News & Notes 

Super Sunday, super subsidy, super supporters

Not now, theyre playing: There are certain holidays that wise politicos don't dare compete with: Thanksgiving, Christmas, The Super Bowl. But leave it to those crazy kids from Berkeley Citizens Action to defy convention and hold their candidate-endorsement meeting the afternoon of the National Sports Holy Day. The poor scheduling choice prompted one old-time local lefty to grumble, "What kind of organization holds its goddamn endorsement meeting during the Super Bowl?" BCA treasurer Jay Scharlin said the steering committee chose the date a month ago. "We didn't even think of the Super Bowl," Scharlin conceded. "I guess there might have been more people if the Super Bowl wasn't on."

Nonetheless, Scharlin boasted, 75-plus diehards turned up at the North Berkeley Senior Center to watch the contact sport known as Berkeley politics. The marquee matchup was between former Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock and El Cerrito attorney Charles Ramsey for the 14th Assembly District seat being vacated by Dion Aroner because of term limits. Hancock clearly enjoyed the home-field advantage -- so much so that Ramsey left in disgust before a vote was even cast. Tenant advocate Jay Koslofsky and rent boarder Paul Hogarth blitzed Ramsey and questioned whether he was really a "progressive," as he had claimed. Koslofsky, in particular, got under Ramsey's skin by reminding the counselor of his work playing hardball with low-income tenants. During Koslofsky's assault, Ramsey reportedly interrupted, "Do you have a question?" Ramsey stormed off shortly thereafter, witnesses said (okay, 7 Days was home watching football). Not surprisingly, Hancock got the endorsement.

Reached on his phone after the festivities, Ramsey protested the shabby treatment he'd received, and insisted that a lot of the tenants he evicts for his landlord clients are deadbeats, drug dealers, and subsidized-housing cheats. "If somebody doesn't pay six months of rent," he said, "what are you supposed to do?"

After exiting the BCA bash, Ramsey let off some steam by walking a few precincts. We're sure prospective voters were simply delighted to see a politician standing at their doorstep during one of the most exciting games in Super Bowl history.

Sellers remorse: Once upon a time, back when Oakland officials had to work hard to lure developers to the downtown, they offered Philadelphia-based Keating Housing Initiatives a $1 million subsidy to build 98 condos at Old Town Square. Keating was hailed as heroic for daring to take on the pedestrian-free downtown, and its development opened in 1998. Building an additional 81 units at the Housewives Market site was supposed to be Phase Two of Keating's deal. No one yet imagined that within a year the local economy would overheat, or that soon we'd all be fixating on "" this and "10K" that. By 1999, city officials decided it was time to nix the subsidies.

So the Housewives site was earmarked as one of four city-owned land parcels that were to be sold off to private developers for the construction of market-rate housing as part of Jerry Brown's 10K plan. Together with the Forest City Enterprises project farther uptown, these sites were supposed to host housing for about half of the 10,000 people the mayor intended to bring downtown. The city reneged on its subsidy deal with Keating -- which launched a $1.8 million suit -- and instead gave the Housewives site over to San Francisco-based A.F. Evans, which is planning to build 202 units there, some of which are expected to sell for as much as $380,000. Then the economy cooled as quickly as it had warmed. Today, only one of those four city-owned sites has broken ground. The Forest City project seems to have stalled, and Evans has had trouble finding financial backers for the Housewives Market development.

What irony then that last week, just as the city agreed to pay Keating a $195,000 settlement, Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency was preparing to ask the City Council to give Evans what essentially amounts to a subsidy -- albeit in a very roundabout way.

According to the agency's draft resolution, the city would spend nearly $4 million on the Housewives site. An initial $2.3 million would be used as a loan to A.F. Evans, to be repaid once the condos sell. The remaining $1.7 million would go to finance second mortgages for first-time home buyers interested in one of the fourteen units set aside as "affordable" housing for median-income households. The bottom line is that the city extricated itself from the Keating subsidy at great expense, only to end up proposing an even costlier deal three years later. The council will vote on the matter in March.

Elissa Dennis of East Bay Housing Organizations said the city is not calling the largesse a "subsidy" so as to avoid having to pay prevailing wages to construction workers or hire primarily in Oakland. "They're being very crafty," Dennis says. Nor is she convinced that putting all that city money into only fourteen units will do much to benefit moderate-income home buyers. "They're couching that in the rhetoric of affordable housing, but it's not about affordable housing," she says. "It's about an effort to salvage a piece of the languishing 10K plan." In fact, it may just end up being a useful marketing tool for Evans, by allowing the company to show skittish prospective homebuyers that at least fourteen of the units already have buyers. Of course, East Bay Housing Organizations has a bit of a point to prove. Although the city was adamantly anti-subsidy at the time, in 1999 the group submitted a development proposal for the Housewives site outlining how Oakland could use slightly more than $4 million in city funds to build 125 apartments targeted at households earning thirty to sixty percent of the city's median income.

Do the math. How many homes would you rather build with your $4 million: fourteen or 125?

David, Freed: After nine months of vigilant fund-raising and hand-wringing, friends of David Muscadine celebrated the former gang member's release from jail January 15. Muscadine, the subject of a 2001 Express cover story ("You Can't Change the Streets," July 15), was arrested last May and charged with murdering a rival gang member, 15-year-old Jaime Ochoa, inside a Fruitvale pizza parlor. Oakland police believed Muscadine slit Ochoa's throat to retaliate for the slaying of Muscadine's older brother, Joe. After Joe's death, however, the 17-year-old Muscadine had dropped his gang affiliation and worked with the Oakland Unification Project, a street-level nonprofit group devoted to lifting kids out of the gang life. Muscadine's sudden arrest for a gang hit shocked his family and colleagues, and set off a "Free David" campaign.

"We were concerned the Oakland police were continuing the pattern of criminalizing gang members," said Favianna Rodriguez, a youth organizer who led Muscadine's effort. "We've seen young gang members get accused of crimes for things they haven't done, and we've seen them get brutalized in the interrogation process. David was trying to change things after Joe died, and because he was trying to change things, if we were going to fight for anyone's release it was going to be David's."

Despite being exonerated by the Oakland DA, Muscadine is on probation through March. Police declined to discuss the case.

Muscadine's supporters raised $20,000 to hire San Francisco attorney Douglas Horngard, whose private investigator compiled several eyewitness reports that placed Muscadine outside the scene of the crime. "The information established that someone other than David was the killer," Horngard said. "Whether or not law enforcement is making any efforts to track that person down, I don't know."

Meanwhile, Muscadine is integrating slowly back into his community. After probation, he's set to return to the Unification Project.

"Things are still the same on the street," Muscadine said. "But now I look at life a lot more serious. And I now know there's people in jail for murder who didn't do it. I was one of them."


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