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The Campanil’s EXCLUSIVE interview with Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan speaks at Mills College. (The Campanil)

Managing editor for The Campanil, Nicole Vermeer, and Multimedia staff, Bianca Butler, interviewed Mayor Jean Quan on Jan 24, 2011 after she addressed Mills College and the Oakland community at Littlefield Hall on Mills campus Monday night.

Get a more in-depth look at her thoughts on public safety, business revenue and Mills College’s role in making a better Oakland. Read below for the word for word transcript of this exclusive interview. These are answers you will not find in any other publication.

Read theofficial article about Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s visit to Mills College.

How do you plan on getting students more connected to Oakland?

    “I think it’s changing. It changes with generations and it changes as the city changes. For instance, we had quite a few planning students work with us on this project to make this connection between the Laurel district and the school safer and more beautiful and more organic so that students would feel safer going in for shopping and walking in the neighborhood and be more a part of the community. And we call that the Gateway Project. And it was very important to me because I want more Mills students to get involved…we thought we were going to pass a law to put a new library there and we thought maybe there could be a revolving collection of the Mills artwork in the new library because you have this great art museum but not very many people come to see it…and it would entice the neighborhood to feel like they could come onto campus and use the art museum. Particularly the school of education has been very involved in the Oakland public schools, so some departments have obviously closer ties than others.”

How are you planning on gathering volunteers for the city?

    “We’ve just started and my goal is 2000 volunteers in 4 years, and we think we can actually make it sooner, maybe in three years, but we’ll see. What I’m going to do is talk to fraternities and sororities, particularly in the black and Latino communities, and go to a lot of churches and work particularly with the boomerang generation – that is, boomers who are coming back to volunteer…because you know our generation, we’re baby boomers, we’re spoiled, we’re used to being the center of attention ,we’re much healthier than our grandparents, we are going to be around and kicking and making trouble for a long time, so I’m trying to get them focused on maybe giving back to the city.”

What are your plans for the public school system in Oakland?

    “The Oakland public schools, like all the schools in the state, are undergoing tremendous financial difficulties. I think this is the lowest funding per student in history for California. I think we are only above Mississippi right now…and then on top of that, when the state took over the Oakland public schools five years ago, the district was only about $22 mil in debt. They left the district in over $100 mil in debt and then apparently have the nerve to fine the district for mismanagement while it was under state control. So, I’m actually working with assemblyman Swanson to get a bill that would force the state to at least forgive the part of the loan that they are responsible for and particularly the fines. And I think that is critical to educate the community about that and to try to put pressure on Sacramento because otherwise just the interest on $100 mil is about $7 mil a year, and that’s money that could go for a very decent teacher raise or reduce class sizes or to help the arts or other programs in schools. That’s a lot of money.”

How are you planning on increasing retail revenues in Oakland?

    “A study done a couple years ago, now that’s when the economy was better and we were probably spending a little bit more, said that the city was leaking about $5 bil a year…not everybody is chained into their city and, particularly in the east bay where we are so close to each other, most of us buy some things on the internet and, in the Bay Area, almost all of us occasionally go to San Francisco, to the Union Square area, and check out the latest fashions and maybe buy something. So there’s a leakage for everyone, but Oakland’s leakage is much proportionally bigger than other cities…We don’t have major department stores, we’re only starting to get big box retail now and a lot of our neighborhood retail has gone down and so I plan to do three things:
Jean Quan mingles with students after her speech. (The Campanil)
      I plan to weigh in on the big box shopping, the costcos of the world. We’re opening a target in a couple of months, in April…

The second thing that we’re going to do is really work on bringing in midlevel shopping, mostly clothing that kind of thing, to the Broadway Area near Uptown. We’ve been told by studies again that that’s where retailers are most likely to consider to go. Why? Because it’s close to the Berkeley community, it’s close to piedmont, it’s close to Rockridge, it’s off the freeway from Montclair people. They want to go where the money is. Another thing I plan to do is get some studies to show that Oakland already spends a lot of money in those stores, except we have to travel to do it, and so I am going to be going to the Los Vegas retail show and do what some other cities have done, like Washington, to really change the image of Oakland for those big corporate companies.

And then the last thing that we have to do is make sure that at least we have good retail in the neighborhoods. Some communities in this city don’t even have a basic grocery store and so we’ve been negotiation with Kroger and a couple of other major chains to get them to go to east Oakland, near the coliseum and west Oakland. Those are neighborhoods where there’s not even a decent grocery store. And people will spend more if they can spend it in their own neighborhoods…so I’m asking every Oaklander to consider spending just 25% more, I’m not asking for a 100%, but just 25% more in the city. Myself, I usually give See’s candies to 25 staff members around city hall to thank them for their extraordinary work. This year I bought Vice chocolate, smaller little chocolates, but more intense, and decided to spend my entire chocolate budget up, $500, in the city of Oakland. I could have bought a camera online, because my local camera store didn’t have it when I wanted it before Christmas time, but I just waited until he got it. So it cost me maybe 50 dollars more, but again, it’s about making sure that camera store survives. The same thing with books. I made a real point to give my nieces and nephews the gift card for independent book stores. Now, the problem is they live out in the suburbs and there aren’t independent book stores, but I tell them, they come in to visit their Aunt Jean and I take them to some really good independent book stores, so it’s those conscious sort of decisions…if people make a few more of those decisions and try out a new neighborhood. There are so many people who haven’t been to China Town, or never been to the Fruitvale district for the Day of the Dead. I have been trying to get Oakland to rediscover itself. There were a lot of people who had never been to Montclair for the farmers market…that question I asked before I spoke, “how many of you have been to the downtown art murmur?”, literally when I asked in Crestmont, which is right above you, less than 10% of the hands went up. That’s an older, white population. They probably haven’t been to downtown Oakland in the evening for 20 years. So I promised them, I will meet you at city hall and we will go out as a group! If you are going to live in this wonderful city, you should enjoy some of the perks, and the art murmur is one of them. It’s an amazing experience.”

Do you have any concerns with “big box stores” overpowering local businesses in Oakland?

    “You know, I think you have to have a mix and I think that a lot of things that Target sells we don’t yet have strong neighborhood stores that sell those things. Like, what do I go to Target for? A lot of the things that they sell are not really readily available yet in the neighborhoods, and it is one of those great stores that crosses all the racial and class backgrounds. Wealthy people from Montclair and poor people from East Oakland feel equally comfortable buying, mostly Chinese produced, products at a Target. So, it was interesting when I was doing the job fairs for the kids in the Laurel, Target was the number one place they all wanted to work. So people feel that it is a place they can afford and they can identify with. It’s fashionable enough, cool enough for them, whether you’re a Montclair matron or you’re an East Oakland teen.”
Jean Quan shakes hands and speaks with Mills College students. (The Campanil)

What are your thoughts on the recent lawsuit against Measure BB and Measure Y funds?

    “The women who brought that suit didn’t support Measure Y to begin with, and she’s always been out there saying, ‘oh well, you could not have the money until you had 803 officers”’, and that was the first thing that was thrown out there, and a lot of people believe it because she’s on all these blogs. It makes no sense at all. How could I afford 803 officers if I didn’t have the money? So, if I have to hire them and, because of their hire-retirement rate, just to get 803 we had to hire and train over 250 officers, just to get the extra 63 because so many of the cops are also boomers, and they are retiring. Cops tend to retire as soon as they can and go on to get a second pension, if they can. So it was a huge, huge problem of trying to recruit. And this was at the time when LA decided they were going to hire 10 thousand new cops, too, so it was very, very difficult. But that was the basis of her original suit, which won on some technicalities, and then the appeal court turned it over. I was really happy because I had helped write it and I was like ‘we wrote in recruitment and training for beat officers’, but her complaint was that the people we hired and trained didn’t become beat officers right away. But the point is that beat officers have to be more experienced officers. We used the new cops to back fill the older cops, who then became beat cops. The second judge got it; the first judge said “no”. If I had known that anyone would have interpreted it that way, I would have spelled it out more, but it just never occurred to me that the judge would think that we could immediately hire these people to be beat cops…and that’s basically what the law suit was…basically, she wanted us to keep more cops and to not do the violence prevention program in all of her negotiations. So her whole thing was that she really wants more cops. She doesn’t believe in the violence prevention program and she was pretty outspoken against it during the original campaign.”

What is your response to criticisms against you for not funding the police department enough?

    “You have to have both [police and prevention programs]…it’s that story about throwing the people into the river. You can pull them out, but maybe you should go up stream and figure out who’s throwing them in. We voted to balance the budget and what we voted was that we would balance budget if the cops paid their share of their pension. California has the most generous public safety pension in the country. For every dollar we pay an officer, and this is even through the other benefits, we put 37 cents away for their pension. So that means if you add the healthcare, we are pretty much putting 70 cents for every dollar for benefits on a police officer. And the police, because of that, they have gone from, 8 years ago, when I was first selected as councilmember, being about 62% of the budget to now being 75% of the budget. So what got squeezed out? Park programs, maintenance programs, libraries, senior programs. And so the question is, when the police are already 48% of the budget, am I now going to lay off even more park and rec. directors? You got to sort of think, “if I close all the parks in town, am I going to have less or more crime?” I think I’m going to have more crime. If I close the libraries, am I going to have less or more crime? So it has to be fair and it has to be balanced. Pretty much, police departments throughout the bay area have negotiated paying the 9% of the 37 cents. Again, that’s only a quarter, less than a quarter, of the total cost of pensions. Had they agreed to pay that 9%, we would not have laid off any officers. But they refused to do that. And I was frankly a little surprised. We all thought, because most of the police departments were coming around, and that Arnold Swarzenegger got the highway patrol to pay nine percent, San Francisco pays more than 9%, San Jose pays more than 9%, and so we were a little stunned that they wouldn’t even take it out to a vote to their members and just decided to force us to do the layoffs. And I think it is because they thought that then we would be the bad guys. And I think most people in Oakland now get it, that they don’t necessarily want to lose all their other services, as much as they want police. And they want the police to pay their fair share. One of the surveys we took in preparation for the last ballot measure actually showed that there was a significant percentage of people who wouldn’t vote for more police until they paid their pension.”

Why did you feel it was important to speak at Mills College?

    “Well first of all, there’s a saying in politics that “you dance with the ones who brung ya”, and I’m assuming that most of the girl students who voted here voted for Rebecca or me. And even if they voted for Rebecca first, I still got their votes as number 2, for the most part. And I got a lot of the Asian and black votes as number one because I did a lot of campaigning here on campus and a lot of the Mills students actually live in the community and I’m probably the only candidate that had a ground operation in every district…I had a campaign in every part of the city. And that’s why I got more number two votes because we were just out there. Also, I have a great deal of respect for Janet [President Holmgren] and for this institution as a girls’ college…girls’ education is very important. As the chair of the Chabot Space and Science Center, we’re one of the leading research facilities on how to teach girls science. For instance, a very simple thing about teaching girls science, we are actually more interested about what you can do with the science than the bells and whistles. So if you put a boy at the computer, they will want to stretch the limits of the computer, if you put a girl at a computer, she will want to do a news letter or something. It’s sort of how we see functions where women are better in group learning, they like group learning and support. And they also still do better with just girls in the class and that’s sort of interesting. I’m waiting to see if that figure will change someday.”

How do you plan on increasing transparency in the local Oakland government?

      “Well, we have done a couple of things. I don’t turn down invitations. I say yes to almost every news request…

I made a couple promises around transparency and good government:

One is that I agreed to take the same cut that the institution has taken over the last few years. So I cut the mayor’s salary by 25%.

We do a weekly e-newsletter that goes out, we just changed the deadline to Sunday because Friday’s were killing us…

We are going to do town hall meetings in every council district, we were trying to do it within the first 100 days but…we’re still talking about that.

And we’re looking at a way to do office hours. We used to, when we were a council district, do office hours in the Laurel, twice a week. And so we are thinking we might do some rotating office ours. So I’m doing a booth, for instance, in China town this weekend at the Lunar and New year’s fair, and that’s going to be sort of my office hours. It’s also a way to say “thank you” to the Chinese community. We think they were a big part of our margin of victory. And so we are thinking of doing a sort of “Lucy” sign, instead of saying “The doctor is in” it will say “the mayor is in”.

So we will show up to some farmers markets and some cafes around town to have more informal kinds of discussion, but that will be more after we get the budget done. I’ve really been working around the clock on the budget, trying to hire staff and getting briefed by each department…we are looking at reorganizing the way we do some things in order to save money. We had a joint meeting today with the school district and some interesting ideas came up from our staff about maybe we could share some software, might share some processes. So for instance, we all have local hiring requirements, so maybe we don’t need two departments each checking out the local hire qualifications, maybe we only need one and that we could share the information on our different vendors. So those are the kinds of things that are creative that would save money for both the school district and for us.”

Read the official article about Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s visit to Mills College.