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Oakland Coalition Calls for Planning Commission Accountability

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Community members and activists from the Chinatown Coalition are calling for changes in how the City and Planning Commission make development decisions.

 

The group says all city development projects should be passed with signed benefit agreements between the community and developers, especially in historic and cultural districts like Chinatown. 

 

“We have organized a diverse coalition to change the process of how planning is done in our town… and to force developers to work with the neighborhoods they are coming into to make a profit off the highest rental rates in the country,” coalition organizer Lailan Huen said at City Council last Tuesday.

 

Huen, who works with the Block By Block Organizing Network, and other members of the coalition have organized this year around four proposed housing projects near Chinatown. They have spoken at numerous Planning Commission meetings, often asking for more time to negotiate with developers over more affordable units and other community benefits agreements.

 

At last week’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Abel Guillén pulled an agenda item about one of these projects: developer Wood Partners’ 262-unit market-rate housing project at 226 13th Street, which was approved in June and later appealed by the City Council.

 

Members of the coalition on Oct. 4 appeared before City Council, and during open forum launched their public campaign for more equitable development.

 

“We need to have broader, more robust community engagement projects for any development,” said Alvina Wong, lead community organizer for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

 

In addition to a longer time frame for deeper community engagement between developers and the community, Wong said the coalition is advocating for changes in the Planning Commission appointment process.

 

Currently, the mayor recommends people to be on the Planning Commission, and City Council has the power to approve those nominations. But Wong said this process is a roadblock to the collaborative and representative development processes that the coalition wants to see in the community.

 

“There are no provisions on how the community gets to engage or make recommendations (for planning commissioner appointments),” said Wong. “We also know there isn’t much racial diversity or work diversity on the Planning Commission.” Members of the coalition have already begun working with council members on how they can bring about some of their ideas.

 

On the one hand, council members want to see communities benefit from development coming in. However, unless there is a change to the city’s charter, there are few ways to adjust the appointment process, Wong said.

 

“We shouldn’t have to fight separately for each project. We should work to adopt policies, like the local jobs policy that we successfully advanced at the CED Committee this week, which apply more broadly,” said Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan, who supports and has been working with the coalition.

 

The group is exploring other ideas, too, like finding ways for the Planning Commission to better represent different neighborhoods in Oakland.

 

“Many (planning) commissioners now are from the Rockridge area. They’re mostly white and work in the for-profit development sector,” Wong said.

 

The main concern, she said, is that historic neighborhoods like Chinatown, which don’t have explicit protections in Oakland, are given the time and resources they need to work with developers.

 

“This important coalition brings all issues to the table at once: displacement, real jobs for Oaklanders, and affordable home ownership,” Pamela Drake of the Block By Block Organizing Network said last Tuesday.

 

“We should not have to come here every time. We need the Planning Department to look at these issues broadly, and we need (City Council) to put that in place.”

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Bay Area

Oakland Healthcare Unions Denounce CDC and California’s New Guidelines

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

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Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.
Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Two unions representing healthcare professionals have denounced recent moves by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The California Department of Public Health that have eased, or in some cases temporarily eliminated, quarantining guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been directly exposed to the virus.

“Part of why there’s this rise in transmission is that people aren’t quite well and they’re able to come out and mingle with the public,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez in an interview. Triunfo-Cortez has worked as a registered nurse for 42 years, and she’s the president of National Nurses United (NNU), a registered nurses’ union with over 175,000 members.

On December 22 of last year, as news that the CDC was considering shortening their COVID-19 quarantine duration guidelines from 10 days to five days was spreading, the NNU published an open letter to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that urged her to maintain the 10-day quarantine period.

“Weakening COVID-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet,” the letter reads, “will only result in further transmission, illness and death.”

On December 23, the CDC changed their guidelines for healthcare workers. To address staffing shortages, the new guidelines stated that medical facilities could have both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers who test positive for the virus return to their jobs immediately without quarantining in certain crisis situations as long as they were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

On December 27, the CDC changed their guidelines for the rest of the population, shortening the quarantining period from 10 to five days. The new guidelines stated that as long as a COVID-positive person has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they don’t have a fever, they can end their quarantine on the sixth day.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of [COVID-19] transmission occurs early in the course of the illness,” reads a statement from the CDC about the reduced quarantine guideline, “generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after.”

In their letter, the NNU pointed to the extremely contagious Omicron variant, and warned “Now is not the time to relax protections.” They mentioned pressure from businesses to maintain profits “without regard for science or the health of employees or the public” as the primary motivation for shortening the quarantine time. The letter included a link to a story about Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asking the CDC to consider such a change.

Data from Alameda County, and California show that after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to become widespread in mid-December, local and statewide cases surged. By late December, average daily case rates were higher than they ever had been before.

Hospitalizations also rose sharply. Then cases and hospitalizations continued to rise through early January and have continued to rise. At the time of publication, information on recent COVID-19 deaths is unclear as the county and the state are updating that data.

“It’s stressful because some of our co-workers might be coming into work sick,” said Sonya Allen-Smith in an interview on January 7 about working under the new guidelines. She’s been an X-ray technologist at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Oakland for 13 years and is a member of the SEIU UHW union for healthcare workers.

“We think about if we’re going to take it home to our families,” she said. “My husband’s immune system is compromised. If I bring it home to him, he definitely will not make it.”

The Oakland Post obtained a flow chart Kaiser e-mailed to their employees on January 7 that guided them through the quarantine process the company required them to enter into if they tested positive for COVID-19.

It showed Kaiser employees had to quarantine for five days and could return on the sixth day if they tested negative for the virus with an antigen test. Allen-Smith said she felt the quarantine period was too short.

“We’re not giving people enough time to heal or recover,” Allen-Smith said. “Weakening the guidelines is not going to stop the staff shortage. It may increase it because people will spread it.”

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that they’re “implementing CDC and CDHP guidance and isolation with considerations to vaccination status and staffing levels.” It also stated that “all employees coming back or continuing to work, wear the appropriate PPE and follow all infection prevention measures.”

On January 8, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to temporarily adopt the guidance for healthcare workers the CDC had released on December 23 to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

“From January 8, 2022 until February 1, 2022, healthcare professionals who test positive for [COVID-19] and are asymptomatic,” reads their statement announcing the new guidelines, ”may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.”

The statement also said such returning employees would have to wear N95 masks while working and that these new guidelines could again change as information becomes available.

Both the NNU and the SEIU-UHW unions immediately denounced CDHP’s decision.

“For healthcare workers on the frontline it is very disappointing to see the State of California bypass common sense safety measures,” said Gabe Montoya, an emergency room technician, in a statement SEIU-UHW released. “No patient wants to be cared for by someone who has COVID-19 or was just exposed to it.”

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

When asked for a statement about their Bay Area healthcare facilities, Sutter Health’s media team wrote an email stating: “Consistent with CDC contingency tiered guidelines released in late December, and in response to critical staffing conditions, we have revised our process for how employees who work at patient care sites return after they have been sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s important to note that symptomatic employees are not returning to work until their symptoms improve.”

When asked directly if asymptomatic COVID positive employees were currently returning to work, Sutter Health’s media team did not respond.

When asked about their current COVID-19 quarantine policies, Alameda Health System’s media and communications manager Eleanor Ajala wrote “Alameda Health System is reviewing guidance” and that they planned to attend a meeting with the state to discuss the issue.

On January 11, Allen-Smith said she hadn’t heard of any change to Kaiser Permanente’s quarantine policy, but that she knows three co-workers sick with COVID-19 who had just returned after five-day quarantines.

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that to address staffing shortages they were “employing traveling nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care.”

The media team did not directly answer when asked if Kaiser was allowing asymptomatic COVID positive employees to return to the job at Bay Area healthcare facilities.

Allen-Smith is unhappy about the guidelines changing and is unsure if Kaiser’s policy will further change in the near future due to CDHP’s recent announcement.

“A lot of us are confused and sad and just don’t feel safe in the workplace,” she said.

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Black History

IN MEMORIAM: Black Leaders Remember Life and Work of Former Legislator Willard H. Murray

William H. Murray died on Dec. 20, 2021, of natural causes. He was 91. “It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to our former Chair and colleague, the Honorable Willard H. Murray, Jr., who passed away yesterday afternoon,” read a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released the same day. “Willard Murray, Jr. was an exceptional man and public servant.”

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The Honorable William H. Murray was known for helping Black people get involved in water policy. Photo courtesy of the family.
The Honorable William H. Murray was known for helping Black people get involved in water policy. Photo courtesy of the family.

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media

Black leaders in California are remembering the life and accomplishments of Willard H. Murray, Jr., an engineer and United States Air Force vet, elected to the California Assembly in 1988. He served in the State Legislature for eight years until he termed out in 1996.

Murray died on Dec. 20, 2021, of natural causes. He was 91.

“It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to our former Chair and colleague, the Honorable Willard H. Murray, Jr., who passed away yesterday afternoon,” read a statement the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) released the same day. “Willard Murray, Jr. was an exceptional man and public servant.”

In the Assembly, Murray represented California’s 52nd Assembly District in Southern California. Murray and his son, Kevin Murray made history as the first father-and-son duo to serve in the Assembly simultaneously.

The younger Murray represented the 47th Assembly district which covered a part of Los Angeles. Later, he won the 26th Senate district seat based in Culver City.

Murray worked in government for more than 25 years at various levels. Before he was elected to the Assembly, he worked for former California Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Congressman Mervyn Dymally (D-CA-31). In addition to serving as an adviser to the California Senate Democratic Caucus, Murray also served on the staffs of former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and two former Los Angeles City Councilmembers, Robert Farrell and Billy Mills.

In the Assembly, he chaired the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on State Administration and served on a number of other committees. A civil rights activist in the 1960s, Murray’s political and legislative priorities included education, criminal justice, economic development and healthcare.

In 1998, Murray was also elected to serve on the board of the Water Replenishment District (WRD) of Southern California. He also served on the board of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest water public agency in the United States.

“Willard had a long, distinguished career as a leader and public servant in our state. He was giant in the water industry and a champion for the districts he served,” Dale Hunter, executive director of the California African American Water Education Foundation (CAAWEF), told California Black Media.

Hunter said Murray introduced African American professionals, including himself, to the water industry, teaching them the ins and outs, mentoring them, and guiding them so that they moved ahead in their careers.

“Willard truly made a difference,” Hunter continued. “He was not afraid of diving into policy and making changes that needed to happen. I’m thankful for his contributions and saddened by him leaving us. I’m also grateful for his teaching. I definitely would not be where I am if it were not for his influence.”

Murray earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Northridge State, a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, and MBA from Loyola Marymount University.

In 1956, he married Barbara Farris Murray. The couple had two children, Kevin and Melinda, who are both attorneys.

“We mourn with the friends and loved ones of Willard H. Murray, Jr. and celebrate his life and tremendous legacy as a public servant,” the CLBC statement continued. “May he rest in peace.”

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Bay Area

Planning Commission to Hold Public Hearing on Oakland A’s Real Estate Project

The Planning Commission will consider whether the Final EIR was completed in compliance with state law, represents the independent analysis of the city, and provides adequate information to decision-makers and the public on the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed project, as well as ways in which those effects might be mitigated or avoided.

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By Post Staff

The Oakland Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Oakland A’s Stadium and Real Estate Development. It will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., according to a city media release.

“During the hearing, the Planning Commission will consider whether the Final EIR was completed in compliance with state law, represents the independent analysis of the city, and provides adequate information to decision-makers and the public on the potential adverse environmental effects of the proposed project, as well as ways in which those effects might be mitigated or avoided” according to the media release.

The 3,500-page report was released the week before Christmas 2021, leaving little time for community advocates to read and critique the report.

After the commission makes a recommendation, the Oakland City Council will consider certification of the Final EIR, likely in February. A “yes” vote by the council does not mean the project is approved but is a major first step toward approval.

Community advocates are asking the commission to postpone the meeting, so that the community has time to read and analyze the 3,500-page report in time to provide public comment. You can contact the commission at drarmstrong@oaklandca.gov or cpayne@oaklandca.gov.

The following are Planning Commission members:

• Clark Manus, Chair

• Jonathan Fearn, Vice-Chair

• Sahar Shiraz

• Tom Limon

• Vince Sugrue

• Jennifer Renk

• Leopold A Ray-Lynch

To read the Final EIR, go to:  https://bit.ly/32KZ3pT

 

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