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Please check out my other blog

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I invite readers to visit the website of the group I co-founded, the Coalition for a Better Oakland, where I also post a daily blog.

CBO is taking up more and more of my time. I consider myself fortunate to have found something so intellectually interesting, and so important. Although our focus is on the city of Oakland, where I have lived for 34 years, our concerns apply to most cities in America. So take a few minutes and check us out!


On getting attacked for telling the truth

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Now that our Coalition for a Better Oakland is gaining traction in the media, the people who don’t want us to succeed are coming out of the woodwork, spewing their special brand of hate.

It’s mainly the “defund the police” crowd. Since they can’t attack us (or me) on the merits, they resort to the usual ad hominem insults. In the last week or so, I’ve repeatedly been called a rightwing old white guy, just because I support the police.

Well, I have a thick skin, so that doesn’t bother me at all. But I do want to get my political beliefs on the record. I may be “old” and “white” (nothing I can do about that!), but I’m sure no rightwinger!

The truth:

I was born into a household where my parents worshipped Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. I had just turned 13 when John F. Kennedy ran in the Democratic primaries, and I was so enamored of him that I made a “JFK” sign and went to a hotel where he was giving a speech. He looked at me and my sign, smiled, nodded, and disappeared into the hotel.

I took the Sixties off from politics : > but in ’76 I saw Carter announce for President and became an ardent supporter. I voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1984 California primary, and when I saw Bill Clinton interviewed on CSPAN in 1988, when he was still Governor of Arkansas, I wrote him a letter in Little Rock, which he was kind enough to answer (I still have it, framed). I was a huge Clinton supporter and still am. He kept the flame of liberalism alive when the winds of evangelical conservatism were trying to snuff it out.

I voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. In 2008, I was a gigantic Hillary supporter, but when she lost the nomination, I hopped on the Obama train, and when he won (on that famous night in Chicago) and came onstage with Michelle and the kids, I stood in front of my T.V. and cried. I supported Hillary again in 2016, strongly, and almost threw up when the orange fascist won. And now, I’m a Biden guy.

So don’t hand me none of your “rightwinger” crap!

Now, on to the “old white” stuff. Look, if you hate on someone because they’re “old,” you’re an ageist, pure and simple. And if you hate on someone because they’re “White,” then you’re a racist, pure and simple. Can a Black person be a racist? Of course!

Republicans currently are waging a war on “wokeism,” and while I deplore much of the nonsense we get from the woke crowd (such as “defund the police”), I support their essential goal: to eliminate all hatred of groups based on characteristics they cannot control. And it is the rightwing that does most of the hating in this country: hating on queer people, on Muslims and Mexicans and Asians and Black people and educated people and everybody else they hate and try to cancel.

But to those “woke” people calling me an old white rightwing guy, I say, STFU. You know in your heart that “defunding the police” is not going to happen, because every time police budgets are cut, crime goes up, and We the People will not allow that. You know that the Americans will not tolerate your program of slashing police budgets. You know you’re on the wrong side of History. You know you cannot debate the facts; all you have are your insults and smears. If you’re Black and you’re trying to impugn me by calling me “White,” you are the exact kind of person Dr. King called “a vicious racist,” with your “lips dripping with words of nullification” or (a more contemporary word), cancellation. Stop hiding behind your Blackness and thinking you can get away with being a racist and an ageist and not getting called out. Those days are over.

In conclusion, then, it’s the extremes on both sides that have screwed this country up. The woke crowd on the left, and the Insurrectionist crazies on the right. That’s why I’m such a big Biden fan: he’s solidly in the center lane, same as all the Democrats I’ve supported all my life. And he’s got a heart of gold. Is there a Republican left in this country with a heart?


With fire season here, it’s time to move the tents away from the inner city

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This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has yet another front-page story on the fire danger posed by homeless encampments in Oakland.

The number of fires in RVs and tents is soaring, even as the Oakland Fire Department says it is “extremely concerned” by the “fire risks for the unhoused…the surrounding area, and the firefighters.” Indeed, with fire season already here, all Oaklanders should worry about an out-of-control fire that could take out an entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Oakland officials and pro-homeless nonprofits continue to dither. The Mayor and the City Council have no solutions. They continue to kick the can down the road, as they have for the last six years as the homelessness crisis has ravaged Oakland. Tiny cabins, solar panels, RV camps, social workers, tinkering with the police department’s budget—the rhetoric coming from the pro-homeless community is endless. But these are not solutions. They are meant merely to distract us. “We’re doing our best,” says City Council members Rebecca Kaplan. “But we have to do better.”

Then do it. There is an obvious solution to the tent camps: Relocate them all to areas where they pose no threat to the surrounding community. There are vast swaths of public lands available that, far from neighborhoods, would provide safe and clean harbor for every tent dweller in Oakland. The 400-acre Oakland Army Base has been decommissioned for more than two decades. Why not establish a vast tent community there, with all the amenities the homeless need (water, plumbing, electricity, garbage collection, social services)?

The Coalition for a Better Oakland believes that all campers should be offered the opportunity to be relocated to such tent cities, where finally they could establish real communities and work side-by-side with nonprofits and the city for permanent solutions. It would be a win-win-win situation: for homeless people, for beleaguered city officials, and for the harassed people of Oakland. If the city is not prepared to take such an obviously logical step, then let Mayor Schaaf, Ms. Kaplan and the other ditherers tell us why not.


Can we talk about cops?

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A small group of us had a long meeting yesterday with an Oakland Police Department (OPD) senior cop. This was part of our imminent launch of a new political action group we’re organizing, the Coalition for a Better Oakland, to address some of the catastrophes in Oakland created by years of government mismanagement, political corruption and misguided extremist political ideologies.

It was the first opportunity any of us had ever had to sit down informally with a top cop of long experience and leadership, and have a frank conversation. We agreed at the outset that nothing was off the table. No tape recordings were made; I took a few notes, but that was it. We could ask him whatever we wanted.

I asked the cop why he had agreed to meet with us, and he was earnest and passionate as he explained that OPD will meet with anyone who’s trying to help them. Cop-hating in Oakland is an old game. There was a story in the newspaper the other day about a LatinX cop who went to a coffee shop in Oakland and was refused service. Cops get spat at, they’re routinely given the finger, and in general they have to be on their guard all the time when they’re in uniform. Anti-cop rhetoric in Oakland is strong and pervasive. Everywhere you go, there’s graffiti: FTP (fuck the police) and ACAB (all cops are bastards) are the most common, but there are also calls for murdering cops. It must get very tedious for a uniformed officer just trying to do her job!

For my part, I felt a responsibility to let the cop know that I, and the two others from my group at the meeting, were not psychos or freaks of some kind. We’re not “badge chasers” or anything like that, but citizens of Oakland who hate what’s happening to our city, and who no longer feel safe just going about our daily (and nightly) routines. For thirty years I never felt uneasy walking at night downtown. Over the last year or two, I do. Murder is soaring: we’re on track to set a record this year. Street attacks, robberies, muggings, carjackings—every day there are stories in the paper, and then, of course, the anti-Asian assaults have made national headlines. With all this going on, you’d think the City Council would be considering increasing OPD’s budget; the department is currently staffed only at 50% of the needed levels. But no. The City Council’s so-called “Reimagining Public Safety” task force continues to call for more defunding of the department and re-routing the money into such things as “immediate housing,” “restorative justice,” “decriminalizing homelessness” (which by the way is based on a lie, since “homelessness” has never been against the law), removing the forensics crime lab out of OPD and into a “non-police” organization (since, according to the Reimagining people, the forensics lab—staffed by technicians—is somehow a hotbed of “police misconduct”), launching a proposed “basic income” program (Oakland’s just-announced program this past week was threatened with a lawsuit after Oakland said it would send money only to people of color, excluding poor white people), eliminating funding for OPD’s helicopter (!!!), radical changes to recruiting and hiring, in which intellectual standards are eliminated in order to make the process decrease “bigotry and bias,” and scores of other proposals—some good, some downright stupid.

No doubt, these proposed changes are well-meant, but they do represent an ideological bias of their own: that police are inherently evil, and that crime is largely the fault of systematic racism. The bottom line is that career cops in Oakland are frustrated, feel disrespected and insecure, are leaving the department for greener pastures, and the people of Oakland are increasingly left to their own devices.

There are so many issues to unpack. One thing we talked about at our meeting was the theory, often advanced by “defund the police” people, that goes something like this: Change is hard. Whenever change threatens an existing institution, its rearguard will resist it ferociously. Therefore, the rearguard has got to go, since change is inevitable and good.

That theory sounds plausible. Many of us were taught about the “paradigm shifts” that occurred in the 20th century in science. We learned that the rearguard resisted the new approaches of quantum mechanics and relativity. The Nazis in particular called these “the Jewish sciences.” They also resisted the new forms of painting, such as Abstraction and Expressionism, in favor of “social realist paintings” that, today, are considered sheer rubbish. So, yes, there is a valid school of thought that says change is good and resistance to it is bad.

But when it comes to quantum mechanics or Expressionist paintings, human life and welfare are not threatened! What threatens public safety here in Oakland is an out-of-control criminal culture which seems to be encouraged by the guardians who are supposed to be protecting us. This is particularly true concerning Oakland’s Community Police Review Agency, whose primary role seems to be encouraging citizen complaints of misconduct against officers. The Agency’s chair came under widespread criticism for forcing the firing of the former police chief (because, it was alleged, she was white), and a city-mandated review of the Agency’s performance accused it of widespread abuse of power.

Race is at the heart of almost everything that happens in Oakland, and it’s sad that common sense seems to have been removed from every conversation. In Oakland, you’re either “woke” or you’re engaged in systematic racism. There’s no middle ground. If you’re against sideshows, according to this extreme view, you’re discriminating against the cultural practice of a particular group. Never mind that sideshows are a huge menace in the Oakland flatlands, where legal traffic is blocked, pedestrians are threatened, and people actually die. This is the kind of impasse that has brought Oakland to its knees, and is why we created the Coalition for a Better Oakland. We believe our common sense approach to issues of crime and homeless encampments represents a majority of Oaklanders, as opposed to the handful of anti-cop activists who disrupt every City Council meeting, a good proportion of whom demand the complete elimination of the police department, with the funding going to shadowy programs they and their friends run.

I have insisted from the get-go that our Coalition is nonpartisan. I refuse to concede that anyone who supports cops is a white supremacist. Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m a Democrat who is unalterably opposed to the far right. This past week, I took steps (along with some of my colleagues) to prevent a self-professed “militiaman” from being part of our group. We have to be very careful to prevent rightwing, insurrectionist radicals from getting anywhere close to us. If that happens—and I am monitoring it—I’ll leave the group. It’s the extremes on both sides—the Jan. 6 proud boy/QAnon freaks and the BLM rioters who tear cities apart—that are the enemies of the people, not the cops.


MANIFESTO: Encampments, a blight on our city

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One of the compelling reasons we launched the Coalition for a Better Oakland is because we believe something must be done about the proliferation of homeless encampments in the town we love.

We recognize and acknowledge that the causes of homelessness and many and complex. We sympathize with our unhoused sisters and brothers, and would like to work with the city to find solutions to the current catastrophe. But our common-sense point of view, which we believe is widely shared by Oaklanders, is not being heard in the councils of government. In fact, it is being repressed.

Mayor Libby Schaaf seriously dropped the ball when she was first elected, back in 2015. Already at that time, camps were proliferating. Many people asked Mayor Schaaf and the City Council to begin managing the camps, instead of allowing them to spread in an uncontrolled manner.

What did Mayor Schaaf do?

In glowing rhetoric, she talked about “a bold new plan” to reduce homelessness, but it was always in the vaguest terms, with no practical solutions.

She assured homeless people that if they moved to Oakland, they would find housing, medical treatment, and other services.

She told homeless people Oakland would “treat them with compassion.”

When San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose began efforts to manage the spread of camps, Schaaf assured the Bay Area’s homeless population Oakland would “shelter all residents.”

She even suggested that Oaklanders “open their houses to homeless people,” although she herself, she explained, had no room for any in her house.

With rhetoric like that, no wonder homeless people flocked to Oakland. They heard that they would be taken care of. They heard that they would be received with open arms. They heard they might even be able to live with the mayor! And they believed these things. But they were not told the truth. There was no plan, no money, no conceivable way to give them what they needed. Libby Schaaf was just making it all up.

Thus, by October, 2020, when the camp situation became so unbearable that even the most liberal Oaklanders were begging government to do something about it, the City Council, under enormous pressure, finally acted. With Schaaf’s strong support, they passed, unanimously, a resolution limiting tents to certain restricted areas, and prohibiting them everywhere else, including parks.

Schaaf promised that the new regulations would begin to be enforced in January, 2021. But guess what? Nothing happened. The City Council wouldn’t even abide by its own rules. Our parks remain overrun. Underpasses, rights-of-way along BART lines, intersections and miles of streets are lined with encampments and the piles of junk associated with them. (Take a look at Frontage Road, in West Oakland.) And, as the public has tragically seen, fires at encampments are burning down cultural centers, museums and businesses. With fire season just around the corner, that is a serious concern.

Why did Schaaf make unrealistic and unachievable promises to homeless people? It was cruel to invite them to Oakland. Everyone knew, or should have known, the city was in no shape to care for them. Maybe Schaaf was speaking out of truly idealistic motives. Maybe she was pandering to, or intimidated by, the screaming demands of the small but vocal minority of radical pro-homeless activists. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking clearly.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

To answer this, we have to backtrack a few years and consider what Schaaf could and should have done when she took office. She should have announced that the city intended to manage the camps in a way that was both compassionate to the homeless and reasonable to the people of Oakland.

But she didn’t.

She should have made it clear that public parks, like Mosswood and Lakeside, were off limits for tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have created sanctioned places where homeless people could legally put up their tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have told the truth to homeless people: Don’t come to Oakland! We can’t take care of you; we don’t have the money.

But she didn’t.

She should have taken on the pro-homeless crowd and told them that they had no idea how to govern and that their demands for free housing, food, medical care and job training for 4,500 homeless people, possibly for life, were insane and would bankrupt Oakland.

But she didn’t.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

We here at the Coalition for a Better Oakland know this: A city that loses control of its streets is in trouble. We strongly support the City Council’s Oct. 2020 policy that restricted encampments to “low sensitivity” areas. That decision was—as Schaaf herself said—“a compassionate response to an unacceptable condition.” If camps were located in manageable areas, like parts of the Port, the former Oakland Army Base and other conglomerate areas to be identified, services could be provided more efficiently to homeless constituents. Campers themselves would be relieved of the constant threat of street sweeps, knowing that they could safely remain in approved areas. Their legitimate security concerns could more easily be addressed. Such a policy would be a win-win for everyone.

But Schaaf knuckled under to the activists. The City Council drifted further into radical, unrealistic politics after the November elections. And every day, the situation grows more dire.

Look: this issue is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither rightwing nor leftwing, but common sense. The Coalition for a Better Oakland is nonpartisan. We Oaklanders are hard-working, tax-paying, compassionate, and politically savvy. We deserve parks where kids can play—parks that have not been desecrated. We deserve a city where cultural centers and museums and small businesses are not burned down. We deserve streets where we can walk in safety and not dodge human excrement, rotting garbage, passed-out bodies, and hypodermic needles. We want to see our leaders do the job they were elected to do and manage these camps. It can be done—it should be done—it is legal—and it is morally right.


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