhance the City’s long term fiscal position—with which I agree. It is the responsible way to use these funds.
The Model City claim is a stretch at best and distracted attention from the great fund raising job they are doing. What is important, however, is not if we are a model, but if we are doing the right thing well. According to Ron we are doing quite well. According to me we could be doing a lot better—and we should.

The laundry list of accomplishments continued—over and over for three times.

Along with the re-runs of greatest hits, Mr. Dellums then gave us a historical overview. The tone was something I was taught to understand as "triumphal-ism," as he listed all the great things done so far. Well, what do we expect from a Mayor?

If I get the job, remind me to keep my speeches humble and less self congratulatory.

Dellums did list a few of the things I have mentioned to people that he has done well, such as the Business Assistance Center and the Mayor's office outreach to offenders. He told us about the funding we have received, but did not give a total or breakdown. I wish he would have, as it is a main accomplishment of his administration.

Mr. Dellums also said that some things may not be as good as they look, such as stating the crime rate went down 10%. It probably has, as crime is down across much of the country. Consider, though, that there is a big difference between the actual crime rate and the reported crime rate. As the guy on the street who feels the difference—or lack of difference—in the areas I go, we are still not as safe as we need to be. Nonetheless, a reduction in crime is welcome, and if certain Dellums polices are shown to be the cause, we should pay attention.

Continuing, Mr. Dellums implied that employment has increased. I’ll pass here to look at the transcript before saying much more. Has employment in Oakland increased during this depression? And, if so, who has it increased for? This seems counter to the huge jump in foreclosures? Or, was he just talking about a certain sector, say the public sector, or developers? Whatever he was trying to say, he did not talk about the foreclosure crisis that we see daily in our neighborhoods.

Throughout Mr. Dellums repetitious speech, he appeared to be reading, even halting on occasion, from a script using language that sounded as if it was lifted directly from the grants they have been writing. The list included some small items such as Christmas Presents for the poor. Sometimes his wonderful voice did not even stop on the periods. Other times he interrupted his droning presentation, perking up on subjects he was most passionate about. It was at these times the Dellums we all love came out, shone brightly, and was in strong form, such as when he advocated for national health care.

Listening to Dellums list, I feel there are about 15 items that a Mayoral candidate should go on campaign with. Not a political election campaign, but a public mobilization campaign. This is the kind of thing that inspired me to run for mayor in the first place. I'd love to take our parolee recidivism program and advocate for it in every corner of the city, including churches, community meetings, and business groups. I’d like to do the same with re-instituting and building up our full service—or Beacon and Healthy Start—school environments. As an active community member the Mayor's office should have been selling me these ideas a long time ago. This is my view of what the job entails.

Eventually, though, the discourse was just too long and people started to leave.

By coincidence, I was sitting with a group of Spanish speaking truck drivers who had come to applaud Ron for getting them extra funding for truck exhaust filters to meet the new air pollution regulations at the Port. Yet, when their moment came to cheer, only four were still there, most had left including the guy with the banner and the rest on the bench next to me.

BTW, if I do get the Mayor’s job, please remind me to keep speeches short and use them to sum up reports, not repeat them.

As someone who has never been to a State of the City event, I had some other questions besides why the speech was so long and repetitive.

Such as, where was the rest of City Council?
Quan, Bruener, and Kaplan had front row seats.
Our Auditor, School Commissioner, City Administrator, police and fire chiefs were obvious, but not the city attorney nor the other five members of council. I think I saw the director of CEDA and the City Clerk. So where were the other five members of Council and the City Attorney, among others?

Hey, if I could make it, why not them?

Let me guess. Mondays don't work for them? Or, maybe they watched on streaming video? Did they avoid the limelight and sit in the back incognito? Or, did I just miss them?

At the end there were lots of thanks and praise for just about everyone from Barbara Lee, Sandre Swanson, Loni Hancock, and Barbra Boxer, to Dianne Feinstein and the Council members present. Mr. Dellums wife Cindy got lots of thanks; as did Rebecca Kaplan who he called his "spiritual adviser."

For the Council members present, the praise was lavish. For those not present, not so much. Why? Could someone with more familiarity with this ceremony please tell us why?

At the beginning and end of his address, our Mayor made it clear that he does not think Oakland has the resources it needs to confront its challenges. Mr. Dellums solution is to fill the gap with Public-Private Partnerships, grants, such as those from the Recovery Act, and philanthropy. It is clear that some outside fund-raising may be necessary.

What is not clear is the “legacy costs”—the “strings attached”—to the residents of Oakland, and future generations, in the form of “partnerships” that favor “private” interest more than “public” interest. Protecting public interest first, while seeking additional forms of funding, will hopefully provide some relief so that we can establish a realistic long-term budget process that will sustain us in good times and bad.

As for the notion of Oakland as a Model City, I think two things:

1, let's make sure we search for good ideas that others have started and found successful

2, we should concentrate on getting things done well first and let others decide for themselves if we are a model city.

For excerpts of the show, check out these clips:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

True Community Policing Means Restorative Justice

If you want to understand how our City’s crime issues are linked to social service cutbacks, you should ask an Oakland police officer.

Community Policing has become one of those "assumed good things" that we all are supposed to support. But what do we mean by community policing? Does it mean we should be happy with just having a police officer at a community meeting, or on the street? Is a beat cop the whole story? Is there a role for the community beyond being informants?

My view of Community Policing has to do with merging community values and existing statues. Local communities need to be involved in helping community youth become aware and understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Does this mean that the local community can ignore what is illegal? No, of course not, and no credible advocate of Community Policing suggests otherwise. The question then becomes one of priorities, an appropriate and proportional response, and what we are asking law breakers to do for their community.

I think we all agree that we want law breakers to stop breaking the law—for the betterment of all involved. Almost everyone believes there should be some form of discipline, restitution to victims, and intention for criminals to start a new life pulling their own weight with a job and proper support. But, this requires thinking differently about the issue.

This is where Restorative Justice comes in. Restorative Justice (RJ) is a philosophy that believes in the power and influence of individual communities to work together toward improving the lives of everyone living in that community. In practice, RJ is collaboration between the perpetrator, the perpetrator's family, local neighbors, the DA and the police, and local government. The mechanism is a community meeting in lieu of a trial where the victim is part of the process and their needs are taken into account. One of the assumptions here is that the accused is taking responsibility for their crime without a legal defense.

How does RJ help communities? With a team of neighborhood members and community-based organizations working in collaboration with law enforcement and city officials, an integration plan is established to get the perpetrator re-integrated in society via a job, some form of training, or back in school. At the same time, a restitution plan is created where the perpetrator makes restitution to the victim. The result: Our police, courts, and jails are freed up to deal with those who really need them and are indeed dangerous to society.

Restorative Justice is a way for the community to set the terms of its own restoration. It is a way separating out social issues from hardcore criminal issues. It is a nuanced way of dealing with criminal issues that allows police to enforce serious crime while providing those in need with humane social solutions and services that divert them away from jails and back into our communities as functional members.

So what would that police officer tell you about our social services?

Our former Police Chief Richard Word said that there is at least one of four elements common to most of the crimes we see in Oakland. He cited the following four elements:

  • Parolee Recidivism: most California parolees will re-offend and go back to jail. We have the worst rate in the nation.
  • School Truancy: a high percentage of our high school students are chronically out of school and on our streets.
  • Homelessness: is another layer of society with little or nothing to loose and no support for their mental health or substance abuse issues.
  • Substance Abuse: informs many social problems, motivates people into sex work, and is a big part of gang life, domestic violence, and homelessness.

Chief Word went on to describe how cutbacks to social services in every one of these four areas has significantly increased the load on police while reducing alternatives for police in dealing with what are often medical and social problems. In short, Oakland has substantial public health challenges masking as criminal issues.

I was very impressed with what he said that day, and I have continued to ask Chief Word’s questions of every politician who has spoken at the Oakland Chamber Of Commerce’s monthly "Inside Oakland" meetings in the years since. I have something of a reputation for asking hard questions there, but in fact I am only asking Word's question: What are you going to do about it? The answers have not been inspiring.

Another officer I really respect is Trent Thompson. He is a "problem solving community officer," and my neighborhood is on his beat. My neighborhood has a few of the seriously emotionally disturbed street people that get right in your face at various business doorways. Officer Thompson was honest with us about how little gets done when the police use the 5150 rule to have someone evaluated by the County for mental health issues. His view was that the County has standing room only, and they put everyone back onto the street in a matter of hours. Check out the following link for more information:

According to another candid police officer, Captain Anthony Toribio, about half of murder victim families and friends do not cooperate with police investigations. If this is not a sign of a community and police trust issue, I do not know what is. He went on to state that there are about 2,100 crime report cases every month that are shelved because there is no way to investigate the cases. He let us know that for the 1,300 Oaklanders on Parole, most of who—statistically—are expected to go back to jail, he has five ankle bracelets. Is this an image of abundant public services? My son asked him what it would take for the police to have enough resources to deal with the issues in his district, but he was abruptly cut off by Jane Breuner telling us that we will need to do deep Measure Y cuts in police, and other cuts, unless we—of course—vote for her next tax increase.

It needs to be clearly stated: social services and diversion programs do not add up to full community policing, not even with beat officers and more community outreach officers. Oakland is way behind in this regard.

But, the community has to let its voice be heard. One of the things that our local NCPC does, albeit informally, is to set priorities for the month. Our communities need to set their priorities, neighborhood by neighborhood, and become part of establishing standards.

How is this done? There is no easy answer, but there are some obvious questions that tell us where to look first. Local community groups will tell you how they have been asked for their opinions before—only to be ignored. Others will point out how laws are made that are woefully unfair to minority groups and to the poor. That crack cocaine penalties are so much higher than those for powder cocaine penalties is only now being fixed—maybe. This is of course after decades of sentencing young men to long prison terms.
What kind of a democracy adopts laws that alienate so many people? How can the community feel like they are part of the law when it is so unfairly applied to them?

The road to community policing starts with the community. Restorative Justice is a way to include communities in policing initiatives that empower and fairly benefit the majority of Oakland’s citizens.

Ideas from a Place Called "The World"

Recently, I was discussing our new voting system here in Oakland with an informed person whose opinions I value. He believes the Instant Runoff Voting Oakland will use in November will favor incumbents. His statement surprised me, so we started chatting about it.

I mentioned to him that most places in the world use proportional representation. He looked a bit confused and repeated "the world," as if he was not really familiar with it. Hopefully this was a joke, as I plan to introduce ideas from "the world" throughout my mayoral campaign. Surprising to some, interesting things happen out in the white space around the map of the USA. Some examples:

Proportional Representation
Let’s consider Proportional Representation. This is the radical idea—to some of Oakland’s political insiders—that your vote will get counted and your group will get seats (say on the City Council) equal to the percentage of votes. Proportional representation is the law in little places like Germany and Mexico. Considering Mexico, one needs to ask where Mr. De La Fuente is coming from by saying that IRV will confuse Latinos. Mexico and most of Latin America use proportional representation, constitutional mandates, and term limits. And, all Mexican elections term incumbents out. I believe Oakland’s Latin American voters have a more sophisticated voting background than we do. They also have something we do not: opposition political groups that actually get elected. Is it possible that Mr. De La Fuente is confused?

Regional Transit
Our current public transit system is an embarrassment. The competition, turf wars, and lack of coordination around the Bay Area transit districts—with vague overlapping authorities—is a bigger mess than most of us even know. One could visit other cities inside and outside of the USA and find transit that is actually integrated and works well together. A key leadership priority for Oakland’s next mayor is to demand better overall planning while vigorously opposing the amateur pet projects that abound in the current leadership vacuum under which citizens suffer. We can look from Portland to Moscow and find better public transit options than our own. Maybe we should stop and have a look.

Restorative Justice
This is the idea that a community can often deal with young people involved in crimes better than putting them into institutions. A common form of RJ is to have a community meeting with a youth who has chosen to acknowledge their issues and participate in a diversion plan. The meeting is open to all community and neighborhood members, including the crime victims, the family, and representatives of the Police and the City and/or County. Then a restoration plan is made for the offender that involves restitution and integration into the community. This often appears as some sort of pay back or punishment or some kind of work and school. But, guess what? It works! This is being done in Wellington New Zealand very well. Other cities around the world invite the Wellington Police to advise them. We should too. Other programs as close as San Jose work well too.

So, it turns out that "the world" is a rich place with many excellent and proven ideas to examine. Let's keep this in mind as we try to solve Oakland’s most important issues and harvest its yet undiscovered and richest of opportunities—its citizens.

More than anything else, as Mayor I want to break with the rhetoric of “American Exceptional-ism” that we hear so much of when the established politicos hide their ineffectiveness behind the flag. We have been told all our lives that America is so superior and so different that only our own ideas work here and everyone else in the whole world is really not doing things as well as we do, and some clearly are not. But, if holding truly democratic elections, designing better transit, and ensuring better public health for all citizens is important, then we should not fear exercising the leadership necessary to look to "the world" for good ideas—were connected much more than you may think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More information on the impound scams: DUI checkpoints

The following was on my local North Oakland Voters list server: The Profitable Checkpoint Business Posted by: "Sherman Kassof" heevay Sat Feb 13, 2010 10:42 pm (PST) Have a look at the NY Times article below. Apparently the Oakland police are up to their eyeballs in this business.

I was out driving around last night and ran into one of these. In Rockridge? Lakeshore? Golf Links Road? Temescal? Not a chance. At 85th and East 14th St. is where it was. Hey why don't a few of us enterprising types offer to run these operations for the police on a contract basis, much like the company in Australia that runs a very large chunk of the red light cameras in California. We need some walking around money too and there's enough for everyone. It will leave the police the leeway and leisure to generate those much-craved, up to the minute crime occurrence maps. There are are more than a few currently unemployed former Blackwater functionaries now available at an attractive rate of pay. And an unlimited number of underclassmen out there to pounce upon. Purely in the interest of road safety and general good order. But really the police should be more proactive in being sure that family members who come running to them with a wad of cash do not get stuck up or murdered before getting a chance to deliver it. You don't need an MBA to see that that's a reasonable idea. But, granted, a quibble.

Sherman 66th Street

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

and parking is still a problem

There are times I feel like there are three reasons people do not shop in Oakland.
Crime, homelessness and parking.

Of course it is much more complicated than that, but those three keep getting mention everywhere I go. Tonight I went to two different community meetings for two different reasons. One was talking about their local Walgreen's and being a location for Buss Rapid Transit. The other was a crime prevention council that also was going to see a presentation on new local zoning.

In both meetings parking was a big concern. We heard a story from a woman who has received two 80 dollar tickets blocking her own driveway. I heard merchants talking about how high ticket prices are driving customers away. To throw in my own story, one of the guys at work got a ticket for blocking the sidewalk because he parked his tiny little car in our own driveway. That was a 100 dollar ticket and they were getting ready to tow him away! The guy giving out the ticket made it clear that he felt the stepped up towing is just stepped up tax collection.

This regressive tax is both bad for working people and is hurting business. Because of it I have been participating in a group of small business owners who are considering a ballot initiative to get Oakland out of the parking and towing racket. Earlier I wrote a letter to the Tribune that got me some hot water.

Here is what I wrote for the group below that is the original letter to the Trib:

Archie and everyone,

I have been a politician for 6 days now so I have to make my answer long.

I am in this group with you all because I want parking to be reformed.
As I wrote to the Tribune, this is one of those things that should have never made it to the public forum.
Only a council that is so woefully out of touch would do such a thing. That is our council.
Once again we have a reputation problem that needs some repair. The damage has been done.

Our city Administrator called this a "nuisance tax" and for him it was just an emotional surprise to pay $2 an hour.
But he did not understand something very basic.

So I am very much in favor of dumping parking meters and reforming parking along the lines of the proposal we have so far.
I think we need some legal and community input to come up with a final draft.

The tax structure is basically broken. The city has few choices.
I would not mind asking the citizens to vote in a tax hike in exchange for un-metered parking.
But first we need to know how much they make NET on this deal. I still have not seen a firm figure.

We lost a lot of business because of this round of short sighted money grubbing and because city parking has become such a hassle everywhere.
I have heard a lot of people tell me that they will not shop in Oakland for three reasons: Crime, homelessness and parking.
It may be better to dump meters in one measure and fix more of the tax system in another where we usually need a super majority.
A lawyer's help is needed here. I think we need a super majority to raise the sales tax too.

My feeling is that since all the other cities have gone the other way, if Oakland kills the meter and then pairs it up with some other encouragements this could be very good for business. The PR value of voting out the parking meter is great. It would be national news. EVERYONE in the bay area would know it. Since we do not know the numbers and it is only speculation, we can only guess what the natural growth in sales tax receipts for the city would be. Whatever it is, we should encourage it.

On a personal note, my girlfriend got victimized by the bounty hunter, car towing system.
She is a single mom who lent her car to someone irresponsible who racked up a lot of parking tickets over a couple of weeks.
There was no way she could afford the fines and she could not afford to go down to court at 5 in the morning to wait in line.
There is no way for her to make the other person responsible or to get the tickets onto a payment schedule.
So one day her car was gone. Some bounty hunter stole her car like a repo man right outside my apartment.
She could not afford to get it back and she lost her car.
And there she was, a single mom between jobs who now did not have a car and had big fines to pay.
I had to help her get to the impound lot where she was not even allowed to see car.
I helped her deal with the kids so she could wait in that 5 AM line.
She had to fill out a form and anything she could not remember in the car, was forfeited too by default.

The very simple thing that Dan the Administrator has forgotten is that for him it is a nuisance.
He is an affluent, influential city official, businessman and former congressional aide from Berkeley.
But for a single mom like my girlfriend this "nuisance" is called a "hardship" She lost her car and it hurt her badly.

As I looked deeper into what was going on here I found lines full of common working people like my girlfriend going through similar hardships due to this "nuisance tax"
I did not see any lawyers from Berkeley loosing their BMW's because of a $55 ticket plus fines and late fees. Maybe I missed them.

Maybe Dan thinks having your car taken and the property within it under the control of a bounty hunter with a tow truck is due process.
They really do need to steal the cars like repo-men. This is good for nobody.
Did anyone see that this week a repo-man stole a car and it turned out to have a child inside?
I think that was East Bay too. Is this due process? Let them serve papers if they want to seize property.

You all probably know that I am a Green. Like most Greens I believe in Mass Transit.
Long term I'd like to see most cars parked most of the time. Personally I walk to work and bike a lot.

I also believe in a well funded stable government.
We are sick of having to save our government every time the business cycle goes down.

But the transit has to go in before the cars go out.
Taking working peoples transportation away does not help transit, it just hurts workers.

And if we need to raise more taxes, let's do it fairly without causing hardships for those who can afford it least.

So does that answer the question?


510 866-7488


To the Tribune last year:

Monday, August 10, 2009


Of all the problems that Oakland has, now we have a parking crisis?

What does one say? This parking crisis is one of our own making. It is hard to stay respectful and polite when our members of city council do something so short sighted.

It is not just the 50 cents an hour; it is not just the extra hours until 8 PM; it is not just the higher ticket prices. It is the feeling that “gotchya” and anything-goes-for-a-buck is the way they feel. That is what gets most under the skin.

They sometimes call us shoppers, sometimes call us residents, some time call us taxpayers, but the sure do not treat us like citizens. They treat us like someone to milk because the get away with it.

Most of our council did not run in a contested race to get their job. All but one of the council members represents a district that has nothing to do with where the people of Oakland live, except to make sure that some of those who live in the hills live in each district. But how do they get so out of touch with what it is like to live and work here?

A friend was telling me yesterday that a customer who got a ticket while in her café came back into the café and told her that she will never come back again. The café owner is in no way responsible for Oakland parking policies, but the anger and frustration of the client was very understandable. We who run businesses in Oakland get to hear how angry the citizens who get caught in the trap feel.

Parking tickets were never a very friendly way to raise funds. The way Oakland does it is something of a trap. It is set up to make it hard on the driver and increase the opportunities to ticket rather than collect parking fees.

When fees and tickets are as aggressive as ours have become, well people notice and they do not care much about the explanations. No one likes to get tricked and cheated. To get one of these tickets is to feel robbed and violated. A 75$ surcharge for a cup of coffee is reason enough to not come to Oakland in the first place. If you live in Oakland and have gotten into your car, $75 is reason enough to drive out of Oakland to a place you can park your car without running the gauntlet. Somewhere like Emeryville, Berkeley or San Leandro for example.

We know this “gotchya” feeling already. Oakland council found it in their hearts to stick it to landlords for damaged sidewalks and then do it again if there is a lawsuit. Is that different from how the credit card companies do their best to send bills out as late as possible and up your interested rate for a few hours past due? Newer home and business owners get to pay higher taxes than the old big money under Prop 13 tax “reform”. Yeah we all know the sound of “gotchya”

Now Oakland has made parking your car in our city have that same sound.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Public meeting on a grand plan for Broadway

The Broadway / Valdez District Specific Plan is another way of saying that the city wants to build, or have built, a large shopping area on Broadway located near where the Broadway Auto Row is now going out of business. This is a project and presentation brought to you by CEDA, the Community and Economic Development Agency. Those are the folks who control most of the half billion dollars we cannot reallocate in the City budget. The Redevelopment Committee is our City Council. Each week they meet on Tuesday as representatives of both groups. Sound weird? It is.

Community workshop #3 was held in the old church on the corner of 27th and Broadway. Of the about 200 people there to watch a Power Point presentation, about seven were African American. The presenters distributed Chinese versions of the handout, with interpreting services available for the 25 or so Chinese individuals in attendance.
Almost everyone else was white.

After settling in the planners discussed their proposed three alternatives for each of the two areas, Broadway and Valdez Triangle. The project is described at The presenter spoke highly of downtown Walnut Creek, Bay Street, and San Francisco as models, saying that the proposed shopping would be a “major destination for comparison goods retail.”

The CEDA plan is very detailed and involves developers and big businesses tearing out, or “redeveloping,” the neighborhood and building several larger, multi-story buildings. Each of the three alternatives for Broadway and Valdez contains details for where the hotel will be, and where the "anchor" (big box) will be, etc. The CEDA plans account for pedestrian ways, public squares, and park access. But, what about the other essential public interest areas?

Public bathrooms? Not mentioned. Public safety? Also not mentioned. The plan gets into specifics of where the parking garages will be and how they will look. And, there are several ideas for adequate parking and and photos of inadequate methods for the treatment of the run off water. How do we get so specific on planter boxes when we do not know the business name on the the front door?

However, additional questions come to mind. Wasn't there once a grand plan for Oakland Downtown? Where is that plan, and how is it going? What about Jack London Square? What is happening there? And, what is the status of the Uptown project now that the housing market is bust? What is to become of the residents and businesses that are there now? Oh, and if I’m not mistaken, haven't we been working on a Transit Village at Macarthur BART for about two decades? The project list is long, storied, and incomplete.

Consider the Transit Village in the Fruitvale? Is De La Fuente Street safe at night? We did hear a bit about how the Uptown Project is renting what it wanted to sell and that when the economy picks back up they hope some of that energy will flow over to Broadway / Valdez. Energy? What kind of energy? Do they mean investment? Why don't people invest now? And they plan to not request that the (as yet not named) anchors be obliged to provide mixed use because of the trouble Uptown is having selling all its units. So there is short term housing market influencing planning decisions that will shape our city for a half century at least.

Many questions come to mind along the lines of “who pays for it”? For example, how much CEDA money goes into it, and what do we get out of it during the build? Will the contractors be required to hire a certain number of Oakland residents? What deals are we going to have to offer companies—in terms of tax breaks—to open stores here? And, in order to protect Oakland’s small businesses, will they also be given the same tax breaks that developers and large retailers receive? How much “skin” will the big boxes and other companies have in the game? And, will they be required to reimburse the financial tax and other incentives to Oakland’s citizens if they leave early—or fail to live up to their agreements, such as training and hiring locally?

The pathway seems to be that the city will allow the project to be built through zoning and planning. They also will put in some money, but this was not being detailed at this meeting--and it should. And some property owners will be forced to sell I suppose; but at what price?

Then there is the question of customers. Do we have local citizens able to buy the buildings? Is there even one of these major corporations involved in the planning? Are any of them under contract or even in negotiation? If so, then why don't these companies plan and build their own buildings? Or will the city own this real estate when we are done?

As the CEDA presenter put it, "economists" have told them that they have to build up a certain critical mass to become an attractive destination—but for whom? In addition, some statements were made about how transit is really going to help eliminate severe auto congestion around this project. "There is going to be transit" (no details) "People will prefer to ride downtown on the bus than drive to Walnut Creek" (really? Do they do either right now?)

Not one word was spoken about the current crime and homelessness level in the area.

Somehow this whole thing just gave me pause. The longer I sat there, the more questions I had and the less I received. How much of a real plan and budget do we have for this project, and how much of this is wishful thinking? Is the idea: build it—on the taxpayers back—and they will come? I sure hope that the background thinking has more substance than the explanations I heard at the meeting—but I seriously doubt it.

Since it was a work and school night for me and my family, I cut out during intermission and missed the questions. Having lived in the area for most of 10 years I knew how to cut straight out of the building to Broadway. That surprised the homeless man sleeping in the doorway.