Category: Labor

Berkeley NAACP Calls on BUSD to Investigate Discrimination Against Employees, Students

Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School

By Ken Epstein

Manour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP, met recently with Berkeley Unified School District Supt. Donald Evans to discuss allegations that the district is failing to address complaints of discrimination against Black students, teachers and non-teaching staff in the district.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

The NAACP also wants the district to assign a qualified instructor to teach African American Studies classes at Berkeley High School.

Id-Deen met with Supt. Evans on Nov. 18, where the NAACP president discussed 17 issues, focusing on four that he said call for immediate action.

Following the meeting, Id-Deen sent a letter to the superintendent, dated Nov. 20, saying the district should hire an outside agency, Mason Tillman, to “investigate allegations of age discrimination, racial discrimination, disproportionality in discipline, hiring and promotional practices.”

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The letter asked BUSD to investigate allegations of improper designation of Black students in special education and disproportional suspension of Black students.

Also of immediate concern is the failure to hire a credentialed instructor to teach courses in Berkeley High’s African American Studies Department.

Courses in the department have not had a credentialed instructor since the beginning of the school year. To resolve the issue, the NAACP says the district should hire retired BUSD history teacher Valerie Trahan.

Another immediate concern is the district’s Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review (BPAR) program, which is used to evaluate poorly rated teachers and can result in dismissal.

Id-Deen called the BPAR program ¨discriminatory and draconian.”

“The NAACP believes an immediate suspension of the program is in order,” he said in the letter.

Finally, the NAACP connects the district’s administrative failures to the Board of Education.

“The checks and balances of the system appear to not provide acute transparency or consistency in the execution of Board Policy and the (Education) Code…. It’s incumbent on the board to create staff policies to ensure that its policies are adhered to.”

Id-Deen told Supt. Evans that said his organization is committed to working to resolve these issues.

“The Berkeley BAACP is willing to meet with you to discuss remedies to the many pressing issues affecting the Berkeley Unified School,” Id-Deen said. “Immediate action is required.”

Courtesy of the Post News Group, December 5, 2015 (Postnewsgroup.com)

Community Objects to Privately Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Aimee Eng, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Nina Senn

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Nina Senn, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Aimee Eng. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken A. Epstein

Members of the Board of Education and community activists are raising concerns about how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Antwan Wilson is funding the overhaul of the school enrollment process.

The process is being paid for and staffed by outside agencies that have a direct stake in the adoption of the proposal to make a choice of charters schools an equal part of the publically funded school enrollment system.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, the $300,000 utilized to develop the “common enrollment proposal and conduct public outreach was donated by an organization called Educate78 – set up in Oakland by pro-charter organization New Schools Venture Fund.”

“We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives,” according to a posting on the New Schools Venture Fund Website.

The Venture Fund is a nonprofit that started out channeling philanthropic donations to charter schools and “now invests in a range of education groups and businesses …entering into a partnership with a new venture capital fund that could result in millions more in financing,” according to an article in the New York Times.

In an interview with the Post, Flint said the funders were unlikely to contribute more money to the project if the board decided to move ahead on reforming the enrollment process without including charter schools in the mix.

Flint also told community members that the Oakland Public Education Fund, which is connected to OUSD, would be unlikely to raise $1.2 million to institute enrollment reform, if this proposal is not approved by the board.

“The $1.2 million … would only be raised if common enrollment is approved,” Flint wrote in a Dec. 2 email.

According to Flint, Educate78, not OUSD, has hired senior staff from Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice (IIPSC) to work on the proposal. IIPSC developed Common Enrollment in

New York, New Orleans, Denver and other cities.

Under the Common Enrollment plan, parents can submit six choices from among charter and district schools, and a “computer algorithm” will assign them to one of the six schools.

The OUSD administration says the plan, which it named ¨Better Enrollment Oakland,” will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a bureaucratic process that currently requires parents seeking admission to charter schools to apply to each school separately, along with applying to OUSD.

School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales, speaking at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asked staff to prepare a report on the potential impact of Common Enrollment, whether the loss of students to charter schools in other cities has led to declining resources for public schools, school closings and the layoffs of school employees.

She objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”

Gonzales said it is wrong to rely on private funds from groups that say they are going to withdraw their support if the board does not vote for their proposal.

Boardmember Roseann Torres spoke Monday at a community meeting, saying the district needed to reform its enrollment system but opposed promoting charter schools charters.

“Doing this together (with charters) is completely nonsensical,” Torres said. “Why should I advertise for the other guy?”

Dan Siegel, a former member of the school board and former OUSD general counsel, said he was shocked by the administration’s complicity with charter organizations.

“I am astounded by the openness of the administration’s attitude on this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for the school district not to interfere with the development of charters schools. It’s another thing altogether when you have the administrators of the public school system supporting the destruction of that very system.”

Siegel said the board should find the courage to tell Supt. Wilson that “this is a bad proposal and something we don’t want to do.”

The rhetoric of the pro-charter groups like New Schools Venture Fund does little to calm community concerns.

“The time is right to focus on Oakland,” the Venture Fund says on its website. “The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students.”

The fund says its partners include Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and Lighthouse Community Charter School. Its supporters include the Rogers Family Foundation.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the common enrollment proposal in January.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 6, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Environmental Groups Withdraw Lawsuit, Give City Opportunity to Stop Coal

port-of-oakland_Russell-Mondy_flickr-blog

By Tulio Ospina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland Schools’ PR Chief Receives New $192,000 Contract

By Ken Epstein

Isaac Kos-Read, chief of Communications and Public Affairs for the Oakland Unified School District, recently signed a $192,000-a-year-contract, extending his previous contract for two years.

Isaac Kos-Read

Isaac Kos-Read

When he was hired last school, his salary was paid by the Oakland Public Education Fund, which has an office in the school district headquarters and is associated with GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools and the Rogers Foundation, both of which are proponents of charter school expansion in Oakland.

Kos-Read’s two-year contact was renewed in June, split between OUSD funding and a grant from Kaiser Foundation. He previously worked as director of External affairs at the Port of Oakland and was a public affairs consultant for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

He serves as the “chief public affairs and communication strategist for the district,” according to the report on the board website written by Jacqueline Minor, the district’s general counsel.

In the last year or so, the district communications’ staff has grown from one or two to a staff of eight – including four people who works in communications and four who work in community engagement.

These staff members have been busy this school year during intense teacher contact negotiations and angry community reactions over the possibility that Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds High schools could be converted to charter schools.

Community engagement staff have also had to respond to concerns and some opposition to the the building of a districtwide commercial kitchen at the site of Foster Middle School, the rebuilding of Glenview Elementary School and the construction of a new district headquarters at Second Avenue and East 10th Street.

Troy Flint, who is part of the district’s communications staff and serves as OUSD spokesman, told the Post earlier this year that Kos-Read plays a crucial role at the school district.

“Isaac brings substantial experience and expertise in Public Affairs and Communications, areas where the district has suffered from lack of capacity for years,” Flint said. “The marginal benefits of adding someone of Isaac’s talents yields benefits far beyond the cost in terms of increased ability to interact with diverse stakeholder groups, identify community concerns, and deal with those issues effectively.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

High Priced Consultant Still Earning $30,000 a Month at Oakland Unified

Buildings and Grounds Workers Fear They Will Be Replaced by Consultants

By Ken A. Epstein

Lance Jackson, a $30,000-a-month, $360,000-a-year consultant hired by the Oakland Unified School District, has entered his second school year at the helm of the district’s Facilities Planning and

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

Management Department.

Jackson, who is listed on the OUSD website as interim deputy chief of the Facilities department, serves on the district’s top leadership body – the Executive Cabinet – and oversees the expenditure of at least $435 million in taxpayer bond money for the construction and renovation of school buildings.

When he was hired, the district told the Post that Jackson would be working only for a few months while the district conducted a national search to fill the position.

In a Feb. 18 email introducing the consultant, Supt. Antwan Wilson wrote, “Jackson will serve in this role pending the search and selection of a new Deputy Chief for Facilities Planning and Management.”

In addition to his work for Oakland Unified, Jackson is chief operating officer of Seville Group Inc. (SGI), a construction management firm that has a nearly $11 million, three-year contract to provide project management oversight of OUSD’s construction projects.

SGI’s contract is up at the end of December, and according to district insiders, OUSD is planning to extend the contract for another year.

Jackson was hired by the school district as the interim replacement for Tim White, who was forced out of his $156,000-a-year position as head of Facilities Management in February after 14 years in the district.

Originally, the district was planning to submit a contract to the Board of Education for Jackson’s work. In the face of community and school board opposition, his salary has been folded into the contract the district currently has with SGI.

Seville is being paid for Jackson’s work from school bond funds.

At the time when Tim White was forced out, employees told the Post they were demoralized by the loss of the popular supervisor. They said they were concerned by the lack of support from top management and the potential that they might be replaced by consultants.

The rift between some of the employees and the district appears to have only gotten worse in the months after White left.

Buildings and Grounds workers, who include plumbers, electricians, carpenters and gardeners and total about 80 employees, recently overwhelmingly rejected a new contract, which they feel guts their grievance procedure and sets them up to be fired and replaced by consultants.

Nearly 80 percent of the employees voted against the contract because of their concern that the “superintendent’s ultimate goal is to do away with the Building and Grounds Department and contract everything out to contractors, who do not have the best track record of accountability,” said Dennis Nichols, who works for Buildings and Grounds.

“The workers’ concerns are growing, especially among the people who have been around for a while and can read the writing on the wall – we can see what is happening,” said Nichols.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

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

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

By Ashley Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Environmental Groups’ Legal Action Could Halt Coal Terminal

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

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

By Tulio Ospina

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

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

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

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

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

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

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

Worker at Army Base project

Worker at Army Base project

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

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

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

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

Army Base project

Army Base project

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

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

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

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

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

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

jess Dervin Ackerman, Sierra Club

jess Dervin-Ackerman, Sierra Club

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

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

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

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

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

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ken A. Epstein

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

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

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

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City of Oakland and Local Businesses Must Hire Oakland Now, Say Community Leaders

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

By Ken Epstein

A seemingly declining jobless rate masks the actual reality in Oakland where 19 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, and many Oaklanders are being forced out of the city due to a lack of decent paying jobs, combined with out-of-control rent increases.

The issue of joblessness and what city government and local businesses can do right now to hire Oakland was the subject of a recent Oakland Post Salon, where a panel of community leaders discussed how residents can push for solutions to the continuing unemployment crisis.

“We need to call on every employer in the city to hire people from Oakland – an Oakland opportunity challenge so every business can be proud to say, ‘We hire Oakland,’” said Carroll Fife, a member of the OaklandWorks coalition and one of the speakers at the Sept. 27 Post salon.

The opportunity challenge, backed by a growing coalition of organizations, will encourage Oakland’s businesses and restaurants to hire Black and Latino residents and follow up with meetings with owners, as well as public protests, if necessary.

OaklandWorks also wants the city to enforce its local hiring policies on city-funded construction projects. Such a policy was passed during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums but never implemented by city staff.

“We have a 50 percent local hire ordinance – We want contractors to recognize those priorities,” said Fife.

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council, moderated the panel and pointed out the realities of joblessness in Oakland.

“We’re talking about the lost, the last, the lonely and the left out – homeless people, the formerly incarcerated, displaced workers, younger and older workers who face age discrimination, those displaced by technology, those who face the barriers of physical limitations and immigrants,” said Cobb.

“All these groups represent the absolute urgency of what is happening and what is not happening,” she said.

Oakland’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, higher than many other places, but the real unemployment rate is probably double that amount, because there are many people who stopped looking for work and are no longer counted, according to Cobb.

“Unemployment for African American youth and Latino youth is off the charts,” she said.

She said federal funding for job training and placement has been declining, but Oakland, unlike nearby cities, fails to invest any funds from its budget to support the programs that are carried out solely by nonprofit service providers.

Compounding the problem, Cobb said, the city spends one-third of its federal job funding for administrative overhead – to pay for city staff instead of putting the money onto the street to help the unemployed.

Another speaker, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, said creating jobs for Oakland residents needs to be a city priority.

“Our job is to lift up those who are struggling,” she said.

Kaplan said she authored a resolution that requires a Disparity Study, which will show what companies are receiving City of Oakland contracts. Though the resolution was passed and funded a year ago, the study still has not been completed, she said.

“We still need the administration to actually complete the Disparity Study,” she said.

The last Disparity Study, completed over seven years ago, showed, “When (city) contracts go out, they overwhelmingly go out to a handful of white-owned, male businesses, (not) anyone outside the favored few,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan supports removing the oversight of federal job funds from the city, to hire an outside agency that will carry out the oversight more effectively and efficiently.

“Federal money for job training needs to be used for job training, not for administrative overhead,” she said.

Speaker Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, emphasized the common fight of Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT workers.

“We have to break barriers,” she said. “When we get all these minorities together, we are not a minority any more. We are a majority. We are all connected. That is the key for Oakland to move forward.”

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said West Oakland residents had been promised jobs on the Oakland Army Base development, but they have not materialized.

“We still have to have a mechanism to connect the jobs to those who are most in need of those jobs,” said Gordon.

For more information, go to Oakland-WORKS on Facebook.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Calls on City Officials to Adopt Housing Protections for Local Residents

Courtesy of crpbayarea.org

Courtesy of crpbayarea.org

City Hearing on Housing Equity Action Plan Set for Sept. 30

 By Ken Epstein

City of Oakland staff joined with the nonprofit organization PolicyLink earlier this year to release an “action plan” that proposes a comprehensive set of laws, programs, policies and investments to protect the city’s social and income diversity in the face of the economic hurricane that threatens the ability of most working people to continue living in Oakland.gentrification

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee decided to send the action plan, “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” to the full council, where the recommended set of actions could be debated, modified, added to and adopted.

That process begins Wednesday, Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m., in council chambers at Oakland City Hall, where the “action plan” will be discussed but not yet acted upon.

Whether the city will adopt aggressive laws and policies to change the housing free-for-all that exists now – stacked in favor of investors and building owners with access to cash and credit – will depend on the determination of council members to take decisive action, the willingness of the City Administration to support these changes and the unity of the community in demanding a break with past practices.anti gentrification

Driving this change is a housing crisis that is widely reported and directly felt by many Oakland residents.

“A growing number of Oakland residents cannot afford to buy or rent a home within their own neighborhood. Facing a rising loss of families with children and dramatic loss of African American households, Oakland risks following in San Francisco’s footsteps and losing the intergenerational treasures of our community,” according to the introduction to the 106-page report signed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink.

The report does not look to an elusive silver bullet that will solve the crisis. Instead, the document is a roadmap that advocates adoption of a wide variety of proposals clustered around three strategies.

The strategies include proposals to rehouse and prevent displacement of current residents; mobilize resources to produce affordable housing for low and moderate income residents; and upgrade the homes of many residents who are currently living in deplorable conditions.map_1

Some of the proposals call for passing new ordinances, while others suggest strengthening existing laws, and there are proposals to seek funds and regional partners to build new affordable housing.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney told the Post that she set up the meeting as a public hearing rather than a discussion connected to passing resolutions or ordinances because she wanted to give councilmembers time to deliberate and consider the complexity and consequences of the proposals.

“This body has never entertained a conversation about the housing crisis,” she said. “There has been no thoughtful engagement about the crisis in front of us.”

“Public meetings are difficult,” she said, adding that council is often under pressure “to take a specific action before we have a chance to think it through.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks says she hopes the public hearing will focus on the proposals developed by PolicyLink and city staff over 18 months, in consultation with city councilmembers and stakeholder groups, including housing justice and private real estate development associations.

These proposals are based on the experiences of city staff and its community partners over the past few years in its efforts to mitigate various aspects of the crisis.

The hearing should go beyond taking public testimony about the impact of displacement or general testimony of experts, said Brooks.gentrification

“It’s beyond the time for talking about displacement,” she said. “I hope we are going beyond talking and that we are going to get to work on these issues.”

“We need to come up with recommendations based on the significant work that has already been done by staff,” she said. “If we keep stalling, we are only letting the (market) forces do what they do.”

In a letter to the city and the mayor, a coalition of faith, labor and community groups called on the city council to adopt the Housing Equity Roadmap.

“We strongly urge you to move forward with great haste to hold the special Council meeting on the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap,” according to the letter, dated Sept. 8.

“There have been multiple efforts over the years to pass comprehensive housing policies that failed because of the lack of sufficient political will from a majority City Council or from the Mayor,” the letter said. “We hope and believe that today’s Oakland City Council and Mayor understand the gravity of the unprecedented housing problems that your constituents face and have the courage and political will to pass policies to help suffering residents and chart an equitable future for Oakland.”

Among the signers of the letter were Pastor Gerald Agee, Pastors of Oakland and Friendship Christian Center; Bishop Bob Jackson, Acts Full Gospel Church; Pastor J. Alfred Smith Jr., Allen Temple Baptist Church; Rev. Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist Church; Pastor B.K. Woodson, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Al Marshall, SEIU Local 1021 Oakland Chapter; Anthony Panarese, ACCE; Robbie Clark, Causa Justa: Just Cause; James Vann, Oakland Tenants Union; and Margaretta Lin of the Dellums Institute and co-author of the housing action plan.

The Housing Equity Roadmap can be downloaded at www.policylink.org/find-resources/library/roadmap-toward-equity 

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)