Letters for the Week of December 31, 2014

Readers sound off on Lynette Gibson McElhaney, undercover police, and Black Lives Matter protests.

“West Oakland Councilmember Involved in House-Flipping Scheme,” Feature, 12/17

Gibson McElhaney’s Actions Are Troubling

As a District Three resident, I find this very troubling. Embodying the process of gentrification in order to “house veterans” and keep your organization afloat? I’m sorry, but if your organization cannot do its mission (create affordable housing) without engaging in its opposite (create non-affordable housing), perhaps the organization should shut its doors.

I happen to be a veteran, and I find this “we did it for the veterans” rhetoric to be just a pretense. If veterans were their concern, and they did five minutes of searching, they would find a local organization called Swords to Plowshares, largely composed of veterans, establishing an immense (and admirable) amount of local affordable housing for veterans, without flipping houses.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney has also been involved with the San Pablo Corridor Coalition in our district, which appears to be an avenue to usher in development, chaired by real estate investor Alex Miller-Cole. First on the agenda is closing the most popular place for our neighborhood’s houseless folks — St. Andrews Plaza — for seven months to install a “sculpture installation.” If this is what affordable housing advocacy means to Gibson-McElhaney, I don’t want it.

Joshua Shepherd, Oakland

It Was a Trumped Up Article

I don’t see what the big deal is. This is a really long article about a non-profit getting a little money for doing business!!! As much as I don’t agree with how Gibson McElhaney assists my neighborhood with regard to cleaning up the “dope fiend” park and other blight, I would never condemn her for running a business that makes a profit through deals and relationships with others in the community just like any other business in America — and maybe the profit made was used in some way to better the community.

This is all a political lynch mob to smear Gibson McElhaney and get her out of office. If she continues to not do the things she’s promised in District Three — clean up the streets from Grand to 40th; close down at least half of these damn churches, halfway houses, homeless shelters, and single-person rooms and disperse them throughout Oakland; implement a shopping cart “return-to-owner” system to get them off our damn streets (none of these so-called homeless people have ever purchased an effing shopping cart to push through the streets of Oakland); and get some real businesses here in our neighborhood, then yes she should be ousted. But not for any single reason in this trumped up, blow-hard article.

Nayaa Lacy, Oakland

We Need the FBI

As a resident of District Three, I was not at all surprised by your story. There were two red flags reported by the media about Lynette Gibson McElhaney shortly after her election to the city council: her state and federal tax liens exceeding $25,000 and the fact that her husband hadn’t held a job in more than six years.

Each member of Oakland’s city council receives a taxpayer-funded annual compensation package (base salary and benefits) that exceeds $100,000 for a part-time position with the month of August off. In addition, each member receives more than $250,000 in taxpayer funds per year for “office expenses.” Add to that additional taxpayer funds for a Paygo slush fund that each councilmember receives annually. Lynette uses her “office expenses” to hire three people to do her work for her. Can’t she find nonpaid volunteers in her district to help her out and return the $250,000 to the city’s general fund? 

Whatever happened to volunteerism and true “public service?” Ask any board member of a homeowner’s association (HOA) in Oakland and you’ll find out that many of them devote more time to board business than all of our councilmembers spend on their official city positions. Most of these HOA board members (many who hold full-time jobs) do not receive any compensation (nor should they) for their services. We might attract a better quality group of people for council if we eliminated all compensation and benefits for their positions. If we did, we would save $2.8 million per year that could be used to hire additional police officers and reduce our sky-high taxes and maybe begin paying off our billions in debt and unfunded liabilities.

The FBI includes public corruption as a top priority among criminal investigations because of the significant toll that corruption takes on our pocketbooks. Public corruption costs us billions of dollars each year. As stated on the FBI’s website: “[T]he FBI is singularly situated to combat this corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance.” I recommended to the FBI that they set up a permanent office in Oakland’s City Hall. Gibson McElhaney’s personal financial train wreck is just the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper and you’ll be surprised (or not) about what you will find. Let’s make sure that we include an investigation into the Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services entity as well, especially during the times when they received taxpayer funds.

I had high hopes for Gibson McElhaney after years of incompetence and neglect from Nancy Nadel. However, her financial incompetence, negligence, greed, and unethical behavior make her a perfect addition to Oakland’s political cesspool.

Mark W. Forster, Oakland

The Express Should Be Ashamed

As a resident of District Three and a nonprofit organization leader, I deeply resent the Express hatchet job on Ms. Gibson McElhaney’s business dealings. Nonprofits often engage in for-profit activities in order to support their non-profit work, which is exactly what Richmond Housing Services seems to have done. This kind of activity is especially commendable given the shrinking of funding for nonprofits since 2008. My reading of this article is that the Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services invested in the purchase and rehab of three properties, all in neighborhoods that have already been gentrified, and made a little money on the investment, enabling the organization to support the development of low-income housing elsewhere. The Express should be ashamed for touting this tempest in a teapot on its front page and maligning the reputation of a dynamic African-American woman leader.

Henry Hitz, Oakland

The Express Can Do Better

I am a District Three resident who believes that the press plays a vital role in our democracy by investigating potential ethical and legal improprieties by public officials and private corporate executives whose actions have major impacts on public policies, resources, elective outcomes, etc. I wish that we invested more public money in investigative journalism.
That being said, the article regarding Councilmember Gibson McElhaney appears intent on painting the situation in the very worst light, and takes a number of reported facts out of context. For example, the author describes Nakatoma Acquisitions, LLC as “secretive.” Purchasing investment real estate as an LLC is a very common practice, and often, an attorney is assigned as the agent for setting up the organization and all its attendant paperwork, as was the case with Nakatoma.  
The article also reports that Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services (RNHS), a nonprofit where Gibson McElhaney serves as the executive director, lent acquisition funds to Nakatoma, and earned $49,000 in fees and interest over the course of three transactions. On the face of it, this does not seem problematic. In the wake of dwindling support from HUD and from local redevelopment agencies, nonprofits of all kinds have had to engage in more creative enterprises to support social programs that do not financially break even. Earning income allows nonprofits to rely less on public subsidies and private donations in order to be more financially sustainable organizations. 

This situation does become problematic if it can be shown that the $49,000 went to enrich Gibson McElhaney personally rather than toward RNHS’ programs, or that she used her elected position to somehow influence those transactions for personal gain, but neither of those situations appear to be an assertion in the article. Thank you for your willingness to investigate local issues, but please provide more context and balance before assuming the worst and impugning someone’s reputation.

Ener Chiu, Oakland

“Why You Should Support the Protests,” Raising the Bar, 12/17

Police Provocateurs Are for Real

Jay Youngdahl, this is a great article. You should be really proud of it. It’s a smarter, more articulate impassioned summary of the issues than anything I’ve read in a very long time.

Just one thing: The CHP provocateurs. You wrote that you wouldn’t be surprised if there were other police agents at protests. Well, we learned in the Sixties and Seventies that undercover police and informers, from local to federal, are always in protest actions and activist organizations, even the most moderate ones. You simply have to expect them to be sitting next to you. Be especially wary of folks who play up illegal acts. I’d bet you a month’s income that a solid percentage of the masked “anarchists” undermining Oakland’s protests are on the payrolls of police agencies of one kind or another.

And while I have your attention, here’s a suggestion. Research the presence of old-line communist organizations in Oakland, Trotskyists, for example. I saw them all over Occupy; they had a terrible effect.

Mike Bradley, Oakland

My Blood Is Boiling

Thanks for the overview and political insight. I thought I’d just add this update about Cleveland: Last month, twelve year old Tamir Rice, a black child with a toy gun in an inner city park, was shot down by police officers within seconds of their arrival on the scene. The cops, having failed to follow even their own police protocols for defusing potentially harmful situations, then left him to die as they delayed calling the paramedics, instead busying themselves with handcuffing and throwing into a police cruiser Tamir’s 14-year-old sister, who tried to come to his aid. The city is in mourning and protest, this coming hot on the heels of the Ferguson and New York murders by police.

Here in Cleveland, demonstrators shut down traffic on the shoreway in protest of police brutality. Organized groups of students from Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Akron, Kent State University, John Carroll University, Baldwin Wallace University, and other schools, participated, and groups of youth that were hanging around downtown at the start of the demonstration spontaneously joined the protest; a proud moment for Cleveland.

I’m a pediatrician. I practiced in the inner city of Cleveland for 25 years. Rice wasn’t my patient, but I believe that many children in his extended family were. Though I recently retired, I still read the Cleveland Plain Dealer every day, as I have done for years, partly to see which one of my previous patients or their parents have been murdered or abused. The count is growing. It brutally reflects the hardships and injustice of life in Cleveland, and other cities, for poor people of color. So I still have one foot in the ghetto (and very well might return to work in an inner city clinic part time after the new year), and one foot in my privileged life, relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor after all these years. It’s a rather schizophrenic sensation at times. But as I recover from years of burnout, having set myself free from the county hospital system that can easily eat up even the most balanced person’s sanity, I’m looking to perhaps raise my voice and become a community activist again, having been well-trained in the antiwar movement of the Sixties, years of advocating for my patients notwithstanding.

Ah, life full circle. My blood is boiling and the streets are calling. Besides, I can’t let all the family glory go to my younger brother who was arrested at the recent Cleveland demonstrations. He was held overnight, never charged, and released more than 24 hours later. Interestingly, the Cleveland police, deciding to take an unusual conciliatory stance, and therefore claiming that they were respectful of community sentiment and the demonstrators right to protest, repeatedly denied that there had been any arrests — an outright lie.

On that note, I’m hoping for a safer saner New Year, but I don’t think that will ever come without some significant struggle. As Youngdahl so succinctly put it: “Without street action, change will not come.”

Lisa R. Brand, Shaker Heights, Ohio

“OPD Improves Handling of Protests,” Seven Days, 12/17

BPD Should Have Been Prepared

I really would prefer that everyone refer to the looters and vandals as such. They are not protesters — they are opportunistic criminals.

I take umbrage to the Berkeley police spokesperson stating that they weren’t prepared for the protest earlier this month. Since the Occupy demonstrations began they’ve had time to prepare for crowd behavior during street protests. Shame on them! The training unit and senior management should be disciplined for this lack of professionalism and inability to lead. Anyone could have seen this coming.

Emily Montan, Oakland

It’s Not Just White Cops

With the focus on police brutality by white police officers, one could easily conclude that the safety record of Latino, Asian, and black officers is spotless. Many police departments today resemble the diverse community they serve. I’d like to see verifiable data stacking up all misdeeds of police officers by racial makeup. Officers of color do commit brutality and unjustified shootings, and we deserve to have the full picture when the press reports on incidents involving white cops.

A. Cobbett, Berkeley

“The Fight for Safer Surgeries,” News, 12/17

Yay for the Express!

Apparently, it is not popular to write about patient safety concerns and yet you did. Yay for the Express and Sam Levin! In 2007 your publication wrote an article titled “Secrets and Lies” about [Alameda County Medical Center CEO] Wright Lassiter III. You may have been more right than wrong! Lassiter and his administration have now been exposed as having poor financial management practices in the spate of recent articles run in the Oakland Tribune by reporters Matt O’Brien and Rebecca Parr and, based on a third-party audit, have been less than honest about the plight of the hospital. It is not impossible to make the jump that they were less than truthful about other aspects of the hospital concerning patient safety and the mistreatment of doctors and nurses?

The doctors and staff at Highland have been sounding the alarm about patient safety for years internally to the hospital administration and they were ignored. Finally they went outside — to the FDA, The California Department of Health Services, the US Department of Health Services, the Alameda Health System (AHS) Board of Trustees, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s office, former Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s office, Congressmember Barbara Lee’s office, the UC Regents, and the UCSF School of Medicine (it runs the general surgery program and its surgery residents are at Highland Hospital) Most responses were to the effect of a) “this isn’t our area” or b) “we contacted the hospital administration and they said there is no problem.” The latter is not really a surprise?

Supervisor Richard Valle came to Highland to meet the anesthesiologists in the summer of 2013 and tried to help them, but his requests were denied by the hospital. We appreciated supervisors Wilma Chan and Keith Carson asking Lassiter some tough questions on October 13 at the Board of Supervisors Health Committee meeting, and Lassiter’s glaring lack of any sense of accountability was something that Supervisor Carson summed up best by saying, “I just need to leave this alone.”

Please continue to write the unpopular stories — those are the stories that need to be heard. We have protestors taking to the street nightly with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter!” Highland’s patient population is at least 25 percent African American, if not higher. An entire (health) system can disenfranchise a population if the doctors and nurses who are advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves are fired, subsequently blackballed, and watch their lives fall to pieces when they complain. It’s called a “culture of fear and intimidation.”

Lassiter spent many dollars on rebranding AHS into a hospital of “choice” to attract a different crowd — the paying crowd. Highland has always been a safety-net hospital and the people who believe that black (and every other ethnicity) lives matter need to let the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the AHS Board of Trustees know that unsafe surgical practices are not acceptable. Everyone is someone’s family. Everyone counts.

Sydney Proctor, Oakland

“The Return of the Long-Lost Chef,” What the Fork, 12/17

Merritt Is Not What It Used to Be

Having worked at the Merritt Bakery and Restaurant back in it’s heyday, when the restaurant and bakery was owned by the Gallaghers, I can tell you the “acclaimed” chicken has gone the way of the restaurant. It’s not even close to what the recipe was back then! Truly, they need to bring in someone who knows good food and the local clientele. The bakery is still pretty good, fortunately, and the appeal of the restaurant is certainly location, location, location … but that will only take you so far.

Patrick Wong, Oakland

“Media Myths About Protests,” Opinion, 12/10

Breaking Macy’s Windows Is a Distraction

Please allow a weekend visitor from Willits, some of whose citizens are currently embroiled in their own protest movement (against the Caltrans bypass), to comment. The authors, Mary Noble and Ryan Heuser, respond to the charge of “indiscriminate looting” at San Francisco’s Black Friday demonstration by pointing out that “property damage was targeted at major chain stores and upscale businesses,” which are “large national chains or symptoms of gentrification.” Noble and Heuser seem to condone actions done by the demonstrators for this reason, actions which I believe to be destructive and pointless on several counts. First, it is doubtful that breaking the windows of Macy’s or McDonald’s does any more than ruffle the hair on the heads of its top executives, while creating distress and disruption for its (no doubt underpaid) employees, many of whom are women and people of color.

More important for the moment we are in, such actions distract from the issue at hand, which is the loss of lives of African Americans and other people of color due to police violence. Black leaders have been asking whites and those who march as their allies to do so under their leadership; I haven’t heard any of them call for stoning Macy’s. I’ve heard several testimonies asserting that these actions are performed by white anarchists, yet it is sure to be the black community that will bear the consequences. No doubt gentrification and loss of local autonomy to chains is an important issue; I call on artists and creative people of all colors to find playful and peaceful ways to respond.

Roberta Werdinger, Willits 

“The McClymonds Football Nightmare,” News, 12/10

This Case Was Biased

If it’s a known fact that kids transfer schools and districts for many reasons other than sports and the lawyers can find cases in which this has been done, this should serve as proof as to this case being biased. Being involved with youth sports myself for more than 25 years I can honestly say that this is the first time I’ve seen a kid being denied the ability to play based on the fact that his prior school had “better test scores.” Who’s to say that the family didn’t want to add some diversity into this young man’s life and decided to take him out of predominantly white school and put him into a school that would allow him a chance to be more well-rounded and meet people of different ethnic backgrounds and social status? If you ask me this is classist, racist and hypocritical.

Sam Rothstein, Oakland

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