Oakland’s pot equity program withering on the vine

Marijuana smokingOakland’s long-touted program to help black and brown pot entrepreneurs succeed alongside bigger marijuana businesses is dead.

Officially, it’s around still. But it may as well not be.

The program was crafted so Oakland natives and longtime residents, especially those arrested and jailed for marijuana-related offenses during the failed war on drugs, could get a stake in the legitimized cannabis industry.

For two years, the city sold a dream to hundreds of hopeful people: 616 applicants sought assistance under the equity program as of last month, city records show. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

California unemployment rate at record low 4.1%

JobsCalifornia’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in September, a record low since it started tracking the number this way in 1976, the Employment Development Department reported Friday.

The Bay Area boasted the state’s lowest unemployment rates, falling below 3 percent in eight of the nine counties, all but Solano, where it was still under the statewide average.

The San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose metro areas all posted unemployment rates that were the lowest for the month of September since 1990. They fell below the lows set in September 1999, the peak of the dot-com boom.

Economists cheered the numbers, coming 10 years after the financial crisis that sent the country into a tailspin, but said they may be overstating the health of the labor market. Wage growth is still subpar, with benefits and bonuses making up a growing percentage of total compensation. And the labor force participation rate, which measures the percent of the adult population with a job, is markedly below where it was 10 year ago. This suggests that there are still discouraged workers sitting on the sidelines who could be pulled back into the labor force if wages were more enticing and employers more willing to hire them. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

California cities top list of towns with worst roads in U.S.

road_blockCongratulations, California. The top three cities with the worst roads are all from the Golden State.

The nonprofit organization TRIP, which researches transportation issues, released a report on Wednesday listing the country’s roughest roads.

California drivers probably are not surprised by the findings, which state that the top three worst areas in the nation for rough roads comes from our state.

The San Francisco Oakland area – congrats to you, you’re No. 1. According to the report, 71 percent of the roads there are in bad shape.

San Jose came in second with 64 percent, and the Los Angeles area came in third with 57 percent. …

Click here to read the full article from ABC7 News

Oakland City Council Passes ‘Abolish ICE’ Resolution

OaklandOakland’s city council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday evening calling on Congress to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf made headlines months before Democratic-Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) upset longtime Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in a primary earlier this year when Schaaf alerted illegal immigrants in the Bay Area of impending ICE raids. Schaaf also signed a letter calling for ICE to be abolished.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who authored the resolution, told the East Bay Citizenthat “ICE’s actions have had ramifications in our own backyard.”

“ICE came into West Oakland and tore apart a family while falsely slandering them–claiming it was a criminal case–when they were filing a civil deportation action and no criminal charges,” she reportedly said. “We’ve now experienced enough of ICE telling lies, ripping apart families, and leaving guns loose where they get into the hands of murderers and spreading racism.” …

Click here to read the full article from Breitbart.com/California

Santa Clara and 49ers Developing Fractious Relationship

Photo Credit: Diane Cordell via Flickr

Photo Credit: Diane Cordell via Flickr

In 2010, when Santa Clara voters approved creating a city-run stadium authority to build an NFL stadium to attract the San Francisco 49ers, politicians patted themselves on the back for getting things done and luring a storied franchise 45 miles south to Silicon Valley. The relocation took place before the 2014 season.

The contrast with Oakland and its inability to come up with a stadium proposal that would keep the Raiders from eyeing other metro areas was clear. Leaders in the cash-strapped city were unable to prevent the Raiders from committing in 2017 to moving to Las Vegas and working with the Nevada state government on a financing plan that should yield a 65,000-seat stadium for the team to begin using in the 2020 season.

But now the narrative has taken a dramatic shift, and it’s Santa Clara leaders who are facing grief in their community over the 49ers’ arrival in town and the impact of the $1.27 billion Levi’s Stadium (pictured), named after the San Francisco company which paid for marketing rights.

What was billed as a win-win situation by team and local officials now looks far more complex. The initial honeymoon has long since given away to a fractious relationship.

The biggest annual strain is over how much the team must pay per season. A complex agreement set the 49ers’ rent and operating fees at $24.5 million for the 2017 season. The 2018 assessment was fought over for months before an arbitratorrecently said the amount should be set at $24.762 million for the coming season, an increase of just over 1 percent.

The ruling contradicted the team’s analysis of baseline rent, stadium operating expenses, debt service and capital reserves. The 49ers argued their total payment should be as little as $16.775 million – a 32 percent cut. The city asked for as much as $25.862 million – a 6 percent increase.

“We want to work with 49ers, not against them,” Mayor Lisa M. Gillmor said in a statement released after the arbitration decision. “Hopefully the team understands that Santa Clara will always put community interests first.”

There have also been squabbles over the city’s 10 p.m. weeknight curfew for events at the stadium, which has the potential to cause headaches for the team, given the regular season games the NFL holds each week on Monday and Thursday nights, as well as the preseason games that are regularly scheduled on weeknights. Some residents respond by citing quality-of-life issues created by team-related traffic.

Personal-seat license fees needed for revenue model

Both the city and the team share concerns over attendance. While the 68,500-seat stadium regularly sells out on paper, Pro Football Talk and other popular NFL websites took to mocking the 49ers last fall after an October game in which the stadium seemed less than half full, pushing ancillary revenues down. An unexpected problem has been the intense heatseen at Levi’s Stadium for several preseason and regular season games.

A five-game winning streak to end the 2017 season raised hopes that attendance will improve going forward. But as Pro Football Talk pointed out, the team and city have reason to be deeply worried about renewals for personal seat licenses, the expensive way that fans can guarantee themselves top seats at games.

The license fees are crucial to the revenue model being used to pay off construction and related debt. Many once-successful teams have struggled to sell PSLs after their fortunes took a turn for the worse.

Meanwhile, the long-shot hope that the Raiders would continue to have a presence in Northern California after their 2020 move to Las Vegas has been dashed. Nevada media outlets recently reported that the team is likely to move its preseason training camp from its longtime base in Napa to Reno that summer.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Small Businesses Threatened by Potential Plastic Ban

On the corner of my block in Oakland sits a small eatery serving everything from donuts to Chinese food to barbecue. Its large picture windows with faded lettering tells you its age and the loyal following of customers it enjoys. Its status is all the more remarkable considering that a new shopping center with chains and restaurants is bustling with customers just two blocks down. The struggle to remain solvent in a changing neighborhood would only worsen if state legislation to ban polystyrene foam returns for a third year in a row. Adding to the burden of small business with the proposed ban is especially senseless when food container alternatives are on the rise organically.

Polystyrene containersThis small eatery was beating the odds against small businesses. It worked around Oakland’s $13.23 minimum wage by using its own labor and closing for a day or two per week. It survived possible rent hikes and attractive buyout offers for its storefront located on a major bus line and blocks from other transit options. Even more, its product stood out amidst a sea of assembly line food options. It was comfort food so conveniently located that even new residents like myself couldn’t resist. They piled the food high in white polystyrene containers that would keep it hot, no matter the walk or bus ride home.

Currently, 116 cities and counties in California enforce some type of polystyrene ban. The patchwork of municipalities that have banned polystyrene range in their scope. Some bans are for government organizations only; others have provisions to ease small businesses into the ban. There’s even a current ban in Oakland, with an exemption for small businesses or anyone who can prove that the requirements to provide a compostable food container item “would cause undue hardship.” However, this exemption isn’t as kind as it may sound, seeing as the steps to prove undue hardship are themselves imposing undue hardship. Owners have to produce financial records and anything else the city requires, taking additional time away from their business to prove their case to officials.

The bans, like the one in Oakland, typically require compostable or recyclable containers in place of polystyrene. Aside from the fact that polystyrene is recyclable in many municipalities, requiring compostable containers by law is enforcing behavior that is already being adopted by the restaurant industry without pressure from government. Large companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle serve their take-out food in compostable containers and have been before most bans were in place. They have taken advantage of their own economies of scale to absorb the additional cost. It is an advantage that makes them forerunners in purchasing first-run compostable products. In turn, compostable product companies develop newer and better products that lower in price over time.

With larger corporations leading the way next to municipal bans, further legislation, especially at the state level, would target the one area of a restaurant’s business that helps keep razor-thin margins from disappearing completely. The most recent failed legislation in the California state Legislature, Senate Bill 705, would have banned polystyrene food containers for restaurants, food trucks and grocery stores. By failing to exempt corner eateries and family-owned bodegas, SB 705, if passed into law, would unfairly punish these restaurants for using  polystyrene food containers and put them at a competitive disadvantage relative to large food vendors.

If anti-polystyrene legislation returns to Sacramento, it would be yet another hit to small businesses. Large corporations already set the example for non-polystyrene food container use while compostable options continue to grow. An outright ban is a solution to a problem that continues to shrink and a blow to the small businesses surviving in an era of increased regulation.

Those interested in cutting waste from landfills or the use of plastic in general would be better off campaigning for better recycling options for high volume polystyrene users and encouraging compostable options. They are much better options than supporting policy that unintentionally harms small restaurants woven into the fabric of communities across the state.

Martha Ekdahl is a Young Voices Advocate who writes about urban policy.

Oakland Unified Besieged by Skyrocketing Pension Costs, Declining Enrollment

OaklandIt’s been a tumultuous era in Oakland. The Police Department has been enmeshed in an ugly scandal surrounding officers’ involvement with an underage sex worker that led to an officer’s suicide, firings and turnover in the chief’s office. City Hall was unable to prevent the Oakland Raiders from agreeing to move to Las Vegas. And in the past month, Mayor Libby Schaaf has engaged in a high-profile war of words with President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over her opposition to federal immigration control efforts in her city.

But now Oakland is also wrestling with a painfully familiar story: financial turmoil in local schools. The state took some of Oakland Unified’s autonomy in 2003 after the Legislature approved an emergency $100 million loan to the then-reeling district. With $40 million of the loan still unpaid, the state continues to oversee district spending, though with a smaller role. Now there are new indications that even Oakland Unified’s limited autonomy could disappear for another long stretch as school officials struggle to make ends meet yet again.

In recent months, district officials had to approve what were described as “emergency” $9 million cuts in the district’s $521 million general fund 2017-18 budget and to authorize potentially greater reductions in 2018-19 as well. The cuts were widely denounced in public meetings as unnecessary and indicative of poor management.

This criticism has been buttressed by the Fiscal Crisis Management Action Team (FCMAT), the state agency that works with struggling school districts. In an August report, FCMAT warned that a “fiscal emergency” loomed if Oakland Unified officials didn’t quit spending reserve funds to cover budget shortfalls. FCMAT depicted the Oakland school board as irresponsible for approving cumulative raises for teachers of 14.5 percent in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years in a three-year span in which the cost of living went up by less than 2 percent. These pay hikes were the biggest drain on district reserves.

Oakland board members brought more criticism on themselves in January when they approved 5 percent pay raises for themselves. While the total amounts were small – $39 per board member per month – San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis Taylor Jr. wrote that district students and parents were appropriately “livid” about the salary boost at a time when schools often lacked funds for basics like toilet paper.

A recent East Bay Times analysis suggested there was plenty of blame to go around for Oakland Unified’s fiscal headaches. It largely absolved district Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel, who took over in January 2017, noting her predecessor had failed to follow through on plans to lay off 42 employees because declining enrollment had left the district with less than 37,000 students. Since enrollment directly determines how much state aid comes to districts, well-run districts usually reduce employees when enrollment drops. With enrollment down 33 percent from its 1999 peak of 55,000, Oakland Unified has thus faced constant pressure to downsize.

Pension costs grow 132% per teacher by 2020

But information distributed by the district before Oakland Unified trustees approved the recent $9 million in cuts pointed to another budget culprit – one that is hammering districts statewide. That is the bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. It phases in an 80 percent increase in annual contributions to CalSTRS from fiscal 2014-15 to fiscal 2020-21 – going from $5.9 billion a year to $10.9 billion.

More than two-thirds of this additional cost must be borne by local school districts. In 2014-15, they were required to pay 8.25 percent of teacher payroll to CalSTRS. Beginning in fall 2020, that amount will be 19.1 percent – a 132 percent increase in per-teacher pension funding obligations. Even in districts with high numbers of English-language learners – which receive additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula, a 2013 state law – pension obligations have created major headaches.

School Services of California – a consultant which advises a large majority of the state’s 1,000 school districts – estimated last July that at least 280 districts would struggle to pay bills in the 2017-18 school year. A San Jose Mercury-Newsanalysis at the time suggested that the just-ended 2016-17 school year might be looked back on in 10 years “as the last good year in recent times for public education.”

The August 2017 FCMAT report on Oakland Unified raised additional concerns about why the district would struggle with its finances in coming years beyond inadequate funding. FCMAT faulted the district for inadequate internal budget controls, for allowing significant expenditures without board approval and for inadequate training of officials with budget responsibilities.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

SF judge orders first-ever hearing on climate change science

A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered parties in a landmark global warming lawsuit to hold what could be the first-ever U.S. court hearing on the science of climate change.

The proceeding, scheduled for March 21 by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, will feature lawyers for Exxon, BP, Chevron and other oil companies pitted against those for San Francisco and Oakland — California cities that have accused fossil fuel interests of covering up their role in contributing to global warming.

“This will be the closest that we have seen to a trial on climate science in the United States, to date,” said Michael Burger, a lawyer who heads the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Experts on both sides say Alsup’s call for a climate change “tutorial” is unlike anything they’ve heard of before. …

Click here to read the full article from McClatchy

232 people arrested during immigration sweep in California

More than 200 people were arrested on immigration violations during a four-day operation in Northern California, but authorities said Thursday that hundreds eluded capture because of a warning from Oakland’s mayor.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said officers made 232 arrests from Sunday to Wednesday arrests and renewed threats of a bigger street presence in California, where state law sharply limits cooperation with immigration authorities at local jails.

The Trump administration has cracked down on so-called sanctuary policies, insisting that local law enforcement inform federal agents when they are about to release immigrants discovered to be living in the country illegally.

Defenders of so-called “sanctuary” practices say they improve public safety by promoting trust among law enforcement and immigrant communities and reserving scarce police resources for other, more urgent crime-fighting needs. …

Click here to read the full article from the Union Democrat

Climate Change: Local Governments Tell Different Stories in the Courtroom and on Wall Street

Global WarmingBy 2050, because of climate change, Oakland officials insist that the city faces dealing with “100-year” type floods every two years – or maybe it won’t have those floods. Apparently, that forecast all depends on who city officials are talking to – whether you are an energy company being sued by the city of Oakland demanding money because of the dangers climate change supposedly bring or you are an investor interested in buying an Oakland municipal bond. In the latter case, Oakland officials attest that the city is unable to predict the impact of climate change or flooding.

This contradiction should be a concern to taxpayers and is worthy of the panel discussion scheduled at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy on Tuesday, February 27.

The panel, which includes the Reason Foundation’s Marc Joffe and Chapman University Law Professor Anthony T. Caso, will focus on the lawsuits potential impact on municipal bonds and the ultimate effect on taxpayers. “The Unexpected Consequences of Climate Change on Government Finance” is scheduled to begin at noon at the Drescher Graduate Campus in Malibu.

Within the past year, eight California jurisdictions have filed public nuisance climate lawsuits against a slew of oil and gas companies demanding millions of dollars to offset the certain dangers facing the jurisdictions because of climate change. At the same time, these local governments have reached out to investors to back local bonds, declaring in the bond prospectus that they cannot predict risks related to climate change.

As law professor Caso suggested in an Orange County Register op-ed last month, “One could hardly be criticized for concluding that the cities and counties involved in these lawsuits have either lied to the courts or to their bond investors. If they have lied to either, there is big trouble ahead.”

The trouble for taxpayers comes if the Securities and Exchange Commission seeks million dollar penalties from the governments for making false statements to investors. When a local government must pay a penalty it falls on the backs of taxpayers. Such a consequence could also lead municipalities being required to offer more disclosure and result in higher borrowing costs for future bonds.

ExxonMobil has filed a counter action pointing out the discrepancies in the California jurisdictions’ actions—some would say hypocrisy—when discussing the effects of climate change—a different approach in the courtroom versus Wall Street. ExxonMobil argues that the lawsuits are designed to force companies to align policies with those “favored by local politicians in California.”

The integrity of the local governments and ultimately taxpayers’ financial responsibility is hanging in the balance.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily