Senior Power:Bye-bye, Berkeley senior centers? Bye-bye, Commission on Aging? Is there Senior Power?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday April 08, 2011 - 10:42:00 AM

“Some Berkeley citizen commissions may face ax” reports Carolyn Jones (San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 2011).San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 2011.“Times are so tough in Berkeley that officials may end some of the city's most revered democratic enterprises: 35 citizen commissions. City Manager Phil Kamlarz's staff is crafting a plan to consolidate or scratch some of the commissions, which advise the City Council… . ” 

More than 350 Berkeley residents serve on the boards and commissions. Commissioners are not paid, but each commission has a staff secretary who draws up agendas, minutes and reports, and ensures the commission and its subcommittees comply with open meeting laws and Robert's Rules of Order. In addition, the City Clerk maintains rosters and produces an annual audit of the commissions' productivity. 

In 2008, Kamlarz estimated the cost to run the commissions at $1 million a year. Berkeley is looking to mend a $12 million deficit, cutting costs in virtually every department. The City Council is likely to discuss cutting some commissions in May, after Kamlarz's staff provides a detailed plan on which commissions are merged, eliminated or saved 

Among those under scrutiny are the Commissions on the Status of Women, Early Childhood Education, and Labor. Several others are candidates for consolidation, such as the three that deal with the environment and four related to health. The major city expense chargeable to the commissions is providing a paid staff secretary at meetings, but when commissions have offered to take their own minutes without staff supervision they have been turned down. 

District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak is among those who have expressed interest in fewer commissions. Most recently, the Downtown Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan Joint Subcommittee and the West Berkeley Project Area Commission were dissolved, but then the city added the Medical Cannabis Commission and is now considering adding a public safety commission. 

Berkeley’s citizen commissions have already been emasculated. District 2 Councilmember Darryl Moore’s appointee to the Commission on Aging remains vacant. There is no Councilmember appointed to represent it as liaison. Its mission (according to the City website) is “Charged with identifying the needs of the aging, creating awareness of these needs, and encouraging improved standards of services to the aging. Council shall appoint one of its members as liaison.”  

Yelda Mesbah Bartlett, District 2 Councilmember Darryl Moore appointee, chairs the Commission on the Status of Women. She might agree if the city merged her commission with another, as long as all commissioners get to stay and the new group meets twice as often. The Commission on Status of Women has already been cut back to quarterly meetings. There are 2 vacancies-- those of Councilmembers Linda Maio (District 1) and Worthington (District 7) appointees. Worthington reports that “Sad to say, my commissioner died recently. I am interviewing for a replacement… The commissions give us hundreds of people who are incredibly knowledgeable, and they get to work out the compromises and balances for us." The Commission on Status of Women – and most senior citizens are women -- ? Seeks improvement of all conditions affecting women and advocates women's issues.” There is no Councilmember liaison representation. 


According to the City Clerk’s office, “In 2008 the provision for several of the commissions to have council liaisons, including the Commission on Aging, was removed by ordinance 7027.” The City website indicates that three of Berkeley’s boards and commissions have councilmember liaisons: Community Health Commission’s liaison is District 3 Councilmember Max Anderson; Mental Health Commission’s liaison is District 4 Councilmember Jesse L. Arreguin; the Board of Library Trustees’ liaison is District 2 Councilmember Darryl Moore. 

I wondered whether these are the only two commissions and one board with Councilmember liaisons and who appointed them. Or did they perhaps volunteer, based on expertise in community health, mental health, and librarianship? And who is the Council liaison to the Commission on AGING? 

So I turned to my district 4 Councilmember. Jesse L. Arreguin responded promptly and fully. So fully in fact that I’ll have to abstract! Council liaisons are appointed by the entire City Council when we make our appointments to Council committees and regional bodies every two years after each City Council election. The Health Commission, Mental Health Commission and Library Board are the only commissions that have a requirement for Council liaisons to be designated. Several other commissions did have a requirement that Council liaisons be appointed, including the Commission on Aging, but on May 6, 2008, Council adopted on second reading an ordinance removing the requirement for Council liaisons for the Planning Commission, Personnel Board, Humane Commission and Commission on Aging. So at the present time there are no Council liaisons to the Commission on Aging or the Women's Commission but the City Council could amend the law to create Council liaisons to other commissions or it could appoint someone to serve as a non-voting liaison to attend meetings and serve as a bridge between commissions and the council. 

In 2008, part of City Manager Phil Kamlarz’s rationale was that some liaison persons rarely attended. Too too true. I recall, while serving on the Commission on Aging, how rankled then-chair Charlie Betcher was by the COA Council liaison’s (a local icon) never attending. Never. What rankled me was the other COA members’ indifference. 


Yousur Alhlou reported in April first’s Daily Cal “Community Development Programs to See Cutbacks.” Berkeley’s Housing and Community Services Department, which includes the Aging Services Department, faces financial strains due to dwindling external funding for community development projects. One measure that would directly impact the city's elderly is the proposed conversion of the West Berkeley Senior Center -- one of three centers that provide hot lunches, weekly classes and case management sessions - into a supportive service center to assist seniors with everyday medical needs. (Another source informs me that the plan consists of, or includes, relocation of Meals on Wheels to this location.) The center serves fewer residents on average - up to 45 daily - compared with its counterparts in South and North Berkeley, which serve up to 210 daily, according to Kelly Wallace, manager of the Aging Services Division. The conversion will help save the city about $300,000 over the next two fiscal years. In exchange, the city will facilitate transportation between the centers and expand services at the other centers, according to Wallace. 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said at the meeting that he would vote against any budget proposal that included layoffs. Arreguin and Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the city should partner with unions and community members to produce creative alternatives. 

The April 2011 issue of Berkeley’s senior centers’ monthly newsletter, The Tri-Center Nugget, has yet to appear online (as of April 8). 



"In Tsunami's Wake, Tough Choices For Japan's Elderly," by John Burnett (US National Public Radio Morning Edition, April 6, 2011). 

"CBO (Congressional Budget Office): Seniors Would Pay Much More For 

Medicare Under Ryan Plan," by Julie Appleby, et al. "GOP (Grand Old Party--Republican Party) Budget Would Increase Future Medicare Costs For Seniors”. 

Kaiser Family Foundation Health News, April 5 and 6, 2011. 

The Older Womens League (OWL) is a national membership organization that strives to improve the status and quality of life for midlife and older women. The Ohlone/East Bay Chapter (POB 9536, Berkeley, CA 94709 and Board has voted to focus its efforts on passage of SB 810 (Leno, D. San Francisco) – The California Universal Health Care Act. 

A year-long effort in Montana to preserve lawful aid in dying culminated in a favorable and bipartisan vote in the state legislature on February 16, 2011. Then the senate voted to keep the bill tabled indefinitely, leaving the court’s guidelines in place and charging Montana’s medical community with establishing the standard of care for aid in dying. For more information, Compassion & Choices, 


Wednesday, April 13, noon, free admission. Faure Requiem. University Chorus, Marika Kuzma, director. Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley 510.642.4864 58th Annual Noon Concert Series Hertz Concert Hall 

Thursday, April 14, 12:00 noon – 1:30 Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress is the title of presenter Candacy Taylor’s 2009 book and of her presentation. Free, refreshments. Three of the chapter titles may give you an idea of why the cover picture’s waitress has aged arms: The waitressing stigma; The generation gap; Refusing to retire. Photographer, writer and former waitress, Candacy Taylor uses interviews, cultural criticism, photography, and oral histories to document an overlooked group of working women, profiling waitresses aged 50 + in American neighborhood diners. AgeSong SeniorCommunity. For information and directions, contact Cherriebianca San Pietro at and (877) 243 - 7664. 

Tuesdays, May 3, 17 and 31. 7 P.M. Berkeley City Council meets unless otherwise noted. City Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, second floor. Meetings are subject to change. Special meetings may be added with 24 hour notice. Contact the City Clerk Department, (510) 981-6900, or visit the community calendar website to verify a particular meeting is on the schedule and Council website for agenda. Also on Channel #33. 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at, no email attachments or phone calls.