Archive for March, 2014

Overcomers With Hope Offers Youth Digital Arts Training

By Carla Thomas

Overcomers With Hope (OWH) Television Broadcast Digital Arts Media Training Program based in Oakland is set to re-launch its services to underserved youth.

Bishop J.E. Watkins. Photo courtesy of Oaklandlocal.

Bishop J.E. Watkins. Photo courtesy of Oaklandlocal.

The state-of-the-art facility is housed in the Liberty Hall – Marcus Garvey Building in West Oakland.

“Our creative media and training program provides students with an introduction to television production at the broadcast level,” said OWH President Bishop J.E. Watkins.

According to Watkins, OWH has assisted over 100 of youth in the past three years, with life and production skills through a series of courses with instructors from local networks.  The program will offer four-week sessions, comprised of two-hour classes that meet twice a week.

Watkins plans to extend the class schedule to five days a week as the program expands.

With some new equipment upgrades and a partial remodel, Watkins is excited about the future.  “This will help us train more than 25 youth within the next 18 months ages 16-24,” he said, adding that this is an affordable training program, compared to private programs that cost as much as $90,000.

The 2,500-square-foot studio has a seating capacity of 80 and includes a 40-foot green screen for animation and special affects.  “We can host community functions in addition to creating and producing content,” he said.  OWH has even contributed local footage for an Oprah Winfrey Show segment on human trafficking.

As of September 2013, OWH is no longer a tenant but owner of its building.  In partnership with Healthy Communities and the Black Nurses Association, OWH shares space at 1485 8th St.

“We can stop the violence through public access TV and provide youth with skills in an ever growing industry, ”said Watkins.

“Video is power, media is power, and we seek to uplift youth so that they are self sufficient and employable.  In this way they can create jobs and opportunities,” he said.

Watkins credits Chief Engineer Bill Gillice of Largent Video for on-going contributions, along with staff from Grass Valley and Editware.  “Their donations and training have enabled us to build our capacity to serve,” he said.

Generous donations over the years from supporters and CBS-KPIX have garnered the studio a 4000 Grass Valley switcher, Calypso switcher, green screen and animation technologies. “Our classes will instruct students on vector scopes, waveform monitors and all equipment,” he said.

For more information or to inquire about contributions visit:

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 9, 2014 (



Oakland Super Heroes Mural Unveiled

The Oakland Super Heroes Mural can be found at 35th and Market street. Photo b Spencer Whitney

The Oakland Super Heroes Mural can be found at 35th and Market street. Photo by Spencer Whitney

By Spencer Whitney

Local artists, politicians, and students at Westlake Middle School came together underneath the overpass of Interstate 580 on Wednesday for the unveiling of the second mural in the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project.

The project is part of a community development effort by Attitudinal Healing Connection, Inc. (AHC), an Oakland non-profit that works to revitalize some of the city’s blighted areas.

“These murals represent the hopes, dreams, and visions of students living in our community today and whose families have lived here for generations,” said AHC’s Art Director David Burke. “At a time when the city is going through rapid change and redevelopment, it’s so important that these stories get told now.”

The mural is the second in a series of six planned street murals around Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 9, 2014 (

Poll Shows Voters Highly Dissatisfied with Mayor Quan

By Ken A. Epstein

A new poll commissioned by mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf shows high levels of dissatisfaction with incumbent Mayor Jean Quan and growing support for Councilmember Schaaf.

Jean Quan

Jean Quan

EMC Research conducted the online survey of 595 likely voters on Feb. 5-7. The results show that most Oakland residents love their city, but they are very dissatisfied with the city’s direction, safety and Mayor Quan’s leadership.

Seventy-two percent say the city an excellent or good place to live, though only 24 percent say Oakland is heading the right direction, compared with 58 percent who say the city is on the wrong track.

Only 12 percent say they feel safer in Oakland today compared with a year or two ago. Only 15 percent say Quan is doing a good job as mayor, while 52 percent say she is doing a “poor” job.

The latest poll continues a trend of poor approval ratings for the mayor that were reported in a poll taken in the fall.

Schaaf, who launched her campaign on March 1, is gaining ground on Mayor Quian in the latest poll.  The shows the councilmember winning 19 percent of the first place votes, compared with 13 percent for Quan, though 41 percent are still undecided.

Schaaf also has growing name recognition, with 69 percent of likely voters now saying they are at least familiar with her. Voter opinion on Schaaf is 28 percent favorable, 29 percent neutral and only 12 percent unfavorable.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who has not entered the race, remains the leading contender should she decide to run. When Kaplan’s name was added to the poll’s choices, 18 percent of likely voters said she was their first choice.

With Kaplan slightly out in front, Schaaf was number 2 with 16 percent, followed by Quan with 10 percent, Joe Tuman with 8 percent, Dan Siegel with 6 percent and Bryan Parker with 4 percent. Thirty-Seven percent were undecided.

The survey was taken before City Auditor Courtney Ruby entered the race last week.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 8, 2014 (

Everything That Affects Women Has to Do with Politics, Says BWOPA

 BWOPA recently held an event at the Oakland PIC encouraging women to become actively involved in politics. (L to R) Shelley Darensburg, Felicia Verdin, Lynette Ward, Thelma Simmons, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch (BWOPA Oakland/Bay Area Chapter President), Rayna Lett-Bell (PIC), Gay Plair Cobb (CEO, Oakland PIC), Marilyn Norman (PIC), Dezie Woods Jones (BWOPA State President), Carla Liggins (PIC), Yvette Smith (PIC), Ashley Chambers, Africa Williams, LaTronda Lumpkins, and Robin Raveneau (PIC). Photo by Spencer Whitney.

BWOPA recently held an event at the Oakland PIC encouraging women to become actively involved in politics. (L to R) Shelley Darensburg, Felicia Verdin, Lynette Ward, Thelma Simmons, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch (BWOPA Oakland/Bay Area Chapter President), Rayna Lett-Bell (PIC), Gay Plair Cobb (CEO, Oakland PIC), Marilyn Norman (PIC), Dezie Woods Jones (BWOPA State President), Carla Liggins (PIC), Yvette Smith (PIC), Ashley Chambers, Africa Williams, LaTronda Lumpkins, and Robin Raveneau (PIC). Photo by Spencer Whitney.

By Ashley Chambers

Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) recently held an event inviting women to join the organization, which seeks to motivate, support and educate African American women about the political process.

BWOPA was founded in 1968 after a group of 12 women organized to raise funds for Ron Dellums’ election campaign for Congress. Now, 46 years later, the organization has grown both in numbers and political capital and is encouraging more African American women to become actively involved in the political arena.

“We have to make sure that we’re connected and reaching out,” said Dezie Woods Jones, BWOPA State President, at the event held Tuesday at the Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC).

One of the founders of BWOPA, Woods Jones worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement. She says women wanted to be, and should be, at the table weighing in on policy-making decisions and other issues.

“What we realized was that women were not having a voice,” she said. “When powerful decisions are being made, we don’t want to just be folding the papers for handouts and distributing literature. We want to be at the table to make decisions about our lives and our families’ lives.”

Through its local chapters – in Oakland, Richmond, Hayward, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton – the statewide organization empowers women to pursue leadership positions and run for public office, to understand that politics is part of everything they do.

“Whether you’re in the church house, or in the health house, or education, somebody’s making decisions about your life; look at the health care issues we’re dealing with now, the job training issues,” said Woods Jones.

“If you’re not part of structuring that and making those decisions, then you’re reacting to something somebody else is making for you,” she continued.

As the newly appointed president of the Oakland/Bay Area chapter, Kimberly Mayfield Lynch shared her vision for the local BWOPA chapter and expressed a need to diversify the teaching force.

For information or to become a member of BWOPA, visit

Eight Years Later, Tagami Still Hasn’t Started Rotunda Project

City Fails to Hold Developer Responsible

 By Ashley Chambers

Phil Tagami’s company, Rotunda Partners II, has failed to deliver on its contract with the City of Oakland, never fulfilling the commitment it made eight years ago to develop commercial space adjacent to the Rotunda building.

The developer has never begun construction at the site, which was supposed to be a commercial development – to house restaurants and other businesses.

Fuad Sweiss

Fuad Sweiss

It also appears the developer may have violated his contract when he sold the property to another company, though the sale was forbidden in the contract without city permission.

The original Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) prohibited any transfer of “any particular interest, stock, or other form of ownership…either voluntary or by operation of law without the written consent” of the city.

However, after purchasing the property from the city in 2004 for $298, Rotunda Partners II, which Phil Tagami is a principal partner in, sold the property in 2006 to San Pablo Commercial Center (SPCC) for $152,000.

A letter dated June 2006 from the city gave Tagami’s company permission to lease the property, though his company remained responsible for completing the project.

Rotunda Partners did not receive a letter from city staff until May 2013 permitting the sale to SPCC.

SPCC is owned by real estate developer Fuad Sweiss, a former civil engineer who worked for the City of Oakland Post for 18 years until 2006. He is now Deputy Director of Engineering, Department of Public Works, for the City of San Francisco.

SPCC and Tagami, who is still responsible for the project according to the contract with the city, are in default because the commercial development has never been built.

Questions raised at the Feb. 11 Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting highlighted the city’s lack of transparency in its relations with Tagami and Rotunda Partners.

Tagami’s sale of property to Fuad Sweiss was “fraud,” said Oakland resident Gene Hazzard, who has been investigating the city’s contracts with Tagami for several years. Hazzard has posted the results of his research at his personal website:

While questions were raised at the CED committee meeting about whether Tagami was current on payments on his $12 million loan from the city, no one at the city was willing to respond to questions from the Post about these payments.

Tagami’s company sent a letter to the Post saying that its payments on the loan were current.

As a result of a Public Records Act request, the Post has received copies of records of deposit when Tagami’s company made payments.

The payments were: $20,000 on Dec. 1, 2013; $6,666.67 on Dec. 23, 2013; $20,000 on Dec. 31, 2013; and $20,000 on Feb. 4, 2014.

Tagami failed to respond to questions from The Post regarding his payments on the loan. He later tweeted The Post saying our claims in recent stories were “misleading, false, and/or at best grossly inaccurate.”

The Post is hoping to meet with Tagami soon to clarify his position on these issues.  The Post is also seeking to meet with City Administrator Fred Blackwell to find out the city’s position on Tagami’s loan payments and his contract to build  on the Rotunda property.

Santana Quits, Blackwell Takes Reins as City Administrator

Fred Blackwell

Fred Blackwell

By Ken A. Epstein

While Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana are publicly parting ways on the best of terms, Oakland Post sources at City Hall are painting a more stormy behind-the-scenes farewell.

Santana, 43, abruptly announced her resignation over the weekend. Quan appointed Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell to fill the position, effective noon on Tuesday of this week.

According to city sources, Santana was angry that Quan had been leaking to the press that Santana was job hunting. In effect, she quit because she felt that Quan was pressuring her to leave sooner than she had planned, making her a lame duck administrator.

She called Quan and told her she was quitting, effective immediately, according to sources.

Santana took the reins in Oakland two years ago, after a long career with the City of San Jose. She was hired in 2011 for a salary in excess of $270, 000 a year plus perks.  She reportedly lives in Fremont.

Deanna Santana

Deanna Santana

The city administrator has a contact that runs through 2015, and she may be entitled to a severance package.

The disputes between Oakland’s two top leaders can be traced to Quan’s concerns that the city administrator was undermining the mayor’s chances at reelection.

While Quan rarely disagreed or took positions contrary to Santana’s, the mayor felt strongly that Santana was sabotaging her campaign, the sources said.

Quan and Santana were joined at the hip over a number of issues that damaged the mayor’s credibility. Santana was reportedly a key force in the city behind the decision to evict Occupy, which left the mayor with a reputation as a weak and vacillating leader.

There were also many residents who were angered that Santana, seemingly backed by the mayor, opposed reforms of the Oakland Police Department and repeatedly sided with the Oakland Police Officers Association against the interests of the community.

One such issue was Santana’s repeated refusal to implement a City Council decision on where to house civilians who do intake of complaints against the police. The council voted to house them outside of the police department, but Santana sided with OPOA, which wanted the civilians to be housed where they would be supervised directly by officers in OPD’s Internal Affairs Division.

In August 2012, Santana accused Federal Monitor Robert Warshaw, assigned to oversee the police department, of making inappropriate comments to her and calling her “stunning.” City attorneys filed a federal motion in court but withdrew it after these accusations became public.

Observers considered the accusation to be a stalling tactic on Santana’s part.

Besides her actions on police reform, Santana angered residents over her staff’s approval of a mega-crematorium in East Oakland without sufficient community input. In addition, her staff moved ahead with the Oakland Army Base project with no plan to keep big rig trucks out of West Oakland or to maintain existing small businesses that employed local residents.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March  7, 2014 (









Reid, Brooks, Gallo Get Tough on Trash

By Ken A. Epstein

The East Oakland Beautification Council, while only in existence for less than 90 days, is already beginning to have an impact on illegal trash dumping and graffiti, forms of urban blight that have long frustrated community cleanup efforts.

Louisiana Street and Railroad Avenue, before clean up

Louisiana Street and Railroad Avenue in East Oakland, before clean up

“We had 20,337 illegal dumping complaints last year. We’re trying to cut that in half,” said Ken Houston, chair of the council, speaking Monday afternoon at the second meeting of the new group.

The council is spearheaded by Houston, supported by City Council Members Larry Reid, Desley Brooks and Noel Gallo. They are bringing together community activists and business leaders, City Public Works staff, police and representatives of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, as well as clergy and nonprofits that work with youth.

The council is making progress on 22 solutions identified by the group to respond to the multiple causes that contribute to dumping and graffiti, said Shelly Garza, a community activist who works for the beautification council.

“I’ve been in this city working on this for14 years, and we were not able to do what we’re doing (now) – it’s getting cleaned up quickly, though the efforts of everybody in this room,” said Garza.

To make a dent in illegal dumping, the council is setting up designated dumping sites, working with community members so they will know how to document and report illegal dumping to law enforcement, increase police surveillance at chronic dumping sites and increase lighting and warning signs in blighted areas.

Same location, after clean up

Same location, after clean up

Many of the dumpers come from out of town, leaving their trash on the street in order to avoid paying fees at a city dump. In addition, a number of the taggers who vandalize Oakland buildings also come from other cities.

The District Attorney’s office is already investigating several of these cases.

With little fanfare, Councilmember Gallo holds a volunteer community cleanup event every weekend in his district.  In conjunction with Houston, Gallo is creating a trash collection site to reduce illegal dumping in East Oakland.

Houston said he is focusing on cleaning up four impacted areas. One site – at Louisiana Street and Railroad Avenue in East Oakland – was chronically overflowing with debris and trash.  Houston worked at the site and contracted Public Works, which picked up the trash within a few days.

Houston also contacted a man in Modesto, whose name was listed on some of the trash that had been dumped. The man came to Oakland and took it away. The District Attorney’s office in investigating and will possibly prosecute the case.

Taking an alternative approach to controlling graffiti, the beautification council is seeking to encourage youth to develop their artistic talents and reduce vandalism on businesses and other buildings, which is infuriating many local residents.

One plan is to create an area called “Graffiti Cove.”

A youth program, “Get Active Urban Arts,” is sponsored by Safe Passages in Oakland and headed up by program manager Jonathan Brumfield. He explained that the young people he works with paint murals on buildings after gaining the support of the owners, with the result that the graffiti stops.

“It’s a big deal. We’ve taken the blight out of the community,” said Alex, one of the teenagers who is part of urban arts.

“It started with me being mad at the world and not being able to express my anger,” said Nimrod, another graffiti artist in urban arts. “I learned how I could use what I do to make my surroundings better.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 7, 2014 (

States Turn Away from Mass Incarceration

“No state holds more of its prisoners for longer periods of time than California”

 By Jonathan Simon,  professor at BerkeleyLaw

The State of New York has made it share of bad penal policy choices. Remember the “Rockefeller Drug Laws” — mandatory life sentences for persons arrested with large quantities of dangerous drugs, which helped set the nation on the path toward indiscriminate use of incarceration?

Jonathan Simon

Jonathan Simon

But the Empire State has also had a historic knack for getting out of bad penal positions early.  It began to wind down its position in mass incarceration as early as the mid-1990s, closing as many as 14 prisons, and in recent years has eliminated its mandatory drug laws.

In late February the state announced a sweeping settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union — one that will bring major reforms aimed at reducing the state’s use of isolation prison units. These units, common in the U.S., keep prisoners isolated full time, with no programming and no access to other prisoners or correctional staff.  All too often, such isolation can continue for years and result in serious mental degeneration of the inmate.

The New York settlement will eliminate the use of this kind of incarceration for juveniles and people with mental illness and begin an expert-led process to reduce the state’s use of isolation as a disciplinary tool, especially long-term use.  The experts, James Austin and Elton Vail, are two of the nation’s best penologists and can be expected to seek dramatic reduction.

Pelican Bay State Prison, near Crescent City, Calif. The X-shaped cluster is the supermax Security Housing Unit. (CDCR photo)

Pelican Bay State Prison, near Crescent City, Calif. The X-shaped cluster is the supermax Security Housing Unit. (CDCR photo)

Interestingly, New York’s ability to pivot seems to have historic roots.  I was just lecturing to my undergraduate course on prisons about the infamous experiment in solitary confinement at the outset of America’s correctional history.

Under the belief that separation of law-breakers from society was essential to their reform, Jacksonian prison designers believed that total separation would be best of all.

When New York opened its new cellular penitentiary at Auburn in 1821, it conducted an experiment: the prisoners deemed least redeemable (oldest and most hardened), were placed alone in cells day and night.  Other prisoners were isolated in cells only at night, and worked together in workshops during the day.

According to historian Rebecca McClennan (in The Crisis of Imprisonment), the results of the experiment were clear within two years.  The prisoners kept in total isolation were so mentally damaged that the public outrage led a new governor to pardon the prisoners and end the practice.  New York’s “congregate” model of common work became the national model for the 19th century.

At around the same time, Pennsylvania opened a total isolation prison in Philadelphia.  Aware of Auburn’s results, the designers in Philadelphia endeavored to provide the isolated prisoners with a larger cell in which to conduct some kind of distracting labor.

The isolation regime there also resulted in mental degeneration according to its many critics (Charles Dickens among them), but the state stubbornly held on to its regime for another 50 years. What makes New York so good at getting out of losing positions?

Could it be the state’s long association with the financial industry (which survives by being adept at getting out of losing positions with the least damage possible)?  Is it the Empire State’s corporatist style of consensus government?

Other states are moving.  Just today Colorado Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch published an op-ed in the New York Times (Feb. 21) reporting on a night he spent in one of his state’s isolation cells, and why he is so motivated to wind down the state’s use of the practice.

Sadly, California seems destined to play the role of Pennsylvania in the 21st- century replay of the 1830s debate about solitary confinement.  Under the administration of Governor Brown and Secretary of Corrections Beard, the Golden State has dug in its heels to defend the state’s typically outsized reliance on total-isolation imprisonment.

No state holds more of its prisoners for longer periods of time than California. And while most states use isolation as a penalty for specific disciplinary violations (albeit in New York sometimes very trivial ones), California makes gang affiliation the primary rationale for isolation on a long-term or permanent basis.

A lawsuit has been mounted on behalf of prisoners held in isolation for more than ten years at the state’s worst isolation unit, Pelican Bay’s notorious SHU. Brown and Beard should follow New York’s lead and seek to settle this lawsuit now with a broad strategy to end this shameful second era of solitary.

Perhaps Secretary Beard should follow the example of his Colorado colleague and spend a night at Pelican Bay.

While there he should sit down and talk with the gang leaders whose unified actions during last summer’s hunger strike suggests more than worthy interlocutors, and whose lifetime isolation, against all international human rights standards, has clearly done little to make California prisons safer or less gang identified.

 Reprinted in San Francisco Post from UC Berkeley News, March 5, 2014 (