Mayor’s State of the City Address: Accountability, Infrastructure, and Housing

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In our last post we analyzed Mayor Libby Schaaf’s strategy for “holistic community safety” outlined in her State of the City address. Today, we’ll continue our discussion, looking at her other three stated top priorities: responsive, trustworthy government, sustainable infrastructure, and equitable jobs and housing. 

Responsive, trustworthy government 

The Mayor’s total policy discussion on accountability was as follows:

“I could tell you about our transparency and ‘gov 2.0’ projects—like our Digital Front Door website redesign, our employee civic lab or plans for a 3-1-1 call center, but it really starts with the people.”

She then praised top staff members, the City Administrator, and other recent additions to her team.

Our take:
We don’t criticize the Mayor for publicly and openly supporting her people—that’s an important part of leadership. But we call for more emphasis on policy. A starting point might be these initiatives from her campaign white paper on how to “bring Oakland government into the 21st Century”:

What I Will Do 

Implement 311 System for better service delivery:
Do you know what number to call to report illegal dumping or a pothole? Most big cities use a 3-1-1 system to make it easy for residents to request help from their government. As Mayor I will implement a world-class 311 customer service center that transitions the City to a new generation of technology that centralizes citizen requests and makes the process and resolution of each request accessible to the public 24/7 on our website.

CityStat and the Office of Strategic Performance:
I will link the 311 service request system with a CityStat performance accountability system led by a newly established Office of Strategic Performance (see Louisville, Kentucky for a good model). I will work with department heads to establish clear performance measures and nurture a culture of continuous improvement within City Hall. In pursuit of this goal, OSP will help City departments and agencies deliver high quality services to citizens in a cost-efficient and transparent manner. Three core efforts include strategic planning, performance management, continuous improvement consulting and training. We can save on technology procurement dollars by conducting internal and external user research to scope projects more efficiently, determine what the needs are and design a scope of work to fulfill those needs. Too often contracts are signed without a clear understanding of the pain points, and key opportunities to solve actual problems are missed.

Sometime soon, Oaklanders should hear about where we stand on these efforts.

More after the break.Sustainable infrastructure:
Mayor Schaaf took a few minutes to support the new Department of Transportation, the nearly 20 new street paving projects started this year, and the $16 million secured for infrastructure. But she also drew attention to the nearly $450 million in road repairs the city still needs, and resolved to make Oakland move more quickly.

Relatedly, happening the same night just blocks away at the Paramount Theater, the urban design firm Dover, Kohl & Partners gave a “work in progress” presentation on the Downtown Oakland specific plan. Mayor Schaaf rushed there after her speech to weigh in. “This is an incredible moment of growth for our city,” she said, emphasizing the need for vibrant, “Oaklandish” spaces. (For more on this meeting, read East Bay Express’s coverage Oakland Downtown Plan Draws Skepticism.)

Our take:
First, both of these issues present enormous equity problems. While the City focuses on the Downtown Oakland specific plan, what about East Oakland? Yes, there’s an Coliseum Area Specific Plan. Its number one priority is “Retain Oakland’s sports teams, and maximize the economic benefit of the sports teams.” There’s much more in East Oakland than the Coliseum area, and many other needs besides keeping the teams. Where is the study showing what the City can do to bring jobs and economic benefits to the poorest part of our City? And while the condition of roads city-wide is abominable, nowhere is it worse than in East and West Oakland.

Second, our infrastructure is not a problem of roads alone. We have heard that many City buildings—most notably the Police Administration Building, but others as well—suffer from decades of deferred maintenance and face severe seismic dangers. This is a public safety issue, both for ordinary citizens and the people who work for the City. We need to start having a public, open, and transparent discussion about what our choices are.

$450 million just for road repairs is nearly the total amount of Oakland’s General Purpose Fund. We need to know what must be added to address other infrastructure issues, and what the economic consequences are of scheduling infrastructure repairs in a way that prioritizes public safety and equity.

Equitable jobs and housing:

Mayor Schaaf did not ignore Oakland’s growing anxiety—and fury—about affordable housing and eviction rates. “Oakland has an affordability crisis,” she said, expressing frustration that locals were being displaced and “priced-out of their hometown.”

She said Oakland must learn from the “cautionary tale of San Francisco” and not discourage new housing and growth. The Mayor pointed to 1,500 new units, 15% affordable, being built this year with more development in the pipeline. She also highlighted the city’s work on tenant protection and a new safe housing program, which will hold landlords more accountable.

The Mayor called for a controlled economic boom, success that will “lift up, not push out.” While she celebrated Oakland’s new startups and tech jobs, notably Uber’s move to downtown, she called for “tech-quity,” making sure the values and hiring practices of these new businesses align with the city’s core.

But the Mayor didn’t forget about the city’s small businesses. (One stat to keep in mind: 90% of businesses in Oakland have 20 or fewer employees). She talked about partnerships like the one with micro-financier Kiva Zip, which will make loans based on “character not credit scores.”

Above all, the Mayor stressed the importance of Oakland’s students and schools. She described new collaborations with the Oakland Unified School District on projects like Classrooms to Careers, with the goal of increasing graduation rates and fighting generational poverty.

Our take:
Equitable jobs and housing are among the most volatile issues faced not just by Oakland, but by cities throughout the United States. While we aren’t experts in, or advocates for, housing reform, we have to agree with those who believe the affordability crisis has public safety repercussions.

While the City has presented its “Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland,” it needs to adopt it—or whatever plan it has—establish metrics, and report progress.

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2 responses to “Mayor’s State of the City Address: Accountability, Infrastructure, and Housing

  1. Congrats–more incisive talk about the Mayor’s talk. It’s really not so much about talk in Oakland, it’s about accomplishment vs talk. It’s going to be a very long walk with the current residents of city hall.

  2. Ok, it’s a year later, though it feels more like 5 years of same old same old. OPD, Garbage contract, Raiders contract, Building/Fire Department errors and omissions.

    CitiStat properly implemented, might have helped prevent Ghost Ship, or at least a future Ghost Ship. If all it did was measure how often we inspected the same sites year after year, Citistat would only have helped to highlight inefficient use of firefighters and inspectors.

    Len Raphael, CPA

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