Rockridge Soundwalls

Approval process: Fallout

On July 25, 2013, the Oakland City Council "voted 6-0, with two abstentions, to reprimand themselves for years of bossing around City staffers in violation of Oakland's City Charter" (The Montclarion, August 2, 2013, "Council won't censure Brooks"). In the aftermath of this, Oakland District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb has formed the "Ethics and Good Government Working Group". This was done in response to a letter dated September 3, 2013 from the Chairman of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC), Lloyd Farnham, to the City Council. In that letter, Mr. Farnham pointed out that the PEC has no authority to enforce ethics laws and that Oakland has no local ethics ordinance. The purpose of Councilmember Kalb's Working Group is "researching best practices in comparative law and needed reforms regarding the structure and powers of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC) and the laws under its regulatory purview." Further, his Group will "develop legislative proposals" which will be "submitted to the PEC for open vetting" and then "scheduled for the standard review and deliberation by the City Council."

So, statutes with some teeth prohibiting City Councilmembers from illegally directing City staff are potentially in the works. It appears that an understanding has been reached by Councilmembers. Any prior bad behavior will be ignored; only future transgressions will be addressed. And since Councilmember Kalb is new and therefore untainted by the widespread bad behavior of the veterans on the Council, he is an acceptable choice to head this Working Group.

That left an inconvenient legacy: the soundwalls. Councilmember Brooks was roundly criticized over the alleged misuse of about $150,000 in City funds. The soundwall studies would cost $1.482 million and construction would entail another $5 million. It appears that City staff received direction from former District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner; and that the amount of money involved is potentially far greater than that for which Councilmember Brooks was criticized. Councilmember Kalb has not challenged the questionable soundwall study approval process that was influenced by his predecessor; and he has stood silently in the face of the City lying about the efficacy of the proposed soundwalls, thus allowing the approval process to be stacked further in favor of approval.

At the first meeting of the Ethics and Good Government Working Group, held on September 30, 2013 at Oakland City Hall, Councilmember Kalb said that the goal of the group is "not looking backward but looking forward to 2014". (For more details, see "New work group to probe city council's ethics, accountability".) It seems that looking backwards at the soundwall study approval process would stir up an issue - corruption - on which a compromise has already been reached. Statements from Victoria Eisen and Wlad Wlassowsky regarding the soundwall studies indicated that the City was essentially recommending that these studies not be approved. Yet, the City cynically let the "bent" (to use a British term) approval process continue, perhaps hoping that the studies would be defeated, which would let the City off the hook for all of its bad behavior.

The nine members of the Ethics and Good Government Working Group were introduced at that September 30 meeting. They include the current Chair of the RCPC Board, Zabrae Valentine. Apparently, RCPC's misuse of its publication, The Rockridge News, does not disqualify that organization from participating in the creation of the new ethical standards by which the City will operate. Nor does Councilmember Kalb's failure to insist that the City tell the truth to his constituents disqualify him from chairing this Group.