.Downtown Dilemma

The latest Oakland Power Poll finds widespread concern for the state of downtown as it emerges from the depredations of the pandemic

Nine out of ten Oakland Power Poll participants believe it is time for the City of Oakland to restore city government to its pre-pandemic level of service.

In response to a recent call from the Oakland Chamber of Commerce to reopen downtown, we surveyed panel members about their attitudes regarding downtown Oakland. And a majority of voters were quite dismayed at the city’s inaction regarding homelessness, blight, crime and the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“Oakland is in a downward spiral,” wrote one panel member. “Business is leaving, crime is rising and the city streets are a dumping ground for trash. The city is in crisis, but leadership is not acting with purpose.”

On other matters, a strong majority of voters believe it is time for Oakland and Alameda County to end their pandemic-era rental eviction bans.

Meanwhile, half of all respondents do not believe that the 47 sheriff’s deputies who failed an exam designed to weed out people temperamentally unfit to work in law enforcement should be permitted to serve again as frontline officers.

Finally, the vast majority of respondents want development to be severely curtailed in fire-prone areas and for forestry officials to more aggressively thin forests to prevent wildfires.

Here are the specific questions and responses to our poll:

Question 1

Citing the unhealthy state of downtown Oakland, the Chamber of Commerce recently called upon the city to fully reopen City Hall and require the city council and planning commission to once again hold all their meetings in person. Select the statement that most closely aligns with your viewpoint:

It’s time to fully restore city government to a pre-pandemic level of service. — 90%

I support the City of Oakland’s caution in returning to business as usual. — 10%

No opinion/don’t care — 0

Question 2

What would you like the mayor and city council to know about the state of downtown Oakland?

Question 3

Even as the state and other Bay Area counties have lifted their pandemic-era restrictions on rental housing evictions, Oakland and Alameda County have left such restrictions in place. Now that businesses have returned to work and jobs are relatively plentiful, is it time for Oakland and Alameda County to allow landlords to evict tenants who don’t comply with the terms of their lease?

Yes — 57%

No — 37%

No opinion/don’t care — 7%

Question 4

Upon the revelation that 47 Alameda County deputies were hired despite failing a state-mandated psychological exam designed to weed out employees whose temperament makes them unsuitable for law enforcement, the sheriff’s department announced that it plans to retest all the individuals. How should the agency handle this situation?

The department is right to let those officers take the test again. — 43%

Deputies once judged unsuitable for police work should not be retained. — 33%

The officers should be eligible for desk jobs, but not frontline positions. — 17%

No opinion/don’t care — 7%

Question 5

A recent paper in the journal Environmental Pollution estimated that emissions of carbon dioxide from California’s 2020 wildfires were twice as plentiful as the state’s total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2003 and 2019. The paper called for considerably greater investment in forest management practices, including mechanical clearing and prescribed burns. Rank all the statements you agree with, with 1 being your highest priority:

Forests should be routinely thinned, even if that increases tree-cutting. — Score 4.5 (23)

Development should be severely curtailed in fire-prone areas. — Score 4.1786 (25)

More forests need to be allowed to burn from time to time. — Score 3.3571 (23)

Forest management practices have wisely focused on fire suppression. — Score 1.4286 (13)

We already cut down too many trees. — Score .8214 (11)

Development decisions should remain at the local level.

Analysis of Questions 1-2

The Chamber of Commerce clearly speaks for most people when it comes to fully reopening city offices and once again holding public meetings without the aid of Zoom. Every single panelist who commented in our latest survey expressed anxiety regarding the state of downtown Oakland.

“It’s basically a ghost town,” one voter wrote. “The city needs to lead in getting people back to work and into downtown. Continued city council and other regulatory organizations that Zoom, deprive the public of good and effective advocacy. It’s very easy for council and commission members to hide behind a screen and not have to interact with their constituents.”

“The downtown looks abandoned,” another panelist observed. “Other businesses are starting to return and other cities are coming back to life; why not Oakland?”

Crime was a concern of many. “Auto break-ins discourage patronage of downtown businesses and restaurants—not to mention being out in Oakland generally,” wrote yet another voter. “The police are complicit in announcing they are too busy to show up en masse for a shooting.”

“Downtown (and adjacent areas, like the Lake) feels unsafe, and I think bringing workers into offices will help rebuild a sense of community and safety,” a fourth voter added.

Analysis of Question 3

Other cities and counties have allowed their eviction bans to expire. Our panelists believe that Oakland and Alameda County should as well.

Analysis of Question 4

Sixty percent of our panelists clearly feel some empathy for the 47 officers who were allowed to join the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office despite having failed a state-mandated psychological test. And that’s why 43% believe they should be allowed to retake the test and 17% believe they should be allowed to fill desk jobs.

And yet, half of all respondents believe that such officers should either be banished to desk duties or not be allowed to retain their positions at all. And given that we failed to ask about the fate of any officers who might fail the test a second time, the number of panelists uncomfortable with officers who fail their tests is probably ultimately much higher than 50%.

Analysis of Question 5

The vast majority of panelists seem to agree that the explosive growth of wildfires in California demands some radically different policy responses. Seventy-four percent support greater thinning of trees, while the same number also favor letting forests burn from time to time to reduce fuel loads. Such policy changes have already begun to be implemented at both the state and federal levels.

More striking, however, is the finding that 81% of our respondents believe that development should be severely curtailed in fire-prone areas. Given that most such decisions are made at the local level, this looks like yet another front in the growing tensions between the state and its local governments regarding land-use issues. Restricting development in this manner is not likely to be popular in large parts of the fabled “State of Jefferson.”

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.

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