Archive for February, 2015

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 (

Black Friday 14 Supporters Call on District Attorney O’Malley to Drop Charges

Statement from D.A.’s Office: ” “Any time a crime victim suffers a loss, the offender must be ordered to pay restitution for that loss.”

Ronnisha Johnson speaks Wednesday to supporters of Black Friday 14 in front of Alameda County Superior Court at 661 Washington St. in Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Ronnisha Johnson speaks Wednesday to supporters of Black Friday 14 in front of Alameda County Superior Court at 661 Washington St. in Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ashley Chambers

Fourteen protesters were in court this week facing a misdemeanor charge and $70,000 in restitution for shutting down BART service on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as part of the national movement opposing police killings of unarmed African Americans.

As Black Friday 14 activists sat in the courtroom Wednesday morning, several hundred supporters rallied outside the courthouse demanding that District Attorney Nancy O’Malley drop the call for restitution and the trespassing charge.

The activists are challenging the constitutionality of California Penal Code 369i, which prohibits conduct that interferes with transit operations. They and their attorneys are arguing that the law “criminalizes the most innocent behavior” within a BART station and gives police “unfettered discretion to impose charges on disfavored transit users.”

Oakland Civil rights lawyer Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, presented this argument to the judge. If the judge agrees with the motion, the case would be dismissed.

Alameda County D.A. Nancy O'Malley speaks  at Oakland City Council Meeting

Alameda County D.A. Nancy O’Malley speaks at Oakland City Council Meeting

The motion calls for the court “to dismiss this case because the statute itself is being challenged for being unconstitutional,” said Riley outside the Alameda County courthouse on Washington Street in Oakland.

The motion cites the case of Morse v. BART (Feb. 11, 2014) in which a court found: “The lack of a specific intent requirement coupled with [BART] defendants’ interpretation of Section 369i would appear to make much of the innocent conduct one witnesses at a public transit station a crime under the Penal Code.”

Judge Yolanda Northridge is expected to make a written ruling soon. She did not refer to the $70,000 restitution fee.

However, Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Mike Nieto read a statement on Wednesday representing the District Attorney’s position on restitution:

“Any time a crime victim suffers a loss, the offender must be ordered to pay restitution for that loss. A victim’s right to a criminal restitution order stems from Article I, Section 28 B of the California Constitution.

“Restitution orders are to be imposed for the full amount of the victims economic loss. These economic losses must be actual losses and not based upon speculation. We have not received any evidence or other supporting documentation for actual economic losses in these cases.”

If the judge denies their motion, the protesters are scheduled to go back to court on March 18. They are asking for community members to support the demand for the charge and restitution to be dropped.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 6, 2015 (


Oakland School District Faces Conflict Over Teacher Pay and “Redesign” of Five Schools

Members of the McClymonds High School community attended Wedesday's school board meeting, asked to be given information about what is planned for their school and saying they want to be inlcuded in making the changes. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members of the McClymonds High School community attended Wedesday’s school board meeting, asked to be given information about what is planned for their school and saying they want to be inlcuded in making the changes. Photos by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District’s three new school board members and newly hired superintendent have taken their positions just as two of the district’s most protracted conflicts are coming to a head: poorly paid teachers are demanding decent pay and job security, and communities at five schools are fed up with district-led reorganizations that have repeatedly disrupted and destabilized their schools over the last decade.

Most everyone agrees that Oakland’s teachers desperately need a raise. According to the teachers’ union, they are the lowest-paid in Alameda County and lowest-paid in the nine-county Bay Area.

Teachers rally in front of school board meeting Wednesday.

Teachers rally in front of school board meeting Wednesday.

As a result, the district has a 20 percent turnover rate each year, meaning the schools are stuck on a treadmill, hiring and recruiting mostly inexperienced teachers.

Angry teachers came out in force Wednesday night, marching down Park Boulevard to rally and speak at this week’s Board of Education meeting at La Escuelita Education Center.

In protest, teachers at many schools are staging a slowdown, called “work to rule,” coming at the beginning of the school day and leaving when school ends, not giving or correcting homework or doing any of the myriad other tasks they generally do.

The district is offering a 10 percent raise over three years – 3 percent this year, starting in January; 3 percent next January; and 4 percent the following year, depending on the funds that come from the state.

Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Trish Gorham says the mid-year 3 percent raise this year does not keep up with the 3.25 percent other Bay Area teachers have received this year.

“That just makes us fall further behind,” she said.

Supt. Antwan Wilson responded to teachers at the meeting and in an email to the school community.

“We need to finalize these negotiations so that we can focus all of our energy on the work that is before us to ensure quality schools for all – and there is a lot of work to do,” he wrote.

“I remain committed to making Oakland the leader in attracting, retaining and rewarding the best talent,” he continued. “While this vision cannot be achieved overnight, it is possible.”

He pointed to the constraints the district is facing. “We can’t forget that California remains 46th out of 50 states in per pupil spending.” Further, he said the district still has to give $6 million per year to the state to repay the $100 million bailout OUSD received when it went into bankruptcy and was taken over by the state in 2003.

In addition to salaries, OEA President Gorham says teachers are concerned about the district’s desire to weaken teacher transfer provisions in the contract, allowing the administration to unilaterally and involuntarily remove teachers from schools and weaken seniority rights to open positions.

The three high schools facing “redesign” this year – Fremont, McClymonds and Castlemont – were reconstituted three years ago, and every teacher had to reapply for their job.

Now the district is going to do it again, Gorham said. “Where is the analysis of what they did then? What is going to happen to the teachers who don’t want to leave their school sites and are forced to leave?”

The administration and the school board have admitted that they have to do a better job explaining their plans to “transform” five “failing” schools this year – Brookfield Elementary and Frick Middle schools, in addition to the two East Oakland and one West Oakland high schools.

There is general agreement that Oakland’s schools must make deep changes in order to improve graduation rates and post-secondary admission rates, particularly for African American and Latino students.

But that is where the consensus ends. A group of students from Fremont High and other schools came to this week’s board meeting to oppose the administration’s plan. A group from the McClymonds community called on the district to explain what it is planning and to include the community in making the changes.

The districts plan calls for an open competition period to submit school redesign proposals, starting in February. Charter schools and other outside organizations are eligible to apply to run the schools.

This approach was adopted by the school board in 2013 and re-approved in 2014 under the leadership of then Board President David Kakishiba and acting Supt Gary Yee. Supt. Wilson was hired to implement it.

District spokesman Troy Flint told the Post that no school would be forced to become a charter over community opposition. If a school is opposed to “the idea of charter, it would naturally follow that a charter proposal would not prevail in the selection process at that particular school,” he said.

State law permits groups of parents or teachers at individual schools to apply to become a charter, said Gorham. But the district is adopting an approach that does not exist in the law: open up a competition for charters to submit applications, and the board and superintendent will make the decision.

According to Gorham and others, the district plan dooms the existing schools. “If you publically call them ‘failing schools,’ how many parents are going to enroll their kids in the schools next year?”

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You destabilize, reconstitute, and then you convert to charter,” said Gorham.

Instead, a number of the opponents of the plan say the district should listen respectfully with the school communities, find out what they need, and pour in resources and other support to make them schools that students want to attend and where parents want to send their children.

Flint denied that anyone at OUSD referred to the schools as failing.

“I’m not aware of anyone publicly referring to these schools as ‘failing schools.’ Perhaps this was mentioned at a meeting I didn’t attend, but that’s not what we’ve been saying in our official communications,” he wrote to the Post. “We do refer to patterns of relatively low academic performance and under-enrollment.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 31, 2015 (

Oakland City Leaders Pledge to Address Issues of Black Lives Matter Movement

By Ken Epstein

Many Oakland residents are saying that the City Council’s public hearing on critical issues that impact African Americans in Oakland is a good first step.

Photo courtesy of  Photo: Pen Harshaw.

Photo courtesy of Pen Harshaw.

Held last Saturday in City Hall chambers, the packed five-and-a-half hour meeting did not result directly in policy proposals. But it did lay out a call for collective action by councilmembers and city staff on key concerns that a number of them are already working individually to address.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney convened the special hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24, along with Council President Pro Tem Larry Reid.

In an email to community leaders, McElhaney discussed the significance of the hearing.

“The City Council had never undertaken a comprehensive examination of the issues that impact Black lives as we did this past Saturday,” she said.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette McElhaney

“I want to let you know that thus far, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback,” McElhaney continued. “Our primary audience – the council members and senior administration – felt that they received comprehensive information and a framework through which to direct their efforts.”

McElhaney said she considers this moment to be an unprecedented opportunity for Oakland to take the lead in dealing with these issues.

“To my knowledge, this was the first time that protesters for any cause were given a welcome mat to bring their grievances directly to the policymakers,” she said.” This is a considerable success for the activists who have sought redress for their grievances.”

Rebecca Kaplan. Photo courtesy sfgate.

Rebecca Kaplan. Photo courtesy sfgate.

Speaking at the hearing, Congresswoman Barbara Lee talked about legislation that Congress can potentially pass, calling on people in Oakland to help create the “street heat” that can make Congressional action a possibility.

“We’ve got to stop this (police violence). It’s time for this to change,” said Lee, calling attention to a bill before Congress that would make it more difficult for district attorneys to use “secret grand jury hearings” to exonerate police accused of killing civilians; and another bill that would stop giving military arms to police departments, “to keep the weapons of war off our streets.”

In an interview with the Oakland Post after the hearing, Councilmember Dan Kalb said he will be working with Alameda County officials to assure that state funds for reentry programs reach the formerly incarcerated for whom they are intended.

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

He also said he would work with the citywide police accountability coalition to develop a measure to create a civilian police oversight commission in Oakland, somewhat like what already exists in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“I want to work on something (now) so that we will be ready to put a measure on the ballot (for the next election),” Kalb said. “I think other council members feel the same way.”

Councilmember-at-large Rebecca Kaplan said, “California continues to lead the world in prison spending and destroys lives, families and communities, without adequately funding real prevention and re-entry services.”

“(Therefore), we have work to do,” she said, calling for the city to adopt policies “to hire more Oakland residents and a more diverse group to our police force. We need to stop arresting and prosecuting people for minor nonsense and end the disparities in sentencing, and the costly war on drugs.”

Photo courtesy of Laura Ming Wong.

Photo courtesy of Laura Ming Wong.

In addition, she said, “We need to take seriously our job creation efforts and the non-profits who administer programs that create jobs, provide economic access and work force training. There’s been a long history in Oakland, and throughout the nation, of destroying black-owned business.”

Kaplan said the city should move ahead on conducting a “legally required disparity study, and take action to make sure local minority-owned businesses get a fair shot at contracts and jobs, and that we truly build a future that values Black lives.”

New Councilmember Abel Guillen said he will be looking at ways to address racial profiling in Oakland, “the

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos who are stopped by police.”

In addition he said that as the city hires more police, “We have to make sure that those people that we hire are reflective of the local community.”

The council’s discussion of the issues and proposals for council action will continue at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting.

Next Week, Part II, City Leaders Respond to Issues of  Black Lives Matter Movement

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 31, 2015 (