Tag Archives: oakland

Oakland Update & July 8 Open Thread

UPDATE: Yobie Benjamin at SFGate says the crowd downtown is less than 1000 people, and it is pretty orderly right now.

From my friend Beth Spotswood at the CBS5 Eye on Blogs, here a few links for the Oakland situation now that the Mehserle verdict has come in.  The photo is from the tweets of KevMo from Uptown Almanac, showing an AC Transit Bus being blocked by protesters in Downtown Oakland. This image of police lined up to block the street is also pretty dramatic.

* First, to state the obvious, the family and supporters of Oscar Grant are not satisfied with the Involuntary manslaughter verdict.

* That being said, with the gun enhancement, the minimum prison sentence is now 5 years, with a maximum of 14 years. Alameda DA Nancy O’Malley said that she was disappointed about the verdict, but that Mehserle will be going to prison.

* SFist and SF Appeal will be updating with the latest news, as will the SF Chronicle. Of course, check out some of the local Oakland blogosphere, including OaklandSeen.

* In the end, Violence is not Justice:

Mehserle Verdict at 4pm today. Peace Rally at 6PM at Oakland City Hall

The jury has reached a verdict in the criminal case against BART officer Johannes Mehserle in the shooting death of Oscar Grant in January 2009.  The verdict will be read from the Los Angeles courtroom at 4pm today.

The jury could either find Mehserle not guilty, or it could convict him of one of thee crimes: (1) second degree murder (15 years to life), (2) voluntary manslaughter (3-11 years), and (3) involuntary manslaughter (2 to 4 years).

The jury’s deliberations were short (about 6 1/2 hours total).  This is generally seen as a positive sign for the defendant, since juries typically take much longer before convicting someone of murder.  This suggests to me a verdict of acquittal or one of the two manslaughter charges.  We’ll see in about 20 minutes.

Regardless of the verdict, please let the demonstrations that follow be peaceful. Edit by Brian: There will be a Peace Rally at Oakland City Hall at 6pm tonight.  Together, we can retain the positive, constructive, and communal spirit of Oakland.

UPDATE: Guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Oakland City Attorney: “Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure”

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I proudly work for the Control & Tax Cannabis campaign.

Oakland City Attorney John Russo wrote an excellent op-ed about the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 that I thought was worth sharing. As the City Attorney of the first city in the country to regulate the sales of medical marijuana, Russo has seen first hand that regulation can improve public safety and believes the same can be accomplished statewide and beyond with the passage of the initiative:

As the City Attorney of Oakland — a city where dozens of people are killed in drug-related murders every year — my primary concern is the war on marijuana’s collateral damage to public safety.

Black market marijuana is a main source of fuel powering the vast criminal enterprises that threaten peace on our streets and weaken national security on our borders. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Mexican drug cartels get more than 60 percent of their revenue from selling marijuana in the United States.

Money is the oxygen of these organizations. For decades, our approach to fighting violent drug gangs has been like trying to put out a house fire with a watering can. Why not try shutting off the fire’s oxygen supply?

Russo’s right. The war on drugs has been an utter failure, not only at curbing the use of illegal drugs but also at ending violence. Cannabis regulation is a way to curb this violence and to stop needless arrests that waste tax payer dollars:

The cost of enforcing prohibition is hard to estimate. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars and countless law enforcement hours arresting people for low-level marijuana crimes, further overburdening courts and prisons. Jail beds needed for marijuana offenders could be “used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space,” the state Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

More than 61,000 Californians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2008. That same year, about 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved statewide. The reality is that resources tied up fighting marijuana would be better spent solving and preventing violent felonies and other major crimes.

Russo’s entire op-ed is worth a read so I encourage you to click through and read the entire piece, but if not, he sums up his points well at the end:

Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure. It takes marijuana off street corners and out of the hands of children. It cuts off a huge source of revenue to the violent gangsters who now control the market. And it gives law enforcement more capacity to focus on what really matters to Californians — making our communities safer.

It’s time we call marijuana prohibition what it is — an outdated and costly approach that has failed to benefit our society. In November, we will finally have the chance to take a rational course with the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act.

Oaklanders like Russo have seen firsthand that marijuana regulation and taxation works. Now it’s up to us to spread that message to the rest of the state to ensure the passage of this initiative in November.

Is the OAC finally dead?

For a while now, the Oakland Airport Connector has been the subject of much controversy.  To get about 2 miles, the OAC would cost well over $100 million, and would swallow up much of the Bay Area’s stimulus funding.  Just to add another head scratcher to the mix, the OAC wouldn’t take passengers from the Coliseum station to the airport any faster than the current AirBart, especially an optimized AirBart with bus rapid transit lanes (BRT).

Local transportation advocates have been fighting the OAC for a while now, and grassroots leaders, with groups such as TransForm leading the charge, seem to have thrown the monkey wrench in the system that just might have finally killed this crazy idea.

After almost exactly a year of trying to make the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project equitable and cost-effective, it looks like we’ve finally won the original battle. Back in February 2009, more than a 100 advocates urged the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) not to provide stimulus funds to the OAC and instead to provide the funds to all the regional transit agencies to prevent service cuts and fare hikes.

MTC didn’t agree, but a year later, the Federal Transit Administration has told MTC that this is the only reasonable course of action.

FTA sent a letter to BART and MTC today saying that there’s simply not enough time to implement BART’s corrective action plan that had been mandated by FTA, and that MTC should turn to plan B and revert the $70 million in stimulus funds back to the regional transit agencies. (Living in the O)

You can read the full FTA letter here (PDF). With any luck that money will be distributed post haste to local transit agencies to help develop BRT projects and hopefully avoid some service cuts.

H/t to Living in the O. Becks has been doing absolutely amazing work, and the blog’s a must-read for everybody East Bay-ish.

Transportation Day of Action in Oakland Tomorrow!

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I am working on a part time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

You hopefully have already noted that the MTC hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10am, but you might not know about the nationwide transportation day of action on which the hearing coincidentally falls. Several advocacy groups will be joining together to hold a mock funeral to mourn the loss of transit lines in the Bay Area due to lack of funding for operations. After the funeral, advocates will march to the MTC hearing to urge them not to provide further funding to the OAC.

Though the timing of these two events is coincidental, they are tied together quite closely. While the state and federal government have been slashing operating funds, the stimulus bill has pumped tons of money into capital improvements for transportation. So while BART and MTC may end up wasting more than half a billion dollars on the OAC, including $70 million in stimulus funds, BART, AC Transit, and Muni are slashing service and raising fares.

It's time we get our priorities straight, not only by prioritizing public transit over highway expansion, but also by prioritizing operations funding within transit funding. What is the use of a shiny new bus if we can't afford to pay someone to drive it? What is the use of an extension to the Oakland Airport that will only draw 400 new riders a day, when it will suck funding from the entire BART system?

Please attend the funeral tomorrow to mourn public transit losses and then head over to the MTC meeting to win back some of this transit funding by halting funding to the OAC.

Here is the info, via a press release from Public Advocates:


WHAT: Wearing black and carrying a coffin, transit advocates will stage a mock funeral to mourn the death of crucial public transit lines in the Bay Area due to a lack of funding for operations. The event is tied to a National Day of Action called by Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), a national campaign led by environmental justice and civil rights groups, to highlight the need to provide funding for transit operations in the Federal Surface Transportation Authorization Act currently being considered in the US House of Representatives.

WHEN: Wednesday July 22, 2009 8:30am-9:30am

WHERE: Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 (Corner of 14th St. and Broadway, outside of the 12St/Oakland City Center BART station)

WHO: Representatives from Public Advocates Inc.; Urban Habitat; TransForm; Genesis; CALPIRG; and BOSS. John Gioia, Supervisor for Western Contra Costa County; Dominique Nisperos reading a statement from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. A number of other elected officials have been invited.

WHY: With transit service cuts affecting people locally and around the nation, operating funds for public transit are sorely needed. Federal legislation offers the best current hope for preventing further service cuts in our communities. Representatives Barbara Lee (D, CA-9th) and Jerry McNerney (D, CA-11th) are co-sponsoring HR 2746 (Rep. Carnahan, D, MO-3rd) which would give local transit systems the flexibility to use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their federal capital grants for local operations. Event organizers are calling on other members of the Bay Area congressional delegation to sign onto the bill and advocate for dedicating federal funds specifically for transit operations in any new federal transportation legislation.

And the info for the MTC meeting:

What: MTC Meeting on Oakland Airport Connector Funding

When: Wednesday, July 22nd @ 10 am

Where: MTC Headquarters (101 Eighth St near Lake Merritt BART)

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Oakland ACORN Home Defenders Stop Eviction!

Every 13 seconds another family in America faces foreclosure, a grim statistic that symbolizes the depth of the crisis that lies at the heart of the economic meltdown.

Home Defenders Defend Tosha's Home

One of people caught up foreclosure crisis is West Oakland resident Tosha Alberty. A County Transportation Services Coordinator, she has been fighting with First Franklin Home Loan Services for months to save her home, but the bank has not negotiated in good faith. In fact, it has pursued foreclosure.

But with the help of the ACORN Home Defenders, she has successfully fought off eviction, most recently on Thursday June 25th. The Home Defenders mobilized an emergency home defense and were joined by many of her neighbors, ACORN members, and local elected officials including Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks and representatives from Councilmember Nancy Nadel’s office and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson’s office., By blocking the house’s entrance, they first stopped the locksmith from changing the locks, then they refused to let the sheriff take Tosha Alberty’s home.

This wasn’t the first time the ACORN Home Defenders stopped Tosha from losing her house. Twice previously Home Defender mobilizations stopped evictions and allowed her to enter negotiations with the bank with the help of ACORN Housing’s HUD certified counselors to keep her in her home and modify her loan so she could afford to stay. Despite actively negotiating the case, First Franklin refused to call off the eviction, so ACORN Home Defenders mobilized for the 3rd time on Thursday in an emergency Home Defense.

Joining in the defense was Oakland City Council Member Desley Brooks, honoring a pledge to join with ACORN made at the beginning of its Home Defending campaign back in February. She put her promise into action at this home defense, joining the Home Defenders in risking arrest to stop the eviction. In addition to Home Defenders were joined by representatives from Nancy Nadel and Keith Carson’s offices, and City Council members Jane Brunner and Rebecca Kaplan also expressed their support and willingness to help.

One of the most powerful moments of the action came when the locksmith arrived. After learning of the situation, he told the ACORN Home Defenders that he would stand in solidarity with Tosha and not change the locks – that the sheriff would have to get someone else to do the job!

When the sheriff’s deputy finally arrived, he pulled up and saw public officials, neighbors, and ACORN’s Home Defenders ready to stop the eviction. Instead of following through, he took a picture and drove away. Shortly after that, Rodney Brooks of Keith Carson’s office confirmed that the sheriff had postponed the eviction. They would not evict on Thursday.

But they can return at any time.

The ACORN Home Defenders will continue to defend Tosha’s home and press the bank to engage in meaningful negotiations. They will not allow the home to be taken without a just solution.

If you live in the East Bay, Oakland ACORN is looking for people willing to be Home Defenders – not just for homes in Oakland, but around the East Bay. We are holding civil disobedience and Home Defender trainings on Tuesday, June 30th at 6pm and Thursday July 2nd at 6pm. For more information, contact Claire Haas at chaas [at]acorn.org or 510-434-3110 x 502.

You can also follow Oakland ACORN’s Home Defender actions on Twitter @OaklandACORN and our work on Thursday was featured on the National ACORN Facebook page at www.facebook.com/acorn.

Sacramento “experts” fail at analyzing Oakland mayoral race

(Cross-posted at Living in the O.)

Yesterday, I checked out Capitol Weekly, as I do every Thursday and was excited to see that one of their weekly features focused on the Oakland mayor’s race. Well, I didn’t stay excited for too long. In “Experts Expound,” they asked a bunch of Sacramento “experts”:

 “Don Perata is running for mayor of Oakland — a job he’s always wanted. Can he beat Ron Dellums? Why or why not?”

As any Oaklander would know, this is an absurd question to ask. Dellums isn’t running! Perata made this clear in his media interviews this week. And if Dellums ran again, Perata would crush him – it would be embarrassing.

After getting over the fact that this question was basically pointless, I browsed through the answers, some of which were pretty funny:

He can win.  He’ll make the voters an offer they can’t refuse.

He will have all of those FBI agents following him when he walks precincts. People in Oakland will like this. It is his Posse. Perata wins.

Oakland Punchline – Ron Dellums is soooo bad that even Don Perata can beat him.

And then there was this answer, which was even more out of touch with Oakland politics than the initial question:

It will be close. Dellums has the same name I’d and an equal number of supporters.

Really? Has this person ever picked up a local paper or talked to anyone who lives in Oakland? Or maybe the person who said this has been out of the country for the past two years and missed Dellums’s descent.

Maybe Capitol Weekly and it’s Sacramento “experts” should stick to what they know, state politics, and stay out of Oakland politics. Either that, or they should consult some Oaklanders next time.

Monday Open Thread

Let’s get down to it:

• Asm. Mike Davis has released a get to know you video in his race for the 26th Senate seat, the seat vacated by Mark Ridley-Thomas when he won the LA County Supervisor’s race over Bernard Parks. His main opponent is Asm. Curren Price.  The election is tomorrow.

• Local governments who took losses during the dissolution of Lehman Brothers want a bailout of their own.  Apparently caveat emptor no longer applies as we head toward a slippery slope of bailouts for everyone.  Yes, multiple investors lost their shirts on Lehman, through no fault of their own, but I fail to see how that demands a cash transfer from the Treasury.

• A new study links student obesity and proximity between schools and fast-food restaurants.  I hope that study didn’t cost too much, because it’s completely intuitive.  And I have no problem with urban planners who take this information into account when zoning areas around schools.  There’s a public health responsibility for government here.

• California is going to try to sell about $4 billion of bonds this week. It’s not a particularly huge sale, but the response should be telling. Joel Fox notes that if we have problems selling these, don’t hold your breath on the lottery securitization.  With the recent bond rating decrease, they won’t be an easy sell.  Although, first-day sales yielded about $2.4 billion, almost half of the overall goal.  John Myers examines why.  I’d guess that investors know they’ll get a great yield because they’re demanding a high interest rate because of the state’s fiscal troubles.  With interest rates near zero, these are some of the best deals out there.  But more bonds sold means more future payouts that hit taxpayers’ bottom line.

• Arnold is very sad about raising taxes. Poor Arnold, can I get you a tissue?

• Finally, our condolences go out to the families of the Oakland Police officers gunned down this weekend.  The incident is a profound tragedy for the City of Oakland and the entire state.

Newsom gives lip service to public transit

 (Cross-posted at Living in the O.)

Last night, I went to Gavin Newsom’s town hall at the Rotunda in downtown Oakland. Overall, I wasn’t surprised by the event. He touched on many subjects – health care, education, improving the environment – and his overriding theme for the evening was that while many candidates talk about these issues, he has shown real progress on them. He did fail to mention though that many of the projects he took credit for last night (like universal health care) actually originated in the Board of Supervisors. But that’s pretty typical – he’s a politician and of course is going to take credit for everything he possibly can.

I really appreciated the fact that he took almost an hour of unfiltered questions from the audience. And I could not have been much more pleased when our new AC Transit Director, Joel Young, asked the first question. Joel explained that the state had defunded public transit and asked if Newsom, as governor, would restore public transit funding.

Newsom responded that public transit is so important for the environment and briefly answered, “Yes,” that he would restore the funding. But then instead of explaining why or how, he jumped into a long-winded speech about high speed rail. He started off by saying that he wanted to tell us about a project that he knew not all of us supported because it barely passed. This is a strange thing to say because 63% of Alameda County voters voted in favor of Prop 1A.

He then explained how high speed rail was going to change the state, creating jobs and changing how we thought about and used transportation. He talked about his vision for the “Grand Central Station of the West,” which is what some are calling the Transbay Terminal. Energetically, he explained how this would greatly improve the Bay Area region, making it easy to get from downtown to downtown (Oakland to SF).

And that was it. That was his answer to an AC Transit Director.

Now I’m very supportive of high speed rail (though I think it was a failure to choose the Pacheco alignment over the Altamont alignment), and I endorsed Prop 1A. But high speed rail won’t do us much good if our local transit agencies crumble. Getting from downtown to downtown might be made easier, but most of us don’t live downtown so if AC Transit cuts lines that would get us there, this “Grand Central Station” won’t be much help to us, will it?

As you might have read in the Chronicle yesterday, AC Transit will be voting tomorrow on fare increases, and soon after that will consider service cuts. And it’s not just AC Transit. More than 80 local transit agencies nationwide are facing fare increases and/or service cuts. At the same time, ridership is increasing, in the East Bay, the Bay Area, and beyond.

What I’m looking for in a candidate for governor is someone who not only understands and is committed to the big, sexy transit projects like high speed rail, but for someone who shares the same commitment to funding and improving our local transit agencies. I want to find a candidate who gets excited talking about buses and who understands the need to solve this problem (PDF, via A Better Oakland). Last night, Newsom failed to prove that he is that candidate so, for now, I’ll continue my search.

(If you’d like to read about the other topics Newsom covered, check out a diary at Daily Kos by a friend I sat with last night.)

We Are Willing To Go To Any Means Necessary

On Wednesday I wrote a piece on Huffington Post and another at Open Left talking about the centrality of fixing the foreclosure crisis to any recovery from the economic meltdown. Since the toxic assets at the center of the meltdown are based on mortgages that are entering foreclosure at a rate of one every 13 seconds, we have to address foreclosure as a part of getting America back on its feet.

The Homeowner Affordability and Stabilization Plan (HASP), announced in Phoenix on Wednesday by President Obama, which will help up to an estimated 9 million families, is a good first step – and the first serious effort by the Federal government to confront the challenge. But just because there was an announcement does not lessen the urgency of the problem. We are still in a situation where four families every minute enter the foreclosure process. We believe there must be a moratorium on foreclosures until HASP is fully implemented.

So yesterday we at ACORN launched the Home Defenders campaign in seven cities – a campaign to force the question of moratoriums and to press the urgency of this crisis into the consciousness of elected officials on the state and national levels. This is a campaign of refusal and resistance, refusal by distressed homeowners to cooperate with the foreclosure process and resistance to attempts to evict them from their homes. And in some cases it is a campaign of getting people back into their homes.

I wanted to give everyone a report-back from our activities yesterday, which is in the extended text.

In Baltimore, ACORN member Donna Hanks re-took her home. Foreclosed on last Fall, the house has stood empty since then, a stark reminder of the failure of the system. But Donna joined with 30 ACORN Home Defenders to liberate her home from the bank. Her act of civil disobedience was covered by 2 radio stations, 2 TV stations, the Baltimore Sun, and the Huffington Post.

Donna used bolt cutters to break the lock to the door and re-enter the home. Unfortunately, in the six short months since the home was seized, it has been extensively damaged, essentially partially gutted. The toilets are missing, and the upstairs ceiling is badly damaged. The greatest tragedy here is that Donna worked for months with ACORN sister organization ACORN Housing Corporation to try to get the bank to modify the loan so it could be affordable, but they refused, taking the home and now allowing it to be a haven for squatters and a target of looters.

In Houston, where one in three homes sold in January was a foreclosure and foreclosure sales accounted for 34 percent of all homes sold – a 9-percent jump from the same time last year, Sara Chavez announced her refusal to leave here home. “My mother and I don’t leave,” she said.  A mother of three who cares for her sick mother, she has owned her house since 2004, but has seen her mortgage payment double from $1,000 to $2,000. She joined with ACORN Home Defenders to declare her neighborhoods a “Foreclosure Free Zone”. And the  Home Defenders backed her up. ACORN member Pennie Saldivar said, “We want to fix this problem. We are willing to go to any means necessary”.

We even had a little star power come out to help the campaign to keep hard working families in their homes. In Los Angeles, comedienne Roseanne Barr traveled to Watts to join with Tommy and Debora Beard. The Beards are a teacher assistant and hospital cook who have lived in their home for over 20 years and have lost it to foreclosure in part due to a predatory loan. There is a possibility that allies in the legal community may be able to extend the Beards’ eviction process for quite awhile to buy time get Chase to reverse the foreclosure, person after person (including Roseanne) pledged to “go to jail” with the Beards if necessary.

There are other reports from Oakland, New York, and Orlando.

Conservatives have made much of the fact that they think this campaign is really all about helping greedy and undeserving homeowners get a taxpayer bailout. Or they are itchy about the fact that keeping people in homes might involve breaking things like trespassing laws. Or they just plain froth at the mouth because we at ACORN are again standing up for working families.

On the last point, we sure hope they are drinking plenty of liquids because we’ve been doing this for 38 years and we aren’t going to stop just because it gives the people whose ideology led us into this catastrophe the vapors.

On the first two complaints, though, let me say two things. First, we all have skin in this game. This crisis is on a scale that rivals the Great Depression and foreclosures are at the heart of it. Whether you think the homeowners deserve it or not, creating a plan that gets these toxic mortgages performing again is the only way for people to agree on a value for the toxic assets clogging up the financial system.

Second, people are fed up seeing Wall Street get billions in help while the people bearing the brunt of the disaster get eviction notices. They are saying “enough is enough”. Like Pennie Salvidar says, families are willing to go to any means necessary to get elected officials to do the right thing.

This is a unique moment in history, one where we can steer the country away from the failures of conservative ideology and toward a fundamentally progressive approach to governing. As Mike Lux put it in the Huffington Post today: “The American family has to take care of each other, has to look out for each other, especially in the hard times, because the misery of our fellow citizens will spread to the rest of us.”

Right on.

This campaign is not just about helping hard working families keep their homes, it is fundamentally about saving the American Dream, about what makes us proud to call ourselves Americans, and about bit by bit making this country stronger.  

You can help by asking Congress not to give in to Wall Street and their coming attempts to block the most important aspects of HASP. If we want a new America we’re going to have to fight for it