Tuesday, June 19, 2018

City of Oakland to Pay $12 Million to Motorcyclist Hit by Police Car

A dispute between Oakland and its insurance carrier nearly caused the city to be on the hook for $10 million of the total.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 1:17 PM


The Oakland City Council is set to approve a $12 million payment to a man who was run over by a police officer while riding his motorcycle downtown last year.

The settlement is one of the costliest in the city's recent history. Attorneys for Elliott Van Fleet claimed in court papers that the police officer who caused the accident was in violation of police policy when he ran a red light.

Elliott Van Fleet was cruising through a green light at 19th Street and Broadway on the morning of March 25, 2017, when an Oakland police officer driving a Ford SUV police vehicle entered the intersection against a red light and collided with him.

Van Fleet was thrown from his motorcycle and sustained massive injuries. His lower left leg was amputated at the hospital and his pelvis and vertebrae were fractured, among other serious wounds.

In a lawsuit Van Fleet filed against the city last year, his attorneys wrote that he has been unable to work since the accident and has sustained medical bills that "greatly exceed" $500,000, and that future medical costs and lost wages would amount to even more.

Van Fleet alleged that the police officer who caused the accident ran the red light without stopping, in violation of the Oakland Police Department's vehicle pursuit policy.

Van Fleet's attorneys declined to comment until after his lawsuit against the city is settled.

It's unclear if the officer involved in the accident was disciplined or re-trained, or whether the city found that the officer violated policy.

The Oakland Police Department declined to comment as to whether they investigated the incident or if the police officer violated any city policies. OPD referred questions to the Oakland City Attorney's Office.

Alex Katz, spokesperson for Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, wrote in an email to the Express that "we can’t discuss personnel matters involving individual officers."

The $12 million settlement is easily one of the largest in Oakland's history.

Since 2015, Oakland has paid out at least $26,478,638 to settle approximately 117 lawsuits, according to an analysis of city council agendas.

But cops aren't to blame for most of the litigation. The largest number of lawsuits against the city were filed by people who were injured or sustained property damage due to the city's public works department. Most of these 72 cases involved so-called "trip-fall" incidents, where a person was hurt due to broken sidewalks and streets. Most of these cases were settled for low amounts, generally under $20,000.

In total, public works paid out $4.9 million to settle litigation since 2015.

Cases involving police officers are the most expensive for the city. Since 2015, at least 31 lawsuits against the police department have been settled for a total of $19.3 million.

Besides Van Fleet's injury claim, other costly police-related lawsuits settled by the city council in the past three and half years included wrongful arrest, shootings, and sexual exploitation.

But auto accidents involving Oakland police officers are common, too.

For example, Bien Cam Tran was walking across E. 12th Street near 3rd Avenue on August 30, 2014 when an Oakland police SUV hit him. Tran died of his injuries. His family alleged that the officers were driving "recklessly" and the city ultimately settled for $2.75 million in 2016, according to city records.

In total, the council settled 18 lawsuits brought against the Oakland police for auto accidents since 2015 for a total of $15 million. Excluding Van Fleet and Tran's cases, the other 16 lawsuits were settled for between $6,000 and $45,000 and mainly involved damage to vehicles.

Van Fleet's lawsuit is expected to directly cost the city $3 million, while the other $9 million will be paid by Oakland's insurance carrier, the California State Association of Counties-Excess Insurance Authority (CSAC-EIA), which is a joint powers authority formed by multiple local governments.

But the city nearly found itself on the hook for $10 million of the total $12 million in claims, according to confidential city records obtained by the Express.

According to a May 15 memo prepared by the city attorney, Oakland's lawyers mistakenly negotiated with Van Fleet's attorneys under the assumption that CSAC-EIA had agreed to pay up to $12.5 million to resolve the case. In fact, CSAC-EIA hadn't approved this; CSAC-EIA only approved a settlement of up to $5 million and designated that this be split, with the city paying $3 million and CSAC-EIA paying a maximum of $2 million.

If this settlement had been agreed upon, it would have meant that Oakland would pay $10 million of the $12 million total.

But according to the city attorney's office, this conflict between Oakland and its insurance carrier was somehow resolved, and CSAC-EIA has now agreed to pay $9 million of the $12 million settlement.

CSAC-EIA didn't return calls from the Express seeking comment about the disagreement.

Looming over this dispute between Oakland and CSAC-EIA, of course, is the Ghost Ship case. The city could be on the hook for many millions of dollars due to the deaths of 36 people in a building that was known to city police and fire personnel to be a hazard.

It's unclear how Oakland will pay for any Ghost Ship-related settlement or how CSAC-EIA will assist.

OP-ED: Our Love for Our Children Will Cause a Revolution

"This is a moral, existential crisis for our nation."

by Carolyn Norr
Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 12:24 PM

A protest last week in El Cerrito against the Trump administration's family-separation policy. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROLYN NORR
  • Photo courtesy of Carolyn Norr
  • A protest last week in El Cerrito against the Trump administration's family-separation policy.

It was over a month ago that I began hearing the ominous reports — that there would be a new “zero-tolerance” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, that kids were being separated from their parents, and that under this new policy, more would be. I remember the cold feeling I had when I first read that news, on my phone, as my two young boys shouted and laughed on the playground in front of me.

Since then, the details of the horror have been fleshed out: a four-month-old baby ripped from her mother’s arms while nursing, the mom handcuffed for resisting. A father so devastated he couldn’t save his toddler from this torture that he took his own life. Prison camps in the desert for tiny inmates. Photos of terrified toddlers, as those in power in our country tear their parents from them.

But I no longer feel only that cold, frozen feeling. I am enraged. I am activated. And I am connecting with others in my community and across the country who are willing to do whatever we must to stop this cruelty and turn our country on a decisively different path.

I remember two signs I saw at a protest recently in El Cerrito — a protest where more than 200 people showed up, held signs, cried, sang, and chanted. One sign said, “If this doesn’t cross the line, there is no line.” The other said, “Q: What would you have done during the rise of Nazi Germany? A: Whatever you are doing now.”

These signs get to an essential truth: This is a moral, existential crisis for our nation. It is the manifestation of a policy defined by cruelty toward the vulnerable and dehumanization of anyone not in the inner circle. It grows directly from the methods used not only by the Nazis, but also during the time of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. And it is the fruition of the toxic tree planted by this administration, the next step in cruelty that follows attempts to strip young people of DACA status, cut healthcare and nutrition from kids and families, and make a short-term profit by poisoning the earth our kids will inherit.

Now, any illusions are stripped away. Ripping babies from their parents and caging them cannot be done by mistake. It is not like accidentally stepping in front of someone in line at the store. It is not a disagreement over policy. It is deliberate, pre-meditated torture of those most vulnerable. And make no mistake, if we allow this to happen to some kids, the guarantee that it won’t happen to everyone’s kids becomes frail indeed.

But there is another force in our country. It is the force that we have seen after disasters like the recent wildfires — the force of people coming together to help each other in times of crisis. It is the force of deep love and limitless drive to protect that parents feel taking care of their children.

May the depth of that love be a force that drives us to break from our “normal” lives and face down the rising forces of cruelty governing our nation. We must make sure that border separations end, and that every separated family is reunited and receives medical and psychological resources to cope with the trauma inflicted by our own government. We must make sure that this administration and those who are enabling it never have power to govern again.

Each of us must step out of the business of our daily lives and find a way to get involved. Join the national day of action planned for June 30. Join local Facebook pages under the banner Families Belong Together that can connect you to other activists in your area. Organize everyone you know. Donate. Get arrested. Vote and support others to vote. It up to all of us to find a new way forward — as a nation, as a society — that grows from the love we have for our children, and treats all of our kids with the kindness and fairness they deserve.

Carolyn Norr is the mom of two young children and lives in Oakland. Connect with her organizing efforts on the Families Belong Together East Bay Facebook page.

Tuesday’s Briefing: California Democrats Denounce Trump Administration’s Family-Separation Policy; #JoggerJoe Pleads Not Guilty

by Kathleen Richards
Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 9:42 AM

Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Sen. Kamala Harris

California Democrats are denouncing the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico border: Sen. Kamala Harris called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign, citing her “record of misleading statements” about this and other issues. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco also said Nielsen should step down. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Henry Sintay, aka #JoggerJoe, pleaded not guilty to second-degree robbery yesterday. Sintay threw a homeless man’s belongings into Lake Merritt and, the following day, when confronted by another man about his actions, grabbed the man’s phone and ran off during a Facebook Live video. Sintay was out of custody yesterday on $55,000 bail. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Alameda County’s draft $3.1 million budget will boost funding for community organizations that provide job training and other services, thanks to the Bay Area’s booming economy and real estate market pumping tax dollars into county coffers. But there are concerns about the future. (East Bay Times)

A jury yesterday found five self-described “anti-fascist” defendants not guilty of assault charges in connection to a March 4, 2017 protest in Berkeley organized by pro-Trump activists, which resulted in verbal altercations and street brawls. (Berkeleyside)

The Oakland Zoo’s $72 million California Trail exhibit is set to open on July 12. The new exhibit, which includes grizzly bears, bison, black bears, and an aerial gondola that more than doubles the zoo’s size, is expected to boost tourism to the city. (San Francisco Business Times)

[Read related: “The Cruel Irony of the Oakland Zoo Expansion”]

Hayward City Manager Kelly McAdoo now wants relocation expenses after receiving a loan-interest loan from the city last year to purchase a home in Hayward. (EB Citizen)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday’s Briefing: Protest in Richmond Denounces Family-Separation Policy; Alena Museum Fighting Eviction

by Kathleen Richards
Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 10:03 AM

About 100 people gathered outside an ICE detention center in Richmond on Father’s Day to protest what they call the inhumane and punitive policy of separating children from their parents at the border. (East Bay Times)

The Alena Museum, which highlights work from the African diaspora, is fighting eviction from a warehouse in West Oakland. (East Bay Times)

[Read related: “Why 500 People Ate Lunch Together in West Oakland”]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is testing lead soil levels in West Oakland, the first study of its kind on the West Coast. A random roadside sample will be taken from 200 sampling areas and tested. Initial results will be released this fall and will be publicly available. (Hoodline)

Why did Oakland At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan appear to suddenly reverse her decision to run for mayor this fall and endorse Cat Brooks instead? (EB Citizen) It’s partially due to the campaign of Pamela Price. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Many coastal properties may be flooded out due to sea level rise by 2045, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Teachers at the West Contra Costa Unified School District will soon be the highest paid in the county following a board resolution to increase salaries by 15 percent over two years. (East Bay Times)

SB 320, which would require that all California public university student medical centers provide medical abortion services to students, has passed out of the California Assembly Committee on Health and advanced to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. (Daily Cal)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Briefing: Jovanka Beckles Edges Out Dan Kalb in AD15; Diana Becton Wins Contra Costa DA Race

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 9:23 AM

Jovanka Beckles will be on the November ballot for Assembly District 15, as well as Buffy Wicks.
  • Jovanka Beckles will be on the November ballot for Assembly District 15, as well as Buffy Wicks.

After days of uncertainty, Assembly District 15 candidate and Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles has edged out Dan Kalb for the second spot on the November ballot alongside Buffy Wicks. Oakland Councilmember Kalb conceded yesterday afternoon in the tight race, trailing by about 300 votes. (Berkeleyside)

Contra Costa County Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graces has conceded the race for Contra Costa County District Attorney to retired judge Diana Becton, who'll become the first African-American and first woman to be elected DA in the office’s history. (East Bay Times)

The city of Oakland filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to salvage its coal ban. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the city's coal ban couldn't be applied to the export terminal that developer Phil Tagami's company, Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), and the Bowie Resource Partners coal company are planning to build in West Oakland because the city lacked substantial evidence that shipping coal through Oakland would harm public health and safety. (East Bay Express)

Plea deals for Derick Almena and Max Harris, the two men charged in the deadly Ghost Ship fire, were discussed during a hearing yesterday afternoon, but a trial beginning July 16 is more likely. (East Bay Times)

Henry William Sintay, aka #Joggerjoe, is out on bail, and a judge has ordered him to stay away from Lake Merritt where he was filmed last week throwing the belongings of a homeless man into the water and, later, stealing a cell phone. (East Bay Times)

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is on the rise in Alameda County. Since January, 180 cases have been reported, more than four times the number of reported cases during the same time period last year. (San Francisco Chronicle)

BART has delayed its plan to expand a program to catch riders who don't pay fare after concerns were raised about its effectiveness and fairness. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

City of Oakland Appeals Decision Striking Down Coal Ban

Coal export terminal developer Phil Tagami said despite the appeal, his company is moving forward with the project.

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 3:05 PM

The proposed West Oakland coal terminal would receive multiple trains laden with coal each day. - TOM ANDERSON
  • Tom Anderson
  • The proposed West Oakland coal terminal would receive multiple trains laden with coal each day.

The city of Oakland filed an appeal yesterday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to salvage its coal ban.

Oakland hopes to reinstate its prohibition on storing and handling coal as it applies to an export terminal that developer Phil Tagami's company, Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), and the Bowie Resource Partners coal company, are planning to build in West Oakland.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the city's coal ban couldn't be applied to the project because the city lacked substantial evidence that shipping coal through Oakland would harm public health and safety. As a result, Chhabria concluded that the city violated its contract with the coal terminal developer when it sought to block the project.

The Sierra Club and Baykeeper, two environmental groups that supported the coal ban, have also indicated that they plan to contest Chhabria's decision.

"The Sierra Club will continue to support the City of Oakland in protecting clean air and public health in our city," Luis Amezcua, chair of the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, said in a statement yesterday. "This is a complex legal issue and Judge Chhabria’s decision is by no means the end of the conversation."

Tagami responded to the city's appeal with frustration.

"Throughout this entire process, we have continually looked for someone to talk to at the City," said Tagami in a statement today. "Now the judge has ruled; the City’s action was invalid, and we are moving forward with the project."

David Smith, an attorney for OBOT, said he expects Chhabria's decision will be upheld due to the city's poor job in documenting possible harms that could result from shipping coal through Oakland.

"All you have to do is actually read the court’s ruling to see how poor the City’s legal position is," Smith said in a statement. "[A]mong other things, the federal court said the City’s position is 'riddled with inaccuracies, major evidentiary gaps, erroneous assumptions, and faulty analyses.'"

The city has already spent over $1 million defending its coal ban in federal district court, and the appeal will likely cost hundreds of thousands more. But Oakland officials have justified their effort as necessary to protect residents from toxic coal dust that could blow off trains and from warehouses.

Having prevailed in district court, OBOT is already seeking to recover $140,849 in litigation costs from the city.

Jason Perkins of Parish Entertainment Group, Dubbed #ValenciaVigilante, Accused of Accosting Homeless Man

Security footage shows an altercation between the venue operator and a homeless man near Brick & Mortar Music Hall.

by Sam Lefebvre
Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 2:28 PM

A screenshot of the security video showing Jason Perkins spraying a homeless man with what he said was mace.
  • A screenshot of the security video showing Jason Perkins spraying a homeless man with what he said was mace.

A video surfaced online yesterday showing a February altercation between a homeless man and Jason Perkins, of local venue collective Parish Entertainment Group, that some allege is evidence that Perkins was responsible for pepper-spraying a man and leaving threatening notes at a nearby homeless encampment in San Francisco.

Perkins said that the 31-second video — leaked security footage from his bar, The Crafty Fox — shows him fending off a “crazed, drugged-out dude,” but denies leaving the threatening notes blocks away that same afternoon. “There’s nothing to do with me and the fliers,” he said. “People say I’m anti-homeless. I’m not — I’m pro-safety.”

The video, time-stamped February 9, shows Perkins entering his car outside San Francisco venue Brick & Mortar Music Hall with the homeless man in pursuit. The man strikes Perkins’ car window and then Perkins exits the car and sprays the man with what he said was mace. The man then runs away. Twitter users are calling Perkins the “#ValenciaVigilante.”

In news reports from February, the man who was pepper-sprayed said it was not the first time he and other homeless people in the area had been harassed by his attacker.

The video is time-stamped shortly after 1 p.m. Shortly before 1:45 p.m. that day, according to San Francisco activist Kelley Cutler, a man left threatening notes and pepper-sprayed a man at a homeless encampment blocks from the scene of the video. The letter read, “If you are still here after dark tonight, the hunters will become the hunted. We will pound you, burn you, beat you and fuck you up if you are within 100 yards of the park starting after sun down tonight.” The letter was signed “The neighbors.”

Cutler said the aggressor left in a black SUV. The video shows Perkins in a black SUV. The anonymous Twitter user who shared the video described it as evidence that Perkins is responsible.

Cutler said the San Francisco Police Department has been investigating the incident. SFPD did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the investigation.

For years, Perkins has been a partner with the Parish Entertainment Group (PEG), which, according to its website, controls The New Parish and the Rock Steady in Oakland and Brick & Mortar Music Hall and The Crafty Fox in San Francisco. But Perkins told the Express that, for the past two years, he’s been divesting from the businesses in anticipation of moving his family overseas.

Perkins’ current stake in the bars and venues under the PEG umbrella is unclear. According to filings with the Secretary of State, New Parish Entertainment changed ownership three days ago. Perkins dissolved “New Parish Entertainment Alameda, LLC” on January 23, 2017, and a new company called “The New Parish, LLC” was created on June 11, with the agent for service listed as Daniel Serot, a Walnut Creek-based attorney.

Today, the New Parish tweeted and then deleted a statement: “[Perkins] no longer owns the New Parish.” Perkins said the venue is being sold, but declined to name the buyer.

Perkins also provided an official PEG statement confirming his divestment from the New Parish. “An ex-employee is attempting to link this incident to some written threat against the homeless,” it reads. “At no point did anyone working in our company issue a threat against the Homeless. This is a complete falsehood.”

The day before the threatening notes appeared at the San Francisco homeless encampment in February, Perkins used similar language in a since-deleted Facebook post. “I’m so so sick of the thieving junkie motherfuckers in SF. … SFPD does jack as guys are hassling kids, trying to sell shit stolen out of someone’s car and needles everywhere here in the Mission…SF is becoming like NYC in the 70’s.”

In an update to the post the next day, he added that he met with a Mission District police captain after a “nasty run-in with a guy who broke a car window and then retreated to his tent” — a reference to the incident captured on video. The post concluded, “I get down about SF but then I get fired up and although confronting junkies is my style (not good). Working on the issue is also something I try to do and not just bitch (better approach).”

Shown a screenshot of the post taken in February by this writer, Perkins doubted its authenticity.

PEG’s statement also says, “The New Parish, Crafty Fox and Brick and Mortar will continue to be a space that books Social Justice artists and a place for social justice issues affecting Oakland and San Francisco — we will not let the disturbed actions of one disgruntled former employee sway us from our mission.”

A concert headlined by rapper Mistah FAB benefitting anti-homelessness organizations The Village and East Oakland Collective is scheduled for June 24 at the New Parish.

Oakland Unified Chided for 'Highly Unusual' and 'Suspicious' Fiscal Practices

by Theresa Harrington
Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Oakland Unified operates 83 elementary, middle and high schools, as well as alternative, special education and adult education programs. - ALISON YIN FOR EDSOURCE
  • Alison Yin for EdSource
  • Oakland Unified operates 83 elementary, middle and high schools, as well as alternative, special education and adult education programs.

Oakland Unified has enough money to pay its bills through the end of the year, but the way it has spent its money and reported its budget has raised red flags for an independent agency that evaluated its finances.

In doing the analysis, the agency ran into evidence of “intentional manipulation of the general fund balance” so that it maintained minimally required state reserve levels. These inappropriate transfers in and out of its general fund “hindered an honest and open assessment of the district’s current financial condition by its current leadership and outside agencies,” the report concludes. “These practices are highly unusual, could be considered suspicious and should be further investigated.”

The report says the district’s general fund “has substantial off-book interfund borrowing that must be thoroughly audited, quantified and repaid.”

This means the district was borrowing from funds such as its self-insurance fund to boost the general fund balance, but wasn’t booking it accurately in its financial records, said Michael Fine, CEO of the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, which conducted the analysis. “You can get away with” borrowing from self-insurance funds “once in a while,” he said, “but doing it off-book isn’t a good idea. You should be reconciling the borrowing.”

And while a budget shortfall forced the district to cut $9 million this school year, the budget analysis revealed that the district might not actually have made all of those cuts.

The outside team analyzed the district’s finances in response to a request from the Alameda County Office of Education, which oversees the district’s budget, to determine whether Oakland Unified had enough money to meet its obligations through June. Last year, the district entered into an agreement with FCMAT for a separate fiscal health analysis, which concluded that the district showed signs of fiscal distress.

The more recent May 31 analysis concluded that the district does have enough money to pay its bills through the end of its fiscal year on June 30 — and through June 2019 if it contains costs and takes advantage of short-term borrowing. However, the report noted that Oakland Unified is in “financial distress” because it is overspending, dipping into its reserves to make ends meet and has inappropriately borrowed money from restricted funds that it must pay back. The district’s level of deficit-spending is “not sustainable,” the report concludes. Although the district will spend $546.4 million this year, it will only receive $535.7 million in revenues, according to the report.

Oakland Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the board asked for the initial review last spring around the same time that it hired her as superintendent. “We are in the beginning stages of improvement, but we have started implementing changes that were called for in FCMAT’s original analysis,” she said, adding that the first report “laid the groundwork for our current Fiscal Vitality Plan.”

The practices cited in the first report occurred before she was promoted to superintendent, after spending 18 years in the district as a teacher and administrator.

The Alameda County Office of Education called the findings of the most recent report “concerning,” but also noted that the analysis helped establish that the district can meet its cash obligations through 2019.

“However, we know there continue to be difficult decisions ahead for Oakland Unified, decisions that will need to be backed by strong internal controls to ensure their effectiveness,” said Michelle Smith-McDonald, spokeswoman for the county office of education. “We will continue to provide support to…Oakland Unified as they address some of the past practices revealed in the report and to ensure the fiscal health of the district in order to best serve the students and families of Oakland.”

She said the report poses “legitimate questions” and has been forwarded to the California Department of Education and the State Controller’s office. The county office of education does not have the power to impose any penalties for the cited practices.

Fine said the May 31 report revealed “financial statement misrepresentation” that made the district’s general fund look more positive than it actually was. He said this could mislead the community and even district leadership about where the budget stands.

He said he didn’t believe anyone at the district misappropriated funds for personal gain. However, the report said the general fund balance was manipulated to give the appearance the district was meeting its state-mandated 2 percent reserve.

“I don’t believe it was criminal,” he said. “But it was intentional. It wasn’t an accident.”

The stinging FCMAT report released last August pointed to multiple reasons for Oakland’s budget travails, including exceedingly high special education costs, loss of funds due to thousands of students attending charter schools and poor financial management by district leaders.

The district’s new finance team includes Wayne Hilty, a temporary Chief Financial Officer hired in January who is working with finance experts from WestEd, an independent education consulting company, to help support the district’s new Fiscal Vitality Plan, Johnson-Trammell said. The board “certified spending reductions for the 2017-18 school year” and recently hired Marcus Battle as its new Chief Business Officer from the East Side Union High School District, who will bring “decades of experience in finance, mostly in educational institutions,” to Oakland Unified, she added.

Marcus Battle, left, Oakland Unified’s new chief business officer, speaks to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Marcus Battle, left, Oakland Unified’s new chief business officer, speaks to Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

New district policies and procedures include weekly monitoring of hiring and overtime, added internal controls on contracts and improved financial forecasting for current and future years, Johnson-Trammell said. In addition, the district is transitioning to a new Escape financial and payroll system.

“We are proud of the work we have done so far, but we know that we have only just begun,” she said. “It is clear that we must focus not only on getting our district on solid financial ground, but on ensuring that our long-term planning, protocols and practices effectively keep us from encountering such challenges again in the future. We look forward to more guidance from FCMAT and partnership with ACOE (the Alameda County Office of Education). The information in this report will provide us important guideposts for completing the long-term work essential for fiscal health and sustainability.”

Fine said he’s especially troubled by the district’s regression to past unsound fiscal practices because Oakland Unified now has a new leadership team, including Johnson-Trammell, “that is trying to do everything right,” but “has been working a little bit in the dark.” The board appointed Johnson-Trammell to her post effective July 1, after former Superintendent Antwan Wilson left to run Washington, D.C. schools.

“You’ve got district leadership who’s trying to right this ship and get it moving in the right direction and they don’t know the accuracy of the data they’re looking at,” Fine said. “My biggest concern is that the district wasn’t acknowledging where it was at and therefore wasn’t making decisions based on factual information.”

In evaluating $9 million in midyear reductions the board has reported it made, FCMAT found that some employees who were laid off were subsequently kept on and that the district could not fully substantiate the cuts. The report said FCMAT did not count the midyear cuts in its assessment of the district’s bottom line because the district has a history of failing to adhere to its spending reductions and has weak internal controls. In addition, the district laid off business department employees who could have helped contain costs and failed to lay off as many other employees as originally intended, the report said.

“These actions call into question both the district’s and its board’s political will to implement the proposed $9 million in expenditure reductions,” the report said. “Without evidence to support that the board can withstand both public and internal pressure to continue its past practices, FCMAT cannot assume that cost reductions will occur.”

The district had previously recovered from being taken over by the state in 2003 due to fiscal distress, when it received a $100 million state bailout loan, which it is still paying off. Although Oakland Unified’s superintendent and school board now control the district, a state trustee who is supposed to oversee spending and who has veto authority over its financial decisions is still in place.

“They’ve got a new team in place on the finance side and they’re continuing to build that team,” Fine said. “The district is doing a lot of stuff right. They’re doing a lot to move forward and correct this under Kyla’s leadership. Kudos to them. But, they’re going to have to press forward and there are tough decisions yet to make.”
Past misleading financial statements could impact the district’s relationship with the investor community and ratings agencies, Fine added.

Oakland Unified recently asked the state Department of Finance to defer its $6 million in annual state loan payments to help it balance its budget, but FCMAT determined that the district did not need this kind of bailout right now. In addition, the district was hoping for relief through the state budget process, which did not materialize.

“They’ve been saying they’re out of cash,” Fine said. “At some point, they’ve got to step up and do what they can themselves.”

This story was originally published by EdSource and is reprinted with permission.

Thursday’s Briefing: Berkeley Bowl Being Sued; Is the XFL Coming to Oakland?

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 10:30 AM

Berkeley Bowl is being sued by the owners of a metal anodizing business in Emeryville for breach of contract, misrepresentation, and violating California business practices, among other actions. The suit is related to the grocery store’s 2017 purchase of 1475 67th St., where Metalco operates, and attempted eviction of the 70-year-old company. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The second iteration of the XFL — a venture owned by WWE magnate Vince McMahon — is eyeing Oakland for one of its eight franchises, according to Chris Dobbins, a member of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority, which oversees operations of the Coliseum and Oracle Arena. The defunct XFL, which originally had hints of pro wrestling, is hoping to begin play in 2020 and will be similar to conventional football. (East Bay Citizen)

The East Bay has a new energy provider: East Bay Community Energy, which purchases solar, wind, and renewable hydroelectric energy and partners with PG&E to distribute it. Businesses in Alameda County will automatically be enrolled to receive energy this month, while residential customers will be enrolled in November. (East Bay Times)

With its third win in four years, the Golden State Warriors are looking at a massive $2 billion in contractually obligated income when the franchise moves to its new Chase Center arena in San Francisco in 2019, according to sources. (San Francisco Business Times)

To rent a two-bedroom apartment in the East Bay, a renter must earn about $45 an hour, or $93,000 a year, according to a new study released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In San Francisco, workers need to net $60 an hour, or about $125,000 per year. (East Bay Times)

The Berkeley City Council voted to work toward achieving a fossil fuel-free Berkeley by 2030. The council also voted to hold a climate emergency town hall meeting. (Daily Cal)

Highway 1, just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, will reopen in July — two months earlier than expected after a massive landslide in May 2017 forced the closure. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday’s Briefing: #JoggerJoe Arrested; Initiative to Divide California Qualifies for November Ballot

by Kathleen Richards
Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 10:26 AM

The man known as #JoggerJoe — who was caught on video throwing away a homeless man’s belongings at Lake Merritt, and was then filmed attacking and stealing the phone of a man who confronted him the next day — was arrested Monday on suspicion of first-degree robbery. Henry Sintay is being held at Santa Rita Jail on $100,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court today. (San Francisco Chronicle)

An initiative that would divide California into three new states has qualified for the November ballot, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed yesterday. The proposal being pushed by Silicon Valley venture capital investor Tim Draper would include Northern California (north of Monterey, east and north to Nevada, and north to the Oregon border), Southern California (everything else around the coast from Monterey to Los Angeles), and California (a coastal strip running south from Monterey to just past Los Angeles.) (East Bay Times)

A new homeless shelter run by the city of Berkeley will open its doors to 50 homeless people on June 23. Located on Second and Cedar streets, the Pathways navigation center will provide 50 beds in shared trailer housing as well as supportive services such as counseling, transition housing, and job assistance. (Daily Cal)

There are still 46,354 vote-by-mail ballots uncounted in Alameda County — votes that will be crucial for Dan Kalb and Jovanka Beckles, who continue to be in a tight race for second place for Assembly District 15. (Berkeleyside)

An inmate was found dead in a shower in an apparent suicide — the second inmate to commit suicide in a Contra Costa County jail in a little more than a week. Deputies say they found Phillip Andrew Jacobsen, who was being held at the Martinez Detention Facility on child molestation charges, hanging in a shower yesterday morning. The death is being investigated. (San Francisco Chronicle)

UC Berkeley researchers have successfully harvested water from the air in the desert using solar power. (Daily Cal)

And in case you missed yesterday’s Warriors’ parade, we’ve got some photos.

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