Education in Oakland

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Inclusionary Zoning is Back

Posted by novometro on October 17, 2006

This is a tough one. Oakland City Council takes up an inclusionary zoning ordinance Tuesday evening that would require 15 percent of new rental units in the city be affordable to a family of four earning around $50,000. Affordable units for sale would have to be within the budget of a family of four with an annual income of $83,000. Thus, a maximum rent for a four-room apartment would be $1,458. A spacious, new condo could be had for $250,000. Developers could also opt to put money in an affordable housing trust fund. The fee for a project with 100 market-rate, two-bedroom units would be $5.3 million.

That works out to a “tax” of $53,000 on each unit. The question is this: Will that mandatory extra cost stifle development in Oakland? Oakland Native thinks so. And a paper published by the Reason Foundation in 2004, a Libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, argues that inclusionary zoning fails to create affordable housing while it simultaneously prohibits the creation of market rate housing. The study ends this way: “Inclusionary zoning should only be enacted if the goal is to make housing more expensive and decrease the quantity of new housing.”

But a 2002 study prepared for the Los Angeles Housing Department concluded that inclusionary zoning policies throughout the state have not hindered housing production, but have actually resulted in more housing in places like Sacramento and San Diego. The study found that “housing starts most closely track the unemployment rate.”

Part of the problem in evaluating the pros and cons of inclusionary zoning lies in the wildly different numbers the researchers use to support their competing arguments. For example, the authors of the Reason study claim that inclusionary zoning policies in the Bay Area have produced only 7,000 units over 30 years. According to another team of analysts in Washington D.C., that figure is off by about 93,000.

Crafted by City Councilwomen Jane Brunner and Jean Quan, the proposed ordinance would make an exemption for projects within 1,000 feet of a BART station.

Erecting a speed bump to development in Oakland makes me nervous. So does the prospect of Oakland no longer being an affordable home for the kinds of immigrants that make a city a hotbed of entrepreneurialism and creativity. Jane Brunner told the San Francisco Chronicle it would have been better to introduce inclusionary zoning in the midst of the housing boom. She’s right. It seems dangerous to do this now with DataQuick reporting Monday the first downward tick in housing prices in four years.


Posted in Development, Environment, Housing, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Opinion, Real Estate, Zoning | 5 Comments »

Oakland Violent Crime Report

Posted by novometro on October 16, 2006

A report released last month from the Alameda County Public Health Department finds that the homicide rate for black men in Oakland is 102.1 per 100,000 residents. For the city as a whole, the murder rate is 25 per 100,000. Statewide it is 6.7 per 100,000. For every 100,000 white people in Oakland, five are murdered each year.

The report is full of grim statistics that still shock despite the fact that, as the authors write in their introduction, “disparities by race, age, gender, and neighborhoods have been well documented.”

Posted in Crime, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Race | Leave a Comment »

Kernighan Campaigns

Posted by novometro on October 12, 2006

One Friday afternoon, I joined Patricia Kernighan for some door-to-door campaigning in the lower San Antonio. It was late afternoon, and dead quiet. The neighborhood kids were inside playing video games, or watching television. The parents were still at work. Ms. Kernighan and her team of about six middle-aged Vietnamese volunteers accounted for just about all of the action on the hilly streets tucked behind Highland Hospital.

The leader of the volunteers was Trung Nguyen, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Navy who first came to Oakland in 1969 to train at the Navy Supply Base. He returned to Oakland for good in 1981. But not before spending a few years in a Vietnamese prison. Mr. Nguyen pointed to another volunteer and said that the man had been a captain in the South Vietnamese Navy. The man smiled. Mr. Nguyen said that Oakland’s Vietnamese love Ms. Kernighan. If that’s true, it might be because Ms. Kernighan was once the chief of staff to Danny Wan, who represented the district until he resigned in 2005. Mr Wan was known as a politician who built bridges to Oakland’s Vietnamese community.

In her tight race against Aimee Allison to keep her City Council seat representing Oakland’s District 2, Ms. Kernighan is wise not to take the support of any group for granted. Ms. Allison, a smooth-talking political newcomer with a Green Party membership and a Stanford B.A. has been winning over supporters since the runoff race began in June. Ms. Allison, 37, depicts Ms. Kernighan, 57, as a pillar of the establishment.

With a troop of former officers in South Vietnamese Navy acting as her street team this particular Friday, Ms. Kernighan doesn’t even try to shake the image as an establishment candidate — although she protested the Vietnam War when she was a student at the University of Washington, and she opposes the war in Iraq. Only in Oakland could she be considered a conservative. She says she agrees with much of what her opponent says about the state of crime, affordable housing, and job opportunities in Oakland. But she says the political and fiscal realities inside City Hall quickly take their toll on high ideals.

Ms. Kernighan won the council seat after Mr. Wan resigned. She didn’t have much of a political career before that. She was active in her children’s school, Crocker Highlands. She did “volunteer stuff.” She ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 1990 against Jean Quan, who now serves on City Council. “We were just a couple of unknown housewives,” she says. She has a law degree from Hastings, but she hasn’t practiced law in years.

A politcal ally of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Ms. Kernighan did not endorse Mayor-elect Ron Dellums, who beat Mr. De La Fuente in June. I asked her what she thought of the new mayor.

Kernighan: I think it’s going to be interesting. I’m pretty excited to have someone who is going to be more present and engaged.

NovoMetro: What do you think is the cause of Oakland’s crime spike this year?

Kernighan: I don’t think anyone really has the answer to that. It’s kids hitting a certain age. There’s also a new drug. I don’t know the street name, but it makes the (users) crazy.

NovoMetro: What about negotiations with the police officer’s union that would change the hours police officers work?

Kernighan: I think the council is going to be tough on (the police union). Somehow the message needs to get to get to (the union) that people are not supportive of what they are asking for.

Walking down East 27th Street towards 14th Avenue, Ms. Kernighan points to a pothole and says Oakland’s roads are a disaster. (This was before a study was released, which found that they are indeed among the worst in the state.) “The streets are always what we don’t do,” she says.

Posted in Crime, Democrats, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Ron Dellums | 14 Comments »

Teacher Union Protests

Posted by novometro on October 11, 2006

The Oakland teachers’ union will hold a rally Wednesday at 4 p.m. in front of OUSD HQ to protest “consolidation and layoffs in the district’s early childhood program,” the “complete negligence of the special education program,” OUSD hiring decisions that the Oakland Educators Association claims are tantamount to union busting.

The press conference/rally is the OEA’s response to a recent report, which credited the school district with small but steady progress while under state control.

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

Oakland’s Detroit Complex

Posted by novometro on October 9, 2006

As the Oakland Athletics take on the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series that begins Tuesday, we can count on at least one offering from the sports commentariat that compares and contrasts the two cities. We already know the adjectives to expect: Gritty, working-class, overshadowed, etc. Race will be an unvoiced subtext. But apart from a black population above the national average, Oakland and Detroit have little in common. Detroit is at the epicenter of the American automobile industry’s slow-motion implosion and has lost 51,000 residents between 2000 and 2005. No one argues that. Oakland’s population is a matter of debate.

Fortunately, we have an alternative to the social commentary coming from the press box at the Coliseum this week. The American Studies Association hosts its annual conference in Oakland, October 12-15. With the title of “The United States from Inside and Out: Transnational American Studies,” race will not be under the surface.

On Saturday, just when the A’s will be (God willing) preparing to sweep the Tigers in Detroit in game four, the ASA will host a panel called “Visualizing Oakland and Bay Area Communities: Art, History, and New Immigration.” Here is the description from the ASA: The current demographics of the city of Oakland illuminate the wide range and complex racial and ethnic diversity of the United States in the new millennium. According to the U.S. Census 2000, whites comprise approximately 31% of Oakland’s population, African Americans 35%, Asians 15%, Latinos 21%, and Pacific Islanders 0.5%. This panel will provide an important visual corrective to the traditionally binary black and white ways race has been imagined in Oakland through an exhibit-format panel that brings together visual work on Chinese, Iranian, Latino, African, and Tongan American communities that have not shared a common space. In contrast to the traditional one-at-a-time group-by-group exhibit approach, this panel will provide a space for exploring the relation of these communities to one another.

Here’s another interesting panel to check out on Thursday. It looks at labor in the East Bay.

Posted in Education, Events, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics, Race | 2 Comments »

Wireless Coliseum

Posted by novometro on October 5, 2006

GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher writes about Earthlink angling to make Oakland Coliseum a wireless hotspot. Earthlink wants Oakland to know it has the chops to provide wireless Internet across the city, and unwiring McAfee would be a demo. The coliseum plan comes as city officials are reviewing consultant candidates who will assess what it will take to build a municipal wireless network in Oakland.

Posted in Development, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Technology | 1 Comment »

Stockholm Syndrome

Posted by novometro on October 4, 2006

Heeding the warnings of the peak oil movement, which is sometimes described as “Left Behind” for lefties, City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel wants to create an 11-person task force aimed at making Oakland oil-independent by 2020. If the task force leads to official policy, Oakland would join Sweden in planning to be free of oil in 14 years. It makes sound business sense. The green economy is booming and Oakland is well-positioned to take more than its share of the profits.

Posted in Democrats, Development, Environment, News, NovoMetro, Oakland, Politics | 10 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 »

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 »