By the RPA Schools Action Team
The list of twenty violations for which a student can be suspended in the West Contra Costa School District includes threats, weapons, damage to school property, and fighting. The catchall “willful defiance” of “valid authority” is a controversial cause for suspension that can include wearing a cap, answering back, or standing when asked to sit.
Willful defiance is not just vague, it is discriminatory, since it is used disproportionately against African-American students. Moreover, once a student is sent home, he or she becomes more likely to become involved in gang activity, drop out of school entirely, or engage in other high-risk behaviors. For these and other reasons, some school districts have eliminated the policy. California law bans it for grades 3 and under, and the California State Senate just passed SB 607, the “Keep Kids in School Act” that will extend the ban through grade 12.
WCCUSD Board member Mister Phillips recently proposed that the board adopt an immediate ban on all willful defiance suspensions. Leadership of the United Teachers of Richmond union and others objected on two grounds: the teachers were not consulted, and the district lacks appropriate measures to handle disruptive students. UTR supported the policy to ban the practice but called for different groups, including teachers, to study the issue.
RPA Schools Action Team supports the ban but recognizes that the issues raised by UTR are valid. Without restorative justice or other practices in place to handle disruptive students, the ban may be ignored or result in classroom chaos. Nonetheless, we recognize that an open-ended request for more study often results in slow death for a proposal. Accordingly, we suggest the school board immediately declare a ban that will take effect in six months, and in the interim, in consultation with all stakeholders, consider and implement meaningful alternatives to suspension.
By Mike Parker
Even the Contra Costa Times is calling for Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson’s resignation or removal. He illegally diverted $66,000 from his campaign fund for personal use. He lied on sworn statements he filed. As many have pointed out he prosecutes people who have stolen far less and who have not violated the public trust. And all of this while making a salary of $300,000 per year. Most people who are caught embezzling money do not get to keep their job.
This highlights the gross injustice of what we call our “justice system.” Mark Peterson’s career as DA may be toast, but replacing him with a like-minded DA who has not been caught just maintains the unfair justice system. In the 2018t election we need a DA whose main campaign promise is that he will go after the bank executives who are fleecing poor people, the managements of the refineries who make unsafe decisions and the police and other government officials who use their authority to abuse people.
At the same time the DA must take a different approach to the crimes that come from poverty and youthful mistaken decisions. There are actually DAs who take this approach. Going viral right now is a TED talk by a Boston prosecutor Adam Foss. It is worth the time to hear how we can use government to fix some of our problems.
The fight against the Sheriff’s $95 million West County Detention Center expansion is growing, with electeds such as State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia joining cities such as Richmond and El Cerrito in opposing the plan.
What’s a better use of $95 million? How about more funding for programs for young people, expanded mental health care and additional job training programs? If you agree, you are no alone – in fact you are in the vast majority. A recent survey of voters in Contra Costa County found that seven in ten voters support shifting investment from the local sheriff’s department to community reinvestment policies: “Voters strongly support an array of community reinvestment policies which emphasize access to health care services; increased access to early education and after-school programs; and employment opportunities for the most vulnerable, including communities of color, foster youth, low-income families, and the formerly incarcerated.”
Although the CCC Board of Supervisors voted in February in favor of the jail expansion, they don’t have the money for it. The county would need to pay at least $25 million, and are relying on the state to come up with the rest of the funding. So it is applying for a $70 million grant from the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Please consider signing a petition to the Board of State and Community Corrections.
Richmond Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles has announced her intention to run for Assembly District 15.
TA: Tell us a little bit about what you have achieved as a Councilmember in Richmond.
JB: As a city council member, I stood up to big real estate interests and helped Richmond become the first new rent control city in a generation. Big Soda spent millions as I campaigned to tax their deeply unhealthy products and invest the funds in nutrition and youth athletics. Working with law enforcement, I created the Richmond Municipal ID Program that allows immigrants to safely identify themselves to the police. I introduced and led the effort to raise the minimum wage and banned the box for city contractors and public housing applications in Richmond.
TA: The RPA has endorsed you multiple times for City Council, not only because of your progressive values, but also because of your vow to not take corporate political contributions. Will you continue that pledge?
JB: Billion-dollar corporations buying elections are not going to create the future we all want for California. That is why I do not take contributions from corporations -- and never will.
I am running a campaign built on individual donations and support from ordinary people. Not interest groups that are trying to influence the process for the benefit of the very few.
This campaign is for the people: it’s for regular folks who work for their living and need real change in our politics, economy and culture to thrive. I believe that by working together for a corporate-free government, we can pass laws and budgets that will expand the middle class of California for decades to come.
TA: In your experience, how has the repudiation of corporate campaign contributions made a difference in Richmond?
JB: As a member of the Richmond City Council I received a lesson in how big corporate special interests try to dominate the political process.
Chevron spent more than $3 million against me because I insisted on strong environmental protections for our community. But Chevron lost as thousands of Richmond residents re-elected me and voted for a progressive direction for our city. Richmond transformed as we revitalized the way neighbors fight for their democracy.
We are coming up to a critical juncture in the four-year effort to set transparent, enforceable caps on refinery emissions.
At issue is Bay Area Air Quality Management District Rule 12-16, which would finally set facility-wide emission limits on greenhouse gases, particulates, and toxic sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide from refineries. Right now BAAQMD only regulates various parts of refineries, and if the District does not quickly put a facility-wide cap on emissions, oil refiners such as Chevron will be allowed to process dirtier, heavier crude (such as tar sands) that could increase overall refinery emissions by 40-100 percent region-wide.
Richmond City Councilmember and RPA Member Jovanka Beckles has announced her candidacy for Assembly District 15. Jovanka says:
As a counselor for underserved youth, I’ve seen how the lives of our kids and their families can be transformed. As a city councilmember, I’ve seen how neighbors can organize a city from hopelessness, violence and systemic corruption to a much better future. Now I am running for the California State Assembly to help transform our state.
The RPA has endorsed Jovanka. You can read more about her campaign and make donations at www.jovanka.org.
On May 5, the California Apartment Association announced that it was suspending its lawsuit against Richmond for the city’s rent control and just cause for eviction ordinance, Measure L.
This is the (hopefully) marks the end of the CAA’s years-long effort to quash rent control in Richmond.
After the Richmond City Council passed rent control in 2015, the California Apartment Association launched a signature gathering effort in which they misled voters into thinking they were supporting rent control by signing the CAA petition. Fair and Affordable Richmond mounted a robust counter-effort, and last fall won a major victory when Measure L passed with a whopping 64.4% of the vote.
Congratulations, Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Richmond Progressive Alliance, SEIU Local 1021, Mountain View Tenants Coalition, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Stanford Community Law Clinic, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Dan Harper, Aimee Inglis, Eduardo Torres, Gayle McLaughlin, Marilyn Langlois, Mike Parker, Daniel DeBolt, Daniel Saver, Gabriel Haaland, Zak Wear, Melissa Morris, Juliet Brodie, Melvin Willis, Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, and so many more amazing folks that led the fight for the first new rent control ordinances in 3 decades, which are now in effect, reducing rents, protecting against evictions, stabilizing communities, and inspiring other cities to take bold action.
Thanks to Dean Preston for contributing.
Richmond City Council Members Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, Gayle McLaughlin, Melvin Willis, and Ben Choi marched alongside other Richmond Progressive Alliance members at the 2017 Cinco de Mayo Parade. In front of a banner that said "Say No to Trump," the RPA brought a message of tolerance and inclusion to the Latino and immigrant community of Richmond.
Photos by Juan Reardon, Jeffrey Kilbreth, and Mike Parker.
Who is the RPA? It’s made up of volunteers with passion, progressive values, and who love Richmond. In this new series, we get to know new faces on the RPA Steering Committee. We begin with Brenda Williams, a newly-elected Steering Committee member who is the organizational representative for Richmond Rainbow Pride. Her recent film Beyond Hate explored themes of free speech, including Chevron’s involvement in Richmond’s 2014 elections and the experiences of Councilmember Jovanka Beckles as she faced homophobia and racism.
TA: What are your ideas about how change and progress occur?
BW: Fortunately, there is no one way to create change and progress. But with certainty action is required. Ted Kennedy said once that he just kept showing up. Eventually, people would say, “What about that guy over there? Let him do this. He's always around.” So he kept showing up and doing what he could... I learned the same lesson from my dad. It's great to dream big, but somebody has to be willing to show up and actually do the work.
When there is work being done simultaneously all over and you string all of that work together, you have the potential for a major shift and that shift is the change. The small changes are fantastic because they allow people to see the possibilities of what can be. But it is with concerted effort and action that the big shifts occur. Inspiration allows people to step out of their comfort zone and ensure more change. For myself, I want to be part of what inspires people to work towards changing what we know needs to be changed and creating what we want in its place.
TA: How does the RPA fit in?
BW: My idea is essentially when you find someone or a group who gets it right; join them to make it happen. And if no one is making happen what you know needs to be happening, be the catalyst to get it started. I think RPA gets it right, so joining their efforts makes sense.
TA: As filmmaker, you particularly believe in dialogue as an avenue for change
BW: Talking out loud creates an atmosphere for change. It's a great way to stimulate people and bring about better and stronger discussions and ideas. Closed doors are more frightening because of the lack of transparency. So I love the idea of town hall style meetings and open dialogues but I also believe in capturing those dialogues so action items can be uncovered and initiated.
A great example of continuously being open to discussions with all types of people is that this year I received an editorial grant for my recent film “Against Hate.” I selected a filmmaker who in reviewing the footage got a chance to look closely at Richmond politics and engage in dialog with me about the salient points made in the film. She saw the grace and poise Jovanka displayed, but also we talked candidly about the success of RPA and how groups like this have to exist all over the country so we can locally affect the outcome of our future and our politics; we all have to be involved. I received an email today from the filmmaker -- who already was a social justice activist -- and she is running for an Assembly District seat and we inspired her to do this! That’s change. And to survive the next four years, we need this change over and over happening all across America.
Environmental justice activists are celebrating a small victory in the long-standing struggle to clean up toxic pollution along the south Richmond shoreline: Last week, the US EPA called on the California Department of Toxic Substances to holistically manage numerous contaminated sites along the Richmond shoreline, and urged “an effective remediation of the area that would be fully protective of human health and the environment.”
The area, which stretches from the Marina Bay to Hoffman Marsh/ Central Avenue suffers from the toxic legacy of shipyards (Marina Bay), chemical manufacturing (by Stauffer Chemical, subsequently Zeneca), a mercury fulminate plant (on UC’s Richmond Bay Campus), a battery recycling plant (Liquid Gold), and a former industrial dump (Blair Landfill). The Blair Landfill site even has radioactive hot spots, which are also legacy of Stauffer/Zeneca pesticide manufacturing.
For over a decade, a group of tenacious volunteers, under the auspices of the Richmond South Shoreline Citizen’s Advisory Group, has been working to ensure the comprehensive clean up of the area. The toxic chemicals, vapors, and heavy metals chemistry is too complicated for most to understand, but the contamination affects everything from the mudskippers that live in Stege Marsh, to the crayfish in Baxter Creek, the offshore fish which locals eat, and the birds who use the former Stauffer Chemical evaporation ponds (“fresh water lagoons” of HA 2).
EPA’s letter is a welcome response to a community which has fought this legacy of environmental racism. The Citizens Advisory Group meets with the DTSC, the Responsible Party/s at 6:30 p.m. on the Second Thursday of the month (except June and December) in the basement meeting room of the Community Services Building at Civic Center. The public is welcome.
RPA Steering Committee member Tarnel Abbott lives less than ¼ mile from the site in the Panhandle Annex neighborhood, she is a member of the Richmond South Shoreline Citizen’s Advisory Group along with City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin.