Archive for October, 2015

Oakland Petition: Neighbors Should Not Be Racially Profiling Neighbors

 

Oakland community activist Ann Nomura and her family have begun a petition calling on the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department (OPD) to stop posting on a popular social media site that is used by some residents to racially profile their neighbors.

Nextdoor.com, a website and app that bills itself as “the private (online) social network for your neighborhood,” is designed to allow neighbors to share information.

But the design of the Crime and Safety section promotes racial profiling, according to the petition, creating a space for fearful and anxious residents to report on the perceived threat of Black and Latino adults, teenagers and children that the residents see going into nearby houses or walking on the sidewalk.

“The City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department should stop all posting on Nextdoor.com until the software design flaws, which promote racial profiling on their social media platform, are corrected,” the petition says. “The company should also provide competent oversight and manage Moderators and Leads, so that their product is not used to promote profiling, bias, or hate toward neighbors of color.”

Police contribute postings to the website and monitor residents’ comments.

“Profiling causes real harm to children and families and creates fear and mistrust between neighbors,” according to the petition. “With the exception of unenforced anti-profiling guidelines, Nextdoor.com has taken no meaningful steps to resolve this problem.”

Nomura told the Post she is especially concerned that Mayor Libby Schaaf has made neighborhood crime prevention a major priority of her administration but has not spoken out against the actual threat to the community of neighbors racially profiling neighbors.

“We have Nextdoor.com and other social networking services that make profiling easier, and the city is tacitly approving these frightened responses that are actually just racial profiling,” said Nomura.

There is a feeling among some people that by reporting on what they see in the neighborhood, they are helping to stop crime and that they have the backing of the mayor and OPD, she said.

“What’s entirely absent is the mayor standing up and saying that this does harm,” said Nomura, who lives in the Dimond District of Oakland with her family.

Nomura said she has contacted Mayor Schaaf a half dozen times but has received no response. “Given how important and painful this has been for people in our district, it’s important for Libby to make a statement,” she said.

The petition is available on Change.org at www.change.org/p/oakland-mayor-libby-schaaf-ceo-nirav-tolia-stop-racial-profiling-on-nextdoor-com?

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 17, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Op-ed: City Council Must Take Immediate Steps to Address to Housing Crisis

Representatives must take emergency action to halt displacement of Oakland residents

Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco.

Anti-gentrification protest in San Francisco. Housing rights activists are fighting to keep Oakland residents from sharing the fate of working families in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Tim Porter.

By Margaretta Lin

In the tradition of Dr. King, Pastor Agee of Pastors of Oakland and Reverend Buford of Allen Temple remind us that housing is a human right guaranteed under international covenants. It is the job of government to ensure that these rights are safeguarded for its people.

MargarettaLin

MargarettaLin

Today, Oakland families making the median tenant household income of $34,195 would have to pay over 90 percent of their income to cover the current median rent of $2,650.

What can the City of Oakland do to address this unprecedented housing crisis?

There are emergency measures such as enforcing the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, using public lands for temporary housing, and requiring a City process prior to tenant evictions.

In addition, on Sept. 30 the City Council approved the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap. Specific ordinances must now be developed and sent to the council for adoption.

The crisis is real and immediate. Foreclosures have devastated Oakland, with the loss of over 11,000 homes. The African American homeownership rate in East Oakland areas has declined by 25 percent.

Over 90 percent of foreclosed homes in East and West Oakland were purchased by investors and largely flipped into market rentals. Under state law, rent controls are not allowed on these single-family homes.

What was once affordable homeownership for Oakland’s working-class became—overnight–unaffordable.

Further, the regional economic boom has escalated demands for housing but is generating jobs mainly at polar ends—high-wage tech and other professional jobs or low-wage service jobs. Housing supply has continued to grossly lag behind the demand.

Finally, structural racism continues to impact access to stable jobs for people of color. This has resulted in a racial wealth gap. From 2000 to 2010, incomes for Oakland’s African American, Latino, and Asian populations declined, while income for the White population increased.

We need comprehensive action from the City Council, Mayor, City Administration, and stakeholder groups. The roadmap identifies 17 recommended actions for these groups.

These strategies are pragmatic—vetted by City departments and based upon best practices.

Nine of these strategies require changes to existing laws and City Council action. The below is a modified City staff timeline for Council legislative action.

Fall 2015:

Tenant eviction protection & relocation requirements; Condo conversion protections; and Seismic retrofit with anti-displacement protections

Winter 2016:

Public lands for affordable housing; Allow second units; and Housing Impact Fee & Mixed Income Development;

Spring 2016:

Proactive rental inspection with anti-displacement; housing bond; and dealing with vacant lots.

Anti-displacement strategies include: preventing the conversion of 29,000 at risk rental units into market rate condo; improving tenant eviction protections and relocation requirements; and requiring the seismic retrofit of 14,000 at-risk rental units with anti-displacement protections.

In addition, city officials can prevent continuing foreclosures through a distressed mortgage notes program.

Strategies to produce more affordable housing include: using public lands for affordable housing; charging a housing impact fee; requiring mixed-income housing on private projects; facilitating second units; and waiving city liens to transform problem properties.

The City can also lead a housing bond measure.

To improve habitability requires a City Council proactive rental inspection policy.

While the city does not have the ability to change regional economic trends, it does have the ability and obligation to house its residents.

As former Congressman and Mayor Ron Dellums says, “Democracy rests on people asserting the fullness of their human rights.”

We greatly need Oakland’s people to engage and demand action from their representatives.

Margaretta Lin is the co-author of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap along with Kalima Rose from PolicyLink. She was director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is currently a principal at the Dellums Institute, a social justice advocacy organization.

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

Is Oakland a “Sanctuary City” for Its Sanctuaries?

Gentrifiers cause the city to use police and fines to punish drummers, churches and creative artists

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Black churches in Oakland are being asked to moderate their worship voices after neighbors have made noise complaints to the city about the volume of the gospel that is reaching beyond the church walls.

But these churches are not going to be silent. They are standing together to make a “joyful noise” in the community and demanding that sanctuaries in Oakland be protected.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints that the church has received from gentrifying neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints
that the church has received from gentrifying
neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

An unprecedented coalition is coming together between faith-based organizations and arts community activists, such as the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and Lake Merritt drummers who are being silenced by Oakland police.

“The institution of the church is one of the foundations of the community,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland. The church received a formal complaint in August from neighbors about loud noise during their Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Although the church attempted to talk with the neighbors and addressed their concerns in a formal letter, that conversation never happened, said Harris.

The City of Oakland sent a letter dated August 31, 2015, alerting the church of the noise complaint and citing Oakland’s Noise Ordinance, Municipal Code 8.18.

However, clergy are concerned that this letter came without any sort of city outreach – no warning, personal visit or discussion with the church relating to the matter.

Anyka Barber

Anyka Barber

“This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community’s property,” the letter read, signed by Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator.

According to the city’s letter, the church would be fined a $3,529 nuisance case fee as well as civil penalties of $500 a day if the city moves forward with a public nuisance abatement case.

“This letter from the city without any notification is a direct assault on the African American community in Oakland, especially West Oakland,” said Rev. Lawrence VanHook, pastor of Community Church in West Oakland.

Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland and pastor of Friendship Christian Church, said, “It seems a little disheartening that people would come into a community without first researching to see if there are things within that community that they would not like, (rather) than to come in and try to change the community based on their likes and dislikes.”

Pastor Harris, along with other local clergy, Oakland NAACP President George Holland, and Post Publisher Paul Cobb met this week to discuss how faith leaders in Oakland can respond to the attack on Black churches.

“We need to organize in the streets to make a joyful noise,” said Cobb, who encourages the city to protect houses of worship and to make Oakland into a “sanctuary for sanctuaries.”

“You (gentrifiers) don’t tell us how to worship. We will not be ashamed of the gospel,” he said.

Churches are planning outdoor worship services in coming weeks, connected with a voter registration drive.

Like the city’s Black churches, the arts community is finding itself threatened by a handful of residents who consider their cultural expression to be a nuisance. Cultural centers that are rooted in Oakland’s diverse cultural history – the Malonga Casquelourd Center, the Humanist Hall and the SambaFunk! Funkquarians – have faced criminal charges and expensive fines, following complaints by a few residents.

About 100 people attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the Asian Cultural Center, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, to discuss how to defend cultural expression.

“We are all neighbors in Oakland. We live, we work, we play together here,” said Anyka Barber, a member of the coalition’s steering committee and owner of Betti Ono, a local art gallery.

“The arts and culture community are what make Oakland known worldwide, and this is a critical moment to take action, to be proactive, well-organized and united in our agendas,” said Barber.

Speakers at the meeting emphasized the common interests of Oakland’s churches and the arts community.

“Let’s just say it. The things happening to Black churches in West Oakland are also happening to artists and residents who are predominantly people of color. These are underrepresented communities, and we are aligned, aligned, aligned in our goals,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Post Publisher Cobb called on “artists, the faith-based community and the media to come together and form a Holy Trinity connection.”

Stressing the need to have power at the ballot box, Cobb said, “We can vote artistically minded and faithful leaders into the city government.”

A multicultural drum circle protest last Sunday at Lake Merritt, hosted by the newly formed Soul of Oakland coalition, drew drummers and performers of different backgrounds from around the East Bay to share their cultural sounds.

Councilmember Desley Brooks spoke to the crowd about the importance of raising their voices to demand strong policies to protect residents’ livelihood and cultures.

“First, they came for the Black people in this city, and they pushed them out one by one. In 10 years, we lost about 10,000 Black residents,” said Brooks.

“Then they came and said that artists couldn’t drum at the park,” she said. “They told the churches that they were too loud.”

“Let them hear you,” Brooks said. “Do not let them silence your voices because we are a powerful people, and all of Oakland should hear us.”

In response to questions from the Post, city communications director and Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd said the West Oakland church has not been listed as a public nuisance.

“We recognize that houses of worship are an intrinsic and vital dimension of Oakland,” said Boyd. “We are working to revise the language in our courtesy notices to reflect our intent to communicate openly with property owners about any complaints we receive so that issues may be resolved.”

Post Publisher Cobb says the City Administrator’s position does not protect the rights of churches.

“The position taken by the City Administrator doesn’t do anything to protect houses of worship that are in jeopardy,” said Cobb. “We must organize to protect houses of worship—we can’t equivocate on the First Amendment.”

The suppression of church and community cultural expression is closely connected to other aspects of gentrification, says community activist and educator Kitty Kelly Epstein.

“Treating the sounds of Oakland residents’ churches and drummers as a public nuisance is related to producing policies that ignore our demands for affordable homes and jobs that will support our ability to continue to live in this city,” she said.

For updates on the “Sancutary4Sanctuaries” Movement, follow Paul Cobb on Twitter @PaulCobbOakland.

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

California’s New Racial Profiling Law Seen as First Step Toward Police Accountability

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting "Black lives matter!" block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting “Black lives matter!” block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

 

By Ashley Chambers

A state bill that was signed into law this past weekend will usher in new police accountability reforms requiring California law enforcement to collect and report identity data on police stops in order to address racial profiling.

In the face of continuous pressure from community groups and civil rights activists who occupied the State Capitol rallying in support of the bill, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 953 (The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015) into law on Oct. 3.

Rev. Ben McBride

Rev. Ben McBride

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber with co-authors Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Senator Holly Mitchell, is designed to combat racial profiling, police misconduct, and help restore trust between police and the community.

Reports show that Black and Latino drivers are pulled over in traffic stops at higher rates than whites, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than whites, and Latino drivers are six percent more likely than whites, the Washington Post reported.

In Oakland, 55 percent of vehicle stops involved African Americans while they make up only 28 percent of the city population. Whites were stopped in 12 percent of traffic stops by Oakland police but represent 34 percent of the city population.

This new law, although just a first step, hopes to change that trajectory, according to activists.

Rosa Aqeel

Rosa Aqeel

Under the law’s requirements, police and other law enforcement agencies track data from traffic and pedestrian stops, including the race, age and gender of the people stopped, the reason for the stop and result, as well as actions taken by the officer.

Each agency will be accountable to the state Attorney General and will submit an annual report to be reviewed by a 19-member advisory board.

“This precedent setting legislation is historic – it is both a moral and legal victory for our state and our nation,” said Rev. Ben McBride, Director of Regional Clergy Development with PICO California, who was part of the coalition of activists that rallied at the State Capitol for Governor Brown to sign the bill.

“The people have spoken and no longer will we be held hostage by rogue officers and departments who see us as criminals unworthy of human dignity simply by virtue of the color of our skin.”

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) will be one of the first laws to revise the definition of “racial and identity profiling,” based on recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the U.S. Department of Justice. It will prohibit profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

“It’s a very important first step in creating some transparency and accountability with the way in which law enforcement policies our communities,” said Rosa Aqeel, legislative director with PICO California, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“For so many years, folks who live in communities of color have been making complaints on a lot of actions that have led to harassment. Police have dismissed those for years as just being anecdotal,” Aqeel said. “Now, we’re able to see how pervasive racial profiling is across the state.”

Collecting and reporting racial and identity data is just one part of the new law. A RIPA Board will analyze the data and then create solutions to address police violence and unjust policing practices.

Occupying seats on the board will be 19 members representing law enforcement, community organizations, faith leaders, human and civil rights activists, and a university professor specializing in racial and identity equity. One young person, aged 16 to 24, will have a seat on the board as well.

Together, the board will develop guidelines and training for all officers in California, the bill reads, to raise awareness and respect among law enforcement of racial and cultural diversity.

“AB 953 puts California on a path moving from an anecdotal system to one that is data-driven,” said Chauncee Smith, Racial Justice Advocate with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy, another co-sponsor of the bill along with the Youth Justice Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, and others.

The board will work in partnership with law enforcement agencies and submit policy recommendations to curb racial profiling.

“The advisory board is a means to the ultimate end,” said Smith. “It is invaluable to ensure law enforcement buy-in on every finding and recommendation from the board.”

It is also important for community members to be actively involved in this process and let their local police departments know that they want to see effective change, Aqeel said.

“Ultimately, it will be up to different communities to take the recommendations from RIPA and see which ones make the most sense for local communities,” she said.

“I think that (AB 953) is a really important first step in the long journey that we have to ensure police accountability,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, State Advocate with the Ella Baker Center. “We can’t push for policy reforms that will keep our people safer unless we have the data to support and back up what people of color know to be the real experience of our lives.”

“This lets the people know that all of the power is in the hands of the people, in organizing, and in making our voices heard,” Vargas-Edmond said.

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

Window for City of Oakland to Act on Housing Opportunities for Residents Is Closing Fast

People moving out

By Margaretta Lin

The international peace leader Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to write love letters to our elected officials.

My mother taught her children that a true friend tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. This is my love letter to you – the Oakland City Council and Mayor Libby Schaaf – after the other night’s council hearing on Oakland’s housing crisis.

MargarettaLin

MargarettaLin

I am grateful for your unanimous passage of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap’s action plan.  After so many years of not having sufficient Council votes to pass fair and balanced rules for development, thank you for taking the first step towards historic action.

Your approval of the roadmap means that the city now has one unified housing plan for its many parts—city departments, city administrator, mayor, council offices, and stakeholder groups—to implement.

We know through previous examples like with the federal stimulus efforts under Mayor Dellums or downtown development under Mayor Brown what can be accomplished when the city has unity of purpose.

I also need to share my concerns coming out of the council process with the hopes that it can help inform your future actions.

It deeply troubles me that no council action was supposed to occur at the meeting.

Had there not been intervention from faith, community, and labor leaders combined with the leadership of Councilmembers Brooks, Kalb, and Kaplan, it seems that the council would not have taken any action that night.

With unprecedented housing unaffordability that has contributed to the loss of more than 24 percent of Oakland’s African Americans and 16.7 percent of its children, the time requires swift action, not more study.

We have had years of studies and process, going back to 2007 when Mayor Ron Dellums’ administration and several councilmembers worked with stakeholder groups to develop policies that would have prevented some of the ensuing displacement.

But no council action then was taken because of blockage from private developer interests.

The city had an 18-month process to develop the roadmap that involved many update reports to the Council CED Committee, briefings with council and mayoral offices, integration of the best thinking of city departments and stakeholder groups, data analysis and research, and review by national housing policy experts.

The roadmap lays out this information in an organized way, including identifying the concerns of stakeholder groups as well as ways to achieve housing equity while balancing private interests.

If you haven’t already done so, please read and use the roadmap.

We need you to run, not walk, to work on the nine anti-displacement, affordable housing production, and habitability policies that require follow-up council legislative action.

These policies have been implemented effectively in other cities without landlords or private developers running away.

At the council meeting, it was an amazing sight to see the diversity of Oakland fill the Council Chamber and overflow rooms.  But most of the people were not there when the Council finally took action after 4 1/2 hours.

Please allow the public to speak earlier on the meeting agenda.  And please take Council votes early enough in the meeting so that your constituents are there.

It has been heartbreaking to see so many of Oakland’s elders and families struggle so hard to stay in their homes and hometown.

We greatly need your wise, principled, and courageous leadership and action. The window for Oakland to create opportunities for its struggling residents to remain is fast closing.

Margaretta Lin is the co-author of the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap along with PolicyLink. She served as Director of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is currently a principal with the Dellums Institute, a social justice action tank.

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

 

Churches Respond to Noise Complaints Filed Against West Oakland Church

Neighborhoods gear up to protest gentrification with a “joyful noise”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland

By Post Staff

African American churches in West Oakland are responding to a neighbor’s complaints to police that worshipers at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church are being too loud.

Elder Ron Rosson, a minister at Pleasant Grove, said he has received complaints about the noise from the city and that he is not apologizing.

“We make a joyful noise is what the Bible says,” said Elder Rosson.

Post publisher Paul Cobb spoke about the complaints that Pleasant Grove has been receiving at last week’s City Council meeting, reminding council members that jubilant worshipping and celebration are a vital part of the Black church experience and must not be suppressed.

“Black churches matter. We will not allow gentrifiers to come into our community and tell us how to worship God,” said Cobb.

“People are in pain over the negative economic housing juggernaut. It is white arrogance to presume that we should be your hush harbor,” said Cobb. “The gentrifiers ought to be good neighbors and sing, shout and glorify God together.”

The Post will be organizing outdoor worship services to broadcast the sweet sounds and is inviting housing rights activists, concerned Oakland residents and those who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement to join him and the Post in attending churches that receive complaints about their loud worshiping.

“We are calling for church in the streets. We need to bring God into the streets of Oakland,” said Cobb. “We will have gospel concerts in the streets and we will have jubilee. And we will invite all these gentrifiers to join us and if they want to be good neighbors.”

Pastor Anthony Jenkins of Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in West Oakland says his church has not received any formal complaints but stresses that the community needs to hear the message of the church.

“We’re continuing to do what we have been doing, that is getting God’s message and His music beyond the walls of our church,” he said.

On Wednesday Oct. 14, the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition will be hosting a public community meeting to address the effects of displacement on Oakland’s diverse cultures and to discuss community solutions to deal with city and police response to newcomers’ complaints.

The meeting will be held at the Asian Cultural Center located at 388 9th St. #290 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Oakland residents are seeking to organize in the wake of an incident at Lake Merritt last week when a white man assaulted a group of Black and Latino drummers from the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and then called the police on them for playing too loudly.

As a result, the drummers were detained by police for several hours while the man was allowed to walk away from the scene. One of the drummers eventually pressed charges against the man for assault.

Earlier this week, Facebook was full of photos of signs at Lake Merritt with a list of rules, including one that prohibits “musical instrument without permit.” The signs angered embattled longtime residents, who have enjoyed expressing themselves by the lake for years.

According to Councilmember Abel Guillen, in whose district the incident with the drummers occurred, the signs are between five to 11 years old and were mistakenly not removed after city regulations were revised.

“Bottom line, there is no prohibition against music while the parks are open “dawn until dusk,” including the unamplified drumming that has been the subject of recent conversations. A permit is required for amplified sound,” said Guillen in a press release.

On Thursday, a number of community members reported seeing the park signs being removed from around the lake following the confusion.

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

City of Oakland and Local Businesses Must Hire Oakland Now, Say Community Leaders

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

By Ken Epstein

A seemingly declining jobless rate masks the actual reality in Oakland where 19 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, and many Oaklanders are being forced out of the city due to a lack of decent paying jobs, combined with out-of-control rent increases.

The issue of joblessness and what city government and local businesses can do right now to hire Oakland was the subject of a recent Oakland Post Salon, where a panel of community leaders discussed how residents can push for solutions to the continuing unemployment crisis.

“We need to call on every employer in the city to hire people from Oakland – an Oakland opportunity challenge so every business can be proud to say, ‘We hire Oakland,’” said Carroll Fife, a member of the OaklandWorks coalition and one of the speakers at the Sept. 27 Post salon.

The opportunity challenge, backed by a growing coalition of organizations, will encourage Oakland’s businesses and restaurants to hire Black and Latino residents and follow up with meetings with owners, as well as public protests, if necessary.

OaklandWorks also wants the city to enforce its local hiring policies on city-funded construction projects. Such a policy was passed during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums but never implemented by city staff.

“We have a 50 percent local hire ordinance – We want contractors to recognize those priorities,” said Fife.

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council, moderated the panel and pointed out the realities of joblessness in Oakland.

“We’re talking about the lost, the last, the lonely and the left out – homeless people, the formerly incarcerated, displaced workers, younger and older workers who face age discrimination, those displaced by technology, those who face the barriers of physical limitations and immigrants,” said Cobb.

“All these groups represent the absolute urgency of what is happening and what is not happening,” she said.

Oakland’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, higher than many other places, but the real unemployment rate is probably double that amount, because there are many people who stopped looking for work and are no longer counted, according to Cobb.

“Unemployment for African American youth and Latino youth is off the charts,” she said.

She said federal funding for job training and placement has been declining, but Oakland, unlike nearby cities, fails to invest any funds from its budget to support the programs that are carried out solely by nonprofit service providers.

Compounding the problem, Cobb said, the city spends one-third of its federal job funding for administrative overhead – to pay for city staff instead of putting the money onto the street to help the unemployed.

Another speaker, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, said creating jobs for Oakland residents needs to be a city priority.

“Our job is to lift up those who are struggling,” she said.

Kaplan said she authored a resolution that requires a Disparity Study, which will show what companies are receiving City of Oakland contracts. Though the resolution was passed and funded a year ago, the study still has not been completed, she said.

“We still need the administration to actually complete the Disparity Study,” she said.

The last Disparity Study, completed over seven years ago, showed, “When (city) contracts go out, they overwhelmingly go out to a handful of white-owned, male businesses, (not) anyone outside the favored few,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan supports removing the oversight of federal job funds from the city, to hire an outside agency that will carry out the oversight more effectively and efficiently.

“Federal money for job training needs to be used for job training, not for administrative overhead,” she said.

Speaker Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, emphasized the common fight of Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT workers.

“We have to break barriers,” she said. “When we get all these minorities together, we are not a minority any more. We are a majority. We are all connected. That is the key for Oakland to move forward.”

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said West Oakland residents had been promised jobs on the Oakland Army Base development, but they have not materialized.

“We still have to have a mechanism to connect the jobs to those who are most in need of those jobs,” said Gordon.

For more information, go to Oakland-WORKS on Facebook.

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

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 (postnewsgroup.com)

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 (postnewsgroup.com)