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"Hello! Hello! Hello!" exclaims Dwayne Jones, grinning and clasping his hands together. "I have not seen my family in a long time."
A few dozen of his "family" members residents of Alice Griffith sit in metal chairs to Jones' left, slurping Chinese noodles from paper plates. To his right are city employees and officials, including the executive director of the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families. Except for a few brave souls, the two groups are physically separate, like boys and girls at a middle-school dance.
After two years of soliciting residents' ideas at neighborhood meetings, Jones has come tonight to the Bret Harte Elementary School gymnasium, across the street from Alice Griffith, to present the project's occupants with the latest COO plan. When he first started coming to such meetings, they were packed with people ready to lob complaints at him. Now, it seems most residents are either satisfied and think the meeting isn't worth their time, or have decided there's nothing Jones can do for them, and would rather not listen to yet another mayoral plan for fixing their community.
Jones studied social science at UC Berkeley, then spent 10 years working in East Oakland, and says he fell in love with the Bayview almost as soon as he'd discovered the neighborhood. He has spent almost a decade in the area, as a nonprofit manager, consultant, and, since early 2004, in the Newsom administration. He's the kind of guy who crosses between worlds with ease he has taken executive management classes at Yale, but last year went to Alice Griffith at 6 a.m. every day for three months to join residents in landscaping. The project he heads shares his two-pronged approach, a meld of business schoolÐstyle policy plans and a grassroots ethos that aims to go beyond empty handshakes.
But Newsom's PR methods seem to err on the side of empty or at least to willfully overlook both the programs that haven't worked and the community's many remaining problems.
"You know, there wasn't long ago where most of the lighting wasn't working here, where there weren't the trees that you see here," says the mayor, sleeves rolled up, microphone in hand, on the large video screen behind Jones. "It's a milestone that pulls rhetoric aside and directs some real action. And you see visible results."
Jones, wearing a pink shirt and broad-shouldered gray suit, leans toward his laptop to click off the video, and the overhead lights bathe the room in harsh fluorescence. He talks about the successes of the past year, then says, in a serious tone: "The physical improvements are real easy stuff. Now begins the hard part: changing attitudes and raising expectations."
Jones' vision for the Bayview is the best-case scenario a hip, safe, clean, economically stable neighborhood populated by the same people who live there now. Even the unemployed would contribute to the community network, he explains, planting gardens or offering to drive neighbors to work. "It's terrifying that folks don't recognize what a jewel people have here," he says later that night. "Alice Griffith is right by a state park, close to amazing views of the bay."
At times, it seems Jones believes he can change the minds of an entire community through sheer affability, if he spends enough time walking the streets of the neighborhood and holding meetings.
Yet meetings like this only serve to demonstrate the disconnect between the mayor's team, however well intentioned, and the people they're trying to help. For example, aides hand out a "schedule" of upcoming COO events really just an internal spreadsheet calendar created by consultants from the Bridgespan Group. Headlined "Public Launch Plan Emphasizes Repeated Interactions With Each Node," it contains a confusing mess of colored rectangles and dates. Another handout is an overview of all the city services available through COO, with 60-odd boxes containing policy jargon like "FSS Expansion/IDA" and "SB163 Wraparound."
Even Jones knows the handouts send the wrong message. He says, to the residents on his left, "Some of [these program names] will make absolutely no sense to you." It's hardly an auspicious start for an initiative aimed at simplifying community access to government services.
When Jones asks if anyone has questions, the residents simply want to know why the much-celebrated Wi-Fi network isn't working. Though the network has been spotty for its entire two-month existence, Jones only heard about the most recent problem the day before. He says he'll make sure it's fixed within 10 days. (At press time, two weeks later, it's still not functional.) The folks who live at Alice Griffith didn't know to call Jones about the Wi-Fi, and many still don't know whom to call to ask about the free computers and Internet training the Opportunity Center offers.
Near the end of the meeting, Jones mentions that the residents may soon receive a phone call inviting them to be in a photo at City Hall. Communities of Opportunity publicly launches there in early October: It's the end of the pilot plan, and the official beginning of the five-year initiative. Jones emphasizes how important it is that he "secure at least 50 families" from each housing development "willing to engage in the system."
"We want to show the world who is responsible for changing your community," says Jones. "This is not our thing this is yourthing."