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Peralta Village Tenants and Supporters Protest Oakland Housing Authority Office

“I would like for the tenants to come together more and not fear retaliation,” said Eddie Simmon, who has lived in Peralta Village for over 20 years, at the protest. “The more the tenants vent their frustrations as a group, the better [OHA] will respond.”

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Members of The United Front Against Displacement and Peralta Village tenants hold signs at a protest outside of The Oakland Housing Authority's West Oakland offices on Saturday February 13. (Left to right) Jacob Fowler, Dayton Andrews, Cole McLean, Colleen Donovon, Eddie Simmon, Cassidy Taylor, and a Peralta Village tennant to asked not to be named

Peralta Village tenants and supporters gathered outside of Oakland Housing Authority’s [OHA] offices from noon to 1:00 p.m. on February 13 to protest what they see as insufficient maintenance and unfair threats of eviction despite Alameda County’s and Oakland’s COVID-19 related eviction moratoriums.

Peralta Village is a public housing project in West Oakland consisting of 390 units and over 700 residents. It was founded just after World War II as segregated, all-Black housing. Today, many of the residents, almost all of whom are still Black, feel they are being treated unfairly. Some are coming together to demand change.

“I would like for the tenants to come together more and not fear retaliation,” said Eddie Simmon, who has lived in Peralta Village for over 20 years, at the protest. “The more the tenants vent their frustrations as a group, the better [OHA] will respond.”

A February 1 article from this publication showed tenants who complained of black mold, overflowing trash, inconsistent clean up, an inoperable overhead light despite services requests dating back a year, a six-week delay to repair a window that would not shut, a lack of recycling services, and eviction threats despite the moratorium. In reaction to these circumstances, 85 Peralta Village tenants signed and delivered a petition to OHA demanding better treatment.

Shortly after the article’s publication and residents delivered their petition, about a dozen tenants received a notice from Oakland Rent Adjustment Program informing them that eviction notices OHA had sent “may have been served in error and/or in contradiction to the current laws in place prohibiting most forms of eviction in Oakland.”

The notice also broadly outlined rights tenants have under Oakland’s eviction moratorium. Under a section marked “What should you do if you’ve received an eviction notice?,” the notice reads “You are likely not required to move at this time.”

“If you didn’t have knowledge of what the [eviction notices] represent, you think it’s a serious threat but, in reality, it’s just intimidation,” said Dayton Andrews at the protest. Andrews is a member of The United Front Against Displacement, an anti-gentrification group that has been organizing with Peralta Village tenants for better treatment from OHA.

An OHA spokesperson, Greer McVay, said that OHA has not threatened to evict any residents during the COVID-19 emergency for non-payment of rent. But some residents report they have received three-day notice or quit notices from OHA, not due to rent non-payment, but due to OHA accusing them of breaking its rules.

Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Board classifies such notices as eviction notices. Still, no residents have claimed that OHA has followed through on such evictions and, when interviewed for the February 1 article, McVay claimed OHA is not currently evicting any residents.

In an interview with The Oakland Post, an OHA worker who asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation said that through discussions with OHA’s upper management and personal experience on the job, the recent eviction notices were delivered as a “bully tactic.” The worker also was sympathetic to resident complaints about rodents, inconsistent trash pick-up, and slow repairs.

“[For] every resident I’ve been in contact with,” the worker said, “it’s the same story. As an insider, there’s no reason why they should live in those types of conditions. It’s so baffling for us.”

Residents claim trash still regularly overflows from Peralta Village dumpsters and onto the streets, sometimes blowing near their homes. OHA’s McVay, said the agency has increased its trash clean-up services under COVID-19 but blames much of the mess on illegal dumping that she claims comes from outside of Peralta Village.

In response to residents’ complaints about mold, McVay said OHA “actively works with residents to resolve [mold] issues if noted during a unit inspection” or if tenants report such a problem, and that OHA’s “primary goal is to educate residents on mildew and mold prevention.”

McVay said OHA is prioritizing emergency repairs under COVID-19, which are addressed within “four to 24 hours depending on the severity” and that “non-emergencies are based on the availability of the maintenance crew.”

Residents claim that even during emergencies their requests for maintenance often get delayed for weeks or months and that favoritism, not COVID-19, causes delays.

“They’ll look at the list [of maintenance requests] and they’ll choose which apartment they want to go to,” said an OHA tenant at the protest who asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation. “It’s not in the order of the call. That’s what I hate!” This resident claimed they had to wait six weeks for OHA to fix a window in her unit that would not close.

Mark Schiferl, director of Property Management for OHA, has recently called and e-mailed both The United Front Against Displacement and some residents mentioned in the February 1 article to ask about problems residents complained about.

JaCynthia Givens, a resident who complained about black mold, and Simmon, who complained about insufficient trash pick-up and cleaning of shared outdoor common areas, said Schiferl called them. They said Schiferl listened to them but has not yet offered plans to fix their problems. He did not respond to requests to comment on this article.

Simmon was pleased that Schiferl reached out. “It felt like we got somebody’s attention finally,” said Simmon, “because this guy is calling me and I’m just another tenant.”

Residents and their supporters are hoping that by protesting and organizing, OHA will respond to repair requests in a more effective quicker manner, stop eviction threats, and keep the neighborhood cleaner. To get OHA’s attention they posted signs on OHA’s office doors during the February 13 protest. One read “FIX THE MOLD MARK!” and another read “OHA FIX THIS MESS!”

Although 10 people showed up to the protest, the demands the protestors made have much broader support as 91 Peralta Village residents, about 12% its total population, have now signed the petition demanding better treatment from OHA. OHA tenants and supporters are hoping more people show up to support their demands at future actions.

“It’s going to take a bunch of us coming together to get anything done,” said Simmon.

“We’re out here to prove to folks that the sky’s not going to fall if you take a stand,” said Andrews at the protest. “And things are only going to get worse if you don’t.”

The United Front Against Displacement is encouraging residents to call them at 510-815-9978 or email them at wewontgo@riseup.net if they want to sign the petition and/or get involved in future actions.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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