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Who'll Replace Jane Brunner?

Oakland's District 1 race has attracted a spate of newcomers.



Oakland's District 1 — which encompasses Rockridge, Temescal, and parts of the Oakland hills and North Oakland down to San Pablo Avenue — hasn't had a legitimate race since 1996, when Jane Brunner was first elected to the city council. Now, after sixteen years in office, Brunner is running for city attorney, and the race to replace her has attracted a spate of newcomers — seven, to be exact.

Like the District 3 council race, there are no obvious frontrunners. Most of the candidates agree on key issues (e.g., increasing public safety and economic development, fixing the budget, and restoring the people's trust in government) but take different approaches to solving problems. They all seem thoughtful, committed, and qualified. So whom you vote for may ultimately depend on what issues you deem most important, and whose angle speaks most to you.

The sole woman in the race, Amy Lemley has a strong commitment to kids. A mother of two, she cofounded First Place for Youth, a nonprofit that finds affordable housing for youth out of foster care. She wants to make Oakland an attractive place for families by increasing the police force to 1,000 officers, and by tackling unemployment and poverty. Just how does she propose to pay for that? Lemley said she opposes raising revenues through a parcel tax and is adamant about not asking public unions for more concessions. She wants to generate revenue by luring new businesses to Oakland. "We do almost nothing to attract new businesses," she said. "We have policies that prevent people from doing business here."

But when pressed about shorter-term goals for raising funds for the city, Lemley said another parcel tax wasn't out of the question. She also mentioned the possibility of restructuring the real estate transfer tax and creating a general tax, but said that none of those proposals would be successful if the city council doesn't "change its ways and organize itself." Lemley is also in favor of renewing Measure Y (also known as Measure BB) in two years, noting that it'd create a $20 million hole in the budget without it. She also said she'd work more cooperatively with the county, and try to leverage more state and federal funding, in order to harness more social services for needy residents.

With her focus on schools, crime, and the economy, Lemley has garnered an impressive list of endorsements that includes Oakland City Councilmembers Libby Schaaf, Pat Kernighan, and Larry Reid; the Oakland police, firefighters, and public school teachers unions; and OakPAC, the political arm of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. As for her political ties, it's worth noting that Lemley's husband is Justin Horner, Brunner's former chief of staff. Brunner hasn't officially endorsed Lemley, but Lemley's campaign is being run by Larry Tramutola, who's also managing Brunner's campaign and Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente's run for the At-Large council seat. Besides that connection, however, Lemley and De La Fuente seem to have little in common politically.

Many of the candidates talk about sustainability, but Dan Kalb has the strongest background in environmental issues. He was the California policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists for nearly ten years, helping to pass legislation to require at least one-third of the state's electricity to come from clean, renewable sources by the end of the decade; and was a chapter director of the Sierra Club (which endorses him). One of his key issues is making Oakland a nationally recognized hub for clean tech, which he said he could accomplish because of his relationship with many of the state's clean tech leaders.

But Kalb is perhaps most passionate about recidivism (although he seems passionate about many things). He said so multiple times during our conversation, and believes it's a key issue to reducing and preventing crime. He also wants to focus on youth programs and the schools.

Kalb said he takes an analytical approach to problem-solving, and some of his concrete solutions for raising revenue include creating a "rainy-day fund," a line item in the city budget that would increase in good years and be used in bad years; and, although he wasn't sure of the legality of it, a 4 percent tax on local campaign contributions over $100 in order to increase staffing of the Public Ethics Commission. However, he admitted that a rainy-day fund and sales tax revenue (which increased in the city last year) wouldn't be enough to pay down the city's unfunded pension liabilities for public employees, so he'd probably look at raising taxes. He also wasn't opposed to the idea of renegotiating with the public-employee unions.

Kalb touts himself as a "people person," and said he'd prioritize restoring trust and confidence in City Hall, and making the council more professional and collegial. As such, he said he'd support Rebecca Kaplan to be city council president. "We're good friends," he said.

If Lemley is the kids' advocate, and Kalb the environmentalist, Richard Raya is the budget candidate. The former budget director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, he likes to point out that he's the only District 1 candidate who has experience balancing large government budgets, noting that he helped the county save $6 million for three years during hard times, avoiding any cuts to services. His strategy is to "budget for outcomes."

Raya also has the distinction of having overcome difficult circumstances early in his life: His parents were farmworkers, his family was homeless at one point, and he was a high school dropout. As such, his approach to public safety emphasizes social justice and restoring the relationship between police and communities of color. He's a champion of Operation Ceasefire, a crime-prevention program that has been effective in other cities, and believes in a "village-wide" approach to reducing crime. He's also an advocate for development around transit corridors, and, like Kalb, wants to improve the San Pablo area.