OAKLAND -- Ten mayoral candidates spoke to a standing-room-only audience of more than 200 people at a May 7 forum sponsored by the Redwood Heights Neighborhood Association at the Redwood Heights Recreation Center.
The candidates included Mayor Jean Quan; District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf; City Auditor Courtney Ruby; Port Commissioner Bryan Parker; attorney and former school board member Dan Siegel; and Joe Tuman, a professor at San Francisco State University and a mayoral candidate in 2010.
Newcomers included: Jason Anderson, a military veteran and organizer for First Friday and Occupy Oakland; Patrick McCullough, a military veteran and electric technician, who is known for shooting an assailant outside of his home in 2005; Samuel Washington, a businessman; and Charles Williams, a career military veteran.
Residents were concerned about the city's overall economic health and posed questions ranging from balancing pension liabilities with the need to expand the police force, economic growth and creating a sustainable city.
"It took us along time to get into this mess and it will take us a long time to get out of it," Schaaf said. She pointed out that we the city paid for 150 more officers five years ago than they do today. "We know we can afford it. We are poised for an economic explosion," which will help fill city's coffers.
Schaaf went on to explain that legislation is in the pipeline that will establish a trust in which monies to fund retirement liabilities will be deposited, ensuring that city officials will not be able to raid the fund.
"We can bring money in ASAP by stopping the revolving door within city hall. We are paying thousands of dollars to those that leave," said Ruby, referring to the departure of top officials, including City Administrator Deanna Santana and police Chief Howard Jordan.
"We need to get control of the police department," said Parker, referring to funds spent on federal monitors assigned to track the department's activities. "We have to gather pockets of money, focus on community policing and cleaning up our neighborhoods. Expenses are growing faster than revenue. We have to grow business to increase revenue."
"Negotiations with labor partners has to be an equal exchange," said Tuman, who pointed out that in the last round of labor negotiations "labor got a raise and the city got nothing."
Quan pointed out that labor gave back 9 percent of their pay in previous negotiations. Quan would like to move forward by building consensus with city employees.
"We don't need the full amount," said Quan, in reference to unfunded pension liabilities. If we are 80 percent funded, we are in good shape."
"We have triple the number of people in state prison, and we don't feel any safer," Siegel said. "We have the same murders and robberies. We can't keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Eighty-five percent of the city budget goes to police, fire and debt service. More police would mean we won't have money for anything else. I believe if we are going to reduce crime, we have to address the needs of the young people.
We need programs from early childhood on, in order to change the paradigm. It's our only hope."
McCullough suggested that we restructure the way city services are delivered, starting with analyzing the efficacy of violence prevention programs.
Williams suggested renegotiating contracts, employing a tier system, and renovating downtown Oakland.
"This will give us money right off the bat," he said. "We need money now."
The conversation veered toward workforce development, with all the candidates agreeing that extensive training programs are needed.
Tuman suggested focusing on the hospitality, technology and health care sectors and stemming the loss of the retail base to neighboring cities.
Schaaf suggested aiding small businesses by developing a microlending platform providing zero interest loans to small business ventures.
Several candidates highlighted the need for linking jobs to education at both the high school and community college level.
Quan said that the construction at the U.S. Army base will bring high paying blue-collar jobs to the area and thousands of construction jobs.
The mayor also said that there are five new hotels in the pipeline and 2,000 summer jobs for youth.
On creating a sustainable community, candidates discussed reducing auto emissions, paper consumption at city hall, and other methods of reducing carbon emissions.
"Power plants are the biggest source of air pollution," said Siegel, who said Oakland should become solar as well as further develop a bike-friendly city.
Ruby suggested creating of transit villages, highlighting the importance of creating dense development, but she said public safety concerns take precedent.
"Listen to the people," Anderson said. "People in outlying areas don't have enough public transportation and cannot get to school and work on time."