Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Amid Calls to 'Defund' Oakland Police, City Settles $989,000 Claim of Sexually Exploited Teen 'Celeste Guap'

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, May 31, 2017 at 10:42 AM

Protesters at the Oakland Police Department's headquarters on Friday, June 17. - ALI WINSTON
  • Ali Winston
  • Protesters at the Oakland Police Department's headquarters on Friday, June 17.
At the end of a nine-hour meeting that went until 2 a.m. this morning, the Oakland City Council approved a $989,000 claim filed by the young woman known as Celeste Guap.

Guap, who is now 19-years-old, was sexually exploited by upwards of 30 police officers and sheriff's deputies from various Bay Area police agencies between 2015 and 2016.

The daughter of an Oakland Police Department dispatcher, Guap has said in past interviews that she was a commercially exploited child sex worker, and that she met several Oakland cops while she was still underage and working on the streets.

Her treatment at the hands of numerous police officers, and the resulting scandal due to the Oakland Police Department's effort to cover up an internal investigation of the incidents, led to the resignation of three police chiefs last year, and the filing of criminal charges against multiple current and former police officers from Oakland, a Livermore cop, and a Contra Costa sheriff's deputy.

"The settlement occurred with no admission of liability, but obviously if you pay $1 million, you figure you got some responsibility," said Guap's attorney John Burris in a press statement issued today.

Councilmember Desley Brooks registered the sole no vote against the settlement, saying she believed the young woman's suffering wasn't fairly compensated, and that it is wrong for the city to claim no responsibility.

"Think about this young girl, who was victimized under the color of authority," said Brooks. "There is something wrong with this."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf characterized the settlement as a quick and fair resolution, and said in an emailed statement that she and her new police chief are focused on "rebuilding the public trust that was so damaged by this incident."

Schaaf said the city's new police commission would bring added oversight to the department.

"These steps further our commitment to consistently advancing best practices, holding officers accountable, and ensuring that OPD meets the highest standards of policing."

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said in a statement that the scandal was partly the result of OPD's lack of diversity and that the department needs to undergo a cultural change.

"We need to ensure that we are building the conditions that make it possible to have trust and healing between the community and our law enforcement officers, and cut sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse," said Kaplan. "This includes recruiting more women, LGBT people, African Americans and more people from Oakland."

The vote came after a lengthy city council meeting, much of which focused on Oakland's upcoming two-year budget. Numerous members of the public commented throughout the night that the city should spend less on its police, and more on homeless services and affordable housing.

Under Schaaf's proposal, the police department's budget would grow from $274 million this past year to $291 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Many commented that they think the proposed $250,000 two-year increase on homelessness services is too low. Members of an ad hoc working group on homelessness said the city should instead allocate $10 million next year to provide basic services like water, trash pickup, toilets, and fire extinguishers to the homeless camps, while also spending money to acquire properties as transitional housing.

As with all other costly police misconduct settlements, the nearly $1 million settlement in the Guap case will be paid out of the city's general purpose fund.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Oakland's Fire Inspection Fees Set to Double

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 30, 2017 at 2:25 PM

fireextinguisher.jpeg

Bills for fire code inspections of most residential and commercial properties will more than double if the Oakland City Council approves a new fee schedule at their meeting tonight.

Regularly scheduled general inspections and complaint-based inspections of small to medium sized buildings currently cost $158 per hour. The new fees for regular and complaint-based inspections will be $339 per hour, with a one-hour minimum.

Inspections conducted after hours will rise from $236 to $508 per hour.

Special housing facilities like care homes, halfway houses, and foster homes will see an even steeper fee increase.

Halfway houses — like 2551 San Pablo Avenue, which burned in a March fire that killed four — used to pay a flat $100 fee. They're set to pay $339 per hour, with a one hour minimum, under the new fee schedule.

Oakland's Fire Department put off raising inspection fees in previous years. But delaying fee increases in the past meant that the inspection program wasn't fully funding itself, "burdening the general purpose fund with a substantial subsidy to off-set those fees which were not increased at the time," according to a memo written by Fire Marshal Miguel Trujillo.

Trujillo wrote that the new inspection fee levels should completely pay for the costs of the Fire Prevention Bureau, freeing up the general fund money for other purposes.

Mayor Libby Schaaf's proposed budget calls for adding an additional twelve fire inspector positions on top of the existing eight.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Parents, Teachers, and Students at Oakland Charter School Accuse Leadership of Mismanagement

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, May 24, 2017 at 10:41 AM

screen_shot_2017-05-24_at_10.38.22_am.png

Dozens of students walked out of the American Indian Model Schools' downtown campus this morning, joining parents and teachers to protest what they say is the mismanagement of one of Oakland's largest charter schools.

"There are so many problems here," said Senait Mehari, a parent of a first grade student at AIMS elementary. "Great teachers are leaving."

"It's basically a dictatorship."

Mehari and several other parents told the Express that AIMS Superintendent Maya Woods-Cadiz and the charter organization's board of directors have been ignoring concerns about the school's budget, and many other issues.

They claim that the school exploits teachers by hiring them as at-will employees, instead of offering stable contracts. The air conditioning on several floors in the building has been broken for months, and students are forced to use old text books while teachers buy supplies with their own money.

The parents and teachers protesting this morning also claim that the charter's board of directors routinely makes decisions in private, without sufficient community input, and that the school's top executive, Woods-Cadiz, recently received a big pay increase, from $142,000 a year to $185,000.

"The schools need money, there's so many problems," said Mehari, questioning why the superintendent would receive such a large pay bump instead of fixing broken air conditioners.

The Express called AIMS' administrative office this morning but was told that Woods-Cadiz was unavailable for an interview. A receptionist also said there was no one who could respond to the protesters' allegations, then hung up.


Teachers and parents' foremost concern is the mysterious resignation of Elston Perry, the popular head of schools for AIMS.

According to several teachers and former staff members who were at this morning's protest, Perry resigned recently over a disagreement with Woods-Cadiz and the board. Staff and parents attended a board meeting last week to demand that Perry be reinstated to his position. But the head of school remains out. Many feel that he was pushed out.

This morning, outside of the AIMS 12th Street campus, children held picket signs and chanted "We need Dr. Perry! We need books!"

Mimi Pham worked as the parent coordinator for AIMS until today, when she resigned. Pham said the school's board and superintendent were eliminating key staff members, like Perry, while making financial decisions that were "not transparent."

In one instance, Pham told the board that even though the budget allocated money for field trips, the students hadn't taken any. She questioned where the money was going. "When I raised the budget issues, [Woods-Cadiz] took the budget document offline," Pham claimed. "We are questioning her integrity and their use of public money."

According to a petition circulating among the parents and staff at the protest, AIMS schools suffer from "errors in budgeting, inability to settle employee contracts, lack of long range strategic planning, lack of school supplies, lack of textbooks, lack of field trips for students, historically low employee morale, poor communciations," and more. The petition calls for the removal of Woods-Cadiz.

Monday, May 22, 2017

BART Police Accused of Illegally Collecting Private Cell Phone Data and Tracking Riders Through App

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, May 22, 2017 at 1:06 PM

BART.GOV
  • BART.gov
A federal class-action lawsuit filed today in San Francisco by an Albany resident alleges that BART police have been secretly collecting data that can identify private cell phones and track the mobile devices of anyone who has downloaded the "BART Watch" app.

According to the lawsuit, the agency has been "secretly amassing tens of thousands of cellular identifiers linked to personally identifiable information."

See also: BART Riders Racially Profile via Smartphone App

The transit district rolled out the BART Watch app in August 2014 as a means for riders to report criminal activity and other concerns.

The app allows riders to send photos and exchange text messages with BART police in real time. Tens of thousands of members of the public have downloaded the app, which is made by Elerts, a Massachussetts technology firm that has provided similar software to other regional transit agencies, including Santa Clara and Sacramento.

Albany resident Pamela Moreno downloaded the BART Watch app in 2016 onto her cell phone and used it regularly while commuting. She says she wouldn't have originally installed the app if she knew it obtained information to identify and locate her phone. The Chicago-based Edelson law firm is representing Moreno in the lawsuit and seeking class-action status for others who downloaded the software.

According Moreno's attorneys, neither BART nor Elerts notified users that the app collects unique identifying information from their phones, or that it periodically tracks their geographic location.

BART officials say the allegations are untrue. "BART does not use ELERTS system to randomly track users," said district spokesperson Alicia Trost in a statement issued today. "An app’s user location information is only available if the user selects the option to share their location information. And then, BART only receives the user’s location when the user is reporting an incident."

Eve-Lynn Rapp, an attorney with the Edelson firm, said a team of forensic analysts reviewed the app's code to reveal the ways it clandestinely obtains data from people's cell phones and transmits it to the BART police. Rapp told the Express that the app sends identifying information and location data to BART any time a user simply opens it, not only when they choose to send an alert.

"They’re not being forthright as to what they’re telling people," said Rapp. "A reasonable user would think they’re collecting certain things when they’re making a police report, but people are less open to the collection of information simply because they have the app open."

The lawsuit also alleges that the data collected through the app can be matched with other information obtained by an IMSI catcher — a powerful cell-phone tracking and surveillance device that mimics a cell phone tower. IMSI catchers are more commonly known as a "Stingray" devices, and they can be used by law enforcement to locate a cell phone, and even intercept the contents of communications.

Trost said BART doesn't have a Stingray system.

The lawsuit against BART claims that the agency has violated the state Cellular Communications Interception Act, consumer laws, and the state privacy act.

BART's media-relations office didn't immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit.

But the district has been working with civil-liberty advocates on developing a comprehensive privacy ordinance which would govern the use of technologies such as the BART Watch app, and require periodic audits of surveillance tools and operations.

Last December, the BART board's technology subcommittee approved a general outline of the privacy ordinance, but the full board has yet to take up the matter.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Former Tennis Pro Says East Bay Landlord Michael Marr Was Major Player in Scheme to Rig Foreclosure Auctions

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, May 19, 2017 at 1:18 PM

Activists outside of Marr's Oakland office last year.
  • Activists outside of Marr's Oakland office last year.

Former tennis pro-turned real estate investor Douglas Ditmer testified in federal court today that one of the East Bay's biggest landlords, Michael Marr, was a key player in a massive scheme to rig foreclosure auctions between 2008 and 2011.

Marr's company, Community Realty, currently owns about 280 houses and small apartment buildings in Alameda County, according to public records. About 90 percent of these homes are located in Oakland. Many were obtained at foreclosure auctions.

See also: Trial Begins for East Bay Landlord Accused of Rigging Foreclosure Auctions

Ditmer admitted to participating in a conspiracy involving numerous investors who suppressed bidding on foreclosed homes at public auctions. The investors would later divvy the properties up at private auctions and pay each other kickbacks.

Although Ditmer already pleaded guilty, he is cooperating with the government in hopes of obtaining a more lenient sentence.

On the stand, Ditmer said Marr and his employees were frequently at the auctions, held on the steps of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland and the courthouse in Martinez, and that they participated in the bid rigging.

"There was a group of us that would cease to bid at the public auction, deliberately," Ditmer explained. "Then we would hold our own separate auction, called a round, and we divided the profits from these secondary auctions among ourselves."

By simply nodding his head at another bidder, Ditmer claimed he could drop out of a public auction for a specific property with the agreement to bid on it later in a private round.

The government contends that by agreeing to not bid against each other and cutting short the public auction, the investors could reduce the final price tags on properties. This cheated banks and taxpayers, as well as people who were participating in the foreclosure auctions but weren't in on the conspiracy.

Ditmer said approximately ten properties would be auctioned on an average day at each courthouse. As many as four could end up being diverted to the private rounds. This happened day after day, five days a week, for several years on end.

The government showed aerial pictures of the courthouses to the jurors and asked Ditmer to describe where the rounds would take place. Ditmer said the conspirators would conduct the rounds in locations just far enough away to maintain secrecy. In Oakland, one popular spot was the bus shelter on 12th and Fallon. Another spot was the grassy area across 13th Street.

"You could conceal yourself a little bit," he said about these locations.

But later, when the FBI began investigating the auctions, listening devices were placed in the bus shelter, and agents staked the area out in vehicles to secretly film Ditmer, Marr and others. Undercover FBI agents wearing wires also posed as bidders to gather evidence.

One of them, FBI Special Agent David Lewis, also testified today. Lewis told the jury he participated in 50 auctions in Alameda County and was able to participate in three of the illegal rounds.

When asked by a prosecutor to name some of the major players in the conspiracy to stop bidding at the public auctions and organize the private rounds, Ditmer identified Marr.

"He was one of the people out there involved in it," Ditmer said. He also identified Gregory Casorso and Javier Sanchez, two of Marr's close business associates as men who helped organized the bid rigging. Casorso and Sanchez are on trial along with Marr.

After some auctions, investors would go to Marr's Fruitvale Avenue offices in Oakland's Dimond District, to "settled up," meaning to determine how much money the winning bidder owed those who helped suppress bids, testified Ditmer. He told the jurors he paid Marr in some cases, and took payoffs from Marr in exchange for his participation in the bid rigging scheme.

Cash was the preferred means of making a payoff because, according to Ditmer, it was "untraceable," and payoffs were typically in the range of several thousands dollars.

In 2011 Ditmer was approached by two FBI agents who were part of an extensive investigation into the bid rigging conspiracies that were being organized by networks of investors at various foreclosure auctions throughout Northern California. He told the court he initially "was in a state of panic" and began destroying incriminating evidence, including bid sheets that named the participants of the private rounds. But after talking to an attorney, Ditmer held onto the evidence and eventually turned it over to federal prosecutors who are now using it to prosecute Marr and others.

In court today, prosecutors showed numerous bid sheets to jurors and had Ditmer identify the people who took part in the rounds.

According to one of the bid sheets, about a dozen investors agreed at the public auction to not bid on a foreclosed Shaw Street home in deep East Oakland. Later at the private round for the house, Marr's asssociate Casorso outbid Ditmer, who was only willing to pay an extra $18,400 for the property.

Another bid sheet for a house on Lake Chabot Road in Castro Valley included the initials "MM." Ditmer said this was Marr, who took part in the illegal round.

The trial of Marr, Casorso, and Sanchez is on its fourth day. Check back for updates on the trial in the comings weeks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Trial Begins for East Bay Landlord Accused of Rigging Foreclosure Auctions

Defense attorneys complain tenants and protesters outside the courthouse may have 'tainted' jurors.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, May 15, 2017 at 7:03 PM

Michael Marr (right) and his attorneys outside Oakland's federal courthouse this afternoon.
  • Michael Marr (right) and his attorneys outside Oakland's federal courthouse this afternoon.

The trial of Michael Marr and two of his business associates, Gregory Casorso and Javier Sanchez, began today at a federal courthouse in Oakland. Marr, Casorso, and Sanchez are accused of rigging public auctions of foreclosed homes during the Great Recession.

See also: Oakland's Biggest Landlord is Fighting For His Life in Federal Court
See also: FBI Hid Surveillance Devices Around Alameda County Courthouse

Starting in 2008, Marr's company, Community Realty, purchased hundreds of single family homes at auctions held on courthouse steps in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. In the process, Marr became one of the biggest landlords in Oakland.

His companies own numerous single family homes and small apartment buildings in East Oakland's flatlands. The feds allege that Marr and his associates conspired to suppress prices, thereby cheating banks and the public of the true value of the properties they acquired.

Marr was indicted by the feds two and half years ago.

Since then, some of Marr's tenants, and activists with the group ACCE, have alleged that Marr's properties are not well maintained, and that Marr has hit tenants with unsustainable rent increases.

Outside the federal courthouse this morning, protesters, including some of Marr's current and former tenants, set up a table and passed out fliers calling him a "slumlord" and accusing him of participating wrongful foreclosures and evictions.

The protesters briefly spoke to and handed some of the potential jurors fliers. A marshal guarding the entrance of the court told the protesters to relocate. The marshal told the Express later this afternoon that the protesters didn't seem to be aware they were interacting with potential members of the jury and they immediately relocated when told to do so.

But Martha Boersch, one of Marr's attorneys, said the protesters actions "could taint the case."

During jury selection, which took all day today, Boersch told U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton and several dozen potential jurors in the courtroom that she is "very concerned about the impact the protesters may have had."

Only a few potential jurors said they read the fliers or listened to the protesters long enough to understand anything. Most of the jurors said they didn't see the protesters, and don't have prior knowledge about the foreclosure auctions and the case.

By the end of the day the final members of the jury were selected. Opening statements begin tomorrow.

Marr's attorneys have argued in court briefings that their client and his business associates did not engage in a conspiracy to suppress prices at the foreclosure auctions. Instead, they competed. And at other times they combined with one another to make bids they could not otherwise make. The defense has also submitted analysis to the court claiming that prices at the auctions were not lower during the time of the alleged conspiracy.

The government is expected to counter this with evidence including secret audio recordings taken by FBI agents on the courthouse steps during the auctions, as well as testimony from other men who participated in the alleged bid rigging conspiracy, and also economic analysis showing price suppression.

Check back for updates over the next several weeks.

Town Business: Landlords Defeat Bill to Preserve Oakland's SROs and Mayor Schaaf Will 'Set Aside' Soda Tax Revenue

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, May 15, 2017 at 7:13 AM

Hotel Travelers is being converted into market rate rentals. - VIA GOOGLE MAPS
  • Via Google Maps
  • Hotel Travelers is being converted into market rate rentals.
Landlords defeat Oakland SRO housing bill: Legislation written by Assemblymember Rob Bonta that would have given the City of Oakland a powerful tool to preserve its single room occupancy hotels failed an assembly floor vote last week.

The bill's demise came after landlord and realtor groups lobbied against it.

AB 423 would have prevented owners of Oakland's SRO hotels from using the Ellis Act to evict tenants and turn these low-income housing units into condos, boutique hotels, offices, or to even demolish this crucial type of low-income housing.

Currently, state law only allows San Francisco and cities with a population above one million to preserve SRO housing by barring landlords from using the Ellis Act. Earlier this year, the Oakland City Council passed a temporary emergency moratorium on the conversion of SROs. That was only a temporary fix, however.

In 2004, Oakland had 31 SRO buildings with 2,285 units. Today, only eighteen hotels with 1,311 units remain. Some were converted to low-income permanent housing units. One was demolished. Others were transformed into boutique hotels, market-rate apartments, or student dorms.

Last year, residents of the 70-unit Hotel Travelers had to relocate after the new owner began demolishing the interior to rebuild it as a market-rate apartment building.

State affordable housing tax credits that have preserved three other Oakland SROs containing about 420 units will expire over the next 5-to-10 years, making them potential targets for conversion into more profitable types of housing or commercial space.

Social workers and housing policy experts say it's necessary to preserve Oakland's remaining SROs because they provide a crucial safety-net for those at risk of becoming homeless.

But state records show that lobbyists for Oakland's landlord group, the East Bay Rental Housing Association, spoke with members of the Assembly about Bonta's bill, as did the powerful California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors, just before it was voted down.

Mayor Schaaf's revised budget proposal. - CITY OF OAKLAND
  • City of Oakland
  • Mayor Schaaf's revised budget proposal.
Soda Tax:
Mayor Libby Schaaf appears to be reversing course on the question of how to spend the city's new $5.9 million per year Measure HH "soda tax" revenue.

In her initial budget proposal, published three weeks ago, Schaaf wanted to spend soda tax revenue from the general fund before the advisory board that's supposed to recommend how the money is spent is established. The mayor claimed she would allocate the money to programs that were in the spirit of what Measure HH called for, and what voters were promised: health education programs.

But critics said the move was tantamount to a "bait and switch," and that it was betraying the intent of the measure to allow the mayor to spend the money without the input, and oversight, of the advisory board.

Now Schaaf's revised budget says that all of the soda tax money will be "set aside" each year "for the Community Advisory Board to make recommendations on how to allocate the City's general funds to reduce the consumption of sugar...."

To balance her proposed budget without diverting the soda tax money into existing programs, Schaaf relies on new projected revenue increases, including another $2.3 million in property tax, and an extra $1.6 million in hotel tax.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Alameda Sheriff Deputy's Arrest of Street Fruit Vendor Goes Viral and Draws Criticism

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, May 12, 2017 at 11:38 AM

acsofruitvendorcopy.png

Should the cops bust the guy peddling strawberries and mangos on the street corner?

A recently-taken photo of an Alameda County Sheriff's deputy arresting a produce vendor on a street corner in San Lorenzo has sparked an intense debate on social media.

Critics claim the photo shows selective enforcement of the law; demonstrates a waste of scarce police resources on a victimless crime; and represents the types of interactions that undermine police-community relations, especially with immigrant and Latino communities.

The sheriff's office responded to these criticism in a lengthy Facebook post last night: "Some people have used this photo as an opportunity to criticize law enforcement and drive a wedge between us and our immigrant, minority and low income communities," the post states. "Sometimes photos can be deceptive," the sheriff's office continued.

"Our deputy approached this man to advise him that it was illegal for him to sell produce on the corner. When the deputy asked the man for his identification he became resistive and tried to flee. Our intention here was not to arrest him or get in a confrontation with him. We learned, the man is on federal probation and is expected to follow all laws. This is likely the reason he tried to flee."

But this explanation is creating even more controversy.

The sheriff's Facebook post has gone viral, drawing over 900 comments and counting.

Many of those responding object to the sheriff's office using its resources to enforce street food vending laws.

Others are asking why they've never seen a sheriff's deputy crack down on the children's lemonade stands that are popular in the suburbs of Livermore and Dublin.

Still others say it's an example of racial profiling. And if the man is undocumented, he could now be a target of deportation, solely for selling fruit.

"It's a victimless crime. So much for the land of the free. Can't even sell the fruits of your labor," one person replied to the Facebook post.

The sheriff responded that fruit vendors are committing a quality of life crime, and that there isn't a similar problem with lemonade stands.

According to the Sheriff, unlicensed street fruit vendors take away sales from local businesses and can cause outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

Under the law, a street food vendor has to obtain a permit from the county health office, as well as a business license.

But hundreds of comments responding to the sheriff's Facebook post object to any policing directed against street fruit vendors.

"You keep digging yourself deeper," one person wrote in response to the sheriff's explanations.

"The guy is trying to live...nobody is being harmed by him selling his produce. Recognize your role in the perpetual poverty cycle of people," wrote another person.

"This guy is screwed for nothing, and you have done this to him."

The Express contacted the sheriff's office to see if the man was charged with a crime and booked in jail. We also asked about the claim that he was on probation. Check back for updates.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oakland Schools and AC Transit Strike Deal to Maintain Student Bus Routes

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, May 11, 2017 at 5:30 AM

BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
AC Transit's board of directors voted last night to prevent the termination of bus services to Skyline High School, Montera Middle School, and the Community Day School, preserving what many parents say is a vital service.

The exact terms of the new deal aren't clear yet, but both the transit agency and public school district are reportedly contributing funds and altering schedules to maintain the bus routes.

See also: AC Transit to Cancel Supplemental OUSD School Bus Routes

The one-year agreement will extend seventeen bus lines that serve 1,615 students each day, transporting kids who live in Oakland's flatlands to and from schools in the hills.

In January, the Oakland Unified School District informed AC Transit that they would no longer be paying $2.5 million for the bus routes, provoking the AC Transit board of directors to threaten to cancel the services.

OUSD is the only school system, public or private, that pays AC Transit for the dedicated school bus services.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell. - OUSD
  • OUSD
  • Kyla Johnson-Trammell.
Since 1997 the state has provided funds to OUSD for these supplemental bus services, but according to OUSD officials, the legislature cut off this revenue. Facing a budget crisis this year, OUSD says it simply can't divert money to keep the lines running.

At the same time AC Transit's board was voting on the bus services, across town, OUSD's board announced the selection of the system's new superintendent. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, the OUSD's interim deputy superintendent of academic and social emotional learning, will succeed Antwan Wilson to lead Oakland schools.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Groups Call for More Spending on Housing, Homeless Services, and Worker Protections in Oakland Budget

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 9, 2017 at 2:30 PM

Chris Jackson said more funds are needed for homeless services and affordable housing.
  • Chris Jackson said more funds are needed for homeless services and affordable housing.

A coalition of Oakland-based labor unions and nonprofits rallied on the steps of Oakland City Hall today calling for a city budget that spends more on affordable housing, homeless services, minimum wage enforcement, and arts and culture, among other things.

The groups said Mayor Libby Schaaf's proposed budget doesn't do enough to fund programs that benefit low-income Oaklanders.

"We need a budget that addresses displacement, homelessness, low wages, and that funds city services," said Gary Jimenez, the vice president of the union SEIU 1021, which represents city employees. Many SEIU 1021 members live in Oakland.

Jimenez said more money should be spent helping the city's contracts and compliance department investigate violations of the minimum wage and sick leave laws that were approved by voters in 2014. SEIU 1021 supported the minimum wage law.

Schaaf's proposed budget adds $291,000 to hire one extra contracts and compliance officer for minimum wage enforcement for the next two years.

But the groups also want a $500,000 contract with numerous nonprofits to be extended for another two years. The nonprofit contractors have done education and outreach for workers and employers about the minimum wage law, and helped investigate potential violations.

"Low wage workers are having hundreds of thousands, millions, stolen from them," said Derek Schoonmaker of Centro Legal de la Raza, one of the organizations that has worked with the city.

Chris Jackson, an activist with ACCE, said Oakland should be setting aside money to acquire buildings for low income housing, and to open a homeless services navigation center.

"We need to end the criminalization of our homeless," said Jackson. "Stop taking down their tents."

The mayor's budget proposal relies on $7 million in grant funding for homeless services, and proposes adding another $500,000 over the next two years from the general fund.

Business owner and former city councilmember from West Oakland, Nancy Nadel, said that the $250,000 increase in Schaaf's budget for homeless services is a "drop in the bucket" compared to what's necessary.

The groups are also calling for the creation of a "building acquisition fund" that could be used to purchase SRO hotels and operate them as low-income transitional housing for those at risk of becoming homeless.

Jimenez also said that the promises of Measure JJ, the strengthened rent control and evictions protections that Oakland voters approved last year, aren't being fulfilled because the city hasn't done enough outreach and education.

The groups said an additional $1.45 million should be spent on "eviction defense for tenants and enforcement of the Tenant Protection Ordinance," and they are also seeking an added $500,000 for emergency rental assistance for low-income tenants, among other things.

The city council will take up the budget at its May 16 meeting.

Most Popular Stories

© 2017 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation