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Berkeley protesters are not alone in trying to prevent sale of post office

Our latest coverage on the planned sale of the Berkeley Post Office, first sent out on social media on Nov. 20, received the following response on Twitter: “can someone please explain to me the importance of this post office? It’s a building. I don’t get it.”

We wondered how to explain the issue within the 140 character confines of Twitter and quickly gave up.

Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth took on the task of explaining the sale-opposition side (albeit in more than Twitter-length) in a piece about the proposed sale of the post office in Somerville, Mass., titled “When public buildings were revered.”

The group Save the Berkeley Post Office cited the piece in a post Tuesday:

Boston Globe op-ed on the sale of the Somerville MA post office: “We have traveled a long way from a time when public buildings were revered precisely because they belonged to everyone. Now public facilities from schools to swimming pools are being privatized. Corporations “adopt” highways that the taxpayers won’t pay to maintain. We rely on private developers to pay for roads and streetlights.”
READ MORE: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/11/28/when-public-buildings-were-revered/3Fxrs6Rwd7a8YzSUEDlv6I/story.html

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Black Friday protest held at shellmound site in Emeryville

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While the day after Thanksgiving has again attracted bargain-seeking shoppers to Black Friday sales, it has also brought out protesters.
A group of at least 200 people representing different organizations and religious groups, as well as members of the Ohlone tribe, were at Bay Street Emeryville today.
The gathering was held to call attention to the fact that the shopping center stands on the site of one of the largest of the shellmounds that were once found on the East Bay shoreline from Oakland to Richmond. The mounds and contained the remains of native Americans who inhabited the area. The protest was held at the corner of Shellmound Street and Ohlone Way.
Most of the shellmound sites were leveled and developed long ago. The Emeryville mound was developed as a dance pavilion and amusement center more than 140 years ago and later was an industrial site, before the area was redeveloped with the shopping center.
Other Black Friday protests in the area included one at the Walmart at Hilltop Mall in Richmond.

“Pavement and buildings now mostly cover what used to be hundreds of shellmounds — gently rounded hills formed from accumulated layers of organic material deposited over generations by native coastal dwellers,” writes the Sacred Land Film Project. “Often the sites of burials and spiritual ceremonies, these shellmounds are still places for veneration. But preserving the remaining shellmounds has proven to be a contentious issue among developers, indigenous rights groups, preservationists, and local governments.”

The protest included remarks, chants and drumming, as well as signs calling for shoppers to boycott Black Friday sales.
The shopping center does include a small memorial site dedicated to the shellmound.

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A 1907 illustration by researchers showing known shellmound sites on the East Bay shoreline.

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Richmond: For National Comic Book Day, here’s the Henry J. Kaiser story told in comic book form

In honor of National Comic Book Day today, here is a four-page, World War II-era comic book story on the life of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser that concludes with his determination to build ships for the war effort. The Richmond shipyards of the home front era are part of the basis of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

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Richmond: Parks group seeks protection for Field Station shoreline

Richmond’s City Council agenda on Tuesday includes discussion of the electronic billboard at Pacific East Mall next to Interstate 80, which could provide interesting discussion over its legality, which has been questioned by Councilman Tom Butt.
The group Citizens for East Shore Parks, meanwhile, is more interested in the item after the billboard, which is titled “Resolution to Protect the Coastal Prairie at the Richmond Field Station,” submitted by Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles.
CESP issued the following email call to it members:

Please come to the City Council and support a resolution directing staff to remove any consideration in the South Richmond Plan for vehicle traffic through the coastal prairie at the Richmond Field Station- and to prepare alternatives for the Plan that only show vehicle being routed around the coastal prairie.

Why is it important to protect the coastal prairie?
Today, less than one percent of California’s original native grassland ecosystems remain intact! The Richmond Field Station is recognized by the California Native Plant Society for priority protection because it contains the last undisturbed native coastal prairie grassland adjacent to the San Francisco Bay Shoreline. This native grassland is an intact remnant stand that functions as a reference assemblage – invaluable for the study of how this threatened ecosystem functions and as an example of its community type for restoration ecologists. A great goal for the scientists at UC Berkeley.

Click here to view the resolution.

The City of Richmond will post the Council agenda online. Check the website here: http://ci.richmond.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=151.

It is item # I-2– which won’t be until 7:15 pm or later. But, you must sign in to speak prior to the item being called.

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El Cerrito/Richmond then and now: A former drug store building enters the natural food age

Amerio Drugs in its neon sign glory days had an ice cream fountain counter and parking in the back, shared with neighbor El Nido Market.

The neon sign and soda fountain of Amerio Drugs on San Pablo Avenue are long gone, but the building (actually located on the Richmond side of the city limits) is still there.
Amerio succumbed to the fate of most independent pharmacies, eventually being replaced by a paint store and then sitting vacant for a number of years.
After an extensive remodeling it reopened earlier this year as The Annex, the prepared store of the El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company, which established a thriving location next door at the former El Nido Market.
The neon sign on the front of the former drug store has been replaced by a wood facade, with solar panels installed on the roof.

The El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company Annex has opened in the Amerio Drugs building, offering a salad bar instead of ice cream sodas.

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Arlington Avenue in Kensington through the years

Arlington and Amherst avenues circa 1914.

The former Arlington Drugs in Kensington has been a familiar sight since it was opened by Louis Stein Jr. (Cal class of 1924) in the 1920s. The store changed hands a couple of times after Stein retired and finally closed its pharmacy window last year, converting to a general store that closed earlier this year.
The location has recently reopened as the second location of longtime Berkeley business Country Cheese Company. Store co-owner Shirley Ng remodeled the interior to accommodate the change to a food business, but also worked with the U.S. Postal Service to retain the postal window established during the drug store days and beloved by Kensingtonians.
She also said this week that the Rexall Drugs sign on the outside of the store is also something of a local landmark and will be retained.
Here are some views of the area over the years.

Arlington at Amherst circa 1950.

Arlington at Amherst today.

The Rexall Drugs sign will be retained at the Country Cheese Company store.


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El Cerrito shop’s Little Free Library is recovered

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The Little Free Library that was stolen from in front of The Glenn Custom Framing shop on Stockton Avenue on Monday night or Tuesday morning has been recovered.
Shop owner Kathleen Glenn, who received the take-a-book, leave-a-book library last year as a birthday gift from her daughter, plans to have it back on the sidewalk as soon as weather permits and possibly with some modifications to make it harder to take.
The library had been secured to its post with long screws, but the perpetrator was able to pry it off.

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Bringing on tenants at the new El Cerrito shopping center, 1957-58

Here are the original Oakland Tribune stories as Woolworth comes aboard as a tenant and Capwell’s celebrates opening the largest department store in Contra Costa County in 1957-58.

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October 1957.

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Announcement of the opening of Capwell’s new $6 million, 232,000-square-foot store in July 1958.

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More than 5,000 people attended the ribbon-cutting and opening of the Capwell’s store, the Tribune reported.

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Views of the original El Cerrito Plaza, part II: The economy strikes back

This go-round has photos of the classic El Cerrito Plaza in its declining years, which, sadly, seems to be when the most pictures were taken as people debated the center’s future. You can learn about the original center at the El Cerrito Historical Society program on Thursday.
The Plaza added attractions such as Chevy’s and Chuck E. Cheese (which also attracted the highest number of police calls to the center) during this period, but many smaller merchants closed and a toy store literally packed up and disappeared overnight. The biggest blows came when the Emporium and Woolworth’s closed when their parent companies liquadated, leaving just Longs Drugs and the Lucky/Albertsons grocery as the two major anchors.

(You can click the photos to see larger versions)

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The old Plaza sign.

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The later Plaza sign, reflecting old and new businesses.

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Decorating for Christmas in the late 1980s.

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The Gaucho Marching Band leads the El Cerrito High homecoming parade through the Plaza parking lot about 1997. Emporium (Capwell) has already closed and there are portable outhouses next to the building.

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An empty storefront next to Betty’s Hallmark.

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The south side of the Plaza around 1989. What was still open at that time? See the next photo.

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Enlarging the photo we can see Woolworth’s, Mechanics Bank, the Mel-O-Dee, The Junket and a toy store.

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The space between Longs and Capwell’s, um, Emporium, looks lonely in this midday shot.

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Plaza security makes the rounds about 1989. Behind Kids Mart are Betty’s Hallmark and Beadazzled.

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David’s Hof Brau anchored a corner for a time.

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A view of the southside looking to the hills.

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A view of the south side looking toward Albany Hill and the site of the original Castro adobe that stood on the property for more than a century.

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Another lonely looking view of the interior corridor, though in fairness, the photographer waited until nobody was visible. Note the sign for McPhee’s Junior Bootery.

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Fair housing groups ask courts to squelch investor lawsuit against Richmond

For Immediate Release                                                                                             Contact: See Below      

Monday, Sept 9, 2013                                                                                             

 

Fair Housing Groups Ask Court to Deny Banks’ Effort to

Stop Richmond’s Mortgage Rescue Plan

Industry threats constitute illegal, discriminatory lending practice, and would lead to redlining in Richmond

 

A coalition of fair housing and civil right groups filed an amicus brief in federal court today, supporting the City of Richmond’s opposition to a motion for preliminary injunction filed by trustees Wells Fargo Bank and Deutsche Bank. The trustees (Wells and Deutsche Bank) seek to block the City’s plan to help homeowners by restructuring underwater mortgages.

 

The brief, filed by the law firm Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC, on behalf of the National Housing Law Project, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Bay Area Legal Aid, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, and the California Reinvestment Coalition, argues that the actions the securitization industry has threatened to take to block the program, known as Richmond CARES, would amount to illegal redlining and would violate federal and state fair housing and fair lending laws, including the federal Fair Housing Act.

 

Richmond is 40% Hispanic and 25% African-American, and the fair housing and civil rights groups argue that the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association’s (SIFMA) plan would therefore have a disparate impact on minority borrowers.

 

Kevin Stein, Associate Director at the California Reinvestment Coalition, explained: “Banks continue to fail at keeping Richmond families in their homes, without any real consequences from their regulators.  Instead of fighting the city and threatening to redline Richmond, the banks should refocus their efforts on helping homeowners, especially since more than half (51%) of them are underwater in Richmond.” 

 

Last summer, the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) announced that in response to Richmond’s plan to help homeowners, SIFMA would block any future mortgages made in Richmond from being accepted in the most desirable part of the secondary market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS).  By restricting access, the cost of credit would likely rise dramatically for Richmond borrowers.

 

Marcia Rosen, Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project, explained: “The Banks’ attempt to prevent Richmond from responding to its foreclosure crisis is especially egregious given their role in the predatory lending underlying the crisis.   And the assertion that the injunction is necessary to protect the public interest from their own threatened redlining of the city must be seen for what it is — discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act that would further harm this beleaguered city and its residents.”

 

“What the securitization industry says it will do to the people of Richmond if it loses in the city council and the federal courthouse is racially discriminatory redlining, and it is illegal under federal and state law.  We fully expect that if the industry ever tries to go forward with its redlining plan, a court will step in and stop it,” said Glenn Schlactus of Relman, Dane & Colfax, a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C.

 

Maeve Elise Brown, Executive Director at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, explained, “The mortgage servicing industry has lost money for investors for years by failing to work with homeowners on foreclosure avoidance options, particularly principal reduction.  The industry knows that principal reduction is the wise financial choice for investors and homeowners alike.  But now, disingenuously, the industry claims that a plan with principal reduction will hurt investors.  The fact is, the eminent domain proposal is likely to save investors money over the years to come, as well as maintaining communities and saving the city from tremendous losses.”

 

Hearing: A hearing on the trustees’ motion for a preliminary injunction and the City of Richmond’s motion to dismiss the case will be held on September 12, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, presiding.

 

San Francisco Resolution supporting Richmond introduced: A resolution supporting the City of Richmond’s program was introduced today by San Francisco County Supervisor David Campos, recognizing the damage done to local communities by the foreclosure crisis, and supporting Richmond’s efforts to confront the problem head on.

 

Additional background:

The City of Richmond’s local principal reduction program Richmond CARES, launched with a vote by City Council in April, will acquire certain underwater mortgages, through regular purchase or eminent domain if necessary, in order to restructure the troubled mortgages and help the homeowners modify or refinance, getting them mortgages with reduced principal in-line with current home values.  Community, labor and faith groupssupporting the program say it will allow the City to preserve wealth in local hands, especially in communities of color and low-income communities that have been decimated by the foreclosure crisis and see no end in sight. In Richmond, 51% of all residential mortgage holders are still underwater.

 

In August, more than 50 fair housing, labor and community groups sent a letter to Congress, declaring that federal agencies should respect the right of cities like to pursue local principal reduction programs without facing redlining or illegal discrimination by the big banks or federal agencies.     

 

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