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State of the City

Dellums issues final State of the City, does not speak

on November 19, 2010

After cancelling a public speech initially planned for Wednesday, Oakland mayor Ron Dellums presented his final State of the City address as a 68-page written document and a video posted on his official website. The report details projects spearheaded during the outgoing mayor’s four-year term and sums up Dellums’ efforts to address what he says are the city’s most pressing problems. The accompanying video includes a montage of interviews from city officials, community health workers, and local business owners, but Dellums himself does not speak in the nearly 10-minute video.

The report, titled the State of the City Report, starts with a letter addressed to the citizens of Oakland, in which Dellums describes his goal as mayor—to “set forth a vision of Oakland as a Model City, a place with a vibrant, sustainable economy and a healthy, well-educated, well-trained, well-informed and engaged citizenry.”

Dellums has used the idea of a model city to describe his goals since he announced his candidacy for mayor in October, 2005, during a speech at Laney College. “Over the past four years, City staff joined with community groups, private sector companies, and philanthropic representatives to create the Model City Vision,” states the report, which goes on to list the ways in which the mayor’s policies addressed 12 “Model City initiatives,” including topics like public safety, education and health.

Statistics on crime prevention—a 14 percent reduction in violent crime so far in 2010, arrests of 60 violent gang members, and confiscation of 28 guns—pepper the public safety section of the report. Of Dellums’ efforts, the report says, “Violent crime and homicides have decreased each year of his administration, we have better organized our police to combat crime and implement community policing, and we have increased our efforts to make the community our true partners in preventing and responding to crime.”

Regarding the health of the city, the report states that Dellums’ administration promoted access to healthy food and addressed HIV education and prevention in Oakland. “Through these collaborative efforts Oakland sought to decrease the spread of the rates of asthma, cancer, malnutrition, heart disease, H1N1 flu, childhood obesity, diabetes and HIV and AIDS,” the report states.

Both the report and the video also address the federal stimulus funds received by the city government during Dellums’ tenure, and detail how some of these funds were used. “We have collectively brought over $200 million in new federal stimulus grants,” deputy city administrator Margaretta Lin says in the video.

The stimulus money received by the city of Oakland brought in federal funds for a range of public services offered by the city government. The bulk of these funds—nearly $40 million—went to health and human services initiatives, and Oakland North reported that, as of spring, 2010, the majority of the funds had gone to research at Oakland Children’s Hospital and Research Center and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Inc. Public housing got $10 million that mainly went to repairs, and $10 million out of $14 million in education funding went to programs for students with disabilities.

“I think it really gave the people who work for the city, other public agencies, and community business partners a way to come together and do something to help address this enormous economic crisis in our community,” Lin said of the stimulus funds in an interview on Thursday.

The video, which Lin said she was filmed for a couple of months ago, starts with panning shots of Oakland and several silent stock clips of mayor Dellums addressing the public, backed up by an uplifting instrumental soundtrack. Sixteen Oakland government workers, social service providers and residents speak on camera in short interviews detailing services and programs that they say the mayor’s office made possible.

For example, in a segment of the video titled “Community Engagement,” Carl Chan, board member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, says that Dellums encouraged various arms of the city government to work with his organization to address challenges faced by Oakland’s Chinese American community. “They have met with us numerous times to address the important issues for our community, and especially for the public safety,” Chan says.

Despite the positive tone of the video and accompanying report, the Dellums administration faced several stiff challenges during his four-year term, including the 2008 financial crisis and cuts to public safety funding. The city currently faces a budget deficit of $42 million, and the state’s Employment Development Department reports an Oakland unemployment rate of nearly 18 percent. In July, the city council voted to lay off 80 police officers, including 60 problem-solving officers. Because of reduced staffing, Oakland police no longer send officers to respond to non-violent crimes such as home burglary and vandalism; residents can report these crimes online using the Cop Logic system.

Public safety in Oakland made headlines in 2009 and 2010 with the shooting death of Oscar Grant III by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, and with the ensuing protests that took over the city’s downtown three times. Peaceful protests turned violent after sundown during three separate events, one in January, 2009, a few weeks after Grant’s death, and two more in 2010 following Mehserle’s verdict and sentencing.

The city government’s approach to funding public safety has come under fire in recent years, culminating in several lawsuits filed by local attorney Marleen Sacks regarding the implementation of the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Act, better known as Measure Y. Measure Y designates funds from a parcel tax for use in a variety of crime prevention and community policing programs. In her suits, Sacks alleged that the mayor was using Measure Y funds improperly to recruit new police officers, and then that the city could not collect the tax because they did not meet the staffing requirements written into the act.

This November, Oakland voters passed Measure BB to remove the staffing requirements. According to the Alameda County Assessor’s Office, Measure Y taxes will be collected again with property taxes in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Deputy City Administrator Lin said that without Dellums’ efforts to bring in federal stimulus funds, public safety funding problems would have worsened much sooner. “We would have had to lay off the police last year had it not been for the stimulus funds,” Lin said in reference to the $19.7 million Cops Hiring Recovery Program grant, as well as $3.2 million in violence prevention funding, both received from the federal government.

The economic downturn affected education in Oakland as well, and the teachers’ union went on strike in March and April to protest statewide education spending and local contract negotiations that didn’t favor raises for teachers. Teachers are currently considering striking again.

Although they were not hired directly by the mayor, the city gained two new top administrators during the Dellums years. Last year the Oakland Unified School District brought on Tony Smith as its new superintendent after regaining control of the city’s schools from the state, while Anthony Batts joined the Oakland Police Department as the new chief of police. Batts released a report in late September describing his own first year in office, enumerating crime statistics for the previous year, calling for a staff of 925 police officers to help improve response times to crime and to shore up community policing programs.

Some supporters say that high expectations weighed on Dellums’ throughout his time at City Hall. Dellums, who served on Berkeley’s city council before joining the state legislature from 1970 until 1998, ran for the office of mayor after local activists mounted a signature campaign to “Draft Dellums for Mayor.” During his campaign, which brought him out of a short retirement after decades in government, Dellums said that he wouldn’t be constantly available and would need support from the citizenry to make changes.

Dellums won the mayoral election in a field of six candidates with just over 50 percent of the vote, besting longtime city council member Ignacio De La Fuente. During the speech announcing his candidacy, the Contra Costa Times quoted Dellums saying that he could not fix Oakland’s problems by himself: “I’m not Superman. But maybe we have the audacity as a community to be the one place on this planet that will come together and grapple with these problems.”

“He said in running, ‘I can’t do this alone,’” said Regina Jackson, Executive Director of the East Oakland Youth Development Center. “And people kind of wanted him to wave his magic wand, and it didn’t happen. It’s unfair for a community to expect to be saved by any one person.”

Chinatown Chamber of Commerce board member Chan said he wanted to focus on the positive while he spoke in the video. “We can identify problems, but I think it’s more important to be involved in the solution, in supporting the mayor and doing our share to do something,” said Chan in a recent interview.

Others have criticized Dellums for his frequent absences and by the investigation into his tax history. The decision to move his speech online did little to improve Dellums’ reputation among his critics, who have long chided mayor Dellums for his lack of availability.  Citing what she called Dellum’s “nepotism” and the tax investigation, local adult education teacher Jessie Ortiz said, “There’s been a lot of what I might call scandal. Those of us who work in and for the city we really expect a progressive, hands-on, can-do kind of leader.

Without a public event to accompany it, the new State of the City report has garnered little attention. Local business leader Carlo Busby, president of the Temescal Merchant’s Association, said he had not yet had a chance to look over the mayor’s report, while adding that an online format could potentially make the information more accessible.

A press release from the mayor’s office states that paper copies of the report will be available in senior centers and Oakland libraries for those who cannot access computers.

After repeated requests from Oakland North reporters, the mayor’s chief of staff declined to comment on the decision to move the speech online and to cancel Dellums’ public address. Reporters left messages, and one reporter went to City Hall on Tuesday to try to speak with the mayor’s staff in person. A security guard stopped the reporter and phoned up to the mayor’s receptionist, who said that no staff were available to comment. On Wednesday, chief of staff Marisol Lopez referred the reporter to a previous news story from the Oakland Tribune, saying, “I have no further comment other than what I’ve already said to the public.”

Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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