Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday’s Briefing: Uber to Sell Oakland Sears Building for $220M; Dungeness Crab Season May Be in Peril Again

Plus, documents show that Ghost Ship warehouse owners knew of fire dangers.

by Robert Gammon
Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 10:04 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 31, 2017:

1. Uber plans to sell the old Sears building in Oakland’s Uptown district for $220 million — nearly double what the ride-hailing company paid for it in 2015, reports Jon Peterson of The Registry. The huge profit that Uber stands to make on the property is yet another indication of downtown Oakland’s red-hot office space market. Uber had originally planned to open a headquarters at the building when the company bought it for $123.5 million but later abandoned those plans.

2. Northern California’s Dungeness crab season may once again be in peril this winter because of high levels of the toxin domoic acid, reports Tara Duggan of the San Francisco Chronicle$. California public health officials have found elevated levels of the neurotoxin in crab samples this fall. Domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin caused by algae blooms, forced the closure of the Dungeness crab season in 2015-16.

3. Ghost Ship warehouse owners Chor Ng, Kai Ng, and Eva Ng knew of the fire dangers inside the building at least two years before it erupted in flames killing 36 people last December, documents show, KTVU reports in an investigation. The Ngs were aware of a 2014 electrical fire at the warehouse that an electrician told them was caused by “severely and catastrophically overloading” of electrical circuits.

4. Housing prices continued to soar in the East Bay in September, jumping 13.9 percent in Alameda County and 10.7 percent in Contra Costa County, reports Kathleen Pender of the San Francisco Chronicle. Experts once again blamed the skyrocketing costs on the extreme shortage of housing on the market. The median home price reached $755,000 in Alameda County.

5. President Trump’s decision to sabotage Obamacare has created chaos on the health insurance markets, but California is attempting to deal with the situation by increasing spending, particularly on advertising the availability of health insurance, reports Catherine Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle$.

6. Four Port of Oakland dockworkers have sued three shipping companies, alleging that they’ve been subjected to a racially hostile work environment that included bigoted epithets, nooses, and Confederate flags in the workplace, reports Annie Ma of the San Francisco Chronicle. The workers sued the Pacific Maritime Association, Stevedoring Services of America, and SSA Terminals LLC.

7. And the Sierra Nevada could get its first major snow storm this weekend, with some high-elevation areas receiving 1-2 feet of snow, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$. The East Bay is expected to receive about an inch of rain.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Tribune Tavern, Restaurant at Center of Massive Scam, Suddenly Closes

The restaurant at the base of the historic tower appears to have shuttered on Friday.

by Scott Morris
Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 2:15 PM

The Tribune Tavern appears to have closed on Friday. - PHOTO BY SCOTT MORRIS
  • Photo by Scott Morris
  • The Tribune Tavern appears to have closed on Friday.

The Tribune Tavern, a restaurant founded by embattled businessman Tom Henderson at the base of the Tribune Tower, mysteriously closed late last week.

The restaurant appears to still be owned by Henderson’s company, San Francisco Regional Center, according to state records, and therefore under the control of a receiver appointed by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg. However, it does not appear from court filings that Seeborg ordered the business closed.

Reports on social media indicated the restaurant closed for good on Friday. It was closed and locked during lunch hours today, but nothing was posted indicating why it was closed.

Asked for comment today, Henderson’s attorney, Gilbert Serota, wrote in an email, “From what I hear, people are having lunch at the Tavern as we speak. Not sure where you are getting your information.” He did not respond to a follow-up email that included a photo of the empty restaurant.

According to records with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the current managing partner of the business is Robert Soviero. Neither Soviero nor the court-appointed monitor, Susan Uecker, immediately returned requests for comment. No one picked up the phone at the restaurant.

  • Photo courtesy of the Oakland Post
  • Tom Henderson.
Henderson’s companies were put under federal court control as part of an action brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in January alleging that Henderson defrauded hundreds of investors seeking visas to the United States through the controversial EB-5 visa program, as the Express reported last week.

Henderson used funds misappropriated from the EB-5 investors when he purchased the Tribune Tower, Oakland’s most iconic building, in December 2011.

In April 2013, Henderson opened the Tribune Tavern at the base of the tower as part of a partnership with respected restaurateur Chris Pastena, best known for founding Chop Bar in the Jack London district. The two had already partnered to open Lungomare, a high-end Cal-Italian restaurant, in February 2013.

According to the SEC, Henderson pumped $3.8 million raised from EB-5 investors into the restaurants, despite not disclosing to the investors that the funds would be used for that purpose.

Pastena sued Henderson in August 2014, accusing him of hiding key financial information. He also said that Henderson had been taking complimentary meals at the Tribune Tavern for himself as well as friends, family and business associates, causing the restaurant to operate at a loss.

By the end of that year, they reached a settlement giving Henderson control of the Tribune Tavern and Pastena control of Lungomare.

In a deposition with SEC attorneys last year, Henderson admitted that the Tribune Tavern hadn’t been paying rent at the tower until last year and said he had been taking meals there as frequently as five times a week and entertaining business associates there for free. His son and girlfriend were also eating for free.

Oakland Landlord Beefs with City, Calls for 'No More Homeless Camps,' with Halloween Decorations

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 10:21 AM


Last December, Oakland landlord Gene Gorelik moved to evict the single remaining tenant in a small apartment building by Lake Merritt that he had recently purchased. Simultaneously, he hung a pro-Trump billboard on the property and surrounded it with barbed wire and floodlights.

Then, Gorelik allegedly changed the locks, turned off the power, and demolished the part of the building where Jahahara Alkebulan-Ma’at, the tenant, was living.

In response, Alkebulan-Ma’at and Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker sued Gorelik for harassment and for violating the city's Tenant Protection Ordinance.

Gorelik, however, doesn't appear to be cowed.

For Halloween, he has tacked up new banners that state he's running for Oakland mayor in 2018. He's also calling for getting rid of the city's numerous homeless encampments, along with "criminals" and "corrupt politicians."

The nickname he's assigned himself: Mean Gene.

And he's using a Trumpian slogan: "Make Oakland Great Again."

Alkebulan-Ma'at outside his former-home last year.
  • Alkebulan-Ma'at outside his former-home last year.
The Express attempted to contact Gorelik to see if the banners are a prank or if he's serious about running for mayor, but the Bay Property Group, a real estate investment and management company that employed Gorelik last year when he purchased the apartment building, responded in an email that Gorelik is no longer employed there.

"We have an exploratory committee looking into 2018 Mayoral possibilities," Gorelik wrote in a brief email.

Earlier this year, in a mailer sent to numerous Oakland residents, Gorelik used a phrase uttered by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, criticizing Oakland's housing policies as a "basket of deplorables." The postcard also depicted tenant attorneys as blood-sucking ticks.

Records show that both lawsuits against Gorelik are still pending in Alameda County Superior Court.

This story was updated October 31 at 9:50 a.m. with a quote from Eugene Gorelik.

Monday’s Briefing: Trump Campaign Chair Indicted; Trump Campaign Adviser Cooperating on Russian Collusion Case

Plus, a developer proposes tallest building in Oakland.

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 9:53 AM

Paul Manafort.
  • Paul Manafort.

Stories you shouldn’t miss:

1. President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was indicted today on multiple felony charges brought by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Washington Post$ reports. Manafort’s business partner, Rick Gates, who was also a top Trump campaign aid, was also indicted on multiple felonies. The charges stem from Manafort and Gates’ work with Ukrainian officials who have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

2. Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, is cooperating with Mueller in his wide-ranging probe and told the special prosecutor that he met with a Russian envoy in April 2016 who said that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, The New York Times$ reports. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month on a charge of lying to the FBI and has been cooperating with Mueller since July.

3. Developer Pinnacle Group is proposing to erect Oakland’s tallest building: a 440-foot high-rise at 1261 Harrison Street in downtown that would include a mix of housing and office space, reports Roland Li of the San Francisco Business Times$. The Chinese-backed project would include 185 market-rate and affordable condos for sale — a rarity in Oakland. The vast majority of new housing proposed or being built in the city are for-rent apartments.

4. PG&E and its customers could be on the hook for billions of dollars in payments stemming from the October wine country fires — even if the utility was not negligent in the blazes, reports David R. Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Under the legal concept of “inverse condemnation,” PG&E could be found liable for the fires if investigators conclude that downed power lines sparked the blazes, regardless of whether the utility did a good job in maintaining the lines. If that were to happen, PG&E is expected to pass some of the costs on to ratepayers.

5. And all of the wine country fires are expected to be fully contained this week, thanks to rainy weather forecast to hit Northern California on Friday and Saturday, reports Evan Sernoffsky of the San Francisco Chronicle$. The storm system is expected to bring up to 2-3 inches of rain in the North Bay.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday’s Briefing: Lead Found in Water at 7 More Oakland Schools; Californians to See Big Tax Hike in GOP Plan

Plus, Alameda to only allow medical cannabis by Jan.1 — not recreational pot.

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 10:36 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss on Oct. 27, 2017:

1. Oakland school officials discovered unsafe levels of lead in water at seven more schools this fall, reports Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle. High levels of lead in water were found at Thornhill, Brookfield, Fruitvale, Joaquin Miller, and Burckhalter elementary schools, as well as American Indian Charter High School on the former Lakeview Elementary campus. The highest lead levels were found at the temporary Glenview Elementary School site in North Oakland. Last spring, high levels of lead were discovered at McClymonds High School. Lead is a neurotoxin that harms brain development in children, even at low levels.

2. About 6 million Californians will get slammed with a big tax hike under a Republican plan in Congress, reports Emily Cadei of McClatchy. The Trump-backed GOP plan proposes to eliminate the tax deduction for state and local income taxes in order to finance large tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. The loss of the tax deduction will result in a large tax hike and will hit middle-class Californians the hardest.

3. The sale of medical cannabis will be legal in Alameda as of Jan. 1, but weed for recreational use will not, under a plan the city council is expected to approve next month, reports Dave Boitano of the East Bay Times$. The city is proposing to permit two medical cannabis dispensaries on Jan. 1, but will continue to ban the sale of recreational marijuana — even though it will become legal statewide in 2018.

4. A Piedmont High School teacher who was accused of repeated sexual harassment of female students has been placed on leave again, pending an investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, the East Bay Times$ reports. Piedmont school officials had let teacher Mark Cowherd return to the classroom after an internal investigation, but the move outraged parents and students.

5. Oakland police and the FBI say that musician Emiliano Nevarez, 26, who was shot to death in 2015 outside a downtown Oakland bar, was murdered by Dejour Jamerson, 24, who then died in car crash in the North Bay the following year, the East Bay Times$ reports. Police and FBI said that Nevarez was an innocent bystander killed by Jamerson, who was targeting another man.

6. The BART board of directors approved a crackdown on fare jumpers that will require train passengers to show their tickets on demand to agency police and personnel, reports Michael Cabanatuan of the San Francisco Chronicle. BART estimates that it loses $25 million a year to fare evaders. It’s unclear how much the new ticket inspection program will cost.

7. And a new study from Stanford has linked marijuana use with increased sex drive, reports Lisa Krieger of the Mercury News$.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

While Cases Against Cops Fall Apart, a Civilian Who Allegedly Pimped Celeste Guap Is Ordered to Stand Trial

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Thu, Oct 26, 2017 at 4:44 PM

Criminal cases against multiple police officers accused of raping and exploiting the teenager known as Celeste Guap fell apart over the past few months as judges decided there wasn't enough evidence to order the cops to stand trial.

But today, Alameda Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakamura decided that there is sufficient evidence to move forward with a case against Daniel Troy Knight, a San Francisco man accused of trying to become Celeste Guap's pimp.

Alameda District Attorney Inspectors Jeffery Israel and Andrea Moreland testified in court today that Knight reserved a hotel room for three nights at the Oakland Courtyard Marriott in March 2016 for the purpose of putting up Guap so that she could engage in sex work. Knight then received $300 from Guap, as well as oral sex, the inspectors said.

Prosecutor Sabrina Farrell presented the court with a receipt from the hotel showing Knight paid for room with his credit card.

Moreland also testified that she interviewed Knight in November of last year while investigating the case. Knight, who has no history of being involved in pimping, allegedly told Guap that he knew she was a sex worker. Moreland also testified that when she asked Knight if he offered to be Guap's pimp, he said he "might have," and "yes" because "I figured she was old enough to do it, or at least I thought she was old enough."

But Kevin Mitchell, Knight's attorney, said his client is not guilty. He also said OPD allowed Guap to destroy evidence that might have exonerated his client.

Mitchell intends to continue to fight the charges against Knight. "I don't envision a plea deal happening in the near future," he said after today's hearing.

He also likes his client's chances. "Their election not to call the star witness speaks volumes," he added about the absence of testimony from Guap.

According to various police reports and court records, when Guap was initially questioned by OPD about the sex exploitation she experienced by police officers and others, the teenager destroyed evidence from her phone in their presence. The officers did not attempt to stop her from deleting the messages.

During today's hearing, Mitchell repeatedly raised questions about whether or not the cellphone and Facebook records presented as evidence in the case were complete, given prior public testimony about Guap deleting messages from her phone.

"When police officers destroy evidence, or allow someone to destroy evidence in their presence, it's potentially useful evidence. It's not available to me anymore," complained Mitchell.

At least one Oakland police officer actually visited Guap for sex in the hotel room that Knight paid for. This officer was also accused of deleting information from her phone.

Officer Brian Bunton visited Guap at the Courtyard Marriott on March 5, 2016. While he was there, he allegedly had sex with the teenager and then proceeded to open up her phone. Guap told investigators that she thinks Bunton deleted text messages he sent to her earlier.

Bunton was subsequently charged with prostitution and felony conspiracy based on evidence that he traded protection for sex with Guap. Among other things, he tipped her off about possible police operations on International Boulevard in Oakland.

But on Sept. 13, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson dismissed all charges against Bunton, saying there was insufficient evidence to move forward with the case.

Other East Bay cops who exploited Guap have also had their charges reduced or dismissed in preliminary hearings. A sexual assault case against Oakland Police Officer Giovanni Loverde was dropped by prosecutors on Oct. 5. Prosecutors indicated that Guap declined to testify.

The day before that, Judge Rolefson threw out charges against Ricardo Perez, a former-Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy who was also charged with oral copulation with a minor and lewd acts in a public place. The judge said there was insufficient evidence against Perez.

Knight wasn't as fortunate during his preliminary hearing today.

Although Mitchell pointed to statements made by Guap to the district attorney's investigators that she "didn't want to prosecute" him either, Judge Nakahara took no time to deliberate before ruling that there is sufficient evidence to order Mitchell to stand trial.

Thursday’s Briefing: 155-Room Hotel Proposed for Jack London Square; Trump Admin. Reverses Course on Tunnels

by Robert Gammon
Thu, Oct 26, 2017 at 10:34 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 26, 2017:

1. Oakland’s Jack London Square is slated to get a 155-room hotel under a plan by developer CIM Group, reports Katie Burke of the San Francisco Business Times$. The Los Angeles-based developer is proposing to build the six-story hotel on vacant land next to the waterfront. CIM also has approvals for two apartment buildings at Jack London, one with 121 units and the other with 326 units.

2. The Trump administration backtracked on an unexpected announcement yesterday that it had withdrawn support for the Gov. Jerry Brown’s massive water tunnels plan, saying that it meant to say it had no intention of helping fund or build the project, reports Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Brown wants to build two giant water tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

3. A Russian propaganda outfit that operated a Twitter account with 100,000 followers, repeatedly went after UC Berkeley earlier this year with tweets criticizing the university after right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter canceled her speech on campus, reports Sam Levin of the Daily Cal. The now defunct @TEN_GOP account was run by the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin “troll farm.”

4. A federal judge in San Francisco refused to block President Trump’s decision to cut off subsidies to insurance companies, rebuffing legal action brought by California Attorney General Xavier Beccera and 16 other state attorneys general, the LA Times$ reports. The subsidies are designed to help fund health insurance for low-income Americans, but U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria indicated that Trump has the legal authority to shut them off.

5. And the GOP-controlled House of Representatives narrowly approved a budget plan that disregards concerns over budget deficits and could pave the way for large tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations, The New York Times$ reports.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday’s Briefing: Trump Admin Opposes Brown’s Tunnels; Trump to Raise Yosemite Admission Fee to $70

by Robert Gammon
Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 11:05 AM


Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 25, 2017:

1. In a surprise move, the Trump administration said it now opposes Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, reports Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press. Trump had voiced support for California water-delivery projects during last year’s presidential campaign, but Interior Department officials now say the administration opposes the tunnels project. The announcement marks another big setback for Brown’s plan.

2. Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a huge rate hike on admission fees at the country’s most popular national parks — to $70 per vehicle at Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, up from the current $20 to $30, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$. Zinke said the large fee increase, which is already drawing outrage because it could make public parks too expensive for many people, is needed to pay for maintenance.

3. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is calling for an overhaul of the state’s bail system, which critics say unfairly punishes low-income defendants who can’t afford to post bail, reports Dominic Fracassa of the San Francisco Chronicle.

4. Homeless campers won a temporary court injunction that blocks BART from evicting their encampment on the Oakland-Berkeley border next to the “Here, There” signs on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, reports Chantelle Lee of the Daily Cal.

5. The young woman who went by the name Celeste Guap dropped her lawsuit against Contra Costa County after charges against a sheriff’s deputy who was accused of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor were dismissed, reports David DeBolt of the East Bay Times$. Guap, however, plans to continue her suit against the Richmond Police Department.

6. And cities throughout the Bay Area set temperature records during yesterday’s heat wave, including Oakland, where it reached 92 degrees at the airport, breaking the previous record of 88 for that date in 1959, reports Mark Gomez of the Mercury News$.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Oakland Tenant's Victory in Phony Owner-Occupancy Eviction Case May Bring Only Temporary Relief

Renters are calling for expanding relocation assistance to those displaced by owner move-ins and condo conversions.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 4:53 PM

Salvador Sotelo won his rent board hearing, but he fears he'll lose in the long-term and get evicted.
  • Salvador Sotelo won his rent board hearing, but he fears he'll lose in the long-term and get evicted.

Earlier this year, Salvador Sotelo and his family were facing a tripling of their current rent — from $1,100 to $3,000 — and if Sotelo couldn't pay the increase, his landlord was threatening to evict.

Rong Fu Lee, who owns the West Oakland duplex that Sotelo lives in, was claiming that he didn't have to abide by the city's rent control law because he lived in the downstairs unit. Under the city's rules, owners who occupy an apartment in a building that has three or fewer units, aren't bound by rent control. They can increase rents to whatever amounts they want.

But Sotelo petitioned Oakland's rent board to stop the increase, arguing that Lee didn't actually live in the building. Last week, after seven hearings, the first of which began in March, the city ruled in Sotelo's favor.

A hearing officer with the rent adjustment program agreed with Sotelo that Lee wasn't telling the truth. Lee didn't live in the building for at least one year prior to when he notified Sotelo of the rent increase as required by law. Hearing officer Barbara Cohen concluded that Lee had put on a charade, pretending to reside in the downstairs unit.

Tenants advocates and attorneys claim that it's an increasingly common tactic used by landlords who want to get rid of existing tenants so they can increase rents by large amounts or sell their buildings as unoccupied — a status that fetches a higher price.

In her decision, Cohen wrote that Lee's testimony and evidence supporting his claim of residing in the building was "completely contradictory" and "internally inconsistent."

But Sotelo believes his victory is only temporary. He fears he will still lose his home because his landlord can simply hit him with the same rent increase again, and claim once again that he has lived in the building for at least a year.

"They're just gonna re-start again," Sotelo said in an interview today. "It's evident they are focused on getting us out of there."

Lee's attorney, William C. Lynn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this post.

Sotelo showed up to Oakland City Hall to testify at a council committee hearing considering whether or not to extend relocation assistance to tenants who are displaced by owner move-in evictions and condo conversion evictions. Currently, only tenants displaced by Ellis Act evictions and code compliance issues are eligible for relocation assistance.

Sotelo told the councilmembers that it's important to help other tenants who are pushed out of their homes through no-fault evictions.

"With my respect to the homeless," said Sotelo, "I don't want to become one of them."

Other tenants echoed his comments during the committee hearing.

Josephine Hardy, who lives in the Oak Center neighborhood, said her building recently sold. The new landlord is carrying out an owner move-in eviction on the separate apartment unit that his son lives in. She said he will need relocation assistance to be able to stay in Oakland.

But she also worries that once her landlord moves into the apartment, her building will no longer be covered by rent control. It would allow her landlord to raise her rent by any amount.

"Please have some mercy on us," she told the committee.

No landlords or landlord representatives showed up to the meeting today to voice their perspectives on the law.

But Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney said she's worried about making relocation assistance paid by landlords mandatory on these types of evictions because there might be a small number of cases in which low-income property owners have to move into one of their rental units, but don't have the money to make the payments. She asked if it's possible to create a hardship exemption for some property owners so they don't have to pay.

City staffers said they would consider the idea and bring it back to a future committee meeting.

In the meantime, the committee approved the legislation to extend relocation payments to more tenants displaced by no-fault evictions. It now moves to the full council for further discussion.

Telegraph Media Is Hiring

Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Telegraph Media has an immediate vacancy for the position of calendar editor. This person will be in charge of compiling the East Bay’s best event calendar for the East Bay Express, Oakland and Alameda magazines, and The East Bay Monthly. The candidate must have a deep knowledge of the vast arts and cultural happenings in the East Bay — not just the exhibits at the Berkeley Art Museum, but also the plays at black-box theaters, the literary events at cafes, the pop-ups at restaurants, and the obscure art shows happening in all corners of the region. Applicants must be organized, extremely detail-oriented, discerning, have an aptitude for data entry, basic knowledge of HTML, and be able to write clean, compelling content. This is a part-time, exempt, 15-hours-per-week job. However, as part of the editorial team, you will have the opportunity to write for these publications as well. There is also the potential for this role to grow into a full-time position. Applicants should send a résumé and a letter explaining why you’re right for the job to Express Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Richards at Kathleen[dot]Richards[at]eastbayexpress[dot]com. A writing and editing test will be required. No phone calls, please.

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