The Long Sordid Record of Oakland’s Neglect of Affordable Housing, continuing saga…

I turned on the radio today, KPFA of course, in time to hear my old friend, architect and well-respected political and tenant activist, James Vann being asked by Kitty Kelly Epstein why a progressive council in a city like Oakland couldn’t seem to pass serious tenant protections. James answered, “I just don’t think we have anyone on the present city council who is progressive.”

That’s quite an indictment, especially when that little island city of retired military across the Estuary, Alameda,just passed stricter renter protections and extended a moratorium on no-cause evictions plus a cap lower than Oakland’s on rent increases.

James also stated (also embedded in his letter) that the city manager in charge of the mayor’s housing cabinet declined to even pass on the recommendations of the Renters’ Working Group to the mayor because….

I don’t think I need to add much more to this long, sad history of Oakland’s abrogration of its responsibility to its renters which is equivalent to neglect of its citizenry since the majority are tenants. What the hell is going on, Oakland??

[I have changed only typos in the following. Warning:read only with a strong drink, a good glass of wine, or your suitcase packed.]

Sordid Record of Oakland City Council on Rental and Housing Issues

jamesevann@aol.com

I presented this letter in October to the Renter’s Working Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet process:
_______

Oakland’s current affordable housing crisis — particularly for renters — is not new, and has been acknowledged as a “crisis” by successive city councils since before the economic downturn of 2008. Events that have characterized the “crisis” over many years have at least included:
• the real estate “flipping craze” of the late 1970s that caused tenants to qualify “Measure E,” a rent control initiative that barely failed 53% to 47% in 1980, because Mayor Wilson and landlords quickly wrote the current and one-sided “Rent Arbitration Ordinance,” backed by over $20,000, and trumpeted as “Oakland-style rent control.”
• the condo conversion explosion of the 1970s, that resulted in the flawed condo conversion ordinance of 1981.
• appeals by tenants to make the “Rent Arbitration” ordinance more fair for tenants. Referred by CM Spees to a task group of tenants and landlords. No mutual decisions reached. No action by CC.
• the condo conversion rush of 2005-08. A tenant offered proposal not acted on by CC.
• appeals to end the passing to tenants of LLs (landlords’) “mortgage payments” from Rent Law (2007-08). Rent Board approved removal in 2008. Not acted on by CC until 2015.
appeals for needed revisions of the Condominium Conversion Ordinance; a continuing request since 2006. No actions ever by CC.
• appeals for “inclusionary zoning” in 2006; No CC action on “Inclusionary Zoning” and “Condo Conversion’ proposals. Referred by CM Brooks to a Blue Ribbon Commission. CC took 8 months to appoint the Commission.
• Blue Ribbon Task Force of 2006-08. After meeting for 18 months, and presenting a report of “lukewarm” recommendations, CC took no action on the Committee’s report.
• Mayor Dellums’ comprehensive Affordable Housing Program Plan of 2008; Presented to CC in 2009. No action by CC.
• uprising by tenants in 2013 – 14 against excess pass-through of 100% capital improvements, and lack of action after 5 years on “elimination of debt service pass-through” from Rent Board. Referred by CM Reid to “landlord & tenant work group. Repeal of debt service and compromised report of work group on capital improvements accepted by CC in 2014.
• “Tenant Protection Ordinance” struggle of 2014. CC approved text in 2014, but stripped “implementation and remedies” sections from the ordinance, rendering it useless to tenants.
• revised condo conversion ordinance developed by OTU in 2008 – 10 with CM Brunner, who refused to submit to CC unless prior assurance of passage.
• Condo Conversion Ordinance refined by housing advocates in 2014-15. Resubmitted to CM Kalb in early 2015. Held Up 5 months by City Attorney’s office for legal review. Finally released by CA in Nov 2015. No action by CC in last 2 months.
• CED staff announces “crisis” in Rent Program because tenant petitions increased from 1/2% to 1% of tenants, and applied to CC for a quadruple rental fee in order to double staff capacity. Both LLs and tenants strongly disagreed, and called for audit of Rent Program’s efficiency. OTU also argued that the city’s “one of a kind” rent program is the problem; that because it is a program that is activated only by tenant petitions, and that the program relies on landlords to inform tenants of their right to file a petition against that same landlord’s exorbitant increases or other illegal action (which many LLs don’t do), that tenant petitions should actually be at least 20% of tenants, not 1%, thus as more tenants learn of their right, it is impossible that increasing staff will solve the problem. It is the program that must change. What Oakland needs is a real rent control program, rather than the present landlord designed farce.
• As an assist to the current RAP problem, OTU submitted to the Renters Work Group of the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet the draft of a “Rent Control” ordinance recommended for inclusion in recommendations of the Housing Cabinet for the mayor. Manager Byrd decided against forwarding the recommendation to the Cabinet, perhaps considered “too radical.”
• Renters Work Group urged that a “resolution of urgency” be recommended directly to Mayor (not thru the Mayor’s Housing Cabinet) for immediate submission to CC to declare a “state of emergency in rental housing and a moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions” (as Alameda has done) to permit time to work out the problems in the rent program. T Moss, mayor’s chief of staff, reported at next meeting of the Work Group that instead of addressing the rental crisis (even though Mayor Schaaf has stated that ending displacement of long term residents is among the highest priorities of her administration), that the mayor decided to submit to CC an “emergency resolution” only for homeless programs. No action would be taken on declaring a rental housing emergency (despite the fact that the adopted Housing Equity Roadmap found that btw 2011 & 2014, Oakland had lost over 25% of its African American population and over 14% of families with school age children)

Through all these and other recurring housing and renter problems, the common identifying characteristic has been that hearing after hearing, and proposal upon proposal, the City Council of the time has almost never taken action.

This time, something different needs to happen. All council members, on several occasions, have acknowledged that Oakland is in a severe housing crisis, particularly for the majority of Oakland’s residents — the renters of Oakland’s flatlands, here the median income for a family of four is only $34,000, not nearly enough to pay current fast rising rents in Oakland. Many of these households presently pay 60 to 80% or more of their income for rent. By 2014, the city’s housing crisis had led to a loss of 25% of Oakland’s African American population and 17% of families with school aged children as documented by the city’s adopted Housing Equity Roadmap .

Declaring a “Housing Emergency” and enacting a “Moratorium” on rent increases and no-cause evictions will go a long way toward assuring tenants that city fathers (and mothers!) are serious about the crisis and, this time, will do more than just talk. Declaring a “Housing Emergency” is also a powerful signal to the suffering community that City Hall finally hears their pleas, and establishing a moratorium timeframe expresses to the community that the city is finally committed to assure that this time, action, not just talk, will happen.

James Vann

To add to this long list of inaction, Oakland is one of the only surrounding cities without developer impact fees and the city is poised to ….perhaps….maybe….enact a weakened fee, not comparable to those of other cities and which excludes 4,000 units presently in the pipeline and offers significantly lower fees in areas where the threat of gentrification is imminent.

Or it may postpone the whole thing until the building boom is over. The discussion will finally get started on January 26th at 1:30pm (is that a problem for you?)

Please, please, please, if you are a renter, know a renter, or might have a family member who would like to be a renter (rather than, you know, living with mom) let your council member know how seriously you take these issues. It truly is a State of Emergency in Oakland!

 

Must See Movies of 2015

I just came back from seeing the best or most important movie of the year, maybe the decade, The Big Short, go see it now. To borrow a line from the overrated flick, Network, when you walk out of the theatre, “You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”

If you want to know why so many people support Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump, this movie helps explain where the anger and discontent, the distrust of all our institutions, comes from. It pulls back the top layers of our corruption, our avarice, our indifference to each other’s pain and our naivete.

Yes, Americans, we who inspired and trained ISIS through our wars in the Middle East, who developed the CDOs, Collateralized Debt Obligations, which destroyed the economies of whole communities, heck whole countries; and us, the folks who pay for and support  police murder while we eschew politics-we still pretend that we are exceptional, that we are  models to the world.

So, go see the Big Short. It is your obligation as a citizen of a country with this kind of power-to face up to what is really going on. If you want to “make American great again” that means you have to fight to bring back opportunity and some hope for equal justice under the law-to be that Tom Hanks character in The Bridge of Spies, an entertaining and true story which can remind us of our best selves.

I am a former history teacher. I taught American History to 8th graders, then Government to young adults. During the economic meltdown, I taught Economics for the first time including Credit Default Swaps and subprime mortgages. I learned along with my students as together we watched our economy rupture-parents lost their jobs and families lost their homes.

BTW, that institution, Adult Education, which had survived the Great Depression and world wars, did not survive the subprime meltdown so I no longer teach nor learn these things  along with my students. Our Republican Governor from Austria with help from the Democrats ended the funding for an institution which provided second chances to those who needed them the most.

Let me add the other best, most influential movie of the year, Straight Outta Compton. It’s a powerful film which is so relevant, it’s almost supernatural, coming out in the year of #Blacklivesmatter. The scene where NWA performs Fuck Tha Police at a huge concert in Detroit is the most powerful scene in a film I’ve seen this year. You gotta go see it. This is a film which demonstrates the best and the worst of the so-called American Dream.

It was a truly interesting year at the movies (I was tempted to write “in film” but that sounds pretentious, they’re just movies.)  I saw Trumbo and Spotlight, the Black Panthers:Vanguard of the Revolution, and Brooklyn and loved them all.

I found Amy affecting and Trainwreck had some very perceptive moments. Love & Mercy was weird but there wasn’t enough of the Beach Boys and too much of the crazy to make anybody want to live through Brian Wilson’s life if they didn’t have to.

On the flip side, I thought Ex Machina and the Clouds of Sils Maria were a waste of screen time. Star Wars:the Force Awakens ranged from cute and funny to boring and silly. Some of it parodied itself on purpose and some of it was clearly meant in earnest which rendered it all the flimsier a franchise. Adam Driver’s character as the bad son or the evil Jedi twin was more the lost hipster looking for that perfect flat by the Lake or Williamsburg, if you will. “What no hardwood floors-I will destroy the world!”

The movies I saw this year reminded me that we have been through dangerous times before; and if this year has taught us anything, we must acknowledge that we are entering them again. Spoiler Alert-I don’t actually know the ending of this tale. I can’t predict if we are heading towards facism or a period of righteous struggle. The only thing I know for sure is that we all have a part to play.

Wellstone Club To Host Panel on the TPP Dec 15th

The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club has scheduled an emergency meeting this Tuesday, December 157:00 to 9:00pm-doors open at 6:45pm at Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland. The panel includes  Xiomara Castro of Citizens Trade Campaign[www.citizenstrade.org] and Suzanne York of the Sierra Club.  There will be time for questions and a discussion of effective responses. Refreshments  will be provided, but there will be no potluck at this meeting. You do not have to be a member or a Democrat to attend.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the latest “free trade” deal that has just been finalized between the U.S. and 11 other countries that border the Pacific.  It has been termed “NAFTA on steroids” because it is so much worse than NAFTA in the effects it will have on the ordinary U.S. citizen.
“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” according to Ralph Nader; “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance.”
The text of the TPP was released a few weeks ago.  This means that the clock is ticking for Congressional action to vote it up or down, and the Wellstone Club is committed to working to defeat the TPP.
We urge our members and all those who value environmental, labor, and consumer laws to communicate with the Greater Bay Area Congressional delegation-giving support to those who have opposed the TPP in the past and urging those who have supported the TPP to consider the final document in hopes they will change their votes.
An introduction to the Wellstone Club’s recently adopted Economic Justice program will aslo be on the agenda. See wellstoneclub.org or contact Pamela Drake-510-593-3721, pamelaadrake@gmail.com for more info.

 

Tis the Season or Was It?

I would like to propose a new holiday for this wintertime solstice period we are about to enter. It would involve cheery singing, wonderful gatherings full of fattening food, charitable giving, small but thoughtful gifts for those of us with already bulging closets, and time off to share with far flung family and friends.

Some of us are very tired, broke, and a little gassy after this current holiday they call Christmas is over on or about December 12th. What, you say, Christmas is on December 25th? The evidence is all around you that that old holiday was long ago abandoned.

No, I’m not talking about the commercialism. After all as the director of a retail district, many of our shops, little and large make their livings and hirings, staying open cause we all shop for the months leading up to this early December holiday.

But if you have noticed, and I know you have, that the ads on TV show an SUV or other shiny new car-depending on the cost of gas-driving through the snow to Grandma’s house starting in October or arriving at your grandiose circular driveway with a bow on the top by All Saints Day . Not sure what that bow signifies on the day after Halloween but there you have it…..As the commercials jam the airwaves with lists of expensive stuff that no one needs, so do the paper ads line our sidewalks full of tales of super discounts that can’t be beat.

So now, people who still buy semi-live trees, which as you know, are cut down in September, drive home with them the day after Thanksgiving and put them up in November. Those same trees will litter the sidewalks by December 26th or maybe sooner since they are are already a pathetic and parched gray green by the second week in December.

If you, like me, love to watch the “holiday” films even the real cheesy ones in which, say the perky blonde with cheating-husband-karma finds true love in the elevator of the building where she just lost her job as she clutches her divorce papers in one pale hand and the list of gifts she can’t buy for her asthmatic kid in the other, and he turns out to have a wealthy family who thinks she’s great, so down-to-earth-you-know. Phew, sorry for that run-on paragraph.

Anyway, those films-including the ones which are well made like the original Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life-are all over by the 12th and replaced with low grade horror films by mid December.

[As an aside, check out the two classics I mentioned if you haven’t seen them since you were 21, they are not just sentimental romps, but contain layers of darkness and important social commentary within them-themes like how the mentally ill are treated, bouts of cynical political maneuvering, the predations of our banking system, and great character actors. The stylized acting, which was typical of the era, is what gives them the stain of melodrama, but still very moving.]

All the “holiday” parties are going on now and will be over by next weekend. Even my own district, Lakeshore, will hold its celebrations on the 11th and 12th this year. By Monday the 14th it’s all over, but the thing is, most of our family members won’t get here till the 22nd or the 24 or even gasp, the 25th.

So let’s just call it Solstice Gathering Time since Christmas is already taken.

Time for Declaration of Housing State of Emergency

The letter below which was written by the Block by Block Organizing Network’s housing committee was sent to all the council members and the mayor of Oakland in hopes of pushing them to take bold action during this housing emergency. While we await a response from our various leaders, we are considering our next steps if they do not respond with urgency. We urge you to join us!

BBBON

Block By Block Organizing Network

Volunteers Working Together for One Oakland

2624 Fruitvale Ave. Oakland CA 94601 (510) 479-1237

 

The Council Has Passed the “Housing Roadmap” – Now What?

We applaud the City Council’s passage of the “Housing Equity Roadmap” on September 30, and urge rapid implementation of its strategies and more, in response to the housing crisis that is displacing many long-time Oaklanders right now.

Oakland is made up of over sixty percent renters, and in order for the Housing Cabinet to come to solutions that will benefit all of Oakland, we challenge our elected officials to create a Cabinet that is representative of the population of this diverse city. It should consist of members who are proportional to the population of Oakland, that is, over 60% renters and a majority of people of color. At least one seat should be reserved for a representative from the Oakland Tenants Union.

We call on the Oakland City Council to act now to implement the Housing Equity Roadmap strategies the 2017-2019 Budget:

Declare Housing State of Emergency and Immediate Moratorium on Approval of New Projects
To meet the crisis that is upon us and to stabilize the housing market in this moment, we call on city government to declare a Housing State of Emergency and a moratorium on approval of new projects until significant developer impact fees are implemented, along with a timeline to implement the Housing Equity Roadmap, including an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Developer Impact Fees
Complete the study which will allow the City to impose impact fees on developers that will go toward affordable and low income housing (and other impacts, like better roads). Impose the highest amount suggested by the study and dedicate the majority of it to affordable housing. Do not approve new projects until the impact fees are in place.

Inclusionary Zoning
We call on our elected officials to demand that Governor Jerry Brown sign an amendment to Costa Hawkins to allow for inclusionary zoning in all California cities, and to pass immediate substantial Developer Impact fees that can produce the equivalent of at least 30% affordable housing in new developments. To ensure that the cultural and economic diversity we all love about Oakland can stay here, we advocate that at least 15% of new units are accessible to 40% and below AMI, and that at least 15% of new units are accessible to 40%-80% AMI.

Use 50% of Boomerang Funds for Affordable Housing
The City should increase the percent of proceeds received from former redevelopment funds from 25% to 50% to increase the number of affordable units that can be built.

Mandate At Least 50% New Development Around Transit Be Affordable
As studies have shown, low-income residents use public transit more and market-rate developments around transit increase car usage. Therefore, at least 50% of new development around BART and AC Transit hubs should be held for affordable housing at 80% AMI or below. Oakland’s Fruitvale Village is a national model for equitable transit-oriented development without displacement, and Oakland should continue leading this important work.

Public Land for Public Good
Allocate un-used lands and properties currently supported by public tax dollars to affordable housing or mixed-usage for public good. This includes working with the Oakland Housing Authority to ensure that the 2530 9th Avenue property currently for sale and all properties purchased with public tax dollars remain affordable housing units.

Fund the Down Payment Assistance and First Time Homebuyer Programs
Ensure that down payment assistance programs targeted to long-time Oakland residents to be able to purchase their homes are funded at levels that actually enable low-income and middle-income residents to buy homes in the Oakland market.

Protect Tenants Rights
We call on city government to implement a comprehensive rent control ordinance. Oakland’s Rent Adjustment law was written by landlords to preference landlords in the majority of cases. We call for a revisiting of the Rent Adjustment process to ensure that tenants rights are protected, including more than two seats of the Rent Board held for tenants (as homeowners often side with landlords) and the burden of proof put on the landlord rather than the tenant.

We also call for the implementation of the Tenant Protection Ordinance to be funded through public attorney assistance for tenants, because the majority of tenants cannot afford lawyers to file cases in Superior Court. All landlords should be required to provide a copy of Tenant Rights laws with all tenants, or be charged fines that go to funding the Tenant Protection Ordinance.

Pass an Anti-Speculation Tax
To prevent further displacement of residents resulting from the flipping of houses and properties for profit, the City should implement a higher tax on for-profit corporations that buy foreclosed properties or buyout current residents to make a profit. This should include any companies using services like AirBnB to take large numbers of rental units permanently off the market.

Revise Accessory Dwelling Unit Policy
Cities across the nation are revising policies to allow for more smart density as the country re-urbanizes. The City Council should pass an ordinance that allows homeowners to add accessory units on their open land, including allowing tiny homes and easing parking restrictions with the understanding that more and more residents are biking and taking public transit.
November, 2015

My State of the City Address

Last week the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club hosted a panel discussion called “Deconstructing Oakland Politics.” We talked a lot about the lack of leadership shown by the Oakland City Council, but one panelist noted that the new mayor was keeping a low profile and staying away from policy statements that she would ultimately be held accountable for.

Now she is ready to enter the fray and give us her take on how we’re doing and, I hope, some solutions for our problems. Here’s what I would say if I were mayor:

The first thing to do is declare a State of Emergency over the Affordable Housing Crisis. Oakland is staring over the abyss, the cliff that San Francisco fell off of. That city is now officially a museum of their former selves, the tough union waterfront town with a cutting edge culture that accepted artists, poets, musicians, and worldly misfits who made it a living breathing human laboratory of creativity and social change.

I remember. I lived there from 1966 to 1973, first in the Sunset, then the Fillmore and the Haight Ashbury to the Mission and outer Mission, downtown and finally, home to Oakland. I spent a few days in the 7th floor jail at the Hall of Justice during the Strike at San Francisco State and later drove tourists in my Yellow Cab up and down those scenic hills before I found the sunshine on the other side of the Bay.

I have to admit-Oakland was never an easy place for a single mom to survive either, especially when most of us are renters and renters “don’t get no respect” in Oakland. So what would I do in the first 90 days after declaring a state of emergency

  1. Immediately finish the Nexus study that will undoubtedly sanction impact fees on developers. Pick the highest dollar amount and insist that no projects get city approval until the fees are imposed. We need that money to begin to climb out of the deficit in affordable housing we’ve been racking up for years.
  2. Declare a moratorium on rent increases beyond the CPI. Immediately provide an adequate fund to help people stay in their rental units if they are in danger of losing them, lower the return landlords can demand on capital improvements (after all CM Schaaf  was the one who obtained the 70% cap when the CC was willing to lower it) and require landlords to go to the rent board when they need an increase. Meet with the Oakland Tenants’ Union for more ideas.
  3. Begin writing a comprehensive inclusionary zoning ordinance, which will pass state muster, to be ready to pass before the 90 days are up.
  4. Raise the percentage of Boomerang funds from 25% to 50% towards building affordable housing and rather than put all first time homeowner funds towards single family homes, dedicate some of it towards limited equity coops and other non-speculative home ownership models.
  5. Reform and tighten the condo conversion rules.
  6. Dedicate 60% of increases in revenue to building and rehabbing units in transportation hubs, include bike shares and please remember to build family-sized units.
  7. Legalize in-law units and encourage them and other infill housing in the priciest neighborhoods so more residents can share in the fun.

There’s more that can be done on housing and it will take years to catch up-better get started quickly. But public safety is still a big issue in Oakland. We recognize that our young people are still dying in gunfire at significantly high rates. So far eleven more people were murdered in Oakland this year than last.

For instance, my young friend who started the Scraper Bike Movement, Tyrone Stevenson, recently lost his closest friend to gunfire. He is heartbroken and doesn’t know if he can continue to give all the youth who work with and follow him inspiration. He has loved this town but it hasn’t loved him back. Can we show him and the Scraper Bikes Kids some love? Let’s get a city administrator and park and rec leader to work with him and provide resources into helping him and others like him in their efforts. Invent a new position and call it Homegrown Youth Initiatives Czar. Then give him or her the salary of the (former) hearing administrator who threatened to fine the churches and Humanist Hall for being nuisances with this new position.

Then I’d tell my friend, Jerry Brown, (if I were Libby) to bring back adult education. Edward Shands in East Oakland was an important institution in our city, it offered second chances for those in need of a high school education and first chances for English learners.

The next step may seem like less of an emergency to some. The Oakland Police Department under Chief Sean Whent has begun the process of reform but it’s still on shaky ground as evidenced by the shooting deaths of four Oaklanders this summer by police. Yes, we know the police are wearing cameras but they don’t seem to believe those videos belong to the public. We still don’t really know what happened to the comatose man who was shot upon awakening on the Lakeshore offramp.

We need a transparency policy on police videos, and we need a police commission before the federal oversight of Judge Thelton Henderson goes away. After $60 million dollars in lawsuits and decimated community trust, we can’t afford not to. Get it on the 2016 ballot, ferkrissakes.

Well, Oaklanders, it’s only a start. Even the mayor and city council can’t prevent the kind of ugly incident that happened on the Lake recently although they can help make rules reasonable and encourage honoring who we are. One thing they can do is make city hall welcoming. Open House for Oaklanders should be an every day event, not a special window when we are able to speak freely and even be heard.

What’s your state of the city and what would you do to make it a better place for all of us?

Wellstone Democratic Club to Host “Deconstructing Oakland Politics”

On Thursday, October 22nd, at Humanist Hall, 370 27th Street (wheelchair access from the 28th Street entrance,) the Wellstone Democratic Club will host a panel discussion on the current and historical political trends in Oakland, especially as they affect the Oakland City Council and Mayor’s office with a brief overview of the situation at the Oakland Unified School District.

Panelists will include long time housing activist James Vann, blogger and former council staffer, Pamela Drake, and Tribune Columnist Matt Artz and we’ll hear from the Chair of the Education Committee of the Block by Block Organizing Network, Sharon Rose.

Oaklanders often despair of their elected officials who seem to morph from progressive community leaders into bureaucrats unable to respond quickly to the needs of their constituents after taking office. They don’t seem willing to form coalitions to bring their progressive promises for affordable housing and police accountability to fruition no matter how loud and persistent the demands. What’s going on here?

It is necessary to understand the historical direction and the forces that bombard inexperienced politicians if political activists are to move them to act. Some of these forces will be outlined along with suggestions of how to move the city to recognize and act in a crisis such as this.

Oakland is in the midst of what some are calling a state of emergency in terms of the desperate need to prevent families, artists, and long-time residents, predominantly people of color from being displaced. If city officials and their administrative staff cannot recognize and act during this housing emergency, Oakland will become another enclave for the rich, white, and childless like San Francisco. In the process our city could see its historic reputation for social justice and its diverse culture disappear. Additionally, the climate for small business and entrepreneurialism is deteriorating leaving corporate chains to fill the gap.

But Oakland’s powerful tradition of political activism is fighting back. What are the next steps? Is there a unifying vision for a changing Oakland or will reaction thwart an inclusive movement-this is only one of many conversations going on all over Oakland during these troubled times. You do not have to be a Wellstone member or a Democrat to join the conversation and you are welcome to attend the potluck dinner (please bring a dish) at 6pm-the panel will start by 7:30pm.

For more information, contact Local Politics Coordinator Pamela Drake-pamelaadrake@gmail.com, @bethpikegirl on twitter

Make Your Way to the EastSide Arts Alliance this Weekend, Sept 12th, 13th plus Sept. 19th

Oakland is one of those cities in which gentrification is running wild at the same time that young artists and entrepreneurs of color are busy staking ever larger claims. It’s one of those paradoxes of modern urban living; and Oakland is the petri dish in which competing claims may learn how to create art out of that tension as is happening again this weekend at the EastSide Arts Alliance.

If you haven’t yet been to the ESAA for festivals, music/spoken word performances or lively discussions, get yourself there this weekend-or next Saturday. The Anastasio Project is a collaboration of community organizers, cultural icons and artistry that will make you mad, sad and, hopefully, propel you to action all at the same time.

It takes its name from Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who was beaten to death by border guards as he attempted to return from Mexico to his family in San Diego. No one has yet been charged with that brutal murder which took place in 2010. The collaboration seeks to make the connections between state violence towards immigrants in the border zone, immigrants who are struggling to live in California and on-going police brutality against those who have lived here for centuries.

It is a research project wrapped in spoken word, music, and dance which attempts to utilize all the media available to represent the varied experiences of people whose lives don’t matter to the mainstream media (MSM.) These programs have been presented before but the organizers NAKA Dance Theater along with the Alliance have added topical forums to extend the discussion.

If you go tonight, September 12th, you will hear from Birdie Guttierrez, a San Diego organizer, dealing with how families in that area cope with the brutality of ICE and other agencies with the help of Mujeres Unidas y Activas. MUA has been active in fighting for Latina women’s rights for twenty-four years here in the Bay Area and is a national model of organizing for empowerment.

If you go tomorrow night, Sunday, September 13th, you will hear from our own Cat Brooks, Oakland political activist, artist and dynamo of creative resistance (ONYX and the Anti Police Terror Project) who will talk about the criminalization and murder of Black Women in America and where the #BalckLivesMatter collective goes from here.

Then next Saturday, September 19th, Matt Gonzalez, San Francisco politician and lawyer in the Public Defender’s Office-for whom I trekked many a hilly block in his mayoral campaign in the early 2000’s-will speak on the needs to protect our sanctuary cities in the face of a serious right wing threat. Members of MUA will also contribute to this forum.

The forums run from 4 to 6 and the play starts at 8pm and there are two more performances on the 18th and 20th at 2277 International Boulevard in the San Antonio district of Oakland.

People talk about the Temescal, West Oakland and the Fruitvale as models of or battle grounds for displacement and change but the San Antonio district I remember, the one I raised my kids in for four years, was one of the most diverse and unknown neighborhoods of Oakland. We lived there in the height of the crack epidemic-my kids and I watched as Felix Mitchell’s funeral passed by a block away. This neighborhood still represents so much of the peril and promise of Oakland even as it stays under the MSM radar.

But the EastSide Arts Alliance draws together all these cultures and forces, not to neutralize or homogenize them but to listen and learn from all their stories. So get there soon, this weekend would be a good time to be introduced to issues of national, international importance, through art and community,

What on Earth is Going on with the Oakland Police Department?

I live in the quiet, safe Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland. Of course,it’s not completely safe-we suffer car break-ins and home burglaries and some street robberies-this is a high crime city. But lately something has been going very wrong even in our neighborhood-and  the Oakland Police Department has become part of the problem.

For many decades OPD had a reputation as one of the worst departments in the country. It was said that the department used to recruit “Southern crackers” to come beat on Oakland’s Black population. That experience helped Oakland give birth to the Black Panthers whose number one job was to prevent police violence (and provide programs like free breakfasts which served as government models) until they were mostly wiped out by government forces.

But many years into the implementation of federal oversight of OPD, the department had just begun to reform under the quiet leadership of new Police Chief Sean Whent. After a terrible rate of police killings averaging seven a year and under its first woman mayor, Jean Quan, use of force complaints dropped significantly. A high school senior, Alan Blueford, was shot to death and the mayor took steps which resulted in no more police killings for the last two years of her administration.

That may seem like little enough to ask, but it seemed to herald a change. The force recruited new young commanders and made them accountable to the neighborhoods they oversaw. Many of us were hopeful for reform while still keeping a close eye on how things developed.

But back to my quiet little Lakeshore neighborhood, I was heading out to a meeting in the Fruitvale a recent summer Thursday evening (you’ll see why the summer description is important later). As I drove down Lakeshore I heard sirens and watched as three police vans careened around a corner a block ahead of me, two of them sherrif’s vans and one OPD van.

Wow, I thought, something really dangerous is happening on that little street. As I  continued down Lakeshore and across Mandana, I heard more sirens and speeding vehicles, pulling over barely in time to prevent my car from getting clipped by a police car flying down Mandana as two more raced back down Lakeshore. Watching in my rear view mirror, I saw at least one more shoot across Mandana-so that’s at least 7 cars in going 3 directions within a couple minutes-flying up, down, and around our quiet neighborhood. Restaurant patrons could be seen pouring out onto the sidewalk to see what the hell was going on.

I tweeted about it and received a private message from one commander who regularly responds on twitter.He replied that he was on vacation and so didn’t know what was going on but made sure to tell me that they don’t do those high speed car chases anymore as they are acknowledged as too dangerous.

Recall that I said it was a summer evening-school hadn’t started and it was between 6:15 and 6:30. Not only could a car have easily been hit but a child playing ball or just crossing the street could have easily been run down. So I asked a friend who lives in Deep East about his experience, and he told me they still do high speed chases in his neighborhood all the time but they don’t admit to it. [We later heard on the TV news that they were chasing a robbery suspect but no Nixle, no police response to the danger they put our neighbors in was forthcoming, nor has it yet.]

Then two more disturbing things happened in our neighborhood this summer that make me think-something has gone terribly wrong with police reform in Oakland. Our department of which I was recently proud, has managed to kill 4 suspects this summer alone, not including one very strange death that may or may not have occurred in police custody. According to the bit of police video that a few select folks have seen, it was not caused by officers; but it was such a bizarre death, no one is willing to believe that.

Surprisingly, two of the recent police shootings which resulted in deaths happened in my neighborhood, the GrandLake district. One of them, the death of Demouria Hogg, has still not been explained, and no video has been shown to anyone outside the department. It occurred after he had been seen passed out in his car right on the off ramp to Lakeshore. It may have been justified but the public can’t know that and the lack of transparency can only lead to one conclusion. The other was the death of a young homeless man who had attacked an officer with a bike chain. The whole episode seems badly done all around but it’s hard to judge how it might have been dealt with, with no videos and differing accounts from neighbors.

Here’s the thing, there are plenty of folks in Oakland who will assume that the police killed a dangerous bad guy AND there are some who will assume the police were totally unjustified. There are two ways to fix this 1) show the videos, and 2) go back to the drawing board and work harder not to kill people who have not been tried and found guilty (more mental illness intervention and training, etc.)

Now I’m not assuming, as some will, that these officers wanted to kill these suspects. But something has changed and we have taken a step back in our quest for a reformed department, one that does not use excessive force unless absolutely necessary. Some have even asked if the new mayor has somehow sent a signal for a police crackdown regardless the loss of lives and community trust. We know she sent a signal for a crackdown against demonstrators although she seems to have backed down on that in the face of community opposition.

I’ve been happy with and noted that this mayor has made some really good appointments to top jobs and even one commission appointment-that of a young man who is a leader in the field of restorative justice. But, if there is even a suggestion, a hint, to command staff and rank and file to let up on reform and reducing use of force, this could be the result.

One thing we do know is that Mayor Schaaf has not been as visible as Mayor Quan  in the community. Does she do regular ride-alongs as her predecessor did? Does she talk with young people in East Oakland about this issue and visit their neighborhoods? I just don’t know.

But the last time I saw her appear with the chief was after the May Day debacle of vandalism on Broadway Auto Row and that appearance did not go well. A chief who is trying to reform a department like ours needs open support from the city’s leadership or his force will lose faith in his leadership.

To me the question of whether a police shooting was justified is difficult to answer without the evidence being presented in some form to the community. Our city has led by obtaining cameras for our officers and insisting that they use them, but what good does that do if we never see the videos?!

It’s time we demand that our city and state leaders develop comprehensive legislation clarifying how and when these videos will be made public and how they will be preserved. The Riders scandal was a direct result of Jerry Brown’s promise that his administration would reduce crime by a certain percentage and the force’s response to getting it done.

But “enlightened” law enforcement knows that crime cannot be brought down without the assistance and trust of the community most impacted by it. Without trust in our local institutions, there is no way to reduce crime and violence. We need to hear from our mayor and her administration that she supports reform-including reducing these fatal responses-and our chief that we the public have a right to know how our police department is functioning-including taking responsibility when it is at fault.

Women and Respectability Politics

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Many of us have seen the videos of Planned Parenthood managers talking about selling fetuses for stem cell research (they don’t actually sell them.) The folks who engineered these videos have apparently spliced and diced and concocted an art form out of taking recorded words out of context.

Still, there is unease when we actually realize what is happening, that fetuses are being used to study how humans are made and how they can be repaired, that is, how they can be healed. And I get that but we have to be willing to think this through.

Since we decided a number of years ago that stem cell research was useful and therefore acceptable-even Republican Ben Carson admits to being involved in that kind of research-then why is it shocking to learn how those cells are procured?

Well, that’s one question, one that the Right Wing knows that most of us are ignorant about, and that might lead us to reconsider the original question-women’s right to choose or not choose childbirth at certain times and circumstances of their lives.

I recently saw Wendy Davis, she of women’s-right-to-choose fame, defend Planned Parenthood on the basis that 97% of its work is in women’s reproductive health and, indeed, women’s health in general, like screenings for various diseases. So it’s true that no federal money goes to abortion and that in some states without the ACA, women must use these clinics as their primary providers. Most people would agree they need to have some kind of health care.

As an older woman who had an abortion shortly after they became legal in California and most of whose friends have had legal and/or illegal abortions, as a woman who is the mother of two, one of whom is female, I wanna say, stop with the nuances and justifications.

Just stop. Every time you appease these misogynists (and some are women,) you move us a step backward in our demands for rights as persons. But then, we no longer make demands, we’re back to pleading for consideration of a woman’s right to life. All of the Republican candidates now feel obliged to say that they would rather see a woman die than risk the loss of a fetus! When they’re not making rape a victimless crime, they’re criminalizing us when we become mothers and can’t afford childcare or demeaning us when we don’t want to home school our kids.

Of course, it does make sense to state that when all types of birth control are made completely available to women of any age and income level, the demand for abortions goes down-that is proven. Unfortunately, many states have made it more difficult to even obtain any kind of birth control much less the medical, non-surgical forms of abortion. To these zealots an egg, is more human and needs more rights and protections than the woman who may have to nurture it. Of course, if it turns out to be female, the value of that life decreases after it arrives on earth much like a new car after it is driven off the lot.

So all I’m saying is, I don’t really want to hear all the logical arguments, because they are based on us trying to prove to the men who rule us that we’re good people that we have the “right” intentions, that we’re good moms and sisters, aunts and grandmothers. Everyone knows women who have had abortions, everyone. Most of us would prefer not to though, in fact 60% of women seeking abortions are already parents, but geez, now I’m doing it too.

As Ben Carson put it, “There is no war on women — there may be a war on what’s inside of women.” Apparently I need to remind the good doctor and everybody else that what’s inside me is mine and I don’t need your approval  to decide what is best for me, my outsides and my insides.

And here’s another one, I hate that mantra, “it’s between her and her doctor,” no , sorry, my doctor doesn’t get to decide, even with the laughable notion of the old family doctor who knows us so well-the implication being that it is a wise old man-no again, not his decision-it’s mine and maybe my partner’s if I so choose.

You guys or ladies, women, at Planned Parenthood may have consulted some PR people, the wrong ones, I suspect, who told you that it is unseemly to talk about aborted fetuses and how they serve born people. If some of you find my choices disreputable or not respectable enough, I’m okay with that, because I’m in charge of my decisions.

I submit that if we occasionally don’t give birth because we have made that decision, it should be okay to use those cells to benefit humankind without apologies. Similarly, I don’t ask you to beg that I retain some small say over how I protect my body’s integrity, my integrity as a human being. I earned that right when I was born.