Five days after Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers and city employees demolished the “Promised Land,” a homeless encampment in North Oakland, protesters gathered at the city council meeting on Tuesday night to express their anger. At the four-hour-long concurrent meeting of the Oakland Redevelopment Successor Agency and the City Council, over 30 residents addressed the council for around 50 times, and the council adopted resolutions on several controversial issues, including establishing the police use of a cell-site simulator and signing a contract with new Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick that gives her the highest salary ever paid to the city’s police chief.
One third of the public seats were filled by protestors advocating for the encampment, holding signs reading “Stop Criminalizing Homelessness” or “Housing and Dignity.” The encampment, also known as “The Village,” was built in the corner of Grove Shafter Park. It offered a shower, a portable latrine and rules against drug use, alcohol and stealing.
“We built in a week more infrastructures than the city of Oakland has done with thousands of dollars,” said Chadne Zorda, speaking during the public forum. Zorda was referring to the “compassionate communities” program started by Councilmember Lynette McElhaney (District 3) last year, which has spent $190,000 to provide public services such as portable toilets, trash pickup services and road barricades to a different homeless camp in West Oakland. The city has promised to find all 40 previous camp residents housing of some kind in six months. The program is still in process, and faces some difficulties.
Oakland’s city administrator cited 18 code violations that led to demolishing the “Promised Land” camp, including violations of health, safety and fire codes.
Katie Harley Hinton, a health teacher who works in Oakland public schools and spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting, called this “ironic.” “The village helped to keep them safe and healthy, and the evicting process is making them less safe and less healthy,” she said.
As the meeting moved from the open forum to consent items, the tension between the public and the council gradually grew. Speakers started to consistently go beyond their time limits and Council President Larry Reid (District 7) said that he would remove anyone who exceeded his or her speaking time.
Multiple protestors connected the demolition of the Promised Land camp with two consent items on the agenda regarding the use of public lands, one of which would start negotiations and contracts regarding maintenance services on public properties. “The unpaid volunteers and residents of Promised Land provided services for free to the city that were not taken care of by the city under the current public space maintenance plans,” Hinton said. Several speakers said that the park where the Promised Land was located has trash pickup services only once a week, and that the project participants cleaned up the drainage system and established hand-washing stations and other infrastructures on their own.
The other resolution will authorize city administrators to start exclusive negotiations with a developer on selling the public land at Oak Knoll, a former Navy medical center. Several speakers raised the issue that the city keeps selling land instead of using public land for affordable housing. And speaker Danielle Buzlosky expressed her concern about how the development might affect traffic on the 580 freeway. “The environmental impact of traffic is unavoidable, because no feasible measures are made,” she said. She pointed out that near the Oak Knoll area, there is already another housing project at the former Leona Quarry, which is also adding to freeway congestion.
The Oak Knoll project contains lands in Councilmembers Reid and Desley Brooks’ (District 6) districts. Reid said the Oak Knoll public land has been vacant for a long time, and he has been engaged in starting the program ever since he began his career working with former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris.
He noted that the city would collect around $20 million from the project to be used for affordable housing in Oakland. City Administrator Claudia Cappio added there would also be affordable housing built into the Oak Knoll project as well.
Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) supported the resolution and said to the public attendees that the resolution itself does not sell the land, but simply authorizes city administrators to negotiate with the developer and come back with a plan in one year to 18 months. Yet Kaplan seemed to be with some speakers on the affordable housing problem. “When the actual deal terms do come back, I fully expect them to include affordable housing and I will not vote for them if they do not,” she said.
The council also adopted a resolution to allow the use of a cell-site simulator (also called a Stingray), which can collect cellphone users’ data. The resolution set a five-year time limit to allow members of OPD to use the technology .
But some members of the audience raised privacy concerns. “This basically allows the police department to spy on whoever and wherever they want in a more technically feasible way. As we just learned through general life and Trump’s presidency, when you give authorities who have the ability to incarcerate folks the ability to spy on those folks, they will use that and they will abuse that,” said resident Carter Lavin, who spoke against the resolution.
During the discussion, audience shouted the word “Shame!” and booed some of the councilmembers, while offering rounds of applauds and encouraging screams to residents who spoke against these resolutions. The tension reached a peak when Reid said that he would have a police officer take anyone who yelled again out of the room. Several people shouted “Larry Trump!”
Councilmembers unanimously passed all the consent resolutions on the agenda with Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington (District 4) excused.
The City Administrator’s proposed contract for Anne Kirkpatrick as the new Oakland police chief was the last hotly-discussed topic of the meeting. Kirkpatrick will start her term on February 27 and become the first woman to lead the OPD. The contract will pay Kirkpatrick $299,675 a year including a base salary of $270,000, which is the highest for all chiefs in OPD’s history. The total figure includes a premium of $29,675 required by the Memorandum of Understanding between the city of Oakland and the Oakland Police Management Association, which includes $27,000 education premium for her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, a $1,875 longevity premium and a $800 uniform allowance.
Former Chief Sean Whent earned a base salary of $235,000 in 2015. According to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, that salary would have been increased to $265,000 this year if he did not leave the position, but it would still be around $35,000 lower than the salary for Kirkpatrick.
The salary is also high compared to those in other cities. McElhaney gave several city examples and asked where Oakland’s salary figure came from. “This is what the market asked for,” Landreth answered.
According to Transparent California, Gregory Suhr, San Francisco’s police chief, had an annual base salary of around $308,901 in 2015, but he leads a force with 2,313 sworn officers. Oakland has only 765 sworn officers.
The contract will last two and a half years—until the end of Mayor Libby Schaaf’s term—though according to Landreth, Kirkpatrick expressed a willing to serve Oakland for over five years.
The contract also gives the mayor the authority to extend the contract without cause, as Brooks pointed out. Landreth said this is because of a police charter amendment from last year and clarified that the police commission will have the ability to terminate the chief for cause.
The resolution will also amend the salary code to increase the OPD chief’s salary and the city administrator’s salary at the same time, so that the chief will not earn more than the city administrator that she reports to. This will allow the city administrator earn up to $27,011 a month, an annual base salary of $324,135.
Some residents expressed concerns about such a high salary. Resident Paula Hawthorne said she would like to see Kirkpatrick’s detailed plans to “get guns off the streets” before paying her that sum of money.
Carl McCoy said Kirkpatrick’s hiring was done with too much secrecy. “She was put into the office while the city council was on recess. How can we the public get informed?” he asked. After three chiefs stepped down in a row last year following a sex scandal within the OPD, in September Mayor Schaaf announced that Oakland was launching a nationwide search for a new chief and held 10 community conferences to hear public opinions. McCoy went to one of them. “They said they’re going to inform us on next steps. That never happened. And the next step is I see on the news that we have a new police chief,” he said.
Despite the opposition from speakers and concerns expressed by some councilmembers, the council still passed the resolution with Campbell Washington (District 4) excused and Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) abstaining. “I am very concerned with the process, but she [Kirkpatrick] seems like the person that I want to give a chance,” Kaplan said before voting yes on the resolution.
Other council business included renewing the city’s state of emergency regarding the AIDS epidemic, updating the plug-in electrical vehicle readiness code, honoring Brooke A. Levin who has served Oakland for 26 years in a variety of roles including most recently being the director of public services, and honoring Azariah Cole-Shephard as the 2016 Youth Poet.
The council is expected to meet again on February 21.