Oakland mayor’s birthday celebration for a cause

Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle. Libby Schaaf joins alumni of the East Bay College Fund, from left, Isidro Ruvalcaba, Victoria Barnes and Michael Jefferson on stage on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 in Oakland, Calif.

Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle. Libby Schaaf joins alumni of the East Bay College Fund, from left, Isidro Ruvalcaba, Victoria Barnes and Michael Jefferson on stage on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 in Oakland, Calif.

By Chip Johnson
San Francisco Chronicle
November 9, 2015

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf celebrated her 50th birthday on Saturday at a sold-out $250-a-plate gala event inside a graffiti-covered turn-of-the-century train depot the city hopes to one day renovate and reuse.

The fundraising was for Schaaf’s new $1 million scholarship fund intended to encourage Oakland’s children to dream of attending — and one day attend — college.

The plan would provide funds for college — $4,000 a year for four years — for 50 kids who grew up in Oakland and who are the first in their families to get a higher education. It would also provide a matching $4,000 donation to College Track or the East Bay College Fund — two nonprofits — so that they can provide counseling and a mentor to the scholarship winners throughout their college career.

The $1 million is just the start of what the mayor hopes to be a broader, long-term plan to provide what she calls “cradle to career” guidance for the city’s most deserving and underprivileged public school students.

As the program grows, she wants to provide the city’s most “vulnerable” newborn infants with $500 college funds at birth and eventually have another fund that would establish $50 to $100 college funds for every low-income kindergarten student in the city. The idea behind those kick-starter funds is to promote a family tradition of college.

“I can’t think of any better way to celebrate my birthday than to do this,” she said Sunday.

Schaaf originally planned to raise the $1 million over four years, but she did it in a single year.

It’s in part a testament to her popularity as well as to the realization among office developers that they need Oakland. Schaaf received a 68 percent approval rating in a recent Chamber of Commerce poll, and San Francisco’s Proposition M, a 1986 measure that limits new office space to 875,000 square feet a year, is making Oakland an attractive alternative.

Schaaf’s scholarship fund was anchored by three $100,000 donations from some of the titans in the Bay Area philanthropic world: Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Ron Conway of SV Angel and Seth Hamilian, the principal of Mission Bay Development Group.

This comes as some of the Bay Area’s most influential and well-heeled businesses look to Oakland as their future — and it’s in their best interests to do all they can to raise the city up.

The final piece of the puzzle to put Oakland back on the map is the unrelenting question of crime, an issue that has dogged the city since the mid-1980s.

Schaaf, an Oakland native, is well versed in city crime stats, programs and the efforts under way to curb the problem. She believes taking “baby steps” makes a dent in this monolithic issue, which requires enormous resources and perseverance to address.

She is hell-bent on delivering more police officers to the city, and acknowledges the spike in homicides since mid-August, but quickly points out that both commercial and residential robberies have slowed down. And year to year, the city has recorded about 200 fewer shooting reports than a year ago, and those are the kinds of incremental reductions she hopes to build on.

If there was other promising information in the Chamber of Commerce poll, it was a respondents’ priority list of Oakland’s most pressing issues — education, economic growth and crime — in that order.

Those are also Schaaf’s top issues — and it’s been a while since Oakland residents were on the same page as their mayor.

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