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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Blocking Bike Lanes: Code Should Reflect Public Safety Hazzard

Q: What Happens When Public Safety Fines Are Too Low?

A: Public Safety Goes Down

Emeryville has a big problem.  Delivery trucks keep blocking our bike lanes, putting bikers in harm’s way as they swerve out into the adjacent traffic lanes to avoid colliding with the trucks.  It’s not a problem restricted to Emeryville of course but it’s a problem that begs for a solution nonetheless owing to the extreme danger to bicyclists when vehicles collide with them.  We suggest a modest correction to a large and unacceptable problem: increase the fines for vehicles blocking bike lanes from the existing $58 to at least $303.

As it stands right now, the Emeryville vehicle code provides for the same $58 fine for vehicles blocking a bike lane as blocking a vehicle traffic lane.  Both infractions are seen as equally egregious by our vehicle code.  But both are not equal.  Numerous studies have shown a bike swerving from a bike lane into a traffic lane as an exceptionally dangerous move….for the bicyclist.  Even at normal city vehicle speeds, the human body cannot absorb the kinetic energy of a 3000 pound vehicle's impact.  The result is extreme injury or death.  Compare that with the possible consequences of the other infraction; a vehicle rear-ending a delivery truck blocking the traffic lane.  In that case, even at normal city speeds, the bodies involved are encased in cocoons of steel with seatbelts and airbags.  The result of such collisions is vehicle damage but more importantly, little or no harm to people.
Our vehicle code should reflect this extreme difference in harm to human health and safety.  Fines for the two should not be equal.
$58 in Emeryville
Cost of doing business.

If a vehicle in Emeryville blocks an intersection wheelchair crossing, the fine is $303.  It’s bad for someone in a wheelchair when a vehicle blocks them; they have to travel as much as an extra two blocks in that case.  We in Emeryville think it’s terrible for drivers to inconvenience our neighbors in wheelchairs like that.  As a result, it’s bad for the driver….$303 bad.  But shouldn’t the possible maiming or killing of a bicyclist be considered at least as bad as inconveniencing someone?

What would the net result be of increasing the fine for a vehicle blocking a bike lane but keeping the fine the same for blocking a traffic lane?  It would mean delivery trucks will start blocking our traffic lanes instead of the bike lanes.  It will mean there will be unhappy drivers.  But with the fine rates as they are right now, there are unhappy bicyclists.  There are always losers whenever something is regulated in the public commons, it's true, but we should always strive to provide the greatest protection against the greatest threats to public safety.  

FedEx and other carriers violate parking laws routinely.  In fact, they simply write any parking tickets into their cost of doing business.  That’s well documented.  But they won’t spend extra money when they don’t have to.  Emeryville City Hall made fatal errors in not forcing developers to provide enough parking for delivery vehicles over the years when the buildings were approved.  That’s also well understood by now.  The solution though should not be at the expense of bicyclist’s bodies.  The delivery vehicles need to park in the only safe place available to them; in the middle of the street, keeping the bike lanes open. 

If the City Council moves to increase the fine for blocking bike lanes to reflect the desires of the people to have a municipal code that is interested in public safety in the foremost, we’re going to have a lot of angry (but safe) drivers around here.  And you know what?  That’s better than the existing angry bicyclists who risk their lives as they move around Emeryville.  
We understand the Council is under a lot of pressure from the business community to not implement our ten year old Bike Plan regarding bike boulevards.  They've made that clear.  But are they so craven, so indebted to businesses that they can't increase the paltry $58 fine for blocking bike lanes?  We imagine this existing public safety imperiling fee schedule has been heretofore unknown by the Council.  They know of it now.  This is an easy fix.  The next move is yours, City Council.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

No Apology From School District for Unjust Transgender Firing

District Refusing to Apologize for its Roll in Anti-Transgender Bigotry

More Than a Year Passes After Proclamation Proposal 

The Emery School District’s Board of Trustees this week is remaining steadfast in their disapproval to acknowledge the District’s past bigotry against its former employee, Steve Dain, a Teacher of the Year fired for being a transgender man in the 1970s.  The Board President failed to forward a proposal for the Trustees to vote on Wednesday, a public apology, proclaiming the District unjustly fired the former Emery gym teacher, a proposal brought by Board member Susan Donaldson back in May.  Instead, President Brynnda Collins, feeling no urgency, has bumped the issue down to a sub committee to ruminate on for an indefinite amount of time.  The District, more than a year ago indicated in the abstract it would make an acknowledgment that the firing of Mr Dain was wrong but there has not been a majority of Board members interested in actually following through despite Ms Donaldson’s proposal.

The Board majority has not felt impelled to make amends for the District's firing of Mr Dain, however, they did feel a sense of urgency about the Dain issue in June of 2019 when then President Barbara Inch proposed her colleagues name the newly remodeled gym at the high school, Steve Dain Gymnasium by fiat, to acknowledge the fired Emery gym teacher.  Board members Collins and Cruz Vargas moved quickly and led a successful drive to stop the Steve Dain Gym proposal, settling on a different, non-transgender former gym teacher to name the gym after.  Ms Inch resigned the Board in protest shortly after the Vargas/Collins caper.  Board member Susan Donaldson, who joined with President Inch in voting to name the gym after Mr Dain,  consequently asked for and received assurances from the entire Board (including Collins and Vargas) they would make some other gesture to acknowledge the District’s culpability in the bigoted firing, an idea that has languished now for more than a year.  Wednesday’s Board meeting was to be the vote to apologize by official proclamation.

Emery Teacher of the Year
Steve Dain

After his surgery, Emery trespassed him off 
school property and then fired him
for being who he was.

The City Council, exasperated by the District’s failure to acknowledge its mistake and take responsibility for correcting the hurt the firing inflicted on Mr Dain and the community, took the issue on for itself when they announced they will officially change the name of 47th Street to Steve Dain Drive.  In a turn of karmic restitution, the same gymnasium where Mr Dain worked won’t be named after him but it will have a Steve Dain Drive address.  

Steve Dain, who died in 2007, never received an apology from Emery Unified School District after they fired him following his surgical transformation to a man in 1977.  The official reason for Mr Dain's termination was given as "immoral conduct", a charge that stands today in the absence of an official apology from the District.  

Mr Dain has living relatives still residing in the Bay Area. 

 Board President Brynnda Collins, who helped the Board sink the vote to name the gym after Mr Dain, has called the proposal for acknowledging Mr Dain, "political".  She did not return calls for this story.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

'Vargas Era' Ends: School Board Member Cruz Vargas Announces He's Leaving Emeryville

 Pet Issue, Police in Schools, Likely Dies With Vargas' Departure

Leaving Emery
School Board Member Cruz Vargas

Emery School District School Board incumbent Cruz Vargas announced this week he is moving out of Emeryville and will not seek another term on the Board, marking the end of a pugnacious career for the school board firebrand and his style of imprudent politics that has emblematized the last few years at Emery.  The vacating Cruz Vargas likely puts to an end his signature albeit disputatious policy idea for Emery; putting Emeryville police officers in the schools

 The announcement by Mr Vargas surprised veteran school board watchers who noted the quixotic and brash former Board President had been riding what seemed to be a recent comeback after a public drubbing when his colleagues stripped him of his presidency in 2018.  

Board member Vargas had been arguing that there is a systemic discipline problem and a lack of order among children in Emery schools that only the stationing of police officers can quell.  Such officers, controversial but used in some school districts, are referred to as School Resources Officers (SRO).  There have been studies linking school districts with SROs to greater expulsions and even imprisonment of students.

Mr Vargas made his mark battling the City Council, leading the charge to sever ties between Emery and City Hall after several dust ups between the ‘Vargas faction’ on the Board and the Council members.  The two governmental agencies are contractually bound in their running of the Emeryville Center of Community Life, the joint schools/community center campus completed in 2017.  The two bodies formed a collegial bond in the City/School Committee charged with running the ECCL, that became a battleground subsequent to Mr Vargas’ election to the Board.  The open rancor came to a head when Mr Vargas took on Council member John Bauters over the ‘police in the schools’ idea.  After Mr Bauters delivered arguably the most impassioned and forceful speech ever delivered by an Emeryville pol, Mr Vargas retreated, swearing to go around the Council and take his police idea directly to the people.

Councilman John Bauters
wearing his 'schools not prisons' T shirt, 
volunteering at an ECAP event. 
Foil to Board Member Vargas.

The retiring of Cruz Vargas leaves current Board President, Brynnda Collins as the sole supporter on a five member board of the Vargas police in Emery schools idea.

In the wake of the nation wide paradigm shift following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it would seem Board member Vargas’ police in the schools idea is on the wrong side of history.  Many, Mr Bauters among them, have noted how police in schools especially those with large populations of black and brown children like Emery, tend to criminalize normal children's behavior.  It’s been widely criticized as part of the so called ‘schools to prison pipeline’ for minority children.

The withdraw by Mr Vargas incidentally leaves the three seat school board race without an incumbent and automatically adds another week for would be applicants to submit their paperwork says the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.