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Politics

Oakland City Council Gets 3 New Members

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Oakland City Hall. (CBS)

Oakland City Hall. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Oakland City Council will get a brand new look on Monday when three members are sworn into office.

The City Council has been plagued by bickering and its membership hadn’t changed much for many years until the three new members – two of whom have never held elective office before – were elected in November.

Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who has only been on the council for two years herself, said, “I’m excited. They’re all thoughtful and bring a variety of experiences to the council.”

Schaaf said half of the council’s eight members will still be in their first term.

“It’s a new start and a good match because so much of the city’s administration also is new,” Schaaf said. “We’re seeing a lot of fruitful ideas percolating up.”

Noel Gallo, who has been on the Oakland school board for 20 years and is the one newcomer with elective experience, said, “I’m enthusiastic and my heart’s in it. I want to make Oakland a better place to live and do business in, although there are some challenges ahead of us.”

Although council members have had difficulty in getting along with each other in recent years, Gallo, who is replacing veteran Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente in representing District 5, which includes the largely Hispanic Fruitvale district, said, “I’m excited about being part of a team.”

Dan Kalb, an environmental advocate who is succeeding long-time Councilwoman Jane Brunner in District 1 in North Oakland, said, “I will do my best to work with the others on the council because you can’t do much on your own. I will be offering some new ideas and new ordinances.”

Kalb said, “The public is hoping that with three new council members there will be a shift in the ability to work together and solve the city’s problems.”

Lynette Gibson McElhaney, a nonprofit housing developer and affordable housing advocate who is replacing another council veteran, Nancy Nadel, in District 3 in West Oakland, said having three new members “gives the council an opportunity to reset.”

McElhaney said, “Some of the council members who are leaving had become acrimonious with each other over the years.”

She said, “Everyone is pretty optimistic even though Oakland still has enormous challenges.”

Although Kalb’s background is as an environmental advocate and a progressive political reformer, he agrees with Gallo and Gibson McElhaney that public safety should be one of the council’s top priorities.

“There’s been an increase in crime almost everywhere in the city and people feel less safe,” Kalb said.

Kalb is speaking from personal experience because he was mugged outside of his home in Oakland’s Temescal district in October by an armed robber.

Gallo said, “Our fundamental responsibility is to provide for the safety and security of our people. If we do that, other quality of life issues will come along.”

Gallo, along with De La Fuente, wants the council to endorse aggressive crime-fighting tactics such as gang injunctions and curfews for youths.

Kalb said he will focus on trying to hire more sworn officers, crime lab technicians and other civilian employees for the understaffed Oakland Police Department.

Kalb said the department should focus on what he described as the “relatively small number of people who commit most of the crimes.”

He said, “We know the target population and we should spend money to shift them to a more productive pathway and reduce recidivism.”

McElhaney said Oakland is “a city in deep grief” because of the 131 homicides it had last year, the most it’s had in five years. The Police Department said the official total was 126 homicides because five homicides were ruled to be justifiable.

McElhaney said, “We need to bring down the number of homicides because it’s a pox on our house and it has my heart bleeding.”

Kalb said one of his other top priorities is making Oakland a nationally-recognized hub for clean energy and green technology.

Kalb said city leaders have talked a lot in recent years about clean technology but “no one is working on it now.”

He said, “We need to show leadership and be proactive and have a marketing strategy.”

Gallo said that in addition to public safety he will work on fighting illegal dumping, graffiti and blight.

“I want to have a clean city and clean neighborhoods,” he said.

Gallo also said Oakland needs a coherent strategy for important issues such as public safety and economic development.

Gallo, who served with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan on the school board for many years, said, “If you ask the mayor what the strategy is she can’t tell you.”

McElhaney said that in addition to fighting crime, she wants to focus on improving educational opportunities for youths and adults and “create ways for people to do well.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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