Matt Hummel Oakland City Council District Four Interview On Raiders A’s Warriors
(Plus many other topics!)
Candidate Matt Hummel personifies Oakland's scrappy arts and warehouse scene. He lost friends in the Ghost Ship fire, and later, he helped displaced tenants from the San Pablo Avenue boardinghouse where four died in another deadly blaze. Unsurprisingly, housing and homelessness top his agenda.
Hummel knows first-hand that the city can do more to stem displacement of tenants who live in housing that isn't code compliant. He said the city should be moving much faster to permit all kinds of housing, but especially emergency shelter for the homeless, including new trailer parks and RV spaces. He called homelessness a "moral crisis."
As chair of Oakland's Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Hummel is an expert in the challenges facing one of the city's biggest industries. This has led him to become a key proponent for a public bank, which could assist cannabis companies (which can't use the federally regulated banking system). But Hummel said a public bank could also finance affordable housing at a scale nonprofits aren't capable of.
City Council District 4: 1) Matt Hummel, 2) Pam Harris, 3) TBD
Matt Hummel has the prettiest lawn signs in town. We don’t imagine they will be very effective – can you even read them while driving by? -, but they are cute and artistic and even feature a bee that sort of looks like Matt. And why not? Matt is, per no lesser authority than the New Yorker, a “leading figure in the city’s artistic scene.” Beyond that, Matt is a community activist working on issues as diverse as cannabis, rent control and creating safe conditions for artists living in warehouses (particularly on the wake of the Ghost Ship fire). He is also an all around Bernie Sanders style progressive, only more so. He supports civil liberties and social justice and he is part of the progressive movement. Predictably, he is not taking any corporate money for his campaign. We recommended Matt as our #1 choice when he ran for the at-large seat in 2016, and we do so again.
Candidates for the Oakland City Council’s District 4 seat told a packed panel audience Thursday night about the many complaints they’ve heard while campaigning: grievances about affordable housing, illegal dumping and public safety. But one story stuck out to candidate Matt Hummel: The one from the Montclair resident who told him he’d just spent $2,000 on new rims thanks to a pothole.
“The next thing he said out of his mouth was: ‘But I’d rather swerve around potholes if we could spend the money on fixing homelessness,’” said Hummel. “Thank God people are thinking this way. I’m glad to know that the wealthiest district in the city is ready to put its money where their mouth is and help people.”
Sentiments like this dominated the panel discussion, which focused primarily on a single issue: equity. Six of the 7 candidates running to replace outgoing Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington attended: businessman Charlie Michelson; non-profit CEO Nayeli Maxson; former chief of staff to the councilmember-at-large Sheng Thao; former city employee Joseph Tanios; Democratic Party official Pam Harris, and Hummel, chair of the city’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Organizers said the seventh candidate, Pastor Joseph Simmons, was expected to attend, but it was unclear why he was absent.
The theme of the night was an obvious choice for event organizers, the 22x Neighborhood Council, whose mission statement focuses on creating an equitable Oakland.
Ravinder Singh, a member of the neighborhood council and the Chair of the Community Policing Advisory Board, moderated the discussion. Nearly every folding metal chair was taken in the auditorium of Sequoia Elementary School in Oakland’s Dimond neighborhood. A dinner was served from aluminum tubs in the back. At the front, the candidates sat at folding tables facing the audience, identified by names handwritten in purple ink on folder paper. In contrast to the mayoral forum a few days earlier, throughout the discussion, the candidates were cordial; in fact, those who arrived early, Harris and Michelson, smiled and chatted before questions began. Audience members were asked to write questions for the candidates on index cards placed on their chairs.
Candidates started the discussion with an opening statement and then Singh asked the first question crafted by the 22x Neighborhood Council. It focused on the Equity Indicators Report released by the city earlier this summer. The study, done in partnership with researchers at City University of New York (CUNY), used existing data to examine racial disparities across the city. While civic engagement scores were high, based on an algorithm developed by CUNY researchers, Oakland did poorly overall, scoring 33.5 out of a possible 100. The figure was brought down by low scores in the public safety category, which included analysis of the city’s homicides, adult felony arrests and police use of force incidents. Singh asked the candidates to give a one-minute explanation of how they, representing one of the wealthier districts in the city, would “close the disparities.”
Harris said when she and her wife decided to raise their family here, she felt Oakland reflected their values. Now, she said, she feels that’s less and less the case. “We need someone from the D4 seat with an equity lens. Somebody who says, ‘I know my district is more well resourced.’ You see that other districts are less well resourced. What are our needs and what are the needs of other districts?” said Harris.
Michelson, who’s been endorsed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and outgoing Councilmember Campbell Washington, said the city has to hold the newly-formed Department of Race and Equity “accountable, making sure that the recommendations and findings in this report are implemented across the city.“ He called the city’s equity problems “multitudinal. I don’t know if that’s a word or not, but time’s up”—a response that elicited a few laughs.
Thao said it’s not about how holding department officials accountable, but rather supporting them by allowing staffers to hire more people. She pointed out that department head Darlene Flynn “only has one staff person. She can’t do everything with just one staff person,” said Thao.
Hummel told the audience that as chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, his group was the first in the city to work with the Department of Race and Equity. He called inequity a “moral crisis” and vowed to continue to make the issue a priority if elected.
Tanios, a immigrant who moved to the United Stated more than four decades ago, said as someone who is “foreign born” he understands the issue of equity. His plan is to “involve the community more” because “you deserve better service than the lip service you are getting now.” He did not elaborate on what he meant by “lip service.”
Maxson said that as CEO of the Alliance for Community Development, she’s had experience tackling this issue. The nonprofit’s mission is to increase capital for underrepresented entrepreneurs, including people of color. She told the crowd that her commitment to fairness will continue if she assumes office.
The discussion of equity continued as Singh read this question from the audience: “What policy changes could be made to address gross inequities in housing?”
Harris suggested the city “make sure we desegregate by class around the city,” but did not propose any specific policy changes.
Maxson said the issue of housing insecurity is very personal to her. She said her family was paid to leave their home when a tech employee bought their building during the first dot.com boom. She suggested that the city make the permitting and planning process for building new affordable housing more navigable so “problem-solvers” can invest in creating more units.
Tanios agreed with Maxson, adding that “we need to work together” to “streamline the permitting process.”
The topic was also personal to Thao, who said that as a survivor of domestic violence, she left her home with her young son and lived in her vehicle for a few months. Thao told the crowd she’ll use her personal experience as well as her background working with the council to address affordability issues. “City hall is a beast. This is why we need someone with experience,” said Thao.
Hummel used his time to talk about the city’s growing homeless population. He noted that in January, a representative from the United Nations inspected Oakland’s encampments and told the East Bay Express she observed “systemic cruelty” in the way the city treats its homeless residents by allowing them to live in rodent-infested camps without access to clean water and toilets. He said that as District 4’s councilmember he would fight to “open up all public land” for the homeless.
Michelson said the housing crisis stems from a “high-quality problem—that people actually want to live here.” His suggestion was to build more affordable housing, and he thinks the city can do so through revenues collected from developers. He said he wants to make sure that “the people building market rate housing pay their fair share to get more Oaklanders housed.”
At one point, an audience member suggested via index card that the candidates get more than a minute to answer each question, but Singh said it wasn’t possible in the interest of time. Other audience questions included inquiries into the candidates’ plans to prioritize funding in District 4 neighborhoods, their thoughts on fostering the arts, and their insights into on how the city can help take care of the aging community being priced out of District 4 homes.
These questions evoked primarily uniform responses from the candidates, who spoke about the need to prioritize and communicate with the District 4 community.
But one question divided the panel: On a contentious council, how will you foster relationships with other members? This is a key question, since outgoing Councilmember Campbell Washington said in April she is not seeking reelection because of “toxic” city council meetings. Candidates formed two camps: Those who feel the office needs a city government insider and those who do not.
Maxson and Thao, having worked as staffers for councilmembers, both touted their relationships with current members. Maxson said she plans to be direct when she disagrees with someone. Thao said she knows the councilmembers on a “personal level and a professional level” and that if she could not get the five votes needed to pass an ordinance, “I would not be voluntarily standing here in front of you today.”
Hummel cited his experience on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, adding that he’s friends with most of the councilmembers “on Facebook even,” garnering a few audience chuckles. Tanios boasted of his skills as a communicator. He said he speaks four languages and added that as a former city employee, he has always worked well with the council.
But Michelson and Harris said the new District 4 councilmember needs to be an outsider. “We can’t let personal relationships get in the way of running the city,” said Michelson. Harris suggested the key to working with the council is electing someone who is “committed to accessibility and transparency, someone who’s not looking at this seat as a way to another seat.”
Singh then threw the candidates a political curveball, reading a yes or no question from an audience member: “Have you or will you accept donations from the Oakland police union?”
Hummel and Maxson said no. Michelson, Harris, Thao and Tanios said they were undecided.
The next candidate discussion will be hosted by the League of Women Voters on September 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Allendale Recreation Center. The election is November 6.
In June 1988, Oakland released its "Strategic Plan for Cultural Development." Its first goal was developing Lake Merritt's west end as a "plaza for the arts," with specific steps to be taken through the rest of 1988 and 1989. The other seven goals also came with directed actions to get there, and deadlines to be met. The entire document ran 24 pages, including the lengthy roll of credits. It did not mess around.
Of course, that was a different era for Oakland. The Oakland of 2018 sees the city's arts scene on the losing end of migration. Tech boom spillover, along with a limited housing supply, has skyrocketed rents enough to displace many of the city's poor. Meanwhile, fallout from Ghost Ship fire shuttered many of the remaining underground arts spaces, scattering the population to more affordable cities, meaning, just about anywhere else.
"You used to have the ability to not have a really good job to live here and support your craft," said Matt Hummel, chair of Oakland's Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who has seen first-hand how the growth of cannabis has led to the displacement of artists from the city's warehouses. "That environment is gone."
Into this environment comes the city's 2018 Cultural Development Plan. Called "Belonging in Oakland," with the summarizing subtitle "Equity is the Driving Force, Culture is the Frame, and Belonging is the Goal," the first noticeable aspect about this new plan — written by the city's Cultural Affairs staff, which is chaired by the poet, writer, and activist Roberto Bedoya — is that it's very long. Exactly 119 pages long.
The second thing is that the plan doesn't have much in the way of, well, plans.
Among its many pages are two initiatives that will be launched in 2019. The first is a grant program to support arts-based civic engagement, like, say, an expressive dance about the history of Lake Merritt performed in conjunction with a senior center. "What's key is that [prospective] artists and non-arts groups come together to figure out what they want to make," Bedoya said. "Artists in a non-arts world will look at a community, and propose a project to help build stronger networks or address problems."
The other initiative is an Artist-in-Residence program for Oakland. This person will "bring new approaches to civic challenges and service delivery" by working within city departments, a slippery-enough definition that Bedoya and company will winnow as they speak to said departments. (Hypothetically, it'd be something like the Department of Transportation getting an artist's view on how to design a new bike lane.) The residency itself will be relatively short, anywhere between six weeks and a few months, depending on too many variables to list here.
"I don't have deep pockets for this," Bedoya said.
Bedoya isn't hiding the project's lack of resources. As Sam Lefebvre wrote for Open Space about an earlier draft, "The subtext of the cultural plan is a plea for resources." While Lori Fogarty, director and CEO of Oakland Museum of California, believes the city's plans are compelling and forward-thinking, she noted that "the challenge is that many of them are dependent on additional staffing resources and funding both from the city and beyond."
This is all true, of course. Wrangling consistent funding for the arts is not a path for the squeamish, cynical, or realistic.
The 1988 planners realized that well-funded grants and short-term, singular residency programs were less important than improving the material conditions for all of the city's artist population. (And, by doing so, improve conditions for the entirety of the city's low-income population.) In other words, they realized that incubating a scene wasn't about picking singular people or projects, but rather, creating the ideal conditions for the population at large. Artists can't make good art if they can't afford rent, and a $5,000 grant for one person — or for a select group — won't fix that reality. The current plan also recognizes these realities, but it doesn't offer concrete ways to address them.
"I think the intention of the new Cultural Plan is admirable," said David Keenan, co-founder of the Omni Commons and Safer DIY Spaces, a coalition that provides those in live/work spaces a resource for how to remain in their space. "To the extent that I have any concerns about the new plan, it is from the pragmatic in-the-trenches perspective."
Keenan wonders if the new plan will improve actual laws to legalize and legitimize those involved in cultural production and hopes it doesn't rely too much on internal policies and informal relationships rather than directing the city to change its laws. "Although I agree with the aspirations writ large, from the perspective of changing current building and planning codes to continue to safely keep such communities in Oakland and not displaced, the new plan appears to be actually less empowering than the old plan," he said.
This seems like the general sentiment from the Oakland's artist community. It's beautifully written, and also very long, but well, what's next? If it's a plan, what is the plan?
"While I'm glad [the cultural plan] exists," said Hummel, who is also running for the city council's District 4 seat, "I want there to be more meat on the bone." �
From two years ago:
If the presidential election left you wanting to be more politically engaged, you're not alone.
Matt Hummel wasn't a complete political novice when he ran for City Council in Oakland, California this year—he's worked on a few local campaigns and serves as chair of the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission. But he was far from a traditional candidate. Forty-six-year-old Hummel lives with roommates in a former boarding house above an Oakland convenience store and works mainly as a handyman and carpenter. While he failed to win the seat, he learned a lot about city government bureaucracy and running an outsider campaign on a shoestring budget. We talked to him about what it feels like to watch election results roll in when you're on the ballot, what he learned from the process, and how concerned citizens can direct their feelings of political unrest at the local level. Here he is, in his own words.
I decided to run for office after getting fed up with a, to my mind, dysfunctional city council. After hearing rumors the incumbent [Rebecca Kaplan] in the at-large position wouldn't have an opponent because she'd already nailed down all the major endorsements, I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I realized you could use the campaign season to get issues pushed. I never actually thought I could beat Rebecca, although you've got to run like you can. Just before the deadline to file to run, three other candidates jumped into the race.
I've been chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission for a few years now, and we worked on rewriting all the city ordinances. I started realizing that council members often don't know all the details of what they're talking about—or are lying. You have this idea that they're technocrats that have more information than you and that you should just trust them. Then you learn better.
Part of my interest in politics comes out of a realization I had living in warehouses in East Oakland in the 90s and early 2000s, and having this communal experience that was just thriving and powerful: The underground is bullshit and elitist if it stays underground. We have to push our ideas out beyond that.
During that time, [California Governor] Jerry Brown was doing the same thing in Jack London Square in Oakland. He'd created his own intentional community. I volunteered and then got hired for Brown's first Oakland mayoral campaign in 1998 and found that I was really good at it. It all just came easily to me and I felt really alive. In 2007, the California state Democratic Party hired me to run the Oakland headquarters of Obama's campaign.
To run for city council, first I had to come up with the three or four hundred bucks to even be allowed to have the paperwork. Then a friend from UpRise.org helped set up our website, and we got our donation button working. After that, I was in it. I figured the public was going to take me somewhat seriously or not.
I was told by my former mentor that even if I raised $20,000, I'd make a fool out of myself, that you need at least $100,000 to run a city-wide campaign. Ultimately, I raised just over $5,000. I probably spent a thousand bucks of my own. I didn't want to raise a bunch of money—I wanted to prove that you could do things without the money. The newspapers never perceived me as a contender because of my lack of substantial funds, which was frustrating because that was part of the point.
Since we didn't have money, we focused on what I did have: a fancy mustache. We used a mustachioed icon, the Monopoly Man, someone recognizable and already imprinted on everyone's brain, on our campaign materials. It was perfect. We made a bunch of posters and t-shirts based on the "poor tax" Chance card featuring the Monopoly Man shrugging discouragingly with his pockets emptied. For a long time I'd been complaining about the fees and fines levied by the city onto people who can't afford them, and how these people don't feel legit, that they feel they are less than citizens.
The message picked up steam, and the campaign became a full-time thing. Between all the questionnaires we filled out to get endorsements, and questions that demanded long, in-depth answers, I started basically writing essays every day of the week for a few months. The day-to-day consisted of going to a lot of forums. We had 20 candidate forums all over the city to field questions, and hear ideas and perspectives.
Would-be city council member Matt Hummel
I got the Alameda County Progressive Voter Guide endorsementand the Green Party endorsement, and felt some momentum toward the end of the campaign. Up until the East Bay Express didn't endorse me, I began to think I had a real chance. In the last few weeks of the campaign, all the candidates except Rebecca campaigned together at the BART stations. We all ended up liking each other.
After I lost, I got caught back up at work and eventually got back on my feet financially (I just paid December rent two days ago).
One thing I learned, though I kind of already knew, is that I really like doing this. It's odd when you do something that takes all your energy, but also gives you more than you think you had. When you realize what it feels like to grasp something with your heart, your life changes. It kind of reminded me that it's really rewarding to go for something. I've been thinking of running again. My 12,000 votes means that now I can actually be perceived as a real thing, which is kind of cool, considering I was told time and again I had too little money to play in the game.
On some level, everyone that voted for me would be pissed if I didn't run again. They come up to me and say, "We'll get this next time" and that kind of stuff. I don't want to run just to run, but if it feels like I can make a difference, and if the campaign itself can be its own movement, then I'm game, for sure.
Matt Hummel, Candidate for Oakland City Council At Large
Matt Hummel is the Chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Learn more about him athttp://www.mattatlarge.com/
1 – What do you think should be Oakland’s response to the lack of housing stock? Do you support having a moratorium of any kind on rent increases, stronger rent control measures, restrictions on sales to foreign nationals? Please elaborate.
We need a 10k plan of truly affordable housing. The city must leverage its land and holdings to make this happen. Rent increase moratoriums are necessary but miss the point a bit. Our rents as they stand are too high to be sustainable, and suck all of the wealth out of the city. I think it is important to recognize the issue isn’t where the money comes from, but that money is coming from outside our local economy and overwhelms it. The people of Oakland deserve better than big money (wherever it come from) playing Monopoly with our whole city.
I propose a municipal bank where our city deposits can finance local initiatives, instead of whatever Wells Fargo invests in. We could refinance our citizens home and business loans and liberate the working poor from check cashing scams.
2 – Do you support the measure creating a Police Commission that’s on the November ballot? What changes would you have made to it? What do you propose the City Council do to address the systemic issues of police brutality and misconduct?
I do support the ballot measure. We need to fix the arbitration problem, and I will fight to change the next police contract to drop arbitration when prosecuting civil rights violations. The city must insure recommendations of the Stanford study (SPARQ) on OPD be followed to the letter. We need to reform the whole way we are policed and punished. Restorative justice is the filter we need to look through. Our drug policies must be in the mold of harm reduction, not police action. We must stop all broken window strategies, except when it means helping a kid to fix a window they broke.
3 – What do you propose to do to address issues of gangs, street violence and drug addiction in Oakland?
Employ ideas such as restorative justice, robust mental health services, safe accessible outlets for youth to gather, policing reform, secure homes, harm reduction, job skills training, youth problem solving workshops and PTSD help.
4 – How do you propose Oakland should respond to formerly incarcerated citizens re-entering the community? What will you do to support community-based support services for formerly incarcerated citizens?
We must celebrate the return of our family members back into the fold. The only hope for any of us that we are not solely identified with our worst day and that it is possible to do the work towards making amends. Restorative justice is the key, not prison, parole and probation. When people return from prison I would love to have similar ceremonies as when people get their naturalized citizenship. There needs to be jobs and homes ready for them when they return after paying their debts. State sanctioned killing such as the death penalty is thoroughly immoral, but keeping our brothers and sisters alienated from their own citizenship is its own kind of death.
5 – Do you support a sales tax on soft drinks? What’s your general view about sales taxes?
I support a sales tax on soft drinks. Sugar water is subsidized poison. Generally I consider sales taxes regressive and prefer not to raise them. Changes in sales taxes only go one way and that way is up.
6 – How do you propose Oakland address the causes and effects of climate change? Do you have specific policy recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley? How do you propose it prepare for sea level rises?
I worked hard getting California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard passed. Through one on one conversations I generated over 700 hand written letters from constituents in Orange County. Those letters stopped a committee block and allowed California to be the first with a RPS and a beacon the world copied. I would like for Oakland as well as the Bay Area, to be 100% reviewable by at least 2045 but preferably sooner.
Wetland restoration and a healthy Delta will mitigate some effects, but we need to recognize when spending millions on a waterfront developments whether housing or a stadium, the water is rising.
7 – Have you ever been accused of any impropriety related to your serving in a governmental position? Please describe what took place. How do you think the Oakland City Council should address impropriety or appearance of impropriety by its members?
I haven’t been accused of any impropriety.
Impropriety or the appearance of impropriety is probably is the biggest problem we have as citizens in relation to our city.
The council, like the police, must be held to a higher standard. Otherwise good people get alienated from joining the job of fixing Oakland. They want nothing to do with city hall, they perceive that the game is rigged. Unfortunately often it’s true. Just look at how many candidates accepted laundered campaign contributions from the last Mayoral race. Not one candidate was held accountable.
8 – Can you share an instance where you have shown moral courage? (i.e. standing up for your values in the face of opposition or other negative consequences).
Currently as Chair of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission I have been accused of neglecting equity in relation to how permits are given for cannabis production in Oakland.
Originally the city wanted to give permits to only the few existing dispensaries and no one else. Recognizing the inherent exclusivity of their plan we fought to open the process to everyone. For two years we held public meetings where we hashed out every bit, always first with the disenfranchised in our minds. We included strong local hire requirements, and made sure it would be easy for anyone to get a permit that wanted one, whether big or small. We made nonviolent police records became irrelevant to vetting process.
Unfortunately, Council Member Brooks said that we didn’t do enough and added at the last minute with no public input, what she called, an equity amendment. It mandated that for every permit the city gives there must be first a permit from people who live in part of her and Larry Reid’s districts. Instead of incentives to help people, they chose to help a few by hurting the rest. The amendment amounts to a limit on permits locking out many communities affected by the drug war. My commission and the cannabis community have worked overtime to fix the bad consequences from her ill-conceived amendment. Our attempts to include West Oakland and Fruitvale have been castigated as racist policy by Members Reid and Brooks. I’m beholden to the people and to the truth even when I know some may use my actions to imbue false character narratives.
Hopefully our message can be heard well enough so that all parties and the public at large can truly know my heart and work to expand and strengthen the equity amendments to fulfill their purported goals.
9 – How many individuals have contributed to your campaign? Do you or your campaign have a financial relationship with a member of the ACDCC? Who and in what capacity?
Through years of street level work I have been blessed to have a large network of friends and compatriots. My time on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, has also been fruitful, and many are grateful for the leadership of our commission fighting to make sure people aren’t left out of the so called “green rush”. Our campaign strategy employs methods to direct cash to empowering our supporters instead of the typical campaign that’s solely mailers, phone banking and canvassing. We are being consulted by Uprise Campaigns (uprise.org). It’s a strategy that’s reduces the power of money in politics. They are helping us, the Zephyr Teachout campaign and two other congressional campaigns. We believe that transparency in campaign finance is a key to reintegrating our fellow citizens into the political process and knowing who butter who’s bread.
Our campaign has no financial ties to ACDCC.
10 – Are you running as a Berniecrat?
I am running as Berniecrat to a point. I walked precincts for Bernies’ campaign, but this is a nonpartisan position and national party politics may be a little to macro for Oakland at this time. I feel the bern, as does our campaign. We are absolutely a progression of that movement. In fact, we gathered campaign supplies for our campaign from Bernie’s Oakland headquarters when they shut down. (Tables, clipboards, printers, paper, and pens)
When that bird landed on that podium…it still brings tears.