Thursday, October 31, 2013

Let Them Eat Figs! A Councilman's Fruity Plan To End Hunger In Hayward

Hayward Councilmember Francisco
Zermeno to the hungry:  there's fig and
kumquat trees near Southland Mall.
PHOTO/Zermeno for Mayor 2014
HAYWARD | As elected officials in Hayward attempted to sidestep guilt surrounding an ordinance that ostensibly makes it much more difficult for small-scale free food providers to feed the poor in its parks, one city council member had an idea for curbing hunger in the self-proclaimed "Heart of the Bay."

"One of the things I've always talked about is allowing fruit trees on our streets," said Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, "because that certainly allows for folks to eat fruit."

Zermeno, who is a candidate for mayor next year, said although the practice was deemed "too messy" by the city, he nonetheless gave residents suffering from hunger pains a tip for filling their empty stomachs. There's fig and kumquat trees already teeming with fruit on a street near Hayward's Southland Mall, he said, during Tuesday's council meeting.

This idyllic scene of a downtrodden and hungry soul suddenly walking up to an oasis of apples, orange and plum trees along Foothill Boulevard, or any other street in Hayward, is a bit contemptible and, if plausible, would undermine the downtown merchant's argument against the weakest among us loitering around their shops and costing them business.

In fact, the idea is already negatively tainted in the public mind by the link to homelessness. Fruit trees on city streets now signifies a bad neighborhood, homeowners might say. Conversely, those living in the poor neighborhood of Hayward would protest the likelihood of the Homeless Orchards flourishing in front of their homes as signposts for poverty.

And what of the potential for liability on the city's part? This aspect is what Zermeno referenced Tuesday when he said past recommendations for fruit trees in Hayward were nixed by staff who envision pedestrians spraining ankles on heaps of fallen fruit. Who cleans up the apple cores that pile up next to sidewalks and streets? What about those who are not homeless, nor without money, who simply desire a healthy snack? Can they snatch a few plums off a tree on B Street? And, what to do about plum smugglers?

Zermeno is not immune to weird public statements. Last year, while running for re-election to his council seat, he lodged several bizarre populist statements against House Republicans and another against Wall Street malevolence, of which, he was compelled to write a scathing letter in protest. Neither diatribe was even remotely in context to anything the City Council was discussing those nights or any before.

Following Tuesday's meeting, I asked a few outside what to make of Zermeno's fruit trees comment. Many immediately confused his idea with community gardens, which are dedicated plots of land for an assortment of plants to be grown for the poor's use. These types of gardens are quite common all over the Bay Area. However, Zermeno specifically called for fruit trees on city streets. The common reaction was then silence, a widening of the eyes and a big shrug. A big no comment that spoke loudly to its sheer goofiness.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Would Hayward Do?

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | When it comes to helping the poor, WWHD?

By unanimously passing an ordinance Tuesday night placing restrictions on free food-sharing groups that feed the poor in city parks, the Hayward City Council sided with concerns voiced by its downtown merchants, who complained loudly about unruly behavior they believe stems from the small-scale events. Advocates for the poor, however, say although some will go hungry because of the decision, the charitable groups can still reorganize around the new permitting and insurance regulations along with renewed efforts for a much-desired indoor kitchen dedicated to feeding the city’s poor.

Pastor Chuck Horner of the Hayward’s Calvary Baptist Church voiced support for the ordinance Tuesday night. When asked afterward if the ordinance jibed with the teachings of Jesus Christ to care for the less fortunate, Horner said, “Jesus also said to be at peace with all of the governors and kings,” meaning, the alleged aggressive behavior by some of food-sharing customers is a sin against the savior’s teaching. “Businesses are taking a hit,” said Horner, who is also associated with the Hayward Chamber of Commerce. “They need help.” In addition, Horner says the free food-sharing events are demeaning to the poor. “It’s just not humane to feed people in the streets.”

Sara Lamnin, a homeless activist in Hayward, says three things may occur following Tuesday’s decision: meal providers will move to less-desirable, harder to reach locations for attracting hungry customers or the 12 or so known food-sharing groups will adapt to the new regulations. Some may even close up shop, Lamnin fears. In fact, she says one provider, who characterizes his one-man operation as his “ministry,” told Lamnin the new costs association with feeding the poor is too onerous and expensive for him to continue. “He just a single person who gets donations and makes bologna sandwiches and hands them out,” Lamnin said. “He probably spends a half-hour to an hour doing it and leaves.”

The ordinance, however, has clearly brought attention to the issue of poverty in Hayward in the public consciousness. “There needs to be a catalyst and I think this is it,” Lamnin said, while also adding the City Council has now voiced overwhelming support for a dedicated center to feed the poor, “We’ve been asking the city for this for a long time,” she says.

Although the issue of homelessness in Hayward was somewhat conflated into the argument in favor of the ordinance—in fact, someone in need of food is not necessarily homeless or even unemployed—Tuesday’s discussion revealed surprising inequities for how aid is distributed. Long-time Hayward activist Betty Deforest said she did not plan on speaking at Tuesday’s meeting until a city staff member’s trumpeting of the number of homeless shelters that exist in Hayward, compelled her to provide clarity to the statement. DeForest noted not one of them accept men.

In fact, although there are eight housing-first options for the homeless in Hayward, there are none for those under the age of 62. Over 18,000 Hayward residents are identified as earning income below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S.Census. Furthermore, their average age is just 45, which leaves a large group of people without much of a safety net. And while the city says it helped the effort to feed the poor by allocating $78,000 in city funds this fiscal year, simple math shows the aid is paltry and represents just $3.91 annually per impoverished resident.

Will the ordinance aimed at cleaning up the city’s moribund downtown make a difference in helping the poor? “We’ll see,” says Lamnin, but she is hopeful. “We could have the stone soup idea that everybody brings something to table, but if we all stay together, I believe we can do more without spending any more money.”

Ronnie Lott Morphs Into Nate Silver, Predicts Victory For Khanna

CONGRESS//17TH DISTRICT | If Ro Khanna played in the NFL, he would undoubtedly be a placekicker. Nonetheless, Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott acted as both Vince Lombardi and political Nostradamus Nate Silver during a rousing pep talk at a fundraiser for Khanna’s run at Rep. Mike Honda's seat in 17th Congressional District.

“You’ve won the election. We all know that you have won,” said Lott, who played free safety for both the 49ers and Raiders.

"You’ve got to be the next Obama,” Lott added as he peered into the candidate's eyes. “You’ve got to be the next Kennedy. You’ve got to be the next Truman. You got to be that. That’s why we’re close to you right now.”

Note: the general election is just over one year away.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hayward May Starve Free Food-Sharing Programs With Costly Regulations

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | The owner of a Japanese restaurant near Hayward’s Portuguese Park says homeless people visiting the block stone-floored monument near ‘C’ Street for small-scale food-sharing handouts spit on his windows, rummage through his garbage dumpster and defecate in his parking lot.

But, a controversial plan to regulate the practice of small vendors serving the city’s homeless at city parks will not do anything to shore up the problem of unruly behavior and litter at the events, opponents say, only make it more difficult for the poor to be feed and private groups to afford the additional costs of their charity.

“The city’s proposed ordinance seems to be misdirected overkill aimed at charitable meal providers and not fairly related to the problem of street waste,” says Dr. Sherman Lewis, a well-known planning advocate in Hayward and professor at Cal State East Bay. “Giving food to poor people is not a behavior that needs to be so heavily regulated."

Instead, Lewis believes the city should enact rules and specific consequences for free food-sharing providers who do not clean up garbage following their events. However, Lewis says the city’s plan to require free food-sharing providers to purchase liability insurance of $1 million at an annual cost of between $500 and $1,500 does nothing to solve the problem. “Insurance does not bear on cleaning up messes,” he says.

In addition, the proposed pilot ordinance also requires vendors to obtain county permits for food-handling, preparation and distribution. However, there has never been a documented case of people getting sick from free food-sharing events in Hayward. According to the city’s staff report, county officials indicated they may amendable to waiving permit fees for some charitable organizations and discounts for county certification of food managers. A $500 refundable deposit for clean-up purposes is also included in the proposed pilot ordinance, along with limits holding groups to one food-sharing event per month.

The issue of free food-sharing in Hayward was first discussed last March during a City Council work session and the proposed pilot ordinance and companion proposal to enact sunset-to-dawn hours for city parks was heard during an Oct. 1 meeting. Although either proposal was kept intact following public comments earlier this month, the council is seeking to further expand the plan to cover regulations on food-sharing activity spilling on to adjacent sidewalks.

In its last fiscal-year budget, Hayward allocated $78,000 to aid city food pantries and indoor meal providers who feed the poor. Despite that, there still appears to be strong demand for additional vendors aiming to nourish the poor and hungry in Hayward

The curious disconnect between the aims of the proposed ordinances and the root complaint of poor behavior and litter in the city’s downtown parks may be connected to the Hayward Chamber of Commerce’s involvement on the issue. In a public letter to the council, Kim Huggett, the president of the chamber, described the group’s strong support for the ordinance, but without mention of the poor’s plight. “After reviewing the positions of different sides in the matter, the chamber’s Government Relations Council comes down solidly on behalf of downtown residents who suffer from harassment as well as businesses who on a near-daily basis deal with those drive away customers by aggressive panhandling, intimidating confrontations, and loitering,” Huggett wrote.

Some council members, notably, those running for mayor in 2014, have routinely sidestepped the current issue of free food-sharing events by suggesting the city study the construction of a dedicated kitchen-ready building to feed the poor. However, all sides agree the cost may be prohibitive for a cash-strapped city like Hayward. Besides, if the idea were ever seriously contemplated, it would take several years to accomplish, say advocates for the homeless in Hayward, due to planning, funding and construction to bear any chance of alleviating the current problem.

Anybody Seen Larry Reid Lately?

Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid has been absent from nearly every public meeting since the divisive July 26 censure hearing for Councilmember Desley Brooks. During the infamous meeting, Reed called some of his council colleagues and the city auditor racist and has rarely been seen since.

Not only has Reid been absent from the council chambers, but also from other public meetings going on nearly three months.

At an important Community and Economic Development Committee meeting this month dealing with the two new Coliseum City investors, of which Reid chairs and sits on the Oakland Coliseum Authority board, proceeded without whom Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan called the council’s most important voice on the stadium issue. Although Reid was excused for his absence that day, a member of his staff lodged some opposition for the plan on the boss’s behalf.

In late August, Reid announced he would not seek to challenge Jean Quan for Oakland mayor, citing what he described as his daughter’s unspecified concern for his health.

So, where is Larry Reid?!

Ray Leon, Reid’s long-time chief of staff, said Tuesday, he could not disclose the nature of the councilman’s ailment. “This puts me a in tough situation,” he said, but later disclosed Reid is suffering from a bad back. Other Oakland City Hall sources have heard the same reason for Reid's excessive absences of late.

When asked if problem might require surgery since the amount of public meetings missed suggests a condition of greater severity than is being disclosed, Leon said, “I’m not his doctor, sir.”

Reid is not the only East Bay council member fighting through back pain. Hayward Councilmember Al Mendall is suffering through a chronic back condition that makes sitting unbearable. Mendall has spent much of his first year in office standing at a lectern placed near his designated seat on the council dais.

The extent of Reid’s specific back problem is not known, but Leon said Reid will again be absent from Tuesday night's Oakland City Council meeting.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is Nadia Lockyer Readying A Comeback?

Nadia Lockyer
ALAMEDA COUNTY | Nadia Lockyer never ceases to amaze Alameda County. Just when you think a blanket of normalcy has arrive in her treacherous saga from county supervisor to stints in rehab for alcohol and drug treatment, there is news she will appear in two-part television interview this week again raising question about what she is up to now. Late Monday morning, Lockyer announced on Facebook she will appear in a "story about my life" with KGO-TV scheduled for Thursday and Sunday night.

Across Hayward and the Alameda County District 2 supervisorial district she once represented before resigning in April 2012, speculation quickly spread as to why Lockyer is barring her soul in such a public manner.

Of course, America loves a good comeback story. In addition, local political observers agree, if a person has any interest in running for public office in 2014, the time to start is right now. The notion, however, seems completely unfathomable, right? Lockyer was reportedly in rehab as late as this year. She also reunited with Bill Lockyer, the state treasurer, who filed for divorce after she was arrested for child endangerment in Orange County. He also announced earlier this year he would retire from politics after 2014.

But, what office might Nadia Lockyer be interested in, if in fact, the KGO-TV interview is a genuine attempt to test the waters of public acceptance and a possible return to public office? Hayward has a wide open race next June for mayor and two seats on the City Council. Lockyer, though, never showed much interest for Hayward city politics in the past. The cleansing of Lockyer's public image might also be an attempt to seek a potential appointment to a cushy state or county agency, some suggest. As unbelievable as it might seem, Lockyer could even run for old seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

Her previous campaign war chest named "Nadia Lockyer for Supervisor 2014" still contains over $63,000, according to finance reports ending June 30. (Note: the account still lists Assemblymember Bill Quirk as treasurer.) However, the account has no contributions since early 2012 and aside from expenditures for accounting services, Lockyer donated $10,000 to the Alameda County Family Justice Center this year. She served as executive director for the agency before becoming supervisor in 2011. By contrast, the current District 2 supervisor, Richard Valle, reported just over $6,100 in ending cash, as of June 30.

Lockyer's critics will note money is of no concern for them and their prodigious campaign contacts across the state. Her first run for supervisor was backed with $1.5 million in campaign funds transferred from Bill Lockyer's campaign for treasurer account. But, if this whole crazy scenario has legs, recall the Board of Supervisors passed campaign finance limits shortly after Lockyer was elected to stop any future candidate from making it rain campaign transfers of more than $20,000 per contributor.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Swalwell's Re-Election Bid To Conjure The Ghost Of Pete Stark

PHOTO/Shane Bond ILLUSTRATION/Steven Tavares
CONGRESS//15TH DISTRICT | In 2012, Eric Swalwell had everything go right for him. A lengthy list of East Bay Democrats put off challenging 40-year incumbent Pete Stark last year, state redistricting soften up the then 13th Congressional District into a slightly lighter shade of blue and his opponent virtually imploded without explanation. The rise of Swalwell came about through an inexplicable perfect storm. So, how does the young moderate Democrat replicate the fortunate events of 2012? He can’t. However, earlier indications suggest Swalwell will run for re-election next year on a platform that conjures the ghost of Stark, primarily labeling his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Ellen Corbett, as a vote for the past.

In an email last week to supporters, Swalwell highlighted the $2,000 contribution from Stark’s former re-election committee to Corbett’s campaign to create a link between the two long-time progressives. "Last week, Pete Stark donated thousands of dollars to my Primary Election opponent, in the hopes that she will serve his 21st term in Congress and the East Bay will once again have a representative just like him," the solicitation for campaign contributions said. "Let's show Pete Stark that his days of dictating East Bay politics are over." Later in the email, Swalwell boiled down his 2014 campaign playbook to a single sentence. "Pete Stark's hand-picked successor is a step backwards we can't afford." A few days later, Swalwell’s campaign Twitter account featured a photo of him chatting with a constituent, along with the caption, "Giving voters a choice: keep moving forward or back to tired, same old ways."There is a problem, tough. Corbett is not Stark, by any means. She is widely known as courteous, approachable and accomplished. Most importantly, she has never been prone to the “diarrhea of the mouth” moments that riddled Stark, not just in last year’s election, but for the last 20 years.

Despite his youthful choir boy persona, Swalwell is actually a very aggressive campaigner—downright dirty, at times. A year ago, he got away with labeling the 80-year-old Stark as “out of touch” and slow-minded. Deploying such hateful ageism was very risky, but Stark’s behavior may have squandered any sympathy. Apparently, he will try sexism this time around. A lone female candidate is always problematic for a male opponent and implying, like he did in his tweet this week, a middle-aged woman is "tired" is asking for trouble. Will women voters pick up on Swalwell’s sly sexism? Likely. But, he won’t be actually running against Corbett as much as trying to talk up Stark and the baggage he still carries, since what are the alternatives?

Swalwell is a freshman member of congress who through one year in office has accomplished zero. A PowerPoint he employs at town hall meetings is cringe-worthy in its struggles to show any achievement other than representing youthful potential at some point in time. In all fairness, it is expected. He is one of 535 members and one without any seniority or precise ideological bent. Running on experience is, of course, foolhardy. Not only does Corbett have a long resume of legislation in Sacramento, she also beats him on a personal and private level, which also makes the sexism gambit a perilous move. As a single mother who juggled raising a son with, first, serving as mayor of San Leandro and later with terms in both houses of the State Legislature, Corbett’s private life is overflowing with positive cues not only to women voters, but males, too.

The “do you really want to change horses in midstream?” plan and "Back to the Future" gambit is Swalwell’s only good moves, but also telling ones. It suggests his campaign again sees trouble in the district’s more progressive areas around Hayward. Why? How can you raise the ghost of Stark with any success in Hayward? It's an area Swalwell was not competitive last time around. However, the key for Swalwell is again in the more moderate Tri Valley. During the recent government shutdown, Swalwell was forceful in opposition to the Tea Party, a small, but very vocal group in the district, that raised hell in opposition to Stark over the past three years. Will they flee from Swalwell next year? It might not matter, at least, in the June primary since there does not appear to be a Republican candidate like Chris Pareja for that conservative bloc to go. In the meantime, the strategy to repeatedly link Corbett to Stark comes into play, especially with low-information voters who only recall their distaste for Stark only one year ago.

As a House incumbent, Swalwell should not be beatable. However, his luck could be starting to run out because the only person in the entire East Bay who could possible make him a one-term congressman is Corbett. After only two years on the sleepy Dublin City Council, Swalwell sits in D.C. It didn’t happen without him selling his soul. Time will tell which apparition comes back to haunt him first: Stark or the Devil calling in his chits.

Bonta Adds Focus To Overlooked Filipino Contributions To State Labor History

Assemblymember Rob Bonta and labor leader Lillian Galedo at a town hall Friday in Alameda celebrating a new law requiring the accomplishments of Filipino Americans in the farm workers movement be recognized in state school curriculum. PHOTO/Steven Tavares
LEGISLATURE | Anyone who heard Rob Bonta during his successful run last year for the Assembly know the names of the California farm labor leaders rattled from his lips almost every time he spoke. The celebration of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong showed his progressive credentials to voters. The last two names, however, is rarely mentioned in the popular history of the farm workers’ struggle a generation ago. Bonta hopes the stories of Filipino American labor heroes like Vera Cruz and Itliong will receive the recognition they deserve following the signing into law earlier this month of his bill requiring state school curriculum to include the role of Filipino Americans in the farm labor movement.

“We can tell for the first time a story that has not been told and give voice to a silence never heard before,” Bonta said Friday during a town hall on the subject. Last year, Bonta made history by becoming the first Filipino American member of the State Assembly.

For much of the 20th Century, Filipino and Mexican immigrants toiled in the fields of the Central Valley with little pay and little respect. While Cesar Chavez and others are recognized as leading the farm workers’ strikes of the 1960s and 70s, Filipino American groups led by Vera Cruz and Itliong organized labor and eventually joined the United Farm Workers. The 1965 labor strike in Delano, Calif. over demands workers picking table grapes be paid the federal minimum wage was one of the movement’s defining moments and was fueled, in large part, by Filipino American labor groups, Bonta and others noted Friday.

East Bay labor leader Lillian Galedo is the daughter of a farm worker. During Friday’s town hall she fought back tears recalling her father and the overall struggle of the Filipino community. With over 1.1 million Filipino Americans in California, she called the law “long overdue.” Galedo also serves as executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice in Oakland and Union City. “History goes on today,” she said, as farm workers in the state are still predominantly immigrants toiling on the fringes of society.

Bonta credited those before him for doing the heavy work leading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of AB 123 two weeks ago. “The reason why now is all the tremendous work done before us,” he said. “It was time.”

Despite the new requirements, the program still needs funding from next year’s fiscal budget. Bonta says a funding range between $16,000 and $90,000 has been identified, but carving a relatively small chunk of the state budget will still take work, possibly more work than getting the bill passed in the first place. “While there is achievement here collectively,” Bonta said, “there is so much more to be done.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hayward's Lingering Labor Dispute Is Really About A Lack Of Leadership

Hayward City Council, left to right, Mark Salinas, Francisco Zermeno, Mayor Michael Sweeney, Al Mendal, Barbara Halliday, Greg Jones, Marvin Peixoto.
HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//LABOR/ANALYSIS | To the casual observer the continuing labor strife between Hayward and its city employees might appeared to be about city officials taking an extremely hard line against labor or workers asking for too much. While this is the dividing line it seems in labor disputes recently, there is a more pressing issue emerging in Hayward—an unfathomable, almost systemic lack of leadership from the mayor and City Council.

City employees have been without a contract since February. In the meantime, city negotiators led by City Manager Fran David have demanded five percent givebacks from employees on top of the previous cuts in pay and furloughs. Workers walked off the job for three days in August after the city declared an impasse. However, city officials and negotiators have rarely met with union leaders. Like a constant drumbeat, it’s been five percent or nothing. David even allegedly threatened layoffs if the union did not comply.

This wreck of a city management team, however, is good at keeping itself under the radar until now. Hayward is the family that sits at Thanksgiving dinner with phony smiles upon their faces while dark family secrets swirl among them without acknowledgement.

We are now heading towards November without any movement, whatsoever. So, what’s going on? What sort of fair negotiating tactics involves foot-dragging through seven months of negotiations without actually negotiating with the other side? It’s almost like the city of Hayward just expects its workers to simply give up and return to their jobs like the past year never happened. During a council meeting last Tuesday, union members spoke passionately about their plight while urging for the city to simply return to the negotiating table. “To me, it’s not about money, it’s about being fair and doing the right thing,” said Eldon Walker, a 27-year employee for the city.

Earlier in the meeting, a Hayward resident protesting speed bumps on his street, succeeded in getting the attention of the mayor and city staff. Mayor Michael Sweeney directed staff to “talk apples to apples” with the homeowner. Ariana Casanova, a labor rep for the Service Employees Union International, Local 1021, then asked for the same consideration. “We’ve been talking past each other and talking apples to oranges and I think it’s time that we get to this place where we all know we’re going to compromise, so we can get a contract and move forward,” she told the council. “What we are requesting will not bankrupt the city, will not hurt these residents, but will continue to build a better future for Hayward.”

The labor issue is unmasking a huge and nagging problem in Hayward. It’s a city without any distinguishable plan for its future. Large swaths of the city sit empty without any notion of transforming them into economic engines for Hayward’s tax base. A virtually six-lane freeway tears through its downtown to the hair-pulling consternation of visitors and residents trying to figure out its bewildering maze. Its downtown is shuttered for many reasons, but not because of quality of life issues like the chambers of commerce will have you believe, but since property owners are jacking up rents devoid of any interest from prospective tenants. Hayward’s schools are the worst in the county and its solution is to hire a new superintendent who is woefully under qualified for the job and potentially a hired gun with the sole duty to pass another exorbitant bond measure to satiate the powerful school construction lobby. Hayward even had two sex scandals, one involving its former city manager, now Councilmember Greg Jones, and another at the school board with two members secretly meeting in an extramarital affair. Both scandals failed to muster even the slightest condemnation from a single council member.

This wreck of a city management team, however, is good at keeping itself under the radar until now. Hayward is the family that sits at Thanksgiving dinner with phony smiles upon their faces while dark family secrets swirl among them without acknowledgement. To say the members of the Hayward City Council sit on the dais like lumps on a log in this labor dispute is almost a good analogy. But, in fact, they’re a nothing more than enablers for this fantastic failure of their own lack of leadership. To make matters worse, three members of this clan want to be mayor next year. All have virtually the same accomplishments, since taking the initiative with your own ideas is not something Hayward City Council members readily do, and all refuse to acknowledge their reticence toward this dispute speaks volumes to labor unions in the county. Remember, Alameda County is union-strong and Hayward is one of its most potent outposts.

Over the months, I have repeatedly harangued the three mayoral candidates, Councilmembers Francisco Zermeno, Mark Salinas and Barbara Halliday, for any nuance in their support of labor. Nothing but obfuscation follows. Come election season, the three will most likely espouse their support for labor in return for contributions and endorsements, but the fact remains that the current labor strategy did not comes from the city manager’s office or its negotiators. The direction to stand steadfast against city workers ultimately came from the mayor and the city council.

You may see Zermeno around town glad-handing union members in a comical fashion and hear Halliday and Salinas bob and weave on the labor question, but their future kowtowing speaks volumes for the lack of leadership in Hayward. In fact, if they had collectively led in the past there would not be any prospect for future deficits in Hayward, even if you squinted hard enough.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

West Oakland Customs Inspection Site May Not Be Zoned For Hazmat

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | West Oakland thought it had finally stemmed the conga line of big rigs that frequently travelled to and from the Port of Oakland. But a growing controversy over the awarding of a federal contract that could place a U.S. Customs inspections building and one day allow hazardous material to rest adjacent to a popular park for children, has some fearing the worst. The community, however, may have a strong ally after Oakland city staff said Tuesday the area for the proposed customs building is zoned to tightly restrict the handling and storage of hazardous materials.

Scott Miller, zoning manager for the city of Oakland, said the former Horizon Beverage Company building at 1700 20th Street slated for the customs building prohibits hazardous materials, but he could not be certain, since nobody at City Hall seems to have had any contact with U.S. Customs, he said. “We’ve seen or heard nothing from customs,” Miller told the Oakland City Council Community and Economic Development Committee Tuesday afternoon. The city is also beginning the process of figuring out whether the property is properly permitted, said Miller

How the customs inspection facility moved from its previous home at the port to potential lie next door to a children's park, in many ways followed the tumult over the clearing of the Oakland Army Base in advance its $500 million transformation into a major economic catalyst for the city and county. On that front, city staff reported Tuesday, the land had been cleared of tenants and their belongings and ready to move forward.

However, the inability for the previous customs operator, Pacific Coast Container (PCC) to gain a suitable long-term lease at the port caused U.S. Customs to award the contract to other companies. John Monetta, the city’s property manager for the project, said PCC did not win the bid because it maintained only a two-and-a-half year lease, according to conservations he had with U.S. Customs officials. “Customs traditionally awards five-year contracts,” said Monetta.

During a similar committee meeting two weeks ago, some West Oakland community members recommended the city ask for a risk assessment report by way of Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. However, Carson’s office punted the issue back to the city, according to Monetta, since Oakland has a risk assessment function of its own. Monetta also made it clear to members of the committee city staff does not support moving the customs inspection site to West Oakland.

For residents and activists, the question of whether the proposed customs building may endanger the health and safety of those in the neighborhood is clear: the site rests directly next door to Raimondi Park, an open sports field enjoyed daily by children and adults.

“This is a disaster in the making,” said Rashida Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, a grassroots organization focusing on Oakland's low-income residents “There is no public safety provision for the potential risks that sending trucks that off-load from the Port, carrying nobody knows what, because they haven’t been screened yet.”

Darrel Carey, president of the East Bay Small Business Council and critic of the Army Base plan said council members from Oakland’s more upscale neighborhood would not put up with such a proposals in their own zip codes. “We don’t know what the customs is going to do out there. All I know is children play soccer, children play baseball, and children play football over in Raimondi [Park],” said Carey.

“I’m sure my good friend, Ms. Schaaf, wouldn’t want anyone out there delivering unknown customs to the Montclair area or to the Glenview area.” Schaaf later noted she only represents a small sliver of the Montclair district.

Khanna Employs The West Coast Offense

Ro Khanna, part of the Faithful.
CONGRESS//17TH DISTRICT | There’s a sports axiom often co-opted by business: if you want to be a champion, surround yourself with winners. Ro Khanna has enlisted a group of Super Bowl champions to his team as he bids to unseat Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District.

An email to supporters Tuesday morning highlights a fundraiser next week led by 49ers and Raiders Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Harris Barton and Dwight Clark. “I think it’s time for new leadership, and just like there came a time to pass the torch from Joe to Steve, and from Alex to Colin, now is the time to pass the torch from Mike to Ro,” said Lott.

However, while Joe Montana, Steve Young and Colin Kaepernick all led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, is there an implication Alex Smith, the only quarterback who did not, embodies by Honda?

Ronnie Lott
The Khanna campaign is obviously working the 49ers moving to Santa Clara next year angle here, but when it comes to his growing campaign finance advantage, Khanna is hardly the small-market underdog. In fact, he’s the New York Yankees in terms of financial muscle.
A Bay Area congressional candidate scoring a half million dollars in campaign contribution is usually a big deal, unless you are Khanna. The Democrat mounting an intraparty challenge against Honda added to his impressive fundraising totals with $509,000 in contributions during the last three-month reporting period, ending Sept. 30, according to finance reports.

The total is not as robust as his two previous filings, both of which topped the million mark, yet Khanna’s campaign reports $1.9 million in cash nearly a year before a sure general election matchup with Honda. By contrast, Honda, the long-time South Bay congressman reported $392,505 in contribution during the last filing period with $559,746 in the bank.

Despite the clear monetary advantage Khanna maintains over the incumbent, a look inside the numbers reveals an increasingly problematic situation for Honda. Last week, the Khanna campaign took pains to highlight under one-quarter, or $110,152, of Honda’s haul last period included contributions from political action committees. Khanna received none.

The imbalance more than suggest Honda, the establishment party candidate is struggling to attract fundraising outside the Beltway. Is Khanna attracting new money into the race or is Silicon Valley signaling Honda is an increasingly bad bet? Contributors plainly seek power when donating to a potential congress member. Of course, placing your bets on the wrong team renders the expenditure a big waste of money.

FUMBLE! The Bay Area News Group reported Tuesday that Khanna’s campaign inadvertently included Twitter followers (me, included) on its Web site as fundraisers. A snafu on the back end of the Web site was blamed for the error which transferred Khanna’s over 1, 060 follower’s information to create a dedicated fundraising page for each person. The campaign apologized, said the paper.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Legislators On BART Strike: 'The Time Is Now To Start The Healing'

LEGISLATURE//BART STRIKE | Citing progress between strike BART unions and management, in addition to the weekend’s tragic death of two BART employees, the entire East Bay legislative caucus is calling for an agreement tonight that would end the latest four-day labor dispute.

“We call on the parties to resolve those issues today and get the trains running tomorrow,” said a joint statement Monday evening from Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, Bill Quirk Nancy Skinner, Bob Wiekowski and State Sens. Ellen Corbett and Loni Hancock.

The tone of the statement also suggests a deal ending the BART strike may be imminent. “As Legislators and concerned residents, we have been monitoring negotiations and encouraging both parties to resolve their issues. Thank you to the mediators for their hard work, and thank you to BART and its employees for reaching to seek common ground. We understand there are only a few outstanding issues,” said the joint statement.

While reference the death of two BART employees inspecting train tracks last Saturday in Walnut Creek, the legislators said, “The time is now to start the healing. For the benefit of the public, riders, Bay Area businesses and the entire BART family, it is critical to get the trains running tomorrow.”

During the first BART strike in August, Bonta, Quirk and Skinner sent a similar, although less direct press release, calling for the end of the dispute. However, that statement was seen a more labor-friendly than Monday’s unequivocal message to both sides of the negotiating table.

Third Alameda County Supervisor Chief Of Staff Let Go Over Past Year

Supervisor Richard Valle last November
2012 in Union City. PHOTO/Matt Santos
ALCO BOARD OF SUPERVISORS | Being an Alameda County supervisor is a tough job. As the face of many county social services, their decisions often have direct consequences on their constituent's livelihood. This clear link can be taxing on the soul. Apparently, it’s also hard on their chiefs of staff. Last week, Supervisor Richard Valle let go his chief of staff, Ruben Briones, and the third chief of staff among the five-member Board of Supervisors to be dismissed since June 2012.

Sources say the clear influence of labor unions within Valle’s rise from the Union City Council to the Board of Supervisors is the main reason for Briones’ fate, not any issues with performance. The Alameda County Labor Council was a strong presence in support of Valle during and after his appointment to replace Nadia Lockyer last year. Newark Councilmember Ana Apodaca was an earlier favorite for the appointment, until organized labor pressured Supervisors Nate Miley and Wilma Chan to switch support to Valle. Despite having already won a special election last November, Valle is again up for re-election next year to complete what would have been the conclusion of Lockyer’s first four-year term in office.

Briones’ tenure leading Valle’s office was already seen a tenuous before his dismissal because he was a holdover from Lockyer’s staff. Briones, himself, took over from a previous chief of staff who resigned in what is believed to be conflict resulting from Lockyer’s infamous extramarital affair and drug addiction during her short term as county supervisor.

Starting with the firing of Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s long-time chief of staff Chris Gray in the summer of 2012, Supervisor Nate Miley’s chief, Seth Kaplan was also dropped from his staff. Gray’s dismissal resulted in a still pending lawsuit alleging age discrimination. Earlier this year, Gray’s legal complaint made news when it alleged various tales of corruption against his former boss and claimed Haggerty made sexually inappropriate comments about fellow Supervisors Wilma Chan and Gail Steele.

A possible landing spot for Briones, by all accounts, a loyal and hardworking public servant, might be Haggerty’s office, according to some county observers. Briones originally worked for former Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker under Shawn Wilson, who is now Haggerty’s chief of staff. The move, they say, would be shrewd since Haggerty and Valle have routinely butted heads this year, primarily over law and order issues.

Valle’s strong progressive stances against the Alameda County sheriff’s plan to purchase two domestic drones and a call for an end of the county’s involvement with the controversial federal immigration program, Secure Communities, has repeatedly riled Haggerty; easily the board's most conservative member. What could be better for Haggerty than hiring Briones and having access to his rival’s playbook?

A TV Guide To San Leandro's First-Ever City Council Broadcast

As a TV drama, Mayor Stephen Cassidy
would be cast as the villain.
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | Is the San Leandro City Council ready for its close up? One of the East Bay's last government bodies to offer residents the option to view meetings online or in the comfort of their home makes it broadcast premiere tonight. Here's a brief primer on the cast and characters, the plots and subplots to the growing divisiveness of this typically harmonious  council.

MAYOR STEPHEN CASSIDY He used to be large. In fact, he's half the man he used to be following some sort of gimmick diet. However, that hasn't diminished the typical pink hue of his face. It's either high-blood pressure or a visual indication of his personal feelings toward colleagues or opponents. Viewers at home, depending on the camera shot direction might notice Cassidy leer, audibly huff and puff and rub his eyes in frustration.

COUNCILMEMBER JIM PROLA Other than being one of the most unabashedly progressive council members in the East Bay, Prola is known for two things during meetings. His love of being a member of the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District (they were no reported cases of West Nile disease last month, he might relay to viewers) and a detailed listing of every single public appearance he made in the last two weeks. Prola is dedicated and jovial--a real backslapper--but, his laundry list of doings around town can last a good 10 minutes! Watch for him to occasionally flash signs of potent passive aggressiveness toward Cassidy.

Michael Gregory: L.L. Bean model?
COUNCILMEMBER MICHAEL GREGORY He's a cool cat ripped from the pages of the L.L. Bean fall catalog. Gregory is big on transportation and often rides his bike to council meetings. He may not like a certain person or issue, but he'll never show it.

COUNCILMEMBER DIANA SOUZA She doesn't like Cassidy and she often shows it by repeatedly questioning him during meetings. Her comments often lend credence to a belief among many that Cassidy belittles his council colleagues in private and diminishes their opinions everywhere else. However, Souza often asks the same question to city staff even after they answer and begin with the phrase, "Just so we understand..."

COUNCILMEMBER PAULINE CUTTER She doesn't say much, but when she does, she is often shot down by her main ally on the council, Mayor Cassidy. Like Souza, Cutter tends to overly ask for confirmation of information that is only dispense a minute earlier.

Ursula Reed: watch for the devastating eye-roll.
COUNCILMEMBER URSULA REED Seated the furthest from Cassidy, watching Reed roll her eyes at the mayor's comments is a delight. She often mumbles what sounds like disparaging words toward Cassidy when cut off by the mayor. Reed is running for the open Alameda County superintendent of schools office next year, which has shaded some of here more controversial votes like medical cannabis dispensaries in San Leandro.

COUNCILMEMBER BENNY LEE As the council member with the least seniority, Lee doesn't speak much or make statements with much authority. Coming from the city's somewhat conservative enclave in Washington Manor and Heron Bay, he also strongly represents the city's growing Asian American community. He's the first Asian American council member in the city's history and unwittingly made news last month when he proposed raising the Chinese flag over City Hall in celebration of the nation's national day. Cassidy opposed the resolution after some in the community objected, along with Bay Area groups in favor of Tibetan independence.

SUPPORTING CAST Unlike other cities, San Leandro does not possess many public commenters who often provide a Greek chorus of commentary, comedy or derision. However, some political observers will be able to put a face to the overheated blogging emanating form Margarita Lacabe, also a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. She is deeply unpopular among committee members and often a vessel for taking opposing sides merely to incite conflict. Lacabe helped Cassidy win election in 2010, but quickly became a constant thorn in his side. She famously offered potential opponents against Cassidy next year a potent negative mailer-in-the-making when, during a council meeting, she told Cassidy, "Stephen, why do you lie?"

One Year In Advance, A Pivotal Moment In Oakland's Mayoral Race Emerges

Joe Tuman predicted Mayor Quan's
demise in a posting on Facebook.
OAKLAND//MAYOR 2014 | The Bay Area News Group editorial last week calling for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to not seek re-election next year raised eyebrows. Some believed it was overwrought with generalities and useless. Why not just vote her out of office next year, some said. Quan's detractors leaped upon the assertion her administration has anything other than a disaster.

Joe Tuman, one of Quan's challengers next election season used the article to lodge similar complaints along with a pitch for campaign contributions. (C'mon, Joe, you know Friday evening is reserved for bad news!)

For Tuman, the editorial was so scathing for Quan that he declared her imminent defeat next year. "It is clear now that we will have a new Mayor in January of 2015. And with your help, I will be that Mayor," Tuman wrote to his supporters on Facebook.

In addition to an equally debatable and blistering Oakland Chamber of Commerce poll released two weeks ago that Tuman says, "shows that the people of this city, our community leaders, and now our press, have lost all confidence in this administration’s ability to lead."

Both negative news items against Quan are manufactured news events. However, that does not mean they are untrue. Quan has some very vocal detractors in the community. She is also hemmed in by progressive voters who loath her handling of Occupy Oakland and middle-to-upper class residents who think she didn't do anywhere near enough to stop the repeated damage to downtown businesses.

But, before Quan haters rejoice, her demise is long from assured. In fact, she still sits ahead of the pack with both time on her side and the certainty many issues and controversies will arise from here to November 2014. She still maintains a positive demographic edge (women and minorities) and can wave the flag of experience, no matter those who will inevitably scoff at this notion. Who is to say one or both of Quan's main opponents--both political neophytes--won't make a debilitating unforced error in the next 12 months?

Politically speaking, there are stages to voter apathy when it comes to throwing an incumbent out of office. Some Oaklanders may be currently grappling with the shopping stage. Are they so miffed at Quan that they start looking for other candidates to support? At that point, voters compare and contrast their options. Is Joe Tuman or Bryan Parker any better than Quan? If not, can I give them the benefit of the doubt?

If voters are asking themselves these sorts of questions on a sunny fall day in 2013 it makes this point in the campaign very precarious for the challengers. Because if voters go shopping and find the other options lackluster or no better than what they have, they may revert back to Quan and never find the time in their busy days to give Tuman or Parker another opportunity. In a likely close campaign next year, in addition to the inherent confusion of ranked choice voting, these are the moments when races are won and lost.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fremont’s Questionable Plan For Security Cameras In Low-Income Areas

FREMONT CITY COUNCIL//ANALYSIS | If there ever was an issue that screamed potential Alameda County grand jury investigation, it's Fremont’s scheme to use money set aside for housing the poor to purchase 20 surveillance cameras effectively to keep an eye on how poor they remain.

While other cities in Alameda County feed off federal Homeland Security dollars to fund their burgeoning surveillance networks, Fremont is looking to a whole different and unrelated pot, essentially repurposing funding from a doomed Federal Housing Authority project to placate a desire among its law enforcement officials to fund a wish list for more cameras on city streets. In fact, the Fremont police department and city bumbled the request from the start by being uncommonly honest with the purpose of the additional eyes in the sky.

The cameras were destined to cover “low to moderate-income areas” in Fremont, the city said. Did the use of that phrase in relation to the cameras unwittingly reveal the police department's bias toward the people in these areas being the root of the crime problem? Granted, those living in Fremont fitting the description of poor by  federal standards is somewhat low, around 6-7 percent. But, poor is poor and cameras for the purpose of tamping down crime, which the Police Chief Richard Lucero, himself, said last week does nothing to deter criminals, is insulting to the community. Keep in mind, Fremont is the most diverse city in the state with a unique minority majority of residents of Asian and South Asian descent.

“This is a very creative use of funding, but for us not to be this creative with the social service providers and providing that money for them,” said Fremont Councilmember Anu Natarajan. Councilmember Vinnie Bacon also forcefully expressed this concern, as did, others.

But, like their council colleagues in other East Bay cities, the Fremont City Council did not express qualms with the cameras, in general, nor did they appear interested in other pertinent questions such as how the cameras will be utilized, who will monitor them and, most importantly, who long will the data be retained.

East Bay public officials also appear unable to link recent federal government wrongdoing with wiretapping, cell phone data and personal Web site histories with the tightening grip of surveillance cameras in Oakland and nearly every other Alameda County city. “With the federal government checking our email, checking our telephone conversations, at least, at the local level, I would expect our locally-elected representatives to protect what little privacy we have left,” said Fremont resident Bill Spicer.

If local government is deaf to what is going on in Washington, they are also immune to what really causes crime. Newark resident and local activist John Henneberry understands the link between having nothing to lose and breaking the law. “The driving force behind crime worldwide is desperation,” he told the council last week. “Poverty causes desperation and, in turn, desperation causes crime.”

The Alameda County grand jury is designed to watch over and investigate local government entities. If Fremont thinks it can get away with enhancing their surveillance power with money set aside for the poor, one should ask on what other occasions have they pulled money from disparate pots to pay for other items on their wish lists?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Swalwell Boasts Campaign Contributions Four Times Larger Than Corbett

State Sen. Ellen Corbett, Rep. Eric Swalwell
CONGRESS//15TH DISTRICT//CAMPAIGN FINANCE | Less than nine months until the June 2014 primary, freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell possesses a campaign war chest four times larger than fellow Democrat State Sen. Ellen Corbett, his likely opponent for the 15th Congressional District.

Swalwell built upon a strong fundraising performance from earlier this year, according to the campaign finance reports released Wednesday, with $279,428 in contributions. Through the current election cycle, Swalwell has raised $807,936. As of Sept. 30, the campaign maintains $614,262 cash-on-hand after $69,598 in expenditures. Swawell has spent $223,520 total for his re-election during this cycle, according to the report.

One-third of the Swalwell’s contributions, however, came from political action committees in the the defense, pharmaceutical, and medical industries. Overall, 40 percent of Swalwell’s contributions have come from special interests groups.

Among the political class, Swalwell received donations this election cycle from campaign committees associated with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) ($4,000); Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) ($2,000) and Francisco Zermeno for Hayward Mayor ($500).

In addition, former Assemblymember John Dutra, Sr. contributed $2,500 to Swalwell’s campaign; his son, former Fremont Council candidate John Dutra, Jr. ($2,700); former Alameda County Sheriff Tom Orloff ($1,500); former Assemblymember Fiona Ma ($250); former state controller Steve Westly ($2,000) and former Hayward school boardmember Jesus Armas ($500).

Corbett, however, has continued a somewhat languid pace in attracting campaign finance, raising $36,502 during the period ending Sept. 30, according to finance reports. During this election cycle, Corbett has raised $240,512 in campaign contributions. After spending just $9,268 during the past filing period, Corbett reports $143,417 cash-in-hand, according to finance reports.

Much of Corbett’s fundraising draws upon her strong contacts in San Leandro where she was once mayor and the State Senate. Campaign committees for State Sens. Darrell Steinberg and Mark Leno both gave $1,000 during the last reporting period. The re-election committee of Swalwell’s past opponent, Pete Stark, also donated $2,000 toward the defeat of his young rival. Union City Mayor Carol Vernaci contributed $350, according the finance report.

Patrick Kennedy, the founder of innovative San Leandro data processing company, OsiSoft, along with his wife, contributed a total of $10,000 to Corbett’s campaign. Among other notable contributors is San Leandro businessman Anthony Batarse ($2,300); Attorney and current San Leandro Zoning and Adjustments Commissioner Philip Daly ($1,200) and Alameda County labor leader Josie Camacho ($500).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rumblings Of A Richmond-Style Foreclosure Plan For Oakland

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//FORECLOSURES | Richmond’s move last month to help foreclosed homeowners through a city-led plan to buy underwater homes under eminent domain made Wall Street extremely jittery. Rumblings that Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks might be interested in studying Richmond’s controversial, but innovative strategy provided another flash point between her and Councilmember Libby Schaaf.

The mere suggestion by Brooks at a Rules and Legislation Committee hearing last Thursday to look into gathering data from outside sources surrounding the number of foreclosures in Oakland set off a volley of invective over when, where and if the item would be heard any time soon by a council committee.

Two separate items regarding Richmond’s eminent domain strategy were placed on the Rules Committee agenda last week. Both included language indicating further research on the issue, but one offered by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan appeared ceremonial, at least, to Brooks. Kaplan’s item, now scheduled for the Nov. 12 Community and Economic Development Committee, in part, asks the council to commend Richmond for its efforts in helping foreclosed homeowners.

Brooks’ item, however, asks the city to begin gathering existing data from outside providers and does not seek to expend staff time, she said Thursday. “Thank goodness Richmond is testing the waters,” Brooks said before the committee. “I think we should lend our support to them, but all I’m asking today is that we get information” Earlier she recounted meeting seven families from a single Oakland city block all going through foreclosure and proposed asking the city assessor’s office how many homes in Oakland are at-risk for foreclosure. “How many instances are happening in our city that we simply do not know about?” asked Brooks. “I’m simply asking we begin to inform ourselves so we can make intelligent decisions.”

Schaaf, however, had no initial taste for moving Brooks’ item and moved to proceed with Kaplan’s item and without Brooks’. “I think what we’re moving toward is adopting policy,” said Schaaf. Brooks disagreed and said she objected to being passed over for comment by Council President Pat Kernighan. Both Brooks and Schaaf continued to speak over each other. While Schaaf covered her ears, she asked for Brooks’ mic to be turned off. Brooks did not relent. Later, Schaaf added, “I cannot tolerate the breaking of rules.”

Although Schaaf would later acquiesce to a motion by Councilmember Dan Kalb to schedule Kaplan’s item for next month and continue the discussion over Brooks’ item to the Oct. 24 Rules Committee, she initially said deliberating both agenda items were confusing and a waste of staff’s time. “Frankly, I feel more comfortable with Councilmember Kaplan’s [item]," said Schaaf.

Brooks, though, said she was perplexed by the suggestion the items were similar since Kaplan’s request had no resolution attached. “I don’t know how you determine they are similar. You have nothing other than a rules request.” Brooks added the titles may be similar, but the requests differed greatly.

“If your personal animus didn’t get in the way of making the rightful decision that you should about scheduling, you would be able to see that,” Brooks told Schaaf. “But, we pretend in the context of orderly meetings that somehow you are on the side of right. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Kernighan said she generally supports Richmond’s move to help struggling residents, but is also wary of its potential pitfalls. She said Community and Economic Development Committee staff believes there is “some major legal issues” with Richmond’s strategy. “Emotionally, I really like what they’re doing,” said Kernighan, “but, I want to be fully informed before I vote in support of their legislation.”

There also remains the possibility Brooks and Kaplan can reach an agreement to merge their respective proposals. Brooks indicated she was willing to talk and “if a meeting of the minds” is reached, a deal could be hammered out. If not, Brooks’ proposal will likely again make lenders and the city's business community uncomfortable that Richmond’s plan could still spread to Oakland.

No Jailhouse Rock For State Inmates, Brown Vetoes Bonta's Condom Bill

LEGISLATURE | A bill that would have created a pilot program for distributing free condoms to inmates in California state prisons was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The controversial legislation authored by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta intended to protect inmates against the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS; and the general public after prisoners served out their terms and returned to the general population. Critics of the bill disagreed with the premise by noting sexual relations among state prisoners is illegal.

In vetoing the legislation last Friday, Brown sidestepped the realization sex among prisoners is pervasive and, instead, focused on legal conjugal visits. "The Department [of Corrections and Rehabilitation] currently allows family visitors to bring condoms for the purpose of the family overnight visitation program," said Brown in his veto message. "While expansion of the program may be warranted, the Department should evaluate and implement this expansion carefully and within its existing authority."

In testimony at an Assembly committee last April, Bonta urged for greater distribution of condoms since inmates were 8-10 times more likely to contract sexually-transmitted diseases while incarcerated. Distribution is also cheap, he added, at a price of just $1.39 per prisoner.

Did the California Dental Association Take A Bite Of Nancy Skinner?

BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL | Two great unknowns existed during the debate last month among Berkeley city council members over the use of mercury amalgam in tooth fillings. Are they really toxic to humans in such minute doses and how did special interest money pressure some council members and a statewide official to stop the city from requiring dentists to better communicate to patients the contents of the fillings plugging cavities in their teeth?

Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin long charged the California Dental Association (CDA) was unleashing intense lobbying on his council colleagues to dismiss a proposal allowing the city to require dentists to discuss with patients the composition of filings and their options. In fact, the issue over any regulation of mercury amalgam fillings traveled all the way to the State Legislature. The question of whether Berkeley’s resolution is explicitly preempted by state law was supported in an opinion by the State Legislative counsel, while others. Others, like Arreguin, vehemently disagreed.

Swanson has eyes on the
State Senate in 2016.
In the background, however, stood Berkeley’s Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, one of CDA’s go-to legislators and recipient of over $20,000 in campaign finance contributions since she first ran for the Assembly in 2008. Some in Berkeley say Skinner may have interceded with certain Berkeley council members on behalf of the CDA regarding mercury amalgam, which uses the toxic metal to bind other ingredients for creating low-cost dental fillings.

In addition, CDA’s political action committee has also helped build Skinner’s war chest for a run at the State Senate in 2016. Skinner’s separate senate account received $2,000 last June from CDA, according to campaign finance reports. In all fairness, the dental industry lobbies many statewide elected officials, but not all of them sit on the Business, Professions and Consumer Protections Committee, which has jurisdiction, in part, over occupational medical licensing in the state.

In three campaigns for the Assembly since 2008, Skinner received $18,900 in campaign donations from CDA. During her most recent campaign in 2012, the PAC reached the $7,800 funding limit to a single candidate. Despite no credible competition over her past two races and running unopposed during her initial Assembly run, Skinner’s Assembly account amassed $560,382 in campaign contributions. Her newly created State Senate account maintains $63,433, according to the most recent campaign finance reports released last August.

As does, Chan.
There are good reasons why Skinner may be vulnerable to special interest pressure, say some in Berkeley. Sandre Swanson, who termed out of the Assembly in 2012, and currently serves as Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s deputy mayor, is also a prime candidate for the senate seat in two years. Both Swanson and Skinner share the same progressive base and feature similar political resumes. Swanson even made loud rumblings in 2012 that he would challenge State Sen. Loni Hancock’s bid for re-election, but later relented. It is widely believed Swanson was tacitly promised the Democratic Party’s endorsement in 2016, if he dropped his bid last year for what would have been a costly and bloody intraparty race.

In addition, there is likely a third highly-qualified Democrat who could enter the race for 2016. Earlier this year, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan more than hinted she also has eyes on the State Senate. The upper house of the Legislature has eluded her twice in the past. Chan, like Skinner and Swanson, also served with distinction in the Assembly. With Skinner, Swanson and Chan among the available choices in two years, special interests like CDA may enjoy the leverage of having three excellent options to aggressively manipulate candidates against each other with promises of campaign dollars in exchange for them supporting their special interests.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Skinner’s High-Capacity Gun Clips Ban Signed; Oakland Gun Control Bill Vetoed

LEGISLATURE//GUN CONTROL | Gov. Jerry Brown signed two gun control bills authored by East Bay Assemblymember Nancy Skinner Friday, while vetoing another that would have given Oakland the ability to further strengthen state gun registration and licensing laws.

“Large-capacity magazines have no place on our streets," said Skinner in a statement. “California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but our laws are easily undermined by these blatant loopholes. I applaud Gov. Brown for signing this legislation to protect our communities ravaged by gun violence.”

The new law now makes it a crime not only to sell large-capacity magazines, but also to buy them. In addition, kits that allow gun owners to convert their firearms into assault-style weapons will become illegal starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Another gun-related bill by Skinner establishing a five-year waiting period on owning or purchasing a firearm for those who make credible and specific threats to themselves or others to a licensed mental health expert, was also signed Friday. The previous law only provided a six-month prohibition.

Another much-publicized gun control bill that would have given the Oakland City Council the opportunity to enact stronger licensing and registration laws than the rest of the state was vetoed by Brown. The bill, offered by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta, was designed to give the city a unique tool for fighting its continuing problems with violent crime.

Brown, as a former mayor of Oakland, was mindful of the city’s struggles with gun violence, “but this is not the right solution,” he said in a veto message.

Ironically, Brown's rationale for not signing the legislation mirrored an argument proffered by the gun lobby and conservatives who argued against the bill on the Assembly floor. “The State of California has among the strictest gun laws in the country," said Brown. "Allowing individual cities to enact their own more restrictive firearms regulations will sow confusion and uncertainty.”

A legislative analysis published last May included a similar refrain from the National Rifle Association. "The repeal of state preemption would lead to an unpredictable patchwork of local laws. American citizens have right to travel from one jurisdiction to another in California without the fear of violating locally politically motivated ordinances."

Firebrand Republican Assemblymember Tim Donnelly was also a frequent critic of Bonta’s bill. During a floor speech last May, Donnelly said, “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.”

Just Months After Tragic Limo Fire, Brown Signs Bill Adding More Exit Points

State Sen. Ellen Corbett
LEGISLATURE | Government is notoriously sluggish. But, just months after five women perished while trapped in a horrific limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge, a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Friday will increase the number of exit points on vehicles, in case a similar accident ever occurs.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett offered the bill following the May 10 limousine fire that killed five passengers on their way to a bridal shower in the East Bay. The incident was followed by a near accident in June involving 10 elderly women en route to a birthday party. “When traveling to a wedding, birthday, prom or other occasion, it is vital that limo passengers remain safe so that these celebrations do not turn into tragedies,” Corbett said in a statement.

Starting in July 2015, licensed limousine operators will be required to install push out windows on all new vehicles on either side of the rear compartment or rooftop. The new law also allows existing limousines a phasing-in period of two-and-a-half years to add additional exit points. An investigation into the San Mateo Bridge limo fire detailed passengers in the rear of the vehicle struggled to exit the burning limo. Some were pulled through a front-facing window, while other did not make it out in time. Limo operators will also be required to instruct passengers on the new safety features before the beginning of any trip under the new law.

A similar bill pertaining to the May limo fire would have required the California Highway Patrol to charge limousine operators $75 to perform vehicle safety inspections was vetoed by Brown Friday. In his veto message, Brown encouraged the authors, led by San Mateo Assemblyman Jerry Hill, to reintroduce the bill next January with a larger fee commensurate with the actual cost of performing the inspections.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NFL's Concern Over Coliseum City Also Centers On Dubai Investor

Rashid Al Malik
COLISEUM CITY | A report in the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday says National Football League officials "rolled their eyes" when asked about the proposed Coliseum City development. However, sources who attended the meeting last month between Coliseum Authority officials, the Raiders and the NFL told The Citizen the real target of their ambivalence is directed at one of the project's newest investors, Rashid Al Malik, a wealthy financier from Dubai.

It seems the appearance of investors from the oil-soaked emirates is something of a running joke among NFL executives. Any time a NFL stadium project arises or a team is up for sale, they appear. Apparently the attention derived from the NFL appeals to the vanity of some of the excruciatingly wealthy in Dubai who crave high-profile projects tied to popular western culture.

Despite the potential for Al Malik being another of these attention-seekers, the comment by the NFL official did not discount that his interest and potential to help fund the large-scale project is anything but legitimate, just that they often fail to pan out.

It should also be noted during an Oakland City Council committee hearing this week over an extension of the Coliseum City exclusive negotiating agreement, Al Malik or his firm was rarely mentioned during the discussion. Of the two new well-financed investors, the focus of the staff was clearly on Colony Capital LLC, one of the world's largest private equity firms.

Don Perata conceding the 2010 Oakland
mayoral race to Jean Quan.
The excursion by Raiders owner Mark Davis to a potential stadium site in Concord is not viewed by the Coliseum Authority as anything but a willingness by the blond bowl-cut-styled owner to listen any and all offers presented to the team. Whether a stadium is built in Concord or Oakland, there still remains a gaping $600 million difference between the cost of a new football stadium and the amount the Raiders and the NFL are ready to pony up. It's not likely Contra Costa County has that kind of money to throw around, or voter exuberance for a tax or bond measure, either. And never mind, the potential site at the Concord Naval Weapons Station is likely an environmental mess.

But, one other point with the trip to Concord that is upsetting some in Oakland is who rode shotgun for the ride. Don Perata was mentioned in reports as a Raiders consultant who also toured the site with Davis and the mayor of Concord. As a former Alameda County supervisor, Perata, in 1995, helped engineer the return of the Raiders from Los Angeles on the back of a failed personal seat license scheme and ultimately saddled the city and county with $100 million in debt, which the cash-strapped city is still paying. In fact, the debacle and large unpaid balance for the Coliseum's Mount Davis remains a significant barrier for building any future facilities at the complex. To make matters worse, the upper level of the hulking outfield structure has been tarped off by both the A's and the Raiders, rendering them more useful as a ski jumping platform.

CORRECTION: Perata's involvement in bringing the Raiders back to Oakland followed his stint as Alameda County supervisor.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Coliseum City Developers Seek One-Year Extension Of Negotiating Agreement

Coliseum City will not only potentially include three sports facilities, but hotel and dining options, along with a science and technology district west of the Interstate 880 freeway.
OAKLAND COLISEUM CITY | With the addition of a pair of well-financed investors showing interest in the expansive Coliseum City project, hopes are buoyed the project can keep the Raiders, Athletics and Warriors in the East Bay, the team of developers, though, need more time to work out the details.

A proposal to grant a 12-month extension on the Coliseum City exclusive negotiating agreement signed in March 2012 was approved Tuesday by the Oakland City Council Community and Economic Development Committee. An administrative option to further extend the deal an additional six months is also included in the proposed amendment. The full council will be offered at its next meeting, Oct. 15, with a list of planned deliverables pertaining to the project, most of which will be due within the next six months.

They include a public infrastructure and debt replacement strategy due in January 2014; a market analysis report in March and a public benefit analysis, said Gregory Hunter of the city’s office of neighborhood investment. In addition, the Coliseum City development team hopes to procure letters of interest from the three professional sports franchise currently playing at the Coliseum complex by next April.

Fred Blackwell, Oakland’s assistant city administrator, says “each one of the team are in different places” when it comes to interest in exploring new facilities at Coliseum City. The city still has not been able to engage the Athletics ownership in direct conversations, said Blackwell. The three-person blue ribbon committee set up by the commissioner of Major League Baseball to examine the A’s stadium issue, though, has been offered both the Coliseum City site and another on the waterfront at Howard Terminal, he added.

The administration continues to maintain a hands-off approach when it comes to enticing the Warriors interest away from Piers 30-32 in San Francisco, Blackwell said, but the Raiders continue to show the most interest in building a new football stadium in the city. However, Raiders ownership maintains it is seeking a greater indication of the stadium project's future progress by the end of the current football season, he said, which runs until thorough December. The Raiders have already had direct conversation over the stadium project with its newest investors, Colony Capital LLC and an investment group led by Dubai financier Rashid Al Malik, it was reported at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

A representative for Councilmember Larry Reid (he did not attend the meeting of which chairs) voiced concern for further extending the exclusive negotiating agreement and the timeline for its completion. Council President Pat Kernighan, though, said the potential investment opportunity is too good for Oakland to pass up. “We’ve been looking for this kind of investment in Oakland for a long, long time,” said Kernighan. “We need to seize the moment here and not be looking at the bees in the bush when we have a bird in the hand.”

Councilmember Libby Schaaf said the latest addition of new investors may make it less likely exorbitant public funds will need to be used on Coliseum City. Otherwise, she said, “I don’t think this city can afford to subsidize or give public money away for the purpose of doing that.”

As it stands, the city and county does not plan for the Coliseum City development team to receive some ownership of the property, said Blackwell, but it may still be up for negotiation. Instead, the current framework calls for the city and Coliseum Authority to provide the land and public infrastructure improvements, said Blackwell, “but it’s not our expectation that we would contribute to the actual vertical development.”