Uncool To Buy Things

The economy has changed how some people think about shopping.  At least based on local coffee shop chatter, it seems uncool to admit you are buying anything at all.  We have more than our share of residents who sound and act cautious because we’re in the recession.

Well, marketing mavens have labels for everyone, and so-called Pragmatic Spenders “cut back and are engaging in thrift like others but seem less troubled by the recession.”  We’re guessing there are plenty of them in the Montclair area.

According to Decitica, Americans fall into four post-recession segments:  Steadfast Frugalists (20%); Involuntary Penny-Pinchers (29%); Pragmatic Spenders (29%); and Apathetic Materialists (22%).

Yesterday, I overheard discussion between two Pragmatic Spenders, who were right next to me at a Mountain Avenue coffee shop. Here’s a quick paraphrasing of their exchange:

Woman X:  Carries in nice clothing catalog and sits down.
Woman Y:  Leans over from next table, “What is it?”
Woman X:  “I found this catalog outside.”
Woman Y:  “I just throw them out, so I don’t buy things.  Anything good?”
Woman X:  “Yes,” and flips through.
Woman Y:  “If you keep stuff long enough, it comes back into style.”
Together:   They discuss pants, and ways to mask old styles.
Woman X:  “I don’t need things, but it’s nice to look.”

While Montclarions likely fit in all four spending attitudes, it feels like the frugal mindset is everywhere. With the holidays arriving now, we wonder how much frugality is burnished versus pushed aside for seasonal largesse.

Does Community Policing Work?

Maybe we’ll never know, for sure, whether community policing works.  “The emperor has no clothes,” declared Montclarion Jim Dexter.  “There’s no information about what the PSOs are doing…no accounting as to what they are really doing.”

Jim Dexter was a public commenter appearing at the Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, last Monday.  He appreciated the good work from local PSOs (problem solving officers), but was responding to the performance report presented that evening.

Latest Measure Y Report

It was interesting to hear Oakland’s consultants report on Measure Y performance, which was gauging whether “community policing adhered to the principles of Measure Y.”  The presenter pointed to police department accomplishments which included assigning officers to all beats, cooperating with neighborhood crime prevention councils, and improving geographic accountability.

The consultant discussed some failures as well.  First, PSO slots experience high turnover and that’s a barrier to success.  Additionally, current information systems limit the ability to analyze problems or manage expenditures.  There didn’t seem to be any shared vision or articulated approach in the department, either.

Even the consultants knew they were operating with incomplete information.  In a better world, the presenter articulated what should be measured:

  • Changes in type of problems reported by residents
  • Number and type of high priority problems integrated in beat plan
  • Number and type of high priority problems successfully addressed
  • Level or implementation of problem solving model/steps
  • Changes in resident perceptions of public safety
  • Changes in resident perceptions of police
  • Changes in crime levels

More Discovery And Questions

The review is underway, but clearly not done.  On Monday, various questions emerged to understand this performance report better, especially about its comprehensiveness and validity:  Who was surveyed?  What were they asked?  How does the PSO tracking software work?  What are the PSOs required to report here?  And so forth.

Marleen Sacks, an Oaklander who filed a suit about Measure Y compliance, stated the report wasn’t critical enough.  “Everybody in this room should share the same goal…oversight of Measure Y.  This report is evidence that not everyone in the room shares that goal.  Numerous aspects of Measure Y have still not been implemented.”

No one questions the underlying realities related to budgeting and staffing of the Oakland Police Department.  It’s a foregone conclusion they don’t have administrators who might collect, slice or dice performance data.  So much for Measure Y compliance, right?

Jazz Giving Oaklanders Hope

We weren’t sure what to expect at the “Celtic to Coltrane” performance yesterday, and left the Malonga Casquelourd Center filled with pride about the local jazz scene.  It was such an upper!

The hostess and organizer, Destiny, decided to celebrate her birthday in grand style.  During the concert, she invited a parade of musicians to the stage and encouraged them all.  Meanwhile, the audience bowed at the Church of Coltrane’s altar.

Oakland's Church Of Coltrane

The Players ranged from talented unknowns to old hands.  Destiny kicked things off with her harp and soulful singing, and was later joined by her Strings of a Nubian GrooveNona Brown, who’s backed Patti LaBelle, played piano and sang with Destiny.  D’Wayne Wiggins also played a little guitar – one day Alicia Keyes, the next in our ‘hood.

The Kids were the real stars yesterday, performing as part of Oaktown Jazz.  Under the tutelage of trumpeter Khalil Shaheed, we heard a 10-year-old crooning, a couple 12-year-olds on flute and piano, two saxophonists, a bass player and an amazing drummer.  The future brought big grins to everyone there.

The Church of Coltrane wrapped up the concert, with a little preaching and benediction by Pastor Wanika Stevens.  He gave thanks to John Will-I-Am Coltrane and the spirit of jazz, while we all chanted A Love Supreme together.  Just a typical, spiritual Sunday afternoon in Oakland!

Take Survey: Your Real Estate Taxes

In Montclair, there’s plenty of chatter about real estate taxes but divergent opinions.  Some of my neighbors embrace their responsibilities, and say they should contribute to our city coffers.  Others are pretty much disgusted by all things related to taxes, which they believe flow one-way to the City of Oakland.

So we thought it was time to gauge how Montclarions feel, collectively, about their taxes.  Here’s a very short survey for homeowners called:  Your Take On Real Estate Taxes.

Survey Guy

In this Montclair survey, there are several questions about your attitudes towards homeowner taxes.  We’re curious about your feelings regarding parcel and ad valorem taxes.  We ask about tax increases, too.  And we wonder if your sentiments change as the years pass.

If you’re a local homeowner, then please take this quick survey soon!  Thanks very much.

December 1st Update:  Thanks for your interest and participation in the real estate taxes survey.  Here are survey results, Montclarions Miffed About Real Estate Tax Uses.

Where Oakland Ranks On Job Trends

We’ve been shaking our heads at the local unemployment level, around 17 percent, but didn’t understand how our recessionary experience compared to other places.  We just discovered the unvarnished reality – things are uglier for Oakland than nearly all the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Earlier this year, New Geography released Pepperdine’s job growth rankings for 336 U.S. metros as well as the largest 66 metros.  Let’s reveal the rankings for the three Bay Area metros.

Metro Rankings 2009 - New Geography

The rankings show that Oakland’s metro area, which also includes Fremont and Hayward, ranked 304 among all 336 metros and 62 among the 66 largest metros.  The numbers reflect both current and past trends in employment, as a predictor of economic futures – but don’t even take into account this year’s numbers yet.

Our Bay Area siblings did a lot better, with San Jose ranking 20th and San Francisco ranking 23rd among the 66 largest areas.  We were a little taken aback, and then noticed the mix of single and multiple-year job counts in the calculations (more here).  These places did better in the past decade, and that shows in the rankings.

What’s happening now?  According to New Geography, Oakland sank right along with Sacramento and San Bernadino to the “bottom ten” of large metros due to the housing bubble-burst and construction job evaporation.  The geographers actually pointed to State regulations constraining recovery as well.

We hadn’t expected to be in such dire straits – and have almost nowhere to go but up?!

What To Ask Chief Batts, Hills Edition

As Oakland Police Chief Tony Batts continues his inaugural Tour de Oakland, he plans to make a pit-stop in the hills.  He’s scheduled a Montera Middle School (555 Ascot Drive, map) appearance this Thursday, with refreshments at 6:30pm and the meeting at 7:00pm.

At this introductory event, you’ll have an opportunity to hear him live – and should have time to bring up your safety concerns too.  Although you might ask about the “same old stuff,” remember that Montclair and Oakland Hills matters are new for Batts.  Questions about burglaries and thefts bear repeating!

Welcome Oakland Police Dept

Everyone’s already learned what Chief Batts achieved in Long Beach, to reduce crime levels.  Recently a Long Beacher also described Batts as a fearless leader, and here’s a snippet:

Having worked for Chief Batts, I can say that if anyone is interested in being an agent of change in the City of Oakland, then you have finally found a true ally.  He will make you take a stand, get involved or get out of the way and he shares power willingly.

The downside is, most people are afraid to admit they are afraid to change, being comfortable with the status quo and in all likelihood will find a less sympathetic ear for doing nothing.

The first 6-12 months with the Chief are NO JOKE.  He will look for those who want to lead from the front, take appropriate risks and do the face to face thing with everyday people as well as the so called ‘leaders.’

[He’s] a guy who acknowledged that you can’t arrest your way out of every situation.   I can say that Chief Batts will not fail Oakland and, with any effort at all, Oakland won’t fail him.

Tony Batts is not a messiah, but at least we can expect changes…and that’s a good thing.  We have heard all kinds of positive rhetoric, but are looking forward to additional responsiveness and support by Oakland Police.

Stop Sign Of The Times

Our “center city” is located at La Salle and Mountain.  It’s where everyone goes for the weekly Farmers Market, and the intersection sports many banners and traffic signs.  Here’s how part of the intersection looked earlier today.

Stop Global Warming

What’s different here?  Well, there’s one new and improved stop sign which now reads:   Stop Global Warming.  We don’t know how long this sticker will remain, but you can’t argue with the sentiment.

On the corner of La Salle and Mountain, this new and improved stop sign now reads:   Stop Global Warming.