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HISTORY LESSON from The Berkeley Daily Planet, May 28, 2004.  John Declerq (left), owner of Transaction real estate investment company, and Mayor Tom Bates take the first swing Thursday to start the demolition of the Kittredge Street Garage. The garage is being torn down to make way for the 176-unit Library Gardens housing development. Construction on the new building is set to start in 60 days.
Jakob Schiller
HISTORY LESSON from The Berkeley Daily Planet, May 28, 2004. John Declerq (left), owner of Transaction real estate investment company, and Mayor Tom Bates take the first swing Thursday to start the demolition of the Kittredge Street Garage. The garage is being torn down to make way for the 176-unit Library Gardens housing development. Construction on the new building is set to start in 60 days.


Anti-Homeless Laws Held Over Until Fall (ADVISORY)

Bob Offer-Westort
Wednesday July 01, 2015 - 08:46:00 AM

At 1:30 this morning, Berkeley’s City Council decided unanimously to delay hearing and consideration of four proposed new anti-homeless laws until after the Summer recess. The decision to delay came in response to public outcry against the last minute introduction of substantive amendments at 1:00 a.m. that neither the broader public nor City Councilmembers had had the opportunity to review. Councilmember Kriss Worthington objected that the introduction of such dramatic changes after midnight was deeply undemocratic. Councilmembers Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguín announced that they would not participate in such a process. Members of the public voiced support. In response, the Mayor suggested that the matter should be held over, and referred to the Agenda Committee. Councilmember Maio, the author of the legislation and the amendments, accepted this recommendation, and pledged from the dais to work with opponents from the public. 

“A meaningful public process—one that doesn’t force people to sit through six-hour meetings, one that makes plans with adequate time for public discussion—should result in better legislation that better fits Berkeley’s democratic values and commitment to compassion and human rights. We’re glad that Councilmember Maio has agreed to move this legislation from the backroom into the public,” said Elisa Della-Piana, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center and a volunteer with the community group Sidewalks Are For Everyone (SAFE). 

SAFE organized both housed and homeless people to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Nearly 200 opponents of the anti-homeless legislation were present at the beginning of the meeting at 7:00 p.m. However, the legislation was placed last on the agenda, after the entirety of the City budget and the controversial hearing over the view from the Campanile. By 1:00 a.m., the crowd had thinned to 80 members of the public in opposition to the proposal, and a handful of journalists and others. Many homeless people had to leave before this item because of Berkeley shelter curfews

New: Berkeley’s New Anti-Poor Laws­
What Are They?

Carol Denney
Sunday June 28, 2015 - 11:58:00 PM

> June 30 > 6:00 p.m.: Rally at Old City Hall (2134 MLK Jr Way) > 7:00 p.m.: City Council Meeting (2134 MLK Jr Way)

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel has re-tooled the March 17, 2014 anti-homeless proposals from the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) for Berkeley City Council approval on June 30th. She dialed back some of the DBA’s more extreme suggestions-- she even pointed out that they are currently enforcing laws against behavior which is perfectly legal-- but obediently developed some new recommendations on behalf of merchant groups hostile to sharing public space with poor, homeless, transient and traveling people: 

RECOMMENDATION 1. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance amending Berkeley Municipal Code Section 13.37.020 to add a provision that it is unlawful for any person to solicit another who is making a payment at a parking meter. 2. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance adding Section 13.36.040 to the Berkeley Municipal Code Regulating Lying in City-Owned Planters. 3. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance amending Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 14.48 to ensure that public streets, and especially sidewalks, are fully accessible and usable for the purposes for which they were constructed and are intended, specifically the movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and goods. 4. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance adding Section 13.36.085 to the Berkeley Municipal Code prohibiting urination and defecation in public places. 

The first provision (#1.) expands Berkeley’s current prohibition on panhandling within ten feet of an Automatic Teller Machine to include a prohibition on soliciting anyone in the act of making a payment at a parking meter. 

The second provision (#2.) expands Berkeley’s prohibition on lying on the sidewalk to include lying on the walls and interior of downtown planters unless there is a medical emergency. 

The third provision (#3.) has detailed provisions prohibiting anyone from putting anything on the sidewalk which exceeds two square feet for more than one hour unless the person gets a permit from the traffic engineer, a measure clearly aimed at the people who traditionally share their artwork, crafts, or political materials and collect donations along the streets. 

The fourth provision (#4.) makes it a crime to urinate or defecate in a public place (already prohibited under California law) or any place “exposed to public view”, more inclusive language which would cover private property near a public area such as an alley or doorway without creating any additional access to bathrooms – in fact, the DBA is on record recommending against adding a public bathroom to the (yet again) BART Plaza redesign on the grounds that it would constitute “an attractive nuisance.” 

The City Manager’s assumption in the third and possibly most problematic provision is that the First Amendment rights of artists, signature collectors at tables, people with political displays, etc., have to be “balanced” with concerns about “economic vitality” which is presumed to be negatively affected by the presence of First Amendment activity. The words “vital” or “vitality” appear eight times in the document. The words “aesthetic” or “aesthetic” appear six times, with additional phrases which work overtime to avoid stating overtly the crisis of having some scruffy guy spoiling “an aesthetically pleasing streetscape.” 

It’s worth noting that the ordinance Daniel is attempting to re-word was born in the 1950’s as an effort to curb problematic merchant behavior on behalf of pedestrians, who were tired of trying to navigate through streets cluttered with chairs, tables, signs, and displays of goods blocking the public right of way. 3262 N.S. 12.1 was dusted off in the early 1990’s by Chief of Police Dash Butler for use only against poor and homeless people until civil rights advocates brought the pattern and practice of its discriminatory application to the attention of, of all people, Councilmember Linda Maio, who had the clarity of mind in those days to call for a halt to the obvious discrimination. 

But times have changed. The city now creates special permits for the permanent acquisition of public space by adjacent merchants adjacent to sidewalks. And the struggling kid with the hand-painted cards hoping to raise enough through donations to make it through the week can just go fish. 



D.A. O'Malley Will Conduct Criminal Probe of Berkeley Balcony Collapse

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 11:30:00 PM

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said today that her office will be conducting a criminal investigation into the balcony collapse in downtown Berkeley last week that killed six people and injured seven others. 

The fourth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex, a five-story, 146-unit building at 2020 Kittredge St. that was completed in 2007, collapsed at 12:41 a.m. on June 16 during a party in Unit 405. 

The balcony was left hanging straight down along the building face. Of the six people killed, five were Irish nationals. 

Speaking at a packed news conference in her office, O'Malley said the incident "has devastated families throughout the Bay Area and Ireland." 

She said, "To the families who lost loved ones and to the community, each of you deserve to have this thoroughly and exhaustively investigated. We will do so and that is what I pledge." 

The city of Berkeley completed an initial investigation on Tuesday but O'Malley said the city's probe was limited in scope and her office will conduct a wider investigation that will include forensic and laboratory analysis. 

O'Malley said one of the things her office will be looking into is whether the people who built, owned or managed the apartment complex were criminally negligent. 

She said that if her office concludes that there was negligence, one possible charge would be involuntary manslaughter. 

However, O'Malley cautioned that the investigation is just beginning and she has no idea if it will result in criminal charges being filed. 

"We will find out if there are facts that support criminal charges and if they can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law," O'Malley said. 

She said her office has many investigators who are knowledgeable about building issues but she also will bring in "the best experts" from state government and other outside agencies. 



‘The American Century’ Has Plunged the World Into Crisis. What Happens Now? (News Analysis)

Conn Hallinan and Leon Wofsy
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 09:35:00 AM

There’s something fundamentally wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

Despite glimmers of hope — a tentative nuclear agreement with Iran, for one, and a long-overdue thaw with Cuba — we’re locked into seemingly irresolvable conflicts in most regions of the world. They range from tensions with nuclear-armed powers like Russia and China to actual combat operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Why? Has a state of perpetual warfare and conflict become inescapable? Or are we in a self-replicating cycle that reflects an inability — or unwillingness — to see the world as it actually is?

The United States is undergoing a historic transition in our relationship to the rest of the world, but this is neither acknowledged nor reflected in U.S. foreign policy. We still act as if our enormous military power, imperial alliances, and self-perceived moral superiority empower us to set the terms of “world order.” 


While this illusion goes back to the end of World War II, it was the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union that signaled the beginning of a self-proclaimed “American Century.” The idea that the United States had “won” the Cold War and now — as the world’s lone superpower — had the right or responsibility to order the world’s affairs led to a series of military adventures. It started with President Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, continued on with George W. Bush’s disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and can still be seen in the Obama administration’s own misadventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and beyond. 


In each case, Washington chose war as the answer to enormously complex issues, ignoring the profound consequences for both foreign and domestic policy. Yet the world is very different from the assumptions that drive this impulsive interventionism. 

It’s this disconnect that defines the current crisis. 


Acknowledging New Realities 


So what is it about the world that requires a change in our outlook? A few observations come to mind. 


First, our preoccupation with conflicts in the Middle East — and to a significant extent, our tensions with Russia in Eastern Europe and with China in East Asia — distract us from the most compelling crises that threaten the future of humanity. Climate change and environmental perils have to be dealt with now and demand an unprecedented level of international collective action. 

That also holds for the resurgent danger of nuclear war. 


Second, superpower military interventionism and far-flung acts of war have only intensified conflict, terror, and human suffering. There’s no short-term solution — especially by force — to the deep-seated problems that cause chaos, violence, and misery through much of the world. 


Third, while any hope of curbing violence and mitigating the most urgent problems depends on international cooperation, old and disastrous intrigues over spheres of influence dominate the behavior of the major powers. Our own relentless pursuit of military advantage on every continent, including through alliances and proxies like NATO, divides the world into “friend” and “foe” according to our perceived interests. That inevitably inflames aggressive imperial rivalries and overrides common interests in the 21st century. 


Fourth, while the United States remains a great economic power, economic and political influence is shifting and giving rise to national and regional centers no longer controlled by U.S.-dominated global financial structures. Away from Washington, London, and Berlin, alternative centers of economic power are taking hold in Beijing, New Delhi, Cape Town, and Brasilia. Independent formations and alliances are springing up: organizations like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (representing 2.8 billion people); the Union of South American Nations; the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur; and others. 


Beyond the problems our delusions of grandeur have caused in the wider world, there are enormous domestic consequences of prolonged war and interventionism. We shell out over $1 trillion a year in military-related expenses even as our social safety net frays and our infrastructure crumbles. Democracy itself has become virtually dysfunctional. 


Short Memories and Persistent Delusions 


But instead of letting these changing circumstances and our repeated military failures give us pause, our government continues to act as if the United States has the power to dominate and dictate to the rest of the world. 


The responsibility of those who set us on this course fades into background. Indeed, in light of the ongoing meltdown in the Middle East, leading presidential candidates are tapping neoconservatives like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz — who still think the answer to any foreign policy quandary is military power — for advice. Our leaders seem to forget that following this lot’s advice was exactly what caused the meltdown in the first place. War still excites them, risks and consequences be damned. 


While the Obama administration has sought, with limited success, to end the major wars it inherited, our government makes wide use of killer drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and has put troops back into Iraq to confront the religious fanaticism and brutality of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) — itself a direct consequence of the last U.S. invasion of Iraq. Reluctant to find common ground in the fight against ISIS with designated “foes” like Iran and Syria, Washington clings to allies like Saudi Arabia, whose leaders are fueling the crisis of religious fanaticism and internecine barbarity. Elsewhere, the U.S. also continues to give massive support to the Israeli government, despite its expanding occupation of the West Bank and its horrific recurring assaults on Gaza. 


A “war first” policy in places like Iran and Syria is being strongly pushed by neoconservatives like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. Though it’s attempted to distance itself from the neocons, the Obama administration adds to tensions with planned military realignments like the “Asia pivot” aimed at building up U.S. military forces in Asia to confront China. It’s also taken a more aggressive position than even other NATO partners in fostering a new cold war with Russia. 


We seem to have missed the point: There is no such thing as an “American Century.” International order cannot be enforced by a superpower alone. But never mind centuries — if we don’t learn to take our common interests more seriously than those that divide nations and breed the chronic danger of war, there may well be no tomorrows. 




There’s a powerful ideological delusion that any movement seeking to change U.S. foreign policy must confront: that U.S. culture is superior to anything else on the planet. Generally going by the name of “American exceptionalism,” it’s the deeply held belief that American politics (and medicine, technology, education, and so on) are better than those in other countries. Implicit in the belief is an evangelical urge to impose American ways of doing things on the rest of the world. 


Americans, for instance, believe they have the best education system in the world, when in fact they’ve dropped from 1st place to 14th place in the number of college graduates. We’ve made students of higher education the most indebted section of our population, while falling to 17th place in international education ratings. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation, the average American pays more than twice as much for his or her education than those in the rest of the world. 


Health care is an equally compelling example. In the World Health Organization’s ranking of health care systems in 2000, the United States was ranked 37th. In a more recent Institute of Medicine report in 2013, the U.S. was ranked the lowest among 17 developed nations studied. 


The old anti-war slogan, “It will be a good day when schools get all the money they need and the Navy has to hold a bake sale to buy an aircraft carrier” is as appropriate today as it was in the 1960s. We prioritize corporate subsidies, tax cuts for the wealthy, and massive military budgets over education. The result is that Americans are no longer among the most educated in the world. 

But challenging the “exceptionalism” myth courts the danger of being labeled “unpatriotic” and “un-American,” two powerful ideological sanctions that can effectively silence critical or questioning voices. 


The fact that Americans consider their culture or ideology “superior” is hardly unique. But no other country in the world has the same level of economic and military power to enforce its worldview on others. 


The United States did not simply support Kosovo’s independence, for example. It bombed Serbia into de facto acceptance. When the U.S. decided to remove the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi from power, it just did so. No other country is capable of projecting that kind of force in regions thousands of miles from its borders. 


The U.S. currently accounts for anywhere from 45 to 50 percent of the world’s military spending. It has hundreds of overseas bases, ranging from huge sprawling affairs like Camp Bond Steel in Kosovo and unsinkable aircraft carriers around the islands of Okinawa, Wake, Diego Garcia, and Guam to tiny bases called “lily pads” of pre-positioned military supplies. The late political scientist Chalmers Johnson estimated that the U.S. has some 800 bases worldwide, about the same as the British Empire had at its height in 1895. 


The United States has long relied on a military arrow in its diplomatic quiver, and Americans have been at war almost continuously since the end of World War II. Some of these wars were major undertakings: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq (twice), Libya. Some were quick “smash and grabs” like Panama and Grenada. Others are “shadow wars” waged by Special Forces, armed drones, and local proxies. If one defines the term “war” as the application of organized violence, the U.S. has engaged in close to 80 wars since 1945. 


The Home Front 


The coin of empire comes dear, as the old expression goes. 

According Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, the final butcher bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — including the long-term health problems of veterans — will cost U.S. taxpayers around $6 trillion. One can add to that the over $1 trillion the U.S. spends each year on defense-related items. The “official” defense budget of some half a trillion dollars doesn’t include such items as nuclear weapons, veterans’ benefits or retirement, the CIA and Homeland Security, nor the billions a year in interest we’ll be paying on the debt from the Afghan-Iraq wars. By 2013 the U.S. had already paid out $316 billion in interest. 

The domestic collateral damage from that set of priorities is numbing. 


We spend more on our “official” military budget than we do on Medicare, Medicaid, Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development combined. Since 9/11, we’ve spent $70 million an hour on “security” compared to $62 million an hour on all domestic programs. 


As military expenditures dwarf funding for deteriorating social programs, they drive economic inequality. The poor and working millions are left further and further behind. Meanwhile the chronic problems highlighted at Ferguson, and reflected nationwide, are a horrific reminder of how deeply racism — the unequal economic and social divide and systemic abuse of black and Latino youth — continues to plague our homeland


The state of ceaseless war has deeply damaged our democracy, bringing our surveillance and security state to levels that many dictators would envy. The Senate torture report, most of it still classified, shatters the trust we are asked to place in the secret, unaccountable apparatus that runs the most extensive Big Brother spy system ever devised. 


Bombs and Business 


President Calvin Coolidge was said to have remarked that “the business of America is business.” Unsurprisingly, U.S. corporate interests play a major role in American foreign policy. 

Out of the top 10 international arms producers, eight are American. The arms industry spends millions lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and it defends its turf with an efficiency and vigor that its products don’t always emulate on the battlefield. The F-35 fighter-bomber, for example — the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history — will cost $1.5 trillion and doesn’t work. It’s over budget, dangerous to fly, and riddled with defects. And yet few lawmakers dare challenge the powerful corporations who have shoved this lemon down our throats. 


Corporate interests are woven into the fabric of long-term U.S. strategic interests and goals. Both combine to try to control energy supplies, command strategic choke points through which oil and gas supplies transit, and ensure access to markets. 


Many of these goals can be achieved with standard diplomacy or economic pressure, but the U.S. always reserves the right to use military force. The 1979 “Carter Doctrine” — a document that mirrors the 1823 Monroe Doctrine about American interests in Latin America — put that strategy in blunt terms vis-à-vis the Middle East: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” 


It’s no less true in East Asia. The U.S. will certainly engage in peaceful economic competition with China. But if push comes to shove, the Third, Fifth, and Seventh fleets will back up the interests of Washington and its allies — Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Australia. 


Trying to change the course of American foreign policy is not only essential for reducing international tensions. It’s critically important to shift the enormous wealth we expend in war and weapons toward alleviating growing inequality and social crises at home. 


As long as competition for markets and accumulation of capital characterize modern society, nations will vie for spheres of influence, and antagonistic interests will be a fundamental feature of international relations. Chauvinist reaction to incursions real or imagined — and the impulse to respond by military means — is characteristic to some degree of every significant nation-state. Yet the more that some governments, including our own, become subordinate to oligarchic control, the greater is the peril. 


Finding the Common Interest 


These, however, are not the only factors that will shape the future. 

There is nothing inevitable that rules out a significant change of direction, even if the demise or transformation of a capitalistic system of greed and exploitation is not at hand. The potential for change, especially in U.S. foreign policy, resides in how social movements here and abroad respond to the undeniable reality of: 1) the chronic failure, massive costs, and danger inherent in “American Century” exceptionalism; and 2) the urgency of international efforts to respond to climate change. 


There is, as well, the necessity to respond to health and natural disasters aggravated by poverty, to rising messianic violence, and above all, to prevent a descent into war. This includes not only the danger of a clash between the major nuclear powers, but between regional powers. A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, for example, would affect the whole world. 


Without underestimating the self-interest of forces that thrive on gambling with the future of humanity, historic experience and current reality elevate a powerful common interest in peace and survival. The need to change course is not something that can be recognized on only one side of an ideological divide. Nor does that recognition depend on national, ethnic, or religious identity. Rather, it demands acknowledging the enormous cost of plunging ahead as everything falls apart around us. 


After the latest U.S. midterm elections, the political outlook is certainly bleak. But experience shows that elections, important as they are, are not necessarily indicators of when and how significant change can come about in matters of policy. On issues of civil rights and social equality, advances have occurred because a dedicated and persistent minority movement helped change public opinion in a way the political establishment could not defy. 


The Vietnam War, for example, came to an end, despite the stubbornness of Democratic and Republican administrations, when a stalemate on the battlefield and growing international and domestic opposition could no longer be denied. Significant changes can come about even as the basic character of society is retained. Massive resistance and rejection of colonialism caused the British Empire and other colonial powers to adjust to a new reality after World War II. McCarthyism was eventually defeated in the United States. President Nixon was forced to resign. The use of landmines and cluster bombs has been greatly restricted because of the opposition of a small band of activists whose initial efforts were labeled “quixotic.” 


There are diverse and growing political currents in our country that see the folly and danger of the course we’re on. Many Republicans, Democrats, independents, and libertarians — and much of the public — are beginning to say “enough” to war and military intervention all over the globe, and the folly of basing foreign policy on dividing countries into “friend or foe.” 


This is not to be Pollyannaish about anti-war sentiment, or how quickly people can be stampeded into supporting the use of force. In early 2014, some 57 percent of Americans agreed that “over-reliance on military force creates more hatred leading to increased terrorism.” Only 37 percent believed military force was the way to go. But once the hysteria around the Islamic State began, those numbers shifted to pretty much an even split: 47 percent supported the use of military force, 46 percent opposed it. 


It will always be necessary in each new crisis to counter those who mislead and browbeat the public into acceptance of another military intervention. But in spite of the current hysterics about ISIS, disillusionment in war as an answer is probably greater now among Americans and worldwide than it has ever been. That sentiment may prove strong enough to produce a shift away from perpetual war, a shift toward some modesty and common-sense realism in U.S. foreign policy. 


Making Space for the Unexpected 


Given that there is a need for a new approach, how can American foreign policy be changed? 


Foremost, there is the need for a real debate on the thrust of a U.S. foreign policy that chooses negotiation, diplomacy, and international cooperation over the use of force. 


However, as we approach another presidential election, there is as yet no strong voice among the candidates to challenge U.S. foreign policy. Fear and questionable political calculation keep even most progressive politicians from daring to dissent as the crisis of foreign policy lurches further into perpetual militarism and war. 


That silence of political acquiescence has to be broken. 

Nor is it a matter of concern only on the left. There are many Americans — right, left, or neither — who sense the futility of the course we’re on. These voices have to be represented or the election process will be even more of a sham than we’ve recently experienced. 


One can’t predict just what initiatives may take hold, but the recent U.S.-China climate agreement suggests that necessity can override significant obstacles. That accord is an important step forward, although a limited bilateral pact cannot substitute for an essential international climate treaty. There is a glimmer of hope also in the U.S.-Russian joint action that removed chemical weapons from Syria, and in negotiations with Iran, which continue despite fierce opposition from U.S. hawks and the Israeli government. More recently, there is Obama’s bold move — long overdue — to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Despite shifts in political fortunes, the unexpected can happen if there is a need and strong enough pressure to create an opportunity. 


We do not claim to have ready-made solutions to the worsening crisis in international relations. We are certain that there is much we’ve missed or underestimated. But if readers agree that U.S. foreign policy has a national and global impact, and that it is not carried out in the interests of the majority of the world’s people, including our own, then we ask you to join this conversation. 


If we are to expand the ability of the people to influence foreign policy, we need to defend democracy, and encourage dissent and alternative ideas. The threats to the world and to ourselves are so great that finding common ground trumps any particular interest. We also know that we won’t all agree with each other, and we believe that is as it should be. There are multiple paths to the future. No coalition around changing foreign policy will be successful if it tells people to conform to any one pattern of political action. 


So how does the call for changing course translate to something politically viable, and how do we consider the problem of power? 


The power to make significant changes in policy ranges from the persistence of peace activists to the potential influence of the general public. In some circumstances, it becomes possible — as well as necessary — to make significant changes in the power structure itself. 


Greece comes to mind. Greek left organizations came together to form Syriza, the political party that was successfully elected to power on a platform of ending austerity. Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos Party — now the number-two party in the country — came out of massive demonstrations in 2011 and was organized from the grassroots up. We do not argue one approach over the over, but the experiences in both countries demonstrate that there are multiple paths to generating change. 


Certainly progressives and leftists grapple with the problems of power. But progress on issues, particularly in matters like war and peace and climate change, shouldn’t be conceived of as dependent on first achieving general solutions to the problems of society, however desirable. 


Some Proposals 


We also feel it is essential to focus on a few key questions lest we become “The United Front Against Bad Things.” There are lots of bad things, but some are worse than others. Thrashing those out, of course, is part of the process of engaging in politics. 


We know this will not be easy. Yet we are convinced that unless we take up this task, the world will continue to careen toward major disaster. Can we find common programmatic initiatives on which to unite? 


Some worthwhile approaches are presented in A Foreign Policy for All, published after a discussion and workshop that took place in Massachusetts in November 2014. We think everyone should take the time to study that document. We want to offer a few ideas of our own. 


1) We must stop the flood of corporate money into the electoral process, as well as the systematic disenfranchisement of voters through the manipulation of voting laws. 


It may seem odd that we begin with a domestic issue, but we cannot begin to change anything about American foreign policy without confronting political institutions that are increasingly in the thrall of wealthy donors. Growing oligarchic control and economic inequality is not just an American problem, but also a worldwide one. According to Oxfam, by 2016 the world’s richest 1 percent will control over 50 percent of the globe’s total wealth. Poll after poll shows this growing economic disparity does not sit well with people. 


2) It’s essential to begin reining in the vast military-industrial-intelligence complex that burns up more than a trillion dollars a year and whose interests are served by heightened international tension and war. 


3) President Barack Obama came into office pledging to abolish nuclear weapons. He should. 


Instead, the White House has authorized spending $352 billion to modernize our nuclear arsenal, a bill that might eventually go as high as $1 trillion when the cost of the supporting infrastructure is figured in. The possibility of nuclear war is not an abstraction. In Europe, a nuclear-armed NATO has locked horns with a nuclear-armed Russia. Tensions between China and the United States, coupled with current U.S. military strategy in the region — the so-called “AirSea Battle” plan — could touch off a nuclear exchange. 


Leaders in Pakistan and India are troublingly casual about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two South Asian countries. And one can never discount the possibility of an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran. In short, nuclear war is a serious possibility in today’s world. 


One idea is the campaign for nuclear-free zones, which there are scores of — ranging from initiatives written by individual cities to the Treaty of Tlatelolco covering Latin America, the Treaty of Raratonga for the South Pacific, and the Pelindaba Treaty for Africa. Imagine how a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East would change the politics of the region. 


We should also support the Marshall Islands in its campaign demanding the implementation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty eliminating nuclear weapons and moving toward general disarmament. If the great powers took serious steps toward full nuclear disarmament, it would make it difficult for nuclear-armed non-treaty members that have nuclear weapons — North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India — not to follow suit. The key to this, however, is “general disarmament” and a pledge to remove war as an instrument of foreign policy. 


4) Any effort to change foreign policy must eventually confront the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which in the words of former U.S. Central Command leader James Mattis, is a “preeminent flame that keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East.” While the U.S. and its NATO allies are quick to apply sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea, they have done virtually nothing about the continued Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands. 


5) Ending and renouncing military blockades that starve populations as an instrument of foreign policy — Cuba, Gaza, and Iran come to mind — would surely change the international political climate for the better. 


6) Let’s dispense our predilection for “humanitarian intervention,” which is too often an excuse for the great powers to overthrow governments with which they disagree. 


As Walden Bello, former Philippine Congressman for the Citizens’ Action Party and author of Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmasking of the American Empire, writes: “Humanitarian intervention sets a very dangerous precedent that is used to justify future violation of the principle of national sovereignty. One cannot but conclude from the historical record that NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo conflict helped provide the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan, and the justifications for both interventions in turn were employed to legitimize the invasion of Iraq and the NATO war in Libya.” 


7) Climate change is an existential issue, and as much a foreign policy question as war and peace. It can no longer be neglected. 

Thus far, the U.S. has taken only baby steps toward controlling greenhouse gas emissions, but polls overwhelmingly show that the majority of Americans want action on this front. It’s also an issue that reveals the predatory nature of corporate capitalism and its supporters in the halls of Congress. As we have noted, control of energy supplies and guaranteeing the profits of oil and gas conglomerates is a centerpiece of American foreign policy. 


As Naomi Klein notes in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the climate movement must “articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals, but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis. A worldview embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” 


International and Regional Organizations 


Finally, international and regional organizations must be strengthened. For years, mainstream media propaganda has bemoaned the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, while Washington — especially Congress — has systematically weakened the organization and tried to consign it to irrelevance in the public’s estimation. 


The current structure of the United Nations is undemocratic. The five “big powers” that emerged from World War II — the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia — dominate the Security Council with their use of the veto. Two of the earth’s continents, Africa and Latin America, have no permanent members on the Council. 


A truly democratic organization would use the General Assembly as the decision-making body, with adjustments for size and population. Important decisions, like the use of force, could require a super majority. 


At the same time, regional organizations like the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Arab League, and others, have to be strengthened as well. Had the UN Security Council listened to the African Union, which was prepared to start negotiations with the Gaddafi regime, the current Libyan debacle might have been avoided. In turn that might have prevented the spread of war to central Africa and the countries of Mali and Niger. 


Working for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, away from the hubris of “American exceptionalism,” is not to downgrade the enormous importance of the United States. Alongside and in contradiction to the tragic consequences of our misuse of military power, the contributions of the American people to the world are vast and many-faceted. None of the great challenges of our time can be met successfully without America acting in collaboration with the majority of the world’s governments and people. 


There certainly are common interests that join people of all nations regardless of differences in government, politics, culture, and beliefs. Will those interests become strong enough to override the systemic pressures that fuel greed, conflict, war, and ultimate catastrophe? There is a lot of history, and no dearth of dogma, that would seem to sustain a negative answer. But dire necessity and changing reality may produce more positive outcomes in a better, if far from perfect, world. 


It is time for change, time for the very best efforts of all who nurture hopes for a saner world. 


Conn Hallinan is a journalist and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. His writings appear online at Dispatches From the Edge. Leon Wofsy is a retired biology professor and long-time political activist. His comments on current affairs appear online at Leon’s OpEd. 

The authors would like to thank colleagues at Foreign Policy In Focus and numerous others who exchanged views with us and made valuable suggestions. We also appreciate Susan Watrous’ very helpful editorial assistance.

New: Berkeley Officials Propose New Balcony Regs

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 09:13:00 AM

The city of Berkeley will consider more stringent requirements for building and inspecting outdoor balconies after finding severe dry rot in the joists of a balcony that collapsed last week, killing six people and injuring seven others, city officials announced today. 

The fourth-floor balcony at the Liberty Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. collapsed at 12:41 a.m. on June 16 during a party in Unit 405. 

The balcony was left hanging straight down along the building face. Of the six people killed, five were Irish nationals. 

Construction on the five-story, 146-unit building was completed early in 2007 and inspectors at the time found the building, including the balcony, was up to code, according to a 10-page memo by city building and safety division manager Alex Roshal released today. 

The balcony as constructed should have been able to support the weight of the 13 people who were apparently standing on it when it collapsed, city planning and development director Eric Angstadt said at a news conference this afternoon. 

But the balcony's joists, constructed of laminated veneer lumber, had sheered off 16-20 inches from the building face. Inspectors immediately noticed the joists that remained on the building were severely dry rotted and bits of dry rot debris were scattered on the balcony below, according to Roshal's memo. 

The city ordered three other balconies in the building off-limits while inspectors determined whether they were at risk of collapse. The balcony directly below, which belonged to Unit 305, was determined to also be severely dry rotted and the city ordered it removed from the building the next day. 

The other two balconies were determined to be constructed differently and not at risk of collapse, according to Roshal. 

The balconies with the rotted joists were designed to be sealed from the elements, but moisture had somehow infiltrated both, according to Angstadt. 

How the moisture got into the structure is beyond the scope of the city's inspection, but city staff is recommending the City Council take steps to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. 

If passed, the amended building and housing codes as outlined in Roshal's memo would require all outdoor balconies and decks to be constructed from either naturally water-resistant wood, pressure-treated wood, corrosion-resistant steel or similar materials, regardless of whether they are sealed. 

The interior of sealed decks would require some kind of ventilation to prevent rot if moisture was to get inside somehow. 

The city would require inspections of all outdoor balconies in the first six months after passing the new regulations, and all would need to be inspected every five years in the future. 

The City Council could take up the proposed new regulations as soon as July 14. 

The five Irish nationals who were killed were all 21 years old and visiting the country on J-1 visas, which allows visitors to participate in work and study-based exchange programs. 

They were identified as Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh.  

The sixth victim was Rohnert Park resident Ashley Donohoe, 22, who had worked for the last eight months as a forensic assistant intern with the Sonoma County coroner's office.

Press Release: Berkeley City Staff Analysis of Balcony Collapse

From Matthai Chakko, City of Berkeley public relations
Wednesday June 24, 2015 - 04:06:00 AM

A week after the tragic balcony collapse at 2020 Kittredge, City of Berkeley staff have concluded their analysis of the incident. Among other observations, City inspectors noted that the deck joist ends protruding from the exterior wall appeared to be severely dry rotted. 

Based on their observations, City staff will recommend that the City Council adopt new and modified regulations to enhance the safety of all current and future buildings in Berkeley. 

The changes would make new balconies and other sealed areas exposed to weather subject to stricter requirements on materials, inspection and ventilation. In addition, the proposed regulations would institute regular maintenance inspections for all such spaces for future buildings as well as those units already built. 

The new inspection requirements would apply to existing buildings and would require inspections of all such spaces within six months of the passage of the proposed ordinances. Subsequently, those units would be required to have maintenance inspections by qualified inspectors once every five years. 

Building and Safety Division staff also confirmed that the Approved Plans complied with the applicable California Building Code requirements in effect at that time, and also that all state building code-mandated inspections were conducted. 

Please read the staff report for further detai



Updated: Some Berkeleyans Do Know That Shoddy Construction Doesn't Belong Here--Not For Our Kids, Not in Our Backyard

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday June 24, 2015 - 09:34:00 AM

UPDATE: The Berkeley City Council, as predicted here, passed a version of the "significant community benefits" yardstick which exempts the RatBP project, so that it continues on the fast track which its well-wired promoter Mark Rhoades is demanding. What a shame. 


Observing from afar the investigation into the collapse of the Library Gardens balcony, I must concur with my colleagues at Irish Central that something in Berkeley is rotten to the core. The thing is, sensible people in Berkeley, some of them commonly denigrated as NIMBYs, have figured this out long ago. They have been sure for a long time that what Berkeley does not need is hasty, cheap and shoddy construction, particularly in buildings obviously aimed at students. 

The theory that university administrations are supposed to serve “in loco parentis”, in place of parents, for the young people they attract is more honored these days in the breach than in the observance, but in a larger sense the young people who flock to Berkeley because of its international reputation are all our children—we are all in loco parentis for them. Berkeley is our back yard, and we are all responsible if our world neighbors’ kids are harmed here. It just shouldn’t have happened here—Not In Our Back Yard. 

The NIMBY label should be considered a badge of honor. The NIMBYs in Berkeley and elsewhere are the adults in the room, the people who take responsibility for the civic fabric. 

In the correspondence that’s been flying around on the Internet since the tragedy occurred, it’s clear that savvy Berkeleyans have a pretty good idea of how it happened. Margot Smith of the Grey Panthers forwarded to me this letter which engineer Andrew Berna-Hicks, P.E., addressed to the Mayor of Berkeley and State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond: 

“It turns out that the beams used to hold up, or were supposed to hold up, the failed balcony that killed six young people in Berkeley were made of "oriented strand board" which is basically particle board. This type of construction is unacceptable. No support beams of any kind should be allowed to be made of this inferior material. This material is known to fall apart with even minimal water exposure. Ban it altogether.” 

The letter includes this definition of OSB: 

Oriented strand board (OSB), also known as sterling board, sterling OSB, aspenite, and smartply in British English, is an engineered wood particle board formed by adding adhesives and then compressing layers of wood strands (flakes) in specific orientations. 

The hastily assembled report from the City of Berkeley’s building department confirms his description of how the balconies of Library Gardens were supported by OSB. You can read it here. The description of how OSB was used for structural support appears on page 5. 

And it turns out that a Berkeleyan who is often excoriated for being a NIMBY exposed and condemned the dangers of OSB in a Planet Op-Ed all the way back in 2004. You can read the whole thing here. 

Gale Garcia described herself then as “one of those pesky Berkeley natives who thinks ‘smart growth’ is just developer propaganda.” 

In an open letter addressed to Berkeley Chief Building Official Joan MacQuarrie, Mayor Tom Bates, Planning Director Dan Marks, Housing Director Steve Barton and Planning Manager Mark Rhoades for submission to the members of the Zoning Adjustments Board, she said this: 

“I consulted my contractor friends about the technicalities of stucco construction. Each thought that the building standards with respect to exterior cladding had been lowered in the last two decades—probably due to pressure from the building industry—and that many of the materials used now are experimental. 

“While investigating stucco failure, I became interested in a product called oriented strand board (OSB), often used instead of plywood. It can be seen out in the elements at job sites, such as the shockingly large project at Shattuck Avenue and Haste Street. OSB is composed of wood strands and glue. The manufacturers claim it is equivalent to plywood, but it is known to absorb moisture with enthusiasm and is particularly susceptible to the growth of mold. “ 

After researching the topic, she ended with a call for action: 

“In [an] article written by an engineer about leaky condominiums, he explains the problem to be that designers, builders and regulators are unaware of the consequences of failing to achieve moisture control. He concludes: ‘What appears to be called for is a return to more traditional practices, in which the building has a drainage system and, therefore, can breathe.’ 

“I ask each of you to use your respective positions to bring the permitting process for multi-story stucco-clad buildings to a halt until the cause of these failures has been determined. Ms. MacQuarrie, please launch an investigation into the building practices currently used, and the reasons for the dramatic stucco failures in new construction of the last seven years. Mr. Marks, please do what you can to rein in a planning staff who never met a colossal edifice they didn’t love. Finally, Mayor Bates, do you want to be remembered forever for encouraging a rash of flawed, leaking and ultimately hated construction projects disfiguring this once beautiful town? The choice is yours.” 

Her question for the mayor is even more relevant today than it was way back in 2004, because stucco failures and attendant water damage have now gone from being simply disfiguring to being fatal. 

The city’s report on Library Gardens carefully documents how I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed according to all the rule books, but the building failed anyhow. A few changes (not backed, however, by any experiential data) are suggested, but they may be no more than band-aids—locking the barn door after the horse is stolen. 

It’s abundantly clear that both building codes and enforcement mechanisms with these new and untested construction methods must now be rigorously evaluated over a long enough period in a much more thorough way. No quick fix will do the job. 

But instead city officials and staff are poised to launch yet a new round of dangerous innovation, with marathon city meetings scheduled this week so that Berkeley can get started on the biggest building yet at 2211 Harold Way. It will be another cash cow—entitled by a local fixer for his Los Angeles financial backers and then transferred ultimately through a network of corporate structures to another faceless and irresponsible corporation like the ultimate landlords who now collect the rent at Library Gardens. 

It’s time for Berkeleyans to stop and evaluate what’s going wrong with the plans which have been made, in all good faith, for accelerated construction of structures which our city doesn’t seem to have the codes, the skills or the money to supervise properly. 

I have been on amiable speaking terms over the years with most of the councilmembers. Three of them already seem clear about what’s needed now. Two are usually spokespersons for the real estate and constructions industries, and I don’t expect them to change. But what about the other four? 

When Linda Maio, Susan Wengraf, Darryl Moore and Lori Droste are not sitting on the council dais, when they are taking part in the same civic do-gooder activities that I have participated in with them for the last 40 years, they have seemed to me to be thoughtful and compassionate people. Even at this late date I find it hard to believe that one or more of them will not listen to the voices of reason which are now being raised all over Berkeley in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy. What harm would it do, except perhaps to the pocketbooks of some out-of-town one-percenters speculating in the housing market, to take six months to thoroughly research how well codes and inspection procedures actually perform in Berkeley, and to fix what we can when we’re able? 

I have been told by a councilmember that unless hundreds of outraged citizens show up on Thursday, first at the special City Council meeting at Longfellow School at five o’clock, and are then transported (by winged chariots perhaps?) to the Zoning Adjustment Board at 7 at Old City Hall, approval of the project will go forward on schedule. Yet if city officials had listened in 2004 to just one prescient citizen, Gale Garcia, the Library Gardens tragedy might have been avoided. And they should listen now to the others sounding the alarm. 

Linda, Susan, Darryl, Lori, are you listening? The young people, students and others, who are the target market for Berkeley’s building boom are our kids too. 

Listen to what your neighbors are saying. Let’s do what we must to keep them safe. The choice is yours. 

Just to be safe however, if you’re one of those concerned citizens, you would be well advised to trek down to the two meetings to make your voice heard in person. I can’t be there myself, so speak for me. 





And if you really can't show up on Thursday, write letters. Sometimes they are read, or at least counted. The only address you need is council@cityofberkeley.info Or even visit your councilmember in his or her office. 



















The Editor's Back Fence

New: Don't Miss This: Which Side is He On?
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates tells all in video of speech to Berkeley Property Owners Association (the landlord lobby).

Saturday July 04, 2015 - 12:03:00 PM

He's been the developers' guy all the way, all along, he says.

Tom Lochner of the Contra Costa Times has found a video in which Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates tells his landlord buddies in the Berkeley Property Owners Association that he's on their side all the way. And so, he says, is Laurie Capitelli. He says he started out as a developer himself, as did Capitelli. Who knew?

In the speech, Bates advises the landlords to form their own Political Action Commitee (PAC) and suggests a city takeover of the Rent Board and the Housing Authority. No kidding. 


Public Comment

New: Certification of Final Environmental Impact Report: Letter to Berkeley's Zoning Adjustment Board

Shirley Dean, Berkeley Resident and Former Mayor
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 12:14:00 AM

I understand that in spite of repeated appeals to you to cancel consideration of certifying the FEI R for 2211 Harold Way, the item remains on your agenda with the notation that it is to be discussed no earlier than 8:00 pm on June 25, 2015. I personally know how time consuming and difficult your job is, as I have walked in your shoes back when the Zoning Adjustments Board was called the Board of Adjustments. I thank you for your willingness to do it. 

While I have not agreed with some of your decisions, I have always felt that each of you serve with unquestioned integrity. I am now calling on your inherent integrity, to either refuse to participate in consideration of this item or, at the very least, hear comments, but defer taking action on the item to another date. 

I have no idea of how many people will attend the June 25, 2015 Council meeting at 5:00 pm to speak on the issue of significant community benefits for buildings exceeding 75 feet in height. I predict it will be a large number. The Council seems to hold that same conclusion since they have scheduled their meeting to be held in the Auditorium of Longfellow Middle School at 1500 Derby, publicly stating that the venue was changed because they expected a large crowd. 

Given this schedule, how do you expect people to wait to speak their turn at that location, at an hour when most people are just leaving work, just getting home, or preparing for dinner, and then afterwards, drive to Old City Hall, find a parking space, and speak to you? How will you even be fully informed of the discussion held by the Council? How will you absorb the comments from the public and then cast an informed and thoughtful vote on the matter of certification of the FEIR? 

It is hard to believe that individually, you won't object. Each of you is accountable for your decision to participate. Each of you must consider what that decision says about your character if you participate in such an unfair and undemocratic process. It is my sincere request that you simply cancel the item and let us all go home or that you hear from those who have made it to the meeting but defer taking any action until you have had time for thoughtful consideration of the information you have received both from the Council and the public. 

In hopes that you will cancel the item entirely, I am offering the following comments regarding the inadequacy of the FEIR and of the whole process by which the FEIR and the project at 2211 Harold Way is being considered. 

1). On May 14,2015, I made comments and presented written material to the ZAB regarding the fact that the Geotechnical Feasibility Report submitted by EnGeo is invalid by its own admission. Section 8 of that report, page 11, first paragraph, last sentence reads, "The conclusions and recommendations contained in this report are solely professional opinions and are valid for a period of no more than 2 years from the date of report issuance." The date on that report was January 25, 2013. Two years have passed. The report is, without question, invalid. 

Since then earthquakes have occurred which show television appearances of USGS scientists stating they think existing California earthquake resistant building requirements should be reviewed. Putting aside that earthquake building standards may or may not be shortly under review, the power point presentation done by the EIR consultants as a response to comments on May 14 is silent on this subject. 

The June 2015 Addition to the FEIR and Response to Comments Document prepared by the City and the EIR consultants , pp 5-45 and 5-46 merely states that the project would be required to implement the geotechnical recommendations from the 2013 ENGEO report! Further, that the impacts "would be less than significant with implementation of geotechnical recommendations and adherence to existing regulations, policies and standard practices." Too bad, I guess, that the geotechnical report is invalid and that the City has determined is currently embarking on a review and strengthening of existing building codes. 

2.) Additionally, on May 14, 2015, I made reference to the October 13, 2014 letter from East Bay Municipal Utilities District regarding water usage, wastewater and City creek requirements. 

  1. Water Usage and Wastewater:
The power point presentation by the EIR consultants dismisses these concerns with statements that the water supply analysis is based on EBMUD's adopted Urban Water Management Plan that includes a multiple dry year scenario, and that EBMUD's letter reflects EBMUD's standard development project requirements, and did not identify any significant project impact 

Worse yet, the June 2015 Additional FEIR Report states that "impacts of the proposed project in relation to hydrology and water quality would be less than significant with compliance with existing regulations and normal standards of use." (Emphasis added.) Since the EBMUD letter was written 8 and a half months ago, the State has been declared to be in a Stage 4 Critical Water Crisis, a mandatory 20% reduction from 2013 usage has been imposed on all of us, and rate hikes have been enacted. The FEIR needs to explain why there is no adverse water impact from adding 936 ( State Department of Finance projected occupancy of 2.1 residents per unit) new residents in just 2211 Harold Way. The Additional FEIR Report provides the information that a mitigation measure will be watering two times daily during the site preparation and grading period (which they state will be about 30 days), to a depth of one inch, using 4.4 acre feet of water for dust control. Note: An acre foot = 1 foot of water on an area 66 feet wide and 660 feet long, or approximately 893 gallons of water. 4.4 acre feet would equal almost 4,000 gallons or more if watering took more than 30 days. 

The water problems with the construction and number of new residents in the 2211 Harold Way project is compounded by up-coming projects such as the one at 2150 Shattuck with 280 hotel rooms and 43 condominiums , and the 92 new dwelling units in 1951-75Shattuck just in the Downtown without even counting those that have already been approved elsewhere in the City 


  1. Wastewater
The June 2015 Supplemental Report states correctly that this project must be in compliance with Berkeley's NPDES permit that seeks to reduce existing excessive infiltration and inflow problems that allow sewage to currently enter San Francisco Bay. The letter warns that if these reductions are not achieved it could result in "significant financial implications" for East Bay residents. Besides the statement that this is just standard language for EBMUD, the FEIR response to this warning is that the Harold Way project includes a new sewer line 8" in diameter connecting to an existing 12-inch sewer main under Allston Way. Fine, but there is no analysis of whether the 12-inch Allston Way is adequate in light of the planned thousands of new residents in the Downtown, and all of the new residential units and commercial and industrial properties downstream of it. We also know that two new University of California 120 foot tall buildings will be constructed and that while the campus says they will contribute to infrastructure improvements such as the sewers, that agreement has been modified to say that it applies ONLY if it doesn't raise an amount they agreed to pay back in 2005. 

  1. Creeks
The June 2015 Additional Report responds to the question of impacts from Strawberry Creek which runs through the site on the north side of the project by stating that Strawberry Creek is culverted and is not "within any creek buffers identified in City plans or policies and is not subject to the provisions of Berkeley Municipal Code Section 17.08. 

It is not possible to access creeks maps online, but a map, Figure 7, provided in the EnGeo Report clearly shows the location of Strawberry Creek. A copy of that map is attached. The north side of 2211 Harold Way is within the marked creek location. The EnGeo report also discusses the need for taking out unstable creek landfill in order to accommodate the parking garage below the planned 18-story building to something like a 4-story depth. City maps of the Downtown do not show open or culverted creeks, nor do City records re 2211 Harold Way mention this issue. However, every property in the city of Berkeley is subject to BMC Section 17.08 which requires that, culverted or not, properties within a certain proximity to creeks have to undergo specific investigation and special permitting. BMC Section 17.08 does not exempt properties in the Downtown. Since everyone else must abide by this regulation, the FEIR needs to explain why 2211 Harold Way is exempt, not to do so results in uneven and unfair treatment of other property owners. 

3.) The Additional FEIR Report concludes that Design Review Committees' (DRC) analysis is the Recommended Alternative. It is compared to the Proposed Project, Preservation Alternative and Contextual Design Alternative. All of these build outs are listed as having a building height of 18 stories/180 feet. This is a factual error. The voters approved 2010 Measure R that stated no building in the core will be higher than existing 180 foot buildings. It turns out that there are no existing 180 foot tall buildings in Berkeley. However, the Voters Handbook for that 2010 Measure R defined the height as no higher than the Great Western Building, Berkeley's tallest building. The Great Western Building seems to be around 178 feet actual height, measured to the ledge and including everything else on top. 2211 Harold Way is 194 actual feet. Repeated requests from the public to settle these height issues have been ignored, so today neither you nor the staff know. How can a FEIR inform decision makers when it is factually incorrect? 

This also leads to how can the height impacts be accurately determined, along with the accompanying width impacts on nearby historic resources, the Shattuck Hotel and Main Berkeley Library unless the height is actually known. 

4.) The FEIR lists the objectives of the project, but no where do I find a list of what the City's objectives are. Affordable housing, how much? Retaining the Shattuck Cinemas to their full extent? Additional community benefits, what are they? No one knows. So, the FEIR can determine how a project or alternative meets the objectives of the proposed project, but no one knows how such a project meets the objectives of the City. The work simply hasn't been done: Should Labor Agreements be a given, on all buildings, and include employment and training of Berkeley residents? Should the Shattuck Cinemas be retained in their present form because they are part and parcel of the Arts and Theater District and their loss would mean a decrease in the vitality of the Downtown? How can mitigation measures and alternatives be analyzed without the answers to these essential questions that are currently lacking? 

5.) ZAB Member Pinkston stated that she felt the mitigation measures were all included in the FEIR, but they were "hard to find" and she, therefore, requested that they be put all together in one place. That is a very sensible way to organize the FEIR, but I can't find such a document. It should be produced to improve the understanding of both decision makers and public. 

Additionally I would request that the comments regarding subjects that the FEIR states are not covered by CEQA and which don't require mitigation or further analysis, but which the documents promises will be sent to decisions makers, should be compiled into a subject list, with reference pages, and attached to the FEIR. This suggestion is made for the same reasons as given above for the mitigation measures. 

6.) Lastly, while I find it unpleasant, and don't want to do it, I feel I must challenge the participation of ZAB Commissioners Pinkston and Dominguez in any discussion regarding 2211 Harold Way. I am advised that Commissioner Pinkston, a thoughtful contributor to Board discussions, sits on the board of the performing arts group that is seeking to be included in this project. I have also been advised that Nic Dominguez sits on the board of Livable Berkeley that has already taken a position of support regarding 2211 Harold Way. I have attached an opinion from the City Attorney dated December 1, 2000 that is the basis for raising these questions. The participation of these two ZAB members needs to be determined as quickly as possible as City rules are that if they do have such a conflict, they must leave the room and not participate in any discussion or vote involving 2211 Harold Way. 

Thank you for your consideration of this lengthy letter. 


Reverse the Nightmare Meeting Schedule: Letter to Berkeley's Mayor, Council and Manager

Shirley Dean,former Mayor of Berkeley
Wednesday June 24, 2015 - 07:49:00 AM

I am writing to tell you of my strenuous objection to the scheduling of a Council meeting on June 25 to consider significant community benefits that will be required of Downtown building projects over 75 feet. One of those buildings, 2211 Harold Way is not only the largest single building proposed to be constructed in Berkeley, it would be the tallest building (194 feet) in our Downtown, and, as such, has generated considerable interest, to say the least. As you know, 2211 Harold Way is currently under active consideration by both the Zoning Adjustments Board and Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Yet, you have scheduled this item for discussion at 5:00 pm, a time when most residents cannot attend. You certainly must know that many, many residents will want to comment, and those that manage to get there at 5:00 pm will be given a whole one minute to say a few words. Because of this completely insufficient speaking time, many will present written remarks that quite evidently you will ignore, as I have been led to understand, you intend to proceed to take a vote that very night with no time taken to either consider what was said verbally or review what is given to you in writing. 

To make matters worse, you well know that the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) is meeting on that same date in Council Chambers where you would normally be meeting. The ZAB meeting starts at 7:00 pm and on their agenda is action to certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) regarding 2211 Harold Way. Can this be a coincidence of which no one is aware?  

How will ZAB Members even know of your decision regarding community benefits or understand its nuances? Will a staff member drive from your meeting on Sacramento Street to the ZAB meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, and even find a parking space there in such a short time frame? For that matter how will the people attending and making comment at your meeting now have to rush to another location in time to make comment on the same project at another location? How will ZAB Members be able to fully understand and analyze a project once they do receive the information of your action? The community benefits required of these five tall buildings in the Downtown is certainly part of the EIR from the standpoint of how various parts of a specific proposal can be mitigated and/or would fall into the category of "overriding considerations" where the merits of the project outweigh the adverse impacts. Also, since these five buildings are such an important planning issue, shouldn't the Planning Commission have the opportunity to comment on these benefits? 

You have known for the past three years since the adoption of 2010 Measure R, the Downtown Area Plan and Amendments to the Zoning Code in 2012, that the subject of significant community benefits needed to be addressed. Understandably adopting what they will be is not something you do on the fly, but you can't all of a sudden do it on one night, through the votes of two different legislative bodies, within a few short hours of each other. To do so, is not only unfair, it is undemocratic and stands as an embarrassment to an entire community as well as invites unintended consequences.  

Yes, I know the Mayor presented a proposal a few weeks ago, but now is the time that the community has to react to that proposal. Or, who knows, there may be other proposals presented since you have been accepting a lot of supplemental material handed out at the meeting and which give no opportunity for adequate community review. And, as we all now know, yet another design has just been presented which we all are scrambling to understand. Every meeting residents go to, there is a change. At some point, we have to reach an understanding regarding what exactly is under consideration. 

There is time to reverse this nightmare schedule so that we can all sit back and call it a mere error, rather than what it appears to be - ramming home a project for the benefit of a wealthy Los Angeles developer. 

If you must, keep your schedule for June 25, but allow a reasonable time for public comment at a time when most of the public can be present. On matters of great controversy or community interest, in order to give yourself time to contemplate and fully understand what has been put before you, hear the testimony and take no action until a subsequent meeting. Request that the ZAB reschedule any item on their June 25 agenda having to do with 2211 Harold Way to a time that you have completed your action on determination of significant community benefits for buildings exceeding 75 feet in the Downtown. The Mayor can call a Special Meeting of the City Council to do this. 

I greatly appreciate your consideration of this letter, and look forward to your positive action to do the right thing. 

New: Ramadhan

Ramlah Malhi
Saturday June 27, 2015 - 08:52:00 AM


It is the month of Ramadhan, a month of fasting for Muslims. It was in this month that the Holy Quran was first started to be revealed on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Muslims are commanded to fast from dawn to dusk which means no eating nor drinking during this time. However, this fast is not only a physical rather a spiritual fast too. It is fasting from any and every bad habit. The Quran states: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may (learn) self-restrain”( 2:183 ). During this month Muslims are encouraged to pay more alms and to keep busy in prayers and good deeds. Muslims are encouraged to recite and study the Quran more deeply. Fasting is only prescribed for those who are capable. Kids, elderly, people with illness, pregnant, breastfeeding women and travelers are not to fast. The main point of Ramadhan is not only to go without food rather to learn self discipline, self restraint, shun bad habits and to feel for the poor. A person who fasts appreciates the blessings of God more especially at the time of dusk while opening the fast. Ramadhan helps you appreciate the minute things in life which we normally tend to take for granted. The month of Ramadhan establishes compassion for the needy in one's heart. The end of the month is celebrated with a religious holiday/festival, Eid-ul-Fitr.

Improving Housing Safety in the city of Berkeley

Dean Metzger, Chair on behalf of Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
Tuesday June 23, 2015 - 11:52:00 PM

The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council (BNC), like people everywhere, is deeply concerned about the balcony collapse that occurred on June 16 at 2020 Kittredge Street. Our City must immediately address the problems that have been revealed regarding the safety of balconies, even in fairly recently constructed buildings, whether rental or for sale. Prevention of the re-occurrence of such problems must become a priority for Berkeley. It is an act of respect toward those who lost their lives and their grieving families. 

We suggest, therefore, that the City immediately inspect all cantilevered balconies, starting with those that are of wood construction and excluding those meant as decoration only. The owners of such buildings should receive written notice that an inspection is to take place and requiring them to notify tenants of the inspection and that tenants are not to use the balcony associated with their unit until it has been cleared. 

We also suggest that you immediately suspend approval of cantilevered balconies until such time as the investigation regarding the collapse at 2020 Kittredge has been concluded and any necessary changes, possibly including increased local building requirements to the Uniform Building Code, have been enacted. For example, we understand from newspaper reports that a specific inspection for waterproofing is required for roofing, but not for balconies. We are not code experts, but if this is correct, it seems logical that Berkeley quickly enact such a requirement, or others that may be appropriate. 

We must not, however forget that the collapse of that balcony revealed another problem that you must also address immediately - that of the appalling conditions found at least in some number of Berkeley's rental units. There is a suspicion that these conditions are more likely to occur in those units targeted for occupancy by students. We do not have any data on which to confirm the extent of this problem, either the number or types of units. Stories have been told about this problem for years, and they have been increasing in the past few years as the University has 

increased its enrollment, rents have increased and more and more students have occupied individual rental units in groups.  

You certainly are aware of the problems of noisy and drunken parties and of the issues concerning Mini-Dorm rentals. Certainly you know that rental units in multifamily buildings are also subject to rental by several students. Members of  

BNC has non-student friends who initially rented units in the Library Gardens Building at 2020 Kittredge when the building first opened. At that time, people understood that the targeted renters for this building were empty-nesters or others who just wanted to live in a downtown environment. Many remember when the building was proposed, it was to be condominiums. People moved in, and quickly moved out, as students with quite different schedules and lifestyles moved began to move in, several to an apartment, and maintenance became non-existent. The photos that tenants circulated after the balcony collapse showed appalling conditions - trash in hallways and stairways, urine on the carpets, and damaged locks and doorways. We understand that at least one newspaper printed a tenant complaint filed not long before the balcony collapse stating that the floor of one apartment had dry rot. 

BNC is aware that the City has a Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP) that applies to all rental units in the City. The stated purpose of the RHSP is to "help prevent deaths, injuries, and ill health from unsafe housing conditions through collaboration between the City, rental property owners, tenants and the community."  

The RHSP already 

  • Applies to owners of residential rental property - even if only one or two units are involved, and to owners of boarding houses or residential hotels with five more rooms.
  • Assesses a $26 fee for each unit to the owners of rental units, and $13 for each room in boarding houses or residential hotels.
  • Requires owners to inspect rental units and certify annually by July 1 of each year that their units meet housing safety standards on a checklist form prepared by the City.
  • Requires that owners provide a copy of the checklist to the tenants.
  • Asks tenants to notify Code Enforcement if a checklist form is not received.
  • Requires owners to notify Code Enforcement if the checklist cannot be completed and the reason why.
  • Fines owners who don't comply. Administrative Citations include a monetary fine of not less than $200 per unit or room, followed by additional fines for continued failure to comply.

BNC doesn't know the effectiveness of this program, but strongly feels that an evaluation should be done and the program appropriately strengthened.  

To begin this process, BNC suggests that the City Council immediately request information from the City Manager as to the status of rental units in the Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP).  

  • The total number of rental units in the city of Berkeley.
  • How many of these rental units are in compliance and how many are NOT in compliance with the RHSP, i.e. submitted an annual check-list form in each of the past 3 years.
  • How many of these rental units that are not in compliance with the RHSP have been contacted, fined and paid their fine and the problems fixed.
  • How many of these rental units that are not in compliance with the RHSP have been contacted, fined and NOT paid their fine?
BNC additionally requests that the City consider devising: 

  1. A point system for landlords whose properties have not been in compliance with the RHSP based on the following criteria:
  • The length of non-compliance.
  • Number of times having received a notice of non-compliance and/or history of fines, and ignoring either the notices or not paying the fines.
  • Severity of the problems found using a methodology of assigning point values to the items on the City's General Safety Checklist, and simply adding up those items to a predetermined level that would indicate that the conditions within a particular unit or the building as a whole were found to have a high safety risk level.
  1. A program where compliance with the RHSP program acts as an incentive by assessing lower rates for the those units and buildings that are in compliance, and steadily higher rates for those units and buildings found to be high safety risk factors.
  • List buildings with units not in compliance, by address, along with descriptions of the problems encountered in a quarterly report to the Council.
  • Publish this list on the City's web site, so that those seeking rental housing can consider avoiding signing leases with the owners of such housing, or that owners can avoid contracting with property management firms that have poor records in this regard.
  1. A "hot line" system where tenants can anonymously contact the City regarding conditions either in their unit or in the building as a whole without fear of retaliation. The complaint would generate inspection by the City to confirm and quarterly reports of results would be made to the Council. Currently tenants can report violations, but many do not out of fear of retaliation.
  1. A computerized system that will track the annual certification done by the owner.
BNC offers these as suggestions, and is urging the Council to undertake action immediately for the sake of the grieving families who at least need the small comfort that the city of Berkeley is acting to prevent other families from suffering the same kind of loss, that the City is seeking the safety, health and well-being of our current tenants, and for re-assurance to all, that Berkeley is a caring city. 










New: THE PUBLIC EYE:Pope Francis Challenges Republicans

Bob Burnett
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 06:59:00 AM

As soon as Pope Francis issued his Encyclical Letter on Climate Change, Republicans belittled it. Catholic presidential candidate Jeb Bush suggested the Pope was out of line: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.” It’s classic GOP position: they want Americans to go to church but believe US politics has nothing to do with Christian morality. 

Obviously, Pope Francis doesn’t agree. The Washington Post aptly summarized the Pope’s 192 page encyclical: 1. Climate change has grave implications. 2. Rich countries are destroying poor ones and the earth is getting warmer. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world.” 3. Christians have misinterpreted scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” 4. Access to safe drinkable water “is a basic and universal human right.” 5. Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” 6. Population control does not address the problems of the poor. 7. Gender differences matter. 8. The international community has not acted enough. 9. Individuals must act. 10. “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” 

Towards the end of his encyclical, Pope Francis addresses political action (as “social love”): 

Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion…. Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also “macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones”. Social love is the key to authentic development: “In order to make society more human, more worthy of the human person, love in social life – political, economic and cultural – must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity”. In this framework, along with the importance of little everyday gestures, social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.
[emphasis added] 

Obviously, Pope Francis does not separate politics from Christian morality. 

Nonetheless, it’s hard to find any Republican who agrees with Pope Francis about the dangers of global climate change. Among all Republican presidential candidates only South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham believes climate change is real and wants to do something about it. Senator Marco Rubio doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change. Governor Scott Walker’s exact position on climate change is unclear but as Wisconsin Governor “he has gone after every single piece of climate protection.” Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush isn’t sure about climate change: “I’m not a scientist.” 

Besides Jeb Bush, three other 2016 Republican candidates are Catholics: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and form Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Only Santorum has responded to the Pope’s encyclical: “The Church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we’re probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focus on what we’re really good on, which is theology and morality.” (By the way, the Pope is a scientist, he has a degree in chemistry.) 

Nonetheless, the surprising thing about Pope Francis’s encyclical was not that it addressed climate change in direct and uncompromising terms, or that it linked climate change to poverty, or that it warned about the dangers of “technocratic domination.” The most important product of the encyclical was to reopen the debate about the relationship of Christian morality to US politics. 

Most Republicans want their “faith” to be disconnected from politics. Jeb Bush complained, “I don’t think we should politicize our faith.” 

But for anyone with the slightest familiarity with the Bible, Bush’s position makes no sense. The Bible contains many stories of prophets who took political action because of their faith: Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt because of his faith. Jesus turned over the tables of the moneylenders because of his faith. (That’s right: Jesus was a political activist, someone who practiced “social love.”) 

Pope Francis is acting in the historic Christian tradition, mobilizing believers to take action because of their faith. And, because of his encyclical on climate change, Republican presidential candidates, such as Jeb Bush, are revealed as apostates. They claim to be Christian but, when push comes to shove, won’t align their Christian morality with their political actions. 

Good for Pope Francis. Shame on the Republicans. 

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

Arts & Events

Beethoven’s FIDELIO in Concert at San Francisco Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday June 28, 2015 - 12:00:00 AM

Closing out their 3-week Beethoven festival, San Francisco Symphony gave the first of three concert performances of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, on Thursday evening, June 25, at Davies Hall. With Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas leading the orchestra, this Fidelio featured Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as Leonore, the wife who, disguised as a young man (named Fidelio) saves the life of her unjustly imprisoned husband, Florestan. This opera caused Beethoven much labor. He first presented a Fidelio in three acts in 1805, then he offered a much revised two act version under the title Leonore in 1806, and revised it yet again before eventually settling on a final two act version (once more as Fidelio) in 1814.  

Based on a drama by French writer Jean Nicholas Bouilly, Fidelio was trans-lated into German for Beethoven by Schubert’s friend Joseph Sonnleithner, who fashioned the original German libretto, which was modified at Beethoven’s request by Georg Friedrich Treitschke. The story’s humanitarian ideals – against political tyranny and for the sacred bond of marital love – appealed greatly to Beethoven’s political and social convictions. On the political score, Beethoven in the spring of 1804 had intended to dedicate his Third Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, who at the time was considered the standard-bearer of republican values. However, just as Beethoven completed his Third Symphony, Bonaparte had himself crowned emperor, leading a disillusioned Beethoven to scratch Bonaparte’s name from the title-page and re-name it Sinfonia Eroica (Heroic Symphony). Where Beethoven’s social convictions are concerned, he had found it disgraceful that Mozart had composed the opera Così fan tutte on a libretto that treated love in such a frivolous and licentious manner. So, in some ways, Fidelio can be seen as the stiffly moralistic Beethoven’s answer to Mozart in which he defends what he sees as the high ideals of true German love. (As Richard Wagner was later to offer Paris-based composer Jacques Offen-bach a musical rebuke to the latter’s licentious Orphée aux enfers [Orpheus in the Underworld] with the German composer’s opportunistically moralistic Tannhäuser.

In San Francisco, the performance of Fidelio began with a crisp rendition of the brief, succinct Fidelio overture led by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. While the opera offers a high moral tone regarding the Leonore-Florestan union, it also complicates matters in having young Marzellina, daughter of the jailer Rocco, fall in love with Leonore, who, in order to gain access to her imprisoned husband, has gone to work for Rocco posing as a young man Fidelio. In falling for Fidelio, Marzellina has dismissed the affections of Jacquino, who has pressed her to marry him. 

Act I of Beethoven’s Fidelio contains a beautiful quartet in canon form, “Mir ist so wunderbahr,” (“How wondrous is the feeling”), in which all four singers – Fidelio, Marzellina, Rocco, and Jacquino – sing the same theme yet express very different emotions. In San Francisco, soprano Nina Stemme was a splendid full-voiced Fidelio, soprano Joélle Harvey was a bright and perky Marzellina, bass Kevin Lanagn was a darkly robust Rocco, and tenor Nicholas Phan was a convincing if hardly imposing Jacquino. Following immediately after this quartet, Rocco sings a very bourgeois aria in praise of money and the need for it among young people about to marry. (Seeing that his daughter is in love with Fidelio, Rocco is mistakenly counting on marrying Marzellina to Fidelio. Posing as Fidelio, Leonore can do nothing to oppose these marriage plans, lest she give away her secret identity.) 

Suddenly, Don Pizarro, governor of the gloomy fortress where political prisoners are kept, arrives and tells Rocco that a dispatch informs him that Don Fernando, the Minister of State, will soon come to inspect the prison. Pizarro, who bears an intense hatred of Florestan, makes up his mind that Florestan must be killed immediately. Ably sung by bass-baritone Alan Held, Pizarro sings the forceful aria, “Ha! welch’ ein Augenblick” (“Ah! what an opportunity!”) Tossing a well-filled purse to Rocco, Pizarro insinuates that the prisoner in solitary confinement must be killed. Rocco declines to commit murder, but when Pizarro himself promises to wield the dagger Rocco consents to dig the grave. Leonore, who has overheard the plan, gives private vent to her feelings in the highly dramatic aria, “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” (“Accursed one! Where do you rush to?”) This masterful aria was gorgeously sung by Nina Stemme. To herself, Leonore vows that her love and faith will, with the aid of Providence, enable her to save her husband’s life.  

Now the ordinary political prisoners are released from their cells and allowed to step out into the prison courtyard, where they welcome the fresh air with the softly sung, “O welche Lust, in freier Luft” (“Oh, what joy to breathe fresh air”.) However, in this performance, conductor MTT and chorus director Ragnar Bohlin ignored the usual practice of having the opening lines sung very, very softly, then gradually build in volume to an irrepressible effusion of joy, followed immediately by an admonition to “speak softly.” This seemed to me a fault, for without these dramatic shadings of volume, the psychology of the prisoners is lost. They are intimidated and unwilling to openly show their momentary joy at gaining access to fresh air lest this privilege be instantly revoked. Immediately after this chorus of prisoners, Leonore-Fidelio learns that she/he will accompany Rocco into the prison depths and help him dig a grave. 

Act II of Fidelio opens in the dark dungeon where Florestan is in chains. He stirs and utters a pained, “Gott, welch Dunkel hier!” (“God, what darkness here!”) Over a growling motif in the cellos, he bemoans the silence with the words, “O grauenvolle Stille” (“Oh, murky stillness”.) The timpani now sounds the rhythm of a heartbeat. I have always interpreted this Act II opening as Beethoven’s own outcry over his increasing deafness, where the only sounds he hears are those of his own heartbeat. Beethoven, like Florestan, feels imprisoned in a world of murky stillness! 

Florestan, Beethoven’s alter-ego, cries out, “O schwere Prüfung!” (“Oh, painful trial!”) After acknowledging that he must submit to God’s will, Florestan launches into the poignant lament, “In des Lebens frühlingstagen ist das Glück von mir geflohn” (“In the springtime of life has happiness flown away”.) This too is Beethoven speaking through Florestan. In San Francisco, tenor Brandon Jovanovich sang this highly dramatic material in robust fashion, with great clarity of diction. Florestan continues, singing proudly that he dared to speak truth boldly, and chains are his reward! He takes comfort in the fact that he has done his duty. This statement is sung with particular emphasis on the word ‘duty’! Beethoven, like Florestan, places great importance on doing one’s duty. By the end of this aria, Florestan, exhausted, thinks he sees an angel resembling his wife Leonore coming to his side. In his debilitated state, Florestan thinks he’s hallucinating and collapses. When the opera is fully staged, we see that it is in fact Leonore, who, disguised as Fidelio, is now approaching Florestan’s underground dungeon with Rocco.  

When Rocco begins digging a grave in the cistern, Leonore offers a bit of wine and bread to the prisoner, whom she is still not sure is her husband. It’s not at all clear when she actually realizes that it’s Florestan. Suddenly, Pizarro enters hell-bent on killing Florestan. Leonore throws herself between Pizarro and Florestan, and defiantly proclaims that Pizarro will first have to kill Florestan’s wife. This throws everyone into confusion. Leonore draws a pistol and points it at Pizarro. A trumpet call, here coming from the Davies Hall balcony, announces the arrival of the Minister of State. The voice of Jacquino is heard summoning Rocco to return above ground to meet the Minister. Leonore and Florestan rejoice, while Pizarro curses at his bad luck. 

In this concert version of Fidelio, MTT wisely elected not to play Beethoven’s Leonore overture, now often given between the two scenes of Act II. Here, how-ever, devoid of staging, there was no need to cover a change of stage-sets. There remained only the formalities enacted before Don Fernando, the Minister of State, here ably sung by bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. A chorus of prisoners and local people sing the praises of just government, which banishes tyranny. The political prisoners are freed, and Pizarro is led away. (In this performance, he simply walked offstage on his own – a mistake of half-hearted staging.) Only Marzellina is bewildered and disappointed – to put it mildly – to discover that her beloved Fidelio, whom she hoped to marry, is actually Leonore, the faithful wife of Florestan. Every-one, except no doubt Marzellina, now rejoices in praise of this courageously faithful wife, as Beethoven’s Fidelio comes to an end.  

There is much in this opera that is implausible, and the last-minute rescue by Don Fernando is a primary, highly contrived case in point. There is also something of a musical mash-up in mixing a high moral tone, on one hand, and comic opera conventions of identity confusion and misplaced love interest, on the other hand. Marzellina, who figures so prominently in the Act I action, has in Act II only a single astonished line, “Oh, unhappy me, what’s this I hear?” when in the final scene she discovers that Fidelio is in fact Leonore, the wife of Florestan. This effectively reduces Marzellina to a hopelessly naïve and comically deluded bimbette! I simply can’t imagine this was Beethoven’s intent when he composed such fine music in Act I sympathetically portraying Marzellina’s youthful ardor for Fidelio. Why, in the opera’s final scene, couldn’t Beethoven simply have Leonore speak a consoling word to Marzellina? Surely, Marzellina deserves this much. Nonetheless, in Fidelio there is so much splendid music; and, furthermore, so much of the musical and dramatic material relates very directly to Beethoven ‘s own struggle with his deafness and how he sees himself dealing with this “painful trial,” that I never fail to find Fidelio a thoroughly engrossing operatic experience – even in a concert version.

A Beethoven Marathon at San Francisco Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday June 27, 2015 - 11:57:00 PM

On Saturday, June 20, San Francisco Symphony recreated the famous marathon concert given by Beethoven on December 22, 1808, at Vienna’s Theater-an-der-Wien. In this Akademie, or public as opposed to courtly concert, which lasted well over four hours, Beethoven presented the first performances of his 5th and 6th Symphonies, his 4th Piano Concerto, his Fantasy for Piano (Opus 77), and his Choral Fantasy (Opus 80), as well as his previously performed concert aria “Ah! perfido,” plus three movements from his already ill-received C major Mass. As Jacob Reichardt wrote in a letter, “There we sat from 6:30 till 10:30 in the most bitter cold, and found by experience that one might have too much of a good thing.” 

In giving this concert, a ‘benefit’ concert (the financial ‘benefit’ accruing to the performer), Beethoven hoped, above all, to earn money. He also took this occasion to acquaint the Viennese public with his accomplishments in a wide variety of musical genres. Where money is concerned, this concert was a failure. Few tickets were sold, and lord knows how many of those who attended stayed till the bitter end. Where establishing Beethoven as a multi-talented composer is concerned, the immediate results of this concert were bleak. It was not even reviewed. (As is well-known, Beethoven was often lacking in practical business matters and simple common sense.) 

Opening the San Francisco Symphony program was Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68. This work, of course, offers a heartfelt paean to Nature. It also offers a kind of ‘program’ consisting of musical descriptions of a variety of experiences one might encounter in Nature. However, as Maynard Solomon writes, “In composing the Pastoral Symphony Beethoven was not anticipating Romantic program music but rather was continuing in the Baroque pastoral tradition, as manifested in many works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and more particularly in Haydn’s two oratorios.”  

The “Pastoral” Symphony opens by evoking the joy of arriving in the country. This movement features sweeping, ebullient music. Next comes a “Scene by the brook,” featuring a softly flowing melody which gets traded back and forth by violins and violas. Toward the end of this Andante molto mosso movement come birdcalls, heard in oboe, clarinet, and flute, imitating the calls of nightingale, cuckoo and quail. The third movement offers a “Village Festival” featuring peasant dances and a caricature of a village band. Suddenly, without a pause between movements, a thunderstorm erupts, putting an end to the villagers’ merrymaking. A trumpet blasts, the cellos and double-basses growl, and the timpani announces thunder claps. But the storm is soon over, and without a pause the final movement offers a “Shepherd’s Song,” first suggested by the clarinet, then taken up by the horns, and finally realized by the first violins – all expressing thanks for deliverance from the brief storm. As played by the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, this was as deeply satisfying a performance of the “Pastoral” Symphony as I have heard in recent years.  

Next on the program was Beethoven’s concert aria “Ah! perfido,” sung by Finnish soprano Karita Mattila. Surprisingly, at least to this listener, “Ah! perfido” was in many ways the highlight of this long evening. Karita Mattila’s vocal artistry was absolutely astounding! She tore into the opening recitative, passionately expressing the wounded rage of a woman scorned by her beloved. Her fury knew no bounds, as Mattila unleashed one hurt and vengeful diatribe after another, taking pleasure in the thunderbolts from heaven she hoped would strike her perfidious lover wherever he went. In the aria that follows the recitative, Mattila sang with unerring precision, hitting the high notes squarely on the mark and effortlessly handling the demanding, quick-moving passages in scales. All the while she infused this Mozartian aria by Beethoven with the utmost emotional conviction. At the close of this work, the Davies Hall audience erupted in wild and much-deserved applause for Karita Mattila. 

After the first of three intermissions, we heard the Kyrie and Gloria from Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Opus 86, from 1807. This liturgical work had been poorly received by its intended patron, Prince Esterhazy, at its debut in Eisenstadt in 1807. In San Francisco, in spite of fine singing by the soloists, especially mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims and bass-baritone Shenyang, ably assisted by soprano Nikki Einfeld and tenor Nicholas Phan, these excerpts seemed to me utterly without interest, mere filler in a concert already overfull. 

Next came Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, the G major, Opus 58, from 1806, which received its first performance at the 1808 marathon concert in Vienna. Here in San Francisco, the 4th Piano Concerto featured pianist Jonathan Biss. It opens, sur-prisingly, with the solo piano rather than the orchestra initiating the opening theme. This is not the only surprise element. As Charles Rosen notes, “In the first movement the final trills of the exposition, recapitulation, and cadenza are radically new. Not only do none of these trills ever reach the expected resolution, but they lead directly into one of the most expressive themes of the movement.” Eventually, this movement develops into an elaborate cadenza written out by Beethoven and here played by pianist Jonathan Biss, who demonstrated his formidable technique and thinking-man’s approach to Beethoven. 

The second movement of the 4th Piano Concerto, an Andante, consists of a dialogue of equals between the solo instrument and the orchestra. The orchestra opens defiantly; the piano offers soft tones of searching resignation. This dialogue continues at intervals in stern, unchanging forte throughout half of the movement. Meanwhile, the piano offers sweet fragments of melody and harmony, occasionally rising to momentary exultation. Eventually subdued, the orchestra seems to capitulate, as if acknowledging its defeat. The concluding Rondo opens with the solo piano announcing a bouncy first theme. After the orchestra takes up this theme, the piano introduces the second subject, and this material dominates the rest of the movement, ending in a brilliant coda that closes the work in presto fashion. As soloist, Jonathan Biss played this work with impressive technical control and emotional intensity. Having never heard this young American pianist before, although he has performed worldwide and released many recordings, I was very favorably impressed with his playing. 

After a second intermission, the concert offered Beethoven’s monumental 5th Symphony in C minor, Opus 67. So familiar is this work to us now that we may find it difficult to appreciate all that was new in this symphony when it was first heard in Vienna’s marathon concert in December 1808. The drama of the first movement – indeed, of the entire symphony – is built up almost entirely out of the famous rhythmic pattern of the opening four notes – three short notes, one long one, which we hear twice at the outset. They reappear again and again in this work, accum-ulating power and drive at every repetition. Is it, as Beethoven allegedly once re-marked, “Fate knocking at the door”? Perhaps. In any case, there is assuredly some-thing implacable about this opening movement, which develops with a single-minded inevitability. As J,W.N. Sullivan notes, “In this movement there is one dominating mood from first to last. Even the little oboe solo serves only to heighten the tension.” 

The second movement, a slow Andante, opens with violas and cellos playing a melancholy melody. A second subject appears in clarinets and bassoons, and Beethoven varies now the first now the second theme. The third movement, a grotesque scherzo, begins with a mysterious and foreboding theme in the cellos and basses. Horns then take up the theme, which has the same rhythmic pattern as the celebrated opening notes of the first movement. A trio follows, offering an onrushing, savage theme, begun in the basses, taken up by the violas, then carried to the second and first violins respectively. The trio over, bassoons play the work’s opening notes, repeated by the clarinets, and, finally, by the kettledrums. Now, without a pause, the final movement bursts forth in a blaze of glory. Thus, the overall unity of the 5th Symphony is emphasized by the seamless passage from the coda of the third move-ment to the opening, without a break, of the glorious finale, which ends with a strikingly optimistic turn to the bright C major. As conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, this was a scintillating rendition of Beethoven’s great 5th Symphony. 

After a third (and final) intermission, the program offered more filler, this time the Sanctus from Beethoven’s Mass in C major. (Incidentally, it was Beethoven himself who inadvisably separated the Kyrie and Gloria movements of the C major Mass, heard earlier, from the Sanctus movement.) As was the case with the earlier movements, while appreciating the singing of the soloists, I found this liturgical music uninteresting and tepid. If I stayed for this final section of the marathon concert, it was largely to hear the next piece, a ten-minute Piano Fantasy, Opus 77, often cited as offering the closest approximation we might obtain of how Beethoven himself improvised at the piano in public. As played here by pianist Jonathan Biss, this work exhibited a remarkable emotional range, moving quickly from strenuous outbursts of something like rage to quiet moments of wondrous serenity. If it reminded me of anything at all, it was Beethoven’s late work for piano, entitled “Rage over a Lost Penny,” Opus 129, which undergoes similar transitions back and forth from fury to calm, then back again.  

As for the marathon’s final work, The Choral Fantasy, Opus 80, it must be noted that this piece came a cropper when played at the Vienna concert in 1808, where Beethoven had to interrupt the piece and start it all over again. Mind you, this was the final work in a concert already four hours long! For my part, I simply lacked the patience or the curiosity to stay for this rarely heard piece. To paraphrase Jacob Reichardt, there was simply too much of a good – or perhaps not uniformly good – thing. So, even leaving twenty minutes early, I still barely made it home to Berkeley before midnight after a marathon concert that began at 7:00.

Updated: World Première of Marco Tutino’s LA CIOCIARA (TWO WOMEN) at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 25, 2015 - 07:04:00 AM

On Saturday evening June 13, San Francisco Opera presented the World Première of a new opera commissioned by General Director David Gockley – Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara (Two Women). Based on the 1958 novel of the same title by Alberto Moravia, this opera, with a libretto by Luca Rossi, Marco Tutino, and Fabio Ceresa, recounts the trials and tribulations of a widowed World War II mother and her teenage daughter who flee Rome because of allied bom-bardments but find no haven from the war in the mountain villages of the region known as La Ciociara. From this same novel a 1960 film starring Sophia Loren was directed by Vittorio De Sica with a screenplay by Cesare Zavattini. (Sophia Loren won the Academy’s Best Actress Award in 1962 for her performance in the film known in English as Two Women, thereby becoming the first artist to win an American Oscar for a foreign-language film.)  

Starring Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cesira and young American soprano Sarah Shafer as Cesira’s daughter, Rosetta, Tutino’s Two Women is composed in a somewhat syrupy ‘neo-verismo’ style. Verismo opera, of course, is associated with the highly ‘realistic’ operas about ordinary people’s lives by com-posers Pietro Mascagni and Ruggiero Leoncavallo. Tutino’s Two Women, however, lacks both the sharp lyricism of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and the bitter musical poignancy of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The story of Tutino’s Two Woman may be brutally realistic, and rendered more so by the effective use of actual newsreel footage from World War II. Musically, however, a thick veneer of sentimentality washes over nearly every moment of this opera. From start to finish, Tutino’s Two Women is a real tear-jerker.  

As staged by Francesca Zambello, Two Women opens on a street in the work-ing class district of Trastevere in Rome where Cesira, sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci, runs a small produce shop. Giovanni, a dealer in black market goods robustly sung by baritone Mark Delevan, enters and tries to seduce Cesira. She rebuffs his advance but asks him to help her flee war-torn Rome. When air-raid sirens wail, Cesira sends her teenage daughter Rosetta down into the cellar. Bombs fall nearby, and damage occurs at Cesira’s shop, where shelves fall and the roll-up door collapses. In the midst of the bombing, Giovanni forces himself on Cesira in what amounts to a rape. In a moment of denial, meant both for herself and to demean Giovanni, Cesira tells her rapist that, as far as she’s concerned, “nothing happened.” This is our first glimpse of Cesira’s fierce survival mode. Giovanni, well delineated as a smarmy character by baritone Mark Delevan, agrees to help Cesira flee Rome to the nearby mountains. 

In Act I, Scene 2, Cesira and Rosetta arrive, tired and dusty, in the main square of the mountain village of Sant’Eufemia, where they discreetly wash them-selves in a public fountain. A local pacifist, Michele, sung by tenor Dimitri Pittas, introduces himself. When Cesira asks the locals if a room is available, they initially say no. However, when Cesira pulls out a wad of money and bargains for a room, the locals are quick to provide one in return for cash. As allied planes bomb a town 

in the valley below, young Rosetta kneels in prayer. Sweetly sung by soprano Sarah Shafer, this prayer strikes me as a saccharine plot contrivance tilting this opera early on into a sentimental tearjerker. 

Now a wounded American soldier, Lieutenant John Buckley, appears in the town square of Sant’Eufremia. Villagers are reluctant to come to his aid, fearing retribution from the Germans. However, Michele, Cesira, and Rosetta quickly agree to tend his minor wounds and help him. The American mistakes his benefactors for a nuclear family – husband, wife and daughter --and finds inspiration in their solidarity and support. This both amuses and titillates Michele and Cesira, who secretly find themselves attracted to one another. When the American departs, Michele and Cesira kiss. This kiss, however, is observed by Giovanni, who has followed Cesira into the mountains. He has now joined the Fascists , and he angrily vows to track Cesira to Hell. Giovanni finds a knapsack of Michele’s containing a letter and watch given him by the American soldier, thus implicating Michele in treason to the occupying Germans. 

After intermission, Act II, Scene 1 takes place in the bourgeois home in the provincial town of Fondi of a lawyer, Sciortino, a friend of Michele’s father. Michele, Cesira, and Rosetta have taken temporary refuge there. However, a German officer, Von Bock, robustly sung by bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, is billeted there. Alerted by Giovanni, who produces the knapsack, letter and watch, Von Bock accuses Michele of treason, and soldiers take Michele away.  

In Act II, Scene 2, Cesira and Rosetta have returned to the almost deserted village of Sant’Eufremia. Authentic newsreel footage reports the mass rapes enacted by Moroccan troops under French officers in this region. Cesira and Rosetta are 

confronted by these mountain Berber troops, dragged into a nearby church, and gang-raped. Meanwhile, Michele is executed by Giovanni. When Cesira and Rosetta stagger out of the church where they were brutally raped, Cesira sings a traditional Italian lullaby, with the familiar words set to newly composed music by Tutino, in a vain effort to comfort her daughter, who wants none of her mother’s solace. 

In the final scene of Tutino’s Two Women, we are once again in the main square of Sant-Eufremia, where the locals are now celebrating that the war is over, thanks to the American invasion that chased out the Germans. American jeeps arrive, with none other than Giovanni now acting as a friend of the conquering Americans. Seeing Cesira, he brags of his ability to always end up on the right side. He also informs Cesira that Michele is dead.  

As a local, sung by tenor Pasquale Esposito, sings a Neapolitian song, “La strada nel bosco,” Cesira tries to intervene between herself and her daughter, who, having been brutalized, now seems ready and willing to go with any man who wants her. Cesira denounces Giovanni as a Fascist, and the locals turn on him. Desperate to prove himself, Giovanni produces Lt. Buckley’s letter and watch, and he claims that he was the one who saved the American. However, in a wildly implausible plot contrivance, Lt. John Buckley now drives into the village in a jeep and declares that Giovanni is an imposter, and that his true saviors were Michele, Cesira, and Rosetta. The locals now set upon Giovanni and would no doubt beat him to death if it were not for a plea for peace by Cesira. Young children rush into the square, playing at war, as Cesira and Rosetta are reunited in a final, tear-jerking embrace.  

Look. The performance by Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cesira was absolutely riveting and vocally wonderful. Antonacci is a singing actress of the first order, as she also proved here a few day earlier in the role of Cassandra in Berlioz’s Les Troyens. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that, in my opinion, Tutino’s Two Women, while providing a vehicle for a great singing actress such as Antonacci, is far too slight and saccharine a work of musical theatre to elicit rave reviews for the opera as a whole. To me, it is a mediocre work of very modest musical merit, while offering a sobering if syrupy portrait of what transpired in Italy during the final months of World War II. If you really want to gain a more telling insight into what transpired in Italy in those days, go see Roberto Rossellini’s films Roma, città aperta, (Rome, Open City,) and Paisà. Or, for that matter, go see Vittorio De Sica’s film Two Women