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Bay Area TANC Helps Tenants to Unionize

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Graffiti calling for a rent strike, a tactic used by TANC, appears here on a structure next to Lake Merritt. Photo by Zack Haber.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces mass unemployment and work hour reductions causing over a million Californians to file unemployment insurance claims, Bay Area Tenants and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) is helping tenants to form tenant unions to protect their housing.

“If you’re organized in some kind of tenant union like TANC, you have a lot more leverage. Landlords are a lot less likely to take 10 tenants to eviction court than one,” said Angel Haza-García,* who is forming a tenant union with TANC’s help and is considering going on a rent strike on May 1.

Haza-García’s union includes the people living in her house as well as neighbors who have the same landlord, more than 10 people in total. The tenants at Haza-García’s home are unsure whether they will be able to afford May’s rent and worry they will eventually be evicted. But by organizing with other neighbors who will, as Haza-García puts it, “have their back” by agreeing not to pay rent in solidarity with them, they feel they’re more protected.

“The eviction process is really expensive to go through. A landlord could evict one person and that would be a cost of process. But if they were looking to evict 10 units, the cost would multiply by 10. It would then make more financial sense to give in to [tenant] demands,” said TANC member Sam Walker.*

Walker saw this process work to help tenants get their demands about two years ago during TANC’s inception and their first landlord/tenant power struggle.

The struggle involved more than 15 tenants who all lived in shared houses and had the same landlord. When roommates moved out of the shared homes, leaving empty rooms, the remaining tenants wanted to fill rooms with new roommates so the total rent cost would be less for each individual. But they found it impossible to fill the empty rooms because they say their landlord would ignore or deny applications for new roommates to move in.

After the tenants organized a few meetings and barbecues with each other and unionized, they wrote a collective statement demanding that their landlord allow new roommates to move into their shared housing or they would collectively withhold rent. When the landlord learned of their tenant’s demands and that they had organized together, the tenants got what they asked for without having to go on a rent strike.

“The landlord totally caved and let all tenants know they could decide who lived in their houses,” said Walker, who specified that the landlord then accepted all the then-current applications to move into empty rooms.

TANC’s current collective demand is total rent suspension for the Bay Area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We demand rent suspensions from every landlord effective immediately. The fact that anybody has to fear being evicted because of their inability to pay rent during a global health pandemic illustrates the utter wickedness of this system,” reads a collective statement called Rent Suspension Now! that TANC recently posted on its website.

The statement, which also appears in Spanish, emphasizes that there should also be no expectation that tenants pay back rent money they didn’t pay during the COVID19 pandemic.

While The City of Oakland has recently passed an emergency ordinance that prevents evictions for non-payment until May 31, the ordinance still requires tenants to pay their back rent eventually. Although there is language in the ordinance that stops landlords from evicting tenants for rent money due from now until May 31 if the tenant can prove the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented them from paying rent, TANC members feel that rent debt still burdens tenants and makes their housing more precarious.

TANC wants tenants to organize to set the groundwork for future tenant demands and to prevent landlords from evicting people who can’t pay rent in the future and may have difficulty proving their income loss was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ve recently hosted online trainings and know your rights workshops that have each had between 20 and 90 attendees. Their membership has grown from 40 to 200 during March.

Tenants can visit baytanc.com to join TANC or learn more and can learn about future TANC events, which are open to non-members as long as they are not landlords, by visiting the baytanc calendar. They have also released a guide to tenant organizing.

*Since tenants in TANC are actively organizing against their landlords, they asked that names in this article be changed or omitted.

Bay Area

Reopening School: The Key to Bouncing Back Is Being Back

We have a 96% attendance rate and 94% of our students who were enrolled on the first day of school are still enrolled. This is a high rate of student persistence at a time when the narrative for many large urban school systems is scores of students gone missing.

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Reopening school after a year of being in a COVID-19 closure is hard. But I can tell you firsthand, after having reopened my schools on April 5, there is nothing better than seeing students and teachers in classrooms again. The key to bouncing back is being back.

 

     What planning goes into reopening and what does it really mean for families?

 

     I lead a K-12 public school system of nearly 2,300 students, nine schools, and about 300 employees across three cities and two counties in California. My students are 64% Black, 25% Latino, and 78% low-income. We have been very attentive to the needs of our students and enrollment has gone up during the pandemic, not down.  We have a 96% attendance rate and 94% of our students who were enrolled on the first day of school are still enrolled.  This is a high rate of student persistence at a time when the narrative for many large urban school systems is scores of students gone missing. While large urban schools dominate the headlines, small school systems like mine, with under 5,000 average daily attendance, make up two-thirds of the school districts in California. 

     It was good that Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature gave guidance for schools to reopen by April 1. At Fortune School, we surveyed parents and found 53% wanted to return their children to in-person learning.  That’s up from 46% who asked to return in November 2020 when we had plans to reopen but couldn’t because infection rates increased. 

     As I talk to educators from other states, I am learning that California stayed shuttered for an unusually long time. Was it politics or public health that kept schools closed for so long? I’m not sure.  

     What I do know is that while our buildings were closed to students, my schools put every safety measure in place from expensive, hospital-grade air filtration systems to plexiglass barriers. Our staff got vaccinated, has ongoing access to surveillance testing and we have systems for contact tracing.

 

    On reopening day, a long line of cars wrapped around the corner for morning drop-off.  Crews of educators checked kids’ temperatures at the car door and welcomed them to their pre-assigned, small pod of classmates with whom they will spend the rest of the school year.  

     Inside a typical classroom, we can fit 10 students and two teachers socially distanced 6 feet apart.  With this configuration, we are able to offer school in-person five days a week from 7:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. The Centers for Disease Control guidance about desks being 3 feet apart came too late to be implemented this school year but could be a game-changer for the fall.

     Currently, schools are required to offer families the option for distance learning. Newsom has said he expects California to be re-opened by June 15, allowing schools to be back to full in-person instruction with safety precautions.  If that is the case, the state should re-establish the expectation that comes fall, in-person school attendance is mandatory for students enrolled in classroom-based programs.  Right now, teachers are providing live instruction to students in person and online simultaneously.  It’s not sustainable.  

 

The governor is on the right track providing strong guidance to public schools, backed by the authority of the state and funding to implement his expectations.  He should keep it up.  I’ve spoken to plenty of students and teachers who are definitely glad to be back.

 

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a network of K-12 public charter schools based in Sacramento, California she founded to close the African American Achievement gap in her hometown.

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Double-Double Legacies? Next Black Caucus Members Expected to Be Familiar Names

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

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Dr. Askilah Weber

Mia Bonta

Last week, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), a group comprised of African American elected officials serving in the state Legislature, was preparing to welcome its newest member, former La Mesa City Councilwoman Dr. Akilah Weber.

With a solid lead, the younger Weber, who is African American, declared victory in the 79th Assembly District race for the San Diego seat her mother, Dr. Shirley Weber, previously held for almost a decade, from 2012 to 2021.

After she is sworn in, Weber will be the newest member of the CLBC.

Weber won with 51.97% of the vote out of a pool of five candidates. Marco Contreras, the only Republican running for the position, trailed her with 33.4% of the votes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated the elder Weber to serve as Secretary of State in December, succeeding Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), who is currently California’s junior Senator in the United States Congress.

“Can’t wait to have you in the CABlackCaucus,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the CLBC, said earlier this month when he heard Weber was leading the race in a special election held in April to replace her mother.

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

Bonta, who is currently Alameda Unified School District president, announced her candidacy on April 12 for the state Assembly seat in District 18 that her husband, Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), currently occupies. The district covers an East Bay area that includes the cities of San Leandro, Alameda, and Oakland.

In March, Newsom appointed her husband, who is Filipino-American, as the next California attorney general, pending Senate confirmation.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus proudly endorses Mia Bonta for Assembly,” said Bradford. “Diversity in leadership is critical to ensuring equity in policymaking, and as an Afro-Latina woman, Mia offers a perspective that has long been underrepresented in Sacramento. Her experience advocating for children and families in her community and deep understanding of today’s policy issues would make Mia a valuable addition to the state Legislature. I and the Caucus will be working to make her success a reality.”

Weber says she wants to continue her mother’s legacy as she works to ensure that “we build a better tomorrow that improves the future for all Californians.”

In her victory statement, Weber said “Tonight’s win and these results are staggering; I am deeply honored and humbled by the faith that the voters have placed in me. My campaign is focused on one mission: creating healthier communities for everyone who lives and works in the 79th district.”

Weber, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, is expected to be sworn into the Assembly this month.

Weber leads the Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Division at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and has health care high up on her list of priorities.

Weber thanked her team and the voters for her victory.

“Hundreds of people worked hard to earn this victory, and I am so grateful for their friendship, commitment, and trust. I want to thank my family, without whom none of this would be possible, all of the volunteers and supporters who fueled our campaign, and most of all the voters for their trust and confidence,” Weber said.

Bonta says, if she wins, she will focus on education and housing affordability, which are “personal issues” for her.

“I grew up and my family moved 13 times in 16 years,” she told local East Bay television station KQED. “I have built into me the experience of feeling that housing insecurity – and I know the impact that has on one’s ability to be able to get to work, to keep work, to be focused on an education pathway.”

Another special election for the 54th Assembly seat in the Los Angeles area is coming up.

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) vacated that Assembly seat when she won a special election in March for the 30th Senate District seat previously held by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Holly J.  Mitchell.

Six Democrats have thrown their hats into the highly contentious race: Financial adviser Samuel Robert Morales; attorney and State Commissioner Cheryl C. Turner; grocery worker Bernard Senter; businesswoman and non-profit executive Dallas Fowler; community organizer and educator Isaac Bryan; and Heather Hutt, former state director for Kamala Harris when she was a senator.

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East Oakland Stadium Alliance Update

When asked about railroad safety, given the active railroad lines that run along the front of the entire Howard Terminal site, Jacobs said, “We know the importance of rail to the port and we know the importance of rail safety. It’s reckless to ask people to cross the tracks to get to a baseball game without providing fully grade separate crossings at all intersections.”

 

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The East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) hosted a community meeting on Wednesday to educate and engage West Oakland residents on the impacts of the Oakland Athletics’ proposed ballpark stadium and luxury condo and office development at Howard Terminal on Market Street, in the heart of the industrial working port.  

 

After over a year-long delay, the City issued a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the project at the end of February. The DEIR identifies a number of significant and unavoidable impacts that the project will have on the local environment, such as air quality, noise, and transportation hazards. With only 60 days to review a very technical and complex, 6,000-page document, West Oakland stakeholders and industry leaders came together during an open forum to discuss the project, review the DEIR process, and answer community members’ questions. 

 

West Oakland Resident Mercedes Rodriguez said the project would result in a “real big impact” on the community. She expressed concerns about the impacts on local residents due to increased traffic on game days and for special events. 

 

“We will have to pay for residential parking permits and that’s not fair,” said Rodriguez. “The A’s have not adequately addressed this concern.”

 

Melvin McKay, Vice President of ILWU Local 10, which employees represent Longshoremen at the Port of Oakland, emphasized the significant disruption the development would cause for the port and the jobs that would be threatened because of it.  

 

Aaron Wright, another ILWU leader, displayed life live footage for attendees to see the Port in action and explained how the loss of Howard Terminal would delay trucks coming in and out and lead current port customers to seek other, more reliable options. 

 

“We know what it is to make a good living and I know for a fact this will be bad for our industry,” said Wright.

 

“We have been at the Port for a long time and we know what it takes to move containers, and we know once the hotels and condominiums are built, the residents will go back to the City and complain about the noise and try to limit our hours or shut us down,” McKay added.

 

When asked about the purpose of Howard Terminal, McKay explained the Terminal has helped to get idling trucks waiting to pick up a container off West Oakland streets. Taking away this space will once again create congestion In West Oakland that residents have fought to minimize.

 

Mike Jacob, Vice President & General Counsel for Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, noted air quality is a major concern. Given the changes Port businesses have made to become more environmentally sustainable, a ballpark at Howard Terminal would create a “new emission source” and undermine investments businesses have made.

 

When asked about railroad safety, given the active railroad lines that run along the front of the entire Howard Terminal site, Jacobs said, “We know the importance of rail to the port and we know the importance of rail safety. It’s reckless to ask people to cross the tracks to get to a baseball game without providing fully grade separate crossings at all intersections.”

 

“It’s pretty shameful,” he added.

 

The City of Oakland Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the DEIR for the Oakland Waterfront Ballpark District Project on Wednesday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. The hearing will be held online via Zoom and meeting information can be accessed on the following website: https://www.oaklandca.gov/boards-commissions/planning-commission

 

The final day to comment on the DEIR is April 27th. Comments can be submitted electronically at https://comment-tracker.esassoc.com/oaklandsportseir/index.html.

 

For more information about EOSA or to submit a petition opposing the Howard Terminal ballpark, go to www.eastoaklandstadiumalliance.com.

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