ELECTION ’12//OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//DISTRICT 5 | Oakland’s Fruitvale District is one of the city’s most diverse and potentially vibrant areas of the city. However, it is also the epicenter of Oakland’s most vexing problems—violent crime and a generation of youth falling between the cracks of cyclical despair.
Noel Gallo PHOTO/Shane Bond
Four candidates to replace long-time Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente in District 5 spoke often Tuesday night of the area’s plight and recent controversial proposals including gang injunctions and youth curfews and how the heavily Latino district can begin to prosper economically.
“I don’t believe in gang injunctions,” said Fruitvale business owner Mario Juarez. “I think they are over broad. What happens if you grow this list to 3,000? What are you enforcing then?” Juarez said it does not solve the problems of violence in Oakland and is much too costly of an expenditure, however, “If people are committing crimes, they should be arrested.”
Noel Gallo, an Oakland school board member who represents the area, supports the injunctions, especially against violent offenders, he said. “Either we’re going to be serious about safety or we’re not,” Gallo said. “If you walk in District 5 you’re going to find retirees behind fences with a dog in the middle, behind bars on their porch, peeking through the window because they can’t come out and enjoy their retirement age because someone within that neighborhood is creating harm.” He later added, “Crime is governing Oakland as opposed to Oakland governing crime.”
Mario Juarez PHOTO/Shane Bond
While Gallo sought throughout the forum to establish himself as the race’s law and order candidate, Shelly Garza, a former city employee who now works with helping small startups, repeatedly struck a collaborative tone. Like Juarez, she viewed injunctions as costly and worried whether its use benefited everyone in the community. “I don’t want it to be, ‘Tell me who you hang around with and I’ll tell you who you are,’” said Garza.
Dawn McMahan, who runs an Oakland arts non-profit, took the hardest stand against injunctions placed upon the district’s youth. “It more of a us against them mentality,” she said. “If we beat them up and put them in jail, they will change. How is the war on drugs working for you?”
Predictably, the question of youth curfews in the Fruitvale elicited similar responses, with Gallo fully supporting its use. “We had curfews,” Gallo said, recalling from his youth, “You had to be in by 10. I had no business being out in the street. I should have been doing my homework, learning how to cook, taking care of my mom and dad, cleaning my room or learning how to read and write. That’s where they should be at 10 p.m. at night, not on the streets.”
Shelly Garza PHOTO/Shane Bond
But, McMahan countered, “What we are overlooking is the children that are out on the streets at night don’t necessarily have the electricity on in their homes, or their water, or have Internet access or someone to help them with their homework. Or maybe their parents are out getting high.”
Juarez said he somewhat agreed with McMahan’s assessment, but added he does not believe curfews should be enforced by the Oakland PD, but by the school district’s special police unit, who already deal with the youth on a daily basis. “I do not want an overstressed, overworked OPD officer going after a kid in the middle of the night,” he said. “We need to open up the can of worms nobody wants to open and find out what is really happening at home and service these kids sooner than later.”
Added Garza: “We have to give our youth the opportunity to explain to them why we are doing this and what is the benefit for them.”
Whether they support gang injunctions and youth curfews or not, there was general consensus that city’s depleted police force needs help, although they differed on how they would fund such an expansion. “We need to work with what we have,” said Garza. “We don’t have the funding.” She urged continuing to find partnerships with law enforcement, possibly through private security firms.
Dawn McMahan PHOTO/Shane Bond
Gallo, though, said “we need more police and we need to pay for it” through business ventures in the short term and possibly through a parcel tax in the future. “If we are serious about safety, we need to stand up and pay for it,” he said.
While McMahan urged for non-profits to step on the periphery, Juarez offered a proposal to generate revenue for hiring more cops through a $7.95 airport user tax, he says, would create $111 million annually for the city. “We don’t need to go to you,” said Juarez, “because the well is dry already.”
Like most of the cities, states and country, voters in District 5 expect solutions for attracting businesses and creating new jobs. “I’m already growing and retaining new businesses in the city of Oakland,” said Garza, who runs a micro-business incubator, she says, has helped over 150 businesses in the Bay Area. “I’m already providing an economic engine for our district.”
Gallo said, “You have growth already, but making it welcoming for business to come here is key,” he said. “Whether you’re a taco truck or a startup.” McMahan again signified the importance of non-profits, noting many in the district are not U.S. citizens or are returning from incarceration. “What kind of jobs are we offering them?” she asked. More interestingly, Juarez said his biodiesel refinery project is an example of bringing new business ideas to Oakland, but added to do so, his group worked with EBMUD instead of dealing with Oakland’s onerous trail of red tape, he said. “We basically avoided the city.”