Thursday, September 1, 2016

'Big Soda' Is Suing Oakland Over Beverage Tax Measure

Attorneys working to nix language from November ballot.

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 12:14 AM

Attorney working for the American Beverage Association are accusing supporters of Measure HH, Oakland's proposed soda tax, of lying to the public in order to garner support.  Yesterday, the beverage corporation attorneys filed a lawsuit seeking to have specific language, which they call "patently false" and "grossly misleading" deleted from the text of the ballot measure.

The soda company attorneys allege that several claims made by the tax's proponents in their rebuttal argument, which accompanies the ballot measure, are false and misleading. The rebuttal states that the soda tax will be paid by distributors, which are mostly big businesses, and that it "is not paid by your local grocer." The rebuttal argument also states that, "for small businesses there is an exemption" from the tax.

But according to attorneys from the Nielson Merksamer law firm who are representing the soda companies, some Oakland grocers will in fact have to pay the tax because they fit the definition of a distributor.

"A local small grocer who purchases sugar-sweetened beverages at Costco in San Leandro or Richmond with the intention to resell these beverages at his or her store, and who 'transfer[s] possession' of those beverages to an employee to stock the shelves would thereby engage in a taxable distribution."

In addition to fighting the Oakland soda tax in court, the Nielson Merksamer law firm is managing the soda companies' No On HH political action committee. Funding for the soda company's  No On HH PAC has come from just five beverage industry giants: Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Dr. Pepper, Red Bull, and Sunny Delight.

But officially, the soda companies aren't the one's bringing the lawsuit against Oakland election officials to have the text deleted. Instead, the petitioner is Isabella Coffey, identified as an Oakland resident and registered voter.

The soda company attorneys are also arguing that the term "small business" is misleadingly applied in the rebuttal. According to the lawsuit, Measure HH defines a small business as one with under $100,000 in annual gross receipts. They cite federal regulations which instead define small grocers as having receipts of up to $32.5 million.

If the soda attorneys win in court, the Oakland City Clerk would be barred from printing the contested text as part of the rebuttal against the No On HH campaign that will appear in the November voter pamphlet.

The lawsuit is just the latest accusation of misleading tactics in the battle between the soda companies and supporters of the tax. But previously it was the tax's proponents, including doctors, dentists, and public health officials, who accused the soda industry of lying.

In July, Oakland councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington, Desley Brooks, and Rebecca Kaplan said they planned to file complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and the Oakland Public Ethics Commission over ads paid for by the soda companies that called the tax a "grocery tax." The councilmembers said the "grocery tax" label is simply designed to scare voters, and that there's no evidence the tax will be passed on to items other than soda.

The soda companies seem unfazed by the councilmembers' threat. Ads painting the soda tax as a tax on groceries continue to fill the mailboxes of Oakland voters.

In fact, the soda industry's attorneys, and the petitioner Isabella Coffey, double down on the "grocery tax" message in their lawsuit: "...recent experience with a similar measure in Berkeley shows that the passage of such a tax ultimately leads to price increases on a wide array of grocery items at grocery stores and restaurants ... Because it is politically unpopular to raise the cost of groceries, supporters of Measure HH have sought to minimize and obscure the extent of this effect."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

County Health Director: Oakland's Housing Crisis Is a Prescription for Sicker, Shorter Lives

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 3:25 PM

The affordable housing crisis is causing a healthcare crisis in the East Bay, and Oakland is  the epicenter. That's according to Dr. Muntu Davis, the director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.

In a conference room in Oakland's City Hall today, Davis presented the results of a recently conducted survey of Alameda County health workers about the housing challenges faced by their clients: thousands of low-income, senior, and disabled people, many who are Oakland renters. According to the survey, thousands of renters are over-crowding into into unsafe housing units. Many Oakland residents are now paying a majority of their income on rent. Evictions, displacement, and homelessness are rising. Children's educations are being interrupted by frequent moves. Commutes are becoming longer. Social networks and family ties are fraying and breaking. Collective stress is boiling over.

The health outcomes, which Davis described as a having reached "crisis" levels, can be seen in rising numbers of hospitalizations for hypertension, mental health emergencies, asthma attacks, and numerous other illnesses that shorten people's lives.

"While the causes and solutions to address the housing crisis are complex, inaction is a prescription for shorter, sicker lives for many of our Alameda County Residents," concluded Davis in policy brief published today.

Kalima Rose, a researcher with the nonprofit PolicyLink, said the Bay Area is undergoing a period of intense job and population growth, but the supply of housing, especially rental units that the bottom half of wage earners can afford, hasn't kept pace.

Uber is expected to move 3,000 jobs into Oakland next year. The tech company's arrival is a symbol of the tens of thousands of more affluent newcomers flooding into Oakland. Other companies employing highly paid professionals are rapidly growing throughout the Bay Area. At the same time wages for half the population are stagnating. Inequality is growing.

Unable to compete in the new housing market of hyper-scarcity, Oakland's working class is being squeezed into substandard, crowded accommodations, or pushed out of the city entirely. The dynamic is hitting Black and Latino households especially hard.

Rose recently surveyed rental apartment listings in Oakland and found zero units being offered at rents affordable to a person earning the city's $12.25 minimum wage.

Entry level teachers who earn $42,497 a year also can't afford Oakland. In fact, Rose's examination of rental listings shows zero units currently being offered that are affordable, measured as renting for one-third of a teacher's after-tax monthly income.

"Very little intervention supportive of tenants has taken place," Rose said about Oakland's housing laws and programs.

Alameda County's $580 million affordable housing bond, Proposition A1, will help some avoid displacement, she said. Oakland's Measure JJ, which would strengthen rent control and extend just cause eviction protections to 10,561 more apartments, would also increase affordability and fight displacement.

But still, Oakland has been losing its lower-income renters and homeowners for over a decade, especially Black families who are being priced out of rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like West Oakland and Eastlake. Approximately 34,000 Black residents moved out of Oakland between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. Numbers for the past six years haven't been tabulated yet by demographers, said Rose, but many believe the pace of Black displacement has picked up.

"We know that the rate of [Black displacement] that was marked in 2010 is at least as much now, if not more," Rose said. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Online Poll Attacks Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Claims False Endorsements for Peggy Moore

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 6:00 PM

moorepeggy.png
Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is crying foul over a voter survey that attacks her and falsely implies that one of her opponents has racked up two influential endorsements.

The survey, distributed via email to an unknown number of Oakland voters, contains eight statements "from supporters of Peggy Moore for Oakland City Council." Respondents are asked to rank whether or not the statements are "compelling" reasons to vote for Moore.

Moore, a senior advisor to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, is one of five candidates trying to unseat Kaplan for the at-large seat.

"For years, current councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has presided over a city that has become less and less affordable and livable," reads one of the statements. "As a longtime renter who understands the importance of keeping Oakland affordable, Peggy Moore will fight to increase affordable housing and sustainable, transit­-oriented development in Oakland."

The survey claims that Kaplan "has few real accomplishments to show from her 15 years as a politician."

The survey also states that Peggy Moore is "supported" by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond.

But both Barbara Lee and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond deny endorsing Moore.

Rebecca Kaplan. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Rebecca Kaplan.
"It is wrong to lie to the voters and pretend to be conducting a neutral poll when what you really are doing is circulating a hit piece attacking one candidate to support another," said Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

The Moore campaign confirmed that they paid for the survey.

But Christman Bowers, Moore's campaign manager, told the Express that they had no part in writing the questions. Bowers said it's common for candidates to commission these types of polls in order to see what kinds of messaging works with voters. He characterized the statement claiming Moore is supported by Lee and Thurmond as a "hypothetical."

"We don’t have the support of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, yet, or the assemblymember," he said. Bowers added it was not Moore's intention to mislead any potential voters.

Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research, the firm that is conducting the survey for Moore's campaign, told the Express that they sent out a follow-up message to people who completed the survey clarifying that Moore doesn't have the endorsement of Congresswoman Lee or Assemblymember Thurmond.

"It may not have been worded clearly enough and we will probably be doing some clarification," Bernstein said. "Unfortunately, that sometimes happens in the rush of a campaign."

Kaplan, however, asserted that the survey amounts to campaign activity like an advertisement, not a scientific poll. She said the survey should have included information about who paid for it. Kaplan worries that some Oakland voters might have been misled about who has won the endorsement of Lee and Thurmond.

"We are on pretty sure footing that this was a poll that was commissioned," said Christman. "It’s not a robo-call, a canvas, or a door-knock and the number of people the poll was sent to pales in comparison to rising to the occasion of being considered voter engagement."

Bernstein and Christman would not say how many people received the poll, but Christman said it was in the hundreds.

Oakland Police Union Writes $1,400 Check to Unseat Councilmember Noel Gallo

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 11:18 AM

Noel Gallo.
  • Noel Gallo.
The Oakland Police Officers Association made a maximum $1,400 campaign contribution to Viola Gonzales last week, according to a disclosure form filed with the city clerk. Gonzales is running against incumbent Noel Gallo for the Oakland City Council District Five seat.

Gallo first ran for city council in 2012 on a law-and-order platform that included strengthening the city's police force. At a public forum last week, Gallo said hiring more cops is still a major priority for him. He wants to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 744 to as many as 850.

But the police officers' union appears to be upset with Gallo because of his support for a sweeping police reform measure.

Gallo is co-author of a ballot measure that would establish an independent civilian police oversight commission. If approved by voters in November, the new commission would be able to investigate police misconduct and impose discipline on officers.

OPOA strongly opposed the police commission ballot measure when it was being considered by the city council earlier this year. The union successfully lobbied to have some features gutted. Even so, if voters approve creation of the commission, it would be one of the strongest civilian oversight bodies in the nation.

OPOA has spent large sums in previous elections in attempts to unseat city officials who cross swords with them. In 2012 OPOA spent tens of thousands in an unsuccessful effort to topple Rebecca Kaplan from her at-large council seat, and to prevent Barbara Parker from remaining in the city attorney's office.

More recently, OPOA spent $17,583 to help Anne Campbell Washington win her District 4 seat.

The Express was unable to reach Noel Gallo and the Oakland Police Officers Association for comment this morning.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Sen. Hancock's Ban on State Funds for Coal Projects

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Aug 26, 2016 at 2:43 PM

State Senator Loni Hancock opposes using public funds to subsidize the coal industry. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • State Senator Loni Hancock opposes using public funds to subsidize the coal industry.
State Sen. Loni Hancock's bill to ban the use of funds for coal-related projects was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown today. The new law makes it all the more difficult for coal companies to find a route through California to overseas markets.

More …

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Details on Those Rumored Oakland Raiders Coliseum Renderings and Images

by Graham Womack
Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 6:54 PM

Images of a possible Raiders dome stadium in Las Vegas.
  • Images of a possible Raiders dome stadium in Las Vegas.

Yesterday, the Express reported that the Oakland Raiders “have new and unreleased rendered images of what a Coliseum stadium might look like at 66th Avenue.”

More information has emerged about these images.

Scott McKibben, executive director of the Oakland-Alameda County Joint Powers Authority, told the Express today that he saw the drawings during a meeting with the Raiders nearly a year ago. 

"These were just a couple of drawings that were on easel boards in the conference room as we were having a meeting with the Raider ownership and management," he explained. "They were more to show to us what was their view of what the stadium would look like in certain geographic parcels of our property.

"One of them is football-only. One is with football on the south side and a baseball facility on the north side, and so on. These are nothing more than I'm sure the Raiders saying, 'Okay, there's 125 acres of land there. We need approximately 80 to 85 acres for parking, the arena's gonna stay, so where are we thinking about putting our stadium? What might that stadium look like with that being 55,000 seats?'"

The team has yet to publicly release these images. Raiders spokesperson Will Kiss didn’t immediately respond to an email to discuss or release the images.

"To the best of my knowledge, those drawings have never left the conference room of the Raiders center," McKibben said.

Zennie Abraham, an Oakland video blogger who has extensively covered the Raiders’ stadium saga, told the Express that the rumored drawings "are at Raiders headquarters. They're not renderings that somebody has on a PDF or a JPEG that are on some file that somebody's holding at the city.

"Because I can guarantee you, if they were, one of those city people would have leaked them.”

Meanwhile, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee released renderings this morning for a Raider stadium in Las Vegas, just before it met for five hours to discuss the plan. Forbes reported that the Raiders filed for a trademark of “Las Vegas Raiders” on August 20.

McKibben said he most recently spoke with Raiders owner Mark Davis six to eight weeks ago. McKibben remains optimistic. “We've got a great relationship with the Raiders,” he said. “We just had training meetings with them all week. We're just kind of now waiting for an appraisal to get done on the property and for prospective developers and people that are interested in teaming up with the Raiders of putting a package together for a new stadium.”

Look for a cover story on the Raiders before the NFL season begins.

Berkeley City Council Will Meet Tomorrow to Vote on Minimum Wage Compromise

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 12:44 PM

Members of the Berkeley for Working Families coalition outside Berkeley City Hall in April. - COURTESY OF SEIU 1021
  • Courtesy of SEIU 1021
  • Members of the Berkeley for Working Families coalition outside Berkeley City Hall in April.
Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., the Berkeley City Council will convene a special meeting to try one more time to reach a compromise on the minimum wage.

All sides sound optimistic. But it's been a long, hard road.

More …

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Oakland-Alameda Authority Confirms Unreleased Renderings of Possible Raiders Stadium at Coliseum Site

by Graham Womack
Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 11:37 AM

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Tomorrow morning, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee will meet to discuss the Oakland Raiders relocating to Las Vegas.

By now, Oakland fans are probably well aware that team officials have been openly flirting with the Sin City for months. Relocation might seem like a foregone conclusion, with Raiders owner Mark Davis saying at a news conference April 28 that he wanted to turn Nevada "into the silver and black state."

But don't count Oakland out just yet.

The Express recently learned that behind-the-scenes action is moving forward insofar as conversation between the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority and the Raiders.

JPA executive director Scott McKibben has made no secret of wanting to get a new stadium built for the Raiders in Oakland.

And he told the Express this month that the JPA and the Raiders have new and unreleased rendered images of what a Coliseum stadium might look like at 66th Avenue.

McKibben declined to provide these images to the Express, though he said owner Mark Davis remains committed to Oakland.

"Mark Davis has told me a number of times that his first option is to stay in Oakland," McKibben said. "I take Mark at his word. I believe him."

McKibben added: "I do know that he feels that it's his responsibility to his team and his family and his shareholders to look at other opportunities if in fact Oakland doesn't materialize."

We'll know more about these other options tomorrow. Look for an Express cover story on the Oakland stadium issue and possible Raiders relocation before the NFL season begins.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Landlord Pledges to Repair Bathrooms at Oakland Chinatown SRO

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 4:53 PM

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A group of investors who recently purchased an Oakland residential hotel — and who have been accused of harassing the tenants to drive them out of their homes — pledged in court today to immediately repair demolished bathrooms in the building.

"Construction will start immediately," said Kate Morrow, an attorney representing the investor group that purchased the building last year.

More …

Mining Company Behind Oakland Coal Terminal Withdraws IPO Plans, Bogged Down in Lawsuit

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 11:29 AM

ILLUSTRATION BY HIEDIE SIOTECO
  • Illustration by Hiedie Sioteco
Bowie Resource Partners, the Kentucky-based coal company that was quietly backing plans by Oakland developer Phil Tagami and former Port of Oakland Executive Director Jerry Bridges to build a massive coal export terminal at the foot of the Bay Bridge announced yesterday that it's canceling a planned IPO.

The announcement is yet another sign that plans to ship millions of tons of coal through Oakland are dead in the water.

Bowie executives cited "market conditions" as the reason for withdrawing their IPO.

The public offering would have raised $100 million for Bowie, money that could have been used to expand its coal mining operations in western US states, including Utah, where Bowie already has several operating mines. Some of the funds could have also been used to help finance construction of the Oakland coal export terminal. The terminal had an estimated price tag of $275 million.

More …

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