Who's After Berkeley Police Chief's Scalp, and Why?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 16, 2012 - 10:40:00 AM

The subject lines on friends’ email forwards of the original Bay Area News Group article about PoliceChiefGate told the story. “OMG!” “Unbelievable!” and more. And who could argue with their reaction? Everyone in Berkeley and beyond, it seemed, even people who have never agreed on anything else before, agreed on this one:. “How could he? What could he have been thinking?”

And so did I. I’ve been a First Amendment absolutist for all of my adult life. I joined the ACLU before I was old enough to vote. I’ve many times quoted Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the constitutional ban on abridging freedom of speech: “When it says ‘no law’ it means NO LAW!”

After working for a number of years as a political agitator for civil rights and in the anti-war movement, I took up journalism. These experiences fueled my outrage at the report of the Berkeley Police Chief’s midnight messenger sent to press a reporter to correct an online story. I imagined myself hearing that ominous knock, reliving that fearsome confrontation with an armed officer on my doorstep.

There’s no question in my mind that what used to be called The Standard Liberal Position is that this should never have happened. We all have the right to be safe and secure in our homes, don’t we? And we shouldn’t have to be afraid when someone comes knocking after midnight, especially the police. I absolutely agree—or at least I do when I’m wearing my journalist’s hat.

But when the Berkeley Police Officers’ Association issued their first statement criticizing Meehan, I started to wonder. The BPOA is technically not a union, since they can’t strike under the law—but it’s a professional association which does collective bargaining on behalf of its members . And as luck would have it, collective bargaining is underway right now—and Chief Meehan is the boss with whom they’re negotiating. It occurred to me that there might be more than one reason the Association is looking askance at him.

When Berkeley attorney Jim Chanin, a veteran ACLU officer, a former chair of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission and a litigator who has brought and won many police misconduct lawsuits in many jurisdictions in his 40 year career, was quoted in the Chronicle as thinking that Meehan showed “a serious lapse in judgment”, but should not have to resign, I wondered more. So I called Jim to get his take at first hand. -more-

The Editor's Back Fence

Today is Bonnie Hughes Day in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday March 20, 2012 - 11:54:00 AM

Happy Bonnie Hughes Day! Rumor has it that the Mayor and/or the City Council will issue a proclamation honoring arts impresario and civic gadfly Bonnie Hughes, and it couldn't happen to a nicer person. When I heard that this was in the works, I asked Bonnie if she might be suffering from a terminal illness, which is why sometimes people in Berkeley get proclamations, but no, she's fine. Whew!

Bonnie has put in an incredible amount of service to the people of Berkeley and the world in the 20 years or so I've known her and before. She's managed to combine two particular passions, the arts and civil liberties, in an amazing way which could only have worked as well as it has because her personal charm overwhelms any potential adversaries. -more-

Hiring and Firing Department Heads in Berkeley's City Government: A Legal Sidebar

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:07:00 AM

A legal point, often misunderstood, is that under Berkeley’s charter the city council can vote whether or not to accept the manager’s hiring recommendations, but after a department head is hired only the manager can fire him or her.

If the councilmembers, including the mayor, wanted to get rid of such an employee and the manager declined to do so, they’d have to fire the manager first. So the mayor and his fellow council members can’t just fire the embattled police chief, even if they want to.

Right now there’s another good current illustration of what this entails. The department head position of Director of Planning is vacant. It was mistakenly reported in a local news outlet that one Eric Angstadt of Oakland had the job, but the mayor and council took great pains at the Monday meeting to say that he had NOT been hired, that the council was just receiving the recommendation and the approval vote wouldn’t be until April 3.

But if you were in any doubt that Angstadt’s got the job nailed, two little slips of the often-loose Mayoral tongue offer further proof. On Monday Mayor Tom Bates let slip that he’d met Angstadt, though only for “a couple of minutes’. Then at the Tuesday special council meeting the mayor spoke approvingly of “our new planning director. ” And it’s not a done deal? -more-

Check Out This Link: UC's Edifice Complex

Friday March 16, 2012 - 08:35:00 AM

Here's a terrific story from Berkeley-based California Watch which shows how the University of California has been cheerfully constructing away, with no real plan for how to pay for staffing the many new buildings named after donors. -more-


Odd Bodkins: Focus (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday March 19, 2012 - 11:46:00 PM

Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 16, 2012 - 12:43:00 PM

Editorial -more-

A Crisis of Legitimacy in Berkeley

By Steve Martinot
Friday March 16, 2012 - 11:42:00 AM

Police action in Berkeley has been the subject of much discussion of late. There were problematic police responses to phonecalls (directly impacting Peter Cukor's murder in the Berkeley hills Feb. 18), two different apologies by the police chief, a degree of outrage or at least concern by Berkeleyans, a special community meeting to vet the issues, direct police pressure on a reporter at that meeting to report only what would be agreeable to the police chief, a further apology by the chief for that pressure, and a public statement made by some Berkeley police officers dissociating themselves from the chief's action with respect to the reporter (SFChron, March 12, 2012), claiming it could damage their relation of trust with the community. -more-

Building a School-Based Local Food System

By Hannah Kopp-Yates
Friday March 16, 2012 - 01:58:00 PM

I used to live in a food desert, in the Temescal district of Oakland. I remember wandering the aisles of our local liquor-grocery store when I was young, searching for something I considered edible—something whose earthly origin I could at least recognize. I was always shocked to find that among the Corn Nuts, Doritos and Hostess Cakes, there was nothing resembling the beautiful vegetables that my Mom always brought back from her weekly trip to the Berkeley farmer’s market. Today, our gentrified neighborhood has abundant options for purchasing fresh food, like the weekly farmers’ market and the organic produce store on our corner. But I remember what it was like before, and I know that 23.5 million Americans continue to live without this kind of choice. 8% of the US lives in a food desert: a low-income area where a source of fresh foods is not available. -more-