Thursday, December 29, 2016

Oakland's Toxic Lead Contamination Isn't in the Water. It's in the Buildings and Dirt, and It's Bad.

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 12:07 PM

According to a recently published Reuters report, Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood is one of 3,000 U.S. communities with lead contamination worse than Flint, Michigan. But whereas Flint has been the subject of international media scrutiny, lead pollution in places like Fruitvale remains mostly unexamined.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Survivors, Close Friends of Ghost Ship Fire Victims Deliver Letter to Oakland Mayor, Demand Urgent Moratorium on Evictions

by Nick Miller
Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 2:51 PM

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A group of survivors and close friends of the Ghost Ship fire victims delivered what they are calling an "Open Letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf" this afternoon. More than 1,000 community members also signed the letter, which demands that that mayor enact an "emergency eviction moratorium," in addition to to implementing housing-policy reform.

Organizers from the art and music community created a Google Worksheet, which includes more than 1,000 signatories to the letter, plus personal comments on the fire's impact.

The mayor has said that City Hall is reviewing its fire-inspection policies, and but that there is no intent to go on a "witch hunt" against Oaklanders living in non-conventional spaces and warehouses.

Meanwhile, those living in these spaces are experiencing an uptick in inspections, by both the city and landlords, since the December 2 tragedy.

Read the letter to the mayor in its entirety below:
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf,

We are survivors of the Friday, December 2nd Ghost Ship fire, as well as dear friends of the deceased and committed participants in the underground music scene represented by the event. We have suffered a shattering loss, and in order to avoid further devastation to our community in the long-term, we have the following demands:

(1) Announce an emergency eviction moratorium. Out of panic or opportunism, property owners are rashly ousting tenants throughout Oakland.

(2) Publicly pledge to offer a clear path forward for artists’ spaces to address safety concerns without risking expulsion.

(3) Reassess the housing policies that lead people to live in unsafe residences.

(4) Reassess permitting policies that exacerbate unsafe performance spaces. Do so with input from the music community that just lost so many of its pillars.

The importance of this last demand is illustrated well by the case of 21 Grand - a venue that did everything it could to legitimately host experimental music but was stymied at every point by an arduous city bureaucratic process. This is the context in which people adopt unsafe performance spaces. The vast majority of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire did not live at the residence, but were attendees of the event that was thrown there.

It is no coincidence that so many victims of the fire were queer, trans, and/or people of color. The media frequently seeks to mischaracterize our collective spaces as hedonistic playgrounds. This is a gross distortion. They are sacred spaces that allow us to survive, organize, and flourish in the face of a mainstream culture that often shuns our very existence. Shuttering the spaces that allow us to safely congregate is tantamount to extinguishing our livelihood.

In the aftermath of the fire, developers and landlords have ramped up the systematic displacement of individuals residing in warehouses and other such improvised homes. As artists, we have been greatly impacted by their actions; however, we understand that these recent threats to our housing are but a facet of the broader context of gentrification that has long displaced marginalized citizens of Oakland, including people of color, queer individuals, the disabled, the elderly and other low-income residents outside of our arts communities. Continuing to shutter and penalize collective spaces at this time will only exacerbate displacement; it teeters the housing-insecure towards the streets.

You have publicly expressed your desire to defend Oakland’s diverse artistic and musical community. You have the chance to prove your commitment to this goal by acting upon each of our aforementioned demands.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Burnt Ramen Pushes Back Against City of Richmond

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 7:35 AM

There have been some ragers at Burnt Ramen, the storied punk/hardcore underground venue located in Richmond's Iron Triangle. But last night, the rager was brought to Richmond's city council meeting.

Dozens of supporters of the DIY music hall told the city's leaders they want help making Burnt Ramen and similar arts spaces safe. They don't want the city simply shutting them down.

Last Friday, Burnt Ramen was red-tagged by city inspectors who say the building is unsafe for habitation and events. But Burnt Ramen's many supporters feel the city is wrong to label the building dangerous. They claim that the Richmond warehouse is nothing like Oakland's Ghost Ship, which burned on December 2 in a fire that killed 36 people.

Last night, chanting "no more evictions," dozens of people marched to Richmond City Hall to address the council.


One speaker, Jennifer Autry, read a letter from the owner of the Burnt Ramen warehouse, Michael Malin. "Mayor Butt has made me homeless... as the mayor sleeps in his mansion I sleep in my van," she recited.

Shortly after the Oakland warehouse fire, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt outed Burnt Ramen in an essay posted on the Richmond Standard's website, calling it "our own Ghost Ship." He even published the warehouse's address. Butt told the Express this week that his goal is to "make sure the building is safe and code-conforming," not to shut it down.

But Burnt Ramen's many supporters say the city's red tagging feels more like an attack — not help.

"You seem to be embracing this pro-gentrification agenda," Kelly Jewitt told the mayor and council last night. "Don't sell us out to gentrification."

"My friends died in that fire," said another speaker, who asked to be identified by their first name, Morgan. "You cannot evict people in the name of my friends who died."

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Jason Storm told the city's leaders that Burnt Ramen has made Richmond a safer place because it provides young people with refuge and a place to play music. "Burnt Ramen saved my life," he said.

In response to the outpouring of support for Burnt Ramen, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said the city intends to work "expeditiously and responsibly" to help Malin bring the warehouse up to code so that it can be reoccupied.

But some are skeptical of Richmond's intentions. John the Baker, who has been involved in Burnt Ramen since it's early days, said the city's red tagging feels like a "war on the arts."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Town Business: Abolish the Electoral College

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 12:05 PM

American democracy: It's one person, one vote, right?

Wrong. At least when it comes to picking the president, the principle of one-vote for each person doesn't apply. That's because we use the electoral college to select our commander in chief.

A lot has been written about the numerous anti-democratic aspects of the electoral college, including: its origins in slavery; the way it allows candidates like Trump to overwhelmingly lose the popular vote but still win; the way it inflates the importance of swing states in campaigns and marginalizes the rest of the nation; etc.

Obama recently called the electoral college a "vestige." He didn't elaborate, but historians who have researched the institution's origins have pointed out time and again that the electoral college was set up to give slave owners inordinate power in national elections. The carryover to this day is that the nation's largest and most diverse population centers are disproportionately disadvantaged.

Last week, Oakland's city council voted to endorse several efforts aimed at getting rid of the electoral college.

One, a bill introduced in November by California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, would institute one-person, one vote by simply abolishing the electoral college.

Another route to ditching the electoral college doesn't require the Republican-controlled Congress to take action. If a group of states with 270 or more electoral college votes sign onto a compact agreeing to always award their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, then the system would effectively change to one in which the majority truly rules.

"If we want a functioning democracy that's fair, then we need to move forward on these reforms," said Councilmember Dan Kalb, a sponsor of the Oakland resolution. "Twice in the past sixteen years the person without the most votes ended up becoming president," he complained, referring to Trump, and George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in 2000.

Oakland and California are perfect example of why the electoral college is unfair. Oakland is a big diverse city, and California is the biggest and most diverse state. But people who live here count for far less in presidential elections than people who live in smaller, less divers states.

Take Wyoming, for example. There are 584,000 people living in Wyoming, which is approximately 90 percent white. They get three votes in the electoral college, or about one electoral voter per every 195,000 people. This past election, all three of their votes went to Donald Trump.

Californian's, however, only get one electoral college vote for every 705,000 people because we have to divide 55 total electoral votes among our population of 38 million. If California had the same ratio of population to electoral college votes as Wyoming, it would get 195 electoral college votes.

Clearly the system isn't proportionate.

Here's another way to look at it: with a population of 406,000, the entire city of Oakland doesn't add up to a single electoral vote in our presidential elections scheme because its people live in California where individual votes count less. But the tiny state of Wyoming, which is just a little larger than the City of Oakland, in terms of population, gets three electoral college votes.

How's that for fair and democratic?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Raiders Clinch First Playoff Berth Since 2002

by Nick Miller
Sun, Dec 18, 2016 at 4:46 PM

MIchael Crabtree with another tough grab in the first half. - COURTESY OF THE RAIDERS
  • Courtesy of the Raiders
  • MIchael Crabtree with another tough grab in the first half.

It's unclear whether the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas — but the Silver and Black is definitely going to the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.

In true 2016 Raiders fashion, Oakland grinded-out a sloppy win in San Diego this afternoon, topping the Chargers by a late-game field goal, 16-13.

The Raiders now hold sole possession of first place in the AFC West. If they win their remaining two games, they would take the division and also earn a first-week bye in the playoffs — and host a postseason game at the Coliseum.

The game was by no means flawless. The Raiders struggled in the red zone again, including two turnovers inside the 20 yard line in the first half, and a botched first-and-goal effort in the second.

It' clear that running the pistol in the red zone isn't working for Derek Carr and Co., as this is the third-straight game where the offense didn't get things going when sniffing six.

Early on, it also looked like the Chargers came to win, especially after the Raiders were burned early, on a deep ball by Philip Rivers to Travis Benjamin for 47 yards. In general, though, Raiders D was locked in, including two sacks by Bruce Irvin. And the defense held San Diego to only four of 13 on third downs, and just 73 rushing yards.

The Raiders owned the line of scrimmage on offense and as a committee ran at-will for 146 yards.

Replay helped the Raiders twice, first reversing a Michael Crabtree touchdown reception, and later giving Carr a crucial first down on a scramble.

And, in the end, the Raiders showed poise, grit, and discipline (just two penalties for 15 yards all day).

Next up, Oakland will host the surging Indianapolis Colts on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Oakland Musicians Unite For Ghost Ship Fire Benefit At Fox Theater

by Nick Miller
Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:12 PM

Rogue Wave performs at Oakland United, a packed house benefit for Oakland fire victims and families last night at the Fox Theater.
  • Rogue Wave performs at Oakland United, a packed house benefit for Oakland fire victims and families last night at the Fox Theater.

Hieroglyphics. Primus. Tycho. The Coup. Tune-Yards. More than two-dozen local artists and speakers took to the Fox Theater's stage last night for a packed-house Ghost Ship fire benefit concert. The gathering, “Oakland United: A Benefit Supporting Oakland Fire Relief," is estimated to have raised north of a quarter-million dollars for the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts Oakland Fire Relief Fund.

Performers and speakers delivered powerful messages on the vitality of the Bay Area music and arts scene  — and how important it is to protect spaces safe for this often vulnerable community.

"This is the longer-term impact from this tragedy and I doubt any of the people that we lost want this to be happening right now," Josette Melchor, emcee for the evening and executive director of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, told the Express. "It's really important that, in their memory, we work to keep these places safe so that this doesn't happen again."

Oakland artist Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who performs as Fantastic Negrito, explained how his latest album, The Last Days of Oakland, goes to the heart of this message. "If you are from the cities of Oakland or San Francisco, if you grew up there, you may not be able to live there," he told the Express. He said that the city needs to do more to protect artists. "That's who made this city cool. This shit wasn't cool by default."

Dan Deacon, the only non-local artists on last night's bill, was emotional backstage after his set: "As someone who doesn't live in Oakland, but who is par of the DIY community ... people are feeling this all over the world. There's solidarity there for your loss. ... It's hard to talk about, I can't imagine what people are going through."
Dan Deacon spoke to the crowd about the importance of safe spaces last night at Oakland United.
  • Dan Deacon spoke to the crowd about the importance of safe spaces last night at Oakland United.
Deacon, who hails from Baltimore, also played a set at Starline Social Club after the concert.

The benefit was put together in a matter of days by Noise Pop, Another Planet Entertainment, and Paradigm Talent Agency. Other performers included Rogue Wave, Conspiracy of Beards, Beats Antique, Geographer, Thao Nguyen. There were speakers in between the performers two-to-three song sets, including Express contributor Sam Lefebvre; you can watch his message here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Caltrans Is Violating Homeless People's Constitutional Rights

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 3:53 PM

A complaint filed today in state court alleges that the California Department of Transportation is systematically violating the constitutional rights of homeless people in the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville by destroying personal property during "sweeps." According to the attorneys who filed the suit, Caltrans' actions amount to a violation of the California and U.S. constitutions.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Town Business: Oakland vs. ICE

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 7:38 AM

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Oakland vs. ICE: Obama was hardly a friend to immigrants. His administration deported millions over eight years, mostly people without a criminal conviction. But come January 20, the federal government's law enforcement agencies will be led by Donald Trump, a man who slandered Mexicans as "rapists," and "criminals," announced his intent to create a "registry" of Muslims, and promised to triple the size of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE).

We should expect Trump to deliver on his promises by attacking immigrant communities with even more surveillance and deportations.

The City of Oakland expects no less, and is therefore preparing to fight back. Along with Alameda County's Public Defender and several nonprofits, the city is working to create and fund a rapid response network of five full-time attorneys to represent immigrants swept up by immigration authorities.

The network will also operate a hotline staffed by five outreach workers who can take calls from people seeking assistance, or even receive tips about ICE raids in real time. According to a city staff report, the same team of community responders will also document immigration enforcement activity, cop watch-style.

Proactively, the network will conduct know your rights trainings in schools, places of worship, clinics, and other safe spaces to help Oaklanders defend themselves against the Trump administration and law federal enforcement.

Oakland's contribution to the network would be $300,000 over the next two years.

Saving Oakland's SROs: From 1985 to 2015 Oakland lost 799 residential hotel units – rooms that serve as the housing of last resort for many low-income, elderly, disabled, and fixed-income people. The city is at risk of losing even more of this type of important affordable housing as developers zero in on SROs to convert them into boutique hotels, apartments, and even offices.

To prevent the loss of more, the Oakland City Council is considering a temporary 45-day ban on the conversion of SROs.

The text of the ordinance has several exceptions, including if the SRO is being converted into apartments by an affordable housing developer. Another exception is if the landlord uses the Ellis Act to withdraw the SRO units from the rental housing market and turn it into a condo, or offices.

The point of the moratorium is to give city staff more time to think up ways of permanently protecting Oakland's SRO housing from demolition or conversion. That, however, might take changes to state law.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Oakland to Vote on $350 Million Public Subsidy for New $1.3 Billion Raiders Stadium This Tuesday

by Nick Miller
Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 6:10 PM

COURTESY OF WIKI COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Housing. Warehouses. Artists and musicians. Vulnerable renters. Fire safety. Ghost Ship. That's all anyone in Oakland is talking about this week — and likely for weeks to come.

What, then, will the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors be voting this coming Tuesday, December 13?

A new home for the Raiders.

Specifically, elected officials are scheduled to weigh in on a term sheet that — while non-binding — would kickstart negotiations to fork over $350 million in city cash and land to help pay for a new $1.3 billion (or more) Raiders stadium and mixed-use development at the existing Coliseum site.

The city and county unveiled the long-awaited details of this proposed new Raiders deal on Friday evening (leaving only one business day for analysis, conversation, and discussion of a very complicated financing plan — but who cares about sunshine and transparency in government). Supervisors will vote on the deal next Tuesday morning, and City Council that evening.

Here's a rundown of details from the Raiders stadium term sheet, and some quick-reaction analysis. (Look for more thoughtful coverage over the weekend and next week):

The project will be a 55,000 seat stadium at the Coliseum site, plus a mixed-use development that could include office space, retail, housing, hotels, parking, and residential.

The partners in the deal are the city, county, a private group led by Ronnie Lott, and Wall Street venture-capital firm Fortress Investment Group. These parties have cobbled together $1.25 billion to pay for the project, which could cost upward of $1.3 billion.

The City of Oakland will invest up to $200 million in cash on this new Raiders stadium project and $150 million worth of land. But it will not pay for any "hard construction costs for the stadium." They will pay for infrastructure for the Coliseum site, and also the new mixed-use development.

The financing plans to generate this $200 million are complicated.

Specifically: The term sheet proposes $100 million in privately-placed bonds, secured by "taxes generated by the stadium," and backed privately by the Lott Group/Fortress. I do not know if these privately-issued municipal bonds in any way make the general fund vulnerable. My concern is that the revenue source to pay off the bonds — taxes from the new stadium — may not be the most secure.

Oakland will also create an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District to issue another $100 million bonds. This EIFD is a new tool, approved by the Legislature in 2014, that helps local governments do community development in a post-"Redevelopment" world. EIFD's are supposed for be for public works projects, such as parks or water district facilities. This means that the money raised from the EIFD bonds can only go to the mixed-use development part of the Raiders stadium project. EIFD's are also supposed to be spent on sustainability-minded projects, so I imagine the EIFD will play up that it will be located on a crucial transit corridor.

EIFD's can be formed without the need for a vote. However, to issue bonds, it would take 55 percent approval of district members.

It's also unclear to me whether the layer that an EIFD offers truly protects the general fund. At the end of the day, isn't the general fund still vulnerable? That's a question that we'll need answered (again, during our one business day to vet and discuss this deal).

The Lott/Fortress group will bridge the financing for this $100 million until the EIFD gets up an running — which is no done deal.

The city says that new revenues from the stadium and the development would pay for its $200 million cash investment. There's no specific on how much that new tax revenue would need to be, but it could be anywhere from $10 million to $20 million annually, depending on the bond rate. That seems like a lot of revenue from this type of project.

Another concern is the reliability of the tax revenue.

The city and county will also "convey" — a.k.a. gift — up to 130 acres of land at the Coliseum site to the Lott/Fortress group. In exchange they will negotiate down the road some type of remuneration, to be paid back over the years, via "participation rights in project revenues." So, basically, the city and county are off-loading the land, which they've wanted to do for a long time, but there's no specific or concrete payment plan as of yet.

The NFL, Raiders and Lott/Fortress group will be on the hook for Stadium construction cost overruns.

The city and county will have to pay off the $95 million in bond payments from the last Coliseum deal (term sheet says this will need to be resolved before conveyance of the land).

The Lott Group (or the Raiders, at some point) plan to sell seats at the new stadium, and hope to generate $200 million from unpopular seat-licensing deals.

So, basically, it's a complicated agreement — complete with multiple parties, innovative financing schemes, and a significant public commitment. Oh, and the Raiders aren't even at the bargaining table yet ...

In a press release, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wrote that the term sheet "puts Oakland in the running to keep the Raiders in a way that is responsible to the team, the league, the fans and the taxpayers."

City officials described the $350 million commitment as "‘skin in the game."

The city and county are voting on it with urgency because they will need to present the plan to NFL owners, who meet in December and November, presumably to discuss the Raiders possible move to Las Vegas, and also this new plan to keep them in Oakland.

It's unclear whether or not there will be sufficient votes at the city and county to move the deal forward. Councilman Larry Reid told the Chronicle that he thinks Oakland has the vote. But Supervisor Scott Haggerty — who's been skeptical of the deal — wouldn't weigh in on the supes, calling the plan "fluid."

Read the Raiders stadium term sheet here.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Coal Terminal Developer Suing City of Oakland, Seeking to Overturn Ban on Fossil Fuel Exports

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 2:33 PM

Phil Tagami
  • Phil Tagami
Oakland real estate developer Phil Tagami filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland yesterday in federal court arguing that Oakland officials broke their contract with his company, the Oakland Bulk Oversized Terminal (OBOT), when they passed a coal ban earlier this year.

Tagami wants a judge to overturn the city's ordinance and allow his business to ship potentially millions of tons of coal through the city each year to overseas markets.

Attorneys representing OBOT argue that Oakland's coal ban violates federal laws that regulate interstate trade and the regulation of maritime shipping and rail transportation.

The attorneys argue that the city is guilty of an "unconstitutional abuse of its power."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf opposed coal shipments through Oakland and supported the city council's ban on the grounds that it would protect public health and safety. Schaaf's spokesperson Erica Derryck told the Express that the mayor's office cannot comment on pending litigation.

Environmental groups that support the city's ban say they plan to support the city in fighting the lawsuit.

"Over 75 percent of Oaklanders oppose shipping coal out of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal," said Jessica Yarnall Loarie, staff attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program. "We plan to stand shoulder to shoulder with the city to make sure that this terminal never ships coal."

"It is truly regrettable that the City has left us no alternative but to take this action," said Tagami about the lawsuit. "We applied for and the City approved and vested exactly what the market demands: a terminal capable of being fully responsive to market demands for global transport of legal commodities over its 66-year useful life. Restricting any commodity on political grounds puts a cloud of uncertainty over the entire project going forward."

A letter sent to Schaaf and Council President Gibson McElhaney yesterday by Tagami's attorney claims that Oakland officials have been meeting privately with Tagami for "many months" about the coal ban and the possibility of reaching some kind of deal short of a lawsuit.

OBOT signed a development agreement with the city in 2013 to redevelop land at the old Oakland Army Base on the city’s waterfront. When plans to build a coal export terminal were revealed for the first time in April 2015 Oakland residents pressured the city council to pass the ordinance banning coal handling and storage inside the city. The city council unanimously approved the coal ban on June 27 of this year.

Tagami, a politically connected businessman who is close friends with California Governor Jerry Brown, has warned the city council repeatedly that he would sue if a ban was implemented. He has called the city's ordinance a "political stunt."

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