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The neighborhood known as Jack London Square, a district of noodle factories and produce warehouses on Oakland Inner Harbor, is giving way to dozens of new loft-apartment and condo buildings. That explosion in private investment--although limited to only a few pockets of the city--is the centerpiece of Brown's tenure as mayor, the fulfillment of a promise he made eight years ago to bring 10,000 residents to downtown Oakland. Brown points to building after building, each financed with private capital, opening their doors to tenants or just completing construction. "That is new. That is new. That one is finished. This one will be finished soon," he says, as we drive around. "For 40 years, there was nothing here. Now there are going to be 10,000 people living in downtown Oakland." All that concrete and mortar may be a special source of pride for a man who picked up the nickname Moonbeam in the 1970s for being a little too theoretical. "This is the most visible achievement that I've ever done," Brown says. "This is a tangible. It wasn't there before."
This being the Bay Area, not everyone is thrilled. Longtime residents say Brown is driving up rents and tax assessments. Hard-boiled leftists say Brown has sold off the city's commercial heritage to profiteers. And affordable-housing advocates want builders to provide various givebacks and mitigations before putting up high-end condos--a demand Brown, sounding more like an Orange County conservative, can't fathom. "The problem with that is that this is just one of 100 possible markets where private developers can put their money. If we make it even a little harder to come here, they won't come. We need to be more attractive than those places, which is why some progressives don't like me."
But the main reason many liberals don't love him has to do with his battle to contain the city's crime rate. The number of murders this year has nearly doubled last year's count for the same period. There are problems with street robberies and what the cops call rat packers, gangs of kids who beat up people on buses and then head back to school to brag about it. The local jails are sometimes too full to permit arrests for certain crimes. A local television report recently quoted an Oakland police estimate that one-fourth of the city's prostitutes were underage. Crime has dropped since Brown became mayor, but it's rising again, fast.
All that is one reason Brown is spending part of the afternoon with 40-odd police supervisors, talking about crime trends. Another is that his main opponent in the race for the Democratic nomination in the state's attorney-general race, Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo, aired an ad in mid-May accusing Brown of proposing to slash funding for Oakland cops. Although Brown did propose cuts in 2003, the police budget has grown more than 50% since 1999. Brown has pushed the force to transfer officers from desk jobs to street patrols, and he backed a 10 p.m. curfew on some parolees and probationers. The city is trying to raise bails to keep suspects in jail, and cameras have been installed in high-crime areas. Recently the city tested "shot spotter" technology to isolate gunshots using acoustic technology.