Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Better Way to Get Answers from the City

by Vanessa Rancaño
Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Anyone who’s tried to use the City of Oakland’s website knows it's something like this clip from 1986's Labyrinth, in which Jennifer Connelly seeks answers from a senile Muppet who speaks entirely in ridiculous platitudes and non sequiturs: The search function is basically useless and information isn’t organized intuitively for layfolk.

Enter Oakland Answers, a new website dedicated to answering citizen’s questions about city services. It’s the latest collaboration between the city and OpenOakland, a team of civic-minded hackers associated with Code for America — the same people who helped launch the city’s open data website.

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Tuesday Must Reads: Oakland Goes Green to Fight Crime; State to Nearly Triple the Number of Refinery Inspectors

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 6:51 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Oakland has begun to replace all 30,000 streetlights in the city with energy-efficient LED bulbs that also could help lower the city’s crime rate because they improve nighttime visibility, the Chron$ reports. The LED lights are 40 percent to 60 percent more efficient than traditional high-pressure sodium bulbs, and city staffers say the energy savings will not only finance the $14.4 million project, but also will save the city an additional $7.7 million over fifteen years. The city also will receive a $2.9 million rebate from PG&E. In addition, city leaders hope that better lighting will result in less crime on Oakland streets.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Must Reads: Big Oil and Gas Defeat Fracking Bills; Governor Brown and Legislature Eviscerate Public Records Law

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The state legislature killed nearly all legislation introduced this year to regulate fracking after Big Oil and Gas companies flooded Sacramento with campaign contributions, the LA Times$ reports, citing data compiled by the Berkeley-based Maplight.org. Big Oil and Gas donated at least $464,000 and outspent fracking opponents by a 7-1 margin. Although polls show that a majority of Californians support a moratorium on fracking, eleven of twelve bills designed to regulate the controversial oil and gas extraction method went down to defeat and the only one left is a weak, watered-down bill. Politicians who voted against the fracking bills received 31 times the amount of donations from Big Oil and Gas as they did from groups that want to regulate fracking.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Must Reads: Bay Bridge Contractor to Get Big Bonus if Span Opens on Time; Alameda County Median Home Price Tops $500,000

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Jun 14, 2013 at 7:04 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises, the contractor building the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, stands to receive a $20 million bonus if the bridge opens on time on Labor Day, the CoCo Times reports. The huge incentive is worrying some lawmakers who question whether it will drive a rush to completion. The bridge has been plagued with construction defects, including broken bolts and bad welds.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Daniel Ellsberg on PRISM: We're "a Turnkey Away from Tyranny"

by Elly Schmidt-Hopper
Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 9:54 AM

Daniel Ellsberg and a panel of legal and political experts warned an overflowing crowd at St. John's Church in Berkeley on Tuesday night that American civil liberties are in jeopardy.

The consensus of the (well-timed) panel — which, in addition to Ellsberg, included legal activist Nadia Kayyali, journalist Norman Solomon, and Icelandic Parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir— was that the government's recent collection of American citizens' phone records is unconstitutional. And we should all be concerned.

Ellsberg, who rose to fame in 1971 when he turned over the infamous Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, pulled no punches. He said that Edward Snowden's recent leak — which revealed that the National Security Agency has been collecting Americans' data for years — is the most important in United States history, and that the government's sweeping access to our metadata leaves us “a turnkey away from tyranny.”

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Thursday Must Reads: Oakland Budget Battles Heat Up; Mayor Quan’s Chief of Staff Appointed to School Board

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. The Oakland City Council will consider competing budget proposals at a hearing today at City Hall that will ultimately determine whether the city will further civilianize its police force or provide raises to non-sworn employees. A plan authored by Council President Pat Kernighan that’s backed by Councilwoman Libby Schaaf and Mayor Jean Quan would add five civilian police dispatchers and ten civilian evidence technicians to help the police department solve crimes. But a competing proposal from Councilmembers Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, and Noel Gallo would instead fund pay increases for civilian employees citywide, the Chron$ reports. The city’s budget director, however, has said that the Reid, Brooks, and Gallo plan will cause a $9 million shortfall because it fails to properly account for the proposed raises.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday Must Reads: East Bay MUD Approves Huge Rate Hikes; Oakland Teachers Reach Tentative Deal for Pay Raises

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. East Bay MUD board members approved huge rate hikes on water and sewer services, saying that the public agency needs the money to pay for maintenance and repair costs, the CoCo Times reports. The board raised water rates by 9.75 percent effective July 1, with another rate hike of 9.5 percent kicking in later this year. The board also raised sewer service rates by 8 percent this year and 9 percent next year.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday Must Reads: Oakland Schools to Get More Money from State Budget; Apple Agrees to Put Kill Switch in iPhones

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 6:49 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. Oakland public schools will receive a funding boost next year under a budget deal reached by Governor Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders yesterday. The Mercury News reports that the deal includes the governor’s proposal to direct more money to schools — like those in Oakland — with high numbers of students from low-income families. The deal also calls for increased spending on social service programs for the poor — a provision that state Democratic lawmakers had pushed for.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Trayvon Martin Remembered in Oakland

by Madeleine Thomas
Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:07 PM

A march in remembrance of Trayvon Martin began at 3:30 today in the Fruitvale district as part of National Hoodie Day. Today marks the start of the Florida trial of George Zimmerman, the man charged with shooting Martin, 17, last February.

The rally started at the Fruitvale BART station — the same location where Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009. Like Martin, Grant was also unarmed at the time he was shot. Although Mehserle argued that he meant to fire his Taser at Grant instead of his gun, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Zimmerman has admitted to shooting Martin, but he claims it was in self-defense. He is currently charged with second-degree murder.

D’Andre Teeter of the Bay Area chapter of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network said the cases have significant parallels.
“The Oscar Grant case is particularly important, because just like Trayvon Martin, Mehserle would not have been arrested or charged if not for the tremendous outpouring of anger around the country."

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Monday Must Reads: Proposed Oakland Budget Would Cause $9 Million Shortfall; Feinstein Calls for Leak Probe of NSA Spying

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 6:48 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. A proposed budget by three Oakland city councilmembers would result in an $8.7 million shortfall, according to a report from the city’s budget director, the Trib reports. The budget proposal by Councilmembers Larry Reid, Desley Brooks, and Noel Gallo would cause a gaping hole in the budget because it underestimates the costs of a proposed 3 percent raise for civilian employees. Budget Director Donna Hom also said a competing budget proposal from Council President Pat Kernighan, which includes no raises, would result in a small surplus.

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