Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hacking Oakland's Budget

by Ellen Cushing
Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Remember Azeen's (awesome) story from a few months ago about how civic-minded hackers are using data to try to fix some of Oakland's stubbornest problems? WELL, a new project that aims to use data visualization to give average people the tools they need to understand — and, in turn, get involved with — Oakland's budgeting process, just went live a few days ago (in beta at least) and it's pretty sweet.

According to Adam Stiles, a member of the small, all-volunteer group working on the project, dubbed Open Budget Oakland, the first germ of the idea came at a hackathon last July, when Shawn McDougal, a UC Berkeley math teacher and community organizer, pitched the idea. From there, it snowballed into a full-blown website and civic project — one with legitimate buy-in from the city, no less: Stiles and the rest of the team will present the site at tonight's City Council meeting, at the request of city officials.

An Open Budget Oakland visualization of the Mayors proposed spending for 2013-15.
  • An Open Budget Oakland visualization of the Mayor's proposed spending for 2013-15.

"Shawn saw a need, which is that people have very little understanding of the city's budget," Stiles said. "In the interest of getting people involved in local politics, we tried to visualize the city's budget. And we realized that the only way to understand it was in a 300-page PDF. Even for people like us, who are really interested in this stuff, it's not easy." The budget, at least as it emerges from City Hall, isn't easily searchable or visualizable; the format isn't particularly conducive to making comparisons between various slices of expenditures. At first, the hackathon team built a simple pie chart; after that, though, they — along with city staffer Bradley Johnson, and in collaboration with the Code for America brigade Open Oakland — began meeting weekly to take the project further. And last week, when Mayor Quan proposed the city's 2013-15 budget, the Open Budget Oakland team produced several data visualizations in the space of a few hours.

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Tuesday Must Reads: Oakland Unions Denounce Quan’s Proposal; DeSaulnier Schedules Hearing on Bay Bridge Bolt Scandal

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 6:56 AM

News stories that East Bay progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t miss:

1. Oakland’s public employee unions are protesting a contract proposal by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan that would require them to pay a higher share of rising healthcare and pension costs, while cutting some sick-leave benefits, the Chron$ reports. Quan’s proposal also calls for the elimination of fifteen unpaid furlough days, but unions are demanding no more concessions after several years of givebacks to the city. The city is in better financial shape now because of the recovering economy, but as the Express previously noted, Quan is proposing to steer $24 million in new expected tax revenues to the police department in the next two years to hire more cops.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Must Reads: Bay Bridge Bolt Scandal Widens; Berkeley to Consider Raising Minimum Wage

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 6:54 AM

News stories that East Bay progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t miss:

1. Caltrans officials circumvented the agency’s own regulations, along with state and federal standards, when establishing specifications for the giant bolts that snapped on the Bay Bridge, the Chron$ reports. As a result, the huge bolts were made to be too hard and then broke because they were brittle. So far, 32 bolts have snapped, but there are a total of 1,200 pieces on the new bridge that are at risk of breaking as well. One expert told the newspaper that Caltrans’ jury-rigged system for designing bolts was, at minimum, “irresponsible,” and possibly fraudulent.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Marcie Hodge’s Very Bad Day

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Former Peralta colleges trustee Marcie Hodge had a very bad day on Thursday, as a pair of legal rulings made clear that her unsuccessful run for mayor of Oakland in 2010 was ill-considered. First, the state’s primary political watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission, voted unanimously to fine her $5,000 for violating campaign election laws during the 2010 mayor’s race. And then, a few hours later, a three-judge appellate panel released a unanimous decision against her. The appellate court denied her appeal of lower court’s decision to toss a libel suit she had filed against the Express, concerning its coverage of her 2010 mayoral campaign.

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Friday Must Reads: Brown Admin. Official Admits Water Tunnels Won’t Save Delta; Brown Urges Feds to Fast-Track Tunnels Despite Concerns They Will Harm Fish

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 6:56 AM

News stories that East Bay environmentalists and progressives shouldn’t miss:

1. A top official in the Brown administration has admitted that the governor’s controversial plan to build two giant water tunnels in the Sacramento area won’t help save the collapsing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the LA Times$ reports. Congressional Democrats, who strongly question the multi-billion-dollar tunnel plan, have responded to the comments made by Jerry Meral, deputy director of the state Natural Resources Agency, by demanding that he resign. Meral’s comments also directly contradict claims made by Brown that his plan would help save the Delta. Many environmentalists believe the real reason Brown wants the tunnels is to send more freshwater to Southern California.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lacking Police Presence, Oakland Residents Take Control of Their Streets

by Kyung-Jin Lee
Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM

A couple of years ago, Sonny Le and his five-year-old son were approaching their front gate in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood after school when Le saw two men running towards them.

“One was trying to go behind us — the maneuver trying to corral your prey, basically,” he says. “The other one started coming right at me, at us. He put his hoodie on. It was like, OK, these kids gonna rob us.”

His fatherly instincts kicked in as the young men approached.

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SF Examiner Co-Owners Buy A Portion of Leading LGBT Publication

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Todd Vogt and Pat Brown, who operate the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the SF Weekly, are purchasing a 49 percent stake in the Bay Area Reporter, the region’s leading LGBT publication, according to a report in the Bay Area Reporter. Under the deal, the current owner of the Bay Area Reporter, the Bob Ross Foundation, along with the paper’s general manager, Michael Yamashita, will own a 51 percent stake in the paper and will control its editorial direction.

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Thursday Must Reads: Brown Pushes for More Funding for Low-Income Students; Oakland School Board Member Gary Yee Becomes Superintendent

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 6:58 AM

News stories that East Bay progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t miss:

1. Governor Jerry Brown vowed to fiercely battle for more funding for K-12 schools in low-income areas of the state, calling it his “cause” of 2013, the LA Times$ reports. Brown wants to steer $2 billion toward educating low-income students, but some legislative Democrats want to spread the money around the state, a move that the governor argued would be unfair to the schools that need the money the most. "If people are going to fight it,” he said of his plan, “they're going to get the battle of their lives. Everything we have to bear in this battle, we're bringing it."

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The United States of Debt

by Jen Chien
Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Upon entering the Eastside Arts Alliance in East Oakland, it’s clear that this a special kind of conference. On the welcome table is a stack of name tag stickers, the kind that usually read “Hello, My Name Is…” But these stickers read: “Hello, My DEBT Is…”

These badges are stuck onto the shirts of many of the seventy-some people here, filled in with dollar amounts or words like “terrifying.” They’re participating in something called a Debtors' Assembly. It’s organized by Strike Debt Bay Area, the local chapter of a larger movement that came out of Occupy Wall Street.

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Wednesday Must Reads: Expert Warns that More Bridge Bolts Will Snap; US Postal Service Decides to Sell Historic Berkeley Post Office

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 6:58 AM

News stories that East Bay progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t miss:

1. A respected longtime metallurgist has concluded that more giant bolts on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge will likely snap in the years ahead and that Caltrans should replace them, the CoCo Times reports. Yun Chung, who specializes in high-strength steel analysis and was a longtime engineer for Bechtel, also blamed CalTrans for the fact that more than thirty of the massive bolts, which are designed to help the new bridge withstand a major earthquake, have already failed — rather than the bolt supplier Dyson Corporation of Ohio. However, it’s unclear whether CalTrans can replace the big bolts as Chung recommends because the bridge’s roadbed has already been installed.

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