Monday, March 31, 2008

Oakland Public Employee Unions Break The Bank (again)

The latest list of Oakland public employees earning more than $100k per year is making the rounds on the blogs today. Several folks have taken aim at City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, who took down a cool $255k. But that's not where the real action is. The real fiscal nightmare for Oakland and other California cities is the outrageous sums being paid to police, fire and EMS employees.

The highest-paid person in Oakland for 2007 wasn't Edgerly, it was Fire Battalion Chief Michael Miller, who made over $270k. But actually the list of top-100 earners is littered with rank-and-file public employees.

Unfortunately, the reported numbers tell only half the story.

For starters, every one of these employees receives an abundant benefits package, typically including the ability to retire after 30 years of service at 100% of final-year pay. This means a fire fighter who joins the force at age 25 might retire at 55 and receive 30 years of retirement pay at a $120k annual rate. That's $3.6M, a hefty sum.

And that's not even counting their medical benefits and cost of living increases. The true cost of these employees at retirement is probably $5M each, or higher.

"Sure," the unions say. "But these are risky jobs, and many police and fire employees are injured during their service."

That's actually the next trick they have up their sleeves. Each time a city employee experiences any kind of injury remotely related to their job -- a pulled back or leg muscle, or maybe a broken bone -- that employee immediately heads to the doctor to determine the amount of disability associated with that injury.

Now, disability is cumulative. So, maybe a broken bone would render the employee 2 or 3% disabled. But across a 30 year career, many employees wind up essentially 100% disabled. This means they get even more disability pay on retirement, and it also means they don't have to serve out the full 30 years in order to get their pay.

The bottom line is that public employees are now compensated at an entirely different stratum from regular employees in the workforce. They often can make 5 or even 10 times as much money as they would have had they entered work in the private sector.

What a bizarre decision by our society to provide such outrageous compensation to a set of people who are, in the main, poorly educated. These are not nuclear physicists or olympic athletes, for whom the difficulty of finding a replacement would be difficult. These are ordinary folks, provided with absurd benefits essentially due to the luck of the draw.

Don't believe me? Take a look at this article about a recent scandal in Oakland's fire department. Never mind the scandal itself. Just notice that 2,000 people applied for 23 spots. Why would so many people apply for these jobs? And, returning to the scandal itself, why would people use con games to get their buddies and relatives spots in the program?

Simple. These public employees are compensated at completely diseconomic levels.

So, what can we do? Little. Public employees constantly compare their compensation levels to those of employees in neighboring cities and counties. Unless everyone bites the bullet at once, each city is beholden to the argument that lowering its compensation will drive applicants elsewhere.

In addition, pretty much every public official in the state of California is bought and paid for by the unions representing these employees. No big surprise there. If my union had successfully provided me with 10x the salary I would receive in the private sector, I'd do pretty much whatever it took to defend that.

Finally, the general public is endlessly gullible when it comes to this issue. No matter how much money police and fire make, they return every two or four years with signs and protests suggesting their pay is being cut. They use patriotic symbols from a bygone era to ensure that the broad sweep of the public supports whatever they want.

It's a clever con, really. Wish I'd thought of it and gotten on board. Stupid me for going to college and getting a real job.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jane Brunner Thinks Our Schools Are "Great"

I just received this email in one of my many fake Yahoo accounts dedicated to such drivel:
Jane Brunner's Community Advisory Meeting

Topic: What Makes a Great Urban Public School?

Vincent Matthews, State Administrator of the Oakland Unified School District
Stephen Wesley, Superintendent of the Emery Unified School District
Sheila Jordan, Superintendent Alameda County
Kerry Hamill, Oakland School Board District

When: Saturday, April 12th, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 Noon
Where: Peralta Elementary School, 460 63rd Street

I'm not sure why they've asked these people to come speak about this topic. It's kind of like asking George Bush to come give a speech about "How to end a war quickly and effectively."

As urban school districts go, Oakland is a complete joke. If Brunner really wanted to have a productive discussion about urban school districts, how about bringing in someone from LA Unified, which actually bothers to provide aptitude-based magnet schools? Or, even better, how about bringing in someone (by phone if necessary) from the New York public school system, with its renowned Bronx Science school?

The Bay Area is full of intelligent, ambitious people, and Oakland is no exception. Why must we be saddled with a school district whose highest hopes are to foster full political correctness and to ensure that no student, however bright, gets any advantages over any other.

I would love to see one of my readers attend this meeting and bring up points like this. I might even come and do it myself, though talking to Jane Brunner is sort of a monumental waste of time.

My prediction for the meeting is a long discussion and lots of questions about how the state takeover in Oakland somehow harmed the district. I must admit, I had some hopes that the takeover would institute a few policies to move the district away from being a free daycare service to a real educational system.

Sadly, I was wrong. Things are much the same as they have been for years. The only real option for non-abusive parents is private school.

At Mandela Foods Coop, The Cupboard Is Bare

Regular readers of the blog know my dislike for the latest socialist experiment being perpetrated on the people of West Oakland. As promised, I dropped by and took pictures both of the "Coop" and the 99 Cents Only store's produce section.

Mandela Foods Coop:

Mandela Foods Coop

99c Only Stores:

99c Only Stores99c Only Stores

Where would you rather shop? For those of us who are not termites or metal-eaters, the choice is clear.

Incidentally, while I was at 99c Only, I bought some great sweet bread and a drink. In front of me in line was a lady buying produce and some snacks for her daughter. She only had $6 but the bill was $8.20. Luckily, the store manager was there and offered her a discount so she could afford everything.

Thanks again to 99c Only for proving me right and the socialists wrong.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Deborah Edgerly, You Will Be Missed

According to news reports, Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly is on her way out. I don't know a whole lot about Edgerly. I do know she recently disagreed with the auditing Measure Y expenditures. But generally, she seemed like your standard city bureaucrat.

My opinion changed when I read the article about her retirement. Allow me to provide you with the crucial quote:
"I'm just trying to get a few more things done," she said. "I've never made no bones about the fact that five years is a long time to be in this job."

Now, I realize I'm opening myself up for all sorts of criticism here, ranging from outrage over wasting a blog post over such a minor matter to irritation that I still haven't come to grips with Oakland's historic fascination with Ebonics.

Having worked at a newspaper, I can tell you that reporters generally check direct quotes with sources to verify their accuracy. It's also commonplace to fix minor grammatical errors using brackets or parentheses "[] or ()" where appropriate.

Evidently, neither the reporter nor Edgerly saw the need here. Apparently no one cares that "I've never made no bones" is an obliteration of the English language. They probably thought it was cute and charming.

I do not. These sorts of quotes represent the subtle ways in which our communities devalue themselves.

If our use of language is our greeting card to the world, then this quote says: "Welcome to Oakland! The people who live here are morons!"

So, I guess I now know two things about Deborah Edgerly.

Tribune Agrees: 99c Only Good for West Oakland

Glad to see the tribune bend to the truth in Monday's article. Also, for the record, I go by the West Oakland BART station pretty much every day, with nary a peep out of the Mandela Foods Collective. Good thing West Oakland residents already have a reasonably priced alternative for food and sundries.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

America's Secret Racism, Courtesy of White Liberal Guilt

I was reading Sue Shellenbarger's article in the Wall Street Journal today about research demonstrating that some decidedly conservative principles can prevent marriages from ending in divorce.

The article's content was unsurprising, considering the Journal's conservative bent, until I encountered the following quote (my emphasis added):
"In the Army, blacks tend to be fairly paid and promoted -- and to divorce at the same rate as white civilians. Given the well-documented tendency of workaday emotions to spill over at home, it makes sense to avoid workplaces where the deck is stacked against you."

So, the implication is that every workplace in America except the US Military engages in anti-black discrimination.

This is exactly the kind of garbage rhetoric that perpetuates the race industry in America. In case the article's author didn't notice, workplace discrimination is against the law. If she is aware of a set of businesses engaging in the practice, I suggest she report it to her local authorities. I also suggest that she include a list of these businesses in her column.

Naturally, she won't do that, because she doesn't actually have any personal knowledge of which businesses, if any, engage in these practices. What she's really doing is repeating a well-worn mantra from the civil-rights era that everyone just assumes must still be true.

Only, in the vast majority of cases no such discrimination exists. Our government has done, and continues to do, an excellent job rooting out racism in employment. Violators are prosecuted, and rightly so. But these days, it's pretty rare to see a prosecution for racial discrimination. This is a consequnce of such vigorous enforcement.

Today, America's much bigger racial issue is a culture of low expectations and white liberal guilt which combine to make it difficult for members of certain ethnic groups to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, many in the minority communities are unwilling to come forward and demand to be treated as full adult citizens of the country. I suspect this is because they want to protect benefits such as affirmative action, and because certain well-placed minority "leaders" make money hand over fist by crying racism at every opportunity.

Minorities should reject the bigoted attitude of white liberals that they cannot compete in a fair workplace. White liberals should leave their guilt behind and finally embrace minorities as fully equal human beings. Only then can all Americans make progress together.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Brief Sonatina in G

To do my part to make the East Bay more "funky," I've added an "Art" category to the blog. I hope to post enjoyable tidbits from time to time.

Attached to this post is audio and sheet music for a brief piano piece I composed a few afternoons ago.


Brief Sonatina In G - Listenable Midi File

Brief Sonatina In G - PDF Score

Housing Affordability Problem? Great!

America is beginning a remarkable transformation involving the re-urbanization of many upper-middle-class households. This trend is driven by a number of factors, including aging baby boomers, traffic jams and environmentalism.

Predictably, cities like Oakland will likely fail to take advantage of this trend because of their bizarre attachment to slums.
As far as I know, I'm the only East Bay blogger who actively opposes so-called "affordable housing" no matter how it's packaged. I categorically oppose it because it runs counter to any sort of optimistic vision of a growing, thriving city.

Affordable housing is designed to entrench those who are unable or unwilling to compete in the economy. It:

  • Takes valuable land from those who would be willing to pay more for it and allocates it to others, disrupting the natural economic balance and distorting pricing signals in the marketplace.

  • Creates "haves" and "have nots" among the poor by randomly selecting some of them to help. Economic reality makes it impossible to give every poor person a piece of coveted property without adopting full-on socialism. (Incidentally, labor unions do the same thing, but that's for another time.)

  • Invites corruption by allowing government officials to distribute benefits to their cronies and their cronies' cronies.

  • Discourages mobility. Much like rent control and prop 13, it makes the optimal strategy to never ever move apartments or houses, for fear that costs might rise. Thus, people turn down new job opportunities for fear of losing their government perquisites.

  • Fosters mistrust among the potential higher-income residents by signaling that government is "out to get them." This is also the reason why no Oakland high school can attract the best students. Parents won't even give the schools a chance for fear that government officials will find yet another way to stick it to them.

  • Carries with it the presumption that certain types of residents are more desirable than others.

    • If anyone's more desirable, wouldn't it usually be the wealthier resident?

    • Why not let the market decide who is more desirable?

V Smoothe writes, "Of course" there's an affordability "problem" in Oakland. What's that even mean? If people couldn't afford the prices charged for housing (whether to rent or to own), they would look elsewhere, and prices would decline. Obviously, outside of the housing bubble fallout, that's not happening. And that's great for Oakland! That means people want to live here. Why would we want to disrupt that?

The answer is simple: Petty selfishness. Governments enact policies like affordable housing because there are a set of people who want to get whatever they want, by whatever means necessary. In this case, they've failed to get what they want through the economy by competing, so now they want the government to change the rules of the game and just declare them the winners.

Now, I can hear people saying that I'm just piling on the "victims" in this situation. Such an argument is pure sophistry. No one is suggesting laws which tilt the scales of government against the poor. The scales should be flat for everyone, rich and poor, black and white. This is the proper function of government.

People like to argue that we need affordable housing so the people who work as low-wage service employees in a given city can also live in that city. The problem with this argument is that, in a supply-constrained environment, it's a zero-sum game. For each service employee who gets a spot, you have to kick out one lawyer, banker or engineer. Instead of the low-wage employee living in a suburb, the higher-income person moves there. So, the suburbs prosper while the cities suffer.

And, of course, the policies don't even have their intended effects. I know a couple who purchased a home using a special "affordable" mortgage by simply having the lower-earning spouse apply for the loan without the other. Everyone is familiar with the stories of well-off retirees living in absurdly cheap rent controlled apartments. The bottom line: Housing responds very well to economic signals, and by harnessing capitalism instead of railing against it, cities like Oakland can attract more affluent residents.

It's always so saddening to me to ride BART along the Highway 24 corridor. Cities like Orinda and Lafayette are the direct beneficiaries of the ridiculous policies on this side of the Caldecott Tunnel. In past generations, cities competed to attract the sorts of coveted residents and businesses which now flock to our eastern neighbors (and, humorously, Emeryville). These days, our cities compete to entrench ghettos and provide excellent housing for parolled felons.

To what end? To make our cities "funky?" I submit that we would do just as well on that score if we abandoned these policies. The Bay Area is full of interesting people with good jobs who would like to live in the sort of urban environment we can provide.

And besides, murder, rape, graffiti and wandering ne'er-do-wells are not "funky." They're symptoms of cultural suicide. We should be fighting against these forces, not inviting them in.

It's time to set aside these "affordable" housing policies, and pursue a rational, competitive drive to attract the best possible residents -- those who have competed in the economy and done well. In other words, we should let the market decide who lives here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Lawyers Kill the Homeless

Bravo to C.W. Nevius for his brave article exposing how advocates for the homeless wind up doing more harm than good. In this case, lawyers' efforts to prevent a homeless man from going to alcohol treatment played a role in his death. I don't have much to add to the article, other than to suggest you read it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Drug War = Death in the East Bay

Looks like Richmond's anti-violence event held last week didn't stop the violence for long.

As is typical for these things, the event involved a bunch of people staying up late at night and walking the streets to stop criminals. Naturally, the criminals simply took the night off, resuming standard operations the following evening.

At the risk of tilting at windmills, let me take another swing here at how the east-bay's crime centers should draw attention to their plight in a more constructive ways.

First, ask yourself, does such an event strike fear in the hearts of the gangsters and drug lords who preside over the violence in Richmond? Of course not. They will either laugh at such an effort or be completely oblivious to it.

Bob Woodward's famous admonition to "follow the money" lies at the heart of an effective strategy to combat inner-city violence. Consider a few basic questions:

Q: Who is committing the violence?
A: A set of unattached, largely unemployed young men.

Q: Where do these people get the money to buy guns, bullets, food and housing?
A: They participate in the drug trade.

Q: Why are they killing each other?
A: Because of financial or turf disputes arising from the black-market trade in drugs.

When a product is illegal but plentiful, a black market naturally arises to support trade in that product. This is the true source of inner-city violence.

As Michael Dell, CEO of the computer maker, tells us, one can economically defeat a competitor by simply draining their profit pool. In other words, if you offer the same product for less money, your competitor will not only make less money selling that product; the competitor will also be unable to do all the other things it previously did.

I am, of course, talking about ending the drug war and offering most street drugs for sale at low prices in a regulated fashion. Even conservative Bill Buckley came to the conclusion that this was the only sensible strategy. (That link leads to a really good video, by the way. I agree 100% with Buckley's logic.)

As things stand now, the government is essentially propping up drug dealers by keeping drugs illegal. Worse yet, this is making all the other illegal activities occurring in the inner cities more lucrative. And, it offers a ready-made recruiting system for kids who want to make some money, since the only people in the inner city with any money are those involved in the drug trade.

This is an issue I feel passionately about, for a few reasons:

  • I have yet to encounter an well-reasoned argument against legalization of street drugs. I encourage readers to post one as a comment if one indeed exists.

  • There are the obvious benefits, ranging from piercing the black market to shifting the billions spent on law enforcement and incarceration over to treatment and eduction.

  • I believe this is a sterling example of government pretending to assist poor people while actually sticking a knife in their backs.

  • I believe this policy would dramatically decrease ancillary crimes such as burglaries which occur becuase people need money to buy drugs.

  • Frankly, I'm sick and tired of the urban culture that so obviously is funded by illegal activities. I think this is one of the best way to force ne'er-do-wells to "go get a job."

Now there remains a question as to what a city like Richmond or even Oakland can do to facilitate street-drug legalization. My answer: Plenty.

Our mayors should call this out as a top priority. To the extent possible, they should instruct police not to cooperate with the drug war. They should organize protests and civil disobedience to bring the issue to voters' attention. They should speak clearly to the public, explaining how the drug war lies at the roots of so many urban problems.

In other words, local officials can play a critical role in making street-drug legalization a mainstream issue.

Why haven't local politicians done this? Honestly, I think it has something to do with some sort of twisted pride they take in seeing at least some people in the inner city get rich. This is too bad, but it's really par for the course for Leftists. They'd rather see money go to someone in a poor neighborhood, no matter the bizarre, horrible consequences, than institute a reasonable policy that could create some short-term pain.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Memo to Liberals: McCain Will Beat Obama

It's no secret that conservatives have spent most of their energy since McCain wrapped up the nomination attacking Hillary Clinton. There's a simple, if somewhat ugly, logic to this: They know Obama can't win.

I decided to write about this topic today after reading Geraldine Ferraro's much-reviled comments about Barack Obama's candidacy. In essence, Ferraro said Obama would not be in the position he occupies today were he not black. A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic, but not too many people are saying what really needs saying: In essence, Ferraro is right, and not in a good way for Obama.

There's no question that America contains a subset of serious anti-black racists. This is just a fact, as is the reality that nearly all of those people will vote Republican come hell or high water.

It's also pretty clear that 90 percent-plus of blacks will vote for Obama, based on the polling data and the extremely high propensity of blacks to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Then there is the much larger group of non-blacks who will have to make up their minds about Obama. Some will vote for him, and some are like me. I'm a white guy who will most likely vote for McCain because of his policy views on things like health care and government spending, and his wealth of foreign-policy experience.

But there's another important set of people that I believe will vote for McCain over Obama. These are the non-blacks who might tend to agree with Obama on the issues, but are concerned about, for lack of a better term, the fact that he is black.

To the casual observer, this might appear to be garden-variety racism. And maybe it is racism. I think people could have an educated debate about that. But it is most decidedly not garden variety.

I believe the non-blacks in this case will not be voting because of some visceral dislike of blacks. Instead, I think they will be acting out of a concern that Obama will make decisions which pander to his black constitutents, possibly to the detriment of the country as a whole.

This is ironic considering that Obama has, in my opinion, made a strong case that he is not bought and paid for by the traditional set of special interests which perennially plague Washington. The problem is that he may be beholden to a set of interests which haven't previously played such a major role in government.

An astute observer might point out that in the past several elections, blacks have overwhelmingly voted for the Democrat, so in that sense nothing's changed. This is where the racism question comes into play. I suspect that for most non-black undecided voters, the fact that Obama is black will mean everything has changed. Unlike previous Democratic presidents who paid lip service to their black constituents without adopting many policies explicitly aimed at their goals, Obama will likely put blacks front and center in his administration.

I've noticed several ways in which I believe mainstream media, Republicans and Obama himself have all conspired to keep this worry on the front burner for most voters. Republicans have done their part by taking aim at Hillary. I'm pretty sure they've done this in the hopes that they'll run against Obama, regardless of poll numbers suggesting Obama would do better than Hillary against McCain.

Obama has selected blacks to serve as key advisers in a number of roles. He attends a predominately black church, led by a pastor known for his anti-white diatribes. He occasionally targets themes in speeches and debates which highlight his heritage. These are all fine in the Democratic primary process, where he needs to mobilize the black vote in order to win. But in the general election, I believe it will turn out to be a mistake.

The mainstream media is also a culprit here. I can't tell you how many times I've turned on various of the cable news channels to see a political show with, say, 3 or 4 folks discussing the election. Inevitably, they've set up the situation so that one of the analysts is black, and that analyst seems to be a steadfast, almost fanatical, supporter of Obama.

Now I understand identity politics, and I understand the excitement in the black community about Obama. I personally think it would be great to have a black president, and if I agreed with Obama's politics, I'd vote for him. But these commentators aren't doing Obama any favors. To the non-blacks watching, they're personifying the monolithic support he enjoys from the black "interest group." I think this makes many non-blacks worried.

Returning to Ferraro's comments, I think it's pretty clear Obama has attracted an overwhelming amount of support and votes from the black community because he is black. People may call that racist, but that's kind of an odd thing to say considering there are no non-black people involved in the entire equation. Unfortunately for him, that same formula will be his undoing against McCain, a moderate Republican who will appeal to conservative Democrats.

I do think we will have a black president one day. He or she will have to focus earlier on crossover appeal, without relying so heavily on the black vote to get the nomination. In fact, I think he or she may wind up being a Republican.

Berkeley Daily Planet: Crazy Dirty Men Good For Business

I'm sure the Berkeley Daily Planet's Becky O'Malley means well in her recent editorial suggesting that the homeless are not at the root of downtown Berkeley's troubles. While she provides a nice recounting of recent history, her conclusions are flat wrong.
Tom Bates and the Berkeley City Council are to be congratulated for trying to do something about the scourge of anti-social behavior on the sidewalks of the district around Shattuck Ave. In my opinion, the city's workshop on development has come up with a reasonable first set of ideas for how to improve the situation.

But unlike O'Malley, I think Berkeley should go further in its efforts to improve the business climate on Shattuck and Telegraph, and the solution begins with laws to protect business owners and customers from the local crazies.

I understand the desire and drive to be compassionate toward these people. They are generally downtrodden, frequently have psychiatric illnesses, and there's no question they spend much of their time just trying to find food and a place to sleep. The existence of these issues does not, however, mean that citizens should have to put up with their nonsense on a day-to-day basis. The issues are simply completely unrelated.

I also understand Berkeley's drive to try and help the homeless. The problem, however, is simple numbers. The more services you provide, the more homeless show up in the town. There are more potential homeless residents than Berkeley can possibly help. In addition, many of them actually refuse any medical help that is offered. Instead, they'd rather just take advantage of people's generosity.

It's this reality that makes me crazy when I see someone stop and give money to a homeless person. I understand the impulse, but the result of the action is the exact opposite of what the person intends. With overwhelming likelihood, and particularly in Berkeley with its large chronic homeless population, the person they're paying will not use the money to "look for a better life." And, as Milton Friedman pointed out, when you pay people to be poor, you get a lot more of them. Berkeley has learned this in spades.

I also take issue with O'Malley's assertion that, as a "civil libertarian," she supports the "right" of people to panhandle and sleep on sidewalks. This oft-repeated argument is absurd and has nothing to do with being a libertarian. Real libertarians know that part of the philosophy lies in balancing the rights of one person against another. Panhandling absolutely infringes on the rights of the person being panhandled. Begging nearly always contains some threat of violence if no money is paid. And even without that threat, it consumes the time and energe of the beggee without any possibility of a productive economic transaction taking place. In my opinion, a real libertarian should want both begging and paying a beggar to be illegal.

Sleeping on sidewalks has a similar issue. Imagine a world in which I can just stop my car in the middle of the freeway and refuse to move. This is not libertarian. It's just stupid.

So, what happens to the panhandlers if Berkeley cracks down? Only good things, in my view. Beggars have an incentive either to seek treatment or to enter the job market (or both). Citizens see an improved quality of life, and Berkeley improves as a shopping destination.

The reality is that, like Oakland, Berkeley contains a significant number of citizens with the resources to shop in a higher-end shopping district. These people are forced either to Emeryville or even further just to have a reasonable shopping experience. Many of them would absolutely rather shop in Berkeley to take advantage of the town's unique aspects. The fact that they do not is attributable to the lack of shops and the presence of the anti-social element.

I don't buy the argument that somehow poverty is critical to Berkeley's charm. I believe its charm relates much more to the diverse interests of its inhabitants and the presence of a world-class university. Let's take advantage of these good attributes while curtailing the bad.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh How I Love Seeing Measure Y 'Raided'

In case you hadn't heard, Oakland's City Council voted to spend $7.7M of Measure Y funds for recruiting and training as many as 75 new police officers this year.

There's a lot of hullabaloo out there about how this is a violation of the public trust because Measure Y funds were supposed to pay for "problem solving officers," not training new officers. Frankly, I have trouble understanding these complaints, and I find them a bit hypocritical.

Now, I'm the last one to say that I expect the City of Oakland to spend its money wisely. I view my $88 annual "violence prevention tax" the same way I view the $80 tax for the world's crummiest library system and the $197 I pay for the world's worst school system. On a bad day, I view these as straight extortion. On a good day, it's the admission fee for watching an entertaining albeit horribly self destructive spectacle.

When Measure Y passed, I expected them to figure out some way to divert 100% of the money to "administrative costs" and social programs. There's a pretty standard way the city does this, and others have reported extensively about these practices.

I don't live in the "kill zone" of Oakland, as one friend calls it. So in some respects, I don't really care whether Measure Y sends money to police officers or to social programs. But I feel pretty certain that the silent majority of non-criminals/non-activists/non-lawyers who do live in the "zone" care very deeply. They want more police.

Larry Reid says he doubts 803 officers is achievable in 2008. Maya Dillard Smith worries that Measure Y money may supplant the general police budget. V Smoothe wants to make sure Measure Y money is repaid if a recruited officer doesn't join the force.

What's with all the complaining? Is adding 30 or 50 officers such a disaster, if we don't reach the magic 803 number this year? And, while I share the concern about government fiscal responsibility, do we really have any illusions that Oakland will somehow not spend every penny it takes in one year?

Personally, the only reason I thought Measure Y wasn't a total disaster was the thought that maybe some of the money might incrementally raise the city's police budget. I know the city is corrupt; I know the police union is corrupt; I know everyone's on the take. But in a city where pretty much any measure (except the one for a new central library--we don't like books apparently) passes with 75% of the vote, you take what you can get. I assume measures will pass. I assume my taxes will always rise. I look for the bright spots where I can find them.

So I say good for you Ron Dellums. Good for you for taking a more conservative position and pushing for more police. And good for you for trying to find the cash to make it happen. I hope this works out, and I hope we get more cops.

And to those who oppose this move, I ask you what you think the money should be spent on instead? Because the choice is not between spending it on this or issuing refunds. I'm not sitting by my mailbox waiting for that $88 to show up. I know better. I'd rather spend the money to maybe get a few cops, however poor the process, than on Nancy Nadel's next wacky "violence prevention" scheme.

Enough of those. Let's get some more cops and bust some heads.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Oakland Magazine Joins the Anti-Poor-People Parade

Just got my monthly (?) copy of Oakland Magazine in the mail. A strange sort of magazine, it continually suggests that I should subscribe, yet I've received it for more than two years without paying a dime.

This month's edition contained what, all in all, was a good article about grocery shopping options in Oakland.

But, not to beat a dead horse, but I'm pretty irritated that they felt the need to join the parade of those who feel the presence of a 99 cents only store in West Oakland somehow hurts the people living there:

West Oakland residents wanted a healthy, community-focused, full-service grocery to anchor the Mandela Gateway retail and housing redevelopment project on Seventh Street, across from the West Oakland BART. What they got instead was a 99¢ Only chain outlet. But the scrappy worker-owned Mandela Food Cooperative ... negotiated a deal that will allow it to open a small (2,000-square-foot selling area) market as early as April.

This is exactly why capitalism works. I have no doubt that some people do want an overpriced failure of a "food cooperative." Thankfully, capitalism knows better, and the free market brought residents of that area with a store that provides them with reasonable merchandise at an excellent value.

I also find tiresome the author's suggestion that the 99¢ Only store is somehow declasse or inappropriate for West Oakland. Give me a break. As a matter of fact, I shop at that store not infrequently, as I often use the West Oakland BART station to commute. The store has good food at a great price. I plan to post some pictures in the near future to give readers a sense of what this store has to offer.

I also walk by the Mandela Foods location, and there is no way those guys are going to open in April. Not suprising, but it is pretty annoying when you consider that we as a city are subsidizing that store, giving it a financial advantage over the 99¢ Only store. Even with that disadvantage, the 99¢ Only store will win. Mark my words.

Incidentally, the 99¢ Only store clientele is extremely diverse, which I consider a great thing. The staff appears to be very diverse as well. Also a great thing.

I recently asked a checker about the news I'd read that residents weren't going to shop at the store. "Psssh," she said. "I see everyone in here. We're the best bargain in town."

Amen to that, and thanks to 99¢ Only for providing West Oakland with unbeatable value.