Friday, March 10, 2017

Developer Stiffs City on Permits for West Oakland Condo Project

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 3:01 PM

Politically-connected developer Madison Park and its general contractor Dettaglio Construction failed to obtain street and sidewalk obstruction permits for a large project in West Oakland.

Instead, the contractor displayed permits issued by the City of San Francisco — not Oakland — to block off an adjacent street and sidewalk, according to photos, city records, and interviews.

The un-permitted street and sidewalk closure was carried out to facilitate the demolition of several structures located at 3250 Hollis Street, where Madison Park plans to build a 94-unit condominium project.

The failure to obtain permits could cost the city up to several thousand dollars, depending on how many days the street is obstructed.

Demolition at the Hollis Street construction site.
  • Demolition at the Hollis Street construction site.
Earlier this week, neighbors noticed that one lane of Hollis Street was being blocked with construction saw horses. Upon inspection, the neighbors observed that street-closure permits attached to the barriers were issued by San Francisco, not Oakland.

The Express visited the construction site earlier this morning and saw signs claiming that the sidewalk abutting the demolition site along Hollis Street was "closed." The sign wasn't a city-permitted notice, however.

A construction manager at the site who did not provide his name confirmed to the Express that his company did not obtain permits to close the streets or sidewalks. But he insisted this was done in order to avoid inconveniencing the neighbors by taking away their street parking for a long period of time.

Artist rendering of 3250 Hollis Street when it's finally completed in 2018. - MADISON PARK.
  • Madison Park.
  • Artist rendering of 3250 Hollis Street when it's finally completed in 2018.
However, photos of the street closure show that parking and the pedestrian path were taken away.

When asked about the San Francisco permits attached to the signs, he claimed it was a mistake, and that employees forgot to remove the other city's permits after they were used at another job site.

Several officials in Oakland's Planning and Building Department confirmed this morning that the contractor and developer haven't obtained street closure permits.

Calls to Madison Park weren't immediately returned.

Madison Park is owned and operated by John Protopappas, one of Oakland's more high-profile developers. Protopappas is also a close friend of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Gov. Jerry Brown. He has served as political campaign fundraiser for both.

Street and sidewalk obstruction permits in Oakland can cost hundreds of dollars a day, depending on how much linear space a contractor wants to close off.

A short-term permit to close an unmetered road, such as Hollis Street, runs $17 per every 25 feet per day, according to the city's fee schedule. A long-term permit (more than 15 days) cost $519 per every 25 feet and is good for up to 30 days. Street closure signs run $3 each.

The stretch of Hollis Street abutting the construction site is approximately 530 feet long, according to a measurement taken using Google Maps.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Town Business: Developer Wants to Stick MacArthur BART Tower's Affordable Units Entirely in Bottom Quarter of Building

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 7:44 AM

The Oakland City Council will vote on Tuesday night whether or not to give final approval for construction of a 24-story apartment tower adjacent to the MacArthur BART station.

The developer agreed to a number of valuable community benefits to gain original approval for the project in 2008. But the building increased in size since then, so now Councilmember Dan Kalb is asking his colleagues to require about a million dollars in total neighborhood improvements.

Kalb is also asking the developer to not cram all the affordable units into the building's bottom quarter, as is currently proposed.

The tower would include 402 apartments and ground floor retail. Per the original agreement for the project back in 2008, 45 of the apartments would be priced below market-rate.

The existing terms also require the developer, McGrath Properties, to sign a project labor agreement that includes a 50 percent local hire requirement.

At the Oakland Planning Commission's February 1 meeting, the commission added that the developer has to ensure jobs in the retail spaces of the building, and custodial and other contract jobs maintaining the building, pay Oakland's living wage. There will also be a ban-the-box policy to prevent employees with criminal conviction histories from automatically being screened out of employment.

Kalb and city planning staff also want several more meetings between the developer and the community to shape the project's final design. And the following;
  • $250,000 to build a new recreation center at Mosswood Park. The old center was destroyed by fire last November;
  • $350,000 for "beautification" of West MacArthur Boulevard where it passes under the freeway and connects to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. This could be fancy lights and/or a mural;
  • $15,000 worth of new trees planted around the neighborhood;
  • $25,000 paid by the developer into the neighborhood's residential parking permit program;
  • Ten years of subsidized transit passes for residents of the building's affordable units, costing about $110,000;

  • And a $50,000 donation to an Oakland NGO.
But the placement of the affordable units has become an issue too.

Kalb wants to make sure the developer doesn't stick all of the building's lower-income residents on the lowest floors, with the top floors and splendid bay views reserved only for the elite.

Currently, according to a city staff report, the developer is proposing to jam all the affordable units in the bottom quarter of the building. Kalb wants some of these units higher up. However, he's not proposing that any be put in the building's top half.

Correction: the original version of this story incorrectly identified the $350,000 as money that would be used to beautify 40th Street. It will be applied to West MacArthur Boulevard instead.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

City of Oakland Replaces Longstanding Coliseum-Oracle Board Members With Uber Lawyer, McElhaney

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 10:32 AM

screen_shot_2017-03-02_at_7.04.30_am.png
A major shake-up is coming to the board that oversees Oracle Arena and the Oakland Coliseum.

According to a list circulated at a recent City Council meeting, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and sports agent Aaron Goodwin are out, replaced by Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Uber attorney Christin Hill.

Oakland City Council President Larry Reid is behind the shakeup.

Reid said both Kaplan and Goodwin have been on the board six years. Kaplan's term was up in January, and Goodwin's expired in October, so he decided to replace them.

Kaplan said she has no problem transitioning off the board, and has plenty of other work to focus on, including her positions on the regional air quality board and the county transportation commission.

The Express was unable to reach Goodwin for comment.

McElhaney's appointment to Kaplan's seat comes as the Oakland Public Ethics Commission continues its inquiry into city officials' use of free tickets to attend Warriors games, concerts, and other events.

City Hall came under criticism last year for claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets. The councilmembers get the tickets for free, allegedly as part of their official business reviewing the operations of the arena and stadium. But critics question whether any of the officials are actually doing city work when they attend the events.

Reid was at the top of the freebie list, claiming $374,420 worth of event tickets, according to an analysis by the East Bay Times.

Gibson McElhaney claimed the second largest number of any Oakland official, with $325,190 worth of event tickets, which allow access to one of three private boxes.

But Reid said he doesn't see the ticket claims as controversial. He said he gave many of his free tickets to community groups like the East Oakland Boxing Association.

The Oakland Public Ethics Commission held hearings about the free tickets last November. It's unclear when the PEC will wrap up its investigation.

Kaplan told the Express yesterday that she thinks the free tickets pose an ethics problem for the city and other elected officials. "They just dump them on you," Kaplan said about the free tickets. She added that the city does not provide much guidance in terms of how to avoid violating ethics rules in handing them out or using them personally.

Kaplan said she plans to introduce a policy at today's council meeting that would end the free tickets. Instead, extra tickets would be sold at face value and the proceeds used to fund city services.

Reid's other appointment to the board, Hill, is an attorney for Uber who lives in Oakland. Reid described Hill as a "bright young businessperson." According to court records, Hill has helped Uber litigate against its drivers in lawsuits over whether they are employees or independent contractors.

Gibson McElhaney and Hill will join Reid on the board along with former Oakland councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente, who was appointed by Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty in January.

The changes on the board come as the Warriors are reportedly trying to avoid paying their facility lease fee, about $7.5 million a year. The JPA uses the lease money from the Warriors to pay off tens of millions in outstanding public debt that was used to upgrade the Arena. If the Warriors' don't pay the lease, then the city and county will have to pick up the bill.

According to documents circulated at a recent board meeting, the authority has retained the San Francisco law firm Keker & Van Nest to go after the Warriors for the lease money, if it comes to that.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Oakland Police Chief Talks Cultural Change and Compassion for the Homeless

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 12:03 PM

When asked about her first impression of Oakland, Anne Kirkpatrick, the city's new police chief, said she couldn't help but notice the large number of people living on the streets.

"I know they're vulnerable," Kirkpatrick told a conference of reporters this morning about the city's growing population of homeless people. "That is always a concern to me. I'd like to learn more about what we're doing in Oakland to help them."

The new chief lives downtown and said she was drawn to Oakland because it's "a city on the move."

Kirkpatrick praised Oakland's reputation as a hotbed for social activism and contentious politics. "It's a positive part of the city's fabric," she said of protests. However, she added that under her leadership, protecting property from vandalism will remain a priority.

Much of what Kirkpatrick talked about was how to reform the OPD. This month the department enters its 14th year under the oversight of a federal court due to police misconduct.

She said to change OPD's culture, she'll be going after "hearts and minds."

"When you want to change a culture, you have to have people change their thinking," she said.

"Now we're in the 21st Century. We police differently than we did 35 years ago."

"I will make changes wherever they need to be made in this organization."

Friday, February 24, 2017

ACLU of Northern California Asks Immigration Courts to Immediately Provide Media Access on Behalf of Express

by Nick Miller
Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 5:52 PM

Following several incidents in which security guards in San Francisco's immigration courts denied East Bay Express reporter Darwin BondGraham access to public hearings, the ACLU of Northern California sent a letter to the courts today asking that all media immediately be allowed to observe court proceedings that haven't been closed via a judge's order.

"Because this violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as a federal law that specifically makes these hearings open to the public, I am asking that you immediately take steps to ensure that this does not occur in the future," wrote Michael Risher, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California in a letter to Maria Jauregui, the San Francisco immigration court's administrator.

On February 16, the Express' BondGraham was pressured to remove himself from a public immigration court hearing after a Department of Homeland Security attorney demanded to know if he was a newspaper reporter.

Yesterday, our reporter was repeatedly denied entry to the courts located at 100 Montgomery Street by security guards who work for Paragon Systems, a private company employed by the DHS to guard the immigration courts.

When BondGraham attempted to enter a public court hearing shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday, several Paragon Systems guards told him that the hearings were not public, and that they had been closed by "judge's orders."

He was also told by these guards, and by Judy Fassler, an employee of the U.S. Department of Justice, that the court requires people to show up early and obtain permission from the judge and others before being allowed inside.

But there are no federal regulations requiring these things. Furthermore, the guards were lying when the told BondGraham that that the courts were closed by "judge's orders." According to court records, none of the proceedings BondGraham was attempting to observe yesterday when the guards made this claim had been ordered closed by a judge.

According to Risher's letter to the court: "Federal law specifically makes all immigration proceedings other than exclusion proceedings open to the public unless the immigration judge orders closure in an individual case based on the circumstances of that case."

Several security guards also claimed that they "have a right" to question members of the news media about who their employers are.

In fact, security guards have no such "right." The regulations one of the guards pointed to on the wall were not DHS or DOJ rules. Rather, they were "Rules and Regulations Governing Conduct in Federal Property" promulgated by the General Services Administration which operates federal buildings. These rules do not provide contract security guards the authority to interrogate members of the press and deny them access to the courts.

When he declined to answer their questions about his work as a reporter, these guards demanded his identification and proceeded to accompany him into courtrooms. The guards then told judges they were concerned about our reporter specifically because he declined to answer their questions about his employment, and they suggested that the judges remove him. BondGraham was ordered out of a master calendar hearing by a judge as a result.

Officials with the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the branch of the DOJ that runs the immigration courts, told the Express today that they're looking into what happened at the San Francisco courts, and working with the DHS to ensure that public access to the court's isn't being cut off. They also reaffirmed that the courts are generally open to the public and apologized for the repeated denial of entry.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Advocates Criticize Alameda Sheriff’s Cooperation with Immigration Enforcement

Despite Alameda County’s sanctuary status, the sheriff handed over information on 339 people to ICE since July 2015.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 3:30 PM

Immigrant communities in the East Bay fear that local law enforcement agencies will become more entangled with federal immigration enforcement in the Trump era. But the Alameda County Sheriff already participates in an Obama-era federal program that has resulted in the turnover of hundreds of people to deportation officers over the past several years.

Protesters marched to Sheriff Gregory Ahern’s Oakland offices today calling on him to end cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

The Alameda County Sheriff's tracking report for I-247N notification requests sent by ICE.
  • The Alameda County Sheriff's tracking report for I-247N notification requests sent by ICE.
According to records obtained by the Express, since July 2015, the sheriff’s office notified ICE of the release dates of 339 individuals held in Alameda County’s jails through the Obama-era deportation system known as the Priority Enforcement Program. ICE uses release time information to show up and arrest people when they’re let out of the sheriff’s jail, mainly the Santa Rita facility in Dublin.

"We've heard from a lot of people who have been in Santa Rita jail," said Laura Polstein, an attorney with Centro Legal de la Raza, "they’re told they’re released, but then moments later, ICE comes up to them to arrest them."

Some of the individuals ICE sought to take into custody from Alameda County jails had been convicted of violent felonies.

But others had only been convicted of misdemeanor offenses or nonviolent drug crimes. Many have been in the country for years and have family here.

"He's allowing ICE to take people from our communities through his jail," said Kitzia Esteva, an organizer with the Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights coalition at a rally in Oakland this afternoon.

Under the Priority Enforcement Program, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office automatically sends the fingerprints of people booked in its jails to ICE. Federal deportation officers use this, and other information, often gathered from local law enforcement, to target suspected non-citizens for deportation.

According to a spreadsheet the sheriff’s office uses to track ICE notification requests, deportation officers asked for information on 339 individuals held in the county's jails since July 2015.

Several hundred protesters marched to the sheriff's offices today in Oakland.
  • Several hundred protesters marched to the sheriff's offices today in Oakland.
Approximately 132 of the individuals sought by ICE in Alameda County jails were previously convicted of a felony, and therefore a priority under the agency's deportation program.

Another 175 were convicted of "significant misdemeanors," which can include nonviolent drug crimes and drunk driving.

ICE also requested information on the release dates of two individuals regarding "terrorism" investigations, and two other individuals because they were identified as a "danger to national security."

Law enforcement officials say they need to be able to cooperate with ICE just as they would with any other agency in order to keep the public safe.

But immigrants rights organizers say that many people handed over to ICE are nonviolent offenders, and that deportation amounts to double punishment.

"For immigrants, even after they serve their time in jail, they have to face deportation," said Stacy Suh of the California Immigrant Policy Center. "That's not he same for citizens. It’s another layer of punishment."

Despite the large number of requests for notification of release dates, it’s unclear how many people are actually arrested by ICE straight from Alameda County’s jails. Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles told the board of supervisors at a public hearing in September 2015 that about half of the individuals sought by ICE under the Priority Enforcement Program were actually arrested by deportation officers.

Today's rally began at the federal building.
  • Today's rally began at the federal building.
Ahern gained praise from immigrants’ rights advocates in May 2014 when he ended his agency’s practice of honoring detainers — requests from ICE that an individual be held extra time in jail so that federal agents could take them into custody on immigration charges.

But immigration attorneys and advocates claim that the Sheriff backpedaled in 2015, following the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican citizen who had illegally re-entered the U.S.

Ahern revised his policy regarding ICE access to the jails in July 2015 to take part in the Obama administration’s Priority Enforcement Program.

Although the sheriff's current policy bars deputies in the jails from extending a person's detention solely so they can be arrested by ICE, it does allow the jails to hand over release date and time information.

Furthermore, the sheriff's policy allows deputies to initiate contact with ICE "even if ICE has not made a formal Request for Notification, where the Sheriff’s Office believes the individual(s) pose significant public safety concerns." The policy explains that such determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, but it doesn’t explain who has the authority to reach these conclusions.

"We know he now regularly lets ICE into the jails," said Suh. "They’re at Santa Rita several times a week in the morning."

Suh said the sheriff shouldn't cooperate with ICE because it undermines trust in local law enforcement within immigrant communities, and immigration laws are federal civil matters that are not appropriate for local law enforcement agencies to partake in.

Representatives in the sheriff's office didn't respond to requests for more information about ICE's access to the county's jails in 2015 and 2016.

However, the sheriff's office updated their policy regarding cooperation with ICE investigations on January 6, 2017 to comply with the new state law known as the Truth Act (Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds). While the sheriff will continue to comply with ICE notification requests, and also provide ICE agents access to the jails for interviews with incarcerated persons, the sheriff will also notify individuals when ICE has requested an interview or notification of their release date.

Furthermore, when ICE requests an interview with a jailed person, the sheriff will provide a notification in writing informing the person that the interview is voluntary.

Also, when ICE obtains the release date and time of an individual from the sheriff, the sheriff's office will also provide this same information to the person's attorney and another person, such as a family member, as they might designate.

The Truth Act, written by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, also requires that the sheriff disclose to the public information about the numbers and demographics of people ICE sought in county jails. In 2018 there will be a public community forum to review the sheriff's practices with respect to ICE's access to county jails.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Police Did Not Arrest East Oakland Shooter Despite Two Earlier Gunfire Incidents In A Week At His Home

by Ali Winston
Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 5:00 PM

click image Jesse Enjaian died on Friday after a shootout with Oakland police — the third in a week. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Jesse Enjaian died on Friday after a shootout with Oakland police — the third in a week.
Jesse Enjaian, a 32-year-old computer science engineer, died in Highland Hospital yesterday after a bizarre standoff where he fired a .22 caliber rifle at his East Oakland neighbors, a news helicopter, and Oakland police officers.

No one besides Enjain – who was arrested after being shot by the police – was injured.

Records obtained by the Express, however, reveal that the Oakland police had responded to two reports of gunfire involving Enjaian in the past eight days. The police did not arrest or detain him on either occasion, despite physical evidence and witness statements.

What's more, neither shooting appears in the official daily log, which is released by OPD. Only the Friday shooting that ended in Enjaian's death is noted — even though all three were documented by officers.

According to police records, the first shooting occurred on Friday, February 10. Officer Brent McCord received a dispatch call for suspected gunfire in the vicinity of Enjaian's house, at 9512 Las Vegas Avenue in East Oakland. Upon arriving, McCord noticed a gray Lexus sedan with a bullet hole in one of its windows.

Two other officers, Yusuf Ghazi and Timothy Latibeaudiere, arrived on the scene and helped McCord recover five .22 caliber shell casings from the front yard of 9512 Las Vegas Avenue. These casings were booked as evidence.

At the scene on Friday, the owner of the Lexus approached Officer McCord and told the him that his vehicle had been shot up while he was at a gathering with family and friends down the street.

Another woman who spoke with Officer Latibeaudiere said she only heard gunfire and not seen it, but told the him that Enjaian was the occupant of 9512 Las Vegas Avenue, where they found the casings on the porch. McCord's entire canvas of the scene on February 10 was recorded by his body-worn video camera. Shotspotter did not record the sounds of gunfire.

The next morning, Officer McCord went back to Las Vegas Avenue around 10 a.m. and spoke with the same woman. She told the officer she believed that her neighbor was the shooter, and pointed at Enjaian, who was mowing his front lawn.

McCord wrote in his report that, when he approached Enjaian, the 32-year-old "was very hostile and stated 'get off my property' and 'I won't speak to you unless I have my lawyer present.'"

At that point, McCord broke off contact with Enjaian. Dispatch records indicate McCord did not believe there was sufficient probable cause to arrest him.

Yet three days later, there was another report of a car shot on the 9500 block of Las Vegas Avenue.

According to police records, Officer Victor Garcia was sent to investigate. When he arrived, he was contacted by a man who had been sleeping in his car. With his body-worn camera activated, Garcia interviewed the man, who said gunshots shattered the front passenger window. The man ran out of his car and, searching for help, noticed a man standing outside of his home.

That man was Enjaian.

The man ran toward Enjaian's house, asking for help. Enjaian, who was already behind the security gate, allegedly yelled "Get the fuck away from my door you fucking nigger! Yeah, I shot your window and I got my gun right here!" this according to witness statement.

The man who was sleeping in the car ran away from Enjaian's house, calling for help. He told Officer Garcia that he had seen an object in Enjaian's hands, but wasn't sure if it was a gun.

Other officers arrived on the scene, and took the victim to OPD's Seventh Street headquarters for interviews with the Criminal Investigations Division.

The ranking official at the scene, Sergeant Millie Oliver, told officers to "clear the scene in order to avoid contact with Enjaian to prevent further escalating the situation and to wait for the warrant before making contact," according to police records. No evidence technicians were called to the scene, nor was an evidence canvas conducted.

No warrant was issued for Enjaian's arrest, nor was there a search of his house.

Officer Garcia's summary of the incident, however, is unusual: His statement suggests in very candid terms that Enjaian committed a felony: "Based on my initial investigation it appears that [Enjaian] shot at least to rounds from an unknown firearm at [the victim's] vehicle as he slept in it," Garcia wrote. "Enjaian went back into his house as [the victim] not knowing [Enjaian] was involved asked for his help. Enjaian told [the victim] to get away from his door and admitted to shooting his window out and being armed with a gun."

Enjaian, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Georgia, and the University of Michigan's School of Law, has a checkered past. He was enrolled in the UCLA Army ROTC program, but dropped out after an apparent change of conscience.

While in law school, he was investigated by University of Michigan police for stalking a female student. He lost a lawsuit in 2014, in which he claimed his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police seized his computer. He lost another lawsuit claiming he was defamed by the National Law Journal for publishing a story about the stalking allegations.

In recent days Enjaian, who is white, made several social-media posts laden with racial overtones. According to Twitter records that were published by Heavy.com, he tweeted on January 26: "So it's true...Mexicans do burrow like wet rats." The Twitter account has since been suspended by Twitter.

Oakland police did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I Was Kicked Out of Federal Immigration Court — Because I'm a Journalist

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 4:09 PM

I got kicked out of a public, federal immigration court hearing yesterday because I’m a newspaper reporter. And it wasn't the judge who wanted me to leave. It was the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney. Here's what happened.

For several months, I've been observing the immigration court in San Francisco. Mostly I've sat in on bond hearings and "removals," more commonly known as deportations. The entire time, ICE attorneys and private security guards have been attempting to limit my access.

Yesterday was the worst.

At 1 p.m., I walked into Courtroom 18, inside the 100 Montgomery Street offices of the Department of Homeland Security, to observe several deportation cases on Judge Joren Lyons' calendar. I quietly sat down in the second row to the back. Eight other people, family members of two individuals whose cases were on the calendar, were also present.

When the judge entered, he asked those of us sitting in the public seats if we were there for a particular case. The others all replied affirmatively, but none of them was made to identify their profession, state their name, or produce any identification.

The judge then asked me. "I'm here to observe," I answered. And the judge had no problem with that.

According to the official rules of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, hearings are generally open to the public unless a specific case involves an asylum request or an abused child or spouse, or where a sealed protective order has been filed. Parties to a case can also submit motions to the court in advance of a hearing to request it be closed. And judges have discretion to close hearings to protect parties, witnesses, and the public interest. But, generally, immigration courts are supposed to operate transparently. Open hearings that are accessible to everyone, including reporters who let the public know what their government is doing, are in the public interest.

But before Judge Lyons could begin, the ICE attorney seated in the front of the courtroom turned around and looked straight at me. "Who are you?" he asked.

I responded with a question of my own: "Why do you want to know?"

"Are you a member of the press?" he questioned me.

I didn't answer his question. Instead, I asked again why he wanted to know if I was a reporter.

"I have a right to know if you are media," he said. "We have procedures."

At that point, I politely said I wasn't aware of any rules requiring observers in the courtroom to identify themselves, on demand, to the prosecuting attorney.
The ICE attorney, Michael Alster, then asked the judge for a delay. "I want to take care of this situation with this gentleman first," he said while walking out of the courtroom. I told Alster on his way out I'd like to speak with his supervisor, as well.

While the ICE attorney was gone, Judge Lyons allowed the family members of one of the men on trial to talk to him through the teleconferencing system. They gathered in front of the camera, laughing and smiling, and asked the man, who was appearing via video stream from a distant jail, how he was doing. The judge also accepted from the family some documents they had brought to support his case.

At this point, it's worth noting that I didn't know anything about the man's case. I didn't go into the courtroom to report on his hearing, nor the seven other people whose cases were on the judge's calendar. I was there, in fact, working on a story about how the immigration courts operate.

One thing I did note while sitting there: The man whose hearing was underway had no attorney. His family hadn't hired one, either.

AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL.
  • American Immigration Council.
Lots of people facing deportation can't afford counsel, and are therefore deprived of professional legal advice. It's a common problem in immigration courts. They go up against ICE attorneys on their own. In San Francisco's immigration courts, only 15 percent of people in detention are represented by an attorney.

State and local officials recognize this problem and are currently considering legislation that would provide legal representation to Californians in immigration courts. But under existing federal rules, even indigent children are left to represent themselves, or hire their own attorneys.

About ten minutes later, Alster returned. He paused at the bench where I was sitting and informed me that his supervisor, Leslie Ungerman, has an office on the second floor.

With that, I figured Alster had dropped his demand that I identify myself, but I was wrong. He took his seat at the front of the courtroom, and as the judge was filling him in about the new documents, Alster shifted gears.

"The Department [of Homeland Security] wishes to express concern that he did not identify himself," said Alster, referring to me. He then claimed that the "respondent," the man he was trying to deport, should be concerned about his privacy because I was in the courtroom.

Judge Lyons' response to the ICE attorney was that, while the courts are considered "generally open to the public," he would inform the man whose hearing was supposed to be underway about the government’s "concerns." Lyons asked the man on the screen whether he was concerned about my presence.

"I don't see anything wrong with it," the man answered.

Yet Alster persisted. He told the judge that information, including the man's criminal record, could end up in the newspapers. The judge relayed this claim. That prompted the man to say he was, in fact, concerned. Who wouldn't be?

Judge Lyons then, reluctantly it seemed, asked everyone except family members to leave the court.

I initially ignored the request from the judge, due to the fact that it wasn't an order. There hadn't been motions submitted to the court to hold a closed hearing. If the ICE attorney was genuinely concerned about anyone's privacy in that particular case, he could have submitted a motion well in advance.

Judge Lyons then basically admitted he couldn't bar me from staying, but he explained that he’d have to consider canceling and rescheduling.

At that point, I asked the judge to inform the man on the screen that I wasn't going to put anything about him in any newspaper, but that I would probably write about "the behavior of the ICE attorney." I then requested the judge to ask the man again if he'd be OK with me staying on those terms. The man seemed OK with this, but I got up and left the courtroom, anyway. I didn't want to be inconsiderate to him, and his family, or further delay his case.

I took the elevator down to the second floor and asked for Leslie Ungerman, the chief counsel of ICE's San Francisco Field Office — and Alster's boss.

Ungerman walked me into her office and heard my complaint. I told her what you read above, and also this:

Earlier that morning, I had been in a different courtroom, located on the fourth floor of the DHS building on Sansome Street. Immediately when I walked into the courtroom, the ICE attorney turned and scowled at me. I took a seat and flipped open my notebook. I was the only person there besides the ICE attorney and the translator. The judge was in chambers. The image of a man in custody appeared on a screen, head down, waiting. The ICE attorney then asked me, "Are you here for a case?"

"No," I said. That was the truth; I was there to observe the operations of the court, not report on specific cases.

The ICE attorney turned away, but seconds later he swung back around in his chair and questioned me: "Are you with anyone?"

I knew what he was getting at, so I came right out and said, "I'm news media." Then I asked him, "Who are you?"

"Assistant chief counsel," he said in an unfriendly tone.

Over the past couple months, I've experienced similar behavior from ICE attorneys, some of who seem to think it's strange that anyone would want to observe the inner workings of San Francisco's immigration courts, and who seem to be hostile to the presence of a journalist.

After listening to my concerns about the conduct of two of her ICE attorneys, Ungerman told me that court proceedings are open to the public and that the Department of Homeland Security wants to be transparent. She said, however, that Alster's effort to have me removed from court was likely her fault.

Ungerman explained how, last week, she held a meeting with her attorneys to go over what she said were recently raised concerns involving privacy, the news media, and potential safety issues in the courts. She said that, in some cases, there is sensitive information discussed during hearings, including criminal histories. In the past, she added, some people have complained that information about them was made public, and that a judge never asked them if they wanted a closed hearing.

Ungerman basically said her office is trying to protect the privacy of the people they're simultaneously prosecuting, people who tend to not have an attorney of their own.

I've covered many different state and federal courts as a reporter. I've followed cases involving closed hearings, sealed documents, and complex privacy issues. But I have never before had a prosecuting attorney demand that I identify myself in a court hearing that was open to the public. And I've never seen a prosecutor offer legal advice about privacy to the person he's prosecuting in an attempt to expel a suspected reporter from the courtroom.

But to be honest, I've never seen anything like San Francisco's immigration courts.

Last year, the first time I tried to attend court at the DHS building at 630 Sansome Street, a private guard with Paragon Systems, which contracts with the government to secure the building, told me I wasn't allowed inside unless I had "an appointment" or "official business" of some kind. I informed him I was a newspaper reporter and that I wanted to observe court hearings. That was my official business, I said. He claimed this wasn't permitted and then directed me out of the building.

The first time I tried entering the immigration courts in the DHS offices at 100 Montgomery Street, another security guard told me I could only pass through security if I was there for a specific court hearing involving myself or a family member.

Needless to say, I kept going back. But it's clear that San Francisco's immigration courts have a problem with transparency.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bay Area Immigrants Turning Down Health Care, MediCal, For Fear of Trump's Immigration Policies

by Alice Feller
Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 3:24 PM

COURTESY OF FLICKR/PUBLIC COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Flickr/Public Commons
Immigrants in the Bay Area are so worried about President Trump's forthcoming immigration policy that they're opting out of health-care coverage, this according to several local officials, including the head of Alameda County's health-services department.

This rumor of a new executive order targeting immigrants is causing consternation and panic in the East Bay. Rebecca Gebhart, interim director of Alameda County Healthcare Services, even confirmed to the Express this week that she's heard Trump's order might force governments to turn over patient Medicaid data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Because of this, “some [patients] are trying to disenroll from MediCal, because other family members are undocumented,” Gebhart explained.

The county has responded by putting up posters in its clinics, advising patients that they will continue to see everyone, regardless of immigration status.

“I don’t know if they can do that,” Gebhart said of giving Medicaid-enrollment data to ICE. But families are scared, she admitted, and not seeking health care when they should, because of fear of deportation, is dangerous. “The county is looking to support policies that keep families together. We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents.”

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan also confirmed that she's heard a similar rumor of an upcoming “public charge” order, which would subject any non-citizen who uses public benefits to deportation.

“Public charge” refers to legal immigrants residing in the United States, such as those with green cards or visas. “They’re just waiting the five years” to secure citizenship, Chan said. She confirmed that the term is applied to all non-citizens, including those who are paying taxes to the government.

Some fear that the only reason these orders haven’t been issued yet is that Trump is mired in political crisis, and so busy disentangling himself from his previous executive orders, that he hasn’t had time to issue new ones.

Chan said that all county providers and clinics have pledged not to cooperate with such orders. Nevertheless, she confirmed that there is a panic among those potentially affected, so much so that some are disenrolling from MediCal for fear of being deported if they stay.

She also said the county has obtained $1.5 million for legal defense of these cases. “The good news,” she added, “is that we have a history of believing that health care is a right and of standing up for immigrants’ rights.”

Alameda County has between 60,000 and 90,000 legal residents who are non-citizens, an unusually high proportion of the population.

Anthony Wright, director of the California Consumer Advocacy Coalition, acknowledged that he also had heard “draft leaks” of the so-called “public charge” order. He called it a misuse of the public health system.

“It would be a problem for all of us if a part of the community felt they couldn’t go and get checked for a health problem,” he said. health-care system for immigration purposes.

He also questioned whether such an order would be lawful. “There are legal limits to what can be done,” he said.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dakota Access Pipeline Opponents Call on CalPERS to Divest

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 11:39 AM

In response to President Donald Trump's decision to expedite construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, opponents of the controversial project are redoubling their efforts to block it. One strategy is to defund it.

Today in Sacramento, more than one hundred people crowded into the board meeting of the nation's largest public pension fund calling for divestment from the companies building the DAPL.

The California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, has $309 billion in investments, including stocks and bonds of oil and gas companies that are worth hundreds of millions. CalPERS owns bonds issued by Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the DAPL, worth about $57 million.

The CalPERS board is considering whether to support or oppose AB 20, legislation introduced in December that would require both CalPERS, and the state teachers' pension system CalSTRS, to liquidate all investments involved in building or financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan outside CalPERS' board meeting on Monday.
  • Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan outside CalPERS' board meeting on Monday.
"This is the money of the public workers of California, including the 3,000 Oakland workers who stand proudly with Standing Rock," Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan told a group of protesters outside the board meeting this morning. "We can take our money out and say 'not in our name.'"

Francisco Dominguez, a Sacramento resident and member of the Tarahumara tribe, said during the rally that the decision to route the pipeline through the Standing Rock Sioux’s historic lands was an example of ongoing racism against native people.

"If we don't fight we will have no clean water," he said. "We will have no clean air."

As a policy, CalPERS rarely divests from companies. The pension fund divested from the tobacco industry in 2000 due to the health impacts of cigarettes and the industry's campaign of disinformation. Recently CalPERS' leaders reaffirmed their decision to remain out of tobacco stocks, despite a recommendation by staff that they reinvest to benefit from rising stock prices. CalPERS also sold off its holdings several companies with business operations in Iran and Sudan following state laws requiring divestment from these nations.

In 2015, the legislature approved a bill requiring CalPERS to eventually divest itself from companies that mine and burn coal for energy by July of this year.

But when it comes to oil and gas, CalPERS staff say they prefer a policy of remaining invested and "engaging" to make companies more sustainable and socially responsible. The pension's board and staff also argue that divestment will harm returns which could leave the system under-funded, making it more difficult to pay out retirement benefits and potentially exposing taxpayers to losses.

In 2014, CalPERS issued a statement saying simply "Divestment from fossil fuels is not the solution."

About fifty people signed up to speak during the board's public comment period today. Many of them, retirees who get their pensions and medical benefits from CalPERS, told the board that respecting treaties, human rights, and protecting the environment should be priorities.

"This filthy energy," said CalPERS member Anne Luna-Gordinier. "It's violent and oppressive and it's not going to lead us to where we need to be today.

"It's time to choose whether we're going to stand up for our children, our great grandchildren's future, not only in indian country, but in California, the U.S. and around the world," Pennie Opal Plant, a member of Idle No More Bay Area who is of Yaqui, Choctaw and Cherokee descent, told the board.

CalPERS' board decided not to take a position regarding the divestment legislation yet because the bill's author Ash Kalra (San Jose) is redrafting it.

But during the committee meeting this morning CalPERS board member Theresa Taylor said she opposes the pipeline.

"Personally I think the DAPL is highly problematic and represents a failed vision for meeting our society's needs for suitability, energy and health," said Taylor. "It’s poorly thought out and first nations have stated clearly that it violates their sovereign treaty rights, and it could threaten the primary water source of water for millions of Midwesterners."

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