Archive for December, 2009
In a city which had to severely cut core services in order to deal with a 20% shortfall in its general fund earlier this year, and which faces further fiscal fiascoes for the foreseeable future, can someone explain to me why being the Chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee is being touted by Oakland mayoral candidate Jean Quan’s supporters as an argument in her favor, rather than an argument against her?
Quan’s supporters cited her knowledge of Oakland city government as one of her main qualifications for mayor. She has served as chair of the City Council Finance Committee, which has had to make difficult decisions in cutting close to $100 million from the 2009 city budget, with a projected $25 million of budgets cuts still to come in 2010.
“She’s the one who knows the city of Oakland inside and out,” said Claudia Falconer, president of the Montclair Village Association. “It’s a troubled time, and cities across the country are having fiscal problems. Jean knows the Finance Department of the City of Oakland better than anyone else.”
I’m not masochistic enough to pay very close attention to Oakland’s government, so maybe someone can convince me that Quan is part of the solution rather than part of the problem when it comes to Oakland’s financial problems, but at first blush, I find this argument less than compelling. The same article notes that she wants to model her campaign after Obama’s, with a lot of grassroots neighborhood organizing. Obama certainly ran an impressive campaign, but let’s not forget that he also benefited from a widespread “throw the bums out!” sentiment, and that similar feelings will motivate a lot of voters in 2010’s elections too. (Not that the idea of voting for Don Perata for mayor makes me any more excited—the only prospect that really excites me about Oakland’s mayoral election is the thought that maybe I won’t be able to vote in it because I won’t live here anymore. Now that’s change I can believe in!)
This is the view to the north as you pass down 34th Street in Oakland between Telegraph and MLK, which I finally got around to photographing today:
If you look at aerial photos of Oakland from the 40’s or 50’s, before these freeways and BART tracks were built, then you will find that the land shown here used to be blanketed with small houses. These days many of the surrounding blocks, especially on the western side, are even more depressed—and depressing—than average in Oakland: vacant lots and vacant buildings outnumber inhabited lots on some blocks of MLK, and with a few exceptions, the only extant businesses to be found nearby are liquor stores. It’s no wonder that one neighborhood abutting this thicket of freeway overpasses is known as Ghost Town. (The Telegraph side of the freeway is somewhat healthier, but thanks to these barriers which divide Oakland into pieces and attract blight to the gaps in between, improvements in one neighborhood often have trouble spreading organically into other neighborhoods which sit less than a hundred yards away.)
As consolation, perhaps, for the razing of hundreds of homes, the empty land under these interchanges was leased by CalTrans to the City of Oakland for use as city parks. And what lovely parks they are!
When I pass by trash-strewn Oakland parks-cum-homeless shelters like these, then I am reminded yet again of how smart it is for Oakland to ban our dogs from city parks. God forbid that any gamboling dogs should damage the beautiful lawn or disturb any of the families picnicking here, right? (Incidentally, I hope CalTrans has checked the structural integrity of that first column. I know they have their hands full with the Bay Bridge falling apart, but I wouldn’t want to be atop that cracked concrete during an earthquake.)
I was reminded by a column in the Contra Costa Times today that construction of a fourth tunnel for Highway 24 under the Oakland Hills is scheduled to start next year. The BART Board of Directors also gave final approval to the redundant, ugly, expensive and slow Oakland Airport Connector last week, so construction on that will start next year too. Both construction projects are scheduled to last through 2013, so for three years, Oakland will be bracketed by two large public works projects, one at our northern tip and one at our southern tip, both of which are intended to serve the needs of suburban commuters and travelers. Meanwhile the city spread between the two projects will continue to suffer, as parks go unmaintained, bus service is reduced, library hours are shortened, and so on. The story is always the same: cater to suburbanites and drivers, screw the urban poor, and justify it by citing job creation. Job creation is used as a trump card in a city with a 17% unemployment rate, but you can also create jobs paving city streets or increasing bus service or building infill BART stations instead of expanding highways and building elevated cable cars to the airport.
I’ve wondered in some of my earlier posts whether our new New Deal would leave a legacy of enlightened infrastructure like enhanced bike paths and more extensive mass transit infrastructure. How naive those musings seem now: it should have been obvious that CalTrans and BART and the other relevant authorities would use much of their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds ($197.7 million in the case of the Highway 24 tunnel, $70 million in the case of BART’s airport connector) to fund long-planned projects that will either encourage car commuting (the fourth tunnel for Hwy 24) or duplicate an existing airport shuttle at the expense of local bus and rail service while creating additional overhead eyesores over the streets of Oakland (the airport connector).
As it happens, both Highway 24 and the BART tracks leading from suburban Contra Costa County toward the Oakland airport are shown in the photos above. While those freeway drivers or BART riders speed from Walnut Creek to the airport under the 34th Street crossing, bypassing Oakland almost entirely, people will continue to be shot to death on that blighted stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and few people will feel any need to take notice.
One of the delightful things about living in Oakland is that if you get tired and want a rest as you walk or bike around the city, there’s bound to be a sofa nearby on which one can take a quick nap, left there by a helpful fellow citizen. I pity those poor folks who live in places where people take unwanted furniture to the dump, or give it away on Craig’s List. How do weary travelers in those sorts of places ever rest their legs? Whoever left this couch on 12th Avenue was especially considerate, leaving it right in the middle of the street so as to save passersby the trouble of pulling over. Thanks, secret Santa, whoever you are!
(At least the couch was easy to steer around, unlike the opening car door with which I had an impromptu dance a few blocks later.)
I wrote about the increasing hunger crisis in the United States back in May, when Breadline USA came out. Difficulty putting food on the table is not a problem faced only by the poorest of the poor: many working people now rely on food stamps, food banks, soup kitchens in order to fill the gap between what they can afford and what they need. Record numbers of Americans were “food insecure” in 2008, the Department of Agriculture reported last month, and things have only become worse since then, as unemployment and underemployment levels have continued to rise. Food stamps are used by more people than at any time in history, and so on and so on.
Given this bleak reality, I am pleased to take part in a Virtual Holiday Food Drive which has been organized by other Oakland bloggers. The money raised goes directly to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which provides enough food for 300,000 meals a week. All you need to do is click on the image below, then click the “shop” button. You will then be able to either “shop” for food items for the food bank (it gives you a sense of how far food banks are able to stretch monetary donations by buying in bulk), or simply enter a dollar amount.
Anything you are able to give would be much appreciated (by me, of course, but much more importantly, by the many people who are helped by the ACCFB every day). We have a goal of $2,000 by December 20th, and are already nearing the halfway point less than a week into the drive, thanks to a limited number of very generous donors. If a less limited number of similarly generous donors (even a $5 donation can be very generous, depending on one’s circumstances!) pitch in, then this goal is very doable, and the real goal, of course, is to exceed the goal by as much as possible. More information on this virtual food drive can be found here.
I know that some of my regular readers are far removed from Alameda County, and may have their own plans to volunteer or donate to food banks in their own regions. I would never suggest that you give to the ACCFB instead of helping out closer to your home, but what better way to put into practice the Buddhist virtue of expanding circles of compassion than to supplement local giving with additional help farther afield? Or if anyone was saving up to buy me a cool Festivus gift like a sailboat or an annual subscription to US Weekly, then may I suggest that the money would be better spent providing food to those who need it?
Regardless of how you choose to help the less fortunate among us during this holiday season: thank you!