by Allyssa Victory
Oakland continues to work to stabilize itself during multiple local emergencies including one due to a cyberattack on City Hall. The cyberattack includes release of city personnel data as well as citizen complaint data and has affected some city department operations.
City leadership has been tight-lipped but expressed that notices will be sent to anyone whose information is affected and that the declared local emergency allows them to work with state and federal agencies to support their fight against the cyberattack. In an increasingly digitized world, we must keep our information systems protected and up-to-date.
For those unsure of when this will resolve, city council meetings resumed in-person meetings at City Hall in March. Continue to monitor city meetings and the city website for information about the breach.
At the end of February, the City of Oakland announced a “pothole blitz” to repair roads throughout the city. However, more recent storms have hit the region reminding us of the need to build for climate resiliency. Studies over the last decade have confirmed that Oakland’s streets are some of the worst in the country. Unaddressed and widespread potholes have plagued the city for decades.
The City has not released specific plans or metrics of success but City leadership and staff stated that they hope to resolve the current backlog of complaints by May 1 and will prioritize repairs by severity. A similar “pothole blitz” was announced by the former Oakland Mayor in 2019 with little success.
The mayor has tasked the Department of Transportation with this work along with removing abandoned vehicles – a task previously performed by the Oakland Police Department. These shifts in department responsibilities will come back up during the budget cycle that will conclude in June.
Advocates have already begun circulating a petition to budget $20M away from the police department into the city’s Department of Transportation. A budget survey was conducted between December 2022 and January 2023 and our newly installed elected leaders are beginning to put out new surveys in preparation for the budget cycle.
We must hold our elected officials and the new mayoral administration accountable to its promises and to the longstanding needs of residents. The budget cycle is a great opportunity to do so. Our county government will also debate and pass its annual budget.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors was left with a vacancy after the sudden death of former Supervisor Richard Valle for District 2. The Supervisors will fill the vacancy by April 9 after a public application and interview process. The appointee will serve until a new supervisor is elected in the 2024 cycle. Expect a March primary and a November general election next year with many other local, state, and federal seats on the ballot.
In April we celebrate Earth Day and in the Bay we also celebrate 4/20. There are many origin stories to the 4/20 holiday but generally it is a day to honor cannabis. Cannabis is a cash crop in California now that it is legalized, taxed, and regulated.
However, this comes at a great cost to equity of opportunity and reparation for those harmed by cannabis criminalization. Oakland was one of the first cities to decriminalize cannabis with our local law enforcement, to allow medical cannabis dispensaries, and was home to Oaksterdam – a learning institute for cannabis cultivation.
Canna-business is one of the fastest growing industries with strong roots in the Bay Area. What was once a street and informal economy now generates over $1 Billion per year (and growing) in tax revenue for the state of California.
At the same time, Black people were incarcerated for taking part in the same business. Black people are still pushed out of legal canna-business due to high taxation, permitting, and operation costs. In Oakland, this inequity prompted the formation of the Emerald New Deal coalition which has advanced economic proposals to restore Black Oaklanders harmed by the “war on cannabis” which arrested an average of 80% Black residents for cannabis crimes in the city before legalization.
Cannabis legalization has also been accompanied by state and county efforts to reduce criminal penalties related to cannabis and to expunge records for those prosecuted in the past. However, many residents have waited for relief for years due to slow administrative processes to conclude to be able to access types of licenses and privileges that others have.
Our local governments have made many efforts to reduce the impact of overcriminalization including passing fair chance housing and employment laws. Despite being one of the first cities in the state to decriminalize marijuana, the City of Oakland only began revising their own city employment regulations in late 2021 to end cannabis testing of its workforce.
However, cannabis legalization is still in its early years with many issues to resolve going forward especially those around racial equity. Black people were over represented in arrests and criminal prosecutions for cannabis and are now under represented in those allowed to engage in the legalized business.
Some solutions raised by cannabis advocates and those directly impacted include: automatic expungement of cannabis-related offenses on criminal records; suspending social excise taxes for equity operators; reduction of state taxation rates; stronger definitions and regulations to unify the competing federal, state, and local regulations.
Oakland has its own Cannabis Regulatory Commission with residents who make recommendations regarding the licensure, taxation, and regulations and oversees policy implementation. Hopefully, implementation of Oakland’s progressive business tax will reduce some of the costs of doing business for small and locally-owned businesses.
Cannabis is still illegal at the federal government level which also determines most of our banking rules in the country. Thus, many canna-businesses struggle to find secure and accessible banking for their business and have to spend additional costs to secure and to move their funds.
The unique money challenges also create unique security challenges with many canna-businesses being targeted for their funds and product inventory. I have been a longtime champion of creating public banking that can help to meet this business need.
Remedies for overcriminalization and racial disparity in our criminal justice system must be a part of the analysis and proposals for reparations to Black Americans. The California Task Force on Reparations continues to meet to develop proposals for Black reparations. All past Task Force meetings are recorded and publicly available. Proposals may include a modernized Freedmen’s Bureau. The concept is inspired by the Freedmen’s Bureau created by Congress in 1865 to help administer services and provisions to formerly enslaved Africans.
The Bureau lasted less than 10 years before the federal government abandoned the effort. The pattern of government abandonment of programs that affirm and sustain Black life continues. We must practice the principle of sankofa which represents learning from the past to forge a better future.
Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate and community leader. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.