Full Text

Rainbow over City Hall.
Gar Smith
Rainbow over City Hall.


People's Park Chain Massacre Snapped
When Park Good Samaritan Intervenes

By Ted Friedman
Monday April 18, 2011 - 01:05:00 PM

A potential People's Park crime disaster—a man lashing out with a chain in a crowd—was snapped by a good Samaritan park camper late Thursday. 

The good Samaritan is a well-known Telegraph Avenue homeless man who doesn't like publicity and does not want—like some good Samaritans—a hero button. Still, if virtue were more than its own reward, he'd be rich. 

According to sources in the park, the good Samaritan and a friend were near the peace grove in the park when someone in a nearby encampment just feet from Dwight Way started swinging a chain at an intruder. The incident occurred when a man intruded un-invited on a group clustered near a wooden bench.  

The victim suffered lacerations, according to University police, but refused medical treatment for bloody wounds to his head after being lashed with a thick bicycle type chain. 

The assailant was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. 

Deadly injuries were prevented by the Samaritan, who snatched the chain out of the chain-wielder's hand and admonished him to "get the F out." 

Although university police and an ambulance arrived after the incident, the police were able to arrest the suspect, describing him as a "white male, 40 years of age, 6’04” in height, 190 lbs, with red hair and brown eyes." 

The victim was, "a 34-year old white male." 

This is not the first time the good Samaritan has stepped in to break up fights. From his homeless post, close to Teley, this unofficial ambassador of the avenue has intervened repeatedly in violent avenue altercations—even at 4a—often sustaining injuries. 

Raw feelings, disputes that turn ugly, bruised and lacerated flesh. All forgotten, if not forgiven. All part of contemporary People's Park culture. 

Also an example of a fortunate intervention amidst the possibility that future someones will step forward to regulate disturbances in the park. 

Such incidents occur all too often in the 2.8 acre park for the university to stem. The university, with the assistance of a park "co-coordinator" and periodic UCPD foot patrols administers the park in a town which prefers to downplay the whole ownership thing. 

Now if only good park Samaritans could organize like other Berkeley factions.  


Ted Friedman reports regularly from People's Park.

Dick Whittington Plays Piedmont Piano on Monday

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 14, 2011 - 03:28:00 PM

There's jazz cats ... And in Old London Town there was Dick Whittington and his cats ... Now Dick Whittington's coming back to the East Bay to put it all together at Piedmont Piano in Oakland Uptown. 

The celebrated jazz pianist, who co-founded both the Berkeley Unified School District's famous music program in the late 60s and the Maybeck Recital Hall in the 80s and 90s, will be leading a group this Monday night, April 18, including John Wiitala, bass, Vince Lateano, drums, and special guest Andrew Speight on saxophone at Piedmont Piano's new store at 18th Street and San Pablo. 

Whittington grew up in LA, where he began playing Boogie Woogie by ear on the ivories at four. He taught himself jazz by imitating the 40s sounds he heard on record and radio after a couple of abortive tries at classical lessons. Later, at 16, he found a teacher in Sam Saxe, who analysed be-bop harmonies in Charle Parker and Bud Powell. 

After high school, he sat in with the great players on the South Central jazz scene. While garnering a degree in Elementary Education at Cal Northridge, he gigged with Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Criss, Barney Kessel and Charles Lloyd. Later, he took over from Joe Zawinul, accompanying Dinah Washington and Ernestine Anderson, also backing Anita O'Day and Mel Torme. Whittington was also featured regularly at the famed Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach. 

After playing the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco with Dexter Gordon in 1961, Whittington moved north to Berkeley, where he co-founded the influential jazz program in music education in the Berkeley public schools, where he taught for 30 years, with such students as Josh Redman and Benny Green. 

In 1987, Whittington and his wife Marilyn started the Maybeck Recital Hall series, which featured 500 jazz and classical concerts over the following decade, and spawned the nearly 50 Live At Maybeck solo piano recordings put ut by Concord Records. 

Now a Big Sur denizen, Maybeck plays regularly at the Bernardus Lodge, and at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, a dog-friendly place, where (to go from cats to dogs, in true Shorty Pederstein fashion), "sometimes they bark during ballads." 

Dick Whittington Trio with Andrew Speight, Monday, April 18 at 8 p. m. Piedmont Piano, 1728 San Pablo (at 18th), Oakland. $20. 547-8188; piedmontpiano.com

Students and Faculty Occupy a Building in Protest at California State University East Bay

by David Bacon
Thursday April 14, 2011 - 11:30:00 AM

HAYWARD, CA 4/13/11 -- Students and faculty at California State University, East Bay, marched to the administration building on the campus and then occupied the building in protest. Organized by Students for a Quality Education and the California Faculty Association, the civil disobedience protested budget cuts and fee increases for students, and cutbacks on staff and benefits, while administrators' salaries are increased.  

The building occupation demanded the resignation of CSU Chancellor Chuck Reed, and a list of other demands discussed and adopted during the occupation. Similar building occupations took place on other campuses. Some students wore face paint with scars symbolizing the painful slashing impact of budget cuts. 

Before the march and building occupation, students and faculty organized a "People's University." Workshops talked about the attack on education and the rights of public workers, especially teachers, throughout the U.S., as well as campus issues that included lack of childcare, parking and student services. Other SQE demands included democratizing the state university's board of trustees, budget transparency, fair treatment for unions and workers, and a recommitment to the California Master Plan for Higher Education. 

According to the California Faculty Association, "the California State University has lost some $1 billion, let go more than 3000 faculty, slashed course offerings and tripled student fees. Tens of thousands of eligible students have been turned away or given up because of rising costs and inability to get necessary classes."

Updated: Planning Commission "Holds Nose" and Adopts Southside Plan

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 10:13:00 PM
Citizens line up to speak during the Southside Plan Public Hearing.  Most offered specific criticisms of the draft document.  The Planning Commission majority adopted a single one of the recommendations of the public hearing speakers.
Steven Finacom
Citizens line up to speak during the Southside Plan Public Hearing. Most offered specific criticisms of the draft document. The Planning Commission majority adopted a single one of the recommendations of the public hearing speakers.
Near the end of the meeting the Commission discussed the Downtown Plan in front of a sea of empty chairs, and just four members of the public.
Steven Finacom
Near the end of the meeting the Commission discussed the Downtown Plan in front of a sea of empty chairs, and just four members of the public.

Like a hungry restaurant customer deciding to gorge immediately on a stale and possibly rancid dish rather than waiting while it is sent back to the kitchen for improvement or replacement, Berkeley’s Planning Commission majority “held its nose”, complained profusely, then voted in favor of what several members called a flawed draft Southside Plan at its Wednesday, April 6, 2011 meeting. 

The Commission voted 6-2-1 to send the draft Plan on to the City Council for adoption. In a second vote Commissioners approved, 5-3-1, proposed zoning amendments to implement the Plan and in a final 6-0-3 vote approved Design Guidelines for the Southside Plan area. 

The Plan itself and the zoning amendments must be confirmed by the City Council. The Design Guidelines are effective after Commission action. 

The Southside Plan revises city planning and zoning policies for the Southside neighborhood, roughly the district immediately south of the main UC Berkeley campus, west of Panoramic Hill, north of the southern properties along Dwight Way (with a few exceptions) and east of Fulton Street. 

The neighborhood is a densely developed and populated matrix of University housing and other facilities, the Telegraph / Bancroft retail district, private housing of many types from single family homes to large apartment buildings to student cooperatives, and a number of private institutional properties. 

Spectators—or, perhaps, specters—at the feast, about a dozen community members from broadly differing backgrounds and perspectives watched from the audience while the Commission adopted, largely unchanged, staff recommendations on the Plan. 

Earlier, community members who ranged from neighborhood activists to merchants, to a big Berkeley developer, testified during the Plan public hearing, and offered a smorgasbord of eclectic criticism of the draft document.  

With two exceptions, speakers called for specific substantial revisions and more time for the Commission and the public to review the complex and detailed documents, some of which were just made available by staff the week before. 

The only people to speak wholeheartedly in favor of the current Plan during the public hearing were two representatives of Trinity United Methodist Church, a small congregation with a large, developable, property on Dana Street between Durant and Bancroft, and two students representing the Students Cooperative Association, an organization that has several housing properties in the Southside and—according to their testimony—would like to develop another. 

In the end the Commission majority accepted only one recommendation offered at the public hearing, a plea from the Rapid Bus Plus Coalition to strip from the document outdated language that make appear to make the Plan favor both Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) dedicated lanes on Telegraph Avenue, and a “transit mall” on Telegraph between Dwight and Bancroft. 

Last year the City Council decided not to endorse dedicated BRT lanes in Berkeley, and the “transit mall” concept—closing four blocks of Telegraph to all but buses and emergency vehicles—is an artifact of long ago discussions that currently has no identifiable advocates or constituency. 

There were four vocal critics of the draft Plan on the Commission. Of them, Chair Harry Pollack and Commissioner Jim Novosel voted for it, while Commissioners Patti Dacey and Gene Poschman voted against it. 

It was a vaguely surreal scene as Pollack and Novosel repeatedly both talked about the Plan being flawed—Pollack saying there were “20 to 25” things he would change in it, and Novosel noting specific things he didn’t like—then pronounced themselves in favor of passing it immediately without major change.  

Pollack said he was withholding detailed criticism because he didn’t want to open up the whole document for what he felt would be endless further revision.  

Novosel more than once announced himself “exhausted” with the work leading up to the current document. He also said he’d like to see one-way streets in the Southside eliminated and the Plan doesn’t call for that, “But basically we need to move this Plan forward.”  

In contrast, Commissioner David Stoloff seemed largely pleased with the Plan as presented and commented to that effect, while Commissioner Teresa Clarke voted for it, but delivered focused objections and questions regarding several elements that troubled her. 

The other three Commission members were largely silent, then all voted approval as part of the majority. 

Work on the Southside Plan commenced in the late 1990s as a joint effort of the University of California and the City of Berkeley (Disclosure; I was one of the University staff who worked on the earlier plan. I was not involved as a University employee in the latest revisions and reviews).  

After several delays and staff changes at the City a revised Plan was prepared in 2003. Then it stalled. There was little activity on it between 2003 and 2009, when the Planning Commission began a new subcommittee process to complete it, including a long-delayed environmental impact report.  

(This aspect of the process was apparently not clear to some of the newer Planning Commission members, who argued that something that had been worked on for “15 years” (sic) shouldn’t be further delayed by even a week. In fact, the Plan was started about 14 years ago, and there were extended periods--years at a time—when no work took place on it). 

City Planner Elizabeth (Beth) Greene has shepherded the Plan since work renewed. She is, by my count, the seventh City staffer to have lead responsibility for the document. Greene was present at the staff table at the Commission meeting, along with Planner Alex Amoroso.  

Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson watched from the audience, and came forward to comment to the Commission a couple of times during their discussion. 

The current Southside Plan, as presented to and approved by the Commission, incorporated most of the language from the 2003 draft, with italic “updates” on issues that had substantially changed.  

Often this structure creates weird dissonances. For example, the Plan language carried over from 2003 might suggest in detail how a particular site be developed in the future; the following italics then clarify that by 2011 the project had already been built, years ago.  

The plan is also largely “updated” to 2009, the beginning of the Environmental Impact Report period, so it’s either 14, or 8, or 2 years out of date, depending on one’s frame of reference. 

No matter to those who passed the draft on to the Council. In fact, Harry Pollack began the Commission discussion with one emphatic statement that essentially foreclosed substantial changes to the draft Plan by the Commission or the City Council. 

He said there has been a decision “not to revisit the essential policy decisions made in 2003.” 

After Pollack made his opening statement, Commissioner Patti Dacey responded with an opposition view. Recalling the work on the draft Plan in the early years of the last decade, she noted, “one of the big things about the Southside Plan was affordable housing.”  

The Plan was structured, she said, to allow increased housing density in some parts of the Southside in exchange for building in developer exactions that would also produce affordable housing when the new market rate housing was developed. “That was such the air we were breathing.” 

Since then, two major court decisions have upset the affordable apple cart, and cities have been stripped of their traditional planning and zoning tools for requiring affordable units be provided in exchange for greater density. 

“Until that’s fixed, I think it’s fatally flawed”, Dacey said of the current draft Plan. “We’re ending up with density without the affordable housing we believed we would get out of the Southside Plan.” 

“I think the Council is addressing that City wide”, said Pollack, noting there would be a May 31 workshop on how the city might still require affordable housing. 

About a dozen people lined up to offer testimony from the audience during the public hearing on the Plan. 

The first was Michael Katz, identifying himself as a representative of the Rapid Bus Plus Coalition. He noted that the Plan still included “a bunch of legacy language” on Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated bus lanes, and even the idea of making Telegraph Avenue into a car-free “transit mall.”  

“This is basically ancient history”, he maintained, asking that the Commission consider striking language about BRT “that doesn’t reflect community sentiment”, and also does not reflect the City Council’s decision in 2010 not to endorse dedicated bus lanes on Telegraph. 

If the outdated language stays in, Katz pointed out, “you’re inviting hours and hours of contentious meetings in which people will quote this language”, although it no longer reflects City transportation policy.  

“Conform the Plan to the decisions that have already been made” on BRT, he concluded. 

John English spoke next, wryly noting he had been involved in monitoring the Plan as a community member for “only 12 years”, and noting there were “still some loose ends.” 

He was particularly critical of the fact that City staff had released the draft zoning ordinance amendments related to the Plan for public consideration only a week before. “There are unfortunately many obvious mistakes and internal inconsistencies” in the zoning amendments he told the Commission.  

“Most of them could be fixed within a couple of days work”, but if the Commission acted that night there would be no opportunity to correct them. 

English also spoke to unresolved policy issues embedded in the Plan, including Floor Area Ratios (the allowable size of a building relative to the size of a development parcel), policies on group living accommodations, and some language that would appear to allow “by right” certain times of commercial uses to set up shop in one of the Plan’s residentially zoned areas. 

“Please, don’t even think of taking a final vote tonight”, English urged. 

Evan McDonald, a local developer with one big project currently in the planning stages in the Southside and others periodically rumored, initially told the Commission his firm “thinks it’s a great plan” because it intensifies housing density near the UC Berkeley campus.  

However, he objected to provisions that limited the number of residents on a given lot. “The problem with the density limitations is they’re too small”, he said. “The density limitations are too low and not necessary at all.” 

“The Zoning Board can just say no to a project when they think the density is detrimental,” he asserted.  

Commissioner Poschman noted that the Southside Plan proposes a limit of one resident for every 350 square feet of lot area. McDonald said that the Fine Arts Building (Haste and Shattuck), which he helped develop, has in comparison a density of one resident for about every 100 square feet of lot area. 

McDonald was followed by two representatives from Trinity United Methodist Church. The historic church complex occupies most of the end of the block bordered by Durant, Bancroft, and Dana, and part of it, including the sanctuary, is vacant since the congregational has dwindled in size. 

Both representatives, including Charlotte Strem, stated “we’re looking forward to having the Southside Plan in place”, and “we really like this Plan.” 

Just what is the church hoping to do with its property, asked Poschman? The answer was ambiguous. The Trinity representatives said they just wanted certainty in what was allowed so they could proceed with planning.  

They then returned to their seats near Evan McDonald, whose firm is developing a large private dormitory on the other end of the block on land owned by another small congregation, St. Mark’s Episcopal. 

Jurgen Aust, like many of the speakers a longtime participant in the Southside Plan process, spoke next, saying that the Plan should not be adopted and housing development intensified until there’s a coherent transportation strategy for the congested Southside neighborhood. 

“Don’t put any additional density above R-3 until we have an effective transportation plan” he argued. 

Two representatives of the Student Cooperative Association, which owns or leases several housing sites in the Southside, spoke next, briefly stating that they supported the Plan, particularly its suggestions of creating a detox center and down zoning some residential areas.  

They also said that the Co-ops leased a piece of undeveloped property, Davis Park (on Dwight Way west of Telegraph) from the University and “we are interesting in working with UC” to pursue development there. 

Bob Viener, a resident of the Le Conte neighborhood south of Dwight Way urged the Commission to revise the zoning boundary between the Southside and Le Conte. The Plan presently presents it as a straight line running down the middle of the block between Blake Street and Dwight Way, from Telegraph to Shattuck. 

The line should slightly zigzag to conform to the actual property parcels on the blocks, Viener said, urging the Commission to “draw the boundary appropriately,” to reflect the change in scale of residential properties from the Southside into the somewhat lower density (but still extensively developed) Le Conte district. 

Having higher density zoning incorporating some smaller residential parcels in Le Conte has “led to all kinds of problems in the neighborhood” he said, as developers have sought to turn single houses into large structures with numerous bedrooms to rent to students. 

(There have been two such disputes recently, one on Ellsworth between Dwight and Blake, the other—still ongoing—on Parker west of Fulton.) 

“Send this back to staff and get them to draw that boundary correctly”, Viener urged, or move the zoning boundary one lot north and draw it down the middle of Dwight Way instead. That would be “quick, easy, simple, and would solve a whole bunch of problems”, he concluded. 

The next speaker told the Commission that the Southside Plan maps are drawn in a way that inaccurately shows a block of Prospect Street north of Bancroft (and behind International House). That block is a public street and should be shown as such, he said, but “UC has been occupying that public street as if it was their property.” The City, he said, should get the map right. 

Gale Garcia, the next speaker in line, yielded her time to attorney Yolanda Huang who spoke at length about the problems with group living accommodations.  

“Southside has changed from a diverse community into a monoculture”, she said. “It’s a ‘diversity’ of skin tone of people between 18 and 22.” The driving force, she said, is “a proliferation of what I’m going to call fraternity culture”, which often “revolves around binge drinking and dangerous alcohol consumption.” 

She observed that many fraternities have built wooden decks out to the edge of the sidewalk, which are used as “dance floors and recruitment tools for other young men” and are not well regulated by the City. Large parties spill into the street, disrupt neighbors, and create unpleasant conditions. 

She played a 911 tape in which a resident of Durant Avenue pleads with Berkeley police to send someone to deal with a crowd of neighboring partiers who have invaded his property, including climbing on the roof. 

This has all “driven out other people” from the neighborhood, Huang said. “I would call this a ghetto. Regular people don’t go to Southside to go shopping”, she asserted. 

The problems, she said, have been spilling over in the Le Conte neighborhood west of Telegraph and south of Dwight, where there have been efforts to establish new fraternities. 

“I would urge you to edit the Southside Plan. Group living or a dorm should be distinguished from a fraternity or sorority.” “The Southside Plan should encourage diversity, families, in addition to young people,” she told the Commission. 

“Neighbors have abandoned Telegraph, it’s unsafe, it’s dirty,” said George Beier, the next speaker, continuing in the same vein. Beier is the president of the Willard Neighborhood Association (south of Dwight, west of College, and east of Telegraph). 

“I want to challenge this whole idea that density is better”, he told the Commission. “I want to challenge this whole idea that density is ‘friendly’.” 

Beier said that “in a way, we’re doing the University’s job” by increasing development density on private parcels in response to a growing campus. The University should start by developing its own land, he said. 

“Who wants this thing?” he said of the draft Plan. “If you own property or are building a building you want this Plan. Neighbors are not for it.” 

“This thing (the current draft Plan) was done in ancient history. Most people have no idea what’s in it”, he said. 

Roland Peterson, Executive Director of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement Association (TBID) asked the Commission to recommend “abolition of the quotas” on business uses in the Southside. The current draft, he noted, only calls for the elimination of quotas on full service restaurants. 

As Katz did earlier, Peterson called on the Commission to also clean up obsolete language in the Plan dealing with dedicated bus lanes and a Telegraph transit mall. Those plan elements were drafted before the current plans for transit service were developed. “We now know what AC Transit is going to do”, he said. 

After Peterson mentioned quotas, Commissioner Novosel interjected, “You need the Councilmember to lead the way”, referring to Kriss Worthington who represents much of the Southside Plan area. “Good luck!” called George Beier from the back of the room. 

Christopher Lien, the next speaker, also focused on the transportation language. “BRT is dead in Berkeley. Those passages should be excised from this” Plan he said.  

He noted that the City’s General Plan calls for two acres of park space per 1,000 residents, but the Southside Plan makes no provision for any increased park space. 

Lien also argued that McDonald’s earlier assertion that the Zoning Board could be relied upon to prevent developments with too much density was wrong.  

He told the Commission about the current case on Parker Street where a developer has been converting a house into a structure with as many as 19 bedrooms, and the Zoning Adjustments Board and City Planning staff have been critical of the project, but say they have no legal way to prevent it from being built. 

Support for Yolanda Huang’s comments about the Southside came from Ann Einstein, the next speaker. She noted that in contrast to when the Plan development started in the 1990s, “cell phones have allowed people to call non-students to come to any place” for a party. This results in events that quickly grow oversized and out of control. 

The owner of a property on Bancroft Way next testified in support of eliminating the quotas on business types. “It’s a very important topic to discuss”, he said, noting that one property has 6,000 feet of unrented commercial space. 

“Whatever we can do to help the landlords to get tenants in that space would help.” 

The author of this piece next spoke about the deficiencies of the Plan in regard to open space. The Southside has a tenth of Berkeley’s population, I said, but no public parks or City recreation facilities and no plans by the City to provide any. The adjacent Le Conte neighborhood is in a similar situation. 

I urged the Commission to replace vague language about open space in the Plan with a clear set of policies that the City should seek to develop over the long term open space, park space, and recreation facilities in the Southside. I noted that while many people assume the residents of the Southside are served by University recreation facilities, a large percentage of the residents are in private housing and Berkeley taxpayers who currently receive no parks and recreation service in their neighborhood. 

Those remarks concluded the public testimony at the meeting. The Commission next turned to discussion. 

The topic of regulating group living accommodations came up first. Commissioner Teresa Clarke questioned staff about the intent of draft zoning amendment language on group living accommodations and the Floor Area Ratio issue.  

“I’m not happy with the result”, she said. “It’s a mess.” 

Beth Greene said that the Floor Area Ratio restriction on number of residents per square footage of lot space had been suggested in the last round of staff review “by current planning staff who work with this code on a regular basis.” 

“There are tensions with these issues but they are not policy issues we intended to resolve in moving this Plan forward in its current format”, Alex Amoroso told the Commission. 

Clarke initially disagreed, arguing that the zoning amendments didn’t need to be passed immediately. “The zoning language can wait. That doesn’t need to happen” tonight, she said. 

Commissioner Dacey jumped in to the issue, saying that “what Mr. McDonald said was just wrong” about the Zoning Board having discretion to stop projects with undesirable density. City staff has said the ZAB has no power over density, she noted. 

Amoroso said that staff had made a distinction between the formal “Group Living Accommodation” development type and people who purchased and sought to expand a house who “are trying to maneuver within the existing categories” of zoning—that is, create a de facto private dormitory with multiple bedrooms without seeking a group living accommodation permit. 

‘These are very different subjects!” he emphasized, referring to the discussion and testimony earlier about houses being expanded to multi-bedroom, de-facto private dormitories.  

“It is not, not, the same thing as a Group Living Accommodation as defined by the Zoning Ordinance.” 

Commissioner Stoloff complimented John English on his “thorough eye” in critiquing problems with the Plan and zoning amendments. Does staff need Commission action to fix obvious mistakes in the draft Plan, he asked?  

“We would not need your permission to correct mistakes”, said Greene. “We can easily go in and correct these”, referring to some of the comments English had presented in written form to the Commission. 

However, Greene said, “if there’s any question about the statistics for 1999 to 2003 when this was written we can’t touch those, we don’t have time.” 

Staff have already made a lot of changes to the draft in response to comments, Greene said. “John (English) has been very generous with his time.” 

Asked why dedicated bus lanes remained in the Plan when the City Council had taken that concept off the table, Greene said they were left in because staff had not been directed to take them out. Many of the recommendations in the Plan “have already been done” since 2003 she also noted. 

Amorozo added “these components people are asking to be removed have already been resolved through a process that renders them inert. If you want us to remove them, fine.” 

“This process is a struggle for all of us”, said Chair Pollack. “We’re faced with some choices none of which we like.” 

However, he asserted, the process can’t start over or last longer. The City has not budgeted for further Southside Planning. So the Commission, in his view, could drop the Plan, “or we can make do with this” Plan as presented. 

“Hold our nose and make it as palatable as possible. I’m doing the latter. I’m holding my nose.” 

“Are we better off with the Plan?” he asked. “If we’re really going to start down the road of making substantive changes we’ll never adopt this thing.” 

“Taking out the obsolete language of BRT is hardly a substantive change”, countered Commissioner Dacey. “Leaving it in is nuts.” 

“I think there’s some real tweaking we can do in one or two more meetings”, Dacey argued. “Importing some green standards would not be that difficult.” 

“We wouldn’t have to hold our noses quite so much,” she said. “We’re talking about a plan that is going to last for 15 years or more, and the whole legal situation has changed”, she added, returning to the issue of the court cases that have invalidated city strategies for requiring affordable housing in exchange for more density of development. 

“The bigger issues of this new plan are far more important than making it a perfect plan”, Novosel argued. “As this pointed I’m exhausted, and I can’t do it any more.” “I’m prepared to pass this Plan tonight,” he concluded. 

Dacey pointed out that Novosel was one of the relative newcomers on the Commission to the Southside Plan process, having only participated since the 2009 Commission subcommittee. Others who had worked on the Plan for far longer were willing to continue making improvements to it before adoption, she said. 

“I have a list of 20 to 25 items I’d like to see changed but I didn’t bring them up,” said Chair Pollack. “And I don’t intend to unless we start down that road.” 

Commissioner Jim Samuels expressed the view that the affordable housing issue shouldn’t delay the Southside Plan because “It’s a city wide problem and it’s going to be addressed on a City wide basis.” 

“It’s not like the community came together and said, ‘we want a really dense Southside’,” Dacey rebutted. Passing the Plan while the City’s tools to create affordable housing are invalidated by the courts means no affordable housing, just more density. 

“You’re basically saying to all the neighborhoods and Southside, ‘We’re going to have a huge student district with a lot more density and very few community benefits’.” 

“I’m assuming we’ll correct the issue of Palmer (the court cases on affordable housing) later on,” said Novosel, agreeing with Samuels. 

Turning to the provision in the Plan that creates a “car free” housing zone where parking isn’t required as part of new developments, Dacey said acidly, “This is not ‘car free’ housing. It’s ‘parking free’ housing” since the policy exempts developers from having to provide parking but does not require residents not to have cars. 

The Commission briefly discussed the request of Bob Viener that the zoning boundaries south of Dwight and west of Telegraph be redrawn. “The Southside Plan follows the boundaries that were part of the CT (Commercial Telegraph) and R-4 District”, argued Greene. She also noted that the area along Dwight would be down zoned from R-4 density to R-3, which would reduce the potential for large developments there. 

Why not just change the boundaries a bit, said Dacey who lives in the Le Conte neighborhood. “It was a big deal in my neighborhood.” 

“I will not vote for this (Plan)” said Commissioner Gene Poschman. But “I just hope it goes out and goes to Council tonight, because it will make the Council very angry” to receive a flawed Plan, he said. 

“It’s said the Excellent is the enemy of the Good”, he continued. But in the case of the Southside Plan “the Lousy is really the enemy of the Adequate, or the Good.” 

“The people (Commissioners) coming in tonight to vote to send this (Plan) out didn’t even have a copy of the language in front of them” he observed. “You don’t know what you’re voting on if you send this up now.” 

“There are a lot of things in the Southside Plan that we’re not looking at,” he concluded.  

Commissioner Eric Panzer said “If 15 years haven’t produced a Plan that the Council will like, how will a couple of additional meetings matter?”  

“Five or six years nothing was done” Poschman retorted. And “this is the first time we’ve had zoning amendments in front of us in 15 years” for the Southside Plan. 

“The zoning pieces have been part and parcel of the plan as you’re going along”, Alex Amoroso interjected. “The zoning text in this form may be the first that you’ve seen it”, but the essence has been in the Plan. 

Poschman turned to the density bonus issue. “We’re putting in all of these incentives for affordable housing, the (increased) heights get left (as they were in the earlier drafts), but now the affordable housing is gone.” 

“You are right, this language is left over from the original language”, Greene said. 

Pollack urged Poschman to finish his comments. Current Planning manager Debbie Sanderson stepped forward from the side of the audience where she had been watching the discussion. 

“This district will be regulated under density bonus like all other projects in the City”, she told the Commission. “Whatever is the allowed height without the density bonus would be the starting point” for granting additional height under density bonus roles. “It’s been very well tested City wide.” 

Stoloff jumped in to move that the Public Hearing on the Plan be closed, a necessary prelude to a Commission vote. Over the objections of Poschman and Dacey the Commission voted 6-2-1, with Clarke abstaining, to close the hearing. 

Stoloff then quickly offered a motion to approve the Southside Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and General Plan amendments are presented by staff. He offered one change, asking the staff “to remove the references to the transportation policy issues” having to do with Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes. 

“This is an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences,” Dacey said, as the Commission began a brief discussion before voting. “We’re in the process of directing all development away from Downtown.” 

The Downtown Plan, she said, is filled with ‘green’ building requirements for development, while the Southside Plan is not. Why won’t developers just go build in the next neighborhood over—the Southside—rather than in the Downtown, she asked? 

“You’re going to see all development take place in Southside or on San Pablo (Avenue).” “This is not in any way coordinated with what we’re doing in the rest of the City.” 

“I can’t even understand why we would be doing such a thing unless there are specific people in line to benefit”, she concluded. 

Clarke said she still had problems with the wording of the zoning amendments. “I’m really disappointed with contemplating Zoning Ordinance changes we’ve had for less than a week”, she said, clarifying that she supports the Plan in general. 

Novosel said in regard to green standards for Southside, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful but we didn’t do it” when the Planning Commission subcommittee reviewed the draft Southside Plan.  

“I don’t believe it will deflect development (from the Downtown) and we’ll see if your prophecy comes true” he said to Dacey. 

“YOU can take responsibility, I suggested green standards” in the subcommittee process, Dacey replied. 

Poschman noted a problematic issue with car free housing in the Plan. “We’ve not even looked at the thought that if you don’t have any parking requirements you get no parking fees,” he pointed out, noting that this would be a big benefit to developers without any compensating community benefit such as a parking assessment fee that could be used for public parking structures or transportation improvements. 

“What are we asking from them for not putting in parking? Not a damn thing!” he concluded, calling the policy “a windfall for developers.” 

“The parking thing has not been thought through by the Planning Commission in any way, shape, or form.” 

He tartly characterized the Commission action on the Plan as “let’s do minimal things and not raise any issues that will slow things down.” 

Before the Commission voted Pollack asked Stoloff if he would separate the Plan and other issues from the zoning amendments in his motion, perhaps worrying that Clarke would not vote for the Plan otherwise. 

Stoloff accepted. The Commission then voted 7-2, Dacey and Poschman dissenting, to adopt all the Plan elements and staff recommendations except for the zoning amendments and Southside Design Guidelines. 

Stoloff then quickly moved “the zoning ordinance as presented”, with the understanding that staff could make “corrections but not policy changes” to the document being approved. Novosel seconded the motion. 

Clarke continued her concerns about the zoning amendments. “I don’t understand some of the things that have led from the Plan to the Ordinance.” 

One of the primary goals of the zoning amendments was to “shift the density” within the Southside, Greene clarified. The high-density development would be allowed in “a spine along Bancroft and a spine along Telegraph”. 

Clarke then brought up the Group Living Accommodations issue again. She noted that from her reading of the zoning amendments it would seem developers would have an incentive to build six bedroom apartments and not call them group living accommodations. “You’re just gong to create more of the problems that people in the Southside are complaining about”, she said. 

“We’re all concerned about the group living accommodation issues” Pollack said. “It’s a real issue, and it’s not just a zoning issue.” 

The Commission then voted to approve the Zoning Amendments 5-3-1, with Poschman, Clarke, and Dacey dissenting and Commissioner Larry Gurley abstaining. 

The Southside Design Guidelines were then approved by a 6-0-3 vote. 

Following their long Southside Plan session the Commission took up the Downtown Plan in front of a nearly empty room. There were three members of the public left in the audience. John English offered some comments to the Commission on the Downtown Plan, and Downtown Planner Matt Taecker asked the Commission that a public hearing be set on the Downtown Plan and associated General Plan amendments. 

May 18 was adopted as the public hearing date. 

There was a brief discussion of an issue Taecker noted, setting up procedures for in lieu fees paid to the City from development Downtown. Taecker said that the City Attorney had advised restrictions in the possible use of in lieu fees, since Measure R, approved by the voters last Fall, had contained implicit restrictions on how in lieu fees could be allocated. 

“I just hope we don’t have a LAWSUIT saying it doesn’t conform to the wording of Measure R”, Commissioner Novosel jibed from the Commission podium.  

This was an apparent reference to the ongoing lawsuit against the City alleging that the City has violated the terms of Measure FF by planning for the demolition, instead of renovation, of the West and South Branch Libraries. 

“It could definitely happen”, Dacey said soberly. 

The Commission had been scheduled to take up one other item of discussion at the meeting, a staff report on Association of Bay Area Government and Metropolitan Transportation Commission “scenarios” that Berkeley should grow by 16,000 households over the next 25 years. 

That item was deferred until April 27, however. Pollack told me after the meeting that this had been at the request of City Planning Director Dan Marks who had felt the Southside Plan would otherwise occupy the Commission at this meeting. 

Berkeley's Animal Care (Humane) Commission to Discuss Shooting of Dog

Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 02:55:00 PM

The City of Berkeley Humane Commission/Animal Care Commission will meet Wed., April 19, at 7 pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center to discuss the shooting of a dog by the Berkeley Police on April 2. 

Police responded to a report that a gun had been fired. The occupants of the premises, who had been using a toy Airsoft pistol for target practice, were required to leave their house and were not allowed to put their dog on a leash as they requested. A police officer who believed the dog to be a threat then shot and killed it. 


Spy-cam Spied at Berkeley's Cafe Med;
Hotbed of Radicalism Shocked, Shocked;
J.Edgar Hoover Finally Scores

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:57:00 AM
Craig Becker readies for leap of faith. Big Brother--tiny spy-cam--can be seen atop audio speaker.
Craig Becker readies for leap of faith. Big Brother--tiny spy-cam--can be seen atop audio speaker.

What a concept. Berkeley's famous Cafe Mediterraneum on-line in videos filmed by the founder of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover.

In a "revoltin development" the Med’s 50 year ban on tourist photography and ESPECIALLY an alphabet soup of spying agencies like F.B.I., C.I.A., C.B.S., N.B.C., O.N.I.--has sputtered.  

Right on. Time marches on and yesterday's secret crimes of anti-ism give way to u-tube self-videos and voyeurism. 

Med regulars are still trying to grock the failed December free speech boycott of the Med over charges later proved untrue. 

Now the spy cam. 

George Orwell's "Big Brother," an all-seeing camera, following us like our cell phones. "Where are you? What are you doing?" 

Call it big brother; call it the eyeball on high, call it Orwell. 

Installers of the eye, Craig Becker, 59, the Med's owner and two university students with a hot business model put up the petite eyeball more than two weeks ago. 

The students plan to install the geeky eyeballs in other Berkeley cafes and businesses so that students can spy on their friends. 

But--FLASH: Big Brother is now blooie, victim of either chronic neck droop, a staff intervention, or customer sabotage. 

Sabotaged, Blooie, blotto, or just plain broke. It now spends its once active filming life mis-aimed at the ceiling with what Berkeley's Poet Laureate, Julia Vinograd calls a "celestial stare." 

Smiling and licking his lips with satisfaction, Becker relishes the notion that one of his employees crawled the perilous crawl space above the entrance and tilted the eye up, up, and away from the Med's first floor tables. 

Med staffers had previously complained about the spy-cam to Becker. 

Another Med staffer believes that Big Brother's eye shot upwards from natural causes (boredom?)--probably a swivel disorder, according to the staffer. 

Anyone who witnessed the action-packed thriller that was the eye-ball installation would agree with the staffer that: "no way an employee is going up there; it's too dangerous." 

Two student entrepreneurs, with Becker's help, installed the curious cam on an audio speaker perched on a seemingly inaccessible ledge 10 feet above the first floor of the cafe. Becker, mountain goat in a previous life, handily gained a toe-hold on a three inch ledge while grasping a nearby slippery furnace to reach the speaker. 

The students eye-balled the 10 foot fall awaiting them if they failed, where Becker had succeeded. They stalled and fidgeted before risking their lives for their business model. 

The students required much coaxing and cajoling before each made his leap-of-faith business sacrifice. This reporter watched in horror as the students hesitated at the edge of a ledge for what seemed forever as the whole scene turned into a suicide watch. 

Whether Brother is doomed to eyeball the ceiling forever or meets an even worse fate remains to be seen, although not by Brother's eye. 

Becker went back to the ledge Monday--this time, solo--to reposition the eye so it can resume its spying. 

Even when up and running, there was nothing big about Brother's lo-def, fuzzy images and limited video coverage of the room. 

But now Big Brother may be really kaput. The Website for this brainstorm is not posting the eye's accounts on-line, as advertised. 

Brother may be filming, he just isn't getting broadcasted (posted) and what fun is that? 

But if Brother’s audio is on, he won't miss the 747 jet roar of the carrot juicer, which is grinding the nerves of Medheads while muddling its mulching. 

On the rare dull day at the Med, conversation centers on planning pre-emptive attacks on the A-hole juicer. Nail in a carrot was a recent suggestion, but it was ruled out as too dangerous to staff. 

With his usual mischievous grin, Becker counters that the juicer makes more sense than the conversations it drowns out. Medheads burn. 

Failed boycotts, a robbery or two, a disruptive customer or two, incidents outside the cafe, the A-hole carrot juicer. Becker has survived a recent series of such incidents to emerge as the heir apparent to Moe Moskowitz, the most colorful Teley businessman who once lived (died 1997). 

Now if only a "miracle of the Med eyeball" would restore the eye to service, we could watch "the Medheads," Berkeley's local sitcom, on-line. 



Ted Friedman, a Medhead since '72, has "nailed” a few carrot juicer conspiracies of his own.

Local Connections Forgotten
150 Years after Civil War Began

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 10:22:00 PM
Today, Berkeley’s only identifiable Civil War monument is the Grand Army of the Republic redwood tree on the UC Berkeley campus.  It's the large tree in the center / rear of this photograph.
Steven Finacom
Today, Berkeley’s only identifiable Civil War monument is the Grand Army of the Republic redwood tree on the UC Berkeley campus. It's the large tree in the center / rear of this photograph.
The tree is marked by a small plaque placed in 1933, one of nearly a dozen widely diverse veterans memorials on the Berkeley campus.
Steven Finacom
The tree is marked by a small plaque placed in 1933, one of nearly a dozen widely diverse veterans memorials on the Berkeley campus.

This seems to be a portentous week in history. The first man went into space 50 years ago as a special Google logo reminds us. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died April 12 in 1945. The Titanic rendezvoused with its fatal iceberg April 15, 1912. 

But while “it was sad when that great ship went down…” as a once popular song put it, a sadder and greater thing occurred 150 years ago April 12. This was also an event flavored with a salty tang. Confederate cannon boomed out over Charleston Harbor, assaulting Fort Sumter, and the Civil War was on. 

As far as I could tell, this anniversary went unrecalled in Berkeley. It’s not surprising. Our community history generally doesn’t go back that far. In 1861 a populated UC campus here was still a dozen years in the future, the town wouldn’t be incorporated for 17 years, and five years would pass before the name “Berkeley” was suggested. 

Our geographical location had a few scattered farmsteads, the germ of an industrial settlement on the waterfront, a few roads running through, and a newly inaugurated campus site for an institution that would never move here, the private College of California. 

Thus, there’s little in “Berkeley history” to relate to the Civil War, as least when it took place. 

This was not quite true of the more settled parts of the Bay Area. San Francisco retains the name “Union Square” from that period, when loyalty to the Union became a paramount virtue and patriotic rallies were held there. 

But it’s a little known history throughout California. 

As historian Roger McGrath wrote in an account you can find on-line in its full form, “For most Americans, the words California and the Civil War have nothing to do with each other. Yet, California played a surprisingly important role in that epic conflict…almost no one knows that California had more volunteers per capita in the Union Army than any other state. Nor is it generally known that by war's end California volunteers in the West occupied more territory than did the Union Army in the east.” 

“Nearly 17,000 Californians enlisted to fight. Most of these men were keep busy in the West, but several companies of California volunteers saw action in the East as the California One Hundred or later the California Cavalry Battalion. These volunteers served with the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry and fought in 31 engagements, many of them in the Shenandoah Valley. Other California volunteers served with distinction in New York and Pennsylvania regiments.” 

But Californian loyalty to the Union was not firmly established at the beginning of the war. Although we were a “free” state, there was plenty of Southern identity and sympathy, particularly in the still germinating upper echelons of San Francisco society. 

And the State as a whole was so sparsely settled and developed that an uprising or expeditionary force numerically small still might have hoped to win strategic control, at least for a while, over the gold fields of the State, the silver mines of Nevada, and the developing network of shipping, manufacturing, banking, and general commerce centered around San Francisco Bay. 

On the eve of war this was quickly recognized. One of the few immediate effects of the War was the hasty completion of Fort Point at the entrance to the Golden Gate, visible across the Bay from the future Berkeley. The huge brick and stone fortification had been under construction for more than a decade when war began. 

Troops were quickly moved into the structure and the fort secured against attack from land as well as from sea. The most immediate fear was not of a Confederate ship sailing in the Golden Gate, but of Southern sympathizers in San Francisco—of whom there were many—seizing the fort and its munitions in a surprise attack from the landward side. 

Ironically the commander of the Army on the Pacific Coast at the time responsible for these preparations was Colonel Albert Sidney Johnson. He scrupulously issued his orders in February to garrison the Fort—which still hadn’t received its artillery—and put troops on alert at Alcatraz. 

He saw the preparations completed then resigned his commission in April. Johnson, a highly regarded Mexican War veteran and West Point graduate, would return East, marching with a company of Southern California Confederate volunteers overland to New Orleans. 

Just a year after securing the Bay Area against rebellion or invasion, he would be the second ranking general in the Confederacy, bleeding to death in a shot-torn peach orchard at the Battle of Shiloh. 

A continent away, the peaceful orchards of Berkeley bloomed across from Golden Gate fortifications that would never see a hostile shot fired during the War. 

That does not mean, however, that the Civil War meant nothing to Berkeley. After the War, many veterans came or returned west. Up through the 1930s the Civil War—the only truly “great” war in United States history at that point—was a living presence to local residents through those veterans and their families. 

And if California was still divided at the beginning of the War, the local survivors saw that it—including Berkeley—became a bastion of patriotic Unionism afterwards. 

I am not sure if there was an organized local group of Confederate veterans on the Berkeley scene. Possibly not and, if so, its numbers might have been relatively small. 

There were, however, established Union groups, part of the GAR—the Grand Army of the Republic—including Berkeley’s Lookout Mountain Post, which enrolled as many as 1,000 Union veterans at its peak. 

Even as they dwindled and thinned with time, the ranks of those veterans had pride of place in local patriotic celebrations. One of their leaders, William Hatch Wharff, a veteran of the Eleventh Maine Infantry, was a fixture at Berkeley’s Fourth of July celebrations. 

Wharff died just 75 years ago, January 1, 1936—half the distance from our time to the Civil War. 

The GAR was organized into regional “Departments” and local “Posts” following Union Army wartime protocol. Berkeley was proud to host, in 1933—and again, later in the decade—the annual “Encampment” of the Department of California and Nevada. 

Hundreds came to town, not just the actual veterans but their spouses and members of what were known as auxiliary organizations, including the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. 

(Today, there’s an active group, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War that officially inherited the GAR mantle after the last actual veterans passed away.) 

In 1933 the veterans headquartered at the Hotel Whitecotton (now the Shattuck), rallied in the Veterans Memorial Building and Harmon Gym on the UC campus, and marched through the streets of Berkeley while local schoolchildren strewed rose petals in their path and younger veterans of subsequent conflicts paraded in their wake. 

Although we don’t have a statue of a soldier or a captured cannon on display, at least three memorials—Berkeley’s authentic Civil War monuments—were left from that Encampment. All were living trees, one planted in Live Oak Park, one downtown adjacent to “old” City Hall, and the third on the UC Campus. 

The one planted Downtown involved a ceremony described as “a tableau with members of the Women’s Relief Corps taking the roles of the ‘Sun,’ ‘Earth,’ ‘Air’ and ‘Tree’. “Each spoke of the particular functions they would take in assuring a long life to the tree,” said the Berkeley Daily Gazette. 

While that tree, and the one in Live Oak Park, may survive, sans markers, only the exact identity of the third currently known. The monument incorporates a small metal plaque on a stone base and a now-large redwood tree planted near Strawberry Creek, southwest of the Valley Life Sciences Building. 

The inscription reads, “Presented to the University of California in memory of the Grand Army of the Republic by Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War Department of California and Nevada, May 17, 1933.” 

When those monuments were installed in 1933, our hometown newspaper, the Berkeley Daily Gazette said: 

“The ideals, patriotism, devotion and loyalty of the body, represented in the veterans dressed in their faded uniforms, who will be the honored guests of Berkeley during the coming week, will live forever in the memory of a grateful country.” 

Last month on a chill day I walked around places where the Civil War is well remembered; the battlefield at Antietam in Western Maryland, and the nearby United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, where John Brown staged his famous and ill-fated Raid in 1859, helping to trigger war two years later. 

Confederates and Union soldiers clashed violently at both locations during the War, and they are replete with monuments, plaques, and memorials. 

Statues representing regiments, elaborate stone pavilions dedicated to the troops from different states, and upright cannon barrels marking the place where a general died line the lanes and populate the gently rolling fields at Antietam, which saw the “Bloodiest Day” in Civil War history—a total of 23,000 soldiers from both sides killed, wounded, or missing on September 17, 1862 at the Cornfield, the Dunker Church, “Sunken Lane”, and the Burnside Bridge. 

Interpretative plaques and a visitor center explain both the battle and context and there's a steady stream of visitors. 

While the events of the War 150 years past will be remembered—and, sometimes, celebrated—for the next four years at places like those, it seems unlikely at this point that the Gazette prediction from 1933 will be true in Berkeley. 

Most likely we locals will continue to look at the Civil War as something remarkably distant and curiously far away. 

For more information, see “California and the Civil War” 


"Here We Are, And We’re Not Going Away” Berkeley’s Ed Roberts Campus Dedicated

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 12:21:00 PM

A throng of well-wishers turned out on a sunny Saturday, April 9, 2011 to formally dedicate the Ed Roberts Campus adjacent to the Ashby BART station in Berkeley. 

Although the two story building which serves as a headquarters for several independent living and disabled rights and service groups has been functioning for some months, the ceremony served as the official “ribbon cutting” for the project. 

Dignitaries including Congresswoman Barbara Lee, City of Berkeley, BART, and private sector representatives spoke at the brief outdoor ceremony prior to the ribbon cutting. 

The campus, built on part of the east side parking lot of the Ashby BART station, is a single structure that contains offices for programs including the Center for Independent Living, Center for Accessible Technology, Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, Computer Technologies Program, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and other organizations. 

It includes a childcare center run by Through the Looking Glass. A large, currently empty space along the street front is slated for a café. The eastern entrance to the below street level BART Station passes through the lower levels of the site.  

There are meeting rooms, a south facing terrace, and an expansive, glassy, atrium with a signature red spiral ramp from lobby to second floor. The entire structure was designed for “universal accessibility”, with features from wide corridors to specially arranged restrooms making it as functional as possible for people with a wide variety of physical challenges. 

The project is named for Ed Roberts, a pioneering disability rights activist who spent much of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio. Roberts was the first severely disabled student to attend UC Berkeley, and lived in the Berkeley community as an adult.  

In addition to leading the Center for Independent Living, Roberts was Director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation from 1976-83. He died in 1995. His mother, Zona Roberts, was one of those who spoke at the ceremony. 

“Oh my God, look at this crowd, this is great!” exclaimed Ed Roberts Campus President Dmitri Belser as he came to the podium to begin the ceremony. I estimated there were probably close to 500 people standing or sitting in front of the main building entrance on Adeline, and dozens more already inside.  

The street had been blocked off and the throng spilled out into the empty traffic lanes as the ceremony commenced. Wheelchairs, service animals, and the graceful gestures of sign language populated the scene. 

“This is an incredible moment in our community”, Belser said, calling the complex “an important structure for our community and the Bay Area.” He noted that the building project had helped the independent living community both develop bonds between both participant groups, and unite with “many people outside the community.” 

Belser introduced Congresswoman Barbara Lee as someone who ten years ago was “the lone voice of sanity in a nation screaming for blood.” He called her “a person who has always taken the values of Berkeley and put them on a national stage.”  

She had, he said, taken a morning flight to the Bay Area from Washington after Congress reached agreement last night to prevent a government shutdown. 

Lee came to the podium to warm applause. “I told those Tea Party Republicans they better not shut the government down, so I could be here!” she said. “We’re going to beat them.” Much of the crowd cheered.  

“This is such a wonderful day”, Lee said. “So many years of hard work and dedication. Let’s give Ed a round of applause, too!” she added, a suggestion that the audience heartily followed. 

“I remember Ed very well. I know he’s here with us today. But I know he’s also saying, our work is just beginning.”  

After noting that the about 45% of the project was funded by private sources and the tenants, and 55% paid for with government funds, she said, “we can accomplish much…we can do it, we can do it.” “It’s been an amazing effort.” “It’s so important we share today in this legacy of Ed Roberts.” 

She praised “all of the Berkeley officials for being such leaders in the independent living movement.” “We’re the birthplace. This is a model for the rest of country.” 

Lee noted that in her role on the Appropriations Committee she made funding for the Ed Roberts Campus “a priority in my earmark requests.” “I like earmarks” she went on, a dig at Congressional leaders who have temporarily ended the practice of Members of Congress asking for funds to be dedicated to specific projects in their districts.  

“We have got to make sure that Federal funds come into our community for non-profits and efforts such as this.” 

“It’s very dismal in Washington D.C.”, she said. “Being with you today provides a beacon of hope,” she said, calling the 9th Congressional District “the most progressive and enlightened in the country.” 

After Lee’s brief remarks she was presented with an A.T. & T. leadership award by Loretta Walker, Vice-President, External Affairs-Bay Area, for AT& T California. Walker praised the campus as “the first transit oriented development in the country designed solely for people with disabilities.” 

“This is for all of us,” Lee said, hefting the award “all those who have led in the disability movement.” She said he would put the award on display in her district headquarters. 

Belzer returned to the podium to introduce local dignitaries. He said that when the Ed Roberts Campus was proposed, people said “In Berkeley? At BART? Good luck.” But, he added, “we had strong advocates in both the City of Berkeley and BART.” 

“This is a wonderful day”, said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. “Congratulations to all who made this happen.” 

“There’s something like 19 different agencies that dealt with transportation that funded this particular project”, Bates added. At the end, the project still had a funding gap of about six million dollars, which was bridged with tax credits. 

Bates pointed out in the crowd fellow Council members, including Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak, and Linda Maio. He initially missed Councilmember Max Anderson who was sitting in front of him and stood up, waving his arms, to laughter from the crowd. Bates didn’t mention Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Worthington me afterwards, somewhat wryly, that he had also waved at Bates from the crowd. I also saw Councilmember Darryl Moore at the ceremony. 

As Bates finished his Council introductions a women in the crowd called out “...and Dona Spring!” recalling the deceased disabled Councilwoman who had also been a proponent of the project. 

Bob Franklin, BART Board President, followed Bates saying, “BART has embarked on many transit oriented projects that turn its parking lots into community serving facilities.” “This is the best possible example of that.” “On behalf of the BART organization, welcome to your new home.” 

“This is a prime example of public / private partnerships” said Matthew Reilein, Senior Vice President of J.P. Morgan Chase. That firm had been instrumental in securing the last six million of tax credit funding for the forty six million dollar project.  

He praised Belser in particular, saying, “I do want to single out Dmitri, he’s a very persuasive and persistent guy.” “The City of Berkeley was an incredibly flexible partner”, he added. 

The final speaker, Zona Roberts—“Ed Roberts indefatigable mother” as Belser said—put the final touch on the occasion with warm and thoughtful comments. “As we’re all proud of our creation of the Ed Roberts campus, she’s the person who created Ed Roberts”, Belser said, to laughter, as he brought her to the podium. 

“I feel like I’m kind of honored for getting pregnant,” the 91 year-old Roberts said. “Part of that was easy, the rest of it got a little complicated.” 

“I’m proud,” she continued. “The first time I walked up that ramp (inside the lobby) I thought I would burst into tears.” The building is “just so perfect.” 

Roberts added she did nearly cry when, on a previous visit from the top of the ramp, she “looked down for the first time and saw this building come to life”, with staff and users moving through the lobby. 

She introduced two brothers of Ed Roberts in the audience, told of their role in supporting him through college and in his activist causes, and praised his caretakers, some of whom were in the audience. “I want to appreciate, for all of them, what it’s meant to keep Ed alive, and have this happen.” 

“Thank you for being here, enjoy the building, enjoy each other. As Ed used to say, ‘Here we are, and we’re not going away’.” 

After Roberts spoke, Belzer made a final series of acknowledgements, including the design firm of Leddy Maytum Stacy. “Bill Leddy and Greg Novicoff gave us the building we had all dreamed of all these years,” he said. 

He also singled out Caleb Dardick for praise. Dardick, he explained, had been working as an aide to Mayor Shirley Dean when the project was proposed. “They were the ones who were really the brood hens of the Ed Roberts Campus and they hatched this thing”, Belser said. 

He thanked the past presidents of the Ed Roberts Campus. 

With the formal remarks concluded, the crowd pressed forward to watch Barbara Lee and Zona Roberts take a large pair of gold shears and cut through a red ribbon across the front doors. The two then entered, arm in arm, and made a stately progression up the spiral ramp to the second floor, pausing halfway along to look over the happy crowd below as it poured into the building. 

In the crowd I ran into Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “This is very exciting”, he said. “A bunch of my friends used to joke this is the only thing Shirley Dean and I actually agreed on.”  

Worthington praised the project for increasing cooperation between activist and community service groups. He noted that many of the varied programs using the facility were spinoffs from the pioneering Center for Independent Living. They had initially gone to separate quarters, but were now together in one campus.  

“A beautiful completing of the circle”, he concluded. 

Elsewhere in the crowd Councilmember Susan Wengraf paused to say “It’s a wonderful day. It’s a wonderful feeling you can actually get something as complex as this done.” 

“I’m happy it’s completed”, said Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz as he walked through the building. “It’s beautiful.” 

“A fifteen year odyssey” Dardick, who is now the UC Berkeley Director of Local Government and Community Relations, told me.  

Most stayed to explore the building, share refreshments in the large atrium, and mingle. The various organizations in the two-story structure had set out tables with information on their programs and there were hundreds of conversations going on.  

I ran into a neighbor who works at the Ed Roberts Campus. We chatted a bit, then “I see someone I have to talk to, I have to network!” she said, and went off through the crowd, expressing perhaps one of the key spirits of the occasion. 

There was considerable security at the event, perhaps because of the presence of Congresswoman Lee. Part of the BART parking lot at the rear of the building was blocked off and flanked by police cars and black sedans. Men and women who appeared to be Secret Service agents stood at strategic points and scanned the crowd.  

“How many of you are there?” said a woman to one of them as he watched from the ramp inside the building. “More of us than you think”, he replied. But they were unobtrusive and the crowd co-mingled and explored freely, many stopping Lee to thank her and talk with her as she moved through the throng.

Press Release: Chevron Donates $100,000 for U.C. Scholarships

From Mindy Maschmeyer, Project Manager, Marketing & Communications, Cal Alumni Association
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:13:00 AM

At Saturday’s 2011 Charter Gala event honoring United States Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu, the Cal Alumni Association of the University of California, Berkeley announced a partnership with Chevron to promote science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) education through a contribution of $100,000 to the association’s Achievement Award Program. 

The scholarship, named the Chevron Achievement Award, will provide up to four years of financial and program support for three highly-qualified and community-minded students interested in STEM fields. 

“It’s extremely exciting to offer three students the chance to pursue their academic and career goals at UC Berkeley with this award,” said Executive Director Tuck Coop of the Cal Alumni Association. “We look forward to working with Chevron to open educational opportunities to bright and deserving students, and provide them with the tools and knowledge that will serve them well during their time on campus and, more importantly, will help them realize real-life success.” 

Chevron works to promote and increase STEM education opportunities in higher education institutions through its University Partnership program. In addition Chevron works to promote and support other STEM and economic development initiatives through its California Partnership, which to date includes approximately $25 million in investments since 2009 throughout the state. 

“Chevron has enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with UC Berkeley over the years and funding this effort is in line with our shared goals for higher education in California,” said Shariq Yosufzai, vice president at Chevron Corporation and Chevron’s executive sponsor for UC Berkeley. “Through opportunities like this, Chevron can do its part to ensure that California maintains its leadership in providing world-class education, a highly skilled workforce and as a center of new industry development.”

Press Release: Berkeley North Branch Library Temporary Closure for Renovations and New Construction

From Alan Bern
Monday April 11, 2011 - 03:23:00 PM

Beginning Monday, April 25, 2011, the North Branch will be closed for approximately 12 to 16 months. 

The last open day for public service will be Saturday, April 23rd. 

This is a momentous occasion for the Berkeley Public Library and all of us in the City of Berkeley. We extend our thanks and appreciation to everyone for their support of Measure FF and, since that time, participation in the design process which has brought us to this milestone. 

The Library will continue to post project information and updates on its website at berkeleypubliclibrary.org/branchimprovements and hopes to see you at the North Branch Library grand re-opening slated for mid-2012. We look forward to bringing you a current code compliant, seismically safe, fully accessible green building with more public space, enhanced historic features, and a new meeting room for library programs and public use. 

Library BranchVan service will begin on Monday, April 25th on Shattuck Avenue at Berryman Street, in front of Live Oak Park Recreation Center. Check out the Library’s webpage or pick-up a North Branch Temporary Closure Guide for more service information during the temporary closure that includes the BranchVan and children’s storytime schedules. 

For more information call 510-981-6195.

Press Release: Sylvia McLaughlin to be Honored at Berkeley Meadow East Shore Dedication

From Isa Polt-Jones
Friday April 08, 2011 - 04:39:00 PM

The East Bay Regional Park District, in cooperation with California State Parks, will host an Earth Day dedication of the Berkeley Meadow at Eastshore State Park on Saturday, April 16 at 11:30 am. Sylvia McLaughlin, one of the leading community supporters of the park and meadow, will be the guest of honor. East Bay Regional Park District Board Member Whitney Dotson will emcee the event and elected officials including Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and Mayor Tom Bates are scheduled to speak. Following the dedication, staff will lead an interpretive walk in the meadow. 

The dedication celebrates the East Bay Regional Park District¹s third and final phase of the Berkeley Meadow Restoration Project. The 72-acre meadow, a former landfill site, was restored in three phases over five years at a cost of $6,000,000. The finished meadow has seasonal wetlands, coastal prairie and coastal scrub areas, creating a diverse and thriving habitat for plants and animals in an urban area. Walking paths and interpretive signs welcome the public. 

At their April 5 meeting, the East Bay Regional Park District board of directors unanimously agreed to honor Sylvia McLaughlin and the late Dwight Steele at the dedication. Leading community supporters and advocates of creating a shoreline park, both were instrumental in preserving and restoring the East Bay shoreline and creating a long-standing supportive citizens movement including the founding of Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP). CESP has played an important role in the 30-year effort to create Eastshore State Park. At 94, Sylvia McLaughlin remains a passionate member of the CESP Board of Directors. CESP co-founder, Dwight Steele, regrettably passed away in 2003. 

The East Bay Regional Park District manages Eastshore for the State, and owns the property with California State Parks. Funding for the Berkeley Meadow Project was provided by the California Coastal Conservancy, the East Bay Regional Park District, California State Parks, City of Berkeley, Bailey Estates LLC, Cherokee- Simeon Joint Venture, and Knapp Excavators. 

This dedication is part of the Berkeley Bay Festival, an environmental education event planned at the Berkeley waterfront that includes a volunteer shoreline cleanup and an open house of the new Shorebird Nature Center. 

The dedication will take place at the Berkeley Meadow southwest entrance, along Marina Boulevard. 


From I-80 westbound: Take University Avenue (Exit 11), go left at University Avenue toward Berkeley Marina, make a slight right onto Marina Blvd. The dedication will be on the right at the Marina Blvd. entrance to the meadow, directly across from the marina. 

From I-80 eastbound: Take Powell Street (Exit 9) toward Emeryville, turn left at Powell. Drive under the freeway and turn right at Frontage Road and follow it for two miles to University Avenue. Turn left on University Avenue toward Berkeley Marina, make a slight right onto Marina Blvd. The dedication will be on the right at the Marina Blvd. entrance to the meadow, directly across from the marina. 

Public information: www.ebparks.org (http://www.ebparks.org) or 1 888 EBPARKS 


Jerry Brown Is Still Optimistic about Budget

By Janna Brancolini (BCN)
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 08:47:00 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Jerry Brown expressed optimism today that he can garner Republican support for his plan to help balance the budget with tax extensions, despite months of failed attempts at reaching across the aisle. The $13.5 billion in revenue generated by the tax extensions would be coupled with more than $11 billion in spending cuts passed last month to close a $26 billion budget deficit.  

After months of negotiations, not a single Republican in the state Senate or Assembly has agreed to a ballot initiative that would let voters choose to maintain current levels of sales taxes, vehicle-licensing fees and other revenue generators set to expire this year.  

Brown, however, said members of the Republican Party would have no choice but to "get realistic" about the budget soon.  

"Getting at $13.5 billion is going to take taxes," he told reporters following a speech at the Bay Area Council's annual Outlook Conference. "If not taxes, it's going to take a radical restructuring of public safety and education. If there's a third way, I'd like to see it."  

He said he wasn't bluffing about balancing the budget entirely with cuts and was confident that key Republican votes would be forthcoming.  

"As the reality of the cuts sinks in and hits home, people get more realistic," he said. "Right now the magical thinking that $13.5 billion can be conjured is still working its magic."  

Brown had just finished outlining his budget plan in detail to attendees of the Outlook Conference, an annual gathering of industry leaders to discuss business, the economy and politics.  

The governor received a standing ovation before and after his speech, during which he outlined the budget deficit's origins and details and his plan to resolve it.  

The state has cut billions of dollars in taxes over the past two decades, and as revenues have gone down, spending has gone up, he said.  

Lawmakers this year inherited a $9.4 billion deficit from last year's budget, which was allegedly balanced when it was passed in October.  

Brown said only 3.4 percent of the state's expenses are related to pensions and health care -- two areas that some GOP lawmakers have said need to be reformed if they are going to support a tax extension initiative.  

"When people say you have to do something about pensions, they're missing the point," Brown said. "We're facing a huge, immediate deficit."  

On Tuesday, Senate GOP leader Connie Conway of Tulare said the "people have spoken" on the issue of taxes. "In May 2009, voters overwhelmingly rejected the very tax increases the liberal majority is pushing today," she said in a statement.  

"Our hard-working constituents ... don't want to pay a $55 billion tax increase to fund a 31 percent increase in state spending over three years," Conway said.  

Brown argued that the extensions he is proposing are not excessive "by any historical standard."  

"This plan does not envision pay raises or new programs for four years," he added.

Press Release: Sanders Calls Budget Deal Robin Hood in Reverse

From the office of Senator Bernie Sanders
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 05:23:00 PM

WASHINGTON, April 12 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today he will vote against a bill that cuts more than $38 billion from programs that help working families without calling for shared sacrifice by the wealthiest Americans.

Bush-era tax breaks for the very rich were extended and expanded last December – driving up the deficit. “Today, in order to reduce deficits that Republicans helped create, they now are slashing programs of enormous importance to working families, the elderly, the sick and children,” Sanders said. “At a time when the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from struggling working families and gives to multi-millionaires. This is obscene.” 

While it is too soon to determine the exact impact the cuts will have on Vermont, Sanders, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said “there can be no doubt that these cuts will be devastating to working families in Vermont and throughout the country.” 

At a time of soaring fuel prices, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be cut by $390 million.  

At a time when college education has become unaffordable for many, Pell grants would be reduced by an estimated $35 billion over 10 years, including a nearly $500 million cut this year. 

At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance, community health centers would be cut by $600 million and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be cut by $3.5 billion. 

At a time when poverty is increasing, the Women Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program for low-income pregnant women would be cut by $504 million. 

At a time when we have to put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, federal funding for high-speed rail would be eliminated, representing a cut of $2.9 billion. Public transportation would be cut by nearly $1 billion, a 20 percent reduction. 

At a time when police departments are struggling with inadequate budgets, local law enforcement funding would be cut by $296 million. 

At a time when homelessness is increasing, public housing would be cut by $605 million. 

“This budget moves America in exactly the wrong direction,” Sanders said. “While there is no question that we must reduce soaring deficits, it must be done in a way that is fair, which protects the most vulnerable people in our country, and which requires shared sacrifice. I will not support a budget that will cut programs for struggling working families, the elderly, children and the poor while expanding tax breaks for billionaires, maintaining corporate tax loopholes and increasing military spending. That is just plain wrong.” 

In the coming weeks, Sanders said he will work with colleagues in the Senate and House on a deficit-reduction package that is fair to all, and does not balance the budget only on the backs of working families.

Press Release: ACLU Says UC Davis May Have Spied on Student Protesters

From ACLU press office / Debra Reiger
Monday April 11, 2011 - 03:23:00 PM

DAVIS, Ca. – High-ranking University of California, Davis administrators – including several vice chancellors – and campus police may have conspired to monitor and control constitutionally-protected fee hike protests at the university, according to internal documents uncovered by students involved in the demonstrations. 

A news conference to release those documents will be held TUESDAY, April 12, at 10 a.m., at UCD (South Plaza of the Memorial Union, near the central quad of the UC Davis campus.). 

Participants will include representatives from the ACLU, undergraduate and graduate student communities and various campus workers’ unions. 

"The Sacramento Chapter of the ACLU is extremely concerned about what appears to be violations of the free speech rights of students at the University of California, Davis during fee hike protests," according to a joint statement by the ACLU in Sacramento and Yolo counties. 

The documents, obtained through the state public records act, reveal high-ranking administrators, and staff members, and leaders of the campus police department formed a network called the “Activism Response Team” to keep close tabs on student activists, including monitoring student Facebook activity, infiltrating protests and attempting to obtain information about “anticipated student actions," and individuals involved in the protests. 

In one case, a campus police officer marched with students in plain clothes and refused to identify herself as a member of the UCD police department. UCD has apologized, calling it a "mistake." 

Protests have been held at campuses across the state as the University of California Regents and administrators have increased tuition dramatically. Undergraduate tuition at the University of California has increased by more than 40 percent since 2009 as essential services have been cut.

Press Release: Three New Scientific Studies Confirm Lead Poisoning of Wildlife Due to Hunting Ammunition;
Condors, Eagles, Vultures Exposed to Toxic Lead from Hunting

From Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity
Friday April 08, 2011 - 09:59:00 AM

Three new scientific studies by University of California researchers confirm that lead poisoning of endangered California condors and other wildlife is due to scavenging animals ingesting fragments of spent lead hunting ammunition. One study also demonstrated that the 2008 California ban on lead ammunition in condor habitat has been effective in removing lead from the environment, as evidenced by a significant reduction in lead exposure in golden eagles and turkey vultures soon after the new regulation took effect. 

“This research adds to the mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers of lead in the wild and provides important confirmation that banning lead in hunting ammunition can have positive, tangible effects for wildlife,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been pushing for a national ban on lead hunting ammunition and lead fishing tackle. “The dangers of lead in the wild are more apparent than ever and, given that there are already safe and available nontoxic alternatives for hunters and anglers, there’s no reason to perpetuate the continued lead poisoning of wildlife.” 

Researchers from U.C. Santa Cruz confirmed that lead ammunition is the principal source of lead exposure for poisoned California condors. The researchers analyzed lead isotopes in blood samples from pre-release and free-flying condors in California and compared them with a representative selection of 71 different lead-based ammunition samples, most collected in the field. The lead isotopic signature in free-flying condors, which can scavenge on carcasses tainted with lead ammunition fragments, differs from that in pre-release birds. About 90 percent of blood samples from free-flying condors had an isotopic composition best explained by exposure to lead-based ammunition. 

The research also demonstrates that lead exposure causes chronic, long-term health effects in condors as well as acute poisonings. Nearly all 100 free-flying condors in California have suffered from severe lead poisoning at least once, and 35 percent of condor blood samples from 2004 to 2009 showed high blood lead levels indicating chronic exposure to potentially lethal lead levels. Lead-poisoned condors must routinely be removed from the wild and subjected to stressful chelation treatment to save their lives. One-third of wild condors are suffering from chronic lead poisoning at levels that cause toxicological effects and sublethal impacts. 

One study, the first of its kind, found that blood lead levels in free-flying turkey vultures rose during deer hunting season and in areas with wild pig hunts. Another U.C. Davis study concluded that the 2008 lead-ammunition ban in the California condor range reduced lead exposure in golden eagles and turkey vultures in 2009. 

The Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project Gutpile, a hunting group, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency last November for failing to regulate the use of toxic lead hunting ammunition and fishing gear that frequently poisons and kills eagles, swans, cranes, loons, condors and other wildlife throughout the country. The EPA denied a formal petition to ban lead in fishing tackle and hunting ammunition despite long-established science on the dangers of lead poisoning in the wild, which kills millions of birds each year and also endangers public health. Nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published showing lead poisoning of scavengers that eat lead ammunition fragments in carcasses, and of waterfowl that ingest spent lead shot or lost lead fishing sinkers. 

The campaign to end the use of toxic lead ammunition and fishing tackle is gaining momentum. So far, 117 organizations in 30 states representing birders, conservationists, hunters, scientists, veterinarians, American Indians and public employees have joined the call for a federal ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle to prevent wildlife poisoning and safeguard human health. 

The U.C. Davis studies, Impact of the California Lead Ammunition Ban on Reducing Lead Exposure in Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures and Lead Exposure in Free-Flying Turkey Vultures Is Associated with Big Game Hunting in California, were funded by the California Department of Fish and Game and published by the journal PLoS ONE. The findings of the U.C. Santa Cruz study, Lead Poisoning from Ingested Ammunition is Precluding Recovery of the Endangered California Condor, were presented at the March 2011 annual Society of Toxicology meeting and are being prepared for publication. 

For more information, visit about the Center’s Get the Lead Out Web page. 

The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. 



Whatever Became of the General Welfare?

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 12:12:00 PM

Editorials are supposed to provide answers, but this week all we have for you is questions. What in the name of heaven has happened to (1) this country and (2) this generation?

In the not too distant past, it was assumed by almost everyone that providing respectable free public education was a central responsibility of government. Not only that, it was taken for granted that citizens would pool their resources using the tax system to provide parks both national and local, art museums, swimming pools, zoos—you name it. When I was growing up in St. Louis and California we had all those amenities and more.

Now the concept introduced in the preamble to the Constitution of “promoting the general Welfare” seems to have evaporated, or at least shrunk to unrecognizable dimensions. This is not a Liberal vs. Conservative or Democrat vs. Republican question: It’s much broader than that, and much more serious. 

Book after book has been published in the last few years exploring the question of what’s wrong with America these days. Two notable ones are Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Joe Bageant’s Deerhunting with Jesus, both essentially efforts to explain how working class stiffs vote to the Liberal Elite. But the LE is part of the problem. 

What are the majority of Democrats in the U.S. Congress if not card-carrying members of the liberal elite? And yet, didn’t most of them accede, fairly easily, to the “solution” to the budget deadlock of sacrificing the interests of the working poor on behalf of compromise? Independent Senator Bernie Sanders lays it out: “At a time when the gap between the very rich and everybody else is growing wider, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from struggling working families and gives to multi-millionaires. This is obscene.” 

Why was the military budget left untouched? Today there are hints that President Obama might take a cursory look at that area, but don’t count on it. 

And let’s look at what’s happened to what used to be called conservatives. Time was when conservatives (think Everett Dirksen or even Barry Goldwater) pinched pennies across the board, not just in programs which benefited poor people. Republicans used to be people who believed in personal rather than government-funded good works, but they did believe in some notion of contributing to the common good. 

In my neighborhood in Berkeley, like all Berkeley neighborhoods, there are mighty few registered Republicans. But the ones there were used to be model citizens. A couple around the corner lavished weeks of personal backbreaking work on the elementary school playground, and we used to say about them that if everyone did things like that government would be indeed made obsolete. Didn’t happen. 

In the old days even Republicans paid taxes willingly. My father was a registered Republican until the day he died, though he hadn’t voted for a Republican candidate for a couple of decades—he kept hoping that the party of Senator Kuchel would come back, but it never did. He paid his taxes scrupulously, voted for school levies, the whole ball of wax. Now even registered Democrats in Berkeley have been heard to say that they won’t vote to spend money for schools because they don’t have children in school. Whatever happened to the general welfare? 

The disgraceful spectacle in Wisconsin, where rank and file public service workers have been portrayed as villains, is another manifestation of total disregard for the proper functioning of government. There’s a little room for criticism of the disparity in salaries among government executives (think U.C. chancellors) and government workers (think U.C. housekeepers), but none of them even remotely approaches the compensation of the plutocrats who run large tax-avoiding corporations and financial conglomerates. 

Elsewhere in this issue you’ll learn that the Chevron corporation has coughed up about $100,000 to contribute to the education of three students over four years in the trendy “STEM” (science, engineering, technology, mathematics) disciplines. It’s pitched as such a big deal that Secretary of Energy and U.C. prof Steven Chu posed for a photo op with a Chevron executive to accompany the release. 

That’s just dandy, but how does it stack up against Chevron’s record of exploiting and promoting tax loopholes? On March 27 Senator Sanders revealed that “Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.” In that league, $100k is chump change, and we’re the chumps if we believe it makes a difference. 

It’s been widely reported that “the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's income.” A corollary assumption is that the richer some people get, the less likely they are to contribute to public amenities. 

Why vote for swimming pool bonds when you can pay for access to the swimming pool at the Claremont Hotel, or even at the YMCA, which is out of reach of many in Berkeley? Significantly, the city of Richmond, which is not the posh bedroom community which Berkeley has become, has just finished restoring the wonderful public pool known as the Richmond Plunge with the benefit of a fundraising campaign which reached many small local donors. 

On the other hand, the city of Piedmont, a wealthy enclave carved out of the Oakland Hills, has never felt it needed to support a public library. Recently, it’s even decided not to contribute to the Oakland Public Library, which Piedmont citizens have used in the past, presumably because between online information access and Amazon well-to-do Piedmonters don’t need libraries at all any more. 

In the Gilded Age around the turn of the last century, some few members of the ruling plutocracy did take responsibility to a certain extent for the common good. Teddy Roosevelt promoted conservation in general and national parks in particular. Now there are few Teddy Roosevelts around, though a few rich guys like Bill Gates in retirement are making something of an effort, prodded, one hears, by his old-school Republican father. But there’s a notable absence of what used to be a widespread belief, that through the tax system the better-fixed citizens funded public benefits for the good of all. 

Back to the question: why should this be so? Is the problem that the “me generation”—whatever that is or was—is now in power and is completely self-centered? Is it because the media has nourished the sense of victimhood associated with paying taxes, even though taxes on the very rich have never been lower? If you have any ideas, let us know.


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 11:17:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Seismic Safety for Berkeley Students?

By Priscilla Myrick
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:07:00 AM

Recent news reports have highlighted investigations by California Watch on the shocking number of California K-12 schools that are NOT certified as earthquake resistant under the Field Act. As a Berkeley resident I felt confident that the hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction bonds that Berkeley taxpayers are financing had been appropriately spent in making sure that our kids are being taught in properly designed classrooms. 

Director Hemphill was quoted in Berkeleyside as saying, "the district used past bond funds to do work on all K-12 schools." This is probably true. However, I was astounded to learn that NONE of BUSD school construction seismic projects dating back to 1993 have received appropriate earthquake resistant (Field Act) certification. I have attached a list of all BUSD projects "uncertified" as of 9/30/10 prepared by the state of California. This list includes Berkeley High and Cragmont Elementary that was built AFTER the Loma Prieta earthquake necessitated the complete reconstruction of the school. All construction projects were "closed without certification." 

We have been told by the BUSD board and administration that our schools have been retrofitted to meet post Loma Prieta earthquake standards. What happened? We need some accountability. The Berkeley community deserves a complete and public explanation. 



Project Name Project Contracted Amount Close Date
BERKELEY ADULT $40,000.00 9/22/1995
BERKELEY HIGH $31,660.00 8/25/1993
BERKELEY HIGH $55,000.00 4/30/1994
BERKELEY HIGH $20,000.00 4/30/1994
BERKELEY HIGH $45,000.00 5/15/1994
BERKELEY HIGH $75,000.00 8/25/1995
BERKELEY HIGH $35,000.00 9/22/1995
BERKELEY HIGH $50,000.00 9/29/1995
BERKELEY HIGH $22,000.00 10/5/1995
BERKELEY HIGH $70,000.00 5/13/1996
BERKELEY HIGH $82,500.00 11/24/1998
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $707,000.00 8/15/1996
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $120,000.00 1/8/2007
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $38,000.00 3/26/2007
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $141,444.00 9/11/2007
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $29,400,000.00 10/11/2007
BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL $5,978,785.00 4/10/2008
COLUMBUS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL $5,900,000.00 2/1/2002
COLUMBUS SCHOOL PARK $350,400.00 9/29/1999
CRAGMONT ELEM $20,000.00 7/8/1993
CRAGMONT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL $7,237,527.00 11/21/2007
EMERSON PRIMARY $900,000.00 3/26/1997
FRANKLIN ADULT SCHOOL $6,204,000.00 1/30/2008
FRANKLIN ELEM $12,200.00 10/6/1995
HOPKINS EARLY CHILDHOOD CNTR. $45,000.00 4/29/1997
JEFFERSON EL;EMENTARY SCHOOL $1,732,000.00 12/26/2006
JEFFERSON ELEM $200,000.00 3/13/1993
JEFFERSON PRIMARY $900,000.00 8/22/1996
KING JH $49,546.00 6/21/1996
KING JR. HIGH $31,050.00 12/17/1993
King Pre School New Campus (Berkeley USD) $3,219,524.00 10/14/2009
LA CONTE ELEM $15,000.00 4/30/1994
LE CONTE PRIMARY $30,000.00 8/9/1993
LECONTE $33,396.00 9/28/1995
LECONTE ELEM $30,000.00 10/13/1995
LECONTE PRIMARY $800,000.00 4/23/1997
LECONTE SCHOOL $1,398,938.00 9/12/2007
LONG FELLOW MIDDLE SCHOOL $7,341,200.00 2/16/2006
MALCOM X ELEMENTARY $4,600,000.00 11/29/2007
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HIGH $100,000.00 11/5/1998
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MIDDLE SCHOOL $1,398,143.00 12/20/2007
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MIDDLE SCHOOL $6,794,900.00 7/15/2009
Martin Luther King Middle School $988,700.00 4/7/2010
MUIR ELEM $30,000.00 11/14/1994
MUIR ELEM $15,000.00 3/17/2010
NEW COLUMBUS SCHL FAM RES CTR $69,000.00 4/1/2004
OXFORD ELEM $20,000.00 7/25/1993
THOUSAND OAKS ELEM $27,000.00 2/6/1986
THOUSAND OAKS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL $10,566,075.00 3/26/2004
THOUSAND OAKS PRIMARY $85,000.00 3/23/2010
VARIIOUS SITES-BERKELEY U.S.D. $159,200.00 8/4/2009
VARIOUS $2,500,000.00 4/1/1993
VARIOUS $114,000.00 9/15/1995
VARIOUS $152,000.00 9/15/1995
Various Locations: Oxford Elementary School & Berkeley Arts Magnet School $358,740.00 6/27/2008
VARIOUS SITES $0.00 3/27/2008
VARIOUS SITES $150,000.00 7/18/2008
WASHINGTON ELEMENTARY $50,000.00 12/13/1995
WASHINGTON PRIMARY $30,000.00 5/14/1993
WASHINGTON PRIMARY $3,850,000.00 4/25/1997
WHITTIER $2,900,000.00 6/24/1997
WILLARD INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL $1,800,000.00 8/25/1998
WILLARD JH $21,000.00 9/19/1995
WILLARD JH $35,000.00 9/22/1995
WILLARD JH $22,176.00 9/29/1995
WILLARD JR. HIGH $30,000.00 9/29/1995
WILLARD JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL $119,250.00 2/18/2003
WILLARD MIDDLE SCHOOL $3,556,000.00 10/22/2007
WILLARD MIDDLE SCHOOL $4,002,000.00 2/28/2008

Celebrating Passover at the Post Office on Tax Day (First Person)

Rabbi Sara Shendelman
Monday April 11, 2011 - 04:44:00 PM

In every civilization there are great days on which history turns. In the spring my two cultures come together on a great day of liberation. One day, Passover, reminds of freedom, that we came out as millions fleeing the slavery to a system which took the fruits of our labor. The other, April 15th, is the day our taxes are due with the government taking the fruits of our labor.

I celebrate both full out. At the beginning of April each year there are two simultaneous things happening in my home. There is madcap cleaning, with a list on the fridge of the many jobs and the family members assigned to them. And there is also me, at the computer working with the tallies and receipts which I always wish were done earlier by my spouse every year, so these two stressful events weren’t happening simultaneously. 

The culmination of the two are wonderful and celebratory and very freeing. The enslavement is done for another year. I love a good party. And I really love big tribal events. So both seder and April 15th have always been a good opportunity to join together with family and with lots of strangers. As far as the tribal experience of tax day, I used to confine myself to the copy shop where we all went to duplicate our efforts accurately, and there was lots of envelope stuffing and amount of postage rumination. Then came computers and we could do the returns without math mistakes and print at home. I would go by the Post Office earlier in the day to make sure mine got out, just in case, but I would always bike by later as the postal workers took the returns from all the people lined up in their cars. There would be such a transformed countenance on those who handed over their thick envelopes. It was delightful to see the smiles. 

These smiles were also on the faces of our ancestors as Pharo finally “let our people go,” and we headed out of town. 

One year, in this century, a good friend called at 11 pm and asked if I could help him out by writing a check for his estimated taxes, as he had given up trying to get all the forms sorted out by midnight. We got to the PO at 11:30 pm. There was an incredible party going on. The postal workers were busily taking forms through the car windows, pedestrians were handing theirs over and watching as they were hand cancelled and tossed into the appropriate bin, people hung out of the windows of the ‘Y’ across the street and a collection of watchers stood on the steps of the PO chatting and eating cookies.  

As it got closer to midnight, the pace picked up. By five of twelve, people were parking haphazardly and running them to the takers. At midnight, the top officer, in suit and tie, yelled to pack it up. Anyone still within range put the speed on. Even after the mail bins had disappeared into the driveway, we directed people to run and throw theirs in. That worked for many, until the first person came back sadly with envelopes still in his hand. We had cheered everyone on, felt the relief of having finished with our own tax returns for another year, and generally had a wonderful bonding evening and we went home happy...except for the twinge we felt for those who had gotten there at 12:15. It does seem odd that people would leave it so late, that they miss the pick-up by 15 minutes. 

I went back from 11pm to 12 pm for a couple of years, took my own cookies and had a wonderful evening as everyone celebrated. The PO workers were happy too, considering the overtime they got to work 

The People of Israel went out and settled by the Red Sea, our first day at the beach ever. The sun was shining and the light played on the face of the water. Then we heard the sound of the chariots of Egypt pounding across the plain. Our hearts were stricken, as we knew instantly that the Pharo had changed his mind and had sent his army to bring us back. 

One year, as I headed out to mail my tax return at 5:30, my daughter, Shaendl said, “Why don’t you just take them at 11 when we go?” My girls home schooled for 5 years and could stay up late, so it had become a family affair. As I dropped my return into the over sized curb bin before the last regular pick up, I commented to the postal worker that I would be back at 11 pm. “Oh” he said. “We are closing at 10 pm tonight.” It was because of the computer. So many folks were e-filing that the overtime was not being made up by the postage. Oy, I thought, people are not going to know this. I found out that the Oakland Main Post Office would still be open till midnight. So, I got directions, and went at 9 pm so I could still be there for the ‘party.’ But this time, at 10 pm, I changed hats. 

The Post Office had not put up signs saying they would be closing earlier than usual. There was no posting of the fact that Oakland Main was still open. In subsequent years, I would make my own signs, print directions, bring envelopes, pens and stamps as people would regularly show up needing these things. I brought the addresses of the two main places people were mailing Federal and California returns to: Sacramento and Fresno. I also brought chocolate to console the stressed and unhappy. 

The Children of Israel rose with a frenzy. One man proclaimed that our God was a poor general to leave us no way of escape with our escape route blocked by the sea. People frantically gathered their things and looked to Moses for direction. 

The first year, the police had to be called. Many people arriving after the run down the driveway would no longer do the trick (around 10:15) and were very angry. Berkeleyites do not take inconvenience lying down. A hand came out of the main door taking a few more returns. The later arrivals tried to storm the doors. I climbed the steps and said loudly enough for all to hear, “Why don’t some of you take everyone’s return to Oakland?” One woman turned on me, “Why should we trust them?” Then don’t I said, I have directions to Oakland if anyone wants to go. It takes ten minutes and you have plenty of time. The police came, people shouted that the website had said Berkeley Main would be open till 12 am. Those troublesome computers again. 

They demanded the police make the Post Office re-open. Yea, you gotta love those Berkeleyites. By this time, I had found someone who was going to Oakland and asked him if he would mind taking others’. He was fine with that and I spread this news around. Hesitantly at first, then more easily people began to hand them over, each one pausing to chat with the courier, take his measure and thank him.  

One of our couriers wrote to the Berkeley Daily Planet the next day to say what time he had delivered his load. He quoted my daughter, Aliya, saying what came to be our stock phrase as people approached looking perplexed that there were no bins and orange cones in the street. “There’s good news, and bad news. The bad news is that this PO closed at 10, the good news is that Oakland is open till 12. We have directions, or if you prefer someone will be going soon and they can take yours.” We generally had a trip taking off every 10-15 minutes, faster as midnight approached. One fellow railed that he had lived in Alaska and that people had been out in the snow taking returns till midnight! Then he calmed down, decided to be a hero and took many envelopes with him. He showed everyone his i.d. People approached us as he walked to his car and then ran to him, after we explained the situation. He was still talking returns while sitting at the light. 

The skies became gray and restless, the winds blew and howled. Moses climbed onto the tallest outcropping and raised his staff. He shouted, “The Lord will do battle for us!”  

Every person or couple who approached had to have the news and instructions all over again. It wore my voice out, as some folks would challenge me on my information. 

It was especially a mitzvah (good deed) for those on bicycles or on foot. It was a bit exhausting, but wonderful to be helping so many, and doing all this grass roots organizing so spontaneously. The first 3 years, there was a self selected crew who would just show up. My kids and husband joined me a few times. Over the years, we must have been more assured as there was very little of the questioning about honesty which I had the first year. The people who are taken aback at the thought of handing their returns over decide to drive themselves, and at that moment, I ask them if they would mind taking a few more. Some senders offer gas money to the drivers. Most don’t take it. One fellow welcomed the dollar bills being offered and I was outraged. This is a free community service, I said. You can’t get paid! But these people didn’t really work for me. It felt like a betrayal of the spiritual mission we were part of. When people overpay me for stamps because they don’t have change, I give the overage to charity. 

These days there are fewer people every year, but many people still chose to print and mail. People still come at 11 o’clock and say ‘it was open last year!’ No, I tell them, you must have finished earlier than 10 last year. I’ve been here, doing this for seven years. 

What I don’t say is, ‘Gee, you wait this long every year? Sounds stressful to me.’ 

Once a good friend, the local mohel, got the news and decided he would go and take others’. A woman looked at me and asked if he was trustworthy. Oh yes, I told her, I have known him for 20 years, very honorable. But, I pointed out to her, you only met me 3 minutes ago. 

A couple of times, my kids and I decided we should take a batch over and see where we had been sending people all this time. We left with about 15 minutes to go. It was quite a show there. It was all lit up, lots of flashlights, orange cones, workers wore reflective vests, and there were signs and protesters in costume. We made our way into the long line. I became worried that we wouldn’t get through the traffic in time, so my kid took our special parcels and ran across the street and deposited them. She was not allowed to stay in that area till I could get there, as she might be a mail thief, and it took me a little while to find her. 

The sea parted and the winds blew the earth at the bottom of the sea dry so our donkeys and wagons could get across. 

This service business had turned April 15th into a day I look forward to. I just make sure that I have gotten all my returns, forms, checks, envelopes, and stamping done a few days ahead so worry over procrastination won’t spoil the day for me. The other piece is that it is usually happening during Passover. So, here we are trying to clean the house, get ready for the seder (a lot of organizing and shopping and cooking) and also devise the script for the ritual as I am trying to get the taxes done. We are self-employed and have lots of forms to do. My husband could not be persuaded to add up the receipts for me till the last minute.  

We made our way through the sea and began to arrive at the other shore. The women picked up their timbrals and began to sing, “Who is like unto thee O Lord? Who is like Thee among the mighty?” We rejoiced and praised and danced and celebrated. 

It is the pivotal metaphor for modern life, going from slavery to freedom. 

At the post office, we all felt that we were coming out of Egypt and the evening of getting the returns in was a symbol of letting go and liberation. And everyone, not just the Israelites, was welcome to participate. 

A Game of Chicken Coming Home to Roost

By Bruce Joffe
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:48:00 PM

The Republicans certainly got my attention today. I kept checking the internet to see if the government was going to shut down or remain functioning. I learned that their original demand for $30 Billion cuts in government services was agreed to by the Democrats (without closing corporate tax loopholes that enable General Electric to pay zero tax on profits of billions). So the Republicans upped their demand to $61 Billion. The Democrats gave in to $39 Billion (with no estate tax on the super-rich's progeny). Since Democrats were still willing to compromise, the Republicans went "for broke" and insisted on cutting health care for low income women (using Planned Parenthood as the symbol). Now, yes finally NOW, the Democrats are offering some resistance to this insane schoolyard game of chicken. 


Republicans showed that winning, so-called, is more important than governing. They are willing to disrupt vital government services to protect their super-wealthy benefactors. They resent providing health, education, and social services to the most wretched in our society, and have successfully pushed the cost onto hard-working middle class and off the top one percent who own nearly half the wealth in this country. Republicans have conned many folks that the problem is the government. Now, Tea Party supporters can see the real problem ... that the government is run by Republicans who represent the very people who have gotten obscenely wealthy at the expense of the middle class. 



Why Architectural and Historic Death Sentences for Berkeley Public Library’s South and West BranchesShould be Rejected by ZAB and LPC -- Vote Scheduled Thursday, April 14, 2011

By Peter Warfield, Library Users' Association
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:47:00 PM
The original facade of the West Branch library
The original facade of the West Branch library
The ceiling fixtures of the West Branch library
The ceiling fixtures of the West Branch library

An architectural and historic death sentence for two of Berkeley Public Library’s excellent branch library buildings -- demolition with replacement by new buildings -- is scheduled to be considered at a joint meeting of two Berkeley city bodies Thursday, April 14, 2011, and we think it would be a shame to condemn these two buildings to irreversible oblivion. 

Especially as very few people have ever seen the buildings as originally built. 

A joint meeting of the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) and Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is to consider permits to demolish South Branch and West Branch libraries. The meeting is to begin at 6:00 pm in the Maudelle Shirek Building, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, second floor, Council chambers. 

The West Branch library at 1125 University Avenue was named a Berkeley “Structure of Merit” several years ago. The South Branch library, at 1901 Russell Street, was considered eligible for landmark status by a report commissioned by the Library and published in 2008. 

The report title is, “Berkeley Public Library, Branch Libraries Facilities Master Plan, Volume II,and it said the following about South Branch library: 

“It appears the property is eligible to the California Register for its association with [architect John Hans Ostwald] and potentially for its design characteristics.” 

We wrote to ZAB and LPC about their consideration of permits and the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in a letter dated April 12, 2011 as follows: 

Both of these buildings have architectural and historic value for Berkeley and beyond, and deserve to be saved for their own qualities and for their association with excellent architects. 

Sadly, almost no one seems to have seen the beauty and charm of the originals. That is because renovations to West Branch in the 1970s obscure original features that are of excellent quality, and because South Branch’s features are also obscured by attic-like filling with bookcases and other equipment that blocks views of key features. 

For example: 

The West Branch façade on University is covered over by the 1970s renovation. And the coved ceiling with its “wood crown molding” is completely hidden by the dropped ceiling panels installed as part of that renovation. 

The South Branch has bookcases backed right up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that are at the front of the Adult reading room, and a similar arrangement in the Children’s room. The original idea of a welcoming appearance from outside -- passersby able to look into a place of reading and study and books -- instead has become the view of the backs of bookcases. 

Please examine some original West Branch views, which can be found in the Noll and Tam Facilities report commissioned by the library for six figures at this url: 


[Note the report can also be found using this shorter url: tinyurl.com/Noll-Tam.] 

Pages 71-72 show West Branch’s original and current façade; pages 74 and especially 75 show the current and original wood crown molding. 

Further, Page 122 shows two photographic views of the original South Branch library. Page 124 (top photo) shows the current situation of the backs of bookcases placed directly against the picture windows. 

With respect to the Final EIR comment responses [responses to public comments], they often appear dismissive and argumentative; we are glad to see that the mitigation measures have been tightened slightly, but the conclusion [provided in the Final EIR] remains: [if demolition were to occur, it would mean, for both branches,] substantial adverse change to a historical resource that “would remain significant and unavoidable.” [Emphasis in the original.] 

Please spare these worthy buildings for the use and enjoyment of all in the future. 

Members of the public can express their opinions at the meeting and by making written comment to the ZAB secretary at zab@ci.berkeley.ca.us or at the street address c/ Steven Buckley, ZAB Secretary, 2120 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704. 

Peter Warfield is Executive Director of Library Users Association. He can be reached at libraryusers2004@yahoo.com. 

Some of his previous Commentaries about Berkeley Public Library’s Measure FF - related plans have appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet since May, 2010, and can be found at tinyurl.com/bplplans-7 (for the most recent), tinyurl.com/bplplans-6, etc. down to tinyurl.com/bplplans-1. Additional excellent Commentaries in the Planet have been written by Steven Finacom, Judith Epstein, Helen Rippier Wheeler, and others.

Berkeley Library's Children: A Junior U.N.

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 08:59:00 PM

When attending Debbie Carton's Wednesday class, "Playreading for Adults" at the Berkeley Public Library, I take an elevator to the Fourth Floor, which happens to be the Children's Room. What a delightful spot that is, with infants and toddlers literally crawling all over the place. The main attraction of that room, adored by the children, is a gaudily decorated space ship, generally with a two or three year-old "astronaut" sitting in the cockpit, aiming the ship for a flight into outer space. 

To the left of the space ship is large area, covered with a blanket, where mothers sit on the floor, reading beautifully illustrated books to their little ones, who listen with rapt a attention. Beyond that, against the wall, is a row of computers -- not Apples or Dell, mind you, but reasonable facsimiles of the real McCoy. To work at these computers, children must be supervised by a parent or adult. It's obvious they could sit there for hours on end. 

In center of this long room are stack after stack of videos and DVD's, estimated by the librarian to be about 3700, with titles that should fascinate young readers. And here I must mention what lovely, adorable children I see, sitting at small tables, playing games, or riding a tricycle. They represent every race and nationality -- Latino, Asian, Hebrew, African American, etc., etc. For this reason I think of the Fourth Floor Children's Room as a Junior United Nations, and I thank our wonderful Berkeley Public Library for introducing the joy of reading to bay area youngsters. 




Dangerous Construction Practices for UC Project in Berkeley

By Robert Lynch
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 04:07:00 PM

I sent to Rudolf and Sletten's (general contractor for a UC Berkeley project) contact email: general_questions@rsconst.com the following message:

Subject: Traffic to and from construction site between Oxford St. and Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

I walk almost every day in Berkeley. The large trucks servicing your UC Berkeley construction site between Oxford St. and Shattuck Ave. Berkeley drive in a most reckless and pedestrian-endangering way. 

For example, they speed down Shattuck Ave. towards the site and at the Hearst intersection they take a right hand turn, playing "chicken" with pedestrians in the marked cross walk legally crossing Hearst with the light. Sooner or later someone is going to blink and there is going to be a serious accident. 

These trucks you run or have hired are being operated in a dangerous manner. You need to get on this situation immediately before someone winds up seriously injured. 


Transit Planning and Unplanning

By Charles Siegel
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:33:00 PM

Doug Buckwald writes (Daily Planet, April 6,2011) that my support for bus rapid transit is not consistent with my opposition to top-down planning in my book Unplanning: Livable Cities and Political Choices. I am glad he has read the book, but I am afraid he does not understand it completely. 

Unplanning includes a history of the American city, which shows that many of its current problems are the result of planning that has occurred since World War II. For example, transportation planners built freeways, and land-use planners zoned to separate land uses, and now we can see that all this planning actually increased automobile dependency. 

Then the book uses a thought experiment that looks at three different political limits on automobile use and on the scale of development, which would all reduce the need for planning. It shows that these different political limits would produce cities that have different ways of life. 

The point of this thought experiment is that decisions about urban form are decisions about how we live, which people should make for themselves. We tend to reduce these decisions to technical problems, which we expect the planners to solve for us. We need to see that they are actually personal and political decisions.  

Buckwald's criticism misses two points that my book makes. 

First, the book says very clearly that we need to make responsible political choices to reduce the need for top-down planning, and I see no sign yet that our society is making those responsible choices. 

Second, the book says that we can reduce the need for top-down planning but not eliminate it entirely, no matter what political choices we make. It explicitly uses transit lines, such as the BRT proposed in Berkeley, as an example to show where planning will always be needed, saying: “Regional planners must lay out transit lines, major arterial roads, and regional parks.” 

Incidentally, the book has had some success. It is being used by a class at the University of Florida. Another professor used it as the main source of information about city planning for a book he wrote about global warming. An article based on it was published on planetizen.com, the leading web site about city planning. 

Let me correct one other point that Buckwald makes, his claim that “anybody who calls another person a NIMBY undoubtedly is one, because - usually due to zoning protections and environmental laws - they will never face development projects in their own neighborhood….” 

I myself live on the edge of downtown Berkeley, near the North Berkeley Senior Center. The Trader Joe’s project is just two short blocks from my house, and I am happy to have a supermarket within such easy walking distance. I supported this project and many other development projects in my neighborhood. 

One of the problems in my backyard is all the cars that are attracted by city meetings at the Senior Center. Doug Buckwald himself cruises on my block to find parking when he goes to commission meetings. I once saw him complaining to the Transportation Commission that he arrived late because he had trouble finding a parking space and had to drive around and around the neighborhood looking for one, berating the commissioners for not make it easier for him to find parking.  

Let me indulge in the fantasy that people will begin bicycling on trips where it is actually easier than driving. Of course, some people cannot bicycle, and many trips are too long for bicycling, but I would guess that about one-quarter of all trips within Berkeley could be made just as easily by bicycle as by car.  

If people biked on these short trips, it would mean far fewer cars in my backyard, as many people would bicycle to commission meetings. Anyone who complains about traffic on neighborhoods should consider taking this step to reduce their own impact on neighborhoods. 

It would make it easier for those people who do have to drive, by reducing traffic congestion and opening up more parking spaces.  

It would reduce the frustration and road rage that people face in their everyday lives. Buckwald’s bike ride to the Senior Center would be particularly pleasant, because it would go right through campus. I myself take this bicycle ride several times a week. 

Most important, automobiles are the number source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and in Berkeley. If people began to bicycle on short, easy trips, rather than demanding more parking to make it easier for them to drive on those trips, it would give me some hope that we could control global warming and leave a livable world to our children and grandchildren. 

Charles Siegel is a Berkeley resident and environmental activist.

Secondary Opinion on the Safeway Project

By Tad Laird.
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 04:05:00 PM

I feel that the commentary written but Mr. Buttrick on the 5th that reduces the Safeway remodeling to a question of “walkability” does a great disservice to the many factors at play in this heavily developed urban neighborhood, and needs another perspective. Since the comparison he draws are between Piedmont, Temescal and College, lets use those locations – even though I think only College has a major grocery store. 

One of the first things we need to acknowledge is that all three neighborhoods are doing better than others due to the accessibility and amount of parking. Piedmont has a very large, city maintained lot, and Temescal has a large parking area developed along with the Temescal Plaza ( a newer development just slightly smaller than that proposed by Safeway, that greatly boosted that area economically ). The section of College surrounding the Safeway at Claremont relies almost entirely on the Safeway parking lot. Once people drive into any of these areas and park, then walkability issues become fairly minor. But if you run the length of College, from Bancroft in Berkeley to Broadway in Oakland, or any other neighborhood commercial district, it is easy to see that those areas with the most parking availability are also the most “vibrant” and diverse. I'd suggest that the “liveliness and vitality” they exhibit (to quote), has a lot more to do with access to and ease of parking than with any other single factor. Imagine what would happen to the local businesses if Safeway restricted their lot to only their customers use while shopping – I think Safeway would see a small drop in business, but all the other businesses on the block would suffer greatly. 

Secondly, we should address accessibility – Piedmont Ave has parallel streets and cross streets providing traffic alternate routes for deliveries and buses, and large apartment buildings providing many local customers. Temescal has parallel corridors as well, but is also at the intersection of Telegraph and 51st, each 4 lanes, plus the intersection of Claremont Aves, another 4 lanes, and a freeway – all providing lots of accessibility. Our Safeway is accessible from Claremont, but Berkeley and Oakland's combined failure to manage traffic flow on College has made it a congested mess with no alternatives – to the point that even AC Transit considers College Ave one of the worst streets to get buses through in their entire system. 

For anyone living within a few blocks, carrying or rolling a couple bags of groceries home weekly can be easily done, although weather can make it awkward. Bus and bike access, which College excels at compared to other locations, become more important the more you buy and the further away you are. But if you live more than a half dozen blocks away, especially east or west, walking to the grocery store year-round becomes almost impossible. If you shop at this Safeway, you would have noticed the large numbers of seniors and students that rely on it, and access it primarily via bus – most of whom don't have the luxury of driving across town to do large shopping trips. It is a lifeline for many in the South Berkeley / North-east Oakland area that are on fixed incomes, or have limited means, which nowadays is many of us. 

What is really on the table now is a more accessible, modern, and convenient grocery store, that could offer greater diversity of product, and one that could greatly reduce the amount of driving many of us would need to do – are doing now - yet whose design could improve the appearance of the area, whole still offering the many surrounding small businesses the two things they need to survive – parking and foot traffic. 

The small shops will exist as long as people support them – but to suggest that the only threat to them are “corporations” “willfully graft(ing) their mega-store visions” is a perverse view of the situation. Just as well-designed infill housing and mixed-use development on urban transit corridors makes environmental and economic sense, the opportunity to intelligently expand and improve resources that a community absolutely relies upon – like groceries – should be greeted with a much more open mind, with more thought about the balance of needs, the diversity of the population, and the awareness of possibilities that can improve lives and environments while acknowledging the inevitability and need for change. 

The Safeway facility on College is outdated, inadequate, inefficient, and an eyesore. While the population, our expectations, and the demands on our time have all increased, our local grocery store, providing our most basic needs, has not. Plus, Safeway simply does not have the skills, talent, or expertise to replace the specialty merchants that co-exist with them, no matter how large they build. Safeway also lacks any vision of how we want our neighborhood to look and feel in the future – they can only rely on their architects, who must work within their restraints – but we, as a community, can provide the bigger vision and suggest greater possibilities - once we acknowledge that Safeway has been and should remain an important part of our neighborhood and our future, and that we want and need to work together for common goals. 

I don't think all of Safeway's ideas are great – but I want to have the best and most affordable grocery I can, and Safeway has generally been pretty good. I think we need to work together and make it better. 


On Mental Illness: There Are No Shortcuts to Recovery (Part 1 of 2)

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:23:00 PM

Recovery for someone with a mental illness has a different definition compared to some other types of recovery. For one thing, a “recovered” mentally ill person is likely to still be taking medication. A “recovered” mentally ill person may still participate in psychotherapy. The things that define that person as recovered, versus not there yet, are partly intangible signs of progress. For example, how easy is it to get along with a recovered mentally ill person, vs. someone less than recovered? How developed are his or her social skills? Does the person have insight into their condition? 

If you say that someone is recovered from cancer, for example, the definition tends to include the physical absence of a tumor. The cancer survivor likely will no longer be taking chemotherapy or radiation. The cells that were responsible for the illness aren’t in the body any longer. Yet, for a recovered mentally ill person, the cell structures responsible for the illness continue to live in that person’s brain. 

Merely being alive and well and not incarcerated after ten years is some evidence that some recovery has taken place. When I look at the population of mentally ill people in this county, many of whom I have met and have become acquainted with, the ones who didn’t “get it” about maintaining their treatment aren’t around any more after ten or twenty years go by. They have either passed away through health problems associated with our lifestyle, or through a misjudged action due to delusions that led to death. Or, they have been put into some type of permanent facility. The few who did get the idea of staying with treatment are still here, and may even have had an occasional relapse, (albeit far fewer relapses than the ones who were unconscious). Often they have become contributing members of society, and they no longer need as much help from the mental health treatment system. 

Part of the definition of recovery for a person with mental illness includes that you have “moved on” from a life dominated by institutionalization. A second, but not final, part of this definition is that you have become a contributing member of society. 

{Being a “contributing member” could include something as simple as working part-time as a cashier at a hot dog place. A cashier provides the public with goods and services that it needs. Or, the individual could be a volunteer at a pet rescue cleaning cages or feeding the animals. Even having a newspaper delivery route makes a person a contributing member of society, as I see it. Making money or not making money at such an activity is irrelevant. The scale of “importance” of what the person does is irrelevant. It is not necessary to pick up and go live on a Greenpeace ship. One does not have to plant vegetable gardens in bad neighborhoods.} 

According to medical science in its current level of development, we do not have a cure for major mental illnesses. The best doctors can do, at this point, is to manage the illnesses so that the patient has some acceptable quality of life. Equally important to many doctors and mental health professionals is that we don’t become a threat to society, or even a nuisance. Based on the above, the definition for what I am calling “recovery” includes, but is not limited to, successfully managing one’s condition, rather than making it go away. 

Mental illnesses have certain things in common with an addiction to a substance. Addicts or alcoholic persons may refer to themselves as “an alcoholic in recovery,” or “an addict in recovery.” It is not usually asserted that “I used to be an addict but I’m over it now.” Just as with mental illnesses, substance addiction never completely goes away; eternal vigilance must be maintained in order to prevent a relapse. And when a mentally ill person or an alcoholic claims that their problem has been cured, it usually ends up being “famous last words.” It tends to be a telltale sign that the person is going into relapse. 

Like with alcoholism or other substance related diseases, a person can go for years in remission, but then a relapse can sneak up on us at any time; and we feel that we are back to square one. In fact, the progress that was made before the relapse doesn’t disappear. However, when a relapse happens, it can take more years to feel as if the problem is well behind us, once again. 

I have gone about fifteen years since my most recent hospitalization due to schizophrenia. Yet I know a relapse is still possible, and I could be back in the hospital next week. 

Finally, I think it is safe to say that the mentally ill person in recovery should be in the process of learning how to socialize and mix among the “mainstream” population in society. The recovered person may still be awkward and may still not know all of the rules of etiquette, but has the social bravery to mix with people in spite of that.

Dispatches From The Edge: Libya & the Law of Unintended Consequences

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:07:00 PM

Coming to grips with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) intervention in the Libyan civil war is a little like wresting a grizzly bear: big, hairy, and likely to make you pretty uncomfortable no matter where you grab a hold of it. Is it a humanitarian endeavor? A grab for oil resources? Or an election ploy by French President Nicolas Sarkozy? 

But regardless of the motivations—and there are many—the decision to attack the regime of Muammar Qaddafi will have global consequences, some of them not exactly what NATO had in mind. For starters, forget a nuclear free Korean peninsula and pressing for wider adherence to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). 

The humanitarian rationale was the one that brought the Arab League and the United Nations on board, although it is not entirely clear that such a crisis existed. Qaddafi’s blood-curdling rhetoric not withstanding, there is no evidence of mass killings of civilians. 

UN Resolution 1973 authorized member states “to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populations under threat of attack,” while also “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form.” But exactly what that meant depended on who was flying the fighter-bombers and launching the cruise missiles. 

The French targeted Qaddafi’s army. The British tried taking out the “Great Leader” with a cruise. The Americans smashed up the Libyan air force, but as to offing Qaddafi, that depended on with whom you talked. President Obama said he wanted him out, his Defense Secretary said that wasn’t the mission, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played coy. 

On one level, Operation Odyssey Dawn was what one military analyst called “the attack of the Keystone Krusaders.” It took a week to figure out who was in charge, and cooperation wasn’t helped when French Interior Minister Claude Gueant called the attack a “crusade.” It is not a word that goes down well in the Middle East. 

But beyond the snafus is whether Odyssey Dawn is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and the UN Charter and what it means for the future. 

According to the Constitution, unless the U.S., “its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” are attacked, only Congress can declare war. The Obama Administration did not consult Congress, nor did it claim Libya had attacked it, thus bypassing both the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Act. 

The UN Charter forbids countries from going to war except in response to an attack by another country. However, in 2005 the UN’s World Summit in New York endorsed a “Responsibility to Protect” (P2P) policy that member states have a responsibility to protect people from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. “P2P” was a response to the 1994 massacre of some 800,000 people in Rwanda. 

“P2P,” however, requires that member states first “seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial arrangement…or other peaceful means of their own choice.” 

But there was no effort to negotiate anything before the French started bombing. So, in strictly legal terms, UN Resolution 1973 is a little shaky. There is no question Qaddafi was killing civilians, but no one has suggested that it reached a level of genocide. One can, however, make a case for crimes against humanity. The problem is that you can make the same case against Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008-09, as well as the current crackdown against democracy advocates in Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, not to mention the 2009 massacre of some 20,000 Tamils in the last weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war. 

“The contradictions between principle and national interest,” says Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, “have enabled the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, ostensibly to protect innocent civilians from slaughter, but to watch seemingly helplessly [in Ivory Coast] as…men, women and children are slaughtered in equally, even if less egregious, violence.” 

There is no question that some supported the intervention for genuinely humanitarian reasons. A brutal thug like Qaddafi is certainly capable of killing a lot of people. 

But there were lots of irons in this fire. 

“Sarkozy likes nothing better than a crisis, a fight and a gamble,” says Financial Times columnist Peggy Hollinger. “With his approval ratings at an all-time low, this [Libyan intervention] could be just what he needs to revive his faltering popularity at home.” However, in spite of France’s leading role in the attack, the President’s party took a shellacking in the Mar. 28 local elections. 

For the U.S., Odyssey Dawn was a coming out party for America’s newest military formation, African Command (Africom). It is no accident that, at the very moment that African oil reserves are becoming a major source for the United States, Washington should create a military formation for the continent. By 2013, African oil production is projected to rise to 11 million barrels of oil a day, and to 14.5 million by 2018. Gulf of Guinea oil will make up more than 25 percent of U.S. imports by 2015. 

Is the intervention then over oil? Control of energy resources is always central to U.S. strategy, and, with world reserves declining, the scramble to hold the petroleum high ground is always part of the agenda. Right now Washington is in a resource competition with China, and while the U.S. does not use Libyan oil, its NATO allies do.  

A major reason the Obama administration is tolerant of Bahrain’s monarchy is because the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based there, controling the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, areas that hold the bulk of the world’s oil reserves. 

China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner, and accounts for 73 percent of the continent’s oil exports, with the bulk of their purchases from Sudan and Angola. Between Africom and the Fifth Fleet, the U.S. has its thumb on five out of China’s six main petroleum suppliers: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Sudan, and Angola. 

War always has consequences, although not all of them are initially obvious. In war, as Carl von Clausewitz noted, the only thing you can determine is who fires the first shot. After that it’s all fog and plans gone awry. 

But some consequences are clear. An unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry official told Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency that “The Libyan crisis” was “teaching the international community a grave lesson…the truth that one should have power to defend peace.” 

The official went on to suggest that the West had duped Libya into disarming its nuclear program in 2003 and then attacked it when it could no longer defend itself. 

North Korea may be erratic, but there are many other quite sober countries that might draw similar conclusions. While most countries of the world adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear powers—three of whom are currently bombing Libya—have yet to fulfill their obligations under Article VI to eliminate their arsenals and begin negotiations on general disarmament. 

Until that happens, the temptation will be to obtain something that will level the playing field, particularly when some countries are so quick to resort to military power. 

That is a world that will be infinitely more dangerous than the one in which we currently live. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

The Public Eye: 2011 Budget Battle: Obama Wins While Democrats Lose

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:18:00 PM

Although both sides claimed victory after agreeing on a 2011 Federal budget minutes before the April 8th deadline, it was a smashing win for Republicans and a huge loss for Democrats. But even while his party went down in flames, President Barack Obama managed to dance away from defeat. 

The winners were 800,000 Federal workers who had been notified not to report to work if the President and House Republicans failed to resolve their fiscal differences. Not adding these workers to the 23 million un- and under-employed was a plus for the feeble US economic recovery and for public confidence. 

Nonetheless, the biggest winner in the 2011 Budget Dispute was Speaker of the House John Boehner. In his first real test, Boehner held together a fractious Republican caucus and negotiated a budget deal $7 Billon above the $31B he originally proposed. 

Boehner used a variation of the “good cop, bad cop” negotiating tactic, playing good cop: I’ll try to do my best with my caucus but you have to understand that some of the new Tea-Party folks refuse to compromise. They promised their constituents $61 Billion in cuts and they’re determined to shut down Washington if they don’t get their way. The Speaker claimed he could not accept any proposal that could not pass the House with only Republican support. Thus, Boehner didn’t have to have all the Tea-Party votes – Republicans have 242 Congressional seats and needed only 218 to pass the budget – and House Dems had no roll to play in the negotiations – they have 193 Congressional seats. 

Boehner’s most effective tactic was to attach social-policy riders to the proposed 2011 budget, additional demands that had nothing to do with fiscal issues, but pertained to hot-button conservative topics such as funding EPA and Planned Parenthood. This fit into his good-cop, bad-cop routine: I’d like to negotiate only on fiscal issues but the Tea-Party Representatives insist that I attach these riders. There never was any chance of getting a budget approved with these riders – even if they had passed the Senate, President Obama would have vetoed them – but they served as a stalking-horse for deeper cuts. Boehner got $7 Billion more than he originally proposed by adopting the attitude: the only way my caucus will withdraw the riders is if we make additional cuts. 

The only Democrat to emerge from the budget negotiation with positive marks was President Obama who earned them for appearing Presidential, “the only adult in the room.” Obama stayed above the fray and even took partial credit for the outcome, declaring it, "the biggest annual spending cut in history." 

Recent polls have indicated Washington politicians are unpopular, in general, and only President Obama’s rating is positive. However, the President’s support among Independent voters has slipped and he needs this bloc to garner a second term. Obama’s stance in the 2011 Budget Crisis is likely to bolster his standing among Independents who didn’t want the government to be shut down and dislike the bickering between the two Parties. 

Democrats were the big losers in the 2011 budget negotiations. House Democrats were frozen out so it fell to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to carry the Democratic position. (Not to President Obama who took the role of mediator rather than Party leader.) From the onset of the negotiations, Democrats lost control of the message. Reid never questioned whether there should be draconian cuts to government but instead wondered how big they should be. (The $38 Billion in cuts include vital programs; for example, Job Training Programs -$2B, EPA – $1.6B, Community Health Centers -$1.3B, Office of Science -$1.1B, National Institutes of Health -$1B, High Speed Rail -$1B and these are only those cuts above $1 Billion that we know about.) At the end, the Senate Majority Leader took the weak stance: Democrats agreed to enormous program cuts but managed to save the EPA and Planned Parenthood. 

The Democratic message should have been: There is not a crisis; the US is not going broke. What’s required is a commonsense tax system where corporations and the rich pay their fair share. Rather than point out that the tax cuts for the rich passed in December amounted to $150B and rescinding them would have solved the supposed fiscal problem the Democratic “message” became: How can we minimize the damage? 

The 2011 budget showdown was the first of a series of financial battles between Democrats and Republicans; the next will be over the US debt limit that must be raised before May 16. Given the weak performance of the President and Democrats so far, Liberals should fear the worst is yet to come. Republicans will demand draconian cuts – try to defund Health Care reform and gut Medicare and Medicaid – in return for raising the debt limit. 

Will Democrats find their voice? Will Obama lead or will he be content to stand on the sidelines and enhance his “appeal” to Independent voters? Stay tuned. 

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

Eclectic Rant: Kagame's Rwanda: Myth and Reality

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:01:00 PM

On April 7, 2010, President Barack Obama marked the 17th anniversary of the "unimaginable slaughter" of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, saying it reminded the world of its duties to civilians in places like Libya. President Obama made no effort to dispel the myth used by Rwanda President Paul Kagame about the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the role played by the U.S. leading up to the genocide. 

I used the word "myth" to describe the 1994 genocide. Yes, the 1994 Genocide was horrible, but it was just one episode in a long history of violence in that part of the world. The U.S. and Kagame keep focusing on the 1994 Genocide, but neglect to put it in context. If they did, their complicity in the genocide would be revealed. For a version of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide closer to the truth, I recommend the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, dated December 15, 1999.  

What actually happened in Rwanda? Kagame was trained at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas. Major-General Kagame returned from Leavenworth to lead the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) shortly after the October 1990 invasion of Rwanda by Ugandan forces. This has been misrepresented as a "civil war" or "war of liberation" by a Tutsi-led guerilla army. 

The so-called civil war was in reality a brutal struggle for political power between the Hutu-led coalition government of Juvénal Habyarimana supported by France and the RPF-backed Tutsi forces backed financially and militarily by the United States. The Hutu-Tutsi rivalry was used deliberately in the pursuit of U.S. strategic and geopolitical objectives by establishing a U.S. sphere of influence in Central Africa, a region historically dominated by France and Belgium. What was at stake? The region's vast geostrategic mineral wealth, i.e., cobalt, oil, natural gas, copper, uranium, tin, coltan, cassiterite, gold, and diamonds, 

In April 1994, according to French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and many others, the RPF shot down the plane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, which was the catalyst for the Genocide. 

By July 1994, the RPF completed its coup d’etat and consolidated its power in Rwanda. 

Kagame's government has maintained political power and manipulated public sympathy by promoting a highly politicized ideology of the 1994 genocide. Anyone who challenges the official story is branded a "genocide negationist," a "genocide revisionist," or "killers of remembrance" by the Kagame regime. Even the Genocide Memorial Centre, which my wife and I visited in 2004, promotes his version of the genocide. As I remember, there was a banner or sign with Rwanda's motto: "never again." 

In September 2010, a draft report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was leaked. The leaked OHCHR Report caused outrage in Rwanda after it was revealed that the UN intended to accuse Rwandan troops of having killed and raped Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then known as Zaire, between 1993 and 2003. According to the draft leaked Report, the Hutu militia along with Hutu civilians fled across the border into the DRC. Rwanda, aided by Congolese rebel forces, pursued them. These combined forces systematically massacred hundreds of thousands of Rwandan and Congolese Hutus, the majority of which were children, women, and the elderly. According to the leaked OHCHR report, it could be said that a second genocide occurred. 

This makes a mockery of Rwanda's "never again" motto. 

Rwanda threatened to pull its 3,000 plus UN peacekeeping troops out of the Sudanese region of Darfur if the draft report were endorsed for publication. Uganda made a similar threat. 

In October 2010, the official report entitled Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003: Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, dated August 2010 (www.ohchr.org countriesdrc_mapping_report_final_en.pdf) was released. But rather than categorically state that genocide had been carried out by those armies, groups and governments, including Rwanda, the official OHCHR Report inserts the words "allegedly," "possibly" or "apparently" into the final version of descriptions of violations. These amendments could be linked to claims by Rwanda and others mentioned in the Report that the OHCHR Report was based on unsubstantiated documentation and testimony. Did the UN caved in to pressure from Rwanda and other countries named in the OHCHR Report?(/www.ohchr.org) 

The U.S. should endorse Amnesty International's request that the UN create a structure in which the cases can be heard and trials conducted. In addition, the U.S. should reexamine its relationship with the Kagame, well on his way to becoming another president-for- life. 

Wild Neighbors: Serpents for Your Garden

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 08:56:00 PM
Sharp-tailed snake: a diet of slugs.
Steve Ryan (via Wikimedia Commons)
Sharp-tailed snake: a diet of slugs.

You have to admire a gardener who is proud of his snakes. 

The gardener in question is Al Kyte, a flycasting maven who has assembled a splendid collection of native California trees and shrubs on his Moraga property. The snakes are sharp-tailed snakes (Contia tenuis), shy and elusive reptiles that live under things; one has taken up residence in the roots of a dying apple tree in Kyte’s back yard. He appreciates them because they eat slugs. Maybe snails, although that’s an unsettled question; definitely slugs. 

I’ll admit that I’ve never seen a sharp-tailed snake, dead or alive. 

According to Robert Stebbins’ Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, they’re 12 to 18 inches long, with reddish backs and black crossbands on the belly. The tip of the tail has a sharp spine whose function no one seems to have figured out. It may be an anti-predator defense, or an aid in burrowing. The mud snake of the Southeast has a similar structure which is believed by the more credulous to be a lethal sting, but no such folklore has attached itself to the sharptail. The sharptail’s evolutionary affinities are unclear, although recent genetic studies suggest a relationship to the ring-necked snake and (more distantly) the water snakes. 

Contia honors the geologist Joseph LeConte (as in LeConte Hall), a founding member of UC Berkeley’s faculty. Lecontia was preempted by a genus of beetle. How LeConte felt about all this is unknown. The snake was described in 1852, and it was only a hundred years later that herpetologists figured out how it made a living. Someone named Stickle noticed that the sharptail had uncommonly long teeth, and Richard Zweifel of UC’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology suggested that was an adaptation for a diet of slugs. 

The stomach contents of dissected snakes have consisted solely of slugs. There is circumstantial evidence for the consumption of a slender salamander by a captive snake, but this has never been documented in nature. Some have speculated that the teeth would be equally suited for deshelling snails; again, this remains speculative. 

Better yet, sharp-tailed snakes seem to prefer invasive European slugs of the genus Arion, widespread garden pests. A native banana slug would be way too large for them. Experimental confirmation for the slug diet comes from Robert Weaver and Kenneth Kardong at Washington State University, who exposed captive sharptails to the smells of slugs, earthworms, distilled water, and Aqua Velva and counted the tongue-flicks elicited by each stimulus. Eau de slug was the clear favorite. (It’s hard to imagine what Aqua Velva would do to a snake’s olfactory system.) 

Much of this snake’s behavior remains obscure. Females lay eggs; a gravid female collected by Stebbins in Butte County produced a clutch of five. It looks as though no one has caught them at this in the wild. They can be oddly social: aggregations of up to forty have been documented, the largest discovered by a Joseph Colaci in a back yard and adjacent vacant lots in midtown Castro Valley in the 1950s. 

Their seasonal cycle appears keyed to rainfall. In California, sharptails become more active in March and April. They like damp conditions and are active at a lower temperature range (50 to 63 F) than most snakes. Stebbins has suggested that, as snakes go, sharptails have a salamander-like lifestyle. 

As recently as 2003, when the third edition of Stebbins’ field guide came out, all sharp-tailed snake populations were thought to belong to a single species. Then Chris Feldman and Richard Hoyer at the University of Nevada, Reno found divergent morphological and genetic patterns in coastal specimens. Their description of the new species Contia longicaudae was published last year. 

Longicaudae seems restricted to forested areas that experience a coastal effect, whiletenuis is more of an interior grassland and chaparral resident. Both species occur in the Bay Area: longicaudae in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, tenuis in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara. You can see photos of both at the California Herps site (www.californiaherps.com/snakes/snakes.) 

Unfortunately for those of us who are committed to integrative pest management, sharp-tailed snakes are not yet available at your local garden supply store. If one turns up in your yard, consider it a gift.

The Public Eye: Libya: in America’s National Interest?

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 08, 2011 - 09:56:00 AM

On March 28, President Obama defended his decision to deploy US air power In Libya. After Libyan despot Moammar Gaddafi attacked his own people, Obama decided that protection of Libyan civilians was in America’s “national interest.” But it’s not obvious that it is. 


Polls indicate the public is divided on Libya. Unlike most contemporary political issues, support for or disapproval of the President’s action does not split cleanly along Party lines. US intervention has been debated on four separate grounds: some say Obama didn’t have the legal authority to launch the attack; others grumble that US involvement doesn’t have a clear time line; and many worry that the global political implications are murky, at best. For me, the most troublesome aspect of the action is it’s uncertain price tag. 


Since the end of World War II, every American President has initiated at least one military action without the explicit consent of Congress. On September 14, 2001, Congress gave President Bush authorization to launch his open-ended “War” on Terror; in March of 2003 it expanded from Afghanistan to Iraq. President Obama first obtained support of the UN (Security Council Resolution 1973) and then “after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress” authorized military action in Libya. Certainly the US mission in Libya has more definite boundaries than did the invasion of Iraq. According to President Obama, our involvement meets three specific criteria: we are protecting Libyan civilians from violence on a horrific scale: the US has a strategic interest in Libya ensuring that the violence there does not disrupt nearby fledgling Arab democracies: and we’ve form a coalition with the United Nations so that in a short period we could hand over leadership to others. 


Nonetheless, as was the case with US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s not a clear timeline for our intervention in Libya. 


Moreover, despite the President’s assurances, the global political implications of the US Libya invasion are opaque. Obama acted to protect fledgling democracies in the Arab world (and to protect Libyan civilians) but it’s not clear what this doctrine implies with regards to other troubled states. For example, Burma (Myanmar) has one of the most repressive governments in the world and an incipient pro-Democracy group led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Millions of civilians have been displaced, brutalized, or killed, while Burma’s neighbors are all struggling to become more democratic. It’s reasonable to ask why hasn’t the US formed an international coalition to topple the Burmese dictators? 


For me, the most vexing concern is the cost of our involvement in Libya.  


During my time in the Silicon Valley I learned that’s it’s never sufficient to have a technically superior product. To be a success a product has to be readily available, have good support, and carry a reasonable price tag. The US Military has a technically superior “product;” one that’s readily available throughout the world and has good “support.” (Indications are that the Libyan intervention was supported in the Arab world.) But does American military intervention justify the cost to US taxpayers? 


In his March 28th speech, President Obama was silent on this point. However, experts agree that each day of military involvement in Libya costs the US millions. (Estimates differ but one source says $100 million per day.) 


After 9/11 no one questioned the cost of the War on Terror. The US had been attacked and we were determined to bring the perpetrators to justice no matter what the cost. (According to a September 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service “Congress has approved a total of $1.121 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.”) However Libya didn’t attack us and these are different times. 


When the US economy was booming and Americans were hopeful about the future, the public might have been willing to entertain a discretionary war with an uncertain time limit and cost. That’s not true in 2011. Americans are worried about the economy, the future, and the US deficit. That makes it all the more important for the President to make clear what the Libya intervention is going to cost and how we are going to pay for it. 


I commend Obama’s humanitarian inclinations. I’d be willing to support the President if he had said something like I’m going to ask Congress to levy a tax on millionaires to pay for the Libya intervention or We’re going to offset the cost of the incursion by eliminating the following weapons’ programs but he hasn’t said anything about where the money is going to come from. Until President Obama stops assuming the US military has a blank check, I’m not going to support the intervention in Libya or any further adventures “in the national interest.” 


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

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). http://www.npr.org 

"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. http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories 

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 eastbayowl@gmail.com) 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, www.compassionandchoices.org. 


Wednesday, April 13, noon, free admission. Faure Requiem. University Chorus, Marika Kuzma, director. Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley 510.642.4864 concerts@berkeley.edu 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 cherries@agesong.com 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 pen136@dslextreme.com.Please, no email attachments or phone calls. 


Arts & Events

The Lowdown on Ira Marlowe:
The Love Child of Tom Waits and Tom Lehrer

By Gar Smith
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:27:00 AM
Ira Marlowe
Ira Marlowe

Forgive me for being behind the curve, but I’ve just discovered an incandescent klieg light buried in the Bay Area’s sub-cultural bushes. For anyone who hasn’t yet heard about Ira Marlowe, listen up. (The best way to do that, by the way, is to tap into his Website — http://www.iramarlowe.com/MUSIC.html — for some samples or, even better, show up at one of his next two local gigs — the first is coming up this Saturday in Berkeley. See below for details). 

Marlowe writes amusing, educational Brainy Tunes for kids and he also pens wondrous stuff that appeals to adult gray matter — including a host of boisterous ballads that are socio-politically provocative and/or laugh-out-loud hilarious. 

Critics have had a field day trying to describe his work. He’s been compared to Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, Phil Ochs, Tom Leherer and Allan Sherman. Marlowe and his Bodacious Band have performed at Slims, The Fillmore, the Great American Music Hall and Marlowe has released a half-dozen CDs, including “Save the Day,” “The Doubter’s Bible,” “The Nashville Delusion,” and “Songs from the House of Wax.” 

I stumbled across Marlowe’s work while collecting protest videos from the streets of Cairo, Sanaa, Aden and Teheran. Marlowe had written a song in honor of WikiLeaks called “Secrets,” which he turned it into a powerful video that’s been piling up the hits on YouTube. Check it out (and see the content footnote at the end of this review). 

Music critic Michael Laskow has called Marlowe “One of the three or four best lyricists on the planet.” 

Last October, the Chronicle praised Marlowe as “Oakland’s sweet little secret” and predicted: “There will soon be a time when he completely blows up, Tom Waits-style and you can say you saw him when.” 



Art House Gallery 

2905 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 


Appearing with bandmates Michael Olaf, Roger Linn and Adam Lowdermilk. 

7:30 PM $10 



Angelica’s Bistro 

863 Main Street, Redwood City 

(650) 365-3226 

Dinner Show 6 -8 PM 

$6 advance w/ reservation 


Marlowe’s song, “Secrets” manages to pay powerful homage to more than 40 individuals believed to have died at the hands of political assassins: Namir Noor-Eldeen, Reuters photographer killed 7/12/07), Mohandas K Gandhi (Indian independence leader), Robert F. Kennedy (US Senator (D-NY), Martin Luther King, Jr. (American civil rights leader), Benazir Bhutto (former Prime Minister of Pakistan), Anwar Sadat (President of Egypt), Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister of Israel), Medgar Evers (American civil rights activist), John Lennon (British musician and activist), John Brown (American abolitionist), Paolo Borsellino (Italian anti-mafia judge), Veronica Guerin (Irish journalist), Stephen Biko (South African anti-aparthieid leader), Dorothy Stang (American nun, killed by Brazilian business interests), Alexander Litvinenko (Russian critic of Vladimir Putin), Indira Gandhi (Indian prime minister), Jacques Roche (Haitian journalist), Olof Palme (Swedish prime minister), Karen Slikwood (American whistle-blower), Abraham Lincoln (American president), Paul Wellstone (US Senator (D-MN), Dian Fossey (primatologist and animal-rights activist), Chico Mendes (Brazilian environmental activist), Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazilian, UN Special Representative in Iraq), Natalia Estemirova (Russian human rights activist), John Granville (Diplomat, US Agency for International Development), Georgiy Gongadze (Ukrainian journalist), Benigno Aquino, Jr. (Philippine opposition leader), Elijah P. Lovejoy (abolitionist and journalist), Anna Lindh (Swedish foreign affairs minister), Wen Yiduo (Chinese poet and scholar), Dele Giwa (Nigerian journalist), Petra Kelly (German Green Party Leader, Yuri Shchekochikhin (Russian journalist), Lasantha Wickrematunge (Sri Lankan journalist), Kalogiannis, Konca KuriÅŸ (Turkish Islamic feminist), Vladimir Herzog (Brazillian journalist), Munir Said Thalib (Indonesian human rights and anti-corruption activist), Grigoris Lambrakis (leader of anti-fascist movement in Greece), Salman Taseer (Pakistani governor, opposed anti-blasphemy laws). 


Eye from the Aisle: VIDEO REVIEW--If you’re looking for a video or three…

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:56:00 PM

A month or so ago, I got my cable pulled (by my own hand), and, boy, was it painful!

So my methadone was Netflix with which I can “stream” lots of movies onto my computer and/or my 50” beautiful boob-tube. And they gave me a month for free, thereafter about $10, so I’m saving about $100 a month off Comcast, and it gives me a lot more time to download my brain into reviews like these. (I went to Best Buy and dropped about $189 on a Blu-Ray DVD player with built in Netflix and Hulu capability; if you haven’t seen a Blu-Ray video, then you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.)

So here are two films and a series that are my picks for this month: 

If you like French films, then I recommend a very American movie--CHLOE 

It stays with you for days, and furnishes lots of discussion about motivations and character. 

It has very sexually bold homoerotic scenes between Julianne Moore, the queen of cinematic exposure, and, ironically cast, blonde young Amanda Seyfried. The casting is ironic because we originally know Ms. Seyfried from “Big Love” where she played a Mormon teenager in a polygamous family. I call Ms. Moore the queen of exposure since her memorable debut was in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” with a scene with Matthew Modine where she appears naked from the waist down and puts to rest any speculation about her being a true redhead; then there was “Boogie Nights” with Mark Wahlberg in which she played a porn star. 

This time Julianne is a doctor with concerns about the fidelity of her very sexy music professor husband Liam Neeson, and hires Amanda Seyfried’s call-girl character to test it.  

It is written by Erin Cressida Wilson, an excellent theatrical playwright, screenwriter, and professor at UC Santa Barbara, whose work attracts the cream of American actors. She wrote “Fur: an Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., and “Secretary” with Maggie Gyllenhall and James Spader. Her work is intriguing, surprising, startling, kinky, and very rich. 

CHLOE is directed by the king of the American noir sex drama’s Atom Egoyan (“Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter”). It is set in Toronto, mostly in the family’s very modern home, painted red with many see-through walls, making it rife for symbolic/semiotic speculation. 

It is the sort of movie with the kind of quality and depth that usually has subtitles attached.  


I’ve spent far too much time pondering about death in my life. Growing up Catholic and an only child will do that to you. I lost my father five years ago with whom I was very close and very attached, and that’s only amplified my thanatopic contemplation. 

So when I tripped over DEAD LIKE ME which was a series on Showtime in ’03 and ’04, I was wary of watching until I saw that Mandy Patinkin was in it, and, hell, I used to watch crappy “Criminal Minds” just to see him

It’s a brilliantly imaginative premise: a morose, 18 year old college drop-out is harangued by her neurotic, witty, anal, pushy mom into getting a job. On her first temp assignment, out of the blue comes a piece of jetsam from the disintegrating Mir Russian space station—specifically a toilet seat—which lands in mid-town Vancouver and incinerates her. Just before she gets vaporized, a stranger strokes her arm on the street, at which she recoils; he smiles, and she hurries on to her fate. A moment after her calamity, she is standing to the side surveying her own cataclysmic demise with Mandy Patinkin beside her, assuring her that yes, she’s dead. When she inquires about the afterlife, he says that while there definitely is one waiting—but about which he knows little—she has been selected for extraordinary duty as a “reaper.” “As in grim?” she inquires. He explains that their mission, whether or not she chooses to accept it, is to remove the soul from the body before death to spare the doomed the agony of facing death alone and painfully. 

Every morning, the squad of reapers meets at the local breakfast diner for their assignments distributed on post-its with the name, place and time of death, and they better be there or face the consequences. 

It is a character-driven serio-comedy with four extraordinary if little known actors and Mr. Patinkin: Jasmine Guy an ex-dancer who is now a meter maid, Laura Harris who was a promiscuous starlet in the 30’s, ex-‘60s rocker/druggie Callum Blue, and our heroine Ellen Muth, the “toilet-seat girl” as she is known in the afterlife. It deals with a plethora of existential conundrums, and this imagining of the “other side” imparts a little fantastical hope for us non-believers who will admit to now seeing through the glass darkly.  

The hour-fifteen minute pilot was extraordinary, but the next two installments did not live up to its promise. Seems there was consternation with the show’s creator Bryan Fuller who left the series early. The next 11 episodes in season one did live up to expectations and just kept getting better; season two’s 14 episodes were even better than season one. Each episode is between 39-51 minutes, it’s like reading a novel in a month if you watch one per day, but my guess is you’ll end up cocooning for the weekend and devouring them (and Chinese take-out or pizza). They neatly wrap it up at the end of season two, so there is no playing it till it is dead and starting to stink like so many other series. 

Not to be confused with “Dead Like Me, the 2009 movie” that brought back many of the cast, but not Mandy and was a real stinker, from which, as your consumer advocate, I warn you away. 

And while we’re on the afterlife… 

If you are attracted to “Dead Like Me,” and want More of the Same speculation, there is the very good and hopeful drama HEREAFTER directed by American master Clint Eastwood with an international cast of Matt Damon, Belgian actress Cecile de France (who won “most promising actress 2002” at the Cesar Awards which are France’s Oscars), and two 12-year-old Cockney twins Frankie and George McClaren. Matt Damon is a psychic—the real McCoy—a condition which was brought on by a childhood illness, but has quit giving readings because he wants a normal life, and now works in a factory. Ms. De France’s character is a popular French newscaster who is in Indonesia when the tsunami hits and has a near-death experience. Set in Paris, San Francisco, and London, the backdrops are engaging, the script entertaining and suspenseful, and the message one of hope everlasting without straining disbelief. 

Maybe this genre is picking up the slack for the non-religious without being dogmatic, sort of the way I understand the Jews and Greeks saw the afterlife: pretty much think there is one, and if there is one we only maybe have a little intuitive glimpse of it, but hope never dies. Believing in something you don’t have any evidence for contradicts a lot of our epistemological and normative ethical systems (sorry, former philosophy major here)—that is, how we decide what we believe and our moral code. And in a nation where 60% don’t believe in the established fact—not a theory, I repeat not a theory—of evolution, it is a sort of heresy and betrayal to hold out any hope that there might a “spaghetti monster” as noted evolutionary biologist and notoriously outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins calls God. But hell, hope dies hard. I had a couple of experiences. Have you? Makes you think. Good to talk about intimately with close friends.  

Anyway—it’s an enjoyable film that won’t give you nightmares or keep you up like all the tragedies, psychological thrillers and shoot-‘em-ups tend to.

Eye From the Aisle: Two birds, one stone—Mockingbird at Center Rep, Nightingale at Aurora

By John A. McMullen II
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 12:41:00 PM
Michael Ray Wisely, James Hiser
Michael Ray Wisely, James Hiser
Beth Wilmurt, Amy Crumpacker, Charles Dean
David Allen
Beth Wilmurt, Amy Crumpacker, Charles Dean

Sometimes a reviewer gets a break and in the same week goes to see two plays with avian titles so that he can quip a little in his headline; but these plays have more similarities than just the title subjects. 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at Walnut Creek’s Center Rep has first-act problems but an exciting second act; Eccentricities of a Nightingale at Aurora Theater likewise fails to deliver the empathy and tension required for the genre. 

When selecting a production that features child characters that are burnished into our collective literary and cinematic memory like Scout, Jem, and Dill from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD--the kids better be exceptional—or else pick another play. This is not to criticize child actors—these three are all articulate and present and audible—but rather to fault their tutors and producers. They speak in those bland and happy expressions that exc lude character and emotion and only happen on the stage or in 1940’s movies. Real children’s moods turn on a dime, by turns sullen and manic, nasty and cute, as ever-mercurial little people. When Scout and Atticus talk together, they have real rapport; Hunter Milano as Dill has a moment of despair when faced with injustice. Outside of that, it’s kind of the “Golly, gee, gosh” school of acting. This is not criticism to discourage young talent, but written as your consumer advocate, since tickets are $40. 

There is a lack of dramatic tension in the playing of the first act, even though the elements are a “malevolent phantom” who never leaves his scary house in daylight, a mad dog loose on the street, a heinous sex crime, and facing down a lynch mob. These are edge-of-the-seat propositions. In Director Michael Butler’s hands, they play like a community theatre version of “Our Town.” It is as if the conflict were trying to be downplayed, which is the opposite of drama. The adaptation by Christopher Sergel is playable, and preserves the essential story and integrates the important characters. 

Olive Lowe as young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch speaks spritely and quickly with a believable if muted Southern dialect. Thirty years later, our narrator (Suzanne Irving)—who is Scout as an adult—speaks with a drawl like molasses—Southern comfort-sweet and twice as slow; this “playing the accent” is an obstacle to putting emotion and intention into the phrasing, though it might make the exposition clearer for elderly onlookers. Allison L. Payne as Calpurnia, their housekeeper, has a robust frame and chastises with a soft-heart, and thus does not capture the bony truculence and the martinet presence that oppresses Jean Louise in Harper Lee’s novel. 

Dan Hiatt, a recognized Bay Area talent, plays Atticus Finch as mild-mannered and older than the character’s reputed 50 years, and goes light on the moral ambiguity Miss Lee imparts to him or the dignitas authority of Gregory Peck for which he won an Oscar. Director Butler revealed in a recent interview that he thought Peck miscast. 

When Hiatt lifts the rifle in the hot afternoon, it is without the image-changing dramatic moment that we all anticipate. His love and care for the children has no counterpoint; he is all-good, all-knowing, and thereby, not very interesting. He mentions his indecision about integration in passing, but then so did Lincoln. Hiatt’s courtroom cross-examination is convincing and tense, and in that extended scene he shines. 

The Atticus character has been a judicial avatar: Stephen Lubet in the Michigan Law Review opines, 

"No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession,” before he questioned whether Atticus Finch “is a paragon of honor or an especially slick hired gun.” Lubet also points out that Finch attacks the assaulted woman to discredit her—which plays great when she’s falsely accusing her attacker—but a tactic at which progressive-minded people would ordinarily recoil. 

Melpomene Katakolos’ set design is weathered porches on a bare, raked set of planks curling into an upstage fence, which sets a bleak Alabama background and tends to reflect the black and white movie version —no steamy, green landscape of a small town Southern summer here. Kurt Landisman’s changing sky diorama is creative, but the lights in the first act are at low level and tend to lull, which is obvious when it brightens on the courtroom scene and wakes us up. 

In the second act, the adults are in play with some exceptional character actors who bring the courtroom drama of an inter-racial rape trial roaring to life. Tom Flynn is a delight as the Judge who proceeds gingerly with the foregone injustice but keeps a strict hand on his courtroom. The District Attorney is played by Michael Ray Wisely who looks like a cracker prosecutor—with his nasty good looks, he should be in the movies. 

Burly James Hiser and lithe Lina Makdisi both give deliciously over-the-top performances as an incestuous father-daughter duet that embodies po’ white trash and Klan-ish evil in the Jim Crow South of 1935. Bald, bullying Hiser in the Bob Ewell character is impudent to all, including the Judge—which could strain credulity unless you had the dubious fortune to grow up in Appalachia knowing his kind, kith and kin. 

Joseph Ingram as the sacrificial Black sheep is the very image of the frightened, well-intentioned defendant, back in the day where Black Folk stepped off the sidewalk to let White Folk pass by. Dorian Lockett has a powerful cameo as the Black Preacher, and versatile actor Henry Perkins saves the day if not the play with his last minute appearance as Boo. Stage combat choreography of Award-winner Dave Maier slips in this outing: even the children’s tag seems staged and the final combat is danced rather than frighteningly fought. 

In all, it’s worth seeing just to remember the book, but I’d buy my ticket at a Gold Star discount. 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at Center Rep, Lesher Center for the Arts ,Walnut Creek through April 30 http://centerrep.org/

Also set deep in Dixie with a feathery title is Aurora Theatre’s ECCENTRICIES OF A NIGHTINGALE in Berkeley. You may recognize it more readily as “Summer and Smoke” by Thomas Lanier Williams III, who you may recognize more readily as “Tennessee.” Geraldine Page and Jose Quintero reputedly began the Off-Broadway movement with this production. ECCENTRICITIES is an improved re-working of the original script. 

Like Mockingbird, this play was made into a film in the 60’s, with Page playing the main character of the preacher’s daughter Alma Winemiller in one of those atmospheric Williams’ treatments of the time, opposite exceedingly handsome, sexually-ambiguous Laurence Harvey. 

If a company is unearthing a minor 50-year old play of a major playwright, they’d better bring some fireworks to the production. Outside of the very good Fourth of July pyrotechnic lighting by Jim Cave, there are only three flashes of brilliance here. The first is an object lesson in how to play a Williams’ diva given by Amy Crumpacker who plays Alma’s deranged mother. She makes us see the images of a horrendous happening in a “Musee mecanique” (Remember the one at the Cliff House? It moved to Pier 45!). She makes palpable the soul-less symbolism of the mechanized puppets. She does this while making us fear for her sanity. If only daughter were more like mother, we might be more engaged and fear for our heroine’s soul and her sanity, and her arc would have so much more meaning. The second highlight is a loud, brash, and entertaining cameo of an overbearing widow by sexy songstress Leanne Borghesi in a straight and dowdy role. The final scene is the third, which parallels the scandalous tales the traveling salesman told Stanley about Blanche in “Streetcar” and gives us a shot of Mississippi back-alley sex. 

Beth Wilmurt is a terrific actress who knocked me out in “God’s Ear” as the neurotic, abandoned wife. 

Under the direction of Tom Ross, she delivers a modern, articulate, woman rather than a fragile, older virgin with hysterical tendencies in the Mississippi Delta circa 1910. Tennessee describes Alma, our heroine, with words he puts in the mouths of other characters: affected, lyric soprano, dramatic, talking wildly, laughing hysterically, with arms flying about. Ms. Wilmurt’s Alma is none of these, and does none of these. There is nothing bi-polar or neurotic in her demeanor that sets up the high drama or the tragic resolution. Her accent maintains the final “r” but drops the final “g” in “-ing” words; this seems the opposite of a conservatory-trained music teacher/minister’s daughter’s way of speaking in that time and place. She speaks with machine-gun cadence, which may have been mistaken for instability in that age and place, but her performance seems far too grounded for the role. Even her defloration is played as just another occurrence in her life without the assumed accompanying angst; although the young Williams’ sometimes-puerile symbolism pops up in this scene when their passion sparks and sputters in time with the log fire. 

It seems that Tennessee’s story is always infused into that of both male and female in his plays; he was reared by his Episcopal minister grandfather and his over-protective Southern Belle Grandmother (good program notes by M. Mansfield http://auroratheatre.org/show_notes.php?prod_id=76#29). All of Williams’ plays are about our dark ids and sexual repression and abuse, and a first version of this play was first presented the same year he received the Pulitzer for “Streetcar.” 

Charles Dean as Alma’s censorious and oppressive minister father delivers a believable, dominating figure whose worry for his daughter’s future seems outweighed by concern about society’s view of her as unstable; he has borne the embarrassment of an unbalanced wife for too long. Thomas Gorrebeeck as Dr. John Buchanan Jr. does not mine the psychological gold in the plum role of Dr. John Jr., who is smothered by his overprotective mother played by Maria Pizza with sexual overtones like a young Mrs. Venable in “Suddenly Last Summer.” His attraction and ambivalence to Alma is played as a grounded, young, caring physician who does his familial duty but is unaffected by his maternal situation, which seems to this lifelong fan of Tennesee’s as missing the dramatic point. The constant interruptions of Alma and Dr. John’s meetings by his mother are repeated so often as a plot mechanism that it borders on humorous. 

Laura Hazlett’s Gibson-girl era costumes and Liliana Duque Pinero’s set are lovely, and perfectly period; however, the set changes sometimes take up to 40 seconds, which breaks the flow, even when covered with the soundtrack of songs from that time period. 

Half the house at the Sunday Matinee stood to applaud, which made me scratch my head. Regarding recommendations, I’ll have to pass on “Eccentricities” because it’s just not eccentric enough. 

ECCENTRICIES OF A NIGHTINGALE at Aurora Theatre through May 8 


Opening the Book on How Polluters Game the System

Review by Gar Smith
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:31:00 AM
The US Steel subsidiary's zinc mill in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1910.
The US Steel subsidiary's zinc mill in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1910.
By 1048, the pollution over Donora was so bad that streetlights had to be turned on in the middle of the day.
By 1048, the pollution over Donora was so bad that streetlights had to be turned on in the middle of the day.

NOTE: Author Benjamin Ross will be reading from his new book and answering questions in San Francisco this Thursday. Time and location: 7PM at the Green Arcade Bookstore, 1680 Market Street, San Francisco (near Gough).

The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment,By Benjamin Ross & Steven Amter (Oxford University Press, 2011)

One of the real surprises about The Polluters is that the co-authors are not green-hued activists or crusading journalists. Ben Ross and Steven Amter are, respectively, the president and senior environmental scientist at Disposal Safety, Inc., a DC-based consulting firm. Nonetheless, Ross and Amter have turned out a spellbinding and detailed compendium of corporate deceit and defiance that will leave readers fuming at the towering gall of the Polluting Class. 

Many modern environmentalists may be surprised to discover that the history of these Commons Criminals — and the bag of tricks they employ to avoid accountability — dates back more than a hundred years. As Ross and Amter document, the same pattern has held sway for more than a century: “When alarming findings do emerge, well-paid advocates concoct grounds for doubt” and studies are advanced “as a substitute for action.” (For more on this theme, read Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s fine book, Merchants of Doubt.) 

On those occasions when the public din grows too loud, industry’s response always progresses through the same six stages: (1) ignore the problem; (2) hire “experts” to suggest there is no problem; (3) acknowledge but downgrade the problem; (4) buy time by agreeing to “study” the problem; (5) buy pliant politicians to “legislate” the problem, (6) and finally, create “regulatory agencies” that are weak and subservient to industry. 

A History of Deadly Haze and Poisoned Waters 

The Polluters begins with a tale of two cities — Donora, Pennsylvania, and Sacramento, California. 

In the mining town of Donora, in 1948, a poisonous smog from the zinc works killed and sickened downwind residents and unleashed public anger at the arrogance of US Steel. Meanwhile, on the western edge of the country, an attempt by chemical industries to gain control of “pollution regulation” in California was being challenged by Governor Earl Warren. 

In both cases, citizen indignation seemed to turn the political tide in the public’s favor. But as the authors of The Polluters grimly recount: “once the spotlight of public attention turned elsewhere, [the public’s] hard-won gains proved phantom. The polluters had at their disposal a battery of weapon — political, economic, and scientific — forged by the chemical industry and its allies.” 

This uneven battle — where causes are lost in the course of muted conversations in the shadows of backrooms and boardroom —has defined the environmental struggle from the days of Teddy Roosevelt to the trials of the present occupant of the White House. 

“In struggle after struggle over the preceding decades,” the authors write, “business interests had preserved for themselves the freedom to foul their surroundings.” In Donora, no sooner had the suffocated victims been buried than the promised government investigation was sidetracked and the Public Health Service turned its attention elsewhere. In California, the authors relate, hoped-for “reform” legislation actually “enshrined manufacturers’ right to discharge waste, creating toothless Water Pollution Control Boards with powers so circumscribed that they had little choice but to ratify what industry decided to do.” 

The Chemical Barons — like the Railroad Barons and Mining Barons before them — shared the mindset of Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of “There Will Be Blood.” Anyone who dared to stand against them would be ignored or, if the situation required it, destroyed. 

Not even a hardheaded Bull Moose reformer like President Teddy Roosevelt could wrestle Anaconda Steel to the ground. Anaconda’s Montana copper mine was killing crops, cattle and a swatch of Teddy’s prized national forests within a 22-mile radius of its arsenic, lead and sulfur-belching smokestacks. 

When Roosevelt called company officials to Washington, Anaconda (which was controlled by Standard Oil and backed by Wall Street) refused to negotiate. In the absence of any federal air-pollution laws, Roosevelt threatened a federal lawsuit. Although reining in Anaconda’s chokehold on Montana’s air was one of Roosevelt’s priorities, the company managed to stall action until Roosevelt left office. 

The business-friendly Taft Administration continued to stall and eventually agreed to settle on Anaconda’s terms. Instead of insisting on a cleanup, Washington “accepted the company’s criterion for action — controls were required only if captured emissions could be sold to yield a profit.” (Anaconda eventually found a way to profit by selling arsenic as a way to “control” boll weevils and went on to create a host of deadly arsenic-based pesticides that were sprayed on farmland and orchards across the country.) 

Concerns and Cooptation 

During the industrial expansion that followed WWII, scientists raised red flags about the torrent of new synthetic compounds — from new fuels to pesticides — being pumped and spilled into the nation’s air and water. 

According to Ross and Amter, “a political and bureaucratic struggle ensued… through which the chemical industry preserved for itself the right to determine what would be emitted from its plants. Industry’s victory was codified in federal laws — the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1947, the Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, and the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955— that belied their reassuring titles by rejecting federal regulation.” 

“The leading corporations that had put the machinery into motion — the DuPonts, Union Carbides, and Standard Oils — watched as the spirit they had raised up sometime exceeded its intended tasks.” 

The Games Polluters Play 

The Polluters devotes an entire chapter to one of the chemical industry’s cherish goals: “Deregulating California’s Waters.” 

During the days of WWII, Los Angeles residents were shocked to discover that the city’s water wells were contaminated with chromium and presticides. Laws passed in 1907 and 1917 only required that companies request permits before dumping chemicals and wastes onto the ground or into local rivers. But even these week regulations were not enforced. 

In 1949, the state Health Department issued new regulations to prevent abuses. In response, the state’s industries banded together to form a lobbying group called the California Association of Producing Industries. CAPI poured its money into a successful campaign to shift concern away from corporate pollution by convincing the public that it was at greater risk from “household sewage.” 

The Dickey Commission, which was entrusted with establishing a new regulations to control pollution, issued a report that closely echoed CAPI’s talking points. The Commission praised the social value of industry and concluded that household sewage was a greater threat to public health than industrial waste. Industry’s wastes were characterized as innocuous and the prospect of chemical poisoning ranked as “remote.” 

Meanwhile, the same trope was being trotted out at the national level where the Manufacturing Chemists Association was promoting the idea that chemical dumping was not only a “legitimate” practice but was actually a “beneficial use of water resources” that needed to be encouraged! Moreover, the “unseemly costs” of regulation and disposal were to be discouraged as they threatened to “jeopardize… orderly economic development.” 

The Polluters is brimful with decades of similar tales that will have readers grinding their teeth in indignation and frustration. 

California eventually established Water Control Boards but these new agencies had little practical power since the state pointedly failed to set any binding water quality standards. The chem-friendly argument that dumping waste was “beneficial” wasn't overturned until the passage of the Porter-Cologne Act in 1969. This 42-year-old Act is still the major law guiding the state’s water quality. 

Turning Back the Toxic Tide 

The polluters held sway with the politicians for 20 years, until an unassuming marine biologist named Rachel Carson published a chilling warning about the threat of a Silent Spring, with no birdlife left to sing on pesticide-drenched trees and bushes. And then America’s rivers began to catch fire, LA’s smog became the kind of running gag that brought tears to the eyes, and a grassroots movement rose up and declared the first Earth Day in 1970. 

A new environmental movement began turning back the tide of pollution with a flood of lawsuits, protests and legislation. But despite the victories, the message Ross and Amter drive home in their 223-page corporate exposé is that “the techniques employed years ago in Donora and Sacramento have never gone out of favor.” 

Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journaland co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org).

Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 11:54:00 AM

With unemployment and home foreclosures sharply rising and the nation-wide economy on a downward spiral, these are not rosy times! Certainly the Japan disaster and fears of escaping radiation does little to lift our spirits. So, rather than settle for purely entertaining events and activities, perhaps we should consider something of a more substantive nature, such as the Peace Walk this Saturday, April 16, when groups will congregate at Lake Merritt from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. to stop the violence in the streets of Oakland.  

Also on April 16 the City of Berkeley will host a Bay Festival at Shoreland Park, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. -- fun and educational events, shoreline cleanup, hands-on-activity at the Berkeley Marina. For details, call (510) 981-6720. 

Again, on April 16, Steve Finacom will lead a walk through "A Century of U.C. Students Life," walking through the-south half of the U.C. campus, discovering over 100 years of social and activity facilities built for students as well as the original Student Union dating back to 1923. For reservations, call (510) 848-0181. 

Always a pleasant, if exhausting experience is the Cal Day Open House this Saturday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Here's a chance to explore classrooms, labs, museums, music and dance, sports tours, etc. Free admission. 

For an exploration of food's role in wellness, as part of the Ninth Oakland International Film Festival, Film Maker Michael Bedar will discuss "Simply Raw:Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days." in a screening next Tuesday at the Art Deco Auditorium, 2700 Saratoga Street, Alameda. Bedar points out that there are currently 25.8 million people in the United States with diabetes and cases have tripled in the last ten years. For information on the film, call (510) 776-4178. 

So, if you were looking for light-hearted, purely entertaining activities in the coming week, you won't necessarily find them here. But you just may pick up some worthwhile information.