Oakland City Council Meetings Are Forever Changed

Have you ever watched an Oakland City Council meeting, on cable, computer or in person?  Have you managed to watch an entire meeting, often lasting until midnight?

With Sanjiv Handa always present, you expected the meeting to include detailed harangues from this Oakland activist-journalist.  Most citizen speakers would sign up for a single card, address City Council for a minute (or two if a friend donated one), and stick to the topic at hand.  By maximizing allowable speaking opportunities, Mr. Handa managed to corral significantly more microphone time.

Handa, who identified himself as head of the East Bay News Service, would comment on parking, agenda notifications, sunshine laws and all types of procedural break-downs in City Hall.  He was an expert and relished his detailed understanding of protocols.  If you actually listened to the words rather than the style of this messenger, there were always a couple nuggets of learning from each Council meeting.

Over the years, Handa maximized his comments and played by the rules.  Oakland City Council reps found him so irritating that they changed these rules to limit individual speaker times at each meeting.  Handa complied and still seemed to have the pulpit even with limitations.  At the December 20th meeting, he reported about the Port of Oakland’s traffic on December 12th.  He was focused until the end, both uncovering and sharing facts.

Today the messenger died, after decades of voluntary devotion to city happenings and governance.  There was timely coverage from the Oakland Tribune and the Associated Press.  What tickled us the most was Mayor Jean Quan’s reaction, when she declared “there will never be another Sanjiv Handa.”

For those of us who never knew him personally, we knew him anyway.  Handa seemed like the unelected council rep who was reliable, always had something to say — and made you laugh, cry or grit your teeth.  Go ahead and watch an archived KTOP video, and you can’t miss him.  I think Council meetings will be very different indeed.  Mr. Handa, please R.I.P.

How Oaklanders Feel About Cop Reductions

We aren’t going to pretend to have a magic wind that wipes out Oakland’s $31 million-plus budget gap, and so are focused on what decisions will be made by the City Council.  Like many of you, we hope our police department doesn’t get completely eviscerated.

At this stage, Council members Jean Quan, Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente have identified tough-love cuts.  Before meeting in chambers, the Council has sponsored a few budget forums, encouraging a little bit of citizen participation and feedback.

The Oakland Budget Challenge also was updated, which enables you to work with budgeting levers.  What interested us most were  quantified responses to this question:  Should the City reduce the number of sworn police officers by July 1st?

  • 31.4% – Do not cut Oakland police officers
  • 22.2% – Reduce by having police contribute to their pensions
  • 15.1% – Cut officers and restore if parcel tax passes in November
  • 20.7% – Cut 2x number of officers if parcel tax doesn’t pass
  • 10.7% – Modify Measure Y to keep 63 officers, if below 739 officers

So a third of Oaklanders who took this challenge want to keep the police officers, and another 15 percent said to cut officers now but restore headcount if a special parcel tax passes.  (From everything we have read, that parcel tax isn’t exactly popular.)

Now the City Council must close the deficit, whether their choices are politically popular or not.  After the death-by-a-thousand-cuts process, we wonder how the job will get done.

Neighborhood Endorsers Make First District 4 Council Picks

Tonight a group of active neighborhood leaders made three picks for the upcoming District 4 council race, after meeting and interviewing candidates a week ago.  They endorsed Libby Schaaf and Daniel Swafford as “most qualified,” and Melanie Shelby as “very strong.”

Although the election is next November, there’s high interest in assessing who might follow Jean Quan into this position.  The  District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee is comprised of neighborhood volunteers, listed below.  Their group recommendations are perhaps the earliest ones to come down the pike.

Here’s the group press release, in its entirety:


Oakland, CA – May 10, 2010. The District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee is made up of a volunteer group of District 4 residents who are involved in a range of neighborhood initiatives and activities in this district.  This Committee came together to identify preferred qualities in a candidate for City Council.  The goal was to recommend a candidate who will continue to support local neighborhoods. The Committee has decided to recommend three candidates for consideration by District 4 voters.

Potential candidates for the District 4 City Council office submitted a short application and one hour interviews were scheduled.  Following the interview process with seven candidates the weekend of May 1 and 2, and Committee deliberations, the Committee deemed Libby Schaaf and Daniel Swafford the most qualified to represent District 4.  Melanie Shelby is also a very strong candidate.

All three candidates are strongly committed to supporting neighborhood-based initiatives that will help empower the residents of District 4.  These candidates are also able to address critical citywide issues in the areas of finance, public safety and economic development.

All three candidates spoke to the importance of maintaining the highest ethical standard and transparency in government and how they would work to achieve these standards.  These candidates indicated they intend to be full time council members.  They all possess an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of District 4.

Libby Schaaf has a strong policy and neighborhood organization background, with considerable experience in city government, which gives her the knowledge to both maximize revenue sources and eliminate inefficiencies in existing programs.

Daniel Swafford has an extensive record of leadership in local organizations in District 4.  His experience includes the development of economic corridors in neighborhoods and the capability of creating and managing major merchant and neighborhood events.

Melanie Shelby, with experience in running both large and small businesses, is a consensus builder and will work to bring divergent viewpoints together.  She has served on the boards of several Oakland based commissions and is knowledgeable about the city as well as state and federal agencies.

To review a copy of the District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee mission statement, questions posed to the candidates, and candidate application forms for participation in this interview process, email krussell@russell-gordon.com.

The members of the District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee include Roger Brett (Montclair West), Jim Clardy (Fernwood), Jose Corona (Allendale; youth member), Krista Gulbransen (Maxwell Park), Nancy Karigaca (Maxwell Park), Jeanne Nixon (Fairfax), Dale Risden (Joaquin Miller Hights), Sharon Rose (Dimond), Kathleen Russell (Dimond), Nick Vigilante (Shepherd Canyon), Stan Weisner, chair (Montclair).

District 4 Race: So Early, So Important

Oakland’s District 4 council seat is getting vacated by mayoral candidate Jean Quan – and that move has attracted a flurry of early candidates.  A group of District 4 neighborhood leaders plan to interview all comers this weekend, and endorse a candidate thereafter.

With that vetting underway, Today in Montclair wanted to introduce as many candidates as possible.  Remember that candidate filings don’t even take place until August (!) for the November election.  It’s a little unfair to push for positions this early, but the outcomes matters to everyone.

Over the past couple weeks, your faithful blogger has begun reaching many aspirants by e-mail, phone or in person – and they are a truly impressive line-up.  My goal has been to create a very level playing field, and I sent these questions to gauge their differences:

  1. Why are you running for District 4?
  2. Why should people vote for you?
  3. What do you hope to change for District 4 residents?
  4. How would you balance needs of different neighborhoods?
  5. How would you balance needs of District 4 and all Oakland?
  6. What will be different when you are seated versus Jean Quan?
  7. How does District 4 connect with other districts now?
  8. How would District 4 connect if you’re in the council seat?
  9. What are your top three priorities, after becoming council rep?
  10. What have you accomplished, one year after becoming council rep?
  11. What else would you like to share with Montclarions and other readers?

At first, the ideal plan was to collect all Q&As and publish them simultaneously.  Falling short of time as well as this ideal, six candidates were reached and have responded admirably.  You may read Q&As from Scott Jackson, Clinton Killian and Libby Schaaf, along with an introduction from Melanie Shelby.

In coming days and weeks, Jill Broadhurst (added May 3rd), Melanie Shelby and Daniel Swafford have assured this blogger that they plan to share more information and responses.  There are several more candidates who are starting to declare their intentions as well.

Welcome to the almost-election season! At Today in Montclair, we hope to provide an interest-free zone where candidates communicate directly – and where materials will be shared and linked from other places.  We’re hearing that national anthem finishing up, and turn to the first game now.

Playing Ball In District 4 Elections

There’s plenty of interest in the upcoming Oakland mayoral race around here,  but equal focus on who’s going to represent District 4 in the Oakland City Council as well.  While no one’s even required to file yet, we’re already playing ball in a shadowing of the pro baseballers.  It’s all about who’s at bat.

In the hills, our questions are very basic:  Who are the players going to be?  Who will replace Rep Jean Quan?  What are the attributes, experiences, attitudes and platforms we want in this position?

At this point, many of the earlier-rumored candidates are still planning to join the game.  Your faithful blogger has started to reach out and ask basic questions.  We would like them to communicate verbatim at first, the way they see fit.

So far, Libby Schaaf and Jill Broadhurst have publicly announced their intentions to run for this all-important seat.  In addition, we expect Melanie Shelby and Clinton Killian to join the gaggle too.  Others will likely emerge, and we hope they will share their views as widely as possible.

Via the Montclair SIC Yahoo board, we recently learned about a volunteer group that’s planning to vet candidates.  The all-new District 4 Neighborhood Endorsement Committee has asked potential candidates to complete an application and get interviewed in early May.  We believe this explanation is a direct quote from Chairman Stan Weisner:

Candidates will be interviewed and assessed against a set of criteria that reflect specific qualities, which include an approach to organizing and supporting activities at the local level that has been working successfully in the district over the past several years.  The goal is to recommend a candidate for the endorsement of the incumbent and District 4 neighbors.  The Committee will recommend a candidate who will continue to support local neighborhoods.

Maybe your criteria are similar or different, everything from potholes to solving crime to ensuring city solvency.  These candidates will come along and are worth listening to carefully.  At least this baseball season, we strongly urge you to tune in and watch all the innings.

The Die Is Cast

Not that the Oakland City Council members are like Julius Caesar, but they declared “the die is cast” and proceeded across their Budget Rubicon last night.

We think they closed the 2009-2010 budget gap.  After some hand-wringing, seven council reps voted and one abstained for a final round of cuts.  [And they agreed to vote on the rest in two weeks.]  There’s plenty of unfinished business, like working with union negotiators, but few options right this minute.

The Council will vote voted to shave 15 percent from elected officials’ budgets, which includes the mayor, attorney, auditor, council reps and their aides.  In addition, the city planners were hit hard.

During this current budget year, there had to be a place to save another $4 million because this gap wasn’t going to magically disappear.  And another $35 million needs to be hunted down during the next fiscal year, so the clock was running out.

After months of delay, Council President Jane Brunner admitted, “we’re all going to suffer together.”  Not pretty but necessary.

Updates:  Please see voting clarifications above, thanks to V Smoothe and Max Allstadt.  (March 3rd Update)  The Council finally voted for the 15 percent cuts from elected officials’ budgets.  (April 1st Update)

Political Preseason For District 4

In Oakland, our City Council seat is now up for grabs.  Since District 4 Rep Jean Quan has announced her bid for the mayor’s spot, everyone’s curious about who might replace her.

Although candidates don’t officially file until summer, there’s preseason buzz about the guard change.  This week, Future Oakland mentioned a full line-up of potential candidates including Jill Broadhurst, Floyd Huen, Scott Jackson, Clinton Killian, Libby Schaaf and Melanie Shelby.  And Zennie62 put his support behind Schaaf.

Simply put, the line-up is very impressive.  There are three lawyers, a doctor, a utility exec/consultant and a private sector marketer here.  Two work for the county, while one toils away for the city.  And everyone has been actively involved in civic activities, trying to improve Oakland’s quality-of-life.

We don’t believe anyone has been elected to city offices before.  In 2004, Melanie Shelby ran for the at-large council seat and was beaten by Henry Chang (now filled by Rebecca Kaplan).  Earlier this year, Clinton Killian and Scott Jackson were rumored candidates for the mayoral race as well.

Since half this line-up has Oakland Hills ties, we wanted to introduce people we’ve met before:

  • Jill BroadhurstA leader on our Montclair Safety & Improvement board, Broadhurst brings her private sector skills to improvements like the Pocket Park.  She’s an activist focused on city parks, libraries and fire safety – and has already declared her council seat run.  (More: Campaign)
  • Floyd HuenA public health medical director, Huen heads various Alameda County services today.  He’s also been a civil rights activist through the years.  We see him at assorted events along with his wife, Jean Quan. (More:  KQED, Alameda Cty)
  • Libby SchaafAn inside reformer and attorney, Schaaf provides legislative and development counsel to the City.  She’s advised Mayor Brown and worked as the Port’s public affairs director.  Schaaf also served on the Lighthouse School and MOCHA (museum) boards. (More:  LinkedIn)

While we haven’t met the other possible candidates, they also have nice backgrounds:

  • Scott Jackson – A deputy district attorney for Alameda County, Jackson’s been involved in various cases that matter to Oaklanders.  His press has ranged from retail robberies to preventing deportation for an refugee.  Outside of work, he coaches kids sports teams.  (More:  Tribune)
  • Clinton KillianA private-practice attorney, Killian’s also established a free legal clinic and worked in small claims court.  He’s served on the Planning Commission and AC Transit board.  Killian also has been involved with the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Paramount Theater. (More:  Web Site)
  • Melanie ShelbyA PG&E public affairs exec turned supplier diversity consultant, Shelby has served on Oakland Housing Authority, Health & Human Services Commission, and MOCHA (museum) boards.  (More: LinkedIn, Last Campaign)

When it comes to the District 4 seat, we should smile at all these candidate possibilities.  While their backgrounds vary, the six are smart, well-educated and devoted to Oakland – so there’s no need to pick the lesser of evils.