BARF comes to Berkeley--will this be a trend?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 06, 2015 - 04:52:00 PM

Wow, the stuff that comes in over the transom!

An acquaintance who follows San Francisco politics sent me this juicy excerpt from something gleaned from an online mailing list because it mentions Berkeley:

“TONIGHT!! Berkely [sic] !!! Landmark preservation hearing

Some people are trying to landmark the view of west Berkeley from a hill - that's basically a moratorium!! Block out your evening,

If any Berkely people already have more info in this, can u post it?”

Hm, someone’s planning to harass the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission who can’t even spell Berkeley correctly? Sounds like trouble, so I went. 

Before I went, I tracked down the person who’d originally sent this subliterate missive and the organization that she belongs to. Clicking on a link in the post I came upon a whole series of posts (13 from three authors and counting as of Friday afternoon) from members of an organization which rejoices in the acronym SF BARF (aka SF Bay Area Renters' Federation). 

From their website: “SFBARF are people who believe SF's housing crisis can be mitigated by increasing the housing supply. We organize renters to testify in favor of new building projects at neighborhood meetings and hearings.” 

The author of the quoted email was a woman named Sonja Trauss, who was profiled in the San Francisco Examiner as the BARF founder. 

Her crusade: “Build as much housing as possible, as fast as possible, for all income levels and at heights and densities not currently allowed in many locations.” 

It’s a tall order isn’t it? (Pun intended). 

She sounds like a lovely young woman. (Sarcasm, what the young often mistakenly call irony.) 

Further quote from the thread: 

“I'm planning on being there around 7, I emailed John Caner to confirm that we should come. 

I'm just excited to finally have an opportunity to read this into the record (written in 1528).
lol hilarious location.” 

That would mean, for all you old fogeys who don’t know the lingo, that she was “Laughing Out Loud” because the meeting was to be held in the North Berkeley Senior Center. 

(Hahaha, Senior, get it? Slap thigh here.) 

What she hoped to read into the record was a bit from that hoary old chestnut, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, the arse-kisser’s bible. 

Sample Courtier wit and wisdom from her link, emphasis sic: 

“Since therefore the senile mind is an unfit subject for many pleasures, it cannot enjoy them; and just as to men in fever, when the palate is spoiled by corrupt vapours, all wines seem bitter, however precious and delicate they be, so old men, because of their infirmity (which yet does not deprive them of appetite), find pleasures flat and cold and very different from those which they remember tasting of old, although the pleasures are intrinsically the same. Thus they feel themselves despoiled, and they lament and call the present times bad, not perceiving that the change lies in themselves and not in the times.”  

However John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, from whom she seems to be taking her marching orders, looked to be no spring chicken himself when he showed up last night at the LPC. 

Yes, reader, I went, lured away from my customary Thursday evening recreation of scorning bitter wine by the prospect of seeing real BARFing in action. 

I was not disappointed. 

Just a few minutes after the meeting started, Caner showed up, accompanied by a posse which included Matt Taecker, the former city Planning Department employee who is now the fixer for the downtown hotel project, Tim Frank, recent chair of the No on R campaign, a bearded young man I didn’t recognize as a Berkeley regular, and a comely young woman in the de rigueur skinny jeans and skyscraper heels who might or might not have been part of their group. 

As they walked in late, Steven Finacom was presenting the application which he and former LPC chair (and MoveOn.org founder) Carrie Olson have made to landmark the viewshed from and towards U.C. Berkeley’s world-famous Campanile. He’s been, among many honors, president of the Berkeley Historical Society, a Berkeley Architectural Heritage board member and an LPC member. He was a longtime staffer at U.C.’s planning office. He’s now the historical columnist for the Media News Group papers and has been an occasional contributing writer for the Planet and berkeleyside.com. 

He looks to be just a bit over fifty. 

Finacom has agreed to do a piece for the Planet on the merits of the Campanile view application, so I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that his talk was lengthy, interesting and well illustrated by history texts and graphics. In brief, he demonstrated how the tower (formally the Sather Tower) had originally been sited to provide the clear and compelling view of the Golden Gate which has been preserved ever since it was built a century ago. The purpose of designating it as a City of Berkeley Landmark would be to preserve that historic prospect. 

As soon as the talk was over, Caner spoke. He expressed his fears, and presumptively those of his employers, the Downtown Berkeley Association, that preserving the view of and from the Campanile might put a cramp in some of the plans now in the works to build ever taller buildings in downtown Berkeley. Specifically mentioned, among others, were opportunity sites now housing Walgreens, Target and FedX. 

These opinions were echoed on cue by Taecker, Frank and the bearded fellow, who identified himself as Ian Monroe from BARF, a participant in the thread which brought them to the meeting. 

Evidently, from what they said, BARF don’t want no stinkin’ views blocking the luxury condo towers they hope to see in Berkeley’s future. 

Monroe had spoken online: 

“Ah shit! I was sort of wondering why Berkeley would even care to
declare a Berkeley property a historic landmark since Berkeley has
next-to-no say in how UC Berkeley conducts itself. But obviously if
the measure is to really to obstruct Shattuck construction, that is
another matter entirely.” 

(A search identifies one Ian Monroe as a sometime lecturer at Stanford. If he's the same guy, that might explain a lot. But we can't confirm at press time. ) 

The woman didn’t speak, so I don’t know if she was a BARFer. 

The public hearing will be kept open until the next LPC meeting on April 2, per the requests of Caner and his associates. Evidently they mean to turn out the troops, since Frank mentioned two well-known “smart” growth lobbying organizations as wanting to participate. 

The spiciest news of the evening was that Mayor Tom Bates, well-known as an advocate of towers downtown, had summarily fired his appointee, Commissioner Rose Marie Pietras, who had represented him on the LPC for several years. The buzz in the room was that she declined to follow the Mayor’s orders about how to vote on the Campanile view landmarking, a no-no in the tightly wrapped Bates apparatus. 

She told me today that the rumors were true. 

She and apparatchik Calvin Fong had had words last week over her criticisms of city staff’s presentation to the LPC of the project proposed for 2211 Harold Way, now the site of the Shattuck theaters. At the time she correctly recognized the threat the building posed to the Campanile view, and she questioned other aspects of the proposal as well. She’s a 22-year veteran of Contra Costa County, including lead responsibility for several major projects, so she knows whereof she speaks. 

To add insult to injury, she learned that she’d been canned through a voicemail left by Fong. She has the message on her cell, if anyone wants to listen to it. When I talked to her, she was still plenty mad. 

He told her there was a new appointee already in place, but no one showed up last night. Today Charles Burress, the mayor’s staff press guy, told me her name is Kimberly Suczynski-Smith, but he knew nothing more about her. 

I wonder if she’s aware that she’s stepping into a hornet’s nest. A quick Google shows her to be an employee of Oakland’s Pyatok, Inc., architectural firm and a lecturer in City and Regional Planning at UCB’s College of Environmental Design. It’s not clear whether the latter position will make it necessary for her to recuse herself on the Campanile question because of a conflict of interest, and at this point no one can tell how she feels about taking orders from the Mayor (who by the way is also over 50.) 

Next month’s LPC meeting promises to be interesting. There will probably be a few speakers who worry that Berkeley is turning into Emeryville. The boys from BARF will surely show up, probably accompanied by allies, and perhaps even founder Sonja will finally show up to read Castiglione into the record. 

I can’t help wondering if this is a battle all the members of the Downtown Berkeley Association want to see waged in their name, especially associated with people like BARF. Some of them must be aware that if their turf turns into a tacky imitation of Walnut Creek, the rest of us altacockers Alte Kakers* could just decide to take our business elsewhere. Does John Caner really speak for them? We’ll find out. 


* Thanks, Daniella, for the Yiddish copy editing!