Guest Blog-Oakland City Council Meetings Should Not Resemble the Autocratic Regimes of Old by Naomi Schiff

This is former Mother-of-the-Year, Naomi Schiff’s, response to the restrictions imposed by the City of Oakland on the many participants who are eager to be heard by their representatives. It’s time someone responded, someone who we elected to represent us, not just the appointed administrators.

Dear City Administrator, Mayor, City Attorney, and Council President,

Attending the city council meetings has become unpleasant and difficult, and as a longtime participant (since 1979) in city meetings, it has occurred to me that perhaps no one has actually written you to make a formal written objection to the current procedures, so I am hereby doing so.

I am not certain whence the new rules come, but people have mentioned the “city administrator.” I am not sure who that is at this exact moment, based on the city website. Has Ms. Landreth taken up her new duties? I have observed the following:

-checks of bags for people entering city hall on council meeting days.
-not allowing people up the main stairs without a speaker’s card receipt. (But you have to go up the stairs to obtain a speaker’s card if you didn’t sign up electronically, and the full agendas are up there too!)
-not allowing people to sit in the galleries of the council chambers
-not allowing people to sit in the main hall except by permission of security guard, even when seats are available
-inadequate overflow room services.
-inaudible closed circuit display out in the hall near council chambers.
-no provisions for people who cannot stand for hours waiting to speak, such as elders or those with disabilities.
-arbitrary and preferential treatment for admittance, based on whims of security people.
-exposure of city staff to consternation and unpleasantness in attempting to carry out unworkable instructions.

The worst problem for me, personally, is that to save councilmembers’ time I prefer to speak with some relevance, based on hearing staff presentations, council remarks, and preceding public speakers. It is now almost impossible to do this. If one is sitting downstairs in Hearing Room 2, one has to be ready to go upstairs. (And some people are much less mobile than I am.) The system is also plagued with occasional electronic glitches that interrupt transmission.

On Monday, I was particularly concerned to hear what Councilmember Brooks had to say when councilmembers were speaking before the public testimony at the budget hearing. But if I were to be ready to speak, the only way to hear her was to run upstairs and crouch among a sizable group of people straining to hear the low-volume television, made more difficult by loud conversation among grumpy would-be speakers and city employees trying to figure out how to proceed.

Two elderly ladies waiting to speak were clearly having trouble with the hours of standing. One finally climbed under the handrail and sat on the marble steps, but had to extricate herself awkwardly when they finally let her in. Give this woman a chair for goodness’ sake!

I was struck, when admitted into the council chamber at last, that there were many empty seats on the main floor. Why were so many made to stand outside?

This does not constitute an open public proceeding. But beyond that, it enrages people enough that it will become counterproductive as groups strategize ways to get the councilmembers’ attention.

I have attended City Council meetings during much more contentious times than we are experiencing now. Nonetheless, I can’t remember that members of the public have ever been subjected to this level of exclusion.

THOUGHTS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

Of the security measures listed above, the first one makes sense. I lived and worked here at the time of the Moscone/Milk murders, and certainly one could reasonably want checks for weapons and large heavy objects.

None of the other measures make any sense to me, and some of it seems to violate the spirit if not the letter of open meeting procedures.

Worst, what message does this send to our involved citizens? IT IS A WONDERFUL THING to see young people interested in city policies. Some years I have feared that the city’s decisions would be left to elderly geezers and businesspeople such as myself. We should be encouraging participation, not squelching it.

It seems to me that our competent police department can remove anyone from the chambers upon egregious misbehavior. It would perhaps be wise to put a safety officer up in each balcony, and enforce decorum. (Although I have not seen anything thrown from up there.)

In fact, I have really been struck at the decline in the number of demented and grandstanding participants over the years; it used to be that there were many more outrageous, nonsensical, and flamboyant speakers. In recent meetings I have attended, most speakers and participants have behaved, and said relevant things, though they might speak passionately. And, the audience will help you. When some ill-advised people came to shout during the WOSP hearings, other members of the audience were effective in ratcheting down the chaos.

There are ways to address meeting protocols and participatory democracy that do not smack of some weird autocracy in eastern Europe. Please convene a working group immediately, and please include some of your noisier public participants in planning a better approach. Do not propose and execute draconian procedures behind closed doors. It will backfire.

I have great respect for the difficult job you all have undertaken, but too I respect the citizens of Oakland. And they are your employers.

Thank you,

Naomi Schiff
Downtown Business Owner since 1981
Resident since 1974
Parent of two responsible adult daughters born in Oakland
Member of various organizations
Oakland Mother of the Year, 2005

Oakland City Hall, Let’s Have an Open Forum for Real

In Oakland, city council meetings and street protests are falling under new more repressive restrictions rather than the open transparent government we were promised. Are our leaders out of step with the times? This is the statement that I would have given to the Oakland City Council at Open Forum last night if I had been willing to stay til midnight.-

Council Members, since I know all of you, like many of you and respect most of you, I’m not here to denounce you-I respect your hard work. But I’m here to remind you what time it is. Some people say this period reminds them of the 60’s. But during the 60’s despite the Vietnam War, many Americans were just beginning to feel that the American Dream was almost available to them even as others rejected it. This time is different. The American Dream is a figment, a fading memory, and the planet is being devastated in a way no other generation could have imagined.

So people, especially young people, particularly young people of color, are angry but they’re also activated. Isn’t that what you as leaders of this great city, want? Haven’t I heard you complain that people don’t pay attention, don’t understand how things work. But as activists organize to protect what’s left of their city’s heritage, they often find themselves at city council meetings. As they wait, an hour or 3, they hear about the city’s business being done, but they don’t understand a lot of it– pass-throughs, grants, PLAs, CFDs, RFPs, oh, that one they have come to understand a bit.

Lots of folks, mostly young, came out and protested an RFP which was done in virtual secret, what about Housing Elements and area plans? The average resident of the, until recently ignored, Eastlake District, once called New Chinatown, woke up to a massive gentrification project and wanted in on the discussion before they found out they were probably a couple of years late.

So, they did what Oaklanders often do, especially since Occupy, they protested loudly but they took it a step further and closed down the meeting for that night. Interestingly, I thought they were more respectful than many of the Occupiers had been. They just wanted to get your attention.

Now, you’ve all decided that this kind of unruly behavior has to be clamped down on. Our bags are getting searched,which is not my no. 1 concern since it happens in so many public buildings. It irks me, makes me feel a bit like a suspect in my own city hall, but I believe my reps have the right to personal safety.

But, when I climbed those long steps to the city council chambers and attempted to enter the hall where the city does my business, I did not expect to be held back by rent-a-cops or city staff. I was questioned by a staffer last night as to whether I was really press. I don’t know am I or just a biased observer? Who decides who is press these days of blogs and tumblr?

In any case, there were seats in the main hall and the galleries were empty. This closure has never been explained. It’s true that that many times people who sat up there yelled and were rude and obnoxious. I didn’t like that either. But barring folks from coming in and filling the galleries will not stop protestors from protesting.

These are indeed tumultuous times and democracy is being put to the test. People are, you know, sick and tired of being sick and tired, but the worst thing that might happen when people come to protest is that they demagogue and speak in rumors rather than facts. This is a problem because it’s so hard to get the truth, too few reporters try to cover too much and sometimes get it wrong or don’t cover it at all.

Try this instead.Try thinking of these people as your constituents or even your students. They want to learn what the heck is going on-so the next time you pass a CFD or RFP or WTF, stop and take a few minutes to explain what you are talking about. Can’t you spare that? Isn’t that part of doing the city’s business?

As Robert Zimmerman once said, “and you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are achanging.” Don’t be “part of the problem,” the solution doesn’t lie in shutting down or attempting to control dissent, it lies in opening up what remains of our tattered democracy. There’s too much at stake to run our city as if it were “business as usual.” That’s what got us into this mess. You can’t harness the tremendous energy of the young and tap into the power of their passions by demanding that they ask just a little more quietly.

If these tactics continue many of us will stop coming altogether-and I’ll stop endorsing anyone who allows it to continue-if you care. You all say that Oakland is on the cutting edge of change so stop trying to polish our image for those who don’t love us. Be a little patient with some bad press but less patient with repression in its more insidious forms. “He that gets hurt will be he that did stall, for the battle outside is raging,” sang Dylan and it’s more true now than ever, because people have more reason to be angry now than ever. We know it’s not your fault-you didn’t create these problems, but if you you insist on contributing to a climate that is hostile to open government, you will also be rightly blamed. There will be no “shelter from the storm,” for you then.

We need leaders who are patient and caring, not prim and comdemnatory, who are bold and innovative, and we need leaders who know how to follow when necessary.

Please take a moment after you read this to contemplate the recent act of terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina and to affirm that all #BlackLivesMatter indeed.

Galleries Closed & Please Don’t Come Back-Dateline Oakland

20150602_223526
I’m editing this blog in order to add some information about the vote on the 12th Street project that took place on June, 2nd. If, as seems likely, the city’s approval of the project goes to court, the legality of the vote will probably become an issue of significance. Please see below in italics.

Last night was a frustrating, maddening, heartening, and entertaining evening/night/morning at the Oakland City Council, but then again, I only stayed until 1:15 am after arriving about 7pm. What was the big draw, you ask? Well, you might’ve come to #SavetheTrees, #Saveyourprivacy (my own little hashtag) or #Save12thStreet. On the other hand there was the deal with the FBI to partner with OPD and the need of the PIC, Private Industry Council, for some funds to tide them over, I’ve forgotten the others. My brain has turned to mush after so many hours of outraged people, me among them.

One issue that was not on the table but which became almost as important as any of the decisions the council discussed, was the issue of policing the meetings, including closing the galleries for “safety” reasons, which was not discussed. So here we were to dialogue, plead with, or rant at our city leaders, except the mayor, who doesn’t attend, and most of us couldn’t get in. This issue that reverberated throughout the meeting. And, yes, my dear council members, that was my voice you heard demanding, “open the galleries,” damn it!

No one, to my knowledge has ever done anything violent from the galleries. And if you’re concerned about the meeting being taken over, it won’t happen from the galleries. By this reasoning, close the floor and open only the galleries or just make everyone speak from closed circuit tv. As I tweeted last night, this was petty rule making of the most useless kind, designed to make the citizens feel disempowered and alienated from their representatives and no council member questioned it, shame.

So many moving statements were made about the proposed 12th Street luxury apartment project on public land, and I wish I had written some down but, doubtless, you can find them in your local papers. As you already know Council member Abel Guillen, who got into this late by virtue of being recently elected, wrested some community benefits from the project which included 30 affordable housing units.

Unfortunately for most of us, affordable and market rate are terms which skew reality away from the former middle class and completely remove them from the struggling poor. It turns out that affordable means $1100 for a studio, $1220 for a 1 bedroom and $1461 for a two bedroom. Those are the most affordable units for people at 80% of the median income from there they go up rapidly. He also got a commitment from the council that $1.1 mil of the sale money would go to an affordable housing fund. You can imagine how the folks in the East Lake area who came out to oppose any deal felt about that compromise. Some thanked Abel for trying, some criticized him for it. One other council member even castigated him for getting money for a skate park.

As I was furiously posting on twitter, one protestor I know who had been tweeting out the goings-on, noticed something ironic-many of the 12th Street, anti-gentrification protestors have only been here a few years. They’re not newbies from Silicon Valley but arrived on the wave of millennials who have been wandering the country in search of an affordable home where people can try new things in new ways-while paying off those onerous student loans. As I’ve noted before, these folks can and will become part of the fabric of an Oakland that continues to question the old ways. They may need to learn some things from us old folks about what we’ve been through and what we value.

So this is how it broke down, finally. Abel made his plea for his deal (reading a written statement which was not a very effective way to communicate it.) Then Desley said she would abstain after asking the developers, supporters of hers, some questions. Desley, you might know, never asks questions she doesn’t know the answer to. I, however, didn’t really understand their answer, but it seemed to make her point for her. Next she threw some shade on Abel’s negotiating before disappointing the audience by not giving a clear no but abstaining instead.

Lynette also read her statement which made it seem stilted and as if she hadn’t listened to the audience. She was voting yes. Now Dan Kalb enticed the crowd by apologizing for letting this deal go forward in the first place and then voted to abstain based on the concerns raised by Public Advocates on the sale of surplus land. Now we get to Noel Gallo who had been low key up to this. He asked the city attorney if she had gotten the letter from Public Advocates who have threatened to sue over the way the deal was done as he waved the letter around. She had no answer. He said he was never in favor of selling public land anyway just as he had opposed it while he was on the school board and referenced the proposed sale of the central administration building.

Then he talked from the heart about his daughters who can’t afford to live here. If you know Noel, you know what a family man he is and how that affects everything he does. He often trips over his own thoughts and leads his listeners on a merry goose chase trying to follow his logic, but he was clear and almost concise here-the younger generation can no longer count on the American Dream as he once experienced it himself.

The crowd roared and cheered, I believe, not just because of the possibility of winning but because of the simple truth of his statement. Then Abel left his carefully prepared statement behind to declare that since there were not 5 votes-Rebecca had recused herself and then left, nothing new for her, more on that another time-he would withdraw his motion to accept the deal.

He then tried to make another motion to issue a new RFP. The crowd went wild, me included. Yeay, Abel! But Lynette was having none of that and asked him to restate his motion, awkwardly trying to reframe it first, or discount it or something that seemed to obfuscate the motion-it all happened so fast and there was so much tumult. So Abel stumbled a bit but then made his motion again for a newly issued RFP, one that could possibly result in affordable housing developers responding or at least a higher price for the property. He had been trying to get a reappraisal all along but obviously, did not have the council’s backing on that before this night.

Then Desley after some kind of signal from Lynette (I was quite a way back but think I caught that) made a motion, substitute motion? Hers was just to bring the whole thing back to the next council meeting. She suggested, not even ironically, that Abel would be able to get community input and craft a better deal-presumably without a skate park-in the two weeks allotted. This motion did pass, shame again.

From observers who were watching on TV, there was a signal from Lynette to Desley who made her own motion. Since the council was in the middle of a vote and a member who abstains from that vote cannot bring a motion to reconsider, it is likely that that motion which brings the project back is illegal. There was no substitute motion. Abel’s motion which was made before Desley’s was passed over. I think the CC took a voice vote but didn’t catch who voted for that. But, if Desley switched sides, it would have passed. This is a bit troubling and may yet come under scrutiny.

As for Rebecca recusing herself due to a committee and donation, etc, as she said-I would hope that someone investigates that further. Was it due to the election committee that she set up to solicit funds for a measure that were then used to fund her mayoral campaign or something else? It wasn’t clear from her statement and no one has reported on it.

As I said before I respect these folks for their hard work, most of them, and good intentions, but their process needs to be transparent and fair to all, including rowdy demonstrators seeking to be heard.

It’s my guess that Desley only abstained because she was sure the project would pass and didn’t need her vote. She has known these developers for a long time. They are not bad guys, folks, but African-American men from Oakland who have built up their company and were asked to make a proposal which they did. They negotiated in good faith and then negotiated some more. The fact that they have out-of-town backers is not a conspiracy but it’s the way they were able to secure these kind of funds (did I hear around $120 mil to build it?) The fact that these real estate people want to invest in Oakland is a good thing not a bad thing. But it’s incumbent on us to play hard ball, too. It’s business and we need to play it the way it works.

It’s very clear that this project would not have been opened up and possibly renegotiated completely without the uprising of working folks, organizers, and community members who were startled out of their every day lives by the assault on their very survival in Oakland. Yeah, some were loud protestors and some didn’t really know the issues through and through.

Some even denounced the whole council but I wish they would look closer and understand why people make the decisions they do when in office if they want to make change. Ignore these details at the peril of your movement, ignore the humanity of those you voted for and who live beside you at the peril of your own. I rarely yell at the city council any more, I look for the triggers to their decision making and try to work on them.

I don’t happen to believe that any council member wants to see our city fail nor do they want to turn away investment in a capitalist system. Most of them care about issues like affordability and police accountability but may not have the background to fully grasp these issues. Look at their supporters, their life experiences and where they go for fund raising if you want to understand why they vote the way they vote, but castigating them for fundraising-going where the money is-is like criticizing them for winning.

Here’s some other stuff I think is important. Oakland is almost finished with its Nexus study which will determine what we can fairly ask of developers, money, that is, in impact fees-fees that can go for more housing, transportation, parks, and other things affected by development. Also the money the state took away for housing in redevelopment funding is due to return in smaller increments as “boomerang funding.” It’s possible that with those funds and tax credits which can match those funds, some affordable housing developers may be able to propose a project for that site in the near future.

If community activists can hold off the sale until these monies come through, this could be a whole different project. But it is probably unlikely that the council will be willing to wait that long, not out of greed or the desire to gentrify some folks out of our Town but out of fear of loss of investment and anxiety that the moment may pass us by. I think it won’t pass us by at all. We are the nest big thing, however, I get it. We still live with that old Oakland diffidence but it doesn’t do us proud.

Lots more happened-the #Savethetrees folks waited til 1am but they weren’t able to save them anyway. I don’t know what our hills will look like after this or whether hiking there will be much fun, but it looks like lots of trees will be removed soon.

The FBI issue got some obfuscation and elicited some understandable hysteria. The council was fairly clear on this vote in that they hoped that the FBI-who are here regardless of what building they’re in-can help clear some of our homicide cases. There are many still unsolved and even uninvestigated homicides that we do not have the personnel to work.

Lastly, the folks who have worked so hard to make the Domain Awareness Center less noxious, finally got to have their item heard at about 2:45 am. I had attended to speak in favor of the community crafted privacy policy but went home to my cat and my bed before it happened.

That’s my round-up, now it’s time for a little nap.

Let’s Say it Together- Protest, Good-Vandalism & Violence, Bad #Oakland

20141126_091804
The whole country now knows that on May 1st, our auto row was inexplicably attacked-were they rabid environmentalists, anti-oil-use radicals? Who knows? It was kinda gross though. Even more gross was the downtown KFC being attacked while it was still open because, what, they were saving chickens from factory farming? Once again the small group of masked merry-makers-merry at least in their own way-smashed lots of stuff, more than just windows, for their own purposes.

By the way, my Progressive friends, we cannot ignore that there were people eating inside that KFC. Were they bankers and corporate CEOS, seems unlikely. This has happened before in Oakland. Other businesses have been hit where people are either trying to make a living or just grab a bite.

So let’s not use the tired cliche that there were only broken windows, some of my best friends, well, colleagues whom I respect but disagree with on this issue, continue to throw this meaningless phrase around.

As a person who represents small businesses and once owned a shop on Grand Avenue, I’m highly attuned to the level of trust needed for someone to put their life savings and their hopes for the future onto a public sidewalk in the belief that, if not deserving of a profit, at the very least, their venture is deserving of respect for the effort. Being an entrepreneur is a respectable way of life and not all of them are greedy or self-absorbed.

I once said, rather glibly, that breaking a bank’s window didn’t bother me much and someone pointed out some problems with that logic: 1) the bank doesn’t care, doesn’t cost them anything really, 2) the little shop next to them is affected by the mess that it causes, and 3) if that bank leaves it windows boarded up, that little shop suffers indefinitely.

Okay, so we all know this and kinda disavow vandalism and violence-after all what do you call it when windows are broken while people sit inside?? So let’s say it. We are part of/or support the most important movement since the Civil Rights fights of the 50’s and 60’s, the #BlackLivesMatter movement which combined with organizing against income inequality is on the cusp of changing how Americans live-or has that potential. This moment is too important to mess up.

We in Oakland have a large role to play-we always have. I believe that many of the Millennials (often decried as hipsters) who are moving here, are also very interested in these movements and can be mobilized to join.

But, it’ll be hard to maintain our leadership position if we allow the power structure to define this as a morality play in which activists get to play the bad guys who dash the hopes of entrepreneurs who try and live their dreams much less hurt other demonstrators who want to join us. And even though that is NOT true, the average Oaklander doesn’t know this and we are losing the PR war.

Bottom line, it’s not a movement builder to allow folks in our ranks to destroy our own Town and threaten those who disagree with such tactics, much less beat up on journalists and photographers. Don’t we get outraged when police do that? I’m not implying that we have welcomed them but have we worked hard enough to prevent them from hijacking the message?

I’m also sick of the fine print, let’s banish it. No, declarations of intent to remain peaceful or not destroy property with fine print down further down that says we honor “diversity of tactics”; no, I don’t and I won’t be told to “not interfere” with these fools.

When I’m in a movement for freedom of speech and respect for the individual with disgust for militaristic tactics, I’m not about to abrogate my ability to act. I would no more do that than tolerate being interrogated before attending a city council meeting. Bullies are bullies no matter which side of the baton they’re on.

Most Oaklanders support organizing for #BlackLivesMatter, and we have to get them to differentiate the necessity of that movement succeeding with the ugliness of breaking windows where working folks are eating (and working for that matter.)

If we want to build a mass movement and not just a phony vanguard, we have to figure out how to stop the vandals and the provocateurs from running us out of our own movement.

In the same way it’s not okay for our elected leaders to reduce the commons to phony free speech zones, it’s not okay-it’s stupid, counterproductive and wrong for us to turn a blind eye to those who would reduce us to a caricature of revolution.

Affordable Housing Forum sponsored by Wellstone & BBBON

Press Advisory

Affordable Housing Forum, May 28th

Announcing the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club Meeting, co-sponsored by the Oakland Block by Block Organizing Network, this Thursday, May 28th at Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street between Broadway and Telegraph in Oakland, wheelchair access and more parking available on 28th Street.

There will be a potluck at 6. Please bring food to share. Club business including updates on political events in and around Oakland/Berkeley starts at 6:45-info on affordable housing legislation upcoming in Sacramento and possible club action, with the panel discussion to follow about 7:20pm.

TOOLS TO SAVE AND INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOUSING:

Over a quarter of California renters are severely burdened by housing costs – defined as paying more than 50% of their income for housing. The mortgage meltdown has forced many from their homes and into the overheated rental market.

The panel will discuss what can be done locally and at the state level to reduce displacement, increase local and state funding for affordable housing and strengthen requirements for affordable housing in market rate developments.

Panelists:

Chris Jackson, CEO, Center for Economic Opportunity, ACCE, Oakland,
Sasha Hauswald, Senior Program Officer for Inclusionary Housing Policy, Cornerstone, Oakland,
Dr. Larry Rosenthal, Goldman School of Public Policy, Executive Director, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, President, Board of Directors, Berkeley Food and Housing Project.

http://blog.sfgate.com/ontheblock/2015/05/12/what-you-can-get-for-oaklands-median-1-bedroom-rent-of-2000-per-month/

For more info-contact Pamela Drake, pamelaadrake@gmail.com or @bethpikegirl on twitter and instagram.

Mayor Libby Schaaf Takes a Wrong Turn

IMG_20150524_210616Last night I was very disappointed, even angry at our police department and new mayor, when the police took a hardline approach for the 2nd time this week with a peaceful group of highly disciplined demonstrators. Sadly,I had just started to feel the new mayor was on the right track in some areas. She appointed Sabrina Landreth as the new city administrator who was Mayor Quan’s budget director and helped us get through one of the worst budget periods in this city’s history.

Mayor Schaaf also appointed Claudia Cappio as the economic development director working on new retail projects with which she’s had lots of experience. She made one other move that surprised and heartened me in appointing Gary Malachi Scott, a young man I made a short video of for PUEBLO, who has real experience with restorative justice as her Measure Z rep.

I had heard her talk to business groups about preventing any more nights of destruction like that which happened to Broadway Auto Row-the remains of a once robust auto row, mostly now gone to the burbs and which generates high sales tax for the city-on the night of May Day. Fifty-seven cars had been damaged in one dealership alone that night and no one could explain why.

Schaaf thought she could reinterpret our crowd control policy to prevent night time vandalism by outlawing night time marches through downtown Oakland as the former cat and mouse strategy had not been working. Clearly, the police and her new administration were under tremendous pressure to find some solution to a problem that most Oaklanders had grown weary of, especially when it seemed to have no connection to recent local injustices; and in fact, moved the focus of protest away from current injustices.

Interestingly, Mayor Schaaf’s first instinct was to announce her decision, which she insists is not a new policy, to the media and the community but the police department discouraged her from going that route. Rather than obey her own political instincts which served her well during the election, she went with law enforcement’s analysis. That has turned out to be a huge mistake which may reverberate night after night unless she decides to fix it.

Police think about security first, policy much less citizen rights, are not their specialty, as those of us who have worked for social justice for decades learned long ago. That is not their job either. It is the policy makers job to determine the correct solutions and  and law enforcement’s job to implement them even when they don’t understand or agree. This tendency of Libby Schaaf’s should not surprise us. Though she talked little about her approach to public safety during the campaign, I remember what she did when the idea of a youth curfew came up on the council.

Noel Gallo had dredged up this old curfew idea but the council voted it down, again. When asked for Libby’s position, she replied that she had queried the chief and he said that it was not useful. So she voted against it on the basis that OPD did not particularly want it rather than on principles or data, or a combination of both.

I passed this off as election politics but now wonder if she really believes it’s appropriate for the chief to make these important policy decisions. The chief was right about this based on data, the size of our force, etc. But a mayor must have an understanding of how this kind of curtailment of activity becomes punitive in many of our communities and may lead to the expansion of the childhood to prison pipeline that Oakland youth are so familiar with. In other words, a mayor has to make political decisions based on the knowledge of a  wide breadth of how our community experiences law enforcement, schooling, and many other factors in high crime-impacted neighborhoods.

So now we’re in a situation in which the women of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the next stage in our long American struggle for Civil Rights, have been lumped in with the masked vandals who tear up our retail districts. Unfortunately, many Oaklanders have already conflated the two-they may be excused for not paying attention but the mayor should know better. It’s her job to know who is working for a better Oakland even if their strategies differ from hers.

These women and their partners in other organizations have helped jump start this new movement, indeed the hashtag, the rallying cry #BlackLivesMatter, started with them. Though OPD has come a long way, some of our residents still have reason to eschew the “assistance” of OPD and fear the officer in their rear view mirror. There’s no need to reiterate all the ways that fear affects folks’ lives, I hope; but we still have a ways to go before each community in Oakland feels comfortable working with their neighborhood police officers.

This mayor’s confused policy directive has reminded us of our unhappy past and its consequences and it may take us back there if she doesn’t act soon. Why has she not met with the representatives of this and other groups who seek to make positive change? It’s not too late to apologize for knowing so little about the folks she shut down last night and Thursday night. It’s not too late to admit an error or a wrong turn when struggling with a difficult situation in an atmosphere of distrust. But it will be soon. See you on the plaza tonight.

Artifical Intelligence and Film Critics or How to Imagine Better Movies

2015-05-04 11.04.28 From my review of Ex Machina on Rotten Tomatoes-

One reviewer suggests that when the lights come up, you might find yourself thinking about the true meaning of intelligence, yeah, but only as to whether all film criticism is the real answer to whether AI exists, that is, how to find meaning where none exists and no real character development has taken place, leaving the reviewer to conjure it artificially for the sake of his critique.

This movie had little plot, the twists were telegraphed-spoiler alert-you knew that young Caleb would not leave the lonely mountain range alive from the moment the helicopter landed there-and the music told you the rest. Thank god, because all the other stuff these reviewers imagined developed between these characters, the over achieving egoist, his pale techy antagonist and the cool and calculating female character, just didn’t happen.

The script leaped from one vague interaction to another with no connecting tissue, just some reviewer’s desire to find some kind of (well) hidden meaning in this otherwise useless exercise, ultimately,  in the difficulty of designing the perfect woman who can be controlled absolutely. Fortunately, the filmmaker failed there too.

Desperate for some escapism last week, I had seen the Age of Adaline which was mostly forgettable. There were a couple of things to draw the attention and displeasure of any viewer with a passing acquaintance of San Francisco in the way that they flubbed many of the identifying scenes-like the address on 18th Street which resembles no corner or view of that street in the Mission/Castro and the lions at the main library, a scene most probably filmed in Manhattan.

But, if you went just for the popcorn, you might have enjoyed a couple of moments watching the aging but still romantic countenance of Harrison Ford at his most vulnerable since Regarding Henry, an emotionally manipulative movie which I can’t help watching whenever it reappears on television.

Here’s hoping for a better movie-watching experience next week!

Mini Movie Critique, the 3 Hearts, with a side of the Last (Exotic) Marigold Hotel

Ah, French movies, so opposite of American jumpcut, blow’em up sagas. Actually, I rarely go to those but I do know that in an American family drama, in the scenes where the character has something difficult, tedious, or just confusing to accomplish, the director will relieve your angst, by jumping to the following scene where all that is done and we’ve moved on; whereas, the typical European flick will drag you through every tedious moment.

In this film, we have scene after scene in which the Jaws-like score makes you think something momentous is about to happen and then…it doesn’t. Ok, basic plot. Boy, albeit, wimpy, pudgy faced boy, meets boylike girl in a scene full of silly but sensitive dialogue and they bond….somehow. They make the predictable date that Pudgy Boy misses due to an anxiety attack, not as most reviewers wrote, a heart attack, and off Boylike Girl goes to the states full of sad-eyed regret to join her husband in the states.

So as strange things will happen, Pudgy-faced Boy (actually, a petty bureaucrat in an ill-fitting shirt) meets Boylike Girl’s crybaby sister and beds her. We get to repeatedly see his pasty-skinned back on top of Miss CryBaby. It invoked that feeling in me that people get when realizing their parents probably had sex with each other (and don’t tell me you never fantasized that you were adopted.)

Over the course of the next few hours, or at least it seemed that long, the Pudgy-faced Bureaucrat finally realizes that he is marrying Boylike Girl’s sister. Having not seen much evidence of their budding romance, you’re not sure why he can’t just tell Miss CryBaby and have a laugh about it since they now have a charming little boy with the square jaw and large eyes of Boylike Girl in a gender switching play on the old-whose-baby-did-she-have bit.

Finally, Miss Boylike Girl shows up and passion ensues, actually smoking ensues, and much of this romantic fantasy seems to revolve around it-a ubiquitous lighter becomes symbolic of all that was lost during the missed assignation. The director, who is said to long after the days of Douglas Serk films, full of primary colors and pointy bras, takes a lighter caressing scene to a new absurdity of underediting. And while we’re talking pointy bras, what’s with Boylike Girl and that sad little black bra that she wears under the same see-through linen shirt over the years (shades of Carrie Bradshaw’s bra etiquette?)

The new lovers at one point take off in a plane with the narrator-what, yeah, just plonks a narrator in there every once in a while-says they took off far and fast and then they came back, with a scene of a jet taking off and then a jet landing. I laughed and I still believe it was meant as a joke but no one else in the theater did so after the next heart-rendingly pathetic scene, I split.

My friend had already left because the Jaws score, deedeedeedee, made him too tense. But bottom line, I suspect it was the unlikability of the characters that made the ending so unimportant for both of us. Well, maybe unlikability is too strong, annoying might be better. All the protagonists were annoying and the biggest star, Deneuve, was underutilized, mostly eating, smoking and clearing the dishes. In the end, the little dog who hangs around Deneuve’s kitchen and the child were the only sympathetic characters in this lugubrious “country town,” as the sisters both named it.

One of the reasons I went to see this movie was that I was interested in the actors so it wasn’t a complete waste. Outside of the pudgy-faced bureaucrat, there was the senior Deneuve, thick of body like the rest of us, but with the same beautiful face (and hair style) in a flick with her and Marcello Mastroianni’s real life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, along with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also has a theater family pedigree. These folks are very watchable even in this limited-range story, more’s the pity.

I loved the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I enjoyed all the actors, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, and Dev Patel so even though I knew the sequel might be less surprising and more formulaic, since Richard Gere had signed on and Dame Judi would be there with young Patel whom I had come to love on HBO’s Newsroom, I had to see it.

Well, the story is the usual, we’re putting on a show/building-another-hotel kinda theme. Poor Dev has to continue to put on his labored accent which, of course, we didn’t hear in Newsroom (he was born in London.) He has to continue to present as naive and childlike, where’ve we seen that kind of writing before?

The story line forces Mr. Patel into a phony mean-spiritedness where he must kiss up to the wrong person while pushing away his lovely bride in order to make his dream come true so that we soon cease to care about his goals and him. Poor Judi’s romance diddles along always on the verge of dying out like a lawn mower whose motor just won’t catch, and, of course, Richard, finally finds love. And, oh well, I think I aged during the movie cause I’d rather take a nap than see another one of these.

Restorative Justice in Oakland and Beyond-a Wellstone Club Discussion with Fania Davis and Malachi Scott

unnamed

What is Restorative Justice and How It Is Being Implemented 
in Oakland and Beyond 

Fania E. Davis, Oakland attorney and director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), will speak at the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club meeting on Thursday, February 26, 2015, at 7 pm at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland.  Ms. Davis will discuss Restorative Justice principles, practices, data, with applications in Oakland.  She will also touch on how Restorative Justice might be used to address police violence and structural racism.  A potluck dinner begins at 6 pm; please bring food to share.

The dramatic successes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in healing the wounds of mass violence in South Africa and of restorative juvenile justice legislation in making youth incarceration virtually obsolete in New Zealand inspired civil rights attorney and community activist Fania E. Davis to explore the possibility of an Oakland initiative.

A leader since 2005 in bringing restorative justice policies and practices to Northern California, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth interrupts cycles of violence, incarceration, and wasted lives by promoting restorative justice policies and practices in schools, communities, and in the juvenile justice system. RJOY’s advocacy and successes at its first pilot site in eliminating violence, reducing racially disparate suspensions, and increasing academic outcomes led the Oakland school district to adopt restorative justice as official policy in 2010. In 2007, there was only one restorative justice school site. Today, there are almost 30. RJOY’s work with formerly incarcerated youth has led to lowered recidivism.

CONTACT
Jack Kurzweil
jack.kurzweil@gmail.com
510-292-8757

The Living Wage, BART Protestors, and Charter Schools, a Blog for Friday the 13th, Oakland

IMG_20141201_213119

Today’s blog is just a Friday-the-13th-kinda-thing -lots of seemingly strange stuff happening in the Town lately. Since we don’t know yet what might come out of it all, keep your eyes open and proceed with caution.

For one, last Tuesday the City Council subcommittee for economic development, in the name of that very concept, offered to give away the wages of struggling Oaklanders, East Oaklanders, many of whom continue to survive against great odds. Here’s the story as I’ve gleaned it- a developer started working with the City way back when there was redevelopment funding to secure a nice commercial parcel for development in Desley Brooks district at Seminary and Foothill, and she worked with him to make it happen. Millions of dollars in tax credits later including an extra capital fund of  $1.2 million, the developer will be paying about $6000 for the property which already has an anchor tenant in Walgreens.

Now let that sink in, $6000 is less than a down payment on a condo in most of Oakland, but, of course, this corner of Oakland sits at the beginning of the retail desert that extends all the way to San Leandro (but don’t tell that to the hard working businesses on International.) Residents of that area were happy to hear that a full-service Walgreens, which sells all the stuff your average chain drugstore carries plus food, would come in and bring other needed tenants. In an area with limited walkability due to the lack of offerings and the level of crime, this project was very welcome.

Here it starts getting confusing-if you weren’t bewildered enough by all the monies that developers and corporations manage to secure in an era when Oakland had long ago shuttered its adult schools and reduced public safety staffing, etc, etc-we have two laws that govern wages for the lowest paid workers. From what I’ve read in social media, people are using them interchangeably but they are different.

Back in 1998 a living wage ordinance was passed so that businesses that received subsidies or contracts from the city would be required to offer a wage that a person could live on-although the actual wage needed for life in the East Bay these days now hovers around $25 an hour-rather than the $14.10 currently required. Our new minimum wage that was fought for and won by a coalition of advocacy groups and labor unions is only $12.25 per hour but it’s still the highest in the area, at least until nearby cities pass proposed increases that may match or surpass ours.

Back to the project, as it was nearing the point of lease signing  with Walgreens, etc, a city staff report surfaced that the developer wanted a waiver to get out of paying the required “living wage” as per the ordinance in order to secure Walgreens. The old fear rose up in City Hall among city staff and council members that, once again, East Oakland might lose out.

Oh, another wrinkle is that the living wage only requires $12.27 an hour, 2 cents more than the new minimum wage so no big deal, right? The higher wage, $14.10, only gets implemented if the employer does not offer healthcare or some type of benefits package. Some proponents assume that with Obamacare (the ACA) employees will get healthcare anyway but that is only if the employee can get 30 hours of work a week. You may have heard that many employers are not offering 30 hours, even cutting their hours, so they can circumvent the ACA, and there’s the rub.

When some of the advocacy groups that worked for Measure FF, the new minimum wage, found out that staff was recommending that the waiver be granted, they showed up at the Community Economic Development meeting and objected to giving waivers willy nilly, particularly to large corporate chains. But folks from the neighborhood-to be fair some of the advocacy groups members also live in the area-heard from Councilmember Brooks that they needed to lobby for the waiver in order to get the project built. They seemed to feel under attack from “outside groups” who are actually Oakland community organizers who see the very real threat of gentrification-development that makes a neighborhood more desirable, thus raising rents and prices, without the attendant increase in local income for residents who have persevered through the worst of times.

I turned on to watch the meeting expecting a battle royale between labor, anti-gentrification groups and the proponents of the project. What I saw was that a few folks from groups like EBASE (East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy), Causa Justa, and a union or two had shown up. They spoke in favor of the project and against the waiver and the need for Oakland residents to get something out of all the government tax credits, city staff time, and valuable property the chain was getting to utilize. At a time when the economic boom seems to be luring lots of businesses to Oakland, it seemed weird to assume Walgreens would not like to come, especially as there is so little competition in that area as pointed out repeatedly by the proponents.

I was surprised, chagrined really to see how quickly the council members on the committee, plus Noel Gallo, and Ms. Brooks asserted that, indeed, Walgreens would leave and the project would collapse. There was not even a peep of negotiating or possibly sunsetting the waiver (did I miss something?) So this waiver was granted to a giant corporation on the eve of the new minimum wage going into effect, not to a small business or struggling local entrepreneur, or non-profit doling out wages from federal grants, no a giant successful chain. The TV news got hold of that part of the story, the struggling small business part, and it gained traction, I’m guessing, on the evening news. IMG_20141201_212805

No one knows what really happened but maybe someone at Walgreens got wind of how it would look for them to refuse an extra $1.45 an hour in wages and declared that they did not intend to ask for a waiver of city laws. Now the project may go forward and the amount of the living wage will hinge on whether Walgreens avoids granting enough hours to its employees to enroll them in healthcare. I certainly hope the city is a better watchdog of its own laws in the future than it was last week, but everyone who worked on Measure FF needs to prepare themselves to continue the fight.

Now let’s talk about BART and civil disobedience for a minute.

The BART board voted just the other day to back off demanding retaliatory fines from the Black Friday 14 (however, that doesn’t mean the DA will have to abide by their resolution) but they maintained that the DA should go ahead with criminal charges. So, many people are still demanding that the District Attorney drop them. Or are they? If you look at social media, you will see that there is a difference of opinion among some of those folks calling themselves “supporters”of the Black Lives Matter movement.

They say that in the good ole days of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, people expected to suffer for their cause and were willing to “take their medicine.” But I was reminded while viewing Selma that the activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference saw jail and even beatings as part of heightening the contradictions, as pure PR that could demonstrate to the media and hence lawmakers, their plight in a way which had not been visible to them before.

No, folks, they didn’t go to jail because they thought they deserved it for disturbing the ugly peace of Jim Crow. They went as a tactic, and they used it because it worked. Sure they were willing to suffer for their cause. Some of them even suffered death. Are we harkening back to those days, and if so, why? Don’t we want to at least pretend that things have advanced in this country toward social and racial justice? Do we need more proof of suffering before we can implement change?

Whether disturbing the transport of the average citizen is a tactic we can get behind, I think well-intentioned people can disagree. But unlike BART Board Member Joel Keller’s manipulative op-ed in the Oakland Tribune, no, teachers weren’t trying to go to work that day, it was part of the Thanksgiving holiday-so remember that what they disturbed was the ultimate capitalist holiday, shopping day. Didn’t we tell you all to shop Oakland Grown that day anyway?

IMG_20141201_175233But, as to BART itself, though they have made improvements, it is still difficult to forget, as someone said, a movie, a real life tragedy,  was made about BART called Fruitvale Station. BART police and their supporters didn’t care about killing a young man and brutalizing others, and they certainly weren’t concerned about whether folks were able to catch the train home from work at that point.

And I can’t forget that this board cavalierly forced their union workers into a lengthy contract battle during which many average riders struggled to get to work on a regular basis, because BART’s GM didn’t think that the people who do the actual work should be able to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. For many BART workers of color those union contracts allowed them and their families to be the first generation to enter the middle class. Don’t forget also that at least two workers died directly due to that recent struggle.

So, to me, when community service is suggested as part of their penance for that short disruption, I say that is their community service-what they are already doing. The Black Friday 14 and the Black Lives Matter organizers are taking steps to bring their community together to protect themselves and prevent further abuse by authorities and they are doing so in a well-organized, peaceful and disciplined manner. If BART wants to make itself a target of continuing unrest, well, they’re doing it just right.

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I’ll just throw this issue on the pyre. If you want to see a large unwieldy government bureaucracy that is much less transparent and seems to produce less for its constituents, look not further than the Oakland Unified School District. And, no it’s not about not allowing charter schools to loosen that up, that ship has sailed since the Oakland district has likely authorized more charters than other cities its size. It’s about whether Oakland families and taxpayers will have a coherent public system or whether charters will swallow the entire system.

If you think schools run by organizations not beholding to citizens, parent committees, unions or even the kids who need change the most, can do a better job, then turn our system over to charter organizations altogether. But, on second thought, please don’t. Happy Friday the 13th! IMG_20141201_213625