Archive for July, 2013

Brooks Faces Censure for Building East Oakland Teen Center

By Ken A. Epstein

Based on a recommendation of the Alameda County Grand Jury, the Oakland City Council is considering a motion to censure Councilmember Desley Brooks for building a teen center that serves East Oakland neighborhoods that face levels of unemployment, poverty and violence that are among the worst in the country.

Council President Pat Kernighan placed the motion, which amounts to a formal reprimand, on the City Council’s agenda after the Grand Jury recently issued its Final Report for 2012-2013, finding that Brooks  “inappropriately made administrative decisions throughout the process” of building the teen center between 2007 and 2011.

Putting pressure on council members, the Grand Jury also cited the council’s “inability to self-police,” calling on the council to censure Councilmember Brooks.

2013 Alameda County Grand Jury

2013 Alameda County Grand Jury

Before looking at the Grand Jury’s findings, it is important to recognize what a grand jury report is and is not.

The civil grand jury is a “watch-dog” panel that once a year issues a final report, which details its investigations and makes “recommendations to local and county government agencies.”

The jury does not make criminal findings and does not bring charges. What it does is make recommendations.

Further, the report does not allege that Brooks gained personally in any way in the building of the teen center. She did not enrich herself or her friends, she did not hire friends or relatives.  And she did not make sweetheart deals with contractors.

What the report says is that she “circumvented” city contracting, purchasing and hiring rule to ensure that the project was completed.

Brooks was able to have the teen center built at the corner of 58th Avenue and International Boulevard at a time when “other parks and recreation programs were being cut and projects with higher priorities went unfunded,” the grand jury said in its report entitled “Misgoverning the City of Oakland.”

In other words, it could be said that the Grand Jury is blaming her for successfully representing her constituents to build a teen center when other councilmembers failed or had no interest in doing so.

In fact, the city had allocated $500,000 to each councilmember to build a teen center in their district, except councilmember Reid, who was having a different project built

But none of the councilmembers except Brooks built and opened a teen center. While Councilmember Nancy Nadel built one in West Oakland, it sat empty for years due to lack of

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

funding.  Recently Councilmember Lynette McElhaney has secured new funding to open the West Oakland center in the coming year.

How was Brooks able to accomplish such a feat? She is after all only one of eight members of the council and has no direct authority or hire or write checks on the city’s account.

She built the center, the Grand Jury report said, “often with full knowledge and complicity of city staff.”  Brooks said that she completed the project working with three successive City Administrators.

Though the report almost exclusively focuses on Brooks, does it allege she was the only member who worked to  “influence administrative decisions?” Not at all.

“The Grand Jury learned that some council members would often put pressure on city staff to get their own issues prioritized above other city matters.”

The report even partially acknowledged the reality of the City of Oakland, where city staff has regularly been accused by community members of mismanaging funds and ignoring and thwarting the decisions of the City Council.

There has existed a “culture of interference” in Oakland government, the report said, in part due to “the fact that large government bureaucracies operate using polices and procedures that can cause change or improvements to occur slowly.”

While citing interference by former Ignacio de la Fuente in the building of the Fruitvale Transit Village, it says the conduct “may appear to be insignificant and even well-meaning in many circumstances.”

“The Grand Jury heard testimony that the Fruitvale Transit Village (near Fruitvale BART)… may never have been completed without the pressure exerted by a former member of the City Council

“The interference included causing a public library to be uprooted from its established neighborhood location, and relocated to a second floor space to serve as an anchor tenant and revenue stream for the project.”

What the Grand Jury report and certain councilmembers are calling interference is common practice on the council and what members must do if they wish to represent the residents of Oakland, according to de la Fuente in an interview with the Post.

“All of us have done something when it comes to pushing to solve our constituents needs,” he said. “All councilmembers get calls from their constituents demanding actions on their needs and problems and concerns.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 19, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

If City College Shuts Down, What Will San Francisco Lose?

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has made a decision that could result in shutting down City College of San Francisco in July 2014 by withdrawing accreditation, which would mean a loss of access to public funding.

The college has been working with the accrediting commission but has not succeeded in meeting the commission’s requirements.

Science building at San Francisco City College

Science building at San Francisco City College

If City College shuts down, what does San Francisco lose?

Students: Over 100,000 students typically attend City College at centers all over the city. Since the controversy over accreditation started in July 2012, enrollment has dropped to 85,000.

If the college closes, these and other potential students will have no good alternatives. The San Mateo Community College District (Skyline, College of San Mateo and Canada) is already at capacity, and there is no good public transportation to the campuses. The Peralta District is across the Bay.

Affordable higher education: The cost per credit at City College is $46. The cost per credit at private colleges is many times that. Currently, City College students graduate burdened with minimal debt.

Employees: Over 1,600 faculty work at City College. About 758 of these faculty jobs are good, full-time jobs with benefits. The 827 members of the faculty who are part-time can also earn enough to live on, have access to health benefits and some job security, which results in much less turnover than at most colleges.

Both full-time and part-time faculty are represented by a union, AFT 2121, and have a contract that is among the best in the nation. Over 1,800 taff and administrators work at City College.

While some of these are management jobs, the majority are decent working-class jobs.

Staff at City College is represented by SEIU 1021. If City College is shut down, nearly 3,000 jobs will be lost.

An educated citizenry:  City College has historically served the broad mission of community colleges. It offers over 50 educational programs that lead to transfer to universities and over 100 career technical programs, ranging from website development to infant care to culinary arts.

CCSF also offers free adult education classes at locations throughout the city in English and Spanish. These include GED prep, ESL, citizenship classes, yoga, local history and basic computing. City College can take some credit for San Francisco’s creative, dynamic and progressive activist culture.

Employers:  Graduates of the career technical programs in fire, police, emergency services, healthcare, construction, business, technology and over 100 other programs provide the staff for public and private workplaces throughout the city.

Of the students who completed a CCSF career technical program, 42 percent found jobs, and 74 percent of those found their job within 6 months of graduating. If City College is shut down, employers will have to recruit outside the city.

Diversity: The students at City College reflect the diversity of the city. Nearly half are between 25 and 49 years old. They are 29 percent Asian, 26 percent White, 20 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African American, 6 percent Filipino and 8 percent of mixed or unknown race.

Minorities do well at City College: of the African American students who came prepared for college level work, 82 percent completed a degree.

Figures on those who came “unprepared” for college work, meaning requiring them to take remedial classes, reveal success at an even tougher challenge: 35 percent of African Americans, 36 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of white and 71 percent of Asians who came to college despite being “unprepared” managed to stick with it and complete a degree.

This is not only a greater challenge for students; it is a greater challenge for teachers.  Providing a ladder to achievement for underprepared students is at the heart of the community college mission.

Services for Veterans, Health services: Among its many special outreach programs is the Veterans Services Office, providing help with GI benefits, career planning, retraining and psychological assistance. The student health service offers emergency care, mental health, preventive care and special women’s health outreach.

Legacy: City College was established in 1935 in the heart of the Great Depression to answer a need for education.  Until 1971, it was part of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Generations of students, faculty and administration have poured their careers and lives into building a school that belongs to and reflects the city. Their free gift of support and loyalty is at risk if City College is shut down.

Hope: For most people, education is the path of hope. If City College shuts down, hope will be destroyed for many youth, which can only lead to more drug use, crime and other self and socially destructive behaviors at just the time when the next generation is needed to pick up the mantle of leadership.

 Helena Worthen is Professor Emerita of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, and long-time community college English teacher and union activist. Joe Berry is a retired City College teacher (History and Labor Studies), union leader and researcher on higher education and its workforce. They can be reached at Worthenberry@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, July 18 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Gina Hill, New Principal at Oakland Street Academy

By Jaron K. Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Gina Hill, the new principal at the Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, remembers that while she was growing up in Cincinnati, she attended schools that had few teachers of color and lacked diversity in the curriculum.

Those negative experiences made her decide very early that she wanted to go into education to create more diverse opportunities for students like herself.

She moved to California in 1993 and to Oakland in 1995. What attracted her to Oakland, she said, was its reputation for being in the forefront of working for social justice.

Her first teaching job was as a substitute teacher at Havenscourt Middle School in East Oakland in 1998. “The kids were so talented and intriguing that I subbed one day, and I never left education,” she said.

“I was treated so well by parents when I visited students’ homes,” she said. “They were happy I was there.”

Gina Hill

Gina Hill

She later worked as a teacher at the Street Academy before becoming an administrator in the Oakland Unified School

District, earning her administrative degree at UC Berkeley with the idea of eventually returning as principal of the school.

Hill will replace Pat Williams, the beloved principal who is leaving after working at the school for most of the 40 years that it has been in operation.

“Coming back to Street Academy is exciting because this is what I really wanted to do,” said Hill.

Some of the qualities that make the school unique, she said, is that teachers meet and have input in how the school is run. Teachers also act as counselors and mentors to their students. They do not just teach them; they are also invested in helping them succeed.

At the top of Hill’s agenda is to increase enrollment at the school and to establish a culture of restorative justice, which means that students who break the rules will make restitution by improving the school community rather than being punished.

Hill also wants to start an international travel program at the school. She already has experience coordinating and leading groups of students in traveling around the world.

She recalls that as a child, she saw magazines with photos of civil rights leader and freedom fighter Angela Davis. Then, as a teacher at Street Academy, she organized a Black history event, where Davis spoke and student dancers performed.

“These are the kinds of experiences that left a lasting impression on me and on students,” she said. “When students have an opportunity to travel, meet new people and see new places, they learn things that will last a lifetime.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

30,000 California Inmates Begin Hunger Strike

By Post Staff

About 30,000 inmates in California began a hunger strike Monday in solidarity with prisoners being held in the Solitary Housing Units (SHU).  Among their demands are ending group punishment and providing adequate and nutritious food. 2013-07-13T024857Z_1_CBRE96C07TO00_RTROPTP_2_USA

University of California students, who are members of an organization called Human Rights of the Incarcerated, held a protest on Monday in support of the hunger strike.

Danny Murillo and Steven Czifra, students at UC and members of the organization, have both spent time in solitary confinement.

“The logic of solitary confinement and the idea that it would keep prisoners safe from violence has not worked,” Murillo said.  “I don’t have a solution, but I know what has been going on right now has not been working.”

“The hunger strike will go on until the prison administration comes to the bargaining table and meets our reasonable demands, ” said Czifra.  “We won’t stop until the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) agrees to a legally binding document.”

Courtesy of The Oakland Post, July 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Bay Area Organizes Sept. 7 Protest to Restore Voting Rights Act

Among those attending the Restore Section 5 Movement meeting were Donna Clay-Conti (left) and Ruth Mims-Jemerson. Photo by Ken A. Epstein.

Among those attending the Restore Section 5 Movement meeting were Donna Clay-Conti (left) and Ruth Mims-Jemerson. Photo by Ken A. Epstein.

By Ken A. Epstein

The Bay Area Restore Section 5 Movement held its first East Bay meeting this week to organize an “in the streets” non-violent, voting rights demonstration to protest the Supreme Court’s recent decision that declared unconstitutional the “preclearance provisions” of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1966.

The new movement will hold a demonstration on Saturday, Sept. 7, 10 a.m.to 6 p.m. at San Francisco City Hall Plaza. The goal is to inspire activist, political, civil and religious leaders in other cities throughout the country to take similar actions.

The movement’s task forces will mobilize African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Labor, the LGBT community, students, women and seniors.

“ I think you would want to make this a national movement,” said attorney Donna Clay-Conti, speaking at the meeting   “This has to be a nationwide effort. And we have to focus on those people in Congress who are up for reelection in 2014.”

A broad movement that has staying power is necessary, said Wil Ussery, who chaired the meeting, because “No single effort is going to change the mind of Congress.”

Voting rights for African Americans and Latinos are important to many groups because without the Black and Latino vote, Congress and the legislatures will become more conservative, which also will mean worse votes on issues impacting  LBGTs, women, Asian Americans and students.

The Voting Rights Act is so important because “It is the strongest medicine we have to combat voting rights discrimination,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, based in San Francisco.

The next meeting of the movement will be held July 16, 6 p.m. at Bethel A.M.E Church at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco

The website for the organization is: RestoreSection5Movement.org. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 156797, San Francisco, CA 94115-6797.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

Army Base Businesses Ready to Move to Port Land

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

In the future, when people talk about the extra difficulties in getting things done in Oakland city government, they may bring up the Army Base tenant transfer as a good example.

This week, the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners began the last act of that saga when they were expected to give easy approval to first reading of an ordinance for a 30-month lease agreement for five acres of the Port’s portion of the old

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Oakland Army Base to the City of Oakland for truck parking and maintenance.

The Oakland City Council had earlier agreed to sub-lease the property to Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) in order to move OMSS out of the path of the city’s $500 million 165 acre Gateway Army Base development project.

The city eventually plans to move OMSS to a 15 acre site on Oakland’s portion of the old Army Base property once those acres are prepared and a lease agreement with OMSS has been drawn up and ratified.

Earlier this month, two companies providing services to the Port of Oakland—PCC Logistics and Impact Transportation—began preparing for a move from warehouses on the Oakland side of the old Army Base to warehouses on the Port side, also to make way for the Gateway Development.

City of Oakland staff members said that it will probably take the companies at least two weeks past the July 15 scheduled eviction date to make the move out of the Oakland Army Base warehouses, but saw that as no problem.

It was difficult for outside observers to understand why any of the Army Base relocations turned out to be such a problem, since the solution seemed so logical and so simple.

At the beginning of the year, three companies with longstanding City or Port contracts—OMSS, PCC Logistics, and Impact Transportation—all sat on Army Base land that was needed to be cleared for the CCIG-Prologis/City of Oakland Gateway Development project.

Because the Port had delayed development of its portion of the old Army Base, it had warehouses and open space available onto which the three companies could move.

Making the transfer from city to Port Army Base land would allow the City to retain hundreds of needed jobs, continue to keep trucks from off of West Oakland streets for environmental benefit, maintain a continuity of Port contracts, and bring the Port millions of dollars in extra lease profits.

And yet the transfer from city to port land eventually took months of intense political and bureaucratic infighting and negotiations that several times threatened to drive the three companies out of business.

District Three Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney—who was elected last year to represent the development area—told the Council Community and Economic Development Committee this week that “my first committee meeting here (last January) we were looking at terminations of tenancy that started as early as February for some, and had we not moved in the direction we’ve gone, we would have looked at the displacement of (several) companies with significant throughput to our Port as well as employment opportunities here in the city. I’m pleased we’ve worked together as a team, together with the Port, to make sure that we moved forward.”

Attention now turns to Oakland’s Army Base Gateway development itself, which CCIG-Prologis developers project will begin groundbreaking in the fall.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Local Job Providers Call for WIB Overhaul

By Ken A. Epstein

A group of local nonprofit job agencies, calling themselves the Oakland Workforce Development Network, are calling on the City Council to reform the way the Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) spends federal money for jobs and job training.

“Although … some aspects of the city’s stewardship of this system have improved, there are still very significant structural,

Gay Plair Cobb

Gay Plair Cobb

legal and sustainability issues that the council should be aware of. These are issues that put the City of Oakland at risk,” said Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council.

The agencies are asking the city to stop taking 32 percent of the federal jobs budget off the top for administrative services. The WIB, which has included  $1.5 million that remains unspent from last year as part of the new budget, says it is taking only 24 percent.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, the nonprofit agencies said they are supporting the WIB’s new $4.8 million budget despite its flaws, due to the “the extreme urgency of (federal) job training funds being made available in a timely manner.”

Noting the unacceptably high unemployment rates of Black and Latino populations in Oakland, Cobb said, “These funds are intended to serve those in need of training services, your constituents.”

The agencies also are calling on the council to begin contributing city money to supplement diminishing federal funds. Though Oakland takes overhead from federal the Workforce Investment Act funds, it contributes no resources – unlike other government jurisdictions, according to the agencies.

In addition, the agencies say the city should direct the WIB to stop developing its budget and spending priorities in ad hoc meetings that are not public. “All meetings of the WIB (should) be properly noticed and open to public participation,” the agencies wrote in their statement distributed at the CED meeting.

Among those agreeing with the reform recommendations were Lao Family Community Development, Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation, Pivotal Point Youth Services, Oakland Private Industry Council, School Boardmember Jumoke Hinton Hodge and PUEBLO.

LaTronda Lumpkins, executive director of Pivotal Point, was critical of the failure of the 2013-2015 budget to fund services to

Jumoke Hinton Hodge

Jumoke Hinton Hodge

foster youth, Latino youth in central East Oakland and young people in West Oakland.

Agreeing, Hinton Hodge said she was particularly concerned about the lack of services in West Oakland. “I am very dissatisfied with this (budget),” she said.

While federal jobs funding to Oakland has decreased by 9 percent, the city is increasing its costs to the program, said Kathy Chao Rotherg of Lao Family.

“It’s going to (mean) cuts to the streets, to the jobseekers and to providers in the community,” she said.

In regard to slow payment to job providers, “Our own organization was impacted two years in a row,” said Chao Rothberg. One year the city owed the agency $188,000, a nine-month delay, and another year $100,000, a 12-month delay, she said.

“Who is going to be serving West Oakland youth and Latino youth. Who is going to be taking care of these young people?” asked Karina Najera, interim executive director of Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation.

Karina Najera

Karina Najera

Responding to the criticisms, John Bailey, executive director of the Oakland WIB, said the WIB’s work has been reviewed by the Department of Labor and the state, and never has the level of administrative overhead been raised as a concern.

Council President Pat Kernighan said she considered the speakers from the agencies to be “disingenuous” about wanting to get money onto the streets when “so many steps have been taken to delay this process and to derail it.”

Responding Councilmember Larry Reid, chair of the CED committee, backed the agencies’ reform recommendations.

“Though you may not support this,” he said to Kernighan, “I am supporting it.  If you look at how we pass out the money on the street, it has been a very slow process.

The city must do what it can to make sure that service providers are able to do their work in a timely fashion, he said.

 Courtesy of The Oakland Post, July 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Commentary: Community Mobilizes to Save City College of SF

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

If you have been trying to follow the fight over City College of San Francisco by reading the Chronicle, you are probably confused.

Thousands of students, faculty and supporters of City College of SF marched Tuesday, July 9 against the revocation of accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

Thousands of students, faculty and supporters of City College of SF marched Tuesday, July 9 against the revocation of accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

Could City College, which has been enrolling students since 1935, really disappear? What will happen to its 80,000-plus students? Wasn’t the November 2012 vote on the parcel tax a vote of confidence?

Where did the money go?

Why is the accrediting commission saying it will withdraw accreditation in a year? Who are they, anyway? Isn’t accreditation supposed to be a measure of quality? Is there any doubt about the quality of the education provided to students at City College?

The simple answer is that if the fight over City College proceeds in the direction the accrediting commission is mapping out, it will close, or at least be radically restructured and downsized.

Yet no one, including the commission, is criticizing the quality of the education students get. This is what makes the accrediting commission’s decision almost incredible.

In fact, City College, according to the Community College Board of Governors, exceeds state community college averages on 8 out of 13 standards.  And yes, City College has enormous political support in the city and the state. Considering how many people consider City College their personal gateway to higher education, this is not surprising.  So where is this coming from?

Withdrawing accreditation, which is what was recommended last week by the accrediting commission, is scheduled to take place in July 2014. The impact of this would be loss of access to public funding at all levels, from federal to state and local.

This would bring City College down immediately. It could also leave students stranded and devalue the degrees earned in the past by graduates.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano speaks at Tuesday demonstration for SF City College. Photos by H. Worthen and J. Berry.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano spoke Tuesday at the demonstration for SF City College. Photos by H. Worthen and J. Berry.

There is background to this story, of course. The threat to City College can be understood as part of the overarching attack in public education generally.

Skyrocketing student debt, court decisions narrowing affirmative action, corporate-run charter schools and high-stakes testing are all turning public education into a desperation market where only the luckiest can buy or win access.

In higher education, the for-profit institutions, like University of Phoenix, are the equivalent of the corporate charter schools and are the most likely to benefit from the weakening of public community colleges.

The ladders of opportunity that helped reduce inequality in the decades after World War II are being pulled up. Now it’s “God bless the child who has his own.”

The accrediting commission, the ACCJC (Association of Community and Junior Colleges) is part of the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and, while it is overseen by the Department of Education, is not actually part of it.

While it sounds at first like part of the government, it is, in fact, an independent entity and delivers programs that are funded by foundations.

In future columns, we will explore what students, faculty and supporters are doing to keep City College open. We’ll look at the struggle from the points of view of the Accreditation Commission, the City Board of Supervisors, and the Department of Education, as well as students, the majority of whom are members of minorities, and staff and faculty who work there.

A video of a protest Tuesday, July 9 in San Francisco to save City College is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY1j3JnMYhE.

Helena Worthen is Professor Emerita of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, and long-time community college English teacher and union activist. Joe Berry is a  retired City College teacher (History and Labor Studies), union leader and researcher on higher education and its workforce.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, July 11, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Local Filmmakers Explore Meaning of Oakland’s First Fridays

By Tasion Kwamilele

A monthly art walk is probably the last place most people would expect a shooting to occur, but in Oakland last February, that is exactly what happened.

After a young man’s death at “First Friday”, where art lovers crowd the sidewalks and often enjoy food and wine at local

Crowd at "First Fridays" in Oaklanld

Crowd at “First Fridays”  in Oaklanld

galleries, two filmmakers decided to make a movie about the gathering in the hopes of starting a dialogue about the many facets of life in Oakland.

One the one hand, the East Bay city was recently listed as one of America’s top five places to visit by the New York Times, but it’s also considered the third most violent city in America—with more than 100 murders —according to the FBI.

“People only see one thing of Oakland, but we want to produce something that’s more than what you see on the news,” said N’Jeri Eaton, one of the filmmakers, who wants to show there is more to Oakland than headline grabbing crime.

The “First Friday” film takes a look at how the event went from being a small art gathering to a citywide festival that attracts nearly 20,000 people each month — where Kiante Campbell, 18, was shot and killed after getting into a confrontation with a group of young people. Three others were wounded.

As a result of the February shooting, the event that once went from 14th to 27th street was scaled back to a smaller area — from 27th Street to West Grand Avenue. The event was also scheduled to end at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than before.

Eaton is no stranger to tackling crime stories. She produced a film that looked at the 2009 killing of four police officers from the perspective of the shooter, Lovelle Mixon.

The film showed how some in the community felt the shooter was justified because of tension with the city’s police department.

For “First Friday,” Eaton teamed up with Mario Furloni, whom she met at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism a few years ago.

Memorial for Kiante Campbell, 18, kiled at February “First Friday” event.

Memorial for Kiante Campbell, 18, kiled at February “First Fridays” event.

Rather than looking into the murder or the investigation, the filmmakers hope to spark a conversation about the social issues facing Oakland.

Furloni said that the film follows a diverse group of people who are working to preserve an event that has become a reflection of the cultural and economic realities in Oakland.

First Friday organizers are facing tough financial problems and the future of the event is uncertain. In June, organizers received the last chunk of public funding they will get from the city.

Although that money covers the cost of the July 5 event, it’s unclear what will happen after that. Organizers must find ways to pay for private security to secure future events.

Eaton believes that organizers are still trying to find the right balance of safety and control without watering down the event.

The film was shot a week before First Friday in March. Eaton says shrines and other memorabilia were still on the streets paying homage to shooting victim Kiante Campbell.

Eaton says she was inspired by the new movie “Fruitvale Station,” which uses the story of Oscar Grant, a man shot by BART police in 2009, to tell a deeper story about the people and the community of Oakland.

Eaton says, “The movie [‘Fruitvale Station’] has opened up a dialogue about Oakland, and I hope our movie does the same.”

The documentary is scheduled for release next year. Until then, Eaton and Furloni are working to finish producing the film. In August, a fundraiser will be held at Somar Bar in Oakland. For more information, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/firstfridayfilm/first-friday-film.

Courtesy of The Oakland Post, July 9, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Rent Control Proposal to Protect Tenants

By Ken A. Epstein

An Oakland City Council committee has begun a discussion of limiting or eliminating the right of landlords to raise rents to cover the costs of their mortgages and other “debt service” expenses.

Under the city’s current rent ordinance, an owner can pass through to tenants up to 95 percent of mortgage costs after a new purchase.  The Rent Board’s recommendation is that the increases be limited to 7 percent.

An alternate recommendation by the Rent Board was to eliminate debt service increases altogether, similar to other rent controlled cities.

“Of the 10 major jurisdictions in California with Rent Stabilization Ordinances, four cities authorize debt service rent increases.

Charlotte Woodard

Charlotte Woodard

Oakland is the only city where there are (almost) no limits … on rent increases based on debt service,” according to a report prepared by city staff for the Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee’s meeting last Tuesday.

Affected by the rent ordinance are about 60,000 residential units in Oakland. Rent increases tied to mortgage costs were a big issue during the housing boom and could be again when the housing market recovers.

Lining up to speak against the proposal at the CED meeting were small landlords and representatives of landlord organizations.

Richard Phillips, a contractor and architect who manage a few apartment buildings, said it was difficult to find funding for seismic retrofitting for apartment buildings, which puts residents’ lives at risk when there is an earthquake.

“Debt service and capital improvements have to be relaxed in order to pay back these loans so owners will borrow the money and do the seismic retrofits,” he said.

Charlotte Woodard, a small landlord and retired teacher. said the City Council should postpone a decision until it does more research.

“My property is underwater, and I cannot access a commercial loan,” she said, explaining that she cannot afford to make repairs to her rental property.

One of those supporting the rent proposal was James Vann, an architect and co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union.

“What debt service really means is have your tenants buy your building for you,” he said. “And if that building sells again in five years, then make the tenants pay for it again.”

James Vann

James Vann

“In Oakland, capital improvements are paid 100 percent – passed through to tenants.  Housing service costs are paid 100 percent by tenants.  Why should the cost of buying the building be passed through to tenants,” he said.

“If you read the (city) report, there were some rent increases well over 100 percent, one that was 233 percent.  And tenants can’t even object to that.”

Asking for more information on other rent ordinance proposals, councilmembers tabled the discussion until September.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 3, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)