Before the text is presented, this blogger has to make one observation: Councilmember Kaplan said she's thought "for months" about running for Mayor. Given that she's barely two years into her time as Councilmember, it seems safe to say Kaplan was not happy being Oakland's At Large elected official and wanted to be Mayor of Oakland as far back as after the first year of her term. But that's this blogger's observation: I yield the floor to Susan Mernit:
When Rebecca Kaplan announced last week she had formed a committee to explore entering the Oakland 2010 mayoral race, few people were surprised. Kaplan, 39, is a freshman on the Oakland City Council, yet her active partnerships with other council members to sponsor bills and ordinances, and her consistent visibility at non-profit and business events around the city, suggested Kaplan never fully left campaign mode.
Oakland Local met with Kaplan on Wednesday, April 14, soon after she announced this first step toward candidacy, to understand more about why she is running and what special skills and perspectives she might bring to the race, should she decide to enter.
Oakland Local: What made you decide to take this next step in entering this race? What do you think you could do in this job that others might not?
Kaplan: When I was considering whether to take this next step, I asked myself what I thought was needed to stabilize the city and address the issues, and then whether I was the best person to actually make that happen. So many people who consider entering this kind of race think first about whether they can form a committee and raise the money—and I agree that is important—but I wanted to think through the magnitude of what actually needs to be done and what actually can be done; for me, that had to come before the pragmatic questions about raising money. I’ve given it thought, and I am clear with myself that I can do this—I have been thinking about it for months.
Oakland Local: What are the issues you see yourself addressing?
Kaplan: There are two areas that I look at systemically around how Oakland needs improvement—one is around internal systems and how government is organized; this is very much what I think of as the role of the executive branch and the changes it has the power to bring about. Specifically I think there is a huge streamlining that needs to go on in Oakland city government that will go a long way toward bringing in new business, generating new revenue, staffing more efficiently, addressing the budget deficit. Some examples of this center around using technology and personnel much more efficiently that we are doing right now—to make Oakland city government more efficient to operate—and also benefit community members and business people at the same time.
Oakland Local : Can you give some examples of what you mean?
Kaplan: Sure. There are a lot of systems we have that could be moved to the Web and happen a lot faster and more efficiently, especially around permitting and licensing. For example, we want to stop blight in the city and this is a huge issue. We have a lot of foreclosed properties that belong to out-of-town banks, and we want to make those owners as accountable as a homeowner would be—but we don’t have the systems to effectively take in and prioritize large numbers of blight complaints. If we could set up more Web-based systems to allow the public to report blighted properties, we could do a lot in terms of enforcing blight codes, imposing fines on entities that are responsible for multiple blighted properties and collecting revenues around this program. It would help everyone all around.
We can think in similar ways about information technology and tech infrastructure and how we use city staffers. Right now, we have people who literally retype data from one system to enter it into another, because we have incompatible computer systems. By fixing this technology problem, we would reduce numerous hours of wasted staff time, and reduce costs and redeploy staff to areas where they are really needed.
I think about business permits and licensing and how we should let our local businesses pay their fees and licenses online, reducing wasted time both for our businesspeople and for city staff to process paperwork.
Oakland Local: How about the other aspect you mentioned?
Kaplan: The other aspect is really about ensuring we have economic growth in the city, and that we support public safety in a way that improves the quality of life and reduces crime, and that we address ways to reduce costs head-on, even though it’s hard.
On one hand, we need to not tax very small businesses, so that they can flourish and have an opportunity to grow before they have to start paying the city (plus, for very small businesses, it can cost Oakland more to collect the fees and taxes than the amount collected); on the other hand, we need to work really hard to attract new businesses to Oakland that can make significant contributions to the city’s tax base—and create new jobs. The small business tax threshold is currently $2,500 –but it should be more like $25,000.
At the same time, we need to support the Police Chief in making Oakland safer through effective deployment of police, and we need to create opportunities for change that can turn the whole economic crisis around. My background has taught me to value strategic planning, and it seems to me that Oakland needs to take a much broader, systemic look at how to do things more effectively and create new opportunities.
Oakland Local: What do you mean?
Kaplan: For example, Oakland needs to begin more actively recruiting new businesses to support new job generation. We need to identify aspects of this that fit well with Oakland, and aggressively target new businesses and woo them to bring them here. We have been working to bring in big stores like Costco and Target, and we need to step that up, including focusing on identified needs. Some areas of Oakland totally lack a grocery store and drug store. Attracting these businesses will serve the needs in the community while also creating numerous jobs.
Another example for economic opportunity: we have lots of industrial space in Oakland that would be a great fit for food manufacturing and preparation. We need to bring those kinds of businesses, that once were here, back to Oakland, and we need to start more commercial kitchens, and an effective mobile food truck permit program, and other expansions of the food-related industries, that will help small businesses—and create new jobs. Also, we need to do more to make life easier for local businesses, including providing clear information, and improving our zoning.
Oakland Local: Where does zoning fit in?
Kaplan: Updating our zoning is essential because it controls what types of uses, including what types of businesses, can be located in which locations. Zoning also influences how difficult it will be to open a particular type of business, in terms of whether or not it needs a “Conditional Use Permit” or other such requirements. I began to work on this issue when we recently re-zoned the Central Business District, to make it easier to open bakeries, bike shops, and more. We need to bring this approach citywide.
Oakland Local: Okay, where does crime and public safety fit into all this? When we asked OL community members what they wanted you to talk about, this was #1.
Kaplan: Public safety is #1 in the city, I agree. So many other things can’t happen if these issues aren’t addressed. Public safety is intertwined with economic revitalization. We are fortunate, to have a good Police Chief in Anthony Batts, and we should give him the support he needs to help provide public safety in Oakland. We need to provide police officers to every “beat” in Oakland (as the voters were promised in “Measure Y”). This is important for several reasons— A visible police presence can prevent and deter crime, and this should be provided in all areas of Oakland. The officers and the community members can get to know one another and build trust, and improve communications so that officers are able to gather evidence they need to prevent or solve crimes.
Oakland Local: So where will these beat police come from? Do you think the OPD should hire more officers, or what? This was another question from an OL community member.
Kaplan: There are two main methods to make sure we have enough police on the beat. One method is to make better use of the personnel we have, and to hire beyond that. For example, right now civilian complaints and internal affairs investigations are handled by police officers, where such tasks would be better handled by civilians, which would then free up those police officers to do more vital police work. (This will require dealing properly with the Court oversight as well).
There are other roles in the police department which could potentially be performed by non-sworn personnel, thus freeing up more police officers for redeployment. In addition, we need to provide adequate staff for 9-1-1 dispatch, to provide timely response to public safety calls, and for investigations, to make sure crimes can be solved.
Oakland Local:How about the budget deficit? That’s an issue for anyone coming in as mayor—how would you address that?
Kaplan: Well, there’s a lot to that one, but one thing we need to think about is both restructuring city government and making cuts strategically. We have a window of opportunity there—much of Oakland’s city government staff will be retiring in the next few years—so that means we have an opportunity to redefine jobs, change and consolidate positions, and to hire people with new skills.
Oakland Local: Are you saying that you want both to cut via attrition and to streamline staffing as one way to address making cuts?
Kaplan: Yes. We need to review all the roles in city government, and redefine the jobs, where we are duplicating efforts, and where changed circumstances mean we have some tasks we no longer need, while other new tasks are needed. We also need to look at where the organization makes no sense, and improve the organizational systems to make our planning and implementation more effective. Right now, taxis are under public safety and parking is under Finance, and “transportation” is in neither. This makes our transportation planning much less effective and it makes our parking policies less sensible than they would be if the various transportation issues were looked at together.
Oakland Local: Where else do you see a need for focus and growth?
Kaplan: One great opportunity is in “Transit Oriented Development” which means developing communities where people can safely and easily access housing, shops, jobs and more by transit, walking and biking. These types of improvements, such as fixing sidewalks, pedestrian lighting and safe crosswalks, and providing new infill development near transit, can bring jobs, economic investment, and improve quality of life in the area.
And interestingly, there’s a lot of funding coming available soon that Oakland can bring in to make this happen. Senator Barbara Boxer is working on an energy bill which includes funds for Transit Oriented Development, and so does the new Federal Transportation bill expected out around December. California’s SB 375, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas
emissions, will also be implemented to support this type of development. We have an opportunity to get funding to support these kinds of initiatives, because we have numerous transit hubs and routes in our city, making us eligible for these funds, and they will mean a lot for Oakland’s revitalized future.
Oakland Local: What makes you the person to do all this? What could you bring to the race—and to being Mayor—that would make you effective? Some people say you are too young—39—and too inexperienced to be Mayor—what’s your response to that?
Kaplan: I’ll be 40 by the fall, but perhaps being young is an advantage. I certainly am not short in experience—I have been a staffer in government, I served for many years on the Board of AC Transit, in an elected seat which includes all of Oakland, and I have a strong record of making things happen. But most importantly, I am willing to innovate and bring a fresh point of view. We can’t solve Oakland’s problems by just looking at things the way we always have, we need to plan strategically for a different future and then execute well My vision—and my training—give me the means to rethink what Oakland needs to do, and to work with a broad coalition of organizations around the city to make the change we need happen.
Oakland Local: So what’s next? Who is your team?
Kaplan: Our next steps include holding a reception and fundraiser on May 12th at the Cathedral Building in Uptown Oakland, located at 1615 Broadway Ave., from 5:30 — 7:30p. We now have Kamika Dunlap as Communications Director (note: Kamika has written for Oakland Local), Molly Cohen providing Administrative coordination, and Lisa Williams doing development and fundraising.
Rebecca Kaplan’s campaign Web site: http://www.KaplanforOakland.org
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rebecca-Kaplan/12695133780
Get involved: What do you want to ask candidates in the race about the issues and where they stand?
Oakland Local will conduct interviews with all candidates and prospective candidates in the coming weeks. If you would like to be involved in interviews and/or have suggestions for questions you’d like answered, e-mail email@example.com.
Stay tuned for more news from Oakland and around the World.