Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Oakland Failed to Spend $2.2 Million on Anti-Displacement and Homeless Assistance

The funds went unspent because of a budget error and staffing shortages.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 22, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Byrd said the money was misallocated in the budget, and staffing shortages prevented her agency from issuing a request for proposals.
  • Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Byrd said the money was misallocated in the budget, and staffing shortages prevented her agency from issuing a request for proposals.

Eleven months ago, the Oakland City Council voted to set aside $2.2 million in funds it receives from the state in order to pay for expanded anti-displacement and homelessness prevention services.

But the money was never spent. Instead, according to a city staff report, a bookkeeping error that labeled the money as part of the Public Works Department's budget prevented the funds from being used. Furthermore, city staff erroneously thought that the council had only budgeted $1.9 million in funds for the next two years instead of $2.2 million.

Also, the city's Housing and Community Development Department failed over the past half year to advertise the availability of the money, which was supposed to be used to hire counselors for low-income homeowners facing foreclosure, eviction defense attorneys for tenants, and outreach workers to educate renters of their rights.

Part of the problem was staffing issues in the Housing and Community Development Department.

"In the past six to nine months, I lost two managers and four upper-level administrative staff," said Michelle Byrd, the director of Housing and Community Development. Byrd said staffing shortages have "depleted" her agency's ability to carry out key functions such as issuing requests for proposals, or RFPs, the first step in hiring contractors to provide services like legal representation and financial counseling.

The fact that the anti-displacement funds have gone unspent during the city's housing crisis has upset many.

"This is ridiculous, people are being displaced," said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan about the city administration's failure to spend the money.

"I certainly have sympathy for Ms. Byrd and her department, which has been hit with staff reductions," housing advocate James Vann said today at a city council committee hearing, "but almost a year has passed. We need this to get into effect as soon as possible."

Byrd told the council's community and economic development committee today that her plan now is to expedite the process by copying a contract that Alameda County is issuing for similar anti-displacement services and using the same vendor that the county selected through a competitive process, Centro Legal de la Raza. But she added that the city's version of the contract will include several features that aren't in the county's.

According to the Our Beloved Community Action Network, a coalition of groups that lobbied for the set-aside last year, the county's contract doesn't include housing outreach and counseling services for tenants and legal and counseling services for Asian-language speaking residents — two services that are especially needed in Oakland.

Councilmember Dan Kalb drafted the ordinance that carved out the $2.2 million in redevelopment agency "boomerang" funds last June. The money traditionally was used to pay for affordable housing projects, but after voters passed Measure KK, which created $250 million in new money for affordable housing, the council sought more flexibility in how it used the boomerang funds.

Kalb said the unspent money was disturbing and called for more city council oversight of how the administration follows up on council budget priorities.

"We're six to nine months late," said Kalb. "Let's just get it done."

Byrd said she expects to have a fully negotiated contract ready for the council to approve by July, before the summer recess.

Tuesday’s Briefing: Republican Congressman Proposes ‘Mayor Libby Schaaf Act of 2018’ to Punish Officials Who Warn of ICE Raids

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, May 22, 2018 at 9:14 AM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

A Republican Congressman from Iowa has introduced the “Mayor Libby Schaaf Act of 2018”
in an attempt to make it illegal for public officials to warn of upcoming immigration sweeps. Under the bill authored by Rep. Steve King, state and local government officials who purposefully “broadcast” information relating to “any imminent action by a federal law enforcement officer or agent” would be guilty of obstruction of justice and could face up to five years in prison, as well as a fine. (East Bay Times)

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment by UC Berkeley professors, sometimes years after the alleged incidents occurred. More than 1,000 people have complained about sexual violence or harassment at the university since 2014. There is no time limit on the complaints. (San Francisco Chronicle)

After delays, a large housing project in Oakland’s Broadway-Valdez district could be breaking ground soon. Developer Holland Partner Group filed for building permits for 437 units of housing and 65,000 square feet of retail at 277 27th St., which has been occupied by an Acura dealership. The 18-story tower project was approved in 2016 but has been delayed because of permits and because of the new for a new location for the dealership, which is now moving near the Coliseum. (San Francisco Business Times)

Kimberly Petersen will become Fremont’s first female and openly gay police chief. Formerly a captain with the department, Petersen has been with the department for 22 years and will be appointed on July 26, when Police Chief Richard Lucero retires. (East Bay Times)

California may become the first state in the nation to offer full health coverage to undocumented adults, as the feud between the state and the Trump administration intensifies. (Politico)

An officer-involved shooting last night in Hayward left the suspect and the officer injured, according to police. (East Bay Times)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Innovative Oakland High School for New Immigrant Students a Model in California

Oakland International High provides academic as well as physical and emotional support.

by Theresa Harrington
Mon, May 21, 2018 at 2:25 PM

THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
For 11 years, students from all over the world have gathered at Oakland International High to learn English and math, as they also learn to navigate new lives far from where they were born.

Chanthavy, 16, who left Cambodia in 2009 and learned English in Malaysia before arriving in the U.S. in 2014 with her mother and extended family, said she appreciates the school because it is immigrant-friendly and has partnered with a local food bank to occasionally offer nutritious items students can take home to their families.

“They understand our situation and they know that we need help and they provide it,” she said, as she worked on an essay about how experiencing violence can traumatize a person and change their perspectives about the world. (All student names were changed at the school’s request since many students are involved in immigration proceedings.)

The small alternative high school, which was the first of its kind in California when it opened in 2007, is one of 27 public schools or academies across the country that are part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which serve new immigrants — students who have recently come to the United States. A second California school is in San Francisco.

Now, other schools are looking to Oakland International as a model because of its innovative program serving these newcomer students, which includes a “full service community school” model that provides academic as well as physical and emotional supports to students. Last year 800 visitors came to the school, which attracts outside funding to provide small class sizes, teaching assistants and coaches for every teacher. Located in North Oakland, the school serves more than 400 students who as a group speak about three dozen languages. It is one of 14 high schools in the Oakland Unified School District, which enrolls about 37,100 students in the East Bay.

Last year’s visitors included 10 administrators from West Contra Costa Unified, based in nearby Richmond, which hopes to establish its own newcomer programs, said founding Principal Carmelita Reyes, who came up with the idea to start the Oakland campus.

Twenty-nine percent of students at the school are from Guatemala and 16 percent are from El Salvador. Many came as unaccompanied minors from Central America. They were trying “to get somewhere safe,” said Sailaja Suresh, who directs the school’s Learning Lab, which trains teachers to work with English learners. Others came to reunite with family members.

A sign at Oakland International High welcomes students from around the world. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • A sign at Oakland International High welcomes students from around the world.

Carlos, 16, came alone from El Salvador two years ago knowing no English. Now, he’s planning a future that includes going to college.
“I like all the classes here,” said Carlos who hasn’t decided yet on a career path. “My favorite is math — learning to multiply and divide.”
Rosa, 14, who came to Oakland two years ago from El Salvador, wants to be a teacher. She’s working on her English and made some progress in middle school last year. “I like kids,” she said, as she scrutinized the fractions she and Carlos created by covering 16 out of 64 squares on a checker board with game pieces.

Math teacher David Hansen said most of his students have never played checkers but the game helps them learn math. He also teaches them to play checkers for fun.

Thirty-eight percent of the school’s students have missed two years or more of formal education. They attend classes for Students with Interrupted Formal Education, or SIFE, where they work to catch up. Carlos and Rosa were learning alongside other newcomer immigrants in Hansen’s SIFE math class for 9th and 10th-graders. All students at the school take seven classes, with most newcomers taking a regular English language arts class, history, math, science, advisory, “Survival English” and an elective. SIFE math is offered in an elective or advisory period for those who need it, Reyes said.

A “Word Wall” in a Survival English class at Oakland International includes numbers, letters, words and pictures depicting descriptive words. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • A “Word Wall” in a Survival English class at Oakland International includes numbers, letters, words and pictures depicting descriptive words.

The goal is for the students to get to grade level in English and math and then take other courses they need to graduate from Oakland International.

Students miss school for a variety of reasons, Suresh said. Some have traveled such long distances to get to Oakland from their home countries that they couldn’t attend school along the way. Others had schooling interrupted by wars or because they were too poor to pay the school fees.

They work with counselors to create five-year graduation plans and can take summer school credit recovery courses. As they progress, they can also take after-school dual enrollment community college courses in English as a Second Language and math, which could allow them to enter college without remediation.

All teachers at the school emphasize English language skills, Suresh said.

“We’re really trusting teachers to understand where they’re at,” she said, “and meet them where they are.”

Another challenge, Suresh said, is creating a curriculum that respects the fact that “our students are teenagers and are actually capable of quite complex thinking and opinions,” and helping them to “access those thoughts and articulate them” through teaching that is not “elementary style.”

The school’s curriculum is aligned with Common Core math and English language arts standards and most 11th-graders take the state’s standardized tests in those subjects. As English learners, most are not yet reading at grade level. About 3.3 percent of the 90 students who took the math test met state standards, including nearly 2.4 percent of the 84 English learners who took it.

In an 11th-grade English class, students recently worked on assignments designed to prepared them for the state tests, while also building their overall critical thinking and writing skills.

English teacher Julia Carson assists 11th-graders with writing assignments at Oakland International High. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • English teacher Julia Carson assists 11th-graders with writing assignments at Oakland International High.

Survival English students, on the other hand, drew pictures and wrote sentences describing their identities on large paper puzzle pieces including details about where they came from and their families, favorite foods and religious beliefs.

Jose, 17, from Guatemala, wrote that his favorite food is pizza “because it is delicious.”

Students in a “Survival English” class at Oakland International High describe their favorite foods as part of a writing project focused on their identities. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Students in a “Survival English” class at Oakland International High describe their favorite foods as part of a writing project focused on their identities.
“The ingredients in pizza are cheese and tomatoes,” he wrote. “My mom makes pizza.”

Teacher Sara Stillman integrates literacy into her 10th grade graphic arts class by asking students to read passages from books that are relevant to their immigrant experiences. One of those books is “The Best We Could Do,” an illustrated memoir by Thi Bui, a public school teacher living in Berkeley who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam as part of a wave of Southeast Asian refugees known as “boat people.”

During a recent class, Stillman and her students discussed what the phrase “magic moment” meant to them, as they reflected on Bui’s recollection of looking up at the stars. One student said he recalled looking out the window and seeing blue sky and clouds on his journey from Jordan.

Stillman said a magic moment could also be “when you see someone for the first time in a long time when you get to the U.S.”

“And you feel so joyful and happy,” a boy chimed in.

One girl said her magic moment was when she saw her mom for the first time after being separated from her for 11 years.

Students enjoy reading Bui’s story because many can identify with the author’s scary journey and recall being hungry and relying on strangers for help, Stillman said.

As a “full service community school,” the campus raises outside funds and partners with organizations to meet students’ needs including eye clinics, guidance counselors and mental health professionals who speak multiple languages.

“Our school was designed to welcome kids whenever they came — whether it was the first day of school or April 15,” Reyes said, “to be a place that would support them academically and socially and emotionally.”

But over the past three years, the need for immigrant services has exceeded the school’s capacity. So, the district is providing newcomer services in five other schools — Castlemont, Fremont and Oakland high schools, Rudsdale Newcomer High and Bret Harte Middle School — with the help of a three-year $1.8 million grant through the California Newcomer Education and Well-Being project.

“The grant was written in large part to begin to replicate strong practices that are already in place at OIHS,” said district spokesman John Sasaki.

To help meet the demand for teachers to serve immigrants, the school launched its learning lab this year, creating a pipeline of teachers to serve newcomer students in partnership with the Reach Institute for School Leadership, an Oakland-based organization that offers a teacher certification program to teacher aides at the school with Bachelors’ Degrees. Reyes described the program as “one of the most exciting things this year” at the school.

“They are working in our classrooms during the day and getting their credentials at night,” Reyes said, referring to the 12 teachers in the first graduating class. “We’re going to be minting them and putting them out into the world as newcomer teachers.”

This story was originally published by EdSource.

The Deadline for Best Of Nomination Voting Has Been Extended!

Vote for your favorite East Bay businesses and people.

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, May 21, 2018 at 12:08 PM

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Once again, it's time to vote for your favorite businesses, people, organizations, and more in the Express' Best Of! Like last year, the voting process is divided into two phases: a nomination period (now through May 25), and a final voting phase (beginning June 6 and ending July 11).

The top vote-getters in the first phase will become finalists for the second phase.

New this year: In keeping with the spirit of Best Of, we ask that you only nominate independent, locally owned businesses. National chains will be omitted from the results.

Also new: We've got an optional reader's survey at the end of the poll. The survey will help us learn more about you and your interests, so if you feel so inclined, please take the time to fill it out. We'd appreciate it! As an added incentive, those who fill out the survey will have their name entered into a raffle to win a $100 gift certificate to Yoshi's.

The nomination period ends Friday, May 25 at midnight. Vote now!

Monday's Briefing: Hundreds Show Up to Lake Merritt for "BBQing While Black"

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, May 21, 2018 at 10:14 AM

Since the video of the white woman calling police on Black men barbecuing went viral, residents have been showing up to Lake Merritt in protest. Photo taken May 10, 2018. - AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Azucena Rasilla
  • Since the video of the white woman calling police on Black men barbecuing went viral, residents have been showing up to Lake Merritt in protest. Photo taken May 10, 2018.

Hundreds of people showed up to Lake Merritt on Sunday
for "BBQing While Black." The event included music, food, and celebration after the video of a white woman calling police on Black men using a charcoal grill at the Oakland tidal lagoon went viral. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Saturday Night Live also silently mocked the woman.
"Mr. President, I am not obstructing justice. I am seeking it." That was Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf writing an op-ed in the Washington Post in response to Trump calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Schaaf for her tweet warning residents of an impending ICE raid. (Washington Post)

What does it mean to be Black in Berkeley these days? At an event on Saturday attempting to address the issue, City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who's running for Assembly District 15, said the city has a reputation that it's hostile to the Black community. (Berkeleyside)

Body cam footage of Santa Rosa police officers shows people refusing to leave, people trapped behind electric garage doors, and people unaware of the quick-moving wildfires in the North Bay last October. (The Mercury News/East Bay Times)

99 Ranch is coming to Richmond's Hilltop Mall, which is being redeveloped and rebranded as "the Shops at Hilltop." (San Francisco Business Times)

Two dead whales washed ashore in the Bay Area on Friday: One near Oakland's Jack London Aquatic Center and the other at Tennessee Valley Beach in Marin County. Both appeared to have been struck by ships. (The Mercury News)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday’s Briefing: Kaiser to Invest $200 Million for Affordable Housing; 97 Percent of McClymonds Seniors Going to College

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, May 18, 2018 at 8:04 AM

A Tuff Shed camp in Oakland. - PHOTO BY DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • A Tuff Shed camp in Oakland.

Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente announced today it will invest $200 million to help preserve and create affordable housing and mitigate homelessness in the Bay Area and other locations. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf asked Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson to make the investment as part of the new Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment group, which is lobbying Congress for more federal funding for homelessness. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Ninety-seven percent of the students graduating from McClymonds High School in West Oakland this year are going to college, one of the highest percentages of college-bound students in the school's history. Of the 60 out of 62 students going to college, 25 are heading to junior colleges, five to University of California schools and 17 to California State University schools, according to an Oakland Unified news release. (East Bay Times)

Berkeley is trying to rid of RVs and their inhabitants at the Berkeley Marina, issuing notices that the campers must leave before a May 28-June 1 construction project. The city plans to create structured parking to reduce overnight parking and prevent RVs from parking there, but the RV dwellers say they have no place else to go. (Berkeleyside)

An internal investigation by UC Berkeley has substantiated claims of sexual violence and harassment against longtime athletic department employee Mohamed Muqtar. WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon filed a lawsuit in January, claiming Muqtar assaulted her during her freshmen year at Cal, which prompted the school’s investigation. Cal Athletics confirmed Muqtar was fired on May 11. (ESPN)

The number of arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions continues to rise as the Trump administration battles with California’s sanctuary laws. From October through March, more than 3,400 “non-criminals” were arrested by ICE’s California offices. (San Francisco Chronicle)

California’s birthrate has plunged to its lowest level in a century. Experts say the decline is related to young people putting off having kids for financial or personal reasons, along with the increasing availability of birth control and the state of the economy. (SFGate)

Berkeley City Council has further eased the process for building accessory dwelling units, on in-law cottages. The new ordinance allows them units to be slightly larger, up to 850 square feet, and clarifies some of the design guidelines. (Berkeleyside)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Alicia Garza Declines Award Because She Doesn't Want to Be Associated With Coal Terminal Developer Phil Tagami

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, May 17, 2018 at 12:06 PM

Phil Tagami. - FILE PHOTO BY DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • File photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • Phil Tagami.

Developer Phil Tagami won a federal lawsuit earlier this week that allows his company to proceed with a plan to build a rail-to-ship coal export terminal in West Oakland, but the businessman is facing sharp criticism from many in the community.

Last week, activist and author Alicia Garza declined an award she was nominated for by students at the East Bay Innovation Academy due to the fact that Tagami would be presenting it to her.

"While Phil is a friend, I cannot allow my presence or my acceptance of this award to be understood as supporting something that I firmly stand against," wrote Garza in a public Facebook post.

Garza described Tagami's coal terminal project as something that "will have devastating impacts on the environment and on local communities."

Tagami's company plans to use the terminal to ship millions of tons of coal from Utah mines to overseas markets each year. The city tried to stop the project on the grounds that coal dust and other hazards will harm the health of the people who live near the railroad tracks and the proposed terminal, but Tagami successfully sued in federal court to overturn the city's prohibition.

Tagami is also under pressure from a student activist group called Youth vs. Apocalypse. The students have organized protests against Tagami because they say he has declined to meet with them over their concerns.

"I want Phil Tagami to know something. People that have asthma will have it because of him," said Adam, an Oakland middle school student who is part of Youth vs. Apocalypes.

"Why is he putting it in West Oakland, and not where white people’s houses are," said Sonja, an Oakland middle school student who is also part of the activist group. "It’s affecting more of us, Black and Brown communities."

The Innovation Awards is an annual event organized by the East Bay Innovation Academy charter school, which Tagami's children attend. This year's ceremony was to be hosted by Tagami, according to a copy of an invitation, and held in the Rotunda Building, which Tagami's company owns. The ceremony was scheduled for tonight.

The event was subsequently relocated to the East Bay Innovation Academy's campus in Oakland. Activists with Youth vs. Apocalypse said they felt the relocation was in response to their planned protest of Tagami. They also said they wanted to be clear who the target of their protest is, and that they're not criticizing the students who attend the school or others who were supposed to receive awards.

But Garza wrote in her Facebook post that she decided to decline the award also because Tagami was honoring District Attorney Nancy O'Malley. She cited O'Malley's attempt to prosecute Black Lives Matter activists in 2014 as the reason why. "I cannot in good conscience accept an award alongside the District Attorney," wrote Garza.

Representatives of the East Bay Innovation Academy confirmed this morning that the event has now been entirely canceled.

Tagami did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.

The student activists with Youth vs. Apocalypse said they still plan to hold a protest tonight at the Rotunda Building at 6 p.m.

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Thursday’s Briefing: Trump Urges Sessions to Investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf; Hs Lordships Is Closing

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, May 17, 2018 at 9:36 AM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she's "#NotDistracted".
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she's "#NotDistracted".

Donald Trump said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for obstructing justice at a meeting with leaders opposed to California’s sanctuary policies yesterday. Trump also referred to immigrants who commit crimes as “animals.” (Los Angeles Times)

Here was Schaaf’s response:


Longtime Berkeley waterfront restaurant Hs Lordships is closing on July 1 after nearly 50 years in business. (Berkeleyside)

A group of architects, engineers, and climate experts have come up with innovative designs to protect the Bay Area from sea level rise — but also reshape industry, parks, and communities, and, as such, could be models for coastal communities around the world. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Errors by UC Berkeley animal researchers led to the deaths of 22 animals and the suffering of countless others between 2015 and 2016, according to correspondence acquired by an animal rights group. The monkeys, bats, rats, mice, and chicks died from starvation, suffocation, and botched surgeries. The activists are calling on Chancellor Carol Christ to investigate. (SFGate)

Elmwood Café is reopening today under new owners and a new name. The cafe closed after coming under renewed criticism for a racially charged incident there in 2015 involving comedian W. Kamau Bell. The newly named Baker & Commons will be run by former Elmwood Café manager Kara Hammon and Eric Wright, who has managed other restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland. (Berkeleyside)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday’s Briefing: Oakland Coal Plan Clears Legal Hurdle; Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach to Step Down

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, May 16, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Jill Keimach
  • Jill Keimach

Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach and the City of Alameda are parting ways.
The move comes after Keimach secretly recorded two councilmembers whom she accused of politically pressuring her to select a union-backed candidate for fire chief. In a negotiated agreement, the city will compensate Keimach $900,000 in total and prohibit her from any litigation against the city arising from her employment. (East Bay Citizen)

[Related reading: “Going on the Offensive”; “Alameda City Manager Placed on Paid Leave”; “Alameda Council Asks DA to Probe Secret Recording”; “Alameda City Manager Wiretapped Councilors”; “Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach Should Resign”]

A controversial plan to ship coal through West Oakland won a significant victory yesterday. U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the City of Oakland breached its contract with the company that wants to build a bulk commodity export terminal at former Oakland Army Base when the city sought to block the plan by enacting a coal ban ordinance in 2016. (East Bay Express)

Richmond City Council voted yesterday to prevent the city’s business and investment funds from using data broker companies that share personal information with ICE. It’s the first city council in the country to do so. Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda are considering similar ordinances. (KTVU)

The Oakland City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Oakland A’s for the Coliseum, allowing the team to study the site for the next nine months to build a new ballpark. The team is also in an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Port of Oakland for the Howard Terminal site. (East Bay Times)

Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council delayed a vote on a proposal to give funding to job-training programs after the city attorney said the legislation could violate state and federal laws. Councilmember Desley Brooks, who authored the legislation, deleted language from the proposal that specified the sources of the funds, which she said would take care of any legal issues, but city lawyers said there were still problems with the proposal. (SFGate)

A vacant lot on Telegraph Avenue appears to be a step closer to being developed into a six-story mixed-use “Moorish-castle.” The lot, owned by Rasputin owner Ken Sarachan, has been a rat-infested eyesore for almost three decades. (Berkeleyside)

[Related reading: “Twenty-Five-Year Record Store Feud Spins Again: Rasputin’s Rubble on Telegraph and Haste”]

A California judge threw out a 2016 state law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia said lawmakers acted illegally in passing the law during a special session devoted to other topics, but did not address the issue of whether it was OK to allow people to take their own lives. (SFGate)

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Alameda County’s ordinance that bans new gun stores in unincorporated areas within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood, school, or day care center. Three businessman who wanted to open a gun store had filed a suit alleging the ordinance had effectively banned new gun stores in unincorporated areas and thereby violated the rights of prospective gun owners. But the justices ruled that the Second Amendment only protects the right to keep and bear arms, not the right to sell them. (SFGate)

A new study shows that differences in traffic-related air pollution are associated with higher rates of heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in the elderly. Using Oakland air pollution data and the electronic health records of more than 40,000 local residents, the researchers found that 3.9 parts per billion higher of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are associated with a 16 percent increased risk of diagnosed heart attacks, surgery, or death from heart disease among the elderly. (Environmental Health)

UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology has a new digital portal allowing the public access to its collection of more than 3 million objects, photographs, films, and sound recordings. (Berkeley News)

Oakland has a new mobile library with books, laptops, tablets, electronic charging stations, and wi-fi, as well as gaming and bike repair equipment. Oakland Public Library Mobile Outreach Vehicle, or MOVe, is intended to reach underserved youth and improve library access for those who have little contact with city services. (Hoodline)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Judge Rules in Favor of Oakland Coal Project

The ruling paves the way for developer Phil Tagami to move ahead with a fossil fuel export hub that could ship millions of tons of coal per year to overseas markets.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 15, 2018 at 1:05 PM

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Developer Phil Tagami and the Bowie Resource Partners coal company have prevailed in their efforts to overturn the city of Oakland's coal ban as it was applied to their project.

US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria issued a decision today, finding that the city breached its contract with Tagami's company, the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), which has the right to build a bulk commodity export terminal in West Oakland near the foot of the Bay Bridge.

"We can’t give up," said Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb in reaction to today's ruling. "This coal is still in the ground in Utah." Kalb said the city still has options and the council will consider them with advice from their attorneys.

"Oakland’s most vulnerable communities have unfairly suffered the burden of pollutants and foul air for too long," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in response to the judge's decision. "We will continue to fight this battle on all fronts; not just today, but every day.”

Schaaf famously quarreled with Tagami over the project, writing to him in a 2015 email, "You have been awarded the privilege and opportunity of a lifetime to develop this unique piece of land. You must respect the owner and public's decree that we will not have coal shipped through our city."

OBOT and the city signed a development agreement in 2013 to redevelop a portion of the old Oakland Army Base that the city owns. In 2015, news broke that Tagami and business partners, including former Port of Oakland executive Jerry Bridges and his company Terminal Logistics Solutions, were planning to turn the bulk terminal into a dedicated coal export hub. Coal from Utah mines owned by the Bowie Resource Partners company would be transported by rail to the terminal and exported to overseas markets.

Bowie largely paid for Tagami's lawsuit against the city. The company's ability to export coal from the West Coast is a lifeline to an otherwise flagging industry due to the fact that other coal export projects on the West Coast have been canceled or blocked by local communities, and the domestic market for coal is declining.

The Oakland City Council sought to block Tagami's plan for the marine terminal by enacting a coal ban ordinance in June of 2016. The council relied on a clause in its contract with OBOT, which states that Oakland may enact new regulations on the project if there is "substantial evidence" that these regulations are necessary to protect public health and safety.

Typically though, development agreements lock in the land use regulations that were in place at the time the contract was signed. OBOT sued the city in 2017 to overturn the coal ban. The essence of OBOT's claim against the city is that it created new rules after the fact, which harmed OBOT and its business partners.

Chhabria ruled that the Oakland City Council didn't have "substantial evidence" before it indicating that shipping millions of tons of coal through the city would endanger public health, and therefore the contract was breached.

In fact, Chhabria criticized the expert report commissioned by the city as inadequate and containing errors.  That report, drafted by Environmental Science Associates (ESA), described as much as 21 tons of coal dust blowing off trains and the coal terminal each year. But the report never compared this pollution to other sources.

"The City was not required to compile a perfect evidentiary record; far from it. But the gaps and errors in this record are so numerous and serious that they render it virtually useless," Chhabria wrote.

Kalb, who independently hired a second expert, Dr. Zoe Chafe, to study the possible health impacts of the coal project, said he was disappointed the judge didn't appear to consider Chafe's report when making his decision. "I believe there’s more than substantial evidence in the record," said Kalb.

Furthermore, Chhabria said that ESA's methods of calculating this level of pollution were flawed and didn't account for mitigation measures promised by the coal terminal developers.

"The first major problem with the emissions estimates for the transport and staging phases is that ESA assumed OBOT would take no mitigation measures during those parts of the operations," wrote Chhabria, referring to promises from Tagami's company and TLS that they would use rail car covers and chemical spray-on surfactants to prevent coal dust from blowing off trains into surrounding neighborhoods. "This mistake tainted the record before the City Council," Chhabria concluded bluntly.

The city's attorneys and environmental groups argued that covers have never been used for train cars carrying coal, so no information is available about whether or not they're effective. They made similar arguments against other claims by OBOT that the coal terminal can be made safe.

But Chhabria was unconvinced. "The lack of existing data about the effectiveness of a new technology like rail car covers is not enough of a reason to assume them away, particularly when the developers have committed to using them," he wrote.

"[G]iven the record before it, the City Council was not even equipped to meaningfully guess how well these controls would mitigate emissions," concluded Chhabria. "This created a sizable gap in the record, and a major flaw in the City Council's ultimate conclusion that OBOT's emissions would pose a substantial health or safety danger."

The judge also criticized the city and its consultant's omission of any consideration of how the Bay Area Air Quality Management District would regulate the coal terminal, saying they only made "fleeting reference" to its powers. OBOT's attorneys had argued during the trial that the air district will be sufficient to regulate and permit the coal terminal's activities to ensure it doesn't emit pollution at harmful levels.

As a result, Chhabria wrote that the city couldn't say whether or not the coal dust that will blow off trains and the terminal will further harm Oakland residents, including low-income Black, Latino, and Asian communities concentrated near the rail lines and near the Port of Oakland.

"[I]t is not enough to simply intone that the facility will operate near a child care center and low-income neighborhoods," Chhabria wrote in response to the city's argument that the coal terminal will disproportionately harm Black and Latino children in West Oakland. "If the City wanted to point to these residents to justify the ordinance, it should have compiled a record with credible evidence that would allow the City to assess whether the proposed coal operations would actually present a substantial health danger to these people."

Chhabria reached his decision after reading thousands of pages of briefs and evidence and holding a week-long bench trial earlier this year.

"The City of Oakland banned the handling and storage of coal and coke at OBOT’s proposed shipping terminal pursuant to its police powers to regulate threats to health and safety," said Alex Katz, spokesperson for the Oakland City Attorney's Office. "The City takes its responsibility to protect the health and safety of residents very seriously, particularly children whose health will be directly impacted by storage, handling and shipping of coal and coke through our neighborhoods." Katz called the ruling disappointing and said the city attorney will discuss options with the city council.

Tagami did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Kalb said the city could appeal Chhabria's ruling, or, it's possible the city could hold new hearings and build up the record on possible health and safety impacts of the coal project in order to re-apply the city's coal ban ordinance to the proposed terminal.

"He’s not invalidating the ordinance," said Kalb about the judge's decision. "He’s invalidating the resolution that applied the ordinance to the project."

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