Alameda officials unanimously backed a proposal to study the installation of automated license plate readers at entry and exits points around the island and some intersections. However, some councilmembers raised privacy concerns and voiced skepticism that the devices actually prevent crime.
Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said residents worried about a perceived rise in crime routinely ask her for license place readers — particularly to stop the rising incidents of packages being stolen from porches.
"We're a very safe community, but there are folks who do some pretty horrendous things that pass through here," Ashcraft said. "At the end of the day I think we all want a safe community."
Councilmember Tony Daysog said he supports funding license plate readers within the constraints of the city budget. He also noted its success in Piedmont. "It's first and foremost a crime-prevention tool in a time of great changes in the region and in Alameda."
The Police Department advanced a similar proposal in February 2018 that included 13 mounted readers at a cost of $500,000. But it was quickly overshadowed by a news report prior to the meeting revealing that the city's vendor had recently signed a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Alameda had declared itself a sanctuary city the year before.
Councilmember John Knox White said he introduced the measure in an effort to restart the conversation. He urged city employees to bring back data and not anecdotes about the success or risks of the devices.
Knox White's peers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella were apprehensive about the risks of collecting such data in light of the Trump administration's actions immigration policies. "I think this is a tool that does have the potential to be abused," Vella said. Some Alameda police vehicles have been fitted with license plate readers since 2014, but Oddie said he viewed this differently. "There's a difference between driving around, and capturing the license plate of every single person who comes on and off the island," he said. "There's a value in solving crimes, but I don't see how it prevents crimes."
Oddie and Vella also worried about the potential for data getting into the hands of the wrong people if the owner of a vehicle has a right to the information from license plate readers.
San Leandro Disinterested in Campaign Finance Reforms
A nearly year-long push to put a cap on individual campaign contributions in San Leandro fizzled last week. Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr. sought to limit large contributions into city council campaigns to $250 per year.
"We need to have campaign contribution limits in order to level the playing field," he said. "There are developers that come in and donate to a lot of our campaigns. That kind of beholdens the council to certain projects in the pipeline."
Discussions about such reforms were heard by the council's rules committee three times last year. But the proposal laid out in a staff report was shockingly bereft of any details, down to its scope, implementation, and enforcement. Meanwhile, the council's direction was clear.
"Ordinances against having maximums are toothless," Councilmember Pete Ballew said. "Even if you could enforce it, there's too many ways around it." Contributors, he continued, could bundle several maximum donations with family members to circumvent any finance limits. Yet the scheme he described is a crime, and exactly the one used by Tri-Valley developer James Tong to help fund Rep. Eric Swalwell's congressional campaigns in 2012 and 2014. Tong was convicted last October in federal court on two counts of illegal campaign contributions.
Ballew motioned to close the discussion. The council then voted 6-1 to scuttle campaign finance reforms for the near future in San Leandro. Aguilar was the lone no vote.
In Other News ...
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed to lower the cost of prescription medication in California by creating a generic brand, Calmatters reported. If approved, it would make California the first state in the nation to have its own generic drug label. ... Alameda's Island City Opera cancelled its planned March production of The Wreckers because of AB5, the new state law that requires businesses to classify contractors as employees, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The law is having unforeseen impacts for arts institutions, news organizations, independent truckers, and other contractors. ...
A few days an Alameda County Superior Court ruled that the homeless mothers calling themselves "Moms 4 Housing" had no legal right to squat in a vacant home in West Oakland, a team of about 30 sheriff's deputies evicted them in an early-morning operation. ... Newsom signed an executive order creating a $750 million fund to help residents who are in danger of being evicted to pay their rent, the Associated Press reported. The order also opened up vacant state lands for use as homeless shelters. ... The fate of 13,000 new housing units at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station — the largest development project in the Bay Area — is again up in the air, after the developer and the Contra Costa Building Trades butted heads over the amount of work slated for union labor, the Chronicle reported. ...
Assemblymember Rob Bonta wants to add a bus-only lane to the Bay Bridge, the Chron reported. But the plan could be expensive and complicated to design. ... BART elevated interim police chief Ed Alvarez to permanent status, the East Bay Times reported. Alvarez has served 22 years with the transit authority and was selected over three other finalists for the job. Meanwhile, BART is instituting an "ambassador program" that will put 10 unarmed officers on trains from the early afternoon hours through midnight, SFGate reported. ...BART could be on the verge of improving Wi-Fi capabilities on its trains, the Chron reported. Construction might be done by the time that 6G cell service rolls around. ... And a study by UCSF found injuries from riding e-scooters are increasing, and one-in-three result in head injuries, the paper reported.