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City council unanimously passes ordinance declaring a shelter crisis in Oakland

on October 4, 2017

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, the council unanimously voted to pass an ordinance declaring a shelter crisis in Oakland and discussed next steps to put the ordinance into action. They also voted on a resolution presented by Councilmember Abel Guillen (District 2) to oppose federal legislation that would weaken or eliminate California firearms laws.

The shelter ordinance was moved by Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington (District 4) and seconded by Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3) after it failed to pass as an emergency ordinance at the last council meeting. Five members had voted for the ordinance’s emergency approval but were unable to get the sixth vote because Council President Larry Reid abstained, and McElhany and Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) were not present.

“To see what happened two weeks ago in the council meeting, when Council President Reid abstained from the vote so the emergency would not pass, was one of the most spiteful things I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” Oakland resident Mike Hutchinson said during the public comment section. “That means things were pushed back another two weeks with people just living out in the streets.”

With the approval of the ordinance Tuesday night, the council enabled a more flexible set of buildings, land use and other related requirements so that shelter projects can proceed in a faster and more cost-effective manner. The ordinance also authorizes the city to establish one navigation center on public land, where homeless people can legally camp and be provided with living resources. The future center will have a site management staff, security, portable toilets, garbage services and laundry services and supplies.

McElhaney presented a report and recommendations on serving unsheltered people alongside Christine Daniel, the assistant city administrator. Daniel updated the meeting attendees on a report that she had presented at the city’s Life Enrichment Committee meeting on September 26 listing four possible locations where the city could allow an encampment. But this time, she only presented three, stating that one of them was removed from their consideration because it belongs to Cal Trans. The sites mentioned included: 3831 Martin Luther King Way, which is a 10,000-square foot city-owned lot; East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue, a 64,000-square foot property that belongs to the city; and 6th and 7th and Brush Street and Castro Street.

Daniel also stated that in a previous budget vote the council only provided $450,000 for the operation on a single site, yet the operation of one site may cost about $550,000.

During the public comments session, housing advocate Needa Bee of the grassroots Homeless Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) said she was displeased that the report only included three locations when the city owns thousands of parcels all over Oakland. “Out of a thousand parcels for two years for a temporary period, it doesn’t make sense there’s only three properties coming forward. I urge you guys to put your nose to the grindstone and come forward with more properties,” Bee said.

McElhaney asked Daniel to move forward on one or more of the safe haven sites presented in the report. For the next Life Enrichment Committee meeting on October 24, Daniel is expected to return with a list of additional publicly-owned sites in all council districts, to bring forward a standardized parameter for site selections, and to provide blueprints for encampments that includes strong community engagement with the camp residents and coordination with council officers for community outreach.

No non-consent items were listed in the agenda, until Guillen presented a motion to add an urgent resolution to oppose federal legislation that might weaken or eliminate California firearms laws, including House Resolution 367, which would remove federal restrictions on gun silencers and prohibit California from enforcing its ban on silencers and otherwise regulating the sales and possession of silencers. The resolution was introduced by City Attorney Barbara Parker, Guillen, Reid, and At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

According to Guillen’s motion, HR 367 is currently not scheduled for a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives but could be scheduled prior to the city council’s next regular meeting on October 17.

Before Kaplan could second the motion, Brooks questioned its urgency, since the item had not been discussed in Congress since February. “I understand that something tragic happened in Las Vegas in the last couple of days, but we should not use that as a means by which to grandstand, and that’s what I think this is right here,” Brooks said. “For us to pretend that we need to urgently pass this item without going through our normal process does not move the agenda and does not make us any safer in Oakland or anywhere else. We need not do this. We need not grandstand and violate rules unnecessarily.”

Kaplan, on the other hand, stated that she supports the resolution because there has been political pressure on Congress this week to try to move the vote. Kaplan considers silencers incredibly dangerous and she said that concertgoers at the shooting in Las Vegas were able to flee because they could hear the direction that shots were coming from. If the gunman had used silencers, more people would have been killed, she said.

“I agree with Councilmember Brooks that we should be doing more things besides this. This is not enough,” Kaplan said. But, she continued, “there are people pushing it [HR 367] actively now.”

The motion was opposed by councilmembers Brooks, McElhaney and Noel Gallo (District 5) and will be listed on the agenda for the next meeting.

Mayor Libby Schaaf was briefly in the council room, and she invited everyone to the 2017 state of the city address that will take place on November 2 at the Islamic State Center. The state of the city is an annual report in which the mayor’s office is responsible for telling the public about the status of the city’s most critical affairs. According to Schaaf, the event will have cultural performances and information booths for residents to learn how to engage in civic conversions.

“This year, I also wanted to use the opportunity of the state of the city address to make a statement about Oakland’s highest ideas, diversity, inclusion and compassion for our neighbors,” Schaaf said. Some of the visiting groups and organizations will include KIVA, which helps small business owners in Oakland get the financing that they need to grow; East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) which works to preserve, protect, and create affordable housing opportunities for low-income communities, The Oakland Promise, which provides students with scholarships and college saving accounts; and Centro Legal de la Raza which will provide information about legal resources in the community.

Many of the public speakers who addressed the mayor’s invitation used their time to bring other issues to her attention. Jonah Strauss, executive director of Oakland Warehouse Coalition and a member of HAWG, thanked the mayor for working on anti-displacement by including EBHO and Centro Legal de la Raza at her event. Strauss also used his time to bring forward the topic of homelessness. “What we really want to be focusing on is getting the community involved and setting up their own homeless encampments with the city’s support,” Strauss said.

Darrell Allen, founder of Adamika Village Stop Killing Our Kids Movement, approached the mayor about not having a proper gymnasium floor at the Tassafaronga Recreation Center for the past two years. Allen told the mayor that a properly-functioning gymnasium, as well as having the building open for a longer period of time, would help keep kids out of trouble in the streets. “I’m talking about the violence that goes on, the shootings, I’m talking about African American baby girls and boys getting killed daily in East Oakland, North Oakland, West Oakland,” Allen said. “This gym floor is very important, so I’ll be speaking to you about it until we get some assistance from the city council and from our mayor.”

Another topic that was thrown at the mayor was the construction of a new Oakland A’s ballpark. The team, led by Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval, settled on a site near Laney College earlier in September.

Oakland resident Alvina Wong said that she did not want to see the development happen in her neighborhood. “We are not just a couple of angry folks that may look like newbies. But we are actually thousands of folks who have signed petitions and have done door knocking and talking to our small businesses and our tenants saying, ‘How do you feel about this?’ And they don’t even know what is going on,” Wong said.

For each topic brought up to the mayor, she stared straight at every speaker with no expression and gave a slight nod.

The council also declared October to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month and recognized community programs such as the Domestic Violence Unit in the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Family Justice Program. The resolution was presented by Councilmember Dan Kalb (District 1), Campbell Washington, and McElhaney.

The Peralta Hacienda Historical Park was also honored as 2017 recipient of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museum and library services in the nation. The resolution was presented by Gallo.

The following items were postponed from the agenda and not acted by the councilmembers: Community Policing Advisory Board, and the appointment of a new member to the city’s new Police Commission. The next council meeting will take place October 17.


  1. Samantha on October 4, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you for doing this critically important work of reporting what happens at City Council meetings! And a huge thank you to the citizens who are committed to speaking up and urging council members to do the work that needs to be done for the community.

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