Archive for January, 2015

Community, Black Friday 14 Tell City Council: “The People Have Had Enough”

Standing at the podium during the City Council's public hearing were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Standing at the podium as Cat Brooks spoke at the City Council’s public hearing were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.


By Ashley Chambers and Ken Epstein

Oakland has the chance to become a model for cities across the country on how city government can effectively respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, according to activists and City Councilmembers.

In a special City Council hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24, community members addressed elected officials demanding that they prioritize concerns of the community, including a stop to racial profiling and police violence, an end to marginalizing of communities of color in jobs and economic development and a halt to the gentrification that is

Regineé Hightower from the Black Organizing Project,

Regineé Hightower from the Black Organizing Project,

displacing so many low-income Oakland residents.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing and one of the Black Friday 14 activists facing charges for shutting down BART on the day after Thanksgiving, was the first speaker, standing at the podium flanked by a number of other members of the Black Friday 14.

“The people have had enough. There is a righteous anger that has swept the country,” said Brooks. “We don’t have to apologize for that anger or any of the responses to it.”

She reminded city officials: “This is a national movement, and it is not going (away). It is picking up steam, growing every day.

Speaking to the possibilities facing the movement in Oakland, she said, “We have an amazing opportunity before us to be a model for the rest of the country,” she said.

Oakland Chief of Police Sean Whent speaks at hearing“There must be a specific accepting and addressing of the crimes against the people. We are demanding accountability and community control of every step of this process,” she said.

Pastor Michael McBride, who has been on the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement and stood with activists in Ferguson, MO, spoke about the need for government action to “heal our communities” and “restore the public trust.”

“Our executive leadership in this city and county must remove the structuralized racism that pervades the City of Oakland, the police department, and the Oakland Unified School District,” said McBride. “Our clergy must face head-on the complicity and apathy that characterizes our congregations and religious institutions.”

Although the Oakland Police Department has gone for the last 20 months without an officer-involved shooting, McBride added, “We must admit that the history of unconstitutional policing is part of our social memory and identity as a city and still requires much healing and reform.”

Speaking on a panel, Oakland Police Department (OPD) Chief Sean Whent said, “We have made significant changes, (but) I don’t know if it were not for the lawsuit (that put OPD under federal court oversight), if it would have changed. We are absolutely committed to policing that is constitutional and progressive and seen as legitimate by the people who (the department) serves. “

Pastor Michael McBride

Pastor Michael McBride

“We can build a (better) relationship long term, and we can all live in a safer community,” Whent said.

Student Regineé Hightower, with the Black Organizing Project, talked about ending the “school to prison pipeline.”

“We don’t have enough teachers who reflect our community,” Hightower said. “There is too much investment of police in schools. We don’t want police in our schools at all.”

Karissa Lewis, one of the Black Friday 14, said, “I think that everybody on this panel (and city councilmembers) can be doing their part to look at how they are criminalizing young Black and Brown folks…We all have a part to play in shifting the way that police criminalize us.”

Referring to the people in the movement, Lewis said, “We are going to be in the streets until folks are ready to confront the issue around the war on Black folks.”

Robbie Clark, a member of the Black Friday 14, said: “We have to be clear about what it means when we’re talking about Black Lives Matter. We’re talking about all Black lives – Black women, queer lives and formerly incarcerated lives.”

“When we talk about state-sanctioned violence, it’s also about what (violence) looks like economically, state-sanctioned economic violence.”

She also said that racism included the way that rents are raised illegally and Oakland residents are pushed out of their homes through gentrification.

“The gang injunctions…and increased policing in an area are part of the displacing of Black people from Oakland,” Clark said. “(These issues) are all interrelated and connected.”

“We need to continue to make sure community residents are part of the dialogue and decisions, especially when we talk about economic development,” Clark said.

Rashidah Grinage of PUEBLO praised the activists in the streets. “Without your work, we wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

Grinage said that despite a succession of mayors, city administrators and police chiefs, OPD remained impervious to change for over a decade.

To guarantee that there is oversight, she said, the city needs an independent civilian police review commission with power to discipline officers and whose rulings are not reversible by arbitration.

In addition, the commission must be instituted by a charter amendment so that it cannot be undone “by future councils or future mayors,” she said.

The discussion of these issues will continue at the City Council meeting Feb. 3.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 30, 2015 (


The Seven Worst Things About Standardized Tests and What You Can Do About Them

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

The federal government is discussing how many standardized tests they will require of school districts, and how they will use tests to judge teachers and students.

Kitty Kelly Epstein

Kitty Kelly Epstein

This issue now has more impact on U.S. children than anything else that happens in schools.

1. The first standardized test was created by a racist professor named Lewis Terman. He convinced school districts to use the tests to track students. And he started in Oakland, because it was close to Stanford, where he was a professor.

He was part of the Eugenics movement and believed that Northern European whites were smarter than everyone else. (Check out Lewis Terman’s book, Measurement of Intelligence (1916) or my book (see below) for more details).

2. In many ways the current tests are very similar to Terman’s I.Q. test. All the standardized tests in the U.S. assume that everything important can be measured a) in English; b) in writing; and c) in short answers to questions that are often obscure because they are designed to differentiate, separating students and schools into categories – “below proficient,” “IQ-98,” “School X – failing”

3. The best predictor of student test scores is student family wealth.   The country is spending 1.7 billion to find out something I could   tell you for a nickel – the wealth gap is getting larger and therefore the erroneously titled “achievement gap” is not decreasing!

In fact, it was decreasing more before No Child Left Behind, because the wealth gap was not as large.

4. Standardized tests are created by profit-making companies, which means that the companies have an incentive to lobby for a) more and more tests and b) changing the standards, so that the tests will also have to be changed.

Chicago students protest against standardized testing

Chicago students protest against standardized testing

Pearson, for example, is one of the biggest test makers and the company played a major role in creating the Common Core Standards.

5. Human knowledge is growing exponentially every day. No test could possibly capture any small portion of what is worth knowing.

6. Tests are polluting every educational endeavor now. They are used to close schools.

They are used to retain kindergartners in the same grade or to find out if four year olds are “ready to learn,” a truly absurd concept, since humans start learning before they are born!

7. The very worst thing about standardized tests may be the fact that they are depriving us of a diverse teaching force.

Prospective teachers have to take so many costly irrelevant standardized exams that California now has 60% Latino, Asian, indigenous, and African-American students and 20% teachers from these groups.

What could be done instead? I do not support any standardized testing, as it is now used in the U.S.  I give tests that I create; most educators do.

Seattle teachers oppose standardized testing

Seattle teachers oppose standardized testing

But my tests are designed to help and validate – not to separate and punish.

The National Education Association has called for “grade-span testing.” That means that students would have standardized tests three times, elementary, middle and high school, instead of every year.

If you want to encourage less testing, email by Feb. 1. Your email might say something like,   “Too much testing is hurting U.S. education. “

Check out the EducationTodayKPFA Facebook page for more ideas about what to do.

 Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is the author of “Organizing to Change a City (2012) and “A Different View of Urban Schools: Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory and Unexplored Realities (2012) Peter Lang. She also hosts a radio show called Education Today on KPFA radio 94.1 FM.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 29, 2015 (

Tribute to Educator Dr. Harold Berlak, 82

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Harold Berlak devoted his professional life to combating crazy ideas about education. He held a doctorate from Harvard, lived in Oakland and worked with the National Education Policy Center and other institutions as an independent researcher.

Dr. Harold Berlak

Dr. Harold Berlak

He was born on July 23, 1932 and died on Jan. 17 at the age of 82.

Harold Berlak was an expert in the complexity of statistics, and he was able to use that knowledge as a fierce opponent of the overuse of standardized testing.   Unlike many who avoid discussing issues of race, Dr. Berlak carefully explained the racist origins and impacts of testing in his many publications.

“Because of the way the tests are normed and cut scores set, however, minor differences in the number of correct answers on a multiple-choice test create grossly inflated failure rates for persons of color.”   (Berlak, H in Au, W. Rethinking Multicultural Education (2009))

Harold Berlak’s work predated by 10 years recent studies which show that No Child Left Behind has not improved the “achievement gap.” In fact, a 2014 study shows that the achievement gap was being reduced BEFORE No Child Left Behind was implemented, and not since it was implemented. (

In 2005, he wrote, “The careless use of language that confounds test scores with actual achievement, school quality, and teacher effectiveness is a major source of confusion in debates over educational policy…. The mindless and ubiquitous use of standardized tests …is as unjust as it is absurd.” We are back in the early years of the twentieth century, he writes, although we have the microcomputing capacity to actually carry out responsive and locally created assessment.

In addition to his theoretical and policy contributions, he made an enormous and courageous contribution to diversifying the teaching force by defending early teacher diversity programs in the 1990’s, despite opposition by those in power who negated their importance and treated them as “too much trouble.”

Harold Berlak is survived by his wife Ann, herself an important progressive educator; his children , Mariam Lia, Rachel Louise, and Lev Hershel, and his grandchildren, Eamonn Mateo Roth, Juliette Bonita Roth.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 29, 2015 (

Local Boxing Club Becomes Barber Shop for a Day

Haircutitng at East Oakland Boxing Association. Photo by Laura Ming Wong

Haircutting at East Oakland Boxing Association. Photo by Laura Ming Wong

By Laura Ming Wong

Ten-year-old Chrystian Barrera stands in front of a mirror mounted next to a speedbag. Turning his head left to right, he assesses his new mohawk and approves it with a smile. Across the room, another boxer pauses his footwork drills and takes a seat, ready for a fresh cut.

Fernando Carmona (boxer), George Rodriguez (barber). Photo by Laura Ming Wong.

Fernando Carmona (boxer), George Rodriguez (barber). Photo by Laura Ming Wong.

The East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA) temporarily transformed its gym into a barber shop recently, providing free haircuts to 30 young men enrolled in its boxing program. Head coach Dalia Gomez organized the event to demonstrate the value of confidence in and out of the ring. “

When you feel good, you fight good” says Gomez, herself a boxer. “I try to instill discipline in my kids” and insist that “they look and act presentable when they face the world outside this gym.”
Boxing classes are one of several free after school programs at EOBA, a non-profit which receives grants from the city and several private donors. It also survives on the good will of its own community. Recently the staff spent their off hours painting the gym’s walls, while two of Gomez’s older boxers built and donated box jumps.
Photo by Laura Ming Wong

Photo by Laura Ming Wong

Last year, staff and a former student installed new boards to cushion the cement floors.For Monday’s event Gomez called upon her barber, Jaryd Manibusan, to donate his time and skills. In turn he brought Lorenzo Navarro, Lloyd Shackelford, and George Rodriguez of the East Bay Barber Society, who all responded enthusiastically.

Chrystian Barrera and Jaryd Manibusan. Photo by Laura Ming Wong

Chrystian Barrera and Jaryd Manibusan. Photo by Laura Ming Wong

“Clippers have been my family’s saving grace” said Manibusan, who became a father 10 years ago at the age of 17. “When I wasn’t able to pay the bills, all I had to do was call up friends and cut their hair. This is what we’re all getting together for, to give back to the community that gives to us so much.”
The East Bay Boxing Association is located at 816 98th Ave. in Oakland. For more information go to or call (510) 430-8056.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 29, 2015 (

Supporters of Black Friday Protesters Demand That BART Drop All Charges

Supporters of the BART 14 are pushed out of the Jan. 22 board meeting after the unfurl a banner at the beginniing of the meeting saying "We stand with the Black Friday 15. Drop the charges. Photo by Ken Epstein

Supporters of the BART 14 chant and hold up a banner at the beginniing of the Jan. 22 BART board meeting that says,  “We stand with the Black Friday 15. Drop the charges.” Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ashley Chambers

Protesters who took over the West Oakland BART station and shut down the trains on Black Friday received an outpouring of support on Thursday as the community members rallied outside the BART Board meeting demanding that the transit agency drop all charges against them

The “Black Friday 14” protesters are facing misdemeanors and a $70,000 restitution fee for shutting down service at the West Oakland BART station for several hours on Nov. 28.

They chained themselves together to a train car handrail to disrupt “business as usual” on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Their action was in solidarity with Ferguson and New York, where two unarmed Black men were killed at the hands of police officers. Both officers were not indicted in the deaths.

Supporters of the Black Friday 14 unfurl a banner at the beginning of the Jan. 22 BART board meeting.

Supporters of the Black Friday 14 unfurl a banner at the beginning of the BART board meeting.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican has expressed an “interest in community service as an element of restitution,” as a possible way to drop the restitution penalty, according to a statement released b BART earlier this month.

However, the protesters attended the BART Board meeting Thursday to call on the directors to rescind the “ransom” and drop charges against them.

“BART needs to pick what side of justice they want to be on, the righteous side or the side that prosecutes students, women, farmers, people who contribute to the Oakland community for standing up and demanding that the war on Black lives comes to an end,” said Cat Brooks, one of the 14 protesters and co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee, speaking in an interview with the Oakland Post.

Many local organizations including the Third World Resistance Coalition are standing in solidarity with the Black Friday 14 and demanding that BART drop all charges.

Organizations like Movement Generation, Youth Together, and The BlackOut Collective took to social media to show their solidarity with the 14 charged protesters, posting photos of individuals and groups of people holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I Stand with the #BlackFriday14.”

The Berkeley City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution urging the BART Board of Directors to “withdraw their criminal complaint against the 14 protesters” and to “suspend the restitution.”

The resolution also notes that “most protesters who have disrupted traffic or public transit service have merely been cited and released or charged with minor infractions.” It says the prosecution BART is seeking on the Black Friday 14 “could have a chilling effect for those who wish to exercise their First Amendment Rights to free speech.”

A similar resolution is expected to come before the Oakland City Council.

Brooks says the Black Friday 14 are going to “continue to engage the community around supporting the right to assemble and protest.”

The protesters are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 4. They are asking the community to come support them at the Alameda County.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 25, 2015 (

#BlackLivesMatter Movement Raises Demands at Oakland City Council Hearing

The community marched for Black Lives Matter during the Jobs and Economy March to reclaim Martin Luther King's legacy on Monday, Jan. 19 in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein.

The community marched for Black Lives Matter during the Jobs and Economy March to reclaim Martin Luther King’s legacy on Monday, Jan. 19 in East Oakland. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Post Staff

In response to police abuse and violence in the City of Oakland, the Anti Police Terror Project is making its demands for an end to what they call” a war on Black lives” and  are sending the message that “Black Lives Matter.”

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee.

The project is a coalition of over 20 local organizations, including the Onyx Organizing Committee, Workers World, the Alan Blueford Center for Justice, Healthy Hoodz, Young Oakland, Asians for Black Lives, Black Out Collective and Black Brunch.

The Onyx Organizing Committee convened the coalition to create a sustainable, replicable model across the country to combat police terrorism.

“This came out of the desire to get off the defense, to stop feeling like we were chasing dead bodies,” said Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee.

“This is an epidemic,” she said.

“As the movement grows, the conversation on the war on Blacks lives (is expanding) to talk about all the ways this is a war on Black lives including economic violence, physical violence, psychological violence and educational violence,” Brooks continued.

The movement’s demands are not based on the work of a few individuals but are the result of the collective anger and experiences of many people and organizations, she said.

“They are based on the community’s expertise of actively living in these streets,” Brooks said.

In an interview Thursday with the Post, she said that the movement’s demands would be raised Saturday at the City Council’s public meeting about #BlackLivesMatter.

She said organizers do not want to see a “dog and pony show” but were expecting that their demands would to be directly responded to and that action would be taken quickly after the meeting.

Among the demands are:

* Drop the charges and rescind the “ransom” against the Black Friday 14 protesters;

* Make Oakland the Sanctuary City it is supposed to be and provide amnesty for all immigrants;

* Stop to all abuse and violence against LGBTQ people committed by law enforcement;

* Locally, the Oakland Police Department receives 69 percent of the city budget and nationally, the police receive 51 percent of the budget. These funds should be redistributed for co-ops whose purpose will be to improve the quality of life for oppressed nationalities by building schools, grocery stores, medical facilities and create living wage jobs with benefits;

* Assure the right to peacefully protest. The streets belong to the people;

* Stop profiling, targeting, stopping, frisking and killing Black and Brown families;.

* A community review board should have true jurisdiction over the Oakland Police Department;

* The  police should get out of our schools;

* A complete overhaul of the Police Bill of Rights;

* Police officers receive leave WITHOUT pay when under investigation for a questionable shooting.  Killer cops should be fired;

* Protect the rights of all people to vote, especially disenfranchised populations like those on parole and probation;

* Abolish practices that continue to penalize people returning home from prisons and instead create “welcome home” packages that include housing, jobs, educational opportunities and counseling;

* Create a taskforce comprised of the most impacted community members to devise alternative plans to imprisonment.**

 With respect to development and employment in the proposed Coliseum City Project:

* Decision-making by residents of East Oakland on the plan for Coliseum City and surrounding areas;

* A hiring policy that ensures that jobs go to Blacks and Latinos in proportion to the percentages of these groups living in East Oakland, including jobs for the disenfranchised who are on probation and parole – even for violent offenses;

* No displacement of local small businesses and expanded opportunities for minority businesses;

All housing developed with city funds should be affordable to Oakland families living at the median income;

* Conduct a Health Impact Assessment that lays out how many Oakland residents will be displaced as a result of the Coliseum City Development and other undesirable outcomes;

* And, commit to providing living-wage jobs with benefits to all employees of the Coliseum City project, from the janitor to the retail clerk.
* Several Oakland pastors said they will ask the city to stop the practice of using 32 percent of job Training funds for city staff overhead and redirect the money to job programs serving youth and the unemployed.

*A number of community members and leaders also have told the Post that they plan to attend the City Council hearing to raise their concerns and suggest proposals for change.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 24, 2015 (

Berkeley Meeting Addresses Prejudice

Hearing calls for end to “normalization of Blacks being treated like second-class citizens”

Barbra White, Berkeley NAACP, speaks at community meeting. Photos by Judith Scherr.

Barbra White, Berkeley NAACP, speaks at community forum. Photos by Judith Scherr.

By Judith Scherr

More than 250 residents, lawmakers and academics spent five hours Saturday at a forum exploring what Barbara White of the Berkeley NAACP called “the normalization of Blacks being treated like second-class citizens in America and Berkeley.”

john powell is a law professor and director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley

john powell, law professor and director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley

The stated agenda topic for the town-hall style City Council meeting at the Ed Roberts campus was “police-community relations,” but, as Councilmember Kriss Worthington said, the issue at hand was broader: “Prejudice and discrimination and racism — right here in Berkeley.”

john. a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, laid out the problem. “When we talk about segregation, we’re not simply talking about separating people based on phenotype,” he said. “We’re talking about separating people from life opportunities.”

Many of the more than 50 public speakers did address police-community relations, criticizing Berkeley police tactics at Dec. 6 demonstrations protesting the grand jury decisions against indicting white police officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at meeting on police-community relations.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks at meeting on police-community relations.

Zach Malitz said he was protesting peacefully when police used tear gas and beat him and fellow demonstrators. Moni Law, injured by a police baton, said she’d filed a complaint with the Police Review Commission and urged others to do so.

“We saw militarized police responding in Ferguson,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “A similar thing happened in Berkeley.”

Others took the question of community-police relations beyond recent demonstrations, criticizing Berkeley police for random stops of African Americans.

Richie Smith, an African American elder, described her experience. “I had one officer that was upset with me because each time he turned the corner in the neighborhood, he saw me,” Smith said, explaining that she picks up trash along Adeline Street near her home once or twice every day.

“He wanted to know what was I doing so often on the street, (and I said), ‘I live here. My taxes pay your salary.’”

A group representing disabled people picketed outside the meeting to raise consciousness about problematic relations between police and disabled Black people, subject to both racism and misunderstanding by police.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond speaks at Berkeley meeting

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond speaks at Berkeley meeting

According to the group’s spokesperson Nomy Lamm, police sometimes mistake actions of deaf and mentally ill people for those of a non-compliant person and believe physically disabled pedestrians are drunk.

Solutions proposed included Rep. Barbara Lee’s call to end the transfer of military weapons to communities.

Residents proposed instituting a 24-hour team of health professionals to respond to mental health crises rather than police, body cameras for police, a moratorium on police use of tear gas and over-the-head baton strikes for crowd control, community policing and community control of police. Speakers also cited the need for jobs, affordable housing and equitable education.

The day’s discussion was one “this country has never really had in a meaningful way,” Councilmember Max Anderson said. “Our efforts as citizens to engage in the activities that strengthen democracy cannot relent at this point.”

The City Council will discuss police reform proposals Jan. 27 and Feb. 10.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, January 24, 2015 (


Local Small Businesses Object to Coliseum City Development

By Ken Epstein

Representatives of small businesses are complaining that city staff is on a fast track to adopt a formal plan for a massive Coliseum City development project, which has reached the final stages of approval without consulting affected companies.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

The rezoning of the area for a stadium, housing and retail development on the Oakland airport side of Interstate 880 will eliminate much of Oakland’s only business park and many of its small businesses, which employ local residents, according the businessmen.

“I object to the plan, which will effectively over time destroy the business park without discussion or community input as originally promised and budgeted for when the planning process was instituted. Good paying business jobs will be sacrificed for sports, entertainment and residences without consulting the present community,” according to Robert Schwartz, long time Oakland resident and owner of Key Source international on Oakport Street in the business park.

Schwartz and others spoke Wednesday at a poorly announced Oakland Planning Commission public hearing on the plan.

City staff and a consulting team have been working on the plan for the past two years. Schwartz and others are saying they have been allowed to comment on the plan after it was designed but not to be part of the design process itself.

Fred Ellis speaks for the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Planning Commissiion public hearing.

Fred Ellis speaks for the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Planning Commissiion public hearing.

The Coliseum City plan, according to the City of Oakland’s website, “seeks to transform the underutilized land around the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Arena into a world-class sports, entertainment and science & technology district that boasts a dynamic and active urban setting with retail, entertainment, arts, culture, live and work uses.”

The 800-plus acre site includes the present coliseum arena and the area on the west side of the freeway w, where the Oakland Airport Business Park is located and extends all the way to the waterfront.

Objecting to the characterization of the business park as “underutilized land,” Schwartz said that industrial- and light-industrial use land sells for less than retail-use and residential-use land. Therefore, if zoning for industrial use is removed, the market value of the land will go up.

Existing businesses will sell out and move out of Oakland. New companies will not be able to afford to set up shop in the city.

Schwartz says he does not see the utility to the city of eliminating good jobs at long standing local businesses in favor of creating poorly paying jobs at stadiums for “popcorn vendors.”

In a letter to the city’s department of Planning and Building, James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, agreed with Schwartz.

“We object to your plan to cross the 880 freeway and intrude into our existing Port of Oakland Business Park,” he said. “That appears to use an unnecessary and detrimental encroachment on the existing businesses in the park.

“Part of the (Coliseum) Plan should include funding to improve the infrastructure and help revitalized its’ appeal for future expansion and job creation,” said Curtis.

Speaking on behalf of the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Wednesday hearing, Fred Ellis read a statement backing the small business’ concerns.

“We oppose any rezoning without the opportunity for full community discussion by the affected communities,” said Ellis. “We oppose zoning changes that appear to remove East Oakland’s only business park and displace at least one of Oakland’s long standing and important businesses.”

“Few East Oakland residents are even aware that such immense and important policy changes are occurring,” Ellis continued. “The staff has provided no justification for proceeding without a participatory advisory committee of Oakland residents.”

“The planning process for East Oakland needs a restart,” he said.

Among the organizations in OaklandWorks are the West Oakland Environmental Indicators project, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), Oakland Black Caucus, Concerned Black Men and the John George Democratic Club.

Some people are saying that the rush to approve the project came from former Mayor Jean Quan’s administration, and there could potentially be a different approach under Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Speaking informally after the public hearing, one staff member said: “This project didn’t start with a clean slate. We heard: ‘Here are your marching orders.’”

Schwartz has said he does not oppose moving ahead with the building of new sports arenas on the Coliseum property but is against the city’s plan to eliminate the business park on the West side of the freeway.

Before it is approved, the development plan has to overcome other hurdles, including the concerns of the Port of Oakland and the EBMUD, which are both impacted by the proposal. The plan must also gain the backing of the developers, who are working to put together private funding for the project.

The Planning Commission has scheduled hearings on the development plan on Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 and a vote on Feb. 18. If passed, the proposal will go to the City Council, where it could be approved in March.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 23, 2015 (

Teachers Union Questions Redesign Plan for Five Schools

By Ken Epstein

Parents, students and community members are hoping the Oakland Unified School District will provide specifics about the new “redesign” process that will take place this spring at five flatland schools: Fremont, McClymonds and Castlemont High schools, along with Brookfield Elementary and Frick Middle schools.270px-McClymonds_High_School

The notice was originally sent out to the affected schools on last day of school before the Winter Break in a letter from Superintendent Antwan Wilson announcing a “Call for Quality Schools.

Some school board members are saying they had not heard about the letter until they received calls from the school sites.

The teachers’ union, Oakland Education Association (OEA), has put out a statement saying that while it supports the efforts to provide a “quality neighborhood school for all students,” it opposes opening the process to charter school operators.

“Public schools need to remain under the jurisdiction of publically elected and publically accountable officials—not placed in the hands of self-selected corporate boards,” according to the statement.

Castlemont High SchoolWhat is at stake is not the individual motivations or intent of the leaders of the district, said Trish Gorham, OEA president. “What will be put in place at these schools is “something that is going to last far longer than any superintendent or board members,” she said.

State law provides for a democratic process whereby a school can become a charter with the majority support of its teachers or parents, Gorham said. “We should not create a fast track that (bypasses) the process that exists in state law.

In addition, Fremont, McClymonds and Castlemont have been singled out by the district for disparate treatment she said, The district has just won the Measure N bond, which provides funds to redesign all the high schools.

These three schools should receive the same kind of treatment and process for redesign using the new money as the rest of the high schools in the district, Gorham said. .

Fremont High School

Fremont High School

The district has provided no reasons for why these particular schools were selected or what criteria were applied to their selection, according to the union’s statement.

In addition, the process bypasses a Board of Education regulation that places significant control “over the school plan in hands of the elected school site council.”

The union statement also says the process ignores what is presently happening at the five schools.

“There is no recognition that Brookfield has just been through an exhaustive school community based process of re-imagining that is just now being implemented,” the statement said. “There is no recognition that the three high schools selected have just been subject to a three-year, top-down experiment or an evaluation of what has been effective or ineffective in that process.”

Finally the union is concerned that this is a “staff driven initiative.” Although Supt. Wilson is asking the school community to “assume good intentions,” the administration’s behavior has alarmed many people, the statement said.

“It is difficult to trust good intentions when the notice goes out without having the school board discuss it and immediately prior to a two-week holiday break and hard to understand that there can be no school takeovers when the process is explicitly open to charter school operators,” according to the OEA statement.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post,  January 23, 2015 (

Board Members and Students Weigh-in on School Changes


Students from several high schools spoke and held up signs at Wednesday's board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Students from several high schools spoke and held up signs at Wednesday’s board meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ken Epstein

Student and teacher speakers at Wednesday night’s board meetings raised their concerns about the school redesign process that the district administration has initiated at five Oakland schools.

In interviews with the Oakland Post, school Board of Education members also discussed the process that is now getting under way.

Speaking at the meeting Edgar, a Fremont High senior, said, “Fremont is s a great school and has lot of diversity. We are not failing. We are constantly improving.”

“You need to involve yourself in our community,” he said. “How can you help us if you don’t involve yourselves in our struggles? We need more books, better facilities and more resources.”

Another Fremont student said, “You guys aren’t scientists, so don’t try to experiment on us. This is not a business – this is an education. It’s a necessity.”

So far, this process “was sneaky and not transparent,” said a Fremont instructor. “Our parents and students know what they need. How about giving us more counselors? We only have one.”

“We need (more) quality teachers. We need restorative justice,” the instructor said. We know what we need. Why don’t you put some money behind it?”

Fremont senior Rosa Contreras said, “I do not believe Fremont should be labeled a failing school. You don’t even know us. I want to see the money (promised two years ago) start going to our school now – not later – now.

A student from Castlemont said. “We have not had a steady principal for three years. We don’t know what to trust anymore.”

Another speaker was Mike Hutchinson, who said the district could regain public confidence if the board simply deletes charter schools from the redesign process. “The board could remove any language about giving the schools to charters from the policy,” he said.

District 5 Boardmember Roseann Torres said she was deeply impressed with the leadership exhibited by the students at Fremont High at the community meeting she attended last week and urged the district to support the students.

She said that the unity between Latino and African Americans students was wonderful to see and that the racial divisions that exist in Oakland are more about the attitudes of adults and based on the past.

In addition, Torres said she does not want to hear any more reports of administrators taking students outside and trying to intimidate them into not speaking their minds at these community meetings.

“I think this (process) is a bit rushed, and it’s a big shock” coming so soon after the school bond Measure N passed in November, she said in an interview with the Post. .

“It is somewhat disrespectful (to tell students) you don’t know what’s good for you,” she said. “These kids (at Fremont) know that Oakland Technical High has a lot more money” for resources such as sports uniforms and after school activities. “But they have nothing, and these are both public schools.”

Board President James Harris, who represents District 7, said the community needs to give the redesign process time to mature, and “You will see what will emerge.”

“This is based on the community. This is not about a top-down decision telling the community what’s best for them,” Harris said to the Post.

The district administration is “acknowledging the needs of each school site,” he said. “What’s good for one site” is not necessarily good for another one.”

“I’m not going to vote for what the community doesn’t want,” Harris said, pointing out that some charters work because they have grassroots buy-in. “There are charters that work and charters that don’t,” he said.

Shanthi Gonzales, who represents District 6, said she is looking forward to seeing the administrative regulations that will govern this process.

“Those are the details about how this process will be carried out, and what I’m especially interested in is transparency.  I feel strongly that there should be community representation on the Academic Review Panel that recommends proposals to the board, so that the public is part of the deliberation and sees how these decisions will be made,” she said.

“These schools belong to all of us, and we need to assert our rights to participate in the decisions that are being made about them,” she said. “That is why I will be looking hard at how we are including the public in every aspect of the process.  Not just, can they participate at their schools – which they should – but also in reviewing the proposals and making recommendations to the board.”