The city council this week adopted “Love Life” as the official motto of the City of Oakland, incorporating the slogan in the city’s communications and welcome signs.
Community supporters who called for the council to adopt the motto or “tagline” view it as a representation of hope and an affirmation of life in the face of the pain and challenges that people in the community face.
“Love Life reflects the joy and energy that characterize our artists and businesses. Love Life responds to our communal desire to build an inclusive, equitable, and authentic Oakland,” according to Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
During the council meeting, dozens of community members spoke about the loved ones they have lost to senseless violence and the positive outcome that adopting such a motto would have on their communities.
Voting for the ordinance were Councilmembers McElhaney, Desley Brooks, Rebecca Kaplan, Noel Gallo and Larry Reid. Opposing the resolution were Annie Campbell Washington, Dan Kalb and Abel Guillén.
The resolution was introduced by Donald Lacy and community supporters of the work of the Love Life Foundation.
The foundation was formed after Lacy’s daughter, 16-yearold LoEshé Adanma Lacy, was shot to death in 1997 as a bystander across the street from her school, McClymonds High in West Oakland.
LoEshé, which means “love life” in Ibo, had been moved by the deaths of her classmates and had begun an anti-violence campaign to tell her peers that they should love life.
After her death, Lacy and other community advocates worked for nearly a decade to win the city’s approval for the new motto.
“What the devil meant for evil, God will turn to good,” said Lacy, speaking to the council. “(We have to) put out a different message to our children. Life is precious. The greatest thing we all share as human beings is love. Love is going to sustain us as a city.”
Councilmembers McElhaney, Brooks and Kaplan jointly introduced the proposal on Tuesday.
The city’s current unofficial tagline is “The bright side of the Bay.”
“In adopting this ordinance, the council (sent) a clear message that it honors residents who have lost their lives to gun violence and speaks hope and healing to the communities of residents who are dedicated to living robust lives,” said McElhaney.
“Life and love go together,” said Councilmember Gallo, explaining his reason for backing the new motto. “It is not just about dating each other,” he said.
“It’s about respecting each other and it’s about working together and taking this city to another level.”
“Thank you for your courage,” said Gallo, speaking directly to Donald Lacy.
During the council’s vote, it was revealed that Mayor Libby Schaaf had sent an email to the council members a few hours before the meeting urging them not to support the “Love Life” tagline.
According to a March 5 article by the SF Chronicle, when asked about the idea of adopting the motto for Oakland, Mayor Schaaf rolled her eyes and said, “My love life is fine.”
Councilmembers Guillen and Campbell Washington said they were voting against the new motto because they did not have time to discuss it with the residents of their districts.
“I have an allegiance to the public, and my residents do not know about this. We did not have a fair process,” said Guillen.
Councilmember Kalb said he was voting “no” because the city did not go through a community engagement process to choose a new motto.
Adopting a new tagline “requires a lengthy community engagement process, but we haven’t done that,” he said.
Brooks challenged the arguments of the three council members who opposed the resolution.
“It’s been on the agenda for over a month,” she said. “I don’t remember the process that took place when we decided ‘The (bright) side of the Bay’ was going to be the tagline.”
Councilmember Kaplan addressed her colleagues’ concerns that the request at hand was too “new,” thereby making them unable to support it.
“When people say that it’s new they can go to the archives of the San Francisco Chronicle over a decade ago, where Donald Lacy was quoted talking about this,” said Kaplan.
“I don’t think it’s too new, and I think we should support someone who took such a horrifying personal tragedy, and instead of responding with revenge or violence, is working to spread the value of respecting life and ending violence.”
Campbell Washington said she was upset by the direction the public debate over the motto had taken.
“It’s very painful to be in this conversation … to have it come down to be a race issue,” she said.
Responding, Brooks said, “It was not about race. The community came out and spoke and represented the love of this community.”
Councilmember Reid explained how he had opposed the resolution but changed his mind after considering the motto’s significance for Oakland.
During the vote, he asked his colleagues to “rethink this and make this a unanimous vote… Rethink your position, like I did.”
Reid then read aloud the email Mayor Schaaf had sent before the council meeting to all the council members:
“I write to share my concerns about adopting the motto ‘Love Life’ as the official motto of the City of Oakland…. ‘Love Life’ without context or story could mean many things – some not at all appropriate as our city’s motto,” according the mayor’s email.
“Some of these concerns came unsolicited from Bloomberg Associates, who have been offering the City of Oakland professional advice pro bono in several municipal disciplines, including city marketing.
“Their experts read about the proposal and contacted me with their concerns, which I thought it was important for you to hear:
“Although it seems the motives come from a good place, this positioning could prove problematic on a few levels…. The background of how the name was developed actually reinforces the very crime issues they are trying to combat.”