“Meet the Candidates” was the theme of the reception and community forum held Monday night in the Council Chambers at Oakland City Hall. Hosted by the Sierra Club in partnership with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, the event began with an afternoon reception at which community members and city officials met with the individuals who have declared an interest in becoming the new representatives for Districts 1 and 3.
The reception was followed by a two-part panel discussion during which the candidates for each council seat were asked to respond to four questions prepared by the Sierra Club and the Oakland Climate Action Coalition. The discussion was moderated by Aimee Allison, a former city council candidate for District 2, who presented the questions to each group, giving each candidate two minutes to respond.
“The thing that’s really special about doing a candidate’s forum is we get four and a half or so months to get to know candidates, some familiar to you and some new to you,” Allison said to the audience as she opened the discussion. “We are also in a ranked choice voting environment where if they are not your first, they may be your second or third [choice].”
The candidates for District 1, which represents North Oakland, include Dan Kalb, and environmental activist and policy analyst and was a chapter director of the Sierra Club. Don Link is an electrical contractor and the owner of Controlled Energy, a company based in Oakland. Richard Raya previously worked in local government and is the current policy director for California Forward. Amy Lemley is the founder of First Place Fund for Youth, an organization that provides affordable housing to young adults who have recently left foster care. Dicente Cruz appeared at the forum as a stand-in for candidate Donald Macleay who owns a small computer networking business in Oakland and who ran for mayor of Oakland in 2010 as the Green Party candidate. Candidate Craig Brandt was not available and there was no stand-in for him.
District 1 is currently represented by Jane Brunner, who after 20 years as a councilmember representing North Oakland has decided to run for City Attorney.
Some of Allison’s questions for the District 1 candidates including asking for their take on a possible East Bay MUD and PG&E community choice energy program that would allow Oakland and East Bay cities to offer residents more options to buy energy from renewable sources. The program would fall under the Community Choice Aggregation program that allows cities to decide whether to purchase energy from PG&E or build more renewable energy resources in the community.
Kalb said he supports such a program. “I want to make us the clean-tech hub of the Bay Area,” he said.
Lemley said for something as essential as electricity, water and other utilities, it is critical that residents have the option to choose between a community program or a large corporation such as PG&E.
Link said he approved of the Community Choice program and suggested that this is a way to encourage PG&E to be more cooperative when it comes to the cost the city incurs for purchasing energy from the company. “Do we want more sustainable electrical production? This is the way we can do it,” Link said. “PG&E is very effective at fighting the Public Utilities Commission and PUC does not seem to be able to put their feet to the fire. This is a way we [the city] can do it and we can save money doing it.”
Cruz disagreed. “When I hear community and East Bay MUD and PG&E, it’s very triggering for me because they are not really in the community,” said Cruz, representing Macleay. “Maybe the work should go to some of the biofuel centers in Berkeley. We always look at what will be the relationship for the city and how will it affect the community.”
Allison also asked the candidates: “How would you support polices that enable Oakland residents to grow and distribute affordable healthy food in Oakland?”
Raya said the city should look into preparing a formal policy or statement with guidelines and expectations from the city and urban farmers.
“I think it is a very good idea,” said Lemley of allowing residents to grow and sell food produced on urban farms. “I think it is important to have policies in place so that Oakland residents can know what they can do.” But Lemley stopped short of endorsing animal slaughter on backyard farms, an idea that has been controversial among Oakland residents in recent years. She said she was raised on a farm in Iowa and that this experience made her question the viability of allowing this to take place in urban areas. “I think we can have a strong robust urban agriculture movement here in Oakland that stops short of allowing slaughter on residential lands,” she said.
After the question and answer session for District 1, there was a break to set up for part two of the event. Although several people left, a considerable number of people remained to hear the candidates participating in the second half of the forum.
District 3 is currently represented by Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who this fall will be running for a seat in California’s Assembly District 18. The contenders to replace her include Sean Sullivan, who works for Covenant House, a group that serves homeless young people. Nyeisha DeWitt is the program director for Citywide Dropout Prevention. Alex Miller-Cole is a small business owner in Oakland. Damon Eaves is an administrator with Alameda County Children’s Services, Lynette McElhaney is the executive director of a non-profit organization and Derrick Muhammad has been a longshoreman for eight years.
Allison asked the panel to discuss how they would work to provide quality food access within the city.
McElhaney said access to quality food is not just an issue for low-income residents. “We should look at the work that [other] people are doing,”McElhaney said. “I was very encouraged by the work going on in Detroit to support family owned smaller grocery stores. Everywhere you look in our district and you see a liquor store–it was a grocery store 25 years ago.” She said there is a need to communicate with those businesses to get them to expand shelf space and make room for fresh food options. “We want to strengthen our homegrown solutions like relationships with places such as the Peoples Grocery. We have a lot of people that are doing good work but what we haven’t had is an open door at City Hall for all that work to flourish” she said.
Eaves also pointed out programs in other cities such as Seattle, which appear to have a record of success when it comes to resolving “food deserts,” or areas where it is hard to find fresh food sales. “One thing I would like to see is a permanent cooperative space where these goods can be sold by Berkeley farmers,” Eaves said. “There is plenty of open space and unused storefronts that could be used as permanent cooperative space for folks to come and sell their goods instead of just having a farmers’ market on the weekend.” He said he hopes that over time, more permanent farm spaces would lead to a more robust production of food.
Sullivan said that this is the issue that he is most concerned about and that he is now working on a pilot program to bring healthier products to liquor stores in an effort to replace unhealthy products with better ones.
Allison’s final question for the evening was: “What are your priorities to reduce the environmental impact on West Oakland and flatland communities?
Muhammad said he would encourage more walking, as well as the use of public transportation and biking. He also said he would be tougher on shipping and trucking companies. “This is a big deal,” he said. “One of the things I would do is push these [port] terminals to comply with the state mandates.”
“I would see myself working collaboratively across sectors with experts in the industry in this field to ensure we are moving in the right direction working with community based organizations that have been successful generating reusable energy sources,” said DeWitt.
When the forum came to an end, community members had an opportunity to mingle with the candidates and ask additional questions. Vigi Molfino, who lives in District 1, said she cancelled an appointment to attend the forum so that she can get an idea of what each person proposes for her area. “I am very concerned about my district,” Molfino said. “I’ve lived there for 20 years and I’ve seen the ups and downs. I have seen the ups and downs of Ms. Brunner’s actions, too, so I do want to see who is going to be taking her place.”
“I have been interested in the political health of Oakland since I moved here,” said Iris Winogond, who moved to the area in 1999 and lives in the Adams Point area of District 3. “My general philosophy is that if you are not engaged in helping in some way, making your community healthier, beautiful, more connected you are not doing your part as a citizen. I come to these things a lot. You will find most of these people are here for the same reason.”
While many residents had left the forum early, Winogond remained until the end and she said she was happy she had the opportunity to hear everyone speak. “If she could have one thing [in Oakland] changed now, it would be lighting because it is an issue at night,” Winogond said. “Some of the streets are too dark and that’s where the trouble comes in. But on my list of what is really urgent, crime and jobs are way up there. Public safety and economic development are absolutely urgent. I am hoping that with our new candidates for the city council that we will have some new ideas, and that there will be a new kind of energy around making the city healthier and safer.”