Town Business: Diversifying the Police; Honoring Bessie Coleman; Taxing Uber Drivers


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Diversifying the Police: Only 9 percent of Oakland's cops live in the city. Many commute in from the suburbs and have no ties to the community other than patrolling the streets and locking people up. A lot of people don't trust the police. They're seen as outsiders. And many of Oakland's cops don't understand the communities they're patrolling. As a result, there's a rift between the police and the people.

At the Public Safety Committee meeting on Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council's ad hoc working group on police recruitment will present its recommendation for how to diversify OPD. Recommendations include marketing OPD jobs more intensively to Oakland residents; offering housing incentives so that OPD employees can afford to live here; and possibly adopting a local hire policy that would give Oaklanders a leg up in the recruitment process.

Currently OPD has 768 sworn officers, according to the city's most recent recruitment report. Only 18 percent of them are Black, while 40 percent of OPD officers are white. Only 12 percent of Oakland's cops are women. Not enough Oakland cops speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and other languages commonly heard in the city. In terms of diversifying the police so that they better understand the communities they're working in, the city has a long way to go.

Honoring Bessie Coleman: In 1920 Bessie Coleman journeyed from the hardscrabble Texas cotton belt via Chicago all the way to France and earned her wings. She became the first first Black and Native American woman to hold a pilot license.

Back in the US she toured as a stunt pilot, regaling spectators with daredevil loops and last second recoveries from death-defying nose dives. She became a respected pilot despite the rampant racism and sexism of her time, but tragically, at the age of 34, she died after being thrown from her plane during a test flight.

The City of Oakland will honor Coleman by re-naming Airport Access Road after her.

Taxing Uber Drivers: According to Oakland's Revenue and Tax Administrator Margaret O'Brien, anyone who drives for a transportation networking company like Uber and Lyft, and who picks up or drops off fares in Oakland, is subject to the city's business tax. That's a flat fee of $72 a year for the privilege of running a transportation business in Oakland.

Traditional taxi companies already pay business license tax, but tracking down the hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers plying Oakland's streets, and getting them to pay their share is easier said than done. That's because Uber and Lyft drivers don't work for Uber and Lyft as employees. Instead, they're classified as independent contractors. They run their own businesses. It's unclear how many have self reported to the city and paid for a business license, but many haven't.

According to a new report by city staff, "currently, TNCs such as Uber and Lyft do not provide the City with the names of their contractors operating in the City." In other words, the city doesn't know how many TNC drivers are out there, who they work for, and how frequently they drive Oakland's streets.

To track down all these drivers, city staff want to issue an administrative subpoena to Uber and Lyft to make them turn over the names of drivers working in Oakland. Whether Uber and Lyft will comply isn't clear. And how the drivers will respond is anyone's guess.