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New: Berkeley Should Halt Building Approvals Until Disaster is Understood: A letter to the Mayor and Councilmembers (Public Comment)

Michael Katz
Sunday June 21, 2015 - 04:03:00 AM

Nothing can undo the June 16 tragedy at 2020 Kittredge Street. But, writing as a Berkeley resident, I urge you to support a moratorium approving any further large residential or hotel developments until the City can determine exactly how this disaster happened -- and more importantly, how to ensure that such structural failures never happen again. 

People from Berkeley to Ireland want to know why City officials didn't have, or didn't exercise, any oversight over the selection of Library Gardens' lead contractor -- a regional builder notoriously plagued by lawsuits over poor construction quality. 

People want to know why City officials still have no process for ongoing, post-construction inspection of large buildings for gradual deterioration like dry rot. As we learned on June 16, such post-construction flaws and maintenance lapses can be fatal. 

Nothing can bring back the six lives that were lost on June 16. We can hope that the seven severely injured survivors will recover, and will be whole again. But the damage to our city's national and international reputation may be permanent. 

What seems certain, given the killing or maiming of thirteen very young lives full of promise, is that there will be extremely aggressive litigation against all parties involved in the creation, approval, and management of Library Gardens -- including the City. 

So it would seem foolhardy to fast-track the approval of any more large housing or hotel developments now. To do so without a full analysis of the 2020 Kittredge tragedy -- and without a clearly designed, fundamental reform of the City's approval and inspection process -- would be to expose Berkeley taxpayers to massively increased liability. 

As someone who lives in Berkeley, pays taxes, and depends on City services, I choose not to be on the hook for such expanded liability. I ask you, as my elected representatives, to protect all Berkeley residents against this risk. 

Thank you for considering this plea to declare a moratorium on approval of any further multi-story buildings, until we can reform procedures to ensure that all new buildings are built to the highest standards, and are absolutely safe to occupy.

Bodies of Victims in Berkeley Balcony Collapse Flown to Ireland

Daniel Montes (BCN)
Sunday June 21, 2015 - 03:10:00 PM

The remains of four of the five Irish nationals who died when a balcony collapsed in Berekeley Tuesday were flown to Ireland Saturday, according to the Irish Consulate of San Francisco. 

The consulate issued a statement Saturday on behalf of the families of victims Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh, who were all Irish nationals, according to the Irish Consulate. 

Those five victims were here in the U.S. on J-1 visas, which allows visitors to participate in work and study-based exchange programs. 

"We would like to thank everyone in America and Ireland for their sympathy and support, which has been a tremendous comfort to us at this tragic time," the Irish Consulate said in the statement. 

Seven people who were injured in the collapse remained in the hospital on Saturday, according to the consulate. 

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office released a statement Thursday regarding the sole American victim in the balcony collapse.  

Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, had been working as a forensic assistant intern for the sheriff's office's coroner department for the past 8 months, according to sheriff's officials. 

Sheriff Steve Freitas expressed his "deepest condolences to the family and friends" of Donohoe in the statement, adding, "She will be missed greatly." 

At 12:41 a.m. on Tuesday, police received reports of the balcony collapse at an apartment complex located at 2020 Kittredge St. 

Investigators believe the cause of the collapse may have been because of water damage to the wood that supports the balcony, however they are have not confirmed the theory and are still investigating.

Open Letter to the Berkeley City Counci: Proposed Significant Community Benefits for Large Downtown Buildings Are Inadequate

Kate Harrison and James Hendry
Wednesday June 17, 2015 - 10:22:00 AM

We strongly urge you to strengthen the city’s requirements that developers provide “significant community benefits” in exchange for the right to construct buildings above normal height limits in Downtown. The current proposal on the Council’s June 25th agenda for a payment of a flat fee is woefully inadequate based on the City’s own economic assessment performed as part of the Downtown Plan. Further, these projects should mitigate the loss of onsite non-profit and cultural amenities and insure the payment of existing mitigation fees (e.g., for housing and art) that are required of all Berkeley development, before the significant community benefits formula is applied. 

Assessing Reasonable Community Benefits 

In 2011, Berkeley retained AECOM to determine the amount of feasible significant community benefits from the three 180 foot buildings allowed under the Downtown Plan. The consultants used as their model a 17-story (272 unit) project located directly across the street from the proposed Harold Way project. AECOM concluded that the hypothetical project could feasibly support $33,000 in community benefits per unit – nearly $10 million -- PLUS meeting a 20% affordable housing ownership requirement equal to $14.6 million (see Attachment 1).[1] This combined total of $24.6 million should be adjusted – at a minimum -- to reflect rent increases for new apartments of 34% since 2011, compared to increases in construction costs of only 8.5%. Using these figures, the $24.6 million in today’s dollars equals $31 million. This is a conservative figure as the hypothetical project was less profitable (smaller than and with only half the retail of Harold Way, lower unit rents[2] and with no theaters) and provided more parking, the cost of which the developer has been able to forgo. With financing, the developer can recoup these costs over a 20- to 30-year period. 

The Flat Square Footage Fee Proposal Before the Council Is Insufficient 

The proposal before the council to assess community benefits based on a flat fee per square foot[3] would provide for about $14 million in community benefits (see Attachment 2), less than half of the benefits estimated above. Benefit payments would then be reduced by $6.5 million[4] for having a project labor agreement, reducing available fees to somewhere around $8 million. This reduction would occur even though the developer had already included the cost of the PLA in the project’s total cost of $130 million and entered into a PLA prior to claiming it as a significant community benefit. Since the proposal further allows some portion of the benefits to be credited toward arts and cultural activities, very little funding would remain for significant community benefits. 

Estimating Profits  

Concern has been raised that assessing greater community benefits would cut significantly into profits and deter development. In fact, for Harold Way alone, the first project that would be subject to the community benefits requirement, revenues in excess of construction costs appear to approximate $151.5 million over a twenty-year period. The developer cites project costs[5] of $130 million. The developer estimates that the project will garner $14.7 million in revenue[6] during the first year of operation. Assuming a modest 5% annual rent increase, the project will generate an estimated value in today’s dollars of $281.5 million during its first twenty years. Additionally, similar to anyone purchasing a house, long-term financing (such as a mortgage or other partnership arrangement) will spread these costs over a 20 to 30 year period. HSR Berkeley, the developer of Harold Way, itself cites a return on its total real estate investments of 30%,[7] demonstrating that significant community benefits can be provided while still allowing substantial profits to the developer and/or subsequent owner. 

Not all of the figures needed to perform an economic analysis of the projects downtown are available to the public. As stewards of our public resources, the Council should require a pro forma and/or net present value economic analysis for each proposed large project that exceeds usual heights. Berkeley used a pro forma analysis to evaluate the recent Stonefire project. The developer of Harold Way stated that it anticipated independent verification of its claimed community benefits in its initial submission to ZAB on significant community benefits in October, 2014. 

The Downtown Plan envisioned a trade-off or approving taller buildings in exchange for significant community benefits to achieve the Plan’s goals of affordable housing, green buildings, provision of open space and transportation enhancements. Approving the buildings without ensuring that Berkeley receives the corresponding benefits is not what voters supported when they approved the original Measure R and trusted the council to make decisions that benefit the community at large. 

[1] Using Berkeley’s current formula for calculating affordable ownership unit in-lieu fees.  


[2] In fact, Harold Way Project developers assume studio apartment rents of approximately $3,100 month, more than 60% higher than the $1,800 month rent used in the AECOM study.  


[3] $100 per square foot for floors above 75 feet and $150 per square foot for floors above 120 feet.  


[4] 5% of construction costs estimated by the developer. AECOM estimated these costs at closer to 2.5%.  


[5] Including the cost of constructing six theaters and a project labor agreement.  


[6] Residential, parking, commercial and theater spaces.  


[7] http://developers.injunct.com/leggmason/contact_joe_p.php.  


Open Letter to the New York Times Regarding Coverage of Death of Irish Students (Public Comment)

Sean Barry, Dublin, Ireland
Wednesday June 17, 2015 - 09:25:00 AM

To: the Public Editor of the New York Times

Re: "Deaths of Irish Students in Berkeley Balcony Collapse Cast Pall on Program"

Shame on you NYT to use the appalling and tragic loss of life of 6 young people to "sell" an article on past issues just as the parents of the dead arrived in the USA. This is gutter journalism at its lowest using drunken Paddy stereotype to apportion blame to dead students and is something you would have expected of a supermarket tabloid or "red top" rag. I hope your "journalists" Adam Nagourney, Mitch Smith and Quentin Hardy are proud of themselves. An apology on the crassness of your “story” is the least you can do.



Were Shoddy Construction and Inspection Practices Responsible for Library Gardens Tragedy? (Public Comment)

John Bear
Wednesday June 17, 2015 - 12:32:00 AM

I am a citizen of Berkeley, CA, and outraged by what happened at Library Gardens. Although it is premature to speak in any certain way about the causes of this tragedy, one possible contributing cause may be shoddy construction and inspection practices that may have been ignored or possibly condoned during the construction and development boom that been taking place in the City of Berkeley over the past two decades. 

When I say “condoned,” I am making an inference from allegations of corruption made by various local media against various Berkeley City officials for their collusion with developers. These allegations center largely upon City inspectors who appear to have compromised their duties to provide fair, thorough, and impartial execution of their health and safety mandates. For example, in the years before and after 2006, when Library Gardens was constructed, there were numerous allegations and accounts in various local newspapers of predatory fire inspections and zoning enforcements by agents of the City, most frequently inspectors from the Berkeley Fire Department (BFD), of commercially desirable real estate on behalf of local developers. 

Particular attention focused on the developer Ali Kashani, who appeared to be working with Berkeley’s then planning chief, Mark Rhoades, who became Kashani’s partner immediately after being forced out of office by the public uproar created by the journalistic coverage of his apparent corruption. Public attention in the Rhoades-Kashani case focused on a pattern of predatory fire inspections upon commercial valuable locations sought by Mr. Kashani: in particular, the Drayage Building, Berkeley Iceland, and the Ghosh properties. There are doubtless others. More information is available at developmentshark.com, a website that has compiled links to much of this journalism and is devoted to exposing corrupt development practices in Berkeley. Needless to say, there is a great deal of antidevelopment sentiment in Berkeley. 

The question that now arises with the Library Gardens tragedy concerns the integrity of the building code inspection process in Berkeley: particularly, whether the predation by building safety inspectors on behalf of development interests turned into laxity when these same developers were engaged in their own construction projects. Hopefully there will be a thorough reexamination of the Library Garden’s construction practices. If dry rot on the balcony is determined to be the only problem at Library Gardens, then this may be an isolated failure of the inspection process. If the problem is found to be more systemic, then Library Gardens may be only the tip of a much larger iceberg. 

Berkeley Gardens was not a Kashani project. However, this does not mean that it did not benefit from a similar development climate. Mark Rhoades appears to have been part of a cabal of Berkeley City Officials in the fire, building, and zoning departments, possibly in conjunction with the City Attorney, Manuela Albuquerque, before she too was forced from office. However the practices appear to have continued and the cabal still seems to be operating with the blessing of Mayor Tom Bates, who might be characterized as a “small-town Rahm Immanuel.” His predecessor, Mayor Shirley Dean, may be interested in discussing these matters with you. She is certainly much more capable than I am to discuss the substance of these issues. A particularly good place to start any investigation into these matters would be the Berkeley Daily Planet. This publication and its editor, Becky O’Malley, have provided the most detailed coverage of these matters over the years, and I believe their entire archives are on line. 

It goes without saying that this catastrophe should not have happened. However, if what did happen happened as a consequence of larger pattern of negligence or corruption, then we should not restrict our investigations of dry rot to faulty maintenance. We should also be looking to follow this rot all the way to the top of the politics that permitted it.

What Happened to Cause Berkeley's Library Gardens Disaster? (Public Comment)

Carrie Olson
Wednesday June 17, 2015 - 12:22:00 AM

The unthinkable has happened. And six young people have died. And seven more are in the hospital in serious or critical condition. And our hearts go out to all those who have been affected.

A balcony has fallen in our busy downtown. How in the world does a balcony on a building less than 10 years old catastrophically fail?

There will be months, years of investigation, theories, finger pointing, lawsuits. But for now, I want to vent.

For years, many of us have been raising flags about the buildings going up in Berkeley – their design, their mass, their proximity to little houses, their height, their construction, their noise, their unaffordability and their use. And we are scoffed at and trivialized. And that is OK, we have developed thick skins. But there is truth in what we say.

It is time to slow this down, and take a look at all large multi-unit buildings constructed in the past 15 years of the building boom, and examine them for possible safety concerns. 

This balcony was constructed of wood, cantilevered out from the apartment building about 4 feet. Yes, a balcony can only hold so much load. From the pictures, the wood where it cracked off the wood appears rotten. If so, rotten wood holds no load. But there will be an investigation. We will know for sure. 

These days, the standard large building along Berkeley’s streets is constructed of 4 or 5 stories of wood over a floor of concrete. Taller buildings (like Gaia) are required by state building code to have another material instead. Gaia is concrete, some are steel. Wood construction is fine under the California Uniform Building code up to 6 stories. But water must be abated – it is a must to slant to any balcony or deck surface and provide a way to catch the water, and add a protective covering in between the decking and the support beams. Protective coverings have gotten very durable in recent decades. But there will be an investigation. We will know for sure. 

Should those city officials who brought us this building have known something could go wrong? I was on commissions at the time that this project moved through the citizen process, but there is not a commission that looks at potential safety concerns. Luckily, there is a City of Berkeley Plan Check process, and for a project this large, we can assume that would have been very thorough. But there will be an investigation. We will know for sure. 

But this project was anything but usual. The developer appealed his own project twice, first to reduce the number of required parking spaces, and then to relieve himself of providing affordable housing in perpetuity as part of the approved project. This last step added 2 ½ years to his project timeline. At the time, Councilmember Dona Spring said “This really creates bad faith with the community, to try to sneak out of the affordable housing requirements, it really puts TransAction in a bad light.” 

These are some of the people we will see asked the hard questions as this process unfolds because we know there will be an investigation. 

· John DeClercq, developer along with his firm TransAction Companies, downtown property owner, Ex-CEO of the Chamber of Commerce 

· Mayor Tom Bates, City of Berkeley 

· The 2004 City Council, who were the final approvers for this project 

· Carol Barrett , City of Berkeley Planning Director when the project first was approved in late 2001 

· Dan Marks, City of Berkeley Planning Director when it moved through the appeals process in early 2004 

· Mark Rhoades, City of Berkeley Current Planning Director through 2007 

· Joan MacQuarrie, City of Berkeley Building Official through 2012 

We will know for sure what happened last night, but we also need to know this will never happen again. 

Carrie Olson has been appointed to several Berkeley boards and commissions.

Updated: Irish Community in Shock at Berkeley Balcony Collapse

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday June 16, 2015 - 11:21:00 PM

Nearly everyone in Ireland is affected by the deaths of six people, including five from Ireland, in the collapse of a balcony at an apartment complex in downtown Berkeley early this morning, an Irish consulate official said. 

Speaking at a news conference outside Berkeley City Hall, Philip Grant, the consul general of Ireland for the Western U.S., said, "Very few of us are untouched" and "very few of us wouldn't know someone" who was killed or injured in the incident at 12:41 a.m. at the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. 

In addition to the six people who were killed, seven people were injured and are being treated at three different hospitals in the Bay Area. 

Grant said the Irish victims were all young and were in the U.S. on a J-1 visa, which allows visitors to participate in work and study-based exchange programs. 

"Thousands of students come to the U.S. for this program every summer and it's a wonderful opportunity at a great time in their lives and is a formative experience. To have this happen at the start of the summer has left us frozen in shock and disbelief," he said. 

Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said one of the victims, 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe of Rohnert Park, was from the Bay Area and the other five were from Ireland. 

Nelson identified the Irish victims as Olivia Burke, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, Niccolai Schuster, 21, Lorcan Miller, 21, and Eimear Walsh, 21. 

Nelson said all six victims died of multiple blunt traumatic injuries consistent with a fall from about 40 feet. 

Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan said the youths were attending a party at Unit 405 on the fourth floor at the building. 

Meehan said police received a call at 12:02 a.m. complaining about noise at the building but police didn't respond because another call came in four minutes later reporting a shooting in South Berkeley and that was a higher priority for police. 

Police responded in two minutes when the balcony collapse was reported, Meehan said. 

As of this afternoon, there's no indication that foul play or any criminal activity led to the collapse of the balcony, he said. 

Berkeley city spokesman Matthai Chakko said the Library Gardens complex, which is next to the Berkeley City Library, was built between 2005 and 2007 and the final inspection before it opened was conducted in January 2007. He said additional inspections have been conducted there as improvements have been made. 

The building's owner is BlackRock, a New York-based investment firm, Chakko said. 

Three other balconies at the complex have been red-tagged, prohibiting access to them, according to Chakko. 

The city has ordered BlackRock to immediately remove the failed balcony and perform a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours, he said. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said, "We are awestruck by this horrible tragedy and our thoughts go out to everyone who has been affected by this." 

He said, "It's a dark, dark day." 

Bates also said the balcony collapse is "a wake-up call" for the city to make sure that large number of housing units being constructed in downtown Berkeley are built safely. 

"There are 13 buildings now under construction and we will inspect them to make sure they're safe." 

Grant said family members of the students who were killed or injured will begin arriving in the Bay Area tonight but he asked the news media to respect their privacy. 

"Our hearts are breaking but it's so good to know that so many people are standing with us," Grant said. 

He said, "We are overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received, particularly from the Irish community in the Bay Area."

Flash: Coroner Confirms Sixth Death in Berkeley Balcony Collapse

Dan McMenamin
Tuesday June 16, 2015 - 10:59:00 AM

The Alameda County coroner's bureau has confirmed a sixth person has died as a result of a balcony collapse at an apartment complex in Berkeley early this morning. 

Berkeley police received a report of the incident at 12:41 a.m. at 2020 Kittredge St., the location of the Library Gardens apartment complex. Along with the six people who died, seven others were injured in the collapse, police said. 

Among the dead were a number of Irish citizens, according to Ireland foreign affairs officials. 

Charlies Flanagan, Ireland's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, confirmed in a statement that "a number of young Irish citizens have lost their lives while a number of others have been seriously injured following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley." 

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling accident," Flanagan said. 

He said Ireland's consul general in San Francisco is working with the local authorities and will be providing assistance to affected Irish citizens. 

Police are working with city building inspectors to figure out what caused the collapse, Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said. 

Employees at Library Gardens did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the incident this morning.

Trade Bill Loses--Barbara Lee Voted No

Friday June 12, 2015 - 12:18:00 PM

Berkeley's congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Lee (D) joined other house liberals in voting no in Congress's vote on whether or not to “Fast Track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

Before the vote, she said in a letter to the Planet:

"I support fair, open and transparent trade. Unfortunately, Fast Track will not get us there. The Trans-Pacific Partnership gives wealthy corporations even more power, while outsourcing middle class American jobs. It threatens our environment and it puts the food we eat at risk.

To make matters even worse, Fast Track subverts Congressional authority and prevents Congress from providing substantive input on the deal.

I cannot support a bill that endangers American jobs, undermines human rights and threatens food safety. That’s why I’m voting no on Fast Track for the TPP.

To learn more about my work to defeat Fast Track, you can read my press release here or watch this speech I gave on the House floor."

Berkeley Landlords Form Political Action Committee to Raise Half Million per Year

Thursday June 11, 2015 - 02:45:00 PM

Editor's Note: The announcement below was forwarded to the Planet in an email:


A group of Berkeley property owners, with the support of and in association with the Berkeley Property Owners Association, is forming a new organization ­ ­­­- the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition (BRHC) - that will advance the interests of rental property owners through a political action committee (PAC) and legal defense fund.

The BRHC, which will be the subject of a special issue of the BPOA Newsletter later this month, will raise funds to take political and legal steps that will proactively address imbalances in public policies impacting rental housing providers and the rental housing market in Berkeley.

The founding members have committed themselves to support the BRHC in amounts equal to what we pay to the Rent Board, so long as we raise collectively a minimum of $500,000 per year. While the Rent Board uses our money to undermine our rights, the BRHC will use its funds to fight for our rights, bringing balance to matters that have been far out of balance for far too long. 

A key step in forming the BRHC will be hiring an Executive Director. We are seeking someone with significant political, organizational, and technical skills who has the energy and vision to make this project a success. A job description is attached to this email and copied below. If you or somebody you know would be interested in the position, please let us know. We hope to have the Executive Director on board and working by mid-July, 2015. Sooner would be better. 

It is time for us to take a stand together. Whether you have 2 units or 200, we hope you will join us in this historic effort. And do let us know if you are or know of a candidate for the executive director position. 

BRHC Organizing Committee: Sam Sorokin, Sid Lakireddy, Jon Vicars, Michael St. John, Venkata Vemireddy, Albert Sukoff, Judy Shaw, Laksh Lakireddy, Franco Reggi, Bob Richerson, Richard Genirberg. 


Berkeley property owners are seeking a skilled individual to serve as the executive director of a political action committee / legal defense fund to protect and advance the interests of rental housing providers in Berkeley's complex legal and political environment. The Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition (BRHC) will be associated with, but separate from, the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA). 

The successful applicant will be self-motivated, creative, and capable of organizing a multi-faceted political advocacy and legal defense program. He or she will have experience and skills in fundraising, lobbying, and budget management. The ideal candidate is familiar with Berkeley's political environment and has existing contacts within Berkeley's rental housing community. He or she will have organized other complex projects and will be able to "hit the ground running" with this project. He or she will communicate clearly and effectively in writing, in conversation, and in public forums. A background in real estate, property management, the law, or politics would be appropriate. The applicant should be able to relate well to the board of directors, providing information for the board to use in its deliberations, communicating comfortably with individual members of the board, and following the board's directions effectively . We offer a highly competitive salary and benefits package commensurate with experience. The position calls for a substantial time commitment during the start-up phase of the Coalition, but we envision that the position might shift to part time when the organization is up and running, allowing applicants with other interests, responsibilities, and time-commitments to apply. Contact us at brhc@bpoa.org with suggestions, possibilities, or expressions of interest.

New: Berkeley's Redwood Gardens Connects with National Association of HUD Tenants

Lydia Gans
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:03:00 AM

Residents at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley, a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) project for low income seniors and people with disabilities, are experiencing increasing dissatisfaction with the project management company, Cooperative Service Inc (CSI). Redwood Gardens is a complex of 169 apartments, gardens and meeting spaces located at 2951 Derby. It was originally established as a co-op but that is no longer its status. Management makes decisions and takes action without seeking input from the residents. Complaints, questions, requests are often simply ignored. There have been long delays in correcting hazardous conditions and ADA violations, as well as security threats and disregard for the health and welfare of those who are particularly fragile. 

Last year Redwood Gardens received some publicity when management announced plans for major renovations and residents protested that they had had virtually no input on either the plans or the process by which they would actually be carried out. More and more residents were expressing their intense frustration with the disruption in their lives as it was happening. People appealed for help from the manager, the workers and anybody they could reach connected with the building. 

Co-chairs of the Residents' Council, Eleanor Walden and Gary Hicks, have been reaching out for help from community organizations; legal assistance for seniors, disability rights, housing action, as well as city committees and departments but virtually nothing has been available to them! Eleanor Walden explains: “We're in an interesting position. The land that we're on is owned by the University of California, the buildings are owned by CSI, we are in the city of Berkeley and nobody wants to take responsibility for what goes on here.” They decided that they have to reach out nationally. 

Some years ago Gary Hicks had worked with the National Association of HUD Tenants (NAHT) in Boston and he suggested they get in contact with the organization. Learning that they represent HUD tenants Walden says “we joined for $25 and we've been on telephone conversations and linked into them in several ways.” 

The NAHT website states “NAHT works with organizers across the country to unite tenants in project-based Section 8 housing. Through outreach and training, tenants are mobilized to fight to preserve their housing and their rights. We are a diverse network of over 300 building-level tenant unions, area and state-wide coalitions, tenant organizing projects, legal service agencies, and other housing-related tenant organizations.” 

From June 21 to 23 NAHT is holding their 21st annual Save Our Homes Conference in Washington D.C. Eleanor Walden and another active resident, Avram Gur Arye, will be attending. They are raising funds for their expenses from fellow residents and supporters. 

For the first two days there will be more than 20 tenant-run workshops on diverse subjects ranging from immediate practical issues, “How to replace substandard management”, “How to build strong tenant associations”, to political and global issues, “How the federal budget crisis threatens our homes”, “How to join with Occupy to tax the 1%”, “How to build a global movement for housing as a human right” are just a few of the topics on the list. The third day, June 23, is designated as Lobby Day when the participants will “meet with top officials from HUD and take the message to Congress.” 

Avram Gur Arye is an architect. His work has been in housing and he understands peoples' needs for comfort and security. He is thoroughly familiar with all the relevant regulations, departments and commissions, where and who to go to in the city for information and assistance. This is particularly valuable in the situation the the Redwood Gardens tenants are in. 

But he has only recently become an activist. “The last 6 years” he says, “when I came to Berkeley. Berkeley did this to me. I was an ordinary architect, working in housing, doing good work, in San Francisco and Oakland but I was a-political.” Asked why he chose to be a delegate to the convention he said that “The main thing motivating me is making sure that, whether I'm going to be in HUD housing the rest of my life or not, I want to make certain that the safety net of HUD housing is kept and that it stays a government agency not a privatized agency.” Recognizing the need for political action not only locally but on a national level he is excited about connecting with the people and the work of the Alliance. “ I have both a local and national agenda” he says, “first the situation here at Redwood gardens and then to use that as a stepping board to get active on the national level on national issues. My background (in architecture) prepares me, I know what should be here.” 

Eleanor Walden describes herself as “an old activist”. The way to get things done, she declares, is by 'nudging'. She lays out her approach to the building management; “OK we have a complaint, a legitimate complaint. We're not just going to send it to the manager, or to the corporation or to this one or that one, we're going to send it to everyone. We're going to get HUD involved, we're going to be a bug on their behind until they give us some attention.” She illustrated her tactics last year when the management announced a plan to convert a community sitting room into a laundry which the tenants were very unhappy about. She suggested groups of people keep the room occupied during working hours and put ot the word that they were conducting a sit-in. Those words got the attention of the press, even Channel 2 was there! 

The conference presents a great opportunity for her to help her community. “What I hope to do is to take my expertise, my background of activism to the conference, make our agenda known, and to bring back contact and information to help the people here realize 'hey, we can raise our voices, we can say what we want, we are not alone, were not individuals any more, we're a group.'” And she will be able to to connect with government officials and housing activists all over the country. On lobbying day there will be meetings with HUD representatives. “Lobbying is what Washington is all about.” She is emphatic, “We have a voice. We, the people who need housing, people who are sleeping on the grass in Peoples Park or being warehoused in some old age home because they can't afford anything.” 

The political outlook for the future does not look promising for the 99 percent. There is an increasing trend in Congress and on the state and local level to cut appropriations for housing and transportation, and generally for programs that provide health and human services for people in need. In connecting with the NAHT, delegates Walden and Arye are demonstrating to the Redwood Gardens tenants the importance of keeping informed and politically active to maintain a decent quality of life not only around immediate local issues but nationally as well..



To Avoid Another Disaster, Berkeley Must Stop Work Long Enough to Understand This One

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 19, 2015 - 12:25:00 AM

“Tragedy” is a word much overused, but it’s the right word for what happened in Berkeley this week. I have been following the story online with especial horror since I happen to be in Paris, ironically visiting my 19-year-old student granddaughter. It does not take much imagination to suggest that in other circumstances she could have been among the victims, and the thought of the Irish parents and grandparents who are grieving this week is heartbreaking. 

The coverage of what went on has generally been admirable, especially by berkeleyside.com, which has stretched a normally small staff to provide a full account. However the New York Times story which tied the balcony collapse to rowdy behavior on the part of some J1 Irish students was inexcusable. We’ve reprinted one outraged letter from Ireland about that. 

Planet readers have kept me well informed about what’s going on as well. The difficulties of working with an unfamiliar computer in a different time zone prevent me from posting most of their comments, but here’s one quote from a reader who’s worked in an engineering office: 

“The idea that such a balcony -- properly designed and constructed -- could be negligently "overloaded", by some combination of not even particularly big males and females (we're not talking a bunch of football or tall basketball players here), is a poor, phony, and, at any rate, non-legitimate excuse. A balcony should be designed and constructed to accommodate every person that could fit on it even shoulder-to-shoulder -- certainly not only, but especially in a student environment where any designer/builder should know that, especially due to student -- or any -- parties, such balconies are likely to be packed on those occasions.  

“In fact, balconies should be -- another good practices engineering concept -- "over-designed" to accommodate such a weight (or "load", as they say in engineering). That means that an engineer designs for the maximum reasonable load -- weight of adults standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the balcony -- and then go, for example, 50% over that! Short of that, you put a shiny brass plate at average eye level next to the balcony door on the inside (and, why not, outside too!): "Maximum load capacity 'X' [number of] people." Engineers do that for elevators. But, we already know that, especially during a party (or maybe even a 4th of July fireworks display, or just an especially spectacular sunset, if the balcony at all faces a suitable direction), students (nor anyone else, especially having a good time and drinking partiers) are not likely to keep track of just how many people are on a balcony. And then if a group of people are dancing on a balcony, you're then talking about additional forces other than just a, more or less, static load.” 

Many of my correspondents have reminded me of what was covered well, often by Richard Brenneman, at the time the Library Gardens complex was entitled and built. This was a project that had the inside track.  

It’s noteworthy that the City of Berkeley’s Current Planning Manager at the time was Mark Rhoades, the same Mark Rhoades who’s now trying to grease the skids from the outside for at least one new and even larger complex, the “Residences at Berkeley Plaza” at 2211 Harold Way. Some readers have reminded us that Berkeley politicians bent over backwards to make concessions on behalf of developer John LeClerq, for example releasing his company from their promise to include three levels of underground parking. Further coverage from the Planet (with an even smaller staff of 1+1) must await our return. 

We have received copies of a number of eminently sensible letters to the Berkeley City Council calling for a moratorium on new construction until obvious problems with city oversight have been investigated. At this point it’s impossible to determine whether the negligence is simple incompetence or politically motivated, but until we have the answer new projects should be on hold. 

That includes, especially, the latest Rhoades entry, now on the fast track, with a marathon schedule of city meetings scheduled to guarantee approval before the council’s long vacation which starts in late July. The mayor appears to have shed copious crocodile tears over the Library Gardens disaster, but what’s needed for city officials, both elected and staff, to stop and think before allowing another one to happen. 

As Daniel Departs
Berkeley Falls Apart

Becky O'Malley
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 02:02:00 PM

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is a colloquial proverb most memorably attributed to John N. Mitchell, director of President Richard Nixon’s re-election committee and former U. S. attorney general, during the congressional investigation of the Watergate caper.

While there’s no reason to suspect any actually illegal activities, this aphorism would also seem to describe the recent exodus of Berkeley’s city government staff. The latest to go was top banana City Manager Christine Daniel, who’s leaving soon to become one of several second bananas in Oakland’s city government. Her decision isn’t surprising: it offers equivalent compensation, a path to promotion, and significantly less nail-biting personal responsibility.

Her resignation is one of a recent list which includes Deputy City Manager William Rogers, Finance Director Robert Hicks, Police Captain Erik Upson , Jane Micallef, director of the Health, Housing & Community Services Department and others.

Anyone who doubts that Daniel is leaving a stressful position should watch the videos of recent Berkeley City Council meetings, especially the one which took place on Tuesday of this week. Loony Tunes, start to finish.

And the next act in this on-going farce starts on June 25 at 5pm. As Berkeleyans get more and more outraged by the way the city is being abused, they show up in larger and larger crowds, necessitating moving the Council meetings to Longfellow School at least until the summer recess. 

It gets harder and harder for Council watchers to figure out Who’s on First or What’s on Second as Mayor-for-Life Tom Bates plays havoc with the Council’s Rules of Order (much more arcane than Roberts’) in his desire to control the process at any cost. Poor Manager Daniel tries to play referee, but the tension this responsibility causes increasingly shows in her grim facial expression during the meetings. 

She’s reputed to be very loyal to Bates, even to the extent of driving him home from City Council meetings (he’s publically eschewed car ownership, but is not above taking rides.) Berkeley’s charter theoretically provides for a strong city manager and a weak mayor, but because of Daniel’s deferential personality and a spineless Council majority Bates has managed to seize the reins and make a major mess in a number of important areas. It’s not surprising that Daniel wants to Get Out of Dodge before the—axe falls, chickens come home to roost, excrement hits the fan--? Choose your doomsday metaphor, but it looks grim, so the tough are getting going. 

In no particular order: 

1. What Is the Downtown Plan? There enough murkiness in this department to keep an army of lawyers busy for years sorting it out. Measure R 1.0, the 2010 version passed by a vote of the people, says that we should have “2 residential buildings and 1 hotel no higher than our existing 180 foot buildings.” But what’s now being proposed is one residential building which clocks in at about 194 feet plus a hotel/condo combo that might be even taller. And by the way, the tallest building currently in downtown Berkeley is only 178 feet. 

And what looks bad, very bad, to the outside observer, is that these sought-after projects both fall under the Berkeley version of the Cynic’s Golden Rule. The most frequently quoted formulation of this rule is that “he who has the gold makes the rules”—easily observed by calculating dollars-per-vote for the two Measures R. The first one, which passed, was bought by bigtime property owners, including Sam Zell’s Equity Residential. The second one, an ill-conceived attempt to clarify and improve the first one, was defeated by developer expenditures which outspent proponents by a 10-1 ratio. 

Even worse, however, is the Berkeley Corollary to the Cynic’s Golden Rule: He Who Makes the Rules Gets the Gold. That would apply to the two lead spokesmodels for the two proposed projects, Mark Rhoades and Matt Taecker, who often tag-team for each other in appearances before the city’s quasi-judicial land-use decision-making bodies. 

Rhoades, as readers have learned in this space ad nauseam, was the city of Berkeley’s Current Planning Director around and about the time Measure R 1.0 was cooked up. Taecker was hired by the city to staff the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, an effort which was supposed to produce a new Downtown Plan. Both of them have been in and out of the revolving door at the city of Berkeley’s planning department on so many occasions it’s pointless to try to enumerate them. 

Doubtless with collaboration from Rhoades/Taecker, the city’s downtown plan and the zoning ordinance to support it were amended by the council in 2012 (disregarding the DAPAC recommendations for the most part, with Taecker’s collaboration) to authorize a finite number of tall buildings downtown which would provide “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.” 

But, and here’s the weaselly part, no standard for evaluating such claimed benefits was specified—creating, of course, a giant loophole which Rhoades and Taecker are happily driving their moneyman clients through. 

Responding to citizen outrage, the Zoning Adjustment Board has tried to kick the decision on what benefits should qualify up to the City Council. Mayor Bates and his presumed heir, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, have offered a handy formula that would provide a cheap payout to get the would-be developers off the hook. 

Ironically, the seductive promises of the 2010 Measure R ballot measure offered a “Green Pathway” which was supposed to give development a way of countering climate change. It turns out that Bates and Capitelli are offering instead another kind of “Green” pathway—allowing developers to buy their way out of Berkeley’s default height limits with trivial sums of folding cash. It’s sort of like the medieval practice of selling indulgences, isn’t it? 

No wonder Daniel wants to get out of the way before the public figures out what’s happening. But she might not need to worry, in a city which seems to care more about kids being corrupted by soda pop than about the whole city planning process being corrupted by developers’ cash. At best, it’s a mess. 

2. Managing the Police. If the downtown plan wasn’t enough to worry about, as of this week the city staff is finally getting around to the police department’s "post-incident review of events of December 2014” at the Police Review Commission. The BPD has been widely accused of over-reacting to the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations with tear gas and rubber bullets—and the buck really should stop on the city manager’s desk. Now she won’t have to be around as the finger-pointing proceeds—and it will. 

3. Street behavior. And then there’s the renewed attempt to criminalize what the ACLU in a letter to city officials calls “innocuous behavior” by street people, some of them homeless. This is being spearheaded by the Downtown Berkeley Association, which is partly taxpayer-funded but dominated by the big property owners. It’s safe to assume that the ACLU’s letter is the opening salvo in a contest which will soon heat up if the city continues on this path. And just about the time the annoying street people are being pushed out of downtown into South Berkeley, funding for services which might deal with their problems is being cut. It’s another tussle which Daniel must be happy to opt out of. 

4. The Affordable Housing Deficit. Steve Martinot in the last issue ably dissected Berkeley’s perennial housing crisis, which is exacerbated by the murky Downtown Plan but is much broader and more critical. Suffice it to say that all the buildings under construction visible all over Berkeley will alter the city’s traditional demographic balance toward the well-off, and eventually someone might notice and blame the city management. 

5. Culture? In Berkeley? At last week’s Landmark Preservation Commission, Commissioner Paul Schwartz enunciated one point of view which is bound to be controversial. He said that he planned to vote for a permit which would allow demolition of part of the historic property on the site of the Shattuck hotel to build luxury apartments fronting on Harold Way. Why? Because bringing in more rich residents would finally bring culture to Berkeley, he said. Evidently in his book the 10-screen Landmark Shattuck Cinemas now there doesn’t count as culture. 

It’s just movies, after all, and they’re on the way out, right? He and other LPC commissioners who announced that they plan to support the demolition permit intimated as much. 

This is an opinion not widely shared among my own Berkeley contacts, who already enjoy a lot of what looks like culture to them, including films, but it’s one that seems to be winning in the city’s current land use decisions. That faction on the LPC, those commissioners appointed by the city council members who have already said they're committed to allowing the demolition to take place (what Russians would call the nekulturny faction) seems to be in the majority. 

I’m not sure Daniel, who lives in Oakland after all, cares whether Berkeley has culture or not. 

Her resignation will be effective July 24, when the council’s long recess is supposed to start. It’s possible that all the unravelling loose ends will be knitted back up before she goes, but don’t count on it. 

There’s an unprecedented marathon evening scheduled for June 25 which seems to be a panicky attempt to fulfill any and all obligations to Rhoades/Taecker clients before the recess. 

At 5:30 the City Council will address the significant community benefits calculation, most likely by passing the Bates/Capitelli proposal, which requires no third party evaluation of developers’ claims, a move estimated by opponents to leave many millions of dollars on the table. Then, once that’s been passed, the Zoning Adjustment Board is expected to use this formula to approve at least the EIR for 2211 Harold Way, and possibly the whole project at the same time. 

This will require some of Mayor Bates’ trademark mumble-mumble sleight of hand to accomplish. If you’d like to see how he does it, watch the video of the discussion of the 1% for art levy which took place at last night’s City Council meeting, but don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. 

There were at least 10 people in the audience who wanted to speak on the topic, but he hustled right past the Brown Act’s required public comment so fast that they had no idea what hit them. It was a notably bizarre performance by an increasing irascible mayor who is no longer able to treat citizens with respect. 

Doesn’t he have any friends who could suggest that it might be time to move on? Daniel doesn’t seem to want that job, and who could blame her? 

The dire predictions for the June 25 meetings come from naysayers, who hope to be proved wrong, of course. But if the script as it currently is proposed is followed, it’s a good bet that some legal challenge will ensue. 

Luckily for Christine Daniel, she won’t have to be around to pick up the pieces. 













The Editor's Back Fence

New: First Things First is Best for Berkeley at This Point

Monday June 22, 2015 - 04:39:00 AM

I'm not sorry to say Mike and I won't be in town on June 25 to attend the next discussion of what might constitute significant community benefits for buildings which benefit from up-zoning. We've been following the discussion to a certain extent online, and it's apparent that what we have is a rush to judgment in a city that's already being judged harshly around the world for the tragic consequences of previous hasty construction and inadequate oversight. The Irish and British papers we've been seeing have expressed their shock and horror that something like this could happen in a supposedly progressive city in a developed first world country. Until we have a clear analysis of what went wrong we can't figure out how to avoid something similar in the future. It's apparent that all is not right in Berkeley's construction industry--now we need to figure out what the problems are and how to solve them. Expediting the addition of even bigger buildings to a city already not coping adequately with those now in use is a recipe for disaster. The mayor should cancel the hastily scheduled special council meeting on June 25 and schedule instead a different special meeting at a time and in a place that all interested citizens can attend, with an announced agenda of inquiring into the Library Gardens tragedy and how we can avoid a repetition.

New: Ask Council to Analyse Problems Before Scheduling New Construction

Sunday June 21, 2015 - 12:12:00 AM

It's time to write a letter to the Berkeley CIty Council suggesting that the agendas for the flurry of meetings now scheduled for this week, especially the special City Council meeting on Thursday, June 25, must be amended to reflect on the consequences of the Library Gardens disaster. The original intent of the Thursday council meeting was to speed up approval of "The Residences at Berkeley Plaza", 2211 Harold. It's been tragically proven that Berkeley has not adequately managed the rush of construction we've experienced in the last few years, and now it's time to pause and reflect before adding to our problems. In particular, do our city inspectors and our first responders know how to deal with such tall buildings? Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it. Write to council@cityofberkeley.info and ask them to postpone further approvals until we know what happened at Library Gardens, and even more important, why.

New: Library Gardens: Why Did Berkeley Approve It? The Historical Record as Reported by the Berkeley Daily Planet

Tuesday June 16, 2015 - 11:34:00 AM

How did Library Gardens, where a collapsing balcony killed six Irish students today, get approved and built in Berkeley? For the full history, click here.

On Vacation, So Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Monday June 15, 2015 - 08:09:00 AM

For the next couple of weeks we’ll be on vacation. What that means is irregular Internet access, so there will not be a “new issue” date for the Planet. If and when new articles come in, I’ll try to add them to the current issue when I can, but no promises.

While I’m gone I urge Berkeleyans to keep a close watch on city government via the city website, including videos of the City Council and the Zoning Adjustment Board. There will probably also be some coverage on dailycal.org and berkeleyside.com.

The Bates/Capitelli crowd will be making its usual depressing attempt to sneak bad plans past an unwary electorate before the long summer vacation. In particular, at 5 p.m. on June 25 the council overlords plan to ram through a cheapo version of what’s laughably called significant community benefits, just in time for the Zoning Adjustment Board later in the evening to approve the environmental impact report for 2211 Harold Way. That is a destructive and ugly project that will do absolutely nothing good for the people of Berkeley, and will close the beloved Landmark Shattuck cinemas for a minimum of three years and perhaps permanently. Don't let them get away with it.

Public Comment

New: The racial divide will never be resolved if we don't call it by its name

Fernando A. Torres
Sunday June 21, 2015 - 12:06:00 AM

Why is it so difficult for the mainstream media to mention the word racism?

Reviewing the national headlines and news of the latest massacre - this time in Charleston, S.C., I find no mention of the word. I checked the AP stylebook just to be sure and saw no problem with the word "racism". So what is this reticence to mention it? With massacres of this type happening almost every five weeks, has it perhaps become a dirty word? 

Not even the President had the guts to spell this word out. Too bad. We are not going in the right direction. If we want to start the much needed national debate, we have to first call these horrendous actions by their name, racist murders. 

Orwell at his best. If we continue rummaging the dictionary to sanitize as much as we can or if we continue swallowing the pill of the “lonely guy” or the “bad apple” we will continue, perhaps forever, asking “why.” 

Instead, what I found in the national news was "a hate crime." But that term really doesn't go to the heart of the matter. Any killing is a hate crime but a racist lynching is not just any killing. Not even “terrorism” is the most appropriate word because terror is what these massacres cause us to feel but it is not, deep inside, the perpetrator's aim. 

And it is not the just the Confederate battle flag, or any other symbol, it is the state of mind, the education system, the media, the capitalist/market system, the craziness of gun ownership, coy politicians, TV's biased images and references, Hollywood, the alive and kicking underground organized racist mobs (my list goes on and on), that have perpetuated racism since the first slaves touched ground in Jamestown. 

For the Bay Area' media the grieving will take more than a basketball celebration parade to sweep it under the rug. I realized this when on a street near Solano avenue in Albany, Ca. I saw a white woman crying out loud in her parked car... her radio was broadcasting details of the massacre. My most sincere condolences to this heart-broken women. 

We are not a color-blind society, we are a squint society unable to focus and the truth is that we still live in a racist commune where race matters, a lot.

New: Shocking News from Berkeley

Romila Khanna
Sunday June 21, 2015 - 12:05:00 AM

After the death of the six young people in Berkeley it is painful to hear explanations for why it was nobody's fault. We are told the department did not have experienced staff, and the department head did not have funds for new hire of appropriately trained personnel. There is some talk of investigating whether there was water damage to the balcony beams because of the builder's carelessness. But the main thing surely is the quality of the safety inspection. The Building Department must have declared the building safe. That's where the buck stops. The Building Department must review its own practices to ensure that sloppy construction doesn't rate a pass. It's a shame lost young lives wake us to the need for absolutely trustworthy inspections of building safety.

What is the council agenda for June 30?

Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Wednesday June 17, 2015 - 11:52:00 PM

Once again, the Mayor has scheduled a City Council meeting without telling the public or the council members the topic of the meeting. 

In this case, the June 30 meeting is scheduled 14 days in advance, but the topic and the agenda of the meeting will not be reported until June 25. It is wrong to deny the public of their right to receive a nine days notification during which they could be doing research and forming opinions on the potential council actions. I strenuously object to the secrecy of the nine days period, in which the public is not being informed of the actions being considered 

Unfortunately, it is a common practice by this Mayor to not tell the City Council members the topics of closed sessions or special meetings until after they are scheduled. I disagree with this practice. In this instance, it is taking the secrecy even further by having the meeting two weeks from today and the public not even knowing the topic of the agenda. 

I am not saying this is illegal, because I have not received a legal opinion. However, I am saying it is unreasonable, unfair, and undemocratic. 

I am respectfully requesting the public to be notified of the topic of the agenda of this newly scheduled meetin

Analysing Significant Community Benefits Offered by Developers: a Letter to the Mayor and the Berkeley City Council

Charlene M. Woodcock
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:32:00 AM

Before Significant Community Benefits can be proposed for any new development in Berkeley, it is essential that a rigorous financial analysis be made by an independent entity of the costs and the profit the developer will realize in the construction and then the sale or ongoing rental income from the units. Without such analysis and a just assessment of the detriments caused by the project, there is no basis for an assessment of the capacity of the developer first to mitigate those detriments and then to provide Berkeley with benefits of significant value to the community. 

We now have a surfeit of $3,000-$5,000 p/month rentals. Berkeley's most crucial need in 2015 is for affordable housing, both for low income and middle income residents, in inclusionary residential buildings. As Mayor DeBlasio noted in his Berkeley conversation with Robert Reich, New York City requires 30% affordable units in all new developments, to ensure that low-income housing is available in all parts of the city. This is an admirable requirement and one that I'm sure most Berkeleyans would support, as a way to sustain our ethnically, economically, culturally diverse population. 

It is also essential that all developers of multi-unit residential buildings to be required to strive for net zero energy in their project design, as the state of California will require in just four years. Berkeley already has numerous large residential buildings under construction which will not come near meeting this soon-to-be-required standard. That is to say, we are seeing the city fill up with projects that will be a drain on our water and energy resources when we should be requiring much greater energy efficiency and water conservation and graywater systems in all new buildings. 

There is no way to mitigate the detriments that would result from the 2211 Harold Way project—the demolition of Habitot, valued by Berkeley families in its convenient location, and the Shattuck Cinemas, patronized by 275,00 to 300,000 people a year. The 2211 Harold Way project is hugely out of scale with the graceful, mostly 2-story buildings in Berkeley's historic district. The increased traffic congestion and disruption of downtown business, apart from the loss of Habitot and the Shattuck Cinemas, will be devastating during the two- to four-year construction period when sidewalks and streets will need to be closed for this absurdly large project. And it's doubtful the noise and pollution can be mitigated, as required by the location in the Berkeley High school zone. The spraying of huge amounts of water on construction projects is the usual way to control dust and other types of air pollution. Most of us think that an inappropriate solution, especially during a drought. How then will the dust and air pollution be mitigated? 

I find that people who don't go downtown much like to talk about the need to "revitalize" downtown. They don't realize that the Arts District and especially the Shattuck Cinemas have accomplished the revitalization of downtown in recent years. People come from all over northern California to attend the excellent array of films at the Cinemas and enjoy our downtown restaurants. What we need now is not more people downtown but much better public transit, a serious plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and an improved physical and social infrastructure to accommodate those already here. And of course we need affordable housing in all parts of our city.

New: Stop the Anti-Poor Laws in Berkeley

Carol Denney
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 06:58:00 AM

The new anti-poor laws come to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, June 30. It is vitally important to come to the meeting and speak out against these unjust laws. We can stop them now, just as we stopped them in the 2012 election when Berkeley voters defeated a ridiculous anti-sitting law. 

Berkeley’s new anti-poor laws come to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. That’s the bad news. The City Council can squabble over the wording, suggest amendments, or even vote them down, but several weeks ago, on March 17, they voted for this set of anti-homeless laws by a 6-3 majority, and indicated their willingness to make it a crime to use a blanket between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., to panhandle near a parking meter, and even to put down one’s belongings on or near a planter. 

These restrictions target poor and homeless people. No one else struggles with carrying belongings and bedding with them wherever they go. No one else risks committing a crime by resting or covering up with an outlawed blanket. No one else risks losing everything they own if they even use a bathroom for a moment. 

Instead of addressing the need for shelter beds, low-income housing, public campgrounds, a moratorium on luxury housing, and storage space for victims of skyrocketing evictions, the City Council majority might, at its meeting on June 30, add to Berkeley’s embarrassingly massive edifice of already existing anti-poor laws. 

We can stop them. We did it decade after decade in the 1980s, the 1990s, and most recently, in the 2012 election when a ridiculous anti-sitting law went down to resounding defeat by Berkeley voters, a measure that had been “sweetened” with promises of funding for various charities and non-profits. But Berkeley citizens were not fooled. 

Let’s stop them now. The best way to stop them is at the Berkeley City Council meeting on June 30. While an overwhelming majority of speakers at the council meeting on March 17 strongly opposed this battery of anti-homeless laws, the few voices that spoke in support of the new anti-poor laws all cited behavior which is already illegal: assault, drug use, smoke-free violations, etc. The City Council majority knows this. It is struggling to find the backbone to tell its wealthy campaign donors that pointlessly hassling the poor is not its top priority, but it can’t quite find the strength. 

We have the facts. Consensus grows nationally on the need for a right to rest, and on the outrageous injustice of a housing policy completely dominated by wealthy developers poised to hollow out communities of color to build luxury housing. It is a tragedy when impoverished families end up struggling on the streets, and it is an obscenity when there are growing numbers of homeless students in our schools. Making it a crime to sleep in one’s car (already a Berkeley law) or set down one’s belongings, helps no one, not even the business community that supports the new anti-poor laws, because they will be as ineffective as the ten anti-poor laws we already have. 

Demand common sense from the Berkeley City Council. These politicians are vulnerable to the truth. They know these laws embarrass our community, humiliate our police force, are a costly and ineffective approach to poverty, and send the dangerous message that targeting the poor is fine with them. But the voice loudest in their ears right now is the publicly funded business lobby known as the Downtown Berkeley Association, the same group responsible for the Ambassador private patrol group that assaulted two homeless men only two days after the Council passed the preliminary anti-poor proposals in March.

Principles for Significant Community Benefits

Kate Harrison
Friday June 12, 2015 - 03:02:00 PM

• Benefits based on 1) a transparent analysis of a reasonable rate of return based on a pro-forma (a financial assessment by the developer) and 2) third party evaluation of the above that reasonably provides some of the increased value to the city. 

• Mitigations for loss of onsite non-profit and cultural amenities and payment of existing housing, art and other mitigation fees are paid for separately, not using community benefits funds. 

• 1% arts fee applied across the board, including buildings in downtown and built by the University, but not to be considered a community benefit. (Existing amenities to be taken care of as a mitigation instead). This is a very common fee in other cities. 

• Affordable housing at 20%-30% (including the 10% in current code for people at very low 50% income level). Inclusionary housing to be provided in the buildings. 

• Housing fees charged at the higher ownership, rather than rental, rate, if a developer requests that a condo overlay map while requesting rental units (signaling they will probably be converted later). This would increase the benefits on just Harold Way by nearly $8.6 million for affordable housing. 

• Eliminate the credit for project labor agreements. The recommended 5% proposal uses too much of the available funding. The City’s own consultant’s report on last year’s Measure R indicated that a PLA adds only about 2% to project costs. 

• Preserve the Campanile view of Bay and bridge towers, requiring setbacks and possibly reduction in height. 

• Contribute to transportation mitigations discussed in Downtown Plan EIR. These projects rely on the Downtown Plan EIR for approval. They should be contributing to the mitigations listed in the Downtown Plan EIR. 

• Contribute to open space/street amenities as called for in SOSIP plan. A good example is making Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford a pedestrian street. 

• Significant progress toward state net zero energy standards to be in place in 2020. 

This statement is endorsed by the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition Benefits Committee and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Coordinating Committee. 




Protest the Ridiculous June 25 Berkeley City Meetings Schedule

Tree Fitzpatrick
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:26:00 PM

Please write an email to object to the Berkeley City Council's latest agenda-setting chicanery.

This City Council's agenda subcommittee has scheduled a special meeting at Longfellow School at 5:00 on June 25th. The meeting will be about significant benefits. The Zoning Adjustment Board will also be meeting that evening, with a vote on the FEIR on the proposed Harold Way project on the ZAB agenda.

Council will ask ZAB to delay its vote on the Harold Way FEIR until the council railroads through its definition of significant benefits. Apparently the council expects ZAB to read, analyze, understand and implement their significant benefits definition instantly and vote the way the council wants. 

I am shocked by this manipulative, pseudo-public process. Our mayor and council appears to be shedding even the appearance of democracy. Many reading this must know that Mayor Bates hijacked democracy at this week's council meeting when he hurriedly distributed a proposed order related to the arts fee, refused to hear any public comments and rushed a vote. It was shameless. I believe the council is going to do something similar at this special significant benefits meeting on June 25th. 

Regardless of how people feel about proposed development downtown, we should all care that our public servants follow the law. 

Please write to council and ask them to reschedule the June 25th significant benefits meeting. Tell them that scheduling two important public meetings simultaneously denies public participation and hijacks democracy. 

Write to this address: council@cityofberkeley.info 

People can cut and paste this email or write their own.

Beware the Crayon

C. Denney
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:20:00 PM

The Adeline corridor got a $750,000 planning grant to study “revitalization.” Run for your lives.

When all the “planning” and “assessments” have finally evolved into money lining the pockets of consultants, be sure to take a good look at all the crayon-covered little maps and suggestions from the neighbors for parks, playgrounds and low-income housing, because that’s the last you’ll ever see of them.

Want to see what they’ll build before they build it? Just stroll over to University Avenue, where a similar crayon-filled “participatory” planning process managed to net the neighborhood butt-ugly, comically small, unaffordable condos and apartments in huge buildings stacked to the sky whose mostly student residents manage the inadequate parking provided by taking up space in the surrounding neighborhoods. 

University Avenue neighbors were asked what they wanted along the way in nifty little focus groups with attentive facilitators busily writing down ideas from attendees. But what showed up later was big, tall, ugly-ass buildings nobody can afford; exactly what maximizes profits for developers. 

It isn’t illegal to hand out crayons and maps to a struggling neighborhood and ask them their dreams. But don’t think for a minute that a developer’s dreams won’t trump everything a neighborhood asks for. If you don’t believe me, be sure to put in a wishing well. And keep your eye on it, map after map, until it’s gone. 


New: House Rejects Trade Bill's "Trade Promotion Authority"

Bruce Joffe
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:26:00 AM

It looks like Democrats took a tactical advantage that may bite them strategically when they turn to actually voting for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). They have "denatured" the Trade Promotion Authority ("fast track") by eliminating compensation to workers when their jobs are off-shored. But off-shoring of American jobs will continue with current trade agreements. The Democrat's so-called "repudiation" of Obama's gift to Big Money on June 12 is the triumph of the ugly pragmatic over the long-term principled.  

If TPP passes, the biggest losers would be every nations' laws protecting the environment, worker health and safety, and consumer health and safety. TPP would enable multinational corporations to challenge such laws in private "tribunals" and overturn them as "restraints of trade." The biggest winners under TPP would be those same multinational corporations that could demand compensation for (get this) "expected profits" unreceived because of environmental, health and safety regulations. 

A better offense would be to eliminate the TPP's compensation to corporations for reduction of "expected profits" and preserve our environment, health, and safety.

Open Letter to Berkeley's Mayor and Council Members Regarding Significant Community Benefits

Rob Wrenn and Kate Harrison
Friday June 12, 2015 - 03:05:00 PM

Please reject the proposal to charge a flat square foot fee for significant community benefits. The benefits proposed are clearly inadequate. The City’s own 2011 analysis would provide for more to be paid by developers. Since then, enormous rent increases have greatly increased the potential profitability of taller buildings downtown. 

The City Council should instead demand an independent evaluation of the impact of these buildings and what developers can afford to pay. Such an analysis is essential to determine what is feasible and to ensure that the community benefits are adequate and capture the added value resulting from the City’s action to upzone Downtown to allow 120’ and 180’ buildings. 

The City Council should make sure that loss of current amenities on sites proposed for development are mitigated before community benefits are considered. Retaining something that is already on a site is not a community benefit, but is essential for avoiding detriment to our downtown. 

Community benefits for all taller projects should include substantial affordable housing as required by earlier impact studies, and the City Council should include other benefits noted in the Downtown Plan including building greener buildings with significant use of renewable energy and providing funds for open space projects downtown, alternative transportation measures and improvements for transit, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Berkeley and East Bay Hills

Dr. Jane Hansen
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:47:00 PM

My name is Jane, and I am a wife, soon-to-be-mother, and psychologist here in the East Bay. My darling husband and I rent a cottage in the Berkeley hills, directly adjacent to Wildcat Creek and park. Our first child (a boy) is due in early August, and we are thrilled.

We thought we found a perfect place to live and start our family here. But I have recently learned about the plan to drench the hills with thousands of gallons of frighteningly toxic pesticides after the clear cutting. These will repeatedly wash, flow, and drift directly by our home. AND OUR NEWBORN BABY! 

While I support the clear cutting and fire safety, I CANNOT FATHOM why they would subject our community to this massive poisoning and toxic assault!! We count on our elected officials to advocate for our safety and well being, and this is a massive failure of protection! 


Please do everything you can to stop this massive poisoning campaign. I am terrified for the health and lives of my family!! 

Thank you for your help and urgent action.

New: Detriments to the city of Berkeley that would result from the proposed 2211 Harold Way project

Charlene M. Woodcock
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:44:00 AM

[This letter was originally sent to the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board and the City Council on April 21, 2015.]

The detriments to the city posed by approval of this project far outweigh any possible benefits.

1.This project contains no units of low income housing, which is obviously the great need in our city. Instead the developer will enjoy the "discount" of $8,000 per unit of the $28,000 in lieu fee. If the city continues to approve market rate and luxury developments, there will be no space left for inclusionary housing for Berkeley residents with moderate or low incomes and no solution to our critical lack of inclusionary and affordable housing. 

2. The 2 to 4-year construction period will inhibit access to our Main Branch Library, our downtown Post Office, the YMCA, and to the 3000-student Berkeley High School a block away. 

3. Construction of this hugely out-of-scale project proposed for Berkeley's historic district will not only disrupt downtown traffic during the years of its construction but the majority of the 302 units will be owned or rented by people who will bring additional cars to Berkeley's already very congested downtown, thus increasing our contribution of greenhouse gases rather than reducing it, as we must do. 

4. The developer of this project would demolish the successful, well-attended Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, that provide thousands of residents of Berkeley and the surrounding area highly-valued programming of independent, foreign, and documentary films not offered elsewhere. Film is a major art form and the Shattuck Cinemas provide our city with a significant cultural benefit. We don't want this enrichment to our lives sacrificed to luxury housing. 

5. The 2211 Harold Way project would also demolish the thriving Habitot, with its convenient location adjacent to the YMCA and the Public Library, all of which provide Berkeley families with ready access to children's programs. Surrounding restaurants and cafes also benefit from the attraction of young families to downtown Berkeley, so they too will lose business if Habitot is forced to move. 

6. Exacerbation of traffic congestion, closed sidewalks and streets, and construction equipment blocking parking will make it greatly more difficult to reach the existing businesses, restaurants and cafes in the Shattuck/Kittredge/Harold Way/Allston Way block and in the adjacent areas. Should the proposed hotel be under construction at the same time, the damage to downtown businesses from the resulting traffic congestion will be dire. 

7. This huge building project is within the school zone of Berkeley High School. The decibel level and pollution emissions during the construction period would quite possibly exceed what the law allows in a school zone. 

8. Adding 302 more units to the downtown area, in addition to the several large buildings built here in recent years, would significantly increase water use and demands on fire and police services, sewage disposal, city streets and aging infra-structure. There is no effort to meet the Zero Net Energy standards California will require of residential buildings in 2020. There is no provision of affordable units, so workers unable to find housing here will be forced to commute into Berkeley. In these ways too, this project would significantly increase production of greenhouse gases rather than reducing it. 

Before any more development projects are approved, it is essential that we examine the cumulative effect of the many large building projects recently completed, under construction, or awaiting approval in the downtown area and throughout Berkeley. To allocate the few available building sites to for-profit developers will radically change the demographics of our city and force city workers to commute longer distances, thus increasing our production of greenhouse gases rather than reducing it. To interject into our city's handsome historic core so obtrusive a building that does not serve our city's need is among the detriments to the community that this project represents.

New: For the Health of Young Children

Romila Khanna
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:25:00 AM

Children who consume too much sugar in any form will become obese and can even become diabetic at a young age. I have noticed that those children who eat a lot of candy and cakes generally complain about nasal congestion. We educators can help young parents learn about healthy diets for their children and themselves. We can also teach them about the addictive nature of high sugar consumption. 

I know that in some childcare centers and schools, the young are given candy as an incentive to modify their behavior. I don't understand how educators can sacrifice the long-term well being of the child for a little obedience in the short run. 

I know that Head Start is careful to protect children from unhealthy food. But many agencies are more careless. One lady told me a story of how her young daughter was abused by an educator during a class hour who offered her candy as a reward for letting him feel her body. 

Let us strive to make sure that our children develop healthy food habits from a very young age. Please don't lure young minds with candy. Let the children under our care enjoy a healthy life span.


New: California: Blue State, Boom State

Bob Burnett
Saturday June 20, 2015 - 11:57:00 PM

In January, it was widely reported that California had become the world’s seventh largest economy. Among the top ten economies the Golden State (with an estimated 2013 GDP of $2.20 trillion) surpassed Brazil, Italy, and Russia and trailed only the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Many factors contribute to California’s preeminence; one being its liberalism. 

Republicans don’t like to acknowledge California’s success. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney quipped: “Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California.” It was typical Republican propaganda lumping California with Greece because supposedly the Golden State’s taxes and regulations would drive it into an economic death spiral. Notably, the poster child for Republican economic policy is Kansas (31st among the states with a GDP of $140,367 billion), which has gone into the tank while California has boomed. 

There are multiple reasons for California’s success. Bloomberg News noted: 

California leads U.S. states in agriculture, technology and manufacturing revenue growth... It’s home to more companies on the S&P 500 than any other state. The state’s job growth outpaced the nation’s in the first nine months of last year. California’s non-farm employment of 15.7 million people is at an all-time high.

California has abundant natural resources that contribute to the vibrant agriculture business. Since 1913, Southern California has been the home to the motion-picture industry (which now includes television production as well as content for the Internet). Since 1956 (the invention of the transistor by William Shockley), Northern California has been the home to the information technology business in all of its forms. In 2014, California was the number one state in manufacturing output ($239 billion). 

Nonetheless, we do have taxes and regulations. California is the 17th state in terms of taxes per $1000 of income; New York is number 1 and Tennessee is number 50. According to Forbes California is ranked 36th in terms of a positive business environment (business costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life). California ranked 46 in business costs, 28 in labor supply, 43 in regulatory environment, 26 in economic climate, 3 in growth prospects, and 25 in quality of life. The number 1 Forbes state iss Utah and the number 50 is Mississippi. 

And Californians care about the environment. In 2005, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a series of executive orders responding to global climate change. One of these mandated that, by 2020, 33 percent of California’s energy would come from renewable resources. These actions led to a wide array of environmental regulations. However, rather than deter California business, it spurred it. For example, in the past five years, California has sold more than 100,000 plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, making the state a global leader in this technology. (Since 2008, Tesla Motors, a California automobile manufacturer, has delivered more than 70,000 electric cars.) 

California’s economy has thrived in spite of relatively high taxes and stringent regulations. 

It wasn’t that long ago that California was a red state – remember Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan? The tide began to turn during the reign of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (2003-2011). In 2008, California passed the California Redistricting Act, which mandated an independent commission that would redraw all electoral districts with an eye to making them competitive. Redistricting was opposed by both political parties, but ended up benefitting Democrats. 

When Schwarzenegger was “termed” out of office, he was succeeded by Democrat Jerry Brown. Brown defeated the Republican candidate. Meg Whitman, by 11 percentage points despite being outspent by $178.5 million to $36.5 million. Democrats swept the other major state office and seized a commanding majority in the legislature (Currently 26 to 14 in the state senate and 52 to 27 in the state assembly). Not surprisingly, Republican Party membership declined -- it’s currently hovering around 28 percent. 

But California’s economy hasn’t thrived because it’s run by Democrats, but rather because of liberal culture. Not liberal values in the classic sense – equality, peace, and justice – but rather the liberal mindset that’s open and flexible. There’s a considerable body of psychological literature that says liberals and conservatives process information differently: 

liberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called “openness to experience,” one of the “Big Five” personality traits, which are easily assessed through standard questionnaires. That means liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things, including new music, books, restaurants and vacation spots — and new ideas.
Californians “want to try new things… and new ideas.” 


Conservatives, of course, are resistant to change. That’s okay. Vive la difference. But conservative Republicans shouldn’t pretend their ideology is good for the US economy. It isn’t. 

California has the world’s seventh largest economy because it is a bastion of liberalism. 

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


THE PUBLIC EYE:Searching for Intelligent Life in the Republican Party

Bob Burnett
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 03:00:00 PM

As a Berkeley liberal, I’m convinced that whomever the Democrats nominate as their 2016 presidential candidate will soundly defeat the GOP nominee. Nonetheless, I’d like to see a sensible Republican candidate, one that agrees with me (and most voters) on the important national issues. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see signs of intelligence in this set of GOP candidates. 

The most recent Huffington Post summary of Republican Candidate Polls shows a tightly bunched group. The top ten are Florida Senator Marco Rubio (13.2 percent), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (12.7 percent), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (10.9 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (9.1 percent), Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (9 percent), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (8.6 percent), Texas Senator Ted Cruz (7.9 percent), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (4.6 percent), former Texas Governor Rick Perry (2.5 percent), and Ohio Governor John Kasich (2.1 percent). 

These GOP candidates seem content to pander to their base, tell them how much they hate President Obama and how badly they want to re-invade Iraq. However, it’s informative to examine their positions on issues that most informed Americans care about – that, is voters other than Republicans. 

Under the Obama Administration stock values have more than doubled, corporate profits have tripled, and 12.6 million private sector jobs have been added. The latest Gallup Poll says that 63 percent of Americans believe their standard of living is getting better. Nonetheless, voters continue to be concerned about the economy. Sadly, the Republican candidates have nothing original to say; they’re content paraphrasing the message Mitt Romney used in his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. Marco Rubio says, “If we reform our tax code, reduce regulations, control spending, modernize our immigration laws and repeal and replace Obamacare, the American people will create millions of better-paying modern jobs.” In his January speech at the Iowa Freedom SummitScott Walker lamented the “decline of America” because: Washington is controlled by big government special interests, taxes are too high (“It’s the people’s money not the government’s money”), and too many Americans are content to “be dependent upon the government.” Jeb Bush shares these sentiments. Ditto Rand Paul : “What the Republicans offer is less tangible than a government check. The promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets, lower taxes, and fewer regulations doesn’t arrive in a mailbox at the first of the month” 

Recent polls indicate that 75 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. Nonetheless, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker oppose raising the minimum wage. Jeb Bush goes a step further, called for the elimination of the Federal minimum wage, “We need to leave it to the private sector.” The only major Republican supporting a minimum wage increase is Mitt Romney, who isn’t running in 2016. 

Many voters are concerned about immigration policy, what to do with the 11 million plus illegal residents of the US. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll found that 57 percent of respondents believed that illegal residents should be able to stay in the US and apply for citizenship. In 2013, Marco Rubio championed immigration reform, then he abruptly switched his position and now says border security should be the first priority. Scott Walker’s views on immigration are TBD but recently he opined that “legal immigration may need to be curbed to protect US jobs.” Among the leading GOP candidates, only Jeb Bush supports a path to citizenship. 

A recent Gallup Poll found that most Americans believe that climate change is happening and is primarily due to “pollution from human activities.” Nonetheless, among all Republican candidates only South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham believes climate change is real and wants to do something about it. Marco Rubio doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change. Scott Walker’s exact position on climate change is unclear but as Wisconsin Governor “he has gone after every single piece of climate protection.” Jeb Bush isn’t sure about climate change: “I’m not a scientist.” 

It comes as no surprise that all major Republican candidates decry Obamacare, (The latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll found public opinion split on the Affordable Care Act: 43 percent in favor and 42 percent unfavorable.) Marco Rubio plans to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with a system that heavily relies upon an undefined system of tax credits. Scott Walker has been vague about what he would do if elected President, however as Governor of Wisconsin he’s continuously < a href= http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/scott-walker-obamacare-florida/2015/06/02/id/648265/ >fought Obamacare. Jeb Bush referred to Obamacare as a monstrosity; he wants to repeal it, and have the government provide only catastrophic coverage. Rand Paul opposes Obamacare and promises that, if elected, he would repeal it and replace it with ”freedom.” 

The 2016 GOP candidates seem totally out of touch with the concerns of average Americans. Where’s the intelligence in the Republican Party? 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Meaningful Activities and Goals

Jack Bragen
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:50:00 PM

Struggles with employment are nearly universal among persons with a diagnosis of severe mental illness. Employment is the gold standard of self-worth for many persons with a psychiatric condition. Some of us are able to maintain employment, sometimes at a professional level, while some of us are unable to work. Symptoms of mental illness and medication side effects are both obstacles to working competitively.

For those of us unable to hold employment, we are left with the question of what we are to do with our time. Most people have a desire for meaning in their lives. However, some people just want to get the maximum amount of jollies, while still others just want to get through to the end with the least possible amount of discomfort.  

A severely depressed person or someone who suffers from extreme anxiety just wants relief. If someone is delusional or has other psychotic symptoms, it may be impossible to think clearly or even embark on the idea of a goal in life.  

Once we feel better, we are up against a number of obstacles that non-afflicted people are not. It isn't adequate to just get stabilized and look forward to a life of living in a group home with no privacy, no future, and a diet of hot dogs and generic canned baked beans.  

We're not "animals," and we need something more from life than a pointless existence of nothing in particular and of being limited and controlled. However, the responsibility falls on us to make something of our lives.  

We can't expect someone to swoop into our lives and hand us that pot of gold or the key to the city. However, if we want to do anything, it is harder for us for a number of reasons. And certain things may always be out of reach.  

One approach is volunteer work. However, this has become a more difficult enterprise than it once was. Disabled people who would like to volunteer, in modern times, face stiff competition from legions of nondisabled people vying for the same volunteer positions. Because of this, expectations of volunteers have increased to the point where they often meet or exceed expectations in paid employment.  

Another approach is part-time work. In some positions, the work is doable and fairly undemanding. Disclosing one's disability may allow the employer to provide accommodation and to ease up a bit on what is expected. Unfortunately, sometimes we may get treated as the poster child for the mentally disabled. Yet, it might be best to ignore that perception, and simply get the most enjoyment (and money) that can be obtained.  

Often, it is better to focus on what we are doing in the moment, even when we are trying to make things better for ourselves in the future. This means focusing on the work and not on the outcome.  

The meaning of life? I think it isn't something that comes to you in a vision, and it isn't something that you have to find out. Instead, each of us must deliberately decide what we want our lives to mean


Conn Hallinan
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:37:00 PM

Among the many things behind the storm that staggered Turkey’s ruling party in last week’s elections, a disastrous foreign policy looms large. But a major factor behind the fall of the previously invincible Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a grassroots revolt against rising poverty, growing inequality and the AKP’s war on trade unions.

On the eve of the election, the government’s Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) found that 22.4 percent of Turkish households fell below the official poverty line of $1,626 a month for a family of four. The country’s largest trade union organization, TURK-IS, which uses a different formula for calculating poverty levels based on incomes below the minimum monthly wage—$118—argues that nearly 50 percent of the population is at, or near, the poverty line.

Figures show that while national income has, indeed, risen over the past decade, much of it has gone to the wealthy and well connected. When the AKP came to power in 2002, the top 1 percent accounted for 39 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today that figure is 54 percent. In the meantime, credit card debt has increased 25 fold, from 222 million liras in 2002 to 5.8 billion liras today 

In 2001, Turkey was in a serious economic crisis, with the unemployment rate at 10.8 percent. Today 11.3 percent are out of work, and that figure is much higher among young people and women. TUIK estimates that over 3 million Turks are jobless, but at least another 2.5 million have given up looking for jobs. The total size of the Turkish workforce is 28 million. 

Women have been particularly hard hit. Over 227,000 women have been laid off this past year, a higher percentage than men. According to Aysen Candas of the Social Political Forum of Bogazici University, the “situation of women is just horrible.” 

While the average rate of employment for women in the 34 countries that make up the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development is between 62 and 63 percent, in Turkey it is 25 percent. According to Candas, in access to jobs, political participation and economic power, Turkish women rank near the bottom of the 126 countries the Bogazici University study examined. 

Turkish workers have seen their unions dismantled under the AKP government, and many have lost collective bargaining rights. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, unionized workers have fallen from 57.5 percent of the workforce in 2003 to 9.68 percent today. And, of those unionized workers, only 4.5 percent have collective bargaining agreements. Add to this police repression, the widespread use of the subcontracting system, and a threshold of 3 percent to organize a new union, and there are few barriers to stop employers from squeezing their workforce. 

In comparison, Sweden has a unionization rate of 67.7 percent, Finland 69 percent, Italy 35.6 percent and Greece 28.7 percent. 

In the last election, the leftwing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the social democratic People’s Republican Party (CHP) pounded away at the AKP’s record on poverty and union rights. “During its 12-year rule, the Justice and Development Party has curbed all labor rights though laws that are unlawful, siding with the capitalist class,” CHP parliamentarian Suleyman Celebi told Al-Monitor. “It has besieged workers from all sides, from their right to strike and collective bargain, to their right of choosing their trade unions. The rights of tens of thousands of subcontracted workers have been flouted despite court rulings.” 

Erdogan has increasingly come under criticism for relying on force to deal with opponents, like the crushing of Istanbul’s Gezi park demonstrations in 2013. And his drive to change the constitution from a parliamentary system to an American-style powerful executive apparently did not sit will with the majority of Turks. 

The AKP’s bread and butter has always been bread and butter: it handed out free coal, food, and financial aid to the poor, but as economic disparity grew and unemployment climbed, it was the Left that seized upon those themes, forcing Erdogan to defend spending $615 million plus for his lavish, 1,000 room presidential palace, and his $185 million presidential airplane. 

With the economy in the doldrums, the AKP fell back on foreign policy and Islam. 

“Islamization” has been a major AKP theme, but one that may have misfired in this election. A recent book by Turkish scholar Volkan Erit argues that Turkey is becoming less religious and more secular, particularly among the young. In any case, religion did not trump Turkey’s growing international and regional isolation, Erdogan’s fixation with the war in Syria, or his sudden reversal on making peace with the Kurds. 

He refused to come to the aid of the besieged Syrian Kurds at Kobane last year, and his back peddling on a peace agreement with Turkey’s Kurds alienated even conservative Kurds, who abandoned the AKP and voted for the leftwing HDP. 

A corruption scandal that implicated several of Erdogan’s family members also hurt the AKP’s image and caused some foreign investors to pull back, further damaging the economy. 

And as far as the AKP’s foreign policy goes, what was once a strength is now a liability. 

In the past four years Turkey has gone from a regional peace maker—“zero problems with neighbors” was the slogan that wags have since changed to “zero neighbors without problems”— to odd man out, so isolated that it lost out to Venezuela in a bid for a UN Security Council seat. 

It is not talking with Egypt, has an icy relationship with Iran, is alienated from Iraq, at war with Syria, and not on the best of terms with Russia and China. In fact its only real allies in the Middle East are the Gulf Monarchies, although in an indirect way it is teaming up with Israel to overthrow the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

The AKP has tried to make this isolation into a virtue—Erdogan’s chief foreign policy advisor Ibnahim Kalin called it “precious loneliness”—but voters saw it less as a virtue than as alienation. 

Its exports are down sharply because it has estranged its leading trade partners Iran and Iraq, and, by choosing the losing side in the Libyan civil war, it is out $28 billion in Libyan construction contracts. Its plans for expanding into sub-Saharan Africa are now on hold, and Libya owes Turkey $5 billion, money it is not likely to see in the near future. 

The Syrian war is not popular with the average Turk and, with the influx of some two million refugees from that conflict, less so by the day. The Turkish Army opposes any involvement in Syria, because it sees nothing ahead but a quagmire that would ally Turkey with the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front. 

In short, the AKP lost the election because almost 60 percent of the Turks opposed its domestic and foreign policies. 

What happens now, however, is tricky, and not a little dangerous. 

The AKP took a beating, dropping from 49.8 percent to 40.8 percent, and losing 53 seats in the parliament. Not only did the Party not get their magic 330 seats that would allow Erdogan to change the constitution, at 258 seats the AKP needs a coalition partner to rule. 

They are not likely to find one on the Left. 

The Leftwing HDP—formerly largely a Kurdish-based party—shattered the 10 percent ceiling to serve in the Parliament, taking 13.1 percent of the vote and electing 79 representatives. The HDP’s breakthrough came about because the Party allied itself with other Left and progressive parties in 2012—much as Syriza did in Greece—and campaigned on an openly left program. 

Led by the dynamic Selahattin Demirtas, its candidates included many women, as well as gays and lesbians. Some 40 percent of HDP’s parliamentarians will be women and openly gay candidates will serve in the new Grand Assembly. “We, the oppressed people of Turkey who want justice, peace and freedom, have achieved a tremendous victory today,” Demirtas said in the election’s aftermath. 

The AKP’s traditional opponent, the social democratic CHP, came in at 25.9 percent, a slight improvement over 2014, and an increase of seven seats. The Party now has 132 representatives in Parliament. 

The danger comes from the performance of the right-wing National Action Party (MHP), which won 16.9 percent of the vote and picked up 28 seats. It now has the same number of seats as the HDP. The MHP is sometimes called “The Gray Wolves” after a neo-fascist hit squad that routinely assassinated left-wingers, academics and Kurds in the 1970s and ‘80s, and still has a shadowy presence in Turkey. The MHP claims it supports parliamentary rule, but the party’s commitment to democracy is suspect. 

At this point the MHP’s leader Devlet Bahceli says he has no interest in a coalition with the AKP, but the authoritarian streak that runs through both parties might just bring them together. If they do unite, peace with the Kurds will vanish, and engaging in internal dissent will be an increasingly risky business. 

But Turkey has tamed its formally coup-obsessed military, gone through several elections and, in spite of setbacks like Gezi Park, is a democratic country. It is also one that is in trouble at home and abroad, problems that the Right is notoriously bad at solving, but for which the Left has programmatic solutions. 

It may be that the parties will deadlock, in which case new elections will have to held. In the meantime, the Turkish lira is at a record low, the stock market has tumbled 8 percent, and neither the economic crisis nor the foreign policy debacles are going away. Stay tuned, the future of a major player is in the balance. 


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



DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Middle East: Dark Plots Afoot?

Conn Hallinan
Monday June 08, 2015 - 07:43:00 PM

A quiet meeting this past March in Saudi Arabia, and a recent anonymous leak from the Israeli military, set the stage for what may be a new and wider war in the Middle East. 

Gathering in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, newly crowned Saudi King Salman, and the organizer of the get-together, the emir of Qatar. The meeting was an opportunity for Turkey and the Saudis to bury a hatchet over Ankara’s support — which Riyadh’s opposes — to the Muslim Brotherhood, and to agree to cooperate in overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. 

Taking Aim at Assad 

The pact prioritized the defeat of the Damascus regime over the threat posed by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and aims to checkmate Iranian influence in the region. However, the Turks and the Saudis are not quite on the same page when it comes to Iran: Turkey sees future business opportunities when the sanctions against Teheran end, while Riyadh sees Iran as nothing but a major regional rival. 

The Turkish-Saudi axis means that Turkish weapons, bomb making supplies, and intelligence, accompanied by lots of Saudi money, are openly flowing to extremist groups like the al-Qaeda associated Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, both now united in the so-called “Army of Conquest.” 

The new alliance has created a certain amount of friction with the United States, which would also like to overthrow Assad but for the time being is focused on attacking the Islamic State and on inking a nuclear agreement with Iran. This could change, however, because the Obama administration is divided on how deeply it wants to get entangled in Syria. If Washington decides to supply anti-aircraft weapons to the Army of Conquest, it will mean the United States as thrown in its lot with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and that the “war on terror” is taking a backseat to regime change in Syria. 

Not that the Americans are overly concerned about aiding and abetting Islamic extremists. While the U.S. is bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration is also training Syrians to overthrow Assad, which objectively puts them in the extremist camp vis-à-vis the Damascus regime. Washington is also aiding the Saudis’ war on the Houthis in Yemen. Yet the Houthis are the most effective Yemeni opponents of the Islamic State and the group called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, against which the United States is waging a drone war. 

The Turkish-Saudi alliance seems to have already made a difference in the Syrian civil war. After some initial successes last year against divided opponents, the Syrian government has suffered some sharp defeats in the past few months and appears to be regrouping to defend its base of support in the coastal regions and the cities of Homs, Hama, and Damascus. While the Syrian government has lost over half of the country to the insurgents, it still controls up to 60 percent of the population. 

Turkey has long been a major conduit for weapons, supplies, and fighters for the anti-Assad forces, and Saudi Arabia and most of its allies in the Gulf Coordination Council, representing the monarchies of the Middle East, have funneled money to the insurgents. But Saudi Arabia has always viewed the Muslim Brotherhood — which has a significant presence in Syria and in countries throughout the region— as a threat to its own monarchy. 

The fact that Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party is an offshoot of the Brotherhood has caused friction with the Saudis. For instance, while Turkey denounced the military coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, Saudi Arabia essentially bankrolled the takeover and continues to bail Cairo out of economic trouble. 

But all that was water under the bridge when it came to getting rid of Assad. The Turks and the Saudis have established a joint command center in the newly conquered Syrian province of Idlib and have begun pulling the kaleidoscope of Assad opponents into a cohesive force. 

A War on Hezbollah? 

Three years of civil war has whittled the Syrian Army from 250,000 in 2011 to around 125,000 today, but Damascus is bolstered by Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters. The Lebanese Shiite organization that fought Israel to a draw in 2006 is among the Assad regime’s most competent forces. 

Which is where the Israeli leak comes in. 

The timing of the story — published on May 12 in The New York Times — was certainly odd, as was the prominence given a story based entirely on unnamed “senior Israeli officials.” If the source was obscured, the message was clear: “We will hit Hezbollah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can,” the official said. But “we do not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.” 

The essence of the article was that Hezbollah is using civilians as shields in southern Lebanon, and the Israelis intended to blast the group regardless of whether civilians are present or not. 

This is hardly breaking news. The Israeli military made exactly the same claim in its 2008-09 “Cast Lead” attack on Gaza and again in last year’s "Protective Edge" assault on the same embattled strip. It is currently under investigation by the United Nations for possible war crimes involving the targeting of civilians. 

Nor is it the first time Israel has said the same thing about Hezbollah in Lebanon. In his Salon article entitled “The ‘hiding among civilians’ myth,” Beirut-based writer and photographer Mitch Prothero found that “This claim [of hiding among civilians] is almost always false.” Indeed, says Prothero, Hezbollah fighters avoid mingling with civilians because they know “they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators — as so many Palestinian militants have been.” 

But why is the Israeli military talking about a war with Lebanon? The border is quiet. There have been a few incidents, but nothing major. Hezbollah has made it clear that it has no intention of starting a war, though it warns Tel Aviv that it's quite capable of fighting one. The most likely answer is that the Israelis are coordinating their actions with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. 

Tel Aviv has essentially formed a de facto alliance with Riyadh to block a nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. Israel is also supporting Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen and has an informal agreement with Riyadh and Ankara to back the anti-Assad forces in Syria. 

Israel is taking wounded Nusra Front fighters across the southern Syrian border for medical treatment. It's also bombed Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. In one incident, it killed several Hezbollah members and an Iranian general advising the Syrian government. 

The Realm of Uncertainty 

The Saudis have pushed the argument that Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are really about Iranian expansionism and the age-old clash between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Hezbollah is indeed a Shiite organization, and the majority of Iraqis are also members of the sect. Assad’s regime is closely associated with the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiism, and the Houthis in Yemen are a variety of the sect as well. 

However, the wars in the Middle East are about secular power, not divine authority — although sectarian division is a useful recruiting device. As for “Iranian aggression,” it was the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States, that started the modern round of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting when Iraq invaded Iran in 1981. 

If the Israeli Army attacks southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will be forced to bring some of its troops home from Syria, thus weakening the Syrian Army at a time when it's already hard pressed by newly united rebel forces. In short, it would be a two-front war that would tie down Hezbollah, smash up southern Lebanon, and lead to the possible collapse of the Assad regime. 

As Karl von Clausewitz once noted, however, war is the realm of uncertainty. All that one can really determine is who fires the first shot. That the Israelis can pulverize scores of villages in southern Lebanon and kill lots of Shiites, there is no question. They've done it before. But a ground invasion may be very expensive, and the idea that they could “defeat” Hezbollah is a pipe dream. Shiites make up 40 percent of Lebanon’s ethnic mélange and dominate the country’s south. Hezbollah has support among other communities as well, in part because they successfully resisted the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation and bloodied Tel Aviv in the 2006 invasion. 

An Israeli attack on Hezbollah, however, would almost certainly re-ignite Lebanon’s civil war, while bolstering the power of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The Turks might think that al-Qaeda is no threat to them, but recent history should give them pause. 

Creating something like the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya is not terribly difficult. Controlling them is altogether another matter. 

"It Always Seems to Blow Back" 

“Every power in the Middle East has tried to harness the power of the Islamists to their own end,” says Joshua Landis, director of Middle Eastern Studies at Oklahoma University, but “it always seems to blow back.” 

The Afghan Mujahedeen created the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the U.S. invasion of Iraq spawned the Islamic State, and Libya has collapsed into a safe haven for radical Islamic groups. Erdogan may think the Justice and Development Party’s Islamic credentials will shield Turkey from a Syrian ricochet, but many of these groups consider Erdogan an apostate for playing democratic politics in secular institutions. 

Indeed, up to 5,000 Turkish young people have volunteered to fight in Syria and Iraq. Eventually they will take the skills and ideology they learned on the battlefield back to Turkey, and Erdogan may come to regret his fixation with overthrowing Assad. 

While it hard to imagine a Middle East more chaotic than it is today, if the Army of Conquest succeeds in overthrowing the Assad government, and Israel attacks Lebanon, “chaos” will be an understatement.  


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







SENIOR POWER: How does your garden grow?

Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Saturday June 20, 2015 - 11:46:00 PM

This Senior Power column concerns an innovative aging in place project being undertaken jointly by several local agencies -- the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Alameda County Public Health, City Slicker Farms and Satellite Affordable Housing (SAHA.) Low-income senior citizen residents in 5 Berkeley and Oakland housing projects have the opportunity to participate in community gardening and nutrition workshops. I focus on one -- Berkeley’s Lawrence Moore Manor, with its group and individual roof gardening and nutrition workshops enabled by a Public Health Department grant.  

The future of communities around the world will in large part be determined by the efforts to achieve a high quality of life for their older citizens. The latest issue of Public Policy & Aging Report, "Making a Home in the City: The Age-Friendly Community Movement," advocates developing cities that meet the interests of all generations as an important goal for economic and social policy. Age-friendly communities are designed to promote aging-in-place, which is the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably regardless of age, income, or ability level. 


Five area senior housing projects located in Berkeley (Lawrence Moore Manor and Amistad House) and in Oakland (Beth Asher, Lakeside Senior Apartments, and Satellite Central) are developing community gardens by and for individual residents. A nutrition and food component is a part. At Lawrence Moore Manor (LMM), planning began in May for residents’ gardens and nutrition workshops. Individual plots and community space will be discussed at the next garden meeting.  

Plants for the rooftop garden are provided by City Slicker Farms. Herbs and vegetables will be grown. Six-eight boxes constitute the community garden and or residents’ individual garden boxes. A dwarf lemon tree box is in place. In May a Community Garden Survey assessed participation in the new resident rooftop garden to be built. Interest in the resident garden was sought from LMM tenants. Many are Chinese; a professional Mandarin-English translator is provided.  

A structural engineer was involved in evaluating LMM’s rooftop. The garden will be located in 2 sections – east and west sides at penthouse level.  

There are three choices from which residents can select their preferred garden type: a Community garden, in which residents grow items together and share the harvest; an Individual plot garden, in which individual residents will have a small area to grow plants for their own benefit; and the Community and plot garden, in which individual residents have a small area to grow plants and a designated area for community plants that can be used in the cooking classes.  

The Nutrition workshop, an hour and half discussion, was built around the 5 Plate concept: fiber, hypertension, diabetes, water, and physical exercise. This is the federal government’s new food icon, unveiled in 2011 to help consumers make healthier food choices by building a healthy plate at meal times. Like its MyPyramid predecessor, it is designed to provide information about what and how much to eat, emphasizing fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy food groups. Alameda County Public Health Department’s Ericka Suzanne Doolittle, MPH, RD obtained the enabling grant and leads the nutrition classes. 


The Backstory: 

The Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is the local arm of a national network. Alameda County's AAA is based in the County Social Services Agency, within the Aging, Adult, and Medi-Cal services department. Services provided through grants from the Federal Administration of Aging, the State of California, and the County of Alameda include Food and Nutrition programs. The AAA is advised by the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging (ACA), whose members are appointed by the County Board of Supervisors and the Mayors Conference. From 1997-2001, I served on the ACA as Supervisor Keith Carson’s appointee. The Commission’s monthly meetings are open to the public.  

City Slicker Farms has for many years worked with the West Oakland community, enabling them to grow healthy organic foods. Their mission of increased food security and education was sparked by the high prevalence of empty and vacant lots in the flatlands of West Oakland. In 2010, they were granted 4 million dollars through California Proposition 84 to develop an urban green space in West Oakland, helping low-income communities by creating high-yield urban farms and backyard gardens. Julie from City Slicker Farms is Garden Mentor for LMM. 

For information about the Alameda County Public Health grant and Lawrence Moore Manor rooftop garden/nutrition workshops, contact LMM Service Coordinator Asha Been Clarke.  

In 2013, Satellite Housing and Affordable Housing Associates merged to become SAHA -- Satellite Affordable Housing Associates. Satellite Senior Homes, Inc. was incorporated in 1966 to provide rental housing for elderly persons on a nonprofit basis, and to contract a multiple site residential complex for low or moderate income elderly. Satellite Housing, Inc., a private company incorporated in California, was established in 1982, to provide “affordable, service-enriched housing.” Berkeley-based Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) was founded in 1993 with a mission to create and preserve high-quality affordable housing communities that strengthen individuals, families and neighborhoods.  

Who was Lawrence Moore, and what was his connection with Lawrence Moore Manor apartments at 1909 Cedar Street in Berkeley? The “Manors” (LMM and Stuart Pratt at 2020 Durant) are two of Berkeley’s several rent-subsidized, project-based housing facilities. Neither is public housing.  

In 1902, a group of undertakers founded the California Columbarium in Oakland and hired “a young visionary” to engineer its growth. By 1924, the City Directory described Lawrence Moore: treasurer and manager of the California Crematorium, Piedmont City Council member, and Vice President-manager of the Chapel of the Chimes mortuary. He was mayor of Piedmont from 1939-1946. His membership in the First Congregational Church of Berkeley likely influenced his support for creation of Lawrence Moore Manor.  

The property at 1909 Cedar Street was acquired by Satellite Senior Homes, with HUD Section 8 rent subsidies. A 1970 a variance allowed construction of a building to house senior citizens, and a 46-unit multiple dwelling designed for occupancy restricted to elderly persons. Lawrence Moore Manor is Section 8 project-based rental housing owned and managed by Satellite, now SAHA. For many years, a portrait of Lawrence Moore graced the area just off the Lawrence Moore Manor lobby/lounge. Recently, it was removed by management.  




"Assisted-death bill approved by California Senate," by Patrick McGreevy (Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2015).  

"New California measure proposed on public worker pension reform," by Robin Respaut (Reuters, June 4, 2015). 

"Bill would limit efforts to recoup Medi-Cal costs from patients' estates," by Stuart Pfeifer (Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2015).  

"Physician-Assisted Death Legislation Moves Forward In California," (US National Public Radio All Things Considered, June 7, 2015). An audio (running time 3 minutes 56 seconds) and print transcript are available at the site.  

"California's Largest Nursing Home Owner Hit With Flurry Of Citations," (Associated Press via KABC, June 14, 2015). 

"L.A. County supervisors vote to gradually boost home care worker wages," by Abby Sewell (Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2015). 


Berkeley's Redwood Gardens Connects with National Association of HUD Tenants,” by Lydia Gans. Sunday, June 14, 2015. Berkeley Daily Planet Page One. Abstract: Residents at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley, a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) project for low income seniors and people with disabilities, are experiencing increasing dissatisfaction with the project management company, Cooperative Service Inc (CSI). Redwood Gardens is a complex of 169 apartments located at 2951 Derby. It was originally established as a co-op but that is no longer its status. Management makes decisions and takes action without seeking input from the residents. Complaints, questions, requests are often simply ignored. There have been long delays in correcting hazardous conditions and ADA violations, as well as security threats and disregard for the health and welfare of those who are particularly fragile. … Co-chairs of the Residents' Council, Eleanor Walden and Gary Hicks, have been reaching out for help from community organizations; legal assistance for seniors, disability rights, housing action, as well as city committees and departments but virtually nothing has been available to them! … 








New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Times When We Should Get People's Help

Jack Bragen
Sunday June 14, 2015 - 07:49:00 AM

A severe psychiatric illness can bring crises, and in some instances, we may need someone's help. Whether we are dealing with an impending relapse of symptoms, or if we have some other problem that we can't solve entirely on our own, refusing help if it is offered could be a mistake. In some instances, communicating to those who might help us is a brave and prudent action.  

Asking a stranger or the wrong individual for help could bring disastrous results. Especially if you are a person with mental illness, you have to be careful. A person at random or an ignorant person probably doesn't have much understanding of a mental illness or of the special needs of a mentally ill person, and may in fact have a criminalized perception of someone labeled as mentally ill.  

Yet, receiving help from the right people is an essential resource for persons with mental illness, since recovery never happens alone. Some of this help may come in the form of government programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Another agency, in California, Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, can help with training and job placement. Most persons with mental illness also need the help of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other helping professionals.  

Despite the fact that I have complained about the mental health treatment system, I have received a lot of help from it, which has been vital to my continued survival.  

Asking for help is sometimes a risk, even when dealing with "helping professionals." Some of them are unprofessional and/or mean-spirited, and some don't really care what happens to us. For this reason, it is important to forge connections with helping professionals with whom you are familiar and know what to expect.  

When people in mainstream society get older, they frequently develop a network of connections. This includes people with whom they have had business dealings, it includes professional peers, and it includes friends. "Knowing people" can be a very valuable resource when something needs to get accomplished.  

If one has a severe mental illness, it doesn't necessarily prevent having connections. Depending on one's level of functioning and social skill, friends can be made. These friends can come in handy. Learning to get along with people, of course, takes practice. I find it easier to have internet buddies than deal with people in person.  

Probably most of the readers have family members who can be of help. Mental illness can be such an insidious disease affecting the mind that we may not realize how family wants to help us. This is not to say that everyone is blessed with a caring family. Yet, paranoia can create false ideas about anything. 

People, whether we are talking about family, friends or acquaintances, may not always be able or willing to help in ways we might like. But that doesn't necessarily imply that there is a lack of caring. It is usually good to accept people's help where we can get it, including times when they are not giving us exactly what we wanted.  

And one last thing: Giving help is as important as getting help. When we see a person suffering, it is an obligation to help him or her if doing so doesn't cause harm to ourselves. Even if we can give no more than a few kind words, compassion for our fellow beings helps us, as well as them.  


My self-published self-help book: "Instructions for Dealing With Schizophrenia: a Self-Help Manual," still available on Amazon. To order it, click here


Arts & Events

Beethoven’s Missa solemnis: MTT Should Stick to the Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 08:32:00 PM

Kicking off the San Francisco Symphony’s three-week Beethoven festival, Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Beethoven’s monumental Missa solemnis on Wednesday, June 10 at Davies Hall. Of the semi-staged production that he master-mined , MTT explains, “The mission of this performance is to create more space around the music allowing us to better understand the streams of Beethoven’s thought. By strategically placing specific vocal groups, using lighting to suggest underlying moods, and video to create environments and to suggest the design of the piece, we hope to reveal these many musical streams and the incredible impact of this work.”

Let’s just say that as a choreographer, MTT leaves a lot to be desired. His multi-media approach to Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, replete with starburst videos (by Finn Ross), intrusive lighting effects (by David Finn), and near constant parading of soloists to and from all corners of the stage (at the misguided direction of James Darrah), ended up being highly distracting. When the work was over, one listener, who happened to go to school with MTT at USC, dismissed this entire Hollywood extravaganza as “atrocious.” Where the visuals are concerned, I quite agree that it was atrocious. Musically, however, any decent performance of the Missa solemnis – and, musically, at least, this was a decent performance – cannot help but make a huge, if somewhat impenetrable, impact.


Of the music itself, MTT acknowledges that, “Like many ambitious works written for large forces it can strangle on its own complexity and majesty. With so many people doing so many things at the same time and place, it can be difficult to follow the music’s many strands.” Granted. One needs to be well-versed in earlier liturgical music – by Schütz, Palestrina, Lassus, Bach, Handel, C.P.E. Bach, and even Mozart (his Coronation Mass) – to gain even the slightest appreciation of all that Beethoven attempts in his Missa solemnis. But the point is that all MTT’s multi-media theatrics complicated things unnecessarily, making us look now here, now there, and making us wonder what in the world was this or that video image or lighting effect or regrouping of the soloists and chorus members supposed to accomplish? I simply found myself wishing for an old-fashioned “stand and deliver” approach rather than be bombarded with distracting ‘special effects’. 

As the Missa solemnis gets underway, we hear a D major chord, forte, for woodwinds, horns, strings, and organ. This opening chord is twice repeated, playing on the rhythm of the word Kyrie. When the singers enter, they take up the same invocation, with the chorus intoning the chords and the soloists singing the lines of the woodwinds. Given that the Kyrie text comprises only three words, Beethoven simply employs these few words in dramatic fashion, thereby clueing us in to the great musical drama to come. 

In the Gloria, Beethoven has much more text to work with, and work he does! The Gloria opens with a mighty orchestral equivalent of a celebrant raising his arms in exultant joy. At the words, “Et in terra pax” and “adoramus te,” the orchestra subsides to a hush, then singers and orchestra embark on music of dizzying rhythms and brilliant colorings. On the word, “omnipotens,” Beethoven employs a fortissimo with trombones. When the fugue begins, everything speeds up, as the soloists add their voices to the assertion of God’s glory. Beethoven here displays the same mastery of the fugue he demonstrated (almost contemporaneously in his Grosse Fugue, Op. 133).  

Next comes the Credo, which MTT calls “one of Beethoven’s greatest creations.” It begins with a march-like motif based on the repetition of the phrase, “Credo! Credo!” There is an exultant, almost ecstatic quality to the assertion of belief in the requisite articles of faith. The words, “et incarnatus est,” are given in this performance to the voices of boys and men, while a solo flute hovers above sig-nifying the Holy Spirit. As the Credo text announces Christ’s crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, his death, burial, and resurrection, there is an almost operatic quality to the music. When, following the chorus’s joyous announcement of the resur-rection, the Credo begins its recapitulation, Beethoven speeds up the choral singing, which then explodes into a double fugue on the words, ”et vitam venturi” (“and the life to come”). Beethoven here attempts to give musical expression to the notion of eternal life to come.  

The Sanctus opens with adagio music in the style of such 16th century composers as Lassus and Palestrina. The Benedictus section begins with a lovely violin solo, played by Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, who had earlier mysteriously darted offstage from his first violinist’s chair only to reappear in a spotlight at the right-hand mid-stage for his violin solo, which he played standing rather than sitting. (When Barantschik darted offstage, I wondered if he needed a bathroom break, so unusual was such a departure in mid-music. Oh well, just another distraction in a performance full of distractions.)  

The Agnus Dei section begins in adagio with the dark timbres of bassoons, horns and low-register strings. There follows a gentle “Dona nobis pacem” in a fervent prayer for peace. Then, amidst polyphonic music, Beethoven throws in a musical quotation from the “Hallelujah!” chorus of Handel’s Messiah. Now the pleas for peace, “pacem, pacem,” become ever more urgent. Distant trumpets from the Davies Hall balcony offer sounds of approaching war, and the cries of “pacem, pacem,” become ever more anguished. Finally, with one last “dona pacem,” Beethoven brings his much labored-over Missa solemnis to a surprisingly open-ended close. As Ernest Newman observed, “The conclusion of it all is enigmatic…. Does Beethoven really believe that the prayer will be answered, or does he leave it all as a kind of question mark projected upon the remote, indifferent sky?” 

Throughout this performance of the Missa solemnis, the soloists managed to sing beautifully in spite of being hauled hither and yon by stage director James Darrah. Joélle Harvey was a radiant-sounding soprano; Sasha Cooke was a sweet-voiced mezzo-soprano; Brandon Jovanovich was a stirring tenor; and Shenyang was a robust bass-baritone. The San Francisco Symphony Chorus under the direction of Ragnar Bohlin did outstanding work, as did the Pacific Boychoir under the direction of Kevin Fox. As for the conducting of Michael Tilson Thomas, let’s just say, once again, and emphatically, that he should stick to the music and give up his Hollywood pretensions, which only distract and detract from the music itself.

Film Review: Testament of Youth

Gar Smith
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:09:00 PM

Opens June 19 at the Landmark Shattuck

Based on the best-selling 1933 autobiography of the real-life Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth tells the story of a remarkable young woman who broke barriers at Oxford, lost her brother, his closest friend and her own lover in the bloodbath of WWI, wound up working as a nurse in the battlefields of France and survived the war to become one of her country's most outspoken pacifists.



Despite the promotional fist-bumps touting the presence of Game of Thrones survivor Kit Harrington, director James Kent's film, Testament of Youth, belongs — heart, head and soul — to Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain, a young-woman-of-privilege whose life is rent asunder by WWI. 

The performances are all first rate. Despite her youth, Swedish-born dancer/actress Vikander scored a major role in the 2012 production of Anna Karenina before going on to land leads in The Seventh Son and Ex Machina (where she starred as a robot with a see-through head and body who proved her intelligence qualified as "human" by outwitting—and killing—her creator). 

The sets are as extravagantly lovely as the British coastline and midlands allow and the costumes are sumptuous and serviceable. But, alas, the beauty of youth and the blooming of love are doomed, foreshadowed by the rumors of encroaching war ("Don't worry. They say it will all be over in a few weeks") and a brooding soundtrack that belies the optimism. 

Max Richter's frail and longing score initially caresses the film with a gentle longing but eventually succumbs to the brooding pulse of approaching conflict. As the war nears, the film's orchestral shape darkens. Melody fails and the soundtrack falls into a single tone of surging, unrelenting urgency—with the power of a storm-swollen river that is slowly eating away at the ground on which the young friends and newly awakened lovers stand. 

As Vera's sweetheart, Roland, Harrington delivers some powerful moments as a soldier on leave. He has been painfully undone by what he has seen and done. Despite Vera's concern, he remains in a dark place, distant and unreachable. 

After the outbreak of war, the real Vera Brittan put aside her dreams of obtaining a degree from Oxford and set out to become a nurse on the European battlefront. To her surprise, the men she winds up comforting are not exactly the soldiers she expected to be ministering to. 

There is a moment, amidst the turmoil of the battlefield, where Vera hears the cry of a wounded soldier and recognizes the voice of her brother who she had last seen boarding a troop train to the front. One suspects this improbable event is not to be found in Brittain's book but it still makes for good cinema. 

Notwithstanding the film's many virtues, I was left with a feeling of disappointment. 

How often have we seen films like this? Films populated by beautiful young people whose as-yet-unrealized hopes and dreams are shattered by the tragedies of war? 

And, despite the quality and emotional power of these "war romances," bloody conflicts continue to befall humanity. Consequently, each new ""Rom-War" perpetuates the message that wars will recur with the inevitable regularity of storms and floods and earthquakes. War are just "another one of those beastly things we have to muddle through." 

That's the problem with Testament and many similar films: they appear to oppose war but they accept it as a given, a pretext for unspooling tales of lives uprooted and love lost. The more of these films that reach the screen, the more war—for all its hideous trappings—becomes little more than a convenientvehicle that drives the drama. War is cinematically sanitized: It's the horse a succession of heroes ride into perdition. 

However, there is one brilliant moment, towards the end, when Testament of Youth rises above this formulaic curse. It comes when Vera, newly returned from the trauma of the battlefield, climbs onto a stage at a patriotic rally and shocks the crowd by questioning the war. 

In a moment we've seen before in other films, Vera's words manage to turn an angry, shouting crowd into a suddenly stunned and wordless throng, apparently undone by the power of a young woman's voice. 

But, in Vikander's voice and presence, those words pack the power of a bursting shell. She's fed up with war and she screams at the crowd: "We send our men to war because we think it's the right thing, the 'honorable' thing to do. NO MORE OF IT!" 

For me, this was the single most powerful (and only unexpected) moment in the film. 

I left the theater hoping that there will be a sequel. In 1979, the BBC turned Brittain's prodigious 661-page autobiography into a three-part TV series. 

If there were to be a sequel to Testament of Youth, it would cover Vera Brittain's emergence as a leading voice against war. And that could produce a truly remarkable film. 

For far too long we have been fed a diet of films about people left dead and damaged by the "tragedy of war." It's about time someone made a film about an uncompromising post-war pacifist. And Alicia Vikander, as Vera Brittain, would be the perfect artist to do it.

Berlioz’s LES TROYENS at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 11, 2015 - 07:00:00 PM

Dramatizing the story of the Fall of Troy and the subsequent voyage of Aeneas and his Trojan refugees to Carthage, then to Italy, Hector Berlioz’s epic opera Les Troyens is rarely given in the form Berlioz conceived it. The composer himself was fated never to hear the complete version of Les Troyens, for at its première at Paris’s Théâtre-Lyrique in 1863, only the second part, known as Les Troyens à Carthage, was performed. Berlioz died six years later. Now San Francisco Opera has mounted, for the first time in this company’s existence, the full five-hour plus version of Les Troyens.  

This is a monumental and expensive undertaking. The complete Les Troyens demands a large orchestra, full chorus, huge cast, a ballet corps, and elaborate stage sets. This production, directed by David McVicar, assisted by revival director Leah Hausman, features monumental sets designed by Es Devlin. According to program notes, the total weight of the production is more than 32 tons, and the Trojan horse is made of steel and stands 23 feet tall. (More on the Trojan horse later.) 

My own prior experience of Berlioz’s Les Troyens was limited to the much abridged version San Francisco Opera performed back in 1968 in Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. That production featured soprano Régine Crespin as Dido, (she also sang Act I’s Cassandra), and tenor Guy Chauvet as Aeneas. The fact that both of these artists were singing in their native French language made that performance particularly effective, for French opera places a premium on clearly heard diction. However, in the current San Francisco Opera production of Les Troyens, the total absence of native French-speaking singers was a drawback, resulting in much of this opera’s text, drawn from Vergil’s Aeneid in a libretto written by Berlioz himself, to pass unheard in delivery, no matter how well it was sung by the excellent cast. 

As Les Troyens begins, a chorus of Trojans rejoices at the withdrawal of Greek troops after a ten-year siege. Singing from the multi-tiered walls of Troy, the Trojans note that the Greeks have left behind a giant horse, which the Trojans believe is a gift-offering to the gods. However, the prophetess Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, foresees impending disaster for her countrymen. As Cassandra, Anna Caterina Antonacci was vocally and dramatically a compelling figure. Her dark-hued soprano perfectly rendered the darkly ominous portents of Cassandra’s prophecy. However, Antonacci’s diction in French was either not well shaped or, more likely, her singing was simply overwhelmed by Berlioz’s orch-estration. In any case, Cassandra’s words were barely discernible. This was true also for Coroebus, her fiancé, ably sung by American baritone Brian Mulligan. King Priam, sung by bass-baritone Philip Skinner, and his wife Hecuba, sung by mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott, briefly accepted the thanks of the grateful Trojans.  

In Act I, only Aeneas, sung by tenor Bryan Hymel, managed to vocally project the French text when he recounted the horrible death of Laocoön, who threw a spear into the wooden horse left by the Greeks and was immediately devoured by two serpents arising from the sea. In this regard, among others, kudos go to American tenor Bryan Hymel for his stirring portrayal of the hero Aeneas. Priam and Aeneas order the horse brought inside the city walls, as Cassandra inveighs in vain against this decision and foretells Troy’s doom. 

In Act II, Aeneas is visited by the ghost of Hector, sung by bass Jordan Bisch, who advises Aeneas to flee. Hector’s speech is set to a descending chromatic octave, each phrase delivered on one note a semitone below the previous one. Aeneas’s destiny, says Hector, is to found a new empire that will one day rule the world. As Hector’s ghost disappears, Pantheus, sung by baritone Philip Horst, runs in to re-port that Greek soldiers have emerged from the horse and are ravaging Troy.  

Now this production’s Trojan horse enters the scene. It is a huge horse’s head apparently made of scrap metal. As it advances, it lowers and raises its head. The Trojans hear the clanging of armor inside it, although we in the audience hear nothing and can clearly see that this horse is hollow with no troops inside it. Why David McVicars and Es Devlin opted for a futuristic version of the famed Trojan horse is anyone’s guess. In any case, as the Trojan horse spits fire, the Trojan women gather around Cassandra, who advises the Trojan women to kill themselves rather than submit to rape and enslavement by the Greeks. Cassandra herself, on learning that her fiancé Coroebus has been slain, stabs herself with a sword and dies. 

After an intermission, Part II begins in a public amphitheatre in Carthage, where Queen Dido, sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, celebrates the building of Carthage after her escape from her native Phoenician city of Tyre. Susan Graham, who was honored after Sunday’s performance marking the 25th anniversary of her debut with San Francisco Opera, possesses a beautiful voice that can easily conquer soprano roles as well as those written for mezzo-sopranos. However, Susan Graham, too, had difficulty projecting clear enunciation of the French text. In her case, at least, given her past triumphs in other French operas such as Gluck’s Iphégenie en Tauride, Massenet’s Werther, and Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, this had to be the result of Berlioz’s heavy orchestration rather than any defects in Susan Graham’s French diction. Perhaps the diction problem, which pervaded this pro-duction of Les Troyens, may be as much the responsibility of conductor Donald Runnicles as of any limitations on the part of the non-native French-speaking singers. In any case, the issue of making the French text clearly heard in Berlioz’s Les Troyens has to be one of opera’s most daunting tasks for conductors. In all other respects but this, I found the conducting of Runnicles to be outstanding. 

After a chorus sings the praises of Dido, a dialogue ensues between Dido and her sister Anna. In the role of Anna, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sang beautifully as she counseled her widowed sister to open herself to love and find a new husband to share with her the throne of Carthage. Dido, who cherishes the memory of Sychaeus, her dead husband, vigorously rejects Anna’s advice. Iopas, a Carthaginian, rushes in with the news that a foreign fleet has anchored in the harbor and asks to meet Queen Dido. The Queen generously invites the foreigners to approach. It is Aeneas and his refugees from Troy. Soon Dido’s advisor Narbal enters. Ably sung by bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, Narbal warns Dido that Numidian troops from the desert are now encircling Carthage itself. Aeneas proposes that his Trojan warriors join forces with Dido’s Carthaginians to repel the African hordes. Dido accepts this offer, and their combined forces rush off to defend Carthage. 

As Act IV begins, Les Troyens enmbarks on its most problematic material. In this production, the problems were blatantly emphasized by the inexplicable staging. As the curtain went up, what looked for all the world like a giant soccer ball was seen front and center amidst Carthaginian buildings. (Given the latest news in the soccer world, I half expected to see the acronym FIFA inscribed on the giant soccer ball.) Then, as if filled with helium, the soccer ball levitated above the stage and assumed an oblong shape as it hung ominously over Carthage. What in the world this bit of stage scenery was supposed to signify is beyond me. A friend saw it as a space-ship! This was as stupid a bit of staging as could be imagined!  

To make matters worse, the ensuing music, known as “The Royal Hunt and Storm,” was staged in a confusing manner, as dancers raced around pointing bows and arrows at unseen prey. Were they fighting Numidians or simply hunting stags? Nothing was clear; and it seemed a flimsy excuse for a ballet number. Moreover, in the midst of this confusing ballet, Aeneas and Dido came together mid-stage and enacted their growing passion for one another. Was this happening in the midst of battle with the Numidians, or was it during a royal hunt? And if the latter, what happened to the Numidians? None of this was clear in director David McVicar’s staging. When yet another tedious ballet ensued, I wished this entire act had been deleted. (Interestingly, when Dido interrupted the second long ballet number by saying, “Enough. This revelry unnerves me,” someone sitting behind me in the audience let out an appreciative but discreet clap. I laughed out loud and found myself in total agreement with both Dido and the anonymous audience member who applauded Dido’s request to cut short this totally extraneous ballet.) 

Dido now asked for a simple song of the fields, which was beautifully delivered by tenor René Barbera as Iopas in the aria, “O blonde Ceres.” In fact, this tenor aria was one of the highlights of the opera. Soon Dido and Aeneas, left alone onstage, sang their famous love duet, “Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie” (“Oh sweet night of unending bliss and ecstasy”). Tenor Bryan Hymel, who was making his San Francisco Opera debut as Aeneas, sang beautifully; and he, for one, generally managed to project the French text with excellent diction. When Dido and Aeneas exited exited arm-in-arm, a winged Mercury appeared onstage reminding Aeneas of his destiny -- “Italie! Italie.” 

In Act V, the scene is Carthage harbor at night. Seated in a crow’s nest high above the ships at anchor, Hylas, a young Phoenician sailor sung by tenor Chong Wang, sings sadly of his long lost Phoenician homeland. Two Trojan sailors on guard nearby voice their resentment against the talk of “Italie,” and rejoice in the women and wine of Carthage. Suddenly, Aeneas appears and offers a soliloquy in which he admits his conflicted feelings. In spite of his overwhelming love for Dido, he recognizes the call of the gods who insist that he fulfill his duty to push on to Italy. Aeneas orders his Trojans to prepare for a pre-dawn departure.  

Suddenly, Dido appears onstage, confronting Aeneas. Weeping and pleading, Dido begs Aeneas to stay in honor of their love. Aeneas tries ineffectually to explain that though he will always love Dido, he must follow the destiny the gods have ordained for him. Dido is aghast at this. “Isn’t our love enough for you?” she asks. “For me,” she adds, “our love would override even Jupiter himself.” Aeneas is almost moved to relent; but the music of the Trojan march, heard already several times in this opera, inspires Aeneas to quickly board his ships. 

The next scene takes place with Dido alone before a drawn curtain. Her sister Anna enters and tries to assuage Dido’s torment by noting that the departure of Aeneas has been decreed by the gods. When Iopas enters and describes the Trojan ships leaving the port, Dido bursts out in fury. She wants the Trojans slaughtered and regrets she ever gave them asylum in Carthage.  

The last scene takes place at the harbor, where Dido mounts a funeral pyre larded with all the gifts she received from Aeneas. These gifts seem like mangled pieces of scrap iron salvaged from futuristic (and anachronistic) war machines, mingled with a few shoddy pieces of royal fabric. Atop the pyre, Dido prophesies that her people will one day be avenged by a Carthaginian warrior named Hannibal. Then, clutching the material debris of her love affair with Aeneas, Dido plunges a sword into her breast. Dying, she tells of a vision of Rome triumphant. Behind the funeral pyre of Dido, a huge scrap iron statue of Aeneas as sword-bearing warrior rises to confirm Dido’s vision of the future ascendancy of Rome. Thus ends Berlioz’s epic opera Les Troyens, an intrepid if not altogether successful French alternative to Richard Wagner’s similarly ambitious but perhaps equally overstretched Ring cycle of the same period. 

(Les Troyens continues through July 1.)