2016 Second Place Writing Winner

Cody Stavenhagen

Second Place
Oklahoma State University
$4,000 Scholarship Award and Hearst Medallion

Winning Stories

News Story from Interview | Personality/Profile | Spot News

News Story from Interview

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jon Sarriugarte sat at breakfast with his wife, Krysten Mate, one morning after she had a strange dream.

The details are hazy now, but the couple sat at the table, pulled over a napkin and began sketching what would become the artists’ latest project.

The couple spent three months in the summer of 2008 working with other artists to create a metal car that resembles a snail. They called it the Golden Mean. Little did Sarriugarte know it would end up becoming his ticket to the forefront of Oakland’s political landscape.

Oakland is a city that is at once creating an optimistic identity and fighting for its soul. It is both rich and poor, old and new. As new tech jobs take over the economy and the workers reshape the city’s housing, Oakland’s vibrant art community is fighting to stay relevant. Mayor Libby Schaaf has shaped policy around the concept of “techquity,” the idea that attracting new tech-industry jobs to Oakland can bring in revenue that can then be distributed around the city, including in the art community.

“I appreciated that she even recognizes that arts are important to Oakland,” Sarriugarte said. “All of our past mayors have just sort of recognized that it’s there, but they don’t talk about it. It was just refreshing to have somebody that right away formed a committee to talk about, ‘How do we save the arts here?’”

Sarriugarte has lived and worked in Oakland since 1987. He owns Form and Reform, an artistic metal furniture company. He is also an active citizen, serving on a litany of commissions.
In Oakland’s 2014 race for mayor, Sarriugarte decided to support Schaaf.

After speaking with Schaaf at an event, he told her about his snail car. The vehicle quite literally looks like a giant metallic snail. It can seat six people, and the eye sockets stemming from the snail’s head are built to shoot with fire.

Schaaf asked him why he didn’t bring it.

“I didn’t really think would be appropriate,” Sarriugarte said.

Schaaf encouraged him to bring the Golden Mean to a later event. Before long, the car was Schaaf’s inauguration, the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals parade and a host of other events. It also thrust Sarriugarte into arts advocacy in the shifting city.

“Oakland is a city that really defines the great American social, political experiment,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University. “It’s a place that is gentrifying, is growing economically, yet that clashes with the diversity that exists in Oakland.”

In Oakland, at least 1 percent of the cost for private developments must be set aside for public art. Schaaf’s recent housing plan also calls to both create 17,000 new homes and various prices and protect 17,000 existing homes, a way of fighting the gentrification that Sarriugarte says harmed the arts community in San Francisco.

“It can’t work out perfectly for everybody, but I think it’ll be for the best,” Sarriugarte said.

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OAKLAND, Calif. — As her two young children slept, about 50 protesters gathered outside Libby Schaaf’s Upper Dimond home at 5 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement chanted through bullhorns, drew outlines of bodies in the street, accused Schaaf of promoting gentrification as a city councilor and scolded her for spending her first day as mayor with Oakland police.

This, the protesters said, was a “people’s inauguration.”

“Wake up Libby,” they yelled. “No sleeping on the job.”

She was beginning her 15th day in office.

“Home has always been this place where I recharge my batteries, so it really was quite a shock when the ultimate stress of my job actually came to my house in the middle of the night,” Schaaf said.

As Schaaf and husband Sal Fahey monitored the demonstration on Twitter from inside their home, the children slept through most of the protest. It turned out to be peaceful, but Schaaf said it was shocking nonetheless.

“Your first instinct as a mother is like, ‘Oh my god, someone is going to attack my children,’” Schaaf said.

Schaaf ran her mayoral campaign based largely on her Oakland roots and her love for the city. Maybe to truly love something, you must first know the feeling that comes when you’re not sure whether you are loved in return.

Schaaf was born in Oakland and graduated from Skyline High School. Yes, she was a girl scout and a cheerleader. She also worked as an attorney and spent years working in nonprofits. In 2010, she was elected to represent District 4 on the Oakland City Council.

In 2014, she was a late entry in a flooded field of candidates for mayor. Quickly, she emerged as a more moderate alternative to Rebecca Kaplan and a candidate worthy of unseating incumbent Jean Quan.

“She just kept chipping away and chipping away based upon the argument of a new day in Oakland,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.

Erica Kwiatowski, who served as a lead consultant on the Schaaf campaign through SCN Strategies, said Schaaf had her hands on every aspect of her campaign. Kwiatowski said Schaaf cared about every word in her commercial, every comma and decimal in the campaign budget.

Speaking of, the Schaaf campaign raised $464,918, according to Open Disclosure Oakland. Schaaf’s 1,461 itemized contributions was the most of any candidate, and her $318 average donation was among the lowest in the field. Schaaf also did it without contributing a dime from her personal funds, though there was a $1,000 donation in Fahey’s name.

There came a point, Kwiatowski said, where the people started coming to her.

Schaaf held her inauguration at the Paramount Theater and arrived in a fire-breathing piece of local art known as “The Golden Mean.” She used the word “hella” in her campaign ads and in her acceptance speech. She wore large Oak tree earrings. It was about as Oakland as it gets.

“Her passion for that city is not anything you could ever create,” Kwiatowski said. “I don’t think could ever be recreated for anyone else or by anyone else.”

Despite walking away with 62 percent of the vote, Schaaf’s biggest battle has become one of perception. In a city fighting its own reputation, Schaaf’s Oakland-loving persona is both a great strength and a gaping weakness.

Her opponents have called her robotic, a downhill leader, a chamber-of-commerce Democrat, McCuan said. Schaaf herself has heard the words. Bad mother. Bad hair. White Bitch. Every move is under the microscope.

She has a carefully crafted imagine. She is quick to correct the idea she had an affluent upbringing. The daughter of a flight attendant and a shoe salesman, she prefers middle class.
She has become known for her prevailing spirit, but she is also a self-described policy wonk.

“She made my job easy,” Kwiatowski said. “I was never fearful of her going out on the debate stage or getting on the phone with press because I knew she would do a better job than I would because she could answer any question.”

Through the first half of her term, Schaaf has become a key face in the transformation of Oakland. She has seen the technology sector boom and brought in businesses such as Uber. And yes, she called out Donald Trump on Twitter, but there is more to her accomplishments.

“She’s an excellent listener, which is so often hard to find in a politician,” said Jon Sarriugarte, the artist who provided the car Schaaf used in her inauguration. “She’s unusual in that she doesn’t come to the table with a bunch of ideas that she wants to force you to listen to.”

That said, Schaaf’s biggest political battles are likely to come. Police and race relations remain rocky. Keeping sports teams such as the Raiders and A’s will be a challenge without public dollars.

“The potential for her mayoral run to go off the rails is on the horizon in Oakland,” McCuan said. “Part 1 has gone very well. The promise of Libby Schaaf and governing has gone very well. The next chapter is going to be much more difficult for her. It will be interesting to watch.”

So far, Schaaf has led Oakland’s resurgence with an attitude fitting of the city. Politics have taught her to have thick skin. Being mayor means that skin is always thickening.

“I take tremendous pride in what I see as my identity as an Oaklander,” Schaaf said. “Part of that is being a little tougher than the average person. Being a little bit no-bullshit.”

Although her duty list as mayor is never-ending, Schaff still takes her children to school every day. She says it’s the one motherly duty she can still perform religiously.

One morning, she was running late. The kids were waiting.

Her son, Dominic, quipped.

“Mom, do I have to call the protesters and have them come wake you up earlier?”

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SAN FRANCISCO — Lisa Gonzalez spent her Tuesday afternoon outside Navigation Center on 1950 Mission St., leaning against a wooden post on the ramp leading to San Francisco’s newest alternative to traditional homeless shelters.

Gonzalez does not live here. She¬ is not the face of Navigation Center’s success. She is simply one of about 6,686 people in the city living without a home.

If Gonzalez — with her red hair, long eyelashes and sundress still hinting at a youthful spirit despite 52 years of hard life — could walk up and open the red door at Navigation Center’s entrance, she could make camp in one of the 75 beds. She could bring her possessions, a significant other or a pet. She could get on-site counseling, free meals and receive help on the road to permanent housing.

“I don’t live here,” she said. “But I’m going to. I hope.”

Navigation Center opened March 30, 2015, after an anonymous $3 million donation the San Francisco Interfaith Council made it possible to execute an idea workers such as Sam Dodge, director of San Francisco’s H.O.P.E. housing program, had been pushing.

“We put in a lot of work recently to try to re-envision shelter,” Dodge said.

After one year, about 500 people have entered Navigation Center, no more than 75 at a time. Eighty-five percent have left for stable housing, and the average stay is 51 days. The program runs in a partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the Community Housing Partnership and Episcopal Community Services, and it targets the hardest people to house in San Francisco by clearing the traditional obstacles to other shelters such as curfew.

“It’s really great to have all of these services provided while you have a place to live inside and you really feel respected as an adult without rules that limit your movement,” said Karen Gruneisen, an Episcopal Community Services representative who spoke at a Wednesday meeting at the SPUR Urban Center.

On the wrong side of that red door, Gonzalez said she has spent the past few days bouncing around the city. She had a home in Richmond for a while, the address listed on her California ID, where she said she lived with her ex-boyfriend. After she left, she said she was living day-to-day in a hotel until she couldn’t afford to stay any longer. She said she spent a night in a tent, but didn’t feel safe.

It’s been this way before. She has spent years in and out of work, in and out of trouble. She would get sober and clean, then relapse. Sober and clean, then relapse.

“You always come up with these plans and schemes, what you’re going to do different,” Gonzalez said. “You say you’ll be smarter.”

For now, Gonzalez is spending much of her time on Mission Street, only blocks from where she said she grew up on 24th Avenue. She knows this street and its people. She’s heard good reports from residents of Navigation Center.

“I hear it’s cool as f—,” she said.

But it seems unlikely she will ever get in. At the Wednesday meeting at SPUR Urban Center to discuss the program and its potential expansions, city officials said there are about 700 people on Navigation Center’s waiting list. Gonzalez said she has yet to get a case worker from the city’s resource center.

There is a similar site opening soon (no official date) at the Civic Center Hotel. It will use the Navigation model. Dodge said there are plenty of discussions for another Navigation Center, likely to replace the temporary Mission Street location, but finding the right location is no easy task.

The crux of these centers if the fact they aim to provide a quick gateway to permanent housing. If there were 10 Navigation Centers, there would not be enough housing for people to exit into.

“There’s not one magic arrow here,” Dodge said. “It fits within a larger solution.”

In attempt to create that solution, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke at City Hall on Tuesday, proposing a new $9.6 billion city budget that would create a Department of Homelessness.
Lee’s words early in his speech rained out emphatically. “We will make homelessness rare, brief and a one-time circumstance.”

As this happened, at least 17 people were camped across the street on the City Hall lawn, many of them sleeping in the harsh sun, some covering their faces with cardboard, others using their bags for pillows.

In San Francisco, the divide between home and homeless, power and powerless, is as thin as a street or as fragile as a red door. But as the city searches for a solution and people such as Gonzalez continue to live on the margins, the street can feel live a river, the door like a towering wall.

Gonzalez isn’t sure what her long-term plan is. After breaking up with her boyfriend, she said, she wants to be on vacation. On Mission Street, she can use her charm to make some money. The other day, she said, a man paid her $4 dollars to pluck hair from his ears (Tuesday, he wanted his eyebrows done).

“I’m enjoying my life,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just me, my wine and my pipe.”

On this block, only steps away from the Shangri-La of shelters, the street is its own community. As Rich Homie Quan’s “Narcotics” blares from portable speakers, a woman holding a crack pipe asks for a lighter. Gonzalez swigs from a small bottle of pink moscato kept in her overpacked brown purse. A man came storming out of Navigation Center, swinging his arms and yelling, “You don’t care about helping me.”

“This is where I survive,” Gonzalez said. “I tried going down to the Tenderloin. I’m like a fish out of water down there. This is familiar grounds for me.”

She is home, but only in the loosest definition.

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