Monday, January 16, 2017

For MLK Holiday, Activists Tear Down Fence and Take Over Oakland's St. Andrew's Plaza in the Name of 'Black Joy'

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 3:41 PM

When the City of Oakland fenced off St. Andrew's Plaza last year, some cheered the closure. A group of neighbors had complained for years that the sliver of land was a magnet for illegal drug use and crime. They imagined its renovation, using a $456,000 grant, would transform the area into a welcoming space for all.

But for other Oaklanders, there was one simple reason the city put a metal barricade around the park: officials wanted to remove poor and homeless people, most of them Black, as a way of gentrifying the neighborhood.

For over a decade now, West Oakland has been losing its Black population as home prices and rents increase due to San Francisco's spillover effect. Homeless camps in the area continue to grow. But developer interest in West Oakland has been sporadic.

In 2015 the city released the West Oakland Specific Plan which calls for building market-rate mid and high-rise apartments and condos along corridors like San Pablo. In fact, the WOSP calls for building mid-rise townhouses that "wrap around the corner at 32nd Street, fronting onto the small adjacent St. Andrews pocket park."

Some Oaklanders see this all as a blueprint for displacement.

The free store.
  • The free store.
Earlier today a group calling itself the Black Land Liberation Initiative cut down the metal fence surrounding the plaza and began serving food. There was music, a "free store" of clothing and shoes, people playing games of chess, and even a massage station.

"They're playing Oakland like a big monopoly board," said Chaga Kwania, one of the organizers with the Black Land Liberation Initiative, about Oakland's current development policies. "A lot of people are being displaced, and there are growing homeless encampments."

A stencil on the sidewalk along San Pablo.
  • A stencil on the sidewalk along San Pablo.
Kwania said the takeover of St. Andrews Plaza is indefinite, and that the group plans to offer food, clothing, music, and camaraderie throughout the coming weeks.

Van  Dell, another organizer of the park takeover, said the city demonized the people who previously used the park, emphasizing only the bad things that happened there while ignoring the good things.

"People gathered here to celebrate, to mourn, to play dominoes and chess, and keep each other company," she said. "That never got mentioned."

She said her group wants to magnify the sounds of "Black joy" and reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

After St. Andrew's Plaza was fenced off, the city held community meetings about its future design.
  • After St. Andrew's Plaza was fenced off, the city held community meetings about its future design.
Nikita Mitchell, another organizer of the action, said St. Andrew's Plaza was a lot of things, some bad, some good, but that the space didn't deserve to be closed off to the community. One of its roles, she said, was as a place of sanctuary for those dealing with economic hardship, mental health problems, and homelessness.

"True development of this area means taking care of these people," she said, rather than building a fence to keep them out.

The Express was unable to reach Oakland city officials for comment.

Town Business: Developers Quietly Lobby to Stall Hearings on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 7:54 AM

  • Bert Johnson
Electric cars are key to California's goals of reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality. But their widespread adoption has been slowed by the lack of charging stations available in commercial parking lots and residential buildings.

Oakland planners want to change the city's building code so that new commercial and residential projects include lots of PEV-ready parking spaces. PEV-ready means installing conduit under a parking lot or garage so wires can be pulled through and charging stations easily installed later on. City planners also want to require a small percentage of parking spaces in new projects be fully wired and include everything but a charging station.

According to city staff, it costs $500 to $1,500 to make each parking space ready for an electric charing station —  a tiny fraction of the total cost of building new housing and commercial projects. And according to city staff, making things PEV-ready at the outset saves thousands of dollars per parking space later because workers don't have to trench new electrical lines.

But for several months, the costs and benefits of these building code changes haven't gotten a public hearing because a developer lobbyist had the item repeatedly pulled from committee hearings so he and other lobbyists could influence the proposal in private meetings.

At the November 15 meeting of the Oakland City Council's Community and Economic Development Committee, the building code update item was withdrawn without explanation. It was reschedule for a December 6 meeting of the same committee, but when that date came around, committee chair Larry Reid withdrew it again, saying only "we're gonna put that item over until the next CEDA committee meeting."

What Reid could have said was that lobbyist Greg McConnell of the Jobs and Housing Coalition had asked that the item be withdrawn. The Jobs and Housing Coalition is a landlord and real estate developer lobbying group led by McConnell.

According to city email records, after McConnell had the item taken off the agenda, he met with Shayna Hirshfield-Gold, the city staffer working on the code updates. McConnell reportedly told her that developers are worried about increasing construction costs, and that one developer even "hates" the proposed code update.

After it was delayed by McConnell, city staff also went out of their way to meet with the Oakland Builders Alliance, which includes some Oakland's largest real estate developers, architects, construction companies, and brokers. McConnell also attended to the OBA meeting which city staff went to, according to city email records.

OBA member Mark McClure, who is a partner with CCIG, wrote in an email that OBA doesn't oppose the building code changes, only that they wanted more information, and that OBA "appreciate[s] the thoughtful process the city staff is following to receive input from various stakeholder groups."

But while OBA is working to influence the new building code, its members don't appear to be following the city's transparency rules regarding lobbying.

While McConnell is currently registered with the city as a lobbyist, McClure and other members of the Oakland Builders Alliance — which include former Planning Commissioner Jim Moore, and current Planning Commissioner Tom Limon — aren't registered, and they aren't disclosing their contacts with city staff.

In fact, the last time OBA members filed lobbying disclosure forms with the city was in 2014.

In response to whether he is currently registered with the city's Public Ethics Commission, McClure wrote in an email that "any communication that has taken place with city councilmembers in the interim has occurred through the standard process of providing stakeholder feedback requested by the city."

But Oakland's Lobbyist Registration Act doesn't have any exemption for "stakeholder feedback requested by the city." The only exception to the law that comes close is Section 3.20.060 (c) which says, anyone invited to give testimony to the city council, or a board or commission, or a hearing officer, doesn't have to register and disclose their activities as a lobbyist.

That doesn't appear to be what happened in this case. What happened is that Greg McConnell lobbied to have the legislation taken off a committee agenda which forced the city staff members who drafted the proposed code changes to meet with McConnell and the Oakland Builder's Alliance in private to get their input.

Last Tuesday, the electric vehicle code item was supposed to be heard, but a shooting on Broadway caused the meeting to be adjourned prematurely, delaying things again.

So now it appears that the item will finally come to committee next week. That is, unless it's quietly withdrawn again so that developers can lobby city staff more behind the scenes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee To Boycott Trump Inauguration

by Nick Miller
Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 12:40 PM

Rep. Barbara Lee just announced that she will be boycotting Donald Trump's inauguration and related festivities next week.

"I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House," she wrote in a press release earlier today.

The Congresswoman joins Reps. Katherine Clark (or Massachusetts) and Luis Gutierrez (of Illinois) in avoiding Trump's swearing in and celebrations.

Last week, Lee also refused to certify Trump's electoral-college victory.

The following is her complete statement on the boycott:

“Inaugurations are celebratory events, a time to welcome the peaceful transition of power and honor the new administration. On January 20th, I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House.

“Donald Trump ran one of the most divisive and prejudiced campaigns in modern history. He began his campaign by insulting Mexican immigrants, pledging to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and then spent a year and a half denigrating communities of color and normalizing bigotry. He called women ‘pigs’, stoked Islamophobia, and attacked a Gold Star family. He mocked a disabled reporter and appealed to people’s worst instincts. I cannot in good conscience attend an inauguration that would celebrate this divisive approach to governance.

“After the election, many hoped the president-elect would turn toward unifying our country. Instead he has shown us that he will utilize the same tools of division he employed on the campaign trail as our nation’s Commander-in-Chief. We need look no further than the team he is assembling to find signals that the era of Trump will be one of chaos and devastation for our communities.

“The president-elect has named Steve Bannon, a white nationalist as his chief strategist. He has nominated Senator Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General, despite his long career of opposition to civil and human rights. And in perhaps the most damning sign of the chaos to come, the president-elect has expedited the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make America sick again.”

“To make matters worse, after the intelligence community reported Russian interference in our election, Donald Trump frequently and forcefully defended Vladimir Putin. He insulted senior intelligence officials in order to preserve his reputation and disguise the truth. The American people will never forget that when a foreign government violated our democracy, Donald Trump chose the interests of another nation over our own.

“Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Oakland Mayor Schaaf Issues Order Intended to Improve Safety of Unpermitted Housing While Avoiding Displacement

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 4:53 PM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a press conference in December, following the devastating Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people.
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a press conference in December, following the devastating Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people.
Acknowledging that in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire some property owners have evicted residents of warehouses and other unpermitted living spaces for fear of legal liability, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf today issued an executive order meant to help landlords bring buildings up to code, while hopefully avoiding displacement of tenants.

In recent weeks there have been numerous reports of tenants being evicted from warehouses and other unpermitted types of housing across the East Bay. Other arts and culture spaces, where people don't live, have also been targeted for strict code and zoning enforcement.

Some in the arts community have responded to these stepped up code enforcement efforts by burrowing further underground into hidden spaces, hoping city inspectors and landlords won't find them. Others have tried to raise money and donate materials and know-how to make unpermitted spaces safer. And still others have called on cities to issue a moratorium on evictions and pass other legislation that would prevent displacement.

Schaaf's executive order states that if unpermitted housing is identified by the city, the landlord will be made to enter into a 60-day compliance plan that includes:
  • Fixing building code violations;
  • Obtaining zoning changes, if necessary, to legalize housing;
  • Proving landlords and tenants with information about their rights under Oakland's just cause for eviction and rent adjustment laws;
  • Providing residents with notice five-days before inspections prompted by complaints that weren't made by the tenants, except in cases where there are immediate threats to life and safety.
Her order states that city building inspectors shall "generally work in the spirit of cooperation with property owners, tenants and master lessors to correct code violations that are not deemed to be an imminent life safety risk[.]"

Schaaf's order also calls for convening a Special Event Permits System Redesign group in order to revamp Oakland's much-criticized system for permitting music and performances. According to artists, Oakland and other cities in the Bay Area have bureaucratic and expensive requirements that drive performers into underground, and sometimes dangerous live/work venues.

Schaaf's order comes a day after the city council's Community and Economic Development Committee was supposed to hear a proposal from Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan to increase relocation assistance paid to tenants displaced due to code enforcement activities. That proposal was delayed, however, when a gunfight on Broadway interrupted the committee meeting.

The Oakland Warehouse Coalition, a tenants advocacy group, is pushing the council to consider an eviction moratorium from all types of housing due to code violations.

The full list of tasks included in Schaaf's executive order can be viewed here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gunfight on Broadway Interrupts Oakland Council Committee Meeting

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 4:38 PM

There was a tense standoff between renters and landlords inside Oakland City Hall today as a council committee hashed out changes to rent control laws. Just across Broadway from City Hall, a gun battle erupted.

The council's Community and Economic Development committee adjourned its first meeting of the new year early, without hearing several important matters, as councilmembers ventured outside to view the crime scene and check on loved ones nearby.

Over a dozen Oakland police officers and firefighters swarmed the intersection and closed off the blocks of Broadway between 13th and 14th Street, and 14th Street between Broadway and Franklin to search for evidence.

According to several witnesses, much of the gunfire came from a vehicle and was directed at several men who were on the sidewalk. Several bus stops had glass panels shot out.

According to OPD, there are two victims. One was hit in the hip by a bullet. It's unclear whether their wounds are life threatening.

The shooting interrupted a committee meeting that was supposed to include important changes to Oakland's existing rent control law that must take effect before a February 2 deadline, as well as a hearing on a proposal to increase financial assistance for tenants displaced due to code enforcement activities.

These items will instead be heard at the next committee meeting in two weeks.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Town Business: Increasing Financial Aid for Renters Displaced Due to Code Enforcement

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 6:43 AM

More Money for Renters Displaced Because of Code Enforcement: Currently, Oakland renters who are displaced because city building inspectors deem their homes hazardously noncompliant with building codes are eligible for relocation assistance. This takes the form of money paid by their landlord. But it's not a lot.

More …

Friday, January 6, 2017

Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee Refuses to Certify Trump's Electoral College Win

Bad news: Trump will still be president.

by Nick Miller
Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 10:56 AM

Congress met today to put a stamp on Donald Trump's electoral college win, but local Rep. Barbara Lee and other House members disputed his victory.

"Congress is convening for a joint session to certify the votes of the electoral college. Given the deeply troubling incidents of disenfranchisement and the overwhelming evidence of Russian interference, I am challenging the electoral vote certification," Lee wrote on Facebook about a half-hour ago.

The representative was joined by several house members who opposed Trump's win due to voter-suppression tactics in states.

"During this presidential cycle, hundreds of thousands of voters — primarily voters of color — were disenfranchised before and on election day," Lee wrote.

Specifically, she cited how more than six dozen voting machines in Black precincts in Detroit malfunctioned on Election Day, and how GOP-controlled precincts in North Carolina cut voting hours.

"The use of malfunctioning voting machines, the restriction of provisional ballots, the improper purging of voter rolls, and the widely reported incidents of intimidation and misinformation at the polls are clear evidence of widespread voter suppression designed to restrict the vote among people of color, low-income voters, students and seniors."

Lee and others also cited concerns over "Russia interference" with the election.

Despite these protests, however, Trump's win was ultimately certified, 304 electoral-college votes to 227.

Oakland Privacy Commission Approves Surveillance Transparency and Oversight Law

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 7:53 AM

UC Berkeley's Catherine Crump addresses the privacy council before last night's vote to approve the surveillance technology law.
  • UC Berkeley's Catherine Crump addresses the privacy council before last night's vote to approve the surveillance technology law.
"Throughout history, surveillance efforts have been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation, or political perspective...."

So begins the preamble to Oakland's Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance, a sweeping proposed law that would require the city's various departments disclose to the public any new surveillance technologies they plan to acquire and use. City agencies would need to seek city council approval before purchasing new technologies, and the law also imposes reporting requirements so that the public can evaluate the costs and benefits of technologies that monitor and track people.

The privacy commission was established in the wake of controversy resulting from Oakland's effort to build the Domain Awareness Center, a city-wide surveillance hub that would have monitored people's activities from a variety of cameras and sensors.

Several outside experts praised the commission's work last night, calling the ordinance a model that other cities should follow, especially because the federal and state governments have failed to protect civil liberties in an era when vast amounts of data are being gathered on people, especially police agencies.

"Oakland and other California municipalities are in the vanguard," said Nuala O'Connor, who served as the first privacy officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and now runs the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Catherine Crump, the co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Law and Technology told the commission the new law "has the potential to have a nationwide impact."

According to Crump, Oakland's adoption of the ordinance and its various requirements signals to law enforcement agencies that the secret acquisition and use of surveillance technologies like cell phone trackers, drones, and license plate readers, is a problem, and that the solution is to require public hearings and to allow the public to evaluate the costs and benefits of these technologies before they're deployed.

Christina Sinha, who co-leads the National Security and Civil Rights Program of the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told the commissioners that many Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Muslim-Americans have feared being spied on in this era of Islamaphobia and racial profiling. She praised the ordinance and said it will push back against the "chilling effect" of surveillance and help to "enshrine" the right to public debate.

The commission unanimously approved the ordinance. It now goes to the Oakland City Council for final modifications and approval.

A copy of the proposed ordinance is available here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Deadline Extended: Send Us Your 'Letters to Trump' Before the Bay Area Women's March on January 21

by Nick Miller
Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 11:35 AM

We've extended the deadline for our Express and KALW "Dear Donald Trump, From Women" project until January 11.

Send us your letters or essays now! (See the submission form, below.)

Here are the details:

"On January 21, the Women’s March on Washington is expected to draw tens of thousand people to the U.S. Capitol. Related rallies are scheduled in cities nationwide the day after Donald Trump's scheduled inauguration, including Oakland and San Francisco. Organizers say the goal of these actions is to send a message to the new administration that “women's rights are human rights.”

In response to these marches, KALW and the East Bay Express invite women from throughout the Bay Area to send us their “Letters to Trump.” We will broadcast and publish a selection of these short essays during the week of January 16.

Our hope is to celebrate the voices of local women of all backgrounds and beliefs — oh, and we’re going to deliver these letters to the White House, too.

Please submit your name, contact information, and your “Letter to Trump” using the submission form below.

There is a 400-word limit on letters. Deadline is January 11. Please email with any questions."

Anne Kirkpatrick Picked to Lead Oakland Police. Here's What We Know About Her.

The former Spokane chief arrives after a more than half-year search.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 7:26 AM

Mayor Libby Schaaf is expected to announce today that Anne Kirkpatrick will become the Oakland Police Department's next police chief.

More …

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