Education in Oakland

Archive for June, 2006

Oakland on $177 a day

Posted by novometro on June 30, 2006

The Oakland City Council voted to give itself a four percent raise this week. But it might not be enough. Oakland has a full-time council, whose members now make $5,460 a month, not including a $550 monthly car allowance. By comparison, council members in Long Beach – another port city of around 400,000 that’s part of a megalopolis – earn only $2,130 a month.

But according to records filed with the City Clerk in March, some Oakland council members apparently had a hard time making ends meet with the $64,000 they earned in 2005. Jane Brunner, for example, had to moonlight as a lawyer for a downtown firm as well as for the District of Columbia. Ms. Brunner’s work on the side earned her somewhere between $20,000 and $200,000.

Shouldn’t a city where crime is rising and city services are diminishing warrant the undivided attention of its City Council? Perhaps we should add a housing allowance into the benefits package. Or, like corporations seeking to keep the best talent in overseas posts, we could offer hardship pay. After all, the city is certainly more dangerous than Long Beach. In 2004, Oakland had twice as many murders.


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The Empire of the Ants

Posted by novometro on June 29, 2006

The first colonists arrived a century ago, probably as stowaways on a ship carrying coffee. From an invaders point of view, they could hardly have landed on a more hospitable shore than the San Francisco Bay. They disembarked and took control.

Known to scientists as Linepithema humile, the Argentine ant is one of the world’s great colonizers. And this is the time of year when Oakland residents, and other Californians from Ukiah to San Diego, are reminded that their cities are built on top of a shadowy metropolis, whose size and populations we can only guess at.

So much about the Argentine ant is a mystery. The handful of scientists who study it are not exactly sure why the bugs come streaming from their nests into homes when the weather turns hot and dry as it has in recent days, but Dave Holway, an ecology professor at the University of California, San Diego thinks he has an answer. The ants are looking for moisture.

Unlike other ant species, Argentine ants are highly opportunistic, says Mr. Holway. They can set up a nest almost anywhere, they can even camp out in tunnels burrowed by other types of ants. In the dry season they follow moisture. When it rains, they flee flooding. But it is not their adaptability that makes them so interesting, he says. It is their highly aggressive nature, and ability to eradicate competing ant species that fascinates him.

More Worlds to Conquer

Not only do they push out other ants, scientists have fingered the Argentine ant as the culprit behind a decline of the horned lizard population in Southern California. In addition to California, and large swaths of the South, the Argentine ant has colonized parts of the Mediterranean and Australia. Colonies have been discovered in New Zealand, where local officials hold up California as an example of a worst-case scenario if the invasion isn’t stopped.
The native habitat of the Argentine ant in central South America contributed to their success in other lands, says Mr. Holway: “It’s like growing up in a tough neighborhood.” Not only aresurrounded by other fierce ant species on their home turf in Paraguay and northern Argentina, but they are subjected to frequent floods.
While the Argentine ant is merciless when it meets members of a competing species, in California, they are noted for their passivity when encountering one of their own. An Argentine ant from a colony in San Diego could be dropped in the middle of an Oakland nest without a fight.


This behavior has led scientists to speculate that a so-called supercolony extends from Mendocino County down to Baja. Other researchers have raised doubts about the supercolony theory, and the answer ultimately depends on one’s definition of supercolony. And who really cares where the boundaries of a colony lie, so long as they don’t encroach inside the house.

The native habitat of the Argentine ant in central South America contributed to their success in other lands, says Mr. Holway: “It’s like growing up in a tough neighborhood.” Not only aresurrounded by other fierce ant species on their home turf in Paraguay and northern Argentina, but they are subjected to frequent floods.

Mr. Holway has newly published research demonstrating that the ants follow water. His research found that ant populations increased by 38 percent in well-irrigated plots. Mr. Holway says that one way to limit the presence of Argentine ants near one’s home is to water the lawn less frequently.

Old Enemies, New Battlefield

And another remedy of sorts may be on the way. After a century of being the biggest bully on the anthill, the Argentine ant could be facing competition. An old foe is making its way north. The red imported fire ant, from another tough neighborhood in Latin America, has been spotted in San Joaquin County.

Posted in Berkeley, Development, Oakland, Science | Leave a Comment »

Surprise: Berkeley Hates Bush!

Posted by novometro on June 29, 2006

The White House must be relieved that the city of Berkeley has dropped plans to create a citizens task force to watch the Bush/Cheney Administration. Still, the City Council voted to let Berkeley voters decide in November if the president should be impeached.
It’s easy to ridicule Berkeley’s elected city officials for once again taking a detour from the business of running a city of more than 120,000 people to chime in on world events. But as we have noted before, cities can serve as refuges for democracy when Washington enters a period of stagnation and moribund corruption. Sure, no one will be surprised when Berkeley votes to impeach Bush, but the specatcle of the vote will stand as a reminder that dissent has not vanished from the political landscape.

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After School Special

Posted by novometro on June 26, 2006

The plan to sell 9 acres of property owned by Oakland’s public schools has its roots in problems that are unique to the district. If Oakland Unified didn’t owe the state some $65 million, it’s unlikely that the valuable parcels near Lake Merritt would be for sale.

But commercial interest in the property reflects a trend in the real estate industry that reaches far beyond Oakland’s housing boom, the school district’s declining enrollment, and its troubled finances. Flush with cash from institutional investors – like employee retirement funds – developers are eyeing the estimated $1 trillion worth of real estate owned by the nation’s school districts and universities as a new source of potential profits.

An article in last summer’s High Return Quarterly, a trade journal published by Institutional Real Estate, Inc, put it this way: Why…is there comparatively little cooperation between federal, state and local governments and the private real estate sector, especially in the educational arena, which is at once cash-strapped and politically vital? Shouldn’t there be more opportunities to marry the public good with the profit motive?

That sort of matchmaking has been the central philosophy behind Urban America, LP, the New York City company that the California Department of Education and the Oakland Unified’s state-appointed administrator, Randolph Ward, have selected to buy and develop the school district’s land. It’s not a done deal. Not only has the school district offered to hold three community meetings in coming months, but city officials will certainly have something to say about Urban America’s plans for the property. “We are going to do a deal that works well for everybody,” says Richard McCoy, Urban America’s president and CEO.

If Urban America succeeds in purchasing the land and secures city approval for its plans, which include at least 1,000 housing units, it will mark the eight-year-old company’s second development in California, Mr. McCoy says. Two months ago, Urban America invested in the new Whole Foods being built near Lake Merritt.

But the Oakland deal will not likely be the company’s last California project. In February, Urban America opened an office in Los Angeles to pursue more deals in the state as well as to service investors based in California. For example, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, which has $3.1 billion in real estate investments, is listed as one of Urban America’s investors.

The money to buy the Oakland parcels will come from Urban America’s second fund, which closed this year. While Mr. McCoy, 51, declined to disclose the size of the fund, he did allow that the company has $500 million between its two funds. Mr. McCoy said the second fund is expected to provide returns of 15 percent, although another article in High Return Quarterly profiled three Urban America projects with returns that ranged from 35 percent to 94 percent.

Posted in Development, Education, Oakland | Leave a Comment »

The China Syndrome

Posted by novometro on June 21, 2006

The current issue of Builder and Developer Magazine has a slightly tongue-in-cheek essay arguing that California can learn something from the way new homes are built in China. The author, who was this year’s president of the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, recently returned from Beijing envious that a 200-home development in Beijing could be approved in just a year, compared to the 10 years customary for “a similar project in California.” A Beijing developer tells him that developers in China don’t face litigation or NIMBYs, or protesters. The author doesn’t speculate about what happens to Chinese citizens who might dare oppose a state-sanctioned development. He has seen the future and it works.

China-envy is on the rise. Everyone from developers to environmentalists have been looking with longing toward China’s totalitarianism-light ability to get things done without the bother of a democracy to slow things down.

No doubt, Signature Properties and Reynolds and Brown would have liked to move forward with their ambitious plans for Oak and Ninth with the ease that a Beijing developer can push a project to completion. Instead they had to work with the community to maintain open-space and build affordable housing.

The plan approved by Oakland's City Council early Wednesday morning represents the advantages of forcing various parties to sit down and negotiate. It took longer than what it might have taken in China, but the city will benefit from well-conceived and bold project that didn’t run roughshod over its neighbors.

Posted in Development, Oakland, Politics | 1 Comment »

East Bay Atlantis

Posted by novometro on June 20, 2006


Anyone watching the Al Gore global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” at the UA Emery Bay would have had the uncomfortable experience of seeing large swaths of the East Bay, including the theater they were sitting in, vanish under water on one of Mr. Gore’s Power Point slides.

The camera didn’t linger on the image for very long, so it was difficult to see exactly where the new shoreline would sit if all the ice in Greenland were to melt. But a closer look can be found at this site. It’s a disturbing picture. Lake Merritt is reunited with the bay. Almost all of West Oakland is submerged. Emeryville joins Atlantis.

Often, there is something perversely thrilling about a good disaster map. One that shows the wake of devastation should a meteor the size of a Volkswagen Beetle strike Manhattan, say, or one that outlines the range of a North Korean missile. They are compelling because we know the calamity they illustrate is unlikely to actually happen. But we should look at this map as public officials and citizens in New Orleans ought to have studied maps showing the ruin that would follow a category 5 hurricane hitting the city.

Mr. Gore says that in the next 50 years, it’s quite likely that sea levels could rise high enough to turn downtown Oakland into an island, if manmade carbon emissions are left unchecked. That makes the new mayor’s plan to make Oakland a “model green city” all the more relevant.

Ron Dellums usually casts his plan to promote green businesses and technologies in terms of the economic benefits that would accrue to the city. He is right. Venture capitalists are pouring billions of dollars into alternative energy. Oakland’s own Clean Edge, which studies the alternative energy market, predicts that so-called clean energy technology market will grow from $40 billion last year to $167 billion by 2016.

There’s more than just money involved. During periods in the nation’s history when Congress has been unable to pass legislation opposed by corporate interests, cities have served as incubators for ideas that ultimately become federal law. Chris Rhomberg, a sociology professor at Yale, and the author of “No There There: Race, Class and Political Community in Oakland,” points to the various labor law movements in the United States which have urban origins.

As long as the United States remains one of two industrialized nations not part of the Kyoto Protocol, it will be up to cities like Oakland, which will pay a stiff penalty for ignoring climate change, to act.

Posted in Development, Mayor, Oakland, Politics, Ron Dellums | Leave a Comment »

Six Months and Counting

Posted by novometro on June 19, 2006

"What's going on?" asked a woman with luggage at the hotel lobby's information desk. Even an out-of-towner could tell that this was not a normal Monday morning at the Marriot City Center Hotel in downtown Oakland.

Ron Dellums was talking in the lobby to a handful of supporters and staff before entering the hotel banquet room where some 300 well-wishers and media had assembled to see Oakland's new mayor celebrate the 16th win of his nearly 40-years in politics.

Standing with his wife, Cynthia, in front of the crowd, Mr. Dellums repeated many of the pledges and slogans he made during the campaign. Oakland will be a global green city. Oakland will go forward together. He called for the city to embrace its diversity and for citizens to treat one another with dignity and respect. But he did say three interesting things, that if not entirely new, were at least not included in most of his speeches.

1. He called on the current mayor, Jerry Brown, to reconsider a recent appointment to the Board of Port Commissioners, and allow Mr. Dellums to put his own choice on the board.

2. Mr. Dellums also asked Oakland voters to read the city charter, and consider whether or not an initiative granting the mayor veto power should be placed on a future ballot.

3. One comment that stood out for its concreteness was that he plans to use some of former mayoral candidate Ron Oz's ideas regarding policing Oakland when he tackles the city's rising homicide rate. Mr. Oz, a former police officer, won two percent of the vote against Mr. Dellums. More on Mr. Oz in a later post.

Meantime, there will be six more months of normal Mondays as Jerry Brown transitions out of City Hall even more than he already has. (The last press release on his official mayoral website dates from January 2005. His last blog post was published on October 25.)

Mr. Dellums said Monday that his campaign only got started in the last few weeks of the election. He beat Ignacio De La Fuente, with less money and much less time. The 180 days he has until he is sworn in should be plenty of time to turn his campaign into the beginnings of his administration.

Posted in Mayor, Oakland, Politics, Ron Dellums | 1 Comment »

Dellums’ Day Dawns

Posted by novometro on June 17, 2006

While on the stump, Ron Dellums was fond of saying that Oakland is big enough to matter, and small enough to fix. Now he will have his chance to show that Oakland can be a model city, and he is the person for the job. Even Oaklanders who voted for the other candidates have reason to be optimistic. During the course of the campaign, critics charged Mr. Dellums, not inaccurately, with being vague. But there was something absurd about the idea that more than two decades as a Congressman was not suitable training for City Hall.

In an endorsement for Ignacio De La Fuente, the San Francisco Chronicle made the silly claim that Mr. Dellums would make a better Secretary of State than Mr. De La Fuente, but Mr. De La Fuente would make the better mayor. This is in a city where some neighborhoods greet patrol cars with the same warm welcome that Sunni insurgents in Fallujah show Marine Corps humvees. Forget the yawning class divide between the hills and the flats. If Oakland doesn’t need diplomacy, what city does?

We have high hopes for the Dellums administration, and look forward to covering it.

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Can’t Buy Me Love

Posted by novometro on June 13, 2006

There is probably no constituency more troubled by the possibility of a runoff race between Ignacio De La Fuente and Ron Dellums than the cash contributors to both men's campaigns.

Another five months on the stump will cost more money than both candidates have in the bank. And passing the hat will be harder a second time. That will be especially for true Mr. De La Fuente, who started raising money two years ago, and finished with only a third of the vote.

According to campaign finance records, Mr. De La Fuente had $183,000 on May 20, and Mr. Dellums had $148,000.

Both candidates have agreed to a voluntary spending limit of $346,000, which works out to $0.70 per Oakland resident. But when you consider that only 75,000 people voted for mayor last week, the cost per vote becomes considerably higher. Mr. De La Fuente, who started raising money for the race two years ago, shelled out $252,000 during the course of the campaign and won around 25,000 votes. That's about $10 a vote. Mr. Dellums, who entered the race in October, paid less. The former Congressman garnered 38,000 votes after spending $240,000, or $6.30 per vote.

If Mr. Dellums fails to tally 50 percent of the vote when all the ballots have been counted, there will be a runoff election in November, and both candidates will be able to spend a fresh $346,000. But with Mr. Dellums narrowly missing an outright victory, it will not be easy for Mr. De La Fuente to convince potential donors that a contribution to his campaign is a wise investment. Local nabobs looking for some juice in City Hall will also be thinking that the majority of the 10,000 votes that went to liberal City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel are likely to go to Mr. Dellums in November.

But there is something heartening in all this. Whether you back Mr. Dellums or Mr. De La Fuente to replace Jerry Brown, this election is proof that money can't buy every political office in California.

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