Archive for August, 2013

Army Base Jobs and Small Businesses Win Reprieve

 Last Minute Negotiations to Keep Big Rigs Out of West Oakland

By Ashley Chambers and Ken Epstein

Community members scored a big victory this week in their ongoing struggle to keep big rig polluting trucks out of West Oakland. Bill Aboudi of Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) finally signed a lease to move to five acres of city-owned Army Base land.

Casting a shadow on that victory, however, the city is moving ahead with plans to evict OMSS and other small businesses at the Army Base property. The city also so far has not found 10 acres to replace the truck parking that will be lost when OMSS moves.

Alameda County Sheriff deputies give Bill Aboudi (left) eviction notice. Photo by Ken Epstein

Alameda County Sheriff deputies give Bill Aboudi (left) eviction notice. Photo by Ken Epstein

Aboudi signed the lease Monday to relocate OMSS from its current 15-acre property, where 18 small businesses provide services and truck parking for drivers coming through the Port of Oakland 24 hours a day.

The work to make the lease happen was the result of efforts by Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell, master developer Phil Tagami, City Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney and community groups.

The lease to OMSS means that one of Aboudi’s tenants, Horizon Trucking owned by Miguel Silva, will be able to continue its contract with Apple Inc.  As reported last week in the Post, Silva has a three-year agreement with Apple to provide German-made glass for the new Apple headquarters in Cupertino.

That contact was in jeopardy, until this week, because OMSS and Horizon were about to lose their property at the Army Base, which must be vacated by Sept. 3 so the city’s massive development project can start.

“The city is stepping up,” said Silva. “It’s given me a great solution; we’ll be able to do our job. We are excited and thankful,” he said.

While OMSS is already busy weed whacking and cleaning its five acres, Aboudi is negotiating with Blackwell to secure the additional 10 acres of truck parking he needs for the hundreds of drivers who have been parking at his old site.

The meetings with officials are continuing, and the resolution of these negotiations is still in flux. One possibility is that the port has offered the city over 11 acres, according to Robert Bernardo, communications manager for the port. Whether some of this land will be offered to OMSS to accommodate truck parking is still undetermined.

If Aboudi’s request for additional space goes unanswered, more and more truckers may be forced to park on the streets of West Oakland.  Already community leaders say they are witnessing increased traffic and parking in the community.

According to Ces Butner, president of the Port Commission, the port already provides parking for trucks, and any additional spaces are the responsibility of the city, not the port.

“Our responsibility is to provide 15 acres. We’re already doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Butner.

The city has said tenants must be off the Army Base property by Sept. 3 or face eviction.  On Wednesday, Alameda County Sheriff deputies served a “Notice to Vacate” on Aboudi, which indicated the eviction would proceed on Friday, Sept. 6.

However, John Monetta, project manager in the city’s real estate services division, told Aboudi on Wednesday that the eviction would not proceed until Friday, Sept. 13.

“We´re working hard to move. What will happen if we’re not ready by Sept. 13?” Aboudi asked Monetta.

“We’ll talk about it when we get to Sept. 13,” Monetta told him.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 31, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

Quan, Santana Accused of Undermining of Intake of Complaints Against OPD Officers

By Ken A. Epstein

Many supporters of increased police accountability to the community consider that it is a small step forward to take intake of complaints against police away from the police department and put it in the hands of neutral civilians.

But though the reform was passed two years ago, it has still not been implemented and is the center of ongoing disputes.

Deanna Santana and Jean Quan at a press conference at  OPD headquarters. Photo by Ken Epstein

Deanna Santana and Jean Quan at a press conference at OPD headquarters. Photo by Ken Epstein

Some of those backing increased police accountability now are accusing City Administrator Deanna Santana and Mayor Jean Quan of thwarting the City Council’s decision to remove intake of complaints against officer from the Internal Affairs Division of the Oakland Police Department.

The agreement was for Santana to hire eight intake technicians by the middle of October. As approved by the City Council and asked for by community groups, these new intake workers are to be trained and placed at the offices of the Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB), not within Internal Affairs.

The intent of the council decision was to “consolidate” the intake function, which up to now has taken place both in Internal Affairs and the CPRB.

However, the job announcement released by Santana’s office says the positions will be located “within the Internal Affairs Division of the Oakland Police Department.” And operate “under general supervision in the Oakland Police Department (OPD).”

However, the council had allocated funding for the workers “in the City Administrator’s budget, to be utilized to expand the CPRB – not to hire intake personnel in Internal Affairs,” said Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, which has long worked with other community groups to increase police accountability.

“She changed that allocation from her budget to the police budget. She has no authority to do that – plain and simple,” said Grinage, who accused Santana of usurping the council’s powers that are determined by the City Charter.

“At what point do we say the City Council is irrelevant and the city administration will do whatever it wants?”

Santana and Mayor Quan, who is Santana’s boss, have to share responsibility for the decision on intake workers, Grinage said. “This is a question of undermining democracy in Oakland. We learned that this administration feels impunity to ignore public policy legislated by elected representatives.”

The council’s unanimous decision two years ago to move the intake function to the CPRB came after members of the public said they have had little confidence in going to the police department to file a complaint about the police.

There were also persistent complaints that Internal Affairs intake workers actively discouraged and sometimes intimidated those who tried to file complaints.

Santana sent an email Tuesday to Grinage in response to her concerns. She said the intake workers would be placed temporarily in Internal Affairs for the purpose of training.

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca Kaplan

“The Intake Technicians will first learn the process and methods of the current staff in the Intake Unit of Internal Affairs.  The city must ensure that the new staff is properly trained and sufficiently performing the tasks of intake before those positions can be transferred to the CPRB,” Santana said in the email.

Santana also said her “action was consistent with input and comments made by the compliance director who expressed concern and/or questions about the transfer to CPRB.”

In response, Grinage said that if Santana believes the policy adopted by the council needed to be modified, she needs to present that as a proposal to the council, not unilaterally change policies at her own discretion.

Santana is violating the City Charter, said Grinage, because the charter says her job is “to execute and enforce all laws and ordinances and policies of the Council and to administer the affairs of the City,” not make policy.

When asked by the Post, Grinage said that neither the City Attorney nor the City Auditor have taken a position so far on whether Santana is violating the City Charter.

In addition, Grinage said, “I am challenging Santana to produce a document from Tom Frazier (the compliance director) stating he directed her to essentially wipe out what the City council had ordered. I asked her to produce such a document by Sept. 4.”

Libby Schaaf, Council member from District 4, sees merit in Santana’s decision to train the new workers within Internal Affairs but underscores her commitment to moving complaint intake to CPRB.

“We are all very anxious to get these positions in place. This is something the council asked for more than two years ago. We’ve been frustrated that it has taken this long,” she said.

“We want this transition to go as quickly as possible,” she said. We will be vigilant to make sure that is what happens. I think the community has every right to be frustrated and a little skeptical because this has been delayed for so long.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan reiterated her support for council’s original decision on complaint intake.

“It is essential that the reforms that I voted for and that the people have asked for be enacted, and I look forward to ensuring that it happens.  We need to continue the important work of rebuilding trust and this is a critical step in that direction,” she said.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

Local civil rights attorney Dan Siegel says the council and Quan shares responsibility if it does not stand up to Santana.

“The city  administrator is attempting to undermine the wishes of the people of Oakland to have police review civilianized. But we should not let the mayor or council off the hook.   They’re complicit if they allow Santana to ride roughshod   over the community’s wishes.”

At press time, Mayor Quan had not responded to questions submitted by the Post.

The hiring of the new intake technicians is scheduled to be discussed at the city’s finance committee meeting Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 31, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Criticism of Community College Accrediting Commission

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which has decided to terminate the accreditation of City College of San Francisco next July, is now itself either under review or the direct target of six different local, state or federal actions.

Dennis Herrera

Dennis Herrera

For City College, the loss of accreditation would mean loss of access to local, state and federal funds, which would effectively shut the college down.

Locally, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed two lawsuits, one an injunction to keep the commission from carrying out the termination.

Herrera’s press release alleges political bias on the part of the ACCJC, unfair and unlawful business practices, and “retaliation for advocating the open access mission” of the California Community Colleges.

A second lawsuit charges that the Board of Governors of the California Community College “impermissibly delegated its statutory obligation” to regulate and evaluate community colleges to a “wholly unaccountable private entity.”

On Aug. 22, the SFCC District, the college’s administrative unit under Super-Trustee Bob Agrella, filed a request with the commission for a review of its decision. The specifics of this request have not been released, as the ACCJC has decided that all items submitted to it are confidential.

That same night, 26 students from the Coalition to Save City College were arrested for trespassing when they conducted a sit-in at Mayor Lee’s office demanding that the Mayor support the fight for CCSF against the ACCJC. Their court date will be Sept. 23.

At the state level, Senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, directed the Bureau of State Audits to investigate the ACCJC, looking at the cost of accreditation and the impact of the ACCJC on the students and the people of the State of California.

This audit will result in a report with recommendations, and may take seven or eight months to complete.

In the meantime, the State Chancellor’s Office, at the request of a number of community colleges, formed an Accreditation Task Force to study the relationship between the ACCJC and the California Community Colleges generally.

This Task Force was formed last December, after the ACCJC’s “show cause” letter of July 2012. It will also result in a report.

On the federal level, the US Department of Education, following a complaint filed last April by the California Federation of Teachers, sent a letter to the ACCJC on August 13 charging ACCJC with lack of sufficient faculty representation on the accrediting team, conflicts of interest, and lack of due process.

In this letter the Department of Education said, “The ACCJC must take immediate steps to correct the areas of non-compliance identified in this letter” and made reference to the upcoming evaluation of the ACCJC by the D of E later this year.

No one at the ACCJC offices would answer questions about any of these matters.

Helena Worthen and Joe Berry can be reached at Worthenberry@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, August 30, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

McElhaney: Quan Administration “Betrayed” Council on Army Base Commitments

By Post Staff

Alameda County Sheriff Department sent a notice Thursday to PCC Logistics at the city’s Army Base property, saying that the company is facing eviction and that the sheriff is preparing to padlock the facility and take position of the contents, according to Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

“This is an action that is coming from the administration and is a betrayal of what was communicated to the City Council. Staff

said the eviction process was a formal legal procedure, but now they are putting PCC on notice, she said.

PCC Logistics, which handles customs inspections for the Port of Oakland, recently received a lease from the port for a temporary site on the port’s property. PCC is renovating the site so it can move.

“This is not what they (city staff) committed to us three weeks ago before we went on recess. They´re doing this while we’re on recess,” McElhaney said.

“This is rogue staff,” she said, adding that the mayor has to accept responsibility to solve this issue.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 24, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Takes a Bit Out of Glass Shipper’s Apple Deal

By Ashley Chambers

Ashley ChambersIt appeared to be a dream come true for small businessman Miguel Silva, owner of Horizon Freight, when he landed a three-year contract to transport German-made glass that will be used in the construction of Apple computer’s new “spaceship” campus in Cupertino, a 2.8-million-square-foot building scheduled to be built by 2015.

Horizon Freight owner Miguel Silva faces eviction from the Army Base Sept. 3, jeopardizing his contract to ship glass for Apple Inc.

Horizon Freight owner Miguel Silva faces eviction from the Army Base Sept. 3, jeopardizing his contract to ship glass for Apple Inc.

But that dream is turning into a nightmare.  He may be evicted from his business based at Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) on the city’s property at the Army Base on Sept. 3, the same day the first load of expensive glass is expected to arrive at the Port of Oakland from Germany.

Although eviction notices have been served, OMSS has yet to receive a lease for temporary space on the Army Base property, leaving Silva and his company desperately seeking alternative locations to continue business.

He is busy preparing his flat racks to load the glass, but he is unsure what will happen.

Ten years ago, Silva – originally from Peru – was faced with the same dilemma when he was doing business at the building across from OMSS on Maritime Street.

“The city gave us notice because they were going to redevelop,” says Silva. “They kicked us out of there. We lost close to $6 million in business and as a matter of fact, my brother who used to be in business with me at the time, had to go bankrupt, and he’s no longer in the industry.”

Now 10 years later, the building where Silva previously operated still stands. He says the redevelopment project is once again placing his business in jeopardy and compromising the trust of his customers, among them Apple and retailer Urban Outfitters.

When he told Apple he might not be able to load and transport their five shipments a week for the next three years due to his possible eviction, the company was very concerned, he said.

Artist's rendition of new apple HQ in Cupertino

Artist’s rendition of new Apple HQ in Cupertino

“Their reaction was that of concern, not concern because I could or could not do the job, but it was mostly concern about the unstable situation of Oakland. They wanted to do business with me – I was able to satisfy the need that they had at the rates that they had,” Silva explained.

Silva said Apple asked him, “What kind of problems are we going to face in Oakland, and should we choose to go elsewhere? Should we just reroute this cargo?”

“That’s the reality of the shipper,” he said. “They must make sure that all their bases are covered in case a situation like this happens.”

Silva says he transports an average of 25 to 30 containers a day with 27 drivers and seven staff members, while now he must also seek a place where he can relocate in order to preserve his livelihood and that of all those who work for him.

Rendition of new Apple campus

Rendition of new Apple campus

His business needs an open space big enough for oversized loads and parking of large containers. Silva and his crew manage the daily labor with a 30,000-pound forklift on a loading dock. He says the collaboration with fellow businesses at OMSS and his friendly competitor AB Trucking “allows us all to stay in business.”

“I have staff and drivers and community and customers that work with me and depend on me to do this daily business,” Silva said.

“Now we’re going to tear down these buildings, to attract whom? Are we really incentivizing business and small businesses and growth for Oakland?” Silva asked.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 23, 2013

A Helping Hand or an Axe for Army Base?

  “We’ve (already) started seeing trucks returning to West Oakland neighborhoods,” said Councilmember Lynette McElhaney

By Ken A. Epstein

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen. The anxiety level is high. This is no way to run a business.”

That is the way Bill Aboudi of Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) sums up how he and others are feeling as they await the fate of their jobs and businesses at the city’s old Army Base property.

Oakland Army Base workers show evicitons notices they received from the city. Kneeling (L to R): Luis Carbajal, Yosy Hernandez, Jorge Rivera, Parlo Garcia. Back row (L to R): Manuel Porras, Santiago Lopez, Marcos Carvacho, Joel Campos, Amado Moreno, Jesse Cota, Redro Reyes and Jesus Campos.

Oakland Army Base workers show eviction notices they received from the city. Kneeling (L to R): Luis Carbajal, Yosy Hernandez, Jorge Rivera, Parlo Garcia. Back row (L to R): Manuel Porras, Santiago Lopez, Marcos Carvacho, Joel Campos, Amado Moreno, Jesse Cota, Redro Reyes and Jesus Campos.

On one hand, city staff is working feverishly to help them move to an alternative site on city land at the North Gateway of the Army Base, located by the East Bay Municipal Utility District plant.

Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney are working to make the move happen, as is the master developer of the base project, Phil Tagami of CCIG.

On the other hand, the workers and business people would not be surprised to be met in the next few weeks by sheriffs ready to throw them into the street.

The city already has sent out evictions notices to 18 small businesses and hundreds of independent truckers who are based at OMSS. They could be evicted by Alameda County Sheriffs by Sept. 3,when the city plans to clear the property to start its long awaited Army Base development project.

Officials involved in the project have failed to return repeated calls and emails from the Post asking about what they are doing to save the jobs and businesses.

Tagami’s office referred the Post’s questions to the city. Neither Mayor Jean Quan, Assistant City Administrator Blackwell or the City Administrator’s Office returned requests for interviews.

“I continue to be positive that something will be worked out, “said McElhaney in an interview Thursday.

Dr. Randy Hicks, who does physicals and drug testing for truckers, shows the four eviction notices he received this week. Photos by Ken A. Epstein

Dr. Randy Hicks, who does physicals and drug testing for truckers, shows the four eviction notices he received this week. Photos by Ken A. Epstein

“In the past few months, we’ve started seeing trucks returning to West Oakland neighborhoods in part due to the uncertainly about what will happen to the Army Base,” she said.

With the increase of trucks on the streets, “We are seeing human excrement and public urination in the neighborhoods again,” said McElhaney.

The city is trying to find an alternative place for OMSS after Port officials and the Port Commission blocked the temporary move of OMSS to its land, despite an initial agreement worked out with the city, according to McElhaney.

The port claims that it has the capacity to provide all the truck parking and support services that are presently offered by OMSS.

What the port is doing is “absolutely leading to the harm of West Oakland residents,” McElhaney said. “City staff has told us there is no alternative to truck parking and the trucking services that OMSS provides.”

When the council member attempted to discuss the need to support OMSS before the Port Commission made a decision, commissioners did not return her calls, McElhaney said.

While the city is trying now to find a home for OMSS, it has ignored for many years the need to develop ways to support trucking and minimize the environmental impacts of the big rigs on which the port depends, according to the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and other community groups.

Only last month, the city finally agreed it will develop a plan to deal with the trucking, sometime in the next two years.

“The city and the port have not made arrangements to handle truck parking and trucking services.  We can demonstrate that the city ‘s inaction, lack of planning, has caused trucks to move back into West Oakland,” said Brian Beveridge of WOEIP.

“It means that this project increases negative impacts on the community, which jeopardizes federal funding,” he said.

Dr. Randy Hicks operates one of the small businesses at OMSS where for the past 10 years he has been running a medical office six days a week. His office does physicals and the drug and urine testing required of drivers by the federal Department of Transportation.

“We have received four different eviction notices since Monday,” said Hicks. “My employees are freaking out. They don’t know if they are going to have a job, if they need to start looking.”

He said he believes his practice is the only one that serves truckers in Oakland though there are a couple in Hayward. He says he does about 50 or 60 drug tests a week and the same number of physicals.

“The drivers can come here on their lunch breaks. They can just do their physicals and get back to work,” said Aboudi. In the past they used to go to a doctor’s office in Jack London Square, which would cause them to lose about a half day of work, he said.

“I ask the city, ‘What do I tell the people here at the base?’ They say, ‘Tell them they have to move,” Aboudi said. “I ask them, ‘Where are they going to move?’ They say, ‘We’re working on that.’”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 23, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

Students Call on SF Mayor Lee Join Efforts to Save City College

By Post Staff

Students rallied and 26 were arrested at City Hall this week, led by the Save City College Coalition, demanding that Mayor Ed Lee join with civic leaders and community organizations that are calling on the Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to reverse its decision to terminate City College of San Francisco accreditation, putting the college’s future in jeopardy.

After a rally and sit-in on Tuesday of several hundred students, at midnight a group of students was arrested for occupying City Hall, after Mayor Lee refused to meet with them or support their demands.

City College students Sat in las Tuesday the Mayor's Office

City College students Sat in last Tuesday at City Hall.

According to the students, the mayor has so far refused to criticize the commission and its decision to close the school. He has backed the appointment Special Trustee Bob Agrella, who they consider a “dictator” whose job is to make cuts and enforce the changes the commission is calling for.

Mayor Lee has over the past month has ignored numerous requests of student leaders for a meeting, according to the students. “If the mayor actually supports City College and its students, he needs to demand the immediate reversal of the ACCJC’s decision to close CCSF,” said Lalo Gonzalez, a City College student and senator of the Associated Students at CCSF-Ocean Campus.

The student demands are: drop all ACCJC sanctions against CCSF, and  fire the special trustee.

Students arrested at SF City Hall protest

Students arrested at SF City Hall protest

Though the mayor does not have the immediate decision-making power to overturn the ACCJC decision, according to the student protesters, he does have the political and moral responsibility as the leader of San Francisco to throw his weight behind the effort to overturn the ACCJC attacks on City College.

Mayor Lee’s office did not return a call from the Post.

For more information go to www.saveccsf.org

Courtesy of San Francisco Post, August 22, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Community College’s Accrediting Commission Has Reputation for Aggressive Behavior

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), under the leadership Dr. Barbara Beno, has drawn national attention for extremely aggressive behavior in its evaluation of community colleges.

Robert Agrella

Robert Agrella

In July, the commission decided to withdraw accreditation of the City College of San Francisco, which would force the closure of the institution. The reasons for the ruling were not based on educational issues or financial malfeasance but primarily on the commission’s concerns about the college’s management and structure.

During the year ending June 2012, the commission issued 63 percent of sanctions issued by all accrediting commissions in the country.

Dr. Beno was at one time president of Berkeley City College (then Vista), part of the Peralta Community College District. In the East Bay.  In 2006, sanctions against the Peralta District by ACCJC under her leadership were withdrawn after the district threatened to sue.

The ACCJC itself is now under scrutiny because the Department of Education, in response to a complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers in April, has found fault with how the commission t arrived at its decision to sanction City College.

In a letter received Aug. 14 the Department of Education found that the commission’s evaluation of the college showed conflicts of interest, had insufficient faculty representation and had changed its criteria from “recommendations” to “requirements” between its 2012 and its 2013 termination decision.

The criticism of ACCJC from the federal Department of Education will not affect the decision to close the college, according to Paul Feist, vice chancellor for Communication at the Chancellor’s Office.

It “doesn’t change the sanctions under which the college is living,” said Feist in a telephone interview.

He said the decision to appoint Robert Agrella as super trustee, with “extraordinary” powers to implement change at the college, was necessary because of the timeframe imposed on the college for getting the changes done.

“The decision to appoint the special trustee came about because the college does not have the luxury of time to address deficiencies and meet the standards for accreditation,” he said.

The timeframe, however, was set by the ACCJC. When asked if it was not therefore a product of a flawed process, Feist said that the appointment of the super-trustee was a decision of the Chancellor’s Office, completely separate from the ACCJC decision.

Some time between the arrival of the letter from the Department of Education and Aug. 19, the ACCJC determined that all documents submitted to the commission, including the letter from the Department of Education, were confidential.

However, many copies of the letter have already been distributed.

Helena Worthen and Joe Berry can be reached at Worthenberry@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, August 22, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com

Bay Area Watches Richmond’s Plan to Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure

By Tanya Dennis

Grace Martinez, an Organizer for the Alliance of Californians in San Francisco, was excited to learn that the City of Richmond has decided to use the power of eminent domain to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

“This is a David and Goliath fight and all homeowners want is a slingshot,” she said. “Richmond is using a tactic that is

Richmond is using eminent domain to respond to continuing foreclosure crisis

Richmond is using eminent domain to respond to continuing foreclosure crisis

usually used against homeowners to help them level the playing field.

Peggy Hart, Co-Chair of the Home Defender’s League in Oakland, agrees, seeing Richmond’s pathbreaking approach as something other cities can adopt.

“Housing advocates from other cities are watching the outcome as they feel eminent domain could help residents in their cities as well,” says Hart. “Using eminent domain in Oakland would give people, people of color and single income families a second chance to keep their homes, especially old people who are being put out of their homes because they can’t qualify because of their age.”

Eminent domain, traditionally used by cities and states to seize property from homeowners for the “common good” to build roads and shopping malls, is now being considered to seize underwater mortgages from lenders, reduce the mortgages to current market value and resell them back to the homeowner.

Richmond could become the first city in the nation to use eminent domain to bail out distressed homeowners.

“The banks have sold these loans to other investors and the people who peddled these loans no longer care if the loan succeeds.  They don’t lose when the homeowner loses, and often loan servicers actually do better when the homeowner is foreclosed upon,” said Amy Shur, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) campaign director.

Roughly half of all homes in Richmond are underwater and some homeowners owe three or four times what the home is worth. While housing prices are beginning to skyrocket in more affluent Bay Area communities, Richmond remains mired in underwater mortgages.

Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) is the investment firm providing funding and support to save residents’ homes. MRP will pay off bondholders close to the current value, and then sell the new the new mortgage to the homeowner less than the previous amount.

The city has sent 32 banks and other mortgage holders an offer to buy 624 mortgages.  If the offers are denied, the letter indicates that Richmond may use the power of eminent domain, condemn the mortgages, seize them, and pay court-determined fair market value.  City leaders indicate that the purpose is to stabilize the community and prevent foreclosures.

Banks and investors are vehemently opposed to the idea.

“We think it is unconstitutional, illegal and very bad policy.  Mortgage lending is a business, and lenders and mortgage investors have to say what kind of return they want and how much risk they can tolerate.  That’s just the way markets work,” said Chris Killian, managing director of the Securities and Financial Markets Association, a trade group that represents banks and securities firms.

“Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage holder in Richmond release a statement:  “We believe this approach will harm mortgage investors, the housing market, and the communities and borrowers that its proponents claim they would be helping.”

MRP chairman Steven Gluckstern said, “In Richmond, I see political and community leaders courageous enough to wage this battle and make no mistake, it’s going to be a battle.”

MRP will offer Richmond the technical assistance, financial backing including all legal costs.  In return, the for-profit firm would receive a flat  fee of $4,500 per mortgage.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 18, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Judge Rules NYPD Stop and Frisk Practices Unconstitutional, Racially Discriminatory

In a landmark decision this week, a federal court found the New York City Police Department’s highly controversial stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional.

In her thorough, 198-page ruling last week, Judge Shira Sheindlin found the NYPD’s practices to violate New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and

New York police

New York police

seizures and also found that the practices were racially discriminatory in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

To remedy the widespread constitutional violations, the judge ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee a series of reforms to NYPD policing practices and also ordered a Joint Remedial Process that will solicit input from a variety of stakeholders, including New York communities most directly affected by policing.

The court’s ruling follows a 10-week trial that concluded on May 20. The class action lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, was brought by the Center of Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the law firms of Beldock, Levine, and Hoffman and Covington & Burling.

“This historic victory is the result not only of our 14 years of litigation, but of decades’ worth of efforts by activists, grassroots and legal organizations, and affected communities. The NYPD is finally being held to account for its longstanding illegal and discriminatory policing practices. The City must now stop denying the problem and partner with the community to create a police department that protects the safety and respects the rights of all New Yorkers,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Darius Charney,

In 2011, the NYPD reported a record 685,724 stops — a 600 percent increase since Raymond Kelly took over as NYPD Commissioner in 2002. Eighty-four percent of those stopped were Black or Latino, and 88 percent of the people stopped were neither arrested nor received summonses. Despite the stated purpose of the policy, weapons and contraband were recovered less than 2 percent of the time.

In concluding that the city is liable for a widespread pattern and practice of stops and frisks in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of all New Yorkers, the court said:

“[The City has] received both actual and constructive notice since at least 1999 of widespread Fourth Amendment violations occurring as a result of the NYPD’s stop and frisk practices. Despite this notice, they deliberately maintained and even escalated policies and practices that predictably resulted in even more widespread Fourth Amendment violations. . . . The NYPD has repeatedly turned a blind eye to clear evidence of unconstitutional stops and frisks.”

August 17, 2013