Sunday, January 21, 2018

United Nations Expert Describes Oakland and California's Homeless Crisis as 'Cruel'

On Saturday, the UN rep met with dozens of homeless people — many disabled, elderly, veterans, chronically ill, and suffering from addictions.

by Darwin BondGraham
Sun, Jan 21, 2018 at 12:52 PM

Shawn Moses at the Northgate homeless encampment last May, along with his dog Princess. - FILE PHOTO BY NICK MILLER
  • File photo By Nick Miller
  • Shawn Moses at the Northgate homeless encampment last May, along with his dog Princess.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha inspected Oakland's homeless encampments on Saturday during an unofficial research assessment. Afterward, she told the Express in an interview that she observed conditions of "systemic cruelty."

Farha, who was appointed to the independent expert position by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights in 2014, has previously examined housing conditions in Jarkarta, Manila, and most recently Mexico City. Her current mission is focused on informal settlements and camps in major metropolitan regions across the global north and south.

While homelessness is an international crisis, in several respects, she said, the situation in California's cities is worse than other parts of the world.

"I find there to be a real cruelty in how people are being dealt with here," she said.

The rapporteur was concerned also about the scale of Oakland's homeless crisis. "Everywhere we've driven today, I've seen camps," she said.

Oakland's homeless population is conservatively estimated at 2,761. Over 300 of the homeless people counted last year during a county census were children, and 68 percent of the city's homeless are Black. Most of the homeless have chronic health problems. Some are employed but can no longer afford the cost of housing in the Bay Area.

Farha clarified that she didn't meet with local government leaders and therefore hasn't been briefed on what plans they have to address the shelter crisis. In fact, her visit was purposefully not announced so as avoid media and government attention. She also said she was not judging the government's response on behalf of the UN. Rather, her visit was purely to gather information.

But she said that what she observed, including Oakland's newest policies like the city-sanctioned Tuff Shed camp, should only be considered temporary and partial measures and that Oakland and other cities with large and growing homeless populations have an obligation under international law to do much more, immediately.

Farha pointed to the lack of access to clean water and toilets, rodent infestations, fire dangers, and other hazards as conditions that should be quickly addressed.

Similar conditions exist in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, and California's other major cities. Farha's next stop is Los Angeles.

While she acknowledged Oakland's effort to place portable toilets at some camps in the city, she said this did not appear to be meeting the needs of camp residents. For example, the Wood Street camp in West Oakland has approximately 75 residents but only one portable toilet that's infrequently serviced. Most camps do not have access to running water.

"Imagine being a woman who is menstruating and having to go into one of the porta-potties," she said.

While Farha said that the numbers of unsheltered people has grown in other cities around the world, the situation in California is made much worse due to laws that effectively criminalize homelessness. She pointed to laws in some cities against sleeping in vehicles and camping and against sitting or lying on sidewalks.

Many other cities in places like Mexico or the Philippines either do not have strict anti-homeless laws, or they're not systematically enforced in a manner that harasses unsheltered people. Their existence is tolerated by the government and the rest of society, whereas in California the homeless are often treated as an inconvenience to be moved along.

City of Oakland officials and agencies like Caltrans have said that they have no choice but to periodically make camps move so that areas can be cleaned and sanitized. Officials worry about hepatitis outbreaks or other dangers, in addition to mountains of garbage that build up near the camps. (Most of the illegal dumping in Oakland comes from homes and construction companies and is not produced by the camps.) And city residents and business owners often complain when homeless camps in their neighborhoods and near their businesses grow.

But this repeated forced movement, coupled with the absence of a realistic pathway back to stable housing, is what Farha said is "systemically cruel" about the plight of the homeless in the state.

She also questioned why a wealthy state like California hasn't spent sufficient funds to address the homelessness crisis. In fact, the crisis has only worsened during the most recent seven-year economic boom. A small percentage of society has been enormously enriched while large numbers of people have been displaced from their homes and the homeless camps have grown.

"In Mexico City, I visited a low-income settlement that had been moved by the city onto empty land near a railway line,” she said. "They had no running water. They stole electricity." The camp was noisy and dangerous. She noted that the camp in Mexico is virtually identical to those she visited in Oakland, including the Wood Street and 23rd Avenue encampments.

She questioned why Oakland and other California cities are not doing more to house the thousands of unsheltered people.

The Bay Area is home to some of the wealthiest companies in the world including Apple, Facebook, Google, Wells Fargo, and Chevron. And the Bay Area's real estate wealth has dramatically grown over the past ten years. But state anti-tax laws like Prop. 13 effectively block cities like Oakland from taxing that wealth to create more affordable housing.

In reports, Farha has written that governments increasingly treat housing as a commodity to create profits rather than as a social good to fulfill people's needs. Farha described it as the "dehumanizing" of housing.

"What is so stark about the pouring of those vast amounts of money into housing is that hardly any of it is directed towards ameliorating the insufferable housing conditions in which millions live," she wrote in a recent paper.

In Oakland, only 6 percent of the housing under construction is subsidized to be affordable. The rest is market-rate housing which could alleviate overall housing prices in the long-term, but will only be a housing option for middle- and upper-income earners. Most experts say the entire Bay Area needs to produce much more affordable and market-rate housing.

Oakland's adopted budget for this year added $250,000 in local funding to expand services at homeless camps. This was an addition to $7 million in grant funding from outside sources. But city officials say that Oakland's fiscal constraints prevent them from dedicating the millions in city funds that advocates have demanded to address the homelessness crisis.

Nevertheless, the city has shifted its approach to the problem over the past year. In 2016, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney led an effort to stabilize an existing homeless camp under the 580 freeway in West Oakland. Called the "Compassionate Communities" pilot program, $190,000 in city funds were dedicated for cleaning the camp and helping its residents seek transitional housing. But after a fire burned a dozen tents at the camp, the city closed it in May of last year, and the remaining residents scattered.

The Oakland City Council voted last year to allow sanctioned camps, a measure that should help decriminalize the act of sleeping on public property throughout the city. And several nonprofits have been hired to offer services, including efforts to place people in transitional housing.

Oakland's single officially sanctioned camp is a collection of Tuff Sheds with portable toilets and a hand washing station at 6th and Castro streets. It was opened in December and has been praised as a more realistic city-led response to the homelessness crisis. A second Tuff Shed camp is planned possibly at the Northgate Avenue camp in Uptown Oakland.

Farha's impression of the Tuff Shed camp was mixed. She said that so long as it's understood to be an emergency measure with a long-term "game plan" to move people out quickly into more permanent housing, it could be helpful.

"I haven't had the opportunity to hear from the mayor and assess her plan," said Farha. "But the city has an immediate obligation to get everyone into a dignified situation."

Mayor Libby Schaaf has said that the Tuff Shed encampments are designed to be a temporary measure to transition homeless people into housing.

On Saturday, Farha met with dozens of homeless people — many disabled, elderly, veterans, chronically ill, and suffering from addictions — and she witnessed families with children camping in the 41 degree weather. At a camp in the San Antonio neighborhood, she watched large rats scurry in the mud looking for food scraps. Several Oakland police officers arrived at dusk searching for someone among the tents and tarps.

The special rapporteur was accompanied on her Oakland visit by organizers with the East Oakland Collective and The Village/Feed the People, two groups that help run homeless camps and provide clothing, food, medicine and other necessities.

East Oakland Collective organizer Candice Elder said the city needs to spend more money on serving the homeless than it currently does. "The politicians are trying to make this place look like the new tech city, but we're saying this is our city and there's some really deep problems that need to be fixed right now."

"I hope this visit highlights the problem as a human rights issue," said Nicholas Houston, also of the East Oakland Collective. "People see the homeless as an eyesore. They're people."

"Every person I spoke to today has told me, 'we are human beings,'" said Farha about her conversations with camp residents. "But if you need to assert to a UN representative that you are a human, well, something is seriously wrong."

Friday, January 19, 2018

Opinion: The Youth Shall Inherit the Coal

by Mykela Patton, Jada Delaney, and Roseanie Phan
Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 3:36 PM

The coal would arrive in Oakland by train. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The coal would arrive in Oakland by train.

We are youth, and we are told that we are going to inherit the world, but what if there is nothing left to inherit?

Tuesday was the start date of a trial to decide if Oakland’s ban on coal storage and handling will be overturned. If coal is stored in our city, it will contribute to global climate change, lead to devastating effects on the health of the West Oakland community, and undermine our local democracy. It would rob us of our inheritance.

The infamous proposed coal terminal would be built in West Oakland, in an area many in our community call home. Bowie Resource Partners coal executives and developer Phil Tagami will not be here after the 66-year lease to operate the terminal on public land is over. We will be here. Our children will be here. We cannot be sure that our children will have the life a child deserves: playing, running, breathing.

As this coal is stored in West Oakland, and shipped overseas to be burned, the Earth will continue to get warmer. The mining and burning of this coal would result in over 12.5 million tons of greenhouse emissions each year. A warming planet will further intensify local impacts such as sea level rise and an increase in infectious disease, which will further burden the residents of West Oakland.

Our city, our community, our home is being threatened by people who will never come in direct contact with the residents of West Oakland. West Oakland is a low-income community that is predominantly Black and Brown. We have no doubt that this is part of the reason why the West Oakland community is treated as a dumping ground. Historically, cities have placed toxic and hazardous materials near communities of color, and vice versa. West Oakland is no exception; public health officials have found that West Oakland residents (including one of the authors of this piece) live 10 years less than their neighbors in the rest of the county due to the poor air quality.

We have spoken directly with the youth of West Oakland, which Tagami has failed to do. Students there are sick and tired of constantly having to miss school because they cannot breath. Activities like storing, handling, and loading coal releases coal dust. Coal dust contains mercury, lead, arsenic, and particulate matter. Many people in West Oakland understand that what is being done to them is not just; that there are reasons why the asthma rates are so high, but businessmen like Tagami refuse to hear their cries or allow them the platform to advocate for their health.

It is unethical that the city’s decision to ban coal is being undermined by Tagami and Bowie’s effort to push coal into our city. Oakland’s opposition to coal came from the hard work of community activists like us. Many residents came out to voice their disapproval of coal and its detrimental effects on the health of themselves, their families, and the environment. For the past two years, we have worked toward a coal-free community through many youth-led actions, protests, and meetings. When the ban against coal was announced, our efforts were to be celebrated, though with the surfacing of the lawsuit, we are being thrown into another battle against coal.

The voices of those in our community often go unheard, so it hurts for our victory to be undermined by this irresponsible lawsuit. Decisions that directly impact us are being made by those who do not know about our community and the inequalities we face.

Many residents of Oakland are unaware of the fight against coal, and we recognize that being in a position to be educated and involved, especially as young women of color, is a confluence of luck and privilege. With the platform we have been given, we are doing our best to advocate and provide a voice for those impacted most directly. As we are heading off to college, we plan to return to Oakland and use our education to work for the good of our community. However, if coal is forced into Oakland in the trial this week, what kind of community will be here for us to return to?

Mykela Patton, Jada Delaney, and Roseanie Phan are three youth activists, high school students and residents of East and West Oakland. As members of New Voices are Rising, they have worked to oppose the scheme to store and handle coal in Oakland.

Friday’s Briefing: Federal Government to Shut Down Over DACA; Women’s March Expected to Draw Big Crowds Tomorrow

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Jan 19, 2018 at 10:32 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Jan. 19, 2018:

1. The federal government likely will shut down tonight over the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to vote on an immigration reform deal involving the DACA program, the Washington Post$ reports. Senate Democrats and a few moderate Republicans say that, as a result, they will not vote for another resolution to fund the government and keep it open. Senate Republicans do not appear to have enough votes to prevent a shut down.

2. The Women’s March tomorrow is expected to draw large crowds in cities nationwide, reports Emily DeRuy of the Bay Area News Group$. Last year’s march drew 100,000 demonstrators to downtown Oakland. Oakland’s rally is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. at Lake Merritt Amphitheater and then proceed up 14th Street to Frank Ogawa Plaza.

3. California set a record low for unemployment last month, with the jobless rate dipping to 4.3 percent, the Sacramento Bee$ reports. The state added 52,700 jobs in December. The previous record low for joblessness was 4.6 percent.

4. The Berkeley Cannabis Commission may recommend that the city lower its weed taxes in an attempt to draw customers away from Oakland’s dispensaries, reports Ella Colbert of the Daily Cal. Berkeley currently levies a 10 percent tax on recreational pot and a 2.5 percent tax on medical marijuana.

5. Ram Hotels has resubmitted a plan to build a new 100-room hotel on Alameda’s Bay Farm Island one year after the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission rejected a similar proposal, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. The new hotel in the Harbor Bay Business Park would be four stories tall, rather than the five-story plan that was denied.

6. The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal judge’s decision that blocked its plan to end the DACA program, which provides protections to young undocumented immigrants, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The Trump Department of Justice decided to bypass the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

7. The flu virus can be passed by merely breathing the same air as those who are sick, reports Tracy Seipel of the Mercury News$, citing a new study involving UC Berkeley researchers. Previously, it was thought that people caught the flu after “being exposed to droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes, or by touching contaminated surfaces.” This year’s flu has killed 42 people under the age of 65 in California.

8. The Bay Area did not make the list of 20 finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters.

9. And Sliver Pizzeria of Berkeley, which recently closed its downtown location and then reopened on Telegraph Avenue, has decided to open a second location — in Berkeley’s downtown area again, reports Sara Han of Berkeleyside.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Seven Boot & Shoe Managers to Quit Unless Hallowell Divests; San Leandro City Manager Under Investigation for Sex Harassment

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Jan 18, 2018 at 10:25 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Jan. 18, 2018:

  • File photo by Alessandra Mello
  • Charlie Hallowell.
1. Seven managers and chefs at the popular Oakland restaurant Boot & Shoe Service are threatening to resign unless embattled founder Charlie Hallowell, who is accused of pervasive sexual harassment, divests from the company, reports Tara Duggan of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The high-level employees described Hallowell as “a symbol of what is toxic in the restaurant industry culture.” Hallowell has resigned from the day-to-operations of Boot & Shoe, Pizzaiolo, and Penrose but continues to profit from them.

2. San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata is under investigation for allegedly sexually harassing the CEO of a well-known nonprofit that sought a cannabis dispensary permit, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Zapata has denied wrongdoing and claims that Rose Padilla Johnson of the Davis Street Family Resource Center and Gordon Galvan, who serves on the board of the center, have leveled false charges against him because the city demanded that Johnson’s nonprofit repay an overdue loan of $1.5 million to the city, reports Steven Tavares of the East Bay Citizen. The city council has appointed an investigator to probe Zapata’s actions.

3. Prosecutors have charged Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Bailey, 28, with a felony for allegedly instigating an attack on an inmate by a group of other inmates at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin last fall, reports Rick Hurd of the East Bay Times$. “Bailey is the fifth deputy to be arrested for alleged mistreatment of inmates at Santa Rita Jail in recent months.”

4. State regulators have given BART the greenlight to put new train cars in service in the coming days, reports Erin Baldassari of the East Bay Times$. The new test trains, which have been plagued by problems, were supposed to go into service last year.

5. UC Berkeley student Luis Mora, who was arrested by immigration officials in Southern California during the holidays, has been released from custody on $1,500 bond, reports Annie Ma of the San Francisco Chronicle. Mora’s detainment sparked a backlash from East Bay immigrant rights’ activists and from California political leaders.

6. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she would be willing to be jailed to uphold Oakland’s sanctuary city law, reports Jeff Shuttleworth of Bay City News. Federal immigration officials have threatened to arrest mayors and councilmembers of cities that have enacted sanctuary city ordinances that protect undocumented people. Earlier this week, the Oakland City Council strengthened its law, banning OPD from any cooperation with ICE.

7. State lawmakers are considering legislation that would establish an individual mandate to buy health insurance in California in the wake of the Republican Congress’ decision to eliminate the federal mandate, reports Elizabeth Aguilera of CalMatters (h/t Rough & Tumble). Legislators are concerned that the GOP’s move could severely harm the state’s insurance market.

8. Kamakura, a beloved restaurant in Alameda that burned down last year, may not reopen for another six months, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. The restaurant has faced several challenges, including the need to rewire the building, since it burned in January 2017.

9. And Tenants at an Alameda apartment complex who challenged rent hikes of 133 percent, have reached a deal with the landlord, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. Rent is increasing from 1,500 to $3,500 a month at 3315 Willis Lane, but tenants will be “credited with a $1,000 monthly discount retroactive from Dec. 18, 2017, which will continue through June 30. The agreement also calls for a $500 discount each month on the rent between July 1, 2018, through the end of the year.”

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Oakland Privacy Commissioner Alleges City Investigator Is Mishandling Complaint Against Police Chief

Brian Hofer wrote in a letter that a police misconduct investigator was more interested in the immigration status of Oakland residents than false claims made by Anne Kirkpatrick. Plus, the council bars any cooperation between OPD and ICE.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Activists at last week's Oakland public safety committee meeting demanding the city sever all ties to ICE.
  • Activists at last week's Oakland public safety committee meeting demanding the city sever all ties to ICE.

A police misconduct investigation targeting Oakland's police chief took another turn last night after a group of citizens said they have "little confidence" in the Citizens Police Review Board investigator who is handling the case.

Oakland Privacy Commission Chair Brian Hofer and several city residents filed the original complaint against Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick for making false statements about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid last August.

Kirkpatrick had assigned three police officers to assist ICE during the raid. The officers blocked the street to through traffic and were seen communicating with ICE agents who carried out a search warrant.

Kirkpatrick has defended her decision to assist ICE saying that she was told by ICE Special Agent in Charge Ryan Spradlin that the operation was part of a criminal investigation into human trafficking, not a civil immigration action. She also has stated that her intention was to provide a buffer between the public and the ICE agents during the raid, especially because it could have resulted in a gunfight. And Kirkpatrick has also said publicly that she never violated Oakland's sanctuary ordinance and has every intention of following policies established by the mayor and city council.

But the only person who was arrested during the August ICE raid was never charged with a crime. Instead, federal officials moved to have the man deported due to a violation of civil immigration law. It's also unclear if the raid was in fact part of a criminal investigation. ICE has so far refused to release any documents about their investigation.

Kirkpatrick made several public statements after the raid that it raid was a criminal law enforcement operation, and that a criminal case was filed against the man who was arrested.

Under Oakland law, city employees, including police officers, cannot assist federal agents in the enforcement of civil immigration law.

Hofer and several other Oakland residents accused Kirkpatrick of making untruthful statements and filed their complaint with the Citizens Police Review Board and OPD's internal affairs unit on Nov. 6.

Now, the complainants say the city investigator assigned to the case is mishandling it, and that the investigator even inquired about people's immigration status.

In a letter to Citizens Police Review Board Executive Director Anthony Finnell, Hofer and a dozen other Oakland residents, wrote that investigator Joan Saupe conducted a 20-minute interview with Hofer during which Saupe made "improper" attempts to determine the legal status of the family whose home was targeted by the August ICE raid.

"Ms. Suape was attempting to establish the criminal predicate that ICE says exists, that the family is guilty of human trafficking," they wrote. They added that the investigator "asked Mr. Hofer how the family entered into the country."

Hofer and the other authors of the letter requested that Finnell replace Saupe. They said the family's immigration status has nothing to do with the complaint, which focuses instead on Kirkpatrick's claims that ICE was conducting a criminal investigation.

Finnell didn't respond to an email from the Express seeking comment about the letter.

At last night's city council meeting, Hofer disclosed sending the letter to Finnell. He also said the issue of OPD's possible collaboration with ICE is all the more relevant following the recent news that ICE plans to conduct a sweep of the Bay Area, specifically targeting sanctuary jurisdictions.

Another result of the August ICE raid was a resolution restating the city's sanctuary policy and specifically barring OPD from providing any assistance to ICE, including traffic control.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who drafted the resolution, called OPD's assistance of ICE during the august raid "inappropriate." The council passed the resolution unanimously last night (Mayor Libby Schaaf also previously told the Express that she, too, supported the resolution). The resolution included an amendment from Councilmember Abel Guillen directing city staff to bring it back as a full ordinance within 60 days.

Why Trump’s Health Is Likely Far from “Excellent”

Hint: He has a skin disease that's been linked to poor gut health. Maybe downing 12 Diet Cokes a day isn't such a good idea?

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 2:53 PM

Trump suffers from rosacea. - WHITEHOUSE.GOV
  • Trump suffers from rosacea.
Yesterday, in an effort to prove his self-described “genius” and put to rest the many concerns about his mental state, Cheeto-in-Chief Donald Trump requested a physical by White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who declared the 71-year-old to be in “excellent” physical and cognitive health.

Of course, many mental health experts disagree, believing that Trump is mentally unfit for his position, citing his impulsivity, pathological narcissism, and paranoia.

But there are also questions about his physical health. Not only does Trump have heart disease, but he also suffers from rosacea.

Rosacea is mostly known as a skin disorder that results in facial redness and, sometimes, a bulbous nose. Although the exact cause of rosacea is unknown, researchers have long pointed to a connection between skin disorders and gut health. For example, a 2008 study found that rosacea patients had a significantly higher prevalence of SIBO, a condition involving an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, than those without rosacea, and that treating SIBO in rosacea patients led to marked improvement of their skin condition.

SIBO develops when the normal mechanisms that control bacterial populations in the small intestine are disrupted. “The two processes that most commonly predispose to bacterial overgrowth are diminished gastric acid secretion and small intestine dysmotility,” according to a 2007 review published by Gastroenterology & Hepatology. “Disturbances in gut immune function and anatomical abnormalities of the GI tract also increase the likelihood of developing SIBO,” the researchers continued.

Risk factors for SIBO include: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, being elderly, taking too many antibiotics, and more. Is Trump's reported intake of 12 Diet Cokes a day a contributing factor? A 2014 study showed that artificial sweeteners result in changes to the gut microbiota, so a safe answer would be "yes."

And it's not just rosacea. There are many, many studies showing the so-called “gut-skin axis.” That’s why Berkeley-based functional medicine practitioner Chris Kresser says in order to heal the skin, you have to heal the gut. In fact, there are also connections with gut and skin health to the brain: Two studies have shown that "SIBO is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, while eradication of SIBO improves emotional symptoms."

So, could improving Trump's gut health help his mental state?

The fact that Trump uses Soolantra Cream to control his rosacea clearly indicates a problem that’s more than skin-deep. Soolantra is reported to have anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties, although, according to the company itself, “the exact mechanism of action of Soolantra Cream in the treatment of rosacea is unknown.”

Wednesday’s Briefing: ICE Plans Immigration Sweep in Sanctuary Cities; West Coast Sea Lion Population Rebounds

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 10:12 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Jan. 17, 2018:

1. Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are planning to conduct immigration raids and sweeps in sanctuary cities in the Bay Area, reports Hamed Aleaziz of the San Francisco Chronicle, citing an unnamed source. ICE officials are angry that sanctuary cities, like Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda, have refused to help them deport undocumented immigrants — and that Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in October making California a sanctuary state.

2. The West Coast sea lion population has tripled in the last 40 years to more than 250,000, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$, citing a new federal study. “Federal biologists say strict environmental laws to protect marine mammals have worked so well that California sea lions have become the first marine mammal that lives along the entire West Coast to recover to its natural carrying capacity. That’s the maximum population size a species can reach based on an area’s available food.”

3. The costs of California’s high-speed rail project, connecting Southern California to the Bay Area, continue to soar, with the estimated cost of the first 119 miles of track jumping $2.8 billion to a total of $10.6 billion, reports Ralph Vartabedian of the LA Times$. The price spikes were “mainly driven by … higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocating utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines, and demands by stakeholders for the mitigation of myriad issues.”

4. Congressional Republicans say they’ve reached a short-term spending deal to avoid a shutdown of the federal government on Friday, the Washington Post$ reports. Democrats say they won’t vote for the pact because it doesn’t include a deal to extend DACA, the federal program that protects young undocumented immigrants who came to the country when they were children.

5. And nearly all the members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s refusal to meet with them, the Washington Post$ reports. Board members and park advocates are especially concerned with the administration’s plan to greatly increase user fees.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In Reversal, OUSD Officials Say Oakland Charter School's Renewal Petition Was Approved

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 4:50 PM


Last week, the Oakland Unified School District's board didn't muster enough votes to renew the charter petition for Amethods Oakland Charter Academy, one of the city's many charter schools. Only three board members of the seven member board voted in favor of renewal — Aimee Eng, James Harris, and Jumoke Hinton-Hodge. One board member was absent (Roseann Torres), one abstained (Nina Senn), and two voted no — Jody London and Shanthi Gonzales.

Immediately after last week's vote, an OUSD staff member explained to the board that the renewal failed and the Express reported the district staff's initial determination.

Amethods staff responded to the vote with disappointment.

But under state law, three out of seven votes is enough to renew a charter school's right to operate, according to OUSD officials.

"The confusion came after it became clear that the vote did not count because, by statute, the Board of Directors must pass any motion with four yes votes, not three," explained OUSD spokesman John Sasaki. "But this did not mean that OCA’s renewal was denied because there was no motion to deny, only a motion to approve."

In other words, the vote was virtually the same as the board taking no action on the proposal to renew OCA's charter.

And state law says that if a district takes no action within 60 days of a submission of a renewal petition to approve or deny a charter school's right to continue operating, then it's automatically approved.

Coal Company Attorneys Criticize City of Oakland's Health Impact Study Supporting Coal Ban

Attorneys for the coal industry implied the city's coal ban resulted from political pressure put on by the Sierra Club

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 3:52 PM


Developer Phil Tagami took the stand in federal court today to defend his company's effort to overturn the city of Oakland's ban on shipping coal.

"We'd be building a facility that's really state of the art, unlike anything that exists anywhere in the world,” Tagami told the court. He said city, state, and federal regulations that are already in place are strong enough to ensure coal can safely be shipped through the East Bay.

His company is under contract with the city to build a bulk commodity export terminal on city-owned land in West Oakland. Partnering with Tagami on the project is Bowie Resource Partners, a coal mining company, and Bowie is helping pay for the lawsuit.

Tagami told the court that between one and three million tons of coal per year would be brought via rail through Oakland to the terminal from Bowie's Utah mines. But he maintained that the rail cars would be capped to prevent coal dust emissions and that the facility would have numerous other safety measures.

A single train would be over one mile long and include more than 100 cars packed with western bituminous coal. As many as 200 trains per year could transit through West Oakland to the marine terminal.

But Tagami's lawyers said that the city's elected officials caved to pressure from the Sierra Club and decided to ban coal without actually having evidence that it's bad for the environment.

"It's a big deal for Oakland politicians to alienate the Sierra Club, right?," Meredith Shaw, one of Tagami's lawyers, asked Patrick Cashman, a former city employee who worked on the Army Base redevelopment project. "Sierra Club can make or break you politically?"

Cashman replied that there is an "alignment" between many local politicians and the Sierra Club on environmental policy issues.

Robert Feldman, another of Tagami's attorneys, asked the city's scientific consultants why they chose not to include information that appeared to be favorable to his clients in their report.

“What your client wanted was a report to support a coal ban?” Feldman asked Victoria Evans, a former employee of ESA, the city's consultant.

Feldman characterized the ESA report as “preliminary” and said it was based on limited information that didn't provide the city council a full picture.

The ESA report found that the city had reason to expect negative health impacts if the coal terminal were to be built.

Evans acknowledged that the report did use limited information. ESA's contract with the city was to review the public record that was submitted to the city council during public hearings in 2016. Even so, she said this record still contained about 3,000 pages of materials, and her team was able to find scientific evidence among the many letters and documents contained in it.

"We ruled out those that didn't have scientific data attached to their comment," said Evans. She also said her team performed its own calculations based on this record to reach its conclusions.

Feldman, however, criticized ESA and the city's decision not to study other coal terminals currently operating in California and to not study the possible air pollution that other types of commodities could cause.

Evans answered that the city told her team only to study coal.

Feldman also underscored ESA's decision not to include in its report statements made by an employee of a company that manufactures rail car covers.

“Was there anything in your report that shows Ecofab has shipped millions of miles and no dust has escaped?" Feldman asked, referring to the company that makes the covers.

“No,” replied Evans.

But in previous court briefings it was established that rail car covers have actually never been used to ship coal. Tagami also acknowledged this fact at today's hearing.

Feldman also singled out examples of what he alleged were omissions from the ESA report that stacked the deck against coal. One email was from an ESA team member addressing the potential for fires at coal shipping facilities.

"This email was cut and pasted into the ESA report, except for one thing right?" asked Feldman. "Major fires at coal terminals are not common or widespread. It's not in the ESA report is it?"

“That's correct,” said Evans.

The city's attorneys countered by asking Evans a lengthy series of questions about how the ESA team came to its conclusions, including the methods they used to estimate potential coal dust emissions from trains.

The ESA report concluded that about six tons of coal dust would blow off train cars each year along one and half mile stretch of track in West Oakland. Evans said this number was obtained by using coal dust emissions measurements taken recently along train tracks in Washington state.

But Judge Vince Chhabria cut in during the city's questioning to ask Evans if anything in the ESA report would allow him to compare the potential coal dust emissions from the proposed export terminal and trains to other existing sources of pollution like the Bay Bridge toll plaza or diesel trucks at the Port of Oakland.

“The answer is no,” said Evans. “We did no comparison.” But she added it would be possible to measure other pollution sources and compare them to the coal facility's impacts.

Chhabria said at a previous hearing last week that he thinks the city needs some kind of baseline or comparison in order to show that the coal export terminal would significantly increase pollution.

Gregory Aker, an attorney for Oakland, also asked Evans about the possibility that the coal trains or warehouses could erupt in fires.

“The concern here is coal outgases methane and methane is combustable,” said Evans. “There have been instances of rail cars arriving smoldering at power plants.”

Evans also told Aker that there's been no scientific studies of the effectiveness of using surfactant sprays – another mitigation measure Tagami's team has offered to reduce dust – so her team didn't assume they would be used or have any effect on the escape of coal dust from trains.

As for the overall quality and accuracy of the ESA report, Evans defended it. “There was a lot more scrutiny given to this report than is typical at ESA,” she said. “It received a lot more review internally. It was, 'Let's get it right, let's make it clear what we're trying to say.'”

The trial continues tomorrow.

Tuesday’s Briefing: CPUC Orders PG&E to Transition Away from Natural Gas; Lawmakers Seek to Limit New Bike Lane on Bridge

Plus, federal government shutdown looms this week amid controversy over President Trump’s racist remarks.

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 10:20 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Jan. 16, 2018:

1. The California Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E and other utilities to transition away from natural gas-fired power plants and to use battery-storage facilities fueled by renewable energy, reports Mark Chediak of the LA Times$. The move, which is designed to help the state meet its climate change goals, comes at a time when the technology of battery storage has improved. Large battery farms can store energy produced by solar and wind power for use during times of peak electricity demand. PG&E and other utilities have depended on natural gas-powered plants to produce additional energy during peak times.

2. Lawmakers from Marin and Contra Costa counties are pushing to limit the use of a planned new bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge so that it can be used for vehicle traffic, reports Mark Prado of the Marin Independent Journal$. Transportation officials are planning to create a bike lane on the top deck of the bridge, but Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly and Contra Costa County representative Amy Worth want the new lane to be used for cars and trucks on weekdays or during commute hours.

3. The federal government could shut down later this week amid controversy over President Trump’s racist remarks, the Washington Post$ reports. Democrats want a deal on DACA to be included in any resolution that keeps the government open, but immigration talks unraveled after Trump referred to African nations and Haiti as “shithole countries.”

4. President Trump has the lowest average approval rating — 39 percent — during his first year in office of any president in the history of polling, the Associated Press reports (via the San Francisco Chronicle$). The previous record average low was President Clinton's 49 percent. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is currently 38 percent, with 57 percent of Americans saying they disapprove of how he handles his job.

5. ICYMI: Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is moving forward with a plan to reduce the size of his water tunnels project — from two tunnels to one. The original twin tunnels plan, which was estimated to cost $17 billion, failed to gain support from San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses that were expected to help finance the plan and would’ve received water from it. Some environmental groups have been pushing Brown for years to scale back his proposal from two tunnels to one, arguing that the large proposal would harm the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

6. And Digital First Media, which owns the East Bay Times and the Mercury News, announced plans for another round of buyouts and layoffs of journalists at those newspapers, the LA Times$ reports. “At its peak size in the 1990s, the Mercury News had a newsroom staff of 440, according to the Pacific Media Workers Guild. The Mercury’s newsroom currently has a staff of 39, according to the Guild.”

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

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