Category: Labor

OUSD’s New Bond Policy Raises Concerns About School Construction

School construction project in OUSD

School construction project in OUSD

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District has adopted a new policy that will allow it to revisit how it will spend its construction bond funds, raising concerns that some building projects might be left in the lurch as the new administration moves ahead on its own priorities.

Mike Hutchinson

Mike Hutchinson

The new policy is designed to establish “criteria to equitably allocate bond funds for facility upgrades, modernizations and construction projects to meet strategic and programmatic goals,” according to a report to the school board at the May 27 board meeting.

The policy was developed by a 17-member committee appointed by the superintendent and approved unanimously by the school board at its May 27 meeting.

This new policy will “determine present and future planning and decisions on bond project prioritization,” according to the report presented at the board meeting.

The policy is needed because “(the district’s) needs are greater than the bonds approved by Oakland voters – we have more needs than we have money,” said Mia Settles-Tidwell, the district’s Chief of Operations and one of the leaders of the policy design committee.

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

Other leaders of the committee are Lance Jackson, Interim Chief of Facilities, Planning and Management, and Olis Simmons, president and CEO of Youth UpRising, a nonprofit agency that has two charter schools at the site of Castlemont High School in East Oakland.

A number of community members are asking what will happen to the projects already promised under the existing district facilities master plan and Measure J draft plan.

According to some people, nearly all of the remaining bond funds are already allocated, and reprioritization would require the elimination of projects already on the list.

So far not announced, the process for implementing this policy will be elaborated by administrative regulations that are considered by the superintendent to be his sole prerogative. The regulations are scheduled to be revealed at the June 10 board meeting.

The policy and regulations will determine how the district will utilize the unspent Measure J bond funds, which total $355 million, and the unspent $65 million in the Measure B bond, as well as future bonds that may be approved by Oakland voters.

One of two members of the public who spoke on this issue at the board meeting was school activist Mike Hutchinson, who provoked a strong reaction from the superintendent.

“This makes me a little bit nervous,” Hutchinson said, “because we don’t have extra money sitting out there to be reprioritized.”

“I am (worried) we going to be taking (money) away from somebody who already thinks they have their project coming,” he said. “Are we going to do that to McClymonds? Are we going to do that to Fremont? Are we going to do that to Glenview? Are we going to do that to the Foster kitchen?”

He continued: “A lot of us in the community get a little bit nervous when we see an outside consultant who has been hired to manage measure J (bond funds).” And this is the same person who is interim head of facilities, and he is the same one who is developing bond prioritization policy, Hutchinson said.

“I don´t think this passes the smell test. We have to be able to do better,” said Hutchinson.

He called on the school board to accept its responsibility to make policy. “Any prioritization of our money need to be directed by the board,” he said “If there’s ongoing to be a new committee, (it) needs to be appointed by the board, not by the superintendent. We no longer have a state administrator.”

Hutchinson told the Post he was concerned the district was preparing to shift bond money to pay for its proposed $100 million dollar headquarters project on Second Avenue.

Responding to the criticisms, Supt. Antwan Wilson said, “You can’t continue to sit here and listen to comments that are just completely inaccurate, week after week, month after month, same old thing.

He continued: ”We will send a message to one of our community members who continues to give wrong information about what an oversight committee does. This is no new process here in Oakland that deviates from anywhere else.”

By the Post’s deadline, the school district had not returned a request for answers to questions about the new policy.

To read the district’s existing Measure J spending plan, go to

To read the district’s existing list of Facilities Master Plan projects, go to

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 4, 2015 (

Community Voices Fill City Hall, Luxury Apartment Building Blocked

Guillen’s proposal collapses as Brooks, Kalb and Gallo refuse to support it

Pam Hall of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) spoke  at a rally Tuesday evening  in front of city hall. "A person who works at a regular low-wage job can't afford to live in Oakland," she said

Pam Hall of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) spoke at a rally Tuesday evening in front of city hall. “A person who works at a regular low-wage job can’t afford to live in Oakland,” she said.

By Ken Epstein

Before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the proposal to sell a city parcel to build a luxury apartment tower at Lake Merritt seemed like a done deal. But in the face of determined and passionate opposition of a coalition of community members, the deal disintegrated.

Opponents rallied in front of City Hall, and 91 people turned in speaker cards, almost all to speak against the sale of the one-acre parcel to Urban Core Development and its financial partner UDR.

The debate lasted from about 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The crowd of opponents was barred from entering the council chambers. But the low rumble of their chants, “Housing Is a Human Right,” reverberated through the closed door, a constant presence in the room.

Speaker after speaker demanded that the council open the upstairs gallery, which had been closed for this meeting.

The council had set up overflow rooms to watch the proceedings on television, and individuals who had signed speaker cards were allowed to enter the chambers when their names were called.

The closing of the gallery was one of a number of security measures taken by the council Tuesday evening, including locking all but one of the entrances to City Hall and increasing police presence, after opponents shut down the council’s meeting May 5 to block the previous attempt to approve the sale of the public property.

Finally after hours of public speakers, Councilmember Abel Guillen made the motion to approve the deal, citing the community benefits he had negotiated with the developer during the past month, including a pledge of 30 units of “moderately” priced units in the 298-unit building.

But the five votes he needed were not there.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan had left the meeting earlier, saying she had to recuse herself because of a campaign contribution.

That meant that only seven of the council’s eight members would be voting on the motion.

Councilmember Dan Kalb said he could not support the motion because the city may have violated the California Surplus Land Act, a contention of the protesters and their legal representatives at California Public Advocates.

Councilmember Noel Gallo said that he supported the use of public land public for public good and had opposed the sale of school district property to private developers when he was on the school board.

“I was not for selling public land at the school district, and I will not be for it at City Hall,” he said.

“Lake Merritt is a jewel, but it is a jewel for all of us, not just for a select group that can afford it,” said Gallo.

Gallo also demanded that the city attorney advise the council on whether the property sale was in violation of the California Surplus Land Act. But the city attorney’s representative refused to comment.

“If you don’t respond, you don’t give me a whole lot of direction,” Gallo said, adding he had no other choice but to vote no on the proposal.

Councilmember Desley Brooks raised concerns that Urban Core Development owned only 2.5 percent of the proposed project, while the national real estate corporation UDR owned 97.5 percent.

She also said she was “disappointed” in the community benefits, which did not address the seriousness of the affordable housing crisis in Oakland.

She said that when she originally considered supporting the proposal, she had believed “there was going to be a substantive community benefits package, not just a skateboard park, graffiti abatement and (a donation) to Children’s Fairyland.”

The 30 moderately priced units were in fact not moderate or affordable to people who live in Oakland, she said. “I am deeply troubled.”

Finally, Guillen withdrew his motion. Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Larry Reid did not speak on the motion, and Lynette McElhaney had supported it.

“I can count” the votes, Guillen said.

The future of the project is now up in the air. Brooks made a motion, which passed unanimously, to come back to the next council meeting with a new proposal based on improved community benefits.

Speaking to Guillen, Brooks said, “I hope you can sit down with the community and the developer to see what you can work out.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 4, 2015 (

Land for Luxury Apartment Tower Goes to City Council for Final Vote

Vote scheduled for Tuesday, June 2

Members of Eastlake United for Justice

Members of Eastlake United for Justice

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council is set to vote Tuesday evening on a controversial proposal to sell a city-owned parcel to build a luxury apartment tower at the corner of East 12th Street and Lake Merritt.

The council had been originally scheduled to approve the property sale on May 5 when its meeting was shut down and taken over by protesters demanding that public property should only be developed for public use.

Councilmembers informally agreed to postpone the final vote for several weeks to give Councilmember Abel Guillen time to negotiate increased community benefits with the developer. Guillen represents District 2, where the property is located.

The final list of the benefits features a modest reduction of the monthly rent for 30 units of the 298-unit project, though not to a rate that many in Oakland would consider to be affordable.

Besides reducing prices on 10 percent of the units, the developer has agreed to make donations for a number of different public services.

However, the current proposal does not satisfy the demands that have been raised by the neighborhood activists, who say it still lacks affordable housing.

“It’s not affordable – not to the people living in the (Eastlake) zip code,” and it’s not affordable for people living in Oakland, said Monica Garcia, a member of the neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice. “Public land should be for the public.”

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

“We don’t have any idea where this laundry list of community benefits came from,” she continued. “Community benefits are generally generated in meetings with members of the community. These came from the councilmember or the developer.”

Garcia said the benefits are crumbs and do not address the housing crisis that is driving people out of Oakland and robbing the city of its diversity.

“We have not seen real leadership from the council on housing issues yet,” she said.

“We will be at the meeting to speak out against this proposal – against this use of public land.”

The agreement between the city and the developer would reduce the cost of 30 units, to be rented at three different levels between 80 percent and 120 percent of the East Bay’s Area Median Income (AMI) – which is about $99,000 for a family of three. The median income for a family of four in the Eastlake area is about $38,000 year, says Garcia.

Ten units would be rented at 80 percent of the AMI – $1,461 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Ten units would be rented at 100 percent of the AMI – $2,044 for a two-bedroom apartment.

And, 10 units would be rented at 120 percent of AMI – $2,466 for a two-bedroom apartment.

In addition, the developer would pay for a number of community benefits, including:

$150,000 towards building or maintaining a skateboard park;

$25,000 to support Children’s Fairyland;

$100,000 to support graffiti abatement and neighborhood beautification in the area;

And, $50,000 to plant trees east of Lake Merritt and by San Antonio Park.

The developer will also work with Councilmember Guillen and city staff to find potential space in District 2 that can accommodate between 50 and 70 affordable housing units. The developer will pay some of the predevelopment cost of this project.

Garcia was also unimpressed with the proposed agreement’s commitment to hire local workers for the project, saying the agreement “doesn’t have any teeth.”

In fact, the agreement leaves the promise of local jobs up to the developer to figure out.

The proposal says that within 120 days of signing the contract, the developer “will complete a plan…to accomplish a 25 percent good-faith-effort goal for local hiring for new jobs created during construction.”

The proposal does not distinguish between journeyman and apprenticeship jobs. Nor does it focus on hiring people from the less affluent zip codes in the city.

In addition, the “developer will consider using a Union General Contractor at the Developer’s sole discretion.”

Unlike this project, hard-fought negotiations over the Army Base development lasted for several years and resulted in the developer of that project eventually agreeing to a 50 percent local hire program and a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that protects union jobs.

The buyers of the property are Urban Core Development, a local company, and UDR, a Denver-based national real estate corporation. Almost all the project will be owned by UDR.

“The proposed ownership of the project will include a 97.5 percent interest for UDR and a 2.5 percent interest for Urban Core,” according to the report submitted by city staff for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“UDR will serve as the Managing Member of the LLC and provide the required guarantees necessary to secure the project capital as needed,” the report continued. “Both companies will work together jointly throughout the predevelopment and construction phases, and UDR will manage the marketing, leasing and property management of the property.”

UDR, Inc., the city report said, is a leading multifamily real estate investment trust in the U.S. In 2014, the company owned 51,293 “apartment homes” across the country.

Eastlake United for Justice is planning to hold a rally Tuesday night in front of Oakland City Hall at 8 p.m.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 1, 2015 (





Lynette McElhaney Puts Damper on Tagami’s Coal Plan

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

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

By Ashley Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ethan Buckner.

Photo by Ethan Buckner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Two-thirds of the people who live in Oakland are not white and Oakland has a long history of struggle for racial justice.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Yet the situation of most whites is quite different from the situation of many Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and indigenous people.  In fact, Oakland has the seventh worst income inequality of any major city in the country. (Statistics on wealth gaps for Asians and indigenous groups are not available from those doing these calculations.)

We need to put changing this at the center of the city’s efforts. In the one place where we have some real power, local government, we need to say that we understand institutional racism still exists and we want to do something about it – officially

It won’t be easy. The whole country is full of policies that uphold racism, but there is a lot more we could do if we focused and strategized, especially on the policies and practices that produce the racial wealth gap.

We need a city Department of Race and Equity because the racial wealth gap in the U.S. is 13 to 1 between the median white and the median African-American family and 10 to 1 between the median white and the median Latino family.

These gaps in wealth and income result from a national history of overt and covert racial discrimination – slavery, U.S. seizure of Mexican land, share-cropping, red-lining; English-only policies; bracero programs; immigration policies and a thousand other events and policies.

And these gaps contribute to housing, health, and policing inequities as well. Here are just a few current local specifics which a department of Race and Equity might look into:

African Americans are 28 percent of the Oakland population. Yet they were hired for only 5 percent of the hours on city-funded construction projects last year;

Latinos are 41 percent of Oakland students, but only 13 percent of its teachers. A city department would, of course, need to work collaboratively with the school district if it were to help in rectifying this imbalance.

Oakland is lauded for multi-cultural music and art. Yet city support for minority-owned venues is often lacking;

Oakland has lots of new fancy restaurants, but not many Black or Latino or Asian folk earn the fancy tips at the front-end of these houses.

Some city departments seem to have many employees of every ethnicity. Yet the department that plans the city’s economic future seems to be overwhelmingly white.

The last “disparity study” commissioned by the city showed statistically significant underutilization of “minority” owned and women owned firms in both construction and professional services contracts.   There was also a significant underutilization of Asian, Latino, and African-American firms in construction sub-contracts.

Non-white contractors have reported a good-old-boys network, difficulty in receiving information on the bid process, difficulty in obtaining financing, and other issues.

Oakland is blessed with dozens of activist and non-profit organizations that work on these issues, but we often feel that we are fighting a multiple-headed beast, winning in one place, only to lose again when someone forgets that a new policy or procedure is supposed to be in place.

We need an official department in city government that is responsible for caring whether two-thirds of the residents receive the same economic, political, and social benefits as the other third.

We need a Department of Race and Equity

Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is author of “Organizing to Change a City” (2012), Peter Lang, and host of Education Today on KPFA 94.1 FM.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Teachers Vote to Authorize Work Actions, Strike Against School District

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

By Post Staff

Oakland teachers have voted to authorize a strike against the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) if they do not settle their contract by the time school opens next fall.

At a membership meeting last Wednesday, attended by nearly 700 union members, 651 teachers, or 94 percent, voted in favor of giving the union’s Executive Board the power to call a strike.

The bargaining teams of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and OUSD met this week and have more bargaining sessions scheduled. The union represents about 2,400 teachers and other educators

“It’s about being prepared,” said OEA President Trish Gorham.

OEA President Trish Gorham

OEA President Trish Gorham

“The strike vote means we are standing strong behind our bargaining team. We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” she said.

“The main point is to get a sense of the membership and to have the OEA Executive Board to have the authority to do the organizing over the summer and to be able to take work actions, up to and including a strike if necessary.”

Before the union decides to go on strike, it must first go through a legal process that includes declaring impasse, mediation, and fact finding, which take a minimum of two months, said Gorham.

One of the outstanding issues is a wage increase that would be sizable enough to bring district teachers up to the median of teacher salaries in Alameda County.

Both sides agree that salaries in Oakland have been in the cellar for years, impacting the district’s ability to recruit and retain teachers and contributing to OUSD’s chronically high teacher turnover rate.

The district has offered a 10.5 percent raise over three years. OEA believes there is a possibility of a larger raise than offered this year based on increased funding from the state that will be revealed about May 15.

Another important sticking point in negotiations is Article 12, which covers transfers and assignments of teachers.

The district is seeking “flexibility” in the assignment of teachers who are involuntarily transferred or whose jobs are eliminated, for example when a school closes.

The district’s original proposal minimizes the importance of veteran teachers’ successful classroom experience and loyalty to the district, according to many teachers.

“We maintain seniority should play a deciding role when teachers are displaced through circumstances beyond their control,” said Gorham, who emphasized that “good faith bargaining” is continuing

“The OEA bargaining team has been voicing our concerns during bargaining sessions, and some of those concerns have been addressed,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (



Commentary: Longshore Union Shut Down Port of Oakland to Protest Police Killings

Members of Longshore union ILWU Local 10 and community members march  on May Day, May 1,, from the Port of Oakland to  the Oscar Grant Plaza at Oakland City Hall to protest police murders of Black and Brown people across the country. Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography.

Longshore union ILWU Local 10 and community members march on May Day, May 1, from the Port of Oakland to Oscar Grant Plaza at Oakland City Hall to protest police murders of Black and Brown people across the country. Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography.


 By Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

On Friday, May 1 – International Workers Day, about 2,000 people came together to march and protest the unjust murders of mainly Black and Brown people in the U.S. at the hands of police.

The event, “Labor Against Police Terror,” drew labor unions and community groups to the Port of Oakland.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 led the day of action marching from the Port of Oakland to Oscar Grant Plaza (at Oakland City Hall).

Thus us the first time in U.S history that a labor union had initiated a protest against the police.

ILWU has a long and proud history of participating in actions against social injustice, starting with its formation during the San Francisco strike of 1934 where two workers were killed by police.

Other actions have included anti-apartheid actions against South Africa, shutting down the Port of Oakland in 2010 in support of justice for Oscar Grant, and protest of Israeli Zim ships.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was made an honorary member of Local 10 just six months before his death.

The impetus behind the May Day 2015 action was the murder of Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina.

Scott was related to several Charleston longshoremen of the International Longshoreman Association (ILA) Local 1422.  ILA Local 1422 and ILWU Local 10 have a strong history of solidarity.

Both locals are predominantly Black and have supported each other in actions throughout the years.

In addition, Local 10 has suffered its share of police terror.  In 2012, Jerimiah Moore was killed by Vallejo police, and last year Pedie Perez was killed by Richmond police. Both are families of longshoremen.

During April’s Local 10 executive board meeting, a motion was made to support the Charleston longshoremen in whatever action they choose to seek justice for Walter Scott.

A amendment to the motion was made that ILWU Local 10 hold its monthly stop work meeting on May 1, effectively shutting down the Port of Oakland and march and protest the senseless murders of mainly Black and Brown people by police.

The motion passed at the general membership meeting two days later.

With two weeks to plan and implement the march, the call went out to other unions and community groups. The response was far better than expected.

Several unions joined in solidarity, as did various community groups in and around Oakland.

The rally started at Berth 62 at the port.

The march, led by the Local 10 drill team, began at 10 a.m. wound through the Acorn community of West Oakland and ended with a rally at Oscar Grant Plaza.

The goal of the protest was to call attention to the onslaught of police killings and demand that that killings must stop and those responsible be held accountable.

ILWU recognizes its role in the community and knows that when labor disrupts commerce, the 1% will listen and act when their bottom line is affected or threatened.

Workers, union and non-union alike, must come together to take the lead in these actions and exert their rank and file power and not rest upon elected officials.

For far too long the labor community has been silent on these issues and now is the time to renew our role in making things better.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

 Stacey Rodgers is a member of the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (


Coalition Wants Coliseum City to Produce Jobs and Housing for Residents

By Ashley Chambers

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

Jahmese Myres

Jahmese Myres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 20, 2015 (

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

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

By Ken Epstein

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

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

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

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

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

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (





Latinos Underrepresented in Teaching and Other Jobs in OUSD

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

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 16, 2015 (