Full Text

City workers hear plans for cutting the number of workers on each refuse collection truck from two to one.
Riya Bhattacharjee
City workers hear plans for cutting the number of workers on each refuse collection truck from two to one.


Berkeley Tackles $14.6M Budget Deficit, Plans Refuse Rate Increases

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 02:46:00 PM
City workers hear plans for cutting the number of workers on each refuse collection truck from two to one.
Riya Bhattacharjee
City workers hear plans for cutting the number of workers on each refuse collection truck from two to one.

A severe cash crunch has sent the City of Berkeley scrambling to find ways to stay afloat in a tough economy, including a two-year rescue plan whose blueprint City Manager Phil Kamlarz presented to the City Council Tuesday.  

The city also unveiled a strategy to balance its refuse collection budget which some councilmembers described as being merely a “band aid” on a looming disaster. When Berkeley raised its collection rates by 20 percent last year, many residents switched to cheaper smaller trash cans, but Kamlarz said the city might raise rates again to combat the current deficit.  

At a press briefing Monday morning, Kamlarz reiterated what he had already told council at their March 9 council meeting, that the city was facing a $14.6 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1 because of the recession, loss of state funding, a decline in property and sales tax revenues and change in the use of city services.  

The city’s total budget is $350 million, of which half is made up of the General Fund and the other half from revenue and other funds. The most drastic shortfalls include $6 million in the General Fund, $4 million in the refuse fund and $2.7 million in public health funds, Kamlarz said.  

Mental health funds will also be cut quite a bit, he said. That report will be presented to the council April 20.  

“And all that’s before the state deals with the $20 billion deficit,” he said.  

Kamlarz called the current financial slump the most serious he had seen in his 35 years working with the city.  

“Most of the time we come back quickly, but not this time,” he said.  

In 2008 the city received $16 million in transfer tax revenue from property sales, which decreased to $8 million last year and will stay at that number this year.  

“Our home prices have remained essentially flat,” he said. “Sales taxes have also remained flat. Everything else doesn’t have any growth at all.”  

One possible bright spot, Kamlarz said, was the hope that the new Health Bill which was signed into legislation by President Barack Obama Tuesday, would help the city’s Health Department over the next four years. “All the people who were not covered will now be covered,” he said. “We’ll have to wait to get more details.”  

The city’s clean storm water fund is also suffering from a $0.9 million deficit. For this, the city’s Budget Manager Tracy Vesely said they might have to turn to voters to fund day to day operations.  

Another depressing area is the $6.1 million shortfall in affordable housing needs because of limited Housing Trust Fund resources coupled with increased demands, Kamlarz said.  

The council voted Tuesday to extend the $1.4 million Housing Trust Fund allocation for the proposed Ashby Arts affordable housing project at 1200 Ashby Ave., which makes the future of other low income housing projects in the city rather uncertain. 

The Ashby Arts project is currently stalled because of the economy, but project developers CityCentric along with non-profit partner Bridge Housing promised to kick off construction by the end of the year. 

The city’s permit service center—whose revenue funds the Planning Department—is also operating at an annual deficit of $1.1 million.  

“Building activity is down, we are not seeing a pick-up,” Kamlarz said, adding that the Planning Department had stopped filling any vacancies for a while now.  

Balancing measures for 2011 include $10.8 million in cuts, $2.3 million in new revenue and slashing 67 positions, half of which are vacant.  

Public safety will see minimal cuts, Kamlarz said, with three vacant police officer positions in the Berkeley Police Department getting eliminated.  

However, the Public Health and refuse departments are likely to see more cuts, he said. 

“We are trying to see if [employees of these departments] can be placed in other vacant positions,” Kamlarz said. “These are challenging times. We’ll probably have 130 less staff people over the next two years to help us figure out our priorities. We can’t put new items on our list unless we eliminate existing projects.” 

Recurring cuts are expected to balance the $4.8 million budget deficit in 2012.  

Another fast approaching problem for the city, Kamlarz said, is the rise in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System fees for Berkeley in 2012 and 2013.  

The rate was low in 2003 and 2004, Kamlarz said. “Then all of a sudden the market tanked and people retired early,” he said. “We had a lot of retirements. Costs have gone through the roof.”  


Refuse fund balancing plan 

Although Public Works Department Director Claudette Ford detailed several ways to avert an impending catastrophe in Berkeley’s refuse fund, the majority of the councilmembers were far from happy. 

“It’s sad we are at a City Council meeting on TV with this document,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It’s something not ready for prime time. There are many controversial problems.” 

Suggestions of rate increases, cost reductions and almost $6 million in loans from other city funds for a two-year quick fix were only greeted with lukewarm responses such as “band aid,” “a goal without a plan,” “a wish.” 

For fiscal year 2011, the city is proposing to increase enforcement to make sure every property pays for garbage service, to pursue new commercial accounts and to implement a regulatory fee for recycling. 

Street and graffiti cleaning could be slashed by $187,000 and the city’s transfer station might be closed on non-productive holidays. 

The budget balancing plan, which will have to be approved by the council first, would also reduce the number of workers on each garbage collection truck from two to one, bringing in an estimated $929,000 in savings. 

A total of 15 new automated trucks for residential garbage collection would cost $3.75 million over two years. 

Every city in Alameda County except Berkeley has one person on these trucks, Kamlarz said. 

Solid Waste driver and Local 1021 union member Ricky Jackson told the council that one-person trucks might make collection routes less efficient. 

“We got the proposal last week, we would have liked to have more input about this structure because we are the ones that pick this stuff up,” Jackson said. “We are in full agreement in trying to make the city as efficient as possible, but with the terrain we have to travel it’s not possible to use side loader trucks.” 


Ford explained that the city would be buying automated trucks which would not have a side loader feature. 

Spending millions for new trucks “could be wonderful and great, but given the problems we have had for years with equipment—in some cases we have auctioned them off—should we buy vehicles in return for sacrificing citizens’ jobs?” asked Worthington, whose statement was greeted with cheers and applause from the audience. 

Fiscal year 2012 might see new franchise fee agreements worth $250,000 and a review of the entire rate restructure. 

Between fiscal year 2010-2012, “we have proposed $5 million in balancing measures,” Ford said. 

“It’s not the best way to do it, but it’s a way,” Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said of the balancing plan. 

Some councilmembers commented that the city should have studied its Zero Waste plan more carefully because although it had led to less trash, it had also generated less revenue. 

“If our goal truly is zero waste it means I am not going to have a garbage can anymore,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “It means I don’t want to pay $28 anymore—so who’s going to pay for the people who go around picking up the rest of the garbage?” 

Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she’d like to see a six-year plan. 

“I don’t think dealing with the plan on a year-to-year basis will get us where we want,” she said. 

Kamlarz told the council that it had been forewarned last year that the economic downturn was having a “hard impact on the refuse fees.” 

“It’s a band aid, but no matter how you look at it, you have to close a $4 million gap,” he said. 

The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on June 22.  


ASUC President Vetoes Divestment Bill

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 05:25:00 PM

ASUC president Will Smelko on Wednesday vetoed a controversial UC Berkeley student senate bill opposing UC investments in companies providing military support to Israel, the Daily Cal reported late Wednesday night. 

"No matter what I do, large groups of people are going to be very mad and upset.." Smelko said in a statement to the Senate. 

Although the bill is labeled “UC Divestment From War Crimes,” it focuses on the conflict in the Middle East and alleges human rights violations by the Israeli Army in Gaza and the West Bank.  

The bill’s critics contend that singling out Israel as a perpetrator of war crimes is unfair, given the vast number of human rights violations that go on elsewhere in the world.  

Sandra Y. Cohen, a UC Berkeley Civil Engineering sophomore and one of the four Associated Students of the University of California senators who voted against the bill, called it a brazen attack on Israel in the guise of drawing attention to war crimes.  

“I hope everyone who voted yes realizes what they truly voted for,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail message to a Google group after the vote last Thursday. “I am really disheartened.”  

The ASUC student senate’s vote is probably the first of its kind to take place in any college campus in the United States.  

At the March 18 meeting, both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine student groups—comprised of students, professors and community members from different ethnic backgrounds—packed the first-floor room of the student union building, forcing the meeting to be shifted to a library on the seventh floor.  

ASUC senator Christina Oatfield said it was the highest attendance she could remember at any recent ASUC meeting.  

Many stayed to hear the final vote—16-4—announced at 4 a.m.  

“It was really exciting to see so many people engaging in the issue,” Oatfield said. “There was a little bit of shouting but overall I was surprised by how respectful everything was.”  

The Berkeley campus has been rocked by altercations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine student groups from time to time, some of which were caused by alleged incidents of hate speech, graffiti and vandalism.  

“The bill cites facts, such as from the UN’s Goldstone Report, that should be disregarded,” said Cohen, as she boarded a flight last Friday to leave for spring break. “It’s blatantly anti-Israel. I was told that the bill is not divesting from Israel, it’s divesting from war crimes. But then we should not have any reference of Israel in it. This is just dividing the community in Berkeley.”  

Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a second-year Economics Ph.D. student who co-authored the bill, said that Israel had been used as a case study to highlight the ethics violations being committed by its government on Palestinian settlements.  

“What about the war crimes in other countries—China, Sudan, Afghanistan?” Cohen asked. “They are trying to make it about war crimes but it’s not about war crimes. If they cared about war crimes then the bill would have mentioned other countries. They are trying to dissolve the State of Israel.”  

Oatfield said that the ASUC senate has a long history of taking strong action to divest funds from countries involved in war crimes.  

“We have singled out Sudan, we have singled out South Africa in the past,” said Huet-Vaughn. “It’s our job to condemn unethical treatment. We want to make a statement about what can be done with student government funds. But the more significant thing is we don’t want our university to support war crimes.”  

The bill specifically calls for ASUC and UC to stop investing in two American companies—General Electric and United Technologies—which are providing Israel with weapons.  

Oatfield said that although the bill is focused on conflicts in Israel, it also asks the ASUC to create a commission which will investigate war crimes in Morocco and Saudi Arabia.  

“The immediate action is pertaining to two companies, but it also has long-term goals,” Oatfield said.  

E-mails supporting or denouncing the senate’s action started flying about right after the final vote, with author and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz being one of the first to issue a statement.  

“Divesting from Israel is immoral, bigoted and if done by a state university illegal,” Dershowitz said. “It encourages terrorism and discourages peace. Any university that would actually divest from Israel will be subjected to countermeasures—financial, legal, academic and political. We will fight back against this selective bigotry that hurts the good name of the University of California. This misuse of the university’s name does not represent the views of students, faculty, alumni and other constituents of the greater Berkeley community. Instead it represents the hijacking of the university for improper ideological purposes. It must be rejected immediately and categorically.”  

Pro-divestment Berkeley residents who attended last week's meeting congratulated each other with celebratory messages after the vote.  

One e-mail called it a “substantial victory,” while another called it a “historic occasion.”  

Huet-Vaughn had said last week that the bill would prohibit ASUC funds from going toward the two American companies with immediate effect.  

The international pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs called the bill “misguided.”  

In an e-mail message March 24, StandWithUs, urged everyone to write a note to ASUC President Will Smelko, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and UC President Mark Yudof, asking them to veto the “unfair divestment bill.”  

Part of their sample letter says: “I urge you to veto the anti-Israel Divestment Bill. The bill violates the rights of thousands of UC Berkeley students, who have no choice but to pay their student fees and they are legally entitled to be assured that these mandatory fees are not used to empower the political aims of an extremist and hostile group that seeks to promote one sided propaganda against Israel.”  

Calls and emails to ASUC President Will Smelko for comment were not returned. 


New: Telegraph Laundromat Dilemma Gets Postponed for a Month

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 26, 2010 - 07:43:00 PM
Riya Bhattacharjee

Southside Lofts residents were back Tuesday to make one last plea to the Berkeley City Council to deny a laundromat a permit to move into their building, or so they thought. 

The council, which was charged with hearing the appeal of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s February decision to deny a use permit for a laundromat at 3095 Telegraph Ave., decided to postpone the issue for a month. 

Although there was overwhelming testimony from homeowners and community members in favor of upholding the zoning board’s decision, the council found it impossible to arrive at any kind of a conclusion about the dilemma before them. 

An erroneously issued use permit by the Berkeley Planning Department led San Diego–based PWS to start the groundwork for a laundromat in the loft building. But a neighbor intervened, which led to the city discovering that although the use permit had been issued on the basis that there had been a previous laundromat at the site, that store had burned down years ago. Thus, the developers should have applied for a new administrative use permit. 

The city halted the construction, but after PWS threatened to file a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley, a settlement was reached whereby the city paid PWS $42,000 to cover costs arising from delays and relocation of vents.  

In return, PWS agreed to follow the required zoning process, but reserved the right to file a lawsuit in the event that the city did not approve the permit.  

A large group of neighbors showed up to plead against the laundromat, citing health, safety and parking concerns. 

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, whose nearly half million dollar condo is right above the proposed laundromat, said he was worried about noise, vibration and odors. 

“My unit shakes, when I or even my neighbor washes clothes,” Ali said. “I believe a business directly below one’s home, with 50 washers and dryers, would prove to be a very serious nuisance. 

Ali quoted from the condo owners’ regulations, which he said clearly “prohibits noise, vibration and noxious odors.” 

Berkeley’s Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson said that the Bay Area Air Quality District had not found odors from the washers and dryers to be a health hazard. 

However, a neighbor testifying before the council later said that the Air District had not studied harmful effects of laundry machines at all. 

David Greens, an attorney representing PWS, said that project opponents had made a “lot of exaggerated charges.” 

“It’s meant to benefit the community,” he said of the laundromat. “We have complied with city laws.” 

Some neighbors think that PWS knowingly provided misinformation to the city to get a permit. 

“I am quite surprised they are unhappy with a laundromat because so many people came up to me even before the project started and said” they didn’t have a problem with it, said Sam Sorokin, who developed Southside Lofts. 

Southside resident Frank Darr told the council that Sorokin had told him while developing the condo complex that a laundromat would be incompatible with the project. But Sorokin told council: “I never said that.” 

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguin asked city staff to find out what kind of conditions and findings would be required to reject the proposal. 

Another problem appeared to be the parking. Although Sorokin had advertised the proposed laundromat space as having three parking spaces, the permit application says that there are four. 

The city had earlier denied a use permit for Quiznos for the very same spot due to a lack of parking. 

Worthington pointed out that weekend parking requirements would have to be in the ballpark of at least 10 to 12 spots. 

He said that the city’s municipal code allows the City Council to require more parking spaces if they find it necessary. 


Berkeley City Council Votes to Support Center Street Plaza

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 05:22:00 PM

When it comes to its city’s downtown, the Berkeley City Council can be extremely picky. But on Tuesday, a concept for creating a plaza with a water feature on Center Street received its blessing.  

The council voted 8-1 close to midnight on a resolution supporting the proposed project, which is being called the Strawberry Creek or the Center Street Plaza. Councilmember Susan Wengraf cast the only “no” vote. 

The council also requested city staff to work with Oakland-based Ecocity Builders and Citizens for a Strawberry Creek Plaza on developing the plan and identifying funding from private and public sources.  

The council unanimously passed the UC Hotel Task Force recommendations in June 2004, which supported opening Strawberry Creek as part of a public pedestrian-friendly open space. (Plans for a hotel at the site are now on hold or have been abandoned.)  

About three years later, the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee also supported this idea.  

Berkeley citizens, with the help of nonprofit Ecocity Builders, asked landscape architect Walter Hood to develop a proposal which aligned with the city’s objectives.  

Public meetings were held over the course of two years, and in July 2009, the Berkeley City Council adopted the Downtown Area Plan which called for “several small plazas,” most notable of which was the Center Street Plaza,  

Hood, who designed the gardens at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, began creating a blueprint for the plaza in 2007.  

His design would close off the block of Center between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue (except for emergency and delivery vehicles) to create a pedestrian-oriented gathering space integrated with the proposed Berkeley Art Museum in the old UC Printing Plant building.  

Proponents say that Strawberry Creek will be partially “daylighted” or brought to the surface from underground storm drains for people to enjoy and learn about creek ecology and the regional watershed, though the original creekbed of Strawberry Creek, which is open on the UC Berkeley campus to the east, runs a block south of Center Street  

“This is an exciting time in Berkeley,” said Kirstin Miller, executive director of Ecocity Builders. “The project has the potential to catalyze economic development in the downtown area.”  

Hood’s proposal was presented to the Berkeley Planning Commission in 2009 and to the City Council in January.  

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, who introduced the item on the agenda, urged the rest of the council to support the proposal in their report, especially in light of upcoming funding deadlines and grants.  

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, the single “no” vote, pulled the item from being included on the consent calendar, saying that she had a problem with the resolution’s original wording which called Hood’s design the “preferred plan.” 

“How can it be a preferred plan when we don’t have options?” she asked, following which the council agreed to remove the word “preferred”. 

Wengraf also objected to any city staff time being used to work on this design, given the current financial crisis in city government. The resolution was later amended to reflect that city staff would simply assist the various stakeholders working on the project. 


Council Delays BRT Discussion, Extends Ashby Arts’ Housing Trust Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 06:32:00 PM

The most controversial topic on the Berkeley City Council agenda was pushed to the end of the council meeting Tuesday, resulting in boos and angry calls for recalling the mayor. 

It was almost midnight when the council took up Bus Rapid Transit after dealing with a full agenda, but many who came to watch stayed to voice their support or displeasure. 

The anti-BRT slogans etched on the driveway of the Old City Hall 

were reminiscent of public opposition to another contentious issue—the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium project. 

Although the council was scheduled to hear a presentation on Bus Rapid Transit from city staff and discuss whether to decide on which “Build” alternative if any to forward to AC Transit for environmental review, the item was re-scheduled to April 20, after the council returns from spring break. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington asked the council to extend the meeting till 12:30 p.m. to give community members in attendance a chance to speak. 

“Otherwise it will be grossly disrespectful to them,” he said. 

Some of the speakers who spoke at the very beginning of public comment criticized the two-way Telegraph plan. Some rooted for Rapid Bus Plus, an alternate proposal which does not require dedicated bus lanes, while some simply spoke to the need for an efficient transportation system. 

An overview of what the City Council is now expected to discuss at the April 20 meeting can be found here.  


Berkeley’s Remaining Affordable Housing Funding Might Still Go to Ashby Arts Project 

A proposal to extend the deadline for allocating the remainder of Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund to Ashby Arts, a proposed project in West Berkeley whose backers are trying to add an affordable housing component, pitted one low-income housing project against another Tuesday. 

Although Councilmember Darryl Moore had originally proposed setting aside $1.4 million in HTF funds until a June 30 deadline to help developers for-profit CityCentric and non-profit Bridge Housing apply for $15 million in state bonds, the council learned that doing this would require foreclosing on Prince Hall Arms, another affordable housing project. The Prince Hall project as proposed would have supplied 42 affordable units, but the plan fell through when sponsors couldn’t raise enough money to fund it.  

Affordable housing developer Satellite Housing stepped in, telling the city they were interested in purchasing the property. At Tuesday’s meeting, supporters of Satellite Housing’s proposed project pleaded with the city to not kill this venture. 

Councilmember Max Anderson suggested that all proposed affordable housing projects should be allowed to compete for whatever Housing Trust Funds were still available this fiscal year, which would give Satellite Housing a chance. Moore then changed his motion to allocate Ashby Arts money from next year’s funds instead of the money that would have come from the Prince Hall foreclosure. 

Mayor Tom Bates said that the foreclosure decision would be postponed until fall. 

Satellite Housing is currently first in line to buy the vacant site of the Prince Hall project. The transaction must be completed by the end of June. 

Berkeley resident Steve Wollmer said he was opposed to having 87 project-based Section 8 vouchers being tied up in the Ashby Arts project when they could have instead been used by other affordable housing projects. 

“Ashby Arts is crowding out other projects,” Wollmer said. “Any of you involved with affordable housing knows how valuable these are. If this goes forward, you will not be able to leverage these funds for other projects. This is the last remaining allocation.” Having project-based Section 8 vouchers available makes it easier for would-be developers to borrow money. 

The $5 million worth of Section 8 vouchers allocated to Ashby Arts are set to expire June 30. Project developers are hoping to secure sufficient funding for the project to go forward before then. 

“We will try to start construction by the end of the year,” said Ali Kashani, who heads CityCentric. “Eighty percent of our construction documents are ready.” 

Brad Wiblin, vice president of Bridge Housing, said that without city support, the Ashby Arts project would be “doomed in some way.” He said that CityCentric and Bridge had finally entered into an agreement at 5 p.m., just before the 7 p.m. city council meeting, 

Although Kashani admitted that Ashby Arts’ application to the state bonds was not contingent on the council granting the extension for the housing trust fund allocation decision, the council approved it so that the developers could look for additional funds to cover a shortfall of more than a million dollars which still remains. 

“It’s a shovel-ready project,” Moore said. “At the end of the day we are talking about affordable housing for seniors.” 

Both Ashby Arts and Prince Hall have the relevant zoning permits, which is a rather arduous process for affordable housing projects. 

The City of Berkeley has currently received applications from 12 affordable housing projects totaling $10 million. About $4 million has been asked for rehabilitating old buildings and $6 million for building new ones. The city has only about $3.6 million remaining from its Housing Trust Fund. 

“The need for affordable housing is more important now than ever” said Jane Micallef, director of the city’s Housing Department. 

The city’s Housing Advisory Commission will be making a decision in May on whether to allocate that money for rehabilitation or new projects. The council is then expected to vote on the recommendation. 


NEWS ANALYSIS:Marching for California's Future Through Today's Desolation

By David Bacon
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 10:41:00 AM

TULARE, CA -- As the March for California's Future heads up the San Joaquin Valley towards Sacramento, participants are coming up hard against the reality of the economic crisis in rural California. The march began in Bakersfield, the day after widespread protests swept through the state's schools and universities on March 4. It is a protest against the impact of state budget cuts on education and social services, and marchers are finding that Valley communities are among those that feel their effects most strongly. 

"Watsonville has a 27% unemployment rate," says Jenn Laskin, a teacher at Renaissance Continuation High School there. "It's the strawberry capital of the world, and strawberries are a luxury. In a recession, people stop buying them, so workers no longer have a job in the fields. I have many students who have both parents out of work, who grow food in our school garden for their families." 

But in the Central Valley, she thinks, things seem worse. "The towns we've been passing through feel a lot more desolate," Laskin explains. Those include the small farm worker communities of Shafter, McFarland, Delano, Pixley and Tulare. "I see a lot of fields with nothing planted at all. I was in a Mexican restaurant in Pixley and there was not a Mexican in sight. The problems I see in Watsonville might even be sharper here. I see more need here, and I'm guessing probably fewer services." 

She's not far off. The official unemployment rate in December in Kern County was 16%. Since Bakersfield, a major urban area, has a lower rate, towns like Shafter and McFarland have even more jobless. Crossing into Kings and Tulare Counties, unemployment jumps to over 17% in each. 

The march's call to restore the promise of public education is the motivator keeping Laskin, and the march's other Watsonville participant, Emmanuelle Ballesteros, walking from one town to the next. As the youngest marcher at 21, Ballesteros says he's doing it especially for the youth and students of his community. "In Watsonville they're overcrowding classes," he charges. "Fewer classes, with more students, discourage youth because they need the help. Now there's none." 

Ballesteros suffered from that himself. "He was pushed out of the system," Laskin charges. "I feel like Manny is the reason we're marching. He is a child of immigrants, with as much right to the California dream as anybody. He gives credibility to this march." 

In Delano the marchers saw the four prisons that have replaced farm labor as the community's major source of employment. Seeing watchtowers and walls topped by razor wire brought the contradictions home for Ballesteros. "Delano and Watsonville are puro Latino," he explains. "The families are poor, doing farm labor. Now they're building more prisons in California than schools, and there are more Blacks and Mexicans inside those prisons. For young people like me, instead of being able to get a job, and achieving our goals, they tell you, 'You're not going to make it.'" 

What Ballesteros sees as he walks makes him angry. "But I'm turning it into something positive. This march might make a little bit of change here." 

Laskin says education cuts have reduced the number of school nurses in Watsonville to seven, for 19,000 students, and eliminated school psychologists and counselors, music and art. "Sports have become pay to play," she says, "which means that students who are talented and don't have the money lose the opportunity." Next year K-2 classes will have 28 students. "One child in kindergarten told me, 'we can't even fit on the rug anymore.'"  

The legal limit of 20 students for K-3 grade classes was modified in the legislature's recent budget deals. "In our district, it's cheaper to raise the class size and pay the penalty than to keep class sizes small," she laments. "And combined with the emphasis on test scores, it all affects children's ability to learn. We have second grade students who don't even know how to use scissors, because they've been taught to the test. They can bubble in letters and numbers, but they can't cut a circle in a piece of paper." 

In the San Joaquin Valley Laskin sees the same crisis. "We've talked with many teachers who have received pink slips," she says. "I spoke with one teacher who worked three jobs to put herself through school. She's in her second year, which means that on the first day of next year she'd have tenure and couldn't be laid off. So she's being laid off this year. Her family's lived in McFarland for five generations, and her father has been a custodian for the district there for 23 years. Without a job there won't be anything to keep her in the community where she grew up. The closest place to look for work is Bakersfield, where they just issued 200 pink slips, and many highly qualified teachers are fighting for the same job." 

The march's goals include rebuilding a government and economy that works for all Californians, and enacting a fair tax system to fund it. After marchers had been walking for a week, they spent a day in front of Loews Hardware, the 99¢ Store and Wal-Mart in Tulare. There they asked people to sign petitions to qualify a ballot initiative that would remove the requirement that two-thirds of the legislature approve any budget.  

Even though urban Democrats have had a majority for years in both the State Senate and the Assembly, a solid Republican block can prevent a vote to adopt a budget until legislators agree to slash spending. Cuts in spending produce pink slips for teachers, and fewer social services. Small San Joaquin Valley towns are among those electing politicians who demand budget cuts and oppose tax increases, which also require a two-thirds majority. 

Dozens of the workers who care for aged and sick family members in the towns along the route are walking too. One of them, Doug Moore, heads United Domestic Workers Local 3930. "The budget cuts on the table in Sacramento could even lead to the elimination of home care itself," he says. "Statewide there are 127,000 nursing home beds, but only 20,000 available. So where are people going to go? And what will happen to the jobs of those who care for them?" 

Nevertheless, "many people are not making the connection that legislators elected here in the Valley are among those using the two-thirds requirement to slash services," Laskin charges. "It's a long conversation. This whole system was put into place so that the average person can't understand what's going on." The march creates opportunities to talk with people - part of an education process she believes is needed.  

Town hall meetings are planned in three larger towns on the route. And as they go, marchers are registering voters, getting petitions signed, and collecting people's ideas on little yellow 'I Have a Dream for California' cards. "We'll be delivering thousands of them to Sacramento when we arrive on the steps of the capitol," Laskin predicts. That's set to happen April 21. "I think it was right to choose the Central Valley for this march."  


New: Unlicensed Driver Cited in West Berkeley Chain of Crashes

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday March 29, 2010 - 09:47:00 PM

A traffic violation set off a chain reaction of vehicle collisions in West Berkeley Monday morning. 

Berkeley Police Department interim spokesperson Officer Jamie Perkins said the driver of a Ford Ranger failed to yield right-of-way to oncoming traffic at Gilman Street and Eastshore Freeway and ran into a Toyota Corolla at 9:30 a.m. 

As a result of the collision, the Corolla collided with a third car, a Nissan Sentra. 

None of the vehicles had passengers in them and were driver-only vehicles, Perkins said.  

The Ford Ranger suffered moderate damage to the right driver’s side and rear quarter panel.  

The Toyota Corolla sustained major front-end damage and moderate damage to the rear end. The Nissan Sentra sustained moderate damage to the left rear. 

The driver of the Ford Ranger was cited for being an unlicensed driver and his vehicle was impounded. 

The only person suffering any damages was the woman driving the Toyota Corolla, Perkins said. 

She suffered facial injuries and was rushed to the hospital. Perkins said she expects her to be fine. 

Perkins did not immediately release names of the three people involved in the accident. 

New: Berkeley Woman Killed in Motorcycle Crash on I-80

By Bay City News/Berkeley Daily Planet
Friday March 26, 2010 - 04:41:00 PM

A Berkeley woman was killed in a solo-motorcycle crash on Interstate Highway 80 in Richmond on Thursday night, according to the California Highway Patrol. 

The motorcyclist was riding a 1992 Kawasaki motorcycle in the far right lane of westbound I-80 at 8:51 p.m. when she lost control and struck a metal guardrail on the right shoulder just west of Carleson Boulevard. 

The impact launched the rider over the guardrail, and she was found in the trees and shrubs on the right side of the guardrail, the CHP said. 

The motorcycle slid and came to rest in the right lane. 

A witness told investigators that the motorcycle was going at least about 60 mph, but it did not appear that the rider was speeding, according to the CHP. 

The victim was identified as 41-year-old Berkeley resident Dayna Seico. 

The right lane of the highway was closed until shortly after 11 p.m. while the CHP investigated the crash and the coroner removed the body.

New: Berkeley Police Arrest Berkeley High Student for Suspected Robbery

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 03:04:00 PM
Berkeley police Wednesday arrested a Berkeley High School student in downtown Berkeley in connection with a robbery.
By Mark Coplan
Berkeley police Wednesday arrested a Berkeley High School student in downtown Berkeley in connection with a robbery.
A spit mask was used as a precaution in Thursday's arrest.
By Mark Coplan
A spit mask was used as a precaution in Thursday's arrest.

Berkeley police arrested a Berkeley High School student in downtown Berkeley on Thursday in connection with a robbery. 

The arrest occurred at 12:23 p.m. after a Berkeley Police Department officer saw the suspect walking along the 1900 block of Allston Way. 

BPD spokesperson Officer Jamie Perkins said that the suspect had been wanted for a robbery that took place in February. 

Perkins said the minor had been involved in a strong arm robbery and had taken the personal belongings of his victim. According to Perkins, the robbery occurred just before 4 p.m. on Feb. 19 at Allston and Grant. The victim was also a minor and a male student at Berkeley High. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said he saw 10 or 11 police officers take down the robbery suspect near Berkeley High at 12:20 p.m. and put a “net bag” over his head. 

Perkins said that a spit mask was used as a precaution. Spit masks are porous masks which prevent people from biting or spitting, Perkins said. She could not say whether the student had resisted arrest or behaved violently prior to being arrested. 

Perkins declined to release any specifics about the case because it was still under investigation and involved a juvenile. 

The student will be kept in Berkeley City Jail before being booked into Juvenile Hall, Perkins said. 

Updated: Measure C Campaign Launched with Berkeley Swimathon

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 07:35:00 PM

Swim to save the swimming pools. That was the unofficial motto of the Berkeley Pools Campaign at least for last Friday, when they launched a 24-hour swimathon to raise funds for Measure C, a ballot measure to raise money from taxpayers to upgrade and expand the city’s pools.  

The Berkeley City Council recently voted to approve the $22.6 million measure for the June 8 election, paving the way for campaign workers to start raising campaign finances.  

Friday’s swimathon started at 6 a.m. and continued until 6 a.m. Saturday.  

It’s the biggest fundraiser for the campaign, expected to bring in $20,000, said Rob Collier, co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, which lobbied the City Council to approve the ballot measure.  

As of Monday, the organizers had counted $13,000. 

“We hope to raise more money to take us throughout May,” Collier said. “The campaign is going to be very expensive and we expect our opposition to be very well funded.”  

So far Measure C has been opposed by a small group of Berkeley residents including Marie Bowman, steering committee chair of Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes (BASTA!).  

Others listed on the ballot argument signed by Bowman on Friday, the last day to file ballot arguments, included Robert Cabrera, president of Berkeley Can Do Better and Julie Dickinson, secretary of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. 

Their argument called for greener alternatives and rehabilitation of existing facilities instead of building new pools at a time of economic instability for the city. 

Calls to Bowman for comment were not returned by press time. 

The Berkeley High School Old Gym, which houses the warm pool, is scheduled for demolition in 2011 to make room for a new classroom building.  

Bowman was one of the main advocates who rallied for adaptive reuse of the historic gym, but her proposal was not adopted. 

Rebuttals for both sides of the argument are due today at noon and will be posted at www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=50932 by the end of the day. 

Collier said that the idea of a swimathon was born right after the council’s final vote.  

“There was so much enthusiasm that we had to do something with all that energy,” he said. “The best way to deal with charged up swimmers is to throw them in the pool.”  

Although the council had initially voted unanimously to approve a $19 million 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, it changed its vote at a Feb. 25 meeting when it agreed to include the construction of a new competition pool at King Middle School.  

The principal reason for the council’s change of mind was because of the outpouring of support for a new pool at King from the Berkeley Barracudas, a local competitive swim team which complained that the current facility was in dire need of an upgrade. The Masters team, which is mostly made up of older swimmers, also rallied for a new pool.  

“A larger pool will allow the Barracudas to train and grow,” Collier said. “So they are really gunning to go.”  

Even though a recent voter poll warned that citizens were not too keen to fund pool expansions in a desperate economy, the council reasoned that a new pool at King would garner wider support.  

Despite being popular with public pool users in Berkeley, the pools ballot measure has its share of critics, including councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who cautioned at a recent council meeting that taxing citizens during a difficult economy was probably not the wisest thing to do. Wozniak ultimately voted to support the measure with the rest of the council.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been known to show up in his swimming trucks for other aquatics-centered fund raisers, said the ballot measure was critical to keep valuable resources alive for people of all age groups.  

Collier acknowledged that the pool’s campaign faced a tough road ahead, including a short window for raising funds, but maintained that it was the only way to save at least two of the city’s pools.  

“We have no choice,” he said. “The warm pool is closing next year and Willard Pool will close this year if the ballot measure doesn’t pass. So it’s now or never.”  

The City of Berkeley will close Willard Pool in the fall unless a voter-approved bond measure can continue to fund it  

“Berkeley residents have made far-sighted investments where it counted,” Collier said. “In the 60s it was the underground BART, in the 70s it was our parks, in the 80s it was emergency services for the disabled and more recently it was support for our schools and libraries. Berkeley voters realize that pools are our community’s future, it’s our legacy to our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.”  

Berkeley Pools Campaign co-chair Shelly Hayden said that each participant pledged to swim for at least an hour for a $100 minimum sponsorship.  

“We need to start printing yard signs and brochures that we will distribute to the community as soon as possible,” said Hayden, who swam for an hour and raised more than $300 from her sponsors.  

The Cal Men’s Water Polo team showed up along with the Berkeley Aquatic Masters. 

One of the swimmers completed 5,500 meters.  

Jean Johnsen, an 84-year-old King neighbor who has been swimming in the King Pool for more than 40 years, was one of the top swimathon fundraisers, raising over $600 from her neighbors and friends.  

“I could have kept going!” she said, as she got out of the water. 

For more information on the Berkeley Pools Campaign, visit www.berkeleypools.org. 






Updated: Berkeley Remembers Waving Man on his 100th Birthday

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 05:37:00 PM

The yellow gloves came out once again at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oregon Street Monday to celebrate the 100th birthday of Joseph Charles, Berkeley’s Waving Man.  

Friends, family and even strangers gathered outside his old house to smile and wave at passers-by and motorists—a tradition carried out by Mr. Charles for 30 years until he stopped doing it in 1992.  

Denisha DeLane, NAACP youth council advisor in Berkeley, said that she organized the event this year with a lot more hope for the future.  

DeLane has been encouraging people to show up on March 22 for the past several years to help keep this important gesture alive.  

“Mr. Charles was the face of Berkeley for many years—people loved him and respected him,” she said. “We need to show the same love and respect even today. We don’t want people to forget what he did.”  

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council issued a proclamation honoring Mr. Charles, who passed away in 2002, which declared March 22, 2010 as “Waving Man Remembrance Day.” 

For many, Mr. Charles was more than just the “Waving Man.”  

Artists drew murals honoring him and neighborhood resources, such as the Oregon Street tennis courts which overlooked his white house, were also named after him.  

His fans have also set up a Facebook page, “Ask the Mayor of Berkeley to recognize Mr. Charles 100th Birthday,” which has more than 700 members from all over the world.  

“So many people came out today, including his grandchildren and his great grandchildren,” said DeLane, who remembered seeing Mr. Charles wave to her every day on her way to school. “It’s remarkable.”  

DeLane said she’d like to see the place where he stood waving every day designated a historic landmark.  

“I keep asking myself, how can we keep his memory alive?” she said. “Now that I am 31, I want to see people remembering him even after 50 years. He helped to build a healthy community, to make the day better for everyone, especially for southwest Berkeley. We need children to know who their neighbors are. We should be able to look out for each other.”  

Mr. Charles’ granddaughter Sherrill Charles, who lives in Oakland, cheered and clapped as a truck honked when it saw her waving.  

“I remember him standing here when I went to Presentation High School every morning,” said Charles who called her grandfather “Daddy Joe.” “I heard about him on the news and I was so proud of him.”  

Charles thanked the city council for the proclamation. 

“Some people were embarrassed and some people thought he was crazy,” she said of her grandfather’s early morning ritual. “But he prepared us for a lot more. It didn’t cost a dime or a nickel or a penny. He stood outside in all kinds of weather.” 

Mr. Charles’ great grandson Charles Kimble, 29, showed up around 9 a.m. to participate.  

“I remember him standing in the corner with a big smile on his face,” he said. “It made my day.”  


Updated: Berkeley Celebrates Music Education on Sunday

by Raymond Barglow, www.berkeleytutors.net
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 01:36:00 PM

This past Sunday, a music celebration was held at the Berkeley High Community Theatre. Featured were 500 students from 15 Berkeley public schools. Before a packed house, choirs, orchestras, concert and jazz bands played music and sang songs that they have learned over the past year. 


Schools in Berkeley make musical education available to all students in all grades, ranging from choral and instrumental classes in elementary school to orchestra, band, AP music theory, and jazz in high school. Through participation in music programs, students learn about a rich diversity of human experience, ranging from the European classical music heritage to jazz, rock, hip-hop, and world music traditions. 


Sitting in the front row of the community theater this year was Rosemary Richie, mother of five children who graduated from Berkeley High, all of whom participated in the variety of music programs that Berkeley offers. For her, it’s been a long and winding path to the creation of a public school music program that today is respected nationwide as exemplary. 


Richie is a veteran of the campaigns to preserve music education in Berkeley’s schools. In the early 1980s, proposition 13 was beginning to have devastating consequences for public education throughout California. In response, explains Richie, Berkeley parents and community leaders formed the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, which successfully appealed to the public for donations to compensate for the cuts. Since that time, as public funding for public education has diminished and school districts across the state have slashed art and music programs, Berkeley has again and again come to the support of music in the schools. Over the years, concerts, raffles, local business donations, and the city’s taxpayers have enabled music programs to flourish.  


Today, support for K-12 music education in Berkeley is provided by a Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) parcel tax. Julie Holcomb, Co-chair of the BSEP Planning and Oversight Committee, wrote in a letter to the Planet that “music instruction is disappearing from schools statewide and nationwide, but it remains a powerful presence in our Berkeley public schools … our music program will continue no matter how steep the cuts in state funding of schools. We can be proud to be part of a community that values its children, the arts, and education, and is willing to vote resources to support them.” 


The celebration this past Sunday gave the public the opportunity to experience first-hand the results of this effort. Architectural designer Alex Chiapetta, whose daughter is a 6th grader at Longfellow, took the photographs that we display below. 










Worth a Look

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 07:34:00 PM




The Sisters Set the Slackers Straight

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 07:56:00 PM

Let’s hear it for the nuns.  

They’ve been on the front lines of providing health care for centuries, and they were right there this month when it counted to make sure that the nation’s first real comprehensive health care bill passed.  

First and foremost, they can take a lot of the credit for Nancy Pelosi, and for her steel backbone. She’s a woman much reviled by the Rabid Right. We know this because as a news outlet we get too many of their foaming-at-the-mouth press releases, and she terrifies them.  

Whatever you might say about the nuns who taught her, and who have educated generations of Americans, no one who’s seen them in action could ever doubt that women can be in charge of anything. As Pelosi made the rounds telling the boys in the House to shape up or ship out, she certainly must have, at least subconsciously, drawn on her experience with nuns who knew how to make bad boys behave.  

Bad boys like Bart Stupak.  

Bart foolishly told the press that he never listens to nuns: “When I’m drafting right to life language, I don’t call up the nuns.” Don’t believe it.  

“ ‘We have a number of nuns in his district, and they’ve been calling him,’ said Sister Regina McKillip, a Dominican nun who lives in Washington. “Who’s been on the ground, in the field? Who knows the struggles people have to deal with? It’s the sisters.”(quoted by Helene Cooper in the New York Times).  

When leaders representing more than 59,000 nuns endorsed the health care bill, deliberately contradicting the ill-informed and self-righteous posturing of the Catholic bishops, who have a lot to answer for these days, even bullies like Bart had to pay attention.  

And on the other end of the Democratic spectrum we have Dennis Kucinich, another former Catholic schoolboy, who cheerfully admits that he listens to nuns.  

The religious blog Beliefnet asked him about it once:  

“A lot of people have strong feelings--positive or negative--about Catholic education. Where do you fit in the spectrum?”  

His response:  

“Very positive. And I attribute it to the [nuns] who dedicated their lives to the religious. I was very fortunate. These are some of the most significant, important people in my life and I treasure their memories.”  

He explained his decision to go with Obama at the last minute in an excruciating apologia on the Esquire website which amounted to what the nuns would have called an examination of conscience.  

He said that when he thought hard about where his hard-nosed opposition could be taking the country, he changed his mind about voting against the healthcare bill. It’s one thing to go out on a limb in defense of an abstract principle, but it’s quite another to saw it off while you’re sitting on it.  

Our own Congresswoman Barbara Lee was also schooled by nuns—she’s another beneficiary of seeing women in charge and taking them for role models. She’s said that “my two sisters and I were sent to a Catholic school, St. Joseph’s in El Paso Texas, and the nuns there were very involved in social justice.” As she is today.  

But Lee’s a lot smarter than Stupak (not hard) and a lot more practical than Kucinich, though she shares many of his views on issues. She’s been solidly behind the Obama position while continuously pressing for improvements where possible, and has brought the Black Caucus along with her.  

And other women, all over the country, in all kinds of positions, weren’t afraid to speak up either. A friend of mine sat through a sermon in San Diego when the priest told the congregation that they should urge their representative in Congress to vote against the health care bill. She confronted him indignantly after mass, and he sheepishly said that the word had gone out from the bishop that this position should be announced from the pulpit. She let him know in no uncertain terms what she thought of his cowardice.  

At the end of the day, only 34 Democrats voted no on health care, and of these, only one was a woman, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, a third-generation Democratic officeholder in a Republican-leaning state. Her stated reasons for her decision didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but probably collapsed into one: she was afraid she might lose some independent votes. There’s talk of running a primary opponent against her, and a woman, Connie Saltonstall, has been threatening to try take Stupak out in northern Michigan despite his last minute road-to-Damascus conversion.  

It seems obvious that the bold announcement that the women religious leaders made in the last weeks of the nail-biting campaign to get the House to pass the Senate bill had a lot to do with turning the tide. Several of the few Democratic holdouts hid behind their personal religious objections to federal funding of abortion, pretending that they didn’t know that the Hyde Amendment, for better or worse, already prohibited it. The religious women who run actual hospitals know better, and because they weren’t afraid to say so, Stupak and his cowardly colleagues lost their cover.  


Public Comment

New: If you don’t want to find anything, don’t look anywhere

By Daniella Thompson
Friday March 26, 2010 - 05:23:00 PM

By now, practically everybody in Berkeley knows that on January 28, the Zoning Adjustments Board approved a use permit for a nearly 10,000-square-foot house and garage at 2707 Rose Street. The story got national play because the property owners are Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein. 

Along the way, some very basic preliminaries fell through the cracks. True, the required Structure History report was submitted on May 19, 2009, but the research work behind it was singularly shoddy if not purposely negligent. 

The report claims that “there is no architect of record and no associated persons of historical interest” for the existing structure. Both assertions are wrong. 

The 1917 building permit for the Dunham house at 2707 Rose Street, submitted as part of the Structure History report, clearly shows A. Appleton as the architect. 

Now, Abraham Appleton (1887–1981) wasn’t exactly a nobody. For several decades he was a notable figure in Bay Area architecture. 

Appleton studied under John Galen Howard and William C. Hays at the newly founded School of Architecture on the Berkeley campus, completing his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Howard and Hays thought highly enough of him to have employed him in their private practices. Before establishing his own practice in 1920, Appleton was junior partner in Hays’ practice. 

At the time he designed the Dunham house at 2707 Rose St., Appleton was also employed by the University of California as Inspector of Buildings on the campus. His client, Lucia Dunham, was a well-known mezzo-soprano with an active concert schedule and a teaching position at the University of California, where she was a collaborator of Prof. Charles L. Seeger. In 1921, after the death of her husband, Lucia Dunham returned to New York, where she became an influential teacher at the Juilliard School, training many future concert and operatic singers. 

Abraham Appleton went on to establish a successful and long-tenured architectural practice in San Francisco with Samuel Lightner Hyman (1885–1948). The firm of Hyman and Appleton designed the National Bank of Petaluma (1926); an elegant 10-story apartment building at 2100 Pacific Ave., SF (1926); the Jewish Community Center of SF (demolished); Sinai Memorial Chapel, SF (1938); the Hebrew Home for the Aged, SF; Visitacion Valley School, SF (1937); and many homes. 

Hyman and Appleton remodeled the 16-story Crown Zellerbach building (1908) at 343 Sansome Street, SF, in distinctive Art Deco style. A two-story terracotta-clad commercial building at 2080 Chestnut Street was designed in a similar style. 

After Hyman’s death, the firm changed its name to Appleton and Wolfard. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Appleton and Wolfard designed eight modern branch library buildings for the San Francisco Public Library---more than any other single firm. They also designed the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park (1960). 

None of this information was made available in the Structure History report. 

Another major omission was hidden behind the claim that there are no designated historic resources in the project’s vicinity. In fact, the immediate neighborhood is an architectural treasure trove, including but not limited to the following: 

Greenwood Common, a City of Berkeley Landmark (designated in 1990) developed by William W. Wurster, with landscape design by Lawrence Halprin and eight houses designed by important mid-century architects. 

La Loma Park Historic District (designated in 2002), comprising 13 properties, including two designed by Bernard Maybeck, one by Ernest Coxhead, one by Henry Gutterson, and one by John Ballantine. 

Rose Walk, a City of Berkeley Landmark (designated in 1975), designed by Maybeck and lined with houses by Gutterson. 

Considering the existing structure’s architectural provenance, its notable first owner, its status as a survivor of the 1923 Berkeley Fire, and its location surrounded by numerous historic resources, the project should have been directed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission at the outset. Instead, the LPC was left out of the loop. 

While the rules should apply to everyone, they are easy to bend within the law. In the case of a Structure History report, all it takes is averting your eyes: if you don’t look too hard, you’re sure to find nothing of interest. 

This often happens when the Structure History report has been written by the applicant’s consultant. And it raises unavoidable questions about conflict of interest. 


By Dean Metzger
Tuesday March 23, 2010 - 10:28:00 AM

After a couple of weeks of negotiating with the city bureaucracy the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance has cleared all of the hurdles for circulating an initiative. Due to the lack of support from our city elected officials and city staff, the committee felt that the only way to get real sunshine (open government) in Berkeley was to circulate the ordinance as an initiative and place the ordinance on the November 2010 ballot 

The initiative is now being circulated to get the required signatures. The highlights of the ordinance are: 



• Assures that meetings take place when and where people are most able to attend. 

• Keeps decision making in the open for the City Council, Rent Board, Library Trustees and all City boards, commissions and committees.  

• Opens up to the public committees and subcommittees that formerly were not subject to noticing and minute keeping requirements.  

• Gives the public the right to know how their representatives voted in Closed Sessions even if motions were not approved and no action taken. 

• Requires enough City Council meetings so that meetings adjourn around 11:00 p.m. 

• Provides an orderly meeting structure so that you know in advance how much time you have for your comments.  

• Ensures adequate time for decision makers to hear from the public and study relevant information before voting on an issue. 

• Promotes civility at meetings when the public has full access to information and the opportunity to comment.  

• Permits the public to place items on the agenda of the City Council with 100 signatures and on the agendas of boards and commissions with 50 signatures. 

• Informs citizens about the activities of their representatives on regional agencies and in meetings with the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  

• Requires full disclosure of private discussions regarding development issues and with lobbyists.  


Access to Information: 

• Organizes records to provide easier access by the public for information. 

• Guarantees timely access to public information, and minimizes delays and costs of obtaining copies of important documents. 

• Prohibits arbitrary withholding and redaction of City documents requested by the public. 

• Promotes greater use of electronic records in order to reduce City costs of providing information. 

• Provides guidelines in an atmosphere of rapidly changing technology for the City to smoothly transition to electronic records, reducing paper and significantly decreasing costs while ensuring full access to public information.  



• Establishes an independent, appointed Sunshine Review Commission, with protections against influence by the City Council, City officials, and others. 

• Authorizes the Commission to work proactively with staff and decision makers to improve public processes, noticing, and access to information. 

• Requires timely rulings by the Commission on alleged sunshine violations, and provides penalties for violations in accord with existing Berkeley and state law. 

• Provides a process for early identification of Sunshine violations and to correct them so expensive litigation is avoided.  

• Identifies a funding source for the Commission to bring enforcement actions, and minimizes financial risk for individuals seeking to address violations. 


If you support open government where everyone is treated fairly and you have the same information as your elected officials and city staff, this is the ordinance for you. If you agree and want to help, find someone circulating the petition and sign it.  

If that is difficult for you, and you still want to help, you can go to berkeleysunshine.org and print out the initiative (the instructions are there} and sign it (get your family members and friends, if they are eligible, to sign it too), then send it to us.  

Mail it to Dean Metzger at P.O. BOX 5801, Berkeley CA, 94705 or call 549-0379 and we will send someone to pick it up from you.  

If we all work together, we can make sunshine (open government) real in Berkeley. 

Immigration Reform: We Need a Better Alternative

by David Bacon
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 10:36:00 AM

OAKLAND, CA (3/19/09) - Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham announced last week their plan for immigration reform. Unfortunately, it is a retread, recycling the same bad ideas that led to the defeat of reform efforts over the last five years. In some ways, their proposal is even worse.  

Schumer and Graham dramatize the lack of new ideas among Washington powerbrokers. Real immigration reform requires a real alternative. We need a different framework that embodies the goals of immigrants and working people, not the political calculations of a reluctant Congress. 

What's wrong with the Schumer/Graham proposal? 

1. It ignores trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, which produce profits for U.S. corporations, but increase poverty in Mexico and Central America. Since NAFTA went into effect, income in Mexico dropped, while millions of workers lost jobs and farmers their land. As a result, six million Mexicans had to leave home and migrate north, looking for work.  

If we do not change U.S. trade policy, millions of displaced people will continue to come, no matter how many walls we build. 

2. People working without papers will be fired and even imprisoned under their proposal, and raids will increase. Vulnerability makes it harder for people to defend their rights, organize unions and raise wages. That keeps the price of immigrant labor low. Every worker will have to show a national ID card, (an idea too extreme even for the Bush administration). A problematic ID would mean getting fired, and maybe jailed. 

This will not stop people from coming to the U.S. But it will produce more immigration raids, firings, and a much larger detention system. Last year over 350,000 people went through privately-run prisons for undocumented immigrants. That number will go up. 

3. Schumer and Graham treat the flow of people coming north as a labor supply for employers. They propose new guest worker programs, where workers would have few rights, and no leverage to organize for better conditions. Current programs are already called "Close to Slavery" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

4. Schumer and Graham's legalization scheme imposes barriers making ineligible many of the 12 million people who need legal status. Their idea for "going to the back of the line" would have people wait many years for it.  

Getting in the back of the line is like having to sit in the back of the bus. In 1986, even President Reagan, hardly a liberal, signed a plan in which people gained legal status quickly and easily. Many are now citizens and vote, run for office, lead our unions, teach in our schools, and have made great contributions to our country. 

Schumer and Graham treat legalization as a carrot, to force acceptance of a program in which the main beneficiaries are large corporations, not immigrants, nor other workers.  

Instead, we need reform that unites people and protects everyone's rights and jobs, immigrant and non-immigrant alike. We need to use our ideals of rights and equality to guide us. 

For several years, immigrant rights groups, community organizations and unions have called for reform based on those ideals. It's time to put those ideas into a bill that can bring our country together, not divide it. 

A human rights immigration bill would: 

1. Stop trade agreements that create poverty and forced migration. 

2. Give people a quick and easy path to legal status and citizenship. 

3. End the visa backlogs, so there's no "get in the back" line. 

4. Protect the right of all workers in their jobs - against discrimination, or getting fired for demanding rights or for not having papers. 

5. Bring civil rights and peace to border communities. 

6. Dismantle the immigration prisons, end detention, and stop the raids. 

7. Allow people to come to the U.S. with green cards - visas that afford people rights, that are not tied to employment and recruitment by labor brokers. 

8. Use reasonable legalization fees to finance job programs in communities with high unemployment. 

9. End guest worker programs. 

Those who say no alternative is possible might remember the "go slow" advice given to young students going to jail in the South in the early 60s. If they'd heeded it, we'd still be waiting for a Voting Rights Act. 

Dr. King, Rosa Parks, the students in SNCC, and Chicano civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez, Bert Corona, Dolores Huerta and Ernesto Galarza, asked the country a simple question: Do we believe in equality or not? 

That's still the choice. 



For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org 


For a Press TV interview about racism, globalization and illegality, see http://www.presstv.com/programs/detail.aspx?sectionid=3510529&id=112065#112065 


See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008) 

Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008 



See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US 

Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006) 



See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004) 




By Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:28:00 PM

Fasten your safety belts. It's budget time again in Sacramento. Prepare for a repeat of last year's contentious budget battle. California is still one of only three states – Arkansas and Rhode Island are the others – to require a supermajority to adopt a budget. And it still takes a two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes. True UC Berkeley linguistics Professor George Lakoff's California Democracy Act initiative is now circulating; it would enable a simple legislative majority to pass a budget and to raise taxes. However, there is some doubt whether the proposed initiative will be able to gather the necessary 694,354 valid signatures by April 12 to get the measure on the November ballot. 


Last budget season, the legislature closed about 90 percent of the 2009-10 $60 billion budget gap with spending cuts, tax increases, borrowing, federal funds, and one–time budgetary maneuvers. Closing the immediate $20.7 billion budget problem will be even more difficult. The republicans in the legislature have been united in their refusal to raise taxes. This probably means more deep cuts in education, health, social services, corrections, and transportation.  


How bad is the problem? Consider that California has a $20.7 billion deficit in the general fund budget over the next 16 months. California owes $8.8 billion in short-term loans that have to be paid off by June and over $120 billion in outstanding bonds and interest that will be paid over decades. The state's pension fund, CalPers, has $16.3 billion more in liabilities than assets plus California also faces a $51.8 billion for the health and dental benefits of state retirees and future retirees.  


Bottom line: the California has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation, just above junk bond status. One major problem is the rise in California's debt-service ratio (DSR). That is, the ratio of annual general fund debt–service costs to annual general fund revenues and transfers. This is often used as one indicator of the state’s debt burden. The higher it is and more rapidly it rises, the more closely bond raters, financial analysts, and investors tend to look at the state’s debt practices, and the more debt–service expenses limit the use of revenues for other programs. Debt servicing is projected to comprise 9% of general fund revenues by the end of 2014-15. According to Bloomberg News, the market believes a developing country like Kazakhstan, with about 15.7 million people, is less likely to default on its debt than California, which is the eighth largest economy in the world.  


The over 9 percent DSR is considerably higher than it has been in the past. In part, this reflects the sharp, recent fall–off in general fund revenues, which drives up the ratio for a given level of debt service. To the extent additional bonds are authorized and sold in future years beyond those already approved, the states debt–service costs and DSR will be higher. Until California's fiscal house is put in order, the prudent course would be to avoid taking on new debt, even for worthwhile projects such as the $11.1 billion bond to finance an overhaul of California's water system, and the $5.5 billion of debt already approved but not yet sold.  


Unfortunately, I see no serious calls for reforms in California's fiscal management by the Governor, the legislature or even the candidates for governor. Where is the movement to change the inherent inequities in the Proposition 13 tax scheme, to change the two-thirds rule to pass a budget and to raise taxes, and to reform the initiative process? When the dust settles over the 2010-11 budget, nothing will be done to put California's fiscal house in order and we will again face the same budget battle next year. 


It will take a Constitutional Convention to address California’s dysfunctional fiscal problems; it won't happen in the legislature or by the governor. 


Nurse Practioners Provide Cost-Effective Care

By Matt Freeman
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 04:30:00 PM

During this month’s health care summit, President Obama pleaded for practical solutions to our healthcare crisis. During America’s ongoing debate about cost control, access to care, and healthcare quality, the role of the primary care provider has become particularly critical. The family doctor is the first line of care, a gatekeeper, and a coordinator of care in our complex healthcare structure. 


Physicians have few incentives to enter primary care: the reimbursement is low, the work is hard, and there is greater appeal to work as a specialist. Struggling to make ends meet, primary care physicians are leaving to join “boutique” practices, leaving insured patients to look elsewhere. As physicians leave the field, there has only been a one percent per capita increase in the number of primary care physicians from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s. 


There are multiple potential solutions: increasing reimbursement to primary care physicians, offering loan forgiveness to medical students and residents who enter primary care. These measures have the potential to be expensive to patients, taxpayers, and insurers. 


Another, more cost-effective solution is available to Californians. It is the credentialing of nurse practitioners as primary care providers. 


Nurse practitioners (NPs), are registered nurses with graduate-level training. Since the 1960s, NPs have provided safe, effective primary care. Extensive research has consistently demonstrated that NPs provide care that is equivalent to that of a physician; in fact the care might actually be better. The cost per visit is five to nine percent lower, NPs offer their patients longer visits, and have higher patient satisfaction. 


A patient with a sore throat, abdominal pain, diabetes, high cholesterol, or a patient seeking a routine physical exam will do just as well with a nurse practitioner as he or she would with a physician. Nurse practitioners have and use their authority to prescribe medication, order and interpret laboratory tests, and make appropriate referrals. 


Some physician groups have alluded to concerns about patient safety. In more than 40 years of practices, no study has ever demonstrated a compromise in patient safety. A nurse practitioner—just like a physician—recognizes his or her scope of practice and limitations, and refers patients appropriately. 


Nurse practitioners do not replace physicians. They work in a collaborative environment, recognizing that medically complex patients, or those with unstable illnesses warrant collaboration with physicians or other healthcare providers. 


Given the strain on primary care physicians, we all recognize that there is no shortage of patients, and increased use of nurse practitioners will not jeopardize physician practice. 


Despite all of the convincing data, California’s insurance plans do not recognize nurse practitioners. Although they pay for the services offered by NPs, they do so as if the NP’s collaborating physician provided the care. Patients are unable to name a nurse practitioner as their primary care provider, leading to confusion, and the potential for longer wait times for appointments. 


Patients looking for a new primary care provider will only find physicians listed in their insurance company web sites and printed materials, even if well-trained nurse practitioners are available to serve them. 


Californians deserve to have an open and informed choice of primary care providers. The more than 10,000 primary care nurse practitioners in California are continuing to provide exceptional care. Now is the time for California’s insurers to recognize and credential our services, thereby opening the door for improved patient access to cost-effective, quality care. This will enhance transparency while maintaining safe, interdisciplinary care. 


It has been done before. Twenty-three states already credential nurse practitioners as primary care providers. Californians deserve the same open market for primary care. 




Matt Freeman is a nurse practitioner in San Francisco.

Congress Did the Right Thing

Gary Robinson
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 04:24:00 PM

Congress and President Obama did a great job in passing health care reform. But the big winners are the American people.  

The reform will rein in insurance company abuses such as denying coverage to sick people.The reform will cover 31 million more Americans and will give tax breaks to small businesses to provide coverage. The bill will reduce the federal deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and it will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by 9 years. The only people who will have to pay more taxes under this reform are those making more than $200,000 per year.  

They can afford it. They got the big tax cuts under President Bush and the Republicans and now is their time to help the rest of us. 


The Party of No

Ron Lowe
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:49:00 PM

Last minute thoughts for those just waking up: Republicans could care less if health care reform fails, if Americans get soaked to the tune of billions by insurance companies. The end game of the GOP is that President Obama fails. How insidious of the Grand Old Party. 

The Republican Party is siding with the insurance industry, with higher rates and premiums. 

There is a lot of talk about the health care bill costing $900 billion. President Bush and the Republicans gave tax breaks to the rich that amounted to $1.8 trillion. 

The Party of "NO" wants to provide three million more Americans with health care coverage. President Obama's health care bill covers an additional 30 million Americans. Which side are you on? 

Solidarity:How to Block PG&E Smart Meters

Gar Smith
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:46:00 PM

A PG&E technician knocked on my door ten minutes ago and announced that he wanted to install the first of two "Smart Meters." 

I told him we didn't want a Smart Meter. 

He laughed and said "I hear that from a lot of people." 

He then asked if he could go through our gate to install the new meter. 

I told him: "I will not open the gate and I am not giving you permission to enter our property." 

He smiled again, jotted a note on his route card, and left. 


Apparently resisting Smart Meter installations can be as easy as that. Pass it on.

The Permit Process and More

Sas Colby
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:42:00 PM

As a regular reader of Daily Planet I want to add my voice to those who are saddened by the loss of the print version. 

Also, my sympathies to the O'Malleys for the difficult financial and legal situation they find themselves in. The paper is an invaluable source of local information and a great addition to neighborhood life in Berkeley. Having recently gone through the draconian permitting process in order to replace my 1920's falling down garage with a new and useful building, I was stunned by the blatant disregard of city laws as reported in the story of Ryan Lau. Everyone knows a permit is needed to demolish, and another to build. 

Throughout the months 

of planning my building I was continually amazed that the city didn't have a handout that outlined all the requirements. Instead it seemed necessary to go downtown, take a number and wait for a consultation where I would receive the next instructions for what seemed like Mission Impossible. Thankfully, my architect and contractor knew what they were doing and my new building is an asset to both myself and the neighborhood. Perhaps the "trial by fire" at the Planning Department gives the building some additional magic. 

I was also moved to read Susan Parker's recent piece updating her progress though life. I feel as if I know her after reading her columnand have only admiration for the steadfastness, humor and intelligence she demonstrates in the face of difficulty. She is a good role model in these times. You go girl! 

Thank you Berkeley Daily Planet for keeping us all in touch. Berkeley needs you. May you prevail. 

War and Unemployment

Terry Cochrell
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:39:00 PM

AS OF TODAY, FOR SEVEN YEARS We citizens, but mostly our ruling class carelessly threw hundreds and thousands of billions of dollars into the deserts and quicksands and quagmires of IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, IRAN, and the like; then Congress and the President expect the citizens to applaud when they toss a paltry, measly couple tens of billions at the U.S. joblessness dilemma. I just don’t get it; give me a break. 


The Bush family and their circle, a veritable pack-of-thieves managed to create two crises: the financial meltdown and the 9/11 demolition of three giant well-engineered steel-frame buildings, where blame was instantly assigned to “enemies” they had for years prepared to attack. Why are they, monsters that they are, not facing war-crimes and other charges? 


Marijuana, Bipolar, and the Governor

Thomas Massey
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:37:00 PM

As much as I appreciate the reality expressed by reader Jack Bragen (3/10/2010) and agree with much of it. As an adult child of a mentally ill single mom and it appears world in many regards, certainly schizophrenic based society in America, I am compelled to retort. 

Simply that, the ills resultant from legalization of pot will not significantly be compounded compared to the good it will do in de-stigmatizing it's use for medical and recreational purposes. My take on it after decades of consumption is, that like all intoxicants it should be moderated responsibly. More-so that marijuana used moderately and responsibly has far less potentially destructive side effects. Also that at present and historically has a spiritual and or creative component that in my experience has relatively no negative side effects, certainly compared to alcohol. Jack made valid points regarding some potential negatives but considering that people, mentally ill or not, have and will be confronted with use opportunities and issues, (responsible or not), legalizing it without question will have profound immediate and long term effect on changing a largely right wing facade moralist domination of society and many other ills, like the rampant proliferation of the prison industrial complex for starters. There will always be people that make poor or uninformed choices about healthy living and lifestyles. Legalizing marijuana won't change that. My experience of Mary Jane is simply that it magnifies whatever your nature. So as with all things it's always more about the person and self awareness than the substance or any external influence. Education and responsibility ultimately being the mediating factors. Interesting, considering America(ns) has fallen so far below the fold of both in my half century of life. As for the Governor and the money, I agree and believe that pot could actually save America's economy, especially if all the hemp products were propagated and promulgated. The short version. 


A Message of Hope

Marilyn McPherson
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:26:00 PM

I am responding to the news reports of a shooting at New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in Richmond on February 14th and its aftermath. “Violence won’t crush us, Richmond’s faithful promise“ was the headline for one article describing a march and rally following the shooting. Bishop J.W. Macklin and others asserted the right of communities and youth to be free from violence and despair: "Never again. Our voice. Our city. Our hope."  

My religion, Christian Science, teaches that christliness - expressed as goodness, compassion, humility, justice, courage and so forth – can be tapped by anyone in support of families, neighborhoods, and nations in this time of darkness. Founder Mary Baker Eddy described these qualities as a “…gentle beam of living love and deathless life.” I am wearied by evidence of financial, environmental, educational, and humanitarian disasters and predictions of more to come and discouraged by the rhetoric that would try to undermine the good that President Obama’s presidency represents for our country. Yet I’m encouraged by what people of goodwill can do to lift up individuals and institutions to oppose threats to peace and stability and to spread a message of blessing and hope to those whose lives they touch. 



AIPAC Doesn't Speak for Me

Rosalind Gordon
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 04:07:00 PM

Those of us who truly care about Israel's peaceful existence know that President Barack Obama is right to confront Israel about its housing expansion in East Jerusalem. The expansion undermines prospects for peace.  

Peace for Israel is more important than the expansion of settlements.  

Peace talks will not succeed without genuine, sustained American leadership. President Obama has my support to provide such leadership. 




Health Care Bill: The Morning After

By Ken Shilling
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 03:59:00 PM

Critics called it "a cruel hoax and a delusion," a socialist program that would compete with private insurers and kill jobs. If it passes, Americans will feel "the lash of the dictator," and "end the progress of a great country." One New York Republican Representative said, "Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers." We were told that to cooperate with it would be "complicity in evil."  

Am I describing the outcry against Obama-care? No. Those quotes are from prominent Republican opponents of Social Security in 1935, and Medicare in 1965. Same party as today, though. Same fear-mongering, same predictions that the sky would fall if America extends a hand to its most needy. And now today's Republicans must slouch back to their districts and explain why a bill that prevents insurers from refusing to cover you, or canceling you if you get sick, is somehow the work of the devil. They'll find a way. 


Lau's Resignation

Carol Denney
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 03:20:00 PM

I'm glad Councilmember Linda Maio agrees that Lau's resignation from the Zoning Adjustment Board is appropriate, given his gross indiscretions.  

But logic would dictate that his partner, Nicole Drake, should also withdraw from her position on the Rent Stabilization Board, and that both Lau and Drake should resign their council aide positions, having violated the code of ethics and lost any possible credibility as honest employees. Unless, of course, corruption of this order is simply the wallpaper in Berkeley. 

My hat is off to the online Berkeley Daily Planet and to Fred Dodsworth for their intrepid and courageous reporting.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Confronting the Politics of Rage

By Bob Burnett
Thursday March 25, 2010 - 09:16:00 AM

In mid March, a bankruptcy examiner suggested that executives at Wall Street financial giantLehman Brothers used "materially misleading" accounting gimmicks to delay its collapse. At the same time, the national press speculated about the evolution of the Tea Party movement. The juxtaposition of the two articles raised the question, "What would Tea Party activists have done about Lehman Brothers?" How does inchoate rage translate into pragmatic political policy? 


Sarah Palin's appearance at the Nashville Tea Party Convention was an opportunity for the movement to spell out what it plans to do about "too big to fail" banks and Wall Street corruption, in general. But her speech, like those of other presenters, was primarily a rant. After blaming Obama for America's woes - "How is that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?" - she recycled conservative banalities. When asked, "what do you think are the top three things that have got to be done?" Palin responded with platitudes, "We've got to rein in spending," "We have got to jump start these energy projects," and "It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again." 


The Tea Party movement has received a lot of press attention, but we know little about what they stand for. A recent CNN poll found Tea Party adherents are 60 percent men, 80 percent white, middle-income, non-urban, middle-aged, Protestant, self-described conservatives who usually vote Republican. New York Review of Books journalist Jonathan Raban attended the Nashville Tea Party convention and observed: "It wasn't until the last night of the event, when Sarah Palin came on stage, that the Tea Party movement, a loose congeries of unlike minds, found unity in its contempt for Barack Obama, its loathing of the growing deficit as 'generational theft,' its demands for 'fiscal responsibility,' lower taxes, smaller government, states' rights, and a vastly more aggressive national security policy." 


After thirteen months, The Tea Party movement has emerged as a "party" of platitudes rather than of policies, a group united by fury rather than a unifying philosophy. After the financial crisis, the spontaneous mobilization of their resentment was high-jacked by the Fox News Network and by Freedomworks, a conservative advocacy organization, as documented in a recent AlterNet article. 


Tea Party activists oppose anything Barack Obama is for - including long-lived social programs such as Social Security and Medicare -- but lack alternative proposals and have little appreciation for history. Most Tea Party activists believe the financial crisis was started by Obama and Democrats, rather than by Republican policies instituted by Ronald Reagan, reaching their nadir under George W. Bush. Lacking a realistic perspective, they are prone to repeat falsehoods fed to them by Freedomworks and other conservative manipulators: "the government caused the financial crisis," "there wasn't a need for bailouts," "If left alone, the market would have corrected itself." This confusion was typified by a recent Tea Party sign: "Keep the government's hands off my Medicare." 


Tea Party adherents share nostalgia for nineteenth century America when states' rights prevailed. Not surprisingly, some aspects of the movement are racist. Many Tea Party activists insist that Barack Obama stole the Presidency because he is "not a citizen." 


One of the marks of contemporary liberalism - at least, the brand practiced in Berkeley - is the desire to reach out to those who do not agree with us. How should Liberals communicate with Tea Party activists? 


A first step is to let them, as individuals, rant. Liberals should take the time to hear what Tea Party activists have to say. Search for points of agreement. 


The second step is to agree that changes need to be made in America. 


A third step is to search for common ground. Espouse the philosophy: These are tough times, but we're in this together. In the past, Americans got out of hard times by making government work for them. If citizens pull together we can make the necessary changes. 


Next, suggest areas of agreement and focus on these. What about Lehman Brothers and the other firms that looted Wall Street? Don't you agree that they need more supervision? If this approach succeeds, move to more general themes: What about the banks deemed "too big to fail"? Don't you agree that they should be broken up? What about other monopolies? 


A fruitful place to conclude is campaign finance reform. Grassroots activism, such as the Tea Party movement, is an American tradition. Don't you agree that we need to reform campaign finances to get big money out of politics? 


Of course, some Tea Party activists are hard-core fiscal conservatives - fed up with the Republican Party as much as the Democratic Party - but many are Independents who lack a forum for their anger. The Raban article indicates that many of these Independents are potential allies if Liberals take the time to talk to them, to listen to their anger. 


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

SENIOR POWER:Medicare and “MY MEDICARE” -- What’s the difference?

by Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 02:20:00 PM

“MY MEDICARE” is one of the best kept secrets around. It is a secure online service of Medicare, located at my.medicare.gov . It is useful for accessing your Medicare information, in English or Spanish.  

Es uno de los mejores secretos guardados; es un servicio en línea seguro de Seguro de enfermedad, localizado en my.medicare.gov .  

I cope with Medicare by keeping my eye on “MY MEDICARE” account. Registering for your own is free, simple and quick. If you don’t have a personal computer, check with the senior center and public library to schedule free use; training is also available. 

As a registered MyMedicare.gov user, you have access to personalized information regarding your benefits and services.  

• View claim status. I objected to a provider’s huge charge; Medicare required the provider to produce documentation, and it was decreased!  

• Order a duplicate Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or replacement Medicare card.  

• View eligibility, entitlement and preventive services information. If you question those ubiquitous ads and commercials for expensive tests and screenings, consult your “MY MEDICARE” account for better alternatives especially relevant to senior citizens who do not have an “HMO.”  

• View enrollment information including prescription drug plans.  

• View or modify your drug list and pharmacy information.  

• View address of record with Medicare and Part B deductible status.  

• Access online forms, publications and messages sent to you by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). 

* * * * *  

Old people are “normally” characterized as grandparents in children’s books. How should novels and stories portray aging? As a natural and lifelong process that includes old people outside of the family, older workers and community members, active and capable. Maggie Kuhn touted intergenerational activities, planning for old age and similarities between young and old. How many novels and motion pictures can you name whose main characters are old persons? There’s Miss Daisy (Uhry), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman(Gates), Tell Me a Riddle (Olsen)…  

* * * * *  

When you “turn” 70, you discover that in order to renew your driver’s license, the DMV requires retaking written and eyesight exams every 4 years! I arrived at the El Cerrito DMV office, surprised to find a few available parking stalls, although the line of people extended out onto the parking lot. But the signage was good, and I located the place for people with appointments. Always make an appointment; phone 1-800-777-0133 or go online. I got into the flow of things. Eighteen written-test questions (‘passing’ is 3 errors) were a breeze because I had been studying the DMV online tutorial! This time, even the photograph was tolerable. 

* * * * * 

Do you have concerns about the ways your community serves senior citizens? One way to voice them is by attending meetings of its commission on aging and your senior center’ advisory council. Members of the public are permitted to attend and comment, and an agenda may be posted. 


* * * * * 

For your consideration: CALL TO CONFIRM:  

When: Thursday, March 25, 2010. (Yes, today!) 10 AM – 1 PM 

What: Albany Senior Resource Fair  

Where: Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Avenue, Albany 94706 

Details: Free information on many services. Free memory screenings, BP checks, giveaways, lunch!  

For more info: 524-9122 


When: Thursday, April 1, 2010. 1:30-4:30 PM 

What: “The Secret of Compost Revealed.” 

Where: Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Avenue, Albany 94706 

Details: Tony Wolcott, Urban Forester. Free plants samples, food, raffle. 

For more info: twolcott@albanyca.org or 559-4275; 559-7226 


When: Wednesday, April 7, 2010. 10:30 A.M.  

What: Advisory Council meeting 

Where: Emeryville Senior Center, 4321 Salem St., Emeryville 94608. 

For more info: 596-3730 


When: Wednesday, April 7, 2010. 10 A.M.  

What: Advisory Council meeting 

Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, @ MLK 

For more info: 981-5190 


When: Wednesday, April 21, 010. 1:30 PM 

What: Berkeley Commission on Aging 

Where: South Berkeley Senior Center, 2929 Ellis St. @ Ashby Av. 

For more info: 981-5170, 981-5178 


When: Wednesday, April 14, 2010. 10 A.M. 

What: Emeryville Commission on Aging meeting 

Where: Emeryville Senior Center, 4321 Salem St., Emeryville 94608. 

For more info: 596-3730 

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com  



WILD NEIGHBORS: Possums and Parasites

By Joe Eaton
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 01:59:00 PM

Last week I got a salutary reminder about the consequences—sometimes unforeseeable—of bringing exotic animals and plants to a new habitat. I was interviewing Melissa Miller, a Department of Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian, who studies the pathogen loads of sea otters. Miller happened to mention a die-off six years ago during which up to four sick or dead otters were being stranded every day along the coast between Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. The sick animals exhibited clinical signs of brain damage, and necropsies showed evidence of brain inflammation and enlarged lymph nodes. The casualties tested positive for a protozoan parasite called Sarcocystis neurona

There are many described species of Sarcocystis, all with complex life cycles and definite host preferences. Some infect only reptiles, others waterfowl, others mammals. This degree of specialization suggests a long history of co-evolution with the terrestrial vertebrates, although I don’t know if anyone has looked at Sarcocystisgenetics and sorted out the relationships. 

Some species have an intermediate host in which the parasite bides its time, hanging out in muscle tissue and lymph nodes, before that host is eaten by a carnivorous definitive host. Sexual reproduction only occurs in the body of the definitive host, which sheds the organism’s oocysts—think of them as eggs—in its feces. That’s similar to the life history of the notorious Toxoplasma gondii, in which rats are the intermediate and cats the definitive host. I refer you to Carl Zimmer’s Rex, for more on T. gondii, , which among other things alters the behavior of infected rats by reducing their fear response to cat urine. 

The definitive host forS. neurona, is, of all things, the Virginia opossum. (I’ll stick with “possum” from here on, although that version technically applies to a group of not-all-that-similar Australian mammals.) It’s an asymptomatic carrier, a sort of marsupial Typhoid Annie. Domestic cats, skunks, raccoons, and armadillos have been identified as intermediate hosts. Possums, inveterate scavengers, appear to acquire the parasite by eating roadkill. Since motor vehicle encounters are not a significant cause of mortality in sea otters, that pathway is pretty much a dead end. 

Once they leave the possum in their egglike stage, the parasites get washed into the ocean in winter storms (along with a host of other pathogens and toxins.) They’re picked up by filter-feeding marine organisms like mussels, which are then eaten by sea otters. Or at least some sea otters: Miller says a young otter picks up its food preferences from its mother. If mom favors mussels, so will her offspring. 

S. neurona, can also be a serious problem for horses, who apparently acquire it through possum-contaminated feed or water and develop a neurological condition called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. It’s treatable but may leave the victim permanently impaired and is prone to relapse; not something any horse owner would want to deal with. For more, see a summary from Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab.  

This whole complex is relatively new to California. Possums aren’t native here: a founding population from Tennessee was introduced to the San Jose area in 1910 by some nostalgic Southerner. (One account mentions a 1900 introduction of Missouri possums.) Low-maintenance generalists, they’ve prospered in their new habitat, which includes our crawlspaces and outbuildings. Compared with such destructive exotics as feral pigs (which I’ll admit is setting the bar high), possums are relatively benign—except for their role as vectors for S. neurona. , 

I’m not advocating a possum purge, necessarily, although concerned horse owners might want to possum-proof their grain bins. But the possum-Sarcocystis, relationship is an sobering example of the kind of baggage exotic species bring with them. Whoever released those Tennessee (or Missouri) possums in San Jose has a lot to answer for.  

Arts & Events


By Ken Bullock
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 01:46:00 PM

This weekend, one notable music event and several in the theater: 


The Berkeley World Music Festival is teaming up with Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, 2905 Shattuck, just north of Ashby, for a new series of "favorite picks," starting this weekend with a double bill of Sukhawat Ali Khan's Qawwali Sufi vocals and Lisa Sangita Moskow's unique electric sarode playing. 7:30 p. m. Saturday, March 27. $10 at the door. Berkeley World Music Festival will transform Telegraph Avenue once again on Saturday, June 5. berkeleyworldmusic.com  



This Monday, a special event in local theater: Subterranean Shakespeare presents, one night only, KING LEAR, as number 34 of their Shakespeare Superintensive staged reading series of The Bard's complete canon--directed by Bob Ernst, cofounder of the Blake Street Hawkeyes, who will also play the crazed king. GEoffrey Pond of SubShakes notes that Ernst wrote and performed a solo show, THE JOHN, about a spectator at a production of LEAR who meets the devil in the men's room, featuring the storm scene from the original tragedy, which Ernst later sang as "Lear's Blues" on SubShakes' CD, SHAKESPEARE'S GREATEST HITS. Ernst will do a reprise during the reading, with some of his original accompanists, The Serfs. (A' that! But can he heft Cordelia?) 

Monday, March 29, 7:30 p. m. at the Unitarian Fellowship, 1924 Cedar at Bonita. $8. 276-3871. 



Masquers Playhouse in Pt. Richmond opens the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Jerome Coopersmith musical comedy omnibus, THE APPLE TREE, with vignettes from Mark Twain and Jules Feiffer, March 26-May 1. 232-4031; masquers.org  



Active Arts Theatre for Young Audiences opens the PEANUTS musical, YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, March 27-April 18 at the Julia Morgan Center on College Avenue, followed by a briefer run in San Ramon, after which the troupe of professional actors will change its name to Bay Area Children's Theatre, partnering with the new Freight and Salvage downtown for its performances next season. 296-4433; activeartstheatre.org  



Closing this weekend: Ragged Wing's engaging HANDLESS at Central Stage, 5221 Central Avenue near I-80, Richmond Annex. $15-$30. (800) 838-3006; raggedwing.org MAN OF LA MANCHA at Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High Street, Alameda (523-1553; altarena.org --and Virago's concert version of LA BOHEME at Rhythmix Cultural Works, near the Fruitvale Bridge, also in Alameda. 865-6237; viragotheatre.org  



WILD NEIGHBORS: Possums and Parasites

By Joe Eaton
Wednesday March 24, 2010 - 01:59:00 PM

Last week I got a salutary reminder about the consequences—sometimes unforeseeable—of bringing exotic animals and plants to a new habitat. I was interviewing Melissa Miller, a Department of Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian, who studies the pathogen loads of sea otters. Miller happened to mention a die-off six years ago during which up to four sick or dead otters were being stranded every day along the coast between Morro Bay and Pismo Beach. The sick animals exhibited clinical signs of brain damage, and necropsies showed evidence of brain inflammation and enlarged lymph nodes. The casualties tested positive for a protozoan parasite called Sarcocystis neurona

There are many described species of Sarcocystis, all with complex life cycles and definite host preferences. Some infect only reptiles, others waterfowl, others mammals. This degree of specialization suggests a long history of co-evolution with the terrestrial vertebrates, although I don’t know if anyone has looked at Sarcocystisgenetics and sorted out the relationships. 

Some species have an intermediate host in which the parasite bides its time, hanging out in muscle tissue and lymph nodes, before that host is eaten by a carnivorous definitive host. Sexual reproduction only occurs in the body of the definitive host, which sheds the organism’s oocysts—think of them as eggs—in its feces. That’s similar to the life history of the notorious Toxoplasma gondii, in which rats are the intermediate and cats the definitive host. I refer you to Carl Zimmer’s Rex, for more on T. gondii, , which among other things alters the behavior of infected rats by reducing their fear response to cat urine. 

The definitive host forS. neurona, is, of all things, the Virginia opossum. (I’ll stick with “possum” from here on, although that version technically applies to a group of not-all-that-similar Australian mammals.) It’s an asymptomatic carrier, a sort of marsupial Typhoid Annie. Domestic cats, skunks, raccoons, and armadillos have been identified as intermediate hosts. Possums, inveterate scavengers, appear to acquire the parasite by eating roadkill. Since motor vehicle encounters are not a significant cause of mortality in sea otters, that pathway is pretty much a dead end. 

Once they leave the possum in their egglike stage, the parasites get washed into the ocean in winter storms (along with a host of other pathogens and toxins.) They’re picked up by filter-feeding marine organisms like mussels, which are then eaten by sea otters. Or at least some sea otters: Miller says a young otter picks up its food preferences from its mother. If mom favors mussels, so will her offspring. 

S. neurona, can also be a serious problem for horses, who apparently acquire it through possum-contaminated feed or water and develop a neurological condition called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. It’s treatable but may leave the victim permanently impaired and is prone to relapse; not something any horse owner would want to deal with. For more, see a summary from Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab.  

This whole complex is relatively new to California. Possums aren’t native here: a founding population from Tennessee was introduced to the San Jose area in 1910 by some nostalgic Southerner. (One account mentions a 1900 introduction of Missouri possums.) Low-maintenance generalists, they’ve prospered in their new habitat, which includes our crawlspaces and outbuildings. Compared with such destructive exotics as feral pigs (which I’ll admit is setting the bar high), possums are relatively benign—except for their role as vectors for S. neurona. , 

I’m not advocating a possum purge, necessarily, although concerned horse owners might want to possum-proof their grain bins. But the possum-Sarcocystis, relationship is an sobering example of the kind of baggage exotic species bring with them. Whoever released those Tennessee (or Missouri) possums in San Jose has a lot to answer for.