Archive for the ‘Planning & Politics’ Category


Some more on the Safeway saga….

July 22, 2009

[So this is a little late in the game since we’ve been away and I’ve had no time to work on anything….but I at least wanted to get an abbreviated version of this up while it’s still relevant! I also wanted to say kudos to everyone who went to last Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting—I was very, very worried that we were missing this meeting and afraid that no one would show up. But people did, and they said exactly the right things—yay!]

So, as just about everyone in Oakland knows at this point, Safeway is currently “lifestyling” its Northern California stores. We have two Safeway stores near us: one on Grand that’s already been lifestyled (albeit to a much lower-key standard than the projects currently underway), and one on Pleasant Valley that’s in the throes of the process now. I’ve actually been looking forward to this project for a while, because I hate-hate-hate the Pleasant Valley Safeway and the associated strip mall that surrounds it. It sits at the intersection of two major urban corridors barely two miles from downtown Oakland, and yet it’s designed as if it’s out in the middle of Pleasanton. (Actually, that might be unfair to Pleasanton!)

I guess this isn’t entirely surprising—after all, much of the retail that was built around the time this Safeway went in looks something like a suburban strip mall. Check out the former Safeway (now Grocery Outlet) on Auto Row at the corner of 29th and Broadway, for instance—it was the cat’s meow when it opened in the 1960s, but today it sticks out like a sore thumb with its massive surface parking lot along the street. And don’t get me started on the Kaiser M/B Center, which used to be a suburban-style mall anchored by Mayfair Market, a Bay Area supermarket chain. (Interestingly, the M/B Center was built in the mid-1960s to replace a 1930s-era Arthur Williams grocery store that was one of the first supermarkets to open in California and one of the first in the nation to have a surface parking lot. What a long, strange trip it’s been since then…) Thankfully, the M/B Center is currently being demolished to make way for the new Kaiser Hospital—a little more is gone every day!

So, yeah. Sadly my excitement waned pretty quickly once I got a look at Safeway’s vision for the renovated plaza. Basically, it’s more of the same. I won’t spend a lot of time attacking it, since you can find plenty of good summaries of the problems—along with proposals for alternative designs—in other places in the blogoaksphere. But I did want to take a moment to weigh in on the bike and pedestrian problems with the proposal, since I think we’re in the minority of Oaklanders who currently bike and even occasionally walk to this plaza, and would do so much more frequently if it were actually safe to be a cyclist or pedestrian there.

Currently, there are two places for pedestrians to cross this stretch of Broadway: one at Broadway and 51st on both sides of the intersection, and one just past the College and Broadway intersection at the entrance to CCA. That means that if you’re a pedestrian who’s headed to the Safeway plaza, there’s a good chance you’re doing this:


Can you spot the pedestrian?


How about here, en route from from Safeway over to Wendy's?


Luckily, cars yield to pedestrians here....most of the time.


If you're gutsy enough, you can just see what happens when you step into the street.

Then there are the bikers. We periodically bike to the Safeway plaza from both Broadway and Gilbert, so I can vouch for the horrible-ness of this entire section of the city for bikers. (As a result, I often end up taking the car if I’m headed to Super Long’s, even if I’m not hauling things back with me.) Some key issues:

  • If you’re coming from College, your best bet is to turn left against traffic into the Safeway service vehicle entrance and parking lot exit, which means crossing multiple lanes of Broadway very quickly. This isn’t exactly illegal—cars periodically do it too—but it also isn’t exactly safe, and it dumps you into the Safeway service entrance, where there are occasionally huge trucks that aren’t watching for entering traffic. (There is a median on Broadway that is often used as a refuge, but it’s not intended—or wide enough—for bikes and peds, who aren’t supposed to be crossing here.) The problem is that the only other option is to continue through to the light at 51st Street and loop around to the Pleasant Valley entrance. Sure, it’s what cars do with no trouble, but it’s quite far out of the way (and up a hill) for bikers, and it drops you straight into the traffic jam that is the Safeway parking lot, with cars coming at you from five or more directions and no designated pedestrian path. So I’ll take my chances on Broadway, where at least you can see the oncoming traffic.
  • If you’re coming from Gilbert and headed into the Safeway parking lot—the approach I like best—you’re in better shape because you have a light. The problem is that cars are rarely watching for you, and they’re all trying to get into or out of the parking lot (or through to Piedmont or Broadway). On more than one occasion, I’ve nearly been hit by someone not paying attention when there was absolutely no question that I had the right of way and the light. Pedestrians, unfortunately, have similar challenges at this intersection. And, again, you end up in the Safeway parking lot with traffic coming from all directions, and have to cross most of the parking lot to reach any place where you can lock up a bike.
  • Not directly a Safeway issue, but bike access from Broadway to College is something of a mess too. On the upside, there are legal ways to get to and from College—but they’re primarily designed for cars, and if you’re a biker heading north on Broadway or over to College from Pleasant Valley, you need to be brave about taking the lane to get over to College or onto 51st, and I regularly encounter drivers who are unhappy about having bikes in their midst. I often see bikers give up and use the crosswalk instead, which is fine—but which shouldn’t be required in order to get across. Safeway can’t fix this by themselves, but rehabbing the plaza is a key opportunity to make sure that the entrances and traffic patterns are in the right places to facilitate better overall traffic flow for both cars and transit and safer conditions for bikes and peds.


Go, bike, go!


Luckily, this isn't a U-turn. Exactly.

In fairness, these are all photos of bikes and peds doing bad, bad things (or at least less-than-safe things)—and there are safer, legal ways to get across if you’re willing to go a bit out of your way. But they’re indicative of some bigger problems—namely, a lack of safe, legal ways to get to and from Safeway along the paths that many, many people want to follow—none of which are addressed by the currently proposed plans.

We should be holding Safeway to a much higher standard than simply maintaining the status quo. Fixing Broadway and Pleasant Valley won’t be fun, but it’s essential—and it’s likely to be the only opportunity to do it that will come our way for another forty years.

At a minimum, we should insist that Safeway work with the City to tackle the traffic by:

  • Reorienting buildings along Broadway to face the street (and taking down the Chase building while they’re at it) and encouraging tenants in these spaces that will draw pedestrians and bikers (e.g., restaurants, coffee shops, retailers whose wares don’t require cars);
  • Creating safe entry and exit points explicitly designed for pedestrians and bicyclists on both Pleasant Valley and Broadway, and creating ways for bicyclists and pedestrians to access bike parking and sidewalks without crossing multiple rows of open surface parking;
  • Integrating structured parking into the plan for this plaza to create space to reorient buildings and provide this safe walking and cycling access;
  • Working with the City and WOBO to integrate bike lanes along this stretch of Broadway that feed into the development where appropriate and aren’t adversely impeded by entering and exiting cars;
  • Working with the City and AC Transit to develop safe bus stops along both Broadway and Pleasant Valley/51st that will serve the plaza and connect to crosswalks and other pedestrian amenities (because every transit trip begins and ends with a walking trip!); and
  • Working with the City to ensure that the lane and signal configurations from the parking areas onto Broadway, Pleasant Valley, and 51st Street adequately accommodate bus routes and cyclist and pedestrian paths, especially paths to and from College and to and from the senior housing developments at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Gilbert.

Don’t get me wrong—this plaza will always need parking, especially if by some miracle the nursery and other “large item” aspects of the Super Long’s stick around post-CVS transition, as CVS now claims they will. (I’m dubious.) But there are bad ways to do parking and good ways to do parking. We already know that the parking situation in the plaza today is horrific for everyone involved. (Ever gotten stuck trying to drive out of the parking lot while someone is turning the wrong way down the one way aisle by Longs and then trying to back up into the traffic that’s trying to turn out of the parking lot and get away?? And if you inadvertently get into the aisle in front of Safeway and are a good driver who does stop for pedestrians headed into or out of the store as you are supposed to, you can be there for days…)

Suffice it to say that Safeway should not simply be “tweaking” the existing parking configuration—which is effectively what the current proposal does. They should be rethinking it altogether, and identifying creative ways to provide convenient parking while also minimizing conflicts between bikes, peds, and drivers (because it’s no accident that the bumper-fixer dudes in the truck sit in the far corner of the lot waiting for fender benders!) They should spend some time at Whole Foods, which I actually think handled parking quite skillfully given the huge number of constraints they were working with. They should talk with the City of Emeryville to learn more about modeling they recently did to envision a new East Bay Bridge Center (where Home Depot, Best Buy, and such are located—and which, incidentally, is partly in Oakland and jointly planned). The (purely imaginary, at this point) model for a future shopping center there, developed in conjunction with Emeryville’s General Plan Update to help residents imagine what an alternate future for that area could look like, called for reintroducing the street grid and building structured parking where there is currently surface parking in order to integrate housing and finer-grained retail into the existing big-box fabric to create a true neighborhood. That plaza is a much larger area, sure—but the concept would work equally well here, and the modeling helps to explain how and why.

Basically, we should be pushing Safeway to think outside the box on this one—and to understand the many ways in which developing this plaza more intensely but more intelligently will benefit both Safeway and Oakland on many levels.

There are still a few days left to submit comments to the City on the current proposal. Let the Council and Planning Commission know what you think by Monday, July 27, when the 30-day public comment period on scope of the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) ends. For more information or to offer any thoughts, critiques, or ideas, you can contact Darin Ranelletti at the City of Oakland by phone at 510-238-3663 or by email.

*All photographs in this series were taken by Paul Rosenbloom in conjunction with a Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) project, and are used with his permission. Visit WOBO’s website to learn more about their current Bike Broadway campaign for bike lanes on Broadway between downtown and Highway 24.


Oaklanders: Send back your ballots and vote YES YES YES!

June 25, 2009

Yes, it’s yet another election—but this time it’s one that actually matters! The July special election is a mail-back election, which means you need to watch the mail for your ballot and send it back right away—don’t make the mistake of losing it under a pile of junk and then finding it in August when it’s too late! (Okay, maybe that’s just our house….)

Ballots were mailed out to all registered voters in the city on Monday, June 22nd. IMPORTANT: If you haven’t received your ballot by the first week in July or if you’ve moved since the last election and haven’t changed your address yet, call the Registrar of Voters to have them send a new ballot or make other arrangements so that you can vote!

You can also still register to vote in this election if you’re new to Oakland, but you need to do it by Monday, July 6, 2009.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters
1225 Fallon Street, G-1
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 272-6933

Here’s a run-down of what you’re voting for, with my personal endorsements (which, if you don’t feel like reading all of this, are YES ON EVERYTHING!):

Measure C: Vote YES
What is it? This measure is an increase in the Oakland Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel tax). It would increase the current 11 percent tax by 3 percent (to make the new TOT 14 percent). This brings Oakland’s tax in line with the tax in surrounding communities. The tax revenue would be dedicated to the Oakland Zoo, Oakland Museum, Chabot Space & Science Center, cultural arts programs and festivals, and the Oakland Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Why yes? Oakland’s hotel tax is currently lower than those of nearby cities, so we have some wiggle room. (For reference, San Francisco’s is 14 percent, while Emeryville and Berkeley both have TOTs of 12 percent.) So I don’t foresee huge competition issues in terms of filling our hotel rooms; many travelers won’t even notice the difference. More importantly, the institutions and programs that the tax increase will support help make our city a better place to visit and to live, so my view is that the additional revenue will help the tourism industry overall. There’s also no opposition to this (even the hotel industry is on board!) so it’s pretty non-controversial.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; Oakland Zoo; Oakland Museum of California; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure D: Vote YES
What is it? This measure would change the Kids First 2 measure (Measure OO) that Oakland voters approved last November. It is sometimes referred to as the “Measure OO compromise.”  It would reduce the amount of money going to the Kids First programs from 2.5% of the total budget to 3% of the General Purpose Fund, and add a review every 12 years.

Why yes? Because Measure OO was possibly the worst measure ever and desperately needs to be fixed! This fix isn’t great, but it will help. (I’d still like to see a full repeal that would identify an alternate funding source for these programs so we wouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, but this was a Council compromise after much ado, and may be the best—and only—chance we’ll get to fix Measure OO before it takes effect.) Basically, it changes how the Kids First set-aside is calculated to relieve some of the pressure the original measure put on Oakland’s budget (and heaven knows our budget needs some help right now!) It also adds a program review process, which was a key element missing from Measure OO. You can read more about my issues with the original Measure OO here.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure F: Vote YES
What is it? Measure F would establish a new business tax rate for “cannabis businesses” (medical marijuana). These businesses are currently charged at the general tax rate ($1.20 per $1,000 of gross receipts). The new tax rate for these businesses would be $18 per $1,000 of gross receipts.

Why yes? Well, broadly this is a good thing because it’s increased revenue for Oakland and is supported by both the medical marijuana industry and the police, who are the two major players here. (In fact, there’s no opposition to this measure that I know of.) But I also think Measure F is important because it’s a first step in recognizing the role the medical marijuana industry plays in our local economy—and acknowledging that there are associated costs and helping to cover them.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure H: Vote YES
What is it? This measure would change Oakland’s Real Property Transfer Tax to clarify that businesses should pay the transfer tax (0.75% of the sales tax) when they transfer real property due to changes in ownership or control of the corporation (such as mergers and acquisitions).

Why yes? This isn’t a new tax; it just clarifies our existing tax so that residents and smaller businesses aren’t the only ones required to pay the transfer tax for change of ownership. This is particularly important right now because a number of large corporations are in the midst of mergers and acquisitions, so making this policy crystal clear will ensure that the City doesn’t lose out on any much-needed transfer tax revenue.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

*Note that not all of the area political organizations had issued positions on the ballot measures when I put this together; I’ll try to update this if I hear of other endorsements.


The 3/50 Project: Saving independent businesses

April 13, 2009

I first heard about the 3/50 Project over at De-Victorianization on Division, a house blog out of the Midwest, but I was struck by how wonderfully this national project echoed the work that’s been going on in Oakland over the past few years with campaigns like Shop Oakland, Oakland Unwrapped!, and now Oakland Grown. And I was also struck by the fact that there is not yet a single Oakland business participating in this project—not one!—in spite of the fact that Alameda, Berkeley, San Francisco, and even Walnut Creek and Danville are represented. So it seemed like it was time to spread the word!

The premise of the Minneapolis-based 3/50 Project (brainchild of Cinda Baxter at Always Upward) is that if we each picked three favorite independent businesses and spent a total of $50 across the three, we’d collectively generate $42.6 billion in revenue across the nation. (The numbers are based on the Department of Labor’s most recent employment statistics, and count only those who are currently employed.) The organizers also note the huge impact of buying from locally-owned businesses: for every $100 spent at an independent business, $68 comes back to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you buy from a chain, only $43 comes back—and if you buy online, virtually nothing comes back.

This isn’t news in Oakland, where the effort to encourage residents to buy locally has been underway for some time, and where a 2007 report estimated that the city is losing nearly a billion dollars in sales a year—yes, that’s one BILLION dollars!—to businesses based in nearby cities or online. But it’s one of the first nationally-organized efforts I’ve seen to help spread the word in a clear, easy-to-implement fashion. Buying local and independent isn’t just about the price tag; it’s about investing in your community and keeping local dollars local. Often, it’s also about minimizing your footprint and supporting smaller retailers who carry local products that haven’t been shipped across the ocean to get to you. (It’s worth noting that this is a sticky challenge for a city like Oakland, home to one of the busiest container ports in the world, with thousands of goods arriving daily from China and beyond. But I feel strongly that we can work together with ports across the United States to balance these challenges and mitigate the impact of decreased dependence on foreign goods on local economies and jobs so that we can move forward sustainably.)

Perhaps most importantly, buying local is about strengthening your neighborhood and your city by fostering businesses that employ local residents and generate local tax dollars. In California, this is especially important right now—while I’m not the biggest fan of our new crazy-high sales tax, it’s raising critical revenue for the state, cities, and the many programs we all rely on. (In Alameda County, money from sales tax helps fund BART, essential health care services, and a wide range of roadway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects through ACTIA; local jurisdictions also get one percent of the state’s cut for services, schools, and more.) An online purchase with free shipping and no sales tax may look cheaper—but is it, truly, when you factor in the devastating effect on your neighborhood businesses and your city?

The 3/50 campaign includes badges and posters you can print and hang in your community or display online to build awareness, and local independent businesses can sign up to be listed on the website.

How about it—can you commit to spending $50 across your three favorite local businesses this month?


Plan Oakland this spring

April 8, 2009

There are lots of chances to do it this month!

2009-2014 Oakland Housing Element Update
Like the rest of the Bay Area cities and counties, Oakland is updating its housing element to reflect new site constraints and options, changing conditions, and the new regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) numbers assigned by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) last spring. Hopefully, the city will also take the opportunity to develop some creative strategies to tackle the foreclosure crisis.

When: Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 6-8 pm

City Hall, Hearing Room 3
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza (at 16th between Broadway and Clay)

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center
From our neighborhood list: Alta Bates Summit Medical Center has announced expansion and hospital replacement plans. The medical center met with community members in February and March. The Environmental Impact Study is underway. Please come to the next community meeting to learn more about the facilities project design. For more information, please email ABSMC at absmcpublicaffairs AT sutterhealth DOT org.

When: Thursday, April 16, 2009, 6:30-7:30 pm

Summit Campus, Providence Pavilion (Building 4)
Family Resource Center Conference Room, 1st Floor
3100 Summit Street (near Hawthorne Ave), Oakland

Changes proposed at the ABSMC include a new 11-story patient care hospital tower, a 7-story parking garage and proposed absorption of Summit Street into the medical center as “green space.” The fate of the 59 bus line, which serves medical offices on Summit Street, is unclear. Coordination with Kaiser’s construction impacts and mitigations will also be important.

The location of these facilities would be along Hawthorne Avenue between Webster Street and Elm Street. The hospital tower is proposed at the site of the current Samuel Merritt University classrooms and dormitory, which would be demolished. The parking garage would be located on a site that currently contains two small medical-related buildings and surface parking.

Central Estuary Plan
The second meeting is coming up for the Central Estuary Plan, which is designed to build a vision and provide a framework to support development and enhancement of the Estuary from Adeline Street to 66th Avenue. The project examines land use along the Estuary and the associated environmental, economic, quality of life and health-related impacts. This month you’ll have a chance to discuss the vision and the healthy development of the area, according to the website. I didn’t go to the first meeting, but luckily the folks over at Oakland Streets did, so you can read up on it there. (The CEDA website also includes meeting presentations and other materials.

When: Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 7-9 pm

The Unity Council, Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center
3301 East 12th Street, Suite 201 (Fruitvale Transit Village)

Project Area

Project Area

Harrison Street/Oakland Avenue Community-Based Transportation Plan
This is the second meeting for this project, too. (Future Oakland has a post about the first meeting.) The Caltrans-funded plan looks at Harrison Street and Oakland Avenue from the Piedmont border to Grand Avenue.  DC&E consultants and city staff will be presenting alternatives for the corridor to address access and safety for pedestrians, bicycle facility improvements, traffic calming, I-580 signage and modified access, and AC Transit stop improvements.

When: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 6 – 8 pm

Westlake Middle School Gym
2629 Harrison Street (at 27th)

Budget Town Halls
Last but not least, the City is hosting a series of budget town halls to gather community feedback on how and where to make cuts to close the projected $83 million budget gap. (Yes, that would be a new one, not the one Council closed last year….) Cities across the state are holding similar meetings; the general goal is to get input and buy-in on where to make the cuts that are most definitely coming. Whether the feedback will be heeded is another question altogether, but if no one shows up we certainly won’t find out! (All residents are welcome at all meetings; I’ve just listed them by district for geographic purposes, and because in several cases the relevant Council reps will be there.)

Districts 6 & 7:

When: Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 6 :30- 8 pm
East Oakland Multipurpose Senior Center
9255 Edes Avenue (at Jones)

Districts 4 & 5

When: Monday, April 20, 2009, 6 :30- 8 pm
Edna Brewer Middle School (tentative location)
3745 13th Avenue (at Park)

Districts 1, 2, & 3

When: Monday, April 27, 2009, 6 :30- 8 pm
Lakeside Garden Center
666 Bellevue Avenue (off of Grand)

OUSD Budget Town Halls
Last but not least (really this time!), there are a series of meetings on OUSD’s budget coming up, too. Oakbook has already covered that front, so I won’t duplicate the schedule here.


America’s cities are “ready to go”

December 8, 2008

….or at least, that’s what the U.S. Conference of Mayors says in their call for a Main Street Economic Recovery. In a report released today, the organization, which consists of the mayors of U.S. cities larger with more than 30,000 residents, outlines 11,391 jobs and infrastructure projects in 427 cities across the country that it says are “ready to go.” In total, the projects would create a $73 billion investment in the nation’s infrastructure, and would create nearly 850,000 jobs in 2009 and 2010.

Here’s a list of the projects Oakland threw into the ring. Together, they represent an investment of  over $87 million in the city, and would create over a thousand new jobs. We’ve seen many of these programs and projects before, and some exist today but simply aren’t sufficiently funded. My personal favorite: the Oakland Community Land Trust, which exists but not with much in the way of funding. (Incidentally, it’s also the only sizable chunk of change Oakland asked for—the city’s requests constitute only a tenth of a percent of the funds requested nationally, despite the fact that we’re the 44th largest city in the country right now. Anaheim, for instance, asked for $406 million, and San Francisco wants nearly $2.2 billion for some of the landmark projects they’ve been studying. This is why we have long-range planning, people—so that when money shows up, you have visionary projects ready at the gate. Obviously some cities are better at this than others.) But back to the land trust. I can’t think of a better step to take as the housing market spirals downwards; a thriving land trust could help forestall the foreclosure crisis in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods while protecting affordability in those neighborhoods for future generations. (For a similar approach in another city, check out Boston’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and see how it’s weathering the housing crisis.)

Anyway, without further ado, here they are. (Note that I did not write these descriptions, so I am not responsible for sentences that stop mid-thought or fail to explain the purposes of programs for which they’d like tens of thousands of dollars! I’m giving staff the benefit of the doubt and assuming the turnaround on this document was probably instantaneous—and that someone somewhere had the not-at-all-fun task of compiling the requests of 427 different cities, since it does look like other cities encountered the same truncating problem.)

Document Management for PWA: Funding will be used to implement an enterprise-class document management system for records related to environmental remediation of City-owned properties. The project will leverage the City’s existing, successful investment.
$50K / 5 jobs

PWA Equipment Services Technology Learning Center: Funding will be utilized to install networking, computer, printer, projector, and related equipment to establish a Public Works Agency Equipment Services Division Technology Learning Center.
$40K / 5 jobs

Corporate–Community Partnerships:
The project will encourage Oakland businesses and the City government to partner with the Oakland School District and local faith-based organizations to employ and mentor youth on a part-time basis throughout the year.
$250K / 8 jobs

E-Government Network Infrastructure: E-government enables the delivery of information and services online through the Internet or other digital means. The use of the Internet to deliver government information and services will provide benefits.
$300K / 10 jobs

Fruitvale Latino Cultural and Performing Arts Center: Federal funding will be used for construction costs (e.g., structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, seismic reinforcement, elevator, etc.).
$1.0M / 12 jobs

Alternate Computing Facility for Disaster Recovery: The goal on this project to establish a partnership between the City of Oakland and another city similar in size to construct geographically dispersed disaster recovery sites. The City of Oakland will [the sentence in the report ends here….what will it do? Hopefully something!]
$1.584M / 19 jobs

Citywide Curb Ramp Installation Program: Accelerate installation of curb ramps citywide in approximately 2,000 locations.
$5.0M / 60 jobs


Various green projects: FY09 funding is requested to support the following elements of this effort: the East Bay Green Jobs Project; the Oakland Green Jobs Corps; and the Environmental Engineering Technician Training Program.
$3.8M / 45 jobs

Metro Area Green Institute: The Metro Area Green Institute will serve as a clearinghouse for low-carbon economic development efforts nationally. The Institute will compile and disseminate data gleaned through the existing program sand provide technical assistance.
$5.0M / 60 jobs

Oakland Community Land Trust:
Funding will be utilized to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed properties as an initial element of a broader Oakland-based community land trust. Rehabilitated properties will support low-cost housing for Oakland residents.
$20.0M / 240 jobs

Prisoner Transport Vehicles: Since the OPD Jail closure in 2005, police officers shuttle between North County, Highland Hospital and Santa Rita jail. Additional transport vehicles will increase efficiency.
$260K / 3 jobs

Mobile Incident Command Post: OPD currently has two older, outdated Mobile Command Posts. Both Command Posts were due to be replaced three years ago. This incident command post would be used in all hazards response: terrorism, earthquake, fire, civil unrest
$500K / 6 jobs

Oakland’s Special Prosecution Project: Funding will support the implementation of a local Special Prosecution Team as part of the Mayor’s Crime Reduction Strategy. The Project will reduce quality of life incidents and address low-level crimes that are…. [nonetheless bad for neighborhoods?]
$612K / 6 jobs

Automatic Vehicle Locating (AVL) Systems: Funding will be utilized to install Automatic Vehicle Locating systems on all public vehicles.
$1.056M / 12 jobs

Oakland Police Department Data/Voice Network: The project will involve the re-cabling of the network infrastructure, the replacement of the legacy Cabletron and Dec equipment, the refresh of the integrated public safety network segment, and the installation of….[yup, again!]
$1.1M / 12 jobs

Oakland CompStat:
Funding will be utilized to develop, design and deploy a centralized and consolidated criminal data repository system in Oakland.
$1.325M / 16 jobs

Patrol Vehicle Acquisition: Funding will be utilized to increase the police vehicle fleet from 399 vehicles to 429 with Federal funding through the acquisition of 30 additional police vehicles.
$1.74M / 20 jobs

“Grow Our Own” Police Recruitment Program: The City seeks funding to conduct personal recruitment visits, to support technology enhancements intended to streamline the application and to provide for background check processes. These combined efforts signal….[??? a more effective OPD? Please let the answer be a more effective OPD!]
$1.9M / 24 jobs

Replacement Helicopter: One helicopter to replace outdated unit. The helicopter unit provides enhanced observation and tactical support to the Police department. The two helicopters currently owned by the City are over ten years old. [Can they specify that the new one be quieter? Pretty please??]
$2.5M / 30 jobs

311 Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) System:
Funding will provide Oakland citizens a non-emergency response system by deploying the integrated CRM system using email, fax, phone and web.
$3.0M / 36 jobs

Enhanced Public Safety Equipment Program: The City seeks funding to install audio and video recording devices in patrol and specialized vehicles; purchase firearms, holsters, and related equipment; purchase and install Dell laptops for specialized field.
$3.3M / 39 jobs

Information Technology Infrastructure Enhancement:
The City of Oakland requests $3.61 million in federal funding to support vital enhancements to citywide public safety information technology systems. These enhancements include: IPSS Computers [the list ends here but I assume there’s more].
$3.61M / 43 jobs

Oakland Fire Boat: The fireboat responds to water emergencies and provides mutual aid assistance to other jurisdictions. The Port of Oakland is a potential terrorist target. Opening this station enhances our capability to quickly respond to terrorist attacks.
$4.0M / 48 jobs

Surveillance Camera Network: A citywide camera system will be installed to enhance the Department’s ability to respond to criminal activity and investigate crimes. (OPD). Funds would convert space in the Eastmont Police Station into a state of the art [something!]
$5.6M / 67 jobs

Interoperable Communications: Requested funding will bring a master communications site on‐line for the City of Oakland to meet P-25 compliance, and will include simulcasting and other features which will enhance the communications network capacity and….[it’s a surprise!]
$8.0M / 96 jobs

Citywide Sidewalk Damage Repair: Accelerate citywide sidewalk damage repairs in approximately 3,200 locations. [Yay!]
$1.75M / 7 jobs

Street Resurfacing: Complete 65 lane miles of street resurfacing, including sidewalk, curb, gutter and curb ramp replacement. [Double yay!]
$2.0M / 8 jobs

Adeline Street Bridge Repair: The improvements include repair of damages in abutment No. 1 and to provide access behind abutment No. 2, replace bridge expansion joint material, and seal and restripe the bridge deck.
$2.3M / 10 jobs

7th Street, West Oakland Transit Village Streetscape Project: The improvements include construction of bulb‐outs, ADA ramps and installation of bike lanes, construction of medians with landscaping, improvement of sidewalks and installation of streetlights…
$900K / 23 jobs

The Fruitvale Alive Streetscape Project:
The improvements include construction of bulbouts, ADA ramps and installation of bike lanes, planting trees, installation of signs to improve pedestrian circulation, improvement of sidewalks and installation of streetlights….
$2.6M / 25 jobs

Oakland Inner Harbor Tidal Canal Easement: The proposed easement will allow the City to construct pedestrian and bicycle trails along those portions of the waterfront located within the Harbor Tidal Canal property.
No figures attached.

Oakland Inner Harbor Tidal Canal Feasibility Study:
The City of Oakland requests the authorization of $250,000 to conduct a feasibility study as an initial element of a greater effort to undertake improvements to the Federally-owned Oakland Inner Harbor.
$250K / 3 jobs

Cryer Boatworks Site, Public Beach Access:
The Cryer Boatworks Site is currently being developed as a public park, and contains a section of the San Francisco Bay Trail. The shoreline is a gently sloping beach, which is a rare commodity in Oakland.
$3.8M / 45 jobs

That’s the list. It’s worth pointing out that this is a city-specific list, and thus there are a lot of “ready-to-go” regional projects missing from this, especially on the transit front. (Speaking of transit, where is the MacArthur Transit Village?? C’mon, Oakland, get your stuff together before it’s time for the real deal in January!) School projects are also notably missing here, perhaps because in California, school districts are distinct from cities (ours even moreso, as it’s currently under state control—though that may change soon) and therefore not always communicating well with City staff. This report does provide a great glimpse of how other cities are thinking, though. Hopefully Oakland will learn from this and get some of our bigger, bolder dreams ready to roll.


What California’s new climate change law means for urban neighborhoods

December 4, 2008

A few months back, California’s legislature passed SB 375, landmark new climate change legislation that, for the first time, linked land use and transportation planning decisions directly to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Recently, this hit our neighborhood mailing list with a fervor, with people up in arms that this law was just a ploy to increase density in urban neighborhoods. There’s a lot more to it than that, though, so I figured it warranted a post—especially as California has historically been on the vanguard of progressive environmental legislation, so it may only be a matter of time before other states see similar measures in place.

First, a very big caveat: I’m a policy planner, and my job is to help cities and counties figure out what laws like SB 375 mean for them and to (hopefully) encourage them to make progressive planning and policy decisions. Consequently, I have some very strong opinions about all of this, so make of that what you will.

All about SB 375
So what does SB 375 really do for cities, then? It’s important to remember that this law is still in its infancy. We don’t yet know exactly how lawmakers or the courts will enforce it. California cities are watching closely, though. No one wants to be the next Stockton, which recently had its new General Plan shot down by the state attorney general because the plan promoted too much GHG-producing sprawl. (Stockton eventually struck a deal to intensify its transit-accessible downtown, build a bus rapid transit system, and create a climate action plan, among other things.) In the coming years, what is and isn’t required by the law will become much clearer.

Will SB 375 help it happen?

AC Transit BRT: Will SB 375 help it happen?

SB 375 is legislation designed to help implement AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires California to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. I’m not going to open the “what causes global warming” box—you can do that yourself. Suffice it to say that the state of California is satisfied that human activity has enough of an effect on global climate change to warrant proactively changing our patterns of development and our reliance on automobiles. Hence, AB 32 and SB 375.

Here’s the new law in a nutshell:

  • The California Air Resources Board (CARB) will develop GHG emissions reductions targets for each region of the state that will allow California to meet its AB 32 goals.
  • California metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) must develop strategies to achieve these regional targets through land use and transportation planning, even if the targets are in conflict with local plans. (For Oakland, the local MPO is the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG.) There are a few exceptions for counties without MPOs.
  • Both regional transportation funding and regional housing plans must be consistent with the GHG reduction plan to achieve the targets. (This is important because transportation funding is currently overseen by the Regional Transportation Planning Agencies, or RTPAs, in most parts of California. That means that the RTPA—the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, or MTC, in Oakland’s case—must work closely with the MPO. Ideally this happens anyway, but now it’s the law.)
  • Development projects that conform to the regional plan and are transit-priority projects will be eligible for streamlined CEQA exemptions and expedited permitting processes, even if the projects are not consistent with local plans. (Transit priority projects, or TPPs, are projects within a half-mile of major bus or rail lines that are at least 50 percent residential and have a density of at least 20 units per acre.)

There’s a lot more there, of course—for instance, each region now needs to incorporate the plan detailing how they will achieve the GHG reductions into its long-range Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), and there’s a requirement that MPOs create alternative plans if they believe that they can’t reach their targets, which affects funding opportunities in ways that most people don’t care about—but those are the nuts and bolts. For the nitty gritty details, check out this analysis. (There are also, of course, lots of requirements that the state, MPOs, and RTPAs work with community members and other stakeholders to determine what the emissions reduction targets are and how to reach them.)

So SB 375 just throws local plans to the wind?
Not exactly, but it does provide a big incentive for local communities to work with regional bodies as they develop their plans to ensure city plans are consistent with regional goals. This isn’t new—in the Bay Area, for instance, most cities already work with ABAG to ensure that their general plans include the city’s fair share of regional housing, and city and county transportation plans are typically developed in conjunction with the RTP. But 375 adds new carrots and sticks to the mix: it gives residential and transit priority projects access to streamlined approval processes if they’re in keeping with the regional plan, opens up new funding sources for these projects, and withholds federal transportation funding from projects that aren’t in the regional plan. Right now, there’s no indication that residential development will be forced on cities where it’s unwanted; instead, the law simply offers some compelling incentives to encourage communities to consider new development. There will likely be extensive regional conversations and negotiations to determine exactly where housing will go and who will benefit.

What happens when the local and regional plans are in conflict?
This is still extremely unclear. We’ll probably have to wait for this to happen and see how it’s addressed by the state and the courts. There are some precedents, however. In Massachusetts, for example, Chapter 40B (the Massachusetts Anti-Snob Zoning Act—seriously!) takes a similar carrots-and-sticks approach to encouraging local communities to build affordable housing. Under the 1969 statute, developers have access to a streamlined comprehensive permitting process when their projects contain a minimum percentage of affordable units. Local zoning boards have flexibility in approving such projects even if they aren’t consistent with approved zoning regulations, and developers can appeal to the state to supersede local zoning regulations if a municipality is not meeting a minimum threshold for affordable housing. Like 375, 40B was designed to strongly encourage cities and towns to “do the right thing” of their own accord (and more broadly, to fight NIMBYism). The law certainly hasn’t solved Massachusetts’ affordability crisis, and it’s constantly challenged—but at the end of the day, it has led to small but significant steps in the right direction. We may see similar progress from 375, although the California law arguably has somewhat bigger teeth and better incentives.

What does all this mean for a city like Oakland?
The short answer is that we don’t know yet. However, Oakland currently engages MTC and ABAG in its planning processes and participates actively in regional planning, so hopefully that means that the city’s general direction will be in sync with the new regional plan. Oakland is transit-rich and has countless infill opportunities, so expect the city to be a target for new residential development. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Many of Oakland’s neighborhoods—and especially those on transit trunk lines (Broadway, Telegraph, San Pablo, International, MacArthur) that meet the TPP requirements—have infill potential, with formerly industrial sites like those along Auto Row opening up. And while Oakland grew out in the second half of the twentieth century, the center city neighborhoods lost population. New housing in the city’s core can potentially add new tax revenue, new shoppers, new schoolchildren, and more. All of that may translate into more federal and state dollars for various services and amenities.

New housing will increase residential density in some neighborhoods, but at the same time, growth can open up opportunities for revitalized commercial corridors, nightlife, arts, parks, and more. At a very basic level, 375 is advocating reinvestment in California’s cities and downtowns, which I think will be a very good thing for Oakland in the long run. Will there be added traffic and parking headaches? Possibly, since more people may bring more cars. However, these are things that the city can (and should) regulate: implement and enforce residential parking permits and metered parking in commercial areas, for instance. Promote innovative thinking to improve transit service throughout the city. Encourage locally-based services and amenities so that residents don’t have far to go. Create an urban neighborhood where you don’t need your car to get by.

About that density thing….
The urban planner in me says I have to pause for a moment to dispel the “density is bad” myth that persists in many American cities. Density is simply a way of measuring how many people live in a square mile, or how many housing units are on an acre of land. It isn’t good or bad until you start assigning numbers and values to it. Intensity is a similar measurement, but in the urban context generally measures how many square feet are developed per acre. (I say “generally” because the terms are sometimes used interchangeably or in entirely different ways—there’s no universal definition of either, so it’s important to know how your particular city or region uses a term.) Density is not the same as building height. There are dense neighborhoods comprised of one-story single-family homes, and areas with high rises surrounded by open space that aren’t as dense. Most cities regulate building height as well, but there are different tools to measure and manage height. (Typically cities use height limits and something called a floor-area ratio, or FAR, which is a method of measuring the massing of buildings; these are combined with density or intensity zoning regulations to shape a community’s look and feel.) For the purposes of SB 375 and climate change mitigation, though, what we primarily care about is the concentration of people.

This Oakland block is densely developed at 85 units per acre, but theres not a high rise in sight.brFrom the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

This Oakland block is densely developed at 85 units per acre, but there's not a high-rise in sight (from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

In the American landscape, densification of cities has a complex and contentious history. The federal Urban Renewal program of the ’50s and ’60s saw the mass destruction of cities across the country as freeways and large blocks of housing or offices replaced smaller-scale neighborhoods. Density, intensity, heights, and massing all increased simultaneously. The redevelopment was supposed to “save the city,” but instead, the program arguably destroyed urban life in many communities. (I say this with a very strong bias, as I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, the poster child for Urban Renewal’s failures; there are, of course, some cities in which central business districts did benefit from renewal efforts.) But we need to acknowledge this history, while at the same time underscoring that increasing density in the center city was only one small goal among many much more politicized goals of the Urban Renewal program. Let’s be clear: SB 375 is not “Urban Renewal all over again” in any way, shape, or form.

What does density look like today?
Just how dense is 20 units per acre, the threshold for SB 375’s transit priority project (TPP) designation? It may not be as dense as you think. Understanding what density means—and what it doesn’t—is critical as neighborhoods grow and change. Here’s a great primer to help visualize density, from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Boston. (There’s a free sign up required, but it’s worth it.) And here’s a rough idea of what density means, based in part on the Sierra Club’s definitions:


<1 unit/acre: Very low density; exurban or rural development; large-lot suburban development.
3 units/acre: Typical single-family suburban development. [Example: some areas of San Ramon, an Oakland suburb]


10 units/acre: Row houses interspersed with single-family homes and apartment buildings. [Examples: lower density areas of larger cities; older suburbs; Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood]
50 units/acre: This is what my neighborhood, a mix of single-family homes and mid-rise apartment buildings, is currently zoned; our actual density is a bit less. The population density of our area is guesstimated at around 23K people per square mile in contrast to Rockridge’s 10K, according to these guys (who may or may not have accurate data—but they also think our neighborhood has a “high hip index,” so they can’t be all wrong!) [Examples: Oakland’s Westlake and Adams Point neighborhoods]


100 units/acre: Predominantly apartment buildings of three to five stories with occasional single-family homes and mid-to-high rise apartment buildings. [Examples: San Francisco’s North Beach]
200+ units/acre: Mostly mid-to-high rise apartment buildings. [Examples: Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan; areas near San Francisco’s Union Square]

Population density is important because that magic number determines everything from what types of businesses will be successful to how viable different types of transit will be to how much park space is needed in a community to how many seats schools need to have. More isn’t always better, but there are some thresholds to meet. Certain types of transit, for instance, will only succeed with a baseline population density nearby; similarly, some businesses won’t thrive without a minimum customer base. It’s a balancing act. This is where I hope SB 375 will be most effective: helping regions examine that balance to plan healthy, sustainable, and—above all—livable communities that have enough residents to support walkable schools, jobs, shops, and restaurants; effective transit; active recreational opportunities; and the other local amenities that can make urban living wonderful.

11 units per acre

Homes on the Emeryville/Oakland line: 11 units per acre (from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy)

Last, but not least….what about the suburbs?
What happens to the Tracys and Antiochs of the world with SB 375 and a push to jumpstart urban areas? Only time will tell. But climate-friendly living and walkable communities certainly aren’t limited to large cities; small cities can enjoy similar amenities on a different scale. (Don’t try running a light rail through a small town, for instance—but an express bus that runs from the town center once or twice a day could be a great addition.) Moving forward, compact development patterns and new transit opportunities in the suburbs can help to preserve the open space that remains while strengthening the communities that already exist there. I do think we’ll see an end to large-scale development of suburban and exurban greenfields in California, though. And with fresh memories of $4 gasoline, increased awareness of GHG emissions, and more housing options close to jobs, it’s likely that fewer families will be choosing homes that require lengthy car commutes. Where will that lead us? What do you think our landscape will look like in a decade or two?

Other Resources
This View of Density

Demystifying Density
Corridor Housing Initiative (Twin Cities)
Visualizing Density: 0-5 units per acre | 5-17 units per acre | 17-100+ units per acre


The new and improved Kaiser

November 21, 2008

Last night, Kaiser Permanente finally got their brand new Oakland hospital approved by the Oakland Planning Commission. (For more on the design review process, check out V Smoothe’s OakBook post on it.) It’s right down the street from us, so I figured it warranted a post and a little love after a looooong planning process. (The seven community workshops and four Planning Commission hearings began in September 2007—while they didn’t exactly integrate all of the neighborhood concerns into the plan, they did address some of the big ones, including lighting, Piedmont street frontage, ambulance paths, local businesses, and more. Yay.) The hospital is Phase 2 of the Oakland Medical Center rebuilding plan; Phase 1 is the big building currently under construction at the corner of Broadway and West MacArthur. Phase 3 will follow in a few years, and includes demolition of the existing hospital and a new office building on its site. (Kaiser has said this construction may not be possible immediately following demolition since the latter is on a tight time frame and money may not be lined up, but they have committed to creating a pocket park in the interim if construction of Phase 3 is delayed.)

Kaiser's new plan

Kaiser's new plan

When this project first went through design review in September, a lot of people were up in arms about the design of the building and its relation to the street. I’m not in love with the new design either, but it is an improvement—and it is a hospital, after all, which means form is constrained by function (or more specifically, by state and federal guidelines regulating said function). Generally, I think the new hospital will be good news for Westlake and Uptown, since it moves the main building a bit closer to us as an anchor for Auto Row businesses, but it’s still within spitting distance of the main Piedmont Avenue strip, so those businesses won’t lose out. (Side note: when I was in Babyalula on Lower Piedmont the other day, the owner mentioned that in spite of dire times, their sales are up 40 percent. Not sure if this is a result of the crazy number of babies in the ‘hood these days or of more people choosing Oakland-grown shops, but either way, good job guys!)

The new and improved Lower Piedmont

The new and improved Lower Piedmont

The approved building includes some interesting features, including:

  • A stormwater management system that reduces runoff and minimizes impervious surfaces;
  • Solar panels on both the hospital and the parking garage;
  • A PVC- and mercury-free environment (find out why this matters);
  • A Dolphin chemical-free water treatment system that distinguishes between potable and non-potable uses and treats accordingly; and
  • Recycled construction materials, including steel and concrete.

Kaiser also must provide some nice neighborhood benefits, including:

  • More pedestrian paths and crosswalks along Broadway, Piedmont, and West MacArthur;
  • New street trees along Lower Piedmont;
  • Funding for restoration of Glen Echo Creek (though I’m fuzzy on details here); and
  • Improvements to Mosswood Park, potentially including a new tot lot and new basketball courts (and the Labradane says he would also please like a dog path next to the Mosswood MSB, some decomposed granite in the big dog run, and a water fountain at Moosewood, his dog park of choice!)

Not to mention the very, very big benefit of reactivating Piedmont and Broadway below West MacArthur, which the current Kaiser campus does terribly with its walls of parking garages and offices. The one thing I’m worried about, oddly enough, is all the new residential parking zones proposed as part of the Kaiser expansion. I actually think residential parking zones are terrific—and I wish Westlake and Adams Point had them. But we don’t, and I’m a bit concerned that when every block in Temescal and Mosswood does and the hospital is that much closer to us, even more people will be coming to park on our block. And blocking our driveway. And running over our drainpipes even though the curb is red there. And keeping our neighbors without garages from being able to find street spots when they get home. *sigh*

Kaiser has also bandied about other ideas over the course of the development process, including outdoor physical activity classes and an expanded farmer’s market. (They have one now, but it’s tiny—can North Oakland really support a third large market to compete with Temescal and Grand Lake? Hard to say, but it would certainly be exciting if so! Maybe a mid-week market has potential, a la Berkeley’s Tuesday market.) So we’ll see what other fun things the new campus may bring.

Anyway, I imagine the construction process won’t be much fun, but hopefully the end result will be worth it. I can’t wait to see the wrecking balls take out the crappy 60s Kaiser buildings and the M/B Center—woohoo! It might even be worth becoming Kaiser members once the renovations are all done, since D. has that as an option at work. Not like we’re far from Alta Bates Summit and our current Pill Hill doctors, but still. Hmm….


Election Redux

November 6, 2008

So across Oakland on Election Night, there was dancing in the streets, with cars blowing horns well into the night and impromptu gatherings all across town. My office had a big post-election Obama bash yesterday afternoon complete with bubbly goodness and cakes. (Okay, technically it was a non-partisan “election celebration,” natch.)

Tuesday brought mostly good news for Oakland:

  • Berkeley voted down its anti-BRT measure that could have rippled our direction.
  • Voters across the state gave the nation’s first high-speed rail system the green light!
  • The regional parks and transit bonds passing with flying colors.

The proposed city taxes for police and schools failed, but both were laden with problems, so that’s neither particularly sad nor especially surprising. On the state level, the one big loss (or rather, one big bad win) was Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. It’s now headed back to the California Supreme Court for what promises to be another long bout of appeals, so we’ll see where that leads. Otherwise, things shook out roughly as expected (if not as hoped).

The only big surprise for me was that Oakland’s Measure OO made it through. It’s a well-intentioned city measure that allocates millions to funding programs for children and youth. Unfortunately, because the proponents didn’t want to present it as a new tax in tough economic times, the measure instead called for getting the money by allocating 2.5 percent of Oakland’s total city revenues to the programs, which means to pay for it, the Council will have to axe $17+ million from other programs and services. Not good news for a city already strapped for cash. There’s still hope, though—it doesn’t take full effect till 2011-2012, which means we have a couple of election cycles to put a replacement ballot measure out that could identify an alternate funding source or another means of paying for these programs. I have a feeling many of the people voting for it didn’t think about the fact that they might lose library or parks or arts funding as a result.

On balance, though, there’s an optimism throughout the city that I haven’t seen in a long time. Like Americans across the country, everyone around here seems hopeful that better times lie ahead, and that President-elect Obama will be successful in steering the nation towards a strong future. Only time will tell, but it’s nice to go to sleep at night feeling good about tomorrow.


Now….go forth and VOTE!

November 3, 2008

Whatever your politics, just make sure you get to the polls tomorrow. That’s all!

(Not sure where to vote? Find out here:


The City Dweller’s Guide to the Election: Part III (National)

November 3, 2008

Red states, blue states. Lavender and indigo. The country is awash in swathes of paint as we attempt to color code our politics. I live in a blue city in a blue county in a purple state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate in a generation, and isn’t likely to in this race, either. My county hasn’t gone red in more than fifty years. But is this a good thing for California’s cities? I wanted to unpack this, issue by issue, to see. I should preface this post by saying that I am an unabashed Obama supporter. But many of the reasons for this have to do with my personal politics and values, and not necessarily my Oakland issues. What do my city, my neighborhood, and the thousands like them across the country have to gain or lose on Tuesday? I looked at some of Oakland’s key issues to see. (The position overviews are somewhat abbreviated to capture the big ideas, and are based on the New York Times‘ assessment of each candidate’s positions based on candidate websites and campaign speeches. So make of that what you will.)

This is (still!) long, so here’s a menu:

Oakland is suffering dramatically from the foreclosure crisis, and the city desperately needs help to manage the impact on neighborhoods of having bank-owned homes sit empty. Affordable housing is also a huge issue throughout the Bay Area. We need teachers and janitors and police officers and nurses, but at the same time it’s so costly to live here, even in the current market, that the middle and working classes are still being priced out. The city needs federal and state involvement in housing and bank regulation to ensure that there are housing opportunities for everyone, and to fund innovative solutions to the foreclosure crisis to protect neighborhoods from blight and disinvestment. Predatory lending in the sub-prime market was a big issue here, as in other parts of California; we need strong legislation against this.

Obama would: Enact foreclosure moratorium; increase regulation; offer joint fed-state loan restructuring; offer mortgage credits for non-itemizers.

McCain would: Purchase and restructure mortgages; privatize Freddie and Fannie; create more transparency in process.

Advantage: Obama. This is mostly because I think regulation is the key here, and McCain has been a lukewarm supporter of federal regulation (as is traditional/appropriate for a Republican, since small federal government/free market principles are a tenet of Republicanism).

Again, another area where Oakland, like the rest of the country, is suffering. The East Bay has lost thousands of jobs in the last year, and California’s unemployment rate is currently at 7.7 percent, the highest in over a decade. So we need jobs, and specifically we need jobs for workers who may not have college degrees or advanced training. A great area to focus on are the “green-color” jobs—jobs in new green industries that Oakland residents and others in the region can be trained and prepared for. Small local businesses also need support to stay afloat, and they’re a crucial part of the Oakland economy. We’ve lost several large plants in recent years, and while the city is working to retain the few big industries it has left, there are acres of vacant formerly-industrial land in some areas (including most notably the old Army base, which is being planned as I write).

Obama would: Cut middle-class taxes but continue to tax higher income brackets; create jobs through infrastructure investment; provide federal aid to cities and states; extend unemployment benefits.

McCain would: Cut taxes across the board and extend Bush cuts, including capital gains; halve capital gains tax rates; cut corporate taxes; guarantee all savings accounts for six months; provide business tax deductions for capital expenses.

Both would: Suspend mandatory IRA withdrawals and taxes on unemployment benefits.

Advantage: Obama. My liberal values shine through here—I firmly believe that folks in higher income brackets should pay more taxes, because for low-income families, a tax represents a much greater sacrifice than it does for a high-income family. Moreover, our tax code and other policies have historically supported high income earners and helped them build wealth, so it only seems fair that the reverse can be in play as well. (However, I would much prefer a tax code that adequately captured cost of living, since that’s a very valid complaint of some of those high-income earners: $250K may be rich in Kansas, but it doesn’t go very far in Oakland. If legislators could devise a system that looked at living wages and cost of living and factored that into AGI, that would be my dream system.) I also believe those taxes should be used by the federal government as aid to states and cities to pay for infrastructure and services best managed/coordinated nationally (e.g., roads, schools, etc.).

This is a more subjective one, but generally I think that Oakland—and most cities—would benefit from a solid national health care system. Oakland is also home to four major hospitals and a sea of medical centers and clinics, so health care is a huge industry here. Better support for and good regulation of the industry are key to keeping costs down. Somewhat ironically, parts of Oakland (notably West Oakland and Deep East Oakland) struggle with huge health concerns, too: high childhood asthma rates, rampant diabetes, a number of diseases related to toxic environments (especially in the case of West Oakland, one of the city’s most polluted neighborhoods because of its proximity to the port, freeway system, and major truck and rail routes). Moving forward, we need to be much more cognizant of community health, from the food we eat to the air we breathe to the water we drink. I’m looking for an administration that will launch an effort to create healthy, sustainable communities across the country, but especially in our cities, where pollution and toxins are often highest.

Obama would: Require universal coverage for children; require employers to provide insurance or contribute to the cost, but exempt smallest businesses, and reimburse all employers for catastrophic health costs; provide subsidies for low-income people; create purchasing pool with choice of competing private plans and one public plan like Medicare; make plans portable from job to job; expand Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program; prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with health problems or charging them higher rates.

McCain would: Oppose mandate requiring everyone to obtain health insurance in order to give individuals free to choose their own health care; make plans portable from job to job and accessible across state lines; provide $2,500 tax credits for individuals and $5,000 for families to buy their own insurance; eliminate the tax deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance; move to compensate medical providers based on the quality of their work; bring greater competition to drug markets by safe reimportation of drugs and streamlining the process for introducing generic drugs; offer federal assistance for states to create high-risk pools that would contract with insurers to cover consumers who have been rejected on the open market.

Advantage: Obama. Again, this comes back to the fact that I strongly, strongly believe in a national health care system, and I think it would be a terrific thing for cities, where there are dense concentrations of residents. If you don’t agree, McCain’s a better bet on this issue. But under our current system, America spends more per capita on health care than any other nation, and our system is far more flawed. We need wholesale reform, whether it’s public or private. I’d support a hybrid system that provides nationalized basic coverage but preserves some private choice over supplementary insurance, facilities, doctors, etc. to address concerns that care will degrade if everyone is eligible for it.

Like many parts of California, Oakland is striving to be a green city and has taken a number of steps in that direction, including the recent inception of the Oakland Green Jobs Corps. While California has been proactive on enacting climate change legislation, including the recent SB 375, one of the first measures to connect climate change and energy policy to land use and transportation planning, we could use more help from the feds on this. We also need increased development of transit, alternative transportation modes, and federal standards that respect cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly communities. After eight years of an administration that refused to sign on to Kyoto and debated, at times, the causes and even existence of climate change, it will be refreshing to have Washington moving proactively on this front.

Obama would: Support taxing oil company windfall profits; support ethanol subsidies; oppose drilling in the Arctic and require oil companies to use existing lands before any new lands are made available; provide incentives to spur renewable energy development. [Obama initially opposed all domestic drilling, but has since said that he’s changed his mind and would allow some offshore drilling.]

McCain would: Oppose taxing oil company windfall profits; support expanding nuclear power; oppose ethanol subsidies; oppose drilling in the Arctic but expand drilling offshore; oppose tax subsidies as a means to spurring renewable energy development.

Advantage: Obama (but both represent big improvements over Bush). “Drill, baby, drill”?!? Are you for real? Actually, I think—hope—that either candidate will be a huge improvement over Bush on the energy front, and the fact that it was a big campaign issue on both sides of the aisle is promising. Honestly, my biggest fear on the McCain end is that he’ll drop dead and Palin will be running the country, which is scary for alternative energy. Yes, Alaska has some oil. But drilling there is a band-aid to the much larger issue of our reliance on oil, and when it runs out—which it will, and in our lifetimes—we’ll have no oil and a devastated landscape. Also, there is no reason to be providing incentives for oil extraction a la windfall tax breaks. Instead, that money should go into encouraging metro areas to build up their mass transportation systems and dense urban cores.

On density and cities: My favorite line from this campaign was from a Minnesota congresswoman explaining the liberal agenda: “They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That’s their vision for America.” Yup, exactly, sounds good to me! (Except that our bungalow, located at the heart of one of Oakland’s densest neighborhoods, gets miffed when she gets called a “tenement,” as do the lofts and the Victorians down the street.) Dense urban centers don’t always translate to high-rises or slums, as nay-sayers like to claim. Our neighborhood is a mix of Victorian and arts and crafts single-family homes with yards, historic fourplexes, mid-century apartment buildings, and brand-new condo buildings. We have, within a few blocks: two grocery stores, three churches, a synagogue, a lake with trails and a public boathouse, a creek, a museum, a senior center, one big park, a rec center, lots of little parks and tot lots, a dog park, a number of schools, two hospitals, art galleries, auto shops, a children’s storybook park, and coffee spots and restaurants galore. Several bus and train lines run through our neighborhood. The people who live here range from urban singles to families in their first homes to families with older children to empty nesters enjoying retirement to seniors on fixed incomes in assisted living facilities. We have some urban grit here and there, but we know our neighbors and feel safe. The “inner city” (and at less than a mile from city center, we’re as in as it gets) isn’t such a bad place to live! Cities aren’t for everyone, true—but we should be ensuring that those who do want to live in cities are able to do so with as minimal a footprint as possible.

I should note that I do have one big issue with Obama: ethanol subsidies. There are huge issues with the ethanol industry today, not the least of which is the notion of providing incentives for fuel rather than food in a nation where children in Oakland and other places across the country don’t have enough to eat. I’d like to see a reformed farm bill address the connections between food and fuel, deal with the corn lobby, and ensure that any new energy generation is both sustainable and ethical.

Oakland needs reinvestment in education across the board, from preschool programs to K-12 education to community colleges and trade schools. California is fortunate to have one of the nation’s strongest community college systems, but it’s faltering as funding dries up. We need regional, state, and federal funding to repair our aging schools, boost teacher salaries, and provide better early childhood education. We need loans and grants available to youth to encourage them to pursue higher education. We also need to get rid of No Child Left Behind once and for all. Yes, accountability and assessment are incredibly important. But for inner-city schools whose students may come from homes with a plethora of challenges, evaluation is not the be-all-end-all way to measure success. California schools are currently monitored to see if students meet state and federal proficiency standards. Proficiency is great, but we’re talking about school districts where kids may be moving from school to school; where they may enter the classroom performing well below grade level from day one; where they may miss big chunks of the school day for a multitude of reasons beyond the school’s control. We need to be evaluating more comprehensively to see where students started, what progress they’ve made, and what the factors in the progress or lack of progress were. Only then can we begin to make assertions about how successful a school or a teacher has been.

Obama would: Rewrite NCLB to offer more help to high-need schools and better fund and measure the program; negotiate pay performance programs with teachers, prioritize recruitment and offer professional development; spend $10 billion a year to expand early childhood education; increase federal funding for after-school programs; double federal spending on public charter schools while holding them accountable.

McCain would: Keep NCLB but change mode of measurement; offer bonus pay for teachers who raised achievement or worked in hard-to-staff schools; use federal money to support existing early childhood programs; allow parents to choose the school for their children; expand federal support for vouchers; promote online learning.

Both would:
Expand after-school programs.

Advantage: Obama.
NCLB has to go. Accountability is a good thing, but NCLB’s approach to achieving it has been devastating to our public schools, where teachers now “teach to the test” and often are forced to abandon the enrichment that could be exciting children to learn. And universal preschool is one of my big, big issues. We’ve had models for this for decades, and we still have kids entering kindergarten (and even first grade, in some states) with no exposure to education; they never make up that gap. After-school programs are another big concern, especially for Oakland, where many youth have nowhere to go after school, so I’m glad to see support for this from both candidates. I’m strongly opposed to vouchers, which in my view abandon and degrade our public schools. I still have some issues with Obama on education—for instance, I’m only a lukewarm supporter of charter schools (as a former teacher in one!) and I don’t think we’re ready for performance-based pay, though I certainly believe teachers should be much better paid and supported. Finally, we also need to expand support for higher education, something the candidates have only briefly touched on. The credit crisis has taken a huge toll on college students and their families this year; we need to make higher education, including community colleges and trade/vocational schools, much more accessible financially.

This is a biggie for Oakland in part because we have one of the country’s busiest container ports (only LA, Long Beach, and NYC are busier). The city has a giant challenge: preserve our active port and the many jobs it provides for residents, but at the same time reduce our reliance on foreign goods and enhance our local economy. The port is also a huge polluter, so we need to transition it to greener fuels and deal with the emissions of the thousands of trucks and trains that shuttle imported goods across the country. We need federal regulation of ports on this front, though. If Oakland tries to break new ground on its own, it risks losing container ships to other California ports. Ideally, we need federal or even continental strategies for greening the shipping industry. We need to balance our exports and imports so that we can stop sending empty containers back across the ocean, burning fossil fuel all the way. As a nation, we need to think carefully about what we trade and how. We should be trading only those goods that we do not have or cannot produce efficiently (and by “efficiently” I don’t mean Indonesian children, either!) and—importantly—that we actually need. And we should be offering those supplies that we have or can efficiently produce for other nations that may not have those resources. If it’s not in one of those two categories, we should be making it in the United States, growing it locally, or adapting to go without. We should also be thinking carefully about the future of our ports if we do reduce exports and imports over time, and should be planning accordingly. (Also see “immigration” below for more on trade.)

Obama would: Reform NAFTA to better protect workers’ rights and the environment; resist free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia without reforms.

McCain would: Continue to support and strengthen NAFTA in its current incarnation.

Advantage: Obama on NAFTA; neither has said much to address intercontinental trade, which is problematic. Conceptually, having a continental trade agreement is a great idea. But NAFTA has issues—big issues. It was supposed to generate American jobs and raise Mexican wages and benefits, but in both cases the reverse has happened, which has had dire consequences for Oakland and the rest of California. Mexico’s agricultural economy has failed in part due to the subsidies U.S. agriculture receives. None of the three countries have seen the promised living conditions or environmental benefits. The coalition against NAFTA is hugely diverse, which should raise a big red flag. It needs to be tossed and constructed anew. If you’re not familiar with NAFTA and its provisions, definitely learn more about it (Wikipedia provides a decent starting place). Its huge failure over the last fifteen years also leads us right to….

Immigration is a big issue in many cities, but it’s a HUGE issue in Oakland and across California. While there are clearly a wide variety of views on whether immigrants should be here, the reality is that they are. Oakland schools have hundreds of immigrant students whose first languages are Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, Amharic, Oromo, Vietnamese, Spanish, and dozens of others. We need a comprehensive set of programs to support children and their families so that students are healthy, learning, and engaged in their communities. While there’s an argument that says that we should only offer such programs to American citizens or immigrants with green cards, the consequences of excluding these children have the potential to be devastating—both for the youth themselves and for our communities. My preference is to create a path to citizenship as we have had for so many immigrants in past generations, but at a bare minimum we need to find effective way to provide education, health care, and other basic necessities to all families in the United States. Our investment there will come back to us tenfold in educated young adults who are active members of our communities and our work force, rather than youth who are relegated to underground gang activities and other under-the-radar means of getting by.

Obama would: Support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants that includes learning English and paying fines; toughen penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

McCain would: Secure borders, including a fence between the U.S. and Mexico; support comprehensive immigration reform, possibly including a guest worker program [before his presidential run, McCain also supported a path to legalization very similar to Obama’s proposal, but says he has now changed his mind].

Advantage: Obama.
We need to address immigration in conjunction with foreign relations, and specifically in conjunction with our trade agreements with Mexico. Mexicans come to the U.S. because they have so few opportunities there. Improving conditions within Mexico would be a great first step in creating a disincentive to flee. I understand the notion of border security, but in California, at least, immigrant workers play (and honestly, have always played—see also the Chinese workers of the 19th century!) a huge role in our local economy, filling jobs that Americans aren’t taking. We need to address this on a number of levels: prepare Americans who do want manual labor, agricultural, and trade jobs to work in those industries, if they so choose; we do a terrible job of this right now. Then consider the labor gap that remains, and recognize that currently, illegal workers fill that gap. If you want to formalize some sort of guest worker program to allow immigration at that level so those jobs are filled, that’s okay by me, as long as it’s a fair and ethical system. But it should also allow those workers who do come to bring their families, work towards citizenship, pay taxes, and share in the benefits other residents receive. (We already do this with H-1B visas for workers in high-end professional industries where there are shortages; we should offer similar rules and similar benefits for workers who fill critical needs in less sexy manual labor-based industries.) Otherwise it’s effectively just slave labor—no benefit for the workers who help keep our country running. As an added benefit, allowing workers to enter legally removes the market for coyotes and makes it much easier to deport those immigrants—and they’re the minority—who are involved in criminal activity. Right now, there’s a huge culture of distrust, and people are afraid to speak up on injustices or crime for fear of what INS might do. In Oakland, INS raids on parents picking children up from elementary schools became a huge concern (and to OUSD’s credit, the district refused to allow it). Change that culture, and you get stronger neighborhoods, better law enforcement, and, ironically, much greater control over immigration.

It probably goes without saying that guns and gun control are huge issues for Oaklanders. There are several camps on this one, too; we have friends and neighbors who keep legal handguns for protection, something I wouldn’t be comfortable with personally. But the bigger issue around here is illegal handguns. They’re rampant, and contribute to the drug culture and gang warfare plaguing a number of areas of the city. We need better control and regulation of guns, and I believe this should extend to bans on automatic assault weapons and other guns that are clearly beyond the definition of “hunting” or “self-protection” weapons.

Obama would: Support some restrictions on gun ownership.

McCain would: Oppose gun control. [McCain did support some restrictions before his presidential run, but has since changed his view on this. He does, however, support mandatory background checks at gun shows.]

Advantage: Obama. This is not even a discussion. Oakland needs guns off the street today. This is a litmus test issue for me.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. I’m not even going to open the box on issues like the war, abortion, foreign relations, the death penalty, or gay marriage (a big one in California this year). Those all affect Oakland, too, but I could write a book on all this, and this is enough for one election!

(You can also read my two cents on the California ballot measures and the Oakland/East Bay elections.)