Oakland City Council approves police purchase of shotguns and transfer vehicles

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent addresses the Oakland City Council.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent addresses the Oakland City Council.

The Oakland Police Department’s proposed purchase of shotguns and transfer vehicles were the most hotly contested items discussed at the concurrent Oakland City Council and Oakland Redevelopment Successor meeting Tuesday night. Other business included a year-end presentation by State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (District 18), a presentation of the AC Transit service expansion plan, and an adjustment to parking fees.

The council had listed a police department request to purchase Remington shotguns and accessories under the “consent calendar” section of the meeting, which groups for council approval non-controversial bills and resolutions that have already been passed in committee and received no opposition there. But nine Oakland community members spoke about the item during the public comment period, some criticizing the $127,195.20 shotgun request for being tucked in amongst 13 other items, largely settlement agreements and board appointments.

Many took issue with the fact that the agenda provided little information around the request. “These are military weapons. Was that what neighborhood groups wanted, or do they want weather-appropriate clothes for police, extra pens and paper for reporting stolen iPhones?” asked Brian Geiser, a community activist and representative of the Oakland Tenants’ Union.

Others asked for the issue to be tabled until it could be discussed further. “There hasn’t been adequate information available to the public. I don’t see how you can make a decision,” said Eleanor Levine, who identified herself as a longtime Oakland resident. “Pull this item and give us a chance to discuss it in the community and give yourself a chance as a council to make a responsible decision.”

City Administrator Sabrina Landreth said that the Public Safety Committee was canceled last week, and as a result the request had only been seen by the Finance Committee.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, who addressed the council before the vote, said that one of the reasons the department needs the shotguns is because of the increasing diversity of their force. “The shorter stock is a benefit for our smaller-statured officers. Increasingly more and more of the officers are women, who tend to be of smaller stature, so it benefits them to have a weapon they can more easily manipulate,” said Whent. He added that shotguns are “not typically military-use weapons” and that the gun has to be pumped for every fire of the trigger, requiring more deliberate action than a semi-automatic weapon.

The council passed the consent calendar and funded the shotgun purchase, with only Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan voting against it.

The council also accepted and appropriated a $556,789 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the Department of Justice. This grant will be used “to purchase a property and evidence barcode system, crime analyst software, a dispatch training simulator, microscopes for the Crime Lab, and vehicles,” and to “upgrade the Department’s voice recording system,” according to a document submitted by Whent.

Several community members spoke out against a $278,998 line allocation for new police vehicles. Whent said that the department is planning to buy six vans, which would save money on van rentals and enable the OPD to equip them with emergency lighting. The department also plans to buy two wagons, which would increase prisoner safety during transfers and replace “antiquated models,” Whent said.

Some community members said they were concerned that the vehicles would be used to transport police during protests and those arrested at protests to jail. “The amount we spend chasing protestors around is something like fifty times we spend on preventing violence,” said Kaplan, who suggested there were many other ways the money could be allocated than “on vans for the protests that we’re not currently having.” The council approved the funding allocation, again with only Kaplan voting against it.

In a presentation of his past-year accomplishments, State Assemblymember Bonta, who represents Oakland, focused on his support of medical cannabis regulations, the earned income tax credit and higher education. Bonta said that the Assembly had been able to pass new medical cannabis regulations after years of fruitless efforts by combining the three bills under consideration. The resulting legislation, SB 643, appoints a chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation inside the Department of Consumer Affairs, enables the Department of Food and Agriculture to regulate and track cannabis cultivation, and puts the State Department of Public Health in charge of regulation for manufacturing and testing medical cannabis, among other changes. Bonta said the bill will ensure medical cannabis is “tested and high-quality.”

Bonta also said that he was proud of the state’s investment in higher education by freezing University of California tuition for two years. He noted that he helped get the first state earned income tax credit (EIC) in California history into the state budget. The EIC is a refundable tax credit that means that low-income workers will pay lower net taxes; Bonta called it “a win for the working poor.” Bonta also co-authored AB 953, a bill which establishes a Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to analyze and investigate racial profiling practices. It also requires police officers to collect data on all of their stops including the time, date, location, and reason for the stop, and to report it to the Attorney General annually.

Councilmembers praised Bonta’s work, and asked for his assistance with a range of issues in their districts. Councilmember Larry Reid (District 7) spoke about his district’s issue with sideshows, where drivers do illegal automotive stunts like donuts. “We worked very hard to bring Foothill Square back to life and… I don’t know how much longer the retailers in my district are going to stay there and have to be subjected to that idiotic event,” Reid said. He said that last week one of the new retailers sustained $55,000 worth of damage from a car running into their building; $20,000 worth of clothing was later stolen. Bonta suggested the district focus on enforcing existing law instead of increasing sideshow penalties.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3) raised the issue of “gross disparities between urban school funding and suburban school funding” in California. She also said there has been a large increase in homeless people living in encampments and RVs parked above the 580 Freeway and across the city. Bonta noted that the issue of homelessness is “part and parcel of what we’re seeing in terms of increased unaffordability in the East Bay.”

Following Bonta’s presentation, AC Transit Planning Director Robert Del Rosario introduced the agency’s service expansion plan, saying that AC Transit had held 30 meetings and events in the past year in order to gauge what’s important to riders. They are working to decrease the wait time between buses, make sure the routes cover major destinations, minimize service delays, and make the system easier for people to use. They propose adding 30 to 40 new buses, employing 160 additional operators, and adjusting routes with the goal of servicing 35 percent more residents.

The plan is currently in a public comment period; the agency will hold a public hearing on November 11, and the AC Transit board will vote on the plan by December 9. Kaplan said she was concerned that some communities would experience reduced bus service, particularly along the F and Foothill-Telegraph lines, and asked that AC Transit “do outreach that is language-specific in areas where the routes are changing.”

Other council business included adopting a resolution opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the extension of TPP policies, as some councilmembers argued that the consequences of such an agreement could be dire for Oakland’s manufacturing industry. The TPP, a free-trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries (including the US), will lower barriers to trade between the participant nations; after years of negotiation, participants reached an agreement on its terms on Oct. 5, 2015. Critics have taken issue with both the TPP’s establishment process, which they say is secretive, and its content, which they say will undercuts workers’ rights, increase job insecurity in the United States, and set dangerous legal precedent for the rights of corporations. McElhaney said that “TPP, like NAFTA, will lead to more jobs being outsourced.”

The council voted to reduce visitor residential parking permits (RPPs) from $9 to $5 after a hike in July. Until that time, they had been $1. These permits allow for people visiting Oaklanders to park on the street during their stay. Dan Kalb, who proposed the fee reduction, also requested that the RPP website be made easier to understand. The adjustment will take effect on or about Nov. 18.

The council also extended the contract with Townsend Public Affairs, the city’s state lobbyist, and celebrated the life of Dominguita Velasco, an Oakland native who died on October 11 at the age of 114. Her great-grandaughter, Erika Lopez Latour, said that “since being here in the 1920s, she loved this community with her entire heart.” Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) said Velasco “was a great dancer, loved to entertain and had a passion for children and young people. We’re really honored to have known her.”

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