Friday, April 28, 2017

Oakland Councilmembers Accuse Mayor Schaaf of 'Bait and Switch' With Soda Tax Revenue

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 11:36 AM

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf with Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington at a sugar-sweetened beverage tax campaign event last year. - YES ON HH CAMPAIGN
  • Yes on HH Campaign
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf with Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington at a sugar-sweetened beverage tax campaign event last year.

Several Oakland councilmembers are accusing Mayor Libby Schaaf of trying to divert soda tax revenue away from health programs, as voters were promised. The councilmembers, who were briefed on the mayor's proposed budget yesterday, claim Schaaf wants to put the revenue in the general fund to close the city's expected deficit.

During last year's campaign for the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, city officials told voters that the money would only be used for health-education programs, allocated t under the supervision of an appointed board. (That board hasn't been established yet.)

In a Facebook post published last night, Councilmember Desley Brooks called the mayor's plan a "bait and switch."

Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington also wrote in a Facebook post that she is "deeply offended the proposed budget redirects revenue from our new Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax for other priorities."

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is also publicly criticizing Schaaf's plan. All three say they'll take action to prevent the diversion.

But Schaaf spokesperson Erica Derryck wrote in an email that the mayor's proposal on how to spend the soda tax revenue is "consistent with the goals of the measure."

"This supports a variety of services proven to impact the social determinates of health from educational attainment to healthy neighborhood environments and public outreach and education," she wrote.

Derryck's statement acknowledged that the advisory board to oversee Measure HH revenue hasn't been established yet. The mayor's budget proposal will be made public later today.

Opponents of the soda tax, including the American Beverage Association, campaigned against it by warning voters that the money would be deposited in the general fund, and city officials could spend it on anything.

The City of Berkeley also passed a soda tax, in 2014. Holly Scheider led the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition, and getting soda-tax money from the city's general budget was never an issue. It had unanimous council support, like Oakland, and they set up their advisory committee almost immediately to formalize the process.

"Like in Oakland, it went to the general fund, but it was really a promise made to voters," Scheider told the Express.

While some of Berkeley's soda tax money goes to the city's health department to cover overhead, $1.2 million of this year's revenues were split between Berkeley school district programs and nonprofit groups focused on reducing the risks of diseases linked to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Scheider said Oakland should set up their advisory council immediately to assure the money goes to its intended purposes.

"Mayor Schaaf is within her legal right to do this, but hopefully it won't go through because there was a promise to voters," Scheider said.

Additional reporting by Brian Krans.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mexico's Top Investigative Journalist Talks Trump, U.S.-Mexico Relations, and the Dangers of Reporting at UC Berkeley

by Azucena Rasilla
Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 6:48 PM

  • Photo Credit: Khaled Sayed, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Forget Nazi protesters and Ann Coulter provoking the AntiFa and righteous Berkeley liberals. Serious political discussions still happen at UC Berkeley.

The renowned Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui visited the campus last week to dissect the "alt right" and critique President Trump's isolationist politics to a standing room only audience.

Aristegui is known for her hard-hitting investigative reports exposing corruption within Mexican government.

Hosted by UC Berkeley's School of Journalism, Aristegui, in conversation with the equally renowned journalist Lowell Bergman, called Trump's proposed border wall a great offense toward Mexico and its people. She also said it would be a waste of money and reminded that funds for the wall would ultimately be paid by the United States.

No one from the Mexican government, not even Mexican President Peña Nieto, have supported Trump's wall, she pointed out.

"It is absurd to think that a wall will solve the problems between Mexico and the United States," she told the audience.

Aristegui argued that Latinos across the Americas must be firm with Trump: "Mexicans, Central Americans, and Latinos in the U.S. in general have the obligation to have a collective response to everything that Trump is doing," she said. She reminded the importance of having people stand up for what is right, even when their government turn a blind eye to what Trump's administration is doing.

Mexicans have already popularly and organically responded to Trump's xenophobia by avoiding the U.S. For example, a recent report from the research firm Tourism Economics indicated that Mexican citizens traveling to the United States has decreased by seven percent under Trump. This number is expected to rise by 2018. Canada is now the preferred destination for Mexicans on vacation.

Aristegui warned that Trump is not a lone-wolf, and that he and his followers threaten democracy and civilization. For instance, she cited his hatred toward the press. "His words evoke fascism," Aristegui argued.

She also is no stranger to the dangers of a national government that holds its journalists in contempt.

Aristegui and Bergman talked about the unresolved murders of journalists in Mexico at the hands of the cartels. In March alone, journalists Cecilio Pineda, Ricardo Monlui, and Miroslava Breach were the latest victims. “Mexico has become one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist.”

She emphasized that although being a journalist in countries like Mexico is dangerous, it remains a vital career, one that holds corrupt politicians accountable. She said that, in the Trump era, journalism, the media, and freedom of speech are crucial. She also criticized figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, and Coulter, who choose Berkeley to come and speak only to provoke violence. Aristegui said that it was up to those in Berkeley to understand how to defeat those who come to incite violence.

Many journalists in the United States talk about the relationship between Mexico and the United States now that President Trump took office, but rarely do we get to hear what is discussed on the other side of the wall.

Tenants Sue Landlord and Housing Nonprofits Over Deadly West Oakland Fire

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 12:16 PM


Fifteen former tenants of 2551 San Pablo Avenue are suing the building's owner and several housing nonprofits that leased the complex.

The three-story structure was destroyed by a fire last month that claimed four lives. Approximately 100 people were displaced.

According to the lawsuit, landlord Keith Kim and the nonprofits Urojas Community Services, House of Change, and Dignity Housing West, were all aware of serious building and fire code violations, but they didn't remedy the problems.

"Keith Kim made a decision not to have the fire safety and fire prevention systems in operation in the years leading up to the fire, including the fire alarm and sprinkler systems," reads the complaint, which was filed today in the Alameda County State Superior Court. "[T]here were missing smoke detectors in units, rooms, dorms and common areas and missing fire extinguishers and blocked fire exits."

The tenants claim that they also repeatedly told the nonprofits running the building about the code violations, but that the problems weren't fixed.

Kenneth Greenstein of the Greenstein and McDonald law firm is representing the tenants.

They're seeking $125,000 in damages per plaintiff, rental reimbursements, compensation for loss of personal property, among other relief.

"At this point I have not seen the lawsuit yet so I cannot comment on it," said Kim's attorney William Kronenberg in a press statement issued today. Kronenberg also said that Kim had been "unfairly criticized" in the media due to the negligence of Urojas Community Services.

In press release sent last month, Kim stated that he was "trying to protect the residents and improve the management of the building by removing Urojas as its manager and operator," when the fire broke out.

Kim claims that Urojas Community Services had failed to maintain the building, which he said the nonprofit was required to do as part of its lease agreement.

The Express was unable to reach Jasper Lowery, the executive director of Urojas Community Services, for comment about Kim's allegations and the lawsuit.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Town Business: Oakland Fire Department Still Seriously Under-Staffed

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 7:24 AM

Despite recent hires, there still are not enough firefighters in Oakland, and key positions remain unfilled.

Nearly five months after the deadly Ghost Ship inferno, which highlighted the shortcomings of Oakland's poorly-resourced emergency responders, the city's ability to fight fires, provide emergency medical response, and especially to inspect buildings, remains hamstrung due to staffing issues.

According to Oakland's most recent jobs vacancy report, 36 positions, or 7.1 percent of budgeted, sworn jobs in the fire department aren't filled right now. That's worse than the police department's under-staffing, which is 2.2 percent.

However, the fire department's personnel situation has improved since last December when there were 62 empty sworn positions.  Back then, Oakland was missing seventeen firefighters, six paramedics, and seven engineers.

There's now only twelve missing firefighters, three paramedics, and four engineers.

But Oakland fire is still missing key personnel, including fifteen captains.

And the department still doesn't have an Assistant Fire Marshal, and it's missing three inspectors in the Fire Prevention Bureau, which is responsible for inspecting buildings like the Ghost Ship and 2551 San Pablo Avenue.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Community and Labor Groups Say Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Has Stacked the Planning Commission with Real Estate Industry Reps

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 2:12 PM

Since taking office in 2015, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has made three new appointments to Oakland's seven-member planning commission. She’s also re-appointed two members. In each case, Schaaf put a developer, architect, or attorney from the real estate industry on the commission.

Yesterday, Schaaf nominated her fourth new pick for the board: Jonathan Fearn, a vice president with the developer SummerHill Homes.

The mayor's choices are drawing criticism from community groups and unions worried about how development in Oakland affects low-income residents and workers.

Critics say real estate industry representatives on the commission aren't always sensitive to the social and economic impacts of projects and policies, and that the board needs more diversity.

"The planning commission has historically been heavily weighted to include developers, architects, and others who have a financial interest in fast-tracking development, and who come from wealthier neighborhoods," said Ayodele Nzinga of the Community Coalition for Equitable Development and Black Arts Movement and Business District.

Over the past year, Nzinga’s coalition has negotiated community benefits agreements with developers building along the 14th Street corridor bordering Chinatown and the new Black Arts Movement and Business District. She said her group is interested in minimizing displacement, adding more affordable housing, and ensuring high paying jobs, among other priorities.

"We are disappointed in the latest appointment of a real estate developer to the Planning Commission," said Wei-Ling Huber, the president of Unite HERE 2850. "Every Planning Commissioner appointed since 2015 works for the real estate development industry as a developer, lawyer, architect, or real estate agent."

Unite HERE 2850 has advocated that project approvals be contingent on developers agreeing to uphold Oakland's labor laws, and whether a project will create living wage jobs.

Karolyn Wong of the Community Coalition for Equitable Development said that the lack of occupational diversity on the commission has caused unnecessary delays on important votes.

"The commissioners often have to recuse themselves because they are in close financial or business partnerships with the developers applying for projects, and the result has been a lack of votes to reach quorum leading to project approval delays," said Wong.

A review of planning commission records by the Express shows at least 51 recusals by different commissioners on votes concerning 31 items in 2016, due to conflicts of interest. The commission considered a total of 95 items in 2016, according to meeting minutes.

In other words, in one out of every three projects voted on by the planning commission last year, at least one commissioner had to recuse themselves.

In many cases, the recused commissioner had worked on the project under consideration, or represented a project applicant in legal proceedings in another city.

Candice Elder of the East Oakland Collective said the planning commission currently doesn't reflect the geographic diversity of Oakland. She noted that all but one of the commissioners — Jahmese Myers — live near Lake Merritt, or in North Oakland, Rockridge, and the hills above Piedmont. A review of property records by the Express confirmed Elder's observation about where the planning commissioners live.

Elder added that East Oakland residents are concerned about affordable housing. They feel the city should be doing more to ensure projects include units that are deeply affordable.

"There needs to be a balance on the commission to hold the city and developers accountable, to make sure there's affordable housing in these new projects," she said.

Naomi Schiff of the Oakland Heritage Alliance echoed Elder: "Historically, East Oakland has been wildly underrepresented on the planning commission."

"More than half of Oakland is east of the lake, and there are big issues coming up," continued Schiff. "We have the Coliseum area, Oak Knoll, and potential proposed zoning changes that will really affect the area. We also have bus rapid transit coming through, so there's a lot of real estate pressure."

Schaaf's recent nomination of Jonathan Fearn would fill a seat being vacated by landscape designer Chris Pattillo. But Fearn’s appointment would maintain a planning commission with six of the seven members hailing from the real estate industry, or having clients who frequently have matters pending before the commission. And Fearn, according to county records, lives in North Oakland.

Fearn's current employer, SummerHill Homes, has built residential housing in Pleasanton and Moraga. Fearn previously worked as a manager with EM Johnson Interest, better known as UrbanCore.

Two years ago, Pattillo had to recuse herself from planning commission meetings and votes regarding UrbanCore's controversial proposal to build an apartment tower by Lake Merritt on city-owned land. Pattillo's firm was a subcontractor on the project.

Fearn still has to be approved by the city council.

Mayor Schaaf's office didn’t respond to a request for comment for this report.

Schaaf's other recent appointments to the planning commission were Clark Manus and Tom Limon.

Manus is an architect with Heller Manus. He lives in the Trestle Glen neighborhood near Lake Merritt. His architectural firm has at least two major projects pending before the city: the Kaiser Auditorium remodel being undertaken by Orton Development, and a 23-story residential tower at 1510 Webster Street.

Limon is a broker with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. Limon is also a member of the Oakland Builders Alliance, a developer lobbying group whose members have numerous, large development projects pending before the city.

Schaaf’s first appointment to the planning commission in June of 2015 was Amanda Monchamp, an attorney with Holland and Knight who specializes in land use law. Monchamp, a resident of Rockridge, was the planning commissioner with the most recusals in 2016.

Schaaf also re-appointed Adhi Nagraj and Emily Weinstein to the commission in June 2015. Both Nagraj and Weinstein work for Bridge Housing, an affordable housing developer.

Communities for Equitable Development launched a petition yesterday asking Mayor Schaaf to reappoint commissioner Myers to a second three-year term, and to also appoint a Nischit Hegde to the planning commission seat being vacated by Patillo, instead of Fearn.

Hegde is a staff member of the union AFSCME 3299, which represents workers at University of California campuses and medical centers. Hegde previously worked with Unite HERE.

Last year, Unite HERE 2850 asked the city planning commission to deny an application for a new hotel in downtown Oakland because the developers violated Oakland’s minimum wage and sick leave laws at other hotels they currently operate. The union implored the planning commission to consider social and economic impacts of approving a hotel run by a company accused of labor law violations. The planning commission approved the project, however.

"The Commission is desperately in need of diverse voices that can represent the interests of working-class communities of color in Oakland, who are bearing the brunt of skyrocketing housing costs and rising income inequality," said Wei-Ling Huber of Unite HERE.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Federal Judge Rules Against Oakland, Allows Coal Terminal Lawsuit to Proceed

by Darwin BondGraham
Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 2:30 PM

A federal judge ruled today that a lawsuit brought by the developer of a proposed coal export terminal can proceed against the City of Oakland. The court rejected the city’s motion to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The dispute involves a proposed marine terminal to be built in West Oakland. In 2015, it was revealed that the project's developer, the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, or OBOT, was planning to ship millions of tons of coal annually through the facility.

In response, the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance banning the storage and handling of coal on the grounds that it would endanger the health and safety of Oakland residents and workers.

Today's court ruling means the lawsuit will go to trial early next year, unless the city and developer settle. The city and OBOT have been in mediation since April 17. A settlement could cost Oakland taxpayers millions.

OBOT filed its lawsuit against Oakland on December 7 of last year, contending the coal ban doesn’t apply to its project, because the company already "vested" rights to build the coal export hub in 2013. Back then, Oakland didn't have a law banning coal storage and handling. OBOT contends that it's the city's rules and regulations in effect in 2013 that apply to it, not the subsequent coal ban.

"It may be Oakland has an uphill battle in this case," said U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria at today's hearing.

During today's hearing, Chhabria extensively questioned Oakland's attorney, Kevin Siegel, about why the city thinks the lawsuit should be dismissed. Siegel argued that OBOT never actually vested rights to specifically handle coal at the terminal. According to Siegel, any ability for OBOT to handle coal needed to be "expressly" stated in the 2013 development agreement, but it wasn't.

"It allows us to impose new regulations where there’s silence in the development agreement," said Siegel.

But Chhabria peppered Siegel with skeptical questions about contract law.

"I disagree with you in terms of vested rights," the judge told Siegel. "The development agreement gives OBOT vested rights to develop a terminal and use that under Oakland’s regulations that existed at the time the development agreement was signed."

Chhabria didn't rule entirely in favor of OBOT today, however. The judge said he is willing to allow two environmental organizations, the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper, to intervene in the lawsuit.

OBOT's attorneys have sought to exclude the groups from participating in the case.

Attorneys for the Sierra Club and San Francisco Baykeeper argued that the City of Oakland won't necessarily defend the full set of environmental interests that their members are concerned about, therefore the judge should let them into the case.

"The city has to balance environmental interests with the financial pressure from OBOT," said Colin O’Brien, an attorney with Earthjustice, who is representing the groups.

He asked whether the City of Oakland would vigorously defend environmental goals if faced with a potentially expensive or damaging outcome that could be avoided through a settlement. "The answer is 'no,'" O'Brien told the judge.

"They should not be in this case," countered Meredith Shaw, an attorney for OBOT. "The only impact is additional delay, and OBOT would be forced to fight this battle on three fronts instead of one."

Chhabria dismissed Shaw's argument with a joke: "So the concern is OBOT and the little law firm it hired will get crushed by the city and Sierra Club and SF Baykeeper?" The courtroom audience laughed; OBOT is represented by attorneys from Quinn Emanuel, one of the largest business law firms in the world.

Chhabria said he'd need more time to think about the proposed intervention by the two environmental groups, but he appeared to be leaning strongly in favor of allowing them to participate.

The judge also rejected a proposal from Oakland to schedule a trial in September 2018. OBOT's attorneys argued that delays will harm OBOT financially. Trial is set for January 16 of next year.

Attorneys on all sides declined to comment for this report.

Phil Tagami, the owner and manager of OBOT, who was present for today's hearing, told the Express "no comment" as he exited the courtroom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Meet the Selection Panel that will Appoint the Members of Oakland's New Police Commission

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 6:25 PM

Last fall, Oakland voters approved creating a police commission with  sweeping powers to investigate police misconduct, impose discipline, steer department policies, and hire and fire the chief.

But who gets to serve on the police commission?

A selection panel of nine community members will choose four of the seven police commissioners, and one of the two alternates. (The mayor gets to choose the other three commissioners and alternate.) Each councilmember was allowed to appoint one member to the selection panel, and the mayor also got one appointment.

Here is the panel's membership:

Tal Klement was picked by Councilmember Dan Kalb. Klement is an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender's Office who lives in Kalb's district.

James Chanin was picked by Councilmember Abel Guillen. Chanin is a civil rights attorney who has been involved in the Oakland Police Department's court-mandated reform program since the early 2000s. Chanin is a resident of Oakland.

Sarah Chavez-Yoell was picked by Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. Chavez-Yoell is the executive director of the Oakland Builder's Alliance. She was previously the executive director of the East Oakland Boxing Association. She is married to Michael Yoell, a former lieutenant in the Oakland Police Department.

Shikira Porter was chosen by Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington. Porter is an Oakland resident and member of Neighbors for Racial Justice, a group that has worked to stop racial profiling through social networks like

Mary Vail is Councilmember Noel Gallo's pick. Vale is a resident of the Glenview neighborhood and a longtime community activist. She is a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability that helped draft and pass the police commission ballot measure. She is also a retired attorney who worked for the National Labor Relations Board.

Candice Jessie is Councilmember Desley Brooks' pick. Jessie, according to city records, is a former grant writer for the Oakland Police Department.

Jean Blackshear is Councilmember Larry Reid's pick. Blackshear is an East Oakland resident and activist.

John Jones was picked by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. Jones, who grew up in Oakland and went to Castlemont High School, is a life coach at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, a nonprofit that works with young people to reform the criminal justice system.

Arnold Perkins was Mayor Libby Schaaf's pick. Perkins was formerly the director of the Alameda County Public Health Department. He was also a public safety advisor to Mayor Ron Dellums.

"I think the selection panel is just as important as the actual commission," said John Jones. "It’s important also that the people picking the commissioners are from the community."

"I think it’s critical that the commission be perceived as fair to both the complainants and the officers, and that the commissioners be comfortable making the right decisions regardless of whether it’s in the officer's favor or the complainant's favor," said James Chanin.

Rashidah Grinage of the Coalition for Police Accountability, the group that was instrumental in drafting and campaigning for the police commission ballot measure said "I think the councilmembers and the mayor took very seriously their responsibility and we wound up with a very diverse group of folks who have demonstrated a commitment to community safety."

The selection panel will convene soon to begin the work of picking four members of the police commission.

State Air Resources Board Supports Proposal to Block Increased Bay Area Tar Sands Refining

by Will Parrish and Jean Tepperman
Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 4:35 PM

Chevron's Richmond refinery.
  • Chevron's Richmond refinery.
The California Air Resources Board has announced support for a proposal that would block the increasing use of Alberta tar sands and other extra-polluting crude oil at the Bay Area's five major oil refineries.

This proposed Bay Area Air Quality Management District limits, known as Rule 12-16, would likely make the Bay Area the first place in the world to limit oil refineries' overall pollution levels. It would enforce caps on the refineries' greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions, based on July 2016 levels.

In an April 5th letter, CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey informed BAAQMD Executive Officer Jack Broadbent that the state agency “support(s) the intent” of Rule 12-16 and two other Bay Area proposals to address oil refinery pollution.

The letter marks a major breakthrough for community, labor, and environmental groups that have been advocating the caps. Staff members with the BAAQMD, whose board of directors will vote on the proposal soon, have opposed Rule 12-16, partly on the grounds that it would interfere with California’s effort to combat climate change through its cap-and-trade pollution-trading program.

The letter from CARB, which administers the cap-and-trade program, knocks down that objection.

In a press release, representatives of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and the Sierra Club called the Brown administration's support for emissions caps “a dramatic turn in the long, hard-fought struggle by community, environmental justice, climate, and environmental groups to prevent already-harmful refinery emissions from increasing.”

Corey's letter also supports two additional proposals, one that would require an assessment of health risks and plan to reduce pollution at all industrial sites, and another that would cap the per-barrel emissions of pollutants from oil refineries.

As the Express previously reported, the letter was a subject of intense speculation before anyone at BAAQMD had seen it.

Oil processing is already California’s largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, worse than power generation. The state’s refineries have developed a greater technical capacity to convert lower-quality, denser oil into engine fuels than those in other parts of North America. For this reasons, the oil industry views the Bay Area’s refineries as ideal sites to process the tar sands.

A full-blown switch to tar sands processing would increase California oil refineries' pollution by 40 to 100 percent, according to research by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) Senior Scientist Greg Karras. Recent tar sands-oriented proposals by Bay Area refineries include 100-car oil trains and new processing units.

In an interview, BAAQMD spokesperson Lisa Fasano did not acknowledge that the CARB letter had any special impact on the staff’s view of refinery emissions rules. “We’re currently in the public comment phase,” she said. “We received the CARB letter last week and the Air District is reviewing it along with other comments.”

But BAAQMD Executive Director Broadbent told the East Bay Times that “[t]he CARB letter has started us to think further about capping refinery emissions.”

In the past ten months, Chevron, Phillips 66, Tesoro, and Shell have intensively lobbied BAAQMD against emissions caps, with local refinery managers testifying that the rule would lead to a loss of jobs.

CBE's Karras points out that the proposed caps still set pollution limits at seven percent higher than the highest levels of pollution in the past five years. The proposed rule, he says, “doesn’t require anyone to do anything different.” Nevertheless, he notes, they would accomplish something unprecedented: They would effectively bar the major oil refineries in the Bay Area from processing the portion of the world’s oil reserves that poses the greatest threat to the global climate.

It’s an idea that could spread to other refinery regions, including those in Los Angeles and Washington State, proponents say.

According to Karras, the CARB letter itself even has significance beyond its impact on Bay Area. It clearly rejects “the concept that pollution trading will solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, and that therefore we should not allow any other policy to get in the way,” he says.

Monday, April 17, 2017

One Farmer Chose To Set Up His Market Stand During The Violent 'Battle of Berkeley'

by Gabrielle Canon
Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 3:38 PM

Riverdog Farms owner Tim Mueller says he wanted to set up at the farmers market despite the possibility of a brawl in downtown Berkeley. - PHOTO BY GABRIELLE CANON
  • Photo By Gabrielle Canon
  • Riverdog Farms owner Tim Mueller says he wanted to set up at the farmers market despite the possibility of a brawl in downtown Berkeley.
Berkeley’s downtown farmer’s market was canceled this past Saturday, due to the brawl between anti-fascists and far-right Trump supporters, now being called “The Battle of Berkeley” — but one farm decided to stand its ground.

Riverdog Farms erected its white tent and put out bright yellow food bins, which contained an array of organic fruits and vegetables, eggs, and nuts. The farm set up like it always does on Saturdays, except this weekend on the front lines of a street scuffle that left people bloodied.

“The market was officially canceled, but we wanted to be here,” Riverdog Farms owner Tim Mueller said, as sounds of nearby flashbang grenades reverberated.

"I think this is what market management was worried about," he added.

Last week, the Ecology Center, a nonprofit that runs three farmer’s markets in Berkeley, announced it was canceling the Saturday market downtown, due to safety concerns. Two opposing, non-permitted events were being planned in the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where the market is normally held each week.

Martin Bourque, the executive director of the Ecology Center, expressed his sorrow over the closure, but emphasized that it was necessary. “We are deeply saddened that political confrontations have escalated this far,” he said in a statement provided to the Express last week. “While this is a real financial blow to many farmers, we can not put a price on safety.” The decision was met with pushback from both the community and also vendors, who were disappointed that the city and market organizers were making way for the confrontation.
That’s why Riverdog, a 450 acre certified organic farm located in Yolo County north of Sacramento, which was one of the first organic farms to sell at Berkeley’s Farmer’s markets, and has been in downtown every Saturday since 1991, decided to show up, anyway.

“We have never seen anything this vociferous,” Mueller said, nodding toward a throng of people pummeling each other in front of his booth. “But we knew what was going to be here today.”

Amid smoke bombs, dangerous projectiles — including glass bottles, cans, and rocks — and the violent confrontations that continued throughout the afternoon, the booth was visited by people from both sides of the fight, and the occasional regular customer willing to take a risk to offer their support.

One older woman browsing the bins of lettuce while told the Express that, while she doesn’t come out every Saturday, she “made a point of coming out here today.”

The booth also served as a neutral snack station in the middle of the melee. A worker in a straw hat, who had a black scarf draped over his face for protection from chemical agents, offered samples of snap peas to participants, media, and members of the community that were caught in the confrontation.

Some saw the booth as an opportunity to ammo up, though. A few of the organic eggs bought ended up being chucked into the crowd, reigniting fights as the confrontation moved north toward Berkeley Square.

Mueller said sales were pretty slow that day. "We have maybe had 5 percent of our normal business," he said, but that wasn't exactly the point.

“This is what we do,” he explained. “I don’t think the market should have let this event push us out of our home."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sen. Nancy Skinner Asks Contra Costa Supervisors to Cancel $95 Million Jail Expansion

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 6:28 PM

State Sen. Nancy Skinner sent a letter to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors today urging them to reverse plans for an expensive jail expansion in Richmond.

The supervisors voted in February to approve growing the West County Detention Facility. The plan costs $25 million in county funds and relies on another $70 million from the state. The county would have to pay an additional $5 million annually to operate the jail.

Critics say increasing the jail's capacity is unnecessary, and that many of the people incarcerated by the Contra Costa Sheriff are nonviolent offenders who haven't been convicted of a crime. They simply can't afford bail and are awaiting court.

Sheriff David Livingston also contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to house federal immigration detainees at the Richmond jail.

"We are at a point in California's history of rethinking past criminal justice policies that too quickly resorted to incarceration with little to no focus on crime prevention, community impact, or rehabilitation," wrote Skinner in her letter.

According to Skinner, pending legislation like SB10, which would end the money bail system, is set to drastically reduce the number of people locked up in county jails, making expensive capital projects unnecessary.

Supervisor John Gioia was the sole vote against the jail expansion.

Supporters of the expansion say that it doesn't actually add to the number of beds in the county. Rather, it would involve building a new wing in Richmond and transferring over 400 inmates from the Martinez jail, which was built in 1978 and is overcrowded.

Sheriff Livingston has said the new facility will allow his department to offer inmates more services like mental health care.

But opponents say the Sheriff should end his contract with immigration authorities and release more nonviolent offenders to make room for inmates and programs to serve them.

Skinner's opposition is a significant boost to those resisting the jail expansion. Previously, the Richmond City Council voted against the project.

Contra Costa County officials also are planning on building a new administration building for the sheriff which will be located in Martinez.

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