Category: Equal Rights/Equity

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

 

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

 

‘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

Mayoral Candidate Cat Brooks Pledges to “Turn the Tables” on Business as Usual in Oakland

Cat Brooks

By Ken Epstein

“It’s time to turn the tables” on the developer- and financier-led displacement agenda that currently runs Oakland, says mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, radio host, actor and justice activist, who wants the city to move in the direction of utilizing its resources to solve homelessness, promote education, build housing that regular people can afford and spend public safety dollars to eliminate conditions that give rise to crime.

Brooks formally kicked off her campaign May 1 on Radio Station KPFA, speaking to Brian Edwards-Tiekert, who until that morning was her co-host on the “Up-Front” driver-time public affairs program on the station.

Taking at least a six-month leave of absence from KPFA, she is focusing on organizing the majority of Oaklanders “who can’t afford to purchase power in City Hall,” she said in the interview.

Win or lose, she hopes her campaign will build “a base of 10,000 … to push to save the soul of the City of Oakland,” Brooks said.

She said her campaign will promote the voices of the unhoused, immigrants and poor people, “who in the last four years have borne the brunt of a neoliberal mayor who has put development over people.”

Central to her program is dealing with “the housing crisis like the epidemic that it is,” mustering the city-wide commitment to turning around the alarming rise in homelessness and uncontrolled rent increases that are displacing tens of thousands of Oaklanders.

“We need to deal with the unhoused crisis in this city like a bomb dropped in the middle of our city – because it did, a gentrification bomb,” she said, calling for the city to build 4,000 affordable units.

“We have to take a stand on the side of our most vulnerable residents,” she continued.

Not a fan of solving crime by increasing policing, Brooks said, “We should actively be walking away from militarized policing and incarceration.”

She said that police funding drains almost 50 percent of the city’s budget, including $30 million a year in unauthorized overtime. A significant amount of that money can be redirected to solve the city’s social problems, she said.

People in Oakland rightfully want to be safe, but the current approach is not working well, she said, adding that there are many car break-ins and burglaries, and the police department’s homicide solve rate is only a little over 30 percent.

Rather than increasing the numbers of police, the city can increase public safety by hiring “community ambassadors,” “training (people) for community safety,” she said, recognizing that “police should not be the solution to every single issue.”

“At the same time, (we should be) reforming and holding accountable the Oakland Police Department, finally for the first time in that department’s history,” said Brooks.

For information on Cat Brooks’ campaign, go to www.catbrooksforoakland.com/

Published May 12, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Questions Continue on Fate of Oakland Public Library’s African-American History Books

 

Discarded library books. Photo courtesy of John Jones III’s Facebook page.

By Ken Epstein

Concerns over the erasure and preservation of Black history and culture in Oakland’s public libraries continued to grow this week, as City Administrator Sabrina Landreth explained library policy on discarding books, while District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks rasied questions on the specifics of the policy and how it is implemented.

Oakland Public Library’s practice of discarding books was brought to public attention last week when community member Assata Olugbala showed up at week’s City Council meeting with an armful books on African American themes that the library had discarded.

One of the emails the Oakland Post received on the subject asked, “How do we protest the discarding of African American books at Oakland Public Library? I am infuriated!”
In a memo dated May 7 to the Oakland City Council, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth wrote:

“Upon research, these particular books, in addition to others, were withdrawn from the Elmhurst Branch Library, having been published between 1990-2007, about 11-28 years ago.
“Books are officially withdrawn periodically to keep the collection responsive to patron needs, to ensure its vitality and usefulness to the community, and to make room for newer materials or newer formats.
“When OPL discards a book, it is typically donated to the local branch of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library.”

In removing books from its 18 branches, Landreth said Oakland follows the guidelines of the American Library Association.

“Oakland librarians are professionals that receive formal training in the care and management of the OPL collection,” she said. “Decisions about what to have in the collection are made by subject specialists at each location based on the needs and interests of the community”

Brooks replied to Landreth in a letter, questioning the policy and seeking information on whether it was followed in this case.

“While your memo responds generally to the concerns raised it doesn’t provide adequate information to make an informed determination that the proper protocols were followed prior to discarding the books,” she wrote.  “This is a serious and extremely troubling issue which warrants a more comprehensive response.”

Further, she wrote, “It is insufficient to say that we follow the American Library Association guidelines. We should revisit a policy which gives the public perception of purging the history and existence of a community. We should make sure that the community is involved in the deselection process. We should also develop a policy to donate discarded books to community and educational institutions.”

Citing OPL policy, Brooks said the library uses statistical reports to analyze whether books are being used by patrons, but “your memo fails to provide sufficient information to determine whether any of this analysis was completed,”

Said Post Publisher Paul Cobb, a former library commissioner, “It is going to be hard for African Americans to support a library tax this year when the Oakland Public Library shows such disregard for   the preservation of Black history information and culture.

“I asked the mayor to resolve this matter, and she said she would look into it, but she has not responded,” said Cobb.

Published May 10, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Mayor’s Role in Taking Kaplan Off Air Quality Board “Is Politics at Its Worst,” Says Boardmember

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan received appreciation and an award on her lat last day on Bay Area Air Quality Management (BAAQMD) board. Kaplan is shown with BAAQMD board Chair David Hudson, member of the San Ramon City Council.

By Ken Epstein

 Members of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) board paid tribute recently to Oakland City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan at her last meeting on the regional body. A few members criticized Mayor Libby Schaaf for indulging in “politics at its worst” to remove the councilmember from the BAAQMD board and encouraged Oakland residents to work for Kaplan for mayor.

 

“It’s ridiculous that you have to leave this board. I think it’s politics at its worst,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a board member representing Sonoma County.

“The fact that someone bright and capable and articulate as you is being replaced after two years, well shame on the mayor,” she said.

Added Boardmember Supervisor Scott Haggerty, representing Alameda County, “For those of you who think Rebecca should be here, maybe you should help her run for mayor.”

Kaplan, who served for two years as one of Alameda County’s two representatives on the 24-member board, whose members come from cities and counties from Napa to Palo Alto.

According to a spokesman of the Alameda County Mayors’ Conference, which appoints a representative on the BAAQMD board, mayors have first preference in seeking appointments, but Mayor Schaaf had the right to nominate Kaplan for reappointment to the position.

Kaplan was “not precluded” from reapplying, according to the spokesman, but, “If a council member applies for a position, the councilmember (must) receive the approval of the mayor,” the Mayors’ Conference spokesman said.

Instead of nominating Kaplan and despite a deluge of community letters in support of her reappointment, Schaaf nominated the mayor of Berkeley. In March, the Mayor’s Conference voted to give the position to the mayor of Emeryville.

In her response to the letters in support of Kaplan, Schaaf said her hands were tied, and that she was precluded by the rules of the County Mayors’ Conference from reappointing Kaplan to the board.

As Oakland’s first representative on the board 25 years, Kaplan worked to bring funds to improve air quality in the city, which persistently has had some of the highest levels of air-borne toxic wastes—including cancer—and asthma-causing pollutants—in the Bay Area.

Kaplan has helped secure money for major projects to improve air quality for Oakland and other East Bay cities, including for the Broadway Shuttle, replacing a diesel locomotive engine to clean the air around the Port/Army base and setting up a fund to get old, high polluting diesel trucks off the road.

Members of the BAAQMD board praised Kaplan for what she has been able to accomplish in only two years.

“(Kaplan) represents the kind of person that is the reason I want to be on this board, someone who is a critical thinker, thinks about the big picture and has helped to shape a unique profile for the district,” said Boardmember Mayor Doug Kim of the City of Belmont.

Another board member referred to the time when Kaplan went to North Dakota to stand in solidarity with Dakota Access Pipeline protests (#NODAPL). “That’s walking the talk, you really did it. I thought after that: ‘you know what, Rebecca really means it,’” said Mayor Liz Kniss, City of Palo Alto.

“You’ve distinguished yourself as a thoughtful advocate for human health. You’ve done a very effective job articulating concerns in communities most affected by air pollution, which certainly includes your city (and) which your mayor should appreciate. I know we do,” said Vice Mayor Rod Sinks, City of Cupertino.

“We’ve gotten the message about cash for clunkers. We’ll make sure we carry that mantle,” said Supervisor David J. Canepa, San Mateo Count.

Speaking to the board, Jed Holtzman of 350.org Bay Area member said, Rebecca is the kind of textbook example of what the public would like to see on this board and any board in terms of consciousness and engagement.”

She paraphrased a minister she knows in her remarks: “If you woke up this morning, you still have work to do. I ain’t done.”

The video of the discussion at the April 4 BAAQMD board meeting can be viewed here

Published May 5, 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.

Activist Cat Brooks Joins Race for Mayor of Oakland

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and now former host of “Upfront” on KPFA, speaks at the ILWU Local 10 May Day rally on May 1, 2018. Earlier that day, Brooks announced live on KPFA that she is now a candidate in the race to become Oakland’s next mayor, challenging the re-election of current Mayor Libby Schaaf. Photo by Sarah Carpenter.

 

By Sarah Carpenter

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, is running for mayor of Oakland.

Brooks was a host of KPFA’s “Upfront,” until the final 10 minutes of Tuesday morning’s show, when she had to take a leave due to her status as a political candidate.
Brian Edwards-Tiekert interviewed Brooks as a guest following the live on-air announcement of her candidacy.

She said she has been asked by many grassroots organizations to run for the office of mayor, and until now she has always said no. “And then I said yes,” she told Tiekert.

“Because my life’s work is centered on the needs of the people,” Brooks said in her prepared remarks on May 1, “I am here to announce—today—on International Workers Day that I am throwing my hat in the ring to challenge neoliberal Libby Schaaf for mayor.”

Brooks described her campaign as one that would minimize police spending (currently almost 50 percent of the city’s general fund) to pay for community programs, specifically related to the housing crisis. She said her campaign would treat homelessness as “the epidemic that it is.”

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan, who has been an active in searching for solutions to the city’s housing crisis, responded to the news that Brooks will be in the race for mayor this November,
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said.

Brooks’  May Day announcement coincided with the springtime festival that has since the late 1800s become known as a worldwide celebration of workers’ solidarity,  International Workers Day.

Brooks spoke at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) May Day rally in DeFremery Park, where  renowned actor, director and activist Danny Glover delivered an impromptu speech in support of the longshoreman and their continued social activism.

The ILWU Local 10 shut down all Bay Area ports in 2010 in protest of the killing of Oscar Grant  by an Oakland BART police officer. This year, family members of Sahleem Tindle and Stephon Clark, two unarmed young men who were killed by police,  attended the ILWU May Day march and rally.

Brooks marched alongside the Tindle family down Adeline St. from the docks to DeFremery Park. She, along with the APTP, has been a leader in organizing to bring about the arrest of BART officer Joseph Mateu, who shot and killed Tindle outside West Oakland BART station in January.

Published May 4, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: Re-elect Desley Brooks to City Council

Desley Brooks

 By Dan Siegel, Oakland Justice Coalition

Dan Siegel

Desley Brooks deserves another term on the Oakland City Council because she has been a strong, creative advocate for the residents of District 6 and all the people of Oakland.

The only thing toxic about Desley Brooks is the campaign being waged against her by Mayor Schaaf and her allies determined to turn Oakland into Walnut Creek West.

At a time when the City Council majority is afraid to have lunch without the Mayor’s approval, Council Member Brooks has successfully fought for programs that benefit working people in Oakland and attract positive national attention.

In response to the rapid decline in the City’s African American population from almost half to barely a quarter of Oakland’s people, she worked to create the new Department of Race and Equity to ensure that people of color share in the City’s growing prosperity. She created the Cannabis Equity Program to create opportunities for Oakland residents to share in the profits from the exploding marijuana industry.

Desley worked to spur the revitalization of the Seminary Point business district and fought for $13.7 million to renovate the Rainbow Recreation Center.

She has worked hard to bring benefits and services to low income residents, including monthly food distributions and placing washers and dryers in area schools. She was the first to bring a farmers’ market to East Oakland.

Councilmember Brooks takes seriously the problems that are driving lower- and moderate-income people from Oakland.

She is leading efforts to increase affordable housing, including supporting the expansion of the Oakland Community Land Trust to create housing that will be permanently affordable.

She has been a leader in supporting the statewide effort to repeal the Costa-Hawkins law so that cities are free to establish their own rent control programs.

Desley was an early supporter of Oakland’s Living Wage Ordinance and is now focusing on creating good jobs for Oakland residents by increasing the availability of job training programs.  She supports efforts to create a People’s Budget for the City.

Mayor Schaaf has apparently decided that there is no room for disagreement among Oakland’s elected officials and that anyone who challenges her must be purged from City government.  She and other critics of Councilmember Brooks focus on her style and personality, but public service is not a popularity contest.

Voters who study her record and productivity will conclude that no-one on the City Council can match her record of advocacy and accomplishments for working Oaklanders, especially low- and moderate-income people.

Desley Brooks deserves another term on the City Council.

Dan Siegel is a civil rights attorney and co-chair of the Oakland Justice Coalition. He and his family have lived in District 6 since 1977.

Councilmembers Delay Vote on Proposal for Construction Job Opportunities for Oaklanders

Pre-apprenticeship building trades trainees from the Cypress Mandela Training Center, which was founded by the Oakland Private Industry Council, joined a rally recently in front of City Hall asking City Council members to fund programs like theirs and others that prepare people for well paying jobs in construction. Photo by Ken Epstein.

 

By Ken Epstein
Forty-six people signed up to speak at this week’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting, almost all of them arguing in favor of Councilmember Desley Brooks’ proposal to utilize city funds to support pre-apprentice training programs for construction workers and career centers that provide opportunities for low-income residents of East and West Oakland.

Despite the passion and enthusiasm of the speakers – community leaders, young job trainees, program staff, labor representatives and the formerly incarcerated – they were disappointed to learn that council members were not going to vote on the proposal but were postponing it until the May 22 CED committee meeting.

According to council members, they could not vote on the matter Tuesday because staff reports analyzing the proposal had not yet been submitted by the City Attorney’s office and the city administration, even though the issue had been discussed during last year’s budget deliberations, and Brooks had submitted her proposal over five months ago.

The matter was also on the CED agenda two weeks ago but was not be discussed because it lacked a cover memo.

This, week, City Attorney Barbara Parker sent a “confidential” opinion to the council but has not issued a public opinion on the proposal, according to council members.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who co-sponsored Brooks’ resolution, said Parker’s opinion contains “legal recommendations” but “doesn’t close the door on us.”

Speaking to members of the CED committee, Councilmember Brooks said, “There is a crisis in this city, a crisis in terms of putting people to work, and we’d rather play games and look smug than carry out the business of the people.”

Though criticisms have been raised about how the measure would be funded, Brooks said she had patterned her proposal after the Percent for the Arts ordinance, which has utilized bond money to generate millions of dollars for public arts programs.

“I don’t know why the City Attorney is having difficulty figuring out if it is legal since we have been using the Percent for the Arts ordinance since 1989,” she said.

She pointed to the page on the city’s website, which talks about “exciting Public Art projects funded through local bonds and state grants (that) are underway throughout Oakland.”

According the web page, the money for public arts comes from “Measure DD: Lake Merritt – Estuary Channel, Lake Merritt Garden Gates, Lakeside Green Streets, Estuary Park,” “Measure WW: DeFremery Park,” and “Measure KK: Coming soon.”

“What we’re asking for right now that is that you think that the Black and Brown people of this city are important, that you think that it is important that they see a 15 percent decline in unemployment, that you see that it is important that they be able to continue to live in this city, that you think it is important that they be able to support their families,” Brooks said.

Brooks says her ordinance has a clause that excludes any funding proposal that cannot be utilized legally, and she challenged councilmembers to come up with their own ideas for funding job training if they do not like the ones she proposed.

“We are playing around trying to find reasons why we can’t do something, and none of you have come up with a proposal to figure out what we can do. What have you come up with? What are you doing to rectify this issue that is moving our residents out of this city.”

Many of the community speakers underscored the importance of the proposal, which would provide city support for the Cypress Mandela Training Center, the Men of Valor Academy, East and West Oakland Career Centers and other programs.

Richard de Jauregui, director of Planning for the Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC), said the city has been relying on federal dollars to supports its workforce development programs for the past 18 years but now has to figure out how to fund these programs itself.
“Federal funds are dwindling. They are talking about cutting as much as 40 percent under the current administration,” he said.

Sylvester Hodges, director of training at Cypress Mandela Training Center, urged council members to be creative.

“If this isn’t the source of money that you want to give… (you can) come up with ways you can help the people in the community.”

Speaking to Councilmember Campbell Washington, who has announced she is not running for reelection, Hodges said, “You don’t have to quit because we disagree with you. Don’t do that. We just want you to think and work together and compromise.”

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan told council members, “I’d like to encourage us to imagine what would happen if we all decided to all be ‘all in’ on figuring out how to make sure the job training gets funded.”

“Understand why it matters,” she continued. “We have construction projects that can’t get built because they can’t get workers. We have a Black unemployment rate that is so much higher than the white unemployment rate that it would be considered a national crisis if white unemployment was at that level.”

Men of Valor Academy director Pastor Jerald K. Simpkins said, “This city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and all we ask is for a seed to go into some of the communities that rarely receive those kinds of investments. Sow a seed, and you’ll reap a harvest.”

Gregory McConnell, who frequently represents developers, also supported the proposal. “I don’t know if there are technical difficulties … but (I know) these programs are transforming lives.”

The three speakers opposed the proposal because they were against spending infrastructure bond funds, Measure KK, for pre-apprenticeship training. But they did not say if they would support the resolution if funding came from other sources. One woman suggested trainees raise money for their programs with a GoFundMe campaign.

Campbell Washington, who chaired the CED meeting, said the resolution would come back to the committee May 22 “either with the City Attorney’s analysis that we received confidentially, or whatever that can be put out to the public, and a city staff analysis.”

Councilmember Gallo praised Councilmember Brooks for taking the initiative on job training.
“I really applaud you, and I value what you’re doing,” he said. “For me employment and training are extremely important.”

Gallo said that a proposal to fund the Cypress Mandela Training Center was discussed when the budget was adopted last year, but “it didn’t happen because we didn’t have the majority of the votes.”

“The opportunity is here,” Gallo continued. “We did receive a communication from the City Attorney with some changes they are recommending in terms of how we may be able to get to the funding level to support training programs that we have and future training programs.”

He suggested council members give the City Administrator a directive to come back to the council with proposals on how to fund job training in Oakland.

Published April 29, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post