Archive for May, 2014

Minimum Wage Increase Seeks to Reduce Wage Gap

By Ashley Chambers

Business owners and workers in Oakland are debating Councilmember Larry Reid’s proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.20 an hour, which would be adjusted for inflation each year and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.money

Reid’s proposal would provide Oakland employees a higher quality of life and close the wage gap between the working poor and middle and upper class workers, according to the ordinance’s supporters.

“Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are female, the majority being single heads of households, ” According to A report presented at the Community and Economic Development (CED) meeting last week.

For a single parent living with two children to maintain a sufficient lifestyle, the head of the household would need to make $39 an hour, the report says.

Currently, minimum wage workers take home $8 an hour. The state minimum is set to increase to $9 in July and then, $10 in 2016. But these increases and Reid’s proposal will not be effective in reducing poverty for low-income, minimum wage workers, say some people.

A ballot initiative proposed by Lift Up Oakland calls for the minimum wage to be raised to $12.25 an hour in addition to employers giving their workers at least five paid sick days per year.

According to Nikki Fortunato Bas, who spoke for Lift Up Oakland at last Tuesday’s CED meeting, “More than a third of workers currently make between $10 to $12 an hour.”

Councilmembers Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf, and Lynette McElhaney all expressed support for Reid’s proposal but called for additional research on the impact the increase would have on businesses in Oakland.

“I am concerned about the short-term impacts to both small businesses and particularly restaurants,” said Kernighan. “A lot of it is about how fast [the minimum wage] goes up to allow businesses to accommodate.”

Schaaf, who supports the Lift Up Oakland ballot initiative, said, “I have waited a lot of tables in the city of Oakland as a minimum wage worker. Relying on your tip income is really frightening – to not be able to rely on a wage is terrifying.”

Oakland resident Dominic Ware supported a $12.25 wage increase as a way of opportunity for young people, saying, “In places like these where the minimum wage is only $8…a way to $12.25 is a miracle and an idea in juvenile minds that maybe those at City Hall do care about us.”

Local attorney and mayoral candidate Dan Siegel is supporting a $15 an hour minimum, citing statistics from the staff report presented at the CED meeting.

“The problems that we’re facing in Oakland are to a very large extent, a function of poverty,” he said. “We need to have a wage policy in Oakland that will allow our workers to get away from a life of poverty.”

The proposal included a survey for business owners.

Michael LeBlanc, owner of Pican restaurant in Uptown, said he is in favor of Reid’s proposal and of continuing the dialogue on raising the minimum wage. He called for an analysis of the minimum wage as a regional issue.

“If the minimum wage were at $15, I could no longer operate here in Oakland,” LeBlanc said.

Currently the minimum wage is $10.74 per hour in San Francisco; $10.15 in San Jose; and $9 per hour in Richmond. President Obama has recommended a federal minimum wage of $10.10.

“Cities are forced into doing things that should be done at the federal level,” said Councilmember Reid. “Congress should approve a minimum wage level so there is some consistency, and so it doesn’t put other cities at a disadvantage. Congress is not willing to do that, so that puts it on the backs of cities.

An economic consultant will be hired to study the minimum wage increase and how its impacts the local economy.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 7, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

We Can Help Young People Leave the Street Life for the University, Says Dr. Victor Rios

By Ken A. Epstein

 Award winning sociologist Dr. Victor Rios came home to Oakland this past weekend to speak about the importance of not giving up on our youth. His message was about the transformative power of treating young people with respect.

Dr. Victor Rios

Dr. Victor Rios

 “We have been stripped of our dignity from an early age – We invest too much on punishment and not enough on giving young people a sense of purpose and rewards” for doing something positive with their lives, said Rios, who at 15 had dropped out of school and was hanging out on International Boulevard in East Oakland.

But because there were a few special teachers and others who did not give up on him, he said, he went on to earn a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. He is now married with three children and is an associate professor at UC Santa Barbara, where he has already published two books.

Dr.  Rios was the guest speaker at an event last Saturday afternoon at Castlemont High School in East Oakland, sponsored by People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

A man with a mission, he argues that those who value the lives of Latino, African American and other low income teenagers are fighting an uphill battle against educational and criminal justice systems stacked against them.

But, he says, teachers and other youth workers have to keep working for the long haul. And while they work for systemic change, they need to be helping change lives, “one heart at a time.”

“We are part of the larger system,” he said, which in the last 30 years has changed its disciplinary polices to Zero Tolerance.

Nowadays, discipline means more “more policing tactics and surveillance” in schools and youth development institutions, he said. There are police and police tactics in the schools, he said.

“But police officers are not trained to help people out. They’re trained to apprehend, which is true in in Oakland and across the country.”

Dr. Rios asked his audience of teachers, teenagers and concerned adults to consider: “What does it mean to grow up in a time where we invest more on prisons than we do on education?”

“We’re not funding (youth); we’re not educating them; we’re not resourcing them. But we try to pin the blame on them all the time,” he said.

His research interests include educational equity, restorative justice, resilience, motivation, and youth culture. He is the author of “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys” and “Street Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D.”

 He was the winner of the 2012 Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association, Section on Latina/o Sociology and finalist for the 2012 C. Wright Mills Book Award.

Dr. Rios also speaks to middle, high school and college students, about overcoming adversity, leadership, and the power of a higher education.

“Where did I get (this) curriculum? He asked. “Did Berkeley give me that curriculum? Did UC Santa Barbara give me that curriculum?”

“The streets of Oakland gave me that curriculum. You (people committed to helping youth) gave me that curriculum,” he said.

Dr. Rios says he sees signs of positive change. “I’ve seen progress in Oakland though there’s still people out there left behind,” he said “There are organizations and people who are already doing great work.”

But he warned that “restorative justice” and “resilience” have been coopted to some extent, that there are those who talk about these things who are not committed to doing grassroots work with young people.

“There are people making a lot of money out of it,” he said, emphasizing that his approach is not about having pity for young people.

“It might not be your fault that you’re falling on your face,” he tells teenagers. “But it’s your responsibility to get yourself back up.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 7, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Teacher Workforce Lacks Diversity, Damaging Student Achievement

By Post Staff

While America’s public schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, a new report released by the Center for American Progress finds that nearly every state is experiencing a large and growing teacher diversity gap, or a significant difference between the number of students of color and teachers of color.

Kitty Kelly Epstein

Kitty Kelly Epstein

“Thousands of Black and Latino adults would love to be teachers, but there are all sorts of barriers which make it difficult to get into the profession,” said Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein, professor, activist and author of “A Different View of Urban Schools.”

“If the country truly wants a diverse teaching force there needs to be policy change,” she said.  “Choose adults who are committed and effective with youngsters; end the multiple, irrelevant standardized tests; value the languages and wisdom which diverse people bring to the profession, and stop expecting folks to work for free for a year as a student teacher.”

The report released Monday revisits a similar Center for American Progress study from 2011. When the original report was released, students of color made up more than 40 percent of the school age-population, while teachers of color were only 17 percent of the teaching force.

The report shows that since 2011, the gap between teachers and students of color has continued to grow. Over the past three years, the demographic divide between teachers and students of color has increased by 3 percentage points, and today, students of color make up almost half of the public school population.

“The student population of America’s schools may look like a melting pot, but our teacher workforce looks like it wandered out of the 1950s. It’s overwhelmingly white,” said Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report

”We know from research that students of color do better academically if they are taught by teachers of color. We also know that all students need role models in their schools that represent our diverse society. Parents, teachers, and policymakers should be alarmed by the findings and demand that states and districts take action to address this growing problem.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfield Lynch of Holy Names University in Oakland praised some aspects of the new report but pointed out what she considers to be some of its shortcomings.

kim-photo“While this study offers good information and the most recent statistics, it misses one of the most salient points in explaining the cultural mismatch in our schools,” she said. “The teacher certification process in most states requires candidates to pass several standardized assessments that are costly and culturally biased.”

Additionally, she said. “Teacher candidates in states without alternative certification must student teach and are unable to earn a salary. This is an unworkable proposition for many teacher candidates of color due to the wealth gap.”

The report, “Teacher Diversity Revisited,” includes state-by-state data documenting the teacher diversity gap across the nation. An analysis of the data reveals the following key findings:

Almost every state has a significant diversity gap. In California, 73 percent of students are kids of color, but only about 29 percent are teachers of color. Maryland has the same problem, although the numbers are a bit better – more than 55 percent of students are kids of color, while just around 17 percent are teachers of color.

The Hispanic teacher population has larger demographic gaps relative to students. In Nevada, for instance, just 9 percent of teachers were Hispanic. In contrast, the state’s student body was 39 percent Hispanic.

Diversity gaps are large within districts. For the first time, the researchers examined district-level data in California, Florida, and Massachusetts. These three states account for 20 percent of all students in the United States, and it turns out that the gaps within districts are often larger than those within states.

A companion report also released by CAP and Progress 2050, describes how the shortcomings of today’s education system and the underachievement of many of today’s students of color shrink the future supply of the teachers of color. The report, “America’s Leaky Pipeline for Teachers of Color,” finds that fundamental constraints limit the potential supply of highly effective teachers of color. Students of color have significantly lower college enrollment rates than do white students. In addition, a relatively small number of students of color enroll in teacher education programs each year. Finally, teacher trainees who are members of communities of color often score lower on licensure exams that serve as passports to teaching careers.

Furthermore, the report reveals that teachers of color leave the profession at a much higher rate than their non-Hispanic white peers. Those who leave mention a perceived lack of respect for teaching as a profession, lagging salary levels, and difficult working conditions.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 6, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Small Businesses Protest Bus AC Transit International Blvd. Project

By Ken Epstein

Small business owners on International Boulevard held a rally this week calling on AC Transit and city officials to mitigate the negative impacts of the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which utilize dedicated bus lines in the middle of the boulevard, eliminating traffic lanes and reducing street parking.

International Boulevard merchants protested Tuesday, asking AC Transit and the City of Oakland to mitigate the negative impacts of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project on their businesses

International Boulevard merchants protested Tuesday, asking AC Transit and the City of Oakland to mitigate the negative impacts of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project on their businesses. Photo by Ken Epstein.

“We ‘re not trying to stop the BRT, but we want to make sure that BRT doesn’t stop us, ” said Andy Nelson, of East Bay Asian Youth Center, speaking at the rally.

“The BRT should be for everybody. We are not all new and shiny, but we are definitely East Oakland,” said Nelson. He pointed that there are 900 businesses with 2,500 employees located on International Boulevard, including markets, appliance and furniture stores and auto and truck repair shops.

The rally was held Tuesday at the intersection of 20th Avenue and International Boulevard.

The merchants are proposing solutions that will help them mitigate disruption to regular business operations during, and after construction. They are also asking for relocation assistance in case some businesses become unviable in this new street configuration.

AC Transit and city officials, who have been meeting with merchant groups, say they are implementing mitigation plans. The community-based mitigation proposals were developed by the Eastlake Merchants Association, San Antonio Business Association and other small business owners, assisted by the East Bay Asian Youth Center.

The BRT project will cost about $200 million. The merchant’s mitigation proposals would cost about $6 million.

Rendering of AC Transit BRT on International Boulevard

Rendering of AC Transit BRT on International Boulevard

BRT is planned to run 9.7 miles from Downtown Oakland to Downtown San Leandro.  A little over 500 parking spaces will be lost, and almost all left turns will be prohibited.

On the 7.2 mile stretch between 14th Avenue and 107th Avenue, vehicular traffic on International Boulevard will be reduced from four lanes to two lanes.

AC Transit and the City of Oakland this week announced that their staffs have developed a Business Sustainability Program for the (BRT) Project. Under their proposal, AC Transit will underwrite regular construction impact mitigation activities as well as a Business Sustainability Program.

Oakland and AC Transit are saying  they will spend about $23 million for parking and business impact mitigation measures and design features to minimize the impact of the project and enhance the corridor for the local community.

They say they will spend  $10 million of curb-to-curb repaving, lighting, pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements and will meet with community stakeholders all along the BRT corridor.

The merchants want the project to make up for parking losses, increase public safety services for pedestrians where parking is lost, provide loading zones to offset the loss of a traffic lane and offer financial assistance for businesses that lose revenue.

“I have had my business for over 40 years. I rely on customers being able to load in windows and shower-glass by the curb. My shop is in the middle of the block, and I have no back alley,” said Manuel Romero, owner of a glass shop in the light-industrial San Antonio neighborhood.

“Can AC Transit explain to me how BRT riders will be able to shop windows, furniture, and appliances from me, and from my merchant neighbors? With BRT I may have to close my business,” he said.

According to Nelsen of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, the merchants are meeting with officials and making progress.

“We’re heading in the right direction. But we’re not there yet,” he said. “We still have to close the gap.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 2, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

City Struggles to Increase Numbers of Police

By Post Staff

With public safety consistently a top issue among Oaklanders, many residents are calling for action to reverse long-term understaffing at the Oakland Police Department and the department’s high attrition rate as officers resign or retire.

New officers graduate from Oakland Police Academy

New officers graduate from Oakland Police Academy

“Right now, we have 654 sworn officers and 379 civilian police department employees,” said District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo, who chairs the Public Safety Committee

At present, the city is currently funded for a total of 675 sworn officers, according to a report released at this week’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

By the beginning of July, the number of funded officers will increase to 707, though “continuing attrition must be addressed, which means planning and budgeting for future academies in order to maintain authorized staffing at 707 officers,” the report said.

There are no other budgeted police academies after the one that began on April 28 and ends Oct. 31. OPD also must also fill civilian vacancies, including several key positions that are “critical to public safety,” the report said.

OPD’s average monthly attrition rate is 5 percent for sworn and 4.66 percent for civilians. OPD currently has 47 civilian vacancies.

One of the biggest challenges facing OPD is being able to keep its experienced offices, according to Gallo

“Looking five years down the road, several hundred veterans will be retiring,” he said. “That is extremely significant. These are the veteran officers we need to train the younger officers who are coming onto the force.”

“Even though we have these academies, which cost over $3 million each, we keep losing police five to 10 officers per month,” said Gallo.

“The problem we have, half of our police force only has two years or less experience,” said Gallo “That makes a difference. We have to keep the officers we have paid good money to train.”

Gallo is looking to the criminal justice program at the Peralta Community College District, which he hopes will encourage more local youth to seek careers in law enforcement.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 2, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland’s Housing Market Skyrockets, Continues to Displace Longtime Residents

By Ken A. Epstein

Oakland continues to be plagued by foreclosures and rent increases that threaten to displace many long time Oakland residents, according to a report released Tuesday at the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee meeting.

Home owners still face foreclosures

Home owners still face foreclosures

Housing prices are skyrocketing in Oakland, which is “considered to be one of the nation’s fastest-moving housing markets,” according to the report. Oakland’s current median listing price is $475,000, up $7,500 from last quarter’s median listing price, reflecting an 18.6 percent increase over last year.

In addition, rents are going up dramatically. In the past quarter, the city has seen a 15 percent increase in rents in apartment buildings and a 10.3 percent increase for buildings of 50 units or more. These increases are in addition to the 11.5 percent increase the previous year.

The high cost of housing may contribute to the long-term decline in the percentage of African Americans living in Oakland, which fell from 43 percent to 26 percent between 1990 and 2011, the most of any group, according to the report.

During the same time period, the percentage of African American homeowners in North Oakland dropped from nearly 50 percent to 25 percent.

“We have to aggressively  look at how we can be proactive. We need to analyze the data so we can support home owners and renters – to maintain the rich diversity here in Oakland,” said District 6 City Councilmember Desley Brooks, who has sponsored some of the city’s legislation to protect homeowners from foreclosure.

“We have to level the playing field, to help (residents) compete in market place,” she said.

With the pressure on housing costs, Oakland neighborhoods where residents are experiencing a “significant risks” of displacement include North Oakland, San Antonio and West Oakland.  Displacement potential also exists in Chinatown, the Fruitvale District and Central East Oakland and Elmhurst.

The report cited a recent Brookings Institution study that says Oakland ranks as the seventh city in the nation for the highest income inequality.  The 20 percent of the lowest income households earn $17,646, while the top 5 percent earn $233,965.

While there are fewer foreclosures than a few years ago, longtime homeowners are still losing their homes. Foreclosures are 29 percent lower than a recent peak last spring, but in January and February there were 165 Notices of Default filed.

In Oakland’s foreclosure crisis, one in 14 households lost their homes, the report said.

At present, 90 percent of Oakland families in foreclosure have owned their homes for at least six years, with over one-third of them in theirs home for over 10 years.  Some of them have lived in their residences over 50 years, residing in family homes passed down through multiple generations.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 2, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup)

After 28 Years, Laney Instructor Al Young Is Still Fighting for a Full Time Job

By Ken Epstein

Al Young is nothing if not vocal and tenacious.  A part-timer for the past 28 years at Oakland’s Laney College in the cosmetology department, he has applied for a full time teaching position over and over, and he came in first more than once.

Al Young (left) and Hiawatha Roberts

Al Young (left) and Hiawatha Roberts

But he was never hired. The jobs generally went to someone new, almost always a woman.

Accompanied by his attorney, long-time Oakland community leader Hiawatha Roberts, Young has been making the rounds hoping to find an administrator or an elected official of the Peralta Community College District who is willing to take a look at his case.

So far, not much luck. He still does not receive health or retirement benefits from Peralta.

He continues to work part time, two days a week. But he is unwilling to suffer in silence. He is blunt about what he feels Peralta administration has cost him.

“You stole my years,” says Young, who is now in his eighties.  “You stole my autumn years from me, and now you are taking my old age years from me.”

Young was hired in 1985, recruited by the then department chair who visited him at the salon he owns, asking him to teach chemical services, wet hair styling and hair cutting.

“I didn’t go looking for a job,” he said.  “At that point, there was nobody as familiar as I was in chemical services.”

He has attempted without success to meet with two different Peralta chancellors.  A complaint was filed and rejected by Peralta’s attorney who claimed it was without merit.

“It’s hard for me to understand it,” said Roberts, the attorney who is working with Young.  “I tried (unsuccessfully) to get people who specialize in this type of situation to be interested.”

“He has been an excellent instructor – his students pass state exams. He has been pushed out because of his gender, because of his age and his disability,” said Roberts.

Over the years, Young has remained healthy and has fulfilled his job responsibilities. “I haven’t had too many physical problem. (But) I have had mental stress” because of the job, he said.

He says he has been repeatedly passed over because he is a male in a female department.  He noted that a male instructor was finally hired in 2008 and became tenured recently after six years.

Young has had the backing of his union, the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT), AFT-CFT Local l603.

“Our union has been publicly urging the district for more full-time faculty hires, and so we’d hope Mr. Young’s courageous voice helps magnify this important issue, “ said Anna Roy, PFT Labor Representative, in an email to the Post.

“In terms of district hiring practices, we’d strongly advocate that full-time faculty members are hired from within whenever possible, that equal and fair opportunities are provided to all, that faculty working conditions are made a top priority here and within the entire California community college system,” she wrote.

Another Laney cosmetology instructor, Helen Curry, told the Post that she is familiar with Young’s work and is sympathetic to his plight.

“Mr. Young is a nice man. I’ve been teaching with him for years. He’s an excellent teacher. He’s an asset to the program,” she said, adding that, “We need a male image in the program, (but) they never hired him.”

Curry said she herself had to wait 18 years, passed over repeatedly, before she finally was hired in a  full-time position in the department.  “When a teacher retires, they split the salary among part timers, and that way they don’t have to pay any benefits.”

When they finally hire somebody full time, the department’s administrators seems to think they prefer “fresh blood,” said Curry.

“You’d think they’d understand they were messing with human beings, messing with people’s livelihoods,” she said.

”This is their way. People are just pushed to the side.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 2, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)