Category Archives: Public Safety

Ten Questions for Darlene Flynn, Oakland’s Director of Race & Equity

DarleneFlynn
In 2016, Oakland formed its Department of Race & Equity, and recruited Darlene Flynn as its Director. Last month, Carrie Crespo-Dixon, one of Make Oakland Better Now!’s board members, sat down with Ms. Flynn to talk about taking on the unprecedented role of leading this department. Continue reading

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Attend The City of Oakland’s Special Meeting on Violence Reduction

Measure Z

On Tuesday, April 30, 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, the Oakland City Council, Safety and Services Oversight Commission, Police Commission and Community Policing Advisory Board will hold the annual meeting required by Measure Z, the public safety parcel tax measure passed by the voters in 2014 that funds police staffing and social services directed at reducing violent crime, and that also established the Safety and Services Oversight Commission (“the SSOC”). We encourage all Oaklanders who are able to do so to attend and participate. Continue reading

Stronger Police Commission, New Compliance Director Needed After the Pawlik Shooting


On February 19, Oakland’s court-appointed Monitor and Compliance Director Robert Warshaw issued an addendum to OPD’s Executive Force Review Board’s report on the police killing of Joshua Pawlik. (The full text of the addendum can be found here; other public documents related to this case can be found here.) In this addendum, Mr. Warshaw is highly critical of the Executive Force Review Board’s conclusions, and of Chief Kirkpatrick, leading some in our community to call for Mr. Warshaw to fire Chief Kirkpatrick.

As Compliance Director, Mr. Warshaw has the right to fire the police chief, but we would not only urge that Mr. Warshaw not fire Chief Kirkpatrick. We would also urge the court to appoint a different Compliance Director. Continue reading

Oakland’s Mid-Cycle Budget: Gun Tracing, Illegal Dumping and More

                                                                                                      (Photo:Jeremy Brooks)

On Tuesday, June 19, Oakland’s City Council will be considering the usual mid-cycle adjustment to Oakland’s budget. The administration’s initial proposal is here.  (Its supplemental reports are here and here.) We’ve spent much time evaluating all of the current possibilities, and considering them in light of our priorities:  public safety, public works, transparency and accountability, homelessness reduction and budget responsibility.  Our recommendations to the Mayor, City Administrator and City Council are shared below: Continue reading

A Guide to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA): The Cost

 

In our previous post, we gave a brief history of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). Here, we’ll look at the costs and what can be done to get the Oakland Police Department out from under oversight.

How much does the NSA cost Oakland?
In 2015, Rashidah Grinage, from the Coalition for Police Accountability, filed a Public Records Act request with the City of Oakland, asking for all data on the cost of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. Paula Hawthorn, who serves on the board of Make Oakland Better Now! and is a member of the Coalition, analyzed that data, and found that from 2003 until the time of the request,  the total spent had been about $30,000,000. Continue reading

Is Oakland Prepared for the Next Fire? (Part 3)

This is the third post in our three-part series on fire safety in Oakland. Read part one here and part two here.  In this post, we’ll continue the discussion of wildfire prevention.

Oakland Fire Department seems to have outdated monitoring systems. 10-15% of properties to be inspected have not turned up on inspection roles in the past. Additionally, a recent audit of OFD’s vegetation management found that in two fiscal years, OFD issued 1,369 invoices for vegetation code violations, totaling $419,386, but only collected $2,121 – because it had to void 98% of the fines due to input errors. Clearly OPD needs more inspectors and better data systems.

This recent audit also found that OFD still needs to improve its internal controls, its oversight of the inspection system, and needs to develop a better enforcement system for cars blocking ingress for emergency vehicles. Furthermore, OFD does not appear to have a system in place to track structure or wildfire deaths year over year. This type of data collection should be required.

OFD has been working for years on a new vegetation management plan, and we are told it should be ready by 2019. This plan will only be a scientific assessment of the vegetation in City parks and open space in the hills, and the best practices and standards for reducing the fire risk. Should the City Council adopt these future findings, we still need the City to commit resources to making sure robust prevention occurs.

OFD can also better protect residents by implementing technology solutions. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has invested in automatic electrical switch systems. They cut electricity to 12,000 customers in San Diego County in December during the recent wildfires after winds reached 88 mph in some rural areas. Meanwhile, PG&E is still struggling to develop a policy for whether to embrace automatic electrical shut-offs. The control of electrical lines is not OFD’s responsibility, but OFD could be an advocate for such a solution. SDG&E looks at red flag warnings the same as other utilities look at hurricane warnings – they have built an infrastructure and mind set that lets them and their clients prepare in advance. Oakland and PG&E should invest in the same infrastructure for Oakland as well as other Bay Area communities.

WUI residents are now starting to pay the cost – in addition to bearing greater fire risk. Residents are discovering insurance carriers will no longer cover fire risk (or offer only a small level of coverage, or require much higher premiums). Insurance companies are using more complex models to determine the fire risk in different areas – and the Oakland Hills fall into a high-risk profile. It’s not clear whether better preventive efforts will lead to better insurance policies, but the risk of wildfire, regardless of insurance concerns, demands better support from the City.

What do you think Oakland could do better to improve its wildfire prevention strategy? Comment below or email us at makeoaklandbetter@gmail.com. 

Is Oakland Prepared for the Next Fire? (Part 2)

Is Oakland Prepared for the Next Fire?

This is part two of a three-part series on fire safety in Oakland. Read part one here. In this post we’ll examine the history and dangers of wildfires in Oakland.

As discussed in our last post, Oakland’s 1991 wildfire and recent wildfires across the state should make us take the threat of wildfires seriously. We know wildlands in the western United States tend to burn regularly, and wildland ecosystems need fire to maintain themselves. Wildfires are fueled by dry vegetation and wind, and the East Bay’s vegetation is becoming dryer for more days of the year, particularly with the drought, which seems to be returning in 2018. Severe wind conditions may also become more extreme: the 1991 Oakland Hills fire was driven by 65 miles-per-hour winds; the Santa Rosa Coffey Fire is reported to have been fed by winds at speeds over 60 mph.

The Oakland Hills is a wildland urban interface (WUI) – an area “where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire,” as defined by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). A hundred years ago, the Oakland Hills only had a fraction of its current housing density. Oakland’s total 1900 population was about 67,000 people – more than doubling to 150,000 in 1910 after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Now, in 2018, 25,000 people now live in areas near and above Highway 13, where dry vegetation abounds.

In 1993, the Oakland City Council recognized this wildfire risk and instituted a fire prevention district to reduce the vegetation fuel load on City properties in the Oakland hills and to increase related prevention services. Changes in California taxation law in 1997 forced the City to ask property owners to form an assessment district to continue receiving public funding, but voters refused it.

The City from 1997-2003 allocated $1 million per year from the general fund to support vegetation removal. Then in 2004, community volunteers successfully sponsored a Wildfire Prevention Assessment District (WPAD) with the support of 74% of voters. The new district was in place for 10 years from 2004-2014.

The WPAD funding was principally, but not entirely, aimed at City-owned lands, funding:  

  • Goat grazing on city open space
  • Free tree wood chipping and removal services for property owners in the District
  • Development of protocols for working in and around protected species
  • Installation of fire danger signs
  • Purchase of two remote automated weather station (RAWS) computer terminals
  • Funding for fuel reduction efforts on city properties in the District
  • Community education and outreach

In 2013, a WPAD reenactment ballot measure fell short of the needed two-thirds majority by 67 votes. The City of Oakland must now, once again,  fund these critical prevention services from the General Fund until such time as the public agrees to support a new funding source.

The Oakland Firesafe Council (OFSC), led by many of the WPAD volunteer leaders, issued a recent report on the state of current wildfire prevention. This report states that the biggest ongoing issues are: invasive ivy, dead debris, vegetation, and parked cars on narrow streets (blocking easy egress), tree limbs touching structures and/or the ground, and “substantial quantities of fire-prone vegetation on many of the public open space properties that have not been effectively maintained.”

Ken Benson of the OFSC and former WPAD Chair estimates that 40% of Oakland public lands (like street medians and city-owned parcels) would not pass the same inspection standards that the City asks residents to meet. The OFSC and leaders from the former WPAD also believe strongly that OFD suffers from inefficient and insufficient staffing in the Fire Prevention Bureau.

High turnover in inspectors is part of the problem – two positions are part-time and all vegetation management inspectors earn less than regular fire inspectors, so the newly hired seek promotion to higher paying positions as soon as possible.
Dangerous electrical wiring is harder to see than vegetation. One can easily drive through Hiller Highlands, Forest Park, Montclair, Woodminster, or upper Knowland Park to see areas with overgrown vegetation. Each year, OFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau inspects about 26,000 properties for compliance with the California Fire Code relative to vegetation management in the high-fire area of the Oakland hills. OFD inspectors are looking to see if properties have defensible space: if vegetation adjacent to buildings is cut back sufficiently such that the structure is not likely to catch fire from embers if the vegetation starts burning.

OFD states that compliance upon first inspection is less than 50% but increases to 95% upon the 2nd inspection, and thereafter results in a 98% compliance rate. However, this means that approximately 500 homes in high-danger areas continue to have dangerous amounts of dry vegetation year-round.

The difference between the OFSC report and the City’s accounting has to do with the quality of the initial inspections, and enforcement by the forever short-staffed vegetation management inspectors on those who have yet to comply. Furthermore, as stated above, volunteer leaders estimate that 40% of city-owned properties would fail inspections. We have no idea how the city inspects its own properties!

In our next post, part three, we will continue this discussion of wildfire prevention in Oakland.