U.S. Foreign Policy in Part Responsible for Influx of Refugees

HarvestofEmpire1According to latest reports, our border crossings are taking on a new challenge with more families coming to seek asylum than ever before. Families at the border

The current Trump administration is determined to not only purge the United States of undocumented community members, many who have now lived in this country for decades, they are hoping to close down the borders by refusing our Central American neighbors an internationally recognized right to seek asylum. What is asylum

Just recently, the new Attorney General, William Barr, announced that people caught crossing the border illegally will be jailed and can be detained indefinitely without bond or a hearing.  This decision effectively hands all authority over to ICE, bypassing the judicial system.  The policies put in place are increasingly criminalizing families who are fleeing violence (best described in the stories of Human Rights and Wrongs)Human Rights and Wrongs.

Join us on Saturday, April 27th at 3:00 P.M. for a viewing of Harvest of Empire, a very interesting and thorough historical review of U.S. policy in the region of Central America.  If you already understand the strong link between destabilizing policies and today’s outcome,  come join us and discuss how we are responding today in our local community.

The event is free and wheel chair accessible.

Human Rights and Wrongs

humanrightsandwrongsOn March 23rd, Dr. Adrianne Aron, long time political activist and liberation psychologist discussed her latest book, Human Rights and Wrongs.  She spoke to a gathering of local community members, many involved in immigrant rights work.  Dr. Aron based her work on the mental health assessments she conducted on asylum seekers awaiting their hearing.     Her book is premised on the question, who are the people seeking asylum and coming across the border?  By writing her book, she provides counter narratives to the hateful descriptors of “invaders” and “criminals”.  Below is one account represented among many.

IMG_2464Dr. Aron was asked to perform a mental health evaluation on a 30 year old Salvadoran man.  He had been jailed for drinking in public and lifting and carrying a child whom he did not know.  This was not her typical interview. Most of her work with refugees involved non-criminal cases.  But she was curious.  Based on the surface of the case, how easy it might be to conclude that this man was attempting a kidnapping, she told us.

Her interview yielded a different story.  This man, at the age of 13 had been forced into the Salvadoran militia-twice.  He had been in detention where he repeatedly heard screams of torture.  But he never processed this powerful and traumatic period, instead he had periods of deep sadness and sometimes suicidal thoughts.  When the most recent drinking incident occurred prior to his arrest, he hadn’t been eating for a week, missed his family in El Salvador, and medicated himself with beer.  Dr. Aron concluded that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and not anti-social impulses.  He didn’t recall picking up the child- he was too drunk.  Most importantly, he hadn’t succumbed to what Aron called, the “militarization of the mind.” In this case, this man turned his trauma against himself, he didn’t lash out in violence, believing violence as the only way to address a situation.    Aron emphasized that he was not an invader as the current administration would like you to believe.

As you may expect,  none in the gathering remotely believed Trump’s version of the “caravan”.  When Dr. Aron asked who is doing work to support immigrants, most all raised their hands. We used the opportunity to discuss additional ways to locally support immigrants and spent the remaining time sending messages targeted at presidential hopefuls and current representatives to look at the work of theTexas Civil Rights Project  and their report on the real numbers of family separations and missing children.

Other groups that need your help:

East Bay Sanctuary Covenant  

Interfaith Movement 4 Human Integrity

Freedom for Immigrants

Solidaridad con los ninos

Help Detained Immigrants

Also, Adrianne Aron will be going to Honduras next month and needs a helper to take care of her dog.  Any takers?  This is one way to support the solidarity work with immigrants.

Please join us for more gatherings on local response to abhorrent immigration policy. On Saturday April 27th we will be viewing the film Harvest of Empire  at 3:00 p.m.- Berkeley Zion Presbyterian Church.

HarvestofEmpire1

City Officials Split on Tenant Protections

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.55.18 PMWhen the El Cerrito City Council met March 5th, 2019 to discuss tenant protections, they were rehashing staff proposals first presented at the December 18th meeting last year.  At that time the Human Relations Commission brought forward a resolution recommending that the city council place a cap on rent increases as well as a Just Cause Eviction ordinance to help renters.

The Human Relations Commission recommended that a task force of tenants, landlords and homeowners be formed to craft renter protection policies that would be unique to El Cerrito. With the California Apartment Association mobilizing over 100 landlords representing the “mom and pop” housing providers, a task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners may be one way to avoid the divisive discourse promoted by the members of CAA.

Mayor Pardue-Okimoto and Council member Lyman tried to adopt the cap on rent increases, but they could not find a third vote. Council member Fadelli offered a motion for a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance and mustered the votes of the Mayor and Lyman, but coverage only for 14% or the renters or the 105 buildings that house 5 or more units.  Lyman captured a majority vote for the creation of a Rent Registry to get more data from landlords, and finally, Councilmember Abelson put forward a motion for a task force, garnishing affirmative votes from the remaining members.  Councilmember Quinto argued that the city could simply not afford any thing and basically suggested that we let the State define policy for our local tenant issues. All of this discussion can be fact checked City Council Meeting March 5th.

What Next?

City staff plan to bring back 1) a draft ordinance for Just Cause Eviction (covering 14% of the renters), 2) a proposal for a structure to have a facilitated task force, and 3) more detailed plan for the Rent Registry, including cost, in May 2019.

El Cerrito Progressives Responds…

The city council is putting forward a false narrative that El Cerrito “doesn’t have a problem with high rents.” We know the reality is that many renters are spending a significant portion of their income on housing, and some are just a few paychecks away from homelessness.  That’s why we are conducting a renter survey to better understand what El Cerrito renters are paying each month, how often their rent is increased and by how much.  While the city thinks about a Rent Registry and questions to ask landlords, we want to make sure that renters’ voices are heard.  If you a renter with a story about housing to share or would like to complete our survey, please contact us at elcerritoprogressives@gmail.com.

We are also organizing a Tenant Rights Clinic on Wednesday, April 24 where tenants can get free legal help. There is strength in numbers. Join us!

Tenant clinic. eng_span.2

Submitted by: Sherry Drobner

Refugees, Immigrants and Trauma – a community responds

HumanRights


Dr. Adrianne Aron speaks on Human Rights and Wrongs

Saturday, March 23, 2019

3:00- 5:00 pm

Berkeley Zion Presbyterian Church in El Cerrito


Join Dr. Adrianne Aron and learn of her journey into the lives of the men, women and children living without a homeland and seeking a safe place in the United States.  How does their journey impact their lives and ours?
Human Rights and Wrongs grew out of Dr. Adrianne Aron’s experience as a liberation psychologist serving immigrants and refugees who have suffered traumatic abuse. This experience also generated Writings for a Liberation Psychology (Harvard University Press, 1994); her English translation of Mario Benedetti’s powerful play about torture, Pedro and the Captain (Cadmus Editions, 2009); and several professional articles, book chapters, and lectures about the unique challenges of doing psychology with oppressed populations. For respite, she took up writing short prose pieces, which won her acclaim in the worlds of both fiction and nonfiction. She has been awarded literary prizes by, among others: New Millennium Writings, Able Muse, the Jack London and San Francisco Writers’ Conferences, and the California Writers Club. 
Adrianne Aron took up fiction writing for respite from her long hours with traumatized refugees. The recognition she received for her short fiction encouraged her to write Human Rights and Wrongs, a work of nonfiction, in the style of a collection of stories for the general reader rather than as didactic narrative. Dr. Aron used to think of herself as a psychologist who writes. Nowadays she thinks of herself as Adrianne, a writer who does a little psychology. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is an active advocate for social justice.
In addition to Dr. Aron’s presentation on her latest book, the community event sponsored by El Cerrito Progressives – Social and Racial Justice Committee will provide participants and opportunity to share information on advocacy and action including opportunities to support refugees and immigrants locally.
For more information about the event:  elcerritoprogressives@gmail.com

Will Tenants Ever Find Relief?

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 11.38.43 PMThe El Cerrito City Council postponed a decision on a package of tenant protections following almost 4 hours of a presentation and public comment at the February 19th meeting.  The crowd, composed of a majority of single family home landlords, spoke out against “just cause eviction” and “rent control”.  The landlords sported bright yellow tags identifying themselves as “responsible housing providers”, compliments of the California Apartment Association (CAA).  Members of the CAA also circulated a document on rent control, which according to one tenant in the audience, read like “gobblygook.” The photocopied document, without a credited author, basically served as a rant against the Richmond rent control model, citing the high salaries of the department members and overall cost of the program.  Again, a reminder to the reader, the city council agenda that evening did not address rent control, nor were any of the tenant protections remotely similar to that referenced anonymous rent control article. The circulation of this document seemed to be an extension of a scare campaign aimed at single family home landlords.

The study session began when he Affordable Housing Analyst Aissia Ashoori, led the council through a lengthly overview of the tools:   Just Cause for Eviction  Rent Registry  Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases.

The Powerpoint, which can be accessed at this link, Tenant Protections Presentation  did little to relieve the fears of the numerous landlords worried about creating a new bureaucracy that might ultimately cost them additional money.  A graphic display of the Rent Registry information flow system, intended to collect data on number of rental units, and rental rates, resembled a full size checkerboard.  The number of steps from start to finish were so numerous and burdensome, even those of us in support of a Registry questioned the wisdom of this system.  Council member Fadelli commented in this vain stating  something similar at the close of the presentation .  Ashoori attempted to clarify the process, verbally offering a simpler explanation of the Rent Registry syste.

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 11.36.07 PM

Although the Rent Registry drew a great deal of heat from the landlords, mainly because of the bureaucracy and a potential cost, a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance truly stood front in center as the enemy of the “responsible housing provider”.  Biggest objection:  Landlords claimed that they could not afford the cost of eviction, and that their rentals represented their 401k or retirement plan.

After the meeting I approached one landlord who schooled me on “landlording as a business”. She explained that her rental was an investment and every investment has a risk factor. At some point if the risk factor outweighs the benefit, or in this case the profit, then she, as a smart investor, would simply take her house off the market.  The council heard similar threats from many of the landlords who spoke at public comment.  Just a side bar- the cost for eviction doesn’t change with “just cause”.  What does change is that the landlord can no longer evict for “no cause”.

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 11.54.33 PM

I found irony, sitting in a meeting for tenant protections with  a room dominated by people identified as “responsible housing providers” speaking fearfully about what amounts to be fairly weak protections for tenants.  But fear won the wrestling match, pinning compassion to the ground, and in this case using a choke hold.  One tenant said to me, “I thought this meeting was suppose to be for tenants?”

For those who are concerned about maintaining an economically and racially diverse community, a community where we can house our teachers as well as our IT workers, our grocery clerks as well as our lawyers, our seniors or others on fixed income, this meeting missed the mark.  Notable was the absence of this concern in the discussion. Two speakers both spoke to their disappointment with the landlords/investors, with  one speaker calling out the reactions and threats as selfish and clearly not in the interest of the greater community.   To be fair, a few landlords did express sympathy with those tenants facing eviction and proposed some type of community fund for renter relief on a case by case basis.

After 50 or more speakers, with the clock nearing the 11th hour, the council voted to hold over discussion and action until March 5th.  They will re-adjourn at 5:30 p.m. without public comment at the onset.  This decision seemed to be in the best interest of all parties, as people were tired, the presentation seemed to leave more questions than answers, and most importantly, if the city acts they should get it right.

Honestly, the meeting disturbed many of us who are concerned about tenant protections, as we are not certain that the staff  or council is getting it right.  On December 18th the Human Relations Commission put forward a recommendation for tenant protections.  This recommendation included a temporary rent cap, just cause eviction ordinance,  and the convening of a community task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners to hash out a more permanent solution.  If the council had paid attention to the HRC resolution,  the meetings and discussion in January might have lead to an ordinance by as early as March.

While the City staff and Council drag out this arduous process, other cities, regional bodies and the State of California is moving forward.  The State is contemplating a state-wide anti-rent gouging legislation as well as just cause for eviction, and the  CASA Compact 2019 drafted by the Committee to house the Bay Area includes similar recommendations for the Bay Area region.

Please write the Mayor and Council Members prior to the March 5th meeting El Cerrito City Council E-mail  and ask them to reconsider the HRC Resolution on Tenant Protections.  Let’s get the predatory landlords out of El Cerrito and lets tell the “responsible housing providers” to turn their ears away from the fear mongering of the CAA.  

 

City Council set to discuss tenant protections…….again.

evictionOn December 18, 2018 more than 25 speakers, including tenants telling compelling stories of near homelessness, severe rent hikes and heightened anxiety, the El Cerrito City Council directed city staff to come back with an ordinance for Just Cause Eviction and a plan to develop a Rent Registry.  In January, when Council reconvened for the first meeting of 2019, the staff did not present an ordinance for review.  Instead, the city staff recommended, and the city council accepted the proposal to have  a study session in February.

Let’s fast forward to February.  The city council will be meeting on the 19th to review a package of “tenant protections.”   These protections include:

 Just Cause for Eviction

 Rent Registry

 Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases

What is missing from the agenda on Tuesday is a discussion about a temporary anti-gouging measure for rent increases to be in effect while the city establishes new policies to disrupt displacement of our residents. In December, at the city council meeting, the Human Relations Commission made a compelling argument for such a measure, in addition they asked for the formation of a housing committee to craft a long term solution to rising rents.  The resolution can be read here.

El Cerrito Human Relations Commission Resolution on Tenant Protections

 

Come out for either meetings and help us maintain a city where all people can afford to live.