by youth scholars at Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine

Poverty scholars from POOR and Deecolonize Academy visit the Oakland Mayor’s Office to ask for information on Bus Rapid Transit and its effect on gentrification and discuss the issue with the mayor. They left empty-handed. – Photo: Poor News Network

We youth scholars from Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine submitted 14 FOIAs – Freedom of Information Act requests – to 14 departments in the City of Oakland, only to receive a series of messages from two of the departments saying, “We have no documents,” and no word from the others.

On Jan. 16, we will be making a demand to the City of Oakland and AC Transit that, with the money they received for BRT, they support Oakland residents to be able to stay here as reparations for the millions of dollars they are receiving to displace us out of here. If you would like to join us, please email poormag@gmail.com.

What is a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request?

It is our right to demand records from any city or county, state or federal entity or agency on monies received or spent, activities engaged in or people hired, fired or involved.

Each of the 14 FOIAs that were submitted to 14 different city agencies potentially involved in the BRT scandal either ignored the FOIAs or denied that there were any documents on file about the monies they received.

What is gentrification?

Destruction, dismantling, removal of peoples of color, working class communities, elders and families by real estate developers and land-stealers for profit – that’s our definition.

The BRT

by Zion Angeles

My sweet home is becoming a jungle of hell.

My home is fading away slowly, so slow people don’t recognize. Looking at homeless sisters and brothers at International Boulevard makes me think how they would feel with less sidewalks to rest on.

One side of 82nd Street and International Boulevard has clean, beautiful buildings. They use power wash to clean germs and sometimes to spray on homeless people so they would leave. Power washing is bad for your skin.

Across the street near the liquor store they are cutting the street off. International is getting destroyed by BRT.

BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit. It’s directed by Bike East Bay. BRT is funded 100 percent. BRT is bringing more bike lanes and less car parking. The problem is elders and disabled folks won’t be able to park their cars on International Boulevard anymore.

Background story

We went to the mayor’s office on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, around 1 p.m. We entered and brought in a FOIA.

The lady behind the desk explained that we can’t see the mayor and explained that we had to do the request online on Record Track. We refused and asked to talk in person but she explained it will go through.

We did the request right away. When we came back, we sent FOIAs to the Mayor’s Office, Department of Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Office of Neighborhood Investment and Councilwoman Desley Brooks. Two weeks later Mama Tiny got an email from Record Track saying they didn’t have any documents to send us.

On Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, I received a response to our FOIA from the Department of Transportation saying they didn’t have any documents.

Bus Rapid Transit gentrification

by Tiburcio Garcia

In yet another effort to “improve” our city, the AC Transit, along with the City of Oakland and the City of San Leandro are working on a project called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will “make our bus routes faster, safer and more secure.” This is just another excuse for corporations to gentrify our “up and coming” neighborhoods that most of us have lived in our entire lives.

Among the corporations that are funding this new project and also want to make it happen are CalTrans, Bay Area Toll Authority, Alameda County Transportation Commission, U.S. Department of Transportation, including the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and plenty more.

Trying to prevent this blatant and plainly obvious attempt at gentrification, POOR Magazine along with Deecolonize Academy went to Oakland City Hall to file our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents. Long story short, we were turned down because the mayor’s secretary said the mayor wasn’t available unless we had an appointment.

We returned to Homefulness and wrote down our experience and our opinions of how we felt. After that, we went to the website that the mayor’s secretary told us to go to, a website for submitting FOIAs, and submitted as many as we could to certain sections of the city government.

The only thing we got after weeks of excited waiting was a couple of emails telling us that the documents and/or information we asked for did not exist. The funny and sad thing is, one of the questions we asked is, “Is the City of Oakland involved with the BRT?” The BRT website clearly states that the City of Oakland is one of their main supporters and funders.

Two weeks after going to City Hall, we took a small field trip. All of us in Deecolonize got into the bus and drove down International Boulevard. We immediately noticed the impact that the oncoming changes by the Bus Rapid Transit will have on this community. In the middle of the giant street, there was a lane cordoned off for construction.

A little farther down the street, we saw a sign that was propped against one of the construction sites that said “Make way for bikes,” hinting that that part of the construction will be specifically for bikes and not cars. That sounds good and all, because it’s good for people to work out and not cause pollution, but what about the people who are forced to drive because of a disability? Where can they park their cars if all of the street parking has been taken over by bike lanes?

As we drove down the street we saw different stages of gentrification, almost like the different stages of a disease. Creeping down the street, fancy buildings, luxury condos and workout centers were taking over humble barbershops, mom and pop grocery stores and taco trucks. It was so profound that it was palpable, the gentrification and the displacement.

When we got to our final destination, 90th and International, we saw a gathering of cops overseeing sanitation workers power washing houseless people to “persuade” them to leave this area and never return. The water that was being sprayed had many dangerous acidic chemicals that over time will cause severe skin diseases to these houseless people.

We knew why they were doing this, of course. In their eyes, the houseless people look unsightly. To all of those who do not know what that means, it means ugly, or not nice to look at.

And if they want gentrifiers moving into this neighborhood, they want it to look clean and new and to them, and houseless people just … don’t. Instead of helping the houseless people by providing them with housing, or maybe a bath or some food, they just want to kick them out.

Investigating Bus Rapid Transit

by Amir Cornish

The constructions worker was wearing an orange and bright yellow suit vest.

When I saw the water go on the payment and when it touched the ground, it splashes like a water park pool party. Then I saw some bikes lanes on the road. It is a great thing to take bike rides, but we need space for cars to park. When I saw the streets, it was like a river flowing through my heart.

I was on the corner of International and 82nd Boulevard. It was a construction site for Bus Rapid Transit. They are slicing the streets in half because they are taking three lanes to build BRT.

What is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is a bus-based mass transit system sometimes described as a “surface subway.” BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail metro with the flexibility, lower cost and the simplicity of a bus system.

Who is funding the BRT? It’s funded by 100.0 percent by

  1. Bay Area Toll Authority
  2. AC Transit East Bay Bus Rapid Transit
  3. Federal Highway Administration

My Oakland home – stolen

by Ziair Hughes

My home is being taken from me. They say Oakland is a beautiful place, but why are our people living on the boulevards and streets?

The police sprayed toxic water on the homeless people on International Boulevard. There is a store where the homeless people stay; it’s like World War I. The police blocked off three lanes to build the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit).

On November the 7th we decided to go to City Hall to deliver our FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. It was almost the end of class. We showed up at the Mayor’s Office. A lady who works at the Mayor’s Office asked, “Why are you here?”

She was refusing to let us see the mayor. We told her why we were there to deliver our FOIAs. They made an excuse so we would leave, so we gave them our FOIAs. Then two weeks later, they said there were no documents.

Conclusion

This is the cover of the students’ report.

As of the publishing of this youth and family WeSearch report, the City of Oakland has denied that they have any documents relevant to any of our 14 FOIA requests, even though ALL of the websites and public relations material states clearly that the City of Oakland is a funder of the billion dollar BRT.

In finality, the point we are making is that the expansion of this transportation agency is directly leading to gentrification. We are seeing this happen in our neighborhood now, but it has happened before.

Ten years ago in San Francisco, the T-Third Street light rail line known as the T-Train was opened, but over the construction period that kept the street torn up for five years, many Black-owned businesses closed their doors forever, and the people in the neighborhood were denied jobs and contracts, so the light-rail construction “boom” was a bust for the residents, the start of a tidal wave of gentrification that has nearly wiped out the Black population from San Francisco.

Oakland, following their example, is now mowing through our neighborhoods power-washing houseless people and evicting housed people, many of whom have lived here their entire lives. Like I said before, this is just another excuse for the City of Oakland to kick out the actual residents of Oakland to make way for new, higher paying citizens.

Deecolonize Academy is a revolutionary, intergenerational school for the people and by the people, teaching relevant, conscious, arts- and science-based education for our children ages 3-18. The school, along with POOR Magazine, is located at Homefulness, 8032 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, and can be reached at 510-435-7500, via poormag@gmail.com or on Facebook. Learn more at Deecolonize Academy.

35 COMMENTS

  1. This “article” makes no sense. It sounds like the paranoid rant of a schizophrenic. You’re worried about the new bus taking away parking spaces from the elderly? Sounds like a rich person problem for people who can afford a car.

    • It's about gentrification the bus line could have been constructed in the 80's or 90's or 2000 when neighbors were screaming for more public transportation but nobody paid attention until tech companies took over the Bay area. We have seen the something in the Bayview SF when tech companies/people took over and all-of-a-sudden the T-line bus popped up.Same happened in the Bronx, NY in the late 70's early 80's! What is so funny the first wave of tech gentrifiers are now being pushed out for this new cycle of tech people. As we get elderly like everyone will be will be kicked out of the city. With this new tax bill we will see a lot of people disappearing! Need to talk facts like this article and less emotional comments that don't give any logical thinking!

  2. Kudos for getting involved and trying to learn and educate others about gentrification. Are there any positive results of BRT for residents?

  3. Thanks for seeing and reporting on what some of us have been warning about for years. It is good to see such wisdom coming from young minds. It is also refreshing to see an ability to communicate and express the frustration many are feeling in such a coherent and helpful manner. The solutions to the manufactured "housing crisis" are coming out of anti-establishment movements from all sides of the political spectrum. Trust no one. Do your own research and learn how to work within the law to effect change where possible. The more people follow their own path and do their own investigations, the better off our society will be. If the government fails to educate the public, it is up to us to do so.

  4. Damn. I wish they would chill. I im Black and live in the east and take the bus to work. The bus sounds like a good idea.

    These folks should think about black peoples before protesting like white people in Berkeley.

    • Yeah a lot of Black people in the Bayveiw thought the same thing until the project the T-Line was over and their rents went up thus had to move to Tracy and a young Black man got shot by bus police! I'm Black abad was profiled inn buses in Berkeley sand SF because I mad white tech people nervous. Yes we all want buses but we don't want to gentrify our people like they did in SF,NY & other cities.

      • Yes, Leroy. "Transit-oriented" initiatives everywhere smell of million of dollars used to "clean up" neighborhoods of color (including moving homeless people out of sight, creating "bike" areas and bringing Ford bikes to rent up, and closing small business run by people of color), develop "transit oriented luxury housing" for white folks who will not take the transit oriented buses/trains, etc, with the clear purpose of making our cities wealthy and white – again. That is the plan, in every major City in the US. Do not be fooled! Our people deserve good public transit – and the right to accessible transportation, but it only gets "developed" when developers and politicians have already mapped out who gets to stay (or return), what gets built, and for whom, and who gets to go. It ain't us!

  5. A quick fact check/correction: CalTrans, Bay Area Toll Authority, Alameda County Transportation Commission, U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and Metropolitan Transportation Commission are government agencies, not corporations. Corporations are private entities.

    The state and local agencies (as opposed to the federal agencies) are subject to the "Brown Act" which means that you can request a lot of information about their meetings and if they don't give it to you the courts are willing to order them to hand over the information. Also if you are poor, there is a form to fill out declaring that you are poor, so you can't afford to pay the legal fees, and you don't have to pay, them unless you win and are awarded monetary damages.

    • Yep, what they said. This project is meant to streamline the bus system and reach more of these so-called displaced people. This project had EXTENSIVE public outreach, city meetings and asked for a ton of input from residents and users. It’s only when things start happening to make the improvements that people start to make noise. This is liberal chants trying to get people riled up. The fact is that this is a government project for the people who “need” it as it will have ZERO profit literally ever and is purely for the use of the elderly and disabled along Int’l. Please check your facts before “reporting.”

      • Like the bus cuts lack of bus benches. People been asking for more public transportation for a long time but gov only listen to new powerful $$ that have took over Bay Area cities as the Black Brown residents get kick out so the tech/gentrifiers will enjoy this new pubic transportation however as the cycle continues they will be kicked out as the next level of gentrification take over. However with this new tax bill we will see a lot of people wake up.. I'm disabled and have seen these new transportation bus lines that don't have places to sit and other lack of accessibility that I in SF when I was in the Mayor's office seeing a lack of accessibility when new bus lines were put in. Facts or blah but live experiences wakes people up. See a city that didn't follow disability accessible laws when implemented new bus lines for new tech people was mind-blowing and effected poor disabled people.

      • So-called displaced people? I am certain it is not you, and the so-called "displaced" and "needy" were not part of your "extensive public outreach." And we are not liberals, but radical POCs that will fight back your PRT project to assure non-displacement.

  6. The project retains an overwhelming amount of existing street parking (not to mention the even larger amount of off-street parking on private property up and down International), AC Transit and the City established a small business impact fund to compensate local businesses during construction, and there are literally hundreds of pages of documentation on this project available online, at City Hall, and at AC Transit offices – not to mention an exhaustive number of community meetings for the project over the last 10 years that this project has been planned.

    It’s great that these youth want to critically analyze what’s going on in their community, but it suffers from a lack of project context and information that’s easily found – and no FOIA’s necessary.

  7. These agencies are not corporations but they exclude the local/public input as they conceptualize and fund these massive projects, essentially because they have the funds. Just like the BART extension to the airport, this project avoids more sensible, less disruptive methods and routes (San Leandro Blvd.??) because the lives and tranquility of the people in the hood have no value to them. Oakland, especially East Oakland is already well served in the west to east direction (the Lake to 98th Ave); but how about some consideration of the north to south travel, (the hills to BART), therein lies the bottleneck, and reason many Oaklanders don't use BART – too hard to get to! But then again, gentrification wouldn't be gentrification if you include those bound to be displaced in the discussion and planning, of course these banal bureaucrats know that.

    The changes needed have to occur at the ballot box, we need to spend more energy and focus on getting people to vote; its the one hammer we have to thwart these agencies from protruding into our daily lives – no matter that we are poor, or just live in poor neighborhoods, dreamily waiting for the right policies necessary to effect positive changes, instead of incremental disappearances.

  8. White people are brainwashing our children to protest against a bus line that helps them and their community.

    Do you see the white woman in the picture? shes laughing all the way to the bank.

        • what magazine- ? this is going in a free school/community newspaper – there is no money changing hands and/or received and in fact we are LOSING MONEY trying to get it out – its interesting how so many people are so out of touch with the impact of this transportation-on poor people and how many people are standing up for it- lots of folks must be getting paid from this BRT – or why woudl they be defending it like this- this is an investigation -and maybe you shoudl visit POOR Magazine sometime- we are all colors , ages and races, our connection- poverty- we are facing removal from ALL kinds of these systems in rapidly changing oakland –

          • You must think black folks stupid white man. You tryng to keep us trapped in the hood. Just like how there is no bart to Marin to keep black folk out of there

    • Tony. Leave it to you to not understand the bottom line of his writings. And to turn it in to a race card. If you think it through, you will see that this author is in fact correct. The only way to make living in outer areas of Oakland attractive and to cut down on congestion is to make the buses faster. They don't mention that they remove almost half the bus stops, but that is another discussion. With a faster commute for workers, in come developers who buy up houses along the bus route, and build $700K+ condos for WHITE (if you want to put race into the discussion OK, I will) and other RICH new Oakland residents. People with MONEY. And all the people who have lived in Oakland as renters…their days are numbered. Once the Governor stopped Redevelopment Agencies from existing, this became the new redevelopment tool. BRT. New construction, new property tax revenue, more money for the City and County, voila. The kid is correct. It isn't the white lady laughing about protesting buses. She is laughing because she bought the house your mom lived in, so a new condo project can go in.

      • Mark you are the worst kind of racist. Rosa parks fought for us to be on the bus and you trying to keep us off. You prob like redlining cuz it keeps the cities racially pure.

        You sound like trumps daddy

  9. The project will make traffic much worse for those of us who work several jobs and have kids and can’t use public transportation as it’s wholly inadequate to get everywhere in a timely fashion. Continuing to make more fancy bike lanes while dramatically reducing lanes for cars is total BS! No more bike lanes until all of the streets are repaved in the neighborhoods!! Some of us poor folks do have cars and do drive to our now necessary multiple jobs!!

  10. AC Transit's BRT project was approved in January 2012. It was a long time ago- these projects move very slowly. Chapter 4.4 of the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) studied and documented assumed impacts on community character and the economic and environmental consequences caused by the project. This is what you should be reading to find your answers. The EIR's purpose is disclosure. If you disagree, you need to challenge what the EIR says (or does not say) before it gets approved.

    If you have internet access (a universal human right), you can view the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for AC Transit's BRT plan online at: http://www.actransit.org/final-environmental-impa

    Doing a FOIA request was a waste of your time because the documents you seek are already posted on AC Transit's website and the project was approved for construction five years ago (remember it is an AC Transit project, not the City of Oakland). You have to pay any copy costs for FOIA requests, usually .05 cents per page for each document you request. More importantly, you also have to specify what documents you want to receive in your request. That might be why they didn't respond. It isn't productive to just waltz in and ask for the Mayor. This was an AC Transit project. The Mayor doesn't know enough about anything to be of any help. She wasn't even in office when this was approved. Ask one of AC Transit's staff, like a transportation planner or engineer. They know a heck of a lot more than the Mayor.

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