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Batts sworn in, city to ease up on wrongway parking tickets

on October 21, 2009

Oakland has its new top cop.

Police Chief Anthony Batts was sworn in at last night’s Oakland City Council meeting, then council members advanced plans for a municipal ID card program, eased enforcement rules for wrong-way parking, and sentenced to death two redwood trees on the site of a controversial development.

Batts took the oath in front of family, colleagues, and supporters with Mayor Ron Dellums officiating the ceremony.

A uniformed Batts raised his right hand and repeated the oath in front of an unusually crowded council chambers. Police officers from Oakland and Long Beach—Batts’ old force—lined the walls, standing upright and at-ease, with hands folded in front of them.

“Thank you for the opportunity,” Batts said, addressing the council and the audience after taking his oath. “I will do my best to make sure this is a world-class city and to make sure people are safe and that you have a professional police organization.”

Dellums proclaimed it a “great moment,” saying, “We all come together in this moment as one community, one united front.”

Police officers in support of Batts lined the chamber walls in dark uniforms, while former staff members from Long Beach sat in the audience. Batts was also joined by members of his family. Batts’ father, stepmother, sister and wife looked on from the audience and were greeted with welcoming applause from the crowd.

The mood of the otherwise celebratory proceedings shifted momentarily when one commenter, Oakland resident Claudia Baldwin, asked about rumors of domestic abuse in the new chief’s past. The rumors stem from an article earlier this month in a Long Beach news journal and are based on word of mouth but no documentation, according to the article’s author. “I’m hoping the council, or whoever was doing the screening, has looked into it,” Baldwin said.

Council member Nancy Nadel responded, saying she had spoken to the chief personally and he said there was no truth the to matter. The Mayor’s office vets the background of all police chief candidates. (Calls to the Mayor’s spokeswomen today, seeking further explanation, were not returned.)

Later that evening, the council passed a resolution stating that wrong-way street parking on streets narrower than 30 feet will be made a “low priority” for parking enforcement personnel.

The resolution sparked questions about how such streets would be singled out. District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan introduced the proposal, and said she was willing to leave enforcement against wrong-way parking to the discretion of parking personnel. The public works committee, Kernighan said, has already concluded that wrong-way parking is not a safety issue and that many residents have been parking this way for decades. District 3 councilmember Nancy Nadel, who is on the public works committee, asked city staff to provide a list of the streets that would meet the criteria. “Most people don’t know how wide their street is,” Nadel said.

The council also made a ruling on a pair of controversial trees.

Residents had appealed a developer’s request to remove two redwood trees located at the site of the recently demolished Courthouse Athletic Club on Telegraph Avenue. The Public Works Department had previously approved the removal to clear the way for a proposed 142-unit condo development. When the project was approved in 2007, mitigation measures included planting 23 new trees at the development site.

The council voted overwhelmingly, with an abstention from Council President Jane Brunner, to deny the residents’ appeal to spare the two redwoods.

“Can we be urban and have trees?” Brunner asked.

The Courthouse was demolished in September, with a permit from the city. Residents had fought to preserve the old brick building, calling it historic, when the demolition permit was issued.

Bob Brokl, a man speaking on behalf of two neighbors who filed the appeal, said he was doubtful the developer, Trammell Crow Residential, would launch the project in a distressed economic environment, and the trees should be preserved. “The whole development has been so incredibly flawed,” Brokl said.

The lawyer for the Trammell Crow Residential called the redwoods “of marginal health.”
“They’re not long for this world, regardless,” he said, which drew laughs from people gathered at the back of the Council chambers who had spoken on behalf of the appellant.
“These are not the most beautiful and healthy redwood trees,” agreed Kernighan who had visited the site and voted to deny the appeal.

Nadel said she hoped that the city could change its attitude toward trees. “When you have two redwoods on a plot of land, it’s something to try and get the developer to think differently about,” she said. She implored the planning department to consider whether “there is some design that we can come up with that incorporates those trees.”

But the council ultimately voted unanimously with one abstention to deny the appeal.

The council also took another step towards implementing a program of city identification cards. Twenty-one speakers lined up to plead with the council to establish a municipal ID system, similar to the systems in place in San Francisco and in New Haven, Conn. Supporters say the cards will grant their holders access to certain benefits, such as bank accounts, that require identification to obtain.

The municipal ID program was introduced last year by councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jean Quan, who argued that it would improve public safety. The cards are aimed at, but not limited to, undocumented citizens who otherwise might not be willing to come forward in a police investigation. The cards might also be used as debit cards or transportation cards, two options the council is considering.

“It will benefit those who are not qualified to have a California ID,” said one supporter. “It’s not just about the Oakland community, it’d be breaking down some of the barrier.”

The council gave the go-ahead for the city clerk to invite proposals from contractors interested in designing and manufacturing the cards, and perhaps implementing the program. The proposals may include designs for a simple ID card, as well as cards with more features (debit-card, transportation, etc.). Claudia Burgos, a De La Fuente aide who has been researching the project, estimates that the city will have several proposals for the council to vote on this winter.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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