Wednesday, November 27, 2013

San Leandro May Spend $110k To Study Potential Tax Measure in 2014

San Leandro may eye a road improvement tax
next year. It has struggled in recent years to find
money to repair its roads.
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | With the coming mid-term election season just around the corner, voters in Alameda County, including those in San Leandro, may be asked to pass another round of revenue-generating tax measures. A potential reauthorization of Alameda County’s Measure A hospital tax may head to the voters next year, in addition to another try at a countywide transportation sales tax and the renewal of Oakland’s Measure Y covering public safety.

In San Leandro, the City Council raised possibility Nov. 18 of adding yet another tax or bond measure in 2014. It formed an ad hoc committee to study a menu of potential measures, including a tax on its nascent medical cannabis dispensaries, a local road improvements tax, an increase in the city’s hotel tax and the reauthorization of its successful quarter-cent sales tax, Measure Z, passed in 2010. In fact, Measure Z, has been so successful, many credit it with bringing the city’s finances into the black. Last week, the city announced a $3.2 million surplus this year.

However, a successful ballot measure is often about timing and how much the public is willing to bear in increased taxes. According to a consulting bid from Oakland’s Lew Edwards Group, its initial analysis states San Leandrans may be willing to support a bond for road improvement. Although the state of many streets in Alameda County are mediocre to poor, San Leandro’s roads are rated as some of the worse and with few years remaining on their use, if left unattended.

The Lew Edwards Group has worked with the city in the past. It helped pass Measure Z three years ago, in addition, to a school parcel tax last year. Their bid, however, comes with a $49,500 price tag. The City Council is set to discussed the offer at its Dec. 2 meeting. An additional $60,000 bid from polling firm Godbe Research is also on next Monday's agenda. 

Potentially muddling the success of San Leandro raising taxes next year is the presence of a mayoral election in San Leandro and three council races, two of which, feature open seats. Depending on the campaign stances of individual candidates, a tax measure could be hurt by the political posturing. In contrast, wide support can also allow the tax measure to piggy-back on the candidate's door-to-door campaigning.

However, it does not always work out this way, at least, in San Leandro. In 2010, then-mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy ran a successful campaign on the premise of fiscal responsibility and pension reform. He also opposed the sales tax increase, Measure Z. Cassidy won, but so did Measure Z.

UPDATE: On Monday night, the San Leandro City Council approved both contracts as written, 6-0. Mayor Cassidy was absent.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chronicle Columnist Thinks City Hall Belongs To Politicians, Not The People

Oakland City Council meeting Nov. 19.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | ANALYSIS | There are times when even the most veteran of journalists drop their editorial guard and reveal exactly how they think. Most people in Oakland know San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson bends over backward for the police. But, why, does he consistently fill his columns with such a blatant pro-law and enforcement slant? One reason, most figure, is this is what the conservative editorial page of the Chronicle desires. The fact of the matter is getting your stories in the morning paper sometimes involves mirroring the boss's ethos. That could be part of it. However, Johnson instead opened his ideological soul in Tuesday’s edition.

In a column meant to mock protesters of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center during last week’s City Council meeting, Johnson backed the utility of blanketing the city in a surveillance state, of course, all in the name of public safety. The protesters who cry the center will eventually erode public privacy could theoretically be right, he opined, maybe somewhere down the line, but not likely. As he described the shouting and commotion brought on by opponents of the DAC following the council’s vote in favor and subsequent clearing of the council’s chambers, Johnson wrote:
Like a broken record, the scenario has played out again in Oakland City Hall. Oakland residents are pretty sick of it. I’m sick of it.

After nearly two years of being bullied in their own house, maybe City Council members finally got sick of it, too.
It's no wonder Johnson thinks law and order deserves every implement in the tool shed to fight crime even though the Oakland Police Department has repeatedly shown in the past it defaults to trimming the bushes with a chainsaw rather than pruning shears. Chip Johnson thinks city government belongs to the politicians and not the people. Repeat that in your head. You simply cannot cover government with this frame of mind. This is the mindset of the affluent and the business community, which openly flaunts their perceived control of the political process.

Johnson’s column, in fact, should be about Council President Pat Kernighan stifling dissent last week that was really rather tame, if not merely annoying, when she ordered police to clear the chambers. This act is not something to be lauded by anyone. Kernighan should be embarrassed for her actions.

In addition, what firsthand information does Johnson possess when it comes to Oakland City Council meetings? I’ve been covering City Hall since last January and I’ve never seen him in council chambers. So, what is making him so sick about the whole scene? In fact, the real problem with his column Tuesday is, as a reader, I now believe his assertions about Oakland city government and its crime problem are merely anecdotal collections of extreme stories he has heard about living in Oakland, but nothing he has experienced or even jarringly felt in his reporter’s bones.

In this regard, the protesters of the DAC should be worried of someone like Johnson having such a bully pulpit. The best way to impose a police state is get the media involved. If Johnson and the rest of the local media repeatedly urge the public to be fearful, then they will. Eventually, the incessant barrage of crime stories will affect reality. Before you know it, having every movement you make become subject to review by police won’t seem like such a horrible bargain. It might even save you from yourself.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Larry Reid To Coliseum City Investor: ‘Show Me The Money!’

Larry Reid
COLISEUM AUTHORITY | On Monday, Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was effusively thanking investment firm, Colony Capital, LLC, the Coliseum City’s new, well-financed investor when her City Council and Coliseum Authority colleague, Larry Reid, interrupted.

“I wouldn’t go out and sing their praises,” Reid chimed in after the Coliseum Authority approved short-term lease agreements with its current tenants, the Athletics and Raiders.

Reid said Colony Capital, despite its considerable financial heft, hasn’t shown him to be worthy of Kaplan’s praise, just yet. “Until they put some money up, then they’re in the deal,” he said. As some Authority board members chuckled with Reid and his sassy comments, he added, “I’m just being real. Show me the money!”

Reid’s participation at public events has been few and far between recently. Following a then-undisclosed back problem, Reid has rarely been seen in public since late July. Reid finally attended an Oakland City Council meeting two weeks ago, aided by a cane, but was excused last week for back surgery. He made his comments Monday on Coliseum City while seated in a wheelchair, but sounded like the Larry Reid of old.

Colony Capital’s recent involvement starting late last summer in the Coliseum City project raised spirits among Oakland and Alameda County officials, along with the inclusion of investors from Dubai. However, there is some concern among insiders Colony Capital is also motivated by gifts of public lands or even a chunk of the Raiders ownership in return for developing the area around 66th Avenue and Hegenberger Road into a sports and entertainment hub for the East Bay.

In addition to a new football stadium, the Coliseum City plan includes a ballpark for the Athletics and arena for the Warriors. Amenities such as hotels and restaurants are also envisioned, along with a research and technology campus directly across the freeway.

Coliseum Approves Short-Term Leases With A's, Raiders Through 2015 Seasons

COLISEUM AUTHORITY | The Athletics and Raiders have a home in Oakland, at least, for the next few years. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority approved a two-year lease Monday for the Athletics, along with a one-year extension of its current deal with the Raiders. Both teams are seeking new stadiums, if not in Oakland, but somewhere in the Bay Area.

The short-term lease agreements were also described as short-term successes for keeping the teams in Oakland. Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, also the chair of the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority, said primarily of the Raiders deal, “It’s progress. But we haven’t finished the ballgame, but we scored two points.”

Of the three teams eyeing an exodus from the Coliseum, the Raiders have long been viewed as the most amendable to working with the JPA. Upon voting for the lease extension, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty applauded Raiders owner Mark Davis for his cooperation. “We have a partner who wants to work with us and I find that definitely refreshing,” said Haggerty.

The Raiders are seeking to be the main tenants at the same location, dubbed as Coliseum City. The A’s have had their sight on a new ballpark in San Jose for years, yet two potential sites in Oakland remain a possibility--one at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square and another at the current location.

Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, one of the city’s representatives on the JPA, said East Bay sports fans should view Monday’s vote as a positive step toward Oakland keeping two of its professional sports franchises. “We can tell the fans we have finished our short-term goals and now we can move toward resolving the long-term issue of building facilities,” said Kaplan following Monday’s JPA meeting at Oracle Arena. “Oakland is a sports town – and this is good news for the teams, the fans and the city alike.”

However, many of the Coliseum Authority board members were far less than enthusiastic about the terms of the deals, especially with the Athletics. Kaplan for instance, called it “not a horrible deal.” Haggerty added, “This falls short of what I would have hoped we winded up with,” but he says he supports it with the fans in mind. “They put up with a lot, but they continue to support a very good team.” Coliseum Authority board member Aaron Goodwin registered the only no vote against either deal. In an interview, Goodwin declined to say the agreements were bad, but he also noted his colleagues consistently voiced tepid support for the agreements. “I don’t vote for bad deals,” he told EBC.

Pressure from Major League Baseball on the JPA earlier this month to finalize a lease deal or risk the possibility of the team playing at San Francisco’s AT&T Park was a determining factor in negotiations, said Miley, “It’s not ideal, but it’s progress.” Miley and Kaplan both added, the new lease might even ingratiate the city and county with MLB as it fights to keep the team in Oakland, despite very public overtures to San Jose. A blue ribbon committee created by MLB to study the San Francisco Giants exclusive rights to the Santa Clara market has almost comically yielded few reports since its founding in 2009.

Under terms of the Raiders lease extension agreement, which still must be approved by the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Raiders will play at O.co Coliseum through the end of the 2014-15 football season and pay $400,000, plus half of concessions and stadium club dues. The JPA also agrees to allow the team to play a home game next season in London. Tailgating may get even more expensive, too, with allowances for the Raiders to charge up to $35 for parking. The lease also gives ownership the option of continuing to rent its practice facility in Alameda past the life of the lease at a fair market rate capped at $525,000 annually.

The Athletics lease runs from Dec. 31, 2015 and will pay the JPA $1.75 million annually. The deal also allows the team to control concession providers at the Coliseum complex and one interesting clause. The new deal prohibits the Athletics from making “unfactual statements” about the Coliseum, said the JPA's Interim Executive Director Deena McClain. During the past baseball season, Athletics co-owner Lew Wolff mad several disparaging comments about the stadium's plumbing and overall condition following incidents of flooding in the players’ locker room and dugout. AEG, the operator of the Coliseum, said the accidents had nothing to do with the state of the facility's plumbing, but occurred after towels were flushed down toilets in restricted areas.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reed: I'm Running Because Wieckowski Can't Carry Stem Cell Legislation

Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski
STATE SENATE | DISTRICT 10 | Roman Reed, the newest candidate for next year’s 10th State Senate race, says the impetus for his surprise run started with the realization Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski couldn't pass muster when it comes to enacting important state legislation to fund stem cell research.

Reed, who was partially paralyzed nearly 20 years ago during a football game at Chabot College, is a national leader in the push to help disabled people restore some physical functions, or maybe even find a cure. Reed is also chair of the Fremont Planning Commission.

On Thursday, Reed said, former state legislators John A. Dutra and Alberto Torrico, who represented many of the same East Bay voters in the current 10th District, both successfully moved stem cell-related bill into law while in office. “But, Bob Wieckowski? He’s 0-for-3,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait around while there are lives to be saved.”

In recent years, Wieckowski failed to procure the governor’s signature on two bills to fund the Roman Law Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. Both bills attracted significant support in the Legislature and passed both houses before falling short.

Roman Reed
Reed said he was dismayed earlier this year when Wieckowski neglected to send a representative to speak on the issue before the State Senate Appropriations Committee. Reed says he found a speaker, but added, “How can you rely on a constituent to do something like that?”

Next month, Reed's philanthropic work will be honored by the Genetic Policy Institute at a banquet in San Diego for his advocacy in stem cell research and helping to raise over $14 million in funding for the Roman Reed Foundation.

In addition to Wieckowksi, former Assemblymember Mary Hayashi is also a likely challenger in the sprawling district that runs from Castro Valley to portions of San Jose. Reed believes his uplifting story, in addition, to a belief among some observers, he could greatly benefit by splitting the vote between Wieckowski and Hayashi, makes him a formidable candidate. But, when it comes to the perception Wieckowski is next in line for the senate seat, Reed repeated the mantra, “It’s not who’s first in line, it’s who's best in line.”

In fact, some are beginning to compare this current election scenario to the 2006 Democratic State Senate primary between Dutra, Johan Klehs and Ellen Corbett. (See note below.)  Incidentally, Reed says Dutra, Klehs and Torrico are a few of his biggest supporters. In that famous local race, Corbett ultimately won despite languishing somewhat late in a race that turned ugly.

On Election Day, Corbett took over 38 percent of the vote, but her challengers also garnered over 30 percent each. It’s an outcome Reed hopes will work out in his favor come June.

NOTE: Klehs said Sunday, he is not supporting Reed for the State Senate. On Thursday, Reed called Torrico and Klehs two of his biggest supporters. "I have never had any discussion with Roman Reed regarding his run for State Senate, can’t remember when I spoke to him last, and have no idea how to reach him in the first place," said Klehs

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Specter Of Wall Street Waters Down Oakland's Anti-Foreclosure Resolution

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | FORECLOSURES | What began as two competing resolution designed to show support for Richmond’s audacious plan to help underwater mortgage holders reduce principal and potentially by use of eminent domain, took pains Tuesday night to avoid worrying Wall Street investors.

The City Council unanimously passed a resolution by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan admittedly tweaked to avoid causing investors any sleepless nights worrying about Oakland one day joining Richmond and its controversial principal-reduction plans. Councilmember Desley Brooks had also offered another resolution in support of Richmond, but some council members cautioned it might send Wall Street the wrong message with its repeated use of the phrase “eminent domain.” Both resolutions were deemed ceremonial by its authors.

Since Richmond had received threats of reprisals against its bond rating by financial institution even before it set a path forward earlier this year, Kaplan struck a passage in her resolution asking for an early legal analysis by the city attorney’s office. Notably, the resolution passed Tuesday night avoids legislative nomenclature normally used in resolutions showing support for cause or entity, such as “strong support” and “we stand in support of.”

Kaplan says she was briefed by an outside entity that bond markets could “misinterpret” either phrase “as a term of us endorsing legislation.” “They might think we are going the path of copying Richmond’s strategy particularly,” said Kaplan. “So, in order to avoid that risk to our city, I have made the changes to make it clear this resolution is supportive of Richmond’s goal, but does not use the typical words that might imply we're endorsing a specific strategy.”

The council, including Brooks, ultimately approved Kaplan’s nuanced resolution with Council President Pat Kernighan saying, the presence of three sections in Brooks’ plan using the term eminent domain, in addition, to the title, made it “pretty clear” the council would be supporting its potential use in Richmond.

Brooks, though, said, “This has always been about principal reduction. It has never been about eminent domain and when we talk about eminent domain, we cloud the conversation.” Later, Brooks added, the council too often compromises on issues to the point they are “watered down” and “meaningless.”

“I think the bigger issue for me is that a council provide leadership and not be afraid to speak on behalf of its residents and that if we allow banking institutions to silence us because it might look like we’re going down a path.” She maintains eminent domain is only a last resort and not by offering Richmond its strongest support, it may actually hurt their ability to gain leverage from other cities interested in their plan. “I believe Richmond deserves some support," said Brooks, "but it’s not lukewarm support that we should be providing them.”

Stark Unplugged: "Hopefully Eric Will Lose' And Ro "Has To Wait And Run'

Pete Stark, Rep. Eric Swalwell
CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | Pete Stark's four decades in Congress did not have a happy ending and the bitter defeat to Democrat Eric Swalwell apparently still burns. Stark told Roll Call, a publication focused on Congress, he plans to do everything in his power to help State Sen. Ellen Corbett defeat his old rival next year.

“Hopefully Eric will lose, and I am doing everything I can to see that Ellen Corbett wins that primary election,” Stark told Roll Call on Wednesday, “I remember Eric, during the campaign against me, suggested that I was too old and inept to be of any value in the political process, so I am going to see if I can prove that to be wrong.”

In fact, Swalwell's sometimes mean-spirited attacks on Stark's human frailty was an underreported aspect of his upset victory last year. You may recall Swalwell's campaign produced a low-budget video depicting a hypothetical debate between Swalwell, who appeared as himself, and a young actor with painted gray hair posing as Stark.

During the last campaign finance period, Stark contributed $2,000 to Corbett's campaign and more appears on the way. There is also a chance Stark's reemergence in next year's race could actually help Swalwell again reinvigorate moderates and conservatives in the Tri Valley.

But, while other members of the California Democratic House delegation are beginning to make a concerted effort to strangle Corbett's intraparty bid while its still in its crib, Stark is heading in opposite direction, at least, in this race.

However, Roll Call also published an article Thursday, possibly showing Stark employing a plea for party loyalty over an upstart young Democrat in another nearby congressional race. Stark told the publication, he attempted to dissuade Ro Khanna from challenging South Bay Rep. Mike Honda next year.

“I tried to convince Ro not to do that,” Stark told Roll Call. “I think that’s impertinent of him. I mean … Mike is a fantastic member of Congress.” In fact, Stark's emphasis on describing Honda as a beloved member of the state's House delegation is a meme you will often heard from local officials and political observers in the area.

But, before you label Stark a hypocrite for claiming party loyalty when it does not effect him personally, he also told Roll Call, Khanna "has to wait and run." Of course, waiting for their turn to run, is what a caravan of local politicians, including Corbett and Khanna, did in the 15th District two years ago before Swalwell swooped in a upended the order of things in the East Bay.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mayor Cassidy Hints He Knows Council Colleagues Don’t Like Him

Mayor Cassidy in 2010. How many of his colleagues
would like to take a shot at the dunking booth today?
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | Did San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy make light of his apparent unpopularity among council colleagues this week?

Near the end of Monday’s night’s meeting regarding possible changes to how the council selects its vice mayor, Cassidy said the current process can create disharmony and then while speaking to the City Council, joked, “I’m so happy to be mayor where you don’t get to vote whether I get to stay mayor or not.” A hearty laugh followed, before he added, “Just the people get to make that decision.” (Watch the video clip below.)

The quip, however, is rooted in some truth. Over the past few years, Cassidy has clashed on various occasions with Councilmember Ursula Reed, alienated Councilmember Benny Lee over the recent Chinese flag over City Hall fiasco and traded barbs with Councilmember Diana Souza, who has voiced displeasure with the mayor on various occasions during meetings. Even the normally jovial Councilmember Jim Prola has had private disputes with Cassidy. Although Prola told EBC last month he will not challenge Cassidy for mayor next year, he added this caveat, “Unless he makes me mad.”

On Monday, Cassidy said, while he can’t be vice mayor, himself, the procedure of selecting a vice mayor--a purely ceremonial title--puts him in an awkward position. Yet, he desires a “harmonious relationship” with all members of the council.

Currently, the City Council votes each May to name a new vice mayor. There are no specific rules for its selection, but the council has typical rotated the title among themselves. However, this year Souza expressed disappointment by being passed over for the job in favor of Prola. Souza, who is heading into her eighth and final year as a member of the council has never held the title. She pushed for reexamining the process, which was discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Among city councils in Alameda County, San Leandro’s policy for picking its number two is one of the least formal. Some cities, like Fremont, rotate the position among its four members. Others, in some combination of rotation and tenure, bestow the honor on the member who garnered the most votes during its most recent election. In Hayward, its version of vice mayor, the mayor pro tem, is the most senior member of the group who has yet to hold the office and whom has served for at least two years.

Next Speaker: Seymour Butts

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | The controversial Oakland Domain Awareness Center moved closer to reality early Wednesday morning as the Oakland City Council gave approval for the city administrator to move forward with selecting a vendor for the port and citywide surveillance hub set to come fully online next year.

Dozens of speakers waited until the early morning to again state their opposition to the center, but also to berate and chant over members of the City Council, which voted, 6-1, to approve the resolution. Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney voted no.

However, the perceived mischief inside the council chambers also had a light-hearted moment when City Clerk Latonda Simmons read aloud the next batch of speaker cards, which included one with the name “Seymour Butts.”

Watch Simmons below, a popular cult figure among the legion on Twitter who follow the action using the hashtag “oakmtg,” as she calls out the fake name. A few minutes later, Mr. Butts surprisingly appears.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cassidy’s Quandary: Juggling Work Demands With His Duties As Mayor

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | In San Leandro, being mayor is not a full-time job, at least, financially. Earlier this month, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy offered another in a long line of proposals that appear more suited to molding the official business of the city to his own personal work schedule than his stated goals of greater government efficiency.

While citing concerns San Leandro City Council meetings run too long, Cassidy proposed Nov. 7 a set of time-saving restrictions meant to offer greater efficiency and ostensibly have council members at home and in bed before the late local news.

Cassidy’s suggestions to impose a 15-minute time limit on staff presentations during regular meetings along with a limit of four questions per council member to staff and a seven-minute limit on council reports routinely heard at the end of meetings, was met with some opposition.

Mayor Stephen Cassidy
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
“I signed up for this because I want to be available for the public,” said Councilmember Benny Lee. He told Cassidy he was willing to stay at meetings however long they go and worries placing time restraints will yield inadequate information for the public.

Councilmember Ursula Reed thinks the council is already efficient and meetings typically do not run very long. However, she said, recent hot topic issues such as the Chinese flag controversy last September and the approval of medical cannabis dispensaries two weeks ago are rare and attract more public speakers than usual.

“The majority of us have to be at work the next day,” said Cassidy and “Decision-making begins to degrade after 10 p.m.” He cautions, though, he plans to implement the new guidelines for three months before reevaluating its usefulness.

However, this is not the first time Cassidy has made attempts to allow his own personal convenience trump the needs and schedule of others at City Hall. Early in his first term, Cassidy changed the starting times of City Council committees of which he served. Some were scheduled to start at odd early morning times such 7:45 a.m. Critics claimed Cassidy, who is an attorney in San Francisco, scheduled the odd times to fit his commute on BART to The City. A year later, the council committees were eliminated altogether.

The demands of working a full-time job while leading a city of over 86,000 has also severely limited Cassidy’s ability to hold office hours, let alone commiserate with other public officials and colleagues in the East Bay. During his first three years in office, Cassidy has shown a clear unwillingness for serving on intergovernmental agencies. Of the nine such agencies, Cassidy is only an alternate for the Alameda County Transportation Committee. Earlier this year, former Union City Mayor Mark Green suggested Cassidy was making a mistake for himself and his constituents by not participating on such boards and their potential for creating important networking and leadership opportunities. Despite an aversion to local regional matters, however, Cassidy did serve as president of the Alameda County Mayors Council last year, which skews to a more national view of issues.

In all fairness, Cassidy is the first San Leandro mayor who is not semi-retired since Ellen Corbett in the mid-90s, but the political optics of a mayor who rarely even sets foot in his office is ripe for manipulation by any potential challenger for his seat next year. Cue a photo of an empty mayor's office with the tagline: “How can Stephen Cassidy lead San Leandro when he’s working at his cubicle in San Francisco?” could be a suggested campaign flier. However, for Cassidy’s sake, he has yet to draw any credible competition. No member of the City Council appears poised to take him on despite his flaws and reputation as an uncompromising colleague and no member of the public with necessary gravitas seems to exist.

Cynthia Chandler, an attorney, is a likely opponent who is indicating a willingness to aggressively take Cassidy on, but she has no political experience. Dan Dillman, a charismatic local theater owner who describes himself as both a treasure hunter and ancient astronaut theorist, may also present Cassidy with another challenger willing to get in his face on issues such as city and business relations. In recent months, Cassidy and Dillman have traded barbs during the public speakers' portion of council meetings. For instance, when Cassidy asked Dillman to state his address before speaking, Dillman eventually replied, “Milky Way. Planet Earth.” Yet, like the question of whether there is life on distant planets, San Leandro voters may have to wonder if there is, indeed, any sign of life in their mayor’s office and, if it does, what's next? A proposal by Cassidy to proclaim council meetings to end before the start of "The Voice"?

Bill Lockyer Endorses Swalwell's Bid For Re-Election Next Year

Bill Lockyer at the Calif. Democratic State
Convention last April. PHOTO/Shane Bond
CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | Bill Lockyer's imprimatur is not what it once was, but the state treasurer still has loads of money and liberal contacts in the 15th Congressional District. On Monday, Rep. Eric Swalwell announced Lockyer has endorsed his re-election campaign next year over State Sen. Ellen Corbett.

Swalwell alerted his social media followers of the news, adding, Lockyer, a Hayward resident, would join him to grow the economy and rebuild the middle class.

The endorsement is a big get for Swalwell, if not, because it denies Corbett, a long-time local Democratic colleague of Lockyer, from receiving the same support and political implications attached. Corbett and Lockyer both cut their teeth in San Leandro politics and enjoyed lengthy careers in the State Legislature. It also bolsters doubts the party is not ready to bolt from an incumbent congressman in favor of another Democrat.

Lockyer's reputation, though, has been greatly sullied since the tragic fall of his wife, Nadia Lockyer, whose drug and alcohol addition took her from Alameda County supervisor to her resignation and incarceration last year. Nadia Lockyer recently appeared in an interview with a local news station to tell her side of the story, which included reiterating a claim her husband suggested she die as she struggled with addiction. Bill Lockyer initially sought a divorce, but both now say they have reconciled. However, Nadia Lockyer told KGO-TV she now resides in Long Beach.

In recent weeks, the race in the 15th District between Swalwell and Corbett is showing signs of heating up. Last week, Corbett took grasp of the high-profile case of a Castro Valley assisted-care home shut down by the state that somehow left 14 elderly patients without attention for two days. Corbett announced plans to offer a bill next year in the Legislature to protect patients against such occurrences in the future.

Undaunted, Swalwell asked residents to donate clothing and supplies for the 14 unfortunate seniors. The clothing drive even netted a television.

NOTE: During the 2010 Alameda County supervisor's race, Corbett publicly denied she had ever given Nadia Lockyer her backing. Lockyer had boasted of the endorsement during a May 2010 candidate's forum in Fremont. Corbett never made an endorsement in the race in which Lockyer won handily.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Swalwell, Lee, Honda Vote Against GOP Obamacare Fix

CONGRESS | East Bay Reps. Eric Swalwell, Barbara Lee and Mike Honda all voted against legislation sponsored by House Republicans allowing people to renew their cancelled health insurance plans. The bill passed 261-157, with 39 Democrats defying the President's veto warning, including local Reps. Jerry McNerney and John Garamendi.

The Greater East Bay House delegation, however, did not support the bill Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said would effectively "pull the plug" on the Affordable Care Act. The plan led by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) goes further than the proposed "fix' offered Thursday by President Obama allowing Americans to keep their current existing plans for another year. The House bill, however, also allows insurance companies to continue selling new plans outside federal and state health insurance exchanges.

During an appearance Thursday on KGO's Ronn Owens Show, Swalwell said, "People are angry for good reason. I'm angry." He noted Covered California, the state's own health insurance exchanges is working well. However, it is the federal government Web site, he said, that continues to vex customers and misinform some members of his own district who have confused the national media outcry with California's well-run site. "You can't fix a broken system," he said, "with a broken Web site and a broken promise."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is The Kingdom Of Miley Crumbling?

ALAMEDA COUNTY | CASTRO VALLEY | Alameda County’s unincorporated areas make up nearly a tenth of its population, yet they enjoy fewer avenues for direct representation than the rest of the county. Most of these residents rely on Alameda County Supervisors Nate Miley and Wilma Chan for governance. But, while an opportunity to shape the unincorporated areas future for the next five years is presented this weekend, an inconsistent and piecemeal approach to the region, primarily in Castro Valley, is again raising the question of self-determination.

This Saturday, unincorporated residents and business owners in Castro Valley, San Lorenzo, Fairview, Cherryland and Ashland, will be asked to choose five overreaching goals for the next Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI). The charrette, the final phase of EALI's collaborative planning effort, will cover areas of interest including agriculture and environment; economic development; education and public safety. However, it is the area of governance that sparked a bitter feud last month between some Castro Valley residents defending themselves against others from their smaller, somewhat less affluent unincorporated neighbors.

During an earlier EALI group meeting, a last-minute effort to include a controversial proposal allowing representation for San Lorenzo, Fairview, Cherryland and Ashland residents on Castro Valley’s seven-member Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) was met with derision. The Castro Valley MAC, however, is entirely appointed by Supervisor Miley and serve at his pleasure. The council acts as Castro Valley’s de facto local government, yet contains no real power other than to advise its county supervisor.

Nonetheless, talk of including other unincorporated areas to the MAC and further diluting its scant authority comes on the heels of an admittedly small, but vocal group of Castro Valley residents again raising the question of cityhood. In the meantime, Castro Valley resident Michael Kusiak and others have been applying pressure on Miley to make the MAC an elected council. Opposition to the idea from current MAC members reason, among other things, campaign costs would make running for office difficult. In addition, the MAC already has difficulty attracting volunteers willing to serve.

Kusiak says, with the current model of governance, the unincorporated areas are plagued by a large maze of local county bureaucracies that leave residents in the dark over whom to reach for help. However, he also realize the time for incorporation is not now with a foundering local economy and the absence of vehicle license fees and hotel taxes to act as an initial flow of revenue for the potential nascent city. Previous attempted to incorporate, most recently in 2002, have failed.

Yet, just as Castro Valley, the largest unincorporated municipality in the state with a population of over 61,000, searches for greater representation, neighboring residents mocked it for the perception, among some, it revels in a higher standard of living over places, such as Ashland and Cherryland. The hyperbole at the EALI meeting last month, in fact, often times resorted to describing the divide as analogous to dismal class and race relations. “We don’t want to bring you down, we want to join you,” said Keith Barros, the San Lorenzo resident who first broached the idea, without discussion, in September for integrating Castro Valley’s MAC. Barros, though, later said Castro Valley residents were treating its unincorporated brethren as “second-class citizens.”

David Ashton, a native of Castro Valley, called Barros' move “underhanded,” and charged him with “hijacking the meeting” near its end last September. “This is the worst kind of chicanery,” he told Barros at the subsequent meeting in October. “Really despicable.” Barros, in fact, was given nearly a dozen opportunities by Miley to speak during the contentious hour-long discussion. When Barros wasn’t stating his case he could be seen--in the middle of the debate--chatting with Miley outside the meeting room at the Castro Valley Library.

A revote eventually nullified the attempt to get the reformed MAC proposal on Saturday’s ballot, but nonetheless revealed two camps of marginalized communities fighting over the crumbs of little tangible power and representation.

In the past, Miley has publicly described a willingness to be flexible to the demands of residents in what has become a virtual fiefdom outside of his supervisorial stronghold in Oakland. His passivity was seen last month when a resident sincerely asked for his opinion over the practicality of the MAC proposal. “As far as I’m concerned, we can live with the reality, either way.”

However, many county observers over the years say the relative autonomy Miley enjoys in Castro Valley and the rest of the unincorporated areas would be hard to pry away. In fact, the spoils of the last EALI in 2008 led to dramatic streetscape improvements to Castro Valley Boulevard and Lewelling Boulevard. It also led to the gleaming Ashland Youth Center, which opened this year. A long-time former Alameda County public official recently told EBCitizen the center is Miley’s legacy monument and predicted, “How much you want to bet his name is on that building before he dies?”
Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI) Phase II Community Charrette, Eden United Church of Christ, 21455 Birch St., Hayward, Sat., Nov. 16, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (voting begins at 11:10 a.m.). Unincorporated residents, property and business owners, 16-years-old and older are eligible to vote. For more information: www.acgov.org/edenareavision.

Fascinating Candidate Emerges To Face Hayashi, Wieckowski For State Senate

Roman Reed, a Fremont planning
commissioner, is eyeing a run at
State Senate next year.
STATE SENATE | 10th DISTRICT | During a college football game in late 1994, Roman Reed laid prone on the gridiron at Chabot College after delivering a hit. The accident rendered him paralyzed, yet nearly two decades later, his inspiring story of perseverance just may shake up what many believed was two-horse race for the State Senate’s 10th District race next year featuring Mary Hayashi and Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski.

Reed, a Democrat, who served as a Fremont planning commissioner since 2010, told EBC he is strongly considering a run next year for the seat that stretches from Castro Valley and San Lorenzo to portions of San Jose and Santa Clara. Although, Reed was rumored to be contemplating a run for the State Legislature, which office he would seek was unclear. Campaign finance accounts, in fact, were opened by Reed for both the State Senate and Assembly.

A race initially viewed as a matchup between Wieckowski’s good-natured aloofness and Hayashi’s bare-knuckled, yet tarnished reputation, suddenly has an unexpected human interest story without precedent in the entire Bay Area. In a Facebook message Thursday, Reed said he is not ready to officially announce his candidacy, but added, “We must win. Lives actually do depend on our success.”

His choice of facing two well-financed Democrats like Hayashi, who sits on over $732,000 in campaign contributions, and Wieckowski, with over $76,000 and growing, is bold move and filled with troves of interesting angles. Hayashi is still stinging from a clear rebuke by voters last year in her race for Alameda County supervisor that followed her embarrassing shoplifting charge in 2011. In addition, while Wieckowski will likely pull precious union support and contributions away from Hayashi, his two terms in the Assembly are relatively uneventful. There is also a view in Fremont that he had lost control of his staff over the past year and, in turn, alienated some supporters in the area’s growing South Asian communities.

Reed’s candidacy could be viewed as an affront to Wieckowski, too. Just this year, a bill sponsored by Wieckowski to designate $1 million to fund the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research program at the University of California sailed through the Legislature. However, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last October saying the UC is better suited to fund these types of research projects. In 2011, Wieckowski was also unsuccessful in funding the program with a bill that would have tacked $3 to all traffic tickets for spinal cord injury research.

Bonta To Filipino Typhoon Survivors: ‘California Cares’

Bonta in a PSA this year celebrating
Filipino American history month.
ASSEMBLY | 18TH DISTRICT | Assemblymember Rob Bonta is the first Filipino American elected to the State Legislature. He was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. The devastation wrought by the powerful typhoon that struck his native country last week led him to appeal to Californians and its large Filipino communities Wednesday to do what they can to help the survivors during a joint press conference with both leaders of the State Legislature.

Standing with Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Bonta, who represents Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro, said, "As my Filipino brothers and sisters struggle to survive, locate their loved ones, and heal after this tragedy, I am encouraged that our state leaders, along with the rest of the country and world, are moved with empathy, concern, and a desire to help, and are turning those feelings into tremendous relief efforts,"

In the video below, Bonta urges Californians to contribute to organizations providing short-term meals for survivors, while also calling for registered nurses, particularly those fluent in Tagalog, to help with the rising medical calamity following the typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. “Not only will California be sending its deepest sympathies, but also relief,” said Bonta.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alameda County Supervisors Join Early Push For Legalizing Pot

ALAMEDA COUNTY//BOARD OF SUPERVISORS | It was no surprise last week the Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the federal government to refrain from raids on local medical cannabis dispensaries and respect states like California, Washington and Colorado, which have passed regulatory cannabis laws.

Remember, this is the county board of supervisors where one member had no compunction about wearing a t-shirt during a meeting this year supporting a well-known Oakland dispensary and its den of pot scholarship.

The resolution, offered by Supervisor Keith Carson also asks President Obama to begin a national dialogue over the issue of legalization. "This board respectfully requests that President Obama begin the discussion about the potential benefits of reforming federal laws on marijuana use in all forms, including medicinal and recreational uses," said the resolution. A state proposition asking California voters to legalize recreational use of cannabis will likely be on next year's ballot.

In addition, to respecting states' law concerning cannabis, the resolution also references rising public opinion in support of legalizing marijuana for all uses, the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated for pot-related offenses and the strain enforcement places on the local authorities.

Tax considerations are also seen as a benefit of legalization, says the resolution. "Different levels of government, local, state and federal budgets face fiscal uncertainty for the future, and there are potential tax revenues from the subsequent taxation of cannabis." Just last week, the San Leandro City Council approved its first medical cannabis dispensary amidst a strong desire to eventually enact a citywide sales tax.

Nevertheless, a few of Oakland's eight dispensaries have been targeted by federal authorities, including one of its most successful. Despite an early campaign pledge by Obama to pull back from federal raids on dispensaries, some proponents of pot believe he has administration has, by far, been the more ruthless in cracking down on marijuana than its predecessors.

The seeds of last week's resolution may have been sown last February. During a supervisors' meeting featuring the county commendation of Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee for his efforts, Supervisor Nate Miley, who was wearing an Oaksterdam t-shirt, said the feds should relent from raiding the county's lawful dispensaries. “My feeling is the Obama administration needs to lay off," said Miley, "particularly in the states that passed laws that allow for medical marijuana and stop wasting their time with individuals like Rich and others.”

Competing Foreclosure Resolutions Faceoff At Next Oakland Council Meeting

Oakland Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan
and Desley Brooks.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//FORECLOSURES | A pair of largely ceremonial Oakland City Council resolutions, both lauding Richmond for its efforts in helping owners of underwater mortgages in that city, is heading on a collision course next week. On Tuesday, the Oakland Community and Economic Development Committee approved a watered down resolution authored by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan designed to avoid making Wall Street jittery about Oakland’s own ambitions to pursue principal reduction and possibly the use of eminent domain to stanch the number of foreclosures.

A similar resolution by Coucilmember Desley Brooks is also scheduled to be heard at the Nov. 19 council meeting. Both resolutions issue support for Richmond, however, while Kaplan’s asks for a legal analysis of Richmond’s program by the city attorney's office, Brooks’ simply asks for an outside group to compile data measuring the impact of foreclosures in Oakland. According to a staff report last week, over 12,000 Oaklanders lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007. Currently, 1,500 homeowners are in the process of foreclosure.

Kaplan indicated Tuesday the potential for knitting together the two resolutions is not likely. “This is not about authorship,” said Kaplan, who said she was amendable to changing the name of the resolution to a generic title before joking to call it , the “God is always great” resolution.

While Brooks’ pleas for passing her resolution have some speculating whether she intends to take Oakland down the same laudable, but precarious financial road as Richmond, Kaplan’s is viewed as more evenhanded. Kaplan said all references to an approach similar to Richmond being replicated in Oakland were deleted from the resolution. Instead, Kaplan said from the podium normally reserved for public speakers, the resolution focuses on recognizing Richmond in their efforts in principal reduction and “supporting that goal.”

“Between the two, this one is less bad,” said Paul Jung, president of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce of Kaplan's resolution. He added the committee should be “mindful of unintended consequences when we act out in anger against an economic downturn.” Following national coverage earlier this year of Richmond’s actions to quell foreclosures, a simple bond sale elicited no takers from Wall Street. Critics of the banks, allege Wall Street ostensibly drew an economic red line around the city as a warning.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf said she is confident Kaplan’s resolution accomplishes the goal of registering support for Richmond “in a way that’s not going to set off alarm bells.” Oddly, Councilmember Larry Reid, who chairs the committee, said, “I am not just ready to vote on either ordinance. I just don’t know enough.” A week ago, Reid, along with Councilmember Noel Gallo, were added as co-authors for Brook’s competing foreclosure resolution.

Council President Pat Kernighan said procedurally both resolutions should be heard concurrently by the council next week. She also reiterated a belief Tuesday that is similar to one given last week regarding Brooks’ plan that “There is so much analysis that needs to be done before we take a public stand.”

Corbett To Offer Bill Related To Castro Valley Assisted-Living Care Case

State Sen. Ellen Corbett
LEGISLATURE | State Sen. Ellen Corbett says the chain of events leading to 14 elderly patients in Castro Valley being left unattended and alone at an assisted-care facility for two days is unacceptable. When the State Legislature reconvenes in the New Year, Corbett plans to introduce legislation to prevent another bizarre episode like the incident last month in Castro Valley, which may have involved an alleged unscrupulous assisted-living home operator.

“This situation in Castro Valley is a clear reminder that there is an urgent need for increased protections to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again,” said Corbett. “Residents at assisted living facilities are certainly vulnerable and both they and their families deserve the peace of mind of knowing that there are safeguards in place to protect residents if and when another facility closure occurs.”

A multiagency investigation is still combing through the details surrounding the incident at Valley Springs Manor. Last month, reports detailed over a dozen assisted-living patients were left without care for two days following allegations the staff had not been paid. The home was shut down by the State Department of Social Services. However, an untrained skeleton crew of a cook and a janitor stayed behind to help care for the patients. Nobody was harmed by the unsupervised days, but its potential alarmed many.

In a statement, Tuesday evening, Corbett said her bill may include ways for strengthening the state’s facility inspection and complaint process. It could also address how to better protect elderly patients once a facility is closed by a state agency. In the meantime, Corbett says she will meet with stakeholders in the assisted-living field, patients and state representatives to “determine the best legislative course of action to meet the specific and general needs to protect assisted living home residents.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Proposal For Youth Curfews In Oakland Meets A Familiar Fate

Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo,
OPD Chief Sean Whent in background.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo cares deeply about the wayward children of his city. At least, his council colleagues say so. However, members of the Public Safety Committee said they couldn’t buy into a proposed youth curfew detailed by the Fruitvale District representative. It was also an idea even Oakland's chief of police believes would further stretch an already thin force.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf, now a potential mayor candidate next year, said youth curfews are not productive use of our time. “Things have changed,” said Schaaf since the last time the issue came before the council in 2011. “Our resources are even more strapped than when we had this last discussion,” Schaaf said. She added, not even Police Chief Sean Whent is interested in enacting the ordinance right at this time. “He knows this is the not the best use of our limited resources.”

Like Schaaf, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, said the city would be better served by focusing on chronic absenteeism by its students and figuring out how engage youths in more productive endeavors. But, McElhaney also noted, “Oakland has failed its youth.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who has consistently opposed youth curfews, agreed and said, OPD should be concentrating on stopping high-level crimes and responding to 911 calls. “If there stopping a bunch of 16-year-olds out at night, I don’t think that’s a good use of their time,” said Kalb.

In describing his proposal, which he made clear was not yet an ordinance, but a discussion, Gallo said it is aimed at getting youths under 18-years-old off the streets after 10 p.m. and also provide three youth action centers for kids who need assistance overnight or academic support. He asserted other cities like San Jose are able to provide similar services for juveniles, while others have also used non-emergency portions of firehouses to house help centers for troubled young people.

In response to critics who say curfews will increase the chance of teenagers heading to Juvenile Hall, Gallo said. “I don’t want to lock up anyone. Why would I want to do that?” Doing so, he added, would only put more teenagers in an even deeper hole within society.

However, over 50 public speakers at Tuesday’s night’s length committee hearing passionately disagreed and tore into the Gallo’s proposal. Some called it an opportunity for OPD to target minority youths, while others, some frequently using expletives to convey their point, attempted to accuse Gallo of turning his back on his Latino heritage by authoring the specific proposal.

The vitriol against Gallo led him to call on police to escort two audience members from the council chambers. When Gallo asserted every U.S. city has a curfew, the audience, made mostly of young people, responded with cries of “bullshit!” “You know what?” said Gallo, as he pointed upward to the gallery. “I’m going to respect your opinion and you’re going to respect mine.”

Tony Coleman, a West Oakland businessman, asked why the city does not spend more time on creating new jobs for young adults and charged Gallo with grandstanding with an issue that has failed in council’s past. “If it ain’t worked before, it ain’t going to work now,” said Coleman.

A young Latina woman berated Gallo for proposing an idea that could disproportionately harm members of his own ethnicity. “You should be ashamed, you’re La Raza and you should know our struggles.” Another, while rapping his thoughts, added, “Mr. Gallo, are you feeling guilty?”

Gallo, clearly miffed by the voices of opposition from the long line of speakers and his own council mates, admonished Schaaf and McElhaney for making “excuses” for the city’s youth. In pointed remarks relayed by Schaaf regarding the police chief’s opposition to his plan, Gallo said to her, “He works for us. We don’t work for him. Your ideology is wrong.” With the proposal to enact youth curfews again in shambles, Gallo ended his remarks by saying, “Don’t make excuses for my kids.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bids For The 15th Congressional District's Unfortunate Soldiers

CONGRESS//15TH DISTRICT | Veterans have had enough of the battlefield, but the race for Rep. Eric Swalwell’s seat in Congress is increasingly leaning toward becoming another type of battleground, one in which each candidate vies for who can do more for those returning from the armed services, past and present.

Two weeks ago, Swalwell held a town hall with dozens of veterans in Hayward to highlight the extensive backlog of benefit request. Depsite the clear need to address the county's backlog of services to veterans, Swalwell, nevertheless, has often wrapped himself in the flag in the past.

Over the past year and during his run for congress, Swalwell routinely speaks to veterans groups and takes every opportunity to pose for photos. Armed services abroad and strong support for local law enforcement generally plays well, but it flourishes in the more moderate Tri Valley and that makes it a clear advantage for Swalwell.

During the Urban Shield paramilitary exercises held two weeks ago in Alameda County, Swalwell took a point to post successive photos of him touring a local law enforcement facility. In one shot he donned the baseball cap of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and another featured Alameda County Sheriffs Department.
Swalwell embracing a vet last week.
In recent weeks, though, State Sen. Ellen Corbett has been doing her own 10-hut while firing volleys back at Swalwell’s attention to veterans. She, too, has appeared at various events for vets and posted her own gallery of photos hobnobbing with members of the armed services on social media.

The move suggests Corbett believes she can encroach on Swalwell’s base of veterans or limit it from growing. Either way, it’s a signal the race in the 15th Congressional District will again resides in the Tri Valley and not the more liberal Hayward area. In contrast, Swalwell’s first moves last month raised the alarm on Pete Stark attempting to influence the 2014 election with contributing to Corbett’s campaign. To some this indicates Swalwell is willing to somewhat alienate Hayward voters who strongly supported Stark last year and would likely support Corbett next year, by blowing a dog whistle that clearly agitates Tri Valley voters who still loath Stark.

In the meantime, with the end of the year around the corner, what does a challenger do to chisel away at the incumbent’s strength? How about obscure “Legislator of the Year” awards? On Thursday, Corbett announced the California Association of County Veterans Service Officers (CACVSO) bestowed her such a title for work for veterans, including a bill signed into law this year stopping groups from using services logos and emblems on products without authorization.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the CACVSO in the months and years ahead to ensure that our veterans and service members receive all of the benefits that they are due following their patriotic service to our country,” said Corbett in statement.

Not only are there benefits to do had for veterans, but also for congressional candidates

The Marginalization Of Desley Brooks

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//ANALYSIS | One of Oakland’s most progressive voices is being marginalized. Not because of politics, but because of her rotten attitude. After another impetuous and nasty display by Councilmember Desley Brooks at Tuesday’s city council meeting, it’s clear her colleagues have resorted to punishing her for her antics. How can you blame them? Over the past year, Brooks has insulted every council member other than Larry Reid. She has routinely squabbled with Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Libby Schaaf in tones nearly indistinguishable from asserting their motives reside in racism and social class. This week, Brooks spoke in diminishing terms to Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney by calling her “new” to council and labeled Councilmember Dan Kalb disingenuous. Well, that was too much for the mild-mannered Kalb who just couldn’t take it anymore and lashed out at Brooks. This brief confrontation though only shows more council members are jumping on the boat that leaves Brooks on her own lonely island of bitterness.

The issue this week of studying Richmond’s proposal to aid underwater mortgages for the purposes of Oakland seems like an idea worth examining. Oakland residents have been hurt by Corporate America’s malfeasance as much or more than other city in the country. Brooks merely wanted to support Richmond’s courage and spark the same conversation in Oakland. Although, some like Kernighan and Schaaf, may bristle at another perceived arrow shot by the city at banks following immense foot-dragging with the debarment of Goldman Sachs from city contracts, they and others on the council took umbrage at Brooks ramming the Richmond resolution down their throats.

Brooks pushed her resolution in the Rules Committee, fought with Schaaf, and then pulled it from consideration while a similar resolution by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan proceeded to committee next week. Brooks huffed and puffed and eventually brought Reid and Councilmember Gallo in tow to force her resolution upon a special meeting this week. Some members appeared queasy about what they were specifically supporting in Richmond’s plan. Unsurprisingly, the disharmony that led Brooks to pull the item last month in Rules again occurred Tuesday evening. It will now be heard during the next council meeting Nov. 19 and may be on a collision course with Kaplan’s resolution. Neither seemed amendable last Tuesday to knitting the resolutions into one.

Herein lays the problem with Brooks and her out-of-control persona: it’s hindering the progressive movement in Oakland. Brooks can often sound like a bratty child, screaming and stomping her feet when things don’t go her way. However, on occasion, she puts her bat-shit antics aside and sounds like the most lucid defender of common folks and their plight. She is the only member of the council who rings the progressive bell. Unfortunately, she also uses the same bell to clobber her colleagues over the head. For instance, how many times in the last year has Kernighan screamed at Brooks “you’re out of order”? Enough that it would make quite a compelling campaign commercial for her opponents in next year’s race for re-election.

By far, the most embarrassing Oakland City Council moment this year occurred during Brooks’ censure hearing late July when her and Reid tag-teamed to race-bait the mostly black audience into a frenzy by implying Kernighan’s scheduling of the hearing was somehow racist in tone. That night Kernighan seemed like she was routed by Brooks, but hindsight may eventually show a different outcome. Politics is governance, but it’s also a game—an extremely rough game—and payback can be ruthless, especially when your adversary is the president of the council. The marginalization of Brooks may have only just begun. And, remember, her only allies are Reid, a councilman crippled by back problems and Gallo, a first-term representative, who may soon realize his alliance amounts to a good kids hanging out with the bad crowd. Remember, it was this same threesome whose budget plan last June was dismissed by the majority. Nevertheless, if you don’t work with your colleagues—a situation Oakland voters appear to crave from their city council—things can get often lonely in the minority.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alameda Retains Management Firm At Former Naval Station; Deals Blow To Tagami

Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore signs deed
of reconveyance last June giving the city
Alameda Point at no cost.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares
ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL//ALAMEDA POINT | Incumbency won over potential as the principal
property management firm of the past 11 years was chosen by the Alameda City Council to continue transforming Alameda Point from Naval ghost town to one of the region’s most exciting and lucrative development projects. The unanimous decision handed a setback to the losing bidder, Oakland-based developer Phil Tagami.

The winning bid by PM Realty Group beat out an attempt by Tagami’s California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG) to control leasing and property management duties at Alameda Point. CCIG is currently developing the nearby $1.2 billion Oakland Global project at the former Oakland Army Base, which broke ground last week.

Tagami’s bid at Alameda Point, in contrast, to CCIG’s work in Oakland did not include development--its strong suit--which the Alameda council found outside of the scope of the work description. Two council members, though, seemed to question whether Tagami’s real desire lies in the wealth of development opportunities at Alameda Point. Council members listed Tagami’s success in procuring large amounts of state grants and his company’s success in refurbishing downtrodden historic buildings in Oakland, but also referenced a conflict of interest clause included in a city staff report.

The passage, printed in boldface, reiterated the team winning the city bid would be treated as members of city staff. The arrangement also includes an adherence to state conflict of interest laws forbidding the property management team from enriching themselves with development contracts at Alameda Point. “The Management Services Contract will explicitly state this restriction,” said the staff report. When Councilmember Lena Tam referenced the clause to Tagami, he twice responded, “We respect and appreciate it.”

Later, Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft also broached the idea of Tagami using his development credentials at Alameda Point, in addition to also acting as property manager. “Don’t you want to develop our Point?” asked Ashcraft with a kind smile. Tagami said it was not the task at hand and “We want to respectful of the process.” However, both Ashcraft and Tam, along with Councilmember Tony Daysog urged Tagami to look, instead, at developing Alameda Point.

Although a city-appointed panel scored PM Realty’s bid higher than its competitor, it also rated its incumbency as a weakness. However, PM Realty’s near-perfect retention rate at Alameda Point allowed the council few negatives, or, at least, not enough to hand the contract to CCIG. The same panel was troubled by CCIG’s lack of property management experience. In addition, CCIG had preferred not to join PM Realty is splitting the bid, as urged by the panel. CCIG, though believed such a partnership would hinder efficiency. “This is the dream team,” Councilmember Stewart Chen said of PM Realty. “Maybe? Maybe not?” PM Realty's contract with the city is still to be negotiated, but is slated to be a one-year contract with options over the next three years.

Following no-cost reconveyance of the former air station from the Navy to the city earlier this year, much work remains to be done on the complex web of vacant properties, dilapidated naval buildings and future housing developments at the scenic bay lands. Getting the word out about Alameda Point's vast potential is also key. “We insiders know we have jewel at Alameda Point,” said Ashcraft. “But it’s kind of a well-kept secret.”

Conflict Of Resolutions, Members Slow Talk Of Anti-Foreclosure Plan In Oakland

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//FORECLOSURES | The Oakland City Council again squabbled and ultimately scheduled competing resolutions supporting Richmond’s out of the box anti-foreclosure proposal for later this month, but not before Councilmember Dan Kalb flashed anger for the first time and Larry Reid finally showed up for work.

A resolution first offered by Councilmember Desley Brooks in two separate Rules Committee meetings last month was rescheduled for Nov. 19 following a motion by Kalb who said he still needed time to understand the intricacies of Richmond’s controversial plan to aid owners of underwater mortgages.

Brooks said it was “disingenuous” for Kalb to say he needs more time to make a determination on the resolution. “When are you going to start to read and understand it?” she told him.

Kalb responded it was not his intention to shoot down Brooks’ resolution, although he noted the votes Tuesday evening for approval were not there. “I’m keeping this alive so it can pass. So, don’t call me disingenuous. You are mistaken,” he forcefully told Brooks.

While the impetus of the Oakland City Council’s infamous lack of comity is often personal and ideological, Tuesday’s arguments were rooted in a legal council procedure allowing a workaround by Brooks to finally get the Richmond foreclosure resolution on the council’s agenda. Council President Pat Kernighan referenced the maneuvering, saying, “The reason you are hearing discord because this item never went to committee.”

In fact, during a Rules Committee meeting last month, Brooks parried with Councilmember Libby Schaaf over the foreclosure issue and the presence of a similar resolution offered by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. Although Brooks decided to hold off on scheduling her resolution, the Rules Committee scheduled Kaplan’s version for a Community and Economic Development Committee on Nov. 12.

In the meantime, Brooks added Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Reid to her resolution in order to trigger Tuesday's early special meeting of the council. Incidentally, Tuesday’s meeting was one of Reid’s first public appearances since the end of July. Reid’s office said a chronic back problem had caused the councilman to miss so many meetings recently. He was seen grimacing before Tuesday’s meeting and aided by a cane.

While Kaplan’s resolution seeks staff and legal opinions, Brooks maintained hers is intended to register the council’s support for Richmond’s effort in stemming foreclosure in its city and to seek information on Oakland’s own foreclosure situation. “Nothing less, nothing more,” said Brooks.

However, over 25 speakers repeatedly slashed away at the corporate malfeasance of banks over the past decade. Jose Vega, one of many speakers representing the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) said, “We would not be having this conversation if the banks would have been playing fair and square.”

Kevin Stein, an associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, which has worked closely with the Richmond City Council on its plan to help struggling mortgage holders said, “We’re here because too many people are losing their homes.” He added, as soon as Richmond broached the subject earlier this year, banks and their surrogates moved to punish the city’s treasury by effectively redlining the community. The pressure dissuaded Wall Street from purchasing some of Richmond’s municipal bonds.

Some council members also brandished fiery rhetoric against Wall Street. Kaplan, who used similar critical tones against the state and federal government in Oakland’s still-pending discussion over debarment of Goldman Sachs from city contracts, said Oakland was a leader a decade ago in fighting predatory lending practices by banks against its residents. The ordinance was later struck down by a court, which suggested it was states issue, said Kaplan, who added, the State Legislature then “did nothing.”

Councilmember Noel Gallo said his district centered in the Fruitvale District has been devastated by foreclosure, including neighbors all around his home. Some of the vacant homes in Oakland have become crack houses, dens of drug dealing or boarded up entirely, Gallo said. “Many of our citizens were misled and it was downright thievery.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

San Leandro Approves Limited Pot Dispensary Ordinance

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | The fate of medical cannabis in San Leandro will not rest at the ballot box after all, but patients looking to medicate their ailments will, instead, be limited in their choice of dispensaries after the City Council voted, 6-1, to allow the permitting for just a single dispensary. If all goes as planned, San Leandro could have its first medical cannabis dispensary as earlier as late 2014.

Going into Monday’s meeting, the likelihood of formally approving a draft ordinance allowing up to two dispensaries was high after it was approved Sept. 16 by a majority of the council. However, a city staff recommendation written late in the legislative process tied the effective date of the ordinance to passage of a potential tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. This annoyed some council members who felt their previous direction to staff was clear.

Councilmember Ursula Reed said it was her understanding the council had already approved dispensaries, “I’m surprised we’re back at this spot again,” she said. Councilmembers Jim Prola and Pauline Cutter also disagreed with city staff’s late recommendation linking council approval to a ballot measure. “I think it’s disingenuous for us to go down two roads,” said Cutter.” Afterwards, a few council members said there were unaware how the ballot measure suggestion made it into the staff’s recommendation. Councilmember Diana Souza was the lone vote against dispensaries.

The approval of medical cannabis dispensaries just a few years after the council nearly placed a strict prohibition on them came with some disappointment for supporters following a motion to limit their numbers to one was successful, 4-3. In September, Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Cutter sought the limitation. On Monday, they were joined by Councilmembers Benny Lee and Souza. The move, however, may have been influenced by election year politics.

Cassidy, who is up for re-election next year, said the community is split over the issue of medical cannabis in San Leandro. “We need to walk before he run,” he said, as rationale for limiting dispensaries to one. But, he erroneously stated Oakland currently processes four dispensaries or, one for every 100,000 residents, and doubted San Leandro, with a population of over 85,000, needed two dispensaries. In fact, Oakland has eight dispensaries which would have nearly matched San Leandro’s proportion of dispensaries to residents if two were approved.

Oakland also reaps great tax benefits from its dispensaries. Although, the ballot measure provision was stricken from the ordinance, a majority of the council voiced support for exploring the option in the future. According to City Attorney Richard Pio Roda, a potential tax measure would need just a simple majority of voters to pass if proceeds from the taxation of medical cannabis are designated to the general fund. In the meantime, the city has no estimates on the cost of application fees and business licenses for potential dispensaries or which city department will oversee them.