The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on whether to put a good government measure on the November ballot that would ask voters to establish a new independent commission that would draw council and school board district lines in the city. The proposed charter amendment, sponsored by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Libby Schaaf, has been years in the making and is the product of a grassroots coalition that includes Oakland Rising and the League of Women Voters. Currently, Oakland councilmembers get to draw their own district boundary lines, thereby creating potential conflicts of interest. As such, the council should let city voters decide whether they want to revamp redistricting in Oakland, beginning with the 2020 Census.
“We think it would make for a much more democratic process,” said Jessamym Sabbag of Oakland Rising, referring to the proposed creation of an independent citizen’s redistricting commission. “And it would take out measures that allow politicians to draw their own districts.”
Sabbag said a recent poll commissioned by the coalition of 6,000 Oakland voters found that 90 percent said they would support the proposal.
That’s reason enough to put the measure on the ballot. Some councilmembers, however, have expressed concerns about voter fatigue if there are too many issues to decide in November. Later this month, the council is expected to greenlight a ballot measure that would renew the Measure Y parcel tax, which funds police, fire, and violence prevention programs. An initiative to raise the minimum wage to $12.25 an hour in Oakland has already qualified for the ballot. The council also will consider this month a ballot measure proposal to strengthen the powers of the city’s Public Ethics Commission. Last week, the council killed a ballot proposal to establish a new citizen’s police review commission.
It’s a mistake, however, for the council to kill good government proposals, while pushing for the Measure Y tax renewal. Many Oakland voters have long distrusted City Hall, and so may be inclined to reject Measure Y without reform measures accompanying it. As such, the independent redistricting and Public Ethics Commission ballot measure proposals could very well work to the council’s advantage. (In fact, the council made an error last week when it snuffed out the police review commission plan, a move the could jeopardize Measure Y if voters are reluctant to reapprove funding for a police department that has not been able to adequately police itself over the years.)
Oakland also has had problems in the past with corruption and taxpayer waste in redistricting. During early part of the last decade, the council hired Sandra Polka, a crony of then-state Senator Don Perata, to draw district lines. It turned out to be a waste of taxpayer money when the council ultimately rejected Polka’s work. In addition, the state legislature around the same time drew then-Councilmember Jane Brunner’s house out of her Assembly district so she could not run for the seat. Perata was suspected of being responsible for that move as well after he and Brunner had a falling out. Assembly and Senate seats are now drawn by a citizen’s commission, much like the one proposed for Oakland.
The proposed ballot measure also includes provisions designed to prevent conflicts of interest. Citizen redistricting members, for example, would be banned from running for city council for ten years after they serve, and would be prohibited from working in the city or school district or from working as a paid lobbyist in the city for four years.
The measure includes other good government provisions as well, and would disqualify residents from serving on the commission if:
“(c) A person who has been, within the five years immediately preceding the date of application a paid employee of any redistricting contractor or consultants
(d) A person who, or whose spouse, parent, child, or registered domestic partner, has been, within ten years immediately preceding the date of application, any of the following:
(i) Elected to, or a candidate for, local office.
(ii) An employee, or paid consultant or contractor to a campaign for local office.
(iii) Registered or required to be registered as a local lobbyist.
(iv) A paid employee of, a consultant to, or under contract with any elected City of Oakland Official.
(v) A principal officer of an active campaign committee domiciled in Alameda County that has made expenditure on local Oakland candidate elections.
(d) A person who has contributed 50% or more of the allowable amount to candidates for City of Oakland elective office in the last city election.”