The Editor's Back Fence

The Activist's Guide to What's Happening in Berkeley This Week

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday April 27, 2010 - 10:24:00 AM

This is one busy week for the civic-minded amongst us. I had originally thought to do a preview, without comment, in the news section, of some of the wide selection of meetings that the conscientious Berkeleyan who wanted to be influential or just well informed could attend this week, but I find that I am constitutionally unable to comply with the “without comment”stipulation, so as we move through the week you’ll find some notes on what’s happening and why you should care.  

There’s the usual Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday. If you don’t want to shlep down to the Maudelle Shirek Building (Old City Hall), you can watch it online or on cable TV, or see it in recorded form later. 


The agenda gives you a window into what might happen, including links to most of the documents the councilmembers have found in their packet. Unfortunately, there are often last minute additions which don’t appear online—perhaps the Sunshine Ordinance initiative will be able to correct this problem. 

The hot ticket item this week is the appeal of the Zoning Adjustment Board’s decision to let old school Cambridge software magnate Mitch Kapor build his McMansion West, or possibly a McHeadquarters , in the nicest part of the Berkeley Hills. The staff report runs to an unbelievable 320 pages, with 73 letters from concerned citizens listed. Unlike the Planning Commission, the City Council does not put all these letters online(Sunshine Alert) but some of the best ones have appeared in this space in the last few weeks.  

The consensus seems to be that the building will be big and ugly, and that the process by which it was approved looked more like “greasing the skids for a celebrity” than like “fair and balanced”. I haven’t bothered to go up there myself to check out the site, but I can’t help observing that my friends in the flats(on Berkeley Way behind the Trader Joe’s extravaganza at MLK and University for example) are routinely being asked to put up with much bigger, much uglier structures in their neighborhoods these days, with hundreds instead of possible tens of occupants and housing retail businesses with underground garages for many cars instead of the possible foundation office with a 10-car garage which has been rumored to be contemplated for the Kapor complex. The possibility that Kapor’s neighbors might lose a bit of their view of the bay seems to have caused more consternation than the certainty that Berkeley Way neighbors have lost most of their view of the sunlight. This doesn’t make either project right, and this isn’t intended as a stirring cry for class warfare, but maybe it’s time to think about whether the hills should be taking their fair share of increased density, if we really do want to make Berkeley even more crowded than it already is. Perhaps the Kapors could be persuaded to take in some boarders in their big new house? 

On Wednesday the eager activist has three good choices for raising his or her adrenaline level. The school board meets to discuss a variety of more or less controversial items: classified employee layoffs, the agreement between BUSD and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, a proposal for a new small school at: Berkeley High, a “Green Academy, which has shocked some ideologues because it’s being funded in part by PG&E This meeting will be in the administration building on the Berkeley High Campus, starting at 7. 

And speaking of ideologues, a full quotient will be represented UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate meeting tonight. Our best guess about where and when can be found on the (not impartial) Middle East Children’s Alliance website.  

The ongoing discussion is whether the Senate wants to override its president’s veto of a resolution divesting ASUC funds from a couple of weapons manufacturers who sell arms to Israel. The time and place of the last three meetings of this group on this topic changed around a lot, so this is only a guess, and last week the meeting was closed to the public and the press anyway(Brown Act Alert). 

If you’re a true glutton for punishment and have a pair of roller skates, there’s even a third meeting you could attend on Wednesday night: the Planning Commission work session on West Berkeley, starting at 6 pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center, followed by the regular Planning Commission meeting, which will take up cell towers and the height of buildings downtown, both of which topics have their avid groupies. 

Then on Thursday,April 29, the Council has scheduled a special meeting at 7:00 P.M. at Longfellow Middle School, 1500 Derby Street (at Sacramento). 

The announced purpose is to discuss the Bus Rapid Transit Build Alternative, an in-group controversy with very excited participants who were shunted to the end of the evening at the last regular city council meeting. For this one the city provides no links to staff reports in the agenda itself. (Sunshine Ordinance Alert). Cynics are saying that the meeting has been moved by the Mayor and his council allies to a harder-to-get-to location to fend off the crowd of angry neighbors and merchants from the targeted Telegraph avenue route for AC Transit’s big building project who came to the last City Council meeting. They say too that building trade operatives are being brought in from all over the place to tout the project as a source of construction jobs.  

Possibly it’s time, in the interest of responding intelligently to climate change imperatives, to consider the actual usefulness of big building projects like AC’s current BRT plan, and not just think about how many short-term jobs such projects can generate. If, as the Rapid Bus Plus advocates say, we can get the same amount of transportation improvement without laying down all that concrete, why not at least evaluate this theory as part of the Environmental Impact process? 

That’s enough excitement for the most devoted civic watchdog. If you’re one of them, and you go to any of these stirring events, how about producing a short report on the action and sending it to ? Your stay-at-home fellow citizens would appreciate it.