This is my final segment (prior to election day) on the November election. It’ll cover local elected offices and ballot measures (almost all of which are from the City of Oakland). Just to shake things up a little, I’ll start with the ballot measures.
Unlike the statewide ballot measures, most of the local measures were placed on the ballot by local governing bodies, primarily the Oakland City Council. This is interesting because in the past the Council has usully not been united enough to agree on pllacing a measure on the ballot.
Measure D – Amendment to measure protecting agricultural areas in the unincorporated parts of the County to modify some of the restrictions and requirements in agricultural areas. The original Measure D was an initiative measure placed on the ballot and supported by local environmental groups. A majority of the County Board of Supervisors opposed the measure. However, it appears times have changed. This amendment was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. It is also supported by one of the authors (Dick Schneider) of the original Measure D, and is not opposed by any environmental group. The basic purpose of Measure D – protecting agricultural lands and limiting urban uses to incorporated areas – remains unchanged. It’s still a good idea, and the amendments are “tweaks” to the measure to make it more workable. YES.
Measure H – Oakland Unified School District Parcel Tax Renewal. This measure, places on the ballot by the OUSD trustees, would renew a $120 per year parcel tax to benefit the school district and provide funding for teacher salaries, college preparatory programs, tutoring, and other student programs. OUSD has been perennially underfunded. This wont solve the District’s funding problems, but will at least help to keep them from getting worse. YES
Measure Q – Authorization for the City of Oakland to construct up to 13,000 low income residential rental units. This measure, placed on the ballot, would satisfy a long-standing constitutional requirement that low income public rental housing (“social housing”) be approved by the voters. The Legislature has passed a measure to repeal that requirement, but it won’t be on the ballot until next election, so for now the vote is still needed. The constitutional requirement was an anti-housing measure that is an embarrassment. YES!!
Measure R – Gender-neutral charter language. This measure has no real substance. All it does is make the City’s charter “gender neutral” by eliminating all the terms the referenced “he” or “him.” There’s no good reason to vote no. YES
Measure S – Allows non-citizen parents of OUSD student to vote in OUSD trustee elections. While this was placed on the ballot by the City Counncil, it modifies the City’s election laws to allow noncitizen parents to vote for school board. The main argument against it is that it will be hard to implement, as only noncitizens parents of OUSD students would be eligible, and only for the OUSD trustee offices.While it’s a nice idea, it appears to me it would be expensive and impractical to implement. Reluctantly, NO
Measure T – Progressive business tax. Right now, Oakland’s business tax has different rate for different types of businesses, but has a uniform tax rate for each business type, regardless of the business’ size or gross revenue. This measure would provide that bigger businesses would have higher tax rates, recognizing that small businesses don’t have the economies of scale of bigger businesses, so the same tax rate is a bigger burden on a small business. I also think it’s important to not let Oakland be overrun by large corporations that don’t have as much of a personal interest in the City’s welfare. YES
Measure U – $850 million general obligation bond measure for affordable housing, addressing homelessness, and maintaining and improving local infrastructure. This sounds like a good idea until you realize that it’s far more expensive to issue, and then pay off bonds than it is to use a “pay as you go” approach. Half of the money will be used to pay off bond investors. Also, there’s already one bond out there, so this will further increase the City’s indebtedness and reduce its credit rating (raising the cost of future bonds. reluctantly, NO
Measures V – Strengthening the protections of the City’s “Just Cause” eviction law. Oakland had a “just cause” eviction law that restricts when a landlord can evict a tenant by requiring there be a good reason for the eviction. This measure, recognizing the harm eviction does,especially in these days of soaring rental prices, adds additional protectios about when and how tenants can be evicted. The down side is it may make builders less willing to build more rental housing, but right now most of the rental housing being built in Oakland is market rate, and the law is less likely to affect those tenants. Having been a tenant, I am sympathetic to their plight of being at the mercy of landlords. YES
Measure W – Election Public Financing and Campaign reform. This may help somewhat in making Oakland’s elections fairer. It may also somewhat decrease the oversize influence of bog money campaign contributors. YES
Measure X – Term Limits and other reforms to elected City of Oakland officials. I have mixed feelings about term limits. They keep elected officials from becoming entrenched, but they also sometimes force out knowledgeable and effective officials.Overall, however, I think the effects of the measure would be beneficial. With mixed feelings, YES
Measure Y – Oakland Zoo parcel tax. The Oakland Zoo is a private nonprofit organization. This measure, placed on the ballot by an initiative sponsored by zoo supporters, would establish – and lock in for twenty years, a $68 parcel tax to help it run. (The tax would also increase annually based on the cost of living increase.) I have major qualms about taxing property in the City to guarantee funding for a private organization. I’d rather require that private organizations get any public funding through the City’s budget process, with periodic review and the ability to reduce or eliminate funding when money gets tight. This measure, to my mind, is way too inflexible. NO
Local Elected Officials
OK, this is is in some ways the most difficult part of the ballot. It’s also the most parochial. If you don’t live in Alameda County, you can skip this section, unless you’re one of those people who likes looking over the fence to see what’s happening in your neighbor’s back yard. In fact, while the first few offices cover all or part of Alameda County, the two remaining elected offices on my ballot (which is what I work off of) are for Oakland alone. I’m not going to comment on other cities, as even trying to cover Berkeley or Emeryville elected offices would drive me crazy.
Alameda County District Attorney – When they think of the DA, most people just think of criminal prosecution; and there’s no question that prosecuting crimes is the the main thing the DA’s office does. However, the DA is also responsible for enforcing consumer protection and local environmental laws (think public nuisance, or dumping garbage). The DA is also responsible for local enforcement of some laws governing local agencies and political candidates (for example, conflict of interest laws and requirements). Those often get short shrift, since most DAs’ careers start with being prosecutors.
That brings me to the race facing Alameda County voters. The current DA isn’t seeking reelection, so we have two non-incumbents with very different backgrounds asking for your vote. Terry Wiley is the standard candidate. He’s currently the Chief Assistant DA for the County. In other words, he represents the status quo. If you like how the DA’s office is working, he’s your man. His opponent, Pamela Price, has been a candidate before. She’s an attorney in private practice, specializing in defending people’s civil rights. She’s experienced the criminal justice system both as an attorney and as a juvenile justice defendant growing up in Ohio. To say the least, her approach to being DA would be very different from that of Mr. Wiley.
Does the DA’s office need to change its approach? My feeling is yes. The County DA hasn’t changed its attitude towards prosecution in many years. The prior DA was the daughter of a long-time judge, and the one before her was very traditional. My feeling is the office needs to be shaken up. There are new concepts, like restorative justice, that ought to be used much more often. My recommendation is to vote for change. PAMELA PRICE
AC Transit Director At Large. AC Transit, the public agency providing bus service through much of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties (and service across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco), has a hybrid board – part district based and part elected at-large. This is an at-large seat. The election pits the incumbent, Joel Young, against a challenger carrying the progressive banner, Alfred Twu. There are places where being a progressive makes a big distance – like the County DA. I don’t think of AC Transit as being one of those places. Of course there are places for progressive change at AC Transit. Many such changes, such as the current transition first to diesel/electric hybrid bus and now to battery or fuel-cell fully electric buses, are already in progress. Others, such as realigning routes to work cooperatively with transit-oriented development, maybe need more emphasis, but IMHO, being the first asian-american on the AC Transit board and having endorsements from a lot of “progressive” politicians may be nice, but it’s not something I’d focus on. To my mind, Mr. Twu doesn’t make a convincing case for replacing the incumbent. Joel Young
East Bay MUD Director (Ward 3) – Water & Wastewater Agency Board of Directors. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (East Bay MUD or EBMUD for short) provides drinking (and firefighting) water for much of the East Bay. It also provides wastewater treatment for Northern Alameda County and much of Western Contra Costa County through its Special District #1. As some of you may know, I served on the EBMUD board in this seat from 1990 through 1994, when I was narrowly defeated by a pro-growth candidate. Someof the controversies at that time are now largely settled. There have not been any recent attempts to expand EBMUD’s service area to support sprawl development. EBMUD remains a leader in promoting efficient water use and in promoting the use of recycled water.
Right now, the biggest challenge to EBMUD in the long term will be adapting to the effects of climate change. EBMUD’s water supply is almost entirely from Sierra snow melt captured at Pardee Dam in the Sierra foothills and transported to the District’s area by huge aqueduct pipes. As climate change continues, snowmelt will happen more quickly, and some of what is now snowfall will become rainfall in the Sierra. This will outstrip Pardee Dam’s storage capacity and require new alternative storage. While I was on the Board, EBMUD began looking to conjunctive use – water storage in large groundwater basins under the Central Valley. More recently, that storage has begun to be a reality, with a cooperative agreement with public agencies in San Joaquin County.
There are two candidates running in Ward 3: Marguerite Young, the incumbent, and Mark Seedall. Both candidates have lot of experience in water issues: Mr. Seedall as a staff person at Contra Costa Water District and Ms. Young working at a public interest nonprofit, but, as the incumbent, Ms. Young obviously has more experience with EBMUD’s specific isues. Mr. Seedall talks generally about making EBMUD work more cost-effectively. more quickly, and more sustainable, but provides no details of what that might mean. Ms. Young provides more details about what EBMUD has done during her board tenure and what she hopes to accomplish in her next term, if elected. To my mind, what one needs in a board member is less the technical expertise, wich EBMUD staff can provide, and more the vision and responsiveness to the concerns of EBMUD’s customers. In that regard, I think Marguerite Young is by far the better choice.
Oakland Elected Officials
The two other offices on the ballot are Oakland elected officials: Mayor and City Auditor. The City Auditor position is uncontested. The only Candidate is the incumbent – Courtney Ruby. Consequently, I won’t discuss that position.
The other, and extremely important, position is Mayor of Oakland. The current mayor is termed out under Oakland’s term limit law, so there is no incumbent on the ballot. However, there are ten candidates seeking to replace the incumbent. Among the candidates are three current city council members: Loren Taylor, Sheng Thao, and Treva Reid. Ms. Reid, it might be mentioned is the daughter of a former city council member from the district she represents. There is also a long-time former city council member, Ignacio De La Fuente, and a former school board member, Gregory Hodge. The other candidates are: Seneca Scott (small business owner), Peter Liu (entertainer), Alyssa Villanueva (civil rights attorney), John Reimann (retired carpenter), and Tyron Jordan (legal assistant). Needless to say, the three council members and one former council member have significant experience in the running of Oakland’s city government. The former school board member also has some experience, as the school district interacts extensively with the City government.
I’ve watched a couple of mayoral candidate forums, as well as reading through the candidate statements. First there are three candidates to whom I can’t give serious consideration. Peter Liu is an entertainer, not a public official, and it shows. His answers to questions could not be taken seriously. Sadly, likewise for Tyron Jordan and Seneca Scott. While Mr. Reimann’s answers were more interesting – a critique of the capitalist system that has given use many of the messes we have in Oakland, his proposal to move the City towards socialism has to be called unrealistic. (If you want, you could give him a ranked choice vote, because he almost certainly will be eliminated.) That leaves six candidates that I take seriously.
All six of these candidates agree that public safety is a serious concern, but they differ in dealing with it. At the two extremes, De La Fuente take a very traditional approach – hire more cops, get them on the street, and get tougher on arresting people. By contrast, Sheng Thao and Alyssa Villanueva take the approach of emphasizing violence prevention programs and pulling dealing with mental health issues out of the normal police duties and instead using a program involving mental health professionals. Sheng Thao also mentioned moving some administrative duties, such as issuing special permits, out of the police department altogether so the police can focus on doing police work. The remaining three seem to lean more to Mr. De La Fuente’s approach of more police, bute in a more nuanced way.
On housing, again, all the serious candidates consider this an important issue, but IMHO, none of them had a clear answer of how to pay for and implement a plan to provided permanent and adequate housing for those who currently are struggling, or have already lost their housing. Certainly the homeless problem is huge, but just as big is the problem of those barely able to meet their basic budget need and, as the saying goes, “being one paycheck away from homelessness. None of the answers were truly adequate, but I think Sheng Thao and Alyssa Villanueva came closest.
Bynd that, there was the elephant in the room that nobody addressed – the enormous burden on the city of the various employee pension plans, especially for the police. These plans, while very attractive, are unsustainable, and thus far the City has been unable to negotiate a way out from under the tremendous financial burden. Could the only answer be to declare bankruptcy and then negotiate an equitable compromise? As I say, this question wasn’t brought up.
So, where do I come down on ranked choice” Here are my five: First -Alyssa Villanueva; Second – Sheng Thao; Third – Greg Hodge; Fourth and Fifth – I have no firm choice, but I probably would not pick Ignacio De La Fuente because I fear he would exacerbate the friction between the mayor and the Council on policy issues.