One Fire Station to Go;Street Spirit’s off the Street; Scandal Plagues Oakland Police Dept.

Top-level confusion encountered at Berkeley City Hall

The last piece of real estate in Berkeley’s renovated City Hall is finally ready for occupancy, and City Manager Weldon Rucker was thrilled to break the news to his legions of employees. “I’m pleased to announce that effective May 1, 2001 the sixth floor of the Civic Center Building is officially open for staff use,” Rucker wrote in a recent memo. “The south side of the sixth floor shall function as an employee lunchroom…. This room is called the Redwood Room on the Conference Room Scheduler. The north side of the sixth floor shall be available for meetings…. This room is called the Sequoia Room on the Conference Room Scheduler.”

Ah, redwoods and sequoias. How verdant. How bucolic. How, um, wrong. A few hours later, Civic Center Building Manager Lee Hightower issued the following correction: “The employee lunchroom was incorrectly listed as the Redwood Room; the lunchroom is located on the south side of the conference room and is called the Sequoia Room.” Rucker’s memo also announced that starting May 14, all employees must wear badges to work, no doubt to screen for Earth First!ers who heard about the endangered status of the Redwood Room and may decide to take action.· · ·

Cheers must go out to Ashland, which, after many years, is finally getting sidewalks on two of its streets. Ashland, located near Hayward, has resisted incorporating into a city for years, and instead has used that time and energy to lobby the county government for municipal services. If they had just incorporated, they would have gotten sidewalks for all their streets, but hey, better late than never. Let’s hear it for paved roads!· · ·

Vendors of the homeless- empowerment newspaper Street Spirit were shocked to learn that there would be no May issue of the monthly paper. Editor Terry Messman , who edits and lays out the entire paper, has been hospitalized for an extended period of time and was unable to complete the May issue. This is bad news for the homeless and almost-homeless vendors of Street Spirit who rely on the paper, which sells for a dollar a copy, to supplement their income. “It’s pretty disastrous,” says Chance Martin , editor of Street Sheet, a similar paper that is distributed in San Francisco. He found out about Messman’s illness too late to print an overrun of May’s Street Sheet for East Bay vendors, but he says that Street Spirit‘s vendors are welcome to cross the bay for a bundle. “It’s survival income,” Martin says of the papers, noting that for many, the only choice left during the month of May might be panhandling.· · ·

It’s a bad time of year to be short a fire station, especially with the high winds and the dry heat, but it looks like that’s what’s about to happen in North Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, where the Oakland Fire Department is making plans to demolish the old Station 8 firehouse. The OFD had decided to tear down the building after a study found it was full of health hazards that were impossible to repair; plans had originally called for a temporary facility to be constructed during the demolition period on a parking lot at 51st Street belonging to Children’s Hospital Oakland. Budgeting problems nixed that solution; instead, Station 8 crew will be shifted to other facilities and that part of the city will simply be without a firehouse for a while. “During that time, all the members will be assigned to two other stations,” says OFD spokesperson Captain Vicki Evans-Robinson . “Upon completion, those crews will be returned to the new Station 8.” In the meantime, she says, coverage of that area will be performed by the crews from nearby districts as well as through a “mutual aid” agreement with the Emeryville Fire Department. The process of building the new facility is estimated to take about a year and cost $4 million.

Last week, the OFD battled one of the worst fires in the city’s recent history, a six-alarm inferno exacerbated by the fierce winds, which burned a dozen West Oakland homes and buildings and took 245 firefighters to extinguish. Damages caused by the fire are estimated at $4.5 million–even more expensive than a new firehouse.· · ·

Fallout from the Oakland Police Department Riders scandal is still spreading around town, and on April 26 it took the form of an angry crowd who packed a meeting of the Citizens Police Review Board (CPRB). Led by the youth group Let’s Get Free, the crowd demanded that the CPRB investigate allegations that Officer Christopher Medina , who patrols the Temescal area and is connected with a lawsuit stemming from the burgeoning scandal, regularly harassed and assaulted Oakland citizens. The group’s request was tabled for technical reasons, but there is little doubt that the case of Officer Medina will come back before the board, as at least five people have accused him of excessive force and unprofessional conduct. Medina’s supporters were also out in force, led by Don Lind of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, who said that Medina was a kind, outgoing officer who often handed out Easter baskets to impoverished children.

Although no one has gotten to the truth of the most recent allegations, Medina does have something of a history. Last year, the city settled a case brought by Jim Chanin , who is one of the lead attorneys in the Riders class action suits and who represented Angelo Fullen , a young African-American man who has worked at the Metropolis Bakery for the last four years. On the evening of February 13, 1999, Fullen was walking away from the Jack London nightclub Du Soleil when, he says, Medina pulled over and roughed him up for no apparent reason.

“As [my brother and I] were going to the car, we ran into one of our old friends from high school,” Fullen says. “They started talking, and… I noticed a cop car circle one time; Medina was driving, and he had the window rolled down. I didn’t pay him no mind, ’cause we weren’t doing nothing wrong. The second time he came around the corner, he slowed down and looked at us again…. The third time he started slowing up, my brother made the comment, ‘Man they always lookin’ to mess with somebody.’ Next thing I know I hear the car come smashing back. He jumped out of the car, and said [to me], ‘What the fuck did you say to me? What the fuck you say?’ I said, ‘Man, I didn’t say nothin’ to you,’ He said, ‘No, you said somethin’ to me.’ My brother and his friends started walking to us, and he saw my brother and said, ‘Man, one of you motherfuckers said something to me.’

“That’s when I said, ‘Hold on, you need to show us a little more respect. We all men here, we all work just like you.’ He said, ‘Shut the fuck up!’ and I said, “Man, don’t use that language toward me.’ Then he just snapped. He grabbed me off the curb and slammed on the hood of his car. I never resisted him whatsoever, but he started punching me in my back, pulling my arm up and twisting it. He handcuffed me, threw me in the car.

“My wallet fell out when he slammed me on the car, and [Medina’s] partner went to retrieve [it] from my friend. When he opened up my wallet, I guess he seen my credit cards and stuff, and he kinda looked up like, ‘Aw, man.’ Everything started changing after that. He got me out of the car, took my cuffs off, and sat me on the ground. [A police sergeant] showed up and started asking questions about what happened. I really didn’t wanna talk to her–I just wanted to get out of that situation as fast as possible.”

Fullen was never charged with a crime, and a few days later stopped by Chanin’s office to talk lawsuit. Last year, the city settled the case for the relatively modest amount of $23,000–it didn’t help Fullen’s case that he had done several years of probation for possession of cocaine. According to Deputy City Attorney Claudia Leed , the city settled as a practical matter, not because Fullen’s case was so strong. “We didn’t believe that the evidence supported his claim of disablement; we don’t believe that he suffered a sustained beating,” says Leed. “We investigated the case and determined a modest settlement was appropriate in light of the risk associated with going to trial. Obviously, the plaintiff did the same thing. Both sides made an assessment and decided that it would be in their interest to settle for a small amount of money. Settling the case should in no way be interpreted as an admission of liability.”

Still, get ready to hear more of such talk. Chanin and attorney John Burris have been deposing Riders witnesses right and left, and the discovery phase of their lawsuits hasn’t even started. As for Officer Medina, no disciplinary action was ever taken regarding the incident with Fullen. But his problems–and Oakland’s–are just beginning.

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