Reaching for the moon was the theme for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s annual State of the City address on October 14, as she introduced the “Oakland Thrives Moon Shot,” a slate of goals to guide her office for the coming year. These goals include improving community safety, maintaining the city’s infrastructure, creating equitable engagement with the community and creating of jobs and housing for all income levels.
“A moon shot is a big audacious goal,” Schaaf said during her speech. “It’s less about incremental improvement and more about transformational change.”
Oakland North set out to ask local residents in the Rockridge and downtown neighborhoods which issues they think are affecting Oakland the most and for their take on the “state” of the city. The rising cost of housing and the displacement of long-time Oaklanders were the most voiced issues, followed by concerns about safety and crime. Several residents also mentioned the ongoing issue of homelessness throughout the city.
Daniel Gedreu, a new Oakland resident who was waiting for a bus downtown, said the hardest part of living in Oakland is simply “housing.” In fact, almost every person Oakland North asked mentioned housing costs as their first or second biggest struggle as an Oakland resident.
“It’s a little sticky situation,” said Paul Davis, who was sitting on a bench in Frank H. Ogawa plaza in downtown Oakland. “The people that are the hardest hit are the people like me. I live in a low-income housing building and I worked my whole life, but my salary didn’t keep up with inflation. Those are the people that are the hardest hit.”
“Housing is really hard for people,” said Jordana Melgzer, a Montclair resident who was meeting a friend by the Rockridge BART station. “I think we should use some of the taxes the city makes to help build more affordable housing.”
In Schaaf’s address, the mayor said that she understands the trouble that rising rents cause for Oaklanders, noting that a typical resident has to pay $1,040 a month more than he or she can afford just to live in the city. To fight the problem, she spoke about the implementation of the “Create 17K, Protect 17K” project, which 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 affordable housing.
Residents also expressed their concern for the lack of leadership in the Oakland Police Department due to the sexual misconduct scandal that led to the firing and legal prosecution of several officers, as well as three chiefs successively stepping down. Schaaf is currently in the process of looking for a new police chief for the department, but in the meantime Schaaf placed the department on civilian oversight and appointed City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to oversee it.
“There still isn’t a police chief yet, is there?” said Colin Goodwin, a West Oakland resident, who was leaving the 12th Street BART station. “How can the city keep crime down if there isn’t a police chief?”
During her speech, Schaaf apologized for the scandal, but went on to note that Oakland is experiencing its safest year since 2005. She noted a 40 percent reduction in shootings, homicides and other serious crimes.
Several residents also expressed their frustration with homeless encampments that are located throughout the city, often under on-ramps to Interstate 580, saying that the city needs to find alternatives to the encampments by supplying shelters and food services. “I don’t think it is healthy for them [homeless people] to move from place to place, because it just expands the garbage and overall unhealthiness of the city,” said Michele Wioskowski, a downtown resident. “We need to establish a place where they can go and be safe, like a camp site.”
Resident Ron Roan, who was waiting for a bus in downtown, said the problem is bigger than figuring out where to house the homeless—it’s to help them get back to working. “We have to find out why they are homeless. Everyone has a reason,” Roan said. “If you could interview them, maybe you could figure out why they are homeless and get them back to work.”
One resident said that the most pressing issue facing the Oakland government right now is making sure the Raiders stay in Oakland. “One of the sticky points of being a citizen of this community is the inability for us to hang onto the Raiders,” Davis said. If they leave, “you will lose a big part of our community, because a lot of people look forward to football season to cheer them on.”
The Oakland Raiders are considering a possible move to Las Vegas. On the day of Schaaf’s address, the Nevada state legislature approved a plan to use $750 million in public money to build a National Football League stadium in Las Vegas.
Many residents pointed out other ways for the city to make improvements, like by trying to even out economic disparities in the city. “There’s still a lot of separation between richer and poorer communities,” Melgzer said. “I hope we can start to assimilate more.”
But Diahann Daniels, who was waiting for her husband near Rockridge BART, said the city is improving every day. “I think this is a thriving, exciting city,” Daniels said. “I think based on our location, our climate and the job market, I’d give it an 89 percent.”