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Oakland Mayor Sued By Alice Arts Center Residents
The Residents & Artists Of The Alice Arts Center Look Forward To Their Day In Court After Being Attacked & Slandered By Oaklands Mayor Jerry Brown!
Oakland Mayor Sued By Alice Arts Center Residents
By Lynda Carson October 22, 2003
An inspiration to the poor and oppressed across the City of Oakland, on October 15, 2003, thirteen residents of Oaklands famed Alice Arts Center (AAC) filed seperate individual small claims actions against Mayor Jerry Brown, and the City of Oakland. In addition, three or more residents of the arts center are expected to have also joined in to file suit against the mayor by the time this story reaches publication.
The residents charge that the community showers still need to be repaired, the roof leaks still need to be fixed, and most of all they need their stove back so that they have a place to cook their meals. Furthermore, the residents allege that the mayor has viciously attacked them for personal gain, and that Taura Musgrove of the Oakland School for the Arts has become a willing tool of the mayor in these attacks upon the arts groups and residents of the AAC.
Resident and community organizer Theo Williams says, "This is the second Thanks Giving Holiday in a row coming up in which we have been deprived of having a place to cook our Holiday meals".
As part of their claims against the mayor and city, the residents charge that the City of Oakland and it's Mayor Jerry Brown willfully and deliberately have prevented them from maintaining adequate living conditions in their residence at the arts center, and that they have been publicly slandered by the mayor, resulting in undue financial and emotional distress.
Each of the thirteen claimants or more seek specified damages of $5,000 (five thousand dollars) each, and have filed their claims with the Office of the City Attorney in Oakland in accordance with Government Code-Section 911.2.
As a pre-condition to suing a city, California state law requires all claimants that seek to sue a city in the state of California to first file their petitions with the Office of the City Attorney. The city being sued is then required under state law to respond within 45 days, and if the claims are denied by the city the next step allows the suit to move forward into the courts.
The residents of the AAC are not wealthy, nor did they have legal representation to file their claims for them against the mayor/city, and as a result have had to seek the assistance of Rosylen Mangohig, a local small claims legal advisor to help guide them through the lengthy complicated process.
A total of five thousand dollars ($5,000) in damages is being sought by each litigant that filed suit. Damages being sought by each of the thirteen residents or more that filed suit amount to four thousand dollars ($4,000) for the loss of the building stove that the tenants used to cook all of their meals with, five hundred dollars ($500) for a reduction in services and repairs in the residential part of the premises, and another five hundred dollars ($500) is being asked for to compensate the residents for being slandered by the Mayor Jerry Brown.
The suit by the residents of the arts center is another part of the long standing battle started by Mayor Jerry Brown after he tried to flex his muscles in the arts community and force them out of the arts center so that he could expand the Oakland School for the Arts which he presides over as the chairman of the board.
The Alice Arts Center (AAC) first opened it's doors in 1987, and has since become a center-piece for the arts in Oakland and the East Bay. The arts center includes around 74 residential housing units for the artists and residents in related fields, plus a 400 hundred seat theater, and numerous dance studios. The AAC hosts local, regional and national touring performing arts productions. City Officials estimate that around 50,000 people per year use the services being offered at the center. The resident companies and teachers of the AAC have included; AXIS Dance, Bay Area Blues Society, Citicentre Dance, Dance-A-Vision, Diamanocoura, Dimensions Dance, Moving On Center, and the Oakland Ballet.
Critics of the mayor and his Oakland School for the Arts are quick to point out that the school never did fit in with what has already been established at the AAC, and that it has completely disrupted all of the other existing programs because the mayors charter school has taken over total control of the theater which is needed for rehearsals by all the other groups. As a result of the loss of the theater to rehearse in, the Oakland Ballet was forced to relocate, and many other dance troupes located in the AAC have been put at risk.
The residents and arts groups at the AAC have been fighting to keep their cherished arts center and community from being totally disrupted by the ambitions of Mayor Jerry Brown and his arts charter school known as the Oakland School for the Arts which started with 100 students and presently serves around 200 students since it's doors first opened.
The Mayor has since outraged hundreds of drummers, dancers, performers, and residents of the AAC with his proposal to expand his Oakland School for the Arts even further, which is centered in the basement and first floor of the AAC. The mayors plans would have displaced many long term established arts groups if the mayor had had his way to expand the charter school that he chairs, and many residents would have faced eviction from the housing units at the AAC. It was during a meeting in April of 2003, that the existing arts groups were informed of the mayors plans to displace them in order to expand his private charter school throughout the whole art center and at that point the shit had just hit the fan.
Not to be pushed around by some wealthy carpetbagger that double crossed the electorate so that he could dismantle the established arts programs that served the working class people of Oakland, the residents and arts groups of the AAC united into a common front to defy the mayor and his henchmen.
During the spring/summer of 2003, on several occaisions, hundreds of the artists and their supporters from the arts center joined in opposition to the mayors under-handed activities that have undermined the arts groups at the AAC and they marched in protest to the front doors of City Hall to confront the mayor.
The result was to persuade their supporters in the City Council to reign in the mayors powers and on June 24 2003, a resolution was passed requiring that any further reductions in rental units at the AAC would have to go before the City Council before being allowed to take place.
According to Jack Wyles who is only one lone voice out of the thirteen litigants and more involved in the suit against the mayor; "We want to make a public statement with our law-suit", Wyles said. "Our intent is to set an example and to let the people know just what these politicians are up to and how they really operate in the City of Oakland. We are suing the City of Oakland and Mayor Jerry Brown to make a public statement that we were wronged, and people in this community should know about it. Maybe it'll make it easier for the next person to do it".
Jack Wyles of Canton Ohio is 51 years of age, has resided at the arts center for over six years, gives private saxophone lessons at the arts center and is a recording studio engineer operating out of the AAC. "I am a professional at what I do in life to teach my students how to create music, and the mayor had no right to slander myself or anyone else at the AAC as a means to pursue his own personal agenda to displace us", Wyles said.
"We want the purpose of the suit to reflect the big picture", says Wyles. "It's been a power grab made by the mayor who wanted us out of here so that he could expand his school, and to do this he deprived us of our rights to a decent safe place to live, undermined the ability of the established arts groups to function properly or serve their clients, and he even went as far as to slander us in public to make a case for our eventual removal".
Indeed, the mayor has publicly made derogatory statements about the artists, performers, and tenants residing at the AAC after he had a personal interest in establishing the Oakland School for the Arts at the AAC and needed room for it's expansion.
Around May or June of 2003, some recent comments the mayor made suggesting that many of the residents at the AAC are not artists and others are troublemakers, have seriously outraged the artists community at large.
Mayor Brown said; "You can make an argument that the SRO (single room occupancy) housing units at the Alice Arts Center are not compatible with dance studios and kids". "They've had people hanging out there. Some of those people were challenged in various ways. When you have young children taking dance classes, you have to be careful about the people you have running around there."
During a KPFA interview on May 27, 2003 the mayor was quoted as saying the following:
Mayor Brown said; "There are some people at the Alice Arts that are living there that have worked in the field of art, but it's very few. I mean, they've got people that have been living there for years and have nothing to do with art. So, you have to kinda look at what's suitable. I mean, it's a little bit down and out in some of those rooms there. There have been people that we've had to remove, uh, you know, they've had various mental health issues. And, it's not always the best scene there when you have 10 year old girls and some of these men that are out there. I don't know. I mean, I'd be worried if I were a parent".
"The mayor knew what he was getting into", says Frederique Georges, a resident and member of the action committee for the AAC Tenants Association which was originaly founded by Judith Sims. "The mayor is a liar! If the mayor really believed that child molesters resided at or were lurking about at the AAC, then why did he ever bother to set up his school there"?
"I feel awful about what has occurred and believe that it was very disrectful of the mayor to attack Oaklands artists in such a dirty way", says Georges. "It's a low thing to do. How low can he go? It was totally unnecessary", Georges said.
Frederique Georges worked closely with her resident neighbors Theo Williams, Judith Sims, and Jack Wyles to form the action committee and figure out how to sue the city and the mayor for all the injustices that have been heaped upon them since the mayor took an interest in taking over the arts center.
Georges goes on to say, "This law-suit is about our impatience in regards to the way we were treated by the mayor and the City of Oakland. The usual city hall practice is to make promises and nothing happens. We need to get our stove back, the roof leaks repaired, and I hope this suit serves notice to the mayor that he cannot be allowed to treat people the way he has treated us", Georges said.
Long time AAC resident Judith Sims has resided at the arts center since around 1994 or 1995, and says she founded the Tenants Association at the AAC after the city hired local developer Ted Dang to run the arts center when seeking lower bids from contractors. "The arts center went down hill real fast after Ted Dang got his hands on this property", says Sims, "and it forced us to organize to make enough documented complaints that the city declined to renew the contract with Dang when it expired".
"Things became better for a while after the city took over again", says Sims, "but, it went down hill again after the mayor took an interest in displacing the arts groups and the residents so that he could expand his charter school", Sims said.
A graduate of Mills College, Judith Sims has given dance lessons for the past 30 years, and teaches creative dance, tap lessons, jazz, and afro-asian dance techniques. "These are mostly poor and working class students of Oakland that are very bright which I work with", says Sims, "and it's very unethical as far as what the mayor has done to tarnish the good work being done at the arts center", Sims said.
"You want your life to be self determined. The mayor has not been ethical. The mayor lost his ethics somewhere along the path of life. Just because the mayor took the low-road, it does not mean that we have to follow. I don't want this to be a lesson in which people with no ethics win in this sort of situation. We don't want this to be a lesson for the people that unethical people can go unchallenged, and that is why we have sued the mayor", Sims said.
Tenant Association Member and AAC resident Theo Williams, is with Local Union 107 and works at the Oakland Coliseum with many artists and performers when they come to town to perform and entertain the regional East Bay. Williams a resident of the AAC for nearly the past two years plans to remain there for some time ahead, and looks forward to his day in court to confront the mayor for his recent unbecoming behaviour that has disrupted his life.
"This law-suit is for everybody", says Williams, "we are organized and fighting back". "They are shutting down the SRO's and they don't care about the poor people in Oakland. This suit means, no more business as usual, because people cannot live by these standards anymore", Williams said.
"We know they took our kitchen from us as retaliation and in hope that we would all just run away", says Williams. "We know that they stopped renting out rooms at the AAC and stopped doing repairs to force us all out of here so that the mayor can take total control of the arts center and that much of this was exposed in the papers and the council meetings when we raised hell about what is going on around here, which is why we are fighting back", Williams said.
"There needs to be a whole new dialogue with the city", says Williams, "and the residents want to be a part of the discussion. Mayor Jerry Brown has been a liar, and we look forward to our day in court", Williams said.
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