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Volunteer’s Green Thumb Brings a Community Garden in East Oakland Back to Life




Satterell Singh in the Community Garden in Oakland’s Fairfax neighborhood. Photo by Wanda Ravernell.

Satterell Singh is looking forward to the day the water system he is creating at the Community Garden at Ygnacio and Congress in East Oakland is ready.

    Toting 5-gallon bottles from the back of his station wagon into the small lot across from Horace Mann Elementary School in the Fairfax neighborhood is wearing Singh out. “I’m invested in getting rid of this method,” quipped the son of an African American woman and a Punjabi immigrant who met in college in the 1970s.

   The 2005 graduate of Castlemont High School is a former linebacker who carries the bottles with ease. He explains that, so far, everything that comes into the garden is either by his hands or one of the two wheelbarrows in the center of the patch. 

   Besides his 4-year-old daughter Marlie, and wife, Ebony, also a former Knight, he can’t count on regular help with the tasks at hand, but he hoped to change that when he hosted a garden event the day before Easter. 

    On hand were seedlings of Tuscany melon, cucumber, strawberry and wildflowers to entice children to plant in the planter boxes that has been repaired by Singh with found wood.

  Children weren’t coming by themselves, Singh knew, and while the kids were busy, he believed he could persuade some strong parents to help with other strenuous tasks in order to carry out his three-part plan for the garden.

     The first part involves laying down sheet mulch — layers of wood and cardboard that should kill off any crabgrass and other ‘strays’ that the birds plant. Building up the soil for both the planters and the ground is next for Phase 1, followed by pruning and the removal of dead or dying grapefruit and other trees. “Cloning is in the future,” he said of a method to revive the space with healthier plants.

   The second part of Singh’s plan involves the permanent structures, like remodeling the chicken coop with found wood and donated coop wire and building a chicken run, and a 10-foot by 10-foot pergola for shade and a work/entertainment area for visitors. Those structures are key to his water collection, placing barrels in places to collect runoff and a tote that will eventually have a 500-gallon capacity.

    The third part is getting the community involved. He wants to teach people how to develop and take care of an outdoor place that serves both ornamentally and practically. It is important to Singh that Black people be part of the movement to grow their own food and that they see other Black people gaining and teaching those skills.

  Singh’s own eclectic knowledge comes from classes at Laney College, Merritt College and San Francisco State University where he studied Urban Planning, horticulture and landscape gardening. His grandmother, who moved West from Louisiana and raised seven children in the Brookfield neighborhood in Deep East Oakland, taught him the value of growing food of your own. 

    “You know what you put in, so you know what you’ll get out,” he said, a point driven home even more during the pandemic when there was not only food insecurity across the country but a lack of high quality fresh fruit and vegetables.

   (As a boy, Singh raided his neighbors’ yards for fruit so often that they began to gather the plums – his favorite – oranges, figs and avocados and leave them on front stoops for him to pick up.)

    He loved working the garden with his grandmother so much that he started his own landscaping business right after high school, but he couldn’t hold onto it. For a few years, he was part of what he called the ‘backdoor’ cannabis industry. He insisted, however, that his failures in attempting to grow cannabis indoors were both eye-opening and exhilarating, sending him down what he called a ‘rabbit hole’ of knowledge on permaculture, to what he really wants to create, a landscaping business where what is grown is eaten. 

   In the meantime, Singh now works up to 80 hours a week working security to support his family. “I had to put down what I loved, to take of who I love,” he said. But Ebony knew her husband missed working in gardens and she encouraged him to use his spare time in the community garden they discovered just driving by one day. 

    On a chilly morning, Singh has come to the garden after pulling a graveyard shift and a couple of hours overtime, yet he energetically cut back an out-of-control blackberry bush while R&B music wafts from his car radio. Ebony and Marlie bring him a snack. 

   While a neighbor collects oversized grapefruits that have fallen from a tree, Singh, now digging with a trowel around the roots of a lemon tree that had been hidden by the blackberries, gets back to the matter at hand. He will eat later. 

Bay Area

Why Promoting Private Sector Investment in Electronic Vehicle Charging Market is Key

As Democrats debate their $2 trillion infrastructure package, there has already been a lot of discussion about provisions aimed at promoting EVs. I know Democratic leaders like Speaker Pelosi will ensure that these policies will effectively encourage the adoption of EVs, and one way to do that is to ensure free and fair competition in the EV charger market.




The Biden Administration has expressed that one of their priorities is to facilitate more use of electric vehicles (EVs). Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that “to meet the climate crisis, we must put millions of new electric vehicles on America’s roads.”
The Democratic Party is in agreement that EVs are a big part of the future of our transportation system and will be a huge component of their upcoming infrastructure package. But in the rush to move to electric cars, it is critical that Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ensure policies will be effective at aiding in the transition to EVs without putting the burden of this shift on already underserved communities.
One policy to avoid, for example, can be seen right here in California, where the California Public Utilities Commission approved utility companies to increase the rates on current customers to pay for the construction and operation of EV infrastructure.
Given that EVs are also not an economically viable option for most Americans, the people who will benefit most from these charging stations are those who can afford the EVs’ more expensive sticker price – which is wealthier Americans. On average, an EV costs nearly $20,000 more upfront than gas-powered vehicles. Yet the people who will be most burdened by an increase on their monthly electric bill to cover the cost for these EV chargers are already struggling families. Low-income families should not have to shoulder additional burdens for addressing climate change, particularly since wealthier people produce more carbon pollution.
And while utility companies have tried to downplay the increased costs on ratepayers, the utilities’ EV infrastructure projects have already run exceedingly over budget – meaning they have to charge their customers even more. For example, the public utility commission authorized $45 million for the first phase of “Power Your Drive,” which was a program established for utilities to build EV chargers. But by the time phase, one was complete, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) had spent $70.2 million — 55.5 percent more than authorized.
The fact that these utility companies went so over budget highlights another flaw with this policy. Because utilities can pass the costs of building and operating EV chargers onto those who already use their services, it is impossible for the private sector to compete against them. SDG&E running 50 percent over budget would mean lost market share and profits in the private sector. That is why private funds incentivize efficiency and cost savings.
Utilities using their current customers as piggy banks that they can dip into whenever needed removes the incentive to keep costs down, while also making it impossible for the private sector to compete in the EV charging market. And chasing away private sector investment will hamper the development and deployment of charging stations. That can’t be emphasized enough – going the SDG&E route will mean fewer charging stations and fewer EVs on the road, as well as higher costs for low-income consumers. It is truly a lose-lose proposition.
It is obvious that the private sector is key to fueling our current transportation sector, and competition keeps prices as low as possible for consumers. Free market competition and private sector investment would also help the EV charging market thrive if elected officials will let it.
As Democrats debate their $2 trillion infrastructure package, there has already been a lot of discussion about provisions aimed at promoting EVs. I know Democratic leaders like Speaker Pelosi will ensure that these policies will effectively encourage the adoption of EVs, and one way to do that is to ensure free and fair competition in the EV charger market.
Jaime Patino is a city councilman in Union City, CA, and represents the city on the Board of Directors of East Bay Community Energy. 

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TownConnect Initiative Wish Program Downpayment Assistance




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Oakland Program Distributes $500 to Families of Color

The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months. Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please. “We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.

In the middle of a worldwide awakening to the centuries-old racism and oppression suffered by Black people, some African Americans finally see tangible assistance – even if the help isn’t characterized as reparations.

Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that the city would begin a guaranteed income project that would provide $500 per month to Black and Indigenous families.

The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months.

Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please.

“We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.

The station reported that, for the project, the Oakland Resilient Families program has so far raised $6.75 million from private donors, including Blue Meridian Partners, a national philanthropy group.

The programs require residents have at least one child under 18 and income at or below 50 percent of the area median income – about $59,000 per year for a family of three.

Half the spots are reserved for people who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $30,000 per year for a family of three, ABC reported. Participants are randomly selected from a pool of applicants who meet the eligibility requirements.

The report noted that Oakland’s project is significant because it is one of the most outstanding efforts in the U.S. so far, targeting up to 600 families. And it is the first program to limit participation strictly to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.

Oakland, where 24 percent of the residents are Black, is among a growing list of municipalities providing financial payments to people of color – or reparations.

Evanston, Illinois, a city where 18 percent of its more than 74,500 residents are Black, approved the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, which provides up to $25,000 for housing down payments or home repairs to African Americans.

In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law historic legislation that paves the way for African Americans and descendants of slaves in the Golden State to receive reparations for slavery.

The bill, authored by California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, establishes a nine-person task force that will study the impact of the slave trade on Black people.

It does not commit to any specific payment, but the task force will make recommendations to legislators about what kind of compensation should be provided, who should receive it, and what form it would take.

“After watching [the presidential] debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsom declared during a videoconference with lawmakers and other stakeholders, including the rapper Ice Cube, who championed the bill.

“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions,” the governor stated.

Last summer, Asheville, a North Carolina city where Black people make up just 11 percent of the more than 92,000 residents, formally apologized for its role in slavery. The City Council voted unanimously to provide reparations to African American residents and their descendants.

“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that fills the cup we drink from today,” said Councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the City Council that voted 7-0 in favor of reparations.

“It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with systemic issues,” Young declared.

Asheville’s resolution doesn’t include monetary payments to African Americans but promises investments in areas where Black people face disparities.

Earlier this year, Congress debated H.R. 40, a bill that doesn’t place a specific monetary value on reparations but focuses on investigating and presenting the facts and truth about the unprecedented centuries of brutal enslavement of African people, racial healing, and transformation.

The bill would fund a commission to study and develop proposals for providing reparations to African Americans.

The commission’s mission includes identifying the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, forms of discrimination in public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and lingering adverse effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who sits on numerous House committees, including the Judiciary, Budget, and Homeland Security, has made the reparations legislation her top priority during the 117th Congress.

“I think if people begin to associate this legislation with what happened to the descendants of enslaved Africans as a human rights violation, the sordid past that violated the human rights of all of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans, I think that we can find common ground to pass this legislation,” Congresswoman Jackson Lee pronounced.

The project in Oakland targets groups with the city’s most significant wealth disparities.

According to CNN and per the Oakland Equality Index, the median income for White households in Oakland to be nearly three times that of Black homes.

“The poverty we all witness today is not a personal failure. It is a systems failure,” Schaaf remarked. “Guaranteed income is one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity, and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades.”

Two years ago, 100 residents in Stockton, California, began receiving unconditional $500 payments, CNN reported. Other initiatives in Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta, Georgia, were launched as recently as 2020.

Former Stockton Mayor, Michael Tubbs, is the founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of advocating mayors founded in 2020.

Oakland Mayor Schaaf is also a founding member of the network.

“One of my hopes in testing out a guaranteed income is that other cities would follow suit, and I’m thrilled that Oakland is among the first,” Tubbs told CNN.

“By focusing on BIPOC residents, the Oakland Resilient Families program will provide critical financial support to those hardest hit by systemic inequities, including the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color.”

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