Archive for December, 2015

Black Students Demand School District Take Steps to Reduce Racism at Berkeley High

By Ken Epstein

In the wake of a racist, violent threat and a one-day walkout by most of the student body at Berkeley High School (BHS), the school’s Black Student Union is demanding that the school board and district administration act immediately to reduce the level of racism on campus, create a safe place at the school for African American students and enhance the teaching of African American studies.

Nebeyat Zekaryas

Nebeyat Zekaryas

The demands were presented to the board and Supt. Donald Evans at the Dec. 9 board meeting by Black Student Union (BSU) Co-Presidents Nebeyat Zekaryas and Alecia Harger.

Zekaryas told the board that the BSU is raising its demands “in light of the terroristic messages left on a Berkeley High computer on Nov. 4, 2015 and in light of the continued instances of systemic and interpersonal racism that plague our school.”

“We demand that history curriculum in grades K through 12 be amended to include Black history and an accurate view of colonialism … African history up to the present day, the history of the Black people in the Americas, including but not limited to enslavement, the civil rights movement and historically significant Black people outside of equality movements,” said Zekaryas.

Alecia Harger

Alecia Harger

“Black history (should) be taught as an important and relevant piece of world history rather than its own independent subject that is relegated to a semester of ethnic studies,” she said.

“It is insulting to condense all history of nonwhite people into an ethnic studies class,” she said. “It is essential that Black students are educated on this history in its entirety – Black students should not be expected to excel in an institution that gives us knowledge where we can only see our ancestors as slaves.”

The BSU is also demanding full funding for the Berkeley High’s African American Studies Department. “This funding (should) allow for the continuation and betterment of all currently running programs,” Zekaryas said.

BSU Co-President Harger told the board the BSU is demanding that the district create and fund a Black Resource Center on campus.

The Black Resource Center would be a location where Black students can congregate and (find) support for any issue that we may face,” said Harger.

“This center would become a permanent school fixture until Black students regularly have the same test scores and are graduating at the same rate as white students,” she said.

The BSU wants Berkeley Unified to create a committee to recruit and retain Black staff throughout the district.

“We demand that this committee include representatives of Berkeley elementary, middle and high schools, along with members of the Berkeley High BSU,” said Harger.

The BSU also wants the district to institute comprehensive racial sensitivity training for all Berkeley High faculty and staff, she said. “(The) training (should) be ongoing and not be limited to a single professional development day.”

“Black students cannot be expected to feel safe in our classrooms or on our campus if Berkeley High School staff is not equipped to discuss or handle issues of racism or racial bias.” said Harger.

The BSU wants the district administration to begin implementing the demands within the next three to six months and to receive an official response from Supt. Evans no later than Dec. 16.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, December 18, 2015 (

Oakland School District’s Catalog Promotes Charters That Exclude Special Needs Students

Enrollment Options Guide

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) for the first time has included charter schools in its annual catalog of school choices for parents – advertising many charters that do not offer services for special education students and English Language Learner students.Enrollment Options Guide sp

The new catalog is a big step toward implementing “common enrollment,” a proposal by OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson’s administration that has not yet been approved by the board of education.

The administration has said its goal is to create opportunities for students who are underserved in Oakland public schools to move to better public or charter schools.

The proposal minimizes the distinction between district schools and charters – despite differences in curriculum, legal requirements and level of public accountability – because they are both publically funded.

“This year, for the first time, you will find individual school descriptions and application information of all OUSD public schools, including charters,” said Supt. Antwan Wilson in an open letter published in the 195-page catalog.

“With this guide, parents and caregivers can learn about any Oakland public school (public or charter) they choose and make the best decision for their families,” he said.

Roseann Torres

Roseann Torres

However, 44 of the 62 charter school programs listed in the Enrollment Options Guide say they do not offer multilingual and English learner services, and 40 say they offer no special education services.

Oddly, while the physical catalog released last week contains charter school listings that say they offer no special education services, an online version of the catalog that was on the district website this week has been revised.

Under the heading of special education services, it now says, “Contact school for details.”

By the Post’s deadline, the school district did not respond to questions about the catalog.

At least some Board of Education members are saying they had not been informed that the new options catalog was going to include charter schools.

“I didn’t even know that it was coming. As a board member, that really bothers me,” said Roseann Torres, who represents District 5 on the board.

“We were elected to do policy and direct the superintendent, not the reverse.”

“We are public schools, and by law we are supposed to serve all students. But the majority of charter schools are not there to educate all.

The catalog is published annually by the OUSD Student Assignment Office. This year’s edition cost $78,000 to produce.

Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

Parents and school activists who have been critical of the district’s increased support for charter schools are finding the new catalog disturbing.

According to opponents, for a charter to say they do not offer these services, they are in effect telling parents of English Language Learners and special education students they should not bother to apply to their schools.

Meanwhile the district – by promoting these charters – is giving a green light to practices that are discriminatory, potentially illegal and move toward the consolidation of a two-tier public school system, say opponents.

Jorge Lerma, a member of the board of the Latino Education Network (LEN) in Oakland and former OUSD administrator, says the new system may end up shortchanging the students it is supposed to help.

“Superficially, it seems like it is going to offer a wider menu for parents to choose from, but it ends up excluding the students who are most in need of support,” said Lerma.

“These charters don’t say we’ll work with you – we’ll help figure what your children need. They’re saying they don’t offer these services,” he said.

“Public money is supposed to serve the public,” continued Lerma. “That means taxpayers. But if you’re using tax money to create little enclaves, you’re defeating the purpose of public education.”

Dan Siegel, former school board member and a former general counsel for the district, criticized the superintendent and school board for promoting charter schools.

“It’s completely outrageous that they are doing this,” he said. “They are promoting the destruction of the public school system in the City of Oakland, and they are promoting a system of education that discriminates against English language learners—who are a big portion of children in the district, and students with special needs—who are disproportionately low-income African American students.”

While discriminatory policies of charters and the district promotion might violate the law, there are few or no cases where these practices have been challenged in court – so far, he said.

Under the state education code “admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations (of charter schools) shall not charge tuition, and shall not discriminate against any pupil.”

Ismael Armendariz, an OUSD special education teacher and a member of the teachers’ union executive board, says he was upset by the implied message sent out by the district that many of the charter schools will not accept special education students.

“This (catalog) is going out to thousands of parents and children. If I were a parent and looking at that message, I wouldn’t apply to that school. I’d skip it. It’s going to discourage them.”

He said that he had a student this year, a good student who works hard, who came from a charter school and had been encouraged to leave because the school said it did not have the resources to help him.

“I come from a community and family who weren’t not always given the best support. It’s really hurtful to me when my students don’t have access to all the opportunities other students have.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 12, 2015 (

Oakland City Councilmembers Reluctant to Call Housing State of Emergency


Housing protest in Oakland

By Ken Epstein

The City of Alameda has been in the spotlight in the past few weeks after it declared a housing crisis state of emergency, which includes a temporary freeze on rent increases and blocks evictions.

But the Oakland City Council appears to be unwilling to follow the path that Alameda is treading.

The Oakland Post sent questions to the mayor and all eight city council members this week, asking if they would support declaring a housing state of emergency.foreclosure action 3  8 12 003.preview

Most of the councilmembers did not reply to the questions. Those who did reply did not speak in favor of calling a housing state of emergency in Oakland.

The Post also asked the officials if they were willing to take other immediate actions to slow down the displacement tidal wave, including: backing a housing development impact fee, which would be used to exclusively support affordable housing; strengthening rent control so it would have teeth to protect tenants from huge rent increases; and imposing relocation or other fees on landlords who evict tenants.

Councilmember Dan Kalb and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan responded to the questions.

Council members who did not respond were Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks, Anne Campbell Washington, Larry Reid, Noel Gallo and Abel Guillen.

Councilmember Kalb said:

“I strongly support efforts to make sure the City Council prioritizes the construction of lower- and moderate- income housing, including housing for families.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

Protest for housing in Boston, as gentrification sweeps through cities across the country.

“I’m certainly fine with additional market rate housing as well, but I want to put an emphasis on the lower and moderate income portions of the spectrum. We need some type of inclusionary housing requirement for ownership housing, and I intend to put forward legislation on this.

“I am proud to have been the author of the landmark ordinance that helps protect tenants from harassment, including prohibiting attempts to influence a tenant to vacate via intimidation or coercion. We need to make sure that this law is fully implemented and enforced.

“I support instituting a requirement that requires landlords to submit applications for any rental increase beyond the annual cost-of-living increase that is already allowed.

Kalb supports development impact fee to fund affordable housing.

“Another ordinance that I have been working is condominium conversion legislation that will better protect renters from displacement.”

Vice Mayor Kaplan said:

” We must do more than just admit that we have a housing problem, we must also take action to solve it.  That is why I have been working hard to pass real actions to stop the wave of displacement and protect and expand affordable housing.

“This includes recently winning funding for enforcement of tenant’s rights laws, so we don’t have so many people being displaced.  Thanks to the efforts of Councilmember Brooks and myself, along with a grassroots coalition, we were able to get this funding passed despite resistance.

“Now I am continuing to work for stronger relocation assistance laws, improving the rent board, an affordable housing impact fee and other strategies.  My proposals to expand relocation assistance will be coming to the City Council in the coming month.”

Mayor Schaaf’s office said:

The City Council has voted in favor of Mayor Schaaf and Councilmember Abel Guillen’s proposal to declare a shelter crisis.  The measure will provide more housing for the homeless population.

“On the question of strengthening rent control, the mayor’s office said, “Property ownership and management encompasses many financial responsibilities which need to be factored and balanced in order to respond thoughtfully to this question.

There have been good discussions at the Housing Cabinet about various revisions and amendments to the City’s renter protection and rent adjustment regulations.  These are being considered by the Housing Cabinet and will be presented to the City Council early next year.”

Her office said the mayor supports impact fees for creating affordable housing and other infrastructure improvement.

On the issue of charging landlords fees for tenant evictions, her office said, “There are various proposals, which “are scheduled for discussion some time early next year.”

Also being discussed, the mayor’s office said, are an increase in the renter assistance program fee and potential eviction/relocation fees and Ellis Act fees.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 13, 2015 (


Community Protesters: Amid Housing Crisis, Why is Council Funding More Police?

Community member's protested at last Tuesday's City Council to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland's housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Community members protested at last Tuesday’s City Council  meeting against the council members decision to spend money on more police instead of dealing with Oakland’s housing crisis. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday evening to accept a controversial $1.875 million federal grant from the US Department of Justice that would pay 18 percent of the cost of hiring 15 additional Oakland police officers over three years.

The grant requires the city to “match” the federal funds by spending an additional $10.25 million from its general funds in order to receive the $1.875 million.

According to a city report, most of the city money will be appropriated from future budgetary cycles, taking $6.5 million from the 2017-2019 budget.

Speaking at the council meeting, Oakland Police Deputy Chief David Downing said that receiving the grant is a cheaper way of increasing staff to better do community policing.

“Nothing is better than having a walking officer on the street with direct contact with the community each and every day,” he said.

City councilmembers in support of the resolution cited increased crime and robberies in Oakland as reasons they were voting to fund hiring the 15 new officers.

But dozens of community members and housing rights activists filled City Hall to speak out against the resolution, claiming that the Oakland Police Department is already overfunded—receiving nearly half the city’s budget—and that the extra spending flies in the face of Oakland’s housing and displacement crisis.

“Police do not stop the cause of crime,” said one Oakland resident at the council meeting. “Increase people’s dignity, their sense of self-worth, their ability to attend schools, have a warm meal with their families. Good housing is a deterrent to crime.”

Other community members referred to how under-resourced and under-funded the city’s Rent Adjustment program and other anti-eviction services are, making them barely enforceable.

“We can’t spend millions of dollars on 15 officers when 1,000 residents are being displaced per month,” said Ramiro Montoya, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations.

“I experience crime in my neighborhood daily and understand that more cops in the street is not the solution. We need more services for people to improve their lives,” said Montoya.

Desley Brooks was the only councilmember to vote against the resolution, questioning why the council was not as proactive about funding housing solutions amid a housing crisis.

“We keep talking about a housing crisis and the city puts no money towards actually addressing it,” said Brooks.

“And who pays $10 million to get $1.8 million? That’s just bad math,” she said.

“Here’s proof that there’s money and, if there’s truly a housing crisis, we’re choosing not to fund it,” said Brooks. “The council isn’t being honest if they’re saying that they are concerned about a housing crisis.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was also skeptical about the city’s willingness to spend millions on hiring new police after being told for months that there was not enough funding for enforcement of tenants’ rights laws and having to scrape to fund the Housing Equity Roadmap earlier this year.

Kaplan noted that the resolution was really a budgetary adoption as opposed to a grant match.

“It feels procedurally weird to me that $10 million is to be adopted entirely outside the budgetary process,” said Kaplan. She ultimately abstained from the vote.

After the public comments section of the agenda item, attendees dropped red painted dollars of “blood money” from the balconies in protest of the resolution.

“The health of a city is about public safety. and that relies on services and people’s access to decent affordable housing, access to income and to food,” said Robbie Clark of Causa Justa: Just Cause.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 12, 2015 (



Anger Grows in Wake of Police Killing of Mario Woods

Video reveals six officers shot man with knife up against the wall

Demonstrators hold signs demanding Justice for Woods and Chief Suhr's ouster outside of a crowded police commission hearing inside city hall Wednesday. Photo courtesy of AP.

Demonstrators hold signs demanding Justice for Woods and Chief Suhr’s ouster outside of a crowded police commission hearing inside city hall Wednesday. Photo courtesy of AP.

By Tulio Ospina

Hundreds of protestors crowded into a San Francisco police commission meeting at City Hall Wednesday night, demanding the firing of SF police Chief Greg Suhr and calling for officers involved in the shooting death of Mario Woods to be charged with murder.

Woods, a 26-year-old Black man, was killed by police last Wednesday in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point, a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Multiple videos captured by bystanders show Woods, a stabbing suspect, cornered against the wall of a building holding what police say is a knife and surrounded by six officers, who all have their guns drawn and pointed at him.

As Woods attempted to walk away from the group of officers, one moved to block his path and the officers fired their weapons at close range while he was still leaning against the wall, ultimately killing him at the scene.

The officers fired at least 15 times. Several bystanders say Woods was experiencing a mental breakdown.

Since his death, Bayview residents and activists from around the Bay Area have held various actions, protesting the officers’ failure to de-escalate the situation, racist policing in a city whose Black population has dwindled to three percent and Chief Suhr’s apparent lack of truthfulness in his defense of the shooting.

The day after the shooting, hundreds of community members attended a candlelight vigil at the site where Woods was killed and held a protest on the streets with specific demands.

The demands include firing all officers who discharged their weapons and charging them with murder, that San Francisco pay for a federal and independent investigation into Woods’ death and the firing of Chief Suhr “for failure to effectively do his job.”

After watching the shooting video, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee released a statement saying what he saw was “very upsetting” and “raised a number of questions,” pushing for the police department to implement more training.

Meanwhile, Chief Suhr is claiming that had the officers been equipped with Tasers, they would not have shot Woods to death while he was wielding a knife.

On Friday, residents packed a town hall meeting hosted by SFPD where they heard Suhr justify Woods’ death, saying the officer feared for his life and for the safety of bystanders when he fired his gun.

Residents responded to Suhr’s explanation with jeers of disbelief.

“(Attorney General) Kamala Harris is going to have to step in and oversee this investigation because these people (the police department) will not investigate themselves,” said Minister Christopher Muhammad at the town hall meeting.

“These officers shouldn’t get paid vacation. That’s the quickest way to get a vacation is to shoot a brother. These officers must be charged with murder,” said Muhammad.

Monday night, the San Francisco NAACP also held a crowded meeting at Third Baptist Church to address the latest officer-involved shooting in San Francisco where many compared the shooting to a firing squad execution.

At City Hall on Wednesday, community members say they were barred from entering the main chambers and forced to wait outside the room where they chanted loud enough to be heard inside the meeting.

Since the shooting video’s release, several activist organizations have come out against Woods’ death and police response to their actions.

An open letter from several immigrant rights groups, including Causa Justa: Just Cause, Centro Legal de la Raza, Asian Law Caucus and National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said, “We are outraged by the killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods in the Bayview District last week.”

“Further, we are profoundly troubled by the apparent lack of transparency and truthfulness in police accounts to date of the shooting,” said the letter.

The letter mentions an analysis of the shooting video done by KQED, which contradicts claims by Chief Suhr that officers opened fire only after Woods made a threatening movement towards the officer with his arm.

A joint statement endorsed by the Black Student Union at the University of San Francisco (USF), La Raza Law Students Association and the Black Law Student Association at USF also called the killing of Mario Woods “unlawful.”

This use of unnecessary lethal force, and subsequent denial of fault by the San Francisco Police Department, epitomizes the failure of American policing that has become the spotlight of protest in communities around the country,” said the statement.

The office of civil rights attorney John Burris, which represented the family Oscar Grant’s family, will be representing the family of Mario Woods.

The officer-involved shooting has gained national media attention, with prominent New York Daily News reporter and activist Shaun King writing a sobering article about Woods’ killing.

“Robert Lewis Dear, the Planned Parenthood shooter (who is white), was arrested without even being punched,” writes King. “He allegedly shot five officers, killed one, killed a young mother and killed an Iraq war veteran. Police, though, found a way to take him into custody alive.”

“While many white mass murderers, like (Charleston shooter) Dylann Roof and Robert Lewis Dear, are taken alive by police, Mario Woods was shot down by cops who appeared to just want the situation to be over with,” he writes.

John Burris has created a website on the shooting death of Mario Woods which is at viewed at

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 11, 2015 (

In Face of Community Pressure, D.A. Drops Case Against Black Friday 14


Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley finally dropped criminal charges against the Black Friday 14 after a year of public pressure and several mass demonstrations.

The Black Lives Matter protestors had chained themselves to a BART train at the West Oakland station on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, last year to “draw attention to the war on Black lives in the Bay Area,” according to a statement released at the time by the group.

Instead of going through with the convictions, both parties agreed to a “restorative justice process” in which the activists acknowledged the impact of their actions to public transportation.

“We acknowledge that the BART protest on Friday Nov. 28, 2014 conveyed an important message,” said the statement that the 14 protesters agreed to sign. “The method in which it was carried out impacted the Bay Area and was a violation of the statue governing the safe and efficient operation of public transportation.”

The settlement was mediated by civil rights attorney Eva Paterson, president of Equal Justice Society, who had pushed hard for DA O’Malley to drop the charges and started a petition that was widely circulated.

Many observers were shocked that O’Malley refused to end seeking criminal convictions even after the BART board had decided not to press charges against the protestors.

As a result of her inaction, labor unions representing thousands of union workers across the Bay Area pulled their support for O’Malley, and the Alameda Labor Council decided against giving the district attorney an award she was supposed to receive.

The Pastors of Oakland also called for the charges to be dropped.

A number of demonstrations in the last few months have demanded that the district attorney drop the charges.

In November alone, there were three large protests leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Black Friday action. Union leaders occupied O’Malley’s office during a Fight for 15 minimum wage protest.

Cultural activist organizations building an altar for slain Blacks and 14 interfaith leaders were arrested after holding a sit-in at the Oakland courthouse.

“Our criminal case is over, but the war on Black lives remains,” Black Lives Matter’s Bay Area chapter said in a press release.

“On the shoulders of our ancestors and with support of Asians for Black Lives, Bay Area Solidarity Action Team, and broad coalition of legal, faith, labor, and social justice allies — we will keep fighting for all Black lives.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 10, 2015 (

Berkeley NAACP Calls on BUSD to Investigate Discrimination Against Employees, Students

Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School

By Ken Epstein

Manour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP, met recently with Berkeley Unified School District Supt. Donald Evans to discuss allegations that the district is failing to address complaints of discrimination against Black students, teachers and non-teaching staff in the district.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

The NAACP also wants the district to assign a qualified instructor to teach African American Studies classes at Berkeley High School.

Id-Deen met with Supt. Evans on Nov. 18, where the NAACP president discussed 17 issues, focusing on four that he said call for immediate action.

Following the meeting, Id-Deen sent a letter to the superintendent, dated Nov. 20, saying the district should hire an outside agency, Mason Tillman, to “investigate allegations of age discrimination, racial discrimination, disproportionality in discipline, hiring and promotional practices.”

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The letter asked BUSD to investigate allegations of improper designation of Black students in special education and disproportional suspension of Black students.

Also of immediate concern is the failure to hire a credentialed instructor to teach courses in Berkeley High’s African American Studies Department.

Courses in the department have not had a credentialed instructor since the beginning of the school year. To resolve the issue, the NAACP says the district should hire retired BUSD history teacher Valerie Trahan.

Another immediate concern is the district’s Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review (BPAR) program, which is used to evaluate poorly rated teachers and can result in dismissal.

Id-Deen called the BPAR program ¨discriminatory and draconian.”

“The NAACP believes an immediate suspension of the program is in order,” he said in the letter.

Finally, the NAACP connects the district’s administrative failures to the Board of Education.

“The checks and balances of the system appear to not provide acute transparency or consistency in the execution of Board Policy and the (Education) Code…. It’s incumbent on the board to create staff policies to ensure that its policies are adhered to.”

Id-Deen told Supt. Evans that said his organization is committed to working to resolve these issues.

“The Berkeley BAACP is willing to meet with you to discuss remedies to the many pressing issues affecting the Berkeley Unified School,” Id-Deen said. “Immediate action is required.”

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

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (


Community Objects to Privately Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Aimee Eng, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Nina Senn

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Nina Senn, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Aimee Eng. Photo by Ken Epstein


By Ken A. Epstein

Members of the Board of Education and community activists are raising concerns about how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Antwan Wilson is funding the overhaul of the school enrollment process.

The process is being paid for and staffed by outside agencies that have a direct stake in the adoption of the proposal to make a choice of charters schools an equal part of the publically funded school enrollment system.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, the $300,000 utilized to develop the “common enrollment proposal and conduct public outreach was donated by an organization called Educate78 – set up in Oakland by pro-charter organization New Schools Venture Fund.”

“We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives,” according to a posting on the New Schools Venture Fund Website.

The Venture Fund is a nonprofit that started out channeling philanthropic donations to charter schools and “now invests in a range of education groups and businesses …entering into a partnership with a new venture capital fund that could result in millions more in financing,” according to an article in the New York Times.

In an interview with the Post, Flint said the funders were unlikely to contribute more money to the project if the board decided to move ahead on reforming the enrollment process without including charter schools in the mix.

Flint also told community members that the Oakland Public Education Fund, which is connected to OUSD, would be unlikely to raise $1.2 million to institute enrollment reform, if this proposal is not approved by the board.

“The $1.2 million … would only be raised if common enrollment is approved,” Flint wrote in a Dec. 2 email.

According to Flint, Educate78, not OUSD, has hired senior staff from Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice (IIPSC) to work on the proposal. IIPSC developed Common Enrollment in

New York, New Orleans, Denver and other cities.

Under the Common Enrollment plan, parents can submit six choices from among charter and district schools, and a “computer algorithm” will assign them to one of the six schools.

The OUSD administration says the plan, which it named ¨Better Enrollment Oakland,” will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a bureaucratic process that currently requires parents seeking admission to charter schools to apply to each school separately, along with applying to OUSD.

School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales, speaking at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asked staff to prepare a report on the potential impact of Common Enrollment, whether the loss of students to charter schools in other cities has led to declining resources for public schools, school closings and the layoffs of school employees.

She objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”

Gonzales said it is wrong to rely on private funds from groups that say they are going to withdraw their support if the board does not vote for their proposal.

Boardmember Roseann Torres spoke Monday at a community meeting, saying the district needed to reform its enrollment system but opposed promoting charter schools charters.

“Doing this together (with charters) is completely nonsensical,” Torres said. “Why should I advertise for the other guy?”

Dan Siegel, a former member of the school board and former OUSD general counsel, said he was shocked by the administration’s complicity with charter organizations.

“I am astounded by the openness of the administration’s attitude on this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for the school district not to interfere with the development of charters schools. It’s another thing altogether when you have the administrators of the public school system supporting the destruction of that very system.”

Siegel said the board should find the courage to tell Supt. Wilson that “this is a bad proposal and something we don’t want to do.”

The rhetoric of the pro-charter groups like New Schools Venture Fund does little to calm community concerns.

“The time is right to focus on Oakland,” the Venture Fund says on its website. “The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students.”

The fund says its partners include Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and Lighthouse Community Charter School. Its supporters include the Rogers Family Foundation.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the common enrollment proposal in January.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 6, 2015 (

Environmental Groups Withdraw Lawsuit, Give City Opportunity to Stop Coal


By Tulio Ospina

Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice have withdrawn their lawsuit against the City of Oakland and a group of developers led by Phil Tagami’s CCIG for failing to conduct an environmental review of the possible impacts that exporting coal through Oakland’s former Army Base would have on adjacent communities.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, had filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action because the original CEQA review of the new Army Base development, performed over a decade ago, did not include an analysis of the impact of the transport of coal.

Shortly after submitting the CEQA challenge to Alameda County Superior Court, however, the City of Oakland filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the city had not yet taken any action or claimed any position on the coal deal that could be legally challenged.

According to Irene Gutierrez, an attorney at Earthjustice’s California regional office, new information revealed in the city’s motion to dismiss has clarified the city officials’ position on the coal to the petitioners.

This prompted the environmental groups to take a step back to allow the city to continue its own review.

“We drew the lawsuit without prejudice, which means we have the right to return to court at a later date if we so choose,” said Gutierrez. “We will be following closely what the city is doing and trust that it will keep communities’ interests at heart.”

Currently, city staff is performing its own review of the health and safety impacts that transporting coal through the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) would have on surrounding neighborhoods and the environment.

The result of this review will end in a final city council vote to determine what action the city will take to either prevent or regulate shipments of coal coming through Oakland.

The city also has the option of requesting an environmental review similar to the CEQA action, although it is unclear whether their environmental review would potentially halt the entire Oakland Army Base construction project, which would have been the result of Earthjustice’s CEQA challenge.

After reading the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, environmental groups learned that the $250 million terminal development’s $53 million in matching funds that would be coming from Utah, where the coal is mined, was pursued by CCIG “without city support, knowledge or involvement,” according to the papers filed by the city.

In exchange for the $53 million in funds, the developers had promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49 percent of the bulk terminal’s annual shipping capacity, potentially making Oakland the largest coal export city in California, according to Earthjustice’s press release.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the funding from Utah still needs to go through various levels of approval there and is being fought by a Utah chapter of the Sierra Club.

“What they’re trying to send over to Oakland is money slated for remediation and mitigation of the effects of the coal mining industry in Utah,” said Gutierrez. “It’s supposed to stay in Utah to help communities effected by mining and is not meant to come here.”

The city also made clear that it is still evaluating actions it may take to regulate the export of coal, such as requiring additional permits, passing new legislation that would apply to the project or requiring an environmental review.

“Up until September, city councilmembers and the city itself didn’t seem to be making firm statements about things like funding, coal or future discretionary permits,” said Gutierrez.

“Now that there is no more pending litigation, we are hoping for there to be more open communication with councilmembers, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about what precisely is on city council’s mind,” she said.

Before setting off for Paris to attend the global warming climate conference, Mayor Libby Schaaf doubled down on her position against exporting coal through Oakland, reiterating the city’s ability to declare coal a health and safety hazard in order to set regulations.

Originally, city councilmembers had chosen Dec. 8 as the deadline to make a final decision, but that date has been pushed back to February of next year in order to give city staff take more time to evaluate the alternatives.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (