Category: Responsive Government

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)

Concerns Raised at Oakland Unified Over Jackson’s $30,000 Per Month, Conflict of Interest

Jackie Minor Sets Jackson’s Pay Rate, Says School Board Approval Not Necessary

 By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials are struggling to explain why there is no conflict of interest in hiring Lance Jackson as the interim chief of the district’s bond-funded construction projects and that Jackson’s $30,000 a month salary is not excessive.

Jackie Minor

Jackie Minor

Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville Group Inc. (SGI), which has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects. He was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Jackson is being paid out of school bond funds for what the district estimates is 75 percent of the work for which Tim White was responsible and is earning more than double what White earned.

“There’s been quite a lot of press about the selection of the individual who is from the main project management company (that works for OUSD) to be in that position on an interim basis. There are some concerns that I have, and I think some others have, that (this) poses a conflict of interest and also some concerns for the amount of money that’s being paid to that individual,” said Patricia Williams, vice chair of the district’s Measures A, B, and J Independent Citizens’ School Facilities Bond Oversight Committee, speaking at the committee’s April 1 meeting.

According to local attorney Dan Siegel, a former Oakland Board of Education member and also former general counsel for the school district, Jackson “clearly has a classical conflict of interest” in holding a position in OUSD where he oversees a company for which he is an executive.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

“(For example,) if a consultant who works for his company does something wrong or that is inappropriate, he is going to feel reluctant to take any action because he’s going to have his company’s interests as well as OUSD’s (in mind). He is supposed to be loyal to the school district,” said Siegel, explaining that potential conflicts issues are not limited to billing and the signing of invoices.

Defending the district’s position at the April 1 meeting of the bond oversight committee, District General Counsel Jacqueline Minor described how she decided that Jackson should earn $30,000 per month. She said his pay rate is $200 an hour, he receives no benefits, and he is expected to be working for the district at least 12 hours a day.

She said that Jackson is being paid out of the district’s bond funds. Seventy-five percent of Tim (White´s) salary was paid out of the bond, she said, and the other 25 percent from the general fund to cover his responsibilities for day-to-day operations, custodial services and buildings and grounds.

“(However), all the work we’ve asked Lance to do is bond-related work,” said Minor.

“He’s been the principle lead for SGI in our district for some time,” she said. “He knows the district, he knows the team, he knows the work, he knows the projects.”

As for potential conflicts of interest, Minor, said, Seville Group is subject to the district’s general conflict of interest policies. “The superintendent and I talked, and we decided … the way we would handle (it),” she said

None of the invoices and other financial decisions related to SGI will come across Jackson’s desk, Minor said. Instead, Senior Business Officer Vernon Hal will have overall responsibility for all of the finances related to SGI.

“Lance is not approving invoices, purchase orders, contract extensions,” Minor said.

Renee Swayne

Renee Swayne

Minor said the district originally planned to send a contract for Jackson to the board but rescinded it when she decided it was not necessary.

“The work that Lance is doing is already covered by the SGI contract,” Minor said. “And I decided – it was my decision –(that) it didn’t make sense for the board to approve an amendment when there was already a contact that had sufficient funds in it to cover this additional work.”

“It’s my opinion that that the work Lance and SGI (are doing) is permissible under the (conflict of interest) law,” she said.

Another member of the bond oversight committee, Ariel Bierbaum, said she was concerned how Jackson’s position would affect staff in the Facilities Department, “now that Mr. Jackson is serving as both consultant and client.”

Renee Swayne, chair of the bond oversight committee, told Minor that she was concerned that when the district hired Jackson, it released a statement saying that he was the only person in the “whole department who has the knowledge, skills or the ability” to do the job.

“I personally think the superintendent owes the employees in that department an apology, “ said Swayne, adding that what Wilson said was “demeaning” to OUSD staff.

In response to questions from the Post, district spokesman Troy Flint clarified how Jackson is being paid.

“OUSD is not paying any additional monies to SGI or to Lance beyond the contract with SGI , which predates Lance’s appointment as interim head of the facilities department,” said Flint. “Any money Lance receives would come out of the existing $10.89 million contract with SGI, and it would be up to SGI to determine how to distribute that money.”

Jackson has not taken a leave of absence from his company to work for the district, Flint said.

“Lance is still employed by SGI. His current work for OUSD is a function of his long-term employment at SGI, so there’s no reason he would take a leave of absence.”

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

Unless Last-ditch Efforts Succeed, Doctors Hospital to Begin Closing in April

 

Doctors Medical Center

By Post Staff

Despite pleas from the public and staff at Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo, the doors to the hospital that houses West Contra Costa County’s only emergency room are scheduled to begin closing on April 21.

The West Contra Costa Healthcare District board voted March 26 to shutter the hospital but will wait until April 21 to give those interested in saving the hospital time to review a last-ditch proposal by a group that specializes in saving hospitals.

Residents and interested others packed the boardroom and expressed frustration and outrage that the board would close the hospital.

“It’s a shame,” said a man who didn’t want to be identified. “This hospital is very important to this community.”

The hospital averages 100 to 115 people in the emergency room a day. It stopped taking ambulance traffic in September 2014, and emergency room traffic dropped to about 50 a day – but those numbers have increased and people began coming back, according to records.

Doctor’s Medical Center has the region´s only cardiac unit, cancer center, diabetes-wound care, and sleep lab program. With the hospital closure those departments will be gone.

Some at the board meeting voiced frustration, saying that if the hospital could remain open until January, it might be saved by an influx of cash from Chevron’s Richmond refinery. T

The refinery has pledged about $15 million to the hospital – about $5 million for three years – as it revamps the refinery, but payments the payments do not begin until the work begins in January.

And, it is likely that when the hospital goes, the doctors’ offices that surround the hospital will go, too. And with the closure, about 700 employees, some of the highest paid jobs in area, will lose their jobs.

The hospital’s financial problems, which officials blame mostly on low reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal and Medicare patients, began in the 1990s. Those patients account for about 80 percent of the hospital’s total patients.

Another 20 percent are uninsured and commercial patients.

Doctor’s originally opened as Brookside Hospital in 1954.

When the hospital contracted with Tenet Health Systems in 1997, the agreement lasted just seven years before Tenet pulled out in 2004. Voters approved a $52-a-year parcel tax in 2004 and raised $5.6 million a year, but it wasn’t enough to stop the operating losses.

Then in 2006, the district filed for bankruptcy protection. When the hospital emerged from bankruptcy, its managers tried other ways to save the hospital to no avail.

The state and even other health care companies provided cash and received funds from the advance payments of the parcel tax. Even a second parcel tax in 2011, which raised about $5.1 million a year, didn’t help.

The hospital still fell into an $18 million a year deficit.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, April 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Teachers, Parents and Students March for Better Schools

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

Several hundred students, parents and teachers held a rally and marched through the streets of East Oakland this week to demonstrate their solidarity with the teachers’ union in its contract negotiations with the school district and to demand better public schools for students in the city.

The rally at San Antonio Park and march to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) headquarters at 1000 Broadway was held on Tuesday, when the district was closed for Cesar Chavez Day.

“This is just the beginning,” said science teacher Natalia Cooper, speaking at the rally.

“The OEA (Oakland Education Association) should be in the forefront of the changes in Oakland schools,” said Cooper, a member of Classroom Struggle, a group of educators from different schools in the teachers’ union.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

It’s time to be “honest about the disparities between hills schools and flatlands schools,” she continued.

Kim Davis of Oakland Parents United called for higher teacher pay.

“OUSD needs to make teacher retention their first priority by compensating teachers fairly and giving them the support and respect they deserve,” she said.

“I want the district and the school board members to know that parents are paying attention. We are getting educated, and we support our teachers.”

Event organizers released a statement that focused on a number of their key issues: poor working conditions for teachers and school staff, which lead to high teacher turnover every year: opposition to the growth of charters schools – the need to keep schools public; the lack of hard caps for special education caseloads, which allows for “ballooning” classes in special education classrooms and “unmanageable caseloads” for counselors.

Other major issues: a “top-heavy budget that prioritizes high-level administrators far above the needs of Oakland’s classrooms; and spends more money for school police rather than for counselors and restorative justice programs.”

“Public schools are supposed to be run by the people – through their elected school board. You have to stay on the school board so they do what you want them to do,” said local attorney Federico Chavez, who is Cesar Chavez’s nephew.

“We’re here because we love our children,” said attorney Dan Siegel, who is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education.

“We have to demand that our teachers are paid what they’re worth. A teacher starts at barely $35,000 a year,” said Siegel, who urged people to vote next year to replace board members that do not represent them.

In response to the march, the school district released a statement Tuesday on teacher negotiations.

“We fully appreciate the inspiration for (this) march, especially the outpouring of support for our teachers from parents and students,” the statement said.

“We are 100 percent committed to our on-going negotiations at the bargaining table with the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the union representing all teachers in OUSD-run schools,” according to the statement. “The negotiations began long before Supt. Wilson joined the district on July 1, 2014, though it was not until his arrival that a solid pay increase and proposal package were offered.”

For the complete OUSD statement, go to http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/Page/12735

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

State of Black Oakland (SOBO) Holds “People’s Assembly”

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Hundreds of Black activists, educators, entrepreneurs, healers and artists convened last weekend for “a People’s Assembly” to discuss and strategize solutions to improve life for Black Oakland.

The enthusiastic daylong “State of Black Oakland (SOBO) gathering was held Saturday, March 28 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland.

The assembly was a “listening space” where a coalition of Black-led organizations called on attendees to discuss what needs to be done to improve the lives of f Black people in the city.

Over a quarter of Oakland’s Black population left the city since 2000. Organizers wanted to bring Black people together to build on Oakland’s unique contributions to the Black Power Movement.

“It’s really important to remember that Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast,” said Liz Derias, co-convener of SOBO and an organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey's Inner Circle on March 28. Ovr 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discussion solutins to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on March 28. Over 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discuss solutions to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The legacy of the Black Panther Party and other Black “do-for-self” organizations was evoked throughout the day.

“We say Black Lives Matter, but we have to have some Black Power to enforce it,” said Community Ready Corps (CRC) Founder Tur-Ha Ak. The assembly focused on CRC’s Nine Areas of Self-Determination: economics, politics, education, health, family, media, art, traditions and ways, and self-defense.

The common thread between all of the areas was Black self-determination.

During three facilitated sessions, attendees joined smaller discussion-circles to talk about solutions in the nine areas. Within the circles, participants discussed their experience within that area and explained what “self-determination” looked like within that context, and shared potential solutions.

In the area of economics, attendees talked about past and possible solutions, such as a Black business listing, food and housing cooperatives, changes in Black consumer spending and workforce training for the tech economy.

The media session, facilitated by Cat Brooks, co-chair of the ONYX Organizing Committee, discussed the need to challenge negative images of Black people in media and the need for Black ownership of media outlets and cultural spaces.

The self-defense session focused on broadening the notion of what self-defense means. “Self-defense is not only individual or physical, but it is collective and connects to all the other areas”, Ak said.

Participants discussed the need for Black people to protect themselves from what CRC defines as “primary predators”  – white supremacy – and “secondary perpetrators” – so-called ‘Black-on-Black crime’.

Organizers noted that this first “State of Black Oakland” builds on a history of collective convening of Black people in the Bay Area to assess the status of Black folk.

During the 1970s, annual “State of the Race” conferences regularly convened in the Bay Area following the 1974 Pan-African Congress in Tanzania.

Reflecting on SOBO, Oba T’Shaka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said, “It’s very positive. It builds on the Black Lives Matters Movement and is pulling in people from different walks of life.” He added, “The democratic way has been consistent with our culture.”

Organizers see this assembly as part of a process to develop a Black “People’s Agenda.” Event organizers did street outreach in the weeks ahead of the event to get input from Oakland residents. The plan is to host two more assemblies this summer, in West Oakland and East Oakland, analyze the information within the nine areas, and develop an agenda.

SOBO was organized by a coalition of organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, Black Organizing Project, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, African American Studies at Merritt College, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Community Ready Corps, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Race for the Times.

For more information about SOBO, visit Facebook.com/sobo2015 or email stateofblackoakland@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Unified’s Administration Bypasses School Board to Hire Jackson for $30,000 Per Month

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District administration bypassed Board of Education approval in order to pay Lance Jackson $30,000 a month to oversee the district’s multimillion dollar construction program, the Oakland Post has learned.

Jacqueline Minor

Jacqueline Minor

While the district is conducting a search for a new person to head the work, Jackson is overseeing OUSD’s construction programs and repairs, maintenance and custodial services.

Uncertain that the Board of Education would be willing to vote for the $30,000 a month interim contract for Jackson, the administration has decided to pull the contract and instead to pay the consultant out of the ongoing contract the district has with Jackson’s company, Seville Group Inc.

Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville, a construction management firm that provides oversight of OUSD construction projects.

The Post recently reported that Jackson was hired for the interim position at a rate of $360,000 a year – more than double the $156,000 a year received by former chief of construction management Tim White. Jackson’s annual salary is higher than the $280,000 annual salary that Supt. Antwan Wilson receives.

Passed by the board under Acting Supt. Gary Yee, the district’s $10.9 million contract with Seville was approved to provide program management services for Measure B and Measure J and capital projects on behalf of the district in the Division of Facilities Planning and Management.

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

The term of the contract commenced on Aug. 14, 2013 and concludes by Dec. 31, 2015. Seville received $4 million from the district in 2014.

Raising questions on the details of the agreement with Jackson, the Oakland Post asked the district administration what will happen to the Seville staff working in the district and the work they were doing when that money is transferred to cover Mr. Jackson’s pay.

In response, district spokesman Troy Flint said, “When working on large projects of the kind SGI (Seville) handles for OUSD, there’s flexibility to adjust, in fact, it’s a necessity. Lance’s contract is not going to impact the work delivered or the manner in which it’s delivered as, relative to our agreement with SGI, it’s a small piece of the pie.”

In response to the question whether the agreement with Seville allows for the company to head up the facilities department, Flint said, “There’s not explicit wording in the contract to cover this specific circumstance, but the general language of the contract indicates that decisions can be made as needed to facilitate SGI’s successful management of the projects under its scope–and this falls under that consideration.”

The Post also emailed several questions to Jacqueline Minor, head of OUSD’s Legal Department.

“Can you please tell (the Post) what is your legal rational for your decision“ when Minor approved or advised the administration to pull that contract and to instead pay Mr. Jackson from the district’s ongoing contract with SGI?”

In addition, the Post asked: “How do you respond to the public perception that the decision appears to be a way to circumvent the decision-making power of the governing board?”

Minor did not respond.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 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)

Community Pushes for AC Transit Project without Displacement

Organizers who attended the Bus Rapid Transit community meeting Wednesday evening at Allen Temple in East Oakland are (L to R): left to Right: Redana Johnson, Towanda Sherry, Esther Goolsby, Cesar Fragoso, Jorge Hernandez, Mabel Tsang, Marina Muñoz, Omyinye Alheri, Davida Small, Evelyn Sanchez. ​ Photo by Nikolas Zelinski.

By Nikolas Zelinski

Neighbors gathered at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland Wednesday night to discuss their concerns about the new AC Transit project, called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The project will build high-speed bus service along International Boulevard between downtown Oakland and San Leandro, operating in the middle of the roadway.

Since the project was first announced, concerns have been raised the number of bus stops will be reduced and parking on International will be eliminated, negatively impacting seniors and people with disabilities, as well as small business and their customers.

One of the evening’s panelists, Nehanda Imara of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), said that she knows first-hand how large-scale transportation infrastructure projects have the power to tear up neighborhoods, examining the negative impacts of BART and Highway 880.

She said that these developments rarely do anything to help the people that live around the projects. “(BRT) must benefit the people who already live here,” Imara said.

Another panelist was Isaiah Tony of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) said that BRT does not respond adequately to current complaints from bus riders.

“The stuff I hear from riders is the bus doesn’t come on time, or I’m late to work. I’ve even talked to people who have been fired from their jobs because the bus wasn’t on time for five days in a row,” said Tony.

“I’ve heard stories about people in wheelchairs being passed by a bus because it was full,” he continued. “When we turn around and look at the BRT, does it solve the problems that we’re raising? A little bit yes, and a little bit no.”

The BRT will be a 9.5-mile public bus line that is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve efficiency of bus service by creating bus-only lanes, reducing the number of bus stops, reducing parking, and constructing centralized bus stations.

These stations will be placed in the middle of the street, and around one third of a mile apart. Stations will feature level platforms, overhangs with powerful lighting, and bus ticket machines.

Responding to the concerns that were raised, AC Transit Media Affairs Manager Clarence L. Johnson said, “AC Transit is not necessarily trying to promote gentrification. We are primarily interested in making sure that the corridor doesn’t become impassible in the next 10-20 years.”

Johnson also confirmed that around 500 parking spaces will be lost as a result of the project but added that the number will likely be much lower by the time the project is completed.

Also, AC Transit has purchased a few vacant lots to convert into parking areas, so that “there will not be any losses in any crucial commercial area,” according to Johnson.

Construction is set to begin by the end of 2015 and fully operable by November 2017.

The Allen Temple meeting was co-hosted by Just Cause/Causa Justa, Community Planning Leadership program (CPL), and the Oakland Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative (OSNI).

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 21, 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)