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
January 31, 2001

For the last couple of weeks, with the dreaded rolling blackouts stalking the Bay Area hills like Smaug the Dragon, local municipal officials have been scrambling to come up with solutions. While Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean introduced a resolution to establish a Berkeley Power Authority to purchase cheap electricity for city consumers, the Berkeley City Council was exploring a full-fledged Municipal Utility District that could take over the functions of PG&E. In San Francisco, City Supervisors were putting a public power takeover on the ballot, the City Attorney was suing 13 energy generators for price-gouging, and Mayor Willie Brown was working on a plan for California’s big cities to take over existing power plants and sell electricity themselves.

Meantime, what is the Mayor of Oakland doing? He was in the newspaper, giving advice to President Bush as to how the President might solve the energy crisis in California. Which is a little strange because, after all, Jerry Brown is not the President of the United States nor the Governor of California or a U.S. Senator but is, as we said, the Mayor of Oakland.

But as related by journalist Frances Dinkelspiel in this month’s Diablo Magazine interview of Jerry Brown, "[t]he triumph of Brown’s 1998 strong-mayor initiative means that he is largely removed from the mundane machinations of city politics and can instead just think big and bold about the city’s future." Substitute "his" where you see "the city’s" and I quite agree.

We learn other things from the Diablo interview. The Mayor has been down to Southern California to "talk to" the Restaurant Association, and to Pebble Beach to "talk to" the oil industry. I know he’s been up to Sacramento "talking to" the Sacramento press corps, and he’s been on the Fox News Network, "talking about" the recent Presidential race. I don’t begrudge the Mayor going around "talking to" all these important folks; I would just hope that if the subject of these "talks" has anything to do with the City of Oakland, the Mayor takes out a little time to "talk to" us to let us know what he’s been doing. It’s on our dime.

He’s trying to work on his communication with his constituents, though. He’s taken to posting his weekly schedule on his webpage on oakland.net, after a blackout of several months when we didn’t know where he was. And a few weeks ago, the Mayor stopped by one of Jane Brunner’s town hall meetings talk to a standing room only crowd of 400 about affordable housing in the city. The meeting had to be cut short, however, because, as Councilmember Brunner said, the Raiders were playing Miami that day, and it was "very important" for the Mayor to be out at the Coliseum. Didn’t know that the Mayor’s presence at Raider games was so necessary, but if so, he should at least suit up. They could have used some extra blocking on Ray Lewis when they played Baltimore.

Of course, with all this running around he’s doing, Brown seems to be having a little trouble keeping up with the different things he’s saying to different people. In the Diablo interview, he said, "What I have to say is not a collection of clichés. They are interesting ideas. Ten thousand people downtown. … That’s a pretty clear image, with a certain thrust to it." At the Brunner meeting, however, when angry citizens attacked 10K as a way to push out moderate and low-income residents, Brown dismissed the 10K proposal as just a product of his own "rhetoric." But I’m sure that he’ll tie those sort of loose ends up as he goes along.

Meanwhile, on the days that the Mayor is not going to be actual using his position as Mayor to work on city business, I’m wondering if he might just let us borrow the office ourselves. There’s still a lot of stuff we need to get done around here.