The People’s Proposal Vs Urban Core but did it have to be that way?

2016-03-01 23.47.02 (448x640)
If you attended the Oakland City Council hearing on Monday evening, held to showcase the 3 housing proposals for the E 12th Street parcel, you would have thought it was greedy developers versus poor residents, but like anything in Oakland, it’s not that simple.

I’ve been following Oakland politics since the mid 80’s sometimes closely, sometimes peripherally, but in all those years, I have never seen Mike Pyatok or The East Bay Local Asian Development Corporation, known to all as EBALDC (eebaldtsee), decried as greedy corporate types.

The activists from the East Lake neighborhood, some of whom are long time, generational residents, but also including those who reached the shores of Lake Merritt more recently-drawn here by our reputation for creativity, diversity of not only ethnicy but ideas, and our storied culture of resistance-arrived in time to fall in love with the Town but then found that love to be unrequited-at least by our leaders.

They presented what seemed to be opposing proposals along with one from the Bridge Housing Corporation, which also has a good rep in the community, but apparently no dog in this race. In a nutshell, the folks from #SaveE12th or the People’s Proposal working with Satellite Housing proffered a small project of 132 units in a 7 story building and Urban Core working with EBALDC proposed two towers, one with 26 floors of mostly market rate units or possibly some in the upper limits of “affordability” with a smaller tower. This project would offer 108 units for lower income renters like those who are rapidly being displaced by the current volatile housing market.

I just have to say that “market rate” is a strange term, one that implies the folks who already live here aren’t part of the market but are just people in the way-whereas the new-money-people-no perjorative names here-will come whatever the price, just cause we’re such a great place to live (ironic, tell that to the city council and mayor who want to reduce the costs known as impact fees to developers cause maybe no one really wants to come?)

Anyways, there is a total of 24 units difference between these warring proposals. But there are two other very important differences to contend with beyond the number of affordable apartments. 1)the Urban Core/EBALDC folks have financed the deal mostly by building all those unaffordable units (laughingly called market rate) and they can recompense (like that fancy term?) the city to the tune of $4.7 million, a mere $400k less than their original proposal, cash the city could probably use. So here the People’s Proposal which I’ll call the #PP, no, maybe stick with #Save, which is offering to build a low rise complex with purportedly all the city’s current affordable housing funds, leaving nothing left for other projects, hmm, concerning maybe?

Here’s the other big difference, 2) when all those unaffordable units are built, towering over most of the neighborhood, except the existing 26 floors at 1200 Lakeshore, which admittedly looks pretty bizarre so close to the edge of the Lake, ok,ok, no more tangents. The other yuuge difference to the neighborhood is the way the Urban Core project will impact the current residents’ homes when spanking new, very expensive, luxury-type apartments are thrown into an area that previously nutured a  mix of people, cultures, and lifestyles. That mix will vanish like El Nino in February. God only knows where everyone will go, God or whoever’s in charge at the tent city now residing under the bridge by the new LM boulevard.

So what to do, who to choose? If I were on the CC, I’d be tempted to  give the #Save group all the housing funds and at least get something built to offer the neighborhood right now. But, of course, that won’t happen. What I’m really wondering is-why the brilliant, politically-oriented minds contained in the mayor’s or city council’s collective brain, couldn’t have gotten some of these guys together and said, “Is there a way to build a range of affordable units with some at “market rate,” some at middle management rates, some at upwardly-mobile-we-hope rates, and almost as many at lower-income, social-security-only rates as the #Save folks have proposed without using all the city’s housing fund??

In this way the parcel could be developed more densely than most of the neighborhood because up is the appropriate direction for cities to be going, but NOT so out of whack with the surrounding community that that existing culture is destroyed forever.

So, now I’m wondering why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t Mayor Schaaf, no. 1 city cheerleader, apply some of her secret sauce to this mix and bake an Oakland flavored cookie out of it, or a papusa, something?? Now we will probably get a much better project from Urban Core than we had initially-although I have it on good authority that they had early on offered to put significant affordable units in the project, then backed off-because that’s what it always looked like we’d get. In the end we’ve achieved lots of bad feelings, ill will, and distrust in government process for something we could have had last year with albeit, some leadership.

On the other hand we now have an informed, activated citizenry working together-young and old, a grand Oakland mix of cultures who have learned to be skeptical and organized and tenacious. So watch out, more to come very soon from all the corners of our city, our beloved Town, bit by bit we are organizing. We’re going to take on the bureaucracy and the political class and we’re going to energize our collective creativity.We might even serve as a model to our “leadership.”

We’re coming from old political clubs, neighbohood-organized associations, and new alliances. We demanded a Declaration for a Housing Emergency last fall (check this blog) and it’s way past time for that to have happened. Those being ousted now come from all sectors-the poor, oldtimey residents, teachers and students, artists and middle management professionals-our representatives have shown that they are better at pitting us against one another than bringing us together so-looks like we’ll have to do it ourselves. Stay tuned.


More Videos from Oakland

I’ve learned to make short videos, sometimes with music, sometimes without. When I use music it is invariably from my collection of oldies-except the two videos I made using Boots Riley performing “Underdogs” at a rally against gang injunctions. I have made cat videos, mostly with my cat, Woody, but some with neighbors’ cats. I have made videos celebrating Lakeshore Avenue’s retail upsurge, well, one about the opening of Kwik Way and of local happenings near Lake Merritt.

But, mostly I make short videos of political events that say something to me. The funny thing is that I have a bunch (no idea of the actual length) of videos from the Occupy Oakland days which are languishing somewhere on my old computer’s hard drive-never did get around to putting them together which probably says something about my still sad, angry-confused inner zeitgeist on the whole damn thing. Someday.

(If you watch the first video, then keep watching, other videos will pop up or got to my channel on youtube.)

So, back to the music problem. If I use recordings I have come by legally downloading them, I still find that youtube has prevented them from being seen on mobile devices. A couple made it through before they decided to block them. The two videos I made using Boots Riley as a chorus I put on vimeo so no commercials would be sold on them; and I used one other platform for a long video of a meeting-don’t remember which! If you are acquainted with somebody who will let me use their homegrown music to avoid that problem, let me know. I can’t promise to make them famous though. The most hits I have gotten on my little channel is 336 on my “Save Adult Education Now” for a grand total of 2, 575 hits.

Well, I just checked my channel, bethpikegirlagain, and reminded myself that I made a really silly video on squirrels and one on bees buzzing my neighbor’s giant flower bush, nah, can’t remember the name of that fabulous plant, but it’s an ode to spring.

I’m still using windows movie-maker which leaves a lot to be desired and have recently used my phone to record video which really leaves even more to be desired. I should start carrying around my tiny camcorder so I’m always ready.

I don’t even know why I do it. I never take videos of tourist attractions. I don’t have grandchildren to record (yet). I can only get my kids to succumb when they have no way to prevent it (ha, my son’s law school graduation is very soon!), but I continue to want to document the life around me. There’s lots of snippets on my computer, waiting to be accidentally deleted, no doubt. Say a prayer that those snippets survive my general electronic incompetence.

Yes, I am as blown away that I can do any part of this as my friends are. Most of the time I don’t know how I got it put together. Just finding the damn shots stored on my computer can take up to an hour…then I used to have to convert them to another format before even using movie maker because I had an old XP system that could not translate some formats. Good grief, what language am I even speaking?

It’s just this damn tenaciousness that is a family trait. I might start making my video around 10 PM and wrap up around 2 AM waiting for youtube to finish uploading-and that’s for a 2 and half minute video! Without the assistance and encouragement of some folks formerly of Oakland Local-I won’t name them because they might be embarrassed by my product-I wouldn’t have persevered.

Anyway, while this videos never go viral, they are the little bit of art that my arthritic hands can still get satisfaction from creating. I hope that they inform, provoke, entertain, or annoy a few folks here and there. Whatever, I can’t stop documenting some of the moments that provoke, annoy, and even uplift me. So here are some more you may not have seen.

Oh, one more note, without some form of art and creation, life is not worth living, so maybe that’s why I do it.

Mayor Jean Quan:Embattled or Fighting for Oakland?

Mayor Quan with friends at Chabot event

It’s an old cliché that almost everyone who writes about Oakland feels they must use. You know, it’s a gritty city. The latest one was the New York Times article that touted our new restaurants, which are great, don’t get me wrong. But the writer still felt he had to refer to our “grit.” I’ve never quite figured out what that means-is there sand in your sheets whenever you stay here? Do you get stuff in your eyes walking around our beautiful lake? By the way, which one, we have two and there is some sand involved in both.

Ok, so the new cliché is to describe our mayor as embattled or besieged. I checked google for some of the adjectives used to describe Ms. Quan and discovered that this is not an unusual way to describe a mayor. There were at least seven other mayors so depicted on the first page.

My question is how did this get to be the cliché of choice for our new mayor? Is it a result of the constant string of sexist and racist insults on her facebook page, no matter the subject? Or did it arise from the heckling she received at the Commonwealth Club? How about the three rude people on Grand Avenue when she showed up to promote that shopping district? I know this mayor has encountered unforeseen problems, unforeseen even given the worst economy since the Great Depression (so what is this-the Not-so-Great Depression?)

But, I didn’t see an embattled mayor at the Chabot Space and Science Center on Saturday night (January 7th) nor did the 400 or so Oaklanders and their families who attended the holiday party there. In fact the Mayor seemed to be floating in a red dress among her happy constituents, neighbors and friends, her face glowing, her enjoyment obvious. Before the event, her annual one, she and her husband Floyd cooked for hours for the giant potluck. The crowd was a potpourri of Oakland and the world around it, meeting and greeting each other along with their mayor and her family.

I didn’t see an embattled mayor on Friday afternoon among a crowd of hard working men and women of the Laborers’ Local 304 who told her, “We’ve got your back.” She exudes the same earnest concern as she knocks on doors in the Elmhurst asking neighbors if they know when their Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meets and handing out meeting notices and other info about city services. She chats with the kids who can’t believe the mayor has come to their neighborhood, much less their homes.

Many folks never even meet their council members in their districts, and I don’t remember any former mayors who have stood on the doorsteps of their constituents responding personally to their questions. Is this the sign of an embattled politician, hardly? This is, rather, a mayor unafraid to bring her ideas to the folks most affected by them.

I have seen this mayor grow into her job like she was born for it. And, indeed, more than any previous mayor I have known, she has almost grown up preparing to be mayor from her poor beginnings in a neighboring suburb where the library was her solace to her years as an active public school parent, school board director, and district council person.  She has learned about Oakland the way only a true grassroots activist could.

If you get to meet Mayor Quan, I mean when you get to meet her, she attends neighborhood activities as if she never sleeps, ask her anything about Oakland you always wanted to know. Her knowledge of our history, finances, neighborhoods, topography, and its people is encyclopedic. It is difficult to stay unimpressed when you see her grasp of our needs and wants catalogued with the many solutions she is devising (and has throughout her history here).

Yes, I’m a supporter and I’m working hard to stop the recall. No, we don’t always agree on everything. If you read my blog at all you’ll see that; and I’m not quiet about it when I do not see eye to eye with her administration. But, she’s not just my mayor, she’s the mayor of folks who think the police should be unfettered by oversight because they rarely misbehave. She’s the mayor of young people who camped at Occupy and think it is the most important thing happening in Oakland. She’s also the mayor of folks who hear gunshots at night and want their children to be safe in their beds as well as from police harassment and the lure of gangs.

Mayor speaks at Oakland's Women Suffrage Celebration

She’s the mayor of residents who need a good grocery store and not another liquor store and the mayor of all the drivers (and bicyclists) who want their potholes fixed, merchants who want free parking, and seniors who want their centers open all day, every day. She’s even the mayor of the governor who used up all our redevelopment dollars-during the good times-and then- like the guy who snatched up the rope ladder after climbing to safety, well, you know what happened there.

If you spent a day following Jean Quan around-that’s a challenge I wouldn’t take-I don’t have the stamina-you’d see a smidgen of the length and breadth of her knowledge, hard work, and problem-solving skills. You’d see leadership of the not-so-slick-or-shiny kind, not the glib-easy-answer kind. You’d see thoughtful, hard working leadership in a woman who is just where she needs to be.

Mayor Quan receives resolution of support from the Norther Cal. District Laborers' Affiliates

Occupy Oakland: There is a There There.

Making music at the Constant Caucus Cafe

Despite millions of dollars and decades of planning, the city center was never vibrant until now-

Occupy Oakland is in its 8th night as I write this. I have visited the site every day since the first rally on October 10th, and every day it grows larger and more complex. If you have not seen it, I don’t believe that the photos do it justice. You must go.

Tonight I met 3 new twenty-somethings pitching their tent. I asked them where they had come from and they said, Berkeley, and kind of laughed-presumably-because it is so near. But, that, of course, is part of the attraction.

Most of the people I’ve talked to are actually from Oakland. Many are daily visitors -working on projects, engaging in discussions, making art or music-not camping out but they are at work on creating community. I can’t tell you how many are camping out, but it must be quite a few, judging by the number of tents on the lawn.

The Tribune tower serves as backdrop for the new village, first week.

Before this, the area beyond the amphitheatre always seemed small to me but I guess it really isn’t. I could never have imagined that so many tents-with a few boardwalks plopped in the middle-could fit into that little area. Most of the tents look comfortable even if they sit cheek to jowl with each other.

I haven’t had the urge to stay over since the balmy evenings of that first week because it has gotten too crowded and even a bit too civilized. I’ve never been much for camping, and the endless negotiating and redesigning of a complex society just seems like lots of work. Still, the scene draws me back every day.

For instance, in the kitchen, the kettle barbecues have been abandoned for large gas-style stoves with giant pots full of stew. There is a food preparation tent alongside shelving for dishes and a dishwashing area. Whole families stop by to donate food and supplies. I have even heard that the city has asked them to stock a fire extinguisher to make this sophisticated arrangement safer.

Kitchen tent, first week.

So now that things are working a bit better-bureaucracy is bound to grow- but if we remember that bureaucracy was designed to bring organization to civilization, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Besides the first aid tent, the crafts and the childcare tents, there is a media and an info tent and a well-stocked library, plus a tent full of dry erase boards with growing activity schedules.

These message boards offer classes and discussion groups almost every hour. There are signs posted, stacked and lying about, and the messages are inspiring or thought provoking.  There is almost always music all along the paths surrounding the encampment.

Zoe and Olivia make art on site, day 7.

Early on, port-a-potties were donated by the Oakland Education Association (OEA), but cleaning them daily is expensive, and an instant fundraiser is scheduled this Sunday to provide a port-a-potty cleaning fund.

If you want to help grow this fund, please attend the Port-a-Potty Party this coming Sunday, October 23, from 5 to 7 (appetizers and drinks) at 1633 Channing Way, Berkeley, or send a check to the Oakland Education Association, 272 East 12th Street, Suite C, Oakland, 94606.

At the site, I frequently meet gray-haired friends who are visiting, chatting, and offering support. On Sunday I ran into Robert Reich who was talking to people and engaging them in discussions. He told me that this movement was indicative of the American spirit “rising up”. 

At one gathering I heard a woman older than me say that she had been waiting for this uprising for 70 years and a friend of mine-who dashed off to Target (some irony there, I guess) to buy supply bins for the campers-told me, “I’ve been waiting 50 years for this.”

For the most part, my friends and I have seen this as a young person’s movement that we are willing to support in any way we can. We respect their process and trust that the campers and daily attendees will find a way to move it to the next stage.

The most striking aspect of this for me is how it has changed the conversation in this country and around the world, and that is probably the most significant thing it can do. I go through my day aware of them and their struggles as a generation, and thankful that their statement of rebellion matches my own anger, my own hope.

Tonight by 6 PM, I couldn’t stay away any longer and set out on foot to join them. Along the way I felt a simple kind of joy moving among the runners, strollers, bikes, kids, and dogs passing together along the edges of our beautiful Lake Merritt as the sun went down. As soon as I reached the library, the emptiness of downtown Oakland after 6 PM yawned before me and made me think of turning back. But there it was- the vibrant new village at Oscar Grant Plaza (which is very ironic given how much money the City has spent over the years to revitalize this core area). The General Assembly was just being called to order; so I joined the attentive crowd and listened as so many disparate folks expressed their desire to learn, teach, and share in real community.

Now, when I hear about what is happening in Congress or the presidential race, I think that they have rendered themselves irrelevant. Just months ago, all I could think of was how irrelevant we had become to those bent on destroying our public spaces, our public rights, and our public hopes.

Of course, I know there are still lots of important battles that must be carried on in the political houses of our country. But now, I believe that these houses are also the ones we design and run ourselves in these very public spaces with people who are, it turns out, not apathetic nor politically ignorant, but actively engaged in that task. 

Whatever path the movement chooses, we will not go back to our lives of quiet desperation, isolation and self blame. This time we really will believe in hope and change. We will believe in ourselves.

Open Studios, & Art & Music in the Gardens

Last year I somehow missed the Pro Arts Open Studios. This hardly ever happens. According to the website,, they have been running their open studios program since 1974. For those folks who have just landed from another planet, the Open Studios movement implies that artists invite you into their workplaces and exhibit their work where they make it.

In reality many artists now gather in spaces set up as temporary galleries for the Open Studios rather than open up their often cramped work spaces. On the one hand, you can see a bevy of artists gathered in one spot rather than search for the many little studios spread around the whole Bay Area’s twelve cities.

On the other hand, there are many more large studio buildings where artists jointly rent space than there used to be and seeing artists in their natural habitat can be more instructive and personal.

It was for just that reason that I began taking my children to Open Studios in the late 80’s. At one studio we saw an artist shooting hoops (it was a toy net) in his work space. I thought it would encourage my athletic son to see that he could make art and still have fun. I liked to provide my kids with art supplies, including small sketch pads to take wherever they went, as my father had done for me.

I remember not too many years ago when you could visit artists in the redeveloped empty warehouses down by Jack London Square. Seeing these repurposed buildings was as much fun as looking at the art. Now empty big box retail space, the Barnes and Noble building, for instance, vies for reuse as a makeshift gallery.

It makes one think that maybe the enduring usage for many buildings in Oakland should be actual artists’ live/work spaces. Here I’m not talking about lawyer lofts where open concept living rooms full of Italian leather and kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel are the hallmarks of someone not making a living making art. Going from industrial to post industrial then retail to post big box retail back to art makes one wonder what city planners are thinking. Have they noticed the irony?

First, my friend and I set out in the afternoon and were able to take in a gallery in a beautiful home in the Lakeshore area, then onto the Swarm Galleries, finishing with the post-big-box space on JLS. At the first gallery, I ran into artists whose work I had watched change and grow over the years.

Next we moved onto  The Hive Gallery at the end of 2nd Street near the Square. We found more artists than were actually listed in the Pro Arts booklet but some of those listed had not yet opened.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this was last Saturday when it had poured on and off in the morning and early afternoon. Since I have almost completed the process of becoming a true Californian, I do think it’s my birthright to enjoy blues skies, and I have even developed the natural fear that I might melt if caught out in the rain. So, as you can imagine, attendance was sparse.

At Hive we found so many variations of art/crafts/sculpture that I can’t really describe the creativity on display by these folks. Since I had decided not to take my still or video cameras and don’t have a camera phone, I can’t even show you these wonderful things. You just have to go, really you gotta go.

We met an artist who makes cute dresses, charming cloth chickens (I mean really charming) and carves puppets, incredible, another artist who lived in Nepal and taught art there, a painter/muralist who takes videos of herself performing the layers of her process, and too many others. Wait, don’t forget to ask for the artist who has the movable untoy, Mickey Mouse meets the Raiders. Oh, and the artist who sorely tempted me into taking on debt with his resin treated works using paint, string, rulers, fabric, well, I may have to go back.

Then we headed down to the former Barnes and Noble building and ran into old friends, both artists and visitors, like Rita Sklar who has become well-known for her beautifully crafted watercolors and many more until they dimmed the lights and ushered us out.

So then on Sunday I decided to walk down to the Lakeside Garden Center since my neighbor, co-owner of the fabulous spot that is Garden Hortica (, had been bombarding facebook with the happenings at Lakeside Park,  Art & Music in the Gardens. Not officially part of the Open Studios, but the event took advantage of the excitement of the weekend.

Artists were showing their wares both outside and inside and gardeners were likewise demonstrating their art. There was food being purveyed by the Oakland Museum while musicians played on the stage.

Rather than tell you about the goings-on, check out my photos and short video of some of the grounds and what the artists say about their work and Oakland. Listen in particular to Christian Moffat of Create in Clay, (barring problems with my video editing program!) and what he says about the Town.

I managed to come away without buying a single piece, but I’m not proud of that. This has been one of the toughest years for me financially since my kids were little, and I’m not sure I believe things will get much better. But there is one more weekend and I’m determined to find something I can afford, at least spiritually.

If, by some awful chance, you are one of those people-and I have friends like this- who buys posters of the great masters which you frame and stick up over your couch, please get off that damned over-stuffed chair and go out and buy a piece of art.

There are no excuses for not having a piece, many really, of original, locally crafted art somewhere (everywhere?) in your house. Mine is loaded with it and it gives me joy every day, more than a new car or new clothes ever could. You still have another weekend-so go out and support a local artist. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

You can still preview the artists before you venture into their neighborhoods by visiting Pro Arts Gallery where 400 of them will be on display until June 12th-150 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.