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The corner of University and Bonar in Berkeley was the scene of this crash at midday today.
Carol Denney
The corner of University and Bonar in Berkeley was the scene of this crash at midday today.


Check Out These Links

By Victor Herbert
Monday June 20, 2011 - 11:03:00 AM

1. - "Berkeley's icon Maudelle Shirek celebrates her 100th birthday and Carolyn Jones tells the Bay Area about it in the Chron."

2. "It's budget time in Berkeley and Judith Scherr reports on the perennial Employee-Overtime debate in the EBExpress." 


Protest This Morning at St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley

Friday June 17, 2011 - 09:38:00 AM

The Contra Costa Times reports that 100 people took part in a protest this morning at St. Joseph the Worker church in Berkeley. 

Flash: Berkeley Unified School District Will Not Pursue Community Day Classroom at BAS (Press Release)

From Mark Coplan, BUSD Public Information Officer
Saturday June 18, 2011 - 12:52:00 AM

Berkeley Unified School District administration has decided not to bring forward the placement of a County Community Day School Classroom at Berkeley Adult School, or any other location on District property. Superintendent Bill Huyett has expressed that the District has other more pressing issues and needs that require staff time. 

The District will continue to encourage the Alameda County Office of Education to locate services for expelled students in the northern part of the county.

Union Concessions Would Reduce $12.2 Million Berkeley Deficit by $411,000

Friday June 17, 2011 - 09:02:00 AM

From an article by Jonathan Tam in Thursday's Daily Cal: 

""City officials and workers announced Tuesday at the Berkeley City Council meeting their agreement on a two-tiered pension system and a deferral of a previously agreed upon salary increase, in hopes of ameliorating Berkeley’s current budget deficit. 

"After nearly four months of negotiations, an agreement that would work to decrease the city’s $12.2 million deficit for the next fiscal year was reached with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. The union represents the city’s maintenance and clerical workers. 


"The result of the reductions in Cost-of-Living Adjustments — which would include this agreement with the union — should garner net savings of $411,000 in the 2012 fiscal year with annual ongoing savings of $389,000, according to the memorandum of the agreement between the city and the union." 

Read the whole article here.

Press Release: Berkeley Councilmember Arreguin to Meet with President Obama

From Anthony Sanches
Friday June 17, 2011 - 05:52:00 PM

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín will travel to Washington, D.C. today to meet with members of the Obama administration and attend an intimate reception at the White House with President Obama. Councilmember Arreguín is one of a small number of members of the Young Elected Officials Network, a network of young progressives in elected office, who were invited to the White House to discuss important issues facing states and localities. 

“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to meet our President. As someone constantly on the frontlines of progressive change, I hope to relay to the President the concerns and issues of our community, such as the need to address unemployment, harmful cuts to Pell Grants and housing and community development funding, the need for climate change legislation which invests in renewable energy and green jobs, and the immediate need for immigration reform in light of the high levels of devastating deportations and what’s happening in our own backyard with the impending audit of I-9 forms of workers at Pacific Steel.”

An Open Letter to Rep. Barbara Lee about the Gaza Flotilla

By Henry Norr
Thursday June 16, 2011 - 02:16:00 PM

As a resident of Berkeley and therefore one of your constituents, I am writing with two purposes:

a) to let you know that I will be sailing later this month to the Gaza Strip aboard a vessel called The Audacity of Hope, which will join 10 or 12 other ships, with more than 1,000 passengers from all over the world, in this year's Gaza Freedom Flotilla; and

b) to request that you use your good offices to demand that the Israeli government not interfere with our mission and to insist that the State Department and other branches of the U.S. government stand up for our right to travel freely in international waters and to enter a territory Israel says it no longer occupies. 

The Audacity of Hope is a U.S.-registered, U.S.-flagged vessel. It will carry approximately 50 American passengers and crew, including at least seven other Californians (among them Alice Walker) - for details, see http://ustogazawest.org. All participants are sworn and committed to non-violence, and of course we will be completely unarmed. We have no intention of entering or even going near Israel or Israeli territorial waters. Lest we be accused of assisting anyone on the U.S. government's terrorist list, the U.S. boat this year will not even carry medical supplies or children's toys, just letters from Americans to the people of Gaza. 

In light of your well known commitment to human rights and international law, as well as your experience in the civil rights movement here at home, I think you know why we are undertaking this trip, despite the violence with which Israel responded to last year's flotilla, the Israeli military's threats to use dogs and snipers to stop us this year, and the advance condemnation of the State Department. Alice Walker put it best: “The Gaza Flotilla is the Freedom Ride of this era.”  

As confirmed by every reputable international organization that has looked into the situation - most recently the International Committee of the Red Cross (see http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/interview/2011/palestine-israel-interview-2011-05-19.htm) - there is still "no end in sight to hardship and despair" for the 1.5 million people of Gaza (more than half of them children), despite Israel's claims to have "eased" its siege and more recently Egypt's claim to have opened the Rafah gate, the one exit from Gaza not controlled by Israel.  

Israel's policy of collective punishment is illegal, immoral, and just plain counterproductive. A year ago President Obama called it "unsustainable," and he was right. Yet neither he nor anyone else in the U.S. government, nor the U.N., nor the "Quartet" has managed to persuade or compel the Israelis to change it.  

Meantime, you in Congress continue to give Israel $3 billion a year of taxpayer dollars - money that's desperately needed here in your district and elsewhere in this country - without even conditioning this spending on Israeli compliance with U.S. and international law.  

To the extent there have been any improvements in conditions in Gaza, they are due entirely to the actions of grassroots activists - the brave people who sailed on last year's flotilla (including two of your constituents, Janet Kobren and Gene St. Onge), and the Egyptians who overthrew the Mubarak dictatorship and continue to push the current military government to end its collaboration with Israel's siege. With the new flotilla we continue in the same spirit, in hopes that we can bring the end of the siege and a normal life for the people of Gaza a step or two closer.  

As your constituent, I trust that I and my fellow passengers can count on your assistance in ensuring our safety and respect for our rights.

Supporters of Retired Pastor George Crespin at Berkeley's St. Joseph the Worker Church Asked to Gather at Sunday Masses (Letter)

By Beatriz Leyva-Cutler
Thursday June 16, 2011 - 02:03:00 PM

Editor's Note: The following open letter from Beatriz Leyva-Cutler was forwarded to the Planet by Pastor Michael McBride, Executive Director of BOCA (Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action).

Sadly, I write to share that there is much unhappiness and unrest at St. Joseph the Worker and also new organizers that are arising from this situation. The parishioners of the church are asking to meet with the Bishop of Oakland because there is discontent with the direction that Pastor John, who has been there for two years, has lead the church. Recently, he has asked the respected and esteemed Fr. George Crespin to vacate SJW. Pastor John. has already closed two churches before coming to SJW. Since his arrival there has been many changes including dismissing many if not all of the Latino ministries and organizers in the church. This discontent has led to many many parishioners organizing outside the church to demand a meeting with the bishop, which continues to be ignored. A letter was mailed in August, 2010 and recently another letter was hand delivered with hundreds of signatures and remains ignored. Last week many of us withheld our Sunday contribution and promised to double the donation, if only the Bishop would meet with parishioners.

I write to you to ask you to join us this Sunday to demand a meeting with the Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. He is scheduled to give mass at 8, 9, or 11 (which mass has not been confirmed). People have not been noticed to the exact hour of mass that he will address the concerns of the parishioners and there are hundreds if not a thousand people of SJW, waiting to hear and talk with him. SJW has a long history as a sanctuary for the undocumented, labor movement, and helping to organize the community to address the academic achievement gap in Berkeley Schools. This is the church that Cesar Chavez retreated when his life was threaten and when he needed respite. 

Please join many of us this Sunday at any or all of the masses planned at 8-9- or 11 (Spanish mass) -- and support St. Joseph the Worker parishioners who want a Pastor that reflects the community and not change the long history and legacy of SJW as a progressive advocate of the community. Also, to demand that Fr. Crespin be allowed to stay at SJW as a retired and long esteemed priest of SJW. The organizers of this are a diverse group of young, old, latino, white and many of our youth are also involved in signing petitions and writing letters. 

If you come, please wear white t-shirts/ shirts. Please forward this email to your family and friends, to the unions and to those who know of SJW legacy. This is being planned as a peaceful yet powerful action representing the diverse community that love SJW. This is a church where the history has always been to have a Pastor that listens and reflects the vision, and a commitment to social justice and education. 

Please forward this email as this impacts not only the Latino community but many who for years have made SJW their church and SJW was the meeting place where many in the community came together to create the 2020 Vision for our schools and city. 


Council and State Redistricting Changes Proposed for Berkeley (News Analysis)

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 09:35:00 PM

With the 2010 Census data in, it’s a year for political redistricting.

Last week I reported on Alameda County Supervisorial redistricting, apparently lackluster at least where Berkeley is concerned. This week, let’s take a look at other re-districting issues that affect Berkeley, especially since a process for Council redistricting is before the Berkeley City Council. 

Berkeley will probably see mainly minor changes to City Council District borders in 2012, with details decided in a City-run process starting this month. 

But the state legislative district boundaries may shift locally in a major way, influencing the fortunes and prospects of political office holders in Berkeley and neighboring communities, with implications that might extend down to the City Council level. 

Some of the key issues and questions: 

  • ·Berkeley City Council districts must be reapportioned, but will probably just be tweaked around the edges. Five will grow in size; three will shrink from their current configuration. Citizens have a small window of opportunity—now to August—to prepare and submit redistricting proposals.
  • The details of what is done in the Council re-districting process may not affect current Councilmembers, but may well influence who runs for Council in the future and how certain districts trend, demographically and politically.
  • Will Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, married to State Senator Loni Hancock, run for re-election in 2012? If he doesn’t, how might a Mayor’s race without an incumbent affect Council elections?
  • Will State Senator Loni Hancock, married to Bates, run for a last term in the Senate in 2012 in a substantially re-organized district, or will she retire?
  • Similarly, will Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner run for a final term in a significantly altered district in 2012, retire from elective office, or run for something different? Might she opt to pursue the office of Berkeley Mayor, or a State Senate seat?
  • If Hancock and/or Skinner decide not to run for re-election to the Legislature, who might contend for those open seats? And what might the reorganized state legislative districts mean for the future influence of Berkeley in Sacramento?
  • Finally, the United States Census came through again with an odd set of conclusions about Berkeley. Last time, it was a block of University housing that, according to the Census, had nearly no residents. This decade, it’s nearly 1,400 people reported to be permanently residing in the narrow central median strips of Berkeley streets—sort of.
City Council Seats 

Let’s start with the Council. Item #33, under New Business on the June 14, 2011 Council agenda presents the Council with staff recommendations on a process and timelines for revising Council district boundaries, including public input. 

The staff report notes that Berkeley’s population grew nine percent—a total of nearly 10,000 additional residents—between the 2000 and the 2010 Census. Because the population increase wasn’t spread evenly though the City, the balance of residents is now out of whack between Districts. 

In 2000, an exact eight-way division of Berkeley’s population resulted in 12,843 residents per Council district. (The Mayor serves as a ninth voting Councilmember, elected citywide). 

For 2010, that number has grown to 14,703 constituents per district. There’s currently a difference of nearly 4,000 residents between the smallest district population (District 5) and the largest (District 7). 

At the extremes, Councilmember Kriss Worthington currently represents 16,623 residents and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli represents only 12,709. Since they have equal votes on the City Council, the district lines must be adjusted to re-balance the representation. 

District 4 (Downtown and adjacent), District 7 (UC Berkeley campus environs, to the Oakland border), and District 8 (southeast Berkeley, and some areas adjacent to the campus) are now the largest, by far, with District 7 being up 2,550 residents over the 14,703 target figure. 

District 3 (southwest Berkeley), District 5 (north central Berkeley) and District 6 (northeast Berkeley hills) are well below the target number, with District 5 coming in 1,363 residents below 14,073. 

District 1 and District 2, both in West Berkeley, have the lowest deviations—under 1,000 residents each—from the target number. 

In sum, Districts 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8 will have to shrink a bit geographically and numerically, and Districts 3, 5, and 6 will have to have slightly enlarged new boundaries to re-balance the representation. 

The staff report suggests that there be “an opportunity for the public to create and submit redistricting plans.” The timeline is relatively short. August 19, 2011, two months hence, is proposed as a final deadline for public proposals. 

The staff report suggests that the City could supply “maps and Excel spreadsheets, both electronically and in hard copy, to the public…these files will include the data necessary for a community member to assess the population counts in each district…and prepare revised district boundaries.” 

It also notes“there are commercial options available to the City to provide an online redistricting tool for the public and community groups to redraw district boundaries. However, they are very costly (approximately $46,000) and there are no additional funds budgeted for the redistricting process. Staff believes that the data that the City can provide the public directly will enable the community to fully participate in the redistricting process.” 

Once plans are in and vetted by City staff, two public hearings—September 27 and November 8—are suggested, along with posting, by September 15, of “all completed proposals” on the City’s website. 

“The schedule anticipates that the Council would adopt the new boundaries” on December 13, have a second reading on January 17, 2012, and finalize everything by April 1, which is the “deadline set by the Registrar of Voters for the new districts to be in effect for the November 2012 municipal election.” 

The staff report presupposes no major changes in district boundaries. “The (City) Charter requires council district boundaries to be nearly equal in population, remain as close to the original 1986 boundaries as possible, and cannot result in the termination of the term of office of any Councilmember.” (Does that last item mean District boundaries cannot be redrawn to exclude the residence of a sitting Councilmember?) 

Impacts of Berkeley Redistricting for 2012 

It will be interesting to see who takes a hand in proposing changes to district boundaries, and where they might occur. One suspects that such changes won’t be openly proposed in a political sense, but offered by various “good government” groups (either co-opted or created for the occasion), with behind the scenes manipulation by political strategists. 

In some areas, demographically significant changes might take place. District 7, for example, will shrink a bit, and District 8 will need to grow. If that occurs along the long border between the two districts, should the shift in voters occur at the north end, from the dense student-populated blocks of the Southside, or at the south end, from the more upscale Elmwood and Bateman neighborhoods? 

Moving a block or two of student apartments and living groups from the Piedmont Avenue part of District 7 into District 8 would accomplish the rebalancing, as would moving perhaps four or five less densely populated blocks of the Willard or Bateman neighborhoods from 7 to 8. 

The demographic impact on future elections could be quite different from the different options. More student voters in District 8 would strengthen that voting bloc—if one truly exists—in contrast to the upscale homeowners of the Claremont neighborhoods. 

On the other hand, reducing the number of long-time homeowners and renters in District 7 would make that district, in the future, even more likely than it is now to be controlled by whoever can most successfully campaign as the “student friendly” candidate. 

More radically, should the student residences north of Hearst—and separated by the width of the UC campus from the rest of District 7—move to District 6, which would then require a western edge expansion of either District 4 or 5 into District 6? 

While the rules seem to ensure that no sitting Councilmember will be redistricted out of a seat, those who work behind the scenes in Berkeley politics projecting and trying to shape future political alliances to their best advantage are probably already thinking about other possibilities and people. 

For example, if a likely successor—or political opponent / challenger—to an existing Councilmember lives near a district border, it’s quite possible that there may be maneuvers to either retain them in a district, or shift the district lines around them. 

Someone with time and technology on their hands might do an interesting map of the residences of not only current Councilmembers but current School Board directors, Rent Board Commissioners, and influential City Commission appointees and known Council hopefuls to see who resides in which district, and near what boundaries. 

For example, long-time School Board director John Selawsky, a progressive favorite whose current (and third) term ends in 2012, lives almost athwart the border of District 4 (Arreguin) and District 3 (Anderson). 

In 2012, a majority of the Berkeley City Council will be up for election or re-election. Councilmembers Darryl Moore (District 2), Max Anderson (District 3), Laurie Capitelli (District 5), and Susan Wengraf (District 6) must all run for re-election, or retire. 

Berkeley voters will also elect a mayor in 2012. 

In the 2010 elections Councilmembers Kriss Worthington (District 7) and Jesse Arreguin (District 4) defeated challengers who were endorsed by Mayor Bates. The Bates endorsements—including BOTH challengers to Worthington—was seen by many as an effort to eliminate all substantial opposition to Bates policies at the Council dais. 

This time, however, the two dissident councilmembers are safe in their seats for another term (until 2014). 

So in 2012, will Bates endorse or, conversely, attempt to unseat the third (albeit periodic) member of the Council minority, Max Anderson (District 3)? And regardless of what Bates does, is Anderson secure in his district, or will some challenger emerge? 

And will Bates opponents try to mount an organized attack on the edges of his existing super-majority voting bloc on the Council, perhaps backing challengers to Darryl Moore (District 2) who has riled some constituents with support for West Berkeley re-zoning, or Laurie Capitelli (District 5) who faced a surprisingly strong challenge four years ago from political newcomer Sophie Hahn? 

How effectively will Bates critics—ranging from some of Berkeley’s furthest left-progressives, to fiscal policy dissidents from the more moderate neighborhoods, to some old guard Berkeley Democratic Club leaders—be in fielding and organizing support for unified “anybody but the Bates Machine” candidates? 

And will any of the current Councilmembers up for re-election—an increasingly aged group—choose to retire from office, regardless of their re-election prospects? 

The most important political question however, one having a bearing on all of these issues, is whether Bates will seek re-election as Mayor. 

If he doesn’t, that office is suddenly in play and might easily attract current Councilmembers to give up their seats. That would, in turn, create new opportunities for Council candidates looking to run for seats without an incumbent. 

A closely related question (discussed later in this article) is whether State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner will run for re-election or look at a different office. 

Councilmember Capitelli, for instance, is an oft-rumored candidate for Mayor. He could run with the considerable financial backing of “business interests” already in his court and, if endorsed by Bates as a successor, would have an important progressive fig leaf to help cover his candidacy. 

If Bates retired and Capitelli decided to run for Mayor, that would leave District 5 with no incumbent advantage. 

But would Capitelli actually be acceptable as Mayor to the “Bates Machine” progressives? If not, whom would they seek to put forward in his stead? And does Bates have strong enough residual coattails to anoint any successor, regardless of who the chosen might be? 

Which brings us to another interesting issue, legislative redistricting. 

Legislative Redistricting 

Berkeley is currently represented in Sacramento by former City Councilmember and Bates ally Nancy Skinner (State Assembly, 14th District) and Bates spouse Loni Hancock (State Senate District 9). 

For you newcomers to Berkeley, Bates once held the Assembly seat before he ran for Mayor, and Hancock was once Mayor, before running for the Assembly, serving in the district once represented by Bates, before shifting to the Senate. You need a scorecard—or perhaps a political genealogy expert—to keep track of some of these tangled relationships that sometimes give Berkeley politics a dynastic (or even banana republic) feel. 

Skinner was elected to the State Assembly in District 14 in 2008. If Skinner successfully runs again for re-election in 2012, she will have only one term left—2012-14—before she will be termed out of the Assembly. 

Assembly District 14 currently encompasses portions of Richmond, Oakland and El Sobrante and all of Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, and San Pablo west of the Berkeley Hills, and Lafayette, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, and Orinda to the east. The district—shaped a bit like a chunky terrier dog with its nose in San Pablo and wagging tail in Pleasant Hill—combines part of the East Bay shore urban fringe of Alameda County with distinctly suburban enclaves east of the Hills. 

This is usually a safe district for Berkeley area progressives. In my time in Berkeley, east-of-the-hills moderates or conservatives have regularly put up candidates, who are just as regularly beaten by someone representing the more liberal and more densely populated precincts of Berkeley and its environs. 

Hancock was elected to the State Senate in 2008, replacing Don Perata who was termed-out. Hancock will be up for re-election in 2012. If she chooses to run again next year and wins, she will be termed out in 2016. 

Redistricting Commission Recommendations 

The Legislative redistricting plans released by the non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission at the end of last week appear to propose major changes to the districts represented by both Hancock and Skinner. 

Although the on-line maps released last Friday are a bit hard to follow, I hope I have interpreted them correctly. 

In the Assembly, it looks like the territory east of the Berkeley Hills would be shifted into another district, while Skinner’s district would become entirely based on the east shore of the Bay, running from Martinez / Hercules to north Oakland. 

The new 14th Assembly District would essentially encompass the 80 Freeway corridor from the Bay Bridge to the Carquinez Straits, including parts of Oakland. To accomplish this It would transfer the western portion of Contra Costa County from the 11th District, currently represented by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla to the 14th District. Bonilla herself, a former Mayor of Concord, lives in the eastern half of the current 11th District that, shorn of its direct Bay shore connection, would be pushed much further eastwards into the area south of the Delta. 

Senate District 9, represented by Hancock, would also change considerably, in a similar direction to Assembly District 14. Right now, Hancock’s district looks a bit like a bent barbell or perhaps a fat-handled toilet plunger, with a stub end in the Berkeley and Oakland area, and a big chunk of central and eastern Alameda County including Livermore, extending to the county line. 

A tiny wasp’s waist of territory connects the two largely dissimilar geographies. 

The Commission revision of the boundaries would appear to snip the waist, entirely removing the eastern parts of the county from the district. Instead, the revised district would cover the entire East Bay shore from the Carquinez Straits to San Leandro, incorporating all of Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Alameda, and several smaller communities, into one district west of the hills. 

While geographically more rational, these plans, if adopted, might shift the electoral calculus considerably for Berkeley. 

In both Senate and Assembly districts, Richmond, with a population now over 100,000 (nearly the size of Berkeley) would seem to become a much bigger actor. It wouldn’t be split between two districts. And in the State Senate district, a consolidated Oakland might hold more power. 

With Oakland residents outnumbering Berkeley by nearly four to one in the new district, a popular Oakland political figure might easy defeat a Berkeley candidate for the Senate. 

Will Hancock run again, particularly in a district that may be that extensively reorganized? One imagines that partially depends on Bates. If one of the couple really wants to retire from office, might the other as well? 

Both are now in their 70s. Hancock, if she runs for re-election in 2012, would be 76 when her second and last term ends in 2016. Bates, if he chooses to run again for Mayor, would be 74 during the campaign and, if re-elected, 78 at the end of his third term, also in 2016. 

Neither age is especially extreme in modern American politics, but it will be an interesting question—presumably decided in the next several months—whether either or both of them wants to commit to another four years of elective office. 

And Skinner, if she wants to continue in higher elected office after being termed out of the Assembly in 2014, would face a possibly uncomfortable two year wait from 2014 to 2016 to run again—either for State Senate, or Berkeley Mayor. (It’s certainly conceivable she would leave elective politics, at least for a time. She voluntarily spent several years out of office between serving on the Berkeley City Council and being appointed to a vacant seat on the Regional Park District Board, which became a stepping stone to the Assembly.) 

It is hard to imagine that Skinner would challenge either Bates or Hancock if they run again. But if either or both decide not to run for re-election, it would not be shocking if Skinner gave up a 2012 run for re-election to the Assembly in a considerably reconfigured district, and ran for Mayor of Berkeley or State Senate instead. 

If either or both of them retired and Skinner waited, she would risk being termed out of the Assembly in 2014 and having to challenge a sitting incumbent in 2016. 

If Skinner doesn’t stay in the Assembly, it would entail a major shifting of pieces on the local electoral chessboard. The Assembly district would come into play, without an incumbent running for re-election. 

A Berkeley Councilmember might try for it. On the other hand, with the altered district lines, political leaders from Richmond and north might also feel emboldened to run, just as Skinner running for State Senate would presumably have competition from Oakland and southern Alameda County. 

So, while the action will continue to be in the Democratic primary in both districts, I don’t think it is by any means certain that Berkeley officials will be able to continue to advance as easily to the State Legislature as they have in recent years. 

It’s all speculation of course, at this point. But in coming months we should start to see indications and hear rumors of how the major current office holders will align in 2012, particularly as the State redistricting process resolves itself. 

Current Council District Boundaries 

Back to Berkeley for some more Council detail. 

Berkeley’s current City Council Districts seem generally rationally formed, usually employing major streets as dividing lines and avoiding the more extreme types of gerrymandering often seen in Congressional and State legislative districts. The boundaries have changed little since the 1980s. 

District One is northwest Berkeley, largely north of University Avenue west of Grant Street, and west of King Jr. High School. District Two is to the southwest, primarily south of University and west of Sacramento Street. 

District 3 is south central, mostly east of Sacramento, south of Dwight, and west of Ellsworth Street. District 4 in the center of town is a reverse “L” primarily north of Dwight, west of the UC campus and Oxford Street, and south of Vine. It protrudes to Sacramento Street on the southwest. 

District 5, north central, is mainly north of Vine and west of Spruce Street, while District 6, to the immediate east, takes in everything east of Spruce and most blocks north of the UC campus. 

District 7 is an oddly shaped linear enclave that extends from “Holy Hill” and the Euclid Avenue shopping district and south to the Oakland border. Its edges bump in and out on east and west, but generally lie within a block either way of Ellsworth Street or College Avenue. It takes in most of the Willard neighborhood, the densely populated Southside, the entire Berkeley length of Telegraph Avenue, and the Bateman and part of the Halcyon neighborhoods south of Ashby. 

It’s also the district whose Councilmember represents the Chancellor at UC Berkeley, since the Chancellor (and family members) are the only permanent residents on the UC Berkeley campus proper. 

District 8 covers the rest of southeast Berkeley, including the whole Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus in the hills, one Northside block (where the Foothill Residence Halls are located), Panoramic Hill, and the Claremont Elmwood. 

Redistricting in 1990 and 2000 bumped or shrunk the boundaries here and there (a comparison of the 1986 original district lines and the current lines is shown on the attached map, from the City). In most places the adjustments just moved the district lines a block or so in or out. For example, District 8 has, since 1986, pushed west across College Avenue in a three block long area. 

Demographic Ghosts from the Census 

Those who remember the aftermath of the 2000 Census will recall that Berkeley was shorted on population in part due to some weird undercounts, such as the assertion that there were almost no residents in one of the UC residence hall complexes. 

This time around, the odd Census error highlighted by the City staff report is the fact that the 2010 Census “erroneously assigned population to some of the median strips of several divided roads in Berkeley. There was a total of 1,392 people assigned to median strips, ranging from a single person in one median area to as many of 158 in another.” 

One is tempted to have some fun with this at the expense of the Census. Could those 1,392 people have been homeless residents living unobtrusively on the grassy medians? Or the “Arnieville” protestors who set up a tent encampment on Adeline Street for several weeks last year? Perhaps the Cheese Board pizza eaters who sit down illegally to eat on the narrow North Shattuck median? Maybe all three! 

Alas, the error seems to have been some sort of computational anomaly involving the location of addresses and GIS coordinates. “The Census Bureau confirmed that the total population count was accurate and that the methodology they provided would properly assign the populations to correct blocks and tracts” on either side of the street, not in the center, the staff report concludes. 

District Election History 

Berkeley’s City Council districts were established in the 1980s after a voter initiative. The proposal, initially spearheaded by neighborhood activists in northwest Berkeley, was in part a response to Berkeley’s “slate politics” system which had prevailed since the mid-1960s. 

Most City Council elections from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s saw a two-way competition between a “radical” (later, “progressive”) slate, usually under the auspices of Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA), and a “liberal” (later, “moderate”) slate, most often fielded or blessed by the Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC) and/or the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC). 

BCA, BDC and ABC had jockeyed for power with the advantages shifting between BCA (particularly when it could induce large numbers of UC students to vote), and BDC (when it could field a slate that had cross-over appeal to Berkeley’s minority of Republican voters, or to students on certain issues). 

The original district initiative was, depending on whom you talked to, either an effort to break the grip of the slates on the City Council and make individual Councilmembers directly accountable to actual neighborhoods, or an end-run by moderates who wanted a way to break the power BCA held in City-wide elections, and strategically aligned with un-aligned neighborhood activists angered by what they saw as high-handed BCA-led land use decisions. 

In any case, dividing Berkeley up into eight Council districts did decrease the high profile visibility of slate politics at election time, with the alphabet parties and coalitions fading from public prominence, but didn’t end factions on the City Council by any means. 


The Berkeley City staff proposal for Council redistricting process can be found here

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is redrawing Congressional and State Legislative district boundaries, is here

To find the local information, go to “Maps”, and “First Draft”, then “Assembly”. 

Under “1st Draft, Assembly District Maps” you’ll find a map of the 2001 (and current) district lines, and a second set of maps apparently showing the new, proposed, district boundaries. If you scroll down to “Detailed Maps” and click on “Oakland”, you will find a map (also reproduced with this article) that seems to show the proposed new Assembly district containing Berkeley, described as “West Contra Costa”, with this web address

Back track to the “Maps / First Draft” page and follow the same process with “Senate”. In that case, the relevant map including Berkeley appears to be “Oakland Richmond” with this address

On both maps, the new proposed district lines are in purple. The dark black line that cuts across between Berkeley and El Cerrito is the county line. 

Berkeley Grad Student Plays Leading Role in West Virginia March on Blair Mountain

By Carol Polsgrove
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 09:42:00 PM
UC-Berkeley graduate student Brandon Nida, a West Virginia native,  was a key organizer of the march to save Blair Mountain and end mountaintop removal.
Norval Rasmussen
UC-Berkeley graduate student Brandon Nida, a West Virginia native, was a key organizer of the march to save Blair Mountain and end mountaintop removal.
Retired miner Joe Stanley opposes mountaintop removal.
Carol Polsgrove
Retired miner Joe Stanley opposes mountaintop removal.
Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke at the rally and also appeared at the West Virginia premiere of a new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the night before.
Carol Polsgrove
Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke at the rally and also appeared at the West Virginia premiere of a new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the night before.
                Pittsburgh native Brady Bradshaw, a student in Wilmington, N.C., was one of the protestors who risked arrest to go onto the battlefield, now private property.
Carol Polsgrove
Pittsburgh native Brady Bradshaw, a student in Wilmington, N.C., was one of the protestors who risked arrest to go onto the battlefield, now private property.

Mountains are sacred the world over, and when about a thousand of us gathered at the foot of Blair Mountain June 11, you could feel the spirit rising. For five days, several hundred people had walked single file down roads from Charleston, West Virginia’s capital. Now, joined by several hundred more, they staked a claim to the historic site of the Battle of Blair Mountain 90 years ago when a face-off between United Mine Workers and coal companies reached such a peak that federal forces came in to quell the conflict.

So pivotal was the battle that in 2009, partly as a result of research by UC-Berkeley archaeology graduate student Brandon Nida, Blair Mountain was listed on the National Register of Historic Places—then promptly delisted under pressure by coal companies. In response, Nida, a West Virginian and board member of Friends of Blair Mountain, helped to organize this long walk commemorating a march to the mountain by more than 10,000 miners in 1921. 

And so on a hot June day in 2001, here we were — nearly 1,000 of us gathered in a sunny field to call for honoring the past by protecting Blair Mountain from mountaintop removal. We had also gathered to march for the future—a future, we hoped, when all mountaintops would be safe. 

I had arrived in Logan, West Virginia, the night before the Saturday rally, and already, sitting on the floor of a van shuttle from the parking lot to the state park camp in Logan, I saw what a far-flung lot we were: from Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, Florida, Indiana, West Virginia. The next day in the field at the base of the mountain I saw more from near and far—a diverse array of tattooed young medics, oldsters under big umbrellas, college students trained as legal observers in case conflicts should erupt. Before the rally started, I talked with Quakers and opponents of natural gas extraction by “fracking” and a veteran of the Appalachian mountaintop removal movement. 

I also listened to retired mineworker Joe Stanley, born and raised in nearby Mingo County, who explained to me why the United Mine Workers of America was not opposing mountaintop removal (although one union local voted to support the march and sent signs along for marchers to carry). A former UMWA official, Stanley said the union is divided between surface miners and deep miners—a state of affairs he thinks the companies have encouraged. For coal companies, surface mining is more profitable; for miners, it’s easier than mining underground. 

“Surface mining is heavy equipment operation,” he said, and though he respects surface miners for making a living for their families, “we did not need and cannot endure the damage that mountain top removal mining is causing. We will never recover. That’s Blair Mountain right there,” he said, pointing to the steep slopes above us. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and it will leach heavy metals for 300 years.” 

That was just one conversation I had, and there were others: it was a richly educational day, with lessons to be learned even from the police cars parked on the road above us, the line of not very friendly people watching from the road, or the motorcyclists who gunned their motorcycles to interrupt the speeches, at one point, nearly drowning out Robert Kennedy Jr., who heaped righteous wrath on a coal industry that would destroy this sacred place. 

It was, Kennedy said, an illegal industry, which admitted it could not make a profit without breaking laws. The year before he had confronted Masssey Energy CEO Don Blankenship with the company’s record of breaking environmental, health, and mining laws thousands of times in just a few years. “And I said to him” —Kennedy said —“’Is it possible for your industry to make a profit wihout violating the law?” And he said, ‘No, no because we’ve got a lot of silly laws.’ What he was admitting to me,” Kennedy said, “was that he was operating a criminal enterprise, and their business plan is that they’re going to violate the law, and then they’re going to dismantle democracy, and they’re going to muzzle the press so that they can get away with it.” 

In West Virginia, democracy has been subverted, Kennedy said. “If you are a property owner in this state, you have no property rights…. If they want to drop a 5-ton boulder on your property, you can’t do anything about it. If they want to rain toxic dust down on your property and your children, you can’t do anything about it. If you did that in New York state, we’d sue you, we’d take your money, we’d make you clean up every bit of silicon dust, but you can’t do that in West Virginia…. 

“By every poll, two-thirds of the people of the state of West Virginia oppose mountaintop removal mining and want to see it shut down immediately—but there’s not a single elected politician of the state who will say that publicly. This is not democracy. That is something else, and I’ll tell you what it is. Domination of business by government is called communism. Domination of government by business is called fascism.” 

What has already happened in West Virginia may be in store for the rest of us, Kennedy said. “Our democracy is under attack, and it’s under attack by the United States Supreme Court that made the worst decision in United States history”—the Citizens United decision that overturned a law preventing corporations from spending money to advocate for or against candidates in elections. That decision has unleashed a “tsunami of corporate dollars into the American political process,” Kennedy said. 

“The same thing is happening nationally as is happening in West Virginia. Human beings are being turned into commodities, and when human beings are turned into commodities, the environment and landscape are turned into commodities. And that is going to happen across America unless you turn back this ascendancy of corporate power, and this battle is beginning now.” 

Kennedy was followed by a host of speakers and musicians, among them West Virginia’s singer Kathy Mattea, novelist Denise Giardina, and Larry Gibson, patriarch of the anti-mountaintop removal movement. But if this was a day of words, it was also to be a day of action. In early afternoon with the sun beating down, marchers headed up the hill. Two of us older protestors, defeated by the heat, stayed behind, making our long way back to town in the vintage BMW of one of the musicians and seeing, on the way, police cars hurtling toward the mountain. We were worried that whatever was happening, it was not good. 

Not until the marchers were shuttled back that evening to the parking lot at the state park did I hear what had happened there. All day rain had threatened without falling, but now, at the end of the day, it fell gently as a young marcher, Brady Bradshaw, a student in Wilmington, North Carolina, told me how on the way up the mountain, about 150 of the nearly 1,000 had broken away to go the area designated as the 1921 battlefield. Skirting a security car that halfheartedly blocked their path, they marched on for a mile or so. 

“When we reached our peak,” he said, “the cops had come up around us and gotten in front and were starting to say the magic words, ‘You’re trespassing – you’re now trespassing, everybody needs to move down the mountain now.’ And the organizers were saying, ‘Plant your flags now’—our flags that said, “Save Blair Mountain.” so people started planting those. It was really awesome. They were lining the pathway.” Having done that, they felt they had accomplished their goal, and, as a group, went on down the mountain. 

“Do you feel good?” I asked. 

He grinned. “I feel great.” 

Later that evening in the dining room of the state park lodge, I talked with historian Barbara Rasmussen, president of Friends of Blair Mountain and a leader in the effort to place Blair Mountain on the National Register. A retired history professor, she drafted the successful National Register nomination, which was then undermined by a legal challenge by the coal industry. Now Friends of Blair Mountain, the Sierra Club, and others have filed an appeal of the de-listing and await a decision by a federal court. 

“The case was assigned to a federal judge in Washington (DC), not in West Virginia, for which we are very grateful.” Does she have any idea when the decision will come? “We have none. We know if that it had been filed in a West Virginia court it would be over. Or in the Richmond federal court it would have been over—that’s where Massey is.” 

And what did she think would be impact of the Blair Mountain march? “If anything comes of the demonstration today, it will come through local governments. Perhaps today we were able to empower a county commissioner to ask questions, or a state representative to say, ‘Wait a minute….’” 

My hope is that it will do that and more. In the March on Blair Mountain, the network of groups that came together as Appalachia Rising reminded us of the possibilities for creative political action under difficult circumstances. Three times, marchers along the way were turned away from the camping places they had been promised and had to return to their starting point. While many people along the way thanked marchers for what they were doing, others heckled them. Yet through it all demonstrators had remained—as an organizer told them the final day— “strong, determined, dignified.” State Police had done their jobs and demonstrators had thanked them. There was only one arrest, on the battlefield, and release came within hours. 

The March on Blair Mountain, as Brandon Nida told me, was a “complicated action,” and it was put together in Appalachian style, with people talking things out and deciding what to do. It was a creative action, reaching back across nearly a century to find in the past inspiration for the present. Using the full array of electronic media to get the word out, organizers scattered across the Appalachian states brought together a crowd and turned them into a movement. In more ways than one, it was, as I overheard one marcher say, “a historic day.”
More pictures can be seen on Flickr. 


Carol Polsgrove is author of “Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement.” An earlier version of this story appeared on www.counterpunch.org.

Press Release: Robert Kennedy, Jr., to Speak about Risks of Coal Mining Tomorrow Night in San Francisco

From Riki Rafner
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 06:29:00 PM
Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke at the rally and also appeared at the West Virginia premiere of a new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the night before.
Carol Polsgrove
Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke at the rally and also appeared at the West Virginia premiere of a new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the night before.

Renowned environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.,will discuss his concerns about the environmental risks of coal mining in America, as presented in his new documentary, “Last Mountain” tomorrow night at 6 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. 

Kennedy argues that Big Coal corporations negate evidence that the current practice of dynamiting the tops of mountains to mine the coal within pollutes air and water. This issue remains one of America’s hottest environmental flashpoints. 

Kennedy is focusing on mountain top removal in Appalachia nearly four decades after his father campaigned against strip mining there. Kennedy traveled frequently over several years to West Virginia and compiled nearly 500 hours of footage in the heart of coal country. Although the federal government has gradually tightened restrictions on mountain top removal and there is national moratorium on building new coal power plants, America is still largely a coal fired nation. Kennedy asserts that there is a cleaner, safer way to power the U.S. economy. 

Kennedy’s reputation as a defender of the environment stems from a litany of successful lawsuits against polluters. In 1999 he was named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for helping Riverkeeper, the watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. He has been published in many periodicals and written several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller Crimes Against Nature (2004), which calls into question the environmental policies of the US. In 2009 Kennedy was named one of Rolling Stone's "100 Agents of Change." 

Kennedy graduated from Harvard College in 1976 and obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia. He also obtained an LL.M. from the Pace University School of Law. 

DATE: Thursday, June 16, 2011 

TIME: 5:30 p.m. check-in begins | 6 p.m. program 

PLACE: SF Commonwealth Club Office, 595 Market St. 2nd Floor, San Francisco 

PRICE: Regular: $20 standard, $12 members, $7 students (with valid ID). Premium (seating in first few rows) $45 standard, $30 members. To buy tickets call 415/597- 6705 or register at www.commonwealthclub.org

Two "MAD" Berkeley Spies Square Off:
Berkeley Council's Sit-Lie Ordinance is Caught in the Crossfire

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 03:14:00 PM
Boona, Janney, Mike and her Community Organizing Team outside Berkeley Public Library last week. Boona is up-front; Mike Diehl is in second row.
Jon Mychal
Boona, Janney, Mike and her Community Organizing Team outside Berkeley Public Library last week. Boona is up-front; Mike Diehl is in second row.

Those familiar with the venerable Mad Magazine's 55 year feature, "Spy Versus Spy" will recall that these alter-ego spies come in two colors: white and black, but it's hard to tell the good spy from the bad without a score card. 

I covered two venerable Berkeley spies in a week: BOSS and TBID. When we emerge from this alphabet soup, I'll provide the score card. 

First the players: BOSS is a well-funded group of organizers assisting drug-users to sobriety and housing, and advocates for Berkeley's homeless and anyone else in need. TBID (Telegraph Business Improvement District), Telegraph Avenue commercial property owners, is not so well-funded, according to their own internal fiscal report, and often characterizes itself as needy. 

But TBID's needs (street lights, dedicated police foot-patrols, a more "welcoming" People's Park, and improved business conditions) will require more than a BOSS intervention. 

I visited both groups in one week recently. As anyone who's ever scored a baseball game will tell, you can't take sides. Both teams have to be scored, a type of short-hand reporting system. 

Moreover the spy-vs.-spy stand-off between BOSS and TBID isn't anywhere near the ninth inning. The two groups couldn't be further apart. BOSS has organized several recent protests against a proposed ordinance which would ban, among other things, sitting on the sidewalk. 

Gina Sasso, who recently died at 49 of complications of pneumonia, was an intern at BOSS. Cause and effect is tricky, but there's a good bet that Sasso's protest against the proposal, held at the now-vacant Cody's bookstore site on March 27, influenced the Berkeley City Council against implementing a sit-lie ordinance by council vote. Instead, such an ordinance could be put before Berkeley voters at a future election. 

Dave Fogarty of the city of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development, who was present at the property owners’ group meeting last Tuesday, provided a spy’s-eye view of the city council's machinations. What he said seemed to confirm that when it’s finally written, the sit-lie ordinance will be decided at the ballot box, not at council. 

"The proposal's in limbo for now," said Caffe Mediterraneum owner Craig Becker, 59, prominent member of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District organization. 

Becker ought to know; he's one of the proposal writers. 

But you can expect the eventual draft by Teley property owners to come firmly down on aggressive panhandlers (already banned by existing ordinances); While lying on Berkeley walks is already banned during certain hours, any new proposal will ban sitting as well, as does the one adopted in San Francisco. 

The idea of banning sitting in business districts offends homeless advocates like BOSS. (The acronym, which has changed from time to time over the years, now stands for Building Our Self-Support). BOSS is part of a broad coalition of community groups opposing sit-lie 

I asked Boona Cheema, 66, a Unitarian-Universalist minister who helms BOSS, why BOSS would demonstrate against an as-yet non-existent ordinance or a proposal for one. "To nip it in the bud," she shot back. 

If Sasso's protest at Cody's, which ended up that night at the Berkeley City Council meeting, did help to prevent a quick adoption by the council, why do protests continue? 

Another good bet: to keep the issue before voters and to remind everyone whom they're dealing with. Although BOSS continues to express Berkeley radicalism long after the bloody battles for Telegraph of the sixties, BOSS bosses Berkeley and many Berkeleyans are glad they do. 

Back at "the BID," ( the property-owners’ nickname for it) a proposal for changing People’s Park, using some of the same language as failed District 7 councilmember aspirant George Beier's campaign planks on the topic, is one draft away from acceptance by the group before it goes to the university, which claims to own the park. I've read the second draft and can report that jaws will drop. 

There will be the usual call for a "welcoming" park environment to attract anyone but tramps and homeless drug users. 

Most BIDders think People's Park needs a serious make-over, while homeless advocates would like changes to favor their clients, not exclude them. Property owners in the group want them gone or relocated. 

Becker may not have noticed that many homeless people owe part of their day's enjoyment to his Caffe Mediterraneum which is close by the park. Backpacks for camping, though not allowed unattended, are all over the Med. A sign barring non-customers from the restroom is mostly ignored by staff and strollers-in, who would rather not play hide and seek in their moments of need. 

Becker is "welcoming" well-behaved street people (while engaging in the all-too-frequent scuffle with troublemakers), even as he presses a proposal to make them less welcome in the park. 

I hope I touched all the bases here. 


Ted Friedman: writes from the always exciting Southside for the Planet.

Demonstrations Opposing Sitting Ban Continue

By Lydia Gans
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:59:00 AM

The media is ignoring them but homeless activists and providers of services for homeless youth and adults are making sure the Berkeley mayor and city council are paying attention. The threat that the city might pass a law prohibiting sitting or lying on the city streets (so-called anti sit-lie law) has mobilized a broad coalition of organizations to express opposition to it. Tuesday evening June 7 there was another demonstration at the city hall where a number of young people who have or are experiencing homelessness joined with organizers in explaining the wrongheadedness of the idea and pointing out the paucity of services for the homeless. 

At 5:30 people began to gather. They held up signs with the message of the organizing coalition, Stand Up For The Right To Sit Down. One man had a sign reading “9 out of 10 violent crimes are committed by someone standing”. A table was set up with food and drinks that had been donated by various businesses and organizations. On another table there were dozens of hand painted prayer flags. Young people from Youth Spirit Art Works were serving the food and stringing together the prayer flags to spread on the lawn where people later gathered to speak to the issues. 

The prayer flags are a project of Youth Spirit Art Works. Director Sally Hindman explains; “Those prayer flags are a prayer for compassion and justice for youth and all the people that are on the streets right now. (A prayer) that our community will continue to bear in mind the difficulty that they face on the street and not penalize them for being homeless.” 

When it came time to speak out people formed a circle with Venus Morris of Youth Spirit Art Works taking the lead in facilitating the conversation. She talked about young people who are on the street in Berkeley because they can't get into the schools if they don't have an address. “So they're on the street and they're panhandling. They have nowhere to go.” And if they get a ticket any money they get from panhandling would go to pay the ticket. Or they would go to jail and get a record. Another speaker pointed out that Berkeley has exactly 8 shelter beds available all year round for 14 to 17 year olds and just 25 shelter beds for 18 to 14 year olds that are only open 6 months of the year. 

Hali Hammer and Patrick Fahey livened things up with a song “Living in a P.O. Box”. More people spoke about their experiences with homelessness. Attorney Osha Neumann read from Daily Cal article quoting Roland Peterson, director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, where he said “In my view a sit -lie is not really a threat to anyone. It's really a statement saying this is not OK, you ought to be doing something better with your life.” This was met with much derision from the crowd. 

Carol Denney reported on important legislation pending in Sacramento which adds homelessness or homeless persons to the list of groups protected under the current California hate crimes legislation. Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal from Long Beach is the sponsor of AB 312 which appears to have a good chance of passing. She sponsored an identical bill last year which passed the legislature but was vetoed by by Governor Schwarzenegger. The bill may not be all that is desired but it can bring about what Denney described as a “shift in the cultural perspective on homelessness.” 

As 7 o'clock approached BOSS organizer Michael Diehl suggested people go up to the council chambers if they wanted an opportunity to speak during the public comments period. Several people went up and Diehl was able to address the council. 

But it was out on the lawn prior to the council meeting that the young people from Youth Spirit Art Works made the strongest impression. This was their event. It was their message of compassion, their plea for justice, expressed so beautifully with their colorful prayer flags, that carried the message. And, Sally Hindman says, they will continue to make many prayer flags and use them for community organizing and events like Stand Up For The Right To Sit Down. “We're going to be doing it as long as we need to be doing it.” 


Changeable the Weather

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 08:12:00 AM
Steven Finacom

Shall I compare thee to a Berkeley day?

The weather has been so confusing.

Big storm in June! And such a chilly May--

And allergies so not at all amusing.

The hillsides know not when to brown, 

Graduations shivered and took cover. 

The fog comes in and rolls across the town, 

Except when there’s this heat spell, or another. 

But we are not swept out upon the frightful gust, 

Tornado, ice storm, flood or hurricane. 

No lengthy freeze or baking drought and dust 

Legitimate a penchant to complain. 

Thus, living here, we should—both you, and you, and me— 

Appreciate our clime, to its utmost degree. 

#4 in a periodic series of reflections in verse and pictures on the Berkeley community.

First Person: Berkeley goes all Punjabi this week

By Jane Stillwater
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 12:05:00 PM

Every Sunday I try to get down to the YMCA and treat myself to a jacuzzi, a swim, some serious time in the steam room, a hair-wash and a granola bar from a snack machine in the basement. But when I went to the "Y" this Sunday, I was amazed to see all of downtown Berkeley crowded everywhere with Indian men and women, all wearing multi-colored turbans and bright saris. So I joined the crowd and followed everyone to a huge festival being staged in what used to be called Provo Park. 

Wow. Just wow. There were so many people of Indian cultural descent in the park that it was just like walking through downtown New Delhi. Magical. Amazing. I think I just saved myself the price of an airline to Mumbai. "What's the occasion?" I asked a group of young men standing around on the Allston Way sidewalk, listening to sitar music and eating chapatis. 

"It's a Sikh festival, our festival of life. Celebrating life!" Works for me. "And celebrating being healthy." Wellness is always good too. "People have come from all over California to celebrate this festival." And they originally came from the Punjab, where the Sikh religion was founded. "Sikhs believe in the sacredness of life and that all people are equal." How Berkeley is that! 

My only regret is that I didn't have my camera with me so that I could take photos of all the beautiful performances, all the beautiful children, all the beautiful saris and all the beautiful food. 



Julia Vinograd: Berkeley's Poet Laureate

Dy Dorothy Snodgrass
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:57:00 AM

While leisurely sipping my almost-daily cafe au lait at Peet's Coffee on Telegraph and Dwight Way, I'm fairly certain that I'll see Julia Vinograd making her way slowly along the Avenue; she limps because of a brace on her leg. Immediately recognizable for her black and gold cap and loose flowing robe bearing the emblem of a human skull and the teeth of her dead friend Gypsy Canto, Julie is well known as the unofficial poet laureate of Berkeley. For nearly 30 years she has written lyrically about the lost, the misfits, the downtrodden, the abandoned, the wild and the free. Her latest book, "Skull and Crosswords" is her 50th volume of poetry. 

Born in West Virginia in 1943, Julia received a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She claims that she left school to pursue a career of "vagrancy, mysticism, and small villanies." She received an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the City of Berkeley, stating, "She gives us a voice when ours vanishes. She gives voice to the homeless, the street performer, the merchants, the coffee drinkers, friends and foes alike, and her words, like a sharp knife, cut deep into the truth. She describes us as full of life and love and heartache. She makes us honest. We, the eccentric, the lonely, the broken are given a voice." 

On June 4th, 2004, Mayor Tom Bates declared that day to be "Julia Vinograd Day," for representing the spirit of Berkeley. And the East Bay Express claimed, "she is to Berkeley what Damon Runyon was to Broadway." 

Julie's autobiographical poem, "For My 60th Birthday", expresses attrition, disappointment and a sense of being violated and consumed through the years of a long life. "Life can be a bummer when you're poor and just one step above living on the street." She adds wryly, "I've spent the last 30 years being a public nuisance -- in a positive way." 

So, should you pass Julia on Telegraph Avenue, you might consider greeting her and purchasing her latest book -- she carries several with her all times.

Climbing a Bikeway to Heaven: Bob Berry Remembered
Robert Stephen Berry
March 18, 1949 – May 19, 2011

By Gar Smith
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 08:30:00 AM
Bob Berry
Tom Yamaguchi
Bob Berry

It’s not everyday you find a Quaker church service crammed with CalTrans employees — especially when more than half of them are decked out in tie-dyed shirts. But it’s not everyday that our community says goodbye to a unique Berkeley treasure like Bob Berry — a songwriting, pro-biking activist who became so disenchanted with traditional political parties that, in the Bicentennial Year of 1976, he dedicated himself to reviving the Whig Party. The invitation to Berry’s June 10 memorial service included a unique request: “The family hopes that people attending the memorial service would arrive in tie-dyed T-shirts to honor Bob’s free spirit.” 

According to longtime friend and housemate, Tom Yamaguchi, Bob died suddenly, after a short illness. He leaves behind a brother, daughter Avila Birch, a wide circle of friends and CalTrans colleagues and a legendary library containing tens of thousands of books. (Bob’s friends are now hoping to find a new home for this vast collection, many of which are related to conspiracy research. Suggestions may be forwarded to: http://tomyamaguchi.wordpress.com.) 

Bob was one of the first activists to take to the road with the Bike Coalition and in support of the Critical Mass bicycling events that have now become a worldwide phenomenon. His first job after graduating from UC Berkeley was working as a loadmaster at Zoom Zoom Air, which carried cargo from SF to LA on a small fleet of propeller-driven DC-3s and C-47s. Bob felt comfortable working at Zoom Zoom, which he liked to call a “Marxist Airline.” He joined CalTrans in 1983 and quickly moved through a series of promotions as he proved himself to be an “invaluable” employee. 

Bob was active in the Free Speech Movement and in the People’s Park demonstrations. He also worked at the Berkeley Barb, one of the country’s first “underground” newspapers. In addition to tracking conspiracy theories, Bob liked to spend his free time marching in anti-war rallies and getting down at Grateful Dead concerts. As to be expected, Berry’s memorial service (held at the Berkeley Friends Church at the corner of Cedar and Sacramento and a short walk from North Berkeley BART) was somewhat quirky. It began with readings from Psalms and Vonnegut. 

Bob’s brother Bill recalled Joan Rivers’ advice for coping with adversity: “Just laugh at everything. If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.” Bob had his own version. Exasperated by a world of shameless political chicanery, Bob would quip: “It’s all just a big conspiracy to keep me entertained.” As a songmeister, his political ditties provided another outlet for his mischievous nature. As one friend recalled, “He would take a song like ‘Old McDonald’ and write a bunch of new lyrics about Dick Cheney.” Another friend recalled Bob’s anarchist version of “No Business Like Show Business.” It went: “There’s No Government Like No Government….” 

Bob was remembered as someone who sounded like former 49ers football coach John Madden and “bounded” about with a Madden-like level of excitement and passion. Bob’s young niece recalled living in his house for a spell. “When my friends came over to visit, I had to warn them about my uncle: ‘He’ll come down the stairs in his underwear and sing to you.’” 

In addition to family reminiscences, many of the stories shared at the Friday memorial came from members of CalTrans — from supervisors and yard workers who took personal time off to attend the service. As one CalTrans official noted, Bob Berry’s passing had prompted “the first two-page memorial in CalTrans history.” 

One of Bob’s supervisors (a woman with more than 30 years’ service at CalTrans and who looked resplendent in a tie-dyed shirt), spoke lovingly of Bob. “He had no guile. He was not afraid of anything and he would talk to anyone. He was absolutely unbound.” And he reportedly took delight in the nickname that someone had bestowed on him — “The BobBerryan.” 

One District 4 co-worked broke down in tears as she remembered the night Bob found her still working at the office at 11PM and insisted on staying up with her until she finished her work. One of Bob’s jobs was to provide research to help CalTrans defend itself from lawsuits. “He knew everything. He could find whatever you needed,” one co-worker marveled. “He did all our work for us!” a supervisor laughed. Bob’s supervisor of 17 years, recalled him as a thrifty “free spirit” who refused to abandon “his 10-year-old computer.” 

Another colleague recalled how Bob had once come up with two forgotten hand-drawn sketches of Highway 1 that proved critical in assessing a road accident in Marin. “He always added a lot of color to reports that would otherwise have been quite dry,” she noted. As proof, she read one of Bob’s classic CalTrans memos and, sure enough, it was salted with an array of snarky adjectives that quickly had the memorial crowd chuckling. 

One coworker recalled how he first met Bob during an off-hours project — directing a satirical political movie called “Dr. Alzheimer’s Medicine Show.” The movie was designed to mock the First Bush Presidency. “I needed some people to perform as a political lynch mob,” he recalled. “Bob was only too willing to brandish a shovel over his head.” 

Anti-car activist Jan Lundberg recalled that Berry was “the first to write a check for the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium.” Lundberg paused and added with a grin: “Not quite the mission of Caltrans.” 

Despite his long career as a CalTrans Engineering Technician and Assistant Transportation Engineer, Bob refused to own a car and commuted exclusively by bike and BART. On those occasions when he got off work during BART’s prime commute hours (when bicycles are banned), he would hop on his bike and pedal 11 miles back to his Berkeley home. 

One of his CalTrans colleagues recalled asking Bob how it was that a “long-haired, bike-ridding hippie who never owned a car” wound up working for CalTrans. 

“Don’t you get it?” Bob replied. “In 20 years, the oil will be gone and there won’t be any gas for cars — but California will have the best paved system of bicycle lanes in the country!” 

For more information, see: http://tomyamaguchi.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/bob-berry/ 



Bundles of Boodle, Missing in Action

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 12:37:00 PM

It’s a mind-boggling image.

Great big military cargo planes, packed to the gills with shrink-wrapped bundles of hundred-dollar bills, destined for….where, exactly? Or whom, precisely?

If you believe the article in the L.A. Times , approximately $6.6 billion, give or take a few bales of hundreds, seems to have turned up missing. The Times reporter hypothesized that the money might have been "the largest theft of funds in national history," in a quote attributed to an auditor on the case. 

Fox News today features a more temperate quote from the same guy, backpedalling a bit: 

"I said, yes, it would be a very significant serious crime," he said. "So yes, the reporter was correct that some of it, and perhaps a lot of it, has been stolen. But we don't have a factual basis to reach that conclusion. What we said over and over again is that the lack of controls created vulnerabilities to fraud, waste and abuse." 

The implication is that it’s somehow better to say “I don’t know” than to say “we wuz robbed.”  

Why would that be? A daring heist by masked and armed Al Qaeda operatives, loading the cash onto, I don’t know, camels perhaps, is shocking but comprehensible, whereas “we don’t have a factual basis” is somewhat equivalent to “the dog ate my homework.” 

(Not, of course, that dogs don’t. A professor friend claims to have seen dog teethmarks on a partially destroyed thesis manuscript, though how they got there is a separate question.) 

But the big question in my mind is why they were schlepping around plane-loads of cash in the first place. More from the Times: 

“The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors.

“But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified.” 

One radio report I heard said something about electronic funds transfer not being available at that time, which is why they needed to send paper money. That’s a pretty flimsy excuse. 

Having once participated in international commerce myself, I know that EFT and sacks of currency are not the only two alternatives. Letters of credit have been used for transactions like this for centuries, and paper checks are another choice, widely trusted in the pre-computer era.  

The money in question belonged to the people of Iraq, payment for oil extracted from their country. Speculation about who might have gotten it is rampant, but whether the crooks were American or Iraqi, it’s gone gone gone. Could it have been burned up in a plane crash? Set afire by a misguided drone? With that amount of paper just floating around, many scenarios could be constructed, but it seems that we’ll never know. 

In a perverse way, this reminds me of a current controversy over what the take-home pay of BUSD employees might amount to. A newly-formed group, Berkeley Budget SOS, issued a report claiming that overtime expenses for City of Berkeley employees were dramatically out of line in comparison with similar bay area cities.  

A later “fair and balanced” story in the East Bay Express quotes a number of Berkeley city officials disputing that claim, most on the grounds that what BB-SOS took to be overtime was actually a miscellany of expenses connected to the employees in question in a variety of ways TBD. 

But where the city’s money is actually being spent is almost as mysterious as what happened to the rumored $6.6 billion in cash in Iraq. The latest committee set up to watchdog the Berkeley budget is just one in a long line of similar organizations which have struggled with the question of interpreting data that’s made murky by city staff, either deliberately or inadvertently. Once upon a time there was a Berkeley Citizens’ Budget Commission, but it was axed by the city mothers and fathers in 2005, probably for being too nosy—and there were several others before and since.  

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of “money” floating around these days, in and out of government coffers, and despite (or perhaps because of) the availability of up-to-date computer tracking systems there’s a lot of tracking that’s not happening.  

Last night’s Berkeley City Council meeting provided yet another local example, small but telling. West Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore suggested that perhaps some money in a tight budget could be saved by cancelling Berkeley’s traditional Fourth of July fireworks display at the Berkeley Marina.  

How much money? Well, it depends. 

The sum of $80,000 was bandied about, but the question of what it goes for was not satisfactorily answered. Police overtime might be the answer, or it might not. Whether the small army of overtime and special police officers annually present at the event might be replaced, to save money, by a smaller number of non-sworn parking personnel or even volunteers never came up. The discussion was postponed, as it has been for several years now, until winter, but don’t take any bets that it will ever take place.  

It’s not that $80,000, plus or minus, is anything but small potatoes in light of Berkeley’s projected budget shortfall. It’s not that Berkeleyans can’t go to Oakland or Richmond or even San Francisco to see fireworks.  

But this is just another example of Berkeley’s data-free decision-making. It seems that no matter what specific financial question Berkeley’s largely passive councilmembers see fit to ask, staff’s stock answer is “I don’t know” or perhaps “we’ll have to get back to you on that”. Sadly, getting no answer seldom prevents the council from voting anyhow, and on matters weightier than whether or not to sponsor a fireworks extravaganza. The show, it seems, must go on regardless.

The Editor's Back Fence

Information Found Elsewhere

Friday June 17, 2011 - 09:01:00 AM


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 03:37:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:30:00 AM

What Part of “It’s About the Voters” Don’t You Understand? End Sales Tax Loophole; Republicans in Reverse 

What Part of “It’s About the Voters” Don’t You Understand? 

Regarding Dr. Elmer Grossman’s letter of June 8 replying to my commentary of June 1, let me clarify. I said that The City’s definition of “demolition” and the federal criteria for rehabilitation are irrelevant with respect to Measure FF – because most voters are totally unaware of these. It is the ballot language upon which voters base their decisions about ballot measures. 

I did not say that “the majority of the old 1923 building would survive”; I said that the majority of the 1923 building “is intact”. The façade, however, had already been altered in the 1970s. The Todd Jersey plan would partially restore it. 

One can nit-pick until the cows come home, but the voters were deceived in 2008 about the Library Board’s plans to demolish the South and West Branch libraries. I believe this was done deliberately and premeditatedly to secure funding for demolitions and brand new libraries that the voters would not have approved if they had been told the truth.\ 

Gail Garcia 

* * * 

End Sales Tax Loophole 

As an active member of my community and local small business owner, I am greatly concerned about the giant loophole that allows out-of-state online retailers to avoid following California’s tax code. This tax avoidance costs our local governments and communities millions of dollars per year, and puts our local economies at a severe disadvantage. 

The tax loophole allows the online giants to avoid collecting sales tax from California customers. However, every law-abiding local business like Mike’s Bikes charges California sales tax, putting them at up to a 10% price disadvantage. These local businesses provide local service, employ local workers and support the local economy, yet the California tax code inexplicably favors the out-of-state behemoths by allowing them this price advantage. It’s time to put an end to the loophole that favors out-of-state online retailers, encourages the siphoning of money out of our communities, and increases the strain on our already strapped local governments. It’s time for the outof- state retailers to pay their fair share, and I believe that Assembly Bill 153 and Assembly Bill 155 are a great start. 

Ken Martin, Founder, Mike's Bikes, San Rafael 

* * * 

Republicans in Reverse 

The Republican 2012 presidential campaign swings into high gear. Mitt (my health care plan was not the inspiration for Obamacare) Romney has thrown his hat into the ring of GOP presidential contenders. As has Rick (abortion is the issue) Santorum R-PA. Perennial Republican politician Newt (always seeking power) Gingrich is running again for the GOP top spot. 

Barack Obama won North Carolina through a strong turnout of early voters. 

So, what have N.C. Republicans done to negate this happening again - passed a measure limiting early voting. Jim Crow lives on in No. Carolina. Florida and Georgia have also passed measures to restrict early voting. 

Give the GOP a high-five for their on-going voter suppression and discrimination.

Ron Lowe

Why Not to Outsource Berkeley’s Resource Management System

By Mary Lou Van Deventer and Daniel Knapp
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 10:16:00 AM

It's an illusion that outsourcing Berkeley’s City-owned and -operated resource management system would help the City’s budget problems. No robotic cost-of-living rate escalator would work satisfactorily, either.

The recent Refuse Fund deficit is a new problem resulting partly from errors in capital expenditures and partly from previous attempts at outsourcing. Many of these errors have never been acknowledged or discussed. The effects of internal mistakes on the budget deficits have not been analyzed.

This is a problem with multiple causes. It needs to be corrected in thoughtful delicate ways, not with a meat cleaver. A subcommittee of the Zero Waste Commission is already well into a professional-level review of the structure of services and rates. These are good people, smart and committed. Their work should be encouraged, not sidestepped.

Now staff wants approval to spend money it says it does not have to pay yet another outside consultant to do the same work. Besides being duplicative, this is directly undermining the Zero Waste Commission’s efforts. 

It’s important to notice that the Refuse Fund deficit is almost the same as the amount Berkeley spends on street sweeping, paid for by the Refuse Fund. Take street sweeping out of the Enterprise Fund budget, and the fund is at a breakeven level.  

Outsourcing would be a bad choice because: 

1. It would increase the City’s support for the waste management profession’s ideological prejudice to replace labor with machinery whenever and wherever possible. It would support more trucking, landfilling, and international shipping that downgrades the resources (“downcycling”) for export to “developing” countries like China, who are thriving on our cheap scrap, which they make into products we import, and we borrow from them to do it. 

2. The garbage giants require long-term contracts, reducing future system flexibility at a moment of major expansion in the recycling industry. 

3. The garbage giants routinely downgrade resources to increase profit. Salvaging for reuse is banned or truncated on their sites, and construction materials (C&D) are destroyed and smashed up by rough handling. Then chopped and finely screened C&D materials are applied to landfills as “alternative daily cover” (ADC). Waste company lobbyists have ensured that anyone generating ADC can get recycling credit from the State by layering it over less finely chopped garbage. Berkeley doesn’t count ADC as recycling for its own calculations, but the downgrading still happens. 

4. Outsourced fees embed high corporate salaries and dividends for wasting companies’ shareholders, which leave town and don’t contribute to this community. 

5. Outsourcing recycling would kill off one local nonprofit and seriously damage another. These organizations were founders of recycling internationally and are extremely efficient financially because their products are cleaner than the garbage giants’. 

6. It would sacrifice the City’s income from recycling revenue sharing, which is currently included in recyclers’ contracts and brings the City up to $200,000 annually from recycling scrap sales. 

7. It would hurt Urban Ore by barring us from salvaging, reducing incoming materials and the jobs, low-cost merchandise, and sales tax they generate. 

8. It would eliminate all or most jobs now held by Berkeley’s SEIU collection staff and maybe transfer station staff. 

9. It would forego income that could be generated by changes in current operating methods such as extending hours. 

10.It would still require finding other funding for street sweeping. 

11.It would prevent developing local discarded resources for local income and instead encourage the City to sell its nine-acre site at 2nd and Gilman to big developers, choosing short-term asset liquidation over long-term asset development. 

For a thumbnail background of how the Refuse Fund and the resource management system work, see the “Background” section later in this document. 


ISSUE: Recent rate increase didn’t increase revenue.  

This was actually a predictable effect, although the consultant missed it (different consultant than the one who did the 2005 plan). Recycling collection has been embedded in the garbage fund’s rates as a “free” service. Any trucking and labor will always cost something, and scrap revenues seldom pay enough to cover the cost. So when the garbage fund’s rates were raised to cover projected deficits, users wisely downsized their garbage cans to save money. They recycled more. The work simply shifted from garbage to recycling, but the fund revenue went down because the underlying rate structure provides users inaccurate feedback. Fixing this problem doesn’t call for outsourcing the whole system. It calls for rate rebalancing, community education, and an entrepreneurial outlook. 

ISSUE: High service rates overall.  

The Zero-Waste Commission’s rate subcommittee is working hard comparing rates and creating a rebalanced rate structure that provides accurate feedback and incentivizes recycling. The commissioners report to City Council. The Commission meets monthly at 7:00PM on the fourth Monday in the North Berkeley Senior Center and – unlike big garbage companies – wants to hear from citizens. Send email to them through the commission secretary, Recycling Coordinator Andrew Schneider, at ASchneider@ci.berkeley.ca.us. 

ISSUE: Landfilling costs are too high.  

The City has now issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for competitive bids on a new long-term contract for landfilling. But Council and citizens should expect landfilling fees to continue to rise because landfills poison the Earth. Current landfills are either in wetland areas or in upland canyons that are headwaters of creeks that drain downhill to the Bay or the Estuary. Trying to control the pollution is both expensive and, in the end, unlikely to work. The Environmental Protection Agency says all landfills will inevitably leak. Landfill companies are generally responsible for cleanup costs only for 30-50 years after the landfill closes. Cleanup methods are imprecise at best. Our collective fingers are crossed that the next generations will think of something. 

ISSUE: Wages and retirement obligations are too high.  

Personnel costs won’t go down with outsourcing. Garbage giants’ union workers, mostly Teamsters, make as much as or more in both wages and retirement benefits than the City’s SEIU staff. Berkeley ratepayers won’t save by simply switching unions. Regarding management, the wasters’ corporate executives earn more than the City's top bureaucrats, and they're in Texas, so their income doesn't even add to the local economy. Regarding administrative costs, big garbage companies typically make 15% profit or more, often up to 35% profit, and that money is embedded in fees. It also leaves town. 

Sometimes garbage companies make their rates look attractive by offering low introductory rates that escalate over time according to contract. 

Regarding staffing cost overall, the City has proposed changing from two-person truck crews to one-person truck crews for some routes. This change would reduce staffing cost while requiring capital expenditures to buy new one-person trucks. 

ISSUE: Jobs.  

The increased automation and reduced staffing the City proposes would eliminate some of the SEIU’s jobs. The workers and union are unhappy. This issue hasn’t yet been resolved. It won’t help simply to outsource the enterprise; that would eliminate all the SEIU’s jobs. It won’t help to ask the SEIU to take over Ecology Center’s and CCC’s jobs; that would simply swap job loss. Redeveloping the facility, however, would require more workers to handle the materials for higher and better use, and if good entrepreneuring principles were used, the labor would pay for itself in increased revenues from resource sales, with lower current expenses and lower long-term liabilities from wasting. 

ISSUE: Management and business-model efficiency.  

There have been serious questions about the effectiveness of the Refuse Division’s upper-level management in the last five years. But the problems stem in part from expecting old-style garbage thinking to meet today’s resource challenges – and opportunities. Today’s Zero-Waste goals, pollution prevention requirements, and resource management opportunities generate very different business models from the old vision of well, garbage just happens, and the job is just to keep it off the streets. Today understanding of vanishing wilderness, depleted minerals and forests, and resource-laden discards create a new environment for the business model. Resource management is no longer suitable for the maintenance-oriented Public Works Department and would be more appropriately located in a new entrepreneurial Resource Management Department reporting directly to the City Manager. The enterprise can be envisioned as similar to a Port Authority or Airport Authority, which reliably generate income for their community. 




Refuse Fund 

Berkeley’s Refuse Fund is an enterprise fund. It pays for all resource management services including garbage, recycling, and street sweeping. The current deficit is new. For decades the fund has generated substantial surpluses, and the City has often raided it to support social programs. The Refuse Fund brings in money from several sources.  


  • Residents pay to have garbage and recyclables picked up at the curb – curbside collection. Larger garbage cans cost more. In the past, recycling service has been advertised as “free” although it actually costs money, and its costs have been embedded in the garbage rates. For most ratepayers, the bill for all services is included with the property tax bill. This billing is only for ratepayers’ convenience; the services are not taxes. Some ratepayers are billed separately. Nobody has a clear explanation for why there are different billing methods. The Zero Waste Commission’s rate subcommittee is analyzing different approaches to these rates and billing methods. It’s important for ratepayers to have accurate feedback on what their money pays for, as well as incentives to reduce wasting, to increase recycling, and to achieve the City’s Zero Waste goal.
  • Some businesses pay the City to pick up their garbage as a commercial collection service. Again, commercial recycling is “free.” Unfortunately, businesses can have “free” recycling collection even though they pay non-City collectors for garbage service. Other businesses pay non-City haulers to collect garbage, and the haulers pay the City a franchise fee. So the City brings in income from its competitors. The Zero Waste Commission’s subcommittee is analyzing the franchises and their fees.
  • Transfer station users pay $126 per ton to dump at the City-owned and -operated facility. This facility is one in a string of pearls composed of regional operations located every few miles around the Bay. Berkeley’s facility has enjoyed historically stable usage because it has good geographical positioning and attracts resources. The City contracted with a for-profit designer and operator for two years in 1983 to design, build, and operate the facility but took back the operations. The per-ton dumping (“tipping”) rate is competitive, neither the highest nor the lowest.
Recycling and garbage operations 

The Ecology Cente collects residential recyclables at curbside. For years it has shared the industry-wide problem of reduced collection volumes because of poachers. But Berkeley’s new split carts make poaching more difficult and have substantially reduced the problem. So tonnages collected are rising at the same time scrap prices are rising. The Ecology Center turns its resources over to CCC, which shares revenue with the City. The Ecology Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in Berkeley. It was one of the founders of the international recycling industry and one of the first curbside collection operators in the nation. Its recycling revenues help support its other environmental work, including education and farmers’ markets, and it provides recycling information not paid for by its collection contract. Its union is Industrial Workers of the World (IWW - the Wobblies). 

The Ecology Center delivers clean materials to the processor because of its dual-stream split-can system. This is a very important part of system configuration. 

Community Conservation Center (CCC)processes and sells all curbside materials collected in Berkeley, and it runs The Buyback at Second and Gilman. It not only pays users for their containers, it also usually returns up to $200,000 a year to the City from its materials sales. This revenue sharing crashed when the worldwide scrap markets fell, but the markets are again returning to near-historic highs. CCC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in Berkeley. It spun off from the Ecology Center in the 1970s. Its union is also the IWW. 

CCC’s materials are much cleaner than other cities’ because Berkeley collects in two streams, not one. Single-stream systems crush glass into paper, seriously downgrading the paper sent to market. Therefore CCC’s resources bring the best prices and, in a down market, can always be sold for income while other recyclers including garbage giants have to pay the markets to take their downgraded materials. 

Urban Ore salvages reusable goods and scrap nonferrous metals from the transfer station. Users pay $126 per ton to dump, and the City pays Urban Ore $40 per ton to salvage. For every ton Urban Ore takes, the City keeps $86 for no further expense. Then when Urban Ore sells the salvaged goods, it collects sales taxes that the State shares with cities. It also pays users for some goods delivered to its Ecopark. Urban Ore is a for-profit social enterprise whose staff are non-union. 

City staff collect commercial recyclables, and yard debris and food scraps from residences and businesses. They also collect all residential and some commercial garbage in Berkeley. They deliver their recyclables to CCC and their garbage and yard debris with mixed-in food scraps to the City’s transfer station. They operate the transfer station, collecting user fees, managing the discards on the floor, and trucking them to landfill or C&D recycling. They oversee the pickups of mixed yard debris and food scraps to be composted. City operations staff belong to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

City resource management facility  

The nine-acre site at Second and Gilman houses recycling and wasting, occupied as shown and discussed above. It can and should be redesigned to recover more resources and generate more City income. 

The site was designed piecemeal in 1983 after the citizens voted not to build a garbage incinerator there. It has always been inefficient. By 2005 it was obsolete and rundown. A consultant hired to write the City’s plan to achieve 75% diversion from landfilling recommended redesigning the site to improve recovery and overall efficiency in pursuit of the City’s Zero Waste goal. 

Urban Ore, which has designed more than 30 Zero-Waste facilities, donated a design (at least a $50,000 value, likely two or three times as much) that could recover most of the materials now wasted, turning it into feedstocks for manufacturing. City income could also increase substantially by changing some operating practices. 

The City’s former Public Works Director accepted the 2005 consultant’s plan to achieve 75% recycling but didn’t adopt the plan, and also ignored Urban Ore’s site design. 

Council Votes to Record All License Numbers from Cars on City Streets

By Pat Mapps
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 03:38:00 PM

The depth and persistence of Berkeley’s current financial problems suggests that those who are in charge of running the city lack foresight, hindsight, and perspective. The current approach to managing our City seems to be to increase revenue at all costs. The recently authorized ‘Boot and Release’ Program is evidence of a unitary focus on increasing revenue. ‘Boot and Release’ relies on highly questionable public policy to yield unspecified revenue and promises to be poorly designed and implemented. 

How ‘Boot and Release’ Works 

‘Boot and Release’ will use technology provided by PayLock, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, to compel payment of delinquent parking tickets by immobilizing vehicles until their overdue fines and related fees are paid. The heart of the system is a camera that captures digital images of parked cars as it is driven around town. The images are scanned by PayLock’s Mobile License Plate Recognition (MLPR) system which locates the license plate number within the image and searches for that number in a database of vehicles with overdue tickets called the [Berkeley] ‘Scofflaw Database.’ An alarm sounds in the vehicle when MLPR detects a ‘scofflaw vehicle.’ The ‘scofflaw vehicle’ is fitted with a ‘Smart Boot’ that can be removed only after the owner has paid all of the outstanding tickets, a $140 fee that goes to PayLock, and a $500 deposit. Payment is made by telephoning PayLock’s Customer Service Center. PayLock then provides a code that, when entered into the boot’s keypad, will release the boot. If the boot is timely returned to a local tow yard in good condition, PayLock refunds the $500 deposit. 

‘Boot and Release’ Implements Questionable Public Policy 

MLPR captures an image of every parked car within camera range as it searches for scofflaw vehicles. This means that PayLock will collect information about the whereabouts of your vehicle when it is parked on the camera’s route. Many Berkeley residents are very likely to perceive this practice as an invasion of privacy and vehemently object to it on that basis. 

The ‘Boot and Release’ staff report is silent on other potentially objectionable issues. Will MLPR be used city-wide or only on normal parking enforcement routes? Will vehicles on private property be booted as they were in Bristol, Connecticut? 

‘Boot and Release’ was a Consent Calendar item, meaning that it was deemed routine, non-controversial, easily explained and expected to receive Council approval without need for discussion. The person who decided that the highly charged issues of privacy and property rights do not merit discussion lacks foresight, hindsight, and perspective. 

The item passed 8-0 on February 8, 2011. City and PayLock staffs currently are working out the details of ‘Boot and Release.’ 

‘Boot and Release’ Staff Report Contains No Credible Revenue Projections 

Even those willing to accept the threats to privacy and property rights that are inherent in ‘Boot and Release’ might reject the justification for the program that is contained in the staff report. The document reads like a report written by a technophile who is smitten by PayLock’s technology rather than a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a program that may or may not be right for Berkeley. The report summarily dismisses two pro forma alternatives and recommends a sole source contract with PayLock because no other viable vendors exist. 

The Staff Report on ‘Boot and Release’ contains no credible revenue projections. It simply refers to the results of a ‘proof of concept’ test as having identified fifty-four confirmed scofflaw vehicles that owed a total of $53,111.00 in parking fines during eight hours of testing. It includes no information on the number, ages, and values of the vehicles in the Scofflaw Database, nor on the number, value, and range of issue dates of the overdue parking tickets. This information is essential to developing credible ‘Boot and Release’ revenue projections. Telephone calls to City staff yielded no further information about the database. 

By contrast, when Oakland adopted ‘Boot and Release’ about eighteen months ago, it announced projected increased revenues of about $750,000 per year plus the value of unpaid tickets and stated that it had about 68,000 vehicles in its scofflaw database. 

Berkeley’s test results actually are discouraging because the average amount required to release each vehicle detected in the test is over $1,600. How many people can pay that much money on the spur of the moment? How many people will decide that the car isn’t worth that much money and simply abandon it? It might be even more discouraging if more was known about the scofflaw database. For example, how many of the vehicles listed in the database will never be detected by MLPR because they have been driven to other locations by students who no longer attend Cal? 

Another downside risk is that shoppers will stop driving to Berkeley for fear that their cars will be booted. 

‘Boot and Release’ Has Other Flaws 

PayLock is a New Jersey company. Let’s figure out ways to patronize local businesses and employ local people. The ‘Smart Boot’ might be put on vehicles that are parked legally when they are booted. The Scofflaw Database contains information only about vehicles with unpaid Berkeley tickets which means that the opportunity to collect all overdue fines for a vehicle booted in Berkeley will be missed. The label ‘Scofflaw’ suggests that the offender is flouting the law or refusing to pay his or her debts. The use of this term could lead to making policy that is inappropriately punitive. 

Here are Some Suggestions for ‘Boot and Release’ 

It is clear that the drive to raise revenue has caused those responsible for the City’s finances to lose perspective. The loss of perspective makes citizen input mandatory. In this case the input should be directed to City Manager Phil Kamlarz or to your councilmember. NEBA will submit to Mr. Kamlarz the issues raised in this article along with the suggestions below. 

Implementation of ‘Boot and Release’ is being planned right now. However, the program should be delayed until public input is solicited, received, and given due consideration. If ‘Boot and Release’ is implemented, it should reflect the public’s input. 

The Scofflaw Database currently is used by Parking Enforcement Officers to determine if a vehicle that is being ticketed should be towed due to unpaid parking fines. Perhaps the MLPR portion of ‘Boot and Release’ can be omitted but scofflaw vehicles can be booted instead of towed. 

If the fines, fees and deposits for booted vehicles prove to be as high as the test indicated, the definition of a scofflaw vehicle should be changed to a lower number of unpaid tickets. This change should reduce the amount due and therefore increase the chances of the fines actually being paid. 

The Berkeley Scofflaw Database should be analyzed and potentially scrubbed of inappropriate entries. 

There should be an effort to expand contents of the Scofflaw Database to include overdue fines from nearby cities so that all outstanding fines can be collected. 

The Release is administered by PayLock at a distant call center. Therefore, it is imperative that a City-run override system exists. This system must allow the owner of a booted car to escalate to a local entity in case the vehicle was improperly booted. This system also should permit the release a properly booted vehicle either on compassionate grounds or with an approved payment plan in place. After all, the City of Berkeley has no business driving the poor further into poverty. 

Once again Berkeley is pursuing carbon-centric revenue while representing itself as a Green City. How much ‘green revenue’ do we collect? 

This article first appeared in the spring 2011 issue of the NEBA News, the newsletter of the North East Berkeley Association (www.northeastberkeleyassociation.org).


The Public Eye: Roll Over, Karl Marx

By Bob Burnett
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:26:00 AM

In 1883, Karl Marx died as an obscure philosopher, but since then he’s become notorious. A 1999 BBC poll judged Marx “the thinker of the millennium” but for the last 60 years he’s been infamous in America, where being called a Marxist is equivalent to being labeled a terrorist or pedophile. Despite the controversy, Marx’s analysis was correct on many issues and his insights help explain America’s growing economic and political divide. 

Marx examined the human condition from the perspective of economics. An idealist, he emphasized “universal” principles of group dynamics. He was fascinated by class struggle and capitalism. Influenced by Hegel, Marx subscribed to the concept of inevitability and predicted that capitalism would produce class conflict causing a socialist revolution. 

Marx viewed industrial society as a constant struggle between workers (the proletariat) and capitalists (the bourgeoisie). He argued that capitalism always produced a small number of rich and powerful capitalists; if not counteracted, this concentration of power inevitably caused class polarization and, ultimately, a revolution that would destroy capitalism and produce socialism. 

In the US, the Great Depression produced extreme income imbalance and then class polarization. As a consequence, Marx’s notion of class struggle became a hot intellectual commodity. In 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt promoted the New Deal to provide employment and address income inequality. Big business initially resisted but FDR twisted capitalist arms, warning that if they did cooperate with his reforms there would be “class warfare.” 

In the thirties and forties, the American Left embraced Marxist ideas, but in the fifties Communism and Marxism fell out of favor; first because of revelations about the genocidal policies of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and then due to the “red scare” launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Nonetheless, income inequality gradually lessened, reaching historic lows during the Johnson Administration. 

Since 1968 income inequality has increased, reaching a historic high in 2007 (the last year reported). As a consequence, the United States is again confronted with class polarization. 

The Great Recession has produced extreme income imbalance and devastated the middle class. Nonetheless, despite Karl Marx’ dire prediction, it’s unlikely the US will witness class warfare. 

American capitalists have gained the political upper hand while workers are disorganized and dispirited. Several factors that Marx did not anticipate have produced this imbalance. First, there’s an additional actor in the socio-political drama: multinational corporations. While the key principles of modern corporations emerged during his lifetime – limited liability and corporate personhood – Marx did not anticipate that corporations would grow stronger, while unions would not. 

Second, corporations and wealthy individuals heavily influence the American political process either directly through political contributions or indirectly by managing the dominant narrative – because of their control of the mainstream media. American workers don’t have a strong alternate voice. 

Third, starting in 1971 with the Lewis Powell memorandum, capitalists set in motion a comprehensive, well-funded strategy to enhance their power. This included public relations to improve the image of corporations and executives, as well as “disinformation campaigns” about the consequences of corporate policies such as union busting and pollution. Since 1981, at the start of the Reagan presidency, capitalist economic ideology has dominated American political discourse with three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else, “a rising tide lifts all boats;” markets are inherently self correcting and there is no need for government regulation; and the US does not need an economic strategy because that’s a natural consequence of the free market. The consequences were devastating to workers, the environment, and the American economy. Millions of good jobs were shipped overseas and worker wages became stagnant. 

Fourth, capitalists attacked unions and their membership decreased from a high of 32.5 percent of the workforce to a 2010 low of 11.9 percent. (The attack on collective bargaining agreements in Wisconsin and other states is the latest chapter in this campaign.) In parallel, capitalists distracted workers with fundamentalist religion, emphasizing social issues such as abortion to divert attention from poor wages and living conditions. 

Finally, if Karl Marx were alive today, he’d observe that in America the Republican Party is the political arm of capitalists but there is no comparable vehicle for the concerns of workers – whereas in European countries there are Labor or Social Democrat political parties to represent the proletariat. Since World War II the Democratic Party has become a centrist Party, “capitalism lite.” Because of the obscene amounts of money involved in American politics, Democrats have found it increasingly difficult to take a hard line on capitalism. That’s why, with the exception of Senator Bernie Sanders and a handful of other brave Congresspeople, workers have no consistent voice in the American political process. 

Marx was half right. Unfettered capitalism has promoted class polarization in the US. But it’s far from inevitable that this will produce class conflict, revolution, and a new social order. American workers are too weak and disorganized. 

Karl Marx is rolling over in his grave. 

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

Dispatches From the Edge: Iran’s Turmoil: Through A Glass Darkly

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:34:00 AM

On the surface, the recent turmoil in Teheran looks like a case of the clerical elite, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, slapping down an independent minded President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though the battle is couched in vocabulary that does more to obscure than to reveal: accusations of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” get equal billing with charges of corruption and violations of the constitution. But if the language can at times seem odd, the players and the stakes are hardy abstruse. 

There is, indeed, a struggle between Ahmadinejad and the clerics around Khamenei, and while it may play out in arguments over obscure religious issues—one critic of the President accused him of recruiting an army of genies—at its heart the fight is over political and economic power: who wields it and to what purpose? Some of the players, like the President and the Supreme Leader, perform in the spotlight. Others, like the powerful Revolutionary Guard and an increasingly restive population hammered by economic difficulties, maneuver in the wings. 

The current crisis was sparked off when Ahmadinejad dismissed his Minister of Intelligence, apparently because the latter was tapping his chief-of-staff’s phones and gathering intelligence on the President’s plans for the upcoming round of parliamentary elections in 2012 and the presidential election in 2013. Khamenei forced Ahmadinejad to rehire the Minister, which caused the President to boycott cabinet meetings for 11 days, what Iranians are calling the “long sulk.” 

What followed were a series of maneuvers by both sides. The President reorganized his cabinet, dropping several ministries, fired the Oil Minister, and put himself in charge. The Majilis, or parliament, claims the act was illegal and, by an overwhelming vote, sent the matter to the Iranian judiciary. No one is talking about impeachment yet, but that straw is in the wind. 

There is, indeed, a conflict between Kharmenei, the clerics, and Ahmadinejad. While not mentioning the Supreme Leader, the President told a Teheran press conference on June 7, “It is very clear now that we are 180 degrees away from them. We are actually on opposite sides.” In a political system dominated by Ayatollahs, it was a bold statement and reflects Ahmadinejad’s judgment that the clerics are no longer all-powerful, and that the Supreme Leader—old and unwell according to most sources—has less authority than the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first leader of the Islamic Republic. 

Presidential confidant and advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, currently under fire and accused of “deviancy,” once remarked, “the era of sovereignty of religion is over,” and that “An Islamic government is not capable of running a vast and populous country like Iran.” Mashaei, a former intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guard, has a strong nationalist streak in him—“Iran first” as opposed to “Islam first””—and word is that Ahmadinejad was maneuvering to pass on the presidency to him or another non-cleric in 2013, thus marginalizing the religious establishment. 

The clerics are also suspicious that the President’s prediction that the “hidden Iman,” who disappeared in the ninth century AD, would soon emerge was actually an effort to sideline them and shift power to Ahmadinejad’s clique of ultra-nationalist veterans from the 1980-88 war with Iraq. 

Certainly removing a mullah from control of the Oil Ministry would have amounted to a public slap-down of a cleric at a time of unprecedented tension between the President and the clerical establishment. While Ahmadinejad was eventually forced to give back the ministry, he ended up appointing an ally, Mohammad Aliabadi, the former head of Iran’s Olympic Committee. 

So far, the Revolutionary Guard has come down on the side of Khamenei and have even issued a veiled warning to the President that the Guard might consider releasing records from the disputed 2009 election that saw Ahmadinejad re-elected. However, the Guard is being discreet about how it intervenes, concentrating instead on gathering greater economic power. 

The Guard recently acquired control of two large natural gas fields in Fars Province, and its engineering and construction firm, Khatam-ol-Anbia, has become the largest contractor for government projects. The guard also has major interests in mining, telecommunications, dam building, and trade. The sanctions leveled at Iran over its nuclear program prevent outside companies from investing, thus allowing the Guard to expand into the energy field. Iran has 150 billion barrels of oil reserves, third largest in the world, and 948 trillion cubic feet of gas, second only to Russia. 

According to the Green opposition, the Guard also smuggles goods in and out of Iran to the tune of $12 billion a year. 

While the Guard is currently backing Khamenei, according to the trade union activist Homayoun Poorzad, “the Guard is an independent force and not in the pockets of the clerics. They [the Guard] would love to see Ahmadinejad and Khamenei fight it out” while they gather more power. 

The sanctions have taken a bite, but the main cause of economic turmoil are the policies of the Ahmadinejad government, which has systematically cut up to $100 billion in yearly subsidies for everything from gasoline, food, and water, to education and electricity. Many Iranians see half their paychecks go to pay utility and gas bills. 

Coupled with the austerity drive has been the brutal suppression of the trade union movement and the shift from a stabilized workforce to temporary, contract labor. The percentage of workers with benefits has gone from 70 percent of the workforce to 30 percent over the past 15 years. The law provides for unemployment benefits, but only for permanent employees. 

While suppression is a major reason for the lack of widespread strike activity, the 14.5 percent unemployment rate also plays a role. “The jobless rate makes it easier to break strikes,” says Poorzad, adding, “Last year was the worst year for the working class since World War II.” 

The lack of widespread, organized response is partly due to the government’s repression, including firings, arrests, torture and the occasional execution of leaders. But it is also a testament to Ahmadinejad’s ability to funnel money to the poor. “He is almost a genius,” says Poorzad, “and he is always looking to build his social base and weaken his rivals.” The labor activist says that cutting the subsidies means that “now the President has tens of billions of dollars ” to hand out. It is not clear how long he can continue to do that. 

While much the U.S. media has begun to write off Ahmadinejad, “I don’t see him as being on the ropes,” says Jamie Webster, a consultant for PFC Energy. 

But the economic situation is inherently unstable. So far the government has managed to keep unrest under control by cash outlays and forcing the merchant class—many of whom support the Green opposition—to keep prices artificially low. This forces many merchants to operate at a loss. “Eventually prices will have to be allowed to float,” says Poorzad, “and when that happens inflation will go up sharply.” 

The “Greens” opposed Ahmedinejad in the 2009 elections and mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to protest what they charged was widespread fraud in the outcome. 

Will the situation explode? 

According to Poorzad, the trade union movement is just trying to keep its head above water. “Unions are facing the worst repression in many years,” he says, “we are just trying to stay out of prison. It is very dangerous.” 

So far, the government has managed to drive a wedge between the more affluent and middle class Green opposition and the urban and rural poor. But if the economy worsens and living standards continue to plummet, that wedge may give way, as it did in 2009 when the urban working class made common cause with Teheran’s middle class. Ultimately “Things are going to get out of hand,” says Poorzad. 

It is important to remember that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that changed its ruling class through mass demonstrations. It may end up that Egypt and Tunisia will do so as well, but so far both countries have simply deposed their rulers. 

Iran’s government has enormous repressive powers at its fingertips, from the million-member Basij militia to the powerful Revolutionary Guard and the secret police. But its centers of power are hardly united, and it harbors a large population with a memory of what it accomplished in 1979 by taking to the streets. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

Eclectic Rant: Congress Should Reject the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 09:58:00 PM

Last month, the Obama administration announced that it would not seek Congressional approval of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia until Republicans agree to expand assistance to American workers who might lose jobs as a result. The U.S.-Colombia FTA was negotiated under U.S. Trade Promotion Authority, which means that it can be approved or disapproved by Congress, but Congress cannot amend it. FTAs are nothing more than dollar imperialism. That is, a major economic power—the U.S— taking unfair advantage of a revocering economy. Congress should reject the U.S.-Colombia FTA. 

The negotiated U.S.-Colombia FTA will give market access for U.S. agricultural, consumer, and industrial products, and will immediately remove all tariffs on about 80 percent of U.S. goods entering Colombia. This includes immediate duty-free treatment of beef, cotton, wheat, soybeans, many fruits, and other agricultural products. The remaining 20 percent of tariffs will be phased out over a period of 10 years for both agricultural products and industrial products. In addition, the agreement provides protections for U.S. investors that will be enforced through a binding international arbitration program. 

The agreement also gives U.S. businesses access to Colombian financial services markets. Mutual funds and pension funds within Colombia will be allowed to use U.S.-based portfolio managers. Colombia will also phase out market restrictions related to cable television. And, U.S. suppliers are granted the right to bid on contracts from Colombian government offices and agencies. Further, the agreement provides improved protections and enforcement of a variety of intellectual property rights for investors in Colombia. The protections are consistent with those of the U.S. and cover products such as software, music, written text, trademarks, and patents. 

Under the agreement, the parties agree to enforce their own domestic environmental laws and to fulfill their respective obligations under multilateral environmental agreements. 

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union organizing. This is one reason, the International Labor Rights Forum has opposed the U.S.-Colombia FTA because of serious human rights abuses in Colombia. More than 3,000 union leaders and activists have been killed in the last three decades. Many of the deaths are linked to paramilitary forces linked to the Colombian government. 

Moreover, large multinational agro-businesses have been tied to paramilitary squads in Colombia. In February 2007, Chiquita Brands International admitted that it had paid $1.7 million to a paramilitary group for protection of its banana plantations. And two Coca-Cola bottlers are allegedly linked to the murder of four union leaders in Colombia. 

The Colombian government promised to provide more protection to labor advocates, including shop stewards, union organizers and bargaining committee members. It also agreed to eliminate its current backlog of risk assessments of union leaders and members who have requested government protection. AFL-CIO is still strongly opposed to the FTA but has agreed to talk with Colombia's labor leaders. 

Currently, over 90 percent of U.S. imports from Colombia enter the U.S. duty- free with an average tariff of 0.1 percent. In contrast, the average tariff on U.S. products shipped to Colombia is 12 percent, with certain products facing tariffs of up to 35 percent. 

Opponents also argue that the U.S.-Colombia FTA will hurt small peasant farmers in Colombia, who will be forced out of business because they cannot compete with cheap imports of food from the U.S., which subsidizes its farmers. This has happened in other developing countries that have entered trade agreements with the U.S. For example, low priced corn (subsidized by the U.S. government) has forced over a million small Mexican farmers out of business since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. 

And how will non-agro Colombia businesses fare when faced with competition from multi-million dollar U.S. corporations? 

The U.S.-Colombia FTA favors the U.S. at the expense of Colombians. It is dollar imperialism at its worst. 

What we need is for the Obama administration to develop a trade policy that does not rely on bilateral free trade agreements. Instead, the U.S. should seek a multinational approach through the World Trade Organization. A broader international approach will promote trade that is perceived as fairer to all concerned and will improve the international business climate. 

Congress should reject the U.S.-Colombia FTA.

Senior Power: This Will Be on the Final ...

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:45:00 AM

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is being observed today, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. This week’s Senior Power column is the second of two devoted to this subject. Possibly, by the time you read it, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day will have come and gone without great notice. 

Are you aware of any visible or audible action fostering elder abuse awareness on the part of commissions on aging, senior center advisory bodies, communities’ senior services departments, area agencies on aging, city councils, academic gerontologists, sectarian and religious affiliations groups, junior leagues, NOW and OWL, Gray Panthers, AARP? Was there a proclamation (an official public announcement) by any of these or other groups? 


Nursing homes are potential loci of abuse of old people. A nursing home is a residential facility for persons with chronic illness or disability, particularly older people who have mobility and eating problems. It may be called a convalescent home or long-term care facility. A nursing home has been defined as a facility with 3+ beds that is licensed by the state and usually certified for federal reimbursement as a Medicaid (in California known as Med-I-Cal) and/or skilled Medicare nursing facility. Some other types of residential care facilities are: board-and-care homes, group homes, homes for the aged, adult foster care, assisted living facilities, adult congregate living. 

Nursing home employees are typical offenders, as well as family members (when family exists,) and so-called caregivers. Let’s not play guessing games-- the following statements about nursing homes are all true: Most people in the nursing home population, i.e. patients and workforce, are women. Many of the patients in nursing homes suffer from dementia. The older you become, the more likely you are to reside in a nursing home. No uniform data on the prevalence of abuse in nursing homes exist. Abuse of patients in nursing homes often goes unreported. 

And, all of the following statements about nursing homes are false: The cost of living in a nursing home is covered by Medicare. Highly trained nurses provide most, but not all, of the care in nursing homes. Most nursing homes are nonprofit organizations. No one except their families is looking out for the interests of nursing home patients. Most nursing home patients are single or never married. The state with the largest number of nursing homes is Florida. Most long-term care is provided by nursing homes. 


Infections are responsible for nearly 400,000 nursing home deaths per year. Although there has been some mainstream media attention, very little empirical research has been conducted on the subject. Fifteen percent of U.S. nursing homes receive deficiency citations for infection control a year, according to a new study published in the May 2011 American Journal of Infection Control. This study analyzed deficiency citation data collected for the purpose of Medicare/Medicaid certification between 2000 and 2007, representing 96 percent of all U.S. nursing home facilities. The team discovered a strong correlation between low staffing levels and the receipt of an infection control deficiency citation. 

If you have been a patient in a hospital or nursing/rehabilitation establishment, you may have overheard “pseudomonas.” According to one bacteriology textbook, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the epitome of an opportunistic pathogen of humans, meaning that it exploits some break in the host defenses to initiate an infection. It causes urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in patients who are immunosuppressed. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that nursing homes be certified before receiving reimbursement for Medicare and/or Medicaid residents. At Medicare.gov one can “find and compare nursing homes” in several ways. A 5 star rating system considers health inspections, nursing home staffing, and quality measures. Of 5 nursing homes located in Berkeley, one received a 5 star overall rating. It is a nonprofit and participates in Medicaid. 


Just as abuse of children and abuse of wives received attention, elder abuse has become a term used to spotlight this group of persons who are unable to defend or fend for themselves, positioned by society to lack control of their lives. 

In 1967 a British report titled Sans Everything stimulated concern for abuse of old people in public institutions. (In As You Like It, Age Seven of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man is the age of senility -- "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything.") A paper describing ‘granny battering’ in families followed. 

In 1972 the BBC commenced Does He Take Sugar?, a radio series about disabled persons. It pointed up the need for acceptance and the fact that everyone has the same right to dignity, respect and access. Talking past people, talking about them in their presence in the third person, assuming that they are senile or deaf, mindlessly addressing old people as dearie, dad, sweetie… Current events were highlighted, people interviewed, stories told and poetry read. (It’s 2011, and I’m aware of a “service coordinator” who incessantly sweeties old women.) 

One in Five, a New Zealand radio program, underscores that very old people are unlikely to appreciate such imposed familiarity or jolly fatuities as ‘Have we been a good boy today?’ or ‘Have we opened our bowels? 

Daniel R. Levinson is inspector general for the OIG in the Department of Health and Human Services. A newly released report from his office (Cause for alarm: Antipsychotic drugs for nursing home patients) makes clear just how crucial it is for families to monitor and ask questions about medications that such patients receive. The report found that too often, elderly residents are prescribed antipsychotic drugs in ways that violate government standards for unnecessary drug use. [Special to CNN May 31, 2011.] 

Five years ago, the first edition of The Maturing of America, undertaken by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, reported that most communities had not begun to plan for the great changes that are forthcoming. By 2030, the proportion of people older than 65 is expected to swell from 13 percent of the nation’s population to nearly 20 percent. The second edition of The Maturing of America was released this month. Paula Span writes “It sounds to me like local governments get a C minus, to be generous, in preparing for this seismic change. Exercise classes and volunteer opportunities matter, but housing, long-term care at home, effective transportation — these cost real money, a scarce commodity in today’s cities and towns.” [New York Times. June 3, 2011. “Good News, and Bad, About Community Services”] 


Physician-assisted suicide crusader Dr. Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian died on June 3, 2011. [See “Dying is not a crime” Senior Power column, November 24, 2010 Planet issue.] 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: June, July, August. Be sure to confirm date, time and place. 

Wednesday, June 15 Annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Advocates from around the world set out to promote awareness, in an attempt to prevent elder abuse, the “silent epidemic” that is unacceptable in any language or circumstance. 

Wednesday, June 15 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. Meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Check to confirm. (510)9081-5178.  

Saturday, June 18 11 A.M. – Noon. Landlord/Tenant Counseling, Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Housing Counselors from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board offer free, one-on-one counseling sessions. (Third Saturday each month) They assist both tenants and landlords by answering questions and making referrals on housing related topics-- including security deposits, rent control, evictions, unpaid rent and other difficult issues. Contact Jacquelyn Morgan for more information at 510-981-7368 Ext 4917. 

Tuesday, June 21, 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

Victoria’s Legacy on the Island. Judith Lynch (local author, teacher and resident) serving on the City of Alameda historical Advisory Board will provide an overview on Victorian history and culture, highlighting the 19th century building of Alameda. This program will meet for 6 weeks, and include 4 slide presentations and 2 walking tours to show you how to recognize architectural details and distinguish among the various styles of fancywork homes that abound in Alameda. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. Class limited to 25 participants 

Wednesday, June 22 5:30 – 8:30 P.M. evening programs begin Enjoy the computer lab, Line Dancing classes, a game of Pool, working on quilting or sewing projects, a movie, art classes, visiting the library or a cup of coffee in our air-conditioned facility. For more information, visit the Mastick Senior Center Office or call 747-7506. 

Wednesday, June 22 1:30 P.M. - 2:30 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Ave. The Great Books Discussion Group meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month. This month's book is A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. (510) 526-3720 x16 

Thursday, June 23 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. Music Appreciation Class discussion and performance “Leroy Anderson: American’s Master of Light Music” 

Tuesday, June 28 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. California Relay Service & YOU! 

A representative from Hamilton Relay (one of two providers of the California Relay Service (CRS) free service offered through the California Public Utilities Commission will explain the various programs available. Register in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. 

Tuesday, June 28 3-4 P.M. Tea and Cookies at the Central Berkeley Public Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. (Monthly on the 4th Tuesday ) (510) 981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 29 2-3:30 P.M. Be an Expert: become a genealogical super sleuth at Central Berkeley Public Library Electronic Classroom. Ready to research your family history but not sure where to start? Introduction to Ancestry.com, an online resource that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos, stories and more. 

Wednesday, June 29 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. 

Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 

Wednesday, July 6 Noon – 1 P.M. End of Life Planning Workshop at Central Berkeley Public Library. Responsible end-of–life planning can save heartache and help preserve family legacy. Come learn the basics about wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives and more in a supportive setting. 

Friday, July 15 8 A.M. – 2 P.M. Compassion & Choices of Northern California is a participant in the Healthy Living Festival. Oakland Zoo, 9777 Golf Links Road. For information, email admin@compassionandchoicesnca.org 

Wednesday, July 20 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. Usually meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Check to confirm (510)9081-5178.  

Saturday, August 6 11 A.M. – noon. End of Life Planning Workshop. Berkeley Public Library West branch, 1125 University Av. Responsible end-of–life planning can save heartache and help preserve family legacy. Come learn the basics about wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives and more in a supportive setting. 

(510) 981-6270. 

Wednesday, August 10 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. Compassion & Choices of Northern California is a participant in the Healthy Aging Fair Festival. Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward. For information, email admin@compassionandchoicesnca.org 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com.. Please, no email attachments or phone calls.

Wild Neighbors: Nature Says "Back Off"

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 10:17:00 PM
Striped skunks: truth in advertising.
Tom Friedel (WIkimedia Commons.)
Striped skunks: truth in advertising.

Readers who are old enough to remember Gary Larson may recall a cartoon captioned “How Nature says, ‘Do not touch.’” It depicts a rattling rattlesnake, a fully inflated porcupinefish, a hissing cat with its back arched, and a guy in an overcoat standing on a street corner with a shoe on his head, a bazooka under one arm, and one of those horse-headed plastic flotation devices around his waist. I hope you’re also old enough to remember horse-headed plastic flotation devices. 

Nature has other ways of conveying that message, of course. Bright and/or contrasting colors often signal unpalatability (think of the monarch butterfly, or the orange-bellied California newt) or venomousness (the coral snakes.) It’s called aposematic coloration. This defense is uncommon in mammals, with a few conspicuous exceptions: the black-and-white patterns of skunks and some weasels. Black and white doesn’t always send a warning, as witness zebras, orcas, colobus monkeys, and the giant panda. 

But in skunks and similarly marked weasels, it’s public notice that the critter is chemically defended. 

It’s interesting that the black-and-white alert has evolved in two families of carnivores that are only distantly related. Skunks used to be classified in the weasel family, but a few years ago they were reassigned to the a family of their own, the Mephitidae. So the lookalike coats of the striped skunk and the African weasel known as the zorilla, or striped polecat, are products of convergent evolution, like the marsupial “wolves,” “anteaters,” “moles,” and “mice” of Australia. 

The Southeast Asian stink badger is included in the skunk family by some taxonomists. I couldn’t find a public-domain illustration of this curious creature. But that’s all right. I don’t have to show you any stinking badgers. 

A University of Massachusetts biologist named Theodore Stankowich, in collaboration with U Mass colleague Mathew Cox and Tim Caro of UC Davis, recently attempted a systematic analysis of the evolution of warning coloration in terrestrial carnivores. This includes small carnivores that require protection from big carnivores, since professional courtesy among predators is minimal. They categorized the color patterns of all carnivore species, seals and sealions excluded, and tried to relate them to the mammals’ antipredator defenses. 

Not surprisingly, they report in the journal Evolution, bold black-and-white coloration is associated with the ability to use the scent glands in self-defense. But there’s also an association with, as they put it, “the ability to fiercely defend themselves in a physical altercation.” That would apply to the North American badger, at least (Eurasian badgers being a lot more mellow) and the notorious ratel or honey badger of Africa, a recent Youtube star: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg. Mammals in both categories are typically stocky, terrestrial, and slow-moving, so less able to run from danger. 

Among the sprayers, the signage may have special nuances: “Interestingly, species with horizontal (lateral) stripes had superior anal gland spraying capabilities, suggesting that perhaps bold horizontal stripes not only warn predators of the presence of a spray defense, but also direct the predator’s attention to the source of the danger…Although speculative, specific patterns may not only convey the general message of ‘stay away,’ but also indicate the location from which a counterattack may originate should a predator choose to attack.” Along with skunks and zorillas, that group includes the African striped weasel, the Central and South American grison, and the Patagonian weasel. 

If you play Scrabble, you may want to keep the ratel, the grison, and especially the zorilla in mind. 

It should be noted that the striped skunk’s warning signal does not deter an avian predator, the great horned owl, whose skins in museum collections often retain a mephitic reek. Many birds have a poorly developed sense of smell. I have no information on large owls as predators of other chemically armed mammals. 

Has the skunk syndrome, let’s call it, inspired any mimics? Mimicry of the venomous or toxic is common enough in other groups of animals. Sometimes, as among butterflies and snakes, a harmless or palatable creature has evolved to resemble a toxic or venomous one. Coral snakes, for example, have a number of nonpoisonous lookalikes, including some kingsnakes and milksnakes. That’s called Batesian mimicry, after the nineteenth-century British naturalist who first described it in Amazonian insects. The other major type is Muellerian mimicry, in which unrelated toxic species have come to resemble each other, thus reinforcing the “leave me alone” message. The relationship between monarch and viceroy butterflies is apparently Muellerian, not Batesian, as birds find both species distasteful. 

As far as I know, there are no Batesian skunk mimics among mammals. The zorilla and the striped weasel, which co-occur in parts of Africa, have been suggested as a Muellerian pair. Both have black-and-white stripes and spray capabilities. The zorilla’s defenses are formidable enough to keep lions away from a carcass. It’s unclear whether the weasel is equally well equipped; if not, it may be getting a bit of a free ride. 

So why didn’t some undefended rodent develop a convincing resemblance to a skunk? It’s just another evolutionary path that wasn’t taken, another empty point in the morphospace of all conceivable creatures. We may as well ask why there are no arboreal octopi or venomous birds or filter-feeding marine reptiles or (except in the movies) hexapod vertebrates.

On Mental Illness: The Sickness of Being Overly Compliant

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 11:35:00 AM

When I discovered myself getting excessively sweet, nice, and perhaps obedient toward someone in my life who likes me that way, I realized, at some point, that I felt very sick. Then, the anger came, and I left that person an angry voicemail. Of course, that person said that they were unhappy with the disrespect I had shown. And I replied that respect needs to be mutual. Regardless, I realize now that I was in a twisted frame of mind in which I conceded too much. 

There comes to mind an episode of the original Star Trek series about the spores that made everyone happy. They got everyone in the crew, and they finally got Kirk. It was Kirk’s profound anger that cured him of the effect of the spores, and saved the ship. And so it is in life. 

This is what happens to persons with mental illness. To those who want to keep mentally ill people under control, and thus prevent us from threatening the social order, (or, at least the social order that exists in mental health programs) independent thoughts of a mentally ill person are the enemy. Oddly enough, it’s not the medication that’s doing this to people. 

If you are talking to someone at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, he or she might say that you are subject to being taken over by an invasive spirit. If you’re dealing with a former cult member who has since thrown off the controlling yolk of their cult, they might say that mentally ill people, and some other people, are being brainwashed. Regardless of what system you’re viewing it through, including your own, being controlled is distasteful. 

One of the mechanisms that make antipsychotic medication effective is that of raising the priority level of the external environment, and deemphasizing internally generated perceptions. This allows (or perhaps forces) the psychiatric patient to tune into the surrounding environment; and this increases the ability to track “reality.” Because of this reprioritizing in the brain, it is easier than it would otherwise be for other people to control, and even deceive a person who takes antipsychotic medication. 

The mental health treatment system, having “clients” who are chemically predisposed to being externally controlled, is in a position to use various psychological strategies for “managing” us. 

What I have said so far might be fuel for those who object to modern psychiatry. Yet, if you have a psychiatric illness and are mad about being controlled like this, going off medication against medical advice will put you directly into the “trap” of relapsing and then being subject to even more control. 

Ironically, the best way to “buck the system” is by cooperating with treatment, getting well, raising your functioning level, and as a result, being in a position of having a choice about what happens to you. 

But there’s more. Just because you are deciding to be “medication compliant,” doesn’t mean that you must give a “blank check” of submission to mental health practitioners. For example, since I am not, at present, under a legal obligation to obey my psychiatrist, I maintain a veto power concerning specific prescriptions. If a specific medication is really bad for me, (such as a few that I’ve tried that had side effects that were unbearable) I do not wait for permission to stop taking it. 

This practice works for me because I am in communication with my doctor, am not secretive or deceptive, and will work with him or her to find the right medications at the right dosages. My doctor gives a certain amount of leeway since I have dealt with this illness for nearly thirty years, and have worked hard to get well. If it were otherwise, I might not receive as much cooperation. 

My preference, moreover, is to avoid medications that have been on the market for less than ten years. Too many medications have unforeseen, sometimes deadly side effects that do not show up in their first five years of being available to the public. This is an indication that drugs are being approved for general use before we know enough about them. (The general public, and not just persons with mental illness, is being experimented upon.) 

In short, I am helped, but I accept neither supervision nor brainwashing by the mental health treatment system.

Pepper Spray Times

Grace Underpressure
Friday June 17, 2011 - 12:18:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available. 

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends. 

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Arts & Events

Juneteenth Community Sing on Sunday Afternoon

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 07:05:00 PM

There's a Bright Side Some Where, a Juneteenth community sing, by Friends of Negro Spirituals, will be held this Sunday, June 19, 3-5 p. m. at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline, near 18th, Oakland--an unusual Juneteenth celebration announced by FNS founder Sam Edwards. 

The celebration will include Berkeley High music and history teacher, baritone Wendell Brooks, speaking on the life experiences of slaves in spirituals and singing with the audience; Donna Vaughn sharing memories passed down through her family about Union soldiers in North Carolina; actor-former activist Norman Brown reading the Emancipation Proclamation; and musician Dr. Martian Jones demonstrating musical street cries of berry vendors in New Orleans. 

Juneteenth began on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas. The former slaves started an annual celebration that's widened around the country over the years. 

$10-$20 at the door (children under 13 free). 

Eye from the Aisle: THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS at Masquers is 5-STARS!

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 10:15:00 PM
Craig Eychner, Ted V. Bigornia, Shauna Shoptaw, Sophia Rose Morris
Jerry Telfer
Craig Eychner, Ted V. Bigornia, Shauna Shoptaw, Sophia Rose Morris

If you know and love musicals and have not seen THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (The Musical), stop reading right now and click on the www.masquers.org website to order tickets for the little theatre in Point Richmond. This is a 5-star production, it’s an 88 seat theatre, and they will sell out to SRO in a trice. 

If you don’t particularly know or like musicals, don’t go anywhere near it. It would be like seeing “Play it Again, Sam” without knowing about “Casablanca.”  

It is the Parody of Parodies, and the weight of directing is carried strongly by Arthur Atlas.  

Four singers, a piano player, and a choreographer—all truly talented—make for the quickest 50-minute first act I’ve ever seen; when you’re that absorbed and laughing heartily, time flies. It’s a laugh every other line as they send up everything from “Oklahoma” to “Cabaret,” from ”Sweeney Todd” to “Phantom,” from “Mame” to “Sunset Boulevard,” and more.  

The brilliant, funny authors Eric Rockwell (music) and Joanne Bogart (lyrics) pick on the Big 5: Rodgers & Hammerstein in a segment called “Corn”; Sondheim with “A Little Complex“—about an urban apartment complex whose landlord is a mad painter who kills his tenants; Kander & Ebb as “Speakeasy,” Jerry Hermann, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

When it opened in New York in 2003, it was nominated for many Drama Desk Awards, and the NY Times critics praised it with “Real Wit, real charm,” and “Hits the target with sophicated affection.” I am often critical of the critics, but, for my sensibilities, they were muted in their praise. If you like satire and are a musical theatre buff, this is a “must see.” 

The premise and through-line is “I can’t pay the rent!” “You must pay the rent!” “I’ll pay the rent!”melodrama routine. The characters all have the same names or variations of them throughout, and much of the humor feeds off “callbacks”—which is “a comedy term for a joke that refers back to another joke performed earlier in the show, often presented in a different context.”* 

Kris Bell’s choreography is a delight that never repeats itself and captures the moves of all the different styles of musicals they are lampooning. Her steps, shuffles, promenades and pirouettes give the play life, put the players into character while challenging them to keep up, and make the four talents sweat to our visual delight. 

Ted V. Bigornia, who seems an incarnation of Joel Grey with a resonant and charming baritone, plays the Landlord “Jitter,” and is a spry MC—and ubiquitous landlord-- for the proceedings.  

It’s important to be able to discern the clever lyrics in a musical by way of the singers’ precise articulation. In a parody the ability to make out the words is of much higher importance, and these four sing as if they are one voice thanks to lots of practice, and the musical co-direction of Pat King, mainstay of Masquers musicals, and Bigornia. And many of the giggles come from the tongue twisters of Sondheim, et. al., and I caught every syllable from the fourth row. 

Mark Ferreira provides the music with his professional piano accompaniment onstage and behind the singers, which means that the singers go without a conductor or any visual cues, doubling the difficulty, but they stay in synch, much to their mutual credit. 

Super-talented ingénue Sophia Rose Morris has a voice that must go through three and half octaves with the same power, precision, and sonic loveliness. She convincingly changes character on a dime, from a Brooklyn neurotic to a Sally Bowles Brit, from a Sooner hayseed to an Argentine diva, and throws libido-stirring moves into the mix. She plays “June” (or, Jeune, or--when it comes to Webber—Junita, etc.). 

Craig Eychner is “Willy,” the fair-haired boy, the Curly, the hero, the pal, has a strong belt (all the singers really fill up the house with sound without the need for amplification), and brings down the house in the Cabaret-send up of the Michael York/Clifford role of Sally’s lover-roommate in “Color Me Gay.” 

Shauna Shoptaw’s mezzo and comic sensibility shines as “Abby” as in Auntie Eller, er Abby in Oklahoma Mother Abby (Sound of Music) , Auntie Abby (Mame), and Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard. She had a little trouble with the extended end-notes the night I saw it, but her voice is strong and just right for the role. 

Point Richmond is safe, it’s about 15 minutes from Berkeley/Oakland, their Park Place address is a quaint little oasis of shops, restaurants, and taverns with entertainment, there is always parking, the Masquers are a very welcoming crew, and the cookies here are very good, too. 

So it’s a good month for the two oldest community theaters around here (see my review of Altarena’s “Moonlight and Magnolias”). Get out of the house, away from the 50”, live a little, and laugh a lot—it’s worth the hassle, and tickling the risibilities relieves stress and maybe cures cancer.  


Music by Eric Rockwell, lyrics by Joanne Bogart, book by both. 

Playing Fridays & Saturdays through July 9 (with Sun Mats June 19 & 26) 

at the Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Point Richmond 

www.masquers.org or (510) 232-4031 

Directed by Arthur Atlas, musical co-direction by Pat King and Ted V. Bigornia, choreography by Kris Bell, costume design by Marjorie Moore, set design by John Hull, lighting design by Renee Echavez, sound design by Joseph Ponder, lighting and sound techs Mary Kidwell and Nancy Benson; photography by Adam Telfer; stage management by Marti Baer. 

WITH: Ted V. Bigornia, Craig Eychner, Sophia Rose Morris, Shauna Shoptaw 

Pianist: Mark Ferreira 

*If you are interested in the terms that comedians use, check out this website: 



John McMullen is a member of SFBATCC and ATCA. EJ Dunne edits. 



Eye from the Aisle:MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS at Alameda’s Altarena—superior talent, good cookies, LOLs.

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 10:08:00 PM
John Hale as Victor Fleming, Tim Reynolds as David O. Selzick, and Keith Jefferds as Ben Hecht
Patrick Tracy
John Hale as Victor Fleming, Tim Reynolds as David O. Selzick, and Keith Jefferds as Ben Hecht

Moonlight and Magnolias, now at the Altarena Playhouse in Alameda on High St., is a well-directed and well-acted three-man drama. Director Stewart Lyle, himself an Equity actor, has had his second success with this triangular formula, having done a successful “Art” at this theatre a couple of seasons ago. 

It’s semi-modeled on the true story of David O. Selznick who fired the director and screenwriters of “Gone With the Wind,” took director Victor Fleming off “The Wizard of Oz”, conned Ben Hecht into a rewrite, and locked them and himself in his office for five days to live on peanuts and bananas and write a screenplay on the famous Margaret Mitchell book—that two of them had never read. They act out all the roles in the book, and that’s the basis of half the funny stuff. 

Lyle gets a lot of acting out of his crew: Keith Jefferds is subtle and convincing as Ben Hecht, the screenwriting superstar with a defensiveness about his Jewishness (and who wouldn’t be in 1939); Jefferds attends to the details in little things like typing with two fingers as was the manly way to type in the ‘30’s.  

Tim Reynolds as Selznick rides that thin line between big comic and over-acting and keeps in bounds, infusing comic “end of my rope” outrage and making it work, while cajoling, threatening, persuading, and torturing his talent and making them love him for it. He keeps the bombastic energy flowing and the comedy coming. 

It would be perhaps better if they had gotten two older Jewish actors for Hecht and Selzick, but these two goyim do ok; a little more deadpan wryness might have brought it from funny to very funny, but there is plenty of Laughing Out Loud here.  

John Hale, as Victor Fleming, has impeccable comic timing, goes from subtle and snide to insanely Marx Bros-worthy antics, and handles all the “roles” he must enact— including Butterfly McQueen’s “I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies”—with such good humor and commitment that no one could be offended. 

Donna Turner does an exemplary job as the put-upon “Yes, Mr. Selzick” secretary in a difficult role of many short appearances, and gives an arc to a character that is usually just window-dressing.  

Darrell Burson’s sets are extraordinary, and keep getting better every time I attend this theatre. He did a markedly realistic turn at designing the beauty shop for, ironically, “Steel Magnolias” last season. He displays his artistry in scenic painting of the famous red-sky scene from the overture, the Hollywood hills, and the famous voluted sign from the opening credits of the GWTW, which all figure into his design for this presentation in the round. The costumes by Sydney Micheals are nicely period and very tasteful, and still give the actors room for their extensive physical shenanigans. 

For my taste, Ron Hutchinson’s script is too broad and with too much Hellzapopin’ chaos, mess, and lunacy. I’ve seen it before with an Equity cast, and this amateur production far outdoes that one. The comedy is played well—and there is enough comedy that it deserves the name— but there is lots of soap-boxing about who makes the movies—directors, writers or producers—and about race and ethnic prejudice.  

There is some truth to what Christopher Isherwood wrote in the NY Times when it opened in 2005: “Mr. Hutchinson has drawn his characters in tiresomely broad and blunt strokes. And the action of the play, which mostly consists of Selznick and Fleming frantically acting out scenes from the book while Hecht clacks away at a typewriter, relies heavily on moldy routines that might have been dredged up from old Abbott and Costello features and Three Stooges shorts.” 

But it is a good time, vastly superior to the typical community theatre production, and enacted by talent who should be getting paid but are doing it solely for the love of you know what. The price is right, the free cookies are excellent, and you’ll be home by 10:15. 

Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson 

at the Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda  

http://www.altarena.org/tickets/ or (510) 523-1553 

Directed by Stewart Lyle, lighting design by Kristie Leffler, scene design and painting by Darrell Burson, costumes and properties by Sydney Micheals, sound design by Ryan Short; stage management by Kelly Reynolds. 

With: John Hale, Keith Jefferds, Tim Reynolds, and Donna Turner

Around & About Theater: Just Theater at the City Club; Ragged Wing Youth Ensemble Workshop for teachers; Just Theater Lab; TheatreFirst's Iraq veteran's story onstage; CalShakes' Titus Andronicus

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 03:14:00 PM

Just Theater, always a company to watch, has opened, in partnership with Playground, Bay Area playwright Erin Bregman's Down a Little Dirt Road, about the daughter of a woman who's mysteriously disappeared making "a fantastical life" with her father "out of the shards" of their loss. Thursdays to Saturdays, 8 p. m., Sundays at 5, till July 3, Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. $15-$30, sliding scale. justtheater.org; 306-1184. 

Anna Shneiderman of Ragged Wing Ensemble will lead a workshop this Saturday, 2-5, for the Fury Factory performance festival in San Francisco with six teenage members of the Ragged Wing Youth Ensemble: Teaching the Teacher--Ensemble Theater with Teens, showing how they create a piece from idea through writing and rehearsal to performance, featuring selections from their recent original show, In Between--and ending with an in-class show created by participants and the teen artists. At the old Traveling Jewish Theater performance space, 470 Florida St. (Project Artaud building), San Francisco. $35-$75. raggedwing.org, brownpapertickets.com 

Speaking of Just Theater, their Lab reading series presents Jonathan Spector's Sandal Weather, a staged reading, Monday, June 20 at 7 p. m. at the Berkeley City Club on Durant. Free. Reservations: Glenn@justtheater.org 

TheatreFirst's production of Julie Marie Myatt's Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, directed by Dominique Lozano, about a female Iraq vet, coming home to California, missing a leg, ends this Sunday. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p. m., Sunday at 2. Marion Greene Theatre, 531-19th Street, Oakland, off Telegraph (a block from 19th Street BART), on ground floor of Fox Theatre building, Uptown Oakland. $10-$30. theatrefirst.org 

CalShake's staging of the Bard's titanic resume' of revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus, directed by Joel Sass, with distinguished actor James Carpenter in the lead, continues its binge of treachery, coups de theatre, extravagant action and black humor, Tuesday through Sunday, various times, at the Bruns Amphitheater, Siesta Valley, Orinda. $20-$51. 548-9666; calshakes.org (On the website: excellent info, written and spoken by Philippa Kelly, CalShake's great dramaturge.) 

Aurora, in previews now of Mark Jackson's production of Kafka's Metamorphosis, opens today, Tuesdays (7 p. m.) & Wednesdays through Saturdays (8 p. m.) & Sundays at 2, through July 17. 2081 Addison near Shattuck, $34-$55 ($20 rush tickets at box office 1/2 hour before curtain).843-4822; auroratheatre.org (online sales temporaily down). 

And Gypsy opens at Contra Costa Civic Theater. Fridays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2, June 17-July 17. 951 Pomona Avenue at Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. $15-$25. 524-9132; ccct.org

Press Release: Berkeley Symphony Announces 2011-2012 Season

From Jenny Lee
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 12:00:00 PM

On June 8 Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro unveiled programming plans for Berkeley Symphony's 2011-12 Season, her third with the Orchestra since assuming the music directorship in 2009. The upcoming season, highlighted by one world premiere commission, one West Coast premiere, and works by today's leading composers and their forebears, in exciting collaborations with visionary artists both local and abroad, exemplifies the orchestra's adventurous spirit and steadfast commitment to presenting original, thought-provoking programs, as well as its role as a champion of artists and composers of our generation.  

"We look forward to a season of artistic exchange and collaboration," said Carneiro. "Part of Berkeley Symphony's legacy as the leading edge in symphonic music is this special musical relationship and trust we have developed with artists, musicians, and the community. Artists are encouraged to pursue their creative instincts at Berkeley Symphony, and we are proud to be a part of an adventurous community that not only gives us the freedom to dream of, but also to realize, daring and unusual programming." 

Berkeley Symphony will continue to host its Under Construction New Music Reading Series in the 2011-12 Season, fostering an appreciation of modern symphonic music among a new generation of listeners. The Series' professional development component, the Under Construction Composers Program, now in its second season, led by the orchestra's Creative Advisor Gabriela Lena Frank, serves as an artistic incubator for emerging Bay Area composers to experiment with symphonic music writing and to cultivate skills essential to all working composers today.  

Additionally, as a community leader in music education, Berkeley Symphony will expand its Music in the Schools (MITS) program to focus on strengthening both the music scholarship and teaching experience for the eleven participating elementary schools in the Berkeley Unified School District.

Opus-Q Vocal Ensemble Re-Launches in Berkeley

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday June 15, 2011 - 08:14:00 AM
Four members of Opus Q including, second from right, the Willard neighborhood’s George Beier, during the June 12, 2011 inaugural performance.
Steven Finacom
Four members of Opus Q including, second from right, the Willard neighborhood’s George Beier, during the June 12, 2011 inaugural performance.

A sweet and hopeful pair of concerts on Sunday, June 12, 2011 signaled the re-launch of a Bay Area men’s singing group. 

Started in 2001, but dormant for several years, the vocal ensemble Opus Q has been revived this year by founding Artistic Director Jerry Foust. 

Ten local men—some Bay Area natives, some recent arrivals—currently make up the ensemble. They include locals George Beier (Willard neighborhood association President, and former City Council candidate), Kevin Allen, described in the program notes as “Innkeeper at the Rose Garden Inn” on Telegraph Avenue, Tony Clark, the Sr. Minister at Arlington Community Church in Kensington, and John Paul who works in Student Affairs at UC Berkeley. 

Other ensemble members are Jarrod Olson, Dan Ocampo, Declan McCarron, Mike Ballesteros, Todd Roman, and Paul Sinasohn. 

Most, but not all, have extensive singing background. Foust himself was the Artistic Director of the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, and Assistant Director of the San Diego Men’s Chorus, and is currently the Executive Director of the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts & Berkeley Playhouse. 

The concerts were held on the stage of the Julia Morgan. “The idea of putting you all down there, away from us, just broke our hearts”, Foust said, pointing to the darkened, fixed, seats below and beyond the stage. There was plenty of room on stage for an intimate program. 

“You’re here for the re-launch”, Foust said, in introduction. The Sunday performances included 14 numbers and a reprise, with intermission. Foust has selected a very wide musical range for the group. “We try to do many, many, types of music”, he told the audience. 

The performance jumped from a drinking song from a Verdi opera, to “Dancing through Life” from the musical “Wicked”, the traditional Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine”, and an arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. 

Bay Area native Antonio Barraza was a featured guest soloist. Three musicians—Jeff Patterson (bass), Andrew Maguire (percussion), and Heather Pinkham (pianist / keyboard) ably backed up the singers. 

Handel, Gershwin, Copland, John Legend, and Stephen Schwartz were all represented on the program. 

I’m not a musical expert, so I’m not going to attempt to evaluate the show either singer by singer or number by number. Everyone seemed accomplished, the singing was well-integrated and generally poised after what Foust said were just two and a half months of rehearsals, and the songs were moving and uplifting. 

If the group lacks anything it’s a few more singers to fill out the ensemble; some of the numbers could have benefited from the cumulative power of more voices. 

Additional members are actively being sought. “If you want to be part of a group that is fun, high energy, and absolutely zero drama, come and meet us, we’re going to have a good time”, member Jerrod Olson told the audience when introducing one of the numbers. 

The group is also searching for volunteer supporters in areas such as publicity and fundraising. 

Opus Q has three additional 2011-12 concert programs scheduled. A holiday program, “Songs for A Winter Night”, will be performed on December 20, 21, and 22 at the Julia Morgan Center. 

“Songs from the Heart”—described as a “Valentine Cabaret”—is planned for February 14, 2012,while “Songs for the Soul”, “a collection of songs from the African-American experience”, will be performed in late Spring, 2012. 

The Opus Q website is at http://www.opus-q.org/ 

Miko Sloper reviewed Opus-Q in its original incarnation for the Planet in the July 12, 2001 issue, nearly ten years ago.