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, said the law would "shoo" the homeless away from commercial areas. Voters narrowly rejected Measure S.

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Residents Report Being Evicted from Tuff Shed Camp

The city’s pilot program to help address the homelessness crisis has also led to some evictions, and former residents say they are more vulnerable than ever.

by Meg Shutzer
Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 10:37 AM

Michael London, 50, sits at the Homeless Action Center in Oakland, waiting to find out if he will be able to return to the Tuff Sheds on Northgate Avenue. He is holding a toy basketball hoop that he has owned since age 13. - PHOTO BY MEG SHUTZER
  • Photo by Meg Shutzer
  • Michael London, 50, sits at the Homeless Action Center in Oakland, waiting to find out if he will be able to return to the Tuff Sheds on Northgate Avenue. He is holding a toy basketball hoop that he has owned since age 13.

A miniature basketball hoop is currently Michael London’s only possession.

He has been carrying it with him for years, but holding onto it with greater intensity over the last few days. Sitting in the waiting room of the Homeless Action Center last Wednesday, London ran his fingers up and down the contours of the toy net, anxiously waiting to hear whether he would be able to return to his home and his possessions.

“I never shoulda moved into those sheds,” he said. “I lost everything I had, and even though it wasn’t much, now it’s gone”

In May, London was one of 40 people to move into the Northgate Avenue Tuff Shed camp, a pilot program by the City of Oakland to provide temporary shelter to people experiencing homelessness. The Northgate camp is the second Tuff Shed site to open, and the city is planning to open a third. According to a recent city report, the two existing sites have collectively helped 41 people find more permanent housing.

After an altercation on Sept. 7, London joined the ranks of those who have lost their place in the Tuff Shed camp since the site opened. One resident estimates that the camp has evicted 10 people during that period.

London said he misses the relative security of the Tuff Shed, and he no longer has the tent he gave away when moving in.

The experience of London and others who have lost their place at the camp is raising questions about what responsibility — if any — the city has to ensure that participants in the Tuff Shed camps do not leave worse off than when they arrived.

Heather Freinkel, a managing attorney at the Homeless Action Center, a nonprofit located just blocks from the Northgate Avenue camp, said she was concerned about those evicted from the Tuff Sheds. “They said [moving in] was voluntary but the alternative to moving into Tuff Sheds was displacement,” she said, noting that when the city opened the Tuff Sheds, the nearby encampments were issued notices of removal.

For London, getting back into the Tuff Sheds has been the only thing on his mind for over a week.

Immediately after getting kicked out on Friday, Sept. 7, London went to the Homeless Action Center to file a grievance with Operation Dignity, the nonprofit that the city contracts to run the Tuff Shed camp.

Gwen Wu, an attorney at the center, has been working with London for more than a year and has been waiting to hear back from Operation Dignity on whether he can return. “They haven’t really pinned down the grievance process,” she said. She had been expecting a response within 72 hours, however, Operation Dignity has since clarified that they respond to all grievances within three business days of filing. “It’s supposed to be 72 hours and they didn’t say business hours. People are still homeless on the weekends,” Wu said.

More than 10 days after filing a grievance, Wu still hasn’t heard from Operation Dignity, and London is still sleeping on the street. He is without his license, phone, or a change of clothes — all of which he left behind in his Tuff Shed.

“I don’t even dress like this,” London said. “That’s so disgusting,” he added, pointing to his dirty clothing.

Wu called London a “hopeful” client, but this experience worries her. “When everything was happening … he was just breaking down,” she said. “When we called Operation Dignity, we were saying, ‘Please make a decision, please make a decision soon. We’re very worried. He is in such a fragile state.’”

Operation Dignity declined to comment on London’s case or the number of people who they have been evicted from the Tuff Shed camp, directing all questions to the city.

However, citywide Communications Director Karen Boyd said that the city is not involved with specific rules and their enforcement at the Tuff Sheds. “We hired the service provider to manage the sites,” she said. “We help them define what ‘safe’ means, and they handle implementation.”

Boyd did say that the Tuff Sheds have strict policies to make the camps safe. “The number one rule is no violence,” she said. “The idea was to create a safer and healthier environment than living in a tent on the street, but you have to have community norms to keep a community safe. When people don’t comport … it isn’t a safe environment.”

According to London, the incident that resulted in his ouster occurred when London was having difficulty with his roommate in the Tuff Shed. Residents of Tuff Sheds share a space that is 120 square feet — roughly half the size of a one-car garage — with an assigned roommate. London said he raised his voice and threw his bicycle on the ground after staff had assigned him a new roommate. And while he admits he was upset, he said he wasn’t a danger to anyone.

After several nights on the street, London is desperate to get back to the relatively safe environment of the Tuff Sheds.

Keysha Boyakins, 33, also prefers the security of the Tuff Sheds but she has given up hope of returning. Boyakins recalled her problems with the Tuff Sheds beginning when staff assigned her a male roommate. “They think you’re gonna give them some,” she said, referring to men’s expectations about sex.

Boyakins said she was getting dressed after a shower when her older male roommate assaulted her. “I didn’t give him any, so he came at me with a hammer,” she said. Boyakins admits to pulling out a knife in defense and, consequently, staff removed both Boyakins and her roommate from the camp.

“I don’t think they gave me a fair chance,” she said.

Keysha Boyakins, 33, looks for a safe place to stay after getting kicked out of the Tuff Sheds in Oakland. She is one of several Tuff Shed residents who have had to leave the site on Northgate Avenue. - PHOTO BY MEG SHUTZER
  • Photo by Meg Shutzer
  • Keysha Boyakins, 33, looks for a safe place to stay after getting kicked out of the Tuff Sheds in Oakland. She is one of several Tuff Shed residents who have had to leave the site on Northgate Avenue.

Unlike London, Boyakins did not file a grievance when the camp staff kicked her out several weeks ago. “I didn’t know who to ask for help,” she said. Now, Boyakins is unsure where to sleep at night. The community where she once found protection and friends no longer exists, as the police cleared all encampments in a several-block radius of the Tuff Sheds within days of the camp opening.

Advocates say temporary respite from the streets can be dislocating for those forced to return. Residents who fail to follow the Tuff Shed rules find they no longer have a familiar community on the streets to return to.

“On an emotional level, it toys with your sense of safety,” said Wu. London’s sudden loss of security is resurfacing past trauma, she said.

Wu and Freinkel both expressed concern about the lack of contingency plans for those unable to stay in the Tuff Sheds. Already a vulnerable population, people experiencing homelessness may find themselves worse off after living there.

This is the case for London. With only his toy basketball hoop and no shelter to speak of, he fears what the future holds outside the Northgate camp — a sign that, despite the challenges, the security of Tuff Sheds can still be preferable to the streets.

Monday, September 17, 2018

After Three Years, Oakland Police Release Body-Camera Video of Demouria Hogg Shooting

But the footage still leaves questions about what happened right before he was shot.

by Scott Morris
Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 9:33 AM

A still from the video shows Oakland police officers trying to pull Demouria Hogg from the car after he's been shot.
  • A still from the video shows Oakland police officers trying to pull Demouria Hogg from the car after he's been shot.

The Oakland Police Department has released body-camera footage from the officer who shot Demouria Hogg over three years ago. Oakland police released the video in response to a public records request after repeatedly denying and ignoring requests for the video.

Hogg, 30, was found unconscious in his gray BMW 520i at Lake Park Avenue near Lakeshore Avenue on June 6, 2015. A gun was on the passenger seat, so when firefighters found him at about 7:30 a.m., they called Oakland police.

Police shut down the street, which is a highway offramp from Highway 580 near Lake Merritt. It was a Saturday and a weekly farmers’ market was underway nearby.

After officers tried unsuccessfully to wake Hogg for more than an hour, they approached the driver’s side window and broke it. Almost as soon as the window was broken, Officer Nicole Rhodes, who was providing lethal cover, fired two rounds. Officer Daniel Cornejo-Valdivia simultaneously hit Hogg with a Taser.

After the shooting, Rhodes told investigators that she saw Hogg lean back and reach with his left hand toward the passenger seat, where there was a gun.

It’s impossible to tell from the video whether Hogg moved before Rhodes shot him. The camera mounted on Rhodes’ chest is pointed slightly down, and doesn’t capture what is happening inside the car.

Once Officer Karl Templeman breaks the window with a crowbar, officers can be heard shouting “Don’t move!” repeatedly. Rhodes fires about five seconds later.

The officers then tried to pull Hogg out of the broken window. Hogg appears to be incapacitated and limp as the officers tried to pull him out. Rhodes continued shouting, “Don’t move!” and pointing her gun at him as the other officers pulled Hogg from the car. Once he was on the ground, she holstered her weapon and walked away, breathing heavily. The officers called for medical assistance.

Sgt. Wilson Lau, who had coordinated the plan to get Hogg out of the car, then approached Rhodes and said something inaudible.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Rhodes responded. She said she shot Hogg twice in the chest, though an autopsy would later reveal he was only hit once.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office investigated the shooting and declined to file any criminal charges against Rhodes on Feb. 8, 2016.

A separate review by the Citizens Police Review Board found that Rhodes, Lau, and Cornejo-Valdivia had all acted within department policy. Rhodes and Lau remain with the Oakland Police Department and Lau was promoted to lieutenant.

Hogg’s family sued and reached a settlement with the city for $1.2 million in September 2016.

While some police departments, such as the San Francisco Police Department, have tried to bolster community relations by releasing body-worn camera footage days or weeks after a shooting, Oakland police have mostly tried to prevent its release.

Under California law, police departments can withhold information for cases under investigation, and officer-involved shooting investigations can take years.

Oakland police released more than an hour of body camera video showing the standoff that preceded the shooting, with Rhodes spending most of it crouched behind a patrol car.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Berkeley Reconsiders Controversial Twitter Tactic

Using social media, Berkeley's police scrambled to 'create a counter-narrative' to violent protests, but critics say they doxxed dozens, and discouraged free speech.

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 4:18 PM

Berkeley police tweeted the mug shot, name, and age of a protester who was arrested last year. The individual was never charged with a crime by the District Attorney.
  • Berkeley police tweeted the mug shot, name, and age of a protester who was arrested last year. The individual was never charged with a crime by the District Attorney.

Last year, white supremacists, fascists, and other hate groups staged rallies in downtown Berkeley, leading to bloody street brawls with the anti-fascists who confronted them.

The events were depicted on social media as chaotic, with the police seemingly outnumbered and rarely intervening. Critics accused the Berkeley police of not doing enough to prevent violence, and some far-right activists even claimed that the Berkeley police were part of a conspiracy with UC Berkeley to silence political speech from conservatives.

In response, Berkeley officials devised a plan to use social media to "create a counternarrative" that the police were, in fact, confiscating weapons and making arrests. One way they attempted to spread this counternarrative was by rapidly tweeting out the mug shots, names, and cities of residence of people arrested at the rallies.

In recent internal city emails, the practice was referred to as the "info flow from jail to Twitter."

Some city officials believe the use of Twitter was justified and helped keep the city safe.


"What we did during these protests was framed within very exceptional circumstances," said Matthai Chakko, a city spokesperson. "I don’t know of any city in the country that’s had such an exceptional intensity of violence focused on it."

But civil rights advocates say that the city's plan to use social media to dissuade people from showing up to fight ended up "doxxing" dozens of people, and that nearly all of them were counter-protesters who were in Berkeley to oppose the white supremacists. These individuals were later targeted by racist hate groups with threats of violence.

Doxxing is a practice whereby personal and private information is shared on the internet with the goal of damaging that individual's sense of privacy and exposing them to threats, actual violence, identity theft, and other harms.

Many of those who had their faces, names, and other information shared on Twitter by BPD were never charged with a crime, according to a search of court records.

The Berkeley police have come under intensifying criticism for using social media in this manner.

Chakko said that the tactic recently became a distraction and that the police won't be doing it at the next protest. But he defended the tactic as a successful means of "managing" the violent events of the past year.

Even so, tonight the Berkeley City Council will consider whether to adopt a formal policy barring the police from posting the photos of people on social media, unless they pose an imminent threat to public safety. (See Item 29 on the agenda.)

Berkeley Councilmembers Cheryl Davila, Kate Harrison, and Mayor Jesse Arreguin wrote in their proposed new policy that, "Doxing has resulted in threats to people’s children and families, and even putting 'bounties' on their heads. Though these photos were later removed due to political pressure and international criticism of Berkeley, the damage was done."

The police tweeted out mug shots and names of protesters as recently as Aug. 4, when another right-wing demonstration drew a counter protest, but these tweets were later deleted. Some photos of protesters arrested last year remain on the Berkeley Police Department's Twitter feed.

City records recently released through a Public Records Act request and shared with the Express show that the Berkeley police and city manager adopted the policy of rapidly tweeting out mug shots, names, and cities of residence of protesters as a means of trying to change the narrative about the City's ability to enforce laws and maintain control.

An excerpt from Berkeley's "BPD Twitter Protocol for mug shots," a document spelling out how and when the police should use social media to reveal the identities of people arrested during protests.
  • An excerpt from Berkeley's "BPD Twitter Protocol for mug shots," a document spelling out how and when the police should use social media to reveal the identities of people arrested during protests.

The police and city manager, according to documents reviewed by the Express, were concerned about news reports that they hadn't prevented fights between white nationalists and anti-fascists.

According to a document titled "BPD Twitter protocol for mug shots," there was only one broken window and no injuries of anyone who didn't attend the protests between March 4 and September 28 of last year, but "despite these successes, instigators continued to push a narrative that conflict in Berkeley was necessary [sic] due to lack of BPD presence."

Berkeley officials were worried that the cycle of confrontations between right and left would continue unless they could change this perception.

Internally, police and other city officials cited the "unusually deep and broad publication and attention" of the police department's tweets as evidence their strategy was working.

Police tweets of protesters mug shots and names received over 1.7 million impressions on Twitter (the number of times the tweets were viewed), according to an undated Berkeley policy document.

"The message had a deep impact on the narrative about the City's ability to enforce the rule of law," city officials concluded in the policy document. "Almost immediately, the narrative about BPD and the City changed online and in the media."

Civil rights attorneys who have reviewed the city's use of social media say the practice of publishing mug shots and names should be discontinued.

"This 'protocol' confirms what we suspected: that BPD's practice of publishing personal information and mugshots of anti-fascist and anti-racist counter-protesters is in no way related to ensuring public safety," Jay Kim, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Chapter wrote in an email to the Express. "BPD's primary interest in creating a counter-narrative about its role and effectiveness as a police force actually had the impact of putting Berkeley residents in danger by exposing them to doxing by the far-right."

Chakko disputed the claim that most of those whose mug shots were tweeted by the police were anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters. He said the police made arrests and tweeted out people's photos regardless of ideology. "We made arrests based on what were violations of the law," he said. He added, "the easiest way to not have your booking photo posted is to not break the law."

"It's my understanding that they’ve only done this during protests," Councilmember Kate Harrison said about the use of Twitter to publish protesters' mug shots and names. "I’m very concerned about protecting free speech activity."

Harrison said there's a possibility that people won't show up to a protest to express their First Amendment rights if they believe they could end up having their face and name spread on Twitter, subjecting them to threats.

The Berkeley Police Department's policy on the release of public information and records, which was drafted in 2009, states that it is generally the department's policy to release copies of public records "unless release would endanger a private person" or "constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy."

Whether or not the controversial tactic truly shifted the narrative around Berkeley is unclear. The far-right rallies, 10 of which were staged in Berkeley within a one-year period, may have petered out for other reasons.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Oakland Coal Terminal Opponents Protest at ‘Responsible Investment’ Meeting in San Francisco

Despite talk of sustainable investing, protesters say financial companies continue to fund coal and other fossil fuels.

by Daniel Lempres
Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 4:12 PM

Anti-coal activists marched on Saturday before the beginning of San Francisco's Global Climate Action Summit. - DANIEL LEMPRES
  • Daniel Lempres
  • Anti-coal activists marched on Saturday before the beginning of San Francisco's Global Climate Action Summit.

Anti-coal activists protested outside a "responsible investment" panel discussion in San Francisco today because one of the participants, the Bank of Montreal, has been involved in talks to finance a controversial coal export terminal that an Oakland developer and a Kentucky-based mining company hope to build in West Oakland.

The protest was the second by the Oakland activists this week while San Francisco hosts a Global Climate Action Summit.

Ted Franklin, a coordinator of No Coal in Oakland, said the group was rallying outside the Marriott Marquis hotel, where the panel discussion was being held, to demonstrate opposition to the project and highlight what they consider to be an irresponsible investment.

“Grassroots action is important,” Franklin said. “Especially in the fight against climate chaos and injury to communities like West Oakland.”

“There can be no terminal if there’s no money,” said Margaret Rossoff, an organizer with No Coal in Oakland.

Wednesday’s demonstration was an effort to remind financiers of their commitment to sustainable, community-focused investments, Rossoff said. “We’re starting to feel like we have time on our side. The more time passes the more obvious it becomes that the terminal will be harmful.”

Plans to build the coal terminal first became public in 2015. Coal company Bowie Resource Partners, which owns mines in Utah, has been working with Oakland developers Phil Tagami and Mark McClure of the California Capital Investment Group to find a way to ship Utah coal through Oakland to overseas markets. The Bank of Montreal has been involved in the discussions as a source of financing for the project.

In 2016, the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance banning the storage and handling of coal in the city, citing health impacts. The ban would have effectively killed the coal export terminal, but the city was sued by the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, the company owned by Tagami and his business partners. OBOT won the lawsuit after a federal judge ruled the city violated its 2013 development agreement allowing the company to build a bulk commodity export terminal.

Oakland is currently appealing the decision and briefs in the case are due at the end of October, according to Erica Maharg, an attorney with San Francisco Baykeeper who is working on the case. The city’s legal team is being supported by the Sierra Club and the Baykeeper, which intervened in the case.

Maharg said that U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria took a “heavy-handed look at evidence,” which ran counter to his obligation to the city. “The judge didn’t defer to the city,” Maharg said, “which in my opinion was legally not appropriate. The city is allowed to protect residents and the environment.”

In West Oakland, a working-class neighborhood of color, residents worry about how coal dust will increase air pollution in an already severely polluted area, one bisected by emission-heavy freeways.

Rossoff said the impact of shipping coal through the Bay Area can already been seen in Richmond. Currently, the Port of Richmond exports coal from Utah transported in by train. Rossoff said the cars send up fine particles of coal dust that coat Parchester Village in northwest Richmond. Richmond has exported coal for many years, but “the amount has increased recently,” Rossoff said. This means more coal passing through the East Bay.

“The trains go right by the Richmond BART,” Rossoff said. “You can see them if you’re there at the right time.”

In addition to public health concerns, opponents of the coal terminal worry investing in coal transportation infrastructure will slow the decline of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. They see the terminal as an extraction industry gambit to become a necessary part of Oakland’s economy and tax base. But to stop climate change, the world economy needs to reduce its use of coal.

The coal terminal’s proponents include a group comprised almost solely of its investors, include four coal-producing counties in Utah, Utah’s biggest coal extractor Bowie Resource Partners, and the aforementioned Bank of Montreal, in addition to the Oakland development team led by Phil Tagami.

Representatives for the Bank of Montreal didn’t respond to a request for comment.

David Smith, who represents Tagami’s company, told the Express he’s disappointed the city has decided to appeal the ruling allowing the coal terminal plan to move ahead. He called the city’s appeal “a long shot.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Opinion: BART Poised to Lead in Protecting Civil Liberties

The Bay Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors is on the verge of implementing significant reforms aimed at protecting the civil liberties of its riders, including a first-of-its-kind transit surveillance equipment ordinance.

by Brian Hofer and Sameena Usman
Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 5:41 PM

BART police installed ALPR cameras in the MacArthur Station Parking Garage. - FILE PHOTO BY DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • file photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • BART police installed ALPR cameras in the MacArthur Station Parking Garage.

On Sept. 13, the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors is poised to vote on a surveillance equipment ordinance that, if implemented, will significantly protect the right to privacy and safeguard the civil liberties of BART riders while still ensuring public safety.

The ordinance will require public notice and public debate prior to seeking funding, acquiring equipment, or otherwise moving forward with surveillance technology proposals. It’s based on an ACLU model that was first enacted last year by Santa Clara County and is now law in Davis, Berkeley, Oakland, and Palo Alto. In a 2014 editorial, the Los Angeles Times called the approach “so pragmatic that cities, counties and law enforcement agencies throughout California would be foolish not to embrace it.”

In Oakland, we saw the negative outcome that can occur from lack of such a discussion, when the administration pursued funding for, and began building, the citywide surveillance network known as the Domain Awareness Center without community input. Ultimately, the community rejected the project, which resulted in the wasting of tens of thousands of dollars in staff time and furthered distrust in our government.

If the ordinance is approved, BART’s board of directors would first need to determine whether the benefits of a surveillance technology proposal would outweigh the costs and concerns. Then a use policy will be developed governing the particular piece of equipment. Proper oversight of surveillance technology use and accountability through mandated annual reporting, and review by the board, will ensure that the use policies are complied with, and add transparency into the use of surveillance equipment by BART.

These are not just buzz words, as BART’s past conduct unfortunately dictates strict scrutiny of its actions. In April 2016, the board voted unanimously to table installation of license plate readers until a privacy policy could be enacted. Staff ignored the board and went ahead and installed the equipment anyway. Staff also sent information on over 57,000 customers to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which provides data access to ICE. In addition to violating a board directive, staff put BART’s sanctuary status at risk by turning over customer data that ICE might have used.

Just this past week, BART denied this paper’s public record request into some of the surveillance technology presently being tested. It was an absurd response by BART, given that some of the requested materials would have been publicly produced as part of an agenda packet, and portions of the info will now be disclosed under the surveillance ordinance. The knee-jerk reaction by BART against transparency indicates a need for such a vetting framework as that now contemplated.

It has become quickly clear that in the new Trump era, protection of our civil liberties must occur at the local level. Comments made by Trump cabinet members, and the executive orders issued by Trump upon his first few days in office targeting sanctuary cities and immigrants, make it more critical than ever that the amount of surveillance and personal data collected should be limited to the bare minimum, to ensure the safety of our community from unlawful and inhumane targeting.

We applaud the effort by BART staff to find as much common ground with us as possible over the past two-and-a-half years since this project began, and we recognize the pressure on both staff and the board as they deal with very difficult circumstances around the quality-of-life and public safety concerns that are unfortunately a part of today’s BART ridership.

With the adoption of this ordinance, BART’s board can show it is earnest about protecting its customers’ right to privacy and civil liberties, while still ensuring public safety. By supporting implementation of the ordinance, BART staff and law enforcement officials can demonstrate that they intend to earn the community’s trust by operating within the rules, which itself will increase public safety. As the Los Angeles Times editorialized about use of surveillance equipment in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, “trust us is not enough.”

Brian Hofer is a member of Oakland Privacy, and Chair of the City of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission. Sameena Usman is the Government Relations Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco office.

Fire at 'The Village' Homeless Camp in East Oakland Displaces 37

No one died in the blaze.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 9:11 AM

The fire destroyed numerous tents, cabins, and at least one vehicle.
  • The fire destroyed numerous tents, cabins, and at least one vehicle.

A fire destroyed the shelters of about 37 homeless Oakland residents early Tuesday morning. Fire inspectors on scene said it's unclear what started the blaze, which consumed about one-third of the camp.

Distraught people picked through the debris looking for valuables as firefighters returned to extinguish hot spots at about 7:30 a.m. The blaze began at around 4 in the morning.

No one was injured or died in the fire but a deceased person was discovered in a nearby tent afterward. An OFD inspector on scene said the death appeared to be unrelated to the incident, and the coroner's bureau is working to establish a cause of death.


The Village, one of Oakland's largest homeless encampments, was first established in January of 2017 as an intentional community meant to decriminalize homelessness and occupy public land. First located in North Oakland's Grove Shafter Park, the group relocated to 2300 San Leandro Street after the city closed the North Oakland location down.

The property is owned by the California Department of Transportation, and The Village has been notified by the state agency and city that they will have to move again in November because CalTrans intends to use the empty lot as a staging area for a bridge construction project.

The Village's "points of unity" poster on a light pole at the camp was melted by the fire.
  • The Village's "points of unity" poster on a light pole at the camp was melted by the fire.

Needa Bee, an organizer with The Village, said that so far, the group hasn't located a new plot of land and that the city is no longer working with them on finding a new location.

Several smaller homeless camps along E. 12th Street and San Leandro Street between Lake Merritt and the Fruitvale have been closed down by the city over the past year.

Bee said that many of the people from these camps moved into the Village, creating a situation of overcrowding.

The Oakland City Council's Life Enrichment Committee is scheduled to discuss homeless camps at a hearing later today.

villagefire2.png

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hey Readers, Share Your Thoughts About the Express

We want to publish them in our anniversary issue.

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 12:01 PM

Can you believe we've been doing this for 40 years?
  • Can you believe we've been doing this for 40 years?

Next month, the Express will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, we’re putting out a special issue looking back at our history — our triumphs and our not-so-great moments — as well as forward to our (hopefully very long and successful) future. And, of course, we would be nowhere without you, dear readers.

So, we’d love for you to be part of this issue by sharing your thoughts — good, bad, in-between — about the Express. What has the Express meant to you? What stories have you loved (or not loved)? How has the paper impacted your life?

We’ll try to publish as many as we can. But please, please, include your full name. Send no more than 300 words to editor@eastbayexpress.com by Friday, Sept. 21, with the subject line “Anniversary Issue.” 

City of Oakland Plans to Ban Homeless from Camping Around Lake Merritt

A third soon-to-open Tuff Shed camp will 'resolve' homelessness around the lake, but unsheltered residents are planning a protest.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 10:19 AM

Nino Parker (right) said homeless residents around Lake Merritt plan to protest the camping ban.
  • Nino Parker (right) said homeless residents around Lake Merritt plan to protest the camping ban.

Oakland officials are moving forward with a plan to close all of the existing homeless camps around the perimeter of Lake Merritt and to ban camping in the parks. But some homeless people say they're organizing against the ban.

The closure of lake campsites, which could affect as many as 100 people, will be phased in starting this week, according to city officials.

At a meeting last Thursday at Peralta Park, which is located between the Kaiser Auditorium and Lake Merritt channel, city representatives told about a dozen homeless people in attendance that the Peralta Park camp will be closed first in order to make way for a third Tuff Shed camp run by a nonprofit organization.

But the city council must first allocate $457,384 for the new Tuff Shed location or else it won't be established, according to a city report that will be heard at this week's life enrichment committee.

The Tuff Shed camps, which are an initiative of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, are sanctioned campsites that can accommodate up to 40 people in 20 small prefabricated, insulated sheds. The city provides round-the-clock security while social workers try to place residents into longer-term affordable housing. The camps have electricity and are served by mobile shower and grooming buses.

Some unsheltered people who attended the meeting last week at Peralta Park inquired about how to get into the Tuff Shed camp and seemed optimistic. Being able to safely store their belongings behind lock and key, and distance themselves from the streets where thieves frequently pilfer camps and sometimes attack people, is a valuable service, they said.

But others were critical of the announcement. One man called the Tuff Shed program a “concentration camp.” Others said the Tuff Shed camps look like jails.

Talia Rubin of Oakland's Human Services Department told homeless residents who attended the meeting that the closure of the camps around the entire perimeter of Lake Merritt is a “geographic intervention.” She said residents of that camp will have up to 10 days to decide if they want to obtain a space in the new Tuff Shed camp. If not, they'll have to move.

Signs posted last Friday state that the Peralta Park camp will be closed on September 13. A third Tuff Shed camp will take its place.
  • Signs posted last Friday state that the Peralta Park camp will be closed on September 13. A third Tuff Shed camp will take its place.

One person at the meeting remarked that the plan to close all the homeless camps around the lake was happening just before the November election in which Mayor Schaaf and District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillen are running for reelection.

“What do you have to say about that?" the person pointedly questioned city officials.

“I don't serve at the pleasure of the mayor,” said Rubin. “That's what I have to say about that.”

Last week, the city posted notices deeming the camp at Peralta Park “illegal” and ordering residents to vacate by September 13.

City Councilmember Abel Guillen, who represents the neighborhoods on the eastern side of Lake Merritt, sent an email last week explaining that once the new Tuff Shed camp by the Kaiser Auditorium opens "and alternative shelter is available to homeless campers in the parklands around Lake Merritt, the City will enforce the 'no camping' rules there."

But on Sunday, several homeless people who are living around Lake Merritt said they haven't been informed yet about the city's plans, and that they're unlikely to accept a space in the new Tuff Shed site.

The city acknowledges that there are more homeless people living in the parks around the lake than can fit in the proposed new Tuff Shed camp. According to a city report, unofficial estimates are that there are as many as 50 people living around the lake. The city conducted a census late last month, but the results haven't been made public yet.

“We know not everyone can move in when we open,” Rubin, of the human services department, said in response to questions about the capacity of the Tuff Shed camp from the Peralta Park residents last week.

“Fuck the sheds,” said a man who goes by the name Touché and lives under the oak trees on the north side of the lake.

Touché said there are probably around 100 homeless people camping around the lake, more than double what the city's Tuff Shed camp will accommodate.

"They should let them keep their tents," said a woman visiting Touché's campsite who didn't provide her name. She added that some homeless people have been institutionalized in prisons, jails, and mental health facilities, and that the Tuff Shed camps can trigger them in harmful ways.

Touché said nonprofit outreach workers came by his campsite about two weeks ago to inform him of the city's plan to ban camping around the lake. He said he'll likely move to another part of the city instead of the Tuff Sheds.

“They're too controlling,” he said.

A young man named Abdullah who lives in a circle of trees on the north side of Lake Merritt said he prefers being alone in the park because it's safer than living near the freeways where drug trafficking and violence sometimes occurs. He added he did not want to move into the Tuff Shed camp.

At Snow Park, where about 15 people live, several residents also said the city hadn't informed them about the plan to ban camping around the lake. When told of the plan, they said they feel like the city is interested in creating the perception of clean parks, rather than actually assisting the homeless.

“We're mellow here,” said Jeffrey Prestovich, one of the camp's leaders. “We're good where we're at right now.”

Prestovich acknowledged that a fire recently tore through the camp, but he said it was started by several people who had moved in just a few weeks before, and they left right after the blaze erupted. He said the camp has otherwise been a safe space where residents have been able to look out for one another. He and four other men who sat talking under the trees on Sunday said that if the city wants to help, it could clean the portable toilet at Snow Park.

"It hasn't been cleaned in two months," said one man. The toilet is currently covered in graffiti and filled with trash.

Some homeless residents are organizing against the city's proposed camping ban around the lake and are calling for more resources to go directly to them, not to the nonprofits that run the Tuff Shed program.

Nino Parker lives on the E. 12th Street Remainder Parcel in a camp made up of seniors, with strict rules against using hard drugs. Parker has been rallying homeless residents to attend a meeting of the city council's life enrichment committee on Tuesday to speak out against the ban, and demand more assistance for the unsheltered.

“There's more people than sheds,” said Parker. Oakland's homeless population was estimated to have surpassed 2,761 last year, with 1,902 people unsheltered on any given night. The city's Tuff Shed program currently has spaces for only about 80 people.

Parker said the city's efforts are appreciated, but the evictions are counterproductive unless there's enough shelter for everyone. He described the Tuff Shed program as a "vehicle" to remove large homeless camps rather than an actual transitional housing program to address the city's shelter crisis.

"Here's where the evictions have to stop," Parker said. "If you have nowhere to put someone, then your vehicle to remove them ends, because at that point, you're just pushing people around the streets."

Residents of other camps say they're mobilizing to protest against the city's camping ban, but a sense of frustrated resignation also reigns.

"If this protest doesn't work, what do we do, lay down in front of the trucks like Tiananmen Square?” asked Prestovich.

Correction: the original version of this story stated that the Tuff Sheds are uninsulated. The sheds at the Northgate Avenue camp are, in fact, insulated.

Most Popular Stories

© 2018 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation