.Letters for the Week of August 7

Readers sound off on eucalyptus trees, our Best Of issue, and Beauty's Bagel Shop.

“Oakland City Staff Under Fire,” News, 7/24

Santana Responds

I am writing to express my deep concern about the biased, inaccurate, and misleading reporting in the article by Ali Winston. On several occasions my office has sent Mr. Winston factual information regarding the city’s efforts to civilianize intake of complaints about police officer conduct that have been omitted by the Express in your reporting on this matter.

The article wrongly accuses me of “stalling civilianization” and being “slow to implement reforms,” yet it offers no evidence to prove these claims and ignores factual information provided on two separate occasions that clearly demonstrate the opposite. As we have pointed out to Mr. Winston, the city council did originally approve funding for civilianization of the intake process two years ago, but due to significant budget reductions, they voted to postpone funding and implementation until January 2013, just six months ago.

The article also implies that I am mistaken for consulting the Court-appointed Compliance Director on this matter: “Both Quan and Santana have maintained that they need the compliance director’s approval to proceed with civilianizing complaint intake, despite the council’s decision to approve the changes two years ago.”

I am not “maintaining” that we need the compliance director’s approval; the requirement is clearly spelled out in a federal court order issued on December 12, 2012. Several months ago we provided you with a copy of the full court order, which contains several key provisions regarding the role of the compliance director:
“The City ‘will not implement any of the types of changes or actions identified in the January 24, 2012 order without the Compliance Director’s direction or approval.’ The referenced January 24, 2012 order states that: ‘the Chief must regularly consult with the Monitor on all major decisions that may impact compliance with the NSA [Negotiated Settlement Agreement], including but not limited to: changes to policies, the manual of rules, or standard operating procedures; personnel decisions …; tactical initiatives that may have a direct or indirect impact on the NSA.’ 

“The Compliance Director will have the power to review, investigate, and take corrective action regarding OPD policies, procedures, and practices that are related to the objectives of the NSA and AMOU, even if such policies, procedures, or practices do not fall squarely within any specific NSA task.

“The Compliance Director will have the authority to direct specific actions by the City or OPD to attain or improve compliance levels, or remedy compliance errors, regarding all portions of the NSA and AMOU, including but not limited to … OPD programs or initiatives related to NSA tasks or objectives. The Compliance Director will have the authority to direct the City Administrator as it pertains to outstanding tasks and other issues related to compliance and the overall NSA and AMOU objectives.”

Civilianization of the complaint intake process involves policies, personnel decisions, and operations related to the NSA tasks and objectives, and it clearly requires the Compliance Director’s approvals in keeping with the Court order.

Funding for this effort became available in January of this year, and the Compliance Director was appointed in March. The City consulted with him about this matter immediately upon his arrival in Oakland, and he has indicated his support of the civilianization effort now underway.

At the City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting on June 25, 2013, I read an email from the Compliance Director stating that he does not oppose civilianization of IA intake, but he sees that moving it to the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB) is divorced from the police department. He states: “Beyond that I think that there is a substantial problem having said intake be under the jurisdiction of the CPRB. If the civilians who are doing the intake are not to report to a sworn member of the police department, then perhaps it could report to the OIG.”

Based on this input, as reported to the Public Safety Committee over the past two months, we have proceeded with civilianizing internal affairs (IA) intake and have deferred the transfer of intake until a work plan can be completed that addresses concerns regarding training, sustaining NSA compliance and other operational issues. The committee has accepted this information and implementation approach.

As we have pointed out on several occasions, civilianization of complaint intake is a lengthy process that requires a number of administrative steps that began well in advance of the compliance director’s arrival. These include writing new job descriptions, meeting and conferring with the police officers’ union as well as the civilian union, obtaining Civil Service Board approval of the new civilian classifications, obtaining council approval, establishing a salary range, and beginning the recruitment process to hire the new employees. As recently reported to the Public Safety Committee, the administration is on track to complete this process in November.

Equally important, our work has focused on making the CPRB and IA intake processes more congruent so that each are served with the same systems and processes, which will ensure fair, thorough, and complete investigations. Both the IA and CPRB have embraced this effort. We have recently offered to share our work plan with the committee later this year to show how serious and eager we are to improve our intake and IA processes. Our efforts to go above and beyond the initial direction demonstrate our sincere commitment to ensure due process for complainants and employees, and highlight the fallacy of your accusations.

The administration’s progress on each of these key steps demonstrates a clear commitment to completing this important reform. The article offers no facts or evidence to support the claim that I am “stalling” or “slowing” the process, and I find it troubling that this paper continues with these assertions in the presence of countervailing facts.

The article also erroneously accuses me of “thwarting attempts to discipline police officers” and a “reluctance to hold police officers accountable.” This, too, is patently false. As city administrator, it is my role to review the investigations of police officer misconduct complaints conducted by the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB). My record shows that during my tenure, I have upheld more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the CPRB’s recommendations.

Police accountability is a fundamental goal of the NSA. I recognize that for OPD to demonstrate its commitment to constitutional policing and maintain the community’s trust, there must be consistent consequences for violating OPD policy. I am unwavering in my commitment to this goal, and my record demonstrates it. In fact, I took the POST (Police Officer Selection Test) Internal Affairs training years ago to ensure that I execute this responsibility with the highest level of due diligence and contemporary practices. I am the first City Administrator to be POST IA trained.

Our goal is to ensure that investigations into police misconduct are fair, unbiased, thorough, and compete. The recommendations must clearly indicate whether or not discipline is warranted and whether policy changes are needed. As a result, I have imposed discipline, with penalties ranging from counseling and additional training to suspension and termination; required policy changes; and ordered training bulletins to address issues raised during these investigations. I have also focused more broadly on risk management for the police department.

Mayor Quan and I together commissioned the independent review of how OPD handled the October 25 Occupy Oakland protest, completed by now-Compliance Director Thomas Frazier, to learn from the mistakes made and create a work plan to improve performance. When the Internal Affairs Division was overwhelmed with Occupy-related complaints of misconduct last year, I pursued funding for and retained additional resources to investigate those complaints within the statutory deadlines so that we could comply with the law, the NSA, and city policies.

Nothing in my record demonstrates or suggests that I am reluctant to impose discipline on police officers or I am thwarting efforts to do so. I also take seriously my responsibility to ensure that the process for both complainants and police officers is fair, complete, and defensible. I will not violate the confidentiality rights of the officers named in your article, but I stand by the small percentage of decisions to overturn recommendations for valid reasons.

The mischaracterizations and accusations in recent articles amount to unsubstantiated and inaccurate personal attacks, and the facts do not support your reporter’s conclusions. I ask that you print this letter to correct the record and provide a full accounting of the facts.

Deanna J. Santana, Oakland city administrator

Winston Responds

Ms. Santana,

As I have previously reported and documented, your interference with San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor, your attempt to redact critical information from the Frazier Report (see, “Deanna Santana Tried to Alter Damning Report,” 9/19/2012), your attempts to have OPD Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw removed from OPD’s federal oversight, and your overturning of another sustained CPRB finding (see, “Frazier to Re-Examine Police Misconduct,” 5/8/2013) offer a consistent picture of intransigence.

The delayed implementation of internal affairs civilianization is also well-documented, and became an issue of such public concern that the city council unanimously voted to set a firm deadline for implementation.

Regarding your contention that civilianization has not been stalled and now requires the approval of Compliance Director Thomas Frazier, his position was created in December 2012, roughly a year and a half after the council budgeted funds for civilianization. The city had ample time to begin implementing this policy prior to Frazier’s appointment. Moreover, the city council voted in 2011 to place the new civilian employees in the CPRB, not internal affairs. Furthermore, at the CPRB’s meeting on July 11, 2013, Police Chief Sean Whent said he did not oppose intake of internal affairs complaints by CPRB personnel.

Your decision to overturn two CPRB recommendations for sustained findings and discipline against Lieutenant Blair Alexander, including a unanimous finding in the Avila case, is consistent with your decision to overturn another CPRB finding against Sergeant Patrick Gonzales for his failure to supervise former Officer Frank Uu in the beating of military veteran Kayvan Sabeghi on November 2, 2011. Both of these officers have multiple documented complaints of excessive force filed against them. Your actions in their cases directly go against the CPRB’s attempts to hold these officers accountable, which, in Mr. Sabeghi’s case, could end up costing the city a substantial amount of money, considering the recent settlement with protesters that cost taxpayers $1.17 million because of police misconduct.

Regarding your assertion that you uphold more than three quarters of the CPRB’s recommendations, the public must understand how infrequently the CPRB sustains complaints. According to the most current CPRB semi-annual report from 2011 (the most recent reports are overdue, another sign of the CPRB’s strained resources), only six allegations out of 164 made from January 1 through June 30, 2011 were sustained, with discipline recommendations made against five officers. Of the three separate cases that compromised these allegations, the city administrator’s office upheld one recommendation entirely, partially upheld another recommendation, and did not uphold the last case.

Given the miniscule percentage of sustained CPRB findings during this period, the lack of public access to more current statistics and the seriousness of the three cases where you did overturn sustained findings against Lt. Alexander and Sgt. Gonzales, your decisions are newsworthy.

I understand that neither the CPRB nor you are able to comment on individual officers’ disciplinary records or personnel matters as a result of the California Supreme Court’s 2006 decision, Copley Press v. San Diego, as well as the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights. However, California law does not diminish the public’s right to know about allegations of police misconduct, the past record of such public servants, and the decisions by their employers whether or not to hold them accountable for their actions.

Lastly, my reporting has documented your actions as civil servant. Your job is to serve the public, and I am documenting your record in that regard. None of this is personal.

“The Eucalyptus Is Part of California,” Opinion, 7/24

The Author Is Unqualified

The column [op-ed] you published by Gregory Davis was truly reprehensible, and I sincerely hope that you will provide the same amount of space for someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and cares about the natural world. I was so incensed by the anti-environmental misinformation and propaganda in this column that it took me a week to finish it, and I had to restrain myself from recycling your paper without reading any further once I read the first few paragraphs. The only part of Mr. Davis’ essay that was reasonable was his opposition to spraying of Roundup and/or other pesticides. However, the issue of use of pesticide use as the only method of removing non-natives is a very complicated one that Mr. Davis clearly has no ability to adequately address.

The following are the major things wrong with Mr. Davis’ column:

First and foremost, Mr. Davis does not have any qualifications that show any expertise or even knowledge on the issue of non-native species. The only supposed qualification you cited was that he “is a Berkeley resident,” which is no qualification at all.

Mr. Davis, at the beginning of his column, immediately resorts to name-calling (“Single-Minded Clear-Cutters” vs. “Balanced-Approach Pragmatists,” “snob appeal,” etc.) instead of identifying and discussing issues. By personalizing this issue and launching personal attacks on those with opposing views, Mr. Davis shows at the very beginning of his column that he has no legitimate arguments.

Next, Mr. Davis falsely equates native species with “native” Californians (that latter of whom are not native at all). From a scientific point of view, this is total ignorance and I’m very surprised that the Express would print such garbage. Humans are all the same species, despite what some racists might think or argue, so the issue of whether a certain group of people is native to an area has nothing to do with that of whether certain species are.

But the biggest lie of all comes at the top of the second column of Mr. Davis’ erroneous essay. He claimed that “plant and animal species move, sometimes very rapidly, from one geographic are to another.” Um, no. Plants move very slowly by any measure, and are not capable of crossing oceans or even moving long distances on their own. It took humans to transplant eucalyptus to California; this could never have occurred naturally. Even animal species migrate very slowly compared to human transport. This paragraph, even more than his disdain for native species, clearly shows that Mr. Davis is completely ecologically ignorant, and it is the publishing of this ecologically ignorant false information that bothers me the most about your publication of this ridiculous and self-serving essay.

Mr. Davis’ true feelings are shown near the end of his essay, where he talks about how much he likes eucalyptus. In other words, his position on this issue has nothing to do with what’s good for the planet, the micro-ecosystems, or the native plants and animals, but is instead driven by what he personally likes and cares about, to the detriment of everything else. Mr. Davis clearly doesn’t care about displacement of native species by non-native ones, and by his ecologically ignorant comments shows that he has no understanding of this issue. If Mr. Davis and his ilk prioritize eucalyptus so much, they should go live in Australia, which is the only place that eucalyptus can exist without doing major harm.

Is this what the Express believes: that it’s perfectly Okay for humans to kill native plants and replace them with whatever they happen to like? I certainly hope not, just as I hope that you do not take Mr. Davis’ anti-environmental position of denigrating the Sierra Club, which is nothing more than a mainstream environmental group. You owe it to the planet, our local plants and animals, and your readers to publish a column by an ecologist, wildlife biologist, or someone with similar qualifications and with the opposing point of view of Mr. Davis. This column should be of the same length and given the same prominence as Mr. Davis’.  I eagerly await your response. 

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

A Real Alternative 

Mr. Davis, your views are similar to the ones I expressed in commenting on the draft EIS:

I am submitting this comment as a frequent user of the Claremont Canyon and Strawberry Canyon trails and resident at 6442 Hillegass Avenue, Oakland; and apparently a mildly dissenting member of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy. While my professional practice over forty years has concentrated on preparation of or response to comprehensive comments on environmental documents, this comment will not focus on linear detail but attempt summarily to reach the heart of the matter.

The EIS posits a choice between only two alternatives: do nothing, or remove all the eucalyptus and Monterey pine. And so the community appears to have divided: those advocating wholesale acceptance of the FEMA proposed project, and those advocating no action. This circumstance, which flows from legal error so gross as to invite FEMA to withdraw the DEIS and proceed properly lest one of the interested advocates prosecute a worthy legal challenge, represents a regrettable disservice to the community. As I frequently advise my clients and my students, in the face of extremes your challenge is to find the third way. FEMA must develop and implement the third way of selective tree removal.

This writer accepts the reality that eucalyptus and other exotics pose a fire threat in the Claremont and Strawberry Canyon areas. This hazard must be moderated to the greatest degree balanced with other considerations. At the same time, this writer believes that stands of eucalyptus and Monterey pines within the two canyons form an important element of the historic and evolving landscape. One need only consult paintings from the California Plein-Air School to comprehend that these trees have for a century formed a recognizable part of our region’s environment and ecology. Just as the law recognizes that few absolutely natural watercourses remain in the state, such that we treat the changed water resource as “natural” for regulatory purposes, so should these trees be understood as earning recognition as part of the landscape that we view and in which we recreate.

Totalitarian elimination of this heritage landscape should be no more pursued than would we pursue elimination of other exotics, for example the striped bass from the Delta, or the post-McLaren vegetation in Golden Gate Park. And yet, action must be taken to improve both the fire security and visual access in these two canyons. Not all environmental conflicts lend themselves to beneficial resolution of competing values, but this one does. On rewrite the authors of the EIS will have the opportunity to honor the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Isaiah Berlin, that all values are relative.

A thinning of the exotics to preserve the most prominent trees, while removing concentrations that pose environmental risk and actually detract from the views of both hikers and observers, should be developed as a third alternative. For example, the prominent row of Monterey pines atop the north ridge of Claremont Canyon provide a visual landmark to users of the canyon and to those from afar; these should be maintained. Similarly, the landmark eucalyptus inside the elbow of the second switchback on the Claremont Canyon trail — that is, the switchback that overlooks the Golden Bear soccer field — would be unthinkable to destroy. Selective thinning will leave these untouched, while promoting the health of the remaining forest and improving visual access from points along the trails. Shade and habitat will be preserved. This worthy example is the one followed by UC Berkeley a few years ago in Strawberry Canyon, and which now forms the preferred method of fuel reduction within the Tahoe National Forest.

The EIS is fatally flawed by deliberately avoiding the development of this alternative, instead including a partial clearance as a variant and part of the proposed project. This fallacy enables the decision-makers to avoid independent consideration of a partial-clearance alternative on its own, and more regrettably, from conducting the legally required comparison of that alternative to both project and no action. The present EIS enables the decision-maker to avoid the legal necessity of identifying the alternative, other than no action, that is environmentally favorable; that strikes at the heart of NEPA.

Finally, the EIS fails to stand as a joint EIS/EIR, and thus cannot serve the state-law actors (UC Berkeley and EBRPD) whose approvals to carry out the project also require environmental documentation. This error is also more than academic, in that not only must those local agencies make use of an EIR, but they must formulate and adopt enforceable mitigation measures more potent than those required by NEPA; and prior to that, consider alternatives that are capable of attaining most, if not all, of the project objectives, which a thoughtfully-designed thinning project can accomplish.

Tony Rossmann of Antonio Rossmann Rossmann and Moore, LLP, law firm and lecturer in Land Use and Water Resources Law at theUC Berkeley School of Law

“Beauty in a Bagel Shop,” Food Review, 7/24

What About Authentic?

Your Beauty’s Bagels review mentions “the wave of artisanal bagel makers that rolled in last year,” citing Schmendrick’s and Baron Baking. To be sure, Baron makes a fine bagel, as did Schmendrick’s until they dropped off the map at some point around the New Year. What a pity to have omitted Oakland’s own Authentic Bagel Company from the list (and, indeed, from your reviews section entirely). Not only are their bagels fantastic, but if you’re like me, you enjoy wandering back and forth across Broadway at 2nd around last call, dodging traffic and trying to pinpoint the exact location where you smell Everett and Jones BBQ in one nostril and bagels in the other. I don’t recommend this behavior, but I heartily recommend Authentic Bagels.

Aram Cretan, Oakland

“Most Inventive Local Beer,” Best Of, 7/17

My Favorite Beer

Amazing! So happy to see Buzzerkeley receive recognition. My favorite beer for sure!

Zac Taylor, San Francisco

Drink it Every Day

LOVE Buzzerkeley! Favorite celebratory beverage and good for a daily drink as well.

Betsy Baker Webb, Pleasant Hill


Thanks to the Express for the award. It’s crazy what can come from tinkering around in your dorm room — seventeen years ago feels like yesterday.

Blaine Landberg, Walnut Creek

“Proposed Minimum Wage Hike Sparks Conflict,” News, 7/17

Time to Raise Wages

Both of my daughters work as servers in semi-upscale restaurants. Particularly during this downturn, their tips have been greatly impacted. I constantly hear about days when it isn’t worth going in to work. $30 in tips for a shift, and taxes as well as a portion to the bus boys and hostess leave them with enough to pay their travel expenses to and from work. Time to raise the minimum wage across the board.

John Reagan, Grass Valley

Correction: The response by Express contributor Ali Winston to Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana’s letter erroneously stated that the City of Oakland had settled the police misconduct case involving protester Kayvan Sabeghi for $1.17 million. That case has not yet settled.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

East Bay Express E-edition East Bay Express E-edition