Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday’s Briefing: Lake Merritt Barbecue Incident Sparks Protests; STDs in California Jump 45 Percent

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, May 15, 2018 at 9:41 AM

Last Thursday, #510Day, locals gathered at Lake Merritt to protest and party. - AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Azucena Rasilla
  • Last Thursday, #510Day, locals gathered at Lake Merritt to protest and party.

Protesters plan to gather today
in response to the white woman who called the police on a group of Black people barbecuing at Lake Merritt, the video of which went viral. The organizers of “Grill Your Government,” planned today at 4:30 p.m. in front of Oakland’s City Hall, are encouraging people to wear cookout clothes and bring grills, “but mostly, demand a response for this abuse of city services.” Additionally, a “BBQ’N While Black” event is planned for Sunday on Lakeshore Avenue at the site of the original incident. (East Bay Times)

Sexually transmitted diseases in California have jumped 45 percent over the past five years to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to a report by the California Department of Public Health. A decrease in condom use, lack of education, fewer STD clinics, and the increased role of social media in helping people find anonymous sex partners are being blamed for the more than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and early syphilis reported in the state in 2017. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Richmond City Council will consider an ordinance today that would prevent the city’s business and investment funds from going to companies that share personal information with ICE. Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda are considering the same ordinance. (DeportICE.org)

[Related read: "East Bay Cities Consider Banning Companies That Help ICE Track Down Immigrants From Bidding on City Contracts"]

Oakland’s City Council will vote today on whether to sell city-owned land in the Fruitvale neighborhood to a charter school for its new campus. The deal has been criticized by affordable housing advocates, and the Oakland Unified School District’s board says it wasn’t aware of the plan until recently and that it’s concerned it could negatively impact two nearby district-run public schools. (East Bay Express)

[Related read: "Oakland's Exclusive Deal to Sell City-Owned Land to Charter School Draws Opposition"]

A federal judge yesterday rejected the federal government’s arguments that the City of Berkeley acted unconstitutionally when it created a historic overlay for the Civic Center in 2014, which made it difficult for the government to sell the historic downtown Berkeley post office. (Berkeleyside)

[Related read: "Why the GOP Is Killing the Post Office"]

A minor earthquake shook Oakland yesterday evening around 7:30 p.m. The 3.8 magnitude quake appeared to be centered under Highway 13 on the Hayward fault. (East Bay Times)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Oakland School Board Surprised by Proposed Deal to Sell City-Owned Land to Charter School

The OUSD board wasn't told about the deal until last week and says it interferes with their efforts to plan school facilities and enrollments.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, May 14, 2018 at 12:51 PM

The Derby Avenue property was bought by the city in 2010 and first envisioned as a site for affordable housing.
  • The Derby Avenue property was bought by the city in 2010 and first envisioned as a site for affordable housing.

Tomorrow, the Oakland City Council will vote on whether or not to sell city-owned land in the Fruitvale neighborhood to a charter school for its new campus.

But the Derby Avenue deal, which is already being criticized by affordable housing and public lands advocates, has caught members of the Oakland Unified School District's board off guard.

"I think this has been somewhat secret," OUSD board member Roseann Torres said about city's work with the charter school and private developer.

Torres and several other OUSD directors said they weren't told about the city's impending sale of the property to the charter school until last week, when it came before the city council's community and economic development committee.

OUSD board members said they also weren't informed by the charter school about its plans to expand significantly by moving into the new campus.

The proposed campus is for Aspire's ERES Academy, a kindergarten through 8th grade school that is currently housed in a building leased from a church about a mile and a half away.

School board members are concerned that the expansion of ERES Academy by hundreds of students would negatively impact two nearby district-run public schools — International Community School and Think College Now, which are housed in the Cesar Chavez Education Center three blocks from the Derby Avenue site.

ERES Academy has 223 students this year, but the new campus would allow the school to grow to more than 620 students, according to city and school district records.

The Derby Avenue property was originally bought by the city in 2010 from a closed auto dealership. In 2015, Pacific West Communities, which specializes in building charter schools and affordable housing, approached city staff with an unsolicited plan to buy the land and assemble it with other adjacent, privately owned parcels to build a charter school for Aspire.

City staff never issued a request for proposals to invite other developers to bid on the property.

ERES Academy's expansion hasn't been approved yet by OUSD's board, even though Apire has already spent millions on the new campus project with architects and consultants.

"We need to look at these decisions holistically," said OUSD director Jody London. "It shouldn’t be that a charter can just go off and expand without looking at the impact on everyone else."

OUSD has been working on a master plan for its campuses and enrollment for several years now. Known as the Blueprint for Quality Schools, the plan is supposed to consider consolidating and even closing some district and charter schools in an effort to reconfigure Oakland's educational facilities.

But the ERES Academy expansion wasn't discussed as part of the Blueprint process, said Torres.

OUSD board member Shanthi Gonzales said the city's planned sale poses big problems for the school district.

"The School Board has not been consulted by the city about how this impacts our plans for our mix of schools," Gonzales wrote the Express in an email. She added that Aspire also hasn't consulted with the district about its interest in expanding.

According to Gonzales, OUSD's Blueprint study determined that the district actually runs too many schools, and that there are also too many charter schools.

"One planned use for the site was affordable housing," Gonzales wrote. "Since we have a surplus of schools, including space at existing charter schools, but a serious lack of affordable housing, that seems to me a better use of this land."

President of the OUSD board Aimee Eng said she's concerned about how the city dropped affordable housing from its plans and went instead with a charter school expansion without consulting with OUSD.

"[W]hat happened to a plan for up to 100 affordable housing units at the site which was cited in a previous staffing report," Eng wrote in an email to the Express.

City records show that the property was originally scoped as a location for affordable housing, but housing appears to have been dropped from the plan after Aspire and Pacific West Communities expressed interest in buying the land.

At a city council committee meeting last week, Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo supported the deal and said it was years in the making and would clean up an area that was used as an illegal dump. He also criticized Oakland's public schools, saying families flee to charters because of budget problems and mismanagement. Gallo was an OUSD board member from 1992-2012. In 2003, OUSD was placed under state receivership due to budget issues.

But other members of the Oakland City Council are questioning the wisdom of the land sale, and the process by which it was developed.

"A broad community coalition has been working on a public lands policy, which I have also been involved with, to include issues such as prioritization for affordable housing, as well as jobs policies and other community benefits," Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wrote in an email. "This proposed sale disregards those goals as well."

Correction: the original version of this story incorrectly identified the charter school management organization as Arise. The organization's actual name is Aspire Public Schools.

Monday’s Briefing: Oakland City Attorney Says Funding Proposal Partly Illegal; Berkeley Cannabis Shop to Focus on Seniors and People of Color

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, May 14, 2018 at 10:18 AM

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker issued an opinion saying Councilwoman Desley Brooks’ proposal for funding job-training centers violates state and federal laws.
  • Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker issued an opinion saying Councilwoman Desley Brooks’ proposal for funding job-training centers violates state and federal laws.

A funding proposal from Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks is partly illega
l, according to an opinion issued by Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker. Brooks’ proposal would take a percentage of various funding streams, including voter-approved bond measures, and give them to job-training organizations in the city. The city council is expected to consider the plan tomorrow night. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A soon-to-be-built cannabis shop in Berkeley will be the first such business owned by an African American senior in the Bay Area. Sue Taylor’s new dispensary, iCANN Berkeley, is also the city’s fourth permitted cannabis shop and will focus on educating seniors and people of color. (East Bay Times)

Arrests for DUIs in the Bay Area have declined thanks to the rise of ride-sharing services. Studies have found that arrests declined 14 percent in the San Francisco-Oakland area in the two years after ride-hailing began in the area. (East Bay Times)

A measure to ban cages for chickens, pigs, and veal calves will go before California voters in November. If it passes, the initiative will require hens in California to be allotted a square foot of space by 2019, and be entirely cage-free by 2021. (East Bay Times)

Responding to outcry from community groups and residents, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff and Councilmember Abel Guillen introduced a resolution to help curb illegal dumping — by hiring three litter enforcement officers who would go through illegally dumped items to look for clues of the dumpers’ identity, and submit findings to the city attorney’s office. (East Bay Times)

Immigration rights activists held a public “tribunal” on Saturday at the West County Detention Facility to highlight alleged abuses and human rights violations against detained undocumented immigrants. About 200 people are held at the Richmond jail while waiting for court dates, visa applications, and deportations. (East Bay Times)

The nation’s oldest gay bar, White Horse Bar, along with Friends of Upper Telegraph, have launched a petition to install a rainbow crosswalk near the historic LGBTQ establishment. (Hoodline)

Janelle Monae has been added to the lineup for this year’s Outside Lands festival. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Fight to Free Oakland Mamas for Mother’s Day — and End California’s Unfair Bail System

by Gabrielle Canon
Fri, May 11, 2018 at 6:24 PM

On Thursday outside the René C. Davidson Courthouse, Essie members shared stories as they called for a change to the bail system. - GABRIELLE CANON
  • Gabrielle Canon
  • On Thursday outside the René C. Davidson Courthouse, Essie members shared stories as they called for a change to the bail system.

"Miss M." was stuck waiting in an Alameda County jail cell for two months for a crime she said she didn’t commit. A judge ruled that she could await trail at home with her family — but only if she paid the court $50,000 in bail. Even the 10 percent fee of $5,000, which she would have to pay to have the cost covered by a bail bondsmen, was too much for her. Miss M. was facing the reality of having to spend Mother’s Day away from her 12-year-old daughter, simply because she couldn’t afford to pay for the freedom she had been granted.

Hers is one of the many stories being shared this week as part of the National Black Mamas Bailout Campaign to highlight the unfairness of bail practices and the devastating effects they have on communities — especially communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Those detained often lose their jobs, and families must bear the emotional and financial burden of imprisonment, even if the person ends up being acquitted. These issues hit Black and Brown communities hardest. According to the ACLU, judges set bail for Black and Brown people, who are usually less able to afford bail, more often and at higher rates than whites. As a result, people of color are two times more likely to be detained while awaiting trial.

Increased jail time can also affect the outcome of a person’s trial. Statistics show that, compared to those who are released pretrial, jailed people are more likely to be convicted, get harsher sentences, and have higher rates of recidivism.

According to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California, the median bail amount in California is $50,000 — more than five times higher than other states across the country. Higher bail rates mean more people stay locked up in jails, and a majority of the people in California jails are just waiting trial. In Alameda County, roughly 84 percent of inmates have yet to be convicted of a crime.

Bail is intended to act as leverage, to ensure an accused person will show up for court, but the United States is only one of two countries that relies on the practice. And there’s little evidence that it actually works. California has one of the highest rates of pretrial detention but does not have higher rates of court appearances. The ACLU notes that in Kentucky, where 70 percent of people are released prior to their trial, 90 percent make every one of their court dates and 92 percent are not re-arrested during that time of release. Still, America spends more than $22 billion each year to keep non-convicted people locked in jails.

That’s why advocacy organizations from around the country have come together to raise both funds and awareness on bail reform, and help more mothers come home for Mother’s Day. Since last May when the first campaign was launched, 200 women have been freed in cities around the country.

Three from the Bay Area were welcomed home by Essie Justice Group, an Oakland-based advocacy organization whose membership is filled with women with their own stories and experiences with locked-up loved ones.

This year, Essie Sisters continued the work locally to free more Black mothers, and champion bail reform efforts in California that will put limits on unfair practices for good. “One in four women have a family member who is incarcerated. For Black women, nearly one in two of us has a family member who is incarcerated,” said founder and executive director Gina Clayton. “When women are locked up it just reverberates throughout families and through communities.”

Members spent the last week at Santa Rita Jail, sitting in on hearings, offering support, and meeting with women like Miss M., who hadn’t had a single visitor since she was booked on March 10. As she shared her story with them, Essie Sisters pressed their hands against the glass that separated Miss M. from the outside. “They all shared this moment,” Clayton said. “That’s when Ms. Anita, one of our member leaders, said to her, ‘I promise we are going to get you out.’”

On Thursday, during a press conference held jointly with Young Women’s Freedom Center, TGI Justice Project, and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, Essie members shared their own stories as they called for a change to the system.

“My bail story personally was a nightmare,” Cheryl Diston told the crowd that gathered on the steps of Alameda County's René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland. “Eighty percent of women in jail are mothers, and I was one of them.”

Unable to bail out, she spent close to a year behind bars waiting for trial. She won her case and was released, but in that time her grandmother passed away and a nephew was killed. She also missed her son’s wedding. “Because I couldn’t bail out I lost contact with my children for months — and then I lost hope.”

  • Gabrielle Canon
That’s why, she said, she is working with Essie Sisters to help others facing similar circumstances. “If I could have bailed out and if somebody had given me a chance, my life could be totally different,” she said. “I am here today in honor of all Black mothers like me who cannot make their bail. I am here today to let you know how devastating the impacts of the bail system are. Women lose custody of their children while they can’t bail out. Families are torn apart because they can’t bail out. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t be based on who can’t afford it.”

Legislation introduced by Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) last year would do away with California’s bail system. It’s currently in the assembly, and advocates are hopeful there’s enough momentum for meaningful reform to take place in the near future.

Clayton emphasized that, along with urging legislators to support the move, residents should look locally at their DAs and judges who are on the frontlines of implementing policies.

Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley has voiced support for bail reform, but her challenger, criminal rights attorney Pamela Price, has come out strongly on the issue and was in attendance at the rally.

Advocates are also hoping to encourage private corporations to divest from the for-profit bail industry, which has played a role in advancing the bail system. In a big win for reform efforts, Google and Facebook announced last week that they would no longer carry bail ads on their platforms.

While continuing to push for long-term reforms, organizations continue collecting funds to free as many women as possible in the coming weeks. And, in Oakland, Essie Sisters will spend this weekend celebrating Mother’s Day with one more mom who is home with her family.

The day after meeting Miss M., they returned with a $50,000 check in hand to fulfill their promise. They waited for nearly 13 hours for the jail to release her. But, when she finally walked out, she was greeted with hugs from 15 women.

“Just think what it’s like to have perfect strangers come to be with you during a difficult and certainly a very dark moment,” Clayton said.

“It was really beautiful. The way in which community — both from people who are donating to the bailouts, to people who are promoting or writing about it, to people who are showing up in courts — these extensions of love and hope, that I believe is actually the way that we set people up for success,” she added.

“A cage is not … how you care for somebody. But community is — community is how you care.”

Friday’s Briefing: Brown Proposes Spending $96 Million to Fight Wildfires; Audit Shows California Colleges Fail to Disclose Crimes on Campus

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, May 11, 2018 at 9:50 AM

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to spend $96 million next year to help fight wildfires and climate change in the state. An executive order issued yesterday includes plans to double the land currently managed for vegetation thinning, controlled burns, and reforestation.  (Los Angeles Times)

The state auditor said a number of California colleges are not in compliance with federal law that requires the disclosure of crimes at or near their campuses. Berkeley City College, for example, failed to publicly disclose a rape and a stalking that occurred in 2016. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Researchers at UC Berkeley found that hidden commands undetectable to the human ear can be embedded into recordings of music or spoken text played through Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri. “So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.” (New York Times)

A landmark state court ruling in January ordered judges to consider alternatives for criminal defendants who couldn’t afford their bail. Now that decision will be tested as defense attorneys for Derick Almena and Max Harris — the two men being blamed for the 2016 Ghost Ship fire — ask a judge to dismiss their case and free them through the duration of their trial, which is scheduled to begin July 16. (East Bay Times)

Speaking of bail, the “Black Mamas Bailout” rally yesterday called for an end to cash bail. Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said the average bail amount in California is $50,000 — five times higher than the national average — and that low-income people of color are spending more time in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail. (East Bay Times)

A group of housing activists filed a complaint with the Oakland Public Ethics Commission against Councilmember Abel Guillen, alleging he accepted campaign donations from those with ties to the developers of a controversial housing project near Lake Merritt, in the same period he voted for the project. (East Bay Express)

Plans for a tiny house village for homeless and low-income youth in a lot owned by Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley have been scrapped after the owner decided to sell the land. The project’s organizers, Youth Spirit Artworks, say they’re looking for a new location for their 25 tiny homes. (Berkeleyside)

Can software help solve discrimination in the tech industry? A group of veterans from the tech industry thinks so. Their Oakland-based startup tEQuitable has created software that can act as an independent, confidential mediation service to address bias, discrimination, and harassment at work. (San Francisco Business Journal)

The Skylyne at Temescal tower is now under construction near MacArthur BART and is slated to open in the summer of 2020. When completed, the 25-story tower will include 403 apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail space. (East Bay Times)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Housing Activists File Ethics Complaint Against Oakland Council Member Abel Guillen

They allege that campaign donations were tied to a controversial housing project and violate the city's campaign finance law.

by Steven Tavares
Thu, May 10, 2018 at 3:44 PM

Dunya Alwan of the Eastlake United for Justice speaking at a press conference yesterday at the E. 12th Street remainder parcel site. - STEVEN TAVARES
  • Steven Tavares
  • Dunya Alwan of the Eastlake United for Justice speaking at a press conference yesterday at the E. 12th Street remainder parcel site.

A group of housing activists — including those who opposed the controversial market-rate housing project at the E. 12th Street remainder parcel near Lake Merritt three years ago — filed a complaint with the Oakland Public Ethics Commission Wednesday against District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillen.

Members of the Oakland Justice Coalition, East 12th Coalition, the Eastlake United for Justice, along with Oakland civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, allege that Guillen accepted five campaign contributions totaling $1,800 from representatives who have ties to UrbanCore and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), the project’s developers. The contributions occurred while the city council was in the process of deliberating approval of the $5 million housing project, the group alleges.

[Related reading: "Town Business: E. 12th Street Remainder Parcel Decision Coming Soon"]

Dunya Alwan of the Eastlake United for Justice, said the group first examined Guillen’s campaign finance records a month ago and made connections between UrbanCore, EBALDC, and their representatives, and Guillen. “It didn’t feel right,” said Alwan.

The group alleges that donations to Guillen’s campaign from well-known Oakland attorney Zach Wasserman ($500), who represented UrbanCore; Ener Chiu, former executive director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation ($500), which partnered on the project; and former UrbanCore consultant Jason Overman ($800), run afoul of Oakland campaign finance law.

The groups allege that Guillen made at least four votes in favor of the controversial project between March 2015 and June 2017. Under Oakland’s campaign finance reform act, public officials are prohibited from voting on items related to their donors for two years. The campaign contributions the groups alleged violated city laws occurred between December 2014 and April 2017.

In a statement Wednesday night, Guillen denied the contributions were improper, while suggesting the ethics complaint filing is intended to benefit his likely re-election opponent this fall, Partnership for Working Families Executive Director Nikki Fortunato Bas.

Oakland councilmember Abel Guillen
  • Oakland councilmember Abel Guillen
“My Office Holder Account enjoys support from a broad cross-section of donors from all backgrounds and walks of life, and I am confident we have complied with all local donation regulations. I have not received any contributions for my office holder account or my re-election account from anyone who is employed by Urban Core,” Guillen said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that backers of my opponent have chosen to focus on false, politically motivated attacks rather than working on actual solutions to our housing, safety and infrastructure needs.”

“I want to set the record straight,” said Michael Johnson, president of UrbanCore. “UrbanCore is currently working in Oakland on two public-private partnership projects involving the City of Oakland. For that reason, we have not, at any time, contributed to Councilmember Guillén’s campaign. These accusations are completely false and unfounded.”

“EBALDC has a policy against making political donations. We respect the privacy of our staff and will not comment on donations that may have been made by individuals,” said EBALDC Executive Director Joshua Simon.

This project has been no stranger to controversy. The council first approved a proposed 24-story luxury tower of 298 market-rate apartments for the parcel located near Lake Merritt in June 2015. Questions, however, arose over the legality of the city’s no-bid sale of the property and whether it violated the state Surplus Land Act. Furthermore, housing activists pushed for additional affordable housing to be included on-site.

The E. 12th remainder parcel.
  • The E. 12th remainder parcel.

Meanwhile, an Alameda County civil grand jury last year slammed the council for appearing to violate public transparency laws while exhibiting “backroom dealing.”

In May 2015, a council meeting was disrupted when activists rushed the dais and prevented a final vote on the all market-rate version of the project. The demonstration led to the meeting’s cancellation.

A few days later, a confidential legal memo from the Oakland City Attorney was leaked before the Oakland City Council could reconvene and take a final vote. As a result, the city council canceled exclusive negotiations with UrbanCore and put the project out to competitive bidding.

Several developers submitted bids on the site, but the city council again selected UrbanCore. However, UrbanCore teamed up with EBALDC and proposed building 108 affordable units as part of the 361-unit tower.

The project has been approved by the city, but the developer has yet to break ground. According to a July 2017 city staff report, the project is still in the design phase.

Thursday’s Briefing: Doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland Revolt; Downtown Oakland Has Lowest Office Vacancy Rate in the Nation

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, May 10, 2018 at 10:42 AM

Doctors at Children’s Hospital Oakland are revolting, saying the merger with UCSF has been a disaster for the East Bay hospital. Doctors are leaving, claiming UCSF prioritizes its new Mission Bay campus over the longstanding Oakland facility, and that no new patients in Oakland can get routine psychiatric appointments or see a lung specialist. (East Bay Times) (I wrote about some of these concerns last year for our sister publication Oakland Magazine.)

Downtown Oakland has the lowest vacancy rate for office space in the country, according to a report by the commercial brokerage firm CBRE. The report looked at the top 10 tightest downtown office markets in major metropolitan areas for the first quarter of 2018. Oakland came in first, at 5.3 percent vacancy, with San Francisco in second, at 5.7 percent. (San Francisco Business Times)

Since legalization, state taxes on legal cannabis sales have fallen short of projections, surprising no one in the industry. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, excise and cultivation taxes brought in $34 million in the first quarter of 2018, about one-third of the expected amount. Those in the industry say higher prices for pot and fewer places to get it are responsible. (San Francisco Chronicle) (For more on this issue, read our two-part series on how the state’s new legal cannabis market has priced out small growers and forced small cannabusinesses back to the illicit market.)

California became the first state in the nation to require solar panels on new homes. The rule, which will go into effect in two years, will cut emissions but raise prices on housing. (Bloomberg)

Journalists with the East Bay Times and other newspapers around the country were in New York at the headquarters of Alden Global Capital earlier this week to protest censorship and layoffs by Digital First Media, which is owned by the NY-based hedge fund. (Democracy Now) (Read more about how this “vulture” hedge fund has sucked the profits out of local newspapers and how reporters are trying to stop it.)

A video of a white woman calling the police on two Black men having a barbecue at Lake Merritt has gone viral on YouTube.

An Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy who was fired in 2016 for allegedly bribing witnesses
of a police beating to remain silent is now a police officer in Gustine, a small Central Valley town west of Merced. (KGO)

The opening of the new downtown Berkeley BART plaza has been delayed due to a dispute between the contractor of the plaza and two subcontractors until mid-August, almost a year after it was originally scheduled to open. (Berkeleyside)

Five real-estate investors convicted in a conspiracy to rig bids at foreclosure auctions were sentenced to either prison or probation and ordered to pay nearly $7 million in fines and restitution. The investors bid rigging at auctions in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, which stifled competition and gave the defendants below-market prices. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Next time you’re at the San Francisco airport, check out a photo exhibit of West Oakland farms by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Preston Gannaway. It’ll be up until July. (Hoodline)

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday’s Briefing: There Are Wolves in Northern California; Richmond Police Capt. Gets His Job Back

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, May 9, 2018 at 10:52 AM

A gray wolf.
  • A gray wolf.

At least four wolves
— descendants of an Oregon wolf that traveled through the state seven years ago — have been spotted in Northern California, setting the stage for population growth. One of the wolves has staked out territory in western Lassen and Plumas counties. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan has been given his job back. Gagan was fired in January after being accused of leaking a police report to ABC 7 News about Councilmember Eduardo Martinez being drunk in public and driving under the influence in 2016. City Manager Bill Lindsay said he couldn’t find evidence that Gagan lied to internal affairs or leaked the report. (East Bay Times)

A report released yesterday says climate change is having disastrous effects on California’s environment. “Indicators of Climate Change in California” says bigger, more intense forest fires, longer droughts, warmer ocean temperatures, and a smaller snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are all evidence of the domino effects of climate change. The study shows a dramatic increase in temperatures since 1895, including 2.3 degree increase in nighttime temperatures in the last century. (San Francisco Chronicle)

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced a plan to ensure that rape and sexual assault cases in San Francisco get the attention they deserve. The proposal includes creating a new Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention and a ballot measure to improve the way San Francisco General Hospital treats rape and assault victims. Last month, several women testified at a City Hall hearing that city officials brushed off their reports of rape and sexual assault, which further traumatized them. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Santa Clara Valley Water District agreed yesterday to commit $650 million to Gov. Jerry Brown’s water tunnel plan after initially being against the project. The state’s largest agricultural water supplier, Westlands Water District, however, continues to oppose the project, as do some environmental groups. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Several journalists were ejected from a community meeting in Emeryville last week to discuss the affordable housing bond Measure C and the city’s parking management plan. According to a reporter with local news site E’ville Eye, Emeryville Mayor John Bauters “seemed visibly annoyed at the presence of reporters in attendance,” after which he and other non-residents of the Watergate complex were asked to leave. (E’ville Eye)

UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Commission on Free Speech is recommending that the campus change its major events policy and the designation of the West Crescent lawn as a “free speech zone.” (Daily Cal)

Anti-Semitic emails circulated among students in Piedmont last week, including those at Piedmont High and Millennium High. Superintendent Randy Booker emailed families in the Piedmont Unified School District about the incident. (East Bay Times)

A Sacramento County judge declined to drop felony charges against Berkeley middle school teacher Yvette Felarca, who was caught on video repeatedly punching a man at a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento in 2016. Lawyers for Felarca and two other activists had asked the judge to dismiss the case against them, arguing that it was a politically motivated witch hunt. (Berkeleyside)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Second 'Tuff Shed' Homeless Camp Opens in Oakland, but Some Criticize Closure of the Surrounding Encampment

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 8, 2018 at 4:39 PM

Housing activists confronted city staff this morning after word spread that the city would be closing the Northgate homeless camp.
  • Housing activists confronted city staff this morning after word spread that the city would be closing the Northgate homeless camp.

This week, the City of Oakland is opening a second "Tuff Shed" camp at Northgate Avenue and 27th Street in Uptown, the site of what's thought to be the single largest homeless camp in the East Bay. But the plan also involves closing the existing self-organized homeless camp, which has occupied the surrounding area for years.

The new Tuff Shed site is part of what officials call an "ongoing pilot project" to assist the homeless with services and transitional housing while also addressing public health problems affecting residents of the sprawling encampments.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the second Tuff Shed camp is funded through private corporate donations, not city funds.

"Our Tuff Shed shelters are a quick and temporary fix, and they help prepare unsheltered residents for their next step into housing," Schaaf said yesterday.

On-site social workers will assist those who decide to move into the camp with a transition into temporary and permanent housing, acquiring legal ID, securing healthcare and income benefits, and seeking employment. The location is also staffed with security guards, and residents can lock up their belongings.

The city's Tuff Shed camp contains 20 sheds capable of housing 40 residents at a time.
  • The city's Tuff Shed camp contains 20 sheds capable of housing 40 residents at a time.

But some are critical of the way the city establishes and operates these camps.

On Tuesday morning, about two dozen people gathered outside the new Northgate Tuff Shed camp and argued with city staff about their plans to remove the entire surrounding camp in the coming weeks.

The Northgate camp is estimated to have as many as 100 residents, double the number who can be served by the Tuff Shed program. Those who can't fit into the Tuff Shed camp, or who choose not to move in, will have to leave the area. It's unclear where they will go, but they'll likely end up at other homeless camps nearby.

The Northgate camp has expanded over several years as an assemblage of tents and even makeshift wooden shacks along 27th Street, the curved stretch of Northgate that runs south from 27th to Sycamore, and along the Sycamore Street freeway underpass.

The camp has proven itself to be a dangerous location. In February, a man died when his makeshift wooden shack was engulfed by fire. Cars have careened off the road into tents before, too.

The Northgate camp is one of the biggest in the East Bay, with dozens of residents.
  • The Northgate camp is one of the biggest in the East Bay, with dozens of residents.

Osha Neumann, a homeless rights advocate and attorney, questioned why the city has chosen to close an existing, self-organized camp to accommodate its own Tuff Shed program.

Neumann said that Oakland's homeless are highly stigmatized and discriminated against, but that the communities they build have value and provide residents with access to resources and safety. Breaking the camps up is harmful, he said, and unsheltered people should be respected and not pushed around.

"There are people on the street who for multiple reasons can't move into these very controlled environments," said Neumann. "There needs to be an understanding of that."

Neumann also criticized Operation Dignity, saying the organization, which is paid by the city to run the Tuff Shed camps, has imposed unnecessarily strict rules and in some cases has "provoked" homeless residents into confrontations.

"If you want people to move into an outdoor navigation center," said Neumann, "you have to provide them with time and space to do it without coercion, otherwise you create an oppositional atmosphere."

A memorial in the Northgate camp.
  • A memorial in the Northgate camp.

Several homeless residents of the camp told the Express today that they would not move into the Tuff Shed camp, and that they also do not intend to leave the existing Northgate camp. When asked what they will do if the city orders them to leave, they said they do not know.

But other homeless residents of the Northgate camp said they welcome the Tuff Shed site and say they hope to move into it.

Joe DeVries, an assistant city administrator who helps coordinate Oakland's homeless programs, defended the Tuff Shed pilot project and said that the 6th and Brush streets site has already helped move multiple people off the streets and into transitional housing.

DeVries also said the city carried out extensive outreach to the camp residents to explain the process and what resources are available.

"I honestly believe we are creating something better than what currently exists," said DeVries about the existing camp.

The Tuff Shed camp is the second of its kind in Oakland.
  • The Tuff Shed camp is the second of its kind in Oakland.

As of today, most of the Northgate camp isn't being made to leave.

Talia Rubin of the city's human services department said that the curbside immediately in front of the Tuff Shed camp was being cleared of several tents in order to provide access for a mobile shower truck to park there. The clearance will also permit city staff to extend electrical power into the city's new camp.

When asked, Rubin and DeVries both acknowledged that the entire surrounding camp will be forced to leave. DeVries said the removal of the camp will occur in "long phases."

Rubin said everyone will be offered services as the Northgate camp is cleared.

Tuesday’s Briefing: California May Require Solar Panels on New Homes; Report Says OUSD Lost $57.3 Million to Charter Schools

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, May 8, 2018 at 9:28 AM

California may become the first state in the nation to require new homes to have solar panels. The proposal being considered by the California Energy Commission would mandate solar panels on nearly all new single-family homes built after Jan. 1, 2020, as well as new multifamily buildings up to three stories tall. It would also establish new efficiency standards for windows and insulation. The agency estimates that the solar panels would add about $10,538 to building costs for a single-family home — and save about $16,251 in utility costs over the course of a 30-year period. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A newly released report found that the Oakland Unified School District lost $57.3 million to charter schools during the 2016-17 school year. The think tank In the Public Interest calculated its findings by determining how much money the school district would have gotten from the state had students who enrolled in charter schools gone to traditional public schools instead. The report proposes changing how the state authorizes charters to consider potential financial impacts on existing district schools. (East Bay Times)

Hedge fund billionaire and political activist George Soros is pouring money into Alameda County’s district attorney race. The California Justice & Public Safety PAC — funded entirely by Soros — has reported spending $134,745 on campaign literature and mailings to support Pamela Price, a progressive civil rights attorney running against incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley. (East Bay Express)

A study by UCSF shows that brain injuries are potentially more harmful than previously thought, doubling the risk of dementia in people who suffer even mild head trauma. The report says head injuries trigger dementia later in life in proportion to the severity of the resulting concussion. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The City of Oakland will clear a large, long-standing homeless encampment in the coming months and move a portion of the residents into Tuff Sheds on a publicly owned lot. An estimated 100 people are thought to be living along 27th Street and Northgate Avenue, one of the largest homeless camps in the city. The city said dangerous conditions — people hit by traffic and one man who died in a fire — have made the situation untenable. But the temporary tiny homes — almost entirely privately financed — will only house 40 people. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A groundbreaking ruling by California’s Supreme Court last week could up-end the gig economy. The ruling says that workers are employees if their tasks are central to a company’s mission, meaning that some independent contractors could be entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, and more. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Jerry Brown’s water tunnels project may get a key vote today from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which had rejected the project six months ago. The Silicon Valley district is now reconsidering the plan after the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California committed $10.8 billion to the plan. (East Bay Times)

Sen. Kamala Harris has withdrawn from giving the keynote speech at UC Berkeley’s spring graduation because of the current labor strike. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ will deliver the commencement address instead. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A former Contra Costa Sheriff’s deputy who reportedly admitted to having consensual sex with two inmates pleaded not guilty. Patrick Morseman is charged with four felonies for allegedly having sex with two female inmates while working at the West Contra Costa Detention Facility in Richmond. His next court date is set for mid-June. (East Bay Times)

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) is getting involved in the Fremont school board’s controversial decision to eliminate sex education for fourth through sixth graders. Khanna said the repercussions from the decision will shield elementary school students from a greater understanding for the LGBT community. (EB Citizen)

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