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."

Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown Calls Express Story ‘Dishonest,’ ‘False,’ and ‘Under-Sourced,’ but Fails to Offer Evidence

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 2:11 PM

In an email sent last week to the entire Richmond Police Department, Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown criticized a recent Express story on the firing of Captain Mark Gagan, calling it “sensationalistic,” “false,” “dishonest,” “under-sourced,” “a hit piece,” and “arrogant.”

The story, which was published on June 27, questioned the circumstances around the investigation and termination of Gagan, the department’s lead public information officer, who has a reputation in the community for being trustworthy. It also revealed how the police department, which was once a national model of reform, initially tried to cover up a sexual misconduct case involving several Richmond police officers and a teenage victim named Jasmine Abuslin, and sent a police lieutenant and his girlfriend, the police chief’s secretary, on three out-of-state trips at taxpayers’ expense. Additionally, the story recapped how the department failed to adequately respond to a domestic violence call, which may have contributed to the murder of a young mother.

In his response, the police chief did not directly challenge anything in the story, choosing instead to make broad-stroke criticisms without any information to support his comments.

Brown claimed he could not address some of the specifics in the story due to confidentiality protections offered to police officers under state law. While that may apply to some aspects of the story, it would not preclude the chief from commenting on the descriptions of taxpayer abuse, the department’s responses to domestic violence calls in general, and the chief’s attempt to tightly control information about the Abuslin sex scandal during the spring and summer of 2016.

The story was supported by hundreds of pages of documents obtained through the California Public Records Act. Neither Brown nor several other senior command staff officers in the Richmond Police Department agreed to be interviewed.

Brown’s tendency toward secrecy and deflection began in March 2016, when he removed Gagan from his post as lead public information officer and replaced him with Lieutenant Felix Tan, who is Brown’s chief of staff. In his response, Brown said that when rumors began to circulate about the Abuslin sex scandal, he directed “all news media inquiries be forwarded to Assistant Chief Bisa French exclusively for comment, in order to avoid miscommunication and to protect the ongoing investigation.”

But French was appointed as the sole person to respond to all sex scandal media queries on July 5, 2016 — long after Abuslin began speaking to the media, when the department could no longer publicly deny the story. For six weeks prior to French being made sole contact, Brown denied to KRON 4 reporter Haaziq Madyun any knowledge of his officers having sex with a teenage victim, even though in March of 2016, word had begun to spread — thanks to Oakland’s internal investigation — that Richmond officers had also been involved with Abuslin.

On May 28, the Richmond Police Department’s new lead public information officer, Felix Tan, and information officer Lieutenant Andre Hill told KPIX 5 reporter Leslie Donaldson that the department had no records of Abuslin, who was then known as “Celeste Guap.”  This statement of denial was repeated with numerous other media requests during May, June, and early July.

It’s worth noting that the two public information officers, Tan and Hill, were among the five officers named in Abuslin’s $30 million sexual misconduct claim against the city. Both Tan, who also holds the influential position of chief of staff, and Hill were investigated. The allegations were sustained and Tan received a chief’s letter of reprimand and Hill was fired, although he is currently trying to get his job back. Abuslin later filed a lawsuit against the Richmond Police Department, in which Tan was not named. Abuslin ultimately dropped the suit after Oakland awarded her nearly $1 million in damages.

Furthermore, when Abuslin began to speak with the media in early May 2016, Brown dismissed her claims as “overreach.” A senior command staff captain, now retired, responded to Brown’s email that it would be acceptable for officers to have sex with Abuslin because of her “profession,” and that any claims against Richmond police officers would be a “Witch hunt.”

Brown said the three secret, taxpayer-paid trips Tan took with his girlfriend, Yvette Medina, the chief’s secretary, were legitimate. He did not explain why the trips were hidden from the department’s Telestaff records and the weekly Personal and Training schedule, which is maintained by Medina. He also said the trips were paid for by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and not Richmond taxpayers. However, city financial records show that the DOJ, using taxpayer funds, reimbursed the city for only one of the trips. Brown also failed to mention that on one the nights, the couple only booked one room at the Boston Marriott. Nor did he address the 14.5 hours of overtime (an estimated $1,624) Tan charged Richmond taxpayers during two of those secret trips, which ultimately cost taxpayers upwards of $5,000.

Furthermore, Brown said the RPD has no responsibility whatsoever in the death of Rashanda Franklin. “Lawyer McBride is the person solely responsible for the April 4, 2017 murder of Rashanda Franklin,” Brown wrote. “Our internal review found no policy violations or failure to exercise duty in the enforcement of criminal law with the regard to the handling of an April 3, 2017 call for service related to Ms. Franklin.”

Franklin had called 911 the night before she was murdered. That night, her ex-boyfriend Lawyer Dushaun McBride showed up to her front door. McBride had been stalking her for weeks and had previously attacked her, yet the two officers who answered the call did not conduct a "Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment" as required and did not arrest McBride, although they had cause to do so. They also did not write a domestic violence report. The next day, McBride murdered Franklin.

While it would be extremely difficult to prove that the two officers are directly responsible for Franklin’s murder, it’s clear they failed to follow protocol, and that may have contributed to her death. Furthermore, the two officers were never investigated, counseled, or disciplined for their failed response and possible dereliction of duty.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story included confusing wording about the DOJ paying for the trips. We have clarified the language in this version.

Far from Home and Alone: Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Find Refuge in Oakland Unified

Alameda County has second-highest number of unaccompanied minors in California.

by Carolyn Jones of EdSource
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 7:59 AM

Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born.

Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born.

One night three years ago, Milton kissed his mother gently on the head, careful not to wake her, and slipped out of their home in rural Guatemala where he had lived his whole life. As his parents and six younger siblings slept, he caught a bus north. His goal: reaching the United States. He was 14.

“If I told them, I knew they wouldn’t let me go,” said Milton, who’s now 17 and declined to give his last name because he still fears violence from home, both for himself and his family. “But it’s not safe there. They’re killing people where I come from. I knew the best way to help my family was to leave and get an education and a job so I could send them money.”

Traveling on foot, on busses and trains, often sleeping outside, Milton eventually found his way across the border and ended up in Oakland, where an aunt lives. As national attention focuses on immigrant children separated from their parents at the border, Alameda County, where Oakland is situated, has been absorbing unaccompanied immigrant children for years — and in fact has the second-highest number of unaccompanied minors in California, behind Los Angeles County. They’re drawn to Oakland and the East Bay mostly through family ties — networks of relatives who can help ease the transition to a new country and refugee groups that place them with foster families. Even under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, unaccompanied minors have continued to come to the United States.

Milton was 14 when he left his home in Guatemala. Since graduating high school in June, he plans to enroll in a local community college to study business.

Oakland Unified has embraced these students, offering a host of services to help them find housing and health care, academic tutoring, legal services, mental health counseling and other amenities. Since June 2013, when gang violence in Central America began to escalate, the district has enrolled more than 1,200 unaccompanied youth.

“In Oakland Unified School District, we are in the business of educating children, no matter where they came from or how they got here. We know the obstacles some of our young people have overcome to be here are unimaginable to most of us,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “Anyone who needs to escape crime, violence and persecution in their own country, and who braves untold dangers on the journey to America deserves all the support we can give them.”

The district considers unaccompanied youth, and immigrant students generally, to be assets to the entire student population. “Our newcomer students are generally very hard-working, determined and inspire the rest of us every day with their tenacity,” said Nathan Dunstan, program manager for the district’s refugee and asylum program.

Using grant money from Salesforce, an internet advertising firm and the state and federal governments, Oakland Unified has hired social workers and opened “newcomer” centers at 15 schools to welcome immigrant students and help them acclimate. The Salesforce grant, $5.2 million, included funding for computer science and math education for all students districtwide, in addition to services for immigrant students.

The district’s unaccompanied youth come from dozens of countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, Eritrea and Myanmar, Somalia and Bhutan. But most of these children are like Milton, teenagers fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. While they seek asylum to be safe from violence, most are poor and see the United States as a country where they can get an education and earn money to send back to their families.

Until recently, fleeing violence was sufficient grounds to apply for asylum in the United States. But in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that violence in an immigrant’s home country does not guarantee asylum in the U.S. In recent months Sessions also ordered a “zero tolerance” policy at the border that’s left hundreds of children separated from their parents and placed in detention facilities or foster care. Only a few of those children are in the East Bay. Most of the unaccompanied young people in Oakland arrived before that policy went into effect.

Oakland Unified offers legal referrals for its immigrant students to help navigate the lengthy and complicated immigration system. Most of these services are free. Catholic Charities of the East Bay and Centro Legal de la Raza are among the primary resources.

Oakland’s unaccompanied youth end up alone in many ways. Some come to the U.S. with their parents but are left here alone if their parents get deported. Those children — in some cases, younger than 5 years old — either move in with relatives or are placed in foster care. Of the 659 unaccompanied minors enrolled in Oakland Unified in 2017-18, 65 were in elementary school.

Another route is through refugee resettlement programs. Those children, either with their families or alone, arrive in the U.S. via international refugee programs and are assigned by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to certain cities, such as Oakland, receiving help with housing, job placement, medical care and English language classes from nonprofits like Jewish Family Services and Catholic Charities.

Oakland Unified had 700 students in 2017-18 who arrived via refugee resettlement programs. Of those, 70 came without their parents. (They are among the 1,200 total unaccompanied migrant students that have enrolled in the district since 2013.)

Milton, quick-witted and athletic, is from a small town in Guatemala, where his parents work as merchants selling food, clothing and odds and ends, earning just a few dollars a day. Gang violence is commonplace: Milton’s cousin and grandfather were both killed by gang members, and Milton feared he’d eventually be killed as well.

So he saved his money and planned his exodus. He spoke no English, had no idea how to get to the United States, where he would go or what he would do once he arrived. He just kept heading north, often hungry and terrified, until he reached Texas. There, he was apprehended by U.S. immigration officials at the border and because he was under 18, alone and requesting asylum, he was allowed to stay, according to the policy at the time. He spent about a year in detention facilities in Texas and Florida before government social workers found an aunt in Oakland who could sponsor him.

But living with his aunt didn’t work out, and Milton moved into a house in East Oakland with other immigrants. He enrolled at Castlemont High School and learned English by listening to pop songs on the radio and watching TV.

Thin and muscular, he earns money to pay his rent by working after school and on weekends as a roofer and in a taqueria. Even living in one of the most expensive regions in the country, Milton still manages to send money home to his family. Here, he says, he can earn $50 a day, a fortune compared to the $7 a day his parents earn in Guatemala.

With help from his teachers, counselors and his soccer coach at Castlemont, Milton graduated high school in June. He plans to enroll at Oakland’s Merritt Community College in the fall to study business, in hopes of someday opening his own restaurant or construction business. His request for asylum was approved and he’s on track to become a U.S. citizen in a few years.

He talks to his mother every few days on the phone. The first few weeks after he left home she was frantic, he said, but later she came to understand why he left.

“I told my mom I want to be a different person. I want to get an education and a diploma. I want to do something with my life,” he said. “She’s proud of me. She’s not mad at me any more.”

Despite his successes, Milton says he’s still homesick. He hasn’t seen his family in almost three years and simply misses having them around. That, more than anything else, has been his greatest hardship, he said.

“I miss my brothers and sisters but I miss my mom the most,” he said. “She’s the best person in my life. What do I miss? Everything, all of it. She’s a very good cook. She did stuff for me like laundry so I didn’t have to do it. She’s always there for me.”

For students whose parents are thousands of miles away, teachers, counselors and coaches become the most reliable adult role models. Oakland Unified offers guidance for teachers on how to make unaccompanied youth feel welcome and safe at school. At some schools, Catholic Charities of the East Bay and other agencies provide counseling to unaccompanied youth to help them cope with the ordeal of leaving home and surviving on their own.

With enough support, unaccompanied youth can succeed in school and thrive in their new country, said Michelle Rostampour, case manager at Oakland International High School, where all 413 students are immigrants, 27 percent of whom came without their parents.

“They’re dealing with so many layers of trauma — from their home country, traveling to the U.S., acculturation once they get here, being separated from their families, living with people who might be strangers. Plus the usual stress of being in school and just being a teenager,” she said. “It takes an incredible amount of hard work and support, but in my eyes, the more they feel respected and cared for the more likely they are to succeed.”

Jackson, 16, a student at Oakland International High, has had a rocky time since he left his home in Honduras about nine months ago. His troubles actually started before that, when gang members at his high school ordered him to sell drugs for them.

“I said nope,” he said, declining to give his last name because he still fears gang violence. “They would have killed me. I told my mom. She told me I should leave to be safe.”

After saying goodbye to his mother and grandmother he joined an uncle heading north. They rode 27 days on top of a train, hanging on by attaching their belts to a railing, finally arriving at the immigration checkpoint in Calexico, on the California border. There, Jackson’s uncle was arrested and sent back to Honduras. As a minor, Jackson was allowed to stay.

Alone, Jackson spent 22 days in a detention facility in Southern California before social workers located a cousin in Oakland. Jackson lived with the cousin for a few weeks but then the cousin moved without telling him, leaving Jackson alone. After sleeping on the street a few nights, he ended up at a youth homeless shelter near downtown. There, case workers referred him to the Alameda County foster care system. He now lives in a private foster group home with other young people in Berkeley, as he awaits for his asylum case to move forward. Like Milton, he’s receiving free legal assistance to shepherd his asylum request through the courts. Although both boys could be deported at any time, they’re hopeful their legal cases will be successful.

Rostampour said being in foster care has benefits for Jackson. He doesn’t have to work to pay his rent and is entitled to certain benefits, such as job training and help getting into and paying for college. Jackson hopes to be an electrician someday.

And like Milton, Jackson has found solace in soccer. It’s helped him make friends, take his mind off his challenges and build self-confidence by doing something in which he has some expertise.

Quiet and pensive, Jackson doesn’t smile much. He said he’s homesick and doesn’t feel comfortable at the foster home, but he’s determined to succeed in the U.S., if not for himself, then for the sake of his family in Honduras.

“I want to graduate from high school and work, maybe go to college. I want to see my mom and grandma again,” he said. When asked if he likes Oakland International High School, he brightened a little, gestured around the campus and nodded. “This is good. All of it.”

Theresa Harrington contributed to this report.

This story was originally published by EdSource.

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