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Observe Democracy in Action: Oakland Style (2024)

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Updated March 2024 By Liz Hartka

Most of the time when we read the news about what’s going on in City Hall, the issue in question has already gone to the City Council and been voted upon. But prior to a vote, a piece of legislation - especially one involving revenue - will have been developed and hammered out in one of the committees or commissions supporting the City Council. The Observer Corps (OC) is the LWVO’s eyes and ears on these committees and commissions.

The OC is an important arm of LWVC’s Action (as in advocacy) Committee. OC members attend agency meetings and report back to the Action Committee on topics of interest to the League. Action members discuss and learn about what’s going on, and escalate issues to the LWVO Board as appropriate.

2024 is an election year, and the November ballot is front and center on the League’s radar. Public safety and the projected deficit in the city budget continue to dominate headlines. Here are some stories the OC is following:

  • At its January 2024 meeting, the Public Ethics Commission discussed delays and backlogs in public records requests faced by the Oakland Police Department. About 65-70 percent of these requests are for reports on stolen vehicles (which are needed by citizens to file insurance claims). Access to public records is a key tenet of the Sunshine Act of 2005.

  • In recent months, the Public Safety & Services Oversight Committee (SSOC) has  focused its attention and efforts on getting Measure Z renewed in November.

  • Recent meetings of the Life Enrichment Commission have included reports on funding for youth programs, childcare and development programs such as Head Start, funding for meal programs for Oakland residents, and appropriation of funds from a federal anti-poverty Community Services Block Grant.

  • Several meetings of the Commission on Homelessness were cancelled in early 2024; in fact, the group has not met since October 2023. Funding for homelessness programs continues to be of major public interest in Oakland.

  • Vacant seats on various commissions (e.g., Planning, SSOC) continue to vex too many of these bodies.

For me, attending the Public Safety and Services Oversight Commission (SSOC) and Finance and Management Committee meetings offers a continuing education about local government. There is a learning curve associated with each group – they have their own specific mission, goals, strategies, acronyms, and personalities. But if you’re interested in group dynamics, it’s a fascinating – and sometimes sobering - opportunity to observe Oakland’s democracy in action. Contact me at to learn more.


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