Letters for December 9 

Readers sound off on Marcel Diallo, PG&E, and the milk industry.

Page 2 of 8

Mr. Allstadt and his "clique" (Gammon's own words, I suggest you look up the definition, the part about "excluding others") are clearly playing political hardball. Having consolidated power on the West Oakland CDBG board they appear to have been only too happy to deny funding to the Village Bottoms farm project. While an alleged lack of activity at the 10th and Pine Village Bottoms Farm is cited in the article to further disparage Diallo, no connection is made to this simple fact: There's no better way to keep the corner of 10th and Pine a boarded-up vacant lot than to deny funding to grassroots efforts to transform it.

The article's bias is further made clear when it states that Allstadt and his friends are "challenging the neighborhood's traditional black and progressive power structure" without exploring what this really means.  Did it occur to Mr. Gammon that Marcel Diallo and the Village Bottoms community offer a genuine alternative to precisely this type of blind political ambition? As I noted above, their work looks both forward to a sustainable future, and back many generations, explicitly and consciously honoring elders both living and dead.  It will be a damn shame if the collective memory of these elders is thrown under the bus in the rush of Mr. Allstadt and his "young white activist" friends to consolidate power.

Geoff Holton, Berkeley

A Character Assassination

It's a shame that Oakland political blogger Max Allstadt was victim of Internet fraud. He has every right to be upset. But likewise readers of the Express have a right to be upset that lacking any conclusive evidence, the Express nevertheless felt comfortable acting as judge and jury in issuing a verdict, all on Mr. Allstadt's hunches. In fact, any one of dozens of people who had the password to the Internet hotspot for the Black Dot Cafe wireless could have done the deed and were likely upset enough to consider it.

But Allstadt apparently decided early on that it must have been Diallo after he (Allstadt) and his caucus on the West Oakland community block grant board (CBDG) voted against the Village Bottoms Farms project proposal submitted by Diallo's NGO. My nonprofit organization, Ecocity Builders, was a partner on the Village Bottoms Farms CBDG RFP. Ecocity Builders and the Village Bottoms Neighborhood Association crafted the proposal after spending time in Milwaukee studying urban farming and aquaponics with MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" awardee Will Allen and his organization, Growing Power. Allen is the nation's leading expert on low-cost aquaponics, a method of growing fish and greens affordably on brownfield sites in a closed loop, stacked system.

Our proposal was, and still is, to launch a prototype urban farm and aquaponics system on a vacant lot and former scrapyard on Pine Street in the Lower Bottoms, working under the coaching and technical assistance of Growing Power and Mo Betta Foods, a Black-run food security organization in West Oakland. The funding from the CBDG award would have allowed the community to build out the farm, hire a few locals to run it, and set up a marketing program to get the produce into the hands of neighborhood families. After the Farm was up and running it would mostly sustain itself though revenues from the sale of produce. It would also become a West Coast training center for Growing Power's aquaponics systems and methodology. We were in the process of securing a Regional Operations Training Center (ROTC) agreement with Growing Power pending the successful outcome of the RFP to the CBDG.

But Allstadt and his caucus had already decided who would get funded, and it was not going to be Village Bottoms Farms. Apparently to make sure of that, before the vote was taken on Village Bottoms Farms' proposal, Allstadt's associate on the board announced to everyone that if they did recommended the VB Farms proposal, HUD (the federal funder) would mostly likely revoke all funding from Oakland's CBDG programs because the Farm was proposing to set up an enterprise that would create jobs to sell produce for a profit.

This misleading statement was completely false. HUD WANTS to support local job creation and boost local economies through business development. However, the alarmist announcement created visible confusion and a hesitancy among the board. The proposal was voted down a few minutes later and a white-run NGO doing community and backyard gardening was approved.

Ecocity Builders immediately wrote a letter to the Oakland City Attorney about the seeming overt attempt to sabotage the neighborhood's proposal. The Attorney's office replied that they would look into the matter and eventually sent a letter stating that although they acknowledged that the false eligibility question had been raised against the proposal, and that although it was indeed not factual, most people on the board probably would have known that.

So in other words, they dropped it.

So getting back to the e-mail attack on Mr. Allstadt .... By this point, a lot of people were upset, not just Marcel Diallo. Five of us had gone to Milwaukee to study with Growing Power, more people had helped craft the proposal, even more had been to community events to learn about the project and were getting excited. Village Bottoms Farms was hosting weekly work parties to prepare the site and many people were coming through on a regular basis to volunteer.

A short time after the board's funding decision, someone did send a hateful e-mail from the vicinity of the Black Dot Cafe, and it was wrong. But to conclude that it had to have been sent by Marcel Diallo is irresponsible. Obviously, it could have been any number of people who were deeply upset, disappointed, and frustrated. That it happened at a strange hour is not that surprising ... people in West Oakland keep odd hours, many don't have regular "9-to-5" jobs although they probably wish they did. After getting to know Marcel for several years now, I don't believe he sent the e-mail; he wouldn't stoop to that level and he's too smart to set himself up like that. But that's my opinion. He hasn't actually been found guilty. Unless you count this character-assassinating East Bay Express article.

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