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Fourth Street East Tenants on Partial Rent Strike Against Carmel Partners

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Joy Khoo, a 4th Street East tenant, stands between two advertisements for the luxury condo in Jack London Square on Sept. 21. Photo by Zack Haber

After being denied amenities and suffering from financial loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60 tenants who live in Fourth Street East, a luxury apartment tower in Jack London Square, have banded together to collectively seek demands and withhold some of their rent from Carmel Partners, the multi-billion dollar corporation that owns the condos and collects their rent.

“They’re a huge corporation that could afford to cut tenants a break,” said Henry Clifton*, a 4th Street East tenant. “A powerful corporation like this is in a position where they can at least not take advantage of their tenants, kick them while they’re down, and keep charging them for amenities that they’re not getting.”

Clifton moved to Oakland two years ago after landing a job as a designer. The Fourth Street East residence sparked his interest because it offered amenities including a pool, jacuzzi, co-working lounge, a gym, roof-top BBQ area, and a game room. Months after he moved in, the promised amenities still were not available. Then, when COVID-19 hit, they were suddenly shut down.

“They’re probably saving money on heating the pool, heating the jacuzzi, running all the exercise equipment,” said Clifton. “But instead of us getting that reflected in our rent, they’re just collecting the full rent.”

Clifton’s expenses have gone up because he’s now working from home, which causes his utilities to rise. After a partner moved out, he’s paying the full $4,050 per month for his one-bedroom apartment. As rents have lowered in the area, he wants to break his lease. But doing so is expensive, due, in part, to having to return discounts offered at move-in, he calculates that it would cost him about $20,000 to break it.

Joy Khoo, who has lived in Oakland for five years and is self-employed, suddenly lost about 70% of her income when she lost a client due to COVID-19. Like Clifton, the amenities at Fourth Street East attracted her and she asked for a rent reduction when they were no longer available. She, too, wants to break her lease, but can not afford it. 
“Everywhere else in the market the rents are going down,” said Khoo. “I just want a little break.”

After she inquired, Greystar, the company that works for Carmel Partners to manage Fourth Street East, allowed her to transfer her lease to another person if she could find someone. But as prices in Fourth Street East condos have fallen due to COVID-19, it has been impossible for her to find a person to take over the $2,800 per month rent for her studio. Their website currently shows at least 60 vacant units, over 18% of the total units at the location.

Starting Sept. 1, Clifton and Khoo are withholding 25% of their rent. Other tenants are withholding up to 50%. They, along with 64 other tenants in the building, are part of the Forth Street East Tenants Association (FSETA). To get the word out, FSETA put flyers around the building in mid-August, but they said an employee of Greystar took many of them down.

FSETA has worked with Bay Area Tenants and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) to help them get advice about dealing with Carmel Partners and Greystar. TANC has also helped other local tenants who have the same landlord organize and make collective demands. 

One of them is SMC Tenants Council, whose landlord, Neill Sullivan, has purchased over 350 properties. SMC Tenants Council complains that Sullivan neglects units with lower rents. They currently have many tenants on total rent strike who are demanding rent cancellation for those who are suffering financial loss due to the pandemic.

“Working with TANC has been really supportive,” Khoo said.

In addition to losing amenities, tenants have complained of other problems, many of them relating to Greystar not communicating when they complain of issues. Aliyah Harris*, who has lived in Fourth Street East since its inception in late 2018, has a lease that is ending soon and is glad to be moving on.

“This is not a place I would want to continue to live in,” she said. “It’s been really horrible. The lack of communication has been the biggest concern.”

Harris has complained that the elevator has been inoperable for extended periods of time as well as her garbage disposal but never received a response from Greystar. There have been workout classes in a courtyard by her unit at noon on weekdays with an instructor who loudly amplifies his voice. She said it disturbs her and others that work from home and suggested to Greystar that they move the class to the rooftop, but has not received a response. 

In the past, Clifton and Khoo say that Greystar would only respond in a timely manner if tenants give them a bad Yelp review. Clifton said they have also offered rewards for good Yelp reviews.

The tenants have had more success by addressing Greystar collectively. They sent out an e-mail on Aug. 24 and received a response on Aug. 29. Since then, some amenities have slowly opened but in restricted ways that make it hard for tenants to access them. Rent has not been reduced.

“As the closure of these amenity spaces has been entirely out of our control,” wrote Greystar Senior Community Manager Kelsey Montano in the Aug. 29 e-mail, “we are not providing any discounts to rent.”

Three days later, on Sept.1, 66 tenants, about 20-25% of the Fourth Street East’s total current tenants, withheld at least 25% of their rent. They plan to continue to do so next month.

The Oakland Post e-mailed Carmel Partners and Greystar for comment on this news story. Greystar did not respond. Peter Jakel, the vice president of Strategy for LinnellTaylor Marketing, a public relations company, responded on behalf of Carmel Partners.

He emphasized that Carmel Partners share “residents’ frustrations with the incredible impact of COVID-19” and said that, where possible, they have opened amenities such as the “pool, roof-top deck, courtyard, conference rooms, pet spa, and DIY workshop.”

Jakel did not respond to the question: “Given COVID-19, why hasn’t rent been reduced for tenants?” He did not comment on rent reductions due to all amenities being closed for extended periods of time. 

He addressed financial questions in the following statement “We have been especially mindful of residents who have suffered financial or health-related hardship due to COVID-19, and are being very flexible during these difficult times. We are not evicting any residents or charging any late fees, and we have provided flexible payment plan options and negotiated lease terminations to reduce balances owed.”

Current federal law forbids Carmel Partners from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent until Dec. 31. 

Since Carmel Partners own condo complexes in major cities all across the country, Clifton is doubtful that measures taken so far will have much of an economic affect on them. He is hoping the FSETA can spread the partial rent strike to Carmel Partner’s housing units in other locations. 

“If we get 10% of all of Carmel Partner’s places to do it then maybe that will affect their bottom line,” he said.

*Henry Clifton is a pseudonym. We did not use his real name because he feared retaliation from Carmel Partners and/or Greystar. Aliyah Harris is also a pseudonym. 

Activism

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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Activism

The Story of The Mural Honoring the Women of the Black Panther Party

Vest says this project is also created in conjunction with the #SayHerName movement, and in response to the continued violence and systematic oppression of BIWOC, and as a result of the chronic blindness towards and seeming invisibility of Black women.

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Born and raised in Chicago, Jilchristina Vest moved to the Bay Area in 1986 when she was 19 years old. In 1995, after earning degrees in Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and Multicultural Education from San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco, she had a job working for OCCUR. 

There she learned about the rich history of African American success and activism in West Oakland and its connection to The Black Panther Party. And because of that history, Vest began her search for a home in West Oakland.  

After two years of searching and with the help of her friends and community, Vest bought a beautiful home. And about two-and-a-half years later, again with the help of her friends and community, the house was restored to its former glory.

Some 20 years later, Vest found a way to say thank you to Oakland, her friends, community and The Black Panther Party – all the reasons she is here. She has done it by assembling a team to install a 2,000-square-foot mural on the wall of her house to honor the unknown and unseen heroes of The Black Panther Party.

Located at the corner of Center Street and Dr. Huey P. Newton Way, work on the mural began in January of 2021.

Vest says this project is also created in conjunction with the #SayHerName movement, and in response to the continued violence and systematic oppression of BIWOC, and as a result of the chronic blindness towards and seeming invisibility of Black women.

The source of this story is the Women of the Black Panther Party Mural web site, https://www.wbppmural.com/

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Activism

D.C. Statehood is a Voting Rights Issue… and Racial Justice Issue

The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue.

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Washington, D.C. has a higher percentage of Black residents than any state in the country, and they have no voting representation in Congress. This is systemic racism in action. It is long past time to give Washington’s 712,000 residents the representation they deserve by making D.C. our 51st state.
It is shameful that people who live in the nation’s capital have no say in Congress. And it is unacceptable that local laws and budgets passed by D.C. elected officials can be overturned by members of Congress who decide to meddle in local decision-making. That explains why Washington, D.C.’s license plates include the slogan, “End taxation without representation,” a rallying cry by American colonists against the tyranny of British rule.
The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue. There are bogus reasons to oppose statehood, and some Republicans in Congress have been trotting them out now that legislation to admit Washington, D.C. as a statehood bill is moving forward in Congress.
Some claim that Washington, D.C. is too small to be a state. But D.C. has more residents than either Vermont or Wyoming. There are currently six states whose population is less than a million. D.C. pays more federal taxes than 21 states—and more federal taxes per person than any state.
Some make the false claim that it would require a constitutional amendment to make Washington, D.C. a state. Not true. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the authority to admit new states.
That’s how every one of the 37 states that were not initially part of the U.S. have joined the country. The original District of Columbia was created out of land from Maryland and Virginia. In 1846, a good chunk of D.C. was returned to Virginia. No constitutional amendment was required then, and none is required now to admit Washington, D.C. as a new state. Some objections are so idiotic, frankly, that they must be a cover for pure partisanship or worse.
In March, a Heritage Foundation legal fellow testifying before Congress said that D.C. residents shouldn’t get representation in Congress because they can already influence congressional debates by placing yard signs where members of Congress might see them on their way to work. One Republican congressman said (wrongly) that D.C. would be the only state without a car dealership. Another said that D.C. doesn’t have enough mining, agriculture, or manufacturing. Mitch McConnell said the plan to make D.C. a state was evidence of “full bore socialism on the march.”
At least some Republicans are honest about their real reason for opposing statehood:  they just don’t want to let D.C. voters elect Democratic officials who will support progressive policies supported by the majority of the American people.
But that is not a principled position. None of the objections to D.C. statehood hold water, especially when weighed against the basic injustice of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people.
Washingtonians have fought in every U.S. war. About 30,000 D.C. residents are veterans. But D.C.’s mayor does not even have the ability that governors have to mobilize its own National Guard—a fact that proved to be deadly during the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection.
The bottom line in this: how can we hold ourselves out as a model of democracy when we are the only democratic country in the world that denies representation and self-governance to the people who live in its capital? We can’t.
As the Biden administration recognized in announcing its support for D.C. statehood, it is long past time to correct this injustice. The House of Representatives voted on April 22, to admit Washington, D.C. as a state. Senate leaders must not allow filibuster rules or Republican resistance to prevent Congress from righting this wrong.

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