Category: Environment

Congress of Neighborhoods Seeks Community Power in East Oakland Flatlands

Esther Goolsby of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) spoke last Saturday at the first community assembly of the Congress of East Oakland Neighborhoods. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

Hundreds of local residents packed into an elementary school gymnasium last Saturday to attend the kickoff gathering of the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods taking the first steps to bring together the kind of flatland coalition that can force public officials to take the needs of their communities seriously.

The meeting, held at International Community Schools at 2825 International Blvd., was organized by some of the strongest community-based organizations in East Oakland: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause: Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, EBAYC and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

The main purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to create a common vision for going forward.  To develop this vision, participants attended one of nine workshops: fair share of city services, including ending illegal dumping; homelessness, displacement and affordable housing; community peace and safety; holding elected officials accountable; creating a clean healthy environment; jobs, including jobs for youth and the formerly incarcerated; quality education; big development projects, such as the A´s stadium; and immigration.

Leading the meeting were representatives of East Oakland neighborhoods San Antonio, Fruitvale, Elmhurst and Sobrante Park.

In an interview with the Oakland Post, Vernetta Woods, a leader of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who lives in District 7, says she believes the event will build more unity and a more powerful voice for East Oakland residents.

For her, the main issue is education, the failure of the Oakland public schools.

“We’re coming. People power is here,” she said.  “We need thousands to come together on this thing, not just one race or one organization. If that happens, we can make changes.”

Teresa Salazar, a leader of Just Cause: Causa Justa who has lived in the San Antonio area for 23 years, explained the different organizations that are working together are creating a “stronger power.”

“Rent is increasing. Is that the New Oakland – a lot of people living under the bridge?”  She asked.

“At International (Boulevard) and 15th (Avenue), there is a lot of prostitution – Is that the New Oakland?

“No, Oakland needs a big change,” said Salazar. “Everybody needs to participate, to organize for change, for there to be a New Oakland.”

The Congress of Neighborhoods plans to release its “East Oakland Community Agenda” Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. outside City Hall.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published October 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Groups Oppose Proposed A’s Stadium Near Laney College


“Stay the Right Way” coalition held a press conference and rally Tuesday at Peralta Community College District headquarters to oppose a proposed A’s stadium on Peralta land. Photo by Ken Epstein.

 

By Ken Epstein

A coalition of community groups has come together quickly to oppose a proposal to build a new A’ stadium adjacent to Laney College and Oakland Chinatown on land owned by the Peralta Community College District.

“The A’s announcement of their preferred new stadium location threatens the survival of the vibrant, diverse and working class communities of the Chinatown and Eastlake-San Antonio neighborhoods. There is no way to build the stadium without negative impacts on the most vulnerable residents and small businesses,” according to a statement released by the Oakland Chinatown Coalition.

The organizations working to stop the stadium development, which call themselves the “Stay the Right Way Coalition,” held a press conference and rally Tuesday morning in front of the Peralta district headquarters at 8th Street and 5th Avenue in Oakland.

Among the groups in the coalition are the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, Causa Justa: Just Cause, Save Laney Land for Students Coalition, Eastlake United for Justice, AYPAL: Building API Community Power, 5th Avenue Waterfront Community Alliance, Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Oakland Tenants Union.

Students from MetWest High School near Laney also spoke at the press conference.

A’s President Jack Kaval announced on Sept. 12 that Peralta College public land is the team’s choice to build a new stadium to replace the Coliseum.

“It’s really the strongest location when it comes to private financing, and that’s really an important component to be successful,” Kaval told the San Francisco Chronicle

The 35,000-seat, 13-acre ballpark development would be privately financed and include restaurants, bars and hotels.

In a published statement to the community, Peralta Chancellor Dr. Jowel Laguerre said, “I want to make clear the following: No decision, no commitments and no deals have been made.”

He said before making any decision, Peralta’s governing board will “work with the community and the colleges to assess the impact on students, faculty, staff, and classroom environment, the community surrounding us, the residents of the area and the city overall.”

Signs at Tuesday’s rally said, “No A’s on 8th (Street),” “If you come, we strike,” No line drive thru Chinatown” and “Don’t steal our base.”

Many people love the A’s, said Alvina Wong of Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “But we also know that the A’s is a business, and this business decision to move the stadium is very concerning to our community. “

A delegation of students from MetWest High School spoke out against the proposed stadium. Photo by Ken Epstein

Roger Porter, a member of Laney College’s English Department faculty and himself a Laney graduate, said, “There’s no way you can build a stadium right here and not totally disrupt our institution (Laney) right there. People have to pass from a BART station there, to get here. We’re talking about bars…about nightlife and fireworks. Let’s be real about the situation.

“We believe that ultimately this is gentrification. They are trying to to move our institution,” he said. “You can’t claim something for your own, and its already occupied and already being used in a beautiful way.”

“There’s a reason why we don’t celebrate Christopher Columbus.”

The Chinatown Coalition’s statement drew a connection to the stadium proposal and the displacement that is already impacting local residents and small businesses.

“Our neighborhoods are already in a housing and real estate speculation crisis, with many long term small businesses getting displaced and closing due to rising retail rent,” the statement said. “Even the potential of a stadium coming is like dumping gasoline on a wildfire.”

Published September 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Groups Build East Oakland Neighborhood Power

Local residents attend recent meeting to oppose illegal dumping.

By Ken Epstein

Some of the major community organizations in Oakland have joined together  as the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods to hold a community assembly  to build the collective strength of local residents to impact neighborhood issues such as trash and blight, potholes, the sex trade, homelessness, rising rents and the frustration of dealing with city officials and public agencies that do not pay attention.

The first meeting of the community assembly will be held Saturday, Sept. 30, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at International Community School, 2825 International Blvd. in Oakland. Food, childcare and translation will be provided.

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods includes the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause; Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

“We expect 1,000 people at the assembly to discuss our values, make plans and discuss strategies and to hold Oakland officials accountable,” said Evangelina Lara, a leader of EBAYC and resident of the San Antonio neighborhood for 18 years.

“These are the issues that the residents themselves have decided are the most important,” she said. “This assembly is bringing together six  (Oakland) organizations to build real power, from the lake to the San Leandro border.”

Andre Spearman, an OCO leader, said the community-based organizations have been working together on some issues for a long time, but they have begun to feel that in order to have more clout, residents from throughout East Oakland need to work together on common issues.
In the past, he said, “We’ve had some victories,” working in individual neighborhoods, “but it doesn’t seem like enough power to really change things, to hold officials as accountable as they should be.”

“If you don’t have power you don’t get consulted,” he said.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published September 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

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

 

Environmental Groups Withdraw Lawsuit, Give City Opportunity to Stop Coal

port-of-oakland_Russell-Mondy_flickr-blog

By Tulio Ospina

Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice have withdrawn their lawsuit against the City of Oakland and a group of developers led by Phil Tagami’s CCIG for failing to conduct an environmental review of the possible impacts that exporting coal through Oakland’s former Army Base would have on adjacent communities.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, had filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action because the original CEQA review of the new Army Base development, performed over a decade ago, did not include an analysis of the impact of the transport of coal.

Shortly after submitting the CEQA challenge to Alameda County Superior Court, however, the City of Oakland filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the city had not yet taken any action or claimed any position on the coal deal that could be legally challenged.

According to Irene Gutierrez, an attorney at Earthjustice’s California regional office, new information revealed in the city’s motion to dismiss has clarified the city officials’ position on the coal to the petitioners.

This prompted the environmental groups to take a step back to allow the city to continue its own review.

“We drew the lawsuit without prejudice, which means we have the right to return to court at a later date if we so choose,” said Gutierrez. “We will be following closely what the city is doing and trust that it will keep communities’ interests at heart.”

Currently, city staff is performing its own review of the health and safety impacts that transporting coal through the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) would have on surrounding neighborhoods and the environment.

The result of this review will end in a final city council vote to determine what action the city will take to either prevent or regulate shipments of coal coming through Oakland.

The city also has the option of requesting an environmental review similar to the CEQA action, although it is unclear whether their environmental review would potentially halt the entire Oakland Army Base construction project, which would have been the result of Earthjustice’s CEQA challenge.

After reading the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, environmental groups learned that the $250 million terminal development’s $53 million in matching funds that would be coming from Utah, where the coal is mined, was pursued by CCIG “without city support, knowledge or involvement,” according to the papers filed by the city.

In exchange for the $53 million in funds, the developers had promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49 percent of the bulk terminal’s annual shipping capacity, potentially making Oakland the largest coal export city in California, according to Earthjustice’s press release.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the funding from Utah still needs to go through various levels of approval there and is being fought by a Utah chapter of the Sierra Club.

“What they’re trying to send over to Oakland is money slated for remediation and mitigation of the effects of the coal mining industry in Utah,” said Gutierrez. “It’s supposed to stay in Utah to help communities effected by mining and is not meant to come here.”

The city also made clear that it is still evaluating actions it may take to regulate the export of coal, such as requiring additional permits, passing new legislation that would apply to the project or requiring an environmental review.

“Up until September, city councilmembers and the city itself didn’t seem to be making firm statements about things like funding, coal or future discretionary permits,” said Gutierrez.

“Now that there is no more pending litigation, we are hoping for there to be more open communication with councilmembers, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about what precisely is on city council’s mind,” she said.

Before setting off for Paris to attend the global warming climate conference, Mayor Libby Schaaf doubled down on her position against exporting coal through Oakland, reiterating the city’s ability to declare coal a health and safety hazard in order to set regulations.

Originally, city councilmembers had chosen Dec. 8 as the deadline to make a final decision, but that date has been pushed back to February of next year in order to give city staff take more time to evaluate the alternatives.

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

Gentrification Threatens Oakland Churches and Artists

Coalition of faith-based, housing and cultural groups join to protect sacred spaces, say speakers at Post Salon

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!. and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery. Photo by Tulio Ospina, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!; and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

  By Ken Epstein

Oakland and other Bay Area cities are in the throes of a market-driven surge in evictions and rent increases, as long-term residents, small businesses and nonprofit agencies are being pushed out of their communities at an increasingly feverish pace.

Tensions are reaching a flashpoint in Oakland, where veteran residents are finding that a handful of gentrifiers  – perceived as acting out of a sense of entitlement – are trying to suppress the culture and religious worship that many see as the expression of life and breath.

At the heart of the conflict are two incidents that have become emblematic of the deepening tensions.
One of the incidents occurred in August when a resident called 911 to complain about an evening church choir practice at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, which received a city letter threatening penalties.

The second occurred in September when a resident approached drummers at Lake Merritt, tried to take away their drumsticks and called police to press assault charges against the musicians.

Exacerbating tensions, the city has seemed to side with the complainers – by threatening the church with penalties and filing charges against two of the drummers – though all charges were ultimately dropped this week.

Many residents see a double standard on the part of city agencies, which rarely respond when neighbors complain about a crack house next door or when garbage and other trash are piling up on their block.

These were concerns raised last Sunday, when residents, members of church congregations and cultural workers packed into a space at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland for a community discussion led by a panel of religious and arts’ leaders about how to come to grips with the current threat.

“(Our) church has been there over 65 years, and Wednesday night is choir rehearsal,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove.

“We were shocked, stunned when we heard that we were a nuisance in the community,” he said.  “We want to embrace change, (but) we also want the community to realize there is a tradition.”

Pastor Harris said he was also surprised by the widespread support his church has been receiving.
“I didn’t know this was going to take off like this,” he said, adding that he has heard from someone in Colorado, who told him, “We can’t hear you – you’re not loud enough.”

“I can’t believe all this is going on,” Pastor Harris said. “ If I’m the instrument to be used to make a change, I’m ready to be used.“

Co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland emphasized the connections between the churches and cultural expression, saying, “The church and the artists belong together.”

Another speaker, Theo Williams, is head of the drumming group SambaFunk! Funkquarians and co-founder of the Soul of Oakland coalition.

“We are all in this this together – this monster is coming to devour our community and devour our soul, ” he said.   “Just know we are standing with you. It is our job to come together now, not to look at our differences,” he said.

Drumming is rooted in African culture, Williams said, and, “We go to church almost every day of the week (somewhere in the city), and you are saying that it is going to be prohibited and restricted – that is our culture.”

Williams said the city should pass an ordinance to protect its cultural institutions. New residents who are moving next door to churches and cultural spaces should know they are protected by law.

The city should also eliminate policies that penalize or undermine cultural spaces.  “It’s time to look through all the municipal codes,” he said.

Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries said churches receives complaints because, “We do a major work the city does not do. We feed the hungry, and we have HIV testing.”

Some people are complaining because they don’t want the “flood of homeless people coming into the neighborhood,” because the churches are feeding those who are in need, she said.

Anyka Barber, co-creator of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and owner of the Betti Ono art gallery, explained she was born in Oakland and is committed to fight for the city’s cultural identity.

“It is my responsibility as a native, as a business owner (and) as a mother to step up,” she said. “There is no disconnection between the churches and the cultural workers. Everything I know I learned in church.”

Barber called for the city to reestablish its Cultural Arts Commission, “made up of residents who really represent our interests.”

She criticized the city’s process for creating a downtown development plan. “This planning process is not indicative of the community,” she said. “A lot of people feel like it should be scrapped and start all over. That’s my sense of it.”

Post publisher Paul Cobb, co-moderator of the event, called on the City Council to pass a “Church Pride Day” to acknowledge the churches, “so Oakland can be a sanctuary city for our sanctuaries.”

City development plans should include a “faith-based zone,” where affordable housing can be built around the churches, he said.

“The city needs a master plan for downtown that protects all the nonprofits, community groups and small businesses that are being pushed out because of gentrification,” Cobb said.

He also suggested putting out a national call for people to come to Oakland to hold sit-ins and picket lines at some of some of the city’s hip new restaurants that do not hire Black workers, “to integrate the jobs in these new restaurants in the same manner that we integrated southern lunch counters and restaurants in the 60s.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

Community members and faith leaders held a public meeting this week to oppose the export of coal from a terminal at the City of Oakland’s Oakland Army Base development project.

“The community of West Oakland has high health risks for asthma, cancer and other health challenges that continue to plague our community,” said Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, who is a cancer survivor, speaking at the meeting Monday held at his church.

One speaker, Margaret Gordon, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said the coal trains from Utah would reverse the improvements in air quality the city has made over a number of years.

Pastor Chambers is part of a group of at least a dozen other churches and organizations represented at the Monday meeting, including Pastor Curtis Robinson of Faith Baptist Church and Will Scott of California Interfaith Power & Light – that are pushing back on this proposal to bring coal to Oakland.

The community meeting came in the wake of a lengthy and heated public hearing held last month by the City Council, which brought out opponents and supporters of the coal terminal.

At that meeting, a number of church leaders said the supported the terminal because it would mean jobs, and those who spoke in opposition said bringing coal to Oakland would expose the community – especially West Oakland, which is already challenged with high asthma rates – to greater health risks.

The proposal by Terminal Logistic Solutions (TLS), with the backing of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami, suggests transporting coal in covered cars to reduce the amount of coal dust from spilling out during transit.

However, these measures would not be effective in eliminating this health risks to Oakland and nearby communities, according to those at the

“Because of the wind at the bay, it could carry this coal (dust) to Emeryville, Berkeley and the Oakland hills.”

“This is bigger than West Oakland. We are organizing citywide support from every council district to stand up against this environmental injustice,” he said.

While Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney has not taken a position on the proposal, she spoke at the meeting, saying the city’s limited authority in written into development contract with Tagami.

In June 2013, “When we adopted that development agreement, we pretty much set in stone the current existing regulatory environment. It gives a developer certainty,” said McElhaney, whose district includes West Oakland.

Basically, the agreement limits the city from making changes to certain rules and regulations to the developer.

“But we do preserve, at all times, (the right) to amend or change any regulations as it relates to public health and safety,” McElhaney added.

“We’re hoping that Council President McElhaney and the full council will step in and champion this issue for environmental justice in the City of Oakland,” said Chambers.

The City Council is scheduled to make a decision on the project in December.

Another community meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at West Side Church, 732 Willow St., Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 29, 2015 (postnewgroup.com)

 

 

Environmental Groups’ Legal Action Could Halt Coal Terminal

Sierra Club poster in West Coal. Courtesy of SF Business Times.

Sierra Club poster in West Oakland. Photo courtesy of SF Business Times.

By Tulio Ospina

Environmental and community groups – Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and San Francisco Baykeepers – have filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the export of coal being through Oakland.

According to Earthjustice, which filed the claim on behalf of the other groups, the original CEQA review of city’s Army Base development, performed over a decade ago, “failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment.”

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

It was not until April 2015 that the public learned that the bulk terminal’s developer, Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), had plans to use the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), to export coal coming from Utah.

Prior to this revelation, Phil Tagami, owner of California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG), with whom the city had signed an agreement to build the terminal, had publically promised that coal was not an option as an export commodity.

After public outcry this year, the City Council has agree to study whether the export of coal through Oakland poses “health and safety” hazards to adjacent communities and those working at the terminal.

A clause in original development agreement between Tagami and the city allows the Oakland to halt shipments of a commodity on the property if those shipments would place workers and adjacent communities “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health and safety.”

Worker at Army Base project

Worker at Army Base project

The environmental groups’ CEQA challenge give anti-coal activists significant bargaining power, since the entire Army Base develop could be halted for up to two years if the groups decide to call for an injunction.

The environmentalists say they do not want to halt a project that is overall good for Oakland but may be forced to do it the city fails to regulate or mitigate the impact of transporting coal through Oakland.

“Our goal in this process is to make sure the public really truly knows what will happen if a coal terminal goes up in their backyards and that the city complies with their desires,” said Irene Gutierrez, an attorney at Earthjustice’s California regional office.

“There was not an environmental review for a project like this (involving coal), and new information has come up, and CEQA allows you to sue if that is the case,” she said.

Army Base project

Army Base project

Meanwhile, the environmental and community organizations have written a letter to the California Transportation Commission (CTC) opposing what they see as a misuse of the public grant that was used to fund half of the project.

They have requested that the CTC provide an extension to the grant’s deadline, which will allow the project to find required matching funding to replace the money the project is hoping to receive from Utah.

The bulk terminal project was funded by $242 million from a voter-approved Proposition 1B Trade Corridor Improvement Funds, which allocated $20 billion in bonds to “advance infrastructure projects and air quality improvements throughout the state,” according to the letter.

CTC funding supports “projects that improve trade corridor mobility while reducing emissions of diesel particulate and other pollutant emissions,” according to Prop. 1B.

“The $242 million from Prop 1B is meant to protect communities from further being polluted and impacted from these industries,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter.

“The fact that the money is being used to build a coal export terminal flies in the face of (the proposition’s) intentions and is not the right use of that public fund that would make the Port of Oakland host dirtier operations,” she said.

jess Dervin Ackerman, Sierra Club

jess Dervin-Ackerman, Sierra Club

Because $53 million in matching funds for the OBOT would be coming from parts of Utah where the coal is mined, developers claim that regulating or prohibiting coal—or filing an injunction through CEQA—would leave the development stranded without necessary matching funds, thus shutting down the entire project.

To avoid a shutoff the environmental groups have asked for the extension on the deadline for securing matching funds.

“It’s important to affirm that the groups that are participants in the (CEQA) lawsuit are supportive of job creation and economic revitalization in Oakland,” said Gutierrez of Earthjustice. “But they want to make sure the city is informed and takes the measures it can to protect the public and keep the public informed.”

While the City Council has until Dec. 8 to make a final vote on its regulatory options surrounding coal, a number of people are challenging whether the city has the authority to regulate commodities that are being transported on federal railways.

“If this city were to take a position that coal could not be transported in interstate commerce, that would be a problem and would be (federally) preempted,” said Kathryn Floyd, a lawyer for Tagami’s company, CCIG, speaking at a Sept. 21public hearing.

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

Disagreeing, Gutierrez says the council does have the power to regulate commodities on city-owned property.

Seeking clarification of the city’s rights, the Post has asked City Attorney Barbara Parker, an elected public official, whether “a simple majority (is) needed in the City Council to determine whether or not the export of coal would constitute a health and safety danger to Oakland residents?”

Parker’s office responded that she “can’t disclose legal advice. Any advice or opinions we provide to clients is privileged and confidential, and in fact we can’t disclose whether or not we have provided advice on any given issue. We can disclose only if the Council waives its privilege.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Oct. 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland’s Coal Train Dispute Pits Public Health vs. Local Jobs

By Tulio Ospina

Hundreds of community members attended Oakland City Council’s public hearing Monday on the health and safety impacts that exporting coal through the former Oakland Army Base could have on residents in West Oakland and surrounding areas.

Those opposed to coal shipments wore red at the public hearing.

Those opposed to coal shipments wore red at the public hearing.

Opponents of coal, backed by expert witnesses, are calling on the City Council to act on a “health and safety” section in the contract between the city and Army Base developer Phil Tagami that would allow the city to halt shipments of a commodity on its property if those shipments would place workers and surrounding communities “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health and safety.”

Monday’s public hearing was the first step for the City Council to make this determination, which could result in halting, regulating or placing a moratorium on shipping coal through the bulk commodities terminal at the army base.

For over six hours, speakers presented reasons why the city should prohibit or allow coal to be shipped through the future Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT).

And those who support the coal shipments wore yellow.

And those who support the coal shipments wore yellow.

The coal discussion quickly polarized into a debate between health, safety and environmental concerns for Oakland residents versus the creation of jobs.

However, a number of observers consider the dichotomy between jobs and public health to be misleading because it is unclear whether shipping coal through the bulk terminal would create any more jobs for Oakland residents than any other commodity—such as wheat or potash—that might pass through the terminal.

At the end of the six-hour long hearing, some of the councilmembers weighed in on the issue with thoughts and questions they felt still needed to be answered.

“There’s no reason to think that if we’re shipping wheat or something else (through the terminal) that there would be any less jobs than coal,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan at the end of the hearing. “In fact, there are many products that would generate more jobs than coal.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks questioned the health evidence that opponents of a coal deal were presenting, saying she believes the health experts lack convincing evidence that coal dust and emissions are detrimental to people’s health and the environment.

Derrick Muhammad ILWU Local 10

Derrick Muhammad ILWU Local 10

Her principal concern seemed to be focused on job creation.

“We need to understand the effects of other issues such as poverty on the health impacts and ask ourselves does it outweigh coal,” said Brooks. “I can’t tell people who cannot feed their children that, yet again, they ought to wait for their next job opportunity.”

Pastor Gerald Agee of the Friendship Christian Center said, “The folks who come to our churches that are unable to find jobs and are being pushed out of their places because landlords want more money with rent.”

Agee says public health and safety are his primary concerns. He said his support for coal shipments is contingent on the city’s ability to create a binding contract with the developers to ensure there would be consequences if the operators of the terminal fall short on their health and safety promises.

Meanwhile, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 and Local 34, who stand to gain most of the jobs at the terminal, have rejected the plan to export coal through the bulk terminal.

Longshore workers are opposed to “locking Oakland into a decades-long lease with a coal industry that many say is dying,” according to an ILWU press release.

Jasmin Ansar, a professor of economics at Mills College, told the council that coal is a questionable economic investment, saying the Port of Los Angeles lost money on coal shipment.

“The coal industry is in economic decline, and demand has decreased sharply due to cheaper alternatives such as oil, gas and renewables.”

“It would be a poor investment choice to tie up investment funds in a project that is unlikely to succeed and will likely leave Oakland to become stranded,” said Ansar.

“Coal isn’t going to be making jobs here for people in the community. These are ILWU jobs,” said Brian Beveridge, Co-Director for the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

According to Beveridge, not only is it a myth that coal would generate more jobs than any other commodity but there would be “little to no chance that the unemployed and those not in a union would get whatever jobs the terminal would create.”

Beveridge said that he and Margaret Gordon of WOEIP had lunch with the developers of the coal terminal, Jerry Bridges and Omar Benjamin, who offered them 12 cents for every ton shipped through the terminal, which could amount to between six and eight million tons a year.

The developer told them that WOEIP could use the money any way it wants, including opening a health clinic, according to Beveridge, but he and Gordon turned down the offer.

The City Council concluded on Monday that it will keep the public hearing open until Oct. 5, to allow city staff to evaluate the evidence and present options for consideration to City Council by no later than Dec. 8.

The Post asked the City Attorney’s office to clarify whether a simple majority or a super major of seven out of eight councilmember would be needed to declare the shipment of coal to be a “health and safety” hazard under the development agreement. The City Attorney did not reply to the the Post’s question.

City Attorney Barbara Parker’s general position is that, though she is an elected official, she only provides her legal opinion in closed session with the City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 26, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)