Opponents of tenant protections use misleading survey to collect data

If you recently received an email or text from a coalition of “concerned El Cerrito community members” asking you to complete a survey, please be wary.  The unidentified group commissioned Voxloca, a Bay Area data collection company, to solicit resident views about tenant protections.

The problem with the survey is that it’s full is misleading and inaccurate information about the current discussion happening in El Cerrito around how to protect renters from price gauging, excessive rent increases and no-cause evictions.

Below are examples of some of the misleading questions.

What should be the TOP PRIORITY for El Cerrito?

1 – Ensuring the city has enough police officers
2 – Passing new laws to address tenant-landlord issues
3 – Balancing the budget for essential city services
4 – Repairing local streets and roads
5 – Improving our library and parks
6 – None of these

This type of question pits tenant-landlord issues against community resources like libraries, parks and public safety, when it’s not an either-or choice.  By passing tenant protections we don’t take anything away from public safety, roads and any other services, but only improve the quality of life for many.

The survey then launches into a false assertion that a database to track rent and evictions, part of the Rent Registry Ordinance that will be discussed by the Council on May 7th will cost $50,000.

What should the City Council SPEND $50,000 of the city’s budget on?

1 – A database to track rent and evictions
2 – New equipment at neighborhood park
3 – Additional training for police officers
4 – Tree trimming program to prevent fires
5 – Emergency housing programs for renters
6 – None of these

To be clear, the Rent Registry is not funded through the general fund and its cost does not diminish revenues for parks or fires.  It is based on fees. But without having a fuller context of why we need to track rent and evictions, most respondents would obviously not mark this as their number one priority.  A better question may be something like this:

The city is concerned that high rents may be displacing long term residents and that some tenants are facing evictions, but has no data.  Should the city create a Rent Registry that would be funded through a small registration fee from each rental unit?

The Voxloca Survey uses a similar tactic of pitting services against tenant protection by asking “If the City Council RAISES NEW TAXES where should it be spent?”

1 – New library
2 – More police officers
3 – New city employees to regulate landlords
4 – An affordable housing fund
5 – None — Don’t raise taxes

Again, any program that might regulate rents and/or landlords would be fee based and generate funds through registration of eligible rental units. The survey continues to ask vague questions related to Just Cause for Eviction, such as if they council should pass a new law that would “make it MORE DIFFICULT to evict problem tenants who deal drugs or are disruptive?

The question assumes that the “new law” would make it more difficult to evict problem tenants. Instead, a better question to ask El Cerrito voters might be:

The law currently allows landlords to evict any tenant without giving a cause. Do you think the city should enact a law that requires the landlord to give a reason for an eviction?

At first blush, it’s easy to think that an entity like the California Apartment Association is behind the effort.  After all, the CAA is a powerful lobbying group representing more than 50,000 landlords throughout the state has the money and experience fighting tenant protections. But the truth is that we can’t make any assumptions. It could be CAA, a local landlord or perhaps the Chamber of Commerce. What is clear is that Voxloca is willing to push out surveys full of bias and based on false assertions that are clearly intended to collect data to use to discredit efforts to strengthen tenant protections in El Cerrito.

Another misleading question in the survey is whether the City Council should “create a new housing department” with power to create a city database of all El Cerrito renters. If you’ve been following the City Council meetings and the narrative coming from the opponents of tenant protections, you know that there are some who love to mention Richmond and Berkeley as a scare tactic.  I won’t name names here, but one prominent developer likes to suggest that any type of rent stabilization program will result in a huge bureaucracy, and cost a million dollars. The truth of the matter is that the City Council is not discussing a new housing department nor have they spoken about registering renters. Instead, it appears to be a scare tactic for people who might be afraid of big government.

Other questions in the survey allege that the city is considering a new law to “force a landlord to subsidize a tenant’s rent, even though with good paying jobs.” This is entirely false. There is no such law being considered. Instead, the council is discussing a relocation allowance for tenants forced to move due to demolition. Council member Lyman had proposed a policy that would require landlords to pay a tenant who was forced to move if they could not afford a rent increase of more than 10% per year, but this motion did not garner enough votes.

To put the question on its head, one could argue that there are many current renters subsidizing landlords by paying excessive rents. These subsidies are helping landlords pay for their children’s college education, paying for expensive vacations, luxury homes and much more. Tenant protections are for all tenants, not just those who are low income, although tenants who are low income or on fixed income are most vulnerable to displacement within our current housing market.

In summary, it’s unfortunate that Voxloca can access our emails and phone numbers and send out a misleading survey to collect data that will used to fight against tenant protections.  What the company is doing is not illegal, but it’s wrong and should be called out.  Shame on you Voxloca for sending out a survey so misrepresentative of the issues at hand.  Our city residents deserve better, and we are too smart to fall for your shenanigans. And shame on the “concerned community members” who don’t have the courage to put their names on the survey.

Please let your City Council know that you are concerned about the misleading and inaccurate survey being conducted by Voxloca.  Come to the May 7th City Council meeting and join us in calling for an end to rent gouging in El Cerrito!

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.

Where are they now?

Separated immigrant children are now everywhere throughout the US, far from parents who can’t locate them

The whereabouts of their mothers and fathers unknown and often distant, many immigrant children separated from parents at the U.S. border are dependent on a system of institutions for survival. Their numbers are widely dispersed in multiple states, including Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, and California.

separated immigrant children

Separated immigrant children exist in impersonal living conditions where adults are not allowed to comfort them, or with foster parents unfamiliar with the effects of the children’s circumstances.

The White House maintains that the separations have stopped and that there is an ongoing plan to reconnect the children with their families. Yet over 2,000 children remain estranged from parents who have no knowledge of where the children are located.

Conditions are largely unknown. Most locations seem to be churches; suburban group home-like settings; a WalMart converted into lodging; and locked shelters with scarce outside time. Some locations house large numbers of children and have a constant need for head counts.

separated immigrant childrens center

2018 video from inside facility for separated immigrant children

A government’s official time estimate to satisfy a federal judge’s request that separated immigrant children be identified and reunited with their families is approximately two years.

The identification process entails examining the records of approximately 47,000 children generally referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement under varied circumstances, including border separations.

Currently, this author has no information on how closely the government’s treatment of detained immigrant children is monitored. Any feedback or input into the conditions of detained immigrant minors is welcomed.

Source content: The New York Times: U.S. Says It Could Take 2 Years to Identify Up to Thousands of Separated Immigrant Families, and The Washington Post: Separated immigrant children are all over the U.S. now, far from parents who don’t know where they are

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

2018-2019 Year of (No) Plastic

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 9.51.40 AM-COLLAGE (1)

DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH PLASTIC PASSES THROUGH YOUR LIFE?  Last year several members of our Environmental Justice group tracked 1-time use plastic items that flowed through our lives on a daily basis.  It was a real eye-opener. In my 31 days, the number of items ranged from 0 to 18. Besides the obvious items like plastic bags* from the produce aisles of your local grocery store, yogurt containers or water bottles, plastic comes with so many ordinary items we use every day. For example, a Kleenex tissue box has a plastic insert in the opening. I tried soaking it to remove the cardboard so I could put the plastic with my collection of clean plastic film– all plastic film has to be clean and dry and bunched up together in a plastic bag or wrapped together before being put in your grey bin or taken to the Recycling Center. A metal cap on a bottle of sparkling water has a ring of plastic around it. The batteries you buy come packaged in cardboard and plastic. Multiple rolls of toilet paper are packaged in plastic. Produce from Trade Joe’s comes in plastic containers (although now the company is finally responding to customer’s urges to stop that practice–I for one never buy produce there because of the plastic. When you get takeout food, does the restaurant stick in a plastic fork? What implement do you use to write? I would guess it’s a plastic-encased disposable pen. I could go on and on about the data our group has uncovered in more than a year of researching the insidiousness and dangers of plastic.

People were led to believe that recycling solves the problem of our over-consumption of stuff. The fact is that 91% of plastic worldwide is NOT RECYCLED. A recent study by marketing researchers at Citi found that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. And when China declared in 2018 that it would not longer accept our “recyclable” trash because much of it was contaminated and they have their own garbage to deal with, America was stopped dead in our wanton wastefulness and confronted with mountains of so-called recyclables that are now being hauled to landfills.

Why?  Because so many communities, including our own, went to single-stream recycling. That is, we were told to place metal, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic altogether in our grey bins. This resulted in contamination of many items, making it impossible to be recycled, hence they end up in landfills. Years back people in El Cerrito had to separate our recyclables into different bins; that was in the era before food waste was accepted. Then single stream recycling came into practice and new trucks were designed and built to accommodate one large bin and prevent workers from having to pick up and lift the bins and tilt them into the yawning rear openings of the recycling trucks. What used to take several workers now only takes one worker to run the truck and its grippers that pick up the bin and toss its contents into the side opening of the truck and then set the bin back on the street. When materials are contaminated, purchasers or recyclable materials don’t want to buy them and they have to go into landfill. Not only does this pollute our Earth, it loses money for our City.

Recycle processing equipment cannot handle small bits of plastic. 500 million straws were being used every day in the U.S.; they plus the ubiquitous plastic stirrers and plastic knives, forks, and spoons slip through the machines. And yet they can be found by the 1000s in our creeks, pathways, streets, at bus stops, and blown into people’s yards.

These are just a few of the reasons why last Summer we took our “Skip the Straw” campaign to El Cerrito’s Environmental Quality Committee, an advisory group to the City Council. Although we called it “Skip the Straw,” what we really want is for our city to ban all 1-time use and non-recyclable and non-compostable foodware. In July 2018 we started an awareness campaign at the One World Festival, and collected signatures of El Cerrito residents. We had a contest for people to guess how many plastic straws were picked up at the festival, and gave out organic plants as prizes. We made informal and formal presentations to the EQC, whose members acknowledged that we had done the heavy lifting for them by doing a lot of relevant research, complete with references to problems and cases where cities, states and whole countries are tackling the issue.  We showed them the environmental, health, litter, and economic consequences of so much plastic being used and tossed on streets, in creeks, in parks, and all around town. As a result, EQC set up a sub-committee on plastics and declared 2019 The Year of Plastics.

Other cities are way ahead of us. Richmond passed their food ordinance in 2010 that required food providers to stop using disposable foodware and use recyclable or compostable foodware, encouraging them to provide reusable containers. Polystyrene foodware was banned in 2018. In December 2018 they added bans on the use and sale of all plasatic straws and stirrers by retail establishments, food providers, and transient lodging, and added utensils and lids to the list of disposable foodware that must be compostable or recyclable and applies it to City facilities and events. In January 2019 after a council member  introducing the idea in April 2018, Berkeley passed an ambitious comprehensible Single-Use Foodware and Litter Reduction ordinance.  Among other things, the Berkeley Ordinance includes small items such as plastic packets of condiments (e.g., ketchup), customers are encouraged to bring their own clean beverage containers for takeout beverages or be charged 25¢ for a disposable cups. Disposable foodware must be BPI Certified Compostable starting January 2020. The details about their ordinance are a role model for other municipalities to follow to get to Zero Waste.

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Although we have urged the EQC to work on a comprehensive plastics and non-compostable foodware ordinance, the staff has told EQC and us that they are only willing to work on a plastic straw and stirrer ban this year.

Our belief is that it will take a lot of effort just to go this one small step, and question why we should not design a comprehensive foodware and anti-litter ordinance that supports the healthy and safety of workers, diners and drinkers, and helps business improve their bottom financial line. Rethink Disposables, part of Clean Water Action has helped businesses save money by eliminating disposable foodware.

If you care about the health of our city and its inhabitants, food providers and workers, please join our campaign. Contact us through this website.

Barbara Chan, Convener for Environmental Justice

* For years i have cleaned and re-used plastic bags, like my mother before me, taking them with me to the store. Lately I stopped putting my produce into bags and just pile apples and oranges on the conveyer belt and then put them loose into my large cloth grocery bag or my wicker basket.

 

 

El Cerrito Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

mlk celebration

This extended weekend, January 20th and 21st, El Cerrito celebrates the birthday and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The recognition starts at 4:00 PM, Sunday, January 20, with a screening:

“Cracking the Codes: The Racial Inequality”

Held at El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater

540 Ashbury Ave. El Cerrito, CA 94530


Monday, January 21st, begins the Holiday recognition with:

  • A Rally at 8:30 AM
  • A Parade assembling at 9:30 AM. The Parade leaves at 10:00 AM from El Cerrito City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave.
  • A Celebratory Program honoring the Holiday at 11:00 AM, held at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater

Wishing everyone a joyous Celebration!