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A private crime scene cleanup technician finishes donning his protective gear Thursday afternoon as he prepares to work on the Ashby Avenue room where police found a body buried behind a wall.
By Richard Brenneman
A private crime scene cleanup technician finishes donning his protective gear Thursday afternoon as he prepares to work on the Ashby Avenue room where police found a body buried behind a wall.
 

News

People’s Park Treesit Ends With a Reprieve

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 19, 2008 - 11:18:00 AM

Berkeley’s latest treesit ended Thursday, the same day it began, when campus police signed a Christmas truce that spares—for the moment—two acacias in People’s Park. 

Zachary RunningWolf, the same arboreal ascender who began the lengthy occupation of the oak grove at Memorial Stadium on Dec. 2, 2006, was the lone occupant of one of the People’s Park acacias, which share space with a children’s playground. The grove treesit ended Sept. 9, the same day the last of the trees there was leveled by a chainsaw-wielding contract crew. 

RunningWolf’s ascent at People’s Park came after campus officials cut down one tree south of the park’s stage area and posted a notice that they planned to ax the other two to the east. 

According to the plastic-shielded notice placed on a fence surrounding the playground, one of the shoots of the acacia at the park's western end had collapsed Dec. 2 and the remainder of the tree was then taken down. 

“Two other acacia trees at the east end of the park … have been identified as potential hazards by UC Berkeley and consulting arborists,” the notice declared. “They are structurally weak and subject to failure and collapse, and are planned to be removed in the near future.” 

After RunningWolf ascended the branches Thursday and a preliminary effort failed to dislodge him, negotiations began, and by mid-afternoon, UC Police Capt. Guillermo Beckford had signed a statement which was passed up to RunningWolf. 

“This is written notification that if you will voluntarily come down from the Acacia tree that you are in presently, that the university will NOT remove these two trees during the holidays,” read the statement that opened “Dear Zachary.” 

“If the stadium treesit was the longest urban treesit, this was the shortest,” said RunningWolf Thursday afternoon. 

Both campus and city police were on hand when he descended, but Capt. Beckford had promised no arrest would be made, so RunningWolf was free to accept the accolades of supporters, who included Dumpster Muffin and other veterans of the stadium grove action. 

The protesters plan to consult with their own tree experts to see if the acacias really are diseased. 

“I was up in the trees and I didn’t see any sign of disease,” RunningWolf said, adding, “I suspect they really just want to cut whatever they can in the park. But this isn’t on fraternity row. This is People's Park.” 


Berkeley Man’s Suicide Leads to Discovery of Body Buried Behind Wall

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 19, 2008 - 03:02:00 PM
A private crime scene cleanup technician finishes donning his protective gear Thursday afternoon as he prepares to work on the Ashby Avenue room where police found a body buried behind a wall.
By Richard Brenneman
A private crime scene cleanup technician finishes donning his protective gear Thursday afternoon as he prepares to work on the Ashby Avenue room where police found a body buried behind a wall.

The dramatic suicide of a Berkeley man late Monday afternoon led police to a second gruesome discovery two days later, a badly decomposed male corpse walled up inside the a first floor laundry room. 

A caller’s report of a loud argument brought officers to the building at 2235 Ashby Ave. Monday night, and they were directed to the apartment of Hassan Bin Ali. 

Once the officers were inside the apartment, Bin Ali “pulled a handgun, put it to his head and subsequently took his own life,” said Berkeley police spokesperson Officer Andrew Frankel. 

The police daily bulletin for Monday lists the time of the shot as 5:55 p.m. 

Mortally wounded, he was rushed to Highland Hospital by a Berkeley Fire Department ambulance, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. 

Frankel said the dead man had lived alone, and officers don’t know who he was arguing with at the time they were called. “We haven’t heard any reports of anyone seen coming or going, so it could have been an argument over the telephone,” he said. 

During the subsequent investigation, “officers on the scene found evidence that led them to believe another crime may have been committed.” 

Based on that evidence, detectives obtained a search warrant and began a thorough search of the building, leading to the discovery of the body entombed behind a wall on the first floor. 

“I have no idea how long the body had been there,” he said. The body was in a state of advanced decomposition, and it was only the following day that forensic examiners were able to determine that the corpse was that of a male. 

While one published account cited a neighbor who had described Bin Ali as paranoid before his suicide, Frankel said he had spoken to a neighbor who had been shocked that the man had taken his own life. 

The Alameda County Coroner’s office is currently conducting an examination to determine what killed the concealed corpse, and until a finding is made, Frankel said the cause is being listed as “suspicious,” rather than as a homicide. 

“We’re still aggressively working the case,” he said. 

In a statement to the press released Friday afternoon, Berkeley Police Sgt Mary Kusmiss said “the Alameda County Coroner completed an autopsy yesterday. Due to decomposition of the body, the coroner will have to rely on dental records to confirm and/or rule out an identity.” 

Bin Ali is known to have had a son, and officers have been unable to locate him, “though we are in contact with other members of the family,” Frankel said. 

He asked anyone with any information about Bin Ali and the case to call police at 981-6900.  

Berkeley firefighters were called to the scene after the body was discovered to assist with biohazard containment, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong.  

Berkeley police were responsible for retrieving the remains, which were contained in a large coffin-sized wooden box. 

“We provided tools and equipment,” said Deputy Chief Dong. 

Once police and firefighters had completed their phase of the removal, Arturo Sopon and his private cleanup team Morgan Environmental Service, an Oakland firm licensed by the state to handle hazardous waste and trauma scenes, arrived to finish the job, donning Tyvek suits, protective masks, boots and gloves, taping over the seams to prevent exposure. 

“We clean up bodily fluids,” Sopon said, adding that work often spiked over the Christmas season and during summer months. 


Berkeley Schools Top Bad Air Quality List

By Kristin McFarland
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:13:00 PM

Last week’s USA Today report that placed three Berkeley schools in the first percentile of schools with bad air quality has activists, community members and school directors in an uproar. 

The report studied industrial pollution outside 127,800 nationwide schools for eight months. Thirty-nine Berkeley schools made the list, all within the worst 55 percent. The Black Pine Circle School, the Via Center and the Nia House Learning Center, all located in West Berkeley, were in the first percentile, meaning that the air outside the schools is worse at only 377 other schools around the country. Berkeley High fell in the eighth percentile, with worse air at only 9,722 schools.  

Since the article’s publication, the issue has received wide media coverage with all involved parties pointing fingers at probable causes. For many, it’s one more example of the health hazards caused by Pacific Steel Casting Company; for some, it’s a sign that the Berkeley government should take a more active role in improving its own environment. 

“The city needs to aggressively enforce regulations that Pacific Steel is ignoring on a daily basis,” said Denny Larson, executive director of the Global Community Monitor, an El Cerrito–based nonprofit that works to empower industrial communities toward a healthier, sustainable future. “This should put the ball back in the City of Berkeley’s home court to enforce its own policies in regard to this.” 

Elisabeth Jewel, Pacific Steel’s representative and a partner at the Aroner, Jewel and Ellis firm in Berkeley, had not returned telephone re-quests for an interview by press time. 

Pacific Steel itself released a Health Risk Assessment Report (HRAR) in 2007 at the request of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. According to the report, “The results of this HRAR indicate that cancer risks and non-cancer hazard indices estimated for individuals … who reside or attend day care or school in areas surrounding the Facility … do not exceed the Notification Levels established by the District.” 

In other words, no matter what independent reports say, state agencies have approved the air quality in West Berkeley. 

But there are inconsistencies in the study and in government air-quality monitoring that some say suggest a larger issue: Why haven’t we been paying more attention to the environment of our schools all along? 

According to Larson, the USA Today study was more comprehensive than any study to date because it included levels of manganese and other metals. The study, he said, was not conducted by “people running around with test kits,” as Pacific Steel representatives have suggested to other publications, but with science approved by the air-monitoring district.  

However, Larson also said that the study’s results are limited because it monitored the air quality for only eight months of the year; with a longer study, more schools might have made the list because of changes in the prevailing winds. 

The study has other, more apparent flaws, critics say. For example, schools within blocks of one another have differences of five percentage points between them, without any explanation of how the air quality could differ so vastly over such a short distance. Some of the schools are much closer to I-80 than others, and the study does not appear to differentiate between industrial contaminants and traffic contaminants. 

California Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has called for government action in monitoring the air quality at schools. 

“Expect this not to die down,” Larson of the Global Community Monitor said. Larson suggests that residents should write to the mayor, City Council or Senator Boxer. 

The Healthy Air Coalition of Berkeley and concerned parents meet on the third Thursday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 1400 Eighth St. The group aims to hold a summit in mid-January about the air quality of local schools.


Neighbors Win One, Lose One in Legal Actions Against Pacific Steel

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:14:00 PM

Neighborhood opponents of West Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting went one-for-two in Alameda County Superior Court legal decisions on Friday, with one judge overturning a previous Berkeley Small Claims Court ruling in favor of several PSC neighbors and, in a separate action, a second judge ruling that a class-action lawsuit against the steel foundry can go forward.  

In the appeal from the Small Claims Court decision, Super-ior Court Judge Jacqueline Tabor overruled a Novem- 

ber 2007 ruling, which had awarded $35,000 in damages to a group of West Berkeley neighbors who sued Pacific Steel Casting last year. In a terse, one paragraph judg- 

ment that did not explain the reasons for her decision, Tabor ordered plaintiff Thomas McGuire, a PSC neighbor, to pay Pacific Steel $85 in court costs.  

In the appeals procedure from a small claims decision, the Superior Court judge takes testimony and accepts evidence as fresh, disregarding anything that was earlier presented to the small claims court. 

Predictably, the antagonists in the small claims lawsuit took dramatically opposite views of the decision. 

“We’ve always known that if you take the time to look at the facts, then it’s clear that Pacific Steel cannot be held accountable for the activities of an entire industrial neighborhood located next to a congested freeway,” PSC President Joe Emmerichs said in a prepared statement. “We are very gratified that this judge clearly saw how unjustified these claims were. For PSC, and its 600-plus union employees, this verdict reinforces our belief that we cannot be recklessly blamed because we’re an easy target. We’ve been making steel castings in West Berkeley for a long time as the neighborhood has become increasingly residential. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to be a good neighbor while preserving good paying jobs and serving our customers with high quality castings.” 

But in a telephone interview, plaintiff Tom McGuire called the decision a “grave injustice” and a “hasty decision” by the Superior Court judge that was “a setback for the citizens of West Berkeley…Our nuisance claims were thrown out by the judge at the get-go. She didn’t give us a chance to make our claims. She let Pacific Steel railroad their way through. It was a David and Goliath case. We were being represented pro bono and they had attorneys whom they paid thousands of dollars.” 

But McGuire said that despite his opinion that the judge’s decision was unjust, he will not appeal, noting that a statement in the Oakland Tribune by PSC spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel that an appeal could only be filed on technical, procedural grounds was “probably true.”  

McGuire said, “I consider it a closed case.”  

In the class-action lawsuit filed in the name of Berkeley resident Rosie Lee Evans, Judge Bonnie Sabraw largely denied outright a motion by Pacific Steel Casting’s attorneys to have the case either thrown out entirely or possible punishments weakened, giving Berkeley attorney Tim Rumberger until mid-January to amend the original complaint. The judge’s ruling only allows the case to go forward, and is not an indication of whether the judge will ultimately rule in favor of the neighbors or Pacific Steel.  

According to Rumberger’s office in a story reported last April in the Daily Planet, the class-action lawsuit is seeking an injunction to require the foundry to “reduce its off-site toxic emissions impact to safe levels or relocate from this neighborhood,” and demands a “compensation to the thousands of neighbors affected daily by the noxious odors and toxins.”  

Pacific Steel attorneys have not yet filed a formal answer to the original complaint, seeking instead to have the case thrown out of court.


Church Burial Rights Gain Support in Berkeley

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:15:00 PM

Forget all that stuff about “godless Berkeley.” 

Truth be told, only the churched will be interred here, if new regulations passed last week by Berkeley’s Planning Commission are approved by the City Council, likely in early February. 

Commissioners approved language for a new ordinance to allow ashes of cremated corpses—“cremains” in the trade language mocked by the late Jessica Mitford, whose ashes couldn’t have been kept in Berkeley—to stay in the city, but only in columbaria on property maintained for religious assembly. 

Columbarium is a term of Latin origin, a word for dovecote, which the modern structure resembles in the multitude of niches used to house the encased ashes of the departed. 

Berkeley churches—but not non-churches—would be able have them, thanks to City Councilmember Laurie Capi-telli, who requested the action on behalf of his constituents at Northbrae Community Church, which is located at 941 The Alameda. 

The church, he wrote to colleagues in September, “is expanding their formal garden area north of the sanctuary and dedicating it to Native American spirituality. They also want to include a small columbarium for the remains of parishioners and community members.” 

Since ashes can’t be stored in Berkeley under existing law, Capitelli asked that the city change its zoning ordinance to allow columbarium construction so long as it’s “incidental” to “Religious Assembly Use” and contains no more than 400 niches and occupies no more than 5 percent of the church’s turf. 

Keeping the size small allows Berkeley’s columbaria to slip through the city’s business and zoning codes as an accessory structure, a term more commonly applied to garages and gardening sheds.  

In other words, unless you’re happy to let your mortal remains repose on sacred soil, they have to be stored elsewhere. 

Berkeley banned columbaria along with crematoria, cemeteries and crypts around the same time San Francisco evicted its dead to Colma due to city public health and odor concerns. 

Church member Bob Davis, a former zoning officer, said cremation is the most environmentally friendly manner of handling human remains. “I’m rapidly approaching the final exit, and I’m looking for a quick decision,” he told commissioners. 

The church’s proposal called for 500 niches, which Davis said “would probably take 100 years or so to fill,” concealed behind a six-foot fence and occupying about one percent of the church’s lot. 

City staff proposed a 400-niche maximum but expanded potential land area to five percent. 

Gene Poschman, the only commissioner to abstain when it came time to vote, said he was concerned that staff had proposed allowing columbaria under the city’s accessory structure ordinance, which he described as one of the city’s most problematic code sections. 

What if the church sells the property? What happens to the ashes then? “It might be Bekins time,” he quipped, referring to the van and storage firm.  

Was the site reserved only for church members? he asked. 

Primarily, Davis said. 

“We are a community church,” said Northbrae treasurer John Oldham. “You don’t have to be a member to go to church,” he said, and the congregation wasn’t planning on a rule to bar non-members.  

Patti Dacey, the only commissioner to oppose the new regulation, said she didn’t have any problems with columbaria in Berkeley—just their restriction to religious assembly sites. 

“It seems a little strange to me that only people who are churched can have their ashes in Berkeley,” she said. “That does seem to me to be a problem.” 

And it’s also a problem for David Silverman, the national spokesperson of the American Atheists. The organization has fought legal battles for the rights of the godless for the last 45 years. 

“There are lots of atheists in Berkeley, and now they have fewer rights than people who believe in an invisible man in the sky,” he said. “This is essentially a two-class system, with religious people obeying one set of laws and non-religious people another.” 

And it’s not just atheists who wouldn’t want to be buried on church property. “Neither do pagans or Jews or Moslems,” he said. 

Silverman said the new Berkeley regulations were part of a disturbing trend in federal and local regulations granting churches expanded rights unavailable to the churchless. 

In Southern California, the Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley is challenging a Ventura County Planning Commission veto of its plans to build a seven-building complex on land the county has set aside for open space. 

The church contends that the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000 preempts state and local land-use regulations, including the county ordinance barring church construction in dedicated open space. 

Silverman said the Mormon church has used the law to build “huge monstrosities” in residential neighborhoods, “because they like their churches to really stick out."


Council Fails to Act on Cell Phone Antenna Applications

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:17:00 PM

Berkeley City Council stumbled (again) on Tuesday over the vexing issue of expanding cell-phone tower facilities in the city, failing to decide on a Verizon Wireless application for 1540 Shattuck Ave. and failing for the third straight meeting to either grant a hearing or dismiss a similar appeal for ZAB approval of a T-Mobile facility at 1725 University Ave. 

Tuesday night’s debate sometimes got a bit testy, with Councilmember Gordon Wozniak—generally a cell-phone antennae facility supporter—appearing to accuse Councilmember Max Ander-son—a committed cell-phone antennae expansion opponent—of grandstanding. 

With wireless communications companies insisting they must steadily increase the number and location of cell-phone tower facilities in Berkeley in order to keep up with the rising demand of cell-phone users, and several groups of neighbors fighting pitched political battles to either limit or keep out entirely such facilities in their neighborhoods, the issue of denial or approval of cell-phone tower applications is becoming an increasingly regular topic at council meetings. 

On the 1725 University Ave. issue, where T-Mobile is seeking to place eight towers and related equipment, councilmembers voted 4-0-3 (Anderson, Susan Wengraf, Kriss Worthington, Mayor Tom Bates, yes; Laurie Capitelli, Darryl Moore and Wozniak, abstaining; Jesse Arreguin, absent; Maio, recused) on Anderson’s motion to grant a public hearing. The motion failed because it did not receive five votes. The issue comes back to the council on Jan. 13.  

If the council can’t muster enough votes to grant a hearing or deny the appeal by then, ZAB approval of the T-Mobile request automatically goes into effect. 

Following the hearing on the appeal of the ZAB approval of the 1540 Shattuck Ave. facility—where Verizon wants to place 10 antennas—council failed on a 2-3-5 vote to uphold the citizen appeal and deny the Verizon application (Anderson, Worthington, yes; Wozniak, no; Maio, Moore, Capitelli, Wengraf, Bates, abstaining; Arreguin, absent) and then failed on a follow-up 3-3-2 vote to approve the Verizon permit (Moore, Capitelli, Wozniak, yes;Anderson, Worthington, Bates, no; Maio, Wengraf, abstaining; Arreguin, absent). 

Some councilmembers who abstained on one of the two votes—therefore insuring an eventual Verizon victory if the council cannot get enough votes to deny the application—said they did so only because they felt hamstrung by the federal Telecommunications Act, which puts tight controls on the discretion local governments can use to deny cell-phone tower applications. 

“A lot of us are very conflicted on this,” Maio said. “I don’t want to keep voting for these things. But we don’t have the money to keep going to court.” 

Bates agreed, saying, “I believe we don’t have any choice. I don’t like it. I hate it. But we have to do it.”  

Bates added that “immediately after the vote we should bring this issue back before Congress. The best way we can do this is to fight it in the right way—in Congress, not in the courts.”  

Noting that it was “not right” that current federal law prevents local governments from considering the possible health detriments of cell-phone towers when considering applications, Bates said he would use his influence with the National Conference of Mayors to advance the Congressional fight to amend the Telecommunications Act. 

But earlier, cell-phone antenna facility expansion opponent Anderson called for court action on the issue, at least by outside parties. 

“This issue is not going away,” Anderson said. “You can’t believe that you’ve beaten us down [because we can’t consider the health aspects of cell-phone towers] and we’re no longer going to be concerned about our well-being.”  

Anderson added that “I hope somebody gets up enough nerve to challenge [the Telecommunications Act] in federal court.” 

Speaking immediately after Anderson, however, Wozniak spoke against denying the Verizon application, implying that such a denial might put Berkeley back in court.  

“The record is very strongly against us,” Wozniak said. “[Our] decision must be based on whether there is a need for this [cell-phone antennae] site.” Saying that the proof presented for such a need by Verizon was “incontrovertible,” Wozniak said that “we have to pick our battles and pick the ones we can win. Grandstanding is popular with the crowd, but it’s irresponsible.” 

Feeling that Wozniak’s words about grandstanding had been aimed at Anderson, Worthington then called the use of the term “inappropriate and out of order,” adding that “Max Anderson has consistently taken a principled stand” on cell-phone antennae issues.  

And when Bates, sitting at the center of the dais between Worthington and Wozniak, turned to Worthington and tried to conciliate, saying “I don’t think it [meaning Wozniak’s remarks] was meant that way,” Anderson snapped, “Are you sure?” 

Meanwhile, while the deadlock in the two cell-phone tower appeals was similar, the results of the 1540 Shattuck Ave. application are a bit more complicated. 

Earlier this month, Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan revealed that following a Verizon federal lawsuit over several Berkeley cell-phone tower facility applications, Berkeley and Verizon had entered into an agreement with Verizon that required a council decision—one way or the other—on the 1540 Shattuck Ave. application by Tuesday night’s meeting. 

Cowan told councilmembers Tuesday night that the council can still act on the 1540 Shattuck appeal when it meets after the turn of the year, but said that the failure to decide on Tuesday left the possibility that Verizon could now immediately return to federal court and press its claims.


Conference Calls for Strategies To End America’s Prison Cycle

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:15:00 PM
Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad of San Francisco speaks at Saturday’s Stanley “Tookie” Williams Legacy Summit while Bill Ayers looks on.
'Reginald James/HARAMBEENEWS.COM
Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad of San Francisco speaks at Saturday’s Stanley “Tookie” Williams Legacy Summit while Bill Ayers looks on.

More than 300 ’60s and ’70s era radicals and students not born until the ’80s gathered at Oakland’s Merritt College on Saturday to honor a man executed by the State of California three years ago and to hear strategies to end the cycle of criminalization of American communities and the country’s re-volving prison door and the death penalty. 

The occasion was the second annual Stanley “Tookie” Williams Legacy Summit, held at Merritt’s Huey P. Newton/Bobby Seale Student Lounge in the name of a man who went from founder of Los Angeles’ violent Crips street gang to convicted murderer to internationally famous author and crusader for street peace to Nobel Peace Prize nominee. 

The sponsors of the summit, Richmond-based STW (Stanley “Tookie” Williams) Legacy Network, are trying to build a national network of activists to, among other things, sponsor peacekeeping efforts to end street violence within urban inner cities and to lobby for progressive state and federal legislation. 

Presenters at the four-hour conference included Chicago university professor Bill Ayers—the former radical made infamous during the recent presidential campaign for his association with then-candidate Barack Obama—Ayer’s wife Bernadine Dohrn, another well-known ‘60s and ‘70s radical, and former Black Panther Party Chairperson Elaine Brown. 

Ayers talked of going out to Chicago’s Grant Park on last November’s election night to gather in celebration with “one million people brought together by love, hope, and unity.” Referring to the election of Barack Obama, Ayers, who is white, said that “a blow was struck against white supremacy that night, and that’s a good thing. That night the spirit was ‘yes we can,’ and that’s the spirit today.” 

He called for an “urban public school bailout” similar to the recent Wall Street bailout, adding that the country needed an “ongoing dialogue to rethink the purpose of education in a democracy.” 

And Elaine Brown, who now lives in Savannah, sharply criticized the nation’s prison system, saying that while the use of torture is being debated and condemned around the world, it is regularly being practiced in the nation’s prisons.  

“They’re going to close [the prison at] Guantanamo Bay” because of allegations of torture of foreign nationals by U.S. security officials, Brown said, “but not a word is being said about Pelican Bay and all the dungeons there.” 

Pelican Bay is the California prison where the state houses prisoners it considers the most violent and dangerous. There have been numerous allegations of abuse of prisoners at the facility over the years. 

Brown, an associate of Panther Party founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, called for the end of three-strikes laws across the nation and “the creation of a new Freedom Movement.” 

And noting that the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and San Francisco all had mayors, councilmembers, and legislators who were allies of the progressive movement, San Francisco Nation of Islam mosque minister Christopher Muhammad urged conference participants to use that influence to change city and state policies.  

“It’s not enough to simply meet here in conference,” Muhammad said. “We have to begin to shape policies and make legislation.” 

And Stan Muhammad of the H.E.L.P.E.R. Alliance Cease Fire Committee of South Central Los Angeles talked about efforts in that community to organize and promote a gang cease fire between the Crips and Bloods gangs called for by Tookie Williams, among others. Stan Muhammad said that his group, all of whom are ex-gang members, did training in the city of Richmond last year among that city’s violent gang-bangers.  

“We came up several times, and in the period we were there, the killings went down,” Stan Muhammad said. He said the Alliance’s efforts in Richmond ended only because the “financial resources to support it went down, so we couldn’t continue,” but he said the group was willing to return to Richmond to continue peacekeeping efforts among that city’s gangs, and would welcome coming to Oakland as well, if they were invited and if financial sponsorship could be arranged. 

While Ayers and Brown were the headliners at Saturday’s conference, the most dramatic moment of the day’s events was a live call to the conference from San Quentin’s Death Row by Death Row inmate Kevin Cooper. 

Cooper had been scheduled to call in at 1:30 p.m. to speak to conference participants, but the scheduled time came and went with no call. It was only at 2 p.m., when presenter Crystal Bibby was reading a previously prepared statement by Cooper, that the call suddenly came in. But with Cooper’s voice breaking in and out over the phone line, conference participants could not hear him directly, but could only listen to Bibby as she alternately heard what Cooper had to say over the phone and passed it on. 

Asked to give examples of the dehumanization of Death Row prisoners, Cooper gave a vivid description of a full-body cavity search done on him by guards in 2004 while they were preparing him for his execution, an execution that was later put off. Cooper described how the procedure is deliberately designed to turn inmates into animals in a process similar to the inspection of captive Africans 150 years ago on the American slave blocks. Some audience members visibly squirmed during the description, and then sat almost in stunned silence as Cooper—through Bibby—concluded, “My God, we have to stop this madness.” 

Presenters also read statements from several other Death Row inmates, including one from inmate Correll Thomas who said that guards once confiscated and presumably destroyed several years of letters he had written and was saving for eventual presentation to his young son. Thomas said, “I’m no angel and don’t pretend to be, but I’m not a monster either.”  

Presenter Brandy Howard broke down in tears before continuing with the statement of Death Row inmate Richard Boyd that San Quentin prisoners “are driven to mental madness and chaos.” 

“We’re at the beginning stages of galvanizing an incredible movement,” STW founder Barbara Becnel of Richmond told the gathering. “We’re not going to wait for our issues to get on the table. We’re going to put our issues on the table.” 

Williams was executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber in December of 2005 still denying he was guilty of the four 1979 shotgun deaths he was convicted of committing. Becnel worked closely with Williams over the last years of his life, editing his children’s books and serving as a witness at his execution. 


Hillside School Neighbors Seek to Purchase Playground

By Kristin McFarland
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:44:00 PM

Hillside Elementary School, a local and national historic landmark, stands on the brink of yet another reinvention. 

The Tudor-style building, located at 1581 LeRoy Ave., was built by Walter H. Ratcliff Jr. in 1925 to replace the Virginia Street location that burned down in 1923. The school operated until 1983, when it was closed due to declining enrollment. 

Because it is located on traces of the Hayward fault, the building cannot be used as a public school, and in the past 20 years it has played home to a variety of tenants, including artists, the Berkeley Chess School, and several pre-schools. 

But in September, the school district approved the sale of the surplus, run-down property. 

The Hillside Association of Berkeley, made up of community members, school alumni and friends, now seeks an agreement with the city that would allow the community itself to help pay for the purchase of the playground section of the property. 

“The city would love to have it as a park but has financial constraints,” said Cynthia Cowgill, coordinator of the Hillside Association’s Playground Committee. “We hope to partner with the city to provide financial help.” 

The Berkeley Unified School District declared the Hillside School property surplus in 2007 and put it up for sale in October 2008. 

Under the California Naylor Act of 1982, cities or counties are allowed to buy a portion of surplus school properties used for outdoor recreation at a significantly reduced price. The city could buy up to 30 percent of the property for 25 percent of the market price. 

When it became clear that the city could not afford the $250,000 reduced price tag, the Hillside Association took action, working with the city to propose a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District, a neighborhood tax-assessment district that will reimburse the city through slightly increased property taxes over the next 10-12 years. To create the district, 67 percent of the 150-200 affected households will have to approve the proposal in a mail-in election. 

“If the city goes forward, the neighborhood will support the city,” said Peter Lydon, secretary of the Hillside Association. 

Christine Daniel, deputy city manager, said the school board will not enter into discussion with the city until mid-January and that a formal proposal cannot be made until the school board has decided if it wants to accept the purchase under the Naylor Act.  

The desired parcel of land is an acre of paved playground, complete with basketball goals, jungle gyms, swing sets and a small baseball diamond. 

Once purchased, the playground would continue to serve not only as a haven for local kids and basketball players, but also as a gathering point for emergency vehicles or residents in case of a fire or earthquake, Lydon said. 

“It has served as a de facto playground/park for years,” Cowgill said. “Kids learn to ride their bicycles there.” 

The school building itself remains unsold and troublesome for BUSD and any potential buyers. The school district must decide who will buy it and for what purpose, while the new owner will face significant repairs to bring the building up to code. 

Lew Jones, facilities manager at BUSD, said that the partial sale of the Hillside property is potentially problematic for the school district, and the city would rather sell the whole property at once.  

City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who has been working with the Hillside Association, is on vacation and could not confirm the details of the current negotiations. 

Negotiations on the playground, including appraisals, definition of the land parcel and implementation of the community facilities district, will go forward after the new year, when the city and school district must navigate the “twists and turns” of the Naylor Act, Jones said.


Zoning Board Approves Shattuck Offices, Delays Action on Kashani Condos

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:45:00 PM

Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board delayed approval of developer Ali Kashani’s five-story condo project at the corner of Ashby and San Pablo avenues last week. 

The Thursday decision came after Steven Wollmer, a land use activist, pointed to problems in the wording of the proposed use permit’s handling of the project’s affordable housing units. 

The 98-unit, five-story, project is being developed by Kashani and his business partner Mark Rhoades, formerly the city’s land use planning manager. 

The board also approved a three-story office building at 1926 Shattuck Ave., the demolition of a once-popular drive-in, a wine tasting room in the Elmwood and a fast food eatery on 10th Street. 

 

Shattuck office 

The new building on Shattuck that ZAB approved will serve two purposes. First, it will provide expanded quarters for a leading seismic engineering firm, and, second, it will be used as a demonstration model of new engineering techniques. 

“We want to showcase our building so it reflects who we are and what we do,” said Steven B. Tipping, a principal in Tipping Mar + Associates, the same firm which did the earthquake engineering for the David Brower Center. 

The new structure “will be the smallest base-isolated building in the U.S. when it’s done,” Tipping said, “a demonstration building.” 

Tipping and fellow principal David Mar brought a group of employees and neighbors, who praised and occasionally applauded their proposal. 

In approving the building, the city waived parking requirements and regulations which would have block construction of a third floor. 

While city staff had sought a fee in lieu of providing required parking, the board rejected the notion, citing company programs designed to encourage workers to use transit or bike, with only Sara Shumer and Chair Rick Judd looking for something more for the city. 

The board also overruled a proposal from Planning Director Dan Marks to seek some tradeoff for allowing some of the upper part of the building to overhang the sidewalk, which the board also rejected. 

Judd said that if the city wants to impose tradeoffs, then it should do so through changing the city’s regulations accordingly. 

“The Planning Commission of Berkeley really needs to do its job,” Judd said, and set general policy rather than leaving ZAB to decide on a case-by-case basis. “This is not our business.” 

 

Ashby Arts 

Developer Ali Kashani spoke on two projects Thursday night. First, he had nice things to say about the Tipping Mar building on Shattuck, and he later had even nicer things to say about Ashby Arts, his five-story condo project at 1920 Ashby Ave., at the southeast corner of San Pablo Avenue—one of the city’s gateway intersections. 

While the board had been scheduled to vote on the project, action was delayed because of problems Wollmer pointed out in the way the developers had calculated the costs of units to be made available as affordable housing—a process regulated by both municipal and state regulations. 

While the city hopes to use the project to leverage a $9 million state grant to fund streetscape improvements on San Pablo and Kashani’s Citycentric Investments hopes to maximize their project, Wollmer said the developer had failed to meet the basic affordability requirements laid out in state law. 

The state density bonus and Berkeley’s own inclusionary ordinance regulate pricing for so-called affordable housing units included in market-rate apartment and condo projects. 

Under the permit brought before ZAB, Kashani would have distributed the affordable units through the middle three-fourths of the building, leaving the top floor units all at market rate—whether rented or sold. 

In return for 15 affordable units, Citycentric was to get a density bonus of 24 units, nearly a one-third increase in the size otherwise allowed by city regulations. 

Wollmer said that his calculations showed that the projected prices for would-be affordable units were actually higher than allowed by state regulations, and city staff agreed that the figures needed to be recalculated. 

In the end, the board voted unanimously to continue the hearing so that staff could run the numbers and return with a revised permit proposal. 

Judd said he was also concerned because of the cumulative impact of seven projects approved in the area which, taken together, will delay left turns at the intersection by more than four minutes by 2030. The new Berkeley Bowl a block away is one of the seven projects.  

“This area is where we have done the most damage in the city by approving projects without (traffic) mitigations,” he said. 

But member Bob Allen said that the delays added by the Kashani projects were minimal, and praised what he said “is going to be a very successful building.” 

 

Other action 

The board also approved a permit to open a wine and beer shop with a wine- tasting room at 2949 College Ave. Earlier objections from neighbors had been resolved, and the item was approved as part of the night’s consent calendar. 

Also issued by consent was a demolition permit for 3020 San Pablo Ave., where Yerba Buena Builders of San Francisco had sought approval to level the old Twin Castle drive-in, where the board has already issued a use permit for a new mixed-use residential-over-commercial project. 

The old drive-in, which had offered one of the most eclectic menus in the city, had been heavily vandalized after the eatery closed, prompting a city nuisance finding that led to the demolition permit. 

The board also approved without discussion architect Kava Massih’s request for a permit to build a quick-service restaurant at the site of an old nursery at 1326 10th St.


Two Marina Sites Emerge for Ferry Terminal

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:47:00 PM

Sprawling parking lots proposed at either of the two Berkeley Marina sites picked as potential locations for a new transbay ferry service have sparked concerns among the city’s planning commissioners. 

Four sites have been proposed for an East Bay terminal, three of them in Berkeley and one in Albany, but only the two marina sites are viable candidates, city Planning and Development Director Dan Marks told commissioners last week. 

The other sites—one at the foot of Gilman Street and the other at the foot of Buchanan Street in Albany—have “significant environmental impacts and the cities of Berkeley and Albany have opposed them for a long time,” Marks said. 

The city’s Transportation Commission is the city’s lead agency for assessing the project, and the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) will meet in Berkeley on Jan. 8 to pick the Locally Preferred Alternative, Marks said. 

“Don’t let the name fool you,” Marks told commissioners. “It’s not about emergency transportation service; it’s about ferry service.” 

The two most probable sites, one on the windward side of the breakwater north of Hs Lordships and the other adjacent to and south of the Doubletree Hotel along Marina Boulevard, would result in major landscape changes as a result of the need to accommodate 400 parking spaces. 

“They want our support, but they’re going at it in a rather slapdash manner,” said commission Chair James Samuels. 

“No comment,” said Marks. 

Commissioner James Novosel said he was troubled by the parking proposal. “The one at Hs Lordships flattens out the landscaping and gets rid of the privacy screen, and the parking for the other is just godawful,” he said, and both have “an overwhelming, unappealing aesthetic.” 

“We’re hamstrung here,” said Sam-uels. “What if we had a two-story building for parking like what you find at a shopping center?” he mused. 

Commissioner Gene Poschman raised a broader question. “To what extent are the issues of sustainability, carbon footprints, etc., considered in the EIR? From what I’ve read about ferries, they really have minimal impacts on reduction of greenhouse gases or carbon footprints.” 

Dorothy Walker, the newest member of the commission, called the parking proposals in the draft EIR “a terrible use of waterfront land” and said the transportation authority should consider a structure instead. 

But she did like the ferry if it would result in shuttle service to the UC campus (her former employer) and North Berkeley. 

“So the shuttles would be for people who live in condos in downtown Berkeley who commute to work in downtown San Francisco,” Poschman responded. 

“We have an opportunity for a well-funded public agency to help us with our public transportation,” said Walker. “And if we can get them to provide some service that augments what we already have,” then Berkeley should avail itself of the opportunity. 

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t just stay on BART,” said commissioner Patti Dacey, who said Walker seemed to be suggesting that “if we’re going to have the shuttle, we should have the ferry, even if it makes no sense.” 

The full document is available online at the WETA website: http://www. watertransit.org/newsInformation/publicnotices.aspx 

The two marina sites would require considerably less dredging than the sites on either side of Golden Gate Fields. Total project costs, including construction and the cost of new ferries, is estimated at $58.1 million.


Fire Department Log

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:49:00 PM

Boat blaze 

Berkeley firefighters rushed to the marina Tuesday afternoon, after a caller reported heavy smoke pouring from a boat moored at the end of D Dock. 

The emergency crew discovered flames in the cabinets in the vessel’s galley and quickly extinguished the blaze, said Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong. The blaze was later determined to have been caused by electrical system problems. 

Welding fire 

A homeowner working with an arc welder Sunday afternoon managed to ignite cardboard covering the floor of a detached garage, and the resulting fire caused heavy damage to the structure and its contents. 

Deputy Chief Dong said the fire was reported at 5 p.m., and when firefighters arrived moments later they found heavy flames and smoke coming from the building in the 1700 block of San Lorenzo Avenue, which they quickly extinguished. 

The fire caused about $10,000 in loss to the structure and its contents, he said. 

New firefighters 

Berkeley has 11 new firefighters this week after graduation ceremonies Friday, which fills the department’s budgeted slots. 

The new graduates come from a diverse range of backgrounds, said Deputy Chief Dong. One was recruited from the New York Fire Department, another from the San Francisco department and a third from the Vallejo firefighters. 

“Five of them either grew up in Berkeley or already lived here,” he said. 

 

Holiday news 

About 125 volunteers from the BFD, Berkeley Lions Club and the Alameda County Fire Reserve gathered in Berkeley Saturday morning to deliver more than 400 food baskets and holiday greetings to seniors and the less fortunate. 

And speaking of the holidays, said the deputy chief, “be sure to be vigilant in this cold weather and keep those holiday trees well-watered.”


Police Search for Three Men Involved in Pharmacy Burglary

Bay City News
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:50:00 PM

Berkeley police are searching for three men responsible for the burglary of more than $10,000 worth of prescription drugs from Elephant Pharmacy around 1 a.m. on Dec. 9. 

The pharmacy’s surveillance cameras captured the three men  

arriving in a 1990s model two-door white sedan and gaining entry into the store  

by prying open the back door, police said. 

The suspects took several hundred pills from the store at 1607 Shattuck Ave., according to police. 

Anyone who may have information about the crime is urged to call the Berkeley Police Department Property Crimes Detail at 981-5737 or the non-emergency dispatch line at 981-5900. Callers wishing to remain anonymous can also call the Bay Area Crime Stoppers tip line at (800) 222-TIPS. 


Shopping with Old Friends: A Day on Piedmont Avenue

By Anna Mindess Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:04:00 PM
A mud pie from Fenton’s.
By Lila Volkas
A mud pie from Fenton’s.
Flowers from Mille Fiori.
By Lila Volkas
Flowers from Mille Fiori.
The Piedmont Cobbler’s sign advertises shoe repair services.
By Lila Volkas
The Piedmont Cobbler’s sign advertises shoe repair services.
 An aisle from Piedmont Stationers.
By Lila Volkas
An aisle from Piedmont Stationers.

The charm of Piedmont Avenue in North Oakland is its mix of newness and nostalgia; like a big family, where young and old live side by side.  

The matriarch of the clan is venerable Piedmont Grocery, at 106 and still going strong. Assistant manager Dave Howland has worked there 27 years and explains, “When you’re the little guy, you have to have a niche and ours is service, service, service.”  

A century ago, that meant food delivered to customers’ homes by horse drawn carriage. Today it means a restyled market with a huge salad bar, wide array of prepared foods and extensive wine selection. Exotic imports like Hungarian hot paprika, Turkish Black Mulberry Vinegar and French hazelnut oil please both consumers and chefs. Howland reports that Michael Wild, owner-chef of celebrated Bay Wolf restaurant down the block, often pops in to pick up some produce or meat. Wild probably appreciates the cadre of experienced butchers—a throwback to a time when workers manning meat counters were all dedicated professionals. 

Centered along an eight block stretch with some spill-over onto neighboring streets, the Piedmont family of stores is a self-sufficient one with almost everything one could need; from restaurants that consistently appear on “Bay Area 10 Best” lists, to a library, movie theater, and post office. But nestled between the ubiquitous nail salons and dry cleaners are one-of-a-kind gems that make Piedmont Avenue worth visiting. 

Shelly Lowe has owned Piedmont Stationers for almost 20 years and says, “I try to have stuff that you don’t see everywhere.” That includes distinctively French Clairefontaine notebooks, British Tollit and Harvey organizing packets, buttery Italian leather bound journals and teensy Japanese stickers and magnets.  

“What I like about Piedmont,” says Lowe, “is the diversity: we get kids on bikes, college students and elderly folks from Piedmont Gardens retirement home—a nice mix of people from funky to upscale.” 

Next door, Spectator Books is a bibliophile’s dream, with three large rooms of pre-read books lovingly housed and awaiting their next owners. This is made easier because the volumes are organized on carefully labeled shelves that take you from Infant Care to Home Repair, Civil War to Reincarnation, Cage Birds to Opera. 

If magazines are your preferred read, Issues, on nearby Glen Avenue has all the esoteric titles you could want, such as Fly Fisherman, Billiard Digest and Dairy Goat Journal. Readers of Cigar Aficionado are probably well acquainted with the Piedmont Tobacconist across the street, a cozy spot to enjoy pipes and cigars. 

Piedmont Cinema on the corner of Linda Avenue is the oldest operating movie theater in Oakland and began showing silent films in 1917. It is now a tri-plex and part of Landmark Theaters, but still holds old-time raffles on Saturday nights, when moviegoers win prizes related to a featured film. When My Big Fat Greek Wedding was playing, the prize was a dinner coupon from Simply Greek restaurant down the block. 

No matter what film is being shown at Piedmont Cinema, there is probably a matching restaurant nearby, since the Piedmont Avenue food scene circles the globe. Little Shin Shin is a popular family place with a wall of awards for best Chinese restaurant. Their lemon chicken is crunchy, sweet and satisfying. Lotus Thai’s calming décor is in yellows and purples with flowers and fountains. Remove your shoes and sit at a low table to enjoy zesty grilled salmon served on banana leaves.  

You can find friendly fish tacos at Baja Taqueria, Caribbean dishes at Tropix, French country cooking at Jojo’s, Sicilian pizza at Lococo’s, Mediterranean-Thai fusion at cozy Ninna’s and Turkish specialties at Zati’s. What other street could support three Japanese restaurants in one block? Kotobuki for the freshest sushi, Aki Sushi, whose Nabeyaki Soba soup will warm you up on a chilly day, and the diminutive Geta Sushi for a quick lunch.  

Some of the “new kids” in the family have already made quite a name for themselves: Spanish Cesar’s trendy tapas, Italian Dopo’s thin crust pizza and Xyclo’s edgy modern Vietnamese get rave reviews in print and in person.  

For families with children, Piedmont can supply a host of necessities, diversions and treats. Crackerjacks sells new and used maternity, baby and toddler clothes, baby gear and toys. Kids love searching the aisles at Teddies Party Store for party favors and decorations for every holiday and leaving with a jaunty balloon tied around their wrist.  

Dr. Comics and Mr. Games just celebrated its 20th anniversary. The store sells board games, collectible cards and action figures, but its real focus is the collection of thousands of new and antique comics and graphic novels. Classic DC comics like Superman and Batman share the space with the latest Japanese Manga. The store even offers a Saver System for 300 regular customers who have the latest installments of their favorite titles held for them in a special rack.  

When the kids clamor for a treat, head to Piedmont Café and Bakery for donuts or Yogurt Delite for frozen yogurt. For more sophisticated palettes, Tango Gelato serves up seasonal flavors like Rosemary and Pumpkin, plus a selection of gourmet chocolates. The oldest sweet stop on the avenue, Fenton’s Creamery, which opened at a nearby location in 1894, would qualify as the indulgent grandma in the family of Piedmont Avenue. This beloved, family-owned, independent ice cream store still whips up its goods on the premises. Try a crab sandwich followed by a Black and Tan sundae made with toasted almond ice cream, overflowing with homemade caramel and fudge toppings.  

After all the treats, the kids can work off their sugar rush at Kids in Motion Gymnastics which offers classes, camps and birthday parties. 

While the kids are busy with gymnastics, give yourself a break. Take a yoga class at Piedmont Yoga Studio or a hot soak and a massage at Piedmont Springs and then relax with a nice cup of tea at L’Amyx Tea Bar or a sip a latte at Gaylords, while you peruse the latest art works on the walls. 

Bees Knees is the fashionable auntie of the avenue who will share her treasures: sublimely scented French tulip candles, Romanian crystal goblets, Re-mix retro shoes and a back room with lacey dresses and pleated plaid jackets. Co-owner Alisa Rudloff describes the clothing as, “Fun, creative and definitely not boring.” 

Two stores over is A Step Forward, a tiny place, crammed to the rafters with shoes, clogs, boots, bags, shawls and skirts where you can pick up the latest style. Or you can create your own fashions. Pick out material at Piedmont Fabric and stroll over to Sew Images for sewing machine sales and repairs and sewing classes. Piedmont Yarn and Apparel features natural fibers and a knitting circle on Friday afternoons. 

Nothing completes a family like a couple of uncles who can be relied on to repair anything. At Jakob’s Watch Repair and the Piedmont Cobbler, Jakob Roudi and Carlos Fuentes have been fixing clocks and wristwatches, heels and soles, (respectively) for decades. 

So if your own nuclear family is a bit skimpy, you can always drop in to the merchants on Piedmont Avenue. They will quickly adopt you as one of their own. 

 

 

 


School Acknowleged for Closing Achievement Gap

By Kristin McFarland
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:45:00 PM

Berkeley’s Malcolm X Arts and Academics Magnet, an elementary school that integrates art and academics, has been awarded the Title One Academic Achievement award for 2008-2009. 

The award honors 200 Title I-funded California schools that show academic growth for two or more years or that significantly close the achievement gap. Schools must have an Academic Performance Index (API) score above its category’s median score, have met their API goals for the past two years, and show strong API growth for at least one of its socioeconomically disadvantage subgroups. 

For the staff and parents of Malcolm X, the award recognizes years of dedication to improving education for all students. 

“We’ve been working on our mission to close the achievement gap for a good three years of focus on it,” said Cheryl Chinn, principal of Malcolm X. 

“The award is for schools that really improve their performance with economically disadvantaged students,” said Michael Mascuch, chair of the school’s site governance council. “What makes Malcolm X’s achievement remarkable is that economically disadvantaged students have made really significant academic progress alongside their peers in other subgroups. The success of the disadvantaged students has not come at the expense of other students; instead, all kids are thriving together.” 

The school developed a three-pronged strategic plan that focused on monitoring and assessing underperforming students, strong intervention programs to help students before they fall behind, and teacher collaboration and professional development. 

“One is not isolated from the others,” Chinn said. “You have to have each piece.” 

In a program called Project Connect, Malcolm X teachers target four students functioning below their grade level for twice weekly after-school tutoring and additional help. The school also has a program designed to help disadvantaged first-graders meet their reading goals. Additionally, parents are required to attend Saturday workshops focused on helping their children reach academic success. 

The school has employed training from the Foundation for Comprehensive Early Learning Literacy and Extended Literacy Learning, which provides literacy-based continual professional development for teachers. The program targets new teachers but offers ongoing professional development for all staff members. 

Kathy Burns, a parent of Malcolm X students and former member of the school’s site governance council, credited the dedication of the staff to programs like Project Connect as the key to the school’s success. 

“I think it was a very concerted effort among the teachers to try and track the underperforming students,” she said. 

Although Chinn emphasized that all of the approaches working in tandem led to the school’s success, Mascuch, Burns and other parents identify Chinn’s leadership as a driving force in reaching its goals. 

The elementary school has worked carefully to spread its funding and attention across its art programs and its academic intervention programs, balancing the needs of both gifted and struggling children. 

“The visual and performing arts provide learning opportunities that enhance classroom teaching, and enable delivery of education to multiple and diverse learning styles among the student population,” Mascuch said. “The Malcolm X school community appreciates and supports this combination of arts and academics in education, which is yet another reason for the school’s strong performance.” 

Although the award offers no financial bonuses, the symbolic value of the recognition is sufficient reward for the members of a diverse school community. 

“I think the gratification that we’re achieving our goal of closing the achievement gap is enough to keep us working hard,” Chinn said. 

Recipients of the award will be honored at an awards ceremony and banquet in Orange County on April 28, 2009. 

 

 


Prime West Berkeley Property Headed for the Marketplace

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:47:00 PM

Berkeley’s largest private development site—8.2 acres adjacent to Aquatic Park—is coming on the market, and the owners want the city to ease the rules. 

Their target market would be startup companies created to commercialize technology developed at UC Berkeley and the lab that gave the United States its Secretary of Energy. 

James B. Bohar, a development executive with international brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield, recently told planning commissioners that the owners are looking for “flexibility,” a word so polarizing it had led the city planning staff to drop it from the title of their look at a change in zoning rules for West Berkeley. 

The site, bounded by Bolivar Drive on the west and the Union Pacific right of way between Aquatic Park between Addison Street and Bancroft Way, is owned by a family which has hired the brokerage to analyze and market the property. 

“We have been able to release the potential of this wonderful marquee property,” Bohar told commissioners, describing development as “a powerful new opportunity you must support.” 

“We met with the technology transfer people at Haas [School of Business] two weeks ago, and we heard that there were 20 companies in play. We heard that they would take off for Silicon Valley or Alameda because of the difficulty of the entitlement process here,” Bohar told the planning commission. 

“Incubators are risky and costly,” he said, and best “thrive as part of a large, dense business park.” 

UC Berkeley had planned to create a business park at its Richmond Field Station, but plans were shelved in part because of delays caused by the forced implementation of a new cleanup regime to remove hazardous waste from the site. 

The site has been home to American Soil & Stone Products Inc., which still stores materials at the site though its main operations have moved to Richmond and San Rafael. 

Bohar said the property has been owned by members of the Jones family since 1978, and his firm has been retained to develop a proposal for putting the property on the market. 

Despite the market collapse and chaos in the financial sector, “now’s a good time for a very large project, because it will take a long time to study the options and then put it on the market.” 

Once a proposal is assembled, more time will be needed while the developer goes through the entitlement process, winning all the governmental permissions needed before the first shovel of earth can be turned. 

“We are a marketing company, and we are now doing the research to determine what will be the optimal development,” he said, looking at needs, market conditions and what the city itself would like to get out of the site. 

“We want to know what the real opportunities are,” Bohar told planning commissioners. “What are the transportation issues? What kind of companies would be interested?” 

He said he was looking to have “a much more informed marketing package in February.” 

Berkeley’s newest planning commissioner, Dorothy Walker, is an un-abashed fan of the word “flexibility,” which had raised such concerns among West Berkeley’s artists and artisans that “West Berkeley Project” replaced “West Berkeley Flexibility” as the title of their work on a proposed zoning update. 

Walker, a former university development executive and a member of the strongly pro-development minority of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, recently told her colleagues that it was time for a new West Berkeley Plan, something not even city staff has been willing to propose. 

Introduction of the Jones property into the mix, a site already marked out by the city staff as a key West Berkeley development property, dovetails with the City Council-directed effort to loosen zoning restrictions in the city’s only sector zoning for light industry and manufacturing. 

Rick Auerbach, who works for WEBAIC, the West Berkeley Alliance of Artists and Industrial Companies, has been leading the effort to retain the existing plan’s protections for artists and for the industries which he said are a major source of living wage for the city. 

West Berkeley is the local focus of the East Bay Green Corridor initiative by mayors to attract so-called green businesses, including companies capitalizing on technology developed at the university and its affiliated national labs. 

“I went to a Green Corridor meeting up at the university recently, and at the end of the day, there weren’t that many companies, and they were very small,” Auerbach said. 

WEBAIC hasn’t looked at the Jones family property in detail, he said, other than to note that there are other businesses than American Soil which occupy parts of the property. 

And then there’s the unspoken question: Just how much development is likely, even with the most flexible of standards, given the current state of the economy? 


Commission Votes to End Downtown’s Fast Food Moratorium

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:46:00 PM

The man who residents of downtown Berkeley elected to represent their district on the City Council came to the Planning Commission last week to make a request. 

The commissioners turned him down at the Dec. 10 meeting on a 5-3 vote, then voted 6-2 to end the ban on new fast food outlets in the city center. 

Jesse Arreguin, who was elected to the City Council in November after the death of popular District 4 Councilmember Dona Spring, the original author of the moratorium ordinance, urged commissioners to hold off on a vote on ending the ban until he had a chance to meet with stakeholders in his district. 

“This is not a time-sensitive issue,” he said. 

Arreguin said he believed ending the moratorium was a good idea, but he said he wanted more time to consider the underlying issues which had led to imposition of the moratorium a decade ago. 

Neither the Downtown Berkeley Association, which has pushed for lifting the ban, nor city Economic Development Director Michael Caplan objected to the delay, he said. 

Arreguin said problems with definitions in the zoning code could bar some potentially desirable businesses while allowing others that weren’t. Commissioner James Novosel said, “If we lifted the moratorium, you could still work out those issues. Why not lift it now and you can come back” to the commission with proposed changes? 

If the commission did decide to lift the moratorium, Arreguin said, he wanted the issue put on the calendar for a future meeting to address the questions, but “why not delay action a few weeks so we can actually talk to the interested parties?” 

“I’d like to point out that only one other person showed up to talk about it,” responded chair James Samuels. 

When Gene Poschman, Spring’s appointee to the commission, suggested continuing the hearing to allow Arreguin time to conduct his meetings, commissioner Harry Pollack immediately moved to close the hearing, getting a second from Dorothy Walker. 

“The middle of December is a lousy time to have a hearing and expect merchants to come,” he said. Poschman too said he had talked to Caplan, who had agreed that the existing definitions needed clarification. 

But chair James Samuels said he would vote to lift the moratorium, declaring that if the commission wants to ban any uses, the ban should apply citywide. 

Dorothy Walker, the commission’s newest member, said the commission had already spent too much time on “a small issue” and that Arreguin should come back to the commission when he had specific proposals. 

During the public hearing that preceded the commission’s vote, Downtown Berkeley Association Executive Director Deborah Badhia and developer/broker John Gordon asked the commission to end the moratorium, while only Merilee Mitchell spoke in favor of Arreguin’s request. 

While Poschman and colleague Patti Dacey urged the commission to continue the hearing to allow Arreguin the time he sought, only Roia Ferrazares joined them on the vote, which failed 5-3. Ferrazares then joined with the 6-2 majority on the vote to end the moratorium. 


UC Santa Cruz’s Redwood Grove Felled

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:48:00 PM

The last UC Santa Cruz tree sitter surrendered to campus police Saturday, moments before a chainsaw-wielding crew began to level the redwood grove they had occupied for 402 days. 

“We knew they were getting ready for an extraction, so we had been preparing,” said Jennifer Charles, who had been the designated media contact for the protest. 

In the end, when “about 90 police in riot gear” and the commercial tree-cutters appeared Saturday morning, only one tree sitter was left in the branches, Charles said. He came down of his own volition, to be promptly booked on charges of trespassing, disturbing the peace and violation of a court order, she said. 

The tree-cutting crew cleared the last platforms occupied by the tree sitters and then set to work felling 48 century-old redwoods and 11 oaks on the site designated for construction of a new biomedical facility. 

The tree-clearing crews didn’t need to resort to the scaffolding used to clear the last redwood at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, where a longer arboreal occupation ended Sept. 9 after police were able to mount a structure that reached to within a dozen feet of the top of that grove’s tallest redwood. 

Charles said the protest, mounted in opposition to plans in the Santa Cruz campus Long Range Development, didn’t end with the treesit on Science Hill and the arrest of Scott Poshian the moment his feet touched earth Saturday. 

“We’re all going to continue fighting together to prevent the expansion in our own different ways,” she said. 

The university’s plans will be going to the Local Agency Formation Commission in the spring. 

The university’s announcement Saturday was terse, beginning, “Construction preparation activities began earlier this morning on the Science Hill site that will be home to the new Biomedical Sciences building.”


Window-Smashing Burglar Sought by Berkeley Police

Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:48:00 PM

Berkeley police said that they have a person of interest and a vehicle of interest in connection with seven daytime “window-smash” burglaries, and one attempted burglary, at homes in northwest and north central Berkeley in the last two weeks. 

Police spokesman Andrew Frankel said the person of interest is a white female about 30 to 36 years old who is about 5 feet 6 inches tall with long straight black or dark brown hair. 

A community member who saw the woman said she was wearing a trench coat and had a “weathered” appearance, according to Frankel. 

He said the vehicle of interest is a gray, GMC-style van with a bicycle rack on the back. 

Frankel said police don’t know at this point if the woman is actually responsible for any of the burglaries or if she had any accomplices. 

However, detectives are attributing the burglaries to the same suspect or suspects, he said. 

The burglaries have occurred between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., apparently because the suspects think there’s a good chance the occupants will be gone, Frankel said. 

The suspects generally have taken items that are easy to hide and easy to carry, such as laptop computers and iPods, according to Frankel. 

He said Berkeley police are reminding people to take crime prevention measures such as being alert and aware of activity around their homes and neighborhoods, locking all their windows and doors and not allowing anyone in their home that they do not know or have not hired or screened. 

Frankel said people should report any suspicious people or activities, especially anything that matches the person and vehicle of interest. 

In addition, Frankel said people should get to know their elderly neighbors and pay attention to any unusual activity in or around their homes. 

He said people should call the Berkeley Police Department’s non-emergency line at 981-5900 if they notice any suspicious individuals or activity. Frankel said that to report crimes in progress, people should call 911 from a landline or (510) 981-5911 from their cell phone. 

 

—Richard Brenneman


Opinion

Editorials

Watching the Watchdogs: It’s Everyone’s Job

By Becky O’Malley
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:54:00 PM

Those of us who voted for President-elect Barack Obama (possibly 95 percent of the readers of this paper) are waiting for his arrival with the same eagerness that our children and grandchildren are waiting for Santa Claus. But like the children of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the anticipation we feel is tempered by a bit of anxiety: Perhaps instead of sugarplums we might get Ashes and Switches or lumps of coal in our stockings. 

The left-leaning chattering class, in print and in conversation, seems not to be thrilled with most of Obama’s announcements about what he calls his “team.” The economic team in particular seems to have an overrepresentation of the Clinton-era architects of the policies that are currently causing the financial system to crash and burn in a spectacular way. Environmentalists don’t particularly like Obama’s choice for Interior, a fellow who seems to have made some bad decisions along with a few good ones.  

The overwhelming pride that many felt when America finally elected a president of African ancestry, someone who could speak in complete sentences and who has even written a very fine book, has been tempered by the realization that it’s possible to be intelligent, articulate, even charismatic, and still be wrong from time to time. Monday’s announcement of the choice of Barack’s Chicago basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education was greeted with groans from some of the most visible and active critics of the disastrous No Child Left Behind program.  

Here’s Greg Palast, for example, the frequently bombastic though seldom fact-checked columnist-at-large:  

“Hey, you Liberal Democrats. You may have won the election, but you’re getting CREAMED in the transition. 

Today, President-elect Barack Obama stuck it to you. He’s chosen Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. 

Who? Duncan is most decidedly NOT an educator. He’s a lawyer. But Duncan has this extraordinary qualification: He’s Obama’s pick-up basketball buddy from Hyde Park. 

I can’t make this up.” 

Like many of us, Palast claims to be an education expert because he’s got a couple of little kids. But those of us who have seen lots and lots of public school systems, even some in places less demographically challenged than Chicago, know that there’s more to good education management than being an educator by profession, and certainly more than just being a teachers’ union activist. (The worst teacher any of my three children ever had was a union officer, an activity which interested her more than her classroom charges.) 

I’m in perfect agreement with Palast that the Bush administration implementation of the No Child Left Behind law has been a disaster. But that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because this particular attempt to hold schools and teachers accountable for the children’s failures hasn’t worked, the goal shouldn’t be abandoned. Congressman George Miller, who perhaps now regrets his co-sponsorship of the original NCLB bill, is ready to try again to get it right. 

A more reasoned critique of the kind of management style touted by people like Arne Duncan (whose title is “CEO,” not superintendent, of the Chicago schools) is offered by Arnie Kohn in the current issue of The Nation. He offers an excellent checklist of school “reform” methods which he accuses Duncan and others of promoting which are more retrogressive than progressive. Several of his targets are unarguably bad: fill-in-the-bubble testing, top-down curriculum management, “disproportionate emphasis on rote learning.”  

But then Kohn throws in a blanket condemnation of charter schools with no rationale for why they’re all bad, and his argument falters. If you don’t like top-down curriculum management, how can you be categorically opposed to charter schools? There are good charter schools and bad charter schools, just as centralized school administration produces both good and bad schools (but mainly bad). 

Reading all this polemical prose prompted me to engage in some cheap-and-dirty fact-checking: a long-distance call to a trusted old friend and fellow grandmother in Chicago to find out what Arne Duncan looks like at ground zero. Her three accomplished adult children went all through the Chicago public schools. Two of them (and/or their spouses) now teach in the system. One is a special education teacher who has a child of her own with learning disabilities.  

Several of the grandkids are now in the Chicago system. A couple of them attended an excellent bilingual charter school, but it was disbanded because of anti-charter agitation. My friend is certainly not anti-union herself, since she’s retired from a glorious career as an in-the-trenches union organizer. 

Her verdict? Duncan’s fine. She points out that the main problem with Chicago schools in her experience (now going back 40 years or more) has been chaotic management: not necessarily the wrong policies, but just no policies and no (here’s that word again) accountability. Her view is that if anyone can get a grip on the situation, the kids benefit.  

What we might be tempted to forget is that we elected Obama to be a lever, not a hammer. He’s not, nor does he claim to be, an expert on education. What we can and should do is prepare to hold him accountable, just as his management choice for Secretary of Education claims to want to do with schools, for the success or failure of his administration’s program. That’s our job, and it’s a big important one. 

Here in Berkeley, right now, there’s an excellent debate in progress about major changes which are being proposed for Berkeley High. Various theories and points of view have been well articulated, and experts of every stripe have claimed authority. The solutions-du-jour seem to be block scheduling, which my informants tell me is widely hated in Santa Cruz, but which local proponents say has been successful elsewhere, plus small schools within the large high school, which look a lot like the better kind of charter schools.  

Some local opponents have charged that changes are being rushed through in secret. Concerned citizens (especially parents) need to inform themselves of the facts, and also of the reviews that similar programs have gotten elsewhere, and then participate intelligently in the discussion. The Berkeley Unified School District board members need to do their part by scheduling informational and decision-making meetings so that both current and future high school students and their parents can take part before the decision is final.  

The worst way to make crucial decisions like this one is to leave everything up to self-styled professionals, particularly to consultants from outside the local system who offer one-size-fits-all solutions to all their clients. Students and parents have different perspectives from those of consultants, administrators and teachers—all are valuable. The best argument for open and transparent democratic decision-making is that it prevents mistakes which are easy to make if criticism is shut out of the process.  

That’s something Arne Duncan will need to keep in mind in his new job as well. We Liberal Democrats need to help him do it in case he forgets. 

 


Cartoons

This Space for Sale

By Justin DeFreitas
Thursday December 18, 2008 - 10:04:00 AM


Recessionary Snowman

By Justin DeFreitas
Thursday December 18, 2008 - 11:11:00 AM


Browsing the Addison Street Gallery

By Justin DeFreitas
Thursday December 18, 2008 - 11:15:00 AM


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:54:00 PM

NEW SECRETARY OF ENERGY 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Richard Brenneman’s recent story on the reported selection of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Director Steven Chu as the nation’s new secretary of energy was remarkably one-sided. Instead of describing how Dr. Chu has forcefully made the case for the urgent need to tackle climate change, and his promotion of a broad range of research on technologies that could provide alternatives to fossil fuels, Brenneman quoted a critic of the biofuels research effort that is one of the approaches that may be part of a strategy to reduce use of fossil fuels. Apparently he feels that good reporting doesn’t require presenting views other than the one that he himself agrees with (as has been evident in his reporting). 

The nation is fortunate to have someone with Dr. Chu’s vision and drive as secretary of energy, and the people of Berkeley deserve a better profile of him than what we read in the Daily Planet. 

Steve Meyers 

 

• 

OBAMA, CHU BLAZE GRASS-OIL TOGETHER 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Progressives have a new foe: Barack Obama. After the environmentalist group Save Strawberry Canyon declares victory over the scale of LBNL’s Helios building, Obama rewarded LBNL director Steven Chu, naming him secretary of energy.  

Sadly UC-BP’s Helios may continue, just smaller. The largest corporate-university deal in history, UC Berkeley and BP want to mar and pollute Strawberry Canyon with a monstrous temple dedicated to unintelligent business and scientific decisions. The Helios building begins with intentional deception; it has nothing to do with the sun and solar energy. A main thrust is actually to do research that would increase oil production. Helios will also try to dupe the masses by reviving the “clean coal” myth. It also focuses on genetically engineered switch grass, as opposed to a wide variety of natural (undesigned) or recycled biomasses. Though the U.S. will use the majority of this biofuel, it will be grown in developing countries after we cut down more of their forests. BP has its hands in Iraq; what would stop switch grass related conflicts? 

What of Berkeley’s trees? The original plans for Helios didn’t meet environmental standards, but Steven Chu, Robert Birgeneau, and the UC Board of Regents (aka the Legion of Doom) tried to move forward anyway. The only things that stopped UC from breaking the law, and stopped Chu from being director of an illegally and immorally constructed lab, were a rag tag team of canyon defenders and their lawsuit.  

If Obama had been president during the past couple of years, and Helios being integral to his energy policy, would things have been different? How would Obama have handled protesters (the BP Bears, Stop UC-BP and others) who rallied on campus against BP and its Helios? 

Oh, you remember the talk of the Bevatron pulverization? That’s right, Obama gave the secretary of energy position to someone who wants to haul debris including Cobalt 60, Cesium 137, and Europium 154, asbestos, lead, mercury, PCBs, and chlorinated VOCs through the city, past residences, in uncovered trucks.  

No, we can’t succeed through shifty corporate deals, giving bad projects cute names, relying on production overseas, ignoring human rights, and by refusing to severely use less energy per American. The next administration must understand that if we are going to overhaul our energy plan, we must overhaul our values, communities, and relationship to nature.  

Nathan Pitts 

 

• 

BERKELEY HIGH REDESIGN 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

In critical care units the term “triage” is often used. A triage system is implemented in a critical care unit when there are more patient admissions than available beds. Patients determined to be safe enough to transfer to lower levels of care are transferred so as to be able to give priority to those who need more attention. If there were enough resources available at all times, triaging would not be necessary. Comparably, if there was no achievement gap and no at-risk students at Berkeley High School, a redesign plan would not be needed. Those speaking out against the redesign plan and the idea of “initiating a school wide change to help only a few hundred students” (Daily Planet, Dec. 11) have perhaps not been in a situation where stepping back and letting the more critically ill people—or in this case the more at-risk students—be the priority. Is it possible that some Berkeley High parents are only supportive of progressive politics when their own children are not affected?  

Felicity Blau 

 

• 

WEST BERKELEY 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Planning Commissioner Larry Gurley said the following about the West Berkeley area: “I’m not sure it’s in the city’s interest to provide storage for Berkeley residents.” Perhaps instead of trying to decide what is best for the rest of us, planning commissioners can trust the people involved—those that care the most about storage in West Berkeley. People in Berkeley want to pay to store their stuff in this city, and the owners want to make money providing that storage. Conclusion? Very clearly in the best interest of Berkeley residents as both sides benefit, and (as is very important in this city) their transactions have few, if any, negative externalities. Using land for mini-storage may not bring in as much revenue to the city, but increased city revenue is not the goal of land-use decisions.  

Furthermore, Mr. Gurley and others on the commission need to be reminded that the city of Berkeley is not a singular entity to be pleased, only an amalgamation of all its residents, each with different desires and ideas of what is best. Allowing some to be happy and to conduct storage business without having to fork over tax dollars should be a desirable thing. Lastly, I hope all land use controllers appreciate why this attitude towards planning engenders tremendous dislike towards them. You want to allow certain types of businesses and activities that conform to your idea of what Berkeley should be without regard to the large (but unseen) costs your meddling imposes on all Berkeley residents. 

Damian Bickett 

 

• 

2700 SAN PABLO AVE. 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Chuck Heinricks suggested that the city buy the failed condo project at 2700 San Pablo Ave. for housing police. That’s a good idea, though maybe too late. When the property went into default this summer, I suggested to Councilmember Darryl Moore that the city purchase it for employees, especially first responders. We’re really going to be in trouble after the next big earthquake because so many of our firefighters and police live out of town. 

In Britain it is usual for towns to own and operate housing as well as parking garages, sport complexes, and other communal facilities. Instead of giving away so many development rights to private companies for the building of more big yuppie dormitories, we could create some attractive and affordable family-sized housing for city employees. 

For financing, the city could tap the enormous equity of older property owners who might be willing to pool their wealth for a stake in new housing development.  

Toni Mester 

 

• 

CAMEJO: FEET OF CLAY 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Now that Peter Camejo is stone-dead, buried, lionized and memorialized, can we discuss his legacy?  

I always said Peter was a good candidate and spokesperson. I worked with him on two of his vanity projects, the Progressive Alliance of Alameda County in 1993 (a $20,000-plus failure) and his first run for governor in 2001 (a wash). I walked away thinking, “What a pompous, self-involved blowhard.” So my animus is well-earned.  

But I kept my opinions to myself. When a friend complained terly about the poor return on her investments at Progressive Assets Management, I ignored it because I had nothing to invest. And when Peter rallied his acolytes and initiated the divisive purge known as the “Greens for Democracy and Independence,” GDI (another failure), and began to target fellow greens with his Stalinist attacks, I still withheld my opinion. When he died and all the flowers started to drop, I was told it was in bad taste to criticize him. But I think it is a perfect time to share my distaste for this self-appointed egotistical millionaire political poseur.  

I can’t think of another white male leader during my entire history with the Green Party (since 1989) who has done more damage, both state-wide and nationally, than Peter Camejo.  

As for all those mystical superlatives, what would you expect? The only people at the memorial were his fans and supporters. Peter’s detractors, among whom I count myself, stayed away. 

Hank Chapot 

Oakland 

 

• 

MIDDLE EAST 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

For me and to many others, our opposition to President Carter’s statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do not stem solely from his criticism of the Israeli government, but from the fact that he chastises only one side. I am hard pressed to find any statement of his taking the Palestinians—politicians and terrorists alike—to task for their actions. Many of us are saddened by discriminatory actions taken by the Israeli government and by strains of racism which permeate some—but hardly all—of Israeli society. And we are appalled not only by the actions of the Hebron settlers last week, but by the IDF’s refusal to take immediate action to halt these outrages. 

So when I and other members of San Francisco Voice for Israel counterprotest against groups we consider to be Israel-bashers (as we did against Bay Area Women in Black at the Ashby Flea Market last Sunday), we are there solely to support the right of Israel to exist in peace, as a Jewish state, within secure boundaries. We have a limited mission statement, because once we go beyond this narrow focus there are too many opposing opinions for us to agree on anything without alienating many of our members and supporters. And when we stand in opposition to larger groups, as we did at the annual AIPAIC dinner in San Francisco this week, it’s for the same reason and, even more so, to counter even more radical groups who declare that Israel has no right to exist. 

The Daily Planet seems to have fallen into the same trap that many of these anti-Israel protesters have found themselves—stating only one side of the case. Trying to find a way out of this morass is impossible when you have only one eye to guide you. Without a balanced approach to this quagmire, any effort at peace is doomed to failure. 

Marshall E. Schwartz 

Oakland 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Daily Planet does not state just one side of this issue. In fact, the Planet itself rarely makes any statement at all on the issue, but, with the exception of an occasional editorial cartoon or Conn Hallinan column, merely publishes the views of its readers in the form of commentaries and letters. Opposing viewpoints are always welcome, but the Planet actually receives very few pro-Israel submissions; most pro-Israel submissions come in only in response to pro-Palestinian letters. It’s one of the pitfalls of free speech: If you don’t take advantage of this forum to express your views, surely your opposition will. So if a writer wants to make the case for Israel, this is the place to do it—better to be pro-active than just cry foul when the opposition makes its case first. 

 

• 

ISRAEL 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

With force of arms, the government of Israel lords over the fate of five million Palestinians who did not consent to be ruled by a government by Jews and for Jews alone, that speciously calls itself a “democratic and Jewish state.” But John Gertz decries the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) and our protest against this patently racist order. Gertz is perplexed that we condemn not only the current horrors of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank—but that we call attention to the underlying problem, which is Israel’s ongoing conquest of Palestine .  

The Israeli government claims to speak for all Jews, and as Jews we recognize our implication in the colonial project that we unwittingly serve to justify. As anti-Zionist Jews, we seek to demonstrate that Jews are not united in support of Zionism. While Gertz seeks to politically isolate us, calling us the “quaint remains of an outdated worldview,” we assert our place in the great history of resistance that we are a part of; Gertz calls us “extreme,” but we contend that IJAN is a part of the contemporary global majority that is mobilized against colonialism, militarism, and occupation. 

In a blatant display of visual racism, Gertz complains about lack of “truth in advertising” because, as he writes, “in a group photo of a brand new group touting itself as comprised of Jewish anti-Zionists not all its members appeared to be Jews.” Gertz claims that people of the wrong ethnicity (wrong for him) attended our public demonstration—he says that, like his orange juice, we are not “100% pure.” Gertz’s argument is appalling: as he proposes to police our identities by scrutinizing our physical features, his statement reproduces the logic of scientific racism and recalls the oppressive ideology that has been used against Jews and others to justify persecution, forced sterilization and genocide.  

IJAN is a Jewish network. Founded by Jews who believe in equality and justice for all, it speaks unambiguously from a Jewish location. Unlike Gertz, we stand against racism not just in Berkeley, but everywhere, including Israel. IJAN includes Jews of many ethnic backgrounds and we proudly welcome participation and coalition with everyone who shares our passion for justice, whether they identify as Jewish or not. 

Brooke Lober 

Mich Levy 

International Jewish anti-Zionist Network, Bay Area 

 

• 

CARTER AND OBAMA 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Joanne Kowalsky (Commentary, Dec. 11) fails to zero in on why Obama didn’t give former President Carter a speaking role at the Democratic Convention. Obama didn’t give Carter a speaking role not because of Jewish lobby opposition or because Obama doesn’t respect Carter’s policies or humanitarian efforts. No, Obama didn’t give Carter a speaking role because Carter as President was very bad for the Party. Carter took a Democratic Party enjoying an extraordinarily steep rise in popularity beginning in 1974 and ran it into the ground. Carter failed to include various coalitions of the party in his government. Too many Carter appointees were from his native state of Georgia and not enough from other regions. Hence, he was challenged by the very influential Senator Kennedy in the Democratic primaries of 1980. Plus, Carter was ineffective. His time as President was one of high inflation and high unemployment. Thus, Carter was ousted from power by the 1980 49-state landslide victory of Republican Ronald Reagan. As a future President who wants to serve two terms and to be an effective president, President-elect Barack Obama can ill afford to too closely associate himself with Jimmy Carter.  

Nathaniel Hardin 

El Cerrito 

 

• 

GREED TRUMPS HEALTH 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last summer the Congress passed and the president signed the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act which set a strong lead limit and banned the use of plastic softeners called phthalates in toys and other products designed for children and sold after Feb. 10, 2009. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and hormone mimics. They have been linked to birth defects, early puberty in girls, deformities of the reproductive tract in male infants, and cancer. Did that solve the problem? Apparently not. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s legal council has decided to reinterpret the intent of the Act to allow retailers to continue selling toxic toys until their back stock is sold, which may be long after Feb. 10. Greed apparently trumps health. 

Allowing greed to endanger these precious children is a violation of moral principles, common decency, and good sense. The CPSC should be called back to its mission to protect consumers. Christmas should not be an occasion for a child to receive a present that may permanently damage health. 

Joe Magruder 

 

• 

A THOUSAND SHOCKS 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

By the time Barack Hussein Obama is sworn into office he will have had 11 weeks to get his personnel in place, just barely enough time to assemble several hundred skilled people into a ship tight and sufficiently seaworthy to stay afloat and on course in a sea of troubles. The storms raging at home and abroad were created by eight years of incompetence, greed, neglect and insolence. The accumulated virulence, however, is unprecedented and so the new president’s ability to calm the seas will necessarily be an experimental endeavor.  

Meanwhile, everyone who can talk or write, including those in the punditry and in academia, has advice: put this person in the wheelhouse, avoid this guy, be careful not to steer here or to run with the wind, too fast or too slow, be bold, be circumspect, etc., etc. 

When the jubilant inaugural celebration ends we can be sure of one thing: the 44th presidency will set out on an “enterprise of great pitch and moment…” What we do not know is whether the course he takes is the one we hoped for when we voted for him. 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 

 

• 

CONSERVATION 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

In an age where humans are increasingly disconnected from the natural environment, it is more pressing than ever to protect what remains of America’s pristine forest areas under the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule. It is important to remember that although most of us carry out our daily lives in urban concrete jungles, a vast and rugged wilderness is part of a truly unique American cultural heritage. The Roadless Areas Conservation Rule was passed by the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 in order to protect that last remaining areas of our national forest system that are truly “wild”—those areas that are completely free from road building and logging. This area makes up approximately 58.5 million acres of national forest, and is home to 1,600 threatened or endangered plant and animal species. Unfortunately, in the following eight years the Bush administration has done all it could to rollback the protection offered by the rule. This has been compounded by the efforts of big business, particularly the mining and lumber industries, which have filed nine lawsuits against the rule. With the new Obama administration we now have a fresh opportunity to make sure this important legislation is respected and upheld, but we as ordinary citizens have the responsibility to let those in power know that this issue is important to us. 

Rebecca Huyck 

 

• 

OUR DEADLIEST EXPORT 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Associated Press recently reported that the Mexican “war on drugs” has resulted in more than 8,000 deaths in the last three years, with about 5,376 in this year alone. Those murdered include judges, police, witnesses, journalists, and innocent citizens. There is a growing perception among Mexicans that the government is losing the war against these well-armed drug cartels. However, little is said about the source of the weapons used in these killings.  

For the period Oct. 1, 2004 to Sept. 30, 2007, weapons found discarded at shootings in Mexico or confiscated from the drug cartels were traced to 15 states. Texas sellers were the source of 2,085 weapons. California was runner-up with 1,006. Texas and California together are the source of more than the combined total of weapons from the other 13 states. An untold number of guns couldn’t be traced or are still in the hands of the drug cartels. The illicit drugs flow north and the weapons flow south. Under Mexico’s strict regulations, it is against the law to own or sell armor-piercing penetrating assault rifles and semiautomatic pistols. But they are legally available in sporting goods stores and gun shows in the United States where straw men buy them and then they are smuggled into Mexico. And weapons are easy to purchase in the U.S.  

Now, U.S. law only requires that dealers run an instant FBI background check to make sure the potential buyer has no felony convictions, is a U.S. citizen, and then require the buyer to sign a form attesting that the weapon is not for someone else. We have heard the old canard that “people, not guns, kill people.” Actually, it is people with guns that kill the most people. Obviously, the United States and Mexico must place more emphasis on catching gunrunners and tightening and enforcing the laws regarding the sale and purchase of weapons in the U.S.  

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco 

 

• 

RFID 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again, those people at SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense)have got it right, and are willing to speak up on behalf of budget and best service. Once again, the public library is messing around with the check-out system when the obvious technique is bar code! 

Perhaps more persons would get involved in safeguarding the library (beyond cultcha) if the assistant library director would arrange for posting of all board meetings—regular and irregular—on the Planet’s Community Calendar, the city’s Community Calendar (access by clicking on “View full Community Calendar”), and the Library’s “Upcoming events” and “Board of Library Trustees.” 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 

 

• 

BRT—FAITH OVER LOGIC 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

I laughed all the way through the twisted logic of Charles Siegel’s commentary about the “Anti-Transit Crowd.” 

He complains that the same “familiar faces” opposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) at a recent AC Transit meeting. Yet, the majority of pro-BRT letters and commentaries are written by just three devout BRT worshipers, Mr. Siegel and two of his brethren. Through the entire election season, I do not think I saw one letter promoting BRT from a Berkeley resident who was not one of the few well-known “Friends of BRT.” 

By contrast, there were many new voices in the Planet opposing BRT, from people that Measure KK supporters had never heard of before. And such splendid voices they were! One person who we still have not met, Russ Tilleman, wrote several pithy and informative pieces. He suggested an explanation for the riddle of the empty 1R buses—invisible riders—an idea that still amuses me when I see a passengerless VanHool bus careen by. 

Dedicated bus lanes for BRT on Telegraph Avenue would essentially require eliminating local service on that route. I don’t want the local bus service cut. Actual people (visible ones, no less) use it every day. How the desire to continue service that is needed by real people can be deemed “anti-transit” is beyond me. 

This is an example of the twisted logic of the BRT religion. Up is down; black is white—kill the service that people depend upon in favor of service that isn’t used because it doesn’t stop near riders homes—and call it improved transit! 

Thank you Charles for your letters and commentaries. Keep those chuckles coming. 

Gale Garcia 

 

• 

FIRST AMENDMENT 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

This letter is in support of D. Minkler’s appeal to the First Amendment (“Popular speech needs no protection,” Daily Planet, Dec. 4). Guidelines concerning political expression should be as relaxed for an artist as they are for any other individual. Displaying in art works particular to any wide range of opinions is a daunting challenge. For example, in Cuba’s Old Havana there was a consecration ceremony for a new Russian Orthodox cathedral, “the second to be built outside the country (of Russia)” (Granma Int’l, Oct. 26). Someone might portray this as a nice gesture towards a culture and its architecture, while someone else might critique it as indicating toleration of a reactionary political/cultural institution.  

Minkler suggests for the Berkeley Art Commission an actual list of issues. In the list he omitted references to art in support of release of political prisoners. An example, to stick with Cuba: the Cuban Five in U.S. federal prisons now for 10 years. The Cuban Five were railroaded to prison for acting to prevent CIA-trained Cuban exile terrorists based in Florida from engaging in acts of piracy, bombings, hijackings, sabotage, murder, attempted assassinations etc. against the sovereign country of Cuba. The U.S. government unfairly seized and tried the five, kept them in isolation for months, and arrested and jailed partners (with U.S.-issued visas) who were trying to visit them. A picture display promoting winning their release could be an act of elementary solidarity. However, others might object to a focus on the Cuban Five when there are many others also deserving of freedom from U.S. Prisons (such as Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal).  

Curating artworks’ different political views in the context of Berkeley is an art in itself. 

Fred Hayden 

 

• 

MIYA RODOLFO-SIOSON 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Miya will be sorely missed. I enjoyed working with her, even when we were (occasionally) on opposite sides about contentious issues. Unlike many others, she rose above the impulse to be petty in acrimonious disputes. She dealt with conflict and disagreement in a classy, measured way. She never took political or policy disagreements to a personal level, and we remained on very good terms throughout the 8 years that I knew her. 

I am honored that I knew her and was lucky enough to work with her on many issues over the years. 

Jesse Townley  

 

• 

BAD IDEAS 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Times are tough when millionaires who bought newspapers out of a fancy are struggling with overhead and costs.  

Times are even tougher when that struggle plays out in an aging, highly educated, mainly middle-class city—because I am sure to the publisher of this newspaper it doesn’t make any sense that The Planet is not making any money. 

In Becky O’Malley’s editorial (”Keeping Newspapers Alive: A Few New Ideas”), she floats non-profit status, pay as-you-go giving, subscriptions, and grants as possible ways to keep up the Daily Planet’s woeful status quo. Mrs. O’Malley even suggests wanting to put together an advisory board to offer their ideas. What a dumb idea: a for-profit company looking for help from non-investing individuals. If anything, she should offer “shares” to those she wants to share her influence with. Maybe they too will be millionaires. Think: soon we might have a whole circle of rich citizens who will get to use this editorial page as a demagogic soapbox. But the Daily Planet will to saved! 

The best option and the one that worked for me when I was a public radio program manager is to Live Within Your Means! That means to be innovative on small money and to keep to that until economic times improve. If this newspaper’s costs are hypothetically $6,000 per issue, and it prints seven or eight issues a month, spending is over $2.5 million each year. Costs can be brought down and spending can be wiser. Contractors could be hired and the paper could run longer weekly feature articles instead of a multitude of smaller stories. A good once-weekly with council/committee coverage; an Alameda-Contra Costa political gossip column; letters; the blotter; and one good feature story on a local news subject will be more innovative; more local than New Times; and save well over a million dollars each year. If that savings are in real dollars rather than borrowed cash or credit, the publisher can raise salaries and start investing in overhead again. 

I would challenge that if even if the Planet brought its costs up to raise readership and coverage in Oakland, which I hope for your sake you are seeing as a growth market, and only printed one issue per week it could still earn a tiny income in 2009.  

Good luck and to hell with all your bad ideas. 

John E. Parman 

Washington, D.C. 

 

• 

WINDOWS GALLERY 

Editors, Daily Planet:  

Censorship is a controversial issue, as evidenced by the amount of discussion in regard to the censoring of visual art from the Addison Street Windows Gallery. However, unless we are able to view the work, our judgment about this gallery’s decision lacks perspective. To facilitate an educated debate on this topic, The Red Door Gallery (reddoorgalleryandcollective.blogspot.com) will unveil two of the aforementioned censored works in their upcoming exhibition, Art and the Body Politick. Interested readers can attend a free and open reception from 6-10 p.m. Jan. 2 at 416 26th St., Oakland. Hopefully, this lends perspective to the discussion and encourages healthy discourse on a topic so critical to our community’s history. 

Lauren Odell Usher 

 

• 

CIVIL RIGHTS 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

History shows that each generation of Americans has been defined by a particular hardship and their ability to overcome it. Just as my grandma’s generation is defined by their ability to work through the Depression and help win World War II, and just as my parents’ is defined by their handling of the Civil Rights Movement, so shall mine be defined by its ability to overcome the struggles we face. In the last few weeks, perhaps one of the biggest hardships that my generation will have to overcome has presented itself. I’m talking about the battle against the gay marriage ban—the most logical next step towards universal civil rights.  

Contrary to the stereotype that’s been perpetuated against Democrats, I’ve always felt proud to be an American because our society has become increasingly more compassionate since its inception. Since the time our country was founded, the definition of freedom has expanded, not condensed. Each time we’ve taken a big step in advancing civil rights, in fact, has started when a group of people dared to stand up against the status quo. 

There is no denying that the same-sex marriage ban, like other examples of “separate-but-equal” type policies has prejudice at its core. Just as Jim Crow laws were defended by the assertion that segregation would help prevent interracial breeding, so was the marriage ban promoted as a form of keeping homosexuality from being taught in public schools. The good news is that, with the ’60s generation in mind, we can fight these similar forms of oppression the same way they were fought back then. 

In the weeks following Nov. 4, I find myself thinking more and more of the Civil Rights Movement—a time when my parents’ generation was able to cripple institutionalized racism and help put an end to the draft simply by protesting. I’ve realized, however, that one of their most important accomplishments was more symbolic. By successfully fighting against the draft and for civil rights, they showed future generations that the youth can have a voice.  

In 2003, when the war in Iraq began, most of the anti-war protests were organized and heavily populated by people my parents’ age. Now, the response to Proposition 8’s passing has been largely headed by teenagers and young adults. With the last 50 years in mind, I’m taking this as a sign that my generation is willing to step up to plate. 

Nate Gartrell 

Oakland 

 

• 

CLIMATE ACTION PLAN 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

The latest draft of Berkeley Climate Action Plan (CAP) for public review and comment is misusing its basic greenhouse gas information. 

Please look at the pie chart (page 5) for Berkeley in 2005. This chart shows gasoline transportation (autos) at 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and diesel transportation (buses and trucks) at 17 percent. 

But then, in chapter 3, staff combines these two figures (total 47 percent) and erroneously blames the total percentage of emissions on cars, (page 25, paragraph 1): “automobiles within Berkeley city limits account for 47 percent of Berkeley’s total greenhouse gas emissions, approximately 293,000 tons per year in 2005.” An error this egregious renders all of the plan’s statistics questionable. 

In the case of natural gas, they choose to report residential emissions (19 percent) and commercial emissions (17 percent) separately. But they should be combined because they are the same type of emissions. So the single largest source of emissions in Berkeley is natural gas (total 36 percent), while gasoline transportation total is 29 percent. 

There is something quite good in Apendix C, buried in the back on page 171—My Very Own Climate Action Plan. It lists suggestions. Howewer the lists have been reversed from the original order so they now start with “Advanced Actions” instead of the easier actions most of us would begin. The easy actions add add up quickly, and little actions combined mean a lot! 

The advanced items begin with—can you guess?—sell your car. That is a big turnoff for most people. It is also ridiculous as stated. If you sell your car the buyer will likely drive away and continue polluting. The other Advanced Actions are costly, complicated and not easy to jump-start. But they are things we can think about now and plan todo later. 

Try to read and comment on this document. Deadline posted on-line for public comments is Jan. 16. But City Council will discuss this plan at their Jan. 13 meeting. So it is best to to have your comments date-stamped in time for the Staff Report—Jan. 7. 

I try to do all the little things to save energy, and to protect trees which absorb greenhouse gasses naturally in order to live. Think about trees and note how our politicians and UCB don’t hesitate to cut trees and pave the earth..  

Merrilie Mitchell 

 

• 

STATE GOP 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

GOP tactics are putting the whole state at risk. A handful of Republican legislators are trying to force their flawed and suspect anti-tax doctrine on tens of millions of Californians causing a financial earthquake. Who are these unsavory culprits and obstructionists? State Assembly and Senate members Mike Villines, Dave Cogdill, Dave Cox, Roger Niello, Ted Gaines, Kevin Jeffries and Rick Keane are GOP leaders holding the state hostage. 

Why doesn’t fellow Republican and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger call the members of his party to task? 

Maybe it is the apathetic Californian citizenry and their ho-hum attitude that is adding fuel to this crisis. Will it take the loss of basic services to finally get the public off their easy chairs and say enough is enough to this GOP minority that is holding the state at bay? 

Ron Lowe 

Nevada City 

 

• 

REMOVE CORPORATE  

VETO POWER 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

The American middle class worker is being squeezed. Major corporations give their CEOs contracts that protect their salaries, bonuses, and benefits, but they deny those same protections to hard working men and women. When those same hard working men and women try to come together to form a union to gain those rights, they’re often harassed, intimidated, or simply fired by their superiors. 

It’s time for a change. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is a commonsense bill that was blocked by George Bush and the Republicans in Congress. It prevents employers from bullying working people who want to organize a union, and empowers workers by bringing democracy into the workplace and recognizing unions supported by a majority of employees. 

Unionized workers are the backbone of a strong middle class. They’re working harder than ever before, but they have less to show for it than at any other time. It’s time we gave them the power to organize around issues like health care benefits, a pension plan, and safe working conditions. American workers deserves all the same rights as CEOs. 

Jaquelin Pearson 

San Rafael 

 

• 

NORM ABRAMS IS GREAT 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

After watching Norm Abrams’ shows, This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop, on PBS for several years, I, as a beginner in carpentry, found that by osmosis had picked up some of the terms used, like “easing” a corner or “sistering” a support beam. He talks about joists and studs and rafters in a way that over time begins to make sense even to a beginner. 

He speaks as a friend who believes you can readily understand. His unobtrusive respect makes it possible to listen to descriptions of complicated, unknown topics without discomfort. We always feel grateful that this good guy is willing to spend time showing us how to do things and explaining how they work. 

He starts every show of The New Yankee Workshop by reminding us that it’s very important to work safely, continuing, “And remember, there is no more important safety tip than to wear this (points at glasses), your safety glasses.” And he does that himself. When he uses a lathe he also wears an additional face shield in front of the safety glasses. 

A good friend of mine, and a very capable person, lost an eye using a wood lathe years ago. (We were all less conscious of safety then.) So Mr. Abrams’ advice has personal meaning for some of us. 

When using a drill on some wood recently, I was in a hurry and didn’t feel like stopping to get out the safety goggles I had. I probably would not have, except for thinking of all the times Norm Abrams had taken the time to tell us once again about wearing your safety glasses. 

Since he had told us and told us that in a calm and caring way, I took the time to get the safety goggles out and put them on. Nothing happened in any case but it was certainly the wise thing to do. I’m glad there was someone somewhere who was enough of a human being to go out of his way to encourage people he does not know and may never meet to do things that will help them. 

So, I am grateful to PBS for having the wisdom to produce and air shows like these, and to Mr. Abrams for helping me to work more safely and to feel a little less lacking in knowledge when thinking about wood and furniture and houses and tools. 

And thanks also to all his wonderful colleagues, past and present. Great people all. 

Norm Abrams is great. 

Brad Belden 


Berkeley High School Deserves the Best

By Jessica Quindel and Amy Burke
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:59:00 PM

Across our country, millions of Americans embraced President-elect Obama’s message of change. They embraced this idea because they knew America could do better. Today, Berkeley High School is also ready for change. We support the Berkeley High School Redesign Plan because it will improve academic achievement for all students by providing personalization through a student advisory program, increasing time on task in academic and elective classes, providing greater student support services, and improving teacher quality through increased opportunities for professional development. Moving to a block schedule is a fundamental component of this plan.  

Recently, Berkeley’s progressive tradition drove the City of Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District to pass the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth. Its goal is to empower all children, regardless of race, ethnicity and/or income, to achieve equitable outcomes, with no proficiency differences, by the year 2020. For too long, our educational system has not served its students as well as it should. We need to bridge the educational gulf. We cannot continue doing things the same way and expect different results.  

Studies show that improving the quality of teaching is the most significant factor in improving student achievement and preparing students for college. We acknowledge that there is a range of effectiveness of teachers at Berkeley High School, but to improve teacher performance, we need strong professional training. Berkeley High teachers are like talented players on a basketball team without time to practice together and with minimal coaching. Quality professional development includes time for teachers to share and plan lessons together, learn new instructional strategies for working with diverse groups of students, develop content knowledge, and become quality student advisors. Teachers should be held accountable for quality instruction, but we must be given adequate support. This plan gives teachers the resources needed to create more engaging lessons and improve academic success for all students. 

Our goal is to educate and challenge all of our students and move away from the factory model of schooling. All our students need to be prepared to succeed in college. The proposed block schedule actually resembles a college schedule since students would take a limited number of classes each day with more focus and in-depth learning. Recognizing these benefits, some of the top high schools in the nation, including Phillips Exeter Academy, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, and San Francisco’s Urban High School, use a block schedule. Moreover, all Berkeley middle schools have moved to a block schedule, so students are already familiar with this model. In our global economy, education, business and community leaders are looking for critical thinkers, problem-solvers, collaborators, communicators, and analyzers. We need a different system to develop the skills that colleges and the 21st century workplace demand. 

In the current schedule, much of a teacher’s day is spent in transition; welcoming students to class, introducing a topic or activity only to hurry students out the door as we shout out that night’s homework assignment. A block schedule will allow us to cover the material in more depth due to the reduction in transitions and increased time to develop innovative teaching strategies. A daily math lesson might include a warm-up activity, lecture on a new concept, a problem-solving group activity, student presentations, and introduction to the homework. Our current schedule doesn’t allow enough time to complete this kind of lesson in one session, even though it’s the kind of lesson that works best in schools around the country and world with high math achievement.  

Opponents of the Redesign Plan argue that the proposed schedule would lead to loss of instructional time. It is true, there will be some loss in instructional minutes—however, schools that have moved to a block schedule have reported an increase in time on task and in learning, which are more important than the number of minutes a student is physically sitting in a classroom. The cost-neutral Redesign Plan focuses on the quality of teaching, not the quantity. The Academic Support and Access Period will provide additional tutoring for students who are behind and opportunities for study groups for challenging Honors and Advanced Placement courses, giving students increased time in the day to get individualized support based on their needs. 

Opponents also argue that bad teaching is the reason we should not change the schedule at BHS. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is a national teacher shortage and that about 30 percent of teachers, mostly new and highly-prepared teachers, leave BHS each year because of the lack of support and a system that does not enable teachers to grow and excel. A number of great teachers, many in their first five years, have expressed that the Redesign Plan is what it would take to keep them teaching our students at Berkeley High. 

We share the belief of a diverse group of teachers at BHS that the Redesign Plan will improve the academic achievement for all our students. All students deserve individualized attention and support in meeting their academic goals and preparing for college, including a schedule and system that makes individualization possible. We should move away from a system where only some students have access to private college counselors while others have limited time to talk to a professional about their future plans.  

We came into teaching because we believe education is the most important factor in creating social and economic equality. We want to make a difference with all of our students by helping them learn the mathematical thinking they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond. We LOVE what we do. As undergraduate math majors with graduate degrees from Stanford and UC Berkeley, our college peers would ask why we would “waste” our math degrees on teaching. Our response: “Who do you want teaching your children?” We are proud to teach at Berkeley High School and believe that all students deserve highly qualified and prepared teachers, personalization, and access to a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum. A Berkeley education should be nothing less than the best. 

 

Amy Burke and Jessica Quindel are Berkeley High School math teachers and co-teacher leaders of the Math Department. 


RFID and Nuclear Weapons: Continuing Misrepresentations

By Peter Warfield
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:59:00 PM

The Berkeley Public Library is continuing its unfortunate tradition of seriously misrepresenting the facts about radio frequency identification (RFID) as it seeks a waiver of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act from the Peace and Justice Commission (P&J), and eventually from the City Council.  

The library wants to sign a multi-year maintenance contract with 3M, a company that has taken over this function from the original RFID system seller, Checkpoint—and 3M has refused to sign a standard city form verifying that it does not, and will not for the life of the contract, do “work for nuclear weapons.” 

In her Nov. 10 letter to the Peace and Justice Commission chair, seeking the waiver, Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil made no mention of the possible alternatives to obtaining maintenance from 3M, other than getting another RFID system from a different vendor. But the law requires any waiver consideration to evaluate alternatives and their costs. The most obvious alternative is to switch systems and install reliable, inexpensive bar code technology that continues to be used by 99 percent of libraries today.  

The bar code option would include using existing or new bar code checkout equipment—and eliminating expensive and unreliable RFID self-service checkout machines. Bar code self-service checkout machines could be substituted. Alternatively, staff could be provided as necessary to replace these machines altogether. That could provide more personal service and avoid the high cost of purchasing self-service machines that cost about $20,000 each.  

The library wants to keep its existing system, and its strategy appears to be to understate the ongoing costs, overstate the supposed benefits, and make any real alternatives look unthinkably painful and expensive. But the union previously recommended a return to bar code technology. And the Oakland Public Library did just that—it pulled the plug on RFID and went back to bar code technology several years ago at its Cesar Chavez branch.  

Past benefit claims for RFID have typically been unsubstantiated—and were actually incorrect.  

 

1. RFID was supposed to cut repetitive stress injuries (RSI) dramatically—but it did not.  

Actually, RSIs had been declining and went to zero—that is, none—in fiscal year 2003-2004, the year before RFID was installed. In fact, there are serious questions as to whether bar code technology necessarily causes any RSIs. As Lee Tien and I wrote in our March 4, 2005 Daily Planet Commentary analyzing Workers Compensation at the library, “RFID Should be Canceled Immediately,” “There were no RSI claims in 1998, 2000, and 2004, and only one RSI claim worth $1,008 in 1999.” Bar codes were used in all of those years.  

Our analysis of the library’s Workers Compensation history concluded: “Simply put, the documents we received from the library contradict the library’s claims that RSI is a major financial burden [when using bar code technology].”  

Indeed, RFID appears to have actually increased injuries. A Daily Planet report on April 6, 2007 said that “because the [RFID] system does not consistently function properly” a library worker reported “repetitive stress injuries are up.” The reporter added that this was “something of which Library Director Donna Corbeil says she is unaware.”  

 

2. Tag prices were supposed to go down—instead, they went up. 

The Berkeley Daily Planet reported on May 18, 2007, in “Library Budget Raises RFID Questions,” that Donna Corbeil said media “donut” tags for CDs and DVDs cost $2.12 and regular tags cost 77 cents each. The story noted this was up from prices reported to the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) 19 months earlier, when the cost was $1.15 for donut tags and 60 cents for regular tags. That represents an 84 percent price increase in donut tags and a 28 percent price increase in regular tags. The story quoted the technical services manager as saying in 2005, “There is general agreement that in the near future the costs of the RFID security tags should drop below their current 60 cents apiece.”  

 

3. RFID was supposed to allow simultaneous checkout of multiple items, making the process easier and quicker for staff and public. It didn’t turn out that way. Checkouts typically occur one at a time, reportedly because reading multiple items is simply too unreliable. 

Here are some recent misrepresentations. 

The library sent a Dec. 5 letter responding to questions posed by two of three members of a Peace and Justice subcommittee which was appointed to do further research. The responses were quite unresponsive and highly misleading. 

Example one: The answer to one question indicated that RSIs had gone down with installation of RFID, when in fact they went up.  

The letter says, “Staff repetitive stress injuries fell significantly from six incidents in fiscal year 2002 and five in fiscal year 2003, to a single incident in fiscal year 2005 following the installation of self-checkout at BPL.”  

But the library’s list of years left out a crucial year—2004. In that year, before RFID installation, RSI claims were zero. In other words, RSIs had dropped to zero before RFID was installed, and actually increased in the year following installation.  

Example two: Question 4 asked, “How many libraries in the U.S. use RFID technology? The library’s reply was: “According to trade magazine ‘Computer in Libraries’ Feb-08 in a non-comprehensive survey there are 7,741 self-checkout units installed in U.S. libraries.” What the library did not make clear is that many self-service checkout units are not RFID—but typically use bar codes—such as Berkeley Public Library before installing its RFID system, and as currently used by San Francisco Public Library and others. The last figure for RFID installations that we have seen is about 300. There are more than 30,000 libraries in the U.S.  

RFID in the Berkeley Public Library has been an expensive failure. It has not lived up to performance and cost promises, and there are hidden costs including privacy threats and potential health risks. Bar code operation is far cheaper and more reliable, with bar code stickers and security strips costing from one-quarter to one-tenth the RFID tags. A bar code system is an alternative that would allow the library to avoid signing a contract with 3M, a company that refuses to sign that it does not, and will not for the life of the contract, do work for nuclear weapons.  

The Peace and Justice Commission will consider the waiver at its next meeting, Monday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Please attend, and send letters to the commission, with copies to the City Council care of the city clerk, as the City Council has final say over whether a waiver is granted. 

 

Peter Warfield is executive eirector of Library Users Association. 

 

 


Address the Real Problems at Berkeley

By Yehuda HaKohen
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:00:00 PM

As director of the Zionist Freedom Alliance and one of the organizers of Israel Liberation Week at UC Berkeley last month, I was disturbed to learn some of the things being said about the ZFA not only by the “Students for Justice in Palestine” and their supporters, but also by the Bay Area’s organized Jewish leadership. For readers unaware of recent events at Berkeley, the ZFA hosted Israel Liberation Week on campus from Nov. 10-14. On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 13, we brought Jewish, black and Mexican performers together for a concert advocating Jewish national rights. A series of unnecessary events that began with a disruption of the concert by the SJP and ended in a violent confrontation between Arabs and Jews has since become the focus of media attention.  

Rather than address the underlying tensions at Berkeley that led to the unfortunate incident, the Jewish community leaders have placed the blame for the violence on the ZFA, labeling us as an “extreme right-wing” group and accusing us of brainwashing impressionable Jewish students towards confrontational behavior. But this libel holds no water when one looks at what we stand for and what we stand against. The ZFA message carries absolutely no anti-Arab or Islamophobic sentiment. ZFA has never brought speakers like Daniel Pipes or Walid Shoebat to any campus, nor have we ever screened alarmist anti-Muslim films like Obsession. To the contrary, genuine efforts were made to dialogue with members of SJP and the Muslim Student Association. I even personally invited SJP leaders to an Israel Liberation Week event called “Moral Dilemmas Confronting the State of Israel Today” that deals with certain problematic areas of Israeli government policy. Although similar efforts to engage in genuine dialogue with Muslim and Arab students on other campuses have been well received, we encountered only a hostile atmosphere at Berkeley to anything that could be labeled Zionist. 

In truth, the perception that Zionist students at UC Berkeley are “confrontational” is simply the most recent outgrowth of an obvious intolerance on campus for any individuals or groups who appear supportive of the Jewish state. In all my years working on university campuses, I have never encountered a climate of hate towards Israel like that at Berkeley. During the week I spent on campus, I witnessed pro-Israel students incessantly mocked, taunted and ridiculed by their peers. The Zionist students justifiably feel discriminated against by the university. The dean of students, Jonathan Poullard, told me following the concert that these Zionist students (most of whom are members of the Tikvah organization) have been making trouble on campus for the last year. But such “trouble making” simply means that these students have been assertive in their opposition to the anti-Zionist bigotry and SJP propaganda that has flourished unchecked at UC Berkeley for years. Before Tikvah, the activities of anti-Israel groups went unchallenged and no one contested the erroneous narrative that Zionism is akin to racism or that Israel is an oppressive colonial regime. But now Jewish students at Berkeley proudly proclaim their national rights and anti-Israel groups know that they no longer have free reign. 

Marginalizing any ideological group is dangerous, yet this is precisely what the UC Berkeley administration, dean of students, Jewish Student Union and campus Hillel have done to the leaders of Tikvah. If the administration is truly interested in calming tensions on campus, the first step is making pro-Israel students feel that their political views are valid and that Zionism has a legitimate place among the many other just causes at UC Berkeley. 

The ZFA’s overall message is one of Jewish rights. We unapologetically assert that the Jewish people, like all other peoples, enjoy national rights—specifically the right to self-determination in our homeland; without denigrating anyone else. Even though some Jewish leaders and groups are curiously afraid to vocally assert such rights, these are mainstream views within the Jewish community. Just because we promote the Jewish people’s legal, moral and historic rights to our country does not justify labeling the ZFA as a “right-wing” group. And neither does defending oneself from physical attack. It was the assertion of our own people’s legitimate rights that prompted the regrettable disruption of our concert by the SJP and the physical confrontation that ultimately followed. 

The ZFA leadership fully understands that the deplorable incident at our concert has justifiably alarmed many in the Bay Area community. We understand that it has brought long standing tensions to the forefront and forced Jews and non-Jews alike to deal with deeply rooted problems that have in the past been swept under the rug. But rather than seek a convenient scapegoat to deflect blame from local Jewish leadership, why not work together and address the real difficulties confronting pro-Israel students at Berkeley? Why not take advantage of ZFA’s experience and expertise in making the Berkeley campus, and the Bay Area in general, a more accepting place for those who speak of Jewish rights? 

 

Yehuda HaKohen is director of the Zionist Freedom Alliance. 


The Electoral College Has Gotta Go

By Bruce Joffe
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:00:00 PM

With the final vote count now certified, we can be very thankful that the victor’s margin was more than 8,500,000 votes. Had it been a closer election, with, say, a 500,000 vote margin, the wrong candidate—the one with fewer votes—might have been elected, once again. We know the terrible costs of this flaw in our electoral system: more than 4,000 American soldiers dead, 60,000 severely wounded, and three trillion dollars wasted on a war brought on by hubris and deception. This, plus 4 million Iraqi people displaced from their homes and over a hundred thousand killed. Now, in the twilight of this disastrous presidency, we are suffering an economic recession, a flat-out theft, of so many billions of dollars that one’s sense of outrage is numbly anesthetized.  

This calamity must never be repeated. We must transform our method of self-governing into a democracy in which everyone’s vote is counted equally. The current Electoral College system gives voters in sparsely-populated states like Wyoming, for example, one elector for every 82,110 voters—almost three times California’s ratio of one elector for every 226,622 voters. This disparity enables the candidate with fewer popular votes to win an electoral majority, thereby defeating democracy. The Electoral College system only accounts for the bare majority of the votes in each state, the candidate that receives one vote more than the opponent garners all of the state’s electoral votes. The surplus votes don’t count at all. In 2000, California’s margin of additional votes for Gore, 1,293,744, put him ahead of Bush nationally, but those votes were irrelevant once the electoral votes were determined.  

Objections to abolishing the Electoral College include the notion that without it, candidates would not campaign in states with small populations, and therefore those states would not have political influence. First off, this is a fallacy, because states shouldn’t count as campaign units, only people should count. Secondly, most states, both small-population and large, have a significant majority of voters who are committed to one party or the other. They don’t receive much campaign attention now, under the current system. Only a dozen or so “swing states” get most of the attention.  

Look at a map of red states and blue states on the county level, and you will find red counties in the blue states and blue counties in the red states. Break it down further, to the city level or neighborhood level and you will see even more mixture. All those blue people in the red states, and all those red people in the blue states, are ignored when the election is decided by statewide electoral votes.  

Without the state-based Electoral College, undecided or “swing vote” communities anywhere and everywhere would be suitable recipients of political campaigns. There are many ways that a candidate could build a coalition of like-minded voters. For instance, appealing to suburbanites, or to urbanites, or to small town residents; appealing to angry people, or to hopeful people, to salaried workers or to business owners. People, not states, should be the building blocks of political coalitions.  

What about farmers? They accounted for less than 2 percent of the employed population in 2000, and most food production is actually conducted by a handful of gigantic farming corporations. Ours is no longer a country where most of the people live in sparsely-populated agricultural states, as it was 220 years ago. If the Electoral College was established to protect the interests of farmers, it is obsolete now. Sure, the dwindling number of family farmers need protection, but from the farming mega-corporation lobbyists that run their states! 

We need our democracy to reflect our current era, a time in which every person in this country, whether located in the farms of Nebraska or the towns of Alaska or the cities of New York, can engage in the political process through many different channels—print media, radio, television, internet, as well as community meetings, precinct walkers, supermarket petition solicitors, leafleteers, and of course, bumper stickers. Every registered citizen can vote in this country, no matter where that citizen lives, and every vote can be counted. Every person’s vote should be counted equally. Our votes do not need to be filtered and discounted by a flawed, historic electoral system from a bygone century.  

We now know the consequences of the lesser candidate gaining the presidency. We are paying the price. We cannot afford to risk the calamity of another election stolen from the majority of voters. We can demand our legislators vote a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, making the United States a fully democratic republic that is accountable to a majority of its citizens. When the Electoral College becomes a ceremonial anachronism of the past, then the threat of the lesser candidate gaining the presidency will be a thing of the past as well.  

Amending the Constitution is a difficult process, requiring the assent of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states’ legislatures. Another method for modernizing our electoral system, the national popular vote, may be more practical. This campaign encourages each state to pass a law binding the award of its electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally, rather than to its statewide winner. This provision would only go into effect when enough states agree, so that their total electoral votes equal the 270 majority of the Electoral College. When that happens, the candidate who wins the total popular vote will automatically have a majority of the electoral votes. The national popular vote could take effect as soon as enough states pass laws agreeing to this interstate compact. Currently, four states (New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii) have enacted the national popular vote into law, the legislatures of four more states (Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California) have passed the compact, and those of 38 states are considering bills that would put into the law the national popular vote. The full text of legislation, together with legal discussion and current updates, are available at www.nationalpopularvote.com. 

 

Oakland resident Bruce Joffe works as a consultant to city, county and state governments on the effective use of geographic information systems.  


In Support of Windows Gallery Decision

By Patrick Hayashi
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:01:00 PM

I agree with the judgment of the curator of the Addison Street Window Gallery and am glad that the Arts Commission supported her decision. When I first saw Jos Sances’ poster, I had an immediate, visceral, negative reaction. I tried to figure out why I had reacted so strongly. I thought about the Eddie Adams’ photograph upon which the poster was based. I remembered the pain on Nguyen Van Lem’s face as the bullet fired by Nguyen Ngoc Loan ripped through his skull. That photograph affected me deeply as it did so may others because it caused me to wonder about how the Vietnam War had destroyed the humanity of both men. Adams’ photograph, in turn, caused me to think about Nick Út’s photograph of 9-year-old Phan Th Kim Phúc running naked on the street after being severely burned on her back by an American napalm bomb. I thought that Út’s photograph was powerful precisely because it showed how individuals were being brutally victimized by American actions. I wondered if the pilots of the planes, after they saw the photo, reflected on the unspeakable pain they were inflicting on innocent people. 

I believe that in highly public places images of people who suffer because of American policies should first convey a sense of these people as human beings. I reacted negatively to Sances’ images because his images verged on racial caricature and stereotype. To me, they objectified people of color as little more than helpless victims. While the images may have elicited political outrage, they did not provide the basis for me to respond with empathy; they did not help me understand and feel my shared humanity with the people depicted. They failed to convey how the fundamental humanity of all people involved—aggressor, victim and witness—is threatened. I applied a simple test to the images: Would I want a young child to see the poster? My answer was no. If the child were a person of color, s/he might feel profoundly diminished without understanding why. If the child were white, s/he might look without feeling any human connection with the person depicted and walk on unaffected. 

I Googled Jos Sances and looked at some of his other art. I saw that other images, e.g., of Noam Chomsky, Pete Seeger and Dr. Martin Luther King, and his public murals, conveyed a deep respect for the humanity of his subjects. These images made me wonder if I was wrong to judge this poster so harshly. I realized that the poster upset me because when I was young stereotypical images of Asians, however well-intentioned, made me feel wooden and empty. They have the same effect on me as an adult. But as an adult, I can appreciate that Sances’ intentions are generous and humane. While I do not think his images should be displayed in a sidewalk window where people have no choice but to look at them, I am glad that I will have a chance to see them at the Pueblo Nuevo Art Center and to experience, first-hand, what they express and evoke. 

I very much appreciated the fact that Sances’ poster and the controversy sparked by the curator’s and the commission’s decision made me think about war, opposition politics, multicultural sensitivities, art, censorship and democratic values. Discussion of these issues is difficult and sometimes hurtful, but discuss them we must—particularly now. 

 

Patrick Hayashi is a Berkeley resident. 

 


Minority Rights for ‘Those People’

By Russ Tilleman
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:01:00 PM

Charles Siegel’s Dec. 11 commentary “The Anti-Transit Crowd Is at it Again” takes aim at a local minority group, using the tired old language of discrimination. He correctly points out that only a minority of Berkeley citizens voted for Measure KK, but he seems to have forgotten that legitimate democracies protect the rights of minority groups whenever possible. 

The people who live and work in my neighborhood, referred to as “those people” by Mr. Siegel, have legitimate concerns about Bus Rapid Transit. Maybe Mr. Siegel would not personally be affected in the same way as the people who live here, but that does not give him the right to discount the effects BRT would have on our lives. In decades past, many whites resisted equal rights for racial minorities, because they didn’t care about “those people.” Mr. Siegel’s rhetoric would fit right in with their arguments. 

Instead of name calling, personal attacks, and gross distortions of reality, the proponents of BRT should be making their case based on the science of global warming and the legitimate needs for public transit. If they do not have the science and transportation training and experience to make their case that way, they should hire some impartial experts who are qualified to do so. As it is, someone like Mr. Siegel can make an apparently untrue statement, such as “AC Transit has promised to mitigate” the loss of parking for neighborhood residents, and all that people like me can do is try to point out that he is wrong. To my knowledge, AC Transit plans to convert 72-hour parking spaces in my neighborhood into short-term spaces with parking meters. They will not be constructing parking garages or adding any other new spaces to make up for these lost long term parking spaces. So they have not promised to mitigate the BRT parking impact on the people who live here. If AC Transit makes a legally binding promise to build a parking garage for us that would replace every removed space, I will stop complaining about BRT’s impact on parking. 

Lies will not save the polar bears. We need projects that will reduce greenhouse gas production. Sadly, BRT looks like it will increase greenhouse gases, but the citizens of Berkeley should not have to take my word on this. There should be an independent, impartial group of experts who can honestly tell us what we can expect out of BRT. AC Transit is not impartial, or an expert. Mr. Siegel is certainly not impartial, and he doesn’t appear to be much of an expert either. Likewise with the Van Hool bus company, whose US distributor financed the campaign against Measure KK. 

Personally, I am proud to be one of “those people” who are willing to stand up for their rights. And I like to think that, if an issue like this someday affects people who live and work in another neighborhood of Berkeley, I will be considerate of their rights as well. After all, that is the way real democracies are supposed to function. When citizens find themselves in the majority on an issue, they consider the rights of the minority. One of the reasons they do this is because, sooner or later, they are likely to find themselves in the minority on another issue. What goes around, comes around. 

Democratic governments are supposed to represent all their citizens, weighing the benefits of a proposed act to one group against the harm to other groups. If the people of Berkeley make an informed decision to sacrifice the quality of life in my neighborhood for the legitimate greater good, so be it. But basing important decisions on misinformation, and belittling the concerns of an affected neighborhood, is not good government. Even if most citizens of Berkeley don’t live in this neighborhood and won’t be directly affected by BRT, eventually an issue may arise that does affect them. How can they expect me to care about their neighborhood if they don’t care about mine? 

 

Russ Tilleman is a Berkeley resident.


Bus Rapid Transit Proponents at it Again

By Jim Bullock
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:02:00 PM

Charles Siegel’s entire Dec. 11commentary (“The Anti-Transit Crowd Is at it Again”) is based on a fallacy. In it, Mr. Siegel equated, as he has on many occasions, opposition to AC Transit’s current BRT proposal with being “anti-transit.” No one that I know who is anti-BRT is anti-transit. It is, in fact, just the opposite. Those of us who oppose the current BRT proposal oppose it because we are pro-transit. We want to see taxpayer dollars spent for real improvements in public transportation in the East Bay. The current BRT proposal is not projected to provide any benefit which would justify its enormous cost. 

The following facts, which I have pointed out on several occasions, come directly from the BRT draft environmental impact report (EIR). The draft EIR is, to my knowledge, the only publicly available study of AC Transit’s specific proposal. I challenge Mr. Siegel (or anyone else) to refute these statements, not with rhetoric or high minded and well-intentioned desires for improved public transit, nor with results of BRT implementations in other cities, but with documentation from any other publicly-available study of this specific proposal. We are, after all, not debating BRT as a concept—we are debating a specific BRT proposal, a proposal which has been studied by traffic engineers, transportation engineers, and city planners. 

1. The current BRT proposal will not increase transit usage very much. By the year 2025, total daily East Bay transit boardings without BRT are projected to be approximately 659,800. With the most successful of the BRT alternatives, the projected 2025 ridership is 670,100—a 1.6 percent increase. 

2. The current BRT proposal will not save energy. Here’s a quote directly from the draft EIR: “The energy impacts of the Build Alternatives as compared to the No-Build Alternative would be negligible.” 

3. The current BRT proposal will have essentially no effect on Alameda County air quality. If the current BRT proposal is built, the resulting projected decrease in carbon monoxide, reactive organic gases, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and suspended particulate matter is just 0.03 percent. 

Compare those projected results with the following projected costs. 

1. The current BRT proposal will cost at least $250 million to build. Actually the draft EIR estimates the costs between $310 and $400 million. Since then, however, AC Transit has reportedly found alternate construction methods that would would reduce the project cost to under $250 million. (What a relief! To qualify for funding under the federal Smart Starts program, the project must cost less than $250 million.) 

2. The current BRT proposal will increase AC Transit’s operating costs from $4.9 to $8.8 million. Funding for $3 million of these additional costs has been identified, which leaves a funding gap of $1.9 to $5.8 million per year. Would anyone like to speculate how much fares will have to be increased to fund the operation of BRT? 

With our federal govenment slowly sinking under the weight of massive deficits and our city and state governments facing enormous, painful cuts in vital services such as education and health care, we taxpayers must be smart about how we spend every single dollar. For our own health and the health of our planet, we must fund mass transit projects which result in increased transit ridership, decreased energy use and reductions in air pollutants. The current AC Transit BRT proposal is not such a project and should be scrapped. 

 

Jim Bullock is a Berkeley resident. 

 


A Few More Thoughts on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

By Lawrence Jarach
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:59:00 PM

Don Santina is apparently incapable of discerning between disputing the lopsided writing of history and “historical revisionism.” Neither can he acknowledge that criticizing Communist Party politics do not make the critic a “McCarthyite.” Historical revisionism, in the lexicon of neutral historians, denotes questioning the dominant interpretation of past events. I would be honored to accept the label if Santina were using it descriptively instead of as an insulting conversation-stopper. The main Revisionist issue is Holocaust Denial, a predominately right-wing position, and Santina’s clear intent is to paint me with that brush, along with the other right-wing phenomenon he mentions: paranoid American anti-Communism. As an anarchist, my distrust of Leninists and Stalinists is directly tied to the often homicidal interactions (initiated by them) between the partisans of our respective movements, and has absolutely nothing to do with the frenzied Cold War hunt for secret Communist sympathizers and agents. I have no connection to Rush Limbaugh either—another of Santina’s absurd attempt at guilt-by-association, made in conscious bad faith.  

Santina claims that I’m being silly for alleging that he asked for special care for Ted Veltfort at Kaiser, yet that’s exactly what he wrote: “I told the doctor to take special care of him…” If all Santina wanted to do was alert his doctor to Veltfort’s remarkable past, he could have done so in the course of a conversation not related to his medical care. 

The Lincolns were one of six battalions that made up the XVth International Brigade. Magically multiplying the number of Americans who fought in the IBs was a deliberate distortion. No contortions are necessary to correct that, just a commitment to honesty over slick public relations. Contrary to what Santina says, numbers are not silly. 

None of the Lincolns (or any other brigadista) ever entered into any agreement concerning their lengths of service in the IBs. Yet if any of them left the front without a pass or overstayed their leaves, they were rounded up as deserters and either returned to the front in labor battalions (not brigades this time!), incarcerated in one of several IB prisons, and/or summarily executed. That’s hardly a voluntary situation, at least not in my understanding of the word. Maybe Santina thinks words are as unimportant as numbers. 

I paid Milt Wolff an inadvertent compliment by calling him a commissar, since they outranked all military officers in operational matters within the IBs. I stand corrected on that one detail, an admittedly important distinction. 

The sad case of Oliver Law’s death is, contrary to Santina, not conclusive. Some insist he was killed by Nationalist bullets; others say he was shot by one of his own men. The fictionalized version has the character based on Law beaten to death. Regardless, how sworn statements of eyewitnesses could be transformed into an “outright lie,” or how my bringing it up becomes a “racist canard” is not explained.  

Most of the early Lincolns, staunch Communist union men, were accustomed to forming grievance committees on the job, and they continued to do so at IB bases and in the trenches. Their complaints against what they considered unfair treatment from officers and commissars was what made them politically unreliable, not their implied independence from Stalinism in general and/or the orders of their Comintern commanders in particular. Nowhere did I mention or imply that the Lincolns were “Stalinist dupes,” another example of Santina’s bad faith. 

Those who fought with the IBs undoubtedly thought of themselves as fighters for freedom and justice; nobody who fights for a cause believes they’re fighting to impose slavery and discrimination—at least not upon those they consider allies. But what anyone thinks about what they do has little to do with the actual social consequences of their actions. Those who fought to defend the Spanish Republic by enlisting in an army organized and controlled by the Comintern were implicitly—and in some cases explicitly—fighting against what Santina refers to as “the heroic revolutionary achievements of the Anarchist collectives.” In revolutionary Spain beginning in July 1936, the choice was between promoting and extending that revolution or propping up the Popular Front government; those who chose the latter helped to bury the former, whether or not they thought that was what they were doing.  

Santina attempts to forestall any possibility that readers will look further into the history of revolutionary Spain by discrediting my analyses, putting me in league with right-wing anti-Communists, racists, and possibly Holocaust deniers. Such clumsy straw man caricatures and obviously false associations are beneath contempt, but plenty of lies have been told about anarchists throughout history. I and others, however, shall continue to defend ourselves and our political predecessors against such contemporary defamation and calumny, turning a critical eye toward self-serving propaganda and historical distortions, regardless of the uncomfortable conclusions.  

 

Lawrence Jarach is a Berkeley resident.


Columns

First Person: Academic Journey—Two Crashes

By Marvin Chachere
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:51:00 PM

One Friday in early March of 1965 I received in the mail two job offers: mathematics instructor at Diablo Valley College and Extension specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. 

At the time I was a high school teacher and, if there is a top tier in high school teaching, I had reached it. The year before an article of mine was published in The Mathematics Teacher. 

If I took the DVC job I’d have fewer classes, teach a wider range of math subjects and make a bit more money. The UC Berkeley job paid about the same but I had no idea what an Extension specialist did. 

I took the UC Berkeley job. 

My teacher friends tagged me a traitor; the incompatibility of administrators with teachers was pronounced, like that between dogs and cats. 

That was how my academic journey started, and as it progressed I encountered teapot-sized obstacles, adventures and surprises that I now recall with fascination and that form a souvenir collection in my memory bank, gathered here and there during the 17-year arc of my career. In particular I learned to appreciate F.M. Cornford’s cynical advice offered a century ago to the young academic politician: show “…just enough bitterness to put a pleasant edge on your conversation” (Microcosmographia Academica, 1908). 

Although I was ignorant of what it entailed, I was comfortable with my choice. I’d been on the receiving end of academia for a long time and felt familiar with its shape; I’d recently put the cap on my graduate work at UC Berkeley with an M.A. to go along with my B.A. and my M.Ed. Obviously, holding these degrees helped, and yet, as it turned out, they contributed only marginally and indirectly to the work that lay ahead. 

Extension’s motto was “Lifelong Learning.” I was assigned a desk, a telephone, given a collection of instructors on 3x5 cards ordered by academic specialty and told to schedule courses for the general public. So, my job was to extend the university’s reservoir of knowledge. Registered UC Berkeley students drank directly, Extension students from a straw, as it were. I was directed to use last semester’s Extension catalogue as a guide.  

My boss, eschewing the ivory tower metaphor, placed Extension on the growing edge of the university; the first course in Shakespeare was offered by Extension in the early years of the 20th century; the English Department followed years later. UCLA itself began life as an extension of UC Berkeley. 

By the time I realized that the Extension Department was near the bottom of the academic pecking order—the Physics Department was on top, followed closely by Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc.—I had also experienced the wide-ranging and invigorating challenges inherent in its entrepreneurial slant. 

Fees paid to Extension had to cover all expenses, including my salary. I had not, as it happened, become an administrative dog; I was a free-market entrepreneur who contributed to an exotic menu of Extension programs, marginally appended to the university’s state-funded mission.  

The challenge struck an enthusiastic chord in me that I never knew was there. I produced a lecture series, “Creativity and Discovery in Mathematics,” searched and found an instructor for a course in the history of mathematics, a course not offered in the Math Department. 

However, this article is not about my successes, such as they were. It is an account of a couple of crashes in which I failed to grow the margin—failures that reveal, I think, the tender hidebound core of academia. The first crash, illustrates the temerity endemic to academic institutions. 

I developed a multifaceted program titled “The Black Experience.” It was centered on a series of lectures, each sandwiched between discussion groups chaired by scholars and located at sites in different sections of Berkeley’s black neighborhoods. The Civil Rights Movement had by now grown contentious with disputes between the followers of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those of Malcolm X. I hoped to diminish the virulence, or at least introduce a distraction by casting an academic light on the plight of citizens, demeaned, belittled and second-classed because of their slave forebears. 

I was on the verge of sending the brochure to be printed when I was obliged to scuttle the entire project.  

I withdrew lecture invitations that had been accepted by such notables as Lerone Bennett Jr., executive editor of Ebony Magazine, Dr. Price Cobbs, psychiatrist and co-author of the bestseller Black Rage, and Katherine Dunham, world renowned anthropologist, dancer and choreographer.  

Major social changes always generate a destructive wave that drowns compromise; anyone who stood in the gray area was either white-ed out or inked in, while individuals with rhetorical talent and dramaturgical instincts rose like sludge to the top.  

On campus Negro students (Colored, Black, Afro-American, African-American—no consensus existed regarding the label) formed a united but discordant group that marched daily outside the Chancellor’s office demanding that he establish a Black Studies Department. The leaders decided that my project, “The Black Experience,” subverted their purpose by giving the Chancellor a plausable excuse for inaction, i.e., Black Studies is already being launched in the Extension Department. Scatological language was used. Threats were made. End of program, end of story. 

The second crash involved a survey course in American music.  

Every program offered by Extension had to receive approval from an appropriate department within a dozen or so campus schools and colleges. If the course or program carried credit, additional approval by the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses was necessary. 

Weeks after I routed the course title, description, instructor’s bio and three reference letters to the Music Department, I called thinking the documents had been lost or mislaid. The administrative assistant told me the chairman had the documents and transferred my call. The chairman said that he would not approve the course and when I asked why he told me, “There is no such thing as American music. All music composed here is derivative.” 

I was stunned, speechless. I took this to mean that musical works in “Old World” forms belonged to the “Old World” no matter where or who composed them.  

This was a tenured professor telling me, by implication, that Ives, Copeland, Grofe, Bernstein were pseudo-Europeans. 

Thus, I came to appreciate “…fully the peculiarities of powerful persons, which [was] sufficient to sicken any but the most hardened soul” (Cornford again). 


Dispatches From The Edge: Angels and Demons in Mumbai

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:52:00 PM

Two things emerge from last month’s horrendous attack on Mumbai: one is how interconnected South Asia is with the rest of the world. The other is how the Carter Administration’s ill-conceived strategy in Afghanistan more than 30 years ago still reverberates throughout the region. Decades of subversion, terrorism and invasion have created what historian Vijay Prashad calls a “cauldron” from which has emerged avenging angels and dark demons in equal measure. 

Consider for a moment the following:  

1) Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organization that launched the terror attack, was organized not in Pakistan, but in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, as part of the U.S. war on the Soviet Union. Its patron, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), later turned it against Indian troops occupying Kashmir, but initially the organization was one of a number of Muslim extremist groups, including the Taliban, cobbled together by Pakistan, the U.S. CIA, and Saudi Arabia. 

2) When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it drove the Taliban into Pakistan’s Northwest Territories and tribal lands. When the organization began a comeback in 2004, the Bush Administration pressured the Pakistanis to send troops into the region to fight the insurgents and seal off the border. No one in recorded history has ever successfully subdued the Pashtun tribes who inhabit the area, and the Pakistani Army soon found itself under siege. While Islamabad’s invasion did nothing to quell the Taliban’s infiltration into Afghanistan, it did spark the creation of a homegrown Pakistan Taliban, which has launched scores of attacks and recently destroyed the Islamabad Marriott Hotel. 

3) For years, the U.S. has tried to leverage India away from its traditional foreign policy of non-alignment and neutrality. It has particularly wanted to rope New Delhi into its campaign to surround China with hostile bases and allies. Under the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, India signed onto the U.S. anti-ballistic missile system and, under the current government, has expanded military ties and cooperation with Washington.  

Most of all, India wanted to break out of the nuclear isolation imposed on it and Pakistan after both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Under strictures imposed on the two countries, no member of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group could sell uranium to either one unless they agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). This was particularly onerous for India because the country has limited domestic supplies of uranium ore. 

The White House saw an opportunity: craft a deal that lets India buy uranium ore without having to sign the NNPT in exchange for increased military ties with the U.S. and for sending aid and road building engineers to Afghanistan. The so-called 1-2-3 Agreement allows India to purchase uranium for its civilian program and use its domestic sources for its weapons program. Not only will this spark a nuclear arms competition between Pakistan and India, it threatens to unravel the NNPT, one of the few remaining treaties that prevents a worldwide nuclear arms race.  

For Pakistan, the U.S.-India quid pro quo is deeply threatening. On the one hand, Indian involvement in Afghanistan squeezes off Islamabad’s “strategic depth,” a place to retreat to in the event of a war with the much more powerful Indian Army. On the other, the 1-2-3 Agreement means Pakistan has to ramp up its nuclear weapons and missile programs in the midst of a devastating economic crisis that has seen inflation rise 15 percent and food insecurity spread to 86 percent of the population. 

4) The Carter and Reagan Administrations’ jihad against the Russians translated into supporting whoever would aid the infiltration of mujihideen into Afghanistan and later back the 2001American invasion. If that meant backing military dictators like Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, who crushed democracy and filled the pockets of their feudal supporters with gold, so be it. The result, of course, was entrenched extremists groups—some of whom eventually blew up the World Trade Towers and attacked the Pentagon—and weak civilian control over the government. 

Over the past year, the wave of U.S. attacks on Pakistani targets using remote- controlled robot aircraft has helped to undermine the current civilian government. 

5) Part of the Bush Administration’s wooing of India involved turning a blind eye to Kashmir, one of the most dangerous flashpoints in the world. When India and Pakistan refused to accept a United Nations-sponsored referendum that would have allowed Kashmiris to decide if they wanted to opt for India, Pakistan, or autonomy, it set off a vicious shadow war between New Delhi and Islamabad. The Pakistani ISI infiltrated fighters to attack Indian troops in Kashmir, and Indian troops responded with savage repression. This past August, the Indian Army brutally crushed the largest non-violent demonstrations in Kashmir’s history. An estimated 80,000 people have died over the past 20 years, and the area has spawned terrorist attacks throughout India.  

Pakistan and India have a long history of mutual grievances, but as each country is drawn deeper and deeper into the orbit of the U.S. and its allies, those grievances have become more dangerous. In the 1999 Kargil border incident, both countries came distressingly close to a nuclear exchange, and there are elements in both countries that talk quite openly about the possibility of a nuclear war. The 1-2-3 Agreement, and the nuclear arms race it will ignite, adds yet another explosive ingredient to the volatile “cauldron” that makes up Indian-Pakistani relations. 

To date, the response of both countries to the Mumbai attack has been measured.  

India has accused Pakistanis of being behind the attack, but has not charged that the Islamabad government was directly involved. It has also refrained from any overt military moves as it did following the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament.  

Pakistan, which denies any official involvement in the Mumbai assault, has raided a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp and apparently arrested some of the organization’s leaders. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attackers as “enemies of civilization” and called on India to work with Islamabad “together to track down the terrorists who caused mayhem in Mumbai, attacked New York, London and Madrid in the past, and destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.” 

Left parties in both India and Pakistan have called for restraint. India’s Communists want their government to rely on the UN, not the Indian Air Force, and Pakistan’s Communists are calling for a “unified commitment…to combat extremism and terrorism in all its shades and colors.” 

There are, however, actors on both sides who see an advantage in having India and Pakistan at each other’s throats. Lashkar-e-Tabia and other extremist Pakistani groups would like nothing more than to increase the polarization between Hindus and Muslims. So would their ideological counterparts in India, rightwing Hindu extremists in the BJP and the semi-fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP has already made “national security” the centerpiece of its election campaign, and the Party’s general secretary has called for India to respond the same way the Bush Administration did in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Such a response “knocks at the doors of insanity,” says P. Sainath, India’s leading investigative reporter and last year’s winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.  

The Indian journalist is currently teaching a class in the graduate school of journalism at UC Berkeley. 

Sainath points out that the result of the American response to 9/11 was two disastrous wars, close to a million deaths and, according to Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, a three trillion dollar butcher’s bill for the Iraq War. That figure, says Sainath, is “about three times India’s GDP.” 

Rather than talking of war and revenge, Sainath suggests that the most important thing both sides can do is to act in way that “denies the authors of this outrage the success of their goal.” To that end he sees resisting polarization along religious and ethnic lines as critical. And rather than “undermining the constitution,” as the Bush Administration did in the aftermath of 9/11, he calls for “shredding chauvinism and jingoism.”  

In his commentary in the New York Times, Zardari argues “reconciliation and rapprochement is the best revenge against the dark forces that are trying to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India, and ultimately a clash of civilizations.” 

As for Americans: isn’t it time we examined our part in setting loose the avenging angels and dark demons that have brought South Asia to the edge of an abyss? 


Undercurrents: A Beginning Analysis of the Dellums Administration

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:53:00 PM

I have long believed that in the first term of a two-term, four-year administration, the second year is the one to watch if you’re trying to figure out where the administration is going. The first year can be spent getting oriented, hiring staff, learning the situation, and beginning the first policy initiatives. Unless the mistakes are spectacularly bad, there is plenty of time left in the term to make up for first-year mistakes. The fourth year is an election year, and the administrator—president, governor, or mayor—is either deeply involved in running for re-election or have decided to settle for one term. The record upon which a four-year administration is running for re-election, therefore, must be firmly established by the third year. Because most government policies take a long time to actually bear fruit, things which an administration wants to make manifest in the third year must have already been planted at least a year in advance. Thus, it’s at the end of the second year that you can start making judgments of possible success or failure. 

Because the administration of first-term Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is moving towards the end of its second year in office, we’ve now reached the proper time to start making those long-term judgments. 

Let me suggest a beginning framework for analysis by posing three questions regarding, so far, the success or failure of the Dellums administration. Has the Dellums administration fulfilled the enormous hope and promise generated by the Dellums candidacy? Has the mayor carried out his core responsibility of running the city? And, finally, how have the mayor’s record and actions, so far, affected his chances for possible re-election? 

The quick answer to the first question—has the Dellums administration fulfilled the enormous hope and promise generated by the Dellums candidacy—is easy: no. But that answer, of course, demands some clarification. 

Ron Dellums was elected mayor of Oakland, in part, on a wave of expectation and belief that his election would spark a progressive overhaul of Oakland’s government and institutions. After a barren eight years under Jerry Brown in which Oakland progressives essentially wandered in the wilderness—shut out of most important City Hall decision-making and relegated to a sideline of letter-writing and press-conference protesting and two-minute speaking at public comment time before the City Council—there was a feeling of euphoria in the spring and summer of 2006 that under Mr. Dellums, Oakland would experience a sort of South African-type overhaul in which the bottom rail would replace the top and a wind of change would blow open the doors of Oakland’s halls of decisions. How all of this would actually work was never specifically spelled out—and it was certainly never specifically promised by Mr. Dellums himself—but that feeling that we were at the beginning of a new era of progressive-and-popular overturn and involvement reached its peak with the creation of the Dellums community task forces in the summer and fall of 2006, months before the mayor even took office. 

But in his first two years in office, we have not seen what you would describe as progressive, open-style government in Oakland. The mayor has governed with a close hand, less like the shade tree mechanic who sips a beer and shares jokes and stories and invites everybody to stand around and offer comments and suggestions or hand him tools while he works under the hood of your car, more like the standard repair shop that puts up signs reading “employees only allowed in here,” and asks customers to either wait in the lobby or come back only when they get a call that their vehicle has been repaired. It is not a bad style of government. But it is not what a lot of people expected.  

The loudest and most persistent criticisms of Mr. Dellums have come from those people who confess that they never supported the mayor in the first place, and did not vote for him. But the bitterest disappointment has come from progressives who supported the initial Draft Dellums petition campaign and worked for the mayor’s election, but now feel that the administration has not lived up to its expectations. Many of those progressives feel that they are still being ignored and are still standing on the sidelines, but the pain of it is worse, because now they feel that they are being ignored by someone they considered their champion and a progressive icon. Most of Mr. Dellums’ progressive detractors can be brought back into his fold, I believe, because he does not appear to have lost their core respect. But like once-burned lovers, they will be far more cautious and circumspect, the second time around, and the wild progressive enthusiasm for Mr. Dellums that marked 2006 is probably forever lost. 

But has the mayor carried out his core responsibility of running the city? If you’re looking for the definitive answer to that question, you’re going to be disappointed. The answer depends upon the criteria put forth by the person posing the question, and those criteria have a wide variance. 

The criteria I use for judging an administration, as an example, are the same as I’d use for judging a cardplayer. You must consider the way the cards are played, of course, but you must also consider what hand was dealt. The success or failure of Jerry Brown—whose eight-year administration encompassed the boom in the real estate market—must understandably be judged by a different yardstick than the one used for judging Ron Dellums, who came into office as we were entering the greatest national economic downturn since the Depression and, to make matters worse, was also tasked with cleaning up the mess Mr. Brown had left behind. That is not to make excuses for Mr. Dellums. That is only to set fair criteria for judgment. 

And while we ought not to set our bar of expectations too low, we ought to set it at a level that is reasonable to achieve. Some see the success or failure of the Dellums administration falling, for example, on whether or not the mayor is able to “solve” Oakland’s problems of crime and violence, that is, to bring crime and violence down to some “acceptable” level. Even allowing for a variance in the differences in what one considers “acceptable,” that would seem out of step with the realities of Oakland in 2008. 

Instead, I believe it is more reasonable to look at Dellums Term One (there is no implication that there will be a Term Two…this is only to keep things straight) as a transition administration. If one believes that during the Jerry Brown years, for example, Oakland floundered around with no well-defined plan that could reasonably be expected to lead to a significant reduction in crime and violence in the city and a public safety infrastructure ill-equipped to carry out such a plan even if it existed, then the reasonable goal for the Dellums administration would be the development of such a plan, the putting in place of that infrastructure, and the first steps in carrying the plan out. Reaching the end of the tunnel would be nice but at this point, it is important to determine that we are on the right track. 

In its first two years, the Dellums administration has put in place significant reforms in the police department, including moving to geographic division of the command and implementation structure, strengthening the ability of the chief to manage the department, and bringing the department up to its full authorized strength. Are these good reforms, and can they be expected to lead us in the direction of a safer city? Those are the questions to be asked. Meanwhile, the administration has one inherited police scandal on its hands to clean up-the aftermath of the “Oakland Rider” lawsuit and settlement—as well as a new one developed under its watch—the fallout from the Chauncey Bailey murder and the Your Black Muslim Bakery raid. There is the continuing problem—continued over from the Brown administration—of the charge of indiscriminate targeting of African-American and Latino youth by Oakland police, which raises the broader issue of how well the Dellums administration is managing the balance of police-oriented public safety with the protection of citizen rights. And, finally, there are the Dellums initiatives in the area of non-police crime and violence prevention, the social programs aimed at the causes of the problem. Are these the right initiatives, how seriously are they being worked on, how well are they working? These are all factors which ought to be included in the mix when formulating a judgment of the Dellums administration. 

And that is only in the area of public safety. 

The final question that ought to be posed is how poised is Mr. Dellums for a possible run for re-election? For me, that’s another easy answer. The mayor is well-poised, if running for re-election is what he chooses to do. 

Late in October, USA News released a poll which showed dismal numbers for the mayor. Mr. Dellums’ approval ratings were listed at 27 percent, his disapproval ratings at 55 percent. The mayor was not doing well in what ought to be one of his twin bases—the African-American community, where his approval-disapproval numbers were polled at 37-49. Mr. Dellums’ other political base—listed in the poll as “liberal” but which we will interpret as people who usually define themselves as “progressive”—where the numbers at bottom at 27-57 approval-disapproval. 

But even if the polling numbers are accurate (and they are often skewed), they reflect what can reasonably be expected to be the low point in the mayor’s popularity, with two years spent largely out of the public eye, with the results of his administrative and political reforms not yet made manifest, under relentless critical attack in several areas of the major media and the blogsphere to which his administration has largely offered a weak—and often inept—response.  

Given Mr. Dellums’ enormous political abilities as well as the large reserve of unpolled but easily observed support that exists for the mayor throughout Oakland, I would not put much faith that those polling numbers are automatically going to remain so dismal for the mayor. But this is not intended to be the conclusion of an analysis of the mayor’s administration, only the middle. And so we will leave the vast bulk of this to be chewed over, ongoing. Just wanted to give you something different to think about.


Wild Neighbors: A Wren in the Room

By Joe Eaton
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:13:00 PM

I walked into my living room last Saturday morning and found a Bewick’s wren perched on the back of the armchair.  

I knew this bird, or at least its family. We’ve been hearing a wren sing in the vicinity of the house for about the last five years, and seeing it—wrens being furtive skulkers—on rare occasions. The song is loud and energetic, and I have a mental block about it; it always takes a while before I think “Oh, right, Bewick’s wren.”  

We don’t know if it’s been the same wren all along (according to AnAge, the Animal Ageing and Longevity Database, Bewick’s wrens may live to be eight years old, a surprising lifespan for such a small bird) or a succession of wrens handing down the territory from father to son. We don’t know if it has ever found a mate or raised a brood. We just know that it’s out there. 

Except now it was in here, watching me from the back of the chair. Ron, who usually deals with birds in the house, was unavailable. Every marriage has its division of labor. I take out the garbage; she takes out the wildlife. Most often she has dealt with Anna’s hummingbirds, which chase each other into the house and sometimes get trapped in the curtains. The one California towhee that found its way in also found its own way out, with the help of its mate who had been making contact calls outside the open bathroom window. But I was on my own with this one. 

Matt the cat, just as well, was also absent. If Matt catches birds, he’s extremely discreet about it. He does point them, though. We’ll be hearing this repeated “tick tick tick” noise, trying to figure out if the smoke detector needs a new battery, and Matt will be staring at the curtain where the hummingbird is. He’s also done that with rodents, and with a suicidal fish that leaped out of the aquarium. I’ll never entirely trust him with birds, but his behavior has given no cause for complaint. 

At least I wouldn’t have to fend off an interested cat while coping with the wren, which had now moved to a windowsill and was fluttering against the closed window. That was what I had been afraid of-the possibility that it would hit the window hard enough to stun or injure itself. So I went for the butterfly net. 

The net hasn’t been used against an actual butterfly for years, but it’s handy for out-of-place birds. We used to use it to retrieve a budgerigar that was not quite finger-trained. I made a couple of swipes at the wren, but it ducked down among the tchotchkes on the windowsill. Not good. At one point it flew up and perched on the rim of the net. Great, I thought, just hold that pose and I’ll carry you out to the porch. Then it flew back to the window. 

I reflected that my late mother would have hated this situation. A childhood attack by a hen that wouldn’t give up her eggs left her (my mother, not the hen) with a deep-seated fear of birds. This probably makes it psychologically interesting that I became a birder, but I have worse things to worry about.  

She would always call bird-owning friends before visiting to make sure the budgie or canary was caged. Once a small flock of chimney swifts burst out of our fireplace in Little Rock, and she freaked out, as did the Siamese cat, who was a high-strung animal even for his breed. Walk-through aviaries were not her favorite places, and I can imagine her reaction to having rainbow lorikeets perch on her head. 

Meanwhile, the net was not working for me. In desperation I made a two-handed grab for the wren, trying to be as gentle as possible. And I got it. It gave a dismayed squawk—the first thing out of its mouth. The bird was almost weightless (about a third of an ounce, says the Sibley Guide.) 

Out to the front porch, quickly. I opened my hands and the wren flew out of them, into the Hollywood juniper. We haven’t seen or heard it since. Since I value it as a neighbor, I hope it wasn’t upset enough to relocate.  

In parts of the British Isles, hunting the wren (that would be what Americans call the winter wren, not the Bewick’s) on St. Stephen’s Day—Dec. 26—is an ancient tradition. One version turns the quarry into a hulking creature that has to be dispatched with a cannon, hauled home by a team of oxen, and cooked in a great black cauldron. Sounds like a lot of work. Better to let the wren come to you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


About the House: Slavery Lite

By Matt Cantor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:12:00 PM

I recently received a letter from a reader (Let’s call him PR) about his experiences with a local contractor and his illegal help. His concern, which is to be commended, is in regards to the pay and working conditions afforded his helper, whom he pseudonymously called Gem (presumably his feelings about the worker, which he effused copiously in a letter which is too long to include herein). 

Gem was left on site to do most of the work, according to PR and was being paid “pennies above minimum wage.” Current California minimum wage is set at $8 an hour and is almost $10 in San Francisco, which, like many jurisdictions, can set their own amount as long as it’s above the U.S. level of $6.55 (due to increase to $7.25 next July). 

Actually, according to PR, Gem is not in this country legally and, should officials become involved, would probably be deported. This raises serious questions about the legal pay requirements of the individual that I cannot answer. What I can say is that contractors, licensed or otherwise (according to PR, the “contractor” is not licensed), like all employers (short term or longer) are required to withhold tax and to file certain employment documents for all workers who are not simply “day labor.” Day labor designations are designed to cover up to several hundred dollars to one person in the course of a year and are capped to prevent this designation from being used for other than very short-term employment. 

One of the requirements for contractors of many kinds is Workman’s Compensation and, again, an illegal alien has no rights that I am aware of to collect from this fund. Further, most illegals would rather receive their fully untaxed wages and have no withholdings at all, preferring to fly under the radar. 

These circumstances mean that many day laborers get hurt and have no recourse. There are also many deaths each year that go uncompensated as a result. 

This conspiracy, of sorts, puts everyone at risk but has become the common specie of the trades. My friend Harold, a brilliant and hardworking ecologist, landscaper and philosopher, aptly calls this whole constellation of issues “Slavery Lite.” 

The contractor, according to PR (I keep saying this because it’s all second hand and much of what he has surmised is unverified, making the depth of the well of untruth hard to plumb), is making “upwards of 50 percent” of Gem’s wages. So, perhaps we’re talking about $15 an hour being charged for the worker. While this may seem grossly unfair, I have trouble arriving at that conclusion based on wage distribution alone.  

As a recovering contractor and one who worked with fully taxed as well as casual labor over the years, I can tell you that by the time you finish paying all your bills, it’s very hard to have made any money at all if you don’t charge the client substantially beyond the laborer’s wage. The number of items that go into this calculation is often beyond the awareness of all but the best contractors but trust me when I say it’s true. It’s the same as our home budgets and some of us, on our grouchier days might term it the death by a thousand cuts. That said, one would need to take a very close look at the workings of the contractor’s operation to ascertain the level of misfeasance. 

If you are actually paying only $15 an hour (or close to it), you’re getting a bargain (albeit a bargain with the devil since you’re also de facto hiring an illegal, as well as working with an unlicensed contractor). 

If the contractor were to charge an additional $3-4 per hour over Gem’s wages, I can be sure that within a few accounting cycles he would find that he was losing money so this shouldn’t be your focus. Furthermore, to assume that Gem sans the contractor could provide you with the same end product may be false.  

However unscrupulous the contractor may be, they may be bringing many things to the table, including the right tools, transportation, planning, knowledge, training for the worker, knowing what to buy and actually doing it. Knowing what they can and cannot do according to codes and other local rules is another thing the contractor may bring to the workbench. 

I don’t know the skill level of your contractor or of Gem but it is common for leadership to provide much to make themselves essential. 

Gem claimed to have been kept, for most of a year, in “quasi-bondage” (obviously PR’s terminology) through a “combination of vague inducements, threats, and by partial and delayed payments in “installments” for his labor.” True or not, in this case, it is a sad reality for some of our national day labor force. 

Now, there’s a lot of hearsay on which to attempt to base an opinion here, but even assuming that this laborer is giving a fair representation of his circumstances, one wonders why Gem would stay with this contractor for the better part of a year, as has been claimed. While many illegals are hungry to work as much as possible, there is a very active marketplace for hardworking, capable day laborers and, were he to feel threatened, he could certainly head back to the street to get picked up at any one of the many “slavery lite” venues readily visible within a block of so many of our local lumber yards (it’s a wonder that the INS doesn’t have offices across the street from every Home Depot). 

PR, by participating in hiring either Gem or the contractor, you are participating in the propagation of these circumstances. If you want to help Gem become legal, that would be great but it won’t be easy. There are also about 12 million Gems out there (57 percent being Mexican according to the Pew Hispanic Center). Write your congressperson and demand fair employment and basic services for everyone here illegally OR demand that the U.S. and Mexico establish basic human rights and minimum wages on both sides of the border.  

Then, all the Gems will be able to choose what circumstances they want to work under and can more easily leave an abusive situation. NAFTA has been very good for big business but not very good for the hombre on the street, as you can see. 

I’ll climb down from the soap-box for a minute to address a last issue brought forth by PR, that being a matter of undisclosed mark-up. Marking up materials within reason and by agreement is perfectly fine. In fact, if the contractor gets a discount at the store, that’s his to pocket and is not required to share it. If the contractor is charging for things he didn’t buy or marking up beyond the price you would pay at the store, he needs to tell you. If he didn’t, I would bring it up in a non-hostile manner and see if you can get the money back. 

Frankly, I am more concerned that you are not getting minimally acceptable construction performed than that you may be overpaying. The latter seems unlikely and I very much doubt that this contractor (if we may stretch the fabric of reality to call him such) is making a lot of money. 

I don’t blame PR for trying to save money or for wanting to go to bat for an illegal laborer off the street. I am concerned, though, that there are legal, licensed contractors employing legal, insured, tax-paying workers who are displaced through this process.  

These latter ones cost more and come with substantially more accountability for PR, who is concerned about his recourse with Gem’s employer (there is very little and if he calls the IRS (another of his questions), he may be in trouble for having illegals working for him, despite the contractor’s involvement. Additionally, working with an unlicensed contractor may mean that if someone gets hurt, he may get sued as the nearby deep pocket. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not finding fault with PR. There are many among us who have made all these same choices. Certainly, I think we’re dealing with a contractor who should be forced to hire legal people at a living wage, protect them with insurance and withhold taxes. It’s too bad.  

Most people have no idea how widespread this is. If you want some idea, park where you can watch the labor pool on the street some morning and watch the trucks pick up men for a few hours. It’s a sizeable percentage of the work in every major city. 

To PR, here’s my suggestion. Don’t hire the contractor again. Hire a licensed, well-reputed one who comes with references. Say goodbye to any money you think you may have overpaid and, as my mother would say, don’t send any more good after the bad. Have Gem over to dinner and find out his situation. See if you can help him without hiring him illegally. Talk to the INS about how to help someone get a green card and seek work in the U.S., naming no names, of course. You wouldn’t want them digging up your Gem. 


Arts & Events

Arts Calendar

Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:04:00 PM

THURSDAY, DEC. 18 

CHILDREN 

“Coppelia: The Doll with the Porcelain Eyes” Puppet show at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. at Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. Cost is $6. 452-2259. www.fairyland.org 

EXHIBITIONS 

“Crazy After All These Years” NIAD faculty art show. Performance at 6 p.m., artists’ presentation at 7 p.m. at Craft & Cultural Arts Gallery, State of CA Office Bldg., Atrium, 1515 Clay St., Oakland. 622-8190. www.oaklandculturalarts.org 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Berkeley High School’s African American Dance Program “Breaking The Chains of the New Generation” at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Community Theater. Tickets are $3-$10. 644-6120. BrownPaperTickets.com  

Berkeley Symphony Orchestra Joana Carneiro, conductor, at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC Campus Tickets are $20-$60. 841-2800. www.berkeleysymphony.org 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 10 a.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

Caribbean Allstars at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Crooked Still at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$21.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Kelly Park & Friends at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $8. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Chabela, music from the Latin American Songbook at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $12. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

I’m a People, The Jug Dealers, bluegrass, at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082 www.starryploughpub.com 

Beat Boxing Great Show with Soulati, Infinite, Syzygy, Eachbox and many others at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $8-$10. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Diablo’s Dust at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Taj Mahal Trio at 8 and 10 p.m., through Sun. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $18-$18. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

FRIDAY, DEC. 19 

THEATER 

Altarena Playhouse “A Taffeta Christmas” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda, through Dec. 21. Tickets are $17-$20. 523-1553. www.altarena.org 

Aurora Theatre Company “The Coverlettes Cover Christmas” Mon.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 7 p.m. through Dec. 23 at 2081 Addison St. Tickets are $23-$25. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Rep “The Arabian Nights” Tues.-Sun. at the Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., through Jan. 18. Tickets are $27-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

“The Christmas Revels” A celebration of the Winter Solstice at 7:30 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 1 and 5 p.m. through Dec. 21 at Scottish Rite Theater, 1547 Lakeside Dr., Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. 452-8800. www.calrevels.org 

Impact Theatre “Tallgrass Gothic” Thurs.-Sat at 8 p.m. at La Val’s Subterranean, to Dec. 20. Tickets are $10-$17. 464-4468. impacttheatre.com 

Masquers Playhouse “Do I Hear a Waltz?” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2:30 p.m. at 105 Park Place, Pt. Richmond, through Dec. 20. Tickets are $20. 232-4031. www.masquers.org 

Shotgun Players “Macbeth” Thurs.-Sun. at 8 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Jan. 11. Tickets are $18-$30. 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

“A Christmas Carol” read by English actor Martin Harris at 7:30 p.m. at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. Donation $5-$10. Dinner available with reservation. 848-7800. 

The Best of Actors Reading Writers short story readings by local actors, at 8 p.m. at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Donation $8-$15. 932-0214. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Berkeley Ballet Theater “The Nutcracker” at 7 p.m., Sat. at 2 and 7 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $17-$23. 843-4689. berkeleyballet.org 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 10 a.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

Pacific Mozart Ensemble & Quartet San Francisco “Bruebeck & Brahms: Canticles and Love Songs” at 7:30 pm Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Tickets are $15-$25. 848-8022. www.pacificmozart.org 

San Francisco Girls Chorus East Bay Holiday Concert at 8 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. Tickets are $25. 415-863-1752. 

The Women's Antique Vocal Ensemble “Shepherds Arise!” at 8 p.m. at Montclair Presbyterian Church, 5701 Thornhill Drive, Oakland. Tickets are $5-$15. 233-1479. www.wavewomen.org 

Vince Ho, organ and harpsichord at 8 p.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 1501 Washington Ave., Albany. Suggested donation $10. 525-1716. 

Clarinet Thing at 8 p.m. at The Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Tickets are $10-$15. 845-1350. 

Arab Orchestra of San Francisco at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $13-$15. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Nathan Clevenger Group and Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch at 8 p.m. at Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St. at Telegraph, Oakland. Tickets are $5-$10.  

Larry Vukovich Quintet at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic, Creole Belles at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Girlyman at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$22.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Masahiro Nitta with Monsters of Shamisen at 8 p.m. at Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave., ALameda. Tickets are $12-$15. 865-5060. www.rhythmix.org 

Plays Monk, ROVA Saxophone Quartet at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

D.I., Opressed Logic, Neighborhood Watch at 8 p.m. at 924 Gilman St., an all-ages, member-run, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence club. Cost is $8. 525-9926. 

Rhythm Doctors at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Dan K Harvest Holiday Bash at 9 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $10. 548-1159.  

Flowtilla at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 

Taj Mahal Trio at 8 and 10 p.m., through Sun. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $18-$18. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

Adesha at 9 p.m. at Maxwell’s, 341 13th St., Oakland. Cost is $15.  

SATURDAY, DEC. 20 

CHILDREN  

Los Amiguitos de La Peña with Fran Avni & Bonnie Lockhart at 10:30 a.m. at La Peña. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for children. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

THEATER 

Berkeley Rep “Ennio” comedy and mime for the whole family at 2 and 8 p.m. at the Roda Theater, 2015 Addison St, through Dec. 31. Tickets are $20-$45. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Berkeley Public Library’s Teen Playreaders “Bizarre Shorts” Short plays, monologues and musical numbers from Shakespeare to Sondheim to Stoppard, at 7:30 p.m. at the Willard Middle School Metal Shop Theater, 2425 Stuart St. at Telegraph. 981-6236. 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

The Best of Actors Reading Writers short story readings by local actors, at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m. at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Donation $8-$15. 932-0214. 

Rhythm & Muse spoken word and music open mic series features Soul of Sparrow at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St., between Eunice & Rose Sts., behind Live Oak Park. 644-6893.  

MUSIC AND DANCE 

“Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “Christmas Oratorio” at 7:30 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, One Lawson Rd., Kensington. Tickets are $15-$20. 525-0302. 

Berkeley Ballet Theater “The Nutcracker” at 2 and 7 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $17-$23. 843-4689. berkeleyballet.org 

Musae “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine” women’s vocal ensemble with the Menlo Brass Quintet at 8 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. Tickets are $10-$25. www.musae.org 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 2 and 8 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

“Pomegranates & Figs: A Feast of Jewish Music” featuring Nikitov & Teslim at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC Campus. Tickets are $20-$32. 642-9988. www.calperformances.net 

The Function, hip-hop and soul, at 9:30 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $7-$8. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Terrence Kelly with Ellen Hoffman, Annual Holiday Caroling at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $12. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

In Harmony’s Way at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Suzanna Smith at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $12. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Charlie Wilson’s War at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  

Blue Turtle Seduction, Feels Like Fire at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $12. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Taj Mahal Trio at 8 and 10 p.m., through Sun. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $18-$18. 238-9200.  

SUNDAY, DEC. 21 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

The Best of Actors Reading Writers short story readings by local actors, at 2 p.m. at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Donation $8-$15. 932-0214. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

“Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “Christmas Oratorio” at 1 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, One Lawson Rd., Kensington. Tickets are $15-$20. 525-0302. 

Berkeley Ballet Theater “The Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $17-$23. 843-4689.  

Vivaldi’s “Gloria” at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 26th and Broadway, Oakland. Free.  

Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra “The Geography of Emotions” Selections of Opera Choruses with Marcelle Dronkers, soprano, and Richard Goodman, baritone at 4:30 p.m. at St. Joseph The Worker Church, 1640 Addison St. Free, donations appreciated. 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

San Francisco Choral Artists “Glorious Early Music” with the premier of Ted Allen’s “Earth’s Winter Song” at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 114 Montecito Ave., Oakland. Tickets are $12-$28. 415-979-5779.  

Messiah Sing-Along at 6 p.m. at St. David of Wales Church, 5641 Esmond Blvd. Richmond. Admission by donation; extra scores will be available for rental. 237-1531.  

Joyful Noise Choir “Old and New Christmas Carols” at 5 p.m. at El Sobrante First United Methodist Church, 670 Appian Way, across from El Sobrante Post Office, El Sobrante. 223-0790. 

Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano “Fiesta Navidad” at 3 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC Campus. Tickets are $24-$38. 642-9988.  

The Sephardic Music Experience with vocalist Kat Parra at 7:30 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $12-$15. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Zoyres Wild Ferment! at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Everyone Orchestra, Chris Haugen’s Seahorse Rodeo at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Trumpet Supergroup at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Debbie Faigenbaum “Stories from the Heart” at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Freight Holiday Revue hosted by Laurie Lewis at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $15.50-$16.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

MONDAY, DEC. 22 

CHILDREN 

Tony Borders Puppets for 3-7 year olds at 4 p.m. at South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell St. 981-6260. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Downtown Jam Session with Glen Pearson at 7 p.m. at Ed Kelly Hall, Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, 1616 Franklin St., Oakland. Cost is $5. www.opcmucsic.org 

African Roots of Jazz Youth Drummers at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Benefit for Youth Arts. Cost is $10. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

TUESDAY, DEC. 23 

CHILDREN 

The Blue Fairy Storyteller for 3-7 year olds at 10:30 a.m. at West Branch of the Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Ave. 981-6270. 

Chin-Chin for 5 year olds and up at 2:30 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. 981-6223. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

Zydeco Flames at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 24 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Oakland Ballet Company “Ron Guidi’s Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $15-$50. www.ticketmaster.com 

Natasha Miller’s Christmas Eve Concert at 8 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $16. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

THURSDAY, DEC. 25 

MERRY CHRISTMAS 

FRIDAY, DEC. 26 

THEATER 

Berkeley Rep “Ennio” comedy and mime for the whole family at 2 and 8p.m. at the Roda Theater, 2015 Addison St, through Dec. 31. Tickets are $20-$45. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Berkeley Rep “The Arabian Nights” Tues.-Sun. at the Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., through Jan. 4. Tickets are $27-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Paul Mooney “Black Man in the White House” comedy, through Dec. 31 at Black Repertory Theater, 3201 Adeline St. Tickets are $25-$100. 652-2120. 

Shotgun Players “Macbeth” Thurs.-Sun. at 8 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Jan. 11. Tickets are $18-$30. 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org 

FILM 

Movie Classics “Mary Poppins” the 1964 film starring julie Andrews at 8 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $5. 625-8497. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Danny Caron Trio at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $12. 841-JAZZ.  

We A Dem, Messenjah Selah, Luv Fyah, Reggae Boxing Day celebration at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

The Cavepainters at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Free. 841-2082.  

The P-PL at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  

Patrick Wolff Trio at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 

Roy Hargrove Big Band at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square, through Wed. Cost is $18-$28, Dec. 31 $100. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

SATURDAY, DEC. 27 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

String Circle with special guest Ian Swenson “There were Shepherds, abiding in the Fields” at 8 p.m. at Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. Tickets are $8-$12. 549-3864.  

Dangerous Rhythm with Tim Fox at 9:30 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. Cost is $3. 843-2473.  

Macy Blackman & The Mighty Fines at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ.  

MC Zion, Jack Sprat Collective, hip hop and funk, at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

David Grisman Bluegrass Experience at 5 and 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $34.50-$35.50. 548-1761.  

2ME, CD release party, at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  

Lost Cats, with Jim Passard at 8 p.m. at Spuds Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. Cost is $7-$10. 558-0881. 

Stymie and the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra, The Funkanauts at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $10. 841-2082.  

Roy Hargrove Big Band at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square, through Wed. Cost is $18-$28, Dec. 31 $100. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, DEC. 28 

THEATER 

“The Big Fat Year End Kiss Off Comedy Show XVI” with Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Steven Kravitz, Debi Durst and others at 7 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $15-$20. brownpapertickets.com 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Mike Marshall & Catrina Lichtenberg at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$21.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Val Mih Quartet, with special guest Eddie Gale, at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Flamenco Family Fiesta at 7:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

MONDAY, DEC. 29 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

Poetry Express “Between the Holidays Erotic Poetry Night” at 7 p.m. at Priya Restaurant, 2072 San Pablo Ave. 644-3977. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Singing For Your Life with members of SoVoSó and special guests, from noon to midnight at First Congregational Church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St., at 27th. Suggested donation $10 and up, benefits Arts First Oakland. 444-8511, ext. 15.  

Roy Hargrove Big Band at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square, through Wed. Cost is $18-$28, Dec. 31 $100. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

TUESDAY, DEC. 30 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Tee Fee Swamp Boogie at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra “Leading Ladies” with Amanda King, vocalist, Robin Sharp, violinist, and Gwen Mok, pianist, at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Free. 415-248-1640. www.sfchamberorchestra.org 

Bobi Cespedes & Her Quintet at 7 and 10 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is tba. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

High Country, Dix Bruce & Jim Nunally at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $26.50-$27.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Orquesta La Moderna Tradición, Cuban dance music, at 9:30 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $25-$28. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Balkan Bash with Edessa, Brass Menageri, Joe Finn & Friends, at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $20. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

The 2008 Beatdown, hosted by The Mundaze, at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Chuck Prophet, Aiden Hawken at 9:45 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $25-$30. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Code Name: Jonah at 9 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 

Roy Hargrove Big Band at 9 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square, through Wed. Cost is $100. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

 


An Endangered People and Their Art

By Dorothy Bryant Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:02:00 PM
Margot Schevill, curator of the exhibit of Mayan textiles at the Hearst Musuem, stands in front of the display of a white and red Mayan ceremonial blouse from the 1930s.
Michael Howerton
Margot Schevill, curator of the exhibit of Mayan textiles at the Hearst Musuem, stands in front of the display of a white and red Mayan ceremonial blouse from the 1930s.

More than two years ago (April 25, 2006) the Daily Planet published my profile of Margot Blum Schevill. In that piece I emphasized Margot’s successful, even smooth, transition from one creative phase to another. A well-known singer when I first knew her over thirty years ago, Margot had completed a degree in anthropology and had become an authority on the Maya textiles of Guatemala, both as art and as history of a culture.  

At that time she had completed two books about Maya textiles: “Maya Textiles of Guatemala and The Maya Textile Tradition (with photos by Jeffrey Jay Foxx). In addition, she had just narrated and coauthored Splendor in the Highlands, a half-hour documentary DVD with videographer Kathleen Mossman Vitale, introducing the weaving styles and techniques of 22 Maya weavers of Guatemala. As soon as they could get funding, Margot and Kathleen planned make an hour-long documentary, covering a longer time period. It would start with the 1902 collection gathered by Dr. Gustavus A. Eisen, during an expedition financed by Phoebe Hearst, and continuing up to the present (A Century of Color: Maya Weaving & Textiles now available from Endangered Threads Documentaries, 1530 Tuolumne St., Vallejo, CA 94590).  

As if that were not enough to keep her busy, Margot had been asked to curate an exhibition of Guatemalan/Maya textiles at—appropriately enough—the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum at Kroeber Hall on the UC campus. The exhibition, titled “Traje De La Vida: Maya Textiles of Guatemala,” opened on Sept. 25 and will run through most of next year, with rotating exhibits, in the tidy space reached by going through the Museum Bookstore. 

For an ignorant layperson like myself (as well as for the better-informed who know what to look for!), Margot and the PAHMA staff have made impressive, yet welcoming, use of this space. On the walls of a far corner in the back of the hall, facing each other, are ongoing, silent films of Guatemala in the early 20th century and today, giving images of historical context.  

If you can visit the museum by Jan. 9, you might catch Martina Jimenez weaving a piece using the traditional “backstrap loom.” (Ms. Jimenez speaks not only her native Mayan language, Mam, but Spanish too, if you want to ask her a question about her ongoing demonstration.) 

Among the displays of glass-enclosed garments, well lit and hung to show their intricate design, there are videos by Kathleen Vitale of other Guatemalan Maya, each speaking one of the 22 Mayan languages, then translating their remarks into Spanish, with English subtitles. There are family scenes too, but, says Kathleen, “I never photograph a child unless he or she is enrolled in school—their best chance for a good life in these times—otherwise I would be exploiting child labor!” 

Which brings up the ways in which the tortured history of Guatemalan oppression and civil wars (as Margot explains) are woven into these textiles—in the very fabrics used, the materials available, the dyeing processes, the uses of the clothing. Margot points out that most of the Maya men “wear jeans and T-shirts now, and speak Spanish, lest they be targeted for ‘execution’ in the still ongoing violence.” Yet the beauty of the displayed clothing seems to triumph over the dangers that threaten these people and their traditional art.  

But this is not an overtly political exhibit. It has a lighter side. We are invited to try on some colorful shirts, pantalones, or exquisite and elaborate blouses or huipiles, and then admire ourselves in a conveniently placed full-length mirror. We can laugh (as the Maya obviously succeeded in doing) at the silly ferocity of a spangled, life-sized figure of a conquistador. And we may even hope for good luck emanating from a life-sized image of Marimón—a saint? a god?—even the Maya aren’t sure. 

This is a classy exhibit, worth visiting several times as it changes through the next year, displaying other examples of clothing that is art. Or just to take a second look at some of the intricate, decorative complexities of what is hanging there now. 

Of course, the danger is that you might not be able to leave through that gift shop without buying a unique huipil, a documentary DVD, a book, or, at least, a woven handbag. So relax, already, and do it. The money will go to a good cause, helping the Maya artists and these “endangered threads” to survive. 

Teachers: There are one-hour docent tours that meet California State Content Standards in Social Studies, Visual Arts, and Language Arts. Call 643-7649 or contact pahmaeducation@berkeley.edu. 

 

Traje De La Vida:  

Maya Textiles of Guatemala 

10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday;  

noon-4 p.m. Sunday, at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, 103 Kroeber Hall, UC Berkeley (Bancroft at College). Free admission.  

 

 


‘Mz. Dee’s Medicine Show,’ Live on BETV

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:07:00 PM

Mz. Dee’s Medicine Show, a new musical variety TV series, hosted by lifelong local jazz and R&B singer Mz. Dee, will be cable- and web-cast live on BETV Channel 28 and BETV.org, 2 p.m., this Saturday, from the Berkeley Community Media studio. 

The show will feature local talent and locations. Guests will include guitarist Risa Gratiano, harmonica player Bird Leg, Berkeley High student and pianist Andre Couture, musical members of Mz. Dee’s family—her brother, Mr. Pockets, on drums and nephew, Playboy, as MC—and her band, the VIPs. “It’ll be a big party, live with a live studio audience, party favors, balloons and dancing.” 

The show will also include interviews with a range of artists from different disciplines, as well as public service announcements focusing on agencies that help the disadvantaged in the Bay Area. 

Future locations will include Anna’s Jazz Island, the JazzSchool in Berkeley and Dorothy King’s Q-Lounge at her Everett & Jones BBQ Restaurant in Oakland. 

Mz. Dee was a featured vocalist with bandleader Johnny Otis and has sung on CD with Bonnie Raitt and at Italy’s Umbria Jazz Festival, besides playing in Ascension of the Blues with Berkeley singer Nicholas Bearde and others. She characterizes herself as “fortunate enough to sing all different styles—jazz, blues, soul, classical, popular tunes ... My mother’s a church organist—not so much Gospel, per se, more Methodist anthems and classical arias. She played for the Church by the Side of the Road on Adeline and for Phillips Temple, for Taylor Methodist and now for Mills Grove Disciples of Christ. It sounds like a bunch of gigs! I call her the Minister of Music, though she corrects me by saying she’s not a minister, but she’s directed massed choirs, been voted best organist in the area, and is a great singer. She used to sing opera.” 

Her mother didn’t teach her music, however.  

“She’d say ‘Not my own children!’ Didn’t think that would work out. But I heard her instructions, just picked it up from her—and growing up, heard all that good music from the Beatles ... I wanted to be a rock star! Then got more into Soul and R&B, listening to Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power—the best. I opened for James Brown and he later told a friend of mine, ‘She’s got a lot of Soul.’”  

She also cites “hanging out with Ruth Brown, a wonderful influence in my life. I miss her. And I’ve been fortunate to go on tour in Europe 14 or 15 times. I’m going back to Germany in April for two weeks.” 

Mz. Dee has a CD available on CD Baby, Mz. Dee—Real Woman/Real Soul. “I play a little piano and write songs that way. Some will be on my new CD, hopefully out by summer.” 

Mz. Dee has hosted a TV show before, “about seven years ago, in Alameda, ‘Dee Talks’—people thought it was ‘Detox’! I want to network using television, to help promote other musicians and show good places to hear music. Club business is bad now. We’re making the same money we did in 1980. That’s where the blues is from, trying to get that paycheck, feed your family. And it’s hard to go out and party like we used to—to see a good band costs a lot. People are sitting at home at their computers. They can see us on the web stream.” 

Mz. Dee sums it all up: “You got to keep giving back, remember where you came from. Taking care of everything. I’ve been out of the circuit about a year now, I think. I’ve got no sense of time, except within the song! Some might think I’m emerging again. I’ve been here all the time, but I got to get it back in gear!”


Teen Playreaders Present ‘Bizarre Shorts’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:08:00 PM

Teen Playreaders, which meets weekly at the Berkeley Public Library to read aloud from plays and monologues, have invited the whole community to their free show of Bizarre Shorts, featuring short plays, musical numbers and monologues (some original), “something for everybody, from Shakespeare to Sondheim to Stoppard,” 7:30 p.m., this Saturday at the Willard Middle School Metal Shop Theater, 2425 Stuart St. (off Telegraph). 

Debbie Carton, who organized Teen Readers eight years ago as a program of Teen Services and Friends of the Library, noted the free price tag at the door “wasn’t a case of getting what you pay for.” 

“It’s good!” she said. “That’s my role: I play the Roman emperor the night before the show, thumbs up or down. I’m ruthless! The kids start out ambitious—when you get a bunch of them together, they want to put on a show—but we don’t want to hurt the audience, so what doesn’t work gets nibbled away.” 

Even if “there’s no torture, there’s a tortuous piece” from Sweeney Todd, “and the kids can sing!” Then there’s “the catfight scene” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“teens can relate to it—like high school romance!”) and “the ‘Dead in a box’ scene” from Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. There are two original monologues, one from a poetry slam that starts with prose and goes into rap, and “a surprise finale, ‘I’m So Glad to Be a Girl,’ with the girls dressed as men, singing the chorus, while the boys mince out onstage in drag!” All the pieces performed are “no more than 10 minutes, no more than six people.”  

Andy Cantor, a Berkeley High student who has been into theater since age 9, started going to Teen Playreaders “about eight months ago. I heard about it from Libby Vega, who I met in the summer program of the California Shakespeare Conservatory, assistant-directing a production of King Lear.” 

Cantor was “kind of nervous” going to Playreaders, but “everybody was so sweet, so accepting,” she felt a part of the group.  

She characterizes it as “a bunch of kids, some really talented, putting on characters, playing all the parts to the hilt, getting goofy—but even when it’s quieter, we’re still getting together to have fun.”  

Everybody plays all the roles—they often switch off at the punctuation in a line—and even “very quiet kids, with little voice” that Cantor has observed “really enjoyed themselves and kept coming back.”  

There’s been hard work—“a lot of singing lessons, tons of rehearsing,” said Cantor, but “every single person is so committed. It’s fun because we all know each other. We’re determined to make it a really good show. What strikes me about Playreaders is that we can do that with hardly any adult involvement. It’s inspired me to go off and do my own stuff, to direct.” 

“It shows what happens when you empower kids. I hate that word!” laughs Cantor. “They participate as much as they like. Teens like to gender-bend—so let ’em!”  

And she promises the audience won’t be “just warm bodies in folding chairs.” There’s some audience participation, which she calls “the hat trick—but it involves only those who want to participate. The others get let off the hook. But there’s always an element of chance. There’re no ringers in Teen Playreaders!” 

BIZARRE SHORTS 

Presented by Teen Playreaders at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Willard Middle School Metal Shop Theater, 2425 Stuart St. Free admission. 981-6236. berkeleypubliclibrary.org.


Hansberry Theater Stages ‘Black Nativity’ in SF

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:10:00 PM

From the staged, stylized Gospel story of the door-to-door search for shelter and the adoration of the wise men in a stable in Bethlehem to the full-out testifying, choral singing and social pageantry of the African-American church, Lorraine Hansberry theater company’s Black Nativity: A Gospel Celebration of Christmas, now in its 10th year (and Hansberry’s 28th), is playing through Dec. 28 at San Francisco’s PG&E Auditorium. 

With a new script and staging, the show bursts forth with the exuberance of its assembled voices, dancers, musicians and narrator. Its dynamic storytelling, often full of humor, constantly shifts focus, just as the music does for each voice, always bringing it back together in community to tell of the love of birth and creation in exciting rhythms and harmonies. 

Hansberry’s artistic director, Stanley Wil-liams, first gives us the sacred story as told, with the earthy embellishments theater has always brought to the hallowed—then brings on the congregation that enacts and celebrates it in their own Come Sunday glory, a direct address to our emotions, thoughts and all our senses.  

The singing, both choral and solo, is almost continuous, a mix of Gospel songs with a few “gospelized” Christmas carols. Each soloist is distinguished not only by differences in range and timbre from the others, but in mood, manner of delivery, movement and facial expression. 

In the first part on opening night, the story of the nativity itself, the shepherds—as was true in the medieval miracle plays—clown around. The older herdsmen alternate with the younger as cut-buddies, disapproving of the kids’ contemporary singing and rap, ducking in with Motown and Stax numbers. The audience rocked with laughter. 

This lightening of the stylized biblical material, overseen by Allison L. Payne’s warm narration (in the church-going part, she preaches lustily), was just a hint of the opening up of the second part.  

Coming back from intermission to our seats, the audience watched the congregation shown to theirs onstage, white-gloved ushers (Demure Adrianna Bre Harris and the lithe Michael Montgomery, who danced Mary and Joseph in the first half, now come into their own, choreographed by Pjay Phillips), worshippers in full regalia—and attitude, bringing the humor out of the fields of Bethlehem, and a little closer to home. There are some deft touches of satire, even in the midst of stirring anthems.  

Arvis Strickling-Jones, raised in the Bay Area and a world traveler as performer and choir director, who brought the San Quentin Inmates Choir to “Good Morning, America” on TV with her song “A Friend,” has returned to shine as music director and principal artist (Robin Hodge-Williams, another past music director of Black Nativity, will step in Dec. 20-21). 

Yvonne Cobb and Sherral Strickling-McCall assist in musical direction and sing with the choir, which—with the dancers joining in—comes close to 20 voices. Each deserves her own review. On this crowded—sometimes overwhelmed—stage, the musicians are invisible but never unheard, swinging away behind the scenes: Kenneth Little, conducting from the keyboards, James “Booyah” Richard on bass and drummer Troy Hill. 

The designers (Rose Plant, costumes; set, Robert Broadfoot; Matthew Royce, lights; Ian Hunter, sound) and the techs have transformed a handsome corporate auditorium into a theater (Hansberry having just lost their longtime downtown SF home) to stage a tabernacle. 

Easy to praise Black Nativity and its wonderful cast and crew; hard to get across the sheer exuberance—and fun—they convey their deep-down message for the holidays. It’s delightful just to sit and watch it unfold. But the audience never just sits—toes tap, hands are clapping or being shaken by the choir, moving from the stage, up and down the aisles. 

BLACK NATIVITY 

Through Dec. 28 at the PG&E Auditorium, 77 Beale St., San Francisco. $18–36. 

(415) 474-8800. LHTSF.org


Thornton Wilder on the South Side of Our Town

By Phil McArdle Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:11:00 PM
Thornton wilder and Gertrude Stein in 1937 at her country home at Bilignin, in the Rhone Valley.
Thornton wilder and Gertrude Stein in 1937 at her country home at Bilignin, in the Rhone Valley.

Thornton Wilder created a substantial body of work but there seems little doubt that his lasting fame depends on Our Town. Since its opening on Broadway 70 years ago this extraordinary play has never really been off the stage. New productions of it open somewhere in the world almost every month. 

Wilder was born in Wisconsin in 1897, but he spent important childhood and adolescent years in Berkeley. When he was 9, his father was appointed U.S. Consul-General in China. The whole family traveled with him to his post, but Thornton’s mother quickly decided Hong Kong was no place for her and the children (Thornton had a brother and two sisters). She promptly took them back to the United States, and they settled in Berkeley for four years. 

 

Berkeley, 1906-1910 

They lived on the south side of the University campus, at the corner of Parker Street and College Avenue. Thornton attended Emerson Grammar School at Forest and Piedmont Avenues, and McKinley School on Dwight Way, between Dana and Telegraph Avenue. When he was ten he discovered music. As his sister Isabel wrote, “...St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, about two-and-a-half blocks from our Congregational church in Berkeley, had...an excellent organist and choir-master, and Thornton had discovered that a boy was needed to pump the organ when the organist practiced...Happening to meet the rector of St. Mark’s, Mother dared to ask if it would be possible for Thornton to be a choir boy. It all came together ... [he was] excused from our Sunday School five minutes early so that he could dash over to St. Mark’s, get helped into a little white cotta...and march down the aisle singing joyously ... The organist appreciated Thornton’s thirst for music ... and let him practice a little on the organ.” 

At about the same time Thornton discovered the theater and began writing plays for himself and his siblings to perform at home. In her preface to his “Alcestiad,” Isabel Wilder said: “Several times a year the [UC] Classics Department mounted productions of plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides [at the Greek Theater]. Our mother joined the volunteer workers in the costume shop and stenciled furlongs of borders in the Greek key or laurel leaf patterns on gorgeously colored togas. She made a little blue one with shells around the hem for Thornton—and a green one for brother Amos—and sent them off to apply for roles as members of the Athenian mob. Thus Thornton discovered “total” theater and the Golden Age of Antiquity. 

 

Berkeley, 1913-1915 

In 1911, when Thornton was 13, the family reunited briefly in Shanghai, only to scatter again. Mrs. Wilder returned to Berkeley in 1913, rented a house on Prospect Street (near today’s Memorial Stadium) and gathered her children around her. Thornton enrolled at Berkeley High School for his junior and senior years. According to Gilbert Harrison’s description, at fifteen he was thin, “about five feet eight inches tall, with a straight nose, firm chin, thick eyebrows...a high forehead, and wavy black hair.” He was also socially inept, badly dressed, and thought by his classmates to be an odd duck. 

Thornton escaped from the slings and arrows of his daily life by reading voraciously in the high school library and, after he discovered it, the University library. He also indulged in day dreams. Once, while walking to school he was “sky-gazing” and walked into a telephone pole. He grew out of this, but in his early days at college, memories of being a misfit came upon him “every now and then” and he “remembered what it was like at Berkeley High.” 

Despite his problems he accomplished a lot in those two years. Most importantly, he wrote plays. One, The Advertisement League, was performed at a school assembly. He also started writing a series of very short, three-minute plays. When he published a selection of them in The Angel That Troubled the Water (1928), he included two written at Berkeley High, Proserpina and the Devil and Brother Fire. 

His absorption in the East Bay’s theatrical offerings became intense. He attended classical plays at the Greek Theater and serious drama at local community theaters. And once a week he went to Oakland to see touring companies from New York perform the comedies and melodramas of the day. Among the actors he saw were Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Margaret Anglin and Sidney Howard. He may have been an ungainly teenager, but he saw all this through the eyes of genius. 

 

Rome 

Wilder graduated from Berkeley High in 1915, attended Oberlin and Yale, served in the Coast Guard, and found a teaching post in Rome. Thornton Wilder was a gay man and very protective of his privacy; it seems to have been in Italy that he came out and began to live on his own terms. 

But there is no doubt that after years of preoccupation with theater, Rome is where he began writing fiction. When his first novel, The Cabala, appeared in 1926 Edmund Wilson thought it “...quite extraordinary that a novelist so young should display from the first page of his very first book, so accomplished a mastery of form and a point of view so much his own.” Wilder followed it with The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Woman of Andros, and Heaven’s My Destination. 

 

‘Our Town’ 

Our Town was suggested to Wilder by “Lucinda Matlock,” a poem in Edgar Lee Masters’ The Spoon River Anthology. Lying in her grave, Lucinda remembers how she “went to the dances at Chandlerville,” and 

Driving home in the moonlight of middle June, 

...I found Davis. 

We were married and lived together for seventy years... 

These lines inspired him with the desire to “record a village’s life on stage, with realism and with generality...the life of a village against the life of the stars.” He succeeded completely. Our Town is a powerful work which makes an indelible impression on any receptive viewer. 

In developing Our Town Wilder employed ideas he had discussed with his friend Gertrude Stein, another former East Bay resident. They had met in Paris, and Wilder was impressed by her vast novel, The Making of Americans (subtitled “Being a History of a Family’s Progress”). He wrote to her that his play’s “third act is based on your ideas, as on great pillars” and “whether you know it or not, until further notice, you’re in a deep-knit collaboration.” 

In The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, Edward Burns and Ulla Dydo have pointed out “structural parallels” between Stein’s book and Wilder’s play: Act 1 deals with “daily life;” Act 2, with “love and marriage;” and Act 3, with “death.” In their view, Stein’s book goes “rolling along inexorably in huge incremental epic waves,” while Wilder’s play is “small” and “homey” in its New England setting “with its astonishingly accurate portrayal of daily life.” 

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas took a rooting interest in the plays success. As opening night approached, they developed a case of first night jitters, and Gertrude sent him an urgent letter. “My dear Thornton,” she wrote, “Where oh where is that cable telling all about how the play went, what happened, we say it to each other every morning, why no word from Thornton and there is not even an echo that answers nein...tell us what happened to you and be quick about it and lots of love now and always.” 

They needn’t have worried. The play opened in February 1938, and began a triumphant run of 336 performances. 

Our Town struck audiences as revolutionary in technique because it abandoned conventional staging. There were no paintings hanging on the walls of the set. In fact, there were no walls. The props consisted of folding chairs arranged by the stage manager, an actor who also narrated the story. It marked a bold return to the bare stage of classical drama which Wilder had seen as a boy in Berkeley. 

Wilder’s imagination gives life to Our Town, and his Grovers Corners draws on all the small towns he had lived in. His transformation of his material is so complete that specific places cannot be recognized. There are, of course, tantalizing moments that invite speculation. For example, the choir rehearsal and the character of Simon Stimson, the organist, may draw remotely on Wilder’s youth in Berkeley. A sensitive musician trapped in a world of tone deaf singers, Stimson’s choir makes his teeth hurt. In despair he beseeches the singers to remember that “music came into the world to give pleasure.” It was at St. Mark’s, Isabel Wilder told us, that love of church music became a permanent part of Thornton’s life. 

 

‘The Matchmaker’ 

Of The Matchmaker, one of his last important plays, he wrote, “This play parodies the stock-company plays that I used to see at Ye Liberty Theater, Oakland, California, when I was a boy.” It is a mellow romp in which, as the Daily Planet’s Ken Bullock wrote recently, out of a series of farcical and comic coincidences, “a charming happy ending befalls everyone.” 

Thornton Wilder spent six years of his childhood and youth in Berkeley, and those years played their part in his work. He became a major figure in our literature and, after a long and productive life, died in his sleep at home in Connecticut on Dec. 7, 1975. 

 

Phil McArdle is at work on a book about Sidney Howard. 


About the House: Slavery Lite

By Matt Cantor
Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 07:12:00 PM

I recently received a letter from a reader (Let’s call him PR) about his experiences with a local contractor and his illegal help. His concern, which is to be commended, is in regards to the pay and working conditions afforded his helper, whom he pseudonymously called Gem (presumably his feelings about the worker, which he effused copiously in a letter which is too long to include herein). 

Gem was left on site to do most of the work, according to PR and was being paid “pennies above minimum wage.” Current California minimum wage is set at $8 an hour and is almost $10 in San Francisco, which, like many jurisdictions, can set their own amount as long as it’s above the U.S. level of $6.55 (due to increase to $7.25 next July). 

Actually, according to PR, Gem is not in this country legally and, should officials become involved, would probably be deported. This raises serious questions about the legal pay requirements of the individual that I cannot answer. What I can say is that contractors, licensed or otherwise (according to PR, the “contractor” is not licensed), like all employers (short term or longer) are required to withhold tax and to file certain employment documents for all workers who are not simply “day labor.” Day labor designations are designed to cover up to several hundred dollars to one person in the course of a year and are capped to prevent this designation from being used for other than very short-term employment. 

One of the requirements for contractors of many kinds is Workman’s Compensation and, again, an illegal alien has no rights that I am aware of to collect from this fund. Further, most illegals would rather receive their fully untaxed wages and have no withholdings at all, preferring to fly under the radar. 

These circumstances mean that many day laborers get hurt and have no recourse. There are also many deaths each year that go uncompensated as a result. 

This conspiracy, of sorts, puts everyone at risk but has become the common specie of the trades. My friend Harold, a brilliant and hardworking ecologist, landscaper and philosopher, aptly calls this whole constellation of issues “Slavery Lite.” 

The contractor, according to PR (I keep saying this because it’s all second hand and much of what he has surmised is unverified, making the depth of the well of untruth hard to plumb), is making “upwards of 50 percent” of Gem’s wages. So, perhaps we’re talking about $15 an hour being charged for the worker. While this may seem grossly unfair, I have trouble arriving at that conclusion based on wage distribution alone.  

As a recovering contractor and one who worked with fully taxed as well as casual labor over the years, I can tell you that by the time you finish paying all your bills, it’s very hard to have made any money at all if you don’t charge the client substantially beyond the laborer’s wage. The number of items that go into this calculation is often beyond the awareness of all but the best contractors but trust me when I say it’s true. It’s the same as our home budgets and some of us, on our grouchier days might term it the death by a thousand cuts. That said, one would need to take a very close look at the workings of the contractor’s operation to ascertain the level of misfeasance. 

If you are actually paying only $15 an hour (or close to it), you’re getting a bargain (albeit a bargain with the devil since you’re also de facto hiring an illegal, as well as working with an unlicensed contractor). 

If the contractor were to charge an additional $3-4 per hour over Gem’s wages, I can be sure that within a few accounting cycles he would find that he was losing money so this shouldn’t be your focus. Furthermore, to assume that Gem sans the contractor could provide you with the same end product may be false.  

However unscrupulous the contractor may be, they may be bringing many things to the table, including the right tools, transportation, planning, knowledge, training for the worker, knowing what to buy and actually doing it. Knowing what they can and cannot do according to codes and other local rules is another thing the contractor may bring to the workbench. 

I don’t know the skill level of your contractor or of Gem but it is common for leadership to provide much to make themselves essential. 

Gem claimed to have been kept, for most of a year, in “quasi-bondage” (obviously PR’s terminology) through a “combination of vague inducements, threats, and by partial and delayed payments in “installments” for his labor.” True or not, in this case, it is a sad reality for some of our national day labor force. 

Now, there’s a lot of hearsay on which to attempt to base an opinion here, but even assuming that this laborer is giving a fair representation of his circumstances, one wonders why Gem would stay with this contractor for the better part of a year, as has been claimed. While many illegals are hungry to work as much as possible, there is a very active marketplace for hardworking, capable day laborers and, were he to feel threatened, he could certainly head back to the street to get picked up at any one of the many “slavery lite” venues readily visible within a block of so many of our local lumber yards (it’s a wonder that the INS doesn’t have offices across the street from every Home Depot). 

PR, by participating in hiring either Gem or the contractor, you are participating in the propagation of these circumstances. If you want to help Gem become legal, that would be great but it won’t be easy. There are also about 12 million Gems out there (57 percent being Mexican according to the Pew Hispanic Center). Write your congressperson and demand fair employment and basic services for everyone here illegally OR demand that the U.S. and Mexico establish basic human rights and minimum wages on both sides of the border.  

Then, all the Gems will be able to choose what circumstances they want to work under and can more easily leave an abusive situation. NAFTA has been very good for big business but not very good for the hombre on the street, as you can see. 

I’ll climb down from the soap-box for a minute to address a last issue brought forth by PR, that being a matter of undisclosed mark-up. Marking up materials within reason and by agreement is perfectly fine. In fact, if the contractor gets a discount at the store, that’s his to pocket and is not required to share it. If the contractor is charging for things he didn’t buy or marking up beyond the price you would pay at the store, he needs to tell you. If he didn’t, I would bring it up in a non-hostile manner and see if you can get the money back. 

Frankly, I am more concerned that you are not getting minimally acceptable construction performed than that you may be overpaying. The latter seems unlikely and I very much doubt that this contractor (if we may stretch the fabric of reality to call him such) is making a lot of money. 

I don’t blame PR for trying to save money or for wanting to go to bat for an illegal laborer off the street. I am concerned, though, that there are legal, licensed contractors employing legal, insured, tax-paying workers who are displaced through this process.  

These latter ones cost more and come with substantially more accountability for PR, who is concerned about his recourse with Gem’s employer (there is very little and if he calls the IRS (another of his questions), he may be in trouble for having illegals working for him, despite the contractor’s involvement. Additionally, working with an unlicensed contractor may mean that if someone gets hurt, he may get sued as the nearby deep pocket. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not finding fault with PR. There are many among us who have made all these same choices. Certainly, I think we’re dealing with a contractor who should be forced to hire legal people at a living wage, protect them with insurance and withhold taxes. It’s too bad.  

Most people have no idea how widespread this is. If you want some idea, park where you can watch the labor pool on the street some morning and watch the trucks pick up men for a few hours. It’s a sizeable percentage of the work in every major city. 

To PR, here’s my suggestion. Don’t hire the contractor again. Hire a licensed, well-reputed one who comes with references. Say goodbye to any money you think you may have overpaid and, as my mother would say, don’t send any more good after the bad. Have Gem over to dinner and find out his situation. See if you can help him without hiring him illegally. Talk to the INS about how to help someone get a green card and seek work in the U.S., naming no names, of course. You wouldn’t want them digging up your Gem. 


Community Calendar

Wednesday December 17, 2008 - 06:51:00 PM

THURSDAY, DEC. 18 

Town Hall Meeting on the Berkeley Climate Action Plan Hosted by Council Members Darryl Moore and Max Anderson at 7 p.m. at the Frances Albrier Center, in San Pablo Park at 2800 Park St. www.BerkeleyClimateAction.org 

Health Care Community Discussion in response to the Obama transition team invitation to offer ideas to achieve health care reform at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. at Arch. info@hillsideclub.org 

Holiday Crafts and Tree Trim for ages five and up from 3 to 5 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Larry Everest and Norman Solomon Debate “U.S. Foreign Policy and Opposing Wars during the Obama Presidency” at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Cedar and Bonita. Donation $5-$10. 495-5132. 

Santa’s Wonderland Thurs. though Sun. until Dec. 23 at 1809 Fourth St. Donate socks filled with toiletries or an unwrapped book for the Children’s Learning Center at Harrison House Homeless Shelter. 644-3002.  

Toastmasters Berkeley Communicators meets at 7:30 a.m. at Au Coquelet, 2000 University Ave. Rob.Flammia@gmail.com 

Baby & Toddler Storytime at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Circle of Concern Vigil meets at noon on West Lawn of UC campus across from Addison and Oxford to oppose UC weapons labs contracts. 848-8055. 

Avatar Metaphysical Toastmasters Club at 6:45 p.m. at Spud’s Pizza, 3290 Adeline at Alcatraz. namaste@avatar.freetoasthost.info  

Fitness Class for 55+ at 9:15 a.m. at Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St. 848-0237. 

FRIDAY, DEC. 19 

City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with Jeff Robinson, photographer on “Wildlife of Asia.” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $14.50, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. For information and reservations call 524-7468.  

Demonstrate for Peace! Bring your signs and determination to bring our troops home now and keep out of Iran, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Acton and University Aves. Sponsored by Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers, Strawberry Creek Lodge Tenants Association and the Iraq Moratorium. 841-4143. 

Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

Kol Hadash Humanistic Judaism Chanukah Celebration at 6:30 p.m. at Albany Community Center, with a farewell party for Rabbi Jay. Please bring non-perishable food for the needy. For more info about the potluck email info@kolhadash.org 

SATURDAY, DEC. 20 

Women on Common Ground Holiday Decorations Join this annual workshop to make holiday decorations for the Women’s Drop-In Shelter and for yourself also, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. Bring a small pair of hand-clippers and a bag lunch if you wish to join the afternoon solstice hike at 2 p.m. 525-2233. 

Holiday Crafts Fair at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market with live music, hot lunches and a variety of handcrafted gifts, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Civic Center Park, Center St. at MLK Jr. Way. 548-2220, ext. 227. www.ecologycenter.org 

Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair with over 200 street artists, merchants, community groups and entertainment, Sat. and Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Dwight and Bancroft. 234-1013. 

Temescal Holiday Skate and Stroll from 1 to 5 p.m. at the outdoor skating rink at 49th and Telegraph, Oakland. Cost is $3 for skating. 

Revolution Books Open House from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 2425 Channing Way. 848-1196. 

Berkeley Open Studios Sat and Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Dec. 21. 845-2612. www.berkeleyartisans.com 

“Paws and Claus” Santa visits the Oakland Zoo Sat. and Sun. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland. 632-9525. www.oaklandzoo.org 

“Hanging Around” Create winter ornaments and decorations from 1 to 4 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 Ninth St., Suite 210, Oakland. Cost is $7. 456-8770. www.mocha.org 

Edwardian Holidays Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate Weekends through Dec. 21 with costumed docents, festive trolley, live music, entertainment, cozy tea in the cottage, and Breakfast with Father Christmas, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $7-$12. For reservations call 925-275-9490. www.dunsmuir.org  

Hanukkah Event with Latkes Sat.-Mon. from 11 a.m. to p.m. on the sidewalk in front of Saul's Delicatessen, 475 Shattuck Ave. Latkes are $2.25 or $27 per dozen. www.saulsdeli.com 

Pre-Winter Trash Clean-up of Ohlone Greenway from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meet on Moeser and the Ohlone Greenway, behind Safeway in El Cerrito. Wear jacket, long sleeves, pants and closed toe shoes. For information contact 215-4353. 

“I Sit and Stay” Survival guide for children with author Leah Waarvik at 2 p.m. at REI, 1338 San Pablo Ave. 527-4140. 

Tree of Life Qi Gong Workout at 10 a.m. at 2929 Summit St., Ste. 103, Oakland. Cost is $15. 253-8120. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. and Sun. at 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732.  

The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club provides free instruction every Wed. and Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at 2270 Acton St. 841-2174.  

SUNDAY, DEC. 21 

Winter Solstice Celebration Learn the solstice’s cultural history on a short walk, then share seasonal stories, poems and music around the campfire from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. For ages 5 and up. Cost is $6-$8. Registration required. 1-888-327-2757. 

Winter Solstice Gathering, led by Alan Gould, Lawrence Hall of Science, at 4:10 p.m. at the Interinm Solar Calendar, Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley Marina. Dress warmly. www.solarcalendar.org 

Winter Solstice Labyrinth Walk from 6 to 8 p.m. at Willard Middle School, Telegraph Ave. between Derby and Stuart. Everyone welcome. Wheelchair accessible. 526-7377. info@eastbaylabyrinthproject.org  

Winter Solstice and Open Talent Show at 6 p.m. at The Deep Green Humanist Church, 390 27th St., Oakland. Free, bring healthy potluck food to share, donations welcome. 451-5818.  

Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair with over 200 street artists, merchants, community groups and entertainment, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Dwight and Bancroft. 234-1013. 

Temescal Holiday Skate and Stroll from 1 to 5 p.m. at the outdoor skating rink at 49th and Telegraph, Oakland. Cost is $3 for skating. 

Test your Child’s Toys for Lead with the Center for Environmental Health from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship Hall, corner of Cedar and Bonita St. For information call 655-3900. www.ceh.org 

“Home Sweet Home” Build candy cottages and cookie castles from 1 to 4 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 Ninth St., Suite 210, Oakland. Cost is $7. 456-8770. www.mocha.org 

Kol Hadash Bagel Brunch with Prof. Bernard Rosen on “Why I am Not an Atheist” at 10 a.m. at Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin, Albany. Suggested donation $5. 525-2296. Programs@kolhadash.org  

Community Multi-Traditional Holiday Sing-Along at 5 p.m. at GNC, 2138 Cedar St. www.downhomedancing.org 

Community Menorah Lighting at 4 p.m. at Bay Street Emeryville Mall, across from Barnes & Noble. 540-5824.  

Kehilla Chanukah Celebration at 4 p.m. at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont. Tickets are $10. www.KehillaSynagogue.org  

“Spiritual Perspectives for Independent Thinkers in a World of Paradox” with Jeremy Taylor at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732.  

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Peace walk around the lake every Sun. Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

Berkeley Chess Club meets every Sun. at 7 p.m. at the Hillside School, 1581 Le Roy Ave. 843-0150. 

MONDAY, DEC. 22 

Christmas Caroling at 6 p.m. in front of Sweet Dreams, 2921 College Ave. Song sheets provided. 

Berkeley Potters Guild 38th Holiday Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 73 Jones St. at Fourth St. www.berkeleypotters.com 

Berkeley CopWatch organizational meeting at 8 p.m. at 2022 Blake St. 548-0425. 

TUESDAY, DEC. 23 

Tuesdays for the Birds Tranquil bird walks in local parklands, led by Bethany Facendini, from 7 to 9:30 a.m. Today we will visit the Marina at Lake Chabot Regional Park. Call for meeting place and if you need to borrow binoculars. 525-2233. 

Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair with over 200 street artists, merchants, community groups and entertainment, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.between Dwight and Bancroft. 234-1013. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from noon to 5 p.m. at Gelateria Naia, 2106 Shattuck Ave. To schedule an appointment go to www.BeADonor.com  

“The Barefoot Doctors of Rural China” A documentary at 7 p.m. at Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way. 848-1196. 

Berkeley PC Problem Solving meeting at 7 p.m. at 1145 Walnut St. at Eunice.  

Family Storytime at 7 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Tuesday Tilden Walkers Join a few slowpoke seniors at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot near the Little Farm for an hour or two walk. 215-7672, 524-9992. 

End the Occupation Vigil every Tues. at noon at Oakland Federal Bldg., 1301 Clay St. www.epicalc.org 

Street Level Cycles Community Bike Program Come use our tools as well as receive help with performing repairs free of charge. Youth classes available. Tues., Thurs., and Sat. from 2 to 6 p.m. at at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org 

Boffers and Board Games from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at Codornices Park, 1201 Euclid Ave. across from the Rose Garden, or 33 Revolutions Record Shop & Cafe, 10086 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito when bad weather. Free, but parental supervision required. 526-5985 

Berkeley Camera Club meets at 7:30 p.m., at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. Share your digital images, slides and prints and learn what other photographers are doing. Monthly field trips. 548-3991. www.berkeleycameraclub.org 

St. John’s Prime Timers meets at 9:30 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. We offer ongoing classes in exercise and creative arts, and always welcome new members over 50. 845-6830. 

Sing-A-Long Group from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave., Albany. 524-9122. 

Caribbean Rhythms Dance Class begins at 5:30 p.m. at Redwood Gardens, 2951 Derby St., and meets every Tues. eve. Donations accepted for Community Rhythms Scholarship Fund. 548-9840. 

Ceramics Class Learn hand building techniques to make decorative and functional items, Tues. at 9:30 a.m. at St. John's Senior Center, 2727 College Ave. Free, materials and firing charges only. 525-5497. 

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 24 

Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair with over 200 street artists, merchants, community groups and entertainment, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.between Dwight and Bancroft. 234-1013. 

Berkeley Potters Guild 38th Holiday Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 73 Jones St. at Fourth St. www.berkeleypotters.com 

Golden Gate Birding Walk at Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the large spherical cage near Nature Center at Perkins and Bellevue. 549-2839.  

SATURDAY, DEC. 27 

Mini-Farmers in Tilden A farm exploration program, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 4-6 years, accompanied by an adult. We will explore the Little Farm, care for animals, do crafts and farm chores. Wear boots and dress to get dirty! Fee is $6-$8. Registration required. 1-888-EBPARKS. 

“Ring in the New” Make noisemakers and party hats for New Years, Sat. and Sun. from 1 to 4 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 Ninth St., Suite 210, Oakland. Cost is $7. 456-8770. www.mocha.org 

Close the Farm Help us close the Little Farm and tuck in the animals for the night, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Tilden Little Farm, Tilden Park. 525-2233. 

The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club provides free instruction every Wed. and Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at 2270 Acton St. 841-2174.  

SUNDAY, DEC. 28 

“A Short History of Islam” A film by Karen Armstrong at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

“What Would Steady State Economics Look Like?” with Sterling Bunnell at 11 a.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. www.HumanistHall.org 

Family Restoration Day for families who care about the environment with interactive games and working in the park, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Tilden Nature Area, Tilden Park. Registration required. 1-888-327-2757. 

Winter Wanderland Hike Series An invigorating fast-paced hike from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This week we will visit Tilden Nature Area. Call for meeting place. Bring water, layered clothing and a snack to share. 525-2233. 

Nature Theater nature games, a movie, popcorn and cider for the whole family from 2 to 4 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. 525-2233. 

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Peace walk around the lake every Sun. Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

Tibetan Buddhism with Sylvia Gretchen on “Healing Mind, Heart, and Spirit” at 6 p.m. at the Tibetan Nyingma Institute, 1815 Highland Pl. 809-1000. www.nyingmainstitute.com 

MONDAY, DEC. 29 

Kensington Library Book Club meets to discuss “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid at 7 p.m. at 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Albany YMCA, in the parking lot at 921 Kains Ave., Albany. To schedule an appointment go to www.BeADonor.com 

Berkeley CopWatch organizational meeting at 8 p.m. at 2022 Blake St. 548-0425. 

TUESDAY, DEC. 30 

Family Storytime at 7 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Tuesday Tilden Walkers Join a few slowpoke seniors at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot near the Little Farm for an hour or two walk. 215-7672, 524-9992. 

End the Occupation Vigil every Tues. at noon at Oakland Federal Bldg., 1301 Clay St. www.epicalc.org 

Street Level Cycles Community Bike Program Come use our tools as well as receive help with performing repairs free of charge. Youth classes available. Tues., Thurs., and Sat. from 2 to 6 p.m. at at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org 

Boffers and Board Games from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at Codornices Park, 1201 Euclid Ave. across from the Rose Garden, or 33 Revolutions Record Shop & Cafe, 10086 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito when bad weather. Free, but parental supervision required. 526-5985 

Berkeley Camera Club meets at 7:30 p.m., at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. Share your digital images, slides and prints and learn what other photographers are doing. Monthly field trips. 548-3991. www.berkeleycameraclub.org 

St. John’s Prime Timers meets at 9:30 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. We always welcome new members over 50. 845-6830. 

Sing-A-Long Group from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave., Albany. 524-9122. 

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31 

New Year’s Eve Onboard the USS Hornet with live music, dancing, and views of the Bay Area skyline, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda.Tickets are $50-$98. 521-8448, ext. 282. 

Walk Berkeley for Seniors meets every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Sea Breeze Market, just west of the I-80 overpass. Everyone is welcome, wear comfortable shoes and a warm hat. 548-9840. 

Theraputic Recreation at the Berkeley Warm Pool, Wed. at 3:30 p.m. and Sat. at 10 a.m. at the Berkeley Warm Pool, 2245 Milvia St. Cost is $4-$5. Bring a towel. 632-9369. 

Berkeley Peace Walk and Vigil at the corner of Shattuck and Center. Sing for Peace at 6:30 p.m. followed by Peace Walk at 7 p.m. www.geocities. 

com/vigil4peace/vigil 

Teen Chess Club from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the North Branch Library, 1170 The Alameda at Hopkins. 981-6133. 

Morning Meditation Every Mon., Wed.,