Will work alongside unarmed security companies as part of de-escalation approach

February 18, 2021

by David Rowe, Associate Editor

Mark Johnson, Peralta’s Executive Director of Marketing, Communications & Public Relations, confirmed in a February 1 email to The Citizen that the district is moving forward with hiring four part-time mental health specialists this summer. 

These positions are budgeted as part-time faculty counselor positions. They will have an emphasis on crisis de-escalation and restorative justice and are subject to the standard hiring process for the colleges,” Johnson explained. The Citizen was not able to find any job listings on the Peralta website for the positions. 

The part-time mental health specialists will work alongside the unarmed community-based security teams, currently from Marina Security Services and A1 Protective Services. 

Increased mental health services were absent from the $6.2 million safety plan approved by the Peralta Board of Trustees at its December 14 meeting. Since the security component of the plan came in $2.4 million higher than what the district had been paying the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), it appeared no discretionary funds remained to add mental health services. During the meeting, Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, board vice president, said “we’re coming back to deal with mental health.” 

Yuen asked Interim Chancellor Carla Walter for a more comprehensive overall budget. 

The top-line elements of the mental health plan were revealed in Phil Matier’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 20. 

“School officials said the new plan includes $250,000 to hire four part-time mental health crisis specialists. One for each of the four campuses,” Matier wrote. 

Matier’s column quoted Johnson saying the district viewed this program “as a pilot and if we find we need more money for counseling, we’ll adjust accordingly in the future budget.”

At its starting budget of $250,000, the mental health component represents just under 4% of the total safety plan cost. 

Black Minds Matter (BMM) at Peralta, which describes itself as “a volunteer group of concerned students, faculty, staff and communication leaders,” was an early advocate for substituting ACSO with community based safety contractors. In its Action Plan for Holistic Safety and Wellness for the Peralta Community, increasing “campus-based mental health counselors” was the first recommended measure followed by “counselors as public safety supporters.” BMM’s action plan also called for the hiring of 5-11 more full-time therapists to provide “adequate mental health services.” 

Professor Chris Weidenbach, English Department chair at Laney College and a founding member of BMM, told The Citizen in an email that the four part-time mental health specialists “should fit within the (BMM) Holistic Plan” and that he would like to see them “contribute to the development of restorative justice practices.” Weidenbach also suggested the part-time mental health specialists “might also be asked to manage a staff of social work and crisis-management interns” as part of their Master’s programs at other Bay Area universities. Such an approach, he suggested, may have “minimal or even zero cost.”

The Citizen reached out to Professor Kimberly King, a founder of the BMM organization, and Vice Chancellor Siri Brown for this story. King did not respond to our email and Brown referred us to Johnson. 

The Citizen also inquired about the safety/security plan to Acting Vice Chancellor Atheria Smith, who was scheduled to address the monthly meeting of the Laney Health, Safety and Security meeting on February 9. Smith did not attend the meeting due to what district spokesperson Johnson described as an “unfortunate misunderstanding.”