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Alameda County Ends Criminal Justice Fees

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The county will also eliminate $26 million in existing fees
The newly-formed Debt Free Justice California coalition is celebrating a stunning victory after the Board of Supervisors voted recently to make Alameda the nation’s second county to end wealth extraction through criminal justice fees and bring about “Debt-Free Justice” for communities.
The Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 4 to put a permanent stop to the assessment and collection of fees imposed on individuals in the criminal justice system.
Following the lead of San Francisco County’s June 2018 decision and building on more than two years of advocacy on the part of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and Debt Free Justice California coalition partners, Alameda County ceased the assessment and collection of fees for probation supervision, investigation reports, participation in the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program, and many more fees that extract wealth from low-income communities of color.
In past years, the average adult on probation in Alameda County has faced over $6,000 in fees. The new policy, along with the discharge of existing debt, will go into effect on Jan. 4, 2019.
The Board of Supervisors was influenced by a white paper released last month by EBCLC, which outlined how these fees inflict harm on low-income defendants by perpetuating poverty and creating additional barriers to employment, housing, and reentry.
And because people of color are arrested and punished disproportionately, communities of color bear a much heavier burden of the costs.
Said Theresa Zhen, supervising attorney at EBCLC, “I’ve worked with far too many clients whose life savings were wiped out by criminal justice debt. Now, thousands of people in Alameda County can focus on building a sustainable life for their families instead of constantly finding their wages garnished, their bank accounts levied, and their tax returns intercepted. It’s been my honor to partner with impacted people to win this fight, and we applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this courageous step forward.”
“The elimination of these fees is a step toward ending the cycles of poverty and incarceration,” said Eric Henderson, Policy Associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “These fees impact families and low-income communities in ways that take generations to recover from.”
According to Stephanie Campos-Bui, supervising attorney with the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, “Research has shown that fees can undermine public safety by increasing recidivism. This move by the Board will free up money to pay for basic necessities like housing, food, and clothing, and help ensure that people exiting the system will have a better chance of successfully reentering into their communities.”
Noe Gudiño, Policy Fellow at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said, “Ending court fines and fees will allow people directly impacted by the criminal justice system– disproportionately low-income people of color–to invest more in themselves and their families, creating healthier and safer communities for all.”
Added Brandon Greene, supervising attorney at EBCLC, “This is a huge, historic victory and one that we hope will build inertia for a statewide push. California has the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the country. This is just one victory that is part of a much larger movement. Our partners in the Debt Free Justice California coalition are building power in local communities that we are confident will translate into a fairer and more equitable California!”
Debt Free Justice California (DFJC) is a statewide advocacy coalition chaired by EBCLC and driven by movement-building organizations of directly impacted people. DFJC coalition members plan to leverage this county-level achievement to bolster their fight for statewide criminal justice fees abolition.

Business

100 Diverse-Owned Oakland Businesses Could Receive a $10,000 Grant from Comcast

Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian American small business owners in Oakland can apply for a $10,000 grant from the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which will issue 100 grants for a total of $1 million.

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Comcast RISE/Courtesy of Comcast

Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian American small business owners in Oakland can apply for a $10,000 grant from the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which will issue 100 grants for a total of $1 million.

To be eligible for the grant, businesses must:

• Have established business operations for 3 or more years

• Have one to 25 employees

• Be based within Oakland, California city limits

The Investment Fund is the latest extension of Comcast RISE – which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength, and Empowerment – a multiyear, multi-faceted initiative launched in 2020 to provide people of color-owned small businesses the opportunity to apply for marketing and technology services from Comcast Business and Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable. If a business is not eligible for the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, applications are also open for marketing and technology services. In fact, 228 businesses in California have been selected as Comcast RISE recipients.

“Like many others, my small business was impacted by the pandemic. Thanks to the Comcast RISE program, I can reach new audiences,” said Judi Townsend, owner of Mannequin Madness and Oakland resident. She has benefited from the program twice, once with the production and placement of a TV commercial and then with a technology makeover.

“The application process was much more straight forward than other grants. I encourage my fellow eligible business owners to apply for the grant and the other benefits.” To help drive outreach and awareness about Comcast RISE and provide additional support, training and mentorship, Comcast has also awarded a $50,000 grant to the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

“The economic effects of the global pandemic have been felt worldwide, including significant impacts here in Oakland,” said Barbara Leslie, President & CEO, Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. We know that our small, local, woman-owned and Black, Indigenous and People Of Color businesses – who are responsible for creating the beautiful tapestry we call home – have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. We applaud Comcast’s vision, through the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, to ensure that small businesses that exist today can be a part of Oakland’s economic and social fabric both tomorrow and for many years to come.”

Comcast RISE is part of a larger $100 million Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that Comcast launched last year. In June 2020, Comcast NBCUniversal announced the development of a comprehensive, multi-year plan to allocate $75 million in cash and $25 million in media over the next three years to fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability.

Grant recipients will also receive a complimentary 12-month membership to the coaching program from Ureeka, an online platform for entrepreneurs, to help them build skills, gain more customers and become financially stable. Eligible businesses can apply online at www.ComcastRISE.com from October 1 through October 14, 2021 for one of the 100 $10,000 grants. More information and the applications to apply for either the grant program or the marketing and technology services are available at www.ComcastRISE.com.

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Business

Mayor Breed, Supervisor Mar Launch Grant to Support Storefronts Impacted by Vandalism

Up to $2,000 in financial relief available to repair storefront vandalism at neighborhood businesses

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SF Storefront Vandalism Grant Program Banner/Photo Courtesy of City of San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development

Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar announced Wednesday the launch of the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant program, which provides up to $2,000 in financial relief to restore and repair damages from vandalism at neighborhood storefronts. The program launches during a time when many small businesses are recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Opening and operating a successful small business in San Francisco was becoming increasingly difficult, and the pandemic has made it that much harder,” said Breed. “It has never been more critical for us to provide support to our small businesses in every way that we can, which not only means making it easier to open and operate a small business, but also providing relief when they face challenges. With the launch of the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant, we are letting our small business community know that we have their back and will fight to ensure that they can continue operating for years to come.”

The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant provides financial relief to restore small businesses impacted by deliberate actions that result in the destruction or damages of storefronts. This program will offer either $1,000 or $2,000, depending on the total cost incurred to repair physical damages. The $1 million program is designed to serve more than 500 small businesses with gross revenue of less than $8 million that can provide proof of damages from vandalism incurred since July 1, 2020.

The fund will directly support small businesses with financial relief in the aftermath of a crime to restore the harm done. The fund will also allow small businesses to make improvements that enhance security and prevent crime. This includes replacement locks, a new security gate, fixing an alarm system, adding new lighting, replacing windows, etchings on windows, and many others. Improvements are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, based on fund availability.

The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant is one tool in preventing crime and improving safety in neighborhood commercial corridors. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) also funds programs to help small businesses and neighborhood organizations improve safety through ambassadors and activations to increase foot traffic and community patrols. The fund is not meant to replace the loss of stolen goods and does not include damage to shared spaces.

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in burglaries and vandalism in every neighborhood targeting small businesses already struggling with unprecedented economic challenges. As we work to prevent these crimes and strengthen safety on our commercial corridors, we must also respond immediately to provide relief to mom-and-pop businesses with direct and tangible support as they recover from these incidents,” said Mar. 

“Following requests from businesses in the Sunset, I worked with Mayor Breed and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to create the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant and secured an initial $1 million funding allocation,” said Mar. “The fund will provide financial relief to small businesses in the aftermath of a crime to restore the harm done, including direct costs of property damage or getting a replacement lock or new security measures.”

To apply, eligible businesses are asked to provide receipts, photos of damages and furnish a report from the San Francisco Police Department or from 311 in the case of graffiti. Applications can be found by visiting oewd.org/VandalismRelief.

“On February 26 at 4:00 a.m., a burglar managed to break into my small business without activating the alarm. An hour later an opportunistic looter came into my store and stole additional merchandise. Small businesses are already hurting hard from the pandemic and these crimes are a gut punch to small businesses,” said Michael Hsu, owner of Footprint on Taraval.  

“Since hearing about the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant, I’ve put in my application to get up to $2,000 to help provide some relief to my business. We need more programs like this to support small businesses in our neighborhood that are struggling from being victims of burglary and vandalism. I’m thankful for our city leaders for initiating this program. Together with the community and leaders, we will get through these tough times.”

“Since the pandemic, I have heard so many stories from small businesses that have been burglarized or vandalized. As a small business owner, myself, I feel and understand their pain and loss,” said Albert Chow, president of People of the Parkside Sunset, a Taraval merchants and residents association. “The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant is a safety net that is critical to ensuring that our small business owners are able to recover.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, San Francisco has provided immediate and ongoing support for small businesses, including making available more than $52.8 million in grants and loans to support more than 3,000 small businesses, in addition to tens of millions of dollars in fee and tax deferrals, and assistance applying for state and federal funding. This includes legislation introduced and signed by Mayor Breed to waive $5 million in fees and taxes for entertainment and nightlife venues and small restaurants.

“As we reopen and rebuild, many of our small businesses continue to struggle to make ends meet. These challenges can feel almost insurmountable when small businesses also become victims of vandalism” said Kate Sofis, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.  “San Francisco’s Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant will help alleviate the financial hardship caused by deliberate acts of damage to property. It is one of many tools the City has to support our business community and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods as we work together towards economic recovery.”

“The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Community

City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

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Barbara Parker

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al., a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations.

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

Not only must the defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the city and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker, “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30% of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. 

The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks. 

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions — including units never intended or approved for residential use — to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. 

This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights. 

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office. 

The case went to trial in early April of this year. In its September 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case. 

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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