|Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf delivers her first state of the city Wednesday night at the City Council chambers.|
OAKLAND | STATE OF THE CITY | Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf entered the City Council chambers for her first State of the City address Wednesday evening with a drum line beat blaring behind. The first-term mayor’s flair for showmanship is well-known, but as the last 10 months will attest, despite clear positives in Oakland, anything can still go sideways at a moment’s notice. Like, say, a malfunctioning microphone. “Nobody said that this would be easy,” Schaaf deadpanned to the packed City Council chambers. The remark could also refer to Oakland’s rebirth.
While the city is a hot market for investors, Schaaf noted continued fear among residents, highlighted by 71 murders this year and worries the very character of Oakland is at risk as long-time residents are displaced by new ones awash in tech riches. Schaaf’s speech was heavy on tamping down crime and solving the city’s housing crisis. However, she made no mention of the Raiders and Athletics and their fruitless bids to finance new stadiums in Oakland.
In the 38 minute speech, often featuring soaring rhetoric, Schaaf said, “There is a buzz about Oakland right now and it’s not just a feeling.” Economic indicators such as unemployment are down while job creation is up, she explained. “While we celebrate this moment of progress and prosperity, we must have the discipline and the honesty to look into and behind these numbers to make sure that there is progress for all and that the prosperity is shared equitably.” Unemployment numbers sit at 5.3 percent overall, said Schaaf, but still fluctuate greatly around the city based on factors such as race and education.
“The numbers show that Oakland is getting safer,” said Schaaf, highlighted by three straight years of double-digits drops in shootings, including 200 fewer people wounded by gunfire over the past year. Residential burglaries and home robberies are also down. “I’m not going to sugarcoat the state of safety in Oakland,” she said, but more of the shootings were fatal, including 71 murders this year. “I cannot celebrate improvements while overall the level of fear and harm in this community remain unacceptably high.”
Schaaf later noted the murder of 27-year-old community artist Antonio Ramos, who was killed Sept. 29 while painting a peace mural in Oakland. Schaaf said her goal is on track to grow the police department from the current 735 officer to 820 by 2017. A community safety plan was promised for the end of this year, she added.
Later, with the words Black Lives Matter prominently displayed behind her, Schaaf said Oakland has been nationally praised for the city’s move toward greater transparency following over a decade of federal oversight for police misconduct. Several well-known critics of Schaaf and the police department in Oakland erupted on social media after seeing the backdrop and the mayor’s comments. A number of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters focused on the plight of black women earlier this year were arrested by OPD. The incident led to numerous protests in the weeks that followed and included a controversial night-time curfew for protesting in the streets.
Regarding the housing crisis, Schaaf said preventing displacement of existing residents is her highest priority. “Oakland has an affordability crisis,” said Schaaf. “Oaklanders are getting priced out of their own hometown.” Schaaf’s new housing cabinet will bring an implementation and funding plan for the city’s housing equity roadmap sometime in early 2016, said Schaaf. In addition, 1,300 new housing units are expected to be built this year with more than 30 percent set aside for affordable housing, she said, along 15,000 units of housing already in the pipeline. Meanwhile, the city must also focus on other types of housing, she said. “We must learn the cautionary lesson from San Francisco and not discourage market-rate housing. Every new unit relieves pressure from our tight housing market,” Schaaf said before taking a dig at Donald Trump. “We can’t build a wall around Oakland and we wouldn’t want to. In fact, that sounds a little bit like a presidential candidate.”
What Schaaf didn’t mention during the address was also notable. Aside from a celebratory acknowledgment of the Golden State Warriors NBA championship last summer, Schaaf made no mention to the tenuous stadium situations involving the Oakland Raiders and Athletics. NFL executives will visit Oakland Thursday night for a town hall at the Paramount Theater to discuss the Raiders future in Oakland as the team actively seeks relocation to Southern California. Schaaf is expected to attend the meeting. Following the State of the City, Councilmember Noel Gallo said he believes there is still hope to keep the team in town. “She should have brought the issue up tonight,” said Gallo. “We need to do everything possible to communicate that the Raiders and Athletics are important. Just as a courtesy she should have brought them up.”