Category: Housing/Foreclosures

Oak Knoll Project Passes Council Committee, Goes to City Council for Approval

Oak Knoll project rendering.

By Ken Epstein

The City Council Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee this week approved zoning changes and development permits for a 918-unit, market-rate housing project at the site of the old Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in the Oakland hills at 8750 Mountain Blvd.

Members of CED voting in favor of the project were Councilmembers Larry Reid, Annie Campbell Washington and Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Councilmember Noel Gallo voted no.

Already approved Oct. 18 by the city’s Planning Commission, the development will now go to full City Council for discussion and approval.

The 72,000-square-foot development would feature neighborhood-serving commercial uses, restoration of the creek that runs through the site and moving part of the historical Oak Knoll club house to a central location to accommodate commercial and home owners’ association uses.

The remainder of the 183-acre site would be utilized as parks, open space, bicycle and walking paths and streets.

Of those who spoke in favor of the deal at the Tuesday morning, meeting were members of Oak Knoll neighborhood associations, the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, leaders of the Laborers Union, real estate development groups and organizations supporting job training programs for Oakland residents.

Opponents included most construction unions, the Alameda Labor Council and residents and members of neighborhood associations representing East Oakland areas, such as Toler Heights, below Highway 580.

Speaking to opponents of the project, Councilmember Reid said, “This plan is not perfect, but (real estate developer) SunCal really wanted to do something in the city of Oakland.

“We have had hundreds of meetings on the future on that piece of dirt. It’s not the best (deal) but it is something we can live with.”

According to the development’s supporters, SunCal is backing apprenticeship training programs for Oakland residents run by Bishop Bob Jackson’s Men of Valor and Cypress Mandela Training Center.

The homes and the retail development will also bring in millions of dollars millions of dollars in tax revenue and provide thousands of construction jobs, supporters said.

Responding to union critics, SunCal says it has an agreement is with the union that is working on its part of the project – building the neighborhood. Other developers will build the units, and labor is free to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with them, according to SunCal.

In addition, the project will consist of market rate units, but over a period of 6-8 years, the development will by law pay $20 million in impact fees, which can be used in Oakland for affordable housing., according to supporters.

Couincilmember Gallo, who represents the Fruitvale District, explained that he voted against the project because it does not guarantee living wage jobs and its homes are not affordable by most Oaklanders.

“The reality is where I live, they are not market rate people. On a daily basis, they are trying to make ends meet,” he said.

“Look of people who are being displaced. Some are ending up on the street. I want to make sure that those who are currently here in Oakland have an opportunity to stay here, “he said.

According to Jeff Levin of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), the units will cost on average $884,000, which will require an annual income of about $218,000. A 20 percent down payment would mean buys would have to pay $177,000 upfront.

Published November 1, 2017

 

Students and Staff Say Laney College Threatened by Proposed Ballpark

Front row: part-time instructor Evan DeGennaro, student Lauren Jelks.
Top row (l to r): student John Reimann, librarian Evelyn Lord, student Aisha Jordan, student Dejon Gill, librarian Phillippa Caldeira, instructor Kimberly King, student Joseph Chen, library staff and alumni Michael Wright. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Ken Epstein

A number of students, instructors and employees at Laney College in Oakland are organizing to take a stand against the proposed A’s stadium in downtown Oakland. While many are themselves A’s fans, they are worried that the crowd-filled stadium and exploding property values that accompany the development would spell the end of their unique and beloved college as well as historic Chinatown and downtown neighborhoods.

“I know the opportunities this development affords to people, but I don’t know how you mitigate the noise and the crowds of people who come in for a live game or concert,” said Michael Wright, a library employee and Laney alumni, who is a member of the campus group opposed to the A’s downtown project, the Laney Land for Students Coalition.

“They have corporate, big business interests. Their interests and their wants will supersede the college,” said Wright.

“A lot of people, 68 games a year, monster truck rallies and concerts, these are the disruptions across the street from the college we are talking about,” added student Dejon Gill

The group is part of the Stay the Right Way coalition, which is opposing the project, and is allied with the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and other organizations.
In interviews with the Post, students and staff discussed what they believe is at stake.

They began meeting in September after reports appeared in the media about the proposed project, though it was not until Sept. 12 that the A’s organization formally sent a proposal to Peralta.

The A’s proposal may be called a stadium project, say members of the Laney group, but in reality, the plan is considerably more than that. It’s about real estate development and speculative land investment.

“This is real estate gold we’re sitting on. They are appealing to a certain class of people. It is the 1 percent. They want single white people who have the money who pay to play and live in these overly expensive units,” said Laney librarian Phillippa Caldeira.

A resolution opposing the stadium, pointing to the project’s connection to real estate development, was by the Laney Faculty Senate.

“A ballpark adjacent to Laney College would further drive intense, high-speed development, gentrification and displacement in the neighborhoods surrounding the college, including historic Chinatown, West Oakland and Eastlake, and would be devastating to the low-income, vulnerable communities we serve,” it read.

The A’s want to put their ballpark on the site of the Peralta Community College District headquarters at E. 8th Street and 5th Avenue, across the street from Laney College and next door to Oakland Chinatown.
Peralta’s administration is adamant that no decision for or against the project has been made and that the communitywide discussion has just begun. Ultimately, the Peralta board will decide.

John Reimann, a student, retired carpenter and former officer Carpenters Local 713, said he had done research on John Fisher, majority owner of the Oakland A’s, and found out that Fisher is not a friend of public education.

Fisher, son of the owners of The Gap, chairs the board of the KIPP Foundation, which is dedicated to training teachers for the KIPP charter school network. He also co-chairs the Charter School Growth Fund and is a real estate investor and hotel owner.

The students say they are fighting for Laney because it is a special place that provides a unique and nurturing environment for students. The college, founded in 1953, serves 10,000 students, predominately first generation, low-income and students of color and is the flagship of the Peralta district’s four colleges.

“A lot of our students have families, have children, have full-time jobs,” said Aisha Jordan, who serves on Laney’s student government.

“The attitude of our staff (is supportive). This is really an awesome school.”

Student Dejon Gill agreed:

“The community college is the place where returning students of a certain age can bring their life experiences. The sense of community is very special here at Laney,” he said.

“A lot of our students live in a disruptive environment,” said Laney instructor Kimberly King. “They need a safe place, a calm place where they can go.”

Published October 30, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Schaaf’s Homeless Plan Challenged: Is Her 17K Plan Pie in the Sky?

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

By Ken Epstein

As homelessness continues to surge in Oakland, pressure is increasing on the city and the mayor to address the crisis in deeds as well as words. A few days ago, Mayor Libby Schaaf was challenged by James Vann of the Homeless Action Group when she emailed an open letter to the public saying she is passionate about dealing with homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

The letter, distributed on Oct. 12, was headlined with her photograph and a quote: “We need all hands on deck to end homelessness and fight this affordability crisis.”

James Vann

 

“This is the issue that keeps me up at night,” she wrote. “We have an immediate plan, as well as a long-term strategy.”

Responding to the mayor, Vann sent out an email the same day. “Mayor Schaaf loves to present positive upbeat messages. However, public pronouncements do not always align with the facts on the ground,” he said.

“The city’s commitment to solving the homeless problem is sadly lacking.”

A local survey of homelessness, conducted in January, found that Oakland’s homeless population grew by 25 percent in the past two years, officially at 2,761 people living in encampments or in shelters and transitional housing.

Countywide, the homeless population has increased 39 percent since 2015 – from 4,040 to 5,629.  Nearly 70 percent of the homeless in the county were living in vehicles or on the streets.

In her open letter, Mayor Schaaf said, “The City Council has approved three sites to set up Tuff Shed shelters that will move people off the sidewalks and into safety and services. Once an encampment is moved to one of these sites, we will clean that sidewalk and prohibit any encampments from returning.”

She continued: “Our goal is to open our first Tuff Shed site before the rainy season. Each location will shelter up to 40 people in Tuff Shed structures for up to six months – then they’ll move into a rapid-housing facility.

“We’re reducing impacts and health risks of encampments by offering regular cleanings, hand washing stations, portable toilets, and trash service.”

Vann responded, “The final budget as approved by City Council includes funds for only one “safe haven site” for 40 persons –  not three sites.  The only “new” fund(ing) provided in the budget is $300,000 for one year (undesignated), and $450,000 each year for two years, which will support only one 40-person ‘safe haven site.’”

Conversely, Human Services Department staff estimates that actual costs for the city-provided site will exceed $1,000,000. he said.

“Also, the budget amount does not include the cost of the projected Tuff Sheds, estimated at $3,300 each, and no shower or laundry facilities are provided for” said Vann.

“Staff projects that the undesignated $300,000 amount in the budget is needed for administration and other costs.”

Mayor Schaaf also praised the city’s long-term housing plans:

“We’re implementing the ‘17K/17K Housing Plan’ developed by the Oakland Housing Cabinet  that will protect 17,000 Oakland households from displacement and build 17,000 new units of housing within eight years – with at least 28 percent of those units affordable-to-low to extremely-low income residents,” she said.

Vann’s reply:

“The mayor’s ‘17K/17K’ plan is words on paper. A concrete plan for how to accomplish that goal, though dubious, is still awaited.”

Published October 20, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Fans, Neighbors Differ Over Proposed A’s Stadium

A packed Peralta board meeting opened discussion Tuesday evening on proposed A’s ballpark project next to Lake Merritt. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Meetings of Peralta Community College District’s Board of Trustees are generally sparsely attended, but this week an overflow crowd filled seats and folding chairs and stood along the walls at the district headquarters near Laney College to speak out for and against the 35,000-seat stadium that the Oakland A’s want to build on the site.

At one point during the meeting on Tuesday evening, opponents of the stadium began chanting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop!” A’s supporters tried to drown them out with “Let’s go, Oakland!” – a chant that is popular at A’s games.

Supporters of building the A’s stadium in downtown Oakland on 8th Street and 5th Avenue next to Laney College and Chinatown included A’s fans from Oakland and around the Bay Area, business owners who argued that the increased foot traffic and development would be a shot in the arm for the downtown economy, building trades unions, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents included senior citizens, high school students, organized by groups in the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, students and instructors in the Save Laney Land for Students Coalition, members of Eastlake United for Justice, 5th Avenue Waterfront Community Alliance, Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt and Causa Justa; Just Cause.

They say they want the team to stay in Oakland but not at Lake Merritt, where the stadium and associated development projects would swamp low-income neighborhoods, jeopardize the future of Laney College and destroy natural habitats.

The administration and board of Peralta are planning for an inclusive process to discuss the proposal, which the A’s organization initially sent to Peralta on Sept. 12.

“The board has not had any time (so far) to consider this issue,” said Peralta Chancellor Dr. Jowel Laguerre.

Sharon Cornu, a consultant who is working with Peralta to lead the community discussion, emphasized that the process is just beginning. “Let’s begin with where we are today,” she said. “There is no commitment, there is no decision, and there is no deal. “

“We’re here to start the process of community benefits and engagement so the trustees can make a decision in the best interests of the Peralta Colleges’ community,” she said.

Speakers in favor of the proposal included Carl Chan of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

“This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, arguing that the stadium would be good for public safety, jobs, business opportunities and workforce housing.

Alice Lai-Bitker, business owner and former county supervisor, said, “I’m really optimistic about the A’s proposal. I am hoping it will benefit Laney students and businesses and residents nearby in Chinatown and Eastlake. ”

Among the speakers opposed to the stadium was Jing Jing He, who said Chinatown residents, including senior citizens, came to Tuesday’s meeting to “fight for the life of their community.”

“The A’s team has tried to leave Oakland in the past few years,” she said. “They only stayed because San Jose denied their move, and now they say they’re all for Oakland.”

Focusing on environmental impacts, Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said, “We understand the A’s want to be downtown, but this particular site is a catastrophe for the (wildlife) refuge at Lake Merritt.”

James Vann, a member of the Stay the Right Way Coalition, said the project would not be good for Oakland.  “The impacts are monumental. There will never be a way to mitigate the impacts on the channel, on traffic, on the neighborhoods, on freeways, on the college.”

Alvina Wong of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) handed the board a petition opposing the project signed by 1,700 Chinatown residents.

“We’re here, and we’re living here every single day. We don’t get a choice to go somewhere else,” she said. Local residents would be crowded by tens of thousands of A’s fans “who are coming here for one single purpose,”

While her organization has brought people to the meeting and hired translators, the A’s corporation has not done anything yet to reach out to the community.

“I don’t know how we can keep trusting this process,” said Wong.

Published October 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

 

Congress of Neighborhoods Seeks Community Power in East Oakland Flatlands

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

 

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published October 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Tenants Up the Ante in Fight for Renter Protections

Oakland Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb (standing behind Kaplan) spoke Tuesday at a rally in front of City Hall to demand legislation to increase tenant protections. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Post Staff

Oakland organizations that represent tenants are increasing the pressure on city government to pass legislation to close “destructive loopholes” in city law that allow landlords to displace long-term and low-income tenants.

“While there were large gains after the passage of Ballot Measure JJ (a tenant protection measure) in November of 2016, there remain loopholes, and speculating landlords have quickly exploited these,” said Leah Simon-Weisberg, managing attorney of the Tenants’ Rights Program at Centro Legal de la Raza.

Among the groups’ top issues are an “unprecedented” number of tenants who complain they are being evicted by landlords to move into the duplex or triplex where they live. Tenants are also complaining that landlords take advantage of a “substantial rehabilitation exemption” to raise rents significantly, even though the repairs were nothing more than normal building maintenance.

The tenants’ rights coalition held a rally Tuesday in front of City Hall to present a list of legislative demands to close these and other legal loopholes. Joining the organizers were City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb.

The coalition includes Centro Legal de la Raza, Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Community Law Center, Eviction Defense Center, Oakland Warehouse Coalition, East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) and JDW Tenants’ Association.

One demand is to close the Substantial Rehabilitation loophole that allows landlords to exempt units from rent control after alleging they have substantially improved the property.

Said Marlon Jones, a tenant who is a member of the JDW Tenants’ Association, “I have lived in my apartment for 38 years.  My landlord purchased the property way under market during the foreclosure crisis.  He has completed some repairs, but the unit was always occupied and was never in such bad conditions that we could not live here.

“There is no reason that I should lose rent control and just cause protections.  If this property is exempted, I will become homeless.”

Another legislative demand would amend the law that creates an owner-occupied duplex/triplex exemption from Rent Control and Just Cause Protection.

Josephine Hardy, long-time tenant of an Oakland triplex said, “I have lived in my unit for 46 years.  Once the landlord moves into the triplex where I live, he will be able to evict me requiring no just cause, and he does not even have to provide any relocation.”

The coalition also wants to change existing law so landlords are required to pay relocation assistance for all no-fault evictions, including when a landlord raises the rent above 10 percent and the tenant is forced to move within 12 months of the increase.

“My landlord owns eight single family homes that he purchased.  We have had no repairs, and last month he served us all 60-day notices stating that he was going to double our rent as of November 1, 2017,” said Norma Sanchez, a member of ACCE.

According to Jonah Strauss, executive director of the Oakland Warehouse Coalition, action must be taken not just to pass new ordinances but also to ensure that city departments, the City Administrator and the City Attorney enforce them.

Pointing to the growing problem of landlords evicting tenants by “falsely claiming” owner occupancy, Councilmember Kaplan said, “It is incredibly important that we continue to push. Both to make sure that the laws we pass are implemented and make sure that we close loopholes that are being abused.”

She said she wants to modify the law so that claims of owner occupancy “have to be documented.

“We have to do what we can to close the loopholes, said Councilmember Kalb. “What you are hearing now is a commitment of at least some of us on the council … to get these new amendments passed as soon as possible. We can do it over the next few months.”

Published October 1, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Community Groups Oppose Proposed A’s Stadium Near Laney College


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

 

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published September 23, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Public Banking in Oakland Scores a Victory

A public banking forum is scheduled for Monday at City Hall

Susan Harman of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland spoke at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

 

The Oakland City Council this week passed a resolution authorizing a public bank feasibility study, the next step on the road to making the bank a reality.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Abel Guillén, authorized a feasibility study of a regional public bank with the ability to provide community benefit lending and handle cannabis business deposits.

The study was funded by the City Council at $75,000, the City of Berkeley at $25,000, and private donors, many from the cannabis industry.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington contributed to the study, making it a collaborative, regional effort, according to Councilmember Kaplan.

Councilmembers Kaplan and Kalb will host a community forum on public banking and renewable energy Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, 3rd Floor.

The forum, co-sponsored by Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland and Local Clean Energy Alliance, will discuss how a public bank in Oakland could help fund local renewable energy resources for our new Community Choice program, and bring jobs and economic benefits to communities throughout Alameda County.

The featured speaker will be Wolfram Morales, chief economist of the Sparkassen public banks of Germany, discussing how Germany’s public banks have financed that country’s astonishing conversion to 85 percent renewable energy.

Speakers will include Nicholas Chaset, new CEO of Alameda County’s East Bay Community Energy, a new community choice aggregation organization that will provide electricity to the county primarily from renewable sources of energy.

Also on the panel will be Greg Rosen, founder and principal of High Noon Advisors, and an energy expert; and Jessica Tovar, an organizer for the East Bay Clean Power Alliance.

For more information, contact Barbara@localcleanenergy.org

Published September 22, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Close $9 Billion Commercial Property Tax Loophole to Fund Schools, Says Statewide Coalition

Left to Right: State Senators Nancy Skinner and Scott Weiner and Assemblyman Rob Bonta speak at “Make It Fair” Proposition 13 reform townhall meeting Saturday Sept. 9. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

Hundreds of Bay Area residents attended a town meeting in Oakland recently to find out about the growing, statewide “Make It Fair” coalition that seeks to overturn a commercial property tax loophole that costs the public as much as $9 billion a year in lost revenue that could be used for schools, health clinics, parks and libraries.

The town hall meeting, held Saturday, Sept. 9 at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, was part of the coalition’s organizing efforts to build awareness, ahead of a ballot initiative in 2018 or 2020.

“California has the world’s sixth largest economy, yet many of our schools and services lack the basic funding they need,” according to a Make It Fair coalition flyer.

“ Big corporations and the wealthy are making more money than ever. They can afford to pay their fair share,” the flyer said.

The loophole is written into Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978, part of what referred to as Ronald Reagan’ “tax revolt,” which assesses property taxes, including those on commercial properties, at their 1975 value and restricts annual cost-of-living increases to a maximum of 2 percent.

Owners of businesses started since the passage of Prop. 13 pay a higher rate. As a result, some of the largest companies, like Chevron, Intel and IBM, pay low property taxes, but startups and newer businesses pay much more.

Speakers at the town hall included State Senators Nancy Skinner and Scott Weiner, Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson.

“It going to take all of us working together to make a make a fix to Prop. 13. We’re going to go to the ballot,” said Senator Skinner, explaining that the there is not the political support in the Legislature to pass the reform.

“It’s a third rail issue,” she said. “It still has this aura of untouchability.”

Challenging the commercial tax loophole will require people to “deal with the 50-year campaign from the radical right to delegitimize government, (convincing many people that) all government programs are a problem, that putting any money into government is a waste of money,” said Senator Weiner.

Calling for “people over profits” and “people over corporations,” Assemblyman Bonta said the Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature, making the present the perfect time for closing the Prop. 13 loophole.

But he emphasized that coalition will need large-scale grassroots support to pass the constitutional amendment.

“This is not an easy battle – the opposition will be fierce,” Bonta said. “Some will see this as an existential threat.”

Organizations endorsing the campaign include the California Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association, League of Women Voters of California, California Alliance for Retired Americans, California Nurses Association, SEIU California, Filipino Community Center and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

Speakers the town hall explained that the campaign will have to overcome a deluge of false and misleading publicity, clarifying to voters that the initiative will:

Guarantee existing Prop. 13 protections for residential property and agricultural land;

Close the millionaire, billionaire, and big corporation tax loophole by requiring all commercial and industrial properties to be assessed at fair market value, putting California in line with how the majority of the country assesses property;

Restore over $9 billion a year for services. About half of the new revenues, $3.6 billion, will support schools and community colleges;

Make It Fair requires transparency and accountability for all revenue restored to California from closing the commercial property tax loophole.

For more information go to www.makeitfairca.com/about/

Published September 19, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Community Groups Build East Oakland Neighborhood Power

Local residents attend recent meeting to oppose illegal dumping.

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published September 13, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post