As we explained at the start of this series, we’ve invited nine of the 10 people running to be the next mayor of Oakland to sit down with us for in-depth interviews, asking them mostly the same questions, such as, how many police officers does the Oakland Police Department need? How would they help the City Council and the city administration work together better? How would they fix Oakland’s potholes? We developed these questions with help from hundreds of Oakland residents who answered our election survey this summer; thank you to everyone who weighed in.
Settle in for a long read; these conversations are weighty, befitting the office these candidates seek. They’ve been edited for length and clarity, with added fact-checking from us in some places. (And note that we made the decision not to interview candidate Peter Liu so as not to provide another platform for his dangerous and hateful rhetoric.)
This interview is with Seneca Scott, the founder of the nonprofit Neighbors Together Oakland, co-founder of the entertainment company Oakhella (which recently distanced itself from the candidate), and co-founder of Bottoms Up Community Garden. Scott was previously the East Bay director for SEIU Local 1021 and he ran for the District 3 City Council seat in 2020, finishing fourth in a field of six contenders. —Tasneem Raja, editor-in-chief, The Oaklandside
In recent years there have been several examples of tension between the City Council and city administrator. Often the City Council doesn’t feel like the city administrator is enacting the policies and laws they’ve approved. On the other hand, the city administration’s staff often feels like the City Council is overstepping or loading up their plate with too much work. If you were elected mayor, how would you repair this relationship?
I don’t want to make too many assumptions about why people think there is an adversarial relationship. We need to set things up so we can have healthy communications between these departments.
Here’s the big issue in Oakland’s city structure—and it’s been this way since 1998 with the passing of Measure X, which created a hybrid system of government where the mayor has the power to hire the [city administrator] while the city council maintains power to pass legislation and ultimately the budget. So right in there, there’s no political delineation of power because if the mayor has an agenda and that agenda is opposed by the majority of the City Council, then they can thwart the mayor’s agenda.
Ultimately we elect a figurehead as the mayor, and the mayor that we elect needs to have the accountability to implement the policies that they’re elected on without being usurped by the council’s legislative power. I’m the only candidate pushing aggressively for a charter amendment for an accountable Oakland.
You want an even stronger mayor?
I like to use the word ‘accountable’ mayor. ‘Strong’ doesn’t appear in any legislative charter. That’s all marketing. That’s all framing. This isn’t about strong or not strong. It’s about whether the mayor has the accountability and ability to implement the policies they were elected on. And right now, unless those policies are supported by a majority of the City Council, the answer is no.
Every other major city in California doesn’t deal with that. San Francisco doesn’t deal with that. Los Angeles doesn’t deal with that. Long Beach doesn’t deal with that. And I can go on. It’s all in the SPUR report that was released in November of last year.
I think that would remove a great deal of confusion and a lack of accountability that’s not just cultural but systemic because of that structure, which is terribly confusing and unique to Oakland. I don’t think it’s served us well.
Regarding the last budget written by the mayor and approved by the City Council with amendments, was there anything in that budget that you objected to or would have cut? And was there anything left out of that budget that you feel should have been included?
What I felt was left out was accountability. Check the latest city audit that shows $69 million was spent on housing people, and [the city didn’t] track any of that. This is doubled up on the last audit that also showed abysmal failure in that department, no accountability, no work plan, no structure, and nothing that would fly in any other organization but the city of Oakland.
We need an independent office of the controller and we need an economist to help us prioritize our budget, to figure out what we’re going to do about our unfunded liabilities, considering 20% of Oakland’s budget comes from COVID relief funds and we were bailed out essentially from those. But the problems are back.
I negotiated contracts with the city of Oakland and every city in the East Bay during 2012, which is the last time we changed our pension plan with the PEPRA change. It essentially created a two-tier workforce. Those were incredibly complex negotiations. We’re going to have to do that again. Right, we’re going to have to have further pension reform. We’re going to have to deal with issues of major lawsuits on the horizon that can impact the city’s budget and ability to do business. So those are the things I’m focused on.
I’ll speak specifically to the police. This was obviously a struggle: did they defund, did they not defund? And everyone’s seen the debate. But it’s obvious. The words were used. The city’s website itself says that the budget was cut. That’s the official Oakland.gov website.
So just to be clear, are you saying you feel like the police department financially hasn’t been supported enough, and you would provide more support?
Not just financially, it’s also a waste of time going back and forth talking about things like using license plate readers and [surveillance] cameras. I was part of discussions with councilperson Noel Gallo, who chairs the Public Works Committee, and we were after them, as part of my Neighbors Together nonprofit, as to why they weren’t using cameras, and he just kept pointing to the police commission’s advice. I said, “Can you just not take their advice and use them and do what’s right?” He said, “I guess.”
[Editor’s note: in February the City Council approved using surveillance cameras to catch illegal dumpers, but the program is limited to a few specific areas. OPD also already uses license plate reader cameras, although the Privacy Commission has expressed concerns about the department’s failure to hand over records showing how they’ve used this technology.]
But he didn’t do it until there was public will and pressure. We had to actually organize for that, which is what I’m trying to represent as a mayoral candidate: the interests of neighbors and local businesses. And that’s confusing sometimes because special interests—commercial real estate, or nonprofits, or the labor union—seem to dominate our political discussion, and the neighbors and the local businesses get left out.
We waste money in Oakland. Look at not just the audit but the Alameda County grand jury report for the city’s building department showing chronic underbilling and excessive overtime. It’s a combination of waste and corruption if you ask me. Any rock you turn over in Oakland, there’s missing money and a lack of accountability.
So, is a controller needed in addition to the existing auditor?
Yeah. We also need to sustain that department’s budget. The city auditor’s budget is like $3 or $4 million for a city with a $3 billion budget over two years. That’s not enough for them. That’s why they’re always so late to report. Courtney [Oakland’s current city auditor] is trying her best and her office is doing their best, and I have a lot of confidence in them, but they’re always 8 or 10 months too late.
Oakland is thousands of units short in meeting the region and state’s affordable housing goals, the so-called RHNA goals. Would expanding affordable housing in Oakland be a goal of yours? If so, what concrete steps would you take to do that? And how would market-rate development and or social housing fit into this plan?
We need to build, baby, build. All types of housing. Luxury. Market rate. Accessible. I don’t use “affordable” as many of you know because [that term has] been weaponized and politicized. [I use] accessible housing because what will a homeless person with a drug or mental health problem be able to afford? They need to access housing or shelter in a way that’s meaningful for them. We need to build.
And we need to stop playing games with the CEQA. It’s tantamount to union extortion at this point. I’ve seen the conversations. I’m on the Oakland Builders Alliance board. “You make it a union project, it [a CEQA objection] goes away.” What kind of crap is that? They should be ashamed of themselves. That’s not how that’s supposed to be used. Now it’s being weaponized against developers. And when it was being weaponized against Black developers in West Oakland, who were building affordable housing, until it blew up politically and they had to recuse themselves, all of a sudden, those CEQA violations went away. So we need to stop that.
[Editor’s note: The Oaklandside asked Scott for more information about what he views as examples of unions and the City Council using the California Environmental Quality Act to interfere with development projects. He referred us to this San Francisco Chronicle story as well as our own coverage of a project in West Oakland.]
We need to be able to build ADUs. We need a pre-approval process for people who are developing.
We need to implement Accela. Do you guys know what Accela is? Do I have to spend time explaining it?
Yeah, we’re familiar with it.
It’s been how many years and $5 million [spent by the city] and they still haven’t on-boarded fire or the department of transportation [data into Accela]. Like, come on, are you kidding me? We need to finish the job on that.
When it goes back to City Hall being closed and we’re not open for business and the derivative effects of that are now being seen as Oakland is closed for business on so many levels, including our ability for people to actually build any type of housing or ADUs in any efficient manner, that leads to the divestment of real estate.
Housing projects and socialized housing absolutely positively need to be on the books soon, considering we have the great unwashed 2.0 playing out before our very eyes. So we’re going to need to build on all levels. We’re going to need to be mindful not to waste opportunities.
You’re probably the most vocal candidate about your criticism of the city’s current approach to homelessness and encampments. Can you detail exactly what your alternative plan would look like?
We have people out there like the Urban Compassion Project who have already shown proof of concept in their ability to holistically abate camps and get the large majority of people to actually accept the services offered. If you take Soldier Field over there by the Lake Merritt Lodge, that’s a great example.
You need to actually have a 30-to-60-day approach. Recently it was made law that you need to give at least 30-days notice [to clean or close an encampment], thankfully, because it was inhumane to keep giving people short notice and then not following through like the MLK and Grand encampment, where they’ve told them every day for the last six months they’re going to evict them and it never actually happens. That does harm to both the housed who are expecting the problem to go away and the unhoused people who are in fear of eviction and losing their stuff every single month.
So this is how it needs to work. In phase one, we send the Urban Compassion Project and other light-hearted organizations that aren’t going to waste money and know how to account for it, who have a work plan and accountability structures with the city with the money we’re paying them. Phase one is clean it up and start working with local neighbors and businesses, and the unhoused. We’ve shown that. We’ve had public engagements with the unhoused community, the activist community, shelters, and developers who were all on the same platform. I don’t think I’ve gotten nearly enough credit for that. That’s the approach. You need to go there and talk to people, clean up the trash, just the trash, not the belongings.
In phase two, it’s, “Ok, we’re gonna abate this encampment in 60 days.” Here are the services we will be offering, and we will go to each person to figure out what you need so we can get you help or whatever you want. And if housing is not something that you want, you just should know you’re not going to be here in 60 days. This is an illegal encampment under the Encampment Management Policy.
So what do you do in that case if someone doesn’t want the services?
Care Court may change that. The new Care Court law now says that if someone doesn’t want the services but they’ve proven to be a danger to themselves or others, they may not have a choice.
[Editor’s note: the Care Court could compel people with untreated and severe mental illnesses into housing and treatment.]
For people who can helpfully make a choice, there are many options. One of my best friends has had untraditional housing on the street since I’ve known him. They live the lifestyle they want to live. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re being a good neighbor.
The issue is, are you a good neighbor, or are you not? Everyone has a personal responsibility to be a good neighbor, housed or unhoused. The fact that we’ve given people passes on that is not only contemptuous of the unhoused but also the housed. We need to follow that encampment policy. It was a unanimous vote from City Council.
[Regarding the Wood Street homeless camp] if the activists were smart, they’d use the Encampment Management Policy to say, ‘Hey, [the city] told us to come here. It’s [the city’s] job to provide services that are not arbitrary and capricious. It’s your job to stop the illegal dumpers, drug dealers, and sex traffickers from preying on us. That’s not our job.”
So we need to be honest. This is just not an honest conversation [happening currently] about the nuances of homelessness, about the new face of homelessness, [the] 24% growth during an eviction moratorium [from 2019 to 2022], that suggests that now you’re importing people. And the face of the people who we’re importing is white males on average. No one wants to do a study on this and I don’t have any numbers to back it up, but I can show you lots of pictures, lots of videos, and my own personal experiences that you guys have reported on that I can speak of were white males.
We want to ask about some statements you’ve made online, including some that appear to be misinformation. After a fire on Wood Street, you tweeted that you were told the FBI had discovered 10 dead bodies in cars at the camp, a number that law enforcement has discredited. [Scott subsequently deleted the tweet.] The other day you also connected the first fire on 35th Avenue to homeless camps within minutes of the fire. But to this day the fire department has not determined a cause, and in fact, the second fire was arson unrelated to homeless camps.
As mayor, you’d be a trusted source of information for the city. How do you square some of the statements you’ve put out there with that responsibility?
I would say, has anyone reported the frequency of dead bodies found in homeless encampments when they abate them? Because it’s a very common occurrence.
Reporters asked the FBI and the police department…
That’s what I got from a beat cop. So if I didn’t get it from an LEO [law enforcement officer], I wouldn’t have passed it forward.
An Oakland police officer told you that?
As far as the homeless camps, the neighbors themselves have said that on record. The people who live there, you look at the Google [street] views, there’s absolutely encampments there. There are encampments at every single one of those areas. We have three fires a day in homeless encampments. Are we kidding ourselves now? It’s like we’re gaslighting. Three fires a day in homeless encampments. We’ve had that average for two years. And this is what we’re talking about? We don’t report on that, though.
I was interviewed for a report by KTVU with investigative reporter Brooks Jarosz. If you go back to that report, the footage of people shooting up vehicles with assault rifles and setting them on fire, my neighbors sent me that. The amount of footage and stuff I get from neighbors would shock you.
We’re going to move on to questions about the economy. One of the biggest challenges business owners say they are dealing with is the rising cost of goods due to global supply chain issues. Have you thought about any local solutions to remedying this national problem?
Is that an alley-oop for me? Yes, I’m the only person with an outside-the-box plan for addressing these issues, at least when it comes to our food supply constraints, which not only affect local restaurants but our children, who have shown an inability to access healthy and nutritious food in Oakland due to food deserts and the lack of nutritious food provided to schools.
I want to have a department of agriculture. We have hundreds of tax-abated properties in Oakland. I’ve been working with Hank Levy [Alameda County’s Treasurer] to identify some of them and think creatively with other nonprofits about agricultural solutions to create localized agriculture and soil-based economies in those areas. Oakland has the benefit of having both a port, a perfect Mediterranean climate, and a year-round growing season. We could not only reclaim lots of properties that aren’t being used or are being dumped on, but we could also provide a sense of pride and meaningfulness to the community, jobs, and nutritious food.
We have a proof of concept if you look at City Slickers and Bottoms Up Community Garden [which Scott co-founded] and the other few places that are up and running. They do take a lot of food waste for composting, being zero waste and taking that food waste and feeding livestock and growing nutritious healthy food, which is being taken around either by bikes or zero-emission vehicles and reducing the carbon footprint and the waste. When you talk about waste, 40-50% of our food ends up in there. That’s not just wasted food, it’s wasted energy used to produce that food and ship that food and wasted fertilizer that’s often petroleum-based.
I believe that we need to build a parallel system that’s localized and decentralized at the same time that our current system’s economy is decaying. We’re going to have to figure out how to be resilient as a community in how we utilize our port, which I believe is another underutilized asset, to help enrich all of Oakland, to figure out what we can start to produce here.
Residents have noted the lack of large grocery stores with fresh produce in Oakland, particularly in West and East Oakland. How will you work with those areas’ councilmembers to create more grocery stores with better, healthier options?
We lost one in West Oakland. It was due to a lack of traffic-calming measures as well as a lack of community support because we had options in Emeryville. And there are some other reasons too that I believe are speculative that I won’t mention. We didn’t support it as a community and it failed, even though it’s needed.
I actually have plans. I’ve been trying to bring a grocery store to the Lower Bottoms in the 99 Cent location. They may be leasing it to a barber college, I heard, but we urgently need those stores and we need to have produce come from our local gardens in our communities. If you’re not at the farmer’s market, you lose up to 30% of the nutrition—in even the highest quality produce you buy in a Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl—just due to the time that [produce has] been off the vine or uprooted. Nutrition is just as important as the item itself and the nutrition density is significantly increased when you grow food locally.
Now we’re not talking about a total replacement of our supply chain, we’re talking about supplementing things that are high cost. That transfer here is easy because we can grow food with our weather. But we need business improvement districts that will support these things. We need earmarked funds for Oakland so that people want to invest here.
But at the end of the day, these are private investments. Oakland right now is not a place where businesses want to come and invest anything. It’s not a business-friendly environment. Why would you invest in a city that is closed to business when everyone else is not?
Both the Coliseum and the Arena are huge entertainment hubs for the city. If the A’s move to Howard Terminal, what do you envision for the future of the Coliseum/Arena site?
Those sideshows you see, how is it any different than in the rural places where people are riding big old pickup trucks around pissing off their neighbors? They make a central place where people can drag race and do all the car stuff, honkytonks, and all that good old stuff.
We should do the same thing with the sideshows. Monetize it! It’s part of our culture. Do you know how many hits those things get on Youtube? People travel from states over to come to Oakland sideshows to document it, for Youtube documentaries that get tens of millions of hits. So we could take advantage of that and, at the same time, keep a part of Oakland’s culture that is controversial, but it shouldn’t be so controversial when it’s just human nature. We like to take our toys and drive ’em’ around real fast, right? What we don’t need is doing it in residential neighborhoods when people have guns, shooting them in the air, and then it’s just a bunch of crazy stuff. So regulate it.
I also like soccer. We got the Roots. The Roots are outgrowing themselves quickly. We need to attract more soccer. Oakland should be a soccer destination, or football—futbal!—destination. It’s showing that people like it. You can play it year-round. It’s nice here. Look at East Oakland and Coach Drew.
I love the WNBA idea [to attract a women’s basketball team to Oakland]. I believe a Black entertainment group supposedly got the contract for that. We need to make sure we’re supporting them and also that we’re holding them accountable for creative ideas that are going to help enrich the community. Just cause they’re Black, they don’t get a pass. All developers have got to show proof of concept that they will be involved in the community in meaningful ways.
That’s why I joined the Oakland Builders Alliance. I’m a renter; I don’t own any property, contrary to popular belief and rumors. I’m a rather poor person, actually. And I give most of my time back to my community.
Oakland spends a few million dollars a year on arts and culture through the city budget. Should the city be funding the arts directly? Or are there bigger priorities?
No, there are no bigger priorities.
Cutting the arts to Oakland’s high schools is a reason why you’re creating a new root cause every day, where you lose your children, right, who don’t have anything to do to express themselves, and they start to express themselves in ways that are unhealthy and desperate cries for help.
Arts is the fabric of quality of life. We should renew that investment. And I love that we now have grants for people to have block parties. National Night Out—make [it happen on] every corner, not once a year but four times a year. People love that stuff. It’s bringing neighbors together and increasing community safety. I can tell you our neighborhood has become significantly safer [due to this event].
We have the OakHella festival on 8th Street between Campbell Village and Acorn, a street that’s been one of the most bloody streets in Oakland when you count just how many people have died on it. Oakland only makes us have two police officers there for our permit, and we’ve had zero acts of violence at any of those events for seven years. It’s proof of concept that these things bring neighbors together in ways that matter.
So I think it’s worth the investment. It will actually help other problems like crime and lack of community ownership. And a third space. It’s very important that people have a third space to go that is not work or a place where they’re spending money. Right? Where do we go? The garden. Or is it a faith community? But we need these places. It can’t all be about drinking or partying. It has to be about things connecting us, and I think an investment in that is paramount right now.
We know that public schools in Oakland are run by the Oakland Unified School District and charter school organizations, but Mayor Libby Schaaf has made education a big component of her tenure, spearheading efforts like Oakland Undivided, Oakland Promise, and the Oakland Teacher Residency Program. What role should the mayor play in public education issues?
As mayor, I plan to get my Michelle Obama on and make sure that no children are eating the food I’ve seen them eating this summer. My partner teaches at Castlemont with children on the spectrum in special ed. She also taught at Edna Brewer Middle School this summer, and the food was consistent there as it was at the middle school I went to, I forget its name, where I made a big noise about the food quality. That’s something that I would own, to make sure that [OUSD’s] $70 million central kitchen is getting used to provide healthy food to Oakland students.
The fact that OUSD district teachers get paid 35% less than teachers in surrounding areas leads to a high level of attrition and a low talent pool. [Editor’s note: according to Edsource, “The cost of housing in Oakland and the Bay Area is among the highest in the state, and Oakland’s salary scale, as of 2020-21, was among the lowest in Alameda County, from $50,600 for new teachers to $95,000 for the highest-paid veterans.”] How do you fix that? There’s got to be some budget reconciliation there.
You want public schools to be reimagined or repurposed. I think that is a better solution. We have a need for third spaces. We have a need for community centers. We have a need for the arts. Why not use those physical spaces for that if not anything else? You know I hate to use the word “reimagine” because it’s been beaten in the head, but [we need to] reimagine the way that we use these spaces because it’s just not going to be a school if you don’t have the money to keep them open, keep the education quality high, keep teachers from high levels of attrition.
Sounds like you would continue that involvement that Mayor Schaaf has shown in public schools.
How will you improve street conditions in Oakland? And do you agree or disagree with the way Oakland has been improving conditions? Where will the funding come from?
I disagree. I’m a member of Safe 8th Street, where we used speed trap cameras to get roundabouts, which everyone thought was impossible, but Tim Courtney [an 8th Street resident] is such a badass; he made it happen because he was relentless in his advocacy for traffic calming measures. I was heavily involved with helping him, introducing him to the neighborhood, making sure he could put up surveillance—think about it, that’s what we did, we surveilled people—and we used that data to make the case that people were driving at excessive speeds through residential neighborhoods, and we got traffic calming measures to 8th Street.
So we’re going to do that across the city. Traffic violence is a very passionate issue of mine. I do not own a car. I bike. I use public transportation. I’m in danger. I use a bike and public transportation more than Uber now because I don’t want to get hit. I can’t get hurt on the campaign trail if I want to win, I’ll be laid up in the hospital. So it’s just dangerous. It’s not safe. It’s not ok. And we deserve better, an ability to walk and bike across our streets.
There’s a law enforcement angle to this. You have to pull people over who are reckless driving. You have to start confiscating vehicles. We have laws on the books for reckless driving. You can go this many miles over the speed limit, we will take your vehicles. I will advocate that we do that every single time. We’ll send a clear message that you’re not going to be driving like a crazy person through the streets of Oakland.
Second, we need more California Highway Patrol. [But sometimes] you can’t pull people over, so we’re going to have to use drones, we’re going to have to use cameras, we’re going to have to just follow people passively, and then when they park, go and confiscate the vehicle. Because as you’ve seen, people die when [the police] follow people. People crash into people at taco trucks and stuff. We need to figure out ways to catch people doing this and use all available tools to send a clear message that you’re not going to drive like that.
People are changing their behavior the moment they leave Oakland to [go to] Albany, to Emeryville, to anywhere else, because they know that law enforcement is going to pull them over and they’re going to have to give up their vehicle. We need to follow that same thing here and be serious about that.
I’m not talking about expired tags. Let me be very clear about that. I can’t stand LAPD for that. All they do is prey on poor people for their licenses [and] tags to keep the cycle of poverty going. That’s not something I’m about. I’m talking about reckless driving, the unsafe traffic violence that we’re seeing frequently through the streets of Oakland.
We’re gonna ask you a few questions about public safety, including from our readers. Oakland has 681 police officers. Is that too few or too many? Explain your thinking on the issue of police staffing.
Too few. Too few. We need 900. And we need to hold that number. The number by formula is 1100.
[Editor’s note: There is no objective number for how many officers a city should have, but policymakers often aim to provide a certain number of officers per every 100,000 people, and they adjust this further based on a city’s rate of crime, assuming that more officers are needed to respond to more crime. According to a 2020 USA Today analysis of U.S. cities with a population of 65,000 and above, Oakland has 235 law enforcement employees (officers and civilian staff) per every 100,000 residents (ranking it 176th highest out of 634 cities), and Oakland’s violent crime rate was 19th highest out of all these cities.]
But I think that may be excessive considering we have a MACRO program that can help supplement [and] could help pick up a big load off the police officers.
But here’s the reason why you need so many. There’s just no comparison to other cities. We’ve lost rule of law. You’ve got to get it back. You can’t just passively get it back. We’ve crossed that rubicon now. People are coming from around our state and our geographic region to rob Oaklanders. People are getting arrested from many different geographic locations, not just in Oakland. That shows that the predators are amongst us because they know that we have low response times with our police, and we have to prioritize violence, so you are able to get away with virtually any nonviolent property crimes right now.
And this is complicated because Libby spent her first day with OPD. And I thought that was a bad deal for her because she didn’t get it done. She better get us off that NSA, which she didn’t for eight years. I think it’s going to end in a couple of months if we keep our noses clean. But that absolutely should end.
[Editor’s note: In May, a federal judge ruled that OPD could exit the Negotiated Settlement Agreement by January of next year.]
There doesn’t need to be an adversarial relationship. Why is the City Council voting against the use of license plate readers? None of these City Council people have a law enforcement background, and all of a sudden, they’re experts on law enforcement? And they’re just going to antagonize the [police chief], the guy we pay to be an expert?
Can we ask you a quick question about license plate readers? Experts say they constitute mass surveillance and that typically less than 1% of scans by law enforcement lead to an arrest and conviction. So they don’t seem effective.
I would challenge that. There are studies that show the opposite. I could email you.
[Editor’s note: we asked Scott to email us studies showing the effectiveness of license plate readers in stopping crime, and we’ll post them here if he responds.]
But also, when you say mass surveillance, at the same time, you push for laws where you want to know each and every facet of someone’s relationship with their tenant, the financial relationship between a property owner and their tenant, right? That’s not excessive?
You’re referring to the rental registry that’s being set up by the city?
Yeah. People want to pick and choose what types of surveillance or information they think are relevant depending on what their ideology is.
Right now, we need to use every asset. There are several cases that have been solved very recently that I can point you to, including as recently as this week due to the use of license plate readers.
[Editor’s note: we asked Scott to provide us with information about these cases, and we’ll post them here if he responds.]
So here’s the thing. We have an expert and we pay him: the police chief. If you’re going to keep disrespecting the person you pay, you’re going to keep an adversarial relationship with law enforcement. And morale [within OPD] is paramount. People keep acting like morale doesn’t matter for some reason. No one does a good job if they don’t feel respected. I’m a union man. I’m a worker advocate. That’s important to me.
We want to ask you about gun violence. What’s your plan?
Here’s the problem. We can now make [guns] like Legos in the trailers and encampments. The ghost guns completely changed the game. When you look at the proliferation of ghost guns—you may know more than I do, but it’s a healthy chunk. The numbers are always changing and I don’t want to use outdated numbers, but a good chunk of [weapons] now are found to be ghost guns.
How do you stop people from killing each other with ghost guns?
In Oakland, here’s how you stop it. When people can’t compete financially, they compete for moral superiority. That goes from being a sanctimonious bully all the way to being able to take your life or your property or liberty. People are desperate. You want to stop it? Make sure people can compete. The children are being violent because you’ve lost them. The average perpetrator of violent crime is under thirty now. We’ve got some City of Dodge stuff going on in Oakland and once again there’s escape-avoidance behavior and normalcy bias.
We’re hearing that you would address root causes, but you also just spent a long time talking about allowing the police to use surveillance and arrest a bunch of people…
I don’t like the term “root causes.”
…and some people would say those things are incompatible.
They’re not mutually exclusive. Why are they mutually exclusive? Are they mutually exclusive because of your ideology?
Because some would argue that since the police department consumes more than 40% of the city’s general fund, there’s not enough money left over for root-cause programs. As mayor, how do you get around that?
You’re going to have to get money from the county and the state. Right now, you can’t not have rule of law.
It takes 20 minutes to get 911 on the phone. Why? Could any elected official tell me why it takes so long? Because that’s criminal. There’s no confidence in the government.Twenty percent of those calls go completely unanswered. When I asked Barry Donelan from the Oakland Police Officers Association about this, he tells me we have scores of 911 beats that don’t have officers to cover them. So again, we need more officers. Right? It’s like a simple thing. Until someone gives me another idea here, I’m gonna roll with more officers. Because I haven’t heard another idea.
I don’t like “root causes.” What’s the root cause? The root cause is us. It’s people. We create new root causes every single day in the way we treat our children and elders. Right? That boogeyman, that victimhood mentality, it’s defeatist. It’s low vibrations. I’m a self-determined person. I believe that we can change ourselves but the victimhood has got to stop.
There are absolutely institutional issues of racism and equity, absolutely. Undeniably. But they’re arguably more about class at the end of the day. Especially if you look at the wealth disparity. It’s to the point now that studies of Appalachia and poor white areas are showing equal amounts of single parent households and drug addiction. Once they get removed from the continuity of wealth they unfairly gained, they’re suffering too. It’s just quite a conundrum we’ve got ourselves into here.
I think it’s going to take a sophisticated leader who understands that but also has the common sense to know, ok, we don’t have enough cops to staff 911 beats right now so you better hire some more cops to cover the city’s 911 beats.
What are you going to do as mayor if the next council passes a budget that pulls another $18 million out of OPD to fund non-police violent prevention programs?
If I get elected mayor we’re getting that charter amendment passed.
[Editor’s note: Scott is referring to the kind of charter amendment he mentioned at the beginning of this interview, one that would give the mayor more power to set city policies.]
I’m a long-shot candidate and everyone knows it. I would say dark horse, it’s more apropos. If somehow by insurmountable odds I win, Oakland is going to hit the reset button. I’m going to do whatever the heck I want to do because the neighbors have empowered me. We speak now. The neighbors speak.
If we fail [to pass an “accountable mayor” charter amendment], that’s where a controller comes into play. When you have an independent office of the controller has a say in how the city is spending money. It actually takes power away from the mayor.
A controller tells you where money is going, they don’t tell you how to spend it. Again, do you spend that money on OPD or do you let it go to the Department of Violence Prevention?
You have to let the Department of Violence Prevention show that they’re not wasting the money. Are there work plans involved? Are there any accountability measures involved?
MACRO took a long time to set up and they established it without [taking calls from 911] dispatch. I saw that as a failure. It was performative. The idea was great but the actions didn’t match the ambitions in any meaningful way.
I’m not in those minutiae of conversations right now. So I would have to get in there and see the data and see what kinds of conversations are going on in closed sessions that neighbors aren’t privy to, before I could weigh in on that.