Oakland District 2 Council Candidates Offer Nuanced Positions on Public Safety

Abel Guillen

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | DISTRICT 2 | The way the five current candidates for Oakland’s District 2 City Council seat were talking inside the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church you would think they were there for sanctuary from the violence outside on the streets. But, like every candidate’s forum for any race in Oakland this year and assuredly the rest of his year, public safety and quality of life issues highlighted the 90-minute forum last week. Residents of the district currently represented by Council President Pat Kernighan, who is retiring later this year, also worry about changes to their neighborhoods through gentrification and questions over the potential revamping of the public safety tax, Measure Y.

All of the candidates hoping to represent the district encompassing Chinatown, Grand Lake, Trestle Glen and San Antonio believe public safety is a prime concern for the city, but few proffered a distinct law and order flavor within their positions. Abel Guillen, the former 18th Assembly District runner up two years ago and current trustee for the Peralta Community College District touted a recent partnership with the Oakland Police Department and its colleges and called for a larger force that is “reflective of Oakland and its citizens.” Former KPIX-TV anchor Dana King said the city needs to improve its look and feel by cleaning up illegal dumping and graffiti. The current police force, she added, can only do enforcement at its current strength and few additional services for the community. She advocated for 900 officers, but admits doing so will take several years. Kevin Blackburn, a former small business owner who now works for the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, believes economic development will help curb violence in Oakland. More tax revenue will allow the city to hire more cops, he added. “Oakland is open to business and we’re closed to crime,” said Blackburn.

Dana King

Sokham Mao, a member of the Oakland Police Review Board, urged for a focus on changing Oakland PD’s organizational structure. “It’s not about being tough on crime,” said Mao, “but being smart on crime.” Andrew Park, a department administrator at UC Berkeley and community activist, also advocates for more police, but added, civic involvement between residents and police is missing. “A connection is what is needed in Oakland and public safety is a symptom of our lack of connection,” said Park.

To various degrees all the candidates said they would support maintaining minimum police staffing numbers included in Measure Y, which was passed in 2004, although the city has struggled to come close to the prescribed 802 officers. There is some

Andrew Park

disappointment around the accountability of Measure Y, but more cops are needed, said King. “Where we all live crime is not an abstract issue. We see it on our streets, we open our doors to it, we read about it in the paper, we see it on the news.” Like King, Park says voters might be hesitant to support a similar ballot measure in November, but the police department is too shorthanded and, at the very least, additional support will bring the “perception of safety” to Oakland. The best solution to crime prevention is jobs, added Blackburn, “People don’t want to be criminals. Criminal activity is a result of a loss of hope.” However, Blackburn also thinks the police force could function well with 700 cops. Mao, too, supports minimum staffing levels and said students graduating from high school in Oakland should be able to find gainful employment either on their own or through city, state and federal programs. Guillen also supports minimum staff, but the city and the police department are not using what they already have wisely. “Oakland has a bad habit of not following its laws,” said Guillen. There’s no reason for sworn officers to run Oakland Animal Services or hold a desk job a civilian could fill, he said.

Kevin Blackburn

With raising home prices and skyrocketing rents in San Francisco pushing more people across the bay, the fear of gentrification will be a major issue this fall. “Gentrification is a loaded words and it’s code. It makes us feel less than,” said King. We can have development without displacement, she said. “We have a city where people say, ‘I love Oakland for its diversity,’ and if we lose the people that make up the diversity of those neighborhoods in District 2, we’re going to lose the heart of Oakland.” Blackburn says the city’s housing stock is far too low and adding to the supply will also increase the tax base. He says he is somewhat supportive of exclusionary zoning policies, although he added it may not be the best solution right now for Oakland, but creating more housing should be the first steps toward funding affordable housing later. Park says he returned to Oakland seven years ago with his wife, both holding advanced degrees, “Are we gentrifiers? It’s really difficult to engage the topic,” he said, but the focus should be on struggling families and getting them help. Guillen wants more affordable housing particularly around transit-oriented developments. “Developers want to know whether they will have predictably regarding the zoning process,” said Guillen, while also alluding to the Lake Merritt BART station plan still awaiting approval by the Oakland City Council. “Look, everybody needs a place to live and we need to welcome newcomers wherever they come from. I think they add to the vibrancy of our community,” said Guillen. “At the same time, we need to make sure senior citizens and longtime residents do not get pushed out.”

Sokham Mao

On the city’s financial standing, Guillen said the budget situation is already improving. However, he advocated using some of the new resources to paying down the city’s debt and unfunded liabilities. That being said, city employees are not being “greedy” when it comes to their pensions, said Guillen, and high-level administrators are skewing the actual median pension earned by workers. “This isn’t something that is unique to Oakland,” he said. “This is an issue that is facing all of California.” King wants a strategy for paying down debt that residents can rally around. New streams of revenue are needed, too. One example, King offered, is the vacant Kaiser Convention Center, south of Lake Merritt. She said City Hall can no longer ask taxpayers for help. “Let’s do what Texas does. Let’s go out and get us some manufacturing,” said King. Park called for “shared sacrifice” to cure the debt and Mao urged for a strategic plan to tackle unfunded liabilities.

“We should have Nordstrom-type service at City Hall and what we have is Kmart service,” said Blackburn. He added the problem is not how many city employees, but what they are actually doing while on the clock. Said Blackburn: “I think what we need at City Hall is a cultural shift and a change in the attitude of how city workers do their job.”

18 thoughts on “Oakland District 2 Council Candidates Offer Nuanced Positions on Public Safety

  1. “Seeing that Abel is the sole competitor due to all the nasty comments”

    –seems like we have a couple of related problems around here.

    We've got pols who don't get things done and we've got voters who don't seem to be able to make good decisions about which pols to vote for.


  2. Connections are looking to be rewarded as well as reward. Being connected got us the Oakland we have today. Getting the wrong things done at a nice clip ranks with making good time on the way to being lost.


  3. I was present at this forum and wasn't sure what to make of these candidates. I am an undecided voter. Up until now, I have say, Abel was quite impressive. He unlike his opponents has a greater understanding of city budget, policies & and is deeply rooted to varying connections that can essentially get things done at faster rate than any other candidate running for D2.

    I am undecided, but after following this thread and seeing that Abel is the sole competitor due to all the nasty comments, it moves me closer to think that my vote will go to Mr. Guillen.

    If he's such a threat, it must mean he's the most qualified.


  4. Hey you, mentally insane of a person… here's a cheer for you.

    Give me an A, B, E, L! What does it spell? VICTORY!!!


  5. 9:43–

    You mean persons ought not to have “personal reasons?”

    “Hard working” is not the same thing, at all, as actual achievement. Jean Quan and her clique always talk about how hard she works. Effective workers need balance to maintain whatever sanity they may have. Sleep deprivation keeps Quan essentially asleep much of the time. Abel no doubt ditto.

    Nothing wrong with hating evil.

    “Abel all the way!” sounds like a cheerleader's phrase. Don't pom-pom artists like you do it for “personal reasons?”


  6. The PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT give us Abel on City Council plea sounds like:

    1. a personal reason
    2. you have no real reason, so you make up some outrageously STUPID reason to pull down a hard working person
    3. And three. You're a hater and your backstabbing ways won't work!

    Abel all the way!


  7. Most of Oaktown voted for Abel over Bonta. Now that he has Bonta's endorsement, he will win for sure.


  8. 3:06–School's out for the day. Now you can join your pals who attended today.

    Where I live in Oakland I can here the gunshots. That's all the research I need to do, however stupid I may be.


  9. He's done a hella lot more than you have 11:42, but either you don't live in Oakland or you are too stupid to do any research.


  10. “He has essentially done nothing…except to take credit for others' accomplishments and hide from the real issues.”

    He'll fit right in on the Oakland Council. That's exactly what they do.


  11. If I'm filling out a lineup card I would not bat Abel leadoff. He probably doesn't have much speed. Looks like a power hitter who strikes out a lot. Probably would bat him fifth or six.


  12. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT give us Abel on City Council. He has essentially done nothing on the Peralta Board, except to take credit for others' accomplishments and hide from the real issues. I challenge anyone to verify how his service and so-called leadership on that board has improved education at Peralta one iota. About the only action he can take direct credit for is introducing a motion to divest district money in a few banks. That action probably did not even involve the majority of all district funds, but it was good political posturing.

    Oakland needs, no, is desperate for some real leadership, not more wind bags. Therefore, for the sake of Oakland, NO on Abel!!!


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