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.No Victory Lap for Schaaf

Oakland Power Poll shows disappointment with the mayor, although many acknowledge that COVID-19 dealt her a bad hand

As Libby Schaaf prepares to end her eight years as mayor, Oakland Power Poll respondents harbor decidedly ambivalent feelings about her tenure.

While a majority expressed disappointment about the current state of Oakland, many also acknowledged the historic challenges faced by Schaaf and other big city mayors due to the depredations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was the fallout from the pandemic that all cities suffered from; that wasn’t her fault,” opined one participant in the latest survey. “Name one city or mayor that is thriving and beloved post-pandemic.”

On other topics, the vast majority of participants share Councilmember Loren Taylor’s distrust of the ranked-choice voting system that recently proclaimed his council colleague, Sheng Thao, the mayor-elect of Oakland.

Panelists also expressed near universal support for the proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Nancy Skinner to enable the state to investigate and penalize alleged oil industry price-gouging.

And respondents approve of the state’s recent retooling of the rates that utilities pay solar panel owners for their excess power.

Here are the specific questions in the survey:

Schaaf’s Final Score

As mayor-elect Sheng Thao prepares to assume power, we are nearly at the end of Libby Schaaf’s eight-year term as mayor. Please provide your thoughts about Schaaf’s successes, failures and legacy.

Pandemic Impact

How, if at all, did the pandemic’s impact upon Oakland change your view of the outgoing mayor?

Rank-Choice Ranked

In conceding his loss in the recent mayor’s race, Councilmember Loren Taylor complained about ranked-choice voting, the electoral system used by Oakland since 2010. Taylor led by 1,596 after voters’ initial choices were counted, but fell 677 votes behind Council President Sheng Thao once alternate picks were tabulated. Rank all the statements you agree with, with 1 being your highest priority:

Taylor is right; ranked-choice voting isn’t working for Oakland — Score 5.4

Sudden reversals in who leads an election create distrust in the electoral process — Score 5.2

I’ve distrusted ranked-choice voting ever since Jean Quan beat Don Perata — Score 3.9

Ranked-choice is an affordable, fair way to avoid costly and slow run-off elections — Score 2.7

When civic resources are scarce, we don’t need to waste money fixing what ain’t broke — Score 2.4

There is a reason why U.S. cities keep adopting or considering ranked-choice elections — Score 2.3

I still don’t really understand how ranked-choice voting works — Score 1.3

Price-Gouging at the Pump

California’s record-high 2022 gasoline prices have been accompanied by record-high oil industry profits. Gov. Newsom and state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley recently unveiled a proposal to enable the state to investigate and penalize allegations of price-gouging by the oil industry. Rank all the statements you agree with, with 1 being your highest priority:

I believe oil companies have engaged in price-gouging during 2022 — Score 5.7778

The state is right to crack down on price-gouging if it’s occurring — Score 5.111

Finally, some politicians with the guts to go after Big Oil — Score 3.3333

High oil prices are primarily due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine — Score 3

This is all just another sign that Newsom wants to be president — Score 2.5556

Oil company price-gouging will just speed our transition to clean energy — Score 2.2222

The governor’s proposal will backfire, leading to higher gas prices — Score 1.3333

PUC Rate Changes

As solar energy production has steadily increased, the rate utilities pay customers for excess power has become much higher than its actual value, essentially becoming an income transfer from lower-income to higher-income ratepayers. The Public Utilities Commission recently adopted rate changes designed to mitigate this situation. Rank all the statements you agree with, with 1 being your highest priority:

Poor people should not subsidize solar panels for the wealthy — Score 4.7778

I worry about the new rules’ impact on the solar industry — Score 3.7778

If the status quo is truly unfair to lower-income ratepayers, I support the PUC’s plan — Score 3.5556

Given their historic failure to regulate PG&E, I suspect the PUC’s motives — Score 3.4444

Solar installation and generation SHOULD be subsidized by nonusers — Score 2.6667

The new rates are a giant step backward for California solar — Score 2.4444

I approve of the new rule paying a higher rate to customers who install batteries — Score 2.2222

Analysis of Questions 1-2

Imagine a parallel universe, one without COVID-19 and the unemployment, homelessness, business closures, population loss and eerie ghost-town vibes that accompanied life in the region that responded most forcefully to the pandemic. In that universe—let’s call it Oakland 2.0—it’s reasonable to imagine Mayor Libby Schaaf 2.0 taking a victory lap to celebrate the well-received end of her tenure in office.

Alas, Mayor Schaaf 1.0 and the generation of U.S. mayors whose terms overlapped with the pandemic can only imagine what might have been. Across California and much of the country, big cities are busy electing two types of mayors: progressives who critiqued the status quo from the left (Oakland’s Sheg Thao, Los Angeles’ Karen Bass) and centrists who critiqued it from the right (San Jose’s Matt Mahan, New York City’s Eric Adams). Post-pandemic urban America is an easy target.

No surprise then that our outgoing mayor, who bested her top opponents by an average of 27% of the vote in 2014 and 2018, took her lumps from the majority of participants in our latest survey. “Oakland’s cheerleader did not show up to the game,” quipped one panelist.

The criticisms came from both directions. “Gentrification, not acting on homelessness quickly enough, prioritizing private projects versus effectively managing the city,” noted one critique. “Increase in crime, poor housing program, NO meaningful city development plan, and failure to protect higher income areas,” griped another.

A minority of respondents offered a nuanced view of Schaaf’s tenure. “Successes: Keeping the A’s in Oakland, paving the roads, bringing in housing, a new skyline, and universal preschool for children. Failures: Not addressing homelessness immediately. She waited for the county to do more and got off to a slow start. Legacy: She handled crisis after crisis with class. Any less of a mayor would have been recalled. Oakland is respected on a grander scale now thanks to Mayor Schaaf and she helped build its profile as a city of art, diversity, and culture and not just crime.”

But in the end, the pandemic seems likely to overshadow everything else. “Oakland is a tough city to govern but under Libby, crime, homelessness increased. I suspect much of the work she did laid the groundwork for a better city in the future. COVID made everything harder. I am very worried about our next mayor’s ability to do any better.”

Analysis of Question 3

Our survey platform’s inscrutable method of scoring multi answer questions masks the depth of panelists’ true feelings about ranked-choice voting. They appear to hate it.

One hundred percent of our participants agree with Loren Taylor that ranked-choice voting isn’t working for Oakland. Ninety percent believe that sudden reversals in who leads an election breed voter distrust in electoral outcomes. And half of all voters said they don’t even understand how ranked-choice voting works, which may explain their apparent revulsion.

Oddly enough, more than two thirds also agreed with the statement that “we don’t need to waste money fixing what ain’t broke.” If there’s one lesson that we reliably learn from our monthly surveys, it’s that people are endlessly capable of holding seemingly contradictory opinions.

Analysis of Question 4

Seventy percent of our respondents attribute the governor’s position on alleged oil-industry price gouging to his presumed ambition to run for president. But regardless of whether or not they are right, Newsom once again appears to have identified an immensely popular issue on the vanguard of Democratic politics.

Support for a crackdown on any such price gouging is widespread among our voters—even among those skeptics who simultaneously fear that his position will backfire, leading to higher prices. From homelessness to gay marriage to marijuana legalization, history shows that Newsom has a gift for repeatedly latching on to winning issues well ahead of his peers. The same can be said for his partner in this endeavor, Sen. Skinner.

Analysis of Question 5

Public utility ratemaking is a complicated, often mind-numbing slog. So count this former utility reporter as quite surprised that a majority of respondents approve of the rationale behind the PUC’s recent modification of the economic formula behind solar power’s widespread adoption.

At least half of our voters agreed with each of our seven possible answers, thus endorsing a nuanced viewpoint that the rate reforms are simultaneously fair to customers and unfortunate for the industry. Expect the next wave of solar progress to focus on battery storage.

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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