Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Uber Tax and Mansion Tax Take One Step Closer Toward Oakland's November Ballot

Voters could enact the taxes by a simple majority.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 12:09 PM

Dan Kalb.
  • Dan Kalb.
The Oakland City Council is considering placing two new taxes on the November ballot for an up or down vote.

One is a fifty-cent fee that Uber and Lyft riders in the city would pay for each trip. Transportation network companies (TNCs) would collect the fee through their apps and remit the money to the city.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, the author of the tax measure, said at the council's Finance and Management Committee meeting this morning that the new charge will impose "fairness" on large corporations like Uber and Lyft that currently use Oakland's roads but don't contribute anything toward their upkeep. She noted that taxis currently pay registration and taxes to the city, and this money helps pay to pave city streets, among other things.

"I'm sure this will Lyft up our city resources," Councilmember Dan Kalb joked during the committee hearing today.

"Our city will become Uber strong," Kaplan replied humorously.

The other proposed measure considered by the council committee earlier today would alter Oakland's existing real estate transfer tax to create a progressively tiered rate schedule.

Properties, including homes and commercial buildings, that sell for more than $2 million would pay a higher rate than the current 1.5 percent the city imposes on all property, regardless of price.

Properties selling for between $300,000 and $2 million, which includes the vast majority of homes in Oakland, would continue paying the current rate, and any real estate that's sold for under $300,000 would actually be taxed less.

Kalb's office said the tax would primarily impact large commercial properties and a small number of very expensive homes.


Kalb's chief of staff Oliver Luby told the committee that the tax is about fairly paying for public services in a society with "increasing wealth disparity." Luby said the tax change would generate about $9 million in extra revenue each year.

Oakland Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan.
  • Oakland Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan.
"We'd be the second city in the state to do this," Kalb said, referring to San Francisco, which is the only municipality that currently has a progressively structured transfer tax.

Both tax proposals must still be approved by the city council's Rules and Legislation Committee and then the full council in order to be placed on the November ballot. But if the proposals are approved, voters could enact the taxes by a simple majority. Revenue from both would be placed in the city's general fund.

Councilmember Abel Guillen asked several critical questions about the transportation network company tax.

"I haven't seen an analysis as to what this does to the everyday rider," Guillen said. He noted that riders taking short trips and paying just a few dollars would be taxed just as much as riders taking long trips and paying more. He also wondered if the tax might reduce the use of TNCs, thereby increasing the number of private cars on the roads and undermining the city's environmental goals of becoming more transit-oriented.

"This is a direct tax on consumers," Guillen said.

Kaplan replied that the tax will drop from 50 to 25 cents per pickup for pool rides (when several people share the same Uber or Lyft) so as to incentivize more environmentally friendly practices by riders.

She also said that individual trips via TNCs don't appear to reduce urban traffic congestion very much.

And she compared the TNC fee to the city's existing hotel tax, which is paid by hotel customers. Two years ago, Oakland began collecting hotel taxes from Airbnb and other "home sharing" companies by requiring the companies to collect the 14 percent charge through the app and remit it to the city.

Councilmember Noel Gallo wondered whether Oakland can actually enforce the tax. "How do I make sure it gets collected," he asked city staff.

Margaret O'Brien of Oakland's revenue bureau said the city could pursue legal action against companies like Uber and Lyft if they refused to collect the tax. But she also noted that in the handful of cities that have imposed TNC taxes, companies appear to be complying.

Both the TNC tax and progressive RETT tax will likely face opposition from tech companies and the real estate industry if they're placed on the ballot.

Gallo said at today's committee hearing that representatives of Uber already met with him and lobbied against the TNC tax.

Tuesday’s Briefing: East Bay Shelter Houses Two Girls Separated from Parents at Border; Cannabis Dispensaries Pull Products Because of #PermitPatty

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 9:40 AM

Alison Ettel (aka #PermitPatty) founded TreatWell Health, a cannabis company.
  • Alison Ettel (aka #PermitPatty) founded TreatWell Health, a cannabis company.
Two adolescent girls separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy are being held at a children’s shelter in Pleasant Hill, according to emails obtained by the Bay Area News Group. Two employees of Southwest Key said the nonprofit shelter is “working diligently” to reunify the children, whose ages weren’t specified, with their parents. (East Bay Times)

Here’s a list of the locations of 85 child-care facilities across the nation, including in Northern California, that have housed and supervised children as part of the unaccompanied immigrant minors program. (Reveal)

Two East Bay cannabis dispensaries are pulling TreatWell Health products from their shelves after the owner of the company, Alison Ettel, (dubbed #PermitPatty), was caught on video allegedly calling the police on an 8-year-old Black girl selling water. Magnolia Oakland said it’s discounting the business’ leftover inventory and the sales will be given to the girl who was selling the water and to Black Girls Code, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides technology education to African American girls. Berkeley Patients Group is doing something similar. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A ballot measure to repeal California’s recently enacted gas tax has qualified for the November ballot. Signed into law last year, SB1 raised the tax on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon and raised registration fees, which are expected to generate roughly $54 billion over the next 10 years to help pay for the state’s deferred maintenance backlog and upgrades to public transit. (San Jose Mercury News)

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought by Oakland and San Francisco against fossil fuel companies over the costs of dealing with climate change. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such large issues as global warming. (The New York Times)

How social media trolls turned UC Berkeley into a free-speech circus. (The New Yorker)

A controversial proposal to build a co-living complex at the corner of Shattuck and Ashby avenues is scheduled for its third appearance before Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board this week. The board has twice reviewed the project, at 3000 Shattuck Ave., and recommended changes. The current proposal is a three- to five-story building with 23 residential units ranging from studios to six bedrooms and a cafe on the ground floor. A gas station, car repair and smog test shop are currently at the location. (Berkeleyside)

San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League has purchased a 730-acre redwood forest on the Sonoma Coast for a new public park, which is larger and has more old-growth redwoods than Muir Woods. The Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve will be operated by the league and open to hikers for free in about three years. (San Jose Mercury News)

The commercial salmon season opened last week from Pigeon Point (near Half Moon Bay) to the Mexico border. Instead of the usual May to October season, this year’s commercial salmon season will open sporadically in certain parts of the coast; the current window is scheduled to last from June 19 to June 30. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Teachers in Oakland Among Others Pushing for Pay Raises from California Districts in Fiscal Crisis

Oakland’s labor dispute is happening against the background of decades of budget problems.

by Theresa Harrington
Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 3:05 PM

Teachers threaten to strike at Oakland school board meeting on May 9, 2018. - PHOTO BY THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Photo by Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Teachers threaten to strike at Oakland school board meeting on May 9, 2018.

Some school districts across California — including Oakland Unified in the Bay Area — are facing deficit budgets along with demands from teachers for higher salaries and improved classroom conditions. The result is tense contract negotiations that in some districts could lead to teachers striking when school resumes in the fall.

Statewide, this group includes Los Angeles Unified and the Evergreen School District in San Jose, which are having trouble negotiating new contracts, according to the California Teachers Association, with which most district teachers’ unions in the state are affiliated. Inglewood Unified in Los Angeles County has a deal with its teachers, but is banking on the state’s help. Three other districts recently negotiated contracts for this year and are continuing talks for next year: Fremont Unified, Alameda Unified and National City Elementary in San Diego County.

“We are seeing some turmoil in several districts that are refusing to make investing in teachers a top priority at the bargaining table,” said Mike Myslinski, a California Teachers Association spokesman.

Some of these districts will receive more in state aid next year to educate low-income students, English learners, foster youth and homeless children. Yet, they are also planning budget cuts because the extra money won’t be enough to balance their budgets.

Salary demands are just one of the fiscal pressures districts like Oakland are facing. Other notable ones are rising pension contributions and increased special education costs, which are having an impact on many districts’ ability to balance their budgets, according to a new report from WestEd, “Silent Recession: Why California School Districts are Underwater Despite Increases in Funding.”

As state revenues flatten over the next three years, while costs continue to rise, Oakland will not be the only district that will have difficulty paying its bills, said Michael Fine, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, a state agency that works with districts on financial issues.

“I think districts across the state are either making reductions or gearing up to make reductions,” he said, noting that districts plan three-year budgets and that even though they expect more state aid next year, expenses are going up faster than revenues.

Oakland Unified faces unique problems, including a fiscal crisis that requires at least $5.8 million in budget cuts for next year on top of $9 million the district said it cut this year from its $552.4 million budget. (A recently released analysis by FCMAT says the district could not fully substantiate whether those cuts were made. The agency concluded that the district is in “financial distress,” in part because of its practice of dipping into reserves to cover costs.) District officials estimate the budget deficit will be $20 million next year and will grow to $60 million the following year unless cuts are made. Even with those cuts, the district’s deficit next year will be an estimated $14.2 million.

Oakland’s labor dispute is happening against the background of decades of budget problems, as well as turnover in district leadership. In 2003, the district received a $100 million state bailout loan, which it is still paying off. It has a state trustee in place who is supposed to oversee the district’s spending and who has veto authority over its financial decisions. A fiscal report by FCMAT last summer pointed to multiple reasons for Oakland’s budget travails, including exceedingly high special education costs, loss of funds due to thousands of students attending charter schools and poor financial management by district leaders.

Included in the blame was former Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who left the district two years ago after less than three years in his post to head up the school system in Washington, D.C. The report noted that he “rushed new unfunded positions through the process without regard to budget appropriation” and that school sites were allowed to “ignore and override board policies by spending beyond their budgets” under his leadership. The district’s budget crisis occurred despite the fact that the district has received additional state dollars since the 2007 recession, and that the district’s spending per student has increased from $11,051 in 2012-13 to $14,835 in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, the district’s teachers’ union has tried to negotiate a new contract to replace one that expired last July. The last contract agreement, reached May 13, 2015 for July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017, provided teachers with a 2 percent raise in 2014, followed by a 1 percent raise Feb. 1, 2015 and a 2.5 percent raise on June 30, 2015. The agreement also projected additional pay increases in 2015 and 2016, which were expected to bring total ongoing increases over 18 months to 13.95 percent, plus a one-time payment of about 3.32 percent in October, 2015.

In the most recent negotiations, union leaders say talks broke down last month, prompting them to declare impasse and request mediation from the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, which has been granted.

Over the past three years, the number of districts asking for mediation in bargaining talks with teachers rose from 120 in 2014-15 to 182 last year, said John Gray, president of School Services of California, which advises school districts on budgets. And impasse declarations resulting in the assignment of mediators approved by the state increased from 91 in 2014-15 to 103 last year. The state personnel board approved fact-finding, the next step after unsuccessful mediation, 32 times last year, up from up from 23 in 2014-15.

Fine from FCMAT pointed out that Inglewood Unified, which is under the control of a state-appointed administrator and — like Oakland Unified, is paying back a state loan — is also in fiscal distress. That district reached a tentative agreement with its teachers’ union that is contingent on at least $4 million a year in state budget relief, which it has not yet received. If it doesn’t get that money, teachers there have said they would strike in the fall.

Oakland Education Association teachers’ union members threaten to strike due to stalled negotiations at May 9, 2018 school board meeting. - PHOTO BY THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Photo by Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Oakland Education Association teachers’ union members threaten to strike due to stalled negotiations at May 9, 2018 school board meeting.

Teachers in Oakland Unified also say they may strike in the fall if the district doesn’t meet their demands for pay hikes, smaller class sizes and, for some, more preparation time. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell declined to comment on the teachers’ demands. Regarding the district’s financial woes, Johnson-Trammell said Oakland Unified may have to make “draconian cuts that would hurt all students in our city” to balance its budget.

FCMAT’s more recent budget analysis concluded that Oakland Unified’s fiscal practices could be considered “suspicious” and were worthy of investigation. “We’ve been there since December, trying to figure out if they were going to make it through June, on a crisis basis,” Fine said. “They’re going to make it, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Although the teachers’ union acknowledges the district’s budget crunch, it claims the district doesn’t spend its money wisely.

“We think they could reprioritize the budget they have,” said Trish Gorham, president of the teachers’ union, Oakland Education Association, noting that educators are feeling a sense of solidarity with others around the country that have walked picket lines for more money.

Those efforts inspired California teachers’ unions, including the Oakland Education Association, to host a forum earlier this month with teachers from Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia discussing their organizing efforts, strikes and victories.

Keith Brown, president-elect of the Oakland teachers’ union, told those gathered that their efforts are part of a larger statewide and nationwide movement.

“We know that it takes collective power from the ground up to win — to have the schools that our students deserve,” he said, adding that Oakland teachers must also involve parents and the rest of the community to fight for better teacher pay, lower class sizes and extra supports for the district’s neediest students. The panelists also helped him understand the importance of “building power” at school sites and escalating actions from smaller rallies to a potential strike, he said.

In California, unions in individual districts negotiate contracts, which leads to wide variations in pay and benefits from one district to another.

Oakland ranked 22nd among 101 Bay Area districts for its 2016-17 entry-level teacher salary, but much lower for its salaries for experienced teachers, state data show.

Among districts that submitted salary data to the California Department of Education for 2016-17 in six Bay Area counties, Oakland Unified reported an entry-level salary of $46,411. For teachers with 10 years experience and an additional 60 units of educational credits, Oakland reported a salary of $63,904, which ranked fifth from the bottom. Similarly, Oakland’s top salary of $83,437 ranked 6th from the bottom.

Oakland Education Association union members crowd into Oakland Unified school board meeting on May 9, 2018 to demand pay hikes. - PHOTO BY THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Photo by Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Oakland Education Association union members crowd into Oakland Unified school board meeting on May 9, 2018 to demand pay hikes.

Teachers turned up the heat on the district before last month’s negotiations by marching through the streets of Oakland carrying signs demanding pay increases, then protesting at the May 9 school board meeting, chanting slogans such as “Where did all the money go?” This was referring to about $20 million in increased revenues through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which gives districts extra funds to educate low-income students, English learners, foster youth and homeless children. It also gives school districts greater freedom on how to spend those funds.

Earlier, at a union rally before the meeting, some teachers spoke about why they are ready to strike.

Mayra Alvarado, 28, a second-year teacher, said the district should pay teachers enough money to rent or own homes in the community, which is one of the most expensive in the state. In Oakland Unified, a second-year teacher with no added educational credits is paid $47, 311 per year.

“I’m ready to strike because it’s not OK that as an Oakland native, I’m still having to live with my family,” said Alvarado, who teaches 3rd grade at EnCompass Academy Elementary. “We need a raise and we need a decent salary so that teachers can live in Oakland and stay in Oakland.”

Teacher Mayra Alvarado (holding left side of sign above “EmCompass”), told union members during a May 9 rally that she doesn’t make enough money to rent or purchase a home in Oakland. - PHOTO BY THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Photo by Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Teacher Mayra Alvarado (holding left side of sign above “EmCompass”), told union members during a May 9 rally that she doesn’t make enough money to rent or purchase a home in Oakland.

To help retain the 300 to 500 teachers expected to leave annually to go to other districts, retire or leave the profession, the union in Oakland is asking for a 3 percent retroactive pay raise this year, 4 percent in 2018-19 and 5 percent in 2019-20, which would cost $6 million this year, then $14 million to $20.6 million next year and $24 million to $36.6 million in 2019-20, depending on the seniority levels of teachers who remain.

But Oakland Unified can’t afford to meet teachers’ demands, given its budget constraints, said Christopher Learned,the district’s state-appointed trustee. “I would not allow the district to agree to it,” Learned said of teachers’ pay demands in April.

Instead, the district has offered a 2 percent bonus by November, 2018, followed by another 2 percent bonus by November, 2019. About 1 percent of that would be an ongoing annual salary increase.

“We are far apart,” said Dennis Nelson, the union’s chief negotiator, noting that the district offered no salary increase in the 2017-18 school year.

John Green, a regional California Teachers Association staff member who works with the Oakland union, called the district’s offer “mind-bogglingly bad,” adding that the district is asking teachers to do more, by increasing class sizes and extending work hours, which would equate to pay cuts, even with proposed salary increases.

“It’s going to be really bad for recruitment and retention in Oakland if we can’t fix this,” Green said.

The district and union will begin mediation in August.

This story was originally published by EdSource.

Monday’s Briefing: Government Considers Building Immigrant Detention Camp in Concord; Black Firefighter Racially Profiled in Oakland

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 10:03 AM

An aerial view of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in 2006. - PHOTO BY DANIEL SCHWEN, FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo by Daniel Schwen, from Wikimedia Commons
  • An aerial view of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in 2006.

The federal government is considering setting up a detention camp for immigrants looking to obtain asylum at Concord’s shuttered naval base. According to a draft memo by the U.S. Navy obtained Friday, the “temporary and austere” tent city would hold up to 47,000 immigrants apprehended at the southern border. (East Bay Times)

A Black firefighter conducting city-mandated inspections around homes in the Oakland hills was reported to police and also questioned and videotaped by a suspicious resident, even though he was in full uniform with his fire truck parked nearby. (SFGate)

Over the weekend, video surfaced of a white woman allegedly calling the police on an 8-year-old Black girl for selling water outside AT&T Park without a permit. #PermitPatty, as she is being called on Twitter, has been identified as Alison Ettel of Treatwell Health, a San Francisco company that makes cannabis edibles. (East Bay Times)

Staff at Hs Lordships walked off the job during brunch service yesterday afternoon in protest of their severance pay. According to customers, an employee announced that they were only getting $21 per year of employment in severance pay, so they decided to take their breaks all at once but then were not allowed back to work. The Berkeley Marina restaurant is closing permanently on July 1. (SFGate)

In the East Bay, a family of four with a household income of $89,600 is now considered low-income, qualifying them for certain affordable housing programs, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties, residents who make $117,400 are considered low-income — the highest threshold in the country. (East Bay Times)

One of Oakland’s oldest restaurants, Mexicali Rose, is closing after 91 years in business. The restaurant owner cited retirement as the reason the Old Oakland eatery's last day will be June 29. (East Bay Times)

A startup in Alameda is developing a ferry boat powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine received a $3 million state grant to build the fuel-cell ferry, which is expected to hit the waters of San Francisco Bay in fall 2019. (San Francisco Chronicle)

An 8,200-acre fire is burning in Lake County, destroying 22 structures and threatening at least 600 more, according to officials. Thousands of people have been evacuated. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday’s Briefing: State Audit Finds UC Inconsistently Handles Sexual Harassment Complaints; Oakland City Council Candidate Alleges He Was Threatened at City Event

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 10:20 AM

A state audit found ongoing problems in the University of California’s response to sexual harassment complaints, including lengthy investigations and inconsistent discipline of faculty and staff. The report, which reviewed sexual harassments cases at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UCLA, found that it took an average of 43 days to discipline staff following an investigation, versus 220 days for faculty. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland city council candidate Loren Taylor said he was threatened with physical violence while campaigning at a free city event in East Oakland last weekend. The 40-year-old business consultant, who is trying to unseat Councilmember Desley Brooks, said he and his campaign volunteers were chased from a park by security guards after Brooks allegedly told him that he was violating a rule by using city resources to campaign. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A report found that the Oakland school district ignored standard accounting practices and inappropriately manipulated taxpayer funds that in some cases amounted to misuse of state or federal funding. The analysis by Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, found that the district has an unsustainable spending problem and must do significant work to clean up its accounting practices. (San Francisco Chronicle)

[Read related: “Oakland Unified Chided for ‘Highly Unusual’ and ‘Suspicious’ Fiscal Practices”]

The East Bay has a new telephone area code, 341, the state Public Utilities Commission decided yesterday. Numbers for the 510 area code are expected to run out sometime in spring of 2019. The new area code will apply to those in western Alameda County and western Contra Costa County, including Richmond, Oakland, Hayward, and as far south as Fremont. (East Bay Times)

After an eight-year court battle that ended in April, Richmond has finally received a judgment clearing the way for a community visioning process for Point Molate. As part of the settlement with developers, the city must offer discretionary approvals for development of the 270-acre former Navy fuel depot within two years, and within four years it must market the development areas for sale to developers. The city is hoping to reach consensus on a community plan in the next three or fourth months. (East Bay Times)

Legislation that would allow the Oakland A’s to speed up the environmental regulatory process for proposed ballparks in one of two locations in the city was approved by a state Senate committee Wednesday. The proposal from Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta does not discern between potential Oakland ballparks sites at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square and the current Oakland Coliseum complex. Both are mentioned in the bill. (EB Citizen)

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has ruled that Oakland City Council candidate Peggy Moore violated the election code in 2016 by failing to identify her campaign on two online mailings, including a public opinion survey, and proposes to fine her $2,500. (EB Citizen)

A homeless man has been charged with a hate crime and two felonies after hitting a stranger on the head with a large rock in downtown Berkeley. Jeffrey Frazier Pachingger, who is Hispanic, told police he hit the victim “because of ‘an illegal Asian takeover,’” according to court documents. (Berkeleyside)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Local Leaders Continue to Denounce ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Immigration Policy; Effort Launches to Recall Alameda Council Member

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan
  • Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan
Alameda County supervisors spoke out yesterday about the Trump administration’s now-halted policy of separating undocumented children from their parents. At a press conference, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan said it’s wrong to “criminalize entire population of children based on their national origin and based on their language,” and advocated for a bi-partisan immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship and protect children. (KGO)

A group of Alamedans upset with the handling of former City Manager Jill Keimach’s dismissal are in the early stages of mounting a petition effort to recall Councilmember Malia Vella. (East Bay Express)

Oakland officials are wrestling for control over new staff positions for Oakland’s Police Commission. This week, the city council rejected legislation that would have given the city administrator control over the commission’s inspector general. (East Bay Express)

PG&E said it will record a $2.5 billion charge to cover expected losses from last year’s deadly Wine Country wildfires, as it expects to be held liable for damage for many of the fires. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin withdrew a vote to ban Berkeley police from participating in this year’s Urban Shield, tactical exercises run annually by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Earlier this year, a council subcommittee voted to stop the police from taking part in the exercises, but Monday, Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she believed the subcommittee vote might violate the city charter and municipal code. (Berkeleyside)

A new report released by the Akonadi Foundation and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation finds that small arts organizations in Oakland that serve people of color have deep ties within those communities, and their programming addresses community concerns, yet lack of funding and rising operating costs put them at high risk of displacement. (Kenneth Rainin Foundation blog)

A Berkeley landlord has been charged with trying to kill a tenant. Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Herman Levi Little, 75, with attempted murder last week for allegedly shooting Timothy Loving, 39, in the Berkeley apartment building where they lived. A friend of Loving said he had missed several rent payments due to health reasons but that the landlord said he was satisfied with a payment plan the two had worked out. (San Francisco Chronicle)

An equipment issue at the Chevron refinery led to flaring yesterday. The flaring began at about 3 p.m. and lasted two hours, according to a spokesperson for the refinery, which resulted in a level-one alert, its lowest level. Staffers are investigating the incident. (East Bay Times)

Researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Davis have launched an interactive website that maps the ordeals of refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who have entered Europe in recent years. Digital Refuge allows viewers to “compare asylum seekers’ hopes and worries to official reports, see how their most pressing concerns and unmet needs change during the crisis, and explore Greek camp conditions.” (Berkeley News)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Oakland Officials Wrestle for Control Over New Police Commission Staff Positions

The city council rejected legislation that would have given the city administrator control over the commission's inspector general.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 4:42 PM

Thomas Lloyd Smith, chair of Oakland's Police Commission, addresses the Oakland City Council.
  • Thomas Lloyd Smith, chair of Oakland's Police Commission, addresses the Oakland City Council.

When Oakland voters created a new police commission two years ago, they established a civilian oversight body with the authority to investigate allegations of misconduct, discipline bad cops, and set policy. But crucial details about the commission's authority and staffing were left out of the ballot measure text. Instead, these details are currently being drafted in an "enabling ordinance" by the Oakland City Council.

As a result, over the past several months, Oakland's councilmembers, the city attorney, city administrator, and the new police commissioners have been fighting each other over the legislation's wording with regard to who is assigned the authority to direct the work of central members of the police commission's staff.

At stake, say activists with the Coalition for Police Accountability, is whether the police commission will truly be independent, or whether two city officials — the city attorney and city administrator — will be able to influence its work.

According to Rashidah Grinage, an activist with the Coalition for Police Accountability, the police commission and the Civilian Police Review Agency, which carries out investigations for the commission, need to both have legal advisors who are completely separate from the city attorney due to the fact that Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker defends police officers when they are sued for police misconduct. This poses a conflict with the commission, because it is tasked with uncovering and investigating misconduct on behalf of the public.

The city attorney also has another role: arguing on behalf of the police chief and city administrator before an arbitrator when police officers try to overturn discipline that the chief and administrator impose on them. In the past, the city attorney had a very poor record of winning these cases, which led many police accountability activists to push for the creation of the police commission so that disciplinary decisions would have a better chance of being upheld.

Furthermore, in multiple meetings of the police commission earlier this year, deputy city attorneys assigned to advise the commission by City Attorney Barbara Parker have repeatedly clashed with the commissioners. In one meeting, a deputy city attorney even advised Oakland police officers not to answer questions about training and policy because they are features of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, OPD's court-ordered reform program. In response, several commissioners chided the deputy city attorney and discussed the need to hire their own legal advisor.

"Having access to someone who is not a member of the city attorney's office, particularly on these issues, is very important," said Thomas Smith, the chair of Oakland's police commission, at last night's city council meeting where the enabling ordinance was discussed. Smith asked the council to go as far as it could in providing independent staff who work for the commission, not other offices of the city.

But Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has pushed back and advised the city council that they should pass an enabling ordinance that gives her office, and the city administrator, a strong degree of influence over the commission.

According to Parker, her office has total control over the hiring of any and all attorneys who represent any part of the city, including the police commission.

Parker hired her own outside legal counsel, Karen Getman of the Remcho Johansen & Purcell law firm, to argue this point before the city council last night.

Getman said that Measure LL, the ballot measure that voters approved to establish the police commission, was very clear in stating that the commission's legal advisors shall be assigned by the city attorney. The only part of the city with a truly independent attorney who isn't answerable to Parker is the Port of Oakland, said Getman, and that's because this is clearly spelled out in the section of the city charter that established the port commission.

"The city attorney is the only attorney for the city," Getman said. "City boards and commissions don't have any independent authority to appoint their own advisor."

Deputy City Attorney Doryanna Moreno and Getman also argued last night that the city administrator should have a strong degree of control over the commission's work by being able to control the newly established Office of Inspector General, a commission staffer who will audit OPD's processes for investigating misconduct and disciplining them, among other things.

Getman told the city council that the new OIG must report directly and only to the city administrator, not the commission.

In fact, the city administrator has complete power over the hiring, evaluation, and termination of the OIG, and the commission has no power other than the ability to make recommendations to the administrator, said Getman.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said during last night's meeting that she found this degree of control by the city administrator over the commission's inspector general to be untenable due to the fact that the OIG will often be investigating policies and practices that the city administrator is responsible for, in addition to the police department. The OIG would therefore be put in a position of having to investigate and criticize their own boss.

"It's really not viable," said Kaplan.

But Dan Kalb, author of the police commission ballot measure and a version of the enabling ordinance, said that he felt Kaplan, as well as members of the Coalition for Police Accountability, were trying to stretch the law too far, possibly in violation of the city charter.

"I think we've pushed the envelope as best we can," Kalb said at the meeting.

Kalb added that he would be happy in 2020 to sponsor another ballot measure to make changes in the charter that would unambiguously state who controls these key commission jobs, but he felt the council should go along with the city attorney's recommendations.

Most of his colleagues disagreed, however.

Kalb's version of the enabling ordinance, which included the city attorney's recommendations regarding the commission's legal advisor and OIG was rejected in a five-to-two vote, with only Annie Campbell Washington siding with Kalb.

Kaplan offered an alternative version of the enabling ordinance that did not give the city attorney and city administrator the same degree of power over the commission's legal counsel and OIG. But this measure also failed, only gaining four votes, with Kalb abstaining and Annie Campbell Washington and Lynette Gibson McElhaney voting against it.

While Gibson McElhaney was a key vote in rejecting Kalb's version of the ordinance, she also expressed hesitation with Kaplan's draft because she felt it hadn't adequately been vetted.

Later, after 1 a.m. and a discussion of the city's midcycle budget adjustments, the council took up the consequential police commission legislation again, this time with Kaplan proposing that Kalb's version of the enabling ordinance be used, but that the two sections determining who appoints and controls the commission's legal advisors and OIG be re-written to make them more independent.

Kaplan recommended that the city attorney still be allowed to appoint the commission's legal advisor, but this advisor be an "outside counsel," meaning a lawyer from a law firm that's hired by the city and not one of the city attorney's in-house deputies.

For the OIG, this new version of the enabling ordinance rejected the city attorney's position that the inspector must be controlled by the city administrator and instead placed the job under the authority of the director of the commission's investigative agency, the Civilian Police Review Agency. The director of the CPRA is hired by and supervised by the commission.

The council approved this version of the enabling ordinance, with only Campbell Washington voting no.

But these features, which promise more independence for the commission from the city attorney and city administrator, come with the risk that the city could be sued under the theory that each violates the city charter's specific assignment of powers and duties. At several points in last night's meeting, councilmembers and attorneys made allusions to a possible legal challenge, coming perhaps from the Oakland Police Officers' Association or perhaps even a city official, to nullify the enabling ordinance.

"I know there's some iffiness when it comes to the legality of these two things, but we need to move something forward," Kalb said to explain his vote.

"This may be challenged and it may delay the work of the commission going forward," said Councilmember Abel Guillen just before the final vote. "But I'm erring on the side of additional independence."

Group Launches Effort to Recall Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella

Grounds for the recall are simply the “Improper handling of the City Manager Jill Keimach matter.”

by Steven Tavares
Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 4:25 PM

Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella
  • Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella

A group of Alamedans upset with the handling of former City Manager Jill Keimach’s dismissal are in the early stages of mounting a petition effort to recall Councilmember Malia Vella. Proponents of the recall served Vella with a notice of intent during Tuesday night’s council meeting. Grounds for the recall and her removal from office, according to the notice of intent, are simply the “Improper handling of the City Manager Jill Keimach matter.”

Last month, the Alameda City Council released Keimach from her duties as city manager after learning that she secretly recorded a conversation with Vella and Councilmember Jim Oddie — but not before approving a compensation package for Keimach worth more than $900,000. In March, the council had voted unanimously to place Keimach on paid administrative leave, but the public was unaware of the recording incident at the time. In April, the council voted to refer the recording incident to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. What preceded Keimach’s termination, however, had already roiled Alameda politics for months.

Last October, Keimach accused some councilmembers — who turned out to be Vella and Oddie — of violating a provision in the city charter that forbids elected city officials from interfering with the city manager’s duties. Specifically, Keimach charged the councilmembers with threatening her employment if she did not hire for the open position of fire chief a candidate who was backed by the Alameda firefighters’ union. An independent investigator, however, later found no evidence that Vella committed any wrongdoing, but found that Oddie violated the interference provision by sending a letter of recommendation for the union-backed candidate to Keimach using city letterhead. The investigator also recommended the city council amend the specific provision in the city charter for clarity.

[Read related: "Investigation Concludes That Alameda Council Member Jim Oddie Violated City Charter"]

Despite the investigative report’s findings, some in the community — particularly the Alameda Citizens Task Force — have questioned some of its conclusions regarding Vella and Oddie’s role in the controversy. In a rebuttal to the report sent by the Alameda Citizens Task Force to city officials last month, the group conceded that Vella did not violate the city charter, but said the issue cannot be fully resolved without a public release of Keimach’s recording of Vella and Oddie. Members of this group have routinely chanted “Release the tape” at recent council meetings. And they’ve cited passages in the investigative report that highlight longstanding criticisms of the power of the Alameda firefighters’ union over City Hall.

Proponents of the recall effort did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, Vella tweeted about the existence of the intent to recall, along with a statement. “I was hopeful that when an independent investigator found that none of [Keimach’s] allegations against me had any basis in fact that all of us could move past this distraction and allow me to serve the people of Alameda,” said Vella. “This does not seem to be the case. A very few people in this community continue to favor Ms. Keimach and believe her dismissal and her more than $900,000 settlement with the City was somehow unfair.” Vella also notes that she voted against the Keimach settlement.

The recall effort against Vella is still in its early stages, and a similar recall effort against Oddie was recently flubbed by the same group of proponents. Following service of the intent to recall, its backers have seven days to deliver the intent and an affidavit of service to the city clerk’s office. This kickstarts a somewhat onerous process of getting the recall question on the November ballot.

Oddie was served during the June 5 council meeting, but the attempt by proponents to file the paperwork with the city clerk came two days late. Further complicating their effort is a provision in the election code that prohibits a recall within six months of the end of an elected official’s term. Oddie is up for reelection in November and his term is due to end on Dec. 18, meaning the last possible date to begin the recall process was June 18, said Alameda City Clerk Lara Weisiger.

Provided at least 20 of the 33 signatures included on Vella’s notice of intent are deemed valid by the city clerk, Vella will have 10 days to offer a response to the recall petition, Weisiger added. Next, proponents are required to publish the notice of recall, and the format of the resulting petition must be approved by Weisiger. The latter step can sometimes be time-consuming, Weisiger noted, with slight changes — for example, an incorrect font size — setting back the approval process up to 10 days for each request for modifications.

Once the city clerk approves the notice of intent, the hard part for proponents begins. In order to place the recall on the November ballot, proponents will need to collect 9,421 valid signatures — or 20 percent of Alameda’s 47,105 registered voters — over a 120-day period this summer.

Recall efforts in the East Bay rarely qualify for the ballot and more often than not amount to high-profile efforts to embarrass local elected officials. In 2012, an effort to recall then-Alameda Councilmember Rob Bonta ultimately fizzled, failing to qualify for the ballot. The intent to recall Bonta, like the one to recall Vella, was also partially about his support for the Alameda firefighters’ union. At the time, Bonta alleged the effort was intended to undermine his campaign for the State Assembly, which he won later that year.

Wednesday’s Briefing: Federal Judge Rules Albany Cross Unconstitutional; Oakland to Pay $12 Million Settlement to Motorcyclist Hit by Cop

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 10:15 AM

The cross on Albany Hill has long been a source of controversy. - PHOTO BY DARRYL BARNES
  • Photo by Darryl Barnes
  • The cross on Albany Hill has long been a source of controversy.

A federal judge ruled that a 20-foot-tall cross that has been displayed on Albany Hill for 47 years is unconstitutional, and the city must remove it or sell the site. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said governments “have no business” sponsoring religious faith. (East Bay Times)

[Read related: “The Albany Cross Resurrects Memories of the KKK”]

The City of Oakland will pay a $12 million settlement to a motorcyclist who was hit and seriously injured by a police car that ran a red light. (East Bay Express)

California health officials will test a portion of the former Hunters Point Shipyard currently under development in response to fears that harmful levels of radioactive materials remain buried there. But some are questioning whether the method of testing will adequately determine whether the soil is clean. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Former employees of OneTaste say the San Francisco-based “orgasmic meditation” company used its teachings to justify sexual exploitation and abuse and caused them to go into serious debt. (SFGate)

[Read related: “A Peek Into OneTaste’s Orgasm Empire”]

How cannabis fueled the rise of Oakland musician Fantastic Negrito. (Leafly)

At UC Berkeley, a campus-wide effort called Project IRENE is underway to scan and digitize nearly 3,000 wax cylinders held in the university’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, in order to save Native American languages. (Berkeley News)

Next month, UC Berkeley will begin an online course on blockchain in order to educate students on cryptocurrencies and prepare them for careers in developing blockchain networks for businesses. So far, 7,400 students have signed up. (Computerworld)

Traffic at Alameda Point will be significantly impacted by the large development now underway at the former naval air station. Extended road closures will occur in the middle of Alameda Point at Ferry Point and Orion Street; additionally, the Atlantic Avenue entrance will be closed at Main Street and a new entrance will open at Trident Avenue. The changes take effect June 26 and will remain in place for two years. (Alameda Sun)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

City of Oakland to Pay $12 Million to Motorcyclist Hit by Police Car

A dispute between Oakland and its insurance carrier nearly caused the city to be on the hook for $10 million of the total.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 1:17 PM


The Oakland City Council is set to approve a $12 million payment to a man who was run over by a police officer while riding his motorcycle downtown last year.

The settlement is one of the costliest in the city's recent history. Attorneys for Elliott Van Fleet claimed in court papers that the police officer who caused the accident was in violation of police policy when he ran a red light.

Elliott Van Fleet was cruising through a green light at 19th Street and Broadway on the morning of March 25, 2017, when an Oakland police officer driving a Ford SUV police vehicle entered the intersection against a red light and collided with him.

Van Fleet was thrown from his motorcycle and sustained massive injuries. His lower left leg was amputated at the hospital and his pelvis and vertebrae were fractured, among other serious wounds.

In a lawsuit Van Fleet filed against the city last year, his attorneys wrote that he has been unable to work since the accident and has sustained medical bills that "greatly exceed" $500,000, and that future medical costs and lost wages would amount to even more.

Van Fleet alleged that the police officer who caused the accident ran the red light without stopping, in violation of the Oakland Police Department's vehicle pursuit policy.

Van Fleet's attorneys declined to comment until after his lawsuit against the city is settled.

It's unclear if the officer involved in the accident was disciplined or re-trained, or whether the city found that the officer violated policy.

The Oakland Police Department declined to comment as to whether they investigated the incident or if the police officer violated any city policies. OPD referred questions to the Oakland City Attorney's Office.

Alex Katz, spokesperson for Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, wrote in an email to the Express that "we can’t discuss personnel matters involving individual officers."

The $12 million settlement is easily one of the largest in Oakland's history.

Since 2015, Oakland has paid out at least $26,478,638 to settle approximately 117 lawsuits, according to an analysis of city council agendas.

But cops aren't to blame for most of the litigation. The largest number of lawsuits against the city were filed by people who were injured or sustained property damage due to the city's public works department. Most of these 72 cases involved so-called "trip-fall" incidents, where a person was hurt due to broken sidewalks and streets. Most of these cases were settled for low amounts, generally under $20,000.

In total, public works paid out $4.9 million to settle litigation since 2015.

Cases involving police officers are the most expensive for the city. Since 2015, at least 31 lawsuits against the police department have been settled for a total of $19.3 million.

Besides Van Fleet's injury claim, other costly police-related lawsuits settled by the city council in the past three and half years included wrongful arrest, shootings, and sexual exploitation.

But auto accidents involving Oakland police officers are common, too.

For example, Bien Cam Tran was walking across E. 12th Street near 3rd Avenue on August 30, 2014 when an Oakland police SUV hit him. Tran died of his injuries. His family alleged that the officers were driving "recklessly" and the city ultimately settled for $2.75 million in 2016, according to city records.

In total, the council settled 18 lawsuits brought against the Oakland police for auto accidents since 2015 for a total of $15 million. Excluding Van Fleet and Tran's cases, the other 16 lawsuits were settled for between $6,000 and $45,000 and mainly involved damage to vehicles.

Van Fleet's lawsuit is expected to directly cost the city $3 million, while the other $9 million will be paid by Oakland's insurance carrier, the California State Association of Counties-Excess Insurance Authority (CSAC-EIA), which is a joint powers authority formed by multiple local governments.

But the city nearly found itself on the hook for $10 million of the total $12 million in claims, according to confidential city records obtained by the Express.

According to a May 15 memo prepared by the city attorney, Oakland's lawyers mistakenly negotiated with Van Fleet's attorneys under the assumption that CSAC-EIA had agreed to pay up to $12.5 million to resolve the case. In fact, CSAC-EIA hadn't approved this; CSAC-EIA only approved a settlement of up to $5 million and designated that this be split, with the city paying $3 million and CSAC-EIA paying a maximum of $2 million.

If this settlement had been agreed upon, it would have meant that Oakland would pay $10 million of the $12 million total.

But according to the city attorney's office, this conflict between Oakland and its insurance carrier was somehow resolved, and CSAC-EIA has now agreed to pay $9 million of the $12 million settlement.

CSAC-EIA didn't return calls from the Express seeking comment about the disagreement.

Looming over this dispute between Oakland and CSAC-EIA, of course, is the Ghost Ship case. The city could be on the hook for many millions of dollars due to the deaths of 36 people in a building that was known to city police and fire personnel to be a hazard.

It's unclear how Oakland will pay for any Ghost Ship-related settlement or how CSAC-EIA will assist.

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