Archive for September, 2013

Effort to Revive Oakland’s Stalled Project to Sell Affordable Homes

By Tanya Dennis
Concerned housing activists are meeting with the city on how to revive a stalled community land trust designed to create hundreds of affordable houses in Oakland.
Rally at  Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT) property

Rally at Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT) property

Created to great fanfare in 2007, the Urban Strategies Council and other Oakland community-based organizations formed the land trust to provide affordable housing in Oakland.

The Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT) was awarded $5.025 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funding from the City of Oakland. By acquiring and rehabilitating vacant foreclosed homes, the program was designed help stabilize struggling Oakland neighborhoods and provide affordable homes.

OakCLT acquired its first bank-owned foreclosure on Olive Street in 2010 and officially launched its Neighborhood Stabilization Program Homeownership Project.

Of the 17 foreclosed homes that OakCLT purchased, five have already been sold and another five have been rehabilitated, and the process of finding qualified buyers is underway.

However, analysts estimate that the program must expand to 200 homes to reach the break-even point to be self-sustaining.

But the program has stalled since interim Executive Director Ann Griffin resigned and the defunded Oakland Redevelopment no longer exists to serve as a platform for first time homebuyers.

These problems have resulted in the agency temporarily coming under HUD scrutiny.

Concerned that speculators continue to dominate Oakland’s housing market, members of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) met recently with Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell and Housing Director Michele Byrd to discuss how OakCLT can be revived.

ACCE wants to know why the revolving account was not being utilized to purchase more homes and how the Oakland Housing Counseling “ROOTS” program can be better utilized to find qualified buyers.

Housing Director Byrd acknowledged that the project had stalled with the loss of the board director and the failure to sell homes to qualified buyers, which has resulted in blight issues.

“After four years the program is working more smoothly. We’re getting more banks on board, and HUD is off our backs,” said Byrd.

“With the market coming back, we anticipate more qualified buyers. However, we still need an administrator for the program. Until that happens, we can’t move effectively move forward.”

Faced with the difficulty in reaching OakCLT’s goal of acquiring 200 homes in order to make the program self-sustaining, Byrd said that there would need to be more tours, perhaps by joining with Operation Hope to do more financial counseling.

Acknowledging that the initial $5 million grant was not enough to acquire 200 homes, she said, “We reaching out to banks to donate properties to us. So far Bank of America has donated one home to the Land Trust.

“Also with improvement in the economy, we’re hopeful that we’ll find more qualified buyers,” she said

OakCLT has two additional homes in the process of entering the land trust through a partnership with Youth Employment Partnership (YEP), which is rehabilitating the houses as training opportunities for at-risk youth.

OAKCLT hopes to expand this strategy to bring more permanently affordable homes to Oakland residents while creating career pathways for young adults.

“At a time when Oakland’s flatland neighborhoods are being bought up by investment firms and hedge funds, the land trust is a countervailing tool supporting community ownership and stewardship of homes and land for the benefit of Oakland’s low and moderate income residents,” said Steve King of the Urban Strategies council.

OakCLT anticipates selling all of its existing homes by the end of 2013.

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

City Puts Big Rigs Back on Streets

By Ashley Chambers

As big rig trucks begin to park more and more on city streets, the need remains high for the parking spaces formerly provided by Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) and its owner Bill Aboudi, who is working hard to get his new, cramped 5-acre space on the Port of Oakland’s portion of the old Army Base property ready to resume business.

OMSS staffer Luis Carbajal (far right) talks to independent trucker Ben Tam as Herbert Landaberry (eft) and logs his information. For the past week, driver information has been logged manually until electricity is accessible at OMSS' new site. Photo by Ashley Chambers

OMSS staffer Luis Carbajal (far right) talks to independent trucker Ben Tam as Herbert Landaberry (eft) and logs his information. For the past week, driver information has been logged manually until electricity is accessible at OMSS’ new site. Photos by Ashley Chambers

After being locked out of his location on Maritime Street last Friday by the Alameda County Sheriffs Department, acting under orders from the city, Aboudi has been working seven days a week to get his new site on Wake Avenue up and running.

While the site lacked electricity and water when the move began, the port has stepped in to install utilities, which was expected to be completed by Friday.

While Aboudi had no control over when or where he would be able to move, he says he is happy that at least he has a home.

However, downsizing has placed some of his 18 tenants – which include a mini-mart and truck scale and a graphic designer – tied up in the confusing transition as they try to find a space to relocate their businesses.

The move has also delayed some business operations as container parking is already reaching capacity, and tenants such as Horizon Freight owner Miguel Silva try to manage their workload in the reduced space.

Silva says the work has become more difficult in the process.

“The second we lift these off the ground, I hope no one occupies this space,” said Silva as he secured a load on one of his flat racks. “It’s the layout situation that affects us. It’s better than nothing, but it’s definitely not adequate.”

Silva has already received and transported his first shipment of German-made glass, to be used in the construction of Apple, Inc.’s new headquarters in Cupertino. He expects an increased volume of cargo in coming weeks.

“Anything that disrupts the process of the port results in increased volume for parking. But the people making the decisions don’t know about the trucking industry. All they do is make assumptions,” Silva said.

Truck mechanics also have been forced to postpone their daily operations until electricity and space is available for them at the new OMSS property. For truckers who travel up to 3 hours or more a day, they could pay an extra $600 to receive service at a dealership rather than with the small business mechanics at OMSS.

“Do you want mechanics on the street dropping oil in the drains and leaving parts in the streets?” Asked Independent trucker Carlos Jordan, who has been working with Aboudi for 23 years.

“We need the mechanics [here]. We can’t go to San Jose [to a mechanic], hook up a trailer here to deliver, and then go to Sacramento,” he said. “It’s a waste of money for us. We’re independent, trying to survive, trying to make a living.”

With the 24-hour mini-mart and truck scale currently shut down, truckers also say they have waited an hour or more in line to receive service at Port Scales Inc.

The scale company has been experiencing higher volumes of trucks with the OMSS move but is only open until 6 p.m., turning some truckers away each day.

“Most of the time we miss a load almost every day now. The biggest problem right now is the scales,” said owner operator Inder Singh.

CCIG, owned by developer Phil Tagami, is occupying Aboudi’s old property, and the city have notified truckers of the transition and suggested parking locations at OMSS’ new site as well as the AMPCO Trucking Lot – both locations that are full to capacity for truck parking.

Bill Aboudi works to remove bamboo plants at his old 15-acre Army Base property, now occupied by CCIG owned by developer Phil Tagami. Aboudi hope to use the bamboo as par of a plan to recycle waste water.

Bill Aboudi works to remove bamboo plants at his old 15-acre Army Base property, now occupied by CCIG owned by developer Phil Tagami. Aboudi hope to use the bamboo as par of a plan to recycle waste water.

The city has repeatedly said that alternative options for truck parking are currently being developed.

Aboudi said, “The demand is here. The city said, we’ll figure it out. I haven’t seen them figure it out yet.”

In an interview with ABC 7 News, Project Developer Phil Tagami said, “We’re under agreement to move forward with the (Army Base development) project and we plan to do just that.”

The project must start Dec. 31 to claim the $250 million grant from the state. As the developer moves forward, the city’s current timeline in addressing the problems created by lack of approved truck parking remains unclear and may extend into winter months.

Mayor Jean Quan did not respond to The Post when asked how the city plans to address the issue of overflow truck parking.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, Sept. 20, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Police Reformers File Ethics Commission Complaint, Seek Meeting with Judge Henderson

By Ken A. Epstein

Tenacious as ever, Oakland police accountability activists are seeking to regain momentum in their efforts to house all intake of complaints against Oakland Police Department officers outside of the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

After more than five years of determined and patient work and with a reform victory almost within sight, they were dismayed last week when federal Compliance Director Thomas Frazier, who oversees the court mandated police reforms, overruled a 2011 City Council decision to the place eight new complaint intake technicians within the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB) rather than Internal Affairs.

Rashidah Grinage

Rashidah Grinage

Frazier so far has not explained the reasons for his decision to place all intake workers within OPD, which was approved by federal Judge Thelton Henderson.

Hoping that Henderson will reconsider, those in favor of housing intake workers at CPRB have sent letters to the judge requesting a meeting.

“We are asking for an audience with Judge Henderson so we can let him know what we feel is a counterproductive judgment on the part of Frazier, which is not in the interest of advancing compliance in terms of police community relations,” said Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, an Oakland group that has worked for years for police accountability.

Letters were sent to Henderson from Grinage, PUEBLO’s attorney Bob Bloom and City Council Member Desley Brooks.

In a written statement, Commissioner Sokhom Mao, Vice-chairman of the Citizens’ Police Review Board, also expressed his concern over Frazier’s decision.

“Our citizens deserve the basic right to a fair complaint process and not to be intimidated by the power of a badge – nobody is above the law, not even police departments or unions,” he said.

“I would hope Judge Thelton Henderson would recognize the importance of this process … The only way of regaining trust (in) our community is providing the necessary checks and balances (that) are true to our democratic principles.”

Judge Thelton Henderson

Judge Thelton Henderson

Besides asking for a meeting with Judge Henderson, Grinage said PUEBLO has filed a complaint with the city’s Ethics Commission for the years of closed-door meetings between the city administration and the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA).

“Bargaining with the OPOA over decisions that are public policy, not labor issues, is a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act,” the state’s open meeting law, said Grinage.

“In the late 1990s, we discovered that the OPOA essentially had a secret veto over elements of an updated CPRB ordinance that we were trying to get passed,” she said.

“No matter what we said, they were able to veto anything they didn’t like behind closed doors.”

Taking action, PUEBLO and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission and won.

The commission told the city to stop the closed-door meetings, she said, “But the city turned around and sued the Ethics Commission. And we sued the city.”

“In the end we prevailed in Superior Court,” she said. “The judge said that civilian oversight is a managerial prerogative. It’s up to city leaders to decide on what kind of civilian oversight they want. It’s not bargainable with a labor unit.”

“And yet (City Administrator) Deanna Santana has continued to bargain with OPOA ,who continued to have input in the job description” and to demand that intake workers be housed in Internal Affairs, she said.

If Santana had not continued bargaining with OPOA, the whole issue would have been settled a year ago, before Compliance Director Frazier had been appointed, she said.

PUEBLO has also started work on a ballot initiative for complete civilian oversight of the police department, including changing the City Charter to give disciplinary authority to a police commission rather than to the city administrator.

Criticizing the work of Grinage, PUEBLO, and the CPRB, Barry Donelan, president of the OPOA, backed Compliance Director Frazier’s decision.

The plan to move intake workers to civilian control would have eliminated “any objectivity in the process and ensured that you ave an institution with a level of hatred toward the police,” said Donelan in an interview this week with the SF Chronicle.

Barry Donelan

Barry Donelan

“The (CPRB) as it is right now is basically a group that has an ax to grind against officers,” he said. “There is no objectivity and tremendous incompetence, and we’re talking about cases that are fully investigated by internal affairs and the (Alameda County) district attorney’s office.”

Yet, far from having a reputation as “police haters,” Grinage and PUEBLO were nominated in 2009 by former OPD Police Chief Wayne Tucker for an award for their efforts to improve police community relations.  They received the award from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

“The OPOA has been trying to block this even before it got started,” said Grinage.

“The real question remains: Why are they so desperate to stop this intake from moving out of the police department?”

If this reform is finally approved, all that would change is who takes complaints against police officers and where they are taking them.  As always, complaints must be reported to Internal Affairs within 24 hours, and Internal Affairs conducts the investigations, she said.

“They seem to be afraid that that a more user-friendly process may engender more complaints,” she said. “The whole point of oversight is not about punishing anybody. It’s about getting them to behave properly.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 20, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

President of Ecuador Welcomes Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

By Ken A. Epstein.

Quito, Ecuador – Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin visited Ecuador this week to meet with President Rafael Correa to make common cause in their ongoing disputes with Chevron, one of the world’s six “supermajor” oil companies.

McLaughlin, who has clashed with Chevron over environmental contamination at the company’s refinery in Richmond, on Tuesday accompanied President Correa  to visit Lagro Agario in the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the zones affected by the company Texaco (now Chevron) during the 1970s through the 1990s.

Richmond, CA Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was shown here on Monday shaking hands with President of Ecuador Rafael Correa on a balcony of the national palace, el Palacio de Carondelet. Photo courtesy of Telégrafo, Quito, Ecuador.

Richmond, CA Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was shown here on Monday shaking hands with President of Ecuador Rafael Correa on a balcony of the national palace, el Palacio de Carondelet. Photo courtesy of Telégrafo, Quito, Ecuador.

The Lago Agrio oil field is well known internationally for serious ecological problems that oil development has created there, including water pollution, soil contamination and deforestation.

Since 1993, lawyers representing local residents have sought to force former well operator Texaco and its now parent company Chevron Corporation to clean up the area and to provide for the care of those allegedly affected.

In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in compensation, a ruling the company called “illegitimate” and vowed to appeal.

In a press statement released on Tuesday, Chevron criticized Correa’s visit to the Amazon as a “media show.”

“President Correa has decided to interfere once again in the Chevron case, despite the appeal filed by the company before the National Court of Justice. This time he took the local and international press to sites (in the Amazon) and offered a distorted and inaccurate account of the history of these sites and who is responsible for any environmental impact,” the press statement said.

Courtesy of the Richmond Post, September 18, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Eviction in Effect for Army Base Businesses; Big Rigs Parking on City Streets

Andreas Quintanilla, an owner operator that parks at OMSS, holds up the flyer he received this week notifying Army Base businesses to move their property before the city's scheduled eviction on Sept. 13. Photo courtesy of OMSS.

Andreas Quintanilla, an owner operator who parks at OMSS, holds up the flyer he received this week notifying Army Base businesses to move their property before the city’s scheduled eviction on Sept. 13. Photo courtesy of OMSS.

“We’re asking them to take [their truck], move it and park it somewhere else, ” John Monetta, City of Oakland

By Ashley Chambers

The eviction notice served by the Alameda County Sheriffs Department to Bill Aboudi’s Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) took effect Friday, Sept. 13 as sheriffs were scheduled to lock him out, giving Aboudi and his tenants 18 days to get their possessions off the property.

However, as Aboudi continues the moving process to his new site, leased from the city, he is working with the Port of Oakland to have utilities and electricity installed.

Normally he would need 60 days to downsize and move his business to the new location, says Aboudi, who has less than a week to figure out his next step, what he considers an unrealistic timeline for anyone in this position.

The city’s energies are being expended on moving forward with its massive Oakland Army Base Development project, leaving much uncertainty as to how OMSS will be able to resume business at the new 5-acre property and how the city intends to fulfill demand for truck parking, keeping the big rigs forced to find space on neighborhood streets.

Many observers say the city’s timeline for evicting OMSS and its tenants is impractical to say the least. The notice of exact site boundaries for the 5 acres was not specified until Thursday, the day before Aboudi was scheduled to be locked out.

“We’re moving as quickly as possible, but we still have some hurdles we have to overcome,” said Aboudi. “We need some special help.”

Aboudi says the threat of having to be locked out of his own business is haunting independent truck drivers who use his services and 18 tenants that employ 250 people.

The port is currently working to expedite the process of providing electricity and other utilities for the new site, which they say could take a week to complete. In the meantime, Aboudi will have to pay for generators and portable water trucks as a contractor works on installation.

“We want to be assured that at least we’re moving and that the city will not pull the trigger after we’ve been working to move forward,” Aboudi said at the city’s Community Economic Development meeting Tuesday.

City Administrator Fred Blackwell, Councilmember Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, and John Monetta – project manager in the city’s Real Estate Services Division – all were praised at the meeting for their efforts to resolve these issues as the Army Base Project moves forward.

According to McElhaney, the lock out is still under negotiation, but sheriffs do have the authority to close the doors on OMSS.

“We’re working on a solution to delay the order to lock out,” she said.

City staff is also still looking at options to address the anticipated overflow of truck parking but have no answers.

The port is supportive of the city’s efforts to address this, said Mark Erickson, Senior Maritime Projects Administrator for the Port of Oakland.

At this point, seven out of 10 trucks that use OMSS space for parking have nowhere to go.

Parking somewhere else could mean parking along Wood Street and residential neighborhoods in West Oakland, putting the local community at higher risk, according to concerned community members.

“We’re asking them to take [their truck], move it and park it somewhere else,” said Monetta.

McElhaney has also raised concerns that locking truckers out would limit access to their tools and interfere with their business. “We are in no way looking to deny somebody their livelihood,” said Monetta.

It is also uncertain where the Customs Examination Station (CES) will relocate. One possible location is at a warehouse in West Oakland near Raimondi Park, adding to more truck traffic.

“This is a poor place to be putting Customs. We have worked hard to keep these trucks out of the community,” said Margaret Gordon. “The city needs to take this to the health and safety committee and see what are the risk factors.”

At press time, Mayor Jean Quan did not respond to the Post about truck parking or the future of small businesses that are being displaced by the Army Base development.

“We’ve been trying to work through this but the city is not to be trusted. They’re not taking into consideration anybody’s livelihood,” Aboudi said.

A Wood Street resident said, “The developer promised us that he would preserve and create jobs, but now it seems his story has changed.”

“They’re destroying a lot of small businesses right now. A third world country would give us better support than they’re doing,” Aboudi said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 13, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Judge Backs Placing Civilian Complaint Intake in Police Department

By Tasion Kwamilele and Ken Epstein

Federal Judge Thelton Henderson and federal Compliance Director Thomas Frazier surprised police accountability activists this week when they announced they have decided to place civilian complaint intake technicians within the Internal Affairs Division of the Oakland Police Department.

Rashidah Grinage, Executive Director of PUEBLO addressing the Finance and Management committee of the Oakland City Council on Tuesday.

Rashidah Grinage, Executive Director of PUEBLO addressing the Finance and Management committee of the Oakland City Council on Tuesday.

Their decision effectively overrules the Oakland City Council, which had voted to allocate funds in the budget to hire intake technicians within the Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB).

Frazier said that he had met with Henderson this week and that they had decided that the intake unit should be part of the Oakland Police Department, according to an email Frazier send Wednesday to Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, who has been one of those spearheading recent police accountability efforts.

Frazier had previously sent an email to Grinage saying he wanted the civilian intake technicians to be trained within the police department but that he did not object to having the technicians housed at CRBP, which means they would be under civilian supervision.

Henderson’s office said the judge did not take calls from the media. At press time, Compliance Director Frazier had not returned a request for an interview from the Post.

Grinage said she understands why Compliance Director Frazier might want to place all intake of complaints against police within the OPD., though she does not agree with him.

“My guess is the compliance director’s primary goal is to bring the police into compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA),” which commits the city to police reform and assigns the federal court to oversee the agreement.

“He probably doesn’t think this is worth making the police angry,” said Grinage. “If I were in his place, I might have the same point of view.

However, Grinage said, “I am in the process of writing a letter to the judge because he did not have a full picture or the full context for this, when he made his decision.

Compliance Director Thomas Frazier

Compliance Director Thomas Frazier

“He’s entitled to know how the community views this. We don’t believe he received that perspective from Tom Frazier, ” she said, adding that she hopes City Council members will also write letters as will members of the Citizens Police Review Board.

“We can give this our best shot to try to convince Judge Henderson that this is misguided and it is not going to advance the objectives of the NSA, which is to advance police community relations and is going to set that back substantially.

Given all the backroom maneuvering over this issue with the City Administration and the Oakland Police Officer Association, she said, “We believe it’s time to go to the ballot. The final decision should be in the hands of the voters.

“We will be working with others on crafting the entire overall of civilian oversight functioning in Oakland, to create a much more vigorous and complete civilian oversight agency, similar to what exists in San Francisco and other major cities.”

Such a reorganization would redirect the authority to discipline officers from the city administrator to a police commission, she said.

In response to questions from the Post, Mayor Jean Quan said she supported placing all complaint intake workers at the CPRB, though she said the city’s options are limited by federal oversight.

“Since I was on the City Council, I’ve worked toward an independent, civilian model for taking in complaints about police officers,” said Quan. “This will free up sworn officers to go out on patrol where we need them the most, and help make residents feel more comfortable filing their complaints.

“Right now we are working with Compliance Director Tom Frazier on how the process of these changes will work.”

Civil Rights Attorney John Burris said his work for the past 10 years with the NSA has not involved the intake of complaints.

However, he said, “It’s always been important for the citizens and those that come in contact with the police to have an individual group to conduct an investigation.”

“If you want independence, it should be outside (the police department),” Burris said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 13, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

City’s Inaction Forces Polluting Trucks to Park on Neighborhood Streets

By Ashley Chambers

Ashley ChambersAs the deadline approaches for Oakland Army Base businesses to move, West Oakland residents are complaining about the increase of heavy truck traffic and parking in their neighborhoods.

Businesses providing truck repair services may be forced to become mobile and the thousands of trucks that

Wait waiting in line at Port of Oakland

Wait waiting in line at Port of Oakland

used Bill Aboudi’s Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) for parking will be left without a solution.

Mayor Quan’s staff is still talking about providing parking, but there is still no resolution.

As Aboudi prepares to relocate to his 5-acre property, moving from 800 to 220 spaces for truck operations, he says he and his 18 tenants are waiting for a satisfactory answer.

“Truckers don’t want to be on the street, they want to be closer to the services; but what choice do they have,” Aboudi said. “It’s almost like nobody wants the trucks to deliver, but how do you get your products to Safeway and other places if the truckers don’t deliver it?”

He said the Port’s growth in commerce means more containers, more cargo and more trucks to service that growth.

Truckers travelling from as far as Fresno or Modesto come through the port everyday with loads of merchandise and products.

In the downsizing of OMSS and the port’s truck parking filled to capacity, truckers will start parking in the community.

According to Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, they will also be met with increased parking enforcement. She also says that it is of critical concern that this issue of excess truck parking be resolved.

“We need some place for [truckers] to park. It’s incumbent upon us to figure out a solution,” said McElhaney.

“There was a solution for 11.6 acres. We worked for seven months on this deal,” she said referring to the port providing additional acres to the city.

“I encourage the Port Commissioners to step up and be in partnership with the community and work with the city to get the truckers off the street.”

City staff said they would begin work on a new transportation plan for the area.

On the other side of this issue, Aboudi says the lack of space and pressure is hard on business and for his tenants.

A few OMSS tenants are in negotiations with the port on leasing space to relocate their businesses after Sept. 13.

“There’s 10 acres of tenants that we can’t accommodate and we’re waiting on the city to tell us what to tell them. These businesses need to grow, not downsize,” said Aboudi.

One tenant said the city’s style of brinksmanship and constant threats of evictions is serving the developer’s plan to have the Port replace the truckers by hiring them as Port employees.

The Alameda County Sheriff Sheriff has served notice to the tenants that evictions will begin next week.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Sept. 7, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)