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.
Raya's list of endorsements is fairly varied: He's supported by the firefighters union, OakPAC (he's the group's second choice), and Oakland Rising Action, which mobilizes voters in East and West Oakland. And although De La Fuente endorses him, Raya said he disagrees with the councilman's support for curfews and gang injunctions. So why did he get his endorsement? "We have friends in common," said Raya. "He also believes I'm the most qualified candidate, and he believes he can work with me."
When it comes to community policing, no candidate has shown more commitment than Don Link. The name most North Oakland residents may be familiar with, Link helped create the first Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council in Oakland in 1994, and was chair of Oakland's Community Policing Advisory Board from 1999 to 2008. Not surprisingly, Link's main platform is public safety. Like Raya, he's a strong advocate of Operation Ceasefire. "This is, in my opinion, the best solution for the shooting and violent crime that shocks everybody," he said, noting that the program is essentially free (it's funded by a federal grant). But Link acknowledged that Operation Ceasefire alone isn't enough to stop crime: A key part of prevention is better education and job training, he said, and keeping kids in school using proven programs like truancy court, in which the parents of frequently truant kids are admonished by a judge and threatened with consequences.
Economic development also plays a role, he said. Like many of the candidates, Link, who's a contractor by trade, wants to make Oakland friendlier to small businesses by reducing permitting fees and improving the attitude of workers in permitting departments to be more welcoming.
Also similar to most of the candidates, Link believes in increasing the size of the police force. His methods of generating (or finding) the necessary revenue to do so include a complete revision of the budget, increasing the business tax on rental properties (currently 1.4 percent), and enforcing collection of late payments on fees and penalties (he believes the city is losing out on several million dollars).
Craig Brandt may be the most straightforward and down-to-earth candidate in the race — but he admits he might be a "lousy politician." Brandt, a lawyer and father of two, has put forth concrete and specific proposals, but he acknowledges that this makes him politically unsavvy (although he recently earned the endorsement of the Oakland Tribune). His ideas may also not be that viable.
To hire more police officers — his biggest priority — Brandt is advocating for a temporary parcel tax of $80 a year for four years — but voters rejected such a proposal just last November. His other goal is attracting new businesses to the city by increasing the business tax exemption by $100,000, waiving the $60 registration fee, and exempting new businesses from taxes for their first year of operation. Although Brandt takes typical progressive stands in most areas (he supports Operation Ceasefire and restorative justice, is against curfews, stop-and-frisk, and sit/lie), he's conservative in the sense that he thinks the city should "get out of the way" of local entrepreneurs — and cites Art Murmur as a successful example of that (although the city has recently taken it over).
Unlike most politicians (and aspiring ones), Brandt doesn't claim to have all the answers: He admits he doesn't know how to solve the pension situation, but said, "it can't be ignored." Ruminating further, he said he thinks the solution will probably mean raising taxes and cutting benefits for pensioners.
But Brandt is firm on his convictions about not accepting campaign donations from unions, police, or any company that has contracts with the city that the council votes on. At a candidate forum on September 20, he said he disagreed with the Safeway expansion project at Claremont and College avenues that has been the source of much dispute, and said he wouldn't accept a campaign contribution from the grocery chain, either. "I think it's a total conflict of interest," he said in a recent interview. "That angers me to a considerable degree."
Another candidate who's rejecting political contributions (all of them, in this case) is Green Party member Donald Macleay. Macleay, who ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2010, is focusing his campaign on employment, housing, education, and crime. Though he doesn't offer much in the way of specifics, he emphasizes that it's most important to elect "the right people."
A former machinist who now owns a small computer networking business, he wants to completely overhaul the city's budget, look at the possibility of redistricting, and believes that the city is missing out on collecting certain taxes. He's the only candidate who isn't pushing the hiring of more police officers, but he does believe in adding more civilians to the police force, which he said would reduce costs and help repair the department's relationship with the community.
Like Kalb, Macleay is also concerned with recidivism, as well as prostitution in the San Pablo Avenue area. He believes police need to be held accountable — perhaps with the creation of a police commission. And he has hopes that the city could "creatively negotiate" how to pay its pension obligations.
If you're a regular reader of the Express, you've likely seen the name Len Raphael before — that's because he's a frequent commenter on our site, and his opinions often appear in our letters section. He's by far the most conservative candidate of the bunch (he calls himself "George Orwellian"), but he's arguably one of the most informed of city issues. Like Brandt, Raphael, who's a CPA, has put concrete proposals on the table, but some of them are even more drastic and unpopular than his rivals'. Among his ideas: reduce the pay of councilmembers and the mayor by 30 percent; declare a health and fiscal emergency in the city; repeal binding arbitration for police and fire in order to give the boot to bad cops (which, however, would also make the city vulnerable to even more costly lawsuits); reduce police and fire pay; get rid of anti-violence programs that are ineffective (including, possibly, Measure Y, even if it would mean the loss of millions of dollars); double the number of police; and monitor and manage OPD more strictly. He's also one of the few candidates who welcomes federal receivership of OPD.
Raphael's motto is to "shake up city hall," and there's no doubt that he would do so if given the chance. (He was the treasurer of the failed Committee to Recall Mayor Quan Now campaign.) He's highly critical of the other candidates' proposals and believes they don't go far enough.
Given the sense of urgency he feels about the city's present circumstances, particularly about the city's high crime rate, Raphael has garnered more supporters than you'd think. "I think people should march on City Hall with torches and pitchforks," he said.