Our Take On Incoming Chief Batts

After many moons have come and gone, Oakland has finally attracted what appears to be a street-smart, book-smart police chief.  Incoming Chief Anthony Batts held the top job in Long Beach, and the comparisons with Oakland are undeniable.  For a motivated professional like Batts, why not move north and take on a new challenge?

We didn’t know what to think about Anthony Batts, and decided to view CBS5’s raw footage of the recent press confab.  It helped to watch Batts give his prepared spiel and answer some questions off the cuff.  You do get a sense of his warmth and seriousness, all in one package.  And we believe this guy is a die-hard Raiders fan – his donning of the team cap is no act.

New Oakland Police Chief
Batts Comes From The Inner City

Chief Batts spent his formative years in Central LA.  He saw what happened on the streets first-hand, and wondered if anyone cared about African-American kids like himself.  To earn money for college and grad school, Batts joined the Long Beach police force – and stayed there for the past 27 years.

“I like to touch and feel,” explained Batts, who gets out of his Long Beach ivory tower by walking the streets and driving shotgun with beat officers too.  He actually spent time wandering around Oakland incognito before taking the top cop position here, and asked folks near Lake Merritt how they felt about our police and prospects.

Mostly, Batts seems to take a page out of the playbook used by successful business executives.  When the incoming chief talked about his approach, he said “the most important thing that I have done is put together a team and gotten out of the way.”

What Batts Plans To Do

Batts quickly ticked off his priorities for Oakland, which related to budgeting, crime rates, disconnects between police and other city workers, tactical capabilities and public trust.  He challenged Oaklanders from the get-go:  “If this community doesn’t want to make a difference [and is] more interested in fighting, dividing,” then he said there’s nothing much a chief could do.

He’s already familiar with the panoply of inner-city challenges here and mentioned dealing with gangs, prostitution, drugs and plain old violence.  It sounds like Batts won’t create excuses for so-called intractable problems.

Even with a cash-strapped department,  Betts doesn’t want Oaklanders to accept the bare minimum of police support.  He firmly stated that cops must do more than appear when called.  Not surprisingly, the new chief wants to rely on residents to communicate actively with cops, and prevent crimes that way.

Batts Believes In Community Power

Batts said he believes in community-oriented safety as well as governance.  In Long Beach, he worked with 17 community groups directly, and focused on addressing the needs of African American, Latino, gay, affluent and impoverished residents.  Something’s going right in Long Beach, as crime rates have dropped and are definitely lower than up here.

So we hope this newcomer, filled with intensity and clear-sighted direction, might be able to steer the Oakland ship differently – with a little help from his neighborhood friends.  Speaking of which, we wonder if Batts will move to Montclair or live nearby.

Update: If you are in the public eye, then it helps to be squeaky clean these days.  The Long Beach Beachcomer has written about domestic violence reports from 2002, which were related to Batts and his now-former wife, U.S. Congresswoman Laura Richardson.  Not pretty, but it’s out in the open.

Oakland Images: Houdini, Earhart, Seale

Today we were rummaging through the Oakland Museum of California’s online attic, and just had to share a few memorable faces discovered in their Oakland Tribune collection.  What an eclectic group!

Let’s start with Harry Houdini (1923), a grand magician who appeared in Oakland.  Houdini honed his famous straightjacket escape and routine for years, and successfully dangled from newspaper buildings all over the country.  Of course, the Tribune Tower performance fit with his famous shtick.

Harry Houdini

Then we’ll move to Amelia Earhart (1937), whom Oaklanders have adopted as their own.  American schoolchildren all learn about Earhart, the aviator who attempted to circle the globe from Oakland.  Here is the photo staged for the first attempt in March, which was grounded in Hawaii.  The second and fatal attempt also began from Oakland, via Miami, but no photos were taken.

Amelia Earhart

Finally, we take a look at Bobby Seale (circa 1966).  Oakland’s role in the civil rights movement is indisputable, with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale’s founding of the Black Panthers.  This image is interesting, since it shows Seale overseeing grocery donations right here.  Fast forward, and Seale still focuses on community activism and educational priorities nationally.

Bobby Seale

You may be wondering why we grouped such disparate characters together.  Well, we loved the images and how they put an Oakland twist on notable people from all walks of life – a world-renowned escape artist, star-crossed aviator, and 1960s leader are recorded for posterity in this Tribune slideshow.  Oakland’s got a storied past.

Ten Reasons To Try Art & Soul

Don’t trot out that excuse about suffering from summer festival fatigue.

As a proud Oaklander, you surely have heard of the annual Art & Soul Festival and know this mega event caps the official summer season.  With the festival underway today and tomorrow, why not soak up a little downtown ambience for a few hours?

Art Soul Oakland

We think this city-wide event is worth checking out, and here are the top ten reasons you oughta head down the hill.  Drumroll please…

  1. The best crowd mix – People watching is simply terrific around here.
  2. The only time everyone hangs together – Why do we need festivals as an excuse?
  3. Just the right size – You’re part of the action but not drowning, perfect.
  4. Something you don’t usually see – Experience the downtown without any cars.
  5. Not a regular street fair – Well, I found new crafts that weren’t at other fairs.
  6. City of Oakland tradition – Our destination event even draws visitors statewide.
  7. Comfortable for boomers – This is a place where you won’t feel uncool.
  8. Everyone is smiling – It’s so nice to walk around and feel the hella love everywhere.
  9. Jazz, rock, gospel, latin, fusion, hip-hop – The music stages prove we’re a polyglot.
  10. Somethin’ to do – On a perfect day, your family can appreciate Oakland together.

There are some musical headliners as well, which might dictate when you want to try the festival.  On Saturday you can catch BoDeans at 2:30pm, and Shawn Colvin at 4:00pm.  On Sunday, performers include Bobby Caldwell at 2:30pm, and Will Downing at 4:00pm.

But we think there’s enough action to roll downtown anytime, and join the crowd.  Chance are pretty good you are just hanging around, right?

More info:  The Festival runs Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm daily.  The music, art, kids zone and food options are scattered throughout downtown Oakland (directions).  You may enter in three places:  14th & Broadway; 16th & San Pablo; or the Promenade beside City Center West Garage.  Tickets cost $10/day for adults, $5/day for youth (13-17) and seniors (65+), and are free for kids.

Montclarions Care About Meter Hours

While Oakland parking meter changes have been in the news lately, we didn’t have a complete read on how Montclarions felt and decided to launch a parking preference survey.  Now we can report that locals seem particularly bothered by extended meter kiosk hours and are less concerned about the rate increases per se.

Most survey takers visit Montclair frequently and will continue to run errands around the village.  Some respondents said they may increase their trips to neighboring cities, due to the hassles of extended hours and kiosks.  Over time, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Parking Meter-Machines

Meter Hours Really Matter

We learned that extending the meter kiosks to 8pm was the biggest irritant, with 59 percent giving the move a resounding thumbs-down and another 6 percent saying it wasn’t okay.  Having a three-hour ticket option, starting at 5pm, has helped to ease the pain – some 24 percent gave it a thumbs-up and 41 percent said it was okay with them.

Of course, Montclarions do have unlimited daytime hours at the local parking garage.  While parking up on La Salle solves the meter hour problem, over 31 percent report they never even use this garage.  Based on the results, we believe that respondents like to drive right up to their store or restaurant of choice.

Fewer Montclarions were ticked off about the $2 per hour rates imposed by the City Council, with only 29 percent who gave it thumbs-down and 18 percent who said it wasn’t okay.  If the garage charged $2 per hour, then just 18 percent were thumbs-down and 18 percent were not okay with this rate.

Montclarions Speak Out

Montclarions have reacted strongly to the combination of later meter hours and fees.  “If I am dining out, I would much prefer to dine in Berkeley or Emeryville to save an extra $6 or a pricey parking ticket,” explained one survey taker.

Another Montclarion declared that parking changes impact “the laissez-faire feeling of the Village after 6pm – to park free, time to walk, get coffee, a drink, get dinner, schmooze with friends.  Doesn’t quality of life mean anything anymore?”

A different respondent echoed that sentiment:  “The extended hours on the meters…l don’t like it.  [It’s] revenue to the city, but a big drawback for our local restaurants.  Would I eat at Crogan’s and shop in the village or make the long haul elsewhere?”

One parent expressed frustration with the parking system itself, because “kiosks are hard for people with small children and babies to navigate.  I would rather pay more and avoid the kiosks.”

Others are more circumspect about the parking situation.  “I gripe about parking as much as the next person,” admitted one survey taker.  “Actually, in my experience, parking in Oakland is not so bad; it’s definitely better than parking in Berkeley.”

“Parking fees have very little effect on where I shop,” stated another local.  “I go for convenience, and nice places.  Parking is a small fraction of the costs/decisions I make, though I do look for free spots when available.”

Where Montclarions Shop

We also asked Montclarions where they shop, and confirmed that everyone depends on the village.  A whopping 50 percent said they make more than ten visits/month and 8 percent said they make 6-10 visits to the village.  Some 44 percent spend over 10 hours and 17 percent spend 6-10 hours parked monthly in Montclair.

Despite the fears of village proprietors, few Montclarions said they would make wholesale changes in shopping and dining destinations based on these parking changes.  The survey asked about many alternative destinations, how often they shopped there, and whether the parking rates would impact their behaviors:

  • Rockridge – This district is popular with Montclarions, with 100 percent reporting at least one visit monthly and 33 percent making six or more visits.  Given the parking rate increase, 39 percent said they would go there more often for free parking spots.
  • Other Oakland – Some 88 percent reported at least one visit monthly to Glenview, 61 percent to downtown, and 92 percent to the rest of Oakland.  Under 25 percent reported six-plus times monthly visits, and there were no plans to shift shopping to these other Oakland districts.
  • Emeryville and Berkeley – Montclarions already drive to Emeryville (83 percent) and Berkeley (96 percent) at least once monthly.  Now 33 percent said they would visit Emeryville more often and park free, while 22 percent said the same about Berkeley.  Under 20 percent would consider visiting more, even if they paid there.
  • Orinda and Lafayette – Some 35 percent of Montclarions visit at least once monthly.  Survey takers said they would drive to Orinda (22 percent) or Lafayette (18 percent) more often and park free.  They also would consider going more often, even if they fed meters.

At the end of the day, Montclarions are trying to take things in stride but are clearly disappointed by the later meter hours and restrictions.  We see an attitude shift because locals are willing to drive more frequently to other cities for shopping and dining.  However they (we) remain devoted to Montclair Village, and no one is abandoning ship.

Redwood Regional Park Sees Flames

Did you hear about the half-acre grass fire in Redwood Regional Park today?  No?  That’s probably the best sign of all, because the fire was tamped down rapidly.  Not surprisingly, our first responders worked well together.

According to the Tribune, the fire was called in before 4pm and contained by 5pm.  Firefighters from Oakland, the California Department of Forestry and East Bay Regional Parks appeared very quickly and applied brute force.

Oakland Fire Dept

First Responders and Residents Ready

Sometimes we have to point out when good stuff happens.  Ever since the Oakland Hills fire of 1991, cooperation among first responders – regardless of jurisdiction – shows they mean business about preparing for the inevitable conflagrations.

In addition, homeowners have to adhere to strict fire safety codes and are fined if they let the hazards grow wild on their properties.  There’s plenty of responsibility shouldered by Oaklanders living in the Wildfire Prevention District (WPD).

Wildfire Prevention Takes Planning

The planning doesn’t ever end.  In fact, anyone living in the wildfire district is welcome to attend the annual WPD Advisory Committee retreat this Thursday from 9am – 5pm, at the Henry Trudeau Training Center (11500 Skyline Blvd, map).

Each year, WPD committee members take a full day to discuss Oakland’s vegetation management and education programs.  They actively shape policy, procedures and policies related to living along the urban-wilderness divide for the coming year.  The committee also meets monthly, and you can drop by any third-Thursday as well.

While we know that fires begin for multiple reasons, we still kinda like Smokey the Bear who says “only you can prevent forest fires.”  In this Redwood Regional Park flare-up, it’s not clear how the fire began but it was snuffed out well…this time.

More info:  Oakland Wildfire Prevention DistrictCity Prevention SiteAdvisory CommitteeMeeting Times