Thursday, January 19, 2017

Oakland Raiders Officially File To Move To Las Vegas

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf responds.

by Nick Miller
Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 10:45 AM

The Oakland Raiders' getaway to Sin City just rolled double-seven this morning:
That's a Tweet from a Clark County commissioner, confirming that the Raiders have filed for relocation well in advance of next month's deadline.
And that's the NFL confirming the news.

Next, owners will vote in March on the plan, which now involves Goldman Sachs helping finance the new Las Vegas stadium, in lieu of billionaire GOP benefactor Sheldon Adelson.

Does this mean that the Mayor Libby Schaaf-Ronnie Lott plan to keep the team in East Oakland is belly-up? I've seen far weirder developments in the world of pro-sports and public subsidies — but it doesn't look good for the Silver and Black in the Bay.

Yesterday afternoon, Schaaf issues an statement on the Raiders latest move:
"It’s no surprise that the Raiders have filed for relocation. Oakland welcomes the chance to show them and the NFL’s other owners why Oakland is the only home for the Raiders and always will be.

“Our winning team of the Lott Group, the County and my colleagues on the Oakland City Council has accomplished so much in the last few months. We’ve identified the mechanisms to responsibly finance public infrastructure improvements, we have in the Lott Group a private partner prepared to finance stadium construction, and we have an entitled site for a world-class NFL stadium and new development that enhances fan experience while invigorating East Oakland's economy.

“But this isn’t all Oakland has to offer. Oakland’s Raiders stadium will be on the most transit-accessible site in the nation, in the sixth largest television market, and in one of the wealthiest and most innovative regions in the world. But above all else, Oakland has something no other city ever will — a die-hard fan base that is loyal and true to the Raiders and wants to see them stay here in Oakland where they were founded. Only Oakland brings the Raiders and the NFL a competitive stadium proposal, along with legacy and loyalty.

“I look forward to the League giving our team a chance to compete."

SF Chronicle Editor Bans Newsroom Staff From Attending Saturday's Women's March

Violating the paper's ethics policy is 'a potential firing offense.'

by Nick Miller
Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 10:34 AM

A UC Berkeley alumni magazine is reporting that the San Francisco Chronicle's editor sent an email prohibiting newsroom staff from attending this Saturday's Women's March.

Maria Gaura of California Magazine reported in-depth on the email, in which Chron Editor-in-Chief Audrey Cooper wrote that “No newsroom employee, regardless of job function or title, can participate in political demonstrations of any sort. ... This is effective immediately.”

Gaura noted that violating the paper's ethics policy is "a potential firing offense."

The editor did not respond to Gaura's request to discuss the email or the Chron's policy, but Cooper did send a written statement, part of which included: “Certainly, ethical discussions always involve shades of gray. My job is to help our newsroom serve our readers and the public by providing fair and accurate news coverage. That includes helping us avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.”

Gaura also reported that KQED and the Bay Area News Group have not prohibited editorial staffers from attending Saturday's events.


As a newsroom editor going on fifteen years, I of course have some strong opinions about Cooper's email.

Most editors will agree that ethics policies are critical. We don't want writers fabricating quotes. We don't want photographers crossing the line with the manipulation of pictures. We especially don't want the City Hall reporters canvassing for a candidate during election season or organizing protests.

But I would argue that traditional media's concepts of impartiality often are more than simply antiquated — they even fuel declines in readership.

Readers want and embrace insight, and — forbid! — opinion from reporters and editors. Such perspective is an essential ingredient at alternative-weekly papers, of which there are more than 125 in this country. Editorial staffers at these papers understand that impartiality and fairness are not the same thing — and readers welcome this sophisticated, sensible, real-talk approach to news-gathering.

Telling reporters not to attend the Women's March — especially when these very staffers attend other "political" events such as Pride — isn't an ethics policy. It's not commonsense. It's smoke-and-mirrors — and it's insulting to readers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Should Oakland Unified, UC System Cancel School on Friday Because of Trump Protests?

by Brian Krans
Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 9:41 AM

Bryan Montano, center, holds a sign outside of Oakland City Hall on Tuesday evening at a press conference. The activists urged the school board to close schools on Friday, inauguration day, since so many students plan to skip class and protest Trump.
  • Bryan Montano, center, holds a sign outside of Oakland City Hall on Tuesday evening at a press conference. The activists urged the school board to close schools on Friday, inauguration day, since so many students plan to skip class and protest Trump.

Close schools, leave work, and hit the streets — that’s what some activist groups want the schedule to be for Friday.

A handful of students and teachers urged Oakland Unified — as well as other school districts and the University of California system — to shut down schools on Friday, in support of those who oppose the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump.

They argued that everyone should by joining strikes, coordinated across the country, and they decried Trump's statements regarding, among other things, public education, deportation, a Muslim registry, and women's and immigrant's rights.

Yvette Falarca, a teacher and national organizer for BAMN — a group that wants the removal of Trump “By Any Means Necessary” — called for a “shutdown of the Bay Area” by asking people to not go to school or work on January 20.

“Future generations are on the line,” she said at a press conference in front of Oakland’s City Hall Tuesday evening.

Bryan Montano, a fifth-grader at East Oakland Pride Elementary, fears some of his family may be at risk of deportation under Trump. Skipping school Friday to protest instead would show Trump “we won’t work for him if he keeps saying mean stuff.”

“If we don’t fight, it’ll only get worse,” he said.

A Facebook event page for daylong protests in Oakland has 2,600 people interested in attending, as of Tuesday night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oakland City Council Questions Need for Court-Appointed Police Monitor, Delays Renewing Contracts

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 10:52 PM

Councilmember Desley Brooks was critical of the court-appointed monitor's work.
  • Councilmember Desley Brooks was critical of the court-appointed monitor's work.
In a surprise move, the Oakland City Council voted Tuesday night not to renew two contracts with the court-appointed monitor and compliance director who oversees the city's troubled police department.

The agreements – one with Police Performance Solutions and another with Warshaw and Associates – were to be renewed for a full year and would have cost Oakland a combined $887,076.

Instead, the council voted to extend the contracts by only two months. The monitor's work and contracts will be reviewed at a future public safety committee meeting before any further extension. The council passed the substitute motion unanimously.

Councilmember Desley Brooks was critical of the contracts and questioned the monitor's contributions to helping the department.

"The reports that have been given lately are cut and paste," she said about the monthly updates written by Police Performance Solutions that are supposed to examine whether the police department has fulfilled different tasks listed in the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, which Oakland entered into in 2003 as a result of the Riders police misconduct scandal.

"We aren't getting any analysis of whether or not the work that is required under the contract is actually being done," she said. "We're just being asked to reauthorize and reauthorize these contracts."

Brooks said an in-depth review at the public safety committee, which she chairs, is necessary.

The reform effort has cost the city tens of millions. Oakland has paid Police Performance Solutions $5,969,320 since 2010, according to city records. And the city has paid an additional $495,000 to Warshaw and Associates since 2014. On top of this, Oakland has spent millions more on legal counsel and contracts with previous monitors and compliance directors in its almost 14 year-long attempt to comply with the NSA.

Both Police Performance Solutions and Warshaw and Associates are owned and operated by Robert Warshaw, a retired police chief from the Rochester Police Department.

Brooks said that despite paying the monitor about a million a year to supervise OPD, the council has been left in the dark about recent police scandals such as the sexual exploitation of the teenager known as Celeste Guap, as well as incidents like the alleged drunken home invasion committed by a rookie cop and his sergeant in 2015. She wondered aloud at the council meeting why the monitor wasn't aware of these incidents earlier also.

"I tend to agree it needs to go to committee," Councilmember Gallo said in concurrence with Brooks. Gallo said the council needs to make sure it is "not just wasting taxpayer dollars."

Jim Chanin, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys in the Riders lawsuit who works with the city and the court on the NSA reforms expressed concern about the council’s move.

"The council needs to recognize that this is not a normal employee but rather an officer of the court," Chanin said about the monitor and compliance director. "Anything they do should hopefully be in close consultation with the court and the plaintiffs attorneys. I hope the city is working with the court on this because it would be a shame to have distractions when we’re so close to compliance."

Councilmember Gibson McElhaney also voiced support for Brooks' motion to subject the monitor's work to greater scrutiny. She added that the recent news of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson's retirement could have an impact on the city's negotiated settlement agreement, and on any future police monitoring contracts.

According to the monitor's status report filed in December, the Oakland police have fulfilled most of the requirements under the NSA except for several crucial tasks such as ensuring internal affairs investigations of officer misconduct are properly carried out.

After news of the sex crime scandal broke last summer, many questioned the apparent progress OPD had made fulfilling the terms of the NSA.

Last year, attorneys Chanin and John Burris said they felt that the sex crime scandal exposed serious shortcomings in OPD's recruitment and training programs and that they were considering asking Judge Henderson to possibly place these OPD functions in court receivership. Since then, Chanin said the department has shown a genuine effort to address shortcomings in these areas.

The city also hired a new police chief earlier this month, Anne Kirkpatrick, who most recently worked on the Chicago Police Department's reform program. And Oakland is set to establish a police commission that will have investigative and disciplinary powers over OPD. How these new leaders and authorities will impact OPD's ability to complete its court reform program remains uncertain.

Monday, January 16, 2017

For MLK Holiday, Activists Tear Down Fence and Take Over Oakland's St. Andrew's Plaza in the Name of 'Black Joy'

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 3:41 PM

When the City of Oakland fenced off St. Andrew's Plaza last year some cheered the closure. A group of neighbors had complained for years that the sliver of land was a magnet for illegal drug use and crime. They imagined its renovation, using a $456,000 grant, would transform the area into a welcoming space for all.

But for other Oaklanders, there was one simple reason the city put a metal barricade around the park: officials wanted to remove poor and homeless people, most of them Black, as a way of gentrifying the neighborhood.

For over a decade now, West Oakland has been losing its Black population as home prices and rents increase due to San Francisco's spillover effect. Homeless camps in the area continue to grow. But developer interest in West Oakland has been sporadic.

In 2015 the city released the West Oakland Specific Plan which calls for building market-rate mid and high-rise apartments and condos along corridors like San Pablo. In fact, the WOSP calls for building mid-rise townhouses that "wrap around the corner at 32nd Street, fronting onto the small adjacent St. Andrews pocket park."

Some Oaklanders see this all as a blueprint for displacement.

The free store.
  • The free store.
Earlier today a group calling itself the Black Land Liberation Initiative cut down the metal fence surrounding the plaza and began serving food. There was music, a "free store" of clothing and shoes, people playing games of chess, and even a massage station.

"They're playing Oakland like a big monopoly board," said Chaga Kwania, one of the organizers with the Black Land Liberation Initiative, about Oakland's current development policies. "A lot of people are being displaced, and there are growing homeless encampments."

A stencil on the sidewalk along San Pablo.
  • A stencil on the sidewalk along San Pablo.
Kwania said the takeover of St. Andrews Plaza is indefinite, and that the group plans to offer food, clothing, music, and camaraderie throughout the coming weeks.

Van  Dell, another organizer of the park takeover, said the city demonized the people who previously used the park, emphasizing only the bad things that happened there while ignoring the good things.

"People gathered here to celebrate, to mourn, to play dominoes and chess, and keep each other company," she said. "That never got mentioned."

She said her group wants to magnify the sounds of "Black joy" and reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

After St. Andrew's Plaza was fenced off, the city held community meetings about its future design.
  • After St. Andrew's Plaza was fenced off, the city held community meetings about its future design.
Nikita Mitchell, another organizer of the action, said St. Andrew's Plaza was a lot of things, some bad, some good, but that the space didn't deserve to be closed off to the community. One of its roles, she said, was as a place of sanctuary for those dealing with economic hardship, mental health problems, and homelessness.

"True development of this area means taking care of these people," she said, rather than building a fence to keep them out.

The Express was unable to reach Oakland city officials for comment.

Town Business: Developers Quietly Lobby to Stall Hearings on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 7:54 AM

  • Bert Johnson
Electric cars are key to California's goals of reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality. But their widespread adoption has been slowed by the lack of charging stations available in commercial parking lots and residential buildings.

Oakland planners want to change the city's building code so that new commercial and residential projects include lots of PEV-ready parking spaces. PEV-ready means installing conduit under a parking lot or garage so wires can be pulled through and charging stations easily installed later on. City planners also want to require a small percentage of parking spaces in new projects be fully wired and include everything but a charging station.

According to city staff, it costs $500 to $1,500 to make each parking space ready for an electric charing station —  a tiny fraction of the total cost of building new housing and commercial projects. And according to city staff, making things PEV-ready at the outset saves thousands of dollars per parking space later because workers don't have to trench new electrical lines.

But for several months, the costs and benefits of these building code changes haven't gotten a public hearing because a developer lobbyist had the item repeatedly pulled from committee hearings so he and other lobbyists could influence the proposal in private meetings.

At the November 15 meeting of the Oakland City Council's Community and Economic Development Committee, the building code update item was withdrawn without explanation. It was reschedule for a December 6 meeting of the same committee, but when that date came around, committee chair Larry Reid withdrew it again, saying only "we're gonna put that item over until the next CEDA committee meeting."

What Reid could have said was that lobbyist Greg McConnell of the Jobs and Housing Coalition had asked that the item be withdrawn. The Jobs and Housing Coalition is a landlord and real estate developer lobbying group led by McConnell.

According to city email records, after McConnell had the item taken off the agenda, he met with Shayna Hirshfield-Gold, the city staffer working on the code updates. McConnell reportedly told her that developers are worried about increasing construction costs, and that one developer even "hates" the proposed code update.

After it was delayed by McConnell, city staff also went out of their way to meet with the Oakland Builders Alliance, which includes some Oakland's largest real estate developers, architects, construction companies, and brokers. McConnell also attended to the OBA meeting which city staff went to, according to city email records.

OBA member Mark McClure, who is a partner with CCIG, wrote in an email that OBA doesn't oppose the building code changes, only that they wanted more information, and that OBA "appreciate[s] the thoughtful process the city staff is following to receive input from various stakeholder groups."

But while OBA is working to influence the new building code, its members don't appear to be following the city's transparency rules regarding lobbying.

While McConnell is currently registered with the city as a lobbyist, McClure and other members of the Oakland Builders Alliance — which include former Planning Commissioner Jim Moore, and current Planning Commissioner Tom Limon — aren't registered, and they aren't disclosing their contacts with city staff.

In fact, the last time OBA members filed lobbying disclosure forms with the city was in 2014.

In response to whether he is currently registered with the city's Public Ethics Commission, McClure wrote in an email that "any communication that has taken place with city councilmembers in the interim has occurred through the standard process of providing stakeholder feedback requested by the city."

But Oakland's Lobbyist Registration Act doesn't have any exemption for "stakeholder feedback requested by the city." The only exception to the law that comes close is Section 3.20.060 (c) which says, anyone invited to give testimony to the city council, or a board or commission, or a hearing officer, doesn't have to register and disclose their activities as a lobbyist.

That doesn't appear to be what happened in this case. What happened is that Greg McConnell lobbied to have the legislation taken off a committee agenda which forced the city staff members who drafted the proposed code changes to meet with McConnell and the Oakland Builder's Alliance in private to get their input.

Last Tuesday, the electric vehicle code item was supposed to be heard, but a shooting on Broadway caused the meeting to be adjourned prematurely, delaying things again.

So now it appears that the item will finally come to committee next week. That is, unless it's quietly withdrawn again so that developers can lobby city staff more behind the scenes.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee To Boycott Trump Inauguration

by Nick Miller
Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 12:40 PM

Rep. Barbara Lee just announced that she will be boycotting Donald Trump's inauguration and related festivities next week.

"I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House," she wrote in a press release earlier today.

The Congresswoman joins Reps. Katherine Clark (or Massachusetts) and Luis Gutierrez (of Illinois) in avoiding Trump's swearing in and celebrations.

Last week, Lee also refused to certify Trump's electoral-college victory.

The following is her complete statement on the boycott:

“Inaugurations are celebratory events, a time to welcome the peaceful transition of power and honor the new administration. On January 20th, I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House.

“Donald Trump ran one of the most divisive and prejudiced campaigns in modern history. He began his campaign by insulting Mexican immigrants, pledging to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and then spent a year and a half denigrating communities of color and normalizing bigotry. He called women ‘pigs’, stoked Islamophobia, and attacked a Gold Star family. He mocked a disabled reporter and appealed to people’s worst instincts. I cannot in good conscience attend an inauguration that would celebrate this divisive approach to governance.

“After the election, many hoped the president-elect would turn toward unifying our country. Instead he has shown us that he will utilize the same tools of division he employed on the campaign trail as our nation’s Commander-in-Chief. We need look no further than the team he is assembling to find signals that the era of Trump will be one of chaos and devastation for our communities.

“The president-elect has named Steve Bannon, a white nationalist as his chief strategist. He has nominated Senator Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General, despite his long career of opposition to civil and human rights. And in perhaps the most damning sign of the chaos to come, the president-elect has expedited the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make America sick again.”

“To make matters worse, after the intelligence community reported Russian interference in our election, Donald Trump frequently and forcefully defended Vladimir Putin. He insulted senior intelligence officials in order to preserve his reputation and disguise the truth. The American people will never forget that when a foreign government violated our democracy, Donald Trump chose the interests of another nation over our own.

“Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Oakland Mayor Schaaf Issues Order Intended to Improve Safety of Unpermitted Housing While Avoiding Displacement

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 4:53 PM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a press conference in December, following the devastating Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people.
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a press conference in December, following the devastating Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 people.
Acknowledging that in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire some property owners have evicted residents of warehouses and other unpermitted living spaces for fear of legal liability, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf today issued an executive order meant to help landlords bring buildings up to code, while hopefully avoiding displacement of tenants.

In recent weeks there have been numerous reports of tenants being evicted from warehouses and other unpermitted types of housing across the East Bay. Other arts and culture spaces, where people don't live, have also been targeted for strict code and zoning enforcement.

Some in the arts community have responded to these stepped up code enforcement efforts by burrowing further underground into hidden spaces, hoping city inspectors and landlords won't find them. Others have tried to raise money and donate materials and know-how to make unpermitted spaces safer. And still others have called on cities to issue a moratorium on evictions and pass other legislation that would prevent displacement.

Schaaf's executive order states that if unpermitted housing is identified by the city, the landlord will be made to enter into a 60-day compliance plan that includes:
  • Fixing building code violations;
  • Obtaining zoning changes, if necessary, to legalize housing;
  • Proving landlords and tenants with information about their rights under Oakland's just cause for eviction and rent adjustment laws;
  • Providing residents with notice five-days before inspections prompted by complaints that weren't made by the tenants, except in cases where there are immediate threats to life and safety.
Her order states that city building inspectors shall "generally work in the spirit of cooperation with property owners, tenants and master lessors to correct code violations that are not deemed to be an imminent life safety risk[.]"

Schaaf's order also calls for convening a Special Event Permits System Redesign group in order to revamp Oakland's much-criticized system for permitting music and performances. According to artists, Oakland and other cities in the Bay Area have bureaucratic and expensive requirements that drive performers into underground, and sometimes dangerous live/work venues.

Schaaf's order comes a day after the city council's Community and Economic Development Committee was supposed to hear a proposal from Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan to increase relocation assistance paid to tenants displaced due to code enforcement activities. That proposal was delayed, however, when a gunfight on Broadway interrupted the committee meeting.

The Oakland Warehouse Coalition, a tenants advocacy group, is pushing the council to consider an eviction moratorium from all types of housing due to code violations.

The full list of tasks included in Schaaf's executive order can be viewed here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gunfight on Broadway Interrupts Oakland Council Committee Meeting

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 4:38 PM

There was a tense standoff between renters and landlords inside Oakland City Hall today as a council committee hashed out changes to rent control laws. Just across Broadway from City Hall, a gun battle erupted.

The council's Community and Economic Development committee adjourned its first meeting of the new year early, without hearing several important matters, as councilmembers ventured outside to view the crime scene and check on loved ones nearby.

Over a dozen Oakland police officers and firefighters swarmed the intersection and closed off the blocks of Broadway between 13th and 14th Street, and 14th Street between Broadway and Franklin to search for evidence.

According to several witnesses, much of the gunfire came from a vehicle and was directed at several men who were on the sidewalk. Several bus stops had glass panels shot out.

According to OPD, there are two victims. One was hit in the hip by a bullet. It's unclear whether their wounds are life threatening.

The shooting interrupted a committee meeting that was supposed to include important changes to Oakland's existing rent control law that must take effect before a February 2 deadline, as well as a hearing on a proposal to increase financial assistance for tenants displaced due to code enforcement activities.

These items will instead be heard at the next committee meeting in two weeks.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Town Business: Increasing Financial Aid for Renters Displaced Due to Code Enforcement

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 6:43 AM

More Money for Renters Displaced Because of Code Enforcement: Currently, Oakland renters who are displaced because city building inspectors deem their homes hazardously noncompliant with building codes are eligible for relocation assistance. This takes the form of money paid by their landlord. But it's not a lot.

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