Noel Gallo - Oakland School Board, District 5.
Being a lifelong resident of Oakland and having grown up in the Fruitvale/San Antonio District neighborhoods, Noel Gallo for some people, appears to know a thing or two about District 5.
Gallo is currently leading Superintendent Searches for School Districts throughout the country for Ray & Associates, Iowa, as a regional director. He also has served on Oakland's Board of Education for two decades.
In this interview, Noel discussed his family, campaign and thoughts about what issues are most important to the people living in his district.
Q: Why did you decide to run for the City Council District 5 position?
A: I spent a good number of my professional years working for the city of Oakland, under Jerry Brown when he was mayor, and I've also had the opportunity to serve the Oakland Board of Education for 20 years now. Oakland is my home; it's a great place to live. So I want to make sure that Oakland is in a better place for people to do business, grow, raise a family and enjoy the neighborhood. I am committed to this city. I love this city and I am grateful for what the city has given me. It is about giving back and contributing what I know. That's why I decided to run.
Q: Having so much experience with Oakland's Board of Education, can you talk about some of the schools in the Fruitvale district?
A: The way I look at the schools, the schools are in the city and of the city. We need to be unified as one. The same children that go to our schools live in our neighborhoods.
For too long, we convey that schools are in this direction and the city is mostly on the opposite direction ... oppose to working together. Not only do we need to provide a greater joined use of our facilities, our parks, our gymnasiums, our classrooms, but at the same time, Oakland as a whole needs to be part of the educational and academic growth for our kids.
So I think we need to grow those opportunities because Oakland is definitely going to change and continue to grow. That's what I believe in terms of bringing the schools closer in unison to what the plan of the city is for growth. The school district has their own strategic plan and the city doesn't have one. We should be under a common direction to make sure that the same kids we both serve, not only enjoy this city, but continue to grow.
Q: How was the campaigning process for you? What was it like?
A: My four children are recent graduates from universities. Out of Stanford and UC Berkeley. What was exciting for me was that the majority of my supporters and volunteers were all from that generation - young people male and female that are in their early and mid-20's.
That's why you saw every Saturday and Sunday, a young generation that are Oakland born, Oakland educated and that want to make Oakland their home and their place to work and the place to raise their family. For me that became my biggest motivation. To make sure that Oakland gets back to where it once used to be and that is competitive educationally, as well as, in the business world. So we got to attract more businesses to come to Oakland to hire our young people.
Q: What is your vision for your district?
A: In District 5, I represent what they call the Park Boulevard Glenview area. In that area, it is pretty much a middle class professional white community. Then below 580, we have our Latino population, as well as our African-American population. We are pretty much split right down the middle.
But you know what, the common request, whether it was Glenview or the International area - people's number one issue is safety. Those up there in the Glenview Park Boulevard area talked to me about people breaking into their homes on a daily basis. Then I come to those living below 580 and what you see there are bars on their windows, dogs in the front yards and iron fences. Everybody is dealing with safety. There is still concern about being assaulted, break-ins and so forth. Safety is not only the number one issue in Oakland, but it is also in my district.
The other issue people were concerned about was illegal dumping. Those were the two big issues. Schools come in third. People overall seem to be really pleased with the progress that we are making in our schools. There is a common need and a common goal whether you are Latino, African-American or Asian. We all want the same thing. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that our kids are employed, safe and are productive. I think Oakland can provide that. We need to quit making excuses and just tolerating negative behavior.
So what I believe in doing is, I support the curfews. There is no reason why a young man or a young lady at the age of 16, should be out on the street beyond 10 p.m. Considering the time that we are in and what's going on around us, we need to be a little more disciplined to put in the tools necessary to get us back to the safety level that we all can live with.
Q: Is this topic of gang injunctions and supporting a curfew a controversial one in your eyes?
A: There is no controversy. People are going to keep making excuses why so many young kids are being killed and die everyday. We need to be responsible and create the tools necessary to keep us off the street. We make too many excuses why we don't go to school everyday. We make excuses when we do go to school that we don't do our work. Then we make others excuses that when we go to school, we can't read or write.
We can not as a community continue to live that way. We have a very proud and intelligent neighborhood that is making poor choices. For me to say, well it is racial profiling - it is not racial profiling. I want young people in their home by 10 p.m. and not standing on the corner selling drugs or thinking about doing the wrong thing. It is not that I'm telling the police to lock everyone up, but see growing up in Oakland, we had curfews. I knew as a teenager that 10 p.m. was it. If I was on the street, I knew that I was going to get stopped and asked do I need a ride home or can the officer call my parents to see if I can get picked up.
It was not about incarceration. We had a rule that said that we needed to be home. Curfew is not a perfect solution. It is just a tool that may save some of our kids from hanging out on the street. That's what that's about. The gang injunctions for me, well, I recognize that there are some individuals in our neighborhood that are serious violence offenders. I know who they are, police know who they are and people know who they are. What we're saying is that we are not going to tolerate that and we need to know where you are at all times. That's why I support the gang injunctions. It is not a perfect model, but it is something that will help us with certain individuals.
People say that these two things are not effective. But at the same time, I can't just sit here and keep reading about who shot who and who did what to who. Everyone that elected me and everyone that I talked to told me that I needed to do something about the safety issue. We have to be serious and take drastic emergency measures to stop it. So that's why I'm going to take a hard line when it comes to safety.
Q: Are gang injunctions the only tools or solution to safety?
A: No. I think they are just tools that are available. Other tools are having the technology like cameras and certainly having more police officers. That is a given. We do need more police officers on our streets so that they can respond to people that are being assaulted or broken into. Increasing our police numbers and giving the officers a tool, needs to be the priority of the city.
Right now, if you improve safety, you will be able to attract more businesses to Oakland to do business and hire more young people. Right now, Oakland has lost a good number of its population and businesses are real hesitant to relocate to Oakland because of the safety issue. So we got to take it head on. The reality is that having grown up right in these areas, some of us, the only thing that we understand or respond to is force. Otherwise, people can continue to commit crimes. We have to be real serious about crime here in Oakland and not just talk about it.
Q: What are your thoughts of succeeding Ignacio De La Fuente, who's been a real stable force in District 5 for a long time?
A: I'm a friend of Ignacio. I disagree with him on some of the issues, but overall I applaud him and I commend him for having served 20 years on the City Council. I'm grateful, appreciative and I thank him for his commitment. He has taken some real hard line on some issues from safety to neighborhood improvements and I'm going to be able to support those actions. I want to go a little further and hopefully I can bring the schools and the city together to move as one.
Q: Will you consult with him on any issues going further?
A: We stay in touch and certainly I will be calling for his advice as I do with other board members and other elected officials in my neighborhood. I believe in seeking people out and trying to get people's advice in terms of how to deal with issues. So yes, Ignacio will be one of those that I will call to get his advice.
Q: Have you thought about what it is going to be like when you officially take office? What sort of things came to mind when you realized that you would be representing district 5?
A: Well, I've done this for 20 years. I've served on the Oakland Board of Education and sometimes the behavior on the City Council is very similar to the behavior on the board. We require challenges and financial needs. I know the City Councilmembers for a lifetime. I've worked with them in different capacities. I'm actually right now, here in City Hall, sitting in on some of the committee meetings. For when I start on day one, I'm ready to go.
For me, where I am extremely thankful and grateful is, to the residents of District 5 that have given me another opportunity to serve and make a difference in our neighborhoods. It is an honor. I welcome the opportunity and most of all, I'm just excited about the privileges and the rights to be able to serve. I will make a commitment to participating in District 5 issues. I'll do my best.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A: I see a real bright future for Oakland and the generations to come. Your generation. I think we are going to be tough on safety and also deal with the beautification cleanliness of the city. We want to continue to improve our schools and most of all, be able to attract businesses to grow here in Oakland, and be able to provide opportunities for everyone.
To me, race doesn't have anything to do with it. It's just that we can not make excuses and tolerate negative behavior from anybody. I am really honored to be an elected officer and having the residents support me. I will stay true to my word to recognize what they asked for and that's safety, a clean city, keep improving the schools and increase our businesses. Those are the simple four issues that I am going to be real firm about.