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Black Oak Books owner Gary Cornell stocks shelves in time for the store’s Thursday re-opening.
Michael Howerton
Black Oak Books owner Gary Cornell stocks shelves in time for the store’s Thursday re-opening.


Report: Highway 13, Ashby Ave. Second Most-Deteriorated State Roadway in Bay Area

By Rio Bauce Special to the Planet
Monday December 21, 2009 - 01:47:00 PM

A new assessment of conditions of state roadways ranks Highway 13—including Ashby Avenue—as the second most-deteriorated section of roadway in the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area. 

The report, released by the The Road Information Program (TRIP), a national transportation research group, says Highway 13 carries about 72,000 motorists daily along its 4.4-mile route from Highway 80 through Berkeley and into Oakland.  

According to the report, inadequate roadways prove costly for state taxpayers, with levels of deterioration reflecting a 22 percent increase in state highway travel in the last 18 years. 

“I haven’t seen the report,” said Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz. “We have urged CalTrans to try to make improvements in the street in resurfacing [the pavement]. It is a problem during rush hour because it is a one-lane street. It’s always been an issue for us.” 

John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the TRIP report, which relies on data from 2008, does not reflect recent improvements to the roadway.  

“Highway 13 was resurfaced and smoothed out, particularly in the portion between Broadway Terrace and Telegraph Avenue,” said Goodwin. “The portion of the highway between Telegraph and Seventh Street still appears to be a bit dicey.” 

Goodwin predicts that next year’s report will bring better news for the Ashby corridor. 

“My assessment is that when TRIP gathers smoothness assessment for next year, [Highway 13] will fall off the list or further down the list,” said Goodwin. “Clearly, some work has been done. It is a smoother ride than it was a couple years ago.” 

Berkeley transportation manager Farid Javandel said Highway 13 was not repaired sooner due to a lack of funding. 

“Highway 13 is actually in process for repair by CalTrans right now,” said Javandel. “A year and a half ago, they did some deep spot repairs in the pavement. They were planning to do the finish repaving last summer but it got postponed until summer 2010.” 

“I think that the report makes some general comments about the shortfall in ongoing maintenance funding,” said Javandel. “If the simple maintenance doesn’t get done often enough, you need more aggressive maintenance techniques even up to replacing the roadway surface. The simple maintenance is cheaper than replacing the roadway. However, when we have these shortfalls in funding, we have to prioritize the roads. On an annual basis, they don’t have enough money to do all the necessary repairs.” 

The California Department of Transportation did not return calls for comment. 

The TRIP report is released every year and gathers statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. Although the state has received increased transportation funding, there still remains a $4 billion shortfall for highway improvements. 

Goodwin contends that many shortfalls could be filled through increasing the gas tax.  

“We are living off gas tax investments made in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Goodwin. “There appears to be an absence of willingness at the state level to increase the state gas tax. I do not think it is unreasonable to increase gas tax for inflation.” 

The report says that improvement in California roadways would decrease driving accidents and deaths. In addition, the report says that half of the bridges and overpasses in the region either lack proper structure or are obsolete. 

Goodwin said that the results are not surprising. 

“It’s exactly what we expected,” said Goodwin. “We have got the highway system that we are willing to pay for.”  

Other heavily deteriorated state highways in the East Bay include Highway 112 near the Oakland Airport and Highway 185 in San Leandro, along sections of East 14th Street. 

Although the TRIP report only detailed the state’s highways, the MTC will put out a report in January that evaluates the status of pavement in local municipalities.  

AC Transit to Cut Bus Service By 8.4 Percent

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday December 18, 2009 - 03:57:00 PM

The Alameda County Transit Board of Directors voted unanimously Wednesday to cut bus services by 8.4 percent beginning March 2010 to offset a $57 million budget deficit next year. 

The reductions are expected to bring about an annual savings of $10 million annually. 

AC Transit said it will not cancel services in any of the areas it presently serves in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. However, the district will be reducing service frequency and consolidating routes. 

Although the cuts could have been more severe, they were alleviated when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission allowed AC Transit to reallocate $35 million in federal funds for operating its regular bus service. 

Because the route restructuring could result in longer waits for service, the board also extended the district’s bus-transfer policy from 90 to 120 minutes to allow passengers additional time to make their connections. 

The district has also laid off personnel, imposed a hiring freeze and required all departments to improve efficiency by 15 percent. 

It also raised fares to handle the projected budget shortfall. 

The San Francisco Muni consolidated bus services Dec. 5 to deal with a budget deficit. 

  AC Transit will be releasing maps and other information about the service changes in January.

Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Hires New CEO

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 04:45:00 PM

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce has selected Mark Berson of Alabama as the chamber’s new CEO. In a statement released Dec. 16, the chamber announced that Berson “would lead the organization through a new era of growth and expansion.” 

A resident of Mobile, Ala., Berson has worked in state government and headed a family business as well as a regional chamber of commerce. 

Berson was selected from a pool of 100 applicants and is expected to be in Berkeley by the end of the year. 

The Chamber of Commerce has had a difficult time filling the CEO position. The chamber was left without a CEO when Jean Paul Mommone, who was scheduled to take over from interim CEO Kevin Allen, resigned before starting work in September. 

Allen was filling the position after the chamber abruptly removed the previous CEO, Ted Garrett, in March.  

Berson has served as the president and CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce in Gulf Shores, Ala. for six years before resigning last summer.  

Berson expanded the chamber’s membership from 730 to more than 1,000 in a “mostly tourism-focused economy,” known for its golf courses and resorts, according to the statement. 

According to the Berkeley chamber, Berson also served as the executive director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel in Montgomery, helping to attract visitors from all over the country and abroad, which reportedly boosted the state’s economy. 

Berson was in the news in 2001 for approving $25,000 in state funds for state senators and their families and two lobbyists from the Aviation Council of Alabama to travel to Paris, which generated some amount of controversy. 

In an interview with the Birmingham News, Berson said he wouldn’t have approved the money if he had been aware it would have gone toward the Paris trip. 

“And I probably would have tried to talk them out of it,” Berson said. He also told the newspaper that in the future, his department would give grants directly to the “officials responsible for receiving them, not to a legislator or lobbyist, so they won't be able to carry them around.... Everything that anybody asks me for, I'm going to get a lot more background on.” 

Berson also helped produce the Annual National Shrimp Festival in Alabama, which draws 300,000 people and brings in a net profit of $240,000 for the state. 

Berson was also president and owner of Raphael’s, a family-owned clothing store in Mobile, where he doubled sales to $3 million in just over two years, the chamber said. He has also worked in advertising in New York City. 

“Mark will bring a unique combination of civic experience and business leadership from his work in state government, as head of a regional chamber and in growing his family's business,” said Jonathan DeYoe, president of the Berkeley chamber in a statement. “From our conversations with references, including the former Democratic governor of Alabama, we found that Mark was an inspiring leader and creative marketer. We believe he will bring a collaborative approach to growing business, building chamber membership and in understanding the needs of the local community.” 

 Berson in a statement described his role as offering “enormous potential to build value for chamber members and the local Berkeley community. 

“Small and large businesses, along with the university, bring an amazing diversity of assets to this wonderful city. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work here.”

James Fang Elected BART Board President for Third Time

Bay City News
Friday December 18, 2009 - 11:57:00 AM

James Fang, the longest-serving member on BART’s board of directors, was selected Thursday by a unanimous vote to serve as the board’s president for the third time. 

Fang, who has been on the board since December 1990, said 2009 has been “an incredibly trying and challenging year.” He added, however, “I have an expectation and an eagerness to help with the greatness that is BART.” 

He singled out assistant general manager of operations Paul Oversier for praise, then commended general manager Dorothy Dugger. 

“Paul has done a spectacular job of keeping the trains on time 96 percent of the time,” Fang said. 

Fang then said Dugger has done “a tremendous job” and said, “unfortunately it has taken a lot of strain and hours.” 

Fang was referring to the shooting death of Oscar Grant III at the hands of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on New Year’s Day and difficult and lengthy labor negotiations that nearly ended in a strike. 

Fang, of San Francisco, will succeed James Blalock, of Fremont, as board president. 

Blalock also said 2009 has been a challenging year but that BART can note many accomplishments, including finalizing plans to build a rail connector from the Coliseum station to the Oakland airport, breaking ground on a new station in the Warm Springs section of Fremont and beginning the process for building a new station in Livermore. 

Blalock said BART also is in the process of procuring 700 new train cars to replace its aging fleet. 

Director Lynette Sweet, of San Francisco, praised Blalock for creating a new police review committee in the wake of Grant’s death. 

She also praised Blalock for his calm and steady leadership when BART was heavily criticized after the shooting. 

Fang said he wants board members to help relieve staff members, who he said are overworked, by forming new committees to work on important issues such as seismic safety. 

He said he also wants to push to make it possible for BART riders to use their cell phones to buy tickets. 

“This is the wave of the future,” he said. 

BART Director Bob Franklin, of Berkeley, was unanimously elected as the board’s new vice president. 

Fang and Franklin will serve one-year terms. 


The Return of Black Oak Books

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:28:00 AM
Black Oak Books owner Gary Cornell stocks shelves in time for the store’s Thursday re-opening.
Michael Howerton
Black Oak Books owner Gary Cornell stocks shelves in time for the store’s Thursday re-opening.
Manager T’Hud Weber and owner Gary Cornell prepare for Black Oak’s reopening.
Michael Howerton
Manager T’Hud Weber and owner Gary Cornell prepare for Black Oak’s reopening.

Gary Cornell could have lived the easy life with the fortune he made publishing information technology books. 

Instead, he decided to invest his time and money in rescuing one of Berkeley’s best-loved treasures, Black Oak Books—a move some might call foolhardy at a time when hundreds of bookstores are suffering amid the rise of the Internet. 

After Cornell and a group of local investors paid off the IRS in 2008 and bought the store from its previous owners, high rent forced the closure of the Shattuck Avenue storefront last June. 

Coupled with the closure of Cody’s Books, the loss of Black Oak seemed to some Berkeleyans like further evidence of the city’s slow descent into a future with no independent bookstores.  

But Cornell, despite his tech background, believes in the printed word and promised that Black Oak would rise from the ashes. And today it will—with 20,000 new books added to its inventory. 

Even before Black Oak went dark, Cornell believed that if he could own the building that housed the store, he could make it work. So in October he purchased the old Rountree’s nightclub at 2618 San Pablo Ave., gutted the dilapidated roof, and set up a cash register where the old bar used to be. He spent the 48 hours prior to the store’s Thursday opening getting the store ready for business.. 

“It’s a guy thing—I don’t like to lose,” Cornell said smiling as he stocked shelves Tuesday. “Which is why we are opening up here. We think we can win. We hope our customers will see through the chaos and see the potential.” 

The new store, Cornell said, is “bigger, easier to find things and there’s more parking.”  

Although the sign out front simply reads “Books,” Cornell hopes that will soon change. 

“That will go down soon, and the new one will say “Black Oak Books,” said Cornell, pointing to the black vintage awning adorning the front door. “At least it gets people out of the rain.” 

Cornell plans to keep most of the building’s “look and feel” intact, along with the two brass lions guarding the entrance. “They remind me of the New York Public Library,” he said. 

The new Black Oak, at 6,500 square feet, is about 30 percent bigger than the old store and is shaped like a rectangle, which means that although there may not be a rare books room anymore, bibliophiles can still search for first editions in a compuerized catalogue.  

“We might have a few rare books in glass cases,” Cornell said.  

On Tuesday, however, the whole space was a work in progress. 

“It’s not very ready yet,” said Cornell, “but we hope to have the used new books ready for Christmas. We won’t be able to get all the used books out until the next month or two.” 

Cornell said he hopes to stock twice as many old books as before and fewer new books because “the new books are competing with Amazon.” Cornell hopes to compete with Amazon a bit himself—he’s giving a 20 percent discount on new books during the holiday season and 10 percent after that. 

Cornell has always said that he’s not interested in making a profit, but he admits that right now, the “book business is a hard business even if you don’t want to make a lot of money.” 

“When a book like Dan Brown’s comes out, nobody’s rushing to the stores to buy it anymore,” he says. “They are going online. From time to time I wanted to shut Black Oak down, but I still had a feeling that it can be reliable.” 

However, Cornell warns, this time the store has to be self-sustaining. 

“I am not going to put any more money into it,” he said. “Basically it all comes down to sales. The amount of sales we need is a fraction of what we needed at the old Black Oak.” 

At the Shattuck location, Cornell was paying $18,000 a month. The mortgage on their West Berkeley property is a quarter or 30 percent of that, he said. 

Despite his wealth, Cornell is still the kid who grew up in the projects in Brooklyn. 

“I don’t want much. Books make me happy,” he said. “Just being surrounded by books makes me happy.” 

Walking along San Pablo near the new San Pablo Avenue store, Cornell examined the up-and-coming boutiques, gift shops and restaurants. APress, Cornell’s former publishing business, was located just a few blocks from Rountree’s until two years ago, so the move to San Pablo is something of a homecoming.  

“It brings back happy memories,” he said smiling. “It feels like I never left.” 

“It’s not the Gourmet Ghetto, but even Gourmet Ghetto wasn’t the Gourmet Ghetto when Black Oak started there,” he said, referring to the stretch of north Shattuck Avenue where the previous store stood. “I think of this area as being like Temescal. It’s starting to get shoppers—each store benefits from new stores.”

Council Delays Discussion Of Stadium Exemption

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:30:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council postponed discussion of the most controversial item on its Dec. 15 agenda. 

Councilmember Jesse Arre-guin’s request that City Manager Phil Kamlarz report on the city’s involvement in approving an amendment to state Senate Bill 113, the Local Government Omnibus Act, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger Oct. 11, was tabled on a 5–2 vote.  

The council will not get a chance to vote on it until January. 

The state omnibus bill traditionally includes only non-controversial provisions. This year, however, the bill included an amendment, requested by the University of California, that would exempt UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium and other state historic structures from legal restrictions regarding construction on earthquake faults.  

Lawmakers in Sacramento, including Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, voted for the bill. 

Although the university maintains that the amendment was necessary to clear legal hurdles in the retroffiting of the stadium, Arreguin wants to know why the city stated, through its lobbyist, that the city had no objection to the amendment despite controversy surrounding the stadium.  

The retrofit and expansion of Memorial Stadium has been the subject of at least four lawsuits and a prolonged protest in the form of a tree-sit, which made national headlines.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion. Councilmember Darryl Moore later made the motion to table the item due to lack of time, along with an item from the Peace and Justice Commission requesting universal and unconditional amnesty for Afghanistan and Pakistan War Military Resisters and Veterans. 

In signing the bill, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a signing statement requiring UC Berkeley to work with the state Legislature and the governor’s staff to address concerns raised by the amendment.  

Though the discussion of the Omnibus Act amendment was postponed, the council rushed to take care of much other unfinished business at its Tuesday meeting before breaking for winter recess. On the agenda were speed hump trials to calm traffic; a recommendation for the pools ballot measure; and whether the city should join CaliforniaFIRST, a statewide property-based energy-financing program modeled on the Berkeley FIRST pilot which ended this month.  


Speed humps 

The council unanimously voted to carry out pilot tests for vertical deflection devices, or speed humps, in eight different locations to calm traffic. 

The city had earlier carried out pilot programs for speed cushions in two locations which have been scrapped. 

These new trials will not be installed before July. 

Although the city had adopted a moratorium on speed humps in 1995, it has been represented as being in effect for the last 15 years. The moratorium was imposed after complaints about the adverse effects of speed humps on the disabled. 

But according to city officials, the disability commission accepted the new trial program. 


Pools ballot measure for June 2010  

The City Council recommended Tuesday that a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District be studied along with a general bond for the citywide pools project in the June 2010 election. The project aims to renovate, repair or replace some of the city’s existing pools.  

City staff will come back to council in January to get further advice on the issue. 

The council approved the citywide pools master plan at its Nov. 17 meeting, which included the relocation of the warm water pool from the Berkeley High School Old Gym, slated for demolition in 2011, to West Campus.  

Mayor Tom Bates said that if the Berkeley Unified School District decided to put bond measures on the November 2010 ballot, the city would have to place the pools bond on the June 2010 ballot.   

The school district will let the council know by January whether it plans to have any bond measures on the November 2010 ballot.   

Some city councilmembers expressed reservations as to whether voters would approve the pools ballot measure in the June election given the dismal economy and traditionally low voter turnout during that time. UC Berkeley students, who usually vote for taxes and bonds, will also be away on summer vacation at that time.  

The council passed a motion at its November meeting to carry out a voter survey to gauge whether the measure would get the required two-thirds vote to pass.  


CaliforniaFIRST program  

The Berkeley City Council approved the CaliforniaFIRST program, which will give Berkeley homeowners money to do energy upgrades with the option of paying it back over the course of up to 20 years. 

Modeled on the Berkeley FIRST pilot program, which ended this month, CaliforniaFIRST “presents an opportunity to increase the scale of the property-based clean-energy financing model and to relieve Berkeley and other cities of having to administer such a program on a city-by-city basis,” according to a report prepared by city Planning Director Dan Marks.  

The report says that the program is consistent with Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan and ongoing efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  

Started by California Communities, CaliforniaFIRST gives homeowners in participating cities and counties an opportunity to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency and water efficiency by taking out loans repayable through assessments levied on property taxes.  

If a property owner takes part in the program, the improvements will be financed by bonds issued by California Communities.  

The pilot program aims to “quickly reach a minimum of $25 million in projects through a pooled bond approach, resulting in a better bond rating and lower interest rate than a Berkeley-only program,” according to the report.  

The program is expected to be launched in June 2010, following which a broader program will be unveiled that proposes to finance $330 million worth of projects within three years.  

According to the report, a preliminary assessment of the Berkeley FIRST program found that one of the main reasons property owners chose not to take part in it was because of its relatively high interest rate.   

Only 13 people participated in Berkeley FIRST. 

City staff are expected to present a more comprehensive assessment of the Berkeley FIRST program to council in May 2010.  

The report said that “Alameda County and at least one incorporated city within it must adopt a resolution joining CaliforniaFIRST by Jan. 18, 2010, in order for legal validation of several program components to proceed.”  

According to the report, though at least one other city in the county is working to adopt a resolution within the specified timeline, “there is no guarantee that any of them will pass.”  

Therefore, city staff recommended that the council vote on whether to approve the program at Tuesday’s meeting.  

The report acknowledges that al-though certain details of the program, including the interest rate and administrative costs for participating property owners, have not yet been established, and that “ideally, all details would be specified before the city made a commitment to participate,” the deadline for the “funding opportunity necessitates a commitment prior to understanding all details.”   


Soft-story ordinance enforcement  

Ever wondered whether your house will survive the next major earthquake? You may finally get an answer.  

The City of Berkeley is considering beefing up stricter enforcement of its existing soft-story ordinance, which requires owners of seismically unsafe buildings to inform tenants about the risks.   

Although council was scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, they postponed it for a future date. 

Soft-story buildings are usually more vulnerable during earthquakes.  

There are approximately 400 soft-story buildings in Berkeley, of which 320 were especially vulnerable in earthquakes because of their wood frame structure. As of spring 2009, 31 have been retrofitted.   

According to a report by the city’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, the majority of soft-story building owners in Berkeley are violating the ordinance by not posting warning signs about the structures.   

A May 2009 survey by Disaster and Fire Safety Commissioner John Caner of the city’s list of “Potentially Hazardous Story Buildings” in the Willard neighborhood found that just two of the 15 buildings had warning signs posted, and one of those was a flimsy paper sign attached with putty at an inconspicuous location in the building.  

The commission is requesting that the city mandate that all city departments and agencies check for warning signs on soft-story buildings and levy fines on landlords who continue to disregard the law.  

The commission also wants the city to amend the existing ordinance, which would require building owners to notify prospective tenants about the earthquake risks through flyers and web postings.   

The amended ordinance would also require tenants, before signing a lease, to sign a disclosure form acknowledging they are aware of the seismic hazards.  

A report from city Planning Director Dan Marks asks the City Council to give city staff time to consider the commission’s recommendation and return with proposals for how to address the problem given limited resources.  

Marks says that additional resources might be required for a “more aggressive effort” at seeking compliance.  

According to city officials, the proposed enforcement is expected to be followed by a requirement asking owners of soft-story buildings to retrofit their property.  

City Council to Revisit Iceland Landmark Designation

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:31:00 AM
Berkeley Iceland, at Derby and Mlvia streets.
Berkeley Iceland, at Derby and Mlvia streets.

Berkeley is getting ready for another landmark brawl.  

The City Council voted last month to settle a lawsuit filed by the owners of Berkeley Iceland which challenged the building’s landmark status.  

As a result of the settlement agreement, the council will hold a public hearing Jan. 19 and reconsider the landmark designation.  

The 67-year-old ice rink on Milvia and Derby streets closed in March 2007 due to flagging business and high maintenance costs, following which the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Com-mission designated it a city landmark.  

Iceland’s owners, East Bay Iceland, Inc., appealed the decision but failed to persuade the City Council that the landmark status undermined the building’s allure for developers.  

In Octobers 2007, East Bay Iceland signed an agreement with the city in which the company waived its rights to challenge the landmark status in order to give a group of community members the opportunity to raise money to buy the rink and re-open it.  

Although Tom Killilea and his non-profit Save Berkeley Iceland signed an exclusive contract with East Bay Iceland in March 2008 to purchase the rink for $6.25 million, the group was not able to raise the money by the one-year deadline.  

East Bay Iceland sued the city in October, charging that the economic impact of the landmark designation had been severe, preventing the sale of the property for an economically viable use, resulting in it sitting idle for over two years and turning it into “an unproductive eyesore and target of vandalism.”  

The lawsuit alleges that there was “no substantial evidence” to support the designation based on “historical architectural style” beyond the building’s eastern facade, and that the rest of the building served primarily “utilitarian purposes.”  

The lawsuit also singles out other features, such as the building’s berms, wings and rink as not worthy of landmark status, an argument with which Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission Vice Chair Carrie Olson disagreed.  

The lawsuit also contends that the “application and designation of the entire structure—both by LPC and City Council—was based on numerous inaccurate representations, unrealistic expectations, baseless statements or exaggerations but not any substantial evidence supporting findings that such a designation met the criteria of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.”  

“When we landmarked it,” Olson said, “we landmarked Berkeley Iceland. We landmarked its history and culture as well as its architectural value.”  

Olson said the building’s berms had been especially noteworthy because they provided insulation, a novel use.  

“We had a long discussion on the berms and the way they were built,” she said, dismissing the lawsuit’s contention that the berms were simply “cut and fill” against the foundation to create “banked seating.”  

East Bay Iceland said in its lawsuit that Save Berkeley Iceland did little to update the owners about the group’s progress and in December 2008 was informed by its real estate broker that the group did not intend to extend the contract—as permitted in the agreement—or purchase the property.  

According to East Bay Iceland, neither Save Berkeley Iceland nor “any other preservation group could raise the funding needed for acquisition, rehabilitation and operation of the property.”  

But Killilea told the Daily Planet Monday that efforts to buy Berkeley Iceland were far from dead.  

He said that although the group had been able to raise a decent downpayment, it had struggled with donations in light of the recent recession.  

Killilea said that after the contract with East Bay Iceland expired, the group had asked for an extension and a chance to renegotiate, but had not heard back.  

“The next thing, we got a note from their lawyer saying that the contract had expired,” he said.   

Calls to Miller Starr Regalia, the law firm representing East Bay Iceland, were not returned by press time.  

“We have been quiet because we have been working with a number of large donors,” said Killilea, who co-wrote the landmark application for Iceland along with Elizabeth Grassetti. “Until we have a couple of millions pledged, we don’t want to waste anyone’s time.”  

Save Berkeley Iceland, Killilea said, was currently working with the city to get a $5 million state parks grant through Proposition 84.  

City Attorney Zach Cowan said that right before East Bay Iceland filed the lawsuit against the city in the fall, the company proposed the idea of a settlement agreement  

“The council decided they wanted a chance to reconsider the decision,” Cowan said. “It’s easier to reconsider it than fight about it. The circumstances have changed—Save Berkeley Iceland tried to buy the rink but wasn’t able to. A different set of facts can lead to a different set of decisions.”  

At its Nov. 9 closed executive session meeting, the Berkeley City Council voted 7-0 to approve the settlement agreement, with councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin abstaining.  

Worthington contended that there was significant historic and cultural evidence present to justify the landmarking.  

“There are skaters who went to the Olympics who have practiced here,” Worthington said, referring to Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. “Of course it’s historic.”  

Cowan said that at the Jan. 19 meeting, the council could choose to “designate it as a landmark or not designate it as a landmark or do a less inclusive designation.”  

He said the council would be making the final decision on the landmark status and that the issue would not be referred back to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  

Olson pointed out that there was nothing in the city’s landmarks ordinance that allowed the council to “un-landmark a landmark.”  

“They will have to find it unworthy of landmarking, and I would be really surprised if this wasn’t sent back to us,” she said. “It calls into question the integrity of the commission. I have never heard of anything like this in 35 years of the ordinance. It’s jaw-dropping.”

Plan to Eliminate Science Labs Stirs Controversy at Berkeley High

By Raymond Barglow, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:33:00 AM

The Berkeley High School Governance Council (SGC) voted last week to approve the latest school redesign plan, including a controversial proposal to eliminate science lab instruction that is currently offered before and after regular school hours. 

The rationale for this elimination is that the funds required by the labs can be better spent on “equity grants” intended to narrow the achievement gap at BHS between higher and lower achieving students.  

The action plan that was brought to the SGC by Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp and BHS teachers states that, “This year Berkeley High was identified as the high school with the largest racial equity/achievement gap in the state. This is unconscionable. All students, regardless of ethnicity, deserve effective instruction with challenging and engaging curriculum. All students deserve to learn the skills and content needed to be prepared for college.”  

Berkeley public schools’ integration and attention to diversity has long been a model for other schools in California and nationwide. The intention of the action plan to reassess funding priorities by viewing them through an “equity lens” continues in this tradition. 

Approval of the plan by the SGC was not unanimous, however. Science department chair Evy Kavaler opposed several sections, and parent representatives Peggy Scott and Margit Roos-Collins voted against the plan. Following the SGC meeting, a letter signed by most of the faculty in the science department went out to the school community, calling the proposed cut to the science program a “squandering of parcel tax dollars on unspecified and scattered programs that do not nearly provide the same effectiveness as science labs in enriching curriculum, providing equity and preparing all of our students for college.”  

A letter being distributed among BHS parents says that dropping the labs will be detrimental to the scientific literacy of students: 

“The issues facing our students (global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, urban pollution, health issues such as diabetes, cancer, etc.) require that our students be well-grounded in the underlying science behind these issues,” the letter says. “For many of our students, high school will be the last time they will take a biology or physics course. We cannot afford to shortchange them in these subjects.” 

Defenders of the science labs at BHS argue further that laboratory experience gives essential support to all students, including those who are struggling at the bottom of the achievement gap. If the labs are eliminated, the letter from the science faculty states, “it is the very students Principal Slemp wants to serve who will suffer. To close the achievement gap, students require more instruction, not less; more time with qualified instructors, not less.” 

“The labs help the struggling students most,” said physics teacher Matt McHugh in an interview with the Daily Planet, “because they’re the ones who need the most help.”  

“The most academically prepared kids will get by,” added Amy Hansen, who teaches chemistry and biology. “They’ll find tutors, they’ll learn the material one way or another. But the others won’t.”  

Hansen and McHugh also said that the labs, currently held just before and after regular school hours, cannot be folded into the regular school day since lab space is already being used for non-lab science instruction.  

“Laboratory space is also non-laboratory teaching space,” said Hansen. 

Advocates of the shift of resources from the labs to more directly targeted equity-enhancing programs point to an achievement gap that is wider at Berkeley High than it is elsewhere. Parent Peggy Scott agrees that it is essential to close this achievement gap, but doesn’t believe that shifting funds from science labs to other programs will advance this aim.  

Scott feels that the size of the gap at Berkeley High reflects the school’s existence in the shadow of UC Berkeley. “So many students at Berkeley High are from academic families,” she said. “The high end is very high. The low end is the same tragic achievement gap that exists all over the U.S. What’s wonderful here is that our kids all go to school together, and we chose that when we chose to live here. I see that with my daughter’s very diverse friends. It isn’t separate, like Danville and Hunter’s Point. Taxpayers showed we care about all kids by approving the local education tax measures.”  

State and federal cuts in education spending have led to increased competition for limited resources. Berkeley Unified School District Public Information Officer Mark Coplan said that there is no getting around the fact that resources at the high school are scarce. The funds that currently support the before- and after-school labs are open every year to re-allocation, according to Coplan, and the SGC is recommending this year that the money serve a different purpose. 

“The entire school has to make that decision,” said Coplan. “The science department does have input…. It is a hard decision that the school has to make, and one department or another is not going to be happy with the outcome.” 

The four Berkeley High teachers who were interviewed for this story all support changes that will help academically struggling students do better. Their question is not whether to help these students, but how to do so most effectively. They say that the current plan to cut the science labs, unlike other policy proposals in the past, has not been presented to or discussed by the school’s teaching staff, and that it will set back rather than advance equity aims.  

Economics teacher Brian Crowell believes students’ families need to be made more aware of the quality of education that their children are receiving. “Some parents think their children are doing well in school, when they’re not,” said Crowell.  

In the past, Berkeley High has taken pride in the performance of its students at all levels, and the school relies increasingly for its funding on the broad support of the local tax-paying community, including Berkeley families distributed across all ethnic backgrounds and income levels. The science department is asking whether this entire community is being well served by a plan that would substantially reduce science instruction in the school. 

Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp will present the action plan to the Berkeley School Board in January. He says he will do so for information purposes only, since the plan does not require board approval. However, district Superintendent of Schools Bill Huyett says the board may have the authority to evaluate the plan. 


Raymond Barglow is the founder of Berkeley Tutors Network.

Wheeler Hall Arrests and Attack on Chancellor’s House Raise Questions

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:34:00 AM

An attack on UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s house and conflicting reports as to why students were arrested at Wheeler Hall Friday, Dec. 11, have added a new twist to ongoing protests against university budget cuts. 

Student organizers of Live Week—a week-long “open occupation” of Wheeler Hall where students tried to create an open university by holding talks, forums and music shows all day—condemned the 4:30 a.m. arrests during which UC police locked in 66 protesters, cited them for trespassing and later took them to Santa Rita jail. Almost all were reportedly released later. 

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said university officials were compelled to arrest the protesters because they reneged on their committment to be non-disruptive by “publicizing plans for an unauthorized all-night concert featuring guest artists and a DJ—an event that threatened to disrupt final examinations that are scheduled to take place in that same building tomorrow.”  

But some protesters contend that university officials knew all along that they were going to make the arrests Friday. 

“Why not issue a dispersal order before making the arrests? Why bust in at 4:30 in the morning?” asked Marika Iyer, one of the 66 students arrested and a participant in the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation. “They knew about this all along. A lot of us were in there to study. That was the only building on campus that was open.” 

Mogulof dismissed claims that the arrests were pre-ordained and said that the decision was made late Thursday afternoon. 

“We were going to do everything possible to avoid confrontation,” Mogulof said. “In this day of texting and Twitter and Facebook, a warning would have served as an invitation for all kinds of people to come running to the scene. We wanted to protect the right of the students not taking part in the protest and protest academic interests.” 

Mogulof admitted the arrests have cast light on the need for “important and necessary conversations about the path going forward.” 

“Legitimate dissent is both valued and valuable,” Mogulof said. “The students are talking about what they are going to achieve and where do we go from here.”  

Friday’s arrests come in the wake of the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation, which led to arrests and allegations of police brutality. More than 100 UC Berkeley professors signed a letter condemning the action. The UC Berkeley administration promised to set up an independent review panel to investigate allegations of police brutality.  

The ACLU of Northern California sent a letter Dec. 11 to UC Berkeley Chief of Police Mitch Celaya and Chancellor Birgeneau inquiring why some protesters had been taken to Santa Rita jail rather than issued citations.  

The letter, from ACLU staff attorney Michael Risher, urges Celaya and Birgeneau to ensure that campus police “are deciding whether to make custodial arrests based on proper facts, and not based on any intent to chill or prevent constitutionally protected expressive activities or to retaliate against demonstrators for their speech.”  

Risher said that the ACLU was concerned that the actions taken by UC police might violate the protesters’ constitutional rights.  

“We do not know the details surrounding today’s arrests, but it is troubling that so many demonstrators who seem likely to have committed nothing more than misdemeanors are nonetheless being jailed,” Risher’s letter said.  

Things took an ugly turn around 11 p.m. Dec. 11 when eight people were arrested after protesters stormed UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s house on the north side of campus, smashing windows, lights and planters.  

A statement released by UC Berkeley the following morning said the group, which was made up of about 40 to 70 people, shouted “No justice, no peace,” and “threw incendiary objects at the house, which could have caused a major fire.”  

Mogulof said the group also threw garbage on the porch. He said the chancellor, who had been sleeping, was awakened by his wife, that they called UC police, and when officers showed up, the crowd dispersed.  

Police arrested eight people and took them to Santa Rita jail, where they were charged with rioting, threatening an education official, attempted burglary, attempted arson of an occupied building, felony vandalism, and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.  

The action was condemned by Birgeneau, faculty, the organizers of Live Week and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who described it as terrorism. 

Marika Iyer said that although there were some students from the Wheeler protests involved in the march, “none of the students is interested in going into any kind of detail about what happened,” because they didn’t have a clear enough timeline for what took place that night.  

The Alameda County district attorney’s office is still reviewing evidence against the eight protesters. No one has been charged yet. 

Professor Daniel Perlstein, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, was in his office near the chancellor’s house at the time of the attacks. He did not witness the protesters’ actions, but heard crashing sounds and yelling. Perlstein said, in an e-mail message addressed to “the Bay Area community” and sent to local media and to city and state lawmakers, that he believed “that the university administration not only set the stage for a violent turn in protests by acts which have repeatedly raised tensions and undermined belief in its good will, but actually engaged in most of the violence that has occurred.” 

Mogulof said that although Perlstein was entitled to his opinion, “that kind of logic would put us on an endless downward spiral.” 

“All the suggestions that we have been lying is contrary to all the conversations we have been having with student mediators,” he said. “We want to have a dialogue. We don’t want to shut down dissent, that’s not what we are about.”

BART Awards Oakland Airport Connector Contract

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:35:00 AM

After months of debate, BART’s board of directors joined the Port of Oakland in awarding a contract for the construction of an Oakland Airport connector.  

The $492 contract was awarded to California-based Flatiron-Parsons Joint Venture.  

BART issued a statement last Thursday afternoon following the board’s morning meeting, calling the 7-1 decision to build the 3.1-mile automated people-mover (APM) a “historic vote.”  

Critics have complained that the project is too expensive to build and too expensive to ride. The initial estimate for the project was $552 million, but it is now expected to cost $60 million less, according to BART. The lowest bid was selected for the project.  

“The struggling Bay Area economy just received a big boost thanks to the BART board, whose historic vote today also means BART customers will finally have a swift, world-class train-to-plane connection between the Coliseum BART Station and the Oakland Airport,” a BART statement said.   

The board also voted to award the operation and maintenance contract to Doppelmayr Cable Car, Inc.  

The project is expected to use $70 million in federal stimulus funds and create as many as 5,000 jobs during the three-and-a-half-year construction phase, which is scheduled to begin in mid-2010.  

Project opponents argued that there were other transit operators in dire need of the funds and criticized BART for taking out a loan to fill the funding gap. BART will rely on fare revenues to back the loan.   

When finished, the connector will replace the AirBART buses, which take between 12 to 30 minutes to reach the Coliseum Airport depending on traffic on Hegenberger Road. Fares will run $12 for a round trip.  

AirBART, which charges $6 for a roundtrip ticket, shuttled approximately 85,000 riders per month in 2008. But BART says the buses would be inadequate to handle increased ridership over the years, which is expected to reach 10,000 passengers a day by 2020.   

According to BART, the APMs, which look similar to the AirBART connectors at San Francisco International Airport, will arrive at the Coliseum BART station every 4.5 minutes and transport passengers to the airport in eight minutes and 12 seconds.  

The project won the support of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, ACTIA, the Oakland City Council, and the Port of Oakland.  

“This is a historic day for the Bay Area economy and BART,” Board President Thomas Blalock said in a statement. “Once completed, it will provide the East Bay with a system that will swiftly transport people between BART and the airport and cause millions of air travelers to wonder how they could have ever lived without it.”  

Board member Carole Ward Allen said, “We couldn’t be building this project at a better time, because Oakland currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.”    

To get an idea about what the new airport connector will look like, see the BART website: www.bart.gov/news/barttv/ ?&cat=27&id=652.  

State Approves Expansion of Oakland Enterprise Zone into West Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:35:00 AM

The final hurdle for creating enterprise zones in West Berkeley has cleared, paving the way for more than 1,000 local businesses to receive tax credits. 

Berkeley’s Economic Development Manager Michael Caplan said the California Department of Housing and Community Development Department announced Dec. 1 that it had approved the expansion of the Oakland Enterprise Zone into West Berkeley, a little over two months after the Berkeley City Council voted in favor of it. 

The Oakland City Council has also approved the plan. 

Berkeley’s primary motivation to pass the proposal was to keep Bayer Healthcare, the city’s largest private-sector employer, from leaving town. The company had threatened to outsource some of its manufacturing, a move city officials feared would lead to the pharmaceutical giant eventually shutting down its Aquatic Park campus entirely. 

As a result, Berkeley agreed to give Bayer $10 million in tax breaks for over two years, including a reduction in PG&E bills, as part of the enterprise zone, in return for which the company will remain in Berkeley and invest $100 million in the facility. 

Both parties described the deal as a “win-win.” 

Bayer will also qualify to receive about $36,000 in tax credits for each new employee hired who meets particular requirements. Cities issue a hiring tax credit voucher to businesses in its enterprise zones for each qualified employee they hire.  

But some Berkeley councilmembers are skeptical about whether the enterprise zone would create new jobs as promised and whether the zones would actually initiate economic development or simply cater to corporate interests. 

Caplan said the expansion would include “the area from San Pablo Avenue to the I-80 freeway from the Oakland-Emeryville boarder to Albany, including all addresses on both sides of San Pablo Avenue.” 

“Inclusion in the enterprise zone means that over 1,100 West Berkeley businesses—from large manufacturing companies to small neighborhood restaurants—will be eligible to claim state tax credits that can reduce their state obligation by thousands of dollars,” Caplan said in an e-mail message. “Businesses located in the enterprise zone are automatically eligible for zone benefits, no certification is required.”   

The two main benefits of an enterprise zone are: 

• A hiring credit of up to $37,440 per eligible employee hired after the area is designated an enterprise zone. Eligible persons include the unemployed, disabled, veterans and individuals receiving public assistance.  

• State sales tax credits on purchases of $20 million per year for qualified equipment and machinery parts.     

More information on this and other benefits of enterprise zones can be found at: http://EZoakland.com.

One UC Department’s Response to Budget Cuts: Service

By Joe Eaton, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:36:00 AM
UC students wrestle invasive ivy into submission.
Ron Sullivan
UC students wrestle invasive ivy into submission.

In response to state budget cuts, UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff in the Department of Landscape Architecture are pitching in to help on-campus environmental restoration efforts and gardening programs at local schools. They call themselves the Landscape Progress Administration, an echo of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration that provided public-sector jobs and left a legacy of public works in the Bay Area and across the nation. 

Students in Professor Randy Hester’s class even designed their own banners, inspired by WPA posters and made from recycled fabric. According to their press release, the students chose the name to “call attention to hard times…and to call for a civic-minded spirit of public investment that we believe is lacking in our Prop. 13-bound state Legislature.” 

A couple of weeks ago, the students in Professor Louise Mozingo’s History of Landscape Architecture class tackled the daunting job of ivy removal in the Hickson Natural Area, on the north branch of Strawberry Creek just north of the Moffitt Library. Other groups helped rehab a community garden at Oakland’s Castlemont High School, conducted a planting project at Claremont Middle School, cleared brush on the on the Black Point Summit Trail at Mount Diablo State Park, and surveyed water consumption in campus restrooms.  

“This all came out of a faculty retreat in August,” said Mozingo, after a 16 percent cut was announced for the College of Environmental Design, which houses the Landscape Architecture Department. “There was discussion of the impact of the budget cuts, and a lot of grousing, groaning, and whining. Finally Randy Hester said: ‘We’ve got to do something positive.’”  

Claire O’Reilly, a graduate student in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, explained that the students in a Citizen Participation in Community Design course had organized the service days as their class project for the semester. “Six of us worked developing project ideas,” she said. “We led a participatory process, surveyed students and faculty for ideas, and held a town hall meeting where we presented the results of the survey.” The service projects were selected for their direct connection to state budget cuts involving public schools, state parks, and restoration work on Strawberry Creek. The student group pointed to funding reductions of $5.8 billion for K-12 public education and $14 million for state parks this year alone.  

When we visited the creekside ivy removal site, Hester’s class had already cleared out 26 cubic yards in a morning work session. “The early group was working really hard because it was cold outside,” said Tyler Grinberg, an intern with the Strawberry Creek Restoration Project. “If you give groups a small plot they can completely eradicate the ivy, which is really good for morale.” 

He and Lindsey Sanders directed the volunteers. “You never know what you’ll find in the ivy,” Grinberg told the group. “Once someone found a sword. We’ve also found baseballs and discarded clothing.” Sure enough, one ivy-puller discovered a rusty steak knife. The students rolled back the ivy like a rug, wrestling the green anaconda into a waiting truck. 

Grinberg explained that the campus creek restoration was being financed by a grant from The Green Initiative Fund through the Chancellor’s office. Water quality issues had already been addressed, he said, and ivy and other invasive plants were currently being removed. Volunteers can take part in monthly ivy pulls; see lists.berkeley.edu for information. The next phase, already funded, will be a native-plant nursery on the west side of Giannini Hall.  

“We categorize this as oak-bay woodland,” he continued. “We’ll be planting California bay, coast live oak, toyon, native rhododendron, monkeyflower, native annual and perennial grasses. All the native species you see in Strawberry Canyon belong down here as well.” The restoration project is using only plants from the local watershed: “It’s important to keep things local. We’re working with local nurseries and people at Tilden Regional Park.” 

According to Grinberg, there’s even a public-safety angle to ivy removal: “The UC Police Department says the crime rate has gone down since we started on the ivy issue.” Elsewhere on campus, his crews uncovered a forgotten bit of Cal history: the plaque marking the spot of the LeConte Oak, former site of Big Game rallies and poetry readings. 

The Landscape Progress Administration was not just a one-time effort, O’Reilly said: “We’re hoping to develop a long-term connection with the schools and other partners. The student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects will be working on this next spring. All the parties have indicated they want to remain involved.” 

For her part, Mozingo sees important parallels with the New Deal namesake. “In class we learn about people who worked hard bringing good things to the public landscape,” she said. “The WPA did a lot of this kind of stuff—revegetation and reforestation. These students are going to go into fields that serve the public good. The last thing they should do is pay more for that education.”

Berkeley Alums Detained In Iran to Stand Trial

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:37:00 AM

Three UC Berkeley alums detained in Iran since July 31 will stand trial, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, U.S. media reported Monday. 

According to CNN, Mottaki told Iran’s Fars News Agency Dec. 14 that Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, who are being held on espionage charges after illegally straying into Iran from Kurdish Iraq, will be put on trial under the country’s judiciary. 

The detainees’ families have maintained that the trio crossed to Iran accidentally and have asked Iranian authorities to release them. 

Bauer, 27, and Shourd, 31, are freelance journalists and Fattal, 27, is involved with a sustainable living project at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Ore., the families have said.  

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also appealed to the Iranian government for a swift release of the hikers, calling the charges unfounded. 

In the absence of U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979, Swiss diplomats have met with the hikers twice in prison. 

Students at UC Berkeley have been holding vigils for the hikers on campus and more than 4,700 people have signed a petition asking for their release. 

Several prominent dignitaries, including actress Mia Farrow, activist Gloria Steinem, billionaire businessman Richard Branson, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signed a petition which was sent to Iran’s United Nations mission asking that it be forwarded to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, CNN reported. 

CNN said that Ahmadinejad had said that he had no control over the situation and that it was being handled entirely by the country’s judiciary system. He added that the act of crossing over the border by American citizens was an “illegal entry,” which would be “considered a crime everywhere,” but also stressed that he could ask that the judiciary expedite the process and consider the case with “maximum leniency,” CNN reported.

On Seeds and Seedlings

By Shirley Barker, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:37:00 AM

In the 1960s Euell Gibbons was the man to consult for a back-to-nature approach to food, and Ruth Stout was the expert in a more natural way of growing it. Since one Gibbons title is Stalking the Healthful Herbs, in which is a recipe for pine-needle tea (“almost enjoyable”), when in January it was time to wonder what to do with one’s Christmas tree, the answer was, send it to Euell.  

As we all know, mankind intervened in natural growth in order to stay at home rather than wander around looking for seasonal fruits and nuts. One senses that womankind is more accurately identified as the promulgator of this far-reaching idea. It is not, after all, much fun trailing after one’s hairy mate in order to watch him try to clobber various ailing or careless fauna, while carrying one infant and keeping tabs on three or four others. Better to tuck a few kernels of corn by the cave entrance and stay put. Very soon men took over this good idea, as they so often do. 

After reading how Stout applied a deep fluffy mulch of hay over her food garden, I wondered whether I could return to the pre-dawn of agriculture and interfere even less than my cave-woman kin. After all, Stout’s method of gardening is close to nature’s, since her hay mulch, like all fallen vegetative debris, continuously renews the earth. 

So, having noticed a volunteer collard producing flowers, I left it to set seed, which it did with its usual enthusiasm. What would Mother Nature do next? Why, let the seed fall where it might. So after covering an area lightly with hay, I randomly cast the seed over the surface of it. Since there were hundreds of seeds left over, if these did not germinate, there was plenty of time (it was early fall) for a second sowing. 

Kale is botanically identical to collards, so for those who are mad for kale but dislike its crinkly leaves, try collards. If the mature tops are beheaded, little collards, or kales, will sprout in the axils, where leaf joins stem, prolonging for months the harvesting of this most useful vegetable.  

The collard seedlings did come up through the mulch and were evenly spaced too, and in just the right amount. Furthermore, they looked stronger than usual. Since this indicated sub-mulch competition, I decided to see what would happen if I did not thin previously sown carrots and turnips. All the experts tell one to thin, but was that really necessary? Like Stout, I have learned to listen to experts with caution. Besides, thinning is a tedious business, as however carefully one extracts a tiny carrot, all its neighbors want to come out too. 

Next year I will try sowing the tinier carrot seed on top of the mulch, to see if these too will germinate evenly spaced, doing away with thinning altogether. 

While waiting for the outcome of this battle of the root vegetables, which looks promising, having already yielded several precocious carrots, I noticed in a wilder part of my garden an abundance of young wild radish leaves. Since these need to be removed if grasses are to survive, why not eat them? After all, my ancient ancestor would not have spurned amy free food. Lightly steamed, they tasted the way spinach used to taste before we deadened our palates with food grown in contaminated earth—full of iron-rich flavor. 

Books often say one should mix radish seed with carrot, to mark the rows, because radishes germinate faster, although mine don’t, and gardeners like squirrels forget what and where they have planted. Sow your carrots in their own bed, I say, and label it. 

Years ago I decided to try to grow a redwood tree, despite the fact that I lived in an apartment. It was easy enough to drop a few seeds from a cone into a pot, and then forget about it. Several months later as I walked past the table on which was the pot, I was surprised to see an unmistakable redwood sprig emerging. It turns out that redwoods are abundantly equipped for regeneration. This one languished in its pot for some years until I moved and could plant it in the ground. Fifteen years and thirty feet later it is doing its stuff, absorbing carbon dioxide and dropping a few sprigs for festively decorating the duck coop. In January, thanks to Stout rather than Gibbons, these will be strewn under the blueberries or the camellias, both lovers of acidic evergreen needles.  

May all beings, organic growers or not, have a wonderful holiday season and a wild, well-mulched New Year.

New Berkeley Walking Tour Book Released

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:38:00 AM

Just in time for holiday gift giving, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association has brought out a long-awaited new edition of 41 Berkeley Walking Tours. 

Each self-guided walk covers a different Berkeley neighborhood or district, with a capsule history introduction, a map, and dozens of specific entries describing individual buildings and sites.  

The tours range from West Berkeley’s Oceanview district to the Berkeley Woods neighborhood on North Berkeley’s ridge tops, and from Thousand Oaks in the north to Ashby Station in the south. There are special tours for the UC Berkeley campus, Clark Kerr Campus, and the Downtown and Civic Center areas.  

Many of the write-ups are based on walks originally given by BAHA in the 1970s and 1980s, but all have been completely revamped and updated with historical information gathered since then. Several new walks have been added to those that appeared in BAHA’s previous publication on the same theme. 

Nine local writers contributed tours, including Susan Cerny, author of two Bay Area-themed architectural guidebooks, who headed the project and wrote or co-wrote 15 of the tours. Several others contributed vital research. 

The books cost $12.50 each. Information, and a preview of the book, can be found on the BAHA website at berkeleyheritage.com/41_walking_tours.html  

Books can be bought this Thursday and Friday afternoons, from 3–5:30 p.m., at the BAHA office at 2318 Durant Ave. All proceeds benefit BAHA. 

Also look for the distinctive yellow-covered books at these local bookstores and businesses: Arlington Pharmacy, Berkeley Art Museum Bookstore, Berkeley Historical Society, Berkeley Visitors Center, Books Inc. on Fourth Street, Builders Booksource, Moe’s Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore, Pegasus Books on Shattuck, Pegasus Books on Solano, Pendragon Books, Turtle Island Books and University Press Books. 


Steven Finacom wrote a number of tours in the new book and is on the BAHA Board.

First Place for Youth: A Program to Avert Homelessness

By Lydia Gans, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:39:00 AM

Happy 18th birthday! Congratulations, you are now officially an adult. You can vote, you can drink, you are independent.”  

Those may be welcome words to most young people, but not necessarily to those who have been in foster care, where “independent” means “on your own”—totally on your own. Boys and girls are placed in foster care when they have no parents or their parents are unable to care for them. When they turn 18, their foster parents no longer have any responsibility for them. 

What kind of resources does an 18-year-old have to support his or herself especially in these difficult times? For aged-out foster children with no support system in place, the odds against them are formidable. Data for the Bay Area show that of about 600 young people a year, 65 percent face homelessness, 20 percent will be arrested or incarcerated, and less than 1 percent will graduate from college. Clearly these young people need help, they need support, they need a community. 

Eleven years ago two graduates from the Goldman School of Public Policy decided to do something about it. They started a program, First Place for Youth, that has become a nationally recognized model for helping young people, age 16 to 24, transition successfully out of foster care. Deanne Pearn, chief development officer and one of the founders, described First Place for Youth as “unique in that we’re a holistic comprehensive program—everything a young person will need to have a successful transition into adulthood. That means education and employment support, access to permanent housing ... helping them to develop life skills ... so they can ultimately sustain their own housing. Our ultimate goal is to help young people have permanent housing, living-wage employment and at least two years of post-secondary education. In our society those are the things that are critical for someone to be able to live successfully on their own.”  

The overarching agency is First Place for Youth which has three components: the My First Place Housing Program, the First Steps Community Resource Center and Steps to Success Education and Employment Services. In the past year the program served nearly 1,000 young people. 

The housing component is a major part of the program. My First Place Housing Program provides a rent subsidy which is gradually decreased over a two-year period. This gives them time to “become productive members of society,” Deanne Pearn explained. “They don’t need a crutch, they need support through the transition.... We have a property management arm, we find the places, do the leasing, make sure the apartments meet standards, collect the rent, deal with the landlord.” Last year nearly 300 young people were housed through this program.  

First Steps Community Resource Center, at 16th and Telegraph, around the corner from the program offices, is the first place for young people who are interested in entering the program. It is also a place they can always come back to even after they are out of the program. It is a large, inviting place with computers, a children’s play area, space for socializing and class, meeting and conference rooms. Here they go through an assessment to make sure the housing program will work for them. “Assessments covers educational history, employment history, mental health,” said manager Rudy Ross, “to make sure the housing program will work for them—they should be pretty able to function independently when they get into housing.” Once they’re accepted, they will take a broad spectrum of classes, from keeping a budget, shopping, managing their household to getting ready to go to school or look for a job. There are classes on health, nutrition, pregnancy prevention, healthy relationships, domestic violence and more. 

Twenty-one-year-old Adrienne Jackson was 17 when she got into the program and has been working there for almost three years. “It was good for me to get into this program, helped me get on my feet,” Jackson said. “I work the front desk and I’m a peer educator now, I do workshops, orientations. I’m highly involved in any activities here.”  

She talked about how it feels for kids in foster homes. “It doesn’t feel good. They have no one to turn to.... (For) some of the youth it’s not like they’ve been abandoned by their parents but sometimes their parents were killed or are gone or are dead.” As for the foster homes, “Some foster parents don’t really care too much about the youth, it’s a job for them. Others love doing what they’re doing, working with the youth and they want to help.”  

Jackson was very clear about what she wants to do with her life. “I want to get a group home or a foster home. I love working with youth, that’s all I’m going to do, work with youth. I plan to work in criminal justice, be like a probation officer for juveniles, and foster homes. A lot of former foster youth want to go into social work—I hear that a lot with former foster youth. It’s like I wasn’t treated the right way and I want other youth in the future to know that you’re not by yourself, you aren’t alone. I’ve been there before, I want the youth to understand that I understand where you’re coming from and I’m here to help fix it.” 

Steps to Success Education and Employment Services is the third component of the program. Manager Tarik Scott has constructed a chart showing a series of 10 steps starting with ‘step it up,’ ‘rapport building’ through workshops and career exploration, process of looking for and applying for jobs to finally achieving sustainable employment. “Step it up leads right out of the assessment process,” Scott explained. Here they talk about financial literacy, job preparation, cover letters and resumes, job search techniques, public speaking and more. “Here’s where we get to them and them us. When they graduate from the three weeks in Step It Up, they’re on the pre-housing list. Once in housing they’re assigned an education and employment specialist—start seriously working on education or jobs.” Their counselor might go with them to job fairs or coach them in carrying out a successful interview. 

Talking about employment brought up the particular issues that surface during the holiday times. “Seasonal jobs are easy to get but that doesn’t help in the long run,” said Tarik Scott. “We do a good job of getting youth into positions for the holiday push, and a lot of the efforts with employers are geared toward making those temporary positions permanent.... It’s great for (the young people) to get some experience (if) big retailers need them only for a month or two, but we try to parley that into longer-term employment.” 

The holidays are a hard time for all people who are homeless—especially so for young people who age out of foster care. A program like First Place for Youth can make a huge difference. Deanne Pearn talked about what motivates her: “It’s a very solvable problem. We’re talking about 600 kids in the Bay Area a year, we know who they are, where they live, what date they’re going to be made homeless, and we know that if we catch it now we’re preventing the long-term chronic homeless problem. Up to half of the homeless population in a snapshot study done in LA one day were former foster youth. So they’re a tiny portion of the population but a huge portion of the homeless population. And the stats show that two-thirds of them face imminent homelessness upon their discharge from foster care. So we know if we can catch them now and give them this intervention, we can completely divert that. And I think we can see a huge reduction in the homeless population.”  


Local Artists Fill the Stalls for Telegraph Holiday Street Fair

By Lydia Gans
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:47:00 AM
Holiday shoppers braved soggy weather last weekend for the first of a series of three street fairs along Telegraph Avenue.
Lydia Gans
Holiday shoppers braved soggy weather last weekend for the first of a series of three street fairs along Telegraph Avenue.

If you love browsing the booths along Telegraph Avenue from the campus down to Dwight Way, the Telegraph Holiday Street Fair offers all that and much more. Held for the last three weekends in December, the entire street along those four blocks is closed to traffic and filled with about 100 craftspeople offering the most amazing variety of their creations for sale. 

Along with some of the regular local vendors, many craftspeople from out of town bring in their wares for the fair. It started at Christmastime 26 years ago when they reaized that the sidewalks didn’t provide enough space for all the vendors who wanted to set up, especially for the holidays.  

“We appealed to the city for permission to open it up for vendors (who) are not licensed to sell on the streets of Berkeley,” recalls Janet Klein, one of organizers. “They granted us that wish. So we have a mix, locals and out of towners.” A requirement was that everything had to be made by hand. 

Over the years different vendors have taken on the task of organizing the fair. Janet and Yolanda Castillo, who have both been vendors and volunteers for many years, have been running the fair for the past six years. Yolanda, who does beadwork, has been a vendor there for 30 years. 

Except for setting up the barricades at the ends of the streets and providing a small stipend, the City of Berkeley is not involved nor does the fair have any major sponsors. Janet and Yolanda run the fair with the help of volunteers and a few employees, but it’s more like a community activity. There is a tremendous amount of work involved which occupies them for many months but it’s basically a “labor of love” as much as a business. 

Of the 100 or so artists who participate, about half are regular local vendors and half are craftspeople from cities other than Berkeley. They all sell only handmade articles. Janet and Yolanda make sure that all the rules are followed and the proper paperwork is done. “We keep impeccable files,” Janet says. “We require three photographs of their work, a copy of their California sellers permit, and they have to fill out an application.” Though the fair happens for only three weekends, it takes much of the year to take care of the many details. They have created a website, telegraphfair.com, and made a large banner to advertise the fair. Ideally the banner would hang across Telegraph Avenue but, wouldn’t you know, the insurance company objected—the banner might fall on someone and they’d sue the city. So the banner hangs on the building at Haste and Telegraph. 

We can easily fill up the rest of this page and then some by simply listing the many exotic and wonderful things at the fair. Certainly nothing you’ll ever find at Macy’s.  

There is a craftsman who uses slices of agate decorated with strips of wood to make night lights that are works of art. Another has created marvelous stuffed toys, creatures that with a squeeze and a punch metamorphose from one shape to another—a frog turns into a salamander, a sleeping dragon becomes fierce. A Tibetan artist makes pendants shaped into symbols of Buddhism and other belief systems, including the peace symbol—this is Berkeley after all, he reminds us. You can find objects made of leather, wood, clay, rock, glass, rope, metal, feathers, even yak bone. A vendor makes old typewriter keys into jewelry, another turns CDs into coasters and old LPs into clocks, yet another has taken wine bottles, laid them flat and melted them to be used as trays or hung up for decoration—with the labels left on. There is a booth with stuff for dogs and another that has only things that glow in the dark, T-shirts and jewelry and such. Even some of the food for sale is unusual. 

There are other street fairs around but surely this is unique for the diversity of the artists and the crafts they offer in such a compact space. This past weekend the sun barely showed, but the periodic drizzle didn’t keep people away. It’s a sign that Berkeley appreciates the dedicated artists and organizers who keep this 26 year tradition alive. 



Lieberman: The New Champ

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:42:00 AM

Ever since George W. Bush rode off into the Dallas sunset, there’s been a void on the national scene. Even Dick Cheney has largely faded from sight. The other Republicans, the ones still in Congress are annoying, but predictably so. But just in time, there’s a replacement in Bush’s old slot of The Man You Love to Hate. Based on his behavior in the last three months or so, not to mention in the last several years, Joe Lieberman is the winner and new champ for that title. 

The web sites are all over him. MoveOn used his name as the headline for one of their periodic appeals for funds on Tuesday night (I bit). FireDogLake has started a recall campaign (probably not legal). Truthout has a well-reasoned analysis of his unreasonable behavior. 

But it’s a waste of time to apply too much brainpower to understanding Lieberman’s political stances, since deep down politics has nothing to do with it. He’s acting like the spoiled kid who brings the baseball to the neighborhood game and then threatens to take it home if the rules don’t go his way. He’s shown himself time and again to be nothing more than an overgrown adolescent who’s relishing the role of being the swing vote in a Congress which should be Democratic. Connecticut voters are ashamed of him, but they voted for him, and now it’s too late. 

His unctuous faux piety doesn’t help his image, any more than the same kind of posturing in a Christian vein redeems the South’s surviving Sen. Claghorns or the current adulterous governor of South Carolina. People like that who wrap themselves in the mantle of religion to deflect attention from bad behavior risk giving all religion a bad name. 

And his endless self-pitying whining! He was on the radio yesterday, saying with a catch in his throat that this has been one of the worst periods of his life. Balderdash. He’s enjoying every minute of it, playing his role for all that it’s worth. Frequent Internet adjective: slimy.  

One of Lieberman’s most annoying attributes is that he really ought to know better. It’s one thing for an unreconstructed Southern Republican to come across as an oily dolt, but not long ago Lieberman was the anointed Democratic candidate for vice president. 

Even the California Democratic Party, not a notable hotbed of radicalism, is getting into the act. They sent out an e-mail exhortation which was forwarded to opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com by a reader, asking us to “End Lieberman’s Reign of Terror.” 

“Enough is enough.” The message said. “It’s time to end Joe Lieberman’s reign of terror and restore democracy to the Senate by changing Rule 22 and ending the filibuster. Contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today, and tell him it’s high time to end the practice of filibuster abuse. 

As a member of the Democratic caucus, Joe Lieberman enjoys a key committee chairmanship and other plum assignments and we get next to nothing in return.” 

Amen to that, and hallelujah as well. 

And while we’re on the subject of disingenuous parliamentary maneuvers, Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore, elected as a progressive, did nothing to enhance his reputation by moving to table Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s request for an inquiry into who in Berkeley’s city administration was responsible for telling the State Senate’s Local Government Committee that exempting UC Berkeley from the financial requirements of the Alquist-Priolo earthquake law was not controversial.  

How many lawsuits does Moore think it takes to make something controversial? Someone in the city might have a perfectly reasonable explanation for whatever they did, but it’s a bad idea to sweep the whole matter under the proverbial rug. Moore’s motion was seconded by Susan Wengraf, who at least did not represent herself to the electorate as a progressive when she ran.  

Moore was not elected to toe the university line, any more than Lieberman was elected to represent the insurance industry, but in both cases the siren song coming from the big rich players seems to be seductive. Voters unfortunately often don’t keep their eye on the ball—a strong majority of Connecticut voters support having a public option in a health care plan, but Lieberman feels free to ignore them and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. 

Around here there’s a similar gap between campaign rhetoric and what elected officials actually do when they’re in office. It seems that not only the phantom spokesperson for the City of Berkeley, whoever it was, but also similarly situated staffers for Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and state Sen. Loni Hancock gave the impression that the UC stadium exemption was non-controversial and therefore appropriate for inclusion in SB113, the “omnibus bill” which is supposed to clean up inconsequential matters. 

It’s the Berkeley City Council’s responsibility to find out who’s speaking falsehoods in their behalf. Those who voted with Wengraf and Moore on the motion to table are shirking their duty for refusing to investigate in a timely way. Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington are to be commended for keeping their eyes on the ball, even as the rest of the increasingly do-nothing councilmembers are willing to avert theirs if the big U is involved in any way. 

Moore in particular seems to relish the position of being the swing vote a la Lieberman, courted by all players when there’s any chance of the body taking a progressive position. But unfortunately that opportunity comes up less and less, as the Berkeley City Council settles comfortably into lockstep, the better to make sure that they’re home in bed by a reasonable hour on meeting nights. A sad state of affairs. 



Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:43:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 10 commentary entitled “BOCA Supports REALM Public Charter School” states, “In a school of 3,300, there is only one African-American male taking an AP class.” I teach AP environmental science at Berkeley High School. There are 12 African-American males in my AP classes alone. 

My four AP environmental science classes are 17.5 percent African-American and 13.9 percent Latino. 

Ironically, while the Berkeley community seeks ways to eliminate the achievement gap in our schools, Berkeley High School intends to eliminate science labs. These labs provide personalization and continuity to all our students and help struggling students the most. The science labs make a stronger and more equitable science program possible. As teachers, we are greatly saddened at the thought of losing the opportunity to help all our students master the skills they need to find satisfaction and success in their education. We are also determined to retain the five new dedicated science teachers who would lose their jobs with the elimination of science labs. 

Please let the Berkeley School Board know that science labs, which are paid for by BSEP funds, are an integral part of achieving better results for all of our students. 

Mardi Sicular-Mertens 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was disheartening to read the recent BOCA commentary supporting a charter school in Berkeley. The article stated that there is only one African-American male in AP classes at Berkeley High. This is not true. There are two African-American males, among other minorities, in my son’s AP calculus class alone. There are numerous African-American males in both AP environmental science and AP english in CPA’s small school, among many other classes. 

It is very disappointing to see religious leaders sign an untrue statement that has obvious political implications. It’s time for people to quit politicizing education in this town and make decisions based on what will actually teach all our children. It’s also time for people to quit throwing out any numbers they think will support their cause. 

I suggest interested parties look at the description of the “curriculum” of the REALM charter school and the track record of the proposed principal. Enough with rabid anti-intellectualism. All Berkeley kids deserve better academic opportunities, and this REALM charter school doesn’t offer any. 

Maureen Burke 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have seen the claims, but not the assumptions, and I am not feeling reassured that Bus Rapid Transit is a good deal. As best I can tell from a web search, urban buses get anywhere from one to three miles per gallon. Modern cars average 30, and the best ones get over 50. The number of people diverted from cars therefore has to be somewhere between 10 to 50 to equal a car with just a driver. If car efficiency increases, due to more preferential parking for car pools, kiss and ride zones, and the like, the break-even point for buses could easily rise to more than the carrying capacity of the bus. 

Bus frequency has been quoted at every two and a half to five minutes. If there are 40 formerly car-driving passengers per bus this is 480 to 960 passengers an hour. The calculated carrying capacity for cars is the same as the upper limit for the bus calculation if we assume one passenger per vehicle, 40 percent go time (green light), 15 feet average vehicle length, one second (15 feet per 10 mph) between vehicles, and an average speed (when moving) of 20 mph. Again, no obvious advantage. 

The above is not good, but frankly, what worries me most is that AC transit is subsidized. If the increased service requires a larger subsidy, then we can expect their other lines to be eliminated or reduced in frequency. 

Robert Clear 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Planning Commission did the right thing, adopting a full-build Bus Rapid Transit study recommendation, with several good changes from what staff did. 

Hooray for Planning Commission chair David Stoloff, who firmly but politely cut off long-winded speakers. He asked everyone to be respectful and specifically not to make noise while others were speaking. 

Shame on the “yellow sheet” BRT opponents, who rattled their sheets and catcalled while people were trying to speak, and then loudly applauded each anti-BRT speaker. I hope they are indeed a “noisy minority”; they behaved like spoiled children. 

Hooray for two people who stood up and announced that if BRT is implemented, they will “drive less.” Hooray for the 200 Sierra Club members who signed cards supporting BRT. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley City Council’s proposal to ban helium balloon releases is a step in the right direction for the protection of many endangered and threatened animals. Most people don’t think about the consequences of letting go of helium balloons, whether deliberately in mass releases or accidentally, and the sad result has been untold numbers of dead animals in the oceans and on land. Both mylar balloons, which also cause power outages, and latex balloons have been documented to kill or gravely injure many species of wildlife, from birds and seals that become entangled in balloon ribbons to sea turtles and whales that swallow the balloons and choke to death or die slowly from starvation as the balloons block their intestines. These deaths have been well documented.  

Whether it’s the federally endangered California Clapper Rail that was found dead, tangled in a balloon ribbon, or a sea turtle or fish that mistakes a balloon for an edible jellyfish and chokes or starves to death as a result, helium balloons and their ribbons can go on killing wildlife for years once they enter the environment, and most of the wild victims of balloons will never be found by humans. Every time I’ve gone on a whale-watching trip, the crew has fished helium balloons out of the ocean, and educated the boat passengers on the hazards of balloon pollution, which is somewhat similar to that of plastic bags in the environment, but with a strangling/entangling ribbon threat added. 

  Any measures to prevent the release of helium balloons into the environment is a big, and welcome, benefit to wildlife. I urge anyone concerned with wildlife conservation to support Berkeley’s proposed helium balloon release ban. Balloons can be used safely as long as they are not released, but they should never be allowed to fly up and away. 

Lois Yuen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your recent article, “Longfellow Middle School Art and Music Classes at Risk,” after-school steel drums teacher Jeff Narell is quoted as saying, “Kids who don’t have the money or training to take part in the other musical offerings at the school take my class.” He goes on to say that if this class is canceled, “a lot of these kids will be deprived of their only musical experience.” The steel drums class sounds great, and I hope funds can be raised to allow it to continue, but it should be pointed out that because of our Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) parcel tax, which was passed by Berkeley voters with an overwhelming 80 percent “yes” vote on Measure A three years ago, all of our elementary school students enjoy music instruction during the regular school day in the third, fourth and fifth grades, and several schools provide weekly music classes for their kindergarten, first and second-grade students as well. Instruments are provided to students free of charge by the BUSD—except for recorders, which cost $3 and are kept by the students. Excellent band and orchestra classes are offered to students at all three of our middle schools and at Berkeley High School, also with instruments provided free of charge. Free one-on-one music tutoring is also available through district programs. It’s true that music instruction is disappearing from schools statewide and nationwide, but it remains a powerful presence in our Berkeley public schools, thanks to BSEP and to community organizations such as the Berkeley Public Education Foundation. Because of the way Measure A was written, our music program will continue no matter how steep the cuts in state funding of schools. We can be proud to be part of a community that values its children, the arts, and education, and is willing to vote resources to support them. 

Julie Holcomb, Co-chair,  

BSEP Planningand Oversight Committee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The deplorable and terrifying attack on the chancellor’s house arose out of a long lack of adequate negotiation on the campus, and poor communication between the students and the administration. 

How we miss Chancellor Tien, who was a good communicator, and talked every day on his walks with members of the campus community. 

But was there more going on? In the 1960s, there were found to be agents provocateurs among the demonstrators. Their goal was to instigate direct violent actions that would discredit the protest movements. The presence of these agents was a constant problem during non-violent protests, and led to constant training to prevent being drawn in. 

If any of the students who were present during the protests can among themselves identify who provoked the storming of the chancellor’s residence, one might have a clue as to whether this was a deliberate escalation to bring a public retaliation. 

Susan Ervin-Tripp 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read your recent article about instant runoff voting but found the description of it confusing. It said “You only get to vote for three people. If the first choice gets dropped your vote will transfer to Yogi Berra. If the second choice gets dropped, your vote will transfer to the third person.” It’s unclear how or why a choice would get dropped. 

The answer is if no choice is the first preference of a majority of voters, the choice with the fewest number of first preference rankings is eliminated and that choice’s ballots are redistributed at full value to the remaining choices according to the next ranking on each ballot. This process is repeated until one choice obtains a majority of votes among choices not eliminated. 

For a more comprehensive explanation of IRV I recommend Lift Every Voice by Lani Guinier. 

Bob Muzzy 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Having read the articles and letters regarding the boycott of the Daily Planet, I’d just like to say to “Barry Gustin, MD, MPH”: Abraham Lincoln never said what you attributed to him. It was made up by a guy who was born years after Lincoln’s death. On what other subjects don’t you know what you’re talking about? 

Andrew Rodriguez 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In a letter to the Daily Planet (Dec. 3), I wrote: “Sinkinson and Gertz are ultra-right-wing Zionists whose sole mission is to squelch any criticism of Israel and will fling baseless accusations of anti-Semitism to accomplish their objective. Sinkinson and Gertz do not speak for the vast majority of Berkeley Jews who welcome an open and honest debate about Israel and U.S. foreign policy.” 

John Gertz wrote to me and objected to my depiction of him as an “ultra-right-wing Zionist,” and said, “I am a life-long liberal Democrat, who, though a Zionist, associate [sic] with the center left Labor and Kadima parties.” He asked me to retract this characterization of his politics in these pages. It’s interesting of course that he did not ask me to retract my other remarks about his actions. 

Mr. Gertz, on one hand, perhaps this remark was inaccurate within the sphere of warped Israeli politics. By Israeli definitions, perhaps you might indeed qualify as a centrist or even leftist Zionist. 

On the other hand, you support Kadima, whose founder Ariel Sharon was a life-long champion of the colonization and land theft of the Palestinian West Bank. Sharon’s final significant act as Prime Minister, the so-called Gaza Disengagement, was part of a stated plan to increase colonial settlements in the West Bank. Is colonization and land theft more “centrist” or “leftist” because it is not advocated as loudly and consistently as it is by Israel’s “right-wing” political parties? 

Your campaign against the Berkeley Daily Planet and acts of intimidation, false accusations, and disinformation is not only ultra-right-wing, it is also morally wrong. 

Matthew Taylor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Neither columnist expounding at length on the Afghan War in the Dec. 10 issue of teh Daily Planet mentioned the main fact: the war was started to save the heroin trade. By 2001 the Taliban had consolidated power, and with U.N. financial help had eliminated poppy farming in the area under its control. Growing was still conducted by the Northern Alliance, the grouping of non-Pashtun peoples still holding out in the North. With the U.S. economy in the toilet after the dot-com bust, the United States made the logical move. It drove out the Taliban and restored the Northern Alliance so the heroin trade could be spread over the whole country. Eight years later, both candidates for Afghan president are Northern Alliance, with majority Pashtun left out of the leadership. Seems like things are working according to plan. 

Today the United States has cornered the market. More than 90 percent of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan, grown by the Bush and Obama administration’s Northern Alliance allies and shipped out of the country and distributed by U.S. military personnel and “contractors.” The U.S. media blames the Taliban for growing the stuff, neglecting to mention that the United States has absolute control of the skies with Air Force jets and Army helicopters and drones.  

Early in 2009, when Steve Inskeep of NPR asked the U.S. ambassador on the air, “Why can’t we just spray the poppies with 

herbicides like we used to do with marijuana?”, he was told, “We have allies there whose people we can’t offend.” 

Now you know why you have to spend another $30 billion in Afghanistan.  

Steve Tabor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those who have put together the petition calling for support for the Daily Planet and owner/editor Becky O’Malley have been less than honest in writing that those who oppose the paper’s anti-Semitic stance and non-stop Israel bashing have engaged in “bellicose personal confrontations that frighten small business owners and their clientele.” How do I know this to be untrue? While not a participant, I have accompanied Dan Spitzer on several visits to advertisers. Since Ms. O’Malley acknowledged to the New York Times that the Planet doesn’t fact check—what reputable paper does not?—I’m writing to set the record straight. 

In his interaction with advertisers, Mr. Spitzer is unfailingly polite. He asks if they have read the content of the Planet and, finding most advertisers have not, cites the offensive Joseph Anderson op-ed calling the killing of the four Oakland cops “karmic justice.” Mr. Spitzer proceeds to inform the advertisers about the Planet’s regular demonization of Israel and anti-Semitic commentary such as that penned by the Iranian student who maintains that Jews deserve everything they have historically suffered, including the Holocaust. Mr. Spitzer finally suggests that the advertisers access www.dpwatchdog.com for other examples of journalistic malfeasance in the Planet.  

While Becky O’Malley writes of her opponent’s alleged “belligerent tactics,” the strongest commentary Mr. Spitzer has ever made is to remind advertisers on a second visit of an obvious reality: If they keep advertising in an anti-Semitic paper, they are likely to lose the patronage of Berkeley’s sizable Jewish community. 

Finally, the petition praises the Planet for championing free speech, ironic as Ms. O’Malley has banned critics such as Spitzer, Sinkinson and Gertz from its letters page. Yes, Ms. O’Malley, your paper is quite the bastion of free speech! 

Ann Emerson 

La Honda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”  

-George Orwell 

As an advertiser, I am writing to reaffirm our support of your paper. My company has been threatened by the so-called “East Bay Citizens for Journalistic Responsibility” and I am writing to clearly state: we will not be bullied. 

In these challenging times of corporate media control, your paper stands as a shining example of free press and democratic discourse that is absolutely essential to the very survival of our democracy. 

I may not always agree with every word written on the pages of this paper, but I vow to consistently use every means at my disposal to help support the vital democratic discourse that is presented by your paper. 

If we want to see a vibrant full-spectrum world emerge, we need to enable a vibrant, full-spectrum dialogue;  so I am writing to simply say thank you for your courage.  You do not stand alone. 

Vladislav Davidzon 

CEO and Founder,  

Common Circle Education  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Because the Berkeley Daily Planet publishes letters of wide-ranging opinion, some critical of Israel, businesses who advertise in the Planet are being harassed and intimidated by a handful of Jewish extremists. This tactic seems unlikely to diminish antiSemitism. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am very happy you are raising a voice for sanity in the conflict Israel-Palestine. Our goal should be to be good neighbours, not murderous muggers. Past persecution does not give one the right to become a persecutor in turn. Beyond the victim-persecutor game, let us work things out, find solutions by negotiating patiently. Sitting on a huge pile of money in the shape of oil reserves and being handed enormous destructive weapons by “friends” with weapons manufacturing capabilities is not helpful. War as well as oil as an energy source are outmoded. They both contribute heavily to greenhouse pollution. Let us turn to renewable energy sources and a peaceful life in our Garden of Eden instead. 

Eva-Maria Schlottmann 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just donated to the Berkeley Daily Planet thanks to the Jews who should know better. Born a Jew myself, I have seen the outright lies and fraud of certain Jewish entities who have taken the myth of the “chosen ones” to new ingratiating heights. 

Evidently these protectors of Holy Israel are being funded by the criminals that have hijacked the Jewish faith and the land of the Semitic peoples known as Palestine. It is an embarrassment to listen to these fools spout their Communist rhetoric and engage in their Sabbatean psychosis. 

A real Jew would stand up for truth, justice and the American way, unfortunately the sayanims who work for criminal Israel are making it harder and harder for Americans to be American. 

Jeff Tanzer 

Salem, Mass. 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing this note to tell you to take appropriate measures to protect your property and yourselves. Yesterday our automobile was stolen in front of our house. This event imposes a hardship on us. I don’t want the same to happen to you. If it already has, I don’t want it to happen to you again.  

Virtually unknown to the public, the consulting giant, A.D. Little developed a very low -cost mechanism that if installed by the automobile manufacturers would reduce auto theft tremendously. But It was rejected by the auto industry. As a result, automobiles is most cases continue to be easy to steal. A slim jim will open most doors, and a dent puller will yank out the starter key. Then all a thief needs is a screw driver to turn on the ignition and drive away. It takes a thief under one minute from start to finish.  

You may want to consider meeting with your neighbors to build a Neighborhood Watch Program to protect yourself from auto theft and other neighborhood crimes as well. As you know, these are difficult times and to ignore the implications could be very costly. On the other hand, through a neighborhood watch program you are building community, which may in addition to increasing your safety could enhance your quality of life. 

Harry Brill 

El Cerrito 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The other day I was walking from my home to the bus stop. There was a traffic jam in Albany. I could not cross the street in time. I missed my bus. I walked up to the bench at my stop stop to wait for the next bus. Imagine my surprise when I see a sick and homeless person using the bench as a public bathroom. There were many cars going by, including, I am sure, cars belonging to the city administration. But no city official thought to stop and help this poor person out, protecting—at the same time—the bench for bus riders like myself who needed a clean place to sit and wait. 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While in line at the checkout counter at Safeway this morning, I spotted two tabloids with pictures of Tiger Woods and headlines about his extramarital affairs. Later, on evening television news, a penitent Tiger himself acknowledged his infidelity, apologizing to his family and fans. Then came the startling announcement that he plans to take an indefinite break from professional golf “to focus his attention on being a better husband and father.” For some reason, this human drama brought to my mind William Blake’s famous verse: 

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright 

in the forests of the night. 

As a longtime admirer of Tiger, it’s my wish that after a lengthy period of reflection in much needed privacy, he emerges from his own personal forest of the night and once again returns to the sport he dearly loves and to which he’s dedicated most of his life.  

Dorothy Snodgrass  



Missing the Point

By H. Scott Prosterman
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:43:00 AM

People who choose to move to Berkeley are aware of the importance of our local history as it has impacted global trends. As a Michigan grad, I’m especially proud of the connection between Ann Arbor and Berkeley for their parallel traditions of academic excellence and positive activism. The Free Speech Movement began as an organic movement in Berkeley in reaction to the last days of the HUAC ugliness—possibly the ugliest chapter in domestic American history. But some historians ask if the FSM would have been as dynamic or effective as it has been without the support it drew from Students for a Democratic Society, which began two years earlier in Ann Arbor under Tom Hayden. I was proud to follow in Hayden’s footsteps in Ann Arbor as a campus leader and point-man activist for important causes. 

Berkeley has a grand and rich tradition of activism—for the city, the school and the community. 

I come from a tradition of political activism that goes way back in my family. Jews from the South had a special role in the civil rights movement, the labor movement and in this nation’s history of progressive politics. I’m deeply proud of having become Bar Mitzvah in Memphis just weeks after MLK was killed in my hometown. My rabbi, James A. Wax, helped to complete King’s work in Memphis after his demise. Before King was killed, and before I became Bar Mitzvah, I marched with the Memphis Sanitation Workers and held an “I AM A MAN” sign. My mother was president of the Memphis School Board when they initiated school desegregation (“busing”) and took some nasty heat for it. By extension, so did I, so a large part of my life is invested in progressive politics. 

Now I see how elements of the progressive movement have become deeply counterproductive to our agendas, and how the downside of liberalism has begun the process of self-consumption. There are two disturbing dynamics here: 

1) The downside of liberalism—protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons. 

2) Misdirected efforts and counterproductive leadership within the progressive community. 

The UC system is spiraling deep in a financial crisis, precipitated by bad government, bad economics and bad management. To an extent, the financial problems with UC and the entire state rest with the “Smartest Guys in the Room”—Enron. This state has not recovered from the grand larceny committed against every citizen of California by Enron. They set the stage for Gov. Grey Davis’ impeachment and brought us Arnold and his Republican populism. And what was Arnold’s first populist act as governor—to end the license plate fee. Adding it up over the past five years, that’s several billion dollars the state could use right now. 

The Regents have acted harshly in raising tuition and fees for students, knowing that this squelches the dream of a UC or CSU education for many. As such, the protests since last month have been welcome and warranted. As an old-time Ann Arbor activist, it warmed my heart to stand in support with the students outside Wheeler Hall last month. I have also helped the vendors at the ASUC Bear’s Lair call attention to their plight with unfair lease terms, which seem designed to drive them out of business. And I was there to make a visible objection with these merchants when the ASUC brass brought in prospective tenants to show the property. So I support the efforts to hold the Regents and UC Administration accountable for their various cold and mean-spirited actions against the students, staff, custodial workers, vendors and teaching assistants, who deserve better deals. 

However, the recent vandalism directed against the home of Chancellor Birgeneau and his family is a grossly misplaced and self-destructive expression. First, Mary Catherine Birgeneau is a very nice woman and has nothing to do with objectionable decisions. Destruction of any architectural gem, which the University House certainly is, is a shocking waste and an expression of gross ignorance. Many thoughtful people are full of righteous indignation these days—this is the most effective weapon we have against selfish, draconian and right-wing politics. (The tuition and fee hikes are a manifestation of this.) By destroying property, which is also a private residence, we cede the righteous indignation to the other side and lose our most effective weapon. 


H. Scott Prosterman holds an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He frequently publishes humor and political commentary in a variety of publications and websites.

Jesus the Palestinian

By Jack D. Forbes
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:44:00 AM

I thought it might be helpful to recall that Yehoshu’a (Jesus) was a Palestinian. The district of western Asia long known as Palestine has a history which needs to be understood as we try to sort out the conflicting claims of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the present day. 

Anciently the name “Canaan” (Kanaan) was applied to roughly the same region, except that the Canaanitish dialects or languages were spoken as far north as Beirut, Lebanon. The northern-most Kanaan people came to be called Phoenicians (Funi) by the Greeks, but they also were part of ancient Canaanitish civilization. 

The name Palestine came to be applied first in ancient times to the coastal region, an area occupied by a sea-going people known as the Filistines (Philistines). They created a very advanced kingdom that dominated southwestern Palestine and the coast as far as Joppa. It was so famous that outside powers, such as the Assyrians, began calling the southern part of Kanaan “Palastov” or Pilista-Filistia. 

Later empires, such as Alexander’s Makedonian and the subsequent Ptolemaic and Seleucid, adopted the name Palestine for the old Kanaan. Sometimes referred to as “Palestina Syria,” the region also often came to include the country east of the Jordan River and the whole territory between Lebanon and Sinai. 

When the Romans came to dominate the area, they used the name Palestine. Thus, when Yehoshu’a was born, he was born a Palestinian as were all of the inhabitants of the region, Jews and non-Jews. He was also a Nazarene (being born in Nazareth) and a Galilean (born in the region of Galilee). 

At the time of Yehoshu’a’s birth, Palestine was inhabited by Jews—descendants of Hebrews, Canaanites, and many other Semitic peoples—and also by Phoenicians, Syrians, Greeks, and even Arabs. There were many Greek settlements, some dating from Alexander’s empire but most from the Seleucid period. The Arameans were dominant linguistically since their Aramaic language (closely related to Hebrew) had replaced Hebrew as a spoken tongue (except in Jewish ritual). Earlier, Aramaic had become the official tongue of the Assyrian Empire but, in addition, numbers of Arameans had migrated into Palestine over the centuries. 

The Greek language dominated government in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, Latin not being used there. Thus we see two major languages, Aramaic at the folk level and Greek at the official level. But also it seems that Phoenician (Canaanite) survived along the coast from perhaps Haifa north and probably somewhat into the interior. 

Yehoshu’a was, therefore, born into a highly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural environment, especially since a Greek city, Tiberias, had been founded near the Lake of Galilee. It seems likely that he was able to understand liturgical Hebrew, but his only recorded words in a non-Greek language are in Aramaic. 

Since Yehoshu’a was said to have been a carpenter, it is likely that he traveled about and learned other languages on the job. Even more likely is his use of Canaanitish (Phoenician) or Greek since he stayed in a private home on one of his several trips to Tyre, a Phoenician city. He also visited Sidon, another Phoenician port farther north than Tyre. 

Yehoshu’a also was able to converse with a woman at Tyre described in Mark as “Greek, by race a Phoenician from Syria.” In Matthew she is called a Canaanite “from these parts.” This is the case of the woman who chided him for being concerned only with curing Israelites. It is a crucial biblical passage because it would seem to be genuine—one which contradicted later Christian theology but had to be left in the emerging New Testament because of its perceived authenticity. 

Aramaic would seem to have been his own personal language as he uses it when praying to his Deity (Eloy) while suffering on the cross. This would be a time when one would use one’s own, first language, I would have thought. 

Yehoshu’a was indeed a Palestinian, perhaps the greatest one of all. He was not a strictly orthodox Jew, but his belief system seems to fall within the broad parameters of the Judaism of that time period, I would think. 

Perhaps he has returned to the Palestine of today and if so, where would he be? I would suggest that he would be working with those other Palestinians, no matter what their formal religion, who seek spirituality over form, kindness over cruelty, love over hate, sharing over exclusion, and mercy over murder. 

He certainly would be with the poor and the suffering. 


Jack D. Forbes is a retired professor of Native American Studies at UC Davis and has for many years studied about Yehoshu’a and the Palestinian-Israeli issue since both topics are very relevant to Native American religious beliefs and struggles for self-determination. 

Obama’s Oslo Speech

By Marvin Chachere
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:44:00 AM

If you’re smart enough to edit the Harvard Law Review, literate enough to write two very good books, clever enough to gain the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and wily enough to defeat the Republican nominee, then you’ll most certainly be able to obtain the assistance of the best and the brightest. Thus, it is no surprise that President Obama, in humbly accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, would deliver a speech that was magnificent in every way. It was erudite and didactic; it had depth and breath; it was a political masterstroke that at once quieted shrill prior criticisms, satisfied nervous supporters and disquieted unattached progressives like me.  

  Random assessments from three Obamaphiles: Kathleen Parker, Washington Post columnist, deemed the speech “a triumphant expression of American values and character.” Her fellow columnist, Eugene Robinson, praised it more soberly for “favoring pragmatism over absolutism.” Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in the Huffington Post, saw Obama in Oslo change “from dove to liberal warrior.” 

After reading and re-reading the speech, I was saddened to discover that Obama’s primary thesis is wrong and its corollary is at best selfish and at worse deceitful. The primary thesis: war is necessary. The corollary: America occupies a selfless global high ground. 

  To his credit Obama straightforwardly acknowledged that his primary thesis quite nakedly contradicted what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1964 when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace. He even quoted King, "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” But, Oba-ma insisted, “Oh yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving peace.”  

Obama attempted to reconcile these opposing facts: “war is sometimes necessary” and “war at some level is an expression of human folly.” 

  King would be appalled to hear Obama’s gratuitous assertion, “A non-violent movement could not have altered Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms,” and he would be horrified by the claim that “force can be justified on humanitarian grounds.” 

  King held that war destroys peace because the essence of war is violence; war—kill and be killed—is far more than human folly. Thus, King would most likely judge Obama’s notion of gaining and preserving peace through war as quintessential folly.  

  Obama makes much of the concept of a just war, which, updating Reinhold Niebuhr, he succinctly defines as a military operation of last resort or self-defense, deploying proportionate force and sparing civilians whenever possible. Definitions, logically speaking, are neither right nor wrong but they must be clear and useful. This definition of just war is neither clear nor useful. Did the Civil War satisfy these conditions? The Spanish American War? The Korean War? Show me a war that is just and I’ll show you a war that is propagated in pursuit of national self-interests. 

  Recognizing that he took office when the world’s admiration for America was in the pits, Obama sought to lift it up as much as eloquence and sincerity would allow. Everything he said is true but he did not say everything.  

He said, “the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and strength of our arms” and “America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace, a Marshall Plan and a United Nations.” He did not say what the USA did to indigenous peoples, African slaves, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, Panama, Granada. 

  Finally, having declared the USA to be “the standard bearer” of the rules governing “the conduct of war,” President Obama in Oslo told the world that “those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.” 

With all due respect, Mr. President, the Bush W administration openly and admittedly broke those rules.  

  I mean no offense, sir, but it lies within your power—indeed, you swore to it in your oath of office—to hold such lawbreakers accountable. Why do you not do it?   


Marvin Chachere is a San Pablo resident.

Much Better for Berkeley than BRT

By Merrilie Mitchell
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:45:00 AM

AC Transit is steadily cutting local bus service, while not cutting the often empty, huge regional Rapid buses. The strategy appears to be that AC Transit is transforming their Rapids and Locals into a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system of four lines. Victoria Eisen, Susan Wengraf’s Planning Commissioner, recently asked city staff to add studying BRT for University Avenue, and on North Shattuck/Solano, to the environmental studies for the Telegraph Avenue/Downtown BRT line. 

  Things are happening fast now because AC Transit is in a rush to apply for federal funding, including priority status for BRT funding in President Obama’s 2012 Budget—if they complete BRT environmental work by April 2010!  

  But residents know almost nothing about BRT. Most don’t even know what BRT means! 

BRT for Berkeley area means running huge, fast, diesel, articulated buses on major corridors with stops about half-mile apart at intersections that can trigger Redevelopment. Most local bus lines and stops, parking, and even mature trees will be eliminated. And much pie in the sky will fly to be sure.  

Here is a greener, cleaner, more economical and equitable alternative to BRT: 

Use Rapid Bus with Eco-pass instead of BRT for Telegraph Avenue north of Downtown Oakland. Restore local buses; enhance transit connections; replace diesel with eco-friendly buses; and pilot eco-pass for all in Planning Area 1—which is North Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond. Use BRT on freeway routes to San Francisco. 

This is a people-friendly, eco-friendly plan to increase riders and decrease congestion and pollution. It will save millions for transit improvements. 

1) Rapid Bus with Eco-pass takes the same time to board as BRT but is a much more flexible system for transit demand management. No need for multi-million dollar platforms to be built on our roadways.  

2) Restore the 1R transfer point at 14th and Broadway for Rapid Bus going north. Use more frequent Rapid Buses to Berkeley during rush hour. Off-peak Rapid Bus should be decreased or eliminated as necessary and local buses restored as necessary.  

3) The millions of dollars saved by having no BRT project north of downtown Oakland could restore local buses. Shopper shuttles for business loops such as Shattuck, Solano, etc., could be initiated, like the DASH in Los Angeles. That would help us shop locally, thus increasing sales taxes to help AC Transit via Measure B.  

4) Money saved could be used for eco-friendly buses to reduce unpleasant toxic fumes and particulates. Eco-friendly buses would increase ridership and support for transit while helping decrease greenhouse gases and climate change. Small and medium-size buses help provide a pedestrian friendly environment. 

An Eco-pass for residents is long overdue. AC Transit has Eco-passes for UC students and staff, for city employees and businesses, and for developers. We need Eco-passes for local residents and taxpayers. This would not be costly and could be financed many ways, including parking meter funds, motor vehicle registration fees, pilot fees, and stimulus money.  

Eco-passes or other means of “spare the fare” would have great benefits. They would increase transit use and safety for bus drivers, sparing the air and saving our planet by decreasing global warming, 

  We want to work with AC Transit to develop a clean, green, financially sound, equitable and just bus transportation system and a good shuttle-bus system, too. 

A good shuttle-bus system could easily be part of this plan. This has been talked about for years and is included in Berkeley’s General Planning documents. Here is a way to do it using AC Transit’s existing bus lines. The concept would work in all business districts, such as College, Telegraph, Solano, and San Pablo avenues. A shuttle system would aid businesses and increase Measure B money for AC Transit. 

Use the existing AC Transit 18 bus, which runs the lengths of Solano Avenue and Shattuck Avenue through Albany, Berkeley, and into Oakland, and then returns. 

Use the popular 51 bus, which runs from University Ave. to Shattuck Ave, to College Ave., and on to Downtown Oakland, and then returns.  

We can call them shuttles. AC Transit could issue a 4-hour transfer to serve as a pass to get on and off as necessary in the business areas, so people can shop, dine, see a movie, etc. The two existing bus routes form a T at University and Shattuck, and the four Berkeley shuttles all intersect the T at some point. 

And that makes a nice shuttle system. The shuttles connect to the local bus system. The locals connect to the regional transportation system.  


Merrilie Mitchell is a Berkeley resident and community activist.

Afghanistan, And Why We Are There

By John F. Davies
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:46:00 AM

During the past eight years, I have heard this question asked many times—Why are we in Afghanistan? Some of what I’m about to say here on this matter has been recently declassified, but is still not well known. During the Carter administration, National Security Advisor Zbignew Brezhinski—who currently advises Obama—proposed a covert operation to destabilize the than secular Afghan government, which was getting way too friendly with the Soviets. His idea, approved and put into effect by Jimmy Carter, was to provoke the Russians into getting involved into a Vietnam-type guerrilla war in Central Asia. The goal here was to wear down and eventually destabilize the Soviet Union. In order to accomplish this, the CIA supported and funded the most staunchly anti-Communist groups in Afghanistan, who also happened to be radical fundamentalist Muslims. Brezhinski himself said words to the effect that Islamic fundamentalism was the most effective weapon against Communism, and to this day, he speaks of having no regrets for his actions. 

  Following the Soviet invasion, the outrage that occurred throughout the Islamic world was used by the U.S. Government to recruit other Muslims into the budding insurgent movement. Among them was the son of a wealthy Saudi family named Osama Bin Laden. With the withdrawal of the Soviets, the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations turned their backs on their former Afghan allies and allowed anarchy to reign among rival warlords. The Taliban, who were initially a very small group, eventually gained control because the U.S. believed they would provide stability to the country. Also, Operation Desert Storm outraged many of these former insurgents who, in their eyes, felt used and betrayed by the Americans. It was at this point in time that we see the beginnings of radical groups like al Qaeda. 

  What history shows is that beyond all the flags, propaganda and fear-mongering, the ultimate reason why nations go to war is control and domination of resources. Certain pieces of real estate are considered important to the interests of national power elites because they are either resource-rich or control access to the same. How this applies in the case of Afghanistan is that about ten years ago, UNOCAL—with the support of the U.S. government—began negotiations with the Taliban government over a planned gas pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan, and ultimately to the Indian Ocean. This would potentially give the U.S. and other Western countries access to, and control of, some of the world’s richest fields of natural gas. However, the Taliban consistently kept asking for more money, and the talks dragged on until they suddenly ended in 2001. Shortly afterward, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, and subsequently came the U.S. invasion. It should also be noted that the major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan are positioned along the planned route of this very same gas pipeline. Is there a coincidence here? 

  The present Afghan war is a case of allies being turned into enemies by the shortsightedness of our own National Security policies. There is even a term for this in intelligence circles. It’s called “blowback,” namely, former assets who in time turn against you. Speaking as Marine vet who lost friends to a terrorist bombing in Beirut, I am in no way justifying or offering any apology for the attacks of Sept. 11. But what I am saying is that by making Faustian bargains with evil, our so-called leaders cause the chickens to come home to roost. These terrorists are indeed Frankensteins, who were created by the spooks in Langley Virginia. They are a legacy of the Cold War, which has come back home to haunt us. 

  And so, in spite of all the high-sounding words that come out of the mouth of our erstwhile commander in chief, the above hard facts speak more to the real reasons why this government spends so much of our nation’s blood and treasure in a far- off Asian land. 


John F. Davies is a Berkeley resident.

Oakland’s General Plan and the Zoning Update Process—How They Work Together

By John Gatewood
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:47:00 AM

The General Plan is the law. In California, when a city’s General Plan designation for a site conflicts with the city’s zoning for the site, the General Plan supersedes the zoning. Not only is this the law, it has also been tested in court and the court ruled that this is the correct application of the law, further establishing a legal precedent for this interpretation of the law. A few years ago in Temescal there was a lawsuit filed against an approved project over this very issue and the lawsuit failed. 

Some may not like what the General Plan lays out as the future direction development should take in Oakland, but it was arrived at after four years of public meetings and was adopted by the City Council in a public vote in 1998. Simply because some chose not to participate in that public process does not invalidate the General Plan’s adoption, or its goals. The agenda of the zoning update process is to update the existing zoning statues so that they are congruent with the goals laid out in the General Plan. It is true that the zoning update should have commenced as soon as the General Plan was adopted. It was a decision by the Brown Administration to not proceed with the zoning update. That decision has led to a great deal of discord in Oakland as projects that met the General Plan guidelines but exceeded zoning came up for review. The Brown administration did a disservice to the residents of Oakland by postponing the zoning update for so long. 

I asked zoning update staff how groups were selected to serve on the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) committees. Staff said they contacted as many neighborhood groups, organizations, business improvement districts, neighborhood chambers of commerce, etc., that they could. Basically, if at some point in the past a group had weighed in on land use or development issues, they were contacted. Not all groups responded to this invitation. Not all who responded sent a representative to the meetings. Nor did all expected representatives actually show up at the meetings. So in one sense there was a certain level of self-selection involved. But the zoning staff DID reach out to as many groups as possible. It is important to remember that the majority of these groups are volunteer organizations of various sizes and various levels of organization, which does help explain their varying levels of participation. 

Attendance at the TAG meetings has been declining. However, there have been no secret meetings with city staff. ALL sides of the development debate have been absent from the TAG meetings at one time or another. In my opinion these absences have more to do with how we live today. Nowadays in the majority of relationships both partners work full-time outside the home, leaving much less time available for volunteer activities. People care about their city, but their care and volunteer efforts are more narrowly focused on their block, their neighborhood, and their children’s schools. Because people have less time available to volunteer, unfortunately citywide issues, like the zoning update, are not of primary importance. 

We DO need more community involvement in the zoning update. To their credit, in the February and November rounds of citywide community meetings, the zoning update staff changed the format to elicit more feedback from residents. 

In the February round they had a great many more pictures of various buildings—different heights, different styles, different densities, etc.—as well as many other visual aids to help people actually see the potential zoning changes. After a brief introduction by city staff, people spent time viewing and leaving written comments about the various displays. Afterwards there were small breakout sessions, each moderated by a city staffer, which gave people many more opportunities to ask follow-up questions of staff and to explain their views in greater detail. This was so much better than past meetings, where staff gave long presentations—after which the most intransigent person in the room would immediately jump up and bombard staff with questions meant just to criticize the presentation. This had the same effect each time—shutting down the community conversation before it ever began. 

In an ideal world, Oakland would hold many more meetings like the previous two rounds of citywide meetings—at least one in each neighborhood to gather as much feedback as possible. We have a Bay Area example as to how this could work—Albany’s series of meetings to determine what direction development should take at the site of Golden Gate Fields. 

Albany is a small city but has held just over 40 neighborhood meetings to discuss the future of Golden Gate Fields. Almost every other block has had a meeting. Each meeting had low-tech but effective tools to help people visualize what could be built there. Large- scale drawings of the site and to-scale blocks of the various possibilities—housing, retail, office, mixed-use, open space, parkland, etc. But each block also listed how much revenue the city would realize if that sized structure were built. Each breakout group played with blocks and built the waterfront of their dreams. It was a brilliant exercise and very effective at gaining meaningful feedback from the community. A resident only had to attend one meeting to give feedback to the city, and the entire city was polled. 

I have repeatedly asked Oakland zoning update staff to look at what Albany is doing and see if they could do the same here. They are familiar with what Albany is doing, but they answer that our city is already looking at another budget deficit and no money is available to implement such a program here. Oakland is doing what it can with what it has and there are still plenty of opportunities to comment on the zoning update.  


John Gatewood is a Temescal resident and co-founder of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area)


Dispatches from the Edge: Obama’s Escalation: An Af-Pak Train Wreck

By Conn Hallinan
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:40:00 AM

When President Barak Obama laid out his plan for winning the war in Afghanistan, behind him stood an army of ghosts: Greeks, Mongols, Buddhists, British and Russians, all of whom had almost the same illusions as the current resident of the Oval Office about Central Asia. The first four armies are dust, but there are Russian survivors of the 1979-89 war that ended up killing 15,000 Soviets, hundreds of thousands of Afghans, and virtually wrecking Moscow’s economy. 

One is retired General Igor Rodionov, commander of the Soviets’ 120,000-man 40th Army that fought for 10 years to defeat the Afghan insurgents. In a recent interview with Charles Clover of the Financial Times, he made an observation that exactly sums up the president’s deeply flawed strategy: “Everything has already been tried.” 

The president laid out three “goals” for his escalation: 1) to militarily defeat al Qaeda and neutralize the Taliban; 2) to train the Afghan Army to take over the task of the war; and 3) to partner with Pakistan against a “common enemy.” The purpose of surging 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, the president said, is to protect the “vital national interests” of the United States. 

But each goal bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground in either Afghanistan or Pakistan and, rather than protecting U.S. interests, the escalation will almost certainly undermine them. 

The military aspect of the surge simply makes no sense. According to U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones, al Qaeda has fewer than 100 operatives in Afghanistan, so “defeating” it means trying to find a few needles in a 250,000-square-mile haystack.  

As for the Taliban, General Rodionov has a good deal of experience with how fighting them is likely to turn out: “The war, all 10 years of it, went in circles. We would come, and they [the insurgents] would leave. Then we would leave, and they would return.” 

The McClatchy newspapers reported this past July that the Taliban had successfully evaded last summer’s surge of U.S. Marines into Helmand Province by moving to attack German and Italian troops in the northern part of the country. Does the White House think that the insurgents will forget the lessons they learned over the last 30 years? 

Another major goal of the escalation is to increase the size of the Afghan Army from around 90,000 to 240,000. The illusions behind this task are myriad, but one of the major obstacles is that the Afghan Army is currently controlled by the Tajik minority, who make up about 25 percent of the population, but constitute 41 percent of the trained troops. More than that, according to the Italian scholar Antonio Giustozzi, Tajiks command 70 percent of the Army’s battalions. 

Pashtuns, who make up 42 percent of the Afghanistan population, have been frozen out of the Army’s top leadership, and, in provinces like Zabul, where they make up a majority, there are virtually no Pashtuns in the army.  

The Tajiks speak Dari, the Pashtuns, Pashto, yet Tajik troops have been widely deployed in Pashtun areas. According to Chris Mason, a member of the Afghanistan inter-agency Operations Group from 2003 to 2005, says that Tajik control of the Army makes ethnic strife almost inevitable. “I believe the elements of a civil war are in play,” says Mason. 

Matthew Hoh, who recently resigned as the chief U.S. civil officer in Zabul Province, warns that tension between Pashtuns and the Tajik-led alliance that dominates the Karzai government is “already bad now,” and unless the Obama administration figures out how to solve it, “we could see a return to the civil war of the 1990s.” 

It was the bitter civil war between the Tajik-based Northern Alliance and the Pashtun-based Taliban that savaged Kabul and led to the eventual triumph of the Taliban. 

Obama’s escalation will target the Pashtun provinces of Helmand and Khandahar. The Soviets followed a similar strategy and ended up stirring up a hornet’s nest that led to the creation of the Taliban. U.S. troops will soon discover the meaning of the old Pashtun axiom: “Me against my brothers; me and my brothers against our cousins; me, my brothers and my cousins against everyone.”  

Afghanistan has never had a centralized government or a large standing army, two of the Obama administration’s major goals. Instead it has been ruled by localized extended families, clans, and tribes, what Hoh calls a government of “valleyism.” Attempts to impose the rule of Kabul on the rest of the country have always failed.  

“History has demonstrated that Afghans will resist outside interference and political authority is most often driven bottom-up by collective local consent rather than top-down through oppressive central control,” says Lawrence Sellin, a U.S. Army Reserve colonel and veteran of the Afghan and Iraq wars. “It is absolutely clear that the path to peace in Afghanistan is through balance of power, not hegemony.”  

Yet a powerful Tajik-controlled army at the beck and call of one of the most corrupt—and isolated—governments in the world has been doing exactly the opposite in the Pashtun areas. A Pashtun pushback is inevitable. According to Hoh and Mason, it has already begun. 

The goal of a U.S. “partnership” with Pakistan is predicated on the assumption that both countries have a common “terrorist” enemy, but that is based on either willful ignorance or stunningly bad intelligence. 

It is true that the Pakistan Army is currently fighting the Taliban, but there are four Talibans in Pakistan, and their policies toward the Islamabad government range from hostile, to neutral, to friendly.  

Pakistan’s army has locked horns in South Waziristan with the Mehsud Taliban, the Taliban group that was recently driven out of the Swat Valley and that has launched a bombing campaign throughout the Punjab. 

But the wing of the North Waziristan Taliban led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur has no quarrel with Islamabad and has kept clear of the fighting. Another South Waziristan Taliban, based in Wana and led by Mullah Nazir, is not only not involved in the fighting, it considers itself an ally of the Pakistani government. 

Washington wants Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar and based in Pakistan. But Omar has refused to lend any support to the Mehsud Taliban. “We are fighting the occupation forces in Afghan-istan. We do not have any policy whatsoever to interfere in the matters of any other country,” says Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousaf Ahmedi. “U.S. and other forces have attacked our land and our war is only against them. What is happening in Pakistan is none of our business.” 

The charge that the Taliban would allow al Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan once again is unsupported by anything the followers of Mullah Omar have said. The Afghan Taliban leader has gone out of his way to say that the West has nothing to fear from a Taliban regime. “We do not have any agenda to harm other countries, including Europe,” the Taliban leader said in October. 

Gulbuddin Hekmatyer, a former U.S. ally against the Soviets and the current leader of the Taliban-allied Hizb-I-Islam insurgent group, told al-Jazeera, “The Taliban government came to an end in Afghanistan due to the wrong strategy of al Qaeda,” reflecting the distance Mullah Omar has tried to put between the Afghan Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s organization.  

The “other” forces Ahmed refers to include members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol, an Indian paramilitary group defending New Delhi’s road building efforts in southern Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, who have fought three wars with India—including the 1999 Kargil incident that came very close to a nuclear exchange—are deeply uneasy about growing Indian involvement in Afghanistan and consider the Karzai government too close to New Delhi.  

In short, Obama’s “partnership” would have the Pakistanis pick a fight with all four wings of the Taliban, including one that pledges to remove India’s troops. Why the Pakistanis should destabilize their own country, drain their financial reserves, and act contrary to their strategic interests vis-à-vis India, President Obama did not explain. 

Will the escalation have an impact on “vital American interests?” Certainly, but most of the consequences will be negative. 

Instead of demonstrating to the international community that the United States is stepping away from the Bush administration’s use of force, the escalation will do the opposite. 

Instead of bringing our allies closer together, the escalation will sharpen tensions between Pakistan and India—the latter strongly supports the surge of U.S. troops—and pressure the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to scrape up yet more troops for a war that is deeply unpopular in Europe.  

Instead of controlling “terrorism,” the escalation will be the recruiting sergeant for such organizations, particularly in the Middle East, where the Administration’s show of “resolve” on Afghanistan is contrasted with its abandonment of its “resolve” to resist Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. 

And finally, the deployment will cost at least $30 billion a year on top of the billions has already spent and the $70 billion the United States is shelling out to support its current force of 81,000 troops. In the meantime, the administration is too starved for cash to launch a badly needed jobs program at home. 

And keep in mind that the president said such a July 2011 withdrawal would be based on “conditions on the ground,” a caveat big enough to drive a tank through. 

“More soldiers is simply going to mean more deaths,” says Gennady Zaitsev, a former commander of an elite Soviet commando unit in Afghanistan. “U.S. and British citizens are going to ask, quite rightly, ‘Why are our sons dying?’ And the answer will be ‘To keep Hamid Karzai in power.’ I don’t think that will satisfy them.” 

Looking back at years of blood and defeat, General Rodionov put his finger on the fundamental flaw in Obama’s escalation: “They [the United States and its allies] have to understand that there is no way for them to succeed militarily … It is a political problem which we utterly failed to grasp with our military mindset.” 

That misunderstanding could become the epitaph for a presidency. 


Undercurrents: A Call for a Comprehensive Oakland Citizen Planning Process

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:41:00 AM

The time has come—wouldn’t you think?—for Oakland to stop flailing around with piecemeal “solutions” for the future of the city’s central core and begin organized work on a comprehensive development plan. 

While such a comprehensive planning process has been needed for some time, it is particularly compelling during a period when city officials and citizens are considering—in isolation—major initiatives that would completely alter the character of that core neighborhood, including a proposal to build a new professional baseball stadium in the area south of Jack London Square. 

The problem is not whether these particular initiatives are good or bad. The problem is that such proposals are being raised in order to meet either short-term or limited goals while not considering how they might affect the heart of Central Oakland and any future plans we might want to make about the makeup of the city we live in. 

While there has been much emphasis over the past several years on rebuilding what we traditionally call “downtown”—an emphasis that moved slightly to the north to the “uptown” area during the Jerry Brown years—we should be blocking out a somewhat larger geographical area as what you might call the city’s “commons” or central area. 

  Taking 14th and Broadway as the central point, you could run a line along Broadway north to the 27th Street natural boundary and south to Jack London Square. Another line could be drawn east to the foot of Lake Merritt and west to the 880 freeway. Putting the compass point at 14th and Broadway, you could then draw a circle on the map that would take in such districts as Chinatown, the Warehouse District, the 2nd-4th Street Loft District, Old Oakland, Oaksterdam, the Kaiser Center, Koreatown, the Laney College-Oakland Museum-Main Library education-cultural center, as well as the traditional downtown government and business center. That comprises Oakland’s central core, the heart of the city. 

While there is no official or unofficial tie that binds these various disparate districts together, the individual districts are joined by symbiotic relationships on those districts they border, so that drawing all these intertwining threads together creates a single, bound package. 

Traditionally, however, Oakland has tended to make decisions on these various districts as if they were separate entities without considering the effect upon the adjoining districts, or the central core as a whole. The results have been a left-hand, right-hand kind of thing, almost as if the agencies or individuals overseeing each of these individual communities were warring nations trying to grab scarce resources, rather than organs in the same body seeing that the good health of each is necessary for the good health and prosperity of all. 

Need examples? Here’s one of many. 

Eight years ago, the Port of Oakland bulldozed Jack London Village, the eclectic collection of shops and restaurants that used to be located just south of Jack London Square. During the 1990s, when JL Square was in one of its many downturns, the Village was the economic and social focal point for the mid-waterfront area. But the Port wanted the location for a major hotel, and so the businesses were evicted and the site was demolished. 

In a city that was scuffling to recruit downtown-area businesses, the decision to close down popular existing businesses seemed like an odd choice. What was worse was that the JL Village demolition came right at the time the 2nd Street-3rd Street-4th Street Loft District neighborhood was being created. The Loft District was bringing in new residents and needed only a commercial and social center to anchor it. JL Village could have been that anchor and would have prospered accordingly from the large influx of new customers. Instead, the site that the Village once stood on is a parking lot—the promised major hotel never materialized—and the Loft District never developed a neighborhood business district. One suspects that the residents go through the tube to nearby Alameda to spend that money, taking it out of Oakland. 

How comprehensive a plan are we talking about? Far more comprehensive than are currently in the makings. 

Oakland, under the Ron Dellums administration, is undergoing a painstaking conforming of the city zoning code to the General Plan, a process that should, when finished, give greater clarity to what types of development we want and what we will be able to do in all of the city’s neighborhoods, including the greater downtown area. But while this code conforming project is necessary and long overdue, it skips some important preliminary steps. 

Berkeley took some of those steps during the multi-year development process of its Downtown Area Plan, in which it created a panel of citizens to make recommendations and develop a plan on what interests Berkeley’s downtown should serve, what types of businesses and agencies should it be trying to attracting, and how it should look. Oakland ought to take on a similar endeavor, but on an even more fundamental level. 

One of the most important things that ought to be decided in such a process is who the city’s central core and its various components should be set up to serve—residents or outsiders—and, if residents, which category of residents should be encouraged and which, if any, discouraged from coming to the greater downtown. 

Those types of decisions are being made every day in the complex interplay between city officials—including police officials—and business and development interests, but not in a way that involves the general Oakland public in the planning process. 

Jack London Square Partners, for example—the private company that purchased the heart of Jack London Square from the Port of Oakland back in 2002—is well on the way to trying to change the Square from what was once a major late-night entertainment destination for young people of color to try to attract a more upscale, slightly older crowd. 

   Some of that purpose was revealed—some disguised—in the reasoning given for the JL Square changes in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the decline in the Square’s fortunes: 

“(Jack London Square partners) Jim Ellis and Jim Falaschi of Transbay Holdings,” the Chronicle article reads, “are offering discounted leases and other incentives to snare the kinds of shops and restaurants they believe will attract a crowd with refined tastes [emphasis added]. Fifteen restaurants, ranging from large to small, are planned for the area, and some have already opened. In a parallel effort, the developers ended leases occupied by chain restaurants, such as T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito and the Old Spaghetti Factory, that once made the area feel less like the Ferry Building and more like Fisherman’s Wharf.  

While I have no idea why the Spaghetti Factory would have made Jack London Square seem like a tourist trap rather than a unique dining and entertainment destination (the most obvious meaning of the Ferry Building/Fisherman’s Wharf comparison in the article), T.G.I. Friday’s was a popular destination for the youth-of-color crowd. With almost nothing in the Jack London Square area to specifically attract them—other than the Jack London Cinema just outside the Square’s boundaries—that youth-of-color crowd, which once dominated the nighttime Square on weekends, has now largely dissipated. The more upscale crowd—which currently packs uptown—have not yet found much reason to frequent the Square, which is one reason the Chronicle article concluded that “questions remain about whether the [Jack London Square] waterfront district can become a regional food and entertainment mecca even in good times.” 

    I have been arguing for years that Oakland—which has an enormous reservoir of spendable money among one of the most diverse populations in the nation—ought to be putting less emphasis on attracting non-residents to come to the city to live or shop and more emphasis on developing businesses and attractions that cater to the folks who already live here, including the often-neglected youth of color. My reasoning is that—just as we did with the old Lake Merritt Festival—if we make something attractive to large groups of Oakland residents, the outsiders will automatically come. There are legitimate opposing points of view. The problem is, those ideas are being implemented de facto,  without the city as a whole being involved in the decision of what kind of city we want this to be and who we want it to serve. 

I had hoped that this type of general community planning would be a natural outcome of the process begun by Mayor Ron Dellums’ Citizen Task Forces. Those task forces—which held such promise during the 2006 mayoral campaign—lost considerable steam once Mr. Dellums was elected and their various recommendation booklets were published. Whether we call it Citizen Task Forces or something else, I think it’s time to pick up the ball again and move that process forward.

About the House: Living Together, Forming Intentional Communities

By Matt Cantor
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:53:00 AM
Kathy and Val in the kitchen of Brigid House on 10th Street.
Matt Cantor
Kathy and Val in the kitchen of Brigid House on 10th Street.

I am unashamed to call myself a hippie. Though the phrase is still used in the pejorative by many and filled with untoward connotations for some, I choose to remain firmly camped among those who eschew the commonplace, dismal and colorless. I am not opposed to tattoos, public nudity or whole wheat pastry flour. Further, I would argue that, day-by-day, we are winning the war against the opposition. True, things don’t always look good for our side, but I remain hopeful. Heck, we elected a black president, and if you don’t think hippies are responsible for that, you may have taken some of the bad acid. 

So, as a representative for the hippie tribe (self-appointed, as is always the hippie way), I come to you to talk about how our people live. That being communally, usually in large, old houses with kitchens full of bulk-bought beans (some from the late ’80s) stored in variously sized canning jars alongside stacked boxes of herbal teas of all Zinging and non-Zinging orientations. 

All levity aside, there are very good reasons to live communally from the micro to the mega in impact, not the least of which is that living as we do—increasingly in this first world of ours—is lonely. Aside from the mega-environmental impact of living in single-family houses of 2,000-4,000 square feet as individuals and small families do, to a large extent in this country, there is the simple matter of people becoming more and more disconnected from one another.  

Val McHugh is a lovely and potent example of someone who saw, early on, that conventional nuclear family arrangements were not for her. Val, a San Franciscan from a relatively conservative Irish- Catholic San Francisco family (firefighters all around) matriculated to San Francisco State in the summer of love (1967 for the age-impaired) and got her mind blown by all the happenings there, including a student revolt by the Third World Liberation Front. Steven Gaskin, founder of THE FARM in Tennessee, another important experiment in communal living, was another student there at the time as was S. I. Hayakawa (later, Senator Hayakawa), who, though a brilliant teacher in semantics, was no friend of the hippies. 

Val, actually Shelly at that time, joined a communal-living experiment called Keris-ta in San Francisco shortly after college. This was her first foray into group living and, although it would not model all of her preferences for group living, it gave her a happy taste of living with a group of people, sharing food and warm company, which would guide her choices for the next three decades. It also gave her a name, Val (short for Valiant, Altruistic Love). One of the things this particular intentional community did was to leave old names behind (with old behaviors and beliefs, one might posit).  

Just to be extra clear, Val is a highly educated, hard-working executive who directs a part of a large organization for the care of developmentally disabled adults. I think it’s a common misconception that those who choose to live communally are either under-employed or simply stoned all day. The only difference that I can perceive in this population is that they represent those who have identified certain specific objectives for their lives and lifestyles, which do not align well with nuclear family or solitary living, and have sought out and joined others in what some might call alternative households.  

For Val, this was not, at least initially, an easy road. Val and a group of friends started out renting communal houses and building their bylaws, practices and community from the mid-1970s, but every time they got things cozy and copacetic, the landlord would sell the house and boot them out. Val remembers this as a time in which landlords were making big bucks selling these houses as the market climbed rapidly, and a time when it became increasing apparent that owning their own home would make a lot more sense. After the fifth house was sold out from under this nearly intact original group, Val and her five cohorts found and bought Brigid House on 10th Street in Berkeley. This was 25 years ago this February, and they paid (just shoot yourself now) $139,000 for this huge house. 

While all but one have gone from the original six (one left but came back), the longevity of this household’s membership has been surprisingly stable. Val has done the full 25, another has done 20 and yet another was present for 13 years. Over the entire period there have been only 42 members in a seven-room house. Val estimates that the average stay has been close to two years, but clearly, there’s great range in longevity and this is one of the things she likes. Brigid House’s documented Values and Guiding Principles provide a blueprint of housemate selection and daily life. While this might seem overly structured to some, it serves to evince the case that these seeming rebels have very clear notions of how to make their life satisfying. When I asked Val, near the end of our interview how she viewed the success of Brigid House and whether she would do it all again, this huge smile peeled across her face. Yes, she said, she’d do it all again, and her life here was very good. 

This list of Values and Guiding Principles is so good that I’d like to list them for you. They are: caring and respectful cooperative living; consensus decision-making: shared responsibility; cleaning up after yourself (how many of you nuclear family members are having success with this one); open communication; non-violence; sound ecological practices; continuity; quality time commitment to the collective (again, how is your family doing with this?); freedom from substance abuse; consideration of others’ needs and wants (again, your family?); non-oppressive relationships with one another and the world (and after dinner, nuclear disarmament—sorry, couldn’t help myself). 

Yes, much of this seems very high minded and out of reach but, hey, what a great trajectory. Aim high and see how well you do. 

Much of Brigid House’s success is clearly the result of a long and well codified interview and induction process. Nobody moves in simply because it’s cheap (which it is). The interviewing process can take months and, once a new member has been accepted, a three-month probation follows in which the new member can be asked to leave. Val says that this has been extremely rare precisely because the interviewing process is so thorough.  

An ad, Val shared with me was half-a- page long and detailed their environs, habits and requirements in great detail. No smoking, no meat (as part of collective meals, though a pork chop on your own is just fine). Do your chores. Turn off the music at 10. Cook your meal when it’s time (everyone cooks twice a month). And, most of all, show for an hour-long meeting once a week. This last detail is probably the core of successful group living.  

See, the thing is these people don’t just share a house. They live together. I’ll repeat that phrase I tossed off earlier since it’s so apt: intentional community. When I first heard this term, it smacked of hippie-speak, and though I am an avowed hippie, even we can hear ourselves when we get jargonny. But, this really is what it’s all about (and the Hokey Pokey, of course). Marriage is intentional community when it works and so is Family. Intentional community is how we talk about those same values when we break them out of the conventional community.  

So, again, weekly house meetings are how they make this thing work. It’s where conflicts get aired out, where small matters get dealt with before they become sources of dissent or irritation. It’s where each member is reminded of why they joined the group and where everyone’s weekly needs (loneliness, anger over the boxes on the stairs, fear of the new person) can get addressed and the group renewed. 

While I’m not hear to say that communal living is right for everyone, I believe that it may be right for a much larger population than is currently even aware of how functional and viable this has become over the last 30 years. Val and her close friend of many year, Kathy (who formed and lives in a limited equity housing cooperative that I wrote about in recent years) could cite a dozen other household like Brigid in the immediate area. For older persons, for those who have been divorced, for those who would rather have more company and cheer in their daily lives, this might make a lot of sense. 

I’d like to close with some of Val’s words because they’re so pleasing and also because they speak from experience: 

“Having supportive relationships in my home life has been invaluable, and I cherish the friends I have made in this home. What I have learned is that communication and seeking connection is so vital in establishing and maintaining clear expectations … I know that longtime members extending time and a listening ear to the newer person helps create common ground. The sweet spot also comes from newer people accepting and trusting that the process unfolds gradually as you weave your life with others who have lived a long time in their home. Each member can question a norm and reform some part of the long- time customs or agreements. It takes quality time, and that’s why investing in communal living is such a profound and vital lifestyle that I am glad to share.” 

Wild Neighbors: When Is a Tanager Not a Tanager?

By Joe Eaton
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:54:00 AM
Hawai’i o’o: not a honeyeater.
John Gerrard Keuleman
Hawai’i o’o: not a honeyeater.

This summer, when I wasn’t paying attention, the western tanager was determined not to be a true tanager. This was not exactly a demotion, as was the reclassification of Pluto from bona fide planet to small planet-like object, or whatever it is now; more like a lateral transfer. Still, I expect this move came as a shock to a lot of birders. 

The taxonomic shuffle was part of the 50th Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist, an annual updating of the nomenclature of New World and Hawai’ian birds. As with Pluto, I believe there is an actual vote on proposed changes. Sometimes the Supplement contains splits—newly recognized species—and bird-listers rejoice. Sometimes it contains lumps—mergers of old species—and listers mourn. Sometimes, as happened this year, birds get relocated from one family or order to another. 

In part, this reflects the growing sophistication of the tools available to scientists who try to sort out the natural world. Linnaeus, the Great Classifier, could only rely on anatomy. If two species of birds, or other animals, were similar in plumage, beak shape, and other characters, they were assumed to be closely related. For Linnaeus, a pre-Darwinian, this didn’t imply common descent-more like some kind of filing system in the mind of God. 

Later field studies helped define species limits. But the true revolution came with new biochemical and genetic techniques that revealed evolutionary relationships. With birds, the last big reorganization followed data from DNA-DNA hybridization studies, which provided a rough index of genetic similarity. That was when mockingbirds and mynahs were determined to be close kin, and the New World vultures and condors were moved from the order of raptors to the order of storks and other wading birds. 

But that wasn’t the last word. More recent work with mitochondrial DNA—the other genome, the one that passes intact from mother to child—has called some of the hybridization studies into question. Two years ago, the vultures and condors became raptors again, although no one is quite sure where to put them. 

The problem with the old school of taxonomy was that unrelated creatures often evolve similar body forms. Think of sharks, tunas, dolphins, and the long-extinct reptiles called ichthyosaurs, all with torpedo-shaped bodies propelled by fins or flukes. Think of the marsupial wolves, cats, moles, anteaters, and gliders of Australia, each a rough facsimile of a placental-mammal counterpart. The phenomenon is called convergence, and for years it was the bane of classifiers. 

Case in point: one of this year’s changes in the AOU supplement involves an unfortunately extinct group of Hawai’ian songbirds: four species of o’o, variations in black and yellow, and the larger, streaky-plumaged kioea. Because all of them had longish decurved bills and fed on nectar, they were placed with an anatomically and ecologically similar family of birds, the honeyeaters of Australia and the South Pacific. Other honeyeater species occur as close to Hawai’i as Samoa and Fiji, so getting the ancestral population there didn’t seem too much of a stretch. 

But then a team led by the Smithsonian’s Robert Fleischer pulled out a bunch of museum specimens and did DNA comparisons with other songbirds. O’os turned out not to be honeyeaters after all. Their closest relatives were revealed to be, of all things, waxwings and silky flycatchers (like our native phainopepla.) The founding population may have reached the islands from North America, to be shaped over millions of years into honeyeater look-alikes. 

Some similar kind of convergence must account for the resemblance between the North American tanagers of the genus Piranga—the western, scarlet, summer, and hepatic tanagers—and the true tanagers of the New World tropics. Mitochondrial DNA analyses show the Piranga tanagers to be more closely related to the black-headed and rose-breasted grosbeaks, and a little more distantly to cardinals and lazuli buntings. So they were booted out of the tanager family and reassigned to the cardinal-grosbeak family. To see a real tanager now, you’ll have to visit the rain forest exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences—or, if your budget allows, Costa Rica. 

The change was foreseeable. As far back as 2000, published research suggested that the Pirangas didn’t fit genetically with the tropical tanagers. But those of us who don’t keep up with the technical journals wouldn’t have been aware of that. 

Field guides will have to recognize the reclassification, although that won’t be a big deal for most North American books. I suppose we can still call them tanagers. Names like “finch,” “grosbeak,” and “bunting” are still shared by birds from completely different families. On the other hand, maybe we could have a contest.  

Arts & Events

Arts Calendar

Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:51:00 AM



“Treasured Memories Lost” by the 4th grade at Malcolm X school, at 12:45 and 7 p.m. 1731 Prince St. RSVP to 644-6313. 

Wilde Irish Productions “A Joycean Christmas” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at The Gaia Arts Center, 2116 Allston Way. Tickets are $25. 644-9940.  


“One Time” Visual images of the poetry of Brian Jones by Jim Doukas at 8 p.m. at at 7:30 p.m. at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Oakland. 465-8928. 


Maria Espinosa reads from her novel “Dying Unfinished” at 7 p.m. at Rebecca’s Books, 3268 Adeline St. 852-4768. 

Frank Wilderson discusses “Ingognegro: A Memoir” a graphic novel exploring race and self-image in America at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., 1760 Fourth St. 525-7777. 


Robert Temple & Friends noon to 5 p.m. at corner Telegraph & Channing. Tips & CD sales benefit Kenney Cottage Garden project. 526-7828. 

Joyful Noise Choir and Angels Choir Christmas Concert at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Richmond, 201 Martina St., Point Richmond. 236-0527. 

Pacific Boychoir and Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra at Yoshi’s at 510 Embarcadero, West Oakland. For ticket information call 849-8180. 

Berkeley New Music Project with the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players at 7 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. music.berkeley.edu 

Mama Crow Band with Genie at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $TBA. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Pomegranates & Figs: Alicia Svigal’s Klexmer Fiddle Express, a festival of Jewish music, at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $22.50-$23.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Gillian Harwin Group at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Howard Barken, guitar, Vince Wallace, tenor saxophone, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Dave Gleason and The Golden Cadillacs, The Bye Bye Blackbirds, East Bay Grease at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

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



Aurora Theatre “The Coverlettes Cover Christmas” Mon.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 7 p.m. through Dec. 27 at 2081 Addison St. Tickets are $25-$28. 843-4822. www.auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Black Repertory Group Theater “Sparkle: The Stage Play” Thurs.-Fri. at 8 p.m., Sat. at 2 and 8 p.m., Sun. at 4 p.m. at 3201 Adeline St., through Dec. 20. Tickets are $10-$45. 652-2120. 

Berkeley Rep ”Aurélia’s Oratorio” at 2015 Addison St., through Jan. 24. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

“Garage Door Nativity” A unique take on the Christmas narrative told without spoken words. Fri.-Sun. at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, at Dana. Tickets are $5-$10. For reservations call 848-3696. 

Heretic Entertainment “It’s A Bloomin’ Twofer 2” two one-act musicals, “Boozical” and “Happy Pants” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave. Tickets are $15. www.hereticnow.com  

“Reality Playthings” experiments in experience at 8 p.m. at Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St., Oakland. fmore@eroplay.com 

Shotgun Players “The Threepenny Opera” Thurs.-sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 5 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Jan. 17. Tickets are $18-$30. 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org 

“The Stone Wife” Fri. and Sat at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 6 p.m. at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., through Dec. 20. Tickets at the door are $15-$20. 415-730-2901. 

Wilde Irish Productions “A Joycean Christmas” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at The Gaia Arts Center, 2116 Allston Way. Tickets are $25. 644-9940. www.wildeirish.org 


“The Greater Circulation” A film by Antero Alli based on Rilke’s “Requiem for a Friend” at 8 p.m. at Grace North church, 2138 Cedar St. Cost is $6-$10 sliding scale. www.verticalpool.com 


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

Steve Arnston and Mary-Marcia Casoly read their poetry at 7 p.m. at Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. 644-4930. www.expressionsgallrey.org 


Berkeley Ballet Theater “The Nutcracker” at 7 p.m., Sat. at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m., through Dec. 20, at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts at 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $24. 830-9524. berkeleyballet.org  

The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol & Her Trio Holiday Show at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $15. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

The Women’s Antique Vocal Ensemble “O Holy Night” at 8 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. Tickets are $5-$15. 233-1479. www.wavewomen.org 

Buddhist Benefit Concert: Another Way to Celebrate the Season of Giving at 7:30 p.m. at Art House Gallery, 2905 Shattuck ave. donation $10 and up. 472-3170. 

John Santos & his Sextet at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $14-$16. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Mike Gendinning CD release party at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Lutan Fyah with Quinto Sol, reggae, at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15-$20. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Christmas Jug Band at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $22.50-$23.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Albino Band, Socket, benefit for Cal Reichenbach’s shoulder surgery, at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $6. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

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

Ezra Gale Trio at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 



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

The Snow Queen Puppet Show Sat. and Sun. at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. at at Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. Cost is $7. 296-4433.  


Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble “Voices in Peace IX: The Greenest Branch” Mostly Medieval Marian music with Romantic and Twentieth-Century offshoots at 4 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. Tickets are $17-$20, free for children under 12. 531-8714. www.vocisings.com 

Berkeley Ballet Theater “The Nutcracker” Sat. at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m., through Dec. 20, at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts at 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $24. 830-9524. berkeleyballet.org  

5th Annual Holiday Caroling with Terrance Kelly and Ellen Hoffman at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Hot Fritattas at 2 p.m. at Down Home Music, 10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. 525-2129. 

Proyecto Lando Afro-Peruvian music and jazz at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $12-$14. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Zydeco Flames at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun/Zydeco dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

Al Stewart at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $28.50-$29.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Hot Club of San Francisco “Cool Yule” at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

The Lost Cats Jazz at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

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

Pomegranate, Patrick Winningham Band, J. Russo at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082.  

Caroline Chung Combo at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 



Berkeley Community Chorus Schubert’s Schubert Mass in E flat major and Mendelssohn’s Verleih uns Frieden at 4:30 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison St. bcco.org  

Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus “We Have Seen His Star” at 4 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $10, children, $20 adults. 652-1941. 

Grupo Falso Baiano, featuring Ana Carbatti, at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $12. 841-JAZZ.  

Mamadou & Vanessa, African, at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054.  

Trumpetsupergroup at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373.  

Freight Holiday Revue at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761.  

Mark Holzinger and Friends at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 



PlayGround Emerging playwrights debut new works at 8 p.m. at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison St. Tickets are $15. 415-704-3177. www.PlayGound-sf.org 


“Swingin’ Holidays: The Yule and the Cool” with Junius Courtney Big Band with Denise Perrier at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $10-$14. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 



East Bay Women Artists’ Holiday Art Show Oil, acrylics, pastels, watercolors and photography at the Rockridge Cafe, 5492 College Ave., Oakland, through Feb. 3. 


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



Berkeley Poetry Slam with host Charles Ellik and Three Blind Mice, at 8 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082  


Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Christmas concert at noon at 12th and Broadway, Oakland.  

Backyard Tarzans at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

KT & The Wicked Gents at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Blues dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10. 525-5054.  

Avance at 8 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159.  

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



Oakland Ballet Company “Nutcracker” at 11 a.m. at Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $12-$50. 1-800-745-3000. www.ticketmaster.com 

Christmas Eve Jazz Concert at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Richmond, 201 Martina St., Point Richmond. 236-0527. 

Gracie Coates Holiday Show at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 





Oakland Ballet Company “Nutcracker” at 2 and 7 p.m. at Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $12-$50. 1-800-745-3000. www.ticketmaster.com 

Luv Fyah, Binghi Ghost, reggae, at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $8-$10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

David Grisman Quintet at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $32.50-$33.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

FenderCronin and Friends at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Beep with Michael Coleman at 9:30 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. Cost is $3. 843-2473. www.albatrosspub.com 

GG Tenaka Electric Band at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Skye Steele Trio at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 



Oakland Ballet Company “Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. at Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $12-$50. 1-800-745-3000.  

Karen Horner and Friends at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

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



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



The Cajun Cottonpickers at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun/Zydeco dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10. 525-5054.  



“Sing 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, sliding scale, no-one turned away for lack of funds. 759-0283. www.circlesing.net  

Kelly Park Trio, and party, at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Terri Rodriguez and Freinds, jazz, at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Moodswing Orchestra at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. East Coast Swing dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Montuno Swing at 8 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159.  

Erik Spencer at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  



San Francisco Chamber Orchestra New Year’s Eve Concert “Double Trouble” at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Free. www.sfchamberorchestra.org 

An Evening of Jazz Singers with Robin Gregory, Ed Reed and Anna de Leon at 8 and 10 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $30. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

New Year’s Eve Balkan Bash at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $13-$20. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

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

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

California Honeydrops at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $15. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

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

Quinn Deveaux & The Blue Beat Review at 9 p.m. at Jupiter. Cost is $10 after 10 p.m. 843-8277. 

Voci Women’s Ensemble: Voices in Peace

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:48:00 AM
Voci Women's Ensemble.
Voci Women's Ensemble.

Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, directed by Jude Navari, with guest organist Matthew Walsh, will perform The Greenest Branch: Medieval, Romantic and Twentieth-Century Music on a Marian Theme, the ninth annual show in their Voices in Peace series, at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley in Kensington.  

The program was inspired by Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century “composer, writer, healer and mystic” (who also created an alternative alphabet) and her concept Viriditas, “Greening Power.” The performance will feature Francis Poulenc’s Litanies to the Black Virgin, Emma Lou Diemer’s Hail, O Greenest Branch, and masses by Benjamin Britten and Josef Rheinberger, even though it is billed as “mostly Medieval Marian music—chant, conductus, English carols and French chansons—and its 20th century offshoots.”  

Other medieval composers of music on the program include Guillaume de Machaut and Baude Cordier. Other moderns are Johannes Brahms, Gabriel Fauré, Drew Collins, Rebecca Clarke, Maurice Duruflé. 

Hildegard, a Benedictine abbess in the Rhineland, was an autodidact and ecstatic mystic poet who believed viriditas to be a green life force from which God created heaven and earth. “There is a power in eternity, and it is green.” As the greenest plants are the most healing and the emerald has special powers due to its perfect greenness, Hildegard believed the earth releases its life-giving force to humanity as viriditas, the counterpoint to melancholy and aridity. Abstractly, human flesh and blood are therefore green, especially when sex and fecundity are involved, so Mary is “the greenest branch.” 

Hildegard’s music has been analyzed by scholars for its relation to female physiology. 

The Medieval vocal form conductus (“to escort”)—an example of which, “Gedeonis Area” (Gideon’s Courtyard), opens the program, followed by Hildegard’s and Diemer’s “O Greenest Branch”—is a sacred but nonliturgical style: rhythmic, note-against-note, with the voices singing together in discant, probably accompanying the bearing of the lectionary to where it would be read. Originating in the South of France in the mid-12th century, it became identified with the School of Notre Dame de Paris in the 13th century, with music mostly anonymous, though some of the Latin lyrics have been attributed to poets (“Gedeonis Area” is from a poem by Phillippe le Chancelier). 

Voci, founded in 1991, is a nonprofit 24-voice chorus, which champions music by and for women (and commissions new compositions, especially from Bay Area composers). Its members include women of all ages and from all walks of life. Voci’s community involvement has included benefits, notably for the Oakland-Berkeley firestorm victims in 1991. 

Jude Navari has directed Voci for 11 years. He has worked with and conducted the Berkeley Opera and chorus, directed the vocal ensemble for the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’ The Photographer at the 2001 Cabrillo Festival, and has worked with the Berkeley New Music Project. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from UC Berkeley, where he studied with Marika Kuzma and Jung Ho Park. 


Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, with guest organist Matthew Walsh. Mostly medieval marian music with Romantic and 20th-century offshoots. 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. $17-$20, children under 12 free. 531-8714. www.vocisings.com.

Helen Pau’s ‘The Stone Wife’ at Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:51:00 AM

Rain, rain, it falls for nothing.” Empty shoes tap dance atop a red ladder (under the hand of puppeteer Tim Giugni) in the old gaming salon at the Berkeley City Club, which opens like a sideshow tent for Helen Pau’s The Stone Wife: A Burlesque in Nine Acts.  

Sylvia Rivers, aka Farrah Falls the Funambulist (Sarah Shoshana David), spars verbally with her venerable mother, Madame (Kinji Hayashi), when Syl is acting “domestic” rather than walking her tightrope.  

Meanwhile, the mysterious clowns and Pierrots come and go, taking out the garbage, reading the meter, swigging from a flask, playing trumpet or conch shell.  

Pau, a Berkeley resident, writes plays that take a page or two from Surrealism. Her Viaticum: The Carnal Table, played two years ago at Live Oak Theater. Pau directed both Viaticum and The Stone Wife. The plays employ much Surrealist paraphenalia (gothic moodiness, Freud’s “Family Romance,” juxtaposition of unfamiliar objects, giving the ordinary a dreamlike glaze) with an often intriging use of the vernacular. Surrealism can leap from hyper-clear, minute details to big, vague cosmic poetry. It can also seem at a single pitch, if the clubs aren’t kept airborne by the juggler. 

In The Stone Wife, the juggler’s clubs are kept in a milkcan until liberated into the air by Pierrot (Carolina Duncan-Page).  

Miyuki Bierlein’s costumes, Gary Graves’ lighting and Gilbert Johnson’s tech give it the right look and feel, with everything except the distortions of sideshow mirrors included, which are implicit in the text. 

“The milk bottles are under the bed,” Syl insists. “But, madam, these are not milk bottles!” So she gives him a conch shell, and asks this clown (Nicholas Strubbe) to teach her how to strike a match. It’s an instructive scene. 

Motifs telescope in and out, sliding smoothly alongside each other. “How was the flea market?” Syl asks the clown with a flask of gin, a key ring, and the trumpet, adding “No reason to wear your iron suit everywhere.” The clown (G. Randall Wright) demurs: “I prefer it on—for ontological reasons.” 

“Listen, I’m practically a pillar of salt!” Syl’s got the grand manner, whether waxing lyrical, fending off Madame from the pills, or anxiously asking for her own dose. David looks just right for the part, and chirps the upbeat phrases soothingly, later writhing on a mattress with humor—awaiting an angelic messenger who never comes, or came too soon—like a Tennessee Williams heroine. 

Seeing Kinji Hayashi just before Christmas reminds me of his epic portrayal of the three ghosts in Noh, Butoh and Kyogen styles in Theatre of Yugen’s Noh Christmas Carol of yore. Appropriate he should be depicting an aging sibyl, Mme. Tussaud and a wax dummy at once, emitting bons mots. 

It’s the clowns—and Duncan-Page’s Pierrot—that ground the play in a daydream of childhood. Their presence—like that of the trampoline on the tiles—gives each step a spring, keeping everything above board, more whimsical than melancholy. Like Picasso’s Saltimbanques, they make things light as a dandelion. Pau quotes Eudora Welty in the program: “Listen, remember how it was with the acrobats ... They can’t stay. They’ll be somewhere else tomorrow.” 

A Joycean Christmas

Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:50:00 AM

Berkeley’s Wilde Irish is tying on a good one at 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday: A Joycean Christmas, at the Gaia Center, 2116 Allston Way. “It’ll be like the party from ‘The Dead,’” avers producer Breda Courtney—meaning, of course, the famous yuletide tale of an epiphany (which, many will recall, inspired John Huston’s final film) from James Joyce’s The Dubliners, from which the company will enact “Araby,” as well as the Christmas table scene from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  

Breda herself will be playing, as well as artistic director Stephanie Courtney and some Wilde Irish “home team” actors: Howard Dillon, Jena Rose, Martin Waldron and others, including Andrus Nichols, Gwyneth Richards, Eddie Fitgerald, Ian Boyle, Gideon Lazarus, Shay Black, Shellie Lynn Johnson and Victor Ballesteros. There will, of course, be singing, and Diana Rowan at the Irish harp. $25 includes wine and mulled wine, plus flaming plum pudding. 644-9940. wildeirish.org.

A Guide to Holiday Entertainment in the East Bay and Beyond

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:52:00 AM

Every holiday season, there are the classics—like The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, the Messiah, A Child’s Christmas in Wales—and the alternatives, some of which are on their way to becoming classics. Here are a few: 



Theater and readings 


The great alternative—and more than a reading: Wilde Irish theater company presents A Joycean Christmas, with excerpts from the modern master’s The Dubliners, Irish music—and a special place at the yule table for A Portrait of The Artist. $25 includes wine and plum pudding. 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17 through Saturday, Dec. 19 at the Gaia Center, 2116 Allston Way, near Shattuck. 644-9940. www.wildeirish.org. 


A classic—A Christmas Carol, read by British actor Martin Harris, 7:30 Friday, Dec. 18, in the Members Lounge at the Berkeley City Club. 848-7800. 


The Coverlettes Cover Christmas (Girl Groups holiday tribute by a trio of leading pop singers). 8 p.m. Monday–Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St. $25-$28. 843-4822. auroratheatre. org. 


Sounds of the Season, Holiday Cabaret, 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, Contra Costa Civic Theater, Moeser Lane (at Pomona), El Cerrito. 524-9012. ccct.org. 


Aurelia’s Oratorio at Berkeley Rep on Addison Street, through Jan. 24. $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org. 


A classic transposed—It’s a Wonderful Life, a live radio play as a benefit for Berkeley Playhouse, at 7 p. m. Tuesday, Dec. 22 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. $10-$25. 845-4542. berkeleyplayhouse.org. 





An unusual alternative—Pacific Boychoir with the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Dec. 17) at Yoshi’s in Oakland. $12–20. 510 Embarcadero, Oakland, near Jack London Square. 849-8180. yoshis.com. 


Howard Barkan (guitar), Vince Wallace (tenor sax), 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Dec. 17) at Chester’s Bayview Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 


A great alternative—Miss Faye Carol and Trio’s Holiday Show, at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. 841-JAZZ. annasjazzisland.com. 


A goofy alternative—The Christmas Jugband at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 at Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St. $22.50–$23.50. 644-2020. freightandsalvage.org. 


A classic—Handel’s Messiah, American Bach Soloists, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 17 and 18, at Grace Cathedral, Nob Hill, San Francisco. $18-$60. (415) 621-7900. americanbach.org. 


Buddhist Benefit Concert, Another Way to Celebrate the Season of Giving, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 at Art House Gallery, 2905 Shattuck Ave. $10 and up. 472-3170. 


Women’s Antique Vocal Ensemble, O Holy Night, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 at St. Marks Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. $5-$15. 233-1479. wavewomen.org. 


Fifth annual Holiday Caroling with Terrance Kelly and Ellen Hoffman, 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. $14. 841-JAZZ. annasjazzisland.com. 


Freight and Salvage Holiday Revue, 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20. 2020 Addison. $18.50–$19.50. 644-2020. freightandsalvage.org. 


Berkeley Community Chorus, Schubert: Mass in E flat major; Mendelssohn: Verlieh uns Frieden. 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 at St. Joseph the Worker, 1640 Addison St. Free admission (donation requested). bcco.org. 


Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus, We Have Seen His Star, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 at First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway, Oakland. $10-$20. 652-1941. 


Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble, Voices in Peace IX: The Greenest Branch, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 (see story, Page 15). 


Oakland Interfaith Gospel Youth Choir Holiday Concert, 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, First Unitarian Church, 14th and Castro, Oakland. $10-$20. pjorlin@gmail.com. 


A great alternative—Swingin’ Holidays: The Yule and the Cool, Junius Courtney Big Band with Denise Perrier at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero, Oakland. $14 for the 8 p.m. show, $8 for the 10 p.m. show. 238-9200. yoshis.com. 


Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Concert, noon Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 12th and Broadway in downtown Oakland. Free admission. 


Christmas Eve Jazz Concert, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, First United Methodist Church, 201 Martina, Point Richmond. 236-0527. 


Gracie Coates Holiday Show, 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. 



Dance and holidday spectacles and  



A classic in two versions—The Nutcracker (Sally Streets/Robert Nichols) Berkeley Ballet Theater, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 18 and 19 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. $24. 843-4689. berkeleyballet.org. 


The Nutcracker (Carlos Carvajal; Michael Morgan conducts members of Oakland East Bay Symphony) presented by the Oakland Ballet at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 24; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27 at the Paramount Theatre, Broadway at 19th Street, Oakland. $11.50–$50. 465-6400. oaklandballet.org. 


A Classic in an alternative version—The Hard Nut, Mark Morris Dance Group, members of the Berkeley Symphony conducted by Robert Coles, with members of the Piedmont Children’s Choirs, directed by Robert Geary. 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 17 and 18; 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19; 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20. Zellerbah Hall, UC campus. 642-9988. calperfs. berkeley.edu. 


A classic, spectacular alternative—The Revels (Bavarian theme, Robert Sicular as Sankt Nikolaus), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18; 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 19 and 20. Scottish Rite Theater, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. $12-$50. 452-8800. californiarevels.org. 


Garage Door Nativity (the Christmas story without spoken words), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 through Sunday, Dec. 20 at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. $5-$10. 848-3696.  


The Snow Queen, puppet show, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 19 and 20, at Children’s Fairyland at Lake Merritt, Oakland. $7. 296-4433. 


Community Calendar

Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:40:00 AM


Berkeley Path Wanderers: StairMaster Without the Gym A vigorous pre-holiday calorie burner, fast paced with a lot of steps and great views. Includes the newly opened Northgate Path. Meet at 10 a.m. at Walnut St. adjacent to the Berryman Path. 520-3876. www.berkeleypaths.org 

Community Menorah Lighting with live music and activities for children at 5 p.m. at CB2, 1730 Fourth St. Sponsored by Chabad of the East Bay. 540-5824. www.chabadberkeley.org 

Climate Change, Agro-biodiversity and Food Security “The Value of Traditional Seeds in an Unstable World” at 7 p.m. at the Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave. Donations benefit the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in West Bengal, India. 548-4915. 

GRIP Greater Richmond Interfaith Program Open House & Video Preview from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 165 22nd St., Richmond. Holiday donations to end homelessness hunger during the recession can be made on-line at www.gripcommunity.org 

Babies and Toddlers Storytime at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. at the Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

Simplicity Forum What did you learn in 2009 and what are you planning for 2010? At 6:30 p.m. at Claremont Branch Library, 2940 Benvenue at Ashby. 

Free Small Business Seminar “Successful Business Plans” from 2 to 5 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Register in advance at www.acsbdc.org 

Community Yoga Class: Gentle Yoga, Thurs. at 10 a.m. at James Kenney Parks and Recreation Center, 8th St. and Virginia. Cost is $6. Mats provided. 207-4501. 


City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with Doug Long, Chief Curator of Natural Sciences, Oakland Museum on “The Fascinating World of Evolutionary Biology: Oakland Museum’s New Hotspot California” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $15, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. 527-2173. www.citycommonsclub.org 

Say NO to War! Bring our troops home now! Come Rally for Peace! From 2 to 3 p.m. at the corner of Action and University. 841-4143. 

Not Jewish Enough? Hanukah Sheds New Light on This Question at 6:15 p.m. at Jewish Gateways, 409 Liberty St., El Cerrito. First-time participants, potluck contribution or $7, RSVP required. www.jewishgateways.org 

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. 

Stand With Us Stand for Peace Stand with Israel vigil every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. www.sfvoiceforisrael.org 


2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth Initiative Community Meeting at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Technology Academy auditorium, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Childcare provided. 845-7103. www.berkeleyalliance.org. 

Berkeley Farmers’ Market Holiday Fair, with music, crafts and organic produce and lunches, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Civic Center Park, Center St. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. www.ecologycenter.org 

Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair Sat. and Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with music, street artists, merchants and community groups, on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight. 

Night Before Christmas Party to celebrate the joy of reading with Kwanzaa and Christmas stories, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rebecca’s Books, 3268 Adeline St. 852-4768. 

Uruhu Pies Benefit for the African Village Survival Initiative will be sold Sat. and Sun. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Solano Ave., College Ave. and Grand Ave. Safeways. Pies include all-natural apple crumb, vegan blackberry, traditional pecan, sweet potato or pumpkin pie and are $12-$20. You can also donate your pie and Uhuru Pies will deliver to a local shelter serving holiday meals. 625-1106. uhurupies.org  

Santa on Solano Sat. and Sun. from noon to 4 p.m. at Albany Chamber of Commerce, 1108 Solano Ave. 527-5358. albanychamer.org 

Hanukah Celebration for Young Children at 10:30 a.m. at Jewish Gateways, 409 Liberty St., El Cerrito. Free for first-time participants, RSVP required. www.jewishgateways.org 

Berkeley Artisans Open Studios Sat. and Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Fo map see www.berkeleyartisans.com 

Holidays at Dunsmuir Walk back in time through a beautifully decorated mansion, enjoy live holiday music, have breakfast with Father Christmas at 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland. Weekends though Dec. 20. For details see www.dunsmuir.org 

Box It, Bag It, Wrap It Family workshop to make gift bags and wrapping paper, Sat. and Sun. from 1 to 3 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 9th St., Oakland. Cost is $3-$7. 465-8770. www.mocha.org  

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. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Alameda Farmers’ market, Haight Ave. and Webster St., Alameda. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

Origami Workshop Learn how to make a variety of holiday stars, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720. 

Lawn Bowling on the green at the corner of Acton St. and Bancroft Way every Wed. and Sat. at 10 a.m. for ages 12 and up. Wear flat soled shoes, no heels. Free lessons. 841-2174.  

Twas the Night Before Chirstmas Celebration at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach Sat. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. Cost is $10-$15. 932-8966. 


Women on Common Ground Winter Solstice Walk Join a hike to Wildcat Peak, returning to the Tilden Nature Center to a warm fire and hot cider, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. For information call 544-2233. 

Winter Solstice Gathering Rain or shine at 4:05 p.m. at Cesar Chavez Park, Interim Solar Calendar, Berkeley Marina. www.solarcalendar.org 

Singing through the Dark A winter solstice ritual for women at 8 p.m. at Finnish Brotherhood Hall, 1970 Chestnut. Donstion $10. 464-4640. 

Sing-along Messiah at 4 p.m. at St David of Wales Church, 5641 Esmond Ave, Richmond. Suggested donation $20 per family. 237-1531. 

Art of the Winter-Tide for Young Children with crafts and a story at 11 a.m. at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont. 705-2849. 

Personal Theology Seminars with Jeremy Taylor on “Social Class, Dreams, and the Nature of Paradox” 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. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712.  


Winter Solstice Walk in Tilden Nature Area from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Bring seasonal stories, poetry or music to share. 544-2233. 

Free Drop-in Knitting Group from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720. 

East Bay Track Club for ages 3-14 meets at 6 p.m. at the running track of Berkeley High School. For more information call Coach Walker at 776-7451. 


Gingerbread House Party from 9:30 a..m. to 12:30 p.m. at Habitot Children's Museum, 2065 Kittredge St. 647-1111. www.habitot.org 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Convio, Inc., 2855 Telegraph Ave. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

Red Cross Blood Drive from noon to 6 p.m. at Oakland Hilton, Hotel Ballroom, One Heggenberger Rd., Oakland. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.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., Sat. and Sun. from 2 to 6 p.m. at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org 

Berkeley Camera Club meets at 7:30 p.m., at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. 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. 


Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with music, street artists, merchants and community groups, on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight. 

Uruhu Pies Benefit for the African Village Survival Initiative will be sold Wed. and Thurs. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Solano Ave., College Ave. and Grand Ave. Safeways. Pies include all-natural apple crumb, vegan blackberry, traditional pecan, sweet potato or pumpkin pie and are $12-$20. You can also donate your pie and Uhuru Pies will deliver to a local shelter serving holiday meals. 625-1106. uhurupies.org  

“Coral Seas” documentary at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

One-on-one Computer Training Sign up for a free 30 min session at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720, ext. 5. 

Family Sing Along at 4:40 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720. 

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. 


Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with music, street artists, merchants and community groups, on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight. 


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. 

Stand With Us Stand for Peace Stand with Israel vigil every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. www.sfvoiceforisrael.org 


Ring in the New Family workshop to make noisemakers and party hats, Sat. and Sun. from 1 to 3 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 9th St., Oakland. Cost is $3-$7. 465-8770. www.mocha.org  

Rendezvous with a Reptile Learn about the reptiles that call Tilden home, and meet some up close, from 11 a.m. to noon at Tilden Nature Area. 544-2233. 

Close the Farm Say goodnight to the animals from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Little Farm, Tilden Park. 544-2233. 

Winter Wonderland at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach Sat. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. Cost is $10-$15. 932-8966. www.playland-not-at-the-beach.org 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lawn Bowling on the green at the corner of Acton St. and Bancroft Way every Wed. and Sat. at 10 a.m. for ages 12 and up. Wear flat soled shoes, no heels. Free lessons. 841-2174.  


Rendezvous with a Reptile Learn about the reptiles that call Tilden home, and meet some up close, from 11 a.m. to noon at Tilden Nature Area. 544-2233. 

Tending the Winter Heirloom Garden Join us for winter chores in the garden and take home some sprouts to prepare for spring, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Tilden Nature Area, Tilden Park. For ages five and up. 544-2233. 

Personal Theology Seminars “Canticle to the Cosmos, Vol. 11 The Primeval Fireball” 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. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 


Kensington Book Club meets to discuss “Everyman” by Philip Roth at 7 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

East Bay Track Club for ages 3-14 meets at 6 p.m. at the running track of Berkeley High School. For more information call Coach Walker at 776-7451. 


Tuesdays for the Birds Tranquil bird walks in local parklands, led by Bethany Facendini, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Today we will visit Miller Knox Regional Shoreline. Bring water, field guides, binoculars or scopes. Call for meeting place and if you need to borrow binoculars. 544-3265. 

Family Storytime, for ages preschool and up, at 7 p.m. at the Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington. 524-3043. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kaiser Permanente, Dining Conference Room, 1950 Franklin St., Oakland. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

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. 

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., Sat. and Sun. from 2 to 6 p.m. at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org 

Berkeley Camera Club meets at 7:30 p.m., at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. 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. 


“Frozen Seas” A documentary at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

One-on-one Computer Training Sign up for a free 30 min session at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720, ext. 5. 

Family Sing Along at 4:40 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., at Masonic. 526-3720. 

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. 

Berkeley CopWatch Drop-in office hours from 6 to 8 p.m. at 2022 Blake St. 548-0425. 


Nothing Holding Me Back! Bury dead dreams, dashed hopes, old habits and grudges at a fun funeral sing-along from 3 to 5 p.m. at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. Tickets are $35-$95. Proceeds will benefit Bay Area organizations dedicated to positively transforming lives and communities. 260 -6279. 

“Dance Like A Star” New Year’s Eve Party from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. aboard the USS Hornet at 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda. Tickets are $48-$90. 521-8448, ext. 282. www.uss-hornet.org 

Circle of Concern Vigil meets on West Lawn of UC campus across from Addison and Oxford, Thurs. at noon and Sun. at 1 p.m. to oppose UC weapons labs contracts. 848-8055. 


Food Donations for the Homeless and Hungry From Dec. 14 to Dec. 23 please drop off food donations to Berkeley Food & Housing Project at 2362 Bancroft Way. Please, first contact Wanda Williams at 649-4965, ext. 506. wwilliams@bfhp.org