Rafael Mangual: I’ve been following you on social media, but I’m not sure I’d know what label to attach to the work you do. Is community organizer the right term? Activist? Journalist? It seems like you do a bit of all these and then some. How would you describe yourself?

Seneca Scott: I would say all of the above. I would describe myself as a post-partisan solutionary. In a time of intense political polarization and identity politics, that sort of makes me a radical. I’m not a journalist, but I do write from time to time—often to expose local government corruption or the hypocrisy of many elected officials and NGOs. I’m also a trained union organizer.

I think it’s fair to say that the most pressing concerns for you and other residents of Oakland are public safety and disorder. These are terms that encompass lots of issues, ranging from the post-2020 increase in murders and the more-recent spikes in robberies and burglaries to burgeoning homeless encampments and open-air drug abuse. Is there one issue that you see as most concerning for Oakland residents, or are people worried about what they see as a more general downturn in public safety?

There is no isolated public-safety issue. Most people are worried about Oakland having no rule of law. Emergency 911 response times are very slow, and when they pick up, help is rarely on the way soon enough to help you or catch the criminal offender. Businesses are primarily concerned with retail theft and employee safety. Families are worried about the safety of their children and parents. The elderly are frequently targeted for violent crime, with home invasions reaching shocking numbers in once-safe neighborhoods. For others, it’s their property losing $200,000 to $400,000 in value in just one year due to our public safety crisis. For the poor and working class, it’s being unable to escape poverty due to pervasive crime; for example, one out of every 30 Oaklanders had a vehicle stolen in 2023.

Homeless encampments and open-air drug markets remain a major driver of theft and violent crime. Ditto the lack of a properly staffed and motivated law enforcement presence. This year, Oakland is expected to run a 15 percent budget deficit, mostly attributed to more than 6,000 Oakland businesses that stopped paying taxes to the city in 2023. Now there will be even less money to address both our urgent public-safety needs and things like education and early childhood nutrition. This is what we mean when we say Oakland is in a “doom loop.”

Since 2020, Oakland has defunded its police department and elected as district attorney Pamela Price, who has committed herself to the same soft-on-crime approach of other “progressive” prosecutors in cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. At the same time, the state of California has enacted a series of criminal-justice reforms over the past decade that include decriminalization measures like 2014’s Proposition 47 and sentencing-rule changes such as the controversial Senate Bill 775, signed into law in 2021. Is there a particular policy shift that stands out to you as especially culpable for Oakland’s recent troubles?

Prop. 47, undoubtedly, presented itself as a Trojan horse for a poorly executed criminal-justice reform under the ostensibly egalitarian banner of “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” The disconnection between such a name and the virtual legalization of theft under $950, alongside other serious crimes, is glaring. The fallout—a blend of no bail and sanctioned theft—has led to a surge in both vagrant theft and organized retail theft, significantly affecting our neighborhoods. The catch-and-release cycle of career thieves and drug dealers has left our communities less secure. Financially, Prop 47 stands out as one of the most devastating laws ever passed in California, resulting in the loss of business revenue amounting to billions of dollars.

Consider the recent closure announcement of Macy’s massive flagship store in San Francisco—a consequence of alarming levels of retail theft and challenges with homeless vagrancy. This mirrors the trend of major retail companies fleeing Oakland and the Bay Area due to failed policies that have finally reached a tipping point in terms of public safety.

Another inadequately addressed policy is Oakland’s nation-leading three and a half years of Covid eviction moratoriums, leaving a nearly billion-dollar unpaid rent tab, predominantly hurting small housing providers. Unbalanced renter protection, just-cause eviction laws, and activist judges have allowed occupants essentially to pilfer property from hardworking, middle-class Oakland residents, resulting in the loss of generational wealth for many. Meantime, so-called progressives direct funding toward their NGO associates to capitalize on the suffering by acquiring properties at discounted rates. Not so coincidentally, the largest owners of low-income housing in Oakland are nonprofits.

The fear among most housing providers of renting out their units stems from past extortion experiences involving exorbitant fees from unscrupulous renters, often backed by legal support provided by nonprofits. These organizations receive city funds to combat evictions, conveniently sidestepping the fact that 90 percent of evictions are due to nonpayment of rent.

After four years of Covid, numerous property owners are still awaiting rent payments, confronted with the formidable task of paying $50,000 or more to reclaim their properties. This situation essentially implies that our own tax dollars are being turned against us. Our wealth is systematically siphoned off by those lauding themselves as “heroes” of the working class. Seeing such injustice, particularly when it’s inflicted on the working class in Oakland, is infuriating.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many of the recent reforms enacted in California and Oakland have been driven by concerns about racial equity. But some, myself included, have argued that the reforms have had a disproportionately harmful impact on minority communities. That said, I was surprised to see Oakland’s NAACP chapter put out a scathing statement last summer that, among other things, called out the city’s police defunding and the district attorney’s “unwillingness to charge and prosecute people.” Do you sense a gap between what many progressives say black and Latino communities need and what residents of those communities actually want?

Absolutely. The gap is intentional, and individuals are finally becoming aware of the puppetry within Oakland, whereby minority residents are manipulated to advance political agendas, resulting in the deliberate destruction of our cherished city. Oakland’s structure necessitates collaboration between the mayor, who oversees staff, and the city council, which controls legislation and votes on the budget presented by the mayor. Notably, the mayor lacks a line-item budget veto or legislative veto powers.

The last era of seamless collaboration between the mayor and city council occurred during Jerry Brown’s mayoral tenure, with Ignacio De La Fuente at the helm of the city council. This period ushered in a hopeful phase of rapid development, primarily driven by Brown’s “10K Plan” to attract 10,000 new residents to downtown Oakland and stimulate the local economy.

Fast forward to the present, where progressives, led by Mayor Sheng Thao and Oakland City Council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, have assumed complete control. In just one year, Oakland has witnessed an explosion in violent crime and squalor due to failed policies. Almost overnight, graffiti has covered the city, and retail theft has surged. Yet progressives persist with photo ops, gaslighting residents into believing that everything is normal. Hardly.

Oakland is a cautionary tale of what transpires when radical ideologues oversee the managed decline of a great American city for an agenda rooted in absolute control of the masses. This is not a drill.

Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images


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