Mayor 'Dances' to Intertwine City's Growth with Heritage

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"I'm hopeful I'm the right leader at the right time."

That's what Libby Schaaf shared when Rockridge News editor Don Kinkead and I interviewed her at the Rockridge Cafe, a year after her election as Oakland's 50th mayor.

That is no small hope, as Oakland, still struggling to get on its feet economically, battles to mesh growth with heritage, gentrification with diversity, keep its sports teams and turn around its crime and school drop-out rates.

That's why, Schaaf says, the first months of her first term were devoted to finding the right people to help her set Oakland on that course. "I am proud of the incredible team I've been able to attract," she says. "I literally stole almost everyone" - from Berkeley, from Emeryville, from San Francisco.

No, she didn't send emissaries far and wide. "You do have to do it yourself. I literally got down on one knee in her [city administrator Sabrina Landruth's] living room." Some of her picks had grown up in or formerly worked for Oakland. Their common traits: "A lot of talent and a shared vision," Schaaf said.

One team member is David Silver, the Mayor's director of education and a former Rockridge resident, who was instrumental in creation of the recently announced Oakland Promise, described on page 7.

According to Silver, "This Mayor has identified that you can't have a world-class city without a world-class educational system. She leads with her heart." At the same time, "We don't want this to be 'the Mayor's thing,' we want it to be 'the Oakland thing.'"

Schaaf is married to Sal Fahey, a particle physicist who is a director of software for an electron microscope manufacturer. The couple, who met in San Francisco, have two elementary school-aged children.

"My husband is an incredible support," says Schaaf, who tries to devote Monday and Friday evenings and weekends to family. "I try to do homework with my kids; I take them to school every morning. I try to make the important things. I bake cupcakes for their birthdays. I've been to every Halloween parade."

In some ways, she said, "My kids don't know any better" since her former positions - on the Oakland City Council, as public affairs director for the Port of Oakland and as an aide to Jerry Brown when he was Oakland mayor - also required long hours.

A moment when "I became like a Mother Bear" was when about 40 Black Lives Matter supporters peacefully demonstrated at her Dimond District home before dawn one day early in her mayoralty. "The crazy thing is my kids slept through," she said. Although she remained indoors, she emphasized her belief in the right of peaceful assembly. "My dad fought in World War II so people can protest their government."

"I'm incredibly lucky," Schaaf said, "because my whole extended family lives here." That includes her mother, Barbara Schaaf-Schock, who picks up her grandchildren from school twice a week, and "their super aunt [sister Chris Schaaf, a dental hygienist] and uncle" who are good for sleepovers. "My children are being cared for by family even if it's not always me."

Schaaf-Schock, who was Oakland Mother of the Year in 1996 for her impressive record of volunteering, said she never dreamed her daughter would grow up to be mayor of Oakland. "I dragged her around and she got to know Oakland and to understand service," she told me in a telephone conversation. "But I am not political."

It was a family friend, the late Mary Morris Lawrence, one of the first female Associated Press photographers, who got Schaaf interested in local politics. "She immediately took an interest in me," the mayor said. "She started taking me to League of Women Voters meetings. She threw my law school graduation party. She was always in my life guiding me." Lawrence, who died in 2009 at the age of 95, "would have gotten such a kick out of seeing me be the mayor of Oakland."

"Basically our lives haven't changed" since Schaaf became mayor, said her mom, except that her volunteerism has taken a slightly new twist. You will find her greeting visitors and answering phones at the front desk of the Mayor's Office on Monday afternoons.

Does Libby Schaaf have any spare time? After her election, "Exercising kind of went out the window," she acknowledges. "But one day this summer, I was so proud, I got on my running shoes." Not long into her run, "I tripped and fell and broke my hand." Since the parade for the Oakland Warriors NBA championship was the next day, she appeared with a bandaged hand. Recently, she decided to try again, this time working with a trainer.

"I do belong to a book club," she added, and is proud that she sometimes is one of those who had time to actually read the book. "I love fiction." She and her family spent the winter holidays with book club friends and their families at Yosemite.

Much as she wants to keep Oakland's sports teams here, Schaaf has refused to stick Oakland taxpayers with the bill for new stadiums. She has spoken out against allowing coal to be shipped through the former Oakland Army Base and called on developer Phil Tagami, working with the Oakland Army Base Project, to respect the will and health of Oakland residents.

She is excited about high-profile businesses such as Uber and Sunset Magazine relocating to Oakland. And her proposal to beef up the rental unit supply by easing the rules on so-called "granny units" and residential parking for properties near public transit has prompted swift action by the Planning Commission and City Council.

"I feel like Oakland has missed previous opportunities," Schaaf told us. "I'm also a bit scared. You don't want to wipe out the good that's already here. It's a bit of a delicate dance. But then again, she quipped: "I was in advanced dance at Skyline High."

Your comments on this column and suggestions for future stories about your neighbors and neighborhood are welcomed:

Snapshot of the Oakland Promise, a cradle-to-career strategy designed to triple the number of Oakland public school students who earn a college degree

Vision: To ensure every Oakland child graduates high school with the expectations, resources and skills to complete college and be successful in his or her chosen career.
Within a decade the Oakland Promise will:

  • Open 55,000 college savings accounts for Oakland children
  • Invest $100 million in college scholarships
  • Serve nearly 200,000 students and families across Oakland
  • Triple the number of college graduates from Oakland

Oakland Promise Components
The Oakland Promise combines best practices from across the country to ensure that all Oakland students and families are supported on their way from birth through college, launching into a successful career. Over 30 implementation partners and another 100 organizational champions are supporting this effort. Additionally, every member of the City Council and the School Board is an individual champion. There are four components:

1. Brilliant Baby
Through a two-generational approach, babies born into poverty in Oakland will have a college savings account of $500 opened in their names - setting an expectation for college from birth. Brilliant Baby will provide parenting support and financial services, including the opportunity for parents to earn financial awards as they support their child's healthy development. Brilliant Baby will launch as a pilot in fall 2016 serving 250 families in the first year. An additional 500 families will enroll in year two and another 1,000 in year three. Within the next decade, the vision is to reach all of the most vulnerable families in Oakland, serving approximately 2,200 babies and their parents each year at scale.

2. K2College
The Oakland Promise will establish a universal college savings program in Oakland Public schools, setting college as an expectation for all. By 2020, every Oakland student entering kindergarten will have a college savings account of $100 opened in his or her name, setting college as an expectation for all. Subsequent school and community-based activities will encourage savings and promote a college-going culture. Modeled after a successful program in San Francisco, Oakland's K2College will be piloted in the 2016-17 school year. Beginning in the fall of 2016, every kindergartner entering OUSD will be eligible for a college saving account that will be set up by the time they graduate elementary school. The vision is to expand K2College to all Oakland public school students by 2020.

3. Future Centers
Every Oakland high school student will have access to a Future Center where they will develop college and career plans. Staff will help students apply for college, financial aid, scholarships, and internships. Students and their families will be able access computers and technology at the Future Centers. Middle schools will have school-wide programs to develop college awareness.

4. College Scholarships & Completion
In partnership with East Bay College Fund (EBCF), every eligible Oakland student will receive a college scholarship ranging from $1,000 to $16,000. Scholarships will be phased in by school, contingent on funding. To ensure students graduate from college ready for career success, EBCF, in partnership with colleges and other organizations, will align services, providing counseling, mentoring, and peer support.

The Oakland Promise has $25 million dollars in expected contributions over the first four years out of an estimated cost of $38 million. Major donors include:

  • Kaiser Permanente: $3 million over three years;
  • PG&E: $1 million over five years;
  • East Bay College Fund: $1.5 million annually;
  • OUSD & City of Oakland: $1.25 million annually;
  • Payette River Foundation is sponsoring scholarships for OUSD's Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA) High School