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Opinion: City and State Auditors Warn of Oakland’s Financial Peril and Mismanagement

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The City of Oakland is teetering on the precipice of financial ruin, according to a report issued by the Oakland City Auditor earlier this month, confirmed by numerous independent sources, including a report issued by the State of California Auditor, Elaine Howle, identifying Oakland amongst the most financially imperiled cities in the state.

The problems run deep and include unfunded pension liabilities, unmet infrastructure needs and myriad lawsuits that promise to deliver a dearth of financial pain to the city. And now, the city must figure out how to foot the enormous cost of an unforeseen and unanticipated pandemic that has tremendously increased public need while it has devastated city revenues.

It is for these reasons, and more, that the Oakland Legal Defense Fund (OLDF) launched the Good Government Project. We must act now. The consequences of continued inaction will lead Oakland down the road to insolvency, and a place from which it will be very difficult to recover.

OLDF, in coordination with the Jobs and Housing Coalition (JHC) and numerous private plaintiffs, sued the City of Oakland on February 1, 2019 over the city council’s vote to declare that Measure AA, the Oakland Children’s Initiative, passed despite not receiving the two-thirds vote that the City Attorney said the parcel tax measure required for passage.

Despite a scathing superior court ruling that the city council’s actions violated constitutional provisions that require a two-thirds vote to levy parcel taxes and the rare admonishment that the city council’s actions constituted “a fraud on the voters.” the city council voted to appeal the decision. Some say this was a face-saving gesture. We believe it was a foolish attempt to resurrect a failed and wrongminded decision.

Voters, many of whom originally voted for Measure AA, were stunned at the betrayal by their city’s government. The League of Women Voters and hundreds of citizens have joined us to encourage the city council to drop the appeal. They have yet to do so, but we keep hope alive that the council will do the right thing.

Oakland voters have a history of generosity when it comes to voting to tax themselves for improvements to the city in which they live, but despite collecting the money, most of the promised improvements have not materialized.

In 2016, voters passed Measure KK which earmarked millions of dollars to fix potholes, repave roads, and fix other aspects of the city’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. Yet conditions remain largely the same.

In 2016, voters approved a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to launch a far-reaching educational program on the evils of sugar. Yet, today, there is no evidence of such an educational campaign and the funds from this measure have been sprinkled throughout the city budget to shore up the gaping deficits in various department’s budgets, unrelated to education on the evils of sugar-sweetened beverages.

In 2017, the city council voted to impose affordable housing impact fees on new market-rate development projects. Most of these funds are unaccounted for. The council has asked city staff two simple questions: how much did the city collect and how much did it spend on affordable housing? Staff could not answer and said they had to hire an outside auditor to answer those questions. Along with affordable housing advocates, developers and the public are still waiting for answers.

We are concerned that many residents don’t know what is really going on, and those that do, don’t know what to do about it. This is why we are creating the Good Government Project. We will shine a light on bad government practices. We will monitor whether the City spends money as promised. And, we will sue, if necessary, to prevent future fraud on the voters of Oakland!

We all want the same thing. Residents and the businesses who live and operate in Oakland, love the city and want to see it prosper and live up to its full potential. We are here to help make that happen.

Greg McConnell is President of Oakland Legal Defense Fund/Good Government Project.

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Bay Area

What California Is Learning from Expanding Voters Rights

Mail-in ballot voting has been underway since the second week in May.  Assembly Bill 37, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, requires the state to send vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots to every registered voter in the state. The law applies to all elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.

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California’s response to the current trend in some states that will limit voting, is to make access and methods of voting easier.
California’s response to the current trend in some states that will limit voting, is to make access and methods of voting easier.

By Joe W. Bowers Jr., California Black Media

June 7, 2022 is Primary Election Day in California.

On the ballot are candidates for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, State Board of Equalization, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly, as well as candidates for local elected positions.

There are two contests for U.S. Senate on the ballot. One is for a full six-year term ending Jan. 3, 2029. The other is for the remainder of the term that Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) has been serving in place of Vice. President Kamala Harris that ends Jan. 3, 2023.

Mail-in ballot voting has been underway since the second week in May.  Assembly Bill 37, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, requires the state to send vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots to every registered voter in the state. The law applies to all elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.

Ballots are sent 29 days before the election, which was May 9 for the primary. For the November General Election, voters will start receiving ballots October 10.

A majority of California voters live in counties that have adopted the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) system. In 2016, Senate Bill 450 created the VCA, an election model that expands voters’ options for how, when and where they can cast their ballots in an attempt to provide more accessible voting options.

VBM ballots are provided with a postage-paid return envelope. For a ballot to count in the upcoming primary election, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by June 14, 2022. It can also be dropped off in-person to a secure ballot drop box, a voting location or county elections office by 8:00 p.m. on June 7, 2022.

The VCA is an optional law. Counties elect if they want to adopt it. In 2018, five counties adopted the new law: Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo. In 2020, nine additional counties changed their election models to the VCA: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara, and Tuolumne. In 2022, the number of counties that have transitioned to the VCA grew to 28 with the addition of Alameda, Kings, Marin, Merced, Riverside, San Benito, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura, and Yolo counties.

In VCA counties, early in-person voting begins as early as May 28. Voters can vote at any county vote center instead of being assigned to a neighborhood polling place. The vote centers are open four to 10 days prior to the election, including weekends. They serve as one-stop shops with accessible voting machines – venues where voters can drop off their VBM ballot, receive a replacement ballot, register to vote, and get help with voting material in multiple languages.

Unregistered voters who miss the close of registration on May 23 will be able to conditionally register to vote at any vote center and cast a provisional ballot through the end of Election Day.

When California policymakers and election officials proposed the Voter’s Choice Act most proponents applauded its benefits, including lowering election administration costs, providing greater convenience and flexibility for voters, and the potential to improve voter turnout.

Recently, California Secretary of State (SOS) Shirley Weber released a report on the implementation of VCA during the 2020 Primary and General Elections.

Key findings of the report include:

VCA counties had higher voter registration rates in the state. The 15 VCA counties accounted for about half of the state’s registered voters in both elections.

Many VCA counties experienced a higher voter turnout compared to their non-VCA counterparts. Turnout in the 2020 General Election across racial groups showed white voters had a higher overall turnout than their non-W\white counterparts. The voter turnout gap for Black voters was 5.2 points, and AAPI voters had a turnout gap of 4.3 points.

Black and AAPI voters turned out at similar rates as the VCA counties’ average, and Latino voters used in-person voting most among all races and ethnicities.

Use of vote-by-mail ballots was the primary choice of voting in the 2020 elections. More voters chose to return their ballot by drop box than by mail. Use of drop boxes decreased after the age of 45 in the Primary Election and age 35 in the General Election.

Voters in VCA counties cast a ballot in-person at a higher rate than voters in non-VCA counties in the General Election (55.1%). For the Primary Election, that number was 46.6%.

In the General Election, voters aged 46-55 voted in person most compared to all other age groups. In both the Primary and General Elections, voters aged 66+ voted in-person least.

VBM ballot rejection rates in VCA counties were similar to VBM ballot rejections statewide. Voters aged 18-25 had the highest ballot rejection rate. Ballot rejection rates decreased as voter age increased in VCA counties.

VBM ballots were rejected (69.3%) mainly due to not being received on time during the Primary Election. But General Election VBM ballots were mainly rejected due to non-matching signatures (56.09%).

Provisional ballot use decreased significantly between the Primary and General Elections.

There were no confirmed instances of voter fraud in both the Primary and General elections in 2020.

Secretary of State’s Recommendations based on the report findings:

Share best practices from counties that have high voter registration rates with counties that have lower registration rates.

Reduce ballot rejection rates through increased voter education.

Continue to work with counties to ensure drop box locations are accessible and convenient to the public.

Increase outreach and education about early in-person voting and other voting options available in VCA counties.

Increase targeted outreach efforts to engage young voters (18-25).

“We have taken away every excuse a person can possibly have as to why they won’t vote,” SOS Weber said recently. “People realize this is going to be easy and it’s comfortable.”

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Activism

Protest of Palestinian American Journalist’s Killing by Israeli Police Draws 500 in S.F.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

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Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.
Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Starting at noon on May 14, over 500 people rallied and marched in San Francisco’s Mission District to protest the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and 74 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

Abu Akleh, who had worked for the Al Jazeera news network for 25 years as one of the most prominent journalists reporting in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, died of a bullet wound on May 11 while covering an Israeli army raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

She was wearing a blue vest with large white letters stating “PRESS.” During Abu Akleh’s massive funeral on May 13, Israeli police beat people carrying her casket.

“We’re not even able to bury our dead in peace,” said AROC organizer Sharif Zakout during a speech at the San Francisco protest. “It’s disgusting.”

AROC, Palestinian Action Network, Palestinian Youth Movement, and Jewish Voice For Peace organized the San Francisco demonstration. It was one of at least 60 such actions occurring between May 14-16 around the world to remember Abu Akleh and to mark Nakba Day, an annual commemoration for Palestinians that began after 1948, when the British government formally stopped recognizing the state of Palestine and recognized Israel in its place.

This sparked the Arab-Israeli war when Zionist military forces expelled over 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78% of Palestine’s land.

In an interview at the protest, Lisa Rofel, a member of Jewish Voice For Peace, spoke out against Israeli occupation and explained why the Jewish group was present.

“We’re here because we strongly support the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation,” Rofel said. “It’s an occupation which has been vicious, cruel and inhumane and now has turned into military rule over almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives. We also demand an end to U.S. complicity in that occupation.”

According to a report by Congressional Research Service, the Biden administration has allocated over $3.8 billion in military financing and missile defense funding to Israel this year.

During the demonstration, a diverse array of people that included elders along with young children, marched about a mile-long route carrying signs, banners, Palestinian flags, and art as they chanted in English and Arabic. Over 18 marchers carried one giant Palestinian flag together.

Some protesters carried signs stating 55 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, a figure The Palestinian Journalists’ Union cites.

Other protesters carried signs calling attention to Ahmed Manasra, a 21-year-old Palestinian who has been imprisoned since he was arrested at age 13 after being with his cousin, who allegedly stabbed two Israeli settlers in Pisgat Ze’ev.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and the International Court of Justice considers Pisgat Ze’ev an illegal settlement.

Chris Gazaleh, a Palestinian American artist based in San Francisco, made some of the art for the rally by creating signs inspired by Palestinian architecture and Arabic calligraphy to represent cities that Zionists ethnically cleansed during the 1948 Nakba.

During a speech at this year’s San Francisco Nabka rally, Rivka Louissant, a Haitian cultural worker who organizes with the an anti-war and anti-racism coalition ANSWER, spoke about how people and organizations are increasingly supporting an end to Israeli occupation and the struggle for Palestinian autonomy.

“Support for Palestinian rights and BDS is more popular than ever,” Louissant said. “The public is waking up to the evils of imperialism.”

In April of last year, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “crimes of apartheid,” and in February of this year, Amnesty International described Israel as an “apartheid system,” and characterized its treatment of Palestinians as “a crime against humanity.”

Some local politicians have recently shown support for Israel. During a speech at the rally, AROC organizer Sharif Zakout criticized San Francisco Board Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for his recent visit to Israel for the Israel Seminar in light of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. Zakout characterized the seminar as “a propaganda trip.” The Israel Seminar is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, which has taken a public stand against the BDS movement, and has refused to denounce Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Photos from the trip, posted on May 15 and 16, also show Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee.

“We are here today to say the Bay Area does not put up with that BS,” said Zakout to cheers from the protesters. “We stand with oppressed people everywhere. From Haiti to Palestine to Sri Lanka, we stand by resisting all state violence, colonialism, occupation and warfare.”

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Bay Area

Bay Area Activist Seeks Congressional Seat in Newly Formed District 8

Last year, the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub pushed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw a new congressional district to create consolidate the voting power of these diverse communities based on the results of the 2020 U.S. Census. (The new district now spans the I-80 corridor across Contra Costa and Solano counties, including Richmond, El Cerrito, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield, and a portion of Antioch, is the most diverse in the region.)

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Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district.
Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district.

By Troy Finley

Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district. She is challenging incumbent Democratic Congressman John Garamendi.

Last year, the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub pushed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw a new congressional district to consolidate the voting power of these diverse communities based on the results of the 2020 U.S. Census.

(The new district now spans the I-80 corridor across Contra Costa and Solano counties, including Richmond, El Cerrito, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield, and a portion of Antioch, is the most diverse in the region.)

The commission agreed to the community concerns and ended up creating the only district in the entire state with at least 15% Latino, Black, white, and Asian populations. But it is also a district with areas of historically underserved and under-resourced communities and schools – where residents throughout struggle to find affordable housing, good paying jobs, public transit, and ongoing environmental hazards.

The five oil refineries located in the new district have large impacts on the local economy and public health of the local communities but can seem a world away from the Napa and Sonoma wine country. It is also a district that Garamendi believes he doesn’t have to reside in to represent it.

Once the new district was created, the next goal was to recruit a local person of color to represent it. Enter Cheryl Sudduth, a local community leader and government contracting officer… a candidate for the new seat.

As a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual woman with disabilities, experienced in international contracting and environmental sciences, she fit the mold exactly.

“It was never in the plan to run,” said Sudduth. She was traveling back to the Bay Area from a water conference and got a call she never expected.

The campaign for Congress was a long shot from the start. “People were saying, she seems ‘fine’ but Congressman Garamendi is a veteran politician and someone who looks like me, who speaks like me, who moves like me could never get elected over him…maybe next time,” Sudduth recalls.

However, I believed then – as I do now – that the toughest fights are always worth taking on,” she said. “I’ve always been told that government only works when people, everyday people like you and me, raise our voices and demand change.

“Our communities have been so ignored,” she said, “I just feel like it’s our responsibility to show up and stand up for us against this continued effort to bring in people who do not live here yet always want to govern our communities.”

Her campaign has mostly been staffed with volunteers – Millennials, Gen Xers, lots of women. She has made a point to reject corporate donations and relies solely on small donors; nearly 70% of her campaign funds came from individual contributions under $200.

Despite Garamendi’s proclamation that it isn’t ‘legally required’ to live in the district, Sudduth believes that his perspective reflects the out-of-touch nature of the current Congress and the sort of nepotism that seems to thrive within the Democratic machine that believes it a perfectly suitable system that a community which is 70% people of color has never had a person of color represent them on the federal level.

“Our political differences are mainly on issues of economic and racial justice,” she said. “He wants to represent us but doesn’t want to live among us? That’s why he’s not effective for us. He doesn’t have a stake in the game.

“I do have the advantage of being able to connect with the people of the community,” she said. She lives in the district near industry, which gives her firsthand experience with income inequality, housing and homeless issues, educational inequities, and racial injustices. “Frankly, anyone who doesn’t live in the district, hasn’t sent his children to our schools, spent with our small businesses and pay taxes here regularly, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air, cannot possibly represent us.”

Suddoth believes she has a gift “resolving issues. So, every position I’ve held from Sony to Siebel/Oracle and Goodwill, AbilityOne, U.S. President’s Commission for People who are Blind or Disabled and Mattson Technology and now AC Transit, my elected office and appointed commissions, creating thousands of federal jobs, building housing, establishing healthcare programs – I have consistently delivered award winning solutions and community resources by focusing on the fix and not just the fight.

She also has direct experience in international contracting, having lived and worked in over a dozen countries managing and negotiating contracts in nine languages, in water and wastewater, in the environmental sciences, in creating jobs and overseeing fair housing projects, and equity advocacy.

Suddoth and members of her campaign are grateful for the many people who have endorsed her including ILWU Local 10, PEU 1, LAAAWPAC, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, and hundreds of elected, appointed officials and commissioners.

https://cherylsudduth.nationbuilder.com

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