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After Wood Street Clearance, Homeless People Stay

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move. 

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Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.
Homeless Oakland Jessie Parker stands on Wood Street in West Oakland on November 10. The city of Oakland had planned to move Parker and dozens of others from this location between November 8 and 10, but residents refused to move and remained on site after the attempted closure operation. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

On the morning of November 8, members of both Oakland’s Encampment Management Team, Public Works, and Police Department came to an area encompassing about 1/5 of a mile from Wood Street and Grand Avenue to Wood Street and 26th Street with the stated goal of clearing the location of homeless people. But after the attempted clearance, homeless people remained in the area.

“The objective was to move as many people as possible,” wrote Oakland Communications Director Karen Boyd in an e-mail. “But that could not be accomplished without the full cooperation of the community.”

“You can’t push us back any further than this,” said homeless resident Jessie Parker, a 63-year-old lifelong Oaklander who came to live on Wood Street after being shot in the leg. The injury prevented him from being able to do the physical movement required for the construction and electrical work he had done in the past. On November 4, the city put up pink notices informing him that starting in four days they would force him to vacate the area he’s lived in for about nine years, but he, like dozens of others living in vehicles, tents or makeshift homes along Wood Street, didn’t leave.

Parker’s statement references the fact that Wood Street is one of the westernmost streets in West Oakland. A little further west from where Parker lives is land owned by Caltrans under the 880 overpass where still more homeless people live, as well as a 1.5 acre plot of land belonging to a company called Gamechanger LLC. To the east are businesses and residential areas.

After about two years in delays, Gamechanger agreed to lease its land to the city for $1 a year and the city opened a Safe RV Parking site on July 7 on the company’s land through the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency.

In the Safe RV Parking site, residents who own RVs and trailers can legally live in them and receive services. It’s unclear how long this service will last, as the lease between GameChanger and the city can expire by November of next year. That same lease laid out plans to allow 75 RVs or trailers space to park, but while walking through the site on November 10, this writer counted 29 RVs while half of the site sat vacant. The site is not available for many residents, like Parker, who don’t have an RV or a trailer.

“I never received an offer to move in,” said Parker, who lives in a truck. “It’s for RVs only.”

The site opening has put other residents at risk of displacement who can’t or don’t want to access it. Since Oakland’s City Council unanimously passed its Encampment Management Policy in October of last year, despite protests and critical public comments during five hours of a meeting, city policy now states those living within 25 feet of such sites can face clearance.

Although their policy now allows it, the city had not attempted to move nor even encouraged people who are living near the Safe RV Parking site to leave the area until the November 8 operation. But recent communications from Justin Tombolesi, who is the constituent liaison for District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, have led advocates and homeless people to believe the company is now pressuring the city to force people to leave the area. In a text message to a homeless resident who lives near Wood Street, Tombolesi wrote “Gamechanger is suing the city because people are too close to the RV site.”

Gamechanger denies suing or pressuring the city. When asked if the company was suing or threatening to sue the city, the company’s lawyer, Pat Smith of Smith LLP, responded in an email, writing “Not at all — no thought of suing the city. The city is solely in charge of the site and ownership has no involvement or concern over how the city is handling things.”

In an e-mail, Boyd wrote that “No filings or actions to terminate the lease have been served upon the city,” but that the city has “spoken with legal counsel representing GameChanger’s lot regarding the city’s plans to create compliance.”

In another text message to the same resident, Tombolesi also claimed the city would allow residents living on Wood Street to move to a vacant portion of land off the street and just north of the Safe RV Parking site during the November 8 closure operation. No residents have moved into that location and residents, as well advocates who were on site that day, claim no one was invited to do so. Boyd said the city offered nine spaces in the city’s Community Cabins, and five spaces in a rapid rehousing program called The Holland. One resident accepted a space in the Community Cabins, which is a program that offers small, unheated shelter in shed-like spaces made by the Tuff Shed company.

Advocates claim about a dozen of them showed up on November 8 to support residents. One of them, Annmarie Bustamente, said their presence “definitely helped the residents block the eviction” and that the residents were “tired of displacement and said no” to a member of Oakland’s Public Works Department encouraging them to move.

Although the closure operation was originally slated to occur over three days between Monday November 8 and Wednesday November 10, no one from the city came back after the first day.

“The ability to proceed Monday impacted the entire operation,” wrote Boyd in an e-mail, “and activities for the following days were cancelled.”

Although homeless residents did not leave Wood Street, Oakland’s Police Department’s Public Information Officer Kim Armstead said the department did tow six vehicles for long expired registration on November 6 and 7 in the area in preparation for the closure.

According to Armstead, the department avoided towing vehicles that served as people’s homes, as the department, following the cities’ direction, has “agreed not to tow vehicles where there is clear evidence they are being used as shelter.” Armstead also said on November 8, OPD supported the city operation with two officers, one sergeant, and six police service techs who provided traffic control and security for city workers.

One homeless resident named Evangeline said the towing of her and her husband’s vehicle has made it difficult to go grocery shopping and to visit her mother, who just had a heart attack. The couple can’t afford to pay the fees to get the car back, so it will remain in the tow yard.

“We’re really stuck,” she said.

Although residents like Parker avoided being moved from Wood Street, it’s unclear when or if the city will come back to move them. According to Parker, a member of the non-profit Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency has been working to secure some form of permanent housing for him, and he’s hopeful that the person will be successful.

“I’m a little older now so my peak interest is getting back into housing,” said Parker. “If I get into housing, I’m sure I won’t go back to this. I can’t take these harsh elements no more.”

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Activism

Friendship Christian Center Provides Tests, Vaccines to Thousands

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.
A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.

Friendship Christian Center Church (FCCC), pastored by Dr. Gerald Agee, is located at 1904 Adeline St. and is one of the dozens of Black churches across the state of California, who, in conjunction with the California Health Agencies and California Black Media, has stood on the front line, with the Black Press for over a year providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to minority communities.

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: After Jan. 6, An MLK Day Deadline for Voting Rights and Democracy

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

We all know the images of Jan. 6, 2021. Lawless rioters ransacking the Capitol. Police being tortured and beaten. Members of Congress hiding in fear in the House gallery. The gallows and a noose meant for former Vice President Mike Pence.

We all saw the video images one year after and astonishingly they did nothing to pull our nation together.

Nothing.

They simply confirmed the only thing everyone can agree on.

Our democracy’s in trouble. Real trouble.

We already sensed that after the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s such things as race, policing, and income inequality are still major issues in 2022.

But we’ve got trouble in a different key.

C Major. No sharps or flats. This trouble goes right to the core of our democracy. They’re coming after your vote.

That is, after all, what the Jan. 6 rioters were attempting when they tried to stop the certification of the election.

But now the GOP politicians who may have been behind the Jan. 6 rioters all along, are going legit.

The majority of Republicans, notably California’s Kevin McCarthy, continue to sing the fictional tune “The 2016 Election Was Stolen.”

As if in a song battle, the Democrats counter with the loud truth, “The Election Was Fair. Trump Lost.”

But enough people keep singing the lie as if it’s their battle hymn.

And now they are looking for the ultimate control of any election. Legally. In plain view.

Republicans are taking over or running for top election official posts in key states. State legislatures are proposing laws to limit absentee ballots, mail-in voting and other conveniences. They are putting up obstacles to make voting harder with the hopes of suppressing your vote.

This is why Biden spoke in Georgia this week, saying “I will not yield, I will not flinch in protecting voting rights.”

Let’s hope he’s serious, starting with new voting rights legislation to make election days federal holidays and require federal approval of any state and local election changes.

It may take changing the filibuster law to make sure Republicans can’t block any Democratic reforms, but it must be done. And done now.

That’s why even the family of Martin Luther King Jr. is calling for “no celebration” of MLK Day without the passage of voting rights legislation.

This is how Democrats are talking to Biden.

The Republicans’ post-Jan.6 strategy is simply Orwellian. Where truth and lies are indistinguishable. And Republicans loyal to Trump are dead set on forcing their lies on everyone.

Witness Sen. Ted Cruz last week caught in a moment of truth calling the Jan. 6 rioters “domestic terrorists.” But how quickly he recanted when called on the carpet by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the Trump Confessor, for all the Republican congregants to see.

Like a loyal Trumper, Cruz knelt, confessed, and did his penance.

It used to be called hypocrisy. Now it’s just called Modern Day Republicanism.

This is a dangerous thing that goes beyond mere policy matters. First the Cruzes fall in line. Then the people. Republicans are not shy about what’s next. They want to own our democracy. And they’re willing to get it by going state by state to limit our voting rights and take away our votes.

That’s even worse than the Jan. 6 rioters’ wildest dreams.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his show on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter @emilamok at 2pm Pacific M-F. Or on www.amok.com

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El Cerrito Hosts 33rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade and Rally

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

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“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.
“Keeping the Dream Alive - Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

By Clifford L. Williams

The City of El Cerrito invites all of its residents and surrounding cities in the Bay Area to join in its 33rd Annual Community Celebration honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

“Keeping the Dream Alive – Embracing Our New Normals with Faith, Family, and Community,” is the theme for this year’s celebration.

The celebration is sponsored by its founders, St. Peter CME Church and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, as well as the Human Relations Commission, and the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.

Event chairperson, Patricia Durham said “this peaceful protest began in 1989 on the back streets of El Cerrito because of the City’s refusal to acknowledge King’s birthday as a federal holiday.

“Members of St. Peter Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), the City’s only African-American church, and the El Cerrito Branch of the NAACP, in true Dr. King style, took to the streets. The City eventually came around and acknowledged the peaceful and powerful works of Dr. King.”

Durham added, “El Cerrito’s birthday celebration of MLK is one of the longest-standing parades and rallies in the Bay Area.”

Because of the global pandemic, this is the second year the city will have a car parade because of COVID-19 protocols. Participants will meet at 9 a.m. at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station (in the parking lot of Key Boulevard & Knott Avenue). At 10 a.m., the parade will caravan down San Pablo Avenue to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station and at 11 a.m., the rally will begin. To ensure everyone enjoys the parade safely, all CDC guidelines will be enforced. Masks and social distancing are required.

“Keeping the dream alive even during a pandemic is a necessity,” said Durham. “We are fighting for our democracy and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us that we need each other to embrace our new normals of survival.”

“The City is expecting more than 100 cars, so we encourage everyone to decorate your vehicles so that yours stands out the best,” noted Durham. “Entertainment will be provided by the Japanese American Citizen League, The Black Cowboy Association, Ujima Lodge #35, the Mardi Gras Gumbo Band, Mighty High Drill Team, Smooth Illusions Band, and El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, Ms. Eevelyn Janean Mitchell, among other talents.”

The MC of this illustrious event will be Jeffery Wright, president of the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce. The event’s keynote speaker is Diana Becton, the first female African American to be elected District Attorney in the history of Contra Costa County.

For more information, contact Patricia Durham at (510) 234-2518.

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