Letters for the week of October 28-Nov. 3

Readers sound off on Oakland's changing Chinatown, unscrupulous banks, and downtown parking.

“Saving Chinatown,” Feature, 10/28

Chinatowns Deserve Protection

Congratulations, Luke Tsai, for an extremely thorough and thought-provoking look at Chinatowns, many of which have already disappeared in the United States. The saving of San Francisco’s Chinatown, before and after 1906, when politicians and business interests tried to relocate all Chinese to the Bay View, was both an economic and civil rights battle. Unlike later displacements — by redevelopment — of Japanese-Americans from Nihonmachi and African-Americans from the Western Addition/Lower Fillmore, an intact Chinatown incubated an evolution of a strong Chinese-American culture. San Francisco’s Chinatown deserves public investments and legal protections to strengthen its economic ripple benefits, to preserve its unique architecture and character, and to honor it as the birthplace of Chinese culture in America.

Thanks again for this great article.

Howard Wong, American Institute of Architects, San Francisco

A Labyrinth of Distractions

I’m generally quite fond of Luke Tsai’s work for the Express; I love his restaurant reviews and highly respect his intelligence. However, as with his coverage of “Afrika Town,” this piece relies far too much on the standard Oakland rap about “displacement,” the ostensible antidote to which is the entrenchment of “traditional” ghetto cultures in traditional ghettos.

The story of new life in Chinatown gets short shrift here and is treated as an afterthought in a short paragraph near the end that begins with, “There’s also no question that plenty of good things are already happening in Chinatown …” Most of that story is missing. Instead, we’re led through a labyrinth of distractions. Not a word about the (relatively) new Guilin Noodle Shop or the booming Malaysian restaurant, Chili Padi. Luke knows about them — he’s written wonderful reviews — but here, they don’t fit the narrative. (Meanwhile, I’ll have to try the new Fortune some late night, now that New Gold Medal is no longer open past midnight — perhaps the most obvious change in Chinatown this past year — another item missing from this story.)

Examples of other Chinatowns? Why mention only DC? Why is there not a word here about Flushing, or Sunset Park — or Houston’s new Chinatown, which thrives in the suburbs while its old “traditional” Chinatown has been displaced? (For that matter, Manhattan’s old Chinatown has expanded to “displace” much of Little Italy.) Times change, and so, too, does the world’s mix of occupations and cities’ interplay of ethnicities. For that matter, so do the fluid, ever-porous boundaries of neighborhoods.

The techies resented by so-called community activists (aka professional agitators) are, in reality, tomorrow’s working class — and many of them are Asian. They (along with UC students commuting from Berkeley) patronize the slew of new bubble tea joints in and out of Chinatown, and if they buy their fish and vegetables at Whole Foods, the reason is increased concern with the wholesomeness and quality of the goods, evidently by (among others) Asians themselves. In Oakland, some who claim to celebrate diversity are often the quickest to rail against “intruders.” The contradiction — and the bitter irony — is all too obvious.

Mitchell Halberstadt, Oakland

“Oakland Struggles to Hold Banks Accountable,” News, 10/28

Wrong Title

Why isn’t this article titled “Oakland Struggles to hold City Hall accountable?” Although the city council is ultimately responsible for lapses in contract language (as they have the final approval), they have so much on their plate that they must rely on staff to implement their policies correctly. How many people were fired due to the failure to follow the council’s instructions regarding the contract? I would wager that not only did no one get fired, but that the responsible staff got a cushy annual raise, as usual. Oakland, how about getting your own house in order?

Jim Mellander, El Sobrante

Let’s Ban the Bad Banks

I think it is time the City of Oakland should stop “struggling to hold banks accountable” and simple accept the fact that Wall Street banks cannot be trusted. As the Express has explained, the banks have a long history of redlining East Oakland (refusing to make loans in low-income neighbors), and more recently, offering predatory mortgages which led to “more than 10,000 foreclosures” in Oakland.  Further, while it may be “frustrating” to Councilmember Larry Reid that JP Morgan Chase bank closed its only branch in his district, it’s hardly surprising given the bank’s felony status. Yes, that is correct; JP Morgan Chase & Co. is a convicted felon.

You may not have heard about it in the mainstream media, but on May 20, 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that four major banks — JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Barclays Bank PLC, and the Royal Bank of Scotland — agreed to plead guilty to felony charges of conspiring to manipulate the price of US dollars and Euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange spot market. The banks have agreed to pay criminal fines totaling more than $2.5 billion. Each bank agreed to pay a criminal fine in proportion to their involvement in the conspiracy as follows: Citigroup at $925 million; Barclays at $650 million; JP Morgan at $550 million; and Royal Bank of Scotland at $395 million.      

Also, on May 20, 2015, the Federal Reserve announced that it also was imposing separate fines totaling more than $1.8 billion against six banks for their unsafe and unsound practices in the foreign exchange markets. JP Morgan Chase was one of the six banks fined by the Federal Reserve. The fines are among the largest ever assessed by the Federal Reserve, including $342 million each for UBS, Barclays, Citigroup, and JP Morgan Chase; $274 million for Royal Bank of Scotland, and $205 million for Bank of America Corporation.

The behavior of these banks is offensive and clearly displays a Wall Street culture in which several big banks broke the law even after years of strong criticism and increased regulation following the economic crisis. One trader is quoted as saying, “The less competition the better.” A Barclay’s vice president was caught saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”  

There are three steps that can be taken right now to stop Wall Street banks from further harming the citizens of Oakland. First, the city council can enact a law banning for ten years all future business with any bank convicted of a felony. It seems to me that Oakland should be able to find a bank that actually serves the needs of Oakland citizens. Second, the city council should establish a committee with the responsibility of creating a municipal or regional public bank that actually serves the needs of the community. (North Dakota has had a public bank since 1919.) Third, in the short term, someone needs to create a nonprofit financial organization to replace these check cashing outlets.

Criminal conduct and wrongful behavior by Wall Street banks should not be rewarded with future business dealings. Indeed, what Oakland needs to do is to create a financial institution that can serve the needs of Oakland citizens and stop trying to hold Walls Street banks accountable.

Craig A. Brandt, Oakland

“Oakland’s Sweeping Plan for Parking,” News, 10/28

The Plan Will Hurt Poor Drivers

I’d like to see the income levels of the people who park in a downtown after a plan like this is implemented. I’ve looked on the web but haven’t found the info. I suspect the plan is appropriate only for folks who can afford the higher rates. The plan’s rate increases are modest now, but as downtown gets more high-rises, won’t we see higher and higher rates? LA’s rates went up 50 percent. It seems reasonable that fewer and fewer people will be able to pay the higher rates, especially all the service workers that a downtown needs. Where will they park? At Laney College?

On top of the income disparity issue, the city is supporting reducing the parking spaces required in downtown high-rises. That will put more cars on the street, and they won’t be able to park nearby.

For what it’s worth, this kind of market-based transportation planning, otherwise known as “them that’s got more,” [is similar to] diamond lanes that are being converted to money lanes so that single-occupancy cars can use the diamond lanes. Guess what kind of cars we’ll see in the money lanes?

See the trend?

Mike Bradley, Oakland

Relax, It Works

The approach that the Oakland mayor’s office is undertaking is a proven method to ensure healthy parking turnover. It reduces congestion, emissions, and eliminates the need to build costly parking garages. It also is an excellent strategy for enhancing business traffic.

Folks should take a deep breath and suppress their instinctual negative impetus to lash out against any change, especially an approach that has been shown to work time and time again!

Ryan Wiggins Wolfe, Long Beach

“Staircases to the Past,” Then and Now, 10/28

They Need Repair

Every decade or so someone writes about our unique staircase heritage, but it’s been a very long time since Oakland has done anything to prevent them from further deterioration.

During the last building boom, the city tried to close some of them on my street, as they are admittedly in bad shape. But we protested that with more houses and lots more cars on our narrow little street, we needed them even more in the event of a fire or other catastrophe. At this point, we can barely use one in particular. We would love the city to take on repairing this necessary staircase as I was assured they would the last decade this subject was brought up.

Pamela Drake, Oakland

Some Have Been Repaired

I used to use a group of these stairs to get to carpooling on Park [Lane] from Crocker Highlands. [They were] mostly falling apart but effective. Now, at least in Crocker-Highlands, some paths have railings and repaired stairs. Many were wood and in disarray, especially from Sunnyhills Road to Trestle Glen Road.

Charlton Holland, Oakland

Don’t Forget El Cerrito

To the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association and Oakland Urban Paths can be added the new kid on the steps: El Cerrito Trail Trekkers. This volunteer group is making El Cerrito “path friendly” with its myriad new additions.

A list and maps of the paths can be found on their website: ECTrailTrekkers.org.

Check it out!

Bee Montigue, Richmond

“What Was Withheld,” Culture Spy, 10/21

Carland Rocks!

Beautiful! Thank you! I love Tammy Rae Carland and her work forever and ever — since we were teenagers!

Elin Slavick, Hiroshima, Japan

“From Electrifying Collaborations to Forgettable Muzak,” Music, 10/21

You’re Wrong

Wow. I guess you’re not into indie rock. May want to try to not be so biased. Some of the bands on Sunday were amazing, like Viet Cong and Father John Misty. The National is an amazingly talented, cohesive band.

Alison Wilson Bockman, Oakland

“Oakland’s Culture Clash,” Seven Days, 10/14

‘Secret’ Is Perfect for Schaaf

Libby Schaaf is ridiculed for good reason: “Secret sauce” is a lame expression for dealing with the complex reality that is Oakland.

“Secret” on the other hand is a perfect word for Schaaf’s administration, which has offered no plans for dealing with Oakland’s real problems — taking care of our most deprived citizens. Those are not the people who participate in the art or culture scene or who dine at expensive, trendy restaurants.

They are people who are subject to violence on a daily basis, whether from their neighbors or the police, whose children don’t do well in school and whose needs for family support are not recognized in any meaningful way by City Hall.

Oakland has no plans or other programmatic approaches to improving public safety, for providing the ten or fifteen thousand jobs required for adequate employment for the now-unemployed or underemployed, for dealing with the downsides of gentrification, or for providing affordable housing for those who are being displaced.

“Secret sauce” indeed.

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

“A Park to Nowhere?” Eco Watch, 10/14

Form Should Follow Function

No response from the Oakland Planning Department? What a surprise. The design concept for this huge wooden deck is questionable, at best. The materials are not warm and attracting, and what do you do when you get there? The reality for this deck and much of this “new” open space west of Interstate 880 (Brooklyn Basin) is that the general public will have little, if any incentive to brave the constant traffic gridlock to get here. The people who will live in this development will be the only people utilizing this open space most of the time.

A basic urban design concept is that form follows function. You don’t design an open space area based on cost and maintenance requirements and then figure out how it can be used. You should interact with the public to determine what kind of programming for the space is desired by the community and that should drive the design. The city should be very cautious and the citizens very diligent. [Signature Development Group] seems to be very good at promising the world on the front end and then finding ways to minimize the commitment on the back end. Maybe the planning director can find some time while sharing seminar appearances with developers to ensure that community benefits are maintained in the manner promised when the entitlements are granted.

Gary Patton, former deputy director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Oakland, Hayward

A Rat Haven?

Architect Peter Birkholz of the [Oakland Landmark Preservation Advisory Board] brought up an interesting point that the proposed deck would be raised slightly from the concrete. I think he called it a potential “rat haven.”

Naomi Schiff, Oakland

It Should Be a Promenade

It should have a promenade along the water with benches and trees and lighting, and the rest should be green open space with a sidewalk dotted with street trees on the street side. Kids need places to run and play. Families need places to sit in the sun and picnic while enjoying the bay view. A well lit and designed promenade invites people to walk, skate, walk their dogs, etc., every day of the week. Think Marina Green, muscle beach, Huntington Beach.

Wood along the waterfront is not realistic and would be too expensive to maintain over the years in that large amount. I have seen promenades interspersed with rectangular planting areas of trees and shrubs surrounded by seating that were beautiful. Huntington Beach has designs of whales and fish etched into their cement promenade.

Allison Villarante, San Pablo

“Racial Profiling via Nextdoor.com,” Feature, 10/7

You Nailed It

I’m a sixteen-year resident of Oakland with African-American kids, and my experience with Nextdoor Golden Gate crime and safety posts has been exactly the same appalling study in unchecked white privilege as that described by the article.

The acceptance of racial and economic diversity that made my neighborhood appealing when I first moved here has been replaced by a feeling of my kids being unsafe roaming the neighborhood due to online racial profiling. I’m really thankful for this article for finally bringing this online racial profiling out into the public view.

I’m no lawyer, but I would be interested to see legal paths emerge for people to fight the racial profiling activity of the online groups like Nextdoor. I believe when innocent people of color in the neighborhood are no longer able to do normal activities — kids playing in a yard, waiting for a bus, jogging, etc. — for fear of online retribution, it must be punishable under a number of statutes. The first one that comes to mind is the anti cyber-bullying law.

Perhaps there could be legal punishment under slander statutes for spreading false information online indicating that innocent individuals are criminal suspects. I have even seen photos of minors shared online with notes about their current locations. I’m not sure which of these laws would apply to stalking minors, but I imagine there must be some penalty under anti-stalking and child predator protection laws.

I’m hoping some kind of class action lawsuit emerges and maybe the ACLU can put a stop to this once and for all.

Eileen Kaur Alden, Oakland

Here’s a Suggestion

I suggest a transformative class for people identifying as white: “Beyond the Culture of Separation” at Impact Hub in Oakland. I participated last year and did another level of personal work around my own learned racism and the institutionalized racism in the United States. The support of a community of other whites is critical in order to face our fears, shame, anger, and other responses. That’s what lies at the roots of this behavior and mindset. This is what needs to change. I wonder what might shift if OPD police dispatchers and officers, Nextdoor staff, and neighborhood leads went through this education?

Nika Quirk, Sonoma (formerly of Oakland)

Here’s Another Example

Here’s what [racism on Nextdoor.com] looks like:

“Creepy guy alert!!

Around 8:00 Sunday night May 11, a creepy guy was hovering around by my mom’s car as I tried to say goodbye. He was hanging back to see where I was going to — near the corner of 4th Avenue and 11th Street [at the] back door! He turned the corner so I told my mom to take off and I bolted to [the] front entrance. Got in safely and got big guys for backup from neighbors in [the] hall!!! Thanks — & — (and their friends).

He continued to look odd as he very slowly walked out of sight to 10th Street but was looking back the whole way. This was one of the few times I didn’t have my pepper spray with me and I wished I had it handy. Please always remember to stay alert and let our community know if a strange person is hanging out. We can form a group and deter them from hanging out on our block!!!! Thanks to our wonderful community[.] I feel safe in our building!

Description: Creepy guy was early 30s, dark brown hair, grubby clothes but not looking like a bum. Tan skin [but] hard to place ethnically. He was just lurking around and clearly wasn’t walking from point A to point B. I could tell he was going to try to hang back to talk to me but his mannerisms were off. Drug user I’m guessing.”

When I asked what he had done to make her feel threatened and pointed out that I’m 32, Latino but often confused for Asian, a flaming homosexual with big gay mannerisms, who shops thrift and drifts while smoking, I was told I “couldn’t understand because I’m not a woman.”

Because life is peachy when you’re a brown man, I guess — and I have no reason to fear the police.

Edward Cervantes, Oakland

Don’t Blame Nextdoor

While it is absolutely shitty that people are using Nextdoor to racially profile their neighbors, let’s be sure not to blame the website for everything. I’ve been a user since launch, and while I have noticed some downright disgusting posts by neighbors, I have also noticed how helpful it is to be connected to the neighborhood this way. People need to regulate themselves — that’s not Nextdoor’s job. I am glad this issue is being brought to light to a broader audience now and hope that we can move away from condemning the platform that facilitated this conversation and start talking about how we can better educate our neighbors about how to talk with more sensitivity, kindness, and intelligence about integration in their neighborhoods.

Kate Regan, Oakland

Get Off of Nextdoor

Thanks for covering this issue. The neighborhood listservs have gotten increasingly out of hand.

We live in Oakland in a $650,000–$900,000 neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac that is racially mixed, with most of the surrounding neighborhood being very stable and diverse. We have lived here for 24 years with essentially no problems.

During the mortgage meltdown era, there appeared to have been a large uptick in street muggings and burglaries. A group of neighbors, apparently led by fearful women who live alone, started broadcasting accounts of each incident. A private patrol was hired.

Soon came the tipping point for me: I had assembled a short list of email addresses for just our surrounding neighbors. This list appeared to have been appropriated by a longtime local realtor, a white woman. I started receiving postings from her along the lines of “in all the decades I have lived here, I have never seen crime so bad … when you see someone who does not look like they belong here be sure to speak up.”

I posted back, asking who was moderating the list, and requesting to be removed from it. That triggered a series of abusive email messages from this realtor and from some of her friends. I had previously been in the real estate business myself, but had retired and made that clear in my initial posting.

Later I learned from another agent that the white realtor had been writing the same sorts of things on Facebook, where she was challenged by someone on the basis of clear implicit racism. A similar nasty exchange ensued, and the challenger told the realtor not to contact them anymore.

In real estate, as in every profession, there are only a few bad apples who besmirch the public image of the vast majority of agents, who have the highest ethical standards and serve the community in good faith.

But follow the money: If residents are afraid of crime, they are more apt to list their homes for sale and realtors can do more business. Gosh, wasn’t that the way it worked in California before fair housing laws were enacted?

Neighbors express surprise that I now refuse to be on any of the “home alert” Yahoo groups or Nextdoor. But there is no downside to opting out. I am blissfully ignorant of the fear-mongering, the racism, and the appeals for our family to kick in to pay for the rent-a-cops.

Amelia S. Marshall, Oakland

OPD Deserves Some of the Blame

After years of participation on local Yahoo groups, skimming hundreds of those “suspicious person/car” reports, maybe I’ve seen a dozen posts where a crime was prevented or a bad guy arrested etc. because of a post.

It seemed to be more a way for people to deal with their helplessness with high crime here. Sometimes it was a Rorschach test of the person reporting.

Local Oakland Yahoo groups have a much higher percentage of such reports then Northern Oakland Nextdoor. But Glenfriends [Glenview’s neighborhood association] has a lower percentage than Temescal or Rockridge.

Right or wrong, many Oakland Yahoo group members feel such reporting is the main purpose of Yahoo groups.

Before we get pissed off at each other, we can transfer some blame to OPD, which encouraged people to report on Yahoo but didn’t train people how to accurately report useful info without the distortion of their fears and biases.

Len Raphael, Oakland

Hogwash!

There is very little talk of race on Nextdoor.com. I use it for sharing gardening tips and leaving miscellaneous things in front of my house for someone to have. Often, people do ask questions like “Was that gunfire on High Street?” Never have I seen racial profiling. Why stir the pot, Express?

Garry Ovalbach, Oakland

Well Done!

Provocative article, and very thoughtful, constructive, and civil comments [online] all around. Boy, I wish I encountered this substance and tone more frequently. Thanks, Express readers, and the East Bay community!

Zabrae Valentine, Oakland

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