Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet

Time To Make A Plan For Oakland's Central Core

To Date, Development Of Oakland's Commons Has Been Without One
December 17, 2009

The President, He's Got His War

Progressives, Mr. Obama, And The War In Afghanistan
December 10, 2009

What Did The Dellums Budget-Gap Proposal Really Mean?

An Indication, Perhaps, That The Mayor May See His Re-Election As The Key To Fixing Oakland's Financial Problems
November 25, 2009

The Proposed Building Sale A Bad Idea For Oakland

Faced With An $18.8 Millon Budget Deficit, The Oakland Budget Office Puts The Kaiser And Scotlan Convention Center Sales On The Table As A Possible Solution
November 19, 2009

Mr. Perata And The Police Union

What Was Behind OPOA's Decision To Use A City-Sponsored Event To Announce Its Support For Perata For Mayor?
November 12, 2009

A Safe And Legal Alternative

With Oakland's Mayor And Police Chief Considering Sideshow Alternatives, A Proposal To Throw In The Pot
November 5, 2009

Trusting The Media And The Police (Or Not)

The Reality On Oakland's Streets Is Not Always As It's Portrayed
October 29, 2009

Missing History In The Midst Of It

My Memories Of Loma Prieta
October 15, 2009

Why Losing Doesn't Always Make One A "Loser"

The Usain Bolt-Tyson Gay Classic And Chicago's Failed Bid For The 2016 Olympics
October 8, 2009

Oakland's Parking Revolt

The Problem Is Poorly-Noticed Meter Hour Extension, Not Across-The-Board Fee Increases
October 1, 2009

Obsessing Over Race

The East Bay Conservative Blogger Appears To Believe That I Am
September 24, 2009

God-Forsaken Richmond

Revival In The East Bay's Often-Maligned City
September 17, 2009

Trying To Wake People Who Are Not Actually Asleep

The Futility Of Trying To Conduct Reasonable Debate With Some Of Our More Conservative Friends
September 10, 2009

The Importance Of Understanding Context

Our Modern American Political Debates Too Often Fail To Take Into Account The Surrounding Circumstances And The Past
September 3, 2009

Puffing Up Mr. Perata

With Few Actual Acknowledged Accomplishments As To How He Has Helped Oakland, Mr. Perata Must Polish His Credentials In Advance Of The 2010 Mayoral Race
August 27, 2009

Pudding To Prove And Fences To Mend

Thoughts In The Wake Of Mayor Ron Dellums' Hiring Of Oakland's Newest Police Chief
August 20, 2009

America's Lingering Disease

The Professor Gates Controversy Brings Back (Once Again) The Old Specter Of Race And Racism In This Country
August 13, 2009

Parking In Oakland

How City Council's Recent Expansion Of Parking Meter Hours Hurts The City's Neighborhood Commercial Districts
August 6, 2009

The Bigoted Mr. Buchanan

The Conservative National Columnist Gets His History Wrong In Advancing His "100% White Men" Analysis
July 30, 2009

Port Chicago

Survivors, Family, Supporters, And Those Who Wish To Honor Come To The Concord Naval Weapons Station To Commemorate The Largest Single Homefront Loss Of Life Of World War II And A Courageous Stand Of Principle By African-American Sailors
July 23, 2009

The Peralta College District Problems

We Were Warning The District About Its Measure A Construction Bond Projects Two Years Before The Devastating And Troubling Oakland Tribune Articles Were Published
July 16, 2009

Who Was Looking Out For Oakland's Schools...And Who Was Not

A Tale Of Two Legislators—Assemblymember Sandré Swanson And State Senator Don Perata—While OUSD Was Under State Control
July 9, 2009

Somebody's Making Some Noise

Other Voices In The Anti-Violence Discussion
July 2, 2009

Two Trains Running

Everybody's Talking About Violence, But On Distinctly Different Tracks
June 25, 2009

The Chip'N'Don Show

With The Chronicle East Bay Columnist Asserting That Nothing's In Between Don Perata And The Oakland Mayor's Office But "Blue Skies And Opportunity," A Reality Check
June 18, 2009

In Case You Were Confused About What Racism Really Sounds Like

Given The Charges Against Justice Sotomayor, We Provide Some Historical Examples Of The Real Racist Deal From American Officials
June 11, 2009

Conservative Correctness And Sotomayor

A History Of American Political Correctness Shows That The Attacks On The Supreme Court Nominee Are As American As Apple Pie
June 4, 2009

On The Day The Officers Died, What Did The Police Commanders Do?

Continued Questions In The Wake Of The March 21 Lovelle Mixon Police Shootings
May 28, 2009

Making The BART Connections

Taking The $550 Million Airport Connector Project On Its Own Merits, Not On The Hype That It Will Help Deep East Oakland
May 21, 2009

Defending Mr. Dellums

Why I Do It, And When
May 14, 2009

Looking Beyond The Republican Fall

Predictions Of The Death Of The GOP Are Premature
May 7, 2009

Spreading To Other Ethnicities

The Phaseout Of African-American Culture In Oakland's Neighborhoods Now Has A Brown And Yellow Texture As Well
April 23, 2009

Who Gave The SWAT Order, And Why?

A Call For An Independent Public Investigation Into The 74th Avenue Shootout
April 16, 2009

The Dissing Of Mr. Dellums

An Analysis Of The Timeline Shows That Local Columnists Were Off-Base In Asserting That Mayor Dellums Was "Missing In Action" For Several Hours On The Day Of The MacArthur Shootings
April 9, 2009

The Mixon Mystery

Inquiry About The Man Who Killed Four Oakland Police Officers Ends As We Think We Already "Know" Him
April 2, 2009

The MacArthur Shootings

Trying To Make Sense Out Of A "Senseless" Act
March 26, 2009

An Express Stumbling Over The Chronicle's Tracks

Our Friends Over At The East Bay Express Have Been Twisting The Facts A Bit In Taking From San Francisco Chronicle Stories
March 19, 2009

Strengthening The Black Middle Class

A Third Strategy For Oakland To Solve Its Crime, Drugs, And Violence Problems
March 12, 2009

Boycott BART, But Why?

Analyzing The Strategic Differences Emerging In The Oscar Grant Movement
March 5, 2009

And Along Comes Brown (Again)

The Man In Charge At The Beginning Of California's Long Slide Shows Up Again To Try To Run The Show As The State Tumbles Towards The Brink
February 26, 2009

A Broader "Scope Of Work" In Grant Investigations

Why The Current Investigations Do Not Go Far Enough
February 19, 2009

Regarding Rioting

What Some Activists Are Elevating To A Strategy Is Merely Catering To The Whims Of The Mob
February 12, 2009

Some Commentary On Mr. Dellums Is Clouded By Conclusions Already Formed

Specifically By Columnists Chip Johnson Of The Chronicle, Chris Thompson Of The East Bay Express, And Byron Williams Of The Oakland Tribune
February 5, 2009

As A New Video Surfaces, Cracks In The Grant Coalition

A Second Officer Is Identified, And Grant Protesters Split On The Issue Of The Use Of Vandalism And Violence
January 29, 2009

Oakland's Test

Though Oakland Had Nothing To Do With The Oscar Grant Death, It Is Oakland Where The Political, Legal, And Street Battles Are Being Fought
January 22, 2009

Analyzing The BART Outrage

In The Middle Of The Aftermath Of The Oscar Grant Death, Some Thoughts On Where We Stand
January 15, 2009

What's Driving Mr. Dellums

The Belief That Most Of The Mayors Critics Have Got His Motiviation Wrong
January 8, 2009

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December 17 , 2009

The time has come—wouldn’t you think?—for Oakland to stop flailing around with piecemeal “solutions” for the future of the city’s central core and begin organized work on a comprehensive development plan.

While such a comprehensive planning process has been needed for some time, it is particularly compelling during a period when city officials and citizens are considering—in isolation—major initiatives that would completely alter the character of that core neighborhood, including a proposal to build a new professional baseball stadium in the area south of Jack London Square.

The problem is not whether these particular initiatives are good or bad. The problem is that such proposals are being raised in order to meet either short-term or limited goals while not considering how they might affect the heart of Central Oakland and any future plans we might want to make about the makeup of the city we live in.

While there has been much emphasis over the past several years on rebuilding what we traditionally call “downtown”—an emphasis that moved slightly to the north to the “uptown” area during the Jerry Brown years—we should be blocking out a somewhat larger geographical area as what you might call the city’s “commons” or central area.

Taking 14th and Broadway as the central point, you could run a line along Broadway north to the 27th Street natural boundary and south to Jack London Square. Another line could be drawn east to the foot of Lake Merritt and west to the 880 freeway. Putting the compass point at 14th and Broadway, you could then draw a circle on the map that would take in such districts as Chinatown, the Warehouse District, the 2nd-4th Street Loft District, Old Oakland, Oaksterdam, the Kaiser Center, Koreatown, the Laney College-Oakland Museum-Main Library education-cultural center, as well as the traditional downtown government and business center. That comprises Oakland’s central core, the heart of the city. [More...]



December 10 , 2009

The President, he’s got his war
And folks don’t know just what it’s for

--From the Vietnam era song “Compared To What”

When Richard Nixon won the American Presidency in 1968 in part on a promise to end the war in Vietnam, it was hard to find many on the American left who were surprised when the actual implementation of that plan contained a dramatic escalation—the aerial bombing of North Vietnam and U.S. military incursions into Cambodia—and four more years of carnage. Mr. Nixon, after all, was by no means the candidate of the political left, and the left held no illusions about his presidency.

Forty years later, the election of President Barack Obama was nothing if not an exercise in progressive illusion. Why else would one feel that sense of betrayal amongst progressives following Mr. Obama’s December 1 speech to West Point speech announcement of his intention to engage 30,000 more American troops in the war in Afghanistan on top of the 32,000 already deployed?

This progressive disillusionment would not appear to have emanated from any special disingenuousness on the part of Mr. Obama during last year’s campaign. The President—as candidate—certainly presented as blank a slate as politically possible, allowing the electorate to fill it in with our own causes and colors. That’s simply smart politics. But anyone who paid any attention during the campaign would have known that while Mr. Obama was a legendarily early detractor to the war effort in Iraq, it was my impression that he said often enough that he did so to a certain degree because Iraq took America’s attention from where he felt the real terrorist threat emanated—Afghanistan.

Why the surprise, then, that Mr. Obama followed through on that premise to escalate the Afghani war? [



November 25 , 2009

Oakland is a complicated city, impossible to understand in a single season, or to explain in a single story. For Mayor Ron Dellums, especially, there is no overall way to explain all of his actions of the past three years. You must search, and pay attention, and put together pieces from disparate places and times.

A colleague once told me his analysis of our current mayor is based largely on the fact Mr. Dellums had to be enticed to return to Oakland to run for the job. “He never wanted to be mayor,” my colleague told me, “and he’s acted like that ever since. He’s never put full time into the job.”

The comment, I believe, demonstrated a lack of understanding both of human nature and of world political history. The persons who beat the drums earliest and loudest for a particular cause are very often the ones who abandon it at the first sign of crisis or discomfort. On the other hand, those who are reluctant to sign on—and do so only after much intensive soul-searching—often see the business to the bitter end.

Thomas Beckett begged King Henry II of England not to appoint him the Archishop of Centerbury. Henry the King ignored Mr. Beckett’s objections, and Mr. Beckett thereafter took the job so seriously—and so against Henry’s political interests—that the king had him stabbed to death in the church sanctuary.

Robert E. Lee was famously opposed to Southern secession. Yet General Lee became the Confederacy’s greatest soldier. In explaining why he joined and led a cause whose goals he did not support, General Lee often explained that his loyalties lay with his native Virginia, and when Virginia left the Union, he was obliged by duty to follow.

While Mr. Dellums’ initial reluctance to take on the Oakland job may explain why it took him until that raucous, emotional Laney College rally to make his decision, I think it fails as a barometer to judge his subsequent actions following his election. Mr. Dellums, I believe, feels he has a responsibility of service to Oakland, a responsibility to both carry on the legacy and work of his uncle, C.L. Dellums—the railroad porters union leader and organizer whose statue stands at the entrance to the Oakland Train Station—as well as to give back something tangible to the city of his birth and the voters who supported him, year after year, so that he could make his mark and make history in Congress.

Whatever one thinks of the quality of the decisions Mr. Dellums has made as mayor, I believe that it is this sense of responsibility of service and doing what he thinks is best for Oakland—not necessarily what is best for himself—that is the foundation of his work. [More...]



November 19 , 2009

There are two truisms in this world about budgeting and finance. The first is, never shop in a supermarket when you’re hungry. The second is, never sell property when you’re desperate for cash. In the first instance, you’ll almost always buy more than you need. In the second, you’ll almost always settle for less than it’s worth.

The City of Oakland’s Budget Office and Finance & Management Agency, unfortunately, has proposed to do the second, and in so doing threatens to betray the city’s voters, sell off a major portion of the city’s heritage and potential future earning capacity, and continue in the worst tradition of the Jerry Brown Administration.

With the City of Oakland projecting an $18.87 million budget deficit for the remaining seven and a half months of the current fiscal year—after the Administration and City Council having to close an $83 million gap this summer just to keep the city solvent—the Budget Office is now proposing that the city raise $11.6 million of that deficit by selling two city-owned properties: the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and the George P. Scotlan Convention Center.

Oakland City Administrator Dan Lindheim passed the proposals on to the Oakland City Council with no recommendation, telling Oakland City Councilmembers at a special Tuesday afternoon meeting on the budget crisis that the proposals in the Budget Office’s report “are ideas and proposals [that are] not meant as a full catalogue of what can be done, should be done, or might be done” but were intended by his office to generate discussion.

So let’s discuss it.



November 12 , 2009

Whatever else he may accomplish this election season, former State Senator Don Perata appears—so far—to be successfully winning the battle to get the media to adopt his electoral narrative. While no other reporter or columnist has embarrassed themselves by declaring, as the Chronicle’s Chip Johnson once did, that nothing stands between Mr. Perata and the Oakland mayor’s office but “blue skies” (“With Probe Over, Perata Primed To Lead Oakland” May 29, 2009), there appears a subtle—if sometimes grudging—tone in local reporting that once Mr. Perata’s potential federal corruption problems were behind him, the mayor’s race is his to lose. That, of course, is clearly Mr. Perata’s strategy in next year’s election, to run as if his victory is all but inevitable, and those who do not get with his campaign immediately will be left out.

But if that assumption is true—that Mr. Perata has a clear path to the mayor’s position—then the ham-handedness of the recent Oakland police union’s endorsement of the former State Senator is puzzling indeed.

Late in October, the Neighborhood Services Division of the City of Oakland sent out official notices in the name of the city’s Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee inviting citizens to hear newly-appointed Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts speak on November 5 at the headquarters of the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA). The gathering was jointly sponsored by the Steering Committee and OPOA.

Mr. Batts did speak, but after he left, Oakland business and political activist Pamela Drake reported to the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club email list what happened next:

“As soon as [Mr. Batts] left,” Ms. Drake wrote, “OPOA union President [Dominique] Arotzarena started a speech in which he denounced the leadership of our city, talked about the low morale of the department and complained about the extension of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (Consent Decree based on police misconduct), and how we now have a chance ‘to turn [the city] around.’ Then [Mr. Arotzarena] announced that OPOA would be endorsing Don Perata for mayor and asked [Mr. Perata] to speak... A number of folks sitting in the back got up and left as soon as Perata was introduced.” [



November 5 , 2009

A friend and reader asks what I think of Mayor Ron Dellums’ and Police Chief Anthony Batts’ proposal for a safe and legal alternative to Oakland’s illegal street sideshows. The alternative venue, presumably, would recreate the street sideshow experience in an off-street location, with all the police and safety precautions in place, and would be designed to draw the illegal sideshow participants away from their street activity to the city-run event, thus eventually helping to shut the illegal street events down.

While I once argued long and loud for such an alternative, and I would not turn my back on it now, I am worried that the time for that direct cause-and-effect solution may have passed.

To understand why, we must go back—briefly—to the often-forgotten history of the sideshows.

Oakland’s sideshows did not start out as the wild, violent, out-of-control street events that we often see depicted on the evening news. Instead, they began sometime in the late 1990’s as informal, auto-based late-night social gatherings of African-American Oakland youth trying to escape the violence that was flooding the many of the city’s streets, clubs, and rap and hip hop venues.

The original meeting place was in the parking lot at Eastmont Mall on 73rd and Bancroft in East Oakland, where the young folks often spent hours socializing, playing music, dancing, eating, and showing off their cars in various ways. One way was to showcase paint jobs and accessories. Another was to do car tricks, particularly the East Oakland favorite of “doing doughnuts.”

The Eastmont sideshows by all accounts were considerably mellower than the current illegal street events in part because there was no rush to go stupid (in both the hip-hop and general meanings of the term) before the police swooped in—the police initially ignored them—and in part because they were self-regulated, with many of the young folks themselves working to keep down the kind of conflicts and arguments that could lead to violence. For all those reasons, the Eastmont sideshows were not a neighborhood nuisance. [More...]



October 29, 2009

I stopped by, late, over to the “For A Safe Town” event at Verdese Carter Park on 98th and Bancroft last weekend. Who, after all, can resist when they’re serving free Everett & Jones barbecue in your neighborhood? The second annual event, according to the Sunday Oakland Tribune article (“Thousands Join In East Oakland For Peace”), was co-sponsored by the Oakland Police Department and Youth Uprising organization (the mayor’s office was involved, as well, though the Tribune article didn’t give them credit) and was designed, so the Tribune reported, “to emphasize peace and strengthen police-community ties.”

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the large group of mostly-African-American young people out in the park enjoying themselves in the sun—without breaking out into violence or even a serious argument—while playing basketball or bouncing on the portable kids’ rides or enjoying the local rap and hip hop performances from the temporary stage. Most of the young people in this community have ever and always only wanted to come out to social events to have a peaceful good time, and would be able to do so if only the elders among us would step up and give them some help at it. That’s how it was when I was growing up in East Oakland. That’s how it is now, even in these violent days. Perhaps especially now, in these violent days.

I did note, however, the continuing peculiar way that Oakland Police have of “strengthening police-community ties,” as the Tribune article put it. Rather than mingling in the crowd and chatting with the gatherers, what I observed was a row of police deployed—and that’s the best word to describe it—in a line to the side of the entertainment stage, carefully watching the event. A second police row watched from against one of the fences, a few of the officers munching on sandwiches or sipping cold drinks, as if they were on a break. Not a single officer was observed, well, mingling with anyone but other officers. While the police at Saturday’s “For A Safe Town” event did not effect the usual menacing attitude OPD officers adopt when facing a large crowd of young East Oakland African-Americans (or Latinos), they didn’t appear to be doing much mingling, either. Admittedly I did come out late, but that’s usually when the folks at the party loosen up. Instead, the officers looked like the high school junior older brother who’s been asked to chaperone his baby sister at her 8th grade dance. Yeah, he’ll go, if he has to, but you don’t expect him to dance, do you?



October 15 , 2009

Though I was in the Bay Area in October of 1989, I missed Loma Prieta. The shaking part of it, that is.

I was living in the South when the Bay Area Rapid Transit was built, and after I returned, I rode it all around the East Bay, from Richmond to Fremont. For the longest, however, I avoided taking BART to San Francisco, because of the completely irrational fear of being caught on the train under the bay during a major earthquake. But life being as it is, under the bay on BART was exactly where I was when the largest Bay Area earthquake of my lifetime struck.

I was working at a small San Francisco law firm and the four partners were all season-ticket Giants fans so, of course, they all took a half a day off that day to go to the World Series. Around 4:30, I decided to take off as well. If I hadn’t, I would have been stuck in San Francisco without transportation back home to the East Bay, as were so many other workers. I caught the last East Bay train out of the Embarcadero Station before the earthquake hit.

I may have felt Loma Prieta, but if I did, I didn’t know it at the time. It was a crowded commuter car and I was standing up sandwiched between a pack of other commuters, hanging on to the overhead rail to keep from falling into someone’s lap. BART probably gets up to its highest speeds in the cross-bay tube, so that it normally rocks and sways in its passage, and perhaps some of the side-to-side movement we felt was the earthquake itself. If so, none of the passengers seemed to notice anything unusual. I certainly didn’t.

We pulled out of the tunnel and up into the West Oakland Station as usual. And that’s when everything began to change. [

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