Archive for September, 2015

Community Calls on City Officials to Adopt Housing Protections for Local Residents

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

City Hearing on Housing Equity Action Plan Set for Sept. 30

 By Ken Epstein

City of Oakland staff joined with the nonprofit organization PolicyLink earlier this year to release an “action plan” that proposes a comprehensive set of laws, programs, policies and investments to protect the city’s social and income diversity in the face of the economic hurricane that threatens the ability of most working people to continue living in Oakland.gentrification

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee decided to send the action plan, “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” to the full council, where the recommended set of actions could be debated, modified, added to and adopted.

That process begins Wednesday, Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m., in council chambers at Oakland City Hall, where the “action plan” will be discussed but not yet acted upon.

Whether the city will adopt aggressive laws and policies to change the housing free-for-all that exists now – stacked in favor of investors and building owners with access to cash and credit – will depend on the determination of council members to take decisive action, the willingness of the City Administration to support these changes and the unity of the community in demanding a break with past practices.anti gentrification

Driving this change is a housing crisis that is widely reported and directly felt by many Oakland residents.

“A growing number of Oakland residents cannot afford to buy or rent a home within their own neighborhood. Facing a rising loss of families with children and dramatic loss of African American households, Oakland risks following in San Francisco’s footsteps and losing the intergenerational treasures of our community,” according to the introduction to the 106-page report signed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink.

The report does not look to an elusive silver bullet that will solve the crisis. Instead, the document is a roadmap that advocates adoption of a wide variety of proposals clustered around three strategies.

The strategies include proposals to rehouse and prevent displacement of current residents; mobilize resources to produce affordable housing for low and moderate income residents; and upgrade the homes of many residents who are currently living in deplorable conditions.map_1

Some of the proposals call for passing new ordinances, while others suggest strengthening existing laws, and there are proposals to seek funds and regional partners to build new affordable housing.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney told the Post that she set up the meeting as a public hearing rather than a discussion connected to passing resolutions or ordinances because she wanted to give councilmembers time to deliberate and consider the complexity and consequences of the proposals.

“This body has never entertained a conversation about the housing crisis,” she said. “There has been no thoughtful engagement about the crisis in front of us.”

“Public meetings are difficult,” she said, adding that council is often under pressure “to take a specific action before we have a chance to think it through.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks says she hopes the public hearing will focus on the proposals developed by PolicyLink and city staff over 18 months, in consultation with city councilmembers and stakeholder groups, including housing justice and private real estate development associations.

These proposals are based on the experiences of city staff and its community partners over the past few years in its efforts to mitigate various aspects of the crisis.

The hearing should go beyond taking public testimony about the impact of displacement or general testimony of experts, said Brooks.gentrification

“It’s beyond the time for talking about displacement,” she said. “I hope we are going beyond talking and that we are going to get to work on these issues.”

“We need to come up with recommendations based on the significant work that has already been done by staff,” she said. “If we keep stalling, we are only letting the (market) forces do what they do.”

In a letter to the city and the mayor, a coalition of faith, labor and community groups called on the city council to adopt the Housing Equity Roadmap.

“We strongly urge you to move forward with great haste to hold the special Council meeting on the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap,” according to the letter, dated Sept. 8.

“There have been multiple efforts over the years to pass comprehensive housing policies that failed because of the lack of sufficient political will from a majority City Council or from the Mayor,” the letter said. “We hope and believe that today’s Oakland City Council and Mayor understand the gravity of the unprecedented housing problems that your constituents face and have the courage and political will to pass policies to help suffering residents and chart an equitable future for Oakland.”

Among the signers of the letter were Pastor Gerald Agee, Pastors of Oakland and Friendship Christian Center; Bishop Bob Jackson, Acts Full Gospel Church; Pastor J. Alfred Smith Jr., Allen Temple Baptist Church; Rev. Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist Church; Pastor B.K. Woodson, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Al Marshall, SEIU Local 1021 Oakland Chapter; Anthony Panarese, ACCE; Robbie Clark, Causa Justa: Just Cause; James Vann, Oakland Tenants Union; and Margaretta Lin of the Dellums Institute and co-author of the housing action plan.

The Housing Equity Roadmap can be downloaded at 

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 27, 2015 (

Oakland’s Coal Train Dispute Pits Public Health vs. Local Jobs

By Tulio Ospina

Hundreds of community members attended Oakland City Council’s public hearing Monday on the health and safety impacts that exporting coal through the former Oakland Army Base could have on residents in West Oakland and surrounding areas.

Those opposed to coal shipments wore red at the public hearing.

Those opposed to coal shipments wore red at the public hearing.

Opponents of coal, backed by expert witnesses, are calling on the City Council to act on a “health and safety” section in the contract between the city and Army Base developer Phil Tagami that would allow the city to halt shipments of a commodity on its property if those shipments would place workers and surrounding communities “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health and safety.”

Monday’s public hearing was the first step for the City Council to make this determination, which could result in halting, regulating or placing a moratorium on shipping coal through the bulk commodities terminal at the army base.

For over six hours, speakers presented reasons why the city should prohibit or allow coal to be shipped through the future Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT).

And those who support the coal shipments wore yellow.

And those who support the coal shipments wore yellow.

The coal discussion quickly polarized into a debate between health, safety and environmental concerns for Oakland residents versus the creation of jobs.

However, a number of observers consider the dichotomy between jobs and public health to be misleading because it is unclear whether shipping coal through the bulk terminal would create any more jobs for Oakland residents than any other commodity—such as wheat or potash—that might pass through the terminal.

At the end of the six-hour long hearing, some of the councilmembers weighed in on the issue with thoughts and questions they felt still needed to be answered.

“There’s no reason to think that if we’re shipping wheat or something else (through the terminal) that there would be any less jobs than coal,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan at the end of the hearing. “In fact, there are many products that would generate more jobs than coal.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks questioned the health evidence that opponents of a coal deal were presenting, saying she believes the health experts lack convincing evidence that coal dust and emissions are detrimental to people’s health and the environment.

Derrick Muhammad ILWU Local 10

Derrick Muhammad ILWU Local 10

Her principal concern seemed to be focused on job creation.

“We need to understand the effects of other issues such as poverty on the health impacts and ask ourselves does it outweigh coal,” said Brooks. “I can’t tell people who cannot feed their children that, yet again, they ought to wait for their next job opportunity.”

Pastor Gerald Agee of the Friendship Christian Center said, “The folks who come to our churches that are unable to find jobs and are being pushed out of their places because landlords want more money with rent.”

Agee says public health and safety are his primary concerns. He said his support for coal shipments is contingent on the city’s ability to create a binding contract with the developers to ensure there would be consequences if the operators of the terminal fall short on their health and safety promises.

Meanwhile, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 and Local 34, who stand to gain most of the jobs at the terminal, have rejected the plan to export coal through the bulk terminal.

Longshore workers are opposed to “locking Oakland into a decades-long lease with a coal industry that many say is dying,” according to an ILWU press release.

Jasmin Ansar, a professor of economics at Mills College, told the council that coal is a questionable economic investment, saying the Port of Los Angeles lost money on coal shipment.

“The coal industry is in economic decline, and demand has decreased sharply due to cheaper alternatives such as oil, gas and renewables.”

“It would be a poor investment choice to tie up investment funds in a project that is unlikely to succeed and will likely leave Oakland to become stranded,” said Ansar.

“Coal isn’t going to be making jobs here for people in the community. These are ILWU jobs,” said Brian Beveridge, Co-Director for the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

According to Beveridge, not only is it a myth that coal would generate more jobs than any other commodity but there would be “little to no chance that the unemployed and those not in a union would get whatever jobs the terminal would create.”

Beveridge said that he and Margaret Gordon of WOEIP had lunch with the developers of the coal terminal, Jerry Bridges and Omar Benjamin, who offered them 12 cents for every ton shipped through the terminal, which could amount to between six and eight million tons a year.

The developer told them that WOEIP could use the money any way it wants, including opening a health clinic, according to Beveridge, but he and Gordon turned down the offer.

The City Council concluded on Monday that it will keep the public hearing open until Oct. 5, to allow city staff to evaluate the evidence and present options for consideration to City Council by no later than Dec. 8.

The Post asked the City Attorney’s office to clarify whether a simple majority or a super major of seven out of eight councilmember would be needed to declare the shipment of coal to be a “health and safety” hazard under the development agreement. The City Attorney did not reply to the the Post’s question.

City Attorney Barbara Parker’s general position is that, though she is an elected official, she only provides her legal opinion in closed session with the City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 26, 2015 (

St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church in Bayview Targeted by Hate Crime

By Anh Le

St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview District is the latest African American church that has been vandalized, targeted by what appears to be have been a hate crimes.Screen-Shot-2015-09-03-at-8.25.31-AM-620x412-527x350

The church, located at 1789 Oakdale St., just a block from the City College of San Francisco’s Southeast Campus, was vandalized on the evening of Aug. 27 or the early morning hours of Aug. 28.

“The attack on our church, that’s the devil at work. The building does not belong to us.  It’s the Lord’s House,” said Beverly Taylor, who has been a member of the church for many years.

“They attacked the Lord when they attacked the Lord’s House,” she said. “In the Scriptures, the Lord says, ‘A weapon used against me will never stand.  I will repay them.”

Taylor also said that the vandalism against the church impacted the church’s food pantry work, which distributes food to the poor. However, she said that the church will continue its food pantry work, one of its ministries for the Bayview community.

According to Capt. Raj Vaswani of the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) Bayview Station, the police received a call about 5 a.m. Aug. 28.

“I sent my supervisors out to the church,” Vaswani said.  “The (vandalism) had offensive language, the most serious,” he said.

He said that the crime is being investigated by SFPD’s Special Investigations Division.  “We looked at any videos, the premise of the general area, physical evidence.”

“We want to give the church full support, to the people who go there. It’s traumatic, what happened at the church. The church is hurt, the people who go there, their operations. It is a hate crime,” Vaswani stated.

According to Sgt. Tony Damato of the Special Investigations Division, “Somebody broke into the church. (They) spray painted the walls. (They) damaged the sheet rock. (They) ripped the cushions on the pews. Things were tossed around.

“It is being investigated as a hate crime,” he said. “We will look for the individual or individuals who vandalized this church.  When we find that person or the people involved, we will arrest them. The investigation is ongoing.”

Alvie Esparza of the SFPD’s Media Relations Unit said, “The church was broken into. “(There was) painted derogatory language and racist, homophobic, and religious graffiti. (There was) property damage. (There were) vandalized tables, desk, computer.”

“(We) canvassed the area and the building. (We are looking for) the suspect or suspects.  This type of behavior is not condoned in San Francisco,” said Esparza.

According to a report on KTVU-TV, the vandalism at the church included bleach being poured on the cushions of the church’s pews.

SFPD issued a flyer on Sept. 1, to request the public’s help in its investigation. Anyone with information should call the Special Investigations Division at (415) 553-1133.

A fundraiser has been set up to help St. Paul’s pay for repairs.

The fundraiser is being organized by Showing Up for Social Justice (SURJ), a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.

SURJ’s San Francisco chapter is collecting donations to show support for the church. The online fundraiser can be viewed at:

The San Francisco Police Department’s  Anonymous Tip Line is (415) 575-4444. The Case Number is 150753107. Or contact the police department’s  Special Investigations Division
at (415) 553-1133.

Anh Le is a writer and independent journalist.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, September 5, 2015 (

What Local Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Finnish Schools

By Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

We’re kind of stuck in a rut in U.S. schools.   A lot of our kids are not very happy at school. And a lot of U.S. schools opened last week without enough teachers.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

No school system is perfect, but the Finnish system lets us know that things can be different. I interviewed one of the leaders of their system, Pasi Sahlberg, and discovered the following:

Finnish scores on international comparison tests (PISA) are much higher than the U.S. on both mathematics and reading. For example, the U.S. scored 26th in math; Finland has been in the top 10 for the past decade.

All schooling is free in Finland. No one pays for education – even higher education.

Their main focus is on equity. All children get equitable services and care. And there is not a big gap between the academic performance of higher and lower income students.

They want children to be happy and excited about school and to be confident in themselves.  Everyone gets quality, play-based pre-school. They have music and art and sports. They focus on cooperation more than competition

They don’t use standardized testing on the kids all the time: the international comparisons (given once every few years) and one test at the end of high school are the only “standardized” tests they take.

This is interesting, and I just learned about it: They provide the kind of services that we call “special education” to about half the kids in the country, but no one is identified as “special ed.”

They believe that the labeling hurts students, and it shouldn’t be called “special” because most kids get something “special” according to their particular needs.

Teachers are much more highly trained and get responsibility, respect and support.

I have been told that the things they do wouldn’t work here, because we have more diversity. I don’t believe that. What we have is more racism.

I’m sure there is personal racism in Finland, but American structural racism is tightly built into the school system along with the racial wealth gap, because of historic and current U.S. policy.

Nothing’s “perfect.”  And I don’t think any system can be transplanted somewhere else. But happiness, equity, no profit-motive & less standardized testing would sure help our schools.

Has the Finnish system always been like this? No. People struggled for it, and after it had been in place for a few years the PISA test results came out, showing that their more equitable systems did better than school systems, like the U.S., that are oriented toward tests and inequity.

There are now graphs that show through international comparison that school systems with more equity also have more excellence in performance!!

This includes Cuba, some provinces in Canada and others. There is a new book coming out in the spring that shows these comparisons.

You can listen to an interview I did with a leading educator from Finland,Pasi Sahlbergm at

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, September 5, 2015 (

Is Representative Democracy Breaking Down at Oakland Unified?

Oakland Unified School District Governing Board. Standing (l-r): President James Harris, Director Roseann Torres, Director Aimee Eng, Vice President Jody London, Director Nina Senn, Director Shanthi Gonzales, Superintendent Antwan Wilson Seated (l-r): former Student Director Katebah Al-Olefi, General Counsel Jacqueline Minor, Director Jumoke Hinton Hodge, former Student Director Carmen Jimenez.

Oakland Unified School District Governing Board. Standing (l-r): President James Harris, Director Roseann Torres, Director Aimee Eng, Vice President Jody London, Director Nina Senn, Director Shanthi Gonzales, Superintendent Antwan Wilson. Seated (l-r): former Student Director Katebah Al-Olefi, General Counsel Jacqueline Minor, Director Jumoke Hinton Hodge, former Student Director Carmen Jimenez.

By Ken Epstein

Local residents are raising concerns about a new set of “meeting procedures” and “meeting norms” dictating the behavior of the Oakland Board of Education, which could limit board members’ ability to lead the district, as they were elected to do.

Some of the norms and procedures, adopted unanimously by the board and implemented at last week’s meeting, might sound innocuous, though they have a paternalistic air that does not seem appropriate to a body that is elected to set policy that is supposed to represent the beliefs and needs of Oakland residents.

“Five minute speaking limit, no mingling with the audience, focus on agenda items, always be respectful, no interruptions, model desired behavior, no personal attacks,” says the list says, along with “honor the time, no sidebars, technology aligned to meeting purpose.”

Jim Mordecai

Jim Mordecai

However, at least one of the norms for board members has members of the community worried.

“Act as a collective body – honor confidentiality.”

This is a norm that appears on its surface to call on board members to close ranks, refrain from publically disagreeing with each other or the administration and avoid revealing too much about district proposals.   But the Board is responsible for setting policy for the district and California law requires that those policy discussions be held in public

Recognizing the public’s concerns, School Board President James Harris said the changes are not designed to limit transparency or stifle the voice of elected officials but to guarantee that meetings are conducted legally and with civility.

“Some things are confidential to board members, such as closed session things,” said Harris. “We’ve had a few board members break those rules. You’ve got to respect the laws.”

Book by Don McAdemsAdditionally, he said, “You don’t want personal attacks on board members,” he said. “We all need to get better. We need to be better communicators. “

However, there are community members who see this new policy as symptomatic of a school board that has lost its sense of responsibility as an elected body and generally passively follows the lead of the latest superintendent and his team of administrators

The problem goes back to Oakland’s loss of local control of the school district in 2003 when the district went bankrupt and took a $100 million state loan, still not repaid.

The State Supt. of Instruction installed a trustee, Randy Ward, who ran the district singlehandedly. Working closely with a team of administrative advisors from Bakersfield, Ward fired principals and veteran administrators, in one shot eliminating much of the district’s diversity and the historical memory of the institution.

Over the course of the years, despite the return of local control to the school district in 2009, the balance of power has continued to shift away from the board and toward the administration.

The attorney for the district used to be an employee of the board, but that has been changed. The attorney now reports to the board and the superintendent.

The board secretary used to be an employee of the board. The superintendent is now the board secretary and sets the agenda of board meetings in conjunction with the board president.

Like the City Council, the board used to have a number of committees, including curriculum, facilities and business and finance. With the committees, board members could gather information, listen to community input and make informed decisions.

Without the committees, they lost their eyes and ears. They were forced to rely on what staff told them at board meetings, along with some one- or two-minute presentations from the public.

In addition, the board several years ago agreed in principle that it would not ask questions or disagree with the administration in public. Instead, individual board members are supposed to ask questions or disagree by email.

As a result, many policy differences among board members never come to public attention.

Though concerns about the board not fulfilling its role as an elected body have been raised under the one-year-old administration of Supt. Antwan Wilson, the same issues existed and were compounded under former superintendents Gary Yee and Tony Smith.

While some on the board are committed to the idea that board members should “not disagree publically on things, I think people should know if we are having disagreement on things. There’s nothing bad about disagreement,” said Boardmember  Shanthi Gonzales, who represents District 6.

Another board member, who asked not to be identified, said she and her colleagues were under tremendous pressure not to disagree with each other or with the district staff in public.

Staff also uses pressure to try to silence teachers and students who speak up at meetings, the board member said.

According to Jim Mordecai, a retired teacher who attends and speaks at most board meetings, the erosion of democracy in the Oakland district is also occurring in other school districts around the country, related to growth of corporate involvement and privatization of public education.

Much of the erosion of democracy norms is tied to a variety of corporate reformers, who want to run the school system like their companies, such as billionaire Eli Broad (rhymes with road) and his Broad Foundation and the Broad Academy, where many of the nation’s new superintendents are trained he said.

Oakland’s State Trustee Randy Ward was an early Broad trainee, and he staffed the district with a crew of Broadees.

People coming from the corporate mindset “prefer a board that is just a rubber stamp, “ Mordecai said.

“(But) Some of the women on the board are pretty strong, and sometimes they stand up and fight back,” he said.

But they are still struggling to understand the issues, which are not simple.

“It takes a lot of time to understand,” he said. “It’s complicated. (For example) they don’t come on the board understanding about Broad training.”

Making their job more difficult, he said, Oakland school board members attend retreats where they learn from “experts” that their proper role is to be a cheering team for the administration.

Oakland School board members have attended two trainings by Texas based consultant Don McAdams, who worked for Eli Broad when he was setting up his superintendent academy.

According to critics around the country, McAdams suggests that board members not “interrogate” staffers during board meetings.

Board members are encouraged to vote unanimously, if possible, on important issues, such as school closings and bond proposals, sending a message to the public and workforce that the issue is a done deal, McAadams says in his trainings according to reports.

This approach is deeply flawed says civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, who served on the school board and worked as the district’s general counsel.

“As voters, we’re entitled to hear board members express their best opinions and if they disagree and to make decisions,” he said.

In reality, the board trainings are not neutral but ideological, encouraging the board to get out of the way of the experts, said Mordecai,

“But that’s not the process. The process has to be inclusive of the community. It’s supposed to be a democratic institution.”

The Post is printing this article in response to questions and concerns that have come up in the course of our coverage of Oakland schools. We look forward to publishing your reactions and thoughts on these issues.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 5, 2015 (

Landmark Victory Curbs Long-term Solitary Confinement in California Prisons

 Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week's landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week’s landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

A landmark victory this week to reduce long-term solitary confinement in California will immediately release up to 2,000 prisoners who have been held in isolation for 10 years or more for alleged gang affiliation.

The settlement in the case of Ashker v. Governor Brown last week is a historic step to reform the practice of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely.

The lawsuit was originally filed by prisoners held in Security Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, challenging long-term solitary confinement as “cruel and unusual punishment” and as a violation of prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Under the settlement, prisoners in solitary confinement for alleged gang affiliation will be released into the general prison population. Some prisoners, depending on their offenses, will enter a two-year, four-step, step-down program to return to the general prison population.

In addition, solitary confinement will no longer be used as punishment for alleged gang affiliation, dramatically reducing the SHU prisoner population in the state.

Nearly 3,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in California prisons, the majority of which have been in the SHU for multiple years, some for as long as 30 or 40 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Prisoners in the SHU spend nearly 24 hours a day in small cells, not much bigger than a large bathroom stall and often without windows. They are denied phone calls, physical contact with visitors, and any recreational activities or programs.

Prisoners mobilized hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, when over 30,000 prisoners protested indefinite solitary confinement.

The prisoners themselves played a critical role in the fight to win this settlement, said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the lead lawyer on the lawsuit.

Going forward, no prisoner will be held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, a length of time that many still consider to be a violation of human rights.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for so long. It’s so emotional, I don’t even have words,” said Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in the SHU for 26 years at Pelican Bay.

“Hopefully next month, we’re going to have our first hug in 30 years,” said Gallegos, speaking at a press conference held on Tuesday, Sept. 1 in front of the state building in Oakland.

Hugo Pinell, who was recently killed in prison, was held in solitary confinement for 46 years, the longest known time a prisoner has ever been held in isolation. Pinell’s life and fight against prison violence was acknowledged at the press conference last Tuesday.

Marie Levin, the sister of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her brother has been in solitary confinement for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

She said she has had no physical contact with her brother during that time. “It will be a blessing to hold him,” said Levin.

She said she hopes that other states will follow California’s example.

“They’re allowing prisoners to have input on the change,” said Levin. “So they’re asking the prisoners what do we need to change, how do we need to do this, what’s effective, what’s not – that’s going to make a difference.”

According to a statement released by the prisoners who are plaintiffs in the case, “California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.”

“It is our hope that this groundbreaking (End Hostilities) agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence,” the statement said.

The settlement includes the creation of a modified general population unit for prisoners coming out of the SHU, allowing them time outside their cell, family visits, phone calls and other privileges.

“Part of this agreement is that there’s going to be a new facility created for men stepping out of the SHU who’ve been there for 10 years or more,” said Anne Weills, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“There are different categories in this group: some of the men that are coming out, there may be threats against them so we want to protect them,” she said. “Some men will be in the step-down program; some men maybe have committed an offense that would place them in the SHU.”

Prisoners in these new units will have access to educational programming. Lawyers on the case also want psychological and mental health support for prisoners but that is yet to be negotiated, Weills said.

One additional term of the settlement is no retaliation against prisoners based on their conduct, leadership and involvement in this litigation, she said.

“This movement is so important…to give these men a proper setting to grow and to change, and to basically live a halfway decent life in the system,” said Weills.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 5, 2015 (

At 99, Verlie Mae Pickens Is Still a Leader in the Community

By Anh Le

Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens, who celebrated her 99th birthday in June, has been a resident of San Francisco for 66 years and a community leader in the Bayview and throughout San Francisco.

Verlie Mae Pickens

Verlie Mae Pickens

Ms. Pickens has volunteered at Bayview Adult Health Center, Dr. George Davis Senior Center, Network for Elders, Senior University, Senior Action Network (S.A.N.), and other community organizations.

Senior University was a program held throughout San Francisco, where seniors and adults with disabilities learned such skills as advocacy and lobbying,.

At Senior University, Ms. Pickens attended every class session for several years.  She arranged for refreshments for each class.

One of the proudest moments at Senior University was when Ms. Pickens and the seniors waged a protest and community organizing campaign to force the FoodsCo Supermarket store in the Bayview to stop selling rotten and spoiled foods.

Ms. Pickens remains very active in the programs at the Dr. George Davis Senior Center, Network for Elders, and Seniors and Disability Network.

Every year for the Black Cuisine Feast held at the Dr. George Davis Senior Center, she prepares her famous and delicious peach cobbler pie dessert dish.

She is also active at the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church.

For her 99th Birthday Celebration, Ms. Pickens was honored by Rev. Staci Current, pastor at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church and churchgoers during the Sunday morning service.

A grand birthday party was held for her at the Dr. George Davis Senior Center.

Anh Le served as director of Senior University at Senior Action Network and also worked at the Network for Elders in the Bayview and Hunter’s Point. He is a community organizer and educator, writer and independent journalist.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, September 4, 2015 (

Celebrating My 99th Birthday

By Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens

Hello there! This is Verlie Mae Pickens.  I celebrated my 99th Birthday on June 11.

Verlie Mae Pickens

Verlie Mae Pickens

I was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I am a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Alfred Nisby.  My mother’s name is Lillian Lumpkin Nisby.

I am the fourth child of eight.  I am the second daughter, of six girls.

I had such wonderful parents – they were so kind and loving to me, I think because they never thought I would make it to go to school, but I did.

I played tennis, volleyball, and touch football.  I had a bicycle. Growing up in Lake Charles at that time, there were no cars, no paved streets.

I took up piano lessons.  I was not Catholic, but I went to a Catholic school, where you have to pay to go.  The children would fight at the public school.

I graduated from Sacred Heart High School in 1936.

When I was about 17 years old, I played piano for my church choir, until I married at 20 years old, a man out of the choir, Mr. Joseph Henry Anderson.

I divorced him and later married Mr. Pickens.  I only had one son for Mr. Anderson.  My second marriage I had none. Mr. Pickens’ full name is Mr. Samuel Vanburn Pickens.

I moved to San Francisco in 1939.  I came out to help my young brother’s wife.  They begged me to stay out here.  I have been in San Francisco for 66 years and have been in my home now for 63 years.

I have had some wonderful jobs.  I am one of the “Rose Riveter Ladies” who worked at the Lockheed airplane factory in Los Angeles during the war years.

I worked on the “P. 38.” They were the fast planes during World War II.  My job was to do the riveting on the tail end of the plane.

In San Francisco, I worked at Blum’s Bakery, making cakes, pies, and candies.  I also worked at Langendorf Bakery, making breads and rolls, until I retired.

I have worked hard all of my life.  So did my husband Mr. Pickens.  We loved to travel.  We travelled through Mexico and Canada.  We have visited every state in the United States, except for Rhode Island.

I like to volunteer in the community.  I want to encourage everybody, especially all the children and young people and seniors.

We have to give guidance to our children and young people.  Nowadays, some of the children and young people don’t listen to parents or grandparents, and that’s how they get in trouble.

When I was growing up in Lake Charles, my neighbors kept an eye on people.  And my neighbors would look out for the children and young people.  If one of the neighbors said to me, “I’ll tell your mother and father. Before I got home, they already told my parents.”

I’ve seen a lot of changes since coming to San Francisco.  One of them is there were no freeways when I came here in 1939.

I went to a meeting recently, where they said that these companies are building now wherever they can find a piece of land.  For example, they were tearing up Candlestick Park and the parking lot around it to build large apartment buildings and condos.

They are getting millions of dollars for those apartments and condos.  The buyers are coming from other places, buying them up and renting them or renting them out.

I am so deeply thankful to God for All of God’s Rich Blessings, and for giving me a long, happy and healthy life.

Courtesy of the San Francisco Post, September 4, 2015 (

Commentary: Insurgents Trump and Sanders Send a Message

By Jesse Jackson

This has been insurgent summer in presidential politics. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have soared. They are raising issues that politicians in both parties can no longer duck.

Insurgent candidates gain traction when their campaigns resonate with voters. When I ran in 1984 and 1988, my campaigns surprised pundits because I was speaking to what many Americans felt.

Jesse Jackson visits Street Academy

Jesse Jackson visits Street Academy in Oakland

Reagan’s conservative reaction was on the march; Democrats were tacking to the right. But many Americans were left out of the equation. Workers suffered as jobs were shipped overseas.

The working poor suffered as investments in housing, health care, education and more were slashed. Many were dismayed at Reagan’s reckless new Cold War, and his idiotic covert war on Nicaragua.

Both parties had embraced top-end tax cuts, deregulation and corporate trade policies. Both supported apartheid South Africa and called Mandela a terrorist. Neither could see that Israeli security depended upon Palestinian statehood.

Democrats decided that they had to compete to be hawkish on foreign policy, corporate on domestic policy and timid on social policy.

My campaigns exploded in the vacuum. And while we didn’t win, we changed the agenda. A boycott was imposed on South Africa over Reagan’s veto. Congress ended support for the contras of Nicaragua. Years later, U.S. policymakers belatedly embraced the two-state solution in the Middle East.

And Bill Clinton ran on Putting People First, calling for tax hikes on the rich, investment in education, national health care and labor rights in trade accords.

In this election, Sanders and Trump have raised fundamental issues that challenge a bipartisan consensus that does not work for most Americans.

The first of these is the corrupting effects of big money in our politics. Sanders, funding his campaign with small donations, warns of the perils of big money directly. Trump, using his fortune to declare his independence, scorns his opponents as “puppets” of their donors.

Politicians in both parties better wake up: Clean up our politics or lose the respect of your voters.

The second issue is our corporate trade policies that are racking up deficits of $500 billion a year while shipping good jobs abroad and undermining wages here at home.

Sanders correctly indicts these policies as rigging the rules against American workers. Trump makes our “bad deals” a centerpiece of his appeal. The next president will have to change course, or this protest will grow.

A third issue is America’s endless wars. Both Sanders and Trump emphasize that they opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq from the start. Both counsel caution about more interventions in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq.

Both are appealing to the vast majority of Americans who do not believe the U.S. can afford to police the world.

A fourth issue is taxes. Sanders tells billionaires “enough is enough.” He calls for raising taxes on the wealthy and shutting corporate loopholes to invest in rebuilding the country, making college free for all, expanding Social Security and investing in children.

Trump is more confused, but he earns applause for insisting that hedge fund billionaires should pay their fair share of taxes.

For years we’ve had paralysis in Washington on the key issue of immigration. Millions of undocumented workers live in the shadows, exploited by callous employers.

Sanders seeks a solution that will bring the country together; Trump has slanderously chosen to drive us apart. He’s tried to make immigration a Mexican issue, but that ignores reality. Threatening the largest deportation — 11 million people — in world history isn’t about Mexico; it’s about who we are.

Clearly we are paying a huge price for the cowardice of politicians unwilling to address this issue sensibly and that has to stop.

Single issues like these are markers for the bigger reality. This economy doesn’t work for most people. The rules are rigged to favor the few. Big money corrupts our politics to defend their privileges. Americans are looking for a new deal here at home.

Sanders and Trump, of course, are stark contrasts. Sanders is a thoughtful progressive; Trump an entertainer, offering postures, not policies. Sanders calls for a popular movement to transform America; Trump argues voters should trust him to do it.

But on right and left, among Republicans and Democrats, more and more are unwilling to accept politics as usual. Too many people are left out of that arrangement. The two major parties will have to change, or they are likely to be changed by voters who have had enough.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, September 4, 2015 (

Academics at Mack Are Back

By Ben Tapscott

Ben Tapscott

Ben Tapscott

McClymonds High school has reestablished educational equity byoffering the same courses as other high schools in Oakland.

The New McClymonds Committee has fought for the past five years to correct the disparities.

The curriculum of the “School of Champions” has been restored to the high standard of the early days. West Oakland parents, alums and Mack supporters should be proud of their accomplishments. We are proud that we can finally announce that we are back academically.

The school now has advanced placement (A.P.) courses to better prepare students for college.

I am requesting that parents and guardians consider placing their children at McClymonds High this year. I would like to see an increase of 200 new students this school year.

I want to commend the New McClymonds Committee, which was formed on Oct. 20, 2011. You “fought the fight,” and you won.

This year, we formed a West Oakland Educational Committee, May 30, 2015, to improve education for all the children in Wes Oakland. These two committees will meet the third Thursday of each month at McClymonds at 6 p.m.

All are invited.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 4, 2015