Editorial: Welcome To The East Bay’s Many Wonders

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Happy New Year! That’s right. In Berkeley, the end of August is the beginning of a new year for many of us—for students, for teachers and researchers, and for many of the thousands of service workers who make life easier for them. The University of California is our largest employer, with the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley City College, the Berkeley Unified School District and several independent schools bringing many more students and employees to town every fall. 

And though Berkeley is the center of all of this academic activity, it doesn’t stop at the Berkeley borders. An ever-increasing percentage of those who are drawn here by our educational institutions live outside the city limits, even though they still think of themselves as being “at Berkeley.”  

What this means is that every year about this time thousands and thousands of new readers are discovering the exciting urban area we call the East Bay. East of what, you may ask. Well, on the other side of the Bay Bridge you’ll find what is sometimes called the West Bay Area, but it’s more familiarly known nationally as San Francisco. It’s a fine city in its own right, but here on our side of San Francisco Bay we have a good sampling of the best of everything to be found in what many of us think, with no false modesty, is the best place to live in the world.  

We’d like to help you to get to know this great area and to get to know the Berkeley Daily Planet at the same time. The Planet is a very unusual publication, appropriate for a unique area like the East Bay. In the first place, despite the name (a tribute to Clark Kent’s paper in Superman lore) it’s published twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Then, it’s an independent paper, locally owned, not part of any chain. This is important because almost all of the papers you’re likely to see here are now part of corporate conglomerates. The Media News corporation has recently swallowed up almost every paper in a ring around San Francisco, from the once-great San Jose Mercury News all the way down to the “East Bay” Daily News, one of a string of similarly named papers with almost identical content. In fact, on any given day in Berkeley you might pick up three or four Media News papers with different mastheads but many stories repeated verbatim. 

And the San Francisco Chronicle is now part of the Hearst empire and, sad to say is being dumbed-down at a rapid rate. Many of its best writers and editors have recently departed for greener pastures, and fluff rules on the front page.  

The Planet is one of the few papers left in the United States which refuses to talk down to its readers. Our surveys tell us that the New York Times is the other paper read regularly by people who read the Planet, and our readers also get a lot of their state, national and international news from the Internet. But for a serious look at what’s happening around here, news that you need to know because it will affect you, there’s no substitute for picking up a Planet twice a week.  

Our opinion section is probably the most informative part of the paper. We don’t just present “both sides”—in Berkeley (and everywhere in the East Bay) issues have many sides. We show them all, hotly debated by our literate reader-contributors, and not just as two-hundred-word soundbyte letterettes.  

But we’re not all serious all the time. There are a lot of things to enjoy about life in the East Bay, and we want to help our readers find out about them. That’s the purpose of this special issue, which doesn’t contain any hard news at all. Instead, it’s a guide to just a few of the amazing resources that make our home—now perhaps your new home—a special place. Save it. You’ll use it again and again.  

One thing that makes our area, and especially Berkeley, different from places you might have lived in before, is the surprising number of owner-operated businesses. The Planet is just one of them. There are a lot more, many of them our loyal advertisers. 

Next Sunday a free outdoor event in Berkeley’s charming Fourth Street shopping area will celebrate the kind of transition that seldom happens elsewhere. A chain store is being replaced by a unique, locally owned store (which has, however, an international reputation). Hear Music, since 1999 just an arm of the enormous Starbucks chain, is out, and Down Home Music, one of the few businesses which deserve the over-used adjective “legendary,” is in. The elegant digs, originally designed for Hear in its pre-Starbucks incarnation by Fourth Street czar Denny Abrams, remain intact in a historic building, and some of the knowledgeable Hear staff members are staying on. 

Down Home’s original store, which will stay open, has been in a strip mall in El Cerrito. It was founded in 1976 by the also-legendary Chris Strachwitz. He’s the genius behind Arhoolie Records, the repository of every conceivable kind of what is loosely called roots music from around the country and the world. The party will feature some of Down Home’s artists who are based in the East Bay: Eric and Suzy Thompson, Barbara Dane, Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum, Johnny Harper, Los Cenzontles, Alexa Weber Morales, and the Tri Tip Trio Zydeco Band, plus special surprise guests. It’s at 1809 Fourth St. in Berkeley on Sunday, Aug. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. 


Photograph by Michael O’Malley. 

Founder Chris Strachwitz discusses news of the music world at his new Down Home Music store on Fourth Street with Dwayne Sparks, booker for Kimball’s, which is rehabilitating the old UC theater in downtown Berkeley for a new jazz club.