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Hold Up, Chief

Oakland Police Commission extends interim chief's contract

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The Oakland Police Commission last week extended interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer's contract to early December, giving the city some breathing room before it sends Mayor Libby Schaaf a short list of potential candidates to fill the position on a permanent basis.

Manheimer's contract extension to Dec. 8 allows the commission, which met Thursday, a longer timeframe to vet a sizable number of applicants. Following a short application window, 24 candidates responded to the job description. However, the public will not be afforded the ability to vet the short list of potential candidates, according to the commission.

"We have been asked by several candidates to keep their candidacy private," said Regina Jackson, chair of the Oakland Police Commission. "And so, we at this time do not anticipate a community engagement process, but we are still looking at what opportunities might be possible."

Henry Gage III, a member of the commission, urged for the names of the finalists to ultimately be revealed.

"I understand why they would want to keep it confidential and that members of the public have a desire to vet the people that will be recommended," he said.

Public employees expressing reticence about their intentions to seek a job elsewhere is nothing new. Cities often attempt to shield potential candidates for high-profile positions, such as city manager and police chief.

But filling Oakland's police chief position is a unique situation after decades of police misconduct and consistent mistrust of the force. A large number of residents in the city are seeking greater input on the search for a new chief.

The commission's disclosure during Thursday's night meeting was met with resistance from some members of the public.

Rashidah Grinage, a longtime critic of the Oakland Police Department, told the commission, "I think it's extremely important that there will be a public process. Any candidate that doesn't want to be able to participate in that process, that for me, would be a demerit."

The number of applicants for the police chief job was a surprise to some commissioners, and nearly equal to the 30 individuals who sought the position in 2016, Jackson said. The commission is continuing with due diligence and background checks, but it has already reduced the number of candidates to an undisclosed number.

"We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the applicants," said Jose Dorado, a member of the commission, "and the quality of the smaller group we have whittled down to."

The process of selecting a permanent replacement will be a major test of the Oakland Police Commission's power following the dismissal of former Police Chief Anne Kirkpratrick in February—Mayor Schaaf signed off on the firing after the commission moved to remove Kirkpratrick in a unanimous, closed-session vote. While the commission will not directly select the next chief, it will provide Schaaf with a list of recommendations.

Whoever is named will face a daunting job of reforming a department that has been under the eye of a federal monitor for 17 years since the Riders scandal, when a group of police officers were accused of beating and planting evidence on West Oakland residents. In addition, the next chief is likely to serve under the oversight of a police commission that will have even greater powers come next year.

Most political observers predict Measure S1, the charter amendment that allows the commission to hire a civilian inspector general, will be approved by Oakland voters this November.

$400 million from failed BART plan moved to ValleyLink

The Alameda County Transportation Commission approved the transfer of $400 million in funding once earmarked for the failed BART to Livermore plan to ValleyLink, a proposed rail project that would connect the Tri-Valley to San Joaquin County.

"It's time to move ahead. Let's make this happen," Dublin Mayor David Haubert said.

But the expenditure is nowhere near enough to fund the entire rail project's first phase, which has an estimated cost of between $2.8 and $3.1 billion.

"This funding is meant to be seed funding to attract additional funding. It's the perfect opportunity to move ahead," Haubert said.

The Alameda CTC oversees countywide transportation issues, and its board includes all five Alameda County supervisors, representatives from 13 Alameda County cities (two from Oakland), along with BART and AC Transit.

The commission was nearly unanimous in their support of the ValleyLink project on Thursday, despite a strange amalgam of opposition from the Sierra Club, along with various anti-tax and right-wing groups. The vote was 18-2, with one abstention.

AC Transit's representative voted no, as did BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman, who represents Oakland. Albany Mayor Nick Pilch abstained.

Both raised similar concerns over the speed of the commission's move to begin funding ValleyLink with money derived from Measure BB, a 30-year, half-cent countywide sales increase approved by voters in 2014 that is estimated to generate $8 billion in funding for transportation.

Both Saltzman and Pilch said their stances did not mean they don't support the project, but they urged the commission to table Thursday's discussion until an Environmental Impact Report is complete. "There is no urgency. Studies will be done," Saltzman said. "I just want to see the outcome of them."

Emeryville Councilmember John Bauters, who is also the Alameda CTC vice chair, argued there is no precedent for the commission to hold up transportation projects before an EIR is received. "I think that's a very dangerous precedent," he said.

The proposed ValleyLink project would connect the East Dublin/Pleasanton BART station with a site in Livermore once envisioned for a BART station and then North Lathrop. But dreams of BART extended to Livermore were dashed two years ago after the BART board, including Saltzman, narrowly voted against the $1.6 billion extension. The focus then turned to ValleyLink.

"The best way for us to combat climate change is to get cars off the road," Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arregiun said. "BART to Livermore is not happening. This is a way of achieving that goal."

With rising housing costs and more people moving away from urban areas, he added, "We have to prepare for the mega-region."

The Sierra Club is opposed to ValleyLink, despite the potential environmental benefits of removing an estimated 42,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases from the often-congested Interstate 580 corridor through the Altamont Pass. The group has argued the rail project will encourage further sprawl in East Alameda County and San Joaquin County, with additional roadtrips.

Additional concerns that the project would feature diesel trains may have been placated by comments Thursday from Michael Tree, ValleyLink's executive director. The agency is studying a number of trains, including those fueled by hybrid diesel engines, electricity and potentially even hydrogen, Tree said. "It's obvious from comments by the commission that it would be a zero-emission train," he added.

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