Thursday, July 30, 2015

We should manage our East Bay wild lands with controlled burns.

The Oakland Hills are in a 'fire ecology' biome. 
The brush and trees that grow here are adapted to fires that come on a mostly 3-7 year interval. 
Natural fires are mild enough not to kill our trees and plants, as they burn away the small buildup of dead underwood and then go out. Many of our native plants require such fire to open their seed pods. Fire season is normally followed by mild rains that germinate those seeds and soak the ash into the soil. 

 That is the natural ecology of a lot of California coastal hills, including ours. 

  I cannot imagine a harder thing to sell politically to the people of the Oakland Hills than to intentionally set a wild fire. But that is exactly how to keep us from having another big fire and how to manage what grows in these parks. 

  Right now Oakland is caught up debating between two really bad ideas. 

  This East Bay Express article will get one quickly to the source materials and to the different views folk have been expressing.

The official plan from FEMA, which is to cut out the eucalyptus and spray their stumps with herbicides is to continue the same kind of forestry practices that have caused so many disasters in recent decades, including the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. We will either end up with barren hills or a delayed disaster, or both after soil erosion, flash flooding and becoming too dry too quickly after rainy seasons. If followed and successful. the FEMA plan would give us an even more unhealthy watershed. That is the exact opposite of what we will need to handle climate change. We want more biomass and more water retention, not less. 

  The anti-plan most proposed does not include the herbicides and conserves bio mass, but it does not get us back to a managed forest that will survive a controlled burn, or a naturally occurring fire, without turning into an inferno. 

  Cutting out the eucalyptus is something we probably have to do eventually, at least in part. Eucalyptus is adapted to having different kinds of plants populate its biome back home in Australia where they have different weather and kinds of fires. Our natural plant cover is made of things like redwood, oak, madrone, manzanita, etc, that does not grow well together with eucalyptus. There is also an issue with what eucalyptus does to soils and how that affects the other needed ground cover. But it is not the most urgent issue. 

  The most urgent issue is the buildup of fuel that turns a light fire into a raging fire that will kill the trees, destroy the bushes and their seed and leave a dead zone. We have many square miles of California that look like the moon because by the time it burned, it burned hot enough to kill everything, even the worms.

The second most urgent problem is the lack of that native, fire ecology, underbrush so critical in controlling soil erosion and balancing soil nutrients. Our hills have suffered high temperature fires but before that they suffered cattle grazing. Both caused a lot of damage and much of the normal fire ecology bushes don’t grow here anymore in healthy numbers. For the seed pods to open and give us re seeding, the plants have to be growing there in the first place. Now they need to be restored to the area.

A realistic scenario would be to transplant in native, fire zone species, remove the fuel buildup, remove some of the eucalyptus more likely to burn or damage soils and then, when ready, do small controlled burns in segments. For it to work, it has to be done in fire season, and that requires serious preparation. 

  It would be costly and take years to do, but we would replace the failed forest management practices of our period with the fire management methods that the original native Californians used for centuries.

Eventually we would have a green belt that we could manage with controlled burns and no drama. Plants and trees not able to handle our natural fire cycles would get selected against and that would decide the fate of the eucalyptus and other immigrants on the long term. 

   We could cut out a lot of the drama with better building codes too. Why are we permitting homes to be built out of firewood in a fire zone with kindling for roofing materials? When this was Mexico, they built with adobe and had tile roofs. Ever hear of them burning down from blowing sparks? In the San Diego area a preponderance of homes have done a more modern version of those tile roofs. There is no reason to have the most affluent residents of our area live adjacent to a fire zone in homes made of two by four’s and plywood. A MAJOR opportunity was missed during the rebuild following the fire but a slow transition to fireproof materials is still very feasible. Some building code changes have already taken place and some rules about keeping the area around homes clear have made some progress. There is no reason not to have fireproof buildings next to the fire danger areas. 

  So I am saying that the Plan is OK as long as we get it through our heads that for our open spaces to be healthy and safe, we got to burn them down from time to time. 

  And the herbicides just have to go. They are plant poison and plant poison has no place in forestry management. It is intentionally polluting our soils and damaging the local ecosystem causing long term damage for short term gain. Established habits are hard to break especially when they cost less. But just as the fire fighting has caused these mega fires due to the buildup of fuel, herbicides cause problems that will haunt us and come back to bite us.

In forestry management we deal with communities of plants, fungus, and all kinds of bugs, birds, mammals, worms and more, living in a web, providing habitat and nutrients to one another. There are so many of them, we usually have no idea what they all are. Often restoration involves just moving whole squares of plants with their soil in the hope that we get a wide range of species to repopulate the gaps we do not even know exist. 

  Problem one with the plant poisons, is that we have no idea how much the kill, what they kill, how much they damage or what the changes are to the community of plants, fungus and animals after they are sprayed. All we are sure about is that things never come back the same. Herbicide today usually means soil erosion and poor growth later, never being sure of what you might be missing.

“The Plan” calls for small amounts of herbicide directly onto the trunks of the cut eucalyptus to make sure that they will not grow back. That sounds reasonable until you calculate in the contamination of the decomposition process. 

 If we have the regular controlled burns, the fire will scale back what is not adapted for this area. That may well mean that the eucalyptus would not grow back, especially if we have planted more appropriate trees and shrubs to hold that ecological niche. 

  Problem two, is when you spray with plant poison, the plants that can resist the poisons grow in number and size. You may also invite in genetically modified organisms. What? GMO's here? Yep. Take for example the Roundup Ready gene from Monsanto. It makes corn resistant to Roundup as you spray this poison onto the weeds in the fields. Since the Roundup Ready corn hit the market we have discovered that plants, such as those weeds, can aquire genetic material from another species, such as Roundup Ready corn. So now we have Roundup Ready weeds. It is a form or living genetic pollution and it is spreading around. We are all just hoping that this gene will not cause more problems as it becomes a part of the general environment. Where would the GMO's and other herbicide resistant plants come from? Our yards and gardens. Urban landscaping is some of the most polluted land in the world when you add up the fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, invasive species and GMO's. We already find a lot of our open "natural" spaces covered in ivy and other yard plants. Increase the use of herbicides and more herbicide resistant species will migrate in. Herbicide creates an ecological void.  Do we want the plants that will fill it?

  The idea of adapting to the natural fire cycles and nurturing a full range plant and tree forest community is not new and is well founded in science. 

 The national forest services and most state forest agencies have run tests and are changing their practices. 

  The East Bay should join the fire forestry management movement.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Understanding the fight at KPFA?

Like many, I am having trouble making heads or tails from a lot of what I heard from and about KPFA and Radio Pacifica.
As it is our local community owned radio station, it seems pretty important to us all.
Obviously there is a fight for control going on, but what I see from the two sides newsletters is not so concise.

This week I corresponded with a journalist from New York, who knows this story well, albeit from that angle.
This article spells some things out and says them clearly in a way much of what I have heard here did not.
The comments below the article say a lot too, as do some of his earlier articles that you can find from this page.

I have asked him for an update for us all.

As to KPFA here, I would suggest that all members, such as myself, follow this closer and VOTE in the next elections.
And if you are not a member, I'd remind you that KPFA is our only member owned and funded station.
KQED is owned by a board and takes  corporate money and KALW is owned by the SFUSD and also takes corporate money.
That makes KPFA precious and unique.
It deserves our support, but not uncritical support.
I think it time to pay attention to what the factions are doing and realize that they are not mirrors of each other.
There certainly has been an ethics breakdown and one side is not "fighting fair". 

And it is time for those of us outside of the faction fights to say a word or two.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OK, can we NOW have some unity for an Oakland Police Commission?

If we want to do something about Ferguson, we should finish our business in Oakland. 

The protestors, self-included, gather in front of City Hall and we call that Oscar Grant Plaza. 
In Oakland we know the problems of having the police be out of control. 
According to Judge Henderson, who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, we are over a decade late dealing with just the tip of the iceberg represented by the Riders case.   According to many of the liberal Democrats that run our city, we have not made good on the promise of our Civilian Oversight since the days of Mayor Lionel Wilson back in the 1970’s.  According to me, when it comes to how Oakland Police treat blacks, other people of color and the working public in general, there are no good old days.  It was always bad.  The further back you go….. 
It is bad and the problems extend past the mistreatment of the “minorities” who make up Oakland’s majority of residents.  We just spent 10 long and expensive Measure Y years watching this force drag their feet and hide behind union rules and the “Police Officers Bill of Rights” to fight every form or participation in community policing and even the most mild civilian oversight. 
Community policing example:  The program we are supposed to have is that each Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council is to have a Problem Solving Officer.  The reality is that this is the most unstable job in the Oakland Police Force.  It is always the first thing to be cut, put on the back burner and when staffed, the officer assigned is constantly changing.  In my local NCPC’s we never had anyone on the job long enough to really get to know their group, let alone their community.  By the time you get to ask them to sit for coffee, your PSO has been replace by someone who is too busy to talk with you because they are just getting started.   
Accountability example:  For a couple of budgets now, there has been a small reform in the offering.  Right now, if you have a complaint against an Oakland police officer, you must file that complaint to an Oakland police officer in the Internal Affairs Department or someone who works directly for them.  Oakland activists, self-included, have been pushing to move civilian complaints from Internal Affairs to the Civilian Police Review Board.  The council agreed and put the funds into the budget.  The City Administrator simply did not do it.  No authorization, little explanation, no public review.  Then after some pressure, much of it led by the organization PUEBLO, it was put into the budget again.  Next thing we know, there is a job description asking civilians to apply to do intake for civilian complaints IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS.  Still no authorization from Council to change the plan laid out in the budget, still no public account given.  It turns out that the City Administrator had been consulting with the police officers’ union under a farfetched contrivance where they really had no standing, and the police officer’s union was able to get the court appointed monitor to go along with blocking this reform “to have better relations”.  (That monitor has been relieved of duty shortly thereafter, but the decision stuck.) 
By the way, included in the job description for a civilian complaint intake officer, was an encouragement for former police to apply and requiring knowledge of the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, but civil rights training, being from Oakland, having any background in advocating for the public, none of that was even asked about. 
Anyone active in Oakland over the last fifty years could now say:  “Yeah and let me tell you about…..   
Fill the blank in here with all kinds of issues big and small that stem from a police department that does not have a clear system of accountability or any checks and balances. 
Therefore there is no surprise that this police force is costing the City of Oakland big dollar payouts to compensate victims of Oakland Police Abuse.  How much more?  More than the cities of San Jose and San Francisco COMBINED. 
Done right, and done well, a Police Commission could make a difference.  A police Commission was what people were asking for back in the 70’s.  What we got instead was a sham.  That failed and then history repeated itself the second time as farce giving us today’s powerless Civilian Police Review Board. 
Other cities have police commissions, we can look at their legislation, look at their successes and failures and catch up quick. 
PUEBLO still has such a proposal that they have been working on, they call it a “Public Safety Commission”.  If they had the support of the street demonstrations, they could advance an even stronger proposal and they have all the lawyers necessary to write up a charter amendment.  I don’t care what they call it, as long as it has the power to conduct outside, independent investigations and it has the power to dismiss police officers who we do not want.  Notice I said “want” and not those convicted of some kind of a crime.  Police officers who want to kick but, want to bust heads and treat our people like the enemy have the wrong attitude for working here.  They should go and the ones who are on the community service wavelength should stay and be rewarded for it.   
We should also look into our souls and think about what it is WE want out of this here in Oakland. 
We are one of the US’ urban cores dealing with problems of generational discrimination, poverty, crime, violence and lack of education.  With Measure Y and Measure Z we see that the overwhelming majority of us, self-included, have decided to make our focus the causes of crime as well as the crime itself. 
We cannot do that with a police force that is not held accountable.  One of our biggest problems right now is the extremely poor relationships the police have with most of the communities of this city.   
So let’s do it.  The groups organizing the protests, can you also organize a ballot petition?  This kind of change is going to need a change of the City Charter and we are going to need the support of the voting majority to make it work.  Contact the PUEBLO office and join into this effort.  This will probably move the protests from the freeways to the neighborhoods getting folk to sign petitions and for many, sign up to vote.  Do this and the protests win. 
PUEBLO is willing to take the risk of leading, do we have the good sense to FOLLOW?   The group that is meeting following the Dan Siegel mayoral campaign, you are partly involved already.  This is something we can do now and deserves a coalition now.  Jessie Douglas Alan Taylor, Wilson Riles, speak out, you know a lot more than me and it is time to share it. My local Greens, we are already part of this coalition on paper, can we make this the first thing we do in 2015?  There are many other groups, I think too many other groups, Phat Beets, the ISO, Peace and Freedom.  Hey Commemorators, didn’t you start this the first time?  Would Block by Block support a strong police commission?  If so, many of you know your way to the PUEBLO office, and I mean YOU Pamela, among others. 
Can we just agree on this essential power shift right now and get this one reform done? 
It has waited too many years and our streets and freeways are feeling the need to finally do it. 
Don’t do it, and we will feel our own unfinished business in the pain of others.  Oakland will be an example either way.  Right now we are an example of the problem, we can join Richmond and be an example of the solution if we can work together enough for this. 
Given the right police commission we can quickly work towards a day when any law enforcement employee who commits a crime or abuse will be dealt with and the public can trust that justice will be served, especially if the injustice was committed by someone wearing a gun and a badge.  
If we do it right, Oakland Police would wear a badge that everyone honored. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

No on Z! Yes on crime prevention programs!

Measure Z is the renewal of Measure Y, our Police, Fire and crime prevention programs special property parcel tax and parking tax that is up for renewal after ten years.    Over ten years most of the money raised went to Police ($159 million) and Fire ($95 million), and the smallest spending item was sent to the Department of Human Services for the crime and violence prevention programs ($38 million).  They were also able to get some grant monies for the DHS programs.

The crime prevention program is called Oakland Unite and its website tells us that the strategies are Youth Services, Family Violence, Reentry Services and Crisis Intervention. Look around the website, and you will find lots of support for getting funding.  An actual list of who HAS funding is found here: Oakland Unite functions more or less like any other Foundation handing out grants. 

If Measure Y were a grant recipient asking for a renewal after 10 years, an independent review of the past work, supervised by those giving the money (in this case us the voters) would inspect the program. 

The questions asked would be:  Was the program effective in dealing with the problem it was trying to address?   Was it cost effective?  Were funds spent wisely and properly?    Who benefited how?  How many benefited for how long?  What happens to the target community when they leave the program? 

Those questions have not been asked of Measure Y and that kind of review has not been done. 

So let’s go back to the top.  In 2004 we voted 20 million dollars a year for stable police and fire and to start down the path of violence and crime prevention, intelligently turning our backs on the “tough-on-crime” failures of the twentieth century.  Probably one of the smartest things we could have done given our prison system without rehabilitation and our parole system’s total failure.  I was in total support of Measure Y and totally support the concept inspiring that small part of the funds headed toward Social Services. 

Rough estimates are that Oakland incarcerates, and releases about 5 to 9 people on any given work day.  From what Probation and Parole employees have told me, about 13 to 17 thousand of our people in some form of incarceration or provisional release at any one time.  A lot of those going to jail are going back to jail and a lot of those coming out will not be out too long. 

There is no agency giving us a report on the whole situation and there is much massaging of numbers, but even given the lowest estimates of the size of this vicious circle of our criminal justice system, we are talking about thousands of people directly involved and serious stress and crisis for tens of thousands of Oakland families.  If you take families, friends and neighbors into account, it puts about one resident in eight into direct contact with some kind of Oakland crime and violence problem.  More if you count the victims of crimes.  It would be very hard to find anyone in town who has not been robbed, or has had a family member or friend who has been harmed in some way.   

We in Oakland know crime, and given that, we made a very informed choice to take the path of prevention.  Now I ask you to think about what you know about this city, the size of this problem and ask yourself if you think the numbers measure up for what we have experienced over the last 10 years. Looking over the Oakland Unite website you will see dozens of youth and family served in that time, probably hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand, but looking over the city you will see thousands, probably tens of thousands left to the way things worked before the ten year, forty million dollar, Measure Y experiment.   The whole project cost us $200 million when you add police and fire. 

I feel that we are letting the big ticket items fall too far down the list to be effective.  Given the limited resources, even with Measure Y/Z money, I feel we should focus on the areas of highest need and highest yield. 

Top of that list of high yield programs that should be a priority is Restorative Justice.  We need to stop sending so many people to jail and Restorative Justice Group-Family meetings provide a well-tested alternative.  Instead of a trial, sentence, and parole path, the offenders are brought to their community through the meeting in lieu of a trial and given a restitution and reform path to follow instead of a sentence.  Families and communities having difficulties, creating the conditions for the crime and violence should be able to receive targeted assistance.  This system has been worked on and the beginners’ mistakes have been made in other places.  Two things are known.  1) It costs a lot less than regular law enforcement. 2) Restorative Justice Systems have never performed worse than prison when it comes to repeat crimes. 

Some people think that prevention programs are the long term solution when in this case it is how we stop feeding the whirlwind RIGHT NOW.  How many crimes would we have prevented if we had had a serious Restorative Justice program in Oakland during the 10 years of measure Y?  We have been fixing flat tires as the potholes get worse. 

What do we have in the way of Restorative Justice after ten years of Measure Y? 
Maybe one or two cases resolved this way a week and some low number, amorphous support from the county without a clear plan or agreement.  We have lots of “great first steps” when we should have made it a lot further down the road.   

After our fifty to a hundred cases a year resolved with restorative justice practices, the 5 to 9 other criminal cases a day are taken to Court where the District Attorney’s office practices the same old policies of getting as many convictions as they can, getting as many years of sentencing as they can and trying as many youth as adults as they can.  You can go watch, it is in the main courthouse, ask the desk which departments are seeing criminal cases.  Since Measure Y went into effect a whole new generation of Oakland youth have been through lock up, almost none of whom were considered for an alternative resolution.  Many lives of crime have been started and made worse since 2004. 

For an example of Restorative Justice going well take a look at our own Oakland Schools.  And yes some of the push came from Measure Y.

School discipline has the same problems as the criminal justice system.  Restorative Justice has given a way to have better behavior, better participation and fewer suspensions and expulsions overall and less disproportionate damage to school careers of black and brown students.  This city/school collaboration is one of the few bright lights of the last ten years.

How about the other end?  What do we do for those who are about to be released?  Do they have a place to go?  An integration plan?  Have we met with their friends, family, and church before they get out?  Has the State offered them any rehabilitation, job training, basic education while they were in?    A bank account?  One of those Oakland ID cards?  So are we spending measure Y money to teach people how not to act like they just got out of jail and to tell them how to apply for the insufficient services? 

The re-entry programs on the Oakland Unite website seem very cool, but are they really targeted on the extreme situation a person finds themselves when the bus lands them down at MLK and San Pablo?  Do they measure up to the real needs out there?  Have we put a dent into parole violations and new convictions?  The State of California does not think so.  Google Little Hoover Commission and Parole. 

So, I think that the programs of Oakland Unite miss the main action.   The police feel that the main four social factors that need addressing are 1) substance abuse, 2) homelessness, 3) truancy and 4) recidivism. At least one of the four is present at most murder scenes. Only one of those is in the Measure Z priorities list.  Nothing is in there to set up a triage office of the Oakland Police to review every arrest BEFORE we hand it to the county for incarceration and the DA’s office for prosecution.  There is nothing in there to provide a serious number of half way houses and serious support to those getting out from behind bars. 

Well, isn’t something better than nothing?  Are we not doing something good, albeit not perfect?

Good arguments both at times.  In the case of Measure Z we are being asked to spend 20 million a year for the next ten years, pretty much along the lines of the last ten years.  If we pass measure Z, and we probably will despite me and my little blog, that will be the only money we will get.  The money it will raise is already spent.  There is no other money on the horizon and the whole process is focused on subcontracting, so there is little training or setup inside our city agencies and most of the work is done by non-union outside vendors. 

Isn’t Measure Z a case of “something-better-than-nothing”? I see it more as something ineffective standing in the way of doing what is most needed for crime prevention. 

Without Measure Z would we not be “letting-the-perfect-keep-us-from-doing-the-good”?  In my view Measure Z allows a lot of problems with what we are doing go un-fixed.  Council and the public will both think we are on the right track, when all we have done is really nowhere near enough or on target.  With Measure Z we will continue to have day to day operations at police and fire unstably funded by this temporary tax and there is nothing in the measure to demand police accountability or make sure we get the long promised community policing. 

Measure Z is a status quo measure that will give us status quo results. 

This is spending what little cash we have on some nonprofits while missing the boat. 

There is a whole other side to this discussion following the lion’s share of the funds.  The Police Department and City Council were sure able to spend those funds, and two thirds of our discretionary budget at the same time.  After ten years we still don’t have the promised Community Policing, and for that matter, we don’t have much police accountability at all.  We are STILL under court control for the Rider’s police abuse case.  Our police abuse cases compensation payouts add up to more than San Francisco and San Jose COMBINED.  About 10 million a year!  If we got that down, we could pay for everything Measure Y now funds without spending a dime of the special tax and we could spend the special tax on giving people a life after jail or helping them avoid that life of crime altogether. 

The last amendment to Measure Y was to fix the cutoff point for police funding.  That was after Quan crashed the program in a dispute with our police officers over pension contributions.  Almost all of the new police from the academies are offsetting the loss of 80 of our newest officers at that time.  Current council members scream at the thought of losing the Measure Y funding because they have already spent it on day to day operations that should come out of the general fund.  They still have not gotten a handle on our exaggerated police costs and pouring special tax funds into our police department is akin to pouring water into a bucket with holes in it.  Little makes it from the well to the kitchen.  Why would this improve under Measure Z when it did not improve after ten years of Measure Y? 

There are examples of Community Policing working just fine.  One is in Richmond CA.  In that town the civilians run the police and they hired a police chief who would implement their policies.  No special tax, just an active government and lots and lots of grass roots community work.  In Oakland, the man who wrote our Community Policing policy is running for mayor promising to finally make it happen. 

But crime is down?  There sure are a lot of politicians running around claiming credit for our nationwide drop in crime.  The numbers do not really credit any one thing.  Crime is down across the country; Oakland has followed the trend, not led it.  Right wingers claim that it is because of such things as Three Strikes and everyone trying to get reelected is saying that low crime rates prove them right on policies as diverse as Ceasefire and Stop and Frisk. 

At first after Measure Y crime went up.  It went up again when Quan became Mayor.  Way up.  We had some of the highest murder rates in years.  Now we have some of the lowest.  It would be bad sociology to conclude much yet.  It is good politics for some to blame Jean Quan and Measure Y for the high crime of 2010 and for Jean Quan and the Measure Z backers to claim the credit for the low crime of 2014.  How could both be true? 

Before we start running around saying this or that “works” we should ask ourselves “works to do what?”  I want something that works to prevent our youth from becoming criminals. 

If we do not vote in Measure Z, we can still continue with Ceasefire, Community Policing and Restorative Justice.  We should do as Richmond has done and tell the Police Department that this is what the residents have chosen to do and it is the police department’s job to do it well. 

We are not dealing well with convictions, releases and direct aid to families and 20 million a year on the Measure Z will not change that one bit. 

But Measure Z, like Measure Y before it, sucks all the money out of the budget while missing the mark. 

Our budget is not a short term disaster right now.  The sky will not fall on our non-profits’ heads if we vote it down.  We have the money we could use to pay directly for the programs that really deliver services to those it helps.  Remember that the Human Services part of Measure Z is the SMALLEST item on the menu.   We should review those projects, one by one, and fund them as they are found deserving.  We should have the whole program professionally, independently, reviewed and audited before setting up any more special taxes.   Our council fell down on the job by not doing this before putting the renewal on the ballot. 

A budget that works after Measure Z is over would be nice.  My choice would be to spend special tax moneys on special things, setup of new programs for example, and get operational funds from the operational budgets of City and County.  Use a ballot tax to set them up, use normal taxes to keep them running and we have something of a sustainable plan. 

The Measure Y had no such plan other than to come back to the public telling us we have to do it again. 

We also need to work out some details and have agreements with both the county and the state.  If we do things, such as restorative justice, or housing parolees, then we are doing things that are normally the county’s and state’s job.  If we keep people out of the criminal justice system, we are saving the state and county a lot of money.  We should negotiate getting some of those funds.  It is also our money.  The DA’s office, County social services, the Department of Corrections and so on, should either provide the services we all pay for, or help us pay for doing it here in Oakland ourselves. 

We should also have clear who does what in Oakland.  Everything related to social services, law and justice, crime and punishment overlaps with Alameda County and the State of California.  There is some coordination and cooperation now and such things as Ceasefire depend on it, but there is a lot more that needs to be done, especially when one of ours is let out of jail.  Some advanced planning and written agreements with state and county are in order. 

I am not saying that the whole thing is a total failure, far from it, just too expensive and ineffective to be worth renewing without reform.  Let’s take the time to fix it and bring back in better health. 



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Will Scotland vote “oui”?

Tomorrow’s referendum vote on Scottish independence is flooding the airwaves with a little more balance than NPR and the BBC usually reserve for such events.  Yeah we get the “bad for businesses” and “scary future” drumbeat and some hogwash about the advantages of being in the United Kingdom “family” in a disproportionate amount, but some of the other view is coming through. 

I think that the small modicum of balanced reporting owes itself to two facts:
1, they might win, and
2, they speak English. 

Despite my last name, I have no personal connection to Scotland and have never even been there. 

On the other hand, I do have a deep personal relationship with another place that had an independence referendum that never got any balanced reporting in English.  That is Quebec, the French speaking province of Eastern Canada where more than one independence referendum failed to pass.  I grew up there, in part, and while I was getting what little high school that I have, in French, in an East Montreal trade school, and I voted OUI, (yes) because I felt it was time for Quebec to step forward to take care of itself and deal with other issues.  Those issues were blocked because of the “national question”.  My whole life ran in French from school, to work to bedroom and I have a strong bias in favor of the French language and in favor of national self-determination for any country. 

Given that full disclosure of personal bias,
I’ll move onto my polyglot news junkie version of the Scottish national question. 

Nobody questions that Scotland is a nation.  One of the things most nations have is some kind of self-government and control over their own affairs.  Scotland has some of that via a Scottish Parliament with some autonomy powers.  Many nations are part of a larger state, often in a relationship where clearly defined local control is set in law akin to the US balance of powers between our Federal Government and the States. 

The UK has none of that. 

The UK Parliament in London is “supreme”.  That is the basic rule we all should know about British style parliamentary democracies anywhere, including Canada, is that the “Parliament is Supreme”. 
(Canada’s new constitution moderates that, but if we are going to talk about Scotland, I need to stop on the Canada stuff). 

When Margaret Thatcher, a name as vile as Ronald Regan, decided she did not like “Red Ken” (Ken Livingstone, left Labor) as the head of Greater London Council, she had parliament dissolve the council.  Imagine that?  If Barak Obama was sick and tired of, say the racist government of Arizona, could he decide to dissolve Arizona as a state?  By the way, in the UK the Prime Minister is a member of that Parliament, there is no independent executive, no division of powers with checks and balances or any of that stuff either.  Imagine if Newt Gingrich had the power to dissolve a state of city government when he was Speaker of the House! 

So, when the Scots are deciding if they want to be independent, let’s keep in mind what kind of government they would be independent from, and how fragile their autonomy is today.  Puerto Rico has more legal protections. 


Another thing yes voting Scots would say, and some have, said they want independence from is British foreign policy.  At times it questionable if the UK is independent from the US on foreign policy.  That was shown in the invasion of Iraq where the Blair government took the UK to war despite the opposition of the majority of UK citizens.   In this context, the Tory government is about to follow the US lead into yet another mid-east military intervention against the Islamic State that will put us propping up the semi legitimate government of Iraq and helping to overthrow the semi legitimate government of Syria.  Low income Scots, and many other Scots, serve and die in such wars.  The UK spends vast amounts of cash on their military and offer the public austerity in social services, calling it some kind of governmental reform.   Voting NO in this referendum is to vote to stay part of this foreign policy. 


Being British is to have a big gap between the popular vote and the seats allocated in the all-powerful parliament.  One only needs the MOST votes to hold a seat, not a MAJORITY of votes.  There are no run offs, and there is no proportional representation. 

Except in European elections.  Those seats are allocated based on the popular vote.  The largest number of those votes in England in the last European poll went to UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party and ANTI European Union movement.  

The current government of the UK is the Conservatives, who have promised a referendum to the UK voters to be able to re-decide if they are going to stay in the European Union or leave it. 

So all the talk about Scotland needing to apply to re-enter the EU has the backdrop of being part of a UK that is considering the exit door.  In five years’ time we could find Scotland an EU member and the UK outside the system.  They are half outside the system now, not part of the customs union, holding themselves apart on many smaller issues and not participating in the Eurozone. 

The UK keeps the pound because …. ?  Well, a lot is said and most of it is said about the giant part of the UK economy caught up in the big investment banks and institutions in London.  The “Strong Pound” is good for “The City”, meaning their Wall Street.  Does it help Scotland?  Does it help the other parts of the UK economy that does things like provide working class jobs?  Neither the Conservatives, nor the ‘New Labor” opposition talk much about that.  The pro-independence faction in Scotland claims to want to keep currency union with the UK, in other words keep the Pound.  But if they were not allowed to do that, would they accept the Euro instead?  Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and about anywhere else nearby uses the Euro.  Others are working hard to qualify to join that club. 

So maybe in 5 years we have Scotland part of the bigger picture, using the Euro and the UK even more isolated in Europe than their policies have already made them.

And the Scots have something to sell.  North Sea Oil.  Maybe there is only some more, maybe there is a lot more, but right now London calls the shots and I have to think that pro-independence Scots are looking at whatever oil is left and is thinking about how to best sell it in ways that benefit their own country where the oil comes from.  Maybe they will be able to keep the Pound Sterling, but will they accept Euros for that oil?  The thought comes to mind. 

The international aspect of this vote breaks down along the lines of who has minorities that might want to do the same thing.  Supporters of the NO camp include the Spanish government that does not want an independent Catalonia or Basque Country.  Other nations see this as no problem.  The Check and Slovak republics are the product of a divorce.  Go back far enough and there are a lot of splits that have worked out fine thank you, and whole lot of marriages that do not look so great.  Lines have moved back and forth faster than the people living behind them can adapt and it has broken down, especially in the former Soviet Union states, such as Eastern Ukraine today and the Ex-Yugoslavia.  Keeping nations or nationalities inside of countries they want independence from has a bad history, especially in Europe. 

In a world of growing internationalism, what does it mean for a State like Scotland to be independent in an ever more interdependent Europe?  If the game softened, the French Basque and the Spanish Basque could have their own voice.  They already live in a world where they use the same money in the North and South parts and there are no boarder stops, or immigration controls between them.  A French Basque does not need permission to go live and work in any part of Spain or anywhere else in the EU.  A Spanish Basque has the same rights.  Independence in Europe for them would only mean full membership in the Union and getting off the family plan they are on now. 

If I could vote I would probably vote yes and hope for the UK to fully join the EU, including the Eurozone. 

Yeah, the UK family and the European family should stick together, but under one roof?

Scotland needs to be treated as an equal partner. 



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ruby and the empowerment of women in elections?

Is this the Ruby difference? 

Interesting group of people listed on this day event.  Interesting for who is there and for who is not. 

In this race I have real trouble understanding how these divisions are breaking down.  Why are Ruby, Tuman, Schaaf and Parker running against each other?  Is there an overlap between Schaaf and Quan supporters?  Has this just become some kind of overlapping sets of insular, enfranchised cliques? 

Is this election just about personal ambition?  Are personal animosities, or professional disagreements that we are not hearing a big part of the rivalries? 

We know about Kaplan's commitment to personal ambition, but the others? 

One thing that this Oakland City election is not about, is the underrepresentation of women in government.  Look at the guest list of enfranchised women talking about getting "empowered" when I would think that this group would be more on the list of those who should be telling us how they handle power ethically.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Oakland Parking and Joe’s plan.

Joe Tuman has released a parking plan for Oakland.  It covers a few basic things that should have been done a long time ago and really should not be controversial except for the expanded free parking.

It will be though because Joe comes from a Pro-Business perspective and used that language.  Just for that there will be some “pro public” or “pro-public transit” backlash.  Some of our transit advocates are in love with the theories of Donald Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking so any advocacy of any free parking anywhere for anyone will be opposed as some kind of social anathema.  Joe will make Allan Michaan, a solid supporter of progressive politics in Oakland and owner of the Grand Lake Theatre happy with some of his ideas but he will piss off the anti-free parking crowd.

Now we will have two opposing ideas. 

Joe’s plan says Free Parking = Better Retail = Better Sales Tax Revenue. 

The Shoup plans that say Free Parking = Lost Revenue = Parking Scarcity. 

Both ideas don’t really work just through the magic of the market and the claims made don’t have a lot of research to back them up.  In my view that is not possible because bigger factors determine what happens in retail sales and public transit than the price of a parking meter. 

Nobody is going to rush down to Jack London Square because parking is now free at certain times.  Not after the closure the Jack London Center artisan shops and the shuttering of the Old Spaghetti Factory, El Torito, other restaurants, the big book store and Starbucks, and other venues near the square such as Bluesville.  Sometimes I wonder if the planners have ever been on a date.  People have lost a lot of reasons to go to the square or to browse the square area if they are down there.  There needs to be some draw to go and park there for free.  The free part was only part of the problem anyway.  You can get validation for the lot across from Jack London Cinema, and when the movie is over, why stay?

Joe addresses the problem of the high price of tickets in his plan.  Parking hours and high fine costs have been the hassle to avoid in Oakland.  On the other hand, 21st Century driving and shopping habits are not just formed around parking or municipal sales tax boundaries.  Someone who works in Berkley, and lives in Oakland could well stop at the Trader Joes in Emeryville on their way home for all kinds of reasons, including preferences, convenience, price, personal safety, and parking. 

These cross-city-lines retail purchases can be measured, and have been measured.  Oakland residents spend a lot of their retails dollars outside of Oakland and other cities nearby pick up those sales tax dollars.  The balance is way out of Oakland favor.  We lose a lot of tax dollars paying sales tax to other cities for their police, their streets, and their schools.  The sales tax system is as out of date as the horse and carriage.  It needs reform and equalizations should take place on a state level distributing sales taxes allocations by number of residents, not receipts.  When I learned how bad the sales tax system shorts Oakland I started to buy everything I can in Oakland.  I gas up before I leave here, and if I stop at a Safeway, it is an Oakland Safeway. 

Ever hear any Oakland politician talk about the sales tax deficit?  Only Wilson Riles.  Yet it means more to us than all the parking meters we could ever install. 

The anti-free parking side will say that free parking will take away from public transit.  Really?  How does it take away from transit that is not there or not there often enough to be practical?  Are the parking dollars going to be used to pay for transit?  Nope, parking money is not even earmarked for our free B buss. Note that this free buss does not quite run to the train station, does not quite make the bus station, nor the key BART station at MacArthur with its connections to shuttles and the Emery-go-round and does not get to Kaiser or Allan’s Theatre.  I think it does run up and down in front of Rebeca Kaplan’s political ambitions.

As a working man I ask WHO is parking, WHY and for HOW LONG?  There is more at stake here than just stopping long enough to take in a movie at the Grand Lake.  How about if you happen to WORK at the Grand Lake Theatre?  In all these discussions I have heard nothing of parking set asides or transit focused on the needs of employees.  The new high cost of parking and higher costs of tickets have fallen hard on those who can afford it least. 

Working people need to do things such as get their kid back from school.  So after serving you your soya latte they may not have time to do that without a car.  Even if the work has good transit, schools, shopping and other places people need to go, such as home, often don’t.  So working people are usually forced to have a car to have a job and to use a car to keep a job and take care of their family.  Even when they work across the street from BART.  Getting that car is usually the first step to getting that job.  Usually the job does not include parking in central urban areas, even if they work there. 

Another cost has fallen on the working folk hardest and that is the cost of having your car stolen by Parking Enforcement.  Stolen sounds like a harsh word unless you see how it works in practice. 

Here Joe missed an opportunity to expose a scandal.  Maybe he does not know.  In case you do not know, it works like this: 

·         Working people get tickets for doing such things as trying to park near work. 

·         Tickets add up and don’t get paid on time. 

·         The license plate of that car is put on a list. 

·         A & B Towing just takes the car if they see a listed plate without any procedure or warning. 

·         The working person then needs to go pay all the fines in full, and the DMV also gets involved collecting any back fees they have due.  Everything needs to get paid before the car will be released.  This is down on 7th street downtown. 

·         Then the working person needs to get way out to San Leandro Street (in an area with no transit and there is no shuttle from where you pay the fines to where you get the car) and pay exorbitant A & B towing and storage fees.  If things are missing from the car, well too bad.  Sometimes the car has already been sold. 

·         If you give up and just let them have the car, you only maybe get to have the contents back and only if you list them.  You do not get to actually see the car. 

This is only the brief version of the story.  For an idea of how A & B treats working class Oakland residents on the city’s behalf, take a look at their Yelp! Page:

So what might be a good parking plan?  Well, if we want people to leave their cars, let’s figure out where they can leave them.  Such as at home.  Let’s make sure we can use what we have now.  Joe’s ideas fit in there.  Do something for the employees, do something for the customers and take the dollar hungry aggression out of the system.  A&B should be fired and investigated.  The whole process of impounding cars for tickets should be scrapped and the city should collect its bills as others do without extortion. 

And we really need to stand up for some equity in tax collection.  It is complicated, but reform is needed and that only happens when reform is demanded.  City Council should demand reform. The state tax systems short Oakland in a couple of key ways.  Sales tax being one, school funding being another, and before we waste time squabbling over parking dollars we should raise hell over millions of dollars that should come to us via better equalization.  Local government has control over some of the sales tax, and that will be complicated and difficult to figure out.   Not figuring it out is costing us bank.  

Of course we need to be spending on transit.  Not the chump change out of parking meter, but way more than that.  Regions with good transit spend on infrastructure.  Without a regional transit authority with any authority or much in the way of regional government, we will find that complicated too.  The longest journey starts with a single step and that step is a deep commitment to transit.  City Council should be on the tails of AC Transit and BART and every other transit agency riding them for better results.  The B bus is probably not a good idea if it does not fill the gaps between BART, AMTRACK, Greyhound and the other shuttles, but it is a great idea if it ever does.  Demanding better service out of AC Transit should be something Oakland City Council does every day until we get it. 

Now for a personal story.  In 2010 I met Allan and some business owners from the Grand Lake area when Jean Quan, then council finance committee chair, decided to jack up the parking rates and expand the fines.  This was at the same budget where she cut funding to our 80 newest police officers.  Her take on the parking was that if we opposed her plan, we needed to come up with the money some other way. 

I asked “How much money?” without much answer and then filed a public information request.   Eventually I got an answer from the Administrator’s office that had big holes in it.  It did not tell us how much money because some was with the city and some with the Police.  At one point they had the same number as the Gross and the Net.  So, I don’t really know how much we Oaklanders make out of the parking system after costs.  I do know that it is a good business for the outside contractor that does it for us.  My questions on how many cars get towed, how many confiscated, how many returned and how much A&B makes off the deal were referred to the Police as if the Police was separate from the City.  The police sent me back to the same process that I used to file the first request.  I got stonewalled.

I came out against the rate increases mostly for how badly they hurt the employees of city businesses.  I was not in favor of the free parking, but that was overlooked by some of the on-line know it all’s.  I also found that some lefty-greens did in fact feel that any increase in parking meters was good and any opposition to it was to be anti-transit.  Some did not seem to care much how badly the new regulations were hurting working people.   There were class and color lines here and it was ugly. 

To add insult to injury, the city also came out with a plan (now scrapped) to spend 1.9 million dollars for a bike path down 40th street (my street) that would be unsafe and cause us to tear out our meridian gardens.  In these gardens volunteer Frank Snapp and his friends have put in over a decade of work.  Community voices asked for the bike path on a smaller side street, such as 42nd.  We now have a Green stripe and as I understand it, the whole reason for the bike lane stuff was really to get repaving money.  So it was sold to us as being pro-bike, but it was really for auto road repair. 

One blogger called me the Green who was Anti-Transit and Anti-Bike.  I suggest you keep this story in mind when you hear shallow, cheap characterizations of people running for office. 

A short time after that election a homeless woman was kicked out of her car in the middle of the night, in the rain, by the Oakland Police so A & B towing could take her car and leave her with some of her stuff living under a phone pole across the street from my home.  I seriously wonder about the values of the police officer and the tow truck driver, both of whom could have declined to take that car, and the values of our community that allows such cruelty in the name of tax collection. 

There is a lot more at stake here than parking Joe.