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Both U.S. and Cuba Will Benefit from Improved Relations, Says Congesswoman Lee

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After fighting for improving relations between Cuba and the U.S. for 37 years, Congresswoman Barbara is savoring the moment – the formal announcement recently that President Barack Obama is beginning to break down the walls between the two countries.

Reflecting on her many visits to Cuba over the years, Lee told the Post that improving American-Cuban relations and lifting the embargo will have significant social and economic benefits to the U.S.

“We will benefit in many ways,” said Congresswoman Lee, noting the access to medical treatment and education, as well as trade.

“There are many medical treatments that we can benefit from,” she said. “They have very few cases of Hepatitis B and have treatment for diabetic ulcers in 70 to 75 percent of cases. Having that access to treatment would be phenomenal.”

U.S. Medical students from low-income communities are already able to study in Cuba through a free program with The Latin American School of Medicine.

After Cuba established the program for international students from countries in Latin America, Congresswoman Lee advocated for the program to be expanded to include U.S. students.

A number of U.S. students, some from the Bay Area, now have the opportunity to travel to Cuba to study medicine.

Congresswoman Lee’s main concern is that other countries are building economic ties with Cuba and that window of opportunity for U.S. trade is closing very quickly.

But, she is hopeful that the U.S. will “be able to engage in trade soon…Business opportunity means jobs in America,” she said.

In a recent column published in Cuban media by Fidel Castro, called “Reflections by Comrade Fidel,” the former leader wrote about his 2009 visit with Congresswoman Lee and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congresswoman Lee had a chance to hear Castro’s perspective of the world, Cuban policies, and discuss human rights issues when she visited his home.

He praised Lee for her stance against “Bush’s genocidal war in Iraq.”

“It was unbeatable proof of political courage. She deserves every honor,” he wrote.

Lee said in her interview with the Post that she hopes President Obama will visit Havana before he finishes his term.

“I look forward to additional steps to fully normalize relations with Cuba – it is far past time,” said Lee.

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City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The case went to trial in early April. In its Sept. 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

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For rent sign in window, photo courtesy of Erik Mclean via Unsplash

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al.,
a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations

The Sept. 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own.

Not only must the Defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the City and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker. “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30 percent of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks.

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions, including units never intended or approved for residential use, to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights.

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office.

The case went to trial in early April. In its Sept. 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that Defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case.

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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OUSD Ended Oakland High’s Onsite COVID Testing, Parents and Teachers Want It Back

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

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Oakland High School on September 13. Photo by Zack Haber.

On August 30, The Oakland Unified School District informed Oakland High School that they would stop providing onsite COVID-19 testing at the school, but many teachers and parents want the testing services to resume.

“If you don’t test for it, you don’t see that it’s there,” said Christy Mitchell, an Oakland High School teacher. She, and the other teacher who spoke to The Oakland Post for this article requested to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell thinks it is likely there have been COVID-19 cases present in the school that the district has not documented because student and staff’s ability to get tested was greatly reduced when consistent onsite testing left campus. She worries there could be people attending school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Anya Burston, another Oakland High School teacher, was directed to other OUSD COVID sites when she wanted to get tested last week, but she found them inaccessible.

“They gave me the list of the other sites where we could get tested, but they’re only open from 8 to 4,” said Burston. “We work from 8:00 to 3:30.”

If one factors in commuting time, Burston claims, it’s effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school a teacher is already working at.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site but is facing difficulties related to capacity. The district provided a one-day pop-up testing service on Wednesday, and said he said such a service possibly could happen again next week, too.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

“We also encourage our students and staff to visit our regional testing hubs, take advantage of community clinics, or get tested by their healthcare provider,” Sasaki said. “Likewise, we have provided at-home tests at all of our schools for families and staff to take when needed. Students are not allowed to miss class for COVID testing.”

The take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher rate of false positives and negatives then CRP tests, which take longer to deliver their results. Burston said she asked for an at-home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there were none available because the school had run out.

She was eventually able to get tested at the pop-up service on Wednesday, but she said when she accessed the service she saw only one other teacher getting tested. She thinks people missed out on utilizing the pop-up testing service because the district informed staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it appeared.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing to Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. During the first week of school, the district has confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. This number dropped to five cases during the schools’ second week and then dropped again to one case during the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, which lead to an entire class of students going into quarantine. The school also had abundantly available testing at that time.

Mitchell and Burston said during the first week of school, when some Oakland High School teachers heard a student in their class had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus, they would take their entire class to get tested on site. At almost all other district sites during this time, students and staff did not have onsite testing available.

“Obviously with that amount of testing you’re going to have a lot more cases coming up,” said Mitchell. “The more testing we did the more cases we found.”

By the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said although tests were still provided onsite, the school would run out of them. When teachers would take their classes to get tested, sometimes there weren’t enough available for everyone.

As testing became less available, COVID-19 numbers went down. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities had left the site, the district documented no COVID-19 cases at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think the optics are a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But pretending it’s not happening while you’re not testing for it is very disingenuous.”

A group of Oakland High School teachers are working to change the situation and hoping to pressure the district to bring back onsite testing. A few days after they received official word that the district was removing onsite testing, they began talking with each other.

“Many of us are really frustrated and we collectively felt we had to do something if the school and the district isn’t doing anything,” said Burston.

The teachers decided to spread word about the issue through flyers they created demanding onsite testing every day at the school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 flyers they put on walls throughout school and about 1,600 smaller flyers that they distributed to parents and students. The flyers linked to an online petition, which over 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if those signers would be interested in attending a parent/student/teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a student at Oakland High School, signed the petition. She asked to only be identified by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she fears they could be retaliated against in reaction to her speaking out. She works in an ER and sees devastation COVID causes first hand.

“I know there’s a lot of kids out there with COVID because our ERs are packed,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think onsite testing is definitely a necessity.”

Mitchell said teachers are considering direct actions to work towards improving COVID-19 safety measures at Oakland High School.

If Oakland High School teachers were to take such actions, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history they have done so. On December 10, of 2018, the vast majority of Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse and rallied outside of Oakland’s City Hall to protest what they saw as low wages and ineffective tactics of the Oakland Education Association, their union.

On January 18, of 2019, they participated in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated over 300 people in total marched to support teacher demands. These actions came just before the Oakland Education Association sanctioned educator strike, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But Oakland High teachers say before they engage in an organized actions related to COVID-19 safety, parents first need to understand what they are working toward, and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital for parents and teachers to be working hand in hand on this,” said Mitchell.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Digital Issues

Oakland Post: September 15th – September 21st, 2021

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of September 15th – September 21st, 2021.

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The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of September 15th - September 21st, 2021.

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