Bonta, Guillen Debate Plan For Public Safety As Lackluster Race Enters Final Stretch

April 16, 2012 | Stemming the rise in crime is a perennial hot-bottom issue in the Oakland-centric 18th Assembly District. Alameda Vice Mayor and candidate Rob Bonta says he has solution for helping California cities combat spikes in crime, but one of his opponents in the June primary has concerns over its implications for maintaining civil liberties.

Bonta told a group in Chinatown last Thursday, if elected, he would offer legislation in Sacramento giving cities an option to draw from a pool of state funding and resources in the event crime rises to a certain level. “Oakland may qualify for that, unfortunately, for being the most violent city in the state,” Bonta said during the 90-minute debate that included Peralta Community College Trustee Abel Guillen and AC Transit board member Joel Young.

Guillen said it was the first time he heard of the proposal and focused on Bonta’s use of the term, “state of emergency.” In other U.S. cities, instituting similar powers has usually been associated with cracking down on the youth with short-term curfews.

“I have concerns about what that means,” Guillen said. “Certainly there has been instances where police have abused those powers.”

Guillen also took umbrage with Bonta’s comment that the city had the highest crime rate in the state. “It scares away businesses,” Guillen said. “Anyone who is bringing up state of emergency is doing a discredit to our city.” Guillen, though, agreed Oakland needs some sort of assistance for maintaining public safety. “I think there’s some ideas where you can actually coordinate resources better,” he offered, while referencing better cohesion between the California Highway Patrol, Coast Guard and Oakland PD.

After the forum, Bonta conceded the use of “state of emergency” was not the best label for his plan. “If [Guillen] is conceptualizing it that way, I understand why, but it’s exactly the opposite,” said Bonta. “It’s not a free-for-all and bring in the riot gear, it means, you need help and people deserve safe communities.”

Bonta said his idea would have a built-in trigger for allocating resources where they are needed most. “Police or fire suppression–it could be anything,” he said. “When redevelopment was cut, the City of Oakland funded police and firefighter positions with redevelopment money. So if they should lose those positions and be at staffing ratios that are too low, they would have help from somebody,” said Bonta.

Young used the time to comment on Bonta’s proposal by reiterating a non-specific call for the state to create more jobs.

The disagreement over the proposal is the first signs of life in a race touted as one of the closest race in the entire state. Instead, it is precariously close to becoming one of the most boring. Last Thursday’s forum allowed candidates to rebut their opponent’s answers, yet, only on the issue of funding public safety detailed above, did any of the candidates take advantage of the format to begin developing distinctions among each other.

The laid back demeanor of the three candidates (Young sauntered in 20 minutes late and spoke without taking notes) suggests, said one long-time East Bay political observer, that all three may believe they are the front runner for the top-two June 5 primary. A fourth candidate, Republican Rhonda Weber, did not attend last week’s forum. In the battle royale for a spot in the November general election, two of the candidates can expect to be pushed over the ropes. With less than two months to go, you might expect some sort of political expediency, but it has yet to be seen.