Letters for the Week of June 3, 2015

Readers sound off on the housing crisis, gentrification, and the California drought.

“Urban Exploring,” Summer Guide 5/20

There’s a Better Route

Good review of some local bike rides! I would, however, quibble with your suggestion to cross the estuary on the Park Street Bridge. That requires either using the narrow pedestrian walkway where you’re required to walk your bike, or navigating the unpleasant steel grid bridge deck. A better option is to cross via the Fruitvale Bridge, then follow the 7th Street bike route that takes you under 29th Avenue and onto Embarcadero.

Rick Rickard, Oakland

“A Moveable Boost,” Summer Guide 5/20

Steep Tea Co Rocks

Love this! Tea on wheels. Best tea ever. My faves so far are Mrs. Rooiboson and Jade Fade. Can’t wait to see you in the neighborhood!

Paulina Graziose, Tahoe City

“Copper Spoon to Replace Art’s Crab Shack,” 5/20

Quelling Gentrifiers’ Guilt?

Sounds like a great new spot! However, describing it as “a local watering hole where all of Oakland can meet” (subtext: “the people that used to go to Art’s will totally be comfortable at this new place”) seems to be an awfully optimistic outlook, particularly to anyone who has watched Oakland’s waning old-guard establishments and their replacements over the last few years. The cynic in me also reads “at least a portion of their menu will be affordable” and envisions bar nuts, and maybe one or two of the appetizers.

We’ll see if these egalitarian claims pan out, or are mere lip service to quell some of that tangy Gentrifiers’ Guilt.

Max Chanowitz, Oakland

Another Pricey Spot

This will add to the number of restaurants where I can’t afford to eat in my own neighborhood. All these new places are expensive. At one of them, I had to spend $3.50 for coffee that is usually $2 at Starbucks. I may go once, but never often.

I’m also concerned as the two venues most frequented by Blacks are now closed.

Don Macleay, Oakland

Not Every Change Is Gentrification

Art’s went out of business, and the owners sold. Why is it that when an old bar/restaurant closes, it suddenly is gentrified when something else takes its place?

People have different tastes now. The old stuff isn’t what we want. Besides, Art’s did not want to be in business any longer. So something else opens. That is the nature of restaurants. I can’t remember the last time I went to Art’s and it was great. You spend like $40 bucks and the crab was not very good. I, for one, welcome the change.

Alexeis Filipello, Oakland

“Jacking Up Rents in Oakland,” 5/20

Good Riddance, Oakland

Sadly, I don’t see Oakland offering much protection at all to its renters.

I rented a single family home in the Temescal for nearly nineteen years, and the landlord, without any advance notice whatsoever, informed me by email on March 7 that he was coming over with his realtor on March 9 to sell the house, effective immediately. There were two showings and escrow closed May 7.

I’m over sixty, work part-time and have a small pension from my late husband. I was paying $1,550 a month rent, plus all utilities. There had never been any problem whatsoever in all those years in regards to rent, maintenance, etc.

I was then subjected to daily pressure from his realtor who wanted to “help me” find a place. It was a nightmare trying to find a place with two cats after nearly nineteen years, and I would rather stick needles in my eyes than go through that again. I’m moving to Contra Costa County now and good riddance. It should be illegal for owners of property with long-term tenants to give them less than 48 hours notice that they’re going to put the house on the market.

Jeanette Sarmiento, Oakland

Oakland’s Condo Conversion Law Is Wretched

The plight of tenants in the article exposes many faults in Oakland’s wretched Condominium Conversion Ordinance, which goes against the city’s goal that condo conversions shall not reduce the city’s rental housing stock. The ordinance also prompts abuse of Oakland tenants and routinely causes unmitigated reductions in the city’s fragile inventory of affordable rental housing.

In the instance at one North Oakland building, the owner obtained approval to convert a six-unit building with only a Planning Department application. In the process, the owner bypassed all mandatory requirements for conversion, with no monitoring of procedures or necessary process milestones specified in the Condominium Conversion Ordinance, Section 16.36 of Oakland’s Planning Code.

The ordinance requires that no conversion can occur in buildings of five units or more unless the converter presents proof that at least an equal number of new rental units have simultaneously been added to the city’s rental inventory. In this case, the owner submitted a building with five internal units (three individual apartments and two fully equipped studios with an intervening door), plus a converted rented garage, and represented to the Planning Department that the building contained only four units. No record search or site visit was made to confirm the critical unit count, since even one extra unit triggers a significantly more complex set of requirements.

Moreover, the ordinance requires the converter to serve various specified written notices to all tenants, and to file copies of each notice with city planning as proof of service to the tenants. Sixty days prior to filing an application for conversion, the owner must serve on all tenants a “Notice of Intent to Convert.” Upon service of the notice, there can be no increase in rent for at least the next twelve months. Tenants must also receive the converter’s “Tenant Assistance Plan,” which spells out the rights and benefits of tenants during the process of conversion, including the right to purchase a converted unit at discount. Tenants must be notified of all hearings and have opportunity to appear and give testimony relating to the conversion. Tenants must also be informed of final conversion approval and the start of owner’s sales program. Tenants in this building did not receive any of the required notices, and if notices were filed with city planning under pretext that service to tenants had been performed, a serious incidence of fraud was perpetrated.

If the structure can somehow be determined a legal four-unit building, there are still serious requirements that were not complied with, including all specified notices, the Tenant Assistance Plan, and the fact that no rents can be increased for at least one year from service of the “Notice of Intent to Convert.” Even in the simpler case of a four-unit conversion, the owner-converter violated several serious requirements of the Conversion Ordinance

Condominium conversion, vested in the city’s planning code, is administered by the Planning Department. In this case, it is clear that the department failed in its oversight, monitoring, and basic due diligence. Moreover, the fact that slightly different conversion procedures apply to four units and less, and to five units or more is nonsensical, but the effect on tenants who can be evicted without cause in either case is equal and equally confusing. At this stage, it is incumbent on the Planning Department to thoroughly analyze all actions or non-actions of this assumed conversion and to determine — based on the requirements of the Ordinance — whether the owner-converter dutifully followed all necessary procedures and based on the files and the facts to determine whether an actual conversion legally exists or not. Such determination is critically important to the lives and futures of the building’s tenants.

This case also illustrates the devastation that unwarranted conversion can cause on the lives of long-term tenants, and presents a compelling reason why the city’s 34-year-old Condominium Conversion Ordinance is seriously in need of comprehensive revision as soon as possible.

James Vann, Oakland Tenants Union, Oakland

“Why OPD Can’t Solve Crime,” 5/20

Is Gammon an Anarchist?

What hyperbole Robert Gammon crafts as he states: “For starters, patrol officers play a major role in keeping low-income and Black residents in poverty in the city.” Oakland is wracked by crimes of murder and violence, while the author considers police patrols in high crime areas the problem. He laments that a person stopped who has no required insurance is unworthy of a penalty equally levied against every other California driver violating that same law. The author neglected to point out that a study of Oakland police stops from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 (see http://tinyurl.com/kjwucq3) stated, “Compared to other races, African Americans had the highest percentage of Felony Arrests and Field Investigation Reports at 12% and 36%, respectively; and the lowest overall percentage of Citations at 34%.”

More than one out of ten stops of African Americans resulted in a felony arrest, totaling 1,990 such arrests. As to citations (like no insurance), Blacks were cited less frequently than any other race by a significant margin (15% less than Asians; 18% less than Hispanics; 12% less than Whites; and 19% less than others) — making it appear Oakland police actually gave a “break” to those Gammon says are being persecuted for minor traffic violations. So much for his economic theory!

The study didn’t break out “low-income” segments, so that sector may have been concocted by Gammon’s own reckoning, which concludes if only cops would stop enforcing the laws in areas with low-income and Black residents, things will improve on the crime front and the economic front, as well. What mentality would conjure such logic, that of an anarchist?

While robberies and burglaries are bad, murders and violent, injuring crimes are far worse. Property can be replaced. Human lives cannot be resurrected and the trauma of injuries lives on.

In a perfect world with unlimited funds for Oakland’s police force, Gammon may be right in seeking more detectives and investigative crime solving. Robberies and burglaries are probably repeated acts by the same individuals, who may use their booty for drugs and other nefarious reasons. But Oakland’s world is far from perfect, and it even finds it difficult to arrest, prosecute, and institutionalize those rioters causing mayhem and costly property damage right under police noses. Perhaps that city rightfully concludes that tracking down less-than-violent criminals is not the best priority for its limited funds that restrict police resources. Whatever the answer to Oakland’s crime-ridden city, it isn’t revealed in this article.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

Gammon Responds

Mr. Thompson, thanks for your letter. Glad to see that Walnut Creek residents are so interested in how the Oakland Police Department operates, especially in low-income areas of the city.

I wasn’t arguing that investigating property crime is more important than investigating crimes against persons. It should be noted that while OPD at least investigates homicides and sexual assaults, it still fails to solve the vast majority of those cases. Chief Sean Whent readily acknowledges that OPD has the worst record for crime-solving across the board in California.

My argument is that investigations, both of property crime and crimes against persons, should be a much, much higher priority than pulling people over in low-income areas of the city for minor traffic violations.

In terms of those traffic violations, the most recent data we received from OPD — for the period of April 2013 to October 2014, showed that the vast majority of stops in Oakland are for traffic violations: 67.4 percent. Of those, 53.2 percent were stops of African Americans. That’s a disproportionate number in a city in which Blacks make up less than 30 percent of the population.

In fact, Independent Court Monitor Robert Warshaw, the former police chief of Rochester, New York, has said repeatedly that he’s troubled by the racial disparities revealed in OPD’s stop data, and has said it’s the one area of the consent decree that OPD is a long way from meeting.

“No, Governor Brown, You Shut Up,” Seven Days, 5/13

Brown Should Retire

Governor Jerry Brown is senile. Instead of convening experts on hydrology, climate, and water management, he has settled on a plan that is too costly and environmentally damaging to be a cornerstone for developing water resources in California. Meanwhile, he plays with his train set — which will cost of $25 billion — while a fourth punishing year of severe drought is causing havoc.

Water is being drawn at alarming rates from already depleted aquifers while Nestle takes out millions of gallons of ground water for bottling without a permit. That is insane and smacks of corruption and payoffs.

New membrane technology with graphene filters may revolutionize desalinization and permit not only cheap water, but also a means to replenish the groundwater and raise the water table in areas facing disaster.

Wake up Governor Brown, or better yet, resign as the job of governor seems to have overwhelmed what little abilities you have left. Your doddering performance on TV and in the halls of Sacramento doesn’t measure up and it is time for you to consider retirement. By the way, you have a very able lieutenant governor named Gavin Newsom. And by the way, I don’t work for Mr. Newsom or have any expectation or desire for a political job.

Steve Redmond, Berkeley

No More Water-Intensive Crops

It is incredible to think they can pull off this scam — assisted by US Senator Dianne Feinstein, and less so by Senator Barbara Boxer, who are manipulating federal policy to eliminate the ability to block the tunnels.

Also, the stated cost for the wonderful Bay Bridge is no doubt smoke and mirrors. Farmers in the Central Valley need to plant sustainable crops that require less water.

Cynthia Spencer, Discovery Bay

More of the Same from Brown

I was already greatly disillusioned with Governor Jerry Brown. In the last year or two, he’s vetoed two common-sense pieces of legislation. One would have granted business and property owners legal authority to remove collection bins placed on their property after giving the bin operator ten days notice. The other would have required salvage yards to pay for scrap metals with checks — not cash.

Ken Katz, Oakland

Cities and Counties Need to Block the Tunnels

Counties and municipalities need to protect themselves wherever possible from risks that Governor Brown seems determined to take. Counties should block the construction of access points from roads to construction sites for the big dig tunnels. Counties should disallow drilling as a permitted use in agricultural, industrial, commercial, and residential areas, and also ban road access for countless loads of drilling equipment, mud, and product.

Finally, counties and municipalities should put a halt to any expansion of the natural gas pipeline system in residential and commercial neighborhoods. We need to find ways to cook and heat without adding to the infrastructure of the most explosive and most potent greenhouse gas.

Kenneth Gibson, Oakland

“Unlicensed Workers Patrol Fruitvale,” 5/13

It’s Union-Busting

I’m really disappointed in the Unity Council on this. What’s unifying about union-busting?

Pamela Drake, Oakland

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