Archive for August, 2013

Deal with Port to Save Army Base Companies and Jobs Falls Through

By Ken A. Epstein

As eviction day approaches, the possibility of finding a temporary home for Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) and the 18 small businesses that operate at OMSS remains mired in negotiations between city staff and the Port of Oakland.

A possible agreement, which was discussed after Mayor Jean Quan and new port Executive Director Chris Lytle spoke, seems to have fallen through.  At this point, the city is exploring other options, which the port may or may not accept.

Wait waiting in line at Port of Oakland

Trucks at Port of Oakland

City staff is moving ahead to evict OMSS and all the small businesses and hundreds of independent truckers based at OMSS.

At the same time, however, the city is trying to move OMSS from its property to a site it has leased from the port. The city wants work can begin Sept. 3 on the Army Base development project, while still preserving truck services and parking that keep the big rigs out of West Oakland.

“I am getting caught in the crossfire between the port and the city,” said Bill Aboudi, OMSS’s owner. “City staff is working with me. They are doing their best, but I have my hands tied.”

The Port Commission recently passed an ordinance saying it will not approve the city sublease to OMSS, unless the company settles a $1 million lawsuit, which is now in federal court awaiting a hearing.  That lawsuit, involving wages and hours of employees, is not against OMSS but another company that belongs to Aboudi.

The ordinance says, in part: “The proposed subleasee shall have satisfied all outstanding judgment (s) of any court of competent jurisdiction against the proposed subleasee or its related entities arising from the truck parking or trucking operations of the subleasee or its related entities.”

The port ordinance was passed in the wake of intense lobbying efforts to close down Aboudi’s businesses by the Teamsters Union as part of a campaign to unionize independent truckers at the port.

Last week, OMSS supporters were expressing confidence that the port’s new executive director might allow the city to sublease to OMSS, if the city clearly accepted all liability related to the sublease and stipulated that it believes OMSS can meet its financial obligations.

The letter was written, but no agreement was reached with the port.  At this point, the city is considering giving OMSS a month-to-month contract.  But such a fragile arrangement would make it difficult for OMSS to find financing to do more than $1 million in improvements necessary to operate on the temporary site.

Even if port land is not available, the city has an obligations under a longstanding agreement with San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to provide 15 acres of truck parking and services so that trucks will not end up on the streets of Oakland communities, said Dexter Vizinau, a consultant who works with OMSS and other army base businesses.

“The city has a mandate to provide 15 acres of parking through this whole development process within the old Army Base,” said Vizinau.

Steve Lowe

Steve Lowe

“The city has 150 acres that it is going to develop. OMSS could be moved to somewhere else on the site, where no work is going on, and the project would not be slowed down at all,” he said.

Steve Lowe, vice president of the West Oakland Commerce Association, said the  city for years has failed to support West Oakland businesses aand failed to make business retention a part of the Army Base project.

“It is a shame that the city and the port working together have done this to Bill Aboudi, who runs a viable enterprise that has created jobs and has the support of the West Oakland community,” he said.

OMSS and other Army Base businesses over the years have “have been sliced and diced,” Lowe said.  “We’ve lost a lot of West Oakland businesses in the process. It has not been pleasant to watch.”

The City Council and city staff are “now honoring their commitment to business retention,” but for many years there has been a “ big demonstration of bad faith on the city’s part, and it has cost us dearly,” Lowe said.

“It has been a huge blow to Oakland’s industrial viability.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 16, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Oakland Home Defaults on the Rise

By Spencer Whitney

While home foreclosures in Oakland have fallen in past few months, the city has seen an increase in the numbers of Notices of Default, which means that the number of homeowners who are starting the foreclosure process are on the upswing, according to a new City of Oakland foreclosure report.

There were 112 new Notices of Default in April and 109 in May. Between April and the end of June, 253 families have lost

Homeowners still losing their properties

Homeowners still losing their properties

their homes due to foreclosure.

The quarterly report states that currently, 90 percent of Oakland families in foreclosure have owned their home for at least six years, with over one-third of them owning their homes for more than 10 years.

This trend means that long-time residents are being more affected more foreclosures. In the past the majority of those losing their homes had only owned their properties for about two years.

Another recent trend is a decline in short sales, that is, fewer owners are selling their “underwater” homes at a loss and walking away from their investment.

However, buyers of homes in Oakland have “flipped” or resold short sale purchases 3.5 times more in this quarter than last year.

The city also now seems to have a number of speculators who are buying up homes and raising the rents, which is forcing many African American families to move.

According members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), one of these companies is REO Homes LLC, which now owns over 200 properties in the “lower bottoms” neighborhood of West Oakland.

“These speculators are pricing people out of their homes,” said Shirley Burnell, an ACCE member and West Oakland resident.

“They are raising the rent to $2,600 in some areas. How many people living in West Oakland can afford that? Financially, this was not the case before, and now more people in the community are jobless.”

Burnell says she hopes that Oakland City Council can help find methods to keep families in their homes and off the streets.

The City Council in November passed an ordinance that requires the registration, inspection, and maintenance of foreclosed homes bought by investors. The program creates an online registration system and a database system to identify targeted properties for enforcement.

Last year, the council also approved funds to prevent foreclosures with housing counseling and legal services, as well as a Restoring Ownership Opportunity Today (ROOT) loan fund program to preserve homeownership for qualified distressed families.

The fund will allow the housing nonprofit agency to buy the foreclosed homes at current market value and resell them to homeowner. The agency will work closely with the selected homeowners on budgeting and repairing their credit to make sure they can handle the payments.

According to Margaretta Lin of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Chase and Bank of America have joined Wells Fargo in helping to finance the Root fund program. Lin says if the program is successful, it could possibly be expanded to the rest of the East Bay.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 16, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

U.S. Dept. of Education: Commission Evaluating City College Did Not Follow Federal Regulations

By Post Staff

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which  is revoking City College of San Francisco’s accreditation next year, has itself not followed several federal regulations when it investigated the community college, according to a letter sent Tuesday to the ACCJC by  the U.S. Department of Education.

Barbara Beno

Barbara Beno

Krista Johns, JCCJC’s vice president for policy research, argued the letter would have no impact on the commission’s  ruling against City College.

“It is not affected by this letter,” she said. “This letter really examines the policies and procedures of the accrediting commission.”

But a leader of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents faculty at the school, said she thinks the accrediting commission’s ruling should be overturned.

“I believe it means they need to reverse the entire decision,” said Alisa Messer, president of the teachers’ federation.

In the six-page letter, Kay Gilche, director of the Department of Education’s Accreditation Group, said the commission had not complied with a number federal regulations when it reviewed the school.

The commission’s evaluation teams, which were supposed to be made up of both administrators and teachers, had only one teacher.

In addition, the Education Department cited conflict-of-interest concerns because one of the evaluation team members was the husband of the accreditation commission’s president, Barbara Beno.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, August 16, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

CCSF Elected Leaders: “This Last Year Has Been Like Being Under an Occupation”

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

Shanell Williams, Dr. Anita Grier, Alisa Messer and David Campos are all elected leaders fighting to save SF City College, which has been threatened with loss of accreditation effective July 2014.

When the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) announced recently announced the decision to remove accreditation, it complained that,  “Some constituencies are not ready to follow college leadership.”

These four leaders are saying their constituencies are not ready to accept “college leadership” if that means closing CCSF.

Shanell Williams

Shanell Williams

Shanell Williams was elected July 1, as student trustee representing all 85,000 students in the district on the CCSF Board of Trustees.  She also serves on the executive board of the statewide Student Senate.

However, she has been barred by the new college “czar” Bob Agrella from attending CCSF board meetings and was stopped by campus police when she tried.

Williams participated in the work groups that attempted to satisfy the demands of the ACCJC last year. “Everyone worked their butts off,” she said. “Everyone was trying to be compliant.”

However, when the committee assigned to develop the college mission statement was convened, she says, the mission statement had already been written.

Traditional non-credit missions like lifelong learning, civic engagement and cultural enrichment had been eliminated. “The last year has been like being under an occupation,” she said. “Even the Board – they were scared, they didn’t want to speak out.”

Dr. Anita Grier has been an elected member of the City College Board of Trustees for 12 years. She is one of two Black

Dr. Anita Grier

Dr. Anita Grier

members of the Board of Trustees.   She was elected by the whole CCSF district.

She and the rest of the board were all dismissed by Bob Agrella when he took over. She was told that she was not allowed to meet with other members of the Board of Trustees, privately or publicly.

“I am very saddened that I can’t represent the public, and I can’t do what I was elected to do,” she said.

On April 13, Dr. Grier received a message from the college that the chancellor of the community colleges, Brice Harris, would be giving a keynote address. Traditionally, members of the Board of Trustees would be introduced at this meeting.

She decided to go and see what would happen. “They had so much security. I thought maybe I would have been kicked out of the meeting – that would have been OK, too,” she said.

“We have been halted in our efforts to run the college,” she said.

Alisa Messer

Alisa Messer

Alisa Messer is president of the faculty union, AFT 2121, representing over 1,600 full and part-time teachers. Some of the demands by the ACCJC are cuts in faculty pay, job security and benefits, which are items that have to be negotiated between the union and the district.

The union has responded by proposing intensive marathon negotiations in which the union and the district meet day after day until the contract is settled. They also started “fishbowl” bargaining, which means that interested members may come and sit and watch bargaining take place.

This is both a demonstration of good faith bargaining by the union and a way to display what representing a constituency looks like.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, about 100 members showed up in addition to the negotiating team.  So far, the district has agreed not to cut part-time faculty job security (“re-hire rights”) and the pay scale that makes teaching at CCSF a decent job even for part-timers.

However, no final agreement has been reached. The union was hoping to settle the contract before classes began, in order to allow faculty to concentrate on teaching and on dealing with remaining accreditation issues.

David Campos, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, represents District 9, which includes the Mission campus where 8,500 students attend classes.

SF Supervisor David Campos

SF Supervisor David Campos

There are questions he says he cannot answer.

“I honestly do not know why anyone would want to shut down City College,” he said. He points out that under immigration reform, the demand for ESL classes, which are targeted for cuts, will surge.

His second question is about the position taken by Mayor Ed Lee:  “I’m still trying to understand what the mayor is trying to do.  He appears to be more behind the ACCJC than not. We would like to see the city government speaking with one voice to save City College in its present form, not gutted to the point where it is not recognizable. “

Phone calls and emails to Mayor Ed Lee’s office resulted only in a web link to a press release.

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

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, August 16, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Army Base Companies’ Survival Now in Port’s Hands

By Ashley Chambers and Ken Epstein

Down to the wire, the City of Oakland and community members are close to saving Oakland Maritime Support Services, a nationally recognized truck yard that provides parking and one-stop support for 3,000 big rigs a day that serve the Port of Oakland.

Bill Aboudi

Bill Aboudi

Bill Aboudi, owner of OMSS, met Tuesday with Mayor Jean Quan and Deputy Mayor Sandré Swanson, who pledged to be actively involved to make sure the company can receive a 30-month lease to move to a temporary site on port land.

At press time, the port has already given a lease for the property to the city. But the Port Commission had added conditions that OMSS must meet, and the port’s new executive director has the final decision on whether the city will be allowed to give OMSS a sublease.

The city has sent a letter to the port saying that it is satisfied those conditions have been met. At present, the port’s legal staff is reviewing that letter and will advise new Port Executive Director Chris Lytle, who will make the final decision.

At stake for the city is whether polluting big rigs will be kept out of West Oakland, which would be in jeopardy if the company closes, say community activists who have worked closely with OMSS for years to reduce truck traffic and parking on residential streets in their neighborhoods.

Moreover, OMSS and other companies must move immediately off the Oakland’s Army Base property so the city’s massive development project at the base can start by Sept 3, which is the deadline Oakland must meet to avoid jeopardizing a $242 million in state matching funds.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said Assistant City Manager Fred Blackwell at a recent Community and Economic Development Committee meeting.  “It is important for us to do what we’re doing now (proceeding with the eviction orders),” he said, because the city does not want to “have to have embarrassing conversations with the state not being able to spend the money.”

If OMSS is unable to secure a sublease, Aboudi says he has no choice but to go to court to fight the eviction.

“I don’t want a fight with the city and the port. We just want to do business, but OMSS is too important to the lives of community members and hundreds of workers and small businesses,” said Aboudi, who had a court date scheduled Thursday afternoon to attempt to block the eviction.

OMSS, which has been running into obstacles put in its way by the city and the port for almost a year, is one of the companies that faces eviction by Sept. 3 from their home on the city’s Army Base property to temporary space on port land.

 

Big rigs waiting to enter OMSS. Photo by Ken Epstein

Big rigs waiting to enter OMSS. Photo by Ken Epstein

While other companies have repeatedly thwarted in their efforts to receive leases to move, OMSS has additionally been faced with determined efforts by the Teamsters Union, which has intensely lobbied the port and the city to shut down the company as part of its efforts to unionize drivers who own their own trucks.

Recently, the Port Commission placed what some are calling almost insurmountable obstacles in the way for OMSS. Although the city had agreed to assume all risks associated with a sublease to the OMSS, the commission is requiring that Aboudi settle and pay penalties in an ongoing litigation that involves another company that he owns, AB Trucking.

Hoping to resolve the issue, the mayor has spoken with the port’s executive director, and the city sent a letter to the port saying it is satisfied that Aboudi and OMSS are able to meet their obligations, and that letter is currently being reviewed by port attorneys.

OMSS, a kind of co-op, is the home of 18 small, mostly family- and minority-owned businesses that provide 24-hour-a-day trucking services, including engine repair, sign painting, oil changes, repair or replace tires, a truck scale, live scan fingerprinting, as well as a mini-mart and medical services.

Other army base companies, PCC Logistics and Impact Transportation, this week were sent drafts of new leases for port property and have already been approved to begin start working on their temporary sites, according to the port.

The companies are reviewing the leases before signing them and have already begun to do the work that is necessary so they can move.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 10, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Dexter Vizinau Wins Black Expo Community Impact Award

By Post Staff

The Bay Area Black Expo Foundation Thursday presented a Community Impact Award to East Bay businessman Dexter Vizinau for his excellence in serving the community.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

Vizinau was recognized for personal acts of kindness and good works as a compassionate and concerned community leader. He was one of six community leaders to receive the foundation’s Blue Diamond award at an event in downtown Oakland.

In business in both Oakland and Richmond, Vizinau supports companies at the old Army Base, where he has worked to retain small businesses that provide jobs and provide important services needed by the community. He is also president of CybertTran International, a technology start up company in Richmond that is commercializing ultra light rail transit, seeking to manufacture rail cars for the global market.

Vizinau also has been in charge of youth basketball at Hilltop YMCA for the past 10 years and is a member of the executive board of the Richmond NAACP. In addition, he has actively worked for over 15 years to support foster care, serving on the board of a foster care agency, Kair In-home Social Services.

The Bay Area Black Expo is held once a year in Oakland. Now in its 22nd year, it promotes community businesses and artists by providing them with high-end exposure to over 6,000 attendees.

The year’s expo will be held Saturday, Aug. 10 from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Mills College, 5000 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 9, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Bryan Parker Joins Mayoral Race

By Ken A. Epstein

Bryan Parker, a lawyer and port commissioner, has joined the growing field of candidates who are already running for or thinking about running for mayor of Oakland next year.

Bryan Parker

Bryan Parker

Mayor Jean Quan has already launched her reelection efforts, as has Joe Tuman, university professor and local television political analyst. District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid, who has served on the council since 1997, is considering entering the race.

Seeking to establish himself early as a serious contender, Parker announced recently that his campaign has already raised $98,975, about one-third more than the $66,458 raised by Quan.

Parker, 44, has served until recently as the head of the Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and is currently a member of the Port of Oakland Commission.

Oakland’s WIB has been plagued by allegations of failure to spend money for job programs in a timely way and allocating funding for youth jobs that ignored the needs of West Oakland and Spanish-speaking young people in Central East Oakland.

In an interview with the Post, he explained why he considers his two-and-a-half year tenure on the WIB a success.

“It was a very fractured board when I got there.  There was lots of infighting, not good processes, things were not getting done on time,” he said. “I brought less rancor to the board – I brought us together around mission and value.”

Born in Chicago and raised in Stockton, Parker graduated from UC Berkeley and earned a law degree from New York University. He is licensed to practice law in New York and California.

He lives in North Oakland, District 1. He is unmarried and has no children.

Until recently, he was general manager of internal growth at Davita, a company that provides kidney dialysis services. “I ran a $700 million business for them,” Parker said.

Though he still does some healthcare consulting, Parker left the company in April in order to devote his time to the campaign.

A member of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, Social, he belongs to Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and is on the board of Holy Names University in Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 9, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com

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Prison Hunger Strikers Face Retaliation, Say Supporters

By Jaron K. Epstein

Authorities are taking reprisals against participants in the ongoing hunger strike of prisoners against the indefinite detention of inmates in solitary confinement in the California prison system, according to supporters of the hunger strikers.

Mediators working to settle the strike are calling for an independent investigation into the July 22 death of Billy “Guero” Sell, a prisoner held in solitary confinement at Corcoran State Prison and a participant in the three-week hunger strike.

Protesters chained themselves to the doors of the state building in Oakland on Monday, Aug. 5,  in solidarity with prison hunger strikers.

Protesters chained themselves to the doors of the state building in Oakland on Monday, Aug. 5, in solidarity with prison hunger strikers.

Sell’s death was ruled a suicide by prison officials who released a statement saying that he was not participating in the hunger strike at the time of his death.

Hunger strikers insist that he had repeatedly asked for medical attention for several days, but his requests were ignored. He was being held in solitary and was found dead in his cell, according to prison officials.

“The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) could have negotiated the demands of the prisoners well before the strike began. Had they done so, I am convinced that Billy Sell would still be with us today,” said St. Mary’s College Professor Ronald Ahnen of the mediation team.

“The conditions that they’re being held in is torture,” said Ahnen. “They’re human beings. That doesn’t give us the right, no matter what they did, it doesn’t give us the right to torture them.”

California has four Security Housing Unit prisons, holding more than 4,500 men.  Separated from the rest of the prison population to control gang violence, they generally get less food, fewer privileges and no phone calls until they can earn their way back to a regular cell. Many are kept in solitary for decades.

The number of inmates participating in the hunger strike at first grew to over 30,000 inmates, but the number has since declined in the wake of retaliation by prison guards, spokespeople for the inmates have said.

“We urge CDCR to ensure that no prisoner on hunger strike be disciplined or threatened with the denial of medical care, that prisoners not be denied liquids, vitamins or any other form of sustenance they are willing to take, and that they receive appropriate medical care. We demand all medical professionals uphold their code of ethics and maintain the highest standards of care for all their patients – be they incarcerated or not,” according to a letter to prison officials by attorneys representing some of the hunger strikers.

 Retaliation has allegedly been taken against 14 of those who have played central leadership roles in the current hunger strike, last year signing the Agreement to End Hostilities Among Racial Groups, which called for an end to the tactics used by the CDCR to create tensions and animosity amongst different racial groups  hoping to incite conflicts and then vilify the inmates.

The 14 who signed this document were within the first few days of the hunger strike singled out and moved from isolated Security housing Unit cells to more extreme Segregated Administrative cells – without access to their legal documents, radio or television.

“The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have been spending a lot of money sending around their spokesperson to demonize the inmates involved in the hunger strike and personally attack their family members,” said Isaac Ontiveros of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 8, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Seeking New Students at SF City College

By Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

Students and others fighting to save San City College of San Francisco are going out into the community to find people who may want to take classes this fall.

They are leaving the new schedule of classes at locations throughout the city.

Tarik Farrar

Tarik Farrar

This is part of the effort by the SaveCityCollege Coalition to boost enrollment for fall classes, since loss of enrollment can trigger a downward spiral in state funding, which is based on how many students took classes the previous year.

“The Coalition quite spontaneously got the idea of saturating the city with course schedules. They were sitting there in boxes, doing nothing – thousands of them, “said Tarik Farrar, anthropologist and chair of the African American Studies Department.

“People started going in and picking up these boxes and delivering them to every library, coffee shop, supermarkets – everywhere. It was absolutely remarkable, the efficiency and energy with which people were doing this.  This is our response to this catastrophe.”

The July 3 decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to close City College in July 2014 has scared many people into not signing up for classes.

Farrar warns that under-enrolled (less than 20) classes will get cancelled, leaving students without choices and faculty without jobs. He explains:

“If there was an actual agenda to downsize City College, this will do it.  Even if the school is not closed, the message that was sent was that City College is finished, and students will choose to go somewhere else or not go anywhere at all.”

Nevertheless, City College is open and accredited, and classes will transfer. The San Francisco Giants are going to flash “City College Is Open” during the game.

“As far as African American students go, we’re not the hardest hit,” said Farrar.  Even so, our enrollment is about 10 – 15 percent lower than they should be at this point.  When we see the figures for Aug.t 5, 6 and 7, we’ll have a sense of what is going to happen.”

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

Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 8, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)