Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oakland Mayor Questions Hunger & Poverty Issues Forum

Oakland Mayor Questions Hunger & Poverty Issues Forum

Response from Donald L Macleay, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Oakland.

1. 1 in 6 Alameda County residents rely on the Food Bank to help meet their basic needs. Oakland’s poverty rate is 17.2% while the child poverty rate is 25.2%.

• What is your general philosophy of local government’s role and responsibility in helping families move out of poverty and achieve self sufficiency?

I believe in employment with a living wage as a human right. I do not agree with the kinds of philosophies that treat the poor as the cause of poverty.

It is the powerful and the affluent who run our economy and to blame the poor for not having jobs or treating them as if they have some kind of inherent deficiency in their character, education or personal habits is to shift attention away from those who are responsible for the economic mess the country is in right now.

The problem is not the unemployed not having what it takes to find employment, the problem is the employers not doing what it takes to provide employment.

So what is a city to do about it? Engage the employers and potential employers and become an employer ourselves. We need to have jobs programs and we need to have jobs. We need to make part of the price of receiving any money from our city, our school district, our port and our redevelopment agency the provision of jobs for our people. Not the promise to try to employ locally, not some kind of vague set aside or goal, just flat out employment. Any employer should know that there is one thing that the city wants out of them at all times and that is jobs.

If I become mayor, the business owner that comes through my office door with a proposal that does not include jobs will be making a serious mistake.

• In your view, what is the key to ensuring social equity so that children and families have an equal opportunity to succeed?

We need more than an equal opportunity to succeed. We need a place for every child.
We need schools to have a place for every child, graduation be a goal for every child, security be a goal for every child. Our public schools adult education and our Peralta Junior College district need to make a place for everyone who can get employed to study what they need to keep employed.

Families poverty and/or crisis need support and not admonishment or arrogant “education”.

Families need health care, food, housing, transit and help with marital crisis, substance abuse, truancy, and other common events in our 21st century lives.

The current public environment treats those in need of support as somehow unworthily losers in a winners and losers society. Every step we take towards this post Reganomic anti-social behavior towards families in need is another step we take towards impoverishing our whole country and weakening our sense of community.

We need to go back to a sense of social solidarity. We need to see ourselves in every child in need, every family in need. We need to see how a healthy society cares for us all and raises the standards for everyone in the process. Because we no longer do that we have won a race to the bottom and find our social indicators in education, health, housing and employment lower than all of Canada, Japan, and our European partners. The only social indicator we score higher than a third world nation on is crime, especially violent crime, which can be up to 10 times the level of any other G7 nation.

The key for us now is to understand that the affluent need to contribute more and get less for it and that the bulk of our resources to support families must be spent on those who need them most. This is an old idea and it remains essential.

• How would you leverage resources to assist seniors on fixed incomes in meeting their basic needs?

I am for sliding scale tax relief. Housing is a number one expense for most of seniors and everyone else. I would like to see seniors relieved from any property tax at all. They could carry that to a place that they rent and pass through the credit, both helping the landlord and providing lower rent to the senior. This is but an example of the kind of targeted taxation that could help our community.

2. Only slightly over half of eligible families in Alameda County are participating in the Federal Food Stamp Program. The Food Bank employs a large staff to expressly assist hundreds of clients each month to access this nutrition assistance program. Most of the people we serve at the Food Bank do not know that Food Stamps are an option to provide nutritious food for their families.

• What can the City of Oakland do to ensure that eligible residents are participating in the Food Stamp Program?

This number surprises me (I did not know it was that high) and is upsetting for two reasons. First is that means many families could be receiving help and may be suffering hardships when relief is available. Second is that we need this revenue circulating in our local economy.

Instead of telling people active in this area what I think that they should do, I will ASK them what they would like the city to do to help them get all eligible residents on the program and then do it for them. As mayor I would lead the fight and make all the public noise necessary taking the leadership from the grass roots who really know what we should be doing.

3. Over 50% of food distributed by the Food Bank is fresh fruits and vegetables. The food sector in Oakland is important to the local economy and the food available in Oakland is an important determinant of health. Many residents do not have access to local, healthy foods, which contributes to health inequities.

• How do you see the food sector fitting into economic development and job creation in Oakland?

The “food sector” means many things. Farmer’s markets and other businesses that bring food directly from farm to city are helpful and have many side benefits. Growing food ourselves in the city is also very viable (we can grow a lot more than just marijuana indoors) and we need to address the neighborhoods that are not served with good grocery and produce stores, often abandoned by the big food chains.

There is not one part of this that does not benefit our local economy and breathe more vitality into our neighborhoods and community at large.

• How will you insure that such development also provides improvements to the Oakland food system?

I am not sure we have a food system. We mostly have a “food market” dominated by large retail corporations. What we need is to make from that a food system that includes zoning and permitting to meet our neighborhood needs. I would like to see zoning that allows everyone in the city to walk to a convenient store to buy quality foods at a decent price.

• How would you help create a regulatory environment that supports alternative food access points, such as food trucks or farmer’s markets?

The city has a lot of control here and can set the ground rules in most cases. The city can also be “”very convincing” if it takes an active role demanding that the county and state apply their rules in a practical and prompt fashion.

• How can the City of Oakland provide access to the capital needed to encourage these small businesses?

For one, we could lend it to them. Currently the city spends half a billion a year on “redevelopment” almost always defined as building oversized projects contracted to developers. If we can redefine a part of that money to providing support for all of our small businesses, (not just the new ones or the ones we like most) we could set up some revolving low cost funding.

For another, we can spend it for them. Another part of the redevelopment funds should be pointed towards infrastructure that helps us all. That includes transit, transit centers (buss and/or BART with better facilities) Business distinct facilities such as safe centers and clean, safe public restrooms. If we want people to come to work, shop, go to school and basically live in a reduced car world, we need to find a place to leave the car. Parking, especially parking in residential areas and at transit centers will be key to this kind of development.

There are departments of the city that do some of this already. I think we can do it better and I like what has been done so far with the Business Assistance Center. Just like we need to be getting the families eligible for food stamps on the program, we need to get our local businesses, especially the small businesses, on the kind of programs they could qualify for. This is not just loans, there is also help with health benefits, adding employees, and getting those local government bids and sub-contracts, for example.

With the right infrastructure, and it is less than we are spending now, and good zoning, permitting and public safety these businesses will thrive and we will see much more commercial life in our neighborhoods.

4. The Summer Lunch Program is a program that provides food to children when school is out of session during the summer months. In California, we have some of the lowest utilization rates of this federally funded nutrition program, with only 27% of those eligible participating in 2008.

• How would you work to increase the number of sites where children can eat summer meals?

. I am an advocate of turning most of our schools, parks, libraries and other publicly owned facilities into community centers. By doing this we can provide more services and more opportunities to locate community groups around the city. This is large project and I will skip the major outline and jump to the food program as an example.

By having community centers located all around the city with the goal of having at least one located in walking distance from everyone’s one, we now have a place to operate something like a summer meal program. It can be right where the other summer programs are. By being a multi outreach facility right in the community we will be best placed to find those who qualify and get them connected to the center that serves them. My idea is to have each center have its community outreach group who canvases the neighborhood on all manner of subjects from adult education, getting people signed up for library cards, earthquake preparedness and vaccinations.

• How would you work to improve the quality of the meals provided?

I was not aware that this was more than a policy issue. Is there a price difference? Does there always have to be? Again, I would look to the food policy activists to explain to their mayor what obstacles they face and find a way to help them.

How would you work to increase local food purchasing and leverage the purchasing power of the city?

Going back to the concept of public property as civic centers I think there is more than enough room for the city to put some conditions on access to the markets we set up and fund. We also need to make sure we are respecting the rights of food stamp and other program participants to make their own choices. The participants also have to be partners in health for any project in food price, availability and quality to work.

Note that these ideas are not really my own. Much of what I have described here above is already taking place here in Oakland. My son’s own school has a farmer’s market on site. What I bring to this discussion is a sense of priority and the willingness to place conditions on our private sector partners to make sure we get these markets and programs out to the less served areas. For example, I would make it a condition of having a booth at a highly lucrative farmers market to also turn up and serve a farmer’s market we are trying to establish in another neighborhood.

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