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Oakland Mayor Abuses Power To His Neighbors
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown Feels Unsafe In His New Neighborhood At 27th & Telegraph.
Oakland Mayor Abuses Power To Displace His Neighbors
By Lynda Carson September 20, 2003
Oaklands Mayor Jerry Brown has been moving fast with imperial decrees to displace the poor people that he judges to be offensive in his new neighborhood as part of his crusade to gentrify Oakland. Without offering the tenants any due process to defend theirselves from unfair evictions, whole buildings of renters are being tossed out upon the streets of Oakland at the whim of his highness, Mayor Jerry Brown.
During April of 2003, the Mayor moved into the condominium of his girl-friend Anne Gust at 27th and Telegraph, and since then he already has displaced two whole buildings of nearby renters after accusing them of drug activity and directing city officials to condemn the two properties they resided in as being substandard.
One of those buildings had 16 rental housing units, and as recent as September 13 2003, the renters of 2445 Telegraph Avenue had to move out of their homes or face being physically forced out onto the streets by the Sheriffs Department. The renters were served a 30 Day Notice to vacate the premises from the City of Oakland during August of 2003. Reportedly, the Mayor claimed that this was a den of narcotics at this location and then had the Building Services Department condemn the premises as being substandard as a means to displace the renters.
Locals are complaining that along with their friends and neighbors being displaced from 2445 Telegraph that the Ethiopian Restaurant located on the first floor of the premises was also forced to close it's doors and that it had great food.
During July of 2003, the renters of 509 Sycamore Avenue also faced a similiar situation when they received a 30 Day Notice served by the city, and were forced out of their homes onto the streets of Oakland. There were a number of recent raids conducted by the Oakland Police Department (OPD) searching for drugs at this location shortly before the city condemned the property as being substandard and later boarded it up.
The Mayor was directly involved and responsible for the evictions of the renters at both of these locations after he moved into the neighborhood and started accusing the locals of being a bunch of drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes.
In addition, the Mayor has had the OPD beef up patrols in the surrounding neighborhood and some locals complain of harassment while others are pleased by the extra attention.
During a discussion with the Mayors new Press Secretary, T.T. Nhu, I asked Nhu if any other renters in the Mayors neighborhood would face eviction if they offended the Mayor? "I would not characterize whats going on as evictions" says Nhu, "the Mayor was not offended, he was concerned".
Concerned about his safety, I asked? "No, concerned about the renters" Nhu said. So thats why the Mayor evicted them, I asked? "It's not really an eviction", Nhu said.
A recent quote of the Mayor in an August 31, 2003 LA Times story captures the essence of the way Brown feels about his new neighbors; "Hey, Word!" Brown shouts into his cell phone. He has called Oakland Police Chief Richard L. Word. "There's no foot patrol at night when all the action is happening. The little punks are walking around. It's jumping, and the only guy you've got out here is me."
Local housing activists have long cried foul, claiming that Oaklands rent laws are so weak that it has become a magnet for slumlords because city officials have looked the other way for years as the renters moved into ghetto locations while paying rolls royce prices. The Mayor only makes matters worse by abusing his power when evicting whole buildings of renters at a time, activists say.
Local renter Naja Strandt says, "No one really payed much attention to this neighborhood until the Mayor moved into it and suddenly her landlord started getting lots of citations for minor code violations from city inspectors". "I met the Mayor recently while walking to my home from the local bus stop and he suddenly started asking me lots of questions about my landlord or when will the building I reside in get painted, and I refused to tell him anything", said Strandt.
Ben Fulcher is also a local tenant who resides a block from the Mayors new residence and says, "the local renters are feeling terrorized by the Mayors activities. The tenants in the neighborhood have been afraid ever since the Mayor moved in", says Fulcher, "and I know a War Vet that lived at 509 Sycamore until it was raided a few times by the OPD and shut down recently. The veteran was not a drug dealer. I have lived here since 1984, and have never seen the renters so concerned about being displaced", Fulcher said.
"This is clearly a case where the tenants and landlords need to unite against the Mayor and his rich friends who are trying to chase them out of this neighborhood so that they can steal these parcels of land for dirt cheap prices", Fulcher said. "Recently, I ran upon a team of surveyors in the neighborhood conducting a survey for a possible new 27th Street Bart Station and it appears that we are in the footprint of the parking lot of the Mayors redevelopment plans or a possible new ball park", said Fulcher.
Fulcher believes that most of the low-income renters from 20th Street to Mac Arthur and from San Pablo Street to Broadway are at risk of being displaced by the proposed Uptown Project being used to gentrify the area. "This is a huge area designated for redevelopment and all of us are at risk of becoming homeless", said Fulcher.
"I had friends at the Royal Hotel when they all received a 72 Hour Notice from the city to vacate the premises, and we don't want that to happen to us around here", Fulcher said.
Indeed, the renters in the Mayors new neighborhood have good reason to believe that they are under attack and may soon become homeless as a result of further gentrification activities by city officials and the wealthy developers already drooling over the potential of this neighborhood if they can get their hands on it.
Out of the sixteen rental housing units shut down at 2445 Telegraph because of the Mayors actions, only fifteen of those units were occupied. Rental unit number three was already vacant because it smelled so bad that no one would rent it because a dead decomposed body remained in the apartment for around two months before being removed from the premises recently.
Rae Mary, the manager of the Community Housing Services Division of Oakland seemed to have a total memory loss when I asked her how many of the renters at 509 Sycamore Street received relocation fee's when they were displaced, and she would only offer the following information about those that were displaced at 2445 Telegraph Ave.
Tenants from eleven of the vacated units managed to find so-called permenant housing, while the tenants from four of the vacated units became homeless since receiving their 30 day notice from the city and they still need housing.
Twelve out of the sixteen rental units had tenants with section 8 vouchers, and two of those tenants lost their vouchers since receiving the 30 day notice. One of the two tenants has already regained her voucher back upon appeal with the Oakland Housing Authority.
Due to community pressure and public exposure of the plight of these soon to be homeless renters, city officials were compelled to pay out relocation fee's to the evicted tenants and their new landlords.
The city offered a total of $2,010 for those in studio apartments and a total of $2,390 for those in one bedroom apartments which included $200 for moving fee's.
The relocation checks had to be signed jointly by the evicted renters and their new landlords after the tenants found a new place to reside in.
What information Rae Mary was not willing to disclose, other sources of information were available to fill in the gaps.
Relocation fee's were not offered to cover payment for the illegal unregistered penthouse apartment at 2445 Telegraph that was built by the owners Michael and Stephanie Heeney who are living large in the lap of luxury at their three bedroom home with built in back-yard swimming pool at 3016 Del Monte Street, in San Mateo, CA.
Asides from the 16 legal rental housing units at 2445 Telegraph Ave, the Heeney's also own four other properties in Oakland. Four units at 1165 32nd St. Sixteen units at 2361 Fruitvalle Ave. Nine units at 2369 Humboldt Ave, and five units at 1267 80th Ave.
Slumlords are protected by Oaklands rent laws, and neither Michael or Stephanie Heeney face criminal charges for operating a building that was condemned as being substandard. During 2002, the Oakland City Council voted to remove criminal penalties from Oaklands rent laws as a part of the Spees/Brunner Housing Task Force Proposals.
Despite the alleged building code violations at 2445 Telegraph which include rodent and roach infestations that left the renters living in substandard conditions, housing activists are quick to point out that city officials ignored the problems until the Mayor took action for personal reasons of his own after accusing the renters of living in a den of narcotics.
Some of the displaced renters of 2445 Telegraph are being represented by the Law Office of Jay Koslosky and the San Francisco Law Firm of Wartelle, Weaver, and Schreiber.
Andy Choi, the owner of Andy's Cafe located near the Mayors new residence, say's, "I'm not sure if the Mayors really trying to help the neighborhood or himself, and until moving into the neighborhood the Mayor has ignored this area for years", said Choi, who leases a local cafe and has been in the neighborhood for the past 15 years.
"A lot of small business' are struggling in the neighborhood and theres already a number of buildings boarded up in the area", says Choi, "and the city needs a program to re-open the buildings and fund small business owners to keep the area from becoming even worse".
"I do not feel safe around here", said Choi. "A few months ago someone was shot in front of our church, and the beefed up patrols do seem to make a difference in the area, but real change starts with us, not with just the Mayor, and we need to pray for better times", said Choi.
Choi's father is pastor of the local Korean Community Christian Church. "Many of our church members are struggling to keep business' in the area, and we are the first Koreans to set up a business in this area", said Choi.
Choi charges that since the Mayor moved into the neighborhood the local drug activity has spread even further along Telegraph Avenue, and now stretches from 25th St, to 30th St, and beyond.
In closing, Naja Strand says, "Street life around here has been a normal part of life, and until the Mayor moved into the area I never really noticed all of the drug dealers. With the Mayor moving nearby, things seem to stick out more and suddenly you notice the drug dealers or that the hookers are fighting one another for turf in the neighborhood".
Ben Fulcher added, "Theres been two killings during the past six months in this neighborhood, and since then the OPD have been crawling all over this place. I like it here and do not want to move" says Fulcher. "People around here are frightened by the Mayors gentrification activities and they are saying that if they have to move they want the Mayors office to find them a new place to live because the money being offered to relocate is worthless because it is not enough to find a place worth moving into", Fulcher said.
Ben Fulcher is a former minister and a former gardener of Peoples Park in Berkeley.