Measure RR is one of four local measures on the Oakland ballot this year. If approved, the city would be free to set new fine limits for code violations like illegal dumping. In the following video discussion and transcript, Oaklandside reporter Ricky Rodas and Oakland Voices correspondent Katharine Davies Samway get into the details.

YouTube video

Video filmed and edited by Lauren Richardson

Katharine Davies Samway: Hello, my name is Katharine Davies Samway and I’m a correspondent with Oakland Voices.

Ricky Rodas: And I’m Ricky Rodas, a reporter with the Oaklandside.

KDS: Today we’ll be discussing Measure RR—one of four Oakland measures on this year’s ballot.

Ricky, what would this Measure do if it passes?

RR: It would eliminate the city’s $1,000 limit on fines for code violations—a limit that was established in 1968.

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KDS: And if it passes, the City Council would be free to increase fine amounts—for the first time in over 50 years, right?

RR: That’s right. And although Measure RR could lead to higher fines for any city code violation, it’s mainly an attempt to address health and safety violations like blighted properties, and illegal dumping.

KDS: Ricky, you spoke to Dan Kalb, the councilmember who authored the measure. What did he tell you?

RR: Well Katharine, he basically told me that the reason why people violate these types of city laws in Oakland is because there’s no threat of being seriously fined. He said higher fines are needed to deter bad behavior and hold people accountable.

KDS: You know, I tried reaching out several times to the city’s Code Enforcement Department to find out who the worst offenders are, but they wouldn’t speak to me.

RR: That may be related to what happened in 2018. Some code enforcement officers were found guilty of crimes, including bribery, and one of the main inspectors was fired. Maybe that’s why it’s been so hard to get answers.

KDS: That could be. However, I did get a list of the most frequent citizen complaints to the Code Enforcement Department over the last 12 months—there were over 5,000, and most of them were for blight and housing code violations. We also know that the city received over 25,000 illegal dumping service requests in the 2016-2017 fiscal year alone.

RR: That’s a lot of requests. Where are most of these code violations occurring?

KDS: The vast majority of those illegal dumping sites were in Oakland’s flatland neighborhoods, below Interstate 580.

RR: Have you spoken to anyone who opposes the measure?

KDS: There isn’t much public opposition — but I spoke with Marcus Crawley, an Oakland resident and the president of the Alameda Taxpayer Association. He thinks it’s just an effort to raise money for the general fund, and lacks accountability. 

Ricky, have you spoken to any residents that support the measure?

RR: I did. I spoke with Kim Lucas, who lives in Oakland’s Golden Gate Neighborhood. She told me that she and her neighbors have tried to get the city to crack down on a business in the neighborhood that’s been operating noisy big-rig trucks at night and disturbing residents for years. According to Lucas, the business just keeps paying the fines and getting away with it.

KDS: Measure RR is definitely one of the more complicated items on the ballot—but hopefully we’ve made it a little clearer to Oakland voters before you head to the polls.

RR: Hopefully. Thanks Katharine.

Katharine Davies Samway is a freelance reporter and correspondent with Oakland Voices. For many years, she was a professor of education at San José State University, where she focused on English learners, including immigrants, and literacy development. Since retiring, she has been able to spend more time writing, which she finds particularly enjoyable and satisfying.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

Lauren Janelle Richardson, an East Oakland resident & founder of BypassTV, is a multi-tiered media producer that specializes in capturing stories through video, photography, journalism and audio productions. She also is a legal apprentice.