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Oakland mayor: Thousands moving to city challenge resources

'We will grow from our roots, we are Oakland,' Libby Schaaf says in 1st State of City address

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf pledged that she will work to make sure the city's recent growth will not come at the expense of long-term residents in her first State of the City address Wednesday evening.

Touting the announcement that Uber will soon be expanding its headquarters into Oakland, Schaaf juxtaposed the city's strong economic indicators with the stark inequality between the city's neighborhoods.

While unemployment in the Grand Lake neighborhood on the north end of Lake Merritt is only 2.9 percent, only a mile away in East Oakland it is 7.9 percent, Schaaf said. While life expectancy in Grand Lake is about 85 years, in East Oakland it is only 68.

"I'm determined to use this time of progress to solve problems that have plagued Oakland all my life," Schaaf sad as she concluded her address.

Some of those problems she said are on their way to being solved. Shootings, burglaries and robberies are down compared to 3 years ago, though homicides are higher this year than last and still at a level Schaaf called "unacceptable."

A particularly tragic example Schaaf spoke at length about was the still unsolved shooting death of artist Antonio Ramos as he was painting a mural beneath a West Oakland overpass late last month. Ramos was working on a project with arts group Attitudinal Healing Connection, one of a series of murals designed by students to promote peace.

Schaaf attended the mural's unveiling last week, and said she listened to Ramos' brother speak passionately about his disappointment and distrust with the city's government, including its mayor.

But city officials are hard at work restoring the trust of Oaklanders, particularly the Police Department, which is "both healing from a shameful past and forging a hopeful future," Schaaf said.

The department's progress in mandated Constitutional reforms stemming from a civil rights case settled over a decade ago have now made it a national model in its studies of racial profiling and use of body-worn cameras by all officers, she said.

The department has reduced use of force and arrests while crime has declined, she said. According to Schaaf, Oakland police Chief Sean Whent believes "over-aggressive policing and over-incarceration do not make Oakland safer."

But as it contends with problems of the past, Oakland must also face the challenge of integrating thousands of new residents moving in each year. Rental prices are rising faster than nearly anywhere else in the country.

Schaaf recently announced she was forming a cabinet to specifically address the housing affordability crisis in the city, working to quickly implement a housing roadmap recently adopted by the City Council. But little of that agenda is likely to be implemented until next year.

While Schaaf said she thinks tax breaks and funding from new business in the city can be leveraged into keeping existing housing affordable and getting new affordable housing constructed, she wants to build as much housing as possible.

"We must learn a cautious lesson from San Francisco and not discourage building market-rate housing" as every unit built can help take the economic pressure off the market, she said.

The partnership she hopes to see from the city's growing technology sector she has termed "techquity," a hope for assistance in keeping Oakland affordable and making sure new business creates opportunity and prosperity for all residents.

"We need them to help us create an opportunity pipeline" to train youth for jobs in the tech sector, she said.

To that end, Schaaf said she is partnering with Oakland Unified School District on what she calls the "Oakland Promise" -- to triple the number of Oakland school students who graduate from college in the next few years.

Schaaf entered the packed City Council chambers theatrically, with the marching band from Skyline High School, her alma mater, providing a celebratory entrance. But her momentum stalled when the start of her speech was delayed by technical malfunctions with the chamber microphone.

The city's challenge, she said before marching out again to the deafening drums and horns, is to welcome the growth coming to Oakland but not push out that "uniquely Oaklandish passion and soul."

"We must turn toward each other, not on each other," she said. "We will grow from our roots. We are Oakland."

— Bay City News Service

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