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Five COVID Cases Confirmed at Berkeley Whole Foods, Workers Address Concerns

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      Workers at Berkeley’s Whole Foods grocery store on Telegraph Avenue have expressed concerns for their safety and are claiming inadequate clean-up and dissemination of information. Five workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the store since June 2.

    All workers quoted in this article requested to speak under pseudonyms, as they said they fear retaliation from Whole Foods that could put their employment at risk. Since a fifth case was reported just before this story went to press, their quotes and comments reflect on just the first four cases.

   “Personally I don’t feel safe,” said Kendal Galkins, a worker at the location who claims the store was cleaned after she was informed of the first COVID-19 case, but was not cleaned after the second, third, and fourth cases.

    Galkins said that store team leader Kelly Fox told staff that clean-up after the second, third and fourth confirmed cases was unnecessary because, in each case, by the time Whole Foods could confirm the workers tested positive for COVID-19, the infected workers had been absent for long enough that any virus that could have been present in the store would have died off.

    When questioned, Fox said she would not comment on this story and referred all inquiries to the Whole Foods media team.

    Galkins said although Whole Foods maintenance cleaned up at night after the first case, she views that clean-up as insufficient as it was done by Whole Foods staff.

    “It’s different if you have hired somebody like a third [party] who has a job to clean up especially for COVID-19,” said Galkins.

     A Whole Foods spokesperson, Rachel Malish, said a third party cleaning service did come in after the first confirmed case, countering Galkins claim, but neglected to mention the name of the cleaner when directly asked and did not comment on clean-up efforts after the other confirmed cases.

     “That is unbelievable,” said Galkins. “There have been four cases and only one store clean-up.”

     Randy Silks said Fox had told workers they could expect a multi-day cleaning process if a worker tested positive that would involve the store closing, but that Whole Foods “went back on their word,” as the store was never closed for any amount of time after positive cases were announced.

     Silks said he thought keeping the store open meant it would not have to lose any money and complained that Whole Foods was sacrificing worker health and well-being to increase their profit.

    Although workers had been receiving a $2 per hour increase in pay from their regular salaries, a virus-related hazard pay allotment, workers at Whole Foods lost their hazard pay on June 1.

    The decision to cut hazard pay came at the national level and was not a local decision. Still, the timing of how it played out at the Telegraph store specifically has frustrated Silks since June 2, the second day of his non-hazard pay work, when he learned of his first co-worker testing positive, making it clear to him that the virus was still an issue.

    Malish confirmed that workers lost their hazard pay starting on June 1 but did not answer direct questions as to why it was canceled as COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide. She referred to a one-time bonus for workers in June that Amazon, the company that owns Whole Foods, announced.

     Telegraph Whole Foods workers have claimed that they do not feel they have been informed in a timely manner about COVID-19 risks.

      They report that co-workers informed Fox they were taking time off because they were showing symptoms and/or live in the same household as people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but Fox did not share that information with other workers.

   They said the Whole Foods service that relays texts to workers about COVID-19 has only shared information after a worker has tested positive.

    “When they know that a person is out because they might have it, they don’t tell us,” said Chris Cartison, another Whole Foods worker. “They wait till they get a positive result.”

    Malish said that after presumed or confirmed diagnosis, “we activate a set plan to protect the privacy of the impacted person while also mitigating any potential risks,” and that the plan, “includes contact tracing and a formal notification process for those working in our stores.”

    The formal notification process, according to Malish, is done through in-store team meetings and an auto-call text system.

    Galkins said she heard in the store from co-workers on June 10 that there had been a positive case but the texting service did not inform her until the next day, June 11.

    She did not understand why she had to learn about it from her co-workers and was not informed immediately by Fox or the Whole Foods texting service.

    When asked about contact tracing, Galkins said she did not knowingly participate in it but heard, “talk about doing it through cameras in the store.”

    Cartison expressed that if one person likely had COVID while working in the store, everyone was at risk.

    “Every single team member works closely together,” said Cartison.

    Silks said that during a small meeting of workers lead by an assistant team leader on June 10, he learned of a positive case and that the worker had been out since June 3. He did not understand why the store was not cleaned on June 3 if Whole Foods knew of the risk.

     The positive case that was confirmed through text on July 11 was one of three confirmed cases in a short period of time. Another was confirmed on July 7. Vince Chase, another worker, questioned why information related to that worker testing positive for COVID-19 was released directly after the July 4 weekend. On July 15, Whole Foods texted workers to confirm a fifth positive COVID-19 case.

    Silk said the store provides workers with masks and a place to eat indoors where workers are spaced to meet social distancing guidelines, but he wishes staff was forced to eat outdoors.

    Malish pointed out, and workers confirmed, that in addition to masks, Whole Foods uses plexiglass barriers at checkout counters and requires temperature checks before all workers report to work. She also said Whole Foods has, “enhanced daily cleanliness and disinfection protocols in all of our stores.”

     The four workers interviewed for this article said they want the store to be cleaned by a third party after every COVID-19 case and want more transparency about COVID-19 risks.

    Jennifer Altman, a mother of two who lives near Telegraph Whole Foods and shops there regularly, also wants more transparency in terms of possible COVID-19 risks at the store for customers. She was only aware of one positive COVID-19 case until being interviewed for this new story.

    Claiming that shopping for food is one of the most dangerous activities people engage in under COVID-19, she said, “I think it’s really important that people know what’s happening in a grocery store so they can do their own risk management.”

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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