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Black Leaders: Redistricting Process Is “Rushed, Inconsistent, Incomplete”

According to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, because the proposed maps chop up and split districts where African Americans live, Black political power will be diluted in Los Angeles County, San Diego County, the Central Valley, the Bay Area and the Inland Empire. To address the problem, they have submitted proposed maps to the redistricting commission that will protect Black political power and representation.

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Starting November 17 there will be a series of meetings during which the public will be able to provide their input to commissioners. Another round of map drawing sessions will commence November 30.
Starting November 17 there will be a series of meetings during which the public will be able to provide their input to commissioners. Another round of map drawing sessions will commence November 30.

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

African American leaders in California are keeping a close eye on the commission drafting congressional, state Senate, state Assembly and Board of Equalization voting maps. They are concerned about the outcome of the redistricting process.

On November 10, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission released the first draft maps of the redrawn lines for the state’s voting districts. By state law, the finalized versions of the new political districts have to be completed by December 27.

But advocates like James Woodson, the policy director of the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub (CBCRH), are asking the commission to press pause and re-evaluate the maps they have come up with so far.

The CBCRH, also called “the Black Hub” is a statewide coalition focused on “racial equity” and “fairness” in the redistricting process.

“The Black Hub appreciates the commission’s hard work and its early release of the maps for public input. At the same time, the Black Hub is deeply concerned that the process for developing the maps has been rushed, inconsistent, and incomplete,” said Woodson. “It has resulted in maps that have ignored the interests of many Black communities and millions of residents in the state’s most populated areas.”

For example, draft maps released by the commission last month collapsed the only two congressional districts in Los Angeles County represented by Black U.S. Congressmembers, Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) and Karen Bass (D-CA-37), into one district. After advocates and activists complained about African Americans losing political power, the commission separated the single district it was proposing into two constituencies again.

But because California lost one seat in the U.S. Congress due to an overall drop in the state’s population, according to the U.S. 2020 Census numbers, advocates worry that it will cause a ripple effect, which will change the racial and political composition of districts across the state.

The “Black Hub” leaders and other advocates in the state are urging Black Californians to speak up and provide input to ensure their communities do not lose representation or resources.

“It’s not just about us losing political power. It’s also about us losing assets,” said Kellie Todd Griffin, a resident of the Los Angeles County city of Carson, where the number of Black residents accounts for more than 25% of the city’s total population. Los Angeles County, where California is expected to lose one congressional seat, is home to about 40% of African Americans in the state.

Griffin, who is an organizer and entrepreneur, is known in California’s political circles for her outspoken advocacy on behalf of Black Californians. She says with the Olympics coming to Los Angeles in 2028, there will be a lot of development and an increase in revenue for government and businesses in Carson. Redrawn political districts, she fears, could hurt her city and others nearby economically.

“When you look at the maps, you see that our congressional district in Carson has been attached more to Redondo Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes instead of being connected to cities like Long Beach and Compton and places like that,” Griffin said. “There is also an assumption that Blacks and other minorities in the area vote the same on issues. As we know, that is not always true. We have specific issues that affect us Blacks differently. So, we vote differently on them – from some criminal justice reforms to the Crown Act.”

One of the realities driving the leaders’ concern is the possibility that the Black vote in five different regions of California will be diluted.

“Rather than adhere to map priorities from BIPOC communities, we are concerned that, in an effort to prioritize all voices, some commissioners have mistakenly and unknowingly elevated voices from less diverse, affluent communities in the process, and at the expense of BIPOC communities,” said Woodson.

According to CBCRH, because the proposed maps chop up and split districts where African Americans live, Black political power will be diluted in Los Angeles County, San Diego County, the Central Valley, the Bay Area and the Inland Empire. To address the problem, they have submitted proposed maps to the redistricting commission that will protect Black political power and representation.

Another major concern is the compressed timeline on which the commission is working, which limits the time for citizens to influence the line-drawing process. This year, due to pandemic-related federal delays, census data the commission relies on to redraw maps was delayed. Instead of its usual release in March, the U.S. Census Bureau did not provide that information until September 21.

“The Black Hub is deeply concerned that the process for developing the maps has been rushed, inconsistent, and incomplete. It has resulted in maps that have ignored the interests of many Black communities and millions of residents in the state’s most populated areas,” said a statement released by CBCRH last week.

Every 10 years, California appoints a new redistricting commission after the U.S. Census. It is tasked with mapping or re-drawing the state’s electoral lines based on population shifts in the state population over the decade between census counts.

According to Census 2020 numbers, California’s Black population decreased from about 2.5 to nearly 2.2 million over the last decade. However, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Californians who identify as more than one race — from 4.9% in 2010 to 14.6% in 2020.

In 2008, California voters approved the Citizens Redistricting Commission through a constitutional amendment called The Voters First Act or Proposition 11. It handed the function of drawing electoral maps to citizens. The policy was set up to avoid the political influence of government officials or special interest groups on the redistricting process.

Before the passage of Prop 11, the state Legislature was responsible for drawing its own electoral districts. There are five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who are not affiliated with any political party on the committee.

When redrawing maps, the number of voters in all districts across the state has to be equal. That is roughly 761,000 people in each congressional district. For all state Senate districts that number is 988,000, and 494,000 people in Assembly districts.

In California, Blacks make up a little over 5% of the state’s population of about 40 million people. There are 52 congressional districts; 80 Assembly districts; and 40 Senate districts. For the state Board of Equalization, the body responsible for representing taxpayer interests and “equalizing” county-by-county tax assessments across California, there are four districts.

The commission has to comply with a number of constitutional mandates, including Voting Rights Act provisions that all minority groups must be able to elect a representative of their choice; a district must be whole or contiguous (connected geographically); among other rules.

Starting November 17 there will be a series of meetings during which the public will be able to provide their input to commissioners. Another round of map drawing sessions will commence November 30.

“We need to lift our voices and make sure we have said something. That we didn’t just sit by and let these lines be redrawn without us fighting for our interests. We have to define what community means to us,” said Griffin. “We have to make sure we are submitting written comments and letting people know the things that work for us and the things that don’t.”

To make a public comment to the commission, email votersfirstact@crc.ca.gov or complete the Community Feedback Form.

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Activism

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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African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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