SUNDAY COLUMN | Last week, Joshua Daniels, a frequent tweeter and participant in the Twitter hashtag #oakmtg, a collectively agreed upon moniker to sift commentary of Oakland City Council’s meetings into one easy-to-find spot, seemed like the only person in the entire city questioning a resolution over what amounts to a city-wide surveillance program.
In fact, at the July 9 public safety meeting, the item appeared to be like many de rigueur pieces of city legislation. There was no public comment and two City Council members showed no reason to challenge the proposal to allocate $2 million in federal stimulus dollars given to the Port of Oakland and the city to begin phase two of what is ominously called a Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The hub will eventually enable law enforcement better access centrally-located floods of data points and numerous video feeds not only at the port, but city streets and the Oakland Coliseum, among other areas. While some council members exhibited gee whiz enthusiasm for the software’s nifty abilities, including the possibility of adding its capabilities to mobile devices, Daniels feared yet another violation of the citizenry’s privacy.
In the week that followed the committee meeting, Daniels, under the Twitter handle, @HarryElephante, mobilized the often sarcastic, but inquisitive and locally-engaged followers of #oakmtg. Tweet after tweet, he educated his audience to the mere facts, including in a short staff report and the meeting, itself, including a cheery comment by Councilmember Dan Kalb concluding the proposal, “Sounds good to me.”
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, many of the same #oakmtg followers took on their public persona to address the City Council and chided Kalb for his enthusiasm, which they believed was unwarranted. Kalb, however, wondered why the throng of opponents to the DAC did not attend last week’s committee meeting to voice their opinions. The irony, though, is many of them were at the meeting. Maybe not physically, but in the ether, 140 characters at a time.
While social media networks have been credited with helping democracy organize and coalesce in the Middle East, the growing power of #oakmtg gives an indication of what civic participation will look like in the near future. The Oakland City Council, appearing like they were caught flat-footed by the immense lack of vetting for the DAC issue in committee, moved to delay any action on the item to July 30.
Although many feel powerless and disillusioned when it comes to government, it can be argued a single person’s advocacy forced the City Council to step back and pause before blindly approving an expenditure that without specific rules and conditions could one day greatly affect the privacy and ability to protest not just for Oaklanders, but every visitor who unwittingly passes within the field of one of its surveillance cameras.
“Time’s up, Dr. Death.”
–Larry Reid, Oakland councilman and member of the Oakland Coliseum Authority July 17 alerting a Raiders fan named “Dr. Death,” clad in his game day costume, that his public speaking time had elapsed during a presentation of a preliminary study for a new football stadium at the Coliseum.
The Week That Was
Protesters on Broadway in Oakland Monday.
-Trayvon Martin Protests: Protests last weekend spilled into Monday evening as marchers briefly took over the 880 Freeway near Broadway in Oakland and nearly did the same at the 580 freeway. One marcher was injured and a waiter was assaulted, but the marches were largely peaceful. The Oakland PD, however, admitted they were caught flat-footed when the George Zimmerman verdict was passed down last weekend, but never passing up an opening to denigrate protesters, the City Council will soon discuss making it illegal to carry makeshift weapons at protests.
-Central Alameda: San Leandro is trying to shed its boring, unassuming self by marketing itself as a hub of green tech. This week it added to its reawakening by allowing civil marriages to be performed at City Hall. Nevermind who would choose to get married at San Leandro’s City Hall, but it’s a move forward. In Hayward, voters may be asked to fund the $40 million difference for a new 58,000 sq. ft. main library. A staff report this week showed the city’s libraries are some of the most outdated in the entire state.
-Raiders stadium study: There was some disagreement over the cost and size of a potential new stadium for the Raiders, but the big takeaway this week is both the Raiders and the Coliseum Authority realize the league’s lowest revenue-earning franchise will have a tough time attracting corporate sponsors in the East Bay. This is not small problem and may be the first crack in the possible relocation of the Raiders to…elsewhere?
-Plan Bay Area is a go: After nearly 200 public meetings over the past three years, a sweeping plan to remake the Bay Area and the way some of us will live in the next three decades was passed this week. The initiative hopes to create 80 percent of new jobs in Bay Area transportation hubs and advocates for high-density housing to achieve the expected increase in population. Conservatives again raised objections. In fact, calling someone a “communist” was used in bulk like no period since 1965.
Tweet of the Week
“I’m on the road with limited internet – anyone know if the #oo settlement was approved at last night’s #OakMtg?”
-@angrywhitekid, one of the Occupy Oakland protesters who received part of a million dollar settlement from the City of Oakland, tweets July 17 on whether the City Council had made him whole.
>>>With an impending BART Strike, Part II on the horizon, the rapid transit system and its board of directors have left a lot of funding opportunities on the table in favor of the rich, while asking workers to pay the price. (East Bay Express, July 18)
>>>The Oscar Grant film, Fruitvale Station, opens to wide-release this week and his legend in these parts as a symbol of police brutality is likely to be solidified by the highly-acclaimed movie. (SF Weekly, July 12)
Voice of the People
“It is time to cancel the term for those who were in office that accepted the bribe from Russell City and it is time all of us to insist that the money is spent on the existing library. Has anyone asked what we can do with Ten Million Dollars? I think a lot.”
–Thomas Clarke commenting July 19 on the $10 million gift from Calpine to the City of Hayward to build a new library on “With Some Of The Most Outdated Libraries In The State, Hayward May Ask Voters To Fund $50M Project.”