Environmental activist and District 1 candidate Dan Kalb aims to reduce crime

City Council candidate Dan Kalb goes door to door in the Golden Gate neighborhood

City Council candidate Dan Kalb goes door to door in the Golden Gate neighborhood

Between now and the election on Nov. 6, Oakland North will be publishing profiles of each of the seven candidates in the District One city council race.  This is the first.  

At 8:35 PM last Wednesday, Dan Kalb parked his Ford Fusion Hybrid on Manila Avenue, the Temescal street where he lives.  As he climbed out, he felt a poke on the back of his rib. “I thought, ‘Oh, it must be a neighbor or a friend,’” Kalb says.

It was not.  The face was unfamiliar, a young man in a white hooded sweatshirt. The poke had been a gun. “Give me your wallet,” the man demanded. Kalb let the campaign literature in his hand fall to the street. He handed over his wallet.

The gunman asked for Kalb’s phone. “Everything was on the ground, so I didn’t know where the phone was,” Kalb recalls.   He searched his back seat, thinking the whole time, he says, “Is this guy going to shoot me?”

The gunman kept his gun pointed at Kalb. “Find the phone, find the phone,” he kept saying.

Finally, still holding the gun, the man started searching on the street for the phone himself. After 20 seconds the phone was still missing.  “Get out of here,” Kalb says the man told him. “Run.”

“What?” Kalb asked.

Run.”

Kalb ran, to his house, half a block down Manila.  He called the police, who arrived less than ten minutes later. By then the man, Kalb’s wallet, and his phone were gone. A neighbor got a look at the man’s car as he drove away, but the suspect is at large.

Dan Kalb was just one of 11 people robbed in Oakland on Wednesday between 1 PM and 2:30 AM, according to police. But he’s the only victim currently running for Oakland City Council.  And the meeting he had just left? It was about fighting crime.

Even before he was robbed at gunpoint, crime was the focus of Kalb’s campaign for the District 1 seat vacated by Jane Brunner. He often talks of the need to direct new revenues towards hiring more police officers, and to invest in anti-recidivism programs to stop ex-offenders from committing crimes after their prison terms. For Kalb, this means programs to help ex-offenders get high school diplomas, receive job training or temporary jobs, and go through drug rehab. He also tells voters he wants to hire more crime investigators; one of his campaign’s standard lines, repeated on his website, is “solving crimes helps prevent future crimes.”

Kalb, 53, left his job as an environmental policy director in June to campaign full-time.  He has chosen a handful of core issues to base his campaign around—crime, but also restoring trust, growth and green jobs, and support for youth. “You can’t talk about 14 different issues and run for office,” Kalb says. “People have a right to know, ‘OK, what’s Dan Kalb going to be the leader on?’”

And when he talks about policy—which he does, often, as policy is his line of work—it’s specific and, as even his own admirers point out, wonkish. “Yes, people have said that,” Kalb says.   At dinners and gatherings, he says, his friends will chat with Kalb at length, about politics, then tell him, “You’re really into policy, Dan.”

His policy-first approach was shaped by nine years working as the policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), where he advocated for environmental policies in California. Erin Rogers, who worked on energy policy with Kalb at the UCS, says he’s “very interested in politics. It has been a passion of his since the first day I met him.” Kalb’s background is in science and advocacy—he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1982 with a degree in Conservation of Natural Resources, and in 1988 received a Master’s in Public and Non-Profit Administration at the University of San Francisco.

At the Union of Concerned Scientists, Kalb helped lead the push to get lawmakers to adopt a strong renewable energy standard. Kalb wrote a section of the law, and had a hand in shaping the policy. In 2011, after a three and a half year effort, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill, requiring California utilities to generate one-third of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Kalb credits his scientist colleagues with shaping his approach. “When you work with scientists and engineers, you develop a sense of: they want to know the facts,” he says. Kalb says his job was to translate that science into English for politicians voting on environmental issues.

Kalb first moved to the East Bay in 1980, transferring away from UC Santa Barbara into the natural resources program at UC Berkeley. He lived in Berkeley, but used to come often to North Oakland to eat at the now-defunct Bertola’s, where “you could stuff your face” for “almost nothing.”  He moved to Oakland seven years ago, after marrying his wife, Valarie. They settled in Temescal, where they own a home. “We’re going to be here for the rest of our lives,” Kalb says.

The family living room is cluttered and flooded with natural light during the day, even with the blinds drawn, thanks to skylights on his roof. Copies of the Rockridge News, a local newsletter, are stuffed under a coffee table; Kalb is part of the posse of volunteers who hand-deliver the News to neighborhood households. Campaign yard signs obscure many of the titles in the bookcases, but there are copies of a book called California Wildlife, a Harry Potter book, and the Torah.

It’s the day after his now-locally-famous mugging, and in another part of the house, Kalb is preparing to talk to TV news crews that have gathered outside his home. Being a crime victim has given Kalb a new platform for his message. KTVU showed up at Kalb’s home the night of the burglary, and three more stations are here today. He re-enacts the crime for the cameras, and speaks about his platform. As the news people pull away, a van from Univision shows up.

Kalb seems conflicted about the attention. “I don’t want to take advantage of this,” he says. “This happens to anybody, it should be the same level of news.” Still, Kalb’s campaign sent out an email to supporters that evening about the incident, with a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story about the robbery. “I wanted to share with you that I’m OK and our campaign is in high gear,” Kalb wrote in the email.

Dan Kalb’s campaigning involves a lot of door-knocking. A week before he was robbed, he was out walking the Golden Gate neighborhood. “Look at the difference here,” Kalb said that evening , standing just off San Pablo Avenue. He pointed to Emeryville, twenty feet away, where there are newer, better streets, and more trees. “I hear these complaints often,” he said.

In the crowded District 1 race, Kalb is promising to better represent the neighborhoods he calls the “stepchildren” of the district–Longfellow, Santa Fe, and the Golden Gate. “I’m going to pay more attention to west-of-MLK neighborhoods,” Kalb said. He says he’s been telling that even to voters up in the hills. “They appreciate my honesty,” he says.

Kalb walks District 1’s disparate neighborhoods most mornings and evenings, trying to reach voters at their homes. “I just wanted to say hi, and let you know I have thirty years of policymaking experience,” he tells the people who open up. Some barely crack open front doors, but Kalb still tries to engage them.  When no one answers, Kalb will jot a quick note on his campaign literature—he calls it “propaganda,” jokingly—and leaves it on a door handle. Kalb says he’s talked to voters as young as 18, and as old as 94.

On this evening, Kalb had put on a suit and driven his blue hybrid to the Golden Gate neighborhood. Kalb calls the area “blighted-ish,” but there were quite a few addresses on list he was carrying, which had been drawn up by Kalb’s campaign consultant, environmentalist Doug Linney. Kalb walked up to doors, double-checking his list, and scanned for clues about political leanings, like yard signs. He adjusted his pitch accordingly—the city council race is nonpartisan, and when Kalb is campaigning, a Republican will hear more than an environmentalist would about Kalb’s plan to pay pension costs.

Then, one at a time, the candidate—skinny, bald, and wearing glasses—knocked on doors.

Several residents appeared impressed that a council candidate was standing at their front door.  The voters Kalb spoke to this night said they hadn’t talked to any of the six other hopefuls running for the District 1 seat.

Kalb often starts conversations by expressing his support for President Obama. When a voter expresses interest, Kalb reels off a list of his endorsements: the Sierra Club, State Senator Loni Hancock, several unions, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and others. The Democratic Party endorsement was a coup for Kalb. Three District One candidates—Kalb, Richard Raya and Amy Lemley—had applied for it. “I really don’t know why I got the endorsement,” Kalb says. “I’m just glad I did.” Kalb went to meetings for months in hopes of securing the endorsement.

“It was tough for us, because there’s a lot of good candidates,” says Robin Torello, chair of the Alameda County Democratic Party, “But Dan was slightly more qualified, we felt.” Torello cited Kalb’s positions on crime and his science background as deciding factors.

Most of Kalb’s conversations with voters this evening touched on the same topic: crime. Christopher Schardt, 49, told Kalb that adding police officers to the force won’t matter “if you don’t have a certain bedrock of civility” around Oakland. Kalb leaned forward as he listened to Schardt’s words, which echoed his own campaigning about the “embarrassing” bickering among city council members.

By the end of their conversation, Schardt had conceded that the OPD does need more officers. Kalb advocates an increase to 803 officers, and possibly more, from the current 629. That’s the number specified in Measure Y, which voters passed in 2004. “Clearly we need more police officers,” Kalb says. “I don’t know of anyone who disagrees with that.” Kalb proposes to pay for new officers by earmarking most new revenue for hiring more police. Kalb points to revenues that came in $11 million higher than expected earlier this year as an indication that the economy is slowly picking up. “We have to piece together several things,” he says, “but I don’t have a magic answer.” Kalb says he’s “dumbfounded” by politicians promising an increase to 1,000 officers right away, given the severity of Oakland’s budget crisis.

Kalb concedes that his influence over the economy would be limited as a council member. But he talks excitedly about a plan to revitalize the San Pablo Corridor. Kalb says police need to address prostitution on the street, and that the city should beautify the area. Businesses like the Actual Cafe are a good start, Kalb says, but the area needs a push like the recent development in the Fruitvale area. “You need people to want to go there,” Kalb says.

Green jobs are also front and center for Kalb, the former environmental advocate. “I want to bring more clean tech businesses to Oakland,” he says.  “Oakland’s a logical place to do that. We are less expensive to lease land than Silicon Valley or San Francisco. We have Oakland airport right here.” He’s making youth programs a prominent issue in his campaign, pledging to meet with meet with District 1’s School Board Member Jody London once a month.

Kalb also promises to address the “less sexy but fundamental obligations” of Oakland’s pension system. Kalb says the city needs to set aside substantial funds to meet its pension obligations, promising that adding police and paying down debt would be his priorities in the next budget. Kalb counts on growing tax receipts to finance each.

The final piece of Kalb’s platform is what he calls restoring trust in government. “I’ve made that one of the focuses,” he says, trailing off. “Foci? Is that a word?” For Kalb, restoring trust means a more cordial tone at City Hall, and a stronger Public Ethics Commission. He’s kicking around an idea to ask voters to approve a tax of 4% on campaign contributions, which would fund a beefed-up Ethics Commission. Kalb also wants to “improve customer service” from city employees. “I’ve never heard anyone complain about their librarian,” he says—but the Public Works and Building Services employees, Kalb adds, don’t get such positive reviews.

Each of Kalb’s focuses has several points to it, befitting a candidate who says he’s “very much a policy person.” John Galloway, who worked with Kalb at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that Kalb would talk about policy on their car trips to Sacramento. “He lives and breathes that world,” Galloway says. He expected Kalb to run for office someday. Galloway says “it’s a natural fit for the mode he operates in.”

Kalb attends some current city council meetings, watches some on TV, and has been missing more since he started campaigning. He says he finds them unsatisfying. “Right now they’re sniping at each other in public,” he says. “It just shows the public: they’re not getting along with each other, they’re not coming up with solutions.” Kalb knows current council members could be his future colleagues, but with three new council members coming in, he sees an opportunity to change the tone. Kalb points to ten years of volunteer mediation experience as evidence that he could work well with councilmembers, even ones he disagrees with.

In November 6’s election, voters will be able to rank their top three candidates, a process known as Ranked Choice Voting. Kalb supports Ranked Choice, and walked precincts for it in 2006 when voters adopted the process. But he hasn’t endorsed second or third choices for his supporters.

Kalb tells voters that he will be in the top two. He had raised more than $50,000 through September, and has loaned his campaign $9,000 of his own money. But there are no reliable polls of District 1 voters. And there’s no way to know how being a victim of an armed robbery, and the media attention that followed, will change things for Kalb. He will find out on November 6.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Valarie Mark Kalb’s name was misspelled as “Valerie.” Her name is Valarie. Oakland North regrets the error.

14 Comments

  1. Ken

    Props to anyone running for council here. Big job with lots of civic responsibility. You couldn’t pay me to run for office here.

    Anyway, for everyone with smartphones, download an app called “prey” – might help, but only if the police in your city are not bogged down by a bunch of more serious crime, and have a fully staffed police department. (ie, not oakland.)

    I’m hoping the phone makers add a feature to phones that renders them useless (mission impossible style w/o the physical self destruct) since there’s $30B in phone theft every year just in the US…

    http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/national_world&id=8854334

    • Ken

      at $600 a pop (appx) that’s 50MM stolen phones a year, or one phone stolen per 6 people in the US per year. what are the odds?

      (hope i did the math right, not that it’s comforting if i did)

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