Category: Gentrification

Communities Mobilize to Repeal State Law That Restricts Renter Protections

Affordable housing protest at Oakland City Hall

Affordable housing protest at Oakland City Hall

By Post Staff

Rob Bonta and two other member of the State Assembly are sponsoring a bill, AB 1506, to repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, which prevents local governments from passing laws to protect California communities from the runaway rental crisis that is engulfing the state.

Affordable housing advocates are asking supporters statewide to support the bill authored by Assemblymembers Bonta, Richard Bloom and David Chiu.

“This will be a heavy lift and we need all hands on deck,” according to an email sent out by Bonta’s office earlier this year.

“The bill is pretty straightforward as it repeals the Costa-Hawkins law…. We are asking all of our local advocates and their partners to help by sending in letters of support, making phone calls, writing op-eds, setting up meetings with key Assemblymembers and mobilize constituents in support of AB 1506,”
the email said.

For a list of housing committee members, go to http://ahcd.assembly.ca.gov/membersstaff

Passed in 1995, Costa-Hawkins prohibits cities from enacting rent increase limitations on certain kinds of exempted dwelling units, allows rent increases on subtenants following departure by tenants of rent-controlled tenancies and prohibits “vacancy control” — the regulation of rental rates on units that have been voluntarily vacated by the previous renters at an amount other than what the open market would bear.”

Costa Hawkins also prohibits any type of controls on rents or leases of condominium units or single-family homes.

According to James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union and a supporter of AB 1506,“The repeal of Costa Hawkins the is absolutely critical to help stop the displacement that is running rampant in this state – the law prevents cities from enacting any kind of effective control on rents.

“Real estate and landlord groups have been vociferously lobbying against repeal,” Vann said. They were able to block the repeal effort two years ago, but pro-tenant organizations were not as strong at that time, he said.

“We need for tenant and pro housing advocates to lobby the Legislature for the bill to come up next year,” Vann said.

Landlords groups that are fighting the repeal bill argue that developers will not build homes if they fear their projects might fall under rent control.
“Rent control builds no new housing, and that has to be our focus in the Legislature,” said Debra Carlton, spokeswoman for the California Apartment Association in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

For more information go to www.tenantstogether.org/campaigns/repeal-costa-hawkins-re

Published August 17, 20017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Oakland City Councilmembers Reluctant to Call Housing State of Emergency

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Housing protest in Oakland

By Ken Epstein

The City of Alameda has been in the spotlight in the past few weeks after it declared a housing crisis state of emergency, which includes a temporary freeze on rent increases and blocks evictions.

But the Oakland City Council appears to be unwilling to follow the path that Alameda is treading.

The Oakland Post sent questions to the mayor and all eight city council members this week, asking if they would support declaring a housing state of emergency.foreclosure action 3  8 12 003.preview

Most of the councilmembers did not reply to the questions. Those who did reply did not speak in favor of calling a housing state of emergency in Oakland.

The Post also asked the officials if they were willing to take other immediate actions to slow down the displacement tidal wave, including: backing a housing development impact fee, which would be used to exclusively support affordable housing; strengthening rent control so it would have teeth to protect tenants from huge rent increases; and imposing relocation or other fees on landlords who evict tenants.

Councilmember Dan Kalb and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan responded to the questions.

Council members who did not respond were Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks, Anne Campbell Washington, Larry Reid, Noel Gallo and Abel Guillen.

Councilmember Kalb said:

“I strongly support efforts to make sure the City Council prioritizes the construction of lower- and moderate- income housing, including housing for families.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

“I’m certainly fine with additional market rate housing as well, but I want to put an emphasis on the lower and moderate income portions of the spectrum. We need some type of inclusionary housing requirement for ownership housing, and I intend to put forward legislation on this.

“I am proud to have been the author of the landmark ordinance that helps protect tenants from harassment, including prohibiting attempts to influence a tenant to vacate via intimidation or coercion. We need to make sure that this law is fully implemented and enforced.

“I support instituting a requirement that requires landlords to submit applications for any rental increase beyond the annual cost-of-living increase that is already allowed.

Kalb supports development impact fee to fund affordable housing.

“Another ordinance that I have been working is condominium conversion legislation that will better protect renters from displacement.”

Vice Mayor Kaplan said:

” We must do more than just admit that we have a housing problem, we must also take action to solve it.  That is why I have been working hard to pass real actions to stop the wave of displacement and protect and expand affordable housing.

“This includes recently winning funding for enforcement of tenant’s rights laws, so we don’t have so many people being displaced.  Thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Brooks and myself, along with a grassroots coalition, we were able to get this funding passed despite resistance.

“Now I am continuing to work for stronger relocation assistance laws, improving the rent board, an affordable housing impact fee and other strategies.  My proposals to expand relocation assistance will be coming to the City Council in the coming month.”

Mayor Schaaf’s office said:

The City Council has voted in favor of Mayor Schaaf and Councilmember Abel Guillen’s proposal to declare a shelter crisis.  The measure will provide more housing for the homeless population.

“On the question of strengthening rent control, the mayor’s office said, “Property ownership and management encompasses many financial responsibilities which need to be factored and balanced in order to respond thoughtfully to this question.

There have been good discussions at the Housing Cabinet about various revisions and amendments to the City’s renter protection and rent adjustment regulations.  These are being considered by the Housing Cabinet and will be presented to the City Council early next year.”

Her office said the mayor supports impact fees for creating affordable housing and other infrastructure improvement.

On the issue of charging landlords fees for tenant evictions, her office said, “There are various proposals, which “are scheduled for discussion some time early next year.”

Also being discussed, the mayor’s office said, are an increase in the renter assistance program fee and potential eviction/relocation fees and Ellis Act fees.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Community Protesters: Amid Housing Crisis, Why is Council Funding More Police?

Community member's protested at last Tuesday's City Council to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland's housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Community members protested at last Tuesday’s City Council  meeting against the council members decision to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland’s housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday evening to accept a controversial $1.875 million federal grant from the US Department of Justice that would pay 18 percent of the cost of hiring 15 additional Oakland police officers over three years.

The grant requires the city to “match” the federal funds by spending an additional $10.25 million from its general funds in order to receive the $1.875 million.

According to a city report, most of the city money will be appropriated from future budgetary cycles, taking $6.5 million from the 2017-2019 budget.

Speaking at the council meeting, Oakland Police Deputy Chief David Downing said that receiving the grant is a cheaper way of increasing staff to better do community policing.

“Nothing is better than having a walking officer on the street with direct contact with the community each and every day,” he said.

City councilmembers in support of the resolution cited increased crime and robberies in Oakland as reasons they were voting to fund hiring the 15 new officers.

But dozens of community members and housing rights activists filled City Hall to speak out against the resolution, claiming that the Oakland Police Department is already overfunded—receiving nearly half the city’s budget—and that the extra spending flies in the face of Oakland’s housing and displacement crisis.

“Police do not stop the cause of crime,” said one Oakland resident at the council meeting. “Increase people’s dignity, their sense of self-worth, their ability to attend schools, have a warm meal with their families. Good housing is a deterrent to crime.”

Other community members referred to how under-resourced and under-funded the city’s Rent Adjustment program and other anti-eviction services are, making them barely enforceable.

“We can’t spend millions of dollars on 15 officers when 1,000 residents are being displaced per month,” said Ramiro Montoya, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations.

“I experience crime in my neighborhood daily and understand that more cops in the street is not the solution. We need more services for people to improve their lives,” said Montoya.

Desley Brooks was the only councilmember to vote against the resolution, questioning why the council was not as proactive about funding housing solutions amid a housing crisis.

“We keep talking about a housing crisis and the city puts no money towards actually addressing it,” said Brooks.

“And who pays $10 million to get $1.8 million? That’s just bad math,” she said.

“Here’s proof that there’s money and, if there’s truly a housing crisis, we’re choosing not to fund it,” said Brooks. “The council isn’t being honest if they’re saying that they are concerned about a housing crisis.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was also skeptical about the city’s willingness to spend millions on hiring new police after being told for months that there was not enough funding for enforcement of tenants’ rights laws and having to scrape to fund the Housing Equity Roadmap earlier this year.

Kaplan noted that the resolution was really a budgetary adoption as opposed to a grant match.

“It feels procedurally weird to me that $10 million is to be adopted entirely outside the budgetary process,” said Kaplan. She ultimately abstained from the vote.

After the public comments section of the agenda item, attendees dropped red painted dollars of “blood money” from the balconies in protest of the resolution.

“The health of a city is about public safety. and that relies on services and people’s access to decent affordable housing, access to income and to food,” said Robbie Clark of Causa Justa: Just Cause.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

The city of Oakland has long been considered the citadel for progressive civil rights and political movements involving activism for racial and social inclusion and equity.

 In response to neighbors’ complaints about the loud sounds of music coming from churches, ministers and churches called for a public demonstration of respect for its churches instead of using the police and fines to punish their congregations.

More than 30 pastors stood in solidarity with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They were joined by city and county officials along with the SambaFunk! drummers, church choirs, gospel soloists and Black Arts groups.

True to its radical and revolutionary roots, Oakland is redefining respect for religion. Ministers called for the city to declare itself, to be a sanctuary city for its sanctuaries.

The First Amendment and religious freedom were embraced by a coalition that included the Oakland NAACP, the Post News Group, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, COGICs, AME, Catholics, the Black Arts Movement, Soul of Oakland, Oakland Private Industry Council, Pastors of Oakland, Baptist Ministers Union, Seventh-day Adventists and many others.

The event took place Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Adeline Street in West Oakland. It was the response to a city noise complaint against Pleasant Grove that kicked off the current solidarity movement.

Speaking at the event, Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said his church has faced similar attempts to silence worship.

He told the crowd that earlier this year “two rogue cops” entered his church one afternoon to tell parishioners to quiet down during a service, where a gumbo band was playing in honor of a church member who had passed away.

But he told the police: “We are going to sing, we are going to shout. We’re going to let nobody tell us to shut up.”

The arts community and the religious community are coming together, said Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! drummers, who performed at the event.

“We came here to stand with you in solidarity,” he said. “This is monumental.”

Said Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke after Theo Williams, “This city has some strong roots, and these roots are in our faith community and our arts community.”

“My city has some SambaFunk!,” she said.

City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who is a rabbi, urged people to raise their voice and sing out in praise.

“It is a miracle that we are still here to sing praises,” said Kaplan, referring to the holocausts faced by Black people during the Middle Passage, Jews during World War II and indigenous people in the United States during the Trail of Tears.

“We give thanks that we have survived to this day,” she said. “Let us use this as a force to unite.”

Bishop Joseph Simmons of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church praised church and community members who have spoken up about attacks on the right to worship.

“I want to thank the people who complained because your complaints made us stand up,” he said.

Rev. Ray Williams of Morning Star Baptist Church said people have to stand up to forces that want to push them out of the city.

“We used to steal away to Jesus to worship,” he said. “(But) we aren’t going to steal away anymore. We’re here to take back what gentrification has taken away from us.”

“We need our council members to have the courage to challenge chase bank for reneging on it’s promise to Oakland,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Gentrification Threatens Oakland Churches and Artists

Coalition of faith-based, housing and cultural groups join to protect sacred spaces, say speakers at Post Salon

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!. and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery. Photo by Tulio Ospina, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!; and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

  By Ken Epstein

Oakland and other Bay Area cities are in the throes of a market-driven surge in evictions and rent increases, as long-term residents, small businesses and nonprofit agencies are being pushed out of their communities at an increasingly feverish pace.

Tensions are reaching a flashpoint in Oakland, where veteran residents are finding that a handful of gentrifiers  – perceived as acting out of a sense of entitlement – are trying to suppress the culture and religious worship that many see as the expression of life and breath.

At the heart of the conflict are two incidents that have become emblematic of the deepening tensions.
One of the incidents occurred in August when a resident called 911 to complain about an evening church choir practice at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, which received a city letter threatening penalties.

The second occurred in September when a resident approached drummers at Lake Merritt, tried to take away their drumsticks and called police to press assault charges against the musicians.

Exacerbating tensions, the city has seemed to side with the complainers – by threatening the church with penalties and filing charges against two of the drummers – though all charges were ultimately dropped this week.

Many residents see a double standard on the part of city agencies, which rarely respond when neighbors complain about a crack house next door or when garbage and other trash are piling up on their block.

These were concerns raised last Sunday, when residents, members of church congregations and cultural workers packed into a space at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland for a community discussion led by a panel of religious and arts’ leaders about how to come to grips with the current threat.

“(Our) church has been there over 65 years, and Wednesday night is choir rehearsal,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove.

“We were shocked, stunned when we heard that we were a nuisance in the community,” he said.  “We want to embrace change, (but) we also want the community to realize there is a tradition.”

Pastor Harris said he was also surprised by the widespread support his church has been receiving.
“I didn’t know this was going to take off like this,” he said, adding that he has heard from someone in Colorado, who told him, “We can’t hear you – you’re not loud enough.”

“I can’t believe all this is going on,” Pastor Harris said. “ If I’m the instrument to be used to make a change, I’m ready to be used.“

Co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland emphasized the connections between the churches and cultural expression, saying, “The church and the artists belong together.”

Another speaker, Theo Williams, is head of the drumming group SambaFunk! Funkquarians and co-founder of the Soul of Oakland coalition.

“We are all in this this together – this monster is coming to devour our community and devour our soul, ” he said.   “Just know we are standing with you. It is our job to come together now, not to look at our differences,” he said.

Drumming is rooted in African culture, Williams said, and, “We go to church almost every day of the week (somewhere in the city), and you are saying that it is going to be prohibited and restricted – that is our culture.”

Williams said the city should pass an ordinance to protect its cultural institutions. New residents who are moving next door to churches and cultural spaces should know they are protected by law.

The city should also eliminate policies that penalize or undermine cultural spaces.  “It’s time to look through all the municipal codes,” he said.

Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries said churches receives complaints because, “We do a major work the city does not do. We feed the hungry, and we have HIV testing.”

Some people are complaining because they don’t want the “flood of homeless people coming into the neighborhood,” because the churches are feeding those who are in need, she said.

Anyka Barber, co-creator of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and owner of the Betti Ono art gallery, explained she was born in Oakland and is committed to fight for the city’s cultural identity.

“It is my responsibility as a native, as a business owner (and) as a mother to step up,” she said. “There is no disconnection between the churches and the cultural workers. Everything I know I learned in church.”

Barber called for the city to reestablish its Cultural Arts Commission, “made up of residents who really represent our interests.”

She criticized the city’s process for creating a downtown development plan. “This planning process is not indicative of the community,” she said. “A lot of people feel like it should be scrapped and start all over. That’s my sense of it.”

Post publisher Paul Cobb, co-moderator of the event, called on the City Council to pass a “Church Pride Day” to acknowledge the churches, “so Oakland can be a sanctuary city for our sanctuaries.”

City development plans should include a “faith-based zone,” where affordable housing can be built around the churches, he said.

“The city needs a master plan for downtown that protects all the nonprofits, community groups and small businesses that are being pushed out because of gentrification,” Cobb said.

He also suggested putting out a national call for people to come to Oakland to hold sit-ins and picket lines at some of some of the city’s hip new restaurants that do not hire Black workers, “to integrate the jobs in these new restaurants in the same manner that we integrated southern lunch counters and restaurants in the 60s.”

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

End Jim Crow Segregation at Oakland Restaurants, Say Activists

The study "Ending Jim Crow for Workers in the Restaurant Industry" was released on Oct. 20 at a presss conference in Oakland where a number of speakers discussed how to address race and gender segregation in local restaurants. (L to R) Glenn Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion; Shonda Roberts, ROC-The Bay member; and Adrian Henderson, co-owner of Kingston 11 in Oakland and ROC-The Bay High Road Employer. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

The study “Ending Jim Crow for Workers in the Restaurant Industry” was released on Oct. 20 at a presss conference in Oakland where a number of speakers discussed how to address race and gender segregation in local restaurants. (L to R) Glenn Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion; Shonda Roberts, ROC-The Bay member; and Adrian Henderson, co-owner of Kingston 11 in Oakland and ROC-The Bay High Road Employer. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ken Epstein and Ashley Chambers

Restaurants and hospitality businesses employ nearly 11 million workers nationally, one of the largest industries in the country, and are growing at a feverish pace in Oakland.

However, the inequality is stark.

White men at the pinnacle of the pyramid, who work as bartenders and servers at luxury restaurants, can make as much as $100,000 to $150,000 a year. But Black and Latino workers are either not hired or paid closer to the minimum wage, according to a study released this week by Restaurant

Nicole Deane

Nicole Deane

Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a nationwide nonprofit that is moving to Oakland.

The study, called “Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry,” was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Chris Benner of UC Santa Cruz and the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.

The statistics confirm what Oaklanders can see at many of the 300 fancy new bars and restaurants that have opened in the city in the past year.

People of color are in the lowest paying jobs. Black people, regardless of experience and qualifications, are not hired.

Latinos make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees in California, but are 65 percent of back-of-the-house workers, the report said. African Americans, on the other hand, only make up 3 percent of the total workforce in the state’s restaurant industry, and those who are hired, work disproportionately in the lowest paying jobs.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of ROC United, cited investigative research done by her organization, which sent out white job seekers with worse resumes to the same restaurants as people of color with resumes that showed more and better work experience.

In general, white applicants were hired. People of color were told there were no openings.

One of the speakers at Tuesday’s release of the study was Adrian Henderson, an owner of Kingston 11, a Black-owned restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

He said that Black job applicants who come into his business have told him they “don’t even get an opportunity to talk to a manager when they walk into an establishment that is owned by white folks.”

In addition, he said, Black applicants show up to apply for jobs dressed professionally, while white jobseekers, tend “to show up in flip flops, shorts, t-shirts, not looking presentable for an interview.”

Shonda Roberts, a member of ROC-The Bay, has been working in restaurants for the past 20 years.

“Id love to move up in the industry, but I was never able to move up to the front of the house. The front of the house is white, and the back of the house is people of color. It is segregated,” said Roberts, speaking at the Tuesday press conference.

Nicole Deane, a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, is part of Oakland Opportunity Challenge, which is a coalition that is developing a campaign to encourage restaurants to hire Black workers and follow up with picketing and other kinds of public pressure on those businesses that are not interested in becoming responsible residents of the city.

“My perspective is that there’s nothing wrong with Black workers,” she said. “There is something wrong with not hiring Black workers.”

Deane said she was told by the owner of one restaurant in response to the question as why there were no Black workers in the establishment, “I don’t think about race when it comes to hiring, but I have to be sure I’m hiring people who can work hard and provide good service.”

In addition to hearing that kind of racism, she said she knows of a number of incidents of disrespectful treatment of Black customers at upscale restaurants in Oakland.

“Businesses that come here should be welcoming to all races,” said Deane.

“Black people should be able to work in these restaurants and walk into a restaurant and get good service.”

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

Community Turns Up the Volume to Defend Residents and Businesses

Activists demand “Development Without Displacement” after mayor’s staff says there is no housing crisis in Oakland

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

 By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Community members are raising the volume on their demands that the city protect Oaklanders’ rights following a number of noise complaints by a few residents targeting Lake Merritt drummers and Black churches.

A number of creative artists, singers, and community and faith leaders made their voices and musical instruments heard Monday evening at the Rally to Defend Oakland’s Culture, calling on city government to stand up for cultural equity in Oakland.

The rally in front of the Rotunda Building at Frank Ogawa Plaza, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), included performances by poets, the Oakland Creative Voices Choir and spoken word by the group Young, Gifted & Black.

Speakers included Robbie Clark of Causa Justa; Chaney Turner of Black Lives Matter, Bay Area chapter; artist and director of CultureStrike, Favianna Rodriguez; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; and Post publisher Paul Cobb.

The speakers loudly defended the freedom of creative and cultural expression, and voiced their concerns that the local arts and culture community has been left out of the city’s planning process on the development of downtown Oakland.

“They can develop, but they are not going to displace us,” said Cobb, speaking at the rally.

“We wanna give the drummer some,” he said. “We want to make sure that our gospel singers don’t have to close their windows, and we want to make sure that our creative artists and our nonprofit organizations have a place to exist in this city to serve the population.”

The protest was held in front of the first of the city’s workshops to inform residents of the Downtown Specific Plan and designed to receive input on the area’s redevelopment, but arts and culture activists are saying they have not been invited to the table.

The workshops were created following a report released by San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), funded by the city, that community activists say is a roadmap to gentrification.

According to Eric Arnold, a member of the OCNC steering committee, the SPUR report, titled “Downtown for Everyone,” is “a blueprint for exclusion of people of color and low-income residents, as well as the creative arts community” from downtown Oakland.

The SPUR report also contends that speculative construction in the downtown area is being inhibited by commercial rents that are too low and a lack of big tenants. Critics of the report say nonprofits and small commercial tenants are already being pushed out of downtown area by recent uncontrolled rent increases.

As the rally ended, attendees flowed into the workshop to make sure their opinions were heard throughout the chambers.

“We want cultural equity, affordable housing and anti-displacement protections for the existing residents and commercial sector throughout the city that have made Oakland such a vibrant and desirable place to live,” community members demanded.

OCNC demanded that the city’s Cultural Arts Commission be restored and called for a fully staffed Cultural Arts Department to ensure prioritization for Oakland’s historically underrepresented communities.

They also want to pass ordinances to preserve Oakland’s cultural diversity. Earlier this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf showed support for creating a Black Arts Movement Cultural District down 14th Street in downtown Oakland but has not yet acted on the proposal.

During the workshop on Monday, Rachel Flynn, Director of Planning and Building, was surrounded by activists demanding clarity on a controversial statement she made earlier this month claiming that there was no housing crisis in Oakland.

Faith leaders are also reacting to the city’s support for complaints from a handful of residents who are saying church worship is too loud.

“Our music and the way that we worship God is an expression of our heritage and our creativity,” said Pastor Scott at the Monday night rally. “Nobody should tell us that we have to express our creativity in the way they say so. We need to keep the creative juices flowing through Oakland.”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland is potentially facing $500-a-day fines from the city. In response, Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove is bringing local clergy together for an outdoor worship service on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Adeline St. between 10th and 14th St.

He said it is a time for churches to worship in the streets and invite to neighbors and people of all backgrounds to join in community fellowship.

Defending community voices, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spoke at this week’s City Council meeting.

“Psalm 98:4 says make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” she said. “The laws require us to respect freedom of religious practice, and it is certainly my hope that we will do just that.”

According to Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and journalist Zenophon Abraham, the problem isn’t the complaints but that the city and police are listening to them.

“If the complaint came from a 911 call, then that’s against California Penal Code Section 148.3 on ‘False Reporting of an Emergency,’” said Abraham in a letter to several city officials.

“You specifically allowed a single person to violate (the law) and without action,” he said. “You can’t get by with the idea that someone did not report that the complainer was in violation of the law.”

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

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

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

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)