Doug Smith, the president of Fuller Enterprises which owns 63 rental units in Alameda said that there were indications on social media ahead of the meeting that renters, with help from Occupy Oakland and Tenants Together, based in San Francisco, planned to come late to, and disturb, Wednesday’s special city council meeting on the impact of rising rents and consideration of a rent increase moratorium.
Smith provided the phone screen shot of the Occupy Oakland website that accompanies this article, and reads, “Come support the Alameda Renters Coalition and their fight for a moratorium on rent increases and a rent control ordinance.”
“The idea that renters couldn’t get seats in council chambers is not true,” Smith told Action Alameda News. “I arrived at council chambers ten minutes before the 6 p.m. start time and got a seat. The renters planned in advance to assemble at the parking garage down Oak Street, and deliberately arrive late to the meeting to make a disturbance.”
Smith said he was in line to address city council as a public speaker, about one hour into the meeting, when the disturbance started. He said he saw members of the renters coalition in the hallway rush Interim Assistant City Manager Bob Haun twice.
Haun ended up in the hospital with a broken hip, and two coalition members were arrested.
According to Smith, members of the landlord community alerted the Alameda police department about the potential for trouble at the meeting, and the possibility that Occupy Oakland would be involved.
That was confirmed by Alameda police chief Paul Rolleri, who told Action Alameda News, “we got a phone call late that day, between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., and somebody alerted us to the presence of Occupy Oakland based on an Alameda Peeps [a Facebook group] posting, which was taken down by the time we looked.”
Rolleri said that his department saw no Twitter buzz or proactive calls to the #OccupyOakland hashtag to draw people to the meeting, just a calendar item on Occupy Oakland’s website noticing the special meeting. Based on the single phone call, and no other explicit calls to action from Occupy Oakland, Rolleri didn’t think it was necessary to make additional preparations for the meeting beyond the one officer typically staffed in council meetings.
The police chief also told Action Alameda News that he had read reports that that one coalition member was arrested for ‘banging on a table,’ but that, in fact, he had been arrested for the alleged battery on Bob Haun.
Smith fears that Alameda City Council, and local tenants, are getting played by Tenants Together, a San Francisco-based tenants right group that advocates across the state for rent control. He thinks Alameda voters should be given the option to vote on, for example, rent control, to make sure policy makers reflect the desires of Alameda residents and not outside groups.
In advance of the meeting, the Hanson Law Firm submitted to city council a seven-page letter on behalf of the California Rental Apartment Association and other groups, a “respected treatise” critical of rent control.
Doyle Saylor of the Alameda Renters Coalition, asked if renters deliberately arrived late to make a disturbance, told Action Alameda News by e-mail, “Interesting conspiracy theory. They [landlords] surprised us showing up at 5 p.m. Our plan was to show up as individuals at 6 p.m., per what we wrote in our Facebook page. They sound like they underestimated us and fear generates explanations that fall short of prosaic reality. We had a lot of renters show up on their own without a parade.”
Yet, as of Friday afternoon, the Occupy Oakland website was hosting a joint press release from Tenants Together and the Alameda Renters Coalition, cheering approval by city council on Wednesday of a temporary moratorium on rent increases above eight percent.
Further, the press release calls for the release of the two Alameda Renters Coalition members arrested at the meeting, with, “Tenants Together is deeply concerned with the use of force and arrests of protesters renters. [sic] Police must respect and protect the rights of renters who come to their City Council to be heard about rising rents and displacement. Tenants Together calls for the immediate release of the protesters and an investigation into the entire incident.”
Saylor hadn’t responded by press time to a follow-up request to confirm or refute if the Alameda Renters Coalition is working with Tenants Together and Occupy Oakland.
He did respond after publication, writing, “Apparently you want to put words in my mouth. Since that is not true and an allegation that has nothing to do with what I wrote, I don’t have anything further to say to you.”
Catherine Pauling of the Alameda Renters Coalition did not respond to multiple requests for comment, through Facebook, on Wednesday’s events.
Police chief Rolleri said his officers made an appropriate use of force in the arrests, and pointed out that videos circulating on social media show no baton strikes, punches or kicks when Bob Davis was taken to the floor during his arrest.
“If he had just said, ‘Ok, I’m under arrest’ and put his hands behind his back, it would have played-out differently,” Rolleri said.
Rolleri also noted that after the two arrests, the meeting proceeded into the wee hours of Thursday morning without further incident.