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
UnderCurrents Column
Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper
September 12, 2003

For the longest, it’s been my belief that if Mayor Jerry Brown were more like Bill Clinton, Oakland would have a better record of downtown development. But maybe not the way you’re thinking.

When Brown was running for Mayor in 1998, and during his re-election campaign last year, he promised that downtown development was one of his three top priorities (if you’ve got a good memory, you’ll recall that the other two were education and crime, both of which are probably touchy subjects with the Mayor these days, what with the state takeover of the Oakland Public Schools, problems with both his charter schools, and two years of soaring murder rates…so that brings us back to downtown development).

Anyways, while downtown development hasn’t been a total disaster under Jerry Brown, the Mayor hasn’t racked up a bundle of successes, either, in five years at the helm. The one new development that absolutely, positively would not have come to downtown Oakland if Jerry Brown had not been Mayor, and that’s the Gap store on Broadway. The reason we can say that the Gap probably wouldn’t have come to downtown Oakland without Brown is that his girlfriend, Anne Gust, is a Gap executive.

Mind you, I absolutely do not see anything either illegal, unethical, or improper about this type of arrangement, having the Mayor’s girlfriend help out in development. In fact, I would like to encourage it, if I could. The problem is that unlike Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown appears to be a one-girlfriend kind of guy. Admirable quality, yes, but it sort of stunts Oakland’s progress, don’t you think?, because more mayoral girlfriends might mean more businesses coming into town. For a while I was thinking about getting local residents to sponsor a dating service for the Mayor, just to get him started in the right direction, but a better idea has recently intervened.

Last spring, the Mayor left his Jack London neighborhood-area loft and moved in with Gust at her place in the converted Sears building at Telegraph and 26th Street, in a community commonly known as Koreatown. If you know anything about the neighborhood, it’s one of the rougher major street areas of the city after dark, with open air drug dealing, and more than it’s share of auto break-ins, fighting, and other assorted bad stuff. No surprise to anyone who drives through the area on a late summer evening, but, then, maybe, north on Telegraph was not one of the directions that the Mayor liked to drive on late summer evenings. We can make that assertion because fighting crime and blight and generally improving the Koreatown community was not known as one of Mayor Brown’s priorities…not, at least, until he moved into the neighborhood.

Now, of course, it is.

"Since moving … into the … Sears Building," the Tribune reported last month, the Mayor "has been prowling the neighborhood…. When he doesn't like what he sees, he picks up the phone and gives bureaucrats an earful until something gets done. So far, the mayor has helped get two buildings condemned, talked the housing authority into canceling its Section 8 contracts with one building owner, increased police patrols and helped the owner of a bar he frequents obtain a permit for karaoke."

In explaining if the police and other city officials are giving the Koreatown neighborhood special attention because it is, after all, the Mayor’s new neighborhood, the Tribune quoted a police representative as saying, "I can't say we are acting differently than we are in any other neighborhood, but when the Mayor shows up, people tend to pay attention."

This has caused some grumbling from other neighborhoods about preferential treatment, but it is my belief that rather than whining and complaining, Oaklanders ought to recognize the potential in this situation and capitalize. If the Mayor is more likely to be concerned about crime and blight and development in a neighborhood in which he lives, and if police and other city officials are more likely to respond to complaints and suggestions from the Mayor than they are to complaints and suggestions from ordinary citizens, then the solution is obvious…concerned Oakland residents must induce the Mayor to move into their neighborhoods, if only for a brief moment.

I propose, therefore, that the City of Oakland set up an Rent-The-Mayor program, in which, for a nominal fee and the providing of a vacant room, apartment, house, or even a spare church pew, neighborhoods can obtain the services of the Mayor for periods of a week up to a month. During that period, it will be the Mayor’s responsibility to roam the local streets on foot, reporting blight and crime whenever he sees it and clearing red tape for frustrated citizens and business owners. Police and other city officials will quickly respond, criminals will be rousted, trashed cleaned, permits granted, the Mayor can move on to the next neighborhood, and within a period of a couple of years, we can turn this city around.

If Tom Bates can sleep for a night on the Berkeley streets, surely Jerry Brown can sleep in Dogtown and the Twomps.