From the News Wires

Teachers, Parents and Students March for Better Schools

Oakland Xings - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 3:45pm

Speakers called for higher wages and better schools at a San Antonio Park rally on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein


By Ken Epstein

Several hundred students, parents and teachers held a rally and marched through the streets of East Oakland this week to demonstrate their solidarity with the teachers’ union in its contract negotiations with the school district and to demand better public schools for students in the city.

The rally at San Antonio Park and march to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) headquarters at 1000 Broadway was held on Tuesday, when the district was closed for Cesar Chavez Day.

“This is just the beginning,” said science teacher Natalia Cooper, speaking at the rally.

“The OEA (Oakland Education Association) should be in the forefront of the changes in Oakland schools,” said Cooper, a member of Classroom Struggle, a group of educators from different schools in the teachers’ union.

Federico Chazez spoke at the rally.

It’s time to be “honest about the disparities between hills schools and flatlands schools,” she continued.

Kim Davis of Oakland Parents United called for higher teacher pay.

“OUSD needs to make teacher retention their first priority by compensating teachers fairly and giving them the support and respect they deserve,” she said.

“I want the district and the school board members to know that parents are paying attention. We are getting educated, and we support our teachers.”

Event organizers released a statement that focused on a number of their key issues: poor working conditions for teachers and school staff, which lead to high teacher turnover every year: opposition to the growth of charters schools – the need to keep schools public; the lack of hard caps for special education caseloads, which allows for “ballooning” classes in special education classrooms and “unmanageable caseloads” for counselors.

Other major issues: a “top-heavy budget that prioritizes high-level administrators far above the needs of Oakland’s classrooms; and spends more money for school police rather than for counselors and restorative justice programs.”

“Public schools are supposed to be run by the people – through their elected school board. You have to stay on the school board so they do what you want them to do,” said local attorney Federico Chavez, who is Cesar Chavez’s nephew.

“We’re here because we love our children,” said attorney Dan Siegel, who is a former member of the Oakland Board of Education.

“We have to demand that our teachers are paid what they’re worth. A teacher starts at barely $35,000 a year,” said Siegel, who urged people to vote next year to replace board members that do not represent them.

In response to the march, the school district released a statement Tuesday on teacher negotiations.

“We fully appreciate the inspiration for (this) march, especially the outpouring of support for our teachers from parents and students,” the statement said.

“We are 100 percent committed to our on-going negotiations at the bargaining table with the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the union representing all teachers in OUSD-run schools,” according to the statement. “The negotiations began long before Supt. Wilson joined the district on July 1, 2014, though it was not until his arrival that a solid pay increase and proposal package were offered.”

For the complete OUSD statement, go to

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

The post Teachers, Parents and Students March for Better Schools appeared first on Ken A. Epstein.

Categories: Oakland

City Council Votes to Protect Businesses in the Path of Coliseum City Project

Oakland Xings - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 3:17pm

By Ken Epstein

The City Council voted Tuesday to keep residential development out of the Oakland Airport Business Park, passing the Coliseum Area Specific Plan without the the zoning amendments that would allow market-rate condominiums and apartments to be built in the area.

Dexter Vizinau

Councilmembers overwhelmingly passed the community-backed motion to preserve the 150 businesses and 8,000 jobs that would have likely have been displaced over time.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she had heard community members’ concerns that the specific plan could eliminate the business park and that she was backing changes that would protect local businesses and jobs.

“I offered the amendment to remove housing from the (business park) zoning that is before us,” Kaplan said. “I have verified that the development team is fine with the change.”

Backing the amendments to the amendments to the plan developed by staff and consultants, Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “It’s important that we retain industrial land in this city. Loss of jobs happens when industrial lands go away.”

Businessman Dexter Vizinau spoke in favor of the change. “ It’s great to see this project moving forward. It’s about business retention, business expansion and business attraction,” he said.

“Not every kid wants to sell popcorn, clean a bathroom or punch a cash register. We want to make things. We want to build things.”

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Also speaking at the meeting were representatives of a coalition of East Oakland residents who are determined that any “New City¨ Coliseum agreement that the council signs with a developer must contain iron-clad community benefits.

Among the groups in the coalition are Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Just Cause/Causa Justa, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Residents are deeply concerned about avoiding higher rents, providing decent jobs for workers in East Oakland and affordable housing for people who earn less than $50,000 a year.

“The threat of displacement of thousands of residents has not been addressed adequately,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of OCO.

“We need to develop strategies now that will protect residents 10 years from now,” she said. “The project should protect and invest in the exiting culture of our city.”

The city currently has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team that is working on funding and talking to the Raiders and the A’s.

The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

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Categories: Oakland

UC Berkeley Black Students Face “State of Emergency”

Oakland Xings - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 2:18pm

The Black Student Union led a blockade of a UC Berkeley campus cafe on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matters movement. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz

By Rasheed Shabazz

Black students at UC Berkeley, saying they are facing isolation, alienation and oppression, are demanding the university’s administrators implement major changes to address the hostile campus climate at the nation’s most prestigious public university.

Following years of dwindling Black enrollment numbers and multiple surveys suggesting Black students are subject to racism on campus, the Black Student Union released a list of demands to Chancellor Nick Dirks.

“Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said Gabrielle Shuman, co-chair of political affairs for the Black Student Union (BSU).

Black student leaders first met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to demand changes on Feb. 13.

The demands include the creation of a resource center, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, two Black psychologists, advisors for Black student athletes and recruitment of more Black graduate students and faculty.

Students have demanded the creation of a resource center named after Mississippi human rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The symbolic demand that received the most media attention is the renaming of Barrows Hall after former political prisoner Assata Shakur, currently living in exile in Cuba.

Admissions and enrollment of Black undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley is abysmal. Currently, a little more than three percent of UC Berkeley students are Black.

The BSU has called for the hiring of staff in the admissions office to recruit Black students, as well as doubling the budget for the Getting into Graduate School (GIGS) program, a program to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups.

The few Black students attending the campus report the highest levels of disrespect, stereotypes and an anti-Black campus climate, according to multiple surveys. Black staff and faculty also report similar disrespect.

Nearly half of Black students have reported being disrespected due to their race, according to the surveys.

After a cardboard effigy was found hanged at Sather Gate before a December Black Lives Matter protest, Chancellor Dirks first pledged to work with Black students.

An anonymous queer, Black and people of color collective later took credit for the political artwork. For many Black students, the incident echoed a 2012 incident when a fraternity’s Halloween display included the mock lynching of a zombie.

In a response to student demands, Dirks said the treatment that Black students report is deplorable.

“Too many students have told us about being excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties and social events, and feeling, in a general sense, vulnerable, isolated, and invisible,” Dirks said in a letter to the BSU following a trip to Asia. “This is something we deplore.”

Chancellor Dirks said he plans to develop “a major campus initiative” to increase Black staff, faculty and student numbers, but students are skeptical.

“Black people have been oppressed by this university since its creation,” student government candidate Alana Banks, an Oakland native and BSU member and current. “The fact that we have to come up with demands for long-overdue support, to us, is a testament of our condition,” she said.

Students later met with Steele and Gibor Basri, vice-chancellor of equity and inclusion, on March 6, according to the BSU, but he did not respond before their deadline. When Dirks did, BSU said he did not address each of their demands, including the call to rename Barrows Hall.

In December, the BSU blockaded a campus café for four-and-a-half hours after the non-indictment of the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Black students have also been active in the recent “Black Brunch” protests in Oakland and Berkeley and hint the possibility of direct action if their demands are not met.

“We will persevere until Black students get what we need and deserve,” said Shuman.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (


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Categories: Oakland

Dot Earth Blog: Scenes from a Sustainability Quest, from Leopard Skin Sales to Lionfish Sashimi

NY Times Environmental News - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 1:46pm
A sustainability quest that includes leopard skins, road salt and lionfish sashimi.

State of Black Oakland (SOBO) Holds “People’s Assembly”

Oakland Xings - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 1:10pm

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Hundreds of Black activists, educators, entrepreneurs, healers and artists convened last weekend for “a People’s Assembly” to discuss and strategize solutions to improve life for Black Oakland.

The enthusiastic daylong “State of Black Oakland (SOBO) gathering was held Saturday, March 28 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland.

The assembly was a “listening space” where a coalition of Black-led organizations called on attendees to discuss what needs to be done to improve the lives of f Black people in the city.

Over a quarter of Oakland’s Black population left the city since 2000. Organizers wanted to bring Black people together to build on Oakland’s unique contributions to the Black Power Movement.

“It’s really important to remember that Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast,” said Liz Derias, co-convener of SOBO and an organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on March 28. Over 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discuss solutions to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The legacy of the Black Panther Party and other Black “do-for-self” organizations was evoked throughout the day.

“We say Black Lives Matter, but we have to have some Black Power to enforce it,” said Community Ready Corps (CRC) Founder Tur-Ha Ak. The assembly focused on CRC’s Nine Areas of Self-Determination: economics, politics, education, health, family, media, art, traditions and ways, and self-defense.

The common thread between all of the areas was Black self-determination.

During three facilitated sessions, attendees joined smaller discussion-circles to talk about solutions in the nine areas. Within the circles, participants discussed their experience within that area and explained what “self-determination” looked like within that context, and shared potential solutions.

In the area of economics, attendees talked about past and possible solutions, such as a Black business listing, food and housing cooperatives, changes in Black consumer spending and workforce training for the tech economy.

The media session, facilitated by Cat Brooks, co-chair of the ONYX Organizing Committee, discussed the need to challenge negative images of Black people in media and the need for Black ownership of media outlets and cultural spaces.

The self-defense session focused on broadening the notion of what self-defense means. “Self-defense is not only individual or physical, but it is collective and connects to all the other areas”, Ak said.

Participants discussed the need for Black people to protect themselves from what CRC defines as “primary predators”  – white supremacy – and “secondary perpetrators” – so-called ‘Black-on-Black crime’.

Organizers noted that this first “State of Black Oakland” builds on a history of collective convening of Black people in the Bay Area to assess the status of Black folk.

During the 1970s, annual “State of the Race” conferences regularly convened in the Bay Area following the 1974 Pan-African Congress in Tanzania.

Reflecting on SOBO, Oba T’Shaka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said, “It’s very positive. It builds on the Black Lives Matters Movement and is pulling in people from different walks of life.” He added, “The democratic way has been consistent with our culture.”

Organizers see this assembly as part of a process to develop a Black “People’s Agenda.” Event organizers did street outreach in the weeks ahead of the event to get input from Oakland residents. The plan is to host two more assemblies this summer, in West Oakland and East Oakland, analyze the information within the nine areas, and develop an agenda.

SOBO was organized by a coalition of organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, Black Organizing Project, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, African American Studies at Merritt College, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Community Ready Corps, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Race for the Times.

For more information about SOBO, visit or email

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

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Categories: Oakland

Oakland Unified’s Administration Bypasses School Board to Hire Jackson for $30,000 Per Month

Oakland Xings - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 12:07pm

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District administration bypassed Board of Education approval in order to pay Lance Jackson $30,000 a month to oversee the district’s multimillion dollar construction program, the Oakland Post has learned.

Jacqueline Minor

While the district is conducting a search for a new person to head the work, Jackson is overseeing OUSD’s construction programs and repairs, maintenance and custodial services.

Uncertain that the Board of Education would be willing to vote for the $30,000 a month interim contract for Jackson, the administration has decided to pull the contract and instead to pay the consultant out of the ongoing contract the district has with Jackson’s company, Seville Group Inc.

Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville, a construction management firm that provides oversight of OUSD construction projects.

The Post recently reported that Jackson was hired for the interim position at a rate of $360,000 a year – more than double the $156,000 a year received by former chief of construction management Tim White. Jackson’s annual salary is higher than the $280,000 annual salary that Supt. Antwan Wilson receives.

Passed by the board under Acting Supt. Gary Yee, the district’s $10.9 million contract with Seville was approved to provide program management services for Measure B and Measure J and capital projects on behalf of the district in the Division of Facilities Planning and Management.

Lance Jackson

The term of the contract commenced on Aug. 14, 2013 and concludes by Dec. 31, 2015. Seville received $4 million from the district in 2014.

Raising questions on the details of the agreement with Jackson, the Oakland Post asked the district administration what will happen to the Seville staff working in the district and the work they were doing when that money is transferred to cover Mr. Jackson’s pay.

In response, district spokesman Troy Flint said, “When working on large projects of the kind SGI (Seville) handles for OUSD, there’s flexibility to adjust, in fact, it’s a necessity. Lance’s contract is not going to impact the work delivered or the manner in which it’s delivered as, relative to our agreement with SGI, it’s a small piece of the pie.”

In response to the question whether the agreement with Seville allows for the company to head up the facilities department, Flint said, “There’s not explicit wording in the contract to cover this specific circumstance, but the general language of the contract indicates that decisions can be made as needed to facilitate SGI’s successful management of the projects under its scope–and this falls under that consideration.”

The Post also emailed several questions to Jacqueline Minor, head of OUSD’s Legal Department.

“Can you please tell (the Post) what is your legal rational for your decision“ when Minor approved or advised the administration to pull that contract and to instead pay Mr. Jackson from the district’s ongoing contract with SGI?”

In addition, the Post asked: “How do you respond to the public perception that the decision appears to be a way to circumvent the decision-making power of the governing board?”

Minor did not respond.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (

The post Oakland Unified’s Administration Bypasses School Board to Hire Jackson for $30,000 Per Month appeared first on Ken A. Epstein.

Categories: Oakland

Chevron agents back in Ecuadorean Amazon: Indigenous leaders.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 7:00am
Leaders in communities affected by Chevron's contamination believe agents are in their area in order to trick people into signing legal documents.

Environmentally, an unbridled, run-amok growth is killing us.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 7:00am
Another Earth Day is scheduled for this month. One day before long, our grandchildren will inhabit a wrecked globe and be furious at us for what they've inherited.

Embed the social sciences in climate policy.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 7:00am
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. Helping the organization to reform itself while moving contentious work into other forums is long overdue.

Californians Who Conserved Wonder if State Can Overcome Those Who Didn’t

NY Times Environmental News - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 6:51pm
A day after Gov. Jerry Brown announced mandatory cuts to water use, Californians said they worried that their efforts to conserve were simply not enough in the face of a four-year drought.

Arizona Bill Would Ban Local Limits on Plastic Bags

NY Times Environmental News - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 5:56pm
The bill would prevent cities and counties from regulating the “sale, use or disposition of auxiliary containers,” which include single-use disposable bags, boxes, cans and bottles.

Catholics prep for Pope Francis to tackle climate in upcoming encyclical.

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on climate change is designed to find acceptance in a huge and diverse religious flock. And many have faith that this particular pope has the leadership skills to deliver.

Obama’s mentor hates your lungs.

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Why Harvard’s Laurence Tribe is teaming up with Mitch McConnell to stop the administration’s “War on Coal”.

Jonathan Franzen: Climate campaigns killing the birds?

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
The author’s suggestion in a New Yorker essay this week that bird populations would thrive if we gave up the fight on climate change is ‘nonsense’ say conservationists.

Syracuse University to divest $1.18bn endowment from fossil fuels.

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Syracuse is the biggest university in the world to have committed to remove its endowment from direct investments in coal, oil and gas companies. It aims to make additional investments in clean energy technologies such as solar, biofuels and advanced recycling.

'They use our lungs to turn a profit.'

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Coal-fired power stations are responsible for half of South Africa’s carbon emissions. A 2006 Eskom report said its stations could kill about 600 people a year once they are all operating.

Coal the biggest contributor to toxic air pollution: Study.

Climate Change News (Offsite) - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Australia's coal industry is driving increases in air pollution according to a new analysis which names coal mining as the dominant source of air particle pollution.

Catholics prep for Pope Francis to tackle climate in upcoming encyclical.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on climate change is designed to find acceptance in a huge and diverse religious flock. And many have faith that this particular pope has the leadership skills to deliver.

Call for action on pollution as emissions linked to respiratory illnesses double.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Australian environment and health groups have called for a rapid crackdown on air pollution after a new analysis showed that emissions of a key pollutant linked to respiratory illness have doubled over the past five years.

Obama’s mentor hates your lungs.

National Environmental News on Other Sites - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 7:00am
Why Harvard’s Laurence Tribe is teaming up with Mitch McConnell to stop the administration’s “War on Coal”.


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