News & Notes 

Telling tales in East Oakland, eating doughnuts downtown; checking bags at the airport.

Thats not the truth: At a heated meeting with East Oakland residents disturbed to learn that a needle-exchange program is moving into their neighborhood, Councilman Moses Mayne Jr. denied that he had welcomed the program into his district, as recently reported here. Mayne, whose staff called the Express last week to request a correction, said he first found out about the arrival of the Casa Segura needle-exchange program as a result of our January 9 article.

"I am supportive of the program," Mayne told the angry crowd in his brief appearance. "But we have to find another location that the community is going to be supportive of. That's my position. I was a little frustrated about the quotation I heard about in the paper that said I was supportive of the program being put here. That's not the truth."

Members of Mayne's staff told the Express that the councilman never met with anyone from the needle exchange, and that a November meeting at which Casa Segura was supposed to outline its plans never occurred due to a scheduling error. Asked by a constituent if the needle exchange snuck one by him, the councilman said: "I don't know if you call that sneaking by me, but that's what took place."

But it was Mayne who tried to sneak one by. According to county health officials Maria Aguilar, Susan Black, and several Casa Segura staff and board members, Mayne unequivocally welcomed the needle exchange into his district in a meeting during the summer of 2001, although its precise location wasn't yet known. "I was totally unprepared for his statement," said Aguilar, Alameda County HIV prevention director. "He implied that it wasn't really clear that they were looking in that area."

Once Casa Segura identified its new building at 5319 Foothill as a possibility, officials scheduled a November follow-up meeting with Mayne. Casa Segura says the councilman failed to show up; Mayne contends they had the wrong date.

Now the city's newest councilman is in a jam, because some of his constituents are mad. Community members opposed to the move noted the area's saturation with poorly regulated, for-profit halfway houses.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who served as the area's councilman for ten years before stepping down in May to join the Board of Supervisors, took a more enlightened view. An ardent supporter of Casa Segura, Miley implored community members to keep an open mind. "This is a tightly regulated, well-run program that's been proven to stop the spread of AIDS. I'm pleading to your sense of humanity. Give them a chance." Miley pledged to pull the organization's funding if it failed to improve the district's quality of life.

Casa Segura board President Gerald Lenoir called Councilman Mayne's backtracking unfortunate, but said it doesn't shock him. "After ten years, we're used to it. This issue is a political hot potato." With Mayne's reelection campaign in full swing for the upcoming March elections, it's even hotter than usual. "Moses is going to have a tough time," constituent Charles Coleman said after the meeting. "There are a lot of people upset with Moses."

Breakfast of champions: While Chamber of Commerce members listened to Mayor Jerry Browns State of City address and wolfed down eggs, sausage and country-fried potatoes, Brown critics were outside the Marriott carrying signs and munching doughnuts -- doughnut holes to be precise.

"Chamber of Commerce is getting $50 a plate, but all we could afford are doughnut holes," said Jane Powell of the Oakland Citizens' Alliance. "You know the saying: 'The optimist sees a doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole?' Jerry Brown is trying to make us believe there's a doughnut when there isn't one."

Inside the hall, Brown was busy imagining the doughnut. Instead of focusing on downtown development, Brown talked about Oakland's neighborhoods using his "radiate out" theory. Brown said the $4 billion increase in Oakland's industrial and residential property values "radiates out to the entire city to create a sense of wellbeing and the capital from which projects and livelihoods could proceed."

While decidedly a more receptive audience than the one outside, chamber members did not refrain from asking some tough questions. One asked Brown to justify the political maneuvers behind helping developer and political contributor Phil Tagami get the governor's approval to put oversized billboards on 880. "They might be a bit bigger, but the others are horizontal, and these are vertical," Brown said of the billboards, in a typically flip brush-off. "Some people think horizontally, some vertically."

At least one chamber member wasn't laughing, however. A lone sign at the back of the room reading "Jerry Brown: Environmental Racist" was held by none other than Wilda White, neighborhood activist and Brown-appointed school board member. White was taking Brown to task for sidestepping environmental protections for his downtown developments. White, who says she is leaving Oakland and her board post, blames her asthma and breast cancer on the air quality of her Jack London Square loft.

The other pickets remained outside, thinking they were not allowed to come in without paying. The chamber did offer seating for the general public. Someone just neglected to tell the protesters outside about it.

The loose group of activists and artists had at least four criticisms to match every one of Brown's four political promises: the schools, crime, the arts, and, yes, the one thing Brown keeps touting as his greatest success: downtown development. The doughnut -- or the hole -- apparently is in the eye of the beholder.

"You can see from Jack London Square and even around this area what Jerry Brown's plan really is," said Bakari Olatunji of the Uhuru House. "It's basically to move white people back into Oakland and displace the African and Mexican population where poor, oppressed people have no place to go but to jail."

Political opponents also were milling about outside. "I got the free version yesterday," Councilmember Nancy Nadel said of the mayor's speech. Despite the cold, Nadel was feeling a bit burned by Brown's self-congratulatory frenzy. "It was interesting to get all the work that I am doing listed without getting any credit for it," she said.

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente pointed out Nadel's absence inside the Marriott by re-introducing the councilmembers whose faces he could see. "And then Councilmember Nadel is picketing outside, so we have most of us inside and one outside," De La Fuente said. By the way, he was only able to find four councilmembers actually present, himself included.

Mayoral hopeful Wilson Riles did not show up until after the speech was over. Saying he had heard it before, Riles had attended the YMCA's Martin Luther King breakfast instead. It cost $20. The menu? Muffins.

Check this: On the eve of the newest wave of federal regulations regarding airport luggage handling, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joined with the Service Employees International Union to fight a previous federal decision. Last November, Congress had passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which prohibits non-citizens from working as baggage screeners. The challenge, filed last week on behalf of nine screeners working in San Francisco and Los Angeles, charges that the prohibition is unconstitutional, and that it could force thousands of experienced workers out of their jobs. The ban on noncitizen screeners would likely exact a heavy toll on Bay Area airport workers, where eighty percent of the baggage screeners at the San Francisco airport, and between fifty and sixty percent of those at the Oakland International Airport, are not U.S. citizens.

ACLU legal director Alan Schlosser says the regulation smacks of xenophobia. "At other points of crisis in this country there has been scapegoating of immigrants, and this seems to be a return to that," he says.

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