Month: August 2015

oakland city hall administration urban planning city planning

Meeting Oakland’s City Administrator

I have a soft spot for city employees. It started after the financial crisis, when my city almost shut down. I stopped feeling weird about my sympathies once HBO began airing Show Me a Hero. The show, created by David Simon of Treme and The Wire, features the Shakespearean drama unfolding in city bureaucracy’s basement. In the years I lived in Oakland, I admired and defended the regular city workers, the people with the skills, background and commitment to move the city forward despite its myriad (and historic) obstacles. I’m not talking about politicians. On a few occasions I had the opportunity to work alongside them, for example, as a volunteer with National Day of Civic Hacking. So when SPUR scheduled “A Conversation with Oakland’s City Administrator,” I was there. City Administrator Sabrina Landreth grew up in Oakland and raises a family here. She is newly arrived from her post in Emeryville, though she had worked as Oakland’s deputy city administrator and budget director immediately following the 2008 financial crash. The key to mapping the …

Congressman, can you please fix this housing thing?

I thought I would sit in the back and listen to the Congressman talk at us. I came to hear Congressman Mark DeSaulnier tell us what was up and what he planned to do about it. Sitting back passively was my idea of participation. But I’d come to the wrong event. This was the Congressman’s “mobile district office hours” which meant each one waiting in the library lobby would have a one-on-one opportunity to air grievances, request help, chat. Now I understood why the freshly showered guy next to me held a dossier, and why the lady next to him clung to a thick packet of paper with sticky notes. They had real business to discuss. I had not come to a town hall. I reread the flyer I picked up on the way in: Congressman DeSaulnier will be available to share thoughts and to answer questions on federal legislation, and to assist with issues related to Social Security, the Veteran’s Administration, passports, or other federal agencies. Well, why not? I had questions and thoughts. …

Motti Lerner: I am trying to deal with fear

Motti Lerner is an Israeli playwright whose more recent plays have been rejected in Israel, and staged only in Europe and US for dealing with controversial political issues (including Coming Home, Pangs of the Messiah, The Murder of Isaac, and Benedictus). In SF Motti Lerner’s works have been produced by Golden Thread Productions and I had the honor of taking production photographs and observing the playwright at work. A couple of months ago, Motti held a three-day writer’s workshop at the Playwrights Foundation. I had the pleasure of meeting him again and chatting about literature, his plays, Chekhov’s influence on his work, love and life in general. G.B.  How would you describe the creative process? M.L. I never use the word creative process for it, but rather, hard work. Not because there’s no creativity but because it’s mostly hard work. In writing there’s a lot of research and learning involved. Of course there’s a moment when you start creating the characters and the creative ideas come from associations, but the hard work is to choose among all …

mobile clothing boutique free clothing

Build the Model, then Give it Away

To be in awe. To stand in amazement. In the case of White Pony Express, a food rescue organization in Contra Costa County, the generosity of (donor) vendors and volunteers inspires awe. We pick up our conversation (begun here) with Erica Brooks and Vincent d’Assis, with the group’s core value of delivering with love. The Free General Store Erica: Presentation of our items, whether they’re food or clothing, is really important. That’s a big part of our Free General Store, too. We could just have people come in here and pick out clothes, like in any thrift store. The important thing is how we present things. When people come to a mobile boutique to get clothes or toys, we would never want to give something that we wouldn’t give one of our family members. This is something our founder was huge on. And the food is the same way. We have volunteer personal shoppers that help people pick out and try on, they’re stylists! We take the clothes where people are. We rent these 14 …

california state parks china camp vacation

California State Parks’ Endless Summer

It is not the end of summer. The end of summer comes after Labor Day, when you were sitting in your stuffy East Bay classroom, itching from your “fall-back-to-school” clothes with no end to the heat for another few weeks. But you saw the Sunday ads, and the teens were wearing “fall” clothes, so you told your mother, no, you would not sweat buckets.  And, you’re nauseous because they’re re-tarring the roof like they always do the first week of school before the rains come. Back when it used to rain here and you could plan for it. No.  We have three weeks left to get out for summer exploring.  And, as the dollars don’t go as far as they used to in the Bay Area when you were in high school, we’re exploring cheap, and timing it as best we can against today’s gnarly traffic.  So, we start with China Camp State Park in San Rafael, an easy ride north of McNear Beach.  In the 1880s the camp operated as a Chinese shrimp-fishing village. …

SFMade manufacture

Manufacturers Stand Up in San Francisco

On my end of the phone, I apologized for the humming refrigerator. On her end, Janet Lees, Senior Director of SFMade, apologized for the clanging in the tech shop.  We talked about the origins of the organization aimed at supporting manufacturing in San Francisco at the nadir of the recession and its rapid expansion since then. The SFMade journey, expanding membership and programs We started in 2010 with 12 local manufacturers who were iconic brands in San Francisco, including Anchor (Brewing), McRoskey Mattresses, one of the oldest manufactures in the city, more than 100 years old, Ritual Coffee, Rickshaw Bags (founded by former head of Timbuk2, Mark Dwight). Mark created the SFMade logo, he was the founder of the brand. (Executive Director) Kate Sofis and I started to build the organization around the brand. Both of us come from economic development backgrounds, and we knew each other from our previous jobs. I worked for the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and Kate at Pacific Community Ventures. Kate has a background in supply chain and she used to …

Remember Hiroshima, the Bay’s nukes

The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan seventy years ago today. The Bay Area continues to play a central role in our nation’s nuclear shame. Smack in the middle of a residential area, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory dedicates more than 85 percent of its budget to nuclear weapons development. The lab’s legacy includes poisoned soil, water and workers. It may seem hard to believe, as we drive by on our way to work, on our way to Target. Not everyone is driving by. For more than thirty years, a movement of savvy, commitment advocates has been taking on the nuclear weapons complex, racking up victories for democracy, for security and our region. We owe much to TriValley CAREs (Communities Against Radiation) and to their many affiliates and supporters. This morning, on the anniversary of the dropping of the bombs, they gather before the gates of the lab in Livermore, along with whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Learn more about the lab’s legacy and very current reality and the people who watchdog an …

Interconnections that spark art & audience

Last year, London native Michael French launched Aluminous, a resident theater company at The Flight Deck in Oakland. He moved to the Bay Area after 12 years in New York and in Colorado. What brought you to the Bay Area? I’ve been here five years. I came here to start a theater company and to meet like-minded people, which I’d been struggling to do in Colorado.  I said to myself, I have to do this in San Francisco, it couldn’t be Oakland. So, I got here and I refused to look at Oakland. I just had blinkers on. I’d travel into SF (from where he lived Oakland), rent these spaces, and put on theater projects. Then, one day I remember I was standing by the MacArthur BART station and I was watching all the people go in, and I saw more people of color, more diversity in the 10-15 minutes that I was standing there than I did in the audience I was attracting in San Francisco. And, finally, I thought, what am I doing? …