City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza. Credit: Pete Rosos

The City Council is back from its holiday break and holding the first meeting of the year today. The meeting begins at 1 p.m. and you can view the full agenda here. Here are some of the items before the council. 

Ghost guns: Like other major U.S. cities, Oakland is seeing a rising number of “ghost guns”—firearms that can be assembled in people’s homes from kits purchased online. Oakland police officials said 35% of the approximately 1,100 guns seized last year were untraceable firearms. A state law taking effect on July 1 strengthened ghost gun regulations but does not require vendors to sell parts with serial numbers. Instead, it relies on purchasers to apply for and affix serial numbers themselves. While acknowledging it won’t stop the flow of all guns into Oakland—there are no licensed dealers in the city—some councilmembers said the city should act to send a message to other jurisdictions and Sacramento. An ordinance before the council would prohibit possession, sale, transferring, and manufacturing of ghost guns in Oakland. 

New tech to fight illegal dumping: The city estimates it will spend $12 million this fiscal year to clean up illegal dumping. Public works crews removed 7,470 tons of debris last year alone. Since 2016, the city has had four camera systems set up in chronic dumping areas in West and East Oakland, and now wants to expand the system with newer cameras—10 total units— to gather better evidence against people dumping items on streets. The new technology was vetted by the city’s Privacy Advisory Commission to ensure the vendor follows the Surveillance Technology Ordinance, which bans any surveillance camera with facial recognition technology. 

Business tax talk: The council will hear a report on current business tax rates and the city’s Blue Ribbon Equitable Business Tax Task Force’s recommendations on increasing the rates, which are a significant source of city revenue. A ballot measure that would have created a progressive business tax was put on hold in 2020 by the council, which instead set up the blue ribbon task force to study the issue.

Police PR cut: The Oakland Police Department currently has a public relations team consisting of two sworn police officers and a strategic communications manager. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wants to reduce OPD’s PIO unit by about $493,000 and reallocate the money toward police patrols of East Oakland, where a large percentage of the city’s total shootings and homicides have occurred this year. If approved, the PR unit would be cut from three employees to one. The city spends $247,694 for one of the two sworn police officer PIOs and $245,795 for a strategic communications manager, which is a civilian position, according to Kaplan’s memo to council. Note: This item was on the Dec. 21 agenda but was rescheduled because of time constraints.

More vaccination sites? Beginning on Feb. 1, showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to enter restaurants, gyms, bars, concert venues, senior centers and other establishments. The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance last month with the condition that city administration would pursue opening more public vaccination sites, free of charge. City Administrator Ed Reiskin is expected to update the council on this request by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.