Nancy Nadel on Oakland's Oil Independence Resolution (transcript)

MediaNancy Nadel on Oakland's Oil Independence Resolution

transcribed by Barry Silver

NN: My name is Nancy Nadel. I'm an Oakland City Council member, representing District 3, and we're here in City Hall on November 8, 2006, talking about the oil independence initiative that I introduced to the City Council. Oakland is a city of about 400,000 people; has some very large low-income population. It's a very diverse city with people from many, many nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, and people profess love of the city for that reason, which is certainly one of the reasons why I love it, and moved to Oakland. We have a real change in our land use, a lot of new housing development going on, and my concern about making sure that we have a good balance between housing and jobs is something that's a policy issue that's before us as a council. So, there are lots of exciting things happening, lots of opportunities for new development, and we want to make sure that its development really is sustainable and something that we would be proud to leave to our children.

DR: How do you frame our oil and energy situation?

NN: As a Californian city, we're very car dependent and car loving - not my preference, but seems to be culturally what happens here. I grew up in New York City where I was raised on mass transit, and it was very accessible, and much easier to use mass transit than automobiles. But in California, I don't see that as the practice at all, and it's going to require quite a culture change to make that happen, and a real focus on resources for mass transit. One of the reasons why mass transit isn't used so much, here, is that it doesn't run as frequently as would make it possible for people to really utilize it. So, I think mass transit is a really important issue for us to focus on in order to make a difference in our oil use.

DR: On a global level, how do you see our oil predicament?

NN: On a global level, well, I see that it's influencing our climate; it puts us in an economically dependent position with other countries. So, I think it - if our dependence is entirely on oil for the number of uses that we currently have, it puts us in a less strong position, both in terms of our being able to deal with the transition as oil runs out, as well as having to deal with governments that aren't necessarily the most progressive, who - but have so much oil on their land. Some countries with oil are progressive and some are not at all - and it makes it difficult for us economically and diplomatically to deal with the issue of oil use addiction.

DR: How do you see the rising price of oil affecting Oakland, and in particular the low income communities?

NN: Well, of course, it has a great impact on people's ability to get to work, to get their kids to school, and that's a huge problem. So, the focus of our resources on mass transit to make it easier for people to not even have to use their cars, I think, is an excellent direction, and would also have a wonderful effect of making it less burdensome on our low-income population.

DR: How did you decide to put forward an "oil independence" resolution?

NN: Well, there were other folks in the city who were watching other city staff members, too, and representatives that I have in my constituency - and other folks in Oakland - who are always looking at cutting-edge policy, folks who have noticed that Sweden had taken the step to do such an analysis and brought it to my attention, and I was happy to bring Oakland to that leading edge, and be the first city that starts to look at this kind of transfer of our resources.

DR: What does the resolution do?

NN: The resolution creates a task force of experts, given a six month time period to come up with a plan for Oakland to be oil independent by the year 2020.

DR: What do you mean by oil independence?

NN: Well, I guess that is confusing to some people. It doesn't mean entirely independent of oil. It means that we are less dependent on outside sources for oil. It's not likely that by the year 2020 we'll be able to be completely off oil, although that certainly would be an interesting undertaking. I think that we need to really look at transition in the longer term, but it just means, how can we reduce our oil use as much as possible by the year 2020?

DR: Were you surprised that the resolution passed unanimously?

NN: No, I wasn't surprised there. I think I will be surprised if the implementation plan passes unanimously, and that's where the real test will be.

DR: What can be done to ensure progress continues?

NN: Well, I think that once we come up with our plan, the product of this task force should really have timelines and targets. I think that's where the real weaknesses are - internationally, as well - and the United States has not been particularly helpful in that regard. I remember going to a sustainability conference in South Africa, a few years ago, and the frustration with the United States in not voting for timelines and targets repeatedly has been very disappointing as an American for me. So I want to make sure that on a city level that we actually insert that in our implementation plans.

DR: What do you see as Oakland's unique assets and liabilities for dealing with oil depletion?

NN: Well, I think one of the problems that we will face is that we don't control the mass transit agency, so we will have to do - Any policies that we develop will have to be in concert with the elected officials who control the mass transit agencies, so that will require a little finessing. And benefits to their coffers in having increased users don't necessarily equate to benefits for the city financially. So, we have to make sure that everybody's balance sheet is improved by this process in some way. So, that's one of the complexities of having separate entities overseeing these different transit agencies. There's actually a different transit agency for the buses, and a different transit agency for the trains, so it means negotiating and cooperating with those folks considerably - not necessarily impossible, but a complexity.

The assets that we have are - we do have several BART stations - and we're in a geographically located - in a way that makes it fairly easy for people to get to and from Oakland from many different directions. So, I think that that's a great asset. We have a pretty educated workforce. We have a lot of blue-collar workers, and we also have a lot of very highly educated folks, who probably can add their expertise to our solving some of these problems. So, I think we have that as well. We have industrial land that can be used for making solar panels or wind turbines - that kind of stuff - but it's being bought up quickly by housing developers, and the city hasn't been able to develop a industrial land preservation policy - yet. I'm working on that, and I think it's very, very important for us - in concert with this effort to have green technology, and green businesses, and green jobs - that we must have the industrial land in order to have those businesses thrive. I'm frustrated when I have a wind power company looking for a site, and all the sites that meet their criteria are owned by someone who's sitting on it for housing development. So, that's one of the problems that we will have to face, as well. But those are some of the assets and liabilities, or potential problems that I foresee.

DR: Have other cities passed industrial land preservation policies?

NN: Actually, Chicago did, yes. A couple of other cities are looking at that. I think New York has one as well.

DR: You mentioned green technology and green jobs...

NN: To me, that's a very important part of the plan. For example, I was looking at some of the recommendations from Sweden, and they're fairly general, and what I want to see for Oakland is something that, not only do we have to switch to mass transit, and bicycles, and pedestrian use - instead of so much car use - but how do we make Oakland the bicycle capital of the state, or, how do we start making bicycles here, how do we really change the culture and make it financially beneficial to our city in so many ways that everyone buys into it, in a really exciting way. So, that's the kind of recommendations I'm hoping to come out of our Task Force - that have a little more focus, and focus on things that are going to produce jobs.

DR: Many goods that were once produced locally are now made in, for example, Taiwan. Do you see this changing in the future?

NN: In order for it to be possible to make them here, it has to be financially competitive. Maybe we could start making bicycles out of recycled materials, or something that will also capture the interest of a niche market, just like fair trade chocolate and coffees are attractive to people because people know that they are buying from somebody who isn't starving to death to make them their cup of latte in the morning. So, we want to try to develop the same kind of consciousness amongst bicycle riders, or people who are concerned about recycling and the environment, to make sure that they're - the products that they buy are not from slave labor, and are made from recycled materials - trying to build on that consciousness.

DR: It's important for consumers to buy locally, isn't it?

NN: The fact that you can ship a piece of used steel from the United States to Japan, have it recycled and brought back here, and it's cheaper than doing here, when you think about the fuel that you have to use for the ships - I mean, there's something really wrong with that equation. So, the fact that people are paid so little in other countries is a big part of our problem, and why we waste so much energy. So, that's why the jobs piece is so important to me, and that's why international labor organizing is so important as well.

DR: What do you want to see come out of the task force?

NN: I want to see recommendations that we can really implement, that will create jobs, and also respond to these environmental concerns. The kinds of reductions, not only in terms of transportation, but green building techniques - I think those are the two areas that are most city oriented, in terms of changing from oil dependence to independence. We don't have much agriculture here. The analysis that I need to see is - everywhere where we are using oil - I haven't actually looked at that analysis yet. I don't know if we done it completely yet. So, making sure that I'm not missing something. But, to me, probably the biggest areas of our changing our practices are in transportation and in green building techniques.

DR: Do you plan to do a full oil consumption analysis?

NN: Yeah, I think that would be very important and useful information, so that we can make sure that we're not missing things.

DR: When you talk of green building, do you mean individual buildings or reconfiguring the city as well?

NN: Reconfiguring the city? I would have to talk about that in a little more detail, so I know what you're picturing. But I was thinking about individual buildings more. As we design new ones - perhaps also in rehabbing older buildings - but in designing new ones, making sure that they utilize the sun as much possible, both for solar panels as well as orientation. I'm not even sure I know all the possible things that we could do, but that's why we look forward to the experts' opinions.

DR: What about reconfiguring the city so there is less need for transportation?

NN: Mixed use is an interesting one, because that's a little bit of the conflict that we're having with industrial land preservation. You want to have some mixed use, but you also want to make sure you don't have truck traffic where residents are living, because that's not a healthy situation either, and that you still have the opportunity for large manufacturing spaces. Mixed use, you tend to have R&D, you have some high-end businesses and residents living right next to each other. That doesn't always work. There are certain businesses that shouldn't be near where people are living. And residents near freeways - those kinds of things - are things that we're just starting to explore and look at, too. So, we not only have to look at oil independence, but we also have to look at healthy neighborhoods.

DR: How can Oakland residents help?

NN: Well, if a citizen of Oakland is an expert in this field, they should send their resume to us immediately, so that we can have a pool of folks that the council can - and the mayor - can appoint to our commission. If they have - if they're not an expert, but have some ideas about this, they would want to contribute, they should definitely get that information to me, as well. We have a Web site ( for input from the community, and we look forward to hearing from them. They should be watchful when the report comes out in - six months after the appointees are made - to make sure that the city follows through on an implementation plan. And we really encourage folks to stay involved and stay interested, and that's when I'm really going to need them to be encouraging the council to develop those timelines and targets, and budget the things that we need to budget in order to make these things happen.

DR: How do people who aren't normally politically active get involved?

NN: When that time comes, lobbying your council member, making sure your council member knows that this is a concern to you. You can find out who your council member is by going to the city's Web site (, and there's a council locator tool - you just pop in your address, and they'll tell you who your council member is, and start a relationship with that council member, find out when they have their Town Hall meetings, find out how you can go and talk to them, meet their staff, express interest, organize your neighborhood around support for this or any other organizations that you might be involved in, or have them take a stand on this issue, and get that position to the council members. It's grassroots organizing, grassroots lobbying, I think will make a big difference.

DR: Can people outside Oakland help?

NN: If experts outside - or if other folks outside - Oakland area have ideas, again, getting them to me, getting them to the commission, we're just developing the rules for this task force: how they might get outside input, how often they'll meet, where their meetings will be - all that kind of stuff. We're framing that. That will come to the council quite soon, so we'll have a better idea on the mechanisms for that interaction between the public and the task force, quite soon.

DR: How can other cities and towns get their council members to consider energy security or independence?

NN: Well, I think that, across the board, we're seeing both Democrat and Republican folks concerned about foreign oil dependence. And so, I think that, no matter who your council member is on the political spectrum, they should be concerned about this, and they're likely to be, especially if you point out the fact that it's not a partisan issue, it's across the aisle - actually, on the local level, in California, most elections are impartisan, anyway, so that shouldn't be a huge issue. I think that if we are looking at encouraging other council members in other cities to do something similar to what we're doing, we're happy to share the legislation for our task force that other cities might adopt and get their own task forces going. All of our results of our council actions are on our Web site as well (, and they can find the legislation for the task force inception on there as well, or contact their office, who will be happy to get it to them, so they can share that with other city governments, and see if they want to follow suit.

MediaNancy Nadel on Oakland's Oil Independence Resolution