Full Text

The Oaks Theater is in need of a new operator.
Michael Howerton
The Oaks Theater is in need of a new operator.


Mayor Proposes Another New Downtown Plan for Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday February 16, 2010 - 12:37:00 PM

The battle over the future of Berkeley’s downtown is headed back to the City Council on Feb. 23. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is proposing to rescind the most recent version of the controversial Downtown Area Plan, which was approved by the council last July but was stayed by a successful referendum campaign to put it on the ballot for voters to decide in a future election. The mayor said Monday that he wants to put his own new plan on the November ballot instead.  

The City Council’s Downtown Area Plan was passed in a 7-2 vote last July.  

It would have allowed for increased height limits downtown, including two towers of up to 225 feet—at least 45 feet higher than any building in the city today. But opponents of the plan argued that it failed to take into account the city’s affordable housing needs. Other concerns included height limits, transit options, protection for workers, greenhouse gas emissions and effects on the “quality of life for neighbors in and around downtown.”  

Although the council appointed a citizens’ group to draft a downtown plan—a process that lasted four years and included countless meetings—the group’s final document was significantly amended by the city’s Planning Commission even before it went to the City Council, which made further changes.  

The council-approved plan’s opponents—led by Councilmem-bers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, the only two councilmembers who voted against it—circulated a citizens’ petition in August for a referendum to overturn it.  

“This plan promotes tiny apartments and condos for millionaires, but fails to provide the affordable housing ordinary people need to live in our community,” the petition said. “Instead of reflecting our values, our future is placed in the hands of corporate developers and UC.”  

The citizens’ campaign received stiff resistance from the rest of the council. Bates, state Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner distributed flyers asking the public not to sign the petition. In a city that welcomes free speech, opposition tactics turned ugly at times, with signature-gatherers reporting harassment by people trying to block the petition. In the end, 9,200 signatures were submitted for a local referendum to decide the fate of the council-approved plan.  

One option now is to put the council’s version before the voters in an upcoming election. But the council can also rescind its first plan and adopt a significantly different one as an alternative to the vote specified in the referendum process, which is what Bates says he will recommend.  

Arreguin said Monday that critics of the downtown plan were not happy with what the mayor called a “compromise plan.”  

“It’s basically the same old plan in different clothes,” he said. “It doesn’t address what is wrong with downtown, doesn’t address vacant storefronts or parking.”  

Arreguin added that he wanted to propose a vacancy tax which would require property owners to pay a fee to the city for the blight they were creating by letting a building sit empty.  

He said that he had met with the mayor a few times and “made very clear” that he was open to more housing downtown, “but not at the heights proposed.  

“[Bates] really didn’t give me a whole lot of choice,” Arreguin said. “There really haven’t been any real negotiations. It has always been a one-sided conversation.”  

After Arreguin’s reluctance to support his plan, Bates announced at Monday’s Agenda Committee meeting that he had modified his proposal to address some lingering concerns. “I listened to at least 50 to 70 people and tried to hear their concerns to turn a situation that was unfortunate into an advantage,” Bates said. “I am excited about this plan.”  

The mayor’s proposed revisions to the downtown plan include building heights and voluntary public improvements by developers.  

Maximum height limits in general would be reduced from 85 feet to 75 feet. The exceptions to this for the two extra-tall “point towers” would be replaced by ones for three tall buildings with height limits up to 160 feet and three more that could be up to 140 feet, about two-thirds the size of the power bar building.  

The mayor also promises a smooth transition for neighborhoods on the fringes of downtown. For instance, new buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Way would not exceed 55 feet, with those adjacent to older buildings not rising above 45 feet.  

Arreguin argued that although the plan reduces the maximum height limit, it would result in a denser downtown.  

“That’s the whole point,” Bates said. “We need to get more people living downtown where there is transit and shops and restaurants.”  

Arreguin said that building six tall buildings, plus four 120-foot buildings and an unlimited number of 100-foot buildings—which the new proposal would encourage—would change the city’s skyline drastically.  

The mayor acknowledged that although the council’s downtown plan would request developers of skyscrapers to provide benefits for the public, it would be “vague” about how the city would go about ensuring compliance with developer promises, an omission foes of the downtown plan consider a very big loophole.  

Bates claims however that the current proposal would ensure “a green and vibrant downtown”—in the referendum’s language—through a voluntary scheme dubbed the “Green Pathway.”  

Although the city cannot mandate the benefits called for by the Green Pathway, it is supposed to gives developers incentives, such as a faster zoning permit process, to provide affordable housing and other advantages.  

For instance, buildings under 75 feet which invoked the process would be able to get an over-the-counter zoning certificate, though projects above that height would have to have a public hearing. But for the latter, the combined design review and zoning process would not be able to exceed 210 days.  

In both cases, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance would have only 90 days to determine whether or not the building would be eligible for landmark designation.  

Preservationists are angry about the proposed time limit, which they say is essentially the same one Bates tried to enact in Measure LL, which sought to modify the ordinance to make demolition easier, but was rejected by Berkeley voters in 2008.  

“It’s too tight,” Landmarks Commissioner Carrie Olsen said of the deadline.  

“We are talking about a major change,” Arreguin said. “By making it easier for buildings to be demolished, it changes the entire character of the downtown.”  

Bates described it as a “night and day” difference that would streamline the city’s zoning laws and help revitalize the downtown. 

He said that his proposal—which requires beneficiaries of the Green Pathway to provide 20 percent affordable housing or a $80,000 fee to the Housing Trust Fund for each unit—would also address a recent court ruling, the Palmer decision, which essentially wipes out the city’s affordable housing ordinance for rentals. 

“I don’t think a housing fee can substitute an entire unit,” Arreguin said. “The problem is the whole time we have been discussing the downtown, we haven’t really been thinking about what will realistically make it better.”  

Worthington said he wasn’t as worried about the height limits as he was about ensuring safeguards for workers and increased public transit.  

“We have taken baby steps on affordable housing—it doesn’t really solve the problem but is better than the status quo,” he said.  

Developers who didn’t use the Green Pathway process would still be able to stick with the city’s existing zoning process, which would take longer but not provide for local labor or low-income housing.  

Bates said he was hopeful that developers would gravitate toward the Green Pathway.  

“It has so much more certainty; they will know when decisions are made in six months to a year instead of having to wait for five or seven years,” he said, referring to the Trader Joe’s and the Brower Center projects. “But that’s their choice; they may not choose it.”  

Bates said he intended to request City Manager Phil Kamlarz to return to the City Council at the Feb. 23 meeting with recommendations for implementation. He said he was planning to put his plan on the November ballot as a council-proposed initiative so voters could decide what they want.  

“There’s a certain group of people who will never be satisfied with the plan and that’s the way it is in a democracy,” Bates said.  

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23, for its regular meeting at the City Council Chambers, Old City Hall 2134 MLK Jr. Way.  

Police Seeking Berkeley's First Homicide Suspect of 2010

Bay City News
Saturday February 13, 2010 - 09:00:00 PM
Berkeley police are looking for Kevin Aaron Alvarado in connection with the Thursday night fatal shooting.
Berkeley police are looking for Kevin Aaron Alvarado in connection with the Thursday night fatal shooting.

Berkeley police are looking for a 22-year-old man who is suspected  

of fatally stabbing a man in the city Thursday night, a police officer said  


Kevin Aaron Alvarado is wanted in connection with the stabbing,  

which was reported at about 7:40 p.m. Thursday in the 2100 block of Curtis  

Street, according to police Officer Andrew Frankel. 

Officers arrived near the corner of Curtis Street and Allston Way  

and found the victim suffering from a stab wound to his chest. He was taken  

to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries, Frankel said. 

Police are not yet releasing the victim's identity, he said. 

Alvarado, a Berkeley resident and known member of the West Side  

Berkeley gang, is wanted for murder and should be considered armed and  

dangerous. Investigators do not believe the stabbing was gang-related, and  

are still trying to establish a motive, Frankel said. 

Investigators believe he will try to flee the country and are  

asking for the community's help in catching him. 

Anyone with information about Alvarado or the stabbing is urged to  

call the homicide detail of the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5741  

or the non-emergency dispatch line at (510) 981-5900. 

People wishing to remain anonymous can call the Bay Area Crime  

Stoppers tip line at (800) 222-TIPS. 

The homicide was Berkeley's first in 2010. 

Despite Budget Shortfall, Council Approves Funds for Affordable Housing Study, Black Infant Program

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday February 15, 2010 - 12:05:00 PM

Despite a $10 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, the Berkeley City Council made a commitment to the Black Infant Health Program at its Tuesday meeting.  

The council, with some opposition, also approved a nexus study to highlight the need for affordable housing in light of the California Supreme Court Palmer decision which wipes out Berkeley’s inclusionary housing ordinance, along with those in other cities statewide. 


Black Infant Health Program  


Although the City of Berkeley’s public and mental health programs are in dire straits because of state cuts, the Black Infant Health program will get a boost of $72,000 from the city's general fund to make up a nearly $100,000 deficit. 

The program, which has a $300,000 budget, aims to reduce the number of low birth weight infants born to African American women in the city by providing free counseling, social support, parenting education and health service referrals. 

Vicki Alexander, who chairs the program’s advisory board, supported the program before the council on Tuesday. She thanked the City Council and City Manager Phil Kamlarz for figuring out a way to keep most of the services alive. 

“We were glad we weren’t eliminated,” she told Kamlarz. 

In the past, Black Infant Health Program staff have lobbied the council to keep funding the program. It’s one of the very few city-funded programs which benefits from the current budget. 

The city’s Public Health deficit currently stands at $2.7 million. In addition to the $638,000 loss to the HIV-AIDS and Black Infant Health programs, the division runs a structural deficit in its key operating funds, which receive money from state grants and sales tax and vehicle license fee revenues, all of which are on a downward spiral. 

Kamlarz said he intends to return to City Council March 9 with a more concise information on how various programs could be trimmed and restructured to balance the deficit. 

After losing state funding, the Black Infant Health Program was reorganized in an effort to keep it afloat, “with funding cobbled together from existing resources.” 

However, Kamlarz warned that the program would require additional support. The advisory board is actively seeking other funding sources. 


Council Says OK to Nexus Study  


With a little opposition, the Berkeley City Council voted to approve a $30,000 nexus study to examine affordable housing policies in light of the Palmer/Sixth Street Properties v. City of Los Angeles decision that essentially wiped out local inclusionary housing requirements which had bbeen imposed by cities like Berkeley and Los Angeles. Condo developers will still have to provide affordable units. 

In order to try to prevent a negative impact on affordable housing in Berkeley, the City Manager proposed doing a study which would show that there was a need for affordable housing in the city. 

Although Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak urged the council to wait until June to do the study because of the current budget crisis, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it was time to act immediately. 

“The ruling is a drastic threat to the one policy that has created half of the affordable housing in the city,” Worthington said. “We need to respond to it quickly. It might generate hundreds of affordable units. Or it might generate one, but even that makes a difference.” 

The council finally voted 6-3 to approve the funds, with Councilmembers Capitelli, Wozniak and Susan Wengraf voting against it. 

BART Airport Connector Hits Snag

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday February 15, 2010 - 12:16:00 PM

BART’S $492 million Oakland Airport connector plans hit a road bump Friday after the agency failed to convince federal authorities that it could complete studies showing the project’s impact on minority communities in a timely manner. 

A letter from Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff said that the FTA had rejected BART’s plan for complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which would result in the loss of $70 million in stimulus funds. 

A statement from BART said that “this letter cites no substantive deficiencies in BART’s latest draft action plan to correct Title VI deficiencies identified in a December 2009 audit. Instead, the basis of the FTA Administrator’s rejection rests solely on the fact that BART’s plan contains a timetable with an end date beyond Sept. 30, 2010—the deadline for awarding stimulus fund grants.” 

According to the statement, BART submitted its original draft action plan, which committed to meet the mandated standards before the September deadline, to the FTA Jan. 28. However, FTA staff asked BART to plan for a longer timetable following its review. 

The FTA letter also mentions a Sept. 30 funding disbursement deadline. Federal guidelines dictate that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money must be awarded to a specific project before that date. The funds can be spent over a five-year period. 

“BART is extremely disappointed and dismayed that FTA will not use its discretion to allow stimulus funding to the Oakland Airport Connector while BART is working to remedy Title VI deficiencies,” BART General Manager Dorothy W. Dugger said in a statement.  

“BART’s commitment to Title VI and Civil Rights is strong and abiding and we are fully committed to completing and correcting any deficiencies in our program. The action plan we submitted to FTA makes that clear.” 

Title VI implementation regulations dictate that its enforcement relies on mending problems voluntarily, with funding denials as a final, not preliminary step in the process. 

BART's airport connector has run into problems in the past, with equity groups lobbying for the money to be awarded to struggling transit agencies. 

“Longtime opponents of this project are using the Civil Rights Act to stop the Oakland Airport Connector project and the thousands of jobs it will bring to this region, many of which would be held by minority workers,” Dugger said. “Access to jobs is also a Civil Rights issue.” 

The project has received support from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the Oakland City Council, among others. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who is with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, has said that he is in support of giving the stimulus money to other transit agencies which are in dire need of the funds. 

Dugger said that the proposed project’s contractor has promised to hire disadvantaged businesses for 20 percent of the construction work and 33 percent of the professional services. 

BART officials said they were committed to completing a final plan that would meet FTA’s satisfaction. 

Berkeley’s Hesperian Foundation Helps Haiti Victims With Free Health Manuals

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 04:15:00 PM

Berkeley’s Hesperian Foundation is working around the clock to help earthquake victims in Haiti. 

Perhaps best known for the health manual “Where There Is No Doctor,” which has been translated into several languages, Hesperian rushed to provide free downloads of its Haitian Creole version, Kote ki pa gen dokte, a day after the disaster. 

The non-profit, which publishes community health books in Berkeley, reported 30,000 downloads in the first week. 

Hesperian also posted Where Women Have No Doctor (Kote Fanm Pa Jwenn Dokte) and other health materials in Haitian Creole, French and Spanish on their website (www.hesperian.org). 

According to Hesperian spokesperson Ingrid Hawkinson, news of the free material “went viral,” and was immediately picked up by organizations such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and hundreds of volunteers. 

Doctors, nurses and aid workers in the country are also using the information, Hawkinson said. 

“The general lack of appropriate health resources in the Creole language makes Hesperian’s materials particularly useful in Haiti today,” Hawkinson said. “A lot of people who are using it are people who are about to leave for Haiti.”  

  Hesperian publishes all its titles online as free downloads. 

“We are a non-profit and the whole point of our organization is that health care should be free,” said Hawkinson. “By putting these materials up there, we hope people will be able to treat each other. Poverty should not be a barrier to health.” 

Like Hesperian’s other books, Where There Is No Doctor provides medical information for people with little or no access to doctors or medical facilities so that they can prevent, diagnose, and treat common health problems without any kind of equipment. 

The book, which has been produced in more than 80 languages and is used all over the world, teaches people how to purify water, make dehydration formulas, set broken bones and make crutches with whatever materials are handy. 

One of Hesperian’s other books, Where There Is No Dentist, has tips on how to make a toothbrush out of a stick. 



Metropolitan Will Not Renew Lease for Oaks Theater

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:16:00 AM
The Oaks Theater is in need of a new operator.
Michael Howerton
The Oaks Theater is in need of a new operator.
Michael Howerton

Metropolitan Theaters will not renew its lease for Solano Avenue's Oaks Theater. 

Five years after taking over Solano Avenue’s Oaks Theater, Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theaters has decided not to renew its lease when it expires at the end of February.  

Berkeley broker John Gordon, of Gordon Commercial, told the Daily Planet Friday that Metropolitan had been losing rentals to other theaters, such as AMC and neighborhood rival the Albany Twin, theaters that have been more successfful in acquiring the latest Hollywood blockbusters.  

“They [Metropolitan] were out-of-town operators and Oaks was the only theater they owned in Northern California,” Gordon said. “They were not able to book films as someone who has more of a presence here.”  

Gordon has already begun the search for a new tenant, advertising the 16,000-square-foot Art Deco movie theater for 75 cents per foot.  

“We are out looking, even as we speak,” Gordon said. “We would like it to stay a movie theater.”  

Metropolitan’s owner, David Corwin, could not be reached for comment Friday.  

A historic building designed by the Reid Brothers in 1925, the 1,000-seat, two-screen Oaks Theater was handed over to Metropolitan in 2005 by Allen Michaan, owner of another Reid Brothers creation, Oakland's Grand Lake Theater.  

In an interview with the Planet at the time of its sale, Michaan said, “The Oaks is the best theater in Berkeley in the best neighborhood in Berkeley. The problem is that we were not able to get the first-run art films we wanted.”   

Gordon is hopeful that the location of the Oaks—at the top of Solano Avenue, a lively commercial district—will attract another movie theater owner.  

Michaan, whose firm Renaissance Rialto, Inc., restores Art Deco movie houses and helps bring vintage films to new audiences, said at the time of the sale that it had been difficult to get the kind of movies he wanted for the Oaks Theater because of the control that powerhouses such as Regal Entertainment and Landmark Theaters have over movie distribution in Berkeley.  

An 85-year-old family-run business, Metropolitan didn’t have plans to bring about dramatic changes to the Oaks when they took over, but had hopes of expanding its offerings and turning the theater into more of a family destination.  

Gordon said he was sad to see Metropolitan leave.  

“I never knew a landlord who wanted to see a tenant go,” he said. “It’s a big chunk of money ... But compared with the volumes at the other theaters in town, it wasn’t doing well. So they weren’t interested in renewing the lease. The economics of movie theaters have changed—it’s all about big theaters, megaplexes and DVDs.”  

Recounting a recent trip to the Oaks to watch the Meryl Streep movie Julie and Julia, Gordon said, “They had opened up the mezzanine, and it was good to see the crowds there, but at the end of the day they were just not able to compete with AMC on blockbuster films.”  

“Take Avatar for example,” he said. “You don’t see a movie like that at Oaks; you see it on four screens in Emeryville. Multiplexes are changing the ways people view movies—some of them are even offering food and hard alcohol. That sort of thing leaves Metropolitan at a disadvantage.”  

Landmark Cinemas remodeled downtown Berkeley's Shattuck Cinemas last March to lure moviegoers with loveseats, kobe beef sliders and cocktails.  

The million-dollar upgrade has worked well for the theater so far, although the rest of the block is still struggling with retail vacancies.  

Metropolitan’s biggest presence is in Santa Barbara, and the company currently operates 21 theaters with 104 screens in California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and British Columbia.

Council Weighs Budget Woes, Recycling Revenues

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:25:00 AM

“Four-day work weeks,” “special no-parking-fee days,” “bi-weekly refuse pick-ups.” 

At Tuesday’s City Council special budget workshop, some Berkeley councilmembers suggested various strategies to close the city’s staggering budget deficit, strategies that City Manager Phil Kamlarz promised to explore before returning to the council March 23. 

Although the city has been able to fix a $3.8 million deficit in the current fiscal year by shifting funds around—a feat Councilmember Kriss Worthing-ton described as Mayor Tom Bates’ 72nd birthday present—it still faces a $10 million shortfall in 2010-11. 

The city has already implemented hiring freezes, deferred capital projects and restructured benefits to address the budget crunch. 

Revenue losses include $4 million in refuse funds, $2.7 million in public health, $500,000 in Measure B transportation funds and a $2.1 million shortage for the new Berkeley Animal Shelter project. 

Although refuse funds make up the biggest chunk, Kamlarz said that a decrease in public and mental health funds was far more serious because it would have dire consequences for the city’s poorest residents. 

“We have four major problems with the budget. Two of them are for mental and public health,” Kamlarz said. “None of our revenue sources has gone up. We’ll have to do the best we can and hope we don’t have to do layoffs.” 

Bates asked everyone to brace for “hard times all across the board,” which could last for the next two years or more. 

City Budget Manager Tracy Vesely said that since the council raised garbage collection rates last July, there has been a dramatic drop in revenue for both residential and commercial recycling and transfer stations. 

Vesely said the city was discussing ways to balance the refuse budget with the Zero Waste Commission and would present more information at a Feb. 23 Refuse Fund Operations workshop. 

Dan Knapp, who owns the West Berkeley recycling company Urban Ore, criticized a Feb. 9 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that singled out residential recycling and smaller, cheaper garbage bins as principal reasons for the decline in refuse revenue. 

Unlike some cities which contract with private companies, the City of Berkeley hires its own employees to collect trash. 

“It’s not just residential,” Knapp said. “The refuse fund deficit can be broken down into four different sections.” 

Knapp pointed out that only $1.36 million (35 percent of the deficit) was from a drop in residential recycling revenue. The biggest loss, $1.42 million (37 percent), was attributed to the transfer station, followed by reductions in commercial recycling and franchise haulers. 

Knapp also took issue with the article’s suggestion that a sagging construction industry had resulted in less debris at the transfer station. 

“There’s lots of construction going on,” he said. “Urban Ore is booming—we’ve been since mid-2009. In fact, we are so busy that we are thinking of staying open later at night.” 

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore operations manager and president of the Northern California Recycling Association, urged the city to think of a new financial model that would provide for “resource pricing instead of garbage pricing.” 

“The refuse fund has been a cash cow for the city until recently and it can be again,” Van Deventer said. “One problem in its structure is that it taxes the devil (garbage) to finance the angels (recycling). In that case, the angels don’t have sustainable financing without the devils, so if the angels do a really good job, you need more devils. That’s a bad position to be in. The angels need their own self-sustaining financing.”  

Mark Gorrell from the Ecology Center and his wife Nancy from the Community Conservation Center urged the council to preserve recycling. 

“What about refuse pick-up every other week instead of every week?” asked Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “I have talked to several constituents and they have told me that their cans are never full.” 

Kamlarz said he’d have to look into the health and safety issues involved in that idea. 

Van Deventer said the City of Berkeley had considered the plan in the past before abandoning it. She said the city could follow the example of Toronto, which had figured out a way to do it. 

As for dealing with other parts of the budget mess, Councilmember Darryl Moore suggested that shorter work weeks might be a better trade-off than furloughs or voluntary time off for city employees 

“Figure out how to get people to the city to spend their dwindling money,” proposed Councilmember Max Anderson, calling for a highly publicized day of free parking in the city to boost sales tax. 

Kamlarz cautioned the council that the city’s attempt to attract more shoppers by hosting free parking days in the past had met with little success. 


Animal shelter 

Despite protests from some members of the Humane Commission, the City Council voted to approve a funding mechanism concept for the new Berkeley Animal shelter. 

Because construction bids came out a lot higher than expected, the project —which would relocate the existing operation from 2013 Second St. to a new two-story, 100-animal-capacity shelter at the northern edge of Aquatic Park—is facing a $2.1 million deficit. 

The city has recommended selling certificates of participation to investors for a higher interest rate to fund the shortfall so that there is no urgency to sell the current site at a lower price during a weak real estate market. 

However, humane commissioner Jill Posener asked the council not to rush into the building project, instead requesting a re-evaluation of the building’s seismic safety standards and other features. 

Kamlarz responded, “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.” 

He stressed that the budget for the shelter had grown from $7.2 million to $12.5 million over the last seven years. 

“If we wait till 2012, it will grow to $13.5 million,” he said. 

Councilmember Linda Maio said that although the shelter was not perfect, “there was no really good reason to hold it back.” 

Kamlarz indicated that he was open to addressing any outstanding concerns as the project moved forward.

Council Approves IRV Voting, Pools Ballot Measure

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:25:00 AM
Eric Stangl (left) spoke in support of a larger pool for the Barracudas program, of which his two children, Nolan and Yumi, are members.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Eric Stangl (left) spoke in support of a larger pool for the Barracudas program, of which his two children, Nolan and Yumi, are members.

Correction: The City Council voted unanimously to approve the pools ballot measure. The Feb. 11 story incorrectly reported the 5-4 straw vote as the final vote. 


Berkeley joined Oakland and San Leandro in approving ranked-choice voting when the City Council signed off on it Tuesday, Feb. 9. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak—who maintains that ranked-choice voting, or instant runoff voting as it is sometimes called, is unconstitutional—was the only dissenting vote. 

The council’s approval paved the way for the city and the Alameda County registrar of voters to begin informing citizens about the new voting method, which will be used in the November 2010 local elections. 

All three cities will share the tab for outreach efforts, with Oakland picking up the biggest piece and Berkeley paying only a quarter of the costs. 

Calling IRV “Delayed Run-off Voting,” Wozniak said he was worried whether election-night results would be released in time. 

But Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave McDonald assured the council that the county planned to release the first-choice vote rankings on the night of the elections. 

IRV gives voters the option to rank their first, second, and third choice candidates, eliminating the need for runoffs. 

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen approved the use of IRV, which is estimated to save the city tens of thousands of dollars, in December. 

The council’s decision was greeted with enthusiasm by supporters of IRV who showed up at the council meeting to lobby for their cause. 

“IRV conserves resources and furthers democracy,” said Judy Cox, one of seven people who campaigned to put IRV on the ballot in Oakland.  

Nancy Bickle and Rose Williams of the League of Women Voters promised the council that they would have an extra person at every booth to guide voters through the new process. 

McDonald said the county has already launched a strong outreach campaign, which includes sending out special mailers to every voter in the three cities, developing flyers in English, Spanish and Chinese—“We wouldn’t say we are plagiarizing from San Francisco, but we are borrowing heavily from it”—and collaborating with the AC Transit Hip Hop Voter Bus. 

IRV ads may also pop up before movie theater commercials, McDonald added. 

Councilmember Daryl Moore expres-sed concern about the opposition IRV is facing in Oakland. Some anti-IRV groups are even threatening to sue the city if it moves ahead with it. 

Wozniak said he was against IRV because it “does not treat everybody the same. It works fine if you have two or three candidates,” but not when you have more than that, he said. 

“It’s not very transparent,” Wozniak said. “You are using a computer program and an algorithm that most of the council doesn’t understand. And that’s dangerous.” 


Council approves pools ballot measure for June 2010 

Berkeley is getting ready to place a pools measure on the June ballot. 

The council voted 9-0 Tuesday to approve a measure to renovate the city’s three existing public pools—King, Willard and West Campus—and build a new warm water pool at West Campus. 

The Berkeley Unified School District is scheduled to tear down the seismically unsafe Old Gym at Berkeley High School next year to add more classrooms, making the passage of this ballot measure even more important. 

Although warm pool supporters greeted the news with applause, swimming enthusiasts and children from the Berkeley Barracudas team who showed up to persuade the council to build a new competition pool at King Middle School returned home disappointed. 

In a 5-4 straw vote, four councilmembers were in support of an alternative proposal which would add a new competition pool on top of the renovations and the new warm water pool, but the majority of the council decided that the cost—$22.6 million—was too expensive. 

A voter survey conducted in January showed that the public was wary of funding any projects that involved expansions. 

“I would love to see an indoor pool, but I don’t think it’s feasible,” said Councilmember Linda Maio, who agreed with Mayor Bates that renovating the existing facilities and building a new warm pool was the safest option. “We have the renovations we need—in an off-year election, in an era when we don’t have support for funds, I am concerned anything else will not pass.” 

Two other options involved getting rid of Willard Pool completely, something Telegraph neighbors said would be detrimental to the area. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that closing down Willard would alienate an entire segment of voters in South Berkeley. 

The option selected by the council comes with a $19.3 million price tag and would cost every household in Berkeley $58 per year. The money will go toward expanded pool hours as well as to construction costs.

Vik’s Chaat Corner Re-Opens in Revamped West Berkeley Factory

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:26:00 AM
Viks proprietor Amod Chopra at the restaurant’s new location Wednesday.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Viks proprietor Amod Chopra at the restaurant’s new location Wednesday.
 The architect used old tiles to construct an entire wall at the entrance to the grocery as part of adaptive reuse.
Michael Howerton
The architect used old tiles to construct an entire wall at the entrance to the grocery as part of adaptive reuse.
Vik’s new location connects the restaurant to an Indian grocery store in an effort to capture elements of an open marketplace.
Michael Howerton
Vik’s new location connects the restaurant to an Indian grocery store in an effort to capture elements of an open marketplace.

What happens when you transport street food from the crowded, dusty streets of India to a sleek, no-fuss, 25,000-square-foot warehouse in West Berkeley? 

Vik’s Chaat Corner on Fourth Street. The concept is hardly new. Bay Area foodies will remember walking into the chaat shop’s old location at 721 Allston Way and seeing some of the same things—pappadums from Kerala, the smell of dosa and of course the long, long lines for curry and cholle bhaturas—but, as someone said, “the new avatar is so much better.” 

The first things you notice when you enter Vik’s are the massive twin skylights which transform this former World War II machine factory into a village courtyard, the diamond-shaped glass panels filling the four corners of the 7,000-square-foot room with natural sunlight and ventilation. 

Adaptive reuse has always been the mission, said Sudhish Mohindroo, the architect behind the project, who made sure that everything from the wooden benches to the concrete floors was recycled. 

“The wood comes from bleachers at a high school in San Francisco,” Mohindroo said on a recent Friday just days after Vik’s had its grand opening. “We really made an effort to go green wherever we could.” 

To celebrate the occasion, Mayor Bates showed up in Indian garb, sporting a red tilak and garlands. Others gorged on samosas and dahi papdi chaat, a spicy snack made from papdis, potatoes and garbanzo beans, usually sold in recycled newspapers in India. 

Amod Chopra, who left a job with Applied Materials in Silicon Valley to help in his parents’ business—his father Vinod is the original “Vik”—said that he had worried that the essence of the old restaurant would be missing from the new one. 

“We had been in the old location for 23 years—it had soul, character, a certain charm about it,” Chopra said during a recent interview. “The minute you walked in, it felt like you were stepping into a microcosm of India. You can move into a bigger place, a new shiny place but it just doesn’t feel right. I spent a lot of time worrying about this, but in the end it looks like we have the right mix.” 

The most important part about Vik’s, Chopra adds, is its casual atmosphere. 

“People can come as they want, in whatever they want—even their pajamas,” Chopra said smiling. “If we ended up on the happening side of Fourth Street, then things would have been a bit different.” 

But as always, the crowds are thronging to Vik’s, some admiring the food, others the architecture. 

Richard Odenheimer, who brokered the property for Chopra, said that the skylights were the dealmaker. 

When Chopra bought the place, the previous tenants had left cubicles, junk and a broken-down mezzanine behind. 

Mohindroo took down the walls, added diamond-shaped glass tiles which were found in the building to the exterior—a pattern visible elsewhere in the area—and designed what he calls a “utilitarian interior.” 

“We want it to feel like a marketplace, but without the chaos,” Mohindroo said. “That’s why we did away with nooks and crannies. 

“We want people to mingle, but be able to have a private conversation as well. Something akin to being alone in a big city.” 

The building’s exterior walls were changed from a dull grayish blue to a bright brick-orange and yellow to exude warmth and energy, Mohindroo said. 

“And it reminds people of mango lassi,” he added smiling. “We are waiting to see how this part of West Berkeley slowly evolves into a neighborhood. How all the older industrial buildings get adapted in a new way as long as they work within the zoning.” 

Sitting right at the edge of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, anchored by Bayer Healthcare and the Fourth Street shopping district, Vik’s couldn’t have asked for a better location, Chopra said. 

“Sure, we could have moved downtown,” he said. “But West Berkeley is our home.” 

Fans of Vik’s groceries will be happy to see a space dedicated to aisles and aisles of Indian treats—something that had been limited to a rather dark and dingy part of the old store. 

“This is an India in America,” said Miam Mazher, as he queued up to order aloo tikkas.  

Longtime West Berkeley residents Megan Kirshbaum and Judi Rogers raved about the space. 

“They were just a little backroom with a couple of chairs and tables,” Megan said reminiscing about Vik’s early days. “You had to wait in line and pounced when your order came through. It’s amazing how it has evolved.” 

Rogers said that the only complaint she had was that it was still noisy. 

“Yes, it’s bright and airy and very modern looking, but you can’t really have a conversation,” she said laughing. “But the food is so good that I’ll keep coming back.” 

The new location? 2390 Fourth St. near Channing. 


Partisan Position: Children’s Hospital Turns A New Leaf? Meet the CEO

By Robert Brokl 
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:27:00 AM

Children’s Hospital Oakland, while providing good jobs and good care to many children and their families over the years, has also been a mixed blessing for its neighbors. Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and nearby residents have hammered out a modus vivendi for relatively peaceful coexistence, but CHO has morphed over the years, expanding outward from their 52nd Street campus by acquiring neighboring businesses and homes. Most recently, the hospital intended to build a 180-foot tower north of the campus, clearing an area occupied by single-family homes, but that effort was doomed by the failure of bond measures on the ballot in February 2008. The distinctive “Original Baby Hospital” is nearly swallowed up by later construction, and likely to be toast under plans for CHO’s fallback expansion plans.  

In 1998, CHO leapfrogged over the previous CEO’s Maginot line of 53rd Street when they acquired from the City of Oakland the former University High School (Old Merritt College in a later incarnation) on Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Aileen and 58th, encompassing nine prime acres. 

CHO Research Institute (CHORI) settled into the new campus, outfitting the old school to fit their needs at costs exceeding $40 million, with classrooms as laboratories. Left untouched, but in remarkably good condition, was the former gymnasium behind the main structure. Of somewhat later construction, the gym met the Field Act seismic requirements for school use and had been used by Peralta Community College and then by Oakland Technical High School students when their campus was being renovated in the early 1980s. When we were last inside the structure around 1999,  

the gym was unused but still  

in fine condition. (It played a starring role in climactic scenes in the atrocious movie, The Principal, starring the other Belushi.)  

But last year a friend came across an article in the May 29–June 4 San Francisco Business Times revealing CHO’s new plan: applying for a $15 million stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health as seed money for a new facility costing $40 million for the study of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.  

This plan to demolish the gym came as a surprise, considering the entire site including the gym was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the intact campus with all of its buildings remaining was significant to its designation. (The renovation after such a grim slide into near-ruin had merited a Governor’s Award.) We were spurred to ask to see the gym interior in its current condition—a CHO official had earlier offhandedly mentioned a leaking roof. Overcoming opposition from recalcitrant officials like George Brietigam, vice president in charge of facilities, we saw for ourselves what CHO had allowed to happen to the gym. It was an unmitigated disaster—holes in the roof open to the sky, pigeons flapping about, and the hardwood maple floor ruined and buckling, the reinforced concrete shell belying the ongoing ruin within. 

If CHO had allowed neighborhood kids to exercise in the space over those years, rather than keep the space vacant but for storage, childhood diabetes and obesity—First Lady Michelle Obama’s top priority and the subject of the stimulus grant application—might have been combatted locally. Another irony: CHO’s acquisition of the campus, after the city’s expensive taxpayer-funded renovation, was in part spurred by an influential lawsuit over the city’s demolition by neglect. The more things change....  


The back story 

The CHORI campus was originally a renowned high school, University High School, with a distinguished architect, Charles Dickey, known for his design of the Claremont Hotel and the Temescal and Golden Gate libraries. Alfred Crofts and myself were among the founders of a neighborhood group, North Oakland Voters Alliance (NOVA), which placed the entire site on the Register in 1992. We also located the now well-known preserva-tion/land use attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, and she took the city to federal court over the issue of “demolition by neglect” as circumvention of environmental review. (As in, no passenger pigeon, no endangered species worries.) The city, perhaps realizing the community was more interested in a reuse future for the campus than the strip mall that had been proposed by a series of underwhelming “developers,” settled the lawsuit and took measures to secure the site and staunch the ongoing deterioration. They secured a $19 million “blight abatement” loan and began core-and-shell renovation.  

A citizen panel hand-picked by staff of Mayor Elihu Harris chose a developer proposing mixed-use office, with CHO as the likely anchor tenant. Ultimately, this developer was terminated by the city, and CHO boldly stepped forward in 1998 to say they wanted to buy, not lease, the property. The city was not interested in continuing to own the property itself and appraisals—not surprising considering the place had been vacant for years—came in at around $9 million, which is what CHO offered to pay and what the city reluctantly accepted. 

The city also got two 55-year/$1 per year leases on the Senior Center—funded by taxpayer-approved bond measures, not CHO—in the former auditorium, new infill housing along the perimeter, as well as a public park on Dover Street.  


A new day at CHO? Meet the CEO! 

After the disastrous bond measure defeats, and the ham-fisted approach promoting them, the CEO of Chilrden’s Hospital Oakland, George Tiedemann, was ousted in a doctors-led coup. The longtime (and only) head of the Research Institute at Old Merritt, Dr. Bertram Lubin, was elevated to be the next head of the hospital. His replacement at CHORI, Dr. Alexander Lucas, promised us last fall he would talk to a roofing contactor about fixing the roof, or tarping it at least. That was the last we’ve heard. 

Lubin will meet the community at a meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The entrance is from the rear parking lot off 58th Street. If you’re concerned about CHO’s expansion plans and the fate of their National Register properties, please attend this meeting. 


Robert Brokl is an Oakland resident.

Charter School Proposal to Include More State Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:28:00 AM

Although the Berkeley Board of Education was scheduled to vote on Berkeley’s first public charter school proposal Wednesday, Feb. 3, the petition was withdrawn at the last minute.  

Berkeley Technology Academy Principal and lead petitioner Victor Diaz submitted a letter to the board informing them that the state Department of Education's charter school division had recently pre-approved $600,000 for the school’s Planning and Implementation grant instead of the $375,000 originally anticipated.  

Diaz said that he looked forward to resubmitting the updated petition within the next few days.  

Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement (REALM) charter school—which seeks to provide students with a project-based, technology-oriented curriculum that would make them ready for the 21st-century job market—has been criticized by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).  

This local activist group argues that REALM would go against Berkeley’s desegregation policy and separate students from different ethnic and socioeconomic background.  

Diaz and Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA) contend the charter school would provide opportunities for students who feel like they don’t belong in either Berkeley High School or B-Tech.  

Diaz was honored by the Berkeley-based Robert Redford Center Feb. 4 for his leadership work in the community as well his plans for a new charter school.  

School Board Wants More Information on Equity Grants Before Redirecting Lab Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 03:13:00 PM
Berkeley High School English teacher Susanna Bell (front left) and other school staffers ask for equity in education during the school board meeting Wednesday.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Berkeley High School English teacher Susanna Bell (front left) and other school staffers ask for equity in education during the school board meeting Wednesday.

The Berkeley Board of Education asked for more information from Berkeley High School Wednesday before weighing in on whether it should re-direct parcel tax funds from science labs toward equity grants. 

Students, teachers, parents and administrators packed the City Council Chambers for the board meeting, urging the board to save before- and after-school science labs, the most contentious part of the redesign plan submitted by Principal Jim Slemp and leaders of the School Governance Council. 

Other sections of the redesign—which seeks to close the achievement gap at the high school—include new bell schedules, professional development and advisory programs. 

Most speakers said they were concerned that reduced lab hours would lead to a lack of instructional time for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate science classes. 

Emotions ran high, as student Dmitri Gaskin characterized the principal’s plan as “bringing the top down instead of bringing the bottom up.” Another student submitted more than 300 signatures for a petition to save the science labs. 

Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett has responded to criticism for the proposal with a compromise plan, which keeps most of the current after- and before-school science labs intact, but discontinues the additional time for AP environmental science because the two-semester program apparently covers the amount of instructional time required by the College Board.  

However, members of the AP environmental science class vociferously defended their right to extra lab time, saying that it helped with real world, hands-on experience. 

“I don’t want to be viewed as an immature high school student, but if we can’t go out and touch the grass and see the squirrels and find out why Strawberry Creek runs so low, how can we learn?” asked AP environmental class student Sara Whitney. 

Claire Bloom, a scientist and a Berkeley High parent, said the district should evaluate more data before rushing to implement any changes. 

Other parents complained about the level of division and hostility in the community over the science lab issue, which board members said had polarized the community and led to “inflammatory conversations.” 

Huyett said that he encourages debate and discussion, but at the same time asks everyone to find common ground. 

“I have worked at places where people don’t care as much about education, but this shows that Berkeley cares,” he said. “I want you to know that in closing the achievement gap we look for high standards for all students. There is no intention to bring the top down to close the gap. A rising tide helps bring all boats to top level.” 

Former School Governance Council member Priscilla Myrick said that she had filed a Brown Act complaint with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office charging that the School Governance Council violated the “state’s open-meeting laws by deliberating in private, ignoring public notice requirements and violating the rights of the public to provide public comment when voting” on the high school redesign plan Dec. 8. 

A school board Policy Subcommittee is currently investigating complaints from parents regarding lack of transparency and non-compliance with federal, state and local guidelines at the SGC. 

Slemp, along with a group of Berkeley High small-school teachers, outlined proposals for the equity grants, which ranged from additional classes to various support programs. 

He underscored the importance of equity, starting the presentation with a recorded speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to honor Black History Month. 

“The system needs to change. Since we don’t have money for new resources, we must use our current resources to best meet the needs of our students,” Slemp said. 

Although the board did say much about the merits of individual proposals, it cautioned that under the current budget climate, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether money would be available for any purpose. 

Berkeley Unified is bracing for a $2.7 million deficit this year due to a “fantasy-land budget,” Huyett said, and expects worse news in 2011–12, when stimulus money comes to an end. 

Board member Nancy Riddle said she doubted whether most of the proposed grants would be eligible for receiving parcel tax funds. 

The bulk of that money goes toward class-size reductions. Expanded course offerings—such as extra lab time—and program support comes next. 

“We might need to use most of our parcel tax funds toward keeping our class sizes small,” said board president Karen Hemphill. 

The board recommended that the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project Planning and Oversight Committee examine what kind of equity grant proposals would qualify for parcel tax funds. 

Most board members said they were irritated that the board packet did not include either Slemp or Huyett’s proposal.  

“It was an omission—it wasn’t an intentional omission, but a mistake was made and we couldn’t really discuss any of the ideas,” Hemphill said after the meeting. 

Although the board didn’t specifically discuss the superintendent’s compromise, no one spoke out against it either. 

Huyett said that the district would work with the high school on the redesign plan and bring it back to the board for further action in April. 

Berkeley High Student Suspended for Possession of Marijuana Cookies

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:29:00 AM

A Berkeley High School student has been suspended for handing out marijuana-laced cookies to his friends.  

The school administration sent an e-mail to the Berkeley High e-tree Monday, Feb. 8, notifying the school community that two students walking across the campus courtyard saw another student with a container of cookies and asked for one.  

After eating the cookie both students became ill, enough to seek medical attention. During the medical visit, it was determined that the cookie contained marijuana.  

The student who was giving out the cookies was identified and suspended immediately.  

The BHS e-mail advised students to “use good judgment” when accepting food from others.  

The incident was reported to the Berkeley Police Department.  

Berkeley Police Department spokes-person Andrew Frankel said that Berkeley police were investigating “a furnishing of marijuana” case involving three students—two female seniors who received a suspected marijuana cookie from a male suspect, a junior.  

Frankel said he could not share any other specifics of the case because it was still under investigation.  

Calls to the police and to Vice Principal Vernon Walton for comment were not returned by press time.

UC Police Want Public to Watch for ‘Potty Pirates’

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:39:00 AM

UC Berkeley police are asking people to be on the lookout for “Potty Pirates”—thieves who are removing brass flushing hardware from toilets and urinals on the UC Berkeley campus.  

A campus crime alert said the plumbing theft has affected restroom facilities in 10 buildings.  

The alert referred to culprits as “somebody or a group of somebodies” and asked the public to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.  

More than three dozen fixtures have been stolen so far, UCPD reports, costing the university more than $9,000. Other brass fixtures, such as floor drains, have also gone missing.  

“The items are likely being stolen for their brass content,” according to the campus crime advisory. “Each of these metal thefts is considered a burglary, as entering the building with the tools needed to remove the hardware is entering with intent to commit a crime.”  

Calls to UCPD police Captain Margo Bennett for comment were not returned by press time.  

Anyone with any information on the matter to make an emergency 911 report or contact the UC Police Department Criminal Investigation Bureau at 642-0472 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) or 642-6760 (all other times). Tipsters can remain anonymous by using the CalTip at police.berkeley.edu/caltip/index.html.

New Transportation Yard Should Save School District Thousands

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:42:00 AM
BUSD’s new $10 million transportation yard will save the district $450,000 annually.
Mark Coplan
BUSD’s new $10 million transportation yard will save the district $450,000 annually.

Berkeley Unified School District has a brand new, state-of-the-art transportation facility that will save $450,000 annually. 

Located at Sixth and Gilman streets, near Picante and Pyramid Brewery, the $10 million complex brings together components of the district’s transportation division that were located at three different addresses in the city. 

The facility will serve 32 school district employees. 

Funds for construction were provided by the school district’s facilities bond. 

Constructed over an 18-month period, the property includes new offices, a classroom building and a mechanical shop with 32 spots for buses and 37 for cars.  

Until now, the district was leasing a bus yard and a mechanical shop. 

Berkeley Unified Transporation Manager Bernadette Cormier called the new facility “environmentally friendly.” The landscaping includes a bioswale designed to capture rainwater.  

“It’s wonderful to have an operation located all together for the first time in 16 years,” she said. “We can look out of the dispatch room and see our bus fleet right there. It’s beautiful and in harmony with the neighborhood. We can communicate face-to-face with our drivers.” 

The project initially caused concern among neighbors who feared it would increase pollution, noise and traffic. They also worried about the construction of a bus depot that Mayor Tom Bates has singled out for heightened commercial use.  

However, district officials said that since a part of the facility was essentially moving from right across the street, very little would change.

City Council Urges Compromise Between Cannabis Clinic, West Berkeley Neighbors

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:43:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council did not take any action in a closed-session discussion Monday regarding a cannabis clinic’s proposal to move into the former Scharffen Berger chocolate factory.  

Wareham Development, a West Berkeley developer, has threatened litigation if Berkeley Patients Group, a medical marijuana dispensary, moves from its 2747 San Pablo Ave. location into the Scharffen Berger building on Heinz Street. The City Council did not take sides at the session, but simply urged both parties to arrive at a compromise.  

Wareham, which has offices spread across West Berkeley, said the marijuana clinic would drive business away.   

Ecole Bilingue, a private French-American school located close to the old factory, also objected to the proposal, claiming that it would violate state and federal laws. The school’s board members said that the fact that Measure JJ, a city ordinance passed by Berkeley voters in 2008, prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a public school but does not apply to private schools or preschools was an oversight.  

But City Attorney Zach Cowan disagreed. Cowan said that the measure was intended to make it easier for medical marijuana dispensaries to open in the city’s commercial zones and to avoid the often lengthy public hearing process.  

Cowan said after the closed-session hearing that, contrary to reports in other media, the council did not vote to approve anything.  

“It’s not up to the City Council to approve or not approve anything,” he said. “The ordinance calls for a zoning certificate. The council cannot change that. They could have directed staff in a number of ways to address the problem, but they didn’t.”  

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates appeared before the public following the one-hour meeting and asked attorneys for both parties to talk to one another.  

Both sides spoke during the public comment period preceding the closed session, with Wareham partner Chris Barglow calling the clinic’s proposed 20,000-square-foot facility the “Walmart of Pot.”  

Becky Dekeuster, a community liaison for Berkeley Patients Group, said that although they would be taking over the entire building, the dispensary would only occupy a very small part of it. Most of the space, she said, would be used for laboratory testing, in keeping with biotech and other industrial uses in West Berkeley.  

“We were really encouraged when the mayor came out and asked both parties to talk to each other,” Dekeuster said. “It was never our goal to get a zoning certificate today. We want to educate folks about who we are. We are a community organization; we aren’t just limited to our patients.”  

Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said that under the city’s municipal code, there’s nothing legally preventing Berkeley Patients Group from getting the zoning certificate.  

“The only way to change that is if we amend Measure JJ,” he said.  

Berkeley Patients Group is scheduled to meet with Ecole Bilingue tonight.   

Ecole Bilingue spokesperson Jennifer Monahan said she was hopeful that both sides would be able to address each other’s concerns.  

“It’s our hope that a solution can be worked out involving a location that is not in the immediate vicinity of a school,” Monahan said. ”It is unfortunate that Measure JJ literally has a double standard with respect to schools—which wasn’t made clear to Berkeley voters when they approved the measure. We view the situation as fluid and have not determined the exact legal or political steps we will take if a mutually satisfactory solution cannot be reached.”  

Dekeuster said that Berkeley Patients Group was committed to listen to everyone.  

“We really like the location and would like to stay in Berkeley,” she said. “It would be a shame for anyone to go down the path of lawsuits.”

On Gardening: Eggplants Provide Sumptuous Meals

By Shirley Barker, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:44:00 AM

A friend recently announced that our Berkeley winters are becoming warmer. Always inclined to scoff at categorical and unfounded opinions, I decided to see if evidence showed this to be true. 

In my early days, I was shown how to record daily weather on a grid, drawing in each square (numbered according to the day’s date) an umbrella, a sun, clouds, and so forth, a practice that not only captivated me at the time, but one which I resumed when in adulthood I started to garden. 

As a consequence, first thing every morning I tap a barometer, read a thermometer, and record these, together with a weather symbol, in my gardening log. So far this year it shows a lot of umbrellas. 

Although I did not start recording temperatures until the middle of 2007 when it was extremely cold, I was able to verify my friend’s opinion by totting up subsequent January temperatures and dividing by 31. The results were 47, 49, and 51 degrees Fahrenheit for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.  

What does this mean, other than my friend’s irritating omniscience? I do rather hope it means hotter summers, so that the heat-loving fruits and vegetables I wanted to grow when I moved to my present cool damp location might turn from dream to reality. I know there are people in Berkeley who can grow tomatoes. Some can grow chili peppers. I doubt however that any gardener this side of the Berkeley hills succeeds with eggplants, because eggplants, like melons, require a warm ground and warm nights. 

If it does indeed become warmer where I live, I will probably start the seeds indoors, for these too require warmth to germinate. I will put them in the ground in July, with compost made by my red wriggly worms. When the seedlings show sturdy growth, I will regulate temperature and moisture by surrounding them with a light mulch of hay. I can hardly wait. Meantime, since the roots of eggplant are short and compact, and so would grow well in pots, they would probably thrive in a greenhouse. But building a heated and ventilated structure for one vegetable readily available at the market a few blocks away is perhaps going too far, even for a gardener. 

Eggplant, Solanum melongena, is native to tropical Asia, with China as usual claiming the original, although a good case could be made for India, where it is known as brinjal, a word that derives from Sanskrit. It is glorious to look at when plumply encased in purple satin. Other varieties have fruits like small ivory globes, the origin of its common name here. In Europe it is called aubergine, the word also deriving from Sanskrit, via Catalan, Arabic and Persian. Its family is Solanaceae which has, like the Borgias, many toxic members, such as belladonna and black henbane, more suitable for a witches brew than a chef’s. All solanums, including potatoes, chilis and tomatoes, must be approached with caution, for some people are allergic to their properties.  

Despite a dearth of nutritional value, except perhaps in mineral content, the eggplant in capable hands produces sumptuous meals. Some gastronomes consider it the king of vegetables. Although it is routinely featured in Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants, it is the chefs of the Middle East who recognized the eggplant’s outstanding gustatory qualities. Probably the most famous eggplant dish is Imam bayildi, which means the Imam fainted, perhaps because of its fabulous aroma. It feels sacrilegious to describe a simple quick version of this: cut small narrow eggplants lengthwise and place cut side down on a plate. Pierce the skins and microwave, covered, for 3 minutes. (It is not necessary to salt and drain the eggplant slices first. Only in Western cookbooks does one find these instructions.) The flesh will emerge soft. Turn the slices cut side up. Smother with tomatoes and garlic that have been sautéed in olive oil and salt. Return to the microwave for another minute or so, with or without a sprinkling of cheese, and enjoy a superb appetizer. Since flavors develop as they cool, these little boats make excellent finger food for a potluck.  

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Berkeley’s climate will become tropical any time soon. Subtropical plants do grow here, killed by prolonged frost. Warm temperate pockets might expand to include my garden and even accommodate eggplant’s horticultural requirements. Do the average temperatures of July of the last three years indicate such a warming trend? They do not. In fact July temperatures in 2009 and 2008 were lower than in 2007. It will be a long wait for eggplants in my garden.  

The Folks Up Front at the Berkeley Public Library

By Phila Rogers, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:57:00 AM

When you first walk into the Central Library, the Information Desk is directly in front of you. Unless you know where you’re going, it’s a helpful and welcoming place to visit. 

On this day Teresa Albro is on the desk, spending an hour talking to the public in person and on the phone, fielding questions. Most often Teresa works on the fifth floor in the Art and Music room. Like most library employees, she takes her turn at the Information Desk. “I enjoy the chance to meet the library patrons—finding out what brings them to the library,” she says. “People have all kinds of questions,” Teresa continues, “Sometimes it’s something as simple ‘Where are the restrooms?’ or ‘Where do I go to apply for a job?”’ But often it’s a question that may require a little digging. “We try to give them a substantive answer or direct them to a resource where they might find an answer,” she adds, indicating the fat information binder she calls “the bible.” In the branch libraries, the Information Desk often also functions as the reference desk.  

Closer to the entrance, you’ll usually see one of the library’s security officers. It might be Patrice Roland who has been with the library for many years. For many people, the presence of a security officer assures them that the library is a safe place to be. 

To the left of the Information Desk is one of the busiest parts of the library—the Checkout Desk. At any one time, several people work behind the desk checking out library materials, issuing library cards or, in a quieter moment, putting books on the hold shelves next to the several self-checkout machines. The old days of your book being stamped with a due date is now replaced with a printed slip giving you the due date along with title, author and other information. Of course you can still stamp your own book (or other material). In the branch libraries during library hours, the Checkout desk is the Check-in Desk. 

This morning, Rudy Tapia is on the desk. Rudy is no stranger to libraries having started with the Oakland Public Library as a volunteer at the age of 10. “At the Central Library we’re moved around every hour or so,” he says. “Sometimes I’m upstairs at the Paging Desk, where I bring out requested materials from the storage area, or I’m in a main floor room collecting returned books that are dropped into the outside and inside slots,” he adds.  

Jay Dickinson manages the Circulation Department, which includes staffing the Information Desk. Before coming to the Berkeley Library three years ago, Jay oversaw the merger of the San Jose State University library with the San Jose Public Library, followed by a shorter stint at San Francisco State University’s reserve book room. “I wanted to come to Berkeley,” he said, adding that his wife works as a cataloger at the UC Berkeley library. “I love the urban intensity, the variety of people and the high degree of public involvement, all of which are reflected here in the library,” he adds 

Although the library plays a number of roles in the community, borrowing books and other library materials is what most people think of the library’s primary function. 

“Jay keeps track of a wide range of statistical information relating to the circulation of library materials” says deputy-director Doug Smith who looks forward to his time on the information desk as his way of measuring the public pulse.  

“Our circulation has increased 8 percent each year recently, probably because of the recession,” Jay says. “Before the end of the fiscal year in June, we expect to hit two million library items checked out. We won’t know just who that patron will be, but we plan on having some kind of celebration,” Jay says with obvious relish.  

Jay keeps tabs on ebbs and flows of cumulative checkouts over the course of the year including the percentage of people who use the self-check machines (more children and teens). He also compares the circulation among the various collections and library locations. “This so-called turnover rate helps determine our budget and where to develop our collections,” he adds. 

Both Doug and Jay stress that in the library’s monitoring of the collection use, they adhere to a strict privacy policy which protects the privacy of all patron information. “Our staff has received training on the procedures concerning patron privacy, and they take it very seriously,” Jay emphasizes. 

“Once an item is returned, a patron’s record no longer reflects that they once circulated it,” says Jay. “The single exception to that rule would be if the patron accrued and paid late fees on the item. Paid fine information is saved for one year for bookkeeping reasons, and of course unpaid fines remain on the books longer,” he says. 

Soon, when you enter the Central Library, you’ll see certain changes. Anticipating a larger volume of activity than usual once the branch library remodeling begins, the configuration of the Information Desk and the Check-out Desk will be redesigned to accommodate more people. 




News Analysis: Green Jobs Promise Broken? Low-Income Workers Find Road to Green Jobs Tough Going

By Claudia Rowe, New America Media
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:58:00 AM

By now, the drumbeat is impossible to ignore: jobs, jobs, jobs. With one in 10 adults unemployed, President Obama had little choice but to highlight jobs during his Jan. 27 State of the Union address. He mentioned the term nearly 30 times during the hour-long speech. 

But among people in low-income and minority communities—millions who had felt a surge of excitement at the president’s vow to use his $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for lifting families out of poverty—the president’s words are beginning to ring hollow. For them, the mantra has shifted and it sounds like this: Track, track, track. 

Despite $500 million set aside to create “green jobs” for disadvantaged workers—including a program titled “Pathways Out of Poverty”—there is no method in place to monitor exactly where Recovery Act dollars have landed on the ground, and few requirements to ensure that low-income communities benefit. Furthermore, there never were. 

“This is hardly the first time that poverty has been used as a rationalization to pass a government program which—when you read the fine print—doesn’t address poverty,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group Good Jobs First. “It certainly goes to this issue of how can you tell the recovery is really benefitting those who need it most? Obviously you can’t.” 

Central to the president’s stated vision for the Recovery Act was the notion that the new “green economy”—from wind turbine construction to home weatherization—would generate opportunities previously closed to the poor, and advocates like LeRoy jumped in fast, insisting that the government require states to provide data on the race, gender and residential zip codes of those receiving training or jobs. They also asked that employers be mandated to note employees’ work hours, pay per hour and whether health insurance benefits, if any, were included. 

Not a single request was granted. 

“Poverty is just the bait,” LeRoy said. “It may sound a little cynical, but that’s the truth.” 

Requiring such information would be new terrain for the federal government, he acknowledged, though the complete lack of it suggests to him that all the talk about creating new pathways to prosperity was, well, just talk. 

In Washington, D.C., officials appear flummoxed by the very notion of collecting such data. 

“I don’t even know how you’d do that,” said Cheryl Arvidson, a spokeswoman for the administration’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. 


Race and jobs: mum’s the word 

Social-policy experts, however, have been urging exactly this kind of tracking for months—and offering ways to put it in place. 

“For us, the response has been just silence, kind of a wall of silence,” said Jason Reece, a senior researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. “The administration is very shy about talking about race issues in particular, and a good way of not talking about race and marginalized groups is just don’t collect the data. It’s extremely frustrating.” 

Last fall, the Kirwan Institute began to do some tracking of its own, and the results were dismal. Of $25 billion in federal stimulus funds distributed directly to private firms in transportation and defense, only $1.6 billion—just over 6 percent—went to black-, Latino-, or women-owned businesses. By January 2010, there share of the pie had dropped to 5 percent. 

In Florida, where Kirwan researchers joined with activists at the Miami Workers Center to take a detailed look at the real-life effects of stimulus funding, results were similarly perplexing. Minority-owned firms received contracts worth only 12.6 percent of total value awarded in-state. And, of the 40 companies that won business funded by the Recovery Act, only four responded to Kirwan’s requests for data. 

“There’s this sense of desperation from local communities because they’re not seeing the effects of the stimulus,” said Matt Martin, a researcher with Kirwan, describing reaction to the institute’s report. 

And, the document noted: “Construction work tends to rely on exclusive networks. African Americans in particular have a hard time breaking into the business. This appears to be the case with the current stimulus-funded projects as well.” 

Jobs are vital, of course, to reviving the economy as a whole and the estimated number of those created or saved by the Recovery Act ranges from 640,000 to 2 million, depending on who’s counting. But the notion of green jobs had been greeted as a potential godsend for families struggling against decades of entrenched poverty. A green economy could employ low-skilled workers in solid, family-wage jobs while simultaneously aiding the environment. It seemed like a win for everyone. 

In Seattle, Michael Woo of the grassroots group Got Green spent last summer leading throngs of young people through blighted streets, showing them the possibilities inherent in every dilapidated home and broken rooftop. 

“Everywhere they saw problems, the solution was a job—a green job,” Woo said. 

He is not nearly so sure of that now. 

Despite a Washington law directing that minority and low-income workers be included in Recovery Act spending, Woo—who was part of an Equal Voice coalition lobbying the state for equity—has seen little actual hiring and zero effort to track exactly who is being funneled into the jobs pipeline. Of the 10 would-be workers he selected for weatherization training, only one, Yirm Seck, found employment, and that lasted for a total of three weeks. 


All trained up, but nowhere to go 

The $20-an-hour job was nice while it lasted, said Seck, hired by a nonunion firm to weatherize homes in a leafy, upper-class area of Seattle. But it wasn’t quite what he’d hoped for. 

“My expectations were that I’d complete the course, get certified and there would be avenues linking me to an actual job,” said Seck. “Instead, it’s ‘Hey, great, you’re certified, and, yes, there’s money here. But we can’t give you an actual date to start work.’” 

Despite completing two years of college, Seck, 28, spends most of his time parenting a 3-year-old daughter while her mother supports the family by working at a Seattle supermarket. He is African American and has been without steady employment for more than two years. 

“I thought the jobs program was a lot more organized,” Seck said. “But most of the people who went through those training classes still aren’t employed. I was one of the lucky few.” 

The president championed a green economy to help the poor, but data from the Applied Research Center suggest that the field is “highly exclusionary.” A November 2009 report noted that blacks and Latinos—with poverty rates more than twice those of whites—are poorly represented among green workers. The disparities are even starker for women of color: Only 1.5 percent of black women were employed in green jobs. For Latinas, it was 1 percent. 

“If you don’t recover the communities that have been hardest hit, there is not going to be a recovery,” said Hashim Benford, an organizer with Miami Workers Center. “We’d heard that there was going to be all this green jobs money. We had this concept of a jobs pipeline that would train people and link them up to employment. But from what I’ve seen nothing’s moving.” 

There are bright spots: New Jersey, for example, requires that half of all weatherization projects be performed by workers from low-income communities. Portland, Ore., has similar mandates. And in Los Angeles, an ordinance passed last spring is expected to create at least 60 jobs for residents of low-income communities retrofitting city buildingS. 

But such examples are few. 

Green for All, a national nonprofit monitoring progress in this sector, examined energy-efficiency bills in 30 states and found fewer than a third targeted low-income communities or workers of color. 

“Frankly speaking, sometimes people don’t care about the demographics—they just want to get the jobs out there,” said Vien Truong, a policy analyst with the group. “In Oakland, we have an unemployment rate of 18 percent, so it’s ‘Create green jobs—check.’” 

In the Deep South, few state policymakers are even talking about racial realities behind the Recovery Act. 

“Jobs for our community?” said Leroy Johnson, executive director of the Mississippi civil rights group Southern Echo. “It’s not working at all. It was all good thoughts and good policy. The problem is, it’s been left in the hands of governors. Where you have good governors, maybe you have a shot.” 

Johnson says his suggestion to get black workers certified for road building through apprenticeship programs was simply waved away. 

Elsewhere, trainers continue to reach out and encourage the hopeful-and-unemployed. But the longer this goes on without a job at the finish line, the more worried community organizers become. 

Ian Kim, director of the Green Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, suspects there is already a glut of workers trained and ready to install solar paneling, for example, while projects to employ them linger far behind. 

“A year ago I was one of those saying, ‘Wow, this is a huge opportunity.’ But it can be really disappointing to find out that even the best programs can’t place half their graduates,” Kim said. “I don’t want to be setting people up, training them for jobs that don’t exist.” 



A New Plan for a New Year

By Becky and Mike O’Malley
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:47:00 AM

For a few years now we have been trying to develop a sustainable model so that Berkeley could continue to have a periodic print newspaper.  

Many of our readers are well aware that local news reporting is a major casualty of the current economic collapse. Even before the economy got really bad, many papers were experiencing catastrophic drops in revenue which prompted drastic cuts to the news-gathering effort. But we still believe that the success of the democratic process requires citizens to be well informed. The challenge is figuring out how to pay for it.  

Advertising sales in particular continue to be problematic. The increasing number of empty storefronts on our main streets is visible evidence of how business in Berkeley is lagging. We’ve seen all too often the same sad cycle: advertisers cancel because they think that they just can’t afford advertising any longer, and six months later they’re out of business. 

It’s also just conceivable that we’ve been publishing the right paper for Berkeley readers but the wrong paper for Berkeley advertisers—too controversial, too intellectual, too dense. We’ve noticed that the publications we’ve most admired—The Nation, the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The New Yorker from time to time, even going back to I.F. Stone’s Weekly—have not been supported by advertising. We’ve discovered that owners of many “local” Berkeley businesses don’t even live here, and it’s been hard to explain to owners in Illinois or Hayward or Malibu why we’ve been willing or even eager to make waves at the risk of annoying customers. 

The campaign against the Planet’s free- speech policy by a few misguided zealots who represent themselves as friends of Israel has certainly contributed to our advertising problems in some measure. The Planet’s advertising sales people who’ve had to cope with this have shown remarkable courage in facing up to a frightening situation.  

Just a few advertisers have been intimidated into cancelling their contracts, though many more have bravely ignored the bullies or even told them off. We have been enormously gratified by the support we’ve received from many, many members of the Jewish community: three big ads in the paper with many signers, an online petition with many more signers, and countless personal expressions of sympathy and solidarity from Jewish friends.  

The Berkeley city government’s perpetual hostility to free newspaper racks has been a trial.  

We’ve tried several alternatives to selling advertising in order to increase our revenue: free-will subscriptions, donation boxes, web contributions and direct fundraising. The community’s response has been heartwarming. 

Just last month, Artists for Change and other friends of the Planet hosted a terrific party which raised more than $10,000. Overall, at least 500 generous supporters all over the country have contributed more than $50,000 since we started asking for help. But we’ve discovered once again what we knew from previous experience—fundraising takes a lot of work and the return is small compared to the cost in time and effort. 

We’ve tried to reduce expenses by going down to one print issue a week and eliminating some staff positions. But it hasn’t done the trick. We’re still far from breaking even, which was our modest goal when we took over the original Daily Planet almost seven years ago. 

Sadly, this week we think we’ve reached the tipping point, beyond which prudence dictates that we must not go. We’ve learned that the theft of the money which was supposed to pay our federal and state payroll taxes, as reported in last week’s Planet, goes back at least five years, and it adds up to staggering sums for which we may be held liable. We can’t continue to contribute the major funding for the Planet given the level of financial uncertainty we now face from this fraud. Still, we’re lucky that we haven’t relied on the Planet for our livelihood—we’ve been in contact with other victims, most of whom face bankruptcy and the loss of small businesses which are supporting families. 

The only way to cut expenses further is to give up print publication for the moment. We know that many if not most of our 40,000-plus faithful readers prefer paper, and frankly, we do too. But our central mission continues to be reporting the news, and new technology has made online news delivery very attractive.  

A web-based model has some real advantages. Editing, laying out, printing and distributing a print paper complete with advertising is a very expensive proposition. Also, increasingly print publications are lagging behind the news as it’s reported electronically—the web is much faster. Many more photos and even videos can be added easily and quickly.  

We’re well aware that our readers most value the paper as a forum for community members to share information about what’s happening in Berkeley and the rest of the urban East Bay. Web technology makes it possible to count who’s reading what online, and we’ve discovered that the Planet’s opinion pages are far and away the best-read part of the paper (and often the best written as well). In the online Berkeley Daily Planet we’ll continue publishing news and opinions contributed by our readers, and we’ll be looking for even more of the same since we won’t be constrained by the economics of print.  

We want to expand our participation in the great experiment which is sometimes called citizen journalism. A lot of things have been happening in the urban East Bay which we haven’t been able to afford to cover by conventional reporting. We think there are knowledgeable people out there who could let readers know what’s happening, not just in Berkeley but in Oakland, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany and Alameda. We’re very sorry that we can no longer continue paying the full-time salaried staff which has been needed to edit and lay out a printed paper and to sell advertising. The majority of our current employees have been with us almost from day one—they have been loyal and super-competent, as evidenced by the many prize plaques which hang on our office wall. Our former employees, with one or two exceptions, were great too, and we were lucky to have them. 

We think that if we give ourselves and the community some breathing room at this point we can together come up with new ideas for continuing to serve the reading public. For example, we could publish periodic printed selections from the best of what appears online without needing to rely on conventional advertising support.  

It’s even possible that there are others like us in the urban East Bay who would be able to invest time and capital to carry on the Planet as a print paper. If they are out there, this is the time that we’d like to hear from them. 

Our current plan is to continue print publication through February, and then to shift to web-only publication. To keep faith with the many contributors to the Fund for Local Reporting, after March 1 we will use the money remaining in the fund to pay one staff reporter, with the rest of the content provided by independent writers both paid and volunteer.  

It’s popularly believed that every cell in the human body changes every seven years. Since we’ve been at this task for seven years come April 1, we might be completely new people by now. That makes it a propitious moment for starting over, in a revitalized enterprise which might turn out to be even better than the original. It’s the beginning of a new year, a good time to turn a new page in the ongoing saga called the Berkeley Daily Planet. In the spirit of Sunday’s two holidays, we want to tell our readers that we love you all (well, most of you) and to say Gung Hay Fat Choi to everyone. We’ll be seeing you around in the new year. 


—Becky and Mike O’Malley 




Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:48:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reban Tranter, a former director of ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) accuses Steve Martinot of demonizing ABAG “in the fashion of the Tea Party brigades” and Sarah Palin, thus name-calling in exactly the fashion he deplores. 

But Mr. Martinot’s commentary, “The Theory of Urban (Un) Development” (Jan. 26) struck me not as some kind of witch-hunt but as a reasonable response to one of the bludgeons that the city has been using against our flatlands neighborhoods in order to force greater density on our already crowded environment: the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). 

Having the dubious pleasure of reading the city’s 2009-2014 Housing Element, I am newly awakened to the controversy over this assessment, which the City planners themselves dispute. On page 44 and 45 of the Nov. 18, 2009, draft of the Housing Element, they write that “the city believes the number of people in group quarters is almost twice what was estimated … by ABAG. … While the university led to a higher RHNA allocation, the city gets no credit in the RHNA process for the housing provided by the university … The city … believes group quarters completed in this next RHNA cycle should be credited towards meeting the city’s RHNA goals.” 

The determination of the RHNA number is not the only problem raised in the Housing Element, but that discussion will have to wait until I’ve finished my reading. If anyone would like to join me in studying this document, give me a call. I know, there’s the 450 page DEIR of the West Berkeley Project too, and the council probably won’t listen to us even after we’ve caught up with staff’s voluminous paperwork. 

Once upon a time the City Council relied on its educated, involved citizenry for our input on policy issues. Not anymore. Now we are treated with contempt and ignored like recalcitrant children. Respectable people including professionals are subjected to name-calling. 

Toni Mester 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley City Council may be placing too much credence and importance on a single, recent pool survey—to the virtual exclusion of earlier findings—in deciding the fate of pools in Berkeley. This could backfire badly. 

The recent city staff pool survey was flawed in several ways. First, the respondents were purposely skewed to reflect likely June voters—not Berkeley residents as a whole. Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents were over 50 years old while the reverse is true—around 70 percent of Berkeley citizens are under 50 years old. The same skewing occurred in regards to race, gender, home ownership, length of residency, income, etc. Distorting survey participation towards likely June voters may be politically expedient in the short-term but risks disenfranchising, misrepresenting and under serving a majority of Berkeley citizens in the long-term.  

Two, the choice of language, sequence, details, etc. used to describe pool alternatives and services (“attributes”) in the survey certainly shaped results. The lack of question order rotation, bottom-line emphasis on cost—versus “value”—and uneven description of the alternatives was leading and misleading 

The third flaw was setting up a “false choice” in the survey that insinuated that the two plans described were the only options available and that one of these must be voted on in June versus at a later date.  

Last but not least, the survey was shown to only one group of the broader swim community—those most strongly aligned to the Warm Pool and King Pool—for feedback and input prior to distribution. It’s no coincidence that the poll validated that group’s plans and desires. 

It’s not whether we like or dislike this poll, it’s how much stake we put in it in combination with other factors. The results were confusing, contradictory, and at marked variance with other cities’ experiences, common wisdom of pool management, and previous swim surveys conducted in Berkeley—as recently as last year regarding the Warm and King pools. Nobody wins if a badly designed poll is exaggerated in any direction. 

The recent city pool survey was not a complete waste and there was some valuable information in it—but perhaps not where people readily think. The city staff and City Council should use extreme caution in over-interpreting these results to the public or the pool bond measure in June could surprise many. 

Charles Banks-Altekruse 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

I’d like to clarify a few things in Riya Bhattacharjee’s article of Feb. 2 under the title “Neighbors Emerge Victorious...”. This article also discusses the Zoning Board’s approval of a proposal to build a 6,478-square-foot home with a 3,394-square-foot enclosed garage underneath it at 2707 Rose St., in which neighbors were certainly not victorious. 

The “small group of neighbors” Riya mentions in fact included at least 28 who wrote letters opposing board approval and several who testified similarly at the hearing. These people were asking, minimally, for a continuance so that more information on the project could be provided. Many who took the time to write only learned of the project a few days before the hearing. They expressed concern at the placing of such a large building in a neighborhood of much smaller and often historically significant homes. Some also questioned a notification process that left so many nearby residents in the dark; for example, one of the project notification posters was put up in a carport on a dead-end street under a “no trespassing” sign. Some were concerned about a staff report that contained significant flaws. Why, for instance, weren’t “story poles” that would provide a real physical outline of the structure and which are required by the city for other new construction, required here? These would have given the neighborhood a better idea of the height and mass of the building. 

To put this project into context, Alameda County records show that, out of more than 17,000 single-family homes in the City of Berkeley, only 10—one out of 1,700—are larger than 6,400 square feet. Only two of these were built after 1942, and only five are in North Berkeley. The proposed structure, especially if one includes the square footage of the large garage, will be one of the largest homes ever built in this city. Surely such a unique project in a historic neighborhood deserves a more thorough review that takes account of the concerns of those who will live with it for a long time. 

Susan Nunes Fadley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The planned Kapor house is obviously not reaping any sympathies from the neighborhood with its monster Big Mac/K-Mart look. 

But since the wise Permit Board called for the parties to compromise, here is my suggestion for the Kapors to buy back some sympathies: Both Big Mac and K-Mart, we know, allow the use of their restrooms to the passing public. Since many hill pedestrians will pass closely by their house, they would appreciate access to a restroom, especially on the arduous way back up. I am serious! What a truly crowning philanthropic act that would be! Particularly as so many public restrooms are closing. Nothing fancy needed, of course —even a clean, functioning Port-a-potty would do, whose architectural match, by the way, should be no problem at all! 

Juergen Hahn 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just a note to applaud the recent changes to your website publishing schedule. It’s great to see the site being updated daily, sometimes several times a day. It’s become a part of my regular, through-the-day reading along with other regularly-updated news sites. I’m now checking in on the Berkeley Daily Planet three to four times a day, rather than once a week. 

Many thanks for all your hard work! 

E. Busch-Wheaton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to express my support for the Aquatic Park Preschool, the Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, and to those of us in West Berkeley who are enthusiastic about the revitalization of our neighborhood. Over the past several years, we have applauded the opening of new restaurants, small shops, and entertainment venues near where we live. Now, we have even witnessed the reopening of Black Oak Books in the heart of West Berkeley! These felicitous changes are difficult to reconcile with having the Berkeley Patients Group (so-called) as neighbors. 

My wife and I had the misfortune, for several years, of renting a cottage on Wallace Street that directly abutted the east property line of the BPG. We were plagued by the disrespect shown by its clients to their residential neighbors.  

If you want to draw your own conclusions, we invite you to linger on the sidewalk in front of BPG for a hour or so. Do so during their business hours after dark, and imagine yourselves as neighbors. Listen to all the guys revving up their twin-OHC engine muscle-cars, usually with glass-pack mufflers (designed to make noise). Listen as they sit in their cars for five minutes with their engines idling. Listen to the maddening amplified low-frequency noise entering the sound space from the trunk-installed sub-woofers of “boom cars.” Listen to the cross-parking lot shouted conversations of clients.  

Lastly, think “aesthetics.” Do you want to have in your community a facility with a concertina wire protected chain-link fence? Do you want to share space with an enterprise, the outside of which, rife with galvanized garbage can planters, resembles nothing so much as the parking lot of a “reptile-farm” or of a tractor-haul arena along some rural southern highway. 

For years, the residents of West Berkeley, to no avail, having been trying to get rid of its chronic air pollution that comes from Pacific Steel. Let BPG move next to PS, forming a tidy package of offensive air, noise, and aesthetic insult. 

Peter Hubbard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the recent article alerting readers that the Berkeley Adult School is once again in jeopardy due to proposed budget cuts. One of the largest programs at the school, the division which serves senior citizens and disabled adults, is especially vulnerable. Through this unique program, nearly 100 classes are offered in 20 community settings throughout Berkeley, providing opportunities for social interaction and learning in a variety of ways.  

  In the Lifelong Learning division, for example, students over 55 can pursue better health through swimming, aerobic exercise, dance, tai chi, and yoga classes. Mental acuity can be maintained through classes in world literature, drama, poetry, current events or Spanish. Art and music classes help to enrich students’ lives as well as providing outlets for self-expression. 

  For adults with disabilities, classes include wheelchair basketball, a choir for visually-impaired adults, and many communication classes that emphasize daily living skills. The music and art classes held in nursing homes bring great joy to frail elderly students and show that learning can occur at any age. 

  Although classes such as these have been an integral part of the Berkeley Adult School for decades, the program is now imperilled because most of the classes are not career-oriented and do not train students specifically for future employment. However, most of the older adult students have already been in the work force for many years, have contributed greatly to our society, and they should now be given every opportunity to enjoy the wonderful educational opportunities offered by the school. It would be a tragic loss if this vital program should become a victim of future budget cuts.  

Diana Perry 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

That old 1965 Golden Oldie began with, “Laugh, laugh, I thought I’d die.” So now the readers are supposed to pay the tab for your incompetence ? 

Oh, I forgot the owner’s Mom is a rightwinger who denounced Obama. Good God, call the PC Police. Or at least Chris Daly. 

Johnny Carson had a great line in spring, 1981, “I just heard that there was a shortage of IRS agents. That’s the worse news since Hitler had a shortage of storm troopers.” That says it all. 

But maybe now there will plenty of IRS to make the misnamed Daily Planet pay up. Talk about getting hoisted by your own petard! 

But you could try the tactics of the Bay Guardian. Use the state to put your competitor out of business. Becky and Bruce B. would make a great crybaby duet. 

Al Blue 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

So, you admit that you knew the office was a dingy little place run by a right-wing anti-Obama person that had a deceptive website. You’ve known there were problems since October. But you still gave them your business. 

And now, when you get burned, you complain in a bitchy article designed to make you look like a victim. You knew the facts and you acted stupidly.  

You got what you deserve. 

Maybe Allen-Taylor can put you in touch with his good friend Ron who can help you not pay your taxes. 

Javier Melendez 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Whatever became of Spring Mansion? “Neighbors Riled About Plans to Develop Spring Mansion (Planet, Feb. 23, 2007). ” 

Brian R. Foust 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

For the last 20 years I have made Bekeley my home, a city that I love for its diversity and traditional tolerance of other cultures and of differing view points and/or paradigms. Several years ago, however, there was a shift in the way that drug charges were handled, however, changing from the “harm-reduction model” to one of “zero tolerance.” The result has been devastating to the lives of many Berkeley citizens. 

  For this reason, drug charges that had previously been, in most cases, reduced to a misdemeanor, have been treated as felonies, and the number of people violated at some point during their probation or parole has tripled. Many of these offenders are placed into mandatory drug programs for six months to a year. The rate of recividism alone should tell people that this approach is not effective and is actually clogging up our court system and jails. 

  Whatever happened to the harm-reduction model? It was so much more reasonable, practical, and effective. People who want to use drugs will use them, regardless of whether or not they are against the law. The only people who are helped by programs are people that want to be helped... who enter drug programs of their own initiative. Why do we keep wasting tax payers dollars on ineffective policies? Is it just to “look” like a hardline has been taken against drugs? Who are we trying to impress? 

  Perhaps the biggest part of the drug probem is the stigma attached to drug use, the potential legal difficulties that arise from being prosecuted for drug charges, etc. Maybe America should look at the outcome of other countries who have tried a different approach—such as Amsterdam—and follow suit. 

Karen Baker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent news that the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit project has been allocated another $15 million in the federal 2011 budget confirms what most of us already know: that building modern, efficient urban transit systems is right in line with the administration’s priorities. We can therefore move forward with confidence that further Small Starts funding will be forthcoming. 

Not only that, this welcome funding decision underscores a fiscal irony: compared to the far less functional “rapid bus plus” plan—nearly a “no-build” alternative—the full BRT project is actually the cheaper alternative when it comes to local funding. While RBP technically qualifies to apply for Small Starts money, its very lack of significant incremental benefits makes the project “score” far lower—almost certainly too low to gain any federal grants. We would therefore have to raise local funds to install RBP—a highly unlikely prospect when AC Transit is unable even to maintain recent service levels. 

Finally, we should not forget that “money attracts money.” The City of Oakland, in planning for its own portion of the BRT project, is increasingly interested in expanding it to include a “complete streets” approach: leveraging BRT with other available grants to pay for utility, pedestrian and streetscape improvements along the route. Taking that approach in Berkeley would help to overcome fear-based objections raised by some local merchants and businesses: BRT can help attract funding for the improvements we need to make their business districts more attractive to visitors and shoppers. 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the recent article about the tragic payroll fraud, there was a sentence about Ellen Norgren, reading “the Planet’s publisher saw her there not long ago reading right-wing political tracts and denouncing Obama’s health care plan.” That’s not news, that’s an ad hominem attack. It is lowbrow, low-quality journalism like this that makes being a Planet supporter difficult. Act as a real newspaper, not a forum for ranting, and I think the paper’s fortunes will improve. 

Bryce Nesbitt 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was sad to read about the passing of another long-time prominent Berkeley activist, Tom Condit. I knew Tom from the late 1950s when I first met him at a Socialist Party convention in Chicago of which we were both members at the time. When I moved to the Bay Area in 1960, we both belonged to the SP Local which played a significant part in Berkeley radical politics at the time. I also remember Tom as an IWW branch secretary in San Francisco during the mid-1960s. Tom was a democratic socialist for most of his adult life and chose to express that advocacy through the Peace and Freedom Party as a candidate and organizer. He and his wife Marsha Feinland were the anchors of the PFP in Alameda County that helped hold it together all these decades. He was also a tireless participant in the labor, antiwar, and civil rights movements. Wherever there was a demonstration, rally, march, or important community meeting, one could always count on Tom to be there. He was also a gentle and personable chap with a warm sense of humor and had an encyclopedic knowledge of socialist ideas and movements. My condolences to Marsha, their son, and other family members.  

Harry Siitonen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just read the two op-eds in your Jan. 28-Feb. 3 issue regarding development in downtown Berkeley. I lived in Berkeley the first five years I lived in the Bay Area and it remains my favorite city here, so I felt I had to comment after reading the two columns. 

I moved to Berkeley from a liberal area of Chicago. I lived in Chicago without a car, and figured that since Berkeley was more progressive than where I came from, it would have good public transit and I wouldn’t need a car. Boy, was I surprised! While Berkeley was more progressive in many other ways, people here worshipped their cars compared to Chicago, and the public transit was more like the suburbs than the city of Chicago. So I understand the attitude of people in Berkeley regarding parking. 

  That said, I was dismayed that both columns regarding downtown development were obsessed with the parking issue. A progressive position is that we need to get people out of cars and onto public transit, biking, and walking. Driving contributes to immense environmental and ecological harm, including destruction of ecosystems from extraction, oil spills— which are now so common they occur almost daily—toxic pollution from refining, and of course air pollution from burning gasoline, including global climate change. Complaining about lack of parking is anti-environmental. A progressive position would be that private motor vehicles should be removed from the city and replaced by much more public transit. 

  The claim by Christopher Adams, that he cannot live without his car, was especially galling. I lived quite well in Berkeley and north Oakland using my bicycle and public transit. While the public transit could and should have been much better, I was able to buy all of my groceries using these modes of transit, mainly using a backpack. Requiring a car is either a state of mind or a lifestyle that one chooses, but there is no such inherent requirement. 

  Please print some opinions contrary to those crying about lack of parking. It is really offensive to read those complaints when driving is contributing to so much environmental and ecological harm and destruction. 

Jeff Hoffman 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Who is responsible? The newspaper boxes are gone! They have gone and done it again. 

Where? The busy northwest corner of Shattuck and Cedar. That’s Andronico’s corner, where several bus routes stop, U.S. mail box, bench.  

What could be a better location for newspaper boxes, from perspectives of both readers and publishers?  

When? For as long as I have lived in North Berkeley, there has been a row of boxes containing a variety of periodicals—some free, some requiring coins. I relied on them for the Daily Cal, East Bay Express, and Business Woman, as well as Sunday newspaper editions. And sometimes for the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

How come there’s one box left? It contains free advertisements for expensive rentals.  

Special treatment? Instead of removing the boxes, there should be an addition of a freebie, namely, the senior centers monthly schedule/newsletter. 

Speaking of the Berkeley Daily Planet and senior centers: Many seniors are unable and or unwilling to pay $2 for an issue at a senior center. There seems to be some confusion about this process. If Planet and senior center managements could get together and clarify that this is a requested contribution and provide a foolproof container into which money can be deposited (i.e. accessible only to he who picks up the cash promptly), it would make more sense. At present, volunteers and some seniors are silenced and stymied. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Boalt Hall’s Coalition for Diversity will host its annual Law School Admissions Workshop on Sat., Feb. 20, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Coalition’s mission is to increase diversity in the legal profession.  

If you are familiar with our previous workshops, you might be wondering why the shift from fall to February workshops? The answer is that we would like to begin providing students with our great services well in advance of the law school application process so that they can feel confident and prepared when they apply. Because this is a transition year, this workshop will not include law student panels, resume and personal statement review sessions, or LSAT panels like in years past. However, the heart of program will remain intact—Anthony Solana, author of the Guide to the Law School Application Process for People of Color, will speak on how complete a successful law school application. Our full-blown workshops will resume in February 2011.  

This event is free. For those who are interested in attending, we would like them to RSVP to coalitionfordiversity@gmail.com or at www.forpeopleofcolor.org by Feb. 17.  

Joshua Johnson 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

I wish to be considered as Marcy Greenhut’s replacement on the Transportation Commission. I have served as an ad-hoc member of the Commission’s Bike and Pedestrian Sub-committee since September 2008. I have not attended a meeting in several months owing to what I feel is a deeply counterproductive direction under her leadership, and regular abuse of procedure by Ms. Greenhut. 

If appointed, I intend to offer a more thoughtful agenda, which I tried to present numerous times, but which Ms. Greenhut obstructed with counterproductive procedural nonsense, and abuse of parliamentary procedure. Specifically, I see that the City of Berkeley needs: 

1) To enact a mandatory bike helmet law for adults. 

2) To create and install signage—with Alameda County and the State of California—to remind people to look behind them or in their door mirrors, so they don’t “door” a biker. The number of near misses continues to increase from passenger and drivers. 

3) Calling for a moratorium on what you euphemistically and inaccurately call “traffic calming circles.” They don’t calm traffic; they create confusion, thereby terrorizing bikers and pedestrians in crosswalks. By now, every citizen in Berkeley has had the terrifying experience of seeing a vehicle veer toward them when they’re in the crosswalk. 

4) Tracking of accidents and subsequent injuries from car-bike collisions, and bike-door collisions. The statistics Eric Anderson provided previously were woefully inadequate and didn’t even include my accident from March 15, 2006. This requires better communications and liaison with the Berkeley police. 

5) Regular monthly meetings of this committee without fail, and remaining open to scheduling special sessions as needed. 

I am well aware that my ability to work with the committee has been seriously impaired by the efforts to defame me by Ms. Greenhut. Marcy Greenhut’s leadership has been abysmal. Most notably, she failed to have this committee meet on a regular basis and cancelled meetings when important legislations proposals were pending. Without her presence, I can imagine this committee operating more effectively. 

While I am given to understand that Max Anderson has also bought into defamatory comments about me originated by Ms. Greenhut and Mayor Tom Bates, I would foresee no difficulty in working with Mr. Anderson. Rather, I can forgive him for buying into the relentless campaign to defame, arising out of my attempt to hold the city accountable for its illegal support of the Berkeley YMCA. 

H. Scott Prosterman 




Editors, Daily Planet 

The three hikers, Sara Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, detained in Iran should be freed but not at the cost of forcing Iranian dissidents to return to Iran and of freeing an accused Iranian nuclear spy. Ms Shroud’s headscarf wearing mother in her videotaped appeal to the Iranian supreme ruler stated that the three “meant no harm” to the regime. The families labeled the accusation that they entered Iran with “suspicious aims” as “ludicrous.” 

  The three lived in Syria where Mr. Bauer, a self-described freelance journalist, was the perfect guest indifferent to the suffering of thousands of ordinary Syrians imprisoned and tortured by its Iranian backed dictator while writing articles critical of Israel and the United States. Mr. Bauer similarly was indifferent to the suffering of thousands of Iranians imprisoned and tortured by the brutal religious fanatics ruling Iran to whom Mr. Bauer “meant no harm.” 

Eventually the U.S. will ransom Mr. Bauer and his friends. We should not pay more than market value and demand a few imprisoned Iranians in the deal.  

Dan Brown 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Please encourage all of your readers who use a payroll service to request that the service have the IRS send the client an inquiry PIN. This inquiry PIN allows the client to check their payment history online or by phone. It does not allow the client to make or change payments with this PIN. 

Clients will receive a special PIN mailing from EFTPS (IRS electronic payment system) explaining that their tax professional has requested that they receive the Inquiry PIN. The mailing will include a PIN letter and instructions on how to obtain an internet password so clients may access EFTPS online at www.eftps.gov 

California will be offering this service in the near future, where clients can go online and view their payment history. However in the short term, we encourage our clients to request from the EDD payment history on their accounts at least once a year.  

Matthew Miceli 

Walnut Creek 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Surprisingly the Planet apparently did not give any coverage immediately to the Gates Foundation’s announcement of putting $10 billion for inoculating children throughout the world’s poorer countries. That may sound great but how will they be kept from dying in larger numbers from starvation and intestinal dysentery? Is it ethical and moral to do that to millions of children? 

Gates is trying to get other foundations to join, but I suggest that they and he should start thinking about getting healthy food and clean water programs to go with inoculating programs so that more children can have a chance to survive. I have sent several e-mails to the foundation pointing out this issue and urge any concerned readers to do the same. 

James Singmaster 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

  Our federal government, like a deer in the headlights, is paralyzed. 

  The executive branch, after eight years of the worse this country has ever seen, is headed by a smart, literate and rhetorically gifted man, half white and half African. But after a year in office there is no denying that “…the momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked or even slowed…” (Gary Wills, “Bomb Power”). In many areas—Iraq and Afghanistan, warfare by drones, supporting Israel, torture, warrantless eavesdropping, secrecy, militarily backed imperialism—the new executive branch is not much different from the old.  

  Congress is held in contempt by more than fifty percent of the voting public. Any day on C-Span you can view political theater, comical bickering much like a school cafeteria food fight.  

  Finally, two recent decisions by the Supreme Court have all but killed responsible, representative and accountable government.  

  A year ago the Supremes reaffirmed the unencumbered right of individuals to own guns (and, by extension, pistols, rifles and AK47s).  

  Two weeks ago they outlawed all limits on corporate contributions to political campaigns. Justice Stevens said the court lost “touch with its sense of fair play.” Justice Scalia, the high priest of the court’s conservative majority, would no doubt tell Stevens that court decisions have nothing whatever to do with fair play.  

  Taken to their logical extremes these decisions converge. If carrying guns cannot be “infringed” in any way and if corporations giving money cannot be “abridged” in any way and if the court can define money as speech then it can also define firing guns as uninfringeable speech. 

  Court rulings that have nothing to do with fair play also have nothing to do with common sense. 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My daughter has Type 1 diabetes. She has been out of a job for a year. I pay her COBRA payments, but they are about to run out. She will be unable to get insurance with a pre-existing condition. It is NOW that we need to get health care reform. This country should be ashamed of itself for letting people suffer, not only financially but physically and mentally from lack of care. We are the only country in the developed world that has uninsured people for their health. The Republicans are nothing but nay sayers. They are despicable when they cannot think of the good of this country rather than their selfish political concerns. 

Joan Finnie 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Our current health care system is badly broken. The U.S. lags behind Slovenia (a former Yugoslav republic!) in most health indexes, refuting naive Republican claims that “we have the best health care system in the world.” Roughly 15 percent of our population lacks any form of health insurance; in this we stand shamefully alone amongst industrialized nations. In short, we as a nation are failing badly. Health care costs now are to such a point that they threaten to bloat our deficits and contribute to crushing debts. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, but health care reform, while costly in the short term, is actually essential to reducing long-term deficits and debt. 

We stand on the brink of serious reform. The Senate has passed an imperfect but still very good bill, one which will lower costs, cover 30 million Americans and prevent insurance companies from discriminating with coverage. Only shrill obstructionist politics stand in the way. Hopefully the Democrats in congress will find the intestinal fortitude to buck the callow cable news critics and finally pass the legislation. If the House can pass the Senate bill, reconciliation procedures could be used to remedy some of the difference between the two current bills. All that matters now is the political courage to make it happen. 

Michael Taylor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The cost of health care has become highly unaffordable in this country

The Fictions of ABAG

By Steve Martinot
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:48:00 AM

Once upon a time, back in the days when people were clamoring for justice and participation, some courageous souls formed an organization in the Bay Area consisting of delegates from the cities and counties of the region, for the purposes of curbing regional pollution and environmental despoliation, preserving urban open space, and guarding the traditional character of different neighborhoods. Thus was born the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). It sought to coordinate common interests across city lines, and be the expression of local policy against the designs of centralized planning commissions, the top-down development of transportation and industry, and the urban sprawl that transportation technology incurred. It began as a way in which local constituencies could act politically up against the state. That was then; this is now. 

What turned ABAG upside-down was transportation planning. It wanted to be the central planning body for Bay Area transportation, but it got upstaged by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), an agency given planning authority and functional control over that economic category by the state. ABAG was then “given responsibility” for land-use planning by the MTC (according to Revan Tranter in his 2001 brief history of ABAG). I put “responsibility” in quotes becauses it marks a critical shift. Democratic representation means to be responsible to an electorate, a conduit of power and interest from the bottom up. When a higher state agency gives a governmental association “responsibility for” something, that arrow is reversed, and power and interest flow from the top down. 

This is what Tranter doesn’t understand. In his critique (Planet, Feb. 4, 2010) of my earlier article (Planet, Jan. 28, 2010) on representation and development (in which I mention ABAG), he correctly describes ABAG’s purpose as allocating housing development needs to different regions of the Bay Area (his quibble with the actual figures being unimportant). But at the same time, he thinks ABAG is representative (in a democratic sense) becauses it is composed of delegates appointed by cities and counties. Though they leave the design of housing development to local government; they nevertheless function to allocate. What he doesn’t see is that “allocation” is a top-down procedure, whereas democracy must work from the bottom up. In the face of this contradiction, all he can tell us is how well ABAG does its job, while it is that job that is the problem. Indeed, with respect to the “top-down” paradigm, allocating and “giving responsibility for” (to which we can add “bringing democracy to the unenlightened”) are slogans of forms of autocracy. 

But despite Tranter’s assurances, both ABAG’s representative character and its allocations are fictional. ABAG makes its decisions concerning the “responsibility” for increased housing that it “allocates” to each city by means of a “Projection Model,” that is, a computerized forecasting process. You plug in data and a few historico-economic assumptions—the kind that get knocked unceremoniously into the river by financial crises—and the “Projection Model” tells you what your increase in population and their infrastructure needs will be. It doesn’t matter that there may not be any reality to the assumptions—for instance, Berkeley’s population has been fairly constant over the last two decades. They get worked into the software anyway. In other words, the “projection model” is a form of speculation—which is another term for fictionalizing reality. Unless, of course, the situation is more insidious; that is, that ABAG is party to a plan to manifest a sizable relocation of people from the “sprawl” back into the cities, to cut down on the commute time of the managerial class—a task it hints at on its webpage—which means they know the future because they are party to creating it. 

But the idea that ABAG represents the people, because it is composed of delegates “chosen by their peers,” is also fictional. The delegates of cities are not chosen by the people, but by city councils. The delegate from Berkeley happens to be Laurie Capitelli, councilperson for the 5th district. He was not chosen by the whole city of Berkeley, but by the city council. To my knowledge, he has not given reports to the people of this city, whom he ostensibly “represents,” about his activity in ABAG, nor about what ABAG is doing. Nor has he called any meetings of the citizens of this city to ask them what they think he should be doing for them in ABAG, let alone educate them about their “power,” through their “representative” (himself), in that body. This implies that the relation between ABAG and the city council is (metaphorically, perhaps) a “back-room” affair. And it has to be if it is part of a power chain that flows from the top down, a structure of government imposed between local city and county entities and the state’s executive administration. It is not representative, except insofar as it represents the interests of the state over the people. The flip-side of that is that the people end up representing ABAG in their (necessary) acceptance of its decisions for them. Thus, ABAG is not only anti-democratic in its allocations, but today stands in opposition to the ideals of justice and participation from which it germinated. 

It is in this anti-democratic spirit, I think, that certain city councilpersons acted to obstruct the petition for a referendum on the Downtown Area Plan. In so doing, their claim to being “representative” melted away. And this in turn was the context for my main point in the Jan. 28 article, that urban development deconstructs in the sense that imposing high-rise densifying construction on a neighborhood will decimate the traditional culture—its commercial character, its comfort and entertainment resources, etc.—that the new buildings will need as a social infrastructure, because the increase in land values will price them out of existence, leaving the area undesirable. In other words, however one plans locally, to accede to an external allocation for newly constructed, population-densifying buildings will be a self-destructing project. 

Finally, in order for urban development to not be self-contradictory, certain infrastructures have to be in place first. These include a more extensive intra-city public transportation system, a system of citizen participation in formulating as well as voting on the terms of that development, and finally, rent control to maintain the stability of the neighbors (the actual people, so often forgotten), both residential and commercial. 


Steve Martinot is a Berkeley resident.

Bus Driver Responds to Paul Alivisatos

By Kat Bedford
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:49:00 AM

The Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Paul Alivisatos, wrote a letter to you on January 28, regarding the change in bus service, which contained a number of errors.  Here are the facts:  

The 13 career bus drivers at LBNL have lost their jobs as bus drivers.  While these drivers have taken other jobs at the Lab in order to maintain their benefits and current pay rate, their new jobs are not in their chosen careers as bus drivers.  Mr. Alivisatos is wrong to regard all service jobs as the same, and to think that all service workers don’t care what they do.  

Some of the drivers are working as custodians, a classification with a lower pay scale than that of a bus driver.  These drivers, in their new custodial jobs, have lost the ability they once had to advance through a driver’s higher pay scale. At their current rate, the new drivers-turned-custodians are making more money than the more experienced custodians who they now work side by side with. Is that fair?  

Just a few years from retirement, after decades of driving a bus, and physically unable to handle the job of custodian, one of the drivers has essentially been forced to retire early.  

The five new custodial positions created at the Lab to absorb the displaced bus drivers should have been used to hire some of the 25 custodians who are laid off from the UC Berkeley campus.  The Lab should have kept its union bus drivers, because the problem was not with their drivers, and instead considered outsourcing its bus management.   Better still, the Lab should have simply bought new fuel-efficient buses with some of the federal stimulus dollars it is swimming in and worked on improving its management.  

In contracting with MV Transportation, the Lab has not accomplished its goal of providing safe transportation.  MV transportation, a non-union employer, has a robust record of fatalities, discrimination lawsuits, and OSHA violations.  MV’s astronomical turnover rate is partly responsible for this.  

In the 42 years that the Lab has had bus services, there has been not one fatality.  And while 13 drivers have lost their jobs as drivers, the Lab’s employees, students, and guests have lost the invaluable service that came with more than 50 years of collective experience that these drivers brought to their work everyday.  


Kat Bedford is a displaced LBNL bus driver.

Small Classes Controversy at Berkeley High

By Raymond Barglow
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:50:00 AM

In 2003, with the help of a million-dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, Berkeley High School, which serves a diverse student body of about 3,400 students, was divided into six “small learning communities,” or “small schools” as they're sometimes called. The aim was to personalize education and reduce the achievement gap between higher- and lower-performing students. Many in the latter category are students of color, and so the reform, which was supported as well by the US Department of Education, “anticipated project outcomes [that] include improved standardized test scores and college preparedness for African American and Latino students.”  

Seven years later, the verdict on whether or not these changes have improved the high school is not in. The small learning communities (SLCs) have created dynamic theme-based programs designed to bring students at all performance levels together within an educational environment that engages them all, encourages their creativity and curiosity, and inspires them to do their best. 

Yet the achievement gap has not been reduced. And today the school board and high school governing council are faced with the predicament of distributing increasingly scarce resources not to one large school but to six small ones, vying with one another for teachers, facilities, and other bare necessities. 

One of the ideals of progressive education is small class size, which enables each student to receive more personal attention from the teacher. As Annie Johnston, coordinator of one of the SLCs, Community Partnership Academy, explained at last week's school board meeting, “Extra time with each student allows teachers to differentiate instruction, which is what allows all students to move toward grade level.” 

Small classes are expensive, however, requiring more funding for teachers and facilities. Hence it's no surprise that class size is a charged issue that intensifies competition among the SLCs. If you are a teacher with 20 students in your classroom, and there are 35 students in mine, I may very well feel that my students are being shortchanged, and that I'm having to constantly police the classroom to maintain order and discipline, while you are actually able to teach. Students too are acutely sensitive to the neglect that large classes entail, and they respond accordingly.  

Hence small classes are regarded by many educators as the holy grail of effective classroom instruction. But some of the parents and teachers at Berkeley High say that class size is being unfairly handled. Three teachers in the science department, Evy Kavaler, Matt McHugh, and Amy Hansen, allege that two of the learning communities, Academic Choice (AC) and Berkeley International High School (BIHS), have on average substantially larger classes than do the other four programs: “AC and BIHS have the most overcrowded classes in the school. 151 classes have an enrollment of 33 students or more. This year almost all of these over-enrolled classes are in AC or in BIHS.” Statistical data provided by these teachers and by parents who are similarly concerned appear to support this claim. 

These critics point out as well that such class size differences are prohibited by Berkeley High's official “Small Schools' Guiding Principles,” which specify that “A small school [i.e. an SLC] will be allocated the same student/teacher ratio, student/administrator ratio, and student/counselor ratio as is available to other students in the high school.” 

Why are class sizes larger in two of the learning communities than in the other four? Priscilla Myrick, parent of two Berkeley High graduates and a former representative on the BHS Governance Council, finds a partial explanation in the composition of the governing council itself, where the SLCs have not been granted proportional representation: “The responsibility for allocating teachers lies with the principal and School Governance Council. But a lop-sided School Governance Council can produce lop-sided results. In the interest of fairness and equity for all students and teachers, class sizes at Berkeley High need to be more equitably balanced.” 

Berkeley School Board Superintendent Huyett points out, however, that it's standard in public schools to have variable class sizes, since some classes call for higher student-teacher ratio than others. Because struggling students, for example, need more personal attention from their teachers, some classes have more students in order to lower the class size in others. “When you have higher need students, slow learners, you typically vary your staffing,” according to Huyett. 

Critics of class-size policies at the high school submit that the wish to support under-performing students does not explain why the four small SLCs have smaller class sizes than AC and BIHS have. Amy Hansen, a teacher in the science department at BHS, said that “AC has an African-American population that nearly mirrors the demographics of the school ... we have our fair share of at-risk students. And we try to support them with smaller class sizes.” But this effort is hampered, according to Hansen, by student-teacher ratios that are higher in AC and BIHS than in the other four learning communities. 

At issue also is the distribution of release time to teachers at the six BHS learning communities. Release time, which is used for staff development and student support, varies widely across the six programs. Science teachers Kavaler, McHugh, and Hansen have offered data indicating that the four smaller programs, “receive 2.8 times more release time per student than AC and BIHS combined.” 

The six learning communities at Berkeley High are currently considering a redesign plan that aims to improve the experiment in small learning communities that began in 2003. This experiment hands over to teachers, parents, and students a lot of autonomy in creating personalized education at the school, and John Dewey smiles upon it from above. But whether the school can find a path forward that meets the needs of its diverse constituencies—in an era of severely limited resources—remains to be seen. 


Raymond Barglow is the founder of Berkeley Tutors Network. 

The Governor’s Depraved Cuts To IHSS

By Jack Bragen
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:50:00 AM

Arnold Swartzenegger, and his longtime hero Clint Eastwood, are finally getting their fondest wish, which is to rid the state of what they believe to be a mere nuisance: The coexistence of disabled people in the community. If at all possible, these two anti-disability activists would have anyone with a significant disability be forced to live in state institutions, and out of their sight. 

Clint Eastwood, who Arnold once said was his childhood hero, has been known for years to be an anti-disability-rights activist. Numerous articles in “Ragged Edge Magazine” (no longer in print) have described his bigoted activities and his attitude toward disabled people. 

Arnold, following in the beliefs of Clint, is the Governor and the one to which the voters have given authority. So far he has used this power to pencil out large parts of the In Home Supportive Services, and this has caused many disabled persons to go without the caregivers who have allowed living in the community. 

My wife and I have been recipients of these services and were getting help with our dishes and laundry; this service made our existence much easier. Our mental health issues made it hard to wash the dishes and do laundry. If you have experience with mental health, you will understand this difficulty as well as how much some outside assistance helps. 

We recently had the experience of being discontinued from IHSS, on the basis that we were not in imminent danger of going to a skilled nursing facility. While it will be a hardship for us to compensate for the absence of our workers, we do not expect to be institutionalized as a result. And that’s now the criteria of no longer receiving these services. 

Most IHSS recipients have physical disabilities, not mental ones, and the services they receive, which include very basic care, are essential for them to continue living in their homes. 

The social worker who reviewed my wife and I told us that the governor hopes to eliminate IHSS entirely. This would leave numerous disabled people in California without hope of continuing an independent and therefore tolerable existence. 

Apparently Arnold believes that disabled people are scum, are freeloaders, and all ought to get a job or else disappear into an institution. Because he is a multimillionaire, he believes it makes him inherently superior, and he deems himself worthy to make such a judgment. Like many who have made fortunes in society, he seems to think he is better than everyone rather than the reality that he is blessed with good fortune. 

Of course, the above paragraph involves “reading in” to Arnold and is not fact. It is my interpretation of this seemingly pompous man based on how I have seen him behave. 

This is one reason why society is crumbling in our country: we have a small percentage of people who hoard most of the wealth, and who apparently can never get enough wealth and power to satisfy them. This group of people inflicts cruel acts on other human beings, and on the earth itself in the course of their quest for more. The extreme hoarding disrupts the fabric of the economy since the regular people, including those who work and produce things, cannot afford to pay for the basics. 

The above paragraph might explain why the governor must cut benefits for people who are less fortunate, while he refuses to raise taxes on people who can well afford to pay something back after being blessed with the best, materialistically speaking, that society has to offer. 


Jack Bragen is a Martinez resident. 

Constructing the Achievement Gap 

By Rick Ayers 
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:52:00 AM

The recent flap over the “elimination of science labs” for students at Berkeley High is now upon us with another silly series of breathless media accounts and an unsatisfying non-conclusion – the facts fade away, leaving a universal fog of untruths.  For this one, let’s get the core lie out of the way.  The proposal of Principal Jim Slemp and the Shared Governance Committee was to incorporate science labs into the normal 5 period day – the way it is done at almost all California high schools – instead of the extra classes that had been created and paid for by parcel tax money that Berkeley taxes itself.  The proposal was to redirect some of this money towards projects designed to narrow the achievement gap.  It would also help to more equitably distribute the parcel tax money – since the extra labs were consuming a huge portion of the funds for a sector of the student population that already has great advantages.  


One of the interesting things about Berkeley High School is that it is a  diverse school – containing an ethnic and socio-economic diversity that is unusual in America’s increasingly segregated schools.  But this can also be a frustrating factor when one is forced to witness the inequities of the US, the different opportunities and different outcomes, contained within a single school.  And as the distance persists, as the achievement gap seems impervious to endless well-meaning gestures, it makes one wonder if it can ever be overcome – it suggests some mysterious, ominous force greater than the efforts of mere mortals, which cannot be changed.  


But a closer look at Berkeley High reveals something more sinister – that the gap persists because of groups of people, conscious active people, who move aggressively to thwart any effort to even make a little progress in developing equity between students.  Generally, we are advised to keep silent, to not name this partnership of a handful of elitist teachers and privileged parents, in the interest of the normal administrative belief in a collaborative process which might find us able to agree, some day.  This is the kind of “managing change” paradigm advocated by Michael Fullan and supposes that conflicts should be minimized, common ground should be sought, usually with lots of butcher paper on the wall.  But sometimes in social change there is conflict.  An example is the Civil Rights Movement.  We did not just seek common ground.  There were clear, entrenched forces that had to be countered, even when they wielded political power.  


Since I am a former teacher at Berkeley High, I look back and realize that all of these years of sitting in meetings to try to persuade the opposition has led to an embarrassingly paltry amount of positive movement towards equity. I think it’s time to call it what it is – a stranglehold on any progress at the school which is enforced by what is informally known as the Parents of Power, or sometimes the Parents of Privilege.  I’m certainly in favor of having us all just get along.  But the truth is, just as with Obama’s overtures to the Republicans, the opposition to equity never lets up, never wavers in its determination to block change.    


I taught at Berkeley High for 11 years and had some fantastic experiences with the student newspaper, with the small school Communication Arts and Sciences, and with hundreds of students.  I know, because I’ve seen it time and again, that African American and Chicano Latino students who are given respect, agency, and opportunities, who are taught with culturally relevant and meaningful curriculum, who are engaged in a community, defy the system’s negative expectations and do fantastic work.  But in the end I became convinced that we would always be half-stepping, we would never get a chance to develop the kind of powerful, engaging, equitable educational project that Berkeley could be capable of.    


I know that school districts are desperate to get parent involvement.  And I believe that the best educational projects involve a close collaboration between parents, students, and teachers.  Indeed, I understand that it is the natural and normal response for parents to be watching out for their own kids, to try their damndest to support them getting a decent education and having a positive process of development.  Moreover, many of the best friends that Ilene and I have today are BHS and small school parents, with whom we have become close.  But the Parents of Privilege (PoP) are another category altogether – wielding their social capital and political connections to get their way, even if it is against the interest of all students, even if it is against the interests of their own kids, which I’ll speak to below.    


Where to start?  We seem to be in a state at Berkeley High where there is one constructed crisis after another – each orchestrated by the PoP and duly picked up by the media.  The “end of the science lab” story was not only run in the SF Chronicle, Oakland Tribune, and East Bay Express but it was a topic on KQED Forum as well as a feature in the Los Angeles Times.  It was a juicy story, filled with dire unspoken fears and code language – about the danger of “dumbing down” the curriculum, the undermining of “choice,” and the dangers of PC policies that help those who are too lazy to help themselves.  Since the labs were not disappearing, this story seemed to follow the pattern of Sarah Palin’s death panel charges concerning health care legislation – and it similarly appealed to the idea that we are losing something because of those dang poor people again.  One of the side claims of the PoP was that BHS graduates are fantastic in science (“My older daughter, she became a doctor!” exclaimed one.  And of course that never would have happened without the extra science lab).  BHS Advanced Placement scores – for the group of privileged kids who take them – on chemistry and physics tests are quite high.  Of course, they don’t mention that these AP test scores are compared with those at schools across the state which have much lower income families.  And they leave out the fact that an estimated 70 to 80 per cent of Berkeley High students in AP science classes are receiving private tutoring, sometimes at $50 to70 per hour.  


The science lab story has been preceded by other false alarm panic stories, again designed to forestall any progress towards equity.  Some of these stories were: 

• Small school “cheating” by giving students extra time or alternative science options if they were failing in college prep classes (this was only a few months ago). 

• Small schools inflating grades and throwing pixie dust in the eyes of college admissions officers 

• The problem of the creation of advisory classes to support students in planning and committing to their education – something that might take some minutes from academic classes. 

• The danger of block scheduling (same concern as above). 

• The threat of small school options being created for all BHS students, taking away the number of AP options students might have. 



All of these threats to the traditional, factory-model, impersonal, transmission style education have been ferreted out by the PoP and stopped in their tracks. They can breathe a sigh of relief.  Nothing has changed, not one attempt to address the achievement gap.  But they know they have to be vigilant.  The principal and staff, they imagine, in some misguided attempt to support the “difficult” kids (that’s code language), will probably come up with a new proposal.  And the PoP will sniff it out early, ready to bash it down.  The development of a handful of committed, integrated small schools are the one reform that has occurred and thus they are a target, being perceived as a threat to privilege.  



Many people are surprised at the avalanche of false or misleading data the PoP present when they are launching one of their attacks.  The claim about BHS AP test scores is one example.  The recent charge that small schools don’t teach as well, as shown by test scores, is another.  Anyone familiar with education issues knows that standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and social capital, not academic attainment.  The only thing the low test scores show is that the lottery and the fear generated among middle class white parents has resulted in a higher per cent of low income, low skilled students coming into the small schools in the 9th grade.  Many of the Parents of Privilege are UC faculty – and it’s always humorous to see these professors of a Tier I research university twisting data and invoking sloppy “back of the envelope” calculations.  And one of the teachers favoring the maintenance of elite privilege, in the science department no less, recently demonstrated the same penchant for proposing conclusions based on similarly irresponsible, unscientific, specious, reasoning. His suggestion was that “The birth of an achievement gap at BHS coincides with the creation of small schools.”  In the real world, the achievement gap goes all the way back to the beginning of Berkeley schools.  As soon as computer programs allowed the disaggregation of data, around 1994, the gap which we all knew was there became apparent and quantified.  But this claim somehow invokes a “good old days” when there was no gap.  Are you kidding?  


In spite of all the protestations of liberal concern for the poor, for the “others” who they feel sorry for, the PoP maintain a primary focus on policing the school, to make sure the curriculum is “challenging” for their kids and that their children are kept away from the “disruptive” students, the troublemakers, what one Academic Choice parent called the “slack-jawed” children.  Interestingly, some of these parents are so adept at working the college admissions game that they keep their kids in private school through middle school, then drop them into Berkeley High so they can claim on their applications to come from an urban, diverse school.  God forbid, however, that they should actually encounter that diversity.    


While the small schools were implemented in the interest of finally integrating the school, of bringing a diverse group of students through a whole four year program, the large school “programs” have reverted to the old Berkeley High tradition, segregation within.  Walk down the hallways of Berkeley High.  You will see mostly black and mostly white classes in these programs, but they manage to claim that their overall program is integrated.    


Another part of the full court press the PoP put on is to harass, pressure, complain, and generally brow-beat administration figures to do their bidding.  The new superintendent is currently getting his baptism in PoP treatment, facing a line of parents who complain that their voice is not strong enough in the shared governance process.  They are, get ready for this, marginalized and powerless in the school!  Of course, the opposite is true.  The low income families, and most African American and Chicano Latino families, are desperately underrepresented in school functions and school decision making.  A meeting held last year at St. Joseph the Worker Church for Latino families, to discuss advisories, was stacked with the PoP who took up all the space in the big discussions and in the small groups.  The previous superintendent experienced the same boxing out by these parents and Jim Slemp, the current principal who has had proposal after proposal shot down, must surely be wondering if it is all worth the hassle.  


An interesting aspect of the breathless protestations of the Parents of Privilege is the way they evoke the term “choice.”  They should have a choice of which teacher they have, a choice of the curriculum, a choice of the way city parcel tax money is spent, a choice of how the schedule is set up.  So much freedom!  But really “choice” here has a similar ring as the “state’s rights” calls of the southern whites who were resisting integration.  Indeed, integration and a move towards equity was going to deny them some choice about the kind of school they had and who sat next to their kids.  And if the states wanted to enforce inequity, the movement, and the federal courts, took that choice away from them.    


Yes, racism comes dressed up in many covers and Berkeley has its own liberal version of it.  We don’t so much have an achievement gap as an educational debt, a debt we owe to low income students, to many African American and Chicano Latino students, who continue to be crushed by the Berkeley school system, who continue to head off to the the streets or the prisons.  The failure continues and what do we have in response to it?  Some patronizing hand-wringing, some head shaking, wondering what’s wrong with those kids, maybe we should get them a few tutors, some after school back-up.  But we have to ask: what are they doing right from 3:15 to 5:00 PM that they could not be doing from 8:15 to 3:00?  


The failure of these students, or rather our failure of them, is not some mysterious or impenetrable problem.  It is constructed, it is created, by our schools – which very efficiently reproduce the class and racial fissures of our society.  It is kept in place by conscious actions, by real people, who head off any efforts to make the school work for everyone.  If our community cared about this problem, each of the proposals enumerated above, and many more, would be embraced in an affirmative effort to solve the problem.  Any effort that is made in the Berkeley schools, however, is met with a chorus of protests by selfish and mean-spirited citizens of Berkeley who want to keep all the marbles for themselves.  


The sad thing is that many, many powerful efforts have been mounted in Berkeley, precisely because it could be a showcase of progress and equity.  We had the Diversity Project, a six year process of research, assessment, and recommendations led by Pedro Noguera and involving graduate researchers, teachers, parents and students; we had the concerted efforts of the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools; we had the Parents of Children of African Descent, the Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action, and the United in Action; we have had endless hours put in by teachers committed to equity and diversity, the demands of the students over and over, and the series of proposals that Principal Jim Slemp has initiated.  Each initiative has gained some life, made some progress, and been beaten back by the PoP.    


What we lack is a strong, coherent voice of the communities, the teachers and parents and students who know what would make Berkeley High work.  Too often, the struggle is a one-sided shouting match.  We don’t need to sit with the principal and hash out a two year “decision making” process only to have it crash and burn at the board level.  We need to put our efforts into building a strong, consistent, militant community movement that demands change, deep change, and nothing less.    


Ultimately, we have to take a deep look at what we think education is for.  Why do we have schools?  What are they about?  In the broadest sense, they are to develop the adults who will lead our society in the next generation.  They are about supporting young minds in imagining a just and fulfilling world – and then going out and creating it.  And the blocking efforts of the PoP don’t only harm students who have been pushed aside by our schools; they harm their own kids.  I don’t think a motivation for educating our children should be to push further the gap between rich and poor, to create a world of gated communities on the one hand and blighted neighborhoods on the other.  In the interest of bumper sticker pride, so they can display where their children got in, some of these parents push their kids to take 3 or 4 AP classes, extracurricular activities, endless lessons, and some obligatory charity work.  I’ve had the experience of encountering some of these students in the hallways, being restrained by security as they went through a panic attack brought on by overloads of work.  I’ve seen so many of them robbed of the joy of learning, figuring out how to do a book report from Cliff’s Notes, scheming how to get by – through cheating or through putting up the minimum needed for the “lazy A.”  I’ve known college professors who are so discouraged to get these students, to find them so uninspired about learning, so cynical about the world and their possibilities.  They have developed the habit of narrow survival, learned to play the game, and never gained passion for anything.  How sad is that?  


But their parents can be proud that they “got involved” in the school.  They beat back any attempts at meaningful reform.  They pushed the rigor and the rigor mortis of the curriculum.  I guess they can say they won.  


I know we’re all supposed to get along but I can’t believe that these parents don’t, in the private moments at home, feel some shame at what they’ve wrought.  I know I’m not supposed to blast all this complaint out.  It is a bitter note I have written many times – and heard other teachers, administrators, parents, and students voice often – but I then decide to hit the delete button.  Perhaps this time I will hit send.  I have no doubt that this group will continue to dominate the board and the direction of the school.  But at least someone should name them.  And I believe some day we will be able to take an honest look at the problems and take common sense measures to address them.  

Corruption or Serial Incompetence?

By Nasira Abdul-Allem
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:51:00 AM

I was one of the participants at the Berkeley City Council meeting on Dec. 15, 2009 at which Dr. Rash B. Ghosh’s McGee and Dwight Way property lien was discussed.  

I wrote to the city manager regarding Dr. Ghosh stating that he has been the victim of a series of reclassifications as “errors” of formerly approved, signed-off, and consequently legal plans and permits. These so-called “errors” have resulted in grave injustices to Professor Ghosh, a Berkeley scientist, his tenants, and our organization, the International Institute of the Bengal Basin (IIBB). People such as myself are also denied the community, or “sangha,” of participating in the activities of our non-denominational temple dedicated to uniting people of all faiths and cultures. As a resident of Berkeley and as a frequent visitor to numerous public events held by the IIBB on behalf of oppressed people, these injustices concern me greatly! 

In California, India, Bangladesh, and beyond, Dr. Ghosh and the IIBB have been helping the people in mitigating groundwater toxicity. Dr. Ghosh has been gathering human data on arsenic poisoning from the Bengal Basin, and this has saved the US millions of dollars in animal research while introducing US technology to Southern Asia. The primary goal is to use the Bengal Basin project as a model for emerging economies. The work of this dedicated and outstanding scientist, Dr. Ghosh, and others in India and in Bangladesh helped us lower the arsenic level of our drinking water to a safe at 7ppb in California, the surface water level in Bengal Basin. For thousands of years such levels have not had any injurious health effects. 

I understand that the city plans to use 600,000 tax-payer dollars to redesign what, according to one of Northern California’s preeminent structural engineers, Dr. Hussein Nasser, is one of the strongest wood-frame buildings in this region. This $600,000 figure has been floating around for the last few years, and it will rise when administrative costs are included. In a 2007 meeting, Mayor Bates categorically denied that Berkeley would use city funds to improve Dr. Ghosh’s property. I wonder who is behind this expensive and unnecessary change in direction. Also, I do not understand why the previous approvals of both buildings are no longer valid, or why Dr. Ghosh must undo and redo the work previously approved and signed-off. 

City attorney Zach Cowan and senior zoning planner Steven Ross admitted in writing that part of the attic/third floor is legal and not covered by the abatement order and could not decide how much roof to remove. This order cannot be enforced because it is so confusing and unclear. Why remove it then? 

The city often claims lack of personnel and financial resources as a justification for reduced services, and for this reason, it has not enforced the requirement that soft-story building owners put up signs indicating their buildings are structurally unsafe. Yet the city had the resources to send seven or more city employees, including police, on several occasions to close the McGee and Dwight buildings under the pretext of structural safety despite the fact that these same structures were improved with city approval and signed off in January 1998. Furthermore, the $8,000 the city spent reboarding these same buildings made the property appear blighted and abandoned thus violating their own orders to board from inside—which the owner had already accomplished. Now the property appears abandoned and has suffered vandalism including broken windows and ripped out railings. Additionally, young people have been consuming drugs and alcohol on the porch. The city is creating blight! 

These funds could have been used to post signs on the city’s 400 noncompliant unsafe soft-story buildings and 2000 illegal units instead of the city targeting Berkeley senior water expert and our temple. Does the city accord the same treatment to non-minority property owners? 

The city called the fire department to close the McGee building on Sept. 6, 2007 for alleged fire hazards, but the fire department could find no problems meriting citation. Nevertheless, they closed the building under the pretext of electrical and structural hazards and notified the property owner that they would issue the permit independently addressing the alleged problems. But they did not. Instead they referred the matter to the building depart. The fire department also stated that the property owner had 30 days to correct the hazard without a heavy fine. Yet the report came out 22 months later in response to public record act request. Once this report was released, Dr. Ghosh’s architect, Kristin Personett, immediately responded with the required plans. Dr. Ghosh has repeatedly expressed his willingness to meet the fire department requirements and re-occupy the house, regardless of the validity of the allegations, yet the city has been delaying an issuing permit with no valid reason. It took the city ten years to issue the final permit for this project without owner input in June 2008, but the Dwight Way property was closed while awaiting its permit. Now further alleged violations have been added, and previous approvals are claimed to have been issued in error. Yet further delays will lead to foreclosure. Almost everything approved or signed off in the past is now found in error, and further errors are continually and deliberately added. Is the city always afflicted by such serial incompetence? Is this part of the plan? Does this happen to non-minority citizens?  

Berkeley is more than a city to me; it is my home. Just as I would devote my whole being to preserving common decency and mutual respect for the members of my family, I will do no less to preserve righteousness within this great city! I chose this community over all other cities, and I am extremely concerned about its preservation as a thriving example of democracy as well as free speech and religious, racial and cultural tolerance.  

For details about our city’s abuse of Dr. Ghosh ‘s rights, please visit our website, bengalbasin.org 


Nasira Abdul-Allem is with the International Institute of the Bengal Basin.


The Public Eye: Obama’s State of the Union: 10 Lessons

By Bob Burnett
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:45:00 AM

A week after Democrats suffered a stunning defeat, Barack Obama bounced back with a memorable State of the Union address. After a year in office, Obama has to learn 10 lessons. 


Lesson 1: It’s not ideology, it’s the candidate. Scott Brown won the Massachusetts’ Senate race because Martha Coakley was a tepid candidate who ran a bad campaign. 


Lesson 2: Independents will decide the mid-term elections. Massachusetts’ independent voters overwhelmingly preferred Brown, who hid the fact he’s a Republican. In 2008, Obama won 52 percent of the independent vote; now, only 41 percent support him. 


Lesson 3: Voters are angry. Massachusetts’ exit polls indicated that voters were furious about the economy, jobs, and the slow pace in Washington. There’s a widespread perception that Capitol Hill has favored Wall Street over Main Street. 


Lesson 4: At the end of 2009, Democrats appeared to be working on the wrong set of priorities. Massachusetts voters wanted more attention paid to fixing the economy. While Obama’s favorability ratings remain strong, his job approval ratings have fallen because Independents believe the President “doesn’t get it.” 


Lesson 5: Voters may not like Republicans, but they understand their message. Scott Brown ran on the GOP message: lower taxes and a reduced role for government. In 2009, Democrats lost control of the political narrative. They did not link the recession to failed Republican policies or explain that the Democratic stimulus package worked. 


Lesson 6: The president remains the most popular U.S. politician. Despite these grim political realities, Obama got high marks in Massachusetts and even higher poll numbers in the nation after his State of the Union Address. Voters like the president more than they do any other politician. 


Lesson 7: Voters want Obama to get more involved. There’s a widespread perception that the president is too cerebral and, during 2009, didn’t do enough to move things along—he let Congress dictate the pace, which meant that critical legislation languished. 


Lesson 8: Americans want bipartisanship. Voters expect Democrats and Republican to work together to solve the difficult problems facing the United States. While Scott Brown ran on the Republican mantra, exit polls indicated that voters wanted him to work with Obama and Congressional Democrats. 


Lesson 9: Republicans offer no solutions. The GOP agenda is Nobama. Scott Brown didn’t offer solutions; he was an outlet for voter anger. 


Lesson 10: The president needs better advisers. Interviewed in the London Times, Law Professor Chris Edley, Barack’s mentor and sometimes adviser observed, “You’re not going to reinvent Barack into somebody who delights in pummeling a policy opponent, so his staff need to do that for him. And as far as one can tell from the outside, that is precisely what Rahm Emanuel has failed to do.” 


President Obama’s Jan. 27 State of the Union address indicated that he has learned some of these lessons. The speech was oriented towards independents and addressed their concerns about the economy and the lack of civility on Capitol Hill. 

Obama reassured voters that he feels their pain. “The worst of the storm has passed. But the devastation remains.” After defending his 2009 stimulus package, the president proposed a short-term job creation initiative that includes a tax on the biggest banks, aid to community banks and small businesses, and new infrastructure and clean energy projects. 

Asserting the United States needs “a new foundation for long-term growth,” Obama proposed “serious financial reform,” “a comprehensive energy and climate change bill,” and a “National Export Initiative.” He coupled this with new education programs, further mortgage assistance for struggling homeowners, and comprehensive healthcare reform. 

After the economy, voters are most concerned about the federal deficit. Obama set the record straight: “By the time I took office, [the United States] had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.” After proposing specific steps to bring down the deficit, the president noted that Republicans believe, “that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that’s what we did for eight years. That’s what helped lead us into the crisis.” 

Obama concluded his speech with a call for bipartisanship. He scolded both Republicans and Democrats. (And admonished the Senate for not advancing needed critical legislation passed in the House.) 

The president’s speech ended on a strong note: “We don’t quit. I don’t quit.” While Obama is in it for the long haul, it’s not clear about his staff. 

As he prepared his State of the Union address, Obama recalled David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager, to oversee Democratic strategy for the mid-term elections. What remains to be seen is what other staff changes will occur. Will Rahm Emanuel be replaced? Will the president hire someone to pummel the Senate and force them to pass necessary legislation? Will Obama get more engaged? 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bobburnett@comcast.net.

Undercurrents: Oakland’s ‘Strong Mayor’ Charter Ambiguous As to Mayor’s Duties

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:46:00 AM

One of the challenges in evaluating the administration of an Oakland mayor in these days and times is that 12 years after the passage of Measure X, residents and local media outlets (new and old) still are not certain exactly what a “strong mayor” is supposed to do and be responsible for. 

Oakland mayors have had titular power over the running of city government since the beginning of Jerry Brown’s first mayoral term in January of 1999. But it was only with the firing of former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly by Mayor Ron Dellums—and his subsequent hiring for his former budget aide, Dan Lindheim, to replace her—that we have seen an Oakland mayor actually fully exercise that power. 

One of the problems is that the Oakland City Charter, as modified by Measure X in 1998, is far more vague on the responsibilities of an Oakland mayor than the term “strong mayor” would lead one to believe. 

The charter for the city and county of San Francisco, for example defines the mayor as the “chief executive officer” with “general administration and oversight of all departments and governmental units in the executive branch” of the city and county. In other words, the mayor of San Francisco functions as the city (and county) administrator. 

When the City of San Diego initiated its strong mayor form of government by vote in 2006, it did the same thing. Currently, by city charter, the mayor of San Diego “exercises the authority, power, and responsibilities formally conferred upon the city manager.” The office of city manager was abolished, replaced by expanding the duties of the mayor, who was now “to be the chief executive officer of the city.” 

When Oakland moved from the city manager form of government in 1999—as San Diego did in 2006—the duties of the mayor were defined somewhat differently. The “strong” Oakland mayor defined by Measure X was not to be the “chief executive officer” as in San Francisco and San Diego, but rather the “chief elective officer.” The duties of actually running the city were transferred from the city manager to the city administrator, to whom the mayor “gives direction.” 

The major difference between Oakland’s old city manager and city administrator form of government—other than the fact that the mayor was no longer a member of the City Council—was the fact that in the new “strong mayor” form of government, the mayor was given the power to hire and fire the city administrator. Under Measure X, the council has to ratify the mayor’s choice for administrator, but it is the mayor’s choice to make. Under the old council-manager form that Measure X replaced, the entire council participated in the recruitment and selection process of the city manager. 

Oakland residents passed Measure X in 1998 with the understanding that it would create a system in which the “strong mayor” ran city government. How, then, did this ambiguity over responsibility creep in? 

Had Jerry Brown come into office in January of 1999 hiring a city administrator from outside of the government team that was in place in Oakland at the time, there would have been no doubt that it was his team, and his city to run. Instead, Mr. Brown transferred the city manager in place when he was elected—Robert Bobb—over to the new position of city administrator. 

It was an odd time. Jerry Brown was a highly visible presence in Oakland during his eight years as mayor and frequently asserted himself in issues affecting city residents, including the illegal street sideshow controversy and the school battles that led to the hiring of former Oakland School Superintendent Carole Quan and—ultimately—to the state takeover of Oakland Unified. 

But he was highly selective in his public intervention on matters pertaining to the running of the city. A large portion of Mr. Brown’s interest centered on his promise to bring back retail development in Oakland’s downtown core by promoting the building of downtown housing capable of housing 10,000 new residents (the famous “10K” plan). Mr. Brown also put considerable time-and considerable city resources—into the creation of two public charter schools, what eventually became the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. 

But as far as public perception was concerned, Mr. Bobb continued to run most aspects of Oakland city government as city administrator during the Jerry Brown “strong mayor” years in the same manner as he had as city manager before Measure X was passed, ostensibly under policy guidance from the council and the mayor, but in actuality largely at his own direction. 

That ambiguity in responsibility—created by the Measure X provision of having Oakland mayors “give direction” to the city administrator rather than being responsible for administering the city themselves—allowed Mr. Brown to cherry-pick his responsibilities, taking public credit for city government in some areas, remaining in the background in others. 

On city budget matters, for example, the Oakland City Charter requires that “the mayor shall be responsible for the submission of an annual budget to the council which shall be prepared by the city administrator under the direction of the mayor and council. The mayor shall, at the time of the submission of the budget, submit a general statement of the conditions of the affairs of the city, the goals of the administration, and recommendations of such measures as he may deem expedient and proper to accomplish such goals.” 

Mr. Brown—who was responsible for the writing of those provisions—took them literally, and reviews of his mayoral budget presentations show him making brief, general statements to the City Council on the “direction” of the budget, and then turning over the detailed fiscal presentations to Mr. Bobb, who then personally directed the back-and-forth decisions, negotiations, and fiscal maneuverings that led to the eventual council-passed budgets. With the exception of certain high-profile items—the infamous subsidies that led to the Forest City uptown project, for example, or the money set aside that eventually led to the restoration of the old Fox Theater—these were, in the public’s eyes, Mr. Bobb’s city budgets, not Mr. Brown’s. 

One of the areas where Mr. Brown asserted himself was in public safety, and his handling of that area of government authority is instructive in how public perception got subtly shaped in where authority for Oakland government lies. 

Rather than leaving the established chief administrator in place in the police department—as he had in general city government with Mr. Bobb—one of Mr. Brown’s first policy moves as Oakland mayor was to oust Oakland Police Chief Joseph Samuels and replace him with his own man, Richard Word. That action—combined with frequent interventions and public statements by the mayor during his eight-year tenure—gave Mr. Brown “ownership” of public safety administration in Oakland in the public’s mind. 

While Mr. Dellums’ approach to the running of Oakland city government has been markedly different from that of Mr. Brown, the muddle of ambiguity created in the passage of Measure X and the Jerry Brown years has left, until just recently, continued uncertainty over the mayor’s responsibilities in Oakland. 

In the area of public safety, Mr. Dellums left the existing chief in place—since-retired Chief Wayne Tucker—and unlike other areas of Oakland government, where Mr. Dellums tends to be the public spokesperson, he allowed the chief to continue to be the public face of the police department. But because the Oakland media and Oakland public had developed the strong perception—under Jerry Brown—that the “strong mayor” was ultimately responsible for public safety in Oakland, that perception continued under Mr. Dellums. And so, Mr. Dellums—not Mr. Tucker—most often got the public blame when Oakland’s homicide and violent crime rate remained naggingly high during the first years of the Dellums administration. 

But despite the fact that Mr. Dellums has asserted himself in the area of city government in ways that Mr. Brown did not (making the detailed budget presentations and public negotiations himself, for example), Mr. Dellums’ public assessment and reputation has not—interestingly enough—been tied to general Oakland government in the same way. 

When charges of nepotism and corruption were made against the administration of former city administrator Deborah Edgerly, for example, Mr. Dellums was publicly blamed in many quarters for failing to “promptly” get rid of Ms. Edgerly, but not for the alleged offenses themselves, a subtle but important difference. And while constantly castigating him for personal failures or errors or omissions made by his personal staff, even Mr. Dellums’ most hard-core detractors rarely, if ever, take the mayor to task for problems of the overall running of Oakland city government. 

Should they? Under Oakland’s existing charter, it’s not clear. 

This is not a responsibility or failure of leadership so much as it is a sign of Oakland’s immaturity—both in the media and in the public—in failing to either understand or make clear the lines of authority within Oakland city government. If we don’t want wiggle room in city authority, we need to eliminate it both in our minds and in the charter under which our city operates. 

That’s just my assessment, anyway. 

About the House: When It’s Totaled

By Matt Cantor
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 10:00:00 AM
Just one example of the superlative maintenance employed in this home.
Matt Cantor
Just one example of the superlative maintenance employed in this home.

There are times when an economic model in the evaluation of a house is particularly vital. In fact, in times like these, the avoidance of this model could result in financial trauma. Most houses I see don’t seem to demand this metric, but some (and they’re not always obvious) absolutely do. 

The property I looked at yesterday was just such a case. This case was a rare one, since I consider most houses worthy of the “right” set of repairs, regardless of age. I won’t say style or condition because some are too ugly and some are too damaged to merit the investment. The really ugly ones should be turned over to Myth Busters for one of those experiments where they shoot a water heater through the roof or put it at the bottom of the Marianas Trench just to see if fish will judge it as harshly as critics like me. 

Also, significantly and interestingly, this house did not immediately appear to be a falling-down wreck. But that’s not how ill-conceived plans generally present themselves, right? They usually look manageable, if not promising until, at some point, the fact of their ill conception slowly dawns on us, leaving us with that sorry, just-dumped look. 

The first signs that this was one of those homes was that the exterior cladding was in bad shape and that replacement of the siding wouldn’t be enough on its own. This house had been sided in wooden shingle (probably cedar, as it’s the most popular in these parts) and the shingles were deeply worn and beginning to pull free in a number of locations. They weren’t totally worn out in all locations, which was part of the illusory nature of this defect. It would be easy to eliminate these from the math, but to do so would leave the buyer holding the bag for repairs within a year or two. Some repairs would be needed right away and they would certainly beg a larger course of action as soon as a competent contractor showed up. Once I’d looked at the siding long enough, it was clear that there was no point in doing small repairs and that the only reasonable approach was to bite the bullet and do the entire job. 

Another reason for doing it all would relate to economies of scale. While it might seem a short-term cost savings to do one or two faces of the building, this would end up inflating the cost of the entire replacement 50 percent or more. A contractor who makes one set of purchases, has all the materials brought on site at once, sets up tools and workers once and does one set of accounting can do a larger job for a small additional fraction. Doing all these things twice ends up taking far more time and that means far more cost. 

Additionally, like many jobs in the home, the fact that all these little parts integrate into one another like pieces of a puzzle is no small part of the total equation. Claddings of all sorts, whether shingle, clap-board or stucco, are part of a system that sheds water and keeps out cold air and bugs through their manner of physical integration. They overlap, interlace and hang on one another in clever ways that are virtually impossible to mimic when we do things in small sections. There is no window that is more likely to leak than the one that gets stuck in after the fact, though it’s the skylight that’s added after the roof that really wins the Gong Show.  

The concept is exactly the same, though the consequences are more dramatic, though not necessarily more dire. They show themselves immediately and tend to draw action that a leaky interface window might avoid though years of mycological husbandry. 

A close look showed that many trims had been poorly installed in relation to the shingle and were suffering from an array of ills. These were never well primered to begin with, and were cracking along their length as water and sun had done their damage and left nice deep ravines for fungi to begin raising a family and farm inside of.  

Metal flashings between adjacent components (trims, siding, windows, doorways) were absent, allowing water to have its way into just about any part of the cladding system it felt like going into. And water is as insidious as anything in nature. Were it not for this nature, we could not exist. 

Problems with water intrusion into wall systems often don’t show up inside for some time, though this can go either way depending on the route. It’s tricky business.  

The absence of flashings in many of the most important locations, the condition of the trims and the poor condition of the siding all contributed to a sorry picture. The trims were clearly a low-quality wood that would begin to decay much more rapidly than a denser, more mature wood.  

The windows were clearly a bad batch (every one was double-glazed and had a film of fog inside, showing that the seals had failed). The window flanges were not well-installed with regards to the adjacent trims. The relationships, up-down, forward-backward, are critical since all the exterior surfaces of the house, windows included, are giant slides in the water park of nature. Water must be guided over and around every surface without any managing to get through. And this assembly of components showed nothing but bad signs and head-shaking doubts. It just wasn’t ship-shape. 

So the only reasonable thing to do was to recommend that the entire exterior of the house, windows, doors, trims and siding, be fully removed and done again from scratch. In this way, one could address the various troubles while reasonably guaranteeing that water would get shut out. Anything less and you’ll be back at it, throwing good money after bad in a year or two at most. And there is nothing more aggravating than that, as any recipient of this common pestilence can attest. 

To cut things somewhat short, I’ll say that this wasn’t the only major system that had the same sort of profile—the substructure, the bad drainage, the faulty wiring, the troubled plumbing. Within a couple of hours at most, it was terribly apparent that this house would have to be worth a lot of money in its finished state to be worthy of the expenditures it would demand. Sad but very clearly true. In this case, the entire property was worth something under $700,000 and this house was one of three major structures on a great deal of land. The house was probably worth well under $300,000. It was easy to see how an amount equal to that could be spent repairing the structure so that it was safe, dry and bore the promise of modest longevity. 

This meant that it was very likely not worth fixing up at all. Building new would have huge advantages over working with the existing structure in terms of speed, quality, longevity and a wide range of technological novelties that we’re all benefiting from today. In fact, I felt obliged to suggest the idea of looking at the possibility of replacing the building with a prefabricated one, made to order. The cost of one of these would likely be far less than the repairs needed for the current building and, again, the other benefits (or the loss of the other liabilities) could be huge.  

The central issue here is that we have to take a look at the whole beast, the entire enchilada before we make a plan of action and, perhaps, even before making a purchase. What will repairs get us? How long with they last? When are larger-scale upgrades the better choice and when is a little patching compound actually the smart way to go? The answer could be yes for each of these depending on the big picture. But be sure to get that picture by some trustworthy means. If you’re not sure, do more research. Talk to more experts. Consider the motivations of each participant.  

Bringing things into focus and being honest with ourselves is not only a good everyday mantra, it has real cachet. 



Wild Neighbors: Meadowlark Messages

By Joe Eaton
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 10:01:00 AM
A Western meadowlark belting out his loud and complex melody at Isenberg Crane Sanctuary near Lodi, California.
Ron Sullivan
A Western meadowlark belting out his loud and complex melody at Isenberg Crane Sanctuary near Lodi, California.

Standing a couple of yards from a singing male western meadowlark a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by several things. First, the sheer virtuosity of the song: this bird is consistently ranked among the best North American singers, and I couldn’t argue with that. Second, the volume: western meadowlarks are loud. Their vocal performance is “often the only song that can be heard from a car driving at highway speed with the windows open,” writes Alvaro Jaramillo in New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. Couldn’t argue with that either. 

The third reaction was how different this song was from that of the eastern meadowlarks I used to hear in Georgia. Eastern birders tend to be surprised when first exposed to a western meadowlark’s song. Arthur Cleveland Bent described his response on his first day in the North Dakota prairies in 1901: “I could hardly believe it was a meadowlark singing…until I saw the plump bird perched on a telegraph pole, facing the sun, his yellow breast and black cravat gleaming in the clear prairie sunlight. His sweet voice fairly thrilled us and seemed to combine the flutelike quality of the wood thrush with the rich melody of the Baltimore oriole.” 

No one would ever compare an eastern meadowlark with a wood thrush. Its song, a series of high-pitched whistles, is comparatively wimpy. The western’s song, on the other hand, is consistently described as flutelike or gurgling.  

Why such a difference? In an eccentric but interesting book called Born to Sing, Charles Hartshorne ventured an environmental explanation, speculating that open arid country might favor loud and distinctive songs “by causing birds to space unusually far apart from one another in order to find sufficient food….Possibly this is why Western Meadowlarks in the drier parts of North America have more powerful, lower-pitched, and longer, some say, more beautiful songs than Eastern Meadowlarks in the moister portions.” 

That’s plausible, but the difference I hear goes beyond volume, pitch, and duration. 

As in many songbirds, the songs of both species aren’t genetically hardwired; they have to be learned. Some males acquire songs of the wrong species. One captive male western meadowlark picked up the vocal style of a Baltimore oriole it had heard through an open window. 

To the frustration of birders, eastern and western meadowlarks are extremely similar in appearance. The visual field marks are subtle indeed. Logically, differences in song quality would help the birds sort themselves out in the broad area of the Midwest where their breeding ranges overlap. 

Field studies show that male meadowlarks don’t differentiate between males of their own species and of the other. A male western meadowlark will respond aggressively to an intruding eastern male, and vice versa. In both species, the females are the discriminating sex. Males arrive at the breeding grounds first, setting up territories on which females settle. As far as can be determined, natural hybrids between easterns and westerns are rare. There’s a good reason for that: the two species are genetically incompatible. Mixed captive pairs will mate, but the offspring tend to be sterile. 

So has female choice driven the evolution of species-distinctive songs? To begin to answer that question, you’d have to know what female meadowlarks are listening for. Field research in Manitoba suggests that they’re at least paying attention to song repertoire. 

Again like many other songbirds, male western meadowlarks can perform more than one type of song. The average male has six identifiable song types; some have as many as 12. Biologists Andrew Horn, Thomas Dickinson, and J. Bruce Falls of the University of Toronto measured the wing length of 29 male westerns (a handy index for body size), tallied their song types, and monitored their territory sizes and reproductive successes. 

Their conclusion: “Our study shows that males with larger repertoires tended to pair earlier, were more likely to be bigamous, and fledged more young per female. These effects were independent of territory size, which was not related to repertoire size.” If I may trot out that Mae West quote one more time, female western meadowlarks do seem to prefer males with big vocabularies. Song type repertoire size appears to function as a signal of good genes. 

Interesting, but that doesn’t speak to the divergent evolution of song quality-which would be harder to study in any kind of quantitative way. We may have a runaway sexual selection effect going on, in which female preferences for loud fluty songs increase the frequency of both the genes that code for such songs and the genes that code for such preferences.  

It would be satisfying to know the history, but it’s not necessary for the appreciation of the performance. Another old-school naturalist, Donald Culross Peattie, called the western meadowlark’s song “the most joyful voice in all the world of birds.” That’s another assertion I can’t really argue with.

Arts & Events

Arts Calendar

Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:55:00 AM



“Vintage Photographs of the Sixties” by William Haigwood at the Berkeley Art House Gallery and Cultural Center, 2905 Shattuck Ave. 472-3170. 


Jonah Raskin on “Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California” at 5:30 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com 


Opera in the Library with highlights from Berkeley Opera’s production of “Don Giovanni” at 12:15 p.m. at the Berkeley Public Library, 5th flr., 2090 Kittredge St. 981-6241. 

Berkeley Symphony “Welcoming Old Friends & New” at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC campus. Pre-concert talk with Joana Carneiro and Paul Dresher at 7:10 p.m. Tickets are $20-$60. 841-2800. www.berkeleysymphony.org 

Lloyd Brown & Riddimworks Band, Amha Baraka, Reggae from England, at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $12-$15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Real Vocal String Quartet at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Possum Family Singers at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Blitz the Ambassador at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $6-$8. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Megan Sankard and Jeff Campbell at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 



Actors Ensemble of Berkeley “Antigone” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave. at Berryman, through Feb. 20. Tickets are $12-$15. 649-5999. www.aeofberkeley.org 

Aurora Theatre “The First Grade” at 2081 Addison St., through Feb. 28. Tickets are $15-$55. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Rep “Coming Home” at 2025 Addison St., through Feb. 28. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Contra Cost Civic Theater “Over the Tavern” a family comedy by Tom Dudzick, Fri. and Sat. at 8 .m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, through Feb. 28. Tickets are $11-$18. 524-9012. www.ccct.org 

Masquers Playhouse “Kitchen Witches” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2:30 p.m. at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, and runs through Feb. 27. Tickets are $18. 232-4031. www.masquers.org 

Stagebridge “Sylvia’s Advice on How to Age Gracefully on the Planet Denial” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Feb. 21. Tickets are $15-$25. www.stagebridge.org 

TheatreFirst “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” Fri. and Sat. at 7:30 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m. at Marion E. Greene Black Box Theater, 531 19th St., through Feb. 14. www.brownpapertickets.com 


“For Colored Girls Only” A celebration of women. Opening reception at 6 p.m. at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Oakland. 465-8928.  

“False Doors” works by Colleen Flaherty, Tena Kaplan and Clint Imboden. Opening reception at 7 p.m. at Autobody Fine Art, 1517 Park St., Alameda. 865-2608. 

“Swagger: A Celebration of the Body” Opening reception at 6 p.m. at ACCI Gallery, 1652 Shattuck Ave. 843-2527.  


Novella Carpenter reads from “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” at 7 p.m. at Neibyl Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Suggested donation $10. Benefits Li’l Bobby Hutton Literacy Campaign. 652-7170. 

The Walter! Paintings and The Puffle Photographs Readings by the artists Marc Wise and Joe Wenderoth at 7 p.m. at Cricket engine Collective, 499 Embarcadero Post 2, Oakland. www.cricketengine.org 


“Whipped: QTPOC Recipes for Love, Sex & Disaster” by Mangoes with Chili at 9 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $8-$12. 849-2568.  

The Chamber Unit “This Is for Sun Ra” with Eddie Gale at 8:30 and 10 p.m. at Flux 53 Theater, 5306 Foothil Blvd., at Fairfax, Oakland. Tickets are $10-$15. 842-8841.  

Del Sol Quartet Master class of “Holding Pattern” Richard Warp’s latest string quartet at 7:30 p.m. at Crowden Music Center, 1475 Rose St. Free. www.crowden.org 

University Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. 642-4864.  

Mahealani Uchiyama “Sacred African Music of the Mbira” at 6:30 p.m. at The Black Dot Cafe, 1195 Pine St., Oakland. Cost is $5-$10. www.thesacredforest.org 

Palm Wine Boys at Utunes Coffeehouse, at 8 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Oakland, 685 14th St., Oakland. Tickets are $14-$18. www.utunescoffeehouse.org 

Todd Sickafoose at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15-$18. 845-5373.  

Steve Lucky & the Rumba Bums, with Miss Carmen Getit at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. East Coast swing dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $10-$13. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Stairwell Sisters, Red Molly at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761.  

Roger Brown Blues Jam at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Monty Montgomery at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082.  

LT3 at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. 

Country Joe’s Open Mic With Halli Hammer at 7 p.m. at BFUU, 1924 Cedar St. at Bonita. Suggested donation $5-$10.  



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


“The Modernists” Group art show. Opening reception at 6 p.m. at Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. 644-4930.  


Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra “An Elegant Romance” at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Tickets are $25-$90. www.philharmonia.org 

University Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Masters of Persian Music at 8 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall, UC campus. Pre-concert talk by Francesco Spagnolo at 7 p.m.. Tickets are $26-$60. 642-9988. 

“Love Songs and Chocolate” Romantic songs from classical to jazz at 7:30 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, One Lawson Rd., Kensington. Tickets are $20 and include dessert buffet. 525-0302. 

Miriam Abramowitsch and Friends Chamber music at 7:30 p.m. at Crowden School, 1475 Rose St. Tickets are $10-$15. 409-2416.  

The Chamber Unit “This Is for Sun Ra” with Eddie Gale at 8:30 and 10 p.m. at Flux 53 Theater, 5306 Foothil Blvd., at Fairfax, Oakland. Tickets are $10-$15. 842-8841. www.flux53.com 

“Whipped: QTPOC Recipes for Love, Sex & Disaster” by Mangoes with Chili at 9 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $8-$12. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Foggy Gulch Band, old time and bluegrass, at 9:30 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. Cost is $3. 843-2473. www.albatrosspub.com 

Gypsy Stringz at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $12-$15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

Sage Jazz Trio at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

Loudon Wainwright at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $24.50-$25.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Destani Wolf “Love and the Blues” at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373.  

Michael Shinio and Friends at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790.  

Mortified at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082.  

Valentine’s Peace and Love Party with 60s tribute bands at 8 p.m. at Art house Gallery, 2905 Shattuck Ave. Donation $13. 472-3170. 



Young Performers Flamenco Showcase at Ashkenaz at 3 p.m. Cost is $4-$6. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 


“Every War Has Two Losers – A Poet’s Meditation on Peace” with filmmaker Hayden Reiss at 7 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Ceda St. Tickets are $10-$12. www.kpfa.org 


Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra “An Elegant Romance” at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. Tickets are $25-$90. www.philharmonia.org 

“Love Fest” Alternative Valentine’s Day with Aya de Leon, Yosimar Reyes, Amani at 8 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $10-$12-$14. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

NorCal Theatre Organ Society Pops Concert by Donna Parker on Historical Wurlitzer at 2:30 p.m. at Berkeley Community Theatre, 1930 Allston Way. Cost is $15 at door. First-Timers for free. 415-861-7082. www.norcaltos.org 

“Love Songs and Chocolate” Romantic songs from classical to jazz at 1 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, One Lawson Rd., Kensington. Tickes are $20 and include dessert buffet. 525-0302. 

Mardi Gras Zydeco with Andre Thierry & the Zydeco Magic from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. Marks Catholic Church Gym, 159 Harbour Way, Richmond. Come in costume. Tickets are $15, children under 12 free. 236-9632. 

Cindy Kallet & Grey Larsen at 8 p.m. at Wisteria Ways, 383 61st St., Oakland. Donations $15-$20. Reservations strongly recommended. info@WisteriaWays.org 

Jeff Marrs and the Red Planet Lovers at 4:30 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $18. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Nashville Bluegrass Band at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$21.50. 548-1761.  

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



Aurora Theatre Global Age Project Staged reading of “Miss Lily Gets Boned” at 7:30 p.m. at at 2081 Addison St. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Subterranean Shakespeare “Two Gentlemen of Verona” staged reading at 7:30 p.m. at Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship, 1924 Cedar at Bonita. Tickets are $8. 276-3871. 

PlayGround new and emerging playwrights, in collaboration with Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, at 8 p.m. at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison St. Tickets are $15. 415-704-3177. www.PlayGound-sf.org 

Poetry Express with Dale Jensen plus special guest Kathryn Takara from Hawaii, at 7 p.m. at Priya Restaurant, 2072 San Pablo Ave. 644-3977. 



Chris Cleave on his novel “Little Bee” of a young Nigerian refugee in England at 7:30 p.m. at Loper Chapel, First Congregational Church of berkeley, Channing Way at Dana. Tickets are $12-$15. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Dom Sagolla discusses “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” the equivalent of Strunk and White's Elements of Style for today's social media-driven marketing messages, at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., 1760 4th St. 525-7777. 


Creole Belles and Aux Cajunals in a Mardi Gras dance party at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun/Zydeco dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $12. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 



Aaron Shurin reads from his book of poetry “Involuntary Lyrics” at 6 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585.  

Berkeley Poetry Slam at 8 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082.  


Wednesday Noon Concert, with performance by students from the young Musicians Program at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Free. 642-4864.  

Hanneke Cassel, fiddler, at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Whiskey Brothers at 9 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. 843-2473. www.albatrosspub.com 

Black Crown String Band, Pork Pies, in a Old Time Square Dance at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 



“A Paper + Cloth Dream Exhibition” Reception at 5:30 p.m. at the CCA Oakland campus, 5212 Broadway, Oliver Art Center. www.cca.edu 


Eve Ensler “I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World” at 7 p.m. at King Middle School, 1781 Rose St. Tickets are $12-$15. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Rafael Chodos “Art and Authority” a lecture/discussion program at 6 p.m. at the Doug Adams Gallery, Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, 1798 Scenic Ave. 

“Celebrating the Photographic Art of Jim & Ted” Conversations with the artists Jim Dennis and Ted Pontiflet, at 7 p.m. at Craft & Cultural Arts Gallery, State of California Office Building, Atrium, 1515 Clay St., Oakland. 622-8190. 

Domo Gehse Rinpoche on “Mystery of Emptiness & Love” and “Red Lotus Buddhist Wisdom” at 6 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com 

Poetry Flash with Camille Dungy and Robin Ekiss at 7:30 p.m. at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave. 849-2087. 

Erica Bauermeister reads from her debut novel “The School of Essential Ingredients” at 7:30 p.m. at Pegasus Books Downtown, 2349 Shattuck Ave. 649-1320. 

Joel Kotkin on “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050” at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Channing Way at Dana. Tickets are $12-$15. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Paul McHugh reads from “Deadlines: A Novel of Murder, Conspiracy, and the Media” at 7:30 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2904 College Ave. 704-8222. 

Peggy Kennedy on “Approaching Neverland” which recounts her family's attempts to deal with her mother's mental illness, at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., 1760 4th St. 525-7777. 


Bob Marley Birthday Celebration with Mighty Diamonds and Yellow Wall Dub Squad at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Devine’s Jug Band, Jimbo Trout and the Fish People, Squirrelly String Band at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Free. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

City Folk at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Lawanda Ultan & Greg Pratt at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 



Actors Ensemble of Berkeley “Antigone” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave. at Berryman, through Feb. 20. Tickets are $12-$15. 649-5999. www.aeofberkeley.org 

Aurora Theatre “The First Grade” at 2081 Addison St., through Feb. 28. Tickets are $15-$55. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Rep “Coming Home” at 2025 Addison St., through Feb. 28. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Contra Cost Civic Theater “Over the Tavern” a family comedy by Tom Dudzick, Fri. and Sat. at 8 .m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, through Feb. 28. Tickets are $11-$18. 524-9012. www.ccct.org 

Don Reed “East 14th – True Tales of a Reluctant Player” Fri. and Sat. through Feb. 27 at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland. Tickets are $20-$50. www.east14thoak.eventbrite.com 

Impact Theatre “Learn To Be Latina” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., through March 27. Tickets are $12-$20. impacttheatre.com 

Masquers Playhouse “Kitchen Witches” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2:30 p.m. at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, and runs through Feb. 27. Tickets are $18. 232-4031. www.masquers.org 

Stagebridge “Sylvia’s Advice on How to Age Gracefully on the Planet Denial” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., through Feb. 21. Tickets are $15-$25. www.stagebridge.org 

“The Vagina Monologues” through Sun. at 7 p.m. at the Pauley Ballroom, MLK Student Union, UC campus. Tickets are $10. vagmonsUCB@gmail.com 


“Richmond Murals 1949-2010” Opening reception at 5 p.m. at Richmond Main Street Iniative, 1000 Macdonald Ave., Suite C, Richmond. 236-4050. www.richmondmainstreet.org 


“The Lady From Shanghai” by Orson Welles at 8 p.m. at Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $5. 800-745-3000. 


Cathyann Fisher and Myron Michael, poetry reading at 7 p.m. at Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. 644-4930.  www.expressionsgallery.org  


Balandougou Kan Collection “Lanyee” West African dance and music at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $12-$15. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Noon Concert, with performance by students at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Free. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Barefoot Chamber Concert Cynthia Miller Freivogle plays Bach for unaccompanied violin at 6 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal church Parish Hall, 2300 Bancroft Way. Cost is $10-$15. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixer “Saints + Angels” at 6:30 and 9 p.m. at Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St., Oakland. Free. www.danceElixir.org  

Abigail Hosein Dance Company “Here, Look” at Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 6 p.m. at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, 2704 Alcatraz. Tickets are $15-$20. Advance purchase recommended. 654-5921. www.brownpapertickets.com 

“Songs for the Dead and the Living” for voice and piano at 8 p.m. at the Hillside Club, Cedar at Arch. Tickets are $10-$15. www.hillsideclub.org 

Hali Hammer Jump In at 7 p.m. at Chester’s Bay View Cafe, 1508 Walnut St. 849-9995. 

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

Dr. K’s Home Grown Roots Revue at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $14.50-$15.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Five Eyed Hand, Sean Gandalf Lehe & Great Owl at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $10. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 



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

Music Concert with Hanna Banana at 11 a.m. at Studio Grow, 1235 10th St. Cost is $9. 526-9888. 


“Fragmentos de Perú” by Claudio Talavera-Ballon. Reception for the artist at 2 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Exhibition runs through March 7. 981-6100. 

“Art of Living Black” Artists talk at 1 p.m. and reception at 3 p.m. at The Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. 620-6772. www.therac.org 

“Greenhouse Britain” works by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. Panel discussion at 2 p.m. at Kala Gallery, 2990 San Pablo Ave. 841-7000. www.kala.org 

“Process and Place: The Transformative Potential of Artist Residencies” Artist talk with M. Louise Stanley at 4 p.m at Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St. www.berkeleyartcenter.org 


Youth Musical Theater Company “Once Upon a Mattress” at 7:30 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $10-$20. 1-800-838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Central Works “An Anonymous Story” by Anton Chekhov opens and runs thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 5 p.m. at The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Tickets are $14-$25. 558-1381. www.centralworks.org 

“Death As A Salesman” A one-woman musical comedy at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $15. deathasasalesman.org 


Spring Artist Lecture Series: M. Louise Stanley at 4 p.m. at Bekeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St.  


Berkeley Opera “Don Giovanni” at 8 p.m. at El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater, 540 Asbury Ave., at El Cerrito High School. Tickets are $15-$65. 1-800-838-3006. www.brownpaprtickets.com 

Enlaces/The Ties that Connect Us Music and dance exploring the connections between the Philippines and Hispanic culture at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $22-$24. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

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

Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $26.50-$27.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Ed Reed “Time Marches On” at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $18. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

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

7 Orange ABC, Belly of the Whale at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Hip Bones at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 



Poetry Flash with Molly Bendall, Karen Kevorkian and Gail Wronsky at 3 p.m. at Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. 653-9965. 

Linda Joy Myers reads from “The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story” at 4 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2904 College Ave. 704-8222. 

“Protecting Architectural Antiquities in a Modern Living Environment” with Michael Jones and Dina Saad of the American Research Center, Cairo, at 2:30 p.m. at Barrows Hall, Room 20, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, UC campus. 664-4767. 


Verismo Opera “La Traviata” at 3 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. at Arch. Tickets are $15-$20. 707-864-5508. www.brownpapertickets.com 

Chamber Music Sundaes at 3 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. Tickets at the door are $20-$25. 415-753-2792. www.chambermusicsundaes.org 

Cantare Chamber Ensemble and Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir at 3 p.m. at First Congregational church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St. Oakland. Tickets are $10-$25. 836-0789. www.cantareconvico.org 

Bobby Hall & Friends, gospel concert at 5 p.m. a First United Methodist Church of Richmond, 201 Martina St., Point Richmond. Donations accepted. 236-0527. 

Food Justice Series with Bryant Terry and Amara Tabor Smith at 7:30 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $10-$20. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

“This Must Be The Place” Deep Hous’ & Classics portrayed by Soul Luciani 3 to 9 p.m. at 2022 Telegraph Ave, Oakland. Cost is $5. 415-240-2494. 

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

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

Asylum Street Spankers at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 



Carneiro, Rivera Reunited at Berkeley Symphony

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:53:00 AM

Berkeley Symphony, led by Music Director Joana Carneiro, will play Berkeley composer Paul Dresher’s Cornucopia, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Five Images After Sappho, featuring artist-in-residence, soprano Jessica Rivera; and Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” tonight (Thursday, Feb. 11) at Zellerbach Hall on the UC campus. At 7:10, Carneiro and Dresher will hold an onstage conversation about his music, free to concert ticketholders.  

Jessica Rivera spoke about being “reunited, working together” with Carneiro, whom she first met several years ago when singing Berkeley composer John Adams’ opera, The Flowering Tree in Vienna, with Carneiro assisting Adams at the podium. 

“She just has a quality about her that makes me feel very comfortable,” said Rivera of Carneiro, whom she called a very close friend. “She has a beautiful soul; she appreciates beautiful things.” 

Working with Carneiro, Rivera found the conductor—who studied medicine—“can see the symptoms and make an instant diagnosis. She has an innate sense that brings light to the music, helping me to make it the best.” 

Rivera continued, “She has a way of exacting musical ideas, maintaining the musical integrity of the piece—not just beating time, as some conductors unfortunately do, but of giving a sense of where we’re going, rhythm-wise, being precise without giving less to the music in its ideas, its intangible qualities.” 

Speaking of Salonen, whom Carneiro worked with as assistant conductor when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Rivera said, “I grew up in L.A., and would sit in the balcony at the Philharmonic when I was in college. I brought my binoculars! I admit I was a little overwhelmed the first time I worked with him. I’d admired him from afar! I sang Eve in The Creation at the second concert for the inauguration of Disney Hall. And down the street from Disney, I sang in the Mozart Requiem. He makes incredibly musical, thoughtful expressions, especially good for a young singer.” 

Rivera compared Carneiro with Salonen, whom Carneiro has called her mentor: “I can see his influence in her conducting. She communicates very clearly, concisely. Both can communicate verb-ally, which is wonderful for singers.” 

The singer also remembered Carneiro suggesting to her, when she had “memorization challenges, getting off book, problems with counting beats off the bar” with a part of Adams’ music, “It’s not tonal, so think of it like this ... ,” helping to resolve the issue for a singer who “studied classical voice; Mozart and Puccini ... I can be a rule-oriented person, but like a challenge I can wrap my mind around. Contemporary music gives us the opportunity to express on an even deeper level what music is there to do.” 

She continued, with a reference to one of the Sapphic “images” in Salonen’s piece, “The Evening Star, a duet I have with English horn. What makes my part different is that I have words ... Why do composers choose to put in a chorus, like Beethoven did in the Ninth Symphony? He had a message to communicate. It’s not that music wasn’t enough, but the words express it more succinctly, giving the opportunity to express the music itself that much more.” 

“Music’s obviously the universal language,” Rivera went on, “It can evoke the same emotions in Africa as it does in Canada. It has the ability to move, in ways you don’t understand. Maybe that’s why words can be used, to help you understand why.” 

Rivera will sing Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1916,” (with lyrics from A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee) when Carneiro conducts the Symphony on April First, a program that will include Jorg Widmann’s “Con brio” and Brahms’ Symphony no. 1. 


Berkeley Symphony, conducted by Joana Carneiro, plays the music of Paul Dresher, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Beethoven, featuring artist-in-residence, soprano Jessica Rivera, tonight (Thursday, Feb. 11) at 8 p.m.,  

preceded by a conversation between Carneiro and Dresher at 7:10 p.m. Zellerbach Hall,  

UC campus. $20–$60. 841-2100.  


‘The First Grade’ Opens at Aurora Theater

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:55:00 AM

Sydney—who would have been called a grammar school teacher back in the day—faces her class (the audience) and explains to her precocious first-graders how to act in her absence, using polysyllables like “conviviality,” words the kids have brought in from their academic and professional parents.  

Neither Sydney nor the audience can predict at this point that she’ll be experiencing, even embodying, a few of the concepts behind those words, all in a somewhat cross-eyed effort to get out from under yet another: “solipsism.” 

In Joel Drake Johnson’s The First Grade, now onstage at the Aurora, Sydney’s feeling it from all sides: her divorced husband (Warren David Keith) still lives on “his side” of the house, where he entertains his new girlfriend, pending sale of the property; their gloomy daughter (Rebecca Schweitzer), separated from her husband, has moved back in with her Ritalin-dosed son. 

All of which prompts Sydney’s respite from school, as much as middle-aged aches and pains, to visit a physical therapist. 

Mora, the therapist (Tina Sanchez), is very professional, humoring Sydney’s motormouthed telling of her problems, just maintaining a slightly clinical edge. But when Sydney queries her about her own domestic life, discovering Mora’s separated, with two little boys, Sydney’s inquisitiveness provokes a tearful reaction. Was it Sydney’s relentlessly “in- your-face” manner (as her daughter’s types it), or a moment of recognition between strangers, similarly stressed women of two generations? 

And two cultures within one society. Crucial to the play’s meaning—based on a very rational, well thought-out dramaturgy, which underpins, not belies, what otherwise could seem merely a hybrid comedy-melodrama—are differences between the way Mora and her Latino family express their “convivial” (in its older meaning) dysfunctionality, lacking the arch glibness and passive-aggressive qualities of their Anglo counterparts.  

Big similarities bind them together: helplessness, frustration, rage at the deadlock of sociability and lapses in communication and self-understanding in their respective situations. 

Johnson has a canny ear for the play of contemporary Middle-American speech, picked up by sitcoms, which spew it back into The Din (as poet Lew Welch once called it) of social discourse, dolled up with teleplay mannerisms—the same way old movie dialogue stylized our slang over more than half a century. A dysfunctional family trades barbs in The First Grade, everybody coming on funny—until tears or a not-so-cute outburst erupts in response rather than canned laughter. 

The First Grade remains a comedy to the end, truly humorous and unpredictable, meeting contradiction and finding opposites in its situations, dialogue, character sketches. 

It was that genius of modern comedy, Pirandello, who defined humor as “a sense of the opposite,” encountering and showing “what you find, instead of what you expect to find.” 

The First Grade doesn’t opt for black humor, despite an unexpected—though carefully, discreetly prepared for—night-time scene when the private tensions building up in Sydney’s family burst forth on a parallel front that the family witnesses, as if in a mirror, in public.  

Paul Santiago and Adrian Anchondo, as well as the others in this tight ensemble provide fine performances. There’s no chiaroscuro or overt mannerism, though Johnson uses a kind of multiplicity of perspective within the same frame—so the play’s not exactly realistic though it mimes realism—with counter-intuitive stylizations of speech and arrangement of scenes, all rationalized, displayed (as it were) in a bright, steady light. 

(Nina Ball’s set adds three-dimensional form to these effects.) 

Sydney’s fucusing of her thwarted maternal instincts on a virtual stranger—which, like much of good intentions, could pave the way to hell—results in a kind of double reverse: two unhappy tableaux are clarified, though nothing’s resolved, and her “in your face” (as her daughter describes it) intensity leads to a kind of practical wisdom. Director (and Aurora artistic director) Tom Ross and his excellent cast communicate the unusual qualities of a play that starts out seeming ordinary, unassuming, even, light fare for cable TV—what too many new plays, chosen and staged at our regional repertory theaters turn out to be, stalking horses for another, more commercial—and less immediate—medium. 

(The First Grade is the very first play—and a world premiere, at that—produced on Aurora’s main stage from winners in the Global Age Project staged reading series Ross initiated. Another play by Johnson—a playwright who’s been produced in Chicago, if not here before—A Guide for the Perplexed, was performed at a GAP staged reading Feb. 1.) 



Eddie Gale and India Cooke Celebrate Jazz Great Sun Ra

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:56:00 AM

“The motivation keeps coming back around,” said noted San Jose-based jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale, “What can I do for Sun Ra?” 

Gale was speaking of This Is for Sun Ra, four special shows this Friday and Saturday night at the collectively run Flux 53 Theater in Oakland, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Gale also spoke of the history of tributes and benefits for the master bandleader and innovative composer that Gale has instigated over the years. 

Gale, himself a pioneering musician and veteran of Sun Ra’s 1960s Arkestra, will perform along with another Arkestra alumna, noted violinist India Cooke of Oakland, who remembers her first glimpse of the lavishly costumed band on a late-night television show she watched when she was just out of school: “I saw an incredibly wild group of colors ... All black people! Michael Ray playing trumpet, doing cartwheels across the stage ... I said to myself, ‘I want to play with those people!’” 

Other players include Valerie Min on piano; Eric Marshall and Ben Bernstein on bass; Dante James and Zachary Morris on drums (Sun Ra helped introduce two-bass and two-drum band settings); Roberto Miguel and Ron Heglin on trombone; and Michael James and Cory Wright on saxophone.  

Sun Ra, who died in 1993, just after his 79th birthday, is unfortunately still better-known as an eccentric showman (and the shows were ecstatic, profound and humorous) than as the pioneering composer, musician and leader of a unique big band, often 30 or more musicians, singers and dancers, he was. Born Herman Blount (named after Black Herman, the vaudeville magician, escape artist and medicine-show man), he led big bands from the late 1930s, played piano with Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith and with Fletcher Henderson’s famous swing orchestra, for whom he was also an arranger.  

During World War II, Blount was arrested for refusing to serve in the military and acquired conscientious objector status. By the early 1950s, he had changed his name to Sun Ra and began to play what would become “Space Music,” his original melange of modern compositional and electronic music, African polyrhythms and jazz from all eras.  

Early on, Sun Ra was joined by tenor saxophonist John Gilmore (a seminal influence on John Coltrane and others), alto saxophonist Marshall Allen and bassist Ronnie Boykins. Other well-known musicians who played with the Arkestra included trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Alan Silva, saxophonist James Spaulding and trombonist Julian Priester. And others who joined the band for short stints include tenor saxophonists Von Freeman and Pharoah Sanders among them. Singer and violinist June Tyson was also a notable, longterm presence. 

“Playing Monday nights at Slug’s [Saloon, in New York, 1966] is how he got famous,” recalled Gale. A record album from Bernard Stoller’s ESP label helped, too. When Sun Ra encountered opposition, Dizzy Gillespie told him to “keep it up, Sunny,” that Gillespie had been heckled the same way. Thelonius Monk replied to a doubter who said Sun Ra was too far out, “Yeah, but it swings!”  

Ra’s influence on experimental jazz has been marked, and funk players Sly Stone and George Clinton have hailed his inspiration. Asked if Sun Ra was eccentric, Clinton said, “He’s out to lunch—and we eat at the same place!” 

India Cooke recalled the Arkestra arriving at a symphony rehearsal in France where they’d been commissioned to work with the orchestra. “A bunch of motley characters! We must’ve looked like we were from another planet. Actually! The symphony musicians noticed Sun Ra didn’t have any music to hand them. He just sat there, looking at them. Some got up and walked out. What they didn’t know is that he wanted to see, to feel each one of them. There was a cache of manuscript paper; he began writing pieces for the musicians in front of him—“one for flute!”—throwing them off the piano.” 

Eddie Gale reminisced about “hanging out with Sun Ra, walking the streets with him ... giving me the information that inspired me in music, associated with his philosophy. So many things took place, so many experiences. I can’t begin to say what I got from him. I wish I could.” A student of trumpeter Kenny Dorham, among others, Gale was dubbed by Sun Ra “the original avant-garde trumpet player.” Gale remembers Sun Ra positioning him by his piano, not with the trumpeters, so he could learn his music better. And he remembers playing with John Gilmore, with John Coltrane seated between them. “Coltrane told me to keep playing the way I did—at least when I stretched out!” 

“What an honor it is to play with Eddie Gale!” exclaimed India Cooke. “He’s a living legend. Just to be able to talk to him, to hear him talk about his experiences, the guys he played with.” 

Cooke has been playing and recording with bassist Joelle Leandre—she mentioned their recording Fire Dance in particular—and teaches at Mills College and the Community Music Center in San Francisco. She’s also associated with the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music.  

Eddie Gale’s music can be found through his website, eddiegale.com, YouTube and at iTunes. He’s also been working on “these three-minute things—Microsoft approached me—A Slice of Jazz. No solo work, no stretching out.”

People and Cities in Ruins: Rossellini's 'Rome Open City' and Wenders' 'Paris, Texas'

By Justin DeFreitas
Thursday February 11, 2010 - 12:51:00 PM

In 1945, Roberto Rossellini took an idea, a limited supply of film stock and an even more limited supply of cash, and created not only a powerful landmark film, but spurred an entire genre, a school of filmmaking that quickly spread throughout the Italian film community and that still exerts great influence on filmmakers worldwide.  

Rome Open City (1945) was not the first neo-realist film, but it is the one that gave momentum to the movement, that inspired others to take up this new, visceral and seemingly authentic, almost documentary-like approach to filmmaking. Rossellini used a cast of professionals and amateurs alike and eschewed the studio system and its sound stages for the streets, filming his story of Rome's occupation by the Nazis in real locations, complete with bombed-out buildings.  

Criterion has released a restored version of the film, along with Paisan and Germany Year Zero, which together make up Rossellini's "War Trilogy," in a beautiful three-DVD edition, complete with interviews, documentaries, commentaries and a book of essays.  

It has been said of Rossellini that his genius was his lack of imagination; his fidelity to simple, direct storytelling and a no-frills approach to production were in stark contrast to standard operating procedure in his native country and in much of the world.  

Today, Rome Open City may not seem quite so grittily real as it once did, but its heart and devotion and its utter disregard — both by choice and by necessity — for the niceties of glossy studio filmmaking are as evident as they were 65 years ago. Perhaps a bit more melodramatic than much of the director's later work, it is not without humor and certainly not without warmth. Rossellini was not happy that his technique drew so much attention as the primary goal of his technique was to remain invisible, to keep the focus on the story. Despite the attention his technique still attracts, what shines through in Rossellini's is always its humanity, its enduring moral center and its consistent exploration of the of the unflagging human spirit. 


Rossellini's War Trilogy 




Another city, another time: Wim Wenders' 'Paris, Texas' 

In the opening scenes of Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984), Harry Dean Stanton, as Travis, wanders the desert, giving no clue as to his destination or his origin. It is only when his brother finds him and attempts to take him back to Los Angeles that the story begins to slowly unspool.  

Travis longs for a town, a town he never knew, but which he believes may have been his starting point, the place of his conception. Years ago, he bought a vacant lot with the vague desire of moving his family there. Long after the motivation has faded from memory and events have dramatically altered the course of his life, the dream remains of returning, of starting over, of building something new and sturdy and lasting on that empty and as yet unseen plot of land.  

We will only learn the full details of that turn of events in the film's closing scenes, when Travis finally manages to confront his past. The film is a journey of self-discovery, and the journey is not complete when the film ends, but at least some form of healing has begun.  

Paris, Texas has recently been released by Criterion in a two-disc edition. 

Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard fashioned the screenplay out of the discarded remains of earlier attempts by each man. Beginning with a Shepard story called Motel Chronicles, they scrapped the tale, stripped away the details and started from the dirt, from the landscape and the people who traverse it. 

Evocative, mysterious and loaded with emotion. Wenders, like Kieslowski, knows when to simply leave a thing alone, to not attempt to pin it down. Toward the end, in a scene that could have so easily tipped into contrivance, Stanton and Nastassja Kinski make an attempt to explain themselves to each other, and though the words explain much, there is still so much left unsaid, so much suggested or implied or that is simply not meant to be known, to the viewer, the actors or even the characters they portray. The how and the why is so much more difficult to touch than the what, and in Paris, Texas, even the what seems just out of grasp. Wenders' brilliance as a director is that he is not only comfortable with ambiguity, but embraces it. 


Paris, Texas 



Community Calendar

Thursday February 11, 2010 - 09:46:00 AM


Berkeley Path Wanderers: Winter Power Walk A vigorous walk to Kensington Circle, around some of the Kensington paths and return via Visalia. A fast-paced walk with some steep hills. No dogs please. Meet at 10 a.m. at Great Stoneface Park, Thousand Oaks & San Fernando, at picnic table. For information call 520-3876. www.berkeleypaths.org 

Tilden Explorers An after-school nature adventure program for 5-7 year olds. We will search for amphibians from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m.. Cost is $6-$8, registration required. 1-888-EBPARKS. 

“Who Profits from the Israeli Occupation?” with Dalit Baum, PhD, teacher at Haifa University and Beit Berl College in Israel at 7 pm. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. Cost is $5-$20, no one turned away. bfuu.blogspot.com/  

Job Seeker Information Session for Berkeley residents receiving unemployment insurance at 10 a.m. at North Cities One Stop Career Center, 1918 Bonita Ave. 982-7128. www.eastbayworks.com 

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

Berkeley School Volunteers, New Volunteer Orientation from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at 1835 Allston Way. Bring a photo ID and two references to the orientation. Returning volunteers do not need to attend. 644-8833. 


Annual Great Backyard Bird Count All are welcome to count birds from Fri. through Mon. For counting guidelines and information contact the Golden Gate Audubon Society 843-9374. www.goldengateaudubon.org 

City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with Sue Reynolds on “Understanding Native American People” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $15, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. For information call 527-2173.  

“Have a Heart” Annual Valentine’s Day Garage Sale, Fri.-Sun. from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine at 1629 5th St. Benefit for Kenney Cottage Garden. 526-7828. 

Womensong Circle An evening of participatory singing for women, at 7:15 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, small assembly room, 2345 Channing Way. Suggested donatono $15-$20. betsy@betsyrosemusic.org 

Circle Dancing, simple folk dancing with instruction at 8 p.m. at Finnish Brotherhood Hall, 1970 Chestnut St. at University. Donation of $5 requested. 528-4253.  

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 


Toxic Triangle Hearings: Environmental Justice for Oakland, San Francisco, and Richmond From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Avenue, Oakland. For information contact Rev. Daniel Buford 544-8923. 

Report Back from Haiti with earthquake survivors, Oakland residents Barbara Rhine and Walter Riley, and Haitian born Pierre La Bossiere, founder of the Bay Area Haiti Action Committee at 7 p.m. at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont. Donation $10. No one turned away for lack of funds. All donations go to Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. 547-2424. www.KehillaSynagogue.org 

“Have a Heart” Annual Valentine’s Day Garage Sale, through Sun. from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine at 1629 5th St. Benefit for Kenney Cottage Garden. 526-7828. 

Fundraiser for Africa Matters with African Buffet, live Marimba music by Kuganza of Santa Cruz, silent auction of Zimbabwe crafts at 5:30 p.m. at Marrion Zimmer Auditorium, Oakland Zoo. Cost is $80. For information and reservations call 655-4528.  

Rabbits Are So Sweet Adoption Fair Make valentines for your pets, and meet the bunnies, from 2 to 4 p.m. at RabbitEars, 377 Colusa, Kensington. 525-6155. 

“Burning Desire: Dharma God and the Path to Recovery” with Kevin Griffin reading and leading a guided meditation at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium, Verterns Building, 1931 Center St. Dance follows at 9 p.m. www.optionsrecovery.org   

Peralta Hacienda Historical Park Family tour and embroidery exhibit at 2 p.m. at Antonia Peralta house, 2465 34th Ave., Oakland. Free. 532-9142. www.peraltahacienda.org 

East Bay Chapter of The Great War Society meets to discuss “The AEF & Music & My Uncles in WWI” at 10:30 a.m. at Albany Veterans Hall, 1325 Portland Ave., Albany. 527-7118. 

Game Day at the Albany Library with board and Wii games from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., Albany. 526-3720. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Church of Latter Day Saints, Cultural Hall, 1501 Walnut St. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

Valentine’s at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach Sat. through Mon. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. Cost is $10-$15. 932-8966.  

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.  


Sunday Strolls: Sibley Volcanic Reserve from 10 a.m. to noon. Moderate 2.6 mile hike. Dogs welcome. 544-3187.  

Family Art Workshop: Art Hearts Stamp, print and glue unique Valentine cards from 1 to 3 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 Ninth St., Oakland. Cost is $3 for adults, $7 for children. 465-8770.  

Small Critter Adoption Day with information on caring for small animals, from 2 to 4 p.m. at RabbitEars, 377 Colusa, Kensington. 525-6155. 

Old Time Radio East Bay Collectors and listeners gather to enjoy shows together at 4 p.m. at a private home in Berkeley.  For more information please email DavidinBerkeley at Yahoo. 

“Feng Shui” A seminar with Nadine Oei from 10 a.m .to 1 p.m. at Building Education Center, 812 Page St. Cost is $45. 525-7610. 

Personal Theology Seminars with “Parables and Midrash—Are the they Same?” with Rabbi Harry Manhoff, at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302. 

Kol Hadash Bagel Brunch with Prof. Eric Meikle from the National Center for Science Education at 10 a.m. at Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave. Cost is $7.50-$10. www.kolhadash.org 

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 


Great Books Discussion Group meets to discuss The Declaration of Independence from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 910 Arlington Ave, El Cerrito. For more information call 558-8092 www.greatbooks-sf.com 

Free Drop-in Beginning Computer Class, Mon. at 6 p.m. and Thurs. at 10 a.m. at Berkeley Public Library, 3rd flr., 2090 Kittredge St. 981-6148. 

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. 


Community Meeting on Public Safety with new Police Chief Michael Meehan and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. 

Berkeley Garden Club meets to discuss winter pruning for our coastal climate with Jennifer Berry at 2 p.m. at Epworth United Methodist Church, 1953 Hopkins St. 526-1083. www.BerkeleyGardenClub.org 

Berkeley School Volunteers, New Volunteer Orientation from 3 to 4 p.m. at 1835 Allston Way. Bring a photo ID and two references to the orientation. Returning volunteers do not need to attend. For further information 644-8833. 

Job Seeker Information Session for Berkeley residents receiving unemployment insurance at 10 a.m. at North Cities One Stop Career Center, 1918 Bonita Ave. 982-7128. www.eastbayworks.com 

“The Origins of Women’s Oppression and the Road to Emancipation” a discussion based on Ardea Skybreak’s book “Of Primeval Steps & Future Leaps” at 7 p.m. at Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way. 848-1196. 

Homework Help at the Albany Library for students in grades 2 - 6, Tues. and Thurs. from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Emphasis on math and writing skills. No registration is required. For more information, call 526-3720. 

Homework Help Program at the Richmond Public Library Tues. and Thurs. from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at 325 Civic Center Plaza. For more information or to enroll, call 620-6557. 

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 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. Share your digital images, slides and prints and learn what other photographers are doing. 548-3991.  

St. John’s Prime Timers meets at 9:30 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. We offer ongoing classes in exercise and creative arts, and always welcome new members over 50. 845-6830. 


Learn to Drive a Bike An Urban Bike Safety Class on basic rules of the road, how to dress and equip your bicycle, helmet fitting, using transit, safety information and the main principles of riding predictably, visibly, and communicating with motorists by your actions and signals. No bike required. Free. From 6 to 9:30 p.m. at 2001 Dwight Way, Alta Bates Medical Center, The Maffly auditorium, Herrick Hospital campus. Register at ebbc.org/safety 

Tilden Tots Join a nature adventure program for 3 and 4 year olds, each accompanied by an adult (grandparents welcome)! We’ll look for signs of animals sleeping from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. Cost is $6-$8. Registration required. 1-888-327-2757. 

Tilden Mini-Rangers Hiking, conservation and nature-based activities for ages 8-12. Dress to ramble and get dirty. Bring a snack. From 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. Cost is $6-$8, registration required. 1-888-EBPARKS. 

“Comandante” A visit with Fidel Castro by filmmaker Oliver Stone, at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

California Writers Club meets to discuss “The New Publishing: Experiment with Sight and Sound” with Seth Harwood at 1:30 p.m. at West Auditorium, Oakland Public Library, 125 14th St., Oakland. Free. 238-3134. 

Red Cross Blood Services Volunteer Orientation from 6 to 8 p.m. at 6230 Claremont Ave., Oakland. Registration required. 594-5165. 

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 Path Wanderers: Winter Meeting featuring a presentation on Berkeley’s Pedestrian Master Plan, and a report on expansions and improvements to Berkeley's path system at 7 p.m. at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Free and open to the public; light refreshments will be served. www.berkeleypaths.org 

Tilden Tots Join a nature adventure program for 3 and 4 year olds, each accompanied by an adult (grandparents welcome)! We’ll look for signs of animals sleeping from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. Cost is $6-$8. Registration required. 1-888-327-2757. 

“Human Rights in Chiapas and Possibilities for Political Change in Mexico” with Victor Hugo López at 7:30 p.m. at La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Ave. 849-2568.  

“Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” with James Lowen at 7 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Oakland, 685 14th St., Oakland. Tickets are $10-$15, $5 youth 17 & under. 601-0182 ext. 302.  

Golden Gate Audubon Society “Looking Up with Ease” How to avoid a hurt neck while bird-watching at 7:30 p.m. at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda 2530 San Pablo Ave. 843-2222. 

Adult Art Night: Mixed Media Collage from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Museum of Children’s Art, 538 9th St., Oakland. Cost is $10. For information on baby-sitting call 465-8770. 

Job Seeker Information Session for Berkeley residents receiving unemployment insurance at 10 a.m. at North Cities One Stop Career Center, 1918 Bonita Ave. 982-7128. www.eastbayworks.com 

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

Red Cross Blood Drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Oakland Federal Building, Conference Room H, 1301 Clay St., Oakland. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 


City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with George Lakoff on “Bringing Democracy to California: Ending Government by Gridlock” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $15, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. 527-2173.  

Red Cross Blood Drive from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at American Red Cross Bus, 747 52nd St. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” A film by Judith Ehrich and Rock Goldsmith opens at the Shattuck Cinemas. www.mostdangerousman.org 

Circle Dancing, simple folk dancing with instruction at 8 p.m. at Finnish Brotherhood Hall, 1970 Chestnut St. at University. Donation of $5 requested. 528-4253. www.circledancing.com 

Say No to War, Bring Our Troops Home Now at 2 p.m. at the corner of Acton and University. 841-4143. 

Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

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 


Berkeley Path Wanderers: Pooches On The Paths Walk Share a pleasant walk with your best friend. All dogs must be on a leash, under constant control, well-behaved and sociable. Meet at 10 a.m. at Berkeley Rose Garden by the main sign. RSVP to Keith Skinner with your dog’s name. 520-3876. keithskinner.public@gmail.com 

“WWII Childhoods” with Maria Segal, a Holocaust Survivor and Dr, Ursula Mahlendorf, a former Hitler Youth member, at 7 p.m. at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont. Cost is $10-$15, no one turned away. www.KehillaSynagogue.org  

“The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West” with Caroline Brazier at 2 p.m. at Jodo Shinshu Center, 2140 Durant. Free. 809-1460. 

Berkeley Alternative Practitioners Panel discussion on alternative medicine at 2 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, 3rd flr, 2090 Kittredge St.  

Red Cross Blood Drive from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at American red Cross Bus, 2001 Allston Way. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.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.  


Gaza Freedom March Report back with Alan Goodman at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. 684-8270. 

Peace Symbol 52nd Anniversary Celebration at 7 p.m. at Redwood Gardens, 2950 Derby St. Tickets are $5-$10. 845-5481. pazmopa@yahoo.com 

“Evolutionary Biology Today” A talk by David Seaborg in honor of Darwin Day at 1 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Suggested donation $5. www.HumanistHall.org 

Black History Month at Habitot with community quilt-making, storytelling, African music and dance, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 2065 Kittredge St. Cost is $8.50. 647-1111. www.habitot.org 

Personal Theology Seminars with “Paul and Torah: He Really Was Observant of the Law” with Rabbi Harry Manhoff, at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Red Cross Blood Drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Temple Beth Abraham Social Hall, 327 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. To schedule an appointment go to www.helpsavealife.org 

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 


West Berkeley Project Area Committee meetsthurs. Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. at the James Kenney Rec. Center, 1720 Eighth St. 981-7418. 

Zoning Adjustments Board meets Thurs., Feb. 11 , at 7 p.m., in City Council Chambers. 981-7430. 


Berkeley High Registration Incoming 9th graders from non BUSD schools must register by Feb. 12. For complete information on how to register, please go to http://bhs.berkeley.net and click on Prospective Families. Students currently enrolled in a district middle school do not have to enroll at Berkeley High School. 

Princess Project Donate your gently used prom dresses and accessories to benefit Bay Area high school girls, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 19 at Tootsies in Oakland, 5525 College Ave. For details see www.princessproject.org 

Half Pint Library Book Drive Children’s books will be collected for distribtuion to pediatric clinics and community centers. Drop off books through March 31 at Half Price Books, 2036 Shattuck Ave.