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Released E-mails Call into Question Proposed Wood Street RV Site

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Game Changer's land and Wood Street on Aug 12, 2020. Cam Mckeel's bus sits front center. Mavin Carter-Griffin's home sits in the center behind the bus with tires stacked in front of it. RVs and self made homes sit to the right, along Wood Street. Photo by Zack Haber

In the summer of 2019 Mayor Libby Schaaf announced plans to construct a safe RV parking site for unhoused residents living along Wood Street in West Oakland but recently released e-mails call those plans, and the intentions of those plans, into question.

The proposed site, if constructed, would be available for some people living on and just west of Wood Street and between 24th and 26th streets in West Oakland. That area is densely populated with around 100 people living in vehicles, self-made homes, and tents.

The site would allow them to have electrical hookups, freshwater, regular trash and bathroom services but would only be available for those who live in RVs. It is unclear how long RV dwellers could live on the site.

City administration drafted lease terms in August and September 2019 to rent a 1.5-acre tract of land covered mostly in dirt and stone just west of Wood Street from Game Changer LLC, a San Francisco-based company owned by a billionaire named Fred Craves. At the time, Game Changer had left the land unused for years and many people already lived there. While no rent was to be charged, the 18-month draft of the lease stipulated that the city would agree to pay about $33,000 per year in property taxes for Game Changer.

Clarifying the city’s plan for Game Changer, the lease quoted the City of Oakland Geographical Emergency Shelter Intervention Policy which laid out two goals for the site: “provide respite and stabilization to the unsheltered community” and “alleviating the impact the encampments have on the surrounding community.”

“When a site is scheduled to open,” reads the policy “the city determines an area surrounding the site that is considered an invitation zone.”

According to the policy, people in the invitation zone are offered space in the site, but after 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.”

While the city administration has maintained that the proposed site intends to help the community of unhoused people living on Wood Street, the stated policy implies that those living in tents or self-made homes in the area would be displaced as they could not move into the safe RV parking site.

“Closure Zones are the highest priority to maintain as they surround the emergency shelter intervention and can have an impact on normal operations at the intervention site” the policy stated.

An email from the area’s Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney to Assistant City Administrators Joe DeVries and Maraskeshia Smith also suggests that by late October of that year, the planned construction of the site was in doubt.

The e-mail, dated Oct. 29, 2019, shares notes taken from a meeting McElhaney attended with the city administration earlier that day. Under a heading marked “Wood Street,” her notes read “Administration no longer considering location for RV parking; cost to prep and clear are excessive.”

“I cannot provide any updates on the Wood Street effort as joint meetings we had sought to convene were discontinued when the administration let me know that they were not moving forward with the RV site,” McElhaney wrote in response to questions about her October notes and the current plans for Wood Street. “Sometime later I was told RVs were still planned but I have not been provided details.”

About a week after the meeting with McElhaney, on Nov. 5 and 6, 2019, the city of Oakland cleared vehicles and residents off of Game Changer LLC’s land. They faced resistance as the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD), a grassroots organization that sponsors protests and does mutual aid projects with Wood Street residents, organized a rally where about 35 protesters supported residents who stayed on Game Changer’s land and refused to move.

While many other residents moved onto Wood Street, where they are now more densely packed together and closer to traffic, five people refused to leave Game Changer’s land.

One resident was Natasha Noel, who worried that her damaged vehicle with no wheels would be broken if moved. Another resident, Mavin Carter-Griffin who has been on the land for over five years, lives in a self-constructed shelter and her displacement would mean destroying her home. A third resident, Cam McKeel, lives in a large bus and does not know where else he could park it if forced to move or if the bus would be allowed in a safe RV parking site.

Although the company has erected a fence around their land, hired a security guard, and served the residents’ eviction notices, four residents, including Carter-Griffin and McKeel remain on the land. Noel has moved in with her daughter.

An e-mail from Dec. 13, 2019, by Patricia Smith, a lawyer for Game Changer, to Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries and Deputy City Attorney Joe Flanders stated that Game Changer intended to clear residents from the site by December 20 so the city could control the property. After the date passed, Game Changer still had not gotten residents to leave.

On Feb. 3, 2020, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article that called into question residents’ decisions to stay on Game Changer’s land and suggested the decision was preventing the construction of the safe RV parking site. The piece quoted Dayton Andrews, an organizer with the UFAD.

“No one’s actually been given a promise that they’ll get a spot in the Wood Street lot,” Andrews said in the article. “They’ve been given no written proof that they will get to be on this safe parking lot. Folks would like to use the service, but they’d actually want assurance that the service would come through.”

Later that day Maraskeshia Smith e-mailed DeVries to ask about the article and the Wood Street plan.

“I think we have done all we can until the courts and attorneys do their work,” DeVries responded in an e-mail, referring to the eviction notices that Game Changer had served to residents. “I do believe it is worth switching gears and focusing on opening the Post Office site.”

When The Post News Group e-mailed DeVries about the plan for Wood Street and the Post Office site, DeVries did not respond but forwarded the inquiry to Public Information Officer Autumn King.

King acknowledged that the city administration “did initially express concern about the cost of site prep and clearing” but also stated that “the city is still working closely with the property owner to move forward with the lease.”

“Once the owner informs the city that the site is available,” she wrote, “we can resume established plans and open a site.”

King did not respond to a direct question asking if a lease between Game Changer and the city had been signed.

King described the Post Office Site as an RV safe parking site planned for a tract of land behind the West Oakland Post Office that the city has been trying to construct since January 2020 but has been blocked by a hold the Federal Highway Administration has put on homeless interventions on highway-owned land.

At the time of writing, Game Changer’s land sits vacant except for four residents. The large community of people living in tents, RVs and self-made homes mostly live densely packed together on Wood Street, although some live under the 880 Highway on land owned by CalTrans.

Residents report that the city is not providing hand-washing stations, freshwater or dumpsters to the community. They have been provided with two portable toilets. A visit to the site on August 11 showed one toilet had been serviced that day, but the other was last serviced on July 20.

The UFAD and The Berkeley Free Clinic have provided some hand-washing and freshwater stations to the community, but the needs of the population far outnumber the ability of the two small organizations to meet them.

Residents are still unclear when or if a safe RV parking site will be available and, if it is constructed, who will be allowed to use it.

 

 

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D.C. Statehood is a Voting Rights Issue… and Racial Justice Issue

The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue.

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Washington, D.C. has a higher percentage of Black residents than any state in the country, and they have no voting representation in Congress. This is systemic racism in action. It is long past time to give Washington’s 712,000 residents the representation they deserve by making D.C. our 51st state.
It is shameful that people who live in the nation’s capital have no say in Congress. And it is unacceptable that local laws and budgets passed by D.C. elected officials can be overturned by members of Congress who decide to meddle in local decision-making. That explains why Washington, D.C.’s license plates include the slogan, “End taxation without representation,” a rallying cry by American colonists against the tyranny of British rule.
The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue. There are bogus reasons to oppose statehood, and some Republicans in Congress have been trotting them out now that legislation to admit Washington, D.C. as a statehood bill is moving forward in Congress.
Some claim that Washington, D.C. is too small to be a state. But D.C. has more residents than either Vermont or Wyoming. There are currently six states whose population is less than a million. D.C. pays more federal taxes than 21 states—and more federal taxes per person than any state.
Some make the false claim that it would require a constitutional amendment to make Washington, D.C. a state. Not true. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the authority to admit new states.
That’s how every one of the 37 states that were not initially part of the U.S. have joined the country. The original District of Columbia was created out of land from Maryland and Virginia. In 1846, a good chunk of D.C. was returned to Virginia. No constitutional amendment was required then, and none is required now to admit Washington, D.C. as a new state. Some objections are so idiotic, frankly, that they must be a cover for pure partisanship or worse.
In March, a Heritage Foundation legal fellow testifying before Congress said that D.C. residents shouldn’t get representation in Congress because they can already influence congressional debates by placing yard signs where members of Congress might see them on their way to work. One Republican congressman said (wrongly) that D.C. would be the only state without a car dealership. Another said that D.C. doesn’t have enough mining, agriculture, or manufacturing. Mitch McConnell said the plan to make D.C. a state was evidence of “full bore socialism on the march.”
At least some Republicans are honest about their real reason for opposing statehood:  they just don’t want to let D.C. voters elect Democratic officials who will support progressive policies supported by the majority of the American people.
But that is not a principled position. None of the objections to D.C. statehood hold water, especially when weighed against the basic injustice of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people.
Washingtonians have fought in every U.S. war. About 30,000 D.C. residents are veterans. But D.C.’s mayor does not even have the ability that governors have to mobilize its own National Guard—a fact that proved to be deadly during the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection.
The bottom line in this: how can we hold ourselves out as a model of democracy when we are the only democratic country in the world that denies representation and self-governance to the people who live in its capital? We can’t.
As the Biden administration recognized in announcing its support for D.C. statehood, it is long past time to correct this injustice. The House of Representatives voted on April 22, to admit Washington, D.C. as a state. Senate leaders must not allow filibuster rules or Republican resistance to prevent Congress from righting this wrong.

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MAYOR LONDON BREED NOMINATES CITY ATTORNEY DENNIS HERRERA TO LEAD THE SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION

As the new General Manager of the SFPUC, Herrera would bring decades of experience serving San Francisco residents and advancing the fight for significant environmental policies.

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San Francisco, CA — Today Mayor London N. Breed nominated City Attorney Dennis Herrera to serve as the next General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). Herrera was elected as City Attorney of San Francisco in 2001, and will bring decades of experience serving City residents and advancing environmental policies through his nationally-recognized office.
The SFPUC provides retail drinking water and wastewater services to the City of San Francisco, wholesale water to three Bay Area counties, green hydroelectric and solar power to Hetch Hetchy electricity customers, and power to the residents and businesses of San Francisco through the CleanPowerSF program.
“I am proud to nominate Dennis Herrera to serve as General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission,” said Mayor Breed. “Dennis has been a great champion in San Francisco across a wide range of issues from civil rights to protecting our environment, and most importantly he has been someone who always puts the people of this City first. By bringing his experience in office and his commitment to public service to this new position, I am confident the SFPUC will be able to deliver the high-quality services our residents deserve while continuing to advance nationally-recognized programs like CleanPowerSF and pursue ambitious efforts like public power. Dennis is the right leader for the hard-working employees of the SFPUC and this City.”
“I will always cherish the groundbreaking work we have done in the City Attorney’s Office over these nearly 20 years,” Herrera said. “We advanced equality for all, pushed affordable housing at every turn, gave our children better opportunities to grow and thrive, and took innovative steps to protect the environment. We never shied from the hard fights. Above all, our approach to government has had an unwavering focus on equity, ethics and integrity.”
“It is that focus that drives me to this new challenge,” Herrera said. “Public service is an honor. When you see a need, you step up to serve. The test of our age is how we respond to climate change. San Francisco’s public utility needs clean, innovative and decisive leadership to meet that challenge. I am ready to take the lead in ensuring that all San Franciscans have sustainable and affordable public power, clean and reliable water, and, overall, a public utility that once again makes them proud. I want to thank Mayor Breed for this unique opportunity to stand up for ratepayers and usher in a new era of clean leadership at the top of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.”
The next step for the nomination is for the five-member commission that oversees the SFPUC to interview City Attorney Herrera and forward him as a formal recommendation to the Mayor. After this, and once a contract is finalized, City Attorney Herrera would be officially appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Commission. This process will take a number of weeks.
For nearly two decades, Herrera has been at the forefront of pivotal water, power and sewer issues. He worked to save state ratepayers $1 billion during PG&E’s first bankruptcy in the early 2000s and has been a leading advocate for San Francisco to adopt full public power for years. In 2009, he reached a key legal agreement with Mirant to permanently close the Potrero Power Plant, San Francisco’s last fossil fuel power plant. The deal also included Mirant paying $1 million to help address pediatric asthma in nearby communities. In 2017, Herrera sued the top five investor-owned fossil fuel companies in the world, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking billions of dollars for infrastructure to protect San Francisco against sea-level rise caused by their products, including large portions of the SFPUC’s combined sewer and stormwater system.
In 2018, Herrera defeated an attempt to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the crown jewel of the SFPUC system, which provides emissions-free hydroelectric power and clean drinking water to 2.7 million Bay Area residents. He is also leading efforts before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the courts to fight PG&E’s predatory tactics to grow its corporate monopoly by illegally overcharging public projects like schools, homeless shelters and affordable housing to connect to the energy grid.
Herrera was first elected City Attorney in December 2001, and went on to build what The American Lawyer magazine hailed as “one of the most aggressive and talented city law departments in the nation.”
Herrera’s office was involved in every phase of the legal war to achieve marriage equality, from early 2004 to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark rulings in June 2013. Herrera was also the first to challenge former President Trump’s attempts to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. He repeatedly defeated the Trump administration in different cases as it sought to punish sanctuary cities, deny basic benefits like food stamps to legal immigrants, and discriminate in health care against women, the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups. He brought groundbreaking consumer protection cases against payday lenders, credit card arbitrators and others. He also brought pioneering legal cases to protect youth, including blocking an attempt to strip City College of San Francisco of its accreditation and getting e-cigarettes off San Francisco store shelves until they received required FDA approval.

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Leading Black Health Group that Sued FDA Responds to Agency Decision to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

For decades, the industry marketed menthols to our kids and communities with exploitative and discriminatory tactics.

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The African American Tobacco Leadership Council (AATCLC) released the following statement in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, which follows the organization’s lawsuit filed against the agency last year: 

“[Thursday’s] decision by the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes is a long-overdue step toward ending years of racialized predation upon African Americans by the tobacco industry. 

    This decision follows the lawsuit we filed against the agency last year and it signals the beginning of the end. We are encouraged but there is still much work ahead.

     For decades, the industry marketed menthols to our kids and communities with exploitative and discriminatory tactics. As we work to confront racism and injustice in all forms, banning menthol cigarettes is one part of the push toward racial justice, health equity, and protecting Black lives. 

     While a ban on menthol cigarettes is progress, there is more work to be done to end tobacco use and protect the health of African Americans. The AATCLC will continue to fight for justice and health equity in our community. We will continue to work to educate the public about the harmful effects of tobacco on Black Americans and African immigrant communities to ensure we enjoy longer and healthier lives.”

      This statement was provided by Keisha N. Brown, president of Lagrant Communications.

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