Mayor Libby Schaaf was welcomed by applause to a crowded council chambers at Oakland City Hall on Friday night to deliver her second annual State of the City speech.
Schaaf opened her speech with a clip of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “moon shot” speech at Rice University in 1962, during which he promised Americans that the United States would put a man on the moon. Kennedy’s famous line, referring to great acts of exploration, that “we choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard,” served as inspiration for Schaaf’s speech and as a metaphor for the ambitious goals she has for Oakland in the coming years. “A moon shot is a big audacious goal,” Schaaf said. “It’s less about incremental improvement and more about transformational change.”
Introducing “Oakland Thrives Moon Shot,” a slate of goals for the city in the upcoming year, Schaaf outlined four priorities to guide the city’s work: “holistic community safety (improving community safety with better community policing and intervention programs), vibrant sustainable infrastructure (improving and maintaining buildings, roads, and sidewalks), responsive trustworthy government (improving the culture of civic leaders and equitable engagement with the community) and equitable jobs and housing (creating jobs and housing for residents at all income levels).”
In discussing the city’s efforts to maintain a sustainable infrastructure, Schaaf pushed Measure KK, a general bond on November’s ballot. The bond would invest up to $600 million for street and sidewalk repairs and to fix aging public buildings and parks. The majority of funding from the bond would be used for road and sidewalk repairs, but $150 million would be allotted to improving city parks, libraries and facilities for the police and fire departments. Another $100 million would be used to preserve affordable housing throughout the city.
“Our roads make me think about moon shots, because driving on them sometimes feels like driving on the moon because of all of the craters,” Schaaf said. “Our roads matter. Bad roads are more than an inconvenience; they are expensive, unhealthy and unsafe.”
Schaaf said that the city’s new Department of Transportation is prepared to deliver 10 times the current level of street repairs should KK pass. She said the measure would allow 70 percent of Oakland’s streets to be smooth and safe.
On affordable housing, Schaaf noted that five years ago the average Oakland resident could afford a typical apartment in the city, but today, a renter has to pay $1,040 a month more than he or she can afford to live in Oakland. She praised the efforts of the Oakland Housing Cabinet, who in March launched the “Create 17K, Protect 17K” project that aims to protect 17,000 residents from displacement and build 17,000 new units of housing, ensuring that at least 28 percent of those units will be permanently affordable.
“This region added half a million new jobs but only 54,000 new units of housing,” Schaaf said. “Houston, we have a problem.”
Schaaf said her office isn’t just focusing on housing security, but income and job security as well. She noted that since Oakland increased its minimum wage to $12.25, the city has seen a net gain of 1,100 new businesses and has opened seven new neighborhood job centers.
On trustworthy government, Schaaf talked about a 13-month study by Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhart that demonstrated racial bias in Oakland policing and recommended actions to end racial disparities. Schaaf noted that in an effort to rebuild police-community relationships, changes in department policies in responding to car chases and foot pursuits have been a significant factor in reducing police force by 70 percent and citizen complaints by 50 percent.
During her 40-minute speech, Schaaf also paused to apologize for the sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the city.
In September, Schaaf announced that four Oakland police officers would be fired for their involvement in a sex scandal. The scandal came to light after an OPD officer’s suicide note revealed that he and other officers had sexual contact with an underage sex worker commonly known as “Celeste Guap.” The aftermath of the revelations led to three successive police chief’s stepping down or being fired.
“I am truly sorry for the damage that the Oakland sexual misconduct scandal did to our police department’s relationship with the community, and even more so to an exploited young woman and her family,” Schaaf said. “Because Oaklanders and the honorable men and women of the OPD deserved no less, we took a hard line against the reprehensible misconduct and culture that came to light this year.”
In addition to her announcement that four officers would be fired, an additional seven officers were suspended without pay and one will be required to receive counseling. According to a press release announcing the firing, Schaaf also specified three changes that will be made in the department: “Stronger Support for Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” “Tighter Controls on Accessing Criminal Databases,” and “Social Media Policy and Training.”
Schaaf then went on to say that despite the scandal, safety in Oakland has improved over the past year. She noted a 40 percent reduction in shootings, homicides and other serious crimes and said that 2015 was the city’s safest year since 2005 and that 2016 is looking even better.
“All my life, safety has been my dream for Oakland,” Schaaf said. “I’m inspired by this progress, but I recognize that we have a lot more work to do.”
While Schaaf noted several of Oakland’s ongoing problems and her plans to resolve them, she made no mention of the Oakland Raiders. On Friday afternoon, just hours before Schaaf’s speech, the Nevada state legislature approved a plan to use $750 million in public money to build a National Football League stadium in Las Vegas. It has been widely rumored that the Raiders are looking to leave Oakland and residents fear the approval of a new stadium in Las Vegas is bad news for Oakland’s hopes of keeping the team in town.
Finally, the mayor praised Oakland Promise, an initiative to triple the number of Oakland students who graduate from college by the year 2025. The program aims to invest in students’ futures by helping their families open savings accounts, raising money for scholarships and through advising and support from staff. Half of the program will focus on Oakland’s youngest students: A pilot program will open $500 savings accounts for babies and another program will guarantee every kindergarten student in the Oakland Unified School District has a $100 college savings account in their name by 2020. The second half of the program aims to help teenage students by opening advising centers where students can get help with college applications, scholarships and developing career plans.
Schaaf said the program has already seen success by receiving more than $20 million in private contributions, opening three high school “future centers” (or school-based advising centers), and having 300 Oakland Promise students headed to college in its first year.
In her closing remarks, Schaaf noted that the policies and initiatives she laid out during her speech were ambitious, long-term goals for the betterment of the city. “I know it is unlikely that we will see our Oakland Thrives moon shot accomplished during our administration, and that is the point,” Schaaf said. “A moon shot isn’t about an individual scorecard. A moon shot is about doing the hard work today to solve the problems of tomorrow.”