April 20, 2017
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CS’ Annual Oakland Summary
by Doniphan Blair
Tucked behind a graffiti-graced gate in once-tough West Oakland is the Korean-Kalifornian FuseBOX, one of the city's top new restaurants. photo: courtesy FuseBOX
WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN SWEATING IT
out, Oaklanders have been enjoying fog-cooled days (highs in the low 70s), scrumptious cuisine from the avalanche of new restaurants (400 in five years), art at the nearly 100 new galleries and a surprisingly low crime rate.
Although Oakland had demos protesting the police killings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge the week of June 7th, with freeway traffic-stopping and downtown window breaking (probably by non-Oaklanders), the city has been spared the spate of police killings nation-wide, at least since Oscar Grant in 2009.
Indeed, as of the end of June, Oakland has had “only” 32 homicides, putting it on track for its lowest annual kill rate in a half a century. Yes, last year had 89 homicides, with five police involved-killings (more info
) but that was almost half the historical high of 165 in 1992, due to the Crack ‘80s, which established Oakland as a top-ten crime city nation-wide.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and police chief Sean Whent, both evidently in shock at the June 17th announcement of the latter's sex scandal-driven resignation. photo: courtesy Ben Margot, AP
Admittedly, resentment about gentrification and sky-rocketing rents and the availability of scanners, which can display a car's electronic contents, has brought a tsunami of break-ins and robberies leaving the streets of both San Francisco and Oakland glittering with the broken glass ubiquitous in the ‘80s. Unfortunately, when that happens these days, the Oakland police are especially slow to respond.
That is because of June's massive sex scandal, which precipitated the sacking of three police chiefs in a world-record nine days. Apparently, a sophisticated as well as attractive working girl, the eighteen-year old Nicaraguan immigrant, Celeste Guap—whose mother just happens to be a police dispatcher, claimed she had sex with over twenty officers, some when she was under age. As if that weren't enough, Guap alleged they warned her about upcoming prostitution stings and sweeps.
The old police chief, Sean Whent, went down with the second accusation and was followed, six days later, by the interim-chief Ben Fairow, when it was revealed he had had an extramarital affair. Finally, in a spectacular one and half days, Paul Figueroa jumped ship for undisclosed reasons, but which we can only imagine, leaving the extremely peeved Oakland mayor, Libby Schaff, to run the department through her office.
Sadly there's more: an officer committing suicide, after leaving a note about the sex scandal; the possibility he murdered his wife, previously considered a suicide, a case now under investigation; racist texting by African-American Oakland cops; and recently its been revealed San Francisco cops joined the "fun" with irrepressible Guap.
Another tragedy concerns 16 year-old Regina Jeffries, killed in downtown Oakland, in broad daylight, during a vigil for two 15-year-olds, Josiah Pratt Rose and Jamari Wilson, who drowned while swimming in a local reservoir. A promising and talented young woman, Jeffries' sickening and under-reported story, see
, apparently involved a fight among street gamblers.
Starting in 2014, large street encampments started springing up in Oakland and San Francisco, often under freeways. photo: courtesy SF Chronicle
Then there is the homeless. While experts insist the Bay Area doesn’t attract them, nor do they want to be homeless (see KQED’s "
Searching for the Hows, Whats and Whys of Homelessness
), the white panhandlers arrived with the Oakland Occupy and the others, from average citizens to prostitutes and dealers, a couple of years later, due to the incredible cost of housing and comfort of tenting over traditional street life.
Ex-mayor Jean Quan must be thanking her stars she lost the last elections, while the gentrifiers may be waking up to the well-known fact that Oakland, in its many permutations over the years, bats last.
Nevertheless, this is par for Oakland's ever-colorful course and diversity, danger and delicious mixtures therein are excellent inspirations for art. Indeed, in addition to the foodie explosion—for my money, try the taco truck on Fruitvale and 11th in front of Guadalajara Restaurant, the film, music and art scene is booming. In addition to the wide variety of professional artists, from
, a cartoonist who just published a new graphic novel, fine artist
, cineSOURCE's next-door neighbor, or Oaklander Ryan Coogler, who made “Fruitvale Station” about Oscar Grant's killing (2013) and just did the Hollywood hit, “Creed” 2015, lucky number seven in the “Rocky” franchise, there have emerged almost a dozen "art hubs."
These are commercially or collectively run work spaces, typically with up to dozens of workstations in a big room where young people (as well as others) can learn computer skills, rent work stations and other equipment and start working on sites, graphics, movies and more. With the schooling and employment they generate—some are becoming incubators, as small businesses rent offices, as well as the aesthetics and enthusiasm, this is a spectacular Oakland achievement, see
Galen Silvestri runs United Roots, with some grants from Silicon Valley, including a program working with young people to do web design for local businesses. photo: D. Blair
Filmmaker Rafael Flores, covered in the above-mentioned article, just started the Hidden Gem Studio, where one project is a film about the Black Panthers. Tyale Tiaumba, who leads an initiative to teach documentary-making, debuted his “The Kingmakers” (2015) at the recent Oakland International Film Festival—itself an important civic cultural asset. The film covers an Oakland program helping boys with self-esteem and mutual assistance.
All in all, it is a pleasant time for Oaklander, with our crime rate down and recreation options up. There are numerous lakes (the swimable Temescal up in the hills) and wilderness parks (I have started retiring monthly to the world-class Lake Chabot Family Campgrounds, to meditate on its forests, hills and lakes), and even the
is getting an upgrade.
Sure the city shuts down after Oakland’s vaunted
Art and Soul Celebration
in early August, as the Burners head up to Burning Man in the Nevada desert, and who ever else can gets out of town or at least to Alameda Beach, it will be so quiet and peaceful, perhaps we can get some work done.
Doniphan Blair is a writer, film magazine publisher, designer and filmmaker ('
Our Holocaust Vacation
'), who can be reached
Posted on Jul 10, 2016 - 07:05 PM