Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oakland businesses need a strong and stable city government.

Oakland businesses need a strong and stable city government.
The dialog between city government and the business community should lead to longer term planning.  The overall general framework of ordnances that define the local business environment needs to be workable and not change much or often.  Renters and home owners, investors, business operators, and city administrators need a predictable environment to make their own plans and thrive. The City Council members who will be good partners for the business community will drive a hard bargain, look at the general picture, practice active oversight and be the trusted representatives of the community. 
The instability must stop. We need to get our city budget out of the current hand-to-mouth, crisis-to-crisis mode.  We cannot be starting programs or hiring police, to stop them when balancing the budget and start them again after passing a ballot measure.  This instability hurts everyone.  
Our budget should take the business cycle into account. 
We need to tax when the economy is high and spend when it is low and have a plan for both. 
We need to tax fairly and more.  The Port of Oakland should contribute more to the operations of its local government.  Some others have also been over-favored by the tax structure while some have been hurt.  New building owners are burdened with the way property taxes punish the most recent investments (Prop. 13).  The city can restructure the way it raises business, property, sales and parcel taxes to compensate.  We need more revenue, but we need to collect it in a way that keeps local employment viable, helping people buy, rent (or rent out) real estate and invest in local business. 
We need clear zoning and permitting rules.  If an activity is allowed by the zoning of a building, then the permit should be simple.  We should also put a stop to constant zoning changes and the, current micro-detailed planning and zoning maps. The current process is unpredictable and expensive.   
The system has to become navigable.  We need to turn the city permitting process around so that the applicant has a case manager.  The case manager would navigate the system, know the full process and have the authority of a manger when they do it. 
We need to take care of what is working. We should reject all planning and projects that damage current employment in favor of development projects without contracted clients. We should never tear down one business in hopes of another.  We have a high vacancy rate and the city should be working hard to see those buildings go back into use.  Our planning should always support our significant service, non-profit and government sector.  All the jobs we have should be supported, valued and retained. 
The best thing that the City of Oakland can do for its business community is to improve the quality of our schools and reduce our chronic crime rate.  The current situation lowers our quality of life and takes down real estate values with it.  The city government needs to make the problems of crime, parolee recidivism, high school truancy, homelessness, substance abuse, unemployment, housing, urban pollution and asthma our top priorities.  These problems are deep rooted and common to urban centers across our country. Turning our crime and school problems around requires the full support of every aspect of all forms of local government.  Development projects, no matter how interesting, have to take a back seat if they are not helping the city deal with at least one of these issues in a significant way. 
Don Macleay,
Candidate for Oakland City Council, District One, November 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It is time for Measure Y to go.

If we are going to get any serious community policing and divert our young offenders into any kind of restorative justice programs, we need to stop wasting our time with our community-policing-through-regressive-parcel-tax Measure Y.

We can also do without Measure B that we had to pass later to keep from losing the whole thing because the city did not meet the police staffing levels it promised.  

I am sure that some will be happy to hold up a laundry list of numbers lauding the accomplishments of Measure Y.  Unfortunately, Measure Y and the Measure Y way of doing things do not measure up. 

The reason that the Measure Y boosters and folk from “the inner” circle of influence hold up a laundry list of numbers lauding the accomplishments under Measure Y is because if you did not hear it from them, you would never know.  This is a crime in and of itself.  Much has been done and the ground work for many a good effort has been laid.  Why then do we always seem to be just at the beginning of our effort?  

Groundwork should have led to some serious building and results by this time.  But there is little happening at a size that is being felt on the street.  Many do not know what Measure Y is, others have not even heard of it.  In the course of talking to residents and asking for their vote, I have only heard a few positive reports on Measure Y programs.  Most tell me that they only have a vague idea of what it is about and have not seen any effects.  The rate of robberies, shootings and truancy bear this out. The numbers of our young people entering the criminal justice system year after year is hardly changed. 

This is after how many years?  How can we call it a success?  

The measures that matter tell the same old sad story.  We still have our revolving door, vicious circle of mercilessness around the courts, prison and parole system.  Measure Y in a year does not help as many people who fall into this trap in a week.  We still have large numbers of people who will not cooperate with the police, even in the case of the murder of their own family members.  According to Oakland Police Capitan Anthony Toribio in 2010 about half the families of murder victims would not cooperate with the police investigation.  

And this Spring, like all Oakland Springs, fully half of the youth who should be getting their High School Diploma will not.  That is a measure of failure on our part and a measure of trouble yet to come. 

The jobs of working with our neighborhoods and the jobs of organizing our neighborhoods are always the ones that get the ax first.  If there is a budget problem, they cut the community police officers, if there is a protest against Wall Street, they cut back on community services, and it seems like some in our police force are looking for ANY excuse not to do community policing.  They seem to find that excuse quickly and our political leadership seems to get them back on track slowly.  

One of the biggest problems with the Measure Y way of doing things is that we have no stability.  We lost a lot of ground when we cut the police staff, we lost it again at the last budget, we lost it at Occupy and we continue to see community police officer assignments and community organizing stop, restart and change personnel every semester.  Every time we start and then stop and then restart a program, we have to start a lot of the work as if it were new.  That adds up to lost money, lost trained people and worst of all, lost public willingness to get involved.  

What program can be effective with that kind of instability? 

We spend more time and attention managing Measure Y than we spend on organizing community policing.  We have nobody assigned to implementing restorative justice.  What we do have is a great big pool of money and some requests for proposals that brings the unwanted attention of opportunists and instant self-appointed experts with homemade programs.  Some are good, some are amateurish.  We need to address root causes of our social problems that cause high crime, not hold procurement fairs for a bunch of small outside projects that do not give us the numbers and quality we need.  

I also want Measure Y to go because so much of it is not about Community Policing.   

It is about the Fire Department, it is about school discipline, it is about police staffing levels (thus Measure B) and it is all about all the little political deals that made the “successful politics” needed to get it passed.  This house of cards is unstable and it has fallen more than it has done good work.  People voted for a lot that had nothing to do with community policing when then voted for Measure Y.  

The “smart politics” keeps us from having a smart policy on crime and a smart policy on budgeting.
Community policing and restorative justice is our city policy; we need to enforce it in management.
The job of community organizing should be part of how we do business in our city.  It should be led by civilians and it needs to be intentionally reaching out to whole neighborhoods across race and income differences.  We should really be thinking of how to get our grass roots neighborhoods empowered.  They need to have resources to distribute. We need to engage the difficult social changes we will need to stop the cycle of chronic crime.  If we are going to organize the neighborhoods better than the current (unelected) Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council model then we need to stop telling neighborhoods what to do and let our communities act on their/our own telling us what they need.  Otherwise we will only continue to have token grass roots democracy without many backers or any effective power.  

The job of restorative justice needs to be a real job.  To start with we should review every case BEFORE we hand it to the DA’s office for prosecution.  We have the power, through our police enforcement, not to press charges and we should use it.  EVERY time we arrest someone in Oakland we should review the situation and see if we can deal with them locally.  

Restorative justice is about a lot of things, but first and foremost it is about restoring the damage done.  

SUCCESS=  A local offender on a path to reform and making amends to their victims staying in the community and in school.

FAILURE= Every young person we needlessly send to jail where they get no rehabilitation services and only learn to become more criminal than before and to then be released to a parole system that offers them nothing and cannot keep track of them.  

That FAILURE is the system we have now.  Measure Y notwithstanding.

There is no shortcut to common sense and a common cause on crime.  Measure Y is a gimmick and it has failed because it is a gimmick.  There seems to be quite a bit of consensus about changing how we fight crime and the causes of crime and how we deal with a person caught up in crime.  Otherwise we would not have voted for Measure Y.  Most of us want what Measure Y was SUPPOSED to do. 

We need to make community policing, restorative justice and community organizing part of how we do business as a whole.  Any real improvement will be a difficult process of social change.  We have started this process and made a lot of progress.  We now need to make that progress in the quantity and quality needed to reach the whole of our community.