OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao acknowledged the city's many problems but voiced optimism Tuesday that she will be able to transform Oakland into a cleaner and safer city.
"Today, let us celebrate the real progress that we have made, but let’s not shy away from the real challenges," Thao said in her first State of the City speech since she became mayor in January.
Thao, addressing a packed City Council chambers, outlined her vision for the city on a number of fronts.
"Oakland, I stand before you today determined. I’m ready to fight for that safer Oakland, a more affordable Oakland. Of course, that one, just Oakland that we all deserve," she said.
She said her top priorities are tackling violent crime - and the perception of lawlessness,
"Many Oaklanders are hurting right now. You may be frightened, and I know how you feel," Thao said, adding, "The surge in crime and violence we are seeing on our streets is unacceptable."
Thao says she will hire more officers, recruit 911 dispatchers, install 300 automated license plate readers and disrupt organized crime.
Homelessness, affordable housing and economic growth are also at the top of her list.
She says she is focused on finding wrap-around services to help the homeless find a way off the streets – while at same time investing in cleaning parks, paving streets and removing trash.
"We’re also expanding our illegal dumping surveillance cameras in key hot spots because enforcement is important," Thao said.
It was a laundry list of problems. But Thao says it’s all doable.
Media strategist Justin Berton, who worked for ex-mayor Libby Schaaf said Thao has a lot on her plate.
"These are big problems, and being the mayor of Oakland is a big, difficult job. But the buck stops with her," Berton said.
"Oaklanders want solutions right now. They don't want value statements about how we need to address root causes of crime. That's true and important, but what they want is clear, actionable plans," Berton said.
Some of those critical of the mayor gathered outside the steps of City Hall to voice their frustrations. Just hours before her speech, they had some strong messages for the mayor.
"Oakland is down in flames and our mayor is missing in action," said Oakland business owner Tuan Nguyen. "She’s completely unaccountable. She’s completely absent. She has failed us."
More than a dozen Oaklanders held signs demanding safe streets and expressing that they’re tired of living in fear.
"Everyday I think about where I’m going to shop, where I’m going to park, what I’m going to bring with me," said Oakland resident Kelley Williams. "I keep my head on a swivel thinking, is this the day I’m going to be robbed?"
It has been eight months since Thao fired former Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong. There is still no replacement, upsetting many residents.
The town has seen a rise in robberies, carjackings and theft. So far this year, there have been more than 100 homicides. Shootings have also increased in frequency. Data shows there has also been nearly 12,000 cars stolen citywide."
Renters in this community are afraid to walk the streets," said Oakland resident Chris Moore. "They are afraid to park their cars, they’re homelessness all over the streets. Blight is another big issue with calls for more affordable housing and funding for small-time landlords, who during the COVID pandemic were forced to foot the bills.
"We demand a sense of urgency and we demand a plan to help work with the county to restore these lost earnings to our housing providers," said Seneca Scott with Neighbors Together Oakland.
Business break-ins and burglaries have forced closures with demands by business owners for more police officers and other solutions to stop rampant crime.
"We are putting Mayor Thao and our city council leadership on notice," said Edward Escobar with Citizens Untied. "Do you job. Or be replaced!"
"This is the result of their failed policy," Nguyen said. "Their lack of leadership and their vision is a doomed Oakland that we are living right now."
Henry Lee is a KTVU crime reporter. E-mail Henry at Henry.Lee@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @henrykleeKTVU and www.facebook.com/henrykleefan