The Week

Ex Parte Communication or Just Friends? Councilmember Wengraf chats with Mark Rhoades during last night's Berkeley City Council Meeting
Ex Parte Communication or Just Friends? Councilmember Wengraf chats with Mark Rhoades during last night's Berkeley City Council Meeting


Proposed Framework for Meeting “Significant Community Benefits” Requirement (Municipal Code Section 23E.68.090.E)for Downtown Tall Buildings

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Wednesday May 06, 2015 - 04:00:00 PM

The 2012 Downtown Area Plan and Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 23E.68 (Commercial Downtown Mixed-Use District) permit five buildings of exceptional height (above 75 ft. height limit) in the Downtown area. Three residential buildings are permitted up to 180 feet, with one being a hotel-conference center. And two residential buildings are allowed up to 120 feet in height. In order for the City to approve a project to exceed the 75 foot height limit in the Downtown, the City must find that the project provides “significant community benefits, either directly or by providing funding for such benefits to the satisfaction of the City, beyond what would otherwise be required of the City.” -more-

Flash: BART Track Breaks Cause Commute Delays

Sara Gaiser/Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday May 06, 2015 - 02:17:00 PM

BART officials are holding out hope that repairs to a San Francisco trackway can be completed by 5 p.m. today, but there could be delays of up to an hour during this evening's commute. -more-

New: Connecting the Dots....

C. Denney
Saturday May 02, 2015 - 03:08:00 PM

A concerned group of neighbors met recently about transients in their neighborhood. Their concerns were real; primarily safety and health issues. But people were puzzled when subsequently urged to speak up for "community benefits" requirements for developers. What's the connection, one of them wondered.

Our current crop of politicians and developers who fund them love this disconnection. They need to keep the perplexing dilemma of how to address people camping in local parks and open spaces as far away as possible from story of Berkeley's systematic destruction of single room occupancy hotels, boarding houses, and low income housing, once plentiful in Berkeley, where low-income travelers used to be able to find short-term shelter. -more-

New: Affordable Housing and the View from the Campanile: Response to Comments from Berkeley Mayor (Public Comment)

Steven Finacom
Saturday May 02, 2015 - 10:38:00 AM

Opposition continues to grow to the 2211 Harold Way mega-development proposed for Downtown Berkeley. The luxury apartment / condo tower would be Berkeley’s biggest private building ever as well as—at 194 feet—the tallest private building ever constructed in Berkeley, and the second tallest overall after the Campanile.

Part of that huge bulk and height would block a significant portion of the historic view down Campanile Way on the UC Berkeley campus towards the Golden Gate.

This view corridor—established in 1873 and formalized with the construction of the Sather Campanile one hundred years ago—was oriented to connect the campus to the Golden Gate, San Francisco Bay, and Alcatraz Island. It is also the last place on the Berkeley campus where the Bay and the Golden Gate can be seen from ground level.

Alexandra Smith, a Cal student, recently started an online petition to protest the loss of the view. In barely a week the petition now has nearly 3,000 signatures, and many of those signing have added moving comments about what the view has meant to them.

April 30, Channel 5 / KPIX ran a story on the Campanile Way controversy. In that story, this is what Mayor Tom Bates says when asked about preserving the view. Appropriately, the Mayor appears to be standing in front of a big construction site.

"I think it's an important 'Way' but I don't think you necessarily need to see the Golden Gate Bridge. We need to have some Downtown affordable housing built so it's a trade off."

This reasoning doesn’t make any sense. -more-



Pie in the Sky on Tuesday's Berkeley City Council Menu

Becky O'Malley
Friday May 01, 2015 - 10:46:00 AM

On next Tuesday the Berkeley City Council promises to devote two hours to considering what might constitute enough “significant community benefits” to justify demolishing parts of a couple of historic buildings downtown in order to permit L.A. financier Joseph Penner to squeeze maximal profit out of his fortuitious acquisition of the site, now the home of Landmark Shattuck Cinemas and the Habitot children's center.

Penner's company, with the aid of local fixer Mark Rhoades, is asking for variances sufficient to allow construction of almost a full block’s worth of luxury apartment, 18 stories tall, to lure new wealthy residents to Berkeley. -more-

The Editor's Back Fence

The Berkeley City Council Finally Wonders What They Meant by "Significant Community Benefits"

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday May 06, 2015 - 11:42:00 AM

Last night the Berkeley City Council devoted more than two hours to listening to residents speculate on what "significant community benefits" must be provided by the lucky winners of the up-zoning variances which might be granted for a smallish number of extra-tall buildings downtown.

The distinction between mitigating detriments which such buildings create and providing new and better stuff for Berkeleyans was frequently blurred: For example the very popular children's center Habitot, which would be demolished to make way for luxury apartments marketed as the “Residences at Berkeley Plaza" (RatBP), appealed for a $250,000 "benefit" as compensation for an expected $3,000,000 cost of replacement. Of the 87 people who spoke, perhaps 5 showed any real enthusiasm for the kind of projects under discussion. RatBP proponent (and ex-planner for the city of Berkeley) Mark Rhoades didn't say anything at the mike, but chatted with a couple of supporters in a back corner and at least one councilmember in the hall.

After the public comment period the councilmembers spent a half-hour discussing options. Councilmember Jesse Arreguin presented a full-blown roadmap for defining significant community benefits, complete with flow chart, which was praised by Councilmember Worthington as better than work the council usually gets from staff. Worthington pointed out that the Council was not obliged to approve the first buildings which vied for the extra stories.

Worthington emphasized the need for accurate financial information from the developer, verified by an independent consultant, since benefits by law must be proportional to the cost of the building. His own ballpark estimate was "tens of millions" to be spent for the public good, at least.

Max Anderson had stressed the same need at an earlier meeting. Last night he delivered one of his signature populist exhortations, highlighting his discomfort with the fact that men formerly employed by the city to make the zoning rules [Rhoades and Matt Taecker, who is promoting a hotel downtown and was present last night] were now trying to exploit those same rules on behalf of paying clients. He compared the situation to the often criticized "revolving door" in Washington. -more-

Public Comment

Affordable Housing? Affordable for whom?

Steve Martinot
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:00:00 PM

The issue of affordable housing is looming again, because the issue of development, as "required" by Plan Bay Area, is looming. And when certain people talk about development, “affordable housing” is mentioned, most often as a paliative. The city says that we have to have development, high-rise buildings, and new apartments and condos, but it's okay because there will be affordable housing units included.

We know that the developers are coming. They will be building all over town, mostly along the major transit corridors, like San Pablo Ave. and Adeline. In some circles, however, when “affordable housing” is mentioned, eyes roll and one hears guffaws in the background.

Yet it is a beautiful concept. Suppose no one had to pay more than 25% (for instance) of their income for rent. For whom would that be a problem?

In reality, 40% of “low income” families pay more than 50% of their income for rent in this city. According to The Bay Citizen, Berkeley has the largest gap between rich and poor in the Bay Area, and 10 percent of households make less than $10,000 a year. That’s a bigger problem than a slogan about affordability can cover. -more-

Freddie Gray

Tejinder Uberoi
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:04:00 PM

More than two weeks have passed since the murder of Freddie Gray by the Baltimore police. The basic questions have been ignored by a purposeful delay hoping passions will subside and the guilty will escape punishment. Why was such overwhelming force used to subdue Gray and why was 80% of his spine severed and his voice box crushed after 45 minutes? Why was medical help withheld ignoring Gray’s desperate cries for help? To defend such savage police behavior is not an act of loyalty but one of utter betrayal where the ‘rotten apples’ besmirch the reputation of the entire police force. Sadly, a culture of impunity exists between police departments and prosecutors; an independent body must be appointed to bring Gray’s killers to justice. If the killers escape punishment, black rage will likely engulf the city in a frenzy of uncontrollable violence. -more-

Israel’s growing isolation

Jagjit Singh
Saturday May 09, 2015 - 01:24:00 PM

Israel has elected the most right wing government in its history. This will surely accelerate the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The decades of peace efforts have been tossed into the dustbin of history. The government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, rejected Palestinian statehood. His key ally, Jewish Home, openly advocates creating South African style, Palestinian Bantustans, which is sure to accelerate its global isolation and put it on a collision course with the United States. -more-

Charter Schools

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday May 09, 2015 - 01:25:00 PM

The Center for Media and Democracy has recently issued a new report, "New Documents Show How Taxpayer Money Is Wasted by Charter Schools,” alleging that the federal government has spent more than a $3 billion over the past two decades on charter schools, without showing any conclusive evidence that they offer a superior education than that offered by local school districts. -more-

May Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Saturday May 02, 2015 - 03:58:00 PM

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

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

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

Politics and its effect on the poor and voiceless

Romila Khanna
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:44:00 PM

What has happened to our mind-set? Why do we sit quietly and watch the political games going on in Washington? Do we no longer believe we can revive our dying democracy? Have we given up on the power of our own unity? Why did we allow money power to break the unity among poor, needy and lower middle class people? Why did we start believing in the advertisements and propaganda of those who have money to throw on elections? -more-


Tejinder Uberoi
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:17:00 PM

Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemini insurgents has caused horrific civilian casualties. They have embarked on a military adventure that has created greater instability and violence that has weakened Yemen beyond repair and may very well boomerang upon the kingdom itself. Oblivious of the unfolding mayhem, billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, offered to donate 100 Bentley cars to the fighter pilots participating in the campaign. Claims that their air campaign achieved their goals rings hollow given that the insurgent Houthis advance has not been slowed down. -more-

Junipero Serra's Canonization

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday May 09, 2015 - 01:26:00 PM

The Vatican's saint-making office -- the Congregation for the Causes of Saints -- has officially approved the Reverand Junipero Serra, the controversial 18th-century missionary, for sainthood. Pope Francis will canonize him during his upcoming visit to the United States. -more-


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Depression of Middle-Aged and Older Men

Jack Bragen
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:41:00 PM

In observing the world as anyone may do, to me it is clear that a lot of ordinary men, including those not afflicted with a mental illness, when older become easily irritated, angry and in a bad mood. This is how many men show depression. Depressive symptoms in men may include grumpiness, irritability, and moodiness, sometimes to a point of being abusive. -more-

THE PUBLIC EYE: Vote No On Armageddon

Bob Burnett
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:01:00 PM

A recent Bloomberg poll noted a disturbing political fact: Republicans are willing to support Israel even when its objectives diverge from those of the US. This ominous stance is a consequence of the fundamentalist Christian leanings of the GOP. Many Republicans blindly support Israel because they are praying for Armageddon.

The Bloomberg poll examined the deep political divide surrounding US policy on Israel and Iran. The poll asked: “When it comes to relations between the US and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?” 47 percent of respondents chose, “Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them.” However, 45 percent chose, “Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge.”

Whether or not to offer Israel unquestioning support was split along Party lines. 67 percent of Republicans said we should support Israel even when we disagree with them. 64 percent of Democrats said we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with Israel.

While the Bloomberg poll question may appear theoretical, it’s based upon the reality that Israel’s interests are not always in sync with those of the US. -more-

ECLETIC RANT: Time for Barry Bonds to Come Clean

Ralph E. Stone
Friday May 01, 2015 - 11:40:00 AM

Barry Bonds -- baseball's home run king and steroid user -- had his conviction overturned by the appeals court, who ruled that his evasive answer as to whether Greg Anderson of BALCO gave him performance-enhancing drugs was not perjury. (The prosecutors are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.) Before the San Francisco Giants even consider bringing Bonds back in any capacity, I would expect them to require Bonds to confess to knowingly using steroids. Remember, Mark McGuire and Alex Rodriguez confessed to using steroids. -more-

Arts & Events

New: West Edge Opera’s Concert Version of Verdi’s I DUE FOSCARI

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday May 05, 2015 - 01:41:00 PM

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I due Foscari (The Two Foscaris) occupies a strange and unique place in my opera-going experience. It is – or was until yesterday – the only opera I once saw but never heard. In 2012, I attended a Los Angeles Opera performance of I due Foscari starring Placido Domingo in the baritone role of Doge Francesco Foscari. However, I had been swimming earlier in the day with my granddaughters at a Pasadena swimming pool, and my ears had become plugged so badly I couldn’t hear much at all. So when I attended I due Foscari that evening, the only voice I could faintly hear was that of soprano Marina Poplavskaya, who sang the role of Jacopo Foscari’s wife, Lucrezia; and she sounded to me as if she were miles away. All other voices went largely unheard. This was a huge disappointment to me, for this was my first opportunity to hear the rarely performed I due Foscari; and I wondered if I would ever get a second chance. -more-

Theater Reviews: 'Death of a Salesman' and a Kathakali Performance

Ken Bullock
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:38:00 PM

Two shows worthy of note in Bay Area theater played--and one, 'Death of a Salesman', continues to play this weekend--in San Jose' recently, plays (and theater companies) from opposite ends of the world, of different eras and cultures and in very different styles of performance: the Arthur Miller classic at San Jose' Stage Company and 'Kalyana Souganthikam,' a Kathakali play written by Kottayom Tampuram (1645-1716) in South India, based on the Mahabharata and performed in the unique physical and musical style of Kathakali. -more-

John Eliot Gardiner Conducts Monteverdi’s ORFEO

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:06:00 PM

On Monday evening, April 27, John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir gave their only performance at Davies Hall of Claudio Monteverdi’s epochal opera L’Orfeo, favola in musica. This seminal work, first performed at the Gonzaga court in Mantua in 1607, won for Monteverdi the sobriquet “the father of opera.” While his Orfeo was not totally unprecedented, having been preceded by several works by the Florentine Camerata, whose composers Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini attempted a hypothetical approximation of ancient Greek music-drama, Monteverdi’s Orfeo none the less set opera on its future course by giving infinitely expressive voice to gli affeti (the affections or emotions). With Orfeo, Monteverdi achieved a dramatic unity of text and music, in which emotional “key” words expressing the joy and anguish of lovers, anger, despair, etc., were both clearly enunciated in the declamatory singing and given heightened emphasis in the melodic structure of the music, thereby creating a “passionate musical speech.” -more-

Press Release: Lecture: C. Hawthorne on Preservation at the City Club

From Sharon Entwhistle
Thursday April 30, 2015 - 03:19:00 PM

Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, will discuss how the preservation movement in California has become slow and reactive and how it can get back ahead of the curve of public taste. Featuring case studies including a guesthouse by Julia Morgan on the Hearst/Davies beachfront estate. Presented by the Berkeley City Club Conservancy, Thursday, May 21st, 7:30. -more-