Archive for October, 2015

Racially Profiled, Drummers Make Noise about Gentrification in Oakland

The SambaFunk! Funkquarians led the drum circle protest with over a hundred drummers in front of City Hall on Monday. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

The SambaFunk! Funkquarians led the drum circle protest with over a hundred drummers in front of City Hall on Monday. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

Over one hundred people, most of them drummers, gathered in front of City Hall Monday evening to bring attention to what longtime Oaklanders feel is an increase in tensions between longtime residents and the influx of newcomers to the city.

The drum circle protest was catalyzed by an incident at the new amphitheater around Lake Merritt on Sunday night when a white man assaulted a circle of Black and Latino drummers from the SambaFunk! Funkquarians for playing their drums and then called the police on the musicians.

The man pressed charges against several of the drummers for assault and the group was forced to stay put for hours as about 13 police officers wrote mandatory reports and cited the members who were charged, while the man was free to leave after pressing charges.

Eventually, one of the drummers pressed charges against the man for assault, as well, claiming the man had grabbed his drumsticks from his hand to force him to stop playing.

For a number of community members, the conflict between the drummers and the upset neighbor, with the police siding against the locals, exemplifies the type of interactions longtime residents are loathing as the city is quickly being gentrified by many who are unfamiliar with and unsympathetic to Oakland’s deep, cultural traditions.

According to Theo Williams, artistic director of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians who ultimately pressed charges against the disrupter, “All of this is really under the sweeping umbrella of gentrification. It’s new people—not from Oakland—moving into a cultural environment, not understanding it and trying to change the nature of it.”

Williams said the drummers on Sunday night were not practicing past curfew and not doing anything illegal.

“The main issue is how the police respond when they’re called out and see a group of people of color and a non-person of color making accusations and claims against them,” said Williams. “Are the police responding in a fair and unbiased way until they can figure out what’s really going on?”

On Monday in front of City Hall, Councilmember Abel Guillen, whose district the incident occurred in, approached the group of drummers and assured them he would try to find solutions and “resolve issues with all impacted and to have this conversation with OPD.”

Guillen also mentioned his commitment to reviving the Oakland Arts Commission—which was defunded under Mayor Ron Dellums in 2008—to “make sure that the arts community has a seat at the table” and to “deal with these issues.”

In a Facebook post he wrote after hearing about the altercation, Guillen said the incident felt like a red flag that brought attention to “the broader social backdrop of the stress, insecurity and outrage we see reflected in public reactions against police actions, the escalating housing crisis, and the conflicts over cultural displacement in our diverse neighborhoods…”

Eric Arnold, spokesperson for the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), said an arts commission is greatly needed “to advocate for community artists and help them navigate the maze of bureaucracy we’re dealing with in city government.”

According to Arnold, such a commission would need to ensure cultural equity in Oakland by prioritizing local artists and historically underrepresented communities in allocations and funding.

“Ideally, this would be a community-oriented process of cultural development that helps uplift and build healthy communities,” he said. “It should do things like generate and analyze data around equity and inequality so we can project it onto the arts segment and creative ecosystem of Oakland.”

Monday’s drum circle protesting the effects of gentrification on Oakland’s diverse culture went hand-in-hand with a special hearing that City Council held on Wednesday night to discuss a roadmap to promote housing equity in Oakland.

At the meeting, councilmembers heard the testimonies of several Oakland residents who have experienced similar interactions with new residents that they feel are aggressive and disrespectful of the city’s cultural history.

Community centers such as the Malonga Casquelourd Center and the Humanist Hall, which have provided performance and gathering space to Oakland’s diverse residents for decades, have been forced to respond to the few neighbors who repeatedly file noise complaints.

During the city council hearing, a representative of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, a predominantly Black church, testified that police have repeatedly been called to handle noise levels during their services.

Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post, also expressed his concern, reminding councilmembers that worshiping and celebration in the Black community often generates a “joyful noise” that cannot be suppressed.

Cobb is inviting housing rights activists and those participating in the Black Lives Matter movement to join the Post in attending the churches that have received complaints for their loud worship services.

“The intention is to show support and to make a joyful noise for the community,” said Cobb. “When we’re talking about Black lives, it’s good to remember that Black noise matters, too.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2015 (

Oakland Residents Push City Council to Protect Renters and Homeowners Who Are Being Driven from the City

 A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl's  housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right:  Muntu Davis, Alameda County public health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl’s housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right: Dr. Muntu Davis, Alameda County Public Health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ken Epstein

Angry, desperate and determined residents filled city council chambers Wednesday evening for a public hearing that had been called to discuss Oakland’s housing crisis, demanding that councilmembers move beyond talk to take immediate action to protect them from the runaway housing market that is driving Oaklanders from their homes and the city.

Pressured by speaker after speaker and some on the council, councilmembers ultimately voted unanimously to adopt an action roadmap that will provide a framework for them to deal with many aspects of the crisis.

Tenants spoke about rents being raised and being evicted after decades in the same apartment. A few said they were already packed and preparing to move out of the city.

A woman talked about losing her home and being forced to live in her car, while one man said that he has been fighting illegal rent increases and landlord harassment for five years.

The focus of the hearing was a document called “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” a comprehensive set of proposals to protect residents from displacement and to build more housing that Oakland’s low- and moderate-income residents can afford.

The plan was developed by city staff and the nonprofit organization PolicyLink after 18 months of research, examining what other cities are doing and evaluating the experiences of existing City of Oakland policies, programs and laws.

The roadmap’s many proposals include strengthening code enforcement to require landlords to maintain their units in habitable condition, a rent control ordinance to replace the existing one that tenants’ rights supporters consider ineffective and free legal support for the thousands of tenants who are evicted each year, often illegally.

Housing activists told a Post reporter that they were happy the document had passed but saw the unanimous vote as a small first step – the priorities in the plan have yet to be adopted.

While the council is sounding like it is willing to fight for residents, many of the housing activists are concerned that the council as a whole does not have a good track record on protecting tenants or assuring that new projects require developers to build affordable housing units.

Over the last decade, the City Council has repeatedly failed to muster the five votes needed to pass a number of the ordinances and policies that are now in the road map.

The council has repeatedly voted to support developers with little or no guarantees of affordable housing. Ordinances are passed frequently that have no budget to pay for staff to implement or enforce them.

Sometimes, staff failed to implement council decisions.

Councilmember Desley Brooks underscored the urgent need to take immediate and decisive council action.

Brooks proposed a motion for the full council to discuss and vote to fund a program to provide for rapid housing relocation money for tenants who are evicted and to help low-income home owners with loans to pay for code violations and retrofits.

The funds would also pay for outreach to support the enforcement of the city’s minimum wage ordinance.

Brooks’ motion, jointly seconded by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan, will be discussed by the full council on Oct. 20.

Brooks also called on the council to take steps to guarantee that the city signs contracts with local businesses that hire Oakland residents.

“We can look at our contracting process and give Oaklanders contracts,” she said. “We have to save ourselves. We have to grow businesses in our communities.”

Brooks said the roadmap contains many proposals that can make a difference in the coming years, but the council needs to focus first on those that can be done right away.

“We have to look at how we can assist people staying in place,” she said.

“We have everything we need, right now, right here in order to address this problem,” Brooks said. “We don’t have the luxury of working on one thing at a time. We have to work on many things at the same time.”

Kaplan said the council should look at steps right away to relieve the plight tenants are facing.

“We have people kicked out of their homes today, many in ways that are illegal,” she said. “We have a relocation assistance ordinance that is not effective – it is confusing.”

The city can make the ordinance more consistent with a high enough dollar amount to make sure it really helps people with their relocation expenses, she said.

In addition, she said, landlords can be required to pay $5,000 to $10,000 per unit for tenant relocation. Such fees would discourage landlords from evicting tenants to re-rent apartments at a higher rate.

Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a statement released Wednesday, discussed the work of the mayor’s housing cabinet, which she formed to propose concrete steps to deal with the crisis.

“I am working on strategies to immediately stabilize neighborhoods and protect existing residents by converting market-rate housing to affordable, as well as longer-term measures to build new housing at all income levels,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2015 (