Crime Troubles Oaklanders: In the latest Oakland Power Poll, violence and public schools top the list of woes of those sick of The Town

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TOWN BIZ Oakland residents are concerned about crime and public schools concern Oakland residents. But in typical Oakland fashion, most respondents displayed a holistic view of Oakland’s woes.

More than 60 percent of Oakland Power Poll participants who have considered leaving the Bay Area said the city needs to make progress on crime to make them content to stay here. Improving the public schools’ quality also was a key factor for voters.

Meanwhile, more than two thirds of respondents believe the courts should release the Oakland Police Department from its 18 years of federal supervision.

Panelists were roughly split about whether the city council should extend the pandemic-era program that allowed businesses to temporarily build parklets on public streets and rights of way. 

And a clear majority of respondents would favor continuation of the proposed California high-speed railway if the Biden administration manages to secure significant funding for the project in its pending infrastructure bill.

Here are the specific questions and responses to our poll:

Question 1

A recent Bay Area News Group poll indicated that 56 percent of Bay Area residents expect to leave the Bay Area in the next few years. If you have considered leaving the Bay Area, what changes would make you content to stay?

(See analysis.)

Question 2

Oakland police have been federally supervised for 18 years. The attorneys whose lawsuit resulted in this oversight now believe the monitoring should end. But a federal judge recently linked that decision to the OPD’s slow response to the revelation that several officers contributed to a sexist and racist Instagram account. Should federal supervision of OPD come to an end?

Yes; enough is enough — 68%

No; the department hasn’t changed enough — 32%

No opinion/don’t care — 0%

Question 3

Last year, the city council made it easier for businesses to temporarily use public rights-of-way for outdoor dining and other commercial activities. This June, the policy was extended until March of 2022. Should the city allow this program to outlive the pandemic?

Yes; it’s a wonderful change — 48%

No; we need that parking back — 16% 

Maybe; these projects should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis — 36%

No opinion/don’t care — 0%

Question 4

The proposed California high- speed railway is late and over budget. Critics routinely call for ending the project, which voters approved in 2008. But supporters of the railway hope the proposed Biden infrastructure bill will include massive project funding. Should the state stay the course?

Yes; progress is sometimes costly — 40%

No; it’s a boondoggle — 20%

Maybe; it depends on whether Biden’s infrastructure bill passes — 36%

No opinion/don’t care — 4%

Analysis of Question 1

Following on the heels of a shocking recent poll from the Bay Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley about the huge number of regional residents who are considering a move elsewhere, we asked those panelists who “have considered leaving the Bay Area” to explain their thinking. 

And did they ever.

Same as it ever was, crime and public schools concern Oakland residents. But in typical Oakland fashion, most respondents displayed a holistic view of Oakland’s woes. Consider the comments of these four panelists:

“Lower cost of living, quality public schools, better solutions for affordable housing/unhoused populations, workforce development/job paths for young people, less crime because people have been locked out of the workforce at a livable wage.”

“Safer and cleaner streets/neighborhoods, friendlier business climate, stop raising taxes, better public schools, more police.”

“1) Enact measures to reduce crime. 2) Implement measures to reduce homelessness. 3) Prosecute quality of life crimes. 4) Improve educational opportunities. 5) End the war against business. Local and state governments are not friendly to small and large businesses.”

“Decrease in cost of living, cleaner streets and neighborhoods, improvement in quality of public schools, decrease in cost of public transit.”

Even the 32 percent of respondents who specifically said that they don’t plan to leave The Town — which is lot of what Mayor Schaaf calls “Oakland Love” for a question that explicitly asked for responses just from people who do plan to move — crime and education got mentioned in a holistic fashion.

“I’m planning to stay — not in the 56 percent. It would be easier if we solved for crime/guns/homicide and housing and invested more in education and opportunity so people have better options.”

The large number of Oakland respondents who said they’re rooted to The Town suggests that concerns about the Bay Area are more common in other parts of the region. For instance, in our San Jose poll, only 13 percent of respondents said they intend to stay. But then, us Oaklanders are a hardy lot.

The other topics mentioned included the usual gripes about homelessness, blight, taxes, transit, and housing. But two other issues seemed unique to Oakland, and did not surface at all on our concurrent San Jose Power Poll, which asked the same question. One concerned the ever-persistent complaint about the caliber of the city’s workforce.

“More attention to public safety and having our city employees make a good faith attempt to do the jobs for which they are paid. The taxpayers are the last to benefit from increasingly higher taxes and little government awareness of their requirement to serve their constituents.”

The other unique-to-Oakland issue — the city’s political culture — was raised by just one panelist, but struck at the heart of what might be necessary for the city to make progress on any of these other topics. 

“A reduction in the crime rate, a reduction in illegal dumping, a reduction in homelessness, and a more civil political culture in Oakland. Our political culture is toxic and divisive and makes it difficult to address our most challenging problems, which are complex and require an ability to work together even if there are issues we don’t agree on.”

But let’s end with this comment, which captured a popular viewpoint:

“I like it here. It’s far from perfect, but this is the place where I can be myself. And I think the polls are grossly overstated.”

Analysis of Question 2

Way back in 2003, a federal judge imposed oversight on the police department in the wake of the horrifying “Riders” scandal, in which a rogue team of cops in West Oakland racially profiled and framed residents there by planting drugs on them. The OPD has been federally supervised ever since, though there is widespread agreement that it has made great strides under its new chief, LeRonne Armstrong, who took office earlier this year. 

Momentum is now building for the department to emerge from federal management, and our panelists clearly agree. Still, almost one in three respondents agreed with the proposition that “the department hasn’t changed enough.” 

Analysis of Question 3

Almost half of voters would like to see the city’s parklet ban outlive the pandemic. But a slight majority either believe that cars should reclaim their parking or that the city should reevaluate all those new structures on a case-by-case basis.

Analysis of Question 4

Cries to defund high-speed rail continue to proliferate, most recently from the editorial pages of the East Bay Times. But more than three- fourths of respondents — 76 percent — displayed support if the Biden administration can secure additional funding for the project. And that now seems increasingly likely. 

Already in June, the president restored a $929 million grant for the rail project that his predecessor had revoked in 2019. If Biden now succeeds in enacting his proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package, California’s struggling rail line could find itself with a significant new funding source. According to The Wall Street Journal, the latest version of the bill includes $66 billion for nationwide rail maintenance, modernization and expansion. 

Oakland Power Poll is not a scientific poll. Rather, we ask questions of influential people with a wide range of viewpoints to help advance informed dialogue about the city. Power Poll is studiously non-partisan.