For Oakland, Calif., mayoral candidate Bryan Parker, technology is a solution to many of the East Bay city's woes. Parker, who entered the tech industry over a decade ago as senior director of finance at security software firm iPass, sees bitcoin as a way to address poverty and crowdfunding as a means of increasing financing for civic development. He favors analytics to maximize the efficiency of Oakland's understaffed police force and improve education in the city's classrooms.
Parker shared his ideas about how Oakland can capitalize on its proximity to Silicon Valley and use technology to innovate.
Q: You've said bitcoin, the digital crypto-currency, would be a part of your economic plan for the city, in particular helping to build a "culture of saving" among Oakland's poorest residents. How would that work?
A: What I'm doing is engaging in the fight on poverty, which is a big, ambitious goal. What is one of the ways you get poor people into different habits? You start getting them to save more, get them online. (Bitcoin) is a way of using modern technology that's helpful in doing that. If I have money in the bank, I have embedded in the system a savings pattern because I have to go somewhere to get money. When you're operating on cash, all your cash is there and it's harder to keep track of. We're reversing the paradigm here. I think (bitcoin) is something we can do in combination with financial literacy to drive better behavior.
Q: So you're saying bitcoin can get people online and saving who currently are not using banks or the Internet?
A: I think so. One of the things people like about (bitcoin) is it's a democratic type currency. The market is truly regulating. But you look at a couple of things that have recently happened and say, "Hey, obviously there's got to be some regulation." You've got to make sure there's some safeguards.
It's just like how you get people interested in the banking industry in general. But people have had mistrust of banking. We go in and do education. We partner with organizations that are in the community. And if you live in a bad neighborhood, you're not walking around with cash anymore. It's in your electronic wallet.
Q: How did you get interested in bitcoin?
A: For me, these are tools for people better running their lives and potentially something that the government can use. The only two sectors that I've ever done in my career are health care and technology. So I know this. I was the COO of a company that was in the virtual-goods space, and the person that was our CEO, (former child actor and bitcoin entrepreneur) Brock Pierce, is now heavily invested in the bitcoin space. I got interested in the potential transformative uses of the currency for what I am doing. I'm trying to run cities, help people have better lives and influence savings patterns.
Q: How do you envision using bitcoin within city government? The publication Bitcoin Journal recently quoted you saying that you could envision paying city salaries in bitcoin.
A: As this matures, we've got to be open-minded. These two things can't both be true, that we're an innovative city and want to help this tech sector develop here, and that we're closed-minded to different uses for technology. As a mayor, I couldn't say responsibly, "Take part of your check in this crypto-currency." But this market offers intriguing possibility. Could we see a day where people are paid out in bitcoin? Absolutely. In early days, people were probably paid out in little pieces of gold.
Q: What are some other ways you envision using technology to improve Oakland?
A: Crowdfunding is one that immediately hops off the page. I attended an Easter egg hunt at San Antonio Park and I was appalled ... the grass hadn't been cut in I don't know how long, there was garbage everywhere. What can we do with the power of crowdsourcing to augment what we have? What people are saying right now is, "I'm paying taxes and I don't feel like I am getting a bang for the buck, so I have some level of mistrust." So how do we earn that back? Why don't we get it directly to the project?
Q: You would also like to attract more technology companies to Oakland, which now has relatively few. How would you do that?
A: You market based around what we know tech companies want ... computing speeds, the redundancy of our data systems, synergies with Berkeley. You build around the arts and music scene. We've seen the environments that techies tend to like. We market that. We put it all together in a way that says our city is about innovation.
Q: Your campaign accepts bitcoin donations. Have you received very many?
A: There's been relatively few. And I take no currency risk. We convert it immediately into dollars.
©2014 the San Francisco Chronicle