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OP-ED: Oakland Poised to Lead in Protecting Privacy Rights

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By Brian Hofer and JP Massar

Here in Oakland we have no citywide privacy policy, no privacy or data-retention policies for use of surveillance equipment, and no policy concerning the use of the Oakland Police Department’s cellphone tower-mimicking Stingray devices.

These are so controversial that police across the nation actively conceal their use from courts and defense attorneys, going so far as to dismiss charges at trial rather than reveal the technology (“Judge threatens detective with contempt…,” Baltimore Sun, Nov. 17, 2014). And yet, neither the purchase of Stingrays nor their use has ever been knowingly approved by the City Council.

On May 12, the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee is poised to vote on recommendations created by the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee that they established a year ago.

Councilmembers will consider a privacy and data retention policy for the scaled back Port Domain Awareness Center (DAC), and is also being asked to establish a new, permanent committee to advise the council on broad privacy and data-related matters. This will in turn create a citywide privacy policy.

A proposal to adopt a first-of-its-kind surveillance equipment ordinance has also been made.

If adopted, these recommendations will ensure that there is robust public debate on privacy issues before council approval of future surveillance projects, and that the effectiveness of surveillance tools be analyzed, reported publicly and undergo independent audits.

Once passed by the full council, these will significantly protect the right to privacy for residents in this age of big data and Mass Surveillance.

Taken as a whole, the implementation of the committee’s recommendations would make Oakland the national leader in protecting privacy rights. Other cities are pursuing a similar path.

Seattle has created a permanent privacy committee and adopted a surveillance equipment ordinance. Menlo Park recently adopted an ordinance that regulates the use of automated license plate readers and requires quarterly performance reports.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos and Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian are working with the ACLU to introduce in their jurisdictions the same type of surveillance equipment ordinance to be introduced here.

The Los Angeles Times endorsed the ACLU’s ordinance, stating: “The ACLU’s approach to vetting new technologies is so pragmatic that cities, counties and law enforcement agencies throughout California would be foolish not to embrace it.”

With the adoption of these recommendations as written, the Oakland City Council can show it is earnest about protecting its citizens’ privacy rights. By supporting their full implementation, city staff and law enforcement can demonstrate that they intend to earn the community’s trust by operating within the bounds of the Constitution, city policy and civilian oversight. As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “trust us is not enough.”

Without active citizens coming together to “watch the watchers,” history shows that legislation alone is insufficient.

The Oakland Privacy Working Group is one such group. Formed two years ago to stand up for privacy in Oakland, it has attempted to keep city officials honest – fighting against the DAC and initiating a number of Public Records Requests to shed light on surveillance contracts, influence of surveillance contractors, and use of surveillance equipment.

Find them at oaklandprivacy.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @oaklandprivacy.

Brian Hofer is chair of the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee. JP Massar is a member of the Oakland Privacy Working Group.

By Brian Hofer and JP Massar

Here in Oakland we have no citywide privacy policy, no privacy or data-retention policies for use of surveillance equipment, and no policy concerning the use of the Oakland Police Department’s cellphone tower-mimicking Stingray devices.

These are so controversial that police across the nation actively conceal their use from courts and defense attorneys, going so far as to dismiss charges at trial rather than reveal the technology (“Judge threatens detective with contempt…,” Baltimore Sun, Nov. 17, 2014). And yet, neither the purchase of Stingrays nor their use has ever been knowingly approved by the City Council.

On May 12, the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee is poised to vote on recommendations created by the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee that they established a year ago.

Councilmembers will consider a privacy and data retention policy for the scaled back Port Domain Awareness Center (DAC), and is also being asked to establish a new, permanent committee to advise the council on broad privacy and data-related matters. This will in turn create a citywide privacy policy.

A proposal to adopt a first-of-its-kind surveillance equipment ordinance has also been made.

If adopted, these recommendations will ensure that there is robust public debate on privacy issues before council approval of future surveillance projects, and that the effectiveness of surveillance tools be analyzed, reported publicly and undergo independent audits.

Once passed by the full council, these will significantly protect the right to privacy for residents in this age of big data and Mass Surveillance.

Taken as a whole, the implementation of the committee’s recommendations would make Oakland the national leader in protecting privacy rights. Other cities are pursuing a similar path.

Seattle has created a permanent privacy committee and adopted a surveillance equipment ordinance. Menlo Park recently adopted an ordinance that regulates the use of automated license plate readers and requires quarterly performance reports.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos and Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian are working with the ACLU to introduce in their jurisdictions the same type of surveillance equipment ordinance to be introduced here.

The Los Angeles Times endorsed the ACLU’s ordinance, stating: “The ACLU’s approach to vetting new technologies is so pragmatic that cities, counties and law enforcement agencies throughout California would be foolish not to embrace it.”

With the adoption of these recommendations as written, the Oakland City Council can show it is earnest about protecting its citizens’ privacy rights. By supporting their full implementation, city staff and law enforcement can demonstrate that they intend to earn the community’s trust by operating within the bounds of the Constitution, city policy and civilian oversight. As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “trust us is not enough.”

Without active citizens coming together to “watch the watchers,” history shows that legislation alone is insufficient.

The Oakland Privacy Working Group is one such group. Formed two years ago to stand up for privacy in Oakland, it has attempted to keep city officials honest – fighting against the DAC and initiating a number of Public Records Requests to shed light on surveillance contracts, influence of surveillance contractors, and use of surveillance equipment.

Find them at oaklandprivacy.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @oaklandprivacy.

Brian Hofer is chair of the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee. JP Massar is a member of the Oakland Privacy Working Group.

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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Bay Area

As Planned Robberies and Thefts Increase, Oakland Officials Grapple for Solutions

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

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Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.
Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

By Post Staff

Police and city officials are struggling to deal with a wave of organized smash-and-grab robberies, shootouts, home invasions, random drive-by shootings and muggings that swept across Bay Area cites over last weekend.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong called the violent crime wave “unprecedented” and said his police force needs the help of elected officials to meet the challenge.

Armstrong said, “We will have tactical teams deployed throughout the city,” to increase safety over the holiday weekend.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the police chief’s boss, has been silent about how her office will step up.

In a video interview, Armstrong said, “What we’ve seen in Oakland is not much different than a lot of cities have seen in this Northern California region: roving robbery caravans, homicides and shootings.”

“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of activity in the City of Oakland. We are going to respond,” to be ready to deal with these roving gangs in the upcoming weekend, he said.

“These individuals who come to the city have been heavily armed, from all throughout the Bay Area,” Armstrong continued. “They are not just people from Oakland. They are groups of people coming to target communities. We will be prepared to address it. We will have extended staffing over the weekend to ensure there are enough resources to address the violent crime.”

After 11:00 p.m. roving caravans have targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail shops and pharmacies throughout the city of Oakland. At least two dozen businesses were impacted, most of them cannabis operations. Armed individuals were shooting at staff and others when they met resistance.

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Oakland, “roving caravans” targeted cannabis dispensaries, retail stores and pharmacies throughout Oakland. “At least two dozen businesses were impacted, mostly cannabis operations. Armed individuals exchanged gunfire with police and security guards.

Other organized groups of thieves targeted stores in San Francisco, Hayward and Walnut Creek.

On Sunday, robbers broke into a jewelry store in a Hayward mall, smashing glass cases and driving off with the valuables. In Walnut Creek, police urged businesses to close early after 80 thieves ransacked a Nordstrom last Saturday night.

In San Francisco, thieves broke into high-end stores in Union Square, including Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s, stealing merchandise worth thousands of dollars.

Oakland City Councilmembers responded quickly to Chief Armstrong’s call for help.

They said they have called a special meeting on December 7 to discuss the violence and underscored their commitment to stopping the violence.

“Absolutely, we are all concerned, and I can attest to that from all councilmembers including the mayor as well, too,” said District 2 Councilmember Sheng Thao, quoted on KGO.

Thao and District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb called for restoring the violence reduction program, Ceasefire, back to where it was before the pandemic.

Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan said the Council is already responding to the post-pandemic crime wave that is surging in many cities. She pointed to new laws to increase funding for tracing and cracking down on illegal guns.

Councilmembers are saying funding has doubled for violence prevention measures like adding more violence interrupters.

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