Thursday, June 29, 2017

Oakland Has a New Two-Year Budget, but Only After a Night of Divisive Infighting

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 11:42 PM

Councilmember Abel Guillen's procedural tactic allowed passage of the budget with five votes instead of six.
  • Councilmember Abel Guillen's procedural tactic allowed passage of the budget with five votes instead of six.
Late Thursday night, the Oakland City Council approved the city's new 2017-2019 budget, but only after a week of polarizing debate.

The council attempted to pass a budget earlier this week, but members of the public disrupted the Monday night special meeting, forcing the city to reschedule.

Throughout this year's budget negotiations, councilmembers Desley Brooks, Rebecca Kaplan, and Noel Gallo have formed one bloc of votes pushing for a budget that cut into spending priorities of Mayor Libby Schaaf. They also sought to cut a third police academy while providing more money for homeless services and housing programs. In addition, Gallo wanted to increase spending on illegal dumping cleanup crews.

On the other end, Council President Larry Reid's budget is closer to the mayor's priorities. It also includes funding for positions in a new department of violence prevention (although the council has yet to actually establish this department). Councilmembers Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell Washington, and Lynette Gibson McElhaney have supported Reid's version of the budget.

Councilmember Dan Kalb offered a third budget alternative with more money for renter anti-displacement measures and funds for the new police commission.

More information about their different budget proposals is available here.

All of the councilmembers' proposals were, in fact, very similar. But for hours, members of the public commented that there should be further cuts to the police department, and more money for housing and homeless services, and increased compensation for city employees. Other speakers implored the council to save specific programs from the chopping block.

The evening almost came to an end without passing the budget.

Normally, only five votes are needed to finalize the city's spending plan, but because every proposal relied on one-time expenditures, six votes were necessary.

Kalb sided with Reid and the rest of the council after his various amendments were incorporated into the majority's plan.

Gallo, Kaplan, and Brooks stated that although they were in the minority, they would vote against Reid's budget, leaving the council president's side with only five votes.

Facing a June 30 deadline to pass a balanced budget, it was unclear how the council would move forward.

But Councilmember Guillen used a surprise procedural tactic. He proposed cutting $1.5 million from a fire academy, $350,000 from a police academy, and $350,000 from illegal street dumping cleanup teams to trim one-time expenditures by $2.2 million.

"We are removing one time funds from the budget so as to not require six votes, we only require five votes," Guillen explained of his proposal.

Councilmember Brooks protested this tactic and claimed it was against the rules because Guillen's proposed modifications hadn't been costed in advance. She argued the council couldn't be sure what the fiscal impacts would be.

But City Attorney Barbara Parker stated that Guillen's proposal was allowable.

After disruptions from members of the public, and a short recess, followed by warnings from Reid that he would use the police to clear unruly people from the chambers, the council quickly voted to pass Reid's budget and then adjourned the meeting.

Brooks did not vote. Kaplan and Gallo voted no. The other councilmembers approved of Reid's budget modified by Guillen's amendments.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Guillen's amendments to the final budget required cutting a police and fire academy. This was incorrect. Guillen removed $350,000 from from funds for police academies, and cut $1.5 million from funding for fire academies from the Council President's budget.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Public Defender Says Arraignments at New Alameda County Courthouse in Dublin Denies Access to Courts for Low-Income People-of-Color

by Ashley Wong
Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 6:38 PM

On Thursday, Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods will lead a coalition to voice opposition to a plan to hold all in-custody arraignments at a new courthouse in Dublin.

The East County Hall of Justice, which opened on Monday, will hear all arraignments for Alameda County. Arraignments are the first steps to all criminal proceedings where charges are named, bails are set, and, in some cases, defendants are released without bail under certain conditions.

According to a press release from the Superior Court of Alameda County, defendants in custody at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin currently are woken at 3 a.m. for a 90-minute bus ride to the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

According to the press release, this ride happens during morning commute traffic and results in defendants spending hours waiting to go back and forth from the jail to the courthouse.

The new courthouse is across the street from the Santa Rita Jail, where all Alameda County defendants are held.

Woods said that forcing all the arraignments of defendants who are still in custody, especially those in Oakland, Berkeley, and Albany, to be heard in Dublin will ultimately prolong their time in custody and also hinder their families from attending.

“You’re taking that first court appearance and removing it from the community,” Woods said, adding that it will be mostly low-income people of color who are being removed.

“This is clearly denying access to justice and access to the courts.”

Woods added that family members can often provide information such as income stubs and employment verification, which can be crucial to getting a defendant out of custody early.

He gave an example from a case on Tuesday, where a defendant’s aunt was able to speak in court and provide information to the judge that was key to getting that defendant released on his own recognizance, which means that he was released under the condition to appear in court again in the future.

Without this information, Woods said, defendants end up spending more time in custody and fighting for their cases while in custody, and their bails are subsequently set higher.

Superior Court executive office Chad Finke, however, said that Woods’ example has holes.

According to Finke, Woods did not mention that, after the defendant was released, he had to return to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before officially leaving. The defendant had to wait all afternoon at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse for the bus to take him back to the jail, Finke said, and was not released until 1 a.m. the following day.

Additionally, Finke said, the defendant’s aunt was from Discovery Bay, which is just over an hour from Oakland. Had the arraignment been in Dublin, he said, her travel time would have been much shorter.

“The irony is not lost on me that we’re talking about convenience of the families and using this example,” Finke said.

Finke also argued that few arraignments are attended by family members, citing Woods’ case, where the defendant’s arraignment was the only one out of seventeen that day where family members were present.

Although the number of arraignments with family members in attendance is “not a majority”, Woods said, it is still a “significant amount” and the court should recognize their importance.

“Why make it harder for them?” Woods said. “What’s critical is that their presence often results in people getting out of custody.”

However, Finke said the court is limited by its budget. The 90-minute bus ride from the jail to the courthouse creates delays and overtime costs, and the efficiency of using the courthouse across the street from the jail saves them from paying those costs.

The overtime costs for 2015 to 2016 racked up to around $122,000, according to Finke. A “significant percentage” of that, he said, is due to bus delays.

“We are one of the very tiny number of courts in the state that has had our budget cut for eight years in a row,” Finke said. “Our budget is razor thin…Our specific budget makes so that we cannot leave any efficiency unturned.”

Woods, however, argued that the real delays come from pre trials and preliminary hearings, which happen after arraignments, and will happen regardless.

“I think most clients would say they prefer to be on a bus for 90 minutes and get out earlier than wait in custody,” Woods said.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Troubled by Police Mishandling of Sex Crime Investigation, Federal Judge Orders City of Oakland Back to Court

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 9:45 PM

Thelton Henderson
  • Thelton Henderson
Late Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson issued a rare order requiring the City of Oakland to appear in court to address the "troubling conclusions" of a recent report on the department's mishandling of a sexual misconduct investigation. The city is required to appear before the court because it's bound by a settlement agreement from a previous police misconduct scandal.

As the Express has reported over the past year, multiple Oakland cops sexually exploited a teenager known as Celeste Guap. Later, other officers and commanders prematurely closed both a criminal and internal affairs investigation into the matter. And the case was hidden from everyone outside the department.

Earlier this year, Judge Henderson appointed two attorneys, Edward Swanson and Audrey Barron, to figure out exactly what went on inside OPD, and who was responsible for stopping the cases from going forward. Their final report, published last week, revealed the department's many failures.

Henderson is requiring Oakland's attorneys to appear in court on July 10 to discuss the report's findings. He wrote in his order that the status conference will also address the sustainability of a now 14 year-old reform effort which OPD has yet to fulfill.

Furthermore, the judge is concerned about potential problems with OPD's new police misconduct tracking system known as PRIME, which is supposed to flag problem behaviors and help the department intervene early on.

Henderson added that Judge William Orrick will join in the status conference. Henderson is retiring this year and Orrick is expected to take over the 17 year-old case of Delphine Allen vs. City of Oakland, which exposed the Riders police misconduct scandal of the early 2000s and led to OPD's court-mandated reform program.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Oakland Council Meeting Disrupted, Vote on Budget Prevented

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jun 26, 2017 at 11:49 PM

  • Gabreille Canon
The City of Oakland was supposed to end up with a new two-year budget after its Monday night council meeting. Instead, a large assembly of activists shut the meeting down and prevented a vote.

Chanting "defund OPD," in reference to Oakland's police department, and urging more spending on housing, homeless services, and similar programs, the group took over the chambers and prevented the meeting from continuing before the actual discussion about the budget began.

Members of the council appeared caught off-guard by the disruption, but then declared a recess and slowly exited the room.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Rebecca Kaplan, and Noel Gallo left City Hall shortly after the disruption. The remaining councilmembers then quickly reassembled inside the locked council chambers, but only to vote to adjourn. Although a typical budget resolution only requires five councilmembers' votes to pass, certain parts of the proposed budgets this year require six votes. As a result, there was no quorum last night after the disruption.

The city council and mayor are still millions of dollars away from agreeing on a final budget plan. There are four different council proposals that modify the mayor's basic plan.

The council must approve a new budget by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

A new budget meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m.

Town Business: Oakland Councilmembers Joust for Budget Priorities

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jun 26, 2017 at 7:36 AM

Larry Reid.
  • Larry Reid.
Competing Budget Priorities: The City of Oakland has to finalize its budget. Although they're close, the councilemembers and mayor still disagree about millions in possible cuts and additions in the final spending plan. Here's a roundup of various proposed changes made by councilmembers to the mayor's budget.

Council President Larry Reid thinks the city can raise a quarter million in extra revenue per year by hiring more parking enforcement officers and writing more tickets. He also wants to eliminate the city's chief security officer position in the department of information technology, and also cut the chief resiliency officer position in the city administrator's office, saving a combined $357,000.

Here's some of the more expensive things Reid wants to add:
  • $1.1 million for another illegal dumping crew to clean city streets, plus $244,658 for a paralegal to prosecute those responsible.
  • $100,000 for an anti-graffiti pilot program.
  • $300,000 for City Attorney Barbara Parker's neighborhood law corps program, which enforces city housing laws by suing bad landlords.
  • $519,670 to hire a "Chief of Violence Prevention" who would lead the new city department of violence prevention, and $136,421 for a "Deputy Director of Violence Against Families and Children."

Dan Kalb.
  • Dan Kalb.
Councilmember Dan Kalb, like Reid, thinks the city can generate another quarter million in revenue by filling vacant parking enforcement positions. He's also proposing that the city move it's 3rd police academy so that it starts in June, not in May. This timing trick would mean the city doesn't have to set aside $358,417 for the academy during this budget cycle.

Here's a few examples of things that Kalb wants to add:
  • $300,000 to pay for the operations of a proposed new Henry Robinson-style homeless services center.
  • $248,887 so that the new police commission can staff up.
  • $223,885 for a new vegetation management fire inspector to keep the Oakland hills safe.
  • And Kalb wants to adjust some existing spending so that about $2.7 million in affordable housing funds can be used specifically to help tenants avoid displacement.

Noel Gallo.
  • Noel Gallo.
Councilmember Noel Gallo's version of the budget takes aim at the mayor's office by cutting a costly special assistant to the mayor position, saving $523,744. Gallo also wants to eliminate the city's $125,000 per year contribution to Mayor Schaaf's Oakland promise program.

Like Reid, Gallo also wants to cut the chief resiliency officer and chief security officer jobs, and Gallo also thinks the public works department can do without its public information officer, so he's chopping that too.

The Oakland Police Department's public information office includes three sworn officers and a civilian. Gallo wants to eliminate one of the officers, saving what he projects to be $769,764.

Then Gallo's budget would add the following, among other things:
  • $6 million for homeless services.
  • $2.2 million for two new, dedicated illegal dumping cleanup crews, and $100,000 for illegal dumping surveillance cameras.
  • $367,622 for a citywide anti-graffiti crew.
  • $1 million for business development services targeting his district, as well as Districts six and seven in East Oakland.

Rebecca Kaplan (left) and Desley Brooks.
  • Rebecca Kaplan (left) and Desley Brooks.
Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan teamed up to write their budget proposal. To find more revenue they want to hire fewer fire prevention inspectors than the mayor is asking for, and make two of these wildfire inspectors, saving $1.3 million.

Like Gallo, they're cutting one of the mayor's special assistants and eliminating the city's contributions to the mayor's Oakland Promise program.

Brooks and Kaplan also propose shrinking the size of the Oakland police public information office, but their savings is smaller because their version apparently assumes reassigning the officers to patrol or some other duties.

And, they want to eliminate the 3rd police academy to save $1.5 million.

Here's some of the things they want to add:
  • $800,000 for each council district office to spend on the arts, culture, and community events.
  • $480,000 to enforce the city minimum wage law.
  • $330,000 toward reestablishing Oakland's arts and culture commission.
  • $240,000 to educate Oakland renters and enforce the city's strengthened rent control and just cause eviction laws.
And like Kalb they want more money to staff up the new police commission.

Affordable Housing: Mayor Libby Schaaf has proposed adding another $5 million to the total amount for affordable housing that will be raised from the recently approved city infrastructure bonds (Measure KK).

Of the total $55 million the breakdown would be spent this way:
  • $14 million to purchase an SRO hotel, or similar existing residential building, and run it as a transitional housing resource to prevent homelessness. For this amount, Oakland could purchase a building very similar to the recently sold Sutter Hotel.
  • $18 million in short-term loans to protect rental and owned affordable housing, which would also give the city a purchase option.
  • $10 million in loans for the rehabilitation of rental and ownership housing. Funds would be provided only if the owner agrees to a 55-year affordability restriction on rents or sales prices of the units.
  • $7 million in loans for the construction of new rental and ownership housing with 55-year affordability restrictions.
  • $3 million in loans to homeowners to help them legalize unpermitted ADUs, rehabilitate units in 2-4 unit properties, among other purposes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

City of Oakland Poised to Give Public Land to Nonprofit that Improperly Received $710,000 in County Funds

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 2:40 PM

Elaine Brown is the CEO of Oakland and the World Enterprises, and also a staff member in Supervisor Keith Carson's office. - OAKLAND AND THE WORLD ENTERPRISES, INC.
  • Oakland and the World Enterprises, Inc.
  • Elaine Brown is the CEO of Oakland and the World Enterprises, and also a staff member in Supervisor Keith Carson's office.

The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a deal to sell city-owned land near West Oakland's BART station to a nonprofit that improperly obtained hundreds of thousands in county tax dollars, according to the Alameda County Grand Jury. The city would sell the land for a nominal price, even though it's worth $1.4 million, in order to subsidize an affordable housing project on site.

Further complicating the deal is the fact that the nonprofit's leader sued the City of Oakland last year, alleging that councilmember Desley Brooks attacked her at a barbecue restaurant. The lawsuit is ongoing, and Brown is seeking millions in damages from the city.

The nonprofit, Oakland and the World Enterprises, was set up by former Black Panther Elaine Brown to build affordable housing and operate an urban farm in West Oakland. It also plans to build a grocery store, restaurant, fitness center, and technology center at the location.

But according to the Grand Jury, Brown's group was given $710,000 by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson at the same time Brown was a paid staff member in Carson's office. "[T]he dual role of the county employee in these transactions constituted both a failure of good governance practices by the county of Alameda and a conflict of interest," concluded the Grand Jury in their investigation, which was published yesterday.

Brown is currently listed as a staff member in charge of job creation and West Oakland constituent services on Carson's supervisor web site.

According to tax records and other documents, Brown incorporated Oakland and the World Enterprises in 2014. The organization's 2015 tax return states that she received no salary or other pay.

In 2015, the organization received $290,000 in government grants. According to the grand jury, this was money allocated to the group by Alameda County's Housing and Community Development program through the proper channels and procedures.

But according to the grand jury, the organization's invoices sent to the county seeking payment of these funds "insufficiently explained" the reasons for certain expenditures.

Then, according to the grand jury, "over the ensuing months, there were multiple communications between HCD (including a contractor retained by HCD) and [Brown] about OAW’s request for funds under the contract," which ultimately resulted in $102,527 paid to Oakland and the World on May 2, 2016.

No other funds under the county's contract with the group were dispersed.

Over the same period of time, Supervisor Carson's office used its own funds that were available under the county's Fiscal Management Reward Program, to pay Oakland and the World a total of $710,000. The largest payments were made in April 2015 (for $290,000) and March 2016 (for $300,000). These payments don't appear in any publicly available tax forms filed by the organizations.

The grand jury found that there are not sufficient oversight rules to limit the ways the supervisors can use their FMRP funds, which add up to millions each year.

There isn't a 2016 tax return available for Oakland and the World Enterprises, according to the grand jury. The Express searched for the group's 2016 tax return through and the California Attorney General's Office and confirmed that a copy isn't yet available.

Furthermore, the organization's 2015 tax return doesn't explain how it spent the $290,000 grant from the county HCD program. Instead, there is a $181,733 expenditure for "other" types of "fees for services" to non-employees. The attached schedule that is supposed to detail the spending is incomplete.

On March 24, the California Attorney General's office sent Oakland and the World Enterprises a letter warning the group that it's ability to operate as a nonprofit is in jeopardy because it hasn't provided its 2014 and 2015 tax returns along with other disclosure reports.

The Oakland City Council is currently considering whether to sell the West Oakland land, located at the corner of 7th Street and Campbell Street to the nonprofit.

The proposal to sell the land cleared a council subcommittee last week with councilmembers Larry Reid, Noel Gallo, Annie Campbell Washington, and Lynette Gibson McElhaney all voting yes.

According to a city staff report, Oakland and the World Enterprises first approached the city about the land in 2014. Under the proposed deal, the nonprofit would acquire the real estate, which is worth $1.4 million, at virtually no cost. The city would also provide a $2.6 million loan for the affordable housing project.

Brown sued the City of Oakland last year claiming that she was assaulted by Councilmember Desley Brooks in the Everett and Jones restaurant in October 2015. The district attorney never pressed charges, but Brown is seeking $7 million in damages from the city and Brooks.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Grand Jury: Oakland’s ‘Backroom Dealing’ to Sell City-Owned Land Is Systemic Problem ‘Vulnerable to Undue Influence’

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 11:56 AM

The Grand Jury investigated three public land deals in Oakland. - ALAMEDA COUNTY GRAND JURY
  • Alameda County Grand Jury
  • The Grand Jury investigated three public land deals in Oakland.
An investigation by the Alameda County Grand Jury alleges that Oakland city officials routinely violate state and city open meetings laws by discussing multimillion-dollar real estate deals in closed session.

According to the Grand Jury, Oakland officials do not properly notify the public through city council agendas when they’re discussing the sale of a city-owned property, keeping the public in the dark about ongoing deliberations.

The Grand Jury concluded that "the city’s misuse of closed sessions in discussing development of city property is a systemic problem."

Furthermore, the councilmembers and city staff don’t report on the substance of their private conversation to the public, which frequently includes matters such as "project vision, project scope, feasibility issues, community benefits, and selection of a developer" — all of which should be discussed in a public meeting, according to the Grand Jury. Furthermore, opportunities for members of the public to provide input on the deals is extremely limited.

The Grand Jury also found that individual councilmembers frequently hold private, one-on-one talks with the same developers the city is negotiating with. The city has no rules prohibiting these discussions, nor any requirement the contacts be disclosed to the public. As a result, the Grand Jury wrote that it is "concerned that private discussions during the pendency of the selection process favor well-connected developers, and make the process vulnerable to undue influence, or at least the perception thereof."

The Grand Jury is recommending that Oakland update its practices to comply with the Brown Act (the state's open meetings law) and the city's Sunshine Ordinance, and also require councilmembers to disclose when they privately meet with developers who are seeking public real estate.

Oakland's City Attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Grand Jury Report. The city administrator's office replied to an email that the city council will be preparing a response to the Grand Jury report.

"Backroom deals that exclude our communities have resulted in land use decisions that don’t serve existing residents and negatively impact Oakland’s vulnerable residents," said Ernesto Arevalo, an East Oakland resident who is part of a coalition of community groups that have been asking the city to develop a comprehensive public lands policy for several years now.

"We need more community representation in development, not developer lobbyists and or backroom deal making," said Arevalo. "And by stripping the public of its rightful role in this process, the [city] has spawned lopsided deals which only accelerate the mass displacement of marginalized Oaklanders."

The deals investigated by the Grand Jury include city-owned land at 1911 Telegraph Avenue, 2100 Telegraph Avenue, and the E. 12th Street Remainder Parcel. Negotiations for the Telegraph Avenue lands began in 2014, while the E. 12th Remainder Parcel began in 2015.

The city has 90 days to respond to the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Photos: Warriors Celebrate Second Title in Three Years with Parade and Rally in Oakland

by Ruth Gebreyesus
Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 12:04 PM

  • Photo By Nick Wong
The Golden State Warriors paraded for the second time in three years in downtown Oakland yesterday. Players rode by in topless busses, paired with teammates and families, along with coaches, members of the team's ownership group, and of course the odd ambassadorial pairing of Mayor Libby Schaaf and MC Hammer. Somewhere near 1 million fans lined the parade route through downtown and to the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Auditorium, where a rally was held.

Warriors' fans belief that their team could win a championship was crystalized after 2015's victory. But this year, the team and its fans had much to prove after the devastating loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

This championship, and its ensuing celebrations, felt much more redemptive, and pointed at their fiercest rivals, led by Lebron James. Warriors forward Draymond Green embodied this mood with a T-shirt that read "Quickie," the "Q" shaped in a nod to the Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs play, and also a reference to the relatively brisk five games it took the Warriors to reclaim the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Green was also the highlight of the rally, where he took the stage dancing to Vallejo's SOBxRBE hit "Anti," before some choice words on the topic of "Superteams" and praise for Warriors general manager Bob Myers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Housing Development in Berkeley Could Uproot Popular Vegan Mexican Spot Flacos

by Ashley Wong
Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 6:12 PM

The popular vegan taquitos at Flacos in Berkeley. - FILE/PHOTO BY CHRIS DUFFEY
  • File/Photo By Chris Duffey
  • The popular vegan taquitos at Flacos in Berkeley.
Last Thursday, at a Zoning Adjustments Board meeting in Berkeley, a new housing development was proposed for the intersection of Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue. If successful, the construction of this new building will mean much-need new housing — but also the demolition of Flacos, a popular vegan Mexican restaurant.

The building, designed by Moshe Dinar and owned by Nathan Magganas, is proposed to be a five-story, mixed-use, residential and commercial building, with 42 units, 38 parking spaces, and 4,324 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

Magganas says that he and Dinar want Flacos to operate out of their ground-floor commercial space, saying that they would be “very proud” for Flacos to make use of a brand new facility in a new building.

But Danny Sampaga, a Flacos employee, expressed reluctance and uncertainty about whether Flacos would agree to move into the new building, or where the business would go during the construction period.

“We would have to restart again, and we’ve been here for seven years,” Sampaga said. “If the city says okay, what can we do?”

Berkeley development standards limit all new constructions to a maximum of three stories, so Dinar and Magganas are currently in the process of acquiring permits to exceed this height limit.

At Thursday’s meeting, Dinar initially proposed two units of affordable housing, but mentioned that he was open to building more.

Board member John Selawsky said that the city might be reluctant to grant permits for two extra floors if the entire building includes only two below-market-rate units, and that he would like to see as many as 10. Magganas, however, said that the maximum number of affordable housing units they would be able to build is six. To build more than that, he said, would not create enough revenue to support their construction budget.

“In order to be able to build affordable units, the market rate units have to be built more,” Magganas said. “We try to have as high of a number as possible, but sometimes it’s not so easy. Trying to meet everyone’s concerns and expectations costs money.”

Altogether, the new development is projected to cost well over $2 million. If they get approval from the city, Magganas says it will take around 10 months to complete construction.

Crucial Legislation for New Oakland Police Commission Stalls in Committee as Activists and Councilmembers Fight Over Rules

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 2:24 PM

Councilmember Noel Gallo (right) and Dan Kalb co-sponsored the ballot measure to establish the new police commission.
  • Councilmember Noel Gallo (right) and Dan Kalb co-sponsored the ballot measure to establish the new police commission.

At last night’s public-safety committee meeting, Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb told his colleagues he was “thrilled” to introduce detailed legislation that will govern the city’s new and powerful police commission. But by the end of the meeting, Kalb was visibly frustrated.

So too were dozens of activists, who have been a driving force behind the new police accountability board.

The committee deadlocked on a split vote over whether to advance Kalb’s version of the enabling ordinance or a competing ordinance favored by a broad coalition of community groups.

Kalb, who isn't a member of the committee, gave a brief presentation, to his colleagues.

Committee members Abel Guillen and Larry Reid sided with Kalb, while Desley Brooks and Noel Gallo voted for a version that’s preferred by police-accountability activists.

As a result, the all-important package of rules died in committee.
It’s unclear how, or when, a version of the rules, which are necessary to set up the commission, will come to the full council for final approval.

“There’s a reason for the expression, ‘The devil is in the details,’” said Rashidah Grinage, of the Coalition for Police Accountability, at last night’s meeting.

Grinage was referring to the numerous powers and rules spelled out in the ordinance that will determine whether or not the new police commission can fulfill its mission civilian oversight, transparency, and accountability of OPD.

According to Grinage — who worked closely with Kalb and Gallo’s offices to draft the ballot measure that created the police commission — Kalb’s version of the enabling ordinance weakens the commissioners’ independence from the Mayor’s office, and would also prevent some Oakland residents from serving on the board.

The biggest disagreements are whether potential commissioners will be subjected to criminal background checks, and if the mayor’s three commission appointees will be allowed to comprise a majority on the powerful discipline subcommittee.

Kalb’s version of the ordinance requires criminal background checks for potential commissioners. And his version would allow two, or even three, of the mayor’s appointees to serve on the discipline committee at that same time.

“A person is more than the sum of their mistakes,” said John Jones, a member of the selection panel that will appoint four of the commission’s members. Jones and the rest of the selection panel voted several weeks ago to not require criminal background checks, but the panel’s vote isn’t binding. Rather, it’s only a recommendation to the council for how to proceed.

Jones, who is formerly incarcerated and now works as a criminal-justice-system reformer, said at last night’s meeting that he objects to the “idea that everything in my mast could preclude me from doing something in the future.”

George Galvis, the executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, wrote in an email to the Express that background checks are “an example of the first layer of discrimination for formerly incarcerated people that denies and discourages civic participation and community involvement.” He said requiring background checks goes against recent public-policy changes in Oakland, such as “ban the box” rules that are meant to help formerly incarcerated people transform their lives and prevent discrimination from employers.

Another member of the selection panel, Shikira Porter, said required criminal background checks will likely dissuade people from applying to be commissioners, because of the impression the information will be used against them.

“It’s just another way to block and marginalize people who have been most impacted by the criminal-justice system,” she said.

But Kalb told the Express that he thinks the selection panel and mayor should have as much information as possible when choosing commissioners. He underscored that a background check shouldn’t be seen as an effort to weed out people with past convictions.

“Nothing in the ordinance says it would disqualify anyone from serving,” he said.

Oliver Luby, who works as a policy analyst in Kalb’s office, said “a criminal background might actually be considered a bonus” when the mayor or selection panel is considering someone for the commission, because the city wants some of its commissioners to represent the communities that have the most contact with the police, and have been most affected by police misconduct and mass incarceration.

On the issue the mayor having too much influence over the discipline committee’s composition, Kalb said critics were making “a big deal out of nothing.” He said it would be “insulting” to the commissioners to force them into different categories based on who appointed them, and prevent some of them from serving on the discipline committee.

“They should see themselves as all one, working together, toward the same goals,” said Kalb. He also said that the proposal to limit the mayoral appointees ability to serve on the discipline committee could lead to an unbalanced workload for other commissioners.

But members of the Coalition for Police Accountability said that allowing the discipline panel to be comprised of a majority of mayoral-appointees would undermine the independence of the commission from the mayor and city administrator’s offices.

Saied Karamooz told the public-safety committee last night that the reason the mayor’s office fought for three direct appointments to the seven-member police commission was to have some influence over its work. She explained that this is why many opposed giving the mayor the power to pick commissioners, but they compromised in the end.

“The principal has already been set,” said Karamooz, “not to have a majority of the commission be appointed by the mayor. We need to extend that simple logic to the discipline committee.”

Gabriel Haaland, the political director of the union SEIU 1021, which supported the police commission ballot measure, said it’s crucial to make sure the mayor’s appointees don’t have a majority on the discipline committee, and that it’s not a matter who the mayor happens to be at any given point in time. Haaland said it’s about “checks and balances” over the long-term.

“Ten years from now, you don’t want a mayor who can just pick up the phone to lean on someone,” said Haaland.

The public-safety committee’s deadlock means that one of the councilmembers will have to pull both version of the enabling ordinance up to the full council at a future meeting. But Kalb and other councilmembers that this could delay a final vote on the legislation until possibly after the council’s summer recess.

The police commission is scheduled to start meeting in the fall — if the new rules are approved in time.

It's also unclear where other councilmembers and Mayor stand on the differing versions of the ordinance. Mayor Libby Schaaf's office didn't respond to questions about how she might vote on the different versions, if there's another deadlock when the full council votes.

“This is the final step in working for twenty years for police accountability,” said Pamela Drake, just before the committee’s vote last night. “Even the perception that the mayor of administrator will have more power to control what goes one, especially with discipline, will weaken us.”

Kalb and the activists acknowledged that their competing versions of the ordinance are “95 percent” the same. After the vote, the councilmember debated several members of the Coalition for Police Accountability in the lobby of City Hall.

They say they’ll work with each other to try to settle their differences before the next vote.

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