Full Text

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association Chief Executive Officer John Caner chortle as they present a commemorative caricature to departing DBA President Susan Medak of the Berkeley Repertory Theater at the DBA's annual meeting.
Carol Denney
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association Chief Executive Officer John Caner chortle as they present a commemorative caricature to departing DBA President Susan Medak of the Berkeley Repertory Theater at the DBA's annual meeting.


New: Development: Causes and Problems (News Analysis)

Steve Martinot
Thursday April 23, 2015 - 10:02:00 AM

We’re not against development. But it should be development in which people have a say, a voice in the process, more than having a minute to speak in a hearing. It should be development that doesn’t get imposed from above, that doesn’t destroy a community’s style of life.”

----A West Berkeley community member


Development means building new buildings. Berkeley is facing a wave of new buildings. That wave is starting with two really big new apartment buildings, standing 14 or 18 stories high, in downtown. The apartments will be fancy, and many will be condos, for people who earn above the median income. We know that because the city has given variances permitting violation of zoning height limits, in exchange for which it requires some units to be “affordable housing.” But that means that "affordable" housing was not part of the plan.

Five buildings in all are slated for downtown. One will be a hotel. The developers are going through the permit process at this very moment. Here is the list of sites: Bank of America on Shattuck and Center, Ace Hardware on University and Walnut, CIL between Telegraph and Regent, the corner of Telegraph and Blake, and the Shattuck movie theater building between Shattuck and Harold Way. This last one has spawned a social movement to stop or modify the plan. Its slogan is “Save the Shattuck Cinemas.”

It should also be: Save Water, don’t densify Berkeley. 

Unfortunately, that’s only the beginning. The next part of the plan establishes “Priority Development Areas” (PDAs). These are the main transit "corridors," slated for development by “Plan Bay Area,” which has been accepted for implementation. A transit corridor is a major avenue with a few buses on it. There are six PDAs in the plan: University Ave. from the university to the tracks, San Pablo Ave. from Oakland to Albany, Shattuck Ave. south of downtown, Adeline as its curves gently into North Oakland, and Gilman St. 

Development will occur along both sides of such avenues. The idea is that if hundreds of new residents are going to move in, there had better be room, like a four lane avenue, for all their cars. Plan Bay Area says that Berkeley will have to build 2959 new units by 2022. 

They are already building at the corner of University and 4th St. And the Grocery Outlet store there is going to close at the end of the year. 

But wait a minute. I just said, Berkeley will have to build 2959 new units by 2022. At ordinary reading speed, that number whizzes by. It is just another number. 

But think about the last time you saw a five story apartment building or condo. Let’s imagine an ordinary five story building, with five apartments per floor, and commercial establishments on the ground floor. That’s 20 units. To meet the plan’s requirement, that would mean 150 new large apartment buildings. They wouldn’t even fit on San Pablo Ave. It’s 20 blocks long. It could hold maybe 40 or 50 such buildings, sitting on both sides of the street. And this is what the plan says that Berkeley must do? 

Did anyone ask us whether we wanted that to happen to our city? 

Why is this happening?

Is it just that there is money lying around looking for something to do with itself? No, it is more than economic. There are political plans at work. There are government agencies that have made political decisions. One of them is called ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments). It has given each city in the Bay Area an allotment, an order to build a certain number of housing units. That is what Plan Bay Area represents. (And ABAG has various nefarious means of enforcing its allotments on cities. But that is a complicated subject, and needs a separate article to describe it. See www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2007-01-16/article/26118

Chances are, when the developers start building along these PDAs, they will be building structures a lot higher than 5 stories. The main reason is that they are corporate establishments, and they make more money building larger buildings. In fact, the developer for the building at Telegraph and Blake has said that a five story building would not be profitable, and would not be built. The building had to be at least 7 stories high to pay. 

This is called densification, and it results in traffic problems. 

To build a seven story building will break the rules. The city has height limits, and population density limits, and open space requirements for buildings. These rules do not constitute a style of life. 

They are there to preserve the ability of people to maintain a certain style of life, one that has space for itself to be creative, to not feel crowded, to not have obnoxious traffic problems inside the city (the expressway is bad enough), to have clean air (relatively), and to have places where one can congregate and hang out without spending a whole paycheck. 

To break the rules, a developer has to get a "variance" from the city. And to do that, he has to promise certain benefits. That is another complicated question, for another article. It is complicated because the city has never defined what it means by "benefits.” And it has no means of enforcing them. 

But why has ABAG made the allotments for new housing that it has? The explanation ABAG gives is twofold. First, there will be an influx of people into the area, who have to be accommodated. This is arrived at by “computer projection.” Second, housing people in the cities will cut down on the carbon footprint. That is, there will be less pollution, because the people who work in finance, information technology, and trans-oceanic shipping (high income jobs) won’t have to live in the suburbs. They will be closer to their jobs, and relieved of the need to commute. ABAG proclaims that the abatement of expressway traffic will be good for the air. Never mind that population density in a city unequipped to handle it will produce traffic jams. Think of New York or LA. Think of all those cars just standing still, emitting exhaust. 

The real reasons

The economy of the Bay Area is changing. The advent of a large financial industry, technology industries, Information Tech companies, all around a major port, have a political purpose. These industries are growing because the Bay Area is being groomed to play the role of a capitol city in the Pacific Rim economy. 

The real reason that ABAG has told Berkeley and all the other cities in the Bay Area to build new housing units is to enable the personnel of this capitol city industry and finance to move back from the suburbs, to eliminate the time they spend in highway traffic. There is an implicit intensification of high-paid white-collar labor in that. But ABAG says it is to cut down on highway pollution, by reducing the commute traffic. Unfortunately, the traffic jams that will result from city densification will cause as much or more CO2 pollution. In other words, the “carbon footprint” is simply being relocated to the city from the suburbs. It is a footprint that will now step on us instead. 

In effect, they are taking away our city in order to give it to people who work in those "capitol" industries. 

Of course, some development is needed, and some is desired. But we don’t know what that is. We cannot say that one project might be unwanted while another could be desirable, because we have played no role in defining or planning it. Nobody has asked us. 

What we can assume, with a fair degree of certainty, is that development will bring about a process of gentrification. 


When developers move into a neighborhood that lives at a certain income level, and start building housing for a higher income level, everything changes. We know the economics of it. 

Landlords sell or rent space to people who will pay more rather than to people who cannot pay more. The downtown high-rise buildings will be filled with higher income people, who will spend money there in businesses and theaters and so forth. And because they have higher incomes than the former downtown customers, prices will go up (what the market will bear). Commercial space will see its rents raised, forcing stores that benefit low income people to close (remember Ross’s?). And they will be replaced by stores that sell at higher prices, in order to pay the higher rent. At least, that is what the landlords will be betting on. And people will have to drive elsewhere to find stores at former price levels. Which means that they will be paying more anyway, since they will have to add the price of gas. 

Those of us who live in this city will see downtown taken away from us by those new high-rises. But it will just be the beginning. The PDAs are next. 

Rental buildings throughout the city, that today provide affordable housing, will be bought up from their present owners by developers, to be torn down. The 100 to 150 big apartment buildings that already have space marked out for them in the PDAs will mark the end of a whole lot of living space at the affordable end of the spectrum. Though the city says that it will get some affordable housing from these developments, it turns out that, among the 2959 that are ordered to be built in Berkeley, there are only 196 scheduled to be "affordable." We can expect Berkeley to lose, and lose big. 

As landlords rent or sell to wealthier people, the cost of living will go up fairly rapidly. Most lower income people (including middle income people) will have to move out to lower income areas, like Hayward or San Leandro or El Sobrante. As a result, it will be the low income people who will do the commuting to their jobs, and not the upper middle class people from the suburbs. So the pollution on the highways will stay the same. It will just have a different class character, like everything else. 

That is what gentrification means. 

There will be a Community Forum in West Berkeley, sponsored by the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, on May 19, 2015, to discuss these and other issues. The Forum will take place at Finn Hall, 1819 10th Street, at 6:30 pm. It is open to all.

New: Driver in KPFA Host Death Sought

Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday April 21, 2015 - 09:57:00 PM

Police are still looking for a driver who abandoned a Dodge Charger at the scene of a crash that killed a KPFA radio host early Saturday morning. 

The crash at 2:20 a.m. Saturday killed Wesley Burton, 36, as he was driving a Mercury Sable south on Martin Luther King Jr. Way near 60th Street, police said. 

Meanwhile, the Dodge driver was speeding west on 60th Street. When it emerged onto Martin Luther King, it broadsided Burton's Sable, flipping it into the roadway, police said. 

The Dodge driver ran from the crash scene, abandoning the car there. Burton was trapped in the Sable and despite life-saving measures, he was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. 

Burton was a board operator, producer and host of two shows on Berkeley-based public radio station KPFA. His two shows, Sideshow Radio and After Hours, played hip-hop, R&B, soul and jazz music late at night. 

He was married and the father of three young children. His nephew, 19-year-old Tlaca Hernandez, has raised nearly $22,000 to help support his grieving family through a GoFundMe page. 

Hernandez remembered Burton as a devoted and loving father who cheered enthusiastically for Oakland sports teams and loved to cook barbecue for his friends, family and neighbors. 

The family needs financial support because Burton had no life insurance and their only car was destroyed in the crash, Hernandez said. 

The GoFundMe page is online at www.gofundme.com/wesleyburton. 

CrimeStoppers of Oakland is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver. Anyone with information about the crash has been asked to call the Oakland police Traffic Investigation Section at (510) 777-8570.

New: Why The Environmental Impact Report for 2211 Harold Way Should not be Certifed (News Analysis)

Tim Hansen
Tuesday April 21, 2015 - 03:17:00 PM

[Editor's Note: This has been submitted as a letter to the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board as a comment on the Environmental Impact Report for the "Residences at Berkeley Plaza" which Berkeley Planning Department staff proposes for certification at Thursday's ZAB meeting.

If the final EIR is certified despite objections such as these, the public can appeal the decision to the Berkeley City Council. See, CA Gov. Code Title 14 chapter 3 article 7 section 15090 b. :Appeal of certification is allowed if certification is by a non elected body.]


Many of the numbers used in the EIR are suspect or just don’t make sense. Their source is not properly documented and information is lacking that would allow a proper review. Many assumptions are made which are counter-intuitive and important impacts are omitted from review. Some of the issues are listed below, however a complete assessment cannot be made because of the lack of information. The Environmental Impact Report should not be certified as it is, and some sections should be redone reflecting that the impacts may no longer be insignificant and adequately disclosing the data behind the conclusions. 


The Cinemas: the existing site, according to the EIR, has 855 seats. The EIR calls out for the new Cinemas to have 665 for a net decrease in seats of 190. This means that the new Cinemas will generate less traffic and less greenhouse gas, offsetting other uses in the calculations. How the number of seats in the new Cinemas is calculated is not disclosed. Title 24 uses one seat per seven square feet in calculating the occupancy load. Using this method for calculating the number of seats there would be 1405 seats in the new Cinemas. This is an increase of 650 seats, instead of a decrease of 190 seats. This means that, among other things, the traffic calculations and the greenhouse gas calculations are inadequate or just wrong. 

Habitot: The square footage of Habitot is reported as 7,065 in the EIR. This is very hard to verify, as no adequate as-is drawings are included for fact checking. I believe that the museum space is 4,500 square feet, there is a classroom of about 800 square feet, and then there are some offices. The offices should be treated as offices. Museums are fairly intense trip generators. Since Habitot will have to move, the number of trips they generate, and the associated greenhouse gas, will be subtracted from the new project’s impacts. Overstating the size of Habitot would mislead the public into thinking the new project’s impacts are less than they are. 

Parking: The new project proposes 171 new parking spaces. The existing building did not provide parking. The parking is unbundled from the 302 new apartment/condominium units. This means the parking spaces could be rented hourly with none of them being used for the apartments. While parking is not generally thought of as producing trips, it does make it more likely that trips to the area will increase. This is not addressed in the report and should be. It is likely that apartment residents will lease parking in the neighboring area since insufficient parking, or no parking, is provided to them. This should also be addressed, including the parking and traffic impact on adjacent neighborhoods, including whether the residents are offered parking permits in those areas. It is claimed that 6 spaces will be provided with electricity for charging electric vehicles. This is about 3.5% of the spaces and is too low. It should be at least 50%. Electric vehicles should be charged in off peak-load hours. Many people charge their cars at night. The parking needs to be better explained so it can be evaluated, but as it is, the information is inadequate and therefore the EIR should not be certified. 

Solar: The height of the apartment building will shadow many of the roofs of neighboring buildings, making solar uneconomical for these buildings. It is highly likely that but for the project; neighboring buildings would have had solar on them in the near future. The energy of solar lost for the neighboring buildings should be added to the energy used by the new building, increasing its greenhouse gas amounts. 

Water and Energy: Water and energy used is the existing building is subtracted from that used in the new building in determining impacts. The calculations are not shown, but the delta of energy and water claimed to be used is not believable. It should be assumed that energy and water conservation improvements would have continued to be made had the existing building not been destroyed. The assumptions and calculations need to be shown in the EIR. 

The greenhouse gas associated with the embedded energy in the existing building should be added to the greenhouse gas associated with the new project in the EIR. The energy associated with the manufacturing of the building materials should also be added to the EIR. The embedded calculations should be shown so they can be verified. The calculation of the energy used by the apartments should be shown so that it can be verified that the common area and elevators are included in the units energy calculations and that the calculations are believable. A smaller wood framed apartment building should be considered as an alternative, with the calculations of embedded energy per unit compared to the embedded energy of the proposed concrete, steel and glass apartment. The carbon sink of wood should also be considered and it assumed that the end-of-life of the wood apartment building is not that it burns, but that it is composted. 

The Environmental Impact Report is simply inadequate for purposes of certification and deliberation on the project. 



DBA Annual Meeting Celebrates Ambassador Program in Downtown Berkeley

Carol Denney
Friday April 17, 2015 - 10:58:00 AM
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association Chief Executive Officer John Caner chortle as they present a commemorative caricature to departing DBA President Susan Medak of the Berkeley Repertory Theater at the DBA's annual meeting.
Carol Denney
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association Chief Executive Officer John Caner chortle as they present a commemorative caricature to departing DBA President Susan Medak of the Berkeley Repertory Theater at the DBA's annual meeting.

The Downtown Berkeley Association's (DBA) annual meeting at the David Brower Center kept its Block by Block "ambassador" program center stage despite a viral video showing two of the program's ambassadors assaulting two homeless men.

One of the ambassadors was immediately fired after the video's distribution, but the other is on suspension and apparently welcome to rejoin the program, whose members were introduced individually and applauded by the small group attending the meeting. 

DBA Chief Executive Officer John Caner cited sixteen new businesses as proof that the revitalization of Berkeley's downtown was on schedule. He admitted that December's "Black Lives Matter" protests and police action had taken a toll on the holiday season, but stated "hopefully that is behind us now." 

Mayor Tom Bates offered a similarly enthusiastic assessment of changes to come downtown, noting a BART Plaza re-design and a change on Shattuck to two-way traffic. 

The Block by Block "ambassador" program has come under fire by the Peace and Justice Commission which has recommended its termination.

Why Luxury Apartments Don't Provide Affordable Housing
Program at 2 on Saturday

Friday April 17, 2015 - 01:57:00 PM

There will be 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. It will present facts and figures about why luxury apartment construction does not solve the affordable housing crisis.

San Francisco journalists and activists Joseph Smooke and Dyan Ruiz will provide the keynote talk for the event. Smooke and Ruiz wrote "The Definitive Reply to Supply-side Solutionists". 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.

Press Release: Survey on Ranked Choice Voting in Bay Area Shows Promise for New System
Berkeley Voters Support RCV and Perceive Differences in Behavior of Candidates

From Rob Richie, FairVote
Thursday April 16, 2015 - 10:21:00 AM

An independent telephone survey has good news for ranked choice voting (RCV).

  • RCV is supported by a majority of voters in each of the four Bay Area cities using it.
  • Voters in these cities understand RCV and the Top-Two Primary in equal numbers.
  • Voters in these cities perceived less negative campaigning than in similar cities.
In November 2014, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, based at Rutgers University, surveyed a total of 1,345 likely voters (defined as registered voters who self-report being interested in local elections) from the four California cities using RCV. In Oakland, the site of a competitive mayoral race, 685 respondents were surveyed, and another 660 respondents were surveyed across Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Leandro. A total of 1,111 respondents were polled in seven control cities, all California cities that held local elections using plurality voting rules in November. The poll was the second large-scale independent poll conducted by the Eagleton Poll on voter experiences under RCV; the first, conducted in November 2013, involved more than 2,400 respondents from three cities with RCV and seven control cities. 

The two polls, developed by Dr. Caroline J. Tolbert (University of Iowa) and Dr. Todd Donovan (Western Washington University) in conjunction with the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll’s Dr. David Redlawsk, were made possible by a grant from the Democracy Fund. The grant mandated an independent study of the impact of RCV on the civility and substance of political campaigns in American cities, as well as content analysis of traditional and new media and detailed analysis of voter turnout and spoiled ballots. Drs. Tolbert and Donovan have presented academic papers on the 2013 survey results and plan to publish widely. 

Drs. Sarah John (FairVote) and Caroline Tolbert report key demographic findings from the study at the project’s webpage. Highlights from the 2014 California survey include: 

  • Ranked choice voting garners overall voter support: Among all likely voters with an opinion about RCV in the four Bay Area cities that use RCV, 57 percent agreed that “ranked choice voting, where voters can rank candidates in order of preference with their first choice counting most, should be used in local elections.” A majority backed RCV in each city, including 60 percent in Oakland.
  • RCV support is greatest among people of color, young people, and low-income voters: While a majority of most demographic groups support RCV, the strongest support for RCV came from respondents aged under 30 years (61%), with a family income under $40,000 (63%), and those who did not attend college (65%), as well as Asian (72%) and Latino (59%) respondents.
  • RCV is associated with less perceived criticism in campaigns: Residents of RCV cities were more likely to respond that candidates spent little time criticizing opponents, when compared to the responses of residents living in non-RCV cities. In RCV cities, only 53 percent of respondents remembered candidates criticizing each other, compared to 65 percent in non-RCV cities. Similarly, more respondents in cities using RCV (17%) reported reduced negativity in local election campaigns than in cities without RCV (12%). These findings are consistent with similar patterns in the 2013 survey.
  • Self-reported understanding of RCV is high and compares favorably to the Top-Two primary: An overwhelming majority (89%) of respondents in RCV cities found the RCV ballot easy to understand. More respondents (49%) in RCV cities reported understanding RCV extremely or very well than reported understanding the Top-Two primary extremely or very well (40%).
These findings are consistent with the fact that ballot error rates are lower in mayoral elections with RCV than top-of-the-ballot races in California in June primaries. In November 2010, the proportion of voters who invalidated their ballots in the first use of RCV in mayoral elections in Oakland and San Leandro was less than one tenth the proportion of voters who invalidated their U.S. Senate ballot in the June 2012 top-two primary. Reflecting high levels of voter understanding of RCV, more than eight in ten voters in Oakland’s RCV mayoral elections successfully ranked at least two candidates and, of the city’s 18 offices elected by RCV, 16 of the first RCV winners of these offices had more votes than the winner of the last non-RCV winner for those offices. 

  • Understanding of RCV is high among African-Americans: Ninety percent of African-American voters in RCV cities found ballot instructions easy to understand, compared to an abysmal 65 percent in non-RCV cities. Similarly, slightly higher proportions of African American voters understood RCV than understood plurality.
  • Respondents in non-RCV cities are less content with the status quo: The four cities with the highest reported levels of candidate criticism were all plurality cities. Additionally, the three worst cities for reduced negativity were all non-RCV cities. Not surprisingly, then, cities using plurality to elect their local officials were home to four of the five constituencies least satisfied with the conduct of campaigns.
  • Independent voters are more satisfied under RCV: Independent respondents in RCV cities expressed significantly higher levels of satisfaction with the conduct of the 2014 local campaign than did their counterparts in non-RCV cities.
Our analysis of voter turnout and voter behavior in these elections, posted online, is consistent with the findings of the 2014 Rutgers-Eagleton Poll survey. These findings include: 

  • Voter turnout: Voter turnout in the 2014 mayoral election with RCV in Oakland was higher than turnout in the 2014 mayoral runoff in San Jose, even though San Jose had higher turnout than Oakland in the 2012 presidential election.
  • Voter understanding: More than 99% of voters in each one of the Bay Area’s 24 RCV contests in 2014 cast a valid ballot. In contrast, less than 96% of Oakland and San Leandro voters cast valid votes in the first use of the Top Two primary in the June 2012 U.S. Senate election.
  • Effect on campaigns: Independent expenditures dropped precipitously from the 2010 Oakland mayoral election, which was widely seen as a positive race. As typical of high-profile RCV races, about three in four voters in the Oakland mayoral race used all three of their rankings, and winner Libby Schaaf earned substantial second or third choice support from backers of every single candidate who earned at least two percent of the vote.
  • Women and people of color: Women have a history of doing well in ranked choice voting elections. This year, women won 17 of 24 Bay Area seats, including nine of the 11 races that were open seats or in which an incumbent was defeated. Of the 52 seats in the Bay Area elected using RCV, 46 are held by women and people of color—this constitutes a large increase from the days before RCV elections.
In the coming weeks, FairVote will release additional reports from the findings of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll surveys. The next report planned explores voter experiences and perceptions of RCV city by city. 

# # # # 

FairVote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to make democracy fair, functional, and representative by developing the analysis and educational tools necessary for our reform partners to win and sustain improvements to American elections. 

Read this release online, and read the full report and associated data on our website. 

Interfaith Service and Vigil Protest Laws Criminalizing Homelessness

Lydia Gans
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:26:00 PM

The Berkeley city council is once again moving to enact laws more cruel and dehumanizing than ever. It's not the first time that they will have passed laws increasingly targeting homeless people. Panhandling within 10 feet of a parking pay station would be a crime. Putting personal objects in planters or within 3 feet of a tree well would be a crime. Poor people will have to have a tape measure handy to make sure they're not committing a crime. As a matter of fact just about anything that a homeless person needs for sleeping, tent, mat, sleeping bag, cannot be left on any sidewalk any time of day. Nor can personal items be attached to trees, planters, parking meters etc. etc. and oh yes, it would be a crime to sit against a building. 

Voices of protest are being heard. Members of the interfaith coalition of more than 40 congregations, including Buddhists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Unitarians, Christians, Muslims, Jews, are speaking out against the city's criminalization of homelessness. On Thursday April 9 they held a protest 'in solidarity with homeless people' at the downtown Berkeley BART Plaza. Starting at 5 o'clock with a meal and an interfaith service it concluded with a sleep-out at the Plaza until 6:30 Friday morning. 

By 5 o'clock Thursday a good number of people had gathered. Several rows of chairs had been set up, a colorful banner made by young people at Youth Spirit Art Works hung and the speaker system set up. The Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship provided the sound system and chairs for people attending the service. 

J.C. Orton of the Catholic Worker was there serving a hearty vegetable soup and Virginia Hollins-Davidson of the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship, with a nod to the holiday tradition, served matzos and cups of grape juice. 

Rayven Wilson and Carena Ridgeway, young leaders in the Youth Spirit Artworks program introduced the speakers. There were more than 20, representing the many faith communities in the coalition. Their messages were inspiring, calling for people to work for a society more just and compassionate. Some applied lessons from the scriptures. Rabbi Michael Lerner read “when you offer your compassion to the hungry and satisfy the famished creatures, then shall your light shine in darkness” 

Muslim Minister Keith Mohammad suggested that the world today operates like a Monopoly game, ruled by those with money. There is food, clothing and shelter for everyone “but we're in a world where greed has become a way of life.” 

At several times during the service the assembly was led in song. Copies of lyrics of old familiar songs had been handed out earlier. 

The closing talk was given by Friar Louie Vitale, a man much loved and respected for his many years of activism in the struggle for peace and justice. 

Preparations began for the night-long vigil. Candles were lit. There were more songs and more people spoke. University Lutheran Church Reverend Sharon Stalkfleet focused particularly on the vulnerability of homeless youth and Terry Messman, editor of Street Spirit newspaper ,touched on issues covered by the paper. Singing “We Shall Overcome” marked the end of the formal program. As people settled down for the night an informal “open mike” ensued. People talked of all sorts of subjects, one man appeared with a guitar and delighted everybody with his singing. There were some funny and some very touching stories. A young man told of just being 24 hours out of the hospital for drug use, “I just went to my first AA meeting” he said with pride, but, and his tone changed, he had no place to go. He was out of the hospital – and out on the street. 

Thirty to forty people settled in for the vigil. Homeless people from the street joined with members of the faith community. Some people left after a time, some came later. A dozen or more stayed till it ended at 6 o'clock in the morning. 

Virginia Hollins-Davidson of the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship is one who stayed. Asked about her experience she said “For me it was exhilarating!” In spite of the noise and the bright lighting in the Plaza she managed to sleep for almost 4 hours. She was prepared with warm clothes and three sleeping bags so she didn't feel the cold concrete pavement. And she felt safe. “Some people would probably be wary of being out there with people who are actually homeless – there was one guy next to me who clearly was chronically homeless. He had such a gentle look on his face …” They exchanged names and talked a bit. She felt totally safe and secure. In the morning those who had stayed shared coffee and pastries that had been donated. “Then we had a prayer and cleaned up. There was a real sense of camaraderie. It was great.” 

Sally Hindman, organizer of the event, also stayed the night. She had quite a different take on the experience. “The situation on Shattuck is a real scene. ... From my one night out I don't know how anybody gets sleep out there.” She described the noise, the bright lights, the cold, people dealing with mental health issues. “There were some scary looking people out there.” 

That's why people chose to sleep in doorways but then they are at risk of being attacked and having their possessions stolen. Just one night was a powerful lesson in how miserable it is to be homeless , Hindman points out. And for a homeless person it can take 2 years of miserable nights to get into affordable housing. 

Looking at areas of conflict in the world like the Middle East Hindman suggests an interesting comparison. “It's like being a refugee in a camp. And you're not even in a camp with enough other people to provide a level of security. Like we have thousands of people in our country that are refugees just living in our doorways.”



Determining What Berkeley Really Needs Is a Complicated Process

Becky O'Malley
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:50:00 PM

You’ve got to admire Berkeley’s District 4 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin and Zoning Adjustment Board members Sophie Hahn and Shoshana O’Keefe. They courageously hosted a Wednesday workshop to allow community discussion of what the City of Berkeley should ask from developers to fulfill the vague “significant community benefits” requirement for extra-tall buildings in the city’s zoning code.

Their show-and-tell played to a full house—standing room only –in the Live Oak Theater building in North Berkeley. And most of the participants showed up loaded for bear.

I was there, as I have been lately, both to report what went on and to contribute my own opinion to the discussion. In my later middle age I experimented with passively watching local political events unfold from the wings, as I’d done in my forties when I wrote for magazines and weeklies. But now that I’ve passed another age milestone, I find I’m no longer content to be just a spectator when there’s a bear in the room. 

The first part of the evening was devoted to an explanation of exactly what we were talking about. The code language was posted in massive magnification, with relevant passages highlighted in red. Arreguin first walked the audience through the statutory language, and then Hahn and O’Keefe—both trained as lawyers—explained what the words would mean if applied to hypothetical projects. 

As ZAB and City Council members who would eventually vote on them, these speakers couldn’t discuss real live potential buildings. But the biggest elephant in the room was 2211 Harold Way, which would among other things demolish the Shattuck Avenue block which houses the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas. Devoted film fans were out in force. 

The main thrust of the presentation was that significant community benefits (let’s say SCBs from now on) could not be features otherwise required by law or custom in order to earn brownie points toward extra stories. One example: no extra credit for replacing the sidewalks destroyed by construction. Also, none for the kind of perks which would enhance the marketability of the luxury apartments in a building, e.g. free electric car chargers. 

After the lesson, it was Question Time. The idea was that anyone could ask for clarification of anything they didn’t understand. Only a few questions were expected, but it immediately became clear that attendees understood the situation only too well. 

First shot out of the barrel was fired by Rob Wrenn, former Planning Commission chair and former Downtown Area Plan Committee member (and occasional Planet content contributor). He pointed out the SCBs were supposed to be recompense for the extra profit generated by the extra stories in the limited number of new tall buildings which could be authorized. He asked exactly how the city intended to calculate what was owed, and called for decision-makers to demand verifiable figures: a pro forma reviewed by an independent economic expert, not just informal estimates provided by the applicant developer or the city’s planning department. 

The speakers’ response, approximately: That’s a good question, and we don’t quite know yet. 

Instead of a couple of questions there were maybe a dozen well-informed ones, which took the better part of an hour. 

Last on the program was the kind of faux-scientific exercise all too familiar to anyone who has participated in what’s lately been called community engagement (formerly public participation). It involved letting audience members list topics which they thought might constitute SCBs, which were then posted as headings on separate sheets of colored construction paper. 

After that everyone still in the audience (they’d started wandering off by that time) got ten sticky dots to divide among the sheets headed by benefits they liked. There were lots of choices profered by this time: senior housing, parks, shuttle buses and the like. 

I was told that several people were cheating, but oh well...I didn’t see them myself. One of the very few speakers who had spoken enthusiastically about the tall buildings already in the pipeline was observed sticking more than his allotted 10 stickers on the sheet headed “project labor agreements”. There had been some earlier discussion about whether these should count as benefits for the general community or just for union members. A woman who’d identified herself as a building trades union official had already gone home, so perhaps he used hers. At least as far as 2211 Harold Way is concerned, a project labor agreement has already been verbally promised or at least offered by the developers’ spokesman, so it probably doesn’t qualify for extra credit as an SCB for that building, but it might. 

By the time it was over, this exercise had turned into a kind of feeding frenzy, not exactly the basis of intelligent planning. I’ll repeat here what I said about this process at the workshop: significant community benefits shouldn’t be treated like a grocery list. It’s a poor idea to just name everything nice you can think of and then try to pick one or two by popular vote. Planning should be more thoughtful and systematic. 

The organizers referred approvingly to Berkeley’s Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP), the 2010 draft of which can be found on the Planning Department website. From the draft: 

“The SOSIP presents schematic designs, design guidelines, and a financing strategy for improvements to make Downtown more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, livable, and attractive.” 

There’s just one problem: the City Council adopted the plan, but the financing strategy has never materialized—so the plan has never been funded. But at least it’s a plan, late and lamented though it might be. 

Unfortunately, the applicants for two tall buildings now in the pipeline have blithely proposed redesigning the downtown streetscape for their own use while ignoring the SOSIP recommendations, and even had the chutzpah to claim their designs were Community Benefits. 

Let’s just examine one example of how a sensible process could work: for the Proposal for a Performing Arts Center in Harold Way Plaza, which was handed out at the last City Council meeting. 

It was submitted by three groups who probably do want better digs, probably in fact need them, and who included a list of other companies who might also be interested. 

But just plopping a performing arts space in the middle of a building in progress is not the way to do it. As I used to say when managing a software development company, problems first, solutions second. 

Here’s how decisions like this are made in the business world, and how they should be made in public policy as well: 

First, a need can be identified. That’s where we are so far. 

But next, and this is crucial, there needs to be a systematic, well-documented many-faceted needs assessment. How many performing arts organizations are there in Berkeley? Where are they playing now? What other spaces are available to them, and what barriers are there to using such spaces? Whom do they primarily serve? What physical design features do they need? Where do customers park? Etc. etc. etc. 

Next: what’s the budget? In this case, what extra profit has up-zoning the parcel at 2211 Harold Way provided for the project’s financiers? Have their pro formas been reviewed by independent experts? How much money are they likely to put in the pot for community benefits? 

Third, are there alternative ways to accomplish the same goal? Steve Finacom (former President of the Berkeley Historical Society, former LPC commissioner, occasional Planet content contributor) has pointed out that Berkeley already has many spaces which could be and have been used for performing arts. 

At the workshop he gave as just one example the Veterans’ Building on Center Street, where the Historical Society is currently housed. The theater there has been divided up into office cubicles and the building needs to be made earthquake safe, but it’s very usable space. 

More examples abound: the beautiful Beaux Arts Old City Hall, the Maudelle Shirek building, is currently being allowed to disintegrate before our eyes—why? What’s going on with the Berkeley Community Theater, jointly owned by BUSD and the city but now largely unavailable for public use? There used to be an auditorium on the second floor of the building at Bancroft and Shattuck, a former fraternal lodge—is it still there? And there are many, many more. 

Why not do a quick inventory of what exists (and can be fixed if needed) before expending energy in the form of rebar and concrete on a new structure? 

That would be the green solution. 

There seems to be no room in the SCB process to honestly assess from an environmental perspective both the detriments and the benefits of tearing down a functional building. A building which already exists is almost always greener than new construction, since it’s embodied energy

Which brings us to the answer which a couple of the participants were honest enough to express: Why do we need these tall buildings anyhow? There’s no way a steel-and-concrete building above 5-6 stories can meet the Zero Net Energy standard (producing onsite all the energy it uses) which will be the law in just five years, in 2020. 

The original rationale for allowing these highrises was that it would be good to make areas served by transit even denser to minimize auto use. But recently it’s been reported that BART is vastly overcrowded, and AC Transit bus service in Berkeley has been getting steadily worse instead of better. Downtown is only apparently served by transit—it’s actually underserved at this point even for the needs of current residents. 

It’s most unlikely that occupants of fancy new view apartments will eschew automobiles, even if we had functional public transit, which we don't. Also, there’s absolutely no proof, and a lot of reason for doubt, that luxury apartments like those proposed will do anything to relieve the need for affordable and low-priced workforce housing. 

The most reality-based audience comment came from a woman who asked urgently, what can we do to stop this bad building now, instead of fooling around with ephemeral benefits to come? While it’s true that the current zoning law says that a number variously stated as five to seven high-rises may be permitted, it by no means requires that they must be. The law certainly doesn’t say that any particular project must be allowed if the City Council can’t find that it provides real Significant Community Benefits. 

Sadly, the answer to her question might nevertheless be that we citizens can do nothing to stop them now. Not specifying beforehand what constitutes an SCB might mean that in the last analysis anything goes, and City Councilmembers can follow wherever their campaign contributors lead them. 

At the annual recent meeting of the Downtown Berkeley Association which I attended, the DBA’s CEO included 2211 Harold way in his list of this year’s faits accomplis in his domain, as if it’s already a done deal. The fix might indeed already be in—too bad for Berkeley. 

But it’s not too late for public-spirited citizens to tackle the question of how we might get a performing arts center if we need one. There’s no need to displace vital film venues to create one—let’s form a civic committee to do a proper needs assessment, to be followed by a requirements document, a feasibility study and only then a plan for a center that has some chance of serving all our citizens. 

It’s even possible that some of the funding for such an endeavor might eventually come from SCBs, but in a city that’s increasingly a bedroom community for the rich and famous, private contributions should be available and solicited. 

(Anyone who wants to work on this can contact me at editor@berkeleydailyplanet.com. ) 



The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley ZAB to Consider EIR for 2211 Harold Way tonight

Thursday April 23, 2015 - 03:04:00 PM

The Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board is scheduled to decide whether they should certify the Environmental Impact Report on 2211 Harold Way tonight. Since what exactly is planned has yet to be determined, it would make very little sense to close the discussion now. Tim Hansen's piece in this issue makes a lot of sense, and now there's a new problem.

A court decision says that tiered water pricing systems, adopted in response to the unprecedented drought, are unconstitutional because they violate one of the state's stupider initiatives. See, in the Sacramento Bee, California cities fret over tiered water rates after court decision. If you're worried about water, and you should be, you might want to show up at Old City Hall tonight at 7:30 and speak your piece about whether it's time to add 300+ luxury households to Berkeley at this point. At least the EIR should be updated to reflect current conditions, so the ZAB can make the best decision possible under the circumstances. 


Bounce: Banksters Amok (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Sunday April 19, 2015 - 11:20:00 AM

Joseph Young


Public Comment

New: NO "fast track" Trade Promotion Authority for the TPP

Bruce Joffe
Wednesday April 22, 2015 - 03:22:00 PM

The 1993 NAFTA trade agreement promised to boost our economy. It did, for the very rich, but it took millions of middle class jobs offshore where labor is cheap and pollution is rampant. The Trans-Pacific Pact (TPP) promises to be NAFTA on steroids. If TPP passes, our nation's financial regulations would be "harmonized" to comply with international de-regulation. The costs of a too-big-to-fail bank's collapse would be have to be borne by taxpayers. 

Our government's environmental standards, wage and labor laws, prohibition of the sale of goods made in sweatshops, and safety inspections of imported food, would all be illegal (as "restraints on international trade"). Multi-national corporations would overrule local sovereignty. TPP is worse than a terrible idea, it is a betrayal of the Democratic principles that got Obama elected. 

"Fast Track" would make it way more easy for this catastrophic pact to pass and would seal our oppression.

New: The Oklahoma City Bombing: Remembering the Victims but Not the Cause

Gar Smith
Monday April 20, 2015 - 03:09:00 PM

I spent most of Sunday, April 19, on the road, driving north and listening to the car radio. On this, the 20th anniversary of the horrific car bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, the airwaves were filled with retellings of the bombing and its aftermath. Hourly newscasts were filled with remembrances of the violent explosion, the rescue of injured survivors, and the solemn recitation of the names of the 168 murdered victims. 

But in all the broadcast recollections linked to that tragic day, there was one name that I did not hear once. The name that remained oddly un-uttered was the name of the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh. 

This struck me as strange. Something like obsessing over the sinking of the Titanic without once mentioning the iceberg. Or commemorating the loss of lives in the 9/11 attacks without mentioning the 19 aircraft hijackers. 

Was this because McVeigh did not cast a suitably evil profile? Because he was not some dark-skinned, bearded "Other," a follower of a foreign faith, a practioner of an unfamiliar religion? 

To the contrary, McVeigh was a clean-cut, white, Christian American—a former US Army Sergeant and a decorated veteran of the Gulf War. If not for his detour into the dark roll of car-bomber, McVeigh would have been described as a "war hero." (Instead, in it's report on the Oklahoma anniversary, the New York Times characterized McVeigh as "a militia sympathizer with strong antigovernment views.") 

But does it not do a disservice to the lives and memories of the victims—and to the survivors—to mark their loss but make no attempt to question why they died? 

Later that day, watching the evening news on TV, I found that McVeigh's name was being mentioned, but only in cursory notations that served to dismiss him as an outlier who committed an incomprehensible crime and was brought-to-justice-case-closed. 

It was almost as if there had been a coordinated effort to draw attention away from the killer's motive. 

Throughout the day, I heard occasional references to terrorism on the radio but the nature of the terrorist threat remained anonymous and unexamined. There were generalized invocations of the "terrorist threat" and staunch proclamations not to "give into terrorism" but, left unnamed, the "terrorist threat" conjured images of Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban. 

But this conspiracy of silence served to conceal a profound irony. 

Anyone who has been paying close attention knows that there is a single, fundamental complaint that has been lodged against United States by "America's enemies" and that is this: Anger over the Pentagon's mass murder of innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen—murders committed thousands of miles from America's borders. 

And now for the final irony: The terrorist named Timothy McVeigh was driven to wage "Jihad" against America for the very same reason cited by many foreign terrorists: The mass murder of civilians. 

In McVeigh's case, he wanted to avenge the deaths of 80 American men, women and children tear-gassed, shot and burned alive at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. McVeigh also claimed his anti-government radicalization began while he was still in uniform and became aware of a number of illegal CIA operations (See McVeigh's letter—published by the New York Times—reprinted below.) 

There was good reason to give short shrift to McVeigh during the anniversary coverage. Dwelling too long on McVeigh's role in the bombing might have drawn attention to his motives as well as his deeds. And this risked exposing a disturbing congruence: American violence—whether unleashed by Pentagon bombers, CIA drones or the sniper-fire, gas cartridges, concussion grenades and tanks of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)—causes collateral damage. And when civilians die, some of that collateral damage is personal and political—it takes form in the anger that is stoked in the hearts of survivors who have seen their loved ones extinguished by a powerful military force that enjoys impunity from prosecution or accountability. Government violence gives rise to more violence. When an empire attacks a village (or a wedding party or a jirga of elders) the assault frequently triggers a call for revenge. 

The darker irony of McVeigh's crime is that this former Army vet was driven to commit the same crime that prompted his hatred of the US government in the first place. Outraged over Washington's orchestrated murders of civilians at Waco and Ruby Ridge, McVeigh lashed out by targeting a building that hosted the local offices of the ATF but also was filled with hundreds of innocent clerks, administrators and janitors—and rooms filled with children left to spend the last day of their lives in a daycare facility on the second-floor. 

It is right and proper for America to remember the names of the innocent dead whose lives were cut short on April 19. But it also is essential to remember the man who did the deed and understand what drove him to commit this atrocity. 

If we want to prevent the repetition of a tragedy we need to ask: "What caused it to happen in the first place?" If we refuse to face the question, we will never remove the threat. And that is, perhaps, the greatest disservice to the memory of our innocent dead. 

Excerpts From Timothy McVeigh Letter 

The New York Times 

(July 1, 1998) -- Following are excerpts from a letter dated Oct. 20, 1993, and written by Timothy J. McVeigh to his sister Jennifer McVeigh. The idiosyncrasies in spelling and punctuation are Mr. McVeigh's. 

Grandpa McVeigh saw this. He never knew why, but one day, I showed up at his door, freezing outside, in only sweat pants and in total, complete breakdown. Gramps, I'm sure, never told anyone about that day, and I respect him greatly for that, as I spent about an hour upstairs ''losing it.'' It was almost suicide at that point, but rage, but denial, but acceptance—all these feelings were battling for control. . . . 

Now here's what led to my current life: It all revolves around my arrival at Ft. Bragg for Special Forces. We all took intelligence, psychological, adeptness, and a whole battery of other tests. (Out of a group of 400). One day in formation, ten (10) Social Security numbers were called out (no names) and told to leave formation. Mine was one. 

The 10 of us were told that out of the select group of 400, we had scored highest on certain tests. We had been selected because of our intelligence, physical make-up (165 lbs. 6 ft. being ''ultimate warrier'' type—I was only slightly off—160 lbs. 6'1 1/2''), and physical abilities. We were to feel special, part of a hand-picked group) . . . . 

We were all asked to ''volunteer'' (talk about peer pressure!) to do some ''work for the government on the domestic, as well as international, front.'' . . . 

What I learned next, both from the briefings, and from the questions and private talks included: 

1.) We would be helping the CIA fly drugs into the US to fund many covert operations; 

2.) Military ''consultants'' were to work hand-in-hand w/civilian police agencies to ''quiet'' anyone whom was deemed a ''security risk.'' (We would be gov't-paid assassins!) 

3.) Many other details -- to verify these last two, see the enclosed article, or watch, again the movie ''Lethal Weapon''. . . . 

It also gives you new insight on things like WACO, etc. -- they were murdered by hit-men. 

Neighbors Are Asking: "WTF MLK?"
An Open Letter to Berkeley School District Officials

Gar Smith
Friday April 17, 2015 - 11:41:00 AM
Gar Smith
Gar Smith

Dear Officials:

I have a series of questions regarding ground rules and operations at the Martin Luther King Middle School track.

As a neighbor and a runner, I understand that the track is to be closed the pubic between school hours — 9AM to 6PM. (Even though the school's coaches have generously invited runners onto the field before 5PM, since "we're generally done by 4:45.")

Why, then, were three of the five entry points to the track padlocked at the beginning of this week?

Of the four metal-gated entryways, only the Hopkins Street gate remained unlocked and open to the public. Ah, but that was yesterday.

This morning (April 16), to the surprise, dismay and rage of scores of runners and walkers—many of them middle-aged and seniors—even the Hopkins gate was chained and bolted shut. 

One trim, white-haired would-be runner attempted without success to squeeze between the narrow opening of the chained gate and wound up temporarily trapped. After some strained jokes about calling 911 for the "jaws of life," he was able to extract himself. Others grimaced, grabbed the gate and shook it (to no avail). Some regular track users were forced to climb over the rib-cage-high metal fence that surrounds the field. (I exercised this option and, after my run, I wound up tearing my pants and ripping a bloody hole in a finger as I climbed back over the metalwork. 

In the past, runners who attempted a pre-dinner jog at 5PM have been intercepted by the school principal and other officials. The track needs to be closed until 6PM, school authorities explained, to protect the students from the possibility of "serial killers" on the loose. 

It would seem that whoever is responsible for transforming the track from a shared public resource into a semi-enclosed fortress is doing a disservice to the neighbors who pay taxes to support the school system. Worse, they now are exposing these neighbors to potentially crippling risks of injuries from accidental falls as they try to climb over the metal fences. 

If the goal of these lock-downs is to "secure" the campus, they are a demonstrable failure. 

The MLK campus remains easily accessible from the adjacent park/playground area on Hopkins Street. Access to the school remains wide open at the top of a flight of wooden stairs. And, on the Rose Street side, there is a metal sign next to an open gate that declares that this MLK entrance is "to be locked in the open position" during school hours

If the lockdown is not intended to "secure" the campus, it begins to look as if the intended purpose is really to extend dominion over the track. 

If so, why is the school targeting perambulating neighbors for exclusion? 

This morning, all four of the public's gateways to the track were bolted shut. Ironically, this means that now, the only way to safely reach the track area is to walk onto the campus and stroll past the buildings while you make your way to the paved road that slopes down to the southeast corner of the running lanes. 

So, this strange new arrangement compels non-students to first enter the school grounds before they can embark on their "daily rounds." 

And there's another problem with The Lockdown. The school district appears to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is a path that runs from the track up a gently sloping hill to the open schoolyard. The gate to that path is now locked. The lock hangs about five feet to the left of a metal sign. That sign clearly designates that the path is to be reserved for people with handicaps. 

And there's another quandary. One that is environmental. 

With the state in the throes of a withering drought, why is it that MLK Jr. is one of the Bay Area's most egregious drought-flouters? 

I refer to the daily drenching of the grassy field (which has been surrounded by chain-link fencing for months). Not only has the School District not curtailed or cut back this extravagant and blatant wasting of water, it further squanders our dwindling drops by aiming the sprinklers so that they inundate the surrounding track as well as the grassy midfield. 

Every day, something like five percent of the water that's pumped into the air winds up drenching the track -- on all sides. On several occasions, I have been brought to a complete halt while running, blocked by sprinklers that send a literal wall of water gushing over the southwest portion of the track, spilling out across all six lanes! 

Fellow citizens, most of whom are letting their home lawns go brown, arrive at the track only to find it soaked to the point that you leave wet footprints on the surface as you run or amble from puddle to puddle. 

I recently observed that -- with the exception of two rare dry patches adding up to no more than 40 feet -- nearly the entire track had been doused with wasted water. 

And this is happening every day -- all to irrigate a field that, like the track, is blocked off from public use. 

Forget your "serial killers." I say it's time for Berkeley to crack down on its "serial spillers." And you can begin with the fenced-off oasis at MLK. 

Censored Voices

Jagjit Singh
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:47:00 PM

Hitherto silenced by Israeli censors, archives of disillusioned soldiers of the 1967 war have recently been given a fuller voice thanks to the perseverance of Mor Loushy, director of "Censored Voices." As the International Criminal Court evaluates possible war crimes in Gaza last summer, this new documentary released at the Sundance Festival showcases admissions of brutal behavior by Israeli soldiers fighting in the 1967 war. In spite of the heavy editing the film includes accounts of Israelis summarily executing prisoners and purging Arab villages in a manner that one fighter likened to the ‘Nazis treatment of European Jews’. 

Mor Loushy explained that her purpose in making the film was to reframe the prevailing Israeli narrative of triumph in 1967 in light of all the brutality of Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza. The custodian of the archives, Mr. Shapiro, an aging kibbutznik and philosophy professor, expressed horror at the audio sounds of terror and stated we can only expect more of the same if we don’t work a peaceful settlement of the festering conflict and “turn back all the occupied territories.” 

No, You Still Can't Sell the People's Post Office

James (JP) Massar
Friday April 17, 2015 - 11:02:00 AM

On April 14th, 2015 Judge Alsup ruled in favor of the US Postal Service's move to dismiss the City of Berkeley's lawsuit which sought to halt the sale of the people's post office in downtown Berkeley. He ruled that since no sale is pending, the issue is not ripe for litigation. 

While this is not the decision Berkeley Post Office Defenders (BPOD), First They Came for the Homeless nor the City of Berkeley was looking for, the judge did NOT rule that the Postal Service is free and clear to go ahead and sell the building at 2000 Allston Way. There is no doubt that the position of those of us who oppose a sale has improved: should USPS attempt to sell the building, Judge Alsup made it clear that the City is free to reinstitute the lawsuit on the same grounds, and must provide the City with 42 days notice before a finalized purchase can occur. 

As notice of continued community commitment, BPOD strongly urges the Berkeley City Council to reiterate its firm stance opposing a sale by reaffirming its intent to sue should another sales attempt arise. We also wish to thank the entire community - which has persevered for three years in this fight – for the role each and every participant played in opposing the sale, and we send notice to the Postal Service that none of us are going away. 

Instead of a cycle of litigation without end, Berkeley Post Office Defenders and First They Came for the Homeless call on the Postal Service to permanently renounce a sale and enter into discussions with the community about how to best use the space for the public good in the spirit of the Zoning Ordinance we pushed for and which ultimately passed. We created the community garden on Milvia - transformed from a trash dump to blooming greenery. We have more ideas: using some of the excess space as an incubator for postal banking, as a library annex for online access, as a service center for homeless people and/or urban gardening. We suggest installing solar panels on the vast, flat roof, both for revenue and the environment. And there is office space along Milvia and the parking spaces in the back that could be rented - unused resources in the heart of downtown. 

The Berkeley Post Office was built with the sweat and tax equity of our great-grandparents. It belongs to the people. It can and must remain as a Post Office in perpetuity – while additionally serving the community in other ways.

Another Botched Police Shooting

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:45:00 PM

Another African American bites the dust, victim to yet another botched shooting. Video showed an Oklahoma reserve sheriff’s deputy mistakenly shooting and killing an African American with his handgun, instead of his stun gun, as instructed. Video from the Oklahoma sheriff’s department showed police officers chasing the unarmed victim, Eric Harris. After officers caught up with him they pinned him to the ground and fatally shot him. In an act of utter callousness other officers on the scene responded to Harris’ desperate cries for help telling him to “shut up”. When Harris begged for help pleading: "I’m losing my breath," an officer responded, "bleep your breath." Harris was pronounced dead an hour later.  

The deputy who killed Harris, Robert Bates, is a wealthy insurance executive and heavy donor to the Tulsa police department, who volunteers as a reserve. Why must excessive force be used when the victim is lying supine and handcuffed? 

New: NBC & Richard Engel

Jagjit Singh
Monday April 20, 2015 - 03:13:00 PM

NBC and their chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is at the center of a raging new controversy. In 2012 he and five members of his team claimed they had been kidnapped by armed gunmen loyal to the Assad regime. He has now admitted that his captors were, in fact, Sunni militants affiliated with the U.S.- backed Free Syrian Army. 

NBC knew at the time that Engel and the others were held on a chicken farm widely known to be controlled by a Sunni criminal group but chose to deliberately mislead its viewers expressing certainty that they were kidnapped by Shia hoodlums trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and allied with Hezbollah. 

The controversy over Engel’s kidnapping comes just three months after NBC suspended Nightly News anchor Brian Williams after admitting that he had grossly inflated a story he told about coming under fire in a helicopter during the Iraq War. 

Engel’s false narrative of his kidnapping is far more serious than Williams puffing his chest like a bloated peacock. 

It calls into question our media reports that have wrongly portrayed the free Syrian army as a disciplined coordinated opposition group when in fact they are no more than coterie of criminal gangs and thugs that are running amok throughout the area of the so-called liberated sections of Syria. 

Reports by Engel and other correspondents are serving the ‘war lobby’ anxious to move us deeper into the Syrian conflict and support the Saudi sectarian conflict in Yemen.


Romila Khanna
Monday April 20, 2015 - 03:12:00 PM

We are facing gun related problems every day in our country. Public safety is non-existent in areas where most of the shootings take place. Even when troubled youth or adults are in schools or colleges they are fearful. They don't live in good neighborhoods. They don't feel safe. Their basic needs are not met. They lack supportive families and access to mental health professionals. They join gangs, get addicted to drugs or alcohol, and start lives of crime. These troubled young people think that a like-minded gang is the place where they can express themselves best. 

I think literature and drama can help these young people re-balance their emotions. Literature and drama classes can help them understand themselves and others. They can start to change their thoughts. They can become more capable of making good choices even in their difficult circumstances.

Museum Manager Prepares for History Center Presentation

John Ginno Aronovici
Monday April 20, 2015 - 01:29:00 PM


A few Sundays ago I needed to prepare for a talk and presentation in our museum in the Veterans Memorial building. 

First I needed to clean the excrement off the back of the marble memorial plaque in the front of the Veteran’s Building. It is often used as a toilet by the homeless despite the portapotty and bathroom located in the park across the street. 

Then, approaching the door to the building, there was a female person sleeping so that I couldn’t open the door. A request to move prompted a tirade of language with every third word one of the 4 letter words.. 

I entered the building at the back entrance. 

The front steps and handicapped ramp was filled with a homeless encampment- litter, bags of personal property, grocery carts and sleeping people. 

A verbal request several times to vacate the steps in preparation for a large number of people coming to an event brought no results. 

Per city protocol, The Ambassadors group was called. They arrived but were unable to get the persons to move, along with their belongings. 

Finally the Police were contacted and an officer arrives in about 15 minutes and the occupiers reluctantly moved everything to the park across the street. 

That left me to clean up- the mess. It took another half hour to – pick up food wrappers, trash, and at least 30 cigarette butts. After sweeping the steps, we finally were able to open the doors for visitors to the program.

New: Berkeley School Board Reneges on Promise Regarding 5th Grade Class Size at Jefferson Elementary

Phyllis Davis
Friday April 17, 2015 - 07:27:00 PM

I am a concerned Berkeley resident, tax payer, and the mother of four children, ages 6 to 17, two of whom are at Jefferson Elementary School.  

You may already know about this, but there has been a massive expansion program at Jefferson Elementary School over the last few years. In many ways, Jefferson is the ideal picture of a community elementary school with committed students, teachers, and parents. 

However at this point, the entire community is up in arms over a school district plan to greatly increase the class size in 5th grade. The specific implementation of the class size increase is not entirely clear, as the school board may have a mixed 4th/5th grade class in mind (see the next paragraph for some details), but the bottom line is that the way the board is proposing to act reneges on the commitments that were made when an additional 4th grade class was added, simply to save some money. 

Before the building expansion at Jefferson, it was planned that there would be a new 4th grade class. We got that this year. Next year we were supposed to get a third 5th grade class. The district is trying to back out on this promise. Apparently, the reason is because of money. All the proposed solutions that the district has come up with--combo 4th-5th class, an intern teacher from Mills college, a part-time swing teacher who visits the combo class a few days a week--cost the district nothing. Adding a new 5th grade section and teacher cost money. 

Parents, teachers, and students of course fear that these proposed actions will negatively impact the educational experience at Jefferson. In addition, there are serious concerns that by going back on their word and not using tax payer funds that were meant to facilitate smaller class sizes, BUSD will lose credibility and the ability to partner with Berkeley property tax payers for future incremental income. 

I've started a petition related to these issues at Change.org. The petition is addressed to the members of the Berkeley School Board and Superintendent Donald Evans. Here's the link: 


I think you will find the community member comments at the bottom of the petition web page particularly interesting. Note that you may need to click the "Most Recent" button or "View More" to see all the comments. 


New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Kenya’s Sorrow: The U.S. Connection

Conn Hallinan
Monday April 20, 2015 - 02:57:00 PM

The systematic murder of 147 Kenyan university students by members of the Somalia-based Shabab organization on April 2 is raising an uncomfortable question: was the massacre an unintentional blowback from U.S. anti-terrorism strategy in the region? And were the killers forged by an ill-advised American supported Ethiopian invasion that transformed the radical Islamic organization from a marginal player into a major force? 

As Kenyans were mourning their dead, opposition figures were openly opposing Kenya’s occupation of southern Somalia and bringing into question Washington’s blueprint for fighting terrorism: drones, Special Forces, and regional proxies. 

Speaking in the port of Mombasa, former prime minister and opposition leader Raila Odinga called for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops, as did the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi. Speaking at the funeral for one of the victims, Senator James Orengo said, “We know very well the consequences of a war of occupation. We must withdraw our troops from Somalia to end this.” 

Absent from most of the mainstream American media was an examination of exactly what role the U.S. has played in Somalia over the past decade, and how Washington has helped create the current crisis. 

A little history. 

When military dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, Somalia fell into the chaos of clan warfare, sparking off a U.S. military intervention in 1992. While billed as a “humanitarian intervention,” the Americans aggressively sought to suppress the plague of warlords that had turned the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, into a shattered ruin. But the expedition derailed in 1993 after 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis were killed in the infamous Black Hawk down incident. The U.S. withdrew the following year. 

Which doesn’t mean the U.S. went away, or that it didn’t apply a new strategy for Africa, one designed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. The genesis of that plan came from James Carafano, a West Point graduate and head of Heritage’s foreign policy section, and Nile Gardiner, director of the think tank’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, who drew up a document entitled “U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution.”  

The strategy called for the creation of a U.S. military command for Africa, a focus on terrorism, and direct military intervention using air power and naval forces. The authors argue against putting U.S. troops on the ground, instead enlisting those of allies. Those recommendations were adopted by the Bush administration—and later the Obama administration—lock, stock and barrel. African Command (Africom) was created, as along with the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, to train troops in 16 nations that border the vast area embraced by world’s biggest desert. 

While targeting “terrorism” is the strategy’s public face, Carafano and Gardiner argue that U.S. “vital interests” are involved on the continent, “With its vast natural and mineral resources,” Africa, say the two scholars, “remains important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century.” 

A major rationale behind the strategy is to checkmate Chinese influence in Africa and short circuit Beijing’s search for raw materials. China gets about one third of its oil from Africa, plus platinum, copper, timber and iron ore.

The new policy made its début in Somalia when the U.S. actively aided Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion to support the unpopular and isolated the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFGS). The invasion overthrew the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which had brought Somalia its first stable government in 15 years. 

The ICU was a coalition of Islamic organizations that included a small group calling itself the “Shabab,” Arabic for “Youth.” While the ICU was Islamic in ideology, it was more moderate than the Shabab. The ICU also had more support than the TFGS, because it had routed the clan warlords who had dominated Somalia since 1991. 

However, those warlords—united in an organization incongruously called the “Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism”—were strongly supported by the U.S. CIA. Claiming that the ICU was linked to Al-Qaeda, Washington leaned on Ethiopia to invade. When they did, U.S. Special Forces based in Djibouti accompanied them and gave them intelligence and equipment. The U.S. Navy shelled a town in Southern Somalia, killing, according to Oxfam and the United Nations, 70 civilians and wounding more than a 100. While the New York Times claims that U.S. support for the invasion was “covert,” it was anything but. 

The powerful Ethiopian Army crushed the ICU, but the brutality of the occupation that followed fired up a resistance movement led by the Shabab. Given that Ethiopians and Somalians are traditional enemies, and that the former is largely Christian, the latter overwhelmingly Muslim, one wonders what Washington was thinking when it backed the invasion. 

It was the 2006 Ethiopian-U.S. invasion that turned the Shabab into a major player, just as the invasion of Iraq fueled the creation of, first, Al-Qaeda and then the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.  

The Shabab quickly took over most of southern and central Somalia, although their brutality and strict interpretation of Islam eventually alienated them from much of the population. However, the one thing that Somalians could unite around was expelling the Ethiopians, and after two years of ambushes, roadside bombs and suicide vests, Addis Abba withdrew most its forces. 

At the time, the Shabab was not affiliated with Al-Qaeda—it did not do so until 2012—and its concerns were mainly local. The organization was more like the Taliban in Afghanistan, albeit with a more extreme interpretation of Islam. But that distinction was lost on Washington, which pressed the African Union (AU) to send in troops. In 2007, the AU, with UN compliance, established the African Union Mission in Somalia (AUMIS) and deployed 9,000 troops to support the TFGS. 

It is no coincidence that the bulk of AUMIS troops are from Uganda and Burundi, two countries that receive U.S. aid, as does Ethiopia. From 2009, U.S. military aid to Addis Abada jumped 256 percent. 

The U.S. also footed the bill for private mercenary organizations, like Bancroft Global Development, to train Ugandan and Burundi troops in counter-insurgency warfare. The fact that Bancroft is a private company shields it from public scrutiny, including by the U.S. Congress. 

While the initial AUMIS deployment was not very successful, it finally drove the Shabab out of the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, although that was, in part, a reflection of the Shabab’s loss of support among Somalians, alienated by the group’s brutality. Eventually the organization was driven out of all Somalia’s major cities. But even with numerous setbacks, a recent attack in the capital that killed 15 people and wounded 20 demonstrates the Shabab still has a bite. 

Kenya—another recipient of U.S. aid whose soldiers are trained by U.S. Special Forces—invaded southern Somalia in 2011 and seized the Shabab-controlled port of Kismayo . While publically the reason for the invasion was Shabab kidnappings of Kenyans and tourists, apparently Nairobi has long had its eye on the port of Lamu as part of a development plan for the northeast part of the country. 

Again, the Shabab was scattered rather easily, but only then to resort of guerilla war and attacks on civilian targets in Kenya and Uganda. In 2011, it set off two bombs in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76 people. In 2013, it killed 67 people in a shopping mall in Nairobi and then topped that with the massacre at Garissa University. 

The response of the Kenyan government has been targeting ethnic Somalians living on the Kenyan side of the border with Somalia, threatening to close down one of the largest refugee camps in the world, and squeezing the country’s Muslim. Those are actions liable to alienate Kenya’s large ethnic Somali population and its minority Muslim communities. “Shabab needs to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion to gain a foothold,” security analyst Mohamed Mubarak told the Financial Times,” “And they may succeed if the Kenyan response is not thought out carefully.” 

The blowback attacks have soured most Kenyans on the invasion. A poll taken last fall, six months before the Garissa University bloodbath, found that a majority of the country wants its troops out, and two in three Kenyans thought there would be more terrorist attacks. 

What seems clear is that the Heritage Foundation’s blueprint for using military force in Africa has been a disaster. It has destabilized Somalia by overthrowing the ICU, spreading the war to Uganda and Kenya. It turned Libya into a failed state, which in turn unleashed a flood of arms that have helped fuel civil wars in Mali, Niger and the Central African Republic. 

The widespread use of drones may kill some terrorist leaders, along with large numbers of civilians, and, rather than destroying organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Shabab, it ends up atomizing them into groups that are smaller and harder to track, but no less capable of committing mass murder. Indeed, for organizations like the Shabab and Al-Qaeda, drones have proved to be the 21st century’s most effective recruiting sergeants. 

Military occupation sows the seeds of its own destruction, and, while using drones and proxies may keep the American death count down, that strategy ultimately creates more enemies than it eliminates. 

The solution in Somalia (and Syria and Yemen) is political, not military. According to Bronwyn Bruton of the Council On Foreign Relations, the Shabab is “not a monolithic movement,” but includes leaders from the old Islamic Courts Union that the U.S. and it allies so disastrously overthrew. “Some of these leaders are extremists, and the idea of talking with them is unappetizing. But the United States can and should negotiate with them directly.” 

In short, talking beats bombing and works better. 

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




THE PUBLIC EYE: Ready for Hillary?

Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:30:00 PM

To no one’s surprise, on April 12th former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The obvious questions are: Why announce now? What is her platform? And, does Hillary Clinton have a real chance to become America’s first female President? 

The Iowa Caucuses won’t happen until February 1, 2016, and the Democratic convention will be held July 25-28, 2016. So far, Hillary Clinton has no formidable challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination. Senator Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly said she’s not running. That leaves a relatively weak field: Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and possibly former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, and former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. (Hillary has a 48 point lead over her nearest contender leading some to label this race “Hillary versus the seven dwarfs.”) 

This last time she ran, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in January of 2007. She might have waited a bit longer, but there are good reasons for announcing now: • The Republican candidates (Bush, Cruz, Paul, Rubio) are beginning to declare and they were dominating the mainstream media. Hillary’s announcement will take the wind out of their sails, at least temporarily. • There are salacious allegations against Clinton (Benghazi, email management while she was Secretary of State, and the donations to the Clinton Foundation). The announcement will give her a good opportunity to respond to these. • Many Democrats were questioning what she stands for – whether she is liberal enough to represent the entire Party. Now Hillary can respond. • Finally, the issue of the pending Iran agreement threatened to divide Congressional Democrats. Now Clinton can wade in, presumably on the side of President Obama, and the Party can unify behind her. 

Clinton used her announcement video to establish populist themes. The bulk of the two-minute video shows seemingly average people discussing their lives: preparing for marriage, school, a new baby, a new home, retirement, or starting a business. The participants represent the diversity of America including a gay couple and a mixed-race couple. Clinton says, “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times. But the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top… Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.” 

The Daily Kos observed, “The real brilliance of this piece is that it’s inviting Republicans to stick their head in a noose… Instead of coming back with their own positive vision for America and actually arguing issues, Republicans will come back with attacks.” 

After laying the foundation of her campaign, Clinton’s Campaign Manager John Podesta tweeted, “Helping working families succeed, building small businesses, tackling climate change & clean energy. Top of the agenda.” (The Clinton campaign later packaged “climate change & clean energy” inside “national security.”) 

The latest CBS News poll indicates Americans remain concerned about jobs and the economy (18 percent) but they are also worried about Islamic terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda (11 percent). 5 percent are concerned about healthcare followed by 4 percent that are concerned about education and the “income gap.” Clinton will have a plan for each of these issues that should be positively received by Democrats and Independents. (Other polls show that Americans are concerned about immigration and Clinton, who embraces the pathway to citizenship, also has a plan for this.) 

There’s continuing concern about Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings. However, Nate Silver noted: “Hillary Clinton is extremely well-known, but her favorability ratings are now only break-even: 46 percent favorable and 45 percent unfavorable. These are nearly identical to President Obama’s ratings, which are 48 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.” Nonetheless, Silver observed that all the announced Republican presidential candidates have “net-negative” ratings; for example, Jeb Bush has 45 percent unfavorable and only 31 percent favorable. (In other words, voters aren’t thrilled with any presidential candidate.) 

The latest Real Clear Politics poll shows that Clinton leads all Republican presidential candidates; her closest challenger is Jeb Bush and Hillary leads Jeb by 7.4 percentage points. 

Of course, most of us remember 2008, when Hillary Clinton appeared to be the inevitable Democratic nominee and then Barack Obama won the race. In 2016, it seems unlikely that Clinton will lose the Democratic nomination. The question is whether she can win the general election. 

In 2012, presidential election exit polls indicated that Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney because he formed a strong coalition of women and racial minorities. He also prevailed among urban voters and those who positively viewed his presidency and the economy. This seems like a formula that will work for Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Hillary Clinton has a populist platform, positive economic winds, and loads of experience. This should be enough to defeat a weak Republican field. Hillary looks to be ready to win. 

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




Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:36:00 PM

The California Senior Legislature is hosting a Senior Rally Day at the State Capitol on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. The theme is “Make seniors a priority in 2015 and beyond—reinvest in the Older Californians Act.” For more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/senior-rally-day. To register, Janice Bailey at 916/552-8056; by email: jbailey@seniorleg.ca.gov.  


In California you must renew your driver’s license every 5 years after reaching age seventy. This includes the written test (sometimes referred to as the legal test) that in the past consisted of a pencil and paper test. Samples of the questions format are at the DMV website and in the manual, available free in numerous languages! At the DMV you may be confronted with a new computerized set-up. You can request a paper and pencil test. My advice is, do so! The DMV where I go is prepared to do this but doesn’t advertise it.  

The ability to drive can be central to a person’s identity as well as an important expression of independence. Think groceries, meds and doctor(s). 

When the elderly become unable to drive, due to age or deteriorating health, their emotional well-being can decline as a result of being unable to maintain social relationships or work schedules involving travel by car.  

Yikes. Dr. Atul Gawande considers very old persons to be the highest-risk drivers on the road. The risk of a fatal car crash with a driver who is 85 or older is more than three times higher than it is with a teenage driver. (Being mortal; Medicine and what matters in the end.) 

On the other hand, Dr. Marian E. Betz of the University of Colorado School of Medicine stresses that, on the whole, older drivers are generally safe drivers and do not pose a menace to the community around them. “Driving is key for mobility and independence, and driving cessation has been linked to depression and even early death…Doctors are often called on to help make decisions about driving, because they understand a person’s medical conditions and medications and how these affect driving,” but many older adults prefer to hear advice from family, friends or driving specialists. She suggests that while there’s no set age when a person becomes unsafe, 65 might be a good target to start routine conversations. (Journal of Injury Prevention, online January 23, 2015.)  

Most of the assumptions often associated with senior citizenship are apparent in this kind of “research.” They include: every senior citizen has a family, a spouse and driver’s license; senior citizens socialize, travel by car, and work or volunteer.  

Many people expect, or hope, that the family doctor will intervene to help take away the car keys from an unsafe older driver, but doctors and clinic staff say these are difficult conversations to have and they need more resources. Comprehensive driving evaluations including both in-office tests and a behind-the-wheel session on the road are available at some VA centers. 


At the end of 2013, approximately 4.24 million licensed drivers in Japan were age 75 or older. The total number of fatal road accidents across Japan has decreased every year, while the proportion caused by drivers aged 75 and older has consistently risen. According to the National Police Agency, the figure climbed from 5.5% in 2003 to 11.9% in 2013. 

Under current Japanese law, a driver’s license is suspended or revoked if the motorist is diagnosed with dementia. Drivers age 75 or older are required to undergo cognitive tests when renewing their driver’s license every three years and are classified into three groups: those suspected of dementia, those with limited cognitive impairment, and those with no signs of cognitive problems. Now a bill aims to toughen dementia checks on elderly Japanese drivers. Under the proposed amendment to the Road Traffic Law, those suspected of having symptoms of dementia would be required to submit a clean bill of health from a physician.  


"Federal nursing home ratings need consumer input," by John Hale (Des Moines [Iowa] Register, March 31, 2015). 

"Though Most Americans Are Wired, Seniors Lack Internet Access In U.S.," by Robert Siegel (US National Public Radio All Things Considered, March 30, 2015).  


Read Tom Hunt’s page 1 news analysis, “Recent Development Misses Berkeley's Real Housing Needs,” in April 4’s Planet. Hunt suggests covering all new housing under rent control and eliminating vacancy decontrol. A data review confirms that developers have built way too much expensive housing and much too little housing for those with moderate and below income(s), like senior citizens: in the last 8 years, 84% of the new housing in Berkeley was for households with greater than $92,566 yearly income.  

New America Media has added "Growing Older, Getting Poorer" to its series. Recent articles about Oakland seniors include: Oakland’s Chinatown Seniors Hope to Age in Place; Nonprofits Help Keep Roofs Over Oakland Elders Heads; Homelessness Growing for Oakland Seniors; Affordable Housing Unaffordable for Many Low-Income Oakland Seniors; and The Toll on Oakland Seniors. All are by Laura McCamy and can be accessed from: 


"In end-of-life debate on Sen(ator). Bill Manning's bill, words matter," by Jason Hoppin (Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 7, 2015). 

"Seniors get in the act with skits to educate about scammers," by Nita Lelyveld (Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2015).  

"2016 election battle over California pensions begins early," by Alexei Koseff (Sacramento Bee, April 10, 2015). 


"Rejecting CalPERS' (California Public Employees' Retirement System) lead, Contra Costa (County) pension board ends spiking opportunities for new employees," by Daniel Borenstein (Contra Costa Times, April 10, 2015). Note: this is a CCT Opinion piece. 

"Hospice volunteers provide end-of-life companionship as more age at home," by Sammy Caiola (Sacramento Bee, April 11, 2015).


Jack Bragen
Friday April 17, 2015 - 12:35:00 PM

In my teens and twenties I was dysfunctional, and didn't have any idea of how to behave around people. It has been a very difficult and lengthy uphill climb for me to attain a scrap of wisdom.  

In my mid-thirties, I began to think a bit more clearly about life, and this improvement continues to the present day. It is hard to know if my hard knocks created my illness, or if my illness created my hard knocks.  

Being ostracized by a large portion of the students where I attended high school may have been a contributing factor to my becoming ill about a year-and-a-half after leaving the school. The verbal taunts, the harassment, and being the butt of people's jokes, were an everyday thing, and I am sure it affected me.  

The argument that mental illness is caused by heredity seems to have a lot of truth to it. Even though there was a lot in my environment that probably contributed toward getting ill, a lot of the things in my environment were created by me.  

Yet, it is not that I brought my problems on myself. I refuse to take the blame for other people's actions toward me. The fact that I didn't stand up for myself enough when young was taken as an invitation to be bullied. I didn't learn how to defend myself until years later, and by then I had already developed mental illness.  

I dislike people who can't compete by proper means and who resort to physical intimidation or assault. I have dealt with numerous people being physically threatening over the past fifty years, because they lacked the brainpower to compete intellectually or the self-value to keep it on a nonviolent level.  

When people feel threatened on a psychological level, they deploy the best weapons they believe they possess. This could be sabotage, fists, intimidation, and behaving spitefully, or it could be words and thought. What about using your brain a little bit, and attempting to come to a peaceful solution to your problems?  

If I could rewrite my past, I would do so. As it is, I am salvaging my life, similarly to someone doing a salvage retention on a car after it is totaled in an accident. The pink slip, in prominent letters, says, "salvaged."  

However, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. My body is relatively healthy and intact, something not everyone can say. I am not going to bed hungry every night. I live in a decent neighborhood in a heated, air-conditioned apartment. I have a wife who has stuck by me, and who provides me with a lot of help. I don't have to work to survive, something about which I am incredibly grateful. I have a writing career--this is something a lot of people would find enviable.  

Things could be a lot worse. I am fifty years old. Many people with my diagnosis, and some without, haven't made it to this age. The mere fact that I haven't had a gigantic "crash-and-burn" (at least, within the last couple of decades) is an accomplishment. 

Do I have sour grapes? Not that much. Do I have lingering resentments? Probably no more than does an average fifty-year-old without a disability.  

Many of the hard knocks I have experienced in life have taught me things. Not everyone with a severe mental illness is able to learn and thus benefit from difficult experiences. Some people may say "poor me" and may blame the world for perceived injustices. Some may pursue revenge. That seems to be the pattern of sociopaths we see in the news who have committed atrocious acts.  

It is important to keep in mind that there are people who have had picket-fence upbringings in which they have had everything they've wanted and needed and haven’t experienced any abuse, who have yet developed bipolar or schizophrenia. While there are others who have had lives far more difficult than mine, who have not developed a mental illness, and who, in fact, have been very successful in their lives.  

Have my hard knocks created my illness or has my illness created my hard knocks? It is a question I may never be able to answer. (And the answer might in fact be "none of the above.") Have I learned something? Yes, I have.

New: ECLECTIC RANT: The Appeal to Replace Archbishop Cordileone

Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday April 21, 2015 - 03:51:00 PM

On April 17, 2015, 100 prominent Roman Catholic donors and church members signed a full-page advertisement in The San francisco Chronicle calling on Pope Francis to replace San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for promoting “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.” The appeal comes after months of dissent over Cordileone’s insistence on traditional, conservative church doctrine, including requesting high school teachers and staffers at Catholic schools to sign a morality clause that characterizes sex outside of marriage and homosexual relations as “gravely evil.” In their open letter to the pope, the letter's signatories argue that his morality-clause requirement is mean-spirited and “sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization.” 

I am not a Roman Catholic, but it is well-known that the Catholic Church is against, among other things, same-sex marriage, abortion, and homosexuality. Archbishop Cordileone is merely enforcing well-established church doctrine albeit in a mean-spirited manner. Pope Francis espouses the same tenets but in a nice, friendly way.  

As a result, everyone loves Pope Francis, but too many loath Archbishop Cordileone. Perhaps the Archbishop needs some lessons in niceness. If members of the Roman Catholic Church do not agree with the tenets of Catholicism and find relevance in an organized religion, perhaps they should look elsewhere for spiritual guidance until the Roman Catholic church changes. But you and I know this is unlikely.

Arts & Events

New: Civic Arts Commission To Discuss 1% for the Arts on Wednesday at 6:30 (Public Comment)

By Linda Franklin, Berkeley resident and member of Berkeley Citizens Action
Monday April 20, 2015 - 03:16:00 PM

Following the example of Oakland, Emeryville, El Cerrito and Palo Alto, Berkeley is preparing to require new development projects designate 1% of their construction budget on public art or pay into the city's public art fund. Public Art funds can be used for sculpture, monument, mural, painting, electronic and media art, video, earth art, installation, performance and social practice art and other artwork. Funds are overseen by the Civic Arts Commission. 

Berkeley already requires government projects to designate 1.5% on public art. For example, the commission is currently considering public art for the Berkeley Downtown BART plaza redesign. They oversaw the call for art proposals for the recent branch library renovations, which resulted in $168,029 spent for civic art, such as the lovely copper and glass mosaics by Gina Dominguez at the South Branch.  

But a recent proposal by Mayor Bates, passed by council, would exempt downtown high-rise development from this new 1% fee for private development! This exemption has been referred to the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, which takes up the matter at 6:30 pm this Wednesday.  

If downtown developers get a pass, this will cost the city millions in lost funding for the arts. For example, the developer has pegged the construction budget for 2211 Harold Way at $120 Million*. Bates’ recommendation would put more than $1.2 Million back in the pockets of developers, at a time when arts organizations across the city are getting squeezed out by rising rents. I’d recommend expanding the definition of art support to including rent for arts organizations. 

Artists and art supporters need to voice their support for public art funding. The Civic Arts Commission meeting is this Wednesday evening at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Workshop B, 1901 Hearst Street. This item will be the first matter addressed. Get your constituencies out to support 1% for the arts. 

Links to the Civic Arts Commission Agenda and a pamphlet on the Public Art Process are listed below 

Agenda for Civic Arts Commission, April 22 

Public Art Process Guide: 


New: 18 Year-Old Rossini’s First Opera: LA CAMBIALE DI MATRIMONIO

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday April 20, 2015 - 03:06:00 PM

On Saturday, April 18, I attended a performance of Rossini’s very first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, which was offered in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in partnership with the San Francisco Opera Center. Miraculously, all the verve, wit, madcap energy, and sparkling musicality that would be the trademark of Gioachino Rossini’s mature operatic output are already abundantly present in this opera-composing debut by the precocious 18 year-old Rossini. La Cambiale di Matrimonio is a one-act, 70-minute piece in the tradition of the Neapolitan farsa. Music Director Nicholas McGegan led the orchestra and singers in a brisk reading of this engaging farce, which enjoyed an uproarious staging by director Ted Huffman. 

The story of how young Rossini got the commission to compose La Cambiale di Matrimonio is so naughtily delicious it’s worth telling here. At age 14 Rossini played cembalo as accompanist at the opera in Sinigalia. One evening, this company’s leading soprano, Adelaide Carpano, who was rumored to be the mistress of company director Marchese Cavalli, launched into a particularly florid bit of improvisation and sang blatantly off key. Young Rossini laughed out loud at this faulty execution. The outraged prima donna complained to Marchese Cavalli, who called Rossini into his office to deliver a stern reprimand. However, the irrepressible lad explained what happened and so hilariously mimicked the offending singing that he sent the impresario into gales of laughter. So taken was Cavalli by young Rossini that he promised to aid him in the lad’s hopes of one day composing operas. Four years later, a mutual friend of Cavalli and Rossini’s family, Maestro Giovanni Morandi, recommended that Cavalli, now heading the Teatro Giustiniani a San Moisè in Venice, turn to 18 year-old Rossini to step into the breach and compose an opera to replace one that another composer had failed to write. The result was La Cambiale di Matrimonio, usually translated as The Marriage Contract, but perhaps rendered more accurately as Marriage by Promissory Note.  

The plot of La Cambiale di Matrimonio involves a London merchant, Tobia Mill, who receives a prepaid order from Mr. Slook, a wealthy Canadian businessman, asking his London associate to supply him with a suitable wife, one with all the carefully enumerated attributes. Tobia Mill decides to fill this order with his own daughter, Fannì, who, unbeknown to her father, has marriage plans of her own which involve a handsome, young but impoverished beau named Edoardo. As the opera gets under way, Tobia Mill, sung by bass Matthew Stump, studies a globe in an attempt to figure out how far Canada is from England. When the letter arrives from Mr. Slook, Tobia Mill declares to his servants Norton and Clarina that he intends to supply his own daughter, Fannì, as the bridal merchandise ordered by Mr. Slook. Norton, sung by bass Anthony Reed, and Clarina, sung by mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, try to dissuade Tobia Mill from this course of action; but Mill is adamant.  

Unaware of her father’s plans, Fannì, beautifully sung by soprano Jacqueline Piccolino, launches a lilting love duet with Edoardo, splendidly sung by tenor Brian Thorsett. In this duet, “Tornami a dir che m’ami” (“Tell me in turn that you love me”), the lovers confide to each other they have not yet told Fannì’s father of their love because the impoverished Edoardo awaits the aid of his rich uncle in winning the approval of Fannì’s father. The servant Norton warns the young lovers of Tobia Mill’s plan to marry his daughter to the soon-arriving Mr. Slook. When Mr. Slook does in fact make his appearance, Rossini, working with a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, pokes sly fun at cross-cultural misapprehensions.  

Left alone with Fannì, Slook, very capably sung by baritone Efraín Solís, finds her altogether satisfactory as the ordered ‘merchandise’. However, Fannì ardently urges Slook to forego the contract and look elsewhere for his ‘merchandise’. Edoardo, who has been introduced by Norton as Tobia Mill’s new accountant, more strenuously tries to dissuade Slook from his intentions regarding Fannì, ultimately threatening to gouge out Slook’s eyes and slice open his veins should he persist. Slook, now afraid for his life, wonders aloud about the strange lack of courtesy among these ‘Europeans,’ who lack the Canadian’s ‘practical American simplicity’. 

Meanwhile, Clarina, liltingly sung by mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, muses aloud her sympathy for Fannì in the aria, “Anch’io son giovane” (“I too am young”). The servant Norton insinuates to Slook that the ‘merchandise’ is already mortgaged; and this perplexes Slook still further. Slook tells Tobia Mill the deal is off. This enrages Mill, who challenges Slook to a duel. Before the duel can take place, however, Slook discovers that Fannì and Edoardo love one another; and he magnanimously signs the promissory note making Edoardo his heir. By this move, Slook hopes to technically fulfill his ‘contract’ by passing on the ‘merchandise’ to young Edoardo. 

Fannì, now seeing her hopes about to be fulfilled, sings the beautiful aria, “Come tacer, come frenere i palpiti” (“How to silence, how to curb the throbbing heart”). As Fannì, Jacqueline Piccolino sang this aria with equal doses of passion and limpid tonality. At first, Tobia Mill balks at Slook’s endorsement of Edoardo. Ultimately, however, he sees the light and approves the marriage of Fannì to Edoardo; and the opera ends on a happy note with a lively sextet involving all the characters. While the plot of La Cambiale di Matrimonio may be preposterous, there is no denying the admirably supple musicality with which the 18 year-old Rossini brings this farce to life. 

The first half of this program, before intermission and La Cambiale di Matrimonio, featured music by Mozart. Instrumental renditions of his contredanses from K. 106 were interspersed with concert arias sung by various young artists from the San Francisco Opera Center. Bass Anthony Reed sang the aria “Per questa bell mano” (“By this lovely hand”), accompanied by double-bassist Kristin Zoernig. 

Soprano Julie Adams sang the aria “Nehmnt meinen Dank” (“Take my thanks”); but her lovely voice was so marred by her poor diction that it wasn’t clear whether she was singing in German or Italian. Finally, baritone Edward Nelson joined together with members of the cast of La Cambiale di Matrimonio in a brisk quartet. On the whole, this first part of the program, while enjoyable, seemed somewhat scattershot, almost as if these pieces were thrown together as filler. The evening might have been more thoroughly satisfying with only the delightful La Cambiale di Matrimonio on the program.

Cheatin': A Psychedelic, Animated Romance with a European Flavor
Opens April 17 at the Elmwood Cinema and San Francisco's Roxie Theater

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Monday April 20, 2015 - 02:51:00 PM

Bill Plympton is not your average animator. Most feature animations these days either involve two-dimensional comic art or faux 3D effects. Plympton is old-school. For his first full-length animation, The Tune (1992), Plympton (like the Walt Disney animators before him) manually inked and colored 30,000 individual sheets of celluloid ("cels") that were then painstakingly photographed one after another to produce the illusion of motion.

But Plympton goes even further then Disney did. He doesn't just animate two-dimensional cartoon figures decked out in primary colors. Plympton animates actual drawings—each frame a sophisticated, nuanced portrait in which the characters are rendered in great detail, including intricately crosshatched shadings of face and form. 

--- ---  


Cheatin' is Plympton's ninth feature film and it comes bedecked with a clutch of film festival awards. (Plympton, who is a two-time Oscar nominee, has also racked up 33 prize-winning short films along with television gigs, music videos and commercial jobs for clients ranging from United Airlines to Geico). 

If you go to see Cheatin' (and I recommend that you do), prepare to see a strange and misshaped world refracted through Plympton's wildly wacky, distorted lens. The alternative universe of Plymptonville is populated by bucktoothed yahoos, muscle-bound pinheads and bodacious-bosomed bimbos—all inflated and twisted into bizarre caricatures of humanity. 

Clearly, a film called Cheatin' would feature a couple of lovers. In this case, we are called to witness the story of Jake and Ella. 

Jake is a gas station pump-jockey who has the neck of the horse, a nose that resembles a bicep, and a face that looks like what you would get if you swapped Botox shots for steroid injections. Jake's arms suffer from Popeye Syndrome—They bulge out at opposite ends of his scrawny elbows like a string of sausages. He's got a manly chest—with pecs of steel—and a rack of abs—confined to an abdomen as thin as a wasp's waist. 

The ladies in Jake's world can't keep their eyes (or hands) off the muscular lug. They are constantly writing their names and phone numbers on little scraps of paper that they slip into his pocket while he's pumping gas into their tanks. (The sexual symbolism in Cheatin' is abiding and overt.) 

Ella is also an eyeful. With her thin waist, long legs, flirty hips, green eyes and strong chin, she's catnip to the men in town (a town that seems strangely devoid of women). And Ella's got a pair of swollen, red lips that are so perfectly puckered they become a character-defining asset. All Ella has to do is walk down the street, her face buried in a book, and every man's eyes are turned on, tuned in and bugging out, following her every move. 

Ella and Jake cross paths in an amusement park when their bumper cars collide. Ella is instantly smitten. Jake's fall comes later after Ella is thrown from her bumper car and faces imminent electrocution from a spreading tide of spilled coffee. (Say what?) Yep, there is an extended—and wildly inventive—rescue scene that involves a set-up that's worthy of stunt from the Mission Impossible franchise. 

When the electricity finally sparks between these two, watch out. Fair warning, kids: In Plympton's Plymptoons, his animated avatars have bodies and they are no strangers to lust. They strip off their clothes, jump into bed, and hump the devil out of those bedsprings. 

The bumper car "meet cute" takes care of "boy meets girl" part of the RomCom equation. Next comes the plot device that rips the romance apart. Jake mistakenly doubts Ella's faithfulness. Ella is unaware of Jake's suspicions until it is too late. There is a rift. Ella is bereft. Jake splits and begins to drown his sorrows in an endless stretch of beddings at the local EZ Motel. 

Ella, in turn, feels the sting of betrayal and plots her revenge. When a hired assassin plan collapses in a series of pratfalls, Ella turns to a techno-magic solution. This comes in the form of a carnival magician and his sometimes misbehaving transmogrifier—a machine capable of turning Ella into each of the vamps and tramps who have been beating a path to Jake's motel room door. 

Eventually these two misguided innocents will be reunited and will reestablish their love in an even more secure state Bedded Bliss. 

Cheatin' boasts a worldly European sensibility. At the same time, it is both a bravura artistic performance and an erotic watershed for the animated genre. 

The unfolding story of the beautifully rendered characters in Plympton's hallucinogenic universe also benefits from a terrific soundtrack. (Did I mention that no words are spoken in this film? While there are lots of emotional exchanges, there are no actual conversations—only exclamations and murmurs, giggles and grunts.) The story bobs along on a sonic tide of music, most of it composed and performed by the multi-talented Nicole Renaud. (One exception: during Ella and Jake's marvelously staged courtship dance, Jake bursts into a rendition of Vesti La Giubba and winds up sounding a lot like Enrico Caruso.) 

Above all, Cheatin' is a singular visual accomplishment—an entertaining immersion that grabs your feet from below the surface and drags you under. Be prepared to hold your breath. 

For more on the movie, see: