Arts and Entertainment
Oakland's bad fix
IT'S HARD TO know where to start criticizing the planning ordinance the Oakland City Council passed Feb. 5. On its face, the ordinance is a bad policy, aimed at preventing or at least slowing down the relocation of Casa Segura, a widely praised and much needed nonprofit that helps I.V. drug users find treatment and avoid disease.
But as Tali Woodward reports on page 13, the situation is even worse. In passing the law, the council exploited a legal loophole and likely violated the sunshine laws that apply to government meetings and records and now the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance is threatening to sue the city.
Casa Segura lost its Fruitvale building in an arson fire last year and recently found a new site in east Oakland. But Councilmember Moses Mayne, whose seat is under direct challenge from the more reform-oriented Desley Brooks, joined with NIMBYs in the district who don't want a drug-treatment center in their neighborhood. Mayne drafted an ordinance requiring drug-treatment centers to obtain an additional permit from the city's Planning Commission, a process that can take months and cost thousands of dollars.
In order to get his proposal passed, Mayne was willing to circumvent Oakland's sunshine law, which requires that agenda items be made public 10 days before they are considered and leaves a narrow exemption for cases where public health or safety is threatened. Mayne added language to his ordinance at the last minute saying that Casa Segura posed an immediate threat to area residents since they might come into contact with syringes (no matter that the program doesn't intend to run a needle exchange at the site).
After a brief discussion the council approved the measure, just five days after it was filed with the clerk's office. Open-government advocates say that while this was an egregious example, it's not unusual for the Oakland City Council to show contempt for the city's sunshine law, which is considerably weaker than the one in San Francisco and needs to be expanded and improved.
The council should recognize the challenge from the Drug Policy Alliance as an opportunity to void a wrongheaded law that never should have been considered in the first place. Meanwhile, the Oakland City Attorney's Office needs to review how the council was allowed to pass a law that so clearly violates the sunshine ordinance. The council should work with community and sunshine activists to undertake a comprehensive review of the open-government law, with the goal of expanding its protections. And residents of Mayne's district should remember this fiasco when they go to the polls March 5.