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Recent Development Misses Berkeley's Real Housing Needs (News Analysis)

Tom Hunt
Thursday April 02, 2015 - 01:31:00 PM

For years we've been hearing that Berkeley needs all the new housing that can be built, at whatever price point the developers choose. But a quick review of the data confirmed my suspicion that developers have built way too much expensive housing and much too little housing for those whose income is moderate and below. It's even worse than I had previously thought.

First let's look at the last 8 years. 84% of the new housing in Berkeley was for households with greater than $92,566 yearly income (the orange top of the bars). 

Over the last 8 years Berkeley has added only 14% of the housing goals set by the regional Plan Bay Area for moderate income and below but has added 89% of the goal for households making more than $92,566 (Above Moderate Income). If we don't build 1116 units of affordable housing before we build 125 above moderate income units, we won't build our way out of the affordable housing hole we're in. 

Cheryl Cort at Greater Greater Washington says "a free-market approach isn't the whole answer to housing affordability". Cort refers to an analysis by Anita Morrison which shows "The 65-foot building costs $168,000 per unit, while the costs for high-rise steel and concrete buildings of 130 to 250 feet are higher. The 200-foot building costs $241,000 per unit." Steel costs 43% more than wood which is passed on into the rents. 

Concrete and steel 180 foot buildings may be sellable to the rich from politically unstable parts of the world looking for Bay Area real estate. But they're not affordable by local families making less than $92,566. 

Also the Plan Bay Area goals themselves (created by the Association of Bay Area Governments) are unsupported by the data I found. 

Our questionable water supply alone threatens our capacity for population growth. At the current growth rate, 1.75%/year , Alameda County will need twice as much water in just 40 years.(http://www.census.gov/popest/data/counties/totals/2014/index.html) 

We're going to have to find some other way to equitably distribute the housing we have. I suggest covering all new housing under rent control and eliminating vacancy decontrol. 

New: Dense urbanism: Should it be Berkeley's future? (Part 1 of 2)

Tim Hansen
Saturday March 28, 2015 - 10:52:00 PM

We live in interesting times. The movement in city building towards very dense urbanism is beginning to fracture. Berkeley is part of this movement with the dissonance of change being played out in our city. The movement towards dense urbanism has been going on for a long time, mainly driven by industrialization and efficiencies in agriculture. Today many people embrace the movement out of a reaction to concerns about peak oil. In the mid 1950s the idea emerged that oil production would continue to increase for a while and then, as the fields began to dry up, production would begin to decrease. If one graphed the production by year, that point in time where production begins to drop is called peak oil. This is of great concern. With falling production oil prices would rise, and with it food prices, housing costs, transportation, and everything else. This could give rise to social unrest, destabilized governments, and possibly even wars. The future would be bleak. 

For many, the fix seemed obvious. We would cut back on our use of oil. Since cars use a lot of oil we would stop driving and take public transportation. Cars can go almost anywhere, public transportation serves many fewer locations. To overcome this very dense transit centers were promoted. It wouldn’t matter that public transportation served fewer places because there would be fewer places to go; the denser the transit centers were the more efficient they would be. Cars were viewed as a luxury we no longer could afford and parking lots were considered opportunity sites for large apartment complexes. New York City was pointed to as utopia because its per capita energy use is low compared to current suburban developments. Our government responded by passing codes and regulation promoting dense building. An industry grew up around promoting and building the dense centers and with them lobbyists, quasi-governmental agencies, contractors, consultants and politicians, all marching to the drum of more and more dense urbanism. The movement took on an almost religious zeal with the nonbelievers branded NIMBYs. For the sake of the future, we had to make the sacrifice whether one wanted to or not for the alternative they thought was coming was not acceptable. 

With global warming the stakes were greatly increased. Energy was equated with carbon production, which was equated with climate change. Those promoting the dense development would save the world by building even denser centers to reduce energy use, thereby limiting climate change. They would do it here, in Berkeley. The end was so important that it justified any means. Our city officials began to stack the deck in favor of very dense development. The process became corrupt because the end—dense city development—became all-important to them. 

But the world isn’t going the way many people thought it would. New questions are being asked and a new view of what our future would be is emerging. Today it is not hard to imagine a world where oil plays a significantly less role in our lives, yet the auto is still the dominant mode of transportation. A world where our homes are made of materials that store carbon and are powered by solar energy, transportation is revolutionized by self driving electric automobiles, and virtual business meetings are as effective as in-person meetings. A world where one’s garden becomes a carbon sink and supplies the table with food. A world where the carbon footprint of dense center living is greater than a more dispersed model of living, and very dense urban centers are seen as the problem and not the solution for climate change. 

Where did the dense urbanists go wrong? They simply didn’t take into account human nature—that when problems present themselves, people work to solve them. The green energy revolution that is sweeping over us has implications for our future and how we should live that weren’t imagined decades ago. The dense urbanists have a lot invested in their worldview. They view themselves as the good guys saving the world. It is unlikely they will recognize the implications of the green energy revolution and begin to see themselves as part of the problem instead of the solution. But the tipping point could be just around the corner. 

Those holding the more dispersed model for cities view the dense urbanists as people just in it for the money using green jargon for deceptive marketing. They see the push to get rid of autos as naive and support new housing with enough area to be green, housing that is contextual, doesn’t sacrifice light and air, preserves vistas, and creates wonderful places to live that honors the past while looking forward to the future. They reject New York City as a model for development pointing out that times have changed. Also, studies show the people of New York City are some of the unhappiest of any US city. Why would one model oneself after a place where people aren’t happy if there was no reason to? For the dense urbanists, happiness is not a recognized metric. 

Those opposed to the dense urbanists view traffic congestion as a failure in city planning and a waste of people’s time and resources. The dense urbanists view congestion as sign of success foretelling the abandonment of autos for public transportation with the inconvenience simply being the cost of change. Affordable housing is viewed as something needing public support. The dense urbanists believe that if we build high-rise luxury condos the extra housing will result in a trickle down creating more affordable units. Others reject trickle down believing it is more complex, taking into account jobs, wages and supply. They believe that buildings should be built green, while the dense urbanists believe that if the green building standards are in the way of a large development, the standards should be discarded. 

Those who share the dispersed building view envision a kind of garden city, bits and pieces of which still exist in Berkeley but are vanishing fast under the hand of the dense urbanists. They look at what we lost and see a city with very serious problems. It is time to step back and decide where we as a city are going. We have lost our warm water pool, Willard pool, the Fine Arts Cinema and Iceland—all of which could have been made green—and are on the road to losing important vistas, more cinemas and the post office. We are getting denser yet losing the amenities that support the density and makes our city wonderful. This is a recipe for serious social problems. Our roads are congested and in disrepair, BART is standing room only when most people need it. We have lost affordable housing, diversity and are gentrifying. We have failed to put solar on our public buildings, to support green energy by joining Community Choice Aggregation, and we do not require meaningful green building standards. We have failed to build the affordable housing we need. Our city officials talk—but that is about it. 

It is time to rethink Berkeley. It is time for a change. The dense urbanists are pushing two high-rise projects for the downtown. It is time to examine these projects and see if they are in the interests of anyone. This will be part 2. 


Press Release: Following beating of homeless people by DBA reps, homeless people demand end to campaign of criminalization and brutality

From Bob Offer-Westort
Friday March 27, 2015 - 03:24:00 PM

Protest at 4:00 p.m., Shattuck between Allston and Kittredge

At 4:00 p.m. today, homeless people and their housed neighbors in Berkeley will hold a protest concerning the recent brutal beating of two homeless men by two employees of the Downtown Berkeley Association. The protest will take place at 2230 Shattuck Ave., in front of the entry to the DBA's office. 


On March 19, Nathan Christopher Swor and James Wilbur Cocklereese, both homeless, were confronted by two "ambassadors"—downtown private security personnel—contracted by the DBA. The conflict verbally escalated until one of the ambassadors, Jeffrey D. Bailey, stepped on Cocklereese's belongings. When instructed to step off of the property, Bailey punched Cocklereese, and then beat him repeatedly while the other ambassador, Carmen Francois, held off Swor. Bailey later struck Swor, then returned to Cocklereese, gripped him by the throat, and warned him that he (Bailey) was watching him (Cocklereese). The ambassadors then contacted the Berkeley Police Department, and alleged that the homeless men were the assailants. Cocklereese and Swor were arrested, and held until Monday, March 23, when they were released on a plea bargain. Swor has been sentenced to court probation for two years, and Cocklereese for thirty days, which he will serve through the Sheriff's work program. Both men are to return to court on May 18 for determination of restitution to the ambassadors. 

However, on Thursday, March 26, a video with clear audio surfaced, revealing that the homeless men did not assault the ambassadors, but quite the contrary. The Downtown Berkeley Association responded by firing Bailey and placing Francois on suspension, but community members say that this is inadequate. Ninja Kitty, a homeless man who has lived in Berkeley for over a decade, said, "John Caner of the DBA says that this is contrary to his organization's goals. But part of ambassadors' job is to intimidate homeless people off of Shattuck Avenue. People are only intimidated if the violence is sometimes real. This brutality is a part of what the DBA does. This isn't the first time that ambassadors have assaulted homeless people—it's just the first time it's been caught so well on camera." 

Osha Neumann, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, said, "Multiple times in the past couple months, private citizens have recorded Berkeley Police arresting homeless people with disabilities in ways that resulted in injuries. This incident differs only in that the shirt is yellow rather than blue. Just last week, the DBA brought to Berkeley's City Council a slate of six new anti-homeless laws that criminalize everyday activities. This isn't a coincidence. When the DBA pushes for criminalization, police and ambassadors feel pressured to use force to push homeless citizens out of public spaces. We don't want to see just the one guy who got caught fired: We want the DBA to end its campaign of criminalization and brutality against homeless people. If they want to address homelessness, then they need to be good faith members of the community, and participate in public processes like the Homeless Taskforce."

Victims of Downtown Berkeley Association Ambassador assault have already been sentenced in plea bargain.

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 27, 2015 - 08:06:00 AM

Two men shown in a YouTube video in an altercation with a pair of Downtown Berkeley Association “Ambassadors” have already entered into a plea bargain and been sentenced. They were arrested by Berkeley Police on March 19.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has released the names of the two men, Nathan Christopher Swor and James Wilbur Cocklereese, whose struggle with a pair of “ambassadors” employed by the Block-by-Block company under contract with the Downtown Berkeley Association was captured on video by Bryan Hamilton.

A male “ambassador” is shown repeatedly punching one of the two men, who seems to be arguing with him but does not have a weapon. The Block-by-Block employees were identified in court documents as Jeffrey D. Bailey and Carmen Maria Francois. 


Yesterday an apology was issued by DBA CEO John Caner which said, in part, “the DBA was shocked by this totally unacceptable egregious behavior, that runs completely contrary to the extensive training, protocols, and mission of hospitality and outreach of our Ambassadors, Block-by-Block (our contractor / service partner), and the Downtown Berkeley Association. “ Caner’s press release said that the man assaulted by Bailey “appears to be a member of the city's street population.” 

Swor and Cocklereese were charged on Monday by the district attorney’s office with multiple offenses, including assault, assault with a deadly weapon, exhibiting a deadly weapon, disturbing the peace by offensive language, battery and criminal threats. 

The DA’s office told the Planet yesterday that the case has already been resolved. The two, represented by a public defender and a court appointed attorney, pled “no contest” to a lesser related offense as a misdemeanor. 

The declaration on which the original charges were based was signed by Berkeley Police Officer Donavan Edwards. His statement did not mention the series of punches which the video shows Bailey landing on one of the men. Bailey and Francois were not charged with anything. 

From the video it appears that Cocklereese was the one assaulted by Bailey, and that Swor attempted to defend him. Swor was initially charged with swinging a “pole (6-foot long) with a blade (4-inch half crescent shaped) at both victims”. 

According to the DA’s office, Swor was sentenced to “2 years of Court Probation, credit for time served, restitution fund fine, three-way search, do not possess weapons, stay away from CVS, stay away from Victims and Restitution.” 

Cocklereese also pled no contest to charges which did not include a weapon, with the same disposition. He also admitted a probation violation for 30 days which he will complete through the Sheriff’s work program. 

Both defendants are supposed to be back to court on May 18, 2015 for determination of restitution to the victim. 

The Berkeley Police Department’s Public Information Officer Jennifer Coats told the Planet yesterday afternoon that the department had not been informed of the disposition of the case against Swor and Cocklereese. 

Coats said that to the best of her knowledge no charges had been filed against Bailey or his colleague Carmen Maria Francois, though the BPD had seen the video which shows the assault. 



Berkeley Musters Foxtail Brigade

Toni Mester
Friday March 27, 2015 - 02:19:00 PM

Volunteers will gather on Saturday morning March 28 in an effort to abate the foxtail menace at the Cesar Chavez Park off-leash area. This first attack on the noxious weeds that endanger the health of dogs will be held from 9 AM to noon. 

No prior experience is required, as trainers will be on hand to instruct all comers who report at the entry of the OLA near the bulletin board. Please wear gardening clothes, a hat, and sunscreen, and bring gloves, water bottle, and garden snippers. Volunteers must sign a Volunteer Waiver Form. 

On hand to direct the work will be Alonzo Chess, Landscape Gardener Supervisor, and biologist Jim Martin of the Environmental Collaborative, who submitted a Biological Resources Assessment describing the problem and alternative solutions. Leaders of the OLA who have participated in special training will assist. 

The primary weed to be attacked is a variety of wild barley, hordeum murinum, subspecies leporinum, commonly known as foxtail barley. Now is the perfect time to trim or pull this grass, because the arrow like seed heads called awns are fully formed, but not yet hardened. Special care must be taken not to spread any viable seed or to unduly disturb the ground where seeds could sprout. 

The plant detritus will be collected and bagged for special disposal. Although this first attack will not eradicate the plant, each volunteer effort will reduce the seed bank and the danger to dogs, who can suffer not only external but also horrific internal injuries if the awn enters an orifice. In such an event, the animal will require expensive surgery. Every defeated foxtail means less risk of such an occurrence. 

Dog park users had asked the City to mow more area of the park, but the weeds grow in small clumps or larger swathes that are no conducive to mowing. 

For further information, please contact Roger Miller, Acting Waterfront Manager, (510) 981-6737, or by email at rmiller@cityofberkeley.info 



Berkeley Police claim significant increase in residential burglaries in early 2015

Dave Brooksher (BCN)
Friday March 27, 2015 - 09:19:00 AM

An increased number of residential burglaries has Berkeley police advising the public to lock up, report suspicious activity and avoid allowing your house to look empty as a way of discouraging break-ins. 

There's been a significant increase in the number of residential burglaries reported when compared against the same time frame last year, police said in a statement issued Wednesday. 

The most noticeable pattern of burglaries are occurring east of Ohlone Park, south of University of California at Berkeley, and in the Elmwood neighborhood, according to police. 

Police say they're monitoring this trend, providing extra patrols and conducting special operations to apprehend the burglars. In the meanwhile, however, they suggest taking precautionary measures. 

According to police, most burglaries occur when the burglar gains access to a home through an unlocked door or window. They're advising the public to lock up, and make sure to activate any alarm or surveillance systems in the home. 

They're also advising Berkeley residents to promptly report suspicious activity since those leads are often instrumental in closing burglary cases, according to police. 

When leaving town make sure to have mail and newspaper deliveries put on hold to avoid becoming a target of opportunity, police said. They also suggest installing timers for interior lighting.

Earl Crabb, 1941-2015

Tuesday March 31, 2015 - 08:02:00 AM
Earl Crabb, 1941-2015
Earl Crabb, 1941-2015

Born September 6, 1941 in Le Sueur, MN. Died February 20, 2015 in San Francisco, CA of complications from pancreatic cancer. Son of Robert Joseph Crabb and Catherine Boucher Crabb (both predeceased.) Technologist, photographer, entrepreneur, online maven, music philanthropist, and dear friend, Earl transformed those who were lucky enough to be part of the myriad of communities he created, nurtured, and embraced throughout his life.  

Earl majored in economics at Williams College from 1959-1964.  

He was a pioneer in computer programing, designing the first on-line-banking programs for Bank of America, the first touch screen program for a Canadian tourist bureau, bank security, and investment software for financial institutions. He consulted with a range of corporations, but was particularly inspired by smaller businesses and nonprofits. He built financial models for the Pickle Family Circus and Ten Speed Press. He served on the boards of a host of nonprofit organizations including Piedmont Springs Hot Tubs, the California Jug Band Association, and the Pickle Family Circus, for whom he served as Acting Executive Director (1991-1992). 

He was a beloved fixture of the 1960’s traditional and folk music scene as a producer, photographer, organizer, and jack-of-all trades. From 1968 until his death, he was owner of Humbead Enterprises, creating and publishing posters (including, with Rick Shubb, “Humbead’s Revised Map of the World,” “El Hashish,” and “Edantodreamia,”) and distributing books by David Goines. Earl photographed weight-lifting, fashion, album and magazine covers, circus performers, theatre events including the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and people, markets, cities, and events in countries around the world.  

In 1987, he joined “The WELL,” the world’s most influential virtual community. Host of the News Conference and one of the WELL’s most ubiquitous members, in 2012 he led a group of participant-investors to purchase The WELL (well.com) from Salon. As he said at the time, "Every single member of the WELL can take a bow, pop the champagne, and celebrate.” He served as President and CEO of the WELL from 2012 until his illness became too much. Thousands of WELLtrons past and present have shared their recollections of his kind and generous online activities. Earl described himself in his WELL profile: “I do software product design, user interfaces, online systems, programming, photography, sailing. In past lives have done lots more stranger things.” 

He is survived by his wife, the love of his life, fashion designer and entrepreneur Giselle Shepatin as well as Robert Crabb and John Crabb (brothers), Christy Crabb, Cindy Crabb, Robin Wenzel, Brian Crabb, Caty Crabb, Andy Crabb and Mariah Crabb, (nieces and nephews).  

He helped hundreds of friends with business plans, random questions, and a place to stay. Deeply interested in people and ideas, Earl, always with his camera around his neck, was unfailingly kind and generous. His curiosity, passion and caring were contagious. “Earl, you made everything better,” says a statement from the circus Les 7 Doigts de la Main, “Thank you.” Citizen extraordinaire and lover of everything creative, he was, and will always remain, an inspiration.  

Family, friends, and the folk musicians he inspired and was inspired by, will celebrate his remarkable life at a joyful tribute concert on May 31 at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA. 



Updated: Berkeley's LPC will take a look at the view of the Golden Gate from the Campanile on Thursday

Becky O'Malley
Monday March 30, 2015 - 08:50:00 AM

If you’re free on Thursday night, it might be a good opportunity to get a preview of what’s shaping up to be a battle for the soul of Berkeley. Yes, yes, I know that sounds a bit over the top, but the plans the money men are making for us are equally over the top and then some.

To get the full flavor of what’s happening, you should go on Thursday at 6 to the Campanile at what’s now called U.C. Berkeley (formerly known as Cal). It’s that bell tower (formally the Sather Tower) situated at a high point right in the middle of campus. If you look west from the Campanile (and there should be a sunset) you can see all the way out through the Golden Gate.

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

And catch that view while you still can, because the big bucks barons have a few plans to change it that they’d like to share with you.

Did you hear about San Francisco’s successful “No Wall on the Waterfront” campaign last fall? It was an initiative which prevented (at least for now) the construction of—yes, a wall—of highrises which would have blocked San Francisco’s fabled view of the Bay. Now it’s Berkeley’s Bay view that’s threatened, specifically the view of the Golden Gate from the campus which generations of students and visitors from all over the world have enjoyed since the Campanile was built in 1914. 

Since last November the city of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has been studying how it might be possible to preserve that lovely view for generations to come. Steve Finacom and Carrie Olson, both former LPC commissioners, have put together a comprehensive set of documents explaining why the view’s important and why it must be included in Campanile Way’s designation as a landmark in order to save it. 

The commission opened a public hearing to discuss these recommendations at its February meeting, which will be continued on Thursday. Many Berkeley citizens spoke in March in support of saving the view. But also speaking, as previously recounted in this space, were Downtown Berkeley Association Chief Executive Officer John Caner, and his posse, including representatives of a small San Francisco organization devoted to building as much as possible of everything everywhere, under the claim that this will provide for regional housing needs. The group is called San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation, fondly known to both fans and foes as SFBARF. BARF indeed. 

BARFers, as well as I can understand their message, seem to want Berkeley to build them some stuff here, and to hell with them stinking views. They apparently believe that building some towers filled with luxury apartments will through some magical trickle-down effect provide them with cheap rent wherever they choose to live in the Bay Area. 

Four or five of them showed up on Saturday at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market handing out flyers which purported to explain their position. One item in their printed wish list especially caught my eye: 

Personal freedom: to live in the neighborhood or town of your choosing and not just the only place you can afford.”  

Well, yes, sure, who among us wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t like to live in all those nice places they can’t actually afford? 

The BARFies seem to have chosen Berkeley as the place they’d most like to live—lucky us. 

Some of us who are here now, if BARF gets its way and we can all live where we can’t afford to live, might then choose to move to, oh, say, Pacific Heights? Or Piedmont? Or maybe we’d like to join Vinod Khosla at the beach? But why stop there? How about the French Riviera? Opportunities are unlimited when “personal freedom” regardless of cost is the order of the day. 

The BARF flyer talks a lot about “quality of life”. But what about those who would simply like to be able to afford to live somewhere? Downtown towers won’t do much for them. 

Here’s a drawing from the flyer: 














Well, again, yes, sure, that’s nice, I guess. But there’s a bit more to life than that. 

Nature, for example, and views thereof. But that’s so Earth Day, so old school. 

You might wonder how preserving the view of the Golden Gate from the Campanile would hamper the BARFites’ personal freedom? 

They seem to need B-I-I-G buildings in downtown Berkeley to provide new lifestyle opportunities when their ex throws them out. Even if they can’t afford the cost of living in luxury. 

Caner and his BARFy acolytes at the last LPC meeting argued against including the view of the Golden Gate as part of the landmark designation because it might inhibit plans now in the works to build several 18 story deluxe buildings in downtown Berkeley. 

Here’s another BARFnik cartoon on this topic, circulated on the Internet, picturing their claim that adding tall buildings would just improve the view from the Campanile: 















What’s shown in the drawing would be bad enough, but here’s what Steve Finacom told me about how it depicts plans now before the Zoning Adjustment Board for 2211 Harold Way, modestly titled “The Residences at Berkeley Plaza” (and no, there is no Berkeley Plaza): 

“Their cute little ‘frame’ of tall downtown buildings around the Golden Gate is set back much, much, further on either side than the actual development is and would be. The drawing is a lie. The buildings would rise right in front of Alcatraz and what little view is left of the Bay water, and up to the base of the bridge and, on other sites, block the bridge itself. This is not a matter of ‘framing’ but ‘blocking’.” 

(Steve added that the cartoonist also misinterprets the poem by Bishop George Berkeley that inspired the name for our city: “Bishop Berkeley says in the poem itself that ‘empire’ means an empire of learning and the arts. That phrase is almost never quoted, while ‘westward the course of empire’is incessantly used. And when he wrote his poem in the early 18th century, the ‘British Empire’ did not exist.”) 

This project now in the works, which immediately threatens the view of the Golden Gate from the Campanile, would be an 18-story tower. It would replace the building which now houses the Shattuck Cinema, the Habitot children’s center and several local businesses. As it’s currently proposed, it would block the view on the south side of the Campanile’s view corridor. 

The putative developer is a Los Angeles financier, Joseph Penner, whose Hill Street Realty corporation acquired the building at a bargain price in an estate sale. It appears, checking the Internet, that he’s never actually built any kind of development. 

In most of these speculative construction projects the goal is to maximize the per-square-foot return on owned properties, often not by selling or renting units but simply by finding someone else who will do the annoying work of completing the building. (See, e.g. the history of the Berkeley building formerly known as “The Arpeggio”). 

If the current proposal gets entitled (gets all the permits and variances it needs) Hill Street could sell the whole unbuilt project to someone else for a huge profit on the initial investment without any enforced commitment to follow through on earlier promises of providing community benefits for Berkeley made to secure the entitlements. 

Berkeley Planning Director Eric Angstad said as much at a talk he gave at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. “It’s political”, he said with a shrug when I asked about enforcing conditions on use permits. 

So, what’s the plan for the Campanile? 

Staffing the SFBARF table at the Saturday market were the fine fellows pictured below. Remember them, and watch for them on Thursday. 






















On the left you’ll see a longtime Berkeley consultant who often fronts for developers, Tim Frank. Next to him is Jon Schwark, who told people at the table that he’s lived in a rent-controlled San Francisco apartment for twenty years after moving here from Oklahoma Kansas. Next to him there’s another Midwestern transplant, Ian Monroe from Missouri, in Berkeley for a bit over 2 years, a techie who commutes to San Francisco for work. The guy on the far right, the one wearing the 60s’ style prairie dress and the straw bonnet, is Alfred, the cartoonist. 

The small person crouched under the table is, probably, one Libby Lee-Egan, a child, though she’s hard to identify in this photo. 

Missing here, but reported to have been present, is SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss. She’s the subject of a remarkable article which appeared in today’s San Francisco Business Times: 

Pro-density renters group grows, snags tech giant CEO donation 

The story reveals that Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has given Trauss $10,000 for her personal use. 

“I wanted to help her personally with a financial gift since she recently gave up her job as an educator to devote herself full time to activism,” he told the SFBT. Activism seems to pay better than it used to in the olden days, doesn’t it? 

Supporters of the Golden Gate view have planned a procession on Thursday from the campus to the North Berkeley Senior Center, where the LPC meeting starts at 7. Now BARFers have said online that they plan to meet at the Campanile at 6 too. Presumably they’ll be there to heckle. It should be amusing all around. 

But don’t think this is all just fun and games. It’s already gotten rough. LPC Commissioner Rose Marie Pietras was summarily axed (via a message on her answering machine—how tacky) by Mayor Tom Bates because she revealed her opinion that the view should indeed be landmarked if accepted standard planning principles are to be followed. She should know, since she worked as a planner in Contra Costa County for 30 years. I guess that’s why Bates had to get rid of her. 

Her replacement, appointed by the mayor, is a young woman who both works for a big Oakland architectural firm and lectures in U.C.’s planning school. It’s hard to see how she can vote on this one, which seems to present a conflict of interest for someone with those jobs, but that never bothers the Bates apparatus. In his twelve years in office he’s gleefully brought Sacramento-style hardball politics to Berkeley. It sure is ugly, isn’t it? 

But if you’re one of those people who cares more about preserving our common heritage than about ensuring developers’ profits, show up on Thursday night. Even if you think what Berkeley really needs is a few luxury skyscrapers, you might favor keeping the view. Either way, you can join the march from the Campanile at 6, or you can just appear at the North Berkeley Senior Center (at the corner of Hearst and Milvia) at 7 to tell the LPC what you think. 





The Editor's Back Fence

Don't miss this

Saturday March 28, 2015 - 10:57:00 PM

Introducing apartheid San Francisco style, by Justin DeFreitas—and Berkeley's not far behind.

Rolling Publication Again

Friday March 27, 2015 - 08:32:00 AM

More copy for this week's issue, probably including a new editorial, will follow in due time, but we're "publishing" early today. Keep checking for new articles.


Bounce: Quandriddle Paradrum (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Sunday March 29, 2015 - 04:49:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Berkeley's Real Housing Needs Must Be Met First

Charlene M. Woodcock
Monday March 30, 2015 - 10:20:00 AM

Berkeley is in urgent need of affordable housing. We do NOT need more market rate and upscale rentals and condos; that need has been more than adequately served. We need housing for families and low income people who are being pushed out of Berkeley. The adult children of middle class families cannot find affordable housing in their home town. If Berkeley is to retain its valued character based on economic, racial, and cultural diversity, we must slow the rapidly rising rents that encourage waves of gentrification and drive out longtime Berkeley residents. Instead of market-rate large buildings, we need inclusionary 4- or 5-story projects that can achieve net-zero energy and do not place excessive burdens on their neighborhoods. Taller buildings should not be built before transit is improved or they will greatly increase auto traffic. 

The speculative development at 2211 Harold Way, the west side of the old Hink's building, is greatly out-of-scale with its proposed context in the downtown historic center. It would be adjacent to our beautiful Public Library, Post Office, High School, YMCA, and the Walter Ratcliff-designed Armstrong College and Elks Club buildings, but it would tower over these handsome buildings and it fails to equal the high quality of design they manifest or to strive for dramatic greenhouse gas reductions as any large new building in Berkeley should be required to do. We must not allow for-profit developers to take up the few sites available with buildings that will be obsolete by their completion. 

190-foot buildings would disrupt our downtown's scale, mostly 1 to 4-story buildings with the exception of the 160-foot Wells Fargo Building and the Great Western building. Paris and Stockholm are examples of inviting, livable-scale cities built with 4- and 5-story limits. Huge new buildings would cause years of traffic disruption. It would be greatly more difficult to access the existing nearby businesses and our downtown Library and Post Office and the YMCA during three years or more of construction.  

A vibrant downtown, as Jane Jacobs demonstrated, results from having a variety of locally-owned businesses and cultural venues that serve the interests of local residents. Efforts to develop an arts district have come to fruition with the very popular Berkeley Repertory Theater, the 10-screen Shattuck Cinemas, the new Freight and Salvage performance space, the Jazz School (now the California Jazz Conservatory). The cafes and restaurants are successful thanks to the critical mass of patrons brought into downtown by the cultural venues. 60% of the signers of the petition to save the Shattuck Cinemas from demolition are from outside Berkeley. They come to see movies they can't see elsewhere. There will be significant income loss to downtown business if we lose the Cinemas and Habitot, both of which the 2211 Harold Way developer intends to demolish.  

Berkeley has prided itself on being environmentally responsible. The state's 2020 energy efficiency standards include net zero energy production for residential buildings. For this reason, any large new buildings approved for construction in Berkeley should be held to these more rigorous green standards, not the greatly-diluted LEED standards that are already obsolete in view of escalating climate change. 

The canard that Berkeley voters last year provided a mandate for building tall buildings downtown without the more rigorous green requirements that Measure R proposed is belied by the very low voter turnout—just 50.4%. The developer and corporate real estate opponents of Measure R claim 74% of Berkeley voters supported its defeat, but 74% of 50.4% is obviously not a majority, and those votes were purchased by outside developer and real estate money, including $95,000 from the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors, 14 times the local funds spent to support Measure R. 

This could be a turning point for Berkeley, from being a diverse, inclusive, culturally rich, forward-looking, environmentally accountable community to one controlled by developers and real estate investors, many out-of-state or foreign, who would shape its future, our future, based on maximum profits. I hope our current city government will represent our needs at this crucial time.

New: The Berkeley public must participate in defining community benefits
Late-night council meeting is the wrong choice

Kate Harrison
Sunday March 29, 2015 - 08:58:00 PM

Based on extensive citizen input, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) called on the City Council to seek meaningful community input about the types and scope of significant benefits to be required of developers of the three large scale developments allowed in the downtown. In response, the Mayor has scheduled the discussion as a regular City Council item at the end of a very long and controversial council agenda on April 7. This will insure that discussion of the benefits will be truncated and ineffective. This is not the type of community forum we sought when we pressed ZAB to involve the community in the definition of these benefits, given the impact these buildings will have on all of our citizens. We urge members of the City Council to vote to table this item on the April 7 agenda and to sponsor open public forums in which the public is invited to participate in defining community benefits.


THE PUBLIC EYE:Israel: America’s Bad Brother

Bob Burnett
Friday March 27, 2015 - 08:16:00 AM

Israel: America’s Bad BrotherMost families contain a problem relative: an addled elder, schizophrenic sister, or troubled brother. That’s the status of the state of Israel: a member of the US family but, these days, the bad little brother who is a constant headache.

Since the 1948 founding of the modern state of Israel, most Americans have felt protective of it, as if it is our 51st state. Out here on the Left Coast, in the sixties, many of us envied Israel; we were enamored with the idea of building an egalitarian, liberal state.

In 1978, when the Camp David accords were signed, many Americans felt that a lasting middle-east peace was inevitable. Then, for many reasons, the situation deteriorated.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated that he no longer supported the two-state solution, no longer endorsed one of the pillars of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war peace accords. Writing in The New Yorker David Remnick observed that Netanyahu then took a page from Richard Nixon, “He went racist…Netanyahu, a student – practically a member – of the GOP, is no beginner at this demagogic game.” “Netanyahu, sensing an election threat from the a center-left coalition…unleashed a campaign finale steeped in nativist fear and hatred of the Other.” 

As a consequence, Netanyahu retained his role as Prime minister, but the already strained relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu took a turn for the worse. And Netanyahu lost the respect of many Americans, Jews and Gentiles. 

In the US and Israel, Netanyahu is a divisive figure. But his bellicosity doesn’t mean that America no longer supports Israel. Instead, it’s a further indication that Israel can no longer viewed as a reliable member of the family. Still blood kin but troubled. 

Few American families abandon members who are sick or disabled. But some shun the relative who becomes a troublemaker: who gets drunk and picks fights at family gatherings; who is always borrowing money and never repaying it; or who sleeps with the wife or husband of a family member. 

The relationship between the US and our brother Israel is troubled, but no sensible American would suggest that the US shun or abandon Israel. The problem is what to do to help Israel handle its problems. 

First, we must acknowledge that many of the things we accuse Israel of, we are guilty of ourselves. We don’t like Netanyahu’s bellicosity, but US foreign policy is also bellicose. We, of course, stirred up the Middle East by invading Iraq. 

We may believe that Israel is an authoritarian state, but many Americans believe that the US is an authoritarian state, witness our huge military expenditures and the level of surveillance on average citizens. 

We may believe that Israel spies on us, but there’s ample evidence that the US has spied on Israel

We disapprove of Netanyahu’s prejudice towards Palestinians, in specific, and Arabs, in general, but many Americans don’t trust Palestinians and Arabs. Netanyahu may seem racist, but many Americans are racist. 

We don’t like Netanyahu’s policies about Israeli settlements, confiscating Palestinian lands and building Israeli settlements across the green line. However, around the world, American corporations routinely bribe local governments so that the corporation can seize land and build factories and office buildings. Going further back in US history, our government seized the lands of native-Americans. 

We disapprove of the hostile nature of the Israeli border security, but our own people, who man the US-Mexico border, are notoriously hostile to visitors who don’t appear to be “real” Americans. 

In fact, the US government is guilty of most of the actions that Americans disapprove of when conducted by the state of Israel. 

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Israel may be a troubled member of our family, but certainly not the only one. What about Texas? 

So what should the US do about Israeli? It’s too facile to suggest: Do an intervention. In most families interventions don’t work with a member who is a serious troublemaker. Besides, what are we to say to Netanyahu: Do as I say, not as I do? That would be hypocritical. 

We should continue to do as President Obama has done. Reaffirm our support for the state of Israel; reaffirm that the Israelis are our brothers and sisters. And we should set limits with Prime Minister Netanyahu and those who support his positions. 

We should continue to support the two-state solution, the “green-line” boundaries set in 1949, and the principles of the Camp David accords. 

We should continue to pursue a reasonable nuclear accord with Iran. 

We should continue to pursue peace with Israel’s neighbors. 

We should continue to regard the state of Israel as our brother. Troubled or not. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Dichotomy of Treatment Versus Abuse

Jack Bragen
Friday March 27, 2015 - 08:19:00 AM

This essay describes some of my love-hate relationship with the mental health treatment system and with the idea of medication compliance. Those who may have followed some of my writings might see a contrast in attitudes in which I often harshly criticize mental health caregivers and providers of psychiatric medication, and in which on the other hand I often argue in favor of medication compliance and cooperating with treatment professionals.  

Mental illness is a complex issue that requires complex thought. If one sees things in oversimplified thinking, it is easy to become polarized and, on the one hand, to be antipsychiatry, or, on the other hand, to believe that mental health caregivers can do no wrong. I believe mental illness exists and must be addressed with treatment. But that doesn’t change the fact of mistreatment in the mental health treatment systems and in society.  

The quality of care that is available depends distinctly on which mental health caregiver you are dealing with. Caregivers are in a position of authority. Some handle this power very well while others misuse it. Some of the maltreatment that people with mental illness receive in the system is subtle. Sometimes it seems to consist of badly executed good concepts.  

Getting "under the hood" of someone's psyche and not giving them exactly what they need can cause damage. For example, some therapeutic theory believes that a patient should open up all of those areas of suppressed emotion, experience the emotions at full power, and (hypothetically) release them. However, this theory doesn't work for a lot of people, and sometimes makes people's condition worse. When professionals believe they know a patient's needs better than does the patient, and then get forceful about it, it is often a form of therapeutic abuse.  

Persons with mental illness usually can not survive without treatment. However, some of this "treatment" consists of mind-numbing medication that resembles a chemical straitjacket. This medication is given or often forced on people without any alternatives offered.  

In a typical outpatient mental health treatment venue, the "clients" might be made to use a different restroom from the staff, they might have to use a different coffeepot, and a different water machine. There exists a line of separation.  

I believe there is some truth to the idea that mental illness is usually a medical type of problem with physical causes. Based on that, it makes a lot of sense to medicate people. Yet this doesn't make it any easier for us to tolerate psychiatric medications, many of which inherently create physical and mental suffering.  

I do not advocate noncompliance. I've lived among persons with mental illness for in excess of thirty years. Whenever I have seen someone become noncompliant, soon after, I have seen such a person relapse, behave psychotically, and get 5150'd. If you attribute this to the backlash of withdrawing from antipsychotic medication, it doesn't alter the fact that the individual has become acutely ill, has consequently sustained brain damage, and has lost his or her liberty.  

Prior to the invention of the first primitive psychiatric drugs, people with mental illness spent their lives locked away in "insane asylums." Or perhaps they became the "town drunk" or the "town idiot." Or perhaps the mentally ill person was unable to survive. The invention of psychiatric medication was largely a good thing for those who suffer from mental illness.  

In the past fifteen or more years, most of the treatment given to me has been caring and helpful. I currently go to a treatment venue where, for the most part, I have been respected and helped. In recent times, the worst I have been subject to is a little bit of condescension or maybe some incompetent counseling from trainees. When I requested to switch counselors, I was usually accommodated.  

It is also possible that I am getting the red carpet treatment because of being a mental health columnist.  

I admit that my paranoia is a factor in how I perceive mental health professionals. I know that back in the 1980's and even the 1990's, I experienced some real mistreatment. Part of what we are dealing with in present day is the economic, vocational and social discrimination of being a second-class citizen. This is a problem of society in general and is not limited to places where we go to get treatment.  

To summarize, I am not happy with how persons with mental illness are dealt with, but I still believe mental illnesses are usually biologically based, and this entails medical type treatment.

Arts & Events

Bruckner’s 8th Symphony at Davies Hall

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday March 31, 2015 - 08:12:00 AM

On one of my visits to Austria, I stopped at the monastery of St. Florian, a rural retreat southeast of Linz, where Anton Bruckner spent many years, first as a 13 year-old choirboy and later as a teacher and organist. The St. Florian monastery, built in the purest Baroque style, impressed me for its serenity. I could picture the humble, pious Bruckner spending hours improvising at the church’s organ, under which the crypt now houses the composer’s coffin. I do not claim to fully understand the music of Anton Bruckner; but I am sure that a key to understanding Bruckner the man and musician lies in his relation to St. Florian. 

Under the direction of conductor James Feddeck, the San Francisco Symphony gave three performances of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony in C-Minor on Wednesday-Friday, March 25-7. Like all of Bruckner’s symphonies, the 8th is perplexingly episodic. Bruckner composes many small blocks of music, which, on hearing, seem at first juxtaposed somewhat randomly with what comes before and after. Only gradually does one get a sense of overarching structure.  

I first experienced the magic of Bruckner when legendary conductor Sergiu Celibidache made a guest appearance in 1989 with San Francisco Symphony in Bruckner’s 4th or “Romantic” Symphony. The intensity of Celibidache’s famed devotion to Bruckner’s music was palpable; and I found that performance absolutely riveting. To this day, that concert remains one of the greatest I’ve ever attended. Much later, in 2002, I heard Bruckner’s 6th Symphony performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi in the Dvorák Hall of Prague’s Rudolfinum; and that too was a memorable performance. 

While I can’t fault the conducting of young James Feddeck, who gave a workmanlike reading of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony after stepping in here at short notice to replace Semyon Bychkov, who is recovering from hip surgery, I missed the sheer incandescence that an experienced interpreter of Bruckner can bring to this composer’s difficult works. At the Thursday afternoon concert I attended, I noted some imprecision from the orchestra on entrances and exits, that is, on when to begin a new block of music and how long to hold a note at the end of a block. Otherwise, it seemed to me that James Feddeck conducted a four-square reading of this demanding work, utilizing the Leopold Nowak 1890 edition.  

The big question, for me, with Bruckner lies in trying to figure out how the individual small blocks fit in with one another and where they’re leading. Bruckner characteristically alternates softly played passages of delicate poignancy with other passages of massed sonority. Often, in these latter, he indulges in repetitions, which build in intensity but whose insistent reiterations can irk the impatient listener. In the opening movement, conductor Feddeck managed these soft-and-loud alternations fluently. At the close of this first movement, in a brief coda styled by Bruckner as a “Death Watch,” there is a delayed resolution where Bruckner fails to plant the music firmly in the expected C-Minor, although he actually does so in slightly concealed fashion.  

The second movement is a wild scherzo, full of surprising key changes. In this movement, Bruckner makes fine use of two (or, in the score, three) harps, an instrument he heretofore considered unworthy of use in a symphony. The third movement, marked Adagio, is a beautiful slow movement, which despite its tempo marking builds steadily to a fairly boisterous climax before it slowly disintegrates in music of great poignancy. The fourth and final movement takes up the long-unanswered question of where all the preceding music has been leading. It slowly builds up again and again to what we think will be a finale, but the end and its long-awaited resolution in C seems to elude us every time. Then, just before the coda, we hear the trombones sound. As Bruckner said, “In the fourth movement of my Eighth Symphony the trombones come at the end to signify the Last Judgment.” In the concluding coda it becomes clear at last where all this is leading – which, as it turns out, is right back to the beginning. Thus, we hear, if we listen attentively, exactly what Sergiu Celibidache perspicaciously termed Bruckner’s uncanny ability to foresee “the end in the beginning.” 

Around & About--Theater: Rare Performance of Kathakali, Classical Theater from India

Ken Bullock
Friday March 27, 2015 - 08:22:00 AM

Kathakali--almost everyone has seen at one time or another color photos of Kathakali performers ... on a travel poster, in a magazine ... usually the striking green, made-up face of an actor-dancer playing a god or a hero, maybe taking a great leap up in the air, wearing a gold crown and an ornate, colorful costume. 

But to see a troupe from India of these actors with their accompanying singers and musicians, who have performed for centuries in temples and to torchlight all night in the fields at harvest is a rare thing in America--despite the fact that Berkeley was home for over three decades to a second-generation Kathakali performer, Kalakshetra K. P. Kunhiraman, who taught and performed Indian dance and theater with his wife and lifelong collaborator Katherine, still directing their Kalanjali: Dances of India project here since Kunhiraman's death last year in Chennai (Madras) as he prepared to return to San Francisco to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Ethnic Dance Festival. . 

Kunhiraman and Katherine performed scenes, never having a complete professional troupe with musicians and singers to perform full-scale dramas from the old repertory. But this Sunday at 4 in the CET Soto Theatre, 701 Vine Street in San José, famed Kathakali actor Sandanam Balakrishnan will perform the most famous scenes from Kalayana Saugandhika, The Flower of Good Fortune, a story from the epic Mahabharata and one of the most famous stage pieces in the repertoire, with three actors and the full complement of two drummers and two singers. 

There's no dialogue in Kathakali, but expressiveness is at a high level: the actors make sounds particular to their character and elegantly display rapid hand gestures--mudras--that are kind of hieroglyphic signals to the sense of the scene being played. The singers tell the story in poetry to the drums, the actors dancing and performing acrobatic moves often related to martial arts. The stories are mythological, filled with wonder and a very down-to-earth humor at the same time. 

Kalayana Saugandhika tells of a mighty warrior, Bhima, sent by his wife to find a rare flower, while he tears through beautiful gardens, disturbing the meditation of the great, divine monkey Hanuman, who disguises himself as an old monkey, asleep in Bhima's path ... A comic scene develops when Bhima confidently thinks he'll move the monkey's tail with his club, encounters humorous problems--finally discovering he and Hanuman are related, they dance together. 

(Hanuman was Kunhiraman's principal role, as well as his father's, distinguished by particularly fantastic costume and make-up and a high-pitched monkey laugh.) 

Kathakali is one of the few classical theaters still alive today--there are none in the West; Greek Tragedy and Comedy are not only long gone, we don't know exactly how they were performed. With its costumery and elaborate make-up, its dynamic and complex gestures and acrobatic movements, its driving rhythmic accompaniment and magnificent singing, it's no wonder Kathakali decisively influenced some of the greatest postwar theater directors in the West, including Jerzy Grotowski, Eugenio Barba of Odin Teatret and the International School of Theatre Anthropology, and Arianne Mnouchkine. 

Tickets: $25-$50: www.sankritilava.org or sulekha.com 

--A video of another Kathakali troupe performing the encounter of Bhima and Hanuman. (YouTube has a series which show much of what Sunday's show will offer.) 


--A half-hour 1977 KQED documentary on Kathakali, narrated by Katherine Kunhiraman with Kunhiraman's splendid demonstration of the gestures and stylized expressions of the art, which take years of physical training to achieve, and the opening of the same play, Kunhiraman playing Bhima, which they presented the next year at the first Ethnic Dance Festival 



Island City Opera’s Dazzling Production of Rossini’s IL SIGNOR BRUSCHINO

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday March 31, 2015 - 08:09:00 AM

Alameda’s Island City Opera, an offshoot of Virago Opera, recently offered a double-bill of one-act operas, Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino. As a pairing, this was a bit of a mismatch. Mind you, I’m by no means anti-Puccini. My eyes rarely remain dry when Rodolfo cries out “Mimi!” at the end of La Bohème, even if I’ve seen this opera fifteen times. However, never has Puccini sounded more coarse and vulgar than in this production of Il Tabarro. On the other hand, rarely has Rossini – and the infrequently performed Il Signor Bruschino in particular – been staged and sung with more effervescence, wit, and engaging knockabout farce than in director Erin Neff’s brilliantly staged version of Rossini’s 1813 comic opera. 

Puccini’s Il Tabarro, the curtain-raiser of his Il Trittico, opened Island City Opera’s program at the performance I attended on Friday, March 6. This one-act opera is set on a barge on the River Seine in Paris. Thirty-two bars of music pass before a word is spoken; and the first words, sung by Giorgetta, reveal a certain anxiety on her part in relation to her husband, Michele. Soon they engage in a tense dialogue regarding her recent coldness toward Michele. Eileen Meredith, who sang the role of Giorgetta, has a lovely soprano voice; but she is not given flattering material to sing in the opening moments of Il Tabarro. Likewise, baritone Michael Rogers, who sang the role of Michele, also has a fine voice; but he too suffers initially from the paucity of musical material. Moreover, Michele is withdrawn and brooding in this opera’s opening moments. 

Things got worse, in my view, once Luigi, sung by tenor C. Michael Belle, entered the scene. Mr. Belle is what I call a belter. A belter is NOT a singer. A belter simply belts out everything at the top of his lungs. Mr. Belle has powerful lungs. What he lacks is musicianship. It’s a pity, for beneath all the belting Mr. Belle has a good voice – if only he would occasionally tone it down a bit! I’m aware, of course, that some listeners are impressed by a belter. Mr. Belle actually got the loudest applause at the end of this opera. All I can say is that those listeners who lavished their loudest applause on C. Michael Belle never understood – or simply never heard – the German expression, “Gut is das nicht, aber laut.” (“Good it is not, but loud.”) 

Luigi’s fellow stevedores were sung by tenor Richard Bogart as Tinca, and bass Kiril Havezov as Talpa. Only the latter possessed a fine voice. As for the former, let’s be charitable and say that he played the part of a drunkard and sang that role convincingly. Tinca’s wife, La Frugola, came aboard the barge and showed Giorgetta the cache of faded and worn bric-a-brac she had scavenged in the back alleys of Paris. Sung by mezzo-soprano Alix Jerinic, La Frugola offered a sadly comic interlude, singing sentimentally of her cat. Meanwhile, a hurdy-gurdy player wandered along the quay and added his vulgar tunes to what was already a vulgar stretch of music. Then a song-seller wandered by and sang his latest composition. Sung by tenor Alfredo Rodriguez, this offered a mildly entertaining interlude, highlighted, if one may call it that, by a quotation from Mimi’s motif from La Bohème on muted strings. 

I have attended many other performances of Il Tabarro, most recently in Puccini’s hometown of Lucca, in which all this local musical color along the quays of Paris worked perfectly well. But somehow, in the confined space of Alameda’s Elks Lodge, with the orchestra under the direction of Michael Shahani blaring away alongside the audience rather than in a pit in front, the first twenty minutes or so of Il Tabarro just sounded tawdry. Things picked up a little when Giorgetta found a moment to be alone with her secret lover, Luigi, and they shared a passionate embrace. But even in these intimate moments, when the lovers should be whisper- ing lest their illicit rendez-vous be overheard by Giorgetta’s husband, C. Michael Belle as Luigi continued to belt at the top of his lungs. 

There remained only the few tense discussions between husband and wife that featured refined singing. As Michele, Michael Rogers sensitively conveyed his hurt and dismay over his wife’s coldness towards him. As Giorgetta, Eileen Meredith sang well in these exchanges with her husband; but she only truly allowed her voice to ring forth excitedly in her few passionate moments with her lover, Luigi. Particularly poignant were Michele’s reminiscences of happier times when he and Giorgetta had a newborn baby beside them. But Giorgetta cuts off Michele and won’t deal with the death of their baby. Giorgetta now thinks only of getting free of Michele and the stifling life on the barge, and hooking up with Luigi. Throughout, stage director Ellen St. Thomas managed to utilize the cramped space aboard the barge and along the quay in an efficiently flexible manner. 

Suffice it to say that Michele eventually discovers the truth of his wife’s infatuation with Luigi and, catching Luigi sneaking onto the barge for a late-night liaison with Giorgetta, strangles him to death. Initially hiding Luigi’s body under his cloak, (his tabarro), Michele flings open the cloak to reveal to his wife the dead body of her secret lover, bringing this Puccini verismo opera to a brutal end. 

Immediately after intermission, the difference in tone was striking. The overture to Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino may not be one of this composer’s very best; but second or third best where Rossini overtures are concerned turns out to be far better than most of what we hear from other composers. Rossini was a master of the overture. Even having his violinists strike their stands with the wood of their bows in this overture couldn’t detract from what is a fine, effervescent piece of music, full of élan and verve. The wit and intelligence of Rossini are evident in the overture to Il Signor Bruschino; and this is a very early opera in Rossini’s career, coming in 1813 only a year after La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder), and a month before his first major success, Tancredi.  

Immediately following the overture, Erin Neff appeared onstage. Erin Neff serves in this opera as both a character, Marianna, and as director. When she initially appeared onstage, costumed as Marianna, Erin Neff addressed the audience in English, introducing us to the basic plot of the opera we were about to hear. I found this disconcerting. Was Il Signor Bruschino to be sung in English? I breathed a sigh of relief when, moments later, singers Darron Flagg and Kelly Britt began singing in Italian. 

Darron Flagg, the tenor who sang the role of the young lover Florville, quickly demonstrated that he was a singer, NOT a belter. Flagg’s opening duet with soprano Kelly Britt as young Sophia was sung with consummate taste and musicianship. Kelly Britt distinguished herself as a fine singer with a comedic flair, performing in a skin-tight leopard-skin dress and chewing gum all the while. These two young lovers, Florville and Sophia, plotted how they might overcome the many obstacles standing in the way of their hopes of marrying each other. Marrianna, sung by mezzo-soprano Erin Neff, joined the young lovers in their plot. 

The problem is, Gaudenzio, Sophia’s gaurdian, has promised to marry Sophia to the son of his friend Signor Bruschino. However, Gaudenzio has never met Bruschino Jr. So Florville hatches the harebrained scheme of passing himself off as Signor Bruschino’s son so he can marry Sophia. First, he forges a series of letters. Then he presents himself to Gaudenzio as Bruschino Jr. Gaudenzio, played as an aging, bead-wearing, pot-smoking hippie from Berkeley and beautifully sung by bass Kiril Havezov, is taken in by the ruse and instantly warms to young Florville, whom he takes to be Bruschino Jr. So far so good. Now the question is how will Florville manage to sustain his imposture ? 

Meanwhile, the real Bruschino Jr. has been partying it up at the local hotel and is now locked up in the hotel attic until he pays his enormous bill to Filiberto the manager. Learning of this, Florville pays a portion of Bruschino’s bill on condition that Filiberto keep Bruschino Jr. locked up and that Filiberto play along with the pretense that Florville is the son of Signor Bruschino. Musically, Rossini provides each of his major characters with outstanding arias. Francis Toye, in his book Rossini : A Study in Tragi-Comedy, writes of Il Signor Bruschino that, « There is one of the most alluring songs for tenor that Rossini ever wrote, and the main soprano aria is equally good. » As sung by Darron Flagg and Kelly Britt respectively, these arias were indeed impressive, as was the buffo aria sung by bass Kiril Havezov as Gaudenzio. 

The real test for Florville comes when Signor Bruschino arrives at his friend Gaudenzio’s house. Confronted with Florville, who calls him « Dad, » Signor Bruschino reacts with bug-eyed consternation. « I’ve never seen this fellow before in my life, » declares Signor Bruschino. Now the fun really begins, as first Gauden-zio, then Florville, and Sophia all seek to convince Signor Bruschino that this is indeed his son. When Filiberto, the hotel manager, sung by baritone Branislav Radakovic, arrives and plays along with the ruse, Signor Bruschino begins to think he’s losing his mind! 

In the role of Signor Bruschino, bass Bojan Knezivic was amazing. His eyes nearly popped out of his head at each new insistence that Florville was his son. Meanwhile, he slouched around Gaudenzio’s living room in a track suit over a tee-shirt and gold chain, perused a Playboy Bunny-of-the-month photograph, and lighted himself a joint from Gaudenzio’s stash. His encounters with the sexy, gum-chewing Sophia were priceless. She alternately seduced him and psychologically browbeat him into submission. Florville, for his part, frequently hid behind the sofa and frantically urged Sophia to work her wiles on Signor Bruschino. The knock-about farce here was worthy of the Marx Brothers, whom director Erin Neff cited as her inspiration. 

When the dénouement eventually came, Signor Bruschino saw a way of gaining a modicum of revenge against Gaudenzio for believing that Florville is none other than Bruschino Jr., by approving the marriage of Gaudenzio’s ward, Sophia, to Florville against the wishes of Gaudenzio. Moreover, when the carousing Bruschino, Jr. was finally released from his attic imprisonment, he arrivesd drunk out of his mind and could only stutter, « Son pentito-tito-tito, » («I’m sorry-sorry-sorry »), which Rossini comically set to music of a funeral march. Bruschino Junior’s drunken apology only wins him a slap in the face from his disapproving father, Signor Bruschino. In the end, even Gaudenzio accepts the marriage of Sophia to Florville. So there’s a happy ending after all. As staged and performed by Island City Opera, Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino was nothing but sheer delight, full of effervescent music, excellent singing and spirited high jinks.