Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet


After A Seven Year Run Beginning April 25, 2003, The Last UnderCurrents Column Was Written On March 4, 2010

Until We Meet Again...


YouTube Readings Of UnderCurrents Columns

Oakland's Parking Crackdown: A Textbook Example Of Discrimination

How Dellums Administration Officials Came To Establish A Dual Policy On Issuing Parking Tickets
March 4, 2010

The Wheelings And Dealings Of Don Perata

Recent Political Campaign Finance Filings And Old And New Newspaper Articles Reveal A Murky Pattern Of Dealing And Financing For The Man Who Would Be Oakland's Mayor
February 25, 2010

My Piece On The Mayor's Peace Conference

A Response To Tammerlin Drummond's Critical Column On Mr. Dellums' Faith-Based Claremont Meeting
February 18, 2010

Who Runs The City Of Oakland?

The "Strong Mayor" Portion Of Oakland's City Charter Leaves Some Ambiguity Between The Ultimate Responsibilities Of The City Administrator And The Mayor
February 11, 2010

The Inevitable Mr. Perata Becomes Not So Inevitable

Analyzing The Results Of The Former State Senator's Early Plans To Soften Up The Opposition In The Oakland Mayor's Race
February 4, 2010

The Jerry Brown Record On Public Records

How California's Political Artful Dodger Is Able To Cover His Tracks
January 28, 2010

Battered, Bleeding Haiti

Looking Forward—And Backward—In The Wake Of The Haitian Earthquake
January 21, 2010

Mr. Abraham's Errors

The Chronicle Blogger Gets His Facts Wrong In Arguing Against A Dellums Re-Election Bid
January 14, 2010

An Objective Standard For Judging Oakland Mayors?

With Rising Speculation That Ron Dellums Might Run For Re-Election, How Should His Administration Be Fairly Evaluated?
January 7, 2010

UnderCurrents Archives

UnderCurrents 2009 Columns

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March 4 , 2010

Wrong, indefensible, and inexcusable. That’s the best way to describe the actions of the Dellums Administration surrounding what appears to be the unequal and outright discriminatory parking ticket practices city administrators put into effect in Oakland this summer and fall, tried to pretend they didn’t, and then blamed on the City Council.

Some history, in case, somehow, you missed all the recent outcry.

Last June, the City of Oakland was struggling to close a projected $83 million city budget deficit for the new fiscal year. As part of the budget package proposed by Mayor Ron Dellums and City Administrator Dan Lindheim, the City Council adopted an ordinance increasing parking ticket fees and parking rates across the city. Most remembered from that budget session was a decision by the Council to change the hours of parking meter operation from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. That caused such a citizen and business outcry that the Council later came back and rescinded it.

But according to the Oakland Tribune, city officials last summer also decided to step up what the Tribune called “aggressive ticketing” in an effort to pull in more money from parking tickets, including concentration on such violations as parking on the sidewalk or parking on the wrong side of the street (“Parking Ticket Dispute Rankles Oakland” February 25, 2010).



(A Short Take On A Long Subject)

February 25 , 2010

Two weeks ago, the East Bay Express’ Bob Gammon wrote an excellent article revealing some odd financial mingling between the campaign of former State Senate leader Don Perata for mayor of Oakland with Mr. Perata’s project to put an initiative on the statewide California ballot taxing cigarettes to benefit cancer research (“The Cancer In The Oakland Mayor’s Race” February 10, 2010).

As part of his story, Mr. Gammon discovered that two campaign consultants for Mr. Perata’s Oakland mayoral race—Tiffany Whiten and Christina Niehaus—were also working as consultants for Hope 2010. Mr. Gammon wrote that Ms. Whiten and Ms. Niehaus received about the same amount of money apiece from both the Hope 2010 (statewide campaign) and Perata mayoral committees, “interviews with campaign figures and Perata's own finance reports reveal little evidence that the highly paid consultants are doing much work on behalf of the cancer-research initiative.” On the other hand, Mr. Gammon said, Ms. Whiten and Ms. Niehaus “have played prominent roles in [the Perata] mayoral effort.”

Mr. Gammon contended that Mr. Perata’s statewide initiative money appeared to be partially subsidizing two of his consultants for their mayoral campaign work in a manner that appeared to be an attempt to get around Oakland’s election finance limitations. In other words, Mr. Perata appeared to be gaming the system, using slippery bookkeeping and office practices in order to pump more money into his mayoral campaign than the law allowed.

There was one small bit of oddity about the Perata financial disclosures that Mr. Gammon may have missed, however.



February 18 , 2010

Mayor Ron Dellums’ office held an event that they called “Peace Conference 2010” at the Claremont Hotel last week, which caused Inside Bay Area writer Tammerlin Drummond to post a highly-critical column in response.

In the media advisory put out the week before the conference, Mayor Dellums’ office said that during the conference, the mayor “will unite the interfaith community in a comprehensive approach to address solutions to youth violence. … The conference will bolster Oakland’s efforts for peace through social outreach programs, networking and collaboration between interfaith communities. Participants will explore successful solutions for building positive relationships with our youth and offering alternatives to a life of crime.”

The conference was intended for faith-based organizations working with youth—not specifically for youth themselves—with “break out sessions” during the day consisting of workshops on restorative justice for Oakland youth, juvenile probation, and youth outreach.

As indicated from the title of her February 14th column (“Crime Summit For Oakland Or Campaign Rally For Mayor Ron Dellums?”), Ms. Drummond thought the conference was set up more for electoral than for social problem-solving purposes.

“Beyond the speechifying,” she writes, “there was nothing new or fresh or that pointed toward anything remotely resembling a road map to deal with the public safety crisis. The whole affair felt like a campaign rally before a clearly pro-Dellums crowd...”

Ms. Drummond also said that the upscale, Berkeley-hills-border setting for the conference was inappropriate, asking that even though the Claremont provided its facilities for free, “why didn't the mayor ask one of the churches working in the trenches to act as host? Is it such a novel idea to hold a crime conference in an area where gang shootings, drive-bys and other really scary stuff are actually happening?”

And, finally, Ms. Drummond wrote that the mayoral peace conference was far different in scope and reach from the crime summit she herself had called on Mr. Dellums to convene early in January after a particularly heinous Oakland robbery murder. “My suggestion,” she said, “was that Dellums bring together council members, police representatives, victims of violent crimes, youths from different demographic and racial backgrounds, organizations that provide youth services, representatives from juvenile hall, probation and parole, spiritual leaders, business leaders, residents from neighborhood watch programs, media representatives and other stakeholders who could begin to draft a concrete plan of action—drawing upon what has been effective in other troubled cities plagued by violent crime.”

Some thoughts in response. [



February 11 , 2010

One of the challenges in evaluating the administration of an Oakland mayor in these days and times is that twelve years after the passage of Measure X, residents and local media outlets (new and old) still are not certain exactly what a “strong mayor” is supposed to do and be responsible for.

Oakland mayors have had titular power over the running city government since the beginning of Jerry Brown’s first mayoral term in January of 1999. But it was only with the firing of former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly by Mayor Ron Dellums—and his subsequent hiring for his former budget aide, Dan Lindheim, to replace her—that we have seen an Oakland mayor actually fully exercise that power.

One of the problems is that the Oakland City Charter, as modified by Measure X in 1998, is far more vague on the responsibilities of an Oakland mayor than the term “strong mayor” would lead one to believe.



February 4 , 2010

Remember when at least one overenthusiastic Don Perata supporter was crowing that the former State Senator was going to cakewalk into the office of Mayor of the City of Oakland in 2010? (“With the dark cloud of a lingering federal probe behind him, there is nothing standing between former state Sen. Don Perata and the Oakland mayor's office but time, opportunity and blue skies.” Chip Johnson “With Probe Over, Perata Primed To Lead Oakland” San Francisco Chronicle May 29, 2009)

Hasn’t worked out quite that way, has it? Instead of a Perata walkover, it is possible that instead, this year might end up being one of the most competitive Oakland mayoral races in a generation or more.

It was easy to see Mr. Perata’s early game plan.

First, the former State Senate President aimed to weaken current Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums by a barrage of attacks—starting even before Mr. Dellums took office in January of 2007—with the purpose of either dropping the mayor’s political standing so low that it would discourage him from running again or, if he ran, to make him a severely weakened opponent.

Second, the Perata campaign orchestrated a Hillary Clinton-type “inevitability” blitz to try to convince people that Mr. Perata was such a shoo-in for mayor (“nothing but blue skies,” remember) that it would scare off any other major candidates. [More...]



January 28, 2010

We have long recognized current California Attorney General Jerry Brown as the great artful dodger of our time, more skilled than most at being able to avoid the political consequences of his various positions and official actions.

28 years ago, at a time when then-California Governor Jerry Brown was attempting to make the jump to the office of United States Senator, a California journalist summed up Mr. Brown’s gubernatorial career with words that are the mirror image of his tenure as mayor of the City of Oakland or as Attorney General:

“Nearly eight years after becoming governor, Jerry Brown remains an ideological free agent. Like a particle in high energy physics, he always seems to transform himself before he can be identified. … Unfortunately, his personality sometimes undermines his achievements. Too often Jerry starts out in one direction with great fanfare, has second thoughts, and ends up following an entirely different course, all the while pretending he never changed his initial position. And while this sort of zero-based thinking may suit a philosopher, real people with real problems inevitably demand more programmatic clarity from their political leaders, as well as a greater commitment to following through on last year’s good ideas.”
Roger Rapoport
California Dreaming: The Political Odyessy of Pat & Jerry Brown
Nolo Press

But while we’ve always known that Mr. Brown was able to reverse his political field at a moment’s notice—running off in the opposite ideological direction when the winds of change blow more favorably that way—we did not realize until recently that he was able to do so without political consequences largely because he is so good at covering his tracks.

Last week, the extent of Mr. Brown’s extraordinary ability to hide his own history has begun to come to light.



January 21, 2010

The nation of Haiti—battered, bleeding Haiti—is on the minds and in the hearts of most of the world this week. Mark the moment well. It is fleeting. We are like the well-intentioned neighbors who crowd the home of the bereaved and the church on the day of the funeral, but except for a few loyal souls, leave the widow ever after lonely and alone in her house for long months on end ever after. Generous and sincere in the immediate aftermath, our attention span on great tragedies grows ever shorter.

We have been down this road before.

In the winter of ’89-’90, I called an old South Carolina friend whose community had been battered late that September by Hurricane Hugo. She told me—only half-humorously—that she was ticked off with the people of the Bay Area. She explained that until that October, national attention was focused on Hugo, its effects, and the efforts to clean up the damage afterwards, and money and help came into their region. Then the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit, and the nation seemed to forget all about Hugo in the tumult over the new national disaster.

And this was in the days when 24 hour cable news channels were still in their early stages, and the internet information age had not yet begun. Since then, the tendency to pivot with dizzying speed from one dominating national or international story to another has increased a thousandfold.

We saw that phenomenon in all its maturity in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. No-one can doubt the sincerity of the national and international sympathy that went out for the victims of the hurricane and the breaking levees and subsequent massive flooding as we watched their plight unfold on round-the-clock news channels. We opened up our hearts as financial and volunteer assistance poured into the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast communities devastated by the hurricane and the flood.

But that was then. What has happened in the four years since?



January 14, 2010

Last week’s column failed to spark any immediate, community discussion on setting standards for judging an Oakland mayoral administration, but that’s to be expected. To paraphrase the Turk from the first Godfather movie, I’m not that influential. A Chip Johnson column or Matier & Ross item in the Chronicle, or a front-page story in the Tribune, can set the direction of Oakland discussion for several days running. But I write an Oakland column for an admittedly struggling small weekly Berkeley newspaper whose influence takes a somewhat dramatic dive at the Oakland border. But we do what we can with what we have.

The mayoral administration judgment column did get a brief mention and a link in Susan Mernit’s blog on her Oakland Local website with the notation to click on the link and “see what [Allen-Taylor] thinks (and what you do).” If any of the readers had any thoughts, they did share them in the comment section.

The column also got a sort of backhanded reference in a January 8 Zennie Abraham blog entry in the Chronicle. Mr. Abraham linked to it without any mention of the column itself, writing only that “there's rumor and talk—uncomfirmed—that Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is considering a run for reelection as Mayor of Oakland.”

In his Chronicle blog, Mr. Abraham then went on to discuss—at length if not in depth—why he believes Mr. Dellums should not run for re-election. The blog entry is as good as an example as any of the shallowness of Oakland’s current political dialogue, and the crying need for reaching around as a community and deciding some criteria for how to judge our political officeholders.