Fresh Not Frozen: “Paradise Gone”

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Eighty seven miles northeast of Sacramento is the City of Paradise. Last night around 6:45 pm “The Camp Fire” Jump a line and destroyed this eighteen square mile city, population 27,000. As of 4am today more than 35,000 people have been evacuated in the area as the fire has not been contained. Six people have perished in the fire.
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Conditions in most parts of California is very dry. There hasn’t been any significant rain in Sacramento is several months. Low humidity levels and offshore winds blowing hot air inland, combined with dried out vegetation, could cause any wildfires that spark to spread quickly. A smoke a smoke advisory has been issued for the San Francisco Bay Area over 200 miles from the fire.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints burns during Camp Fire in Paradise

The “Camp Fire’ was discovered around 6.30am near Pulga, Ca, 26 miles northwest of Paradise. The blaze, named the Camp Fire because of its proximity to Camp Creek . High wind gusts is resulting in a fire growing at a rate of 80 football fields a minute. The Fire is less two miles from Chico, the home to nearly 90,000 and California State University, Chico

All roads in and around the Chico area including 99, 20 are closed.



From Mosul to Moria: ‘A US air strike killed all of my family’


An Iraqi refugee remembers the day when 12 of his relatives, including a six-month-old, died in the Battle for Mosul.

Mohamed fled Mosul after a US attack, apparently targeting an ISIL sniper, killed 12 relatives including his mother, father and six siblings [Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]
Mohamed fled Mosul after a US attack, apparently targeting an ISIL sniper, killed 12 relatives including his mother, father and six siblings [Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

By: Richard Hardigan/Al Jazerra 

Lesbos, Greece – At 5am on October 1 last year, Mohamed set foot on a boat for the first time in his life, beginning a five-hour voyage in a small dinghy from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Lesbos.

The smugglers had kept their charges – who were huddled together in the cold darkness – in limbo since midnight, waiting for the lights of the patrolling Turkish coastguard vessels to disappear.

“It was one of the hardest days of my life,” said the 22-year-old. “I was crying so much.” 

Mohamed was lucky. The trip was uneventful and he arrived safely. 

By midday, he was waiting to be processed in Moria, Lesbos’ main refugee camp.

“We had to wait nine hours in the cold. I hadn’t slept in days. My clothes were still soaked from the boat trip. I was shivering,” he said. “They didn’t give us anything. Only a small bottle of water and a few olives. I thought to myself, ‘Why did I come to this terrible place?'”

Born and raised in Iraq, Mohamed – who declined to give his last name or allow his face to be depicted to protect his anonymity – was eight years old when the US invasion began.

In 2014, he was a teenager when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) took his hometown of Mosul in 2014.

And he was 20 when the Iraqi army, with the aid of a US-led coalition, violently took it back.

He finally fled the only home he had ever known and made his way to Europe.

The suffering caused by the violence he has witnessed and experienced, both in Iraq and on Lesbos, now shapes his ambition.

“It is my dream to help people,” he said. “I want to be a volunteer my whole life. I want to go wherever there is war, so that I can help people.”

Mohamed spends his days as an Arabic translator in a medical clinic that serves refugees, working for free. In the evenings, he rushes off to a shift at another facility, where he translates until 2am.

Sitting on a wooden bench outside the one-room clinic where he volunteers, he is able to take a break. None of the patients waiting to be seen speaks Arabic; they are all Africans, mainly Congolese and Cameroonians.

US forces made a lot of mistakes and a lot of people died from these mistakes. They would try to bomb an ISIL hideout, but they would miss and hit a house nearby. Sometimes, nine or 10 innocent people would die.


He looks down as he starts to talk about the events leading to December 26, 2016, and his voice trembles. 

“I lost everything on that day,” he says, “my whole life”.

In 2014, Mohamed watched as ISIL fighters captured Mosul, with leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaiming the formation of an Islamic caliphate. The ISIL occupation was brutal. 

On one occasion, he says, ISIL fighters held him in captivity and tortured him for 10 days.

In October 2016, the Iraqi army mounted an offensive, supported by coalition air raids, to take back the city. 

The battles in Mosul were described by Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the top coalition commander, as “some of the most intense urban fighting since World War II”. 

The Associated Press states that between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians were killed, with at least 3,200 lives lost as a result of coalition aerial bombardment, artillery fire or mortar rounds.

Mohamed is not surprised to hear these statistics. 

“They (the US forces) made a lot of mistakes,” he says, “and a lot of people died from these mistakes. They would try to bomb an ISIL hideout, but they would miss and hit a house nearby. Sometimes, nine or 10 innocent people would die.”

On December 26, a Monday, fighting was still raging.

“I was staying with my grandfather, who was sick at the time. “His house was a few metres from my father’s.”

In the morning, Mohamed’s mother told him that ISIL had installed a sniper on his father’s roof. The sniper instructed the family not to leave. 

“[The sniper] knew that the US would target the house if they thought there were no civilians inside,” Mohamed says. “Thirty minutes later, I heard an enormous explosion. I knew it was close.” 

For three days, he was too frightened to check on his family. 

“ISIL was still shooting at our neighborhood. I was so scared. I couldn’t leave my grandfather’s house.” 

After the Iraqi army announced that ISIL had left the area, it was safe for Mohamed to go outside. 

“When I went to my father’s house, I saw that everything was completely destroyed. The building was nothing. When I saw that, my life stopped. My life stopped completely. I lost my whole family. I lost everything.”

All of Mohamed’s immediate family perished in the bombing: his father, 65, his mother, 53, his three brothers, 28, 25 and 19, and his three sisters, 32, 30 and 21. 

He also lost his two sisters-in-law, 22 and 16, a one-year-old nephew, and a niece, six months.

Mohamed had been staying at his sick grandfather’s house when US forces bombed his family’s home [Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

 A US Army spokesman told Al Jazeera he was unaware of the bombing of Mohamed’s house. 

While he expressed sympathy for the innocent victims of the war in Mosul, he placed the blame for their deaths squarely on the shoulders of ISIL. 

“The Coalition applies rigorous standards to our targeting process and takes extraordinary efforts to protect non-combatants. In many instances, we called off strikes if we saw any civilians around. Unfortunately, [ISIL] brutally used Mosul citizens as human shields and snipers against those trying to escape,” the spokesman told Al Jazeera. 

In 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis, Lesbos was the main gateway to Europe for close to a million refugees and migrants. 

A 2016 European Union agreement with Turkeyreduced the numbers, but the flow of those seeking refuge and asylum remains steady.

Until now, I ask myself every day, why am I still alive? Why did I not die with my family?


Today there are roughly 10,000 refugees on the island, 8,000 of which have been crammed into Moria, a facility that was originally built to house 3,000.

“The situation here in Moria is so bad,” says Mohamed. “There is no hot water. I’ve been living in the same tent with 13 other people. The food is so bad here. People get sick from it all the time. And you have to wait for hours in line to get it. There is only one toilet for every 70 people. And there is so much fighting.”

Many outside observers agree with Mohamed’s assessment. 

Amnesty International called the camp an “open wound” for Europe and human rights. Luca Fontana, the field manager for Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF), recently told Al Jazeera that Moria was worse than any camp he’d worked at in Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I’ve never seen the level of suffering that we are witnessing here on a daily basis,” he said. “Moria is the worst place I’ve ever seen,” he says.

Mohamed says conditions at Moria, the refugee camp on Lesbos, are impossible [Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Yonda Poslavsky, a Dutch psychologist who has worked in Moria on several occasions, believes it is no place for those who, like Mohamed, have already experienced trauma in their home countries.

“In Moria, many people have severe psychological problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most of the people who have PTSD suffer from re-experiences, panic attacks and nightmares,” she told Al Jazeera. “Because Moria is not safe and there is no psychological help, there is no space to deal with trauma they have experienced previously. There is a lot of re-traumatisation.”

In July, Mohamed got a positive response to his application for asylum. He will receive a three-year permit to remain in Greece. He was also recently accepted onto a degree programme to study psychology at a university in Athens, staring late October.

Although Mohamed has already surmounted numerous obstacles, Poslavsky warns that trauma is hard to overcome.

“It will be very difficult to feel secure,” she said. “There might be issues of attachment with others, and there will be deep and irresolvable feelings of grief and sadness. There will be a high risk for PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders.”

Mohamed speaks excitedly about attending university, but his thoughts often return to his loved ones. 

“Until now, I ask myself every day, why am I still alive?” he says, “Why did I not die with my family?”

Mohamed was just eight years old when the US invaded Iraq [Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]


Why are Africans in Morocco Praying to Reach Europe?

Sub-Saharans in Tangier pray to be ‘lucky ones’ who reach Spain

The popular Morocco-Spain route comes with danger, as authorities carry out raids and the navy fires on migrant boats.

Migrants and refugees often ask Father Martinez of the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral for assistance and prayers [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]
Migrants and refugees often ask Father Martinez of the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral for assistance and prayers [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]

Tangier, Morocco – Nestled in Tangier’s backstreets, Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral rises above the fracas of heated market trading as Archbishop Santiago Agrelo Martinez leads an impassioned service.

Most of his congregation are sub-Saharan Africans planning to reach Europe.

As the service ends, Martinez is surrounded by worshippers pleading for assistance with medical bills or employment.

Others simply ask for a prayer for friends who recently attempted the crossing to Spain but have since disappeared.

“Our desire is that emigrants have a family unit through the church to which they can always go, as if it was their own home,” Martinez tells Al Jazeera.

“The most difficult thing is to see them humiliated every day, begging in the street, suffering in fear and not knowing when that hell will end,” he says. “I cannot help feeling their situation as mine.

“In this house, we somehow take care of everything for them: food, clothing, body hygiene, physical and mental health, housing, the schooling of children, the development of personal skills and assisting them with getting jobs in small companies in Tangier.”

For the first time since the refugee crisis began in 2015, the Morocco to Spain route has become the most popular path for asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe’s shores.T

Up until September 10 this year, a total of 34,994 people made the perilous journey, dwarfing numbers for the Libya-Italy and Turkey-Greece routes with 20,210 and 20,827 respectively. This figure is also already treble that of 2017.

According to some reports, Moroccan authorities believe 50,000 migrants are currently based in Tangier and its surrounding area.

The Morocco route is not without its own specific danger.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International blasted Moroccan authorities for a “shocking” crackdown on sub-Saharans.

Since the end of July, the Moroccan police together with the Royal Gendarmerie and the Auxiliary Forces carried out major raids on the neighbourhoods where refugees and migrants live in several cities, with particular intensity in the northern provinces of Tangier, Nador and Tetuan, which neighbour the Spanish borders, said the rights group.

“This shocking crackdown on migrants and refugees in Morocco is both cruel and unlawful. It represents a worrying backslide for a government that in 2013 introduced new asylum and migration policy commitments to bring Morocco into compliance with international standards,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

An estimated 5,000 people were swept up in the raids since July, piled on to buses and abandoned in remote areas close to the Algerian border or in the south of the country, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). The group monitored the number of buses that left from Tangier, Tetuan and Nador and calculated an estimate for the number of people seized.

New arrivals sleep rough on Tangier boulevard [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]

And those who end up attempting the journey to Spain are also put at risk at sea.

On Tuesday, a Moroccan woman was killed and three other people were left wounded – one critically – after the country’s navy opened fire at a speedboat carrying migrants.

The Moroccan interior ministry said in a statement that a naval unit operating in the Mediterranean was “forced” to fire on the boat because its Spanish driver “refused to obey” orders.

On Wednesday, Alarmphone, a network of activist and migrant groups providing a 24-hour hotline for refugees in distress at sea, said it had assisted eight boats in distress coming from Morocco, one of which was returned to the north African country.

The majority of Martinez’s congregation live in the adjacent kasbah area of the city.

Alhassane Keita, 42, has called it home since he fled Mali in early 2013 when fighters advanced to within 20km of his city Mopti.

“If I stay in Mali there is no work, no future and no security,” Keita tells Al Jazeera.

“I want to go to Europe to work, I’m happy to do all the jobs that Europeans don’t want to do; I just want to be safe.”

Alhassane Keita says he does not have a future in Mali and is willing to do low-paid work in Europe as long as he is safe [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]

Asylum seekers take advantage of lax housing regulations in the kasbah, living cheaply, crammed into decrepit homes.

There are so many sub-Saharan refugees and migrants in the area that Moroccans have begun referring to it as “Petit Dakar”.

Another kasbah resident, 16-year-old Mohammed Jallo, fled Sierra Leone when he was just 13. His parents were murdered in a revenge killing linked to the country’s bloody civil war.

He had worked for three years on a Chinese-run construction site in rural Algeria before coming to Tangier.
“I came through the desert to get to Algeria,” he recalled.

“The journey is not easy and many people die – I saw people die with my own eyes.

“Sometimes we walked for 90 or 100 hours at a time with only a couple of hours break each night.

“The traffickers will just leave you in the desert if you cannot keep walking, with no food and water.

“Libya is too dangerous these days. It is at war so we are coming to Morocco instead.”

Mohammed Jallo, 16, fled Sierra Leone seeking safety at the age of 13 after his parents were killed [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]

An Al Jazeera report in January 2018 documented that migrants and refugees were still being sold as slaves in open markets in Libya, despite international condemnation.

Others continued to be held against their will by armed groups until their families paid ransom money.

Further migrants had avoided entering Libya after hearing news reports that NGOs were stopping rescue operations off its coast due to security fears, and as the Libyan coastguard was allegedly leaving asylum seekers to die at sea.

Italy’s recent decision to refuse entry for both rescue boats and merchant ships carrying refugees and migrants leaving Libya also had an effect.

Ahmed, not his real name, is a Tangier local and smuggler and agreed to speak to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.

He said that he sends over two small boats a week each carrying 62 people and charges between $900 and $1,150 per person meaning that he can earn up to $500,000 a month.

Migrants and refugees often meet in the newly set up cafes, such as this one for Senegalese arrivals in Tangier’s old town [Joe Wallen/Al Jazeera]

Using sub-Saharan middlemen, he seeks out refugees and migrants who meet in the recently established Senegalese or Eritrean community cafes.

Once a fee is agreed, the asylum seekers are transported to forests near remote beaches from where they set sail in the middle of the night.

When asked whether he is concerned about the Moroccan police, he laughed and explained that he pays off certain officers to ensure safe passage for his boats.

In 2015, Morocco introduced year-long renewable residency permits, allowing migrants to move to Morocco and work legally while saving up to travel to Europe.

In addition, after the 33 years of exclusion from the African Union ended, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI introduced 90-day visa-free travel on arrival to many sub-Saharan nationals.

For Malick Diallo, 20, these policies enabled him to fly directly to the country from Senegal and save up the money needed to attempt several crossings by working as a labourer in Tangier.

Back at Our Lady Cathedral, as news filters through that 400 asylum seekers, attempting to reach Spain from Morocco, have had to be rescued in just one weekend, a young Liberian man, Daniel, implores Santiago Agrelo Martinez to pray with him.

“The Almighty has told me it is time to make the journey to Europe,” he says.

“Pray with me that I am one of the lucky ones.”



Rent Control Sacramento: The City offers a Bandaid to slow the bleeding

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Sacramento is the fastest growing big city in the State of California.  The capital city has seen a 9.4 increase in rent, three times higher than the national average and double the states average.

With rents averaging $1700, the Capital city has become an attractive and lower cost alternative to renters in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.  The city has become popular with Millennials.  Sacramento, is the third most popular destination after Seattle and Nashville.

The new arrivals aren’t challenged by the rent prices

In Sacramento, fewer landlord are offering yearly leases ,opting for month to month agreements where they can increase rents with a 30 notice.     Many long term renters have experienced several rent increases this year.    After 16 years in a South Land Park Apartment, one tenant received 3 rent increases in less then seven months. Her dishwasher and disposal hasn’t worked in more than two year.  Today her rent is 62% of her income and she is not alone.    Sacramento’s eviction rate is more than twice the state average.

Fast Facts 

Don’t believe the Hype, not everyone is leaving California for Texas, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona, the state’s population continues to grow.  Nearly 40 million people call the Golden State Home.    There is a housing shortage in most population centers in state with Sacramento being one of the worst in the nation. According to Yardi matrix , Sacramento ranked 90 of the 96 markets. While Sacramento needs 2700 units annually to meet demand, only 593 apartments were completed in 2017.

While there has always been a need for affordable housing, the city eased requirements shortly after the Real Estate bubble burst and reduced funding for the program.

The Basic Myth 

Rent control will stop construction on new housing units……..

In most cities in California, (including Sacramento) apartment construction are at record levels.   Even in cities with existing rent control laws.  Developers set the rent on new developments,  once occupied, the cities rent controls would apply.   

Passage of Proposition 10 in November would allow California cities to place rent controls on new development. 

 (If the developer cant make a viable profit they may choose not to build.)

Tenants will not leave their rent control apartments, resulting in an shortages.  

The objective data, doesn’t support this.



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It very clear, Sacramento’s Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s and some members of the city council do not support any form of rent control.   His support of temporary measures disappointed many attending the rent control workshop last night.

Steinberg: “I do not favor permanent rent control in our city,” “I believe building more affordable housing is the best way to stabilize rents. 

  Funding for affordable housing may take 7 to 10 years. The reality for his constituents is they needed rent relief yesterday. They needed relief the first hour he took office.

(Government:   I want you to know we understand what your going through, needing shelter from the rain.  Currently there isn’t funding for umbrellas.   I have instructed my  has been instructed to locate funding.   Finding a source may take some time, but I assure you we will make this a top Priority. After a few necessary meetings with governmental agencies,  we should get funding for that umbrella you clearly need in two years, nine years tops! )  

Mayor Steinberg, supports a cap of 5% on annual rent increases that would expire after three years. The cap, would apply to apartments older than 20 years.

This is a slap in the face for renters in the city.  He has excluding more than a few thousand apartments units, built during Sacramento’s last building boom between the late nineties to 2007. What happens to rents after the cap expires? 

Council members Steve Hansen, Eric Guerra and Rick Jennings suggested mediation be available to tenants if a landlord attempted to raise the rent by more than 6 percent.  Their plan would also make it mandatory for landlords with more than five units to offer 18-month leases, which Jennings said isn’t as extreme as rent control and would help stabilize rental rates.“  According to their proposal, if a tenant who receives a rent increase of more than 6 percent within a 12-month period requests mediation, they must still pay rent, plus the 6 percent increase, until the dispute is resolved.

Mediation?  Rent control let talk about it?  This proposal is completely absurd! 

This was clearly written by individuals who a have close ties with developers or own property in the city.  Rent control isn’t a new language, there isn’t a code to crack.  Not only is there several resources available members of their staff could make calls to cities along I-80 as  Richmond, Berkeley and San Francisco have rent control legislation in place. There is nothing ambiguous in those cities agreements.  In San Francisco, rent increases are limited to 6% a year*  no meetings, the landowner would need to get permission from the city to increase rents beyond the cap.   (* The landlord can exceed the cap if capital improvements are required) 


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Sacramento currently needs 2700 units of new housing annually.  In time, the demand  will only increase.  The city’s homeless population is growing by the hour. Sacramento has joined, San Jose, San Francisco and many other cities with employed individuals living in their cars, camping in our parks, because they cant afford housing.   According to the Sacramento County Coroner’s office, in 2016, 78 homeless people died within the county. But in 2017, 124 people died: an increase of more than 150%. One homeless person dies every three days.

This issue of housing and homelessness isn’t just a Sacramento problem its a national problem.  Its a national disgrace.  Ignored until it overwhelms.

The primary issue isn’t rent in the the new developments in Sacramento.  It is the exorbitant rent increases renters are experiencing all over the city.    Long term tenants are facing rent increases because the landlord can.   Resulting in fear, insecurity, and helplessness.

Proposition 10, may not be the answer to the state’s housing shortage. It is an reaction, to the inaction of local government .  The noise generated by the  renters of Sacramento have forced Mayor Steinberg and company to look at rent control.  Their proposed fixes won’t slow the bleeding Sacramento.

A genuine approach would be an ordinance that would immediately cap all rent increases to 6% city wide.   An ordinance that would prevent evictions without cause. (which would prevent landowner from evicting tenants to circumventing the law)

Tax incentives to those developers that include market rate housing in their projects.  Incentives to developers who add housing to their projects throughout these adding additional intensives for developer to build near light rail stations.  These projects could be managed thorough  Sacramento’s Housing Authority.   Returning to reality, none of these are likely to happen.

Renters of Sacramento,will have to make rent control a part of law.   There is no need to   have to re-invent the wheel as several templates   There are rent control advocates in the State that will participate in penning the law.

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Hard Times and Selective Palate’s in Downtown Oakland

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Hard times can happen in a second to anyone. In 2008, millions of Americans who believed they where on a solid ground financially found themselves out of work. Millions lost their homes and cars.

As a result, I’m one of those people who do not take life for granted. I’m always worried about money and security. I have been blessed, complete strangers have helped me during my darkest hours and I’m committed to play it forward. However, you can’t help everyone.

Kwik Way Hamburgers was a local chain in Oakland. Known for their fresh fries and Apple Pies made with fresh apples on site.It was one of those places where you got a lot for a little.

One day, I visited their downtown location for their special. Two cheeseburgers small fries and a coke. At Kwik Way, small fries was like a half a bag of freshly cut fries.

The location was always crowded. At the restaurant a man was asking everyone who drove up for food, he said he was hungry. The crowd ignored him, pretending he didn’t exist, others were annoyed by his very presence

I offered to buy him food. I told him I was going to order another special. He looked at me and said “his mouth was set on the prawn dinner”(The most expensive item on the menu). Heads spun around in disbelief as he declined my offer. He returned to asking new arrivals for food as they drove up.

I wasn’t insulted, he just has a selective palate.