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MANIFESTO: Encampments, a blight on our city

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One of the compelling reasons we launched the Coalition for a Better Oakland is because we believe something must be done about the proliferation of homeless encampments in the town we love.

We recognize and acknowledge that the causes of homelessness and many and complex. We sympathize with our unhoused sisters and brothers, and would like to work with the city to find solutions to the current catastrophe. But our common-sense point of view, which we believe is widely shared by Oaklanders, is not being heard in the councils of government. In fact, it is being repressed.

Mayor Libby Schaaf seriously dropped the ball when she was first elected, back in 2015. Already at that time, camps were proliferating. Many people asked Mayor Schaaf and the City Council to begin managing the camps, instead of allowing them to spread in an uncontrolled manner.

What did Mayor Schaaf do?

In glowing rhetoric, she talked about “a bold new plan” to reduce homelessness, but it was always in the vaguest terms, with no practical solutions.

She assured homeless people that if they moved to Oakland, they would find housing, medical treatment, and other services.

She told homeless people Oakland would “treat them with compassion.”

When San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose began efforts to manage the spread of camps, Schaaf assured the Bay Area’s homeless population Oakland would “shelter all residents.”

She even suggested that Oaklanders “open their houses to homeless people,” although she herself, she explained, had no room for any in her house.

With rhetoric like that, no wonder homeless people flocked to Oakland. They heard that they would be taken care of. They heard that they would be received with open arms. They heard they might even be able to live with the mayor! And they believed these things. But they were not told the truth. There was no plan, no money, no conceivable way to give them what they needed. Libby Schaaf was just making it all up.

Thus, by October, 2020, when the camp situation became so unbearable that even the most liberal Oaklanders were begging government to do something about it, the City Council, under enormous pressure, finally acted. With Schaaf’s strong support, they passed, unanimously, a resolution limiting tents to certain restricted areas, and prohibiting them everywhere else, including parks.

Schaaf promised that the new regulations would begin to be enforced in January, 2021. But guess what? Nothing happened. The City Council wouldn’t even abide by its own rules. Our parks remain overrun. Underpasses, rights-of-way along BART lines, intersections and miles of streets are lined with encampments and the piles of junk associated with them. (Take a look at Frontage Road, in West Oakland.) And, as the public has tragically seen, fires at encampments are burning down cultural centers, museums and businesses. With fire season just around the corner, that is a serious concern.

Why did Schaaf make unrealistic and unachievable promises to homeless people? It was cruel to invite them to Oakland. Everyone knew, or should have known, the city was in no shape to care for them. Maybe Schaaf was speaking out of truly idealistic motives. Maybe she was pandering to, or intimidated by, the screaming demands of the small but vocal minority of radical pro-homeless activists. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking clearly.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

To answer this, we have to backtrack a few years and consider what Schaaf could and should have done when she took office. She should have announced that the city intended to manage the camps in a way that was both compassionate to the homeless and reasonable to the people of Oakland.

But she didn’t.

She should have made it clear that public parks, like Mosswood and Lakeside, were off limits for tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have created sanctioned places where homeless people could legally put up their tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have told the truth to homeless people: Don’t come to Oakland! We can’t take care of you; we don’t have the money.

But she didn’t.

She should have taken on the pro-homeless crowd and told them that they had no idea how to govern and that their demands for free housing, food, medical care and job training for 4,500 homeless people, possibly for life, were insane and would bankrupt Oakland.

But she didn’t.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

We here at the Coalition for a Better Oakland know this: A city that loses control of its streets is in trouble. We strongly support the City Council’s Oct. 2020 policy that restricted encampments to “low sensitivity” areas. That decision was—as Schaaf herself said—“a compassionate response to an unacceptable condition.” If camps were located in manageable areas, like parts of the Port, the former Oakland Army Base and other conglomerate areas to be identified, services could be provided more efficiently to homeless constituents. Campers themselves would be relieved of the constant threat of street sweeps, knowing that they could safely remain in approved areas. Their legitimate security concerns could more easily be addressed. Such a policy would be a win-win for everyone.

But Schaaf knuckled under to the activists. The City Council drifted further into radical, unrealistic politics after the November elections. And every day, the situation grows more dire.

Look: this issue is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither rightwing nor leftwing, but common sense. The Coalition for a Better Oakland is nonpartisan. We Oaklanders are hard-working, tax-paying, compassionate, and politically savvy. We deserve parks where kids can play—parks that have not been desecrated. We deserve a city where cultural centers and museums and small businesses are not burned down. We deserve streets where we can walk in safety and not dodge human excrement, rotting garbage, passed-out bodies, and hypodermic needles. We want to see our leaders do the job they were elected to do and manage these camps. It can be done—it should be done—it is legal—and it is morally right.


In Oakland, things are even worse than you thought

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The hottest story in the Bay Area right now is that of the Oakland Chinatown liquor store owner who saw a woman being mugged on the street, grabbed his gun (for which he had a permit), rushed outside, and tried to protect her.

The store owner, whose name isn’t being released, fired four shots into the air, as the elderly Chinese woman who was being mugged fell to the sidewalk. Her assailants fled, presumably frightened by the gunshots.

You might think this store owner is a hero. I certainly do. But according to the Oakland Police Department (OPD), he’s a criminal. They have arrested him, on a count of felony assault with a gun, and last I heard, he’s in jail. The muggers, of course, are nowhere to be found, and are presumably free to re-mug other innocent victims.

Oakland Chinatown is appalled, as well they should be. The tightly-knit little community has been under assault from outside thugs who know that the cops don’t care if they rob a store or mug an old person. Indeed, everybody in Oakland understands that Mayor Libby Schaaf has instructed the police chief to stand down on street crime. OPD barely responds anymore to calls from citizens. You almost never see a cop in Oakland. Morale among the force is said to be at an all-time low. I hear reliably that scores of Oakland cops are looking to get out, to work someplace less hostile to them. Even as the crime rate soars, a good part of the citizenry hates cops and is demanding that the already pillaged OPD budget be cut another 50%.

That idea is the brainchild of far-left City Council members. They have formed a so-called “Reimagining Public Safety Task Force” whose other recommendations are remarkably dangerous and stupid. Among these are:

  • Eliminating the use of OPD’s helicopter because it “bothers” certain people
  • Eliminating all military titles (Sergeant, Lieutenant) and replacing with “civilian” titles
  • Eliminating standard blue uniforms in favor of “plain clothing” in order to “increase racial equity”
  • Allowing community-based activists to vet police academy participants
  • Hire “those struggling with alcohol and drug issues” and “people with developmental disorders” in a “new department” within OPD to respond to 911 calls
  • Compel all officers to “undergo community sensitivity training”
  • Budget millions of dollars for a “youth-led decision making” process within OPD so that youth can “give input” to the police in a way that “ensures equitable outcomes”
  • Hire homeless people “to guide City Council’s response to the housing crisis”

Well, there’s a total of 144 recommendations, so I clearly don’t have the space to list them all. None of the recommendations, let it be noted, calls for increasing OPD’s understaffed officer count, or for actually arresting criminals. Suffice it to say that this “reimagining” is the stuff of fantasy, ideology and recklessness. When Oakland is paying “youth” and “homeless people” to run the police department, we’re in deep trouble.

Another rumor making the rounds is that the City of Oakland is paying homeless people $200 whenever their tent burns down, and is giving them a $100 gift card at Whole Foods. I can’t vouch for this story’s veracity. But knowing Oakland government, it sounds plausible: the city is paying homeless people to be arsonists.

Oaklanders like to think of themselves as a welcoming people. The city is one of the most diverse in the world, in terms of its racial, ethnic and cultural background, and that’s one of the things we residents celebrate. The downside of this welcoming attitude, though, is that the far left has twisted it into a ridiculous satire of political correctness. A notorious example of this occurred some years ago, when Schaaf announced that Oakland welcomed “our unhoused brothers and sisters” after Berkeley, San Jose and San Francisco got tough on encampments. When that message went out, our unhoused brethren flocked to Oakland. The onslaught got worse when the word went out in the homeless community that Oakland would also provide people with free housing, food and medical services. The result was predictable: the city is overwhelmed with encampments. Block-long piles of rubbish are strewn everywhere. Human feces stains the sidewalks and park benches. Deranged people roam the streets day and night, screaming at passersby, and there’s no one to call: the cops will not interfere because they don’t want to get caught in an “incident” that sees ambulance-chasing “civil rights lawyers” suing them for “brutality.”

Is there a relationship between the thuggery Chinatown has been seeing and Oakland’s welcoming attitude to homeless people? Absolutely. The twin phenomena both are byproducts of the prevailing “social justice” philosophy pervading Oakland political circles. Cops were just forbidden by the new Chief from touching suspects, even violent ones who are resisting arrest. (How’s that going to work out?) I hear through friends in close contact with OPD that officers are quitting in droves, transferring to other cities where cops aren’t loathed and prevented from doing their jobs. If you go into stores like CVS or Target, you see criminals loading bags with shoplifted stuff. They don’t even try to hide what they’re doing, they just browse the shelves like everyone else, take what they want, and walk out unmolested. The staff sees it all, but they’ve been instructed to do nothing—certainly not to call the police, who wouldn’t come even if they were summoned. When I talk to friends on the street who are super-lefties and I ask what they think of this widespread theft (or “re-appropriation,” in the language of the left), they say they have no problem with it. “The big chain stores are insured,” they say. “And besides, when people are poor, that’s what they do.”

This is what I call the entitlement of criminality. The left complained all the time about Trump being a pampered, entitled white man, but they can’t see the beam in their own eye. They’re blind to the entitlement on the left—“whatever we do and say in the name of disenfranchised people of color is correct.” If you object in any way, you’re a racist.

Living in Oakland, one has the feeling of general breakdown. It’s a terrible, sad thing to see, and those of us who have to live here have no option but to oppose it, as futile as that may often seem.


Nothing like indignation to get rid of boredom!

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For some reason the shutdown is really starting to get to me. Even though I’ve been sheltering-in-place like most of you for the better part of a year, I’m feeling the walls closing in more tightly than ever. And I’m climbing those walls in boredom.

Maybe it’s the time of year: the dead middle of winter, when daylight hours are curtailed. The gloominess of the season is heightened by the incessant clouds that cover the Bay Area in winter, bringing with them cold, pitiless winds from the icebergs of the Aleutians and—much needed—rain. On such a day as today, I barely want to venture outdoors.

But these four walls are feeling like a prison! I long for sunshine, for outdoor activity. I want to get back to the gym, to have a gimlet in a bar, to eat sushi at the counter again. But all these things are forbidden. I asked my Facebook friends the other day, “Do you think History will look back at this era of COVID and determine that the shutdown was too severe?” And the overwhelming response was, “No!” Everybody agreed that the shutdown had to happen. Everybody agreed that the COVID deniers, like science deniers in the Republican Party, are basically sociopathic assholes who are prolonging the shutdown by their insolent refusal to be part of the solution.

That’s why my heart goes out to our governor here in California, Gavin Newsom. He’s come under such nasty attack by his political opponents, who in all likelihood will succeed in their effort to get a Recall vote on the ballot sometime this Spring. Had Californians truly shut down, as he has been urging for the better part of a year, we would not have had the surges in infections and deaths; but Californians did not shut down. Many did; but many others gathered unmasked at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, the Super Bowl, weddings and church services. They got infected, and then they went out, unmasked, into their environments and infected others. I’ve found myself wishing we could be more like the Chinese. Remember when they reacted so swiftly to the Wuhan outbreak? There was video on T.V. of uniformed officers physically seizing unmasked citizens, throwing them into vans, and hauling them off to wherever these scofflaws are hauled off to. Yes, it’s not “democracy,” per se. It’s authoritarian. But maybe we could use a little more authoritarianism here in the U.S.

Did I really say that? I, who have long complained about trump’s desire for an autocratic state? Yes, I did say it, and I’m aware of the contradiction. How do I reconcile my own desire for a more law-abiding country, to be achieved even at the cost of more aggressive law enforcement, with my ideals of personal freedom? This question is especially poignant for a gay man. Our argument for decades against the christian busybodies who wished to contain us was that we are guaranteed freedom in the Bill of Rights. That’s certainly true. Why, then, do I not grant the same freedom to a man—albeit an idiot—who refuses to wear a mask, or to socially distance?

The answer is because my exercise of my rights as a gay man puts no one else in danger, while these maskless Republican morons put all of our lives in danger. Shouldn’t we be able to draw a line when it comes to public safety? “Here is the line. You have absolute freedom on that side of it. But as soon as you cross the line, your freedom will be severely curtailed by the State.” What’s wrong with that?

Well, it’s not going to happen. America isn’t China. We have a different tradition. Democracy is messy, as Churchill conceded, but it’s a better system of government than any of the alternatives. Trump didn’t like democracy, because he knew that, if all Americans are allowed to vote, Republicans would never again win another presidency. He even said as much. From his point of view, then, it made sense to practice voter suppression. From my point of view, the more people who vote, the better. But we have to educate our children, so they’ll be smart voters. We can’t leave it to the christian right to instill superstitious nonsense in the minds of kids, who are so impressionable.

Many years ago, Carl Sagan, the great American astronomer and popularizer of science, wrote, in his trail-blazing book, Cosmos, about the challenges that scientists faced in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was a time when a repressively ignorant medieval church still dominated Europe, and sought to stifle science whenever it conflicted with theology unchanged since the Roman Empire. Johannes Kepler, for example, “lived in a time when the human spirit was fettered and the mind chained; when the ecclesiastical pronouncements of a millennium…on scientific matters were considered more reliable than contemporary findings made with techniques unavailable to the ancients; when deviations…from the prevailing doxological preferences, Catholic or Protestant, were punished by humiliation, taxation, exile, torture or death.” Despite the church’s active opposition, however, such courageous men as Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe and Newton revealed the self-evident truth of celestial matters, and our modern age of science was born.

But we still face the opposition of truth-hating religious fanatics, the sort of ignoramuses with whom trump associated himself. These are the science-deniers, the ones who say COVID is a Bill Gates (or Obama, or Hillary) conspiracy, that climate change is a hoax, and all the rest of their rightwing nincompoopery. Fortunately, we still have brave scientists—Dr. Fauci comes to mind—who speak the truth, even at the risk of getting death threats from the insane cultists who will follow trump to his, and their, doom.

Well, I started out talking about how bored I am, and you see where it has led! Nothing like a little politics to get the blood pumping. And more good news: the days are getting longer. Even as the rain and wind lash Oakland, Spring approaches; the flowering trees here are in full bloom, and butterflies sip from their nectar. Now, all I need is for the government (or whoever it is) to get more of the damned vaccines into California, so I can get that shot in the arm!


Democrats must expel extremists if the party is to survive

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You can say whatever you want to about nextdoor.com, but one thing’s for sure: it’s an accurate reflection of what’s on people’s minds at any given time.

I value that. We need to have these conversations about important issues, especially during this pandemic. I realize that discussion can get heated, but what’s wrong with that? Lately, the number one topic in my nextdoor.com neighborhood is homelessness and the rapidly spreading tent cities that are taking over vast tracts of Oakland.

There are basically two sides: what I’ll call “pro-homeless advocates” (for want of a better term) and those who are begging the city to establish some sort of control over the camps. The advocates are essentially saying that homeless people are our unhoused brothers and sisters. They need our help, and we ought to provide them with what they need. At their most extreme, the advocates demand free housing for each of Oakland’s 4,500 homeless people, as well as healthcare, psychological counseling, job training, basic lifecare supplies and so on. The advocates never say where the money for all this should come from. Yes, they make vague sounds about raising taxes on the rich, or on corporations. They point out that America, as the richest country in the world, should be able to take care of its homeless citizens. But it seems to me that the advocates are unschooled in the realities of politics and economics. Whenever I read a comment on nextdoor.com that begins with, “Oakland should build free housing for all the homeless people,” I think: Here is a person without the slightest comprehension of how the real world functions.

The other side is those of us (me included) who want the city to do a better job managing the camps. Since our current mayor, Libby Schaaf, was elected in 2014, homelessness has spread like a plague. There are camps everywhere: in public parks, blocking sidewalks, under freeways, at intersections, next to schools. I think what especially provokes some of us is the filth accompanying the camps. The homeless advocates consistently portray all homeless people as fine, upstanding human beings who have been victimized by a capitalistic system of white patriarchy, but those of us who are living with the camps all around us see the homeless people every day, and we know that they’re not all angels. One commenter on nextdoor.com called some of them “swinishly sociopathic,” a description with which I agree. Perhaps they are suffering from mental illness, and perhaps some of them are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, but society has never recognized those conditions as allowing for individuals to wantonly destroy our neighborhoods. The piles of garbage and junk that are strewn everywhere in Oakland are insults to those of us who pay taxes and have tried very hard to make Oakland a safe, livable city.

The two sides—pro-homeless advocates and those who would control the camps—speak past each other. The advocates seem unable to accept the fact that there is no solution to homelessness. There is not enough money in all of Oakland to accomplish what they want, and there never will be. I should think that stark reality would be enough to make them accept some reasonable degree of camp management by the city, but no, they want no controls over the camps at all. To even suggest that campers keep their areas clean is, to the advocates, fascism, or racism, or elitism—they have a lot of “ism’s” they toss around, when they’re unable to deal with criticism on a rational basis.

As someone who keeps close track of the political and cultural pulse of Oakland, I sense that things are changing. The negatives of living here—not just the filth, but the soaring crime rate—are pushing even liberal people over to a more hard-edged realism. It’s one thing to be a Bernie Bro when you don’t have to fear for your life walking down a dark street at night, but when that fear becomes visceral, suddenly even the most ardent Bernie Bro starts wondering if “defund the police” is really a sane policy. More and more of my neighbors on nextdoor.com are openly expressing support for the police, and disgust with a Schaaf regime that is unable or unwilling to do anything to tackle Oakland’s real problems. What we get from this regime are platitudes about racial justice, not actual solutions to the things that bother real people.

As a white male, and as a gay American who has seen the viciousness of homophobia all my life, I’m proud to call myself a Democrat. The Democratic Party has always fought for the rights of minorities, and we should not allow the fact that there’s still a long way to go, to obscure the many wonderful things that Democratic legislation has accomplished, at the city, state and federal levels. I loathe the Republican Party for what it has become under trump: a cult of ignorant white supremacists, paranoids, religious fanatics and debased gun owners. It’s common knowledge lately that the Republican Party is trying to figure out its future—how it should deal with the insane people in its midst. Well, the Democratic Party is also struggling with an identity problem. Are we going to be the party that supports leftist anarchists burning down our cities and looting our stores? Are we going to be the party that insists homeless people have to right to occupy public spaces and trash them? Are we going to be the party that defunds police departments? Are we going to be the party that renames public schools named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington because some leftist radicals think they were evil racists?

I sincerely hope not. Going down that road will lead to permanent minority status for Democrats. It will cost us control of the House of Representatives in 2022, and possibly of the Senate, as well as of the presidency in 2024. We Democrats simply have got to take more “moderate” positions with regard to the issues; the suburban women who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020, and the Black women who gave us amazing victories last year, are not Antifa radicals. Just as the Republican Party must expunge the Marjorie Taylor Greenes from their midst, we Democrats must expel extremist elements from our party. They are not doing us any good, and are actually hindering progress toward the social justice and economic fairness we all want.


And now, a rant! (Sorry…)

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I hope you won’t mind if I do a little venting. It’s about the Mayor of my city, Oakland, and the City Council. The Mayor is Libby Schaaf. She’s thinking of the next vacant U.S. Senator’s seat from California. Everybody knows Dianne Feinstein won’t be there much longer, and Libby has Senatorial stars in her eyes.

I have assured Mayor Schaaf that she stands about as much chance of being the next Senator as I do, which is to say: None. (Memo to Gov. Newsom: Don’t even think about appointing her!) This is because of the track record she’s piled up since getting elected in 2014. (She was re-elected in 2018. Oakland Mayors are limited to two terms in office.) That track record includes soaring homelessness (there are at least 4,200 homeless people in Oakland, most of them in the flatlands where I live). Encampments fill the public parks. Entire blocks are lined with tents, forcing pedestrians (including the elderly) to walk in the street, where they have to dodge cars. Discarded needles are everywhere, and so are piles of human feces. Mentally ill people flood the streets, ranting, threatening passersby, sometimes exposing themselves. To make matters worse, there seems to be a competition among tent dwellers concerning who can pile up the biggest, ugliest, dirtiest pile of garbage and junk. This photo

is from the Oakland Senior / Veteran’s Affairs Center, a block from my home. The little park is the gateway to Oakland’s thriving Uptown neighborhood (well, it was thriving before COVID and hopefully will again be, soon). The children from St. James (Episcopal) Elementary School play there (or will again someday when schools are open). The intersection, at Harrison Street and Grand Avenue, is one of the most important in Oakland. To allow this mess to fester there (it seems to metastasize all the time, like a cancer) is absolutely unforgivable. Not only that, but the campers have ignited at least four fires in the last 2 years, destroying the few trees that grow there.

The people of the neighborhood have begged Mayor Schaaf to clean up the mess for years. She is consistent in not doing so. Why not? To understand it, you have to grasp the political realities in Oakland. This is a very liberal city. People running for Oakland City Council outdo themselves with promises to build free permanent (!!) housing for the homeless (with healthcare, of course), to defund the police, and to pay reparations to Black residents. (These are the same people who, some years ago, wanted to teach Ebonics in the public schools.) Never mind that none of these things will ever happen. The people who vote for them don’t care about reality, they want to hear feel-good messages. Meanwhile, the politicians, prompted by homeless “advocates” and knowing a good thing when they see it, promise ever more. You might think that, in between the promises and fundraisers, they’d manage to earn their paychecks by doing stuff that can actually be done now—such as cleaning up the Senior/V.A. Center. But no. That, apparently, is too hard. It’s much easier to make middle class white people feel guilty because we’re “privileged and entitled.”

The BLM types throw around that word “entitled” a lot, so it was fun the other day to come across a post on social media that reclaimed the word and tossed it back at the ultra-liberals. The phrase was “the entitlement of lawlessness.” It was specifically in regard to the street party that happens almost every day when the weather is decent on the other side of Lake Merritt from where I live. You get thousands of partygoers and vendors selling food without a license, and nobody seems to have much use for trashcans. They leave behind enormous piles of beer bottles, plastic utensils, cardboard, and so on. Somebody has to clean that up! They also create a massive amount of noise, with boom boxes and car stereos blasting from morning until midnight. I feel really sorry for the people who live on that side of the Lake. (I’m glad I don’t!) They’ve asked the city for years to please, please help them by enforcing the laws, but Schaaf and Co. again refuse to. They’re too indebted to the extreme liberals, who call anyone who wants to enforce the laws “racist” and “entitled.” So the phrase “entitlement of lawlessness” is a fine one, as it re-appropriates the term “entitlement” and applies it to people who really do feel entitled: to litter and to disturb an entire neighborhood and not suffer any consequences.

It’s gotten to the point where, to quote Bob Dylan, “The cops don’t need you. And man they expect the same.” The Oakland Police Department has let it be known they’re not going to respond to anything much less than murder or rape. You’re mugged? Home broken into? Assaulted? Car broken into? Forget about it. I don’t blame the cops. They’ve seen what can happen when they intercede in local crime. The bad guys resist arrest, or come at them with a weapon—the cops shoot to protect themselves, and next thing you know, an ambulance chaser like the lawyer John Burris is suing them. The police know they don’t stand a chance with Oakland juries, so settlements are routinely made—and Mr. Burris gets richer. Meanwhile, the City Council amps up their cries to defund the police. And Oakland’s crime rate soars.

So this is my rant—against Schaaf and her enablers on the City Council. Oakland could be such a great town: great weather, physically beautiful, so diverse and interesting. But the extreme liberals just run it into the ground, year after year, making insane promises to people who don’t understand reality, and ignoring the very real problems the citizens of Oakland have to deal with. I’ve lived here 35 years, and things are worse now than they’ve ever been—and it’s not COVID’s fault, it’s Libby Schaaf’s and the City Council’s!

End of venting! Thank you for listening.


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