The biggest story in Oakland in 2005 was a story not actually scheduled to take place until 2006: the race to succeed Jerry Brown as mayor.
Oakland mayors are now limited to two terms, and after eight years in office, Brown is running for California attorney general in the Democratic primary in June.
Two Oakland City Councilmembers opened up campaigns in 2005 to run for Oakland mayor: Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and West Oakland Councilmember Nancy Nadel. A number of other candidates also began campaigns for the office, including Alameda County Treasurer Don White and Oakland Unified School District Advisory Board members Dan Siegel and Greg Hodge.
Many local news outlets immediately dubbed De La Fuente as the “front runner” in the mayoral race. However, private polls indicated that voter support in the city was fairly equally divided between De La Fuente and Nadel, and Oakland’s political road seemed to point toward a campaign showdown between the two long-time councilmembers beginning in January.
All that changed in the middle of 2005 when an ad hoc group of black Oakland political activists, led by Oakland Black Caucus Chair Geoffrey Pete, surveyed the field of Oakland mayoral candidates and found that there was no one they wanted to support. The group set what seemed in the spring of last year to be an impossible task: getting former 9th District Congressmember Ron Dellums to come out of political retirement, move back to his Oakland hometown from Washington, D.C., and run for mayor.
Gradually joined by a broader coalition of Latino, Asian, white progressive, and labor activists, the group spent the summer and fall in what amounted to a political campaign before the mayoral election campaign: gathering petitions, passing out leaflets, and putting up posters throughout the city, all designed to convince Dellums to run.
In mid-October, in one of the more dramatic political moments in recent memory, Dellums told an auditorium of cheering supporters at the Laney College Auditorium that he would run for Oakland mayor. With several of the other candidates dropping out after Dellums’ announcement, 2005 ended in anticipation of a three-way race for the mayor’s office between the former Congressmember Dellums and the two City Councilmembers, Nadel and De La Fuente.
Brown’s run for attorney general
The second major Oakland story of 2005 was Mayor Jerry Brown’s scramble to come up with enough political capital to carry with him into his 2006 primary run for California attorney general against Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
Brown came to office in 1999 on the twin promises to revive Oakland’s comatose downtown retail corridor and to make the city safer. By the beginning of 2005, neither of those campaign promises had been completed.
In the 1998 mayoral campaign, Brown set a goal of bringing 10,000 new residents into the downtown area, with the promise that retailers would follow the influx of new money and rebuild stores in an area they had long abandoned. That 10,000-new-resident-retail-revival goal was summed up in Brown’s campaign slogan of “10K.”
In mid-2005, ABC news reported that 5,800 of the 6,000 residential units needed to meet Brown’s 10K goal had either been completed or were under way. But two and a half years into the mayor’s second term in office, the promised retail had not materialized.
Political and media focus on that missing retail component focused on the Forest City Project, a mixed retail-housing development proposal designed to bring 655 housing units—and accompanying retail outlets—to the so-called “uptown” portion of Oakland’s downtown around the area of 20th Street encompassing the Paramount and Fox theaters. Brown had pushed for several years to get project approval through City Council, and ground was finally broken in mid-December.
But the Forest City Project comes with a steep price tag, at least $54.4 million in reported subsidies from the City of Oakland. And whether or not the Forest City developers will be successful in attracting retail to Oakland’s uptown will not be determined until long after Jerry Brown has left the mayor’s seat in 2006, and the bills have come due for Oakland taxpayers.
Jack London malaise
The media and political focus on development in downtown Oakland obscured another development story in the city, significant backward steps in the area of Oakland’s downtown where retail had been having some success: the Jack London Square area.
In late October, according to a Daily Planet survey, of 26 commercial addresses between Jack London Square and Fourth Street on Broadway, four appeared to be long-term vacancies, three were closed and undergoing renovations, and two office complexes had listed vacancies for several weeks.
The Oakland Tribune followed up on that story in late December with a report on developments in Jack London Square itself, once owned entirely by the City of Oakland, but parts of which were sold to private developers by the Port of Oakland Commission dom-inated by Jerry Brown appointees. “Since San Francisco-based Ellis Partners won the city’s approval to remake the waterfront district into a bustling retail center,” the Tribune reported, “more businesses have closed than opened.”
While the Tribune article quoted Ellis Partners representatives as saying that the retail closures were simply a prelude to the eventual remake, the story included an ominous footnote: plans for a new movie theater in the Jack London Square parking lot near the corner of Broadway and Embarcadero were stalling, with an Ellis representative saying that “the land might be used to house offices.”
Public safety, another Brown promise, also took a turn for the worse in 2005.
In November 2004, Oakland voters passed a bond measure dividing up new money between hiring extra police officers and funding violence prevention measures. But funding for violence prevention stalled as Oakland City Councilmembers decided how to actually spend the money, and the 63 new police officers authorized a year ago under Measure Y have yet to be hired.
Meanwhile, the ultimate measure of public safety—murders—rose from 88 in 2004 to 94 in 2005 in Oakland. The murder rate increase was sparked by 22 homicides between Nov. 1 and the end of the year, including one triple homicide in East Oakland in December. The Oakland Tribune also reported that other violent crime indicators in the city rose significantly: assaults with guns were up 45 percent, while robberies rose 30 percent.