Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The End of the Oakland Fence Saga

by Shajia Abidi
Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 9:43 AM

After two years of unsuccessfully trying to appease city inspectors, Josh Harkinson tore down his cedar split-rail fence along Glen Echo Creek on Sunday. Harkinson built the fence by hand because the old city fence that used to separate the street from the ravine was broken in many places. He was concerned that people could fall into the creek, which is filled with fast moving water in the winter.

But the city received complaints from some neighbors and sent inspectors to check if the three-foot-tall fence was on the city right of way. They concluded it was, and told Harkinson he would have to move it, and take other measures to "legalize" the rustic barrier. What ensued, according to Harkinson, was a seemingly endless list of expensive and overly bureaucratic demands.

"I really don’t know what they are looking for," said Harkinson over the phone last weekend. "They are disputing every little detail."

See also: The Oakland Fence Saga

"The city fence wasn't in the same location [as the new one] and probably wasn’t in a good shape," said Lesley Estes, the city's watershed program manager. "But there was no problem with the existing fence that he [Harkinson] removed."

The city initially asked Harkinson to get an encroachment permit which also required him to purchase private insurance. Then city officials asked him to get professional plans for the fence.

Josh Harkinson and his fence in March. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Josh Harkinson and his fence in March.
Harkinson was working back and forth with the city assigned inspector, Ed McNair, on the drawings of the fence and the property line boundary, but because Harkinson started working with Google Maps, his plans were rejected, and he was asked instead to use the assessor's map.

After not hearing back from McNair for a while, he received a letter from the city that stated his case has been reassigned to a different inspector.
The new inspector, Kevin Kashi, added a new requirement to legalize the small, simple structure: Harkinson would have to hire a professional engineer to come up with the drawings. Harkinson declined as it would’ve cost him hundreds of dollars on top of getting an encroachment letter.
"It's not worth it to spend thousands of dollars to legalize it," said Harkinson.

Using a chainsaw on Sunday, Harkinson cut out the fence posts, re-opening the steep face of the creek to the street.

"We appreciated the work that was done along the creek," said Estes. "We just requested that it should be legalized."

Monday, September 26, 2016

WATCH: Express Endorsement Interview with State Senate District Nine Candidates Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson

by Nick Miller
Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 8:32 PM

You just watched the Clinton-Trump "debate" ... yikes.

Also this evening, the Express held an Endorsement Board interview with former state Assembly members Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson, who are running to represent District Nine in the state Senate.

The candidates visited our offices late this afternoon to discuss everything from the housing crisis, the Oakland Police Department scandal, and more.

Pick up a copy of this week's issue for more details on how our Endorsement Board selects candidates. And watch our interview here.

Learn more about the candidates at Skinner4Senate.com and SandreSwanson.org.
Sandré Swanson
  • Sandré Swanson
Nancy Skinner
  • Nancy Skinner

Town Business: Finding a New Police Chief; Bobby Hutton Grove; Saving Oakland's SROs

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 7:11 AM

Bobby Hutton in front of the Oakland Police Department.
  • Bobby Hutton in front of the Oakland Police Department.
Finding a New Police Chief: Oakland is searching for a new top cop, and Mayor Libby Schaaf has been holding community forums to get feedback. Per the city's own notes, here's what Oaklanders are telling the mayor about about the police:

"Lack of faith in the police department because of the Riders incident. And police department refusing to comply with the consent decree; believes the Police Department is rogue."

"Concerned about the undue role of the union with a backward, self-interested culture as well as compliance with the NSA. City government needs to stand up to the union."

"Demoralizing to have so many police chiefs leave after the last 4-5 years. Maybe after more community involvement, we can find someone who will stay through the ups and the downs and the hard times to see-through changes."

"There is no relationship with the community. When I went to school, I knew the police officers and there would be different forms of discipline. Officers would talk to our parents; now kids are sent to jail."

"Police don't support the community."

"Police officers didn’t show up when we really needed them. What does that say about them? Response times varies by ethnicity; we need equality."

"A lot of police officers live in Tracey and they don't have respect for Oakland; we need more officers from Oakland."

"Only 28% of Oakland residents are Black, but 60% of the stops are Black people; this needs to stop and we need to be treated fairly in the city."

Bobby Hutton Grove:
On April 6, 1968 a shootout between the Oakland police and members of the Black Panther Party on 28th Street in West Oakland ended with 17-year-old Bobby Hutton dying from twelve gunshot wounds. Hutton became a martyr within the BPP, and a symbol of resistance for millions of Black people in America.

Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, the City of Oakland is dedicating a portion of DeFremery Park as "Bobby Hutton Grove."

In fact, many people already refer to DeFremery Park as "Bobby Hutton Park," and an annual day of remembrance for Hutton, the first member to join the Black Panther Party, and the first member to die in its name, has been held there since at least 1998.

Saving Oakland's SRO Housing: Residential hotels (SROs) provide crucial shelter for vulnerable populations who are just an eviction away from homelessness. Unfortunately, Oakland has slowly lost SRO housing units as landlords convert them into apartments or boutique hotels that cater to tourists. Saving Oakland's SROs is an urgent part of the bigger puzzle that is the housing crisis.

Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Larry Reid, and Abel Guillen want to change Oakland's planning code to protect SROs. Specifically, they want to require a conditional use permit for whenever a landlord proposes converting an SRO into another type of housing like a condo. This would give the city more power to block conversions if it means losing a substantial number of affordable SRO units.

But to permanently protect SROs state law has to change. The Ellis Act allows a landlord to "go out of business" and remove rental units from the market in order to convert them into condos, or even demolish the building and use it for another purpose. In San Francisco the Ellis Act has been used to destroy thousands of affordable, rent-controlled apartments over the past 20 years, but it can't be used to destroy SRO units.

Oakland hasn't seen the same use of the Ellis Act by landlords to destroy rental properties and evict tenants, but that doesn't mean it won't happen, especially as people are pushed out of San Francisco and San Mateo County into the East Bay, and rents and home prices keep going up.

Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Abel Guillen are urging the state Legislature to consider amending a 2003 state law so that Oakland can protect it's SROs from the Ellis Act just like San Francisco. In 2003, Senator Mark Leno's AB 1217 was signed into law. It barred the use of the Ellis Act to evict SRO residents in order to turn their homes into condos, but only in San Francisco and cities with a population of over 1,000,000 (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose).

McElhaney and Guillen want to extend the power of this law to all cities. Whether state legislators will listen is unclear.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Raiders Win Ugly in Tennessee: Three Bad Habits The Team Must Kick ASAP

by Nick Miller
Sun, Sep 25, 2016 at 2:32 PM

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RAIDERS
  • Photo Courtesy Of The Raiders
The Oakland Raiders snuck away with a sloppy and hideous win on the road this morning versus a turnover-prone Titans squad, 17-10.

The Raiders, now 2-1, actually led 17-3 at halftime. And both the offense and defense dominated the opening quarters.

But the former never got it going in the closing half — plagued by dropped balls, false-start penalties, and conservative play-calling.

The good news is that the struggling Raider defense — historically bad over the first two games — remedied some issues and came up clutch down the stretch.

The oft-criticized secondary corps, for instance, picked off Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota twice, and the D forced him to fumble, as well, racking up three total turnovers, which made the difference in an otherwise evenly matched game. 

It's difficult to say whether the pass coverage was much improved, however. David Amerson's lock-down play and rookie Karl Joseph's team-leading ten tackles were notable. But perhaps Titans QB Marcus Mariota is just that unreliable and inconsistent?

Unlike last week's home debut against Atlanta, Derek Carr and Co. came out the gate with intensity this morning. Carr executed big throws to Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper, and the Raiders notched a touchdown on the opening drive.

But dropped balls were a critical issue for the offense; Seth Roberts, Clive Walford, and Amari Cooper were guilty of drops that otherwise would have led to third-down conversions.

Cooper in particular only snagged four of nine targets — although Carr in part was to blame, as he was a bit off today (leading guys too far, throwing behind on slant routes).

In the second half, the team committed more than a couple senseless, momentum-stalling false-start penalties.

But Michael Crabtree came up big with tough grabs at the right moment and ended with a solid day (eight receptions, 102 yards).

After three games, though, it's clear that the Raiders will need to tighten up dramatically if they are to win ten or more games this season. Here's three things the team must drill down and improve on immediately:

1. Stop the run. DeMarco Murray and the Titans racked up a stupid 181 yards on the ground, and the Raiders front line and middle had zero answer for Tennessee attack. This mirrors the troubles last week against the Falcons tandem backfield.

The team still can't curb the run. And Khalil Mack in particular was a non-factor again — just one solo tackle — another head-scratching performance.

2. Stop the Boneheadedness. A perfect example of Raider "smarts" was Reggie Nelson's pick at the end of the first half: He intercepted the rock with about eight seconds remaining, in Titan territory and within range for Janikowski, yet he didn't run out of bounds. This one of more than a handful knuckle-headed moves on both sides of the ball, and Jack Del RIo will need to continue to preach smarts to prevent more bozo moments.

3. Catch the Ball, Eh! Back to those dropped passes, which were a problem for Cooper and the squad last year. Must. Remedy. This. Now.

The Raiders will have a tough road game against the improved Baltimore Ravens next week.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Soda Industry Spent $67 Million Fighting Sugar Taxes and Health Labels Since 2009

by Winston Cho
Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 7:48 PM

The sugar-sweetened beverage industry's lobbying group, the American Beverage Association, and its two largest members, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, spent at least $67 million fighting local soda taxes and warning labels on drinks in 19 cities and states since 2009, according to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

One of the fronts where the soda war is being fought is Oakland, where companies have already spent $747,268 to oppose measure HH, a soda excise tax of one cent per ounce on distributors that will fund health education programs.

The trade association and two beverage companies have also spent upwards of $130 million lobbying at the federal level — of which a significant proportion was directed toward fighting public health measures, including an updated Nutrition Facts Label and Dietary Guideline for Americans. After spending $40 million fighting a federal soda tax in 2009, the spending has leveled off to $15 million annually over the last two years.

"There is no better way to understand the public health importance of soda taxes and warning labels than to see how much money Big Soda is willing to spend to oppose them," said CSPI health promotion policy director Jim O'Hara.  "If those policies aren't going to work like Big Soda says they won't, why are they writing such massive checks?"

In several cities where soda taxes are on the ballot, the companies have attempted to brand them as "grocery taxes," claiming that the prices of other goods besides soda will go up. But a year after Berkeley's soda tax was passed, a study found that consumption of sugary drinks dipped by as much as 21 percent, validating the efficacy of the tax as a regulation that reduces sales of sugary beverages. As a result, other Bay Area cities, including San Francisco and Albany, have put similar taxes on the ballot.

The industry spent $9.2 million fighting San Francisco's 2014 soda tax ballot initiative, which won 55 percent of the vote but failed to garner the two-thirds majority required to pass the measure. The soda industry has already reserved $9 million in television advertising for the final leg of the campaign, according to supporters of the tax.

In contrast to previous years, there has been much more pro-soda-tax financial support to combat the industry's opposition to these public health measures. Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and John and Laura Arnold, as well as the American Heart Association, have provided the four cities — Philadelphia, Boulder, Berkeley, and San Francisco — which have attempted to pass soda taxes with more than $4 million in support.

Oakland has raised slightly more than $800,000 from these sources while San Francisco has raised an estimated $1 million.

Many Oakland residents are complaining about the proliferation of mailers, and TV and social media ads calling the soda levy a "grocery tax."

"There are a lot of really misleading advertisements going on," said Laura Nixon, a public health media researcher at Berkeley Media Studies Group. The soda companies have used a different argument in every community where there's been a soda tax, said Nixon. "In Richmond, the emphasis was that it would hurt low income folks and that it was racist. They used stuff like this was a blank check to city hall and that it wasn't going to spend the money on health programs."

Low-Level Cops Facing Punishment in East Bay Sex Crimes Scandal

Critics say charges don't go high enough, commanders not held accountable.

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 6:29 PM

Four months after the East Bay police sex crimes scandal made international headlines, authorities are beginning to hold cops accountable. In a scene certain to play out several times over in the coming weeks, Oakland officer Brian Bunton was arraigned this afternoon in Alameda County Superior Court for allegedly trading information about police sting operations for sex with the victim, who goes by Celeste Guap. Bunton was first identified by the Express in June.

Wearing a light-blue suit and visibly nervous before a phalanx of cameras and more than a dozen reporters in a Hayward courtroom, Bunton's bail was set by Judge Armando Cuellar at $12,500.

Bunton’s attorney, Dirk Manoukian, described the officer as a forty-year-old "family man" who was remorseful — yet his client pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Bunton is one of seven cops facing criminal charges. The cities of Oakland and Richmond have also imposed administrative discipline on 21 current and former officers for misconduct.

But according to court records, city documents, and Guap’s attorney, Pamela Price, all the officers disciplined are low-level cops. No commanders have been punished or charged.

Attorney Pamela Price.
  • Attorney Pamela Price.
Price said she is concerned that the criminal and administrative investigations stopped short of looking at supervisors. "We're not just asking that low-level staff be the ones who are held accountable," she said outside the Hayward Hall of Justice. "The climate of each department is set by the leadership."

Price previously called on Attorney General Kamala Harris to take over investigations in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, because of concerns that law enforcement isn’t holding their own accountable.

Price also said she suspects Guap is not the only individual exploited by police in the Bay Area, and she hinted at a larger conspiracy to suppress information. However, Price has yet to provide more detailed information regarding other possible victims.

In addition to Bunton, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley has filed charges against Livermore officer Daniel Black, former Oakland Sgt. Leroy Johnson, Oakland officer Giovanni LoVerde, and former Contra Costa County Sheriff's Deputy Ricardo Perez.

O’Malley said she also plans to charge Oakland officers Terryl Smith and Warit Uttapa. Smith quit the department in May, while Uttapa was recently transferred to the theft section of the criminal-investigation division. None of the cops charged by O'Malley rank above sergeant.

Yet there remain questions about former Oakland Chief Sean Whent's role in the OPD scandal. Did he stall or prevent criminal and internal-affairs investigations into police misconduct? And what did he know, and when, about the abuse of Guap?

Whent was allowed to leave the department without discipline in June.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf continues to insist that Whent voluntarily resigned, and that his departure was unrelated to the sex crimes. In press conferences earlier this month, both Schaaf and O'Malley said Whent was not a subject of either the city's administrative probe or the DA’s criminal investigation.

Whent recently applied for the job of police chief in the City of Salinas, but wasn’t hired. Sources close to OPD say he is being considered for a job at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

O'Malley's decision to charge former Oakland Sgt. Leroy Johnson with a misdemeanor for failing to report Guap's underage relationship with Officer Brendan O'Brien has rankled many current and former OPD, who spoke to the Express on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Commanders who may have had similar knowledge but did not report it do not appear to be subject to any open investigations.

If Oakland commanders were to be investigated for violating department policies, one area authorities might look into would be the thirteen-year-old Negotiated Settlement Agreement. This requires that potential officer criminal conduct be reported to the district attorney.

Earlier this month, the Express reported that Alameda County prosecutors learned of Guap's exploitation from the media, not from OPD.

But Task 28 of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement and OPD General Order M-04.1 both require Oakland commanders to notify the Alameda County DA via email whenever there is reasonable suspicion that an officer may have committed a felony or serious misdemeanor.

This requirement is so specific that OPD is even instructed to use a specific subject line for these emails — "criminal misconduct allegation."

The single email fulfilling OPD's requirement to notify the District Attorney of suspected crimes by officers.
  • The single email fulfilling OPD's requirement to notify the District Attorney of suspected crimes by officers.
The Express filed a California Public Records Act request for all emails with this subject line between September 1, 2015, through this year. The Alameda County DA's office released only one email, from OPD Captain Kirk Coleman, dated August 24, 2016.

Coleman's email was sent eleven months after a suicide note left by O'Brien, which made OPD commanders aware of the possibility of misconduct involving Guap and several officers. It also came three months after Schaaf claimed to have personally notified O'Malley about the alleged sexual misconduct.

John Burris, one of the plaintiffs attorneys in the Riders case that underpins Oakland's settlement agreement, said OPD's apparent failure to abide, and their own general orders, is a matter of concern.

"It appears there are a number of times this notification should have been made in the last year, and weren't," he said.

Independent court monitor Robert Warshaw, however, hasn't addressed this matter. His latest report to the court, released on September 12, included no comments on whether there was a failure to report suspected criminal misconduct.

Warshaw did not respond to the Express' requests to discuss this issue.

Burris acknowledged those concerns, noting that he and co-counsel Jim Chanin have long been disturbed by the downward direction of discipline within OPD over the years.

"We've been concerned about this since the Riders — what about the actions of the supervisors, of the command staff?" Burris asked.

City of Berkeley Seeks Dismissal of Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kayla Moore Case

by H. Graph Massara
Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 6:09 PM

Members of the Bay Area's queer and trans community gathered Friday morning in solidarity with the family of Kayla Moore, the 41-year-old Black transgender woman with paranoid schizophrenia who died while in custody of the Berkeley police in 2013. The coroner said Moore died of cardiac arrest.

In the years since, a coalition led by Moore's sister, Maria Moore, has campaigned for expanded funding of mental health care resources. Arthur Moore, Kayla’s father, has sued the city of Berkeley for wrongful death.

At a hearing in San Francisco Friday morning the city asked a judge to throw out the case. The judge is expected to rule on the motion to dismiss at a later date. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for October 17, but a ruling could be issued sooner. Though it was not the resolution she was hoping for, Maria Moore said that at least the hearing didn’t end with an outright dismissal.

"There’s still a glimmer of hope," she added.

There are still several points of contention about what exactly happened to Kayla Moore the night she died, including whether officers' attempts to restrain Moore may have cut off her airway or aggravated an underlying heart condition. Though the city has alleged Moore illegally resisted arrest, and that drugs in her system played a key role in her death, Arthur Moore’s attorney, Adante Pointer, compared her struggling against the officers to the thrashing of a fish out of water.

"It's not that she isn’t in compliance [with the officers’ orders]," he said during the hearing. "She is dealing with the fact that she can't breathe."

Pointer said he feels confident about the case moving forward, and that it’s one a jury should decide.

Prior to the hearing, supporters of Moore's family held hands outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building. Maria Moore read a poem by Kayla, entitled "In My Outer Skin."

Elena Vera, a self-identified transgender woman of color who attended the hearing, said she didn’t know Moore personally, but felt they were part of the same community.

"The police want you and I to believe (that) a body like Kayla Moore's is not worth protecting or serving," she said. "She was someone worth love. She was someone worth remembering."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson Hit in Face with Pie at Event, Assaults Protester in 'Bloody' Scene

by Nick Miller
Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 9:02 PM

Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento.
  • Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento.
Sacramento Mayor, former NBA star, and UC Berkeley standout Kevin Johnson was hit in the face with a pie on Thursday evening at a farm-to-table dinner event — then multiple sources say he tackled and assaulted the protester in a "bloody" brawl.

During the meal, a protester approached mayor and tagged him in the face with a store-bought coconut cream pie.

Stunned, the mayor allegedly tackled the protester and punched him "repeatedly," more than half a dozen times, landing "five to 10" blows, according to various witnesses.

One witness described it as a "bloody pulp." Other witnesses say that the pie-thrower was hit multiple times in the face and will definitely need stitches, and that there was visible blood. Ambulances and fire department arrived at the scene.

A day later, Sacramento Magazine published four photos from the incident, including the following:

PHILIPPE NGABONZIZA
  • Philippe Ngabonziza
The assailant was 32-year-old Sean Thompson, who was arrested on charges of felony assault of a public official and misdemeanor battery on school property. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

Booking photo of Sean Thompson, who reportedly assaulted Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson with a pie — then was punched repeatedly by Johnson, according to multiple witnesses. - SACRAMENTO POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Sacramento Police Department
  • Booking photo of Sean Thompson, who reportedly assaulted Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson with a pie — then was punched repeatedly by Johnson, according to multiple witnesses.

A spokesman with the Sacramento Police Department confirmed that there was “some sort of physical altercation” between the suspect and the mayor, which occurred at around 6:45 p.m. on Thursday.

“The mayor did strike the suspect after he was assaulted,” spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein told the Express. He could not confirm whether Johnson tackled Thompson.

He said Thompson was transported to a local hospital for treatment after the incident. He was booked at midnight.

The spokesperson did not know whether the mayor was injured or not. Johnson was questioned after the incident.

From county jail, Thompson told a reporter with The Sacramento Bee on Thursday afternoon that Johnson "punched [him] in the face at least two times."

"I don't think that was an appropriate response to a pie to the face," he told the Bee.

The dinner was a celebration of Sacramento's Farm-to-Fork week, held at the Edible Garden at Johnson's alma mater, Sacramento High School, a charter school under the St. HOPE umbrella. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has helped with projects at this garden in the past.

There were nearly 200 in attendance at the dinner, including a few dozen high-school students, according to sources. This event was also attended by some of the city's top restaurateurs.

Erika Bjork, who works for the Sacramento Republic FC soccer team, attended on behalf of the team and described the dinner was an "intimate" experience. She was seated near the mayor, who was chatting with guests at her table, when the incident occurred.

She described the attack on the mayor as "a shocking assault," and that Thompson did not announce himself before hitting Johnson in the face with the pie.

“Most of us didn’t didn’t even realize it was a pie until after, when I could see that there was a pie on the ground," she told the Express.  “There was no way, based on anything I saw, that this could be interpreted as a practical joke.”

She describe the mayor as "in shock" after he was hit.

Eventually, a security guard and an officer restrained Thompson, who remained handcuffed on the ground until police arrived.

After the pie attack, sources say Johnson was given a change of clothes and addressed the audience at a podium, apologizing, and receiving applause.

Johnson even brought UFC fighter Urijah Faber, who was in attendance, up to the podium and joked about the assault.

Faber later told a Sacramento TV station that the pie-thrower was "bloodied up" after the incident.

Protesters occasionally have dogged Johnson on the heels of sexual-misconduct allegations that resurfaced last year. He was booed at a Hillary Clinton event at Sacramento City College, for instance.

The Express reached out to the mayor's chief of staff to discuss the incident, but she did not respond. The mayor's chief of staff told The Sacramento Bee "the mayor was assaulted."

“He is home with his family. ... The whole thing is just shocking," she told the Bee.

Police released a booking photo of Thomps
Sean Thompson, center, shown at an Occupy Sacramento protest in 2011. He was arrested multiple times during these actions at Cesar Chavez Plaza. - PHOTO BY DON BUTTON
  • PHOTO BY DON BUTTON
  • Sean Thompson, center, shown at an Occupy Sacramento protest in 2011. He was arrested multiple times during these actions at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
on early Thursday morning. The assailant has cuts, bruises and dried blood on his face — and sutures next to his left eye.

The mayor's office released a statement on Thursday morning, saying that Johnson "reacted in self-defense like most people do when attacked by an unknown object."

Thompson was at one time an activist with the Occupy Sacramento movement. He was arrested multiple times in 2011 during the Occupy Sacramento protests at Cesar Chavez Plaza (see photo, right).

The "pie-thrower" has engaged Johnson in the past during city council meetings. In 2011, Thompson spoke at council and turned his back on Johnson. Tensions were apparently high at this meeting, and three SPD officers moved toward him — but Johnson waived them off.

Thompson's arraignment is scheduled for Friday, September 23, at 1:30 p.m.

There is precedent for convictions involving attacks on public officials with pie. In 1999, three protesters were convicted of battery for hitting then-S.F. Mayor Willie Brown with pies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sex Worker Advocates Say Oakland's ReportJohn.org Prostitution Snitch Web Site Does More Harm Than Good

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 6:07 PM

Last week, the Alameda County District Attorney's office and the City of Oakland unveiled ReportJohn.org, a web site for ratting on suspected sex-worker clients to the Oakland police. Users can snap photographs of people or vehicles suspected of solicitation and send them instantly from their cell phones. The police then use this information to generate and mail a "Dear John" letter to the home addresses of people accused of seeking out a sex worker.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the tool, calling it "an example of the collaboration needed to tackle social problems."

But sex workers, human-rights advocates, and civil-liberty watchdogs say the website might do more harm than good.

Tara Burns, a sex worker from Alaska, said the idea behind the website is to target clients, but that "research shows that doing this actually makes conditions much worse for sex workers, and much more dangerous," she explained

Burns said the new website applies the "Nordic Model" of regulation, under which sex workers themselves aren't targeted by law enforcement, but their clients are arrested, criminally charged, and shamed.

According to Burns, when customers are aggressively targeted by law enforcement, it increases the likelihood that sex workers will have to interact with unfamiliar clients or take other risks that expose them to violence.

Cynthia Chandler, a human-rights attorney who lives in San Leandro, called the new website "deplorable," and said the city should take it down.

"This turns neighbors against neighbors and recruits people to become spies for the police," she said. "It’s not healthy for these communities."

The attorney said the website will likely have a negative impact on lower-income people and non-white sex workers. "When it comes to people who work on the street, it's disproportionately people working for economic survival, who don't have resources to work indoors, and they’re disproportionately going to be people of color," she said.
Chandler added that the website also could defame innocent civilians. "If you're living in an economically depressed community and you go up to a car your friend is driving to chat with them, you run the risk of being reported through this program," she said.

ReportJohn.org is just the latest attempt in OPD and Alameda County DA's effort to identify and eliminate sex-industry clients, especially those who solicit on "The Tracks" — outdoor locations such as East 14th Street from the San Antonio neighborhood to the San Leandro border.

In 2013, OPD asked residents and business owners in The Tracks to fill out forms anytime they suspected someone of soliciting. Based on these reports, OPD sent "Dear John" letters to the registered addresses of vehicle owners warning them that their car was spotted in an area known for prostitution.

Oakland police captain Ricardo Orozco helped start the Dear John program. After he retired in 2015, Orozco was hired as an inspector by Alameda DA — but he was subsequently fired after being identified as one of the officers who allegedly solicited sex from the exploited teenager "Celeste Guap."

Other Oakland cops have been implicated in incidents where sex workers were exploited.

A "Dear John" report form submitted to the Oakland police in 2014.
  • A "Dear John" report form submitted to the Oakland police in 2014.
In 2014, the Express obtained copies of Oakland's Dear John reports and Dear John letters, which included the un-redacted license plate numbers of vehicles accused of being involved in purchasing sex, as well as descriptions of suspected johns and sex workers. The Oakland police have also publicly released license plate numbers in reports, even though the owner of the vehicle wasn’t convicted of a crime in many instances.

It's unclear what privacy protections will be used when transmitting the ReportJohn.org reports, or when handling the data gathered by the new website.

Brian Hofer, chairman of Oakland's Privacy Commission, said the program could lead to civil-rights and due-process violations for those accused of solicitation.

"I understand the intent to reduce demand," Hofer said. "But there are no studies that show this public-shaming method works to achieve that goal."

Burns said the website also could be misused. "There’s definitely a lot of room for people who are just angry at someone else to use that website to report them," she said.

Part of the reason some Oaklanders object to the sex-work industry is that many customers drive in from outside of the city in search of services. According to data collected by OPD, of the 163 "johns" arrested in 2015, 118 of them live outside of Oakland. In 2016, 52 of the 82 arrested johns were not Oakland residents.

Even the mayor stated that a priority is to prevent outsiders from cruising in Oakland. "We know we have a long way to go, but ReportJohn.org will allow us to let sex buyers know that it is not acceptable to come to our city to purchase sex," Mayor Schaaf said in a press statement last week.

Lt. Jill Encinias of OPD told The New York Times last week that reporting johns will reduce the number of customers seeking sex in Oakland: "We really need to attack this problem from all sides. We need to start focusing on the demand."
The website is part of a larger CEASE Initiative (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation), a nationwide campaign to reduce demand for commercial sex, which was endorsed by the Oakland City Council last year. To join the CEASE, cities such as Oakland also ratified a statement that claimed that "the illegal commercial sex industry is inherently harmful" and that "holding buyers accountable is essential to change cultural behaviors and norms."

But the department's own data shows that the people most impacted by Oakland's enforcement strategy are adult female sex workers, not their clients.

In 2015, Oakland made 660 arrests in sting operations targeting the sex-work industry — 429, or 65 percent, were adult women.

OPD, the Alameda County DA, and other regional law-enforcement agencies also have branded operations targeting sex workers as "human trafficking intervention." These agencies claim today that their primary focus is rescuing commercially exploited minors and punishing pimps.

Even so, law-enforcement data shows that adult female sex workers are the most frequently arrested group, followed by their adult male clients. Pimps are rarely arrested and successfully prosecuted, and rescued juveniles make up a small number of the people that officers encounter during vice operations.

So far this year, adult women comprised 305 of the 454 people arrested by OPD during "human trafficking intervention efforts." Adult johns make up another 25 percent. Only twelve pimps have been arrested, while just thirty minors were rescued.

Chandler said the best way to reduce the number of sexually exploited children, and the number of adults working in the sex industry, is not to spy on them and their clients, or threaten them with public shaming, but instead to provide workers with other opportunities to earn a living.

"We need to think about systemic solutions," she said. "If there are people on the street being exploited, or who aren't [consenting] to engage in sex work, they need more economic opportunities, more education, housing, and their basic needs fulfilled.

"We need to stop wasting our time on efforts like these."

Monday, September 19, 2016

Town Business: New Renter Protections; New Privacy Commissioners; Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 7:05 AM

New Renter Protections: The really big proposals to change Oakland's landlord tenant laws are on the November ballot as Measure JJ, the "Renter Protection Act." We'll write more about this before you go to the polls.

In the meantime, several city council members are trying to tweak some of Oakland's housing laws. On Tuesday night Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Abel Guillen's package of landlord-tenant laws is up for discussion. The three councilmembers are proposing the following:

1. Requiring landlords who move into a two or three unit apartment building to prove they've lived there for at least two years before they can exempt their building from rent control. Currently it's one year. This is an important shift because owner move-in evictions are sometimes used by landlords to remove tenants who are otherwise protected by rent control and just cause. After getting rid of the older tenants, a landlord can increase rent on the units by as much as they want.

2. Require landlords who want to increase rent by more than the consumer price index-adjusted amount to petition the rent board for permission to do so. Currently landlords can do whatever they want, and it's up to a tenant to know their rights and file a petition within 60 days if they think their landlord has increased their rent by more than the allowable amount which is set each year by the rent board, and which can only be exceeded under special circumstances. The new rules being proposed by Kalb, McElhaney, and Guillen would also increase the amount of time a tenant has to petition the rent board from 60 to 90 days.

The councilmembers’ proposal would also prevent landlords from "gold-plating" housing units with fancy, unnecessary improvements to drive up the rental price, and require that landlords spread the costs of capital improvements over the useful life of the improvement, rather than pass the expense on in one or several large rent increases.

New Privacy Commissioners: Mayor Libby Schaaf and Councilmember Larry Reid are each making an appointment to the Oakland Privacy Commission.

Schaaf's appointee is UC Berkeley Associate Professor at the School of Information Deirdre Mulligan. With a degree from Georgetown University, dozens of publications, roles advising global companies like Intel and Microsoft, Mulligan is a heavy hitter in some of the exact fields that the city's new privacy commission will have to grapple with.

Reid's appointee is Robert Oliver, an executive of two companies that run residential treatment programs. Oliver also used to work as an Oakland police officer and is knowledgeable about the department.

Standing Rock Sioux: The Standing Rock Sioux have been leading a fight against the construction of a 1,100 mile oil pipeline that will cross 209 rivers and creeks, and impact sacred tribal territory. The City of Oakland is offering the Standing Rock Sioux its official support. 

"The City of Oakland, which sits on native lands of the Ohlone Tribe, continues to appreciate diversity of its community, their culture, and beliefs," reads a staff report accompanying the resolution. Oakland's resolution supporting the Standing Rock Sioux would notify the federal government that the city doesn't want the Dakota Access Pipeline built.

The Oakland City Council recently banned the storage and handling of coal inside the city, and has previously passed resolutions against oil trains and other fossil fuels projects.

Correction: the original version of this story stated that the Oakland city council stripped the gold-plating and useful life capital improvement cost sections from the ordinance they’re considering tomorrow. The council in fact retained these parts of the legislation. Also, the council will vote on a requirement that landlords petition to increase rent above the CPI-adjusted amount, not above five percent.

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