What’s Up in Oakland? – Mayor Libby Schaaf
As part of the Club’s ongoing effort to highlight surrounding cities by hosting elected officials and other key community and business leaders, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf spoke to the Club about what has been happening in Oakland both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic as well at outlining the post-pandemic future for the City of Oakland.
Mayor Schaaf is an Oakland native whose has an undergraduate degree in political science as well as a law degree.  She worked as an attorney in Oakland before working for the Marcus Foster Educational Institute that works with the Oakland Unified School District to promote the ideals of Marcus Foster.  Mayor Schaaf later worked as a legislative aide to the Oakland City Council, a Special Assistant to Mayor Jerry Brown, Public Affairs Officer for the Port of Oakland, and an advisor to the City of Oakland.  Since she has two teenagers at home, Mayor Schaaf is aware of the challenges for schools created by the pandemic.
Mayor Schaaf began her presentation by noting that the City of Oakland entered 2020 in a strong position due to
  • All time low unemployment rate;
  • Businesses moving to Oakland (e.g., Blue Shield, P.G.&E.)
  • A building boom (16,000 housing units with a 2x increase in affordable housing); and
  • A booming downtown.
The Mayor acknowledged that Oakland does have problems (e.g., road conditions, gun violence, homelessness), but has been working to turn things around.  Everything changed in March when Governor Newsome called Mayor Schaaf asking the City to allow the Grand Princess cruise to dock at the Port of Oakland due to the Covid-19 outbreak.  She pointed to three successful efforts during the pandemic:
  • #Oakland Undivided to provide students with computers (owned, not loaned) and Internet connections made possible with a $10M donation by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (see below for more information);
  • The speed with the bureaucracy of the City adapted; and
  • Governor Newsome’s efforts to secure funding from FEMA to house 2,000 residents in hotels and funding to secure permanent housing for 800 residents.
Mayor Schaaf discussed the need for a regional approach to the challenges Oakland faces.  She pointed to the impact of Silicon Valley has had on housing
  • For every 11 jobs created, only 1 unit of housing has been created;
  • Since 2011, apartment rents have increased 72%, but income has remained flat; and
  • Construction cost have increased 119% in the past 10 years.  It now takes 7x the median income to purchase a home.
During her presentation, Mayor Schaaf highlighted many programs that the city has implemented to enhance conditions in Oakland.  These program with links to more detailed descriptions of the programs included the following:
  • Oakland Flex Streets that waives all fees and streamlines permitting for business’ use of public rights-of-way, including sidewalks and parking lanes, aligned with Alameda County’s Shelter-in-Place Order, to allow for dining and other merchant activities.
  • The Great Pave that uses Oakland's Infrastructure Bond (Measure KK) and guaranteed gas tax revenues (Senate Bill 1) to increase paving on neighborhood streets while keeping major streets in good condition. The three-year plan uses $100M, triple the City’s average spending for paving, to incorporate equity, street condition, and safety to prioritize repaving on more than 130 miles of streets.
  • Keep Oakland Housed is a coordinated strategy and partnership to help Oakland residents at risk of losing their homes, providing a three-prong emergency response approach for residents: legal representation, financial assistance, and supportive services to help the help them remain in their homes.
  • #OaklandUndivided campaign is a program to ensure every Oakland public school student has 3 things: a computer; internet connection; and technology support in their home. The #OaklandUndivided campaign supports students in need to make this vision a reality.  To date the effort has raised $13M to provide 25,000 laptops and internet connections to Oakland families.
  • Oakland Slow Streets was launched in April 2020 as part of the City’s Covid-19 response to support safe physical activity and alleviate overcrowding in parks and on trails by discouraging through traffic on certain local streets.  The program was rolled out over a period of three months. “Soft closure” barriers were installed to support the use of over 21 street miles throughout the city for physically distant walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging, and biking. 
  • For additional information regarding what is happening in the City of Oakland, watch Mayor Schaaf’s State of the City address of October 6, 2020.
Mayor Schaaf allowed time for Q&A and touched on a variety of subjects (e.g., athletic teams, the Port of Oakland, the Coliseum, AB 71 – Corporate Tax rate, the Federal government’s response to cities) and concluded on a hopeful note for 2021.
Watch Mayor Libby Schaaf’s entire presentation here.