OAKLAND -- This year, Libby Schaaf begins her third term as District 4's representative on the Oakland City Council.
The Montclarion recently interviewed Schaaf to hear about her plans and hopes for 2013, for the city and her own area, which encompasses Montclair and surrounding neighborhoods.
"My primary focus is on two things: public safety and increasing people's faith that government is spending their money efficiently and effectively," Schaaf said.
Schaaf said she's "thrilled" with the recent hiring of William Bratton as a consultant to the Oakland Police Department.
"No individual has a better record of reducing crime in the country than William Bratton," Schaaf said. "When he was police chief in New York City, crime went down by 80 percent in all categories. When he was police chief in Los Angeles, there was also a dramatic decrease in crime."
She said Oakland has a challenge in managing limited resources to maximum effect.
"I understand Bratton will be helping to do that," she said.
Schaaf is disappointed that the OPD requires federal oversight in the form of a compliance officer who will be appointed by a federal judge. The OPD did not comply with standards set by the federal government in the wake of the Riders' lawsuit in 2003, which involved police misconduct.
"It's unfortunate that we need that," Schaaf said. "But a compliance officer is preferable to a full federal receivership (whereby the
Schaaf said she will continue to look at the many different options for creating safety -- such as surveillance cameras on homes and businesses, Neighborhood Guard and Neighborhood Watch and environmental improvements such as better street lighting and less foliage.
She is also spearheading, along with Councilman Larry Reid, a proposal to install 21 civilian workers who will free up officers from administrative work.
"I hope that with better management from William Bratton, we will have better response from officers in the field," Schaaf said.
While all these new developments are good, Schaaf believes Oakland basically needs to boost its police force -- Oakland laid off 80 officers in 2010 to help close a budget deficit.
"Oakland needs to work at building back up its police force," Schaaf said. "Oakland has fallen down in letting its police force shrink. I'm going to keep pushing to build it back up as quickly and effectively as possible."
She said typically the council doesn't authorize new spending outside the budget process in July.
"But we can't wait that long," she said. "We have two police academies per year; that's not enough."
She said the reason she feels "comfortable" requesting $1.8 million from the city's coffers to increase the police force is that Oakland had $10 million in unanticipated revenues this year.
"It's an indicator of sustained economic growth," Schaaf said. "It's evidence that the city is recovering from its low point as far as the economy goes."
She said Oakland saw positive growth in terms of an upturn in business profits, property values and sales tax revenues. Oakland saw a 3 percent increase in property tax receipts and a 17 percent hike in sales tax receipts.
"The statistics are a good sign that the economy is perking back up," she said.
Schaaf believes that the city of Oakland could better serve its residents if upgrades were made to its current technology.
"Oakland is behind the curve in utilizing technology and innovation," Schaaf said.
Last year, Oakland was selected as a Code for America city, a fellowship program that helps governments leverage the power of the Internet to make them more efficient and transparent. In 2013, three highly skilled "techies" will work with the city to design applications to improve municipal processes. These will include speeding up the contract process and response time to Freedom of Information requests.
"Right now, if your business wants to do business with the city, it takes months to approve contracts, start work and get paid," Schaaf said.
In 2013, Schaaf also wants to look into providing more recreation programs and open spaces in her district, particularly for youth.
"This comes from a promise I made in fighting against a sports complex in Blair Park in Moraga Canyon," Schaaf said. "We succeeded in stopping that project, but it came with a recognition that we need more recreational space for organized sports."
She's also looking at opening a park in the Laurel district.
"The Laurel doesn't have a park, so we're working on developing a park for that neighborhood," Schaaf said.
The councilwoman, who grew up in Piedmont Pines near Montclair Village, wants to continue to promote the village as a "great place to shop." A major focus is how to make parking easier for shoppers. The parking garage on La Salle Avenue is currently greatly underutilized, she said.
"We are looking at how to create affordable spaces for employees in the garage, thereby freeing up more street parking for shoppers," she said. "We're also looking at more flexibility on how long people can park at meters — right now it's limited to two hours."
The Montclair library is also getting a face-lift.
"The library looks the same as it did 40 years ago," Schaaf said. "We have some money for improvements such as new flooring, paint and seating."
Schaaf also wants to ensure that undergrounding of utilities in Piedmont Pines continues on track.
"It took 10 years to get going on phase one," Schaaf said. "We want to ensure that it's not going to take another 10 years for phase two."
Part of the undergrounding problem is that there are several players involved -- the city, PG&E, Comcast and AT&T -- "and there's always an argument about who pays for what," she said.
Schaaf is also trying to be proactive about people's concerns over placement of cell phone equipment. AT&T is planning a big equipment installation as many of their customers can't get coverage in Montclair.
"We have to reconcile people's desire for cell phone coverage with their concerns over where the equipment is placed," Schaaf said. "We're trying to get the information to people so they can see the full plan."
In November, Alameda County voters rejected Prop. B1, a half-cent sales tax increase earmarked for road maintenance. However, Oakland voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition.
"One option is to look at a version of Propostion B1 for Oakland only," Schaaf said. "Every year we put off maintaining roads means a big increase in the cost to repair them."
She said she recognizes that Oakland residents already pay a lot of taxes.
"However, voters have indicated that they are willing to pay for roads," Schaaf said.
The Wildfire Prevention Assessment District is a special fee that only hills residents pay. The assessment, which is due to expire in July 2014, funds such projects as the goats that graze at the Oakland Zoo and other potential fire-hazard areas.
"This year, we have to look at whether to support it and renew it," Schaaf said.
There will be three new members on the City Council -- Dan Kalb, Noel Gallo and Lynette Gibson-McElhaney.
"I'm excited about the new City Council," Schaaf said. "They're all smart, thoughtful and dedicated to the communities they'll serve and the city as a whole. They bring different backgrounds and experiences that will help to inform all of us."