By J. Douglas
While the four candidates for Oakland’s District 5 Council seat agree that public safety is their number one priority, they sharply disagree on how it should be achieved.
Oakland School Board member Noel Gallo, realtor Mario Juarez, business leader and former city employee Shelly Garza, and non-profit executive Dawn McMahan are all running to succeed longtime Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente in the Fruitvale-based district in the November 6 election.
De La Fuente, who chose not to run for re-election this year, is instead running against incumbent Rebecca Kaplan for Kaplan’s at-large council seat.
While the Fruitvale District’s booming commercial district is one of Oakland’s business success stories, the area has also been plagued for many years by a rash of murders, violent robberies, gang activities, drug use, and prostitution.
At an Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce candidates forum this week, the four District 5 candidates took distinctly different positions on key questions on how to solve the area’s pressing public safety problems.
Both Gallo and Juarez said they supported a youth curfew, which Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan recently proposed for the city. Gallo’s support was without reservation, saying that he grew up in Oakland when a youth curfew was in effect, and “no children have any business being out on the street after 10 p.m.”
But Juarez said the law enforcement agency should not be the Oakland Police Department but instead should be the Oakland Unified School District police, who, he said, were familiar with working with youth. Rather than simply returning offending children to their homes, the city should set up a curfew center for them to be taken, Juarez said.
Garza avoided the youth curfew question, saying, “We need to get all sides” before implementing one, adding that “we need to explain it to the youth” first, and finally concluding that “if it benefits everybody, I support it.”
McMahan expressed sympathy for the children out on the street after dark, saying, “Some of these kids don’t necessarily have electricity or water on at home. Their parents may not even be there. That’s why they’re out in the street.” She said she would support efforts to provide “someplace safe” for children to go at night.
On the issue of gang injunctions, a controversial project of the Oakland City Attorney’s office that places legal restrictions on individuals accused of being gang members, both Juarez and McMahan were opposed, with Juarez saying that the existing injunctions were “overbroad” and “too costly,” and McMahan saying that the program reflects an “us against them mentality.”
Gallo expressed strong support for gang injunctions, noting that the city “needs all the tools possible to give to law enforcement” to curb the city’s gang problem. “Either we’re going to be serious about public safety or not.”
But as on the youth curfew issue, Garza did not take a definite position on gang injunctions, saying that she was “in between” on the issue, and that “we have to make it work for everybody.”
On the issue of adding more officers to Oakland’s depleted police core, and how to pay for them, Garza said that “we have to work with what we have right now,” with McMahan agreeing that “I’m not wanting more police.”
Both Gallo and Juarez said more police were needed, with Juarez suggesting a user fee at the Oakland Airport to pay for the increase because “the well is dry on new taxes.” “
But Gallo said, “we have to pay for it through a new parcel tax, and the business community may have to pay extra taxes as well. We need more police.”