Friday, September 28, 2018

Oakland Police Commissioners Complain to Mayor About Lack of Support

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Sep 28, 2018 at 12:07 PM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf listens to Henry Gage during a police commission meeting last night. - APRIL MARTIN
  • April Martin
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf listens to Henry Gage during a police commission meeting last night.

Nine months after the Oakland Police Commission held its first meeting, members of the oversight body continue to complain that they’re not being given adequate resources to do their job.

Members of the public who have closely followed the commission’s work since it first met in December 2017 also remain critical of the city administration's slow pace to hire staff and provide training and other assistance.

Last night, several police commissioners told Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf that they feel undermined by the city.

“This commission has not been able to get anything that we need, including assistance from Mr. Luna, or any other person from the city administrator’s office,” Commissioner Ginale Harris told Schaaf, referring to a member of Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth’s staff. “They give us the bare minimum.”


Harris continued, complaining to the mayor that the commission still doesn’t have a staff, and that disagreements over legal representation for the commission have bogged down its work on all fronts.

Schaaf replied that she’s sorry the commissioners have had a “frustrating experience” and that she hopes to bolster their work. She also said the slow pace affects all of the city, not just the commission.

“I find myself, although next year will be my 20th year working for the city of Oakland, still frustrated at the speed of government,” said Schaaf. She thanked the commissioners for being the first. “You all are having a hardest time because you’re building something brand new.”

Henry Gage, an Oakland resident who was a finalist for the police commission and has since attended most of its meetings, addressed Schaaf during public comment and characterized the city administration’s relationship to the commission as “active opposition.”

“I need you to stop just talking and do more, please,” Gage said to Schaaf.

Rashidah Grinage, an activist with the Coalition for Police Accountability who helped create the police commission, further criticized the city administration and Schaaf, saying that the city has done “nothing to let folks in this community know there is a police commission.” Grinage said the city administrator should conduct an outreach campaign so that the public can become more involved.

The police commission was created by voters in 2016. It has the power to review and create policy for the police department. The Community Police Review Agency, which is overseen by the commission, investigates civilian complaints of officer misconduct, as well as instances of police use of force, in-custody deaths, racial profiling, and officer misconducted related to first amendment protected activities such as public assemblies.

The complaints by some of the police commissioners that they’re being stymied by the city administrator aren’t new. Since their first meeting, the commissioners have clashed with administration staff and representatives of the Oakland Police Department.

Most recently, OPD’s head of planning and research, Tim Birch, told the commission that they don’t have full authority over certain policies and that the department can decline the commission’s policy direction.

Earlier this year, the commission also requested that the new inspector general position (a commission staff member who will audit OPD and report to the commissioners) be fully under their control and that this include the sole ability of the commissioners to hire, evaluate, and fire this person. Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth objected to this proposal because, according to Oakland’s city charter, all city staff are under her direct supervision, unless specifically stated in the charter.

The city council ignored Landreth’s protest and voted to approved an ordinance allowing the commission to directly supervise their OIG.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Christine Blasey Ford 100% Sure Kavanaugh Assaulted Her; Statewide Rent Control Measure Trailing in Poll

Plus, Feinstein and Newsom lead comfortably in senate and gubernatorial races.

by Express Staff
Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 10:26 AM

CNN
  • CNN
Stories you shouldn't miss for Sept. 27, 2018:

1. In dramatic and emotional testimony this morning, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of Palo Alto told senators that she was “100 percent” sure that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when she 15 years old. Her voice wavering, Blasey Ford also testified that she feared Kavanaugh was going to accidentally kill her because he had placed his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Kavanaugh has denied the attack and is scheduled to testify later today.

2. Proposition 10, a statewide measure on the November ballot that would allow cities to enact stricter rent control laws, trails badly in a recent poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, with just 36 percent of voters saying they support it, reports Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle. Prop 6, which seeks to overturn California’s gas tax increase, is also trailing, with just 39 percent of voters say they back it.

3. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom lead comfortably in their senate and gubernatorial races, according to the new PPIC survey. Feinstein leads fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, 52 to 37 percent, while Newson leads Republican John Cox, 51 to 39 percent.

4. A second cracked steel beam in the new Transbay Center in San Francisco will keep the $2.2 billion facility closed until at least Friday, Oct. 5, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

5. Restaurant La Méditerranée, a Berkeley institution, is for sale, reports Ronit Sholkoff of the Daily Californian. The Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-style eatery in the Elmwood has been in business for 36 years.

6. And former San Francisco 49ers defensive back Eric Reid, who kneeled with Colin Kaepernick in the 2016 season to protest police brutality and racism, is back in the NFL after signing with the Carolina Panthers.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Alameda District Attorney’s Inspector Is Target of FBI Corruption Investigation

Harry Hu, a former Oakland cop, is under investigation for alleged involvement in a racketeering and extortion ring.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 10:30 AM

Harry Hu, left, with Assistant Oakland Police Chief David Dowing in 2015. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Harry Hu, left, with Assistant Oakland Police Chief David Dowing in 2015.

A former Oakland police officer who until recently worked for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is under investigation by the FBI for alleged involvement in a racketeering and extortion ring, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

Harry Hu ran the Oakland Police Department’s gang unit for years, focusing on organized crime in Chinatown. He was first hired by OPD in 1981 and retired as a lieutenant in 2007 after 26 years. While with OPD, Hu worked in federal organized crime task forces with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. Hu also led training within OPD regarding organized criminal activity in Oakland’s Asian communities.

Then-Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff hired Hu as an inspector in 2007. At the DA’s office, Hu was responsible for investigating and building cases. Hu’s salary at the DA’s office was $125,518, according to public records.

Current District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Chief Inspector Robert Chenault did not respond to an email sent last week requesting information about the FBI investigation of one of their staff members.

Teresa Drenick, a spokesperson for O’Malley, said Hu recently left from the DA’s office, but Drenick could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an FBI probe.

According to an NBC Bay Area report last night, Hu may have been identified by the FBI during the sweeping investigation into Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. Investigative reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken wrote that Hu may have known in advance of Chow’s plot to murder his rival Allen Leung in 2006.

The FBI told the Express it could neither confirm nor deny any investigation into Hu. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also did not reply to a request for information.

Law enforcement sources also said that a second former Oakland police officer is under investigation by the FBI in the same case. This officer currently works for Alameda County, but not in the District Attorney’s office.

In an interview conducted years ago by Luis Martinez, a UC Berkeley Journalism School student, Hu described immigrating to San Francisco from Hong Kong where he was constantly around gangs. In the Bay Area, Hu continued to associate with gang members, but he ended up becoming an Oakland cop, not a gangster.

“I knew a lot of them, some of them were friends,” Hu said I the interview about Asian gang members. “I know all about these guys, how they do things - their mind set.”

Hu is well-respected in Oakland’s Chinatown and has received many awards over the years. He was awarded the Medal of Merit from the Oakland Police Department, and received a Life Time Achievement Award from the Asian Gang Investigators Association of California, a law enforcement group. Most recently, in 2015 he was recognized by the Wa Sung Association with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” presented to him by then Assistant Oakland Police Chief David Downing.

Wednesday’s Briefing: Cracked Steel Beam Closes New Transbay Center; Third Kavanaugh Accuser Emerges

Plus, Berkeley council votes to restrict the use of mugshots on social media.

by Express Staff
Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 10:01 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Sept. 26, 2018,

transbay_center.jpg
1. A cracked steel beam forced the shutdown of the new $2.2 billion Transbay Center in San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The closure caused traffic gridlock this morning. The cracked beam was discovered on the third floor of the giant transportation hub.

2. A third woman — Julie Swetnick — has come forward to accuse President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, the LA Times$ reports. Swetnick said in a sworn affidavit that Kavanaugh was among a group of teenage boys who got girls inebriated and then gang-raped them in the early 1980s. Swetnick says she was gang-raped, although she did not identify Kavanaugh as one of her attackers. So far, the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee has only scheduled to hear testimony from one of Kavanaugh’s accusers — Christine Blasey Ford of the Bay Area.

3. The Berkeley City Council voted late last night to restrict the distribution of mugshots on social media following controversy over the release of photos of political protesters, reports Alia Tadayon of the East Bay Times$. Under the new rules, Berkeley police will only post mugshots of suspects who pose a threat to the public.

4. Conservative activists who are trying to roll back California’s gas tax increase have introduced a new ballot measure proposal that would halt Gov. Jerry Brown’s high-speed rail plan, reports Rachel Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle. The activists also want to restrict the use of gas tax revenues to pay for roads — and not mass transit.

5. California air pollution regulators may increase the state subsidy for buyers of electric vehicles from $2,500 to $4,500, reports John Lippert of the LA Times$. The proposal by the California Air Resources Board comes amid plans by the Trump administration to slash the federal rebate for electric car purchases.

6. A federal appeals court in San Francisco handed a big win to Uber, ruling that the ride-hailing giant’s drivers will have to prove individually in arbitration that they are employees rather than contractors, the Wall Street Journal$ reports. Drivers had sought class-action status to prove as a group in court that they’re employees.

7. And Oakland’s Boot & Shoe Service on Grand Avenue has reopened under new owners, reports Justin Phillips of the San Francisco Chronicle. The upscale pizzeria was sold earlier this year by disgraced restaurateur Charlie Hallowell.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tuesday’s Briefing: Berkeley Council to Vote on Mugshot Policy; Pandora Sold to SiriusXM

by Express Staff
Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 10:14 AM

berkeley_city_hall_old_.jpg
Stories you shouldn’t miss for Sept. 25, 2018:

1. The Berkeley City Council is planning to vote tonight on proposals to restrict the distribution of mugshots to the public and the press, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The city has come under criticism for posting photos of political protesters on social media. Some councilmembers are proposing that the city stop posting mugshots of demonstrators, while Mayor Jesse Arreguin is proposing to limit the distribution of suspect photos to the news media.

2. Oakland-based Pandora Media was sold to SiriusXM for $3.5 billion, the San Francisco Chronicle$ reports. Pandora, an internet radio company that is one of Oakland’s largest private employers, will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of New York-based satellite-radio giant SiriusXM.

3. National parks are being disproportionately impacted by climate change, according to a new UC Berkeley study, reports Scott Strazzante of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Temperatures across 417 sites managed by the National Park Service, from the Florida Everglades to Yellowstone to Alaska’s Mount Denali, have increased at twice the rate as the rest of the country,” the study found.

4. Bay Area police agencies are being inundated by 911 calls that are not emergencies, KTVU reports. In addition, some of the non-emergency 911 calls are racially charged, with white people calling 911 to report people of color in their neighborhoods.

5. ICYMI: A new UC Berkeley report concludes that rent control is essential to keeping housing affordable — especially in areas with housing shortages, like the Bay Area, the Silicon Valley Business Journal$ reports. “The report from Berkeley’s Haas Institute says that the primary anti-rent control argument — that such government regulation would reduce the supply of rental housing — is bogus.”

6. ICYMI: A UC Berkeley employee, Roy Charles Waller, 58, was arrested on charges of being the NorCal rapist who terrorized the region during the 1990s and 2000s, the Bay Area News Group$ reports. Investigators targeted Waller by using DNA and genealogical technology — much like they did in the Golden State killer case.

7. ICYMI: And Peralta Community College District board member Linda Handy, who is running for reelection this fall, is being investigated by the state political watchdog agency for allegedly not repaying loans from a political consultant and keeping inaccurate campaign finance records, the Bay Area News Group$ reports.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Monday, September 24, 2018

In Oakland, Kevin de León Talks Immigration, Climate Justice, and His Underdog Campaign for U.S. Senate

The conversation with Oakland's Fruitvale community heavily centered on his opposition to the Trump administration's forcible separation of families and deportation of undocumented people.

by Azucena Rasilla and Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 1:22 PM

Democratic candidate for U.S Senate, Kevin De León. - PHOTO BY AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Photo by Azucena Rasilla
  • Democratic candidate for U.S Senate, Kevin De León.

During a campaign event at Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in Oakland on Saturday, Kevin de León, Los Angeles state senator and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate,  spoke of the need for more progressive politics in Washington, DC. He also touted his sanctuary state bill, SB 54, which was a major rebuke of the Trump administration.

“This is a time when we move forward progressive politics,” de León said during the rally, which was hosted by Oakland's Latino Task Force. “This is what is looks like, leading from the courage of your conviction. From a position of strength, to do everything within our power to make sure that our local police enforcement do not become an extension of the federal government.”

The conversation with Oakland's Fruitvale community heavily centered on his opposition to the Trump administration's forcible separation of families and deportation of undocumented people.

De León recently released a campaign ad that talks about his own family's immigration history. He was born in Los Angeles from Guatemalan parents who were undocumented. "No federal government should ever separate children from their mothers, and children from their fathers," he said at the rally. "Not in a great state like California."

He also spoke of the need for the state to continue the fight for clean air and policies that prevent catastrophic climate change.

In 2015, de León authored SB 350, which mandates that utilities in California purchase 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 50 percent from renewable sources by 2030.

“Progressive politics looks like the right for our children to breathe clean air, the right for our children to drink clean water,” he said. Describing his newest climate bill, SB 100, he said it "puts California on a pathway to 100 percent clean energy" and sets an example for the rest of the world.

De León has called for raising the state's minimum wage to $15. At the rally, he noted that California is one of the wealthiest states in the nation but that many families live in poverty. “We have families working two, three, sometimes four jobs just to make ends meet.”

Beyond raising the minimum wage, the state senator addressed gender and race disparities in the economy and the criminal justice system.  “It’s a pipeline of incarcerating Latinos and African Americans," he said of the current criminal justice system, and he linked underinvestment in schools to the state's over-incarceration of people of color, calling the status quo a "pipeline from cradle to prison.”

The June primary saw more than 32 candidates for the U.S Senate race and de León poked fun at how his name was hard to find on the ballot. "I said, 'Oh Lord, it looks like the white pages' — there were so many names."

But de León secured the second spot on the November ballot, allowing him to turn the campaign into a race against Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

He called the support he's received to challenge the incumbent "remarkable." In July, the California Democratic Party rebuked Feinstein and handed de León its endorsement.

Latino Task Force media spokesperson, Jorge Lerma thanking De León for coming to Oakland. - PHOTO BY AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Photo by Azucena Rasilla
  • Latino Task Force media spokesperson, Jorge Lerma thanking De León for coming to Oakland.

It was symbolic that the Latino Task Force chose Hacienda Peralta as the location for de León’s Oakland rally. Located in the heart of Fruitvale, the neighborhood with the highest number of Latino residents, the Hacienda Peralta in a few weeks will unveil Undocumented Heart, an exhibit comprising artwork created by undocumented artists.

"We have to have hope, regardless of who occupies the White House," he said on Saturday. "California will continue to lead, and do everything within our power to protect our families from Donald Trump."

He told the Express in an interview after the rally that Washington has failed since 1986 to deal effectively with immigration. “It’s been an inaction in Washington in dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are yet to normalize their status,” he said. "You have a Congress that lacks the courage of their convictions to do the right thing by legalizing so many hard-working families."

He also had a message for undecided voters who will make their way to the polling booth in November. "If they think that Washington is working, then they should vote for my opponent," he said. "If they think that California is working and that we should export our California values to Washington, then they should vote for me."

De León speaking to supporters after the event. - PHOTO BY AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Photo by Azucena Rasilla
  • De León speaking to supporters after the event.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Opinion: This is How We Win

Growing our power in cities.

by Nikki Fortunato Bas
Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 11:01 AM

Nikki Fortunato Bas. - PHOTO BY ERIKA PINO
  • Photo by Erika Pino
  • Nikki Fortunato Bas.

“You should come work for EBASE,” my friend Kirsten said. “They’re doing some of the most innovative work around economic development and worker organizing in the country, bringing unions and community members together to build real power.” It sounded like a challenge, and an opportunity too important to pass up.

Fast forward 12 years, and I am transitioning out of a life-changing role as executive director of the national network that EBASE is a part of, the Partnership for Working Families. I knew one important thing back then: there is a different way to build our cities – one that’s driven by community members and that creates more equity and restores the wealth and resources that have historically been taken from people of color and marginalized communities. What I didn’t know was that this model of organizing presents one of our best and only hopes for growing the current resistance.

Since the 2016 election, we are fending off constant attacks on immigrants and poor people of color, the gutting of our safety net and public services, and seeing massive corporate giveaways at the expense of vulnerable communities. Our opportunity to push back starts at the local level, where we can grow a base of organized people, build long-term power, and pass policies that level the playing field and protect the lives and well-being of our residents.

As I move into my next chapter of local public service, here are some of the major lessons I’m taking with me:

City-level wins help change what is politically possible. I saw this with campaigns to raise the wage, city by city. It began with EBASE’s Emeryville hotel living wage in 2005 to Working Partnership’s minimum wage in San Jose in 2012 then a string of victories in 2014 including EBASE’s minimum wage in Oakland). With each victory, expectations and momentum grew. By 2016, our movement raised the California minimum wage to $15. These victories served as a powerful reminder that when we stand up together, we can change even the most entrenched views and give hope to those left behind by a rigged economy.

Last year, as President Trump pushed his border wall plan, our network drew attention to the contractors and Wall Street investors seeking to profit off the wall. Our organizing propelled dozens of cities to pass resolutions boycotting contractors who are bidding on the border wall. The same momentum is building with fair hire or “ban the box,” policies, which prohibit employers from asking job applicants if they’ve been convicted of a felony; as of now, 32 states and more than 150 cities have adopted these policies.

Restoring trust in government requires a change in how we deliver city services. Ensuring equity in the delivery of city services is one of the most powerful steps elected and appointed leaders can take to rebuild trust in government, improve communities, and make the case for increased public investment. Across the country, organizations in the Partnership for Working Families network are declaring that “WE make this city.” It’s both a rallying cry for investment in the public infrastructure that our communities need, and a reaction to the outsized role corporations play in shaping the direction and future of our cities.

We can’t do it alone. The solution is not only electing officials who represent our values — that is absolutely necessary, but it only works if they are held accountable by an organized base of voters and constituents who are building permanent power through organizations. When cities succeed in instituting people-centered policies, it is because they are responding to outside demands for fairness and opportunity.

The future I’m working towards is a vibrant democracy where everyone has a real voice, where there’s deep organizing, combined with city leaders who view their roles as being both in service of and accountable to the communities they represent. With those ingredients in place, we can leverage the powers of cities to help us all thrive —- the powers that our network details in our report “Unmasking the Hidden Powers of Cities”.

We need a leadership pipeline for women and people of color, and we can build it. One of the things I’m most proud of from my time at the Partnership is its evolution into a majority women of color-led organization. It doesn’t happen by accident — it has taken intentional work and commitment, including things like developing a leaders of color cohort on our Board of Directors and embedding a racial justice analysis into all of our campaigns and operations. With a staff and board that reflect the communities we organize and advocate with, we can bring people to the table to be a part of the decisions that affect all of our lives. Our network’s pipeline is not only building leadership within our organizations, but also in our communities as appointed and elected local and state leaders, and government staff, playing critical roles to advance innovative policy.

I’m leaving my role at the Partnership with a vision of a world where taxpayer dollars are used for the public good, which means no corporations or sports franchises coming into towns without paying for the infrastructure we need and actively working to prevent displacement. I’m envisioning a world where we take back power from corporate-controlled state legislatures and put it into the hands of low-income working people and families of color. I’m looking forward to seeing the next phase of organizing by the Partnership and our 19 affiliate organizations. Together with our allies, this organizing is how we will grow our power from our cities outwards to our states and across the country.

Nikki Fortunato Bas spent the last 12 years leading the Partnership for Working Families network - the past 4 years as executive director of Partnership for Working Families and 8 years as executive director of the Partnership’s co-founding affiliate East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE).

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Oakland Housing Authority Residents Sue to Overturn Anti-Loitering Ordinance

Civil rights attorneys say the law is similar to loitering ordinances that were used to control black residents of the South in the Jim Crow era.

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 1:26 PM

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Current and former residents of Oakland Housing Authority properties filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday seeking to overturn the housing authority's use of an anti-loitering ordinance that they say results in their criminalization and routine harassment by the police.

Darren Mathieu, a resident of the Lockwood Gardens apartments near the Oakland Coliseum, alleged in the lawsuit that he's been stopped by housing authority police over 70 times, and some of those times he’s been asked to show identification, despite the fact that he lives there. On several occasions, Mathieu was handcuffed. He has never been cited by the police for loitering, according to the lawsuit, but his attorneys say the law effectively criminalizes him in and around his own home.

Edward Jackson, another plaintiff bringing the lawsuit against OHA, used to live in Lockwood Gardens. He still visits family and friends in the apartment complex, but has an outstanding citation against him for loitering and has been fined $785 under the ordinance.

"It’s unconstitutional to punish people for innocent behavior and under a statute that’s incomprehensible," said Elisa Della Piana, one of the attorneys representing Mathieu and Jackson.

"It's not OK to assume that because people are present in their own public spaces that they’re going to engage in crimes," continued Della Piana. "Mr. Mathieu is a good example of this. He was stopped because of how he looks and who he is."

Enforcement of the loitering ordinance can potentially result in residents losing their leases. For example, in 2016 housing authority police attempted to order Mathieu and a group of his friends to disperse while outside Mathieu's home. A police officer wrote in an incident report, quoted in the lawsuit, that "[b]ased on my investigation, I believe that Darren Mathieu is in violation of his lease for not cooperating with the police in regards to dispersing his group when asked to do so."

The Oakland Housing Authority responded in a press release yesterday by "categorically and emphatically" denying that its police force is engaged in unconstitutional policing. According to the housing authority:

"Property owned by the Oakland Housing Authority is private property not open to the general public. Enforcement of this code is utilized as a means to minimize the risk of impairing the peaceful enjoyment as well as the health and safety of OHA residents and their guests from others whom have no lawful business to be present on the property. Put simply, OHA residents and their guests deserve the same protection from trespassers as any other families in Oakland living in privately owned property."

The Oakland Housing Authority currently has about 34 police officers on its force, according to the agency's website. The housing authority originally formed its security department in 1974, and it obtained police status for the department in 1981. The housing authority police conduct regular patrols but the department also has a SWAT team that executives search and arrest warrants.

The housing authority stated in its press release that the anti-loitering law is necessary to respond to "narcotic dealing, burglary, theft, auto theft, and other property crime types, violation of restraining orders, domestic violence, and unfortunately, homelessness issues."

The ordinance itself is part of the City of Oakland's municipal code.

Attorneys for Mathieu and Jackson wrote in the lawsuit that the loitering ordinance is "similar to loitering ordinances that were used to control black residents of the South in the Jim Crow era," and that these kinds of laws "have been widely criticized and struck down as enabling unjustified infringement on people’s—usually people of color’s—constitutional rights."

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Opinion: We Must Stand for Choice

by Buffy Wicks
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 1:57 PM

Buffy Wicks is a candidate for CA Assembly District 15.
  • Buffy Wicks is a candidate for CA Assembly District 15.
I had an abortion. I was 26 years old, in between jobs and in between homes. I had no health insurance. Staying on a friend’s couch, unemployed, and facing an unplanned pregnancy was a vulnerable time of my life.

In this moment, I turned to Planned Parenthood. I will never forget walking into that clinic, off Eddy Street, in San Francisco. The unease I felt was met with acceptance and compassion by the staff. After a positive pregnancy test and a thoughtful conversation about my options, I decided an abortion was the right decision for me.

Access to abortion is often debated in our politics in the abstract, as a matter of rights. But being able to choose when and when not to have children is, for many women as it was for me, an extremely personal and practical consideration. My abortion was a life-changing, empowering decision. It was not my time to have children yet.

Fourteen years later, I am a candidate for State Assembly, a wife and the mother of a 21-month-old girl named Josephine. In that span of time, I worked for President Obama for six years, including in his White House as part of the team who helped pass the Affordable Care Act. I launched national women’s initiatives aimed at getting better paid leave policies and more affordable child care. I spearheaded and ran a statewide parent organizer program with the goal of getting more funding for public schools. I have helped elect strong women leaders to elective office, like Senator Kamala Harris and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. When I look at how my life has unfolded in these 14 years, I am all the more certain about my decision. It has allowed me to have a fulfilling career, a marriage with the right person, and the ability to have a child when I was finally ready. I have never once regretted my decision.

Now more than ever, we need elected leaders who understand these choices. California is at a 20-year low of women legislators in Sacramento, with only 22 percent representation. It’s no wonder 43 percent of California counties have no abortion providers. Over half a million women ages 15 to 49 don’t have an abortion provider within 50 miles. Medi-Cal, our state’s Medicaid program, is required to provide coverage for abortions. Yet many low-income or no-income women, most of whom are disproportionately women of color, don’t know they have this as an option. This becomes a critical barrier to access. Additionally, no public universities across the state currently offer abortion services, instead they send women who need this care elsewhere. Finally, California has one of the nation's worst reimbursement rates for providers, which results in less services for patients, including abortions. California must lead on a bold, progressive agenda that ensures all women have access to preventative healthcare, birth control, and, yes, safe abortions.

The national picture is even worse. Our president has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women. Our Supreme Court is facing a dangerous shift to the right and the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed me to have a safe abortion may soon be under attack. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has actively worked to block access to safe and legal abortions, ruled against women’s access to birth control, and is an active member of the Federalist Society, an organization devoted to recruiting right-wing judges who oppose Roe v. Wade. Now more than ever, we need strongly pro-choice women in elective office who understand the value that family planning has in a woman’s life.

Last week I received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. While I appreciate of all of the endorsements I’ve received to date — from President Obama to Senator Kamala Harris to our next Governor, Gavin Newsom — this endorsement was particularly personal. That’s because this fight is personal.

I believe we are in a critical moment in our nation’s history and that in 10, 20, 30 years we will look back at this moment and ask ourselves, “What did you do then?” I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and tell her that I fought for equity, equality and justice. Access to safe abortions is front and center in that fight.

Buffy Wicks is a grassroots organizer, progressive leader and candidate for CA Assembly District 15. She served as the architect of President Obama’s national grassroots organizing strategy in the 2008 and 2012 elections and served as Deputy Director of Engagement for the White House.

UC Berkeley Study: Business Improvement Districts Criminalize Homelessness

by Daniel Lempres
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Downtown Oakland includes two business improvement districts.
  • Downtown Oakland includes two business improvement districts.

Local business improvement districts use public funds to advocate for laws that criminalize homelessness, according to a recently released Berkeley Law School report.

The researchers looked at 189 business improvement districts (BIDs), including three in Oakland and two in Berkeley, and found that BIDs consistently advocate for anti-homeless policies that rely heavily on policing, discrimination, and exclusion. When property owners vote to form BIDs, which is then authorized by the city, new anti-homeless laws are often not far behind.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the organization that commissioned the study, said that BIDs amount to “a privatization of public space." Boden added that BIDs create laws that serve to "punish" the homeless and drive them out of commercial areas.

The study’s authors argue that state laws empowering BIDs should be amended to limit their political sway and especially how they can spend public money.

See also: Oakland taxpayers' money is being funneled to an anti-union company that employs private cops to patrol the downtown and uptown areas and influences OPD policies.

BIDs are authorized under state law to raise revenue from assessments on government-owned buildings, in addition to assessments on private property, to fund activities that generally beautify a neighborhood, promote businesses, organize events, and increase safety.

Oakland has several business improvement districts, including the Lake Merritt/Uptown Business Improvement District, which covers an area of roughly 40 blocks bounded by Telegraph Avenue, 25th Street, Harrison Street, and 17th Street. In 2015, 4.6 percent of the Lake Merritt/Uptown District Association’s revenue came from assessments on publicly owned property.

The Jack London business improvement district is run on 23.3 percent public funding, according to the Berkeley report.

In the city of Berkeley, the Telegraph and Downtown BIDs receive 21 and 17 percent, respectively, of their revenue from taxpayers.

In Berkeley, a 2012 law that would have criminalized sitting on sidewalks was largely bankrolled by the property owners who comprise the Downtown Berkeley BID. John Caner, the BID’s CEO, foresaw a system which security ambassadors would use the ordinance to shoo the homeless away from commercial areas. Voters narrowly rejected Measure S.

In 2014, the committee which advocated for Measure S was fined by Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission for violating campaign laws. The committee failed to disclose a number of cash payments made to workers hired to promote Measure S. The committee also failed to properly disclose a loan from Caner. FCPC commissioner Dean Metzger to describe the committee's activities as "shady." Caner called the incident an "honest mistake."

The Berkeley researchers found that over 80 percent of BIDs surveyed cited "panhandling and loitering" as primary concerns of their members, and that business improvement districts use their power to "advocate for the enactment, preservation, and strengthening of local and state laws that punish people experiencing homelessness for engaging in life-sustaining activities that they have no choice but to undertake in public, such as sitting, resting, sleeping, and food sharing." The BIDs also hire "security ambassadors" who work with police to patrol retail corridors and "quality of life" crimes.

According to the Berkeley study, in 2015, the Downtown Oakland Association and Lake Merritt/Uptown District Association successfully advocated for the creation of a "Metro Unit" of police to patrol the downtown. They have also used their "security ambassadors" to create a database of people caught panhandling in an effort to "continually engage" repeat offenders.

These "security ambassadors," essentially private security guards who also clean the streets and provide visitors with information, are supposed to be trained in de-escalation, but there have been examples of security ambassadors assaulting homeless people in Los Angeles and Berkeley.

The study’s authors argue that state laws protecting and empowering BIDs should be amended to limit their political influence and restrict how they can spend public money. They say cities should refuse to authorize and work with BIDs that promote anti-homeless laws and engage in policing.

Representatives of the Uptown/Lake Merritt District Association, Downtown Oakland Association, Jack London District, and Berkeley's Downtown Business Association did not respond to an email seeking comment on the Berkeley study.

Stuart Baker, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, told the Express in an email that the Berkeley study doesn't accurately reflect the role his BID plays in policy-making.

"The public needs to hear from people on the ground rather than in the ivory towers of Berkeley," he said.

Baker said the Telegraph BID, for example, is working on a plan to open a 24-hour bathroom facility for the area's homeless community. Such facilities are not available between 2 and 7 a.m.

"BIDs do a lot of good for the greater community," Baker said.

Correction: The original version attributed a quote to John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, in which he said Measure S would "shoo" homeless people away from commercial areas. Caner never used the word "shoo." This story has also been updated with information about the campaign law violations committed by the Yes on S campaign.

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