By ALI TADAYON
OAKLAND — At least once a month, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf takes a desk, some of her staffers and some informational pamphlets to select spots throughout the city to hear people out in their own neighborhoods.
Schaaf started doing her “mobile mayor” routine last June and has since gone to 10 locations, including the Fruitvale Transit Village, West Oakland Health Center and Rockridge BART.
She typically meets with people one-on-one to discuss their concerns and what the city could do about them. She has staffers on hand — sometimes from city departments — who provide people with information, take notes on specific concerns and give contact information for services.
Schaaf, after last weekend’s mobile mayor event at the East Oakland Senior Center, told the Oakland Tribune that the face-to-face interactions are a way to “democratize access” and show Oaklanders she takes their concerns to heart.
“One of the things I miss most about being a council member was office hours, and the level of intimacy you have with the people who you represent,” Schaaf said. “When you’re the mayor, it’s a lot harder to do that because you’ve got the whole city, and then you’re also representing Oakland in the region, state and country, so you know i get pulled in a lot more directions. We came up with this idea to get back to the idea that people should have access to their mayor.”
People typically bring up neighborhood-specific issues at the events, Schaaf said, though not everyone who attends lives in that neighborhood. The two major concerns conveyed at the East Oakland Senior Center session were illegal dumping and homelessness.
About 20 people attended that mobile mayor, which is about average, said Yvonna Cazares, the mayor’s director of community engagement. The sessions typically run about three hours and are posted in advance on the mayor’s social media pages, she said. The locations are based off requests.
Unlike other mobile mayor events, that one was in a classroom-like setting with everybody involved per the request of those attending.
Tina Thomas, who attended, said she felt her voice was heard. She recently joined the advisory council for the senior center and inquired about introducing more safety measures for seniors who attend senior centers throughout the city.
“It was pretty good. She seems to be amicable and trying to do a good job,” Thomas said of the mayor. “You hear different things, and you need to just come for yourself and do an assessment for yourself. I like where she’s going.”
Community activist Angie Tam said she felt the meeting was informative for those who were not familiar with what Oakland is doing to address illegal dumping. But for people like herself, who are familiar with the city’s programs, much of the information was old news.
The tone of the mobile mayor gatherings are typically calmer than other town hall-type meetings, Cazares said.
“When (Schaaf) is right there talking to folks face to face, only a few feet away, I think people have a sense of comfort that they can actually speak to someone, look them in the eye and get their questions answered,” she said.
At a past mobile mayor in East Oakland at 107th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard, one man was brought to tears upon meeting Schaaf, Cazares said.
“He was crying because he felt like he had never seen the actual mayor out there,” Cazares said. “I reassured him that we had been out there working with East Oakland partners over 100 times in the last year, but he was so moved by her presence and her willingness to talk with people one-on-one, and that’s why we do this.”
Schaaf said the events give her a “flavor” of each neighborhood in the city.
“The people who come to City Hall, and who come to City Council meetings, it’s often a similar group of people,” Schaaf said. “When you come out to a neighborhood, people who never think to get access to their government sometimes stumble upon you. … That’s a great feeling, because i think people feel like sometimes their government doesn’t care about them, and we do.”
This story was published 2/2/18 for the East Bay Times here.
Upcoming Mobile Mayor meetings
X Feb. 10 From noon to 3 p.m. at the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, 3207 Lakeshore Ave.
X March 18 From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Temescal Farmers Market in North Oakland.
April 8 From noon to 3 p.m., Laney College Flea Market
May 19 From noon to 3 p.m., Malcolm X JazzArts Festival at San Antonio Park
June 16 From noon to 3 p.m., Juneteenth Community Picnic at the Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center