Archive for April, 2015

Coalition Wants Coliseum City to Produce Jobs and Housing for Residents

By Ashley Chambers

In the wake of the City Council decision to amend the Coliseum Area Specific Plan to protect businesses in the Oakland Airport Business Park, a coalition of local residents, Oakland workers, youth and faith leaders are stepping up efforts to make sure that the new development plan follows through on commitment to community benefits that include jobs and affordable housing for East Oakland residents.

Jahmese Myres

Jahmese Myres

The passage of the specific plan at the end of March means that zoning changes and environmental approvals are in place if the city can secure a deal to build a massive entertainment, retail, housing, and hotels complex that would be built around new sports arenas for the Oakland A’s and Raiders.

The specific plan, as passed, impacts 800 acres, including the current sports complex, parking lots, the area around the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport Business Park, across the freeway form the Coliseum, which employs 8,000 workers and houses 150 businesses.

Though they want to see the project move ahead, members of the community benefits coalition want residents of East Oakland to enjoy the fruits of that development, not suffer the intense gentrification and environmental impacts that often go along with big development projects.

“The plan should protect current, longtime, deep-rooted residents of East Oakland,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), one of the groups in the coalition.

Seventy percent of Oaklanders are renters, Davis-Howard said. “With new development, there’s automatically a rise in costs. We don’t want current residents to be driven out because rents go up,” she said.

With the proposed project, over 5,000 residential units would be built around the new sports venues. Without a substantial amount of affordable housing units included in the project, current residents who make $30,000 or even $50,000 a year are likely to displaced.

“We need affordable housing, affordable grocery stores, and somewhere that we can go to just relax, like a nice family park,” said Theola Polk, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) who has lived in East Oakland for over 30 years.

,“This area needs the same respect as the Coliseum City [project],” said Polk. “We want all of Oakland to look as good as Coliseum City is going to look; we want to get the same benefits.”

The transformation of Oakland neighborhoods has been long underway in other parts of the city – such as Uptown and West Oakland. However, new development often welcomes affluent renters and homeowners at the expense longtime residents.

“There’s a lot at stake with this project because this is a really critical time in our city. Oakland is changing, and we want to see a project that really impacts Oakland in very positive ways,” said Jahmese Myres, campaign director with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is part of the coalition.

“We have a choice to have a really corporate, cookie-cutter, formulaic development that has no relation to the surrounding community, or we can have a project that helps the community thrive with good jobs, affordable housing, cleaner air and allowing long-term residents to stay in the community,” Myres said, also a resident of East Oakland who lives within a mile of the proposed project.

Citing data that shows the median household income for East Oakland at $31,000 a year, Myres says housing in the project should “allow for folks making that income to be able to live in those units.”

The development could create up to 20,000 jobs and it’s really important that those jobs be real quality jobs that allow people to take care of their families, Myres added.

It’s important that “people working at the Coliseum now – ushers, ticket takers, etc. – that they keep their good union jobs, too. They’re also members of our community in a number of ways,” she said.

The city entered an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team, which will present an outline of what the community benefits would include in June. The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

Organizations in the coalition include EBHO, OCO, EBASE, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Public Advocates, Unite Here 2850, Urban Peace Movement, SEIU-USWW – which represents workers at the Coliseum arena, Causa Justa/Just Cause, the Building Trades Council, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, and Partnership for Working Families.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 20, 2015 (Postnewsgroup.com)

Councilmembers Back $3,000 a Month Apartment Tower Project, Opposed by Eastlake Neighbors

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

By Ken Epstein

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee voted unanimously this week to approve the sale of public land on East 12th Street across the roadway from Lake Merritt to a development company that wants to build a 24-story, 298-unit luxury apartment tower with rents that will go for about $3,000 a month.

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Emphasizing the need for market rate as well as affordable housing and throwing in a number of community benefits, Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Annie Campbell Washington approved the project and forwarded the full council for a decision.

Also speaking at the meeting was Councilmember Abel Guillen, who backed the project, explaining that he was working with the developer to add more community benefits.

Guillen also urged councilmembers to seek a new appraisal, saying that the city’s $5.1 million asking price seemed to be too low. Committee members rejected the proposal for a new appraisal, citing the need to move ahead quickly and said they felt the city had more or less made a commitment on price to developer Michael Johnson and his company Urban Core Developers.

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

Those opposed to the project include a neighborhood group called East Lake United for Justice, local residents who are urging the city to reject the sale of the parcel. They do not oppose market-rate housing, but, they say, it should be built on private land and not by selling a piece of land that was created by a public project at public expense.

“If the city is going to build on public land (created) with taxpayer dollars, we need it to go for affordable housing. This is “not the kind of project we need here in Oakland,” said Michael Flynn of East Lake United for Justice.

 “We don’t believe that building market rate housing is going to stabilize the housing situation,” he said. Instead, “it’s going to drive people out (of the city).”

Adding urgency to the issues raised by residents is the example of San Francisco where the torrent of market rate construction has not led to more affordable housing but instead to the almost complete elimination of the African American population and now seems to be leading to pushing out Latino residents of the Mission District.

Guillen told his follow council members that the city has to consider all the housing needs “not just those of the very poor or the very rich.”

“We have to look at the big picture – new comers end up competing with long time residents for existing housing,” he said. “Building market rate housing will end up easing not exacerbating” rents for existing lower cost rental units.

“I do have concerns about the $5.1 million appraisal,” Guillen continued. “It appears the land value should be about 25 percent higher at a minimum, an additional one million dollars or so to the city.”

He said he has worked with Urban Core to provide $300,000 in community benefits, including maintenance and other improvements to the Lake Merritt area and Children’s Fairyland.

“We have moved forward to create an iconically designed project for this city. We have found a capital partner. We have worked with (Councilmember) Guillen to expand the community benefits for the project,” said Johnson of Urban Core.

Councilmembers said they wanted to use 25 percent of the selling price to build affordable housing and another 25 percent to maintain the newly upgraded Lake Merritt area, which has lost most of its gardening and maintenance staff and is danger of deteriorating.

A number of speakers in favor of the project emphasized that there is a great unmet need for market-rate housing in Oakland. Several speakers also stressed that developers and investors around the country are closely monitoring this project to see whether city officials are serious about promoting development.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

 

Latinos Underrepresented in Teaching and Other Jobs in OUSD

Supt. Antwan Wilson: “We have to embody the diversity of this community”

Members of the Latino Education Network (L to R): Victor Martinez, steering committee of LEN; Emma Roos, co-chair; Yolanda Schonbrun, co-chair; and Jorge Lerma, lifetime educator. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members of the Latino Education Network (L to R): Victor Martinez, steering committee of LEN; Emma Roos, co-chair; Yolanda Schonbrun, co-chair; and Jorge Lerma, lifetime educator. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

While Latino youth make up 41 percent and still growing numbers of students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), they are a disproportionately small part of the OUSD workforce, significantly in the classroom, where only 13 percent of the district’s 2,120 teachers are Latino or Hispanic.

A number of Latino high school students and graduates report that they never had a Latino teacher during the years they attended school in the district.

Latino workers are significantly underrepresented in almost every major job classification. The numbers, which were released by the school district to the Latino Education Network (LEN) in September 2014, are stark.

Among 240 custodial services workers, 7.5 percent are Latino; 125 principals, assistant principals and child center administrators, 21.6 percent; 105 members of the staff of the OUSD police department, 10 percent; 130 food preparers and others in nutrition services, 9.4 percent; and 864 teachers, aides and other staff in special education, 10.3 percent.

Among the reasons that these statistics are important is that students need role models they recognize and the ability of teachers and other school staff to deeply understand the needs, family lives and culture of students directly impact the success of children in schools, according to many educators.

Another reason is that the OUSD is the second largest employer in Oakland with 7,664 employees, and its hiring and contracting policies are important to everyone who lives in the city. When the school district does not hire Latinos, it impacts workers and the educational futures of families of children who attend the schools.

According to Victor Martinez, LEN steering committee member, the district for years has claimed to be sympathetic about need to increase the numbers of Latino teachers and other employers, but nothing changes.

“Latino groups have been raising issues for 40 years, and it seems we’re still in the same place,” he said. “We’re not interested in appeasement or window dressing. We’re interested in systemic change, institutional change,” he said.

Says Emma Roos, also a LEN co-chair, “We continue to work with the district, through community advisory committees and finding areas where we can be of assistance.”

“We see small changes, new faces, but nothing dedicated to the urgent needs of Latino students,” she said.

Added LEN member and lifelong educator Jorge Lerma, “Though Latinos are large in number, things are done for us but without us. Latinos are not involved in designing and implementing and bringing their life issues into (educational programs).”

“The Latino community is significantly underrepresented in decision making, and that reflects in academics at the schools,” said Lerma.

Symptomatic and particularly upsetting, said Roos, is that the district has only 28 bilingual aides to help out in the classrooms, and only 14 are Spanish speaking. Roos is also concerned that number of high achieving students who were honored at the OUSD annual Latino Honor Roll dropped this year after going up for several years in a row.

“We’re calling our status a state of emergency,” said Lerma. “They’re calling it ‘unrecognized bias,’ but it’s recognized by us.”

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson in a public statement pledged to work with Latinos to make changes. “To lift up and meet the needs of our growing Latino community, we have to embody the diversity of this community,” he said.

He said the district is working with the Unity Council´s Latino Men & Boys program “in eight of our schools serving over 200 young men and their families, providing academic support, male mentorship, and health and wellness programs, as well as career development and culturally-based activities.”

In an email to members of LEN, Brigitte Marshall, OUSD Chief Talent Officer, head of the human resources department, wrote about the efforts the district is taking to improve hiring of Latinos.

“Several months ago, I initiated a demographic comparative analysis of departmental staffing from which the demographic imbalance of various district departments could clearly be seen,” Marshall wrote.

“As a result of this, I have started the work of naming the issue with department leaders and working with them to develop strategies to improve their recruitment and hiring practices to ensure progress toward more representative staffing.

“We are challenged by the current limitations of our data tracking capabilities and recognize that the need to be able to demonstrate progress in hiring diversity rests in part in our ability to track the data correctly.”

Roos said she was glad the district was seeking to improve data collection, “But if legal, moral and educational issues are once again trumped by technical glitches, we are all lost.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

The Outrage of Jailing Atlanta Black Educators

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

The jailing of seven Black Atlanta educators is an outrage matched only by the racist tests they were forced to give and the racist conditions in which many of their students are forced to live.

Five facts to consider when drawing conclusions about these educators:

1. The standardized testing process that these and other U.S. teachers are forced to participate in was created by a member of the Eugenics movement, Lewis Terman, who first used it to track Black and Latino and immigrant children into low-track classes in Oakland (1920).

Who is going to jail for continuing to give tests that produce exactly the same results Terma created them to produce?

2. There have been accusations and investigations for test cheating in cities across the country. In no other city were the teachers mostly Black.

In none of those cities was anyone sent to jail.

3. U.S. education policy encourages shutting down schools based on their test scores. Since test scores are correlated with family wealth, the schools shut down are almost always in Black and Latino neighborhoods, leaving the neighborhood without a school and the families with transportation problems for their children.

Who is going to jail for that?

4. The racial wealth gap between the median White family and the median Black family is 20 to 1. Who’s going to jail for the mortgage crisis, the redlining, the biased employment practices, and the residuals of slavery, which produced that number.

5. Across the South 38,000 Black teachers lost their jobs with the beginning of desegregation because the white school districts would not allow Black teachers to teach their children, and the Educational Testing Service assisted with this outrage by offering to use the practice of testing teachers.

Anyone get jail time for that?

We know the answer.

Do I think teachers should change test papers? No.

What we should do is stop giving these expensive, biased, harmful tests.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Hundreds Defend ‘Afrika Town’ Community Garden

The Afrika Town community garden and mural are located at 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The Afrika Town community garden and mural are located at 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

rasheed-headshotOver 300 community members in support of a community garden in West Oakland recently participated in a performance event to protect the garden from destruction.

The “Afrika Town” Garden sits on a lot on San Pablo Ave., at 23rd and Brush streets in West Oakland, just blocks from the “Uptown” district in downtown Oakland.

A year ago, the vacant lot reeked of urine and was littered with trash and syringes. Today, more than a dozen garden beds filled with fruits and vegetables provide fresh food to anyone who asks within an impoverished food desert.

On April 3, a day billed as ‘Liberation Day,’ the Afrika Town garden lot featured live poetry and musical performances, a “Know Your Rights” workshop by Oakland’s Copwatch, and a children’s jumper. Hundreds attended throughout the day in solidarity with the vision for an Afrika Town in Oakland.

Last fall, volunteers at Qilombo–a social center adjacent to the lot–cleaned up the lot and collaborated with Planting Justice and college students to plant vegetables to feed the community.

Back in February, organizers painted blocks on the sidewalk red, black and green, and hoisted banners on San Pablo Ave. that read, “Karibu, Afrika Town,” Swahili for welcome. Afrika, spelled with a k, is also a Swahili term.

On March 7, hundreds came to the garden and painted a large “Afrika Town” mural on the side of Qilombo’s building. It features Black Panthers, Kwame Nkrumah, and other artwork inspired by the liberation movement. The colorful mural not only attracted the approving eye of residents, activists say, but also the attention of developers.

On March 26, the current property owner, Noel Yi, along with his realtor Gary Robinson, came with Oakland Police and demolition equipment with an intent to destroy the garden. Afrika Town volunteers stood between bulldozers and the lot’s fence to prevent the uprooting of the garden.

After negotiations, the owner agreed to give volunteers one week to dig up the beds before the bulldozers would return.

Instead of removing the fruits and vegetables, lead volunteer Linda Grant and others organized to defend the garden.

“We want this to be a resource for the community,” said Danae Martinez, a community college professor of African American Studies at Laney and Merritt Colleges. Her students helped plant the garden and paint the mural. “We want it to be for Black people and about Black people.”

The garden is just a seed for Afrika Town, envisioned as an autonomous zone for Black people.

“A lot of other races and cultures have a designated space, like Chinatown, or Fruitvale, or Hills for the White folks,” said Emani Alyce, a volunteer at Qilombo. “Afrika Town is a space where Black folks can come and feel comfortable with.”

After lobbying from activists and supporters, and a call from Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson, Yi and Robinson agreed to work with Afrika Town’s gardeners.

Despite the small victory, volunteers are still concerned with gentrification, particularly the West Oakland Specific Plan. Abiola said, “We had a small victory today. It’s nowhere near over.”

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City Proposes “Bleak” Budget for Jobs and Training Programs

Frank Tucker Removed from WIB Board, Reinstated by Mayor’s Office

 By Ken Epstein

 

The Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) this week released a “bleak” budget proposal for 2015-1016 that would slash funding for jobs and job training between 19 percent and 22 percent and 50 percent for the Summer Youth Program.

Frank Tucker

Frank Tucker

While the federal money – $4.6 million – that the city receives from the state will remain steady, city staff says that this will represent a 30 percent or $2 million cut in the pot of money that can be used to support job seekers.

Despite repeated requests by the City Council, no city money has been directed to these job programs. “At this time, staff is not anticipating an infusion of City General Purpose Funds to support our federally funded Workforce Investment System,” the report said.

At the meeting of the WIB Executive Committee Wednesday, members questioned why the city says there is a decline in funding when the federal money the city receives remains flat. They also discussed the drastic impact these cuts will have on the jobs of workers at service provider agencies and the loss of services for youth, particularly out-of-school youth, and the formerly incarcerated and chronically unemployed.

“We’ve presented this fairly bleak … budget picture, (but) this should come as no surprise,” said Al Auletta, city development/redevelopment program manager.

The current year’s budget has not been impacted, said WIB Director John Bailey, because it has contained money that had been unspent in the previous year. However, there will be no unspent money to carry forward into next year.

Said Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council: “What has been lacking (in these budget discussions) is analysis of the impact on the public, the end users – both service providers that may have to close their doors and the many people who won’t be served, unless the city steps up to the plate and covers some of its own extraordinary costs of administering the system.”

Also at the meeting, there was of discussion of why local businessman Frank Tucker had been precipitously removed from board but later reinstated this week. Tucker, a longtime WIB member, had been asking questions about why the WIB takes so much of the money off the top for overhead.

He also was pushing for the WIB to adopt a resolution calling on the City Council to take action to ensure police accountability in the wake of the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina and other unjustified police killings.

Tucker met with WIB Director Bailey on Monday for over an hour, unsuccessfully trying to get Bailey to put the police issue on the executive board agenda.

After that discussion, Bailey told Tucker that his term as a WIB member had expired in November and that he was no longer on the board. Asked why he had taken to so longer to deliver the news, Tucker said Bailey told him that he had “procrastinated.”

However, Tucker soon heard from Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office that he had been reappointed to the board, at least until the end of October.

“I am not a large corporation. I am the CEO of a small business, and this (work) takes me away from growing my business and my commitments to my customers,” said Tucker. “But as a small business owner, I have stayed on the board to work to solve Oakland’s high levels of unemployment.”

In a reply to question from the Oakland Post, Bailey wrote: “As a result of an administrative oversight, (Tucker) was not informed that he was not reappointed in November after serving more than 14 years as a member of the WIB. Staff worked with the Mayor’s office to rectify that situation, and Mr. Tucker was reappointed to serve on the board until Nov. 1.

 

 

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Concerns Raised at Oakland Unified Over Jackson’s $30,000 Per Month, Conflict of Interest

Jackie Minor Sets Jackson’s Pay Rate, Says School Board Approval Not Necessary

 By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials are struggling to explain why there is no conflict of interest in hiring Lance Jackson as the interim chief of the district’s bond-funded construction projects and that Jackson’s $30,000 a month salary is not excessive.

Jackie Minor

Jackie Minor

Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville Group Inc. (SGI), which has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects. He was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Jackson is being paid out of school bond funds for what the district estimates is 75 percent of the work for which Tim White was responsible and is earning more than double what White earned.

“There’s been quite a lot of press about the selection of the individual who is from the main project management company (that works for OUSD) to be in that position on an interim basis. There are some concerns that I have, and I think some others have, that (this) poses a conflict of interest and also some concerns for the amount of money that’s being paid to that individual,” said Patricia Williams, vice chair of the district’s Measures A, B, and J Independent Citizens’ School Facilities Bond Oversight Committee, speaking at the committee’s April 1 meeting.

According to local attorney Dan Siegel, a former Oakland Board of Education member and also former general counsel for the school district, Jackson “clearly has a classical conflict of interest” in holding a position in OUSD where he oversees a company for which he is an executive.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

“(For example,) if a consultant who works for his company does something wrong or that is inappropriate, he is going to feel reluctant to take any action because he’s going to have his company’s interests as well as OUSD’s (in mind). He is supposed to be loyal to the school district,” said Siegel, explaining that potential conflicts issues are not limited to billing and the signing of invoices.

Defending the district’s position at the April 1 meeting of the bond oversight committee, District General Counsel Jacqueline Minor described how she decided that Jackson should earn $30,000 per month. She said his pay rate is $200 an hour, he receives no benefits, and he is expected to be working for the district at least 12 hours a day.

She said that Jackson is being paid out of the district’s bond funds. Seventy-five percent of Tim (White´s) salary was paid out of the bond, she said, and the other 25 percent from the general fund to cover his responsibilities for day-to-day operations, custodial services and buildings and grounds.

“(However), all the work we’ve asked Lance to do is bond-related work,” said Minor.

“He’s been the principle lead for SGI in our district for some time,” she said. “He knows the district, he knows the team, he knows the work, he knows the projects.”

As for potential conflicts of interest, Minor, said, Seville Group is subject to the district’s general conflict of interest policies. “The superintendent and I talked, and we decided … the way we would handle (it),” she said

None of the invoices and other financial decisions related to SGI will come across Jackson’s desk, Minor said. Instead, Senior Business Officer Vernon Hal will have overall responsibility for all of the finances related to SGI.

“Lance is not approving invoices, purchase orders, contract extensions,” Minor said.

Renee Swayne

Renee Swayne

Minor said the district originally planned to send a contract for Jackson to the board but rescinded it when she decided it was not necessary.

“The work that Lance is doing is already covered by the SGI contract,” Minor said. “And I decided – it was my decision –(that) it didn’t make sense for the board to approve an amendment when there was already a contact that had sufficient funds in it to cover this additional work.”

“It’s my opinion that that the work Lance and SGI (are doing) is permissible under the (conflict of interest) law,” she said.

Another member of the bond oversight committee, Ariel Bierbaum, said she was concerned how Jackson’s position would affect staff in the Facilities Department, “now that Mr. Jackson is serving as both consultant and client.”

Renee Swayne, chair of the bond oversight committee, told Minor that she was concerned that when the district hired Jackson, it released a statement saying that he was the only person in the “whole department who has the knowledge, skills or the ability” to do the job.

“I personally think the superintendent owes the employees in that department an apology, “ said Swayne, adding that what Wilson said was “demeaning” to OUSD staff.

In response to questions from the Post, district spokesman Troy Flint clarified how Jackson is being paid.

“OUSD is not paying any additional monies to SGI or to Lance beyond the contract with SGI , which predates Lance’s appointment as interim head of the facilities department,” said Flint. “Any money Lance receives would come out of the existing $10.89 million contract with SGI, and it would be up to SGI to determine how to distribute that money.”

Jackson has not taken a leave of absence from his company to work for the district, Flint said.

“Lance is still employed by SGI. His current work for OUSD is a function of his long-term employment at SGI, so there’s no reason he would take a leave of absence.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 10, 2015 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

UC Berkeley Supporters Rally For Missing 43 Students in Mexico

Thousands March in Mexico to Demand Justice for Missing Students from Ayotzinapa.

Thousands march in Mexico to demand justice for missing students from Ayotzinapa.

By Nikolas Zelinski

Friends and family of 43 missing university students, “normalistas,” spoke at UC Berkeley last Friday, part of a tour throughout the United State to spread word about the mass kidnapping that has been rocking Mexico for months.

The “normalistas” were studying education at a small school in the state of Guerrero in southern Mexico. Coming from poor backgrounds, students and teachers at this school have a long history of protest and fighting for their rights.

On September 26th, 2014, students from the Raúl Isidro Burgo rural teaching college in Ayotzinapa, went to protest in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.

The students hoped to disrupt an event that was held by the local mayor’s wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa.

Facts about that night remain contested. However, it is clear that local police opened fire on vehicles in the area, and that 43 students disappeared.

Confirmed deaths vary depending on the source.

Since then, Ayotzinapa has become more than just a place, it has become a cause. Mass protests have taken place in Mexico City and in towns and cities throughout the country.

Edwin Ackerman, master of ceremonies at the UC Berkeley event, criticized those who are opposed to those who are backing the 43 disappeared students. “In the discourse of the [Mexican] state, those fighting back are violent, parasitical groups with irrational demands. It’s sort of an intense version of the anti-union, anti-teacher sentiment that exists in the US.”

“In Mexico,” Ackerman continued, “these accusations often have a range of undertones, the image [the government] presents is this unruly, backward mob of indigenous people. It was this climate of stigmatization that allowed for Ayotzinapa to be attacked before in a less circulated case in 2011; while blocking a major highway in demand of guaranteed tenure positions, and better living conditions in their school, federal police opened fire, killing two students.”

Family members and others speak speak at UC Berkeley about the fight for justice for the missing 43 normalistas in Mexico. Photo by Nick Zelinski.

Family members and others speak April 3  at UC Berkeley about the fight for justice for the missing 43 normalistas in Mexico. Photo by Nick Zelinski.

Another panelist was Steve Fisher, a student in the graduate program of journalism at UC Berkeley. He said government responses to the mass kidnapping contradict the thousands of official documents that he has reviewed.

“According to the government, the police along with cartel members, took the students from Iguala, and took them to a landfill in Cocula. There, according to officials, the students were burned. The student’s remains were then put in large bags, thrown into a river, and later supposedly found by the Mexican government,” Fisher said.

Fisher went on to explain that the Mexican military and the federal police adamantly deny that they knew about the attack until two hours after it ended.

But from evidence, it is clear that they knew about Ayotzinapa activities at least three hours prior to the event.

“The [official] story that the government has created has come entirely from depositions from people who had been tortured,” Fisher added.

Blanca Luz Nava Vélez, mother of missing student Jorge Alvarez Nava, said, “We don’t believe anything that the government has been saying. They’ve been trying to deceive us, time and time again, trying to make us believe our children are dead, that they were burned in Cocula, and they are lies.”

“What we’ve always said is that we’re poor, but we’re not idiots. And as long as there’s no proof, we are going to search for our children as if they were alive. I know in my heart, that my child is alive,” Nava Vélez said passionately.

Panelist and Ayotzinapa student Josimar De la Cruz Ayala called for public support via donations, letters, protests and boycotts of arms dealers that ship weapons to Mexico.

De la Cruz Ayala said Ayotzinapa does not accept donations from political parties that would like to claim sponsorship. Ayotzinapa is a non-partisan organization.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 6, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Richmond Seeks Support for “Cybertran” Ultralight Rail Transit System

Cybertran rendering

Cybertran rendering

By Post Staff

The Richmond City Council has agreed to continue searching for federal and state dollars to fund an innovative transit system that could bring a high-tech passenger rail transit system to the city along with thousands of manufacturing jobs and billions in economic revitalization.

The council unanimously agreed to pursue the funding following a presentation from CyberTran International on March 24. The city hopes to be the first city in the world to implement the transit program.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

“We’re excited about this project,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, a strong advocate for the project. “This is important on so many different levels. It’s going to bring much-needed jobs to Richmond and renown to the city, too. We would be the first in the country to launch a program like this – it’s pretty amazing.”

When the project begins it could bring thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs, approximately 50 transit operator positions, about 100 new vehicle construction technicians and an estimated $13.5 billion in economic activity with increased property values and new businesses.

The CyberTran project could solve a lot of Richmond’s transportation goals and priorities including a long-standing desire to connect the city’s Hilltop area with areas like downtown, Parchester Village and the Marina that have not happened because it’s been cost-prohibitive, Beckles said.

“This could connect the city in ways not possible with AC Transit nor BART,” she said.

Dexter Vizinau, president of CyberTran said he specifically chose Richmond as the site of CyberTran because it will help the city.

“I could have moved the company to Silicon Valley and we would be a lot further along than we are,” he said. “But I moved to the City of Richmond because I wanted to move where the jobs are needed most and the city that needs it most is Richmond.”

CyberTran is developing a network of computer-automated, solar-powered trains that actually are more like large passenger cars, which can transport up to 20 passengers at a time.

Each vehicle will move non-stop, direct to destination.

Because of the smaller size of the vehicles, they are easier to build and implement and much cheaper than traditional rail systems. The computer-operated railcars, which are smaller than Disney Monorail cars, could be summoned and arrive to various locations on demand.

President Barack Obama is a proponent for reducing greenhouse emissions and has promoted the idea of environmentally-friendly, sustainable cars and transit projects. He approved a federal funding bill in December 2014 that could provide funding for projects like CyberTran in Richmond, according to Vizinau.

The Richmond City Council voted unanimously in September to enter a public-private partnership with CyberTran.

On Feb. 14, another agency, i-Gate, also signed an agreement with the company. The state-sponsored business incubator i-GATE has asked CyberTran to participate in a network of green transportation and clean-energy technologies, where the company can access advanced industry and technology development opportunities.

There are a total of five US cities and one in China that are working to deploy the transit technology, he said.

Vizinau and company representatives have also visited Richmond’s sister city Zhoushan, China four times in the past year and is also working to implement CyberTran there in hopes of making that city the first international site with the technology.

“It’s going to be phenomenal to be getting people out of their cars and good for the climate and good for mobility of Richmond residents,” Beckles said.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)