As soon as Reverend Daniel Buford took the podium in the council chambers at Oakland City Hall on Tuesday night, bright, hand-drawn, multi-colored signs with inscriptions like “Stop the Swap,” “Give the $ Back” and “Not another dollar to Goldman Sachs” popped up around the room.
Buford, a minister at Allen Temple Baptist Church on International Boulevard, began speaking about the city’s relationship with Goldman Sachs, and a rate-swap deal the city and the bank agreed to in 1997 relating to $187 million in city debt. The deal has already cost the city $26 million, and could cost up to $20 million more over the next 10 years as the debt is paid off.
“We implore you to get the City of Oakland out of this toxic relationship with Goldman Sachs,” Buford said to the city council during its meeting on Tuesday to rounds of applause.
Buford was speaking on behalf of a recently formed coalition of religious, labor, educational and activist leaders, including local SEIU and ILWU union members, as well as members of Oakland Community Organizations, Block by Block Organizing Network and the Decolonize Oakland Outreach Committee.
Buford said the coalition is demanding that the city end its relationship with Goldman Sachs and the bank pay back any money it has gained from the city since 2005.
“If Oakland has $5 million a year to throw into hole that is Goldman Sachs pocket, let’s use that money to build a clinic out in East Oakland, do job programs in West Oakland,” Buford said. “Let’s use that money for some constructive purpose, rather than to line the pockets of Goldman Sachs.”
Another speaker, Jemahl Amen, who was there on behalf of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, added “It’s time to bail out the City of Oakland.”
More than 40 people got up to speak about the bond debt deal, though it wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda. Dwight McElroy, president of the SEIU 1021 Oakland chapter, said members of the coalition showed up to demand that the city council put the item on the agenda for a future meeting, and figure out a way to get out of the deal instead of just talking about it. McElroy said members of the coalition have been meeting at the church on Saturdays for about the last year and a half to discuss the deal, and how Oakland can get out of it.
“Instead of talking to us about talking to the banks, I’d like to see something in writing from them to Goldman Sachs,” McElroy said during an interview. “Putting political pressure, out in the public. There’s a lot of ways to get things done.”
Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) addressed the group at the end of open forum, saying “it’s exciting that people are excited about this.” She said she thinks the item will be put on the agenda soon. Schaaf said the city has been negotiating with Goldman Sachs, and Oakland officials asked the bank to waive an early termination fee. As Schaaf was saying “The City of Oakland has asked Goldman Sachs …” she was interrupted by shouting from the audience to “not ask the man.” Unperturbed, Schaaf continued, “I support agendizing it soon, and it’s exciting that people are learning about this issue and want to join us in this fight.”
In other business conducted on Tuesday, the council voted to change the name of the city’s Sunshine Ordinance, which prevents city boards from meeting in private and makes information about city business public, to the Sanjiv Handa Sunshine Ordinance, in honor of the longtime City Hall reporter and activist, who died in December at age 55.