Friday, July 27, 2018

Courtney Ruby Returns to Run for Oakland Auditor

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Courtney Ruby
  • Courtney Ruby
Oakland's former city auditor, Courtney Ruby, is returning to challenge current City Auditor Brenda Roberts in this November's election.

Ruby said her decision is very much in response to Roberts' track record of producing few impactful audits over the past four years.

"The oversight function hasn’t been well served," said Ruby, who is currently the director of administration and facilities at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"This is a really critical time when we don’t want to squander our resources. We need an effective oversight function," she said.

Ruby was city auditor from 2007 to 2014 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2014. Under her leadership the auditor's office carried out several major investigations, including an examination of the city's Fox Theater renovation project, interference in administrative affairs by city councilmembers, and mismanagement of the public works agency.

According to an investigation by reporter Gabrielle Canon, morale in the auditor's office plummeted under Roberts, as did productivity. Several of Roberts' former employees have become outspoken critics.

A phone call and email to Roberts' campaign committee treasurer Carlos Hickerson wasn't immediately returned. But Roberts has defended her record and told the Express last year that she has several important audits currently underway, which have yet to be released. One of them, a review of the city's 911 system, was issued in November 2017.

Native Americans Push Schools to Include Their Story in California History Classes

“Our story has never been present. It’s often sidestepped because it’s inconvenient. But it’s the truth, and students should learn it.”

by Carolyn Jones of EdSource
Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 10:07 AM

Native American teachers and activists meet regularly to create K-12 curriculum about California's indigenous inhabitants. - COURTESY OF SACRAMENTO STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy of Sacramento State University
  • Native American teachers and activists meet regularly to create K-12 curriculum about California's indigenous inhabitants.

For decades, California 4th-graders have studied the Golden State: its geography, people and history. Now, historians and Native American teachers are pushing to broaden that curriculum to include more on the culture and history of the state’s original inhabitants.

“For so many years, the story of California Indians has never really been part of classrooms,” said Rose Borunda, an education professor at Sacramento State University and a coordinator of the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition. “Our story has never been present. It’s often sidestepped because it’s inconvenient. But it’s the truth, and students should learn it.”

Borunda, who is Native American, and her colleagues are working to educate teachers statewide on the history of California’s indigenous people, who were among the most populous and diverse Native Americans in North America. Their curriculum would complement the state’s History-Social Science framework, which was updated two years ago.

The changes are part of a broader effort to expand Native California curriculum in the state’s K-12 schools. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 738, which requires the state’s Instructional Quality Commission — which advises the State Board of Education on curriculum — to create a Native American studies class curriculum for high schools that will satisfy the elective course requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University. Earlier this year, Brown signed AB 2016, which creates an elective high school ethnic studies course that could also include Native American history and culture. The State Board of Education is required to adopt the ethnic studies curriculum by March 2020.

The story of Native Californians begins at least 10,000 years ago when people first began settling along the West Coast. Before the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1700s, Native Californians numbered more than 300,000 and lived more than 200 tribes, dwelling in almost every part of the state. Because tribes in California were geographically isolated from the rest of the continent, many tribes had no contact with Native Americans outside California, and some tribes — especially those in remote areas — were among the last in North America to encounter Europeans.

All California public school students, for at least 50 years, have spent time during 4th grade learning the state’s history, with a focus on the Spanish missions — the 21 outposts established by Father Junipero Serra, soldiers and settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Students created missions out of sugar cubes and popsicle sticks, visited missions and sometimes learned a version of the mission story that emphasized the Spanish perspective, rather than that of native people.

While the missions marked the beginning of colonization in California, they were also the beginning of the end for most tribes, as thousands were enslaved by missionaries, killed by settlers over the next few decades or died of diseases introduced by Europeans. Within 70 years of the Spanish arrival, the native population dropped to fewer than 70,000, according to the state’s Native American Heritage Commission.

In 2016, when the state updated its History-Social Studies framework, the mission chapter was broadened to include more information about Native Californians, how they lived before colonization and how they were affected by the arrival of settlers. Now, missions are taught as “sites of conflict, conquest and forced labor,” according to the standards. “It is clear that even though missionaries brought agriculture, the Spanish language and culture, and Christianity to the native population, American Indians suffered in many California missions.”

The standards now emphasize broader themes in the mission era, such as immigration and how cultures change when they come together and colonization’s impact on the environment, such as the introduction of farming, livestock and invasive species.

“We changed it because it was the right thing to do,” said Nancy McTygue, executive director of the California History-Social Science Project at UC Davis, which oversaw the framework revisions.

“It’s better history teaching. It’s more responsible. Whatever the topic, we wanted students to have a more nuanced understanding of the past, so they can make more informed interpretations.”

Attempts to bring more native perspectives to public school history curriculum began with the Native American rights movement of the 1970s, said Gregg Castro, a consultant on Native American site preservation and member of the California Indian History Curriculum Coalition.

Those efforts have progressed in fits and starts, he said. Some tribes have worked closely with local elementary schools for years, providing lesson plans and guest speakers to supplement the 4th-grade California history curriculum. Other schools have done less, and in fact some still teach popsicle-stick mission projects despite the framework overhaul, McTygue said.

Separately, Assemblyman Phil Ting successfully advocated for a $5 million grant in the 2017-18 state budget for the California Historical Society and McTygue’s group to create free online materials, such as original documents and photos, for K-12 teachers to implement the new history-social science framework, including the history and culture of Native Californians.

“This $5 million investment by the state will provide students and their teachers with the resources to learn about — and from — the people, places and events that have shaped California for thousands of years,” Ting said.

Around the same time the history-social studies framework was being updated, Borunda began to get involved. She became interested when the subject of Native American curriculum in general came up at a meeting of the California Indian Conference, an annual meeting of Native Californians to network and discuss issues affecting their communities.

“A man was at one of these meetings who’s a teacher. He started crying because he was told he had to teach the California mission project,” Borunda said. “It stuck with me. I thought, well, here I am, an education professor. Maybe I can change this.”

Working with her colleagues at Sacramento State, as well as tribal members, teachers and historians, Borunda began compiling free online lesson plans for elementary teachers to supplement what’s already in the framework. The coalition has also hosted several statewide teacher forums to share curriculum and strategies for teaching Native Californian history and culture.

The topic is complicated, Castro said. California tribes are as diverse as the state’s geography, so no single lesson plan fits all tribes, she said. California tribes spoke hundreds of languages and dialects and each had a culture adapted to the areas in which they lived: the desert, the mountains, the Central Valley or the coast.

But perhaps the more challenging aspect of the curriculum is teaching about the enslavement, disease and slaughter that befell native people after the Spanish arrival, McTygue and Castro said.

“It’s a difficult period in American history, and it’s especially hard to teach to 9-year-olds,” McTygue said, referring to the age of students when they study California history in 4th grade. The difficulties are in part due to a lack of materials about the pre-Spanish era, she said, and in part because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter.

Even the terminology poses challenges. For example, using the word “genocide” can be problematic, because thousands of Native Americans still live in California and have thriving cultures. “Genocide” implies that the native culture was completely erased, Castro said. In fact, California has more Native Americans — 362,801 — than any other state, according to the most recent Census data.

Focusing on the mission period can also detract from 10,000 years of Native Californian history and culture, he said. After all, there’s a lot more to native people than the colonization story, he said.

“A lot of it comes down to terminology,” he said. “Instead of using the word ‘genocide,’ you can say, ‘We were forced to work at the missions. We didn’t want to be there and we suffered for it.’ ”

Castro suggests that elementary teachers look at broad topic areas, such as salmon or fire, and incorporate multiple academic subjects into their lessons. For example, a unit on salmon would include native traditions and lore about salmon, as well as lessons on the fish biology, river ecosystems and seasons. A unit on fire would cover how native people burned fields to enrich the soil, manage vegetation to attract wildlife and prevent larger wildfires. This unit would include lessons on ecology, land management and how humans alter their environment.

“It can be done quite well, in a non-traumatizing way, without shading the truth,” he said. “Right now there is abysmal ignorance out there because people just weren’t taught about Native Californians in school. But people need to know this. They need to know what happened, that we’re still here, that there’s still things to be saved.”

This story was originally published by

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Protesters March to KTVU, Demand Justice and Accountability for ‘Dehumanizing’ Use of Nia Wilson Photo

“This isn’t going to be another day where you get to say you’re sorry and walk away.”

by Josh Slowiczek
Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 5:57 PM

Protesters marched through downtown Oakland chanting "Justice for Nia" as they made their way to the offices of KTVU, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Protesters marched through downtown Oakland chanting "Justice for Nia" as they made their way to the offices of KTVU, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo.

Roughly 50 protesters marched through the streets of Oakland today to demand accountability from local television news station KTVU for the airing of a photo that appeared to show Nia Wilson, the 18-year-old Black woman stabbed to death Sunday night at the MacArthur BART station, holding a gun.

It was actually a cellphone case. And for the community members, activists, and artists who rallied, the use of the photo represented a completely unacceptable act that perpetuated false and harmful stereotypes of Black Oaklanders.

“We have to send a message to Channel 2 [KTVU] and everyone else,” said Theo Williams, a concerned community member and the artistic director of SambaFunk, a local collective for African Diaspora culture. “This isn’t going to be another day where you get to say you’re sorry and walk away.”

KTVU, a Fox affiliate, aired the photo on July 23 during a noon newscast, less than 24 hours after Wilson and her sister were attacked by John Lee Cowell, a white man with a history of criminal activity and mental illness. Though police have not yet released a motive for the killing, community members say that the attack was most likely a hate crime, and that KTVU’s use of the image must be seen in the broader context of the historic and growing racism in the United States.

“It’s not just KTVU. It’s the media,” said Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks. “We have got to demand that they start treating African American communities, and people of color communities, with respect.”

Brooks, Williams, and several other prominent Black community members spoke to a growing crowd at the Alice Street Mural this morning, addressing not only the death of Wilson and KTVU’s actions, but also the structural violence that communities of color face. They also spoke of the need to respect and protect Black women.

Protesters marched to the offices of KTVU in Jack London, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Protesters marched to the offices of KTVU in Jack London, demanding accountability for the local news station’s use of what they called a "dehumanizing" photo.

Public outrage spread quickly over social media shortly after KTVU’s noon newscast. Frank Somerville, one of the station’s anchors, quickly issued an apology for the action over social media, and then during a later evening newscast. But many at the protest saw the apology as being tepid and in poor taste.

The day after, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education issued a press release condemning the news station.

“The use of the photo can be seen as an attempt to dismiss her [Wilson’s] humanity and silence those who view her death as a racially-motivated attack,” the press release states. “Such depictions reinforce unconscious bias, particularly against people of color, who are over-represented in stories about crime and violence.”

But some, such as Bay Area reporter JR Valrey, see the station’s use of the photo as something much worse. “This was a hate crime,” he said. “They made the victim look like an aggressor.”

This is not the first time that KTVU has come under fire for questionable content. In 2010, protesters rallied against the station for a sympathetic jailhouse interview with Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant. Then, in 2013, the station aired four fake and racially insensitive names of Asiana Airlines pilots one day after a crash that killed three passengers and injured dozens of others at San Francisco International Airport.

Both incidents were referenced by speakers and demonstrators as further evidence that the station not only has a history of racism, but is part of a larger, systemic problem.

As protesters marched from the Alice Street Mural to the television station, they chanted “Justice for Nia Wilson,” and “What are we for? Why are we here? Nia Wilson,” to the beating of drums by members of SambaFunk. When the demonstrators arrived at KTVU’s property shortly after noon, they began chanting, chalking the entrance, and setting up an altar in memory of Wilson while they waited for Amber Eikel, the news director of KTVU, to come out and hear their demands. Wilson’s sister, Latifah, watched from a chair, surrounded by community members standing solemnly behind her.

As a helicopter from the Oakland Police Department circled overhead, protesters paid their respects at the altar. Libations, in the form of bottled water poured into small, potted plants, were also offered, as the names of Black youths taken before their time were shouted out: “Oscar Grant,” “Trayvon Martin,” and “Nia Wilson.”

Eikel did not make an appearance, but almost two hours later, Paul Chambers, one of the station’s reporters, came out of the gated parking lot with a camera crew to speak with the protesters and record their demands.

Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. speaks with KTVU reporter Paul Chambers about the station’s use of a photo pulled from one of Nia Wilson’s social media accounts. - JOSH SLOWICZEK
  • Josh Slowiczek
  • Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. speaks with KTVU reporter Paul Chambers about the station’s use of a photo pulled from one of Nia Wilson’s social media accounts.

There were six: demonstrate accountability by firing those responsible, create a committee of Black Oaklanders to explore how and why the photo was aired, create a policy ensuring that similar incidents never happen again, distribute the policy through various local media organizations, start a Nia Wilson scholarship fund for students at Oakland High, and develop new internships at the news station for students of color.

Local Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B., surrounded by protesters, spoke with Chambers in front of the altar, a large portrait of Wilson’s face. Delivering the demands pragmatically, he spoke of the need for respect and dignity in this moment of hardship for the Black community.

“The criminalization of us as a people has gone on for far too long, and for us to be criminalized when we’re hurting is wrong,” Mistah F.A.B. said. “For years, we’ve been fighting for civil rights. What does that mean? It means we need someone to be civil with us.”

OP-ED: It’s Time for Oakland City Council to Change Its Schedule

by Andrea L. Dooley
Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 10:29 AM


Democracy can be messy, but does it have to be this messy?

The last Oakland City Council meeting was a demonstration of just how messy democracy can get. The minutes haven’t been published yet, but the KTOP video recording of the July 24 meeting is 10 hours, 52 minutes, and 25 seconds long. The meeting was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., which means that the party broke up around 4:22 a.m.

That isn’t democracy, that’s a raging party. Or, in the case of the city council, a raging wildfire.

Like most Oakland residents, I was asleep for most of that, even though there were several issues on the agenda about which I feel strongly enough to express my opinions to my city councilmember. The city council literally meets under cover of darkness while the people sleep. The Washington Post is right: Democracy Dies In Darkness. No one should be expected to stay up that long to find out what our elected officials are doing. The only people who stay are the chronic insomniacs and the people who are paid to be there: council staff and lobbyists for real estate developers.

Marathon city council meetings are a huge disservice to this city. Here’s how bad it is. Oakland is currently supposed to meet the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of every month. If there’s a 5th Tuesday, it’s a special meeting. The meeting on July 10 was more than six hours long and adjourned at midnight because a majority of the council wouldn’t agree to extend the meeting, so quite a few agenda items were moved to that epic July 24 meeting. The July 3 meeting was canceled. The June 19 meeting was convened at 5:38 p.m. and adjourned at 2:05 a.m. That’s an 8.5-hour meeting. The June 5 meeting was canceled, as were all the June 12 and 14 committee meetings.

This can’t be normal, right? I checked the city council minutes at four cities of comparable size in California. Fresno meets every Thursday at 9 a.m. The last three meetings for which there were published minutes were all under eight hours, ending in time for everyone to have dinner with their families. Sacramento meets every Tuesday at 5 p.m., and the last three meetings adjourned before 10 p.m. Long Beach is a little more all over the map. Their meetings start at 4 p.m. in closed session, with open session starting roughly at 5 p.m. Of their last six meetings, one was canceled, one ended at 12:42 a.m., one ended at 9:39 p.m., and the other three were finished by 7:40 p.m. The canceled meeting came after the one that lasted more than seven hours. In other words, they got their work done before they canceled, not after.

Santa Ana, the next smallest city after Oakland, also has its meetings on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month, starting at 5 with closed session and moving to open session right afterward. They list the times of their meetings on their website and none of the last four were longer than 4 hours and 53 minutes.

Oakland is out of the ordinary in many ways. It might be that we have a different style of government, or we have more problems. Maybe we have more active, engaged citizens, who are more likely to show up at council meetings. I doubt those are the reasons why our meetings are so torturous.

This data suggests several things that the Oakland City Council could do to be more sane, manageable, and accessible.
  • The city has reached a size where we need to have city council meetings every week. That alone might improve things, particularly if the agenda is actively managed to keep similar items together.
  • City council meetings should be moved to start earlier. Long Beach does closed session at 4 p.m. If Oakland isn’t prepared to meet during the day the way that larger cities do. Like Fresno, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors meets once a week at 9:30 a.m. San Francisco Board of Supervisors meets at 2 p.m. once a week.
  • Committee meetings should not be canceled. The agenda items that make it to the regular meeting should already be fully worked out and ready for a vote.
  • Special recognition of staff and citizens and special proclamations should be moved to their own special meeting once a month, held for this purpose. The first hour of every regular meeting does not need to be spent recognizing one or two individuals when housing and police reform issues go unaddressed.
  • Individual city council members must acknowledge their constituents who reach out before the meeting with comment, so that people do not feel like they must come to speak again and again, fearing that their opinions have gone unheard.
The current state of city council meetings excludes a huge portion of the Oakland community. The council’s insistence on holding infrequent meetings, late at night, disadvantages those of us who want to have our voice heard but can’t stay up all night to make sure we are able to do so. It’s time to update the process to make the city more democratic.

Andrea L. Dooley is an 18-year Oakland resident, labor arbitrator, and writer. She also serves as an alternate commissioner on the Oakland Police Commission.

Complaint Spurs Bay Area District to Provide Parents with More Timely Accountability Data

by Theresa Harrington
Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 7:42 AM

West Contra Costa Unified community members lobby school board to release accountability data. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • West Contra Costa Unified community members lobby school board to release accountability data.

The West Contra Costa school district, in response to a complaint, has agreed to provide data by November on student performance and spending to parents who help create its annual accountability plan.

The district agreed to settle a complaint filed last April on behalf of two parents and a student by Public Advocates, Inc. and pro bono counsel Mayer Brown LLP. The district includes Richmond and surrounding communities.

Parent Wendy Lopez, one of the complainants, said she is excited to know that the district will give her committee the data it needs to help create the next accountability plan months earlier than it did for the 2018-19 plan.

  • Yuxuan Xie
“It was like we finally achieved something,” she said. “Now, we’ll be able to work with the right tools and with the right data.”

District spokesman Marcus Walton said West Contra Costa Unified is working closely with the community to improve its process for creating and updating its accountability plan.

“This settlement reaffirms our commitment to provide data to our parents so they can make informed decisions about the education their children receive,” he said.

The complaint came after updated information crucial to evaluating how effective the district had been at meeting its annual accountability goals was not released — after several requests — to a committee working on its 2018-19 Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

Districts are legally required to adopt these plans annually, laying out specific goals for students and schools and showing how they will spend state funds to achieve them. The requirement is part of the California’s Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, which gives school districts greater authority over the use of state funds and gives them extra money to educate low-income students, English learners, foster youth and homeless children.

According to the settlement agreement signed July 20 by district Superintendent Matthew Duffy, the district will report available data in its draft accountability plan before the school board approves it in June. All data for the prior school year will be reported to the community by November.

“We are pushing for the community to have more time to review information,” said Hans Moore, senior staff attorney for Public Advocates. “The reflection process the community needs to go through was delayed by some time.”

The district distributed updated data to the committee of parents and students working on the accountability plan in early May, just weeks before the draft was completed, Moore said.

If the district delays its reporting of information about whether it is meeting its goals, the community is unable to hold it accountable, he said.

This story was originally published by

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department Bans Future Protests at West County Detention Facility

by Josh Slowiczek
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 4:03 PM

Protesters can no longer enter jail grounds. - PHOTO BY RACHEL PRIZANT KOTOK
  • Photo by Rachel Prizant Kotok
  • Protesters can no longer enter jail grounds.

The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office has banned all future demonstrations from the grounds of the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, an action that local activists say will limit transparency as the department starts the process of ending its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

[Read related: "Sheriff's Termination of ICE Jail Contract Not a Win for Many Immigrant Families"]

In a statement released to the Express, Assistant Sheriff Matt Schuler, who oversees custody services for the department, said that protests against the facility’s cooperation with ICE “have placed overwhelming demands on Sheriff’s Office resources,” disrupted jail operations, and impacted inmates and their families.

“Moving forward, if protestors want to protest at WCDF they will need to do it from near Giant Highway and not on the jail grounds,” he said.

But some, like Juan Prieto, an organizer with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, see the ban as little more than a new tactic in a long line of efforts by the sheriff’s office to impede the efforts of local immigrants’ rights activists.

“It’s retaliation against those who have assembled, protested, and placed pressure against Sheriff Livingston and the West County Detention Facility’s contract with ICE,” he said. “It provides less opportunity to hold him accountable.”

The sheriff’s office receives $6 million a year to hold roughly 200 immigrants facing deportation by ICE. Allegations of unsanitary conditions, inappropriate medical treatment, and questionable conduct by deputies have been raised by both men and women formerly held at the facility.

These issues, in combination with a growing national movement to “abolish ICE,” has caused the number of demonstrators at WCDF to steadily grow. On June 30, thousands of protestors arrived at the Richmond jail to challenge the immigration policies of the Trump administration, criticize the sheriff’s cooperation with ICE, and express solidarity with the detained immigrants inside.

[Read related: "Thousands Rally for Immigrant Rights at the Contra Costa Sheriff's Jail in Richmond"]

A little over a week later, on July 10, Livingston announced that his office would be terminating its contract with ICE after the mandatory 120-day waiting period. The protests at the facility were one of the five reasons he listed as contributing to the decision.

Last Friday, the sheriff’s office contacted members of the Oakland-based Kehilla Community Synagogue and informed them that a new policy meant the synagogue’s planned Saturday observance of Tisha B’Av  a Jewish day of fasting and communal mourning  at WCDF could no longer be held on the jail grounds.

Rabbi Dev Noily, a senior rabbi with Kehilla, said they spoke with Captain Jose R. Beltran of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department, who told them that the parking lot would be restricted to employees and official visitors, and said the observance could be held in a field south of the facility, outside of WCDF grounds.

Roughly 100 people arrived at WCDF on Saturday evening only to find a new chain-link fence around the facility, bright-orange barricades, and sheriff’s department vehicles in front of the parking lot entrances.

Volunteers helped redirect traffic to the field farther down the road, but Noily said that the change in location was challenging for some participants who had mobility issues.

In its statement, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office said that it is working with the Richmond Police Department to figure out public access on Giant Highway. A spokesperson for RPD could not be reached for comment.

Expanded Eviction Protections, Vacant Property Tax, and Progressive Real Estate Transfer Tax Will Appear on Oakland's November Ballot

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 3:22 PM

Salvador Sotelo lives in a West Oakland duplex. His landlord falsely claimed to live in the second unit in order to circumvent eviction protections. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Salvador Sotelo lives in a West Oakland duplex. His landlord falsely claimed to live in the second unit in order to circumvent eviction protections.
Several measures were placed on the November ballot at last night's eleven-hour Oakland City Council meeting including two real estate taxes that could raise millions for homeless services, affordable housing, illegal dumping cleanup and other services.

And voters will decide whether or not to expand the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance so that 2- to 3-unit buildings are covered. Currently, tenants in owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes can be evicted by their landlords for any reason.

Another ballot measure proposed by Councilmember Desley Brooks, which would earmark future real estate tax revenues on market-rate housing and commercial properties to pay for jobs training programs, was rejected by the council.

The Just Cause for Eviction expansion was proposed by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo.

Landlords opposed the measure and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney criticized it up until the very last moment. But by 1:30 in the morning, after it was clear that all of the city councilmembers were voting in favor of the renter protections, McElhaney switched her position and also voted yes.

The measure that would modify Oakland's real estate transfer tax will leave the existing rate of 1.5 percent in place for all properties that sell for between $300,000 and $2 million, which is the vast majority of homes in Oakland. Properties that sell for between $2 million and $5 million will be taxed at a rate of 1.75 percent, and for properties above $5 million, the new rate will be 2.5 percent.

Gibson McElhaney opposed the real estate transfer tax ballot measure, saying that a similar tax in San Francisco has harmed middle-class people.

Kalb replied that middle-class people don't buy homes for $2 to $5 million and that the tax will mostly affect large commercial property owners and major residential landlords.

All of the councilmembers voted to place the real estate transfer tax measure on the ballot, except McElhaney, who abstained.

The vacant property tax also faced significant opposition from McElhaney. She was joined by Larry Reid in voting against the measure.

The vacant property tax will require a two-thirds vote to pass. It would impose a $6,000-per-year tax on empty residential and commercial buildings and lots. Rebecca Kaplan, who authored the measure, said the goal is to cut back on land speculation, incentivize development or other uses such as community gardens, and raise new revenue.

McElhaney said she fears that bigger landlords will find loopholes around the vacant property tax and that the city will hit small property owners, particularly Black landlords, hard during enforcement.

According to city records, McElhaney has accepted thousands of dollars in recent years from corporate landlords and developers who will likely be affected by the real estate transfer tax and vacant property tax.

Most recently, McElhaney accepted contributions to her legal defense fund (set up to pay for her attorneys in an ongoing ethics case against her) from large corporate developers like Holland Partners, Lennar, and the McConnell Group, which lobbies for developers like Signature Properties.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Protesters Mourn Nia Wilson and Rally in Opposition to the Broader Reality of Violence Against Black Bodies

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jul 24, 2018 at 1:13 PM

A memorial at MacArthur BART for Nia Wilson. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • A memorial at MacArthur BART for Nia Wilson.

Over 1,000 people gathered at the MacArthur BART Station yesterday to mourn Nia Wilson, the 18-year-old woman who was stabbed to death on Sunday night on a train platform by John Lee Cowell in a vicious act that police described as a prison-style slaying.

Wilson's sister Latifah was also wounded by Cowell. He was apprehended by the police yesterday afternoon.

  • Drew Costley

Although police say Cowell's motive is still unknown, the mood at yesterday's vigil and protest was that it was most likely a hate crime.

The Wilson sisters are Black, and Cowell, who was recently released from state prison, is white.

Hate crimes have been on the rise in the East Bay and statewide, and anti-Black bias is the largest category of hate crime motives. Furthermore, the attack happened in the context of a rising white supremacist movement across the nation.

Daryle Allums of the Stop Killing Our Kids Movement speaks at the vigil for Nia Wilson. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Daryle Allums of the Stop Killing Our Kids Movement speaks at the vigil for Nia Wilson.

Rumors that a group of white supremacists had planned a meetup at an Uptown Oakland bar yesterday heightened people's sense that the stabbing was racially motivated.

Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks leads a call-and-response chant. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks leads a call-and-response chant.

"A Black child was murdered by a white man," the prominent activist and Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks told those gathered at MacArthur BART Station.

Others spoke in more structural terms about Black Oaklanders being under attack by the forces of gentrification and many types of violence, including deadly conflicts within the Black community, as well as the looming threat of white racists and police brutality.

Chaga Kwa Nia (left) of the Qilombo Community Center screams out for vengeance for Nia and Latifa Wilson. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Chaga Kwa Nia (left) of the Qilombo Community Center screams out for vengeance for Nia and Latifa Wilson.

"They're trying to take Oakland from us, but we need to tell them, white supremacy ain't happening," Mya Whitaker, a candidate for Oakland City Council, said in a brief speech at the vigil.

The gathering, at times sorrowful and at other times boiling with urgency and anger, was attended by several members of the Oakland City Council, including Desley Brooks, Rebecca Kaplan, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Dan Kalb.

Carla Broadnax confronts Oakland police officers on the scrimmage line at a rally for Nia and Latifa Wilson. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Carla Broadnax confronts Oakland police officers on the scrimmage line at a rally for Nia and Latifa Wilson.

After leaving the BART station, over 1,000 people marched south on Telegraph Avenue past new mid-rise apartment buildings that are rapidly changing the city's landscape. Some zipped through the crowd on electric scooters while others rode wheelies on bikes.

Wilson's godfather Daryle Allums, who has campaigned for years to stop violence within the Black community, helped organize yesterday's vigil and protest. Allums said at a press conference earlier in the day that "we don't know if it was racist, we don't know if it was random" about Cowell's motive for attacking the Wilson sisters. He asked for the Black community to "stand down" until the facts are known.

The demonstrators made their way to Make Westing, the bar where white supremacists were rumored to be meeting, but the bar's owner had earlier declared the venue off-limits to hate groups and instead organized a fundraiser with other local businesses to benefit social justice causes.

Dedriana Huey and Caurice Titus march down Telegraph Avenue. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Dedriana Huey and Caurice Titus march down Telegraph Avenue.

Not long after reaching the bar, a fight broke out across the street when a small group of white men walked through the rally. Police separated the groups and appeared to arrest several protesters while escorting the men out of the area.

At that point, the protest turned against the police. Several of the Oakland cops on the skirmish lines with demonstrators have killed Black and Latino men in controversial police shootings. In recent years, OPD has dramatically reduced the number of officer-involved shootings and use of force, but the department still has a contentious relationship with the city's Black community.

Marquisha Wiley, 16, was a friend of Nia Wilson. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Marquisha Wiley, 16, was a friend of Nia Wilson.

Last week, a community forum organized by the police and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf turned into a shouting match at several points as mostly Black members of the community vented their frustration about being racially profiled by law enforcement.

After the police made two arrests, protesters threw M-80 firecrackers behind police lines. During one arrest, an officer on a dirt bike ran down a man to allow other officers to detain him. The Oakland police later reported using a "chemical agent" against the protesters, but the department didn't clarify what kind of chemical this was.

Throughout the afternoon, protesters spoke of the need to channel the rally's energy into long-term change.

Candice Elder and Kenzie Smith march on Telegraph Avenue. - DREW COSTLEY
  • Drew Costley
  • Candice Elder and Kenzie Smith march on Telegraph Avenue.

By almost every measure, Oakland's Black residents are worse off than other racial groups and endure levels and types of trauma rarely felt in other communities. Fatal violence is among the starkest of these inequalities.

Out of the 71 homicides last year for which the race of the victim was known, 54 of the victims were Black, according to the recently released Oakland equity indicators report. By comparison, only 4 white people were homicide victims last year, despite the fact that there are now more white than Black residents in the city.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Berkeley Police Officers Threaten to Resign and Disband SWAT Unit If Council Doesn't Allow Participation in Urban Shield

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 10:01 AM

click image Berkeley police officers took part in an "extremist manhunt" and "community justice center takeover" SWAT exercise at the 2012 Urban Shield exercise. - SAN LEANDRO PRIVACY
  • San Leandro Privacy
  • Berkeley police officers took part in an "extremist manhunt" and "community justice center takeover" SWAT exercise at the 2012 Urban Shield exercise.

Multiple Berkeley police officers have warned the city's leaders they'll resign from the department's "Special Response Team," or SWAT, if they're not allowed to participate in the 2018 Urban Shield training, according to a memo Police Chief Andrew Greenwood sent to the city council and mayor last week.

The city council is scheduled to vote today at 4 p.m. on whether or not to allow BPD to participate in Urban Shield this year.

The regional police training run by the Alameda County Sheriff has been hotly debated in Berkeley for several years.

Supporters say the training provides crucial skills to respond to emergencies, including natural disasters, active shooter scenarios, and terror attacks.

But critics say Urban Shield has further militarized police departments. They point to the weapons expo that features military-style equipment, aggressive SWAT team exercises, and a questionable list of attendees, including police from nations with poor human rights records and federal agencies like ICE, as some of the reasons why they think Berkeley cops should not take part.

Last month, a city council subcommittee voted to withdraw Berkeley's SRT unit from the Urban Shield SWAT competition.

Greenwood wrote in his memo that within hours of the subcommittee's vote "it became immediately apparent that staff were deeply dispirited."

The attempt to bar Berkeley cops from taking part in the SWAT team exercises and weapons show has increased tensions between BPD and the city's elected leaders.

Despite having higher pay and dealing with a much lower crime rate than nearby cities like Oakland and Richmond, Berkeley's police say they are suffering a crisis of morale. They complain that their department is understaffed and that they don't have the same opportunities to work in specialized units like gang task forces and drug squads. The department also denies engaging in racial profiling and has pushed back against city council efforts to address racial disparities in policing. With Urban Shield, the police officers feel the council is politically interfering in their work.

Mayor Jesse Arreguin later reversed his subcommittee vote to pull the city from Urban Shield, citing a claim by the city manager and police that the council doesn't have the authority to set policies for police training. The police chief and city manager claimed complete control over these areas.

That claim was knocked down, however, by a legal memo produced by an outside law firm working for the Berkeley city attorney. The attorneys from the Renne Public Law Group stated that "the city council has sufficient authority to make the decision on whether the Berkeley Police Department participates in Urban Shield."

That hasn't stopped the police from objecting, though.

"A decision to prohibit BPD from participating in Urban Shield tactical scenarios would be viewed as a political, rather than a data-driven decision based on outcomes and benefits," Greenwood explained to the city council in his memo.

At today's meeting, the council will debate several possible courses of action.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf would like the city to allow its police to participate in "all elements" of Urban Shield, including the SWAT team competition and vendors show.

Mayor Arreguin and Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Cheryl Davila are recommending that the city suspend the police department's participation in this year's SWAT competition and the vendors show pending a reevaluation. The police could possibly participate in the 2019 event if the sheriff makes changes that address the concerns of critics. But the three want the city's police and fire department's to participate in Urban Shield training exercises focused on responding to natural disasters and a community preparedness exercise.

In March, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to end Urban Shield after this year's event, and to work with Sheriff Gregory Ahern to reconstitute it in a way that responds to the concerns of critics.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney Proposes Removing Eviction Protections from Thousands of Apartments

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 4:24 PM

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said she's "deeply troubled" by a proposal that would impact small landlords who reside in the two- to three-unit buildings they own. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said she's "deeply troubled" by a proposal that would impact small landlords who reside in the two- to three-unit buildings they own.

The Oakland City Council is considering a major update to the city's Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, which protects tenants from eviction — unless they fail to pay rent, violate their lease, or several other specific reasons.

But now there are two very different proposals in play.

Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo want to place a measure on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would extend eviction protections to thousands more apartments in owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes. Currently, rental units in these types of buildings where the landlord lives in one of the units are exempt from the just cause ordinance.

There are 7,935 units in 3,662 duplexes and triplexes in Oakland, according to the city. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's "Oakland at Home" report mentioned expanding just cause protections to these buildings as one strategy to stem displacement.

But Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney has criticized Kalb and Gallo's proposal and offered her own changes to the just cause law.

The most significant feature of Gibson McElhaney's plan would drive in the opposite direction of the Kalb-Gallo proposal by removing eviction protections from potentially thousands of units that are in owner-occupied four-unit buildings. Currently, these types of buildings are covered by just cause rules.

At two city council committee hearings this week, landlords came out in force against Kalb and Gallo's plan, while tenants made a show of support.

Landlords said Kalb and Gallo's ballot measure is overly burdensome and removes the flexibility they need in smaller properties to maintain their finances and defend their homes from unruly renters.

One property owner, Norma Francisco, called Kalb and Gallo's ballot measure a "punitive measure" that "scapegoats" landlords. Another landlord likened just cause to a shotgun marriage between a landlord and tenant that would never allow for a divorce.

Other landlords said the proposal would harm seniors who buy duplexes and triplexes to secure their retirement.

Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo speak with landlord Linda Montauk about her concerns.
  • Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo speak with landlord Linda Montauk about her concerns.
"My long-range plan is to have a caregiver living downstairs for my old age," said Linda Montauk, who resides in a duplex that she has owned for 28 years. "If this just cause ordinance goes through, it would prevent me from carrying out my plans, unless I take the downstairs apartment off the market the next time someone moves out, because I can't take the chance someone would move in for long-term and when I need it, it's not available."

But Rachel Gottfried-Clancy with the group Legal Services for Seniors said that the elderly are more often tenants who are displaced by landlords. She added that seniors who are evicted experience declines in health, and some end up homeless.

"It means that they're often at risk of losing their health, their wellness, and, in many cases throughout Oakland and other cities in the country, they're losing their lives," said Gottfried-Clancy.

After hearing testimony from dozens of tenants this week, Gibson McElhaney said she is especially concerned with how expanding just cause protections could impact Black landlords. "I am deeply troubled if we do this with a sledge hammer and not a chisel we'll see a replication of market forces that means a loss of Black ownership and Black presence in our communities," she said.

It's unclear how many duplexes and triplexes are owned by Black residents, but there are twice as many Black renters as homeowners in Oakland, according to the U.S. Census. By comparison, just over half of white Oakland residents own their home.

Kalb reacted with shock to Gibson McElhaney's announcement that she hopes to strip eviction protections from four-unit owner-occupied buildings.

"The one change we'll never accept is somehow bringing four-plexes into this law where they get the exemption," said Kalb. "I will not accept the idea of taking four-unit buildings and exempting those units going forward."

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