Archive for the ‘Planning & Politics’ Category


The City Dweller’s Guide to the Election: Part II (Oakland)

October 23, 2008

It’s Oakland time!

Councilmember At-Large
, Oakland City Council:
Rebecca Kaplan. The race here is just between Kerry Hamill and Rebecca Kaplan for the at-large seat, since the other seats were all settled in the June primary. I actually think either of these women could bring good energy and ideas to the Council, which is a refreshing contrast to the national races. But I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen and heard from Rebecca Kaplan, so my vote is with her. Not only does she seem to “get” cities in general, but she’s been very articulate about how she would tackle some of the heavy-hitting issues the new council will be dealing with, most notably the fallout of the corruption scandals and the housing crisis and HUD funding. I also resent Kerry Hamill’s “safe neighborhoods” ads that are all over the place, partly because her team keeps sticking them on public and commercial property without permission (big no-no!) and partly because the ads imply that she’s the safety candidate and Kaplan isn’t, which is just patently false. (One of these days I will remember to bring my camera and snap a shot of an ad that’s fallen into a vacant lot on Auto Row, where it’s been looking especially ironic.) Yes, public safety is probably the single biggest issue in Oakland right now, but we don’t need a single-issue candidate—we need someone who can think holistically about the city to enhance safety by strengthening the local economy, meeting the basic needs that are driving some of the more desperate crimes, looking at youth issues to get a handle on the gang warfare in East Oakland, etc. That’s Kaplan, in my view.

U.S. House of Representatives, District 9
Barbara Lee is running again, so there’s really not much to say here.

State Senate, District 9
Again, Loni Hancock running. This race was over back in June.

State Assembly, District 16
SandrĂ© Swanson is our current rep, and does good work. I’m sticking with him.

Superior Court, County of Alameda, Seat 9
Dennis Hayashi. Another race where there are two good contenders, though, so that’s nice. But I’m much more impressed with Hayashi’s experience and his stated goals, especially with respect to accessibility of the courts without regard for language ability or income, which is a huge barrier in Oakland.

Board Member At-Large, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District
Chris Peeples gets my vote, though I have to say that I’m not super enthused by either candidate. I find Peeples’ devotion to the Van Hool buses irritating given the many issues that have arisen with them and the huge cost, but otherwise I think he’s doing an okay job. And Joyce Roy, his challenger, is a BRT-lite fan, which irks me much more than the choice of bus thing. The buses can be fixed. Screwing up our shot at a true BRT system can’t be, at least not easily.

Board Member, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, Ward 2

I like Greg Harper fine. He can stay. As a bonus, he hates the Van Hools!

Measure N: Outstanding Teachers for All Oakland Students Act (OUSD)
NO. I almost always support any measure to increase school funding, but this one has me a bit worried. Conceptually, raising teachers’ salaries is a good thing, but everything I’ve read about Measure N suggests that it is poorly put together, and not a good means to that end given the cost to manage it. Let’s wait for a better opportunity to do this. No on N.

Measure NN: Police Services Expansion Measure (City of Oakland)
A very, very lukewarm YES.
Oakland needs more cops. Period. Even if we had all the cops that Measure Y was supposed to get us (which we don’t), we wouldn’t have enough for a city our size. Do I trust the City and OPD to manage and spend funds effectively? No, not really (though I was pleasantly surprised to see OPD overtime meet the hatchet in the deficit-closing budget meeting earlier this week, since that’s certainly one of the biggest budget sucks). But at the end of the day I think we need to secure the money first, and then make sure we put the fire under them to do it right. There’s a compelling argument that says that’s me being overly optimistic (and/or a trusting idiot), but there ya go. Yes on NN. If you want to vote no, though, I won’t hate you for it. And I somehow doubt it’s passing either way.

Measure OO: Kids First! (Oakland Fund for Children and Youth Act)
NO WAY. I’m usually a shoe-in for any measure that supports kids or education….but not this one. Here’s why: while this is a great idea, this ballot measure doesn’t include a funding source for this work, which means it’s an unfunded mandate to the City to move money in the General Fund over to this fund. Which means taking money from somewhere else. The City Council just spent hours trying to figure out which critical programs to cut this week. We’ll be holding round two of that if OO passes. I’d actually like to see this measure return in a few years with some teeth—figure out where the City will get the money from, and then spend it. We do need more funding for youth programs, but not at the expense of parks, libraries, arts, police, street lights, and other crucial services. (Incidentally, if this had been a parcel tax for these programs, I would happily have voted for it.) The worst case scenario if this passes is that we could wind up in a few years’ time with a sea of these issue-driven mandates controlling General Fund spending so tightly that the City won’t have anything left to fund basic services. No on OO.

(More no on OO from V Smoothe, D.’s go-to source for how-to-vote advice when he doesn’t feel like listening to me.)

Measure VV: Special Tax Measure (AC Transit)
YES. Okay, let’s get rid of that negative energy. Here comes a critical ballot measure that Oakland can’t go without. A while back, AC Transit, which provides bus service throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties and across the Bay Bridge to downtown San Francisco, announced that they would have a massive deficit in large part because the state had pulled a lot of local transportation funding. They’d have to raise fares across the board, and cut service and routes. People cried. They staged protests. Seniors and youth who can barely afford to ride now showed up to public meetings. Everyone begged AC Transit to look for another solution. Well, folks—here it is! This measure extends and raises by $4/month a current parcel tax for transit services. Four bucks a month is pretty minimal as taxes go—in fact, I’m the only bus rider in our house and I only ride a few times a week, but we’ll still pay less with the new parcel tax than we would have with the increased bus fares. This is important for Oakland in part because a strong transit system helps keep cars off our streets, and in part because it’s an equity issue for transit-dependent Oaklanders (including seniors and youth). Yes on VV.

Measure WW: Renew & Protect Our East Bay Regional Parks (EBRPD)
I *heart* parks. I especially *heart* EBRPD parks, which are honestly some of the most incredible regional parks I have ever known (and I’ve lived in some very park-rich cities!) I will pretty much vote for any parks measure, but this one is especially good because it’s an extension of an existing measure, so it’s not a new tax. And it’s a proven program—the renewal of the parks really is working. It also allocates funding very specifically, so you know exactly what you’re getting. (Me? I’m getting the East Bay Greenway, Eastshore State Park, public access to the Oakland shoreline and estuary, more open space at Sibley, and Redwood Creek. What’s in there for you?) Yes on WW.

Berkeley’s Measure KK
NO!! Finally, just for kicks, let’s talk about Measure KK, which is actually a Berkeley measure but will directly affect Oakland. Measure KK seeks to require voter approval for transit-only and commuter/bus-only lanes as an underhanded means of barring AC Transit from dedicating a lane along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley to bus rapid transit (BRT), an innovative system that gets you most of the efficiency of light rail at a fraction of the cost. We need-need-need BRT. It will provide reliable, more frequent bus service to better connect our neighborhoods, help reduce emissions, and wean us off cars. Berkeley, in its beautifully contrary nature, is working on its climate action plan to reduce car use, but doesn’t want transit in its midst. Huh??

The people who live in the Berkeley neighborhoods along Telegraph (and I used to be one of them and still get all their emails, so I’m comfortable vouching for them) are convinced that taking a lane for BRT will lead to people driving around Telegraph on the side streets and parking there, too. Shops will lose their customers when people can’t park in front. Telegraph will get even more congested. Okay. Let’s unpack these. Will people drive and park on side streets if Telegraph is congested? Left to their own devices, sure. But that’s one of the easiest things in the world to control: you close off the ends of streets, and you use residential parking permits, as in Elmwood. Done. Will shops lose customers? Umm. Have you been to this part of Telegraph recently? It’s virtually all student-oriented shopping. The students are coming from campus, not in their cars. I, for one, will go to Telegraph way more often if I can do it in a few minutes on BRT—it’s already painful to drive there, so I don’t. You risk running over students, hippies, and guys selling buttons. I can’t think of many/any shops in that stretch that require cars for transporting your purchases. Half the streets are already one way in bizarre directions. The notion that people will refuse to abandon their cars even in the face of steep parking fines and annoying street patterns is puzzling. That’s exactly the point: you make it super quick and easy to hop on the bus and a royal pain to drive, and YES, people will stop driving.

Importantly, if Berkeley blocks BRT, there’s a very real chance it won’t happen in North Oakland, either, since it will be less viable along just half of the Telegraph corridor. In that case, it’s most likely that the line would run from San Leandro into downtown Oakland, but end there—stranding those of us in Westlake, Mosswood, Temescal, Bushrod, and other parts of North Oakland. If you live in Berkeley or know people who do, urge them to walk the walk, not just talk the talk—their new climate action plan calls for encouraging transit and other alternatives to cars along major transit corridors. Berkeleyans need to prove that they mean what they say.

(More on Measure KK and the other state and local transit measures from Living in the O.)


The City Dweller’s Guide to the Election: Part I (California)

October 23, 2008

Okay, I’ve kept politics out of this blog up till now, but as the November election gets closer, it’s time to start sorting through all those races and ballot measures that are coming up. I though it would be interesting to look at these issues with an eye towards what might be best for Oakland, and for cities in general. This is Part I, which focuses on the California statewide ballot initiatives. Part II will look at local Oakland measures, and Part III will tackle the national race. Here goes!

Prop 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century
YES. This would be even more important if the East Bay spur of the rail were still under serious consideration, because that would have connected Oakland and the other East Bay cities to what may well be one of the most life-changing infrastructure improvements in California in generations. High speed rail not only provides connections between all of the state’s cities, but it helps get traffic off the freeways, and ultimately may help us get the freeways out of the cities altogether. This initiative will build dedicated tracks for passenger rail to avoid scenarios like the horrible LA train collision earlier this fall. In most parts of our country, freight companies own the tracks, so passenger trains must stop and wait for freight trains to pass before they can go on their way; some Amtrak trains wait for hours to allow a late freight train to pass through. A new system is costly, yes, but most good infrastructure is; we’ve simply grown accustomed to not paying for new infrastructure (and not even keeping up what we already have terribly well). We need a new era of public investment in our facilities. If you’re under 45, this will probably be the most important transportation infrastructure project in your lifetime. Be a part of it, and help California set a new precedent for train travel! A very big YES on 1A!

Prop 2: Standards for Confining Farm Animals
YES. This one is hugely controversial. Basically, it requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. I think that’s a great thing. The argument against it is that it’s too expensive to raise animals this way, so stores will start importing these products from out of state. I don’t buy it. It is similarly “too expensive” to pay living wages to workers in the U.S., and so we import products made by children in Indonesia. The funny thing is that people have started caring about Indonesian kids, and realizing that there’s a tradeoff to things that are cheap. I think the same will be true of raising animals for food. If other states follow suit—and fuel costs continue to rise—we’ll see the relative cost of raising animals humanely drop. In the meantime, I think it will also be a boon for California’s small farms, many of which are doing this already, and for backyard agriculture. A chicken for every yard. Yes on 2.

Prop 3: Children’s Hospital Bond Act
A lukewarm YES.
No, it’s not *that* Children’s Hospital bond measure! This one would benefit children’s hospitals (and hospitals in general) across the state. Is it true that the Prop 61 money isn’t even spent yet? Yes, but that’s intended for grants through 2014, and is a much smaller pot of money that doesn’t begin to make a dent on needs. Oakland’s own Children’s benefits from both measures (and has already completed its Prop 61 work) and does desperately need seismic improvement even if the measures on the last ballot weren’t the right way to get it—and for that reason, I say yes on 3. (The best argument against it, I think, is that the state is already massively bonded and should be avoiding any more debt right now. I buy that, too; if we’re only going to bond for one thing this year, it ought to be high-speed rail.)

Prop 4: Abortion Waiting Period & Parental Notification Initiative
How many times has this one been on the ballot?? No, no, no to creating disincentives for pregnant teens to seek counseling and support for difficult decisions like abortions. An issue for Oakland, as for other communities, because we have a high incidence of teen pregnancy….and they need all the support they can get. I’m not opposed at all to involving parents in this process, and ideally they’re actively involved, but there shouldn’t be a mandate or waiting period that will interfere with teens’ rights to choose. No on 4.

Prop 5:
Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA)
YES. This is another tricky one that will have a big impact on Oakland, where drug busts barely phase me anymore. There are compelling arguments for and against it, but at the end of the day, I say yes on this. It prioritizes treatment over incarceration, and I think we have pretty compelling evidence that California prisons just aren’t working (and may actually be making the gang/drug problems worse). This proposal is based on Prop 36, which has largely succeeded at treating nonviolent drug offenders. This one also includes youth treatment, which is significant—we know that our prison system is failing youth right now, so if this provides an alternative for just a few of those kids, we may have fewer adult offenders down the road. Substance abuse and mental health are woefully underfunded across the country, and I do have faith that, given the resources, many drug offenders can become productive members of our community. Let’s just hope it works. Yes on 5.

Prop 6: Safe Neighborhoods Act/Runner Initiative
NO. Like much of what seems to wind up on the California ballot (have I mentioned what a screwed up system of governance this is?? Remind me again what we pay our lawmakers for?!?), this proposition has a happy sunshine goal, but a pretty misguided way of getting there. Of course I want a safe neighborhood, but this isn’t how I’m going to get one. It introduces a number of unfunded (or partially funded) mandates for counties, cities, and housing authorities, and moves a chunk of funding from crime prevention programs to crime prosecution. More youth will be tried and jailed as adults (yup, we know how well our prisons work for kids!) It’s incredibly expensive (try one BILLION dollars!) for a not-especially-well-thought-out program, too. The list of people opposing it is ridiculously long, and includes not only the Oakland police chief, but also the mayor and entire city council (not to mention most of the elected officials in shouting distance of Oakland, plus many community organizations I highly respect). No on 6.

Prop 7: Renewable Energy Generation (aka “Big Solar”)

NO. Surprise surprise. This is another one that sounds like it should be a good idea, but really isn’t. Clean, renewable energy is great. Done right, it will actually cost us less and establish California as a leader in the field, which is important for Oakland because we have a green jobs initiative to build an urban workforce for energy and related industries. But Prop 7 goes about this the wrong way, and will actually make it cost more. It’s inflexible, so we’re not positioning ourselves to change with the science. And it excludes the small local renewable companies from the benefits, which just isn’t right—they were the ones forging this path long before the big producers got on board. (For what it’s worth, though, the big boys aren’t on board for this proposition either.) No on 7.

Prop 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry
Has your life changed dramatically since same-sex couples gained the right to marry last spring? No? Okay, so why take away someone else’s right—just to be mean? (Smear campaigns aside, this doesn’t change nonprofit status for churches or force new teaching in schools—churches marry people spiritually, not legally, so their practices are unaffected, and schools already teach tolerance of all families and will continue to do so regardless of how marriage is defined.) From a more practical perspective, this one is important to Oakland because our city is home to many gay and lesbian families, especially families with children, who would be very directly affected by losing the rights associated with civil marriage. Let’s keep our communities family-friendly for everyone. No on 8—don’t discriminate!

Prop 9: Victims’ Rights & Protection Act of 2008
Okay, so right off the bat, this one is another constitutional amendment, which should raise a red flag. The California Constitution is not something we should be amending every November depending on how the wind blows. This is yet another proposition that tries to address very real problems with our criminal justice system in a convoluted, not-especially-effective way. Yes, victims should have rights. But they already have the notification rights that are included in this proposition. Should those rights also include being paid restitution before any other creditors? Maybe, maybe not; consider a multi-million dollar fine, for instance, for a criminal who also owes child support. Not so sure that the victim ought to get every asset before the kids. Should the wait for parole increase? Maybe, but amending the constitution is not the way to do that, either. The point of parole hearings is that people are evaluated case-by-case based on the nature of the crime and the individual, so a blanket approach to barring early releases defeats the system. At the end of the day, this proposition throws more people in jail who may or may not belong there, and gets rid of some basic rights like due process. I don’t like getting rid of rights, in case you can’t tell. (Also interesting is that the only major supporter of this proposition, Henry Nicholas, stopped advocating for it after he was indicted for felony drug conspiracy. Oops.) No on 9.

Prop 10: California Alternative Fuels Initiative (aka “Big Wind”)

NO. This is a proposition that was hastily put together by all the people opposed to Prop 7. Yay, I love legislation from the ballot box. Read everything on Prop 7 again, except put “will cost much more” everywhere it says “will cost more.” It still doesn’t do much for the little guys. We need renewable technology, but I’m comfortable leaving that to our legislature to work on. (C’mon, we need to leave them *something* to do!) No on 10.

Prop 11: Voters FIRST Act
YES. Is this going to affect Oakland? Hard to say, but I’ll count it that way. Basically, I have no issue with commissioners drawing district boundaries, and I think we should be redrawing district boundaries as demographics change. The notion that appointed officials are more likely to be corrupt than elected officials just seems a bit off. Right now politicans get to draw their own district lines. (I know, if you don’t live in California, you’re shaking your head in disbelief right about now.) If anything, bureaucrats seem *more* likely to draw them fairly, not less. Let’s give it a shot, at least. Yes on 11.

Prop 12: Veteran’s Bond Act of 2008

YES. This extends an existing program, and with more veterans coming home every day (many of them to Oaktown!), it seems to me that we ought to keep this around. Opponents include a guy in Mountain View, who doesn’t actually object to the act, but thinks it ought to define veterans as those who served in combat, not just anyone who was in the armed forces. Proponents include everybody else. (Okay, that’s a little exaggeration—but really, there basically aren’t any opponents on record!) So I say yes on 12.

Next up: local issues, including the Oakland City Council race and some important local funding measures.