Issues

Increased Funding for Adult Schools: a Social Justice Issue

Adult schools are the primary provider of English as a Second Language instruction to California’s large immigrant population. They offer a second chance at an elementary and high school education for adults who were unable to finish school as children, and provide educational opportunities for adults with disabilities. These students all tend to face more than the usual barriers as they pursue their educational goals.

But California’s adult schools have been hobbled by chronic underfunding since the Great Recession of 2008. Funding fell by about half from 2008 to 2013, and has been frozen ever since (even as funding for other branches of education has recovered).

The state also now mandates that adult schools and community colleges divide the work of educating adults. The community colleges, which are much better funded than the adult schools, generally educate the higher level students, the ones who are closest to being able to complete college level work. But it leaves the adult schools with the neediest and hardest to serve adults, and too little money to adequately serve them.

The state is currently in the process of creating next year’s budget; now is the time to ask the governor and state legislature to restore adult school funding.

Rising to the Occasion

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” --Abraham Lincoln

For those of you who read Mayor Tom Butt’s e-forum, you no doubt have noticed how bitter he has become towards the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

His latest tactics – leaking private emails, sharing peoples’ home addresses, contacting their employers – are as low-down dirty as any corporate-funded political attack ad we’ve seen in this city … and we’ve seen plenty. To have it come from a sitting mayor is unseemly at best (can you ever imagine Gayle McLaughlin ever doing this?), and an abuse of power at worst. (How many private citizens have to worry about their Mayor spending hours digging up dirt on them and publicizing it?)

And to have it come from Mayor Butt, who has generally been above these kinds of smear tactics and decried them in the past, is just plain disappointing. The night after the 2016 elections, when we were all reeling from a vicious and degrading political season, the RPA and RPA-endorsed electeds released a statement saying,

At times, the members of the Council will surely disagree with each other about the best ways to solve Richmond’s many challenges. Our city will be well-served when decisions are debated with rigor, passion, and civility. Given the extreme challenges from the outcome of the presidential election, our national government may be wracked by division and malice, but in Richmond, let our Council demonstrate how dissent and decency can co-exist.

To Mayor Butt particularly:

We look forward to working with Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Jael Myrick in a spirit of constructive collaboration. There is common ground in many areas and it is land worth cultivating. Let us all bring our best selves to the table and rise to this occasion.

The statement was written in hopes that political discourse in Richmond could show that “dissent and decency can co-exist.” But Mayor Butt’s malice towards the RPA isn’t coming from radically different policy views (e.g. both Butt and the RPA agree about the importance of ensuring affordable housing, but disagree on the strategies), but rather a threat to his power. Butt is the most entrenched part of Richmond’s political establishment. He’s held power for 22 years, and doesn’t intend to let go in 2018. Now he is faced with young, diverse and dynamic new leaders.

A group of leaders who are rooted in the movements for clean energy and the rights of low income and working folks. Who are not backed by corporate money but hundreds of volunteers who believe in them and their vision. Who represent the future and all our hopes and dreams for it.

Many of us are inspired by this future and joyfully moved to action. Others are threatened and lash out.

ACLU Considering Taking on Tom Butt

In case you missed it, a recent Richmond Confidential article covered Tom Butt’s recent attack on Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez, two RPA members; and the ACLU’s plans to consider getting involved

Opponents and supporters criticize Richmond mayor for ‘doxxing’ his political adversaries, call Tom Butt’s weekly email newsletter a ‘smear campaign’

Opponents – and even supporters – of Tom Butt say Richmond’s mayor is guilty of what one critic described as a “flagrant abuse of power” and a council member called “highly inappropriate” actions.

Emails between the mayor and residents, obtained by Richmond Confidential, indicate that many in the community were alarmed when the mayor used his regular “e-forum” to doxx political adversaries, sharing their home addresses and accusing them of violating Richmond’s rent control ordinance.

Butt rejects claims that he overstepped his bounds and has steadfastly defended his actions. But the drama could move outside City Hall, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is reportedly looking into the controversy.

It all began earlier this fall, when Richmond Confidential quoted resident Eli Moore in an October 3 article about a new ferry service coming to the city. Butt, a major proponent of the ferry, took issue with Moore’s assessment that, while the ferry will greatly improve access to San Francisco, many residents will not benefit equally from the service.

A day after the story’s publication, in his weekly email dispatch known as the “Tom Butt E-Forum,” the mayor responded to the article by accusing Moore of “embracing the dark side.”

To read on, click here

Appalling Conditions for Female ICE Detainees in Richmond Jail

Recent news stories (broken by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis Taylor) about appalling conditions for female ICE detainees have prompted strong calls for investigations of the West County Detention Center in Richmond. The jail receives $6 million per year from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run a federal detention center to house people suspected of immigration violations.

Taylor detailed accounts of women being locked up and made to wait up to 23 hours for bathroom access, and forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also described other problems, such as lack of health services, and being punished for speaking Spanish. Several elected officials have called for investigations, including Nancy Skinner who requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra look into the allegations.

On November 4, members of the public rallied in front of the jail to protest the conditions. Former Richmond Mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin, went further, noting that “Citizens and elected officials of Richmond, myself included, have demanded repeatedly that you [Sheriff Livingston] cease and desist participating in ICE abuses and that you terminate your contract with ICE. You have ignored these requests and by doing so, have violated the dignity and principles of our City and County.”

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act

On Monday, a group of organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that limits California’s cities and counties from implementing rent control on newer properties.

In the words of Richmond City Councilmember and Assembly Candidate Jovanka Beckles, “This leaves millions of California tenants at the mercy of real estate speculators. By repealing Costa Hawkins, we can make sure low income families, students, educators and seniors with fixed incomes have the renter protections they deserve."

The next step is for the Attorney General to give the proposed initiative a title, summary and financial analysis. From there, organizers will have to collect enough valid signatures to place it on the November 2018 ballot.

There have also been attempts to introduce legislation repealing Costa-Hawkins, including a bill introduced this past February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), but he pulled it in the face of strong opposition from the real estate industry, and landlord/apartment lobby.

Social Equity in the Marijuana Economy

Do a google search for “equity” and “marijuana” and you are likely come up with numerous hits for private equity investing opportunities, and other ways Wall Street can cash into this newly legalized market.

But progressives have another type of equity in mind: social equity. How can we ensure that what will likely be a booming business benefits local people and economies, particularly communities who have been disproportionately hurt by the “war on drugs”?

Many cities in California are looking to Oakland for its innovative cannabis Equity Permit Program. Informed by recommendations from the Department of Race and Equity, during the first phase of cannabis permitting, half of Oakland’s permits will be reserved for residents who were convicted on marijuana-related charges before 1997. Residents with mean incomes under 80 percent who have lived for 10 years in select parts of East Oakland, West Oakland, and Fruitvale – areas with high concentrations of marijuana arrests – also qualify under the program. Finally, entrepreneurs who incubate equity applicants through providing free rent (for example), can also get priority. After the city collects $3.4 million in business taxes from the cannabis sector, the City will start a second permitting phase in which it will offer assistance such as no-interest loans to equity applicants.

In Richmond, city staff will be seeking Council direction on drafting regulations for recreational cannabis businesses. Richmond currently allows unlimited medical cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, but only a limited number of dispensaries. The regulations are quite extensive, with all cannabis businesses taxed at 5 percent, and will continue next year for both medical and other uses.

In the past two months, the Richmond Planning Commission approved medical cannabis cultivation conditional use permits at two locations. One, on the site of the old Tradeway Carpet building and complex on Carlson Blvd, will house five separate grow operations. The Pullman Neighborhood Council (under Naomi William's leadership) asked for additional conditions for the safety and beautification of the neighborhood, and the Planning Commission included them all in the Conditional Use Permit. The main addition is a requirement of each operator to pay $5,000 per year ($25,000 total) into a fund that they will administer and disburse based on recommendations of the neighborhood council.

Jovanka Burns It Up at AD15 Candidate Forum

The California Democratic Party African-American Caucus hosted a candidates forum last Saturday on the Contra Costa College campus. WCCUSD board member Mister Phillips organized the event, and the keen interest in the Assembly District 15 primary race, still seven months away, showed in the large turnout.

Jovanka’s answers to the series of thoughtful questions posed by moderator Paul Cobb revealed her deeply held progressive beliefs, and more importantly, the high passion for social justice that motivated her to first run for office 11 years ago. Her responses were very often singular: she was the only panelist to back a moratorium on charter school proliferation, measures to incentivize housing cooperatives and build low-cost housing, and a moratorium on new fracking infrastructure.

Her deep understanding of racial injustice also emerged in her reply to the question, “What are your top three criminal justice reforms?” She proposed not only abolishing private prisons and ending cash bail — responses echoed by other candidates — but probation reform, a statewide ban-the-box for jobs and housing, and true expungement of criminal records.

One ingredient that elevates Jovanka above the pack is her Category 5 personality, and when it shone through, she lit up the room. When asked, “What would you do to prevent sexual harassment in the state legislature?” her answer brought the most vigorous applause of the day: “Put more women in powerful positions—like me!”

You can be part of the campaign to make Richmond a formidable presence in Sacramento! Jovanka is the only candidate with a strong, proven record for social, racial, economic and environmental justice. Learn how you can get involved at www.jovanka.org.

CCC Racial Justice Task Force Forum

One of the most significant achievements of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition is the creation of an official CCC Racial Justice Taskforce to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  The 17-member Taskforce, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, has been formed and is conducting a series of fora to meet and hear from residents.

The Taskforce is focused on:

1. Researching and identifying consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;

2. Planning and overseeing implementation of the measures once identified; and

3. Reporting back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

700 Say NO to Rocketship Charter!

It was an amazing turnout at the WCCUSD Board meeting this past Wednesday as 700 people showed up to oppose Rocketship’s charter application for San Pablo. Rocketship is a charter management company founded by tech multi-millionaire John Danner, which employs uncredentialed teachers who run computer labs where young children spend up to 80 to 100 minutes daily.

Parents, students and educators from all schools in San Pablo showed up to oppose the charter, while “Rocketship San Pablo” did not have a single parent from the San Pablo community present. (Rocketship bused in bus families from Antioch to advocate for them.) And according to families from San Pablo schools, Rocketship obtained signatures by standing in front of the Montanas Supermarket misleadingly urging families to sign a petition to “support our schools.”

According to the United Teachers of Richmond, Rocketship has a pattern of promising that they will not take over existing school facilities, claiming they seek private investment instead – a promise they repeated during their presentation. However, Rocketship has ended up asking the district to give them a facility for their last five charters. With this track record, parents are worried about which San Pablo school may have to close if the Rocketship charter is approved.

It seems like Rocketship may be trying to purposely move the deadline of the vote to December so that they can apply in the County. Teachers, parents, and community members have vowed to stop this application, even if it means taking the fight to the state.

Thank you to Board members Cuevas, Kronenberg, and Phillips for challenging Rocketship during their discussion and for standing up for our students!

Activists Protect Community from Toxic Coal Dust

Trains heaped with coal pass through Richmond every week on their way to the city’s port.
In Parchester Village, a largely black and Latino neighborhood in northwestern Richmond, residents say coal dust blows off the open mounds, covering the grass and coating their screen doors.
“This little neighborhood, nobody seems to care about,” says Paul Marquis, who moved to Parchester Village three years ago.
Marquis says in the last year, he’s seen more trains go by, and more black dust on his property.
“It’s everywhere,” he says. “If your truck sits here for two, three days without moving you can write your name on the front.”
To demonstrate, Marquis pours a bucket of water down his screen door.
It runs off dark.

--“Coal dust worries Richmond Residents,” KQED Science, June 22, 2015

coa_l.pngAt the Levin-Richmond Terminal, which at its peak moved more than a million tons of coal per year, the wind blows over massive uncovered piles of dirty coal, carrying toxic dust into nearby neighborhoods and into the Bay. Coal dust is laced with toxins such as arsenic, lead, and mercury; and prolonged inhalation is linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. According to the Sierra Club, “each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.”

Activists have worked for years to curb exports of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke), which not only create local health impacts but also spell climate disaster. A Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Baykeeper introduced some improvements: in 2014 the company agreed to enclose the conveyor system it used to load the ships and to pause operations on very windy days. This helped prevent coal from dropping and blowing into the Bay, but unfortunately did nothing to address the coal dust problem.

Shortly thereafter, the Richmond City Council passed two resolutions: one calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to ensure that all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities. The other opposes the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas, and prohibits exports from city land. Those were important signals, but much more needs to be done to protect our community’s health.

Environmental activists vowed to redouble their efforts on the Levinson-Richmond terminal at a campaign meeting at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center.