Full Text

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


Senator Hancock (D-Berkeley) Introduces Bill to Ban Death Penalty in California

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday June 27, 2011 - 02:22:00 PM

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is introducing legislation today that would replace the death penalty in California with permanent imprisonment. 

Hancock said in an interview that the state's budget problems are part of the reason she wants to abolish the death penalty, and that she thinks the state can free up money for health and human services programs and other needs by ending capital punishment. 

She said her view is bolstered by a report in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review this week that states that the cost of maintaining the current total of 714 death row inmates is $184 million a year. 

The report was written by U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon, a former prosecutor, and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell.  

Hancock, who is chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, which oversees funding for the prison system, said her bill is expected to have its first hearing in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on July 5. 

She said she hopes the state Legislature will approve it later this year or early next year, and that it can appear on the November 2012 ballot. 

Hancock said the death penalty is not effective in preventing violence. 

"The death penalty is not deterring crime, because generally it is sociopaths and mentally ill people who are committing murders and they aren't making calculated decisions about their actions," she said.

Woman Killed by Train at Ashby BART in Berkeley

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday June 27, 2011 - 03:18:00 PM

A woman was killed by a train at BART's Ashby station in Berkeley today in an apparent suicide, according to transit agency spokesman Jim Allison. 

The woman was on the tracks at the station and hit by a Richmond-bound train at about 12:48 p.m., Allison said. 

The woman was later pronounced dead and the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau is in the process of removing her body, he said. 

A witness told BART police officers that the woman's actions "were consistent with a suicide attempt," Allison said. 

The incident caused major delays between Richmond and Fremont and between Richmond and San Francisco but didn't affect BART's other three lines, he said. 

Service at the Ashby station was halted, with trains single-tracking through the station but not stopping, according to Allison. 

He said the station reopened about 3 p.m., and BART hoped to resume full service soon.

Updated: Ashby BART Station Closed Because of Accident: Patron Under Train

From Pam Scullen (Reader Report)
Monday June 27, 2011 - 02:22:00 PM

BART Alert Reports:

Mon, 27 Jun 2011 1:26 PM (40 mins 5 secs ago)


Recommendations to Eliminate the Presence of Guns at Berkeley Unified School District Schools

By Neil Smith, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, and Susan Craig, Ed.D., Director, Student Services, Berkeley Unified School District
Saturday June 25, 2011 - 03:45:00 PM


Recent incidents involving Berkeley High School (BHS) and Berkeley Technology Academy (B-Tech) students in possession of firearms are of serious concern to the District and community of Berkeley. Ensuring the safety of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students and staff is of paramount importance. The District and administration have responded with several measures to address the presence of weapons on campus and are continuing to take steps to address and ensure safety at BUSD schools. District staff has presented a progress report on the steps being taken at each Board meeting this spring.

This report includes a list of the actions taken to date as well as a list of the topics and recommendations from the Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee  


Introduction: Identification of the Problem  


A cluster of six incidents involving students who were in possession of a firearm occurred on or near a BUSD high school campus within a two and a half month period between January 10, 2011 and March 25, 2011.  


General Information  


  1. All on-campus incidents occurred in the morning while the off-campus incident occurred after school was dismissed.
  2. Seven Berkeley students and one non-Berkeley student were involved in the six gun incidents.
  3. Six of the seven students were not on probation prior to the incident.
  4. Of the seven BUSD students, one student was in grade 12, three students were in grade 11, one student was in grade 10, and two students were in grade 9.
  5. Three students did not have prior discipline incidents during the current school year.
  6. All students were males.
  7. One student was homeless.

Chronology of Incidents Involving Firearms  


Berkeley High School Incidents  


January 10  

  1. A student was found to be in possession of a gun while on campus. When safety staff searched the student’s backpack due to reports that the student had a gun, the student fled. The gun was secured. The student was later apprehended.

February 4  

  1. Two students were seen off-campus with a gun. The students then got into a car, drove around, and later attempted to enter the school building. Police officers and safety staff apprehended the students and confiscated the firearm.

March 22  

  1. A gun discharged in the men’s bathroom in a portable building. Safety staff and the police detained two students and found the gun.
  2. After receiving a report that a student was in possession of a gun, safety staff searched the student’s backpack and found the firearm.

Berkeley Technical Academy Incident  


March 1  

  1. Staff received a report that a student was in possession of a gun while on campus. The student was searched and the gun was found.

Off-Campus Incident Involving a non-BUSD Student  


March 25  

  1. A teacher in the BHS parking lot after school observed a non-BHS student showing off a gun in the trunk of a car parked on the street.

II. Responses to Date  


  1. Disciplinary Action

In all instances involving firearm possession by B.U.S.D. students, the Berkeley Police Department was immediately notified, the incidents were investigated by site administration, and the students were suspended and recommended for expulsion as required by law.  


  1. Forums

  1. Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee
The Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee met seven times between April 13 and June 22. The average attendance was 10. The 18 committee members were:  

Rory Bled, BHS Vice Principal on Special Assignment (temporary)  

Hector Cardenas, BHS Parent  

Dr. Susan Craig, BUSD Director of Student Services  

Kunal Dalal, B-Tech Interim Principal  

Merlin Edwards II, BUSD Student Welfare Specialist  

Wendy Guinn, BHS Parent  

William Huyett, BUSD Superintendent  

Raymok Ketema, BHS Student  

William Keys, BHS Safety Officer  

Amber Lester, B-Tech Counselor  

Sergeant Jen Louis, Berkeley Police Department  

Robert McKnight, BHS Teacher  

Jorge Melgoza, BHS Vice Principal  

Amy Morales-Ambriz, BHS Parent  

Dave Peattie, BHS Parent  

Alejandro Ramos, Longfellow Vice Principal  

Regina Simpkins, BHS Parent  

Ashley Webster, BHS Student  

The meetings were open to the public, and several interested parents and a representative from the media attended. The safety committee has evaluated and made recommendations to the Superintendent regarding several suggested action items related to the elimination of weapons on campus.  


  1. Community Forum
Berkeley High School and District staff held a forum for parents, caregivers and members of the community on March 28 to address concerns and discuss steps being taken to prevent further incidents of guns on campus. Presenters included the Superintendent, Berkeley Police Sergeant Upson, and Pastor Michael McBride.  


  1. Student Focus Groups
Focus groups with students were conducted at BHS to learn from students possible reasons students are bringing guns and weapons into campus. The focus groups were led by BUSD staff and members of Lifelines to give students the opportunity to express their concerns in a confidential setting. While the District is still awaiting results from the interviewing teams, some students have stated that students feel fearful in the community when coming to and going from school and may carry weapons for protection.  


  1. Forum on Bullying
Board members arranged and facilitated a community forum on bullying on June 11 which was attended by staff, parents, caregivers, and members of the community and the Board. Feedback from participants is currently being reviewed. In addition, an online survey for parents through Survey Monkey was conducted; over 200 responses were received.  


  1. Training

  1. Safety Officer Conflict Mediation Training
Two Safety Officers, one from BHS and one from B-Tech, participated in a 40 hour conflict mediation training which was sponsored by Project Seed.  


  1. Training by the Berkeley Police Department
The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) provided training for BHS Administrators and Safety Officers on May 25 regarding emergency communication and search and seizure protocols. Seventeen BHS staff members participated in the training.  


  1. Safety Officer Training
All Berkeley Unified School District Safety Officers participated in a three-day training on June 20–22, conducted by Phillip Mullendore of the Institute for Campus Safety, in compliance with SB 1626.  


  1. Commitments for Future Training
BUSD staff has made a commitment to attend the following trainings: ten BUSD staff will participate in Dr. Joseph Marshall’s Alive and Free training on August 15–17; five BUSD staff will attend the Safe Schools Conference on August 5; and BUSD Secondary Administrators and Safety Officers will attend a gang awareness training in August led by BPD.  


  1. Increased Staffing

  1. Increased Safety Officer Staffing
Two additional Safety Officers were added at BHS and one additional Safety Officer was added at B-Tech prior to spring break. The additional Safety Officers continued to work through the end of the school year.  


  1. Increased Administrative Staffing
Administrative support was added to BHS on a temporary basis specifically to implement these proactive steps to reduce weapons on campus.  


  1. Increased Police Presence on Campus
An additional BPD School Resource Officer was added one day per week starting April 11 to supplement the four days already covered by the current School Resource Officer.  


  1. Assessment of Needs

  1. External Safety Consultant
School Safety Consultant, Al Bahn of EduSafe Associates, completed a campus walk-through at BHS on April 19 and at B-Tech on May 10. Mr. Bahn attended the Ad Hoc Safety Committee meeting on May 25 and reviewed his preliminary findings with the committee. Staff has since participated in a safety survey as a part of the safety evaluation. The initial response was that BHS and B-Tech are safe campuses. The student survey has not been completed at this time.  


  1. Internal Assessment
The Superintendent, the BHS Principal, and the Lead Safety Officer conducted a review of the deployment of Safety Officers and the number of security staff members at the site.  


  1. Communication

  1. BHS Staff Meeting
The BHS Principal held a school-wide staff meeting on March 24 to discuss weapons on campus, the plan to eliminate them, and the role of staff; he also reviewed school safety procedures. A school-wide staff meeting was also conducted by the Principal at B-Tech on February 4, the date of the firearm incident.  


  1. Class Meetings with Students
Administrators at BHS went into each history classroom prior to spring break to explain the rules and consequences of weapons on campus, explain the dangers of weapons, and explain how students can confidentially report information about weapons on campus.  


  1. Notification of Families
The BHS Principal provided timely and detailed reports to families about the incidents using the district phone and email systems. The B-Tech Principal provided an immediate letter and phone communication to families regarding the firearm incident.  


  1. Anonymous Hotline
An anonymous tip telephone hotline (1-866-SPEAK UP) with a text message option was created and publicized to students and parents to allow them to report weapons on campus. There were a total of two calls to the anonymous tip hotline this spring; however, the organization’s staff noted that neither report met the standards to warrant alerting BHS and BPD.  


  1. Physical Plant Security

  1. Gate Repairs and Closures of Entrances
Safety Officers and Administrators are stationed at every entrance in the morning prior to the start of the school day and again at the end of the lunch period. Only five entrances at BHS are open in the morning and at lunch: 1) the main office, 2) Kittredge and Milvia, 3) the portable building area, 4) the gym, and 5) between the G and H buildings on Martin Luther King. The gate between the Community Theater and the Administration Building has been repaired. The gate on Allston Way between the Little Theater and the H Building is now kept locked all day. The gates will be maintained by the site facilities manager.  


  1. Use of Staff
The assignments of Safety Officers were re-designed to provide hourly patrols of bathrooms and other out of the way areas on campus. A Safety Officer is now stationed all day in the portable area for continual monitoring. An additional Safety Officer monitors the G and H building area.  


  1. Increased Support for Students

  1. Support for Highest Risk Students
Transitional support for students who are on probation, in foster care, re-entering after expulsion or homeless has been implemented with the help of a Teacher on Special Assignment at BHS and a Counselor at B-Tech.  


  1. Programs to Strengthen Positive School Culture
A representative from the Safe School Ambassadors program presented this program to the Ad Hoc Safety Committee for consideration on June 8. Additional programs and strategies to prevent and reduce bullying and violence will be reviewed with the intent of implementing a program at BHS and B-Tech during the 2011-2012 school year.  


III. Recommendations to Eliminate the Presence of Weapons on School Grounds  


All topics that have been recommended to the District by BPD, through community forums, parent and community member feedback to the District, and from staff have been reviewed by the Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee are being presented to the Board for information. After receiving direction from the Board regarding the following recommendations, the District will move forward with a plan to implement the Board’s recommendations in the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.  


The Ad Hoc Safety Committee’s Report and Recommendations  


Police Presence at Schools: BUSD currently has one BPD School Resource Officer who works from Tuesdays through Fridays at BHS and has recently added a second .25FTE School Resource Officer to work at BHS on Mondays. BPD has recommended that a second full-time School Resource Officer be added to provide coverage at the three middle schools. The cost of adding a full-time School Resource Officer is approximately $150,000 - $180,000 per year. The Ad Hoc Safety Committee is in favor of adding a second School Resource Officer if available funding can be found.  


District Security Staffing: The Ad Hoc Safety Committee recommends that the District continue to provide the increased Safety Officer staffing at B.H.S. that was implemented during the second semester of the 2010-2011 school year of 12 Safety Officers. The District will provide a second Safety Officer at B-Tech upon request by the B-Tech Principal. In addition, the committee recommends that four Campus Monitors be hired to supervise the three BHS entrances on Milvia Street and the gate between the administration building and the Little Theater.  


Uniforms for Safety Officers and Campus Monitors: The Ad Hoc Safety committee unanimously agreed that Safety Officers and Campus Monitors have a visible uniform which includes slacks and a jacket or top that has visible lettering on the front and back. The lettering does not need to state “SECURITY”; it can state, for example, “BUSD STAFF”. The uniform should be professional in appearance, have an approachable look, and allow a Safety Officer or Campus Monitor to be identified from the back at a distance. The uniform must be a requirement for duty and compliance must be monitored by site administration.  


Gun/Violence Prevention Education: Gun/violence prevention education will be offered at BHS and B-Tech so that students are educated regarding the dangers of guns and will know what to do if they see one. Gun/violence prevention education will teach students that handling of any gun on campus is unsafe and illegal. Each small learning community leadership team at BHS will build one to two lessons of gun/violence prevention education into the curriculum. Guest presenters will provide testimonials regarding the dangers of guns. Gun safety education must also be provided to parents. In addition, a Gun Free Zone must be created around schools. BUSD will work with the City Council regarding this initiative.  


Procedures for Visitors to Campus: The District has an existing visitor policy; however, it is difficult to enforce with the design of the administration building at BHS. The District will provide visible signage regarding the visitor policy at all schools, a barrier to direct visitors entering the BHS administration building, and separate entrances for students and adults at BHS. BHS administration will arrange for students to enter through the gate next to the administration building and adults to enter through the administration building doors. Every visitor will be required to wear a visitor badge when on campus.  


Programs to Strengthen Positive School Culture: The Ad Hoc Safety Committee recognizes that bullying, truancy, and related issues with student behavior may contribute to an environment that is conducive to firearms and other weapons and violence at schools. The committee agrees that the District should implement a program to strengthen positive school culture at the high schools. The committee recommends both a Tier I school-wide program to strengthen a positive school culture and a Tier II program targeted towards students who are having significant behavior issues. The District has already made a commitment to participate in a multi-agency Tier II initiative called Lifelines to Healing. A Tier I program has not been selected yet; the committee agrees that several programs should be considered prior to making a decision. The District has already implemented a process for providing transitional support for high risk students as a Tier II intervention through the use of a counselor at B-Tech and a teacher on special assignment at Berkeley High School. The District is examining further collaboration with outside agencies, including Berkeley Mental Health, to expand mental health services and other support for high risk students.  


Closed Campus: Current policy states that the BHS campus is closed between classes (periods one, two and three, and periods four, five, and six) and is open only at lunch time. The current policy is not monitored adequately and must be strictly and consistently enforced. BHS has a student population of over 3,000 students and has the capacity to feed 500 students during the lunch period. Presently, due to limited available facilities for feeding students on campus, it is not feasible to close the campus at lunch time. However, the District will explore the costs of facilities, personnel and other resources for closing the campus all day in the future.  


Perimeter Security: BHS will reduce the number of entrances for students to four. The four entrances will be 1) between the administration building and the Little Theater, 2) at Milvia and Kittredge, 3) at Milvia and Bancroft, and 4) at Milvia and Durant. Each entrance will be permanently staffed with a BUSD Campus Monitor. In addition, Safety Officers and the BPD School Resource Officer will jointly patrol the perimeter of BHS and the neighborhood that is in close proximity to the school.  


Screening for Weapons: There has been some interest from parents and community members regarding metal detectors. However, District administration, the external consultant, and BPD do not think metal detectors are an effective option, and the committee does not support this option. It is not feasible to process over 3,000 students through metal detectors within a limited period of time. The District will provide ongoing training for Safety Officers and administrators regarding search and seizure procedures, protocols, and standards for what constitutes reasonable suspicion.  


Identification Badges for Students: The Ad Hoc Safety Committee is in support of requiring identification badges for students, per school policy. The committee is split, however, regarding whether or not to require the identification badges to be visible at all times. The Superintendent recommends for the coming school year that the District require identification badges and examine the possible benefits of requiring the identification badges to be visible in the future. The committee recommends that identification badges be checked for any student entering or leaving campus early or late but not at lunch break. Periodic identification badge checks will be conducted, possibly during advisory. In addition, identification badges will be required for attendance at extra-curricular activities including athletic events, dances, and proms. The option of requiring identification badges for middle school students in order to prepare them for high school should be explored.  


Increased Collaboration Between the Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Police Department : The District will meet collaboratively with representatives from the Berkeley Police Department on a regular basis and maintain ongoing communication. The BUSD Superintendent, BPD Chief of Police, BPD Sergeant of Youth Services, and BUSD Director of Student Services plan to meet on a quarterly basis. In addition, representatives from BPD and Probation will be invited to attend monthly Secondary Council meetings with the middle and high school Principals.  


Next Steps  

Pursuant to direction from the Governing Board, the District will continue to gather and track data related to the recommendations and will create an action plan which includes full costs and timelines. The Superintendent’s Ad Hoc Safety Committee will have at least one additional meeting in the fall to review the plan.  


While the focus of the Ad Hoc Safety Committee’s recommendations was specific to preventing the presence of guns at schools, the District will review recommended action steps related to preparedness for the possibility of an immediate threat on campus. An action step that has been discussed is the installation of classroom door locks that lock from the inside in all BUSD schools. A study regarding the financial feasibility and benefits of interior door locks will be conducted and presented to the Board in the fall. In addition, a staff training for defending against armed intruders called A.L.I.C.E., which was recommended by the External Safety Consultant, will be reviewed.  


The District is concerned that the students’ voices related to guns and safety concerns have not been adequately heard. The District will continue to work on receiving students’ input related to guns and safety and will explore the use of technology, including social networking, to increase communication with BUSD youth.  




II. C. Positive Behavior Support  



Board Policy 5131.7  



Approximately $180,000 ($269,000 - $89,000 previously allocated) for increased district safety staff  



Approve the Recommendations to Eliminate the Presence of Guns at Berkeley Unified School District Schools.  






How Berkeley Tea Partier Hijacked Redistricting Reform (News Analysis)

By Justine Sharrock (New America Media)
Friday June 24, 2011 - 01:06:00 PM

Few ordinary Californians have been more intensely interested in the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission than Berkeley-based Tea Party activist David Salaverry.

Back in March, he realized that the fledgling panel, with its 14 citizen members drawing political districts instead of politicians and its commitment to openness and transparency instead of behind-the-scenes deal-making, offered a golden opportunity for conservative Californians to influence the redistricting process at a time when their political clout was waning in other ways.

The cabinet-maker and building contractor sent email blasts to “patriot” groups around the Bay Area, encouraging them to attend meetings and to write and call the commissioners. He ran small training sessions for local Tea Partiers explaining the redistricting process and outlining main talking points—especially the idea that the commission should be “colorblind” in drawing political maps.

Salaverry, dubbed the “redistricting Paul Revere,” by right-wing blogger Dell Hill, received an enthusiastic response and has helped Tea Partiers dominate public input at commission meetings far beyond the Bay Area. “It all happened very quickly,” Salaverry said by phone while waiting for his two-minute time slot to testify before the commissioners at a Culver City meeting last week. 

Commission Is Overwhelmed 

Indeed, the activists have been such an overwhelming presence that the commission recently moved to limit the number of hearings for the rest of the summer, one commissioner said. Instead of continuing through July, the meetings will now end next Tuesday—to the dismay of civil rights advocates. "We have concerns that opportunities for input are going to be limited by not having additional hearings," says Eugene Lee of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC). 

Given their successes in the 2010 elections, it should come as no shock that Tea Party activists across the country have seized on the redistricting process—the redrawing of political districts for Congress, state legislature, and local office, using the latest census data—as a way to consolidate their political gains for the next 10 years. 

What is proving more surprising (and to some, alarming) is how astutely Tea Partiers in California have taken advantage of redistricting reforms that were intended to make the process less partisan and—groups like Common Cause had hoped—fairer to long-disenfranchised minorities. 

Yet the goal of many of these conservatives seems to be to block Democratic-leaning Latinos, in particular, from making electoral gains at the expense of the state’s declining white population. “It’s simplistic to say we are colorblind and that race should never be taken into account,” Lee says. “There is still racially polarized voting, and sometimes it’s necessary to consider race to make sure everyone has a voice.” 

New Process Favors the Vocal 

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is the result of ballot measures approved by voters in 2008 and 2010. Supporters argued that the first step to fixing the state’s dysfunctional government was to take the power to draw political districts away from self-interested politicians and put it in the hands of ordinary citizens. 

But many civil rights groups opposed the ballot measures, worrying that low-income communities of color—especially immigrants—wouldn’t participate in such an abstract, complicated, time-consuming process. Those fears are turning out to be well founded. 

Some of the basic elements of the new redistricting process have proved helpful to well-organized and vocal groups on the right, civil rights activists say. Even though California is a deep blue state, by law the commission must include the same number of Republicans and Democrats (five), as well as four minor-party members or Independents, who often lean Republican. As redistricting amateurs, few of these commissioners know the ins and outs of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which is supposed to protect the rights of minorities as political maps are drawn. 

The commission’s openness and accessibility—it’s already held dozens of public meetings across the state and has several more planned through Tuesday, June 28—has also been a boon for activists trying to sway the commissioners about where boundaries should be drawn. 

Civil rights groups have tried to get ethnic minorities to come to the meetings to advocate for their “communities of interest”— factors such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, public schools and parks, transportation, and local industries that bind people into communities that transcend neighborhood, city, and county boundaries. Keeping those “communities of interest” intact on political maps would give them a better chance of electing officials who are responsive to their concerns. 

But Tea Party activists have turned out in far greater numbers. Indeed, the crowds have been so large—as many as 100 to 150 at some hearings—that commissioners have had to bring additional security and limit the number and length of testimonies. 

The commission’s first proposed maps, released June 10, reflect many of the Tea Partiers’ demands, civil rights advocates complain. The first draft of the congressional map, for example, doesn’t include any new Latino majority districts, even though Latinos accounted for 90 percent of California’s population growth in the last decade, according to the 2010 Census. 

“It is a worst-case scenario for the Latino community and would severely diminish political opportunities,” says Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, research and advocacy at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund in Los Angeles. 

Arguing That Race Shouldn’t Matter 

One of the key Tea Party talking points is that race and ethnicity shouldn’t be taken into consideration at all by the commission when it comes to drawing political maps. 

“A lot of conservatives feel we’ve made remarkable progress on race in America through the civil rights movement,” says Salaverry, whose father’s side is Latino. “It’s time to move on and become a post-racial society, but unfortunately because of the Voting Rights Act and well-funded ultra-left wing activist groups, we won’t.” 

Similar complaints have been made by Tea Party groups at redistricting hearings in the South, Texas, and other states, says Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights group based in Durham, N.C. “They are very strident,” she says. “They’ve been pretty strongly anti–Voting Rights Act.” 

Along similar lines, Tea Partiers in California and elsewhere insist that map-drawers put a priority on keeping cities and counties intact instead of splitting them up to increase the number of districts where minorities are the majority. 

But political maps must comply with the Voting Rights Act, whether Tea Party activists like it or not, counters Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “Often you have to [carve up] cities” to make that happen. 

Indeed, city boundaries have often been drawn specifically to limit the voting power of minorities, Earls notes, so keeping them intact can perpetuate racial injustice. Modesto’s boundaries, for example, “look like Swiss cheese, with almost all the areas that aren’t counted [being] Hispanic,” she says. 

Hostility and Intimidation 

It’s not just what the Tea Party activists have been saying at the redistricting hearings, but how they’ve been saying it, that angers civil rights groups. There are reports from around California that people of color, particularly Latinos, have been so upset and intimidated by Tea Partiers’ comments that they have been leaving meetings before they’ve had a chance to speak. 

“You go to a meeting, of course, you will have pros and cons, but this was very hostile,” says South Bay resident Drina Collins, who attended a May 23 hearing in San Jose to advocate for keeping Latino communities in the South Bay intact. “It was disastrous and made me angry that they made so many people intimidated.” 

Crowds cheered when citizens asked commissioners not to take race into account. When a Spanish speaker using an interpreter urged the commission not to split up the Latino community, one Tea Partier shouted, “Speak in English. This is America.” Commissioners had to take a recess and call in security after the Tea Partiers got “a little too loud and unruly,” according to Commissioner Angelo Ancheta, a law professor at Santa Clara University who specializes in racial discrimination and immigrants’ rights. 

“I came to America because I wanted to be an American, not a hyphenated American,” said a Ghana-born immigrant Tea Partier to applause at the San Jose meeting. “The federal Voting Act says you cannot discriminate based on ethnic grounds but it does not say you should choose boundaries based on ethnic grounds.” 

Similar scenes have played out in other cities. In San Diego, a woman in a Tea Party t-shirt repeatedly made a gun gesture with her finger and pointing at speakers of color who mentioned race, according to APALC’s Deanna Kitamura, who was present. 

“There are a lot of inarticulate and unsophisticated comments from conservatives about race issues,” admits Salaverry. “We are being very cognizant and don’t want allegations of racism. We tell people, ‘Don’t do anything that will embarrass us,’ but we can’t succeed 100 percent. People are passionate and can step on the other side’s toes.” 

Still, Salaverry says, the testimony of “alphabet groups”—as conservatives are calling groups such as MALDEF and the NAACP—shouldn’t carry the same weight because they “aren’t citizens. They are lawyers financed by institutions and they have agendas.” 

Since the release of the first set of proposed maps, Tea Partiers have been increasing their attendance at commission meetings, in hopes of persuading the members not to add more Latino-majority districts. They are arriving early to sign up for as many of the first-come-first-served two-minute speaking slots as possible. Salaverry himself is following the commissioners around the state to testify at public input meetings. 

In response, civil rights groups are urging people of color to set aside their fears and show up at the remaining meetings—including in San Jose on June 25 and San Francisco on June 27—in order to influence the next round of maps, due July 7. “We don’t need to convince the commission why they need to follow the VRA, we just need to giving them the political will to do so,” Lee says. “It’s a natural tendency for people to be afraid of criticism.” 

The commissioners say they won’t let Tea Party input unduly pressure them. But Commissioner Ancheta also admits some of his fellow commissioners seem to agree with the Tea Partiers about the VRA. 

“In most of California we don’t take race into consideration, at least not in a big way,” says Ancheta, “There may be disagreement amongst commissioners as to whether [considering race] is the best way to approach the problem. But everyone is committed to following the law, whether they disagree about the assumptions and necessity. I’m not concerned about rogue commissioners.” 

Meanwhile, Ancheta says, there will “most likely be big changes in the final map,” due on August 14, particularly in Los Angeles. “It won’t be exactly what the Latino groups want. I suspect they are pushing it as far as they can go, but there is no doubt there will be some shifting.”

US Mayors to Obama: Bring War Money Home! Ban the Bomb!

ByGar Smith
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 12:30:00 PM

'That we would build bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City, absolutely boggles the mind.'
-- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

BALTIMORE (At its annual meeting in Baltimore on June 20, 2011, the US Conference of Mayors passed two historic resolutions. One called on Washington to end of our current wars to "bring … war dollars home to meet vital human needs." The other, introduced by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan on behalf of Mayors for Peace, called for nuclear disarmament, which would free billions of dollars to address unemployment in America’s cities. 

The last time the USCM issued an “anti-war” proclamation was during the height of the Vietnam War. The resolution came at a critical time — with President Obama preparing to announce the scale and pace of his promised withdrawal from Afghanistan, the House of Representatives considering amendments to block funding for the Libya War, and Dennis Kucinich and nine other congress members filing suit against the White House in an attempt to challenge to America’s costly military adventures. 

It was in 1971, that the conference passed a resolution demanding an end to the war in Vietnam. The resolution was introduced by San Leandro Jack Maltester. Although the resolution was vigorously opposed by Richard Nixon and many USCM delegates, it ultimately passed with the backing of the mayors of Chicago and New York. The new anti-war resolution, submitted by mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon, calls for redirecting $126 billion in military spending to domestic needs. "Our city has had to cut $20 million from our budget in the last three years," Piercy explained. "Our children and families long for, and call for, a real investment in the future of America.” 

The USCM may prove the Pentagon’s biggest nemesis. In addition to calling for an end to US wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the USCM (whose mayors represent cities with populations over 30,000) also passed a resolution (sponsored by Mayors for Peace) that instructs President Obama to join leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to implement the United Nations Secretary-General's 5-point plan to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, by the year 2020. The resolution further calls on Congress to terminate funding for modernization of the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons complex and nuclear weapons systems. (Simply cutting nuclear weapons spending to pre-Cold War Levels, would free billions of dollars that could be redirected to meet the urgent needs of cities.) 

The nuclear disarmament resolution was introduced in the final plenary by International Affairs Committee Chair, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Unlike the “Bring Our War Dollars Home” the Mayors for Peace resolution was adopted without debate. While the anti-war resolution was subject to vote only after surviving a contentious struggle to defeat it, the nuclear weapons resolution passed unanimously. 

“No one spoke against the resolution or actually voted against it,” said Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation and the North American Coordinator of Mayors for Peace but the antinuclear resolution now puts the mayors squarely in opposition with President Obama, "who has maintained, and even modernized, nuclear weaponry." Cabasso praised Oakland Mayor Mayor Jean Quan, a member of Mayors for Peace, who noted at the beginning of the session that “the committee has a long history of taking up the issue of nuclear disarmament.” 

The Mayors for Peace resolution was boosted by the appearance of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who addressed the Baltimore audience and praised Mayors for Peace, which had gathered more than a million signatures for its “Cities Are Not Targets” campaign. Ban observed that "the road to peace and progress runs through the worlds cities and towns." His words were greeted with a standing ovation. 

Cabasso told The Planet about a chance encounter in Baltimore. “On Saturday, the Mayor of Kabul Afghanistan joined Mayors for Peace. He told me that his city had been 90% destroyed by war, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Cabasso said this story serves to reinforce the importance of both resolutions: We need to not only end these wars but to re-channel the money currently devoted to military and nuclear weapons spending into reconstruction and social repair. 

Mayors for Peace is more than a national organization (more than 175 US mayors currently are enrolled). It currently boasts more than 4,700 members in 150 countries and hopes to recruit 5,000 member cities by the August 6th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “At that point,” the organization states, “the new Mayor of Hiroshima, will be able to announce that Mayors for Peace represents the wishes of more than one billion people around the world.” 

Here is the resolution, as adopted, with the list of co-sponsors. 


WHEREAS, more than two decades after the end of the Cold War, nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons, over 95% of them in the arsenals of the United States and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to cities and people everywhere;

WHEREAS, recent studies have shown that a nuclear war involving no more than 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs -- about 0.3% of the global nuclear arsenal -- could have catastrophic, long-lasting effects on the global climate leading to a drop in average surface temperatures, reduction of the ozone layer, a shortened agricultural growing season resulting in a global famine of unprecedented proportions;

WHEREAS, the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review did not lead to substantial changes in the U.S. nuclear force structure, only marginally reduced the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy, explicitly rejected reducing the high-alert status of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine Launch Ballistic Missiles, and retained the capability to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers, including at NATO bases in Europe, while proceeding with a modification of the bombs carried on those planes;

WHEREAS, a plan submitted to Congress by President Barack Obama projects investments of well over $185 billion by 2020 to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons systems, including construction of three new nuclear warhead production facilities and an array of new delivery systems;

WHEREAS, although the U.S. stockpile contains one-fifth as many warheads as it used to, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request is the largest ever for maintenance and modernization of nuclear warheads, and after accounting for inflation, the $7.63 billion request is 21 percent more than President Ronald Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget;

WHEREAS, reflecting President Obama’s commitment to modernize all three legs of the strategic triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the FY 2012 budget request also includes $197 million for research and development on a new Air Force long-range nuclear bomber, $2.6 million to study a future Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and $1.07 billion to develop a new replacement ballistic missile submarine slated to be in operation through 2080, all of which will lead to far greater expenditures if production follows;

WHEREAS, with the economic downturn forcing mayors and cities to make deep cuts in critical public services, and with more than 100 metropolitan areas projected to have double-digit unemployment by the end of this year, the budget deal worked out between the Administration and Congress contains a 16.2 percent reduction in Community Development Block Grant formula funding -- a $647 million cut for the current year, eliminates Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, and includes huge reductions to other domestic programs of importance to mayors and cities, the size of which have not been seen in recent times;

WHEREAS, Mayors for Peace membership has grown to over 4,700 cities in 150 countries and regions, including half of the world’s capital cities, with more than 170 U.S. members;

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted resolutions in 2004, 2006 and each year since, expressing its strong support for Mayors for Peace, its demand for negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020, and its Cities Are Not Targets campaign;

WHEREAS, Mayors for Peace has been endorsed by national mayoral associations in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa;

WHEREAS, the final document of the 3rd Congress of United Cities and Local Governments, adopted in Mexico City November 20, 2010 expresses “our support for the call of the Mayors for Peace Campaign for a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020 through a new international Convention”;

WHEREAS, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Hiroshima for the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing on August 6, 2010 expressed his strong support for the Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign for the global abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020, declaring, “The 2020 vision is a perfect vision”; and the United Nations, on March 24, 2011 recognized the importance of Mayors for Peace by inaugurating a permanent installation at its New York headquarters exhibiting more than 1 million signatures on the Mayors for Peace Cities Are Not Targets petition;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors reaffirms its call on President Obama to work with the leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to implement the United Nations Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament forthwith, so that a Nuclear Weapons Convention or a related framework of mutually reinforcing legal instruments can be agreed upon and implemented by the year 2020, as urged by Mayors for Peace; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to terminate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and nuclear weapons systems, to slash spending on nuclear weapons programs well below Cold War levels, and to redirect those funds to meet the urgent needs of cities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in its contacts with national associations of local authorities of the other nuclear weapon states, calls upon them to also press their governments to enter into negotiations for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free world and to sharply curtail expenditures on nuclear arms; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors expresses its continuing support for Mayors for Peace, pledges to assist in recruiting new U.S. members in order to help reach the goal of 5,000 member cities by the August 6, 2011 Hiroshima anniversary, at which time Mayors for Peace will represent one billion people; and, as since 2005, supports USCM representation at the international Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign Executive Committee and General Meetings later this year; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors agrees to take up this matter at its 80th Annual Meeting in June 2012, and that mayors shall remain engaged in this matter until our cities and citizens, and cities and citizens throughout the world, are no longer under the threat of nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change.

Submitted by:

The Honorable Donald L. Plusquellic
Mayor of Akron

The Honorable Matthew T. Ryan
Mayor of Binghamton

The Honorable Susan M. Osborne
Mayor of Boulder

The Honorable Rodger Holm
Mayor of Clinton

The Honorable Franklin T. Cownie
Mayor of Des Moines

The Honorable Kitty Piercy
Mayor of Eugene

The Honorable Joy Cooper
Mayor of Hallandale Beach

The Honorable Paul Soglin
Mayor of Madison

The Honorable Andre Pierre
Mayor of North Miami

The Honorable Frank C. Ortis
Mayor of Pembroke Pines

The Honorable Jennifer Hosterman
Mayor of Pleasanton

The Honorable Gayle McLaughlin
Mayor of Richmond

The Honorable Ardell Brede
Mayor of Rochester

The Honorable Stephen Cassidy
Mayor of San Leandro

The Honorable Helene Schneider
Mayor of Santa Barbara

The Honorable Laurel L. Prussing
Mayor of Urbana

The Honorable John Duran
Mayor of West Hollywood

The Honorable James Baker
Mayor of Wilmington

The Honorable Joseph C. O’Brien
Mayor of Worcester 


Nuclear Weapons -- at What Cost?

Jackie Cabasso / Western States Legal Foundation
Thursday June 23, 2011 - 01:13:00 PM

It is nearly impossible to calculate total annual US spending on nuclear weapons in a consistent manner. As explained by the Federation of American Scientists (1): “Most US Government spending on nuclear weapons-related programs is unclassified. But it is functionally secret since such spending is widely dispersed across many programs in several agencies and it is not formally tracked or reported.”

Further complicating the calculation is determining the scope of programs functionally intertwined with the most obvious ones: research, development, testing and production of nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. According to an analysis by the Carnegie Endowment (2), the US spent over $52 billion in FY 2008 for nuclear weapons and related programs. This includes nuclear forces and operational support, deferred environmental and health costs, missile defense, nuclear threat reduction, and nuclear incident management. It does not include classified programs, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, or nuclear weapons related intelligence programs. 

Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Budget 

His nuclear disarmament rhetoric not withstanding, on May 13, 2010, at the midpoint of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, in connection with submission of the new START US – Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty to the Senate, President Obama submitted a classified report on a Congressionally mandated plan to maintain and modernize US nuclear forces for the foreseeable future. According to a White House fact sheet: “The plan includes investments of $80 billion to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex….” and “well over $100 billion in nuclear delivery systems to sustain existing capabilities and modernize some strategic systems” by the year 2020. 

A second White House fact sheet, released November 17, 2010, An Enduring Commitment to the US Nuclear Deterrent (3), increased the amount projected “to modernize the US nuclear weapons complex that supports our deterrent,” to “more than $85 billion over the next decade.” 

In testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces (4) on March 2, 2011, Dr. James Miller, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy increased the numbers again, stating: “The Administration’s FY2012 budget reflects our commitment to the modernization of our nuclear arsenal for the long term, including some $125 billion over the next ten years to sustain our strategic delivery systems, and about $88 billion over the same period to sustain our nuclear arsenal and modernize infrastructure.” 

Unprecedented Nuclear Weapons Spending 

Calling it an “unprecedented investment in ensuring the nuclear security of our country and our allies,”Thomas D’Agostino, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), a semi-autonomous division of the Department of Energy, on February 16, 2011 declared: “Despite the economic challenges facing our nation and the budget pressures being felt throughout the federal government, the President demonstrated his commitment to our mission by proposing an unprecedented investment in ensuring the nuclear security of our country and our allies.” 

The President’s FY 2012 budget request includes over $7.6 billion for programs directly related to nuclear warheads. As stated in the official budget document: “The Weapons Activities request is an increase of 8.9 percent over the President’s FY 2011 Request. This level is sustained and increased in the later out years.” 

The FY 2012 request includes increased funding for three new nuclear weapons production plants: the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building, a new plutonium “pit” manufacturing facility at the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico; the Uranium Processing Facility, a production facility for thermonuclear components under construction at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee; and a replacement for the Kansas City Plant in Missouri, where NNSA manufactures most nonnuclear nuclear weapon components. The 2012 budget request also includes “Life Extension Programs” (rebuilds) for three warhead types including the B61 warhead, a US bomb still deployed at NATO bases in Europe. 

According to Dr. Robert Civiak (6), former Program Examiner for Department of Energy nuclear security activities at the federal Office of Management and Budget: “Even though the US stockpile contains only one-fifth as many warheads as it used to, the 2012 request is the largest ever for Weapons Activities. After accounting for inflation, the $7.63 billion request is 21 percent more than Ronald Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget and 19 percent more than President George H.W. Bush’s highest spending level.” 

The Department of Energy budget covers only nuclear warheads. In addition, in response to the President’s commitment to modernize all three legs of the “strategic triad” (7) of nuclear weapons delivery systems,the Department of Defense FY 2012 budget request (8) includes $197 million for research and development on a new Air Force long-range bomber that would be ready for fielding in the mid-2020s. In all $3.7 Billion is slated to be spent in developing this nuclear-capable aircraft over the next five to six years. On January 6, 2011 Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the Air Force would begin development of this new nuclear-capable strategic bomber, which can be remotely piloted. At present, there are no nuclear capable “drones” in the US arsenal. Plans are for 80 to 100 of these aircraft to be built. 

The Pentagon budget request also includes $2.6 million to study a future Intercontinental Ballistic Missileand $1.07 Billion to develop a new ballistic missile submarine to replace today's Ohio-class vessels. 

Nuclear Weapons Forever? 

On May 9, 2011, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon released details about H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. The chairman’s “mark” of the annual defense authorization bill would fully fund NNSA at the President’s requested levels. The document also reveals the long planning horizon for nuclear weapons, specifying, “The planned Ohio-class ballistic submarine replacement is expected to be in operations through 2080.” 

A 1998 study by the Brookings Institution (10) found, as a conservative estimate, that the US spent $5.5 Trillion dollars on nuclear weapons from 1940–1996 (in constant 1996 dollars). Nuclear weapons spending during this period exceeded the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development, including disaster relief; law enforcement; and energy production and regulation. 

Nuclear weapons have threatened human security since they were used by the United States against Japan nearly 66 years ago. In a time of unprecedented global economic, environmental and political upheaval, can we afford to pay for them for another 70 years, hoping they won’t be used again? 

Jacqueline Cabasso is Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, 655 13th St. Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94612. 

(1) http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2009/01/nuclear_spending.html 

(2) http://carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=22601&prog=zgp&proj=znpp

(3) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/17/fact-sheet-enduring-commitment-us-nuclear-deterrent 

(4) http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=10a50d6f-ece1-475f-bb5e-00ab478aefdb 

(5) http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/FY%202012%20NNSA%20Congressional%20Budget%20Submission_0.pdf 

(6) http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/FY%202012%20NNSA%20Congressional%20Budget%20Submission_0.pdf 

(7) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/02/02/message-president-new-start-treaty-0 

(8) http://www.nationaljournal.com/nationalsecurity/pentagon-budget-may-omit-funds-for-promised-icbm-modernization-study-20110215?mrefid=site_search&page=1 

(9) http://www.brookings.edu/projects/archive/nucweapons/weapons.aspx>A 1998 study by the Brookings Institution 

Civil Disobedience in a Public Park and When Does “Adopt a Spot” Become “Own a Spot?” (Partisan Position)

By Robert Brokl
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 03:51:00 PM

“Turf Battles” may be the new recreational activity in public parks, with public resources stretched to breaking, volunteerism (often with strings) expected to make up the slack, and “urban agriculture” the new big thing...Toss into the mix a dysfunctional city government and turf will fly.... 

The Dover Street Park, between Aileen and 58th on Dover St. (one block east of MLK Jr. Way) in North Oakland is the locus of the latest contretemps. Petition gathering, guerilla gardening, instant murals, and vilification and old animosities restoked. “Over what?,” you might ask. 

Dover Street Park is new, finished only about 6 years ago, at a cost of over $560,000. Designed by professionals, installed by union workers, now contested by “adopt-a-spot” neighbors and food justice advocates who’ve planted 35 (and counting) fruit trees at the park perimeter, self-described as a “food forest”--a “40+ trees strong orchard of avocado and citrus trees...” 

The park was the last piece of the 9-acre project referred to as MLK Jr. Plaza by the City of Oakland, or alternately as the Old Merritt College campus by neighbors. Really old timers or history buffs remember the school building that the park sits behind as the home of University High School--its first use as a premier school in the Oakland school system. 

When Alfred Crofts, Janet Keita, Mattie Jones, myself, and many other neighbors got involved, the school was vacant, almost a ruin and slated for demolition, to be replaced by a shopping mall which, had that scenario come to pass, would no doubt quickly have become a ruin slated for demolition... 

We formed a group that became North Oakland Voters Alliance (NOVA). I came up with the name that stuck because we wanted to remind our unresponsive government that we were here, we wanted to be listened to, and we voted. We started holding monthly meetings and volunteers passed out free NOVA flyers door-to-door, 3,000/month at the peak. We listed the entire site on the National Register of Historic Places, sued the City over “demolition by neglect,” and worked to replace the Councilperson who favored demolition with Sheila Jordan, Councilperson Brunner’s predecessor. Jordan favored adaptive reuse. Ultimately, Children’s Hospital Oakland bought the site from the City and outfitted the building for their Research Institute. The North Oakland Senior Center was created in the former auditorium, with two 55 year leases from CHORI. 

(For those that are interested, the long struggle is well-documented. Basic texts: “Brownfields Redevelopment: Meeting the Challenges of Community Participation” by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, May 2000. Also, “The Case of the Languishing Landmark,” by Paul Rauber, the cover story of the East Bay Express, March 23, 1990. Additional news coverage in the archives of the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune, East Bay Express, Oakland Post, Oakland Heritage Alliance newsletter, etc. If you can find it, the 1987 potboiler movie “The Principal” filmed inside the school buildings, pre-renovation.) 

The area at the back of the site where the park is now was covered in asphalt. Once the playing fields of the Oakland Oaks, the area had been paved over for portables used by the community college district. The portables were demolished, but the asphalt remained. Parts of the site were filled in with houses, some made more “affordable” to satisfy federal requirements stemming from the original purchase of the property with Community Development Block Grants. 

The area that remained was turned into the park. A well-known, local, women-owned landscape architect firm, PGA Design, that had created plans for the grounds on the rest of the campus, including the courtyards of the main building, was hired to design the park. 

After the years of neighborhood contention, the City tried to mend its ways and encourage citizen participation by establishing a “design advisory committee” that got periodic briefings on plans for the various aspects of the project, including the park. The group was open to anyone interested. 

At that time, we advocated for raised vegetable beds in the park. A local group called Spiral Gardens, with a large garden site on Sacramento St. in Berkeley, was interested. Their head lived in the neighborhood, but they were rebuffed. PGA and City staff resisted--the budget was tight and a simple design was selected for the park: a large expanse of turf that would be easy to maintain with regular mowing, decorative flowering street trees, climbing roses on the fence, some large evergreens at the rear. There was no money for interior lighting, the sign board we wanted for community notices was a useless kiosk, but play equipment, benches, and a drinking fountain went in. According to park plans, over 1000 plants were dug in and trees planted. The park becomes more and more popular, less single-mindedly devoted to sports like Bushrod Park nearby, more intimate and welcoming.... 

Fast forward. The Phat Beet Produce collective proposes a “Healthy Hearts Garden” with a loose affiliation with Children’s Hospital’s Healthy Hearts Clinic through a pediatrician who’d interned there. The Phat Beet group submits a written proposal to the City. Parks and Recreation and Public Works Agency staff, and Maria Barra-Gibson on Brunner’s staff, okay their plans for a community garden tucked away at the “back right corner” of the park. Later, according to the Phat Beet proposal, “if all parties involved feel that the vegetable garden is successful after a determined time period, we will expand to plant fruit trees along the back fence...” shared with CHO. 

Meanwhile, an informal adopt-a-spot group formed called the Dover St. Neighborhood Group, one of several promoted by the City to supplement paid union employees stretched to the limit with budget cutbacks and layoffs. According to press reports, the Public Works Agency has been hit with massive layoffs. One PWA employee is responsible for 30,000 City street trees. But adopt -a-spot meant just that, we assumed, weeding and tending, not owning or controlling. Just like museum docents don’t get to curate exhibitions. 

The volunteer group ceased locking and opening up the “dawn to dusk” park, so it was open 24/7. Over time, many of the plants either died out through neglect or lack of irrigation, or were deliberately killed with sheet-mulching. Invasive volunteer plants such as acacia and bacchus got a foothold and prosper. Weeds keep pace with the remaining plantings. 

The rapidly changing nature of the park came into sharp focus at the Cesar Chavez celebration April 3 . Underwritten by a $500 contribution by CHO, Mayor Quan made an appearance, a mural was spray painted on two sections of the aging fence, neatly disguising a plywood patch, and fruit tree planting accelerated. Phat Beet’s on-line newsletter called for supporters to provide a “vine, bramble, or fruit tree” for the Healthy Heart Garden. The Phat Beet website triumphed the “fruit orchard in an Oakland City Park”--at last count some 35 trees have been planted. 

The very informal and undocumented (but for the 3-page proposal) process that got us to this point is being revisited--a recent meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission (the PRAC) considered the tree plantings and community garden. 

The June 8 staff report for that meeting identified many concerns of PWA staff about fruit trees in a public park: 

“*Potential fall hazard from kids climbing trees to reach the fruit. 

*Potential fall hazard from people bringing ladders into the park to harvest fruit or to prune trees. Suggested dwarf rootstock trees be planted to eliminate the use of ladders. 

*Pesticides are not permitted to be used in children’s parks. Concern on potential spread of diseases from trees with leaf curl, etc. Leaf curl noted on at least one current planting. Spraying dormant oil, as an example, would not be allowed. 

*Blockage of line of sight into the park by trees planted along the eastern boundary of the park near the play equipment. 

*Potential tripping hazard from fruit trees on paths or thrown or carried into the lawn area. 

*Increased rodent or insect populations (Mediterranean Fruit Fly) attracted to fruit or decomposing fruit. 

*Concern for thorns on citrus trees located close to play structure.” 

Additionally, avocado trees grow to be 30-40 feet tall, and may not bear fruit. Depending upon pollination and the weather, trees may not set fruit, or squirrels may get whatever is produced. Food crops such as beans, squash, or tomatoes might actually do more to alleviate hunger than unpredictable fruit trees. 

The PRAC voted to approve the existing small vegetable garden, with some conditions attached such as Phat Beet Produce locking up the park at night. This was the easy vote, and we, too, support the garden. The PRAC also voted, narrowly, to require Phat Beet to get a retroactive conditional use permit for the tree-plantings. The fee, like many in cash-strapped Oakland, is exorbitant at $2,900. Even a tree removal appeal, like one we recently managed during the Courthouse Athletic Club demolition and redwood removal, costs $500! 

But charging ahead without full community “buy-in” that ultimately will place more burdens on an increasingly nonexistent city crews is a serious matter. And accepting citizen redesign of public parks, with increased demands for maintenance by someone, undermines both union jobs and design professionals. Why pay for the milk when you can get it for free? 

Two well-known Oakland community activists and members of the PRAC, Susan Montauk, a Brunner supporter, and Judy Belcher, ally of Nancy Nadel, supported the tree plantings, and implicitly, the redesign of the garden to create “fruit forest.” The saplings may not be that obvious now, even to them, but 40+ trees, 20-30 feet tall, will be. 

The concern about sight lines into the park as a public safety issue resulted in a May 17 statement by Councilperson Brunner. She echoed the call by Audree V. Jones-Taylor, head of the Park and Recreations Dept., “That the Healthy Hearts volunteers will remove the fruit trees along the front fence of the park and will present a plan to the PRAC for fruit trees in the park at other locations.” To date, all trees remain. 

Brunner’s statement came after pulling the plug on a meeting of concerned parties that Dr. Alexander Lucas, the head of CHORI, had offered to host. Ironically, Brunner’s specialty of law at Siegel & Yee is mediation.... 

The NOVA back story: the group lived up to its name and burnt-out--weary founders and internal discord. Members moved away or died. Only one newsletter was published after we left, and the monthly public meetings ceased. At the end (not The End, since a NOVA list-serve survives), a fierce battle erupted over the expansion of redevelopment to all of North Oakland, deepening the NOVA divide. Jerry Brown, as governor, is using many of the arguments to end (or limit) redevelopment statewide that we used--North Oakland wasn’t so blighted it needed redevelopment at the expense of the General Fund revenue. 

This irony may be lost on some in the current dustup. If redevelopment had happened, the City using an economic development argument would surely have issued bonds, borrowing against North Oakland, generating the revenue to allow CHO to build their 20 story tower north of 52nd on Dover St., and many neighbors would have left or had their houses seized. 

As precedent, if management of public parks is handed over to well-meaning, ideological advocates, with romantic gardening ideas (such as Phat Beet’s plans for bananas and timber bamboo) nothing is safe or “public,” whatever the expenditure of public funds in the past. In the future, vacant lots can just be set aside, for neighbors to do with as they will. Or not. Hopefully that won’t be the lesson of Dover St. Park. 

As for more positive models, the recent May/June issue of Temescal News and Views had two relevant examples: 

The Temescal Flows mural being painted on the CalTrans underpass at 52nd St. With 80 percent of the funding provided by The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District, City and CalTrans encroachment permits, and a sign-off from the City Cultural Arts Division, the mural creation progresses without controversy. 

An “Intercultural Gardens” studio class at California College of the Arts partners with a fourth grade class at Emerson Elementary School to create an orchard on the school grounds. Again, no controversy and broad support. 

Another proactive suggestion: Phat Beet Produce’s connection to CHO, and their Healthy Hearts Clinic, certainly helped to cut through the red tape, enabling him to begin his garden in the park, with no annual fee or charge for water (as is normal for community gardens). More recently, CHO underwrote the Cesar Chavez event. But, in the interest of preventing childhood diabetes and obesity which motivates this support, why don’t they do more? Such as instituting a demonstration vegetable garden in the front of the The Little House That Escaped the Bulldozers at 52nd and MLK Jr. Way. The former owner refused to sell to CHO, but his heirs did. CHO’s last expansion surrounds the house, but the citrus and fig trees and empty planters remain from his and later gardens. This bedraggled space has high visibility from the street taken by thousands every day, steps from the Healthy Hearts Clinic. What a spot for CHO to plant a garden, not to mention on their other nearby properties! If Michelle Obama can tear up the White House lawn for an organic vegetable garden, here’s some local turf we’d like to see disrupted, easing the pressure on little Dover St. Park. 


Press Release: Berkeley Strong Arm Robbery at Kittredge Street and Shattuck Avenue on Sunday Afternoon

From the UC Berkeley Police Department
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 03:49:00 PM

On Sunday, June 19, 2011 at approximately 2:30 p.m., a 21-year-old female, affiliation unknown, was the victim of a strong arm robbery. The victim was standing at the intersection of Kittredge and Shattuck when she was approached by the male suspect who grabbed her iPhone. The suspect entered a 1990s green Jeep Cherokee and fled the scene traveling eastbound on Kittredge. The victim was not injured during the encounter. BPD searched the area but was unable to find the suspect or the vehicle. 

The victim described the suspect as: 

A Black male, approximately 25 years of age, with a dark complexion, short black hair, 5’6” in height, with a thin build, wearing a dark green and brown short sleeved shirt and black pants. 

If you have any information about this crime, please contact: 

Berkeley Police Department (510) 981-5900 / 24 Hours

Musical Snapshots at the Garden of Memories

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 09:52:00 AM

Hundreds of locals, many from Berkeley, flocked to the “Garden of Memories” concert that has become an East Bay Summer Solstice tradition at the Chapel of the Chimes on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. 

The 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. annual event, held on June 21 this year, takes place at the historic columbarium that houses the ashes or caskets of thousands of Bay Area residents. 

The event began in 1995 after pianist and “new music” aficionado (and Berkeley High graduate) Sarah Cahill was inspired by a visit to the building. 

It was sponsored again this year by New Music Bay Area, as well as Lifemark Groups Arts, with support from the American Composers Forum and the Berkeley Arts Festival. 

This year, as in past years, attendees who paid a flat entrance fee could wander at will throughout the labyrinthine complex of chapels, arcades, courts, corridors, and nooks, stopping for as long or as little as they wished to listen to some 40 individual musicians or groups performing simultaneously or in sequence in various parts of the structure. 

The musicians are spaced just far enough apart that their sounds don’t clash, but close enough that participants can follow intriguing sounds from one performance spot to another. 

Attendees were charmed or intrigued by material as diverse as the amazing whistling of Jason Victor Serinus, the Cardew Choir which sang “The Heart Chant” in a circle, the absorbing part-electronic, part-poetic performances of Amy X Neuburg, a fountain hooked up to a device that translated the falling water into musical notes, and an energetic accordionist perched on a wall playing what he described as “French café music.” 

The evening sun glowed through the stained glass that roofs much of the structure. The original 1920s building was designed by Julia Morgan, and has been extensively expanded over the decades. Some skylights in the newer sections were rolled back for the warm day. 

Here’s a selection of pictures of performers and scenes from the June 21, 2011 event. 


The Garden of Memory website is here: 

Here’s a more detailed article I wrote for the June 18, 2004 Daily Planet on the concert that year:

Quiet on the set?: Filming a unicorn movie in Berkeley this week

By Jane Stillwater
Friday June 24, 2011 - 02:52:00 PM

Since it was founded back in 1880, Berkeley High School has been industriously busy cranking out whole bunches of amazingly wonderful graduates who have then gone on to do amazingly wonderful things. One of these amazingly wonderful graduates is my son Joe -- who is currently working as a sound mixer on a movie written and directed by Leah Meyerhoff, another amazingly wonderful graduate of Berkeley High. 

"And right now you are filming this movie in Berkeley?" I asked Meyerhoff today after joining her film crew for lunch -- cole slaw, BBQ chicken and stuffed bell peppers -- and dragging my three-year-old granddaughter Mena along so that she could see what her daddy does when he goes off to "work". 

"Mostly we are filming in Berkeley. Today we're shooting a scene in a punk warehouse in West Oakland, but last week we filmed at Bette's Ocean View Diner on Forth Street and next week we're going to be filming at the marina." Apparently they've been filming in Berkeley for the past two weeks and still have two weeks more left to go. 

Meyerhoff then had to run off to do directorial things and so I talked with her assistant director who was busy roughhousing with Mena and having a food fight. "What's the plot about?" I asked him. 

"It's basically a coming-of-age story, but one with a twist -- coming of age in Berkeley." But then it was time for the assistant director to get back to work so I cornered one of the actors. 

"The movie as about a young girl who is having problems at home," said the actor, "and so she runs off in order to get away from a situation that she thinks is intolerable -- only to find that she has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire and ended up in an even harsher situation. And so she retreats into a fantasy world peopled with unicorns." But then the actor had to go off to hair-and-make-up, so I went off to talk with Meyerhoff's assistant. 

"Will the unicorn fantasy scenes be shot with special effects?" I asked her. 

"No, we will be using animation, stop-action animation done by taking the objects we shoot and moving them one frame at a time." I wonder if they want to use some of Mena's My Little Pony unicorns in the story -- assuming of course that Mena would ever let them out of her sight. 

Then Meyerhoff's assistant got whisked away too, and so did Joe -- and so Mena and I got to wander around the graphically colorful punk warehouse set all by ourselves -- where we ran into a very nice ultra-punk "suicide girl" with a mohawk hairdo and a cute little kitten named Space Kitty, and the very nice punk girl and Mena chatted for a while about how cats are fragile and need to be petted carefully. 

Then after that we begged everyone we saw on set for a part in the movie. This could be Mena's and my big chance! But nobody had time for talent-scouting today. "Quiet on the set!" someone yelled and that was that. 

Later on, I found out that the film crew will be traveling to New York after wrapping up here, working on the animated unicorn sequences at a studio on the east coast, where Meyerhoff had attended film school at NYU. Then the film will go into post-production for who knows how long, and then it will go out on the festival circuit where, with any luck at all, it will be released into theaters nationwide and then everyone in America will be able to see how amazingly wonderful Berkeley High School graduates can be -- plus they'll get to see some amazingly wonderful shots of Berkeley as well. And, hopefully, they may get to see some amazingly wonderful shots of me and Mena as well.

Berkeley's Medheads Watching Their Backs
After Med Mezzanine Takeover Last Month

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 11:20:00 AM
Shot from the the mezzanine of Caffe Med after police takeover terrorizes  famous Teley haunt. When will danger strike again?--
Ted Friedman
Shot from the the mezzanine of Caffe Med after police takeover terrorizes famous Teley haunt. When will danger strike again?--

Last month's 20 minute police "take-over" at Berkeley's hottest South side location, the historic Caffe Mediterraneum (it's Landmarked!), leaves Medheads asking whether their haunt has their backs covered or has inserted a knife. 

The take-over ended happily enough when a tip that a man had a gun on the Med mezzanine proved false. But some customers later admitted that they were terrified during the take-over in which pistols were pulled and aimed. (See Planet June 8, 2011). 

According to Robert Burton, 22, a Med barista, "you could say the Med has your back, except that whenever it does something good there's lots of bad caused by the Med's location and people who pop in to cause trouble. Just being in Berkeley creates trouble." He recalled a painful incident in which a fellow worker had her eye blacked during a till-tap (an over-the-counter grab from the cash box). 

But several medheads liked the excitement and one turned his role into a performance, according to the Planet's account of the dust-up. 

In the interests of establishing the significance of what became nothing more than a training-drill for university and city police, I have been interviewing medheads for incidents in which the Med came to their aid--"saved their ass," as I put it 

The history of the Med, which has had five owners, is replete with Med interventions on behalf of its patrons. 

Starting with the present owner, Craig Becker, 59, we have this: At the time of his death at 72, George Pauly, a renowned Telegraph cinema owner, stored his oxygen tank in a hallway leading to the Med employee restrooms.(We've covered that, too, Sep 18, 2007). A beloved figure in the Med, Pauly had entertained medheads for years at his Telegraph avenue movie-house, an ahead-of-its- time art house cinema.  

The Quan era at the Med was bad for business; (Quan was the fourth owner and preceded Becker). Yet Quan was a friend to the homeless, whom he allowed to use the Med for storage and loaned them money. 

Business had deteriorated to the point where Quan often singlehandedly ran a caffe that is now fully staffed. He often dashed between the counter and the kitchen, turning a group effort into a one-man show. Rumor had it that Quan had been a great philosopher in his native country, but was no businessman. Poor language skills hindered his success. He stashed books in English (who knew he could read them?) on a wide variety of subjects in unlikely nooks and crannies of the Med. Becker spent months ferreting them out. 

Recently Becker has extended himself to an elderly woman who was a shut-in for a decade after she was defrauded by a con man, according to the woman. The woman says she would not be getting out of her "toxic" apartment were it not for the Med. The Med has become her "home away from Hell," she says. 

I'm so in that category. When the Med was still owned by Johnny Buonanno and Leno Meiorin in the 70s, I was homeless and headquartered at the Med where I often arrived at opening (7:30a.m. and stayed to closing, 12p.m.). The welcoming smile and "hello, may I help you (he made it sound menacing) auspices of the manager, Elio De Pisa made my day. 

De Pisa's motto was similar to the King's speech therapist, In "The King's Speech, who told the future king of war-time England, "My home, my game, my rules." 

In those days, playing by the house rules bought you a membership at "Club Med,." as we called it. 

Ben Fulcher recalled that Johnny and Lino allowed People's Park protesters the gambit of eluding the police by ducking into the front door of the Med and out the rear. 

The Med hosted FSM organizers, C.O.R.E., and the Black Panthers as well as an assortment of various radicals. The police never caught on, according to Fulcher, who was there. 

George Kalmar, recalls with amusement, his run-in with the Med legend, Helen Bachynsky, 80 something, a medhead who is now a medical shut-in, but was at the Med on opening day, 1956, when she was a Cal student. According to Bachynsky, her professors warned their students off lower Telegraph. 

After a dispute with Kalmar over chairs, Bachynsky complained to De Pisa, who promptly kicked her out for ranting. You never knew for whom an eighty-six would toll. 

A medhead who prefers not to be named, had his hair set afire within eye-shot of the service counter and was 86'd by De Pisa. "What'd I'd do?"the hair-afire guy complained. De Pisa said, "you must have done something that got you in flames." Years later, the burning-bush guy admits this was all for his own good. 

In fact an eighty-six was just a slap on the wrist at the club. 

Stories abound in which the Med had your back. 

Greg Gomer, 50-something goliath, tells of the time he was lifted from his chair and carried supine out the front door by De Pisa. 

If you were eighty-sixed, it was believed to be for your own personal growth. I have two places from which I never ever want to be asked to leave. The Med and Moe's Bookstore across the street. 

As Eddy Monroe, 60 something puts it, the Med helped me "save my own ass," when I've had to apologize for things I've said. 

Charles Goodman, a Med barista, 40 something, a hero in the police take-over and a seven year resident on the South side (you've got to read the piece on which this is based) says the Med saved him from a boring job at Bev-Mo. Charles can be seen with a walking staff for fending off attackers on the South side. 

Roz Gordon, 80 something, recalled a period in which she had experienced a personal crisis that was salved at the Med. "Whenever I've been troubled, the Med was there for me, except the time when…." 

When viewed from this historic perspective, the recent police "take-over," is a speed-bump in time, a pin-hole in the universe. Stephen Hawkings, 69, take note. 


Ted Friedman, 70 something, takes his Med seriously (and so should you--it's a Berkeley treasure) on the always exciting South-side. 










Unravelling the Library Tangle

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 24, 2011 - 02:02:00 PM

Berkeley’s branch libraries are back in the spotlight. I imagine Planet readers are just about as tired of the topic as we are, but architect Todd Jersey’s recent apologia has brought the question to the fore once again.

Mr. Jersey is a very fine architect, but he’s not much of a lawyer, it seems. He made a completely appropriate professional decision to create a demonstration plan, more of a sketch really, of possible alternative plans for rebuilding the branches. Then in his recent letter he says “Obviously I failed to understand the amount of community investment in the work done by the other firms and furthermore, that in a lawsuit, there really is no opportunity for discourse.”

Well, no. Despite the bad press they seem to be getting lately, lawsuits exist to provide a structured opportunity for discourse when informal discourse has failed. They do a reasonably good job of cleaning up messes made by sloppy drafting of legal agreements of all kinds. What Mr. Jersey and others fail to understand is that the Concerned Library Users suit has little to do with architecture and everything to do with process, legal process. 

The suit has already made one significant contribution to orderly legal process without even going to court. The city of Berkeley conceded, pretty quickly, that it was a mistake to amend the city’s zoning law to allow alterations and demolitions to library properties with only a use permit, instead of with the civic supervision offered by requiring a variance as is currently the case. These are technical terms, undoubtedly irritating to the average architect, but very important in terms of ensuring public control over the maintenance of public treasures like libraries. Also, equally significant, the city agreed to include the proposed change in the environmental impact process as it should have been in the first place. 

All Todd Jersey’s sketchy plans added to the mix was a proof of concept, a demonstration that city staff’s contention that there were no reasonable alternatives to demolition was at best disingenuous, at worst deceptive. He didn’t need to apologize for that. 

The big legal issue is still on the table, and it has nothing to do with Jersey. That’s the claim that Measure FF was deliberately designed to conceal plans to demolish two of the four branch libraries under the guise of renovating them. 

The language seemed clear enough: "Shall the City of Berkeley issue general obligation bonds not exceeding $26,000,000 to renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries . . .?” But the rub is that Measure FF was on the city’s ballot at the same time as a measure intended to gut Berkeley’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance, which was soundly defeated. If those same voters had understood demolition was in the cards with FF, it would most likely have lost as well. 

What’s at stake is public confidence in the veracity of ballot measures, a topic which has become more important as budgets get tighter everywhere. Even in Berkeley. The sad fate of our public swimming pools might in part be a reflection of voter doubt engendered by what looks to many like a bait-and-switch deal in Measure FF. And now Warm Pool users are justifiably apprehensive that the Berkeley Unified School district plans to demolish the existing pool and never get around to building another one. Once public trust is lost, it’s hard to regain. 

This dispute is not about architecture, or about historic preservation, or about climate change. I’ve never taken a public position on the merits of the branches in question, but I do believe that it’s been demonstrated time and again that the greenest building is the one that already exists, if you factor in the energy embodied in old construction. My colleague Richard Brenneman did a great job of collecting the proof on his blog, so I don’t need to restate it all here. 

It looks to me—though I’m no expert—that the repeated assertions in these pages by my architect friend and library activist Chris Adams that the 1960s-era South Branch has deteriorated past redemption could be true. Many low-budget and even shoddy modernist constructs from that era used novel materials and methods that haven’t stood the test of time and they are now unsalvageable messes. On the other hand, buildings from the 1920s, when the West Branch was built, seem to have used better materials and better construction methods, so it’s conceivable that much of this one could be salvaged with environmental benefits. 

An unfortunate byproduct of the overly aggressive attempt by some library activists to discredit Concerned Library Users has been aspersions cast on Todd Jersey’s outstanding work helping Richmond save its historic municipal plunge. (See reader comments on this Berkeleyside article for an example.) 

A substantial portion of his apology is devoted to refuting these baseless charges, which should not be necessary. After I got wind of them, I made a point of checking extensively with Richmond sources, reading about the Plunge in other publications, and visiting it myself. 

It’s a triumph, a gorgeous unalloyed success. All of the historic beauty has been retained, and at the same time it’s super-green, and has been winning all kinds of awards. Critical claims of cost overruns fail to take into account design changes as the work progressed—change orders are always expensive. 

Berkeley critics pointed to a few harsh words between Jersey and Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt when they disagreed over a design feature. As much as I’m one of Tom’s fans, he would surely agree that he occasionally gets a bit….over-excited… in the course of a heated exchange of views. It’s time to put the canards against Todd Jersey to rest, and some apologies from others might even be in order. 

There’s a Solomonic compromise which could come out of pre-trial settlement efforts and make a trial unnecessary. The South Branch could be completely rebuilt after demolition, but the West Branch could be restored as promised in Measure FF, using a fully-specified version of Todd Jersey’s plans or others. 

One more suggestion for inclusion in a possible settlement: why do Berkeley’s branch libraries still have only geographic names? If money is an issue in a possible compromise, participants should be aware that opportunities for trading naming rights for financial support are being lost and could help the calculus. 

How about calling a restored West Branch the Power Bar West Branch Library (if PB is still in town)? The Fantasy West Branch would be an even better name. Or if those seem too commercial, how about the Saul Zaentz West Branch, or the John and Helen Meyer Library, after Berkeley business people who’ve had a substantial beneficial impact in West Berkeley and might want to contribute to this good cause? 

On the other hand, perhaps it’s better to follow the custom of naming public buildings after civic leaders. In that vein, and in honor of her 100th birthday, the South Branch could become the Maudelle Shirek Library—Maudelle has been a stalwart champion of public libraries throughout her career. Contributions to rebuilding the library would be a wonderful way for her many fans to honor her. Who would like to get the ball rolling on this one?\ 


P.S. For an excellent dissection of how bond issues can be misused, see this article by Ellen Cushing in this week's East Bay Express. 


The Editor's Back Fence

Updated: The Editorial is Late, Sorry

Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 12:27:00 PM

The editor is "on vacation" this week, but has finally written an editorial. There are also some late submissions which have been posted late, and keep checking this space for more.


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 12:32:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Monday June 20, 2011 - 11:21:00 AM

Prevention and Health 

The focus of health care should be prevention. People should be taught routines of healthy diet and light exercise. They should also be taught basic methods for centering their minds so that their general outlook is tranquil rather than fearful. 

When people get sick they should be encouraged to maintain a positive outlook. Medicines work better when people are optimistic about the outcome. 

Often a visit to the doctor adds to a person's fear. Doctors usually prescribe medicines without offering encouragement to change one's outlook or to change one's lifestyle. Patients think the medicines will do their work in a chemical way. Doctors don't usually make them aware of the way patient good attitudes can contribute to good healing. 

I am hoping that more doctors will learn now to encourage a person's mind even while they prescribe drugs to heal their bodies. 

Romila Khanna

Another Anti-homeless Ballot Measure? Really?

By Carol Denney
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 03:50:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council may not have the stomach to pass another anti-homeless law on their own, but they’re counting on another creatively-named ballot measure to accomplish the task on the grounds of refusing to “enable” people to sit on the sidewalks, thus frittering away days better spent polishing the handle on the big front door. 

They’re hoping Berkeley’s voting public won’t remember that the last anti-homeless ordinance, overturned by a successful citizen referendum signature campaign, was found to be largely unconstitutional. 

Large property owners are apparently unembarrassed by the vast amounts of money and time Berkeley's legal department is forced to spend on their behalf trying to carefully tailor ordinances so as to affect only the unwanted humans in a particular area of town without inconveniencing anyone else. Discriminatory enforcement is counted on to keep the unwanted walking and the wanted at peace, shopping without the inconvenience of encountering any visible poverty. 

If the new “Elevate the Homeless” law designed to criminalize behavior (sidewalk sitting) specific to homeless people, transients, travelers, and youth seems mean-spirited, it is. Tell your city council representative so. 

But equally important, tell the directors of the local business improvement districts that the last thing Berkeley’s small businesses need is another nation-wide campaign about how terrible it is to shop in Berkeley.  

The last contentious anti-homeless ballot measure received national media attention, attention which could have been focused on the amazing places to visit and enjoy in Berkeley. Instead, potential travelers and visitors got the usual dose of stories about how the streets are filthy, full of stoners, etc. 

It’s their job to promote business, after all. But the business improvement directors seem to love to reinvent the wheel. Their faith that another anti-homeless initiative will improve business is more than consistent; it is apparently irresistible to council representatives who ought to know better. 

Pick up the phone. We have better things to do as a community than perfect another negative campaign about our failings. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together on practical approaches to very real problems.

Berkeley Branch Libraries and the Richmond Plunge

By Todd Jersey
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 02:42:00 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was forwarded to the Planet not by Mr. Jersey, but by a third party, but we are reprinting it since it is part of the public record because it was sent to the Berkeley City Council.

June 17, 2011

To: Members of the Berkeley City Council, Mayor Tom Bates and City Manager Phil Kamlarz

From: Todd Jersey, AIA

RE: Clarifications and apologies regarding my work with the branch libraries and clarifications on my work with the Richmond Plunge 

Dear Members of the Council, Mayor Bates and City Manager Kamlarz, 

I am writing in an attempt to apologize for causing more harm than good in my working with the Concerned Library Group in creating alternative designs to try and demonstrate how to save the original buildings at the West and South Branches of the Library. My goal in getting involved with the CLU was to see if I could help save the original buildings and help to solve the dispute between them and the City. I thought that by demonstrating creative ways to fit the program for both of the libraries into a renovated and expanded branch at each location I could demonstrate how to save the buildings and reduce construction costs and that the original buildings could be saved. 

This clearly backfired in many ways that in retrospect I should have known. Therefore I am also writing to apologize for the stress and hardship that my participation in the project caused you as City officials. Looking back on this now I can see that I naively thought that my participation could help settle the suit and alter the course of the projects in a good way. Obviously I failed to understand the amount of community investment in the work done by the other firms and furthermore, that in a lawsuit, there really is no opportunity for discourse. Instead of helping, my efforts created hardship for the City and for the Library Staff and The Friends of the Library. For that I am personally sorry. Clearly I have no intention of doing anything like this again. 

For the record, I was not a signatory to the CLU efforts to sue the City nor do I support suing any municipality, especially my own.  

I also want to take a moment to make another clarification. Some of you know that I was the restoration architect for the Richmond Plunge and that I have offered to assist our City with efforts to modernize our municipal pools. It has come to my attention that a blog post that Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt which is highly critical of my work on the Plunge was circulated amongst you and that this has discouraged you from wanting my involvement in this project even if offered at no cost. 

In an effort to set this record straight let me first say that Mr. Butt wrote that post when he and I were on two opposing sides of a very contentious issue regarding whether or not the City should pay $350,000 to install a divider in the pool (a swimming pool bulkhead). His view has some accuracy’s but it is told in a disingenuous manner in order to discredit me and my leadership on the Plunge project so he could get his way. If you know Tom Butt you know that he is a vitriolic personality. I can tell you from 6 years of experience that he was often a very difficult person to deal with on the Plunge and caused havoc amongst the rest of us trying to get the project completed. 

Here are the other facts: The Plunge did cost $8,000,000 to build (though under my leadership the Plunge now has almost a million dollars of solar and energy efficient technology and therefore, in essence, I brought the project in way under what was originally budgeted) but I never claimed at any time that I could do a 50 year complete historic restoration for less than that. I did claim I could re-open the pool for $4,000,000 but not a full historic restoration. We ended up doing a full restoration only because I was active in helping to raise money for the project. 

In the act of resurrecting a dead project I had to point out what I saw as unnecessary costs associated with some of the strategies that the architects of the Plunge Report Mr. Butt mentioned proposed. It was never my intention to criticize another firm and for the record, the firm that authored the original report is a wonderful architectural firm and does fantastic work. 

The story of my involvement with the Plunge is long but let me say that what was needed to actually keep this project from demolition was a lot more than a report or a conventional relationship between the City and an architecture firm. What was needed was a designer with my skillset and passion for old buildings to chart a path of success and do whatever it took to get the project built. And that is what I provided. 

I worked for a year at no cost to help the City and the citizen swimmers group called the Save the Plunge Trust to show them ways to get the project pulled off the shelf where it had sat for 2 years. In working with these groups creatively (and somewhat unconventionally) we found ways to reopen the pool with the limited budget the City had and hope was restored to the stakeholder community. With hope restored all kind of good things began to happen. I worked with the Trust and the City to attain grants and even raised a half million dollars of in kind donations myself. Once we got some significant grants the decision was made by the Trust and the City to go for the full restoration which we did at an astonishingly low cost of less than $250 dollars per square foot. The results really speak for themselves. 

For the work on the Plunge my firm has now won multiple design awards and has been featured in Preservation Magazine. See attached. If you want to a fair assessment of my work at the Plunge I invite you to call Rich Davidson, the project manager for the City of Richmond at 510 815 0052 or you can reach him by email at HYPERLINK "mailto:Rich_Davidson@ci.richmond.ca.us" Rich_Davidson@ci.richmond.ca.us 

In closing I would like to help regain your trust by letting you know some things about me you may not know. Ten years ago I founded a nonprofit ecological educational nonprofit called Living Labs. www.livinglabs.org I have spent over $100,000 of my own money and thousands of hours of my own time over the last 10 years doing pro bono work in schools to help them create gardens, ponds, wetlands and other living systems on campus as a means of full sensory hands on learning about nature and the earth. The mission of Living Labs is to save kids and save the planet and we will be working in Berkeley Schools in the not too distant future. 

My firm, Todd Jersey Architecture is one of the leading green design firms in the nation. My staff and I are working on some very creative endeavors as a part of Todd Jersey Architecture’s Ecological Design Studio. I say this because I want to partner with all of you all in having the best ecologically designed projects in the country right here in our city. In fact my staff and I are working on wide ranging initiatives to do just that which I hope that you will hear about in the coming months. 

You can see more of our work by visiting www.toddjerseyarchitecture.com. You can also see my current blog on sustainable design at www.urbdezine.com. 

Please contact me if you want to discuss these or other matters. 

Thank you for your service to our wonderful city and for your time and consideration of the contents of this letter 


Todd Jersey, AIA 

















Dona's Last Wish: Save the Warm Pool in Berkeley

By Lori Kossowsky
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 03:19:00 PM

When Dona Spring died almost three years ago she was fighting to make sure the warm pool would continue and that a bond that would most likely pass would be on the ballot. Dona, who was severely disabled for quite some time, knew how the warm pool was a life line and in many cases a life and death resource for many of its users. Her last words before she died to Vice Mayor Linda Maio, were about the continuation of the warm pool. 

After she died all priorities for the warm pool died with her. She would have been infuriated that the warm pool bond was not put on the 2008 ballot, nor was an advisory bond placed on the ballot. 

The city council appropriated $500,000 from money set aside for the warm pool to hire consultants to draw up a master plan for all the Berkeley Pools. However, there was A problem. They knew nothing about warm pools. A task force was chosen by the city council, I believe, to work on the Berkeley Pools. This was something Dona had asked the council NOT to do. I clearly remember her saying please don't make our disabled community jump through more hoops and barriers. And in her raspy voice she would say "We want a warm pool, and we want one NOW." 

There is an item on the city council agenda [for next week] and people should write the city clerk, and ALL council members to let them know the following: vote "yes" on both pools-related items (46b6 and 46d). Support a motion to amend 46b6 to remove the possibility of those two projects being done by in-house staff or by consultants without the specified qualifications. This is crucial because information from reliable sources says that if these items don't pass the the warm pool will be gone forever as they have no intention of placing the Warm Pool on the November 2012 ballot. We cannot let this happen. 

The Mayor had asked the warm pool disabled people not to attend city council meetings unless we had something new to add. 

At this time, Dona was fighting for life and in the hospital and had not been able to participate in meetings for perhaps a month. I reminded him that he was very close to violating our ADA rights, in a letter I sent him. He replied " What I meant was that there was 4 weeks of public comment on this issue, and it may not be necessary to repeat it again. However, please come to Council meeting, and if you feel that there has been a point that hasn't been already addressed, don't hesitate to put your name down to comment at the meeting." 

We were just notified that we needed to tell the city council AGAIN, why the Y was inadequate for the warm pool population. Two years previously the Y's CEO came and made a pitch for the YMCA in downtown Berkeley. It was clear from his words, he had absolutely no idea who used the warm pool. He boasted of the weight room, saunas, and other health gym equipment, while we looked at each other with a combination of amazement and horror. RIght. We were going to wheel ourselves in our wheel chairs and lift weights, dive into the pool and then go for a health sauna. We tried to explain why this was not feasible. I remember speaking in front of the city council that night letting them know we needed a deep pool with temperatures 93 degrees. The Y has no such pool or plans for one. 

Ar the last city council meeting Mayor Bates made a similar request of the warm pool people, as I believe he is tired of hearing from us. One way not to hear from us is to make sure there IS NO WARM POOL IN OUR FUTURE!!! Please remember Dona, and her last wish for our one warm pool and write, call, all council representatives including the city clerk as quickly as possible to save our pool. 

* Received from the Mayor the Monday after Dona passed away.

Reducing the Cost of Commissions in Berkeley

By Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 03:35:00 PM

To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council

From: Councilmember Kriss Worthington

Subject: Referral to City Manager: Implement City Commissioners’ Cost Saving Ideas


Refer to the City Manager the following suggestions: Schedule multiple commissions to meet in the same place on the same day. Encourage distribution of agenda packets via email. Allow commissioners to draft minutes from audio recordings after the meetings,rather than requiring staff to make up minutes during the meeting. This makes minutes more comprehensive for one, and could reduce staff costs quite drastically. 


The proposed alternatives in this council item all aim to reduce staff costs and time, as well as streamline certain processes associated with administration of commissions.One possible alternative would be to schedule several commission meetings (that would otherwise be spread out among a number of days) to take place on one day. By using fewer meeting locations per day, upkeep costs will be lowered. By having the meetings on one day, it would mean only one receptionist would be needed as well—a staff person wouldn’t need to sit and direct the public at multiple locations. 

Another alternative that could be adopted would be communicating commission agenda packets via email to commissioners, rather than printing copies for each commissioner.By providing agenda packets electronically, both trees and mailing costs are saved. If they need paper copies, commissioners could print their own packets, but not at cost to the City. This would encourage commissioners to use their agenda packets electronically. 

A third option is to allow members of the City commissions to draft the minutes of their meetings after the meetings, from audio recordings of the meetings. This requires time and dedication, but a number of commissioners have shown willingness to be involved in this way. It eliminates the need for a staff person to spend an hour or two post -meeting writing up minutes, again reducing staff costs and time. 


Reduced staff costs. 


Councilmember Kriss Worthington 510-981-7170

Petition re Parks and Pools

By H. Scott Prosterman
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 11:41:00 AM

We, the undersigned DEMAND the immediate resignations of Berkeley Parks, Rec & Waterfront Administrators Phil Harper-Cotton, Scott Ferris and William P. Rogers. We make this demand on the basis of the mean spirited, cavalier and arrogant performances of these three directors, which has resulted in destruction of the Berkeley Aquatic System including: 

-The intended destruction of the warm pool. 

-The deliberate destruction of Willard Pool, and the brazenly illegal nature of this. This destructive action was carried out without appropriate public notice as required by law! The aforementioned administrators carried out this illegal actions without bothering to get approval from the Park Commission or City Council! The cost of this was greater than the operating costs for the pool for a full year. 

-The deliberate squandering of other vital public resources including decreasing availability for swimming. People want to swim and lifeguards want to work. 

-The gross and dangerous lack of qualifications of Mr. Cotton, who has no training, certification or experience in this field. How can Cotton know what a model swim program is if he does not even know how to swim? 

-The Unconstitutional nature of the new pool rules, initiated by Cotton and approved by Ferris and Rogers, which make it a crime to do yoga or extended physical therapy on the pool deck. 

-The Unconstitutional nature of the new pool rules, initiated by Cotton and approved by Ferris and Rogers, which make it a crime to petition on park property without prior permission from the directors. We are shocked and embarrassed to learn that such rules were initiated and allowed by the City Attorney. 

-The deeply callous and arrogant disposition these men have presented whenever thoughtful questions or challenges arise about their stewardship. These three men present the attitude that Berkeley citizens are there to serve THEM, rather than being good public servants for the . . . public. 

-In addition to the resignations of these deeply corrupt and incompetent officials, we also demand: 

-The immediate restoration and availability of ALL Berkeley remaining aquatics facilities including full restoration of hours for the Warm Pool, King Pool and the West Campus Pool. 

-The immediate revocation of the Unconstitutional restrictions of a person’s chosen physical activity and rightful Constitutional freedom to petition of public property, as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. 

-The immediate restoration of swimming privileges for H. Scott Prosterman, who has been wrongfully evicted from the system for daring to challenge the authority of these three destructive administrators. Mr. Prosterman was involved in a DROWNING episode at the King Pool on July 1, 2010. In the aftermath, Mr. Prosterman’s investigation revealed that Cotton has no experience in aquatics and does not know how to swim. Cotton retaliated against Prosterman for calling this out by creating the Unconstitutional rules and manipulating his eviction. Prosterman’s wrongful eviction was also prompted by his making a complaint to OSHA for chemical storage violations in October 2010. Cotton’s gross ignorance of pool customs and codes led to the presence of many chemical containers on the pool deck, in violation of OSHA regulations and common sense. 

-Swim Coach Blythe Lucero must be placed on probationary employment status for endangering all pool patrons on July 1, 2011. Lucero directed an ill-advised and dangerous “White Cap Drill”, which elicited a rescue response from Mr. Prosterman, who performed admirably in demonstrating to all the lifeguards present and the public, how to perform a rescue with a rescue dive and proper rescue technique in “rescuing” Coach Blythe that day. In her embarrassment, Lucero worked with Cotton, Ferris and Rogers to wrongfully evict Mr. Prosterman. 

We the undersigned recognize that the problems within the Parks, Rec & Waterfront Division are symptomatic of the political dynamics of Berkeley, which has evolved away from liberal activism, and is now characterized by elected and administrative officials taking illegal actions to “consolidate” and solidify their power and employment security. We also express our strongest objection to the performances of City Attorneys Mark Zembsch and Zack Cowan in providing legal cover for these wrongful actions. We demand that the City Attorney’s Office dispense with their petty political agenda of supporting these corrupt and incompetent officials, and carry out the Constitutional obligations of their jobs by instructing that the Unconstitutional pool rules be rescinded. 

In summary, we are demanding the immediate resignations or terminations of Phil Harper-Cotton, Scott Ferris and William P. Rogers. We further demand that the pool hours for the Warm Pool, King Pool and West Campus Pool be restored to their availability of 2 years ago. We also demand the re-instatement of Dr. Rosemary Fonseca as the City’s Aquatics Director, for which she is well qualified and served admirably. We most urgently object to the City of Berkeley moving Dr. Fonseca OUT of her position so that Cotton could satisfy his retirement requirements, in a position for which he is grossly unqualified! Dr. Fonseca MUST be re-hired as Aquatics Director and be given full authority to correct the damage created by Cotton, Ferris and Rogers. 



The Public Eye: Obama’s Tipping Point

By Bob Burnett
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:22:00 AM

This summer there’s a lot at stake in Washington. The Congress and the White House are struggling over an agreement to extend the US debt limit before the August 2nd deadline. Meanwhile the economy has slowed and we may be sliding back into a recession, so a second stimulus is being debated. We’re heading for a Tipping Point that will determine Obama’s political future. 

The notion of the Tipping Point was popularized in a bestseller by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell. He defines the Tipping Point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point,” where a previously rare phenomenon becomes commonplace or where a social or political movement takes a new direction. 

Recently in American politics we’ve seen a tipping point almost every year. In 2008, we saw two: first, Barack Obama snatched the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton – the Obama nomination tipping point was probably his Philadelphia speech where he spoke about his pastor Jeremiah Wright and race. The other tipping point occurred during the second Presidential debate, where John McCain came across as senile, while Obama looked presidential. 

In 2009, the tipping point came on February 19th when CNBC commentator, Rick Santelli, ranted about the government and threatened a reincarnation of the Boston Tea Party. Conservatives and Fox News commentators seized on this idea and the Tea Party movement was born, culminating in demonstrations, and Tea Party candidates being featured in the November 2010 mid-term elections, which caused Democrats to lose control of the House of Representatives. 

Since the advent of the Tea Party, there hasn’t been another tipping point in US politics but that hiatus will likely end in August. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has warned that the debt limit must be extended by August 2nd or the government will go into default. Democrats and Republicans agree this is a hard deadline, although some GOP Congressmen minimize the impact. The two Parties are attempting to negotiate an extension but, as of this writing, are miles apart. For Republicans, an essential element of any agreement would be reduction in entitlements, such as Medicare. For Democrats, an essential element would be the elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. 

As if this situation was not grim enough, the US economic recovery appears to be slowing and many experts fear we are sliding back into recession. On June 3rd the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 54,000 jobs were added in May and unemployment remained unchanged at 9.1 percent. Consumer confidence has plummeted and approximately half of Americans believe the US is heading towards another Great Depression. The latest polling shows that Americans are far more concerned about employment and the economy (48 percent) than they are about the budget deficit (10 percent). 

The conventional wisdom is that President Obama is in trouble because of unemployment, but the looming August crisis can be his opportunity. Guardian columnist Alex Slater observed that it’s not simply “the economy stupid” but more generally about the direction of the US economy, “about hope.” And hope is Obama’s specialty. 

There’s every indication that Republicans do not have a clue about job creation and they are likely to refuse to raise the debt limit. If this happens it will both trigger a new depression and destroy the Republican Party. 

Even the GOP comes to its senses and raises the debt limit, they do not have a realistic strategy to reemploy America. That’s a huge opportunity for Obama, a potential Tipping Point. 

Malcolm Gladwell writes that a Tipping Point requires three elements: “the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.” Tipping points require a few very influential people. In this case there is no one more influential than Barack Obama, who remains the most popular active US politician

Gladwell observes that Tipping Points take advantage of unique windows of opportunity, context. In August we will have the context for a radical transformation of the economy

Finally, a critical element of Tipping Points is stickiness, the ephemeral quality that “compels the phenomenon to “stick’ in the minds of the public and influence their future behavior.” Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had stickiness. 

One of Barack Obama’s defining political characteristics is his ability to rise to the occasion with a powerful speech. We saw this when he burst onto the political scene with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. This January Americans were moved by his memorial address in Tucson. Once again, Obama needs to summon his oratorical skills and present his own “new deal.” 

In August, the US will come to a critical political moment. Whether we use this to go forward with a just economy or continue our descent into plutocracy will depend upon President Obama. For better or for worse it is his Tipping Point. 

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

Ticks, Squirrels, Lizards, and Spirochetes

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 03:45:00 PM
Western gray squirrel: reservoir species for the Lyme pathogen.
Mary Cummins
Western gray squirrel: reservoir species for the Lyme pathogen.
Southern alligator lizard: major player in the ecology of Lyme disease.
Pierre Fidenci
Southern alligator lizard: major player in the ecology of Lyme disease.

Science writers are always in pursuit of a moving target. Unless you stick to a specialized beat, you often find yourself revisiting a subject you reported on earlier and finding that quite a bit has happened in the interim.

That’s certainly true of the research on the natural setting of Lyme disease, much of which has come out of the lab of UC-Berkeley medical entomologist Robert S. Lane. The last time I wrote about the disease was eleven years ago, shortly after May Kuo, then one of Lane’s graduate students, had identified the substance in the blood of western fence lizards and southern alligator lizards that kills the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. An infected western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) can no longer transmit the disease after a blood meal from one of either of these lizard species. The substance, for the record, is a set of proteins called the alternative complement pathway. It’s a good thing both lizards are abundant within the tick’s California range. Other lizards have no apparent effect on the pathogen. 

(Gratuitous factoid about lizard blood, which is how I stumbled back into the Lyme story in the first place: New Guinea skinks of the genus Prehinsohima have green blood. Seriously. Unlike in Vulcans, the coloration is the result of a high concentration of the bile pigment biliverdin. What might green blood be good for? Field studies suggest that the biliverdin protects the lizards against the malaria organism Plasmodium and other blood parasites. It may also make them taste bad to predators.) 

There have been some interesting developments since then. David Perlman probably knows all about them, but I didn’t until I started working my way through the science journals. 

Back in 2000, Lane and his associates were still looking for another piece in the Lyme puzzle. Many infectious diseases of humans persist in a reservoir comprised of other vertebrate species. The pathogen doesn’t kill the host, and retains the potential to spread to humans that have contact with the reservoir organism. The historic reservoir for the bubonic plague was a Central Asian marmot; in North America, prairie dogs and other ground squirrels have become plague reservoir species. 

Identifying the Lyme disease reservoir(s) in California was an obvious priority. Earlier work had pointed toward dusky-footed woodrats, California kangaroo rats, and deer mice as reservoir species in chaparral habitats. But these small rodents were scarce in wooded areas where the disease was endemic. What was the woodland reservoir? 

One line of research looked for candidate hosts for the black-legged tick. With Lars Eisen and Rebecca Eisen, Lane sampled oak-woodland habitat near Hopland in Mendocino County, home of the Mendocino Brewery, for birds, lizards, and small mammals. Unsurprisingly, they found a lot of larval ticks on the fence and alligator lizards, of which 86 to 89 percent were infested with an average of 18 ticks per lizard. For the nymph stage of I.pacificus, fence lizards and western gray squirrels carried similar tick loads. The squirrels were far ahead of other rodents like woodrats and deer mice. Bird infestation was generally low: Anna’s hummingbirds, bushtits, and lesser goldfinches were tick-free, while dark-eyed juncos had an average of 1.18 larval ticks. 

Lane and the Eisens went on to test additional Hopland western gray squirrels for the Lyme spirochete. Eight of ten squirrels proved to be positive for B. burgdorferi. Almost half of the larval black-legged ticks that fed on the squirrels’ blood became infected with the spirochete. The squirrel, then, met the criteria for a reservoir species: it could keep the pathogen alive from year to year and infect or reinfect its vector. The authors noted that western grays spend considerable time foraging on the ground, where the ticks can get at them, and that young squirrels leave their arboreal nests in mid-April when the number of host-seeking tick larvae and nymphs approaches or reaches its annual peak. 

Broadening the search, another team trapped a total of 222 western gray squirrels at China Camp State Park in Marin County, Annandel State Park in Sonoma County, and, once again, Hopland, as well as other areas from Humboldt County to Los Angeles. The prevalence of B. burgdorferi infection was highest in the northwestern counties. The researchers also found a strong relationship between western gray squirrel infection prevalence and the incidence rates of human cases of Lyme disease on a county basis. Squirrels of other species found their way into the traps, but only two individuals tested positive: an eastern fox squirrel from Alameda County (one out of 64) and an eastern gray squirrel from Santa Cruz County (one out of 14.) That’s one less thing to worry about for those of us who are plagued with the exotic fox squirrels. 

The most recent installment of the squirrel story that I’ve been able to locate is an article by Lane and Daniel Salkeld, published last year in Evolution. They developed a mathematical model incorporating lizard and squirrel abundance, larval tick loads, and infection prevalence, and reported that its predictions of Lyme disease risk closely matched real-life data. 

This body of research should not, of course, be interpreted as a call to go out and eradicate western gray squirrels, or try to increase lizard populations (however you might do that.) The tick-lizard-squirrel dynamic appears to be highly complex. “The roles of hosts in supporting both pathogen and vector must be well understood before control efforts attempting to manipulate the host community ecology are undertaken,” Lane and Salkeld conclude. Amen to that. Aldo Leopold, once again: “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Dispatches From The Edge: The Wars Come Home: The Traumatic Brain Injury Epidemic

By Conn Hallinan
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:01:00 AM

“We are facing a massive mental health problem as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a country we have not responded adequately to the problem. Unless we act urgently and wisely, we will be dealing with an epidemic of service related psychological wounds for years to come.”

-----Bobby Muller, President Veterans for America

“The multiple nature of it [multiple tours and longer deployments] is unprecedented. People just get blasted and blasted and blasted.”

-----Maj. Connie Johnmeyer, 332nd Medical Group

According to official Defense Department (DOD) figures, 332,000 soldiers have suffered brain injuries since 2000, although most independent experts estimate that the number is over 400,000. Many of these are mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), a term that is profoundly misleading. 

As David Hovda, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, points out, “I don’t know what makes it ‘mild,’ because it can evolve into anxiety disorders, personality changes, and depression.” It can also set off a constellation of physical disabilities from chronic pain to sexual dysfunction and insomnia. 

MTBI is defined as any incident that produces unconsciousness lasting for up to a half hour or creates an altered state consciousness. It is the signature wound for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where roadside bombs are the principal weapon for insurgents. 

Most soldiers recover from mTBI, but between five and 15 percent do not. According to Dr. Elaine Peskind of the University of Washington Medical School, “The estimate of the number who returned with symptomatic mild traumatic brain injury due to blast exposure has varied from the official VA [Veterans Administration] number of 9 percent officially diagnosed with mTBI to over 20 percent, and, I think, ultimately it will be higher than that.” 

Serious consequences from mTBI are increased when troops are subjected to multiple explosions and “just get blasted and blasted and blasted,” in the words of Maj. Connie Johnmeyer. Out of two million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 800,000 have had multiple deployments, many up to five times or more. 

But mTBI is difficult to diagnose because it does not show up on standard CAT scans and MRIs. “Our scans show nothing,” says Dr. Michael Weiner, professor of radiology, psychiatry and neurology at the University of California at San Francisco and director of the Center for Imaging Neurodegenerative Disease at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. 

They do now. 

An MRI set to track the flow of water through the brain’s neurons, has turned up anomalies that indicate the presence of mTBI. However, the military has blocked informing patients of results of the research, and if history is any guide, the Pentagon will do its best to shelve or ignore the results. 


The DOD has long resisted the diagnosis of mTBI, as it has avoided paying for a successful—but expensive—way to treat it. The price of that resistance is escalating suicide rates and domestic violence incidents among returning soldiers. In 2010, almost as many soldiers committed suicide as fell in battle. 

MTBI is hardly new. Some 5.3 million people in the U.S. are currently hospitalized or in residential facilities because of it, and its social consequences are severe. 

A Mt. Sinai Hospital study of 100 homeless men in New York found that 80 percent of them had suffered brain trauma, much of it from child abuse. A study of 5,000 homeless people in New Haven discovered that those who had suffered a blow that knocked them unconscious or into an altered state were twice as likely to have alcohol and drug problems and to be depressed. It also found mTBI injuries were correlated with suicide attempts, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. And a recent study by Dr. Elaine Peskind of the University of Washington School of Medicine found that mTBI is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

In spite of the documented consequences of mTBI, the military has been extremely tardy in dealing with it. Part of the problem is military culture itself. The Pentagon found that 60 percent of the soldiers who suffered from the symptoms of mTBI refused help because they feared their unit leaders would treat them differently. Many were also afraid that if they reported their condition it would prevent them from getting jobs as police and fire fighters after they got out of the service. 

Even if soldiers wanted treatment, there are few resources available to them. “There are two things going on regarding vets,” says Col. (ret) Will Wilson, chair of the American Psychological Association’s Division 19 (Military Psychology). “One, there are not enough care providers available, and, two, there are not enough people focusing on the problem outside the military.” 

Indeed, there are not enough military psychologists to treat the problem, and since the military pays below-market rates for civilian psychologists, up to 30 percent of private psychologists are unwilling to take on soldiers as patients. The cheapest and easiest solution is to shoot up the vets with drugs. A study by Veterans for America found that some soldiers were taking up to 20 different medications, many of which canceled out the effect of others. 

The situation appears to be even worse for National Guard and Reserve units, who make up almost 50 percent of the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Veterans for America found that such troops “are experiencing rates of mental health problems 44 percent higher than their active duty counterparts” and that their health care is generally inferior. 

A Harvard study found that 1.8 million vets under 65 have no health care or access to the Veterans Administration. “Most uninsured veterans are low-to-middle income workers who are too poor to afford private coverage but are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or free VA care,” the study found. 

Treating mTBI injuries is difficult, but by no means impossible. Dr. Alisa Gean, chief of Neuroradiology at San Francisco General Hospital, who has worked with wounded soldiers at U.S. Army’s Regional Medical Center at Landstuhl, Germany says the old conventional wisdom that brain damage was untreatable is wrong. “We now know that the brain can heal. It has an intrinsic plasticity that allows it to recover, and this is particularly true for the young brain.” 

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “neurons in the adult brain can remodel their connections,” thus “overturning a century of prevailing thought.” 

One method that has worked effectively is cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT) that retrains patients for tasks like counting, cooking, and memory. But CRT takes time and it can be expensive, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 per patient. However, the DOD’s health program—Tricare—refuses to endorse CRT, because it says there is no scientific evidence that justifies the expense involved. 

However, an investigation by T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Daniel Zwerdling of National Public Radio found that the vast majority of researchers, even those associated with the DOD, sharply disagreed with Tricare’s evaluation of CRT. According to the two reporters, “A panel of 50 civilian and military brain specialists convened by the Pentagon unanimously concluded that cognitive therapy was an effective treatment and would help many brain damaged troops.” 

The therapy is also endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Neurophysiology and the British Society of Rehabilitative Medicine. 

Instead of accepting the advice of its own researchers, however, Tricare hired ECRI—a company which had already done a study concluding that CRT was ineffective—to examine the therapy. But critics charge that the study was so narrow, and the assumptions behind it so loaded, that it was almost a given that the study would conclude the benefits of cognitive therapy were “inconclusive.” Outside researchers blasted the ECRI study, one of them describing it as “hooey” and “baloney.” 

In spite of the criticism, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England concluded, “The rigor of the research…has not met the required standard.” 

However, Miller and Zwerdling concluded that Tricare’s resistance to CRT was not about science, but the bottom dollar. According to the reporters, a Tricare-sponsored study found “that comprehensive rehabilitative therapy could cost as much as $51,480 per patient. By contrast, sending patients home from the hospital to get a weekly phone call from a therapist amounted to only $504 a patient.” 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already made it clear that he intends to cut the military’s $50 billion annual health budget. No matter how effective CRT is, it’s not likely to get past the brass, who would rather spend the money on weapon systems than on healing the men and women who they so casually put in harm’s way. 

So far, the military has put the clamps on the new MRI technique. Dr. David L. Brody, an author of the study, told the New York Times that researchers were blocked from giving the MRI results to patients. “We were specifically directed by the Department of Defense not to so,” adding, “It was anguishing for us, because as a doctor I would like to be able to help them in any way. But that was not the protocol we agreed to.” 

Given that mTBI is so difficult to diagnose, and sufferers are many times told there is nothing wrong with them, that seems an especially cruel protocol. “Many of them [the doctors] were hoping we could give results to their care providers to document or validate their concerns.” 

In the end it will come down to treatment, and whether the wounded vets will get the care they need, or sit by a phone and wait for their once a week call from a therapist. 


Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com  






Eclectic Rant: The Toxic Chinese Drywall Controversy

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:00:00 AM

I first became aware of the problem of toxic drywall manufactured in China during my 2010 visit to New Orleans. Many homeowners rebuilt their homes after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and Hurricane Rita in September 2005 using Chinese drywall. This drywall made occupants sick, corroded metal fixtures, and rendered homes unfit to live in. Homeowners had to tear out the drywall, corroded wiring, fixtures, etc. About 700 to 1,000 New Orleans families were affected. These hurricane victims suffered the initial trauma of damage to their homes, fixed up their damaged homes, and then faced the cost of removing Chinese drywall and corroded wiring. To add insult to injury, many of these homeowners had their claims denied by insurance companies because of insurance policy exclusions. 

As much as 250 million board feet of this Chinese drywall came into the United States through West Coast ports, including Oakland, Long Beach, and Seattle. Chinese drywall is believed to have been imported in the U.S. since at least 2001 when a building boom and a busy hurricane season caused a domestic drywall shortage that lasted up to 2008. Much of the Chinese drywall was also used to rebuild Louisiana homes damaged by Hurricane Rita and Chinese drywall has been discovered in Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and California. 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homeowners in 26 states have filed numerous complaints with the agency. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 homes and commercial properties across the United States were made from this material. 

In a May 25, 2010 press release , the CPSC identified the drywall manufacturers whose drywall emitted high levels of hydrogen sulfide in testing conducted for the agency by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. All of the manufacturers are located in China. The CPSC press release stated that there is a strong association between hydrogen sulfide and metal corrosion. Some of the Chinese drywall had emission rates of hydrogen sulfide 100 times greater than non-Chinese drywall samples. The CPSC is is trying to persuade Chinese companies to pay for the repairs.(/www.cpsc.gov) 

Homeowners complained of a rotten egg smell in their homes and condominiums. The cause of this foul smelling odor is now known to be caused by gases emitted from the defective Chinese drywall, which can cause significant damage to HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), smoke detectors, electrical wiring, metal plumbing components, and other household appliances. The gases permeate homes and can cause asthma-like symptoms, eye irritation, bloody or runny noses, headaches, sore throats, nausea, insomnia, and irritability. 

As the manufacturers are located in China, pending litigation names U.S. suppliers as defendants. Seifart v. Banner Supply Company, 11th Judicial District of Florida, was the nation's first Chinese drywall case to go to trial. The plaintiffs, a Florida family were forced out of their home by foul odors and toxic fumes. In June 2010, the jury found Miami-based Banner Supply liable on the grounds of negligence, public nuisance and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and awarded the family $2.47 million. The trial is a bellwether for about 1,000 lawsuits in the Florida courts, as well as 5,000 suits filed in federal court that have been consolidated in multi-district litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. 

In the multi-district litigation, In re: Chinese- Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2047 (E.D. La.), Banner Supply Co., insurers, and homeowners agreed in a court filing on June 14, 2011, to a $55 million settlement of claims that the corrosive product damaged homes, all or nearly all of them in Florida. The proposed settlement, which requires approval from U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans, would resolve claims by thousands of plaintiffs against Banner Supply Co., several related companies and Banner's insurers. The settlement, however, covers just a portion of the claims by homeowners. Judge Fallon is presiding over more than 10,000 claims by residents blaming damage to their homes on Chinese drywall, which was used in construction throughout Florida and the Gulf Coast. 

Banner claimed it did not know the drywall was defective. Yet, Banner knew by October 2006 that builders were complaining about odors from the drywall, yet continued to sell it. Banner also allegedly entered into a confidential agreement with Knauf, one of the Chinese manufacturers, in early early 2007 that called for Knauf to replace about 44,000 pieces of its drywall with a domestic product. 

Judge Fallon in the Banner case also ruled invalid some, but not all, the policy exclusions relied on by insurance companies to deny coverage for toxic Chinese drywall. 

With the Seifert jury verdict against a Chinese drywall supplier and the Banner settlement, I would expect a flood of settlements in the remaining pending cases and cases to come. 


The Florida Department of Health developed a self-assessment guide to make it easier for homeowners to determine if their home meets the criteria for a possible case of drywall associated corrosion (/www.doh.state.fl.us)

On Mental Illness: The "R" Word

By Jack Bragen
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:18:00 AM

About twenty years ago, when I spoke to the late Herb Putnam, (founder of the Putnam Clubhouse in Concord, who also served as president of NAMI, Contra Costa), about writing for the NAMI newsletter, he suggested that I might have something to say about relationships for persons with mental illness. At the time, (just as at many times), I was doing poorly in the area of employment but didn’t have much difficulty getting a date. 

Some of the points I will make below are applicable to everyone, and are not unique to those with a psychiatric illness. My qualifications to write on this subject consist of personal experience and self education, but do not include formal credentials. These ideas can be taken or discarded at the reader’s discretion. 

To begin with, a relationship can never happen if a person’s social fears are excessive to the point of not being able to interact. On the other hand, if a person forces the fears into submission, he or she could end up with bravado to the point of obnoxiousness. Desensitization, done gradually, as one would do with other phobias might be a good way to tackle social fears. 

Relationships for persons with mental illness can be more difficult, and can require more work, from the very beginning, and continuing. There are also persons who receive mental health treatment who can not handle a relationship, and may or may not know this about themselves. If seeking a relationship with another person with mental illness, it is important to distinguish if a person whom you are pursuing is emotionally on the same page as you, or if having a relationship is not an option.\ 

Readiness is not the same thing as willingness. A person could be ready for a relationship with someone, but will not necessarily be interested in having one with the reader. If someone isn’t interested, you can’t make them that way. Many persons with mental illness date mostly others with mental illness because the singles in “mainstream” society often will not consider being with a disabled person. Unfortunately, any offspring that get produced when both parents have a mental illness have a very strong genetic predisposition to having a mental illness when they grow up. Moreover, two mentally ill parents may not have sufficient means of providing for a child. One or both parents may be working at the time of producing the child; yet, relapse and the inability to work can recur for severely mentally ill persons despite all expectations to the contrary. 

Additionally, when a woman with mental illness becomes pregnant, she must temporarily discontinue most of her psychiatric medications. Most psychiatric medications are not safe during pregnancy. The result is often that the pregnant mentally ill woman will suffer from acute symptoms of mental illness while pregnant, and may require a stay in a locked facility to remain supervised, to prevent doing something wild that will harm her or the fetus. 

A mentally ill couple also may have more difficulty than would a non-afflicted couple in caring for a newborn. Most persons with a severe mental illness can’t handle as much stress as the “normal” population. And I understand that it is very stressful to care for an infant. 

Because of all of this, if a person with a mental illness wants a relationship, that person must be certain of having a good method of birth control. The exception to this is when a couple is independently wealthy, such as are movie stars, and can afford to pay for a twenty four hour nanny as well as the best available medical care. 

Some persons are harder to get along with than others. Some persons in general, mental illness or not, are argumentative, mean and/or warped; you would rather climb a barbed wire fence than cohabitate with them. It is good to discern as early as possible in a relationship if there are factors that will make it impossible to get along with someone. A nice person may not be as captivating as one with charisma and a lot of problems, but someone nice is better to live with; and that charisma often comes from narcissism. 

If you would like to have a relationship with someone, ask yourself the question: Does this individual appear ready to have a healthy relationship? There are numerous ways in which someone may not be ready. If someone has a history of being abused by, or abusing others, and has not dealt with this yet in therapy, that person may attract or create destructive relationships. 

Secondly, are you ready? Readiness for a relationship is a completely different issue than wanting one. You could want to have a relationship, but may not be emotionally strong enough to handle one yet. One of the issues that will arise in relationships is that of jealousy. This is a powerful instinct that appears to be ingrained in the human nervous system, and it can lead to tremendously destructive behavior. While you may not be able to eliminate jealousy from the circuits in your brain, you should at least learn to recognize and handle it so that it doesn’t take charge of your behavior. 

Another question you ought to ask yourself is: “Is this person at a similar level of intellectual/cognitive development as I?” If one partner is a lot more mentally developed, it can create loneliness in the relationship. 

A relationship will not solve your problems. Sometimes the problem of not having a relationship shifts, once you have one, to the problem of how to deal with the relationship you have, or even, how to get out of the relationship, if you have decided it is a bad relationship. A good “rule of thumb” that you ought to give some thought: If you are unhappy without a relationship, you will probably continue to be unhappy with one.

Senior Power: Let Me Down Easy

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:08:00 AM

In 1981, Anna Deavere Smith began to write and perform On the Road: A Search for American Character series of one-person plays. Using transcripts from interviews with a variety of people, she wove their stories together without changing their words. She spoke not only what her interviewees said but was careful to understand how they said it, noting every pause and body language. Critics called it ground-breaking, but Smith traced her work directly to the African storytelling tradition of the griot, a storyteller in western Africa who perpetuates the oral tradition and history of a village or family.

Sixty-one year old Anna Deavere Smith is an acclaimed actor-writer-producer of unique solo documentaries. She is performing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through July 10th in her creation, Let Me Down Easy.  

It’s about health and health care, in particular, the availability of medical insurance, which, in the United States, is both political and complicated. In particular, it’s about the availability of medical insurance. The U.S. is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have insurance coverage. In 2007, 15.3% of the population (45.7 mil people) lacked any form of health insurance. 


Documentary theater, or docudrama, is centuries old theater that uses nonfiction interviews (or newspapers) to create a script based on real events and people. All of the people, both well-known and everyday, represented in Let Me Down Easy are real. It has been said that Smith caricatures, but she does not exaggerate or distort, and she is not an impersonator. She chooses to use their exact words to tell their stories.  

Each person in this repertoire has a different perspective, experiences, feelings… about health and health care... former Texas Governor, feminist Democrat Ann Richards who died at age 73. (Richards’ advocacy in behalf of osteoporotic persons like herself was overlooked, so in 2003 she published I’mNot Slowing Down: Winning My Battle With Osteoporosis; shedied from complications of esophageal cancer in 2006.) Sixty-eight year old supermodel Lauren Hutton. Cyclist and cancer advocate (born 1971) Lance Armstrong. A New Orleans physician during Hurricane Katrina, the mother of a young woman with AIDS, a minister, a rodeo rider, a prize fighter…  

In her 2000 book, Talk to Me; Listening Between the Lines, Anna Deavere Smith focuses on contemporary politics and Washington, D.C. Her interviews usually last from 45 minutes to an hour. One of her interviewees proffered “three questions that will ensure that their syntax will change in the course of an hour:” Have you ever come close to death? Do you know the circumstances of your birth? Have you ever been accused of something that you did not do? About their first day of school was also suggested as yielding good stuff. 

House Arrest, her recent play, is subtitled A Search for the American Character in and Around the White House, Past and Present. It explores the U. S.national identity as revealed by the American presidency, past and present. “Too tall McCall” was the way The American President in 1995 referred to White House press secretary Robin McCall, who serendipitously became TV’s National Security Advisor Nancy McNally in The West Wing, 2000–2006.  

Smith goes way back as a performer—remember Ms. Gloria Akalitus in the TV series R.N. Nurse Jackie, and Glamorama shampoo girl Hazel in All My Children? The extensive list of her honors and accomplishments includes an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, and a Stanford University Professorship of the Arts. She was nominated for two 1994 Tony Awards— as Best Actress in a play and as Best Play author, of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play Fires in the Mirror. 

In 1997 Anna Deavere Smith established the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard University, a think and do tank where artists would make works about social change. It is now being redesigned. The Institute hosts a series of events featuring artists discussing their work and engaging audiences in conversations about art and social issues.  


Anna Deavere Smith was born in Baltimore. Her parents were a coffee merchant and an elementary schoolteacher. Her BA is from Beaver College [now Arcadia University] in Pennsylvania, where she was introduced to the civil rights movement and black activism. After college, she moved to San Francisco to live with her aunt, who encouraged her to attend the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), where she earned her MFA in 1977. For additional biographical information, I recommend the 2nd edition of Black Women in America, African American National Biography, and TheEncyclopedia of African American History. 



Laguna Woods, California: “Joe Schwartz is a 90-year-old great-grandfather of three who enjoys a few puffs of pot each night before he crawls into bed in the Southern California retirement community he calls home. The World War II veteran smokes the drug to alleviate debilitating nausea and is one of about 150 senior citizens on this sprawling, 18,000-person gated campus who belongs to athriving - and controversial -medical marijuana collective operating here, in the middle of one of the largest retirement communities in the United States...” [“Seniors' medical pot collective stirs up trouble,” by Gillian Flaccus. Sacramento Bee June 8, 2011. ] 

In the hills of Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood, at 4200 Thomas Lake Harris Dr., developers of the nation's first gay and lesbian retirement community with continuing care have won City approval. Most of the Fountaingrove Lodge project will not be built for 18 months. It will have a care center for residents suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. [“Retirement home for gays and lesbians debuts in Fountaingrove,” by Robert Digitale. The Press Democrat. June 15, 2011] 


In 2003, AARP, the “non-profit” lobbying for seniors organization, backed a change in Medicare that headed the health insurance program down a path toward privatization, and increased costs for retirees and revenues for the insurance plans offered by AARP. Costs for health care under private, for-profit plans have increased yearly. According to the Wall Street Journal, AARP is ready to accept cuts to Social Security benefits — just as budget negotiations reach a critical tipping point. Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget. ["AARP Willing To Negotiate On Retirement Age," by Arthur Delaney. (Huffington Post, June 17, 2011). “Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut”. (Wall Street Journal, front page, June 17, 2011.)] 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: June-July-August 2011 Call to confirm, date, time and place: 

Wednesday, June 22 1:30 P.M. - 2:30 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Ave. 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  

Wednesday, June 22 5:30 – 8:30 P.M. evening programs begin at Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 747-7506.  

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

Saturday, June 25 10 A.M. – 12 Noon. San Francisco OWL [Older Women’s League] chapter. Mechanics Institute, 57 Post Street, 4th Floor (1/3 block from Market & Montgomery BART/MUNI) “Does Your Family Know Where Your Stuff Is? Organizing your Personal Documents.” Speaker Julie Jones, a credentialed teacher, has created the Estate Documents Organizer, an administrative and personal record-keeping resource to manage the many details of personal, financial, legal and medical affairs. (415) 989-4422.  

Tuesday, June 28 3-4 P.M. Tea and Cookies at the Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. (Monthly on the 4th Tuesday ) (510) 981-6100. Also July 26. 

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

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


Wednesday, June 29. 2 – 3:30pm Become a genealogical super sleuth at the Berkeley Public Library, ready to research your family history. Electronic Classroom of the Central Library for the popular introduction to Ancestry.com, an online resource that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos, stories and more. (510) 981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 29 Noon – 1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. Meets weekly to read aloud from great lays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants.  

Wednesday, June 29 6 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, Alameda. Movie: Get Low: A True Tall Tale. 

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. Learn the basics about wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives, etc. in a supportive setting. Also August 6. 

Tuesday, July 12 9 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, Alameda. Cane Do. Join John Dexheimer for self-defense and exercise. This specialized senior self-defense training class incorporates the use of a cane. Learn to hold, twirl, strike, poke, jab and block while exercising with your cane. Wear comfortable clothing and bring your cane! Sign up in the Mastick Office. A suggested donation of $3 per person is appreciated. 

Thursday, July 14 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, Alameda. Drumming Circle. Join the Mercy Retirement Community Drum Circle for a musical experience. Drumming is known to improve circulation in the hands and body, loosen stiff joints in the shoulders, arms, and wrists, and stimulate the mind. Sign up in the Mastick Office. Free. 

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. Meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Check to confirm (510) 981-5178.  

Wednesdays, beginning in August – 10:30-12 noon Parkinson's Yoga & the Art of Moving. Jewish Community Center East Bay – Oakland Branch, 5811 Racine St. (58th & Telegraph). $120./month. Enhance mental focus, balance, strength, flexibility, voice function, and peace of mind through the Mind/Body practices of Yoga, Meditation, Toning, Chanting and Specific Movement Techniques. Perform the activities of daily living with greater ease, happiness, safety and effectiveness. Instructors Carol Fisher, RYI with John Argue. (925) 566-4181. 

Thursday, August 4 1:30 P.M. – 2:45 P.M. Emergency Preparedness. Free program for older adults, caregivers and service providers. Colleen Campbell, Senior Injury Prevention Coordinator, will discuss materials, display a sample GO KIT, lead discussion. Alameda County Library Albany branch, 1247 Marin Av. Contact: Ronnie Davis (510) 526-3720 x16. Also at other branches. 

Saturday, August 6 11 A.M. End of Life Planning Workshop. West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University.  

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 Blvd., Hayward. Email admin@compassionandchoicesnca.org 

Saturday, August 20 11 A.M. Landlord /Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. Also Sept. 17.  

Tuesday, Sept 27 3 PM Tea and Cookies. Book club. Central Berkeley Public Library. 

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














Arts & Events

Press Release: 2011 Berkeley Arts Festival
July 12 – August 14

Thursday June 23, 2011 - 02:20:00 PM

This year’s BAF venue is 2133 University Ave, Berkeley,CA.

Every year the volunteer-driven Berkeley Arts Festival commandeers a vacant retail space in downtown Berkeley for an extraordinary month of music, arts, activist and literary offerings. A dormant, often badly in need of renovation space – past years have included historic banks, UC Berkeley office space, and the former Edy’s Coffee Shop – is transformed into an art gallery and a concert hall, complete with carefully chosen grand piano and state of the art Meyer Sound system. This year’s edition is snugly tucked between two venerable downtown Berkeley institutions: Long Life Veggie House and Ace Hardware.

Because the use of these spaces is donated, and they are often in a state of ownership transition and/or construction, the “lead time” of the festival, when publicity can be generated, is typically very short. We rely on word of mouth, and friends forwarding our schedule to their friends.

Berkeley Arts Festival Schedule:July 12-August 14, 2011 

Tues. July 12, Festival Opening Sarah Cahill, piano concert, 8 pm 

Wed. July 13, Dan Plonsey "New Monstrosities in Jazz" quintet, 8 pm 

Fri. July 15, Jerry Kuderna, piano concert, 8 pm 

Sat. July 16, FPR: Phillip Greenlief, Frank Gratkowski and Jon Raskin 8 pm 

Tues. July 19, Jerry Kuderna, piano--noon concert 

Thurs. July 21, Beep and The Holly Martins , 8 pm 

Sun. July 24, Patti Deuter, piano concert, 4 pm 

Mon. July 25, Sarah Cahill, piano concert, 8 pm 

Tues. July 26, Jerry Kuderna, piano--noon concert 

Fri. July 29, Upsurge Jazz/Poetry, 8 pm 

Sat, July 30, Rachel Durling/James Carmichael, violin, piano, 8 pm 

Tues. August 2, Jerry Kuderna, noon concert 

Wed. August 3, Philippa Kelly, book reading, 8 pm 

Thurs. August 4, Luciano Chessa, 8 pm 

Sat. August 6, Theresa Wong, cello, 8 pm 

Tues. August 9, Jerry noon concert 

Tues. August 9, Dylan Mattingly and friends, 8 pm 

Wed. August 10, Lisa Mezzacappa, Bait & Switch + Bait & Switch Dream Octet, 8 pm 

Thurs. August 11, Adam Tendler, piano, 8 pm 

Fri. August 12, Phillip Greenlief Lost Trio, 8 pm 

Sat. August 13, Dean Santomieri, 8 pm 

Sun. August 14, India Cooke/Bill Crossman, violin, piano, 4 pm 


for more information check the dates at www.berkeleyartsfestival.com

Theater Review: Down a Little Dirt Road--Just Theater at the Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 09:50:00 AM

Alice, a young girl, tells fantastic stories about her family life at Show & Tell in school ... Alice and her father, a seismologist, live alone in Parkville, on the San Andreas Fault in the Coast Range (not far, curiously, from where James Dean bought it), sharing their shadowy dreams about her late mother, his wife ... The earth shakes; Alice's house--the walls of the theater--tremble. Only Alice and her father seem to feel it ... 

Just Theater's production of Erin Marie Bregman's Down a Little Dirt Road has been playing at the Berkeley City Club for a couple of weeks now. It's received a somewhat lukewarm Chronicle review--which, if you read it carefully, compliments playwright, director, cast and designers on many aspects of the show. The compliments are in order. I wish they went further. 

Just Theater has presented two shows at the City Club over the last couple of years, Anne Washburn's I Have Loved Strangers and Jason Grote's 1001. The latter play was a small hit, supported by a number of favorable reviews, including the Chronicle's and one I wrote for the Planet, calling it "hilarious, unpredictable and impossible to pin down." 

In a way, those words fit everything I've seen of this thoughtful, unpretentious little company, which presents plays (and readings of plays) by less-known playwrights, from the Bay Area and elsewhere. Down a Little Dirt Road can't be called hilarious; the subject matter is, on the face of it, somber, melancholy--the attempts, imaginative and just coping, by what remains of a family to make sense of the senseless when wife and mother is suddenly gone, dead ... but the script and production values nonetheless are infused with a gentle humor. It is, too, very much unpredictable, impossible to pin down. 

It's a delicate labyrinth, a maze of emotions, dreams, adjustments ... Some figure as fantasies the bereaved tell themselves and each other about their family tragedy; others are fleshed out as ghostly wanderings in a kind of zone, a bardo half-living, half-dead, where what's left in memory--of living and dead--is bureaucratically peeled or stripped away, to facilitate "change" ... into another existence, whether living or dead. 

Alona Bach, a recent Berkeley High graduate, puts in a wonderful performance as bright, spunky--troubled--young Alice. Lisa Morse as her mother and Anthony Nemirovsky as her father are real troupers, playing fine support both to Alice, the character, and to the idea of the play. Ryan Tasker, familiar to Berkeley theatergoers, mostly for his work with Shotgun Players, plays the cryptic, agent-like McKay skilfully. Molly Aaronson-Gelb's directed this excellent little ensemble with sensitivity, emotional accuracy. And Jon Fischer's set, innovatively using cardboard boxes as both the trembling walls and a sense of the moving and impermanence in Alice and her dad's life, is splendid, well-matched by Christine Crook's costumes, Jarrod Green's lighting, Zachary Watkins' sound design--and some pleasing musical composition by Dina Maccabee. 

Down a Little Dirt Road is a satisfying production, staged by a small company with a low budget--especially satisfying in a time when larger companies with bigger budgets attract much more noise and attention to shows from near and far that don't share the straight-forward theatrical, intellectual and emotional values this show so unobtrusively displays. It's one of those productions I found simply pleasing in and of itself--there are a few of those around!--feeling at ease and in focus with the way it's staged--and its graceful avoidance of cliche in skirting what could've been emotional sensationalism, leaving the audience with a remarkable impression of how the memory of a dead loved one changes with time, in step with changes in life and the way we explain all this to ourselves, often in tacit agreement with each other. 

Less a review here than an impressionistic pitch for this play ... Down a Little Dirt Road runs until July 3; it's an engaging, refreshing, often touching experience that deserves an audience. 

Thursday through Saturday nights at 8, Sundays at 5 through July 3rd at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. Sliding scale, $15-$30. 306-1184; justtheater.org (including photos of the show).

Theater Review: "Let Me Down Easy"

By Ken Bullock
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:29:00 AM

"It's a suspicious thing, medicine. It's black magic. It's mojo. And it scares me." 

One of Anna Deavere Smith's interview subjects that she "channels" onstage in Let Me Down Easy, her solo Berkeley Rep performance, sums up an attitude about the professionals "in charge" of health and healing, a single theme of the diverse talk she recycles about the human body, mortality, hope, survival--and perhaps, as it's stated in the program in an interview with her, "a search for grace." 

Smith takes on her subject's words and mannerisms, mostly facing the audience throughout the show, though sometimes facing the hanging mirror--and video screen--panels of Riccardo Hernandez's set, reflected in them, or sitting or reclining, facing away from the house, her face projected onto the panels. 

From Tour De France hero Lance Armstrong to playwright (The Vagina Monologues) Eve Ensler, musicologist and Schubert scholar Susan Youens to supermodel Lauren Hutton, dean of Stanford School of Medicine Philip Pizzo to Savoyard Buddhist monk Mattieu Ricard, film critic Joel Siegel to former Texas governor Ann Richards, Smith's subjects speak through her staged mediumship about moments of near death, of confrontations with mortality, of their own illnesses (several have since died), inspiration and health care. 

"I'm searching for examples of grace that I can share with the audience," Smith told interviewer Gideon Lester. 

Overall, Let Me Down Easy seems very much like past shows of Smith's. She preserves, mostly, the "frontal" format of facing the audience and speaking as the interview subject, as if the audience is the interviewer. There's a sense of the subject being in a frame, like a talking head. The only person who seems to come alive in her own space is Smith's own, engaging aunt. Smith doesn't explore the "switch" of performing the people she's interviewed, except occasionally referring to herself as her subjects must've during the sessions they had together. 

Her mimicry of her subjects--the acting out of the interviews--shows an extremely limited range, tonally and gesturally, with many repetitions of the same tics for different personalities. This may have something to do with attempting to concentrate the audience's attention on what the subject is saying, or her conviction that it's the effort, not the success, of "leaving [herself] and being someone else" that's winning for audiences--though it seems much of the attention is still focused on her, the performer. 

For a full-length show that was developed over a decade, and at some trouble and expense--concerning another show, Smith mentions "her staff" traveling with her for the interviews--the limited artistry in presentation (it was directed by Leonard Foglia) and performance is a little disturbing. 

Audiences like her. Is it because she's a familiar face and voice, pre-sold to some extent by her past successes, truly seen as a live talking head for those familiar with her TV acting? 

Years ago, I began to become aware of a kind of disintegration of the traditional audience for any kind of "spectacle," first when My Dinner With Andre hit the cinemas in 1981 and subsequently at festival jazz concerts. Audiences increasingly didn't react as one collective anymore, but as an aggregate of individual spectators, or collections of "parties" that happened to be partying together in the same space. 

One of the best definitions of the origin of theater and its related performing arts I've heard is Francis Fergusson's "the histrionic impulse," fleshed out--strangely enough--in Roland Barthes' book-length reflection on photography and the human face, Camera Lucida: declaring portrait photography comes more from the tableaux of theater than of painting, Barthes places his version Fergusson's "impulse" at the moment when someone turned from the community, disguised themselves with a mask or make-up as a god or spirit of the dead, then turned back, still apart from the group, to tell it the story of its origin. 

If theater and storytelling really are from a primal human impulse, maybe we have been reduced to a public collection of individuals, not able to bond easily anymore into a collective like an audience in order to react communally to something with dialogue and ensemble movement, but a bunch of individual spectators searching for a lone, sympathetic face that will tell us the news, reassure us that we're human, alive, "current," one of the tribe. 

"Man, you live!" Jaime De Angulo--who once lived in the Berkeley hills, where he sometimes brought his Indian correspondents--said was the greeting of the nomadic Achuwamis in the high desert of Northeastern California when they met up with someone they hadn't seen in awhile. That sign of recognition, in a media saturated world, seems to be what's evoked by Smith's appearances. 

Let Me Down Easy plays Tuesday through Sunday at different times through July 10 at the Rep's Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison (near Shattuck). $29-$73. 647-2949; berkeleyrep.org 






Eye from the Aisle: Local Masquers Playwright in Samuel French OOB Finals in NYC

By John A. McMullen II
Monday June 20, 2011 - 10:28:00 AM
Rana Kangas-Kent, Conrad Cady
Jerry Telfer
Rana Kangas-Kent, Conrad Cady
Jim Colgan, author “The Story of Oh”
Jim Colgan, author “The Story of Oh”

Playwrights come from motley day-jobs: George Bernard Shaw was an estate-office clerk, Anton Chekhov was a physician, and Jim Colgan is an asbestos defense attorney.

Local playwright Colgan’s “The Story of Oh” was one of the 40 out of 1000+ applicants selected for the Samuel French OFF-OFF- Broadway Festival of Short Plays in NYC in July. 

“The Story of Oh (Revised and Abridged)” won Best Play last year at Marin Fringe Festival at Dominican College in San Rafael that Annette Lust produces. 

The 40 selected plays will be performed July 19-24 at the Lion Theatre on 42ndvStreet. Twelve will be selected for the finals, and the top six chosen will have their play published by Samuel French. 

Colgan came to the Bay from Appalachian Kentucky to study musical compostion, and got a MA in it from SFSU. But he turned to dramatic composition instead, studied playwrighting with the locally famous teacher Will Dunne, and headed up the new play readings at Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond. Last January, he had his play about a serial killer “The Zahsman Murders,” produced by Arclight Repertory in San Jose. 

I asked Jim Colgan the typical interviewer question about how he came up with the idea for “The Story of Oh” 

“So up at a B&B in Gualala for some R&R, and I’m musing out loud to my companion about how many times a day we use the word ‘Oh ’ to express things like for frustration, surprise, disgust, titillation, to stubbing your toe, all a variety of completely different emotions,” he told me over the phone. 

“And, of course, there is the natural double entendre with the S&M book ‘The Story of O,’” Colgan said. 

I gathered that it seemed that a sense of orgiastic debauchery would be integral to the play. 

“I let it percolate for about three months, then I sat down and wrote it in about two hours plus tweaking.” 

The play is a sex farce with easy to memorize dialogue consisting only of the word “Oh ” in various meanings, positions, situations, all flowing from one another. Quick entrances and exits, often with characters caught in a lustful embrace, pepper the spicy scenes. Colgan used the descriptive phrase “in flagrante delicto” just as a good lawyer ought (i.e., “in blazing offense,” or, caught in the act). 

“I was lucky to get the cast I have. Not everyone is comfortable with semi-nudity and sexuality. But these actors are uninhibited which is a great attribute for an actor to have. My female cast members started to disrobe at the first rehearsal, and I had to slow them down.” 

You can view a video of the ten-minute play at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP5hGVTbtMc 

His cast members Rana Kangas-Kent, Simon Patton, Rachael Denny and C. Conrad Cady are going with him to New York City to perform the play. 

Contributions accepted via Pay Pal via thestoryofO@yahoo.comor send checks to The Masquers, 

PO Box 71037, Richmond CA 94807. 

Also, check out the official (and quite amusing) Samuel French Company interview with Colgan at http://oob.samuelfrench.com/index.php/the-final-forty/the-story-of-oh-revised-and-abridged-by-jim-colgan 

Theater Review: Metamorphosis at Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday June 22, 2011 - 09:57:00 AM

A pair of shoes on the floor of the parlor of the Samsa family home. The Father (Allen Mckelvey), staring at the shoes, calls the Mother (Madeline H. D. Brown) to see them, as their daughter Grete (Megan Trout) hovers near--and son Gregor (Alexander Crowther) lies in bed--or rather on an iron bed-frame on a tilted floor that resembles a washboard (Nina Ball's compact, homey yet vertiginous set)--upstairs in his room, not having gone to work ... 

In a few moments, his family will discover Gregor's metamorphosed into a bug. 

Not exactly a bug, beetle, cockroach, as usually the creature Gregor becomes in Kafka's Metamorphosis (here in Aurora Theatre's production, Mark Jackson directing an adaptation by David Farr of Royal Shakespeare and Gisli Orn Gararsson) is alluded to ... though in Kafka's story, it's referred to as "Ungezeifer," an unclean creature or vermin, as Alicia Coombes program note defines it. This has been the crux of the problem for staging Kafka's text--maybe the toughest to put on as theater or film or TV of a writer some think impossible to adapt, whose effects are achieved solely through words, language--how to represent what filmmaker Georges Franju, no slouch at fleshing out the ineffable, called the "problem of the animal." 

The script and Jackson's direction solve that neatly, with Gregor appearing and sounding to us as a young man, but to whoever's onstage as a skittering vermin, or worse, his spoken lines incomprehensible to them. ("what's that sound"--before they see him, his mother thinks he has a cold.) 

The pregnant moment of the opening and the theatricalization of Gregor transformed are the most successful things, overall, in the Aurora production. The quality of much of the acting, too, its immediacy, the actors' presence in the intimate confines of the Aurora's stage, make this in many ways Jackson's best effort so far. Allen McKelvey, unxious in his bank guard uniform he insists on wearing at home; Madeline Brown, who comes the closest to a stylized characterization, modulates her frozen smile with her hysterical disgust over the pest her son has become; Megan Trout's brave little sister appearing in an overstarched tutu to dance to a scratchy record for the young, self-regarding, would-be lodger Fischer (Patrick Jones, who doubles as Gregor's supervisor from work), practically goose-stepping through the parlor and craning his neck to stare at Grete like a Reichian wind-up toy--and Crowther's wide-eyed Boy Next Door quality as he tries to ungainly navigate his family's repulsion and his own guilt, caught in the body of an insect--all rise to the occasion in both featured moments and in ensemble. 

Where the production strains at the seams is with its concept, or juxtaposition of concepts, spreading the action thin in meaning between flashes of prewar Prague, Jones' funny caricature as a kind of post-Kafka harbinger of Nazi-ism, and the melange of what are now the typical, worn-out kitsch images of Middle American suburban life of the 50s, from magazine ads, TV, the movies ... "McCarthy Era America." Kafka's darkness gets whited-out, his Manneristic ambiguity loses irony, and the strange familial comedy of manners becomes a little vague, insipid, not connected to its real milieu or translated to a viable equivalent. Kafka's fantasy came from a storyteller's manner, narrating impossible events in very specific, banal circumstances. This production strains, archly, at too much--and too little. 

The acting gets stretched out too, with a rather British script spoken by characters supposed to be, in part, Middle American--but then there's McKelvey's Middle European uniform and the many period references. Each player also acts--and acts well--in a different performing style, from Crowther and Trout's takes as ingenues to Brown's confident disintegration in a series of gestures and expressions, to McKelvey's comic boot-licking unxiousness to Jones' farceur style in playing Fischer. (Fischer, rather strangely, has more riveting stylized movement than most of what Gregor the Bug is given, as does Brown, too, in a way ... ) Though they work pretty well as an ensemble, the mish-mash of styles isn't justified by any kind of theatrical--or Kafkaesque dream--logic. 

But it's notoriously hard to translate anything of Kafka's fiction to spectacle ... Stephen Berkoff had some success onstage with In the Penal Colony, Metamorphosis (starring Baryshnikov) and The Trial (with an extraordinary Anthony Sher as K); recently, Central Works produced an interesting version of The Castle, called A Man's Home--and on film, Orson Welles' The Trial translated Kafka's claustrophobic novel to an urbane, postwar black comedy--and then there's perhaps the most strangely Kafkaesque of all, Bela Tarr's movie The Werkmeister Harmonies, from a novel The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahortai, not Kafka at all ... 

Metamorphosis, Tuesdays through Sundays, various times, through July 17. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, near Shattuck. $10-$45. 843-4822; auroratheatre,org

Art Review: "The Steins Collect"

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Monday June 20, 2011 - 11:19:00 AM

This past Tuesday afternoon I had enormous pleasure, and I might say, inspiration, when I attended the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's fabulous exhibit, "The Steins Collect." Having over the years visited magnificent art galleries in Europe -- the Louvre, National Gallery in London, and the Pitti Palace in Florence, I assumed this exhibit would be anticlimactic and rather ordinary. I was sadly mistaken! 

On entering the Museum, a beautiful building with its dramatic stair way, patrons were given a yellow ticket specifying the time they could join a tour of the Fourth Floor. I was scheduled for 10:45. Little did I dream that there I would see seventy-five works by such masters as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Renoir, and Toulouse Lautrec and other masterpieces of the Parisian Avant-garde. With such a wealth of glorious paintings it was a problem taking them all in (and murder on the feet). Matisee's "Woman with a Hat" was, without question, the most popular piece in the show, followed closely by Picasso's "Boy Leading a Horse", and, of course, his portrait of Gertrude Stein. 

I must confess that for me the highlight of this superb exhibit was the section devoted to the history and faded photos of the Stein family and their famous salon at 27 Rue De Fleurus in the early 1900's. The exhibition tells the story of the Steins (Gertrude and her brother Leo) and their lives as highly unusual but frequently brilliant collectors of art. They initially purchased Matisee's "Woman with a Hat" after its scandalous debut in the 1905 Salon d'Automne, where it inspired critics to classify Matisse and his peers as "those beasts". Though it's impossible to replicate the Stein's chaotic apartment walls, which were covered from floor to ceiling with the art they loved, the Museum has artfully displayed those walls in a blown-up image. 

Leo strongly objected to Gertrude's homosexuality and her affair with Alice Toklas, leading to irreconcilable differences. But they nonetheless continued to collect art and lived to see Picasso and Matisse become the most famous artists of the 20th Century. 

"Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories" can be seen at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street, through September 6th. This show offers five fascinating paths through Stein's life and legacy, with several photos -- one by Cecil Beaton, and another of Gertrude and Toklas. "The Art of Friendship" examines her relationship with artists and writers, especially her circle of younger, gay admirers. "Celebrity Stein" focuses on her triumphant lecture tour 

Not many people know that Stein and the young composer Virgil Thomson created an opera about Catholic saints in Spain, entitled "Four Saints in Three Acts", which will play at the Yerba Buena Center for the Art's Novellus Theatre, August 18-21. The opera premiered in Hartford, Connecticut and quickly moved to Broadway where it became a widespread sensation. 

So, given all the astounding and diversified accomplishments of Gertrude Stein, who lived in Oakland for a short time-- thus her misquoted statement, "There's no there" -- one can readily see why the Stein Collect is SFMOMA's most popular exhibit of the season. Art lovers remain fascinated with this admittedly plain, mannish-looking woman and her contributions to the Parisian Avant-garde.