NovoMetro

Education in Oakland

Archive for September, 2006

The Eclectic-est Street You Never Heard Of

Posted by novometro on September 26, 2006

On what other block in Oakland can you get a wig, a tattoo, a bespoke bathrobe, some of the best pho in California, and if you have a medical marijuana card, dope? Maybe its the trees, but the stretch of 17th Street between Franklin and Webster has always stood apart from the rest of downtown Oakland. It’s romantic. On some days it resembles a Saigon backstreet on others, somewhere in Paris. After a decade-long hiatus, merchants on 17th are hosting a street fair this Saturday. The fair begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

Posted in Development, Events, Going Out, NovoMetro, Oakland | 1 Comment »

California Home Sales Drop 30 Percent in August

Posted by novometro on September 25, 2006

The California Association of Realtors reports that sellers are “clinging to price expectations that are no longer valid.”

Posted in Development, Housing, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Loving Las Vegas

Posted by novometro on September 25, 2006

In an article published this month in Democracy Journal, Joel Kotkin takes another swipe at the “condo and coffeehouse” school of urban planning. Mr. Kotkin blasts Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle for promoting “boutique” downtowns that cater to the cultural whims of well-heeled elites, but quash the aspirations of the middle class. He’s right. Cities do need to encourage and promote the strivings of the middle class (such as we still exist).

But Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston, three cities Mr. Kotkin points to as examples of places where newcomers can flourish largely because of affordable housing and good business conditions, grow on unsustainable models. Both Houston and Phoenix sprawl across more square miles than Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose combined. In Phoenix and Las Vegas, water is a problem. Houston struggles with pollution and traffic congestion.

In Oakland’s case, its long-term prosperity hinges more on its ability to lure and keep immigrants than on its selling points as a temperate, reasonably cosmopolitan place to dwell without children. The ongoing debate in the Oakland City Council about the possible rezoning of certain quarters from industrial to a housing/business mix goes to the heart of this question. Should land that might incubate businesses that could create wealth for hundreds be turned into homes for hundreds of the wealthy?

Oakland Native offers his/her take Monday on what inclusionary zoning would mean for the future of Oakland’s middle class at Oakland’s Future: An Optimistic Perspective.

Posted in Development, Housing, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Politics | 5 Comments »

In Good Company

Posted by novometro on September 22, 2006

Ignacio De La Fuente can assume that his office is bugged and his phones are tapped. It’s cold comfort for the Oakland City Councilman, who now finds himself the subject of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into public corruption at City Hall, but he is not alone. In the last couple of years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has made public corruption a top priority across the country. The FBI is buying ads in local newspapers asking for public corruption tips. The Christian Science Monitor reported in May that FBI officers assigned to the public corruption beat grew from 400 to 600 since 2004. According to FBI chief Robert Mueller, the effort has paid off.

In May, Mr. Mueller told an audience at the San Diego City Club that public corruption indictments are up 40 percent and more than 1,000 government employees have been convicted for involvement in corrupt activities since 2004. Oakland’s own probe is just one of 2,200 pending public corruption cases nationwide.

Ever mindful that the public cares more about terrorism than graft, Mr. Mueller connected the dots: “ If public officials violate their oath to uphold the law by smuggling drugs or humans, where would they draw the line? For the right price, would they assist terrorists to smuggle a bomb into the country, or help terrorist operatives cross the border?”

Of course, Oakland City Hall staffers have grown accustomed to FBI snooping. The feds have been asking about State Senator Don Perata’s influence on the City Council for more than a year.

Posted in corruption, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Decision: No Eviction

Posted by novometro on September 22, 2006

A judge left little room Thursday for the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) to continue with immediate evictions of tenants it claims illegally moved into public housing by bribing a rogue clerk.

The ruling is a setback for the OHA, which sought to evict around 20 people from the Lockwood Gardens in East Oakland after discovering that Carolyn Wilson, a housing authority employee, allegedly charged up to $1,000 for the keys to subsidized apartments reserved for poor families.

While the OHA receives high marks from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development in annual audits, the Wilson case has been something of an embarrassment to the agency. Ms. Wilson fled to Louisiana shortly after her bosses confronted her with evidence of her crimes in 2005. But in June, deputies from the Sheriff’s Department in Saint Tammany Parish  arrested her. She is now in jail in Covington, Louisiana fighting extradition to California, where she faces charges of computer fraud and misappropriation of public funds.

The Alameda County Superior Court judge’s decision allows the tenants to stay in their apartments, but the validity of their leases remains a question for the court to answer. David Lipsetz, a spokesman for the OHA, said that the OHA does not recognize the people who moved into Lockwood Gardens with Ms. Wilson’s help as tenants. Their rent checks are returned. He said the agency will move forward with proving the leases are invalid with the aim of eviction.

Posted in Development, Eviction, Housing, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Undercover Metermaid

Posted by novometro on September 21, 2006

It looks like it’s time for another traffic department sting operation. As I walk up Franklin Street on my way to NovoMetro HQ in the California Building, I notice that at least half of the cars parked in the neighborhood bear handicapped tags dangling from the rear-view mirror. If even half of those blue cards were legit, Downtown Oakland at lunchtime would look like the opening ceremonies for the Paralympics.

Posted in NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Traffic, Traffic Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Cop Talk Tonight at City Hall

Posted by novometro on September 20, 2006

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks will host a public forum at City Hall Wednesday night to discuss police contract negotiations. Items on the agenda include the spike in crime, slow response time to calls for service, and the number of police officers patrolling Oakland streets. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Polls Show Aimee Allison Ahead in District 2, Sources Say

Posted by novometro on September 19, 2006

By Alex Gronke

As I was talking to Aimee Allison this morning in Chachies cafe on Broadway in downtown Oakland, I kept wondering who she reminded me of.

It wasn’t until my partner-in-crime, Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar, and I left the cafe that we figured it out: she was just like every savvy CEO we’d ever met as reporters for Red Herring, a business and technology magazine in Silicon Valley.

It’s a strange thing to say about the conscientious objector and Green Party candidate in the runoff election against incumbent Pat Kernighan for Oakland City Council’s District 2, an area that stretches from the Piedmont border to the estuary, along the east side of Lake Merritt. But Ms. Allison has that controlled manic energy of a Type A personality, not to mention the capacity to stay on message no matter where the conversation leads. Perhaps like any smart politician, she calibrates her personality to suit her audience, but the Stanford grad made much of her corporate background and emphasized her view that Oakland sorely needs jobs and should become a magnet for venture capital. “There should be opportunities for rich folks,” she says.

Ms. Allison, 37, saw her political opportunity when Danny Wan left the City Council in 2005. Ms. Allison finished fourth in a special election held in May 2005 to replace Mr. Wan. But 13 months later, she forced Ms. Kernighan into a runoff race by capturing almost 40 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 46 percent. And, while I have not been able to confirm it, two sources have told me that OakPAC, the pro-business political action arm of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, which backs Ms. Kernighan, recently conducted a poll in district 2. It found Ms. Allison ahead by five points. That’s an impressive showing for someone whose primary political activity was trying to dismantle the nation’s military-industrial complex rather than working in local government.

I asked Ms. Allison why she thinks she can step into Oakland politics without so much as a bid for the school board or serving time on some citizen’s commission. “Democracy, at its healthiest, encourages people from all kinds of backgrounds. Who are the haters? The haters are people who have been around, people who have been part of the system. It will never be our turn until we assert ourselves,” she says.

NovoMetro: You talk a lot about schools, but the City Council has little control over what happens with the way local schools are run, and your own child attends a private school. What can you do about Oakland’s troubled schools from a position in City Hall?

Allison: Mayor Brown’s [Oakland Military Academy] showed that a mayor can go after funding.

NovoMetro: Doesn’t a charter school detract from the strength of the local school district by taking away funding and students?

Allison: We need to subsidize our school system. We need to identify other sources of revenue. I’m not talking about more taxes. Property owners in this city are already very generous. [Ms. Allison had said earlier that developer’s fees applied to new projects could help fund schools].

At the beginning of our talk, Ms. Allison said that she had gone from feeling safe in her Oakland neighborhood to feeling afraid. I asked her why she thought crime was rising in Oakland. “It’s a vicious cycle,” she says. She describes a political ecosystem that underfunds social programs that direct youth toward employment and away from crime. Simultaneously, it gives too much money to a police department that seeks more resources because of rising crime. She says the Oakland police department’s contract needs to be renegotiated.

NovoMetro: One of your more controversial positions has been to say that you will seek to change the city charter so the Port of Oakland can be taxed. Won’t this hurt one of the largest economic engines in the area?

Allison: That’s the assumption the folks at the port would like you to believe. If they want to act like a private business they should have to pay like a private business.

Ms. Allison said she was going to stay in the cafe to finish edits on her forthcoming book, An Army of None, which she is coauthoring with David Solnit, the editor of Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World.

We’ll be talking to Pat Kernighan soon.

Posted in Democrats, Green Party, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Ron Dellums | 4 Comments »

Monument Alley

Posted by novometro on September 19, 2006

Oakland City Council will likely vote to accept Mario Chiodo’s 15-ton gift to the city Tuesday. Here’s the article I wrote in the Tribune a couple of weeks ago about Mr. Chiodo’s monument.

Posted in Art, Development, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Sculpture | 1 Comment »

Want To Know What’s Really Going On in Oakland Unified? Ask A Teacher.

Posted by novometro on September 18, 2006

Teri Hudson, a teacher at Sobrante Park elementary school in East Oakland for nine years, shares her take on why that school posted better than expected test scores last year.

Her description of dedicated teachers and a respected principal working long hours to turn a struggling school around jibes with NovoMetro’s belief that students all over Oakland Unified can receive the education they deserve.

We are always on the lookout for hidden gems in Oakland Unified. Let us hear from you at alex@novometro.com, if you know of one.

I have been teaching at Sobrante Park for over nine years, and I wanted to comment on the “secrets” of our success over the past few years (most notably, this last year).

There are a number of practices that we have put into place that have helped us raise the achievement level of our students. Morning intervention (an extra 50 minutes of instruction), math workshop, English transition in second grade for students in the bilingual programs, full implementation of the core math and reading programs, institutionalized collaboration amongst teachers, and a school-wide writing program directed by a writing teacher are some of the ones that jump immediately to my mind.

But I feel that the real “secret” to our budding success is more fundamental. Essentially, we have evolved into being a very dedicated staff who works well together and with our equally-dedicated principal.

Threatened with the loss of our school under Program Improvement of No Child Left Behind, we were willing and able to fight hard to get the district to allow us to implement “Option 5”, which was self-initiated restructuring. Part of the reason we could do this was because we had already been posting some promising gains in our test scores.

In the spring of 2005, towards the end of a grueling and discouraging school year, a handful of staff members got together after school, in the evenings and on weekends to hammer together a plan to improve the performance of our students and meet our targets for 2006 (with the knowledge that failure to do so could cause us to lose our school). For me it was one the highlights of my career to be able to have such a strong voice in how our school was going to operate.

The “self-initiated” aspect of the process meant that the returning staff had a high level of buy-in to the program at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. The new staff members (about 30% of the faculty) immediately followed our lead.

For example, almost all teachers agreed to come into school to teach an extra 50 minute “intervention” class. Our principal did find funds to pay us for some of those hours, but most of us were doing it whether or not we got paid. Many teachers routinely work well into the evening or come in on weekends. We have developed a culture of increasing collaboration amongst the teaching staff.

I believe that the “secret” to our success is not a particular curriculum or set of practices. And it is certainly not “wise” policy-making from above. Our “secret” is hard work and willingness to think outside the box. It is the opportunity to have a say in how we do our jobs. It is who we are as individuals and professionals that has helped us bring our students up.

I think that many people won’t like this answer, as it is not something that can easily be copied in other schools for instant success. But I want to make this very clear: the teachers, principal, and other staff members are the ones who make the difference in a school. By investing more in school professionals, in the form of resources, salary, effective training, and – perhaps most importantly – decision-making power, other schools and districts may see a similar rise in the achievement level of their students.

Posted in Education, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | Leave a Comment »