Make Oakland Better Now! congratulates our elected or re-elected City Council members Dan Kalb (D1), Lynette Gibson McElhaney (D3), Noel Gallo (D5), Larry Reid (D7) and Rebecca Kaplan (At Large).  Running for office is very hard, and we recognize that no one would do it who didn’t sincerely  want the best for our City. In that spirit,  we wish our newly elected and reelected officials the greatest success in making Oakland the city we all want it to be.

Now that the election is over, it’s time for even harder work to begin. The question we hear from all parts of  Oakland is this: what do these election results mean?  Most people seem to think we will see an increase in civility among council members, and that’s a good thing.  But it will take far more than increased civility to make the changes Oakland needs.  City leaders need to do something they haven’t done in many years:  they must align their actions with their oft-stated beliefs in public safety, budgetary responsibility and government transparency.

As our welcome to the new and returning City Council members, we thought we would review what Kalb, McElhaney, Gallo and Kaplan said on these subjects in response to our questionnaire (CM Reid did not respond). In the details below, we show that on public safety,  all of the newly elected city council members, and re-elected at large Council Member Kaplan, agree that the police force must be rebuilt to at least 803 officers; two of them support at least 900; and incoming Council Member Gallo supports building the police to either 1,000 or 1,100 officers.  All strongly or somewhat agree with MOBN! that “increasing the size of the police department [must be Oakland’s] number one priority.”

Oakland’s current leadership has not made this increase its number one priority.  At the pace of officer hiring and attrition reported by Chief Jordan, under the best of circumstances, the Oakland Police Department will not reach the 803 level supported by Kalb until 2024, will not reach 900 officers until 2029, and cannot reach the 1000 level called for by Gallo until 2035.  With four successful candidates agreeing this must be Oakland’s number one priority, we eagerly look forward to their actions starting in January.

On the issues of  a rainy day fund, a three-term limit for City Council members, strengthening Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission, and independent funding for the Commission and the City Auditor, there is general support for a rainy day fund, but less consensus for the other policies. The details are below:

Dan Kalb:  From his questionnaire responses:

All persons have an interest in safe streets and neighborhoods. My public safety agenda highlights public investments that will provide the best return, such as hiring more crime investigators, bringing our police force back up to over 800 sworn officers, and securing funds for programs that promote education and job training and restore pathways for parolees to re-join our society. A good education and a pathway to a job are the best deterrents to crime.

and (while stating that he “somewhat agreed” with the MOBN! public safety proposal):

I support bringing OPD up to the 803 level and then conducting an independent study to determine at what level we should go to from there. I agree that we should not lay off any more sworn officers. I support the police academies that have been scheduled and I certainly would support additional academies to help us get back up to over 800 sworn officers.  I agree that increasing the number of sworn officers in OPD is a top priority. I also support hiring additional crime investigators, and I urge MOBN to add that to their public safety plan.

Kalb also answered that he would support a rainy day fund, a three term limit for City Council members, strengthening Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission, and independent funding for the Commission and the City Auditor.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney:  She stated that she strongly supported MOBN!’s public safety plan, that her first public safety priority was to restore the police department to Measure Y levels, and she described the crisis this way:

Public safety must be a major priority for our City leadership. Violence directly hinders business development. It also leaves entire neighborhoods traumatized and fear-filled, leading to additional negative social and economic impacts . . . . I have spoken with . . . residents during my run for City Council and the majority of them name public safety as their biggest concern. They point to the stress they feel every day because of their fear of this violence.

While opposing term limits, she strongly supported a rainy day fund charter amendment, supported adequate funding for the City Attorney, City Auditor and Public Ethics Commission, and stated she would “consider” a charter amendment to ensure that funding.

Noel Gallo:  He gave very strong answers on restoring the size of the police department:

I intend to take a hard line on public safety policies; I will support and work to align the City’s budget to support public safety initiatives, including the immediate funding and implementation of police academies, until the Police Force reaches 1,000 officers.


Public Safety must be the number one priority in Oakland. Oakland needs more police officers patrolling the City. Expert data, including the US Department of Justice has found that . . . Oakland needs at least 1,100 police officers. There are many other ways to fight crime, but without an adequately staffed police department we will continue to be reacting to crime, not preventing crime.

He did not support independent funding sources for the City Attorney and Auditor or Public Ethics Commission, but did favor term limits and a rainy day fund.

Rebecca Kaplan:  She stated that she “strongly agreed” with the MOBN! public safety plan to make increasing the police force to 900 the city’s number one priority:

I agree strongly – When Oakland got close to this number before (836) it did succeed in reducing crime. That’s why I voted against the 2010 layoffs, supported a no-layoffs clause in police contracts, fought to hire back more in 2011, and voted for three new police academies this year. This is a key difference between me and my challenger – and I’m proud to stand with you not only on this important goal, but on doing the work to grow our force and quickly enough to outpace attrition. This includes no layoffs, and regularly scheduled academies to maintain/increase force levels.

Responding to our question about a charter-based rainy day fund and protections for the public ethics commission, city auditor and city attorney, she expressed generalized support for all, but without committing to charter amendments.  She also indicated she “somewhat supported” MOBN!’s term limits proposal, expressing some concern about “the “musical chairs” problem . . .where term limits legislation . . . might allow long-term local officials to move from one seat to a different seat without bringing new people into City Hall.”

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Deborah V. Acosta

    Oakland cannot solve our public safety issues if we continue to beat the drum that it will be solved with hiring new cops. As Joe Tuman pointed out in a Facebook post yesterday, in response to the EBX article last week on the internal OPD issues: “We do not have leadership at either the mayor’s level or within the city council that does anything more than make unkept
    promises about police staffing. Think police officers are expensive? Of course they are–but who negotiated (and negotiates) those contracts? City officials. Think pension costs for city workers–and especially safety workers are huge? Of course they are–and unfunded pension liability is a serious drag on the financial health of this city. But pensions are calculated to reflect base salaries. Who negotiated the deal for these things? Our city officials. And who continues to see pension obligation bonds (borrowing money to help pay off our pension obligations) as a solution–even though it means we will owe more in the long run? Our city officials. Think police overtime is a huge expense? Of course it is–but when you have fewer officers, they have to do more overtime to cover the same work. And then they do it poorly (as this article demonstrates). But who created a situation in which there would be fewer officers (thus more overtime) in the first place? Once again–our city officials.”

    If the new batch of City Council people continue to focus on expanding the very expensive police department, without providing effective programs to fix the social environment, grow businesses and jobs, and link on-the-job training of our underemployed and unemployed to these jobs opportunities — nothing will change. We need our Council people to collaborate on City-wide strategies — get their heads out of their Districts and take a look at what is best for the City as a whole. It’s been decades since we’ve had effective political or staff leadership to create strategic plans for public safety or economic development.

    If not now — when???

  2. I agree with Ms. Acosta. And I think Joe knows the MOBN guys, so I imagine they have been talking offline about this as well.

    My take on this, from being engaged on related issues, both here and statewide, is that we need something along the lines of a TRUE vision for Oakland. And not some wimpy “vision” statement. Rather – it needs to be along the lines of major systemic change.

    The economists I have talked to agree with me that fixing obvious income disparities is a start. And I really do see the solution as involving increased opportunity and commerce here in the flat parts.

    This means that decisions need to be pulled “out” of the weak politically-correct world – and pulled into the stronger practical world, where we see that in East Oakland at least, the two largest drivers of violence are (1) lack of jobs, and (2) weak families/social structures.

    I call it “jobs and morals.”

    As a full member of our largest faith congregation here, I also see the churches as being the vanguard on much of this. Folks from outside of the flat parts simply need to understand that the churches have much expertise on real and practical solutions to violence, and it is my opinion that the city needs to stop recoiling from our local faith communities.

    I am optimistic, however. I actually *know* or have met, most of the recently elected folks, and most of the sitting folks, and I do see a trend towards more harmony.

    This is a start. But it is not a finish.

    The finish will be when the flat parts are economically and socially at the same level as the hills, and I do not think that is impossible. I think it requires money from plain old American commerce. And we have the people, the land, the freeways, the ports, the media, the schools, and the faith – to make this happen.

    And I think it will.

    Like I said – it requires vision, and it is said that a people without vision will perish. I think a vision is forming, and I am just reporting what people here tell me is happening.

  3. Mike

    It’s gratifying that there will be three new faces in the Council who all seem to have ideas about new directions for Oakland.

    One has to wonder, however, how much these new Council members really understand about how government and especially the Council actually work (or should it be “work?”).

    Are they aware of much Council members interfere, most often destructively and for personal reasons, with administrative functions? Do they know the enormous number of oversight roles the Council must perform–a look at a month or two of Council agendas is very revealing. This work alone, done properly, would be more than a full-time job for a Council member.

    Do they know about the pervasive low morale among city staffers who are quite aware that if they speak out about a problem that they can lose their jobs if a Council member is offended?

    Are they fully aware of the need for the Council, and city government as a whole, to build a reservoir of confidence generally in the electorate? New programs will require additional funding and the record of Oakland government for inspiring confidence is not confidence-inspiring.

    Are they aware of the challenges, for anyone, including Council members, of getting clear and useful information about city finances?

    Do they understand the depth of disorganization and low morale in the Oakland Police Department? It won’t do much good to add more cops to a highly-dysfunctional department with all sorts of critical resource shortfalls. This has to do with something called strategic planning.

    Do they see the need for Oakland to have a solid vision for change and a carefully-prioritized and -limited list of new projects to take on? Just going to meetings and delivering client services to citizens can be much more than a full-time job for them. If it takes two years to climb the Oakland civic governance learning curve before they have to start thinking about re-election, how much are they going to be able to accomplish?

    One would hope that the new members, along with the two or three more thoughtful members who now serve, as well as some community members, could get together before they assume office in order to make a coherent plan for actually moving Oakland forward a step in the next couple of years. Maybe MOBN could help to foster such an effort.

  4. Jonathan C. Breault

    99% of the work product of our current administration is meaningless, gratuitous and self serving nonsense generally designed to appease the interests of some constituency no matter how ridiculous or counter productive. It would help if the electorate in Oakland was sufficiently engaged, mature, educated, rational, realistic and properly acquainted with economics and fiscal issues so that the absurd behavior of our leaders would be easily explained and exposed for the absurdity that it is. We elect people to high office in this town who are uniformly unqualified and who are generally saddled with debts to special interests whose principal goals are at odds diametrically with those of the taxpayers. As a consequence we are broke and we are under the thumb of incompetent and foolish amateurs who continue to over borrow, over promise, over pay and over spend. I see no end to the pathology of ineptitude which to my mind is the hallmark of Oakland public policy. This place is rancid with the odor of bad deals, bad policy and rampant cronyism. The idea that this new batch of politicians auger a new day in Oakland is sophomoric and naive.

  5. Jonathan, in another recent editorial, you said that “[m]oral relativism leads to the undoing of civilization. ”

    That is why I think that our faith communities can play a role in the rebuilding of Oakland. I am a member of our largest church here in East Oakland. I believe that we are one of the largest churches in Northern California, and we preach exactly *against* the sort of moral decay that you decry.

    In fact, if not for the intense amount of work that our faith communities already do, much of the flatlands would be far worse than it is. We have our own schools, day care centers, food banks, adult education, business incubators, etc. . . Much of the progress I see here in Oakland, is attributable to the churches.

    Because of the weak media here (which I am guessing you agree about) – none of this is reported in the main media. Thus, there is a perception that the “city” is doing the heavy lifting on our streets. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in East Oakland. I see great beacons of hope here, and these beacons include our churches, and our “non-City-aligned” NGOs and community clubs.

    It is my wish that you do not view *me* as being sophomoric. I am generally considered to be someone who knows what is up.


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