Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday’s Briefing: Kaiser to Invest $200 Million for Affordable Housing; 97 Percent of McClymonds Seniors Going to College

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, May 18, 2018 at 8:04 AM

A Tuff Shed camp in Oakland. - PHOTO BY DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • A Tuff Shed camp in Oakland.

Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente announced today it will invest $200 million to help preserve and create affordable housing and mitigate homelessness in the Bay Area and other locations. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf asked Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson to make the investment as part of the new Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment group, which is lobbying Congress for more federal funding for homelessness. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Ninety-seven percent of the students graduating from McClymonds High School in West Oakland this year are going to college, one of the highest percentages of college-bound students in the school's history. Of the 60 out of 62 students going to college, 25 are heading to junior colleges, five to University of California schools and 17 to California State University schools, according to an Oakland Unified news release. (East Bay Times)

Berkeley is trying to rid of RVs and their inhabitants at the Berkeley Marina, issuing notices that the campers must leave before a May 28-June 1 construction project. The city plans to create structured parking to reduce overnight parking and prevent RVs from parking there, but the RV dwellers say they have no place else to go. (Berkeleyside)

An internal investigation by UC Berkeley has substantiated claims of sexual violence and harassment against longtime athletic department employee Mohamed Muqtar. WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon filed a lawsuit in January, claiming Muqtar assaulted her during her freshmen year at Cal, which prompted the school’s investigation. Cal Athletics confirmed Muqtar was fired on May 11. (ESPN)

The number of arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions continues to rise as the Trump administration battles with California’s sanctuary laws. From October through March, more than 3,400 “non-criminals” were arrested by ICE’s California offices. (San Francisco Chronicle)

California’s birthrate has plunged to its lowest level in a century. Experts say the decline is related to young people putting off having kids for financial or personal reasons, along with the increasing availability of birth control and the state of the economy. (SFGate)

Berkeley City Council has further eased the process for building accessory dwelling units, on in-law cottages. The new ordinance allows them units to be slightly larger, up to 850 square feet, and clarifies some of the design guidelines. (Berkeleyside)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Alicia Garza Declines Award Because She Doesn't Want to Be Associated With Coal Terminal Developer Phil Tagami

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, May 17, 2018 at 12:06 PM

  • File photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • Phil Tagami.

Developer Phil Tagami won a federal lawsuit earlier this week that allows his company to proceed with a plan to build a rail-to-ship coal export terminal in West Oakland, but the businessman is facing sharp criticism from many in the community.

Last week, activist and author Alicia Garza declined an award she was nominated for by students at the East Bay Innovation Academy due to the fact that Tagami would be presenting it to her.

"While Phil is a friend, I cannot allow my presence or my acceptance of this award to be understood as supporting something that I firmly stand against," wrote Garza in a public Facebook post.

Garza described Tagami's coal terminal project as something that "will have devastating impacts on the environment and on local communities."

Tagami's company plans to use the terminal to ship millions of tons of coal from Utah mines to overseas markets each year. The city tried to stop the project on the grounds that coal dust and other hazards will harm the health of the people who live near the railroad tracks and the proposed terminal, but Tagami successfully sued in federal court to overturn the city's prohibition.

Tagami is also under pressure from a student activist group called Youth vs. Apocalypse. The students have organized protests against Tagami because they say he has declined to meet with them over their concerns.

"I want Phil Tagami to know something. People that have asthma will have it because of him," said Adam, an Oakland middle school student who is part of Youth vs. Apocalypes.

"Why is he putting it in West Oakland, and not where white people’s houses are," said Sonja, an Oakland middle school student who is also part of the activist group. "It’s affecting more of us, Black and Brown communities."

The Innovation Awards is an annual event organized by the East Bay Innovation Academy charter school, which Tagami's children attend. This year's ceremony was to be hosted by Tagami, according to a copy of an invitation, and held in the Rotunda Building, which Tagami's company owns. The ceremony was scheduled for tonight.

The event was subsequently relocated to the East Bay Innovation Academy's campus in Oakland. Activists with Youth vs. Apocalypse said they felt the relocation was in response to their planned protest of Tagami. They also said they wanted to be clear who the target of their protest is, and that they're not criticizing the students who attend the school or others who were supposed to receive awards.

But Garza wrote in her Facebook post that she decided to decline the award also because Tagami was honoring District Attorney Nancy O'Malley. She cited O'Malley's attempt to prosecute Black Lives Matter activists in 2014 as the reason why. "I cannot in good conscience accept an award alongside the District Attorney," wrote Garza.

Representatives of the East Bay Innovation Academy confirmed this morning that the event has now been entirely canceled.

Tagami did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.

The student activists with Youth vs. Apocalypse said they still plan to hold a protest tonight at the Rotunda Building at 6 p.m.


Thursday’s Briefing: Trump Urges Sessions to Investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf; Hs Lordships Is Closing

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, May 17, 2018 at 9:36 AM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she's "#NotDistracted".
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf says she's "#NotDistracted".

Donald Trump said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for obstructing justice at a meeting with leaders opposed to California’s sanctuary policies yesterday. Trump also referred to immigrants who commit crimes as “animals.” (Los Angeles Times)

Here was Schaaf’s response:

Longtime Berkeley waterfront restaurant Hs Lordships is closing on July 1 after nearly 50 years in business. (Berkeleyside)

A group of architects, engineers, and climate experts have come up with innovative designs to protect the Bay Area from sea level rise — but also reshape industry, parks, and communities, and, as such, could be models for coastal communities around the world. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Errors by UC Berkeley animal researchers led to the deaths of 22 animals and the suffering of countless others between 2015 and 2016, according to correspondence acquired by an animal rights group. The monkeys, bats, rats, mice, and chicks died from starvation, suffocation, and botched surgeries. The activists are calling on Chancellor Carol Christ to investigate. (SFGate)

Elmwood Café is reopening today under new owners and a new name. The cafe closed after coming under renewed criticism for a racially charged incident there in 2015 involving comedian W. Kamau Bell. The newly named Baker & Commons will be run by former Elmwood Café manager Kara Hammon and Eric Wright, who has managed other restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland. (Berkeleyside)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday’s Briefing: Oakland Coal Plan Clears Legal Hurdle; Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach to Step Down

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, May 16, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Jill Keimach
  • Jill Keimach

Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach and the City of Alameda are parting ways.
The move comes after Keimach secretly recorded two councilmembers whom she accused of politically pressuring her to select a union-backed candidate for fire chief. In a negotiated agreement, the city will compensate Keimach $900,000 in total and prohibit her from any litigation against the city arising from her employment. (East Bay Citizen)

[Related reading: “Going on the Offensive”; “Alameda City Manager Placed on Paid Leave”; “Alameda Council Asks DA to Probe Secret Recording”; “Alameda City Manager Wiretapped Councilors”; “Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach Should Resign”]

A controversial plan to ship coal through West Oakland won a significant victory yesterday. U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the City of Oakland breached its contract with the company that wants to build a bulk commodity export terminal at former Oakland Army Base when the city sought to block the plan by enacting a coal ban ordinance in 2016. (East Bay Express)

Richmond City Council voted yesterday to prevent the city’s business and investment funds from using data broker companies that share personal information with ICE. It’s the first city council in the country to do so. Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda are considering similar ordinances. (KTVU)

The Oakland City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Oakland A’s for the Coliseum, allowing the team to study the site for the next nine months to build a new ballpark. The team is also in an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Port of Oakland for the Howard Terminal site. (East Bay Times)

Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council delayed a vote on a proposal to give funding to job-training programs after the city attorney said the legislation could violate state and federal laws. Councilmember Desley Brooks, who authored the legislation, deleted language from the proposal that specified the sources of the funds, which she said would take care of any legal issues, but city lawyers said there were still problems with the proposal. (SFGate)

A vacant lot on Telegraph Avenue appears to be a step closer to being developed into a six-story mixed-use “Moorish-castle.” The lot, owned by Rasputin owner Ken Sarachan, has been a rat-infested eyesore for almost three decades. (Berkeleyside)

[Related reading: “Twenty-Five-Year Record Store Feud Spins Again: Rasputin’s Rubble on Telegraph and Haste”]

A California judge threw out a 2016 state law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia said lawmakers acted illegally in passing the law during a special session devoted to other topics, but did not address the issue of whether it was OK to allow people to take their own lives. (SFGate)

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Alameda County’s ordinance that bans new gun stores in unincorporated areas within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood, school, or day care center. Three businessman who wanted to open a gun store had filed a suit alleging the ordinance had effectively banned new gun stores in unincorporated areas and thereby violated the rights of prospective gun owners. But the justices ruled that the Second Amendment only protects the right to keep and bear arms, not the right to sell them. (SFGate)

A new study shows that differences in traffic-related air pollution are associated with higher rates of heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in the elderly. Using Oakland air pollution data and the electronic health records of more than 40,000 local residents, the researchers found that 3.9 parts per billion higher of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are associated with a 16 percent increased risk of diagnosed heart attacks, surgery, or death from heart disease among the elderly. (Environmental Health)

UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology has a new digital portal allowing the public access to its collection of more than 3 million objects, photographs, films, and sound recordings. (Berkeley News)

Oakland has a new mobile library with books, laptops, tablets, electronic charging stations, and wi-fi, as well as gaming and bike repair equipment. Oakland Public Library Mobile Outreach Vehicle, or MOVe, is intended to reach underserved youth and improve library access for those who have little contact with city services. (Hoodline)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Judge Rules in Favor of Oakland Coal Project

The ruling paves the way for developer Phil Tagami to move ahead with a fossil fuel export hub that could ship millions of tons of coal per year to overseas markets.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, May 15, 2018 at 1:05 PM


Developer Phil Tagami and the Bowie Resource Partners coal company have prevailed in their efforts to overturn the city of Oakland's coal ban as it was applied to their project.

US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria issued a decision today, finding that the city breached its contract with Tagami's company, the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), which has the right to build a bulk commodity export terminal in West Oakland near the foot of the Bay Bridge.

"We can’t give up," said Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb in reaction to today's ruling. "This coal is still in the ground in Utah." Kalb said the city still has options and the council will consider them with advice from their attorneys.

"Oakland’s most vulnerable communities have unfairly suffered the burden of pollutants and foul air for too long," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in response to the judge's decision. "We will continue to fight this battle on all fronts; not just today, but every day.”

Schaaf famously quarreled with Tagami over the project, writing to him in a 2015 email, "You have been awarded the privilege and opportunity of a lifetime to develop this unique piece of land. You must respect the owner and public's decree that we will not have coal shipped through our city."

OBOT and the city signed a development agreement in 2013 to redevelop a portion of the old Oakland Army Base that the city owns. In 2015, news broke that Tagami and business partners, including former Port of Oakland executive Jerry Bridges and his company Terminal Logistics Solutions, were planning to turn the bulk terminal into a dedicated coal export hub. Coal from Utah mines owned by the Bowie Resource Partners company would be transported by rail to the terminal and exported to overseas markets.

Bowie largely paid for Tagami's lawsuit against the city. The company's ability to export coal from the West Coast is a lifeline to an otherwise flagging industry due to the fact that other coal export projects on the West Coast have been canceled or blocked by local communities, and the domestic market for coal is declining.

The Oakland City Council sought to block Tagami's plan for the marine terminal by enacting a coal ban ordinance in June of 2016. The council relied on a clause in its contract with OBOT, which states that Oakland may enact new regulations on the project if there is "substantial evidence" that these regulations are necessary to protect public health and safety.

Typically though, development agreements lock in the land use regulations that were in place at the time the contract was signed. OBOT sued the city in 2017 to overturn the coal ban. The essence of OBOT's claim against the city is that it created new rules after the fact, which harmed OBOT and its business partners.

Chhabria ruled that the Oakland City Council didn't have "substantial evidence" before it indicating that shipping millions of tons of coal through the city would endanger public health, and therefore the contract was breached.

In fact, Chhabria criticized the expert report commissioned by the city as inadequate and containing errors.  That report, drafted by Environmental Science Associates (ESA), described as much as 21 tons of coal dust blowing off trains and the coal terminal each year. But the report never compared this pollution to other sources.

"The City was not required to compile a perfect evidentiary record; far from it. But the gaps and errors in this record are so numerous and serious that they render it virtually useless," Chhabria wrote.

Kalb, who independently hired a second expert, Dr. Zoe Chafe, to study the possible health impacts of the coal project, said he was disappointed the judge didn't appear to consider Chafe's report when making his decision. "I believe there’s more than substantial evidence in the record," said Kalb.

Furthermore, Chhabria said that ESA's methods of calculating this level of pollution were flawed and didn't account for mitigation measures promised by the coal terminal developers.

"The first major problem with the emissions estimates for the transport and staging phases is that ESA assumed OBOT would take no mitigation measures during those parts of the operations," wrote Chhabria, referring to promises from Tagami's company and TLS that they would use rail car covers and chemical spray-on surfactants to prevent coal dust from blowing off trains into surrounding neighborhoods. "This mistake tainted the record before the City Council," Chhabria concluded bluntly.

The city's attorneys and environmental groups argued that covers have never been used for train cars carrying coal, so no information is available about whether or not they're effective. They made similar arguments against other claims by OBOT that the coal terminal can be made safe.

But Chhabria was unconvinced. "The lack of existing data about the effectiveness of a new technology like rail car covers is not enough of a reason to assume them away, particularly when the developers have committed to using them," he wrote.

"[G]iven the record before it, the City Council was not even equipped to meaningfully guess how well these controls would mitigate emissions," concluded Chhabria. "This created a sizable gap in the record, and a major flaw in the City Council's ultimate conclusion that OBOT's emissions would pose a substantial health or safety danger."

The judge also criticized the city and its consultant's omission of any consideration of how the Bay Area Air Quality Management District would regulate the coal terminal, saying they only made "fleeting reference" to its powers. OBOT's attorneys had argued during the trial that the air district will be sufficient to regulate and permit the coal terminal's activities to ensure it doesn't emit pollution at harmful levels.

As a result, Chhabria wrote that the city couldn't say whether or not the coal dust that will blow off trains and the terminal will further harm Oakland residents, including low-income Black, Latino, and Asian communities concentrated near the rail lines and near the Port of Oakland.

"[I]t is not enough to simply intone that the facility will operate near a child care center and low-income neighborhoods," Chhabria wrote in response to the city's argument that the coal terminal will disproportionately harm Black and Latino children in West Oakland. "If the City wanted to point to these residents to justify the ordinance, it should have compiled a record with credible evidence that would allow the City to assess whether the proposed coal operations would actually present a substantial health danger to these people."

Chhabria reached his decision after reading thousands of pages of briefs and evidence and holding a week-long bench trial earlier this year.

"The City of Oakland banned the handling and storage of coal and coke at OBOT’s proposed shipping terminal pursuant to its police powers to regulate threats to health and safety," said Alex Katz, spokesperson for the Oakland City Attorney's Office. "The City takes its responsibility to protect the health and safety of residents very seriously, particularly children whose health will be directly impacted by storage, handling and shipping of coal and coke through our neighborhoods." Katz called the ruling disappointing and said the city attorney will discuss options with the city council.

Tagami did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Kalb said the city could appeal Chhabria's ruling, or, it's possible the city could hold new hearings and build up the record on possible health and safety impacts of the coal project in order to re-apply the city's coal ban ordinance to the proposed terminal.

"He’s not invalidating the ordinance," said Kalb about the judge's decision. "He’s invalidating the resolution that applied the ordinance to the project."

Tuesday’s Briefing: Lake Merritt Barbecue Incident Sparks Protests; STDs in California Jump 45 Percent

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, May 15, 2018 at 9:41 AM

Last Thursday, #510Day, locals gathered at Lake Merritt to protest and party. - AZUCENA RASILLA
  • Azucena Rasilla
  • Last Thursday, #510Day, locals gathered at Lake Merritt to protest and party.

Protesters plan to gather today
in response to the white woman who called the police on a group of Black people barbecuing at Lake Merritt, the video of which went viral. The organizers of “Grill Your Government,” planned today at 4:30 p.m. in front of Oakland’s City Hall, are encouraging people to wear cookout clothes and bring grills, “but mostly, demand a response for this abuse of city services.” Additionally, a “BBQ’N While Black” event is planned for Sunday on Lakeshore Avenue at the site of the original incident. (East Bay Times)

Sexually transmitted diseases in California have jumped 45 percent over the past five years to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, according to a report by the California Department of Public Health. A decrease in condom use, lack of education, fewer STD clinics, and the increased role of social media in helping people find anonymous sex partners are being blamed for the more than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and early syphilis reported in the state in 2017. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Richmond City Council will consider an ordinance today that would prevent the city’s business and investment funds from going to companies that share personal information with ICE. Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda are considering the same ordinance. (

[Related read: "East Bay Cities Consider Banning Companies That Help ICE Track Down Immigrants From Bidding on City Contracts"]

Oakland’s City Council will vote today on whether to sell city-owned land in the Fruitvale neighborhood to a charter school for its new campus. The deal has been criticized by affordable housing advocates, and the Oakland Unified School District’s board says it wasn’t aware of the plan until recently and that it’s concerned it could negatively impact two nearby district-run public schools. (East Bay Express)

[Related read: "Oakland's Exclusive Deal to Sell City-Owned Land to Charter School Draws Opposition"]

A federal judge yesterday rejected the federal government’s arguments that the City of Berkeley acted unconstitutionally when it created a historic overlay for the Civic Center in 2014, which made it difficult for the government to sell the historic downtown Berkeley post office. (Berkeleyside)

[Related read: "Why the GOP Is Killing the Post Office"]

A minor earthquake shook Oakland yesterday evening around 7:30 p.m. The 3.8 magnitude quake appeared to be centered under Highway 13 on the Hayward fault. (East Bay Times)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Oakland School Board Surprised by Proposed Deal to Sell City-Owned Land to Charter School

The OUSD board wasn't told about the deal until last week and says it interferes with their efforts to plan school facilities and enrollments.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, May 14, 2018 at 12:51 PM

The Derby Avenue property was bought by the city in 2010 and first envisioned as a site for affordable housing.
  • The Derby Avenue property was bought by the city in 2010 and first envisioned as a site for affordable housing.

Tomorrow, the Oakland City Council will vote on whether or not to sell city-owned land in the Fruitvale neighborhood to a charter school for its new campus.

But the Derby Avenue deal, which is already being criticized by affordable housing and public lands advocates, has caught members of the Oakland Unified School District's board off guard.

"I think this has been somewhat secret," OUSD board member Roseann Torres said about city's work with the charter school and private developer.

Torres and several other OUSD directors said they weren't told about the city's impending sale of the property to the charter school until last week, when it came before the city council's community and economic development committee.

OUSD board members said they also weren't informed by the charter school about its plans to expand significantly by moving into the new campus.

The proposed campus is for Aspire's ERES Academy, a kindergarten through 8th grade school that is currently housed in a building leased from a church about a mile and a half away.

School board members are concerned that the expansion of ERES Academy by hundreds of students would negatively impact two nearby district-run public schools — International Community School and Think College Now, which are housed in the Cesar Chavez Education Center three blocks from the Derby Avenue site.

ERES Academy has 223 students this year, but the new campus would allow the school to grow to more than 620 students, according to city and school district records.

The Derby Avenue property was originally bought by the city in 2010 from a closed auto dealership. In 2015, Pacific West Communities, which specializes in building charter schools and affordable housing, approached city staff with an unsolicited plan to buy the land and assemble it with other adjacent, privately owned parcels to build a charter school for Aspire.

City staff never issued a request for proposals to invite other developers to bid on the property.

ERES Academy's expansion hasn't been approved yet by OUSD's board, even though Apire has already spent millions on the new campus project with architects and consultants.

"We need to look at these decisions holistically," said OUSD director Jody London. "It shouldn’t be that a charter can just go off and expand without looking at the impact on everyone else."

OUSD has been working on a master plan for its campuses and enrollment for several years now. Known as the Blueprint for Quality Schools, the plan is supposed to consider consolidating and even closing some district and charter schools in an effort to reconfigure Oakland's educational facilities.

But the ERES Academy expansion wasn't discussed as part of the Blueprint process, said Torres.

OUSD board member Shanthi Gonzales said the city's planned sale poses big problems for the school district.

"The School Board has not been consulted by the city about how this impacts our plans for our mix of schools," Gonzales wrote the Express in an email. She added that Aspire also hasn't consulted with the district about its interest in expanding.

According to Gonzales, OUSD's Blueprint study determined that the district actually runs too many schools, and that there are also too many charter schools.

"One planned use for the site was affordable housing," Gonzales wrote. "Since we have a surplus of schools, including space at existing charter schools, but a serious lack of affordable housing, that seems to me a better use of this land."

President of the OUSD board Aimee Eng said she's concerned about how the city dropped affordable housing from its plans and went instead with a charter school expansion without consulting with OUSD.

"[W]hat happened to a plan for up to 100 affordable housing units at the site which was cited in a previous staffing report," Eng wrote in an email to the Express.

City records show that the property was originally scoped as a location for affordable housing, but housing appears to have been dropped from the plan after Aspire and Pacific West Communities expressed interest in buying the land.

At a city council committee meeting last week, Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo supported the deal and said it was years in the making and would clean up an area that was used as an illegal dump. He also criticized Oakland's public schools, saying families flee to charters because of budget problems and mismanagement. Gallo was an OUSD board member from 1992-2012. In 2003, OUSD was placed under state receivership due to budget issues.

But other members of the Oakland City Council are questioning the wisdom of the land sale, and the process by which it was developed.

"A broad community coalition has been working on a public lands policy, which I have also been involved with, to include issues such as prioritization for affordable housing, as well as jobs policies and other community benefits," Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wrote in an email. "This proposed sale disregards those goals as well."

Correction: the original version of this story incorrectly identified the charter school management organization as Arise. The organization's actual name is Aspire Public Schools.

Monday’s Briefing: Oakland City Attorney Says Funding Proposal Partly Illegal; Berkeley Cannabis Shop to Focus on Seniors and People of Color

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, May 14, 2018 at 10:18 AM

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker issued an opinion saying Councilwoman Desley Brooks’ proposal for funding job-training centers violates state and federal laws.
  • Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker issued an opinion saying Councilwoman Desley Brooks’ proposal for funding job-training centers violates state and federal laws.

A funding proposal from Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks is partly illega
l, according to an opinion issued by Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker. Brooks’ proposal would take a percentage of various funding streams, including voter-approved bond measures, and give them to job-training organizations in the city. The city council is expected to consider the plan tomorrow night. (San Francisco Chronicle)

A soon-to-be-built cannabis shop in Berkeley will be the first such business owned by an African American senior in the Bay Area. Sue Taylor’s new dispensary, iCANN Berkeley, is also the city’s fourth permitted cannabis shop and will focus on educating seniors and people of color. (East Bay Times)

Arrests for DUIs in the Bay Area have declined thanks to the rise of ride-sharing services. Studies have found that arrests declined 14 percent in the San Francisco-Oakland area in the two years after ride-hailing began in the area. (East Bay Times)

A measure to ban cages for chickens, pigs, and veal calves will go before California voters in November. If it passes, the initiative will require hens in California to be allotted a square foot of space by 2019, and be entirely cage-free by 2021. (East Bay Times)

Responding to outcry from community groups and residents, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff and Councilmember Abel Guillen introduced a resolution to help curb illegal dumping — by hiring three litter enforcement officers who would go through illegally dumped items to look for clues of the dumpers’ identity, and submit findings to the city attorney’s office. (East Bay Times)

Immigration rights activists held a public “tribunal” on Saturday at the West County Detention Facility to highlight alleged abuses and human rights violations against detained undocumented immigrants. About 200 people are held at the Richmond jail while waiting for court dates, visa applications, and deportations. (East Bay Times)

The nation’s oldest gay bar, White Horse Bar, along with Friends of Upper Telegraph, have launched a petition to install a rainbow crosswalk near the historic LGBTQ establishment. (Hoodline)

Janelle Monae has been added to the lineup for this year’s Outside Lands festival. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Fight to Free Oakland Mamas for Mother’s Day — and End California’s Unfair Bail System

by Gabrielle Canon
Fri, May 11, 2018 at 6:24 PM

On Thursday outside the René C. Davidson Courthouse, Essie members shared stories as they called for a change to the bail system. - GABRIELLE CANON
  • Gabrielle Canon
  • On Thursday outside the René C. Davidson Courthouse, Essie members shared stories as they called for a change to the bail system.

"Miss M." was stuck waiting in an Alameda County jail cell for two months for a crime she said she didn’t commit. A judge ruled that she could await trail at home with her family — but only if she paid the court $50,000 in bail. Even the 10 percent fee of $5,000, which she would have to pay to have the cost covered by a bail bondsmen, was too much for her. Miss M. was facing the reality of having to spend Mother’s Day away from her 12-year-old daughter, simply because she couldn’t afford to pay for the freedom she had been granted.

Hers is one of the many stories being shared this week as part of the National Black Mamas Bailout Campaign to highlight the unfairness of bail practices and the devastating effects they have on communities — especially communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Those detained often lose their jobs, and families must bear the emotional and financial burden of imprisonment, even if the person ends up being acquitted. These issues hit Black and Brown communities hardest. According to the ACLU, judges set bail for Black and Brown people, who are usually less able to afford bail, more often and at higher rates than whites. As a result, people of color are two times more likely to be detained while awaiting trial.

Increased jail time can also affect the outcome of a person’s trial. Statistics show that, compared to those who are released pretrial, jailed people are more likely to be convicted, get harsher sentences, and have higher rates of recidivism.

According to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California, the median bail amount in California is $50,000 — more than five times higher than other states across the country. Higher bail rates mean more people stay locked up in jails, and a majority of the people in California jails are just waiting trial. In Alameda County, roughly 84 percent of inmates have yet to be convicted of a crime.

Bail is intended to act as leverage, to ensure an accused person will show up for court, but the United States is only one of two countries that relies on the practice. And there’s little evidence that it actually works. California has one of the highest rates of pretrial detention but does not have higher rates of court appearances. The ACLU notes that in Kentucky, where 70 percent of people are released prior to their trial, 90 percent make every one of their court dates and 92 percent are not re-arrested during that time of release. Still, America spends more than $22 billion each year to keep non-convicted people locked in jails.

That’s why advocacy organizations from around the country have come together to raise both funds and awareness on bail reform, and help more mothers come home for Mother’s Day. Since last May when the first campaign was launched, 200 women have been freed in cities around the country.

Three from the Bay Area were welcomed home by Essie Justice Group, an Oakland-based advocacy organization whose membership is filled with women with their own stories and experiences with locked-up loved ones.

This year, Essie Sisters continued the work locally to free more Black mothers, and champion bail reform efforts in California that will put limits on unfair practices for good. “One in four women have a family member who is incarcerated. For Black women, nearly one in two of us has a family member who is incarcerated,” said founder and executive director Gina Clayton. “When women are locked up it just reverberates throughout families and through communities.”

Members spent the last week at Santa Rita Jail, sitting in on hearings, offering support, and meeting with women like Miss M., who hadn’t had a single visitor since she was booked on March 10. As she shared her story with them, Essie Sisters pressed their hands against the glass that separated Miss M. from the outside. “They all shared this moment,” Clayton said. “That’s when Ms. Anita, one of our member leaders, said to her, ‘I promise we are going to get you out.’”

On Thursday, during a press conference held jointly with Young Women’s Freedom Center, TGI Justice Project, and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, Essie members shared their own stories as they called for a change to the system.

“My bail story personally was a nightmare,” Cheryl Diston told the crowd that gathered on the steps of Alameda County's René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland. “Eighty percent of women in jail are mothers, and I was one of them.”

Unable to bail out, she spent close to a year behind bars waiting for trial. She won her case and was released, but in that time her grandmother passed away and a nephew was killed. She also missed her son’s wedding. “Because I couldn’t bail out I lost contact with my children for months — and then I lost hope.”

  • Gabrielle Canon
That’s why, she said, she is working with Essie Sisters to help others facing similar circumstances. “If I could have bailed out and if somebody had given me a chance, my life could be totally different,” she said. “I am here today in honor of all Black mothers like me who cannot make their bail. I am here today to let you know how devastating the impacts of the bail system are. Women lose custody of their children while they can’t bail out. Families are torn apart because they can’t bail out. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t be based on who can’t afford it.”

Legislation introduced by Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) last year would do away with California’s bail system. It’s currently in the assembly, and advocates are hopeful there’s enough momentum for meaningful reform to take place in the near future.

Clayton emphasized that, along with urging legislators to support the move, residents should look locally at their DAs and judges who are on the frontlines of implementing policies.

Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley has voiced support for bail reform, but her challenger, criminal rights attorney Pamela Price, has come out strongly on the issue and was in attendance at the rally.

Advocates are also hoping to encourage private corporations to divest from the for-profit bail industry, which has played a role in advancing the bail system. In a big win for reform efforts, Google and Facebook announced last week that they would no longer carry bail ads on their platforms.

While continuing to push for long-term reforms, organizations continue collecting funds to free as many women as possible in the coming weeks. And, in Oakland, Essie Sisters will spend this weekend celebrating Mother’s Day with one more mom who is home with her family.

The day after meeting Miss M., they returned with a $50,000 check in hand to fulfill their promise. They waited for nearly 13 hours for the jail to release her. But, when she finally walked out, she was greeted with hugs from 15 women.

“Just think what it’s like to have perfect strangers come to be with you during a difficult and certainly a very dark moment,” Clayton said.

“It was really beautiful. The way in which community — both from people who are donating to the bailouts, to people who are promoting or writing about it, to people who are showing up in courts — these extensions of love and hope, that I believe is actually the way that we set people up for success,” she added.

“A cage is not … how you care for somebody. But community is — community is how you care.”

Friday’s Briefing: Brown Proposes Spending $96 Million to Fight Wildfires; Audit Shows California Colleges Fail to Disclose Crimes on Campus

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, May 11, 2018 at 9:50 AM

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to spend $96 million next year to help fight wildfires and climate change in the state. An executive order issued yesterday includes plans to double the land currently managed for vegetation thinning, controlled burns, and reforestation.  (Los Angeles Times)

The state auditor said a number of California colleges are not in compliance with federal law that requires the disclosure of crimes at or near their campuses. Berkeley City College, for example, failed to publicly disclose a rape and a stalking that occurred in 2016. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Researchers at UC Berkeley found that hidden commands undetectable to the human ear can be embedded into recordings of music or spoken text played through Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri. “So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.” (New York Times)

A landmark state court ruling in January ordered judges to consider alternatives for criminal defendants who couldn’t afford their bail. Now that decision will be tested as defense attorneys for Derick Almena and Max Harris — the two men being blamed for the 2016 Ghost Ship fire — ask a judge to dismiss their case and free them through the duration of their trial, which is scheduled to begin July 16. (East Bay Times)

Speaking of bail, the “Black Mamas Bailout” rally yesterday called for an end to cash bail. Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said the average bail amount in California is $50,000 — five times higher than the national average — and that low-income people of color are spending more time in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail. (East Bay Times)

A group of housing activists filed a complaint with the Oakland Public Ethics Commission against Councilmember Abel Guillen, alleging he accepted campaign donations from those with ties to the developers of a controversial housing project near Lake Merritt, in the same period he voted for the project. (East Bay Express)

Plans for a tiny house village for homeless and low-income youth in a lot owned by Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley have been scrapped after the owner decided to sell the land. The project’s organizers, Youth Spirit Artworks, say they’re looking for a new location for their 25 tiny homes. (Berkeleyside)

Can software help solve discrimination in the tech industry? A group of veterans from the tech industry thinks so. Their Oakland-based startup tEQuitable has created software that can act as an independent, confidential mediation service to address bias, discrimination, and harassment at work. (San Francisco Business Journal)

The Skylyne at Temescal tower is now under construction near MacArthur BART and is slated to open in the summer of 2020. When completed, the 25-story tower will include 403 apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail space. (East Bay Times)

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