Residents Squeezed by Soaring Rent PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:50

By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

The meeting was called to discuss some small changes to the San Leandro Rent Review Board’s polices, but dozens of residents changed the subject to one of the most pressing matters in the Bay Area –  long-time residents being priced out of their homes.

“We are going to be pushed out of the Bay Area,” said one woman who moved to San Leandro from San Francisco two years ago. “I don’t want to move, but I might have to and what are you going to do to protect us?”

The question was asked in different ways over a dozen times, posed to city officials. Council members Jim Prola and Lee Thomas were in the audience.

“Can San Leandro have rent control?” asked another woman. “When will tenants get a break?”

“What about the elderly and disabled?” asked a man. “Any rent increase is stress on them.”

Another woman was a homeowner herself, but said she came to support renters and fears that soon hard-working families will be priced out and only the rich will able to live in the city.

“We have to look at a vision for the future of our city,” she said. “ I hope we are not envisioning making rents so high we are pricing people right out of town.”

Another man said that people need to speak up and make their concerns known to the government if they want any change.

“Use your power of democracy and call your council members,” advised the man. “I’m not really sure that our elected officials care about low-income people.”

The city’s Rent Review Board listens to rent increase disputes between tenants and owners, sitting down with both parties and suggesting compromises.

The board has no authority to enforce changes, it can only make a recommendation. But the open discussion helps resolve situations most of the time, according to Steve Hernandez, the city’s housing specialist.

The board was created in 2001 and Hernandez says they consider 30 to 50 cases per year.

There was a stretch of several years in the 2000s when no cases were brought before the board while the housing market was soft, but Hernandez says they are now seeing an “uptick” in requests for arbitration.

Another woman said her rent increased from $400 in the 1990s to $1,900 now but others in her complex are paying even more. She said that “landlords are looking for any excuse to kick out people paying lower rents and I’m afraid one day they will force us out.”

One man who is a landlord reminded people that rent in San Leandro is still among the lowest in the Bay Area. He said that the housing market goes up and down and for many years it was a renters’ market and now it’s more favorable to landlords.

“It’s not greed,” he said. “People need to make a living.”

He said that renters also need to remember that landlords are responsible for numerous costs such as maintenance and retrofitting.

Currently, the Rent Review Board will consider cases where rent has been raised by over $75 per month or 10 percent of the rental amount or when rent goes up more than once in a 12 month period. The city wants to eliminate the $75 threshold, as they say the amount is “outdated” and not grounds for a review in itself.

The meeting last week was for public outreach and any changes to the ordinance would have to be approved by the City Council – an action that hasn’t been placed on an agenda yet.


New San Lorenzo Library Opens this Saturday PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:47

082715n2By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

The new $10 million state-of-the art San Lorenzo Library will open its doors this Saturday morning, giving people in the village a chance to check out over 85,000 books, magazines, movies, and more.

The 20,000-square-foot facility at 395 Paseo Grande is all modern angles and bold colors. Over 100 people attended a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday morning to get a chance to be among the first people to tour the library.

The new library is over twice the size of the old one and features a community meeting room, teen center, used book store, dozens of computers and tablets, study spaces, and an automated book sorter that helps librarians get books that have been returned back to the shelves faster.

County Supervisor Wilma Chan cut the ribbon to open the library.

“This is a great day,” Chan told the standing-room only crowd. “It’s a great testament to everyone in the community that we could make this happen.”

Chan said that the library will be “the first of many” new projects that will revitalize San Lorenzo, including the new senior housing and the Hesperian landscaping project.

“When you come into San Lorenzo, you can all be proud,” Chan said.

County Librarian Carmen Martinez said that the new library can become the heart of San Lorenzo.

“It’s my opinion that libraries are the most important public space in a our community,” said Martinez. “Libraries everywhere are community centers and this expanded library will contribute to an informed and enlightened community.”

The library’s hours are Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday and Tuesday noon to 8 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and closed Fridays.

CAPTION: The new San Lorenzo Library, part of the country library system, will open on Saturday at 395 Paseo Grande.


Neighborhood Calls for More Police Action PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:44

082715n4By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

Residents of Castro Street say the neighborhood has been a hotbed of criminal activity and they are banding together to do something about it.

In the past six months, there were four stolen cars, one robbery, two cases of battery, two case of assault with a deadly weapon, four reports of suspicious people and one case each of petty theft, vandalism, and trespassing.  There were also 13 calls for disturbances ranging from loud music to fights, police said.

The residential street is “continually” an area where police are called, according to San Leandro police chief Sandra Spagnoli, who patrolled the block herself on July 4.

Residents met with the police recently to see what they can do to improve safety in the area.

“Your neighborhood, I can tell you as chief, is a priority,” said Spagnoli. “We are committed to taking care of the quality of life issues and we need neighbors who are going to be partners.”

Since February, there has been a uptick in criminal activity on the street, according Sgt. Isaac Benabou.

A large potion of the criminal activity was centered on a single house, 98 Castro Street, police said. Officers arrested residents there after connecting them to a convenience store robbery. The police also recovered some stolen cars at the address.

The owner of the building evicted the tenants, but they broke back in and squatted, according to Mayor Pauline Cutter, who is working with the owner to find a solution.

The tenants are gone for now and the owner is trying to get a permit to raze the building, which is run down and has a ten-foot high pile of trash in the backyard as well as abandoned furniture and Halloween decorations in the front yard.

The problem at the one house may be solved, but there have been numerous other incidents on the street including speeding cars and a semi-tuck that ripped one woman’s phone line right out of the wall of her house.

The national issue of police violence came up when one African American woman said that she felt intimidated by police when she was the witness to a car fire of Castro Street.

All San Leandro police officers are equipped with body cameras, which they can turn on an off to record interactions. She said she felt unsafe when the officer interviewing her told her he was turning his camera off.

“I didn’t feel safe in my own house as an African American woman,” she told Spagnoli.

Benabou and Spagnoli both told her she could have asked the officer to leave or even filmed the encounter herself. She responded that that doesn’t address the real issue – that it is 100 percent the officer’s decision when the cameras are used.

“I was heartbroken when I realized the camera wasn’t on all the time, who does that help?” asked the woman.

Spagnoli said that there is a “balance” that each officer must try to achieve when deciding when to use the cameras. She added that the four recent cases of San Leandro police officers opening fire on retreating suspects were all recoded by their body cameras.

Overall, the police said that citizens reporting crime and being good witnesses are the key to improving public safety.

“We have to know about it and then we can avert it,” said Benabou. “Utilize your police department. I hear people saying they don’t want to call, but that’s what we are here for.”

CAPTION: Residents complained to the police about the junk that piled up at 98 Castro Street where police recovered some stolen cars and arrested residents there after connecting them to a convenience store robbery.


Learning to Save Lives PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:41



The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit recently practiced a rescue operation in the Sunol hills. The unit is comprised of volunteers whose task is to locate, stabilize and transport lost or injured persons in Alameda County. The unit has a history that stems from the era of Civil Defense with the threat of nuclear attack during the 1950s and 1960s.

Rental Truck Breaks Telephone Pole PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:38

082715n5By Jim Knowles • San Leandro Times

A rental truck hit a telephone pole, closing off the 2100 block of Washington Avenue on Monday afternoon.

The pole supports high-tension lines. A PG&E crew and the fire department stood by as the pole leaned to one side, looking like it was about to snap. The wooden pole had a gash where it appeared to be cracked almost all the way through.

Employees of the United Mexican restaurant, just under the pole, had to leave the building until the pole was replaced. PG&E installed a new pole later that evening.

There was no power outage, said PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian.

An employee at the restaurant who didn’t want to give her name said the rental truck was speeding and it jumped the curb and hit the telephone pole and a sign, and just kept going.

Police don’t yet know who was driving the vehicle that hit the pole but they’re looking for the truck, said Lt. Robert McManus of the San Leandro police.

The power lines didn’t come down in this accident. But Sarkissian reminds the public that if you ever see a downed power line, assume it’s a live wire. Never touch it, because it could be carrying thousands of volts.

Instead, call 911 to report a downed power line, Sarkissian said.

CAPTION: The fire department and PG&E workers inspected the utility pole after a truck hit it on Monday afternoon.


Oro Loma Sets Rate Hike for Sept. 1 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 15:36

By Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

The Oro Loma Sanitary District Board of Directors unanimously approved a garbage rate increase, which will go into effect September 1.

The rate hike is 2.75 percent, which translates to about 30 cents more per month for customers with 20-gallon cans and $1.82 more a month for the big 96-gallon cans.

The rate increase was necessary because of Oro Loma’s contract with Waste Management, according to Oro Loma’s general manager, Jason Warner.

Waste Management gives employees raises based on the Consumer Price Index and there were also benefit and pension increases in their union contracts, so the cost is being passed on to the customer.

Rates for recycling and green waste will remain the same.

No members of the public came forward to speak during the “protest” portion of the board meeting, but the district said they did receive one phone call from a woman who said any rate increase would be a hardship to people on Social Security.

Oro Loma handles waste and recycling and wastewater treatment for customers in parts of San Leandro, San Lorenzo, and Castro Valley.




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