The Terrible Teens 

Recession, Nationalism, Homelessness, Gentrification, Bad Cops, and Cancel Culture, but also Recovery, #MeToo, Changing of the Guard, Warriors, Cannabis, and more.

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During the 10 years of what we will call the "Terrible Teens," the East Bay's political and cultural tastes changed at a breakneck pace. At the outset of the decade, unemployment was widespread, with Alameda County's 2010 jobless rate rising to 10.9 percent three years after the onset of the Great Recession. By the end of the decade, unemployment was just 3 percent and the economic good times had been rolling for years — but not for everyone.

Indeed, the region's decade was bookended by economic despair. The Great Recession gave birth to the class-based grievances of the Occupy movement, which targeted Oakland with a vigor seen in few other American cities. One decade later, the very people who willingly pitched tents in front of Oakland City Hall during the Occupy protests may now be reluctantly sleeping in tents at one the still-proliferating homeless encampments that decorate Oakland and other parts of the East Bay.

As the progressive movement spread from its traditional enclave of Berkeley to flourish in Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda, more and more lefties seeking solutions to the supply side of the housing crisis found common cause with housing developers — once predictable foes. Construction cranes sprouted across Oakland and its neighbors like mushrooms in the wake of the first winter rains. But the building boom followed the employment boom by more than a half decade, so rents soared to atmospheric levels as new residents flocked to cities all across the country in search of jobs, community, and urban lifestyles.

While the Terrible Teens began amid a full-blown housing crisis focused on the foreclosures of single-family homes, the current housing crisis has come full-circle and surpassed the pain of that trauma. An inadequate supply of housing of all types is unquestionably the number one issue facing the East Bay at the outset of the '20s.

Much of what happened during the last decade can be linked to the Great Recession, which began in late 2007 and persisted locally through 2012. Multi-year budget deficits crippled local governments. Every budget season heralded more staffing cuts and fewer city services and programs. The belt-tightening was most severe at the county level. In 2011, Alameda County was forced to close a then-record $152 million budget shortfall. Triple-digit deficits were the norm. The excruciating budget cuts hurt the county's safety net for seniors, children, low-income residents, and people with disabilities.

Local governments rebounded, aided by public employee contract concessions that helped many cities dig themselves out of the doldrums of the recession. Outside the bubble of Oakland and Berkeley, public employees took a beating. Critics of unfunded pension liabilities pounded away at public employees whom they viewed as taking more from dwindling city treasuries than they produced. Yet as more and more municipalities put distance in the rearview mirror from the era of large budget cuts, the unions struck back. Public employee unions have been on a winning streak in recent years, routinely demanding and receiving increases in pay and benefits. Unions such as SEIU Local 1021, the California Nurses Association, and the Oakland Education Association, among others, have put labor muscle to work and been wildly successful in negotiations for their members. But as we head into the next decade, there are nagging signs that recession could be near, and government belt-tightening is likely to return to vogue.

Nonunions employees also saw wage increases through a growing movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The policy was the centerpiece of civil rights attorney Dan Siegel's 2014 run for Oakland mayor. Though both Siegel's campaign and the minimum wage effort were unsuccessful, a compromise raising the minimum wage to $12.25 was a starting point for other cities. Soon, movements to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour spread to seemingly every city. Emeryville went big. Earlier this year, the tiny enclave's minimum wage was bumped to $16.30 an hour, the highest in the country. However, most East Bay cities choose to raise their local minimum wage incrementally over a number of years.

The decade's biggest political trend — the rise of populism, which gave us Trump, Brexit, and resurgent right-wing nationalism across the globe — is not always viewed as having taken root in the far-left East Bay. But progressive populism is alive and well here, from the minimum wage, to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, to the strong local support for the presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to the woke "cancel culture" that has flourished on college campuses and social media feeds. Regardless of which candidate Democrats select to face off against Trump, the 2020 presidential election will shine a Klieg light on both strains of populism — if not necessarily the views of those Americans who fall between the two camps.

Police in the Spotlight

One issue remained unapologetically static during the past decade. The Oakland Police Department entered the 2010s in the seventh year of federal oversight for the 2003 Riders case involving misconduct by its officers and systemic corruption within its ranks. To the dismay of many, the department enters 2020 still in federal oversight. Over the years, its federal monitor has reported incremental improvement, but often those gains have followed regression.

There was no greater setback than the rampant acts of police sexual misconduct with the underaged girl known by the online pseudonym "Celeste Guap." The scandal, which threatened the administration of Mayor Libby Schaaf and led to the dismissal of three police chiefs within the span of a few days, could well have been the East Bay's most notable police story of the decade, if not for the 2010 protests that followed a jury's decision not to convict BART officer Johannes Mehserle of murder for fatally shooting Oscar Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station. Mehserle, instead, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and spent less than a year in prison. But, protests lit up downtown Oakland following the verdict. Countless windows were broken on Broadway, trash fires were lit and the area vandalized. Police in riot gear descended on downtown. Other protests would follow in support of Grant, helping to launch a movement that ultimately coalesced under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement. A high-profile feature film about Grant and the shooting named Fruitvale Station was produced, and earlier this year a street near the station was renamed in Grant's honor.


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