Archive for May, 2015

Screening of Cuban Film on Assata Shakur

Gloria Rolando at work. Photo courtesy of Tarnel Abbott.

Filmmaker Gloria Rolando at work. Photo courtesy of Tarnel Abbott.

The Richmond, California, Regla Cuba Friendship Committee will present two feature films, including one on former Black Panther Assata Shakur, by prize-winning Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando, Saturday, June 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339 11th St. in, Richmond.

Walter Turner, KPFA host of Africa Today, will present a Cuba update.

Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur

Rolando’s film “Eyes of the Rainbow,” deals with the life of Assata Shakur, the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army leader who escaped from prison and was given political asylum in Cuba, where she has lived since 1984.

The documentary is in English.

The second feature, “Reembarque,” Reshipment, is Rolando’s latest film, portraying a forgotten chapter in Cuban history. The movie tells the story of the forced repatriation of Haitian immigrants in the early 20th century.

The film has received international praise for historical research and brilliant portrayal of Cuban/Creole culture. The film has English subtitles.

The suggested donations $15, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Priority Africa Network will co-sponsor the program.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Residents Want City to Keep an Eye on Police Surveillance

By Ashley Chambers

Oakland residents are strongly advocating for a citywide privacy policy that would monitor the use o Three_Surveillance_cameras  f a surveillance system used to collect and monitor data, respond to emergencies and crime in the City of Oakland, unanimously passed by the Public Safety Committee this week.

The Port Doman Awareness Center (DAC) is currently limited to use at the Port of Oakland and applies technology systems to respond to emergencies, crime and maritime related operations.

r-CALIFORNIA-POLICE-SURVEILLANCE-large570This new privacy policy would expand the DAC to monitor and respond to emergency and criminal activity citywide with oversight and reporting requirements.

Strongly supported by community members, the recommendation from the city’s Ad Hoc Privacy Committee calls for the City Council to create a permanent Privacy Policy Advisory Committee that would oversee citywide use of the DAC.

Speakers at Tuesday’s Public Safety meeting urged the council to make sure the policy has teeth.

“This has to be an enforceable policy – a policy or resolution (by itself) is useless,” said Brian Hofer, chair of the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee, noting that the city in the past did not comply with approved policies.20130815_151852

“We built the audits and compliance reporting so that it must happen and that trust will be established over the use of this equipment,” he said.

Allowable uses of the DAC would include: active shooter, bomb or explosion, hostage situation, major emergency, missing or abducted person, power outage, street racing/side show, and a list of many others.

The Oakland Police Department (OPD) recommended adding protests and special events to the list.

Referring to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, OPD’s Captain David Downing said, “Nationwide, as far as what has happened out there, we want the ability to monitor events, and if nothing happens, the video is destroyed.”

Also at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, councilmembers approved a joint workspace with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Threat Section in OPD’s administration building.

FBI personnel would partner with OPD on a Safe Streets Taskforce, dedicating 10 FBI agents to work with the department’s Criminal Investigation Division. OPD would allocate $63,000 to cover costs of equipment, furniture, and network security.

The privacy policy goes to the City Council on June 2.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

“Path Not Found” – Report Says Low-income Students Lack Computer Access

By Nikolas Zelinski

The Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) has released a report titled a “Path Not Found” that chronicles the lack of computer classes available to lower-income students and students of color in California high schools.pathnotfound_report_main

The report finds “the higher a school’s percentage of underrepresented students of color, the lower the likelihood of a school offering any computer science courses whatsoever.”

Nearly 75 percent of high schools with the highest percentages of underrepresented students of color offer no computer science courses, and 75 percent of high schools with the highest numbers of low-income students offer no computer science courses.

This is during a time when the tech industry is booming, and the country’s demographics are shifting. “Last fall, for the first time in history, students of color made up the majority of first graders nationwide,” according to the report.

This disparity is currently demonstrated by Google’s diversity data released last year. Combined, African Americans and Latinos only comprise five percent of the technical workforce. Other major tech companies show similar statistics.

Mitch Kapor

Mitch Kapor

Nationwide economic projections indicate that there will be more than 1.3 million job openings in computing and mathematical occupations by 2022.

During a press conference for the report, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Corporation said, “All of my experience in the tech industry leads me to believe that no great startup can come into existence without skilled software developers. Because they’re the people that transform the visions and design into working code. Software developers are completely essential to the innovation economy.”

Kapor continued, “Even here in Silicon Valley, our schools are woefully behind in preparing the next generation to acquire these skills. We’ve seen time and time again, that students who are not born into privilege are at a disadvantage compared to their more privileged peers.”

According to Dr. Julie Flapan, executive director for the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools, “Upper-income schools have what we call preparatory privilege. Students who have exposure to computers at home, after-school coding classes, or summer robotics camps, are better prepared for the advanced placement (AP) courses that are already offered at their schools.”

“This is why it’s important to expand introductory level courses across the state, to ensure that all students have equal exposure to computer science,” Flapan concluded.

Some success in achieving demographic equality includes a program recently trialed in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), in partnership with the University of California Los Angeles, and the National Science Foundation.

The equity focused curriculum called “Exploring Computer Science” shows participation directly mirrors the overall demographics of LAUSD. The course utilizes interest-based learning at its core, and uses that concept to teach web design, and coding.

To ensure computer access for underrepresented students of color, and underprivileged students, the “Path Not Found” report lists some key strategies.

One of the solutions is to make computer science count as either a mathematics course, or science high school graduation requirement.

Other methods include expanding access to in-school and out-of-school programs designed to develop computing interest among underrepresented groups; while emphasizing hands-on projects, field trips, extracurricular activities, and mentorship programs.

Also, ensure that funding prioritizes programs serving low-income students of color and other underrepresented groups.

Many members of the press conference panel explained that role-models who look like the students they are teaching is one of the biggest factors to success.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 24, 1015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Council Decision Could Mean a Step Forward on Police Accountability

By Ashley Chambers

Ashley Chambers

Ashley Chambers

The City Council took a first step this week to enact a policy that has been four years in the making and could improve the level of police accountability in Oakland, unanimously voting to consolidate all walk-in complaints against police at the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB).

Rashidah Grinage

Rashidah Grinage

The council on Tuesday night confirmed its 2011 decision to transfer all walk-in complaints from the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division (IAD) at the CPRB after months of discussion from residents, activists, and community leaders at city meetings, who have stressed that OPD cannot investigate itself.

Additionally, this action will help to rebuild residents’ trust in the system that is used to file complaints against police, whereas with the IAD, some residents have said they have been discouraged from filing a complaint or that they felt intimidated by intake staff.

In 2014, the CPRB filed 47 complaints, of which 60 percent were from African Americans. Reports show that law enforcement and private security organizations disproportionately target people of color for investigation and enforcement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Consolidating complaints to CPRB could begin the process of rectifying police misconduct and will shed light on cases of racial profiling that are otherwise unattended, and holding OPD accountable, according to activists.

“This has been a long time coming, and I know you all have been waiting a long time to get here,” said Council President Lynette McElhaney, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“We all know what the catchword is here in the whole nation, not just Oakland. The word is accountability,” said Molly Costello of the Alan Blueford Center for Justice and member of the Coalition for Police Accountability.

The CPRB will add one Intake Technician from OPD and hire an additional Intake staff to handle the expected increase in filed citizen complaints.

“One of the great advantages of consolidating the intake of complaints at the CPRB is so that when you receive reports, you will be then getting a report on 100 percent of the complaints that are filed,” said Rashidah Grinage, member of the Coalition for Police Accountability and former executive director of People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

“In the last 10 to 15 years, when you have received CPRB reports, they’ve been basically on 10 percent of the actual complaints because most of them were filed with Internal Affairs, and they don’t like reporting publicly,” she said.

“Invest in what will prevent millions and millions of dollars of payouts, not to mention injuries and deaths,” Grinage added.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Complaint Against Oakland Unified for “System-wide Violations of Rights of Children with Disabilities”

sunbelt-special-education

By Post Staff

Disability Rights of California has filed a complaint against the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on behalf of the district’s special education students, alleging that “OUSD’s policies and practices result in system-wide violations of the rights of children with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),” according to the nonprofit agency.

“We are moving forward. We asked the state for a mediation process to resolve the complaint, and the state has assigned a mediator,” said Maggie Roberts, associate managing attorney at the disability rights agency, which receives federal funding to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.8954362

The agency is representing 10 named students with disabilities and a class of all special education students in the district. The complaint was filed in March with the California Department of Education.

The complaint alleges systemic failures that include not providing qualified staff; not offering special education programs and services based on disability related needs; and not providing or even budgeting funds to provide individualized accommodation such as curriculum modifications and behavioral supports to students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

disabilityequalityIn addition, the district is not meeting the needs of Limited English families, lacking staff to provide interpretation and translation services to non-English language proficient parents, who receive documents and notices in English rather than their primary language;

Further, the district has failed to provide students with mental health or behavioral needs services in the required least restrictive setting and instead placing them in segregated environments, according to the complaint.

The complaint also says OUSD’s systemic noncompliance with IDEA has a disparate impact on students of color, especially Latino students whose families are not proficient in English.

Of 5,074 OUSD students in Special Education, 1,880 are Latino, and 2,072 are African American. Together, they make up they make up 78 percent in the district’s special education program.

According to the state, about 10 percent of California students receive special education services. Most common are specific learning disabilities, such as reading difficulties, which are connected to students falling severely behind in their classes. Second most common are speech and language impairments.

One of the named complainants, TA, is a nine-year old boy in the third grade with a developmental disability.  Because OUSD did not provide TA with any services for the first seven weeks of this school year, and did not implement his legally required Individualized Education Program (IEP) during the last school year, TA’s mother requested a hearing, the complaint said.

As a result, OUSD agreed to provide the needed services. Four months later, it still has not provided TA with agreed upon services, including behavior support services, individual speech therapy, or a one-to-one aide in his classroom.

Instead, OUSD wants to move TA from his school and place him in a segregated nonpublic school, which would be his eighth placement since preschool, the complaint said.TA’s mother is frustrated by the district’s failure to assist her son, the complaint continues, quoting the child’s mother.

“My son has fallen far behind in school, and his behavior problems have gotten worse. Four months ago, the OUSD finally agreed to provide TA with all of the services he needs. OUSD is still not providing my son with what was agreed to. I don’t know what else to do to get the school district to give my son what he needs.”

According to Roberts, attorney at the agency, Disability Rights California usually files complaints on behalf of individuals. However, in this case, OUSD has long-term violations that are systemic, and district fails to implement changes even after hearings where they promised to institute remedies.

“This is unprecedented,” said Roberts in an interview with the Post, explaining that the agency has asked the state to become involved.

“The state (Department of Education) is ultimately responsible for implementing federal and state laws, and we wanted to make sure the state is aware, that even when cases went to complaint, OUSD didn’t implement settlement agreements.”

Roberts continued, “This is a problem that has been around for a long time. They have found ways to limit the programs. They do not offer services or have plans in place to deliver services.”

As a result of failure to offer adequate services, many of Oakland’s special education students drop out of school or barely graduate. “Many don’t go on to college or community college because they’re not equipped for that,” she said.

There are special education programs that exist, which OUSD could offer, that provide the latest computer technology and teachers equipped with up-to-date teaching methods.

In these programs, children of parents – particularly more affluent parents – do better in school and often go on to college.

“If the state does not do something to do to fix (these issues), and the district doesn’t do anything, then we will we will consider litigation,” said Roberts.

OUSD is well aware of these issues, she said. A 2013 report commissioned by OUSD found widespread deficiencies in its special education program, and is available at www.ousd.k12.ca.us/SpecialEdAssessment

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Unanswered Questions as OUSD Moves Forward on Headquarters Development

How will the district pay for the project, estimated to cost $100 million?

Rendering of new OUSD headquarters complex, "Design Conception One."

Rendering of new OUSD headquarters complex, “Design Conception One.”

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving ahead with its plan to tear down the district’s old administration building on Second Avenue and East 10th Street and replace it with a new educational complex.

The district is currently looking at three separate “final conceptual designs” for the property, and all of them would contain office space for at least some administrators and their staff, a conference center and theater for parent and staff training, a student-run café, parking for some employees and a new school for Dewey Academy with a gym and multipurpose room.

Dewey at present is located nearby at Second Avenue and East 12th Street.

Additionally, one of the proposals includes keeping the façade or other parts of the old administration building. And another design proposes to build some units of housing, but staff has emphasized that these units would be affordable or for teachers, not market-rate housing.

The administration is taking the three conceptual designs to next Wednesday evening’s board meeting, hoping for board approval to move ahead with one of the designs, based on the superintendent’s recommendation.

To publicize the design proposals, the district held three meetings this week in different parts of Oakland. However, the meetings were poorly advertised, and only about six members of the public attended the first two of the events.

A number of questions remain to be answered.

Why is the district proposing to build at new campus for Dewey Academy?

Dewey was originally included in the project when the district was trying to sell the school property to Urban Core Development to add to its plan to build a luxury apartment tower adjacent to the school at East 12th and Lake Merritt Boulevard.

Building a new campus for Dewey – which is relatively new – significantly contributes to the estimated $100 million price tag for the new complex and may mean that other school construction projects would have to be scrapped.

What part of the central office administration would fit into this new complex?

According to the district, the new headquarters will contain office space for 300-350 people. However, a school district fact sheet said that in 2014, there were 940 central office staffers, though it did not break down what job classifications were part of that number.

Although the district has said one of its main goals was the consolidation of central office workers under one roof, it would seem that it will not be able accommodate everyone without continuing to send staff to satellite locations or to lay off a huge number of administrators and their support staff.

How will the district pay for this complex?

The obvious pot of money is school bond funds, but there are legal restrictions that must be observed, and most of the money may be earmarked for other projects.

Rumors are circulating that the administration may want to sell the site the old Lakeview Elementary School to developers. The district has already notified Community Schools and Student Services Department staff who work at the closed school that they will be transferred, mostly to OUSD headquarters at 10000 Broadway.

 Will there be enough parking?

The proposals call for only about a total of 400 parking places for central office staff, Dewey staff and people utilizing the conference center.

A number of staff members will be expected to take BART or bus to work. However, many staff members have duties that require them to frequently visit school sites or other off-site meetings. Some would have difficulty doing their jobs without availability of a car.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Barbara Parker Cites Confidentiality, Refuses Comment on Sale of Property for Luxury Apartment Tower

By Ken Epstein

A local community group has not yet received a reply from City Attorney Barbara Parker about their complaint that the City of Oakland is violating local, state and federal laws in going ahead with the sale of public property to developers to build a luxury apartment tower at the East side of Lake Merritt.

Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker

“There are serious unanswered questions about the city’s compliance with federal, state and local laws governing disposition of this property,” according to a letter to the City Council on May 4 from lawyers for Public Advocates on behalf of the neighborhood group Eastlake United for Justice.

The lawyers urge the council to remove the agreement to sell the property at the corner of East 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard from its agenda “until the city has publicly demonstrated that it has complied with all legal requirements.”

City Attorney Parker or her representative is generally present in all public and closed session meetings of the council. Her office was appraised of the decisions leading to the council decision to offer the property for sale and the proposed agreement with Urban Core Development and its financial partner UDR.

Parker’s officer has also received the letter from Public Advocates.

Reached for comment by the Post, Alex Katz, Parker’s chief of staff, said she does not respond to questions regarding her legal advice to the City Council, citing attorney-client privilege.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

“We can’t talk out what advice we give the City Council or whether we’ve given them legal advice,” he said.

According to the letter from Public Advocates, the East 12th Street parcel qualifies as “surplus land,” and “disposition must therefore comply with all procedural and substantive provisions of the (California Surplus Lands Act).”

Under the law, the lawyers wrote, “All public lands no longer needed for public use (must) be made available for affordable housing, recreation, and other state priorities.”

In addition, the law provides that if property is sold to a developer, the city should seek to assure 25 percent of the units are reserved for affordable housing and at a minimum, “no less than 15 percent of the total number of units (are) developed on the parcels at affordable housing cost… or affordable rent…to lower income households.”

“There are no exceptions,” the letter said.

Members of Eastlake United for Justice also have repeatedly alleged that the city has violated its own procedures in this land deal. At several city meetings, they accused the council of making the decision to sell the property in closed session – without the public – and that the request for proposals only went out to three developers.

Further, the lawyers argued that the decision to sell the property violates the federal Fair Housing Act’s and California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s protections against reinforcing or perpetuating “segregated housing patterns…. regardless of intent.”

Approving an agreement with the developers “that allows for 100 percent luxury housing on a publicly owned site without including affordable housing, would disproportionately impact people of color and individuals with disabilities, perpetuating segregation in the city,” the lawyers said in their letter.

David Zisser, staff attorney for Public Advocates told the Post that the City Attorney’s office has received the letter, but, “They have not directly responded t it.”

“If the council had gone along with the provisions of the state Surplus Lands Act, 25 percent or 75 units out of the 298 units (in the project) would actually be affordable for Oakland,” said Zisser. “If they could not find a developer to do the 25 percent affordable housing, they still could do 15 percent or 45 units of affordable housing.”

“Everyone knows there’s a housing crisis in this city, and this crisis is causing the exodus of Oakland families. The council has talked about favoring a diverse, inclusive city and has the opportunity to do something about it,” he said.

“This not a technical legal maneuver. It’s the moral thing to do, it’s good policy, and it’s also legally required.”

Zisser emphasized that Public Advocates and community members are not picking a fight with Urban Core Development and its owner Michael Johnson. “This is not about blaming the developer. “It’s about what the city’s obligations are.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Healthcare Racial Disparities Persist Despite ACA

More Californians than ever before have health insurance, but coverage isn’t care, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has magnified the deep racial, ethnic and cultural disparities in accessing quality health care in California.

Gary Delgado

Gary Delgado

Latino and African Americans especially remain heavily uninsured and struggle to receive health care.

Language and cultural barriers, lack of Internet or an email address, a lack of experience in using health insurance, a shortage of doctors and clinics in poor and rural communities, and high costs are preventing many from receiving health care and medications.

A new report “Breaking Barriers: Improving health insurance enrollment and access to health care in California,” reveals a deep divide between social class, income, culture and ethnicity emerging under the state’s Covered Care.

New report: "Breaking Barriers"

New report: “Breaking Barriers”

“It’s unconscionable that so many have been left out of something as basic as the chance to enjoy good health,” said Gary Delgado, author of Breaking Barriers. “Lack of Internet access or speaking another language is not a reason to be locked out of a health system that purports to be open to all.

“Obamacare did not cause the widespread racial disparities we found, but neither did it solve them. Now we have to take them on directly,” said Delgado.

“Breaking Barriers” is a year-long study that includes a survey of nearly 1,200 low-income people in 10 states in Spanish, Cantonese, and English. They were contacted at food banks, health clinics, and homeless centers.

Alfredo DeAvila did surveys and interviews for the Breaking Barriers California report.

“If the ACA is going to be successful, we need to help people transition not only into the health insurance system, but also into the health care system,” he said. “We must invest in public education about how to get ongoing preventive care.”

The Korean America community, especially seniors are struggling because of costs, said DJ Yoon, executive director of NAKASEC (National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.)

“California can be a leader in assuring quality health care for all people. We have let people of color again slip through the cracks in our system, we can do better – and here is a roadmap for how we get there,” said Delgado.

Key recommendations in the report include:

Improve language access. Make provider directories available in multiple languages and list addresses, phone numbers, languages spoken, hospital affiliations, and specialties;

Simplify the insurance-shopping experience. Make cost information transparent and communicate clearly about deductibles, co-pays, and preventive services that are included;

Covered California should enforce and impose penalties on insurers who do not reduce racial health care disparities within required timeframes;

Assure that primary care providers are within 30 minutes driving or public transit time. Enrollees who must travel further should be offered free transportation;

Expand school-based health centers, especially in medically underserved communities;

Address underlying causes of poor health, especially in poor communities, (mold, infestations, domestic violence) Expand medical-legal partnerships as an avenue toward addressing poor health in low-income communities;

Reinforce the ACA-mandated “well-woman preventive” care and provide education about the value of preventive care for all. Ensure that all plans include reproductive health care services.

The full Breaking Barriers in California report is available at http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BBReport_CALIF.pdf

 

OUSD Consultant Lance Jackson’s Company Sued in Corruption Scandal

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is paying consultant Lance Jackson to head its Facilities Planning and Management Department

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

through the district’s contract with Seville Group Inc. (SGI), while Jackson continues working as an executive of the company, whose owner, along with school board members and a superintendent of schools, pleaded guilty in a corruption scheme in a Southern California school district.

The criminal prosecutions are over, but lawsuits against Seville that came out of the case are slowly moving ahead. Sweetwater Union High School District and San Diegans for Open Government are suing Seville, along with another company, to return $26 million on the grounds that their contracts with the school district were “tainted,” by bribing public officials, and therefore invalid.

In the widely publicized case, which finally concluded last year, a school board member went to jail and a number lost their positions. The district’s superintendent went to jail and paid a fine.

The former superintendent Sweetwater Union High School District was sentenced in April 2014 to jail. Photo courtesy of San Diego station ABC Channel 10.

The former superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District  in Southern California was sentenced in June 2014 to jail. Photo courtesy of San Diego station ABC Channel 10.

According to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, “Between 2008 and 2011, the defendants frequented San Diego-area restaurants with contractors and others racking up hundreds of dollars in food and drinks at a time, in some cases reaching more than $1,000 per outing. Defendants were given Los Angeles Lakers playoff tickets, concert tickets, theater tickets, Rose Bowl tickets, Southwest Airlines tickets and trips to Pebble Beach and Napa Valley.”

The owner and president of Seville, Rene Flores, cooperated and testified for the prosecution. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was on informal probation until June 20, 2 014.

In addition to his interim consulting position in the school district, Jackson serves as Chief Operating Officer of Seville, part of the company’s seven-member executive leadership team.

School construction project in OUSD

Oakland Unified School District school construction project

Seville receives $30,000 a month, an equivalent of $360,000 a year, for Jackson’s services to OUSD, part of the company’s contract to provide construction management services to the district.

Jackson’s position with the company goes back to 2002, according to Bloomberg.

Seville has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects. Jackson was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his $156,000-a-year position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Seville is being paid for Jackson’s work from school bond funds for what the district estimates is 75 percent of the work that Tim White was doing. As head of Facilities Planning and Management, Jackson oversees the expenditure of at least $435 million in taxpayer bond money.

The Southern California lawsuits are seeking the return of $26 million that SGI of Pasadena and Gilbane of Providence, R.I., received to oversee the Sweetwater district’s $644-million, voter-approved Proposition O bond program and a part of an earlier bond program.

“It was filed to recoup some of the bond (management) fees that we paid,” said Manny Rubio, public information officer of the Sweetwater school district in an interview with the Post.

State law – Government Code 1090 – prohibits officials from entering into a contract in which they have a financial interest and nullifies contracts made in violation of that law.

“The facts really aren’t in dispute. The people that received the gifts admit receiving them. Those that gave the gifts admit giving them,” said John Moot, outside legal counsel for Sweetwater, speaking in an interview with the newspaper U-T San Diego.

Responding to the lawsuit, lawyers for the contractors, Gilbane and Seville, said the district attorney’s charges were inflated, and the gifts to public officials were constitutionally protected free speech.

“Despite the rhetoric and rampant media coverage, the meager slaps on the wrist that flowed from the prosecution utterly belie (the D.A.’s) claims and prove the criminal charges were overblown and lacked evidentiary support,” the lawyers for the two companies said in court papers.

In rejecting one of the defendants’ claims, a San Diego judge in December 2014 ruled that the meals, trips and gifts were criminal acts and not constitutionally protected free speech.

Judge Eddie Sturgeon said that law the contractors cited did not apply if the conduct was illegal. He wrote that the gift were clearly meant to influence the decisions of the school officials, and the guilty pleas of the contractors and officials confirmed that what they did was illegal, according to UT-San Diego.

OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint responded to the Post’s questions about the hiring of Lance Jackson and the payments to SGI in light of the ongoing Southern California lawsuits.

“When we appointed Lance to his current position, we were aware of the investigation in San Diego,” Flint said. “We reviewed the matter to the best of our ability, and we determined that Lance was not involved in any way.”

He continued: “We retain our confidence in Lance based on that review and the caliber of work he’s done for us. We won’t hold what appears to be the actions of a few bad apples against Lance.

“Our work with SGI in general, and with Lance in particular, has been above board and extremely satisfactory. What the owners of the company may or may not have done in Southern California is not reflected in the work with OUSD or in Lance’s performance.”

Attorney Cory Briggs of San Diegans for Open Government told the Post that a trial or settlement to the case may be a year-and-a-half away. “If there’s a conflict of interest, (the companies) have to repay everything they’ve been paid,” he said.

The Post requested but at press time had not received comments from OUSD Board President James Harris or other board members, Lance Jackson or Supt. Antwan Wilson. General Counsel Jacqueline Minor was contacted but was out of the office.

Lynette McElhaney Puts Damper on Tagami’s Coal Plan

Demonstrators rallied Thursday morning out the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland where Phil Tagami's office is located, calling on him to keep his promise not to ship coal through the Port of Oakland. Photo by Ethan Bruckner.

Demonstrators rallied Thursday morning out the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland where Phil Tagami’s office is located, calling on him to keep his promise not to ship coal through the Port of Oakland. Photo by Ethan Bruckner.

By Ashley Chambers

News has spread of developer Phil Tagami’s plan to negotiate a deal with four counties in Utah to ship coal to a new export terminal at the Oakland Army Base that could begin operation as early as 2017.

However, opposition by city officials and community activists indicate tat they are many in the city who have no intentions of allowing the greenhouse gas producing material to be exported from the city’s port.

Last month, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board approved a $53 million loan to the four counties – Sevier, Sanpete, Carbon and Emery – to lease a large share of the Oakland terminal to export five to six million tons of coal each year.

Moving forward with this project would directly conflict with a resolution passed by the Oakland City Council last year “opposing the transport of coal, oil, petcoke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) and other hazardous materials by railways and waterways within the city.”

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, whose district includes West Oakland, the Oakland Army Base and the Port of Oakland, has voiced her opposition to the export of coal from city land, saying, “West Oakland cannot be subjected to another dirty industry in its backyard.”

“We were told that this new terminal on city property would increase economic growth, but I see coal exports as the Trojan horse in the development of the Oakland Army Base. It is not the type of economic development that we want – no thank you!”

McElhaney said, “Since coal was not contemplated to be exported when the Army Base Development project was approved, the community has not yet had the chance to make their voices heard on this subject. This is unacceptable.”

Last year, Port Commissioners voted to reject a proposal to construct a coal export terminal.

Activists rallied Thursday across from Oakland City Hall in front of the Rotunda building – where Tagami’s California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG) is located – demanding that the developer keep the promise he made to bring no coal into Oakland.

“CCIG is publicly on record as having no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base,” Tagami wrote in a 2013 newsletter.

Coal is one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide. The health impacts of bringing this fossil fuel to the city would affect residents, workers at the port, and disintegrate the global environment.

Photo by Ethan Buckner.

Photo by Ethan Buckner.

Former Port of Oakland executives Omar Benjamin and Jerry Bridges, who were supporters of the failed coal terminal proposal in 2014, are involved in the project with Tagami and recently met with the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and explained their plans to use “clean” coal.

They said they would use clean, contained cargo shipping train cars that will be unloaded inside contained warehouses. Clean coal refers to the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions underground.

It has also been said that coal would be covered on the trains to reduce the spill of coal dust.

However, these efforts will not eliminate the health effects that the West Oakland community will be exposed to, according to many.

Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Manager of the Bay Area Sierra Club, said harmful health impacts would take effect immediately “in a community already overburdened with air pollution, and diesel particulates from trucks, trains, and ships.”

Residents would experience higher risks of asthma, heart and lung disease, and cancer from “one of the dirtiest energies on the planet,” she said.

Local residents would be exposed to coal dust and diesel particulates in the air that they can easily breathe in, even through walls, and enter into their lungs and blood stream, explained Dervin-Ackerman, a resident of Emeryville.

“We have to be moving away from these fuels if we want to have food and a world to live in that isn’t blazing hot, or flooded under rising sea levels, ” said Brian Beveridge of WOEIP.

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