Saturday, July 14, 2018

Stephen Buel Resigns as Publisher

by Stephen Buel
Sat, Jul 14, 2018 at 4:41 PM

Perhaps now more than ever before, the East Bay needs healthy independent journalism. Because my presence at Telegraph Media has become a threat to that mission — and to the careers of the hard-working people who produce the East Bay Express, Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, The East Bay Monthly, and Bay Woof — I am stepping down as publisher of those titles.

Publications such as these depend upon the support of many people and institutions. I urge the advertisers, readers, journalists and community members who have long supported our publications to stand by them now — and not let my indiscretions threaten their survival.

During my 37 years as a journalist, I have worked to advance equality, seek truth, and fight injustice. The thousands of stories I have written or edited express my values far better than any self-righteous summation possibly could today. The cruel caricature I see of myself on social media does not reflect who I am, but I have sadly come to the conclusion that I cannot defend myself without endangering the journalism that is my legacy.

Following a brief transition period, longtime East Bay journalist Robert Gammon will replace me as our company's publisher.

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Apology and a Pledge

by Stephen Buel
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 5:50 PM

The past month has been a traumatic one at the East Bay Express. As the paper’s publisher and onetime editor, I consider furthering our journalistic mission to be my life’s work. Yet as the person most responsible for our current troubles, I now feel a need to directly address our readers.

One night about a month ago, I read some week-old online coverage that did not live up to my editorial standards. So, I took the stories down the next morning and promptly explained my concerns to the author and editors.

One story described white people singing along to live hip-hop songs that contained the N-word. This is a worthy topic for coverage, and I said as much. But while referring to hateful words subsequently reclaimed by the communities they once oppressed, I said a couple of those words aloud. I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain.

I also should not have unilaterally taken down the articles. Instead, I should have respected our editorial structure and taken my feedback directly to our editorial management so that the editors and author might have addressed my concerns without permanently removing the pieces from our website. I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage.

As a journalist long devoted to holding other people accountable for their failings, I now must hold myself accountable for mine. This course of action feels all the more necessary given my abhorrence for the hateful racism of President Trump. I’m also writing as someone well aware of the East Bay’s current centrality in reframing the national understanding of topics such as race and injustice.

To address the concerns raised by my actions and leave no confusion about my goals or those of our company, I am committed to the following course of action:

* I pledge to keep working to increase the diversity of our company’s staff. Newspapers should reflect the makeup of their communities, and since my return to the Express last year, more than half our hiring has been of people of color. But we can still do better. In addition to this commitment, we will soon seek to fund an ongoing paid internship for a young journalist of color.

* We are convening a committee to create a code of conduct governing race, gender, diversity, inclusion, sexual orientation, and related topics. The resultant guidelines will apply to everyone on staff, myself included. As part of this initiative, I will attend implicit bias training and work to identify and eliminate any additional personal blind spots.

* We also will establish a clear policy that fully articulates how the publisher should address any future editorial concerns.

* Finally, we will convene a separate panel to codify our company’s editorial guidelines and ethical standards.

For almost four decades, the East Bay Express has been in the vanguard of helping its readers think about matters of race, diversity, and inclusion. But our vision has more often focused outside our walls than within them. Now is the time for that to change.

Before the year’s end, I’ll report back on how I have honored these commitments.

Stephen Buel is publisher of the East Bay Express. He has been a co-owner of the paper since 2007 and served as its editor from 2001 to 2010.

OP-ED: Why We Need to Encourage More Young People of Color to Seek Office

by Malia Vella
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 2:18 PM

Alameda city councilmember Malia Vella.
  • Alameda city councilmember Malia Vella.

As a millennial recently elected to local office, I am often asked what we need to do to get more young people of color engaged in American politics and why more of us don’t seek elected office. Between the implicit bias well established research tells us exists and the costs — both personal and financial — of running for office, the odds are against us.

Admittedly, I had an advantage due to my past work on campaigns and my professional experience in policy and law, and I sought office with my eyes wide open. These were relationships that provided the encouragement, support, and resources necessary to win. As fewer millennials identify with a particular political party, these kinds of relationships are harder to build and use in a run for elected office.

There are numerous special interest groups formed to help elect people with similar ideologies or particular personal attributes — gender, military service, ethnicity — but none specific to electing the next generation of leaders: millennials who are the most diverse generation and soon will surpass all other voting blocs.
While on the campaign trail, I heard a lot from people — future constituents, interest groups, and those already in office — about how glad they were that I was putting myself out there and how it was important to have a diversity of viewpoints at the table of power.

However, as much as people say they like the idea of diversity in government — in age, race, and economic status — the reality is that those in power are often reticent to accept people who aren’t like them. Although change is hard, we desperately need a diversity of people in government to effectively represent the diversity of our population. Otherwise, people are left out, misrepresented, or forgotten. In order to have meaningful governance, we also need to understand and remove the barriers that discourage young people of color from seeking office.

Even more barriers exist for young women of color. My own experience is a case study. In addition to working as a public interest attorney and a professor, I spent 20 hours a week for five months knocking on doors and talking with voters while campaigning. As a councilmember who still has two other day jobs, I spend (at least) the same amount of time with constituents and preparing for and attending council meetings, which leaves less time for a personal life, including caring for an ill family member. Public service is an honor, and one that needs to be prioritized and accommodated in our hectic lives.

Like every average millennial, I am not a trust fund kid; I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I needed loans for college and law school, and a hefty mortgage to buy my first home with my partner. We are diligently paying our mortgage and student loans, and are happy to pay for the American dream.

But, this means that I can’t self-fund, and was forced to fundraise to ensure a successful campaign. Even though I turned down money from corporations, the local firefighters, and developers that my colleagues accepted, critics complain that I have been influenced by the very contributions I declined. If there is a lesson here, it’s that fundraising is tough, but you can still be ethical, and until we have public campaign financing, it is a necessary evil.

In my 18 months on the Alameda City Council, despite being the highest vote-getter, I also have been the subject of numerous personal attacks and threats, including baseless allegations of misconduct that were found by an independent investigator to have no merit. The attacks range from the repetition of false, uninformed gossip (such as that I don’t live in Alameda) to outright malicious lies aimed to discredit and intimidate me (such as that my father knew someone involved in the Jill Keimach investigation). And, there has been a cost associated with these lies — tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees paid by me and my campaign.

Despite this, I am still committed to fulfilling the will of the voters and the job I set out to do. I continue to have hope, because I know that I am still at the table adding a new perspective to the conversation. And in cities across the U.S., there are other young elected officials who are making a difference. It is up to all of us to speak up, to make governing more representative, and to support and inspire our peers to get involved.

Malia Vella is an Alameda city councilmember.

Friday’s Briefing: Richmond Mayor Meets with ICE Detainees; California Creates New Rules for Shutting Off Power to Prevent Wildfires

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt
  • Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt finally toured the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, after months requesting to do so. Some of the ICE detainees he met with said deputies are racist and don’t open doors when they’re supposed to. Others said they’re worried about where they’ll be taken now that the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office is severing its contract with ICE. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The ACLU of Northern California filed a lawsuit alleging that ICE transported nine women from the West County Detention Facility in Richmond to a detention facility in Bakersfield in a windowless, overheated van last year. (East Bay Times)

California regulators established new rules for the state’s utility companies if they decide to turn off, or de-energize, power lines to prevent fires. PG&E and other utilities must try to notify affected customers first before the power goes out, but only if notification is feasible. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Art Institute of California in San Francisco and the Alameda campus of Argosy University will be closing in December because of declining enrollment. More than 200 employees will lose their jobs and students unable to finish their degrees will be eligible for tuition reductions or grants. (KTVU)

Three-quarters of Concord residents live in fear of being evicted, according to a new survey. Nearly half reported living with rodents, bedbugs or other pests, and 40 percent reported struggling with mold. The East Bay city has no rent control or just cause eviction protections. (East Bay Times)

UC Berkeley researchers have found that the sense of awe experienced in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Berkeley News)

Berkeleyside got into a Twitter feud with a right-wing website over a tweet by state Senator Kamala Harris about desegregation in Berkeley schools. (Berkeleyside)

Imports at the Port of Oakland reached a record high last month, possibly due to shippers rushing to beat import tariffs that began this month. (East Bay Times)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Oakland to Pay $2.2 Million Settlement to Ex-Black Panther; Berkeley to Vote on Affordable Housing Bond

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks - PHOTO BY STEVEN TAVARES
  • Photo by Steven Tavares
  • Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks

The City of Oakland will pay $2.2 million to settle a claim by ex-Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who was injured in 2015 after Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks punched and pushed her. (AP)

Berkeley voters will consider a $135 million affordable housing bond this November. If passed, the measure would increase property taxes by $23.27 per $100,000 of assessed value each year, which the city would then use to acquire, improve, preserve, or build affordable housing. (East Bay Times)

Bay Area residents — including staff of the Express — have been receiving anti-Semitic robocalls on behalf of a Concord businessman running for Congress. John Fitzgerald denied his involvement with the calls, but his website is full of headlines that attack Jews and people of color. (KTVU)

The new movie Blindspotting, which is set in Oakland and was written by and stars East Bay natives Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, premiered at the Grand Lake Theatre last night. The movie officially opens July 20. (KGO)

Officials at the Contra Costa Event Park canceled the XO Music Festival amid controversy about the event just days before the three-day festival was to be held in Antioch, saying promoters did not fulfill “contractual obligations.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

East Bay resident Marshaunte Farris and her boyfriend Shamiek Sheppard filed a report with the CHP after a white woman yelled racial slurs at the couple while driving on Interstate 80 from Richmond to Emeryville on Monday. (East Bay Times)

UC offered admission this fall to more transfer students than it has at any point in its history. Nearly all of the admitted transfer students from California come from community colleges. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Plans have been scrapped for what would have been Oakland’s tallest building. The Planning Commission decided not to vote on the proposed 36-story highrise at 1261 Harrison St. in order to give the developer more time to redesign the project, which had been criticized for being too tall and for requiring the demolition of a historic building. (San Francisco Business Times)

Is there a white raccoon lurking around Lake Merritt? (NBC)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

OP-ED: The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury Is an Important Watchdog, but Its Members Are Almost Always Too Old, White, and Wealthy

The grand jury has a serious structural problem.

by George Strait
Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 2:13 PM

I have just completed two years’ service on the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury — a remarkable civic gem. This Civil Grand Jury does not indict people for crimes; instead, it is a citizen’s watchdog group that identifies waste, mismanagement, and process failures in county and government agencies and then recommends fixes.

For instance, a few years ago the grand jury warned that fire inspections of warehouses and other big structures were lax. After the tragic Ghost Ship fire, officials lamented that the grand jury’s recommendations were not followed. Among its other reports, this year the Grand Jury sounded two more alarms: impending insolvency in Oakland’s public schools and the fact that Oakland is short $860 million to cover benefits for future retirees.

Despite its important work, the grand jury has a serious structural problem: It doesn’t reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the county. Its members now and for most of its history are basically old, white, and wealthy. Most jurors are retired professionals who have the time and financial resources to give 10 to 20 hours a month to this year-long endeavor. Last year there were two African Americans on the jury, one Asian American (who resigned), and no Hispanics. In the 2017-2018 grand jury just concluded there were two African Americans, one Hispanic, and no Asian Americans. (According to the most recent Census data, Alameda County is 34 percent white, 25 percent Asian American, 22 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 12 percent Black.)

During my time on the jury, the consequences of this lack of racial, age, and economic diversity included: a tendency to support management-centric solutions to employment and fiscal problems and give less credence to union-centric solutions; a willingness to be less critical of law enforcement points of view; and a lack of appreciation and understanding of racial sensitivities.

In fact, the grand jury has faced criticism from African American politicians and agency heads for being quick to criticize alleged misdeeds by African American leaders and community organizations but comparably slow to drop the hammer on whites for similar conduct.

What gets investigated, how issues are investigated, and what recommendations get made are determined through a privileged lens. This is not to denigrate the quality or fairness of the investigations or jurors who conducted them, but we are all products of our experiences, habits, and biases.

By law, the grand jury has 19 members who are chosen by lot. Because the members are picked randomly from a pool of varying size, it’s important for that pool to be large and diverse.

Technically, the jury division of the superior court is in charge of jury recruitment. Because its budgets have been cut by nearly 40 percent over the past decade, recruitment efforts have suffered. That task has fallen to the two-person grand jury legal staff from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. In the last three years, they have worked hard at it. Every elected official gets a letter seeking applicants. Letters are sent to churches, social clubs, and newspapers. Judges are encouraged to find applicants and interview the resulting applicant pool. Last year, retired jurors were recruited to start a local chapter of the state grand juror’s association with the intent, in part, to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants.

The results are mixed. Eight years ago, only about 30 people applied to be grand jurors. In the 2018-2019 grand jury just impaneled, there were 79 applicants, but the final jury again has only one African American, two Hispanics, and one Asian American.

I would think that the county’s politicians and agency heads who are the most likely subjects of a grand jury investigation would want the most diverse and representative jury possible. I would think that they would demand and support resources to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to recruit more representative good government watchdogs. I would hope that the district attorney and superior court judges would eagerly join in making that strategy successful.

Part of any serious strategy would include a discussion about how much jurors get paid. One untapped potential pool of applicants is the growing number of people who don’t go to an office every day and work remotely. They often have more flexible schedules that could bend to the needs of the grand jury. One hurdle for these people and others is remuneration. Grand jurors are “paid” $15 a day. That figure has remained the same for decades. The penal code sets the rate for juror pay but the Alameda County Board of Supervisors can supplement that amount. I think any effort to diversify the juror pool should include a raise, say, to $50 per day — hardly a king’s ransom.

Most people cringe when they get a jury summons, but this jury is different. If you care about why your water bill goes up even when you use less water, wonder what happens to those free Warriors and Raiders tickets that politicians get, are concerned about secret backroom dealing done by councilmembers, or are concerned about the safety of the jails in our communities, then joining the grand jury should be a priority for you.

Wednesday’s Briefing: Alameda County Considering Another Child-Care Tax Measure; Appeals Court Rejects Effort to Drain Hetch Hetchy

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 10:27 AM

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Alameda County Board of Supervisors are mounting a second attempt to pass half-cent sales tax increase to fund child care and early education programs this November after a nearly identical effort, Measure A, was defeated in June by just a few hundred votes. (EB Citizen)

President Trump retweeted a post that falsely claimed Oakland residents protested federal agents as they broke up a child sex-trafficking ring last August. The protest was actually in response to an ICE raid for alleged labor trafficking but led to no criminal charges. (SFGate)

A California appeals court has rejected an effort by environmentalists to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, which provides water for 2.6 million Bay Area residents. The Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno upheld a lower court decision by a Tuolumne County judge two years ago, which rejected arguments that the reservoir violates California’s constitution. (East Bay Times)

Berkeley’s new Pathways navigation center for homeless residents, which can house 45 people, is already full, according to the city, and permanent housing has been found for some clients. (Berkeleyside)

XO Music Festival, which is scheduled to take place this weekend in Antioch and feature more than 100 music acts, is drawing criticism as artists are dropping off the bill and sponsors are claiming fraud. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The City of Vallejo released officer body camera footage showing the final moments of an August 2017 police chase before five Vallejo officers shot 45-year-old Benicia resident Jeffrey Barboa 41 times, killing him. (East Bay Times)

The Berkeley City Council approved a petition to rename the Ashby BART station after local Black activist Mable Howard. If the effort is successful, it would mark the first time in BART history that a station would be renamed based on public advocacy. (Daily Cal)

Oakland Council Ignores Warning from City Administrator and Votes for 'Strong' Police Commission Ordinance

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 9:41 AM

Sabrina Landreth.
  • Sabrina Landreth.
City officials in Oakland have been engaged in a power struggle for months now over the question of who will control key staff of the new police commission created by voters in 2016 through a ballot measure. Last night, the city council voted to finalize an enabling ordinance that puts the issue of who's in charge to rest, for now. But the vote was not without one final and highly unusual display of division.

[Read related: "Oakland Officials Wrestle for Control Over New Police Commission Staff Positions"]

Just before voting on the ordinance, Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth told the city council that it was her belief, and City Attorney Barbara Parker's opinion, that the councilmembers were about to "violate" and "erode" the city charter by not allowing the city administrator to have direct control over commission staff.

"The legal advice provided to all of us by the city attorney and by outside counsel, and made public in at least one briefing and posted on the city's website, opines that the enabling ordinance, as written, and before you for final adoption tonight, contains provisions that violate the city charter as it relates to administrative functions," Landreth said.

She then went on to compare the city council's actions to those of the Trump administration, saying that "as we are all living through what is happening at our national level of government, we should tread very carefully and not willfully ignore the rule of law."

Landreth and Parker have both taken the position that the police commission's new inspector general must be under Landreth's direct supervision.

According to a legal analysis prepared by an outside lawyer hired by Parker, "under the Charter, the City Administrator must be the appointing authority for the Inspector General, and will have the ability to discipline and dismiss the person who holds that office."

But activists with the Coalition for Police Accountability, one of the organizations that spearheaded the creation of the new police commission, believe that giving the city administrator this power will undermine the commission's independence.

Activists point out that the city administrator is the police chief's boss, and that in the past, police chiefs have been directly implicated in covering up misconduct by OPD officers — including the sex trafficking scandal of 2016.

Landreth herself was actually the acting police chief for a brief period that year. And the city administrator's office has other duties that may present a conflict of interest when it comes to holding the police department accountable and criticizing its policies and practices, as the commission'greys inspector general will be tasked to do.

The enabling ordinance passed last night places the inspector general under the supervision of the commission — not the city administrator.

If, however, Landreth and Parker are correct that the enabling ordinance violates the city charter, it's unclear what the consequences could be or whether some party will file a lawsuit.

Councilmember Dan Kalb voted for the ordinance last night, despite Landreth's warning. He said that because the ballot measure and ordinance contain a "severability" clause, it's his belief that any provision that might be in violation of the charter could be nullified without throwing the entire commission and its legal underpinnings into disarray.

"In the law, there's always room for disputes and gray areas," said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan in response to Landreth's comments. "But the will of the voters was for independent oversight."

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney called the council's actions a "good faith effort" to enact what the voters wanted for the police commission.

Only Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington voted against the ordinance. "Unfortunately, it's not possible for me to vote for something that's in violation of our city's charter," she said.

"The adoption of the enabling legislation reflected the council’s understanding that the intent of the ballot measure was to ensure that the oversight of the police would be under the authority of a citizen body that was independent of the city’s administrative structure, which had failed for decades to rein in the abuses of its police department," said Rashidah Grinage, an activist with the Coalition for Police Accountability.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday’s Briefing: Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office to End ICE Contract, Say Sources; Bay Area Republican Congressional Candidate Is a Holocaust Denier

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 9:27 AM

Protesters outside Richmond's West County Detention Facility in June. - PHOTO BY DREW COSTLEY
  • Photo by Drew Costley
  • Protesters outside Richmond's West County Detention Facility in June.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office is expected to announce today that it will cancel its multimillion-dollar federal contract to detain undocumented immigrants at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, according to a knowledgeable source within the county. That would mean the closest detention facility would be the Yuba County Jail in Marysville. (East Bay Times)

The Republican Party has rescinded its endorsement of John Fitzgerald, a candidate in the 11th Congressional District, which includes portions of Contra Costa County, after learning that he’s a Holocaust denier. Fitzgerald received 23 percent of the votes in June’s primary. (The New York Times)

The wildfire season in California is off to its worst start in a decade. As of yesterday morning, 196,092 acres have burned in the state since the beginning of the year. (East Bay Times)

After being evicted from a parking lot at Hs Lordships restaurant, a group of about 26 homeless people and 8 children living in 13 RVs moved to another location at the Berkeley Marina — across the street from the DoubleTree Hotel, where the city had kicked them out of in May. (East Bay Times)

According to a study by financial advice site Walletwyse, San Francisco has the most expensive rents in the world, with an average of $3,500 per month. Three other Bay Area cities ranked in the top five: in third place is San Jose ($2,500), fourth is Oakland ($2,450), and fifth is Berkeley ($2,400). (Sacramento Bee)

Oakland developers are offering a $300,000 reward in hopes that it will help solve the series of arsons at housing projects under construction in the East Bay. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Construction has started on a 16-story hotel in downtown Berkeley. Located at Shattuck Ave. and Center St., the Residence Inn, part of the Marriott Hotel chain, is expected to be completed in the spring of 2020. (Berkeleyside)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hate Crimes Increased Significantly in 2017 in the East Bay and Statewide

Anti-Black hate crimes remain the single largest category.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 5:09 PM

Within Alameda County, Berkeley was the city reporting the highest number of hate crimes.
  • Within Alameda County, Berkeley was the city reporting the highest number of hate crimes.

Hate crimes were up sharply in 2017 in the East Bay and California, according to a report released today by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Statewide, there were 1,093 hate crime incidents in 2017, a rise of 17.3 percent from the previous year. And in Alameda County, hate crimes jumped from 59 in 2016 to 89 in 2017.

The annual hate crimes report is based on data collected by law enforcement agencies and isn't a scientific sampling. According to the Attorney General's office, the report may not include incidents in which the victims didn't feel comfortable reporting to law enforcement. The numbers also depend on each particular police agency's competency and willingness to identify hate crimes.

In fact, last year the state auditor criticized law enforcement agencies for underreporting hate crimes. Still, the numbers for 2017 show a substantial rise.

Crimes motivated by racism, ethnicity, or national origin accounted for 55 percent of all hate incidents last year, and anti-Black crimes were the single largest category.

Statewide, there were 302 anti-Black hate crimes reported.

Crimes against gay men were the second-largest single category, with 172 incidents reported.

And among crimes based on gender bias, trans people were by far the most likely to be victimized — 27 of the 33 total gender bias crimes targeted trans people.

Within Alameda County, Berkeley was the city reporting the highest number of hate crimes. Oakland, whose population is three-and-a-half times larger than Berkeley, reported 18 hate crime incidents while Berkeley saw 23 incidents.

Data provided by the Berkeley police showed that there were five anti-Black hate crimes, and five anti-homosexual (gay and lesbian) hate crimes last year, the highest of any categories.

Some counties reported far fewer hate crimes than Alameda, despite having larger populations or being of a comparable size. For example, Orange County, with a population of 3.2 million, reported only 35 hate crime incidents last year. Riverside County, with a population of 2.4 million, reported only 27 hate crimes.

The report also summarized prosecutors' efforts to file hate crimes charges.

According to the report, 61 hate crimes incidents were referred to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, and her office ended up filing charges in 12 of the cases. Only Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco's DAs filed more hate crimes cases.

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