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Mayor Libby Schaaf declined to recommend reappointment of Rebecca Kaplan to the position
Oakland residents lost the only representative they have had in over two decades on the board the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Oakland Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, who has brought millions of dollars to the city for projects to clean the air of pollutants that cause cancer and respiratory diseases.
Over the past few months, Mayor Libby Schaaf has been deluged with letters in support of Kaplan from Oakland residents and leaders of other cities who serve on the regional board.
Schaaf did not recommend Kaplan or any other Oakland resident for the position.
Schaaf said she was powerless to intervene or even to recommend that Kaplan be reappointed to the board when her term expires in April.
Instead, Schaaf endorsed Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who has applied for the position.
The 24-members board, representing nine Bay Area counties, makes major decisions about allocation of money for air quality projects. Alameda County has two representatives on the board from the Board of Supervisors and two members appointed by the Alameda County Conference of Mayors.
Before Kaplan, the last Oakland representative on the board was Councilmember Frank Ogawa, who served over 25 years ago.
Under the bylaws of the mayors conference—to which Mayor Schaaf belongs but attends irregularly—county mayors have the first option to serve on the board. If no mayor applies, a city councilmember or other representative can be considered if that person is recommended by their mayor.
The mayors’ conference voted at its meeting Wednesday evening to appoint Emeryville Mayor John Bauters to serve on the air quality board.
In an email dated Feb. 26, Schaaf wrote, “I’m afraid the mayor of Oakland does not control any appointment to that board” and said she was backing Berkeley’s mayor.
“Mayor Arreguín has a solid environmental justice record and is committed to representing the entire county, especially the most impacted communities, so will have my support,” she said.
While refusing to endorse Kaplan, Schaaf said, “Should circumstances change and no mayor wishes to serve, Councilmember Kaplan would have my recommendation for consideration to the air board,” she said.
When contacted by the Oakland Post, Arreguín declined to answer questions about what he would represent Oakland neighborhoods’ air quality interests.
Post questions: Did he consider the ramifications on Oakland and its impacted communities when he applied? Did Mayor Schaaf urge him to apply for the position?
“The mayor is not going to be able to comment on this,” wrote Arreguin’s director of communications.
In her email to Kaplan supporters, Schaaf wrote that she is seeking a state law that would create dedicated seats for cities like Oakland that bare the brunt of poor air quality.
However, according to Councilmember Kaplan, no such bill has been submitted to the Legislature.
“The bill deadline has passed, and nobody has expressed willingness nor introduced the type of bill you describe,” Kaplan wrote in an open letter to Schaaf.
Kaplan said she is eager to build support on such a law, which would guarantee Oakland has a voice at the table.
In the little over a year that Kaplan has served on the air quality board, she has won funding for the free Broadway Transit shuttle, helped remove old pollution -causing diesel engines and is working on winning up to $50 million to reduce emissions from trucks, trains and ships that harm Oakland’s flatland communities.
One of the community activists backing Kaplan for the position is Pamela Drake.
“Oakland is the largest city (in the county), with the most severe pollution,” she said “It needs somebody who knows these issues and is on top of them. I think that’s Rebecca. She has the track record and the knowledge base.”
Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), which recently waged an unsuccessful fight to block the building of a large crematorium in East Oakland, has been attending the monthly meeting of the Alameda Conference of Mayors to lobby for Kaplan’s reappointment to the board.
“My understanding is that all those mayors really have the choice, said Esther Goolsby, a CBE organizer. “They are choosing not to represent Oakland anymore.”
She said that CBE had a phone meeting Tuesday with Mayor Schaaf and Mayor Arreguín and asked Arreguín to withdraw his application. He refused.
“Mayor Schaaf refers to having to follow bylaws, but we are saying the community is experiencing an environmental health state of emergency,” said Goolsby.
Oakland needs a representative on the air quality board like Kaplan because the “relationship of the air quality district staff is disturbing and raises serious questions,” she said, accusing the air district’s staff of refusing to listen to community input opposed to the building of the crematorium.
Speaking for herself as an individual, Goolsby questioned Mayor Schaaf’s motives, saying she believes the mayor “is putting politics ahead of the community’s air quality needs,” because Schaaf is seeking reelection in November, and Kaplan may run against her.