Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dullums Says 'I Love Crime' -- Plans To Run City Singlehandedly

It appears as if all the rodents are jumping off the sinking ship that is the government in the City of Oakland.

Yesterday, Police Chief Wayne Tucker tendered his resignation, creating yet another vacancy in the upper echelons of the city's governance structure. Not surprisingly, nearly every single interested observer other than Mayor Dullums views this development as a good thing.

By most accounts, the police department descended into chaos under Tucker's "leadership" while violent crime soared. Supposedly the only thing Tucker has done well is to implement parts of the Riders settlement -- which has helped decrease the department's homicide closure rate while failing to decrease the number of scandals and botched investigations. Most view this as a pretty negative thing.

Except Dullums. Apparently he's been holding his crime reports upside down this entire time, so he thought Oakland was sitting at a multi-year violence nadir.

Whatever the reason, he was the force stopping Tucker from resigning in recent months. And, after the chief's resignation, Dullums had only good things to say about his tenure. I suppose there's no merit in pointing out that the hundreds of grieving families with relatives shot dead in Oakland's killing fields might tend to disagree.

The only other item worthy of note in this story is the rapidly shrinking number of lieutenants surrounding Dullums. He has still failed to appoint a permanent City Administrator, and it seems likely he will do the same with the position of Police Chief. Perhaps eventually we'll be left a lawless and blighted city with only one remaining public official -- a very, very sleepy mayor.

It makes you wonder if Dullums' master plan is to destroy as much of Oakland as possible so he can pick up real estate on the cheap, resign and then make a bundle.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Something You'll Never See In California

At the risk of this blog becoming an advertisement for the state of Nevada, I'm here to alert you to an astonishing development east of the border.

This morning, I received an email indicating that Washoe County -- where Reno and the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe are located -- has decided to lower its assessed property valuations by 25 percent across the board. So, without any action on the part of homeowners, property taxes will automatically be reduced 25 percent this year.

Yes, I realize that such a thing wouldn't work in California because of Proposition 13. And, I know a homeowner in California can petition to have their house reappraised. But that's not the point.

The point is that there actually are places in this country where sufficient fiscal discipline has been exercised to permit reasonable reductions in taxes to compensate for the poor economy.

An across-the-board tax cut does just this. And, you can bet that Nevada will balance that with reasonable spending reductions to keep their budget balanced.

So, what will we do with the $1,000 in property taxes we won't have to pay in Nevada this year? Maybe we can put it toward hiring a private security patrol to compensate for Oakland's refusal to adequately police our neighborhood.

But, more realistically, we'll earmark it to pay for the next ridiculous tax increase we can expect from Mayor Dullums. It'll be sad to see Nevada's money wasted on more make-work programs for "violence reduction."

Costco At Oakland Army Base? Probably Not

Live in Oakland long enough and you start to notice a few things are awry in terms of getting access to the kinds of services a typical middle class Bay Area family expects to find.

Let's say you want to go to Costco to buy some food for the next week. Well, your choices are to drive to San Leandro, Walnut Creek or up to Richmond. Strangely, there's no Costco in Oakland, even though it would seem the retailer has a big base of customers right here. Costco even has a store in San Francisco, indicating they're not afraid of urban settings.

For years, the only Wal Mart around was down in San Leandro, alongside the Costco. Now one has opened near the airport, but that still takes you pretty far from the heart of the city.

Suppose instead you want to go to a hardware store to buy some tools. There's Home Depot nearby, which is sort of in Oakland, but really it's pretty much in Emeryville. Recently, another Home Depot opened up alongside the 880 freeway, so that's an improvement. But there's no Lowe's to be found, and the Orchard Supply is in Berkeley.

Everyone knows that Emeryville has managed to snatch away from Oakland virtually all the valuable retail opportunities that have arisen in recent memory. They got the Ikea and the Emery Bay shopping mall -- all this in spite of having zero mass transit accessibility.

The situation with the former Oakland Army Base gives you a glimpse of why this has happened.

In most cities throughout California, a major issue is City Councils putting too much emphasis on retail, because it gives them a way to bloat the government through sales-tax receipts. Because of Proposition 13, property taxes are far less lucrative, so residential development is often less favored.

Not so in Oakland. We spurned the a new downtown stadium for the Oakland A's for a set of foreclosure-ready instaslums. And our fearless leaders are about to do the same thing with the Army Base.

First, the city decided to waste more than a year of planning time fooling around with an idiotic proposal from the Wayans brothers to build a film studio on the property. So far as I can tell, no consideration was given to the fact that the average Oakland resident would receive no benefits whatsoever from such a proposal. The government likely wouldn't have reaped any tax dollars from it either.

Now, according to various sources, the choice is down to two proposals.

The first would focus on the sort of retail that Oakland is sorely lacking. Recent articles have suggested that Costco might be interested in the location, so that would be at least one anchor tenant for the property. The proposal also includes a hotel and conference center, which makes sense given the property's access to the freeway.

Sadly, the second proposal sounds a lot more likely, given Oakland's terrible track record for city planning. That proposal would focus on office space and "industrial" uses which go along with the port of Oakland.

I have no idea why some people are obsessed with retaining industrial land use in Oakland. My only guess is that it's the result of some sort of collusion between the unions and some sort of socialist desire to keep as many blue-collar jobs around as possible.

Office space also seems a bizarre way to use the land. Shouldn't we at least try to cluster office space around mass transit? If so, wouldn't it make sense to put that near the West Oakland Bart station, a neighborhood of burned-out graffiti-covered buildings?

To me it's a no-brainer. Bring in a set of retail businesses which will bring the kind of upper-middle-income shoppers Oakland needs to eliminate its image as a city of poverty. And, it will provide residents one more reasonable destination within the city, so we can stop driving to Walnut Creek to shop.

We'll keep an eye on this as it develops. I am not optimistic.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's Not Just Measure Y: Social Programs Don't Work

I read with interest V Smoothe's article today regarding problems with Oakland's Measure Y.

It's nice to see so many people coming around to view the outcomes of this initiative as a mistake. While I still support the funding mechanism -- a pleasantly regressive and gentrifying flat parcel tax -- I never thought the way the money was spent would amount to much.

The initiative funneled nearly all of its policing money into so-called "community policing." While this approach is successful in some other areas of the country, I've long been skeptical that something so soft and friendly could make a dent in Oakland's ongoing bloodbath. If the recent anti-police riots tell us anything, it's that our local hoodlums continue to hate the police, in spite of this friendlier approach.

By far the worst part of Measure Y is its "anti-violence" social programs. It is my opinion that the only truly functional anti-violence program is a determined police officer wielding a baton.

I was disappointed to see V Smoothe try to cast one of these programs as something of a success. In her article, she pointed out that when teens who had been suspended from school for truancy attended Measure Y programs, they were less likely than their non-program-attending peers to be suspended in the following year.

There's a common social sciences error being made here. It's the same one that hucksters exploit when selling vitamins or nutritional supplements on the radio.

The problem is that there is no way to know whether the students who attended the Measure Y programs would have had lower suspension rates the following year had they not attended the programs.

This is a critical point, because a student who does attend the program is probably more motivated that his peers to change behaviors. Maybe that student has a two-parent family at home and was pushed to do the program. Maybe he's just sick and tired of being a jerk. But whatever the reason, it's possible -- likely, even -- that the program itself is irrelevant.

V Smoothe describes the students who did not attend the program as a "control group." But here I believe she fails to understand the concept of a control group.

In science, a control group must not know that he is a member of the control. In medicine, this means the control receives a placebo treatment. In the case of Measure Y, it means the control group needs to be a set of people either who attended an alternate program or who asked to attend the program but were denied (and even that would be a questionable control).

I strongly suspect that if the research were conducted in this way, it would show the programs have no statistically significant effect.

This opinion is bolstered by the remainder of V Smoothe's article, which indicates that other Measure Y programs are doing nothing meaningful to stop recidivism. She rightly calls this outcome "dismal."

The basic problem with these programs is they assume that all criminally minded people are just searching for a way out of that lifestyle, if only the government could provide it to them.

This is a mistake. Criminals follow that lifestyle because they enjoy it and because it's a good way to make a lot of money without much work.

The only way to stop them from wanting to commit crimes is to make it unprofitable and painful. To that end, Oakland should stop focusing on community policing and shift toward instilling fear and respect in the minds of would-be criminals. We should take a page out of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's book.

Sentence criminals to hard labor for their crimes. Make them spend 8 hours a day walking in a waterwheel to generate electricity. Make them break rocks.

But let's not cut out Measure Y entirely. Let's enact more parcel taxes -- good, regressive taxes that encourage the poor to leave. Then, let's make our police department the most feared in the East Bay -- all the better to run more of the undesirables out of town.

It's time to abandon Leftist criminal coddling and give them a taste of the baton.

Inauguration Gear

I was thinking about the inauguration this morning, and it struck me that it would be enjoyable -- and extremely funny -- for conservatives to give President Obama as little opportunity to succeed as the left gave to George Bush.

Remember those bumper stickers you saw around town that said "1-20-09"? Well, I decided it would be a great idea for conservatives to have an equally absurd way to belittle Obama. So, I set up a little shop on Cafe Press, selling all sorts of goodies emblazoned with "1-20-13". Here's the URL:

I'll place a small advertisement for the shop on this page to try and encourage people to anger their local Leftists. Tell a friend!

Also, let me know if you have thoughts for slogans we could use either nationally or, even better, locally. You can simply suggest them in comments to this posting.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bart Tragedy A Tragedy For All

There's nothing worse than running across a story like the one from this past week, where a Bart police officer "shot and killed an unarmed rider" at the Fruitvale Bart station.

Any way you slice it, this situation is a tragedy. The last thing Oakland needs is more gun violence and death. And, the fact that a cop is the one who pulled the trigger makes the situation all the more concerning.

Naturally, I hope police conduct a thorough investigation of the situation, and I hope the DA files charges where appropriate. Our city cannot and should not tolerate summary justice at the hands of rogue police officers (if that is indeed what occurred).

Unfortunately, alongside this tragedy is another potential tragedy -- the family of the dead man in the case has already retained an attorney who has indicated he plans to file suit against Bart for $25 million.

Now I realize that there is an adage that says you can't put a value on a human life, and I'm not going to argue here whether this young man's life is or is not worth $25 million.

What I would like to point out, however, is that a judgment for this amount of money would cause pain for every single other rider on the Bart system --  probably for years to come. According to Bart, 100 million people rode Bart in 2007. That's 50 million round-trips. So, if a $25 million judgment were paid out in a single year, that would cost every rider $0.50 per round-trip ride, an increase of more than 10 percent in average fares.

This is not even to mention the fact that ridership would inevitably decrease if fares were to increase. That would increase the burden on the remaining riders, and it would cause other problems such as freeway congestion.

The basic problem here lies with the notion that civil lawsuits against the government can redress civil-rights violations. In a typical lawsuit which does not involve the government, the lawsuit serves as a disincentive to other potential defendants from engaging in future bad behavior.

Not so when someone sues the government.

Because the government's actions are mediated through an agent -- the police officer in this case -- it's impossible for the government to prevent the action which precipitated the lawsuit. This is evident in the fact that all police officers undergo extensive training to avoid bad shootings, and yet they still happen.

The right person to sue is the police officer individually. If the shooting was bad, that means that he was acting outside his role as an officer, so he should answer for his actions.

But the standard strategy here is to go after the "deep pockets," and that is always the government.

So, while I hope that justice is done by the police and DA investigating this case, I do not hope that the attorneys for the family manage to wrest $25 million from Bart.

Because what that really amounts to is taking the money from all of us. And we are not the ones who pulled the trigger.