Oakland North’s 2018 year in review — our top stories
on December 14, 2018
2018 brought a new group of student reporters to Oakland North from across the country and the globe. They covered an incredibly busy year in Oakland politics, as the city geared up for the mayoral and city council races, as well as the national midterms, while reacting to the often-divisive new policies on immigration, health and environment being enacted by Donald Trump’s presidential administration. But they also covered stories emanating from Oakland’s own city issues: The increasing urgency of finding places for homeless people to safely live, the environmental hazards caused by massive nearby wildfires, the financial problems plaguing Oakland schools.
We also produced six new episodes of our Tales of Two Cities podcast, which covers audio stories from Oakland and Richmond in collaboration with our sister site, Richmond Confidential. Click here to check out all episodes of the Tales of Two Cities podcast. Our themes this year were: Repurposing, Spectrums, Remembering and Forgetting, Where Are You From?, Love and Heartbreak, and Hooked.
Here are some of our favorite and most-read stories from 2018. Thanks for reading (and listening, and watching) — we’ll be back on the beat again in late January!
Oakland North and Richmond Confidential are projects of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and all reporting is done by students. You can click here to learn more about our history and support community journalism through our school’s Hyperlocal News Fund.
The New Year
Early in 2018, activists and residents began building The Village, the city’s first sanctioned volunteer-run homeless encampment. A few months later, the first resident moved into her own tiny house at the East Oakland camp.
One year after the Trump administration’s first attempt to implement a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries, we looked back at where the ban stood in the courts, and how it had affected the lives of East Bay residents. Meanwhile, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf notified residents of impending immigration raids, sparking a national debate over her decision. Local immigration groups prepared to respond to those raids, while others offered workshops to help people know what to do if they were detained, and the Oakland school district offered services to refugees and asylum seekers.
The Women’s March rallied in Oakland for the second year in a row, bringing some 40,000 protesters to downtown. The city also celebrated its first Black Joy Parade, welcomed the “Super Blood Blue Moon,” a rare celestial occurrence, and hosted famous visitors including authors Noam Chomsky and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Anita Hill, who famously testified against the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
In legal news, marijuana proponents celebrated when Alameda County’s District Attorney announced their office would dismiss past cannabis convictions by petition, since the drug is now legal for adult use in California. Activists also raised concerns over the conditions at county jails and protested the death of Shaleem Tindle, who was shot by a BART police officer.
Following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we profiled Oakland teens’ work to reduce gun violence here. We also kept tabs on innovative programs for Oakland students, like the Girls Who Code club, efforts to teach mindfulness skills and meditation to East Bay students, the Oakland Promise’s “Kindergarten to College” initiative, and a new grant to assist Oakland students who are refugees, asylees or came to the country as unaccompanied minors.
Spring and Summer
After the its first few months, conditions had gotten rockier at The Village, where residents complained of overcrowding and deteriorating relations with the city. Meanwhile, city officials opened their own site, the “Northgate Cabins,” a camp made of “Tuff Sheds” storage units without plumbing or electricity. Housing activists also protested a loophole in eviction protections that they said were unfairly allowing landlords to give notice to longtime tenants.
We highlighted the work of queer Muslims who are creating safe spaces for them to meet and worship, followed the journey of one trans woman to get facial feminization surgery, and learned about how formerly incarcerated students have worked to get to college. We learned how the members of the 23rd Avenue art collective gathered funds to buy their own building, covered 16-year-old Gema Quetzal’s path to joining California’s Board of Education as a student representative, and learned what it was like for one Oakland football player to be recruited by college teams. And we checked in with environmental activists who are trying to calculate how climate change will affect the San Francisco Bay and the cities along it and women’s rights supporters who passed out candy bars to encourage an equal “Payday” for women.
In legal news, we covered a notary fraud scam that tricks immigrants into accepting bad legal advice and paperwork, an effort to make it legal for incarcerated people to vote and profiled the work of several East Bay women who are helping immigrants cope with fear of deportation.
And as the 2018 primary and election season heated up, we covered an effort to repeal the Costra Hawkins state rent control law, the push for Measure A among childcare advocates, the work of nurses and Oakland City Councilmembers to put a single payer healthcare bill on the state ballot, Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s briefing on how Oakland is affected by the tech economy, and an Oakland rally against US involvement in international conflicts.
Finally, it was time for back-to-school, as Oakland teachers rallied for a new contract, while students protested the discontinuation of the free supper program, which many students rely on for an evening meal, and cuts to several after-school sports. There was some surprise good news, too: the district discovered a budget surplus after making cuts earlier this year, and we told the story of one East Oakland middle school that’s managed to retain its teachers despite the high turnover level in the district. The school district moved ahead on the construction of a new central kitchen to supply healthy food to students.
Two more major fires swept through The Village encampment, one in September and one in November, increasing criticism of the camps and focusing public attention on many other health and safety hazards at the camps. Many people living in the camps raised concerns about their cars, which serve as their shelters, being towed, and protested city attempts to shut down unsanctioned camps, in favor of moving people into “Tuff Sheds” cabin sites. Meanwhile, the city council once again declared a state of emergency on homelessness and voted to allocate more money to emergency shelters.
In other city news, a scandal erupted when people learned that the sheriff’s office had been secretly taping private conversations between people and their attorneys, protesters rallied against local law enforcement’s annual Urban Shield tactical exercise and called for an audit of the sheriff’s office, protested plans to ship coal through Oakland’s port, and criticized BART for new surveillance-related security measures in the wake of Nia Wilson’s murder at a BART station this summer. Meanwhile, city officials declared that Oakland’s Operation Ceasefire anti-violence campaign was working, after a study linked an approximately 30 percent drop in gun-related homicides since 2013 to the program.
Local workers spoke about their experiences as undocumented immigrants, residents pooled funds to open a new West Oakland grocery store, the Bay Area scooter industry took off, Oakland’s museum launched a unique billboard art program as well as a day for telling neighborhood stories, and volunteers from a new equity task force went door-to-door to gather Oaklanders’ concerns about racial disparities. We met the folks of Radically Fit, Oakland’s new inclusive gym, and learned about a monthly free food giveaway in East Oakland, attempts to establish a free mesh internet network, the legal gray space occupied by people trying to sell home-cooked meals, the fat activism of Caleb Luna, and what happens at the “Bulky Block Party” to Oaklanders old sofas.
The massive Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in state history, also destroyed entire neighborhoods throughout the North Bay, as Oakland firefighters responded to help. In other environmental news, we covered West Oakland’s attempts to improve air quality (which was worsened by this season’s fires) and an unusual art project called “Mutual Air.”
The highlight of the fall was covering the campaign season, as activist Cat Brooks challenged incumbent Mayor Libby Schaaf from among a field of ten candidates. A new voter registration drive reached out to homeless Oaklanders to help them register to vote. Oakland hotel workers joined in a national strike, as voters passed Measure Z to improve their wages and on-the-job safety. Meanwhile, many city officials supported Measure W, an effort to tax the owners of vacant lots to raise money for assisting the homeless and fighting blight. Two measures to fund childcare went down to defeat, although the difficulty of finding affordable childcare persists for Oakland parents, especially those who are low-income or work outside of traditional business hours. (In a follow-up-twist to the 2016 election season, we told the story of a mysterious campaign to protest Oakland’s newly-instated “sugar tax” on sodas and other sweet drinks.)
In the end, the incumbent mayor and council members swept the field. The biggest predictor of who won in Oakland wasn’t how much money each candidate raised; it was how much outside PACs (political action committees) spent to promote them.
Our most-read story of the fall season? This story about an Oakland teacher who wrote a Spanish-language book teaching kids about gender-neutral pronouns.
Every winter, our students tackle a major multimedia project, focusing on an issue that matters deeply to Oakland residents. This fall, they brought us stories about Oakland’s school nurse shortage, a novel attempt to address homelessness among college students by building tiny “pocket houses,” the effect that incarceration can have on the families of people in prison, the immigrant family behind Oakland’s Shrimp Falafel Mix truck and how food trucks can help families like theirs start American businesses.
They also took us behind the scenes at holiday craft fairs, the secret engine behind most Oakland artisan’s economic survival, introduced us to three Bay Area faith leaders who are leading a “New Sanctuary Movement” to help immigrants and refugees, told us the story of an Oakland teenager who is building an app to help foster youth get to college, and brought us into the world of environmental activists who are developing a plan to clean up West Oakland’s air.
Thank you for supporting community journalism!
We wish you the best for 2019.
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