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Are Berkeley Police looking the other way as sleeper-liers go public downtown on eve of big council debate on the mayor's proposed sit-lie ban?
Ted Friedman
Are Berkeley Police looking the other way as sleeper-liers go public downtown on eve of big council debate on the mayor's proposed sit-lie ban?
 

News

Flash: BART Tube is Open Again

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 04:41:00 PM

BART service through the Transbay Tube resumed late this afternoon after an early morning three-alarm fire near the West Oakland station closed the tracks between the East Bay and San Francisco, a BART spokesman said. 

Just before 4 p.m., the first train of the day was arriving at the West Oakland BART station from San Francisco, spokesman Jim Allison said. 

Six or seven test trains successfully traveled along the tracks this afternoon, allowing limited service to resume for the evening commute, Allison said. The test trains did not carry passengers. 

Trains will be traveling at slightly reduced speeds this evening, he said. 

BART service is expected to be back to normal in time for the Friday morning commute, Allison said.


Updated: BART Tube Still Closed, May Open at 4

By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 01:39:00 PM

BART service between the East Bay and San Francisco will resume later than originally estimated this afternoon, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier told the transit agency's board shortly after 12:30 p.m. 

The Transbay Tube remains shut down because of a three-alarm fire that burned at a construction site near the West Oakland BART station early this morning. 

BART had initially planned to begin single-tracking trains between San Francisco and Oakland early this afternoon and then reopen both tracks for the evening commute. 

However, Oversier said, "We've changed our game plan because there's a greater likelihood of having both tracks ready for the evening commute if both remain shut down for now, because single-tracking the trains interferes with the repair work." 

"Our goal is still to be open for the evening commute," he said. 

BART now hopes to resume transbay service by 4 p.m. 

Oversier warned, however, that once transbay service starts up again, BART still won't be able to operate at its normal level. He said he hopes to see it operate "at 60 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent of capacity." 

"The biggest vulnerability is that one communication cable is pretty well fried," Oversier said. 

BART won't know the extent of the problem until it restarts its electrical system at the West Oakland station and runs some tests, he said.  

"We won't fully understand the impact until we fire the system up," Oversier told directors. He said it appears the fiber network is in "good shape" but that also can't be confirmed until tests are conducted.


Flash: Transbay BART Shut Down Because of Fire

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 09:58:00 AM

BART's Transbay Tube between Oakland and San Francisco has been shut down this morning due to a three-alarm fire at a construction site near the West Oakland BART station, officials said. 

The fire, at an under-construction senior center in a framing stage between Fifth and Seventh streets directly next to the West Oakland BART station, was reported at around 2:15 a.m., Battalion Chief Adrian Sheppard said. 

The fire spread to include lampposts, cars, powers poles, took down electrical wires and spread to the elevated BART tracks, potentially damaging the tracks and necessitating shutting down power to the tracks, Sheppard said. 

No one was injured and no homes or occupied buildings were damaged in the blaze, Sheppard said. 

Firefighters had the fire under control at around 4 a.m. but remain on the scene investigating the cause as repair crews survey the damage, Sheppard said. 

Police said that an arson investigator would be sent to the scene to consult with the fire investigator as a standard procedure for a fire of this size. 

BART spokesman Jim Allison said it is too early to tell how long the Transbay Tube may be closed, and whether it may be a matter of hours or even days.  

He said that a preliminary examination of the tracks suggests there may not be any physical damage and that there is mainly an electrical problem, however that estimate may change. 

BART is advising commuters traveling between Oakland and San Francisco to find an alternate route of travel. 

In addition to the Transbay Tube, the West Oakland BART station is closed entirely. AC Transit has made some changes to bus routes to accommodate BART riders. 

AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said that while AC Transit has not added any additional buses, transbay buses that would normally stop elsewhere in Oakland will be diverted to BART stations to pick up customers. 

BART riders seeking to take a bus into San Francisco should get off BART at either the MacArthur or 19th Street Oakland stations where there will be staging areas for catching transbay buses, Johnson said. 

BART tickets will be honored today for trips to San Francisco, Johnson said. However, AC Transit may not be able to provide any additional buses in addition to its usual transbay service. 

"We will do what we can, it's difficult for us to add extra buses because we don't have a lot of extra buses to add," Johnson said. 

All buses from Oakland will go to the Transbay Terminal at Beale and Howard streets, and travelers from San Francisco to Oakland will be able to catch buses there to the East Bay, Johnson said. 

"We do have some extra capacity on our morning commute, hopefully we'll be able to handle a lot of the load without a great deal of difficulty," Johnson said. 

 


New: Berkeley Council Votes to Put Bates Anti-Sitting Ordinance on November Ballot

By Bay City News
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 09:43:00 AM

After a lengthy debate, the Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 early Wednesday morning in favor of putting a measure on the November ballot that would prohibit sitting on sidewalks near businesses during daytime hours. 

The vote calls for the city attorney to draft a ballot measure and bring it back to the City Council on July 10, when the council is expected to formally place it on the ballot. 

The measure, which would ban sitting on city sidewalks in commercial areas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., is a sensitive issue in Berkeley, which is why the council did not enact it directly and instead will leave the decision up to the voters. 

Before the lengthy council meeting began Tuesday night, Mayor Tom Bates said, "The intent is to make the sidewalks more civil." 

Berkeley already has an ordinance in place that prohibits people from lying on the sidewalk during daytime hours, and the proposed measure would amend the city code to extend the ban to sitting. 

Bates said, "I would say that I feel as the mayor, it's my responsibility to have as civil a city as possible and I feel this is a step in the right direction." 

Supporters of the ban say, among other things, that people loitering on city sidewalks are hurting local businesses. 

The three council members who voted against putting the measure on the ballot were Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson. 

Arreguin and other critics contend that the ordinance would punish Berkeley's homeless population, who are most likely to be ticketed for sitting on the sidewalk. 

Arreguin said before the meeting that he thinks the council should address the broader issue of homelessness rather than pursue the sidewalk-sitting ban.  

"I think we should be focusing on more constructive measures rather than punitive (measures)," Arreguin said.


Berkeley Man Ordered to Stand Trial for Liquor Store Shooting

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday June 14, 2012 - 09:46:00 AM

A 19-year-old Berkeley man has been ordered to stand trial on a murder charge for the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Devin Lee Whitmire outside a Berkeley liquor store on March 29. 

Calvin Stewart was also ordered to stand trial on five counts of the premeditated attempted murder of a peace officer for allegedly shooting at Berkeley police officers in a separate incident on April 13. 

At the end of a preliminary hearing that spanned four days, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson told Stewart's lawyer, Joann Kingston, "You made some valid points" in arguing that prosecutor Joseph Goethals didn't present sufficient evidence to have Stewart stand trial for murdering Whitmire or on attempted murder charges for the April 13 incident. 

But Rolefson, who noted that the threshold of ordering a defendant to stand trial is much lower than finding him guilty, said, "For our purposes there is sufficient evidence on all counts." 

He told Kingston, "You made some logical arguments" but said she should save them for Stewart's trial. 

Rolefson then thanked Kingston and Goethals for what he described as "a very interesting preliminary hearing," apparently referring to a dramatic courtroom moment at the beginning of the hearing last week in which the prosecution's key witness said a second man who was charged with murder for Whitmire's death, 19-year-old Randall Oscar Alston of Berkeley, wasn't involved in the shooting. 

Prosecutors then dismissed the charge against Alston, who was the first person to be arrested and charged in connection with the death of Whitmire, who was a Berkeley resident, from a shooting outside Bob's Liquors and Deli in the 2800 block of Sacramento Street at about 7:35 p.m. on March 29. 

Prosecutors allege that Stewart was the man who fatally shot Whitmire and had accused Alston of being an accomplice. 

After saying that Alston wasn't involved, the prosecution's witness, 22-year-old Darnell Robinson, who is Whitmire's brother and was with him when he was shot, pointed at a man in the audience and said, "That's the guy who did it," according to Alston's lawyer, James Giller. 

Authorities subpoenaed the man and took a statement from him, Giller said, but Berkeley police say he hasn't been arrested at this point. 

Giller, who's been practicing criminal law in Oakland for more than 50 years, said he's never heard of another case in which a murder defendant was freed after a prosecution witness came to court and said the wrong man was in custody. 

Kingston said yesterday that she thinks Robinson's identification of Stewart as the man who shot Whitmire is insufficient because Robinson paused and equivocated before pointing at Stewart. 

But Rolefson said he believes, "Mr. Robinson was pretty clear in who he identified as pulling a gun from his waist area" and shooting Whitmire. 

Berkeley police said the shooting on April 13 occurred after they attempted to make a traffic stop on Stewart near Eighth and Delaware streets at about 10:40 p.m. that night but he ran away and went into a nearby apartment building at 929 Delaware St. 

Police said that after they surrounded the building Stewart came out and shot at officers but they returned fire and an officer struck him. 

Stewart, who has a prior conviction for possession of a firearm, was hit by the officers' gunfire but has recovered from his injuries. 

Kingston said the most serious charge Stewart should face for allegedly shooting at the officers is assault with a deadly weapon because he didn't have a specific intent to kill the officers. 

But Rolefson said he believes premeditated attempted murder is an appropriate charge because Stewart "was pretty much firing shots with the intent to kill whoever was in the area" and he also had time to think about what he was doing. 

Prosecutors haven't stated a motive for why Whitmire was killed. 

In his testimony last week, Robinson said, "I don't know why they shot my brother. They probably thought he was someone else."


Obstreperous Berkeleyans Getting in Their Lying Before Council Sit-Lie Hearing

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday June 12, 2012 - 08:46:00 AM
All that was left of a "riot" more than an hour earlier, Tuesday, at Constitution Square downtown. "Spokesman" is fourth from left.
Ted Friedman
All that was left of a "riot" more than an hour earlier, Tuesday, at Constitution Square downtown. "Spokesman" is fourth from left.
Are Berkeley Police looking the other way as sleeper-liers go public downtown on eve of big council debate on the mayor's proposed sit-lie ban?
Ted Friedman
Are Berkeley Police looking the other way as sleeper-liers go public downtown on eve of big council debate on the mayor's proposed sit-lie ban?
Another protestor, just tired downtown?
Ted Friedman
Another protestor, just tired downtown?

A downtown worker noticed ten sleep-liers-in downtown Berkeley at 8:50 a.m. Monday on his way to work. Some were asleep in or beneath sleeping bags, the worker noted.

I photographed two liers-in at 4 p.m.

Lying is illegal; it's sitting that is being added to a new measure to be debated at City Council Tuesday.

Are police laying off on the eve of the council debate over sit-lie, which is the must attend political event of the year?

And what is going on downtown? 

Michael Diehl, a community organizer for a Berkeley outreach program, was posting news of a planned anti-sit-lie demonstration at Tuesdays council meeting, when I stopped. 

"Did you see the riot downtown (45 minutes ago)?" We were on Telegraph. I set out on foot to see what I could learn about the "riot." 

Incidents involving police at Constitution Square, downtown at BART, have multiplied recently. 

The first knowledgeable looking guys I approached said what had occurred was far from a riot, just a "bunch of kids standing around" among some cops. 

But a ringleader from what I am calling the "Downtown Gang," or just the Downtowners, described a scene closer to the "riot" Diehl had seen, a crowd of 30-50 (probably 10-20) who were deemed threatening enough that Berkeley Police called in four officers. A sergeant video-taped the event. 

They video-tape, they have said in the past, to protect themselves against allegations of police brutality downtown as recently were leveled against police by a well-known Berkeley civil liberties attorney. 

According to the Downtowner spokesman, the incident went down as a shoplifting beef. The crowd of Downtowners was berating, or as the spokesman, put it, "educating the police to uphold their sworn moral duties--to uphold the rights of all." 

"They are sworn to protect and serve," I said. 

"More than that," said the spokesman. 

The spokesman agreed that 'typical Berkeley stand-off" pretty much described the incident. 

According to the Downtowners spokesman, the hour-long stand-off ended only when the shoplifting suspect was taken off in handcuffs, arrested for "theft," an allegation the crowd felt was untrue. Spokesman noted that the suspect had not resisted the police. 

The crowd believed the suspect was suspected of leaving a downtown drugstore with items, he had learned he couldn't purchase because he had forgotten his billfold, according to the spokesman. but the crowd said the accused had left the items in the store. 

Readers, it is a foolish reporter who would expect the alleged crime victims, employees of the CVS drug store, to speak about the case with a reporter. Legal issues lead the reasons not to talk list. 

But it is a lazy reporter who wouldn't bull his way in. 

CVS refused to comment, saying "I'm not going to talk to you," with a sneer. 

But I was able to learn that an alleged shoplift had occurred at CVS and that the security officer, who reported it, was still being debriefed at the Berkeley Police station two hours after the incident. 

Some street-friendly observers are saying the CVS bust was "arranged." 


Southsider Ted Friedman will walk downtown for any and all "riots."


Elderly Pedestrian Dies After Bicyclist Hits Her

By Laura Dixon (Bay City News)
Thursday June 07, 2012 - 04:36:00 PM

An elderly pedestrian died after being struck by a bicyclist in El Cerrito on Wednesday, according to the Contra Costa County coroner's office.

Mary Smith, 92, of El Cerrito, died from head injuries she suffered in the collision, a deputy coroner said Thursday.

The collision occurred around 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Brewster Drive in front of Arlington Park, El Cerrito Fire Battalion Chief Dave Gibson said yesterday. 

The cyclist was riding north on Arlington Boulevard when he struck Smith, who was unconscious when firefighters and paramedics arrived a short time later, Gibson said. 

The bicyclist cooperated with police and emergency responders, and a couple of good Samaritans were helping the elderly woman when fire crews arrived, the battalion chief said. 

Smith was transported by helicopter to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where she succumbed to her injuries. 

The bicyclist, a man, was treated for minor injuries he suffered in the collision, Gibson said. 


Berkeley Murder Charge Dismissed after Witness Fingers Another Suspect

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday June 08, 2012 - 10:53:00 PM

A murder charge against an 18-year-old Berkeley man for the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Devin Lee Whitmire in Berkeley in late March was dismissed this week after a dramatic courtroom moment in which the prosecution's key witness said the man wasn't involved in the shooting. 

Randall Oscar Alston was the first person to be arrested and charged with murder in connection with the death of Whitmire, who was a Berkeley resident, from a shooting outside Bob's Liquors and Deli in the 2800 block of Sacramento Street at about 7:35 p.m. on March 29. 

Authorities later arrested a second suspect, 19-year-old Berkeley resident Calvester Stewart. Stewart was also charged with murder and is accused of being the shooter. 

A preliminary hearing at which a judge was to decide if there was enough evidence to have Alston and Stewart ordered to stand trial was scheduled to start Tuesday morning. 

But when Whitmire's brother, 22-year-old Darnell Robinson, who was with Whitmire when he was shot, came into the courtroom shortly before the hearing was to begin, he said Alston wasn't involved in the shooting and then pointed at a man in the audience and said, "That's the guy who did it," according to Alston's lawyer, James Giller. 

Authorities subpoenaed the man and took a statement from him, Giller said, but Berkeley police said that he hasn't been arrested. 

Charges against Alston, who had been in custody since the night of the shooting and was accused of being an aider and abettor to Stewart, were dismissed later on Tuesday and he is now free and at home, Giller said. 

Giller, who's been practicing criminal law in Oakland for more than 50 years, said he's never heard of another case in which a murder defendant was freed after a prosecution witness came to court and said the wrong man was in custody. 

"It's a unique situation and lawyers around the courthouse are talking about it," Giller said. 

Prosecutor Joseph Goethals and Alameda County District Attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick declined to comment on the case today. 

A preliminary hearing that only involves Stewart began Thursday and is expected to continue for most of next week. 

In addition to being charged with murder in connection with Whitmire's death, Stewart is charged with several counts of attempted murder of a peace officer for a separate incident in which he allegedly engaged in a shootout with Berkeley police officers April 13. 

Berkeley police said they attempted to make a traffic stop on him near Eighth and Delaware streets at about 10:40 p.m. that night but he ran away and went into a nearby apartment building. 

Police said that after they surrounded the building Stewart came out and shot at officers but they returned fire and an officer struck him. 

Stewart, who has a prior conviction for possession of a firearm, is still recovering from his injuries and came to court in a wheelchair this week. 

When Goethals asked Robinson today if he saw the man who shot his brother in court, Robinson hesitated for a long time before finally saying, "I think so" and pointed at Stewart. 

Stewart yelled at Robinson, "I've never seen you before in my life!" Under cross-examination from Stewart's lawyer, Joann Kingston, on Thursday, Robinson said he doesn't think the fatal shooting of Whitmire was related to an ongoing feud between two Berkeley gangs, the Waterfront Gang and the South Berkeley Gang. 

Robinson said, "I don't know why they shot my brother. They probably thought he was someone else." 

In testimony today, Berkeley police Officer Kyle White said Stewart fired several shots at him and another officer who was next to him at an apartment complex at 929 Delaware St. the night of April 13. 

White said, "I could tell he was definitely shooting toward me and I was worried that I had been hit" but neither he nor the other officer was hit. 

White said he recognized Stewart because he'd had prior contact with him and although it was nighttime he could see him well because he was standing under a porch light.


Councilmember Wozniak: City of Berkeley is Negotiating with Unions about Future Pensions

Letter from Councilmember Gordon Wozniak
Friday June 08, 2012 - 02:33:00 PM

Editor's Note: This letter from Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak was received by a citizen who had asked councilmembers what they were doing about the city's pension obligations:

The City is attempting to reduce its pension obligations by negotiating with its employee unions. Because public pension rights are enshrined in the State Constitution, they are very difficult to modify. Basically, State law says that once you are hired, the public pension system in effect at that time applies. Retroactive changes to public pensions are not allowed, unless they increase benefits to employees. Retroactive decreases to public pensions are not allowed by state law, which is the result of a State Proposition that was voted in by the public. To change public pensions would require a new State Proposition. 

Recently, voters of cities of San Jose and San Diego passed pension reform ballet measures, which were promptly legally challenged in the courts. It will be interesting to see how the measures hold up on the courts. These two cities are different than Berkeley in that they have their own pension system, whereas allows them more flexibility than Berkeley which participates in the State systems CalPers. 

When Vallejo, which also participates in CalPers, went bankrupt several years ago and laid off many of its employee, it never stopped contributing to CalPers. Stockton, which is also undergoing bankruptcy proceedings and is a Calpers member, does not seem able to reduce its pension contributions, 

So what has Berkeley been doing to reduce its pension costs? 

The City has been negotiating for over a year with the Berkeley Police Association (BPA). The City has been asking for: a multi-year salary freeze, reductions in retiree health care costs, employees pay a larger share of their retirement contributions, and reduced pension benefits for new employees. 

The City Manager has scheduled a closed session on Monday, June 11th to discuss the status of these negotiations and presumably to present to the Council a tentative agreement with the BPA. 

Regarding the remainder of the employees, their contracts are all up at the end of June 2012. Labor negotiations have been underway for about six months. Half of SEIU 1020, which represents the largest city union, has agreed to a multi-year salary freeze, increased pension contributions and a two-tier pension system for new employees. However, this contract is contingent on the other unions signing on to a similar agreement. 

Once the Police negotiations have been finalized the City will focus on finalizing a contract with the fire fighters and the remaining non-sworn employees. 

Since the City has been asking for both a salary freeze and increased pension contributions, which would result in decreased take home pay for employees, these negotiations have been difficult.


Berkeley Bowl Make-over Bowls Over Shoppers; Who Moved Our Cheese?

By Ted Friedman
Friday June 08, 2012 - 01:10:00 PM
New look at South side Berkeley Bowl. Produce is moved-about.
Ted Friedman
New look at South side Berkeley Bowl. Produce is moved-about.
New look at Bowl, facing South.
Ted Friedman
New look at Bowl, facing South.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Southside Berkeley Bowl got made-over to resemble its corporate big brother to the West. Anything Southsiders may have considered homey at the bowl now resembles the sterility of the bowl's mega-market in Berkeley's industrial area. 

As a public service, we will here attempt to explain the re-positioning of produce. The cheese section has not moved, but a customer service rep said that it will be remodeled. Beer is un-moved, as were many of the aisles. 

Its when we enter the produce and bulk foods section that bananas fly. Yes, they have bananas in many varieties, but they have been moved hither and yon. The re-arrangements give the appearance of more space, but it's only illusionary. 

The organic produce section has made a big move, from the rear of the store to the front, and you may not find the bulk foods section, without exploring. 

There seems to be an emphasis, which was already underway, of packaging more produce. My favorite tomato, of the vast bowl varieties, has been boxed and cello-phaned, making inspection difficult. Single-stem bananas, formerly discounted, are missing in action. 

Freshly ground bison is now frozen in bulk only. 

But for shoppers seeking great produce prices and variety not available even at pricier Farmer's Markets, the Bowl has it all. The guys in the fish department are talented thespians, and most of the bowl staff is friendly. 

Bowl management does not talk to the press, it says, after a reporter, some years ago, charmed it into cooperating for a piece which was a hatchet job. 

Perhaps the hatchet-job was about staffers who voted themselves out of the union, after years of alleged corporate union-busting. 

Our local markets don't like publicity. 

Changes at the Bowl had been underway for months, but this complete recent shuffling of produce changed everything. Now if they just don't move the cheese. 


Friedman has shopped the bowl since it opened in 1977, at the Berkeley Bowl, now hosting Any Mountain, at Shattuck/Stuart..


Opinion

Editorials

Consensus, not Contentiousness, is What Berkeley Businesses Need Now

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 08, 2012 - 10:23:00 AM

Sometimes Berkeley politicians tell more truth than they realize. From the online text of the Tom Bates Anti-Sitting Initiative proposal, up before the city council on Tuesday:

“Given the contentiousness of the City’s past efforts regarding street behavior issues this item requests the City Manager return with draft ordinance and ballot language for Council consideration so the entire issue can be put before the voters for approval.”
If the proposal’s author had looked up “contentiousness” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, he would have found this as the only meaning:

“Contentiousness: an inclination to fight or quarrel.”

Used in an example sentence: “His natural tendency towards contentiousness made him a poor choice for a diplomatic post.”

Could Merriam-Webster have been thinking of Berkeley’s mayor when they wrote that sentence?

The last thing downtown Berkeley, now experiencing a bit of an image uptick, needs is more contentiousness. Do we really want yet another big fight about whether beggars (and also, kids and old ladies and people with bad knees and tourists) are allowed to sit on the sidewalk? 

Only contentiousness (Synonyms: aggression, aggressiveness, assaultiveness, bellicosity, belligerency, combativeness, contentiousness, defiance, disputatiousness, feistiness, fight, militance, militancy, militantness, pugnacity, quarrelsomeness, scrappiness, truculence) would lead one to believe that the so-called “Civil Sidewalks” Initiative would be a good addition to the November ballot. 

“Civil Sidewalks” is yet another careless use of language by our tone-deaf politicians. It’s the people who are civil or uncivil: the sidewalks just lie there. And if contentiousness leads you to treat people in an uncivil manner, they’re apt to be uncivil right back at you. 

Anyone who travels anywhere knows that Berkeley’s commercial districts are not unique in having a variety of hangers-out on or near the sidewalks. Many of them are whiny, sullen, dirty, or have smelly dogs. If they have too many embedded metal objects or tattoos, they might even look unattractive, at least to older folks like me. 

But contrary to the less-traveled observers’ contentions, people like this are all over the place in the 21st Century. Moving them around Berkeley at significant city expense will not get rid of them. And getting rid of them will not fix what’s wrong with Downtown or Telegraph Avenue. 

The number one problem in such commercial districts in older urban areas is exorbitant rents charged by speculators who have bought up many of the buildings which have rental storefronts—it’s one of the nasty side effects of the real estate bubble. Owners keep the rents so high that small businesses can’t afford to locate there , which is one reason downtowns everywhere have too many vacancies to make for pleasant shopping. 

The America devotion to automobiles, especially in California, is another problem. For half a century downtowns have been losing ground to suburban malls with big parking lots. 

Now, because there’s a recession tending toward a depression, even the malls are in trouble—have you been to Macy’s at Hilltop lately? Acres of empty parking lots even there. 

It’s just too easy to blame all of Berkeley’s many difficulties on a few spare-changers, and it’s a good distraction from all of the real problems that those who currently run the city, both elected and hired, have been doing a poor job of solving. Why, for example, can’t anyone at City Hall make a deal with Ken Sarachan or the owners of the building which burned down to fill in the gaping holes in the Telegraph streetscape? 

As a lapsed member of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (thank goodness, we’re out of commerce these days) the Planet got a low-key invitation to attend Tuesday’s council meeting and speak up about the idea. Contrary to previous quasi-hysterical communications on the subject from similar sources, the Chamber sensibly said that “it is important that the Council hear from a broad range of citizens, merchants, and business owners—whether you support, or do not support, such a ballot measure. This is the democratic process, and your input is needed.” 

That’s a sentiment we can all agree with. Contentiousness is bad for business. Why pick fights when you don’t need to? 

There are undoubtedly many businesses in Berkeley’s commercial districts which would not look forward to a summer and fall filled with demonstrations, picketing and even boycotts from free speech defenders, homeless advocates and those who just like excitement. The proprietors should speak up in favor of calming down. 

Contentiousness is bad for business. 

We all need to tell the council that putting an initiative on the November ballot to ban sitting on the sidewalk will cause nothing but trouble. Why pick fights when you don’t need to? 

And there’s more potential trouble on the council agenda on Tuesday night: They seem poised to adopt disastrous changes to the West Berkeley Plan which are opposed by the vast majority of stakeholders who showed up at hearings in recent weeks. Only the owners of big, big pieces of property and their contractors want these amendments. The EIR did a completely inadequate job of analyzing the negative impacts on Aquatic Park and on traffic. 

Talk about contentiousness! The mayor and his acolytes are just begging for lawsuits and/or referendums from outraged citizens if these changes to West Berkeley are not sent back to the ZAB for further study. 

Some also fear that he has walked a couple of susceptible councilmembers back from the unprecedented compromise they reached at their last meeting, agreeing to put both pools and potholes before the voters in November. 

If you’d like to see peacemaking by the Berkeley City Council instead of contentiousness, try to make it to City Hall on Tuesday night. You should also send emails expressing your opinion to the council, since they do count the correspondence they receive. As the Chamber says, this is the democratic process, and your input is needed. 

 

 


Here are the links to email the council: 

 

 

Tom Bates: mayor@CityofBerkeley.info  

Councilmembers: 

District 1: Linda Maio 

lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info  

District 2: Darryl Moore 

dmoore@CityofBerkeley.info  

District 3: Max Anderson 

manderson@CityofBerkeley.info  

District 4: Jesse Arreguin 

jarreguin@CityofBerkeley.info 

District 5: Laurie Capitelli 

lcapitelli@CityofBerkeley.info  

District 6: Susan Wengraf 

swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info 

District 7: Kriss Worthington 

kworthington@CityofBerkeley.info  

District 8: Gordon Wozniak 

gwozniak@CityofBerkeley.info  

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Editor's Back Fence

New: MSNBC: "Beware, sidewalk sitters: Berkeley is coming for you."

Thursday June 14, 2012 - 09:18:00 AM

In case you might have wondered how the Bates Anti-Sit initiative is making Berkeley look in the rest of the world, check out this MSNBC story, including the comments: 

Beware, sidewalk sitters: Berkeley is coming for you 


New: First Look at Berkeley City Council's Anti-Sitting Initiative

Wednesday June 13, 2012 - 03:06:00 PM

If you're one of those who cares about the fate of civil liberties in Berkeley, you should take the time to watch these clips from Tuesday's Berkeley City Council meeting. The council's discussion of the Bates Anti-Sitting initiative was one of the most appalling displays of insensitivity and hubris I've seen in my more than 35 years in Berkeley, as well as containing some eloquent progressive oratory. Here's the full item, including public comment:  

Get Microsoft Silverlight  

If you can't watch the whole 2+ hours, at least watch the council "discussion" portion at the end of the meeting, to see the mayor at his all time worst and watch councilmembers who should know better keeping quiet but voting for what looks like a pre-arranged deal. 

 

Get Microsoft Silverlight


Cartoons

Odd Bodkins: Dark and Gloomy (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday June 09, 2012 - 10:25:00 AM

 

Dan O'Neill

 


Public Comment

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Friday June 08, 2012 - 12:51:00 PM

Tea Party's Finished; Fire danger in hills; Yes, consider the source, Steven Donaldson is not "West Bezerkeley" 

Tea Party's Finished 

Let's cut to the chase about the Tea Party. Isn't three and a half years of their hypocrisy, and hatred for our president enough for you, or do you need be taking orders these types after the fall elections before you get the message? 

Could it be that Republicans, the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh are getting away with their lies because their base and many Americans are simply dumber than they are? 

Half of the U.S. population seems incapable of acquiring, processing and understanding current events. This is for that half who are still in the dark about the Tea Party and have open minds. 

The Tea Party didn't arrive on the scene until after our first president of color was elected. The Tea Party is 99% white, with only the Klu Klux Klan and John Birch Society being whiter. Does this fit the profile for a multiracial America? The Tea Party is grossly racist. 

The Tea Party is composed of former remnants of the anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-immigration movements. Notice how you haven't seen or heard much about these groups since the Tea Party came into existence? 

Tea Party principles - what principles - all I've heard are empty words and constant attack of President Obama by Tea Party purists. "Guns, God and Government" is the current Tea Party slogan. 

What about Tea Party leaders and supporters? Can you name any prominent figures other than Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. Though, of late, Mitt Romney has taking on more of a Tea Party glow. 

The gig is up for the Tea Party as more and more Americans see its true colors. 

Ron Lowe 

 

 


Fire danger in hills 

 

I just walked the area along Buena Vista, La Loma, Maybeck Twin, to see the Maybeck cottages and other buildings in the neighborhood. Seeing the buildings through the trees was always something rather difficult, but I was dismayed to see how intense the delusion among these select home owners has become, especially given the fire prone history of their neighborhood, and the recent history of epic, devastating firestorms in recent memory. Some of the houses were practically overgrown with shrubbery and trees, and one significant house in the Maybeck clan, right on the corner of Buena Vista and Maybeck Twin is engulfed in it's own private, non-native forest. 

If, or more responsibly, when, a fast moving fire strikes, that corner house won't stand a chance, but few of the others will have much hope, either. Are there no laws calling for a separation of foliage from dwellings within fire zones in Berkeley? If there are, what is going on? One Percent Prerogative? 

I'm well aware that property owners have their rights, and always try to skirt the attendant civic obligations that come with those rights, but these are not just big fancy homes of the One Percent: The cottages up there are historically and architecturally significant and represent the largest treasure trove of Maybeck's, anywhere. One fire like the one in 1923, or 1991, and this history will be erased, and for what, because a bunch of deluded home owners want to live in a make believe forest, a pretend english garden, all on the slopes of hills once covered by brush and all too often singed to bare earth by fire? 

Paul Tominac 

 


Yes, consider the source, Steven Donaldson is not "West Bezerkeley" 

 

Not to disappoint, but I'm NOT the person posting under the pseudonym "West Bezerkeley". Whether you were am English major or not you do need to get your facts straight before making accusations about folks, after all, that's what most reliable news sources do. 

However, I DO appreciate your reference to my 2005 commentary (http://bit.ly/LDFWdM) . Whether you like my "lubricious prose style" or not it's just as accurate today in 2012 as it was in 2005. For the most part West Berkeley has a disappearing to non existant manufacturing sector with underutilized and vacant warehousing and a declining manufacturing employment base (2010 census shows this). It's been seven long years and nothing has really changed in West Berkeley in terms of zoning or land use accept one very positive thing– the opening of the highly successful West Berkeley Bowl which was opposed by the same folks against the West Berkeley Plan. It's time to move forward with a plan that reflects the economic and employment realities of the 21st century. 

In the future, feel free to refer to me in writing anytime you want but please make sure it's me. I like the publicity after all in I'm in branding and marketing guy. 

Steven Donaldson 

:Editor's Note: In all honesty, I must admit that I made an incredibly stupid mistake tagging Steve as the author of an annoying anonymous post on berkeleyside.com, and at my age I should know better. Steve graciously accepted the letter of apology I sent him as soon as multiple people who knew the real author of the post told me emphatically that I'd gotten the wrong person. I published Steve's letter right away, but he also quite reasonably asked for a public apology, which he richly deserves, so here it is. At least when I do dumb things I do them openly, under my own name, so wiser folks can set me straight.


New: My Letter to City Hall: Help West Berkeley Grow with Citizen Input & Good Governance

By Adolpho Cabral, Rosa Parks neighborhood resident, West Berkeley-District 2
Tuesday June 12, 2012 - 11:07:00 AM

Dear Mayor Bates & City Council members,

Do not vote to accept this current West Berkeley Project re-zoning plan.West Berkeley residents, small businesses & neighborhoods need your help to provide fair & smart growth policy. 7,000 people live west of San Pablo Ave, and their quality of life will be compromised for the benefit of a few large developers. All of Berkeley will be adversely affected by your proposed Amendments allowing large-scale labs & office parks & condo complexes 75-100 feet high. What is proposed is far more intense development than Emeryville, with less protection for residents. All of West Berkeley is threatened, and land speculation is already happening. This is unacceptable.

What you are proposing will adversely impact West Berkeley for now & decades to come: 

  • Air & noise pollution will increase.
  • Residences, current businesses and Aquatic Park will be severely shadowed, and deprived of sunshine & solar energy potential.
  • increased traffic will magnify gridlock on all arterials in West Berkeley, and all east-west arterials to the I-80 Freeway & further strain our infrastructure.
  • New developments should not be exempt from providing current parking requirements.
  • Views to the bay will disappear throughout Berkeley, from as high up as the Rose Garden and Claremont Hotel.
  • Synthethic-bio & genetic modification labs with no local public oversight will not be safe nor "green" businesses but UC research plants.
  • Big developers & UC (tax free leases) will be the only ones to profit. Businesses, residents and the wildlife in West Berkeley will lose:
  • Loss of existing jobs and businesses & of the artisan & crafts communities in West Berkeley. -Loss of affordable rents for start-ups and real "green" businesses & opportunities for new local entrepreneurs.
  • Loss of bird habitat at Aquatic Park. The Sierra Club, The Audubon Society and Citizens for East Shore Parks have urged the adoption of sensible safeguards to protect wildlife and recreational use. The WB Project will not do this.
City Council should not to vote until or unless these following changes are made: 

  1. Allow for a 55 foot height limit, since the current height limit is 35-45 feet. -Allow a 35% increase in density keeping the current allowable density is 2 FAR.
  2. Mandate that all new buildings adhere to current parking requirements to provide parking facilities.
  3. Support Sierra Club, Citizens for Eastshore Parks, and Golden Gate Audubon Society’s recommendations for Aquatic Park protections.
  4. Support the positions of the Alameda County Building & Construction Trades Council, WeBAIC, & Berkeley Organizing Congregations For Action (BOCA) on defined Community Benefits determined jointly by the developer & community. The City has yet to proposed specific benefits leverage which are not enforceable in the proposed Amendments.
By the current actions of the last 5 or 6 public meetings, the City Council seems to be doing the work of the Planning Commission —your own records & actions reflect this. Is this legal or ethical in our charter-run government? I do hope that you believe in the same fair & inclusive democracy & legal political processes that make our city, our state & our country a great nation & a great people. 

Send this project back to The Planning Commission, back to the citizens for community input & due process. 

 

 

 


New: New England Law Student Urges Berkeley Council to Vote Against Anti-Sitting Ordinance--Vermont Would Never Do This

By Branden Cote
Monday June 11, 2012 - 09:09:00 PM

Dear Councilmembers: I am from New Hampshire and I am a third year law student at Vermont Law School. I am committed to serving low-income clients and I have travelled to Berkeley this summer to intern as a homeless advocate. I am writing to you today to urge you to vote no on Tuesday to keep the Mayor’s anti-sitting proposal off of the ballot.

The causes of homelessness are the same on each coast, and the resulting downward spiral is one which is hard to reverse. Nobody wishes for a mental or physical disability, aspires to develop a substance abuse problem, tries to get fired, or chooses to be alienated from their pillars of support. All of the homeless clients I have worked with both here and back in Vermont would much prefer the ability to be self-sufficient over the terrible reality and insecurity of being without basic human necessities. 

Individuals facing homelessness and poverty in the rural area I am from typically shy away from the public because of the shame they feel from their inability to resolve their unfortunate situations. Here in Berkeley, homelessness and poverty are out in the open for everyone to observe. The meager justifications I have heard for this anti-sit proposal are embarrassing. I admit that I have felt uncomfortable when approached by pan-handlers on the street. Seeing homeless people on the sidewalk makes us feel ashamed; we avert our gaze and pretend they are invisible. Our basic human instinct is to help one another, and when we see somebody who is clearly disabled, unable to feed themselves, and seemingly beyond help, we get angry. Why should we be bothered with their problems when it is so hard to make a difference? 

If this proposal gets on the ballot it would allow people to act upon this feeling of uneasiness. If we cannot see them on the sidewalk, then we will not be forced to face those uncomfortable feelings when we know we want to do something but feel powerless. This proposal would solve nothing. This pushes the problem away from downtown to the residential districts. Facing the city’s problems with compassion is the mature response. Pushing them aside is morally weak and places these unfortunate citizens on a lower plane of existence. If this measure were passed, I doubt I would be cited if I were caught sitting on the sidewalk in downtown Berkeley because of the way I dress and talk. The measure is fundamentally discriminatory. 

Allowing this proposal to go to the ballot would be shameful. This would never even be considered in the urban centers of Vermont because of the strong sense of community responsibility. Citizens who feel uncomfortable with the homeless need the guidance and support of city officials. Doing the right thing is not easy, and the problems of the homeless can be addressed with appropriate community leadership. 

Regards, Branden Cote


New: Proposed Anti-Sitting Initiative Would Violate Rights of Berkeley Citizens

By Mary Ann Uribe
Monday June 11, 2012 - 09:04:00 PM

My name is Mary Ann Uribe and I live in Berkeley . It has come to my attention the Council will be taking a vote this Tuesday, June 12, 2012 on whether to put the Mayor’s proposed anti-sit ordinance (aka Civil Sidewalk Ballot Measure) on the ballot for November, 2012. The ordinance will prohibit people in Berkeley from sitting on the sidewalk in all commercial zones. I urge the Berkeley City Council to vote NO on this proposal.

As a former attorney of over 30 years I can tell you this type of ordinances have been found by the courts to be unconstitutional as unfairly targeting and trying to criminalize the homeless, young people, seniors, the disabled and people in general. Civil rights law suits are expensive so why invite this type of litigation? This a public sidewalk and a City cannot regulate a public sidewalk in a manner that interferes with the constitutional right of travel of the American people or one that affects the poor, seniors, and the disabled disproportionately. 

Berkeley residents do not want to see their police officers give tickets out to young people or their children who come to our City, the place where the Free Speech Movement started. They do not want to see our young being harassed because they happen to sit down, are selling crafts or are playing music on the sidewalk. I have traveled all over the world and one of the things that makes a city draw tourists and money are the cities who have young artisans selling their wares, playing some music or singing a song on the sidewalks. 

Seniors and the disabled get tired and sometimes just have to sit down. Many of our veterans in the City are disabled having served their country and come back to the United States injured. This ordinance will disproportionately affect them. The homeless have enough to deal with in life and should not be harassed by the police just because they happen to put a duffel bag, back packs, etc. on a sidewalk. 

This is a waste of police resources. Recently there was a murder at Grizzly Peak in the hills of Berkeley of one of our residents as a result of a prowler. Police Chief Meehan decided to put all the city’s officers on duty watching a group of peaceful protesters walk up Telegraph rather than respond to this call. Did that murder not teach us that we want our police officers to take care of serious crimes and protect the people of Berkeley rather than giving out needless citations for uncollectible fines designed solely to harass Berkeley residents and tourists? 

It is my understanding the Mayor has stated we will promote the business of our business owners with this ordinance. Yet a similar ordinance in San Francisco has not led to economic recovery but rather economic deterioration. The reason for this is two fold: (1) this kind of ordinance will not bring in money where there is no money to be had in this economic recession. People are tightening their belts and not spending money. (2) Berkeley residents will resent these business owners who support and have pushed for this ordinance and will retaliate by refusing to do business in their establishments. Instead they will take what money they have out of town to a friendlier and more hospitable atmosphere. 

Having worked in People’s Park I know this kind of ordinance discriminates against our youth, the poor, seniors, veterans and the disabled. The mayor is being disingenuous when he says it will not criminalize the poor as more than 2 citations can lead to misdemeanor charges being filed. MISDEMEANOR CHARGES FOR SITTING ON A SIDEWALK? How ridiculous is that? 

Finally, it will cost $26,000 to put this measure on the November ballot. Why are we wasting $26,000 of city revenue to put a proposed ordinance on the ballot that will invite litigation, waste police resources to enforce, criminalize the most needy and vulnerable in our community, drive shoppers and residents out of Berkeley and not achieve its stated purpose? 

I urge the City Council to VOTE NO on this measure and not allow it to be placed on the ballot for November, 2012.


New: Berkeley City Council Reopens Master Use Permit (MUP) Public Hearing on Tuesday, Plans Vote On Modified MUP Proposals

From WEBAIC
Sunday June 10, 2012 - 10:31:00 PM


After new Master Use Permit provisions were put on the table at their last meeting, City Council voted to reopen the Master Use Permit Public Hearing on Tuesday, June 12th. The agenda states the intention to vote on the MUP on the 12th but it's unclear whether this will happen. Discussions continue between stakeholders and Council members and provisions continue to evolve into (hopefully) better versions. Whether improved provisions can be considered or must return to staff for another meeting is unclear at this point. What is clear is that public testimony will be taken, the Council will hold a discussion, and the presence of the public is as important as ever. West Berkeley is now the first item on the action agenda, but the extremely controversial proposal to put a prohibition against sidewalk sitting on the November ballot is also before Council Tuesday. A large crowd is also expected for this item and Council can switch agenda items. As we hear about scheduling we'll keep you posted. 


The Master Use Permit (MUP) Proposals – Simplified 


The last WEBAIC Newsletter contained a lot of technical MUP proposal information. The following is an attempt to describe them in plain language for the upcoming meeting:

• Community Benefits: Community Benefits are going back to the Planning Commission for a more thorough discussion that will include stakeholders not previously involved at that level, including the Alameda County Building & Construction Trades Council and Berkeley Organizing Congregations For Action (BOCA). These organizations and WEBAIC want more clearly defined benefits and public input on what benefits go where at the time of the initiation of an MUP permit. 

• MUP Development Standards • 


Master Use Permit sites can contain property in any West Berkeley industrial zones and appropriately, there are different proposed standards for what can take place on an MUP in these different zones.

MUP Development Standards for Commercial West Berkeley zone – C-W (San Pablo, Ashby, University):
There is no change proposed for development standards on C-W property that is part of an MUP.

A. Development Standards Applicable To Master Use Permit Property In Any Zone (Except C-W)
Parking Requirements: Staff is proposing full or partial reduction of off-street parking requirements for MUPs.

WEBAIC Comment: With West Berkeley’s industrial neighborhoods almost completely parked up it is irresponsible to propose full parking waivers for MUPs. Parking reduction is based on the laudable concept that people shouldn’t drive to work, but any reductions in required parking must be tied to methods proven in the real world. Part of the push for this provision is economic - the less parking required, the more buildable/leaseable square footage for developers. The goal should be environmental responsibility based on vision and common sense, not fantasy that can result in outcomes worse than existing conditions.

B. Development Standards For Master Use Permit Property In MULI, MM, & M Districts:

Height: The new MUP proposal for a 75’ height limit with an average of 50’ will allow over 50% of an MUP site to be 75’. This will create extreme land value differentials between MUPs and surrounding industrial properties, a factor acknowledged by the City to encourage the eventual displacement of industrial and artisan business. The shadowing from the combined mass of MUPs will negatively impact not only on residents and Aquatic Park, but the functioning of industrial and artisan businesses. The West Berkeley Project Environmental Impact Statement’s assertion that shadows have no effect on these businesses is ignorant, self-serving, and destructive of industrial/arts functionality, economic viability, and energy conservation efforts.

Setbacks: If a building in an MUP is across the street or abuts the backyard of Mixed Use Residential zone property that isn’t a part of the MUP, the building is required to be set back 5’ from the property line.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR): Existing = 2. Proposed = 3. FAR 3 means that on a 100,000 sq ft site 300,000 sq ft (or 3x) of building is permitted. This total is constrained by lot coverage and height limitations, setbacks, and open space requirements. It is important to note that parking structures are not counted in FAR. With a 75’ height limit, this would likely result in five floors of office being built on top of a two story parking structure, creating a large mass not reflected in the FAR limitations.

Lot Coverage & Open Space: Maximum lot coverage is proposed to be 75% with a minimum of 10% publicly accessible open space, not including surface parking.

D. Development Standards For Mixed Use Residential Zone (MUR) Property Contained In MUPs:

Height: The existing height limit in MUR is 35 feet. On the table is a proposal to raise this to 45' (Berkeley Bowl West is 40'). Residential projects would be eligible state density bonuses that would result in at least 55-60' heights.

Residential Density: The present 1 unit per 1250 sq ft standard is proposed to be changed to the C-W district standards governed by the state that only has a 160 square foot minimum per unit. An increase in residential on MUPs is worth considering but this proposal is extreme, particularly when combined with parking waivers.

Building Stepbacks: The MUR residents oppose heights above 35' in the MUR and WEBAIC supports their position. If heights above 35' in the MUR are ultimately approved, the proposal that they be stepped back at a 30 degree angle is positive.

E. Allowing Mixed Use Light Industrial Zone Uses In the Mixed Use Residential Zone On MUPs:

The proposal to continue the prohibition of construction products manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, testing and commercial biological research laboratories, and commercial excavation in the MUR is positive. R&D is now proposed to be allowed in the MUR. Strictly computer/office-based R&D poses no issues beyond that of already allowed offices. Non-office R&D uses should absolutely require a public hearing if locating in the MUR. MUR residents have a right to a public venue where the activities taking place and the substances being used in these facilities can be identified and commented on before location is approved.

F. Mixed Use Residential Zone Uses In The Mixed Use Light Industrial Zone On MUPs:

• Residential Uses: WEBAIC strongly supports the existing proposal that residential uses shall not be allowed in the industrial zoned portions of an MUP site where they’re not presently allowed.

G. Proposed New Master Use Permit Mitigation Measures:

Architectural Variation: Proposed language to promote “interesting visual character” is important and well intentioned. The will of adjudicating bodies at the time of permitting will determine the results of this language, a method with a questionable track record. The provision that “ No more than 25% of the area can be at a single height as part of a contiguous mass at that height.” doesn’t appear robust enough to accomplish it’s worthwhile goal.

Shadow Standard: The alternative shadow standard being considered – “A significant shadow is defined as one that blocks direct sunlight for more than two hours a day for more than two months of a year on any building or property that people would typically occupy” is an important improvement over the previously proposed standard – four hours a day for four months a year.

Solar Access: The new, proposed solar access standard states that MUP projects may not cast shadows that substantially impair the function of a building using passive solar heat collection, solar collectors for hot water heating, or photovoltaic solar collectors. This provision moves the MUP in the right direction on this issue.

Aquatic Park: The new proposals for setbacks and angled stepbacks for buildings are minor improvements but don't approach to the standards put forward by the Sierra Club, Citizens for East shore Parks, and Golden Gate Audubon Society for adequate Aquatic Park protections.
 

WEBAIC POSITIONS For 6/12 City Council Meeting  


• Support the MUP Provision Of No Housing In Industrial Zones
- Yes
To Keeping Mixed Use Light Industrial Zone (MULI) for “Makers & Recyclers”

• Support Robust and Defined Community Benefits As Put Forward By The
Alameda County Building & Construction Trades Council, WEBAIC, & Berkeley
Organizing Congregations For Action (BOCA)


• Support Maintaining Existing Heights On M aster Use Permit Sites

• Keep Mixed Use Residential Zone(MUR) Livable – No Expanded Heights, Public
Hearing for R&D in MUR.

- Preserve Livability, Minimize Shadowing, Maintain Solar Access, Maintain Views of Bay & Hills

• Aquatic Park: Support Sierra Club, Citizens for East shore Parks, and Golden
Gate Audubon Society Protections.


Updated: Tuesday's "No-Sit" Motion--
To the Berkeley City Council
Plus a Reply to Mayor Tom Bates' Response

By Beverly Slapin
Sunday June 10, 2012 - 11:03:00 AM

As you all know, these are terrible economic times for most of us. Some of us are a paycheck away from living on the streets, and many of us are not that fortunate.

As the actions of the federal government, along with state and city governments all over the country, tighten the noose around the necks of working and poor people, more and more of us are threatened with homelessness.

Homelessness is a tremendous problem, but the blame cannot and should not be laid at the feet of the poorest of the poor. The move to put an initiative on the November ballot to ban sitting on the sidewalks in commercial districts, such as downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue, clearly targets homeless people. If you pass this motion on Tuesday evening, such an initiative on the November ballot stands a good chance of passing, and poor people will be thrown into the abyss of a citation-warrant-jail-street system that saps their strength and wrecks their health. 

This Tuesday evening, you all have an opportunity to say “no” to this mean-spirited move. Don’t blame homeless people for homelessness. It’s not right and it’s not fair. Please VOTE NO. Thank you. 


 

And a response to Mayor Bates' response...

Dear Mayor Bates-- 

Thank you for responding to my concerns. 

One of the things that makes Berkeley different from many other cities is the amazing diversity of its population: those who live here, those who work here, those who study here, those who visit here, and those passing through. In the more than 30 years that I have walked Telegraph Avenue and Downtown Berkeley, I have never once encountered what you call "difficult street behavior." I have only encountered a mixture of people--young, adult and elderly--who have few, if any, choices. And yes, some of them have mental and/or emotional disabilities. But as a "natural next step to address a complicated issue," as you call it, do you really want to criminalize the poor? Do you want to punish people who have more difficulties than you could imagine? Do you want to build a new jail? 

If the "Civil Sidewalks" measure is placed on the November 2012 ballot, this is what will happen: The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the Landlords Association will mount an expensive media and mailing campaign, couched in the kind of doublespeak they do so well, to "allow the citizens of Berkeley to decide." And the impoverished citizens of Berkeley, who, of course, do not have access to the kind of funds necessary to run such a campaign, will suffer even more than the are suffering now. Is this really what you want? Which side are you on? 

As you and the City Council deliberate tomorrow, the very least you could do is change the name of the proposed ballot measure from "Civil Sidewalks" to "Criminalization of Poverty." At least, that would be honest.


Anti-Homeless Groundhog Day

By Osha Neumann
Thursday June 07, 2012 - 04:52:00 PM

A young man is asleep in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk next to the curb on Shattuck Avenue. It's past midnight. The sidewalk is deserted except for a few other young people who are sleeping nearby. A Berkeley police officer drives up and gets out of his car. He goes over to the sleeping man, who looks even younger than his 22 years, and shines a flashlight in his eyes. The man stirs, rolls over onto his stomach, but doesn't wake up. The police officer grabs him--still in the sleeping bag-- and dumps him into the street. The officer then drags the man out of the sleeping bag, throws him up against the police car, and slams his head down on the hood. He keeps the man's head pressed against the hood until he's finished calling dispatch. Then the officer gives the man a ticket for lying on the sidewalk in a commercial zone. The ordinance for which the man is cited only applies between 7 AM and 10 PM on weekdays and requires the officer to give a warning. The man has committed no crime. Except that he's homeless in Berkeley, and likes to sleep in proximity to his friends.

If they sleep on the sidewalk they are given citations for lying down. If they try and make themselves inconspicuous, bedding down at night at the foot of the stairs leading to the library on Kittredge, they're cited for trespassing. They are told to go to Telegraph Avenue or up into the hills. They ask – where can we legally sleep? And no one has an answer. They want to stay together because they are more vulnerable if they are separate, but in a large group they draw attention. Some of them have dogs and some are in couples. The shelters will not take them, and in any case they're mostly young, and in no mood to be regimented.

And yes, these days they sit on the sidewalk on Shattuck, next to the library, mostly minding their own business. They would sit on the benches of "Constitution Square," the wide inviting plaza next to the downtown Berkeley BART station, but they've been run out of there. BART has conspicuously posted a sign warning loitering and begging are prohibited. Begging and loitering are not crimes.

Neither is sitting on the sidewalk, although that would change if Mayor Bates and the commercial real estate interests backing him have their way. The Mayor's put on the Berkeley City Council agenda for its June 12 meeting a recommendation to direct the city attorney to draft a "Civil Sidewalks Ballot Measure" prohibiting sitting on the sidewalk between 7 AM and 10 PM. He wants the measure back from the city attorney by the Council's June 26 meeting so it can go on the ballot in November. 

It's like anti-homeless Groundhog Day. We've been here. We've done that. Over and over again. In 1994 Berkeley voters passed Measure O, after a bitter and divisive fight. One of its provisions banned sitting or lying on the sidewalk. The ACLU promptly sued, but before the suit could be finally resolved a new City Council was voted in and repealed the sit/lie ban. In 2007, the Council passed Mayor Bates's Public Commons for Everyone Initiative. The Berkeley Chamber Of Commerce wanted it to include a ban on sitting on the sidewalk. They settled for the ordinance against lying on the sidewalk for which the young man in the sleeping bag was cited. Last year the commercial real estate interests again floated the idea of a ban on sitting, encouraged by the passage in San Francisco of a sit/lie ban. Four city commissions and the ASUC Senate came out strongly against and the idea died. Or so we thought. 

It's all so dreary and inevitable. By this time we could all sleepwalk through the debate. I'll talk about the young man torn from the sleeping bag in the middle of the night. I'll talk about the other young man kicked awake by a "hospitality ambassador" hired by the Berkeley Downtown Business Association. I'll talk about the reality of homeless people's lives, the lack of alternatives and ask for compassion and empathy. The next speaker at the microphone will deride me as a bleeding heart throwback to the 60s. "Empathy shmempathy," the person will huff. "What about Aunt Louise, new to town, invited to take in a movie at the Shattuck Cinema who comes out to see her Prius peed upon by some drunken derelict. What about Cousin Dave, who was thinking of applying to Cal until a particularly obnoxious and aggressive panhandler wouldn't take no for an answer and followed after him shouting obscenities." Let's have some empathy for them. Of course neither the perpetrators of the unpleasantness to which cousin and aunt were subjected was sitting on the sidewalk, and both of the perps were doing something that's already illegal. No matter. They will be invoked. We will be told how hard it is for business these days. If we could just prevent them from sitting, oh what a wonderful city we would have. Nevermind that there are gazillions of factors responsible for the difficulties businesses are experiencing in Berkeley, all of which will still be there if we succeed in sweeping every last homeless person off the sidewalk and out of town. 

So why do we have to keep going through this brutal charade? The answer is we don't. The City Council could put an end to it at its June 12 meeting. Enough already. All the drama, all the divisiveness, all the time and energy wasted that could be spent on figuring out real solutions to revitalize the commercial centers of our community. What a waste! It's past time to escape from anti-homeless Groundhog Day 

Stand up for the right to sit down! 

 

 

 


Letter to the Berkeley City Council:
Anti-Sitting Ordinance Would Be a Calamity for Political Freedom

By Jack Jackson, J.D., M.A.
Friday June 08, 2012 - 07:54:00 PM

Honorable City Council Members:

My name is Jack Jackson. I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. I also serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the Homeless Action Center. The advocates at the Homeless Action Center can speak to the counterproductive consequences of the proposed "sit/lie" ordinance for the displaced and dispossessed in Berkeley. I write to ask you to consider the broader political implications of this vote.

The proposed ordinance is quite simply a calamity for political freedom. That sounds hyperbolic, but these ordinances strike at the very heart of a democratic culture: economic activity is valued above all political value; the right of assembly is devalued to a hyper~regulated nothing; the promise of equal protection is made a mockery; and the police are, yet again, empowered and deployed against fundamentally non~criminal behavior. 

The most distressing quality of these ordinances is the open secret at the heart of them: they will not be applied equally. It is well understood that the acts that are prohibited will be applied selectively. Only those who do not pass as affluent shoppers will be cited. Others will not. Accepting inequality as the spirit of the law abandons the underlying principles and promises of our laws as embedded in the 14th Amendment. Of course, it might be possible to draft a law that circumvents that promise. The courts might even wink and nod at the surface level formalisms of the ordinance. But it is my sincere hope that you, by contrast, will value the promise of equal protection of the law enough to vote "no" on June 12th. 

We need not choose between supporting local merchants and protecting political freedom. We can do both. I worry that a ballot initiative will only sacrifice the latter and offer absolutely nothing to the former. Surely we can find solutions that amount to something better than that. 

Sincerely,


Open Letter to Berkeley Council Re Anti-Sit Proposal

By Patricia E. Wall, Executive Director, Homeless Action Center
Thursday June 07, 2012 - 04:42:00 PM

Honorable City Council Members,

I am writing to urge you to vote no on the Mayor's proposal to put an anti-sit proposal on the November ballot at your Tuesday June 12th Council meeting. I have been working with homeless people in Berkeley since 1995. Citations and subsequent arrests for warrants for failure to appear on citations impede our work with homeless people. People with active warrants are not eligible for public benefits like food stamps, General Assistance, or Social Security. We spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy helping people access these resources, and they can be wiped out with a single citation for sleeping in public, for having no bicycle license, for having more than a two-dog aggregation on Telegraph, or any of the other many things our clients get cited for. 


I fear that if this measure makes it on the ballot in November and is passed that we in the legal services world will spend valuable time un-doing the harm of multiple citations rather than actually helping people become eligible for all of the benefits to which they're entitled. The criminalization of homeless people doesn't end homelessness, doesn't advance the City's own plan to end homelessness, conflicts with the United State Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recommendations, and distracts all of us from the evidenced-based best practices to end homelessness. The USICH Report states explicitly, "These measures punish people who currently live on the street and do nothing to reduce the factors contributing to homelessness. Rather than helping people to regain housing, obtain employment, or access needed treatment and services, criminalization creates a costly revolving door that circulates individuals experiencing homelessness from the street to the criminal justice system and back." (Searching Out Solutions, Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, April 9, 2012 Report, at p.8. Find the report here: http://www.usich.gov/media_center/news/new_report_offers_constructive_alternatives_to_the_criminalization_of_homel/)

Please vote NO on Tuesday and keep this divisive, short-sighted measure off the ballot.


Columns

THE PUBLIC EYE: The Facebook Debacle

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 08, 2012 - 09:56:00 AM

On May 17th, Facebook had its long anticipated Initial Public Offering (IPO). It sold shares at $38 each, giving it a market valuation of $104 billion. For an instant, Facebook was the 23rd most valuable company in the US. The ensuing debacle serves as a metaphor for the US in general.

Facebook is an eight-year-old social networking service that has over 900 million users worldwide. It’s a convenient way to maintain contact with family and friends – for example, to post photos of your new relationship or grandchild or pet.

There’s nothing wrong with Facebook selling stock in order to raise money and compensate its employees and investors. It’s the dream of every entrepreneur to start a company that one day becomes successful, has an IPO, and makes its founders wealthy. It’s the nature of the free market.

But in this case there was a serious problem with the valuation of Facebook stock. On May 17th Bloomberg Financial Services reported that at $38 per share, Facebook would be “the largest company to go public in the U.S. by market capitalization… Facebook's valuation is worth the combined market capitalizations of News Corp., Time Warner Inc. and CBS Corp.” At its offering price, Facebook was worth more than: Amazon, McDonald’s, Cisco, Comcast, Visa, and Citigroup, among others. On May 17th Facebook ranked in the top 10 of technology companies; Facebook was worth roughly half of Google, the company it is most often compared to.

Then the bubble burst. As soon as Facebook shares (ticker symbol FB) were available to the public, the price began to drop. As of this writing, the stock price is $26.31 and the market value is $56.25 billion. 

The Facebook Corporation, and those employees and investors who sold FB stock on May 17th, got a good deal at $38 per share. So did the IPO underwriters, who received a fat commission. But little investors – those who were hoping that Facebook would quickly become another Google – got burned. 

The stock market and most Americans have been in a funk because of the lethargic US economy, characterized by persistent high unemployment, and the financial crisis in Europe. Financial analysts had hoped that the Facebook IPO – a highly visible, much anticipated event – would cheer up Americans and rekindle their interest in the stock market. Instead it contributed to the economic malaise and reconfirmed some of our worst fears about the financial community. 

Why did the Facebook stock price fall? Writing for CNN Money, Julianne Pepitone had three explanations. First, on the morning of May 18th – when Facebook opened public trading on NASDAQ – there was an unprecedented trading glitch, “that left investors unsure about how many shares they bought or sold, and at what price.” Second, on May 24th a lawsuit was filed, “alleging that important information about Facebook's financial outlook was ‘selectively disclosed’ to big banks ahead of the IPO.” Reuters reported that four major Facebook IPO underwriters – Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Bank of America – “received privileged information about Facebook's financials -- information that wasn't shared with regular folks… the lawsuit alleges that Facebook told analysts at its underwriters "to materially lower their revenue forecasts for 2012." Finally, Pepitone noted that Facebook’s IPO price, $38, gave it a valuation that many analysts felt was “remarkably high given Facebook’s financial fundamentals.” 

Writing in the NEW YORK TIMES, Nathaniel Popper observed that the Facebook debacle reinforced American sentiment to get out of the stock market. “The portion of Americans invested in the stock market dropped this year to its lowest level since Gallup started asking, every two years, in 1998.” Popper interviewed a Madera dairy farmer who said, “watching the Facebook offering had confirmed all the fears and suspicions that led him earlier this year to take out the savings, in the five figures, that he and his wife had invested in stocks and stock mutual funds and move the money into real estate investments. – ‘We’ve lost trust in the whole scenario.’’ 

Eight years ago Americans trusted the financial community. That was one of the factors that spurred George W. Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security. Now that trust has evaporated. 

The Facebook IPO reinforces the widespread perception that the people who run Wall Street can’t be trusted. In October a CNN/ORC Poll asked, “Overall, how much do you trust Wall Street bankers and brokers to do what is best for the economy: a great deal, somewhat, a little, or not at all?" 54 percent responded, “not at all.” Polls like this, and Occupy Wall Street, indicate that most Americans feel that the nation’s financial system has been tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. 

There will be many possible themes for the 2012 Presidential election – jobs, women’s rights, and religious tolerance, among others. But a central theme should be “who do you trust to clean up Wall Street?” President Obama has enacted modest reforms to police Wall Street. Mitt Romney wants to repeal them. 

The Facebook debacle indicates that there is more work to be done before Americans can return to the stock market and trust that the financial community operates in the best interests of all the people, not just the one percent. 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net


ECLECTIC RANT: Bananas Over Fair Trade

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday June 08, 2012 - 10:41:00 AM

The main goal of Fair Trade is to ensure that producers — usually located in underdeveloped countries — treat their workers well and pay them a fair price for their labor, which in turn helps the workers to improve their lives. For consumers, it’s a simple way to choose products, knowing that those who grew or made the products were treated fairly and paid a fair price for their labor. When a product carries a Fair Trade label it means the producers and traders have met standards of the certifying organization. Farmers are audited annually. Thus, sellers agreeing to sell Fair Trade products and consumers buying these products are relying on the integrity and diligence of the certifying organization. And how much extra will a consumer be willing to pay for a Fair Trade certified product—5 percent, 10 percent? 

When a product carries a Fair Trade label it means the producers and traders have met standards of the certifying organization. The standards are designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships. Most products have a Fair Trade price, which is the minimum that must be paid to the producers. The minimum price ensures that producers can cover their average costs of production and acts as a safety net for farmers at times when world markets fall below a sustainable level. Without this, farmers are completely at the mercy of the market. When the market price is higher than the Fair Trade minimum, the buyer must pay the higher price. Producers and traders can also negotiate higher prices on the basis of quality and other attributes. 

In addition to the Fair Trade price, there is an additional sum of money paid, called the Fair Trade Premium. This money goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. The Premium is invested in education and healthcare, farm improvements. Since many projects funded by the Premium are communal, the broader community, outside the producer organization often benefits from Fair Trade. 

FINE was created in 1998; it is an informal association of the four main fair trade networks: the four members — Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Network of European Worldshops (now part of WFTO), and European Fair Trade Association (EFTA). In 2001, FINE agreed to the following definition: “fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers — especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.” 

In 1998, Fair Trade USA began in Oakland, California, and is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. Fair Trade USA audits and certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and uplift their communities. Fair Trade USA recently broke from FLO. Apparently, a major element of the split may be that Fair Trade USA is now certifying large-scale plantations, while FLO remains committed to only certifying small-scale farms. 

Coffee was the first product to be certified by Fair Trade USA and that's probably why Americans tend to associate the Fair Trade label with coffee. According to Fair Trade USA, coffee imports have increased from 78,000 pounds certified in 1998 to 108 million pounds certified in 2010. Fair Trade standards also exist for other products such as tea, fresh fruits, nuts, flowers and plants, cotton, and even balls used in sports, which are often handstitched. 

Bananas are the most consumed fresh fruit in the U.S., and represents 50 percent of all U.S. fresh fruit imports, a large portion of which are produced in Latin America. The 27 Fair Trade producers supplying bananas to the U.S. market are located in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Perú and in the northwestern Urabá region of Colombia. According to Fair Trade USA’s Product Impact Report , imports of Fair Trade bananas almost doubled from 2008 to 2009, reaching 49 million pounds. 

In "One Cup At A Time: Poverty Alleviation and Fair Trade in Latin America," a Fair Trade Research Group at Colorado State University () posed the following questions: What are the real benefits of the Fair Trade movement? Can the benefits of Fair Trade be sustained over time? Can Fair Trade grow to include more farmers and communities throughout the developing world? Can Fair Trade be expanded to encompass not only poor farmers, but also other sectors connecting Southern producers and Northern consumers? 

There are praiseworthy and less-than-praiseworthy assessments of Fair Trade. Clearly, Fair Trade cannot solve the problems of poverty, but Fair Trade has had a positive impact on the well-being of producers who joined the Fair Trade movement. But the jury is still out on the future of the Fair Trade movement.


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Teaching Persons with Mental Illness How to Survive

By Jack Bragen
Friday June 08, 2012 - 11:50:00 AM

My father died recently and didn't leave a mess behind for others to clean up. He was caring and considerate of others for the entire 47 years that I knew him. He worked most of his life, supported his family, and was a jokester and a mensch. His death was a shock, and it came far too soon. The kindness and the caring he radiated will be sorely missed. 

In the five or ten years preceding this event, he began to scale back the material assistance offered to his offspring, encouraging us to become self-sufficient. My mother is presently encouraging the same self-sufficiency. My parents were aware that they wouldn't be around forever and wanted to prepare their kids for their future. The neediness of her mentally ill offspring includes an emotional level. We might be taking care of ourselves to begin with, but despite this, losing a parent involves a certain amount of fear. 

If you give a person a fish, they are fed one time. If you teach them how to catch their own fish, they are fed for a lifetime. You are not doing your mentally ill offspring a favor when you provide for all their needs and don't ask anything of them. When a person with mental illness reaches the point of being stabilized, more should eventually be asked of them. Parents owe it to their kids to help them learn how to survive. However, in the case of a disabled person, it must be done gently, cautiously and gradually. If a person with mental illness is to become self sufficient despite being disabled as well as vulnerable to psychiatric relapses, they must learn to manage their vulnerabilities while they are doing what is needed to survive. 

When someone with mental illness is dependent on parents for too many of their needs, and then the parents pass away, the result could be institutionalization. To avoid this, the disabled offspring in a family must learn to rely on each other and on themselves. In nature, a baby bird is kicked out of the nest at some point, and they can either fly or they can't. In the case of human beings, never kicking them out of the nest might seem like helping them, but they may never develop the ability to live on their own. 

These are all generalizations and I am not saying this is the only way possible to do things. If someone is not able to provide for their self, institutionalization might be the way to go. In such a case, finding the best one could be done in advance. Funding is limited in counties. However, many persons with mental illness can live with a fair degree of independence, and can benefit from having a case manager. 

In short, preparing mentally ill offspring for the day when the parents become disabled themselves, or become deceased, should be done by the parent. This can be done by weaning the offspring from various types of assistance. 

For more ideas on this subject, contact your local chapter of NAMI.


SENIOR POWER: Elder Abuse 2012

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday June 07, 2012 - 05:30:00 PM

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is Friday, June 15. It’s quite possible, even likely, that it will come and go with little local recognition.

Every five seconds, an elderly person is abused. In 2011, California accounted for 10.6% of elder abuse cases in the United States. Five of California’s 58 counties account for over half of all elder abuse cases. ((Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and Santa Clara) Alameda County’s 233,823 elderly accounted for 25,827 abuse cases. California's elderly population will have doubled by 2025, to 6.4 million -- a larger growth rate than any other state. 

Just as abuse of children and abuse of wives have received attention, elder abuse has become a term used to spotlight this group of persons who are unable to defend or fend for themselves, positioned by society so that they lack power to control their lives. Definitions vary but do not differ substantially. Elder abuse can be defined as the physical or psychological mistreatment of a senior. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse as “… a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.” 

Sam Houston State University’s Victoria Titterington investigated the nature and scope of crime impacting the elderly, defined as persons age 65+ and currently representing 12% of the national population. While the elderly are a minority of crime victims, they are at higher risk for property crimes, self-neglect and abuse. Female seniors are at greater risk for abuse than older men. 

Financial swindles are one of the fastest growing forms of abuse, according to National Center for Elder Abuse 2009 statistics. Most insidious among cases of defrauding senior citizens are the “affinity crimes” -- scammers committing crimes against those who share the same culture and language. 

The elderly also suffer more self-neglect. These particular victims are generally depressed, confused or extremely frail. The Elder Justice Act was passed in 2010, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is designed to address many of the weaknesses in current federal and state programs dealing with the abuse, neglect and exploitation of older people. 

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What constitutes elder abuse legally varies. However, elder abuse crimes typically occur within 4 categories: 

Physical abuse, including assaults, batteries, sexual assaults, false imprisonment and endangerment. Some examples are inadequately explained fractures, bruises, welts, cuts, sores, burns; pressure or “bed sores” (decubitis ulcers); and medications used to restrain victims. 

Physical neglect by a caregiver, including withholding medical services, or hygiene that exposes the elderly person to risk of serious harm. Some examples are lack of basic body or personal hygiene; lack of adequate food or water; lack of medical aids (glasses, walker, wheel chair, hearing aid, dentures, medications;) lack of clean appropriate clothing or linens; demented victim left alone and unsupervised; bed-bound victim left without proper care; home cluttered, filthy, in a state of disrepair or having health, fire and safety hazards; home lacking minimum equipment and facilities (stove, refrigerator, heat, cooling, working plumbing and electricity). 

Psychological (mental) abuse, including making threats or the infliction of emotional harm. For example, caretaker isolates victim—restricts visits, phone calls (unwilling to allow you to enter the home or speak to victim); caretaker is violent, aggressive, controlling, addicted or uncaring. 

Financial (fiduciary) abuse, including theft of such personal items as cash, investments, real property, jewelry. Some examples are lack of amenities that victim could afford; victim “voluntarily” giving inappropriate financial reimbursement for needed care and companionship; caretaker having control of victim’s money but failing to provide for victim’s needs; caretaker using victim’s financial resources for own needs; victim has signed property transfers, Power of Attorney, new will, etc. when unable to comprehend the transaction. 

California law requires some persons to report adult abuse. These mandated reporters are health care practitioners, clergy, care providers, law enforcement, financial institutions officers and employees, medical examiners. Any person who has assumed responsibility for care of an elder or dependent adult must report known or suspected abuse, by telephone 510-577-3500, immediately or as soon as practicably possible. A written report is sent within 2 working days on the Report of Suspected Elder or Dependent Abuse, form SOC 341, available for download from the California Department of Social Services web site

Mail the report to: Alameda County Department of Social Services, Adult Protective Services, 6955 Foothill Boulevard, Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94605, or fax it to 510-577-5615.  

Possibly so few cases are reported because 75% or more of all elder abuse is committed by a relative, either in the elder's own home or in the abuser's home. 

Without a cooperative victim, action is difficult. Even if legal action is taken, built-in problems hamper the odds of success: 

  • difficulty of proving the case
  • attorney cost
  • slim possibility of actually collecting damages or recouping exploited money from the perpetrator
  • slow pace of the judicial system
  • lack of knowledge about elder abuse among lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and judges.
At PublicLegalForms.com you can get/copy the California Uniform Statutory Form Power of Attorney form. Louisiana is the only U.S. state that has not adopted the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. 

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Nursing homes are potential loci of abuse of old people. A nursing home is a residential facility for persons with chronic illness or disability, particularly older people who have mobility and eating problems. It has been defined as a facility with 3+ beds that is licensed by the state and usually certified for federal reimbursement as a Medicaid (in California, known as Med-I-Cal) and/or skilled Medicare nursing facility. 

The California State Department of Finance claims that the number of California residents age 85+ -- those who are most likely to need nursing homes --- will nearly double by the year 2030, when many baby boomers come of age. 

If you have been a patient in a hospital or nursing/rehabilitation establishment, you have likely overheard “pseudomonas” and or “MRSA.” Bacteriology textbooks describe Pseudomonas aeruginosa as the epitome of an opportunistic pathogen of humans, meaning that it exploits some break in the host’s defenses to initiate an infection. It causes urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in patients who are immunosuppressed. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is a “staph” germ that does not get better with the first-line antibiotics that usually cure staph infections. MRSA is especially troublesome in hospitals, dialysis centers, long-term care facilities and nursing homes, where patients with open wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection than the general public. 

NYU professor Laura Wagner, Ph.D., R.N.’s study found that accreditation improves the safety culture at nursing homes. Surprise, surprise. “Accreditation” refers to granting approval to an institution by an official review board after meeting specific requirements, which may be quantitative and qualitative. It may be geographic (regional) or professional. For example, “Hokum University lost its regional accreditation about the same time that its Dental School lost its professional accreditation.” 

One in four California nursing home residents receive powerful antipsychotic medications despite FDA "Black Box" warnings that they are dangerous and even fatal for the elderly with dementia and are outperformed by less expensive and more humane dementia care options. Moreover, the drugs are often administered without consent in order to "chemically restrain" residents. Overdrugging costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars nationally because more than half of these prescriptions do not comply with federal reimbursement criteria. Medicare is attempting to curb overuse of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, with a goal of cutting unneeded antipsychotic drugs for the elderly by 15% this year. 

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that nursing homes be certified before receiving reimbursement for Medicare and/or Medicaid residents. At Medicare.gov one can find and compare nursing homes in several ways. A 5 ***** star rating system considers health inspections, nursing home staffing, and quality measures. Of 6 nursing homes located in Berkeley, California, none has received a 5 star overall rating. One is nonprofit; it participates in Medicaid and Medicare. (This time last year, I reported that, of 5 nursing homes located in Berkeley, one received a 5 star overall rating, a nonprofit participant in Medicaid.) 

While nursing homes are the place where an estimated 30% of Americans die, there currently exists no way to compare which institutions do a better job managing end of life care. A new study appearing in the April 2012 Journal of Palliative Medicine emphasizes need to create end of life quality measures. By 2020, the percentage of people who die in nursing homes will grow to 40%. While there is an explosion of health care ‘report cards,’ none can identify which nursing homes are better at providing end of life care. The CMS information is compiled from staffing levels, inspection results, and measures of the quality of care – such as pressure sores, infections, and incontinence – for more than 16,000 nursing homes. (Data are published on the CMS Nursing Home Compare website.) While this information allows consumers to compare the performance of nursing homes for a number of aspects of care, it does not indicate how well or how poorly a facility provides end of life care

A few examples of suggested measures of the quality of end of life care in nursing homes include the number of hospital transfers, use of hospice, pain management and shortness of breath, etc. ["Study Recommends Ways to Evaluate End of Life Care in Nursing Homes." (University of Rochester [New York] Medical Center news.) 

Everyone should report all observed, known or suspected abuse. If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, telephone the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116. The local agency number is 510-577-3530. In Alameda County, California, call 510-577-3500. The Abuse Hotline number is 866-225-5277. Online: http://alamedasocialservices.org.  

To report suspected elder mistreatment in long-term care facilities, call the ombudsman crisis line 1-800-231-4024. 

In Alameda County, contact Adult Protective Services of the Department of Adult and Aging Services, call 24 hours a day (510) 577-3500 or toll free (866) 225-5277 (866.CALL-APS). Referrals are confidential. 

In Contra Costa County, call (925) 957-2200 or (925) 646-2854 or the Elder Abuse Hotline (866) 353-3765; or email Jun Fernandez, the current Elder Prosecutor: JFernandez@contracostada.org at the District Attorney’s office. 

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An invitation. Candidates for election are welcome to share statements of their accomplishments and plans vis a vis senior citizens and elders. Please email them to me at pen136@dslextreme.com.  

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MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com.  

Until June 30. Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Friday, Noon - 5:30pm; Saturday, Noon - 4:30 P.M. Kala Gallery, 2990 San Pablo Avenue: Visions from the New California. The Visions from the New California award is an initiative of the Alliance of Artists Communities and is supported by the James Irvine Foundation. Each year the awards program celebrates six outstanding California visual artists from diverse communities. The awardees are artists whose work may as yet be unfamiliar to a wide audience, but whose compelling visions help define California. Free. 510-841-7000. 

Until August 31. Environmental Education Center in Tilden Regional Park. North End Central Park Drive. Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 A.M.-4:30 P.M. Tilden Exhibit Celebrates Conservation Successes. Art exhibit celebrating the successes of conservation in the region, state and nationally. Show features works by 60 artists portraying plants and animals no longer listed as endangered species due to conservation efforts. The exhibit calls attention to the successful strategies of land managers, volunteers and rangers throughout the state and local parks. Includes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, including pastels, watercolors and oil paintings, as well as carved sculptures and mixed-media creations. Some of the featured species include the brown pelican, the tiger salamander, the salt marsh harvest mouse, and tule elk. Exhibit sponsors include the East Bay Regional Park District and the Merritt College Environmental Management and Technology Dept. Free. www.ebparks.org 

Until Sept. 2. Berkeley Arts Festival Gallery presents a new exhibition of the work of creative visual artists. Robert Brokl, paintings/prints. Mark Bulwinkle, painted steel screens. Art Hazelwood, linocuts. Roberta Loach, prints. Mari Marks, encaustic paintings 2133 University Av. Free. 510-644-6893. www.berkeleyartcenter.org 


Until Sept. 29. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4 P.M. Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, Bay Area dancer, dance historian and author of Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965, will discuss the history of East Bay performers, choreographers and pioneers of today’s dance community. The exhibit explores dance in the East Bay and includes a video by Margaretta Mitchell, an interview with Frank Shawl, and archival footage of Hanya Holm. Jeanine Castello-Lin and Tonya Staros, Co-Curators. Wheelchair accessible. Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center St. Free. 510-848-0181 

Wednesday, June 6. Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. Kittredge at Shattuck. Free. 510-981-6100. 

Fridays, June 8 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 8: Waiting for Guffman. Free. 510-981-6241. Also, June 15, 22, 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27. 

Saturday, June 9. 2 P.M. Artist's Reception. Central Berkeley Public Library. Berkeley-based photographer Michael Layefsky will discuss his aerial photographs during a free artist’s reception. 510-981-6100. 

Saturday, June 9. 2-4 P.M. Meet Dora Sorell, Holocaust survivor, author of Tell the children. North branch Library, 1170 The Alameda, Berkeley. 510-981-6250. 

Sunday, June 10. 2 P.M. Blue Suede Jews. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Local rock historian Richie Unterberger presents lecture/footage of Jewish musicians in the golden age of rock roll, including Bob Dylan, Carole King and many more. 510-981-6100. 

Tuesday, June 12. 1-3:30 P.M. Gay Pride Celebration. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK. 510-981-5190. 

Tuesday, June 12. 7-8 P.M. Social Security and Retirement Planning. A seminar on Social Security and Retirement Planning sponsored by West Coast Financial Wealth Management will be held at the Rockridge Branch Library. This is a Free Event. (The Library and the City of Oakland do not endorse products or speakers). Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave. 510-597-5017. 

Wednesday, June 13. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. 

2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100. 

Thursday, June 14. 8:45 P.M. Cafe Literario. West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Av. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. June title: Margarita, Está Linda la Mar by Sergio Ramirez. 510-981-6270. 

Fridays, June 15 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 15: Little Miss Sunshine. Free. 510-981-6241. Also June 22, 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27. 

Saturday, June 16. 5 P.M. Claremont branch, Berkeley Public library, 2940 Benvenue Av. Melanie O’Reilly will perform original music inspired by Joyce’s writings. 510-981-6280. 

Saturday, June 16. 1-5 P.M. California Writers' Club. A workshop open to all writers. At Rockridge Branch Library, Oakland. 5366 College Ave. Anne Fox, 510-420-8775. 510-597-5017 

Monday, June 18. 7 P.M. Art historian Michael Stehr will discuss Gian Lorenz Bernini, the Michelangelo of the Baroque. He will also present a slide show. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, June 20. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. 

2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 20. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging meeting. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5178. Be sure to confirm. 

Fridays, June 22 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 22: The Gods Must be Crazy. Free. 510-981-6241. Also June 29 and July 6, 13, 20, 27. 

Friday, June 22. 1-4 P.M. 2012 Dragon Festival Celebration. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 

Saturday, June 23. 2 – 3:30 P.M. Strength in Diversity: The Poetry of Ecology. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Award winning poets Adam David Miller and Kim Shuck, headline a free multicultural and multigenerational poetry reading by six poets. The program is presented jointly by the Ecology Center and the Berkeley Public Library in the 3rd floor Community Meeting Room of the Berkeley Public Library, Central Branch. 510-981-6100. 

Monday June 25. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 

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

Wednesday, June 27. 12 Noon-1 P.M. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Public Library. 

2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, June 27. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, June 27. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 

Thursday, June 28. 7 P.M. Balinese Dance Performance. The Gamelan Sekar Jaya will give a performance of Balinese dances. The dancers will present pieces that give a taste of the wide range of characters, movements, and moods of this unique dance form. Steeped in the rich culture and traditions of Bali, Indonesia, the audience will have the opportunity to meet the performers and understand the magic of this style of dance. Free 45 minute program provided by the Contra Costa County Library Summer Reading Festival. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. 510-526-7512. 

Fridays, June 29 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. June: Satirical Cinema. June 29: Thank You For Smoking. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 6, 13, 20, 27. 

Fridays, July 6 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 6: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 13, 20, 27. 

Sunday, July 8. 1 – 4:30 P.M. The 2012 Berkeley Rent Board Convention will be held in the main meeting room of the downtown, central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge, corner of Shattuck. A slate of candidates for the November 2012 election will be chosen. Contact: www.berkeleyrentboard.org 510-981-6100. 

Monday, July 9. 7 P.M. Author Talk and Slide Show. Author and naturalist Laura Cunningham will discuss her book A State of Change: forgotten landscapes of California. Ms. Cunningham has not only written the text but has also lavishly illustrated this lovely book. She has written and painted a picture of what California was like before European contact. Free. 510-524-3043 

Wednesday, July 11 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also August 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. 

Fridays, July 13 – July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 13: All About Eve. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 20, 27. 

Fridays, July 20– July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 20: Monkey Business. Free. 510-981-6241. Also July 27. 

Friday July 27. 3 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Super Cinema. Explore a different theme or genre in film each month. July: Our Weeks With Marilyn. July 27: The Seven Year Itch. Free. 510-981-6241. 

Wednesday, August 1. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Sept. 5, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. 

Wednesday, August 22. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Selections from The Bhagavad Gita. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Sept. 5. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. 

Wednesday, Sept. 26. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Oct. 3. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Also Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. 

Wednesday, October 24. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Troth, by Gregor von Rezzon. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Nov 7. July 11 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. Also Dec. 5. 

Wednesday, November 28. 1:30-2:30P.M. Great Books discussion group. Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens. Rosalie Gonzales, group facilitator. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Dec. 5. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney who will clarify your situation, advise you of your options, get you started with a solution, and make a referral when needed. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

###


MY COMMONPLACE BOOK(a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader)

By Dorothy Bryant
Friday June 08, 2012 - 10:56:00 AM

“By the time a man is 50, he has the face he deserves.” —George Orwell

“. . . an untidy, preoccupied woman, whose face was beginning to take on the shape of the thoughts and emotions she had lived through, in place of the likeness of heredity with which it had been born.” —Nadine Gordimer, Occasion for Loving (1960) 

Orwell was great for making cruel, well-targeted thrusts, but, in this case, I prefer Gordimer’s less judgmental comment. We’ve all known people whose skin remains smooth and unmarked. The result of genetic luck? Or simple indifference to the suffering of others? 

I once knew a man who had such a face. He attracted friends and lovers, who limped away from their relationship with him, wounded emotionally as he went on smiling obliviously. I know a fragile-looking woman who, always trembling on the brink of tears, bemoans her “sensitivity,” yet tosses off insensitive, denigrating remarks in all directions, without noticing the winces of those she pierces with her words. 

My heart goes out to one woman whose face has settled into lines that some people misread as haughty disapproval. She has been judged arrogant, but I’ve known her for years and watched her face slowly stiffen into a mask to hide her grief for the death of a son she never mentions. (Because, in our culture, after a year or so, we’re expected to “get over” things and “get on with life.” The tragic view of life is definitely out of fashion.) 

How can anyone claim the ability to “read” faces in a world where faces mask so much unspoken suffering? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)


Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Black at Blue Boys at Berkeley Rep--virtuoso performance, desperate circumstances

By John A. McMullen II
Friday June 08, 2012 - 11:05:00 AM
Dael Orlandersmith
KEVINBERNE.COM
Dael Orlandersmith

BERKELEY REP offers another fascinating virtuoso performance with Dael Orlandersmith in her original BLACK AND BLUE BOYS/BROKEN MEN. In 90 minutes, she masterfully portrays many characters who were abused as children and their resulting anger and intimacy issues as adults.

Orlandersmith created this show after becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with Yellowman in 2002.

She switches accents masterfully, gives each character a distinct physical presence and fitting expressive gestures, and her monologues are spellbinding.

Directed by Obie award winner Chaw Yew, the play is a series of interwoven stories that are important to hear to emotionally understand what might seem irrational behavior we encounter or read about. As the twig is bent…and exposure to these debasements could twist anyone. 

There is Flaco, the Puerto Rican child then teenager who is molested and no one believes him; Ian, the Irish boy who changes his accents and rises high to escape the torment of his drunken, berating father; of Mike, the “trick baby” in a household of one-mother-many-fathers. There are knife-wielding mothers, disbelieving social workers, intimately chilling details of beatings and haranguings done to the children and what the children do to their loved-ones when they grow up. 

Ms. Orlandersmith changes accents from Irish to Contemporary Londoner, to Bronx to Barrio to Ghetto and more with precision. 

It is similar to the format of Anna Deavere Smith’s performances AS IN Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles, or Let Me Down Easy, which the Rep presented a year ago. 

After 90 minutes of childhood horror stories from children of psycho or drunk parents or well-meaning pedophiles and the repercussions INTO ADULTHOOD [as adults], our pathos and patience is tested and “anesthesia of the heart” can set in. In the post-show audience exodus, there were many comments about exhaustion. 

It is set on a bare stage downlit with many of those old-time institutional hanging LIGHT fixtures. Our playwright/narrator/actor of all characters is dressed in black. There is one chair. We have only Orlandersmith’s evocative words and her expert characterizations. It is a mesmerizing tale, the lighting design changes the scene, the sound supports it, but there is the hazard of lulling the audience with the practically colorless palate and the single speaker. Perhaps we drift as a subconscious escape from the barrage of the degradation and harm that is done every day to children. 


BLACK AND BLUE BOYS/BROKEN MEN

World Premiere 

Written and Performed by Dael Orlandersmith 

Directed by Chay Yew 

A Co-Production with Goodman Theatre 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre 

Thrust Stage 

2025 Addison St, Berkeley 

Through June 24, 2012 

Daniel Ostling, Scenic Design/ Anita Yavich, Costume Design/Ben Stanton, Lighting Design/Mikhail Fiksel, Sound Design/ Madeleine Oldham, Dramaturg/ Lynne Soffer, Dialect Coach/ Leslie M. Radin, Stage Manager/ Stephanie Buchner, Associate Lighting Designer 


EYE FROM THE AISLE: Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt at MASQUERS--charming, fluid

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday June 07, 2012 - 04:39:00 PM

Travels with My Aunt at the Point Richmond MASQUERS PLAYHOUSE is a charming and fluid enactment of the Graham Greene entertainment novel adapted by British actor/playwright Giles Havergal.

You may recognize the novelist as the author of The Third Man (1949), The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955), and Our Man in Havana (1958), all of which have been adapted for film.

If you like droll Masterpiece Theatre comedies, this is your cuppa’. 

Our hero is Henry Pulling, a mild-mannered, 50-ish British bachelor bank-manager from Brighton who has taken early retirement. We find him at his mother’s funeral where he meets his aunt with whom he has had little acquaintance. She is a former actress with an African house-servant (who may be more than just her factotum), and who has led –and may well still lead—an interesting life of international intrigue. He embarks on a journey with her on the Orient Express to Istanbul, and later, across the pond to the Argentine and a world of spies, smugglers, and family secrets.  

Travels with My Aunt has a decidedly more off-beat comic flavor than other Graham Greene novels, many of which are based on religion and espionage—Greene was both a convert to Catholicism and worked for MI-6 (as in James Bond) while a foreign journalist. 

Director John Hull has chosen to have all four male actors play the twenty-odd roles. They all play Henry Pulling, exchanging the role without any confusion to the audience, as well as playing other roles of various ages and genders and species with convincing and often laugh-provoking aplomb. It makes for engaging staging and keeps things humming. 

The four men—Peter Budinger, Coley Grundman, Robert Love, and DC Scarpelli—are dressed in identical black suits and ties to enhance their interchangeability. Joan Nelson as Aunt Augusta Bertram is coutured in multiple, colorful, and fashionable changes of apparel as designed by Maria Graham. The set is a blue-lit bare stage with four chairs and a bench that appear/disappear as needed, sometimes with fanfare and laughter but always unobtrusively. This type of theatre primes the imagination.  

The lighting design of Ellen Brooks is subtle and does justice to the play, with one magic moment of a glass revolving ball eclipsing the moon into a crescent. 

Notable character changes are Budinger’s 18-year-old hippie girl to an Ugly American CIA agent to an Irish Wolfhound, Grundman’s Cockney cabbie, Robert Love’s female fortune teller. Scarpelli, a 2011 San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle award winner, is the main draw, shape-shifting between Aunt Augusta’s butler/lover from Sierra Leone, a 14 year old genteel beauty from Buenos Aires, a hulking constable, and more.  

MASQUERS PLAYHOUSE garnered five Critics Circle awards for last season, and they have seriously upped their game with recent productions.  

Alas, as charming as it is, it could have been better with a little dialect coaching. Only Scarpelli has a consistent and passable British Received; the others vary from hit-and-miss to total surrender. For instance, the pronunciation of “aunt” alternates between the insect homophone and the pronunciation that sounds affected to some American ears. There is a uniformity of pace that makes it plod rather than pop, and the production could profit from changes of rhythm. Its tone is light-hearted throughout, even though there are moments that cry out for emotional poignancy. Aunt Augusta’s character of a wild-child and former actress is played with unflappable sophistication by Ms. Nelson, but we wished for a little more “Auntie Mame” to appear. The cast’s deliberate delivery of the lines slows the plays—Brits speak more quickly that the average American—and it runs a little past 10:30 pm.  

Nonetheless, the production does not bore for a momen