Category: Politics

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

By Ken Epstein

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

Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

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

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

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

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

“There are no exceptions,” the letter said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protesters Shut Down Council Meeting , Demand Affordable Housing Not Luxury Apartments

Jos Healey was one of the spekers on the bullhorn when protesters  shut down the City Council meeting Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

Jos Healey was one of the speakers on a bullhorn Tuesday when protesters shut down the City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

 By Ken Epstein

Oakland City Council chambers became ground zero for protests against gentrification and displacement this week as young activists chained themselves together to keep the City Council meeting from taking place, instead holding a rally for several hours in the chambers to voice their anger and frustration with the city’s leadership.

At the close of a public hearing on the proposed city budget for next year, but before the city council meeting could get underway, activists entered the well area behind the low barrier between the council dais and the public.

Some chained themselves together, standing in a line below the shocked council members. Others produced a bullhorn and began speaking about their issues and invited others to speak.

Many members of the audience stood, chanted and shouted in solidarity with the protesters. Police made no moves to intervene, but police and security attempted to keep more people from entering the chambers.

While people spoke, a projector flashed the group’s issues on an overhead screen:

“You can fight city hall,” “Development without displacement;” “A people’s budget, not a policing budget;” and “Public service, not lip service,” the projected signs said.

The focus of the protest was the seeming willingness of most council members to vote Tuesday night to approve the sale of a one-acre, city-owned parcel on East 12th Street across from Lake Merritt to build a 24-story luxury apartment building.

The proposed building includes no affordable housing and will have a median rent of $3,150 for a one-bedroom apartment, making the units affordable only to households that make $120,000 or more a year, according to activists who say the median household income in Eastlake around the proposed building is $38,363.

The coalition against the high rise is led by a neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice and includes Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Housing Organizations, Black Seed, SEIU 1021, Oakland Rising, and the Oakland Tenants Union.

Calling for public land to be used only for affordable housing and other public needs, the groups are concerned that the development will lead to displacement of working class residents on the east side of Lake Merritt, as well as the development’s inadequate community engagement process.

At a rally in front of City Hall before the council meeting, members of Eastlake United for Justice and others spoke about their concerns.

Huan Bao Yu spoke at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Ken

Huan Bao Yu speaks at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Epstein.

“We are here because there are people in there (City Hall) who are trying to sell out our land,” said Josh Healey, also part of the Eastlake group.

“We’ve been here to talk to the mayor and city council, and they haven’t been hearing us,” he said.

Mari Rose Taruc, also of the Eastlake neighborhood group, said, “Oakland is 62 percent renters. We don’t want luxury condos at Eastlake. We want affordable housing.”

Asked Huan Bao Yu, a senior citizens speaking for Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), “Who is (this development) for? “Is it for us? No, it’s to kick us out.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Tagami’s New Deal to Bring Coal to Oakland Draws Opposition

A pile of coal sits near the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington. Mining experts say Utah has about 40-45 years of coal left. Photo courtesy of Kristin Nichols, Deseret Morning News.

A pile of coal sits near the Crandall Canyon Mine northwest of Huntington. Mining experts say Utah has about 40-45 years of coal left. Photo courtesy of Kristin Nichols, Deseret Morning News.

By Ashley Chambers

Now that the Oakland Army Base development project is well underway, city developer and project manager Phil Tagami is working on a behind-the-scenes $53 million deal to ship coal from Utah through the new Oakland trade and logistics.

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

Last year local residents spoke out, and the City Council and the Port of Oakland have voted not to allow coal to be shipped through the port.

The Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board last month approved funding that would allow four counties in the state to acquire interest in the port in Oakland, according to The Richfield Reaper.

Utah is the14th largest producer of coal in the U.S.

The coal would be exported as soon as summer 2017 through a terminal at the Army Base that is expected to begin construction later this year. The new Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal will be designed to transport “bulk commodities” including iron ore and oversized equipment.

While the deal is still being negotiated, according to reports, the project is Tagami’s deal and has remained off the city’s radar until recently.

Tagami said his seven years of securing approvals and environmental entitlements for the Oakland Army Base project allow him to “lease space to a private company that can export just about anything except ‘nuclear waste, illegal immigrants, weapons and drugs,’” as reported in the Contra Costa Times.

However, according to a number of residents, bringing coal into the city could jeopardize everything that community residents and activists have fought for in massive Army Base development project – among them, clean energy and reduced environmental impacts on the West Oakland community adjacent to the port and to the city in general..

“This (Army Base) is city property, and at least half of the total investments are public money,” said Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and resident of Oakland. “Ultimately, Tagami and his group is a tenant of the City of Oakland; they don’t own the land.”

There are two core local environmental impacts, said Beveridge – “hundreds of pounds of coal dust emissions in the area, with 150 to 850 pounds of coal dust lost in transit.”

Secondly, “Oakland has a greenhouse gas reduction plan. Everything we’ll have gathered will be lost” by buying and exporting coal into the city, he said.

“Coal is one of the worst greenhouse gas producers in the world,” Beveridge added.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has also voiced her opposition to the export of coal in the city, voting last in May as a councilmember in support of a resolution against the transport of fossil fuels through the city.

Although Utah has already approved funding, winning support for the deal in Oakland is likely to be a hard sell.

According to the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, coal burning is responsible for one-third of U.S. carbon emissions and leads to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

In 2013, Tagami told Sierra Club leaders that there was no way he would consider coal as a commodity, according to Michelle Myers, director of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

Myers suggested that the city amend the development agreement to allow them greater oversight on Tagami’s role as project manager and developer on the project.

“(Councilmembers) clearly expressed that they don’t want this type of commodity coming through the community, but they don’t have the legal levers to prevent it,” she said. “This is public land. They could potentially repeal his authority.”

Added Beveridge, “The city needs to define more clearly what kind of action and activities are appropriate to happen on their public land.”

“We have to connect our world-view to our local view, and exporting coal is a disconnect,” he said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Support Grows for City of Oakland Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

A number of community leaders are speaking out in support of a new city department designed to decrease inequities and racial barriers in city policies and operations, such as housing, development contracts, employment, and education.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

The proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, developed and led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks and supported by several councilmembers, seeks t address some of the main issues are frequently being raised by Oakland residents: gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, jobs at city-funded projects and access to city contacts, environmental and air quality, as well as other health conditions in minority and disenfranchised communities.

“We think about gentrification and displacement, and we think about the role that the city plays in perpetuating the invasive class remake of our city,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“We know that a department like this is at the core of the types of change that we need to see on a local level to stop that tide of displacement and to stop gentrification from continuing to happen,” Clark said.

The department would answer directly to the City Administrator and would be implemented as soon as December of this year – if approved by the City Council.

The department would provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials to address systemic racism in city operations “with a focus on how the city does business, including human resources, contracting, access, funding and decision-making,” according to the proposal.

“The city spends enormous amounts of money on development in Oakland. Twenty-eight percent of the people who live in this city are African American, yet they get only five percent of the hours on those jobs,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, an education professor and member of OaklandWorks.

“What happens when you don’t have anything specifically devoted to dealing with an issue as major and primary and hurtful as racism in this society is, people get afraid to bring it up,” Kelly Epstein said.

“If we do the work of actually allocating and designating a department to that work, then people won’t be shut down when they want to bring up the fact that there is great inequity,” she said.

There is the notion that there are two Oaklands, residents have said: one has access to minor investment from the city, declining jobs and parks and schools that are closing operating limited resources. The other Oakland has access to better schools, parks, greater investments that benefit the community and more responsive government.

Imagine East Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood compared to the Glenview. Some neighborhoods require a bus ride or long drive to complete such daily tasks as grocery shopping or going to the bank.

“There’s no way that a city should be able to develop, do any type of business and not represent the citizens that live right there,” said Esther with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “It’s time for all of us to step up, be responsible and understand that we need to start leading with our hearts before our pockets.”

“There is an urgency with respect to people of color being able to have equal participation in this city,” said Councilwoman Brooks.

In response to inquiries of how much it will cost to operate this new department, Brooks said, “Think of the costs that communities have suffered for far too long not being able to participate fully in the government that they pay into. When do they get that return in dividends?”

“We will have to look like we have looked for other things that have been unbudgeted and find a way to make this happen. I would hope that we don’t just look at the dollars and cents, but we will look at truly moving a full community forward,” said Brooks.

Some of the organizations supporting the Department of Race and Equity are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), ONYX Organizing Committee, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

The proposal will go to the City Council on March 31.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Coliseum City Development Should Benefit Oakland Residents, Say Local Groups

 Mayor Libby Schaaf does not support building sports arena in business park

By Ken Epstein

At least three local organizations and coalitions are pushing to make sure that the Coliseum City project – if it comes to pass – will provide economic and social benefits to the people who live and work in Oakland, not only the owners of the sports franchises, developers and hedge fund investors who are hoping to build a massive, entertainment, housing and hotel complex around new stadiums for the A’s, Raiders and possibly for the Warriors.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

Taking somewhat different approaches are the OaklandWorks Alliance, the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a community benefits coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Just Cause/Causa Justa.

Weighing in on the issue, Mayor Libby Schaaf called for Coliseum City plans to include a mix of uses and did not support a proposal to but the Warriors arena in the middle of the business park, would would likely to eliminate a number of local buisnesses and jobs.

“There are no current plans for putting a basketball arena below the 880 freeway, nor do I see that as the most desirable location for any future new sports facilities,” Schaaf said. “Oakland needs to balance housing, entertainment, retail, businesses and industries to ensure we have a vibrant economy and great quality of life for our residents.”

Members of the OaklandWorks Alliance said they would support the Coliseum City Specific Plan and draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) if they are modified to deal with a number of specific concerns.

The OaklandWorks Alliance is made up of individuals and eight local organizations, including Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

Revolution Foods, based int the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that would be impacted by zoning changes. According to Fortunte, the company  serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees..

Revolution Foods, based in the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that could be adversely affected by zoning changes. According to Fortune, the company serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees.

In a letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, several OaklandWorks members wrote:

“African-American workers make up 28 percent of Oakland residents and 5 percent of the hours worked on city-funded construction jobs. This means that African-Americans are underrepresented more than five-fold in city-funded employment.”

“Any project on which this injustice is not rectified should not be built.”

The OaklandWorks letter also criticized city staff for failing to involve community members in a democratic process.

“Residents of East Oakland should be involved at every step of every decision-making process. This has not occurred thus far,” the letter said.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait to speak at an Oakland Planning Commission public hearing. Schwartz says the Specific Plan, as it is currently written, would allow developers to rezone property in the buisness park to build housing, thereby eliminating businesses and jobs in the city.

“There was no community participation until the Specific Plan was completely developed, and then city staff provided ‘information’ sessions for people to ask questions.”

The plan should only provide housing for people at the median income of Oakland residents, the letter said. “Our land and city services should not be used to build housing for people who do not live here.”

The OaklandWorks letter also calls for not rezoning the Coliseum Business Park across Highway 880 from the Coliseum arena.

The business park houses “approximately 150 businesses and employs 8,065 workers, according to statistics provided by Oakland’s economic development department,” the letter said. “These businesses could be disrupted by: a) Increased land prices created by the possibility of residential uses; b) Restricting business activities which are allowed by the current zoning.”

Naomi Schiff and the Oakland Heritage Alliance are supporting mitigations proposed by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, which have been included by Planning Commission staff in their draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

If the arena or Coliseum are torn down, the developer should make financial contributions to improve East Oakland communities to offset the loss of the historic buildings, according to the proposed mitigations.

“The amount of any such contribution shall be as negotiated between the city and the developer(s), as ultimately determined by the City Council,” according to the proposal. “Mitigation shall be provided as financial and/or cultural enhancement. Such contribution shall be commensurate with the cultural value of the Coliseum.”

Groups in the in a community benefits coalition include Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Just Cause/Causa Justa, E), East Bay Housing Organization (EBHO), Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is closely allied with the Building and Construction Trades Council and other local labor unions,

This coalition, which came out in force to speak at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, is asking for an increase in the percentage of affordable housing in the proposal. The plan at present talks about provisions for 15 percent affordable housing, but the plan itself 1,700 units of market-rate housing at the site of the Oakland Corporation Yard, facing the Bay.

The demands are also for “good jobs with living wages,” protections for tenants so they will not be “pushed out by rising rents,” and protections to prevent air pollution and build a grocery store, youth center and other public services in nearby East Oakland neighborhoods.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Coliseum City: What Are the Benefits for East Oakland Residents?

Coliseum City Entertainment District (rendering)

Coliseum City Entertainment District (rendering)

By Ken Epstein

A number of community members spoke at a public hearing this week at the Planning Commission, raising concerns about how East Oakland neighborhoods and businesses will be impacted by a city proposal to clear the way for the massive development called Coliseum City.

This development seems like a “formularic corporate development…. this is like an alien space city,” dropped into East Oakland, said Nehanda Imara, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) who lives about a mile from the proposed development.

“It’s a beautiful project, but it doesn’t seem like it includes the people who live on the outside,” she said. “We’d like some of the benefits surrounding the project,” including jobs, better air quality and affording housing.

Artist's drawing of Coliseum City

Artist’s drawing of Coliseum City

The development project has the potential to go in different directions, Imara said. “It could be connected to the community, or it could be disconnected from the community.”

The city’s proposal, contained in the Coliseum Area Specific Plan and several volumes of documents in an Environmental Impact Report, is designed to establish new land use and zoning regulations that will guide development in the area around the Oakland Coliseum and the Oakland International Airport for the next 25 years.

The draft plan was released on Aug. 28 and the final plan was released on Jan. 30. – developed by city staff and consulting firms for the past few years.

The timeline calls for the specific plan to be discussed at a couple more community meetings and then approved by the Planning Commission and forwarded to the City Council for approval in March or April.

The plan has been kept purposely “flexible” or indeterminate because the content of the project ultimately will depend to a large extent on who the developers will be and what they will want to build on the 800 plus acres that include the Coliseum and

Nehanda Imara

Nehanda Imara

its parking lots, the Oakland Airport Business Park across the freeway from the Coliseum and waterfront area along the Bay.

A number of community members complained that public input has been inadequate.

“I attended one of the library meeting to which this document refers. There was no planning done by the community. Staff simply made presentations and answered a few questions,” said Fred Ellis, who represented OaklandWorks Alliance.

“This is unlike the lengthy process which took place in West Oakland,” Ellis continued. “Few East Oakland residents are even aware of these zoning changes or their implications.”

Robert Schwartz, who owns a company at the business park, said he had submitted a letter with his objections to the proposal in October, but city staff never responded.

He said the proposed zoning changes that would allow residential development where the business park is located would cause the market values of the properties to skyrocket, effectively ending the business park.

Local industries and the jobs they produce can only can to stay in Oakland if the city is committed to protecting the industrial zoning designation of the area, Schwartz said.

“This is not a good idea. This is the only business park we have (in Oakland),” he said.

Schwartz asked why the city was in such a hurry to pass the plan and is seemingly reluctant to involve community and business people in the planning process. “You’re talking about a 25 year (development) plan, and all of a sudden it has to be passed in 25 days,” he said.

Senior citizen Carolyn Holloway said the people she knows are concerned they will be forced to move away.

“They feel they will be displaced. They feel they will have to move to Stockton or Sacramento,” she said.

“We don’t really see many benefits for residents,” she said. “What about sidewalks? Or trees?”

Theola Polk said that she and other senior citizens are feeling that Coliseum City offers nothing to people who live in East Oakland.

“We’d like to know if you’ve forgotten us, she said. “Have we been overlooked? When will our area get a facelift?”

Upcoming meetings on the Coliseum Area Specific Plan:

Wednesday, Feb.11, Community Workshop, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. ,81st Avenue Library meeting room , 1021 81st Ave. 

Tuesday, Feb. 17, Business and Property-owners Meeting,  9: a.m. – 11 a.m. OneToyota community meeting room , 8181 Oakport St. 

Wednesday, March 4, Oakland Planning Commission,  6 p.m., in City Council Chambers, Oakland City Hall, One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza).  The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing to consider certifying the Coliseum Plan Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), and recommending to the City Council adoption of the Final Specific Plan and the proposed new Planning Code and General Plan amendments.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

New City Leadership Team Takes the Helm

Photo by Godfrey Lee

Photo by Godfrey Lee

By Ken Epstein

Tuesday was a day to celebrate the changing of the guard in Oakland, as Mayor Libby Schaaf, three councilmembers, three school boardmembers and the new city auditor were sworn in.

Mayor Schaaf was sworn in during a quiet ceremony early in the morning, and the other new officials were sworn in during an organizational meeting at 11 a.m., where new officers were also selected.

All the newly elected and re-elected officials were ceremoniously sworn in again later in the afternoon at a festive event at the Paramount Theater at 2025 Broadway.

(L to R): Desley Brooks, Annie Campbell Washington, Abell Guillen. Photo by Adam L. Turner

(L to R): Desley Brooks, Annie Campbell Washington, Abell Guillen. Photo by Adam L. Turner

James Harris, District 7, was elected president of the Board of Education, and Jody London, District 1, was named vice president.

Lynette McElhaney, District 3, was elected president of the City Council. Larry Reid, District 7, was elected president pro tem, and Councilmember-at-large Rebecca Kaplan was elected vice mayor.

In a speech at the Paramount, Mayor Schaaf, emphasized her love for the city and her roots – “Oakland made,” born and bred.

Saying that she, like so many others, is upset by the lack of equality in the public schools and the lack of public safety.

“Transformative change is possible” she said. “If other cities can do it, so can we.”

It’s time for Oakland to get off the list of the 10 most dangerous cities in the country, Mayor Schaaf said, also pledging that the police department would complete federally required reforms “that we promised to finish 10 years ago.”

“It’s time to address quality preschool for all children, so all of our children show up to kindergarten ready to learn,” she said, calling the continuing racial disparities in education “morally outrageous.”

Mayor Schaaf said she would mobilize the city to stop illegal dumping, fix the “raggedy roads” in the neighborhoods and clean up parks and other public spaces.

She also said she would bring new businesses to Oakland and support the city’s existing small businesses, “particularly the ones in our neighborhoods,” providing zero interest loans and encouraging residents to “put your money where your heart is.”

In remarks after he was sworn in, District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillen said,

“We must provide housing for Oakland’s workforce – this is something we can do.”

Annie Campbell Washington, District 4 representative, spoke about her years working as a staffer for the city, where she learned that it was necessary to go to the grassroots to find out about programs and people.

“I learned it’s not about the numbers – it’s about the people,” she said.

“Here is where the rubber meets the road,” she continued. “The decisions we make are incredibly important to the lives of people here (in Oakland).”

District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks, who has been on the council for 12 years, was sworn in for new term.

“Too many of our residents are left out,” she said. “Too many are hungry, homeless or are feeling hopeless. Too many cannot afford to live here.”

Brooks, who was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt, had participated in a silent vigil held by protesters in front of the Paramount at the beginning of the swearing in.

She urged elected officials to pay attention to the protest, which also took place in the theater at the beginning of the swearing in ceremony, when some people unfurled a “End Police Terror” banner from the balcony and for a few minutes sang “Which side are you on?”

“I wore this t-shirt for a reason,” said Brooks “ We’ve got to listen to ideas others than our own. We have to hear voices other than our own. We have to include everybody. We have to come out of our comfort zone.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 10, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Op-ed: Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney Responds to Criticisms

By Lynette Gibson McElhaney

The East Bay Express (EBX) has been investigating me for the last nine months – digging into my personal life, my work in Richmond and on the City Council.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

Frustrated in their attempt to find any meaningful evidence of wrongdoing or unethical behavior, they have concocted a front-page “scandal” about the practices of the affordable housing non-profit, where I have served as a leader since 2001.

The practice in question? A modest investment in market-rate real estate, with the proceeds from that investment being used to fulfill our mission of providing affordable housing for veterans.

A child of the Civil Rights movement, I have dedicated my life to public service. I am proud of both my service at Richmond NHS where I have served since 2001 and as an elected representative on the Oakland City Council since 2013.

In light of the unwarranted and dishonorable attacks on my reputation I want to make it clear to all of my supporters, colleagues, and constituents that I have done nothing wrong or unethical. This attack only strengthens my commitment to tackling the real problems facing Oakland.

And to (Express editor) Bob Gammon, I want to make it crystal clear that at a time when funds for affordable housing have been decimated and tensions are rising between communities of color and law enforcement across the country, your decision to focus the considerable power of your publishing platform on me, calls into question your editorial judgment.

The public needs to know that in its response to the EBX inquiry, the NHS Board of Directors investigated its claims and found that there has been no violation of policy or law by the Executive Director, members of the board or its partners, Richard Reese or Kevin Hampton, in any deal where Richmond NHS was involved.

Further, Boardmember Niels Povlsen is a leader with an impeccable reputation who did not do anything in violation of any law or policy of NHS. There have been no conflicts of interest found by any agency by any member of the board or staff.

As a fierce advocate for affordable housing I have worked closely with my city council colleagues to create a designated fund for affordable housing and to strengthen tenant protection laws. I am also a pro-growth advocate for smart development because

I understand that failure to meet the demand for market-rate housing will lead to more displacement. And, while it is true that I am deeply concerned about maintaining economic and racial diversity in Oakland, I believe the biggest threat is the ability to attract and retain working-class jobs and to maintain public safety in our neighborhoods.

Like many others, I have often put the needs of others ahead of my own. Those who know me can attest that I work tirelessly to care for the people in my family, the community, and my work. This has resulted most notably in the painful and embarrassing failure to file timely tax returns – a matter which was rectified this week. In addition,

I was unaware of a technical difficulty that resulted in the delinquent filing of our mid-year campaign report.

These errors, as embarrassing as they are, do not rise to level of unethical behavior or some indication that my work in service to the community is anything other than honorable. Sadly, this type of coverage centering on innuendo and personal attacks often serves to discourage average people from serving in public life.

Most of us are not born with the privilege of having a life unscathed by personal or financial challenges, tragedies or imperfections. This is very unfortunate because every level of government is better served by the diversity of representation that can relate to the daily challenges the average working class American must confront.

I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to serve the people of Oakland as an elected leader. Despite this attack, I will continue to serve with the utmost respect for the public and for my colleagues.

In the past two years I have worked to fulfill my campaign pledge to focus on strengthening the local economy, improving public safety and improving the professionalism of the Council.

And, I sincerely hope that my service inspires others to serve without the need to be perfect.

District 3 Councilmember Lynette McElhaney was elected president of the Oakland City Council at the council’s meeting on Monday, Jan. 5.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3 City Council member, is president of the Oakland City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 10, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

U.S. and Cuba Will Both Benefit from Improved Relations, Says Congesswoman Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Havana, Cuba. Next to her are Cuban Protestant church leader Rev. Raul Suarez and Congressman Bobby Rush.  Photo courtesy of  Reuters/Stringer.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Havana, Cuba. Next to her are Cuban Protestant church leader Rev. Raul Suarez and Congressman Bobby Rush. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stringer.

By Ashley Chambers

After fighting for improving relations between Cuba and the U.S. for 37 years, Congresswoman Barbara is savoring the moment – the formal announcement recently that President Barack Obama is beginning to breaking the down the walls between the two countries

Reflecting on her many visits to Cuba over the years, Lee told the Post that improving American-Cuban relations and lifting the embargo will have significant social and economic benefits to the U.S.

“We will benefit in many ways,” said Congresswoman Lee, noting the access to medical treatment and education, as well as trade.

“There are many medical treatments that we can benefit from,” she said. “They have very few cases of Hepatitis B and have treatment for diabetic ulcers in 70 to 75 percent of cases. Having that access to treatment would be phenomenal.”

U.S. Medical students from low-income communities are already able to study in Cuba through a free program with The Latin American School of Medicine.

After Cuba established the program for international students from countries in Latin America, Congresswoman Lee advocated for the program to be expanded to include U.S. students.

A number of U.S. students, some from the Bay Area, now the opportunity to travel to Cuba to study medicine.

Congresswoman’s main concern is that other countries are building economic ties with Cuba and that window of opportunity for U.S. trade is closing very quickly.

But, she is hopeful that the U.S. will “be able to engage in trade soon…Business opportunity means jobs in America,” he said.

In a recent column published in Cuban media by Fidel Castro, Called “Reflections by Comrade Fidel,” the former leader wrote about his 2009 visit with Congresswoman Lee and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congresswoman Lee had a chance to hear Castro’s perspective of the world, Cuban policies, and discuss human rights issues when she visited his home.

He praised Lee for her stance against “Bush’s genocidal war in Iraq.”

“It was unbeatable proof of political courage.  She deserves every honor,” he wrote.

Lee said in her interview with the Post that she hopes President Obama will visit Havana before he finishes his term.

“I look forward to additional steps to fully normalize relations with Cuba – it is far past time,” said Lee.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 2, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)