Uncomfortable but important

You may have noticed new billboards around Oakland with a startling message: "Buying a teen for sex is child abuse. Turning a blind eye is neglect."

An estimated 100 children are sold for sex in Oakland on any given night, according to police. Advocates who provide victim counseling say that it's more like several hundred.

I started working to end Oakland's problem of prostituted teens -- a modern form of slavery and exploitation -- a decade ago. I've spoken to many experts about combating the problem, but my most poignant memories are of late night walks on Oakland's "track" talking with the actual girls.

Stacia (not her actual name) had run away from an abusive home at 14. Her "boyfriend" she had moved in with told her she needed to help earn her living expenses. Lisa was a 16-year-old single mom who wasn't earning enough to support her and her new baby with her housecleaning income. Both were completely controlled by their pimps.

Tragically, a decade later, Oakland's child sex trafficking problem has only grown. The average age of entry into the sex trade here is 12 to 14 for girls and 11 to 13 for boys. Children are recruited at and around their schools, malls, parks, foster homes and through social networking sites. Victims come from every socioeconomic class and race. None of our children is safe from this threat.

The City of Oakland and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office have been on the forefront of intervention and rehabilitation -- recognizing these minors are victims, not criminals.

In addition to the many organizations combating this problem like www.misssey.org, our District Attorney Nancy O'Malley is a nationally recognized leader. She has successfully prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any district attorney in the country.

This year, the Oakland public schools have agreed to educate all seventh-graders and their parents about the dangers of sexual abuse and exploitation. Also, a newly passed state law will require certain businesses to post signage about where exploited minors can get help.

In honor of January being National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, I urge all Oaklanders to learn more about this serious threat to our children.

A great resource is www.heat-watch.org and www.ProtectOaklandKids.org. It is an uncomfortable subject, but Oakland's children are counting on us to talk about it.

Libby Schaaf

District 4 Oakland City Council member

Mayor: Vote 'yes' on Measure A

I appreciated the opportunity to talk about Measure A at the recent Piedmont General Election Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont.

Measure A is a ballot measure seeking voter approval to give the City Council discretion to issue bonds or incur debt not to exceed $8 million ($7.8 million principal plus $200,000 debt issuance costs) to refinance a portion of the city's existing legally binding pension obligation to CalPERS, known as the "Side Fund."

The underwriters for this transaction estimate that the city could save up to $700,000 over the next nine years by refinancing at a lower interest rate. CalPERS currently charges Piedmont an interest rate of 7.5 percent on the Side Fund loans. The current all-in refinancing interest cost is estimated to be 4.25 percent or 3.25 percent lower.

The City of Piedmont has contracted with CalPERS since 1974 to provide retirement benefits to its employees. In 2003, the California legislature mandated that all CalPERS member agencies with pension plans with fewer than 100 active members (like Piedmont) be assigned to risk-sharing pools with other agencies having similar benefits, and an unfunded liability or Side Fund was created at the time of joining for each agency. The remaining unpaid balance of the Side Fund obligations as of June 30, 2013 is $5.5 million for the public safety employees plan and $2.3 million for the miscellaneous employees plan.

Section 4.14 of the Piedmont City Charter requires majority voter approval for any new bonds, even if it merely refinances an existing obligation at a lower rate of interest. The California Constitutional requirement known as the Constitutional Debt Limit requires any city or county incurring debt exceeding one year to obtain two-thirds voter approval.

We need a two-thirds vote to satisfy both requirements.

With anything less, the city would need to go through a validation action to meet the Constitutional Debt Limit requirements, delaying the refinancing by as much as six months.

The critical issue of the need to lower employer pension contribution rate caps in the event of refinancing the City's Side Fund obligations was addressed in all labor negotiations and has been incorporated in all the memorandums of understanding to date by lowering the rate caps accordingly.

Approval of the measure does not require the City Council to proceed with the refinancing in the event conditions such as interest rates or expected savings are not favorable.

All members of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee, the City Council, including all City Council candidates on the Feb. 4 ballot, unanimously support Measure A or the refinancing of the Side Fund debt at today's lower interest rates, just as wise homeowners do when they refinance their mortgage with lower interest.

Please join me in voting "yes" on Measure A.

John Chiang

Piedmont Mayor

Ireland fine pick for school board

I write in support of Doug Ireland's candidacy for Piedmont Unified School District's school board. I have known and worked with Doug for more than 15 years. He is a passionate, energetic and an informed advocate for the youth in our community. And he has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Piedmont school system remains outstanding, robust and strong financially.

I've worked with Doug in youth sports, on the board of the Piedmont Education Foundation and, in recent years, we shared the hard but rewarding work of the spring trips to Mexico. In each of these endeavors, Doug selflessly extends his commitment, sense of humor and expertise. He has proved to be a genuine leader and has demonstrated his ability to get things done. Along with his leadership qualities and character, Doug will also bring solid financial skills and acumen to the school board, given his more than 30 years in the financial services industry.

As a member of the Piedmont City Council, I understand the importance of being objective and open-minded. As well, you must work close with staff, cooperate with colleagues and listen to the community. There is no doubt that Doug is up to those tasks.

He will be a great addition to the school board, and we are fortunate that he has decided to continue his long and admirable record of volunteer service to our community.

Bob McBain

Piedmont

Vote for Titan for school board

As a parent of two children going to Havens Elementary, I am very interested in issues concerning our schools and our tax dollars brought up to the school board for review. Like most parents, I unfortunately do not have the time to attend the school board meetings or read the minutes to be informed.

Hari Titan, a candidate in the upcoming school board election, wants to improve the dialogue between us, the parents, and the school board to keep us up to date on board decisions and next steps while giving us a platform to share our ideas with his electronic town hall website.

I also appreciate how Hari explained the bond financing issues facing the school board to us. I understand this information was not known by the public outside of the school board and bond traders. Hari explains his ideas further on HariTitan.com.

I feel Hari has the right background as a data scientist, college educator and a parent in a Piedmont elementary school and the desire to help parents. I wholeheartedly support Hari Titan for school board. Please join me in voting for Hari this Feb 4.

Jae Kim

Piedmont