Oct 262007

Some ex-offenders, immigrants may fail background check, lose jobs

By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER

Nine thousand Oakland port workers will have to enroll next month in a new identification program required by the Department of Homeland Security to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the Port of Oakland.Thanks to 2002 legislation, any worker who requires access to secured areas of regulated ports will need background checks and biometric identification cards.

“The concern is of terrorists working at the port who could be potential threats,” said R. Michael O’Brien, facility security officer for the Port of Oakland. “This program is for anyone who requires unescorted access to a regulated maritime facility.”

However, he conceded, some people who are already working in a secured area of the port may they lose their jobs trying to qualify for this new kind of identification procedure if they are here illegally or have been convicted of certain crimes. It’s not known, however, how many workers could lose their positions.

The Transportation Security Administration is overseeing the program and the security card, known as the TWIC, or Transportation Worker’s Identification Certificate.

The card will have the worker’s fingerprint and iris biometrics scanned into it. When a worker approaches the entrance to the port, he presents his TWIC rather than a driver’s license as he currently does. An agent with a hand-held reader will check the card.

However, when the TWIC card will go in effect is up in the air. The TSA is looking at enrolling 700,000 people nationwide and producing and distributing cards for them. Furthermore, it still doesn’t have the hand-held readers necessary to check the cards at the port’s entrance.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez refused to speculate when all these events would come together.

The TSA estimated that 9,000 Oakland workers, including longshoremen, truck drivers, contractors and consultants, vendors, and otherport and terminal employees, need access to secured areas of the port.

The enrollment process is being rolled out across the country and has begun in Wilmington, Del., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Oakland will begin enrollment in mid-November; however, no date or location has been announced. There will be at least four enrollment sites in Oakland as well as sites in San Francisco.

To be eligible for a TWIC, an applicant must be a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Various immigrant categories with unrestricted work authorizations and certain professionals with restricted work authorizations can apply. For a complete list of categories, visit http://www.TSA.gov/TWIC.

The big question mark is the impact on the port’s immigrant workers, who might be here illegally. Richard Coyle, president of Devine Intermodal of West Sacramento, which retains independent contractors as truck drivers, is concerned. Devine Intermodal uses outside services to check its truck drivers’ immigration status, he said.

“Although we do a thorough job of screening drivers, you just don’t know what will kick out until the TWIC program takes effect. A large percentage (of) drivers are immigrants,” he said.

Like O’Brien, Coyle does not know how many people might be harmed by TWIC in the Bay Area.

“There’s tremendous fear in Southern California. It’s been rumored that 22 percent of drivers in Southern California will not pass” the TWIC criteria, he said.

Workers with criminal backgrounds will be vetted. Permanently disqualified are persons who have been convicted of espionage, sedition, treason or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes. Also, persons convicted of terrorism or a crime involving a transportation security incident will be permanently disqualified.

However, certain crimes, such as extortion, immigration violations, rape and arson disqualify felons only for up to seven years after conviction or five years after release from incarceration.

However Coyle noted, as an employer, he’s happy to give someone a second chance.

“If someone has a blemish on his record from the time he was 18 years old and now he’s 40 years old and has family, sure I’m going to give him a chance,” the trucking company executive said.

The port facility security officer O’Brien conceded that it was possible “current employees may not qualify under the TWIC program. We don’t know the statistics of that. But I think people are looking forward to TWIC because that would ensure them that they were in a more secure working environment.”

At a recent public meeting by the TSA, questions from the audience betrayed mostly the public’s concerns about the security of the personal information individuals will be sharing with Lockheed Martin and Deloitte & Touche, which will be administering the enrollment.

Greg Fisher, the TSA’s lead transportation security specialist for maritime and surface credentialing, assured that all personal data would be stored on secure servers and no paper files would be kept.

Once enrollment dates and sites are announced, one can pre-enroll by visiting the TSA’s Web site or calling 1-866-DHS-TWIC. Deloitte & Touche representative Andy Linderman said pre-enrollment would shave five to 15 minutes off the ultimate enrollment time and allow individuals to make an appointment to enroll at a time convenient for them.

Applicants must present specific documents in order to apply, and information about them is on the TSA Web site. The procedure costs $132.50. Some employers may subsidize part or all of this cost.

 Posted by at 4:15 pm
Oct 232007

Jack London Market

Development part of waterfront revitalization project
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
OAKLAND — Promising a public bazaar to rival the Ferry Building in San Francisco or the Pike Street Market in Seattle, developers and city leaders broke ground Monday on the much-anticipated Jack London Market, the cornerstone of efforts to rejuvenate Oaklands historic waterfront.Jack London Square will be the biggest public market on the West Coast, promised Jim Falaschi, managing partner of project developers Transbay Holdings and Jack London Square Investors.Formerly dubbed Harvest Hall, the six-story Jack London Market will be constructed on the Embarcadero between Webster and Harrison streets, across from the Amtrak station.When completed in early 2009, it will occupy 170,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space. The first floor will feature an open-air farmers market with local produce, artisan foods and fresh meat and fish halls. Bistros and restaurants are planned for the second floor, while culinary businesses and a professional chefs kitchen are planned for the third floor. The top floors will include space for offices.A parking garage structure will be finished within 18 months, developers said.Developers, including Ellis Partners, Transbay Holdings and Jack London Investors, see the market as a water-side tourist destination as well as a bustling marketplace for daytime consumers.

The marketplace will have an everyday fresh market, Falaschi said. That means produce, bread, a delicatessen. It will resemble something like the (San Francisco) Ferry Building Marketplace or the Pikes Street Market in Seattle, but not that pricey. It will be a market reflective of the community, offering what would be bought for everyday uses.

Asked how Jack London Market addresses the needs of working-class consumers, he said, There will be a variety of venues with appeal to a broad spectrum of racial and economic groups.

The new emporium, however, is only one aspect of a plan that includes some 1 million square feet of new development over the next seven years to attract consumers, business and tourists. Falaschi said construction will begin this year on four new structures in Jack London Square, with construction beginning next year on three more. Those buildings will house mostly commercial development to enhance the Jack London area.

At the groundbreaking Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland praised the project, saying it will (reorient) Oakland from the hills to the waterfront.

The city is interested in developing retail projects that serve residents across the entire economic spectrum, said Councilwoman Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland), referring to the citys retail investment strategy.

Oaklands Community and Economic Development Agency is working to identify neighborhoods in particular need for retail stimulation and opportunities for retail expansion.

Keira Williams, urban economic analyst with the Economic Development Agency, said the marketplace will boost efforts to revive Jack London Square.

The downtown area needs a grocery store to buy food to take home and prepare, Williams said. This concept sounds good. It will speak to the needs of people for fresh foods.

But, she added, will people living within a half mile go there for things like Pampers and toilet paper?

 Posted by at 1:52 pm
Oct 042007

OneCalifornia Bank

Salvador Menjivar ( from left), OneCalifornia Foundation’s executive director; Kat Taylor, bank cofounder; and bank president and chief executive officer Jeffery Cheung.

Oakland institution aims to give poor a ‘fair shake’
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
The Oakland Tribune
Dismayed with the second election of George W. Bush to the presidency, two wealthy San Franciscans wrote a check for $25 million to start a bank that will embody the values they cherish no matter who is president.Thomas K. Steyer, co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management LLC, said he was expecting the Kerry administration to emphasize social and educational programs, as well as the welfare of the working class and diverse populations.But after the 2004 election, “we spent some time licking our wounds” before they thought of a solution, his wife and co-founder, Kat Taylor, said. Taylor, an MBA and lawyer, had spent much of her professional experience working for low-income communities.”I saw early that low-wage people needed a fair shake and economic opportunity,” she said.After months of research and networking with like-minded people with financial expertise, their product, OneCalifornia Bank, recently opened on Webster and 17th streets, in Oakland. The new bank targets small businesses and the unbanked, those who have no bank accounts.”We don’t have investors. We put the equity and start-up costs of this bank into a foundation so we made sure we could never profit from it. But we will run it as a competitive, disciplined private-sector institution, one with a mission,” Steyer said.They say they are not blind to the difficulties ahead.

“This is a huge loser for me economically,” said Steyer.

Their mission is to support the community and they have been establishing relationships with grass-roots and neighborhood entities.

“It does little good to be an excellent bank in a bad neighborhood. So we take seriously our role in the neighborhood,” Taylor said.

The bank had already started making loans before it opened in August through Steyer’s network with established commercial banks.

President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffery Cheung said the institution is looking to lend to small businesses in its next round of financing between $100,000 and $1 million.

“Most banks think that’s too small for them. We have heavily invested in our cash management services because I have observed that businesses of this size and in particular nonprofits have a hard time getting a bank to do their cash management,” Cheung said.

The unbanked — those who because of a language barriers, poverty or expulsion from the banking system could not open a checking account — will be able to open an account here.

OneCalifornia Bank is one of a handful of institutions in the country that offers a way for poor credit risks to work themselves out of the ChexSystem. Banks contribute to and rely on this computerized network to identify poor credit risks and deny them checking accounts.

At OneCalifornia Bank, a person in such a fix can open a Fair Start checking program. Somone who deposits a sum in this account is given an ATM card and eight monthly money orders. The account will be managed in such a way that the client cannot overdraw. The client also enrolls in the foundation’s financial literacy and management course. A client whose banking behavior is acceptable after six months can “graduate” to a regular checking account.

“It seems as though they are genuinely trying to get the unbanked into mainstream banking,” said Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition.

The CRC espoused just such a checking program for the unbanked several years ago. So far only Washington Mutual and Citigroup have offered such accounts, but in a very limited fashion.

Every client of the bank, at 1438 Webster St., is promised a personal banker who will answer his phone directly — no 800 numbers and no frustrating phone trees — and even alert customers when they are at risk of overdrawing their accounts.

“We do old-school banking,” Cheung said.

Besides educating people in financial literacy, Salvador Menjivar, the foundation’s executive director, said the bank’s foundation will offer information on microfinances and guidance on how to start a small business when it opens before the end of the year.

Brian K. Garrett, president and CEO of Community Bank of the Bay, observed that OneCalifornia Bank is starting out at a moment when the market is very competitive for banks.

“Margins are almost nonexistent. But if he (Steyer) can write the check like that ($25 million), then he can probably write two,” he said.

Steyer and Taylor are interested only in enough margin to keep them going. In fact, they will be looking to foundations and philanthropists to help them expand their services and geographical reach.

“I think the people in this community are skeptical of anybody who says, ‘Gee, this is going to be great.’ If we do a good job, we deserve a lot of credit. If we don’t, we won’t,” Steyer said.

 Posted by at 11:18 am