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Berkeley's Minimum Wage is Now $10/hour

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday October 01, 2014 - 06:27:00 PM

Minimum wage in the city of Berkeley was raised to $10 per hour today, the first in a gradual rise to more than $12 an hour in two years, city officials said. 

The hikes were approved in a unanimous vote by the City Council in June and will keep Berkeley ahead of raises in the statewide minimum wage. 

The city's wage will rise to $11 on Oct. 1, 2015, and to $12.53 an hour on Oct. 1, 2016. That schedule would catch Berkeley's minimum wage up with an anticipated hike in Oakland. 

A measure on the November ballot in Oakland would raise the minimum wage there to $12.53 an hour next March. Oakland's City Council rejected a proposal in July that would have more gradually raised the minimum wage. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is asking other East Bay cities to pass similar minimum wage laws and coordinate their adoption. 

"I have proposed that other East Bay cities join with us in adopting a regional minimum wage and am pleased that discussions for such an approach are underway in some of our neighbor cities," Bates said in a statement Tuesday. 

One nearby city, Richmond, is already committed to raising its minimum wage to $13 by 2018. San Francisco and San Jose have also recently raised their minimum wages. 

The statewide minimum wage is set to rise to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and was raised to $9 an hour in July of this year.

New: Berkeley Begins Enforcing Ban on Feeding Wildlife in Parks

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday October 01, 2014 - 05:41:00 PM

City of Berkeley officials today began enforcing a new ordinance that prohibits the feeding of wildlife in city parks and other public spaces.

People caught feeding wildlife will face $100 fines after an initial warning period and fines of up to $500 for multiple infractions within a one-year period.

The ordinance applies to the feeding of all wildlife but was drawn up by city officials in response to widespread objections to a plan earlier this year to kill ground squirrels who were believed to be harming water quality by burrowing into the ground at Cesar Chavez Park, a former landfill near the Berkeley Marina. 

Berkeley officials said the burrowing by the large number of ground squirrels and gophers at the park was endangering the clay cap that seals the toxic substances inside the former dump. 

Because the toxic substances could potentially leak into San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Board told the city it needed to find a solution. 

In response, Berkeley officials came up with a plan in February to kill the squirrels, but withdrew the plan after thousands of animal lovers sent emails objecting to the plan. 

On July 1, the City Council approved an alternative solution that creates an ordinance criminalizing the feeding of wildlife in Berkeley's parks. 

Animal rights advocates said in a statement that ground squirrels and gophers can be harmed by food handouts and feeding wildlife endangers animals by causing malnutrition, overpopulation, the spread of disease and the loss of fear of humans. 

Another concern is that ground squirrels at Cesar Chavez Park have a symbiotic relationship with burrowing owls, which are classified as an at-risk species of concern, because the owls depend on the squirrels for their burrows to find shelter when they arrive at the park each winter. 

The enforcement of the ordinance is being combined with new "no feeding" signs and brochures at the park. 

Animal rights groups said the fines and the improved signs are the result of a successful collaboration between the city, WildCare, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and In Defense of Animals. 

The three organizations said they applaud the city for moving away from its plan to kill the squirrels and switch to what they described as "a compassionate and effective means of returning squirrel populations to naturally lower levels." 

They said the city's approach can serve as a national model for other parks that are faced with similar challenges where human feeding of wildlife has created an imbalance in wildlife populations.

Interview with City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan

Toni Mester
Friday September 26, 2014 - 11:05:00 AM
Ann-Marie Hogan Selfie
Ann-Marie Hogan Selfie

What exactly is the job of City Auditor?

I manage a team of professional performance auditors who collectively have expertise in public policy analysis, accounting, economics, business, and computer systems. Through our performance audits, we provide guidance to Council and management about how to fix problems and deliver better service. We follow up to make sure the City implements our recommendations. I also manage the Payroll Audit division.

How do you decide on what to audit?

We look for audits that can result in streamlined services, improved service delivery, cost savings, or the avoidance of risks. We ask the public, the commissions, Council, the City Manager and City staff for ideas and we use our knowledge of the City’s priorities and risks, as well as reports from other cities, to put together an audit plan every spring. 


What were the most significant audits in your last term? 

(see www.cityofberkeley.info/auditor

Underfunded Mandate: Resources, Strategic Plan, and Communication Needed to Continue Progress toward the Year 2020 Zero Waste Goal is a road map for achieving Berkeley's Zero Waste goals. 

Employee Benefits: Tough Decisions Ahead recommended practical steps to address underfunded pensions and benefits. 

Our Streets performance audit showed that investing in street maintenance today would prevent future liability for much more expensive street reconstruction, avoiding costs of over $38 million. 

Our Permit Center audit pointed the way for more effective, efficient and equitable customer service and increased efforts to fight fraud and increase revenue. 

Our Business License Tax Performance Audit identified nearly $600,000 in revenue recovery over five years. 


Do you have plans for upcoming audits?  

We’ll be issuing a police injury prevention audit and an Animal Services overtime audit in October, and then audits of contracts and refuse billing. Because of community concerns about equity in city hiring and promotions, we included a requested audit of Human Resources’ application of the merit system hiring process and an evaluation of adherence to equal employment opportunity policies. 


What are the most common misconceptions about the City budget?  

I often hear people thinking that the city can “find the money somewhere” to fix one particular thing that they want fixed. That’s one reason that most cities use some version of “across the board cuts”, especially for the general fund; it seems intuitively “fair” to Council and the public. See my July 8, 2014 Council Information item and follow the link to the Berkeley Based Budgeting report from Goldman Public Policy grad students for the dangers in the business-as-usual approach. 


What pages in the budget are easiest to understand? 

Some people are going to like the pie charts and the graphs, some will like the verbal explanations, and some will like the statistics. The budget impact summaries, which start on p. 131 of the 2014/2015 Adopted budget, give some hints about the service impacts of recent budget cuts. Read the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) especially the introductory memo from the Finance Director; it explains what is going on in the City. For a long term look at our liabilities that I hope is written in a very user-friendly way, read my audit Employee Benefits: Tough Decisions Ahead


Why is Measure F, the Parks tax, called a “special tax”

Special Revenue/Grant Funds are revenue sources legally restricted to a specific purpose, service, or program. 


What other taxes are “special?” 

The Parks Tax Fund, Library Tax Fund, and Paramedic Tax Fund are Special Revenue Funds. There are also Special Assessment Funds: Clean Storm Water, Streetlight Assessment, and Measure B Funds. Enterprise funds include the Permit Service Center, Sanitary Sewer, Refuse, Parking Meter, and Marina Enterprise Funds. 


Why doesn’t the general fund cover these services that citizens want? 

Since the passage of Proposition 13, cities have been constrained from increasing general fund revenues enough to keep up with the demand for services that residents want, and the costs of providing them. Special funds such as parks, library, and paramedic allow taxpayers to vote for specific increased services. 


How do you uncover mismanagement? 

Auditors speak through our audits. To preserve the credibility of our audits, we avoid making subjective statements, so that a future audit of budget management is not weakened by a public perception of preconceived ideas. We find weaknesses in city practices by diligent, careful, and thorough analysis of the facts, and we ensure quality control and reliability by rigorous adherence to Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. 


Does Berkeley have a financial plan to deal with the PERS bump and future pension liabilities? 

Recent changes enacted by the statewide retirement system will cause the long term pension liabilities to decrease, but will cause the immediate pension costs to increase, beginning in fiscal year 2016. Some combination of reduction of services, increased risk, reduction of compensation, and increased revenues will be needed to fund this mandatory liability reduction. 


How much will it cost? 

If you mean the increase in pension cash outflows effective FY 2016, using numbers from PERS, the statewide pension organization, the City’s most recent estimate is that 2016 pension payments could increase by as much as $2 million from the 2015 budgeted amount, in 2017 by an additional $ 4 million plus and so on, such that FY 2020 annual payments could be more than $15 million higher than in the current year. The numbers keep changing and will change depending on PERS investment results. These rates will allow the City to pay down their future liabilities, but it means less money in the budget every year until at least 2020. It’s a prudent step, but painful. See the May 06, 2014 Special Meeting


What can the City do to prepare for this expense? 

Council needs to more fully assess the risks of further cuts to oversight and support departments and oversight and monitoring functions within the operating departments to avoid increased risk to service delivery and increased risk of fraud. General direction can be seen in Council budget policies in the Work session Presentation 2/25/14. Labor contracts with all of the city’s bargaining units are expiring this year, and the results of negotiations, as well as property, business, and sales taxes trends, will also determine how much the City will have to reduce services or increase risk. 


Will City services suffer? 

That seems very likely. 


Can the parks and other special funds be diverted to pay for pension liabilities? 

Parks funds can only be spent on Parks expenses; Parks expenses include employee salaries and benefits and can’t be used to fund benefits for non-Parks work. 


Does Berkeley have a plan to deal with infrastructure repairs?  

See the Facility Condition Assessments July 1, 2014 5:30 Council presentation. 


Is there a reliable figure on just how much infrastructure repairs will cost? 

As you probably know from working with contractors yourself, when it comes to remodeling, the figures are estimates. See the Facility Condition Assessments presentation for more. 


Does investment in infrastructure pay for itself over time? 

It should, if it’s done in an evidence-based way, as recommended in our Streets audit and included in the Public Works plan going forward. 


Does investment in infrastructure such as roads, flood control, storm drains, sewers, etc. generate value to offset cost? 

Yes, in the sense that the investment avoids future costs, ranging from the high cost of replacing, rather than repairing, a street to the fines the City would have to pay if it hadn’t decreased its sewer flows to the Bay. 


Do the Council and staff act on your advice? 

On average, 99% of our recommendations to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of service delivery are agreed to by management, and all are supported by unanimous vote of the City Council. 


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley,. This interview was conducted by email and telephone

Politicians Target Eucalyptus in Berkeley Hills

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday September 26, 2014 - 11:01:00 AM

Shady eucalyptus trees growing in the East Bay hills could pose a serious fire danger and 12 area elected officials are advocating for federal funding to remove them. 

A letter signed by the 12 politicians was delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking funding to remove the trees from Claremont Canyon, an undeveloped area between Strawberry Canyon and state Highway 24 that straddles the University of California at Berkeley campus and the Oakland Hills. 

The Claremont Canyon Conservancy distributed the letter and announced Wednesday it had been endorsed by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, state Sen. Loni Hancock, state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Berkeley City Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak and Oakland City Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid and Libby Schaff. 

UC Berkeley, the East Bay Regional Park District and the city of Oakland have been seeking up to $5.6 million in federal funding to remove the trees in Claremont Canyon and elsewhere since 2005, FEMA officials said. The agency released a draft Environmental Impact Report on the project last year and is expected to release a final version soon. 

The eucalyptus trees are an invasive species, planted in the late 19th and early 20th century by two Oakland businessmen as a source of lumber, according to the conservancy. But the trees proved unsuitable for lumber and have spread throughout the hills unabated. 

The leaves and bark drape across one tree to another creating a canopy that can spread flames quickly. The trees also drop more dry material than other trees and the oily wood ignites easily, proponents of the plan argue. 

The presence of eucalyptus has been cited as one reason that a massively destructive fire spread through the Oakland hills in 1991, killing 25 people, injuring 52 others, and destroying 3,354 houses and 456 apartments. 

To remove them, the trees must be cut down and the stumps treated with pesticides immediately as they can sprout back quickly. 

During public comment sessions last year, the plan proved controversial, with some advocating against cutting down any trees and objecting to the use of pesticides on the cut stumps. 

Proponents argue that removing the eucalyptus will allow other native tree species such as oak and willow to repopulate the areas now dominated by eucalyptus. In fact, they say, some oak sprouts can be found under eucalyptus groves unable to thrive under their shade. 

The use of herbicides would not affect that process and would be sprayed in such a way to minimize its impact on surrounding foliage, according to the draft Environmental Impact Report. 

Opponents also object to the plan to chip the trees and spread them in the surrounding area, arguing that such a move could create a fire hazard as much as the standing eucalyptus trees. 

But the chipped wood would quickly decompose and would not burn easily, according to supporters. 

One suggested compromise has been to thin the eucalyptus rather than cut them down, but the conservancy and area elected officials argue that thinning the groves could create an even greater fire hazard and require costly maintenance to keep the trees from spreading. 

"Simply thinning the trees will continue to block sun light, consume the limited amount of ground water and not enable the native, less flammable species to regenerate," the 12 elected officials wrote in their letter. 

"Furthermore, thinning will enable the Diablo Winds to blow through the eucalyptus more readily, thus enhancing the fire danger and increase the threat to homes in Claremont Canyon and beyond. Thinning also obligates the property owners to years of additional maintenance expense," the letter said.



Vote Yes on Berkeley Measure R for a Truly Green Downtown

Becky O'Malley
Friday September 26, 2014 - 10:46:00 AM

Anyone who doubts for a minute that we need to vote Yes on Berkeley Measure R should check out the brouhaha in San Francisco over the funding for the under-construction Transbay Terminal and associated transit improvements. As described in an article in the generally developer-friendly San Francisco Chronicle:

“The dispute has its roots in a series of agreements between City Hall and developers that sought to allow the construction of much taller buildings than the area was initially zoned for, in exchange for developers’ taxing themselves through a Mello-Roos district.”

Except that since the deal went down a couple of years ago, now that property tax assessments in San Francisco are on the rise in sync with rising property values there, the developers are trying to weasel their way out of paying their bills.  

Transit Authority spokesperson Adam Alberti told the Chronicle that “If not successful, the end result could be a lot of fancy, empty towers looking down at a giant hole in the ground where the Transit Center should have been, potentially jeopardizing the developers’ financing and the ability to attract tenants…The tax that they now refuse to pay would fund public transit and parks that the developers well know add great value to their buildings. Their opposition to the tax is merely an attempt to shift the cost of this infrastructure to the taxpayers.” It could happen here. 

The Measure R that will be on your Berkeley ballot for the November election (which actually starts on October 6, when vote-by-mail ballots are available) should be called, in the style popularized by software companies, Measure R2.0, since it’s the upgrade to the plausible-sounding but ineffectual original Measure R which Berkeley voters passed in 2010. That measure handed developers a bunch of new opportunities to build tall buildings in downtown Berkeley, but neglected to extract appropriate and enforceable community benefits for the citizens of Berkeley in return. The centerpiece of the pitch for Measure R1.0 (which was overwhelmingly funded by the development industry) was something called the Green Pathway, a scheme which was supposed to induce developers of Downtown Berkeley sites appropriate for blockbuster highrises to build environmentally friendly structures and provide some community benefits in return. 

Progressives on the Berkeley City Council, including Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, initially opposed the first Measure R because they realized it was toothless. Arreguin eventually endorsed it as an expression of opinion, but he accurately predicted that it would do nothing. That’s why he’s now an author of Measure R2.0, also called the Green Downtown initiative. 

Arreguin is running unopposed in this election, an indication of how much voters in Downtown Berkeley and its surrounding neighborhoods back his analysis of why a new Measure R is needed. It took only a couple of weeks to get enough signatures to put R2.0 on the ballot. 

I went to a—well, it was kind of like a debate, but since there was no cross-questioning, there was really no contest—panel discussion of the new measure at the office of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Speakers were Arreguin, who represents the district which includes Downtown Berkeley, and Eric Panzer, representing the local pro-development lobbying group Livable Berkeley.  

Arreguin aptly labelled the Green Pathway the “Pathway to Nowhere”, since no one has ever used it. My notes on any salient points which emerged from Panzer’s presentation are sketchy, but his main gripe seemed to be that some bars in some areas near downtown residences might be required to close at midnight if R2.0 passes, unless they got a permit to stay open later.  

Oh please… 

Another bone of contention thrown out by No-on-R supporters is that the ballot measure is too long, too hard for them to read. That’s exactly the point. It needs to be very specific precisely because R1.0 was very vague. This level of detail will guarantee that Berkeley doesn’t go through the turmoil that’s now raging in San Francisco over the Transbay Terminal. SF supervisors thought they’d made a deal—their staff told them they had a deal—but now the developers are doing their damnedest to back out of it, and they just might get away with it. 

Here in Berkeley we want sustainable development, not just tall buildings. We want affordable housing, not just luxury condo bedrooms for over-paid San Francisco techies who want to be able to BART to The City for work and play. We want good construction jobs for local workers at prevailing wage. And last but not least, we want to preserve our lovely historic buildings, including, especially, the threatened Post Office.  

Proof of concept on this last point is that after Measure R2.0 collected the large number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot, the Berkeley city council majority rushed to pass the downtown historical district zoning overlay first proposed by Councilmember Arreguin, on which they had previously stalled. This overdue maneuver might protect the Post Office for a while, but this city council or a subsequent one would have the power to repeal it at any time, for example after the election.  

The old City Hall is another civic resource at risk from councilmember cupidity. Passing the historic district overlay in ballot measure R2.0 would guarantee that a simple majority vote from a developer-indebted council wouldn’t be enough to reverse it, and sadly this is a wise guarantee. The same goes for the rest of the new Measure R—if it’s passed by the voters, we might just get at least some of what Measure R 1.0 promised but defaulted on.  

A voter-approved ordinance would take another vote of the people to cancel. Vote yes on Measure R if you want a truly Green Downtown now and into the future. 

Otherwise, it’s just more Green Pie in the Sky By and By for Berkeley. 



The Editor's Back Fence

Planet Endorsements (Mail Ballots After Oct. 6)

Friday September 26, 2014 - 12:11:00 PM

After the previous election some readers complained that they couldn't locate the Planet's endorsements when they went to vote. To make it as easy as possible, between now and the election we're going to maintain this corner of the front page where you can always find our endorsements along with links to editorial material with more detail about specific candidates and issues.

New in this issue: Yes on Berkeley Measure R.

Then, click here for the candidates: Which Berkeley City Council Candidates Should You Support?

Short Answers: District 1, Alejandro Soto-Vigil; District 4, Jesse Arreguin (unopposed); District 7, Kriss Worthington; District 8, Jacquelyn McCormick (rank her first, followed by George Beier, second, and Lori Droste, third. Skip fourth place. )

Finally , check out this May editorial with a self-explanatory title: Tony Thurmond is the Best Choice for California Assembly ...

We're pleased to see that Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin has added his endorsement to Tony's long list of fans.

In this video you can see Tony explain his campaign in person at a Berkeley house party: 



More to come on the ballot measures and propositions.

Public Comment

Do Republicans Represent Our True Interests?

Bruce Joffe
Friday September 26, 2014 - 11:49:00 AM

Republicans shut down government services just to stir up ideological drama. They lobbied to weaken real reform of our broken health insurance system, then, after it passed, they've been working to prevent many people benefitting from even those modest improvements. Republican leadership in the House won't even consider closing the most egregious tax loopholes through which billions of dollars are squirreled into off-shore bank accounts. The rest of us are left with more taxes, unrepaired roads, and higher college tuition costs for our children. 

Yet, here they are at election time, trying to convince voters that they represent our true interests. Republican oligarchs pour millions into propaganda smear campaigns to fool us. Will they succeed again this November? Stay tuned.

Israeli’s Elite Refuse to Kill

Jagjit Singh
Friday September 26, 2014 - 12:27:00 PM

It is gratifying that more and more courageous Israelis are stepping forward and publicly denouncing the appalling treatment of Palestinians under the crippling, suffocating occupation. The latest refuseniks are veterans from an elite secretive intelligence unit that have publicly declared they will no longer “take part in the state’s immoral actions against Palestinians because of what they call “our moral duty to act.”  

43 veterans of the super-secret Unit 8200 complained the information collected is used for political persecution and is used to oppress innocent people fueling the never ending conflict. They stated that under the present occupation it is impossible for Palestinians to “lead normal lives.” The letter was published in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper as well as The Guardian in Britain and reflects a growing disenchantment within the Israeli Defense Forces. Earlier, a group of 27 pilots refused orders of targeted assassinations inspired by the actions of another 13 members of commando unit Sayeret who refused targeted killings. A spokesperson of Unit 8200 described Israel as a “nondemocratic, oppressive regime that controls the lives of millions of people.” They complained bitterly that they were forced to perform actions which were “highly immoral” and had nothing to do with self-defense.

Who are the War profiteers?

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday September 26, 2014 - 12:13:00 PM

A new report finds many talking heads who have been fanning the flames of war in the news media have close ties to Pentagon contractors. Lee Fang, a reporter of the Nation, describes how television analysts including retired generals Jack Keane and Anthony Zinni and former Department of Homeland Security official, Frances Townsend, make regular appearances on television but fail to disclose the huge fees they collect as paid directors and advisors to some of the largest military contractors in the world.  

Keane, is a special adviser to Academi, formerly known as Blackwater, and a board member to military manufacturer General Dynamics. He also has a financial interest in SCP Partners, an investment firm that works with defense contractors. General Jack Keane makes regular appearances on Fox News supporting military strikes against ISIS. Commentator Frances Townsend, who appears on CNN on almost a daily basis, has also been advocating a stronger response to ISIS. Not disclosed is her ties to defense contractor MacAndrews & Forbes, which owns several defense contractors. 

Former head of CENTCOM, retired four-star general, Anthony Zinni, a board member to BAE Systems, one of the largest defense contractors in the world, has been advocating for a large deployment of U.S. troops to the region. It is a pity that the networks misled their viewers by not disclosing the blatant conflict of interest of their ‘think tank’ experts.

A Test for UC Berkeley's Free Speech Policy

Carol Denney
Friday September 26, 2014 - 01:49:00 PM

Your comments about the response you received to the free speech issue miss the pertinent point. 

How about a test? If this is in fact a new era of respect for each other's views, and if there is indeed cause for celebration of a new era of free speech, why not ask Chancellor Dirks to retire the SLAPP-suit still in place against me and other activists who spoke out against university policy in 1991? 

I love the FSMers, who used to as least put one of the SLAPPed activists on a panel somewhere, but year after year we seem to have to remind them that it isn't quite party time for some of us. 

Try to imagine waking up to a phone call saying you're expected in civil court the next day to answer to a civil complaint against you and 50 "John Does" claiming you've caused over a quarter million dollars in damages to the University of California, your alma mater. 

SLAPP suits are intimidation techniques. Universities have no business spending scarce public funds silencing dissent. Ask Dirks to drop the SLAPP-suit now.


THE PUBLIC EYE: What Do Democrats Want?

Bob Burnett
Friday September 26, 2014 - 11:43:00 AM

During the 2014 midterm elections Republicans have waged a negative “slash and burn” campaign, attacking President Obama and Democrats in general. The GOP strategy is to fire up their base, bamboozle a few independents, turn off Dems or prevent them from voting. In this hostile environment, most Democrats have been defensive and their message has been muted. Democrats must go on offense and tell voters what they stand for. 

The core Republican message is deceptively simple: elect us because Obama is a tyrant. “Oppressed voters throw off your chains.” Republicans believe that if they control the House and Senate, they can hobble Obama and the Federal government. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that if Republicans were in charge of the Senate, “We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.” McConnell said the President could either sign these Republican-sponsored bills or face a government shutdown. Nonetheless, beyond the hate, the Republican agenda is “leave things the way they are with rich white men in control.” 

Democrats may be disappointed with President Obama but they don’t believe he is a tyrant. More important, Democrats actually believe in government. They believe that the function of government is to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful, the one percent. Democrats believe the cornerstone of our democracy is a thriving middle class. 

Therefore, in response to Republicans, Democrats should focus on bread-and-butter economic issues. Their key promise should be to rebuild the middle class. 

Theoretically, Dems have a strong message. Most economists believe the economy has grown under the Obama administration. It has added 4.5 million jobs, and experienced 47 straight months of job growth. (Some experts predict that the US will reach full employment by late 2016.) 

However, Democrats and Republicans interpret economic news differently. A recent Pew Research Poll showed that Republicans were considerably more negative about the economy than Dems. 

While acknowledging there has been economic progress under the Obama administration, Democrats should complain about a hollowing out of the middle class; the erosion of decent middle-class jobs. Dems note that during the economic recovery most of the proceeds went to the top one percent. This chart shows that during the Obama recovery (2009-present) average income growth was 6 percent. But the top 1 percent experienced income growth of 31.4 percent and the bottom 99 percent had a pitiful .4 percent. 

A recent study by the Center For American Progress found that 

for a typical median income married couple with two children, the collective cost of basic pillars of middle class security — including child care, higher education, health care, housing, and retirement –rose by an estimated $10,600 between 2000 and 2012… but [the family] earned less than one percent more.
The core Democratic economic message should have five components. 

1. Make the system fair. Democrats believe the US economic system is biased towards the one percent. They seek to ensure fairness by having corporations and the rich pay their fair share of taxes and by raising the minimum wage. Democrats also seek pay equity, guarantees that men and women will receive equal wages for equal work. (A major 2014 Democratic theme is when women succeed, America succeeds.) 

2. Protect women. In addition to ensuring equal pay for equal work, Democrats seek to protect women by measures such as paid sick leave, and paid family and medical leave. (Democrats also seek measures to protect women from domestic violence including women who serve in the military.) 

3. Manufacture in America. Democrats support the Make it in America campaign that seeks to encourage manufacturers to expand the number of decent-paying American jobs and discourage manufacturers from moving operations offshore. 

4. Improve the Affordable Care Act. Most Democratic candidates have chosen not to run away from The Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” and to tout its economic benefits

5. Make education affordable. Democrats understand that education is the key to success in our modern economy. On the one hand the US must guarantee that every student has access to a quality education. On the other hand we must ensure that college is affordable. At present, college graduates are struggling to pay off $1.2 trillion in student loans. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other Democrats, have proposed a a plan to refinance old loans at current interest rates

Despite what should be a strong message, Democrats aren’t reaching persuadable voters. The latest generic congressional ballot showed Republicans up by 4 points. (Nonetheless, many voters prefer for Democrats to continue to control the Senate.) 

A month before the midterm elections, there’s still time for Democrats to reach voters with a positive message: “We believe in an America that works for everyone, not just the richest one percent.” 


Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and retired Silicon Valley executive . He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 

COUNTERPOINTS: What Does AB&I Want from Oakland City Government?

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 25, 2014 - 09:37:00 AM

People in Oakland learned this month what a Texas-based garbage disposal company wanted out of our city. But a question nobody is asking is, what does an Alabama-owned cast iron foundry want from Oakland city government? While I can't figure out the answer to that question but I know it's something, because AB&I Foundry regularly pours money into Oakland city government elections, lots of money, the kind of money folks give when they expect something in return. 

AB&I is located on San Leandro Street in Deep East Oakland, not far from the Coliseum. If you travel through that area, you've probably noticed the patriotic-themed mural stretching along its street wall. The company employs close to 200 workers manufacturing various heavy industrial-use products out of recycled scrap iron. It started out as a locally-owned firm more than a hundred years ago, but that local ownership is long gone, and the company is currently owned by the McWane, Inc., a privately held family company out of Birmingham. 

McWane bills AB&I as a cast iron production industry leader. It might also characterize the company as a leader in contributions to Oakland city elections. 

In 2010, AB&I gave $7,500 to the Coalition For A Safer California Sacramento-based political action committee. Safer California used the money it raised that year to support the Don Perata for mayor campaign. 

In 2012, employees of AB&I gave a combined total of $5,600 to Ignacio De La Fuente's unsuccessful attempt to defeat Rebecca Kaplan for her At-Large Oakland City Council seat. 

This year, the folks at AB&I are tripling down on their contributions in the Oakland mayoral election. As of July 1st, AB&I and its employees had given major money to three separate candidates: $4,300 to Rebecca Kaplan, $2,500 to Bryan Parker, and $2,100 to Jean Quan. 

If you're an astute local election observor, you know that Oakland has a $700 limit on individual or company contributions to a single candidate in an election, so you're probably wondering how AB&I gets around this restriction. I'll tell you. 

Because the $7,500 that benefited Mr. Perata's 2010 mayoral campaign was funnelled through a state political action committee and not directly to the campaign itself, there was no limit on the amount of money that could be contributed by AB&I. But the 2012 At Large City Council and 2014 mayoral campaign contributions were given directly to the candidate committees themselves, so a more creative way had to be found to get around Oakland's campaign finance restrictions. AB&I appears to have done that by bundling together contributions by either individual employees or the company itself, none of which contributions, by themselves, go over Oakland's campaign finance limit but, when put together, come up to a tidy sum. 

Why do I contend that this is an organized activity by the company itself, rather than simply a group of employees of a single company who happen, coincidentally, to have backed the same candidates? 

It would be possible-though a strain on credulity-to believe that the contributions in the 2012 were initiated by the individual employees themselves, since they all went to one candidate, Mr. De La Fuente. 

But the 2014 contributions involve a strategy that is known as "hedging." It involves big-money donors giving money to more than one candidate in the same race, on the theory that by doing so, they'll have the ear of whoever wins, regardless of who it is. That kind of strategy is far too sophisticated for AB&I employees to just "happen" to be doing it each on their own, particularly when the company itself is also participating in the strategy. 

Like AB&I itself, which gave $700 to Ms. Quan's campaign and $500 to Ms. Kaplan, some of the company's employees are doubling up on their contributions. 

Zeydi Gutierrez of Castro Valley, for example, who is listed as an AB&I Iron Fitter in one contribution and H.R. Manager in another, gave $700 this year to Ms. Quan and $500 to Mr. Parker. 

Engineer Dave Robinson gave $700 to Ms. Kaplan and $500 to Mr. Parker. 

Vice President of Marketing Kip Wixson gave to all three candidates: $700 apiece to Ms. Kaplan and Ms. Quan, $500 to Mr. Parker. 

If this money is coming voluntarily out of the pockets of the individual employees themselves, this pattern of contributions would be suspicious, but perfectly legal. The suspicion raised is that the employees-at least some of them, below the level of the president and vice presidents-are being coerced by the company into making these contributions, or, on the other hand, they are being reimbursed for them by the company under the table, either in bonuses or cash money. If that were the case, then the AB&I contributions would be breaking the law. I think, under the circumstances, it's legitimate to ask if that's the case. 

So if, as it certainly appears, all of this campaign contributing is for the benefit of AB&I, what is it that AB&I seeks to get out of these contributions? 

As far as I can see, AB&I does business directly with the City of Oakland in only one instance: for years, the company has been melting down weapons confiscated by the Oakland Police Department in criminal investigations. Since Oakland does not appear to charge the company for this scrapped metal, and since the company's sole purpose and money-making operation is to turn scrap metal into finished products, it would seem that rather than being a "community service," this service contributes to AB&I's profit center. So maybe that's part of it. 

AB&I does come under the regulation of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), whose board of directors, which consists of various local elected officials, "has the authority to develop and enforce regulations for the control of air pollution" throughout a nine-county district that includes Alameda County. But no Oakland city officials sit on BAAQMD's board. 

If AB&I is seeking something from Oakland for its contributions, are this year's mayoral candidates in on the deal? 

Former California State Senator Don Perata was the master of so-called "pay-to-play" politics, in which developers and businesses traded contributions for city contracts, and Ignacio De La Fuente was a Perata protegé and a pretty good "pay-to-play" player himself. However, there is no evidence to suggest that in the 2014 mayoral race, Ms. Quan, Ms. Kaplan, or Mr. Parker are in that same category with regard to the AB&I contributions, that is, that they've made promises to do special favors for AB&I in return for money. 

On the other hand, AB&I clearly wants something out of the 2014 Oakland mayoral race. Having backed three separate candidates simultaneously in the same race, the company doesn't seem to be as much concerned about who it is they are eventually get it from. The question remains, what, and how will that what affect the rest of us in Oakland, positively or negatively? 

Perhaps someone smarter than me has the answer. Or maybe there's another explanation, and I'm wrong about this whole thing, altogether. If there is, I'm sure they'll let me know.


Jack Bragen
Thursday September 25, 2014 - 09:35:00 AM

Some people in the general public do not have much understanding of mental illness. Certain people may have negative opinions about mentally ill persons which are based on ignorance, and other people may be open-minded but lack much information. 

Part of the mission of this column is to inform. However, my column is mostly an opinion column. I don’t know a lot about mental illness from a clinician’s perspective. There are plenty of other writers who can furnish that perspective. 

Unlike authors who base their mental health writings on the work of clinicians, I am informed as to what it is like to live with a psychiatric disorder. And, over the past thirty two years, I have gained a great deal of information about how many mentally ill people live, and sometimes, how we die. 

Mental illness, from my perspective, completely rearranges life. Some are able to remain closeted, to earn a living, and to keep their illness private. Others who need more help are often forced to live within the bounds of the mental health treatment system. 

It is not highly unusual for a person with mental illness to have a short lifespan. Over the years, I have seen a lot of mentally ill people pass away in their forties and sometimes younger. There are often a lot of medical complications to taking medication. Also, the illness makes it harder for us to take proper care of ourselves. Thirdly, suicide is a widespread risk that goes with mental illness. 

I have a limited understanding of what I’ve looked like to other people when I’ve had acute symptoms. I have seen the behavior of other persons with mental illness, and it is so familiar to me that it is hard for me to describe—I am probably overlooking a number of obvious things. 

I do know that people call us crazy and that some people across the board hate us. 

The behavior of an acutely psychotic person, clearly, does not make sense. Many people in the general public don’t understand that we are human beings suffering from a disease. We might appear to be dangerous as well as perplexing. Some people are afraid of us. 

Is there anything to fear? On occasion, yes. Persons with mental illness are sometimes violent. But usually we are not. When someone is having a psychotic episode, care must be taken, not only to prevent innocent people from being harmed, but also to prevent harm to the person with the illness, someone who is also essentially an innocent person. 

When dealing with criminals, there is much more to worry about than when dealing with someone who is mentally ill. Criminals in some instances sincerely intend to hurt people, and they do not always have a conscience. If someone with mental illness, while acutely ill, inadvertently harms someone, they may have years of regret afterward. It's apples and oranges. 

I have seen people being 5150'd by police. I, myself, have been in the position of being 5150'd. It can be a frightening thing to have two or more officers overpower you with force—sometimes with more force than is needed. 

In our system, mental illness is criminalized. By this, I mean that society's interface with mentally ill people is through the criminal justice system. This is not optimal for helping people who are suffering from a disease. It can make us afraid to seek help when we need it. Merely being mentally ill without a specific criminal act is not a crime and should not be dealt with as one.

Arts & Events

Around & About the Performing Arts: Berkeley Symphony Opening on Thursday; Enda Walsh's 'New Electric Ballroom' at Shotgun

Ken Bullock
Friday September 26, 2014 - 11:39:00 AM

Berkeley Symphony opens at 7--not 8!--this Thursday evening with a program conducted by Joana Carneiro that features Jennifer Koh in the Sibelius Violin Concerto; the world premiere of a commissioned piece by Oscar Bettison, Sea Shaped, and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Koh performed a formidible double-header of violin concerti with the Symphony a few years back, a stellar performance. The Sibelius concerto

The Shotgun Players production of Enda Walsh's 'New Electric Ballroom,' ongoing at Ashby Stage, brings to mind the Druid Theatre's production of 'The Walworth Farce,' an earlier play in Walsh's same series, which Cal Performances produced here in November, 2009, one of the memorable shows in the Bay Area of the past decade. shotgunplayers.org