A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
September 5, 2001

Gene Hazzard, slipped a document under our office door the other day. Gene Hazzard is always slipping documents under office doors. Or putting them in the mail. Or going back out to his car to get a handful. Or filing them in court. Every town of any size has a person or two who spends their days turning over rocks with their toes, just for the sake of pointing out the nasty, squiggly things hidden underneath. That’s what Gene Hazzard does in Oakland.

The particular pebble under Gene Hazzard’s shoe these days is Mayor Jerry Brown’s three appointees to the Oakland School Board …or, rather, the 2000 ballot measure that allowed the Mayor to make the appointments. Hazzard’s argument—made in a Superior Court lawsuit against the Mayor and the City Council—is that state law determines the way school boards are set up, and cities don’t have the legal power to change that, even through a vote of the citizens.

I’d like to hear more about it, but that hasn’t happened in court so far. Twice, judges have thrown out Hazzard’s lawsuit before it ever got to trial. It’s now up before the Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Maybe the judge’s rulings are right. But if we’re not going to discuss Jerry Brown’s Oakland in the context of a court trial—where witnesses can be called and the facts laid out for everybody to see—then where and when should such a discussion take place?

We’re beginning to make out the pattern of the Brown Administration, in which we’re being asked to make more and more changes to the essence of Oakland with less and less chance to discuss the ramifications. In the beginning, with the Strong Mayor and School Board Appointment measures, the Mayor made the initiatives in his own name, and personally came out to make the case. That pattern began to alter with the fight over the arts and military academies. While Brown made the initial proposals, he decided not to appear before the School Board, letting representatives from the City Manager’s office do the heavy lifting.

The Brown Administration is beginning to sound like that husband who gets up in the morning and says, "I can’t talk about that now, dear, I’m late to work. Maybe when I get home." And when he gets home he says, "Geez, I just got in the door, honey. Can’t this wait until I get settled?" And after a good meal and a couple of hours in front of the television he yawns and says, "Look, it’s been a long day. But we’ll talk about it this weekend. I promise." Except the Mayor doesn’t even promise to talk. He acts as if he doesn’t have to.

Bringing casino gambling to the old Army Base and lessening the environmental impact oversight of downtown development are both being promoted with little public input. If either of these came to pass, they would radically alter the Oakland landscape. It’s hard to decide whether that would be for the better or the worse, however, since there’s been no Oakland forum set up where Oakland residents can hear and discuss the pros and cons of the proposals. And who, exactly, is behind the City Manager’s drive to build a downtown baseball stadium? Both City Council and the Mayor’s office act like they have nothing to do with it. Mr. Bobb is moving forward with this plan as if it’s on his own initiative, but that was all supposed to have gone out when Oakland’s Council-Manager form of government ended. When we passed the Strong Mayor measure we thought voted for greater government accountability. If anything, it appears that we have less.

And so we have folks like Gene Hazzard, pushing documents under our door. Bless him, and those like him. It’s not a matter of agreeing with everything Mr. Hazzard says and does. I don’t. But it’s just to say that if somebody doesn’t turn over the rocks, those nasty, squiggly things underneath are only going to multiply. They always do, away from the light of day.