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Activists are Gathering to Prevent Eviction of Homeless in West Oakland

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Puffy, a 66-year-old resident who lives on a tract of land owned by Game Changer LLC, stands near the property under the 880 Highway. He is one of the residents who activists are trying to protect from eviction. Photo by Zack Haber.

Bay Area residents have been gathering to stop the Alameda County Sheriff from executing an eviction order against unhoused residents who live on an approximately 1.47 acre tract of land just west of Wood Street in West Oakland.

So far the eviction has not been enforced.

“They were supposed to evict us on Tuesday [Oct 13], but the activists showed up,” said Puffy, an unhoused person who is 66 and claims he has lived in West Oakland since 1989 and on the tract for two years and seven months. He has been out of work due to a disability that makes sustained movement impossible.  

Puffy said on Tuesday that Sheriff Officers “drove by, but they didn’t stop.”

Fearing that giving his full name could allow Game Changer LLC, the company that owns the land and petitioned for the evictions, an easier ability to retaliate against him, Puffy declined to give the Oakland Post his legal name. Although seven parties appear on the ‘Notice to Vacate’ that the Alameda Sheriff delivered on Oct. 6, only two full names appear.

Shortly after the ‘Notice to Vacate’ was delivered, the United Front Against Displacement, a direct-action centered housing justice group, put out a call to resist the eviction, which was legally allowed to occur after 6:01 a.m. on Oct. 13. Over 50 protestors responded, showing up at or just after 5 a.m. on that Tuesday. 

“We’ve really been focused on preventing the Sheriff’s Officers from entering the lot itself,” said Dale Smith of UFAD. “People are definitely throwing down and that’s a good thing.”

It is currently unclear when Sheriff’s Officers plan to enforce the eviction.

“We are following due process,” said Alameda County Public Information Officer Sgt. Ray Kelly. “We have 180 days to enforce the order. We will enforce when we feel the time is best for all parties.”

Activists are focused on non-violent defense. On Tuesday, they brought about 10 brightly covered shields to defend the land. They set up a canopy for shade, which is next to the Game Changer tract, on land owned by CalTrans near Wood Street and Grand Avenue. 

The canopy has been there ever since, from early mornings on weekdays until around 4:00 p.m., the end of the working day. Small groups of protestors who want to help with the defense sit under the canopy, chatting, eating snacks, and drinking water — which they have been sharing with homeless people living nearby — as they keep an eye out for Sheriff’s officers. If officers show up to enforce the eviction, the protestors plan to make a call out to over 60 people who would be willing to show up on-site again.

San Francisco resident Fred Craves owns Game Changer LLC and also owns Bay City Capital. Bay City Capital’s website describes itself as a “life science investment firm” and describes Craves as “a leader in healthcare venture capital,” boasting he has invested in “nearly 100 companies” that have raised “more than $1.6 billion.”

While Craves has not responded to Oakland Post’s request to comment on this article, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, has agreed to speak on his behalf. She has represented Craves in legal matters related to the tract, which he purchased in March 2016 for about $1.3 million. 

Starting in the summer of 2019, Smith has worked with Craves to arrange an 18-month lease for a dollar a year between Game Changer and the City of Oakland. In an interview, she said the lease could be extended after 18 months if both parties agreed and that she envisions the agreement lasting two to three years. 

Both the City and Game Changer agreed that if leased, the City would use the tract as a Safe Parking Site for people living in RVs.

“I think the owner feels like he’s being able to do something positive for the City and the homeless,” Pat Smith said.

But activists disagree. 

“He’s clearing this lot to keep making money,” said Dale Smith. “But there’s a lot of people who live on the lot or in the area that have lived there longer than he’s owned the land or tried to develop the land.”

Dale Smith expressed worry that if residents cede the land to Craves, it could eventually displace all the homeless people in the area. The tract, which is now mostly vacant and always has fewer than seven inhabitants, sits in the middle of an area on and around Wood Street, in between 18th and 26th streets, and under and near the 880 Highway that is densely populated by people living in vehicles, tents, self-made homes, and a few who sleep under no cover at all. 

No one knows exactly how many people live in the surrounding area, but most people claim well over 100. While some residents could move into a Safe RV Parking Site, the site would be unavailable to those who do not live in vehicles who make up a majority.

The current stand-off is not the first one protestors and Game Changer have engaged in. Game Changer helped the City pay a towing bill in order to clear the tract of land on November 5 and 6 of last year, stating a similar plan to lease the land to the City for a safe parking site. 

During the clearance days, about 35 protestors including homeless residents on the land, showed up to a rally against the clearance. A handful of determined residents stayed on the property. This delayed the construction of the Safe RV site.

“A bunch of people showed up with a bunch of people from the camp,” said Puffy describing last year’s rally, “and the dogs started barking and these big burly cops decided they didn’t want to [mess] with all the people or the dogs. So they left.”

Shortly afterward, Game Changer erected a fence around their property and hired a security guard, which has not dissuaded some residents from staying on the site.

In late July 2020, the city released e-mails through public records request indicating that if the City created a Safe RV Parking Site on Game Changer’s land, they would invite some residents in the area to stay on the site but that those who were not invited or who did not wish to join a Safe RV Parking site would be cleared from the area.

No formal agreement currently exists between the City and Game Changer, but the City is still interested in pursuing a lease according to spokesperson Karen Boyd.

“The City is in negotiations to lease the property for the Safe RV Parking Program,” she said. “The timing depends on when/if the property will be free of occupants and personal property.”

It is unclear what will happen to residents at a Safe RV Parking site after Game Changer and the City end a lease. Pat Smith said that would most likely happen after two or three years, but possibly longer, when Craves would then develop the property.

“I realize it’s a finite period,” Pat Smith said. “But hopefully the homelessness problem will start to be addressed more successfully by the city.”

In the meantime, protestors plan to stay on the site to defend against eviction, although they are unclear as to how long they plan to stay.

Mavin Carter-Griffin, who was given a ‘Notice to Vacate’ and claimed she has lived in the area for over eight years, expressed gratitude for their presence. 

“They’re here and they’re being really protective, which is great,” she said. “They’re helping to stave off the eviction.”

Activism

ILWU leads May Day Protest down Market Street in San Francisco

“The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia,” continued Davis. “Labor united will never be defeated.”

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    As participants assembled in front of the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, a group of wearing blue jackets and white painters hats could be seen moving to the front of the group.  

   The group, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were on hand to lead the May Day march and rally from the Ferry Building down Market Street to San Francisco City Hall. 

   “This is the real Labor Day and this day is celebrated all over the world, said Trent Willis, the head of the ILWUs Local 10 longshoremen’s union.  In 1886, the first fight for workers was for the eight-hour work day. 

    May Day is the celebration of labor and working classes, promoted by the international labor movement and occurs every year on May Day, May 1. The ILWU in San Francisco has spearheaded for the day in the Bay Area and it has been leading the rally and march for the past 15 years.    

   Political activist and college professor Dr. Angela Davis, was a keynote speaker at the rally and she marched along Market Street in between ILWU members. Willis led the march of over 5,000 people with the ILWU, the Teamsters Union, teachersunions and other unions from San Francisco. Adjoining streetswere blocked off to allow the crowd walk freely

    As they walked, the ILWU drill team yelled out chants.  They stopped in front of the Flood Building, where Willis said he,along with others from the labor movement, stand in solidarity with the Chilean Dock Workers Union, who are in the middle of a contract negotiations with the Chilean government for higher wages and better working conditions.  

    The marchers continued to San Francisco City Hall, where Willis, Davis and other labor union officials, got on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to the crowd.   

    “We need to fight systematic racism,continued Willlis. If you don’t stand up against systematic racism and systematic oppression, racism keeps us from talking to each other.”

   Willis said that when people arent talking to each other, the differences they have cannot be understood or resolved. He said talking is needed in order for people to get along and resolve situations, working conditions and move society forward.        

   Davis,looked out on at the crowd, saying that she was proud to be a part of the march and rally. 

    “There is no place I would rather be then to be standing up for the rights of workers, said Davis.  In solidarity with workers from all over the world.

    Davis said that workers need to stand up and fight so there will not be any more George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Stephen Clarks, Oscar Grants and Sean Monterrosa. Monterrosa was the San  Francisco man who was killed by police in Vallejo last year. His family was on hand, holding a banner with his name.  

    “The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia, continued Davis. Labor united will never be defeated.

   Willis said he will make Davis an honorary member of the ILWU, which is an honor that has only been bestowed on Paul Robeson and Dr. Martin Luther King.  He said the struggle for workers continues across the world and within the United States, but it will be a push the ILWU will be vigilant in fighting for to improve working conditions for working people.    

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Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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Sen. Steven Bradford Brings Strength and Reason to Police Reform Fight

SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations.

California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), admits that he will meet challenges along the way as he fights for police reform in California. 

     Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he defended a bill he introduced in the Legislature that, if passed, would decertify cops for inappropriate behavior. During that appearance, Bradford made a persuasive case for police reform that was, at turns, forceful and thoughtful, bringing a cool head but passionate voice to a topic that has created a bitter divide in the California electorate, pitting advocates of police reform violently against people who support law enforcement. 

      “This is a tough issue but it’s a righteous issue,” Bradford told his colleagues. 

      “And we want to be intentional about what we are doing here in California when it comes to police reform,” he continued during his passionate closing argument for police reform on April 27. “That’s what this bill does. It’s intentional in what we are trying to achieve. This is a fair measure and far better than any that exist today.”

     Co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate Bill (SB) 2 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote that same day. Also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, the legislation aims to increase accountability for law enforcement officers that commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights.

     SB 2 will create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of serious crimes or termination from employment due to misconduct.

      Bradford praised the judiciary committee’s majority vote, describing it as progress that would put California on the “right side of history.”

     Atkins agrees. 

     “The passage of SB 2 (April 27) is another step toward the goal of achieving much-needed accountability in policing, and I thank Senator Bradford for his steadfast commitment to achieving critical and necessary reforms,” said Atkins. “As with anything this big, there is a lot of work ahead, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to get this bill in the position to cross the finish line.”

     The California Peace Officer Association (CPOA) believes that Bradford’s bill would turn the California Committee on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) into an investigative agency. A sticking point for the group is that the people who would be given the authority to probe police misconduct would primarily be non-peace officers. 

     “We, of course, know that not all reform is a good reform, and CPOA among others is open to ‘reimagining public safety in California,” Shaun Rundle, CPOA’s deputy director said in a written statement about several police reform and public safety bills scheduled for hearings. “What we didn’t imagine, however, was the continued attacks against a noble profession who have proven to improve and drive down crime in this state year after year.”

     With the passage of SB 2 out of committee, the legislation will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If it advances out of that committee, SB 2 could head to a Senate floor vote. 

    During the Judiciary Committee hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, a few senators expressed their support but asked Bradford to modify language pertaining to the Bane Act. 

     SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. Authored by California State Assemblymember Tom Bane, the legislation was created to allow victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

    Supporters of police reform in California say the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions over the years. They argue that it was once an effective law intended to protect the civil rights of people in the state but has since been weakened as an effective check against police excessive use of force. 

     The California State Sheriffs’ Association views SB 2 as problematic, in terms of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining employees. 

    “We are concerned that the language removing employee immunity from state civil liability will result in individual peace officers hesitating or failing to act out of fear that actions they believe to be lawful may result in litigation and damages. In so doing, SB 2 will very likely jeopardize public safety and diminish our ability to recruit, hire, and retain qualified individuals,” the California State Sheriffs’ Association said in a written statement.

 

    But Bradford says his bill essentially addresses rogue policing and hinders the ability of fired officers to find employment at other agencies even when they have a record of misconduct that got them terminated. 

    Among states that do not have a process to decertify cops for criminal behavior are Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. 

    “We lead in technology, we lead in the environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” Bradford said, referring to California’s reputation as a political trailblazer on several fronts. 

     People of color live in the communities where the majority of police misconduct incidents take place, Bradford said, adding that SB 2 will save Black and Brown lives. 

     “How many more people, regardless of color need to lose their lives because of the callous acts of law enforcement?” Bradford asked his colleagues. “There are two systems of justice in this country. But you’ll never know, and really understand. Its far different than anything any of you guys have encountered or will encounter.”

 

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