Berkeley / East Bay

Gray Panthers Newsletter

July 2014

6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609

Tel: (510)595-9696

July 23 Membership Meeting

The July membership meeting will be on Wednesday July 23, 1:30pm at North Berkeley Senior Center

We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Security and the 45th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.
There will be speakers from Gray Panthers, CARA and possibly from other groups.

===Gray Panther Committee Meetings====

Board Meeting:
July 16, 2014 2:00pm
At Niebyl-Proctor Library

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Become a member of Gray Panthers!

Dues: $35/year ($15 low income)
Send us your name and mailing address.
Traffic Tickets can also be worked off by volunteer work for Gray Panthers

Living Graveyard

Third Mondays, Noon - 1:00pm.
date subject to change –– check
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street (two blocks from 12th Street BART)
People lie down on the city sidewalk in front of the Federal Building, covered with sheets to represent the dead, The names of some of the Californians who have died in Iraq and the names of some of the Iraqi dead are read during the event. A gong is sounded after each name.
Please bring a white sheet. A pad to lie on is recommended.
Info: Ecumenical Peace Institute, (510)990-0374.

Tax the Rich Rally

Every Monday 5-6pm at top of Solano Av in Berkeley to protest the inequality of taxes in our country. We hold signs saying “Tax the Rich” and “Tax the Big Corporations.” Cars passing by honk in support. Pedestrians take leaflets.

The signs and leaflets present information about the impact of tax inequities in our society, and how we must work together to bring about essential changes so that the rich and big corporations pay their fair share.

Monthly Peace Rally

Gray Panthers and Strawberry Creek Lodge sponsor a Peace rally,
every 3rd Friday, at Acton and University in Berkeley.
The June 20 rally was lots of fun. Julie Bidou came in a wheelchair. We got honks from two big trucks and a cement mixer. People are really thinking about the prospect of more war in Iraq.
Come on July 18 2-3pm to sing, wave signs and listen to car honks.
For info, Call 841-4143

Minimum Wage

Oakland may soon be matched by Berkeley, which is considering a law linking its minimum wage to the rate in the Oakland ballot measure. Unlike Oakland, Berkeley would phase in its increase and allow some exemptions. By October 1, 2016, the Berkeley wage would rise to $12.53 to match Oakland’s rate, after cost of living increases.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has called for an East Bay regional minimum wage, an idea endorsed by business owners at a recent Oakland Chamber of Commerce breakfast on the topic. Bates has reached out to officials in cities around the East Bay, including Oakland, suggesting this approach.

On July 1, Berkeley City Council removed the minimum wage task force, holding it until a later date.

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Panther Deaths

We are saddened to report the death of two long-active Berkeley Gray Panther Members

Avis Worthington passed away on June 14

Formerly a reporter for the infamous Berkeley Barb, Avis edited and published this East Bay Berkeley Gray Panther Newsletter for many years.

Her past newsletters are now archived in the Berkeley history section of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. She loved politics, history, and writing, published historical novels and loved to watch current history on CSPAN. We will miss her greatly.

Avis is remembered by two sons and their families particularly her grandson Peter whom which she brought to Gray Panther meetings in a stroller at the age of two.

There was a memorial at Avis's home on Grant Street on Sunday, June 29th.

Eva Bluestein died in June

Eva was born in Berlin. She spent World War II in occupied France, dodging Nazi persecution of Jews by living underground.

Before coming to the Bay Area, Eva was convenor of the Los Angeles gray panthers for many years. Here in Berkeley, Eva kept us up to date on the wars and injustice in the world. She will be sorely missed.

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Report on the June 2014 Membership Meeting

The June 2014 membership meeting of the Gray Panthers of the East Bay was held at North Berkeley Senior Center on Wednesday, June 25. The speaker was Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of the city of Richmond. The title of her talk was "The Road to a Progressive Future Runs through Richmond, California".

Mayor McLaughlin was first elected in 2006. Richmond is the largest city in the United States served by a Green Party Mayor. The biggest local industry is the Chevron oil refinery. In 2012, there was a fire, which produced a great deal of smoke, which caused respiratory problems for many residents. Richmond has a large population of people of color, many descended from people who arrived from Louisiana during WWII to work in the shipyard. Like Berkeley, Richmond has a fractious city council. At the beginning of the Gray Panther meeting, Berkeley city council member Kriss Worthington gave a brief summary of recent Council actions, noting the extreme disputation that went on. As she began her talk, Mayor McLaughlin saluted Kriss and said that Richmond City Council is much more contentious. Gray Panther Chris Caldwell, who lives in Richmond and introduced the Mayor, had said that during public meetings, the Mayor has to put up with mean and rude behavior, both from the Council and from the audience.

Gayle McLaughlin was born in Chicago and grew up with four sisters. She lived near major factories, many of which had bad working conditions: a candy factory had dangerous hot ovens; another was frequently flooded. Her grandmother went to the Chicago City Council to complain about these conditions and got some action. The future mayor learned that activism really does make change.

Richmond was hit hard by the 2008 subprime mortgage crash. About 40% of household wealth was wiped out. The recovery is not quite happening in Richmond, except perhaps for the 1%. Richmond has lost a huge amount in property taxes. City staff has been reduced. At one point, 50% of all Richmond home mortgages were “under water,” meaning that the home’s market value is less than what is owed on the mortgage. Right now, that figure is still more than 30%.

The mayor is very resentful of Wall Street, which she thinks caused the crash. Predatory lenders abused the trust of Richmond’s majority Blacks and Latinos to sell them adjustable-rate mortgages, which the lenders knew these people wouldn’t be able to pay if there was a downturn. They then sold the loans at the “casino of Wall Street,” in the form of the famous mortgage-backed securities, which were split into many separate units. These mortgages are managed by a mortgage servicer that has no power to change the terms, so anyone trying to arrange relief is stuck because they can't negotiate with 300 people in 300 places. It's a classic market failure; the mortgage slicing and dicing prevents reasonable solutions from being reached.

Mayor McLaughlin saw that the Federal Government had helped out the banks, but the low-income people in Richmond are still waiting for help, so she decided to act. Her idea involved a novel use of the city’s power of eminent domain, which allows governments to seize private property for a public purpose, in this case, preventing foreclosures and abandoned buildings. So if the banks won’t reduce the loan principal, the city would seize the mortgage and force the banks and other note holders to settle for the current fair market value.

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The idea became practical after Bill Lindsay, the Richmond City Manager listened to a pitch by Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) Lindsay invited MRP chairman Steven Gluckstern, who has pushed the idea up and down the state, to take a shot with Richmond. As the Funding Partner with the city, MRP gets together the new investor group which provides the money to buy the mortgages. Richmond city funds are not used. Also, MRP will indemnify the city for attorney’s fees.

The city seizes the underwater mortgage, investors brought together by MRP pay off bond holders at close to the current appraised value, then line up a new mortgage for the homeowner at far less than the previous amount. MRP takes a $4,500 cut from the new lenders. The fair market value is determined by an appraisal by a third party. Sure, the banks take a loss, just as they would on selling a foreclosed property. This might be payback for convincing vulnerable people to sign for those immoral predatory loans.

On hearing of the eminent domain proposal, an investor group sued the city, but a judge threw it out of court because Richmond hadn’t done anything yet. The Judge said they can’t stop the city from thinking about something. Seizing mortgages is a thrilling idea. Other cities are looking into it, for example, Newark NJ, Irvington NJ, San Francisco CA and several cities in southern California. To forestall lawsuits, Richmond will use the eminent domain method called "straight take," in which a judge reviews the proposed action and pre-approves it.

The Mayor said “I totally believe in organizing.” It’s important to experience people’s problems. She mentioned ACCE – the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment – which fights blight. She said we should continue to stand up to Wall Street and protect our communities.

Richmond will move toward a $13 minimum wage.

Richmond’s homicide rate has been reduced by 66%. This has been accomplished by reaching out to at-risk young people, building trust. The Richmond Police have even been known to help out protestors.

The mayor hopes that Richmond will become a lighthouse example for other cities to follow, providing a road to a progressive future.

After her talk, the Mayor took some questions. Someone asked about the Tar Sands Oil arriving in Richmond. The Mayor said that the city has no authority over the railroads, but could forbid trucks to carry the crude on Richmond streets.

Gray Panthers as a 501c3 organization is not allowed to endorse candidates, but we did give Mayor McLaughlin a Gray Panther T-shirt.

For a more detailed version of this report, visit: