Tuesday, January 31, 2017

'Sanctuary State' Bill Moves Forward in California Senate

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 12:16 PM

The California State Senate's public safety committee passed a bill today that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, or arrest anyone due to their immigration status.

Introduced by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, SB 54 builds on other recently passed measures that supporters say are meant to build trust between law enforcement agencies and the state's immigrant communities, and to protect immigrants who aren't convicted of violent crimes from being arrested and deported.

See also: Ambushed: Contra Costa County Law Enforcement Sets Up Surprise Stings To Help Federal Immigration Agents Arrest and Deport Immigrants

More …

Monday, January 30, 2017

Oakland Asks Judge to Throw Out Coal Lawsuit

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 5:47 PM

The City of Oakland filed a motion in federal court today asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at neutralizing the city's recently enacted ban on the storage and handling of coal.

Oakland was sued in December by developer Phil Tagami and his company, the Oakland Bulk Oversized Terminal. Tagami alleges that the coal ban violated his company’s contractual right to build a fossil fuel export hub at the old Oakland Army Base near the foot of the Bay Bridge.

But according to the city, Tagami's company never had any vested rights to store and handle coal.

See also: Banking on Coal in Oakland

"The [development agreement] did not expressly provide a vested right to store or handle coal or coke at the Terminal, nor any vested right to be free of further health and safety regulations of the type at issue," attorneys for the City of Oakland wrote in papers filed with the court today.

Tagami's company obtained control over the land at the old Oakland Army Base in 2013 and planned to build a bulk commodity export terminal from the start. But in 2015, four Utah counties attempted to invest $53 million in the project in order to secure the right to ship millions of tons of coal through it each year. Numerous Oakland residents, labor unions, environmental groups, and religious leaders opposed the coal proposal and demanded the city block it.

Last June, the Oakland City Council voted to ban the storage and handling of coal. The vote followed a lengthy period of study and public comment which resulted in a finding by the city that the coal terminal would negatively impact the health and safety of Oakland residents and workers.

However, Tagami and his attorneys have maintained all along that the city's policy is preempted by federal laws governing the transportation of commodities via railroads and ships. They say their original proposal for a bulk commodity terminal included coal as one of its potential goods.

For several months after the coal ban was implemented, the city and attorneys representing Tagami met for months attempting to hash out a settlement, according to a December 7 letter sent by one of Tagami's lawyers to Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City Council. But the talks didn't resolve anything.

Tagami filed suit in December against the city.

Protesters rallied earlier today outside the Rotunda Building, where the Oakland Bulk Oversized Terminal's offices are located, in support of the city's effort to defend the coal ban.

"If this lawsuit is successful, it would prevent local communities throughout the country from protecting themselves against environmental catastrophes," said Michael Kaufman, a member of the No Coal in Oakland Coalition.

Reverend Ken Chambers, who leads the Westside Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, called on Tagami to end the litigation against the city. "It's a waste of money, a waste of time, and a waste of energy," he said.

Town Business: Oakland City Council Fights Trump Immigration Ban; Police Monitor Contracts Come Back; 2017-19 City Budget

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 7:58 AM

Oakland Councilmember Abel Guillen opposing Trump's immigration order over the weekend. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Oakland Councilmember Abel Guillen opposing Trump's immigration order over the weekend.
Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order that bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, bans Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocks citizens and green card holders of seven majority Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering for 90 days.

As a result, people were immediately detained in airports by border guards.

But protesters also immediately swarmed  airports like SFO to oppose the immigration bans and help those being held by the government.

Several Oakland councilmembers took part in the protests, according to Facebook posts.

On Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council is expected to do more to push back against the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies. The council is proposing to set aside $300,000 to defend immigrants in deportation hearings over the next two years.

Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb at a protest against Trump's immigration orders. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb at a protest against Trump's immigration orders.
The city's money will be leveraged with another $1 million in nonprofit support to deploy five attorneys and five community responders who will argue cases in the federal immigration court in San Francisco.

The network will also conduct "know your rights" workshops at schools, places of worship, clinics, and other places presumed to be safe from immigration agents.

City staff say this "rapid response network" will provide free legal consultations for at least 500 families, and represent up to 200 Oaklanders in immigration court.

Legal researchers have observed that people with access to legal counsel are much more likely to prevail in court and avoid deportation. Lack of legal representation often leads to deportation, but many immigrants cannot afford attorneys to defend themselves and their loved ones. Unlike criminal courts, there is no right to legal counsel in federal civil immigration court.

Trump's orders are already being fiercely debated. On Saturday a federal judge blocked his administration from deporting new arrivals caught in transit. But these people remain detained at ports of entry, their future uncertain.

At the same time that he has banned entry into the U.S. by citizens of majority Muslim nations, Trump has also said he wants to prioritize the immigration of Christians to America.

Some attorneys believe U.S. law allows the president to cut off immigration using extreme measures targeting citizens of specific nations, and to more or less discriminate based on nationality and other factors.

But others believe that Trump's order violates the the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which overturned America's previous system of national immigration quotas that were based on racially discriminatory efforts to minimize Asian, Latino, African and southern Europeans from coming to the U.S.

In fact, prior to the 1965 reforms, the U.S. blocked immigrants who were thought to be "imbeciles," or who had genetic disorders. And the 1965 bill actually banned immigration of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as "sexual deviants," and was only repealed in 1990.

Police Monitor Contracts: Two weeks ago, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to delay renewing two contracts with the court-appointed monitor who oversees the city's police department. Councilmember Desley Brooks, who was behind the delay, said she wanted the council's public safety committee to review the contracts before rubber stamping them, and that she feels the council needs to get more involved in the oversight program.

But U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson responded by issuing a stern order two days later requiring the city to pay the monitor, and reminding the council that the monitor is "an officer of the court," not just another city contractor.

Later, at the special city council meeting last week, Councilmember Guillen recommended that the city ditch the hearings Brooks had asked for, and to place the contract renewals back on the full council's agenda for approval.

Following Guillen's successful motion, the council is scheduled to take up the contracts again on Tuesday night.

New City Budget: Oakland is starting to draft its fiscal year 2017-2019 budget. Mayor Libby Schaaf will release her proposed budget in April, and by June the council is expected to debate and adopt a new spending plan.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Poll: White, Affluent Oaklanders Happiest. Black Residents Least Happy. And Everyone's Freaked Out By Housing Crisis.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Oakland's annual budget poll is out, and will be discussed at next week's special city council meeting. The big take-away is that happiness very much depends on a person's race, class, and where they live.

According to the poll, white people with college educations and six-figure incomes who live in North Oakland and around Lake Merritt are "most happy" with the city's quality of life. They like to bike to work, and frequently take Uber.

But Black and East Oakland residents are more likely to be unhappy. They're feeling the pain of high housing costs, crime, poor schools, crumbling streets and sidewalks, and other longstanding problems.

  • Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates

This happiness gap, apparently stemming from race and class inequalities, is nothing new. In fact, it appears to be rooted in the city's history of racial segregation, redlining, deindustrialization, job discrimination, the drug war, and most recently the foreclosure crisis.

But regardless of who you are, housing is now the biggest worry for Oaklanders, with residents of West Oakland fearing rising rents and home prices the most. According to the poll's authors, "concerns about housing affordability and homelessness have spiked."

In 2015, the last time surveyors asked about housing, 10 percent of Oaklanders said it was their No. 1 concern, behind crime and education. In 2016, 29 percent of Oaklanders said housing is the biggest problem, with crime and education trailing at 13 percent each.

  • Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates

Nearly 73 percent of Oaklanders said they want the city to spend more on helping homeless people, and 67 percent say the city should invest more in affordable housing. Black Oaklanders were the most likely group to say the city should do more to help the homeless.

The poll also reveals that all Oaklanders are willing to pay higher taxes to support better services, almost across the board.

The only thing Oakland residents would cut is city spending to keep its sports teams. Only 13 percent of respondents said keeping sports teams should be a significant spending priority.

The survey was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates of Los Angeles. It involved 1,202 interviews with Oakland residents reached via land line and cell phones, conducted in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

To Undermine Sanctuary Cities, Trump Orders Cuts for Lead Safety, Homeless Shelters, Childcare, Many Other Programs

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 2:55 PM

Trump's official portrait from the White House website. - WHITEHOUSE.GOV
  • Whitehouse.gov
  • Trump's official portrait from the White House website.
President Donald Trump signed an order today to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities like Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley.

But what exactly is Trump cutting by removing funds from cities that do not assist the feds with enforcement of immigration laws?

His order only specifies that law enforcement grants will be exempt. That means the Trump administration can continue sending several billion a year to local police agencies. But it appears that healthcare, housing, infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and other programs face the chopping block.

Here's a list of some City of Oakland programs funded by the U.S. government that could be weakened or eliminated if Trump's order is fully executed.
  • One of Oakland's biggest federally funded programs is Head Start, the childcare centers for low-income families. Head Start provides nutrition education, healthcare, mental health services, and much more for children and their parents. Oakland has been getting federal money to run its numerous Head Start daycares since 1971. This year, 1,038 kids were enrolled and the feds provided $16.7 million in support — three-quarters of the program's total cost.

  • Lead Safe Hazard Paint Program: Oakland's program to help low-income property owners remove toxic lead paint is funded through a federal grant. Last year the program was used to remove lead from 20 buildings.

  • Homeless shelters and healthcare: Using federal funds, Oakland supports shelters and harm reduction and healthcare services for thousands of people living on the city's streets. For example, last year the city used HUD money to provide shelter for 548 people at the Crossroads Emergency Shelter in deep east Oakland. The city's Homeless Mobile Outreach Program also distributed food, hygiene kits, blankets, water, and resources and referrals to 546 people.
  • Providing housing for homeless people with HIV/AIDS: Oakland case workers found transitional and permanent housing for 161 people living with HIV/AIDS last year. Without federal funding, the program will be scaled back drastically, or possibly eliminated.

  • Fixing housing for low-income seniors: Last year, the city spent $274,977 to make 81 units of housing safer and more accessible for seniors and disabled people.

  • Earthquake and fire emergency response: Since 1991, Oakland has received millions in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to purchase search and rescue equipment and train its fire department to save lives in case of a major disaster. Most recently Oakland got $1.2 million.

  • Cleaning up toxic land to build housing: Oakland has obtained $2 million in federal funds to find and clean up toxic pollution on sites that later become housing or commercial buildings. Just last month, Oakland accepted a $110,000 grant from the U.S. EPA to help the city identify contaminated land along International Boulevard. Without these grants, many contaminated parcels in Oakland will remain blighted.

  • Rape investigations: For years Oakland, like many cities, hasn't had the resources necessary to process DNA kits that are used to identify suspects in rape investigations. The US Department of Justice gave Oakland $312,241 last year to help pay for these time-consuming laboratory tests. Although Trump's immigration order appears to exempt law enforcement-related grants, it's entirely up to the U.S. Attorney General to decide what qualifies, so it's possible some grants like this could be eliminated for sanctuary cities also.

  • Food for low-income seniors: Using HUD Community Development Block Grant money, Oakland provides food to impoverished and malnourished seniors. This year, Oakland spent $20,000 in federal funds to pay for food subsidies for 5,752 people living in East Oakland through the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

  • Strengthening homes against earthquakes: In the event of a major earthquake, as many as 26,000 housing units in Oakland, or 15 percent of the total, will become uninhabitable. The way to prepare for this is by seismically retrofitting homes and apartment buildings, but the costs are enormous. Oakland has been seeking millions from the federal government to slowly work on this problem. Just last year the city tried to leverage $1.95 million in federal funds into $6 million using local and state money to retrofit buildings.

  • $39.2 million to fix the Oakland Airport’s runways: The Port of Oakland is a municipal department and therefore probably subject to the intent of Trump’s order to withhold money from sanctuary cities. A lot of money used to improve the port’s maritime and aviation infrastructure comes from the feds. In fact, at the port’s board meeting tomorrow, its commissioners are expected to approve a grant application to the Federal Aviation Administration seeking $39.2 million to repave the main runway. That strip of asphalt hasn’t been upgraded since 2001.
In response to Trump's threatened cuts, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a statement today along with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

"The Bay Area stands united against this White House’s morally bankrupt policies that would divide families, turn our nation’s back on refugees in need, and potentially thwart the efforts of nearly one million productive young people who are on a legal path to citizenship," said Schaaf. "Oaklanders rely on $130 million in federal funding for everything from early education programs like Head Start to getting officers out of their cars and onto our streets at a time when community policing is so desperately needed. We will not allow this president to play politics with our safety and security."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

As Trump Advances Pipelines, Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan Calls on CalPERS to Divest

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 11:25 AM

Rebecca Kaplan at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota.
  • Rebecca Kaplan at the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota.
President Donald Trump signed today several executive orders reviving the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He also signed an executive order that will speed up the review process for similar oil and gas projects, all part of a Trump administration policy to help the fossil fuel industry and weaken environmental and labor regulations.

In response to Trump's actions, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan says it's time for California's biggest pension fund to divest from the companies building both pipelines.

See our previous coverage: CalPERS, CalSTRS, UC Invested in Dakota Access Pipeline Despite Pledges of Sustainability

More …

Monday, January 23, 2017

Court Orders Landlord to Fix 'Inhumane Conditions' in Lead-Contaminated, Fire-Damaged Fruitvale Building

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 2:28 PM

The three-story, 30-unit apartment building at 1620 Fruitvale Avenue was the subject of no less than twenty different housing habitability complaints since 2008, according to city records. Problems included raw sewage pooling under the building and no smoke alarms in over-crowded apartments.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker sued the building's landlords last August. Today her office secured an injunction requiring the landlords, Jad and Suad Jaber, to fix every code violation within 40 days, or face contempt of court charges and other sanctions.

"It is critical that the City hold accountable landlords who violate tenants’ rights and turn a blind eye to inhumane conditions that persist at their properties," said Parker in a press release issued today.

According to city records, the building has been plagued with every imaginable problem: there are infestations of mice, cockroaches, and bed bugs, numerous plumbing leaks spilling water into the hallways and rooms, no hot water in many units, no locks on the building's front door, holes in the floors and walls, no heating, poor ventilation, broken windows, and even lead contamination and chipping paint.

Nearly all the tenants are low-income Mexican and Central American immigrant families. Many of the residents do not speak English.

The Jabers bought the building in 2007, according to county records. The City Attorney alleged that they did nothing to fix the many health and safety issues in the building, despite numerous complaints that were repeatedly verified over the past ten years by building inspectors.

Last August, part of the building caught fire. Two units were subsequently yellow tagged by the city. The tenants of those apartments were displaced. According to the City Attorney, the fire damage was not fixed in a timely manner.

The City Attorney has successfully sued several other Oakland landlords using the Tenant Protection Ordinance to stop harassment and require repairs.

The Express was unable to immediately reach the Jabers for comment.

A copy of the lawsuit can be read here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

In Oakland, Massive Crowd Of 100,000 Turns Out For Anti-Trump Women's March

At one point, procession extended more than 40 city blocks.

by Nick Miller
Sat, Jan 21, 2017 at 3:06 PM


Attendees at Saturday's Women's March in Oakland described the event as one of the largest protests in recent memory. There weren't yet official law-enforcement estimates that morning, but various local officials and police officers told the Express that anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 people turned out for the march — and some guessed that the total attendance might be even higher, up to 100,000.

One police officer shared that more than 25,000 individuals rode BART to the event (we've yet to confirm this information). And the procession itself extended more than 40 city blocks, according to law enforcement.

In fact, while the front of the march was finishing at Oakland's City Hall, those waiting at its end, near Laney College, had yet to even begin.

Attendees started gathering for the march as early as 11 a.m., and a celebration was ongoing at 2:30 p.m. out front of City Hall. Downtown Oakland eateries and bars were flooded with marchers after the event.

And so many clever signs!


Friday, January 20, 2017

Oakland Protests Trump Immediately After Inauguration, Photos + Video

More than 1,000 take to downtown streets for march on Friday.

by Nick Miller
Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 2:10 PM

Rain, chilly weather, and a healthy law-enforcement presence did not discourage nearly 2,000 activists, who took to the streets of downtown Oakland after Trump's inauguration this morning.

The action began at City Hall, headed north on Telegraph Avenue until 27th Street, then returned to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza just after 1:30 p.m.

Organizers, who rode on the back of a rented U-Haul truck, said that activists would return to City Hall at 5 p.m. today.

Hundreds of student activists from Berkeley march from the university campus to Oakland's City Hall, as well.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Judge Slams Oakland Council's Decision Not to Pay Police Monitor, Orders $100,000 Payment Within Month

Henderson called the council's actions 'suspicious.'

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Thelton Henderson
  • Thelton Henderson
In an order issued today, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson demanded that the City of Oakland pay $100,000 to compensate the city's court-assigned police monitor — and to continue such payments until the court decides the monitor's work is completed.

Judge Henderson's order comes as a strong rebuke of the City Council's decision this past Tuesday night, when it voted to not renew the police monitor's contract for another year. Instead, the council only extended the contracts for two months. Henderson called this "untenable."

The council also scheduled public safety committee hearings to review the monitor's contracts.

For almost fourteen years, the Oakland police have been under federal court oversight due to a misconduct scandal and lawsuit filed in 2000 known as the Riders case. The court-appointed monitor's job is to ensure that the police department is implementing a list of reforms agreed to when the city settled the Riders' lawsuit.

Several councilmembers criticized the court-appointed monitor Robert Warshaw, calling his recent reports "cut and paste," and asking if taxpayer money is being wasted on his contract.

Henderson wrote in his order that the monitor is an officer of the court, and not subject to the council's decisions about whether or not to pay.

Furthermore, Henderson called the council's actions "suspicious," due to the fact that he recently announced he plans to retire later this year.
"the Court notes that the timing of the City’s defiance is somewhat suspicious, coming a week after the undersigned announced that he will be taking inactive status later this year. Defendants are reminded that the Court’s announcement does not diminish its authority, and Defendants remain obligated to achieve substantial, sustainable compliance as a prerequisite to ending court oversight."
"No one said we're terminating the contract," said Councilmember Desley Brooks today.

Brooks was the one who made the motion to delay renewing the monitor's contracts. She said the council's move has been misinterpreted by the media and court.

"I have a lot of respect of Judge Henderson," she said. "It was never my intent to circumvent him."

Instead, Brooks said the council is trying to become more involved in oversight of the police department, and the monitor's work. But she said that no one has read the current contract with the monitor, and there isn't currently any "vehicle" for the councilmembers to stay informed and help the court and the monitor carry out oversight of OPD.

"Instead, all the information we get is filtered through others," she said.

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