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Living in the O’s Fifth Birthday

8 Jun Sunset City Hall Federal Building

Though Living in the O is on hiatus, I couldn’t let my blog’s birthday pass without acknowledging it here. I’ve really wanted to write lately. It’s taken self-restraint to not write about the June election, so many fantastic restaurants and other businesses opening, and most of all, everything I’m learning about BART and the East Bay through my campaign. I haven’t blogged because I’ve needed to focus on campaigning to be elected to the BART Board.

But today I felt compelled to write because writing this blog and building a community around Oakland blogs is part of why I’m running for office.

Five years ago, many things rapidly changed in my life. Over a span of three or four months, my sister (who I’m very close with) and my two best friends moved away from the Bay Area. And right after that, my girlfriend (now wife) was diagnosed with a major health issue. To say it was a tough year would be an understatement.

I needed something positive to focus on outside of work, so I decided to start blogging, but I couldn’t have imagined how much blogging would change my life for the better. Continue reading

Join me in supporting one of Oakland’s most committed, inspiring activists

23 Sep Karen Smulevitz

There are many reasons I’m grateful that I got involved in Oakland advocacy, but one of the things I’m most grateful for is all of the amazing people I have met along the way. One of these people is someone I first got to know during our campaign to stop the Oakland Airport Connector, someone who often advocates for seniors, pedestrians and bus riders. If you watch City Council, AC Transit or MTC meetings or if you read comments on Oakland blogs, I’m sure you’ve seen her speak or read her comments and know what a fierce advocate she is. Though she’s an incredibly sweet lady, Karen Smulevitz is also not afraid to speak the truth, even if that means calling a government agency out.

If you haven’t gotten the opportunity to hear her speak, here’s some video of her speaking at a health care rally this summer: Continue reading

Living in the O’s Fourth Birthday

8 Jun cropped-bike-vw

Four years is a long time.

Four years marks some significant milestones in my life. I went to UC Berkeley for four years. My wife (then girlfriend) and I lived in our last apartment for just over four years. And as of today I’ve been blogging for four years.

During all of these four-year time periods, much has happened and I’ve grown so much. My years at Berkeley were marked by my evolution into an activist, my years in our last apartment by my growing love for my then girlfriend and my growing love for Oakland, but these four years blogging are a bit more difficult for me to define succinctly.

So I thought I’d mark them here with the blogoaksphere successes that stand out for me. These victories could not have been won without the help of multiple bloggers and blog readers. There are many more blogoaksphere successes, I’m sure, but these are the successes that mark my four years of blogging at Living in the O: Continue reading

Blogs worth reading from Oakland organizations

18 Apr Ella's Voice

I was so excited last week to find out that TransForm had started a blog, and it got me thinking about the other great Oakland based organizations that have blogs. I link to some of them in my blogroll but felt it was worth a post to spread the word about these great blogs:

TransForm – TransForming the Bay Area: The blog is new so it’s hard to know the scope, but judging by its name and TransForm’s mission, it is likely to cover transportation and land use issues in the Bay Area.

Ella Baker Center – Ella’s Voice: Ella’s Voice covers a wide range of issues that the Ella Baker Center works on – the environment, criminal justice, civil rights, and much more. I’ve been following the blog for a while and have enjoyed the mix of story telling, action alerts, and policy updates. Continue reading

New blog design, updated blogroll & plenty on the City Council agenda

28 Feb cropped-blog-header-image.jpg

If you’ve been to the Living in the O site since Sunday, you’ve probably noticed that I finally updated the look and navigation of the site. I picked this theme because of how it features photos and how it fits so much but doesn’t feel cluttered. I hope you like it.

If you haven’t been to the site (and I know from stats that most of you read via RSS feeds), take a minute and check it out, as I also updated my blogroll, which I haven’t done in a very long time. I added a bunch of Oakland, California, and transportation blogs I read regularly. If you’re looking for new blogs to read, check some of them out. Continue reading

Another reason to celebrate at Thursday’s Blogoaksphere Party

4 Jan

Yesterday I went to the inauguration of Jean Quan and the swearing in ceremony for Councilmembers Libby Schaaf, Pat Kernighan, and Desley Brooks. Overall, I really enjoyed the event and the speeches and hopefully will have time soon to write about some of what happened (particularly on Jean Quan, and the election of Larry Reid as the new Council President and Desley Brooks as the new Vice-Mayor). But for now I just want to mention one comment made by our newest councilmember, Libby Schaaf.

From left to right, Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf & Desley Brooks being sworn in. (And no, they're not ghosts or angels, just victims of bad lighting.)

In the middle of her speech, she talked about all the reasons Oakland is so great and how involved its citizens are. As one example of this, she called attention to the Oakland bloggers who volunteer our time to covering the city. Though I’ve heard her praise bloggers many times to individuals, it meant so much to hear her say it to the thousands of Oaklanders congregated at the Fox Theater.

Libby may have been the first to thank Oakland bloggers at an inauguration, but I know first hand that many councilmembers and council staffers appreciate what we do and read local blogs religiously. And they’re not the only ones – community advocates, business owners, new residents looking to get involved, and so many more depend on our blogs.

So let’s celebrate this incredible network and community we’ve built this Thursday at the 2011 Blogoaksphere Party. I hope you’ve already put the event on your calendar, but if not, here’s the info:

When: Thursday, January 6th from 6-9pm

Where: Disco Volante, 347 14th Street in downtown Oakland

Why: To meet and hang out with the Oakland blogging community, have some drinks, eat delicious food, celebrate Oakland, and to reflect on the past year.

If you plant to attend and have a Facebook account, please RSVP via the Facebook event. See you on Thursday!

Join us for the 2011 Blogoaksphere Party!

6 Dec

When I first started this blog, I could have never imagined the incredible community I was about to join and help foster. Three and a half years later, so many Oakland bloggers and blog readers know each other well, have worked together on policy issues and political campaigns, and have become good friends.

Some of these relationships grew online, but others grew and developed in person, many at the blogger parties I’ve co-hosted with V Smoothe and dto510. Somehow, we let 2010 pass by without hosting a blogoaksphere party (I blame the elections), so we’ll need to make the 2011 party even better.

Please join us at the 2011 Blogoaksphere Party:

Disco Volante exterior. Photo by V Smoothe.

When: Thursday, January 6th from 6-9pm

Where: Disco Volante, 347 14th Street in downtown Oakland

Why: To meet and hang out with the Oakland blogging community, have some drinks, eat some delicious food, celebrate Oakland, and to reflect on the past year.

 

Whether you’ve been blogging for years or just started reading Oakland blogs last week, you’re welcome at the party and we’d love to have you there.

Disco Volante is one of Oakland’s newest restaurants, and will soon be Oakland’s newest bar and nightclub. If you haven’t checked it out yet, this is a great chance to support a new local business.

If you plant to attend and have a Facebook account, please RSVP via the Facebook event. And while I’m on the subject of Facebook, I finally created a Facebook page for Living in the O today so that’s another way to follow this blog. A Better Oakland is also on Facebook, so please “like” that page too.

Election blog posts worth reading

20 Oct

I’ve been wanting to write more about the election, particularly the mayor’s race, for weeks now. I even brought home all the Perata and Quan mailers my co-workers brought to me daily over the past weeks (I just re-registered so I haven’t been getting political mail) so I could scan some in and write about them. But after working all day on campaigns and phoning some nights, it’s been hard to motivate to write about the election (it took me a week to write my endorsements post!).

Luckily, other bloggers have written some excellent pieces, some sharing the same thoughts I’ve been having, but written much more thoroughly or eloquently than I have the capacity for right now. Here’s a taste of what’s being written about the election in the blogoaksphere. All of these posts are worth reading in full (and most of them are very short) so please click through.

V Smoothe wrote an awesome post yesterday – “Joe Tuman doesn’t know Jack.” Like her, I’m shocked at how many people I talk to who are enamored with Tuman – many of them are voting for him for their second choice. V Smoothe pulls back the curtain and explains why Tuman isn’t qualified to be mayor – he doesn’t know what neighborhood service coordinators are, what he’ll cut from the budget (he says he’ll figure it out when he’s mayor), or how golden handshakes work. V concludes:

Someone recently told me that they think of Tuman as this year’s Ron Dellums. And as soon as I heard that, I was like OMG, that is exactly what he is (minus the long and admirable record of public service, of course)! He’s a really good speaker, he condescends to his audience, says absolutely nothing, can’t be bothered to learn anything, and yet somehow, people are entranced. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Don’t make the same mistake a second time, folks. Vote for a minor candidate who has no chance if you want to, but at least pick one who does their homework.

If you’re even considering voting for Tuman, please read the whole post before doing so.

dc at Fragmentary Evidence writes about one of my other favorite candidates to complain about – Jean Quan in his post “Truthiness in Advertising.” He shares a photo of a Quan mailer that I’m sure every regular voter has seen by now that touts her endorsements by several newspapers that endorsed her for second or third choice and questions this mailer:

This is just one more unexpected complication of our new Instant Runoff Voting system, where we forgo primaries and instead rank our top three choices on the ballot, with 2nd- or 3rd-choice votes only coming into play if one’s 1st-choice candidate is eliminated during the vote-counting process… Even though the Tribune recommended putting Quan as third choice (behind Kaplan and Tuman) and the Guardian recommended putting Quan as second choice (behind Kaplan), Quan has been boasting on Facebook and Twitter, and now in these mailers, that she was “endorsed” by the Trib and the Guardian. This mailer takes that misleading claim beyond those niche markets and into the mailboxes of thousands of potentially low-information voters who won’t bother to look up the actual editorials to see what they say.

I have mixed feelings about this mailer. I can understand why she did it, and there’s no lying involved, but this practice shows me the real power behind a sole endorsement. A lot of Oakland groups struggled over whether to do ranked endorsements this cycle – probably about half did and half didn’t. The benefit of only endorsing for first choice is that a sole endorsement can’t be misconstrued.

On to a more positive note, and leaving Oakland momentarily, A Progressive Alamedan wrote a glowing endorsement of Robert Raburn for BART Board (who if elected will represent not just Alameda but also most of Oakland – east of Broadway and south of MacArthur):

Robert has been a tireless transportation advocate and expert from his Ph. D. training through his recent activism, working with me and Lucy over the years in his capacity in the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. He was instrumental in getting the bike station and the parking garage at Fruitvale BART, both of which I have found invaluable whenever I head over to San Francisco. He’s also been involved in the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency, helped replace the “world’s shortest freeway” in Oakland, and chaired the Measure B Citizens Watchdog Committee.

Robert is the kind of guy who shakes things up and gets things done. He has gotten unanimous endorsement from the Sierra Club, and has lately been racking up endorsements from the City of Alameda Democratic Club (of which I am a member) and other clubs in the area.

Anymore election blog posts or news stories worth reading? Please share them in the comments.

We did it! The Uptown sculpture garden will soon be a reality

7 Oct

Longtime readers of this blog (or just about any Oakland blog) will remember that a year and a half ago a bunch of activists, including many bloggers and blog readers, joined together to prevent Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency from building a parking lot in Uptown Oakland next to the Fox Theater.

Don’t remember that? Well that’s ok because I recently wrote about it in a 500 word essay for an application to a program I’m applying to be in (excuse the focus on me – it was the nature of this essay assignment):

In March 2009, an issue came before the Oakland City Council that inspired me to organize Oakland residents and community leaders to work together to make change. The City had leased a large parcel in Uptown Oakland to a developer and most of it had been turned into apartments and a park. Part of the parcel that had been slated to become a condominium complex sat empty because the housing market had tanked and the developer asked the City for a two year continuance on its permit. As a condition of the continuance, the Redevelopment Agency asked the developer to contribute funding to build a temporary parking lot to fill the space.

I opposed this proposal because the parking lot was proposed for the heart of Uptown, an area of Oakland that had recently become vibrant after being nearly empty for decades. Part of what made this area so vibrant was its walkability, and adding another parking lot with dangerous curb cuts would have endangered that.

Together with three other Oakland residents – a motley crew of smart growth advocates and historic preservationists – I attended a committee meeting to speak against the parking lot and urged the committee members to consider other uses that would be more pedestrian and eco friendly.

The committee members listened and directed redevelopment staff to return with alternative proposals. We knew that staff were pushing hard for this parking lot and were unlikely to return with serious alternatives so I wrote a blog post about the situation and asked for readers to chime in with their ideas for the empty lot.

In nearly 50 blog comments, Oaklanders shared their ideas for the lot, including a solar panel array, community garden, soccer field, mini-golf course and large scale Burning Man art. I and other Oakland bloggers posted action alerts urging Oaklanders to email committee members and to attend the next committee meeting. Dozens of people sent emails and nine of us testified at the meeting (in the middle of a workday).

Staff stated at the meeting that there was no alternative to the parking lot, and the committee members listened. They unanimously approved the parking lot and put the item on the agenda for the next Council meeting (just one week away).

I and a few other bloggers wrote action alerts. A resident inspired by our blog posts wrote an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune. I and a colleague urged councilmembers to consider using the lot to display large-scale Burning Man sculptures. My colleague talked to the Oakland Arts Department and I contacted a Burning Man artist to discuss logistics and to ask him to come to the Council meeting.

More than a dozen Oaklanders turned out to speak – several of whom had never spoken at a Council meeting before. Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente carried our proposal and the Council voted unanimously to direct staff to pursue it and not to build the parking lot. City staff fought this directive for months so the sculpture garden was never built. However, the parking lot was also never built and the fence around the lot is now used to display beautiful murals by local artists.

Well as of yesterday, the end of the story has changed.

The City of Oakland has secured a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to make our dreams come true! From the NEA website, the Cultural Arts Division:

plans the creation of the Uptown Arts District Park, a historic and re-emerging arts and entertainment district. Development of the park will transform an unused vacant lot into an outdoor cultural space for at least four years. The park will include rotating temporary exhibitions of public sculpture, newly commissioned public art projects, and an amphitheater for events by arts and community organizations. The park will complement the Fox Oakland Theater, the Oakland School for the Arts, and new restaurants and nightclubs, all within two blocks of the proposed park site. The division is partnering with Black Rock Arts Foundation to exhibit works of public art, many by Oakland artists. The park is expected to become the core of the downtown arts scene.

So yeah, we’re getting art, and not just a lot with art that is fenced off, but a gathering space too!

I could not be more excited about this. Many of us worked for months to make this happen, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. Instead of a parking lot with dangerous curb cuts that blights this vibrant neighborhood, we’re getting a huge space filled with art that will attract even more people to the arts center of Oakland.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen – especially to dto510, Naomi Schiff, and Joyce Roy, who joined me at that first committee meeting when few thought we had a chance at winning. And thanks to the City’s Cultural Arts staff for pursuing this grant.

I look forward to the day when instead of looking at that empty lot, we’ll be standing in the middle of something like this:

OK, well, that minus the dust and with buildings instead of mountains in the background, but you get the picture. See you on the playa… I mean in Uptown.

Previous posts on the Uptown surface parking lot saga:

Living in the O’s Third Birthday

8 Jun

Thanks to Google Calendar and my foresight two years ago of knowing I’d probably forget in the future, I was reminded that today is my third anniversary of blogging. I was amused by the reminder I set for myself and by Google’s interpretation of it:

Unfortunately Google Maps doesn’t know where “the O!” is, but maybe one day it will.

When I started this blog, I already knew where the O was located and knew that I was quickly falling in love with this city, but I didn’t know too much about it beyond my personal experiences. I knew what it was like to ride the bus, but I didn’t understand transportation funding or policy. I knew that I’d be happier if my immediate neighborhood was more lively, but didn’t understand that zoning had anything to do with it. I knew that downtown had been transformed from a ghost town at night to one of the most happening night-time spots in the Bay Area, but had no idea that policy changes had led to this change and that policy still needed to be changed for the area to reach its full potential.

I’ve learned so much about Oakland over the past three years. Some of it I’ve shared here, and some of it I’ve shared with fellow bloggers and blog readers in person. And though this knowledge has sometimes made me a bit crazy, since this City’s got a lot of work to do to improve, it’s made me appreciate my personal experiences even more. I know I haven’t been writing as often about those personal experiences, mostly due to lack of time, but nearly every day and sometimes much more often than that, I have an experience that makes me incredibly happy to be an Oaklander and so excited to be involved in some small way in the evolution of this great city.

You can be involved in Oakland’s evolution too. Nothing would make me happier than if everyone who reads this blog post celebrates Living in the O’s third birthday by voting today. Even though there’s no city election today, the county and statewide election will have huge impacts on Oakland. So find your polling place, go vote, and if you need some guidance on how to vote, check out my endorsements for local and statewide races.

Past anniversary posts:

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