Category: Business

Backers of “Public Land for Public Good” Challenge City’s Commitment to Market-rate Housing

 

Supporters of utilizing all public land for community benefit, especially for affordable housing, speak Tuesday at the council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee. Photos by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

A citywide coalition of community organizations and nonprofits stepped up pressure this week on the Oakland City Council and the Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration to adopt a policy that prioritizes “public land for public good,” calling for building affordable housing rather than continuing the city’s business-as-usual backroom deals that force out Oakland residents to make room for market-rate, high-rise development projects.

At Tuesday’s crowded meeting of the council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, councilmembers heard three proposals that will that will be debated in coming months as the council grapples with possible future restrictions on public land sales.

However, perhaps indicating their attitude on the issues, members of the CED committee was unwilling to pass a resolution this week that would have required the city to place a moratorium on the sale of public land while the council debates and adopts a public lands policy.

By blocking new sales of public land, the moratorium would have increased the incentive for the council to adopt a binding lands policy and would have prevented the city from selling off all the most valuable parcels of land before a policy was finalized.

Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Annie Campbell Washington opposed the moratorium. Only Noel Gallo supported it.

But Councilmembers did agree to bring the moratorium back to the next CED meeting on July 17.

Towanda Sherry

One of the speakers in favor of the moratorium was Towanda Sherry of the Beloved Community Action Network. “We are being sold down the river. Every time, we turn around, land is being given away or sold off. We need to put a halt to it right now,” she said.

“We need to have a moratorium because we need to talk. We need to seriously talk so the people’s voice is heard,” she said.

Councilmember McElhaney said she opposed the moratorium because she was unsure of its legality. She said she wanted to hear an opinion of the City Attorney in closed session.

However, the City Attorney had already signed off on the legality the resolution, and the City Attorney’s representative at CED said she was unsure that it was appropriate to address issues about the moratorium in closed session.

One of the three proposals was developed by the city administration, while one alternative was presented by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Abel Guillén. The third was a “People’s proposal” developed by the Citywide Anti-Displacement Network.

The staff proposal would sell some public land to market-rate developers in order to raise the money to pay for as many as 746 affordable units. The administration has decided it does not want a policy with teeth but instead seeks to pass a “Public Lands Strategy,” which allows the administration the “flexibility” to ignore its strategy when it wishes.

The staff strategy also opposes creating a community advisory board to provide input and oversight on public land sales.

Speaking for the administration, Mark Sawicki, head of the city’s Department of Economic Workforce Development, said, “One percent of the (property) is where we have focused our strategy,” explaining that only 20 of the city’s many parcels are suitable for housing.

Vanessa Riles

The numbers of units that can be built on these sites are limited by zoning and other regulations, he said, and staff is proposing that 14 of the 20 sites be utilized for affordable housing, while six be set aside for market-rate housing and commercial development.

Vanessa Riles of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) spoke for the “People’s proposal” developed by the Citywide Anti-displacement Network, which is a comprehensive statement of community values, calls for 100 percent of public land to be used for affordable housing and making city decisions with the full-on inclusion of community voices, particularly African Americans and others who have been most severely impacted by the housing crisis.

“The Citywide Anti-Displacement Network is concerned about the astronomical rate of displacement of individual families in Oakland and the rapid rate of development without transparency, accountability or community engagement,” she said.

The proposal developed by Councilmembers Kaplan and Guillén proposal would require that an average of 50 percent affordable housing be built on all sites and 100 percent of land sale proceeds go to an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would be overseen by a standing Community Advisory Committee.

This proposal also would require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with construction unions on large projects that have an estimated cost of at least $40 million.

Kaplan said she supports sending the labor proposal to the city’s Department of Race and Equity for analysis before it is adopted.

“We have an opportunity to use our land for public good, both for what is put on it and also who gets hired, who gets contacts and how we make sure there are decent jobs that benefit our local community,” she said.

“In a time of gentrification, cities can use can use public land as a resource, in addressing high demand for affordable housing and public services to benefit low-income residents who face displacement or even homelessness,” said Sarah Ting, a member of Councilmember Guillén’s staff.

“It’s critical that the way we use public land not exacerbate displacement,” she said.

Published June 29, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Councilmembers, Community Groups Push Mayor for Funding for Homeless, Job Training and Trash Cleanup

Members of East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods demand the city keep its promises to clean up trash and illegal dumping. Photos by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

As the City Council examines a “midcycle” revision of the city’s two-year budget, community groups are demanding the city allocate money to relieve the suffering of Oakland’s rapidly growing homeless population, clean up illegal dumping and trash in flatland neighborhoods, support job-training for low-income Oaklanders and fund social programs for vulnerable residents by reducing out-of-control spending on the Oakland Police Department.

The budget revisions were discussed at Tuesday’s special City Council meeting and  scheduled to be finalized before the end of June.

Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City Administration, in a move that dampened demands for new spending coming from the community and some councilmembers, released a report showing that the 2018-2019 budget includes a projected deficit of $11 million.

To close the deficit, the City Administrator has asked departments to cut two percent of their expenditures.

At the same time the administration is proposing cuts, it is requesting the council adopt $31.3 million in new spending, including $1 million for the homeless, $27.5 million for new appropriations for affordable housing, $982,000 for trash cleanup, $1.6 million to hire three new staff in the Human Resources Department and conduct a Fire Academy, and $167,000 for two new employees for the Oakland Animal Shelter.

No mention was made in the City Administrator’s report of going over the budgeted spending limit for police overtime by $17 million, which more than accounted for the hole in the city’s budget.

Most of those who spoke at the meeting—residents and councilmembers—called on the city to fund concerns and community needs that they said had been shortchanged or ignored when the budget was adopted last year.

Rebecca Kaplan presented a list of new expenditures she is supporting, including cleanup crews for illegal dumping hot spots, public toilets and expanded support for homeless sanitation, job training and apprenticeship programs and support for the Oakland Animal Shelter.

Kaplan also requested changes in administrative practices that would not cost additional money but would require new ways of relating to the community: proactive trash pickup based on focusing on hotspots, not just responding to complaints; working with congregations and community-based organizations to establish alternative homeless encampments; and utilizing less costly security guards instead of police for City Hall security that is being requested by the administration.

Noel Gallo

The city needs to adopt real homeless solutions that “don’t just push the problem from one underpass to the next, at great expense,” she said.

She was also skeptical of the new horse-mounted police unit OPD is reportedly organizing. She asked: who authorized the “ponies”, how much money is being spent and what fund is the money coming from?

Kaplan also raised concerns that the administration has repeatedly failed to carry out resolutions the Council has passed.

“We on the Council should consider that what actually gets implemented is so different than what we voted for,” she said.

OPD overspending for police overtime “essentially accounts for the entire (budget) gap we are talking about,” she said.

Councilmember Noel Gallo proposed that he and his fellow Councilmembers help pay for homeless and trash services by contributing as much as much half of the $600,000 a year each of them receives from the city to operate their offices.

He also said Mayor Schaaf’s office budget is over $3 million. “The mayor should at least contribute a million dollars from her budget,” he said.
A large group from East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods demanded full funding for their proposals to clean up flatland streets.

“Our children pass through piles of filthy, stinking garbage, human feces and the carcasses of dead animals to walk to school,” said Lidia, a spokesperson for the Congress.
“Some of you live in neighborhoods where this would never be allowed,” she said.

Carroll Fife, also speaking for the Congress, criticized the Mayor’s trash proposals.

“We see the proclamations the Mayor is making to the news media about the wonderful things that she is doing… to address the trash issue. We’re here to say it is not enough. It is not even real,” said Fife.

“You have to be honest with the residents of this city,” she said.

James Vann was one of the speakers with the Homeless Advocacy Working Group (HAWG), which is requesting $4.2 million to provide portable bathrooms, shower facilities and clean water at homeless encampments throughout the city.

The $1 million the Mayor is proposing for homeless services is “a pittance—that’s nothing, and it’s not (even) true,” said Vann.

He said the city’s proposed $1 million in new homeless spending is eaten up by the $500,000 the city owes for work on Tuff Sheds that is already completed. In addition, he said providing sanitary services at one site costs about $250,000 a year.

Speakers for the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) called for redirecting some of the money that currently goes to OPD, which accounts for about 43 percent of the general fund.

As little as $10 million taken from police spending would make a dramatic difference in services for the homeless and elimination of trash on the streets, ATPT speakers said.

Posted June 3, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

A’s Stadium Proposal “Is a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity,” Say Fans and Local Businesses

Carl Chan

By Ken Epstein

Supporters are mobilizing to support the latest proposal to keep the Oakland A’s from moving out of Oakland –  to build a 35,000-seat stadium next to Laney College and Lake Merritt that would transform both the immediate area and all of downtown Oakland.

The A’s corporation is seeking to purchase the property currently occupied by the Peralta Community College District headquarters, and the company appears willing to negotiate a number of community benefits to sweeten the deal.

The final decision will be made by the elected Peralta Board of Trustees.

Backers of the deal include many A’s fans and supporters of what is often called the “growth coalition,” regional alliances that exist in most metropolitan areas, composed of real estate developers, contractors, financiers, many local politicians and construction unions.

Andreas Cluver

One A’s fan who spoke at the Oct. 10 Peralta board meeting was Jennifer Medeiros, who has lived in Oakland for 19 years. She calls herself a “passionate A’s fan”

“I’ve been involved in efforts to try to keep the team in Oakland since 2001,” she said. “This is the first time I believe the Athletics are truly committed to Oakland and working with the community to build a premier experience for the fans and to be a model of collaboration between public and private entities.”

Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council told board members he believes a deal can be negotiated that is a “win-win” for the Oakland community and the A’s.

“We have been partnering and talking with them, and they are fully committed to having strong local hire provisions for not only Oakland residents but for residents of the impacted area,” Cluver said. “We think that spirit will carry into the discussions around community benefits, benefits for the community college and benefits for Oakland residents.”

Carl Chan, who has worked in Oakland Chinatown for 40 years, is a member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council NCPC).

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” for Oakland and the Chinatown community, he said.

“I want to embrace the potential improvements: public safety, business opportunities, jobs and resources to improve our community, especially workforce housing,” he said.

“I’m not here to support a ballpark, but I’m here to support a project with ballpark that will benefit the city,” he said, emphasizing that there will be many obstacles to overcome, including traffic congestion in the area.

Jose Macias, a member  of the family that owns La Estrellita Restaurant at 446 E. 12th St. in Oakland, said the ballpark would be a shot in the arm for local business.

“(Like) many merchants, we feel this would be a great thing. We could have more foot traffic, revitalize our area…(bringing) safety, which is much needed,” said Macias.

“Remember, the A’s are family, really family,” he added.

Another speaker was a fan named John who moved away from Oakland 32 years ago but comes back 40 times a year for A’s games.

“In San Jose, people ask me if I feel safe going to Oakland at night,” he said.

“I say yes I do. And that’s because there is a major league baseball stadium there. There’s a police presence there. There’s security there. I feel safe,” he said. “I know if there was a stadium built (downtown), that would improve this area, along with all the jobs and opportunities like that.”

Published October 30, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Turns Up the Volume to Defend Residents and Businesses

Activists demand “Development Without Displacement” after mayor’s staff says there is no housing crisis in Oakland

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Community members and anti-displacement activists surround city Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn Oct. 19 at the Downtown Specific Plan design workshop. Photo by Tulio Ospina

 By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Community members are raising the volume on their demands that the city protect Oaklanders’ rights following a number of noise complaints by a few residents targeting Lake Merritt drummers and Black churches.

A number of creative artists, singers, and community and faith leaders made their voices and musical instruments heard Monday evening at the Rally to Defend Oakland’s Culture, calling on city government to stand up for cultural equity in Oakland.

The rally in front of the Rotunda Building at Frank Ogawa Plaza, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC), included performances by poets, the Oakland Creative Voices Choir and spoken word by the group Young, Gifted & Black.

Speakers included Robbie Clark of Causa Justa; Chaney Turner of Black Lives Matter, Bay Area chapter; artist and director of CultureStrike, Favianna Rodriguez; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; and Post publisher Paul Cobb.

The speakers loudly defended the freedom of creative and cultural expression, and voiced their concerns that the local arts and culture community has been left out of the city’s planning process on the development of downtown Oakland.

“They can develop, but they are not going to displace us,” said Cobb, speaking at the rally.

“We wanna give the drummer some,” he said. “We want to make sure that our gospel singers don’t have to close their windows, and we want to make sure that our creative artists and our nonprofit organizations have a place to exist in this city to serve the population.”

The protest was held in front of the first of the city’s workshops to inform residents of the Downtown Specific Plan and designed to receive input on the area’s redevelopment, but arts and culture activists are saying they have not been invited to the table.

The workshops were created following a report released by San Francisco Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), funded by the city, that community activists say is a roadmap to gentrification.

According to Eric Arnold, a member of the OCNC steering committee, the SPUR report, titled “Downtown for Everyone,” is “a blueprint for exclusion of people of color and low-income residents, as well as the creative arts community” from downtown Oakland.

The SPUR report also contends that speculative construction in the downtown area is being inhibited by commercial rents that are too low and a lack of big tenants. Critics of the report say nonprofits and small commercial tenants are already being pushed out of downtown area by recent uncontrolled rent increases.

As the rally ended, attendees flowed into the workshop to make sure their opinions were heard throughout the chambers.

“We want cultural equity, affordable housing and anti-displacement protections for the existing residents and commercial sector throughout the city that have made Oakland such a vibrant and desirable place to live,” community members demanded.

OCNC demanded that the city’s Cultural Arts Commission be restored and called for a fully staffed Cultural Arts Department to ensure prioritization for Oakland’s historically underrepresented communities.

They also want to pass ordinances to preserve Oakland’s cultural diversity. Earlier this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf showed support for creating a Black Arts Movement Cultural District down 14th Street in downtown Oakland but has not yet acted on the proposal.

During the workshop on Monday, Rachel Flynn, Director of Planning and Building, was surrounded by activists demanding clarity on a controversial statement she made earlier this month claiming that there was no housing crisis in Oakland.

Faith leaders are also reacting to the city’s support for complaints from a handful of residents who are saying church worship is too loud.

“Our music and the way that we worship God is an expression of our heritage and our creativity,” said Pastor Scott at the Monday night rally. “Nobody should tell us that we have to express our creativity in the way they say so. We need to keep the creative juices flowing through Oakland.”

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland is potentially facing $500-a-day fines from the city. In response, Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove is bringing local clergy together for an outdoor worship service on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Adeline St. between 10th and 14th St.

He said it is a time for churches to worship in the streets and invite to neighbors and people of all backgrounds to join in community fellowship.

Defending community voices, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spoke at this week’s City Council meeting.

“Psalm 98:4 says make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” she said. “The laws require us to respect freedom of religious practice, and it is certainly my hope that we will do just that.”

According to Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians and journalist Zenophon Abraham, the problem isn’t the complaints but that the city and police are listening to them.

“If the complaint came from a 911 call, then that’s against California Penal Code Section 148.3 on ‘False Reporting of an Emergency,’” said Abraham in a letter to several city officials.

“You specifically allowed a single person to violate (the law) and without action,” he said. “You can’t get by with the idea that someone did not report that the complainer was in violation of the law.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City of Oakland and Local Businesses Must Hire Oakland Now, Say Community Leaders

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

By Ken Epstein

A seemingly declining jobless rate masks the actual reality in Oakland where 19 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, and many Oaklanders are being forced out of the city due to a lack of decent paying jobs, combined with out-of-control rent increases.

The issue of joblessness and what city government and local businesses can do right now to hire Oakland was the subject of a recent Oakland Post Salon, where a panel of community leaders discussed how residents can push for solutions to the continuing unemployment crisis.

“We need to call on every employer in the city to hire people from Oakland – an Oakland opportunity challenge so every business can be proud to say, ‘We hire Oakland,’” said Carroll Fife, a member of the OaklandWorks coalition and one of the speakers at the Sept. 27 Post salon.

The opportunity challenge, backed by a growing coalition of organizations, will encourage Oakland’s businesses and restaurants to hire Black and Latino residents and follow up with meetings with owners, as well as public protests, if necessary.

OaklandWorks also wants the city to enforce its local hiring policies on city-funded construction projects. Such a policy was passed during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums but never implemented by city staff.

“We have a 50 percent local hire ordinance – We want contractors to recognize those priorities,” said Fife.

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council, moderated the panel and pointed out the realities of joblessness in Oakland.

“We’re talking about the lost, the last, the lonely and the left out – homeless people, the formerly incarcerated, displaced workers, younger and older workers who face age discrimination, those displaced by technology, those who face the barriers of physical limitations and immigrants,” said Cobb.

“All these groups represent the absolute urgency of what is happening and what is not happening,” she said.

Oakland’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, higher than many other places, but the real unemployment rate is probably double that amount, because there are many people who stopped looking for work and are no longer counted, according to Cobb.

“Unemployment for African American youth and Latino youth is off the charts,” she said.

She said federal funding for job training and placement has been declining, but Oakland, unlike nearby cities, fails to invest any funds from its budget to support the programs that are carried out solely by nonprofit service providers.

Compounding the problem, Cobb said, the city spends one-third of its federal job funding for administrative overhead – to pay for city staff instead of putting the money onto the street to help the unemployed.

Another speaker, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, said creating jobs for Oakland residents needs to be a city priority.

“Our job is to lift up those who are struggling,” she said.

Kaplan said she authored a resolution that requires a Disparity Study, which will show what companies are receiving City of Oakland contracts. Though the resolution was passed and funded a year ago, the study still has not been completed, she said.

“We still need the administration to actually complete the Disparity Study,” she said.

The last Disparity Study, completed over seven years ago, showed, “When (city) contracts go out, they overwhelmingly go out to a handful of white-owned, male businesses, (not) anyone outside the favored few,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan supports removing the oversight of federal job funds from the city, to hire an outside agency that will carry out the oversight more effectively and efficiently.

“Federal money for job training needs to be used for job training, not for administrative overhead,” she said.

Speaker Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, emphasized the common fight of Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT workers.

“We have to break barriers,” she said. “When we get all these minorities together, we are not a minority any more. We are a majority. We are all connected. That is the key for Oakland to move forward.”

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said West Oakland residents had been promised jobs on the Oakland Army Base development, but they have not materialized.

“We still have to have a mechanism to connect the jobs to those who are most in need of those jobs,” said Gordon.

For more information, go to Oakland-WORKS on Facebook.

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

Oakland City Council Set to Choose Developer to Renovate Kaiser Convention Center

Rendering of proposed hotel between the Kaiser Convention Center and the Oakland Museum of California.

Rendering of CDP’s proposed hotel between the Kaiser Convention Center and the Oakland Museum of California.

By Ashley Chambers

The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, a historic Oakland landmark that has been shuttered and vacant for a decade, will undergo a transformation as the City Council is expected to vote next week on which of two developers will restore the building.

The convention center previously housed large-scale events, concerts, and prominent speakers – Dr. Martin Luther King who spoke there in 1962, Stokely Carmichael in 1968, the Grateful Dead, James Brown, and the Oakland school district’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Fest.

The building includes a 45,000-square-foot arena that seats up to 6,000 people and the Calvin Simmons Theater that seats 1,900, two banquet rooms and a ballroom.

City staff is recommending that the city enter into a contract and long-term lease with Orton Development, Inc., which is based in Emeryville, to rehabilitate the convention center and its historic architecture.

Under the city plan, the developer would foot the bill for the entire project and would recoup its investment by using at least part of the building for profit-generating purposes.

The city’s RFP requires restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as a performance space and for the entire project to include “as many community benefits as possible,” including “local and small business participation, commitment to living and prevailing wages, commitment to labor peace and opportunities for job training and mentoring, a high number of jobs created for a range of training and education levels, and provision of high quality public facilities and amenities,” according to the city report.

Orton’s proposal, which is in accord with the city RFP, includes restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as an event space, and use of the arena as a “multi-floor rehab combining office, flex, public access, and food uses.”

The plan also proposes to use the surrounding outdoor space for community gardens, barbeque areas, public art and entertainment.

A coalition of community members and arts enthusiasts is opposing to the Orton proposal, saying the project would transform the arena – which is the majority of the interior of the building – into offices for private businesses.

The city’s RFP has suggested that the building could be used for offices, technology, design and private commercial use as well as entertainment, conference and event space, retail uses, performance space, and light industrial uses such as a brewery, maker spaces, and artist studios.

The alternative proposal came from Creative Development Partners (CDP), based in Oakland. It includes restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as a world-class performing arts center and use of the arena for sporting and other large events, and paying for the project by building a 15-story hotel adjacent to the Convention Center.

The hotel would be nestled in between the Oakland Museum and the convention center on park land that is presently a parking lot, incorporating a green design.

The CDP proposal is built around community benefits, including: creating more than 1,700 jobs and a career training program in partnership with Laney and Merritt Colleges for jobs in hospitality, culinary arts, creative arts, and landscaping, as well as a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District’s Linked Learning program.

The CDP proposal, called “One Lake Merritt,” envisions the building as a hub for local music, cultural and performing arts companies to use as rehearsal and performance space.

The proposal has garnered significant support from the local arts community. But while city staff found the CDP proposal “compelling,” they are recommending that the city go with the Orton plan and look for other potential sites for a hotel.

The City Council is expected to vote on the issue on Tuesday, July 7.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Richmond Seeks Support for “Cybertran” Ultralight Rail Transit System

Cybertran rendering

Cybertran rendering

By Post Staff

The Richmond City Council has agreed to continue searching for federal and state dollars to fund an innovative transit system that could bring a high-tech passenger rail transit system to the city along with thousands of manufacturing jobs and billions in economic revitalization.

The council unanimously agreed to pursue the funding following a presentation from CyberTran International on March 24. The city hopes to be the first city in the world to implement the transit program.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

“We’re excited about this project,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, a strong advocate for the project. “This is important on so many different levels. It’s going to bring much-needed jobs to Richmond and renown to the city, too. We would be the first in the country to launch a program like this – it’s pretty amazing.”

When the project begins it could bring thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs, approximately 50 transit operator positions, about 100 new vehicle construction technicians and an estimated $13.5 billion in economic activity with increased property values and new businesses.

The CyberTran project could solve a lot of Richmond’s transportation goals and priorities including a long-standing desire to connect the city’s Hilltop area with areas like downtown, Parchester Village and the Marina that have not happened because it’s been cost-prohibitive, Beckles said.

“This could connect the city in ways not possible with AC Transit nor BART,” she said.

Dexter Vizinau, president of CyberTran said he specifically chose Richmond as the site of CyberTran because it will help the city.

“I could have moved the company to Silicon Valley and we would be a lot further along than we are,” he said. “But I moved to the City of Richmond because I wanted to move where the jobs are needed most and the city that needs it most is Richmond.”

CyberTran is developing a network of computer-automated, solar-powered trains that actually are more like large passenger cars, which can transport up to 20 passengers at a time.

Each vehicle will move non-stop, direct to destination.

Because of the smaller size of the vehicles, they are easier to build and implement and much cheaper than traditional rail systems. The computer-operated railcars, which are smaller than Disney Monorail cars, could be summoned and arrive to various locations on demand.

President Barack Obama is a proponent for reducing greenhouse emissions and has promoted the idea of environmentally-friendly, sustainable cars and transit projects. He approved a federal funding bill in December 2014 that could provide funding for projects like CyberTran in Richmond, according to Vizinau.

The Richmond City Council voted unanimously in September to enter a public-private partnership with CyberTran.

On Feb. 14, another agency, i-Gate, also signed an agreement with the company. The state-sponsored business incubator i-GATE has asked CyberTran to participate in a network of green transportation and clean-energy technologies, where the company can access advanced industry and technology development opportunities.

There are a total of five US cities and one in China that are working to deploy the transit technology, he said.

Vizinau and company representatives have also visited Richmond’s sister city Zhoushan, China four times in the past year and is also working to implement CyberTran there in hopes of making that city the first international site with the technology.

“It’s going to be phenomenal to be getting people out of their cars and good for the climate and good for mobility of Richmond residents,” Beckles said.

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

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

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

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

By Ashley Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic Meeting Brings Together Civil Rights Leaders with Execs of Verizon, Google, Facebook, Intel

  Jesse Jackson and Rainbow Push Coalition hosted a Tech Diversity and Tech Forum Dec. 10 at Intel, where Jackson addressed an audience of 300 on changing the face of the tech industry to reflect society. Photo By Carla Thomas.

Jesse Jackson and Rainbow Push Coalition hosted a Tech Diversity and Tech Forum Dec. 10 at Intel, where Jackson addressed an audience of 300 on changing the face of the tech industry to reflect society. Photo By Carla Thomas.

By Carla Thomas

In an unprecedented move, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition brought together 25 tech companies, civil rights organizations, venture capitalists, non-profits, entrepreneurs and U.S. Department of Labor office at Intel in Santa Clara on Dec. 10.

“(This) is the result of conversations to bring about collaborative efforts to make a change in the tech industry,” said Jackson, who has pressured a number of the largest tech companies to share their workforce demographic data.

Billed as an adversity and inclusion forum, the event featured African American leaders work at the tech titans Google, HP, Intel, Facebook, Verizon, and Cisco, among others. The forum was coordinated by Rainbow Push Communications Director Butch Wing and Executive Director Glenda Gill.

“Tech industry has demonstrated that it can solve the most complex and challenging problems in the world – inclusion is a complex problem that can be solved,” said Jackson.

Among the panelists were Intel Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Rosalind Hudnell, Intel Supplier Diversity Manager Minea Moore; Pandora Diversity Program Manager Lisa Lee, and HP Chief Diversity Officer Brian Tippens.

Other panelists included HP Strategic Procurement Manager, InMichael McQuarry; Google Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Yolanda Mangolini; Cisco Chief Collaboration and Inclusion Officer Shari Slate; Microsoft General Manager of Global Diversity and Inclusion Gwen Houston; Google Head of Diversity Markets Chris Genteel; and Verizon Vice President of Entertainment and Tech Policy Eric Reed.

“There’s a whole body of people who qualify to be on boards, in C-suites and employed in the tech industry and Black, Brown and women are underrepresented,” said Jackson.

“These companies get government contracts and government taxes and have every obligation to open up the marketplace responsibly,” he said.

Jackson suggested corporations reveal the deficits in diversity and set goals and timelines for change. He also proposed making a deal with the government to provide 10 percent of the $5 trillion in offshore tax monies.

“If you took 10 percent and made a deal with the government, labor and corporations and customers to reinvest to build an infrastructure for purposes and money set aside for capital…there’s enough money to be used for diversifying a

Jackson made reference to the needs of two students he had met at the Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy. “Every city should have a STEM high school, and all schools should have studies relevant to the future created in Oakland, San Jose, Memphis, etc,” said Jackson.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, December 20, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Coliseum City Proposal Remains in Play; Community Raises Questions

A artist's iew of the Colisuem City might look like

A artist’s iew of the Colisuem City might look like

By Ken Epstein

Many people are furiously committed to a plan to knock down the Oakland Coliseum and replace it with a glitzy Coliseum City complex – which could include up to three sports arenas as well as hotels, entertainment, housing, retail and restaurants.

The Coliseum City plan, according to the City of Oakland’s website, “seeks to transform the underutilized land around the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Arena into a world-class sports, entertainment and science & technology district that boasts a dynamic and active urban setting with retail, entertainment, arts, culture, live and work uses.”

Probing questions about the plan are being raised by city leaders, mostly focusing on how to put together the financing and the costs that will have to be borne by Oakland taxpayers.

The value of the massive project is generally taken for granted. More or less unexamined are concerns about the value and impact of the project on the people who live in the city.

Yet Oakland residents and business owners are pressing forward with their own questions. How many and what quality jobs would there be for local residents? Would the proposed housing be only for the affluent?coliseum_city_rendering.0_standard_709.0

Who will be able to afford to go to the expensive venues and restaurants? How would a colossal development parachuted into the middle of the city impact surrounding neighborhoods and companies in East Oakland?

Some community members are saying they would like to see new stadiums built but question the purpose of the massive complex, which they say could negatively impact East Oakland residents and would effectively destroy the city’s only business park, pushing small businesses out of the city.

The city is already moving ahead with the Coliseum Area Specific Plan, which if passed would change zoning requirements and make other permit amendments, putting into place the legal basis for the project if and when financing and other issues are resolved.

Speakers at recent public hearings have questioned why community input was not sought before the draft specific plan was released and why the city allowed such a short period for public comments on the voluminous plan.

There were complaints that the plan’s proposed Environmental Impact Report only deals with Coliseum area property, ignoring impacts on nearby residents and neighborhoods.

Before final approval, the project would have to be passed by the Coliseum’s Joint Powers Authority, as well as the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

The project also has designs on what is presently the Oakland Airport Business Park, which contains property owned by the Port of Oakland, therefore requiring the Port Commission to weigh in.