Category: Gentrification

Post Salon Backs Call on State Officials to Investigate and Remove FCMAT

Panelists at the Sunday, Nov. 3 Post Salon were former Roots Academy teacher Quinn Ranahan, Kaiser Elementary Parent Cherise Gash, Howard Elementary teacher Yael Friedman, Oakland teachers’ union Executive Boardmember Kampala Taiz-Rancifer, former school Boardmember Sylvester Hodges and Post reporter Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Post Community Assembly, along with parents and teachers in the Oakland Not For Sale (ONFS) coalition, hosted a community discussion last Sunday aimed at opposing the school closures, austerity, and privatization that are threatening the future of Oakland public schools.

The gathering focused on ways to stop the closing of Oakland schools, carried out by the district under the guidance of a non-elected state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT).

Post Salon, Nov. 3, 2019.

Attendees praised the Salon for providing rarely discussed information about the power and operation of FCMAT which began pressing the district to close schools at the time when the State took all power away from local residents in 2003  Then state administrator Randy Ward, working in tandem with FCMAT, asked an aide to find out how much money it would save to close schools. The aide returned a few days later with the information that closing schools does not save money, and Ward responded, “Then go back and find another reason for closing schools.”

The state-appointed FCMAT has continued to dominate school district decisions because of the unnecessarily large debt imposed on the district in 2003. FCMAT has at various times become the overseer to nine school districts. In every case, these districts were disproportionately Black and Latino, compared to the rest of the state.

OUSD has already closed 18 schools since the state took over in 2003, and 14 of those buildings have been taken over by charters. All of those schools served predominantly flatlands students. Other schools have lost classroom space as they have been forced to “co-locate” charters on their campuses.

This past school year, the district closed Roots International Academy and recently decided to close Kaiser Elementary and Oakland SOL. The district has committed to closing more schools over the next four years. There are 24 schools on the list of threatened sites, though OUSD has not revealed how many of them will be actually closed.

“The purpose of this salon is not to have an organized gripe session, a place to vent, but rather to take these concerns and convert them to a plan of action and a commitment to action,” said Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb, who moderated the panel and the discussion that followed. . “The most important thing is that we need a community response and a political organizing response to put pressure for change,” he said.

Among the proposals raised by various individual participants was running a slate next year of four school board candidates who are committed to fighting for the community.   Others proposed a recall of school board members. And others planned to set up a meeting with Oakland’s state legislators and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to discuss the unfair aspects of Oakland’s debt and FCMAT’s actions.

Parents and teachers who are members of Oakland Not for Sale asked for the community to attend the next school board meeting to protest school closures and school board violence, Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 4:30 p.m. at La Escuelita Elementary at 1050 Second Ave. This meeting will give the community a chance to show that the community is not intimidated by the district’s use of police.

The first of the six panelists was Cherisse Gash, a parent from Kaiser Elementary, who said she attended Kaiser as a child and chose Kaiser for her child. “Without fail, the school did exactly did what they were supposed to do for my son. They loved him. They made sure he felt encouraged as a student.”

“We are going to fight for our schools,” she said. “We need board members that support students first.”

Another speaker was Roots teacher Quinn Ranahan, who fought to save her school. “It was a really beautiful place. I loved my kids. There was something that was really magical happening there.”

Central office administrators showed up last December to notify the school community that Roots would close in June. Ignoring its own community engagement policies, the board also ignored the hundreds of parents, teachers and students who protested at school board meetings voting on Jan. 28 to close the school.

Many Roots students were moved to schools that are slated to close next year. “Our kids will again be in an unstable environment,” Ranahan said.

Howard Elementary teacher Yael Friedman talked about how Francophone Charter had taken over part of her school.    Under the co-location policy, it was given seven of the 16 classrooms at the school, forcing the Howard to move its reading intervention class to a closet.She said the teachers went to the school board meeting and showed them photos of the class being taught in the closet. “They said ‘Oh my goodness’ but then they said  there was nothing they could do.”

While Howard is told it is losing classrooms because it is under-enrolled, parents report they try to enroll their children at Howard and are told by the district that there is no room, said Friedman.

Representing the Oakland Education Association (OEA) was Executive Board Member Kampala Taiz-Rancifer.

“OUSD has a long legacy of closing schools, primarily in Black and Brown and communities,” she said. “They’ve been intentionally defunding our schools. We’re going to need a new school board, and) we’re trying to figure out right now how to stop these really racist practices.”

Sylvester Hodges was President of the School Board during an earlier era, when the Board prevented State take-over.  He said “You have to follow the money,” to see who will make money off school closures –  the charter schools that want the campuses and the developers property to build upscale condominiums. The attack on public schools was well planned, he said. “They have supplied the district with all the necessary ingredients to ignore us, and do what they want. They have already sold themselves out.”

This reporter spoke about the role of FCMAT, which he observed while a school district employee during the state takeover in 2003 and later as a reporter.

With FCMAT in charge, along with State Receiver Randy Ward, the word around the district was that OUSD would be drastically downsized, “small enough to hold in your hands,” cutting something like 36 schools, compared to the over 90 school sites the district had at the time.

The salon adjourned after unanimously agreeing to work on various actions, including a meeting with state elected officials.

Published November 7, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School Board Votes to Close Kaiser Elementary School

Teachers, students and parents speak at standing-room only Oakland Board of Education meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 11. (Photo courtesy of Chastity Garcia, Facebook)

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Oakland Board of Education voted this week to close Kaiser Elementary School and move as many of the school’s staff and families as the district can to Sankofa Academy.

Facing an angry standing-room only crowd of parents, students and teachers who booed their decision, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the “merger” of the two schools. Supporting the motion were James Harris, Gary Yee, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Jody London and Aimee Eng. Roseann Torres and Shanthi Gonzales opposed the decision. The meeting did not end until 1:30 a.m.

The Kaiser closure was a continuation of OUSD’s “right-sizing” policy to close or merge 24 or more schools in the next few years. According to district leaders, right-sizing the district will free up resources and staff that will lead to more high quality and equitable programs at the schools that remain open.

Kaiser Elementary is a high performing small school in the affluent Hiller Highlands neighborhood. Sankofa Academy, a low-enrollment school in the flatlands of North Oakland, has struggled for years as a result of the district’s failure to keep its promises to the community of increased resources and the disruption of continually shifting reform efforts.

Opponents of school closures and privatization argue that an unstated 20-year policy of disrupting and closing schools that serve African American and Latino students, led by the school board and administration, has undermined public education in Oakland and is putting public school property on the block for sale or lease to charter schools.

In a statement released this week, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown blasted OUSD’s repeated references to budget deficits as a false justification for closing schools.

“Three months ago, Oakland Unified projected a $19 million year-end deficit. In a revision to be presented to the school board this week, it has now become a $21 million surplus,” Brown said.

“OUSD (has) claimed to be in a fiscal crisis, using it to justify school closures, hardball negotiations with teachers, classified employee layoffs, cuts to important students’ services, and more recently withholding payments to the employee healthcare fund.”

“Now, as then, OUSD has zero budget credibility.”

Published September 12, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Big Win in Sacramento for Anti Rent-Gouging and Eviction Protections

Tenant leaders of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and other organizing groups fill the California State Capitol, Wednesday, Sept. 11, to back the Tenant Protection Act, AB 1482. Photo courtesy of ACCE.

By Post Staff

After years of escalating and brutal displacement driving millions of Californians into poverty or homelessness, today, the California legislature this week passed Assembly Bill 1482 (Chiu) which is now headed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
If approved by the governor, this could become the strongest anti rent-gouging and just-cause eviction law in the nation.

AB 1482, also known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, has been driven in large part by the advocacy of tenant leaders of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and other organizing groups. The bill gives protections to 7 million tenants, covering more tenants than any single tenant protection bill in recent US history. It will cap rent increases statewide at 5 percent plus the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as well as stop unfair evictions by requiring landlords to have a “just cause” for evicting their tenants.

“This victory proves that California’s renters are a force to be reckoned with, and we aren’t done yet. Led by people of color and seniors, the renters most likely to become homeless without these types of protections, ACCE members will keep fighting and keep winning until every single Californian is guaranteed a safe and affordable home,” said Christina Livingston, the executive director of ACCE.

Since April of this year, ACCE leaders have made over one hundred in-district visits to key legislators, generated 1,646 calls across 18 assembly & senate districts, and brought hundreds of tenants from across the state to the capitol in Sacramento nearly a dozen times to lobby. In April, two ACCE members staged a sit-in overnight inside the Governor’s office to urge him to step up for the bill and take a leadership role in its passage.

Sasha Graham, the state board chair of ACCE, who was homeless for three years after receiving a 200 percent rent increase and no-cause eviction, says she is incredibly grateful that families will never have to go through what she and her son went through. “This is an incredible victory for families. It demonstrates what people power can do. It is inhumane what my son and I went through, and I am incredibly grateful and take so much comfort in knowing that there is a safety net for my family,” said Graham. “ACCE is the backbone to this movement, and without them I wouldn’t have found my voice and the tenants’ rights movement in California wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Cecilia Reyna, an ACCE member based in Compton and a tenant of Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of the private equity giant the Blackstone Group, says she is elated. The corporation, which bought up tens of thousands of single-family homes in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and turned them to rentals, is known for predatory practices of excessive rent increases, uninhabitable living conditions, arbitrary evictions and fee gouging.

Because of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, AB 1482 will be the first time that single family rentals owned by corporate landlords will have any form of renter protections.
“Despite our complaints, my landlord has been so incredibly negligent with maintaining our home that the city of Compton has condemned it and I now face a no-cause eviction. Invitation Homes has offered me zero support in moving. With AB 1482 passing, I now am due relocation assistance. This is huge for our family and huge for all tenants of corporate landlords,” said Reyna.

Published September 11, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Push Back Against School District Plan to Close and Merge Schools

Kaiser Elementary School parents meet with school district administrator about school closing, Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Running into a wall of outrage from school families and community groups, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) administration and the Oakland Board of Education are struggling to come up with a coherent rationale and reasonable plans to close Oakland neighborhood schools that they hope Oaklanders would be willing to accept.

OUSD is  currently operating under the supervision and fiscal austerity regime imposed by the State of California’s  local representatives – the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) – which are demanding that the district close 24 or more schools in the next few years, which variously has been called right-sizing, merging, relocating or consolidating.

None of the euphemisms for school closing seem to have gained much credibility from parent groups that are fighting to keep from losing their established school communities or face major upheavals  as they move to new schools or try to adapt to new groups of students and teachers on their campuses with what they fear will be  inadequate planning, lack of resources and little to no school community input.

In past presentations to the board and press interviews, FCMAT has said the district has too many schools and cannot afford to operate them, while acknowledging that school closures do not save money.

This year, the administration, under Cohort 2 plans, is urging the school board to close the Henry J. Kaiser campus and merge the school’s students, families and teachers with Sankofa Academy in North Oakland.

Variations of the plan, backed by individual school board members, would merge Kaiser and Sankofa with Peralta Elementary School or Santa Fe Elementary (which is presently closed but temporarily serving the Glenview Elementary community, while their campus is being rebuilt).

The Cohort 2 plan also calls to expand Melrose Leadership Academy and move Oakland SOL, which are outgrowing their campuses. Impacted schools could be Sherman Elementary, Frick Middle School and Maxwell Park.

The district says the merging and closing of schools will free up resources and funds, according to the OUSD Blueprint for Quality Schools Action Plan, is to create “high quality and sustainable schools in every neighborhood,” particularly in flatland schools that have been historically under-resourced and have faced institutionalized disparities.

Speaking at last week’s board meeting, Kaiser parents pleaded with the board not to close their school.

In a Facebook post, the Kaiser advocacy Committee urged  the pubic to attend last week’s school board meeting to “make your voice heard and stand with us as we advocate that the board do right by Oakland children and put a stop to all school closures and consolidations.”

Facing criticisms as a privileged hill school, Kaiser parents emphasized the school’s diversity, high test scores and significantly increasing test scores for African American students.

Kaiser’s student population, which is fairly stable at 268 students, is 21 percent African American, 16 percent Latino and 36 percent white. A majority of the students come from outside the school’s neighborhood attendance area.

If the school were closed, students in the Kaiser attendance area would be eligible to attend Chabot Elementary, where 3.9 percent of the students are African American. Students from outside the Kaiser attendance area would go to Sankofa or could apply to another school in the district.

Parents from Sankofa told the school board that they are open to merging with any other school at their campus, as long as they receive resources and support from the district.

Over the course of a number of years and different superintendents, according to parents and district administrators, many promises were made to Sankofa, including active support, new programs and other resources. But the promises were never kept, and existing resources continued to dry up.

At present, Sankofa has 189 students, 71 percent African American, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent white.

Speakers at the board meeting from Oakland SOL, Frick Middle and Melrose Leadership Academy told the board they needed more time to make sure the moves at their campuses would strengthen, not undermine their schools.  Rather than the board adopting a timeline that institutes changes next school year, they asked board members to give them an additional year to develop collaborative relationships with their newly merged school communities.

Most of the school board members who spoke supported the closure of the Kaiser site but had differing ideas about combining the Kaiser, Santa Fe, Peralta and Sankofa school communities.   However, breaking with the board’s approach, Boardmember Rosie Torres sharply criticized the plan.

She said the district’s promises of supporting the schools – “the ideas, the dreams and pipelines – are not realistic in my view” because OUSD does not have sufficient central office staff to do the work.

When the district closed Roots Academy in June, it promised the school community resources. “(But) we barely offered Roots boxes, when we told them (they would receive) counseling and help transitioning. We’re not doing it right. Let’s not pretend we’re going to do it any better next time.”

She criticized the superintendent’s and staff’s timeline as unrealistic.

Interrupting Torres, School Boardmember Gary Yee accused her of disrespecting the superintendent. “I find that offensive,” he said.  Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell told Torres said the board member should not disrespect her staff.

The board is scheduled to vote on the Cohort 2 mergers and closures at its Wednesday, Sept. 11 meeting.

Published September 5, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

State Supported Housing Development Will Help Some Homeless but Beyond Reach for Many Oaklanders

Permanent Supportive Housing for former homeless people in San Francisco.

 By Ken Epstein
Six affordable housing devel­opers have been awarded a total of $30 million to build 413 hous­ing units in Oakland, which will include 168 units of “permanent affordable housing” designed for the homeless and people with dis­abilities.

However, the other 345 units are classified as “affordable” for “low income households” require incomes from $75,000 to $99,000.

Most of these units are not con­nected to Project-Based Section 8 vouchers (PBVs) from the Oak­land Housing Authority (OHA) that subsidizes the rents and will be beyond the reach of most Oakland residents who live below Highway 580, and earn on the average about $40,000 for a family of four.

The 168 units of permanent sup­portive housing will be built on a model that combines housing that is affordable to families and indi­viduals experiencing homeless­ness with supportive services.

Supportive services can include case management, aid for those with physical disabilities, mental health assistance, and support with daily life activities. These units require Oakland Housing Authority Section 8 vouchers (PBVs) subsi­dies.

The six projects are:

  • Fruitvale Studies with 24 units, including 15 units for the homeless, 12 PBVs, plus nine “affordable” units
  • Brooklyn Basin (Project 3) with 130 units, 26 for the homeless, 65 PBVs, plus 104 “affordable” units
  • Ancora Place with 77 units, 15 for the homeless, 31 PBVs and 62 “affordable” units
  • 7th and Campbell with 79 units, 39 for the homeless, persons with dis­abilities and formerly incarcerated, 39 PBVs, plus 40 “affordable” units
  • West Grand & Brush (Phase I) with 59 units, 30 for the homeless, persons with disabilities and vets, 28 PBVs, plus 29 “affordable” units
  • Aurora apartments with 44 units, 43 for homeless and persons with special needs, 43 PBVs, plus one “affordable” unit

The six developments, which in­clude a mix of new construction and rehabilitated buildings, are being funded through the State of Califor­nia’s recently approved Proposition 2 — “No Place Like Home Program” – and the “Supportive Housing Mul­tifamily Housing Program” – fund­ed from Propositions 46 and 1C.

These developments are also funded by voter-approved Measure KK for affordable housing. Project completion date will vary from late 2019 through 2022.

“This is a great example of how city resources can leverage state funds to advance critical projects that will have a significant impact on our communities,” says Maraskeshia Smith, Interim Director of Housing & Community Development.

“These housing developments are incredibly important for addressing the needs of our most vulnerable pop­ulations,” noted Sara Bedford, Direc­tor of Human Services. “They are part of our overall strategy to address homelessness. Getting more proj­ects like this funded and operational is critical to addressing this regional housing and homeless crisis.”

“However,” said James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union, “without Oakland Housing Authority vouch­ers – which are in short supply – the housing will be out of the price range of most Oakland residents. A family of four would have to pay 60 percent of Alameda County Average Median Income (AMI), which would be an annual income of at least $74,340, well beyond Oakland families who earn about $40,000.”

According to the Oakland Hous­ing Authority, currently, there are a total of 2,018 applicants remain­ing on the Section 8 wait list, which was last opened in 2011, and there are currently 228 voucher holders searching for units. The number of available Section 8 vouchers is lim­ited by available federal funding.

Published August 24, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Black Workers Call for City Council Summit on Discrimination in Hiring on City Projects

Community meeting at the San Antonio Senior Center in the Fruitvale District to dis- cuss racial disparities in hiring African American workers and contractors on City of Oakland building projects, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

African American contractors and construction workers  are opposing a proposal that has been presented to the City Council requiring that all jobs on city projects should be awarded to building trades unions that discriminate against Black workers.

“It’s a pure power play right now,” said one speaker, who is a member of four unions.  “The (unions) are not designed to grow their membership. They are only designed to make the strong stronger.  If anything, the unions are a detriment to anyone starting off (in construction).”

In response to charges that unions want to control the hiring on all city projects while excluding African American members, the City Council had previously asked the building trades to submit reports on the race and gender of their membership.

So far, only six of 28 union locals have submitted that information, according to city staff.

Reports by construction workers on the job indicate that African Americans are denied membership in almost all of these unions, while Latinos only find work in the laborers’ and to some extent in the carpenters’ unions. The higher paid trades, such as electricians, plumbers   and heavy equipment operators are almost all white.

Speakers at the Monday meeting, where Councilmembers Noel Gallo, District 5; and Loren Taylor, District 6, were in attendance, want the City Council to hear their concerns, not to be steamrolled by powerful interests into an agreement without a full discussion of the issues.

They are asking the council to hold a work session or a community summit rather than voting on the labor proposal at a council meeting, where speakers would only receive one minute to talk, and important issues about persistent discrimination in the building trades might be buried.

The meeting was the third and final community engagement session called by the City Council to examine ways to mitigate inequities in a potential Project Labor Agreement, backed by local building trade unions and their supporters, requiring developers on city projects to exclusively hire union workers for labor, while non-union contractors would be limited in their use of their non-union workers for projects that are built on city-owned land and or involve city funding.

Speakers also expressed concern that the building trades only sent people to the first community meeting several weeks ago at Castlemont High School but did not come back to second or third meetings, apparently not interested in engaging with Black Oaklanders about the issues they are raising.

Published Aug. 22, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: City’s Kaiser Center 99-Year Lease Proposal “Lacks in Benefits to Marginalized Communities”

Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, circa 1917. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, Ph.D.

Ayodele Nzinga

In 2014, the City of Oakland issued an RFP for the redevelopment of the  Henry J Kaiser Center and Calvin Simmons Auditorium. Two proposals were considered. One was a  detailed a robust reuse of the historic site with “baked in community benefit”, and self-accessed itself to supplement funding for cultural affairs.

The other proposal offered a less defined plan for the use of the site, and at one point considered market rate offices and perhaps a brewery as a use for the refurbished building.

The city accepted the latter proposal and entered into a relationship with Orton Development in 2015 and has bent over backward ever since to accommodate shifting iterations of the project now described as arts and nonprofit offices with a 1,500-seat theater.

In April 2019, the Community Coalition for Equitable Development filed an appeal opposing the April 3rd, 2019 Planning Commission decision granting Orton Development a Conditional Use Permit and clearing the way for the negotiation of a 99-year lease between the Developer and the City, privatizing this public site for the length of the agreement.

The appeal, which is scheduled to be heard by City Council this month, cites a failure on the part of the developer to engage stakeholders,  calls out a lack of benefit to marginalized communities,  questions the benefit to the City of Oakland, and was fueled in part by the city’s failure to enact its equity policies regarding the use of publicly owned property.

The negotiations between CCED and the developer have  become a struggle, not over the levels of the anemic concessions contained in the term sheet of a project that was not designed with equity as a lens; but for a way to construct mechanisms that animate and implement some of the equity strategies  the city has yet to employ.

Oakland changed between 2014 and 2019. The change is easy to observe in the correlation of the proliferation of cranes in the sky,  the not so subtle change in the city’s demographics, and the rising price of living working and creating in The Town. Oakland is booming, but the effect of the boom doesn’t benefit all Oaklanders equally.   Oakland has an equity problem.  It has studied the root causes of these prevalent inequities, and crafted strategies informed by data and best practices to mitigate displacement and create more equitable outcomes.

The problem is, that as of this moment, the city does not seem to have found a way, or lacks the will, to implement the equity strategies outlined in multiple city policies, documents, and guidelines.

An approach suggested in the Mayor’s Task Force on Arts, and Housing suggests that the City utilize existing properties or buy properties on which to create equitable outcomes for artists at risk of displacement. The Calvin Simmons and the Henry J Kaiser represent unique opportunities to implement equity strategies. They offer an opportunity for the City to do a better job for the community than they did with the Fox, which presents an insurmountable access barrier in the price of production for the few days a year it is available to the community.

This project has become subject to Oakland’s Art Ordinance percent and is subject to the city Impact fee on new development, both grandfathered in. However, the developer was never instructed to use an equity lens. At what point does a failure to enact policy become a form of benign neglect?

The Henry J. Kaiser Center appeal is scheduled to be heard by City Council on July 9.

Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, Ph.D. is executive producing director of the the Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc.

Published July 4 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

$44.4 More Million for Homeless

Affordable housing, parks, illegal dumping, potholes are top priorities

Clockwise from top, Councilmembers Loren Taylor, Nikki Fortunato Bas,Rebecca Kaplan, Sheng Thao, who introduced the budget that the Council passed on June 24.

By Post Staff

In an unusual unanimous vote, the Oakland City Council passed the Oakland Together budget that included $44.4 million in amendments to the administration’s original proposal, focusing city investments on the homeless crisis, affordable housing, maintaining local parks and tackling illegal blight remediation.

The Oakland Together budget, approved on June 24, also restored cuts to Parks Maintenance positions and increased funding around police accountability and workforce development.

The budget was introduced by Council President Rebecca Kaplan together with Council­members Nikki Fortunato Bas, Loren Taylor, and Sheng Thao.

“I want to thank my colleagues for working hard to provide for the needs of our community,” said Council President Kaplan. “A special thank you to Councilmembers Thao, Bas and Taylor for serving on the budget team, and to Councilmembers McElhaney and Kalb for their thoughtful amendments. And to Vice Mayor Reid and Councilmem­ber Gallo for their successful advocacy for pro-active illegal dumping removal and cracking down on people who trash Oakland. “Although we made significant progress, there is still critical work to do including valuing working people and increasing funding for workforce development.”

One key inclusion for police reform was funding to study the CAHOOTS model of sending EMT and mental health workers to respond to appropriate 911 calls reducing the need for police to intervene in an individual experiencing a mental health crisis.

For housing and unsheltered neighbors there is funding for mobile showers and restrooms, a navigation center, a tiny house village project and additional safe parking sites.

The Oakland Together bud­get adds funding for food se­curity and healthy options by adding funding to Meals on Wheels and the Alameda Food Bank and piloting a healthy food conversion program in corner stores in East and West Oakland.

To alleviate blight and il­legal dumping, the Council added a fourth illegal dump­ing crew, additional cameras and enforcement measures, and an educational outreach program to assure that people know Oakland is not the place to dump their trash; and assist homeowners and other small property owners in adding an Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) or other projects to their properties, the budget adds evening hours at the per­mit desks for planning/build­ing.

The budget amendments se­cured funding for workforce development programs, and the council still needs to assure the programs are fully funded and working to help unem­ployed and underemployed community members get the training they need to secure living wage jobs, said Kaplan. Employment in the Black com­munity is much higher than their unemployed white coun­terparts, and a thriving work­force development program that focuses on equity is a solid step to balance the inequity, she said.

There is also the issue of impact fees. It is important to have transparency around funds paid to the city for the benefit of community.

Finally, city staff gave much in the downturn, some even count among Oakland’s working homeless. It’s time to thank them for making the sac­rifices the city needed and re­ward them with a contract that shows that residents value the work they do every day to keep the city running efficiently and effectively, said Kaplan.

Published Jul 3, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

School District Prepares for Second Round of School Closures

The district also is beginning the process of selling or leasing school properties.

Megan Bumpus speaks on bullhorn during this year’s Oakland teachers strike. Photo courtesy of Megan Bumpus.

By Ken Epstein

The Board of Education is moving ahead with a second set of school closures, mergers and consolidations,  called “Cohort 2,”which is scheduled to be approved in August.

The plan,  called the “Blueprint for Quality Schools Update,” was presented to the community at the June 19 school board meeting by Supt. Kyla Johnson Trammell and Yvette Renteria, Deputy Chief of Innovation, who promoted the district’s decision to reduce the number of Oakland schools as a way to save money and improve the quality of the remaining schools.

Opposing the administrators’ approach were Oakland Education Association (OEA) members who participated  in the district’s Ad Hoc Committee on school closure, which was established to provide community involvement in the process.

OEA members on the committee criticized the district for lack of transparency and engagement with the community, saying that except for the teacher union representatives on the committee, all of the 15-20 participants in the closed-door meetings were selected by the district.

The OEA teachers’ counter report,  presented at the board meeting by OEA member and Reach Academy teacher Megan Bumpus, said there is no evidence or research from the wave of school closures across the country that indicates that shutting down public schools saves money or improves the remaining schools and particularly harms Black and Brown students, who overwhelmingly are those who are most impacted.

Asked by the Oakland Post for a list of school closings for next year that are scheduled to be approved in a little over a month, the district produced  a PowerPoint slide called “Cohort 2 Scenarios,” which indicated it was “applying recommendations from the Ad Hoc Committee” but was more murky than transparent about what the district is planning to do.

Listed on the PowerPoint slide were possible mergers of Kaiser Elementary School with Sankofa on the Sankofa campus, which might also include Peralta and the “soon-to-be-vacant” Santa Fe Elementary.  Also mentioned were a merger of Manzanita SEED, Manzanita Community School, Oakland SOL and Fruitvale Elementary, which might be redesigned. A proposed expansion of Melrose Leadership Academy and a new location for Oakland SOL “may impact nearby schools,” the slide said.

The goal of these changes, according to the administrators’ presentation, is to “concentrate resources in fewer schools,” based on the idea that “with fewer schools, central office supports and services will be more efficient and leaner.”

According to the plan, the campuses of schools that will be closed can be leased or sold to generate income. With more money and fewer schools, the plan says optimistically, the district will recruit and retain better school leaders. In addition, “larger schools provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and support one another.”

The OEA  teachers’ rebuttal was blunt. “If the goal is saving money, closing schools won’t do that. If the goal is expanding access to quality schools, closing school won’t do it,” the report said.

“As the district has been unable to provide any research-based rational for closing, consolidating or merging schools…OEA members of the Ad Hoc Committee could not participate in the misleading survey the district staff used to develop the committee’s recommendations or sign onto (those) recommendations,” said Bumpus, speaking at the board meeting.

When OEA members pressed administrator Renteria about how much money the district saved when it closed five schools in 2011-2012, she replied “We don’t have information on what money was saved,” the report said.

“Fourteen of the 18 OUSD schools closed since 2002 now house charter schools, which we know are leeching $57 million annually from students in Oakland,” Bumpus said, citing the OEA report.

“Given the realities of the OUSD’s highly class- and race-segregated schools and an enrollment process that disproportionately concentrates need, it is no mistake that schools targeted for closure and consolidation have student populations in which African American, Latinx, special education students and students with trauma are highly represented,” she said, adding that 17 of the 18 schools closed since 2001 were majority African American.

Looking at the closure of Cohort 1 school Roots International Academy, a neighborhood middle school in East Oakland, Bumpus said teachers “rebuke  the district for the irreparable harm done to the Roots community in this past school year” and called on the district to “take the path of improvement,” rather than the path of closures.

The district’s 7-11 Committee, charged with approving “surplus properties for sale or lease, was scheduled Wednesday evening to be approved by the school board to begin considering the sale or lease of “First Phase Properties.”

The four vacant properties are: Edward Shands Adult School, Tilden CDC, Piedmont CDC, Webster CDC and Sankofa CDC.

The district currently has 86 schools. The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT),  a state-funded nonprofit that has been driving school closures in Oakland since 2003, has said publicly that the district should not have more than about 50 schools.

The full report on school closings by OEA members is available at http://bit.ly/OEAAdHocReport

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Council Adopts Kaplan’s $3.2 Billion Budget

Bas wins $12 million for Community Land Trust affordable housing fund

 

Hundreds of supporters of the City Council’s modifications to Mayor Schaaf’s proposed budget filled City Hall during the council’s budget deliberations over the past month. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Voting Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council adopted a two-year, $3.2 billion budget, partially resolving the ongoing political fight with Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration over how much of the city’s income will be directed toward services for residents  and wages for the city workers who deliver many of those services.

The new budget, named the “Oakland Together” budget, directs $87 million to priorities identified by council members and supported by community members and groups, including the ReFund Coalition, which represents a number of community organizations and city worker unions.

Rebecca Kaplan

Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who had faced attacks from Mayor Libby Schaaf and the media for her leadership in producing the Oakland Together budget, told the Oakland Post she was pleased with what was in the new spending package but that several key issues were still unresolved.

“Even though many, many great items were  included in the budget we passed (Tuesday) night, I’m not celebrating yet because we are still working to finish up some very important final items, specifically, resolving the (funding) situation with our workforce development funding and issues of our own city workers.”

In a statement to the Post, Mayor Schaaf said, “I’m grateful our City Council kept the administration’s proposal as the framework for the budget it unanimously adopted last night. The last-minute augmentations still warrant close review, yet I’m pleased the Council’s unified action will allow us to make unprecedented investments in homelessness and affordable housing and to start a historic road-paving plan on July 1.”

The City Council’s changes in the Schaaf administration budget included:

• A study of Cahoots, a program that would utilize mental  health workers to respond to mental health crises instead of police;

• Remove the Mayor’s proposal to cut parks maintenance workers, which would have primarily impacted parks in flatland neighborhoods;

• Conduct an audit of the Oakland Police Department, which would examine police overtime costs;

• Substantial increase of homeless services;

• Some additional funding for the Private Industry Council and other workforce development;

• East Oakland healthy corner store conversions;

• Public bathrooms;

• Evening hours for permits at Planning and Building so small property owners can get timely approval of projects.

Nikki Fortunato Bas

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said in a statement that she was pleased the council passed her proposal, the Preservation of Affordable Housing Fund (PAHF), to allocate $12 million to create a municipal fund for community land trusts and limited equity housing cooperatives to take housing off of the speculative market by acquiring and preserving rental properties with 25 or fewer units.

“This fund is a bold investment in a visionary solution that…puts (properties) permanently in the hands of Oaklanders,” said Fortunato Bas, who developed the proposal with local grassroots organizations Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action and Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT).

She emphasized that the new budget also includes programs to address Oakland’s housing, displacement, and homelessness crises, including hiring a mobile outreach team and full-time administrator focused on homelessness, creating homeless navigation centers, and expanding direct legal and emergency rent assistance for tenants.

“Our longtime neighbors are being pushed out while thousands of luxury housing units are being developed. This budget is a huge systemic opportunity to fix a crisis that is everywhere we look and only getting worse,” said Fortunato Bas. “We can’t solve it by tinkering at the margins, dedicating resources only a fraction the size of the challenges we face.”

Carroll Fife, director of Oakland ACCE and part  of the Refund Oakland Community and Labor Coalition, told the Post that the coalition had realized many of the demands they had sought to achieve this year, “from funds for affordable housing and anti-displacement to additional resources to address the city’s illegal dumping epidemic.”

However, she said “There is a great deal of work to do. One budget cycle will not rectify the years of disinvestment that have impacted our most disenfranchised residents.”

Fife also called on people to support city workers in their fight for a pay raise and the filling of vacant jobs. “Vacancies in Housing and Community Development, Public Works and the Sewer department, to name a few, have direct and immediate repercussions on the entire city,” she said.

Former mayoral candidate Cat Brooks told the Post, “This is the most progressive budget Oakland has ever passed. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

But “It still does not go far enough in terms of divesting some monies from the bloated police budget and redirecting those dollars to critical needs for Oakland that actually keep us safe,” she said.

Published June 28, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post