Six years in office: How much has Libby Schaaf delivered on campaign promises?
on December 5, 2020
In 2014, Libby Schaaf ran for mayor. She had just finished serving her first and only term on Oakland City Council, representing District 4. She had strong name recognition and a long track record of being invested in Oakland city politics. She won easily, with her two runners up, current City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and former incumbent Jean Quan, each 10 points behind her. She built her campaign upon four platforms.
At the midpoint of her second and final term, here’s a look at her track record. Oakland North reached out to the Mayor’s office repeatedly and received no comment.
Schaaf’s original vision focused heavily on increasing funding to the police department and improving the relationships between the community and its police force. That plan attempted to address a wide spectrum of safety concerns, such as police accountability in the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown, or the rapidly increasing gun violence and homicide rates in Oakland, the latter of which was 15 points higher than the national average in 2014.
Shortly after being elected, she promoted the implementation of Project Ceasefire, a policing initiative to reduce gun crime and gang violence. Now, with a growing movement to defund the police and a reinvestigation into the police shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, the city government is discussing alternatives to improve public safety.
In 2020, Oakland faced a racial reckoning brought forth by “the state sponsored murder of George Floyd in broad daylight,” Schaaf explained in her State of the City in October. Schaaf pointed to Project Ceasefire as an example of how progressive Oakland is on police reform. She also boasted that Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO), a strategy to dispatch trauma-informed EMT and mental health experts who do not require a badge or a gun, will be up and running in a year.
At a special City Council meeting on public safety on Sept. 29, several residents criticized the mayor and what they called her “lack of accountability in addressing public safety.”
“I don’t think that anyone has yet to describe what happens here [deep East Oakland] when the sun goes down,” said Police Commissioner Ginale Harris. “District 6, 7, and 5 seem to be the dumping ground for everything that is not wanted in neighborhoods that don’t have to live how we live. These liquor stores sell guns right from behind the counter and nobody wants to do anything about it.”
Harris, whose role as police commissioner involves overseeing the operations and potential misconduct of the police departments, argued that placing blame on the police department is unfair and that city government officials have been well aware of these issues for decades but have done nothing about it.
“This is every day for us in 6 and 7 and 5. Accountability goes all the way around,” Harris said.
Beyond the public safety concerns related to policing, Oakland has infamously struggled with issues of faulty infrastructure. On Dec. 2nd, 2016, two years into Libby Schaaf’s first mayoral term, the city suffered the deadliest fire in its history, the Ghost Ship tragedy. The fire, which took the lives of 36 Oakland residents, occurred in a warehouse building that suffered from several safety violations. According to The Mercury News, “police, fire, public works and building department employees visited the Ghost Ship warehouse and other nearby properties at least 245 times since 1988, mostly after 2007.”
Schaaf’s delayed reaction to warehouse fire was met with heavy criticism, both from her colleagues within city government and community members. At the nighttime vigil three days after the fire, attendees booed Schaaf off stage and shouted at her to “go home.” The city reached a settlement of $32.7 million in the long standing lawsuit from the victims and their families. Shortly after the settlement was finalized, the city maintained that they were not liable and said that they had only decided to settle based on a cost-benefit analysis.
Almost four years later, City Auditor Courtney Ruby released a report that revealed that Oakland is still suffering from the severe structural issues that allow dangerous fires to continue to occur. The audit revealed that over the past three years, 51% of state-mandated inspections were not done, and that in 2019 72% of schools and 70% of apartment buildings were not checked for fire safety, the majority of which were in Oakland’s lowest-income neighborhoods. Attorney Mary Alexander, who represents families of victims in both the Ghost Ship and San Pablo Avenue fires, said she “hoped the city would do more” to keep promises it made in 2016.
Libby Schaaf promised to increase jobs in Oakland: She vowed to raise the minimum wage from $8 to $12.25 per hour, to encourage local production and business and to encourage new startups to form in the area. While the minimum wage increased, it was through an effort spearheaded by Lift Up Oakland and Schaaf during her tenure on City Council and was already on the ballot. The measure passed with a resounding vote in its favor, and the minimum wage was increased by March of the next year. The ballot measure was built to provide annual increases to Oakland’s minimum wage based on the local Consumer Price Index, and in January 2020 the minimum wage increased again to $14.14.
In terms of job growth, Oakland has been undergoing an extreme growth in its job market since 2010, with 45,000 new jobs being created. According to the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, household income increased by 41% between 2012 and 2016. But the benefits aren’t being felt evenly across the city. In 2016 white residents faced an unemployment rate of 4.3% while the unemployment rates for Latinos and Black residents were at 7.1 and 9.7% respectively.
Jose Corona, the director of equity and strategic partnership in Libby Schaaf’s administrator has commented on the concerns with job growth far exceeding housing growth. He says this significantly exacerbated the housing crisis that has plagued the East Bay.
“When you lift up and peel off the layers, the picture looks different,” said Corona to the San Francisco Business Times. “There’s still a population that is not benefiting.”
In addition to the inequity that Oakland has faced within its job market and economy, the city’s budget took a $122 million hit as a result of the pandemic. Unemployment rates quadruple the rate of the previous high record.
“Our institutions require immediate and radical change to avoid climate catastrophe, to provide a real safety net and to stop perpetuating racial and economic disparities and injustice. We cannot look back at this moment in history when it’s too late and realize that we didn’t learn the lessons of 2020,” Libby Schaaf said at the State of the City video address.
Schaaf recently co-founded Mayors for Medicare for All and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. She has agreed to launch a guaranteed income pilot in the city of Oakland in the coming year.
Earlier this year, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition released a report that identified Oakland and San Francisco as the regions facing the most aggressive gentrification in the country. Oakland neighborhoods have seen a stark divide in the quality of education that more gentrified, white, and wealthy districts receive compared to the education that the lower income, ethnically diverse communities in Districts 5, 6 and 7.
Libby Schaaf’s plan for education relied heavily on emphasizing youth programming, which eventually manifested into extended library hours and youth leadership roles that are given a seat in city politics.
In 2016, Schaaf launched her multifaceted Oakland education program, Oakland Promise. That program worked by weaving together the Kindergarten to College program and the Brilliant Baby program. Both programs are centered around offering parents the opportunity to open up bank accounts for their kids with the incentive of offering $500 of government money to be put in each bank account. Schaaf’s administration boasted that this $500 bank account is “an early investment and source of inspiration for their [community parents] baby’s bright future.”
The program attracted a lot of criticism, most notably from City Council President and former mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan, who was concerned about the legitimacy of the funding for this program and requested an audit of the program. Schaaf responded to her criticisms by calling her “mean hearted” and refusing the audit.
As reported by Educate 78, while test scores at wealthier schools have improved, Oakland over represents the bottom 5% of testing in California, with 26 Oakland schools, all located in underserved neighborhoods, falling into the category of the bottom 5%. Additionally, it was reported that those 26 schools also showed no improvement over the past five years.
In response to the impact of COVID-19 on the Oakland Unified School District and its students, Libby Schaaf launched Oakland Undivided. Schaaf described Oakland Undivided as an initiative to combat what she called in her State of the City address the potential “insurmountable gulf of educational inequity” that threatened to result from Oakland’s digital divide. Through the program, Schaaf and Oakland City Council were able to install free public wifi in the city to lessen the gap in that digital divide, and also gave 25,000 laptops to students throughout the Oakland Unified School District.
Schaaf prioritized government transparency and even explicitly referenced in her platform the previous mayor’s misspending of $1.87 million on police technological systems that were never used.
She also planned to establish a 311 system that would act as a direct line to the city government for citizens who wanted to report things like illegal dumping, potholes and city building maintenance.
While she did establish a 311 phone line that is still in operation today, many citizens have expressed growing concerns surrounding the transparency and accountability of not just the Mayor, but also the entire City Council and administration.
Especially now with all city government functions and meetings being remote, participant community members have complained that public City Council meetings via Zoom were being postponed or outright cancelled. Earlier this fall, the Mayor’s office was criticized because of the lack of communication and transparency surrounding her response to the extremely poor air quality last month.
In September, the Mayor’s office neglected to order emergency shelter for Oakland’s unhoused population during the days that saw some of the worst air quality in the world. Eventually a few respite centers (converted libraries aimed at providing refuge from the smoke) opened but many citizens complained that they were poorly marketed and the Mayor’s intentions with the project were never publicized.
“At some point after 12 p.m. on Friday the Mayor’s office did decide to use their emergency actions to open up some clean air facilities but I’ve been disappointed by the limited amount of outreach that has been happening,” said community member Megan Steffen during an open forum at last month’s city council meeting. “It appears that people aren’t hearing about these places and I would really like to see the city administrator do more to make sure that people who need these services know where and when they can get them.”
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