Archive for May, 2015

Commentary: Oakland Hip Hop Artist Young Gully Speaks to Youth Experiences

Young Gully. Photo Courtesy of the Eastbay Express.

Young Gully. Photo Courtesy of the Eastbay Express.

By Jaron K. Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Oakland is internationally recognized for supporting humanitarian causes and opposing police brutality. The city continues to be on the forefront through hip hop artists who are influenced by the area’s rich political history and the often conflicted relationship between young people and Oakland Police Department.

Going back to the period when African Americans began the great migration from the South, Oakland was known as a city that went out of its way to recruit white police officers from southern state, which seemed to ensure that OPD would have a hostile attitude toward the communities they policed.

Young Gully is one rapper who speaks to these issues. After the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police, he began working on an album called The Oscar Grant Project.

This album was collaboration between Young Gully and journalist/photographer Pendarvis Harshaw, who mc’s the album, providing commentary and insight into the conversations taking place on the album for the listeners

This album manages to cut through the obstacles that can make people hesitate to open up to what may be considered a political message. It really poses the question of what makes one political?

Is it your opposition to attacks on your community and loved ones?

One of the songs on the album titled Stereotype deals a heavy question about the created images in American society of Blacks people.

“They tell us that we the ones not using our conscience,” he sings. “They views are preposterous. I guess every Black man fits the shoes of a convict. We all ignorant with nothing to say. I guess I’m just another outspoken brotha up in the way.”

Dr. Amos Wilson wrote and lectured about the created personalities within this society meant to mentally control and condition Black people to being submissive and accepting of being trapped within a caste system in this country.

One aspect of this is that more Black men are in prison or under police supervision today than were enslaved in 1850, according to Michelle Alexander. In her book, “The New Jim Crow,” she details the point made by Dr. Wilson about how Black people are living in a created caste system in this country.

Young Gully, playing the devil’s advocate, pushes the listener to question the presumptions often made about Black people spread through television and the media.

“Black people won’t make it they can’t survive,” he says. “They treat us like animals. If another one of us drop, what would it matter for? They playing tricks on our mind like it’s a magic show. And the media love to carry the hype. I’m a dumb brotha – I guess I fit the stereotype.”

The young generations coming up are fed up with the status quo and are refusing to be complicit in the oppression of Blacks through economic exploitation and the use of police intimidation and violence.

Hip-hop today has been corporatized, and the goal of much of it is to spread ideas of hate and violence to youth today. Deviating from this particular agenda is viewed as a threat.

This may be a reason why a number of people involved in music believe that the police, based in New York City, allegedly have a hip hop police task force that monitors hip hop artists for their political work and ideas.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 17, 2015 (

Mothers Alleges Her Son Was Beaten by Five Officers in Santa Rita

By Post staff

In an interview with the Post, Mary Cook said her son was physically beaten while a prisoner at Santa Rita jail in San Ramon and wants to warn others about what is happening right here in Alameda

Nathan Cook

Nathan Cook


By press time, police and jail officials had no responded to calls for comment.

Nathan Cook, 32, who has had mental problems and was receiving medication for his condition while in jail awaiting trial, was convicted of attempted murder of a police officer, receiving two 25-year sentences.

He is currently housed at San Quentin Prison.

According to Mrs. Cook, she and several family friends saw her son following the beating they said occurred on Jan. 6, 2015 They said he was beaten unconscious, had a black eye and a number of bruises.

Nathan Cook when he was working on the new Bay Bridge.

Nathan Cook when he was working on the new Bay Bridge.

Mrs. Cook, a minister, says she doesn’t want to see anyone else’s child suffer the same sort of treatment. She said she has contacted lawyer, but her case was rejected.

She said has repeatedly tried to get answers, to no avail. The few people who she talked to her refused to comment on the incident.

“I guess this is common place,” Ms. Cook said. “But that doesn’t make it right.”

Nathan Cook was arrested on Jan. 25, 2013 in Oakland after being

Mary Cook

Mary Cook

chased on foot by police. Police reports say Cook shot and wounded a police officer while the officer and his partner were attempting to arrest him.

The officer’s injury was not life threatening, and he was treated and released from the hospital within several hours of the shooting.

Ms. Cook said her son accidentally shot the officer in the leg. He was on drugs at the time and extremely paranoid. He was trying to get to the Fruitvale BART station and had a paranoid episode, stole a bicycle, and when a police officer, who he said didn’t identify himself, chased him, he ran and hid behind a car.

When he shot the gun into a vacant car he hid behind, the bullet ricocheted and hit the officer, according to Mrs. Cook, who also said that her son was not injured in the incident.

Cook was housed at Santa Rita Jail for several years and went to trial in January 2015. Ms. Cook said he went to court on Jan. 6 and when he was returned to a holding area.

She said he fell asleep in the area and was awakened by five police officers who beat him unconscious. She said didn’t take him to infirmary though he was in excruciating pain.

“They had him sign a form that he didn’t need attention,” she said.

Ms. Cook said her son told her that after the incident he couldn’t walk, his jaw wasn’t broken but was severely bruised, and he couldn’t lie on his back for two weeks.

“It was heartbreaking to read the report,” she said. “When the trial started he still had a black eye. We could all see that he had been beaten up.”

Several of Ms. Cook’s friends tried to get answers and to call the jail and police, but said they got no answers about the situation.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 17, 2015 (

Vote on Luxury Apartment Tower Postponed, As Councilmembers Seek Improved Community Benefits

By Ken Epstein

A number of Oakland residents have been waiting to see what the City Council will do next after protesters shut down the May 5 council meeting where the council was scheduled to authorize the sale of a piece of lakefront property to a private developer.

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

The issue was not on the May 11 council agenda and is not scheduled to be discussed next week at the May 19 council meeting.

In interviews with the Post, councilmembers said they are extending the time before bringing the motion to a final vote to allow staff and Councilmember Abel Guillen – who is leading the effort – to negotiate with the developer for more community benefits, including the possibility of affordable units on site.

At their May 5 meeting, councilmembers were stunned when well-organized protesters chained themselves together, seized control of the meeting and forced the council to adjourn without conducting any business.

The protesters – a coalition that included a neighborhood group called Eastlake United for Justice and black seed – produced a bullhorn and turned the meeting into a rally for their demands, calling for public property to be developed for affordable housing and other public uses – not sold to private companies to build luxury apartments as a one-time boost to the city’s budget.

The council is set to sell the piece of city-owned property at the corner of E. 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard for $5.1 million to build a luxury apartment tower.

The proposed developers are Michael Johnson and his company Urban Core Development and Johnson’s financial partner UDR, a self-administered real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Denver that owns, operates, buys, renovates, develops, and manages multifamily apartment communities located throughout the country, headed by CEO and President Thomas Toomey.

Councilmember Guillen told the Post that he and city staff are having productive talks with the developers, and the final proposal should come to the council in June.

“We’re still in negotiations with the developers, trying to get the best deal possible for the City of Oakland.” he said.

Thomas Toomey

Thomas Toomey,  CEO of UDR

He continued: “I’m working on having affordable housing on site or offsite and other community benefits. We’re looking at all options.”

But Guillen cautioned affordable housing advocates not to expect too much.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to please everybody here in Oakland,” he said. “We need both affordable housing and market-rate housing, and this project is really about market-rate housing.”

One-bedroom apartments at the proposed building will rent for about $3,100 a month.

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Council President Lynette McElhaney, who backs the property sale, said Guillen was prepared to make a motion at the disrupted May 5 meeting asking for additional time to negotiate with the developer.

“We haven’t scheduled (the issue) yet,” she said. “I´m not sure yet when it will come to council. I’ve been leaning on Abel’s leadership.”

“It’s his district, and there are concerns he has had that he wants to be addressed,” she said. “We needed the time to get in touch with the developers to discuss things he thought would enhance the project.”

At a recent Community and Economic Development Committee (CED) meeting, Guillen requested that the city seek a new appraisal on the property. He said he believed the property was worth about 25 percent more than what the city is selling it for.

Committee members, including McElhaney and Larry Reid, rejected this proposal.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

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

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a Department of Race and Equity

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Parents Fight to Keep Bilingual Class for Spanish-speaking Kindergartners

Garfield Elementary School parent leaders (L to R): Nancy Sanchez, gloria Chavez and Pedro Topete. Photo by Ken Epstein

Garfield Elementary School parent leaders (L to R): Nancy Sanchez, gloria Chavez and Pedro Topete. Photo by Ken Epstein


By Ken Epstein

Latino parent leaders have been fighting the Oakland Unified School District for the past five months to preserve the only three classes that offer instruction and support for children in Spanish at Garfield Elementary School in the Fruitvale District that is largely Latino and serves a number of newly arrived Spanish-speaking immigrants.

According to current district data, 196 of Garfield Elementary’s 588 students are Spanish-language English Learners. The school is located at 1640 22nd Ave. near San Antonio Park.

Garfield Elementary School

Garfield Elementary School

Parent leaders began meeting with the school’s principal and started pushing for meetings with district administrators as soon as they learned in January that the district was planning to terminate the school’s only Kindergarten Spanish bilingual class next year as a step toward gradually phasing out the entire K through second-grade program.

At one of the first meetings, “ We asked why do you guys want to remove the program? Our kids need the program,” said parent leader Gloria Chavez.

“They listened to us, they paid attention to us. At the end of the meeting, nothing was resolved,” she said.

Allen Smith

Allen Smith

“We have met five times with different people in the district. We don’t see any support for what we are fighting for,” said Pedro Topete, another of the parent leaders

The parents, Topete, Chavez and Nancy Sanchez, are officers of the school’s English Learner Advisory Committee, which according to the district website, serves to ensure that the needs of English Learners are addressed and as a way for families for whom English is a second language to get in contact and stay involved with the school.

The parent leaders met repeatedly with Principal Nima Tahai; Tahai’s boss Network Supt. Sondra Aguilera; and Nicole Knight, executive director of the English Learner and Multilingual Achievement Office.

Also attending several of the meetings were Boardmembers Roseanne Torres and Aimee Eng.

The last meeting was on April 13 between 50 to 60 parents at the school and Allen Smith, Chief of Schools and part of Supt. Antwan Wilson’s inner circle.

In a letter dated two days after the meeting, April 15, Smith wrote:

“After reviewing all of the information and listening to families at our meeting on April 13, 2015, we have decided not to offer a Kindergarten Spanish Bilingual class this upcoming school year, 2015-2016 at Garfield. We understand that this decision is hard for the families that have been involved in advocating for the program.”

“Although we believe in offering Spanish Bilingual programs in our district, we do not believe that offering a program at every single school is sustainable,” according to Smith.

The district’s rationale for terminating the program constantly changed during the months of meetings with different officials. The parents said that though the argument may have changed, the goal of shutting down their classes has remained constant, making them believe the district is not telling them the truth and is betraying their trust.

At the first meetings, the parents said they were told that the classes were under-enrolled, and they were accused of selfishly wanting something for their children that resulted in larger classes for other students and teachers.

But, under-enrollment turned out not to be the issue. The parents soon learned that staff in the school’s office had been instructed to tell parents who wanted to enroll their children in the classes that they were already full.

Topete contacted 24 parents who wanted to enroll in the program and submitted the list to the district. In response, district staff contracted the people on the list to tell them they could go to another school if they wanted a class with a Spanish-speaking instructor.

These parents were offered the right to transfer to Manzanita Community School, International Community School or an East Oakland charter school.

A number of parents felt that they were being intimidated by the district with threats that they would have to move to another school if they want a teacher who can explain homework and assignments to children in Spanish.

They also said that many of the parents, perhaps most, do not have access to cars. They cannot arrange for their children to arrive on time at different schools.

They say they like Garfield. They are part of a family there, and they contribute to the school. For some parents, these are the only people they know in this country.

According to Smith’s letter, a bilingual K-2 program is not as academically effective as a K-5 program offered at other schools. “Principal Tahai will continue to work with individual families to make the best choice between staying at Garfield or transferring to a Spanish bilingual program,” he said.

Smith did not say which of Garfield’s English Learner students would be eligible to transfer to a bilingual Spanish program and which of those would achieve better academically if they had bilingual instructors – only the parent leaders at Garfield or all of the school’s 196 English Learner students.

Latino educators point out that the student population of OUSD is over 40 percent Latino and growing. The refusal to offer these students appropriate instruction at their neighborhood school, they say, seems to what happens to poor children and immigrant students in the flatlands.

The needs and wishes of affluent parents and their children at hill schools are not dismissed in the same way, according to these longtime educators in Oakland.

The Garfield parent leaders sent a request two weeks ago to meet with Supt. Wilson but have not heard from him.

“There’s a growing feeling of intimidation from the principal and the district,” said parent leader Sanchez. “Parents feel (officials) are retaliating against those who are asking for their rights. So many parents are already holding back from making comments because they are afraid something will happen to their kids.”

Refusing to be intimidated, the parent leaders say they have already filed a discrimination complaint with the district and are making a complaint to the state.

“We are hoping to hear from other parents who are going through similar experiences,” said Sanchez. “We are willing to get together with them and give them support.”

The Garfield parents can be reached by email at

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (

Evictions Fuel Bay Area Housing Crisis

Anti-eviction protesters are holding a rally and sit-in at San Francisco City Hall Friday demanding to speak with Mayor Ed Lee about ending displacement. Photo courtesy KTVU

Anti-eviction protesters held a rally and sit-in at San Francisco City Hall Friday demanding to speak with Mayor Ed Lee about ending displacement. Photo courtesy KTVU.

By Nikolas Zelinski

San Francisco’s eviction rate has increased by over 54 percent in the past five years and is currently at the highest rate within the last decade, according to a new report produced by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition.

These evictions are occurring in the midst of a housing crisis, in which rent prices have dramatically increased. In the last year alone, rents in San Francisco have risen by 12.8 percent, and by 10.5 percent in Oakland, according to a report from Forbes.

The combined impacts of higher eviction rates and rental prices have led to a wave of displacements. To make matters worse, changes that occur in the San Francisco housing and rental market create a “ripple” throughout the Bay region, explained Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

“The entire Bay Area is struggling with eviction problems,” she said. “As tenants from San Francisco become evicted and displaced, they often wind up in Oakland. And that raises Oakland’s rent, which continues the cycle.”

Another part of the problem is that, “Many tenants self-evict; it’s a term we use to describe a tenant who flees from fear, not allowing the court process to play out,” said Shortt. “They get a notice, and they pack up and move. In that sense, they have not been formally evicted.

Shortt continued, “An eviction notice is not the same as an eviction. You actually have to go to court, and get a judgement. In many of these cases, we believe that renters would have been able to stay.”

“Most importantly what we need to do is deter speculation, that’s the root of many of these evictions,” she said. “There are a number of tools that we can use locally to remove profits from the process.”

“We had Proposition G in 2014 that would have set taxes for any profits made from evictions. Unfortunately it did not pass, but that kind of idea still needs to be implemented,” Shortt said.

During the campaign, the National Association of Realtors contributed $800,000 to fight against Prop G. The California Association of Realtors donated $425,000, and the San Francisco Association of Realtors devoted $170,000.

“Essentially, one of the biggest parts of the problem is property flipping. So anything that would remove the huge amounts of gain from buying a property and reselling it quickly would help curb evictions,” Shortt said.

Many evictions in the City fall under the Ellis Act, which was passed in 1985. The law was originally designed to provide landlords and property owners an easy way out of the rental business.

According to Shortt, the system has now become corrupted and strayed from its original intent, and mostly utilized by property speculators.

She concluded by saying the report released by the Anti-Displacement Coalition was intended to inform renters about possible recourse when facing an eviction, emphasizing that people who receive eviction notices should seek local housing rights agencies for help and legal advice.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 10, 2015 (


Teachers Vote to Authorize Work Actions, Strike Against School District

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

Teachers at Cleveland Elementary School rally for a new contract.

By Post Staff

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

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

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

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

OEA President Trish Gorham

OEA President Trish Gorham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (



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 (


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 (



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

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

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


 By Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rally started at Berth 62 at the port.

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

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

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

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

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

An injury to one is an injury to all.

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (