Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oakland News: Facebook Page Blasts CEDA, Initiative Proposed, Upcoming Interviews

There's a lot going on in Oakland, but I'm figuring out that, frankly, this city of mine isn't as socially connected as it likes to think it is.  There are only a handful of bloggers, a small group of people who read them, and few, considering the total population, who use Twitter to tweet or any camcorder to vlog. In short, a lot of information about what happens in Oakland goes without matching content.   Just saying - though I'll say more about this later.

One small Facebook Page group of people is growing organically. Called "Terrorized by CEDA Oakland, CA," it has about 198 "likes" and it's not going to reach massive proportions unless someone connects Oakland's Economic Development boss, Walter Cohen to a sex scandal; I'm just kidding, of course, but you get the idea, given media today, and my opening paragraph.

A problem at the Community And Economic Development Agency CEDA, first reported here and at Oakland Focus by Gwillym Martin, caught the eye of the Alameda County Grand Jury. Now that's all well and good, but the Grand Jury can't throw anyone in jail and it's recommendations are too often alarmingly ignored, especially by the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority. But this is not about "The Authority," as it's called at times. It's about CEDA.

The Alameda County Grand Jury's report was just released and you can read it here: . But to save you the trouble of wading through document text, this is the opening paragraph you have to start with:


The 2010-2011 Alameda County Grand Jury received numerous complaints from property owners regarding building inspection fines, protocols, and abusive practices in the city of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency’s (CEDA) Building Services Division (Building Services). These complaints were consistent with issues that had been raised by the 1999-2000 Alameda County Grand Jury wherein they recognized improvement was needed in Building Services. The current Grand Jury’s investigation determined that the recommendations of the previous Grand Jury had not been addressed, and in fact, the situation had deteriorated. The reviews, reports, interviews, and testimony provided to the current Grand Jury indicate that significant reform is needed as set forth in the body of this report.

That's about as bad as it gets, folks.

Here are the complaints listed in the Grand Jury report:

1. inconsistent standards for citing blight and nuisance/substandard violations;
2. lack of timely and understandable notice of violations;
3. lack of clarity about the abatement process;
4. difficulty in contacting and working with inspectors;
5. inconsistent evaluations by different inspectors working on the same case;
6. unprofessional, retaliatory and intimidating treatment by inspectors;
7. excessive and exorbitant fees, fines and liens;
8. unclear and ineffective appeals process that is sometimes ignored by
Building Services personnel;
9. lack of a reasonable amount of time to comply and take corrective
10. impropriety in the selection of abatement contractors, including
allegations of ethical violations in awarding contracts and a lack of transparency;
11. citizens feel discouraged from correcting blighted or substandard properties because it is too difficult and expensive to work with Building Services.

And some of the examples of mistreatment of the Oakland community are hair-raising, even if you don't have hair. Here's an example:

One property owner received a warning notice threatening large fines if abatement did not occur. The owner did not understand because the property was well kept. The owner discovered that an employee of the city’s Keep Oakland Beautiful Program gave a packet of blank warning notices to a neighbor who then distributed the notices throughout the neighborhood. The property owner then received a formal citation from Building Services regarding “offensive plant overgrowth” and then filed a written appeal that was misplaced by the city. The owner subsequently trimmed a shrub and the inspector told her by phone to disregard the notice. The owner asked for written confirmation of dismissal and the inspector refused. The property owner scheduled a re-inspection and the inspector failed to appear.

You can read the rest of the report for yourself. But, really, even with the Grand Jury's findings and recommendations, it's going to take an initiative process to change things.

An initiative?

That's something proposed by a group of Oakland citizens, but I don't have much more in terms of what the initiative would consist of. They're in the process of gathering signatures, I'm told, and I as I get more information, I'll share it with you. In my conversations with my source, my bet was that they would not get too far, but I could be wrong. I'm being deliberately cryptic here for a reason. More later.

Upcoming Interviews: Kaplan, Russo, Schaaf

Last week, I conducted three long interviews with Oakland's At Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Alameda City Manager John Russo, and new Oakland Councilmember Libby Schaaf. The Kaplan and Russo videos will be up today; Libby's I have to redo and because somehow I lost my Flip Video Camera. Cried? Hell, yeah!

It fell out of my shoulder bag, and because I put it there, rather than in my pocket, as I usually do. I'm toying with the idea of using my new iPhone for all video-blogging, but the Flip is easier to hold and use. (I still have four camcorders, when you count the iPhone, but still the Flip was the best one.) Anyway, that aside, the Libby interview was classic, but we can recreate that magic again. In all, what I discovered was that Kaplan, Russo, and Schaaf, are all focused on how to do more with scarce resources. It's a new position for all elected officials to be in, but it governs their thinking on a lot of issues.

That aside, and on the matter of the City Attorney, Kaplan and Schaaf think the pay scale, set at what's calculated in the City Charter, should be maintained. Russo says Oakland can't get a good person at the level of pay that results - about $165,000. Libby sternly offers that she took a pay cut but did so because she loves Oakland.

My take sides with Russo. Libby's a gem - there just aren't a lot of Libby's running around. So, Oakland has to make sure it's able to attract the best candidates for what is, and should be, an elected position. Not appointed.

Stay tuned.

San Francisco CPMC Hospital Protest At City Hall - Mayor's Office Absent

On Friday, San Francisco City Hall got a visit from some "Angry Birds" in the form of supporters of an effort to build a new California Pacific Medical Center Hospital at Cathedral Hill. What has been described as a "complex," six-year negotiating battle, has evolved to the point where CPMC, upset that community opposition is standing in the way of job creation, called out as many people as it could collectively get it's hands on - employees, spouses and significant others of employees, and even kids - to come to San Franciso's City Hall and show support on it's steps.

What's the problem?

At issue is something called The Cathedral Hill Facility (pictured at left). What the nonprofit California Pacific Medical Center wants to do is build the $1.9 billion edifice and it wants to rebuild the St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission district, said to be "aging."

But the sticking point, according to The San Francisco Examiner, is that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has asked for $108 million from the CPMC to mitigate impacts to affordable housing and traffic, and asked the CPMC to contribute $34 million a year in charity care benefits to lower-income patients, in addition to its contribution of $86 million in 2009. CPMC says the Mayor's proposal is not feasible for their cost / revenue structure.

At the protest, the supporters, like Steve Falk, the CEO of The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, as you can see in the video, talked about the jobs that would be provided with the new hospital. This need not be a "complex" issue: unemployment, at over 10 percent in most Bay Area counties, and just over 8 percent in San Francisco, is a problem. And under-employment, where people just take a job to make money, rather than earning what they need for a proper existence, is an even larger, yet insanely not officially documented problem.

If you think about it, we have people who are well-paid, making decisions that impact people who aren't well paid. It's easy for someone to screw around when it's their goose that's not being cooked.

Mayor's Office Unresponsive

During Friday's protest, this blogger made a quick walk over to the San Francisco Mayor's Office, expecting that someone would be able to offer a statement. What I got was weird for a Mayor's Office.

Now, I like Ed Lee, always have, so this is not personal. But he can correct it.

I walked into an environment where there were five guys at the desks, two on the phones, two others talking to staffers, and the fifth person reading. Two of the men got off phones, and one of them looked at me and said "You can talk to anyone of us." So I asked to get a statement on the protest going on, outside.

Such a request is a matter of routine for a Mayor's Office to handle. It takes a few seconds, and a savvy office would already have a one-sheet ready for the press, upon request. Not so here; the man said "They're all out to lunch. You need an appointment."

Wow. That's a new one. No offer to call the spokesperson - nothing. I didn't waste time - I left the office, and made note of the encounter on the video.

And why can't the Mayor's Office get any women in there? In all of my years that's the first time I've seen a totally-male-staffed Mayor's Office main greeting room. They got something against women?

But I digress.

The Mayor and San Francisco Supervisor David Campos are doing business-as-usual in a weak economy. It's a time of budget cuts, layoffs, and shrinking spending. To stem that tide of economic shrinkage, the Mayor and the Supervisor should give a little more than they have thus far.

Stay tuned.