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OP-ED: Ras Baraka Takes Oath of Office as Newark’s Mayor

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I was never moved by the singing of the national anthem until July 1 when Alana Smith, a very young woman, blasted into the mike outside Newark’s Performing Arts Center during the inauguration of Ras J. Baraka as the city’s new mayor.

Yes, I was moved to tears but tears of joy at the child and the swearing in of a young man I’ve known since he was a child, Ras J. Baraka, son of my recently departed friend of 47 years, poet Amiri Baraka and his beautiful wife, Amina.

After Ras was administered the oath of office, he proceeded with the inaugural address.

After giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral in January, we knew his speech would be powerful, for he is a poet in his own right, although he revealed he is as much a preacher as poet with his call and response cadences.

He began with the mantra of his campaign, “WE ARE MAYOR,” and went on to delineate the social economic issues facing the city of his birth.

Hetalked about economic disparity, educational inequities, violence and incarceration as issues he must address. Mayor Baraka repeatedly called upon God to help him and the people of Newark, but declared he was a fearless radical who will call a spade a spade.

He told how he was in his mother’s womb when Martin Luther King Jr. dropped by their house. He was three years old when the Newark rebellion took place. His father was beaten bloody and mother terrorized.

This was his socialization, his rites of passage into the political world of Newark – and America. His mother, poet Amina Baraka, grandmother and three daughters sat behind him on stage, along with former elected officials, including Gov. Richard J. Codey, New York Mayor David Dinkins and Newark Mayor Sharp James.

Radicals present included poets Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Marvin X, Dr. Tony Montiero of Temple University, Philadelphia, Pam Africa of the Committee to Save Mumia Abu Jamal, New York senior Black producer Woody King and Baba Zayid of the New Black Panther Party.

The following notes from the mayor were printed in the official inaugural program:

“Today, we take our oaths of office and our greatest duty will be to serve each and every one of you with professionalism, efficiency and effectiveness. We are committed to listening and leading, to answering and acting and to be compassionate and caring.

“We seek a Newark of safe streets, strong schools, a clean environment and abundant prosperity. We are proud of how our city stands at the center of our regional economy, a focus for development and increasingly, a destination for entertainment and the arts.

“We have families to support, children to teach, homes to build, neighborhoods to strengthen and jobs to create. Together we will do so.”

So, on a hot day in Newark, the child of radical parents took the reins of power. In an act of political self-diminishment and people’s empowerment, he said repeatedly, “We are the Mayor!”

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Bay Area

Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao Champions Public Safety Investments for Oakland

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness. These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes,” said Councilmember Sheng Thao, “These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

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San Francisco Bay Area Skyline; Photo Courtesy of Ronan Furuta via Unsplash

Oakland City Councilmember Sheng Thao, working with fellow councilmembers, community leaders, and city staff, won public safety investments for Oakland on July 26, including investments that align with the city’s reimagining public safety goals. The City Council unanimously approved her budget amendments, which included investments in:

  • Traffic Calming and Sideshow Prevention
  • Faster 911 Response
  • Restoring Foot Patrol officers in business corridors during the holiday season
  • Business District Ambassadors
  • Adding Public Restrooms near homeless encampments
  • Investments to job training and resources

“My top priority is public safety, which means addressing violent crime, street safety, poverty, and homelessness. These budget amendments invest in our community and increase our Police Department’s ability to prevent and respond to violent crimes,” said Councilmember Sheng Thao, “These amendments will also protect our business corridors so Oaklanders can feel safe while they shop, and in turn, invest in our Oakland businesses.”

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong thanked Oakland City Councilmember Sheng Thao and other council members for their vote and support with additional funding. “These funds will provide walking officers in our business districts across the city during this holiday season,” he said. “The funds allow us to restore much needed public safety services, walking officers, while our community and visitors shop across our city. The COVID-19  pandemic has touched many of our vulnerable communities and businesses; we must not let crime be the driver of this holiday season, we will have walking officers to ensure community safety. “
Councilmember Thao’s amendments included direct investments in West, Central, and East Oakland, including West Oakland community centers, Central Oakland traffic safety, and Oakland 911 response.

“These amendments also help address decades of divestment from our BIPOC communities in East Oakland. By bringing investments into street safety, beautification, and city services. It is important that we stay committed to equity for East Oakland. Our office made a point to work with Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor to bring these amendments forward and I thank them for their strong partnership in this work.”

These amendments were approved unanimously by the Oakland City Council as the final step in the fiscal year ‘21-‘23 two-year budget process. You can find a copy of the final amendments here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12LWbi8ty3SnNKX33pfUahz6n6agWXym-/view?usp=drivesdk

This report is courtesy of Oakland City Council Aide Brandon Harami.

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Bay Area

GETTING TO YES 

BAYSIDE BALL PARK OR WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT

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Howard Terminal Courtesy Port of Oakland website

Arguably, development of Howard’s Terminal has been in the making for long time.  According to Councilmember Gallo, Oakland’s previous city officials Robert Bobb and Jerry Brown entertained development of Howard’s Terminal, for the Fishers and A’s, during their tenure as city manager and mayor respectively. 

Let’s be clear, the A’s initially pitched its development project at Howard’s Terminal as a Bayside Baseball Stadium, when in essence its project goal has always been a major condominium-housing and business development, along Oakland’s waterfront … the stadium was then and is now just the shinny thing.  Many argue the Coliseum site is more suited for a new stadium development, if that’s really what the A’s want. 

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Oakland City Council held a special meeting to consider the Oakland A’s proposal submitted in April 2021; the A’s pressed Council for this special meeting so as to give the A’s an up or down vote on their proposal.  Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, not to support the A’s proposal as submitted.  Council did agree, however, to support the A’s project proposal with certain City amendments.   

Oakland City Council considered their vote to be a big win for Oakland.  On the other hand, A’s President, Dave Kaval, called the City Council’s vote “a swing and a miss.” Based upon the complexity of the pending issues, it appears more time – extended ending – will be necessary for both sides to get to a mutually beneficial yes. 

According to the A’s Kaval, progress has been made in negotiations but, the plan Council voted for on Tuesday “is not a business partnership that works for [A’s] us.”   Moreover, Kaval claims the A’s had not seen some of the amendments Oakland city staff presented to the City Council Tuesday morning before the council’s vote. 

Council-member Rebecca Kaplan said the City Council’s amendments addressed the A’s biggest concern, having to pay for offsite transportation, and infrastructure improvements. However, the A’s still could not agree with the city’s overall offer.   

 Also, the A’s waterfront development project proposal includes some 3000 units of condominium-housing, but the A’s proposal ignored adequate provisions for affordable housing.  The A’s wants the City to waive the A’s legal requirement to provide for affordable housing.  Oakland’s City Council determined that fact to a major sticking point. 

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who worked on the amendments with Vice Mayor Kaplan, said, “It’s (now) at the beginning of the eighth inning.”  As a matter of fact, Council advised the A’s to use Council’s just approved amended Term-Sheet as a road map for further negotiations. 

Following the City Council meeting, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the City and A’s are very close to an agreement, but Kaval said “in some ways it’s too early to say how close the two sides are.”  

Kaval expressed hope that the A’s can get the City Council vote on some terms his team could agree on before Council’s summer recess.  Council President Bas’, office said no council meetings are scheduled before the recess to further negotiate the A’s new waterfront proposal.  

 Negotiation between Oakland’s City Council and the Oakland A’s appears to be headed for extra innings.  The complexity of the issues and public reactions, after Tuesday’s Council vote, gives many citizens cause to pause and wonder if we are at the end of the seventh inning stretch or the bottom of the ninth; either way, getting to a mutually beneficial yes will require a walk-off hit. 

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Community

Walgreens Exiting East Oakland Because Medicare and Medicaid Customers Don’t Generate Enough ‘Green’ for $140 Billion Corporation

The councilmembers of District 7 and District 6 joined with more than 2,500 neighborhood petitioners to condemn the less than one month notice.

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Walgreens 8102 International Blvd, Oakland, Calif./Yellow Pages

Oakland City Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor announced that they will press Walgreen’s to abandon their plans to close their pharmacy by July 29 at 8102 International Boulevard.

The councilmembers of District 7 and District 6 joined with more than 2,500 neighborhood petitioners to condemn the less than one month notice.

Taylor and Reid pointed out that Walgreens’ lease still has six month remaining before its expiration in January 2022.

They denounced the abandonment of seniors, especially those who reside at Allen Temple Arms across the street from the pharmacy.

“We are disheartened that in the midst of the pandemic, with many health disparities in diagnoses and with the next available pharmacy located miles away, they are furthering the health crisis,” said Reid. “With all the nurses and medical personnel that patronize this pharmacy they were disrespected to hear of the closing by way of second-hand social media postings. We will continue to pursue this issue at the local, regional and national levels to find other ways to solve this problem.”

Taylor said Walgreens exacerbated the pain of the closing by giving the reason that the high percentage of low-income Medicare and Medicaid patients who get their prescriptions filled results in a lower profit margin for the corporation worth $140 billion. He also pointed out how they were making a mockery of their mission statement which is to “Champion the health and well-being of every community in America.”

Taylor and Reid presented the following fact sheet that answers the questions asked of Walgreens:

So why is Walgreens closing?…

  • The first reason they gave was the rent… After speaking with the property owner I learned that Walgreens asked for close to a 50% reduction of rent and to lock that in for double-digit years, something that the property owner couldn’t afford. In addition, I learned that Walgreens still has six months left on their lease during which they will continue paying their rent.  If Walgreens is obligated to pay its lease through January (even if it chooses not to renew that lease) why close six months early?
  • The second reason they gave was the ‘shrinkage’ – a portion of which is due to theft.  We know this is a problem across the state. The representatives from Walgreens that we talked to this morning admitted that the shrinkage rates due to theft are not as high as in San Francisco where they are closing stores.  This is a problem across the state – even to the point that Gov. (Gavin) Newsom just yesterday (July 22) signed into law a bill extending a program that allows the California Highway Patrol to operate regional task forces to fight organized retail theft with other law enforcement agencies.
  • The third reason that they gave is that the high percentage of Medicaid/ Medicare patients leads to lower profit margins because the state reimbursement is not as high as private insurance.  This reason squarely places low-income residents of California in the crosshairs of any corporate decision to close stores and reduce services.  I reject this rationale for a store closure – especially from a healthcare company where we know in a managed care environment, we must balance the higher profit services with the lower-profit services so that in aggregate we support all residents/ patients.
  • Taylor said, “I stand here today with my fellow Councilmember, Treva Reid, in whose district we stand and she and I represent districts and a population of residents who are often cast aside and marginalized. Districts that still suffer from the effects of institutionalized racism, redlining, white flight and the war on drugs. A true partnership to champion the health and well-being of every community does not occur when a unilateral decision is made to close a store without more than a few weeks’ notice through a sign being posted on a window alerting customers to the closure.

My office was not proactively engaged by Walgreens, and in fact I found out about this based on a Facebook post by a resident who took a picture of the sign.  The communication that came to me through a Walgreens District Manager was that the property owner was being unreasonable.”

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