Category: Community

Council Delays Decision on Selling Public Land to Build Charter School

The Oakland school board asked the City Council not to sell the property to the charter school

Derby Street parcel

Ken Epstein

Thirty-six people were signed up to speak at this week’s City Council meeting for and against the proposed sale of public land to an out-of-state developer to build a large charter school in the Fruitvale District.

Aimee Eng

However, the council pulled the item from the agenda, indicating that they needed to talk first to the school district before selling the parcel.

“We received notice from the Oakland Unified School District that we would confer on this matter.  I think it is prudent for us to do so before undertaking action. I would ask that we defer action on this and bring it back to (the Rules Committee) for rescheduling,” said Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Though councilmembers did not discuss or vote on the issue, speakers went ahead with their public comments.

Supporting the sale were children, parents, teachers and administrators of Aspire Eres Academy, a charter elementary school serving 217 students, currently located near Fremont High School in East Oakland.

Mike Hutchinson

They are seeking to build a new home for their school, which is too small and in poor physical condition.

Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent at Aspire Public (Charter) Schools, said that students at Eres Academy “have waited far

too long for an acceptable facility… They need and deserve a new facility.”

She said Aspire has an ongoing working relationship with the city staff to build the school.

“We have been honored to collaborate with the City of Oakland for the last three years to develop a state of the art facility,” she said.

Opposing the sale were school activists, leaders of the Oakland teachers’ union who supported affordable housing at the site and teachers and families from district schools that would be negatively impacted if the large new charter was built near their schools, as well as the Oakland Board of Education.

Kimi Kean, Bay Area Superintendent of Aspire Public (Charter) Schools.

“I want to thank you for postponing the vote tonight,” said School Board President Aimee Eng, who summarized a resolution passed by the board on June 27 opposing the city’s sale of the land for a charter school.

“The school board does not support the sale of the property for the purpose of building an education complex that would house 620 students, which is triple the size of the current school population,” she said.

In the nearby area to the proposed school site, “there are already 18 district and charter schools, serving a similar population,” she said.  “The demographic data also does not support the need for a school this large.”

A school district analysis indicates that a high number of families in the area already go to neighborhood schools. A huge new school at that location would directly compete with existing schools in the area, she said.

Pamela Long, a veteran teacher at International Community School, said, “I support their need for a new building, but we are asking that it not be two short blocks from our thriving schools.

The land should be used for affordable housing, she said.

Bethany Meyer, a special education teacher and member of the executive board of the teachers’ union, said, “This charter school is going to take about 625 students out of the school district, which is about $7 million in lost revenue.”

“From what I am reading, the city stands to gain about $200,000 from the sale, which doesn’t seem to justify the amount of opposition you’re going to be facing,” she said.

School activist Mike Hutchinson said, “It is the not the responsibility of the City Council to sell (Aspire charter schools) public property, a parcel that was never put out to competitive bid.”
The parcel first had an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the city in October 2015, but “there’s no record of that ENA being extended,” Hutchinson said.

The original ENA included affordable housing on this parcel, and the developer has already knocked down existing affordable housing on adjacent property to make room for this project, he said.

Community Wins Major Victory for Independent Police Oversight Commission

Police Commission Chair Thomas Smith. Photo courtesy East Bay Express.

By Ken Epstein

The debate at the City Council meeting went on for hours into the night, deciding the fate of the Oakland Police Commission. Would it be allowed to gain strength as an independent body that deliberates issues of police accountability and discipline, in the manner promised by Measure LL when it was passed by 83 percent of the voters in 2016?

Rebecca Kaplan

Or would the commission be required to operate like all other departments and commissions in the city, overseen by the City Attorney and City Administrator, who have not managed to produce a scandal-free police department after 15 years of federal oversight of OPD.

Ultimately, the debate ended Tuesday night in a major victory for the supporters of Measure LL and community members who were determined to hold onto the promise of an independent police commission.

Community members, over 80 of whom signed up to defend the commission, were backed by City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, who fought hard on the council for their proposal. After two resolutions failed, she backed a resolution that most councilmembers were willing to accept in the face of the determined opposition of both City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth.

The vote was 6-1 in support of the resolution. Kaplan, Desley Brooks, Noel Gallo, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Dan Kalb and Abel Guillén voted in favor.  Annie Campbell Washington voted “no.”

City Administrator Sabrina Landreth ran the Oakland Police Department for one year after the resignation of successive police chiefs. Photo courtesy of ABC7.

Despite the victory, the conflict might not be settled. The ordinance must pass again at a second reading at the next council meeting, and there are indications that Landreth and Parker may try to influence councilmembers to reverse their position, according to police commission supporters.

The disagreements centered on the content of the enabling ordinance, which will establish the guidelines for how the police commission will function. The commission itself was established by passing an amendment to the City Charter, Measure LL.

The enabling ordinance has been tied up in behind the scenes discussions with city staff for over 18 months since Measure LL’s passage.

Barbara Parker

At the heart of the dispute is whether those who staff the police commission, an inspector general and an attorney, will be hired by and report to the commissioners, who are volunteers, or if the inspector general will report to the city administrator and the attorney to City Attorney Parker.

The whole point of creating the police commission, according to its supporters, was to establish oversight of the police that is independent of the city administration.

Pointing out that the City Administrator Landreth serves as supervisor of the Chief of Police, and the City Attorney represents the police department, police commission supporters argue there is a clear conflict of interest if these two officials are allowed to be in charge of police oversight.

“I feel like a broken record. I keep coming here saying the same thing…We need an independent police commission, and every time I turn around, someone else is trying to undermine that independence,” said Lorelei Bosserman, one of those who spoke in favor of maintaining the independent of the police commission.

“The City Attorney should have no authority over the legal counsel for the police commission. (She) represents the Oakland Police Department. There is an inherent conflict of interest there,” she said.

However, Parker’s legal opinion said the Police Commission’s recommendations for the enabling ordinance the draft ordinance that was already passed once by the City Council are “not in compliance with the City Charter.”

According to Parker in her legal opinion, “The staff who provide services to the commission are under the City Administrator’s personnel jurisdiction because the Charter does not provide an exception to the City Administrator’s jurisdiction.” (For the legal opinions, go the City Attorney’s website: oaklandcityattorney.org and click on the “Opinions and Reports” link.)

Speaking to the council meeting, Chair of the Police Commission Thomas Smith said that in order for the commission to do its job, it needs a “non-City Attorney-appointed legal advisor” and “an inspector general (who) reports directly to the commission—not somewhere else within the chain (of command).”

He said, “When you consider the fact that there is a constant interaction…between the police department and the people who serve the City Attorney, there is a relationship there… Does it have some influence? Is there some bias?”

Councilmember Kaplan, backing the police commissioners’ requests, said, “I think it is very important that we stick to the commitment that was made when this was being written, which is independent oversight.”

“We need independent oversight both so the commission can actually be independent and do the functions it was intended to by the voters and also so the commission can maintain its credibility, so its actions can be trusted and not seen as under the control of anyone who might have a dual role in terms of their management of the police department.”

Councilmember Kalb’s motion to accept the City Attorney’s changes to the enabling ordinance failed to pass, as did Kaplan’s motion to adopt the community coalition’s proposal.

What finally passed was a compromise motion, crafted by Kalb and Kaplan, that contained the two most important provisions of the commission’s recommendations.

Published June 23, 2018, Courtesy of the Oakland Post

New Teacher Union President Keith Brown Seeks Parent, Community Unity

“We will join with our families and communities in campaigns for access to quality jobs, affordable housing and safe neighborhoods,” says Brown

Keith Brown,

By Ken Epstein

Keith Brown, Oakland’s newly elected teacher union president, is still cleaning out his classroom at Bret Harte Middle School as he prepares to take the helm of the 2,700-member teachers union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA).

Brown, until recently vice president of the OEA, is a 19-year veteran teacher in Oakland, including 12 years at Bret Harte. A lifelong Oakland resident, he grew up in the city’s public schools, attending Hawthorne Elementary, Bret Harte Junior High and Skyline High.

Ismael “Ish” Armendariz

When he takes office on July 1, he will be joined by teacher leaders who were elected as part of his team: Ismael “Ish” Armendariz, special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle; Tuwe Mehn, early childhood teacher; Jasmene Miranda, director of the Media Academy at Fremont High; and Jennifer Brouhard, fifth-grade teacher at Glenview Elementary.

In an interview last week on Radio Station KPFA, Brown discussed his program for change, including “bargaining for the common good” and supporting “organic teacher leadership” at school sites, which he believes are necessary for the union to effectively respond to local, state and national challenges threatening the city’s public schools and the wellbeing of Oakland families and community.

“One of the (key) points on our platform was to join with our families and communities in campaigns for access to quality jobs, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, healthcare and social services,” Brown said.

In “bargaining for the common good,” parent and community leaders will become “part of the union’s expanded bargaining team, where negotiations with the district are not only about salaries, working conditions and health benefits (but) also about … the common good of the community,” he said.

Jasmene Miranda

This innovative approach is already being implemented by teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota and Sacramento, he said.

In Sacramento, the union, in partnership with communities of color and faith-based organizations, was able to win significant funding for restorative justice programs in classrooms, moving away

from the “zero tolerance” approach to discipline that fuels the school-to-prison pipeline, he said.

In St. Paul, teachers “aligned with groups such as Black Lives Matter, participating in protests against the tragic murder of Philando Castile,” a school employee who was killed by a police officer on July 6, 2016, he said.

“There is so much potential in Oakland,” said Brown, pointing out that the OEA already has strong ties with many community groups, such as Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Oakland Parents Together (OPT) and Justice for Oakland Students (J4OS).

Tuwe Mehn

“Now is the time to really strengthen those relationships, moving beyond the teachers union having a transactional relationship with community organizations and parents, rather to have a transformative, authentic relationship where we’re working together and fighting for the things that are going to make our Oakland community a much better place to live,” said Brown.

He said his leadership team is also committed to supporting strong site “organic” leaders who are among the best teachers at their schools and who other educators seek out for advice on how to improve their teaching.

“Our role is to provide due process for all of our members, as a right that every worker should have – public school teachers or any worker,” he said.

Jennifer Brouhard

“There are a lot of excellent teachers in the public schools,” Brown said. “We really need to be in the driver’s seat, having some teacher driven professional

development, (so) our union becomes a space for our educators to come present new ideas, to collaborate.”

“Of course, there are teachers who need extra support, extra mentorship,” he said.  “It is our role as a union to provide those teachers with support so they can get

better.  It’s about improving outcomes for students.”

Looking at current negotiations with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), where the OEA has been negotiating for 18 months without a contract, he said:

While the school district continues to face financial difficulties, “there is money there to settle a contract with Oakland teachers that prioritizes students, reducing

class sizes, giving teachers a living wage. There is money, but that has to be made a priority,” he said.

“But for the transformative change that we really need to have outstanding public schools, we need to come together, collectively,” he said.

“We live in California, the fifth largest economy in the world. However, we are 46th in per pupil spending,” said Brown.

Published June 16, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan Endorses Cat Brooks

Rebecca Kaplan (left) and Cat Brooks. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, one of Oakland’s most popular progressive political leaders, ended months of speculation about whether she would jump into the mayoral race when she announced last Thursday that she is committing her energy to elect community activist, actor and radio journalist Cat Brooks as mayor of Oakland.

“With a lot of thought and prayer and contemplation” of the social justice issues facing Oakland, “I have come to the conclusion that the best way to strengthen our community’s voice (for our) vital goals is by endorsing and supporting Cat Brooks for mayor,” said Kaplan, speaking at an event held at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland.

“We will continue to build and move forward together,” she said. “We have an opportunity to strengthen our solidarity, to strengthen our city and to make sure we have a city hall that is responsive to the community.”

Kaplan focused on some of the major social and moral challenges the city is facing that she says are being ignored by Mayor Libby Schaaf.

“We deserve leadership that believes in respect and that believes in justice and understands that we are judged by how we treat the least of these,” she said.

“Every additional person who is homeless should be a heartbreak to all of us and a call to action and a demand to do something about it,” said Kaplan.

She also spoke about what she considers Mayor Schaaf’s failure to punish police who participated in and covered up the Oakland Police Department’s sex abuse scandal.

“The level of police misconduct that has been tolerated is totally unacceptable,” she said, accusing the mayor of intervening to hide OPD officers’ “brutal sexual misconduct,” promoting those who covered it up and punishing those who spoke against it.

A rabbi, Kaplan said a prayer for Brooks’ campaign:

“I pray that you may be protected and strengthened in this incredible journey and that I may be blessed to have the opportunity to work together with you…May your voice be strong, may you be heard.”

Thanking Kaplan and assembled supporters, Brooks invited everyone to “support a vision of justice, a vision of transformation, a vision of mobilizing our people to the polls to take back our city.”

Rather than having to fight City Hall every day, “What if we spent all of our time building the kind of Oakland we want to live in?” she asked.

She said the city should be working to build housing so teachers and low-paid nonprofit employees can afford to live in Oakland.

“It can be done, and if the current administration had the will to do it, it would be done,” said Brooks.

Saying that this is not “a Cat Brooks campaign,” she emphasized that she would hold “people’s assemblies” or town hall meetings during the next two months for input of community people who are struggling to improve conditions and are knowledgeable about the issues.

“There’s amazing work that’s being done on a range of issues, and those will be the voices that determine the direction of this city,” said Brooks. “There are so many brilliant, beautiful ideas that are being ignored by City Hall.”

For more information, go to www.catbrooksforoakland.com/ and www.kaplanforoakland.com/

Published June 15, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parent Clarissa Doutherd Kicks Off Campaign for School Board, District 4


Clarissa Doutherd

By Ken Epstein

Parent leader Clarissa Doutherd kicked off her campaign Sunday for District 4 representative on the Oakland Board of Education, speaking to a large gathering at a BBQ in an East Oakland park.

“I am running for my child,” said Doutherd.

“The thing that has been most critical in his development and my development as a parent and a leader in my community is being in a school environment where I feel like teachers are heard, parents are heard, and students are supported and loved in their full dignity and humanity as learners,” she said, emphasizing the values that motivate her vision for public education.

She is challenging District 4 incumbent Nina Senn, an attorney who has served on the school board since 2015.

Doutherd is executive director of Parent Voices Oakland, an East Bay chapter of Parent Voices California. She has worked for over a decade for grassroots, nonprofit organizations. Recently, she was a leader in the effort to pass Alameda County Measure A, a proposed sales tax for childcare and early education.

She is entering the race at a time when the school board is under intense criticism for continuing financial hardships and budget cuts facing the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) brought on by the district’s former pro-charter school superintendent.

“In this moment, we know there’s a clear need for fiscal transparency,” she said. “I have been through many, many budget fights (as a leader of a) parent-run, parent-led organization, advocating for accountability about where our dollars are spent and really building a movement where we’re all working together.”

School district policy decisions must be based on the needs of schools and the voices of parents, teachers and students, she said, “ensuring that school sites and teachers have the tools they need to support every single child and every single family.”

Doutherd currently serves as co-chair of the Alameda County Early Childhood Policy Committee and as a steering committee member of the Alameda County Early Care and Education Planning Council. She also sits on the Alameda County-Oakland Community Partnership Board for the City of Oakland.

She is the recipient of the prestigious Gloria Steinem “Woman of Vision” award, First 5 of Alameda County Parent Advocate Award and the Oakland District 4 Local Heroes Award.
Looking at the impact of charter schools on the school district, Doutherd said she understands why some people  choose charters. But charters are not the answer because they will not produce equal education for all, she said.

“Charters are a reality. They are here. But as a movement, I want us to ask ourselves not about the individual choices of parents and the things they have to do because our Black and Brown students are struggling in environments that may be hostile to them.”

But what we need to do is look at is how resources are distributed, she said. “Every single child deserves to have the same quality education, no matter where your zip code is, no matter what school you sign up to.”

“People have had to build alternative systems and alternative pathways for themselves,” she continued.  “It’s time to interrupt that. Our schools can get it done.

“As a community, as a movement of parents, teachers, students and youth activists, we have an opportunity to make sure our schools, are performing well, no matter where you live.”

Doutherd said her experiences as a leader have taught her the struggle can be difficult and that it is necessary to speak truth in places where people sometimes want to silence you.

“I’ve been fighting for many years in what (has) felt like an uphill battle,” she said. “But as someone who is willing to fight and not compromise my integrity and my values, I sleep well at night.

“Our elected officials should be able to say the same.”

Doutherd said she talks to families every day “because those are the voices that matter. That is who should be centered in policies.

“That is who our elected officials need to be accountable to. Period.”

For more information, go to www.clarissaforoaklandschools.com

Published June 15, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Attorney and Activist Don Hopkins, 81

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Don Hopkins.

By Post Staff

Donald Ray Hopkins, an attorney activist who worked for civil rights causes and served as district representative for Congressman Ronald V. Dellums for 22 years, died on April 22 after a year-long illness. He was 81.

Born on Nov. 14, 1936 in Tulsa Oklahoma, Hopkins was the fifth of six children of Stacy and Carrie McGlory Hopkins. He graduated from Sumnet High School in Kansas City, Kansas, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and class president.

Hopkins graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Kansas in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.  He went on to earn a master’s degree and a law degree from UC Berkeley.

He also attended Harvard Law School where he received an LLM focused on international law.

In New York City, he worked the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund on a number of civil rights cases, learning the value of close communication with communities and constituencies in order to advance equal rights agenda.

Using those skills, he worked from 1972 to 1994 as a district representative for Congressman Ronald V. Dellums, who represented the 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. In his position, Hopkins was the person constituents sought to help them take their issues and concerns to Congress.

Preceding him in death were his father Stacy E. Hopkins Sr., his mother Carrie McGlory Hopkins and his brother Rev. Stacy E. Hopkins Jr.

He is survived by his daughter and granddaughter, four siblings: Leo S. Hopkins, Richard M. Hopkins, Dr. Betty G. Hopkins-Mason, Anita J. Hopkins-Walker, their families and his loving and devoted companion Maria Bryant.

Published May 27, ,2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

‘BBQing While Black’ Leader Kenzie Smith to Become Park Commissioner

Kenzie Smith (left) and Onsayo Abram at last Sunday’s “BBQing While Black” event at Lake Merritt in Oakland.

By Post Staff

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan announced this week that she is recommending Kenzie Smith, one the two men who was racially targeted for “BBQing while Black” at Lake Merritt, for a seat on Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.

“He has a deep commitment to the Oakland community and a track record of public service and philanthropy,” she wrote in a statement that was released Tuesday.

Before the appointment is final, Kaplan’s recommendation must go to the mayor for approval.

Smith is a lifelong Oakland resident, community activist and founder of Dope Era Magazine. He wants to start a nonprofit to hire young people during the summer, including keeping the Lake Merritt park clean.

The Advisory Commission consists of 11 members appointed by the mayor and council. As a member of the commission, Smith would help make sure “regulations for use of our parks are clear and fair,” said Kaplan.

Smith is looking forward to an opportunity to make policy for the parks. He told the East Bay Express, “I’m not going to let someone else have a ‘BBQ Becky.’”

Published May 27, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

City Leaders Determined to Fight Against Coal Terminal

One of the many protests against the coal terminal held at the offices of developer Phil Tagami.

By Sarah Carpenter

City leaders are pledging to continue to fight for “No Coal in Oakland” after a federal judge’s recent decision overturned the City of Oakland’s ban on shipping or handling coal in the city.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria on May 15 ruled in developer Phil Tagami’s favor in his lawsuit against the City for breaching its contract by instituting the ban.

“This is a fight for environmental justice and equity. Oakland’s most vulnerable communities have unfairly suffered the burden of pollutants and foul air for too long. We will continue to fight this battle on all fronts,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Many City Council members, who voted unanimously to ban coal in 2016, are saying they will continue their efforts to keep coal out of Oakland.

Tagami’s project, the Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal (OBOT), intends to ship coal, petroleum coke, and other commodities overseas through a new terminal at the site of the currently unused Oakland Army Base.

Oaklanders pushed back, concerned about potential health risks and poor air quality that could be caused by coal dust in West Oakland—already the area most affected by pollution in the city.

The City responded the next year with a ban on the shipping and handling of coal in Oakland. Judge Chhabria’s ruling determined that the City did not have enough evidence of health risks to warrant the ban, which breached the original contract. In his 37-page decision, Chhabria stated:

“Given the record before it, the City Council was not even equipped to meaningfully guess how well these controls would mitigate emissions.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who co-authored the coal ban with Schaaf, said he was appalled by Chhabria’s decision.

“There is no doubt that the scientific evidence shows there are substantial safety risks and health impacts of handling and moving nine million tons of dirty coal each and every year into and out of Oakland,” he said.

No Coal in Oakland, the activist organization that sprouted in response to OBOT’s plan to ship coal, released a long-winded statement on May 16 concerning Chhabria’s ruling.

In the statement, the group acknowledged that the ruling was fact-based. It also criticized Chhabria for his lack of legislative leadership in combating climate change. During the trial, Chhabria said it was “ridiculous to suggest that this one operation resulting in the consumption of coal in other countries will, in the grand scheme of things, pose a substantial global warming-related danger to people in Oakland.”

The City could appeal the decision, but activists and news commentators raise concerns that this course of action would be costly and likely unsuccessful.

The ruling specifically found that the City had breached its contract with OBOT by instituting the unsubstantiated coal ban after the agreement was made.

The City can still issue a new ordinance, which would have to be backed up by legal standards of “substantial evidence,” that the ordinance would prevent “substantial health risks.”

Councilmember Kalb has expressed his determination to continue resisting coal at the terminal. “I will do everything in my power to stand against attacks on the health and safety of our East Bay communities. The City should do whatever it takes within the law to make sure this coal terminal never gets built. This is critical to protect our residents, our workers, and our planet,” he said.

Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Abel Guillén have also voiced their support of the fight against coal in Oakland. Tagami has not responded to a request for comment.

Published May 26, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Congress of Neighborhoods Says Mayor’s Illegal Dumping Proposal is “Insufficient”

“The time for partial solutions and unmet promises is over,” says community activist

Trash in East Oakland

By Post staff

Facing mounting pressure to solve the illegal dumping crisis in flatland neighborhoods, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has announced a proposal that community members say is “insufficient and overly focused on enforcement as a solution.”

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods raised the demands April 16 at an angry community meeting of 600 flatland residents, where the mayor and city council members spoke.

“The issue of illegal dumping is an issue of access and equity,” says Chris Jackson, Congress leader from District 7. “Equity is everyone getting what they need to thrive. We expect elected leaders to support all of our demands, not the punitive ones they like best.”

Congress is demanding comprehensive solutions to what they see as a public health emergency: One new Public Works crew focused on illegal dumping, three litter enforcement officers, better lighting in chronic dumping areas, a zone-based clean-up system focused on the hotspots rather than simply reacting to complaints.

Responding, Mayor Schaaf and District 2 Councilmember Abel Guillén on Thursday announced plans to hire three litter enforcement officers. However, residents are continuing to press the mayor to meet all of the demands.

Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Annie Campbell-Washington, Noel Gallo, Abel Guillén and Rebecca Kaplan have all agreed to find funding for the demands in the mid-cycle budget review process, which occurs in June.

“We pay taxes just like residents in the hills. We want to see the same level of city services here in the flatlands,” says Congress leader Evangelina Lara of District 2. “We expect all of our demands to be met in the mid-cycle budget review process, as was promised on April 16. We intend to make sure that city officials fulfill their commitments to the community. The time for partial solutions and unmet promises is over.”

“The community’s collective work pushing city officials is creating a reaction,” says Congress leader Manuel Arias of District 5. “We will continue to organize—our children, elders, parents, all residents deserve better. No one’s children should have to walk over garbage to go to school.”

In March, the Congress of Neighborhoods held a “trash tour” that began at Mayor Schaaf’s home and visited trash hot spots in Oakland flatlands, designed to show elected leaders the difference between how the city takes care of hills and flatland streets.

Published May 11, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Post Salon Calls for Moratorium on Sale of Public Land as Market Rate Building Boom Sweeps City

Mayor and City Administration push property sales without transparency or community involvement. Speakers at the Post Salon included (L to R): Margaretta Lin, Councilmember Abel Guillén, Post Publisher Paul Cobb (moderator) and Vanessa Riles (Back to camera). Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

This past week’s Oakland Post Salon examined a critical issue that underlies many of Oakland’s recurring conflicts: the mayor and administration are rapidly selling to developers the city’s limited numbers of publically owned properties—paid for by taxpayers—without regard to the impact on communities or the needs and wishes of local residents.

Rather than allowing Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City Administrator to continue with their version of Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics,” promising that someday a few of the benefits will reach the people, the community can ask the City Council to stop selling city-owned parcels as investments for market-rate housing and high-priced office buildings for the wealthy, according to speakers at the Post Salon.

Vanessa Riles

Instead, the city can use public lands for community needs such as grocery stores, playgrounds, affordable housing, solutions to homelessness and office space for the nonprofits that serve the community, the speakers said  The Salon agreed unanimously at its April 29 meeting to call on the City Council to pass a moratorium on sale of public land, except for real affordable housing, until the council passes a strong policy requiring that 100 percent of city-owned land should be utilized for community needs, prioritizing community land trusts that promote long-term leases instead of sale of public land.

In addition, the moratorium calls for a process that requires the mayor and administration to be fully transparent in its dealings with the public, involving affected communities in decisions on how to use the land.  In addition, decisions should be made in public rather than secretly behind closed doors, as so often happens at present.

The panel of speakers at the Salon, which was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland, were Vanessa Riles of the Citywide Anti-Displacement Network, City Councilmember Abel Guillén and Margaretta Lin, former city staffer and executive director of the Dellums Institute for Social Justice.

“Oakland is the epicenter for the racial displacement crisis,” said Margaretta Lin, pointing out that rents in the city have increased 63 percent since 2014, causing widespread evictions and an “explosion of homelessness.”

An answer to this crisis is within the city’s grasp, if it has the political will, she said. Citing reports, she said that Oakland has 2,400 publicly owned land parcels, 50 of which have been earmarked as suitable for affordable housing and capable of accommodating over 7,300 new housing units.

“Oakland is becoming the next San Francisco,” said Lin, adding that affordable housing advocates across the Bay tell her the lesson they have learned is that Oaklanders should “hold down land.”

However, she said, “We have a mayor and city administration that is not friendly to this.”

At present, “We have this policy vacuum,” she said.  “The city does not have a policy.”

Citing studies, Lin said that as of December 2017, Oakland has 20,000 market rate housing units under construction or in the pipeline, while there are less than 1,500 affordable units that are being built, she said.

Truly affordable housing would be available to the majority of Oakland renters, who have an average annual income of $36,000 a year for a family of four, she said. But the units that the city labels as affordable often require family incomes of as much as $100,000 a year or more.

Councilmember Guillén in his remarks pointed out that California has one of the highest numbers of homeless in the country, 140,000 people statewide, “and it’s getting worse.”

“The city has not had a clear process on how we deal with public land,” which has allowed “sweetheart deals” with individual developers, he said.

“Our process is not transparent at all,” Guillén continued, adding that “right now we are not building enough affordable housing. What we have right now is not good. The number is not good.”

Rather than build affordable housing and market-rate housing in separate locations, all new construction should include affordable housing, he said.

“Every project should have at least 15 percent affordable housing, if not more,” he said.

Vanessa Riles said that those at the table when decisions on public land are made must be indigenous people, low-income residents and Black people—those who have been experiencing the violence of displacement since the beginning.
“Public land should be used for public good. Period. The decisions should be made by the public and the most vulnerable populations, the people who live in the places that are being developed.”

She called for rejecting present policies with “loop holes,” which allow the city administration to do anything it wants.

“Staff has been able to go forward because (existing) policy has not been strong enough. I want the city to actually mitigate displacement and homelessness in Oakland,” she said.

There are many different organizations in the city with different ideas and priorities about what should be done, Riles continued. She said she supports “deep levels of community engagement, (the formation) of a community advisory committee and prioritizing the public good: maybe it’s a grocery store, a community garden or low-cost clinic.”

The City Council has the authority to stand up to the mayor and the administration, she said. “It’s question of political will.”

Community members are backing the proposal for a moratorium on the sale of public lands at the City Council’s Rules and Legislation Committee, Thursday, May 10, 10:45 a.m., in Oakland City Council Chambers.