It's as if all the tensions simmering around Oakland finally broke out into the open last week, and the people, the politicians, and the press could no longer contain themselves. Mayor Ron Dellums was all set to deliver his State of the City address on January 26, where his greatest asset — stirring if formulaic rhetoric — would be the next day's headlines. Instead, the whole affair degenerated into a chaotic mess.
Dellums was at the podium, using flowery language to diffuse his personal responsibility to govern the city as usual. "I challenge us all to bring down crime by 10 percent this year," he said, as if we're the ones who draw six-figure salaries to do this sort of thing. But things didn't go the way he planned, as two people from the audience rose up and heckled him, demanding action on the alleged BART police killing of Hayward resident Oscar Grant and more effort to improve life in the city's poorest neighborhoods. "I'm not intimidated by that," the mayor replied.
But that was peanuts compared to the treatment he got at the hands of his colleagues on the city council. Fed up with a blistering crime rate, as well as mounting scandals inside the Police Department, four city councilmembers declared that they would hold a press conference the next day, calling for a no-confidence vote in Police Chief Wayne Tucker, who still enjoyed the backing of Dellums. Television reporters swarmed Tucker as he left the mayor's speech, shoving microphones at him and asking if he planned to resign. "Will you get it out of my face?" Tucker snapped as he walked away.
The next morning, a glum Dellums stood by as Tucker held a press conference and announced his resignation. Tucker acknowledged that mistakes were made in the investigation of reporter Chauncey Bailey's murder, but saved most of his passion for his enemies on the city council, who he claimed have "given lip service to public safety in the city."
Meanwhile, Robert Bobb, Oakland's excellent former city manager who was considered in the running to replace Deborah Edgerly as city administrator, declared that he was taking a job with the Detroit public schools instead. Finally, after months of delay and silence, Dellums did what everyone thought he would: appoint his pal Dan Lindheim to the post. That announcement put an end to a bizarre, farcical epic, in which everyone begged the mayor to put someone in charge of the city, only to be met with his distinctive inscrutability. And so ended the week for Ron Dellums, surely one of the worst he's had since he took the job.
Circus at the Court
There was a similar circus atmosphere at Alameda Superior Court a few blocks away, where Devaughndre Broussard, who is accused of murdering Bailey, was due to appear at a preliminary hearing before his trial. But then a funny thing happened: his lawyer, LaRue Grim, never showed up. Irate judge Morris Jacobson rescheduled the hearing for February 20 and warned the room that Grim would get a hefty fine if he pulled this gag again.
Then it was on to the next big case on Jacobson's docket: a bail hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former BART cop accused of killing Oscar Grant. Outside, protesters milled about and chanted, "We are Oscar Grant!" Inside, lawyer Michael Rains claimed that fellow officer Tony Pirone, who is himself under investigation for his role in the incident, claimed that just before the shooting, Mehserle said, "I'm going to tase him, I'm going to tase him," which appeared to buttress claims that Mehserle thought he held a Taser when he fired. But Jacobson noted that Pirone had also said that after the shooting, Mehserle said that he thought Grant had a gun; the judge suggested — okay, he flat-out said — that Mehserle was making things up. Nonetheless, he decided to let Mehserle try to raise $3 million in bail. And so this saga will continue.
BART Gets Wi-Fi
Meanwhile, BART's actually done something pretty cool. Thanks to a new public-private partnership, riders in the San Francisco and downtown Oakland trains and stations will be able to access the Internet, even while riding under the San Francisco Bay. There's no such thing as a free lunch, of course. Users will have to pay a subscription fee or watch advertising every few minutes. But the company, Wi-Fi Rail Inc., will pay to build and operate the service, while BART gets a cut of the revenue. Not bad.
Operators of two major East Bay hotels, the Sheraton Pleasanton and the Coliseum Suites, have fallen into default on multimillion-dollar mortgages; the Coliseum Suites are already fenced off and falling prey to vandals. ... Chevron released its fourth-quarter numbers last week, and while revenue fell sharply, the company still did quite well. Chevron's net income for 2008 totaled a staggering $23.93 billion.