OAKLAND -- Newly elected Councilmember Dan Kalb said that reducing crime in Oakland is far and away his top priority.
"I plan to spend the biggest chunk of my time on issues related to public safety and crime prevention," said Kalb, who represents District 1, which includes the Rockridge and Temescal neighborhoods.
Kalb, 53, was robbed at gunpoint last October on his way home from a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meeting.
"This experience made me more determined than ever to work on making our city safer," Kalb said. "Public safety is the paramount issue for the city and District 1."
Oakland's crime rate was up 23 percent in 2012, including 131 homicides. After a shooting spree Jan. 11 that claimed four young lives, Vice Mayor Larry Reid called for Oakland to declare a state of emergency -- an idea that city leaders subsequently nixed. Kalb said he doesn't want to see the National Guard patrolling the streets of Oakland.
"That would only be a temporary step that wouldn't solve anything," Kalb said. "We need concrete action -- more money, more police officers, better response time, more criminal investigations -- and we need to start now."
Kalb agreed with Mayor Jean Quan and other council members that rebuilding Oakland's police force back to at least 800 officers is a top goal. The Oakland Police Department was reduced from 837 officers in 2008 to its current force of 616, the result of cost-cutting measures.
"It's a tough goal to reach, but let's aim for 800," Kalb said. "With the economy picking up, there may be more money in the budget over the next two years. I think most of that should go to public safety."
Kalb supports the recent hiring of William Bratton as a consultant to the police department. Bratton headed the New York Police Department from 1994 to '96 and the Los Angeles Police Department from 2002 to '09.
"It was a smart move to hire him," said Kalb, emphasizing that the city is not bound to adopt Bratton's recommendations. "We have to do the research and make decisions based on his recommendations."
Kalb wants to bring a measured and analytical approach to how Oakland is run. He also wants to bring some new ideas to the table, when it comes to reducing crime. One of those is to bolster crime investigations.
"We are very low on the number tasked to investigate serious crimes," Kalb said. "The city needs to increase this capacity."
He said that if the June 2013 budget does not increase investment in criminal investigations, he won't vote for it.
"If we're not investing in solving crimes, then we're not serious about stopping crimes," Kalb said. "Investigation is an integral part of crime reduction."
Reducing recidivism: Similarly, Kalb said, if the city is not serious about reducing recidivism, then it's not serious about reducing crime in the long term.
"We know who commits most of the violent crimes -- previous offenders. We need programs to move offenders away from repeat offenses."
He said authorities should get information on the needs of people in jail, on parole and on probation and to try to address those needs.
"Whether it's literacy, getting a high school diploma, job training, supportive housing or drug rehabilitation, we need to put programs in place to address those needs," says Kalb.
This is seen as especially important, since many offenders have been "realigned" -- moved from state prisons to county jails.
"There are more offenders now at the local level, which produces both a challenge and an opportunity," Kalb said. "The question is, 'How is the city going to work with the county to reduce recidivism and thereby reduce crime?' We need to spend money wisely on things to reduce crime."
There are also things to do on a local level, such as improving street lighting.
"There are studies that show a strong correlation between well-lit streets and crime," said Kalb, who hopes to campaign for public works funds to improve street lighting.
Kalb thinks it's also important for neighbors to help themselves through neighborhood watch groups and installing house alarms. He said he'd like to learn more about Neighborhood Guard, which installs cameras on streets to track cars entering and leaving neighborhoods.
"I'd like to weigh the privacy issue versus the cameras' potential as a deterrent," the council member said.
Kalb also supports Police Chief Howard Jordan's recent announcement that the city is going to be realigned into five zones, from its current two, with a captain in charge of each zone.
"It makes sense to get back to community policing, where officers know their beat and the people who live in it," said Kalb, who also wants to show leadership in furthering the Ceasefire program.
"We need to take inventory of what we do at the city and county levels in terms of gang interventions and giving gang members a pathway from violence to a more productive life."
Restoring public trust: While crime tops Kalb's to-do list, his next goal is to restore the public's trust in government.
"If you want to do big things, you need the public behind you. People want to see the City Council working together and staying on top of things," he said.
He wants to see a Rainy Day Fund written into the city charter.
"That sets aside monies during good financial years that can only be used during financial 'down' years. If a recession hits, it doesn't mean such a big dip in the budget or such severe budget cuts," said Kalb, adding that San Francisco and the state of California already have Rainy Day funds in place.
Kalb also wants to find funds to beef up the city's Public Ethics Commission, which is basically a watchdog at City Hall.
"People want that. They want to keep the City Council and the government on its toes," Kalb said. "A lot of people are down on City Hall. Some of that is because of cutbacks due to the economy, but another part is that we need to take affirmative steps to improve customer service. I want to work with the other council members to resolve problems and increase public confidence."
Emphasizing green tech: Kalb, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in natural resource conservation and from the University of San Francisco with a master's in public administration, wants to put that education and experience to work on Oakland's economic development -- with an emphasis on green technology.
"Oakland could be a regional hub for clean-tech businesses, but we have to set our minds to it," Kalb said. "Since I have worked with many clean-tech business leaders, I think I have the expertise to make that happen."
He said growing green tech is a "win, win, win."
"It provides jobs, helps the environment and boosts the economy," Kalb said. "During the recession, the only sector of the job market that grew was in green jobs."
Improvements to the San Pablo Corridor are also on Kalb's agenda.
"I want San Pablo in northwest Oakland to be the next district slated for revitalization," Kalb said. "I want to get the prostitutes off the street and retail onto the street."
He says improvement to one district always helps Oakland as a whole.
"Stimulating economic activity brings in more tax revenues, which benefits the whole city," he said.
Kalb believes he has good ideas and goals and said he has a "genuine passion to achieve them."
"It's very exciting to have three new City Council members at one time," he said. "I'm looking forward to working with the other council members, who all care very much about the city.
"We're not magicians, but we'll do the best we can with the resources we have."