Welcome to Alameda Clarion

Summary

  • This blog is meant for people who want to stay on top of important issues of policy and governance in the City of Alameda.
  • The goal of the blog is to be an easy-to-consume source for data and analysis on important issues including responsible governance, election transparency and, tax and funding policy.

Motivation

I never wanted to credit Donald Trump with any decisions that I ever made. But, for better or worse, this blog exists largely due to Donald Trump. I used to be a bit of junkie for federal politics. My favorite weekly TV show was “Washington Week”, my favorite podcast was Slate’s “Political Gabfest” and my favorite periodical was the “Economist”. Then, within a matter of weeks in 2016, Trump won the presidency, Gwen Ifill died and I just couldn’t look anymore.

In early 2017, I decided I should turn my attention toward local politics. I had moved to Alameda in 2012 and I realized I didn’t even know who was on our city council. So I shifted my energy to reading local newspapers, joined Nextdoor and started attending council meetings. I did that for several months until that Borenstein opinion piece in October, 20171.

Who really runs Alameda? I was both outraged and obsessed. The following year I joined with some people who had mostly been gathered from Nextdoor to protest City Manager Jill Keimach’s treatment and eventual firing. That fall I watched Jim Oddie sneak back on council due to a third place showing and a technicality (a third seat opened when Marilyn Ashcraft won the mayoralty and vacated her seat).

I was deflated to say the least. Had nobody followed the Keimach controversy? Did they not know how Oddie had violated the charter? But when I heard from some people afterward, people who don’t really follow politics, it turned out they hadn’t. That’s when I started to put together the idea of this blog.

Purpose

The motivation for this blog started with the Keimach controversy but that isn’t its only purpose. I have decided that there is a potential gap in coverage of Alameda. There are already several active blogs covering Alameda on top of the constantly declining coverage from traditional media2:

“Alameda Merry-Go-Round” (alamedamgr.wordpress.com) is a blog run by long-time resident Robert Sullwold, a local lawyer who picks his battles under the motto: “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”. His analysis generally contains a lot of interpretation of the law, given his expertise as a lawyer. He positions himself as an outsider to the “Inner Ring” of local power.

“Blogging Bayport Alameda” (laurendo.wordpress.com) does do a good job putting out daily content and is much better at staying on top of council agendas than I would ever have time to do. The blog has also been around for a long time and attracts a lot of dedicated commenters. Actually, I often find the comments as interesting as the posts.  It positions itself on the side of local power including vaguely apologist posts for Councilmembers Vella and Oddie.3

So where do I expect to fit in? The first thing I have noticed is that it is hard for people to stay on top of a lot of issues. It can be very time-consuming. For example, just a single post by Sullwold on the release of the Grand Jury report from back in June weighs in at around 3200 words; that provides a very valuable resource for those of us who are very interested but the casual reader will probably stop reading after 500-1000 words.4

The other thing I have noticed after being involved in several animated Nextdoor discussions is that a lot of people don’t have a good reference for the facts on many issues. That is a shame. California citizens have access to a huge amount of public data. From employee salaries to pension liabilities to in-depth financial information for each agency, the challenge is often to condense a data set to a meaningful description of the situation. It’s here that I feel that I have something in particular to contribute: I have worked in software development for over two decades and analyzing data is quite familiar to me. 

So these are my goals:

  1. To provide brief, well-referenced analysis of policy issues affecting the citizens of the City of Alameda.
  2. To provide a trusted clearinghouse for pertinent data and, where possible, easily consumed, narrative-driven discussion.
  3. To write as an outsider: I am not employed by any government agency nor do I have an association with local employee unions, governing bodies or elected officials.

Footnotes

  1. Borenstein, Daniel. “Borenstein: Who runs Alameda, city manager … or the fire union?” CNN.com. https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/12/borenstein-who-runs-alameda-city-manager-or-the-fire-union/ (accessed January 13, 2020).
  2. I am ignoring ebcitizen.com which, though it is also powered by WordPress, positions itself as more of conventional local news publication. It is also run for-profit and full-time by Steve Tavares, as far as I can tell.  I am also ignoring Ronald Parodi’s excellent “Teaching On The Island” (teachingontheisland.wordpress.com).  Although it is conversational and data-driven, it covers only the Alameda Unified School District.  Parodi is also a teacher employed by the AUSD and so, although his analysis is very objective in tone, he still writes as an insider.
  3. See for example, “Dud” (https://laurendo.wordpress.com/2019/11/21): “[with reference to the content of the Keimach tapes] it appears that a lot of the hurt and the bad feels originated from a place of miscommunication all around..”
  4. It is true that councilgate.wordpress.com has done a good job of synopsizing most of the events, but it only covers this one issue of the Fire Chief selection and subsequent Jill Keimach firing.

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