The Week



Press Release: News Updates from Save the Post Office

Thursday January 29, 2015 - 10:02:00 AM


In an epic court battle, the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are taking on the U.S. Postal Service over the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office and of our nation’s historic post offices. The two legal actions are separate but are being heard concurrently in federal court in San Francisco. When a developer pulled out of a purchase contract, the USPS started playing games about whether the post office is for sale. The USPS claims the suits are moot, or not ripe, or that Berkeley and the National Trust have no right to a judicial review of a Postal Service decision, or if there’s a right to judicial review, the basis of review was terminated when the developer pulled out of the purchase contract…. The judge will decide whether the case will go forward on or after March 19th. -more-

Press Release: The Berkeley City Council and police brutality

From Caitlin Quinn, External Affairs Vice President, Associated Students of the University of California
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:55:00 PM

Last night, the Berkeley City Council voted to postpone for two weeks consideration of three items introduced by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin in response to the police response during last December’s protests, despite the fact that students and members of the community had been waiting for eight hours over two separate council meetings to speak on these items. I am extremely disappointed in the Berkeley City Council for once again refusing to address police brutality. The City Council impeded students from voicing their opinions to them on this matter on multiple occasions: the Mayor unilaterally canceled the meeting following the protests; a majority of the City Council voted to delay a special meeting until January 17, ostensibly in order to allow students to speak, despite the fact that the students would not be back from Winter Break for that meeting; and, the Mayor brought up agenda items out-of-order, which further delayed consideration of these items. As a result of the City Council’s latest delay, it will now be more than two months since the Berkeley Police Department’s unwarranted use of force on December 6 before a single introduced item has been discussed, let alone voted on. -more-

SF IndieFest Comes to the East Bay: Films, Parties and Beyond

Preview by Gar Smith
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:51:00 PM

It's time load up on popcorn, pour some White Russians and get ready for the 17th installment of San Francisco's Independent Film Festival, a 15-day romp of screenings and frivolity that will occupy three venues on both sides of the Bay from February 5-19.

SF IndieFest began in 1998 as a four-day event with only 20 films scheduled. But when 3,000 people showed up, SFIF founder Jeff Ross realized he had filled a niche. "Here we are, 17 years later, with 65 films from around the world," Ross proudly notes. "But the goal is the same: provide our audiences with strong, innovative, challenging yet entertaining cinema. Oh, and parties. We like to throw parties."

SFIFF's Opening Night selection showcases Hits, a "dark comedy" from writer-director David Cross (Arrested Development's Tobias Fünke), which screens at the Brava Theater (2781 24th at York) at 7:30—followed by a party. -more-

Berkeley Bicyclist injured in car collision dies

Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 08:58:00 AM

A 64-year-old bicyclist injured in a collision with a car in Berkeley earlier this month died Monday, a police spokeswoman said today. -more-

Berkeley Building Energy Saving Ordinance is back on the City Council agenda for tonight

Tuesday January 27, 2015 - 11:15:00 AM

Despite rumors to the contrary, tonight the Berkeley City Council will have the second reading of a scheme to mandate ongoing inspection of all homes for energy conservation, replacing an ordinance that required such inspections at time of sale. Many objections have been raised, particularly because of the fees associated with such inspections. See, for objections: -more-

Press Release: Councilmember Proposes Temporary Ban on Tear Gas in Wake of Berkeley Protests

From Anthony Sanchez, Office of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:25:00 PM

In the wake of recent Berkeley protests, the City Council will take up three proposals Tuesday night (January 27th) introduced by Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin to support the demands from activists in Ferguson, MO; call for an independent investigation into police use of tear gas at the December 6, 2014 protests; and temporarily ban the use of tear gas and other non-lethal force for crowd control. -more-

The USPS claims historic Berkeley Post Office is no longer for sale

Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:18:00 PM

Antonio Rossmann, the attorney who is representing the city of Berkeley in the attempt to save the city’s historic downtown post office, has informed the Planet that he has received a response from the U.S. Postal Service to his petition to the court to stop preparations for the sale of the building to a private developer. You can read the motion here.

He says that the agency no longer lists the PO for sale, but they haven’t rescinded any of their National Environmental Policy Act or other determinations required under federal law before the building can be sold.

In an email, he says this:

“The essence of their argument is that we complained about the sale to [private developer Hudson McDonald], and Hudson’s action ended the controversy by canceling the sale.”

But, he says, “ Hudson is not part of this lawsuit and it never challenged Hudson’s duties or prerogatives.

“If Hudson’s conduct is all that counts, then USPS should set aside all their contested actions that violate federal law leading up to his decision, to establish that no controversy exists.”

But for now, he concludes, the Berkeley Post Office does not seem to be for sale, at least publically. -more-


The Editor's Back Fence

What happened at last night's Berkeley City Council meeting?

Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 10:30:00 AM

Short answer: not a whole lot.

First, for those of you who prefer to watch the meetings online rather than attend in person (I can't imagine why.) It wasn't your fault. The streaming video system has been non-functioning for one full week. Yes, I reported it last week, but they did nothing. When it continued to transmit nothing but a test pattern, I consulted my two computer gurus, who confirmed with three computers, two operating systems and an Ipad that nothing was being sent from Old City Hall, an observation that was echoed by my friends at Berkeleyside who had also been trying to watch the action at home.

I sent alarmed messages to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, and Emilie did the same to press contacts on city staff. Just to make sure, I then went down to the meeting. By the time I got there Kriss told me the system had been fixed and was now online.

My suspicion is that it needed to be rebooted after the power outage last week, but no one bothered to do so. Another person at the meeting told me he'd also reported the problem to the city clerk's office. He said the person he talked to was "surly"--sounds like the same person I talked to! Could there be a management problem here?

So what happened? Two zoning adjustment board decisions were upheld. (Maybe more later on this?) The energy audit program was approved, but with an exemption for residences in buildings of 1-4 units to be "reconsidered" in a couple of years. (Oh, how they labored over that choice of word.)

And yes (see updated editorial) they never did get around to discussing the police issues stemming from the tear gassing of the December 6 demonstration. Priorities, you know! -more-


Odd Bodkins: Abdullah (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday January 23, 2015 - 04:18:00 PM

Odd Bodkins: Reality Check (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday January 23, 2015 - 03:26:00 PM

Public Comment

New: 18 Stories is too Damn Big for Berkeley

Judy Shelton
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:47:00 PM

At a recent Zoning Adjustment Board meeting, Suzie Bluestone asked the fifty-plus attendees a question: “Is there anyone in favor of this development who is on their own time and is not being paid by wealthy development money?”

The January 8 meeting at which she spoke was devoted exclusively to public comment on the “benefits” of the proposed 18-story 2211 Harold Way development in downtown Berkeley, a development that:

  • Would be crammed into an already-dense area, just across the street from the Berkeley Main Library and its attached Library Gardens Apartments;
  • Would demolish the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, a great cultural and economic asset to Berkeley (sixty percent of its customers come from out of town);
  • Would destroy retail establishments both at the building site and in the surrounding area, where theater customers generate a significant amount of business;
  • Would cast massive shadows on the Library Gardens Apartments and Berkeley High School;
  • Would create yet more outlandishly expensive housing for upper-middle-class techies streaming in from San Francisco –
and also more vacation homes and AirB&B rentals, as is happening in San Francisco;

  • Would blight the famous Bay view from the Campanile; and
  • Would make already-scarce parking in that area almost impossible.
Given these impacts, are YOU in favor of the Harold Way project? Right. Neither were any of the ZAB attendees – except, of course, for the Mark Rhoades contingent, who stands to make loads of money off it. -more-

New: Netanyahu’s planned US Visit

Jagjit Singh
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:49:00 PM

In a serious breach of established protocol, Speaker John Boehner launched a sneak attack on the White House by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. Jewish Voices for Peace vehemently denounced the planned visit stating that under his leadership, “the Israeli government has ramped up illegal settlement building, increasing the population of Jewish settlers by over 23%, made the biggest land grab in a generation, committed countless human rights abuses and killed thousands of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, and done everything possible to maintain the status quo of Israeli occupation and domination”. -more-

New: The IRS: The Impact of Tax Cheating

Harry Brill
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:42:00 PM

If Congress really believes that there is not enough money to support and expand publicly financed social programs, then why has it one year after another cut the budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whose income from audits far exceed the Agency's budget? Do you know what members of Congress already know but act as if they don't -- that the average IRS auditor collects revenue which is twenty times his or her salary? Yet the annual cuts in its budget since 2010 have resulted in a staff reduction of about 8,000 employees. Not only has it become far more difficult for a taxpayer to reach a live staff person for assistance. Substantial budget cuts have appreciably reduced the capacity of the IRS to audit individuals and corporations. -more-

Jindal should take a vow of silence

Jagjit Singh
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:26:00 PM

Bobby Jindal seems to be suffering from a bad bout of foot and mouth disease. Following his ludicrous defense of former President Bush’s heinous torture practices, the Louisiana governor made a major faux pas by echoing Fox News assertions about Muslims in the wake of the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher Market in Paris. -more-

Normalizing Relations with Iran

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:17:00 PM

The Obama administration (and Pope Francis) deserve credit for normalizing relations with Cuba. They should now move vigorously to normalize relations with Iran. A resolution would bring Iran back into the global economy; give us a useful ally against radical Islamists who are a major threat to world order. -more-


ECLECTIC RANT: Thoughts on freedom of expression in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre

Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:35:00 PM

Much has been written about the killing of 12 people and the wounding of 11 others at the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo. The discussion has for the most part been quite healthy concerning freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a right but it comes with a responsibility.

In the United States, the 1969 Supreme Court in Brandenberg v. Ohio struck down the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member, and established a new standard: Speech can be suppressed only if it is intended, and likely to produce, “imminent lawless action.” Otherwise, even speech that advocates violence is protected. The Brandenberg standard prevails in the U.S. today. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Unfortunately, the concept of freedom of expression is not appreciated or understood in most of the Arab world. Blasphemy, for example is prohibited in many Arab countries. For many followers of Islam, the depiction of Muhammad is a contentious issue. The Quran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad, but there are a few supplemental teachings which explicitly prohibits Muslims from creating visual depictions of figures. And lampooning Muhammad is certain to raise the ire of most Muslims. -more-

THE PUBLIC EYE:The Return of Good Obama

Bob Burnett
Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:09:00 PM

After working on the 2008 Obama campaign, and celebrating his election, I’ve spent much of the past 6 years defending the President. Fortunately, the 2015 State-of-the-Union address found the President in fine form. Hopefully, this speech marks the return of the “good” Obama I expected. -more-

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Deterioration vs. Bouncing Back + Rebuking Rand Paul

Jack Bragen
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:12:00 PM

A lot of people with severe mental illness go a number of years in which they are stabilized and function at a fairly high level. However, these fairly good years are sometimes followed by a downturn. -more-

SENIOR POWER : Assisted dying in the UK

Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:07:00 PM

Is suicide a crime? Assisted suicide? How about physician-assisted... -more-

Arts & Events

New: Timbuktu: Islamic Fundamentalism Comes to Town

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Wednesday January 28, 2015 - 09:58:00 PM

Opens January 30 at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco

Abderrahmane Sissako's Oscar-nominated film Timbuktu is a treat for the eyes and a banquet for the senses but it's an occasional pain for the brain. While the film does a masterful job of embedding the viewer in a richly rendered story of a simple family's experience with religious oppression, the experience is undercut by some confusing edits, too many storylines and characters that capture the attention but serve no story-telling purpose.

Still, the film is worth seeing if you want to understand something of the culture-clash that's wreaking havoc in Mali and other African nations as people are suddenly forced to live under rules imposed by invading Islamic purists.

Timbuktu glows with glorious cinematography (We haven't seen desert landscapes like this since George Lukas set up his cameras in Tunisia to provide the background for Tatooine) and resonates with the sound of local melodies strummed on strings or sung aloud. But quietly! Because Timbutu and its surrounding dune-dwelling communities are now under the sway of religious fundamentalists dead-set on asserting control. -more-

New: American Bach Soloists Perform Handel’s ACIS AND GALATEA

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 26, 2015 - 05:44:00 PM

George Friederic Handel’s chamber opera Acis and Galatea was first presented in 1717 as a masque, i.e., an aristocratic entertainment involving pantomime, dance, and song, at the English country estate, Cannons, of the man later known as Duke of Chandos. Based on a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Acis and Galatea is in the pastoral tradition, evoking the Arcadian world of shepherds, nymphs and mythological characters (such as Polyphemus, the famed one-eyed Cyclops). During Handel’s lifetime, Acis and Galatea was performed more often than any other of this composer’s dramatic works. -more-

A Most Unlikely Butterfly—“Retard” plays in living rooms

John McMullen
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:29:00 PM

Last Saturday, I went to a living room performance in Oakland near the Berkeley border.

Honesty is not something that happens much on stage, perhaps by the nature of the art and artifice. We use the playwright’s words, we pretend to be someone we are not, and, like Aristotle said, honesty on the stage is an imitation of real life.

This performance was honest. There are only two people who can perform it. It is about their story. The honesty is no only their banter, in her narrative of her journey, and in her voice and choice of songs. There is an impromptu feel and candor that shows not only their connection but also shows the sometimes rocky nature of their relationship.

Miss Jeffrie Givens voice will transport you. I use that archaic honorific “Miss” to underscore that she is a woman despite her masculine -sounding surname. But the crux of the play is her ability to tell her story of breaking out of her tightly woven chrysalis with the help of Marty Nemko, her career counselor, who played a sort of Henry Higgins role in her life. -more-

THEATER REVIEW: 'Panhandle'--The Depression & Dust Bowl In Situ--Actors' Ensemble stages Walter Halsey Davis' play with music

Ken Bullock
Friday January 23, 2015 - 02:22:00 PM

"A Communist? What's that?"

"Someone who wants to take away private property."

"You mean like bankers?"

Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath' and the books and movies that followed it chronicled and made legend the impoverished families and the lonely men who crossed the country to the West Coast in the 1930s, trying to escape the ravages of the Depression and the Dust Bowl that them drove away from their farms, their homes ...

They're usually seen scrabbling for jobs, places to live, some respect--or fighting or running from oppression--Out West. But what were they like at home, before and during the ordeal that changed their lives and the history of the nation?

Actors Ensemble is staging Walter Halsey Davis' play with music, 'Panhandle,' through January 31 at Live Oak Theatre, which tells that tale, shows something of the lives of that community who saw their hopes blow away literally as dust on the wind. It's a perfect piece for AE, the Berkeley community theater company--the oldest theater company in Berkeley--to be doing, rich in background as well as foregrounded characters who rise from the ensemble, representing the community. And the music by Marc Ream and Jeremy Cohen mixes songs for chorus and individuals, both anthems and more reflective numbers that contrast the moods of those changing times. -more-

AROUND & ABOUT OPERA: Premiere of ''The Lariat,' from the Novella by Berkeley Author Jaime De Angulo

Ken Bullock
Friday January 23, 2015 - 01:15:00 PM

Lisa Scola Prosek's new opera, ''The Lariat,' winner of the New York Center for Contemporary Opera's Atelier Award, based on Berkeley author Jaime De Angulo's novella--billed as "darkly comic"--about a Spanish priest and Essalen tribesmen in Big Sur and Carmel during the age of the California Missions, premieres at 8 tonight, Friday, January 23, with performances continuing this week and next Friday and Saturday. -more-