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Berkeley

Protesters Disrupt Board of Supervisors Meeting, Demanding Services for Formerly Incarcerated

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After months of rallying the community in the Jobs Not Jails campaign, organizers with the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and nearly 100 community members peacefully disrupted the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 3.

Chanting “jobs not jails” and “sign the pledge,” the group asked supervisors to sign a promise to support a “Jobs Not Jails” budget, which would redirect half of the county’s public safety funding in this year’s budget to community services and programs for people returning home from jail.

Protesters included leaders from the faith and labor communities, local community organizations and activists from Black Lives Matter and Asians for Black Lives.

During the meeting, five individuals – risking arrest – engaged in civil disobedience, crossing the barrier that separates supervisors from meeting attendees and shutting down the meeting for over an hour.

“We’re starting to see more evidence to why less funding should go to law enforcement,” said María Domínguez, local organizer with the Ella Baker Center.

Supporters of the "Jobs Not Jails" campaign hold a sign outside the Alameda County Administration building in Oakland on Tuesday, March 3.

Supporters of the Jobs Not Jails campaign hold a sign outside the Alameda County Administration building in Oakland on Tuesday, March 3.

Since the passing of Proposition 47 – which reduced penalties for nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors – the jail population has decreased across the state, according to reports.

“This is the best time to start shifting how they’re spending money,” she said.

The Jobs Not Jails campaign calls for the county to invest more dollars into community-based programs that prioritize job training and job creation, education, housing, mental health and substance programs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

At present, the majority of public safety funds are allocated to the sheriff, which organizers say only serves to expand the system of incarceration that negatively impacts low-income and minority communities.

Supervisor Richard Valle expressed his support for the Jobs Not Jails budget. Supervisor Keith Carson also supported allocating funds to programs and services but not until next year’s budget.

There is a need to “invest in giving more programs and services to people who are now on probation and need more re-entry services,” said Darris Young, a local organizer with the Ella Baker Center.

“There are programs out there in need of funding that are ready to serve the needs of this population,” Young said.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on this year’s budget March 24. Organizers plan to meet with the supervisors individually before then.

For more information, visit www.ellabakercenter.org or follow the hashtag #JobsNotJails.

Bay Area

Setting Down Healthy ‘Roots’ in Oakland

The main office is located at 9925 International Blvd., Oakland, CA, 94603 and they can be reached by calling 510-777-1177.

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Roots Health Center located at 7272 MacArthur Blvd. in East Oakland. Photo courtesy of Roots Community Health Center website.

What began as a program with the primary focus on the needs of men re-entering society from prison, or who have mental health and substance abuse issues and young single fathers without a traditional support system has grown deep Roots in the Oakland community. 

Roots Community Health Center now provides community members and college students not only the high-quality, comprehensive health care they deserve to live a healthy life but also valuable referrals such as help with employment, housing, food, diapers, internet and more so that people can focus on their dreams without jumping over hurdles. 

Roots opened in 2008 to address the troubling health issues in East Oakland. The organizers envision a nation “where all communities of African descent are resilient, healthy, self-sufficient and self-determined,” according to their website. Like the root system of the oak trees that line the streets of Oakland, Roots has also been growing and taking hold throughout the Greater Bay Area.

Roots now has locations in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose and offices in more cities are just around the corner. The main office is located at 9925 International Blvd., Oakland, CA, 94603 and they can be reached by calling 510-777-1177. Visit the Roots website for more information and locations. 

Peralta College students with valid student ID can seek Roots services at any of the campuses at Laney, Merritt, Berkeley City College and the College of Alameda. 

One of the most important services that Roots provides is the power of home and facility-based care to the uninsured and underinsured. Health and mental health services are provided on-site at re-entry programs, transitional housing, rehabilitation facilities and patient residences located in Oakland. This eliminates the need for transportation on the client’s part, a problem for a lot of people in East Oakland. 

Roots is always looking for volunteers to fill a variety of needs which can help enrich both community life as well as the volunteer’s life. Check out the positions Roots needs to fill here. 

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African American News & Issues

Reparations Task Force Agrees It Needs the Ideas, Input of Black Californians

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

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Reparations Word Scramble Stock Via Google

On July 9, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans held its second meeting in a series of 10.

During the Zoom conference, the group’s nine members shared differing views on how to best get Black Californians involved in their deliberations.

But they all agreed on one key point: having voices and ideas of African Americans across the state influence their conversations would be the best approach to successfully accomplish their work.

“A lot of things that’s important is we as a task force not let ourselves operate in a vacuum,” said Dr. Cheryl Grills, a member of the task force and professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Not to assume that the public comments that happen at the end of our meetings are adequate to represent the community voice.”

Grills delivered a presentation titled “A Community Engagement Strategy for Taskforce Consideration.” In it, she put forth a plan to get Black Californians involved.

Grills suggested the task force host “listening sessions” across the state since it only has limited time to assess California’s role in slavery and Jim Crow discrimination — and follow up that work with developing resolutions to compensate African Americans for past and ongoing race-based injustices.

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

The intent, she said, would be to involve Black Californians from varying backgrounds.

“Black folks exist in an ecosystem and the system includes a diverse, cultural base of people, social class, education levels, etc.,” said Grills. “So how do we make sure that those people are impacted. They need to be at the table.”

Through news coverage, Grills also suggested the National Association of Black Journalists could play a role in keeping the ongoing discourse about reparations “in the forefront and minds” of the Black community.

Lisa Holder, Esq. a nationally recognized trial attorney and task force member, emphasized that the proposal she prepared was not “in conflict” with Grills’ outreach plan and that her proposal offered a framework within which the task force can draw up its strategy to move forward.

Holder told fellow task force members that she and Grills are on the same page.

“This plan, for a lack of a better word, is in alignment with the blueprint we just saw (presented by Grills),” Holder clarified. “Grills focuses a little bit more on the details of how we can implement the community engagement plan. This outline I put together is a little bit broader and more of a concept.”

The meeting’s other seven participants were task force chair Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis,  chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq. is an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States. Tamaki overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

After hearing Grills’ presentation, Brown raised concerns about transparency.

He also said that other groups around the state should have an opportunity to present a plan for community engagement.

“What will we do around this state without our giving due diligence to announce to everybody, that you can present a plan, too?” Brown asked. “Whether it’s northern, central California, whatever. We talk about transparency, but if we are going to be about it, then we should be about it.”

The task force voted 8-0 to consider both Holder’s and Grills’ community engagement plans. Brown opposed the motion and abstained, withholding his vote.

Bradford said he favored a “blending” of the two proposals. Both Grills and Bradford suggested that the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and the Mervyn Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills could assist in facilitating the statewide listening sessions, possibly through the California Department of Justice. Both academic research institutes are located in Southern California.

Steppe expressed confidence in her colleagues and the process.

“The (Black) community is going to play a huge role in getting whatever we present across the finish line,” she promised.

The task force also agreed to move public comments during the meeting from the end to the beginning of the sessions. Public comments will also expand from two minutes to three, Moore announced.

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Bay Area

After Two Years, Wood Street Safe Parking Site Opens

The struggle to open the site began in the summer of 2019 when Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the city to sanction the opening of a safe parking site near Wood Street, saying the site would open “in the coming months,” but the project soon faced delays.

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The City of Oakland has opened a safe parking site, where people can legally live in RVs and trailers and receive services, through a Berkeley based non-profit called Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency. Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the site in the summer of 2019, but the project faced delays. Photo by Zack Haber on July 9.

On July 7, the Berkeley based non-profit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) opened a site, sanctioned by The City of Oakland, for people to legally park and reside in RVs or trailers while having access to electrical hookups, fresh drinking water, and portable toilets.

It sits just west of Wood Street in West Oakland and in the middle of a large community of homeless people. The site had been planned since 2019 but took over two years to open in part due to protests and an occupation.

As of Tuesday, people living in six RVs and one trailer have moved into the site. Some homeless residents who live nearby have shared concerns about their ability to access the site, skepticism that it would meet their needs, and worries that it could displace those in their community who are not able or interested in moving to the site. City of Oakland Public Information Officer Autumn King said the site could accommodate 40 total RVs or trailers.

The struggle to open the site began in the summer of 2019 when Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans for the city to sanction the opening of a safe parking site near Wood Street, saying the site would open “in the coming months,” but the project soon faced delays.

In early November of that year, Oakland oversaw a two-day clearance of a 1.5-acre parcel of land just west of Wood Street in order to make the land available for a non-profit to open the site. City workers and a contracted towing company removed vehicles, both inhabited and abandoned, from the parcel along with possessions and trash. Oakland’s Police Department also asked people to leave the property with their possessions, but faced resistance from a group of over 35 protestors.

During that year the handful of residents remained on the parcel, and the safe parking site was not constructed. In July of 2020, released e-mails between members of Oakland’s City Administration, City Council, and Game Changer’s lawyer, Patricia Smith, showed the company planned to lease the land to the city for $1 a year to allow a non-profit to use it for a safe parking site.

A proposed lease in an e-mail Oakland’s City Administration sent to Smith led some to believe, increasingly, that the site’s construction could displace residents. The lease quoted The City of Oakland Geographic Emergency Shelter Intervention Policy and stated that one goal for such a parking site is “alleviating the impacts encampments have on the surrounding community.”

It also stated that when such sites open “the city determines an area surrounding the site that is considered an invitation zone,” where those living nearby are invited to participate, but that once the site fills up “the invitation zone becomes the closure zone and enforcement is used to remove or prevent the return of any encampment in that area.”

The parcel for the proposed parking site sits in the middle of a community of homeless residents who live on land owned by Oakland or CalTrans. While no one knows exactly how many people live there, and the population often changes, recent articles in The SFChronicle and The Guardian suggested the population to be in the hundreds. While residents and supporters worried that many members of this population who could not access or were not interested in accessing a safe parking site would be evicted from the area, it was also unclear what would happen to residents living on site after the lease ended. In an interview from November 2020, Smith stated Game Changer planned to develop the land within two or three years.

In November 2020, about 60 advocates and residents showed up to protest Alameda County Sheriffs evicting the handful of people who still remained on Game Changer’s land. Some protestors locked arms in front of the entrance to the gate, delaying the sheriffs’ work. While all residents left the tract of land, their property remained onsite, and some returned later in the day.

After another smaller protest, Game Changer agreed to a settlement with the residents. Several residents received about $2,200 each on the condition that they leave, while another received a large storage unit and yet another received a trailer to live in. With the land cleared of occupants, the city signed a lease with Game Changer LLC to use the land, and eventually contracted with BOSS to open the site, although that process took an additional eight months while the parcel sat vacant and fenced off.

Now opened, some residents fear eviction and are skeptical of the site

The Oakland Post interviewed six residents who live near the recently opened safe parking site. One of them, who goes by the name Puffy, is in the process of moving into the site but is pessimistic about it.

“I don’t want to move in there,” he said. “But I pretty much don’t have a choice.”

While pointing to an area where homeless people live along Wood Street, he said “They can’t have this in a photo op. When it’s open and going, everybody around here is going to have to go.”

The City of Oakland has not posted any eviction notices near the safe parking site recently. Janis Mara, a spokesperson for CalTrans, said that agency has not currently scheduled any clearances for the Wood Street homeless community. But residents are still worried.

Another resident, who asked not to be named because they fear being excluded from the site, had been evicted by the City of Oakland and CalTrans in the past, and is considering moving into the safe parking site. The resident is hesitant to move to the site but seeks security from eviction.

“I don’t want to lose what I’ve established here as my home,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to the area and the community we’ve developed here. But the site is a place where you don’t have to worry. There’s this constant threat of eviction looming over my head.”

Ramona Mason, who lives on CalTrans owned land near the site, said she would not move to the site because she believes it would not allow her to bring her dogs. Another resident, who asked not to be named because he wants to maintain a good relationship with those who operate the site, said he was surprised that no one had approached him about the site since he lives right outside its gate. He stays in a self-made home.

“I would absolutely consider moving there,” said Gill Vasquez, who lives in an RV near Wood Street. “But no one’s reached out to me. What I would like to see is them notifying people, letting us know if there’s an opportunity for us to have a space.”

Vasquez also noted that a portion of land next to the Safe RV Parking site was left vacant and fenced off. He wondered why the safe parking site did not include that portion of land. County records show this area is part of the same parcel the city is leasing from Game Changer LLC. It makes up about a third of the total parcel. When asked if the city had plans for this portion of the parcel, Oakland PIO Autumn King said, “there are no finalized plans for the other side of the site at this time.”

Puffy claimed that when he agreed to move to the site, representatives from BOSS told him he could not cook and that only one person was allowed to live in each RV or trailer, although they would allow one visitor per day.

“They expect you to eat their food and you can’t live with your girlfriend or boyfriend,” he said.

BOSS has not responded to e-mailed questions including a request to share the list of rules they ask residents of the site to follow. Puffy said he was not given a copy of the rules.

One resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the city or CalTrans, said the site would not offer them anything they did not already have. They noted that many residents had already figured out how to access electricity and water from nearby sources.

“What can they offer me except more rules?” they said.

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