Grinches of the Year: Oakland and East Bay Residents with Hearts a Few Sizes Too Small

2016 sucked — and here's a list of 13 folks who made it even worse.

Every dweller in the Bay values qualities such as honesty and fairness, a lot. But there were Grinches here this year who did not. These people seemed not to care about the East Bay — from Oakland to Richmond. No one quite knows why. It could be their heads just weren’t screwed on right. Or, perhaps, their shoes were too tight. Anyway, 2016 was as sucky as a year gets, and the following thirteen Grinches of the Year — those folks with hearts a few sizes too small — didn’t help. No roast or spiked egg nog for you all — just coal. Lots of polluting, hazardous, dirty coal.

Commitment To Betrayal

Let’s put ourselves in Mark Davis‘s shoes. The owner of the Oakland Raiders is under a tremendous amount of pressure: to build a new stadium and honor his father’s legacy, and to do so without significant personal wealth or (rightly so) willingness from East Bay governments to invest meaningfully in a public-private partnership. It’s enough of a burden to drive a man into the arms of one of the country’s foremost Republican Party patrons. Enter Sheldon Adelson, a man so flush with coin that ProPublica reported he threw down some $98 million on 2012 GOP races and candidates. With Adelson, the Raiders were able to strong-arm Nevada lawmakers into a $750 million public subsidy, to help defray the cost of a proposed $1.9 billion Las Vegas stadium. NFL owners will vote on this kinda-sorta done deal next month.

Meanwhile, the fiery and loyal Raider Nation here in the Bay is despairing. Their team, for the first time in 13 seasons, will be in the playoffs — but it’s bittersweet, obviously, because this success is paired with Davis’ insistence that the Silver and Black’s leaving is a done deal. And Davis isn’t even sugarcoating things, referring to the possible move to Nevada part of his effort to find the team a “real home,” as he told USA Today last month. This is to say fans in the Bay have not been sufficiently loyal, even when the team ditched Oakland for Los Angeles more than two decades ago. Real home? Bah humbug.

Davis is doubling-down on the Oakland dis, too, by refusing to sit at the table or discuss a counter-offer — albeit a half-baked and thin-on-filling deal cooked up by Oakland City Hall and a venture-capital group led by former player Ronnie Lott. All Davis has to say is, “I love Oakland. Out of my passion and respect of this community, I will explore this deal while keeping other options open.” No dice; he recently stated that he was “committed to Las Vegas, and that’s what I’m working on.” We guess that is, in some way, a commitment to excellence — as in an excellent betrayal of steadfast fans. Coal for you, Mr. Davis.

Breaking the Law

Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney either thinks she’s above the law, or she’s so disorganized she can’t even comply with her own city’s rules.

In 2015, she was accused of improperly using her office’s authority and resources for personal gain when she worked to block a developer from building five townhouses next to her home. The Oakland Public Ethics Commission began looking into this matter. But the PEC’s investigation of McElhaney’s behavior has been stalled out for months, because the councilwoman wouldn’t comply with a subpoena for records. So, we don’t know if McElhaney actually broke the law.

In the meantime, the Alameda County Grand Jury weighed in, saying they felt McElhaney did in fact run foul of the law. But, instead of formally responding to the Grand Jury’s allegations, most of the rest of the city council decided to wait on the PEC’s investigation. And, because McElhaney was blocking the PEC’s effort by ignoring their subpoena — well, you see how that ended up.

Only after being sued by the PEC did McElhaney finally turn over the records. But it was well after the election in which her council seat was up for grabs. So, whatever the PEC unearths, it won’t matter much.

Garden of Gentrification

Beer lovers in the Bay might remember 2016 as the year that beer gardens grew out of control — and, in many ways, became a sort of harbinger of further gentrification in Oakland in the East Bay.

Consider: When investor/developer Danny Haber purchased the Hotel Travelers, a single-room occupancy hotel in Chinatown that for decades has housed low-income Oaklanders, the rumor mill swirled that his plan was to turn the building into another “tech-dorm”-style residence — complete with a rooftop beer garden.

And in May, when a landlord announced that his tenant, the city’s lone Nigerian restaurant, Miliki in Laurel district, would be getting the boot, and that he would be opening a beer garden at the location — well, the genuinely decent-guy landlord unknowingly stepped into a raging Old Oakland-versus-New Oakland debate.

Gentrification, displacement, and cost-of-living in the Bay is a difficult, nuanced conversation. But one thing is clear about 2016: It will go down as the year of Peak Beer Garden in the East Bay.

Bad Coal Train

Phil Tagami wants to give Oakland coal for Christmas — as much as 10 million tons of it a year. Although his plan to build a massive coal export terminal in West Oakland was swatted down by the city council in 2016, when they voted to ban the storage and handling of coal inside city limits, Tagami is still pushing his plan. His argument, in a nutshell, is that Oakland can’t stop him. The city’s rules don’t apply to the federally regulated railroads he’ll use to haul coal through The Town. Earlier this month, he sued the city, claiming it over-stepped its legal authority with the ban. His attorney says Oakland taxpayers could owe him as much as $100 million. That’s especially rich, given the fact that Tagami was made a wealthy man through public subsidies, including low-interest loans to buy publicly owned buildings like the Rotunda on the cheap. The craziest thing about Tagami’s obsession with becoming a coal baron is that he claims to be an environmentalist. He loves the ocean, and counts scuba diving among his hobbies. Ironically, he once retweeted a Mother Jones article about the mass extinction of ocean creatures, caused by acidification of the water due to human-caused CO2 emissions.

The President-Elect’s Mouth

Mayor Libby Schaaf has had it harder than possibly any mayor in the country this year. But let’s not debate whether she deserved it or not. Let’s reflect back on Donald vs. Libby.

It began with a May feature in the New York Times, where then-candidate Trump described Oakland as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. “[T]here are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously,” he told a reporter.

Real talk: We understand that there are places in Oakland that experience some of the highest crime rates in the country. That’s a tragedy that local electeds haven’t sufficiently prioritized, via meaningful investment in education and safety-net or community-building programs.

But it’s also obvious that Oakland is much safer than numerous places on this planet. Clearly. And that’s why Schaaf’s response to Trump’s blowhard dis on Oakland will go down as possibly her shining hour of 2016: “The most dangerous place in America is Donald Trump‘s mouth.”

Indeed, the words are more true than ever.

Garbage Policy

Caltrans keeps on throwing people’s belongings in the garbage. Tents. Sleeping bags. Clothing. Family heirlooms, jewelry, and pictures. Almost every homeless person who lives under an East Bay freeway has experienced these Caltrans “sweeps,” when work crews, often guarded by California Highway Patrol officers, order them to move their camps or have their stuff confiscated. But Caltrans usually just throws people’s belongings directly in the garbage.

Clearly, the agency has a big job keeping the state’s highway system safe and reliable, and it shouldn’t be expected to solve the problem of homelessness. But, in the very least, Caltrans shouldn’t be making the lives of homeless people more difficult.

The agency has been sued multiple times for this policy. This month, a class action lawsuit was filed in Alameda County, in yet another effort to stop Caltrans from trashing the lives of homeless campers. Hopefully it changes the agency’s behavior so that those who don’t have a house to live in can at least enjoy a little peace and quiet during the cold, wet holiday season.

Flagrant Grinching

It was game four of the NBA Finals. The final three minutes of a blowout. Garbage time. That’s when LeBron James decided to incite Draymond Green, stepping over the Golden State Warrior while he lay on the ground. How did Green — ever prideful — respond to the King’s provocation?

He hit LeBron in the balls.

Referees quickly lit Green up with a flagrant-one foul, a call that does not automatically necessitate a suspension. But, later, the NBA — always eyeing to extend a playoff series, what with the tens of millions of dollars earned with every extra match — banned Green from playing in game five, a callous and petty move by an organization more craven for dollars than fair play. In other words: total bullshit.

The rest is history: The Warriors never recovered from Green’s suspension and Andrew Bogut’s injury, and they choked a sure-thing back-to-back championship.

But, really, we blame NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, of course: Let the players play!

Home Sweet Eviction

Rommel “Mel” Laguardia didn’t want to be the face of the renter-protection movement in the East Bay. But that’s what happened when his landlord tried to boot him, his wife, and their three children from their 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in the City of Alameda. The family paid $1,064 a month for the tiny abode, but the new owner of the building on Central Avenue wanted to boot them, refurbish the spot, and raise the rent north of $2,200.

That’s why Laguardia and others turned to the Alameda City Council. They lobbied council members to implement an end to no-cause evictions, as is policy in neighboring Oakland and Berkeley. But no dice: The city green-lit an ordinance this past spring that gave renters some sort of recourse if dinged with high rent increases — but lawmakers didn’t stop the bleeding.

And, to make matters worse, renters took change into their own hands, putting a measure on the ballot to cap rent increases and ban causeless evictions. But the City Council put a competing measure on the ballot, which confused voters and resulted in the dismantling of the renter-protection initiative — thanks in no part to hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in campaign donations by the California Apartment Association. Talk about hearts a few sizes too small …

Hashtag of the Year?

How did Oakland City Hall respond to Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston’s damning investigation of sexual misconduct by Oakland Police Department officers? They went after those who leaked critical information these reporters.

It’s true: The #LibbyLeaks campaign to ferret out insiders dishing to reporters was a disconcerting reaction to unprecedented OPD corruption. As the California Newspaper Association’s executive director told KQED about this hunt for alleged leakers, “Targeting whistleblowers is the worst possible tactic.”

City Hall officials justified #LibbyLeaks by saying that those giving info to journalists were jeopardizing the District Attorney’s legal cases against the cops who exploited “Celeste Guap.” But that reasoning doesn’t hold water: If not for BondGraham and Winston’s investigative reporting, bad cops never would have been held accountable.

BANG’s Rape Apologist

In the rich tradition of weekly papers calling bullshit on daily journalists, we’d like to remind our readers of Bay Area News Group columnist Scott Herhold‘s defense of Stanford University rapist Brock Turner.

In what was perhaps the most worrying piece of opinion writing in the Bay this year, Herhold basically pardoned Turner for sexual assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, instead blaming college binge-drinking as the “unindicted co-conspirator” in the attack.

Oh, really? Because the young victim drank too much and blacked out, she deserved to be raped? As our former Express managing editor Sarah Burke wrote this past June, “That’s not far from saying that because a girl wore a short skirt, she was asking for it.” Nice one, Scott.

Shame on UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley‘s inability to take seriously allegations of sexual harassment committed by some of its male professors against female students was a total failure that undermined the institution’s core educational and research missions. The buck stops at the highest levels, those administrators and senior faculty who tried to minimize the misconduct. In fact, in a few cases, the professors who were harassing women were practically rewarded. Instead of properly sanctioning the harassers, the university’s leaders meted out soft punishments, such as mandatory “coaching,” and apology letters. This did not result in creating a safe and respectful environment. Professors who harassed their students initially didn’t receive pay cuts, either. They didn’t lose their jobs and weren’t reassigned out of roles putting them in direct contact with students and other potential victims. They weren’t publicly admonished. None of this happened until the women being harassed were forced to go public with their allegations and blow the whistle. Shame on UC Berkeley.

High on Green

In September, Oakland council members Desley Brooks, Noel Gallo, and Larry Reid hatched an idea: The city would require private marijuana businesses to fold them in — and kick them over a cut of the profits.

It’s true: The trio floated policy that would make City Hall board members of new cannabis companies, giving them a seat on their board and mandating that it receive a 25 percent stake in ownership.

No surprise, outrage ensued, and the three electeds eventually ditched the plan. But the blowback is real: Canna-businesses hold little trust in Oakland leadership, and the slow-going permit program for medical-marijuana is actually hurting the above-the-board weed economy — and further fueling the underground trade.

What a Tribute

The Oakland Tribune was founded 142 years ago, in 1874. Ever since, The Trib, as it was known to locals, chronicled the amazing story that is Oakland. It was often a reactionary rag, berating the anti-war movement, the Panthers, civil-rights activists, and students. But it was Oakland’s paper, and numerous excellent reporters, photographers, and editors worked there over the years. However, last April the Oakland Tribune was killed. No longer is there a paper with the name Oakland in its masthead. Instead, we’ve got the East Bay Times. The corporate bosses at Digital First Media and Alden Global Capital — the owners of the East Bay Times and more than 800 media “platforms” — figured that Oakland doesn’t deserve its own daily newspaper, and that they can squeeze more profits from fewer reporters spread over more beats and territory. For shame.


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