99% Invisible

135- For Amusement Only

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Everyone has tried it at some point. The authorities started turning a blind eye years ago, but it wasn't officially legalized until the summer of 2014. Finally, after more than 80 years of illegitimacy, the City of Oakland has legalized...


Transportation Nation

Why the New Bay Bridge Cost $6.4 Billion

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


In 1996, the California Department of Transportation announced the state would spend seven years and just over $1 billion to replace the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. But the bridge that opened this week costs several times that amount -- and took ten years longer than originally projected. So...what happened?

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Transportation Nation

California County Details How Transit Cuts Harm Health

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alameda County found over 80 percent of transit-dependent people have trouble getting around. As one rider put it: "When the buses don’t run, neither do we. That means we can’t work, play, socialize things like that. And we can’t get jobs and keep jobs and and go to doctors appointments and be human."

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Transportation Nation

An Oral History of San Francisco's Bay Bridge

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rendition of the new span of the Bay Bridge

After eleven years of construction, the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span is set to open to traffic this fall.

Meanwhile, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), part of University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, is soliciting stories from people who were there when the original Bay Bridge opened in 1936.

Sam Redman, a ROHO historian, recorded a number of interviews with folks who remember that time. He shared excerpts with KALW’s Steven Short.

"The clips that I’m sharing today are from people who happened to be in the Bay Area at the time," said Redman, "people who were working on the bridge—Rosie the Riveters or tow truck drivers and engineers and other people that worked on the Bay Bridge."

Redman played a few soundbites from the World War II generation who actually watched the bridge as it was actually constructed.

Like Ralph Anderson.

“It was going to be wonderful. I didn’t realize that the ferries wouldn’t be there anymore. But to go across the bridge on the Key System trains, the whole lower deck was trucks and trains. And that worked out great, I thought that was a good system. And to go across the bridge for a quarter, I was impressed and pretty soon the bridge was going to be paid for and you wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

(Currently tolls on the Bay Bridge are between $4 and $6 dollars, depending on the time of day).

Yes, you read that right: the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, as it was initially constructed, carried rail. The Key System operated from 1938 to 1958.

(Image from

"One of the interesting thing about this series," said Redman, "is learning about some of the failed proposals that we’ve had for bridges, including a span that would have run similar to the Bay Bridge from Alameda, south of the current Bay Bridge into San Francisco to alleviate some of that traffic congestion that was building up early on on the Bay Bridge.  It exceeded all traffic projections almost right away."

Redman said one of the things that amazed him while conducting the Bay Bridge's oral history project is "the way people have worked have changed on the bridge since time it actually started. Like Bay Bridge painters, for example. New rules and regulations mean that for their actual work it takes longer to paint the Bay Bridge, but that’s to actually keep the Bay that’s beneath them healthy. Before, the paint would just go directly into the Bay."

Here's a remembrance from Berkeley resident Norma Grey:

“In 1936, they just summarily announced that we were going to California. And it was precisely because my dad could not find a job. And so he borrowed $100 from his brother, put his three little girls and what possessions he could put in a Model T Ford and drove across the country. He stopped in Berkeley. Their plan was San Francisco, but it cost 25 cents to go across the new Bay Bridge.”

"Twenty-five cents would have been enough to buy a meal for the evening for the family," said Redman. "I think that puts in context how hard times really were. And it gives us a little insight into the folks who worked on the Bay Bridge. Job openings at the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have looked pretty appealing at that time, even though they were pretty dangerous jobs."

Redman added that the working conditions at the time helped keep construction costs down -- compared to today.

You can see differences in terms of safety, in terms of pay, in terms of all sorts of workplace conditions changes. In the course of building new bridges, people will look at the old Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and say, gee, these were completed on budget and on time. But it’s because of a remarkable range of changes in labor that are actually good changes in many respects.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Activist New York

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sarah Henry, chief curator at the Museum of the City of New York, wraps up the Activism NY Facebook project from the MCNY and the BLS, and hears from listeners about New York City's activist past. New York Times Magazine contributor Jonathan Mahler, author of the article "Oakland: the Last Refuge of Radical America," discusses Oakland as a center of activism.

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Transportation Nation

Take an Audio Bus Ride on East Oakland's Most Popular (but Infamous) Route

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A storefront in East Oakland. Photo by Julie Caine

(Oakland, Calif -- KALW) One way to get to know a new place is to ride public transportation -- especially the bus. It’s like taking an unguided tour -- one with as much to see on your own side of the glass as beyond it.

The most popular buses in Oakland are the 1 and the 1R. The 1, which is the local route, makes 105 stops in three different East Bay cities. It’s a trip that takes four hours from start to finish.

More than 22,000 people ride these bus routes every single day. Most of them don’t own cars -- this is the only way they get around. The buses travel right through the heart of the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods along International Boulevard, also known as East 14th.

Whatever you call it, it’s a road, and a part of Oakland, with an identity all its own. As part of our reporting project about the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods in Oakland, I got on the 1 to find out what riding the bus says about a community.

When I first arrived in Fruitvale, I asked a young woman outside the BART station where to catch the bus. She looked me up and down, slowly, and then she said, “The 1 over here on this side – that goes to East Oakland. You don’t want to go over there.”

The 1 bus has a reputation, just like the East Oakland neighborhoods it traverses. You never know what might happen. The day can turn from peaceful to deadly without warning. Crime is high, and people are poor.

But today, the streets of Fruitvale and San Antonio are vibrant and full of life. Ice cream vendors’ bells blend with hip hop pulsing from passing cars, and Mexican Banda music seeps out the doors of dark neighborhood cantinas. The people speak many languages: Vietnamese, Spanish, Chinese, and English.

People tend to keep to themselves on the streets, but on the bus, everybody comes together.

At the front of the bus, an elderly lady sits with a tight grip on her purple shopping cart. A woman speaking Spanish to her kids wrangles shopping bags and a stroller toward the middle section, where there are more empty seats. Towards the back, young men slouch low in their seats, listening to music and looking out the windows.

Robert Hawkins is behind the wheel.

“It's like a switch turns on in your head,” Hawkins tells me about his job. “Because you know that you're getting ready to deal with a bunch of mess. Or the potential for a bunch of mess out here.”

Hawkins has been driving the 1 bus for five years. Drivers with more seniority tend to avoid this route.

“You know, I actually used to live in the Fruitvale,” he tells me as he drives. “Basically I was raised by the street. I recognize things that an ordinary person on the bus is not going to recognize driving through those neighborhoods. So when I’m driving, I just try to focus on what I’m doing and nothing else. Answer people’s questions if they have them. And just try to make it through the day as peacefully as possible.”

Rosa Lopez is sitting in the middle of the bus with her two daughters––backpacks and shopping bags at their feet. Lopez takes the 1 every day.

“I take it to my appointments, to school, to my immigration in San Francisco,” says Lopez. “It gets packed, but it takes you where you have to go, and it’s cheap.”

Like Hawkins, Lopez also grew up in the neighborhood, and says it doesn’t really deserve its reputation.

“Oakland’s always known as bad, you know,” she says. “But it’s good, actually. If you get along with everybody, everybody gets along with you. Everybody out here, you know, is friendly. If you’re friendly to them, they’re going to be friendly to you.”

One of her daughters reaches up and pushes the button for their stop. And Lopez gathers their things and shepherds the little girls out the back door.

Out the windows of the bus, the signs are in Vietnamese, Lao, Spanish and English. We pass by all kinds of mom and pop businesses — restaurants, flower shops, Western wear stores, beauty parlors. A storefront church with a hand lettered-sign butts up against a deli advertising burritos and Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches.

I get off the bus for a few minutes at 29th and International. A Vietnamese man is at the bus stop, sitting in the sun. He lives in the San Antonio, in a neighborhood called ‘Little Vietnam,” and he’s on his way home.

I ask him if he likes living here. No, he tells me. It’s not safe, he says, but the housing is cheap. So it’s just poor people living in the neighborhood.

Behind him, in the shade of an awning, a woman named Laurie Greenway is crocheting a bright pink baby sweater. She’s not waiting for bus. She lives on a fixed income and sits here most days, hoping someone will stop to buy something that she’s made.

She says she feels a sense of community in the neighborhood.

“They've gotten used to seeing my smiling face,” she says. “So a lot of the ice cream vendors, fruit vendors, even just people that I see on a regular basis, if I’m not where they're used to seeing me for a couple of days, they'll ask my girlfriend who they see and they know both of us. Or when I do feel well enough to be back out, it's like what happened? Are you okay?”

That tension – the worry if someone is okay – is in the air in the neighborhood. It always feels like something might happen. In the same way, the 1 has a reputation for being a wild ride. I get back on, still expecting something crazy to happen. Towards the back of the bus is Addy Ortiz. She rides the 1 to and from school every day. I ask her if she has any crazy stories about riding the bus.

“I remember this one time we were riding the bus, and this little girl was sitting right by the door. And her mom came with three other babies. And she was just standing there. And the little girl got off. She got off when the door opened and the mom was right there not paying attention to her … And then she's like, ‘Where's my baby?!’”

In the end, everything turned out okay. The woman got off the bus in time to rescue her daughter. But the experience stuck with Ortiz.

“It was funny, but crazy,” Ortiz tells me. “It was scary.”

In the very back, a couple rows behind Ortiz, a man sits, gazing out the windows. His name is Julius Conley, and he’s on his way to work.

When I ask him to tell me what it’s like to ride the 1, he laughs and then tells me a story.

“I got on here one time, and it was late at night, and this guy got on with a duffel bag and started tripping, and trying to make people get up out of their seats and trying to punk ‘em and stuff. He was just like, 'Do you know what I got in this bag?' ‘Do you know!? You don't know. Get up! You don't know what I got. You don't know what's in this bag.’ I was just sitting there like damn! Like, you don't know! ‘I got a chopper.’ So, that's what it's like. Yeah, you don't know what's in the bag. Ride that 1. You’ll find out. Ride that 1, you’ll find out what’s in the bag.”

Most everyone on the bus has some kind of story of how just when they thought they’d seen it all, something new and unbelievable happened. But on the day I rode the 1, what I saw was something much more ordinary — regular people traveling through the neighborhood, getting to work, to school, to the doctor, or just getting out of the house.  In that way, the 1 is kind of like East Oakland itself – a place with a wild reputation that a lot of people call home.

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Transportation Nation

Your TN Transportation and Infrastructure Holiday Gift Guide: California Edition

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New York is far from the only place where transportation can be turned into gift-giving gold. Looking for a locally harvested MUNI transfer button? A belt made out of bicycle tires? A Decolonized Area Rapid Transit t-shirt? Look no further than the Bay Area.

TN contributor Julie Caine of KALW saw these bangles at Oaklandish, a shop in Oakland.

(photo by Julie Caine/KALW)

It's where you can also purchase t-shirts inspired by the BART map....

(photo by Julie Caine/KALW)

...and note cards of the Bay Bridge:

Go ahead and cross that bridge into San Francisco, where a Sunset District crafter sells pro-transit pins:

(photo by Ben Trefny/KALW)

These pins source their materials locally.

(photo by Ben Trefny/KALW)

The San Francisco Arts Commission crowdsourced a t-shirt that renames BART stops after local activists and revolutionary heroes. The artist behind it, Kenji Liu, calls it DART - or "Decolonized Area Rapid Transit."

(photo courtesy of Kenji Liu)

Want to make sure guests know where to park their bikes? FluffyCo has you covered.

Metal bike parking sign (image courtesy of FluffyCo)

And local store Urban Bazaar can make sure that your pants stay up while riding, via a belt made out of old bicycle tires:

Bike tire belt (image courtesy of Urban Bazaar)

It's been clinically proven that owning any one of these items can help combat rumors that you're not Berkeley enough.

Looking for TN's New York gift guide? Go here.

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The Takeaway

Cities Attempt to Dismantle Occupy Camps

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In spite of a judge's ruling banning their tents and sleeping bags, several hundred Occupy Wall Street demonstrators returned to Zuccotti Park Tuesday night, after being removed by New York City police officers in a pre-dawn raid. After a day of legal wrangling, a state Supreme Court judge told protesters the city's concerns over health and safety justified banning overnight camping. First Amendment battles between city governments and protesters are taking place in courtrooms around the country — and sometimes, on the ground between police and protesters as well.

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The Takeaway

Protesters Clash with Police at Occupy Protests

Thursday, October 27, 2011

About 3,000 protesters took to the streets of Oakland on Wednesday night, following violent clashes between police and Occupy demonstrators late Tuesday. Police fired tear gas canisters and bean bag rounds at protesters. Protesters claim rubber bullets and flashbangs were used as well. A 24-year-old Iraq war veteran is in critical condition after being hit in the head with a police projectile. In New York, police arrested a dozen people Wednesday night during an Occupy solidarity march. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered the evacuation of Occupy Atlanta protesters from the city’s Woodruff Park. That removal resulted in more than 50 arrests.

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Studio 360

Museum Cancels Exhibit of Palestinian Kids’ Art

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is back on the front pages this week. The Palestinian Authority is seeking admission as a member state to the United Nations and emotions are running high — even about an exhibit at a tiny museum in Oakland, California. This weekend, the Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA) planned to open an exhibition ...

Slideshow: Work from “A Child’s View from Gaza”

Comments [56]

Transportation Nation

In Oakland, Laid-Off Airport Construction Workers Protest FAA Shutdown

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Oakland workers protest the FAA shutdown (photo by Casey Miner)

(San Francisco – KALW)

Looking at a half-completed tower at the Oakland airport, project foreman Kelly Cervantez said he and his workers had no idea the shutdown was coming until 3pm on the Friday it was announced. That left them no time even to properly store their construction materials, he said, and he didn’t know how much extra time that would set them back. “There’s material exposed to the elements that’s not supposed to be out there,” he said, giving as an example steel that ocean breezes might corrode.

The Oakland airport project is just one of the thousands idled by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration after the Republican controlled house added a policy change to a routine extension bill.

This week, said Cervantez, workers were supposed to begin putting on the tower’s outer wall, as well as building the pipes that will hold its electrical wiring. “What you’re looking at is just a shell,” he said.

“The responsible thing to do would be to take a little bit more time, instead of running off for recess and just leaving this for the next six or eight weeks,” said Pete Figueiredo, treasurer of Operating Engineers Local No. 3 at a press conference at the Oakland airport.  Figuerido was referring to the fact that the fight will likely not be resolved until September. “Politics and recesses are at the heart of these decisions.”

Work on the 236-foot control tower, which is being funded with $31 million in stimulus dollars, began last fall, and workers estimated that there are at least 10 or 11 months of construction left to go. It’s currently scheduled to open in 2013.

Oakland mayor Jean Quan also threw her support behind the workers, taking the microphone to remind people of the city’s dire job numbers: 28% unemployment among African-American men in some neighborhoods, and equally high rates across the building trades. “It’s disgusting,” she said of the standoff over FAA funding. “Thousands of people have been laid off over something that can’t be that controversial.”

Oakland's partially completed air traffic control tower (photo by Casey Miner)


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Transportation Nation

Oakland: 356,000 Parking Tickets a Year, 14 Staffers to Handle Complaints

Thursday, July 28, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of Oakland issued 356,000 citations last year. That’s nearly 1,000 a day. Even counting repeat offenders, that’s a lot of angry citizens, and they are not shy about saying so: the office has a whole Yelp page devoted to bashing it. But this seemingly vast and hated bureaucracy? It’s actually only 14 people – total. Mitchell and her fellow cashier are the only two staff who work the windows. Which means that with a few exceptions, they’re the only ones dealing with the ticket-paying public, day in and day out.

Listen in with Casey Miner at KALW News.

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Transportation Nation

Bay Area Bike to Work Day Breaks Records

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ariel Dekovic, a regular bike commuter and this reporter's companion on her morning ride, shows that biking to work doesn't have to mean leaving your heels at home.

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) The numbers are still rolling in, but organizers of this year's Bike to Work Day said an unprecedented number of cyclists hit the streets this morning. Numbers are always high in San Francisco, but across the bay, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition estimated that 10,000 riders participated in Alameda County alone -- up 12.3% from last year. It didn't hurt that it was a beautiful spring morning and that cheerful volunteers were stationed all over Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville handing out goodie bags, free coffee, and free pancakes.

On a day-to-day basis, biking from the East Bay to a job in the city is not for the faint of heart – it's certainly possible, but it's not that convenient, especially given a rush hour prohibition on bikes on BART. This morning, SF-bound commuters who made it down to the water got a free ferry ride to San Francisco. Ferry spokesman Ernest Sanchez said deckhands on the Alameda-Oakland ferry counted 143 bikes this morning, compared to the usual 20 or 30. (And on my ride at least, everything was quite orderly).

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

After the feel-good BTWD ride, does anyone make the leap to regular bike commuting? "We don't have specific numbers," said EBBC Exeuctive Director Renee Rivera. "But what we do see is increasing numbers of people parking their bikes at BART stations. So I think it's safe to say a lot of people are finding ways to bike to BART."

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Transportation Nation

East Bay Bus Costs May Go Up Again

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(San Francisco -- Casey Miner, KALW News)  In Alameda County, AC Transit bus riders are waiting to find out whether the agency will raise fares for the second time in two years. Like many transit operators, AC Transit has suffered from a severe drop in state funding, and it’s facing a $21 million deficit for next year. Raising fares is one way for them to try and fill that gap. But there’s a tradeoff: many AC Transit riders live on low or fixed incomes. They don’t have cars, and AC Transit is the only way for them to get around the East Bay.

Listen to what's at stake over at KALW News.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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The Takeaway

Equal Rights in Public Transportation Still a Battle For Minorities

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Many pinpoint the start of the Civil Rights movement in the United States to Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, back in 1955. Over half-a-century later, African-American and Latino communities are still struggling with unequal transit systems.

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Transportation Nation

New Ideas for the Troubled Path to Oakland Airport

Thursday, September 02, 2010

(San Francisco—Casey Miner, KALW News) If you had to get the Oakland Airport, and fast, would you rather ride a train or take a bus?

What if the train cost twice as much as the bus? Then again, what if the bus took longer?

These are the questions addressed in a new study evaluating the relative costs and benefits of several alternatives to the battered Oakland Airport Connector project.

Advocates at the nonprofit TransForm, which opposes the OAC, asked national transit firm Kittelson & Associates, Inc. to study bus alternatives to the connector and determine whether they would be feasible or cost-effective. The full study is available online, but here’s a quick summary of the options:

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Transportation Nation

This bus is not in service: The shrinking routes of East Bay buses

Thursday, July 29, 2010

(Casey Miner, KALW)  It's been a rough few months for public transit in the San Francisco Bay Area -- it seems like every few weeks there's news about fares going up or service going down. AC Transit, the bus service that is the East Bay counterpart to San Francisco's Muni, has been particularly hard-hit. Though the bus service only has about 236,000 weekday riders, compared to close to 700,000 on Muni, it serves an area that is much more geographically spread out. If you don't drive in the East Bay, AC Transit is a vital service.

The problems that arise when the bus service goes awry have been particularly visible this week. More than 200 drivers have called in sick every day, in protest of a new contract the bus agency imposed on their union. The result has been hour-plus waits for many buses, even on the busiest lines. Earlier this week, twelve transbay runs (from San Francisco to the East Bay) were canceled altogether, leaving evening commuters scrambling for a way to get home.

So this last week has been bad, but things have been getting worse for AC Transit passengers for months. In March, the agency cut about eight percent of its service – shortening hours, switching and combining some lines, and cutting some routes altogether. They’re doing it to save money, but the budget situation hasn’t gotten any better, so they’re making another round of cuts next month.

So just what happens when a bus line disappears? (more)

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Transportation Nation

Bay Area Airport Connector Approved, Despite Concerns

Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Oakland, California - Casey Miner, KALW News)  After a marathon hearing today at which more than 20 people spoke, the BART board gave its final approval to the Oakland Airport Connector project, pending a guarantee of funds from the Port of Oakland. The project stalled earlier this year when it ran afoul of federal civil rights statues and lost $70 million in stimulus money, but roared back to life a month ago when BART found a way to fund the project without stimulus dollars.

Advocates say the 3.2-mile elevated connector will make reaching the Oakland Airport faster, easier, and more convenient than the current AirBART bus which shuttles passengers back and forth between the airport and the Coliseum BART station. In the best-case scenario, they promise thousands of new jobs for Oakland residents and as much as a 40% increase in ridership on the BART system.

But today's hearing offered little solace to those with persistent concerns about the project

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Transportation Nation

California Wakes up to Fallout From Transit Shooting Verdict

Friday, July 09, 2010

(The Takeaway) California jurors have found transit police officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant. Mehserle, a BART cop, shot and killed Grant, an unarmed train passenger, early in the morning on New Year's Day, 2009. The video of the shooting, caught on cellphone camera, instantly went viral on the internet.  Oakland residents demanded to see a guilty verdict, many had hoped Mehserle would be convicted on stronger charges: either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.  Last night, more than 50 people were arrested in largely peaceful protests.

This morning, The Takeaway spoke to Jack Leonard, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times who was in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, Oakland radio reporter Bob Butler, and Rev. Byron Williams, a pastor and columnist.

Earlier, the show also got the views of Adimu Madyun, correspondent for Oakland Voices, a community journalism project supported by the Oakland Tribune.  He says the community feels under attack by "police terrorism," that everyone up to the Obama Administration refuses to address.

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The Takeaway

Officer Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter in 2009 Killing of Oscar Grant

Friday, July 09, 2010

Last night, California jurors found Officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant. Mehserle, a white BART police officer, shot and killed Grant, an unarmed black train passenger, early in the morning on New Year's Day, 2009. The video of the shooting, caught on cellphone camera, instantly went viral on the internet and led to massive rioting in the city of Oakland. Though Oakland residents demanded to see a guilty verdict, many had hoped Mehserle would be convicted on stronger charges: either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. John Burris, who represented Oscar Grant’s family, said relatives were “extraordinarily disappointed” by what he called a “true compromise verdict.”

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