Friday, May 31, 2013

The Amazing Shrinking Mayor Emerges Just In Time For Re-Election

SAN LEANDRO | Now you see him, now you don’t. San Leandro’s rotund Mayor Stephen Cassidy is looking noticeably svelte in just the past few weeks. Is the puffy, pink-faced mayor on a crash diet or has he gone the route of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and undergone a procedure to shed the pounds just in time for the beginning of his re-election campaign next year?

Cassidy, right, Thursday with
State Sen. Ellen Corbett.
In the graphic above, Cassidy’s transformation is noticeable. The photo on the left was taken last Mar. 28 at a special council meeting discussing the possibility of medical cannabis dispensaries in San Leandro. The photo on right, however, was taken yesterday, just over two months later, at the grand opening of the Zero Net Energy Center.

Cassidy’s typically pink hue is gone and his face and chin are clearly thinner than any time since he came on the political scene over four years ago. He also doesn’t fill out his suit like he once did.

The change in physique is not only thing apparent about Cassidy. He could also be signing like Patti LaBelle and her famous weight loss anthem, "Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooo I've Got A New Attitude!"

During the past few City Council meetings, the normally arrogant Cassidy known throughout the East Bay for his consistent attacks on public employees and rude exchanges with fellow council members, has become something of a sweetheart in both the tenor of his voice and demeanor.

In fact, during Thursday’s event featuring Gov. Jerry Brown, one speaker praised the energy neutral building and lauded the state’s progressive politics and labor movement. The large crowd applauded the sentiments behind the remark, but Cassidy sat noticeably still for a moment before mustering just two begrudging claps in support of labor.

Cassidy sits in a dunk tank in 2010.
A similar, but far less dramatic transformation occurred during Cassidy’s 2010 run for mayor. Normally nattily-dressed with a wild and curly poof of hair on his balding head, it became clear to Cassidy’s campaign team, this version of the candidate would not strike an attractive pose to voters. In short time, Cassidy rolled to the upset ranked-choice victory over Tony Santos always in suit and tie and short, clipped hair.

Cassidy wouldn’t be the only “Biggest Loser” in the East Bay, though. Alameda Councilwoman Lena Tam has also undergone as dramatic physical change of late. However, not in such a short period of time as Cassidy.

If anything, Cassidy’s extreme weight loss can, at least, be view as good leadership. San Leandro wasn’t named the fattest city in Alameda County for nothing.

Warriors Waterfront Arena Bill Picks Up A Clutch Win In The Assembly

Rendering of the proposed arena at
Piers 28-30 in San Francisco.
ASSEMBLY//WARRIORS | An legislative end-run that could hasten the approval of a waterfront arena in San Francisco for the Golden State Warriors easily passed the Assembly Thursday.

San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting’s bill would allow the Legislature to determine whether the proposed 17,500-seat arena in the shadow of the Bay Bridge qualifies as a use consistent with the state Tidelands and Submerged Lands Act.

Critics of the plan say the arena is inconsistent with the public trust doctrine that limits the use of waterfront properties to maritime purposes. AB 1273, if it becomes law, allows the San Francisco Port Commission to approve the development on public trust lands, as opposed, to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

The Assembly approved the bill Thursday, 59-10. The entire East Bay delegation vehemently opposed the measure as did San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

East Bay Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta and Bob Wieckowski argued the waterfront arena at Piers 28-30 comes at the detriment of jobs and its struggling local economy.

“The net result of our approving this is basically that we have paved the way for a facility in San Francisco that would, in effect, negate a facility in the East Bay,” Skinner said Thursday on the Assembly floor.

“The owners of teams have the right to be located where they want to be located, but certainly each of our geographic areas should not be disadvantaged economically by legislative action that prefers one region over another and that’s the net result of this bill.”

Ammiano, a former San Francisco supervisor who labeled himself part of the “loyal opposition,” said “I don’t really think this is fully baked yet.

“It’s not that we don’t want the Warriors and we certainly want the jobs and we want the jobs in the waterfront, but it is the location and the environmental concerns and the tremendous transportation problems that would be got by rushing this bill.”

Wieckowski also said the arena legislation was premature, while Bonta, whose district includes the Coliseum complex, said the bill would impact the economic vitality of the East Bay.

Wieckowski’s Bill Adding Accountability To Non-Profit Charity Care Falls Short

ASSEMBLY//HEALTH CARE | An Assembly bill steeped in the long-running fight to save one East Bay hospital failed passage Friday morning after several attempts. The bill authored by Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta would have standardized the reporting of charity care dollars by the state’s non-profit hospital providers.

The Legislature’s lower house voted down the bill, 36-26, on Thursday after three unsuccessful votes. It was also allowed reconsideration, but Wieckowski requested Friday morning to move the bill to the Assembly's inactive file. The entire East Bay delegation voted in favor of the bill.

AB 975 was inspired by a 2012 legislative audit that found no discernible standard for non-profit hospitals reporting the amount of charity care they provide the community. In exchange for highly-beneficial non-profit tax status for hospital providers, they must offer charity care to the uninsured and indigent. However, there are no rules over how much or how little they must give.

Although Wieckowski’s bill was gutted in committee to remove any teeth for penalizing hospitals if their levels of care is found to be deficient, on Thursday, he was critical of the hospital lobby and whispers among the opposing assembly members the proposed law would revoke provider’s non-profit status.

“What this bill does is provide guidance for standardizing the reporting of care that is provided without expectation of reimbursement,” Wieckowski said Thursday on the Assembly floor. Some Republican assembly members contend existing law already hold hospitals to reporting standards.

“That’s not what the auditor’s report said,” added Bonta, whose district includes San Leandro Hospital. “That’s not helpful. That’s fear-mongering. This [bill] does not do that. This is simply a reporting mechanism that requires hospital to report what their charity care is.”

In fact, a report released last year, which was requested by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan found a glaring lack of accountability and transparency over the precise amount of charity care hospitals provide the community. The auditor’s report slammed some providers for including promotional materials in their accounting of community benefits.

To make this point, Wieckowski displayed a beige canvas shopping bag offered by a health care provider in his south county district at a local farmers’ market. “This is a very nice bag, indeed,” he said, “but it does not improve the health of my community, or I guess the question is, does it? I don’t know?”

The report was also seen as an avenue to attain leverage over Sutter Health with a veiled threat by Corbett and Chan to question its non-profit status. Although the audit focused on the issue state-wide, three of the four hospitals reviewed in the report were operated by Sutter Health.

In Alameda County, Hayward’s St. Rose Hospital is impacted greatly by some of the largest influxes of charity care patients in the region. While St. Rose’s economic health is somewhat stable after years of staggering losses, Assemblyman Bill Quirk said not all providers in his district are as charitable.

“In my district two of those non-profits take all-comers, do all the charity care and are a damn close to going out of business," said Quirk. "We have three non-profits doing very well and not doing their share. This is a bill to find out who is doing their share.”

Republicans, however, maintained Wieckowski’s bill would decrease care for the poor in the state and posed an opportunity for labor unions to undermine their health care employers.

Assemblyman Allen Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) called the bill a “power grab” by the nurses union and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) was perturbed by a claim certain members, without backgrounds in health care, were pushing the bill with ulterior motives. Conway did not elaborate, but was so upset that she abruptly finished her remarks while hastily brushing away her mic.

“We didn’t just make this up,” said Wieckowski before the bill’s ultimate demise. “We didn’t just decide to go after all the non-profits to try to make them look bad. We’re not allowing accountants to make up figures that look good.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brown Calls San Leandro Energy Neutral Building A Key To State's Future

Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday in San Leandro.
ENVIRONMENT | Gov. Jerry Brown, in San Leandro Thursday afternoon for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Zero Net Energy Center, said the first of its kind building is the wave of the future.

The commercial building’s design relies on renewables to produce only as much energy as it can consume. While other energy neutral buildings exist in the nation, the San Leandro site is the first to be retrofitted from an existing structure.

“We need thousands of these buildings,” Brown said at the event near San Leandro’s Marina Faire neighborhood. Brown said the building which will combines wind and solar, among other energy efficient techniques, to lower the building’s consumption of electricity by 75 percent represents a nexus where environmental policy dovetails with opportunities for well-paying jobs. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 and NorCal NECA use the facility as a training center for workers.

“This is really big,” said Brown of the center and its possibilities across the state, “It will create million jobs. This is where we got to go.”

Brown was also philosophical about global warming and the meaning of life. “We have a senator in Oklahoma that says [global warming is] a big hoax. Global warming is happening,” he said. “It’s measured, scientific. No doubt about it.”

Rep. Barbara Lee speaking at the Zero
Net Energy Center in San Leandro.
At times Brown skewered this generation for relying on 140-character messages on Twitter, although he admitted using the service himself (“I Twitter,” he said), Brown asked what happens when after all the “fun things” have passed? “After all the fun,” Brown said, “What is the task?”

The site of the Zero Net Energy Center at 14600 Catalina Street is in some ways the epicenter of a long-running battle between Heaven and saving Earth. Seven years ago, the ever-expanding Faith Fellowship Church, a San Leandro Christian mega church, attempted to purchase the building from its former tenant. The city however, blocked the deal citing a zoning code prohibiting use of the industrial park property for religious assembly. Church leaders sued the city, which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear. The city settled the lawsuit last year, at a cost of $2.3 million.

Rep. Barbara Lee, Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy also addressed the heavily-attended afternoon event. The opening of the Zero Net Energy Center is part of a city-wide strategy in San Leandro to transform the former factory town into a regional hub of green tech firms. It already boasts a well-reported public-private partnership that brought a high-speed fiber-optic loop to its downtown.

'This Is It' Says County Official Asking Healthcare District For $20M Subsidy To Save San Leandro Hospital

SAVE SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL | Asking for a $1,000 loan from skeptical parents is one thing, urging a struggling health care district to pony up $20 million to save a hospital’s emergency room is another.

Sitting astride a lone office chair before the Eden Township Healthcare District Wednesday evening, the Director of Alameda County Healthcare Services Alex Briscoe did just that as time ticks away for various public entities to hash out a deal with Sutter Health allowing for transfer of San Leandro Hospital to Alameda Health System by a hard July 1 deadline. The deal reported two weeks ago, also includes a $22 million subsidy from Sutter Health to operate the hospital for one year.

Briscoe addressed the District’s skeptical Board of Directors urging them to contribute their own one-year, $20 million subsidy he and other county officials say will allow San Leandro Hospital’s emergency room to remain open, at least, another three years.

After years of legal wrangling and acrimony between the District and Sutter Health some of its board directors remain leery of returning to the bargaining table after so many false starts and breaches of trust among the groups now urging for a positive resolution to the hospital controversy.

District Board Director Lester Friedman was the most skeptical of the plan brought forth by Briscoe. In recent months, the District has grappled with a growing identity crisis following a court judgment that forced it to transfer title of the hospital to Sutter Health last year leaving the health care district without a facility to oversee. The District also provides millions in health-related subsidies to local non-profits. The struggling St. Rose Hospital in Hayward also rest within its jurisdiction. In one exchange Wednesday, Friedman said the proposal to contribute such a large expenditure would hinder its aid to both needy groups. “It would be over,” Friedman said of the District’s future.

“This is it. This is the moment to cut the deal,” said Briscoe adding, “I’m not sure they are there yet.”

The attorney for the District noted the request for subsidy from officials is far bigger than any other proposed deal over the past three years. “It’s a big, huge jump from where we were 6-8 months ago,” said Colin Coffey, the District’s attorney. Previous requests entailed a subsidy between $6-9 million annually to operate the hospital to a more amendable plan just six months ago calling for a 3-year, $3 million subsidy. Alameda County and the city of San Leandro also agreed to similar subsidy plans.

Briscoe, however, reiterated his concern the deal offered by Sutter is the best and last proposal remaining for the county and the community surrounding the hospital. “If this deal is not cut, we will be getting a closure notice,” Briscoe assured the board. “I truly believe that letter is written.”

When pressed by the board directors, Briscoe said the District is not part of the potential hospital deal and if they decline to contribute the $20 million subsidy, it could still be conceivably approved by Sutter Health and Alameda Health Systems. However, it also puts the likelihood of keeping open the emergency room in doubt. Alameda Health Systems also proposes using San Leandro Hospital as an acute rehabilitation center to replace the seismically-deficient Fairmont Hospital.

Later, while the District board was in closed session, Briscoe said of the deal, “This is it. This is the moment to cut the deal,” he said, but added, “I’m not sure they are there yet.”

Aside from Friedman, the other board directors were relatively silent (Board Director Dr. Vin Sawhney was absent). Board Chair Carole Rogers, however, queried Briscoe over the possibility of various stipulations, including the District offering the money contingent on need. Briscoe said he could not negotiate on behalf of Alameda Health Systems, formerly named the Alameda County Medical Center, but added after viewing Sutter's financials, he believes the contention it lost $24 million over the past 2 years at San Leandro Hospital is “inflated.”

Just how the District could fund such a large, one-time subsidy is not clear. Briscoe offered three suggestions, including the liquidation of assets, sloughing off revenues from its real estate holdings or issuing additional debt. The first two appear untenable, said Briscoe. Selling off more than half of the District’s assets would trigger a state law placing the issue before voters. Ironically, this same issue was raised by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett in the past against Sutter Health as a threat to block the transfer of the hospital. Briscoe said using future revenue streams from the District’s holdings is insufficient, but issuing debt on its three real estate properties would suffice.

Although the District’s three properties became financial albatrosses during the Great Recession, there is reason to believe the real estate market is improving. The Dublin Gateway Medical Center, according to the District, is its biggest asset worth $51.5 million. The San Leandro Medical Arts Building, located near San Leandro Hospital, is worth $5.5 million and its brand new medical office building in Castro Valley is a $6.5 million asset.

During a District meeting earlier this month, its CEO Dev Mahadevan noted the appraised value of the properties is on the uptick as are the number tenants signing leases at its medical offices. However, the District has borrowed against its assets in the past. Dublin Gateway has a loan value of $35 million, according to Mahadevan, while the Castro Valley medical office building is $45 million.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goldman Sachs Debarment Heads Back To Oakland Council, But Not Without Added Confusion

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | A draft ordinance that could lead to the debarment of Goldman Sachs from bidding on city contracts is heading back to the City Council with amendments, but not before another round of confusion fostered by the city attorney’s office.

In the past month, the issue of debarment has bounced back-and-forth between committee hearings and the full council to the consternation of some council members who say it already gave clear signals for debarment to the city administrator’s office last year when it approved to begin the process that could ultimately lead to the prohibition of Goldman Sachs from doing business with the city.

However, some members of the Council’s Finance and Management Committee Tuesday morning were surprised to find a last-minute opinion furnished by the city attorney’s office featuring a recommendation against Councilmember Desley Brooks’ amendments. The arrival of the hard copy received just 10 minutes before the start of the 9:30 a.m. meeting, said Councilmember Libby Schaaf, was met with contempt.

“Literally, it was 10 minutes ago that I learned that you issued a opinion that you think we shouldn’t adopt this,” said Schaaf, in comments to an assistant city attorney. Schaaf added she was prepared to approve the item. “It is extremely disappointing after we granted you a two-week extension to prepare this memo and to put something that is this dramatic and changes a recommendation and essentially to give us 30 minutes warning.”

Brooks also reserved critical comments for the late opinion, recounting an email of the opinion she received after 6 p.m. last Friday and just before the extended Memorial Day weekend. Brooks said the city attorney's opinion is “overly fixated” on her amendments. Most of the edits made to Brooks’ amendments asserting greater control for the council in the debarment process were reverted back under the administrator’s purview, according to Brooks. Instead, she said her aim was merely to "re-insert" the council into the decision-making process, not to cut anyone out.

The debarment issue, however, is quickly becoming a proxy war between the City Council and City Administrator Deanna Santana. The growing power struggle was noted Tuesday by Schaaf. “This issue of what are the appropriate lanes for the council and the administration to be in is an issue that has been cropping up again and again and so maybe at some point we need to have a more robust discussion of that in general because the council is the policy-making body. When we change the law, that changes the law the administrator must enforce,” Schaaf said.

Council President Pat Kernighan urged for an equitable sharing of authority between the council and administrator in the debarment process, but again commented on the prudence of debarment against Goldman Sachs or any other local business. She fears the ordinance could be used by determined council members against businesses or corporations they do not like.

Paul Jung of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce echoed Kernighan’s statements. “There is no need to rush to do anything,” Jung said. “There will be countless other businesses trying to conduct business that might be subject to political whims that you should not decide before you’re piqued, angry at some delay in getting something done.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, however, said the proposed ordinance has safeguards and could not be used by council members to wage political vendettas since any debarment must be agendized and heard before the full council.

The controversial rate swap deal between Oakland and the Wall Street behemoth turned bad for the city, ultimately costing it millions annually. Although debarment will do nothing to make the city whole following the rate swap debacle exacerbated by the Great Recession, but some city officials say the move could have symbolic ramifications for how the city expects to be treated by financial institutions in the future.

Oakland Gun Bill Passes Assembly

ASSEMBLY | A gun control bill that would give local control for Oakland to enact stronger restrictions than the rest of the state passed the Assembly Tuesday.

The bill, authored by Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, aims to allow the Oakland City Council to fashion legislation that would curb rising gun violence within its borders. It now heads to the State Senate after winning passage by a 45-25 vote.

“This is a unique law relating to unique circumstances in Oakland,” said Bonta on the floor of the Assembly. Following over 4,000 shootings in Oakland, in addition to 131 homicides last year, Bonta says he is seeking to give Oakland city officials to option to tighten local gun laws. Through the end of this May, Oakland has already suffered nearly 40 homicides

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, one of the bill’s sponsors said the legislation only seeks to confer the same opportunity the Legislature recently gave Los Angeles and its own specific problems with gun violence. “This bill recognizes that one size does not fit all,” said Skinner.

Gun rights advocates, however, fear AB 180 is an attack on their right to bear arms that could spread to other municipalities.

Assembly Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia), one of the right’s strongest Second Amendment supporters and likely gubernatorial candidate next year, said the bill is “onerous” and a “really bad idea.”

“It is going to deny every citizen in Oakland the right of self-defense,” said Donnelly. “If this were about the polls every Democrat’s mic would be up. They would be opposing this saying, this is a poll tax.

“This is really a poll tax on your right to defend your own life.”

Donnelly added during his floor speech, cities with skyrocketing crime are also places with the strongest gun control. “Just because people live in a certain zip code, I do not believe we should pass a law to deny them a fundamental, God-giving, Constitutional right to defend their lives and their families and their businesses.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Both Sides Of The Bay, Politicians Shamelessly Kiss Up To The Warriors

SUNDAY COLUMN | When it comes to the Golden State Warriors these days all types of ass-kissing is permissible. The grand prize: an NBA team on the rise and which side of the Bay they will call home within the next five years or so. But, take into account the actions and public comments from both sides of the Bay since the Warriors from eliminated from the NBA playoffs (and let’s not forget the team was jettisoned in the second round of a playoff format that allows more than half the league to participate) local politicians are showing no shame, whatsoever.

The opening salvo may have occurred at San Francisco City Hall. Mayor Ed Lee raised a Warriors flag over City Hall and bathed the edifice in blue and gold lights. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, the one accused by his former chief of staff of misusing game tickets at the Coliseum complex for his own gain, did not like the display of affection and made  joking comments tinged with anger during a Board of Supervisors meeting this month. “If you don’t take it down,” Haggerty reportedly said to San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, “I’ll burn it down.”

San Francisco City Hall in blue and gold.
Not to be outdone, Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan tweeted photos of her office decorated in Warriors memorabilia, including one with her seat on the council dais featuring the team’s pennants. Kaplan is the council's biggest proponent of the Coliseum City plan.

On the legislative side, Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle, in forming the county’s opposition to San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting’s bill to circumvent the local purview for planning of the proposed waterfront arena at Piers 28-30, made sure to include phrasing stating unequivocally the Warriors belong in Alameda County. In an ironic twist, any possibility of a waterfront ballpark for the A’s near Jack London Square might entail side-stepping the same state Tidelands Act Ting is attempting to avoid in San Francisco.

Once the Warriors laid an egg against the San Antonio Spurs, the stack of proclamations piled up with sometimes hilariously out-of-touch mispronunciations of its star player's first name. Mayor Lee infamously called Stephen Curry (pronounced Steffen, or Steff for short) “Steve” while giving him the key to the city during a grand presentation in the City Hall rotunda lavishly decorated in team colors. The video was lampooned on the sports Web site Deadspin and nevermind the speech sounded like it was written by my grandmother, who knows as much about basketball or she does about basket-weaving. Another local official made the same mistake last week. While reading a proclamation from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Keith Carson called, paused, then called Curry “Steven.”

Most curious of all was comments last Tuesday by Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo, maybe not the biggest basketball fan, who praised the Warriors for their “championship performance.” Championship? The Warriors haven’t won a championship since 1975. To which old #24 Rick Barry jumped from his recliner and muttered, “Finally!”

This bureaucratic brown-nosing is somewhat of a new thing, at least, in Oakland and Alameda County. Over the years, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s administration has routinely traded barbs with Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff and you may recall 10 years ago, the city declined to honor the Super Bowl runner-up Raiders following their loss to Tampa Bay.

Things are different for Warriors even though Supervisor Haggerty once remarked to a question from a reporter about Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob by saying, “Fuck Lacob.” Yet, it was Haggerty who was once choked by former Raider Jeremy Brigham in the Tri Valley after Haggerty got too cute with his kid’s playbook angering the bulky tight end who put the supervisor in a neck brace.

So, although Haggerty may think he understands complex blocking schemes, in the end, doesn’t it seem odd that we entrust the most sports inept among us to make decisions over which franchises represent our cities and how much public money goes into funding their cathedrals of sport? And you wonder why Alameda County still owes $100 million in taxpayers’ money on the Coliseum, a stadium no team wants to call their home.

“This is a really important to me and this is my baby and I do intend to give birth to her in a grand fashion.”
-Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Oakland council member, May 21, describes her connection to the Oakland Army Base project located in her district.

The Week That Was
>>>Tuman’s tumble: Believe it or not, election season is already here. Joe Tuman, the San Francisco State political science professor who is a likely challenger to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan next year, put himself in an ethical bind this week. According to the Chronicle, Tuman gave his students an assignment, due Thursday, to in part formulate a campaign strategy for his mayoral run. The Fair Political Practices Commission, according to the article, said the act could be construed as a campaign contribution. Say it ain’t so, Joe?

Oakland Councilmember
Lynette Gibson McElhaney
>>>Oakland’s base reprieve: Oakland needs to clear the former Oakland Army Base of its tenants or risk losing $176 million in federal funding to redevelop the lucrative waterfront. This week, led by Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the few tenants remaining were given a bit more time to iron out new digs. Yet, time is of the essence before the Sept. 1 deadline. Budget talks were also featured this week with some council members showing a willingness to compensate public workers who have taken the brunt of budget cuts over the past five years. Then came news the state wants back $32 million in redevelopment funds it says the city finagled with shifty accounting practices. One step up, two steps back for Oaktown.

>>>On Point in Alameda: In nearby Alameda, the City Council entered what was called an “historic vote” Tuesday signing papers that will eventually lead to the development of Alameda Point, the former Navy installation offered to the island city for no cost. After nearly 20 years of stops and starts, the city will soon begin the search for developers and could begin construction as earlier as 2015. Good news, but for the cynical among us, let the shenanigans in Alameda commence!

>>>Education’s musical chairs: This is the time of the year when children end yet another school year. It’s no different for administrators. This week the president at the College of Alameda announced a move to the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, while San Lorenzo’s popular superintendent Dr. Dennis Byas announced his retirement. Berkeley Unified has a new superintendent in Dr. Donald Evans, who was approved this week. Evans leaves the downtrodden Hayward Unified after just 18 months at the helm. Applications for the interim job in Hayward are due Tuesday. San Leandro Unified is also poised to name a replacement for their superintendent who announced her retirement earlier this year.

Tweet of the Week
“no. i have to stop at the beer store. seriously.”
-@greenkozi, who tweeted May 21 in response to whether the witty and politically-engaged #oakmtg hashtag was ready for a full night of council coverage in the East Bay.

Best Reads
>>>Some may think the key to Ro Khanna’s run for Congress versus Rep. Mike Honda is Silicon Valley. However, this article shows the basics of Khanna’s beliefs in manufacturing returning to the states may lie a bit up the road in Fremont, a city this AP story described as “nondescript.” (Associated Press, May 18.)

>>>”Devin? What’re yoooo dooooing heeerre?” Midlle-aged scribe James Fallows tries to get cool with the Saturday Night Live reference in this well-done profile of Gov. Jerry Brown. However, the dude still comes across as mightily aloof. (The Atlantic, June 2013)

Voice of the People
“Wonder where the board should search next? The snake pit, the cesspool, or the bottom of the ocean and scrape it for whale dung. They may be able to retrieve a figure head off another ship that has gone down.”
-Anonymous, May 24, commenting on the departure of Hayward’s superintendent of schools on “Donald Evans Named Berkeley’s Superintendent.”

Friday, May 24, 2013

Conservative Opponents of Plan Bay Area Turn To Satire

TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT | Plan Bay Area is likely the biggest local controversy you've never heard about.

The initiative led by four Bay Area government agencies aims to foster economic sustainability through conservation over the next few decades.

However, it is the specifics of the plan for high-density housing around transit centers, among other issues, that has attracted vociferous opposition at numerous public meetings over the past two years.

Although many of the opponents of Plan Bay Area are Tea Party supporters, it is an inclusive bunch that, on some occasions, attracts liberal voices  and some from the Occupy movement.

They accuse the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) of faux transparency while actually controlling the discussion and public comments, in addition to institutional obfuscation. There is also an air of shadowy conspiracy attached to some against the plan.

However, who says liberals are funnier than conservatives? While opposition to Plan Bay Area has nearly been thwarted by MTC and ABAG, the hardy group has now turned to hard-nosed satire.

Below is a Simpsons-inspired video skewering Plan Bay Area. See, if you agree the goateed MTC character seems vaguely Canadian, eh?

Also, Chris Pareja, the former congressional candidate last year in the 15th District reels off a playful attack recently on Plan Bay Area using the acronym "WTF."

Then, there's the more serious fare:


New Vice Mayor Jim Prola
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola was appointed vice mayor this week. The motion was made without discussion and passed, 4-3. Then there was a pause.

Councilmembers detailed their mostly mundane past two weeks. Councilmember Michael Gregory rode his bike with the mayor. Prola attended every event in the county and Pauline Cutter said something akin to thinking out loud, then came Councilmember Diana Souza’s turn to speak.

“Many of you know I have not been vice mayor,” said a sorrowful Souza. “I would have embraced the opportunity to be vice mayor and, yes, I am disappointed that I did not have the support of my colleagues.”

Nearing the end of her second term on the City Council, Souza had never been elected by her peers to serve the entirely ceremonially title of vice mayor. Along with Souza, Councilmembers Ursula Reed and Benny Lee also voted against Prola’s appointment, all without any acrimony towards the victor.

However, it was clear Souza was hurt by the snub, even alluding to apparent horse trading that may have occurred during the run-up to Monday’s quick vote. To win the appointment, Souza said, she would have had to “compromise my values and integrity that got me elected and some would say, ‘that is just politics’ and I say, ‘that is not my politics.’”

She went on to criticize the current council environment for producing “conformity rather collaboration.” The latter point holds some truth. Over the past few years, the San Leandro City Council has shown a propensity for middling city-wide discussions and leaders who almost always lead from the back rather than the front.

Prola, also in his second term on the council, had been similarly passed over for vice mayor the last two years before getting the nod this week.

The council’s decision is also a slight blow to Souza’s potential run next year for mayor against Stephen Cassidy. Even if Souza was successful Monday night, the term for vice mayor only extends one year, leaving a roughly six month space before the November 2014 election.

However, as stated before, the campaign season starts now and the title of vice mayor to the layperson carries an air of importance, even though now-former Vice Mayor Gregory once labeled the job’s sole duty as making certain the candy dishes on the council member dais is filled.

Corbett Bill Treating E-Cigarettes Like Tobacco Products Passes State Senate

Blu e-cigarettes
STATE SENATE | Although not yet as ubiquitous as regular cigarettes, nor as unpleasant to the nose as a burning pack of Marlboros, e-cigarettes are growing in popularity. Yet, although both devices are nicotine-delivery systems, the rolled variety is well-regulated, while the other is not.

A bill that would regulate e-cigarettes, plastic devices similar to conventional cigarettes that use smoke-less nicotine cartridges, passed the State Senate, 21-10, Friday. Today is the final day of the Legislative calendar for bills to pass through the house of origin or remain in suspense for the next year.

SB 648, authored by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, regulates e-cigarettes sold in California, but also places conditions on their use in public spaces similar to other smoke-free bans on cigarettes.

“We must always stand on the side of public health since we still do not yet fully understand the safety of chemicals present in e-cigarette vapors or when nicotine itself leaks from the products,” said Corbett. “It simply makes sense to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product when they are already prohibited in many public spaces.”

This is not the first time Corbett has taken aim at e-cigarettes in the senate. Two years ago, Corbett's  bill seeking to rid independent vendors of e-cigarettes from selling to minors, with penalties, was signed into law. Some cartridges for e-cigarettes are flavored with fruity flavors some critics charge is a veiled effort to market the burgeoning devices to children.

Amtrak has a ban on their use on trains and the Navy prohibits e-cigarettes in submarines, says Corbett’s office, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing a ban aboard airplanes.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

After Major National Security Speech, Lee Still Has Concerns Over Use Of Drones

CONGRESS 13//DRONES | While some opponents of the Obama Administration’s use of military drones were placated by the president’s major national security speech Thursday, East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee, however, still has concerns.

Preceding the president’s speech Thursday morning, Lee introduced the Drones Accountability Act in Congress, which would require disclosing legal opinions and justifications leading to the uses of drones abroad. During President Obama’s speech, the issue of adding a layer of accountability to the issue of deploying drones in the Middle East was addressed. Obama again floated the idea of creating a secret court for signing off on the specifics use of drones.

In recent months, Lee has been one of the leading voices for limiting the use of drones, in addition to repealing the controversial Authorization of Use for Military Force (AUMF) passed in the wake of 9/11. In contrast, Alameda County's other House member Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) backs military drones, while also expressing support for the use of non-lethal domestic drones in the East Bay.

“I continue to have grave concerns over the use of lethal drone strikes and the current lack of Congressional involvement and oversight,” said Lee. “For the integrity of our Constitution, we must ensure that we have full accountability and sufficient transparency in our nation’s war powers, and I will continue to fight for a full and public debate on this issue.”

Earlier this year, Lee offered legislation (H.R. 198) to repeal the AUMF. She praised the president’s comments Thursday to potential rewrite the authorization of force within. “As the only Member of Congress to oppose the AUMF in 2001,” she said, “I warned about the state of perpetual war that our nation has now entered into. It’s far past time to repeal this overly broad, blank check for war, and I am encouraged that the President called for it today."

Drones, say Lee, are an offshoot of the expansive powers given to the government following approval of the AUMF. “The lethal use of drones is but one example in the disturbing expansion of war powers that have been justified under the AUMF.”

An Early Shot Across Tuman’s Bow

Joe Tuman
OAKLAND//MAYOR 2014 | What exactly likely Oakland mayoral candidate Joe Tuman thought he was getting away with when he placed personal political aspirations in the middle of his syllabus is unclear.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday Tuman for a class assignment asked his political science class at San Francisco State to imagine—just imagine—creating a campaign strategy for a generic black conservative running for Congress in the Central Valley, or, I don’t know, a slight, balding, middle-aged white man running for mayor of Oakland.

Sounds like Tuman. That’s because it was Tuman of which Tuman was referring and he reportedly told students if the idea was good enough, he just might use it for his run at unseating Mayor Jean Quan next year.

According to the article, neither San Francisco State nor Tuman believe his assignment, which counts toward the majority of the student’s grade, was unethical. However, the Fair Political Practice Commission and other groups, say the article, disagree and believe the potential fruits of the students labor could be construed as a campaign contribution.

The news of Tuman's more than hinky gambit is raising eyebrows, but also is the appearance of this disclosure being a shot across Tuman’s bow by unknown political opponents. As the cards of the 2014 ballot get shuffled and become more certain in the coming weeks, more than a few Oakland insiders believe Tuman has real shot to unseat Quan, or, at least, the best shot.

During his last run in 2010, Tuman finished a strong fourth and showed the polish of being a political expert on local television and the ability to convey his ideas with a sense of gravitas. And, with ranked-choice voting and a potentially underwhelming group of challengers, as many are saying, anything can happen.

Donald Evans Named Berkeley's New Superintendent

EDUCATION | Hayward Superintendent Donald Evans was confirmed as Berkeley’s new school superintendent Wednesday and will start his new job July 1 after spending just 18 months at the helm in Hayward.

Evans would not clarify why he was leaving Hayward after spending such a short while with the district but said he is “very excited” about going to Berkeley.

“This a better fit for me,” said Evans who spoke well of Berkeley’s diversity and being “very collective.” Evans said the Hayward community has been “good to him” but wouldn’t state why he is leaving Hayward. “I’m not going to answer that,” he said with a nervous laugh.

Sources, however, have elaborated further on Evans' departure citing the district’s problems being too difficult for him to handle and the board’s past drama, such as the Jesus Armas/Maribel Heredia sex scandal, having created an intimidating environment for Evans.

Evans formerly served as an associate superintendent in Compton, Calif. and oversaw Oakland’s elementary schools. Evans was originally named Hayward’s superintendent in November 2011 with high expectations.

Although, some inside sources in the past few months, who wish to not be named, said Evans was a “disappointment,” and are glad to see him move on. One source though spoke well of Evans but believes he is leaving because of a new board that is more aggressive towards its goals rather than what she said should be more “collaborative.”

In the past month, Evans presided over two town halls concerning his vision for Hayward, but neither of those town halls offered a distinct vision for Hayward outside of a few summer academies to help improve student literacy and math skills. Although there has been a slight uptick in the district’s API scores the district still rates the worse in the county.

Berkeley’s choice of Evans comes after the retirement of former Superintendent Bill Huyett in August 2012. The district then failed to name a permanent replacement on two occasions until finally settling on Evans.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As Time Runs Out, Council Gives Oakland Army Base Tenants A Reprieve

Oakland Army Base from the sky.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | A few businesses at the Oakland Army Base will not face imminent eviction in advance of a planned $270 million makeover of the waterfront. The Oakland City Council Tuesday directed its real estate manager to not issue unlawful detainers against tenants during a 15-day period starting June 1.

However, time is of the essence, says the city. If the land at the Oakland Army Base is not prepared for redevelopment by September, it risks losing $176 million in federal grants. While some tenants have found refuge at new locations at the Port of Oakland, some have not and the back-and-forth has been divisive over the past six months or more.

Council President Pat Kernighan, though, said tenants at the base have been aware of their temporary status for, at least, the last nine years. “It’s not quite the simple good guy, bad guy thing,” says Kernighan. “We’re looking for win-win for everyone, but it is not simple.”

A 200,000 square foot plot of land at the Port of Oakland called “The Notch” is a possible landing spot for some of the remaining businesses, but one, OMSS, a trucking company owned by businessman Bill Aboudi, is still facing problem striking a deal with the Port.

Last month, the city offered the Port a contract giving OMSS five acres on a month-by-month basis. The Port, however, declined the offer, said John Monetta, the project's real estate manager. A similar proposal is on the Port’s June 13 agenda slated for approval. “We have to sign this,” said Aboudi. “We have no choice.”

Despite the frenzy of last minute deals, the time frame for clearing the base is extremely tight, says Monetta. A sentiment also espoused by Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who represents the waterfront on the council. “Time, Mr. Monetta, is not our friend. I understand that,” she said.

Monetta said without the potential use of legal strategies to evict the tenants in such a short time frame, inaction poses a great threat to the entire project. He argued, at this late date, repossessing a property could take up to two months to secure. In addition, any personal property left behind by former tenants could add another three weeks to notify and potentially auction off property. In total, such delays run smack up against the Sept. 1 deadline, says Monetta.

“This is a really important to me and this is my baby and I do intend to give birth to her in a grand fashion,” said Gibson McElhaney, who has received plaudits for her work of late in moving together warring stakeholders at the base. On Tuesday night, she cited Oakland’s struggling business community crave certainty and clarity from the council. “Folks are paying attention to what we’re doing on this dais,” she said.

But, just as a comity appeared to come forth on the issue, the nagging questions of transparency over the Oakland Army Base persists. A legal opinion issued earlier in the day by Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker found the project’s developing firm led by Oakland businessman Phil Tagami and a panoply of his companies had, indeed, possessed a business license when he made the deal for base in 2010. Question over the legality of the 2010 agreement for the base had been nagging.

However, Parker’s office found, not all of the subsidiaries had, at least, until this month. The city’s tax revenue office showed Prologis/CCIG and Oakland Global LLC did not possess tax certificates when the Lease Disposition and Development Agreement (LDDA) was signed by the Tagami group, but such an occurrence would not invalidate the deal, according to Parker’s legal opinion.

Councilmember Desley Brooks reiterated a common complaint made by detractors of Tagami, one of the most powerful developers in the city and the Oakland Army Base project as a whole. “It is problematic that the developer is also the property manager because they have a vested interest,” said Brooks.

Although seven council members agreed with Gibson McElhaney’s motion for leniency against the army base tenants, Kernighan chose to abstain, saying only, “There’s thing I may not know.”

Popular San Lorenzo Superintendent Announces Retirement

Dr. Dennis Byas will retire Aug. 31.
SAN LORENZO | San Lorenzo School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Byas, made a surprised announcement Wednesday that he will retire Aug. 31 after spending six years at the head of the unincorporated area's school district.

Byas couldn’t get three words into his speech without crying. He has commonly referred to his position as a lifestyle rather than a job and calls the district’s students “his kids.” A packed room felt for Byas’s speech as they encouraged him to finish with a round of applause.

“I have been fortunate to have been able to work beside you and live in this beautiful community,” said Byas, “The Lord has allowed me to have a blessed life and I now have the desire to go do the Lord’s work for the remainder of my life.”

Byas said he will never forget his community and its members who are the “most supportive and caring people in the nation.”

Byas started his career in education 23 years ago and said he fell in love with each and every one of the students he has had. “I discovered that each student had a different life and each of their lives had and has a very important story to tell. Many of the students have made me smile and many have made me cry,” said Byas, “But most importantly, each has touched me deeply and helped guide and fulfill my life.”

Byas, 62, said he is leaving to spend more time with his wife, his five children and his four grandchildren. “Time can’t be bought and it can’t earn interest, it can’t be extended it can only be spent,” said Byas with tears in his eyes. He couldn’t look up once from his podium, he said, because he feared he would cry more.

Byas came to a school district six years ago struggling with attendance issues and high expulsion rates. Byas helped reduce those to staggeringly low levels with much fanfare. And for much of that work Byas received many thanks after his speech with district staff and other attendees praising him. "Thank you so much," said one attendee as she cried and hugged Byas.

Byas said he will convene with the board at a later date to help decide on a replacement.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chan Says Sutter Health Made First Move On San Leandro Hospital Negotiations

ALCO Supervisor Wilma Chan
SAN LEANDRO HOSPITAL | After years of ambivalence by Sutter Health to even negotiate with Alameda County or the Eden Township Healthcare District over San Leandro Hospital, it approached Supervisor Wilma Chan on its own last February, she said Monday.

Chan was in San Leandro Monday night to update the council on details of a plan to save San Leandro Hospital from closure, whereby Sutter Health transfers title of the facility to Alameda Health Systems along with a one-time $22 million subsidy for operations.

“They called and said we’re ready to talk,” Chan told The Citizen. In the subsequent months, Chan said the community was able to get a far better deal than one offered late last year that included Sutter leasing the hospital to AHS, but without any money for operation.

A letter of intent to begin negotiations between Sutter and AHS through July 1 was signed last week. If the framework of the current proposal is agreed to, the transfer of the facility could occur as early as this October.

Following over four years of uncertainty whether the hospital and its emergency room would stave off closure, Chan, who was elected back to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in the middle of the controversy, admitted she wasn’t always confident it could be saved.

Chan said sometimes the battle felt like a “hopeless cause.” She added, “I didn’t necessarily feel like it was going to work.”

Nonetheless, members of the San Leandro City Council praised Chan for her efforts. “You have taken a situation thought to be impossible and made it possible,“ said Councilmember Benny Lee. Councilmember Jim Prola was more pointed. “Without Wilma this would not have happened.”

Despite any unforeseen problems hampering the current proposal from being approved, how multiple entities continue to fund operations at the hospital is still unknown. Sutter Health says it lost up to $2 million on a monthly basis over the past two years at San Leandro Hospital. In addition, a second prong of the current proposal includes the Eden Township Healthcare District pitching in a one-time $20 million subsidy to fund the second year of operations.

Already low on revenue, the District, which no longer has a hospital to run, may have to sell off some of its real estate assets. Chan said San Leandro city officials met with a few members of the District’s elected board of directors early Monday.

A parcel tax, either led by the District or the city, has also long been a possibility for funding the hospital. Chan says the county is also looking to offer a ballot measure reauthorizing Measure sometime in the near future. However, she said, last year’s foundering performance by a county-wide zoo parcel tax, gives them pause for concern.

Northern California Tea Party Group Takes Lead In Growing IRS Non-Profit Scandal

TEA PARTY | The first of a likely long line of Tea Party organizations seeking relief from allegations the Internal Revenue Service targeted them and other conservative non-profit groups comes from Northern California.

The NorCal Tea Party Patriots, centered in Colfax, Calif. filled a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court accusing the IRS of violating its constitutional rights. The lawsuit alleges the IRS the engaged in “intensive and intrusive scrutiny" while it sought non-profit tax status.

The group says it took well over two years for it to obtain its non-profit status under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. It finally received the exemption last August, but only after turning over onerous amounts of paperwork detailing emails between members, names of contributors who gave minuscule amounts of money and copies of speeches given at their events.

The Tea Party group is also seeking damages and will attempt to gain class-action status for the complaint. Nearly 300 conservative groups may have been flagged by the IRS because of attachments of words like “Tea Party” and “conservative” in their names.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with all those known and unknown who have been abused by a federal government run amok. Instead of just playing defense, it is time for the citizens to go on offense,” said Mark Meckler, a founder of Tea Party Patriots and president of Citizens for Self-Governance, the group behind Monday’s lawsuit. He added, because the Congress provides funding and guidelines for the IRS, neither Democrats or Republicans can be trusted to reform the tax-collecting body.

Although the Bay Area is a well-known denizen of liberal thought and support, the outer lying areas in the north and east of the Highway 580 corridor are increasingly supportive of the conservative-tinged cause. One of the largest Tea Party events in the state, in fact, occurred over two years ago at the Pleasanton County Fairgrounds.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Saving San Leandro Hospital Is A Rare Populist Success Story

SUNDAY COLUMN | After four years of uncertainty, San Leandro Hospital appears to have been saved, at least, for the next few years. However, the fits and starts that have been a hallmark of this community-fueled uprising to save its hospital, is far different than at any time in the last few years. The main difference: this deal excludes Sutter Health from the equation.

It is this single attribute that is entirely unique to the long struggle led by residents, politicians and the nurses union. The plan offered this week by Sutter Health hands over title to the facility to Alameda Health Systems (formerly Alameda County Medical Center) along with up to $22 million in subsidies to run the first year of operations. The plan keeps the emergency room open and expands the vacant fourth floor for acute rehabilitation services.

Eden Township Healthcare District Board
Director Dr. Vin Sawhney advocating for
keeping San Leandro Hospital open. 
It is the same plan that fell to the wayside earlier this year, except Sutter Health had only offered to lease the hospital to Alameda Health Systems and without the lucrative subsidy.

However, there is still work to be done. It is unclear whether we should put much trust in Alameda Health Systems CEO Wright Lassiter, a former Sutter co-conspirator. If San Leandro Hospital’s finances should go sideways in the next two years and its ER faces another round of uncertainty, don’t worry. Whereas, the threat to the ER used to mean facing down a cold, faceless corporation, it may entail in the future screaming at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors for safety net funding.

Despite what your complacent neighborhood news organization said this week, the saintly Sutter Health did not “donate” the hospital. Instead, Sutter Health capitulated. They laid down their arms and walked away. They finally viewed the headache associated with San Leandro Hospital, in terms of public relations, was less important than its entirely prosperous empire.

In times when Americans feel like they are powerless against immense financial and political interests, the people of sleepy San Leandro (of all places!) showed if we band together, the bad guys will scamper. The rich and powerful, in the back of their minds, are always aware there are way more of us than there are of them.

“You can’t shoot people if you don’t have ammunition,”
-Assemblyman Bill Quirk, May 17 in Oakland, extolling the virtues of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s bill to tax ammunition in the state, at an Assembly hearing on gun violence in the East Bay.

The Week That Was
>>>Haggerty Gets Dirty: Closed sessions at Alameda County Board of Supervisor’s meetings just got more intense. From the fallout of a lawsuit against Supervisor Scott Haggerty by his former chief of staff comes allegations he routinely objectified women and asked male staffers, “Who would you fuck? Wilma Chan or Gail Steele?”

>>>Oakland Looks Away: On second thought, the Oakland City Council will not discuss the contents of an explosive audit offered last March charging Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid with repeatedly violating the city’s charter against council members interfering with the business of city staff. Council President Pat Kernighan, in effect, said there is other more pressing matters to deal with. Earlier, the council also put off debarment of city contracts with Goldman Sachs for another two weeks.

>>>Disconnect: Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, Nancy Skinner and Bill Quirk, along with State Sen. Loni Hancock all posed for news cameras Friday advocating for tougher gun control measures following a three-hour hearing on the subject inside the State Building in Oakland. However, community leaders, instead, continually pressed for more funding to help the lives of the youth before they turn to solving problems with firearms.

>>>Zermeno First In For Hayward Mayor: In a surprise move, Councilmember Francisco Zermeno announced he will run for mayor in 2014. Mayor Michael Sweeney is said to be uncertain whether he will run for a third term. Zermeno nearly lost his seat on the council last June and if Sweeney runs, things could get caliente. Sweeney, Zermeno and former school trustee Jesus Armas all play on a basketball team named “Los Chilones.”

>>>Quan’s 2014 Opponents: Port of Oakland Commissioners Bryan Parker and Gilda Gonzales are looking at possibly running against Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. So is City Auditor Courtney Ruby and professor and community activist Joe Tuman. More names are likely to show interest in the next few weeks.

>>>’It’s News To Us’: Although the long San Leandro Hospital saga is nearing a positive conclusion, nobody bothered to tell the Eden Township Healthcare District they may have to commit institutional suicide in order to make the deal work. Supervisor’s Wilma Chan’s plan asks the District to pay $20 million in subsidies for the second year of operations at the hospital. The District, though, knew nothing about the plan and say their assets are worth $29 million; largely from one asset that conversely generates the most revenue.

Tweet of the Week
“Jean Quan shared a bunch of photos from a roller derby match on FB. That means they're probably going to move to the South Bay too.”
-@OakScott, making light May 12 of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s perennial problem with keeping its sports teams content.

Best Reads
>>>Sometimes the best way to understand what is around you is through the lens of someone outside looking in. Here is an article describing the bare bones Oakland Police Department. (Los Angeles Times, May 18).

>>>In a progressive city like Oakland, it seems more cops are never the answer. But, over the years, with a rapidly shrinking police force, even progressives are sheepishly rethinking this argument, but should they? (East Bay Express, May 15).

Voice of the People
“Is a gang member really going to say, "Oh darn, that bullet costs 10% more, I guess I won’t do my drive-by shooting now"? Less guns do not mean less guns for criminals...”
-Anonymous, commenting May 18 on “East Bay Legislators Call For Stringent Gun Control Laws.”

Friday, May 17, 2013

East Bay Legislators Call For Stringent Gun Control Laws

Asm. Bill Quirk at the State Building in Oakland.
ASSEMBLY//OAKLAND/GUNS | Lest we forget the East Bay is still a bastion of liberalism, a few of its Democratic legislators Friday reminded voters, even though societal factors like unemployment and an eroding middle class may be a cause for rising gun violence, firearms are also to blame.

Although Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Sen. Loni Hancock targeted guns and residual violence in the media and video games at Friday’s Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay, it was freshman Assemblyman Bill Quirk who flashed the hottest rhetoric calling for more prohibitive gun control measures.

[SEE ALSO: Community Leaders Say Gun Violence Is A Public Health Crisis]

“We have a disconnect in the Legislature,” said Quirk of Republican colleagues who believe the use of firearms for personal protection and for sport are equal. “We know the best to get killed by a gun is to have a gun in your house for self-protection,” he said.

Quirk also applauded Skinner and Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s pending legislation to tax bullet sales. “You can’t shoot people if you don’t have ammunition,” Quirk said.

Oakland Mayor Jean, Alameda County Sup.
Wilma Chan, Asm. Rob Bonta, Oakland
Interim Police Chief Sean Whent
The best way to promote safety, Quirk said, is to prohibit guns, except for sport. But, the East Bay is mostly an urban landscape, he says. “In the area we come from guns are for killing people.” He also skewered conservative second amendment proponents for their strict constructionist beliefs over the right to bear arms. “They claim to follow the Founding Fathers,” Quirk said, “but they don’t.”

Skinner and Hancock agreed with Quirk’s interpretation of the second amendment and its adherents.

“It says a regulated militia,” said Hancock. “It doesn’t say anybody can carry anything anywhere they are.” She added, “Limiting access to guns is a part of the solution.”

Just the presence of guns in the home is a problem, said Skinner, who said, “I vary on notion on the second amendment.”

“The presence of guns in homes does nothing for public safety,” she said. Skinner also advocated for “limiting” the number of firearms and ammunition available. This year, Skinner advanced various gun control bills in the Assembly expressly aimed at slowing the proliferation of guns on the streets.

Oakland Councilman Noel Gallo
However, she said, “Legislation alone won’t be enough.”

Later, Skinner faulted the federal government for failing to pass meaningful gun control legislation in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. shootings last December that killed 20 elementary school children and six adults.

Although Friday’s assembly hearing was chaired by Bonta, who represents Oakland, San Leandro and Alameda, he offered none of the heated rhetoric of his fellow lawmaker other than to promote a discussion on how to find solutions to lower crime in Oakland, including its perception of lawlessness, seen by many in the surrounding East Bay.

Community Leaders Say Gun Violence In The East Bay Is A Public Health Crisis

Asm. Rob Bonta at an Assembly hearing
on gun violence May 17 in Oakland.
ASSEMBLY//OAKLAND/GUNS | An Assembly hearing focusing on rising gun violence in the East Bay, instead evolved into a string of community and faith-based leaders clamoring for answers over how to heal what they say is the root cause of violence in places like Oakland--socio-economic despair.

Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay brought three panels of local officials, youth counselors and pastors together Friday to discuss the continuing rise even in crime less than 24 hours after the city suffered two more homicides Thursday night. Thirty-seven homicides have occurred in Oakland this year.

Even as an ambitious package of gun control bills sponsored by Bonta, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Sen. Loni Hancock wind through the Legislature, most panelists instead chose to focus on ideas that will foster hope, rather than the need to pick up a firearm and shoot.

[SEE ALSO: East Bay Legislators Call For Stringent Gun Control Laws] 

Olis Simmons, a community organizer with Oakland’s Youth UpRising says gang activity; the often mentioned cause of gun violence is not the issue. “It’s a clique issue,” she says resulting from staggering unemployment in Oakland, especially in the black and Latino community, and fear. “They carry guns not because they’re a predator, but because they’re desperate to feel safe.”

“This is a public health crisis,” said Pastor Zack Carey of Oakland’s True Vine Ministries. “They’re shooting each other because there’s no jobs.”

Guillermo Cespedes, a expert on gang
reduction in Los Angeles and Asm. Bill Quirk.
Richmond’s charismatic director of Neighborhood Safety DeVone Boggan said he has heard many of the same solutions over the past two decades to no avail. The impetus should be on helping the youth make better decisions to avoid conflicts when they invariably occur on the streets, he said. “Help us to understand what is required to motivate you to put your gun down,” Boggan said. “When you truly want to live, you make better decisions.”

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin, whose rapidly growing Central Valley city, like Oakland, has both high rates of crime along with a large minority population, says community policing has helped foster trust between residents and law enforcement and forced those in need take advantage of various local social programs. You can’t rely on troubled residents to seek out the programs on their own, he says. Instead, his officers take the programs to their front door.

He also his instructs officers to immerse themselves in the community while eschewing zero tolerance strategies to create safe neighborhoods. When events necessitate the use of police force, McMillin says, the community is far more understanding if there is perception law enforcement had already done everything they could in the past. However, he says, “Some people are just too dangerous and need to be locked up.” McMillin realizes his strategy is also costly. “It is expensive. It’s a question of resources,” he said. “but it absolutely works.”

Many at Friday’s hearing agree the rise in gun violence would be better framed as a public health crisis. Dr. Randi Smith, a surgeon-in-training at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, says the vast majority of patients she sees in the emergency room are predominately black and Latinos consistently delivered from the same streets in Oakland. They are also repeat customers, she says.

Citing a national statistics, Smith says 44 percent of young blacks who experience a gunshot wounds will likely receive another in the next five years. It is not uncommon, Smith says, for doctors treating patients for a single-entry bullet wound at Highland to notice previous gunshot wounds on x-rays. Sadly, Smith says, “There’s a revolving door of gun violence.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

List Of Possible Challengers To Oakland Mayor Quan Begins To Emerge

Left-right: Bryan Parker, Gilda Gonzales,
Joe Tuman, Courtney Ruby.
OAKLAND//MAYOR 2014 | Even the though the 2014 election season in Oakland is over a year away that doesn’t preclude potential candidates from starting early. Not only is attracting local community support important, but more importantly, those who wait too long risk losing out on hiring the cream of the crop when it comes to political strategists.

It’s why San Leandro Councilmember Ursula Reed dove head first into running for Alameda County superintendent of schools next year. Reed’s hired the services of Doug Linney, possibly the best political consultant in the East Bay.

It’s also why the number of challengers for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s is quickly rising.

This week, Port of Oakland Commissioner Bryan Parker launched an exploratory campaign for mayor. Parker, who incidentally, was appointed by Quan to the Port last summer, unveiled a splashy, well-done introductory YouTube video.

Parker is vice president for a leading kidney dialysis company who may attempt to tailor his message to the city’s growing demographic of young professionals with money to burn. However, there is already chatter among Alameda County Democrats the treasonous nature of running against Quan is fostering distrust over his motives.

Others reportedly showing interest, include another Port of Oakland President Gilda Gonzales, a former chief of staff under former Mayor Jerry Brown and activist Joe Tuman, who finished fourth in 2010.

The other possible challenger is Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby. Although the Oakland City Council led by Councilmember Pat Kernighan withdrew scheduled discussions of Ruby’s controversial 14 alleged violations of the city charter by Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Larry Reid, the issue of wrongdoing still exists.

Regardless of, if or when, the issue returns to the council, Ruby is undoubtedly positioning herself as the candidates of those who feel corruption in Oakland has run amok.

One high-profile name you won’t see running for mayor in 2014, according to Democratic insiders, is Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.