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Minimum wage protesters marching down Bancroft toward Shattuck in Berkeley
Rob Wrenn
Minimum wage protesters marching down Bancroft toward Shattuck in Berkeley


Flash: Ashby and Telegraph Re-Opened after Crash

From Nixle
Thursday April 16, 2015 - 06:04:00 PM

Telegraph and Ashby Avenues are now open after a traffic collision. 

Today at 3:18 p.m., the Berkeley Police Department received a report of an injury collision that occurred at Telegraph and Ashby Avenues. Initial reports indicated a possible semi-truck struck a pedestrian, with the pedestrian being injured. 

Based on preliminary information, it appears the driver of a Volvo station wagon, was north on Telegraph Avenue and went to turn east (right) on Ashby Avenue. While making his turn he struck a female pedestrian. During that time, the driver may have hit the accelerator and not the brake, causing the vehicle to go into the intersection as a panel truck was traveling east on Ashby. The Volvo then hit the side of the truck as it passed.  

The pedestrian was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the Volvo was also transported to the hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the panel truck was not injured. 

BPD Traffic Investigators are handling the collision. If anyone has information regarding this collision, please contact the Berkeley Police Department Traffic Bureau at 510-981-5980, reference case #15-22182.

Minimum Wage Demonstration has Closed University and Shattuck Intersection

From the Berkeley Police Department
Wednesday April 15, 2015 - 05:59:00 PM

The intersection of University and Shattuck [where McDonald's is located] is closed due to a demonstration. It is unknown when the intersection will reopen. We will provide updates as they become available.  

The demonstration is causing traffic delays in the area, please consider alternate routes.

Minimum Wage Protesters Moving up Shattuck in Berkeley

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday April 15, 2015 - 06:02:00 PM
Minimum wage protesters marching down Bancroft toward Shattuck in Berkeley
Rob Wrenn
Minimum wage protesters marching down Bancroft toward Shattuck in Berkeley

Hundreds of fast food workers and their supporters are marching through the streets of downtown Berkeley this evening calling for a $15 minimum wage, police and protesters said. 

Protesters began gathering at 3 p.m. near the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way. They planned to march to the McDonalds restaurant at 1998 Shattuck Ave., according to organizers. 

As of about 5:30 p.m., the hundreds of protesters were making their way up Shattuck Avenue by the Downtown Berkeley BART station. 

No BART service disruptions have been reported, but the large crowd has made some of the station entrances difficult to get to, one BART rider said. 

Parts of Shattuck Avenue remain closed to drivers. 

The protests are part of "Fight for 15" demonstrations held throughout the Bay Area and the world today. 

In the Bay Area, today's actions started early this morning in San Francisco with a 6 a.m. demonstration at a McDonald's franchise location at 24th and Mission streets. 

Similar strikes were planned today in Oakland, San Jose and San Rafael.

Updated: Berkeley's Post Office Suit is Dismissed:
USPS Must Start All Over Again in Attempt to Sell

Antonio Rossman
Wednesday April 15, 2015 - 03:29:00 PM

Editor's Note: Antonio Rossmann of Rossmann and Moore,LLP, the firm that has been representing Berkeley in the city's suit to prevent the sale of the downtown Berkeley Post Office, has informed the Planet that the judge in the case has dismissed the suit in such a way that if the Post Office wants to try again to sell the building, it will have to start the whole process over from the beginning. Here is a summary of what happened from Rossmann and Roger Moore:

UPDATE from Roger Moore:

Today Judge Allsup issued another order in which he expressly retains jurisdiction until April 16, 2020, to enforce the court's requirement to provide the City and National Trust 42 days notice before closing any future sale or issuing any new decision to relocate the Berkeley Main Post Office.

This new order retaining the court's jurisdiction reinforces the understanding that the City and National Trust effectively won in their efforts to secure meaningful relief in their actions. They secured USPS's rescission of its decision to relocate the post office, prevented its sale, and obtained an enforceable court order requiring USPS' compliance with the court-established notice period before proceeding with any future decisions to relocate or to close on a sale.

From Antonio Rossmann:

Yesterday Judge Alsup dismissed the City’s and the National Trust’s cases challenging the USPS’s proposed relocation and sale of the Main Berkeley Post Office on the ground that the cases were moot. While the cases were dismissed, the result of Judge Alsup’s order is actually quite favorable to the plaintiffs, because in order to render the cases moot, the USPS had to formally rescind its decision to relocate the post office from 2000 Allston Way. The decision to relocate was the USPS’s first step in moving towards a sale. As a result, the USPS is back at square one, and there is no longer any decision to relocate postal services out of the Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way . 

Because the cases were dismissed as moot, the Judge did not rule on the merits, so all of our arguments about noncompliance with NEPA and NHPA remain intact and viable, and can be asserted if and when the USPS tries to sell the building again. Judge Alsup also included in his order a provision that will prevent the USPS from selling the building without giving the City and the National Trust the opportunity to assert these challenges again: 

The [USPS] must provide plaintiffs with written notice at least 42 calendar days in advance of the closing of any future sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office or any final determination to relocate retail post office services. 

In a nutshell, Judge Alsup has effectively granted the City and National Trust the relief we requested by requiring USPS to make a binding commitment that its decisions to relocate and sell the post office have been rescinded. 

All in all, while it is disappointing not to be able to litigate the NEPA and NHPA issues to a final judgment, the litigation has accomplished its primary goal of keeping the post office at 2000 Allston Way. 

New: Two Men Injured in Suspected Shootout at Ashby BART in Berkeley

Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday April 13, 2015 - 10:15:00 AM

Two men in their 20s were injured in a suspected shootout between the occupants of two vehicles near the Ashby BART station in Berkeley early this morning, a police spokeswoman said. 

The shooting was reported at Ashby and Shattuck avenues at 1:44 a.m., according to police. The victims were taken to a hospital with serious injuries but are expected to survive. 

Investigators suspect the occupants of two vehicles were shooting at each other. In addition to the two victims, some buildings in the surrounding area were struck by gunfire, police said. 

One of the suspect vehicles was abandoned at the intersection while the other fled the area, according to police. 

Police have made no arrests in the shooting.

New: Alta Bates Hospital to Close by 2030

Lucy Smallsreed, President, Bateman Neighborhood Association
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 04:52:00 PM

Recently, rumors have been flying about the possible closure of Alta Bates Hospital. Unfortunately, they are not just rumors. According to Stacey Wells, ABSMC’s Director of Public Affairs, Sutter Health has decided to close Alta Bates Hospital by January 1, 2030. The 2030 date is driven by State law, which sets out strict seismic standards for medical facilities that all hospitals in California must meet by 1/1/2030.[1] Alta Bates currently does not meet the 2030 standards, and Sutter has decided not to incur the enormous expense of retrofitting to those standards. 

Alta Bates Hospital is one of three local hospitals owned by Sutter Health, an umbrella not-for-profit health system that operates 24 acute care hospitals across Northern California. The three local hospitals--Alta Bates, Herrick, and Summit--are operated as “campuses” of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center (ABSMC), an entity created by Sutter in 2000. According to Wells, the Alta Bates campus has been running large operating deficits, in the many tens of millions of dollars, over the past several years. Retrofitting the hospital to meet the seismic standards would be extremely disruptive and costly.  

Sutter has instead invested in the construction of Summit Pavilion, a large high rise inpatient facility on Oakland’s Pill Hill that complies with the 2030 standards, and has the capacity to absorb most of Alta Bates’ inpatient load. Sutter’s plan is to gradually move most of its Alta Bates programs to the Summit campus. In fact, it has already begun this process, having recently moved the Alta Bates cardiac care unit to Summit. The next program to be moved will be Alta Bates’ stroke center. Wells stressed that Alta Bates will continue to be able to serve emergency cardiac and stroke patients who come to its emergency room, but once stabilized, those patients will be moved to Summit for further care.  

Wells could not comment on the future of the Alta Bates facility once it has been vacated by Sutter. Presumably, the property will be sold. While it is currently zoned for medical use, the City of Berkeley could change the zoning to attract a desirable buyer, who will have to develop the property into something other than an inpatient care facility. Clearly, the stakes are exceedingly high for both the City, as the property could become a significant tax revenue source, and for the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the hospital. Alta Bates lies within the Bateman neighborhood, with Willard immediately to the north, LeConte and Halcyon to the west, and CENA to the east. Traffic and parking along the Ashby corridor affect all bordering neighborhoods from the Bayshore Freeway to Tunnel Road, so those neighborhoods will also be impacted by the fate of the Alta Bates site. 

The year 2030 sounds like a long time off, but is less than 15 years away. According to Wells, it is possible that Sutter will accomplish the transition to Summit earlier than 2030. Therefore, it is not too soon for the neighborhood associations and the city to begin considering how the community could best be served by a new use of the Alta Bates property, and for the neighborhoods to begin discussing the issue with each other and with their council representatives. Wells reports that ABSMC would like to get input from neighborhood groups by holding a neighborhood meeting or forum at some point to hear what residents would like to see, and what we would not want to see, happen to the property.  

There is the equally important issue of how Berkeley residents, not to mention residents of communities to the north of Berkeley, who are not patients of Children’s Hospital or Kaiser will be able to access timely emergency medical care services when their closest ER is in Oakland on the other side of the 80/580 maze. While Sutter will soon open an Urgent Care center at the Herrick campus, and most emergency room visits are more appropriately handled by such centers, the issue remains critical for true emergency patients. 

[1] California’s hospital seismic safety law, SB 1953, was passed in 1994 and requires every hospital building to comply with two deadlines. By Jan. 1, 2008 (or no later than Jan. 1, 2013 if an extension has been granted), every hospital building must meet specific construction standards established to keep these structures standing after a major earthquake. By Jan. 1, 2030, the law requires all hospital buildings to comply with standards intended to keep these buildings operational following a severe quake. http://www.suttersantarosa.org/newhospital/about/seismicsafety.html 


New: Berkeley Interfaith Religious Coalition Organizes “Night Out on Streets” in Solidarity with Homesless Thursday Night (Media Advisory)

From Bob Offer-Westort and Sally Hindman
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 05:45:00 PM

An interfaith coalition representing over 40 Berkeley religious congregations is organizing “Interfaith Actions in Solidarity with Homeless” people Thursday April 9 5pm to 6:15am Friday--at Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, Center and Shattuck Street, Berkeley. 

Events will start with blessing of a meal at 5pm to 5:30pm by Rev. Michael McBride, long time pastor of The Way Christian Center; followed by An Interfaith Service 5:30pm to 6:15pm involving more than 20 local clergy 5:30pm to 6:15pm; followed by a “Night Out Sleeping Vigil” 6:15pm to 8pm & 6:15am in which clergy & members of the interfaith religious community will sleep on the BART Plaza with homeless people. 

The event is in response to the proposed passage of new anti-homeless laws by Berkeley City Council on March 17th, despite Berkeley voters opposing passage of Measure S no-sitting laws in 2012 and the recent violent assault on a homeless man by one of the Downtown Business Association’s private “Ambassadors.” 

According to Sally Hindman, a Quaker & Executive Director of Youth Spirit Artworks, “All the great religions of the world call us to stand up for justice—so we will be lying down tonight—sleeping on the sidewalk with Berkeley’s homeless. There are two year long waiting lists housing in Alameda County, so the very last thing we would want to do now is criminalize homeless people forced to live outside in our doorways!” 

Pastor Michael McBride states, “Having just celebrated Easter, as Christians we are gathering to express God’s love and deep compassion for all people—including homeless people.” This is a Black Lives Matters issue as well—since a predominance of those being criminalized, who will be ticketed and arrested with these new laws are, once again, African American. 

Celebrating Passover, Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun emphasizes, “The clear message of our faith is that those who do not care for the poor and oppressed are defiling God’s name.” 

Zen Abbot Geri Rosen adds, “in the Zen Buddhist tradition our practice calls us to selflessness, to peaceful positive solutions, never hurtfulness or violence. We move toward practices of loving kindness. There are multiple creative proposals for approaching the challenge of homelessness in downtown Berkeley we would want the City to support.” 

Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman highlights, “Forty percent of homeless youth are marginalized LGBTQI young people who have left their homes and otherwise been forced out on the street—the very last thing our traditions call us to do is make life harder for them than it already is.” 


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

Tom Hunt
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:21:00 AM

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. 

Updated: Oakland Police shut down streets on Berkeley border seeking assault suspect

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 06:44:00 PM

Oakland police have shut down streets along the Berkeley border in North Oakland as they search for a suspect wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, police said.

The search is happening in the area of 65th to 66th streets and Herzog to Idaho streets, Oakland police said at about 5:15 p.m.

The suspect is described as a black man in his 30s standing 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 175 pounds and wearing a black beanie cap, a gray jacket and blue jeans, police said. 

Anyone who spots the suspect in the area has been asked to call 911.

Free Film and Berkeley Planning Forum

Toni Mester
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:09:00 AM

The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council will show The Vanishing City in a free forum on Wednesday April 8 at the East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison Street from 7:15 to 9:30 PM.

The film documents how New York City destroyed vibrant neighborhoods and displaced diverse low and middle income residents by promoting the development of luxury high rises through a series of tax and zoning initiatives. Following a municipal fiscal crisis in the early 1970’s, tax exemptions for new housing and rezoning for density ignited a building boom that was accelerated in later decades by the use of eminent domain and mass evictions. Interviews with neighborhood organizers, academics, and politicians on the local and state level provide personal takes on the political narrative.

Jacquelyn McCormick, the President of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, will introduce the film, which will be followed by a discussion with Stephen Murphy, Chair of the Planning Commission and its role in planning the future of Berkeley. Topics may include affordable housing, community benefits, and the priority development areas (PDAs). 

The City of Berkeley has six Priority Development Areas (PDAs) identified in the Plan Bay Area regional plan adopted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) on July 18, 2013. These PDAs include: South Shattuck Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, University Avenue, San Pablo Avenue, Downtown Area, and the Adeline Corridor. These PDAs are growth opportunity areas that have attracted numerous planning and capital grants to support City programs and infrastructure. Two examples are the coming Shattuck Avenue reconfiguration and the recently funded Adeline Corridor Study.  

The City applied for PDA designations in 2007 with subsequent development along the transit corridors. Many of the individual projects have been controversial, mostly due to poor zoning interface with surrounding neighborhoods, but little attention has been paid to the underlying philosophy of the PDAs. The primary rationale is that the Bay Area population will grow, and compact neighborhoods dependent on mass transit will result in lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing long commutes. 

The forum will give the community a chance to discuss these assumptions. For more information, go to berkeleyneighborhoodscouncil.com or email bnc50@berkeleyneighborhoodscouncil.com




Can Developer's Profits Provide Genuine Berkeley Benefits?

Becky O'Malley
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 12:50:00 PM

Readers must be as tired as I am of land use, land use, land use for the last few weeks. But here’s the thing: In this crazy economic world, the extremely rich, also known as the 1%, are at the moment burdened with extra capital which they need a place to park. That’s why we’re having a boom in construction of the luxury apartments which is now irrevocably altering the face of cities formerly famous for their charm. It’s been happening for a while in San Francisco.

For a complete examination of how it’s come down there, see the analytic journalism of Joseph Smooke and Dyan Ruiz at peoplepowerjournalism.net. New York City’s luxury dwellings are in a class by themselves, as recently documented in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere. London, Paris, Shanghai, you name it, real estate speculators are building glamorous high-rise pieds à terre to sell to the super-rich from all over the globe.

And now they’re coming to Berkeley. Soon. Not long ago, the development industry bought themselves a couple of Berkeley elections which had very poor voter participation. Measure R 1.0 promised everything except free apple pie to gullible greenish voters, notably without specifics. Some of those were filled in later by Mayor Tom Bates and his City Council majority. The centerpiece was their provision in Berkeley’s downtown plan for five extra-tall buildings, three private and two for U.C Berkeley, for developers who promised to provide “significant community benefits”, the meaning of which deliberately was left very vague, essentially undefined.

The most recent Measure R 2.0 ballot initiative was a poorly conceived though well-intentioned effort to fill in the blanks. This time developers outspent proponents by a factor of 10-1, and no surprise, they won, though not by any 10-1 margin, in an election with another record low turnout by confused voters.

Highrise Number One (no news to any regular reader of this space) is slouching toward Berkeley, ready to be born. That would be the now notorious 2211 Harold Way, named by its side street address to disguise the fact that developers plan to take out almost a whole block of thriving Shattuck Avenue restaurants, retail and worst of all, the 10-screen Landmark Shattuck Cinemas to create a site for their tower.

Yes, yes, promises, promises are being thrown around, but anyone who’s been around a Berkeley block more than once can recognize the old “vanishing cultural icon” trick.

(Watch my hands! At no time do my hands leave my wrists—and yet: The Lady Vanishes!) 

The first of these I can almost remember was a theater called, if fading memory serves, the Spice Box—the bait for gentrification of the historic Durkee spice factory when it housed an artists’ colony in West Berkeley. To make a very long and shocking story short, the lovely theater was eventually illegally demolished by the property owners— but the development, of course, endures. The city of Berkeley refused to enforce the agreement which went with the permits in court after the demolition. 

A local wag says that if you want the name of your business to live forever, sell your property to a developer, especially to Patrick Kennedy. The business will die of course, but the name will live on. That would be, e.g., the Gaia Bookstore, which never opened as promised in Kennedy’s Gaia Building, and also the Fine Arts Theater, which survives only as a faux marquee on an apartment building which you can see today on Shattuck across from the site of the proposed "Residences at Berkeley Plaza". They are two of many cultural icons which have been used in the bait-and-switch routine—too many to list here. 

Now a new scheme has surfaced. There seems to be a proposal being floated behind the scenes by Tom Bates and his associates to sweeten the Harold Way deal with talk of a performing arts center in the new building. 

Here’s the foreground story: Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting was ably reported by Tom Lochner in the Contra Costa Times. He picked up the main points of the public story of this project in good form, and rather than recounting them myself I urge you to click on the link above and read it. 

But what Lochner missed, the kind of thing it’s hard for a daily reporter on deadline to absorb, was the back story. Agenda Item 37 was listed as a discussion of what might constitute “significant community benefits” for 2211 Harold Way and its four successor high-rises. Fans of the threatened Landmark Shattuck Cinemas turned out in force to urge their preservation, myself among them. 

In the hall before the meeting I recognized a bunch of people I know as active participants in the Berkeley arts scene, of which I am an enthusiastic patron, and I wondered why they were there. 

As the meeting got underway, there was an announcement that since Item 37 was very late on the agenda, the council would hold an additional special meeting on the benefits question alone on May 5, so most of those who’d come planning to speak went home. 

Among the remaining speakers was someone I’d met before, Jennifer Boesing, who runs the Youth Musical Theater Company (YMTC). She spoke on behalf of what she called “a fairly informal but growing consortium of live performing arts groups.” She said they’d been talking about a performing arts center being included in this new development as part of the community benefits, and she gave the council a handout which she said they had seen before (though it was not included in their packet.) 

The arts group’s plan was described as a 400-seat theater plus a 4-5 screen film theater, perhaps run by other operators if Landmark Cinemas wouldn’t agree to participate. Other speakers endorsed her plan, 

The next day I managed to obtain a copy of the proposal, and I called Jen to ask for more information. She told me that she’d been approached by one of her board members with the idea. 

And here’s where things started to look a bit skimey. 

That YMTC board member who approached her turned out to be Denise Pinkston, listed on their website as "a partner with TMG Partners, a real estate development firm in San Francisco", who, Jen Boesing told me enthusiastically in a hurried phone call, was also the Mayor’s appointee to the Zoning Adjustment Board. In fact Jen spoke of “The Mayor’s Plan”, and she said she’d already talked about it to “almost all” of the councilmembers, including someone on the Mayor's staff if not the Mayor himself. 

(Let’s put aside here for the moment the distraction of the state Brown Act’s prohibition of “serial meetings” in private with government decision-makers, which sounds a lot like this series of meetings . I haven’t checked with all parties to ask what actually went down, so we’ll let it lie.) 

As it happens, I was present at the ZAB meeting in January when Pinkston, without disclosing her YMTC connection, argued forcefully for replacing the Landmark Shattuck Cinema's 10-screens with a more amorphous general use performing space. That was also the meeting where commissioners discussed what they ultimately did at a later meeting, kicking the undefined question of significant community benefits up to the City Council. 

Boesing also told me that the unfortunately named Berkeley Cultural Trust (described on its Facebook page as “ a consortium of individuals representing cultural organizations within the City of Berkeley” ) had met with someone from the Mayor’s office who talked to them in much more detail about the prospect of including a performing arts center as a sweetener in the Harold way highrise deal. 

Now we get into the gory detail, just when many readers have probably fallen asleep. The mayor’s man on the cultural scene at that meeting was Gregory Magofna. Just last week, the Planet discovered that Magofna was also an advocate for (and probable member of) “San Francisco BARF”, a lobbying group which pushes building as much as possible everywhere all the time, using the wildly misconstrued conservative supply-side doctrine that luxury apartments will somehow trickle down to provide affordable and even low-income housing. They claim not to be funded by developers... 

He wrote this to SFBARF’s Google Group before Tuesday’s council meeting: 

“I know a special Berkeley sub-group was created upon my request, I will get to that with specific projects in the coming weeks. I just wanted to let the group know about something on tonight's city council agenda: Significant community benefits for developments over 75 ft in Downtown Berkeley. The fight is over what else developers should be required to do and NIMBYs have been making outrageously impossible demands to meet to block the project. There is talk of another meeting coming up just on this so it's not the end of the world if no one attends, but it does set the stage for the other 4 tall buildings in downtown. Please plan on coming to the special meeting in May."
And on December 5, 2014, Magofna cast the only "No" vote on the Housing Advisory Commission on a motion that said "…the HAC strongly believes that the new high rises in the Downtown must also provide additional affordable housing benefits, in addition to other proposed community benefits,…" 

Berkeley’s Mayor, the City Council and the Zoning Adjustment Board are supposed to sit in judgement on whether or not a proposed beneficiary of the Downtown Plan’s provision for added height will provide significant community benefits in return for the concessions they’re granted. So what's the Mayor doing lobbying himself and his council for a particular proposal, most especially with the help of a city-paid staffer who seems to have divided loyalties? 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of live performance, especially opera, which is one of the components of the proposal. But I’m also a fan of open and democratic decision-making, and so far this process looks pretty fishy to me, through no fault of the somewhat naïve arts organizations. 

I have two concerns. First, I’m sure that Berkeley is seriously over-built with high-end housing, and profoundly undersupplied with affordable and low-income housing. “The Residences at Berkeley Plaza” will just make that situation worse. 

Jen Boesing told me yesterday that the Mayor has “a big pot of money” to draw on when community benefits are handed out. In her speech to Council on Tuesday she acknowledged the need for affordable housing. 

I’ve been wondering why in recent council meetings the Mayor , seeming nervous, has suddenly been trying to fast-track his version the “1% for the arts” ordinance that’s been standard in many other cities for decades. Now I realize that’s supposed to be the foundation for his “big pot of money.” 

And yet, isn’t affordable housing of some sort required to be provided when new buildings like these are built? Yes, to oversimplify here, under both state and local law either a certain number of “affordable” (weasel-word alert) units must be included on-site, or a per-unit fee must be paid into our Housing Trust Fund in lieu of such inclusionary units. 

Berkeley’s in-lieu fee is astoundingly low: $20,000 per unit, which won’t buy, as they say in the trade, bupkes in the way of affordable housing. By comparison, San Jose extracts something like $120,000 from developers, though they’re currently facing a right-wing lawsuit over the concept of inclusionary zoning. 

Berkeley’s current fee was discounted by the council, back when the economy was in deep trouble, from the statutory $28,000 (still bupkes). On Tuesday the three progressive councilmembers attempted to restore the full amount, but they lost to the typical six-vote Mayor’s majority. 

Why might that be? It’s that pot of money. 

A conspiracy theorist might suspect that the Mayor’s office has been busy behind the scenes haggling with the developer’s front man, Mark Rhoades, formerly a manager in the city’s Planning Department. You can’t raise the in-lieu housing fee without taking money from the honey pot that could be used to sweeten the approval process, if the developer will only agree to provide a limited amount of honey. 

Which brings me to my second concern: I remember only too well Berkeley’s long series of bait-and-switch developments, only a few of which are outlined above, in which arts venues were used as bait and then evaporated. 

We could be seeing, once again, the old “vanishing cultural icon” trick in progress. The arts groups, in all good faith, may be the marks this time. 

You’ve got to keep your eyes on the magician’s hands, if you care what happens to downtown Berkeley. 

The last word on this topic should go to two councilmembers who are valiantly trying to do just that. 

Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson deftly framed the problem on Tuesday: 

KRISS WORTHINGTON: “Basically the City of Berkeley has changed our laws to allow hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially millions of dollars of additional profit to be made by corporations that are building major developments... At the time that we did that, we left it vague and confusing to the public and to the zoning board…The city is giving these corporations, certainly cumulatively millions of dollars of profit, and what is the city getting in return? What are the people of Berkeley getting in return?  

That's what "significant community benefits" is really all about: 

The city did not require what I advocated in terms of protections for labor, for the people who work in the buildings, for the people who are building the buildings. 

The city didn't include the environmental protections that should be there, or the transit… 

And we certainly didn't require the affordable housing that is desperately needed in our city. So now is our chance to go back and right the mistakes that were made at that time and actually have policies that give clarity. 

To me the top priorities are: 

  • addressing affordable housing,
  • addressing the issues of the people building the buildings, and
  • addressing the multiple environmental issues.
We really need to keep this in mind: We changed the law to give these folks millions of dollars. And the question is: Is the public going to get anything back?  

MAX ANDERSON: Along those lines, I would like to introduce a novel concept. When a project is being proposed and we are looking at their applications and permits and their financials, we get one peek at what they present us in terms of financials. 

To me the concept of community benefits is linked to how much profit these corporations are making at the expense of impacts on the city. We never know how much they make. I think we need to find out how much they are making. Because if we can link that to the impacts and the costs of those impacts on the community, I think we can make a powerful argument. 

But the city doesn't follow up on that. Once we issue the permits, give the enhancements to the property, increase the value of it, the profitability of it for the developer or corporation, they ride off into the sunset toward Bank of America and we never see what they got. 

All we are left with is what the impacts were, most of which are very poorly mitigated. That's my idea.” 

What are developers getting from Berkeley, and what does Berkeley need in return? Those are indeed the questions we need to have answered. 

This week the public will have a chance to think about what significant benefits should be and how to calculate the true profit on developments at two hastily convened public gatherings.  

The first is a “Community Workshop” which Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, representing District 4, including Downtown Berkeley,and Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board members Sophie Hahn and Shoshana O'Keefe are hosting on Wednesday, April 15, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  

Their announced purpose: to help develop a way to identify significant community benefits from new downtown high-rises. They note that: “This workshop is to consider a general framework for Community Benefits, not specific projects. Councilmember Arreguin and Boardmembers Hahn and O’Keefe vote on projects in a quasi-judicial capacity, and therefore cannot discuss specific projects.” 

The location is the Fireside Room of Live Oak Park Community Center, 1301 Shattuck Avenue at Berryman. 

The second is an informational meeting which I had a part in organizing, billed as a “Teach-In on Berkeley Development and Affordable Housing”, co-sponsored by Berkeley Citizens Action, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council and the Coalition for a Sustainable Berkeley. 

San Francisco journalists and activists Smooke and Ruiz will provide the keynote talk for the event and other speakers will include Rob Wrenn, former member of the Planning Commission and Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, Steve Finacom, past President of the Berkeley Historical Society, and Tom Hunt, former member of the Berkeley Transportation Commission. 

This one will take place on Saturday, April 18, at 2 p.m. at the Berkeley Arts Festival space, 2133 University Avenue.

Berkeley LPC Follows Orders as Predicted

Becky O'Malley
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 09:40:00 AM

So, I went myself to Thursday night’s meeting of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and not to unduly prolong the suspense, they voted to do the will of Berkeley’s corporate masters, as expected. That is to say, they declined to designate Campanile Way on the University of California campus as a historic resource worthy of preservation, neither the road itself which is on campus nor the view from the Campanile out to the Golden Gate, which encompasses a fraction of the middle of the city of Berkeley and sweeps out over the Bay.

This account is much too long, so unless you’re interested in gory details you could stop reading now. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I went not as a news reporter, which most often I’m not at this phase of my life, but wearing another hat, as one of the several former LPC commissioners who were present to express their opinion. (That would be a metaphorical hat—the best physical hat in the room was the flowered bonnet worn by a designation opponent who identified him/herself as Alfred, and who wore a lovely ‘60s prairie dress to go with it.) 

What I found most surprising, as I told the commission, was how candidly the commissioners who voted against the designation announced their enthusiasm for downtown skyscrapers, specifically for the Mark Rhoades scheme which will demolish the home of the Shattuck Cinemas, aka 2211 Harold Way. When I was on the commission, back in the distant placid pre-Planet days, we were not supposed to make decisions based on our opinion of any projects proposed to replace the designated landmark. I gently chided Chair Austene Hall, a very nice lady and (disclosure) a friend of mine, for allowing proposed projects to dominate the discussion—the several curmudgeonly chairs who ruled the LPC with an iron hand in my day would never have tolerated this. 

Landmarks Commissioners are charged with impartially evaluating the merits of the building, landscape or view which has been brought before them. Designation is not destiny, a concept which some of the commissioners on Thursday pretended not to understand—unless they are actually ignorant of it, which is possible. 

All landmark designation does is add an extra level of scrutiny to the permitting process. If (just to pick a random example) the L.A. financier who’s targeted the Shattuck Cinema building were to ask for it, the Berkeley City Council would be able (and likely) to grant a permit for a building which would block a landmarked view simply by adopting a statement of overriding considerations in the Environmental Impact Report process. 

Thursday’s decision just pumps up the parcel owner’s profits another notch by making that step unnecessary. 

Nick Dominguez, the commissioner specially appointed by my new District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste for this meeting, admitted that he understands the concept. I suggested that he would get another bite of the apple even if he voted for designation, since he’s also Droste’s appointee to the Zoning Adjustment Board, which gets to rule on permits for 2211 Harold Way. When announcing his vote on Thursday he said that he thought downtown development, especially of housing, was more important than landmark preservation. He’s entitled to his opinion, but when he’s appointed to sit on the Landmark Preservation Commission it’s an odd place to express it. 

Presumably he reflects the opinion of his principal, Councilmember Droste. However when the commissioners were asked, several times, to reveal any “ex parte” discussions they might have had with others outside the meeting, including their appointersk, he didn’t say that he’d talked to her about this project. Maybe not, but it seems odd that she’d appoint him with no interview or anything. 

And it seems even odder that Mayor Tom Bates’ appointee, Kimberly Suczynski Smith, didn’t disclose any conversation with the Mayor or his staff, given that her predecessor Rose Marie Pietras was fired because she openly supported designating Campanile Way. Did the Bates people really appoint a successor without talking to her about this project? 

Of course it would have been possible to guess how she’d vote, given her employers. Suczynski Smith works for Oakland’s Pyatok architecture firm, which has designed at least one major dorm on the UC Campus (one of the nicer ones) and she also lectures in UC’s College of Environmental Design. It’s hard to imagine that she’d vote against what the University wants. 

And what the newly-privatized University of California at Berkeley wants to do with downtown Berkeley is not hard to figure out. If there’s any doubt, the embarrassing performance of Emily Marthinsen,
Assistant Vice Chancellor, Physical and Environmental Planning, would give you more than a clue. 

She testified in the public hearing on the designation by reading from a printed script. Her excuse was that she was so busy with family Passover preparations that she just didn’t have time to speak ex tempore, but hard to imagine, again, that U.C. honchos didn’t demand to vet her testimony beforehand. 

To get the full flavor of the performance, the first thing you should know is that she used to be Steve Finacom’s boss. Steve is a distinguished longtime Berkeley resident, past president of the Berkeley Historical Society, board member of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, regular local history columnist for the Bay Area News Group papers, occasional contributor to the Berkeley Daily Planet and Berkeleyside.com, past LPC commissioner and one of the authors of the Campanile Way Landmark application. 

Steve used to work for the U.C. office which used to be called Capital Projects, but is now called Real Estate Services. In that job, he was part of the team that wrote U.C. Berkeley’s Landscape Heritage Plan and Landscape Master Plan. Along with several one of his colleagues, Steve was recently laid off by Marthinson, just about the time that the name of the office was changed from Capital Projects to Real Estate Services. 

The name change reflects a new role: Now the remaining staff in the transmogrified department, headed by a new guy whose former job was as a developer, is busy “monetizing resources” in NewSpeak—or “giving private developers a piece of the action” in plain English. 

If there’s any question in your mind about what that’s going to mean for the U.C.B. campus, just take a look at the plug-ugly parking structure which has erupted on Gayley Road next to the deep-in-debt Memorial Stadium extravaganza and debacle. U.C.’s leased the land to a private corporation which built the garage and collects the revenue. One of Marthinson’s online descriptors is UC Berkeley’s “Campus Planner”—and if that’s still her job, she should be deeply ashamed of allowing that hideous building to be placed in such a sensitive spot. 

Her script started out by claiming that the University would remain neutral on whether Campanile Way should be landmarked, but then it went on to slam Finacom’s application six ways from Sunday. The most transparently ridiculous aspect of her presentation was claiming that the application’s quotes from the Landscape Heritage Plan didn’t reflect what the Plan writers intended—but Finacom himself was one of them. Obviously, there’s been a paradigm shift along with a name change in the office where he used to work. 

And the Mayor’s Commissioner Kim Suczynski Smith didn’t say, I don’t think, a single word during the whole evening. When Steve asked if the new members had listened to the tapes from the previous hearings, she just nodded a bit. There was a kind of deer-in-the-headlights demeanor about her. From her resume, which mentions community planning, I’d guess that she knows better, but she voted the way U.C. wanted, though without apparent enthusiasm. 

The rest of the hearing testimony was lively. About 40 knowledgeable and articulate people spoke in favor of the designation, some of them tried and true preservationists, but with a sizeable contingent of born-again Save the Shattuck Cinema activists, who have collected at least 4,000 signatures from opponents of the Harold Way project. The University’s faculty and staff, current and retired, were well represented too, including among others Nad Permaul, a U.C. Political Science faculty member, a past president of the alumni association and a retired top U.C. Berkeley administrator, who spoke very movingly about the historic vision of the campus. Former Mayor Shirley Dean, for years an ally of some of the councilmembers who appointed the negative LPC commissioners, also made an eloquent presentation. 

There were just 8 or 9 speakers who opposed the designation. Among these, only a couple even mentioned whether Campanile Way and its bay view qualified under Berkeley’s Landmark Preservation law. That’s probably because most of them were from elsewhere, knew nothing about landmarks, and had simply come to tell the LPC that they really really did want better housing for themselves, hopefully in Berkeley. 

I recognized some as adherents of the tiny San Francisco BARF group (Bay Area Renters Federation), recently in the business press because founder and top dog Sonja Trauss was personally gifted with $10,000 by a Yelp founder just because, he claimed, he likes what she’s doing. She was there in person, a bundle of nervous energy, surrounded by her claque. 

To me they appeared more pathetic than threatening. They are pretty ordinary young people (now defined as under 40—most looked like 30-somethings). They seem to believe, mostly, that building the kind of luxury apartments now planned for downtown Berkeley and being erected in quantity in San Francisco will somehow result in older homeowners moving out and turning their houses over to the BARFies and their ilk. It’s a kind of sad cargo cult mentality. 

It seemed almost cruel to tell them that the folks who now live in nice (hugely over-valued) middle-class houses in Berkeley are just not about to sell out so they can move into fancy downtown condos, even the ones with bay views and marble counters in the kitchen. In Berkeley, Palo Alto and elsewhere, “ageing in place” is the new trend, and luxury developments will be primarily pieds-a-terre for the jet set of the 1%, just like they are all over the developed world. 

About those views, by the way. The worst performance on a generally depressing commission roster was by one Paul Schwartz, appointed by District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf. He went on and on, ad nauseam, about how the view from the Berkeley Rose Garden was much nicer than the view from the Campanile, and also it was nearer to his house, where the view was even nicer

I realized, belatedly, that a substantial portion of the Berkeley electorate, the people who voted for the councilmembers who appointed this bunch of commissioners, already live in houses with perfectly gorgeous views of the Bay and the Golden Gate, which makes a publically accessible view like that from the Campanile much less precious to them. They don’t have to care what happens downtown, because they never have to go there. An increasing number of them are Berkeley snowbirds, people who hold down good jobs on the East Coast or in the Midwest but can escape to view houses in our town when the weather Back East is annoying. Some of them even live here almost year-round, particularly some leftish journalistic types, though I’ll name no names. 

The vote Thursday was on the staff-written motion to deny the application, a draft remarkable for the total absence of factual findings to support its conclusion. (This might constitute grounds for appeal.) 

So who voted how? No surprises here. 

If you know who are the pro-corporate conservatives, the progressives and the chronic waffler on the Berkeley City Council, you can predict how their appointees voted: 

For denial: Mayor (Tom Bates) Kimberly Suczynski Smith; District 2( Darryl Moore) Mary Canavan; District 5 (Laurie Capitelli) Tom Beil; District 6 (Susan Wengraf) Paul Schwartz; District 8 (Lori Droste) Nicolas Dominguez 

Against denial: District 3(Max Anderson)Christopher Linvill; District 4(Jesse Arreguin) Austene Hall; District 7(Kriss Worthington) Anne Wagley 

Abstain: District 1(Linda Maio) Dmitri Belser . 

Looking at that lineup, it becomes apparent that those who actually run Berkeley behind the scenes, the hired staff, viewed the LPC’s public hearing, like all encounters with the public, as sound and fury signifying nothing. 

The remedy might be found in the 2016 election, when (surely!) Tom Bates will finally have retired. Betting is still on District 5 Councilmember Laurie Capitelli to get anointed and maybe appointed to the mayor’s seat before Bates leaves. Several lively progressives are being talked about for competition, as well as for open council seats, which will probably include those of Wengraf and Capitelli. But with the views in the hills still nirvana-like, it might be hard to achieve a progressive council majority. 

[And how about Berkeley’s real housing needs? Listen up, kiddies. No amount of luxury apartment construction will ever buy you homes in the hills. 

The same remedies are still needed to provide housing for moderate and low-income people: tough inclusionary zoning for developments, realistic in-lieu fees on development to fund building workforce housing, rent control, vacancy decontrol. And yes, a livable minimum wage, even for UCB service employees.]

The Editor's Back Fence

Don't Forget about the Community Benefits Workshop Tonight at 7

Wednesday April 15, 2015 - 04:32:00 PM

Don't forget about the Community Benefits Workshop which Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, representing District 4, including Downtown Berkeley,and Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board members Sophie Hahn and Shoshana O'Keefe are hosting on TODAY, Wednesday, April 15, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  

Their announced purpose: to help develop a way to identify significant community benefits from new downtown high-rises. They note that: “This workshop is to consider a general framework for Community Benefits, not specific projects. Councilmember Arreguin and Boardmembers Hahn and O’Keefe vote on projects in a quasi-judicial capacity, and therefore cannot discuss specific projects.”  

The location is the Fireside Room of Live Oak Park Community Center, 1301 Shattuck Avenue at Berryman.

New: Just BARFin’ Along With Berkeley Mayor Bates and his staff

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 11:18:00 AM

If it wasn’t such a cliché, I might say that you can’t make this stuff up. How could it be ethical for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who will eventually be reviewing variances sought by 2211 Harold Way in his quasi-judicial role, to lobby himself using the services of his taxpayer-funded aide, who seems to be organizing “a special Berkeley sub-group” of the now notorious SF BARF group which fronts for developers?

It appears that the Berkeley activities of the pro-development San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation are being coordinated out of the office of Berkeley Mayor Bates, or at least by one of his city-paid staffers. A reader who lurks on the San Francisco BARF list-serv forwarded this communication to us: 


From: Gregory Magofna <gregory.magofna@gmail.com>  

Subject: [sfbarentersfed] Berkeley Community Benefits/Housing Mitigation Fee 

Date: April 7, 2015 PDT 

To: SFBArentersfed@googlegroups.com 

I know a special Berkeley sub-group was created upon my request, I will get to that with specific projects in the coming weeks. I just wanted to let the group know about something on tonight's city council agenda: Significant community benefits for developments over 75 ft in Downtown Berkeley. 

The fight is over what else developers should be required to do and NIMBYs have been making outrageously impossible demands to meet to block the project. There is talk of another meeting coming up just on this so it's not the end of the world if no one attends, but it does set the stage for the other 4 tall buildings in downtown. Please plan on coming to the special meeting in May. 


And who might this Gregory Magofna be? From the City of Berkeley website page for the Mayor’s office: 



Gregory Magofña, Legislative Aide

Gregory's work spans from managing the office's administration and the Mayor's calendar to working on constituent services and economic development initiatives. Gregory staffs the Mayor on the East Bay Green Corridor, the Berkeley Startup Cluster, and issues surrounding Telegraph Avenue, including student relations. 

Last night at the Berkeley City Council it was announced that the discussion of what constitutes the “significant community benefits” vaguely required for Berkeley’s planned tall buildings would be carried over until May 5. 

Evidently, based on Magofna’s email, which was sent yesterday at 5:38:52 PM, the BARFers had prior notice that they didn’t have to show up last night. Building critics were present in force at the beginning of the meeting, since they don’t have a plant in the Mayor’s office, as were arts advocates who seem to be looking for a piece of the action in the new building. By the time the item came up late in the evening, however, many in both groups had gone home, to return on May 5. 

By the way, after this story first appeared, another reader has pointed out that on December 5, 2014, Magofna cast the only "No" vote on Berkeley's Housing Advisory Commission on a motion that said "…the HAC strongly believes that the new high rises in the Downtown must also provide additional affordable housing benefits, in addition to other proposed community benefits,…".


Bounce: Flying Banksters (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 11:28:00 AM

Joseph Young


Public Comment

New: An Open Letter Re: Fair and Equal Access to Berkeley Sports Fields

Rajiv Bhatia;Sachu Constantine;Betsy Cory;Robert Derham;Jane Fischberg;Jeremy Giovannetti;Johnathan Heller;John Balmes;Nate Brownlow; Mokhtar Paki;
Tuesday April 14, 2015 - 12:11:00 PM

To Mayor Tom Bates;Chair, Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission;Berkeley City Manager;Berkeley City Attorney

As residents, parents, and sports field users, we request that the City of Berkeley immediately stop outsourcing its responsibilities for public sports fields’ reservations. The City’s longstanding practice, allowing the Association of Sports Field Users (ASFU) to establish and implement Berkeley policy for who gets to use our public spaces, has ceded a government responsibility to a self-interested party, removed public means for governmental accountability, and unfairly restricted recreational opportunities for Berkeley residents.  

The City should establish its own official policy for sports field access and reservations and should expeditiously implement a transparent reservation process under city oversight. City policy should give private groups priority or advanced access only where there is a compelling public interest to do so. 

What’s Wrong with Sports Field Reservations in Berkeley? 

For many years, the City of Berkeley has delegated the process for sports field allocation and scheduling to the ASFU—an organization under the direction of Mr. Doug Fielding. Nominally, ASFU is a non-profit; however, the organization does not maintain a public website. 

ASFU allocates sports field space only twice a year at ad hoc meetings. ASFU invites affiliated and organized sports programs, including non-Berkeley based organizations, to these meetings and negotiates the division of field space amongst those represented. ASFU does not provide general public notices for the meetings of or keep publically accessible minutes. Mr. Fielding acts as the final arbitrator for any conflicts. Outside attendance at these ASFU meetings, no meaningful mechanism allows a Berkeley resident to competitively request or reserve fields. 

ASFU manages sports field reservations without oversight from the City of Berkeley. The City cannot provide any public records of reservation policies and procedures, field users meetings or of the ASFU decision-making process. The City does not have a mechanism to review ASFU decisions. The Department of Parks and Recreation directs public concerns about the sports field reservation process to ASFU for response. 

How does the Current System Harm City Residents? 

The City’s outsourcing of its own responsibilities has created a perpetual monopoly for ASFU and its affiliated groups over sports fields. ASFU field reservation practices harm the interests of Berkeley-based youth and residents in many ways: 

  • Berkeley residents unaffiliated with ASFU are functionally locked out of all meaningful or equal access to sports fields. Groups affiliated with the ASFU, from cities and regions throughout Northern California, including for-profit corporations, have maintained “rights” to a Berkeley sports fields indefinitely, preventing Berkeley-based groups and residents from access. According Mr. Doug Fielding, at “the fields are fully booked on weekdays 3:30-11 and 8am-11pm weekends.”
  • Members and affiliates of ASFU are given privileged access to public fields. This fact is acknowledged by Mr. Doug Fielding, ASFU president who has written, “There is no question that the system favors people who are already in the system.” Furthermore, groups and individuals associated with ASFU are privately reselling reserved slots.
  • Non-Berkeley based organizations have equal standing with Berkeley based organized youth programs on Berkeley city fields. While neighboring cities give their own residents priority in reservations and a preferential fee, ASFU gives Berkeley residents no preferential access on their own fields. Last year, ASFU user groups, at the biannual users groups meeting, voted against giving Berkeley youth programs priority in reservations in their own town.
  • Berkeley residents have no means of knowing when a sports field is available.
  • Berkeley residents have limited places to play sports in unscheduled and unstructured ways. Groups of adults and teenagers attempting to play sports are being discouraged from using fields and are routinely kicked off fields even when field space is available.

How to Make the Process Fair 


The City of Berkeley should adopt an official sports field reservations policy and either implement that policy itself or provide close oversight over policy implementation.  


We recommend that the reservation policy include the following elements: 

  • Priority access to city fields for programs directly serving Berkeley youth and adult players.
  • Transparent timeframes and procedures for making advance reservations
  • A fair distribution of field space among organized activities (e.g. adult and youth sports programs, organized pickup games) and unstructured community play.
  • A mechanism for resolving conflicts two or more competing users request the same space.
  • Prohibition on the private resale or trade of field reservations

Berkeley can learn from the practices of other cities that have recently implemented transparent and online reservation systems. We believe the system should include 

  • Online lookup or calendar to assess field availability
  • Means for Berkeley based school and youth groups, adult groups, and residents to reserve fields online in advance
  • Means for individuals and groups to access unreserved fields for informal and unstructured sports activities.
  • Means for seasonal users to yield individual slots to pickup games and unstructured use, without affecting their seasonal bookings.

Berkeley voters are clearly committed to funding parks and recreation, but we expect our fields to be accessible to the public. As Berkeley residents, we have been dismayed to learn that outside groups and individuals are monopolizing public parks and sports fields, taking advantage of Berkeley’s relatively lower field costs while preventing local residents’ meaningful access. We believe few Berkeley citizens would knowingly tolerate the City outsourcing field allocation authority to a private organization without public oversight. 

The city must immediately recommit to the highest standards of transparent governance. Berkeley should terminate its outsourcing relationship with the ASFU and reclaim public parks and sports field oversight for the public good, engaging Berkeley residents in developing a vision for sport field use that reflect and reinforce the vibrancy of our neighborhoods. 


Rajiv Bhatia 

Sachu Constantine 

Betsy Cory 

Robert Derham 

Jane Fischberg 

Jeremy Giovannetti 

Johnathan Heller 

John Balmes 

Nate Brownlow 

Mokhtar Paki 

New: Proposal for a Performing Arts Center in Harold Way Plaza

Jennifer Boesing, Producing Artistic Director, Youth Musical Theater Company; Mark Streshinksy, General Director, West Edge Opera; Ilona McHugh, Artistic Director, Berkeley Ballet
Tuesday April 14, 2015 - 10:21:00 AM

Editor's Note: This proposal was handed out at the April 7 Berkeley City Council meeting.

A performing arts center in the heart of the downtown district would thrive and create a lasting gift to the people of Berkeley. As the Artistic Directors of deep-rooted and thriving Berkeley based performing arts companies, we know how much our community loves to both go to and be in live performances. We represent many disciplines, including theater, music and dance. We serve audiences from all of the Bay Area, we educate young people, and we bring thousands of people to our performances every year. But as much as our community loves what we do, we do not have an adequate, affordable space in Berkeley for our resident companies to perform.

0ur proposal is for the construction of a 400 seat performing arts center on the lower floor of the Harold Way project. In addition to the theater, there would be space for a several state of the art movie theaters, which could be run by Landmark films, or another independent operator. The City would own the performing arts venue and lease it to a non-profit, which would be responsible for the running of the performing arts venue. There would be two separate but compatible entities within the space, one for running the movie theaters and one for running the performing arts venue. The two would share restrooms and lobby space but would otherwise be independent operators. 

A common organizational model for performing arts venues such as we are proposing is for a consortium of representatives from each of the anchor tenant arts organizations to form a non- profit to operate the venue. The board of this non-profit would hire a small staff who would be responsible for day-to-day operations, including booking and running the live theater venue. 

The anchor tenants would be the Resident Companies of the center— companies that have longer term rental periods and would be committed to a minimum number of weeks every year. These groups are professionally managed, are fiscally stable and have been in the community for between ten and thirty years. These groups all routinely sign leases to rent space at competitive rates for performance spaces outside of Berkeley, and between those currently committed, would fill up close to half the calendar year. 

The groups expressing interest in Anchor Tenancy include: 


  • Youth Musical Theater Company
  • West Edge Opera
  • Berkeley Ballet
The groups who have expressed interest in shorter-term rentals include: 



  • Destiny Arts
  • Young People’s Symphony Orchestra
  • Shawl-Anderson Dance Center
  • Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra
  • Prometheus Orchestra
  • Danse Lumiere
  • Awesöme Orchestra Collective
  • Lyz Luke, Undercover Presents
All of these groups produce sell-out shows to thousands of theater goers throughout the year, draw a captive audience that represent the loyal followers of the company as well as family, classmates, grandparents, and neighbors of the performers who come from a wide range of Berkeley and Bay Area families with diverse artistic interests and backgrounds. These audiences all in one place would bring together Berkeley’s diverse cultures throughout the year to celebrate the arts, our local youth, and generate community ties that unite generations and neighbors. 


Additionally, we anticipate that the space could be used for speaker series and spoken word events, and these kinds of events would add to the diversity of the audiences coming to Downtown Berkeley. 

Assuming the city owns the space and rents it to the non-profit at cost, we anticipate the yearly operating budget would be approximately $250,000 per year. Based on rentals comparable to similar theaters in the surrounding environs, we believe we would be able to meet this budget from rental of the facility to those organizations who have already expressed interest, and the Berkeley Performing Arts Center would be fiscally self-sufficient. 

Every one of us believes in the City of Berkeley’s commitment, expressed in the downtown plan, to make Downtown Berkeley a home for arts and education. We applaud it. And we are asking the City Council to live up to this commitment. The Berkeley Plaza Development presents an opportunity to create a Berkeley Performing Arts Center, and we are asking the City Council to seize that opportunity. 


The City is Still For Sale

Joan Holden
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 02:52:00 PM

Editor's Note: Joan Holden, the author of this letter, grew up in Berkeley. She was a longtime member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe collective, and wrote most of their best plays, including in the 1990s "City for Sale", an early depiction of how real estate speculation in the Bay Area was destroying small businesses and low-cost housing. It's only gotten worse since then, and has now come to Berkeley. If you live or work in San Francisco, or just love the city, you might want to go to the meeting.

The Academy of Art University is all over this town. You see its logo everywhere in downtown, North Beach and South of Market, on dozens of former office buildings, stores, & industrial sites that it has turned into classrooms and studios. What you don’t see, because no signs proclaim it, is the FOR-PROFIT school’s impact on the city’s vanishing stock of affordable housing. As high rents displace longtime residents in droves, the AAU is gobbling up apartment buildings, motels, artists’ live-work buildings and single-occupancy hotels to house its mainly transient young students, a third of them recruited from abroad via the school’s giant marketing operation.

The AAU evicted the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. To date, it has taken over 15 apartment buildings, two artists-live work buildings, a downtown hotel, and motels on Lombard St. and Van Ness Avenue—conservatively, 1000 dwelling units. In contrast to the Arts Institute and the Conservatory of Music, both of which have announced plans to build student housing, the AAU plans NO new units: its growth plan calls only for “acquiring housing", in the city’s most-marketable neighborhoods. 

On Thursday, April 16 beginning around 1 PM, the San Francisco Planning Commission will hold a required hearing on the environmental impact of the AAU’s plan. The California Environmental Quality Act allows economic and housing impacts to be considered. 

Five of the Commission’s seven members are new: they haven’t heard previous testimony on the AAU; they weren’t here for the late-90’s fight over phony live-work lofts, and they are unfamiliar with artists’ issues. They may know that something is being done for artists: studio and rehearsal space being created mid-Market. But they DON’T know how many in our community can’t find housing. 

If anyone receiving this email was directly displaced by the AAU, your story would be invaluable. But any low-to-moderate income artist in any discipline who has struggled to stay in San Francisco has something to teach the Commission—and the public: the hearing will be covered by the press and media. Please come, and sign up to tell your story. Ask the Commission to make the AAU build new housing instead of devouring the little we have left. You’ll be allowed three minutes, but they‘ll love us if you can say it in one. 

AAU is #8 on the agenda; 1 PM is an estimate. If earlier items drag on and you can’t stay, please sign up for public comment on #7: “2014 Housing Inventory”. The issues are the same.

It's Gerrymandering!

Ron Lowe
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 04:05:00 PM

Two Democrats from Massachusetts are suggesting that Nancy Pelosi should step down from her House leadership post because of Democratic losses in the 2014 election. 

For all the Democrats, media and columnists who still don't get it, here's what went down in the 2014 midterm election. The Democrats suffered large losses not from any of their own doing but because Republicans had their gerrymandering scheme fully in place. More specifically the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and three G.O.P. leaders, Bill McCollum, RSLC President, Matt Walter and his predecessor Ed Gillespie concocted and perfected the gerrymandering process over the last four years. 

Gerrymandering allowed Republican controlled legislatures in over 20 states to redraw (gerrymander) voting district boundaries so that the new redistricted maps favored the Republicans. Most people have seen the erratic new state congressional districts after the Republicans got done gerrymandering them. 

It's true, "do-nothing" Republicans have found another way to game and rig the election process, tilt the election playing field. Nancy Pelosi had nothing to do with the Democratic losses in 2014. 

Now for the bad news: 

If nothing is done about, what can only be called a Republican fraud against the election system, the results will be the same in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. Are you listening now, Democrats.

RE: Proposals on Homelessness in the City of Berkeley

Peace and Justice Commission
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:46:00 PM

Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council:

The Peace and Justice Commission advises the City Council on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice (Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Chapter 3.68.070).

On March 17, 2015, the City Council referred to the City Manager a packet of proposed ordinances proposed by development interests, which would ban ten types of behavior typical of urban homelessness, including un-permitted cooking on the sidewalk, panhandling within ten feet of a parking pay station, and placing objects within three feet of a tree well.

These proposals are the latest step in an ill-considered, repressive policy against the marginalized homeless population. In 2012, the Council placed Measure S before the voters, a proposition that would have outlawed sitting on the sidewalks in commercial districts. After a hard-fought campaign, the measure was defeated by the electorate.

Such proposals, whatever their rhetoric, have the effect of criminalizing the poor. They do nothing to address the root causes of homelessness. Better ways can be found to confront the social problems of wealth and racial inequality, lack of affordable housing, and mental illness. 

Many authorities have spoken about the detrimental effects of such punitive legal measures. These proposals contradict the 2012 direction of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, which called for an end to the criminalization of “acts of living.” This City Council itself approved a letter to the UN Human Rights Committee in October 2014, discussing similar laws passed in 2007, addressing the issue of whether they violate the ICCPR treaty. ICCPR Article 16 states, “Everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” The Council wrote in 2014, "While the initiative does not explicitly criminalize the poor or homelessness, it does outlaw actions that are symptomatic of these conditions.” 

The Peace and Justice Commission reminds the Council that a Homeless Task Force has been meeting for the past two years to formulate recommendations and proposals for dealing with the complex issues of homelessness. The Task Force will present their considered suggestions to a special Council Workshop on June 23. 

The Peace and Justice Commission recommends that the Council of the City of Berkeley not consider formulating the ordinances proposed on March 17. Instead, please defer consideration of any related proposals until after the Homeless Task Force presents its proposals on June 23. 


Peace and Justice Commission Address Behavior Against the Homeless by Berkeley Ambassadors

Peace and Justice Commission
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:41:00 PM

WHEREAS, the Peace and Justice Commission of the City of Berkeley advises the City Council on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice (Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Chapter 3.68.070); and 

WHEREAS, a member of the Ambassador program, contracted to the City of Berkeley through the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), physically attacked two homeless men near Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way in downtown Berkeley around 7pm on Thursday, March 19, 2015, punching one of them approximately ten times in a one-sided assault that was captured on video;[1] and 

WHEREAS, the City government is a strategic partner of the DBA, a quasi-public “Property-Based Business Improvement District (PBID),” with the manager of the City’s Office of Economic Development sitting on the DBA’s Board of Directors, and pays approximately $106,000 annually in assessments to the DBA; Block by Block is the DBA’s contractor / service partner that runs the Ambassador program; and therefore the City is contractually responsible for the activities of the Ambassador team; and 

WHEREAS, DBA CEO John Caner stated that the attack was “totally unacceptable,” and Block by Block president Blair McBride said the intolerable “uncalled-for response by these Ambassadors has angered and appalled us deeply;”[2] and 

WHEREAS, the stated goal of the Ambassador teams is to “enhance both the reality and the perception of public safety, welcome and assist downtown pedestrians and connect street populations to social services and other appropriate resources….Ambassadors bear witness against persons who conduct nuisance crimes. Ambassadors act as ‘eyes and ‘ears’ for police…they do not carry weapons;”[3] however, 

WHEREAS, homeless people and their advocates have complained for years about a pattern of aggressive and rude enforcement by Ambassadors, culminating in the March 19 attack on the two homeless men; that enforcement systematically went far beyond simply “being the eyes and ears of the police;” that the Ambassador responsible for the March 19 attack had committed at least three other violent attacks previously; that another Ambassador had a similar record; and that therefore the March 19 incident could not be accurately described as an individual isolated incident, but rather an extreme example of the confrontational and demeaning approach taken by the Ambassador program as a whole; and 

WHEREAS, the 2011 Council Resolution establishing the PBID defines success metrics to measure staff performance, including, in the “Safe and Welcoming” section, metrics including “Homeless Contacts, Homeless Referrals, Homeless Housed,” etc., but none measuring complaints against Ambassadors or respectful treatment of homeless people; nor is there any provision for ensuring that the human rights of the homeless population are respected in the four oversight responsibilities assigned to the DBA in the Governance Section;[4] and 

WHEREAS, Block by Block is owned by the right-wing corporation SMS Holdings, which has a record of attacking unions including SEIU and paying poverty wages, as well as lobbing for privatization of key government services. According to the East Bay Express, Block by Block management in Pittsburgh “barred employees from wearing union buttons or talking to the media, and according to reports in the Pittsburgh Gazette[5] even conducted surveillance and called the police when some of their ambassadors passed out pro-union literature in front of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's offices;”[6] and 


WHEREAS, the Berkeley City Council voted on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 to refer several measures proposed by the DBA for consideration by the City Manager, including prohibition of panhandling within ten feet of a parking pay station, placement of personal objects within three feet of a tree well, and deployment of blankets on sidewalks and plazas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.;[7] and 


WHEREAS, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness called in 2010 for an end to the criminalization of “acts of living”;[8] the Berkeley City Council stated in 2014, referring to the 2007 Public Commons For Everyone Initiative (PCEI), that "while the initiative does not explicitly criminalize the poor or homelessness, it does outlaw actions that are symptomatic of these conditions”;[9] the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School released a report February 19 detailing 500 municipal laws across the state that disproportionately affect the homeless, and a 77% increase in vagrancy arrests since 2000; and in 2015, four Right to Rest bills are pending in the California legislature, with SB 608 stating "Actions by state, county or private organizations shall not impede an individual's ability to maintain access to services essential to survival;"[10] and 

WHEREAS, increased restrictions on behaviors of marginalized persons have historically led to increasingly extreme attitudes in the general population, including a confrontational stance by those placed by society into a front-line role with them; and 

WHEREAS, on the word of the Ambassadors who attacked the homeless men, Berkeley police handcuffed and charged the two homeless men with assault against the Ambassadors, and refused to take as seriously the complaint of the two men against the Ambassadors who actually assaulted them as shown in the video; 

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley finds that the DBA and Block by-Block have shown themselves unable to conduct the Ambassador program in a way that protects the dignity of all persons, because of the Ambassadors’ role as the eyes and ears of the police and bearing witness against homeless people for nuisance crimes; and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley calls for the termination of the DBA’s relationship with Block-by-Block and the current Ambassador program, and will communicate this intent to the DBA and instruct its representative on the DBA Board to vote to terminate the relationship. 


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley directs the Homeless Commission, the Mental Health Commission, and the Peace and Justice Commission to propose alternatives to the Ambassador program, drawing on the recommendations to be provided to the Council by the Homeless Task Force on June 23. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley directs the Berkeley Police Department to explain why its officers charged the victims in the March 19 case and refused to take their complaint, and what steps it will take to avoid such failures in the future; and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley directs the City Clerk to send a copy of this resolution to the Downtown Berkeley Association and Block by Block. 


[2] Berkeleyside, op.cit. 

[3] “Resolution of Intention to Establish the Downtown Berkeley Property and Business Improvement District,” Resolution No. 65,234—N. S., Berkeley City Council, adopted April 26, 2011, page 8. 

[4] Resolution No. 65,234, op.cit., page 18-19 

[5] http://www.post-gazette.com/neighborhoods-city/2009/03/05/NLRB-investigating-complaints/stories/200903050407 

[8] “Searching out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization,” http://usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/RPT_SoS_March2012.pdf . See also “Criminalizing Crisis: Advocacy Manual,” November 2011,from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty: http://www.nlchp.org/Criminalizing_Crisis_Advocacy_Manual 

[10] http://wraphome.org/work/civil-rights-campaign/71-uncategorised/398-california-right-to-rest-act 

The Culture of Low Expectations-- No Longer!

Harry Brill
Friday April 10, 2015 - 10:39:00 AM

On Wednesday April 15 beginning 4pm, there will be a Raise the Wage rally at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza (Bancroft & Telegraph). Then we will march to a downtown fast food establishment to demand a major increase in wages and benefits for its employees. More than 60,000 underpaid Fast Food Workers across the United States will strike and protest for $15 an hour and a union. It is immensely important that we join them. 

Actions are planned in about 200 cities in the United States. There will also be allied demonstrations around the world in many countries including Italy, Switzerland, France, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, and Bangladesh. 

Please participate in this immensely important demonstration. Without a huge public outcry the standard of living for not only low wage workers but for most Americans will continue to sink. And without a successful effort to substantially increase the purchasing power of American workers, unemployment will certainly rise as the economy takes a dive. 


Join the East Bay Tax the Rich Group every Monday, 5-6pm near the top of Solano to rally against inequality. We attempt to inform the public of what we need to do to combat the Republican Party campaign to reduce taxes for the very rich and the big corporations by slashing essential social and economic programs

April Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Wednesday April 15, 2015 - 10:48:00 AM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Police Misconduct

Jagjit Singh
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:24:00 PM

What has become an all too familiar scene, another defenseless African-American, is gunned down by a white police officer. Without ordering an investigation, the North Charleston Police Department rushed to defend officer Michael Slager. But a video captured by a bystander showed Slager shot the victim, Walter Scott, in the back and casually walked over, handcuffed the dying man and then placed a taser next to his body in a botched effort to blame the victim. 

Scott’s killing echoes other videos of police shootings, such as Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner in New York City. Rice, a 12 year old boy, was shot by a policemen two seconds after he got out of his car and then allowed to die without any intervention by the police. When Tamir’s 14 year old sister tried to intervene and save her brother she was arrested. 

While the actions of the man who filmed the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, is rightly lauded as a hero, the man who shot the video of the police killing of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta, is languishing in jail. His mother, brother, and wife have also been arrested. Supporters have accused the New York City Police department of pure harassment – punishment for releasing the video. Bystanders should be rewarded for exposing police misconduct not punished. There is a deep racial malaise gripping the nation’s police departments and unless swift action is taken we can only expect more of the same.

New: Who's Schwartz?

Bennett Markel
Thursday April 09, 2015 - 09:11:00 AM

I disagree with this Paul Schwartz (I never heard of him. What business is he in and what is he doing on The Landmark Preservation Commission? Who appointed him?). My friend Becky O'Malley knows about such matters, and I trust her judgment.

New: Whose Tantrum? (Paul Schwartz's Complaints)

Glen Kohler
Thursday April 09, 2015 - 08:44:00 AM

LPC member Paul Schwartz's literary hissy fit is replete with vague complaints and accusations leveled at Becky O’Malley for her critical review of the Landmark Preservation Commission meeting about the view of the Golden Gate from the U.C. Berkeley campus. 

I read the article he didn’t like: Berkeley LPC Follows Orders as Predicted. One might thank that the member of the Landmark Preservation Commission would specify the alleged mis-quotes and personal attacks, perhaps supplemented by factual corrections. But no. 

Ms. O’Malley did say that the Landmark Preservation Commission is tasked with considering the merits of proposed new landmarks, not facilitating proposed development projects. She also said that Nick Dominguez, an LPC commissioner appointed by Council member Lori Droste for the reported meeting, acknowledged his understanding of this principle, but chose not to act on it. It seems odd to me too, that an LPC commissioner at an LPC meeting would trumpet the cause of a proposed project as a reason to deny the public’s request to preserve a view as well known and famous as the view of the Bay from the U.C. Berkeley campus. 

Maybe Mr. Schwartz feels it was wrong of Becky to suggest that Lori Droste might have discussed the landmark proposal beforehand with interested parties. (Surely not!) Or maybe he finds it abhorrent to wonder if Tom Bates' appointee to the commission might have had a word inserted into her ear by a mayor who gives State of the City addresses in private venues. 

Becky O’Malley is a seasoned and savvy observer of government practices in this city. If LPC commissioners, whose duty is to seriously consider the merits of a requested new landmark, instead speak as advocates of a development project, she has to have some reaction. 

A lot of concerned long-time Berkeley citizens have watched the steady march of big development, including the ‘proposed’ huge tower in the middle of downtown Berkeley, with stark disfavor. The Daily Planet editor’s characterization of the LPC meeting as a thin charade strikes myself and others as the only reasonable conclusion she could have reached.

New: Dear Vaccination Objectors: an open letter

Margot Smith
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 04:51:00 PM

How soon you forget our history! Vaccinations stopped the spread of many noxious diseases. My grandmother lost 5 children in one week to diphtheria. When I went to school, many children were absent at times because of scarlet fever, mumps and measles, and their families were quarantined. Warm pools were built in many cities, including Berkeley, to treat children paralyzed because of polio. I saw faces scarred by small pox and chicken pox. Pregnant women who caught rubella had children who were deaf, retarded and otherwise damaged. Boys who had mumps were unable to father children. 

You may not wish to vaccinate your children, but are you willing to take responsibility for the effects of these diseases on your family and on others? What if your child spreads a disease that damages another child or family? Some children have very good medical reasons for skipping vaccinations. Belief in non-scientific myths is not one of them.

New: An open letter to the Berkeley City Council: A civil streets proposal

Tom Lord
Monday April 06, 2015 - 03:58:00 PM

It now appears that a City Ambassador unlawfully attacked two men in Downtown Berkeley and moreover the Ambassador and the Berkeley Police misled both the public and the court as to what had transpired. 

We know this now because of two well publicized videos. In the first video we see the attack. In the second, we see the Berkeley police being informed of the first video's existence: a fact they would later deny knowing. 

Whatever mission the Ambassadors and the Berkeley Police believe themselves to be on, apparently it transcends such virtues as truth and law and public trust. 

I want to talk to you about how this appalling situation came to pass and what we can do it about. 

This is not an anomaly

John Caner has told the public this is some sort of bad apple situation. He has promised to investigate the "training and hiring practices" of the ambassador program. 

I say NO! There is something much more dangerous going on here. Caner's remedy completely ignores the real problem. He is making things worse! 

This is no bad apple situation. This is the necessary and inevitable outcome of an anti-homeless drum-beat that has gone on for some time in Berkeley. The Ambassadors and the police, behaving violently and unlawfully against the weak, are very much expressing what is asked of them by the politically powerful in Berkeley. 

Let's talk about where we are, how we got here, how we get out, and where we can go that is better. 

Official Cynicism

In 1890 the drafters of the new constitution of the state of Mississippi expressed a sudden and profound interest in the literacy of the state's voters. They led the nation in imposing a literacy test on the right to vote. 

Of course, in truth, the drafters wrote cynical, untruthful legislation. In person the conventioneers were more honest: "We came here to exclude the negro. Nothing short of this will answer," declared S. S. Calhoon from that dais at the convention. 

More recently, maybe you have heard that this past week the Governor and legislature of Indiana took a sudden interest in the religious liberties of business operators. In Indiana they legislated dishonestly. Within hours of passing a new law for religious freedom, already signs appeared on businesses: "Jesus says: No Gays Allowed". 

In Indiana they legislated religious freedom but in truth they were there to exclude homosexuals. Nothing less would do. 

I would claim this is precisely the same sort of cynicism we see when Linda Maio, Jesse Arreguin, and the Downtown Berkeley Association put forward legislation ostensibly aimed at restoring so-called "civility" to downtown. 

Mississippian S. S. Calhoon could pretend to care that voters should pass a test of their knowledge. Governor Pence in Indiana could pretend he cared about a highly abstract concept of religious freedom. Yet both spoke untruthfully and here in Berkeley we are no better. 

Council may pretend to have a deep concern about protecting parking meters from panhandlers, or about people using our wide-rimmed planters to stretch out, as the planters were designed to be used. 

No: we know the truth. When John Caner proclaims from the podium: "If you look at Berkeleyside, you see the comments" we know what comments he means. Berkeleyside is a forum that features abundant anti-homeless hate speech. A lot of speech aimed at excluding the homeless from society: 

"If they are capable of all this to fight for their rights as this situation emerges to the public why aren’t they capable enough to band together for jobs and real help. We have tolerated them long enough, and already gave them two whole parks in Berkeley to take over." 

"Looks like things may have come to an end today as city workers where throwing anything left on the street into a truck this morning after 7am, where the rowdiest of the homeless camp all day. Hate to say it but it is about time." 


"Berkeley needs to adopt a policy of aggressive nonviolence towards the homeless with the idea of making it unpleasant enough that they will leave of their own accord. Regular rousting, confiscation of their junk, hosing of the sidewalks, etc would all be appropriate" 

"I will buy you a bus ticket back there if you promise not to return until you have secured employment here that enables you to live in a hard sided domicile with an address." 

It is not just the local news blog. During her campaign, Lori Droste answered a Downtown Berkeley Association questionaire with the frankness of a political rookie: 

"Some best practices for reducing problematic street behavior include: 

Public education to discourage panhandling and contribute to vouchers or homeless organizations. 

Zero tolerance policies for anti-social and dangerous behavior." 

We have the general picture, right? Panhandling is of course not only perfectly legal but it is a protected right under the U.S. Consitution. Thus, we will not outlaw panhandling but we will "educate the public" (a public that apparently excludes panhandlers) to "discourage" panhandling, while the state will concentrate on "zero tolerance" for "anti-social behavior". 

(Personally, I think it is "anti-social behavior" to try to "educate" anyone not to help the poor directly, to their face, like a human being, but Ms. Droste apparently disagrees.) 

We know the truth too, when Linda Maio takes to the airwaves to declare that we are here to exclude the homeless, even when she defensively notes that they'll still be permitted to skulk around downtown between 10PM and 7AM. 

False Apologetics

In the list of vile quotes I offer above, I risk being accused of ignoring context. Many, perhaps most of the people quoted are very quick to insist: They do not mean to "criminalize the homeless". No, they want only to protect a nebulously defined "society" or even just "business" from the homeless. The most cynical part: they say their intent is to get the homeless into "help", at least those who otherwise refuse "programs". 

People on the streets will tell you again and again, and in almost any city: These laws are meant only to create an excuse to harrass the homeless, to fine them, to send them to jail, to beat them, and to deny them the full and equal protection of the law. 

There is no record of any homeless person being helped by having their belongings taken away and discarded. 

There is no record of a single homeless person who refused help suddenly accepting help because of being cited for panhandling too close to an ATM. 

We are all adults. We do not have to be cynical here. We know full well what is going on. Harrassment, begets tickets, begets weekends in jails and rotations through involuntary commitments. Nobody is helped. Rather, the state simply plays out its role as the designated vigilante squad of the politically powerful. 

The Politicians Lose Control

When a Berkeley Ambassador, who has a reputation of similar incidents in the past, attacks and beats two men, 

When the Berkeley Police collude to mislead the court and cover up his crime, 

Each of these direct and indirect City employees is doing exactly the job they have been given. 

This is the thing about cynical public policy: 

The cynicism allows the politicians to save face even as their employees get the message and act out the true intent. 

It is nauseating to watch Berkeley politicians feign surprise or outrage over this violent attack on two Berkeley residents and the subsequent coverup. 

These were model employees doing the job they are given. 

Before one Ambassador was fired (after video of his behavior emerged), earlier he was promoted, I am told. He was promoted in spite of repeated complaints about similar behavior in the past. 

Malicious Practices

There is a historic precedent for the two-faced, false civility that promises to criminalize the poor in order to help them. Wikipedia tells us that "The Malicious Practices Act of 1933" in Nazi Germany gave rise to a memo from the Prussion Minister of Interior reading in part: 

"...those to be considered A-Social are persons who demonstrate through behaviour towards the community, when may not in itself be criminal, that they will not adopt themselves to the community. 

"The following are examples of asocial: 

"Persons who through minor, but repeated, infractions of the law demonstrate that they will not adapt socialist state, e.g. beggars, tramps, whores, alcoholics with contagious diseases, particularly transmitted diseases, who evade the measures taken by the public health authorities." 

For such persons the presecription was "protective custody," also known as a free one way train ticket to Dachau. 

Arbeit Macht Frei, Berkeley? 

Real Problems

Berkeley City Council has spent countless hours and too many legislative acts on questions such as whether or not it should be lawful to nap on a wide-ledged planter in the late morning; or whether 10 feet or 15 feet is too close to a parking meter to panhandle. 

Berkeley City Council has not given such attention to deliberating the consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008. Or that of 2001. 

Berkeley City Council yacks it up about how how poor people must be specially targeted for policing to protect businesses, yet out of the other side of its mouth council encourages high commercial and residential rents in hopes of winning development projects whose transfer taxes might help to paper over -- for just a few years -- decades of council neglect on infrastructure spending. 

Berkeley City Council again and again acknowledges the inevitable inadequacy of social services to the problem of ending homeless yet never once... 

...not once... 

...not once has Council ever acknowledged the reality that we face a now permanent crisis. That there will always be people on the street, probably in large numbers, for as far as we can project into the future. 

Never once has Berkeley City Council given serious consideration to the actual problem it faces. 

A Theory of Civility

Here is a rule of thumb: The greater the stake each person has in sharing a space, the higher the level of civility that is likely to emerge. 

It is a very simple idea. 

Applied to Berkeley, it means that the economically privileged must recognize that people staying on the streets is a long term situation, not one that can be "fixed" or regulated out of sight. 

As simple as this idea is, it is profoundly different from what Berkeley practices today. 

Today we create policy as if the first and foremost beneficent goal were to assist people off the street. (Since we know this is fully impossible, this goal is untruthful; it is a cynical policy.) 

What is the alternative? 

We need policy to make the lives of people on the street less harsh for however long they will be there. 

This is nearly the exact opposite of everything we do. 

Lori Droste says we should educate the public not to give to panhandlers. NO! We should have signs that read: 


Today the City and the commercial district property owners are as stingy as can be with public restrooms that people on the street can access (whether during business hours or in the wee hours of the morning). We should not have porta-potties, we should have a public bath that is open 24/7, staffed and attended. 

Today the City moves to make it more difficult for people on the street to feed themselves while convening in the city's civic center. Instead, the City should be facilitating the well organized distribution of free food in our busiest districts. 

Linda Maio remarked on KPFA and from that dais that she felt the homeless will tend to obey clear rules laid down for them. 

I suggest she has not quite the right idea. The better idea is that all people tend to return genuine respect and civility when that is what is shown towards them

New: Harold Way Project Reveals Deceptions in Berkeley's Planning

Rick Spaid
Monday April 06, 2015 - 03:37:00 PM

One of the political truisms of our times is that for every inconvenient truth, there always arises a plethora of convenient myths to confuse and mislead the public by obfuscating the real issues at stake, and nowhere is this more evident than in the recent debate over the future of development in Berkeley occasioned by the 2211 Harold Way Project. 

I will not dwell on the negative effects of ripping out such civic and cultural icons as the Habitot and Landmark Shattuck Cinemas and reducing the heart of the downtown to a monstrous construction site for at least 4 years as being so egregious as to be self evident, but will concentrate on the more devious and self-serving deceptions that are being propagated. 

First, there is the cynical use of the slogan "Affordable Housing" which of course begs the question: affordable for whom? Yes, there is a housing problem in Berkeley, but it is a crisis for the minority and working and middle-class residents who have made Berkeley the diverse and vibrant polity that it is, however, building the huge behemoths currently envisioned and slapping luxury lofts and condos on top for the Ayn Rands and Donald Trumps of the world to lord it over the few who could still afford to stay in Berkeley offers no real solution but merely exposes an exercise of Realpolitik worthy of a Putin. One has only to look across the Bay to see the deleterious effect such policies are having on such traditional neighborhoods as the Mission to realize that this is not a direction we in Berkeley should take. 

Then, there is the brazen attempt by some politicians and their developer cronies to interpret the results of the recent vote on Measure R (the fruit of their deceptive campaign during a sparse by-year election-which only passed because of the catch phrase about "saving the Post Office") as some kind of mandate for the profligate and unfettered development of the downtown area. No matter how one voted on the measure, it is clear that most people expected that such development would proceed according to Green principles, such as net-zero energy grids. etc. The despotic removal of Rose Marie Pietras from the Landmarks Commission and the attempt to remove the debate re: significant civic benefits from the appropriate boards and commissions, where it would at least be argued on the merits and kick it back to the City Council, where it will become a political football, shows quite clearly that the only "green" concerns of these self-proclaimed advocates of "growth" is that of the almighty greenback and the procurement of cushy deals for out-of-office politicians through the all too pervasive revolving door. 

And lastly, there is all this palaver about "millenials", though why this generation who just happened to come of age at the turn of the millenium should be attributed some special knowledge and given pride of place in the current debate is beyond me. Most of my generation were just as naive and unseasoned at that age, but we at least, were grounded in the realities of the Civil Rights Movement and the derailing of the Amerikan war machine and never evinced such smugness and callous unconcern for those less fortunate which seems to be the hallmark of this current crop, who seem more concerned with cyberspace than civic space. 

I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but certainly the debate should not be rushed without exhaustive public input. As a good first step, I think we should demand the reinstatement of Rose Marie Pietras and the putting in place of some kind of tenure safeguards for appointees (after all,some of the best things that happened for our country in the recent history of my lifetime were due to appointees who voted counter to the wishes of their "masters", viz. Earl Warren and C. Everett Coop). In addition, we need to demand the passage of legislation to forbid former City staff, for the maximum time allowable by law, from involvement in any future development projects in Berkeley and the assignment of the debate to the proper forum of boards, commissions and town meetings. 


New: A Case Study in Tantrum Journalism; Op-ed piece by Becky O’Malley in the Saturday April 4, 2015 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Paul M. Schwartz, member of the Landmark Preservation Commission of the City of Berkeley.
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 10:20:00 AM

Ms. O’Malley attended the Thursday April 2, 2015 LPC commission meeting as an advocate of a view on a particular zoning issue. She stated she was not there in a role as a reporter. The vote did not go her way. 

The LPC, after hearing the views of all members of the public present, after reviewing the staff report of the City of Berkeley Planning Department, and after hearing the recommendation of the architect of the UC Berkeley campus, decided to follow the recommendation of the City of Berkeley Planning Department and the recommendation of the University of California Berkeley campus architect.  

Because the decision was not favorable to her viewpoint Ms. O’Malley threw a tantrum, a journalistic tantrum. She used her bully pulpit, the Berkeley Daily Planet to engage in personal attacks on the majority members of the Landmark Preservation Commission. She misquoted them, misrepresented them, described them as being puppets of “corporate masters” and stated they were either ignorant or corrupt. Those who agreed with her, were portrayed as knowledgeable, interested in the public good, intelligent well- meaning members of the community.  

She not only resorts to name calling, she also engages in generalizations and labels. Those who agree with her are “progressive”. Those who disagree with her are “conservative” or are “puppets controlled by corporate masters”. She doesn’t define her terms, merely abuses them.  

If you don’t follow her dictates and choose to exercise your independent judgment, be prepared to be unfairly and personally attacked. I believe we all know how media, both print and broadcast can slant, distort, misreport, quote out of context, belittle and denigrate those they disagree with. Her op-ed piece is a perfect example of this type of gutter journalism. Perhaps she has been watching Fox news and learning from them. Unfair and imbalanced is not the sole province of the right wing. The far left is equally guilty. 

Ms. O’Malley likes to control people. If you don’t go along with her dictates she will engage in character assassination.  

The lesson for all of us is that if you want to engage in civic responsibility and be involved in government in any form, be prepared to be denigrated and personally attacked. Those who disagree with you may throw a tantrum. Some of us do not outgrow our childhood.

New: California’s Drought

Tejinder Uberoi
Monday April 06, 2015 - 04:19:00 PM

Governor Brown’s executive order imposing mandatory water use reductions of 25 percent on California’s cities and towns is certainly a step in the right direction. But why has California’s giant agriculture industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the state’s water use, been given a free pass? There is little incentive for California’s agricultural farmers to conserve and make the hard choices eliminating water intensive crops such as alfalfa and rice in favor of water sustainable crops. Almonds use about 10% of California’s water and alfalfa about 12%. Almonds are an export cash crop funded by ‘eastern banks’ at high profit margins but contribute little to the local economy. Each almond requires about 1 gallon of water. 

Farmers should be encouraged to phase out these water intensive crops with assistance from the state and federal government. Fracking, which uses enormous quantities of water and is extremely hazardless to the environment and may trigger seismic activity – should be banned. 

Finally, the multi-billion boondoggle high-speed rail should be abandoned in favor of a building a freshwater pipeline from Oregon to California.

Literature and Drama Classes Help

Romila Khanna
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:34:00 AM

Literature and drama classes help students to find emotional balance. They open doors to how other people live. By entering in imagination into other people’s lives, students become friendly and more open to others. They see their own pain and difficulty as part of the process of becoming adult. They see their own happiness as part of the process of giving praise. 

Our nation is built on the diversity of a multicultural and multilingual society. 

We have become global in the 21st century. We have international collaboration in the fields of education, medicine and technology. It is especially important in this global century to have more courses in cinema and literature. The closer we come to how other people see themselves the more capable we are of offering respect and attentiveness. 

Schools and colleges should all add literature and drama courses to their curriculum for the emotional health of students and for cooperative living on our earth.

Ultimatum to Netanyahu's Government Long Overdue

Jagjit Singh
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:33:00 AM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his pre-election racist diatribe against Arabs, pledged unequivocally, “there will never be an independent Palestinian State.” In recent interviews, rabbis, scholars and Jews from across the country and a range of denominations said that his campaign tactics had further divided American Jews and alienated even some conservatives, who had already suspected that he was more committed to building settlements than to building peace with the Palestinians. 

Many Americans were further outraged to learn that Israeli intelligence spied on the US-Iran talks and then fed the information to congressional Republicans in a desperate effort to scuttle the US-Iran nuclear talks. 

William Quandt, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Carter and Nixon, stated that there is a need to impose a cost on Israel’s intransigence and military occupation. 

It is time the US presents an ultimatum to Israel. End the brutal and suffocating occupation; develop specific timelines to establish a Palestinian State, lift the crippling siege of Gaza and repatriate tax revenues withheld from the Palestine Authority. If Israel fails to respond to such demands, all US military and economic support should be halted immediately.

The Republicans Have Abolished Empathy

Harry Brill, East Bay Tax The Rich Group
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:18:00 AM

As you know, both Republican dominated houses of Congress have approved a morally outrageous budget that will, in effect, deprive millions of Americans of necessities so that the very rich can enjoy more luxuries. It seems that the Republicans have abolished empathy. Yet incredibly, the Republicans feel morality is on their side. The writer, Upton Sinclair made an excellent observation that explains the moral blindness of the greedy --- "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding". As Paul Krugman observed, many of those with very high incomes are concerned that adequately funding social programs will increase their taxes.  

Clearly, increasing inequality, which results from slashing social programs, causes more widespread and deeper poverty. For example, by cutting the food stamp budget, 11 million recipients would lose their food stamp eligibility or a family of four including two young children would lose four months of groceries. As the result of budget cuts in Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, 37 million recipient would lose their health insurance. And by privatizing Medicare, which the Republicans also voted on, it will result in substantially higher costs to patients. It would also make it more difficult for seniors to choose their own doctors. In short, the Republican budget is a disaster for the overwhelming number of Americans. 

Is there any good news beside the pleasant weather in the Bay Area? Yes, indeed there is. No Democratic member of either house voted for the budget. Perhaps this might be a turning point, that more Democrats are realizing that they cannot ignore the wishes of those who have voted for them. Perhaps they are beginning to understand that to do so could result in a major decline of the Democratic Party.


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Yemen & The Congress of Reaction

Conn Hallinan
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:20:00 PM

While the ostensible rationale for Saudi Arabia’s recent intrusion into Yemen is that the conflict is part of a bitter proxy war with Iran, the coalition that Riyadh has assembled to intervene in Yemen’s civil war has more in common with 19th century Europe than the Middle East in the 21st. 

When the 22-member Arab League came together at Sharm el Sheikh on Mar. 28 and drew up its plan to attack Houthi forces currently holding Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, the meeting bore an uncanny resemblance to a similar gathering of monarchies at Vienna in 1814. The leading voice at the Egyptian resort was Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. His historical counterpart was Prince Klemens von Metternich, Austria’s foreign minister, who designed the “Concert of Europe” to insure that no revolution would ever again threaten the monarchs who dominated the continent. 

More than 200 years divides those gatherings, but their goals were much the same: to safeguard a small and powerful elite’s dominion over a vast area. 

There were not only kings represented at Sharm el Sheikh. Besides the foreign ministers for the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Morocco, and Jordan—most of the Arab League was there, with lots of encouragement and support from Washington and London. But Saudi Arabia was running the show, footing the bills, and flying most the bombing raids against Houthi fighters and refugee camps. 

The Yemen crisis is being represented as a clash between Iran and the Arab countries, and part of ongoing tension between Sunni and Shiite Islam. The League accuses Iran of overthrowing the Yemeni government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, using the Shiite Houthis as their proxies. But the civil war in Yemen is a long-running conflict over access to political power and resources, not religion, or any attempt by Iran to spread its influence into a strategic section of the Arabian Peninsula. And the outcome, as long-time Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn points out, is likely the spread of sectarian warfare throughout the region. 

The Houthis, like the Iranians, are Shiites, but of the Zaydi variety, not one that many Iranians would even recognize. And while the Houthis have been at war with the central government off and on since 1992, the issues are profane, not sacred. 

Yemen—about the size of France, with 25 million people—is the poorest nation in the Middle East, with declining resources, an exploding population, and a host of players competing for a piece of the shrinking pie. Unemployment is above 40 percent and water is scarce. Oil, the country’s major export, is due to run out in the next few years. 

The country is also one of the most fragmented in the region, divided between the poorer north and the richer, more populous, south, and riven by a myriad of tribes and clans. Until 1990 it was not even one country, and it took a fratricidal civil war in 1994 to keep it unified. There is still a strong southern secession movement. 

The current war is a case in point. The Houthis fought six wars with former military strongman Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out of the presidency in 2011 by the GCC and the UN Security Council. Hadi, his vice-president, took over and largely ignored the Houthi—always a bad idea in Yemen. So aided by their former enemy, Saleh—who maintains a strong influence in the Yemeni armed forces—the Houthi went to war with Hadi. The new president was arrested by the Houthi, but escaped south to the port of Aden, then fled to Saudi Arabia when the Houthis and Saleh’s forces marched on the city. 

That’s the simple version of the complexity that is Yemen. But complex was not a word encountered much at Sham el Sheikh. For the Arab League, this is all about Iran. The Houthis, said Yemen President-in-exile Hadi, are “Iranian stooges.” 

Most independent experts disagree. The Houthis, says Towson University professor Charles Schmitz, an expert on the group, “are domestic, homegrown, and have deep roots in Yemen going back thousands of years.” He says that the Houthis have received support by Iran, but “not weapons, which they take from the Yemeni military.” “Does that mean they are going to do Iran’s bidding? I don’t think so.” 

Both Democrats and Republican hailed the Saudi attacks. “I applaud the Saudis for taking this action to protect their homeland and to protect their own neighborhood,” said House Speaker John Boehner (D-Oh). U.S. Rep Adam Schiff (D-Ca), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed. The Obama administration says it is providing intelligence and logistical support for the operation. 

U.S. involvement in Yemen is long-standing, dating back to 1979 and the Carter administration. According to UPI, the CIA funneled money to Jordan’s King Hussein to foment a north-south civil Yemen civil war, and U.S. Special Forces have been on the ground directing drone strikes for over a decade. 

This, of course, creates certain logical disconnects. The U.S. is supporting the Saudi bombing in Yemen because the Houthis are allied with Iran. But in Iraq, the U.S. is bombing the Islamic State (ISIS) in support of Iran’s efforts to aid the Iraqi government’s war on the ISIS. And while the Riyadh government is opposed to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, aided by U.S. intelligence, it is attacking one of the major forces fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen, the Houthi. In the meantime, the Gulf Council has stepped up its support of the Nusra Front in Syria, a group tied to al-Qaeda and a sworn enemy of the Gulf monarchies and the U.S. 

On one level this reaches the level of farce. On the other, the situation is anything but humorous. The Yemen intervention will deepen Shiite-Sunni divisions in the Islamic world and pull several countries into Yemen, the very definition of a quagmire. As Cockburn points out that while the Arab League’s code name for the Yemini adventure is “Operation Decisive Storm,” the military operation will almost certainly be the opposite. “In practice, a decisive outcome is the least likely prospect for Yemen, just like it has been in Iraq and Afghanistan. A political feature common to all three countries is that power is divided between so many players it is impossible to defeat or placate them all for very long.” 

Even if the Houthis are driven back to their traditional base in the north, it would be foolhardy for any ground force to take them on in the mountains they call home. The Yemeni government tried six times and never succeeded. It is rather unlikely that Egyptian or Saudi troops will do any better. While the League did make a decision to form a 40,000 man army, how that will be constituted, or who will command it is not clear. 

Besides stirring up more religious sectarianism, the Yemen war will aid the Saudis and the GCC in their efforts to derail the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran. If that agreement fails, a major chance for stability in the region will be lost. Saudi Arabia’s new found aggressiveness—and its bottomless purse—will gin up the civil war in Syria, increase tensions in northern Lebanon, and torpedo the possibility of organizing a serious united front against the ISIS. 

While the U.S. has talked about a political solution, that is not what is coming out of the Arab league. The military campaign, says Arab League General Secretary Nabil el-Araby “will continue until all the Houthi militia retreats and disarms and a strong unified Yemen returns.” The bombings have already killed hundreds of civilians and generated tens of thousands of refugees. Gulf Council sources say that the air war may continue for up to six months. 

Instead of endorsing what is certain to be a disaster, Washington should join the call by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini for a ceasefire and negotiations. “I’m convinced that military actions is not a solution,” she said, calling on “all regional actors” to “act responsibly and constructively…for a return to negotiations.” 

The Houthis are not interested in running Yemen. Senior Houthi leader Saleh Ali al-Sammad said that his organization “does not want anything more than partnership, not control.” Houthi ally and ex-president Saleh also said, “Let’s go to dialogue an ballot boxes,” not bombing. Yemen needs an influx of aid, not bombs, drones, and hellfire missiles. 

The Congress of Europe muzzled European modernism for more than a generation, just as the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt will do their best to strangle what is left of the Arab Spring. Prince Metternich remained Austria’s Chancellor until a storm of nationalism and revolution swept across Europe in 1848 and brought down the congress of reaction. 

That day will come for the 21st century’s Metternichs as well. 


Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Iran: Diplomacy or War?

Bob Burnett
Friday April 10, 2015 - 10:37:00 AM

We’re on the brink of a historic treaty to constrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but the details are still hazy and most Americans haven’t made up their minds. Early polls indicated broad support for the agreement with Republicans the most resistant. Before the end of June, when the details of the treaty are worked out, President Obama has to convince Congress and the US public that a rapprochement with Iran is in our long-term interest. If we turn away from this treaty, we’re likely headed to war with Iran.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found opinions on the Iran nuclear agreement split along party lines. 50 percent of Democrats supported it, 10 percent were opposed, and 39 percent were unsure. 31 percent of Republicans support the treaty, 30 percent are opposed, and 40 percent are unsure. 33 percent of Independents support the agreement, 21 percent are opposed, and 45 percent are unsure.

It’s worth remembering that, in the fifties, the United States helped Iran start its nuclear program under our “Atoms for Peace” initiative. In 1979, the US-Iran relationship went south when the Iranian revolution toppled the Shah. In 2003, Iran made a clandestine offer to the Bush Administration to guarantee full transparency to the Iran nuclear program in return for security assurances and normalization of relations; unfortunately, the Bush White House did not respond. 

In 2002, due to concern about the extent of Iran’s nuclear program, the United Nations, the European Union, and the US imposed sanctions: a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related equipment to Iran; prohibition of arms exports to Iran; and an “asset freeze” on key Iranian individuals and companies. In addition the US banned all trade with Iran making an exception only for humanitarian assistance. 

Beginning in 2006, there were limited talks between Iran and the so-called “P5+1,” the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the US) plus Germany. These talks accelerated in June of 2013 with the election of a more moderate Iranian president, Hassan Rohani. Subsequently, there was an agreement that gave Iran $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for increased inspection of Iranian facilities by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. Since then, the P5+1 has continued negotiations. 

On April 2 these negotiations produced Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action the details of which will be revealed by June 30.: • The time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon would be increased from two-three months to roughly a year. • Iran agreed to reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium and to submit to rigorous inspection. • Iran will reduce its centrifuges from 19,000 to 6104. It will enrich uranium at only one facility, Natanz, and will not enrich beyond 3.67 percent – insufficient for a bomb – for 15 years. (It will suspend activity at the controversial Fordow nuclear facility.) • Inspectors from IAEA will monitor all Iranian nuclear facilities and stockpiles for 20 years and uranium mines and mills for 25 years. • Iran will gain additional sanctions relief. 

On April 5, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman interviewed President Obama, who promised the Iran agreement would protect Israel, “There is no formula that will be more effective than the diplomatic solution we have provided.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially condemned the Iran agreement but after several days changed his tone, calling it “deeply flawed.” “Netanyahu believes the deal leaves too much of Iran's suspect nuclear program intact, would give it quick relief from economic sanctions and create an easy path for the Islamic Republic to gain the ability to produce a bomb.” 

In his interview with Thomas Friedman, President Obama addressed Netanyahu’s concerns. Obama felt the reduction of nuclear capabilities is sufficient and reasonable. (Some Republicans want a total elimination of the program.) Obama noted there will be a rigorous inspection process and sanctions will not be lifted until Iran accomplishes key points of the agreement. 

Many Republicans feel an essential part of this agreement should be for Iran to recognize the State of Israel and to cease its support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. President Obama agreed these are important diplomatic objectives but argued they do not need to be part of this agreement. 

There’s an essential difference between Obama’s perspective and that of many Republicans. Obama sees the possibility of negotiation with Iran. He told Thomas Friedman, “Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place… [This is a] once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table." 

However, many Republicans, such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton see Iran as an implacable foe. ( Cotton said US the US objective for Iran should be “regime change.”) It’s hard to find a measured Republican voice on Iran. Republican Senator Mark Kirk likened the Iran agreement to the appeasement of Nazi Germany at Munich. 

Republican claim they want a better deal but it appears that many of them want no deal. The Iran agreement may go ahead without their approval, but Republicans are playing a dangerous game: once again, they are favoring war over diplomacy. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Two Topics This Week

Jack Bragen
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:06:00 PM

Nineteen Years

April Fool's Day marks the nineteenth year since my last hospitalization.

I recall that when I was in the psych ward upon being 5150'd, I was reinstated on medication, but at too low a dosage. (I initially refused medication, and a Reese Hearing was done in which a judge ordered me to take medication.) It was a level of medication that barely stabilized me enough to function out of the hospital, and the dosage was soon raised.

I had been 5150'd at a church in Pleasant Hill--I had walked there from where I lived in downtown Martinez. I had been seen wandering around the streets of Martinez in a delusional state.

That last episode, although not much different of an experience than the previous one of six years before, had more long-term bad effects. It was a struggle of a number of months before I could get my mind freed of a bad case of psychosis. Even after that, and even to this day, I find things are more difficult than they were. Many of my symptoms affect types of functioning that ninety-nine percent of people probably never question. For example, I have acquired a case of agoraphobia.

I owe my lack of relapses since that time to having made an irrevocable commitment to compliance with treatment. 

I also get a lot of help from my wife, who is my soulmate and who is not afraid to criticize me if I am doing something wrong. She is the first one who didn't scram when the path was a bit rocky. She is the primary person who helps me "reality check"--she doesn't suffer from delusions. If I get paranoid, she is the first one to point to that. 

We became engaged in 1996 on the same day that I was released from the psych ward. Under normal circumstances and in a state of mind that I would consider normal for me, I would never have had the guts to become engaged. A friend loaned me ten bucks, and I bought a cubic zirconia engagement ring. 

I continued to be delusional for months afterward, but knew that Joanna was (and is) the right person for me to be with. 

Once clear of most of the delusions, I was on my way to creating a mind that is better than it was intellectually and in terms of realism. I spent hours every day thinking, meditating and journaling. 

I discovered tools of thought that eventually led to becoming a better writer. I created cognitive tools that today allow me to dismiss delusions soon after they occur, that allow me to understand myself better, and that allow me to correct some of my bad habits. It seems like a type of attainment, in the Buddhist sense of the word. However, I continue to have other problems. 

Crashed Germanwings 9525: What is the Lesson?

In general, I feel very strongly that mentally ill people ought not be discriminated against in employment. Persons with mental illness potentially have a lot to contribute. In fact, at least one mentally ill individual has served as a member of Congress. Patrick Kennedy is bipolar and is a former U.S. Representative. There is no reason why a mentally ill person should not be in public office. (A mentally ill President, I am not so sure. We wouldn't want the Commander-In-Chief to have symptoms of mental illness that could affect judgment.) 

An airline pilot is directly responsible for the lives of hundreds of people if not more. In the name of equality, it isn't necessary for mentally ill people to be allowed to pilot passenger jets, or any type of aircraft. 

The copilot of the crashed plane apparently committed suicide and homicide in a manner that I would describe as criminal. If he did intentionally crash the plane as is thought to be the case, mental illness is not a good enough excuse for obliterating hundreds of lives. 

Most people who have attempted suicide have done so because it seemed that life was unbearable. Severe depression is nothing to sneeze at; it is a severe illness, and it can be incredibly painful. The individual isn't ordinarily blamable for their actions. 

But the man who crashed the Germanwings jet, Andreas Lubitz, apparently was out for revenge and wanted to do as much harm as he could. 

When I had suicidal thoughts a couple of times in my past, my awareness that I have family who care about me prevented me from acting on these thoughts. Suicide harms other people. 

Perhaps Germany doesn't have the same level of screening that pilots probably undergo in the U.S. Mentally ill people should not be pilots, and also should not be permitted to own firearms. This is a no-brainer

ECLECTIC RANT: Rwanda, a U.S. Friend and Ally--
U.S Realpolitik at Work

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:27:00 PM

On April 7, 2015, President Barack Obama marked the 21st anniversary of Rwanda's 1994 mass killings "that would claim the lives of more than 800,000 Rwandan men, women, and children and mark the beginning of one hundred days of horror for Rwanda’s people." However, President Obama made no mention about Rwandan President Paul Kagame's role in the four-year Rwandan civil war leading up to the civil war and the twenty years after, which include 5 million or more deaths in the Congo and in Rwanda. 


In 2004, my wife and I visited Rwanda, primarily to visit the mountain gorillas in Volcanoe National Park. We did see two gorilla families, each of which had a newborn. Fantastic experience.  

Our Rwandan guide recommended a visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre (the Genocide Museum), a sobering experience. The Museum is set up much like the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. A series of panels set forth the events leading up to the Genocide, the Genocide, and its aftermath. There is video footage of Rwandans being murdered, oral testimony of witnesses, and piles of victims' skulls and bones. Outside the museum, a number of concrete vaults hold the bodies of the genocide victims. As bodies are recovered, they are placed in caskets. When a vault is full of caskets, a concrete cover is lowered over the vault and sealed. It is estimated that more than 800,000 Rwandans were murdered over a 100-day period in 1994. The banner over the entrance to the Museum states, "Never Again." It probably should say "Almost Never Again.” 

The 1994 mass killings were horrible, but it was just one episode in a long history of violence in that part of the world. I use the term "mass killings" instead of "genocide" because genocide is the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group. In Rwanda, the Kagame/Rwanda official view is that the Hutu ethnic group systematically massacred the Tutsi ethnic group. In truth, just as many or even more Hutsis than Tutsis died. 

The U.S. and Kagame keep focusing on the 1994 mass killings, but neglect to put it in context. If they did, their complicity in the mass killings would be revealed. For a version of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide closer to the truth, I recommend the BBC documentary “Rwanda: The Untold Story" and “Rwanda Genocide: Honoring the Dead Without Honoring the Lies" by Ann Garrison (www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/1762/rwanda-genocide-honoring-the-dead-without-honoring-the-lies

The Hutu-Tutsi rivalry was used deliberately in the pursuit of U.S. strategic and geopolitical objectives by establishing a U.S. sphere of influence in Central Africa, a region historically dominated by France and Belgium. What was at stake? The region's vast geostrategic mineral wealth, i.e., cobalt, oil, natural gas, copper, uranium, tin, coltan, cassiterite, gold, and diamonds. 

Kagame's government has maintained political power and manipulated public sympathy by promoting a highly politicized ideology of the 1994 mass killings. Anyone who challenges the official story is branded a "genocide negationist," a "genocide revisionist," or "killers of remembrance" by the Kagame regime. Even the Genocide Memorial Centre promotes his version of the genocide. 

Kagame is one of the most violent and repressive dictators in the world, but nevertheless has become a U.S. friend and ally. Why? Because ”Rwanda is a strong U.S. partner for peacekeeping operations, and one of the largest and most effective contributors of troops and police to United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions," according to a State Department official. "We believe it is in the interest of U.S. national security to continue to support Rwanda’s role in peacekeeping.” This is an excellent example of U.S. realpolitik at work. 

Will the U.S.'s friendly dictator ever be prosecuted? Vey unlikely; we love our African dictators and human rights violators.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Jeb Bush: The Return of “Compassionate” Conservatism

Bob Burnett
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:16:00 AM

Sixteen months before the Republican convention, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a slight favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Given that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, Bush vs. Clinton should be an interesting race. Although Jeb Bush is a typical right-wing Republican, he will attempt to soften his image and portray himself as a “compassionate” conservative, as did his brother in 2000. 

The latest CBS News poll shows that 51 percent of Republican respondents “would consider voting for” Bush as the Republican nominee. (The next five were Mike Huckabee [42 percent], Rand Paul [39 percent], Marco Rubio [39 percent], Ted Cruz [37 percent], and Scott Walker [35 percent].) 

Bush is the frontrunner among the business-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal competitors for this segment: Walker, Christie, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the favorite of the Christian-conservative wing of the GOP, ahead of his principal opponents: Senator Rubio, Senator Cruz, former Senator Rick Santorum, and surgeon Ben Carson. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the favorite of the GOP’s libertarian wing. 

After their respective conventions conclude, both candidates will try to claim US political middle ground. Clinton will attempt to establish that she is not as liberal as most Democrats. Bush will try to prove that he is not as conservative as mainstream Republicans. 

Out here on the left coast, we understand that Hillary Clinton is not a liberal. She is a third-way Democrat, that’s why most of us aren’t very enthused about her. 

Although he’ll try, it’s unlikely that Jeb Bush can differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. Moreover, Americans are focused on domestic policy; the latest Gallup Poll indicated that Americans continue to be primarily concerned with Jobs and the economy, as well as government and healthcare. 

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush differ on most domestic issues. On economic inequality, Bush talks about the skills gap and the education gap. Award-winning economist Thomas Piketty observed that if Republicans, such as Jeb Bush “are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut the tax on the rich.” to invest more resources in education.” 

When Bush was governor of Florida, he became an advocate of charter schools. Political writer Alec MacGillis observed that Jeb Bush’s education reform program, “was of a piece with his larger agenda to privatize state-run services, from prisons to Medicaid.” Bush pushed “school choice.” As a result, “by 2002 for profit-companies were managing three-quarters of the state’s newly approved charter schools,” which were “free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements,” and spent “about two thousand dollars less per student than traditional public schools.” 

On job creation, Clinton supports increasing the minimum wage and Federal job creation plans. Jeb Bush called for the elimination of the Federal minimum wage, “We need to leave it to the private sector.” Bush is not in favor of Federal job creation plans and opposed the 2009 stimulus package. A 2002 analysis of his term as governor found, 

[Bush] championed tax cuts that chiefly benefited business and the wealthy, trimmed the state’s payroll, [and] stripped job protection from thousands of mid-level civil servants… while Florida led the nation in job creation, much of that was in low-paid service industry jobs that left many Floridians without health insurance and scrambling for affordable housing amid a real estate boom that helped fuel business-friendly tax breaks.

As one would expect, Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act. Bush referred to Obamacare as a monstrosity; he wants to repeal it, and have the government provide only catastrophic coverage. 

Clinton believes global climate change is real and would reduce carbon emissions via government regulations. Bush responds, “I’m not a scientist.” 

On immigration, Jeb Bush has a more humane attitude towards undocumented immigrants than do most Republican candidates; Bush said, “Immigration is not a felony but an act of love.” Clinton supports immigration reform and a “pathway to citizenship.” 

Jeb Bush is conservative on social issues. He was an early supporter of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing.” Real Clear Politics observed: “During his governorship, Bush asserted himself frequently on hot-button issues that highlighted his staunch social conservatism, particularly in opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights… Bush began a nearly two-year fight to keep alive Terri Schiavo.” 

A recent New York Times article preicted that Jeb Bush plans to run on a “unifying” message. It’s reminiscent of the claim of his brother, George W. Bush, that he would be “a uniter not a divider;” that he was “a compassionate conservative.” 

Nonetheless, on an issue-by-issue basis, Jeb Bush is a staunch conservative. He’s not any more compassionate than Dubya was. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: San Francisco Sheriff on the Hot Seat Again

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:14:00 AM

It has been widely reported that the San Francisco Sheriff's deputies are accused of forcing inmates to fight "gladiator-style" to entertain guards who bet on the outcome and even forced the inmates to train for future fights. What has not been widely discussed, is, if the allegations are true, what responsibility does San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi have for the misconduct? What did he know and if he did not know, why not? 

The Sheriff should have been on alert as the deputy sheriff, who is accused of arranging the present misconduct, was previously accused of sexually assaulting inmates in 2006. Why hasn't this deputy been suspended until an independent investigation is conducted? 

Many sheriff's deputies and others in the sheriff's office must have been aware of what was going on, but reportedly failed to report the alleged misconduct to Mirkarimi. Significantly, this alleged misconduct was revealed by a San Francisco Public Defender's investigation rather than by the Sheriff's own criminal investigations unit.  

In addition to his present difficulties, Mirkarimi is remembered by San Franciscans for the 2011 domestic violence incident. Lets look back. Mirkarimi was elected sheriff in November 2011 and served from January to March 2012, at which time he was charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness in connection with a December 31, 2011 New Year's Eve altercation with his wife Eliana Lopez. Mirkarimi ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor false imprisonment. Under the plea agreement, Mirkarimi was sentenced to three years' probation, one year of weekly domestic violence batterers classes, parenting classes, a hundred hours of community service, and fines and court fees of about $600. 

San Francisco Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi from office pending an ethics investigation. Before the Ethics Commission hearings, Mirkarimi argued that the bruise he caused to his wife's arm was not "domestic violence." Given this out-of-date thinking, I could not imagine how the sheriff would benefit from his court-ordered counseling. And how could someone on domestic violence probation oversee and lead the Sheriff's Department's innovative, nationally recognized batterer treatment programs. On August 16, 2012, the Ethics Commission ruled 4 to 1 that Mirkarimi had committed official misconduct by falsely imprisoning his wife. 

According to the San Francisco city charter, removing a public official for misconduct requires the vote of nine of eleven supervisors. I concluded after reviewing the facts that Mirkarimi's actions fell far below the standards of decency that San Franciscans demand of their sheriff. Unfortunately, only seven of the eleven supervisors voted to allow Mirkarimi to keep his job as sheriff and he was reinstated as sheriff in October 2012. Ross Mirkarimi has announced that he will seek re-election as sheriff. Retired Chief Deputy Sheriff Vicki Hennessy who was appointed acting sheriff during Mirkarimi's suspension, has announced she will oppose Mirkarimi. For the first time since the domestic violence case, voters will get to decide whether Mirkarimi should keep his job as sheriff. The alleged "gladiator-style" allegations during Mirkarimi's watch will not help.  

I for one am voting for Ms. Hennessy this November.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Real Versus Imagined Threats

Jack Bragen
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:06:00 AM

It is important for people with schizophrenia to distinguish imagined threats versus real ones. Psychosis can take over the mind and can make us feel threatened, anxious, and frightened. This emotional upset can then snowball into worse symptoms of psychosis. It is important for us to prevent getting excessively upset over things. Once we become excessively upset about real or imagined problems, it opens the door for a possible relapse.  

Real threats do affect everyone from time to time. However, actions that are based on imagined threats can cause real threats to come into existence that hadn't existed before. Becoming psychotic is a genuine threat to life and limb.  

When acting on delusions, we could inadvertently harm ourselves or others. Even if mostly nonviolent while mentally acutely ill, there is still the consideration of the damage done to one's living situation, economic situation, reputation, and friendships. Numerous life circumstances can change for the worse when one has a relapse of being mentally acutely ill.  

Meanwhile genuine problems exist that all people, mentally ill or not, will encounter. They must be dealt with and not denied out of emotional convenience. There are things in life that are uncomfortable to face. Yet, if we do not deal with these things, we could end up much worse off.  

For example, if you have a health problem, one that necessitates going through discomfort to treat, you can either treat your health problem of suffer the consequences. High blood pressure might merely necessitate taking one or two pills every day--no real discomfort. Yet I know someone who refuses to treat his high blood pressure. This same individual has lost more than half of his teeth because it was too uncomfortable to take care of them.  

I know another person who has maxed-out all of her credit cards, and is now in a situation of needing to rent an apartment. It would have been a lot easier to find something had the person dealt with her credit rating.  

Threats do exist in our lives and don't go away when we refuse to acknowledge them. It is not a state of enlightenment to always be happy if that happiness is the consequence of emotionally convenient denial.  

{I was once a member of a group of people who were followers of Ken Keyes. (Not "followers" in the usage of Twitter, I mean followers, as in cult.) Keyes promoted a spinoff of Buddhism. The philosophy was that all pain was due to an "addiction" which was a term they coined instead of calling it an "attachment" which is the Buddhist usage. It didn't mean that you were a drug addict or something, it meant any painful emotion connected to an event. 

{The problem was that people were trying to free themselves from addictions but were not taking care of survival issues. If you were worried about making your mortgage payment, you were supposed to let go of the worry because your house was "an addiction." Sometimes we require a bit of fear to mobilize into action. Ordinary emotions are not useless, contrary to what some spiritual growth people may believe.}  

It takes work merely to acknowledge a problem regardless of what type of problem exists. For example, acknowledgment of having a mental illness; it is something most people would rather not face. The illness itself makes it more difficult to acknowledge the illness. Most people's egos tend to be averse to acknowledging having a defect. Combined with this is the short-circuiting of the brain that might exist in many mental illnesses.  

In a delusional person, a neurological shortcut seems to exist that bypasses syncing with facts. This may have begun as a self-protection mechanism. In the precursor to getting ill, there may have been realities that we had to deny because they were too difficult to face at the time. This unskillful attempt at protecting the ego ultimately takes on a life of its own.  

As soon as the alternate neurological route--of short-circuiting the perception of reality--is established, we are essentially stuck with it and we must deal with it through medication.  

(Please keep in mind that what I am giving you is merely my opinion.) 

When we are in treatment after becoming delusional, we have the potential to track reality and to then acknowledge realities, difficult or otherwise, that are in front of us. Once a problem is acknowledged, the person who has the problem (whatever that problem is) is then in a position to do something about it.  

When in treatment, we are not automatically wise. Naiveté, induced by medication and by an environment in which mental health professionals are reassuring, may be comforting, but it is not optimal.  

This is not to say that we should torture ourselves with every problem we might have that we can fret about. A good equilibrium can be maintained if we chew on a problem for a little while and then release it. Once you have done everything you can do about a situation, there is no point in continuing to worry. Also, sometimes our minds can make a problem far more terrifying and monumental than it ought to be. The human mind, even short of being psychotic, can also imagine a lot of difficulties that don't actually exist.  

Want to read more of my work? I have books available on Amazon including a self-help manual, a collection of the first year of this column, and a short science fiction collection.  


SENIOR POWER: Old age comes on suddenly; forever is composed of nows-- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:22:00 AM

Two new (2014) books:

Atul Gawande (1965- ). Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end.

Donald Hall (1928- ). Essays After Eighty.

Frontline’s Feb. 10, 2015 program was based on Dr. Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End. Gawande’s fields are journalism, public health, and surgery.

He must have been in his late forties when he wrote this book about the modern experience of mortality. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he went to Stanford for his B.S., Oxford for his M.A., and Harvard Medical School. He has been both a MacArthur Fellow and Rhodes Scholar.

“Mortal” is an adjective relating to human beings subject to death. It is also used to mean deadly, fatal. Gawande writes, this is a book “…about what it’s like to be creatures who age and die, how medicine has changed the experience and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about how to deal with our finitude have got the reality wrong.” When doctors and patients talk death, hope is not a plan. The goal of medicine should not be a good death, but rather, a good life to the very end. 

Mainstream doctors are turned off by geriatrics. “…incomes in geriatrics and adult primary care are among the lowest in medicine…a lot of doctors don’t like taking care of the elderly.”  

Health professionals have a classification system for the level of function that a person has. If you cannot, without assistance, perform the 8 Activities of Daily Living (use the toilet, eat, dress, bathe, groom, get out of bed, get out of a chair, and walk ,) then you lack the capacity for basic physical independence. The Independent Activities of Daily Living are shop, prepare food, housekeep, laundry, manage meds, phone calls, travel on your own, handle your finances. 

The field of palliative care emerged over recent decades to bring this kind of thinking to the care of dying patients. …But it is not cause for celebration. That will be warranted only when all clinicians apply such thinking to every person they touch. No separate specialty required.  

Admission to hospice care is restricted. Hospice is a care philosophy based on belief that every person with a life-limiting terminal illness, regardless of age, is entitled to be as free of pain and symptoms as long as possible. Some folks, including “professionals,” assume that hospice provides assisted suicide. It is currently possible to obtain physician-assisted suicide, albeit not easily, in three states. Popular literature conveys two pictures of hospice-- an at-home service and a building/program elsewhere. It can be confusing. 

Dr. Gawande is saying what matters in the end is the life led. 


Essays After Eighty is, according to Publishers Weekly’s starred review, loaded with insights into the human condition. Jane Gross comes closer with her New York Times “Growing Older, Not Happier” review.  

Donald Hall was born in 1928, placing him in his early eighties while compiling these essays. He has led a life of letters (book jacket) in academe and on the road with poetry readings. He resigned after a year as Poet Laureate. “When I was young I could project, and now without a microphone I can’t be heard in the tenth row… the debility of age.”  


There have been several hirsute adornments (phases, seemingly) and wives, two children, divorce, cancer, New Hampshire… The book jacket consists of a close-up view of an aged face with bushy eyebrows and bulbous nose. Hall apparently has always had beards or not shaved.  


The linguistics of Hall’s “Death” essay initially appealed to me-- he starts right off with “I will not pass away.” Right on! No euphemisms for me either. He continues “… My problem isn’t death but old age. I fret about my lack of balance, my buckling knee, my difficulty standing up and sitting down.” Working for and on him are four women in their fifties. One is a trainer. One “keeps the house. She washes my clothes, she drives me to the doctor. She arranges my furniture for comfort and safety.” 


On divorce: “The marriage lasted fifteen years, ending in 1967. Divorce was miserable, as it always is, and we divorce for the same reasons we marry. … Yet to my surprise and gratitude, it [her cancer] brought us together again, and it was a comfort [for him] to sit beside her and reminisce” as she died.  


On hospice: Some fortunate people die in a hospice, which is tender but brief. …Some hospitals perform palliative care for the terminally ill. Others of us still die at home…These days most old people die in profit-making expiration dormitories. Their loving sons and daughters are busy and don’t want to forgo the routine of their lives. One said he would not diaper his parents—so he handed them over to women who diapered at the minimum wage.  



Senator Dianne Feinstein has endorsed California’s assisted-suicide bill. “The right to die with dignity is an option that should be available for every chronically suffering terminally ill consenting adult in California,” Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to the authors of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act. “I share your concern that terminally ill California residents currently do not have the option to obtain end-of-life medication if their suffering becomes unbearable.” 








Arts & Events

Teach-in on Berkeley Development and Affordable Housing on Saturday, April 18

From Margot Smith
Friday April 10, 2015 - 10:43:00 AM

Come to a Teach-in and discussion on Berkeley Development & Affordable Housing co-sponsored by Berkeley Citizens Action, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council and the Coalition for a Sustainable Berkeley.

San Francisco journalists and activists Joseph Smooke and Dyan Ruiz will provide the keynote talk for the event. Smooke and Ruiz wrote an excellent article on why building more luxury housing won’t create any more affordable housing in the Bay Area. Additonal speaker are Rob Wrenn, former member of the Planning Commission and Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, Steve Finacom, past President of the Berkeley Historical Society, and Tom Hunt, former member of the Berkeley Transportation Commission.

Saturday, April 18, at 2 p.m. Berkeley Arts Festival space, 2133 University Avenue, Berkeley (Near Walnut and Ace Hardware) Wheelchair Accessible. All Welcome. 

CONTACT Linda Franklin. 510-919-8715. godzilinda@gmail.com.

Joshua Bell Dazzles in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 03:59:00 PM

On Thursday afternoon, April 10, a sold-out audience showed up at Davies Hall to hear Joshua Bell; and the pixyish violinist did not disappoint. With the San Francisco Symphony led by Spanish guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, Joshua Bell performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D-Major, which work replaced the Beethoven Violin Concerto originally scheduled. (No reason was given for the switch in programming.)  

Conductor Heras-Casado’s tempos seemed a bit slow in the first two movements of Tchaikovsky’s great Violin Concerto. Otherwise, this was a straightforward rendition offering the soloist plenty of virtuoso opportunities. In the opening movement, the orchestra plays a brief introduction, which is followed by very strenuous work by the solo violinist, who takes the lead in announcing and elaborating both the first and second themes, with the orchestra merely supplying a modest accompaniment. Joshua Bell tore into this music with technical skill and passion. In the past, I have always considered this work’s final movement as the most difficult to play. But on this hearing I was impressed by the technical challenges of the opening movement. Joshua Bell more than met these challenges; he was positively dazzling in his virtuosity. 

The second movement, labeled by the composer a Canzonetta: Andante, opens with the orchestra introducing a soft lyrical theme, quickly taken up by the violin, then echoed by the oboe. Later in this movement, there is a lovely theme played by the violin, then repeated, in turn, by the clarinet, bassoon, and cello. The third and final movement, marked Allegro vivacissimo, strikes a frantic pace which is sustained to the end, making enormous technical demands on the solo violinist. Joshua Bell handled these demands with aplomb. Only the acoustics of Davies Hall conspired against him, causing him to be faintly heard in certain passages where he had to play against the full orchestra at top volume. 

As for the first half of this concert’s program, a few words will suffice. The 1992 Chamber Symphony by John Adams can be summarily dismissed. It is a gimmicky piece dominated by a percussion section that includes a cowbell, hi-hat cymbals, snare drum, pedal bass drum, wood block, two bongos, three tom-toms, roto toms, tambourine, timbales, claves, and a conga drum. Like so many of this over-rated composer’s works, this 23-minute piece strikes me as meretricious.  

Next on the program was Arnold Schoenberg’s 1906 Chamber Symphony No. 1, performed in the revised and enlarged orchestration, Opus 9b, that Schoenberg created in Hollywood in 1935 after emigrating from Vienna just before the Nazi Anschluss. This Chamber Symphony is a transitional work in Schoenberg’s career. It is not an atonal work, although its tonality is ambiguous. Some listeners consider this Chamber Symphony a post-Romantic piece akin to Schoenberg’s earlier Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Other listeners admire the Chamber Symphony’s neo-classical austerity, (characteristics more pronounced in the original chamber-sized orchestration). Still others find this work revolutionary and burning with expressionism. I personally find the opening and closing sections of this Chamber Symphony heavy on the horn section, with too much blaring brass. However, this work includes a brief middle section of soft lyricism where the cellos often take the lead. On the whole, however, this Chamber Symphony strikes me as a rather unappealing work, lacking either the lush post-Wagnerian Romanticism of this composer’s Verklärte Nacht or the engagingly dramatic monumentality of his Gurre-=Lieder. It is not, in my opinion, a work of lasting worth. 

New: A Sparkling L’ELISIR D’AMORE at San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday April 06, 2015 - 04:20:00 PM

Donizetti’s comic opera L’Elisir d’Amore is a perennial crowd-pleaser, full of rustic exuberance, well-delineated characters, and a brilliant vocal and instrumental score. This opera has captivated audiences ever since its première on May 12, 1832, at Milan’s Canobiana Theatre, where it was an instant success. Recently, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music gave two fully staged performances of L’Elisir d’Amore on Thursday, April 2, and Saturday, April 4 in their Hume Concert Hall. 

After a spirited orchestral prelude conducted by Scott Sandmeier, L’Elisir d’Amore got under way with a group of peasants taking a noontime break from their chores in the shade of several trees. Giannetta, a peasant girl sung by soprano Sabrina Romero, celebrates the cool shade. Nemorino, an unlettered but sensitive peasant lad, observes the young and pretty Adina reading a book. To himself, Nemorino sings of his attraction to Adina, “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara (“How lovely, how dear to me”). Right away, from these first words, young Mexican tenor Mario Rojas as Nemorino staked out his claim to a first-class lyric tenor presence, exhibiting a voice that is beautifully nuanced and supple, yet deeply expressive and passionate. As the recipient of the Plácido Domingo scholarship, Mexico’s most prominent young artist award, Mario Rojas is presently a sophomore at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 

Adina, sung by soprano Evan Kardon, interrupts her reading with laughter, and when questioned, replies that the story she’s reading strikes her as funny and absurd. It’s a love story, she says, about Tristan’s unrequited love for Isolde (Isotta in Italian). Obtaining a magic potion, Tristan drank it and became irresistible to Isolde, who married him and lived happily ever after. Adina and the peasants sing of this magical elixir of love. 

To martial music Sergeant Belcore enters the scene. As Belcore, baritone Daniel Cameron struts around like the cock of the walk. Impressed by the beauty of Adina, he presents her a flower. “No girl can resist a soldier,” he croons arrogantly. Impetuously, Belcore proposes marriage to Adina. Observing this, Nemorino despairs. Adina replies to Belcore with flirtatious caution, singing, “Non è si facile Adina a conquistar” (“It’s not so easy to conquer Adina”). As Adina, soprano Evan Kardon has a fine voice with a slight edge to it. In this opera her opening music is characterized by playful detachment, as if she’s aware of both her station, as daughter of the owner of this farm, and her beauty; and she obviously delights in teasing her suitors. 

Left alone on stage, Nemorino and Adina embark on a duet over the question of love. Adina declares herself incapable of settling on one suitor. When asked why not, she replies, “Chiedi al aura” (“Ask the breeze why it softly blows from flower to flower”). When Adina asks Nemorino in turn why he persists in pursuing her, he replies, “Chiedi al rio” (“Ask the river why it flows to the sea”). In this exchange, Adina still adopts her air of playful detachment, and her musical lines offer coquettish ornamentation, while Nemorino’s melodic lines are lyrically simple yet passionate. 

Soon the sound of a trumpet announces the arrival of Dr. Dulcamara, an itinerant medicine man, who quickly sings the praises of his quack remedies. Sung by bass-baritone Sergey Khalikulov, Dulcamara rattles off an entertaining buffo aria, full of patter in monotone declamation. Khalikulov’s voice is ingratiating in this humorous role. There is little hint here of the sometimes sinister aspect of Dulca-mara. Rather, this Dulcamara seems to accompany all his patter with a sly wink. The local peasants are taken in and buy his quack remedies. Nemorino buys an elixir of love – actually, a bottle of cheap wine. Dulcamara says it will make Nem-orino irresistible to women; but it will need a day to take effect (by which time Dr. Dulcamara will be long gone). Nemorino chugs his elixir and becomes happily intoxicated. He feigns a lack of interest in Adina, who begins to wonder what’s going on. To seek revenge on Nemorino, Adina agrees to marry Belcore in three days time. Nemorino, smug in his confidence in Dulcamara’s elixir, thinks he has plenty of time for the elixir to take effect tomorrow and make Adina love him instead of Belcore. 

However, Belcore and Adina announce their intention to wed, and the villagers prepare a wedding feast. Nemorino becomes desperate and seeks more of the magic elixir from Dulcamara. But he lacks the cash to buy it. Belcore offers to sign up Nemorino as an enlistee in the army, for which he’ll get cash. Nemorino hesitates, yet acquiesces and signs the papers. With the cash, he buys another bottle of Dulcamara’s magic elixir of love.  

Meanwhile, the peasant girls get wind of something that neither Nemorino nor Adina knows – Nemorino’s uncle has died and left him a fortune. The local girls now all make a play for Nemorino. He believes it’s the elixir now taking effect. When Adina sees Nemorino surrounded by all the local girls, she sheds a tear of regret and jealousy. Nemorino, seeing this tear, disengages himself from all his female admirers, and sings this opera’s greatest aria, “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”). This, of course, is one of the most renowned and most performed arias in the entire Italian repertoire. Mario Rojas sang this beautiful aria exquisitely, with a subtlety and timbre reminiscent of the great Nicolai Gedda. The applause for Mario Rojas at the conclusion of this aria was explosive. Young Mario Rojas will hopefully be singing this and many other great arias in opera houses around the world in future years. He is definitely a singer worth watching! 

With this aria, Nemorino realizes he has won Adina’s love. She quickly acknowledges this, informing him that she has bought off Nemorino’s enlistment papers, and they embrace. Belcore happens to see them locked in an embrace and realizes he has lost out. But he happily asserts he’ll find lots of other women along the way. Dr. Dulcamara boasts of the miraculous powers of his magic potion and everyone joins in celebrating the love of Nemorino and Adina.  

Finally, a word must be said of the staging of this opera by Jose Maria Condemi. Utilizing a unitary set that was augmented by the addition of a long table for a wedding feast and a maypole for the village dances accompanying the wedding celebrations, director Condemi kept the action moving all throughout L’Elisir d’ Amore. He also utilized a narrow runway placed between the audience and the orchestra pit as a site for increased intimacy, putting the singers in close proximity to the audience, as was the case, significantly, for Nemorino’s “Una furtiva lagrima.” 

In addition, this runway served as a convenient take-off site for singers’ entrances and exits through the side aisles of the audience. It all worked perfectly and gave this production a flair and intimacy that were extremely welcome in this emotion-ally intimate opera.

West Edge Opera’s Concert Version of Donizetti’s POLIUTO

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday April 04, 2015 - 10:40:00 AM

Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Poliuto, now rarely performed, experienced a difficult delivery at birth. Donizetti, who was appointed director of the Naples Conservatory in 1837, originally prepared Poliuto for an 1839 première in Naples. However, when Neapolitan censors gave him trouble over Poliuto, Donizetti resigned his post in Naples and took off for Paris, where he produced in quick succession Poliuto, La Fille du Régiment , and La Favorite.  

Paris was in some ways the optimal destination for Poliuto, since this opera was based, albeit very loosely, on the great 17th century French dramatist Pierre Corneille’s Polyeucte. The French public, proud of their literary and dramatic heritage, would be familiar with Corneille’s play and welcome its transposition into an opera by Donizetti, who in 1840 was at the peak of his illustrious career. Since Corneille’s play dealt with Christian martyrs in Armenia, an eastern province of the Roman Empire, circa 250 AD; and also presumably because the libretto for Don-izetti’s Poliuto, written by Salvadore Cammarano, differed quite drastically from Corneille’s play; Donizetti’s Poliuto was given the title Les Martyrs for the Paris première and was performed in French, with the de rigeur addition of a ballet. 

Whereas all the characters of Corneille’s Polyeucte, whether Roman pagans or Armenian Christians, were rigorously honorable; Cammarano’s libretto for Donizetti’s Poliuto created an entirely new character, Callistene, who is the unabashed villain of the opera. Likewise, whereas Corneille’s play was a high-principled tragedy written in the neo-classical style of the age of Louis XIV, Donizetti’s opera was a melodrama written for the 19th century Italian opera-going public. The differences in tone are striking. 

West Edge Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Poliuto offered a scaled-down concert version led by Musical Director Jonathan Khuner at the piano, plus a cellist, violinist, and clarinetist. In addition to a fine cast of singers, a small chorus sang as the Armenian congregation of Christians. I caught the Wednesday, April 1 per-formance of Poliuto at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage.  

Poliuto, sung by tenor Michael Desnoyers, is an Armenian nobleman who, at the beginning of the opera, converts to Christianity at the urging of his Armenian Christian friend Nearco, ably sung by tenor Michael Jankosky. This conversion is carried out secretly in a cave because a recent Roman decree has outlawed conversion to the new faith on pain of death. Thus, Poliuto seeks to keep his conversion a secret even from his beloved wife, Paulina, an Armenian noblewoman who practices the old pagan faith. However, Paulina, troubled by a dream, follows her husband and observes from a distance his ritual baptism. Beautifully sung by soprano Elizabeth Zharoff, Paulina finds herself moved to tears by the Christians’ prayer that offers blessings even to their enemies. As Poliuto, tenor Michael Desnoyers sang capably, though his tone seemed to me a bit brittle. On the other hand, the gorgeously full, rich tone of Elizabeth Zharoff resounded gloriously throughout the fine acoustic space of Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage theatre.  

Prior to her recent marriage to Poliuto, Paulina had fallen in love with Severo, a Roman general. When Severo was reportedly killed in battle with the Persians, Paulina dutifully accepted her father’s choice of Poliuto as her husband. Suddenly, however, Severo, whom Paulina thought dead, now appears as proconsul sent from Rome to govern Armenia and quash the Armenians’ recent devotion to Christianity. Severo, ardently sung by baritone Anders Froehlich, arrives in Armenia with hopes of marrying his beloved Paulina. The shock of this sudden turn of events throws Paulina into a torment of conflicting emotions, admirably expressed in an aria of noble sentiments, at the close of which she steely rebuffs Severo’s hopes.  

Meanwhile, Callistene, pagan High Priest of Armenia, (a character totally invented by librettist Cammarano), has insidiously planted a seed of doubt in Poliuto’s ear regarding Paulina’s earlier love for Severo. When Poliuto observes from a distance the tense but impassioned meeting between his wife and Severo, Poliuto becomes enraged, thinking his wife is betraying him. However, news comes to him of the arrest of Nearco, his best friend and fellow Christian. When Nearco is threatened with torture if he does not name any new convert to the outlawed Christian faith, Poliuto proudly steps forward and turns himself in. Paulina falls at Severo’s feet and begs for the life of her husband in the name of the love she and Severo once shared. Enraged, Poliuto smashes the altar of Jupiter and is dragged away for execution. 

After intermission, Callistene, robustly sung by bass John Bischoff, announces that many Armenian Christians have announced their willingness to go to death alongside Poliuto rather than renounce their faith. Callistene worries aloud that Paulina may persuade her former beloved Severo to grant clemency to her husband, Poliuto. Cammarano’s libretto even makes Callistene secretly motivated by Paulina’s earlier rejection of his lust for her. In a magnificent sextet, Callistene seeks to manipulate the population to demand Poliuto’s immediate execution, while Poliuto, Nearco, Paulina, Severo and Paulina’s father, Felice, sing of their conflicting emotions. 

In his cell, Poliuto dreams of Paulina and awakes to find her before him. Recognizing her innocence, Poliuto forgives Paulina and they reconcile. She declares her readiness to convert to Christianity; and Poliuto, seeing that her conversion is genuine, baptizes his wife as a fellow Christian. They ecstatically resolve to go to heaven together. When Severo and his men arrive to lead Poliuto to the arena where he will be fed to the lions, Paulina declares her conversion to Christianity and vows to accompany her husband to immortal life in heaven. Severo begs her to reconsider in the name of her father, Felice, but Paulina is resolute in her faith. Poliuto and Paulina are led to their death in the arena, and Severo falls on his sword in despair. 

Thus ends Donizetti’s melodramatic reworking of Corneille’s tragedy Polyeucte. In reviving this rarely performed Donizetti opera, West Edge Opera has assembled a fine cast, led by the outstanding singing of Elizabeth Zharoff as Paulina and Anders Froehlich, as Severo; and this company has shown that it provides Bay Area audiences with exciting new opera experiences – a task they will fulfill yet again on May 3rd, when they perform Verdi’s rarely seen I due Foscari at Walnut Creek’s Rossmoor Event Center, and again on May 4th, at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage.