Measure Y is one of four Oakland ballot measures in this year’s election. If passed, it would eliminate the city’s $1,000 limit on fines for code violations — a limit that was established in 1968. Although Measure RR could lead to higher fines for any city code violation, it’s mainly an attempt to address health and safety violations like blighted properties, and illegal dumping.
Reporting by Oakland Voices correspondent Katharine Davies Samway and The Oaklandside’s Ricky Rodas. Video features Davies Samway, Rodas, and Oakland Voices correspondent Howard Dyckoff. Videos shot and edited by Lauren Richardson and produced by Momo Chang (Oakland Voices) and Jacob Simas (The Oaklandside).
Oakland Voices and The Oaklandside co-reported and produced video explainers about Oakland’s four 2020 ballot measures.
Katharine Davies Samway: Hello, my name is Katharine Davies Samway and I’m a correspondent with Oakland Voices.
Ricky Rodas: And I’m Ricky Rodas, a reporter with the Oaklandside.
KDS: Today we’ll be discussing Measure RR — one of four Oakland measures on this year’s ballot. Ricky, what would this Measure do if it passes?
RR: It would eliminate the city’s $1,000 limit on fines for code violations — a limit that was established in 1968.
KDS: And if it passes, the City Council would be free to increase fine amounts — for the first time in over 50 years, right?
RR: That’s right. And although Measure RR could lead to higher fines for any city code violation, it’s mainly an attempt to address health and safety violations like blighted properties, and illegal dumping.
KDS: Ricky, you spoke to Dan Kalb, the councilmember who authored the measure. What did he tell you?
RR: Well Katharine, he basically told me that the reason why people violate these types of city laws in Oakland is because there’s no threat of being seriously fined. He said higher fines are needed to deter bad behavior and hold people accountable.
KDS: I tried reaching out several times to the city’s Code Enforcement Department to find out who the worst offenders are, but they wouldn’t speak to me.
RR: That may be related to what happened in 2018. Some code enforcement officers were found guilty of crimes, including bribery, and one of the main inspectors was fired. Maybe that’s why it’s been so hard to get answers.
KDS: Could be. However, I did get a list of the most frequent citizen complaints to the Code Enforcement Department over the last 12 months—there were over 5,000, and most of them were for blight and housing code violations. We also know that the city received over 25,000 illegal dumping service requests in the 2016-2017 fiscal year alone.
RR: That’s a lot of requests. Where are most of these code violations occurring?
KDS: The vast majority of those illegal dumping sites were in Oakland’s flatland neighborhoods, below Interstate 580.
RR: Have you spoken to anyone who opposes the Measure?
KDS: There isn’t much public opposition — but I spoke with Marcus Crawley, an Oakland resident and the president of the Alameda Taxpayer Association. He thinks it’s just an effort to raise money for the general fund, and lacks accountability. Ricky, have you spoken to any residents that support the measure?
RR: I did. I spoke with Kim Lucas, who lives in Oakland’s Golden Gate Neighborhood. She told me that she and her neighbors have tried to get the city to crack down on a business in the neighborhood that’s been operating noisy big-rig trucks at night and disturbing residents for years. According to Lucas, the business just keeps paying the fines and getting away with it.
KDS: Thanks, Ricky, for that important example. Measure RR is definitely one of the more complicated items on the ballot—but hopefully we’ve made it a little clearer to Oakland voters before you head to the polls.
RR: Hopefully. Thanks Katharine.
Howard Dyckoff: Hi, I’m Howard D., a correspondent with Oakland Voices. We hope you’ve found this video informative. If you’d like to learn more about voting and this year’s local races, you can find more Oakland election coverage at oaklandside.org and at oaklandvoicesclone.mystagingwebsite.com. And remember, election day is November 3rd.
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Katharine Davies Samway grew up in England, but has lived in the U.S. for over 40 years, more than 30 of them in Oakland. She is a long-term educator—a teacher, a researcher, a teacher educator, a professor of education. She is deeply committed to public education and is the mother of three children who went through Oakland public schools.For almost all her adult life, she has worked with and on behalf of people from underrepresented groups, particularly immigrants, refugees, and migrants for whom English is not their native language. Although retired, she continues to do research because she learns so much from careful and in-depth observations (e.g., of children’s writing processes and how children interact) and interviews (e.g., of children, teachers, parents, and community members). She also loves to write (e.g., articles, poetry, stories for children) and is enjoying being a reporter.
Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.
Lauren Janelle Richardson, an East Oakland resident and founder of BypassTV, is a multi-tiered media producer who specializes in capturing stories through video, photography, journalism, and audio productions. She also is a legal apprentice, studying under an attorney, in preparation to take the CA State Bar without going to law school.