Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday’s Briefing: Oakland Unions Reject Latest Contract Offer, Stay on Strike; Bay Area Fatal Crashes Jump 43% This Decade

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:33 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Dec. 8, 2017:

1. Oakland’s city employees rejected the latest contract offer from the city council and Mayor Libby Schaaf and are continuing their strike for a fourth day on Friday, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle. The city is offering a 4 percent raise this year, plus a guaranteed 1 percent raise a year from now, along with another 1 percent raise contingent on the economy remaining healthy. The city also offered to spend $500,000 to convert some temporary part-time library positions to permanent ones. Union officials called the offer “offensive.” The unions’ rejection could send the negotiations to mediation.

2. The number of people who died in crashes involving autos in the Bay Area soared to 455 in 2016 — a 43 percent jump over 2010 when 318 people were killed in crashes involving motor vehicles, reports Erin Baldassari of the East Bay Times$, citing newly released data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. And it’s not just motorists dying — it’s increasingly, cyclists, and pedestrians who are being killed by autos. Some experts blame “distracted driving” for the increase.

3. State officials closed the 2018 abalone season because of a collapse in the number of shellfish off the California coast, reports Tara Duggan of San Francisco Chronicle$. The dramatic decline of abalone populations is due to over fishing and the collapse of kelp forests off the coast. The kelp is being overeaten by sea urchins, which have spiked in numbers in recent years.

4. The Southern California wildfires continue to rage out of control, with the largest blaze — the Thomas Fire — torching more than 130,000 acres in Ventura County and destroying about 450 structures, the LA Times$ reports. The Thomas Fire is starting to move into Santa Barbara County as well.

5. And the meteoric rise in the popularity of Bitcoin is raising serious climate change concerns because the production of the internet currency requires massive amounts of energy, reports Tim Johnson of McClatchy News. The value of Bitcoin has skyrocketed from $1,000 to $17,000 this year, and the amount of electricity needed to produce it — through the computerized solving of complex puzzles — now rivals what is required to power some small countries.

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Oakland Schools Supe Proposes Reducing Cuts from $15 Million to $9 Million

Kyla Johnson-Tramell is now proposing to slash $4.2 million from school sites and $4.8 million from central administration.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 9:43 AM

OUSD Board President James Harris and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. - PHOTO BY DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Photo by Darwin BondGraham
  • OUSD Board President James Harris and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

Oakland public schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said at  last night's school board meeting that the district needs to cut $9 million from it's current fiscal year budget.

The number is a downward revision from the $15.1 million in cuts that district leaders said as recently as last week would be necessary to avoid a fiscal crisis and possible state takeover.

"I'm doing my best to try to keep us out of state receivership next year," said Johnson-Trammell.

The superintendent explained that the cuts will be spread across the system, with $4.2 million coming from 87 different school sites and $4.8 million coming from the central administration.

But the revision hasn't calmed students, parents, and teachers who say the budget slashing will still be devastating because it comes on top of previous cuts made earlier this year.

"I find it absurd you're advocating cutting additional resources when we didn't get what was promised in the first place," said a Castlemont High School student who identified himself as Eduardo.

Megan Bumpus, a teacher at Reach Academy, said her school already took a $68,000 cut in "CALL" funds, which pay for a program of extra academic support to students from high-poverty neighborhoods. She asked why the board hasn't accounted for this reduction and yet is planning to reduce Reach Academy's budget by about another $60,000, according to district records.

Laura Impellizzeri, a parent whose child goes to Oakland Tech, said the cuts will result in "stunning inequality" within and between schools. Oakland Tech is facing a $417,000 cut, according to district records. She said that parents there could backfill some of this lost funding, but that other schools with less affluent parents and less active PTAs will be hit much harder.

Riawna Pope, an Oakland High student with the group Oakland Kids First, presented the board with a petition that has gathered over 2,000 signatures and calls for balancing the budget by reducing spending in the district central administration.

Numerous other public speakers reiterated this same message: that cuts should fall on the administration, which consumes a disproportionately larger proportion of the district's budget compared to other Bay Area school districts.

Johnson-Trammell said that substantial cuts have already been targeted at the district's administration. Specifically, she said expensive positions like the deputy chief of innovation, which was created in 2015 and cost the district $162,225 in salary last year, would be eliminated.

But she said it would be difficult to further cut the administration's budget in areas like contracts because so much has been slashed already. Some of the district's contracts are essential and provide services like transportation for special education students.

"I'm not pursuaded we couldn't get more cuts from central," said board director Shanthi Gonzales, adding that the cuts now appear to be split about equally between the central office and school sites whereas earlier about two-thirds of cuts were focused on the administration.

The superintendent said the reduction in cuts to the central office was partly an effort to prevent layoffs of custodians, gardeners, and other jobs that would impact specific schools.

Like other recent OUSD board meetings about the budget, several hundred people showed up last night. But the board chose to hold their meeting in a small conference room with a maximum capacity of 60 people. Most attendees had to watch the meeting over a live video feed in a gymnasium. OUSD spokesman John Sasaki said the last minute change to a smaller venue was due to a conflict with a graduation taking place in the original meeting space.

The board also had a heavy security presence, with six police officers and four security guards guarding the stairway, elevator, and entrance to the room where the board meeting was convened.

Multiple students criticized the district's police department during the meeting, saying it takes up too much of OUSD's budget and that police officers in schools don't make them feel safe.

The school board will meet on Dec. 13 for a final vote that will determine layoffs and budget cuts.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday’s Briefing: Sen. Al Franken Resigns, Bashes Trump; Home Prices Soar Again Amid Housing Shortage

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 10:43 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Dec. 7, 2017:

1. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said today that he is resigning in a few weeks amid allegations from several women that he sexually harassed them, The New York Times$ reports. During his speech on the Senate Floor, Franken also noted that top Republicans, including President Trump, remain in office despite even more serious allegations against them. “I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

2. Housing prices jumped nearly 11 percent in October in the Bay Area, with the median home price reaching $800,000 in the region, reports Richard Scheinin of the Mercury News$. The price hikes continued to be spurred by the extreme housing shortage, as the number of homes being sold continues to shrink. The median home price in Alameda County reached $815,000, and it was $580,000 in Contra Costa County.

3. Rent prices, however, are finally starting to decline in Oakland and Berkeley after years of increases — although they remain much higher than what most people can afford, reports Frances Dinkelspiel of Berkeleyside, citing reports from Apartment List and Zumper. According to Apartment List, rents have declined 3.8 percent this year in Berkeley, and according to Zumper, Oakland rent prices have dipped by 10.9 percent.

4. About 3,000 Oakland city workers entered their third day of striking today, but some city officials are hopeful they can reach agreement on new union contracts by tomorrow, the East Bay Times$ reports. “I think we’re close, but it’s going to require another reconvening tomorrow,” said Council President Larry Reid on Wednesday. “The city administrator has to run some more numbers, and I’m hoping we can get this resolved by the end of the week.”

5. Alameda Point Partners development team is proposing to build a 200-unit apartment project on the former Naval base as part of the “Site A” development plan, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. The four-story apartment project would the first of a development plan for the base that will ultimately include 1,425 new homes.

6. Former Oakland Fire Capt. Richard Chew, 58, was sentenced to 150 days in jail after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography, reports Sam Richards of the East Bay Times$.

7. And the Southern California wildfires continue to burn out of control, the LA Times$ reports. Officials say at least one person has died in the wind-fueled blazes, which have burned tens of thousands of acres and shut down freeways throughout the region.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A's Ballpark Proposal at Laney College Abruptly Scrapped

The A's say they're shocked and disappointed by the Peralta district's decision to kill the stadium plan.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 11:53 AM


Following a closed session meeting of the Peralta Community College District board of trustees last night, district Chancellor Jowel Laguerre issued a statement that the college is discontinuing its community engagement process regarding the Athletics' plan for a new ballpark on the school's campus.

"The board provided direction to the chancellor to discontinue planning for a community engagement process on a possible baseball stadium," read the release.

At first, it was unclear what exactly the chancellor's statement meant. Laguerre's staff told the Express he's been in meetings this morning and couldn't immediately clarify what the statement meant regarding the proposal to build a new A's ballpark at Laney.

But then the A's issued their own statement making it clear that the school's trustees killed the ballpark plan.

The A's proposal to build a new stadium on Peralta district-owned land at Laney College had been rolled out with much fanfare. The A's even set up a website featuring local leaders promoting the deal.

But from the start there was significant opposition from many quarters.

Chinatown and San Antonio neighborhood residents said the ballpark would negatively impact their lives, drive up nearby rents, and possibly cause speculators to buy up properties and demolish homes and businesses to build parking garages. Some small business owners feared it would drive them out of the neighborhood, while others felt it could bring in new customers.

Most Laney College students, faculty, and staff came out against the A's plans also. Last month, faculty voted to oppose the A's ballpark proposal.

And environmentalists said the ballpark could devastate Lake Merritt's bird population.

Still, it's not exactly clear why the Peralta district board chose to end talks this week with the A's over the ballpark. Calls to several board members went unanswered this morning.

But Oakland leaders said today they hope this doesn't mean the A's will leave Oakland.

Upon hearing the news, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued the following statement: "Oakland remains fiercely determined to keep the A's in Oakland. It is unfortunate the discussion with Peralta ended so abruptly, yet we are committed, more than ever, to working with the A's and our community to find the right spot in Oakland for a privately-financed ballpark."

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said today that the Coliseum remains the obvious and preferable site for a new ballpark because it already has environmental planning clearance and access to mass transit. She wants the A's to refocus on that location.

"That site could house a new A's ballpark, along with shops, bars, restaurants and hotels to create a vibrant and successful environment," said Kaplan.

“This is a victory for all of us who have been working to make Laney and Oakland places where working class people color can thrive,” said Alvina Wong a member of the Stay the Right Way coalition, which opposed the A's plan. “The Peralta Board of Trustees did the right thing by putting the interests of Laney students and the surrounding communities first.

But Wong said she and others are planning to march on the Peralta District chancellor's offices this afternoon to protest, because Laguerre's statement about the ballpark was vague.

"We need to know that the chancellor is committed to doing the same, and that he won’t try to revive this stadium plan again next year," said Wong.

Wednesday’s Briefing: Peralta Kills A’s Laney Ballpark Plans; Berkeley Council Votes to Make Affordable Housing a Right

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 10:17 AM


Stories you shouldn't miss for Dec. 6, 2017:

1. The Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees has halted talks with the Oakland A’s for the team’s controversial plans to build a new ballpark next to Laney College, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle. The board’s decision indicates that it has no plans to move forward with the A’s ballpark proposal. The A’s would need the board’s OK to build the ballpark because it would be on district land.

2. The Berkeley City Council voted last night to greenlight a plan to greatly streamline the construction of affordable housing in the city, Berkeleyside reports on Twitter. The proposal, authored by Councilmember Lori Droste, would allow affordable housing developers to build in Berkeley without having to go through public hearings — as long as city staffers approve the projects and they comply with zoning rules.

3. The city of Alameda unveiled its newest fire station — Station 3 — a 9,000-square-foot facility at 165 Buena Vista Ave., reports Laura Casey for the East Bay Times$. The new station features “two apparatus bays, a conference room, a public lobby, and a large kitchen.”

4. The Berkeley school board is considering a plan to build teacher housing in the city, reports Natalie Orenstein of Berkeleyside. The board may decide to put a bond measure on the 2018 or 2020 ballot to finance the construction of workforce housing for teachers. The skyrocketing costs of housing in the region have made it difficult for school districts to attract and retain teachers.

5. The city of Oakland and PG&E are proposing to transform an old power plant in the Jack London district into a solar powered facility, reports David R. Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The 40-year-old plant runs on jet fuel and is used just a few times a year to help meet electricity demand in the downtown area.

6. Wildfires, fueled by strong winds, are continuing to rage in Southern California with the most recent blaze destroying homes and tearing through brush near the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the LA Times$ reports. The big Thomas Fire in Ventura County, meanwhile, jumped Highway 101 and reached the Pacific Ocean, burning 65,000 acres.

7. About 3,000 city of Oakland workers went on strike for a second day today, as libraries, recreation centers, and Head Start programs remained closed, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The employees rejected the city’s offer of a 4 percent raise.

8. And 16 Democratic U.S. senators, including Kamala Harris of California, have called on Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to resign following new allegations that he sexually harassed a woman in 2006, CNN reports. Franken said he plans to make an announcement tomorrow.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday’s Briefing: Oakland Had 2nd Highest Home Price Jump in Nation; City Libraries, Rec Centers, and Head Start Programs Closed for Strike

Plus, two major fires cause tens of thousands to evacuate in Southern California.

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 10:18 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Dec. 5, 2017:

1. Oakland experienced the second highest increase in home prices in the nation among major metro areas during the past five years, with the cost of housing soaring 86 percent, reports Marisa Kendall of the Bay Area News Group$, citing a new analysis by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The city of Stockton had the biggest home price jump of 92 percent. But the median home price in Stockton — $260,000 — remains well below Oakland’s median of $697,000, according to Trulia.

2. Oakland public libraries, recreation and after-school centers, and Head Start programs will be closed indefinitely because of the strike that began today by city workers, the East Bay Times$ reports. Striking city employees rejected the latest offer of a 4 percent raise from Oakland officials and have sued the city contending that it is illegally relying on part-time workers in order to avoid paying health and retirement benefits.

3. Two fast-moving major wildfires, fueled by strong winds, have caused tens of thousands of people to evacuate in Southern California. The larger of the two blazes — the Thomas Fire — has already scorched 45,000 acres near Ventura and burned at least 150 structures, the LA Times$ reports. And the second wildfire — the Creek Fire — has prompted mass evacuations near Sylmar in Northern Los Angeles.

4. Scientists at Livermore Lab say that melting Arctic ice from climate change likely will cause more damaging droughts in California and 10 percent to 15 percent less rain overall for the state, reports Kurtis Alexander of the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

5. The city of Oakland opened its first “safe haven” encampment for homeless people, featuring 20 Tuff Sheds that can house 40 people at a time, reports Ali Tadayon of the East Bay Times$. The safe haven is designed to be a temporary living space for homeless people, and the first one is located between Sixth and Brush streets and Seventh and Castro streets on the edge of downtown.

6. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has launched an investigation into allegations of abuse and substandard conditions at Richmond’s West County Jail, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle. Becerra plans to focus on allegations that immigrant women at the jail have been denied access to bathrooms and health care.

7. Legal experts say that the claim by Donald Trump’s attorney that the president can’t commit obstruction of justice is bogus, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Trump’s lawyer John Dowd argued that the president, as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, can’t obstruct justice, but legal experts say that no one is above the law.

8. And longtime Congressmember John Conyers, D-Michigan, announced that he’s retiring following allegations of sexual harassment.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Town Business: City Workers Plan to Strike, and Oakland's Affordable Housing Fees Slow to Raise Money

The strike is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. And impact fees have generated just $478,000 so far.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 11:06 AM

Several hundred union members blocked the street and picketed the mayor's speech at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California last month.
  • Several hundred union members blocked the street and picketed the mayor's speech at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California last month.
Strike: Oakland's largest unions informed city officials on Friday that they're planning to strike. The work stoppage is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, unless the unions and city strike a deal today.

If there is a strike, most city facilities and offices will be closed, and the unions, SEIU Local 1021, IFPTE Local 21, and IBEW 1245 — with 3,000 members aong them — say they plan to strike until they reach a deal with the city.

The looming strike comes after the city made its "best and final offer" to SEIU 1021 regarding pay and benefits: a wage increase of 4 percent, retroactive to July of this year, with another 2 percent gain possible. But workers only get the extra 2 percent if real tax revenues exceed projections in the adopted budgets over the next two years.

The other unions didn't get this same best and final offer and are still being offered pay increases of 2 percent, with a possible 2 percent bump if revenues exceed expectations.

The unions don't want to take a chance on getting a raise, and they also want increases that return some of the pay their members' gave up years ago during the recession.

But workers also say they're striking over unfair labor practices, including the city's understaffing of key departments, reliance on overtime to fill shifts, and the large numbers of temporary and part-time employees who do jobs that should be carried out by full-time employees.

Contract talks between the city and its unions got off to a bad start seven months ago and never really improved.

During the city council's budget hearings, the unions repeatedly pleaded with councilmembers to include funding for pay raises in the adopted budget. The council, however, didn't include the amount requested by the unions, hewing closer to Mayor Libby Schaaf's budget.

Foreshadowing this week's threatened strike, hundreds of workers lat month picketed Schaaf's state of the city speech.

Oakland officials say the city's revenues remain volatile and limited, and that they don't want to over-commit the city financially through the new contracts. If there's an economic downturn, the city would have to implement major cuts and layoffs.

Oakland's police officers and firefighters won't be striking this week. The police union's contract runs until June 2019. The firefighters contract is expired, and theyr'e currently negotiating with the city, but while they've expressed frustration about how bargaining is going, unlike the other unions, they aren't allowed to walk off the job.

Affordable housing impact fees: Since September 2016, Oakland has charged developers housing impact fees when they pull residential building permits for market-rate projects. That means developers pay a fee to build condos, apartments, and single-family homes. The fees currently range from $0 to $12,500 — depending on the type of housing unit being built, and where it's located in Oakland, and the money raised goes into a fund that finances affordable housing projects. The fees are scheduled to increase to $8,000 to $23,000 in July 2020.

When the city council voted to create the affordable housing impact fee, they said it would raise millions in new revenue that would boost affordable housing projects with small loans, land acquisition, and other help.

Over the past year, the fee has raised $477,824. The fees have yet to generate more funds for two reasons: The council decided to stagger the implementation of the fees over three years, and developers don't have to pay the the entire fee immediately. Rather, Oakland, like other cities, collects half the fee when it issues a building permit. The other half is due only when a certificate of occupancy is issued for the assessed unit, meaning it's finished.


Also, some major projects across Oakland involve development agreements with the city that have locked in vested rights, meaning that the fees don't apply.

Furthermore, the fees currently don't apply in much of the city because Oakland was divided into three zones. Fees in Zone 3, which covers most of East Oakland's flatlands, don't kick in until July 2018.

As a result, Oakland has assessed $7.7 million in affordable housing impact fees, but only collected on about 6 percent so far. The rest of the fees won't arrive until next year or the year after, according to the city administrator.

Monday’s Briefing: Federal Government Shut Down Looms; Bay Bridge Toll Plaza Reopens After Deadly DUI Crash

Plus, the city of Alameda sells two more buildings at former Naval Air Station.

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 10:03 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Dec. 4, 2017:

1. The federal government may shut down later this month because of squabbles within the Republican Party and between President Trump and Democratic leaders, The New York Times$ reports. The GOP-controlled Congress may approve a two-week stopgap measure to delay a shutdown until Dec. 22, but a long-term plan to keep the government open has yet to materialize. Republicans need Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown because ultra-conservative Republicans are refusing to raise the debt ceiling. But getting Democrats on board could be difficult because Trump is openly feuding with them and because Republicans are on the verge of passing a huge tax cut for the rich and for corporations.

2. All lanes except one at the Bay Bridge toll plaza were open for this morning’s commute following the horrific drunken driving crash that killed a veteran toll worker on Saturday and injured several others, reports Sarah Ravani of the San Francisco Chronicle. Caltrans employee Si Si Han, 46, was killed in the crash. The driver of a box truck that plowed into the Han’s toll booth — Daniel Berk, 32, of Foster City — remains hospitalized at Oakland’s Highland Hospital with major injuries. He could be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

3. The city of Alameda sold two more buildings at the former Naval Air Station for a total of $12.9 million, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. The city sold 800 West Tower Ave., home to the Bladium Sports and Fitness Club, for $7.6 million, and 707 West Tower Ave. for $5.3 million. It will house to a renewable energy company. In July, the city sold 651 West Tower Ave. for $3 million. Its tenants are Admiral Maltings and the Almanac Beer Company.

4. Weather forecasters are expecting flooding in coastal areas around the region today and tomorrow because of strong King Tides, reports Kimberly Veklerov of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Tides are expected to surge by as much as 7 feet.

5. And CVS Pharmacy has purchased insurance giant Aetna in a mega deal worth $69 billion that has the potential to reshape the U.S. health care industry, The New York Times$ reports. The deal, if approved by regulators, could allow CVS to turn its 10,000 chain pharmacies into community-based health centers.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday’s Briefing: Flynn Pleads Guilty and Is Cooperating With Mueller; Republicans Ready to Pass Big Tax Cut for Rich and Corporations

Plus, a jury acquits undocumented defendant in fatal shooting of Kate Steinle.

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 10:22 AM

Michael Flynn.
  • Michael Flynn.

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Dec. 1, 2017:

1. President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials and has agreed to cooperate with special prosecutor Robert Mueller in his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, The New York Times$ reports. Flynn also said he was ordered by a “very senior” member of the Trump transition team to contact Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December after then-President Obama sanctioned Russia for its interference in the election.

2. Senate Republican leaders say they have the votes to pass a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, the Washington Post$ reports. The GOP leadership made the announcement as key Republican holdouts said they would back the plan, despite the fact that the Senate’s nonpartisan analysis concluded that it would deepen the nation’s debt by $1 trillion over ten years. The legislation also will raise taxes on millions of middle-class Americans and low-income people.

3. A San Francisco jury acquitted undocumented immigrant Juan Ines Garcia Zarate of murder and manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of Pleasanton resident Kate Steinle. The jury concluded that there was not enough evidence that Zarate was guilty; his defense attorneys had argued that the gun he found accidentally discharged, noting that the bullet ricocheted off the ground before striking Steinle along San Francisco’s waterfront in 2015. The case sparked a national conversation on sanctuary cities and immigration.

4. There are 3,600 units of housing under construction in Oakland, and another 8,990 units have been approved as the city continues to undergo its biggest housing boom in years, reports Roland Li of the San Francisco Business Times$. Currently, three residential high-rises are under construction in downtown.

5. The state legislature has paid out nearly $2 million in sex harassment cases in the past 25 years, and many of the settlements have protected the accused from being revealed while also prohibiting the victims from being rehired in the Capitol, reports Katie Orr of KQED, citing new research from the law firm Tuple Legal.

6. And California regulators ruled that utilities cannot pass on legal costs from wildfires, reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The decision by the California Public Utilities Commission stemmed from lawsuits filed against San Diego Gas & Electric for a series of wildfires in 2007, but it also could apply to PG&E for the recent fires in the North Bay.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Parent Company of Oakland's Police Body Camera Vendor Supplies Weapons and Gear to the Border Patrol and ICE

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 10:40 AM

click image Border Patrol agents on a boat. A Safariland brand company supplied boat armor to the agency.
  • Border Patrol agents on a boat. A Safariland brand company supplied boat armor to the agency.

In reaction to the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies, the Oakland City Council voted Tuesday night to ban companies that bid on construction contracts for Trump's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border from also doing business with the city.

But during the same meeting, the council also approved a five-year, $1.27 million contract with a company that is owned by another corporation that supplies the U.S. Border Patrol with weapons, body armor, and other supplies used to track, arrest, and deport migrants.

The contradiction illustrates how difficult it is for cities to purchase police equipment while also pursuing sanctuary policies that buck federal immigration enforcement.

City officials selected Vievu to outfit the Oakland police with 800 body cameras that will be used by officers to gather evidence of crimes and ensure cops are following department policy. Body cameras, which all Oakland patrol officers currently wear, have been linked to a reduction in reported use of force and are used to detect racial bias in traffic stops. OPD commanders say they're crucial tools for modern policing.

Vievu, maker of police body cameras, is owned by the Safariland Group.
  • Vievu, maker of police body cameras, is owned by the Safariland Group.
But since 2015, Vievu has been owned by the Safariland Group, a conglomerate based in Jacksonville, Fla. Safariland's other brand companies supply weapons, armor, and equipment to federal agencies charged with arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants.

For example, the Border Patrol has purchased ammunition from the Defense Technology Corporation, a Safariland subsidiary that specializes in less-lethal weapons like rubber bullets, ball grenades, and CS gas. This includes 40mm round less-lethal bullets, chemical irritant sprays, batons, and leather belts purchased directly from Safariland and its various brand companies, according to federal contract records.

In fact, Safariland even makes a "Border Patrol Belt" especially designed for the agency.

The Border Patrol has also purchased armor for boats and vehicles used to patrol rivers and roads along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as personal body armor from another Safariland brand called Protech Armored Systems.

Protech also manufactures guard booths and advertises them as being appropriate for installation at border crossings. Much of the company's business is with prisons, nuclear power plants, and other high-security sites.

Safariland even sponsors a shooting team that competes in firearms marksmanship competitions. Past members of the team include Border Patrol agents.

Another Safariland company, Tactical Command Industries, sells radio communications and electronic surveillance equipment to the Border Patrol, according to federal contract records.

The contract with Vievu doesn't appear to run afoul of Oakland's newly enacted ban on contracting with companies that also work on the border wall, however, because neither Vievu nor any other Safariland brand company has bid on that specific project.

But had Oakland officials avoided Vievu because of it's parent company's relationship to the border patrol, they would have had few other options for purchasing police body cameras.

That's because Taser International, the other company that bid on the Oakland body camera contract and reached the final round, directly sells electronic stun guns to the border patrol, according to federal contract records.

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