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Rebuilding Together Solano County Provides Food, Shelter to People in Need

In partnership with Vallejo Costco and the Solano Contra Costa Food Bank (as part of Feeding America), RTSC’s food pantry opens at 12:00 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Vallejo Community Presbyterian Church (2800 Georgia St.) for low-income veterans, seniors, and disabled homeowners. If there is still food at 12:30 p.m., other community members may get food, too.

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Rebuilding Together Solano County logo. Photo courtesy of organization’s website.

Low-income individuals and families, veterans, seniors and disabled persons dominate Vallejo’s population, making them disproportionately vulnerable to food and housing/shelter insecurity, both of which have only increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to those needs is a nonprofit called Rebuilding Together Solano County, which opened their pantry doors in April of 2018.  They offer food to low-income residents every week and twice a year they rebuild and rehabilitate homes for disabled homeowners, fulfilling their mission of repairing homes, revitalizing communities, and rebuilding lives.

In partnership with Vallejo Costco and the Solano Contra Costa Food Bank (as part of Feeding America), RTSC’s food pantry opens at 12:00 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Vallejo Community Presbyterian Church (2800 Georgia St.) for low-income veterans, seniors, and disabled homeowners. If there is still food at 12:30 p.m., other community members may get food, too.

RTSC also provides free home repair and rehabilitation services for low-income homeowners, as well as community facilities. According to their website; “In the past 25 years, more than 2.5 million Rebuilding Together volunteers rehabilitated more than 150,000 homes and several hundred community facilities.”  While Rebuilding Together is not currently offering their Home Rehab Program for 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, they are hoping to have the program back up and running in 2022.

For more information on programs and services, ways to donate, or get involved, contact Executive Director Elizabeth Hoffman at 707-580-9360, by email atehoffman.rtsc@gmail.com or visit their website. You can also contact Hoffman at ehoffman.rtsc@gmail.com for additional details on volunteer opportunities at the supply warehouse.        

     All information directly sourced from https://rebuildingtogethersolanocounty.org/

Bay Area

Berkeley Considers New Law to Help Tenants Buy Where They Rent

Renée, a Berkeley resident, was dismayed last summer when she saw the final sale price of the four-plex where she and members of her family have lived for 20 years. It wasn’t because the amount was high – it is Berkeley, after all. She was shocked because she’d bid on the property and offered $44,000 more than the new owner paid for it. It just didn’t make sense. Then she found out why her landlord wouldn’t sell it to her. “I didn’t want to sell to you because of [your nephew], I don’t trust him,” the landlord said.

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Displacement in Berkeley’s African American community is rampant, caused by the steep decline of renters who make up two-thirds of Black households in the city.
Street sign in Berkeley. iStock photo by SimeonDonov.

By Chris Schildt
Friends of Adeline

Renée, a Berkeley resident, was dismayed last summer when she saw the final sale price of the four-plex where she and members of her family have lived for 20 years. It wasn’t because the amount was high – it is Berkeley, after all.

She was shocked because she’d bid on the property and offered $44,000 more than the new owner paid for it. It just didn’t make sense. Then she found out why her landlord wouldn’t sell it to her.

“I didn’t want to sell to you because of [your nephew], I don’t trust him,” the landlord said.

An African American small business owner for many years, Renée was hardly unfamiliar with racist dog whistles and the stereotyping of her family members — but this one hit hard.

When the new owner took over, she started making troubling changes that threatened Renée’s ability to operate her licensed in-home daycare. With the help of the Eviction Defense Center and the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, she and her fellow tenants have been able to halt efforts to increase the rent and other unlawful acts. But if her previous landlord had sold her the building, she never would have had to deal with this harassment.

“I have felt discriminated against and harassed by these intimidating practices on the basis of my age, gender, race, and economic status,” said Renée. “I feel this type of intimidation is an effort to frustrate me into leaving the place my family and I have lived in for decades.”

Displacement in Berkeley’s African American community is rampant, caused by the steep decline of renters who make up two-thirds of Black households in the city. Like Renée, many have lived in their homes for decades. But even with the city’s robust rent control laws and anti-eviction protections, many find it hard to stay because outside investors buy homes and push tenants out.

This is especially true in historically African American South Berkeley, where Renée lives and where one-bedroom apartment rents have skyrocketed to $2,000 a month or more.

The Berkeley City Council is considering legislation that would help prevent the kind of displacement pressures Renée and other tenants face.

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) helps tenants to become first-time homeowners by giving them an opportunity to buy their homes when their landlord decides to sell. If the landlord decides not to take the tenant’s offer, TOPA gives tenants a chance to match any other offer the landlord receives. For Renée, this would have given her the chance to own her home – and for $44,000 less than she had originally offered.

Another South Berkeley resident, Jonathan (not his real name), an immigrant from Africa, has lived in his apartment for over 30 years. When the property went up for sale last year, he wasn’t concerned – he’s lived there through three different owners and has gotten along with all of them in the past. This time, however, the new owners made it clear that they wanted him gone.

He looked for other housing options in South Berkeley near his job but found nothing at the price he currently pays for his rent-controlled apartment. The Eviction Defense Center was able to help him negotiate to stay in his own apartment, but he no longer feels welcome at home and worries that his landlords might try to force him out again.

TOPA allows tenants to work with land trusts and nonprofits to help fund the purchases and designates the home as affordable housing if public subsidies are used to buy it. In San Francisco, a similar law has helped preserve over 200 units as affordable housing since it passed in 2019.

TOPA was first introduced as an ordinance in 2020 in Berkeley and was reintroduced this past fall when investor purchases and a surge in evictions renewed interest in this policy.

TOPA is supported by the Berkeley NAACP branch, Healthy Black Families, the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministers Alliance, the Friends of Adeline, and others. Advocates for fairness and affordable housing are urging community members to contact Berkeley City Council members and ask them to support TOPA.

For more information on TOPA and guidance on how to take action, please visit www.yes2topa.org. To get involved, please contact the Friends of Adeline at friendsofadeline@gmail.com.

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Bay Area

Who Are the Top Donors in the Alameda County District 5 Supervisor’s Race?

District 5 covers West and North Oakland and includes Emeryville, Berkeley, Piedmont and Albany. The five-member Board of Supervisors sets the county’s budget, governs its unincorporated areas, oversees the sheriff, Alameda Health System, and the mental health system. Voting in this election has already begun. Most of those living in the district will have been mailed paper ballots. Residents can also vote in person on March 5, the last day voting is open. If no candidate gets more than half of the votes, the top two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

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A ballot drop box sits in West Oakland. Feb. 12. Photo by Zack Haber 
A ballot drop box sits in WesA ballot drop box sits in West Oakland. Feb. 12. Photo by Zack Haber t Oakland. Feb. 12. Photo by Zack Haber 

About $342,500, a little less than half of the approximately $705,000 raised in the race so far, has come from just 30 sources.

By Zack Haber

Nine candidates are running to represent District 5 on the Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors.

District 5 covers West and North Oakland and includes Emeryville, Berkeley, Piedmont and Albany.

The five-member Board of Supervisors sets the county’s budget, governs its unincorporated areas, oversees the sheriff, Alameda Health System, and the mental health system.

Voting in this election has already begun. Most of those living in the district will have been mailed paper ballots. Residents can also vote in person on March 5, the last day voting is open. If no candidate gets more than half of the votes, the top two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

Candidates in Alameda County are required to report all of their campaign donations. The public can search these filings through an online portal.

Looking through the county’s campaign finance reports, we found that residents, businesses and other organizations, such as unions, have donated around $705,000 in total to all candidates as of Feb. 13. In three cases, candidates donated to their own campaigns, but we excluded these figures.

Of the nine candidates, John Bauters, the former Emeryville Mayor and current City Councilmember, has raised the most, about $167,500. Alameda County Board of Education Trustee Ken Berrick has raised about $157,500. Piedmont resident and East Bay Rental Housing Association board member Chris Moore has raised about $129,000. Oakland City Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas has raised about $130,000; and Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett raised about $103,500.

The other candidates, Omar Farmer, Gregory Hodge, Gerald Pechenuk and Lorrel Plimier have all raised much less than the other candidates. So far, Hodge has raised about 11,500 and Plimier has raised about $5,500. Farmer and Pechenuk haven’t reported receiving any campaign donations.

While there were over 525 donations to candidates in total, of these, about $342,500 or a little less than half of the about $705,000 in total donations, came from just 30 sources. For the purposes of this article, we’ve defined these 30 donations as large donations—$5,000 or more. Bartlett, Bas, Bauters, Berrick, and Moore have received large donations, while Farmer, Hodge, Pechenuk and Plimier have not.

Below is a listing of each reported large donation, and information we could find about its source. We ordered the list in alphabetically by candidate name.

Large donations to Ben Bartlett:

Mukemmel ‘Mike’ Sarimsakci of Millbrae donated $10,000. Sarimsakci is a real estate developer and the CEO of Alterra Worldwide, a commercial real estate company. Man Hao Chen of San Francisco, CEO and founder of crop farming company Sunbber, inc., donated 5,000. Bao Le of Fremont, CEO of medical marijuana company Hemp.co, donated $5,000. Retired Berkeley resident Frank Brown donated $5,000.

Large donations to Nikki Fortunado Bas: 

Alameda Labor Council AFL-CIO Unitywhich represents about 135,000 healthcare, construction, service, education, and manufacturing workers, donated $20,000. Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County donated $20,000. Quinn Delaney of Piedmont, founder and the board chair of Akonadi Foundation, donated $20,000. Wayne Jordan of Piedmont, husband to Delaney, Akonadi Foundation board member, landlord and founder and president of Jordan Real Estate Investments, donated $20,000. California Working Families Party, a “grassroots party for the multiracial working class,” donated $10,000. Bas also received a $5,000 donation from the San Francisco crop farming company, Sunbber, inc. Man Hao Chen, who donated to Ben Bartlett’s campaign, is the CEO of Sunbber. IBEW Local 595, a union representing about 2,000 electric workers in Alameda and San Joaquin/Calaveras counties, donated $5,000. UA Local 342, a union representing around 4,000 workers in the pipe trades industries in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, donated $5,000.

Large donations to John Bauters:

Maryam Asefinejad of Orangevale, board member of Teranomic Software, donated $20,000. Fred J Bauters of Lisle, IL, relative of John Bauters, donated $20,000. The International Association of Firefighters Local 55 donated $11,000. State Assemblymember Buffy Wicks donated $10,000 from her reelection campaign. Nick Josefowitz of San Francisco, commissioner with the Metropolitan Transportation Commissionand co-founder of the nonprofit Permit Power, donated $10,000. Daniel Golden of Santa Monica, who works in sales at the pharmaceutical company Bausch Healthcare, donated $5,000. Marc Hedlund of Berkeley, founder of the investment company Tenuki Moves LLC and board treasurer of the nonprofits Bike East Bay and Code 2040, donated 5,000. The California YIMBY Victory Fund donated $5,000. Steven Berger of Berkeley, president of the company NYF Properties, inc. donated $5,000.

Large donations to Ken Berrick:

Megan Salazar of Richmond, director of advocacy for the Bay Area based nonprofit, Just Advocates which Ken Berrick founded, donated $13,520. Christopher Ciauri of London, England, CEO of the software company Unily, donated $17,500. Betsy Maushardt, unemployed resident of Santa Cruz, donated $10,500. Christopher Seiwald of Alameda, member of the University of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees and investor with the Berkeley Angel Network, donated 5,000.

Large donations to Chris Moore:

Quintin Anderson of Redwood City, Chief Operating Officer with Granite River Labs, donated $20,000. Madeline Moore, retired resident of Walnut Creek and relative of Chris Moore, donated $20,000.  Philip Dreyfuss of Oakland, partner with Farallon Capital Management, a San Francisco based hedge fund, donated $20,000.  Fred Morse of Piedmont, landlord with Morse Management, donated $15,000 through individual and company donations.

Justin Wallway of Oakland, landlord with JDW Enterprises, donated $10,000.

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Activism

Inheriting the Mantle: Who Will Carry the Legacy of John George?

Black political representation in Oakland and Berkeley was spurred by the Black Panther Party’s political organizing which began with the support of Shirley Chisholm’s bid for president in 1972 and an effort to elect Bobby Seale as mayor and Elaine Brown to City Council.  

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John George became the first African American to hold the District 5 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. He was followed by Warren Widener and then Keith Carson who decided not to seek re-election in December 2023. File, Facebook and campaign photos respectively.
John George became the first African American to hold the District 5 seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. He was followed by Warren Widener and then Keith Carson who decided not to seek re-election in December 2023. File, Facebook and campaign photos respectively.

By LV McElhaney

This Black History Month, voters in Alameda County will be deciding which of eight candidates will succeed Supervisor Keith Carson in the District 5 race. Long considered a civil rights seat, this may be the first time in 30 years that there won’t be a Black leader at the helm since John George became the first African American elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1976.

Black political representation in Oakland and Berkeley was spurred by the Black Panther Party’s political organizing which began with the support of Shirley Chisholm’s bid for president in 1972 and an effort to elect Bobby Seale as mayor and Elaine Brown to City Council.

Before helping George, a young Black attorney who had sued Oakland over voter disenfranchisement and to create district elections, win a seat at the all-white Republican Board of Supervisors, the Panther organization was instrumental in electing Oakland’s first Black mayor, Lionel Wilson to office in 1977.

George was succeeded by another African American, Warren Widener, who served three terms from 1989 – 1992.  Widener also broke the color barrier when he became the first Black mayor in Berkeley. Widener would become a pioneer in what would become the affordable housing sector when he developed a program to build military housing on vacant land owned by the government working with his classmate, retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Toney. That program produced more than 3,500 housing units throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and became a model for the nation.

When he sought a third term on the Board of Supervisors, Widener was defeated by newcomer, Keith Carson, a young mentee of Ron Dellums, who was viewed as more progressive than Widener.  During his 30 years in office, Supervisor Carson was known as a steady leader who sought to build an inclusive and accessible government.

He created AC Impact, a program that provides permanent supportive housing and services to chronically homeless adults in Alameda County and was instrumental in funding community-based organizations to deliver services for people returning home from prison.

Carson, who was set to run unopposed, decided in December not to seek reelection to the Board of Supervisors.  The decision shocked many in the African American community who are concerned that Black leadership is under pressure from neo-progressives and social democrats who pursue policies that threaten Black land and business ownership.

Among the eight competing to succeed Carson are two Black men, Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett, and former Oakland School Board member Greg Hodge.  This diverse district includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, and large portions of Oakland, namely the West Oakland, North Oakland, Rockridge, and Montclair neighborhoods, as well as portions of the Dimond, Bella Vista, and San Antonio districts.

Also running are Emeryville Councilmember Jon Bauters, Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato-Bas, and social worker Ken Berrick, who previously served on the Alameda County Board of Education.

L.V. McElhaney served two-terms on the Oakland City Council and was the first Black woman to serve as Oakland Council President. She championed the establishment of the Department of Violence Prevention to channel investments into community-led solutions to eradicate gun-related violence and violence against women and children. LV. Holds a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and PhD from Mills College.

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