Oakland City Council
This was not a boring year for members of the Oakland City Council.
In sessions that were at times rough and tumble, Council hacked its way through many policy items, including specific reform measures for the troubled Building Services division.
However, many issues were left high and dry, including finance reform and public safety. Meanwhile, the Council struggled with Occupy Oakland and the its ability to speak in a unified voice was all but absent during most of the year.
Going into 2012, can Oakland's City Council develop long-range policies that addresses key issues including the city's budget and its public safety? In order to do so, they'll have to begin to work closer together and make some unpopular decisions. It also will have to have a better relationship with the mayor, which is currently pretty frosty.
Here's how the City Council did last year and the direction it should take in 2012:
Since the budget passed in July, the City Council has been nearly silent on the issue of the city's finances, except to say that next year's budget is expected to be tougher than this year.There was little attempt by City Council to address Oakland's long standing debt problem, which at $2 billion will only grow worse the longer it is ignored. Clearly reform measures need to be put in place regarding the cities budgeting process, but it's unclear if Council will put any energy behind this issue.
Council will not be able to stand on the sidelines for much longer. Many key decisions will need to be made in 2012 if the city is able to get back on its feet. Now that residents have rejected a parcel tax for the second year in a row and the city has already negotiated new contracts for its workers, Oakland will be limited in what options to explore in order to address some of its financial challenges.
Leadership and decorum
On many occasions last year, Oakland City Council meetings resembled a bad reality soap opera. Oaklanders do not hold back when they speak to Council, and many people are not afraid of dressing down Councilmembers in a vicious style.
But don't feel bad for our elected officials because they give as good as they get. Almost every Council session has at least one spurt by Councilmember fighting with some segment of constituents in the audience or someone standing at the speaker forum.
Sometimes a thread of a fight between the audience and Councilmembers goes all the way through the meeting. At most meeting, Councilman Larry Reid has no problems with threatening to use Oakland police to "clear the chambers." Sometimes a speaker is in fact removed, but they're usually allowed back in.
Councilmembers also spent a fair amount of time in 2011 arguing and correcting each other on a variety of issues and parliamentary procedures.
All of this yelling and threatening has a way of making the Council look unfocused with little leadership at the helm. Oakland City Council will need to rise above the taunts, forgo the threats and concentrate on developing policy.
City Council clearly has a bi-polar relationship with Occupy Oakland. On one hand, all of Council professed to support free speech and many of the issues publicly associated with Occupy Oakland. Some members, in the early days of Occupy Oakland, camped out or spent serious time at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
But, since the Nov. 2 General Strike, Council has, for the most part, been critical and combative with Occupy Oakland. In recent weeks, the group has been especially harsh in criticizing encampments, Occupy Oakland's decision to shut down the Port of Oakland and the effectiveness of its Nov. 2 strike.
The result has been a lot of angry words exchanged at Council meetings with OO participants, ruffled feathers of some labor leaders and no actual policies that address real issues around the local movement.
Like Mayor Jean Quan, Council will need to come to terms with the fact that Occupy Oakland will be a part of the city's landscape for the foreseeable future. Many Councilmembers have tried to connect with Occupy Oakland by speaking aobut their progressive roots, but stories about the 1960s don't work with the group. Occupy Oakland works unlike any movement before. If Council wants to develop policies around stopping the demonstrations and encampments, they will on some level have to work with Occupy Oakland participants. Further fighting and attempts at developing aggressive policies to stop Occupy Oakland will only backfire.
The city saw a big spike in murders and gun shootings this year. Property crimes also were at high levels, yet the City Council did not have a unified public safety policy that addressed these problems. While Quan has her "100 Blocks" plan and she held a safety summit, the Council did not hold a special meeting or create a plan to deal with crime. In 2011, some Councilmembers spoke passionately about restorative justice, while others focused on getting more police officers on the street. In the end, nothing new was developed.
One of the biggest public safety proposals that was put forward last year was focused on enforcing loitering laws, imposing night curfew for minors and expanding gang injunctions. The public safety measures, which were proposed by Councilmen Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente, ended up getting deferred back to a Council committee.
What is the Council's strategy for combating crime? It will need to work with the mayor, the police chief and local social organizations to begin to figure out how it will deal with crime in the city. Otherwise we'll see a scatter-shot approach with little success.