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Striking Tenants Negotiate to Purchase Building

Michelle Snider

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Tenant strikers and ACCE supporters gather on Thursday, Feb. 27 in the driveway of a 29th Avenue apartment building to announce the owner’s agreement to discuss selling to the Oakland Community Land Trust. Photo by Michelle Snider.

After four months of not paying rent in a unified strike, tenants at a Fruitvale district apartment building in Oakland celebrated on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, after receiving notice the landlord was ready to negotiate a sale.

Oakland Community Land Trust will negotiate the purchase of the building. If an agreement is reached and the building is sold the tenants wish to become owners of the property.

Due to what the tenants expressed as poor maintenance of the building and regular rent increases, some of the tenants stopped paying rent in November 2019 in a unified attempt to get the owner to sell the building.

Seeking to build a statewide and national movement, Director of Alliance of California for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Carroll Fife spoke with the residents  on February 27 to give a formal update.

“We are starting a renaissance of housing resistance in the state of California right here in Oakland,” Fife said, “That began on November 18 (2019) with our housing week of action where a group of unsheltered mothers and housing insecure mothers reclaimed a vacant home so their children would not be on the streets.”

Referencing Moms4Housing, Fife said, “One of the main reasons for that action was to show housing should be a human right for everyone.”

Fife said Moms4Housing and the land trust are still in negotiations to purchase the property from owner Wedgewood Inc.

One victory that came from Moms4Housing was people starting to recognize how corporate real estate speculators affect housing, Fife said. According to her, an offer for the purchase of the home will come on Friday.

Despite Wedgewood adding $90,000 to the cost of the home, it would not sell for $800,000 as Wedgewood wanted — which Fife said was another victory. She would not disclose the exact price of the sale.

Fife described the purchasing process with the Oakland Community Land Trust as the trust putting in an offer to buy and negotiating the price. If the owner agrees and contracts are drawn for the purchase, the land trust will own the land. 

The land trust will then move into a relationship with the tenants to either become the landlord or transition the tenants into owning the property. They can rent the apartment from the land trust, but the strikers at the 29th Avenue apartment building in Fruitvale want to become owners of the property.

According to The Mercury News, the building’s owner, Calvin Wong, and the land trust are set to meet Wednesday to discuss the potential sale.

Fife made a final announcement about a new Assembly bill (AB-2563) that ACCE will push this year to make housing a human right.

Activism

Three California Cities Push Plans to Increase Police Spending

The Police Commission has not moved on the proposed budget and the LAPD needs the City Council’s approval before it can go into effect. On the other hand, and separate from the $67 million requested by LAPD, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a $50 million increase in the police budget, much to the dismay of members of the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter organization.

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     It has been over 13 months since police in Kentucky killed Breonna Taylor, and just shy of a year since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.

    These high-profile deaths of African Americans, along with many others, sparked global protests and resulted in politicians and activists on the political Left calling on their cities and. counties to defund their police departments. 

    More precisely, many of are pushing their elected officials to reallocate money in police budgets to more social service-oriented interventions in efforts to reduce the number of violent police encounters. 

    But some cities in California — Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles — are planning to do just the opposite. 

    From 2019 to 2020, Sacramento’s approved police budget saw an increase of over $7 million. This year, California’s capital city will spend a record $165.8 million on police, a $9.4 million increase.

    However, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg says, by mid-2022, at least $10 million will be directed away from the police department toward the Department of Community Response.

    “I’m not for ‘defunding,’” Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee. “There are some things that are part of running a city, like collective bargaining and binding arbitration, and genuine needs for the police department.”

   “I’m not going to get pinned to the argument that the measure of whether or not we are investing in the community in an aggressive way is whether or not we’re taking the money directly from the police department,” he continued.

     In San Diego, the city is planning to raise the police budget for the 11th year in a row.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria proposed a 3% increase for police spending next year, meaning that the police budget has ballooned by a total of 52% since 2008.

    The city is introducing that increase with a decrease in library hours in an effort to offset those costs.

 

     San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez says that she planned to cut the police budget, but former Mayor Kevin Faulconer would have vetoed that measure.

     Gloria has expressed interest in reducing police spending over time also, but activists insist that more needs to be done. 

     In Los Angeles, after two reports from the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners admonished the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for their mishandling of several protests over the past year, the LAPD has nevertheless announced that it wants a $67 million increase in its budget to contend with the costs of protest response reform alone.

    During various protests in the summer of 2020, police made over 3,000 arrests with little to no accommodations for those arrested.

    Police Chief Michel Moore admitted the protest response could have been handled better but asserted that most of his officers responded the way they did because of their training. 

    “While there were missteps and shortfalls in communication and command and control, especially from senior staff in the field, the vast majority of personnel performed admirably with their ongoing efforts to tirelessly serve the city, even in the face of antagonistic and violent crowds,” Moore wrote in a letter to the board of commissioners.

    This proposed budget increase will be going toward salaries and overtime for extended training, according to Deputy Chief Dominic Choi. 

     The Police Commission has not moved on to the proposed budget and the LAPD needs the City Council’s approval before it can go into effect. On the other hand, and separate from the $67 million requested by LAPD, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a $50 million increase in the police budget, much to the dismay of members of the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter organization.

    While a couple of these budget proposals are still being deliberated and wouldn’t fully go into effect until next year, they are far cries from defunding the police. 

     Despite a growing chorus of voices against it, more Golden State taxpayer money will likely go toward increased funding for “California’s finest.”

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ILWU leads May Day Protest down Market Street in San Francisco

“The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia,” continued Davis. “Labor united will never be defeated.”

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    As participants assembled in front of the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, a group of wearing blue jackets and white painters hats could be seen moving to the front of the group.  

   The group, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were on hand to lead the May Day march and rally from the Ferry Building down Market Street to San Francisco City Hall. 

   “This is the real Labor Day and this day is celebrated all over the world, said Trent Willis, the head of the ILWUs Local 10 longshoremen’s union.  In 1886, the first fight for workers was for the eight-hour work day. 

    May Day is the celebration of labor and working classes, promoted by the international labor movement and occurs every year on May Day, May 1. The ILWU in San Francisco has spearheaded for the day in the Bay Area and it has been leading the rally and march for the past 15 years.    

   Political activist and college professor Dr. Angela Davis, was a keynote speaker at the rally and she marched along Market Street in between ILWU members. Willis led the march of over 5,000 people with the ILWU, the Teamsters Union, teachersunions and other unions from San Francisco. Adjoining streetswere blocked off to allow the crowd walk freely

    As they walked, the ILWU drill team yelled out chants.  They stopped in front of the Flood Building, where Willis said he,along with others from the labor movement, stand in solidarity with the Chilean Dock Workers Union, who are in the middle of a contract negotiations with the Chilean government for higher wages and better working conditions.  

    The marchers continued to San Francisco City Hall, where Willis, Davis and other labor union officials, got on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to the crowd.   

    “We need to fight systematic racism,continued Willlis. If you don’t stand up against systematic racism and systematic oppression, racism keeps us from talking to each other.”

   Willis said that when people arent talking to each other, the differences they have cannot be understood or resolved. He said talking is needed in order for people to get along and resolve situations, working conditions and move society forward.        

   Davis,looked out on at the crowd, saying that she was proud to be a part of the march and rally. 

    “There is no place I would rather be then to be standing up for the rights of workers, said Davis.  In solidarity with workers from all over the world.

    Davis said that workers need to stand up and fight so there will not be any more George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Stephen Clarks, Oscar Grants and Sean Monterrosa. Monterrosa was the San  Francisco man who was killed by police in Vallejo last year. His family was on hand, holding a banner with his name.  

    “The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia, continued Davis. Labor united will never be defeated.

   Willis said he will make Davis an honorary member of the ILWU, which is an honor that has only been bestowed on Paul Robeson and Dr. Martin Luther King.  He said the struggle for workers continues across the world and within the United States, but it will be a push the ILWU will be vigilant in fighting for to improve working conditions for working people.    

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Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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