2013 YEAR-IN-REVIEW | Boy, was it a boring night. After hundreds of meetings over the past few years, the Bay Area’s housing and transportation leaders were poised to approve Plan Bay Area, a far-reaching 30-year plan that would prepare the region for likely changes in where its residents live and how they live in an age of greater environmental awareness. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, like many of us at the Marriott on Broadway, couldn’t take the immense rehashing of conservative and Tea Party rants. Some of the public officials charged with tweaking and honing the plan could have conceivably heard these infrequently entertaining diatribes dozens of times over the past year. Throughout the night, I had wandered around the vast hall chatting it up and searching for unrelated political scoops. By 11 p.m. I had settled in the second row, my mind wandering when a Alameda County staff member nudged me and nodded in the general direction of Quan. He had just received a humorous text from a public official seated across from the mayor poking fun at her quiet visit to dreamland. Quan wasn’t just resting her eyes, she was gone. Her head periodically dropped and rose up over and over. For 15 minutes this continued as we giggled. I had to snap a picture of the mayor dozing off, right? I did and immediately tweeted it to a legion of Oakland Twitter followers undoubtedly joyously mocking over their leader’s lack of attention in the public sphere.
Two thousand thirteen sort of felt like everyone in the East Bay political realm was sleeping. However, it might not actually be a knock, but only 2014 will show if the relatively quiet, uneventful past year was actually a calm, a resting before the storm. That’s the positive view, because the optics of a public official sleeping often refers to a general metaphor for inaction than the actual nodding off in the moment. What occurred in 2013, or more precisely, did not occur in city council chambers throughout the East Bay showed an alarming number of elected public officials without any knowledge of how to do their jobs. A lack of creativity is pervasive. Too often they sat like circuit court judges as they opine on others ideas rather than lawmakers. In Hayward, for instance, it is hard to locate a single issue generated by the seven-member council, instead, they consistently rubber stamped staff proposals and perfunctory city business. This is not to suggest anything nefarious occurred in Hayward, but it suggests a city teetering on decay and wallowing in inaction. Hayward wasn’t the only guilty party. San Leandro’s City Council dawdled the whole year, too however, its budget is in the black along with numerous construction projects suggesting a positive path forward and approved the city’s first medical cannabis dispensary. But San Leandro city leaders also seem incapable of understanding a council member’s role is to identify legislation to improve their city, by way of residents conveying a problem or searching it for themselves. Because if you don’t, guess what? You have nothing to hang your hat on come re-election time. Three members of the Hayward City Council will soon argue why they should be mayor next June. What will they offer voters in terms of accomplishments? Beats the shit out of me! And even as the BART Board of Directors took center stage in 2013, one of their newest members inexplicably ran off and got married the night before the first strike occurred and then vacationed during the second work stoppage. That’s called dereliction of duty.
Over in Oakland, they don’t have this problem, but it sure doesn’t translate into action. The Oakland City Council has plenty of ideas for fixing the seat of Alameda County government. Youth curfews, banning “tools of violence” at protests and threatening to rid traveling circuses of the bullhook used to control (harm) elephants. These and many other proposed Oakland ordinances had their merits in 2013, but it was disillusionment that pervaded the chamber when it not only closed it eyes to some troubling proposals, but also covered its ears. Early in 2013, hundreds of residents warned the council against paying former Los Angeles and New York City police chief William Bratton $250,000 to consult the troubled Oakland PD. Hundreds screamed against Bratton’s advocacy for “Stop and Frisk,” but the council tuned them out. Later in the year, the efficacy of “Stop and Frisk” was severely rebuked by a judge. New York City elected a new mayor based in part on his abhorrence of the tactics that often unjustly targeted the poor and minorities. Bratton then jumped ship and became the NYC’s next police commissioner. However, the vitriol was just a harbinger of things to come.
In June, many of the same residents returned to voice disapproval of a citywide surveillance hub, known as the Domain Awareness Center. Again, the Oakland City Council turned a deaf ear. A conga line of residents told the council, the massive data collection center amounted to Big Brother in all places, a progressive city like Oakland. It would infringe of people’s rights, violated their privacy and would target political protesters and opponents. Law enforcement and proponents of the DAC said it would make Oakland safe. Guess what? They were wrong and the voice of the people was right. A mind-blowing piece in the East Bay Express pieced together to bureaucratic back-and-forth between contractors and the city’s staff. The public information request found no mention of the DAC’s intent to actually fight crime. However, it often mentioned using it to target political protesters. Furthermore, it highly suggested city staff was coordinating a go-around of any restrictions on the DAC the City Council may enact in early 2014. Again, another group of East Bay politicians was caught asleep on the job. But, in this instance, the Oakland City Council’s members who approved the DAC should fear how their vote will look in the near future. Like politicians who opposed gay rights and medical cannabis as the tide of popular opinion began to shift, Oakland’s leaders may be plagued by a scarlet DAC stitched to their collective chests, but it seemed like the easy way out last June. Oaklanders want public safety, give them the DAC. In just nine months time, more Americans than ever are worried about the encroachment of government eyes in their everyday lives. How will they feel in next nine months? How will they feel in the fall of 2016 when Councilmember Dan Kalb, a progressive who voted for the DAC, runs for re-election? Hope though is in the air. Two thousand fourteen is a new year, a chance for renewal, right?
Here’s the thing about Jean Quan. Back at the Marriott ballroom, as we giggled over the snarky response to my photo of her sleeping posted on Twitter, she awoke, poured herself about three full glasses of water and perked up. It may become a symbol for her chances for re-election in 2014. Maybe she wasn’t sleeping at all, but resting, plotting? Over the next six months, Quan is showing signs of not only winning next year’s election, but setting up a glorious next four years of renewal in Oakland. By next June, she could boast of saving the Raiders, have the Athletics leaning toward a gleaming new waterfront ballpark, along with hints the Warriors are staying on this side of the Bay. There’s a $1 billion Brooklyn Basin development and other investors searching for their own deals in Oakland. That’s more jobs, more tax receipts. Who knows, maybe crime continues to fall and the number of tragically shot and killed dwindles? Maybe none of those things pan out? The story of 2013, nonetheless, is this: too many public officials failed to do their jobs in 2013, including Quan, but there is still hope in the New Year. Get to work and be prepared this time. I received a new voice recorder for Christmas.
Happy New Year and thank you for reading the East Bay Citizen!