Category: Gentrification

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

State Pushes School District to Shut Schools, Sell “Surplus” Property

Parents and community meeting rally against school closings in Oakland Friday Feb. 15 at Roots International Academy in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Parents at targeted schools are beginning to come together to demand the school district and the state halt the proposed closing of as many as 24 Oakland schools in the next few years.

The first speaker at a rally last Friday on a cold and blustery morning in front of one of the targeted schools, Roots International Academy, was Tamella Jackson, educator and parent at Kaiser Elementary School, which is on the school board’s closure list.

“Something that I can’t get out of my mind (is the saying), ‘If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.’ We’re not falling – we’re standing for equality. We are standing for our city. We’re standing for our kids,” she said.

“Closing schools displaces (students) and causes family strains so parents can’t take of their kids. We’re slowly understanding and letting more and more people know that this system is set up to fail us,” Jackson said.

“None of us here are going to stand for letting you displace us or choose which teachers you want and what type of schools (we will have),” she said. “I’m speaking directly to the State of California.  Give us our damn schools back.”

Roots parent leader Ady Rios has been active in the fight to save her son’s school since December when the district first announced that Roots would close in June.

“We’re here to fight for our kids. We’re here to keep our schools open,” she said.  “We know that another 23 schools will be going through this. We’re not going to let them take those schools.  We’re going to fight. This is just the beginning.”

Teacher education professor Kitty Kelly Epstein said she was inspired by the commitment and perseverance of Roots parents and teachers “to fight with the school board to show them that their assessment of their school is totally wrong.”

The board justifies its decision based on “bogus” numbers, she said, racially biased test scores that do not prove what they claim to prove, and assertions that closing schools save money, which has been shown to be false in urban school districts across the country.

The district claims it would save a small amount of money – $325,00 – by closing Roots, a neighborhood school at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard, currently serving 309 students.

But in a report issued last Friday to the state-appointed fact finder, OUSD wrote that “the district’s attempts to close schools have been difficult and have not led to significant reductions in cost over time.”

When OUSD officials realized that this statement was included in the report, they asked everyone in the room to rip that page out of their binders and return it to the district.

Meanwhile, the school district is moving ahead with plans to lease school property to charter schools for as long as 40 years and has set up a surplus property committee to sell public school parcels to developers and charters.

The pressure to dispose of public property district comes directly from the state and raises the question of what state legislators are doing to defend the existence of public education in Oakland and other urban districts.

According to community members speaking at Friday’s rally, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks and State Senator Nancy Skinner have a responsibility to intervene against school closings and the selling and leasing of public-school land,

A state law passed last year, AB 1840, encourages the dismantling of Oakland’s public-school system.

According to the law, OUSD can get a loan from the state if it “sell(s’) or lease(s) surplus real property… owned by the school district and uses the proceeds from the sale or lease to service, reduce, or retire the debt on the emergency apportionment loan, or for capital improvements.”

The state law also hands over significant decision-making control over school district finances to the Alameda County Office of Education and the state-funded nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).

The law said the district is required, “in collaboration with and with the concurrence of the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and the … Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, to take certain actions by March 1, 2019 regarding its financial plans and school district construction plans.”

Though the wording of AB 1840 says the district “may” sell school property, rather than “shall” school property, the state’s overseers at FCMAT and the County Office of Education have made it clear that they expect the district to close schools and sell the property.

Published February 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Commentary: Data Points and Dollar Signs: Roots, School Closure, and the New “Demand Rate” Metric

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Jane Nylund

 Ultimately, the growth of charters will be fundamentally constrained as long as districts fail to consolidate or close under-enrolled district schools. Serious attention needs to go into developing a strategy that requires or incentivizes these actions and provides political backing to district and board officials who are trying to make these adjustments.”   

So, in order to follow the direction of CRPE, the district must close and consolidate schools to make room for charter schools. Because of the predictable, crushing loss of revenue, the district is now trying to find ways of generating new revenue. Like clawing back students from charters into district schools.

Hence the proposed closure of ROOTS. In my opinion, ROOTS is also being thrown under the bus to satisfy the requirements of both FCMAT and the terms of AB1840. The students are in danger of losing their school because of political theater. Closing the school won’t save money, won’t improve student outcomes, and won’t create more “opportunity.”

But it will disrupt the education of a student population (ELL/newcomers) that has been extraordinarily communicative as to why their children need and deserve a neighborhood school like ROOTS that supports their unique needs.

That word “opportunity” has been tossed around lately as a silver lining to the ROOTS closure. It has morphed into the concept that some schools have “opportunity” and some don’t. Really? ALL Oakland schools have opportunity. Every single one.

The question is whether the adults in the room have the courage to admit to the students and parents at ROOTS that they aren’t worthy of the district’s attention or finances; that splitting up their population and scattering them like leaves is in the best interest of the community.

History of ROOTS and the Small Schools Initiative

Both ROOTS and CCPA were part of OUSD’s Small School Initiative. It was a huge redesign experiment on our kids, and I want to emphasize the “experiment” part.

The experiment allowed Bill Gates to use our kids as lab rats, collect some data, with the idea that we would learn some really cool stuff about how schools should work and create a lot of new schools.Even though the educators already knew how existing schools should work because, well, they actually do the work. At the school.

Inevitably, part of the experiment would involve merging/expanding the smalls schools that were deemed “successes” and closing the ones that “failed.”

Fast forward, and a lot can change. Neighborhoods, economics, demographics, political climate. Both ROOTS and CCPA are now coexisting, until…the powers that be decide to close ROOTS, supposedly to save money, manage our “portfolio”, and generate some additional revenue. What’s the fun of having a portfolio district if you can’t actually close schools and massage data? (Remember, data points and dollar signs, that’s the theme).

There are rumblings about test scores compared to CCPA, and that CCPA should expand because it has higher test scores. Meaning what?

Meaning not much. Difference in test scores between schools is generally correlated with several factors: ELL, SPED, wealth, demographics, and test prep. In addition, the populations are self-selected at both schools.  The student populations are NOT THE SAME, and therefore you can’t make any meaningful comparisons regarding test scores (as proxy for learning) when comparing the two schools, or any two (or more) schools for that matter.

Just for starters, ROOTS has nearly half of their students classified as ELL, compared to CCPA which has about one-third. In addition, CCPA received more funding than ROOTS (could be because of the grade makeup), and ROOTS has more inexperienced teachers. In 2016-17, nearly all of the teachers at ROOTS had 1-2 years’ experience. All of these factors can affect outcomes, so it is simply not a fair comparison and should not be the justification for school closure.

The Demand Rate

So, what other metric can the district use to support school closure? The latest weapon in the privatization tool box is something called the demand rate.

The district invented a way to quantify “demand” for a school. It’s a way to manufacture a metric that stands as a proxy for “quality”, but is actually disguised as nothing more than a way to judge a beauty contest; a way to show which schools are more popular, but not necessarily better for certain populations with unique needs, such as ELL (newcomers) and SPED. Oddly enough, the district does not include second or third choice in the demand model. Only first choice.

The district doesn’t consider second or third place worthy of inclusion in the demand calculation. Only winners and losers. And in this case, the loser is ROOTS, and the parents and students who chose it. According to the district, they chose the wrong school. This is not how school choice is supposed to work, but no one should be surprised by this. Nothing about school choice is working the way it was supposed to because the entire concept has been hijacked by billionaires who know what’s best. For them and their kids.

The demand rate will never qualify the reason behind the enrollment at school sites, and this is one of its greatest flaws. This metric will no doubt be used as a tool to justify school closure, not just for ROOTS, but for other district schools. Corporations and billionaires who support the portfolio model believe that schools should be run like businesses (data points and dollar signs). Data can then be manipulated in all kinds of ways to justify school closures.

Finally, the closure of ROOTS is one more way of showing disrespect for the parents and students who chose the school. They are being told that they have better opportunity elsewhere, but not at CCPA (CCPA has indicated it doesn’t want to enroll the ROOTS students). Encoded in this decision is that neighborhood schools aren’t that important.

That having a school within a safe walking distance isn’t important. That having peer, community, and ELL support isn’t important. That it’s better to get into your car (or a bus) and drive across town (assuming you have that luxury) to a different school environment (but not CCPA) because someone who doesn’t even know you or your child’s needs think that’s best. Because of test scores.

Finally, the district did put a price tag on all the disruption and displacement for those families. $81K. That’s all the immediate savings they project the first year for closing ROOTS. If any ROOTS students decide to move, leave the district and/or attend a charter, that’s $8-10K per student. Gone. You do the math. Pitiful.

There happen to be two charter schools right down the street from ROOTS, Aspire and Aurum. Maybe the parents will just decide their student needs to stay in the neighborhood, so they will go to those schools by default. If CCPA won’t enroll them, there aren’t any other neighborhood middle schools left, except for charter schools.

Finally, OUSD has a duty to engage with these parents/students/caregivers openly and honestly, and that isn’t happening. The district has no business closing the school,or any other school, if they aren’t even willing to publicly articulate the reason for the closure (data points and dollar signs).

Parents and students deserve that much. Better yet, leave ROOTS open and get them the support they need. The ROOTS community has exhibited far more courage, honesty, and integrity through this challenging time, and they deserve the same in return.

See: www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/crpe-slowdown-bay-area-charter-school-growth.pdf

Posted at Oakland Crossings, January 23, 2019

Opinion: We Need to Stand for Leonard Powell

 Court Hearing Jan. 29 for Veteran Fighting to Keep City from Taking His Home

Leonard Powell stands on the front porch of his home.

By Gene Turitz

Mr. Leonard Powell is going to Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 29 to fight to  keep the home where he and his family have lived for over 40 years, which is being taken by the City of Berkeley.

The hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the superior court at 24405 Amador St. in Hayward.

The court has ordered the receiver, Gerard Keener, and the City of Berkeley to provide the documents to Mr. Powell that show how the cost for bringing his house up to code  increased from between $150,000 and $200,000 to over $700,000, which he is now being forced to pay.

We still do not know who in the City of Berkeley decided to go after Mr. Powell by “Red Tagging” his home.  Was it the Police who wanted to “punish” a member of Mr. Powell’s family?  Was it the inspection services, which were responding to concerns over Mr. Powell’s well-being?

While we have been asking these questions, the City of Berkeley, whose assistant City Attorney is appearing in court with the receiver, claims that the city is really not involved in this situation.

While the City of Berkeley and its City Council express concerns about its low and extremely low-income residents, the actions of the city administration speak differently.

Walking around South Berkeley we can see multi-unit buildings posted with signs saying that buildings are not earth-quake safe.  While a program has been in effect since about 2005 to have these “Soft-Story” buildings brought up to code, landlords are still collecting rents from the tenants living in unsafe conditions.

Have any of these properties been assigned “receivers”?  Have any of these property owners paid huge amounts to get their property back?  Who in the City of Berkeley makes the decisions to protect the owners of these properties rather than ensuring the safety of the residents?

Can the City Council explain how a home, lived in by a low-income resident in South Berkeley for over 40 years now, through actions carried out by the City, becomes a place where only a high-income person can live?

This must be the same City Council that approves the construction of buildings that will only house people from high-income backgrounds or who are earning high incomes.

Join us in asking the City Council these questions.  Write to your councilmember about Mr. Powell and what the City of Berkeley is doing to him.  Write to ask what affect the housing policies of the City will have on those of us whose lives and families are here?  Ask why the only people for whom they seem to have concerns are the profit-making developers of high cost, market rate units.

Get together with Friends of Adeline to talk about these questions and to stand with Mr. Powell and other families being forced out of our community.  Meet with us on Saturday, Jan. 26, 11 a.m.-1p.m., at Harriet Tubman Terrace Apartments, 2870 Adeline St., Berkeley (between Oregon and Russell streets) .

Attend the court hearing Tuesday, Jan. 29 in Hayward.

Contact the Friends of Adeline at (510) 338-7843 or friendsofadeline@gmail.com

Gene Turitz is a member of Friends of Adeline.

Published January 20, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Parents Ask: “Who’s Behind Roots School Closure?”

“Who are really the key players here. It appears board members don’t have any control,” said a Roots parent

Roots International Academy parent leaders Sylvia Ornelas and Adelaida B Rios, with teacher Quinn Ranahan and a contingent of Roots students at the march and rally for public education in Oakland, Saturday, Jan. 12. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.

 

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District is moving full throttle with the closing of Roots International Academy, even though the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education and though the district so far has not determined how much money closing the school would save, if any.

Nor does the district provide answers why the up to 24 schools that are being considered for closure are in flatland East Oakland and West Oakland neighborhoods. None of those affected are Oakland’s 44 charter schools or schools that serve more affluent students.

Studies about the wave of closures across the country, which have hit predominately Black and Latino schools, indicate that school districts save no money and that the long-lasting effects are detrimental to the education of students who are displaced as well as those who attend the receiving schools.

A big question about the closing of Roots, located at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland, is one about democracy: Who made the decision to close the school if it is not the elected school board.

School district officials say that the decision to close the school in June means they have to move ahead quickly, so Roots students will have other schools to attend in the fall. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue on Jan. 23 and make the final decision Jan .28 at a special meeting.

According to OUSD spokesman John Sasaki, “Staff is making a recommendation, and the school board will make the final decision.”

However, the administration  seems to have been decided the issue without waiting for the board to act on its recommendation. Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell met with the Roots community in December, the week before the holiday break, to notify teachers and parents that their school would close.

The district is already starting to counsel students and parents about other schools in East Oakland they can attend next year instead of Roots. No decision has been announced about paying for bus transportation for the families.

And CCPA (Coliseum College Prep Academy), the more favored public school that shares the campus with Roots, called a meeting this week about what to do with all the extra classroom space once Roots shuts down.

“Parents are invited to give input about CCPA’s expansion plan. Roots is scheduled to close next year, and CCPA is planning to grow to serve more students in the community,” according to a CCPA newsletter. The CCPA administration told parents the school is not willing to take more than about a half dozen current Roots students.

“What’s the real deal? Who made the decision? Asked Sylvia Ornelas, a parent leader at Roots.

“We’re not getting any answers,” she said.  “Who are really the key players here? It appears the board members don’t have any control.”

The Oakland Post this week filed a Public Records Act (PRA) Request with the district asking for communications related to Roots and other school closings.

In addition to communications and reports by district officials, the PRA requested said, “The documents should include exchanges with the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), the Alameda County Office of Education, Oakland’s state-appointed trustee, representatives of the State Department of Education and atate legislators and representatives of GO Public School, Educate78, New Schools Venture Fund and the California Charter School Association.”

Asked why the district objects to sending current Roots students to CCPA, which would minimize disruption of the tightknit Roots school community, District spokesman Sasaki emphasized that the merging of the two adjacent schools would have a harmful impact on students.

“Merging the two schools was not an option as that would have been too disruptive for all the students, families and staff,” he said

Presumably, displacing Roots families to schools around East Oakland – Elmhurst Community, Greenleaf, Madison Park Upper and Urban Promise Academy, according to the district – would not disrupt the educational stability of those schools or the displaced students.

Sasaki said the reason for closing Roots has to do with saving money and efficiency:

“All the changes the district is look at are aimed at making the district function more efficiently with better schools while saving money. The changes for Roots have to do with declining enrollment and problems with staff retention.”

However, Sasaki says the district still not know how much will be saved by closing the school.

“The district is still working to determine what the savings will be  with the closure of Roots,” according to KQED, citing an email from Sasaki.

In a strong statement of support for Roots, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown said:

“Our association firmly believes that every student deserves a quality public education. So, we are dismayed by discussion of school closures and consolidations,  particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We should be building up our community schools, not shutting them down.”

Published January 19, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

New Year, New Leadership, New Oakland?

 Rebecca Kaplan unanimously elected City Council President

Oakland swears in new City Council members (L to R): Nikki Fortunato Bas, District 2; Sheng Thao, Disrict 4: and Loren Taylor, District 6. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland honored its newly elected city leaders this week at a swearing-in ceremony held in the City Council Chambers of Oakland City Hall.

Sworn in were Mayor Libby Schaaf, who elected to a second term: Nikki For­tunato Bas, the city’s first Filipina-American council member, representing Dis­trict 2. Sheng Thao, the first Hmong-American council member in the state of Cali­fornia, representing District 4; and Loren Taylor, a third generation Oakland resident, representing District 6.

Making the increased strength of local progres­sives, Councilmember-at- Large Rebecca Kaplan was unanimously elected council president by her colleagues. , The council’s most powerful position, the president pre­sides over City Council meet­ings, influences the council’s agenda and makes appoint­ments to council committees and some outside agencies.

Newly Elected Council President Rebecca Kaplan (left) stands with Cat Brooks, a progressive runner-up in the Oakland mayoral race and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. Photo by Howard Dyckoff.

Kaplan, the first openly LGBT+ Council President in Oakland’s history, distanced herself from some of the city government’s past practices, pledging that her leadership would be based on a commit­ment to social justice, inclu­sivity and working closely in coalition with the local com­munity.

“We must acknowledge injustice and prejudice exist and we need leaders to assure we work together to move our city forward,” Kaplan said in a prepared statement.

“I believe in giving all Councilmembers the oppor­tunity to affect change, and all council members will have an opportunity to chair a commit­tee.,” she said. “I look forward to working together in coalition with community to advance Oakland’s vital needs.”

Her priorities include reor­ganizing council meetings so community members do not have to wait until past mid­night talk about major issues, strengthening the city’s com­mitment to providing afford­able housing and to responding more effectively to homeless­ness and displacement of resi­dents, as well as providing ac­cess to job training and taking aggressive steps to reduce il­legal dumping.

In her remarks after she was sworn-in, Councilmember Bas said laid out an agenda focused on “equity, inclusion and community participa­tion.”

“More and more (working and middle class families) are feeling left out, feeling the impact of gentrification, rac­ism and income inequality,” she said. “Decisions (will) not made for you but with you. These are all problems that we can solve together.”

“We want developers and corporation that are part of our city but not to tear our city apart,” said Bas, emphasizing that the Black community is “disproportionately impacted by homelessness, joblessness and over-policing.”

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees, said, thanked Councilmember Ka­plan for hiring her as an intern as later as a staff member and her family and the community for backing her.

“I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice, because I understand what that looks like,” she said. “I under­stand what it looks like to have to work multiple different jobs just to make rent.”

Acknowledging the efforts of outgoing District 6 Council­member Desley Brooks, Tay­lor said:

“I look forward to serving and delivering greater eco­nomic opportunity, especially for those who have been left out, underserved and under­represented in our communi­ty. We are fully committed to stopping the pushing out and pricing out of the residents of our city.”

Mayor Schaaf, celebrating her 20 years in city govern­ment, said her priorities re­main the same.

She said, “We are ready to bring even more dramat­ic changes in the next four years,” including “an even greater reduction” in homi­cides and violence, support for her favored nonprofit – Oak­land Promise, road repair “in the neighborhoods,” as well as building more units of housing and increasing ways to make “headway on homelessness.”

The council elected District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid to serve as vice mayor and Dis­trict 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb as mayor pro tem. Reid (a reappointment) and Taylor were picked to represent the city on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board of commissioners.

Published January 10, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Roots Families Heat Up Fight to Save Their Neighborhood School

Roots International Academy in East Oaklad

By Ken Epstein

Students, parents and teach­ers at Roots International Academy in East Oakland are reacting with shock and deter­mination since learning right before the holiday break that their neighborhood middle school will be closed in June.

Responding to Oakland Unified School District Su­perintendent Kyla Johnson- Trammell and her staff, who held a meeting at the school on December 18 to announce the closing, an eighth-grader at the school wrote a letter to the superintendent, accusing the district of “destroying/interfer­ing with our education and our relationships with our teachers and peers.”

Students at Roots

“You (aren’t) closing Roots about equality,” the student wrote. “It’s about money, the money you are supposed to pro­vide, but you are not providing. You provide (it) for CCPA and OUSD schools in the hills.” CCPA is the better funded school that shares the campus with Roots at 66th Avenue and International Boulevard.

The district has already closed 15 schools in the last dozen years or so. Once the justifications were no longer needed, nobody mentioned anything about the closings saving any money, improv­ing the quality of the remain­ing schools nor the poor test scores of many the charter schools that replaced the pub­lic schools.

One teacher at Roots told the Oakland Post that she does not buy the arguments she has heard that Roots is a failing school. District officials and local charter school propo­nents frequently justify school closing based on statistical analysis of test scores.

Students at Roots

“We don’t feel it’s a failing school,” she said. “They’re displacing a community, a community that is often over­looked and underserved.”

More resources go to fa­vored schools than those that are neglected, which can be seen at the school next door that shares the campus with Roots, according to the teacher. The other school even has wa­ter fountains that work better, she said. “You can see the dif­ference in how they’re served by the district.”

Student athletes at Roots International Academy

Speaking on “Education To­day,” a program on radio station KPFA 94.1 FM, Roots parents Addy Rios and Silvia Ornelas explained what Roots means to them and their children.

“For me as a parent, it was devastating,” said Rios. “My kid still doesn’t comprehend or doesn’t want to believe (it).”

She said her son is doing well at the school. “It’s a good school. With the help of us, the parents, he is doing really good (in) his classes, with his teach­ers and his classmates,” Rios said. “I don’t understand why they are saying that it’s going to be closed because it’s not doing good. We asked questions, but just don’t have an answer.”

Ornelas said Roots has been a great fit for her daughter. “It’s a smaller school (than her previ­ous school) where she didn’t get the necessary attention. With her teachers at Roots, all the staff is so committed to ev­ery single student who walks through those doors.”

In the mornings, she said, the teachers and staff mem­bers “greet the kids with a high five, a hug, a handshake, a smile on their faces. Every single child feels accepted at Roots.

“The school district is try­ing to take it away from our kids.”

Rios said the real reason for closing of schools in Oakland has to do with “money, gentri­fication.”

“They’re going to sell the (schools) to build housing, which is going to be very expensive, for the techs and everybody (who) is going to come and replace us and push us out,” she said.

The message they are giv­ing to the kids is that they are no good, that “they don’t de­serve education, they don’t de­serve to have a public school,” said Rios.

The parents said there is no community engagement: no­body is listening to them, not the superintendent, not the school board, not even Shanthi Gonzales, who is supposed to represent Roots families on the board of education.

At the December 18 meet­ing, Gonzales said she support­ed closing Roots but would not answer the parents’ questions or even look directly at them, according to the parents.

Added Ornelas, “This is a public school – it is not private­ly owned. t’s not funded by bil­lionaires. They need to answer our questions before taking such drastic measures. “

According to a message on her email account, Board­member Gonzales is out of the country and not available for comment until late Janu­ary. Questions emailed to the district were not answered be­cause most staff are on holiday break, according to OUSD Communications Director John Sasaki.

In an email newsletter dated December 30, Supt. Johnson- Trammell said, “The effort to re-imagine OUSD relates di­rectly to the work we are doing to address the Community of Schools Board Policy, which is moving forward towards a right-sized district with the aim of offering a high qual­ity school in every neighbor­hood…In order to right-size, changes will be made that will be challenging.”

The Roots community is are asking for people to attend the school board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 5 p.m., at La Escuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Ave. in Oakland.

Published January 4, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post