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Oakland's holiday tree at Jack London Square. Photo by Peter Bittner.

Oakland North’s 2019 year in review — our top stories

on December 20, 2019

2019 brought a new group of student reporters to Oakland North from across the country and the globe. We covered a city that is always changing, but where tensions about city finances, policing, housing and the fate of the public schools run deep.

We also produced three new episodes of our Tales of Two Cities podcast, which covers audio stories from Oakland and Richmond in collaboration with our sister site, Richmond ConfidentialClick here to check out all episodes of the Tales of Two Cities podcast. Our themes included Guilty Pleasures, Locked Up and Closings.

Here are some of our favorite and most-read stories from 2019. Thanks for reading (and listening, and watching) and for supporting local journalism!

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

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The New Year

Although 2019 had barely begun, in some ways it was already 2020, as candidates for president threw their hats into the ring. Senator Kamala Harris chose Oakland as her launch spot, drawing a crowd of 20,000. But Oakland’s biggest political news was local, as teachers voted to strike for higher pay, smaller classes, and a moratorium on school closures, galvanized by similar strikes in Los Angeles and Denver. Smaller protests also erupted at school board meetings over proposed school closures, like the one of Roots International Academy. After about a week of school shutdown, teachers and district officials reached an agreement that met many of the teachers’ demands.

After several years of protest, Alameda County supervisors also voted to scale back the controversial Urban Shield security training program.

In business news, Oaklanders said goodbye to a few beloved longtime shops, including Manifesto Bicycles (a victim of the trend towards online bike retailers) and tabletop game store Endgame. But in an interesting twist, one online business opened a bricks and mortar store in Oakland: music company Bandcamp.

City officials and advocates continued focusing on Oakland’s housing crisis and the rising level of homelessness, proposing new solutions like safe RV parking sites.

Spring

Spring officially arrived with Mardi Gras, and Oakland’s own second line parade.

Even after the resolution of the teachers’ strike, tensions remained high in Oakland schools, as parents and teachers opposed school closures and mergers, libraries were faced with severe budget cuts, and the district struggled with possible cuts to the case managers who work with foster youth as well as 100 other staff positions. Oakland musician Xavier Dphrepaulez—better known as Fantastic Negrito—celebrated his second Grammy win by donating money to Oakland teachers. City funds also helped compensate for some of the school district’s financial gaps, as the city council voted in a one-time assist of $1.2 million in funds, and money from Measure D extended the hours of city libraries. City leaders also tried a new way of allocating money for repairs to parks, recreation centers and other public facilities: by considering equity.

Oaklanders commemorated the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand with a vigil against Islamophobia, and gathered to mourn the death of rapper Nipsey Hussle.

In arts news, we explored the square dance scene at the Marxist library, checked out the Oakland Museum of California’s new exhibit on queer history, and learned about how muralist Dave Young Kim uses art to tap into his Korean roots. And we chronicled some intriguing business stories, like the possibility that the original Parkway Theater will reopen as a cannabis lounge, the push by Vietnamese residents in Eastlake to create a “Little Saigon” business district, and investigated the decline of African American players in baseball, in Oakland and on pro teams. Health giant Kaiser Permanente also began contract negotiations with workers, a process that would continue over the year.

We focused several stories on incarceration, including the Locked Up episode of our podcast, learning about the Dream Beyond Bars study on the effects of youth incarceration, and meeting the organizers of the Prisoners Literature Project.

Oakland North reporters created a special project on the East Bay’s myths, legends and memorials. (It’s totally charming; you should check it out!) And before leaving for summer break, we posted the Endings episode of our podcast, with stories about one of Oakland’s last surviving video rental stores, the closing of a beloved deli, the work of death doulas, and much more.

Fall

Just as a new group of students returned, on Labor Day, Kaiser workers prepared to strike after contract negotiations had not resolved over the summer. (A month later, Kaiser mental health clinicians staged a different protest vigil.) And several longtime Oakland organizations marked big anniversaries, including Planting Justice and Oakland Pride, which both turned 10, and the Oakland Museum of California, which celebrated 50 years.

In crime and courts coverage, a jury deadlocked on involuntary manslaughter charges against Ghost Ship primary leaseholder Derick Almena, leading to a mistrial, and acquitted creative director Max Harris on identical charges. We covered immigration sweeps directed against Cambodian refugees in Oakland, and problems inmates at Santa Rita Jail have had resuming their Medi-Cal benefits after release. Watchdog groups pushed for changes to the city’s police commission, as Oakland police officials reported that they were having trouble hiring Oakland residents, and tried to curry some local favor with “Coffee with a Cop” (and police horses.) We met with organizers who organize live readings of letters from people in prison, and officials pushing for new laws that would allow parolees to vote. Local leaders also considered a controversial proposal to turn a downtown Oakland jail in to a homeless shelter.

As city leaders and organizers worked to address the needs of unhoused people, once again renewing the city’s declaration of a local emergency on homelessness and considering a new five-year plan to address the issue, we profiled an interfaith group building tiny houses and learned about several independent online fundraising efforts to support the city’s “cabin community” Tuff Sheds sites. Meanwhile, city workers continued to clear unsanctioned encampments, citing fire risks and other health hazards—and indeed, some of the camps did burn. Later, protesters responded by setting up tents on the lawn in front of Oakland City Hall.

During the fall wildfire season, the Bay Area experienced massive power cuts as utilities company PG&E shut down power during high, dry winds, leading to public protests. City officials, meanwhile, advanced a new climate action plan to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As always, development remained a hot button, with a proposal for a waterfront A’s ballpark drawing criticism, Grand Lake neighbors considering a plan to turn the iconic Kwik Way into affordable housing, the shutdown of NIMBY and several similar art warehouses due to rising rents and increased competition for space with the cannabis industry, and the rise of vigilante street pavers. Plans for a controversial shipping terminal that would receive coal shipments made their way to a hearing at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and journalists from The East Bay Times and other Bay Area papers protested cutbacks made by the hedge fund that owns their publications. The BART board of directors also considered a possible ban on busking and panhandling that might affect the train systems’ famous turf dancers, while transit riders also gathered at the Nia Wilson symposium to speak about violence against Black women in public spaces.

We also took readers to meet a veteran who hopes to open East Oakland’s first barber college, and the people who run a new Fruitvale hub for nonprofits, and the Uber and Lyft drivers who supported AB 5, the bill that requires businesses to treat gig workers as employees.

Tensions reached a crescendo at Oakland school board meetings after the board voted to consolidate Sankofa Academy and Henry J. Kaiser Elementary School, leading to a series of protests that routinely shut down board meetings and led to the arrest of 6 protesters.

Meanwhile, students and the district also worked to bring back the free supper program, which had been cut in 2018 but returned this year, celebrated a study that showed the district’s African American Male Achievement program was producing positive results, and welcomed a new Oakland Athletic League Commissioner. The financially-troubled Peralta Community Colleges also gained a new chancellor.

As the new year got closer, civic groups began preparing for the two biggest events of the year to come: getting out the vote for the 2020 presidential election, and educating residents about how to participate in the 2020 US Census.

Winter

To wrap up the school year, Oakland North reporters work on a long feature project (or two) that covers something important to the city. This year, these projects included a look at the rising use of cannabis among seniors, the work alternative medicine practitioners are doing to make LGBTQ clients feel welcome, and the communities that are making small-batch “artisanal” compost.

We profiled Oakland’s unofficial “pigeon whisperer,” and took a close-up look at the long goodbye for the California College of Arts and Crafts as staff prepare to shutter the Oakland campus, and learned about land trusts, an alternative to buying or renting that is meant to create more affordable housing and help Oaklanders stay in Oakland.

We spent time with four trans or nonbinary parents who had recently had babies, and learned about how they are pushing the birth industry to be more inclusive of all pregnant people. We followed members of a unique team that pairs Oakland police officers with mental health clinicians to respond to distress calls, and we learned about the unresolved problems with donated secondhand clothes and America’s textile glut.

We concluded our year-long coverage of school merger protest with a deep dive into the ongoing merger process for Sankofa Academy and Kaiser Elementary. We also took a look at the rising issue of hunger among senior citizens, and profiled three East Bay immigrants from Uganda and Sudan, learning about how they’ve adapted to life in Oakland and how they are supporting other immigrants.

Thank you for supporting community journalism!
We wish you the best for 2020.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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