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Leaders Respond to Building Trades Threats to Fund Desley Brooks’ Opposition PAC

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Councilwoman Desley Brooks has refused to take a position on whether or not the city should adopt a policy which is called a “Project Labor Agreement” until she is given assurances that the PLA will benefit Oakland’s Black community.

In response, the construction unions have threatened to create an Independent Expenditure Committee to fund a negative campaign to help candidates running against her, unless Brooks will agree to vote for this policy.

Why is this a problem?  First, coercing the vote of an elected official with threats of money to an unnamed, unaccountable Independent Expenditure Committee feels shady.

And second, we, the authors, are convinced that this city-wide Project Labor Agreement is a bad idea.

We are progressive in Oakland and we tend to support union actions automatically. This is often a good instinct. The Longshore Workers union, teachers’ union, nurses’ union, city worker unions, auto union and many others have created both economic and racial progress with their struggles.

But nobody should get a pass on racial justice.

And many of the construction unions have never gotten over their racial history.   African-Americans get only 9 percent of the work on city-funded construction projects, although Black people make up a quarter of Oakland’s population.

The trades are asking for a “Project Labor Agreement,” which means their members will get almost all the work on these city-funded projects, and few of their members are Black.

The trades have consistently refused to release the numbers of people in their unions by ethnicity. So, they are asking the public to turn over our tax dollars to a select set of employees without regard for whether Black people make up a fair share of those employees.

And a walk around Oakland to look at most construction sites makes it clear that they do not. By all the information we can gather, most of the construction unions, especially those with better pay, have few Black members, because of a set of barriers which include various tests, the location of required apprentice training programs far away from Oakland, and others.

A major problem is that African-Americans in Oakland do not currently have the political power to create solutions for their communities. But the issue is much bigger than Black people.

It’s about equity and the moral compass of our city and society as a whole. The City of Oakland’s Equity indicators report confirms that bias and privilege have tangible outcomes build on a history of racism.

Councilmember Desley Brooks is the lone voice that is demanding more, and she is being persecuted for it – a scenario that also has familiar and historic roots.

With the dwindling Black population, the rising cost of living and the widening wealth gap, it is critical that African-Americans have good living wage jobs.  We need many champions pushing to make that a reality NOW, not a distant hope or promise for a future that may never come.

We encourage the construction unions to desist from coercing an elected official to do something do something she may have concluded is morally wrong – voting against the employment needs of the African-American community

And we encourage those unions to break down the barriers to Black participation in their unions, so that eventually they will be willing to report openly on the ethnic composition of their membership, and the taxes of Black families will pay for projects on which they are also allowed to work.

Signed (organizations for identification only),

Carroll Fife, Executive Committee, Oakland Branch NAACP;
Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD, professor of education and urban studies;
Darleen Brooks;
Henry Hitz; executive director emeritus, Oakland Parents Together:
Robyn Hodges

 

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Business

Oakland City Council Considers Proposal to Limit City’s Highest Annual Rent Hike in History

In Oakland, landlords can raise rents up to 100% of the inflation rate. So, a 6.7% increase in inflation this year means that landlords can raise rents the same percentage. For an apartment rented for $2,000 a month, the 6.7% rent increase would mean that a tenant’s rent would increase more than $100 to $2,134 a month.

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District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife introduced a bill to bring Oakland’s calculator more in line with other cities. The law is scheduled for a vote on May 31. If it passes before the current allowable rent hike goes into effect on July 1, then the lower allowable increase will take effect instead.

By Brandon Patterson

Last month, Oakland housing regulators announced that starting in July, landlords would be permitted to raise rents by up to 6.7% — the highest annual increase in the city’s history. The announcement prompted an outcry from renters at City Council meetings and hearings in recent weeks – and calls to local councilmembers.

Now, City Council is considering a proposal to limit the rent increase and give renters, many of whom are already struggling, some needed relief.

In many Bay Area cities, where housing has been an issue for decades, the amount landlords are allowed to raise rents every year is tied to inflation. This stabilizes rents by limiting increases, ensuring more security for renters’ households.

In Oakland, landlords can raise rents up to 100% of the inflation rate. So, a 6.7% increase in inflation this year means that landlords can raise rents the same percentage. For an apartment rented for $2,000 a month, the 6.7% rent increase would mean that a tenant’s rent would increase more than $100 to $2,134 a month.

This deviates from other cities like Berkeley and San Francisco, however, where the annual allowable rent increase is capped at 65% and 60% of inflation, respectively, according to Oaklandside. That means that for the same $2,000 apartment, rents would increase to about $2,087 in Berkeley or $2084 in San Francisco — about $50 less.

Housing justice and tenants’ rights groups have long criticized how differently Oakland calculates its rent hikes from other cities, and earlier this month, District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife introduced a bill to bring Oakland’s calculator more in line with other cities. The bill would reduce the allowable annual rent increase to just 60% of inflation. It would also cap the allowable rent increase to 3% of the current rent, even if the inflation rate would allow for a higher one.

“I do want to create some security for renters,” Fife told NBC Bay Area in a recent interview. “Oakland is a majority renter city: Over 60% of the residents of the city of Oakland are renters, and it doesn’t make sense to put them in this type of jeopardy.”

“It’s not like we’re coming out of COVID—it’s all around us,” Mark Dias, co-chair of the Oakland Tenants Union, told Oaklandside. “If tenants weren’t able to financially recover from that period of time, they’re also going to be hit with an increase that is legal,” adding that he was “astonished” by the pending rent hike this year.

But some property owners are pushing back, arguing that increases in the cost of operating housing necessitates the higher rent hike. “There has also been an extraordinary increase in everything: water, gas, electric, sewer, repair services, equipment, appliances, plumbing,” Derek Barnes, CEO of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, told NBC Bay Area. “You also have a housing stock that’s older, that really needs a lot of maintenance.”

The law is scheduled for a vote on May 31. If it passes before the current allowable rent hike goes into effect on July 1, then the lower allowable increase will take effect instead.

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Bay Area

Bay Area Health Officers Urge Public to Take Precautions as COVID-19 Levels Rise

The Bay Area now has California’s highest COVID-19 infection rates, fueled by highly contagious Omicron subvariants. Bay Area counties are seeing increases in reported cases, levels of virus in wastewater, and hospitalizations. Actual case rates are higher than those reported because of widespread use of home tests.

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Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer.
Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer.

Courtesy of Marin County

Twelve Bay Area health officers are emphasizing the importance of taking safety precautions, including continued masking indoors, as the region experiences a new swell of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The Bay Area now has California’s highest COVID-19 infection rates, fueled by highly contagious Omicron subvariants. Bay Area counties are seeing increases in reported cases, levels of virus in wastewater, and hospitalizations. Actual case rates are higher than those reported because of widespread use of home tests.

The health officers reiterate their continued, strong support for people to mask up indoors, keep tests handy, and ensure they are up to date on vaccinations by getting boosters when eligible.

“As cases rise around us, it’s important to understand that more people around you are likely infected or have been exposed,” said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. “Masks are an easy tool you can use to protect yourself and lower your risk of infection.”

The grim milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, reached earlier this week, underscores the need for continued vigilance against the virus.

Although not required, masking is strongly recommended by the California Department of Public Health for most public indoor settings, and health officials say wearing higher-quality masks (N95/KN95 or snug-fitting surgical masks) indoors is a wise choice. Vaccines remain the best protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

Health officials say people should also stay home and get tested right away if they feel sick. Officials also encourage getting tested after potential exposure and limiting large gatherings to well ventilated spaces or outdoors. For those more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 infection, medications are available that can reduce chances of severe illness and death. Talk with a health care provider right away if a test comes back positive.

This statement has been endorsed by health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma as well as the City of Berkeley.

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Bay Area

Multiple Services Offered at June 1 County Event

Clean Slate is a new community-minded collaboration of the County’s justice-oriented departments plus key support from Health and Human Services. The motivation was to bring services from the Civic Center to the people who might need them the most. The program helps ensure that every resident can succeed following a criminal conviction by informing them about job training, government benefits, and basic health care needs.

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Clean Slate program supporters at Civic Center include (from left) Assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr., Health and Human Services Director Benita McLarin, Probation Chief Marlon Washington, Health and Human Services Division Director D’Angelo Paillet, DA Lori Frugoli, and Public Defender David Joseph Sutton.
Clean Slate program supporters at Civic Center include (from left) Assistant DA Otis Bruce Jr., Health and Human Services Director Benita McLarin, Probation Chief Marlon Washington, Health and Human Services Division Director D’Angelo Paillet, DA Lori Frugoli, and Public Defender David Joseph Sutton.

Clean Slate program to address justice-related & health needs in San Rafael

Courtesy of Marin County

Bringing assistance directly to Marin County residents in their own neighborhood is the idea behind the Clean Slate program, which made a successful debut in February in Marin City. This time, an array of services from four County of Marin departments will be available Wednesday, June 1, at the Multicultural Center of Marin in San Rafael.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be on hand for assistance with public benefits such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh food assistance, CalWORKS services, employment training, and general financial relief for families. COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots will be available as well.

People in need of help with justice-related tasks such as clearing one’s record, terminating one’s probation, or dismissing a conviction will be able to walk in with documentation and receive help from the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, or the Probation Department.

The walk-in event will be set up from 4-7 p.m. at the Multicultural Center of Marin, 709 5th Avenue, in San Rafael.

Clean Slate is a new community-minded collaboration of the County’s justice-oriented departments plus key support from Health and Human Services. The motivation was to bring services from the Civic Center to the people who might need them the most. The program helps ensure that every resident can succeed following a criminal conviction by informing them about job training, government benefits, and basic health care needs.

“I believe that this collaboration really shows the commitment of each of the departments to help remove barriers to self-sufficiency and have a presence in the community,” said D’Angelo Paillet, HHS Social Services Director.

Those seeking law-related help are asked to bring all relevant documents with them, including past correspondences and state Department of Justice records. Each participating department will have Spanish translators on hand to help with health or immigration-related relief.

For questions about the event related to legal services, contact the Public Defender’s Office at (473) 473-6321. For health-related questions, contact Health and Human Services at (415) 473-3350.

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