The Week



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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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). -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-



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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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 and ask them to postpone further approvals until we know what happened at Library Gardens, and even more important, why. -more-

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. -more-

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 and

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. -more-

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? -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-

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! -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-


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. -more-

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. -more-

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. -more-


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 -more-

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. -more-

SENIOR POWER: How does your garden grow?

Helen Rippier Wheeler,
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. -more-

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. -more-

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.


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.


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. -more-