Opinion Piece:Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont, Executive Director, Oakland Rising
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 Mayor Jean Quan, gave her first State of the City speech entitled “Oakland is on the Rise” to an audience of Oakland’s community, labor, business, athletic, musical and grassroots leaders. As one of Oakland’s native daughters, the mother of a young son and the Executive Director of Oakland Rising, I listened to the State of the City pensively.
I was listening for a plan that would align with Oakland Rising’s Vision and Issues Platform by setting administrative priorities that move Oaklanders from the unemployment line to good paying jobs, from burying young people killed by gun violence to helping them rise through leadership development programs, and most importantly how the next city budget would reflect a commitment to funding programs and services that support quality of life services.
I wanted to feel inspired and confident in the Mayor’s ability to lead the city with the articulated progressive values and strategies that so many Oaklanders elected her to bring to the Mayor’s office.
I have to admit, I was moved from pensive to pleasantly surprised by her State of The City speech. While the Mayor began by noting that under her leadership our city brought 5,000 new jobs in Oakland’s high-tech, restaurant, retail and construction industries, and a 2% decrease in Oakland’s unemployment rate, what really grabbed my attention was her always-impressive technical knowledge of policy.
In classic style, Mayor Quan unveiled, detailed and expanded upon her 100 Block plan through which the City focuses the efforts of law enforcement, violence prevention services, job training, employment opportunities and street outreach workers to the 100 blocks in East and West Oakland where 90% of shootings and homicides are taking place.
Leading with a more holistic approach to public safety than we’ve seen from previous Administrations, the Mayor’s 100 Block plan is a step in the right direction. Drawing upon best practices around the country like the Harlem Kids Zone and Chicago Ceasefire, the 100 Block Plan aims to implement cohesive solutions to systemic problems. It lifts up the common sense thinking that Oaklanders know to be true: simply increasing the police presence doesn’t work to stop violence and crime.
For years Oakland politicians have used fear tactics against Oaklanders to prioritize increasing police officers on the streets in order to support their heavy-handed strategy to addressing violence and crime in the flatlands of East and West Oakland. But the reality is that police-centered tactics haven’t worked to curb long-term violence or crime. In fact, in 2011 when police staffing was at a three-year low, violent crimes in Oakland were down according to statistics from the City of Oakland’s website. While police are part of the equation to creating safer communities, we will simply never police our way out of poverty, hunger or joblessness. The Mayor’s 100 block plan articulates clear ways that City government can partner with communities to create a safer, healthier and more thriving Oakland.
As a native Oaklander, the 100 Block Plan sparks some hope in me that the Mayor is bringing a progressive eye and more holistic approach to our city. But the question remains, how will the City budget reflect a commitment to these principles and programs?
Currently, Police and Fire costs make up 63% of the City’s general fund. For years, Oakland’s tax dollars have overwhelmingly gone to support a narrow-minded, outdated and ineffective law-and-order approach to public safety. If the Mayor’s plan and approach in Oakland’s most vulnerable 100 Blocks is going to succeed, revising the budget to fund critical services and reduce our investment in a police heavy strategy is the next logical step.
The budgeting process is the place where our espoused progressive values hit the proverbial pavement, and Oakland Rising’s Budget workgroup will continue to champion calls to City Council to reevaluate how Oakland is aligning policies with its budgeting priorities.
The Mayor repeated a single phrase through the evening: “Oakland is on the Rise”. If our City Budget reflects the funding needed to move this promising public safety plan, I think she just may be right.