Education in Oakland

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Lies That Matter

Posted by novometro on February 9, 2007

Guest Blogger: Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar

Why is it that some lies are so much bigger than others? I’ve been watching the amount of media attention Gavin Newsom’s affair has been getting, and frankly, I’d much rather the same amount of attention was showered on something that actually affected the lives of more than 10 people. I understand why more people would care about this affair than just Newsom, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, and Alex Tourk. He is the mayor of one of this country’s loveliest cities, he is good looking and wealthy, and yes, he did have sex with his friend’s wife who also happened to work for him (that makes for a good story). That might be a lousy thing to do. But things happen.

If it is “an asshole thing to do,” as a friend put it, there are a lot of other things that qualify as “asshole things to do”.. and everybody’s doing asshole things. Besides, I’m a strong believer in seperating people’s personal and professional lives — and so long he didn’t fail at his job, it still isn’t affecting more than 10 people.

What, however is a big deal, in my opinion, is….. fake handicapped parking permits. Yes, I’m sure you’re saying ,”What?” But please, why does someone’s sex life matter more than the dozens of lies that I see hanging from the rear view mirrors of cars and SUVs that no handicapped person is driving. These cars block the best parking spaces in downtown Oakland for hours. So, if someone’s really handicapped, or if someone wants to park legally in the area– by actually feeding the meter coins every hour — they’re going to be very frustrated.

And towards the end of the day, I often see someone very healthy (they may have other health issues, but obviously none that impair their walk) walk to their car, get in without much effort, and zip away. And we’re talking about Mercs, BMWs, and other gorgeous auto creations. Surely, they can afford to park in the garages across from their office buildings? Or maybe that eats into the car payments?

And these fake placards, I promise you, affect more people than some politician’s sex life. Some cities have set up teams of volunteers who cite parking permit offenders. We need to do so. A walk down Broadway and/or Franklin will convince you.

When I was growing up, I often heard people say a white lie is better than a thousand truths. Now if you want to know what a white lie is — it’s one that does no one any harm, that preserves peace, and perhaps even helps someone. Maybe the doctor that issues these fake health certificates thinks he’s helping someone. But he’s hurting a lot more people than he’s helping.


Posted in Going Out, Mayor, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics, San Francisco, Traffic, Traffic Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Inclusionary Zoning is Back

Posted by novometro on October 17, 2006

This is a tough one. Oakland City Council takes up an inclusionary zoning ordinance Tuesday evening that would require 15 percent of new rental units in the city be affordable to a family of four earning around $50,000. Affordable units for sale would have to be within the budget of a family of four with an annual income of $83,000. Thus, a maximum rent for a four-room apartment would be $1,458. A spacious, new condo could be had for $250,000. Developers could also opt to put money in an affordable housing trust fund. The fee for a project with 100 market-rate, two-bedroom units would be $5.3 million.

That works out to a “tax” of $53,000 on each unit. The question is this: Will that mandatory extra cost stifle development in Oakland? Oakland Native thinks so. And a paper published by the Reason Foundation in 2004, a Libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, argues that inclusionary zoning fails to create affordable housing while it simultaneously prohibits the creation of market rate housing. The study ends this way: “Inclusionary zoning should only be enacted if the goal is to make housing more expensive and decrease the quantity of new housing.”

But a 2002 study prepared for the Los Angeles Housing Department concluded that inclusionary zoning policies throughout the state have not hindered housing production, but have actually resulted in more housing in places like Sacramento and San Diego. The study found that “housing starts most closely track the unemployment rate.”

Part of the problem in evaluating the pros and cons of inclusionary zoning lies in the wildly different numbers the researchers use to support their competing arguments. For example, the authors of the Reason study claim that inclusionary zoning policies in the Bay Area have produced only 7,000 units over 30 years. According to another team of analysts in Washington D.C., that figure is off by about 93,000.

Crafted by City Councilwomen Jane Brunner and Jean Quan, the proposed ordinance would make an exemption for projects within 1,000 feet of a BART station.

Erecting a speed bump to development in Oakland makes me nervous. So does the prospect of Oakland no longer being an affordable home for the kinds of immigrants that make a city a hotbed of entrepreneurialism and creativity. Jane Brunner told the San Francisco Chronicle it would have been better to introduce inclusionary zoning in the midst of the housing boom. She’s right. It seems dangerous to do this now with DataQuick reporting Monday the first downward tick in housing prices in four years.

Posted in Development, Environment, Housing, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Real Estate, Zoning | 5 Comments »

Street Heat Isn’t Hot

Posted by novometro on October 10, 2006

I accidently stumbled into this rally for Phil Angelides Monday afternoon. The Oakland Tribune called it a “throng.” That might be overstating the case. Sandre Swanson’s description of the lunchtime crowd as “street heat,” is certainly an example of political license. I walked away thinking that the Democrats will never make the mistake of running a non-celebrity for governor again.

Posted in CA, Democrats, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics | 1 Comment »

Eat This Book

Posted by novometro on October 2, 2006

The person in charge of securing a victory for Oakland’s first library bond since the late-1940’s told me I’d begin seeing evidence of the campaign this week. Sure enough, a volunteer rang the bell Saturday afternoon with a handful of Yes on Measure N signs and a pamphlet detailing the many ways the bond would improve the Piedmont branch.

The literature emphasized the local benefits and soft-pedaled the $148-million bond’s chief element: A new main library in the shell of the shuttered Henry J. Kaiser auditorium. The woman who came to my door said the new library and the adjacent Oakland Museum of California would form a kind of “cultural district” on the south shore of Lake Merritt. If the bond passes, the quarter-mile stretch between Oak Street and Peralta Park may one day brim with culture, but it will be empty of people. I’ve been to the museum on a Sunday afternoon. And I’ve been to the library on a Sunday afternoon. There are usually more people eating dim sum a few blocks away in one Chinatown restaurant than in both cultural institutions combined.

Chinatown’s Sunday bustle ought to provide inspiration for the city as it decides what to do with the Kaiser should the bond fail to win the necessary two-thirds of the vote. The library option emerged after the City Council scotched a last-minute push from the port to install a permanent world trade expo in the Kaiser. But why are we forced to choose between a library and an ill-conceived world trade center? At the moment, there is really no place to enjoy a good meal and a view of Lake Merritt at the same time. A creative remodeling of the Kaiser could remedy that. Think San Francisco’s Ferry Building meets International Boulevard.

Oakland’s best taquerias, pho parlors, dim sum spots, injera makers, and sandwich shops could share space with upscale patisseries, cheese mongers, and wine sellers. At last, Oakland’s two greatest assets – natural beauty and delicious food from all over the world – would be brought together in one place.

But what about the library? What about the future of literacy in Oakland? Perhaps the Measure N campaign spokesperson was mindful of a Public Policy Institute of California study released in September that showed the majority of voters in California are over 45. She said it’s important that the paramedics who respond to 911 calls are able to read. I don’t care if the paramedic can read so long as he can drive fast and knows how to restart a stopped heart. Either way, a new library in the Kaiser won’t do much for the state of literacy in Oakland.

Measure N supporters will tell you that it would cost more to renovate the current main library than to erect a swank new flagship in the Kaiser. That’s true, if the renovation includes a $13 million parking garage and other features whose absence would not be missed in a perfectly adequate main library. But we don’t need a fancy library. We just need a library that serves downtown, houses the historical archives, and maintains the bulk of the library’s reference materials (a section of increasing irrelevance thanks to the Internet). The excess books that circulate to other branches can be kept in inexpensive warehouses.

If the library does move to the Kaiser, don’t expect great things to relocate to the current site. A library employee told me that one tentative plan calls for turning the site into a youth center since it resides in “neutral turf.” Even if the library doesn’t become a place for the Sharks and the Jets to put aside their differences, history has shown it will be hard to raze it and erect something the city actually needs, like more housing. I would be surprised if the application isn’t already filed to designate it a landmark.

The measure N campaign plans to spend $150,000 between now and November convincing us we should spend $40 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property value to support this plan. Like any bond measure, the proposal includes funding for some much-needed projects. Laurel needs a library. So does East Oakland. Improvements and expansions throughout the system are long overdue. But we can do it for less money and in a way that doesn’t waste the Kaiser’s potential.

Posted in Development, Education, Going Out, Housing, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics | 19 Comments »

Loving Las Vegas

Posted by novometro on September 25, 2006

In an article published this month in Democracy Journal, Joel Kotkin takes another swipe at the “condo and coffeehouse” school of urban planning. Mr. Kotkin blasts Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle for promoting “boutique” downtowns that cater to the cultural whims of well-heeled elites, but quash the aspirations of the middle class. He’s right. Cities do need to encourage and promote the strivings of the middle class (such as we still exist).

But Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston, three cities Mr. Kotkin points to as examples of places where newcomers can flourish largely because of affordable housing and good business conditions, grow on unsustainable models. Both Houston and Phoenix sprawl across more square miles than Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose combined. In Phoenix and Las Vegas, water is a problem. Houston struggles with pollution and traffic congestion.

In Oakland’s case, its long-term prosperity hinges more on its ability to lure and keep immigrants than on its selling points as a temperate, reasonably cosmopolitan place to dwell without children. The ongoing debate in the Oakland City Council about the possible rezoning of certain quarters from industrial to a housing/business mix goes to the heart of this question. Should land that might incubate businesses that could create wealth for hundreds be turned into homes for hundreds of the wealthy?

Oakland Native offers his/her take Monday on what inclusionary zoning would mean for the future of Oakland’s middle class at Oakland’s Future: An Optimistic Perspective.

Posted in Development, Housing, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics | 5 Comments »

Hustle and Grow

Posted by novometro on August 8, 2006

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson reminded his readers Tuesday that “younger individuals” in Oakland are forming “large mobs,” and then “attacking individuals.” This information was part of a larger story about the rising rate of robberies and felony assaults that is accompanying Oakland’s mounting body count.

The article brought to mind the mob of young black males I saw gathered on a street corner in downtown Oakland Monday afternoon. Tony Fontaine and about five of his friends had clustered at the intersection of 19th and Webster to peddle his new CD at five dollars a pop. Selling rap CDs on street corners as a prelude to one’s own line of fragrances and a spot on Cribs is part of hip-hop lore. It’s the music industry’s version of that Lower East Side pushcart that becomes a grand department store.

I don’t know where Tony Fontaine’s career is headed. I’m no connoisseur of rap. But I do know that his entrepreneurial spirit ought to be encouraged rather than stifled. People don’t need another reason to be afraid of large groups of young men standing on street corners.

I didn’t feel like paying five bucks for the CD, and Mr. Fontaine, 22, wouldn’t give me one as a “media demo.” He suggested we check out his music online. His MySpace page makes it clear that he is no saint. He and his partner, who together form the Full Tyme Hustlers declare a love of “weed and panties.” The music I heard isn’t much deeper. But Mr. Fontaine and the “Hustlers” were hustling, and not in the bad way.

As anyone who has ever tried to sell anything knows, it’s painful. You have to steel yourself to the indifference of strangers. If Mr. Fontaine can bring himself to endure the cold shoulders of lunchtime office workers to reach his goal, he will probably find his way in the world even if his music career goes nowhere.

And yes, I know that not every group of kids hanging out in front of the liquor store is a lemonade stand. Some young people are committing armed robbery and making Oakland worse. But we already know that. For most people, the sight of young people huddled on the sidewalk is a sign that its time to cross the street. Raising the specter of attack mobs is not performing a public service.
–Alex Gronke

Posted in Crime, Oakland, Opinion | 1 Comment »