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Judge could rule in dispute over MLK Bible and Nobel medal

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By Kate Brumback

ATLANTA (AP) – The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s traveling Bible hasn’t gone on regular display since President Barack Obama used it while taking his second oath of office two years ago. The public hasn’t seen the slain civil rights icon’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal in recent years, either.

Both relics reside in a safe deposit box, the keys held since March by an Atlanta judge presiding over the latest – and in many eyes, the ugliest – fight between King’s heirs.

The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., which is controlled by Martin Luther King III and his younger brother, Dexter Scott King, asked a judge a year ago to order their sister Bernice to turn over their father’s Nobel medal and traveling Bible. The brothers want to sell them to a private buyer.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney could decide the case at a hearing Tuesday or let it go to trial. He said when he ordered Bernice to hand over the Bible and medal to the court’s custody that it appeared likely the estate will win the case.

This is at least the fifth lawsuit between the siblings in the past decade, but this one crosses the line, Bernice argued in February from the pulpit of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where her father and grandfather preached. Her father cherished these two items, which speak to the very core of who he was, she said.

The Rev. Timothy McDonald, who served as assistant pastor at Ebenezer from 1978 to 1984 and sides with Bernice but describes himself as a friend of the whole family, told The Associated Press: “You don’t sell Bibles and you don’t get but one Nobel Peace Prize. There are some items that you just don’t put a price on.

The estate’s lawyers have not responded to requests for comment from the King brothers. At a hearing last year, a lawyer who represented the estate at the time said they want to sell the two items because the estate needs the money.

Paying lawyers to enforce the rights to King’s words and image is expensive, attorney William Hill reminded the judge, drawing chuckles.

The estate is a private entity, so its finances aren’t public, and court records don’t elaborate on the estate’s need for cash.

Whether to sell the Bible and the medal is not up to the judge, or even part of the lawsuit, which is purely an ownership dispute.

Lawyers for Bernice have argued, among other things, that King gave the Nobel medal to his wife as a gift, meaning that it is part of Coretta Scott King’s estate. Bernice is the administrator of her mother’s estate.<

King’s heirs have previously parted with parts of his legacy. They sold a collection of more than 10,000 of his personal papers and books in 2006 for $32 million, a collection now housed at Morehouse College, King’s alma mater.

Two separate appraisers, Leila Dunbar and Clive Howe, told the AP they would expect the medal to sell for about $5 million to $10 million, and possibly more, based on what other Nobel medals have gone for and King’s place in history.

Dunbar said she would expect the Bible to sell for at least $200,000 and possibly more than $400,000. Howe said it would probably go for about $1 million.

If they are sold through a private sale, which can bring substantially higher sums from buyers who want to secure items before they get to auction, the medal alone could fetch $15 million to $20 million, Howe said.

Both items have enormous societal value and should be on public display, said Barbara Andrews, director of education and interpretation at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The Bible is important because of who King was, and the Nobel Peace Prize because of what it signified – that the fight for civil rights was being recognized on a world stage, she said.

While museums and books can talk about the medal, being able to see it renders it tangible, “more than a photograph, more than us just talking or writing about it,” Andrews said.

“We like to own things. We like to touch things. We like to see them with our eyes. It satisfies that need in us to see the physical manifestation of the award.”

Even in the hands of Bernice, though, neither item has regularly been available to the public.

A replica of the medal has been on display at the King Center for about 17 years, but it’s unclear when the medal itself was last shown, King Center spokesman Steve Klein said.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. Among his children, Martin III got his father’s name, while Dexter got his looks. Bernice followed her father into the ministry and shares his gift for public speaking. And the firstborn, Yolanda, was known as a peacekeeper.

Even before she died in 2007, though, the siblings had taken their quarrels public and gone through periods where they didn’t speak to each other.

In December 2005, Bernice and Martin successfully fought a push by Yolanda and Dexter, who along with other trustees of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change wanted to sell it to the National Park Service. In 2008, two years after the death of their mother and a year after Yolanda died, a long-simmering dispute between the surviving siblings boiled over, with three lawsuits filed between them in as many months.

In August 2013 – on the 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – the estate asked a judge to stop the King Center, where Bernice is the CEO, from using his image, likeness and memorabilia, arguing that the center wasn’t caring for King artifacts properly.

That case is pending.

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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Bay Area

California Moving into Next Budget Year With a $31 Billion Surplus, Analysts Say

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

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California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.
California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

California is expected to move into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, with a whopping $31 billion surplus, according to estimates from the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

The LAO announced the anticipated surplus during a news briefing last week.

“Under our current law and policy approach, we estimate the general fund revenue will reach $202 billion in the budget year and result in a surplus of about $31 billion for that budget year,” said Gabriel Petek, legislative analyst of the State of California, referring to LAO’s projections for fiscal year 2022-23.

Petek said the large surplus reflects a number of trends. Among them are surpluses in the state current operating budget, money left in the economic reserve from the last fiscal year, higher revenues than projected for the last two years, etc.

“Revenue collections have grown rapidly in recent months, coming in over $10 billion ahead of budget act expectations so far this year. Underlying this growth is a meteoric rise in several measures of economic activity,” LAO report reads.

That windfall in the state reserve could mean a rebate for taxpayers or more money for education and other public spending.

State spending is expected to reach a cap set by California voters through a ballot measure in 1979 called the Gann Limit. When that happens, the state is compelled to return money to taxpayers by lowering taxes, sending out rebates or spending money on education.

Salena Pryor, president of the California Black Small Business Association (BSBA) says she is encouraged by the investments the state has made to aid small businesses and to improve the overall economic outlook for Californians most impacted by the pandemic.

She hopes the state will use monies from the surplus to sustain some of its initial investments.

“There is still a lot more work to do. Forty-one percent of Black small businesses have closed permanently due to COVID-19, so further investments into start-ups and restarts would greatly benefit our community,” she said.

California has the strongest economy of any state in the country with an estimated Gross State Product of $3.0 trillion. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.

“California has no peers – continues to have no peers. We are world-beating in terms of our economic growth,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at the California Economic Summit earlier this month.

“In the last five years, no western democracy has outperformed the state of California. The United States has not… Germany, Japan, the U.K… no other western democracy has outperformed this state in our economic output of 21% GDP over the last five years.”

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Activism

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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