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
May 30, 2001

An EBMUD [East Bay Municipal Utilities District] official was on Soulbeat television the other day, standing out on 73rd Avenue, imploring adults to keep Oakland kids from turning on fire hydrants during these overheated summer days. The official later told a Trib reporter that the kids didn’t need the hydrants because they had city swimming pools to cool off in.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the closest public swimming pool to 73rd Avenue used to be the one at Castlemont High, which was filled with concrete following the Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1996, Oakland voters passed a bond measure to build a new pool in East Oakland, but five years later, no pool has yet been built.

And God forbid that you try to call the City to find the next closest swimming pool to send your kid. Think you might just look under the Parks & Recreation Department on the City’s website…www.oaklandnet.com? Nope. If Parks & Rec is on the city website there is no easy way to find it, since the department is not listed by name in the links, nor does there appear to be any directory of city agencies that includes telephone numbers and functions.

I tried calling the City Manager’s office…just to get the phone number of the city agency that might tell me where the city swimming pools are located…but after getting transferred to three separate offices, I finally gave up when I was connected to one that dealt with senior citizen services. They couldn’t understand why I had been transferred there. Neither could I.

But that’s another story. The real point is, it may not matter if you can find the name of your nearest city-operated swimming pool, since it may not be open until late in the summer, anyway. And maybe not many of the other city-operated summer recreation programs, either. Because Parks & Rec has already overspent its budget for the fiscal year, the City may not be able to hire seasonal staffers to run summer recreation programs until after July 1st. And given the city’s legendary bureaucratic delays, summer staff members might not actually get out to the pools and rec centers until substantially later.

So how did Parks & Rec run out of money two months before the end of the fiscal year? UC Professor and San Francisco 49ers consultant Harry Edwards, who also runs Oakland’s Parks & Rec Department on the side, blames it on local recreation center managers who spent the year hiring part-time janitors and gardeners without his approval.

This is a little like a guy running his car into a telephone pole, and when you ask him how it happened, he says only "there was a problem with the accelerator." What he fails to mention is that little minor fact about his own foot being on the gas pedal. Edwards is ultimately in charge. That’s what we pay him for.

A lot of Oakland folks thought it was a mistake for the Brown administration to hire Edwards for the Parks & Rec job last year, considering that Edwards listed no experience in running a public program the size of Oakland’s, no experience in fiscal management, no background in working in public recreation programs, and indicated he had no plans to quit his UC and 49er jobs while he worked for Oakland. Maybe those shortcomings had nothing to do with the present summer crisis. But it’s hard to believe that someone with experience in running public recreation programs…or running any large public agency…wouldn’t have discovered this situation sooner and prevented it from getting out of hand. If there’s a part-time problem at Parks & Rec, folks, it’s not with the gardeners.

Edwards has blocked a mostly-white non-profit organization from operating the city’s new Jack London Acquatic Center, reportedly over his concerns that the non-profit organization might not provide enough activities for inner city kids. One wonders how many inner city kids will miss any organized summer activities because of Park & Rec’s budget crisis. Lawdy.