Roundup: Wet January
A tribute to Johnny Otis and arguing for local control of library thermostats
It’s another wet January. Last year, 20.54 inches of rain was recorded on the Sonoma County Library Weather Station on Wunderground.com reported. This January, through Saturday, we have just over 4 inches of rain with 1.69 inches on Saturday.
For MLK Day, a tribute to Johnny Otis
Do you remember Johnny Otis? The well-known R&B musician and member of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame was a resident of Sebastopol for many years in the 1990’s. He had a KPFA radio show on Saturday mornings that he broadcast live from his organic market in Sebastopol and later from the Powerhouse Brewery. It was hard to get a seat in the audience.
Like Martin Luther King, Otis spent much of his life fighting racial injustice and white supremacy. Unlike Dr. King, Otis was not black.
Otis was born in 1921 in Vallejo, California to working-class parents — his father was a longshoreman on Mare Island and his mother was a painter. His parents were Greek immigrants and his given name was Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes. When the family moved to a black neighborhood in Berkeley, he chose to identify with blacks and embrace black culture. “As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black,” he wrote.
“That culture had captured me. I loved it and it was richer and more fulfilling and more natural. I thought it was mine.”
In 1968, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, Otis published a memoir called Listen to the Lambs. George Lipsitz wrote in the introduction that “what started as a personal letter to a friend giving an eyewitness account of the 1965 Watts Riots grew into powerful and prophetic book, a manifesto that delineates in clear and precise prose the causes and consequences of white supremacy in the United States.”
(Otis) was a high school dropout who had never written a book before. But he knew the riot area and the entire city of Los Angeles thoroughly from nearly twenty-five years of experience in the region as a working musician, recording artist, talent scout, record producer, radio disk jockey, television host, businessman, civil rights activist and candidate for political office.
“Through his unique experiences, Otis had learned how to be successfully pro-Black in a society where the rewards for being anti-Black were enormous,” wrote Lipsitz.
In 2010, Lipsitz, a Black studies professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, published Midnight at the Barrelhouse - The Johnny Otis Story. The Barrelhouse refers to a popular R&B nightclub that Otis opened in Watts. "Johnny felt conflicted about being a white man in black music" wrote Lipsitz. "He felt the imitators got more credit than the originators. And he believed that if he was going to draw from the well of black creativity, he owed something to the black culture that created it. It would have been easy for him to coast, but his conscience and beliefs wouldn't let him do that."
As a musician, he wore many hats, but he was also a preacher who had his own interracial church and he was a painter. My friends, the Martens, have several of his delightful paintings. Here’s one of them.
“Bandleader strikes note for racial harmony” was the headline from Sonoma-West Times and News in March 1996, and it tells of an intervention by Johnny Otis at El Molino High School.
After Otis heard that El Molino students were being singled out because of their race, he called up the principal and proposed doing a concert at the school, “offering his musical talents to promote tolerance.”
The student body president, Sean Jacobs, said: “The way that Johnny Otis saw this happening was having a concert where everyone could get together and have a good time.”
The concert worked. A social studies teacher said “I enjoyed seeing the students having so much fun dancing. And I hope that by experiencing such a wonderful harmony between the races, it will highlight the fact that we are all brothers and sisters.”
But, of course, we continue to face many of the same problems today.
His biographer Lipsitz wrote: “There's something admirable about Johnny's deep commitment to want to oppose racism, but how sad it is that it's so difficult for one person to do that when so many social institutions are stacked against him."
Otis died January 17, 2012 in Altadena, California, one day after the Martin Luther King holiday that year. He was 90.
Listen to the Lambs (Google Books preview).
Free tax prep
Need help filing your taxes? AARP Tax-Aide offers a totally FREE resource for seniors and others to have their income taxes prepared and filed at no cost to them. The focus is on low and moderate income people who can't afford or are not able to do their taxes on their own. You DO NOT need to be a senior or a member of AARP to use these services.
Everyone who works on this program in Sonoma County is a volunteer - all go through training each year to help people with their taxes.
The AARP site in Sebastopol location will open February 6 and run through April 9, 2024. It runs on Tuesdays from 9am to 2pm at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts - Veterans Building.
Call or text the Sebastopol location phone number below. The appointment lines will open up about two weeks prior. There are 10 sites throughout the county.
Tuesday, 9 am - 2 pm February 6 / April 9
District Phone: (707) 327-2401
Sebastopol location phone: (707) 582-3945
Getting Along with Mountain Lions
“Co-existing with mountain lions” is an informative guide about the mountain lions that are living among people and pets in Sonoma and Marin County. It points out the positive benefits of lions to the local ecosystem, as seen in the graphic below. Produced as part of the Living with Lions project, the guide comes from Audubon Canyon Ranch, an environmental non-profit, and True Wild.
“In the North Bay, the main diet of mountain lions is by far the black-tailed deer. However, they will also feed on almost any other animals including birds, reptiles, or even fish.” Domestic cats make up 4% of their diet. The guide provides advice on how to protect livestock and pets from mountain lions. “Lions can jump 15 feet high and 40 feet across and fit through a 7-inch inclosure,” says the guide. In short, keep pets inside or livestock such as chickens in a covered enclosure, especially at night.
You can access the guide online here (PDF). It might not be a bedtime story but kids might find it fascinating to learn more about our local apex predator.
Local control behind Library Advisory Board member resigning
A rather fed-up Walt Frazer has resigned from the Library Advisory Board for Sebastopol Public Library after seven years. The role of a library advisor is to represent the interests of local library patrons and advocate for the needs of the branch to the Central Library Commission.
In a conversation by phone, Walt said a number of things have bothered him about the Sebastopol library’s relationship with the central administration of the Sonoma County Library. But most recently, what bothered him involves “local control” of Sebastopol Library’s new heating system, purchased he believes with money from the City of Sebastopol.
After it was installed, staff learned that none of the thermostats in the building could be controlled by them. The Sonoma County Library controls the temperature from its administrative offices in Rohnert Park. “They say it’s got to be controlled by them. To change the temperature requires filling out a work order to adjust the temperature,” said Walt. Typically it can take a day for facilities to respond to the work orders. If it’s cold in the morning, there’s no way to turn the heat on in time. Sometimes they send a facilities person out to the branch and he walks in to check the temperature and walks out, reporting back that the temperature feels fine (to him).
“It’s been 61 degrees in there recently, and patrons and staff have to wear their jackets inside,” said Walt. “Some staff are bringing in their own space heaters. It’s not right and there are 100 things like that aren’t right,” said Walt.
He cited another example during the fires when there was a lot of smoke outside and enough of it was getting inside the library to affect patrons and staff. Mathew Rose, the Sebastopol Library Director, researched air filtration devices and submitted a recommendation for equipment that Sonoma County Library could purchase. None of the recommendations were acted on, citing a lack of funds for them or that the devices that were purchased had to be moved between multiple locations.
Through the Friends of the Library, Walt went out and bought the devices, which were about $2000, and donated them to the library to solve the problem. He didn’t expect the Central Library to be unhappy about the donation. “Mathew got a raft of shit for putting in the air filtration devices and he was told that he didn’t go through the proper channels to obtain them,” said Walt. He believes it contributed to Mathew being put on administrative leave last spring; they punished him for doing the right thing.
When Walt moved to Sebastopol from Humboldt County, he was so impressed by the library. “I thought this is what a library should be like,” he said, noting its extensive network of volunteers. “What could more positive than that.” He hasn’t lost that enthusiasm. However, he doesn’t want to wake up at 2am, worried about the decisions of the Central Library administration.
Even though he has resigned from the Library Advisory Board, he plans to continue as a Friend of the Library and volunteer.
The Week of January 6th through 14th
The new leaders for 2024 story didn’t age well. Already, we’ve had a change with Interim Fire Chief Bruce Martin leaving after barely two months on the job. He is replaced by new Interim Fire Chief Todd Derum. He is the third Interim Fire Chief since Fire Chief Bill Braga retired.
Sebastopol’s Warming Center opened this week during the cold spell, a project that Mayor Diana Rich spearheads. While it doesn’t serve a lot of people, half of them are elderly, which is rather shocking.
“Building community one hour at a time” is the motto of Sebastopol’s Time Bank which has a new website. “The time bank makes sense and saves cents/dollars ... hundreds and thousands of 'em!” said administrative coordinator David Gill.
Laura reported on the expected opening of the crab season opening and where to find local crab feeds. Nina Faulkner commented by email, “The delay makes me happy, happy to see that someone cares for wildlife! And the crab’s life got a short nod, later in this article, good. Thanks for the regular info.”
Our reporter Mark Fernquest attended the emergency press conference of Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) which serves at-risk youth. The future is uncertain for this non-profit, which is particularly sad considering the work they do to shelter homeless youth and provide permanent housing to those youth who have aged out of foster care. Homeless advocate Arthur George commented, "Early intervention in working with young people can effect great change. This seems the task well-addressed in support for SAY, as it works out its other problems. The last ‘Homeless Count’ county-wide showed a significant increase in the 18-24 age group at which persons first became homeless, from 20% in 2022 to 33% in 2023, although unaccompanied youth declined from 531 to 204.”
The safety net for youth and elderly is tearing apart.
You can find all of our stories from this week on our website: sebastopoltimes.com.
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