2013 Year In Lists: Top 5 East Bay Political News Stories

Replica of a drone sought by the Alameda 
County Sheriff in Feb. PHOTO/Shane Bond

1. Public privacy under siege>>> The potent issue of government infringement on public privacy through technology was barely on the national radar a year ago and non-existent in the Bay Area. Public officials in Oakland did not see it coming and when the citywide surveillance hub known as the Domain Awareness Center (DAC) came before a city council committee, there was little discussion. Progressive Councilmember Dan Kalb even voiced excited approval. That quickly changed. In short, thank or blame Edward Snowden for the heightened awareness of a federal government going all-in with Big Brother and a growing number of Americans joining the pushback. The Oakland City Council was in a bind, though. With public safety the city’s top problem and the lure of federal grants, the chanting, screaming and threats from some constituents could not change the council’s mind. The DAC moved forward, but not until an explosive article in the East Bay Express in December exposed a city administration seemingly rewriting the rules for the surveillance center’s operation. In fact, most of the issues constituents raged about earlier in the year came to fruition. The city would do whatever it wanted, train the camera’s eye on political protesters and undermine the previously stated use for the DAC—public safety.

WHAT IT MEANS IN ’14 Public privacy, be it city cameras or domestic drones hovering over Alameda County, is not going away. In fact, it may be the vote most of the current Oakland City Council will regret later in their political careers.

Alameda County posted its best budget forecast in five years.
However, it still reflected a $80.2 million shortfall. 

2. Economy begins to pick up>>> Some view the uptick in home prices as the Devil in disguise. It is true the East Bay’s urban core is being revived by running away demand for housing after years of stagnation. The positive property tax revenue along with growing sales tax receipts also comes with gentrification. Those large numbers of people wearing San Francisco Giants caps in the East Bay may not be proud fans still celebrating its World Series championship in 2012, but displaced San Franciscans who can no longer afford to live in @TheCityByTheBay, #thelandoftechdouches. However, generally, 2013 was the year it clearly became evident the East Bay had thrown the piano off its back, known as the Great Recession. For the first time in five years, city governments across Alameda County found minuscule budget shortfall, while some were able to restock reserves nearly depleted by the long recession. Alameda County still reported $80.2 million in the red, but that figure represented the smallest shortfall since 2008-09.

WHAT IT MEANS IN ’14 In terms of the bulking up the county’s safety net, things are getting better, but unemployment is still a nagging problem and soon finding an affordable home to buy or rent may become even more difficult. How the region tackles the wave of new money coming to the East Bay in an equitable fashion is an issue yet to be broached by public officials.

Gayle McLaughlin, the East Bay’s 
Elizabeth Warren.

3. Richmond’s anti-foreclosure plan>>> While the traditional lairs of liberal ideology in Berkeley and Oakland dawdled, little ol’ Richmond proudly raised the progressive banner. The flapping flag slammed through the toxic earth around the Richmond refinery was also a giant populist middle-finger in protest of Wall Street’s own toxic mortgage loans and blatant robbery of the American middle class. The Richmond City Council’s plan to buy up underwater loans for the purpose of principal reduction sent shivers through Wall Street. The even more aggressive proposal to purchase some of those homes through eminent domain was even more intolerable for the Big Banks who took their own shot across the city’s bough when it found no takers for its municipal bonds. This gambit took a bit out of Richmond’s plan, but it trudged forward. Oakland, however, was spooked when the plan was merely mentioned in the abstract.

WHAT IT MEANS IN ’14 Richmond’s anti-foreclosure plan may or may not ever get off the ground, but for the first time in awhile, it felt like local government was finally standing up for the little guy, instead of acting the shill for the police department or the local chamber of commerce. If Richmond is successful, others will follow and that’s what the Masters of the Universe fears the most.

Jean Quan and her emissary to the Black Hole, 
Dr. Death. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

4. Oakland stadium saga>>> We started 2013 with the distinct possibility that the self-described “Home of Champions” could be totally shut out of professional sports within the next five years. The A’s were on their way to San Jose and the Warriors had already cheated with nearby San Francisco and was planning to move in with each other. And the Raiders, well, after jilting the East Bay once before, they couldn’t be trusted even though they were the only franchise publicly stated a preference for Oakland. Twelve months later and the mood is vastly different, although not yet settled. The A’s have no place to go but Oakland and have two locations to choose, one of which might also accommodate an arena for the Warriors. In addition, the entrance of two rich investors in the Coliseum City plan has greatly raised the bar for optimism, at least, for the Raiders remaining in Oakland.

WHAT IT MEANS IN ’14 Once the deals are signed in 2014, how the plans are implemented with public money will take center stage. The Oakland Coliseum is still saddled with $113 million in debt from the return of the Raiders and remodeling of the stadium almost 20 years ago. Paying off the debt may require selling the Coliseum complex land. In fact, no stadium project in history has been made without taxpayers getting screwed and this one will be no different. Like Michael Jordan , you cannot stop it, but only contain it.

Khanna introducing himself to voters
earlier this year in a YouTube video.

5. Khanna’s cash>>> Ro Khanna, the candidate for the 17th Congressional District, trying to be the Eric Swalwell of 2014, has absolutely no trouble raising money. The former Obama appointee to the Commerce Department pulled in record-breaking campaign contributions for his run against fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda. The $1 million dollar haul earlier this year on the heels of another cool million the year before is not only astronomical for the Bay Area, but the entire state and Congress. However, an interesting thing happened in 2013. Khanna’s prodigious fundraising was attributed to his ties to Silicon Valley tech heavyweights at Google, Yahoo, Facebook and the region’s most influential venture capitalists, among others. Khanna even said earlier on his campaign would give voice in Washington to Silicon Valley’s tech class of thinkers and wealth. Then over the past few months, some people inexplicably began to hate the charms of Google, Yahoo and Facebook, along with their ungodly riches, which to some, fairly or not, came without much tangible work. Why, for instance, does the Google campus in Mountain View have so many large trash bins surrounding it? They don’t create anything composed of physical matter!

WHAT IT MEANS IN ’14 This significant plot twist in an already interesting race proves a political campaign is a marathon, albeit, one where you never know where the course will take you.

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