Oct 012014

This election season the quality of candidates for Oakland School Board is so high, that there is a lot of room for hope that things in the school district will turn around.  We could only wish that we had such great people in the San Leandro School Board.

Aimee Eng

Aimee Eng


Aimee Eng is a very impressive candidate.  She has an M.A. in education from Stanford and works for a foundation that gives grants to educational projects in the Bay Area.  I had a very long conversation with her, and later heard from her at the Democratic party endorsement interview, and it’s clear that this is a woman who knows education, understands the needs of children, in particular those from under-privileged backgrounds, and who understands Oakland.  Her knowledge of educational policy is much more complex than mine, but I was impressed she had to say and her views very much matched mine vis a vis respecting the whole child as a basis for educating her.

Karl Debro

Karl Debro


Karl Debro is a pretty much all you want in a School Board candidate.  A Philosophy major at UC Berkeley, he went on to teach English at Bancrot Middle School and San Leandro High School for 20 years. He later earned a Masters and a Doctorate in Education and currently directs a program that allows high school dropouts to earn their HS degrees while taking college classes.

But it’s Karl Debro’s courage and willingness to stand up for what’s right that makes me confident he will be an amazing School Board member.  At San Leandro High, Debro co-founded the straight-gay alliance in the late 90’s.  When a lesbian student couple experienced harassment at the school, he and other teachers conducted class discussions on discrimination and harassment against LGBT students. Homophobic parents complained, and Debro, the only African American among the teachers that had engaged in those class discussions, was disciplined.  Rather than accept it meekly, Debro sued the district on free speech and racial discrimination grounds.  He ended up winning and as the result of his lawsuit, the San Leandro school district implemented an anti-bullying program that has been very effective in creating an attitude of inclusiveness and non-discrimination among district students.

I think that Debro’s commitment to issues of equality and social justice, coupled with his educational achievements and extensive classroom experience, will make him an ideal School Board member.  I fully endorse him.

Shanthi Gonzales

Shanthi Gonzales


I had a long conversation with Shanthi Gonzales, and her knowledge of educational policy and the needs of children, in particular children of color in the Oakland school district, is incredibly vast. I was surprised to learn, when I looked at her biography, that she is not an education professional.  Instead, she’s a social justice activist and lawyer.   Her heart is definitely in the right place, but so is her mind.   She is intelligent, definitely knowledgeable, has a no-nonsense approach to public policy and would undoubtedly increase the professionalism on the board.

I reached out to all candidates for Oakland School Board and invited them to meet/speak with me and/or respond to a candidate questionnaire. I only endorse candidates who are strong liberals, are committed to accountability, transparency and fact-based legislating and who are intelligent, competent and knowledgeable.

Here are my endorsements for: Oakland Mayor, Oakland City Council, Assembly District 15.

See Marga’s 2014 Voter Guide for recommendations on propositions and other local endorsements.

Aug 222014
Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

Teachers, Nurses Endorse Siegel

I want to congratulate the Oakland Education Association and the California Nurses Association for endorsing Dan Siegel for Mayor of Oakland.

I have heard now from many people that they love what Dan Siegel stands for, but he can’t win. That, however, can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we don’t support the candidates who hold our values we will never see real change. By catering to our perception of what voters want to hear, we promote demagogy instead of real democracy. We do not give ourselves a chance.

I thank the teachers and the nurses for leaving fears aside and supporting someone who can give us hope.

And Dan can. He has been fighting against government abuse and for the rights of the disenfranchised his whole life. He is intelligent, committed, and has a clear vision. And he is humble.

When I asked Dan Siegel to meet with Mike and I so I could hear more about his campaign for Mayor, I was expecting him to have airs of superiority. After all, he has had a brilliant law career, an outstanding record as an activist and was now vying to become Mayor. Lawyers, politicians and activists can be a rather arrogant bunch (me included).

Dan has no arrogance, no sense of superiority; he is not in love with himself. He is running because he is committed to turn Oakland around, to do the best for the City and all its citizens. He doesn’t seek power, he wants opportunity for others. As a human rights activist, I’ve been privileged to meet other people like him, but even in my field they are rare.

I want Dan to win because he is unapologetically a liberal, because his views and values are clear and he stands by them.  Unlike other politicians, he won’t tell you what he thinks you want to hear.

And I want him to win because things in America are getting worse.  Wealth and power continue to accumulate in the hands of the very few, America is no longer a democracy.  The middle class is disappearing and most of us have an uncertain future.   Young people graduate from college, after indebting  themselves for life, to find no jobs awaiting them.  Racism is growing in our society, and African-Americans are being stereotyped as criminals and the source of society’s problems, much like Jews were in Nazi Germany.  Black men are regularly killed by police with impunity.   Meanwhile, the government is readying for the social upheaval that this racial and economic repression is likely to lead to, by instituting methods of mass surveillance and militarizing the police.

Dan Siegel has stood against these things.  He was the only serious candidate for Oakland Mayor to loudly and clearly speak against the Domain Awareness Center anddemand accountability for police abuses.  Oakland only started talking about raising the minimum wage, after Dan Siegel made it part of his platform.

I want Dan Siegel to win so that he can help turn Oakland around, but also so that he can be an example for others.  Candidates who have strong convictions often don’t run because they believe they’ll have to sell out their principles to cater to voters’ fears.  I want Oaklanders to prove them wrong.

So go Dan Siegel!

Jul 312014
Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

Oaklanders, this one is for you!

Last night I met with Annie Campbell Washington, who is running for City Council District 4 in Oakland. I came back very impressed.

She’s smart, competent, a good listener, friendly and with a good sense of humor. She seems like a very candid and human person, someone without airs or that sense of either superiority or inferiority that can be so harmful for working as a group. She seems to me like someone who will listen to her constituents, who considers all voices legitimate and would be able to weigh different interests and still come up with a policy that makes sense for the public.

Politically, she seems your typical Oakland progressive.  Her concerns while in the council include transit oriented development, developing a better system of bike lanes, supporting small businesses and trying to bring functionality to a deeply divided council.  She is also deeply committed to education and having the City support schools and working together.  She’s currently in the School Board and has two children who go to Oakland schools.

I don’t know that she would agree with me on everything, but I think she’s someone whose thought process I would respect. Basically, she’s the sort of person whom I wish would run for Council here in San Leandro.

If you live in District 4 in Oakland, check her out

Her opponent is Jill Broadhurst.  I haven’t met with Jill yet, but she’s the Executive Director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, an organization that works against the rights of tenants. One of their major accomplishments is stopping legislation that would have made landlords pay interest on security deposits they hold for years/decades.

Mar 122014

Resolution In Support of Civil Liberties in Oakland and Alameda County

Adopted unanimously at the Mar. 10, 2014 Alameda Labor Council Delegates’ Meeting.

Whereas the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO, supports and promotes American freedoms and constitutional civil liberties;

And, whereas the particular rights to peaceably assemble and speak freely are essential to the collective exercise by working families and their unions of their rights to organize and to bargain collectively;

And, whereas the Alameda Labor Council advances the struggles for justice by organized labor, and others seeking fairness and equality including previously expressing support for the movements for civil rights, against apartheid, and against police brutality;

And, whereas political surveillance and repression were historically used by both the federal and local governments against such labor and human rights leaders as Harry Bridges of the ILWU and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;

And, whereas City of Oakland officials said under their proposal for the Domain Awareness Center (“DAC”) they intended to use its planned mass surveillance capacity to control the protected activity of Oakland residents and visitors to assemble and speak freely chilling the exercise of these First Amendment rights in Alameda County;

And, whereas, under an existing political surveillance program a worker in Alameda County was recently fired from his job after the police photographed him participating in a demonstration and then shared the photographs with his employer;

And, whereas, while we acknowledge the Oakland City Council’s vote last week to limit the DAC to the Port of Oakland only, the DAC proposal had contemplated warrantless surveillance to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about City residents and visitors who engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever potentially violating the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure;

Now therefore be it resolved, under the privacy protection provisions of the California State Constitution, and under the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO urges the City of Oakland and its elected representatives to continue to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of working families and affected visitors to and residents of Oakland and Alameda County.

Josie Camacho
Executive-Secretary Treasurer

Feb 062014
Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo speaking to the City Council

City employees in Oakland and San Leandro appear to live and work by the motto “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”  While most city councils rubber stamp whatever proposals city staff puts before them – an easier task than actually reading and analyzing long and boring reports -, some proposals are so clearly contrary to the public benefit that they are not politically tenable for council members to knowingly pass.  In those situations, staff – most assuredly with the blessing of the City Manager/Administrator – may give the Council an “edited” version of the facts behind it.   Whether the purpose is to deceive council members or provide them with plausible deniability can be discerned by how the member react once the true facts are uncovered.

Oakland city staff’s quest to build the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), a facility that would centralize the feeds from hundreds of cameras and license plate readers throughout the City, is a perfect example of how this works.  Internal e-mails obtained through the California Public Records Act make it clear that the actual purpose of the DAC is to track and subvert the activities of political protesters and labor activists in the city and port of Oakland. However, in public meetings, both staff and Councilmembers have only referred to the alleged crime-fighting uses of the DAC.   Finally, at the last meeting of the Council’s  Public Safety Committee,  Emergency Services Director Renee Domingo, who has spearheaded Oakland’s DAC project, was forced to admit that there is no data showing that existing DACs in other cities have helped to either reduce or solve crimes.

While there might be some room for argument about whether misleading the Council as to the purpose for the DAC is actually “lying”, it is absolutely clear that Ms Domingo deceived the Council about Science Applications International (SAIC)the company that was hired to build the DAC.    SAIC is a large military contractor which, among other things, works in the development, building and deployment of nuclear weapons.  Under Oakland’s 1988 anti-nuclear ordinance, the City cannot award contracts to any company that is involved with nuclear weapons.   Internal e-mails show that Domingo was aware that this was a problem in February 2013, but she didn’t mention anything about it to the City Council and the Council indeed went on and hired SAIC to build the first phrase of the project.  According to Domingo, she first heard about SAIC’s non-compliance in August,when activists brought it up – but that’s contradicted by the e-mails alluded to above.

Domingo is now proposing that the Council contract with called Schneider Electric to build phase II of the DAC. A simple google search of “Schneider Electric” and “nuclear weapons” leads to marketing materials from the company where it describes one of its main applications a being “nuclear weapons handling systems.”  It’s still unknown whether Domingo failed to do her due diligence or just hoped that activists wouldn’t find out.

No member of the Oakland City Council has held staff accountable for deceiving  them and for having the City knowingly enter into a contract that violated the City’s own laws.  Councilmember Dan Kalb campaigned on “restoring trust in City Hall“, and yet he has meekly accepted staff’s unethical behavior seemingly without a second thought.   While Kalb is not for re-election, his colleague Libby Schaaf, who has also failed to question staff over their duplicity, is running for Mayor of Oakland.  Her “no need for accountability” attitude is echoed by incumbent Mayor Jean Quan.

Things are no better in San Leandro.  Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli routinely gives the City Council information that she knows to be false.  She has lied about things as easy to verify as the number of license plate scanners the Department has and the effects of realignment in the City.  But she also gave the Council false information about marijuana, the number of complaints they get about chickens and the dangers of overpollination.  A few months ago, the City had to settle a lawsuit brought by men after the Chief issued a press release falsely accusing them of attempting to engage in public homosexual sex.

Not only does the Chief routinely lie to the City Council, but she has also broken the law.  In 2012, the Chief was caught using Police Department staff and resources to get citizens to lobby the City Council against a proposed marijuana dispensary.  That violates both the San Leandro Municipal Code and the California Government Code.  Though City Council members are well aware of the Chief’s unlawful attempt to manipulate the democratic process, they have not called her on it.  This year, both Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilmember Pauline Cutter are running for re-election.

The Chief is not the only “truth impaired” member of staff in San Leandro.  When City staff decided to change the Zoning Code as a tactic in a pending lawsuit, city they explained the change as being a “routine update of the code” and only acknowledged the actual motive behind it after citizens like me brought it up repeatedly at public meetings.  After the acknowledgement, Mayor Stephen Cassidy made some noise about being more open with the community in the future, but did not take staff to task for their repeated attempts at deception.

It’s difficult to know what we can do to restore ethics and accountability in City Hall – both in San Leandro and in Oakland.  Electing the right people has to be part of the solution, but candidates with integrity are few and far between.   My strategy – exposing bad behavior at City Hall -, has seldom been an impetus for change.  Is local democracy just broken and, if so, can it be fixed?