If Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has lost significant political support in the city since the June 2006 election—as at least one local media outlet has reported—that sentiment was not immediately apparent at a standing-room-only Town Hall meeting at North Oakland’s Peralta Elementary School last Saturday morning.
Given the opportunity to address the mayor for one minute on any topic of their choice, some 50 residents voiced concerns ranging from crime and violence to residential and commercial development, but only one woman chose to criticize the mayor’s office itself, saying that she had not been successful in attempts to meet with Dellums.
Meanwhile, in a 45-minute address at the beginning of the meeting, Dellums spoke specifically on the crime issue that is the concern of many Oakland citizens, saying that “people ought to be able to have a sense of security and peace in their neighborhoods. That’s fundamental.” But Dellums said that “having more police by itself is not the answer. The police cannot do this job alone. There needs to be a cooperative effort between the community and the police.”
And to a suggestion by a North Oakland resident that the police force should be increased to 1,000 or more—well above the current 803 authorized officers—the mayor said that Oakland residents “have got to be willing to put your money where your mouth is” and “assume responsibility” for the “budgetary and tax consequences” of such a police personnel increase.
In his speech, Dellums also outlined several programs and policy initiatives he said he would be formally announcing over the next few weeks (see sidebar).
Saturday’s meeting, held in lieu of District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner’s regular bi-monthly community advisory meeting, was the third of the charter-mandated town hall gatherings that Oakland mayors have been required to hold since the strong- mayor form of government was put in place.
The first meeting was held earlier this year at Frick Middle School in Councilmember Desley Brooks’ 6th District. The second was held at DeFremery Park in Councilmember Nancy Nadel’s 3rd District. A fourth community meeting, held at the Bridges Academy last June after Dellums walked down the Fruitvale International Boulevard business district to speak with merchants and citizens, apparently did not count as a charter-mandated town hall.
Typical of the citizen comments was Don Lowrey, president of the Temescal Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, who said that “police in Oakland are getting frustrated because there are not enough of them on the street to answer the calls. We don’t want a police state in Oakland, but we want enough police who can deal with citizens competently.”
Lowrey also suggested that crime prevention efforts in Oakland intervene with students in high school to keep them from being caught up in the crime and violence cycle. Lee Edwards, Temescal NCPC Vice President, agreed that the police department was understaffed, saying too many were being dropped out of the police academy.
“There needs to be early intervention when it looks like police candidates might be dropping out, and somebody should work with them and help them pass the course,” Edwards said. “It’s easier to teach them than to flunk them out.”
But Michael Mechanic, a North Oakland resident, Peralta parent and East Bay Express editor, said that simply increasing the number of street patrol officers was not the best solution to Oakland’s crime problem. Citing the fact that Oakland has “one arson investigator working part-time,” Mechanic said that the Oakland Police Department “needs to increase its investigative functions.”
While several residents expressed concerns about development issues along Telegraph Avenue, where the city is attempting to put in higher-rise commercial buildings to support the vision of Telegraph as a transportation corridor, others said they were disturbed by the proposed new Children’s Hospital complex planned for the hospital’s current location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in North Oakland.
“I live 40 feet away from the hospital, and we didn’t find out about the new proposal until the last minute,” Ted Franklin said. Saying that the planned hospital expansion would force him out of his home, Franklin said that, “I won’t be able to move.”
And Beverly Guyton said that “up until recently, I was concerned about the crime problem in North Oakland, but after I learned of Children’s Hospital’s plan to put up a 12-story hospital in our neighborhood, now that’s consuming me.”
Guyton suggested that the hospital, instead, build a portion of its planned expansion as an annex near Highland Hospital “so that the people in East Oakland who have children don’t have to drive all the way out to North Oakland to get service.”
And while no resident made specific complaints about Dellums himself, several praised him and his work.
“I voted for you all my life, back when to when you were in Congress,” Bob Brockl said. “I’ve never regretted it.”
In his remarks, Dellums talked about the frustration of trying to bring Oakland’s uniformed police officer strength up to its authorized 803.
“We need more police officers,” the mayor said. “We are currently at 730, which leaves us at about 70 under strength.” Dellums said that last year, 119 new officers graduated from the Oakland Police Academy.
“But in that same year,” he added, “60 officers retired, 40 moved on to other agencies, and 10 were terminated. That left us with a net gain of nine new police officers. That’s not enough.”
Dellums also said that while the city is conducting a heavy recruiting drive for new officers, half of every 1,000 recruits drop out from the beginning, with another 400 dropping out after the department conducts its pre-academy psychological, psychiatric, and physical tests. Of the 100 recruits that actually enter the academy, “50 percent wash out, leaving 50 police officers out of the original 1,000 recruits.”
The mayor called that a significant problem that the city was facing in bringing its police force up to full strength.
“We need to be creative to figure this out,” he said, suggesting that the city may partner with local community colleges to develop pre-academy courses for potential police recruits to prepare them for entering the police academy. “It’s a difficult problem. We’re trying, but it’s not easy.”
Initiatives Announced by Dellums
1. A public-private collaboration with PG&E to install and replace lights at Oakland “hot spots” where night-time crime is the most prevalent.
The first targets will be in Beat 6X (a North Oakland-West Oakland triangle bounded by Adeline and 40th streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) and Beat 34X (an East Oakland square bounded by International Boulevard, 82nd and 90th avenues, and Sunnyside Street), with other areas phased in as the initiative moves forward. Initiative to begin “within a few days.”
2. Rethinking development of the old Oakland Army Base to be “strategy driven” and “vision driven” rather than “project driven” as it has been in the past.
Mayor to report to the City Council in the near future with a new vision for the Oakland Army Base to produce a minimum of 10,000 jobs with a mix-used strategy that recognizes the “vital maritime uses” of the area close to the Port of Oakland, as well as a regional shopping center, office space, and “creative industry.” Dellums proposes to bring this vision to developers and ask them to shape their development projects based on its parameters. No timetable given on when the vision package would be completed and presented to council.
3. Establish a partnership between the City of Oakland, the Oakland Unified School District, Alameda County, and philanthropic organizations to “establish a health clinic in every middle school and high school” in Oakland within five years.
The clinics, similar to what is already available at Berkeley High School, would include health care programs, mental health counseling, and family services. An announcement of the first phase of the project, to include both naming the targeted schools and identifying the initial philanthropic money, will be made in a few weeks.
4. Establish a World Trade Center in Oakland that will encourage national and international trade and investment in the city, and “ultimately generate employment for city residents.”
An announcement of the first phase of the project will be made in several weeks.
5. The San Francisco Foundation and the East Bay Foundation have committed between $350,000 and $500,000 in seed money to create an office of public-private partnership within the mayor’s office to assist the mayor in “going after philanthropic resources for the city.”
Dellums’ wife, Cynthia Dellums, will chair an advisory committee of citizen, government, and business interests to assist in this project. Announcement on the creation of the advisory committee to be made shortly.
6. Conversations are currently being held with the governor’s office to “carve out a specific geographic area in Oakland to come in with state resources to do a block-by-block revitalization.”
The governor’s office has already made a similar commitment to create such an intervention in a 70-block area along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. An announcement on the Oakland program will be made within the next few days.