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The underside of the concrete slabs on the underside of the Berkeley pier show concrete spalling and deteriorating rebar, visible as horizontal brownish streaks.
Steven Finacom
The underside of the concrete slabs on the underside of the Berkeley pier show concrete spalling and deteriorating rebar, visible as horizontal brownish streaks.


AROUND AND ABOUT: Berkeley Period Instrument Musicians Start Up First valley of the Moon Music Festival, July 18-August 2

Ken Bullock
Thursday July 16, 2015 - 09:15:00 AM

Cellist Tanya Tomkins—co-founder of the new Valley of the Moon Music Festival, starting this weekend at Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, the only festival in the U. S. featuring Classical and Romantic chamber music played on period instruments—recalls when she was "studying and performing in Holland, years ago" she heard the Orchestra of the 18th Century play "a very familiar" Mozart symphony on period instruments. 

"It sounded more radical, not antiquated. It was more progressive, played that way.It shed new light on the music." 

Tomkins remarked on the scarcity of performances of the Classical and Romantic repertoires on period instruments. "It's usually only for Baroque. Once in awhile, a festival or an orchestra will make a quick foray into Schubert, say—but the festival will be completely Classical and Romantic music played on original instruments and copies." 

The Festival features seven concerts, most of them at 4 p. m. at the Hanna Boys Center, a few minutes from the Sonoma Plaza, with chamber music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Kreutzer, Hummel, Weber and Glinka, played by Tomkins and Zivian with apprentices, colleagues and guest artists from around Europe and North America, including well-known local musicians like violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock. 

Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian—who founded and continue to produce the Benvenue House Music chamber concerts in Berkeley ( benvenuehousemusic.org )—have played, recorded and taught together for the past decade. Tomkins has also played as both soloist and orchestra member with the Philharmonia Baroque. (Musical director Nicholas McGegan serves on the Valley of the Moon Festival board of directors.) Zivian, a Peter Serkin student, has also played in local groups like the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. "He's a fortepianist," said Tomkins, "But not a harpsichordist. Which puts us squarely in Post-Baroque repertoire, as far as original instruments go." The Festival will feature Zivian's two period pianos, an 1841 Viennese instrument and a small copy of a Mozart era fortepiano, "perfect for Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven ..." 

Tomkins and Zivian have "dedicated more and more time to student development, as coaches, mentors," with students playing in their house concerts and now on some of the Festival programs "with more seasoned players" as apprentices, and one concert, at 7:30 on Friday, July 31, featuring all young musicians playing music by Mozart, Schumann and Beethoven, with free admission to the public. 

"I loved learning that way myself," said Tomkins, "playing together for an audience, rather than just one-on-one lessons." 

As for Sonoma and the Hanna Boys Center—at 17000 Arnold Drive and Agua Caliente Road West—Tomkins enthuses about both. 

"Sonoma's gorgeous—and so near us, just an hour from Berkeley. And they're so open to us there, so supportive of the music." She and Zivian have worked with the music program at the 70 year old Hanna Center. "The auditorium is really new, very warm; it seats 300. Perfect recital hall for chamber concerts. And outside is a big terrace with a view, for picnics before the shows, intermissions and receptions with our wine sponsors there, too." 

Programs over the next three weekends include this Sunday's, all pieces featuring clarinet, and an all-Schubert program on Sunday the 26th. 

For tickets—$40 general, $20 for under 30—maps, directions, much information, visit the Festival's excellent website: valleyofthemoonmusicfestival.org/ 

(Daily Planet readers can enter a code— VMMFdailyplanet —for 10% off on tickets.)

Berkeley City Council Adopts New Balcony Codes

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday July 15, 2015 - 02:19:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed new standards for construction of outdoor balconies Tuesday night in response to findings that severe dry rot likely caused the deadly collapse of an apartment balcony last month. 

The revised housing and building codes will also require inspections of all existing balconies in the next six months and again every three years. 

City inspectors discovered that the fourth-floor cantilevered balcony at the Liberty Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. had been infiltrated by moisture, causing severe dry rot in the wooden joists supporting it. 

The balcony collapsed during a birthday party early on the morning of June 16, killing six people, including five Irish nationals, and injuring seven others. 

Inspectors examined another cantilevered balcony immediately below that one and discovered it also had dry rot and ordered it removed from the building the next day. 

To prevent a similar accident, the amended city codes now require all balconies to be constructed using water-resistant wood, or corrosion-resistant steel. Enclosed balconies will need to have ventilation in case of water intrusion and include access panels for the regular inspections. 

City staff had recommended inspections every five years, but the council decided to require more frequent inspections at the suggestion of City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who argued that dry rot can spread quickly and five years might not be enough time to catch it. 

The council also established a task force comprised of experts from several building organizations to examine what further steps might be taken.

New: California State Assembly Committee Rejects Hancock Proposal for Contractor Disclosure Prompted by Berkeley Balcony Collapse

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday July 15, 2015 - 10:19:00 AM

A state Assembly committee this morning voted down proposed state legislation, drafted in response to a balcony collapse that killed six people in Berkeley last month, that would require greater settlement disclosure by contractors. 

The proposed legislation by state Sens. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would require contractors to publicly disclose civil settlements worth $50,000 or more, or binding arbitration worth $25,000 or more. 

It was drafted in response to the disclosure that the company that built the Berkeley balcony, Segue Construction, had paid over $26 million in settlements, many related to balcony construction, Hancock said. 

The company's balcony at the Liberty Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. collapsed during a birthday party early on the morning of June 16. Six people, including five Irish students visiting from abroad, were killed and seven others were injured. 

A city investigation revealed that water intrusion and dry rot was the likely cause of the collapse. The city will consider a proposal this evening to amend the building code with new requirements for balcony construction. 

But Hill and Hancock sought to provide the California State License Board with information about settlements to determine if contractors had a history of faulty construction. 

"I think it's the least we can do," Hancock said at today's Assembly Business and Professions Committee hearing. "We do require other professionals to report these kinds of settlements," such as doctors and engineers, but not building contractors. 

But Nick Cammarota, an attorney for the California Building Industry Association, questioned whether disclosing settlements would be a good indication of whether a contractor had in fact engaged in poor workmanship. 

Settlements can in fact just be an indication of the cost to litigate a claim. With the numerous contractors and subcontractors that are typically involved in home construction, finding fault can be difficult without tearing the house down, Cammarota argued. 

A company settling a claim is not an indication of fault either legally or realistically, he said. 

Ultimately the committee agreed that further information is needed to determine just what information would be useful for licensing, and sought to consult further with the state license board on the matter. 

The state license board did not take a position on the bill at today's committee meeting and is scheduled to meet later this month to further discuss the matter.

New: Deforesting the East Bay Hills

Cecile Pineda, conservation writer
Wednesday July 15, 2015 - 09:57:00 AM

Surely there’s a better way for Oakland Parks, which charge ghetto youth up to $90 a year to shoot a few hoops, to spend FEMA's bribe of 6 million dollars than by clearcutting the East Bay Hills from Wildcat Canyon south to Piedmont Pines and Redwood Regional Park (see http://www.saveeastbayhills.org/the-clear-cutting-plan.html). 

What do Mayor Schaaf, EBRPD Manager Robert Doyle, and Chancellor Dirk know about FEMAs plan that the 90% of folks who oppose it don’t know? Is this about fire eradication? If so, why would the chipped trees be left on site? Is this about addressing the drought? Trees condense millions of gallons of water into the soil. Is this about addressing global warming? 600,000 trees represent a significant carbon sink. With millions of gallons of toxic herbicides, applied twice a year for over ten years, is this about improving bay area air quality? And is this about preventing erosion? Those trees are what holds the soil on the hills and canyons, preventing landslides. So what IS it about? What was dropping Agent Orange on Vietnam all about? 

At this point, 16 days away from the project start date, only people protesting and a court injunction can stay FEMAs dread hand.

Getting Rid of Library Books: a Rebuttal to the Berkeley Library Director

Roya Arasteh and nine colleagues
Monday July 13, 2015 - 11:05:00 PM

There is an art to every profession, and librarianship is no exception. Part of a library’s responsibility to its community is to cultivate a book collection. Berkeley is an especially diverse, dynamic, well-read community that values books, and demands a great depth and breadth in its library collection, different from your ‘average’ U.S. city. Indeed, this is one of the reasons people flock here.

Part of the art of librarianship is to “weed” or “cull” items from the collection. No one disputes this necessity. A recent (June 23, 2015 (http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/06/managing-libraries/the-art-of-weeding-collection-management/#_ ) Library Journal article, “The Art of Weeding: Collection Management,” states: “You can’t make weeding decisions solely off of paper {i.e. statistics}. Things circulate that shouldn’t. Things don’t circulate that should. Old things should be considered on an individual basis, not weeded simply because they are old.” It’s too bad the Berkeley Public Library Director and Collection Development Manager have decided that every book that has not been checked-out in three years must go (reprieve for art and music books to 10 years).  

The Library Journal article also states, “even the most accurate algorithms’ list can benefit from a double check from a trained librarian’s eye, as certain titles (classics, local interest, backlist for authors about to release a new title…) may be worth keeping on the shelves in spite of low-traffic track records-especially if yours is the only library in your consortium or library loan pool to retain a copy.” It’s too bad that at our public library literally THOUSANDS and thousands of books have been weeded without this double check. How can we know this? The new Library Director, Jeff Scott, assures us “we look at the content (is it relevant), publisher date (it is still current), condition of the book, and its relation to other books in the collection.” Based on the sheer volume of books deleted since April, there is no way these books could be “reviewed for content and relation to the collection” by only two managers and a few helpers who took over this important task. Prior to M 34 subject-specialist librarians did this job. Since the rapid, rampant ‘weeding’ (better said “clearcutting”) began, these public-desk librarians were told their trained eyes were not longer needed. 

The “Art of Weeding” recommends that “spending time in the stacks with the titles is a must. It’s also a great way to get, and stay, familiar with the collection—good, bad, and ugly. Making a habit of roaming regularly will make sure a librarian always has a feel for what’s on the shelves.” It is too bad for all of us that those making decisions about our books sit in their offices and don’t work the public desks. 

The article makes a good point, one echoed by a number of library users we met recently on the steps of the Central library: “…history students may need access to out-of-date material for the insight it brings to the mind-set current at the time it was published.” It’s too bad these books don’t fall into the director’s “still current” category. 

There is still time for us to learn from what happened at New York Public Library (http://www.npr.org/2015/06/24/416780087/patience-and-fortitude-and-the-fight-to-save-nycs-storied-public-library). Let us do all we can, to halt the irresponsible gutting of our library collection. We don’t want a library that looks like a bookstore with more copies of popular items and more empty shelf-space for that “clean” look. We want diverse content in our library.  

Call on the City Council to place an immediate moratorium on this heavy hemorrhaging of our library. A conservative estimate has the toll between 5,000- 7,500 books discarded per month, well over four times the monthly rate of discards from 2014. At this rate, there is not one moment to lose. Tell Director Jeff Scott that we want artful, professional weeding, and as Library Journal says: 

“Going slowly and carefully is better for the collection, better for users.” 

Tell the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) to call an emergency meeting (otherwise they will not meet until September 9th reinstate the subject-specialist public-service desk librarians into their jobs as custodians of our collection. And check-out books while you still can…especially poetry, history, and music scores. 

Send your letters to:mayor@cityofberkeley.info,lmaio@cityofberkeley.info,dmoore@cityofberkeley.info, manderson@cityofberkeley.info, jarreguin@cityofberkeley.info,lcapitelli@cityofberkeley.info,swengraf@cityofberkeley.info,ldroste@cityofberkeley.info, kworthington@cityofberkeley.info,bolt@ci.berkeley.ca.us,jscott@cityofberkeley.info 



Roya Arasteh, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 18 years of service 

Evelyn Gahtan, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 60 years of service 

Ying Lee, Former Trustee of Library Board, Former Councilmember, Former Aide to Congressman Ron Dellums 

Anne-Marie Miller, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 40 years of service 

Pat Mullan, Berkeley Public Library former Head of Art & Music Dept. 25 years of service 

Lynn Murdock, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 32 years of service 

NK Nomura, Berkeley Public Library former staff 22 years of service 

Cheryl Palmer, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 33 years of service 

Jane Scantlebury, Berkeley Public Library former staff, 25 years of service 

Andrea Segall, Berkeley Public Library former staff 18 years of service, 33 years as reference librarian 

Dave Segall, Oakland Public Library, former staff, 20 years of service

New: What's to Become of Berkeley's Shattuck Cinemas? Film at 11

Monday July 13, 2015 - 11:00:00 PM

Here's a little ditty from Berkeley film-maker Don Goldmacher to worry anyone who likes to go to the movies in Berkeley, featuring SF Mime Troupe favorite Ed Holmes and a cast of tens. 

New: West Berkeley Air Quality Meeting Skipped: An Open Letter to Mayor Bates and City Council Members,

Janice Schroeder and Christopher Kroll, West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs
Monday July 13, 2015 - 10:28:00 PM

The West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs (Alliance) is appalled at the lack of transparency, accountability and respect Council members Linda Maio and Lori Droste have shown the West Berkeley community since the January 20th city council meeting when Council members Maio and Droste were tasked with gathering information about West Berkeley air quality and reporting back to the city council within three months.

The Alliance repeatedly asked that Council member Maio and Droste hold a democratic community meet ing in West Berkeley to hear community concerns regarding West Berkeley air quality, and to share their findings with the entire West Berkeley community before reporting back to the council. These requests have been repeatedly ignored. In fact, Council member Maio just sent a District 1 email to her constituents notifying us of the highlights of the final council meeting tomorrow night. No mention was made of West Berkeley Industry Item 69, or West Berkeley air quality in the District 1 announcement. 

The Alliance has emailed many pertinent documents to the mayor and the city council, and provided additional documents to Council member Droste at an in-person meeting, to add to and supplement the in- formation gathering regarding West Berkeley air quality. 

As the Alliance has experienced since 2005, agenda items related to Pacific Steel Casting Company and/ or other polluting industry in West Berkeley have always been placed at the end of council meeting and ZAB agendas. 

Full transparency and the timely sharing of West Berkeley air quality information has been completely absent in this information gathering process. As of today, Monday, July 13, 2015 at 3:15 p.m., Item 69 - West Berkeley Industry on the city council meeting agenda for Tuesday, July 14, 2015 shows future actions and recommended action [To be delivered.] 

Shame on Linda Maio, Lori Droste, Mayor Bates, other council members and regulators who have not pushed for full transparency, honesty in all communications, full accountability and consistently respectful treatment of District 1 residents, workers, UC Village students and their families, and all other sensitive receptors affected by industry pollution in West Berkeley and surrounds. 

The Alliance has no trust or confidence in the Berkeley government as it now exists and functions. This is indeed a sad state of affairs in Berkeley history. 

Janice Schroeder and Christopher Kroll
On behalf of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs


New: Vacancy rates and Tuesday's Housing Nexus workshop

Monday July 13, 2015 - 06:15:00 PM

On Tuesday, July 14th, at 6:00 pm, in the City Council Chambers is a workshop to discuss the updated Affordable Housing Nexus Study authored by BAE, Bay Area Economics. This is the report that will help determine mitigation fees for affordable housing development. To determine the City's current "3.1%" vacancy rate, BAE considered only 9 buildings, each with more than 50 units, built between 2001 and 2012, a total of 1054 units. This doesn't reflect any older units or smaller buildings, the majority of rentals in Berkeley. When using a small statistical sample, in this case around 2% of Berkeley households, care must be taken for the sample to be random and represent the whole of the population. A much better, free, reliable, and unquestionably standard resource for this type of statistic is the US Census Bureau. 

Since 2005, in addition to its decennial door-to-door surveys, the Bureau annually compiles community data from many sources and reports, and makes this data available on its website*. The most recent report from 2013 gives the vacancy rate for Berkeley at 8.09%. In fact, between 2009 and 2013, the vacancy rate has not fallen below 7.35% reported in 2011. Berkeley's Consolidated Plan for Housing, sent to HUD in May of this year, does mention the Census reporting a 7% vacancy rate in 2010 (pg 57), but dismisses it as an error or anomaly. The Census' annual figures suggest that it is, in fact, the norm.
In the Nexus study, BAE states that a 5% vacancy rate indicates a healthy housing economy. When the vacancy rate is lower (3.1%) there are fewer units available and little turnover, so construction of more units is vital. With a higher vacancy rate (8.09%) there are too many units, and development needs to back off and/or prices need to come down to make available units affordable to more people. For the past 6 years, and maybe longer, the City has been under reporting its vacancy rates to allow and encourage developers to build much bigger, much denser housing projects; all of them at inflated prices. The problem becomes that as the rental rates increase, so does the vacancy rate as tenants give up and move into smaller quarters, often shared by many more people, in order to make their rents affordable. Or they are forced out of town or even onto the streets.
One unexpected benefit from a glut of housing is that now developers are actually providing their 10% required replacement units in their own projects, eliminating the need for in-lieu-of fees. The City doesn't care for this. They'd rather have money for the Housing Trust Fund, which hasn't produced any new low income housing in nearly 10 years (though all the funds manage to get spent every year). This is why they are planning to increase the low income units required of developers from 10% to 34%; knowing that few investors will agree to that many low income tenants in their luxury housing projects.
It's time to call a moratorium on all development while we find out how and why this was allowed to happen. This is an unacceptable breach of the public trust and either staff, or the politicians, or their aides, or someone should have noticed this long ago and put a stop to it.

New: Deteriorating Berkeley Pier May Need Major, Costly Repairs

Steven Finacom,Special to The Planet
Friday July 10, 2015 - 11:30:00 AM
The Berkeley Pier.  Children in a Trackers Earth Bay Area program, "Fishing on the Dock of the Bay", learn to fish from the Pier.  Deterioration of the concrete deck slabs is a new source of concern for City of Berkeley staff.
Steven Finacom
The Berkeley Pier. Children in a Trackers Earth Bay Area program, "Fishing on the Dock of the Bay", learn to fish from the Pier. Deterioration of the concrete deck slabs is a new source of concern for City of Berkeley staff.
The underside of the concrete slabs on the underside of the Berkeley pier show concrete spalling and deteriorating rebar, visible as horizontal brownish streaks.
Steven Finacom
The underside of the concrete slabs on the underside of the Berkeley pier show concrete spalling and deteriorating rebar, visible as horizontal brownish streaks.
The useable section of the Berkeley Pier extends from the Berkeley Marina about 3,000 feet into the Bay towards the Golden Gate.
Steven Finacom
The useable section of the Berkeley Pier extends from the Berkeley Marina about 3,000 feet into the Bay towards the Golden Gate.
The Pier is a popular recreational resource for fishermen, strollers, and sightseers.
Steven Finacom
The Pier is a popular recreational resource for fishermen, strollers, and sightseers.

The Berkeley Pier faces some major issues of structural deterioration which may be costly to fix, City of Berkeley staff told the Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Commission Wednesday night, July 8, 2015. 

Discussion of the Pier was not a scheduled item on the agenda, but it came up when one Commissioner asked Parks and Recreation Director Scott Ferris about the status of a planned project to improve disabled accessibility at the Pier. 

Ferris said that the project was on hold because of the recent discovery of concrete deterioration on the underside of the pier. He emphasized that only a preliminary engineering evaluation had been made, and a full study and report would be needed. 

Waterfront staffer Roger Miller explained that the pier is composed of concrete pilings, which seem to be in good shape, with 15 foot long concrete slabs between them forming the pier deck. 

On the underside of the slabs, concrete has spalled off, leaving some of the metal rebar exposed. The rebar is deteriorating and, in some places, apparently broken. There are two layers of horizontal rebar in the slabs, but if the lower one is compromised, it has implications for the structural strength of the deck slabs. 

As a result, City staff decided not to drive heavy trucks on the Pier to set up for the annual Berkeley Fourth of July display this year. Instead, the City rented a barge to launch the fireworks, at a cost of $6,000.  

Miller said that City records show that in 1984 the bottoms of the pier slabs were repaired with gunnite sprayed to replace deteriorating concrete and cover the rebar. "That repair has now flaked off again", Miller said. The 1984 repairs cost half a million dollars, Miller said. 

Ferris told the Commission that a new engineering study would be made of the pier's structural stability, but the City has no money currently budgeted if major structural repairs to the pier are required. "We're waiting on further engineering reports before the determination on how to proceed."  

The Berkeley Pier is popular with strollers, sightseers, and fishermen. Extending some 3,000 feet into the Bay from the west side of the Berkeley Marina, it is a remnant of a 3.5 mile long car ferry pier built in 1926. Much of that original pier is now covered by the landfill of the Marina, while the westernmost sections of the Pier are not useable and cut off from the functional section. 

The Berkeley Pier was constructed by the Golden Gate Ferry Company and the wide concrete deck originally carried two lanes of traffic to car ferries which docked at the far end, and connected with the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. The auto ferries ran from 1927 to 1939. The City subsequently acquired the Pier.

New: Three Men Ordered to Stand Trial for Berkeley Murder

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 08:26:00 PM

A judge has ruled that prosecutors produced sufficient evidence to have three men stand trial on murder charges for the shooting death of a Pinole man in Berkeley in December during a marijuana deal that went wrong. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon made his ruling on Monday at the end of a lengthy preliminary hearing for 18-year-old Khalil Phanor of San Leandro, Carl Young, 20, of San Leandro, and Gregory Foote, 19, of Hayward, for the fatal shooting of 36-year-old Kamahl Middleton in a parking lot near San Pablo and University avenues at about 9:45 p.m. on Dec. 29. 

In addition to murder, the three men will stand trial on robbery and assault with a firearm charges as well as the special circumstance of committing a murder during the course of a robbery, which carries a potential penalty of death or life in prison without parole. 

The assault charge stems from a gunshot that wounded Middleton's fiancée, Rebekah Cleberg, who was with him during the incident. 

Prosecutors allege that Young set up the botched marijuana deal, Phanor was the gunman and Foote was the driver. 

Cleberg was the prosecution's key witness in the hearing, which began on May 27 and spanned parts of five days, because she identified Phanor and Young but defense lawyers questioned her reliability. 

Cleberg said she and Middleton had a license to grow medical marijuana at their residence in Pinole and agreed to sell marijuana to a man who called them to respond to an ad they had placed on Craigslist about selling to qualified medical marijuana patients. 

The buyer, who she identified as Young, agreed to pay $3,200 to buy one and a half pounds of a strain of medical marijuana called "Girl Scout Cookies," Cleberg said. 

Berkeley was chosen as the place to consummate the deal because it was halfway between the Pinole residence where she and Middleton lived and the buyer's home in San Leandro, Cleberg said. 

She and Middleton only expected to meet with the buyer and his girlfriend and were surprised when the buyer showed up with three other males, she said. 

Cleberg said they felt reassured when a man whose face matched the photo ID of the prospective buyer approached their car. 

But she said the man, who she identified as Young, then asked to look at some of the marijuana and later tried to take a bag of marijuana. 

Cleberg said she and Middleton struggled with Young and then a man she identified as Phanor stuck his head into their car, said, "This is a stickup" and fired a single shot that struck Middleton and her. 

A 17-year-old suspect was also arrested in connection with the shooting but he's being prosecuted separately in juvenile court. 

Phanor, Young and Foote are scheduled to return to court on July 20 to have a trial date set.

New: Berkeley City Clerk's Office Refuses to Accept Appeal of ZAB'S EIR Certification for Harold Way Project

Steven Finacom
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 05:37:00 PM
City Clerk Mark Numainville (standing) looks at an appeal brought on July 8 to the Clerk's Office by Kelly Hammargren (seated) of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition while other City Clerk staff stand in the background.  Hammargren was told by the Clerk that she would not be allowed to file the appeal that day.
City Clerk Mark Numainville (standing) looks at an appeal brought on July 8 to the Clerk's Office by Kelly Hammargren (seated) of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition while other City Clerk staff stand in the background. Hammargren was told by the Clerk that she would not be allowed to file the appeal that day.

Members of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition were rebuffed at Berkeley City Hall on Wednesday, July 8, when they attempted to file an appeal at the Berkeley City Clerk's office on a portion of the controversial 2211 Harold Way project in Downtown Berkeley.

Kelly Hammargren and Tree Fitzpatrick sought to present the Clerk with a detailed appeal letter over Hammargren's signature, as well as a petition signed by more than 30 Berkeley residents living 300 feet or less from the Harold Way site asking that the Zoning Adjustments Board's(ZAB) certification of the project Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be appealed to the City Council as provided in California law. 

Hammargren's letter cites numerous flaws, omissions, inaccuracies, out-of-date information, and other problems with the EIR process, which was rushed through the Zoning Adjustments Board on June 25. 

Typically the City allows 14 days after a decision by the ZAB for appealing to the City Council. July 9 would have marked 14 days. 

However, the City Clerk's staff refused to accept the petition and appeal letter, stating that appeals are not accepted by the Clerk until City Planning staff issue a "Notice of Decision" for the EIR certification. No Notice of Decision has been forthcoming for the Harold Way project. 

"What does that mean?" Hammergren asked. "It means that before the Notice of Decision is issued we can't accept an appeal because the decision doesn't formally exist," said a Clerk's staffer at the counter.  

The staffer referred the petitioners to the co-secretary of the Zoning Adjustments Board, City planner Shannon Allen.  

"I'd like you to sign a notice saying we tried to submit and you wouldn't accept it," Hammargren replied, proffering a written statement. "I'm not able to sign that," the staffer responded. She went back to the Clerk's private offices, and returned some minutes later with City Clerk Mark Numainville. 

Hammargren then asked Numainville to sign the statement saying that she had tried to present the appeal to his office, and had been refused. "I wanted to show that I made it here before the fourteen days are up," Hammergan explained.  

Numainville also said he would not sign, but then asked Hammargren to wait. Several minutes later he returned to the conference room and gave Hammargren a letter over his signature (copy attached) that stated "this letter certifies that as of 3:30 pm on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, a Notice of Decision for the EIR Certification for 2211 Harold Way has not been received by the City Clerk Department. Thus, no appeal may be filed at this time." 

The City's process of receiving appeals has been controversial because Planning Department staff have pushed the Zoning Adjustments Board to "certify" EIRs for controversial projects well in advance of other project approvals.  

The certification vote appears, to the layperson, to end the EIR process and begin the appeal period but, as Numainville stated in his letter, appeals are prohibited until a Notice of Decision is issued by the Planning staff. 

A similar answer was given to a lawyer who went to the City Clerk's office in June to file an appeal on another controversial development project's final EIR. That attorney was also turned away with the same explanation from the Clerk's staff.

Redwood Gardens Residents Report on National Association of HUD Tenants Conference

Lydia Gans
Tuesday July 07, 2015 - 09:11:00 AM

The residents of Redwood Gardens continue to get increasingly frustrated in their efforts to get help from government and community agencies in the struggles with their management. Now they are learning that their situation is far from unique. There are issues of concern to tenants in HUD housing projects countrywide.  

This June, two of the residents, Eleanor Walden co-chair of the residents' council, and Avram Gur Arye, participated in the annual conference of the National Association of HUD Tenants (NAHT) in Washington D.C. It was a three day event. There were two days of tenant run workshops covering a broad spectrum of topics, meetings and informal discussions. The third day was lobby day when they met with HUD staffers and politicians in Washington. 

Both delegates were hugely impressed. It was precisely what was needed. They made connections with people all over the country, setting up lines of communication to share information and and to have access to the support of an extended community. They gained information that gave them a fuller picture of the economics and politics of the housing situation. 

Avram Arye was enthusiastic about the experience. In his first workshop he heard a discussion of proposed federal budget cuts that threaten to displace millions of people from their homes. Another, specifically relevant to Redwood Gardens issues, he describes as “ how to get better and higher HUD officials to come out and meet about the problems happening on your property.” 

He was pleased with the opportunity to make contacts and share information with people. “Someone in a small town in Texas” he says, was interested in how I had gotten the building officials to do what HUD didn't do, and faster!” He was impressed with a process called “Eyes and Ears” where people from all over the country gather together and tell their stories, to share with each other and to be heard by staff people in HUD. 

Eleanor Walden echoed his enthusiasm. She talked about Eyes and Ears. “I was in a room with more talent, intelligence, experience, and knowledge than I have seen since 1964 in the civil rights movement. These mostly Black, largely women, all tenant organizers of the great skill and ability and they knew what they were talking about they were able to recount it in story telling fashion – people use the word 'complaints' when they talk about tenants. There is no 'complaining' this was the facts and the experience and this is what has happened to me and to the people in the larger region which I'm from.” 

Another word she seized on was 'respect'. “I heard the word respect used so many times at this conference I still get goosebumps because that has been one of the things that hurt me most that happened in this building, that we we're treated with disdain, a lack of respect. I thought it was just me. The fact that we are old or disabled or marginalized does not mean that we don't have experience, education dedication, ability, all of the things that they didn't give us credit for. That came up over and over and over.” (She told of an incident when a HUD official was disrespectful to the participants there at the conference and was soundly chastised.) 

An important aspect of the conference for her was a perspective on what is going on throughout the country with regard to affordable housing. “For example buildings like ours are being renovated … in this case for 3 1/2 million dollars and then they're being sold off. And there are many ways in which they're being sold off – being upgraded to university dorms, upgraded to gentrification or they're being in some cases sold to the tenants. People here have asked 'what are their intentions?' and that's what I've been trying to find out. Now I see that we were not off the mark. There is a pattern of selling off these buildings.” She says “when I went to this conference and these people from all over were saying what their experience has been I realized how broad the issues are and how people have been dealing with them for a very long time.” 

The conference has stimulated her interest in organizing around housing issues. After she and Arye report back to the Residents' Council she says she will be working with the Grey Panthers on a housing forum planned for September 23 at the North Berkeley senior center. “Then to move out into making contacts with other multifamily section 8 housing in the Berkeley- Oakland area to try to stimulate them to either form a tenants association or if they have one to join in some sort of consortium and to join NAHT so that we can present next year at the conference a more unified face of northern California.”

Body of Berkeley Resident Found in Water Off Richmond

Erin Baldassari (BCN)
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 08:28:00 PM

The death of a 30-year-old woman who was found floating in the water near Richmond last Thursday is now considered suspicious, an East Bay Regional Park District police lieutenant said today. 

The Contra Costa County coroner's office today identified her as Berkeley resident Katherine Gravett. 

Police are still trying to determine who Gravett might have been associating with or what she might have been doing at the time of her death, park district police Lt. Lance Brede said. 

"We haven't been able to come up with anything tangible yet," Brede said. 

The coroner's office conducted an autopsy on Sunday, but as of this morning, Brede said he didn't have information on the cause of death. 

Gravett's body was reported around 12:35 p.m. Thursday, according to police. Police found her on the rocks behind the East Bay Municipal Utility District's Wet Weather Treatment Plant on Isabel Street near Point Isabel, police said. 

Police are asking anyone with information about the case or about Gravett to contact park police at (510) 881-1833 or to leave an anonymous message at (510) 690-6521.



New: Berkeley from Abroad and Back

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 10, 2015 - 10:53:00 AM

It’s been a long time since I’ve been away from Berkeley for more than a weekend, and re-entry , especially when multiple time zones have been crossed and other languages have been spoken, can be confusing. Having returned less than a week ago, I’ve been trying to catch up with what I missed ever since. 

Modern technology makes it possible to stay in touch to a certain extent, much better than when I was younger. I was in Paris when Nixon resigned, in London when Tianamen Square went down, in Naples when the World Trade Center was destroyed—and I’ve only been in Europe four times in my long life. My emotional relationship to those signal events is therefore different from that of my American friends. On the plus side, I have a better idea of how the United States in crises has been viewed by Rest of World. 

The average French people I chatted with in a bar near the Arc de Triomphe were mystified by Watergate. They seemed to think President Nixon was a savvy world-class leader, and couldn’t figure out why Americans were so sensitive about government spying and secrecy. 

“C’est normal!” they said. 

The Brits we knew were as shocked by Tianamen as we were. At that time we had a shared commitment to democratic values—that was pre-Murdoch, of course. 

In Italy in 2001, marooned without a flight home for two extra weeks after 9/11 with only Italian TV for news, we were flooded with sympathy and kind gestures. It’s a shame subsequent U.S. actions have eroded that base of good will around the world. 

This time we had ample information via the Internet about two catastrophes in the United States: the Charleston massacre and the Berkeley balcony collapse. Both were covered extensively in French papers, so the people we met knew all about them. 

Our close Paris friend has a history of struggling against racism. Her son who now lives in Berkeley, also our friend, is bi-racial, with a father of African-French heredity via Martinique and a mother of Tunisian origin, ethnically Jewish but secular leftist in culture. She ran an anti-racist film festival for many years, and also wrote her Ph.D. thesis on films about what the French call the Shoah (here the Holocaust.) 

With that background what happened in Charleston was sadly no surprise to her, nor was it to us. Yes, this country has a sizable population of residual racists, mostly crazy, and yes, they can easily get their hands on guns. She worries that her son now resides amongst us, but then, Paris has its own share of crazies with guns these days, doesn’t it? 

Berkeley’s own tragedy, just a couple of days earlier, was covered extensively in the European press for the first couple of days, but Charleston displaced it. After Paris we (six family members in all) took the train to Languedoc, a rocky wine-producing rural area near the Pyrenees on the Spanish border. There we stayed in a house in a medieval village which had been restored by a French-Australian architect who lived next door with his wife. 

We had the opportunity of discussing the balcony collapse with him from a technical point of view. Australian codes, he said, were very strict. But on the other hand, he told us to my great surprise (and we were speaking English then) that France has essentially no building codes—but maybe more common sense? He was aghast that any builder would construct a cement balcony supported only by wood. 

So, here, back in Berkeley, I’m still wondering how it happened. I followed as best I could the fragmented press reports online. I had a long phone call from a sharp-sounding L.A. Times investigative reporter, formerly based in South Florida, who was used to dealing with the kind of developer corruption memorialized by John McDonald and Carl Hiassen. I’d reported on that stuff myself, in my investigative youth, with a story on how the Disney Corp. bought off the Florida legislature in order to build Disney World. 

I told her, reluctantly, that I didn’t really think there was that kind of graft story here. The city is, yes, awash in developer money, contributed in gobs for pro-development ballot measures and candidates. But even though the Planet reported, complete with picture, on still-Mayor Tom Bates’s backing of Library Gardens in 2004, we’ve never found any real evidence that any Berkeley officials have been lining their personal pockets with cash from the building industry and/or the trades it employs. (It’s true that the convoluted structure of real estate finance, with Real Estate Investment Trusts and Limited Liability Corporations and other arcane vehicles, makes it hard to follow the money.) 

When I got home I tried to catch up by watching the video of the June 30 city council meeting. Others had told me that it was beyond belief, even by the usual standards of the Berkeley City Council presided over by a mayor who no longer bothers to hide his contempt for the public or his colleagues. 

I tried to watch it, I really did, but reader, it turned my stomach so much that I had to stop. I surfed through it at random, but couldn’t bear to devote the 5+ hours it would have taken to watch it end-to-end. 

Oddly, what was most upsetting to me was not Mayor Tom Bates’ ugly attack on preservationist Carrie Olson, once his supporter, which many friends had told me about. That kind of behavior from Bates is not news. 

What saddened me most were the bravura performances by the many, many concerned Berkeleyans attempting against all odds to use logical persuasion on the majority councilmembers who had long since sold their souls for a mess of Berkeley’s gourmet pottage. The ones that especially moved me were citizen Moni Law and Councilmember Max Anderson, both inheritors of the African-American tradition of speaking eloquent truth to power. 

Two issues produced the most drama: the anti-homeless measures proposed by Maio for Downtown Berkeley (which was ultimately shelved until fall) and discussion of a landmark application appeal which might affect the big buildings wealthy speculators would like to plant downtown. 

I just wonder how Maio, Wengraf, Droste and especially Moore can muddle through their hours on the dais without understanding that their constituents are speaking to them. Perhaps they understand, but don’t care any more? 

Capitelli and Bates don’t surprise me at all. I expect both are in on the deals in a bigger way, probably greased by the building industry contributions promised for Capitelli’s run for Bates’s seat. The rumor everywhere is that the Mayor will resign in December, in a window provided by the City Charter that will allow Bates’ captive majority to appoint Capitelli as interim mayor—and then he can run in 2016 as an incumbent. 

And Bates seems to have turned into an enthusiastic bully in his last months on the job, judging by the way he abused those who were speaking on behalf of landmarking the view from the Campanile at the meeting. He yelled “you’re tricking me” at former Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair (and Move-On founder) Olson when she quite properly asked to speak as the applicant for the designation after former commissioner (and Planet contributor) Steve Finacom had spoken as the appellant of the denial. 

If Bates has any friends left, they should really press him to step down sooner rather than later. 

The denouement of this round will come at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, supposed to be the last one before the Council takes off on Wednesday for its long summer vacation. 

Last week the Zoning Adjustments Board, voting along party lines, voted to certify the Environment Impact report for 2211 Harold Way, but as of this writing their Notice of Decision on that vote has not been issued. Per California law, the EIR decision of a non-elected body like ZAB can be appealed to the elected body which appointed them, and citizens tried last week to do just that. 

They were foiled, however, by a bit of administrative sleight-of-hand, as quasi-articulated in an email by ZAB staffer Shannon Allen: 

It is the City’s practice to issue the Notice of Decision for both the project and the EIR at the same time. The Notice includes the official date of decision and sets the appeal period. The Final EIR was certified by the ZAB on June 25; however, the process for project approval is on-going -- discussion of the Structural Alteration Permit is on the LPC agenda this evening and the resolution related to significant community benefits for tall buildings in on the City Council agenda for July 14. Depending on these pieces, project approval may be before the ZAB on August 27. It is not possible for staff to predict when the project might be approved, and therefore not possible at this point in time to “schedule” the release of the NOD.
Is that perfectly clear? Only after the vote’s been taken, after the deal has gone down, will you get your chance to appeal the flawed EIR which was supposed to have guided the decisionmakers. That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? 

With this kind of shell game the standard operating procedure in Berkeley during the 12-year Bates era, it's no wonder at least one disasterously flawed building took young lives. There may be more such "accidents" waiting to happen. Last night the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in a 5-3 vote which miraculously appeared to track the alignment of the councilmembers who appointed the commissioners, agreed to schedule a special meeting on August 13 to approve 2211 Harold Way. The LPC will issue the structural alteration permit because the project involves the partial demolition of a designated historic resource, is on a historic site, and will dwarf the adjacent landmarked Shattuck Hotel. 

Clearly, fixer Mark Rhoades, former city planner, has his ducks in a row: LPC approval August 13, ZAB approval August 27, Council ratification and appeal disposal on their return from recess Sept. 13. And it looks like there’s not a damn thing citizens can do about it, short of suing on the patently inadequate EIR or challenging the procedure for setting Benefits criteria in court. 

Meanwhile, the council is frantically trying to (1) enact a pallid set of standards regarding what might constitute the kind of “significant community benefits” technically required of the 5 tall buildings provided for in the downtown plan and (2) create a series of glaring loopholes in these same standards through which fixer Rhoades can drive his pet project, saving his financial speculator clients an amount estimated by one non-majority councilmember as between $8 million and $13 million. That’s on top of the tens of millions of dollars which the proposed standards are leaving on the table for developers of all the big buildings, based on the just-released “nexus report” which was supposed to provide a guideline for what the benefits could and should be. This topic is way too complicated for my jet-lagged brain to spell out today—I’m going to try to find a better qualified economist to explain it all to you.

The Editor's Back Fence

As expected, Berkeley City Council Votes One More Time in Favor of Developers and Unions and Against the Public Interest

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday July 15, 2015 - 02:28:00 PM

Some have wondered what the Berkeley City Council did last night regarding the Baksheesh for Big Buildings law (AKA the "significant community benefits" resolution.) I was there, and I wonder myself. Here's a guess, subject to verification when there's time to get attorneys to review the transcript and the video:  

They passed a resolution advising the Zoning Adjustments Board of how they would be "inclined" to vote on the question of whether a given building provided enough "significant community benefits" to qualify for upzoning to previously unknown heights. Here's the cliff notes version: for Big Buildings 2-7, agreements to use only union labor on projects would suck up a large part of the available goodwill, with the crumbs perhaps available for affordable housing and other goodies, public art perhaps.  

We do love our unions, don't we? Big campaign contributors, of course.  

Big Building #1, the RatBP at 2211 Harold Way promoted by revolving door planner Mark Rhoades, gets special-cased, required to do no more than cough up an amount of cash which is piddly compared to the extra profits the developers will glean from the added floors. Why is this?  

Alejandro Soto-Vigil executed a nice piece of theater, in which he asked that very question and then waited, counting off the seconds, for the councilmembers, including the Progs, to fail to answer, as he expected they would.  

What is the legal impact of the council members announcing in advance that they are inclined to vote a certain way? Isn't this decision-makers pre-deciding before being presented with the evidence? Or is it perhaps an attempt to bind a future government, which I learned in the 11th grade was illegal?  

Well, this is Berkeley, and Berkeley, as I think I've said before, gets what it deserves and deserves what it gets. No more than 50 concerned citizens bothered to show up.

Public Comment

New: Encrypted data

Jagjit Singh
Monday July 13, 2015 - 06:08:00 PM

It is surprising that the FBI and its British counterpart, GCHQ, should be demanding greater access to encrypted data on the heels of one of the most egregious data breaches in US history when more than 21 million Social Security numbers were compromised.

It is heartening to read that fourteen of the world’s pre-eminent cryptographers, computer scientists and security specialists have collectively opposed the FBI and GCHQ’s demand for access to encrypted communications. Such access would endanger all such confidential data, as well as the broader communications infrastructure. Surely, with repeated data breaches of sensitive data we should be demanding more encryption not less. 

Contrary, to FBI’s director, James Comey's scare tactics notwithstanding, law enforcement personnel at the state and federal level were only hindered by encryption on four wiretaps all year. 

We cannot and should not weaken encryption standards to provide easy access to the FBI and other Intelligence Agencies. To do so would also provide easy access to criminal and foreign governments and severely compromise our security and put us at much greater risk. Clearly what is needed is to enhance our security software to prevent hacking and not weaken encryption standards.

New: City Accepts $2 Million Grant to Use Toxic Tires in Paving and Playing Fields

Merrilie Mitchell
Monday July 13, 2015 - 05:04:00 PM

Our city has accepted $2 million in Cal Recycle grants for recycling thousands of old (toxic) tires into our asphalt mix. This asphalt would be used to pave streets and sidewalks and for crumb rubber (tiny pellets) used to rejuvenate artificial turf fields. 

The tire crumbs get on our kids, especially soccer goalies, who may be exposed to a rare form of cancer. 

Fortunately we do not need to use these toxic rubber crumbs – there are excellent alternatives: 

1. Use non-rubberized asphalt for paving. It's fine 

2) Use cork and/or coconut hull artificial turf. It's beautiful, long lasting and non-toxic! 

Editor's note: for more information see: https://www.coworker.org/petitions/fifa-the-world-cup-should-be-played-on-natural-grass/?state=thanks

New: City Council Highlights….

Councilmember Linda Maio
Monday July 13, 2015 - 05:00:00 PM

Tomorrow night's meeting, July 14th, is the last one before summer break. Council will reconvene on September 15th. Here are a few items of interest on the agenda.

Initiating a Plan for San Pablo Avenue

Councilmember Darryl Moore and I are requesting that a Plan be developed for San Pablo Avenue to guide development and map out improvements for the corridor. Item #37 [PDF]

Clarifying the relationship of a proposed rear yard unit to the front residential unit 

This item, which I am recommending, is to create more clarity as rear yard units are increasingly being proposed in our residential districts. Item #31 [PDF]

Public Hearing on needed amendments to the Berkeley Housing Code  

These items is intended to strengthen our building codes, immediately, as they relate to balconies, in the wake of the tragic loss of life from a rotted balcony support. Some provisions will require State approval. Items #48 [PDF], #51 [PDF], #52 [PDF]

Establishing Community Benefits for new projects over 75 feet high 

The Downtown Plan now permits dense and tall buildings in the Downtown over 75 feet. As we move forward, we need to ensure that benefits accrue to the City particularly for desperately needed affordable housing. Unlike what has been asserted by some, all projects will receive outside and independent review as to the feasible level and amount of contribution for community benefits. Affordable housing is our most important need. Other considerations for benefits include good project labor agreements and support for the arts, public open space, and other public amenities. Item #54 [PDF]

Questions and comments are very welcome. 

New: Open Letter to Berkeley Officials: Benefits Resolution is Legally Incorrect

Anna de Leon
Friday July 10, 2015 - 11:42:00 AM

TO: Mayor Tom Bates, City of Berkeley Zack Cowan, City Attorney, City of Berkeley

FROM: Anna de Leon

RE: Agenda Item #54 Berkeley City Council Meeting of July 14, 2015 Establish a System for New Downtown Projects Over 75 Feet to Provide Significant Community Benefits -- Necessity for Adoption by Ordinance instead of Resolution

Dear Mayor Bates and City Attorney Cowan,

Given the scope and substantive changes to the existing ordinance guiding significant community benefits contained in the above agenda item, its adoption at the Council’s July 14th meeting by resolution, rather than by ordinance, would be in violation of the Berkeley City Charter. Accordingly, I request that this item be removed from the agenda and correctly re-submitted at a later Council meeting as a proposed ordinance.

Notice of the above concern was previously provided to you on June 25, 2015 in a letter from Ellen Widess and Rick Warren when the above Resolution was first introduced on the Council agenda as a discussion item. While your response at that time was that the Council could discuss the item, since it was only being referred to the City Manager without any formal action being taken at that meeting, the Council is now poised to take formal, and I believe legally incorrect, action. 

As noted in the Widess-Warren letter, use of a Resolution may be appropriate to determine if a single applicant provides significant community benefits or to give general guidance. However, the use of a resolution is inappropriate if it is used to set mandatory standards that are applicable to all future applicants. The current Berkeley Municipal Code only authorizes the Zoning Adjustment Board to make a “finding that the project” that they are currently considering “will provide significant community benefits" (BMC § 23E.68.090 Findings) not to establish mandatory standards. 

Second, under the concept of “equal dignity”, ordinances should only be amended by a subsequent ordinance and resolutions by subsequent resolutions. As noted in the Widess-Warren letter the City Charter clearly requires that any “revision, re-enactment, or amendment” and any repeal of an ordinance shall be done by ordinance. 

At the state level, Government Code 65850, et seq., generally requires that cities “adopt ordinances” to regulate zoning, such activities as “location, height, bulk, number of stories, and size of buildings and structures”, “the intensity of land use”, requirements for off street parking and loading” and “establish[ing] building setback lines. and that “any other amendment to a zoning ordinance may be adopted as other ordinances are adopted.” (Govt. Code § 65853) 

In City of Sausalito v. County of Marin (1970) 12 Cal.App.3d 551 overturning a zoning decision adopted by Marin County by Resolution “for failure to amend the Marin County zoning ordinance by legislative action of equal, dignity therewith,” the court noted 

The Legislature has been explicit concerning this distinction...By statute, the Legislature has made the terms "ordinance" and "resolution" synonymous in a very few instances, each of which is highly specialized…in innumerable other statutes authorizing or directing actions by county boards of supervisors, it has been careful to state whether the specific action shall be taken by "ordinance" or by "resolution. Id. at 567. 

As a result of the June 25, 2015 Council meeting, the Council made significant changes to its proposed community benefits proposal by adopting a proposal from Council members Droste and Moore that are now before the Council for adoption at its July 14, 2015 meeting. 

Reviewing Agenda Item #54 reconfirms the conclusion that the Council is significantly revising, amending, and repealing through resolution, a previously adopted ordinance governing the Zoning Adjustment Board’s (ZAB’s) authority to determine significant community benefits. Under that ordinance all applicants were subject to the same rules and ZAB had full discretion to determine the amount of community benefits, their type, and the process for making these determinations. 

In particular, agenda Item #54 now establishes two separate and distinct classes of applicants, pre June 25, 2013 and post June 2013, each of which is subject to different, and, in the case of pre-June 2013 applicants, mandatory standards. For pre June 25, 2013 (projects that have been in the permit process for more than two years prior to June 25, 2015) Agenda Item #54 completely removes ZAB’s discretion to determine the amount of community benefits by establishing a “fixed value”, either payable as a set sum or as “benefits of equivalent value.” As also noted in the Widess-Warren letter, the establishment of set fees based on square footage raises the issue as to whether this is an assessment under the Berkeley City Charter, which also must be done by ordinance and not resolution. 

Agenda Item #54 also imposes significant new restrictions on ZAB’s current discretionary authority under the ordinance to determine the amount and type of benefits it may determine are needed. Agenda Item #54 now usurps ZAB’s current discretion by establishing a preferential order for determining community benefits (affordable housing, Project Labor Agreement (PLA); and one additional benefit). It would also impose a mandatory valuation on the benefit of any PLA that could be applied toward meeting the community benefit goal, once again undermining ZAB’s current discretion under the ordinance. 

In addition to its effect on ZAB, Agenda Item #54 also creates new and mandatory filing requirements on applicants that were neither identified nor required in the previous ordinance. 

While many of these changes may be desirable, in order to ensure that they are enforceable, consistent with the City Charter, and that citizens and applicants have clearly defined expectations as to ZAB’s authority, the above changes need to be made through ordinance and not resolution.For the above reasons, I respectfully ask that the City Council defer taking any formal action on this item at its July 14, 2015 meeting and instead process any proposed amendments to the existing Municipal Code through ordinance as required by the City Charter. 


Anna de Leon 

Anna de Leon is a Berkeley attorney and the former president of the Berkeley School Board.

New: Berkeley Continues Construction in Wake of Balcony Disaster

Charlene Woodcock
Friday July 10, 2015 - 11:32:00 AM

Concerned citizens wish to know who in the city government is tallying the ever-growing number of large new buildings and their cumulative impact on city resources and services such as streets and transportation, water, electricity, sewer, and fire and police protection. Given the fatal consequences of the collapse of the Library Gardens balcony, now we must ask if the city employs enough building inspectors to assess rigorously the quality of construction and adherence to code and the safe maintenance of these many new large buildings going up simultaneously, a phenomenon probably unprecedented in Berkeley's history. Someone needs to investigate the history of the contractors for large buildings to make sure they haven't been sued for shoddy work on previous projects, as is the case with the Library Gardens firm. We need to know the cost to city residents and taxpayers of this radical increase in construction in the city, in terms of infrastructure stress, increased traffic, and increase in greenhouse gases? Has an emergency preparedness plan been established to account for the special needs of emergencies in large buildings? This significant increase in housing units strains both physical, natural, and human resources, already aging, overburdened, or inadequate.  

Several of the Downtown developments under consideration are so detrimental to the interests of Berkeley residents that no significant benefits the developer could offer would compensate for the loss to the community that they would entail. I refer to such highly-valued local businesses as Ace Hardware (Acheson Commons), Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Machine Center (1951 Shattuck@Berkeley Way) and The Missing Link Bike repair cooperative which by repairing bikes helps reduce auto pollution in Berkeley, (1951 Shattuck), and the Shattuck Cinemas and Habitot (2211 Harold Way). These businesses provide significant services to Berkeley residents and pay taxes to support the city. If a developer proposes to demolish a building that houses a successful business, surely the city must require that developer to provide for the temporary housing of the business nearby and then include on the ground floor equal or greater space to rehouse the business. To do less would be a huge disservice to the residents of Berkeley. 

It seems time to call a moratorium on new large building proposals in order to assess the financial and infrastructure impact of the many new buildings already approved and to examine the extent to which they will or will not address Berkeley's urgent need for inclusionary low-income and family housing.  

And surely the city should require posted weight limits on all balconies. 

Attached is a probably incomplete list of the many new large residential buildings currently under construction or recently completed in Berkeley.

New: Progress for People not Millions for Moguls- Defeat Developers Dream Deal

Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Friday July 10, 2015 - 06:24:00 PM

Millions of dollars of downtown hi-rise developer fee reductions are on the July 14th Council agenda. Multiple professional consultant reports suggest higher fairer fees. Nonetheless, the City Council has instructed staff to prepare three proposals to reduce millions of dollars in fees for wealthy corporations. Ironically these millions of dollars of corporate giveaways are being discussed within one month of the City cutting social service groups funding, and increasing homeowner fees. 

Giveaway #1: Millions of dollars fee reductions to significant community benefits by allowing one project on Harold Way a reduced fee deal not offered to any other developer. Also no clear requirement for how many affordable units to be provided or paid for by all seven projects. 

Giveaway #2: Votes on Oct 7, 2014 and April 7, 2015 to reduce affordable housing mitigation fee temporarily from $28,000 per unit down to $20,000 per unit. This will be coming back for another vote. 

Giveaway #3: Proposed exemption of downtown tall buildings from Percent for Art. Council referred to Planning Commission. 

The city is facing a crisis in affordable housing. It is crucial that the city require the developers to build affordable units or pay a substantial fee on new units in order to provide funding for affordable housing. If we do not make corporations pay their fair share, the costs of development may be externalized to the taxpayers.. As currently proposed, there is no clear guarantee of what minimum number of units or funds for affordable housing will be provided. 

Links to consultants’ reports: http://tinyurl.com/BerkeleyDAP 

To voice your support for progress for people, not millions for moguls, email council@cityofberkeley.info, and help 

Defeat the Developers’ Dream Deal! 

And/or attend the City Council meeting on July 14 at 7pm at 2134 MLK Jr Way, Berkeley 





New: Our Justice Department Needs Improvement

Romila Khanna
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:45:00 PM

How can one person represent all Mexican-Americans? Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is accused in the shooting death of 32 year-old Kathryn Steinle at Pier 14 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco last week. The other day I was listening to a Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. I was amazed to hear the candidate say, he will close the borders so immigrants will stop killing American citizens. It seems to be a blame game. Because of one or two we cannot blame all the Mexican-Americans here. There are all kinds of good and bad people in the U.S. including descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower. The immigrants from families that have been in the U.S. for many generations also shoot and kill people. Why are there no heated debates about immigrants from England or Scotland?  

This country has been built up by immigrants. People come here and work hard to make their new home here. They pay taxes and help our economy to grow. But due to lapses in background check in Citizenship and Immigration Services, we mistakenly admit some bad people.  

Undocumented immigrants pose a different problem. They enter the country undetected. The way of accommodating them and at the same time running background checks on them is more complicated. The first policy change required is to accept the fact of undocumented immigrants. The next step is to run thorough background checks before giving them guest worker status. Let them work, make their living and contribute to the economy as honorable taxpayers. Delaying change in the status of undocumented people will not solve the problem of daily crimes. Background checks are our best protection against that.

New: Berkeley Public Library Weeding Rebuttal

Jeff Scott, Director of Library Services, Berkeley Public Library / Administration
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 10:20:00 AM

This is my rebuttal to an opinion piece posted this week.

This email is intended to answer questions about weeding at the Berkeley Public Library. I will provide a full presentation similar to this at the September 9th BOLT Meeting.

This process was originally queried in January 2015 by Berkeley City Council. At that meeting, I provided an Annual Report on the progress of Berkeley Public Library and answered questions about our weeding process. In particular, I pointed out a test case of the 500s, the section dealing with Earthquakes.

After a review by librarians it was determined 25% of the collection to be weeded was already missing (hence why it wasn't circulating). Of the remaining collection all but three books were questioned as a maybe to keep. Those that were pulled were decades old (some of the sampling included topics on earthquakes that go back to 1990 which seems is irresponsible to keep). 

We saw this process repeatedly as we went forward with weeding the other ranges. Keep in mind, we review items that haven’t circulated in three years, but that is only the first step. From there, we look at the content (is it relevant), publisher date (it is still current), condition of the book, and its relation to other books in the collection. If we cannot use the book, we typically offer it to the Friends of the Library for their booksale, then Better World Books, if neither can use it, then we send it to the recycler. So to recap: 

1. 3 year no circulation 

2. Review for content and condition 

3. Replace, restore, or deaccession 

4. Deaccessioned items sent to Friends, Better World Books, or DR3 (St. Vincent de Paul) 

One wrinkle that came up in January and February was that the Friends could not use much of the items that were being weeded. The person who ran the bookstore said in a Friends meeting that she need to sell books too. She can’t sell books that are old or out of date either. As a result of that conversation, we have been sending books to the DR3 that meet these criteria. This is a majority of the books that are being deaccessioned. 

The Berkeley Public Library has put together a schedule for library weeding. So far, the library has reviewed and weeded the 500s (Natural Sciences), the 600s (Applied Sciences), the 300s (Social Sciences), and the 700s (Arts, music, and entertainment). The library plans to review the rest of the collection as the year goes on. This will be an annual event with each Dewey Decimal range having its own month to review. Librarians doing this review are trained specialists who research and remain current on all collection development topics. We are also replacing titles with newer versions. 


Below is a brief outline of why we weed. 

At the Berkeley Public Library, we have adopted the national standard of Collection Maintenance called Library CREW. Most of the information below was put together through their helpful website at the Texas State Library and Archives: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/pubs/crew/index.html 


CREW stands for: 





What is weeding? 

The process of removing books and other materials that are: 

In dilapidated physical condition 

Contain outdated or inaccurate information 

Do not fit into the scope of the library’s collection 

The updated Berkeley Public Library Collection Development policy addresses collection maintenance with similar themes: 

Maintenance of the collection through scheduled evaluation by library staff is critical to ensuring its continued usefulness and relevancy. 

Evaluation criteria include: 

• Age of materials and currency of material 

• Condition of item 

• Circulation of the material 

Damaged materials will be considered for replacement. 

BOLT approved this new policy May 28th, 2015. 



Why do we weed? 

To enhance the library’s reputation for reliability and currency 

To provide feedback to current selection teams on the collection’s STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES 

To provide a continuous check on the NEED FOR REPAIRS/REPLACEMENTS 

To make the collection MORE APPEALING 

To save TIME 

To save use SPACE efficiently 

If anyone has any further questions on the topic, I would be happy to answer them. Weeding is a recurring process most libraries undertake. I want to address any concerns. 




Many Books in the Berkeley Public Library Collection Are Being Purged and Pulped by Administrators

Roya L. Arasteh
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:04:00 AM

The Central Berkeley Public Library, once a destination library, is now becoming a decimated library.

Hundreds and hundreds of books are being dumped from the collection without input from librarian selectors, and pulped. All “weeding” is being handled by two managers - with partial input from four other librarians. The entire rest of the librarian staff is locked out of the ordering and weeding process, and has no access to the book budget.

This new policy requires that books are discarded, based solely on their circulation records. The new library director has stated that all books on the shelves that haven’t circulated in the last three years must go. (Ten years for Art & Music books.) It’s being done clandestinely and quickly. All these titles are being "deleted" instead of cancelled so that all catalog records are destroyed. No count is being kept.

Senior retired library staff and current library staff have urgently approached members of the Board of Library Trustees to stop this process. Mr. Scott, the library director, reassures the Board that these complaints are exaggerated.

The staff, retired and current, is not exaggerating. 

Other library systems,including Alameda County Library, have faced similar attempted purging from misguided managers, and - because of citizen input - the decimation of the collections has been somewhat turned around. 

We still have a chance to save what remains of what was once an excellent public library collection. Concerned library patrons, readers, friends and Berkeley tax-payers are urged to write to the Mayor and Board of Library Trustees to call for a stop to irresponsible, rampant weeding immediately. 

A special event to Save Our Books is scheduled for TUESDAY, JULY 14th at NOON on the steps of the Central Library (downtown, Shattuck and Kittredge). At this MEET UP TO CHECK OUT, library supporters will gather with their large carry-alls, boxes, rolling carts and wheelbarrows before checking out their maximum of 50 library titles. 

Roya L. Arasteh is a former staff member of Berkeley Public Library (18 years), a resident of Berkeley (31 years) and a property-tax payer (29 years).

Microsoft Admits They Goofed With Windows 8

Jack Bragen
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:03:00 AM

When I bought a new laptop (generic--I couldn't pay for an HP) I was disappointed with the poor performance of the machine, and I was angered by the stupidity of the new version of Windows.

I do not use computers for entertainment. I am not impressed by the television commercials that are supposed to wow people with the fact that the new Microsoft product has a keyboard that can be taken off and put back on.

If I could have afforded a professional grade laptop, I would have bought one. I bought my previous laptop used from a friend. It had Windows XP, which I still believe is the best operating system Microsoft has produced.

The previous laptop, for which I had paid $75, was unusable at first because someone had a bunch of extraneous software on it, which included games, music, and about five antimalware programs that were working all at once. Once I cleaned it up, it became a great computer--almost a friend.

Then, Microsoft ended support for Windows XP, and this forced me to get a newer machine. I bought a generic laptop from Acer, which has turned out to be barely usable. 

And then there is Microsoft word. I didn't want to pay for Word, so I tried downloading a free word processing app from the web. This turned out to be inadequate. So now, I am stuck paying $7 a month for rental of Microsoft office. The latest version of word also isn't very good, not as good as an earlier version that I had on my $75 laptop. 

Why is technology moving backwards instead of forward? 

And don't get me started talking of cloud storage--just don't. 

But now there is a glimmer of hope. Microsoft, with its free download of Windows 10, is tacitly acknowledging that Windows 8 was a mistake. Offering anything for free has been increasingly uncharacteristic of Microsoft. But, apparently, due to how much of a disaster Windows 8 has turned out to be, Microsoft's name is at stake. 

Meanwhile, I am stuck with this Acer laptop. I will probably look on the web for some tweaking that can be done to get it working better. 

Jack Bragen has serviced, upgraded and rebuilt PC's and was employed in the 1980's in the repair of analog televisions. In addition to his mental health writings, he currently has a short science fiction collection, titled: "Revised Short Science Fiction Collection of Jack Bragen." It is available for download or in hard copy from Amazon.

Gentrification and the Corporate Structure

Steve Martinot
Tuesday July 07, 2015 - 11:15:00 AM

The issue of affordable housing in Berkeley (and elsewhere) has become a battlefield, one that will affect all neighborhoods in Berkeley. Because the need is great, and housing is a human right (by international standards), many social movements, local and citywide, have arisen to get that need fulfilled. But if housing is a human right, why are political movements needed to obtain that right? After all, doesn’t capitalism function best (and profit most) by producing for extant social needs? Why is there a battlefield? Because indeed diametric interests confront each other – humans needing housing we can afford, and corporations whose needs are for economic control over markets. 

Underneath this confrontation, serious political purposes lurk. Various government concerns – ABAG, the Plan Bay Area, and the financialization of the region – are in operation. ABAG’s purpose is to reverse the “white flight” to the suburbs that occurred during the the 60s and 70s. At that time, massive social movements targetted “Jim Crow,” and fought to enable people of color to become full members of US society. Though racial discrimination was never fully abolished (it persists in education and housing), the economy changed. Industry “ran away,” technology turned into technocracy, and a financial economy independent of production became a more facile source of profit, supplanting productive capital while controlling its destiny from its heights. 

The heirs of those who fled are the suburban technocrats, professionals, and executives of the area’s three major industries: financiers, IT technicians, transportation managers and their underlying bureaucracies. Today they spend time in traffic jams that clog their lives and their ability to work. So ABAG seeks to bring them closer to their desks, and gilds this project with ecological tinsel, saying that city densification will curtail expressway traffic, and preserve the countryside by curtail urban sprawl. To facilitate this, massive construction of high income apartments and condos is required. And planned. It is a restructuring of the area to facilitate its role as a major capitol city for the Pacific Rim Economy. 

That the Plan’s focus is on the very well-to-do is evinced by the absence of necessary infrastructure – enhanced public transportation, social services to enable low income people to deal with inflation, and affordable housing. Instead, funding of services is cut, and mitigations are enhanced that enable developers to avoid including affordable units. In other words, communities and life styles will be sacrificed to the wealthy, and moved out to the suburbs to replace the former commuters. 

Many white people think they can weather this storm as people of color leave because they live in the development industry’s target areas. Berkeley’s black community is now a third of what it was a decade ago. Many people of color wonder how it is that a version of the old time colonialism has resurfaced, without everyone noticing, and why they and working class whites are the one’s who must move out of town. It is a corporate process, but with a racialized dimension. 

The corporate picture

The fundamental operations of corporate developers  

Developers are corporate businesses. They operate on the basis of profit. A developer (corporation) will buy land or real estate where prices are lowest, so that when it sells the building and real estate to the next owner (and some of these buildings go through three or four owners before construction is even finished), its profit will be maximized. Working class neighborhoods generally have lower valued real estate, which is why workers find they can afford to live there. When real estate values go up, or rent levels rise – perhaps because the area is targetted for development – low income people find themselves forced to find other low priced areas. This is especially true for black and brown communities, where real estate values have been keep low by redlining and segregation (banks restricting loans to black and brown people, charging higher mortgage rates, restricting employment, discriminatory hiring and union membership, low funding for education, etc.). Without access to credit, property owners have trouble renovating or improving their properties. Without access to advanced employment opportunities, communities suffer forms of cultural famine. The purpose of segregation may or may not have been to provide for land profitability, but it now provides the opportunity for high development profit. 

Oddly enough, the Plan Bay Area broadcasts where the development areas are going to be (Priority Development Areas or PDAs). And Berkeley has actually published a list of properties that will be the targets of development in each of its four PDAs. That means that developers will face increased property values, as the property owners raise their asking prices in dealing with them. Three effects of this are foreseeable. (1) It will neutralize opposition to development among property owners. (2) It will set them against the social movements that demand affordable housing and political input into the process. (3) It will induce new buildings to be aimed at higher income use. 

The corporate origins of gentrification  

Yet this doesn’t explain the conflict between corporations and affordable housing. Why do they find it unprofitable? It is not just inflation, raising the cost of materials and labor. And it does not stem from the difficulties low income families have in getting rent subsidies. It has to do with the corporate structure itself. 

Affordable housing is housing whose rents or mortgage payments relate to the residents’ income, rather than to the value of the property or the real estate markets. "Affordable" is defined as no greater than 30% of a family’s income (specifically for those earning less than the area’s median income ($90,000 a year for this area). 

Because the affordability of housing is controlled and regulated by political means – namely, land use permits, construction permits, rent control laws, and federal grant conditions – it is more difficult to recapitalize the building. When, in the course of construction, a developer to find itself out of funds, it will seek to sell the partially constructed building. This happened roughly three times for one building on San Pablo Ave. Each time it is sold, profit is made on the initial capital outlay, even though the process of construction may have been operating at a loss, because the actual construction process, the debt structure that finances it, and the investment holdings that manage the finances are divided among different corporate entities (from constrators to holding companies). The debt structure can be reconfigured by recapitalizing the assets (stock, land, etc.), limiting losses to lower levels of operation, with profit made through recapitalization and sale at the higher levels. 

Thus, for a developer, the nature of the building is immaterial; what counts is the ability to recapitalize, and the stability of its securities on the securities markets. Since short term debt is acquired using capital assets (usually stock) as collateral, any drop in its stock price will diminish the value of that collateral, and require supplementation, which could easily threatens financial crisis. If cash must be used, the borrower can easily run out of funds, and be unable to meet its wage bill (for instance). 

So the corporation must operate to keep its securities attractive on the securities markets (demand maintains price levels). And the need to deal with political regulation mars that attractiveness. Capital will flee that developer’s securities. 

Capitalism may operate to meet human demands, but corporations operate to meet financial demands. They do so by creating securities demand, to the detriment of human demands. For this reason, developer-financed buildings must cater to an upper income class of people, and engage in larger projects which move greater amounts of money, producing higher earnings within the financial domain. In short, the financial survival of development corporations depends on an expanded level of gentrification, to which affordable housing and community character are sacrificed. The drive for gentrification is systemic, peculiar to the corporate structure. 

The racialized picture

The racialized dimension to this has already been suggested. It has been evident in the continual relocations of people of color – from SF to Oakland and Berkeley, now out of Oakland and Berkeley to El Sobrante or San Leandro, etc. Rents go up, services are cut, destitution and crime increase, and people move out. Speculators move in, buy up buildings and sell them to developers at a profit. In other words, the presence of more homeless people, who are precisely the ones who need housing most, become the means of clearing an area in order to build housing for richer people, who don’t need it so badly. 

Sadly, many white working class communities ignore the logic of this process. Those who feel that race is the real problem welcome the processes that induce that relocation. Later, they will be unable to resist when the same process is turned on themselves. 

Racialization is a vestigial product of colonialism, invented as a way of ruling conquered peoples and justifying settlements. It persists as white supremacist hegemony (the power of white people to have far-reaching social impact on people of color, which people of color do not have) and a complex social hierarchy. The terrible massacre that just occurred in South Carolina is only a direct expression of this sense of hegemony. The history of racialization begins with slavery (a form of prison labor), continues through Jim Crow with its chain gangs, plantation contract labor and rural debt servitude, and now takes the form of the largest prison system in the world, fed by racial profiling and persisting segregation in education and housing. It produces neighborhoods on which corporate development can opportune. 

Direct Democracy vs. Representationism  

Corporate need is incommensurable with social need. It is a conflict between human concerns and financial interest. What benefits one becomes a detriment for the other. They confront each other in ghostly battle. Yet housing remains a human right. To withhold it by whatever means (economic or political) is to violate human rights. 

Corporate interest may proclaim itself to be the public interest; it rarely looks that way to the people displaced. When it appears in the form of gentrification, those displaced are thrown into the silence of distance. No nice-sounding platitudes will bridge the gap. One side pays for land and buildings; the other side organizes social resistance. One side monopolizes the flow of information; the other side depends on word of mouth, discourse and meetings. One side buys politicians in the present; the other can only vote for or against them in the future. 

The political decisions that foster gentrification are made by agencies like ABAG or city planning departments that also dispense with major human concerns. Cuts in social funding, racial profiling, and the substitution of comments in hearings for participation are all methods by which a city government clears the land for corporate development. 

Finally, there is a continual demonization of social movements for "opposing" development. However, it is not development these neighborhood movements oppose, but elite settlement that will devastate their communities. They are demanding development at a human level. The job is to transform political acquiescence to elite development into a social process for affordable development. 

The problem for communities is how to gain democratic participation in planning, and not be simply restricted to “public comment,” as if that were input. It is how to create conduits by which to implement local collective decisions. If we are to rescue our city from the corporate jaws preparing to consume it, the democratization of development is a necessary place to start. That doesn’t mean electing other representatives, but locating the power to decide locally in the neighborhoods. 

Today, we elect representatives who represent nothing and talk politics elsewhere. Democracy would mean people talking politics, making decisions, and electing representatives to represent those decisions. Development will be democratized when local neighborhoods have the ability to make development decisions in dialogue with developers, before the developers go to get their permits. 

Our Domestic Guantanamo

Tejinder Uberoi
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:16:00 AM

Rikers Island, our very own ‘Guantanamo Bay prison’, has a long dark history of incarcerating and destroying young lives. One of the most egregious examples is the recent tragic death of a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Kalief Browder, who was detained on suspicion of stealing a backpack. 

He maintained his innocence and requested a trial certain that he would be soon acquitted; he was only offered plea deals during which time the trial was repeatedly postponed. He endured nearly 800 days in solitary confinement and was horribly abused by guards and fellow inmates. His case was finally dismissed from a complete lack of evidence. Traumatized by the appalling abuse he was forced to endure, he committed suicide a few days after he was released. It is doubtful if the tragic death would have received any media attention were it not for the persistent efforts of Jennifer Gonnerman, a staff reporter for The New Yorker who first reported Kalief’s suicide in her article "Before the Law: a boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life." She later published exclusive surveillance footage showing him being beaten by guards and fellow prisoners. Mayor, De Blasio said he ‘deeply saddened’ by Kalief’s death. Let us hope he follows through with concrete reforms and holds the prison guards fully accountable for Kalief’s appalling abuse.

New: Razing the Myth of the Insidious Eucalyptus Tree

Kate Bernier, Darsena & Jeanne O’Rose
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 03:49:00 PM

In the Bay Area and beyond, Eucalyptus trees are coming under attack, with many calling for their removal based on false claims about the flammability and invasiveness of this non-native species. There are a number of misconceptions about this beautiful tree, ranging from dubious allegations that their presence has a negative impact on native plants, birds, and bees, to the popular notion that they are more prone to wildfires than other species of tree. 

The latter point has been thoroughly debunked—in fact, many species of scrub native to California’s chapparal are far more flammable than Eucalyptus, a point rarely mentioned by detractors—but this has not stopped the irony of many well-intentioned environmentalists joining the call for these trees’ destruction, citing Australia’s experience of wildfires to justify this counter-intuitive campaign. The fact that this movement was initiated by FEMA, and will be implemented with the help of noxious chemicals made by Dow and Monsanto, does not seem to be an issue for these misguided activists. 

For these trees as well as the surrounding forest life that will be negatively impacted by their mass extermination, it is important that we resist this campaign by all means available, and you can learn more about how to help by visiting HillsConservationNetwork.org, TreeSpiritProject.org, MillionTrees.me and SFForest.net.

New: Celebrating Medicare, Ignoring Medicaid

Harry Brill
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 03:46:00 PM

On July 30 this year throughout the country the nation will be celebrating the 50th birthday of Medicare, which, as you know, serves mainly senior citizens. An important component in this celebration is demanding Medicare for All. A major celebration will take place in Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland beginning 11am.

But 50 years ago President Johnson on the same date signed not only the Medicare bill. He signed into law Medicaid, which is a much larger program. Moreover, Medicaid provides services that are not available to Medicare recipients, including the availability of long term care facilities. Yet Medicaid is being ignored by senior organizations, labor unions, faith based and community organizations They act as if the program does not exist. 

What is the explanation for this unusual omission? The explanation is at the roots of our class related culture. Unlike Medicare, which is an insurance program for those who have paid into Social Security, Medicaid is needs tested. It is a program entirely for low income Americans who must prove that they and their family members are poor. Clearly, poverty earns the poor and the programs that mainly serve them a very low status reputation. 

Not least, the medical profession is unhappy about Medicaid, whose members receive only about 60% of the reimbursement that Medicare pays. For this reason, many doctors either refuse to accept Medicaid patients or take very few. Moreover, they influence many others who work in health related occupations. 

The potential consequences of ignoring Medicaid is it makes the program more financially vulnerable. In these conservative times, all our social programs are financially threatened. But more so with Medicaid whose recipients have the least clout. And they receive little or no support from those organizations and individuals who are more fortunate and influential. 

I have raised this issue with many progressive organizations, hoping that they would reconsider. But I have had no luck. Some who defended their position claimed that their interest was primarily to advocate Medicare for All. But even so, that certainly doesn't justify completely ignoring the same birth date of a medical program which unlike Medicare covers recipients of all ages. 

Also, keep in mind that many seniors who currently depend on Medicare will eventually depend on Medicaid in order to receive long term care, including nursing home facilities. Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with a celebration that favors the insured at the expense of those who can least afford medical care

Iran and the Nuclear Deal

Tejinder Uberoi
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:18:00 AM

The proposed Iran Nuclear Deal should go forward notwithstanding opposition from Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

There is a general consensus from a wide range of scientific experts that a deal would increase the time it would take Iran to amass enough bomb-grade uranium for one bomb from the current two months to at least 12 months. 

The agreement will require Iran to disconnect and remove some 14,000 centrifuges and put them under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Only 5,060 first-generation machines would be allowed to enrich uranium to low levels. Some critics argue that Iran could immediately reassemble, reinstall and recalibrate the excess centrifuges — but it would take many months, if not years, to achieve such a goal. Moreover, inspectors would immediately detect any such illegal activity. 

Under the terms of the agreement, Iran must reduce its current stockpile of 8,700 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to no more than 300 kilograms. 

If no agreement is reached there is little doubt that Iran would accelerate its nuclear bomb making capabilities. 

Finally, the US should demand that Israel stop being so coy and reveal their own huge stockpile of nuclear weapons. Israel should follow Iran’s example and sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty).

July Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:53:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


THE PUBLIC EYE:Is the Culture War Over?

Bob Burnett
Friday July 10, 2015 - 11:35:00 AM

Recently, New York Times columnist David Brooks lamented that conservative Christians are losing the culture war. Brooks suggested that conservative Christians shift focus and “nurture stable families.” But Brooks is wrong; the culture war isn’t over. Conservatives are stuck in a war they can’t win. 

A May Pew Research report found that since 2007, the number of Americans who describe themselves as Christian has declined from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. There was a 6.7 percent increase in “unaffiliated” – atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Pew noted that as the unaffiliated group has grown the members have described themselves “in increasingly secular terms.” 

David Brooks seized upon the Pew finding and the SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage (Obergfell v. Hodges) to conclude: “Christianity is in decline in the United States… American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues.” 

Brooks ignores the reality that the beliefs of American Christians cover a wide spectrum. There are conservative Christians, mostly evangelicals, who believe the bible is literally true and are strongly influenced by the Old Testament. (Brooks refers to this sector of the Christian community as “orthodox” but the correct description is “conservative.”) These Christians subscribe to a patriarchic family model (the “strict father” model using the terms of University of California professor George Lakoff) and therefore are against same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. 

There are also liberal Christians who are represented in a variety of denominations: United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists, Quakers, and others. They do not believe the bible is literally true and are most influenced by the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Most of these Christians do not support the patriarchic family model (they believe in Lakoff’s “nurturant parent” model) and therefore support same-sex marriage, abortion (in some circumstances), and contraception. 

David Brooks also ignores recent political history. During the Reagan era, a key pillar of Republican strategy was to recruit southerners (in particular) and conservative white voters (in general) by embracing the culture wars. Reagan decried the so-called Democratic assault on what he termed “traditional family values” which are synonymous with what professor Lakoff describes as the “strict father” family model. Republicans accused Democrats of embracing “sixties values” including promiscuity and “abortion on demand.” 

Since the seventies, the Republican culture war has warned of the destruction of the traditional family by a Democratic-inspired culture of permissiveness that encourages women to step out of the strictures of the patriarchy and supports equality for homosexuals. 

And, David Brooks is wrong when he concludes that because “American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social Issues.” the culture war is over. The GOP may have lost a battle (or in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges, an entire campaign) but it is disingenuous to assert that this aspect of the GOP electoral strategy has tanked. Social conservatives have too much invested in the culture war both politically and emotionally. 

The culture war is about defense of the patriarchy. It’s unlikely that socially conservative Republicans will stop defending the strict father family model anytime soon. The GOP war on women will continue. And, sadly, the Obergfell v. Hodges decision will make it easier for homosexuals to marry but not to gain employment or the amenities of a dignified life. 

Finally, David Brooks errs when he describes the proponents of the culture war as orthodox Christians. They may be orthodox but they aren’t Christians. They are members of a sect, “American Calvinism.” Their Calvinist theology borrows several notions from the sixteenth century French theologian: the Bible is infallible; the “law” is driven by the Ten Commandments, rather than the teachings of Jesus; humans are totally depraved; and God has predestined who will be saved. 

Brooks’ “orthodox Christians” are intolerant and uncharitable. They embrace capitalism at all costs. 

Jesus’ first commandment was to love God. But his other teachings are about loving those around us. His second commandment was “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus amplified this in his Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. 

And, of course, Jesus disdained worldly possessions: “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven… it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 

If David Brooks was correct and the culture war is over then it’s clear what his “orthodox Christians” should do next. Not “nurture stable families;” that’s pablum. If conservative Christians are serious about following the teachings of Jesus then they should join with liberal Christians, and all people of good will, and launch a new war on poverty. That would be a bona fide culture war. 

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Benghazi & Hilary: Missing The Story

Conn Hallinan
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:31:00 PM

The Congressional harrying of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over emails concerning the 2012 death of an American Ambassador and three staff members in Benghazi, Libya, has become a sort of running joke, with Republicans claiming “cover-up” and Democrats dismissing the whole matter as nothing more than election year politics. But there is indeed a story embedded in the emails, one that is deeply damning of American and French actions in the Libyan civil war, from secretly funding the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi, to the willingness to use journalism as a cover for covert action. 

The latest round of emails came to light June 22 in a fit of Republican pique over Clinton’s prevarications concerning whether she solicited intelligence from her advisor, journalist and former aide to President Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal. If most newspaper readers rolled their eyes at this point and decided to check out the ball scores, one can hardly blame them. 

But that would be a big mistake. 

While the emails do raise questions about Hilary Clinton’s veracity, the real story is how French intelligence plotted to overthrow the Libyan leader in order to claim a hefty slice of Libya’s oil production and “favorable consideration” for French businesses. 

The courier in this cynical undertaking was journalist and rightwing philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, a man who has yet to see a civil war that he doesn’t advocate intervening in, from Yugoslavia to Syria. According to Julian Pecquet, the U.S. congressional correspondent for the Turkish publication Al-Monitor, Henri-Levy claims he got French President Nicolas Sarkozy to back the Benghazi-based Libyan Transitional National Council that was quietly being funded by the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), the French CIA. 

According to the memos, in return for money and support, “the DGSE officers indicated that they expected the new government of Libya to favor French firms and national interests, particularly regarding the oil industry in Libya.” The memo says that the two leaders of the Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil and General Abdul Fatah Younis, “accepted this offer.” 

Another May 5 email indicates that French humanitarian flights to Benghazi included officials of the French oil company TOTAL, and representatives of construction firms and defense contractors, who secretly met with Council members and then “discreetly” traveled by road to Egypt, protected by DGSE agents. 

Henri-Levy, an inveterate publicity hound, claims to have come up with this quid pro quo, business/regime change scheme, using “his status as a journalist to provide cover for his activities.” Given that journalists are routinely accused of being “foreign agents” in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan, Henri-Levy’s subterfuge endangers other members of the media trying to do their jobs. 

All this clandestine maneuvering paid off. 

On Feb. 26, 2011, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1970 aimed at establishing “peace and security” and protecting the civilian population in the Libyan civil war. Or at least that was how UNR 1970 was sold to countries on the Security Council, like South Africa, Brazil, India, China and Russia, that had initial doubts. However, the French, Americans and British—along with several NATO allies—saw the resolution as an opportunity to overthrow Qaddafi and in France’s case, to get back in the game as a force in the region. 

Almost before the ink was dry on the resolution, France, Britain and the U.S. began systematically bombing Qaddafi’s armed forces, ignoring pleas by the African Union to look for a peaceful way to resolve the civil war. According to one memo, President Sarkozy “plans to have France lead the attacks on [Qaddafi] over an extended period of time” and “sees this situation as an opportunity for France to reassert itself as a military power.” 

While for France flexing its muscles was an important goal, Al- Monitor says that a September memo also shows that “Sarkozy urged the Libyans to reserve 35 percent of their oil industry for French firms—TOTAL in particular—when he traveled to Tripoli that month.” 

In the end, Libya imploded and Paris has actually realized little in the way of oil, but France’s military industrial complex has done extraordinarily well in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s fall. 

According to Defense Minister Jean-Yves Lodrian, French arms sales increased 42 percent from 2012, bringing in $7 billion, and are expected to top almost $8 billion in 2014. 

Over the past decade, France, the former colonial masters of Lebanon, Syria, and Algeria, has been sidelined by U.S. and British arms sales to the Middle East. But the Libya war has turned that around. Since then, Paris has carefully courted Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates by taking a hard line on the Iran nuclear talks. 

The global security analyst group Stratfor noted in 2013, “France could gain financially from the GCC’s [Gulf Cooperation Council, the organization representing the oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf] frustrations over recent U.S. policy in the Middle East. Significant defense contracts worth tens of billions of dollars are up for grabs in the Gulf region, ranging from aircraft to warships to missile systems. France is predominantly competing with Britain and the United States for the contracts and is seeking to position itself as a key ally of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as it looks to strengthen its defense and industrial ties in the region.”  

Sure enough, the French company Thales landed a $3.34 billion Saudi contract to upgrade the kingdom’s missile system and France just sold 24 Rafale fighters to Qatar for $7 billion. Discussions are underway with the UAE concerning the Rafale, and France sold 24 of the fighters to Egypt for $5.8 billion. France has also built a military base in the UAE. 

French President Francois Hollande, along with his Foreign and Defense ministers, attended the recent GCC meeting, and, according to Hollande, there are 20 projects worth billions of dollars being discussed with Saudi Arabia. While he was in Qatar, Hollande gave a hard-line talk on Iran and guaranteed “that France is there for its allies when it is called upon.” 

True to his word, France has thrown up one obstacle after another during the talks between Iran and the P5 + 1—the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. 

Paris also supports Saudi Arabia and it allies in their bombing war on Yemen, and strongly backs the Saudi-Turkish led overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, even though it means that the French are aligning themselves with al-Qaeda linked extremist groups. 

France seems to have its finger in every Middle East disaster, although, to be fair, it is hardly alone. Britain and the U.S. also played major roles in the Libya war, and the Obama administration is deep into the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen. In the latter case, Washington supplies the Saudis with weapons, targeting intelligence, and in-air refueling of its fighter-bombers. 

But the collapse of Libya was a particularly catastrophic event, which—as the African Union accurately predicted— sent a flood of arms and unrest into two continents. 

The wars in Mali and Niger are a direct repercussion of Qaddafi’s fall, and the extremist Boko Haram in Nigeria appears to have benefited from the plundering of Libyan arms depots. Fighters and weapons from Libya have turned up in the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. And the gunmen who killed 22 museum visitors in Tunisia last March, and 38 tourists on a beach July 3, trained with extremists in Libya before carrying out their deadly attacks. 

Clinton was aware of everything the French were up to and apparently had little objection to the cold-blooded cynicism behind Paris’s policies in the region. 

The “news” in the Benghazi emails, according to the New York Times, is that, after denying it, Clinton may indeed have solicited advice from Blumenthal. The story ends with a piece of petty gossip: Clinton wanted to take credit for Qaddafi’s fall, but the White House stole the limelight by announcing the Libyan leader’s death first.  

That’s all the news that’s fit to print? 



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















New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Compliance Revisited: A Narrative

Jack Bragen
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 06:03:00 PM

Taking antipsychotic medication can be miserable in the short-term. This is due to the side effects, which typically include depression, body stiffness, a drugged out feeling, and a suppression of consciousness. (Some people also get other, worse side effects.)  

When fist taking an antipsychotic, it may feel like we have been put in a chemical straitjacket.  

The above side effects were the main reason why, at eighteen, a mere four months after I experienced a horrific episode of psychosis, I became noncompliant.  

At first, I lied about it. Later, my mother discovered that I wasn't taking the medication, and she confronted me. I said I was eighteen and could not be forced to take medication, and I asserted that I would move out of the house and support myself.  

I worked hard at the job I had obtained, sweeping, mopping and polishing supermarket floors. I saved up money, and I moved out into a share rental. For a long time, it appeared that I had evaded mental illness. This was not so.  

My plan of being off medication worked for a year, until early 1984, when I again became ill. (I was reinstated on medication after being 5150'd at a gas station in Concord.) Again I experienced medication as akin to a chemical straitjacket. My father arranged for housing in a co-ed halfway house for mentally ill adults. I was put on injections of medication so that doctors could be certain that I was compliant.  

At the halfway house I had contact with people, something I lacked when I was a janitor. This environment was good for me, even though I continued to be depressed. I eventually moved back in with my mom. I tried some more unskilled jobs--which didn't pan out. I got into training for electronics and began my home electronics repair career (which I worked at off and on for about seven years).  

There were a couple more instances in which I was noncompliant with medication. Upon stopping medication, the relapses happened much faster, and in the aftermath, the relapses were more damaging to my functioning level.  

Had I always been medication compliant, I don't know how things would have turned out. Circumstances could have been better, and I might have gotten on the right track sooner in life. Or maybe not.  

Regarding medication side effects, please realize that for many people on medication, side effects eventually ease up. After being on medication for a longer time, I haven't noticed nearly the level of side effects that I experienced in the first couple of years of being medicated. For people who are medicated and suffering, you should know that things can get better. People in treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression should know that there is hope.  

I probably would have been better off had I remained medication compliant, and sought ways other than quitting medication, in my attempts to deal with the difficulties of life.  

A final note: if things get too bad or too suppressed, maybe you could go to Starbuck's and order a large iced coffee! 

New: ECLECTIC RANT: Reflections on the Charleston Massacre

Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday July 08, 2015 - 07:35:00 AM

Everyone has now heard the news that Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year old white supremacist, is accused of murdering nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. The Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the church pastor, was among the dead. 

When African-Americans demonstrated against police brutality and racism in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and Oakland, California, they were called "thugs," "rioters," and "hoodlums." But 21-year old Roof, a white supremacist, is being referred to as a "lone wolf" and of course, he must be mentally ill. 

A little historic background is needed to place this awful tragedy in context. In 2011, we spent an informative week-long visit to Charleston, South Carolina when the city was observing the Civil War Sesquicentennial (150). We were able to brush up on our Civil War history. That is, mostly from a southern point of view. Remember, Charleston was at one point the largest and most important slave port in North America. 

The Sesquicentennial did go out of its way to point out that Charleston's economic and political power were attained on the backs of thousands and thousands of slaves. As of 1860 the percentage of Southern families that owned slaves has been estimated to be 43 percent in the lower South, including South Carolina. Half the owners had one to four slaves. A total of 8,000 planters owned 50 or more slaves in 1850. According to the 1860 U.S. census, 393,975 individuals, representing 8 percent of all U.S. families, owned 3,950,528 slaves. 

Our visit to The Old Slave Mart Museum reminded us of the "why" of the Civil War. It wasn't really about state's rights or property rights. (Slaves, of course, were the property in question.) No matter how you spin it, the Civil War was about the abomination called slavery. In 1808, the U.S. banned the international slave trade, but despite government efforts about 250,000 slaves were smuggled into the U.S. from 1808 until the Civil War. And the U.S. ban did not cover slaves born in the U.S. 

Charleston was a center for the buying and selling of slaves with about 40 slave marts or auction places. By treating a race or an ethnic group as less than human, enslaving them became easier. That's basically what happened in slaveholding states. For example, the South Carolina Slave Code of 1740 prohibited teaching a slave to read or write, a slave could not testify in court, and a slave could be executed for plotting to run away. Slaveowners came to view Blacks as lazy, mentally inferior, and naturally promiscuous. Selling away a family member was viewed as only a temporary hardship for the slaves involved. Even religious leaders preached that slaves were born to be slaves, must work hard for their masters, and never disobey, lie or steal. 

After the Civil War, South Carolina immediately began to establish Black Codes, which became known as Jim Crow laws after a character in a minstrel show who wore black-face makeup. The laws were merely racism in disguise. The state Constitution of 1865, passed only a few months after the Civil War ended, failed to grant African-Americans the right to vote. It also retained racial qualifications for the legislature. Consequently, African-Americans had no power to combat these unfair laws. 

During the time of segregation, South Carolina school districts considered African-American education unimportant. It was illegal for black and white children to attend school together and the state provided little education for African-Americans past the tenth grade. In 1951, the Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit forced the state to address the disparities and problems in funding public education. As a result, South Carolina passed its first statewide sales tax. The money from the 3% tax was dedicated to building and improving schools across the state for both African-American and white students. It was South Carolina's attempt to build a "separate but equal" school system. Briggs v. Elliott went to the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the five cases decided in Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down these so called separate but equal schools unconstitutional. 

Roof's shootings at a church was a symbolic attack on the heart and soul of the Black community. The American and Confederate flags fly over South Carolina’s Capitol. The American flag is now flying at half-mast to commemorate these nine African-American lives, but the Confederate still flies high, flapping in the breeze. As its own symbolic act, I suggest South Carolina lower the Confederate flag and toss it on the trash heap of history as a repudiation of its role in slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. 

Will We Learn From the Charleston Killings?

Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year old white supremacist, is accused of murdering nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. President Obama called the shootings "senseless murders" and suggested more gun control is needed in the wake of the tragedy. 

But in this violent nation of ours, there seems to be a disconnect between our Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms" and the number of mass killings in this country. People with guns kill thousands of Americans each year. And remember, the right to bear arms is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices. 

Incongruous though it might be, while Charleston and the rest of the nation were mourning the dead, at the same time Charles L. Cotton, a National Rifle Association (NRA) member, was blaming one of the slain, Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state legislator, stating, "And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue." Does anyone really believe that if the worshippers were "packing heat" at the church, the shootings would have been prevented? 

it took the the December 2012, killing of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School to reach a tipping point, causing reasonable gun control legislation to be proposed at the federal level. However, Congress failed to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Other legislation failed to pass, including tougher laws on straw purchases and illegal gun trafficking, efforts to increase school safety, keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and universal background checks. and restrictions on the size of magazines so as to reduce the number of bullets that can be fired before reloading is required. 

Will the Charleston killings be another tipping point, providing the impetus for the actual passage of reasonable gun control legislation at the federal level? Certainly, there will again be calls for federal gun control legislation, but unfortunately such efforts will probably be doomed because too many members of Congress are still overly responsive to the NRA lobby, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations. 

And after all the sound and fury is over, the cycle of killings, hand wringing, and mourning will likely continue ad infinitum.

THE PUBLIC EYE: The Republican “Religious Liberty” Tactic

Bob Burnett
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:09:00 AM

Reeling from the Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states, Republicans pushed back, claiming same-sex couples can be denied service whenever the provider believes this is consistent with their religious beliefs. Another form of LGBT discrimination. 

In his dissent to the Supreme Court decision, ,Justice Clarence Thomas lamented: 

The majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect… In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well… It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.
Subsequently, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opined: 

County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case… It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine.
In addition to marriage-licenses obstacles, Atlantic magazine editor Emma Green speculated the Republican religious-liberty tactic will produce three categories of legal challenges: 

gay adoption; the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that wish to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; and the obligation of private churches and individuals to recognize and perform same-sex marriages.
Despite the Obergefell v Hodges decision, it will take a while before same-sex couples receive fair and cordial treatment in all fifty states. 

The struggle for African-American civil rights was similar. In both struggles, opponents initially argued that discrimination was the natural order. In 1946 Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo wrote: “Purity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Similarly, there’s a sad history of US politicians claiming that homosexuality is a learned behavior. Last June, former Texas Governor Rick Perry said, "I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that - and I look at the homosexual issue the same way." 

In both struggles, opponents asserted that individual states should decide whether or not to discriminate. “States Rights” was one of the issues that precipitated the US Civil War. In the Obergell v Hodges case, thirteen states (and many Republican politicians) argued states should decide whether or not marriage was restricted to a man and a woman. 

Finally, in both the struggle for African-American rights and for LGBT rights, opponents have argued the majority decision infringed on their religious liberty. According to lawyer Ian Millhiser, “After the Supreme Court ordered public schools integrated in Brown v. Board of Education, many segregationists cited their own faith as justification for official racism.” In 1975 formerly segregated Bob Jones University (Greenville, South Carolina) admitted African American students but prohibited interracial dating or marriage. The IRS removed Bob Jones’ tax exemption. Bob Jones sued the IRS and, in 1983, the case reached the Supreme Court. Bob Jones argued, the IRS tax-exemption regulations “cannot constitutionally be applied to schools that engage in racial discrimination on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.” SCOTUS voted 8-1 against Bob Jones, “This Court has found certain governmental interests so compelling as to allow even regulations prohibiting religiously based conduct.” 

Unfortunately, many of the legal protections afforded to African Americans have yet to be extended to LGBT Americans. The 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title II) prohibits discrimination in private businesses “which are places of public accommodation” but only discrimination based upon race, color, religion, or national origin. It conspicuously does not mention sexual orientation. 

Thus, same-sex couples may marry only to find that they cannot rent the space for a wedding celebration or purchase a wedding cake – unless LGBT discrimination is prohibited in their state. (And federal law does not protect LGBT citizens from employment discrimination.) 

Indeed, the Obergfell v Hodges decision may precipitate state legislation to grant businesses the right to refuse services based upon “religious objections.” This was the intent of Arizona SB 1062 which, last February was vetoed by vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

Ideally, the Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v Hodges would immediately usher in full recognition of LGBT rights. Unfortunately, given current Republican rhetoric, that seems unlikely. 

More than fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The Obergfell v Hodges decision is an important step toward justice, but the struggle for LGBT rights is not over. 

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



Arts & Events

New: Festival Opera Does Strauss’s ARIADNE AUF NAXOS

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday July 13, 2015 - 06:11:00 PM

Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is about as weird as opera gets; and opera can get pretty weird. In its original incarnation, this was a one act opera designed to follow a condensed version of Molière’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (translated into German by Hugo von Hofmannstahl), for which Strauss provided incidental music. This version was given in Stuttgart in 1912, and again in Berlin in 1913. It pleased no one. Subsequently, Strauss and von Hofmannstahl dropped the Molière play and wrote a lengthy Prologue to be performed before the one act opera. This new version successfully premiered in Vienna in 1916. 

Although I’ve seen Ariadne auf Naxos four times now, this Festival Opera production, directed and conducted by Michael Morgan, is without doubt the weirdest of all stagings I’ve yet encountered. For some unknown reason, Morgan decided to do the Prologue in English, highly colloquial English at that, complete with references to Broadway musicals, trial runs on the Jersey Shore, and other topical references. The plot of the Prologue is a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for a performance commissioned by a wealthy patron, who has engaged both a commedia dell’arte troupe and an opera company. The composer, usually performed as a trousers role by a mezzo-soprano, was here a female composer, who is devastated to learn that her contribution to serious art is to share the bill with lowly vaudeville comedians. She becomes even more chagrined when told by the Major domo that the two works will be performed simultaneously.  

Most of the Prologue is taken up by the strident complaints of the composer, often in dialogue with the music-master. As the female composer, mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin sang powerfully, although crossing the border occasionally into shrieking. In the past, I have heard two magnificent mezzos sing this role – Tatiana Troyanos in 1979 and Maria Ewing in 1984, both heard at the Met in New York. Although Catherine Martin made a valiant effort and sang beautifully her paean to music as a sacred art, on the whole it just didn’t work, especially because Michael Morgan made her sing this role in English. What might have sounded avant garde in Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s libretto in German in 1916 simply sounded trashy and strident in English in 2015. The entire Prologue was disorienting in the extreme in this production; and that’s saying quite a bit, for it’s disorienting in the original German as well, though to a lesser extent. 

Although the role of the composer dominates the Prologue, much of the composer’s interaction is with the music master, sung here by bass-baritone Kirk Eichelberger, who sang robustly with clear diction. There are also brief contrib-utions from the soprano who will sing Ariadne in the opera proper, as well as from the young soprano Zerbinetta from the commedia dell’arte troupe, who will also make an important contribution to the opera itself. In the Prologue, however, these latter are mere token appearances; and we don’t get a chance to hear these singers let loose.  

After intermission, everything changes. Now the Festival Opera production switches to the original German. Now Richard Strauss lets loose his formidable genius for melody as sung by the soprano voice. As Ariadne, Othalie Graham unleashed a long, dramatic aria of considerable beauty and pathos. She sang of her young love for Theseus, and of his sudden, totally unexpected, desertion of her on the island of Naxos. She was devastated and now longs only for death. She awaits Hermes in his avatar as Hermes Theopompus who leads the dead into the under-world of Hades where all is oblivion. Three nymphs sang of her plight. Soprano Sara Duchovnay was a vibrant Naiad; mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland was a fine Dryad, and soprano Molly Wilson was an effective Echo. Strauss wrote some lovely melodies for these three nymphs.  

Most spectacular of all, however, was the intervention of Zerbinetta, the soprano from the commedia dell’arte troupe. As sung by Shawnette Sulker, Zerbinetta was an absolute dynamo! When Shawnette Sulker launched into her long and difficult coloratura aria in an attempt to win Ariadne back to embracing life and the possibility of future loves, Zerbinetta had the Walnut Creek audience eating out of her hands. Zerbinetta sang of her own many love affairs, and made the point that each new lover appears to her as a god. A voice that heretofore in this opera had not been given much to sing, was suddenly unleashed in the most dramatic and endear-ing fashion. Vocally and dramatically, Shawnette Sulker was a real show-stopper. This was without a doubt the finest Zerbinetta I’ve ever heard. 

Of course, given this opera’s plot, which swings back and forth from serious art to clownish entertainment, and back again, there had to be interludes of comic and boorish behavior, which were supplied here by a vaudeville foursome of male singers. Baritone Daniel Cilli was a dynamic Harlequin; tenor Michel Desnoyers was a funny Brighella; tenor José Hernández was a comical Scaramuccio; and baritone Roberto Perlas Gomez was a hilarious Truffaldino. Together, they hammed up their quartets in over-the-top Broadway-style routines of singing and dancing.  

At last the nymphs announce the approach of a ship. The voice of Bacchus is heard in the distance. Sung offstage by tenor Robert Breault, Bacchus exults in having escaped the clutches of the enchantress Circe, who sought to detain him on her island. When Bacchus appears onstage, Ariadne at first mistakes him for Theseus come back to her. Then she sees her error. But she now thinks he is Hermes come to escort her to Hades. Ariadne sings of welcoming death. Bacchus, struck by her beauty, urges her to welcome life and love. The role of Bacchus is written for a Wagnerian heldentenor, and Robert Breault filled the bill magnificently, singing with great power and intensity. He reminded me vocally, if not in stature, of a young James King, whom I heard sing this role in Munich in 1969. Othalie Graham’s Ariadne blossomed forth in response to the wooing of Bacchus; and the two lovers each declared themselves utterly transformed by the power of love – an ending seconded by Zerbinetta who gets the opera’s last word. 

If Michael Morgan had not made a strident mash-up of the Prologue by having it sung in colloquial American English, his excellent conducting would have made this Ariadne auf Naxos altogether successful. As it stood, however, it was sorely divided into a highly disorienting, often downright jarring Prologue followed by a beautifully sung one act opera containing some of Richard Strauss’s finest music. A totally weird production.

Around & About--Music: Festival Opera Stages Strauss' 'Ariadne Auf Naxos' This Weekend

Ken Bullock
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:52:00 PM

Valiant Festival Opera, who in the past staged some of the finest opera productions in recent years in the Bay Area--are producing Richard Strauss' heady combo of comic and grand opera--"an opera within an opera"--this weekend at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, shows at 8 tonight and 2 on Sunday, conducted and stage directed by artistic director Michael Morgan (also of the Oakland East Bay Symphony), with a cast including soprano Othalie Graham, tenor Robert Breault, soprano Shawnette Sulker and bass-baritone Kirk Eichelberger. A must-see in a summer bursting with opera! 

Lesher Center, 1001 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek. $20-$88. festivalopera.org

3-Week Mendocino Music Festival begins Tonight

Ken Bullock
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:43:00 PM

"I saw them putting up the big tent on the headlands in Mendocino, while driving up Highway One," an old friend up north emailed me the other day. "Looks good from across the Big River estuary and the bay. I guess it's time for the Music Festival!" 

For the next three weekends, starting tonight, and every weekday in between, the Mendocino Music Festival will be celebrating its 29th annual season with afternoon shows mostly in the smaller venues around town and shows in the evening in that big, acoustically fine tent on the headlands, a few steps across the field from Main Street--all kinds of music, much more than the very fine classical musical performances the Festival has the highly deserved reputation of producing. 

This Saturday and Sunday's shows are a case in point, demonstrating the eclecticness--and depth--of programming: Saturday evening at 8, the excellent Festival Orchestra, conducted by Festival co-founder and artistic director Allan Pollack, longtime lecturer in music at UC Berkeley (and Berkeley resident), will play Shostakovich's Second Jazz Suite, followed by Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, featuring guest violinist Livia Sohn, and finally Prokofieff's Seventh Symphony, with melodies he created for children's movies. In two separate shows on Sunday, bands from French Canada will play, Les Temps Antan, with Quebecoise music, and Vishten, playing in Acadian and Celtic styles. 

That kind of density and breadth continues throughout the second week, with vocalist Tierney Sutton paying tribute to Joni Mitchell's music next, accompanied by a duo that includes bassist Mark Summer of Turtle Island Quartet fame, splitting the bill with a jazz trio led by Julian Pollack, son of the Festival co-founders ("I grew up at the Mendocino Festival!"), back home for a break from his successful career as a composer-pianist in New York. That Friday, after an afternoon program by oud-frame drum duo Hamid, Rossini's opera, 'The Barber of Seville,' will be fully staged in the big tent, preceded by a lecture by stage director Eugene Brancovean--and the next night, after Alex de Grassi's afternoon guitar recital, the Festival Big Band, which really swings!, will be joined by jazz and standards singer Kathleen Grace. 

One set of programming at the heart of the Festival's raison d'etre will be spread out over four days of the last week: pianist and Festival co-founder and artistic associate director Susan Waterfall's series of programs on Mozart--Mozart with Punch and Dreck, Mozart At Home, Mozart At Court and Outdoors (preceded in the afternoon by a separate show of African pop by the great Bassekou Kouyate)--and Frederica von Stade singing Mozart with the Festival Orchestra, preceded by Waterfall's lecture--and her lectures are marvelously conversational and informed. 

There's also A Capella groups, JASBO (Jazz, Art Song, Broadway, Opera), with the Jade Jazz Ensemble and the Berkeley Young Musicians Chorale Orchestra, the bluesy, funky California Honeydrops, programs with the wonderful Festival Chorus--and a lot more ... including free admission to the rehearsals in the tent, afternoons before orchestral and operatic concerts. 

And of course there's the truly rustic beauty of the old town of Mendocino, its Victorian structures on the plateau between forest and the Pacific, where just strolling the streets, walking out on the headlands, or down to the river or beaches are alone a great pleasure. It's the perfect setting for the intimate yet community quality of this great summer music festival. 

"No static, memorized interpretations here, but rather an ink still wet on the paper immediacy, all seemingly amplified and enhanced by the bluff top location," Barbara Faulkner--Festival Board member, member of the Festival Chorus and longtime Mendocino piano teacher--wrote me, which sums up something of the collective spirit guiding the celebration. 

Mendocino Music Festival, July 10-25 in the town of Mendocino: Schedule, info & tickets mendocinomusic.org

San Francisco Mime Troupe Opens for the East Bay on Saturday

Tuesday July 07, 2015 - 11:44:00 AM

The SF Mime Troupe's 2015 Summer show, FREEDOMLAND, deals with police violence in America. The show is written by and stars long SFMT collective member Michael Gene Sullivan. 


East Bay dates are: 

Sat., July 11 Live Oak Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sun., July 12 Live Oak Park, Berkeley. 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Thurs., July 16 Montclair Ball Field, Montclair, 6:30 pm music, 7:00 pm show 

Sat., July 18 Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sun., July 19 Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Wed., July 22 Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt) Oakland, 6:30 pm music, 7:00 pm show 

Thurs., July 23 Lakeside Park (Lake Merritt) Oakland, 6:30 pm music, 7:00 pm show 

Sat., Aug. 1 Nicholl Park, Richmond, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sat., Aug. 8 Willard Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show 

Sun., Aug. 9 Willard Park, Berkeley, 1:30 pm music, 2:00 pm show

A Spirited MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Tuesday July 07, 2015 - 11:22:00 AM

The first of three extraordinary Mozart and Da Ponte collaborations, Le Nozze di Figaro premiered at Vienna’s Burgtheater on May 1, 1786, with Mozart himself conducting. Based on the 1778 drama Le Mariage de Figaro by French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Mozart’s opera was politically suspect from the start. Emperor Joseph considered it “a bad play,” and he bemoaned the fact that his own sister, Marie Antoinette, was “beginning to be afraid of her own people.” Nonetheless, Joseph gave permission for the opera to be staged. We should note that Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, set to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, fore-shadows the French Revolution of 1789 by dramatizing a revolution already taking place in the household of a fictitious aristocratic, Count Almaviva. In the course of this opera, Count Almaviva’s servants – Figaro and Susanna – repeatedly get the better of him, outwitting him at every turn, while achieving the moral high ground over the Count’s insidious intrigues.  

In this San Francisco Opera production of Le Nozze di Figaro, the orchestra was led by principal guest conductor Patrick Summers. As the overture begins, the audience is alerted to a new tone. The opening bars begin with a low, conspiratorial grumbling in the strings and bassoons, a foreshadowing of epochal changes to come, initiated from below. Then, when the curtain rises, we see Figaro, here sung by bass-baritone Philippe Sly, measuring the floor to see where he and Susanna will place their marriage bed. It is the day of their wedding; and this bed, as it turns out, will be the contested site and fulcrum of the opera, for Count Almaviva has of late been neglecting his wife and has eyes for his servant Susanna. When Susanna, here beautifully sung by soprano Listette Oropesa, hints to Figaro of the Count’s un-welcome attentions, Figaro catches her sinister point and launches an aria of barely controlled anger, “Se vuol ballare “ in which he addresses the absent Count in the insolent diminutive as “signor Contino.” “If you want to dance, little Count,” sings Figaro in minuet rhythms, “you’ll dance to the tune I play.” 

Here, in a few bars of music, Mozart and Da Ponte have encapsulated the plot of the opera. At stake is the marriage bed of Figaro and Susanna. Count Almaviva has, under pressure, renounced the old feudal droit du seigneur allowing him to spend the first night with any of his subject women who marries; but the Count still hopes to seduce Susanna. The young couple of Figaro and Susanna need to stay in the Count’s good graces while keeping him at bay. Cunning, not force, will be their weapon. As Figaro, Philippe Sly offered a vigorous performance, complete with a bit of extraneous clowning after he discovers that Marcellina is his long-lost mother. Sly was particularly effective in the Act IV aria, ”Aprite un po’ quelgi occhi“ (“Open your eyes”), in which he warns men about the deceitful ways of women. Susanna was sung by soprano Lisette Oropesa, who first caught my attention in her brilliant debut here in 2011 as Romilda in Handel’s Xerxes. Oropesa has a bright, clearly focused voice and a vivacious demeanor. As Susanna, Oropoesa was a true delight.  

The only disappointment in this cast was mezzo-soprano Angela Brower, who took over the trousers role of Cherubino from Kate Lindsey for the final two performances of this opera. Brower failed to infuse Cherubino’s two arias with the breathless wonderment of a young man discovering his own libidinal energy for the first time. Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni was a very convincing Count Almaviva. His singing was robust throughout, and his acting was spot-on. As the Countess, soprano Nadine Sierra cut a sympathetic figure, singing and acting gracefully throughout. Particularly moving was her Act III aria, “Dove sono?” (“Where are those happy moments?”), in which she longs for the days when she and the Count were happy together. Midway through this poignant aria, the Countess suddenly musters the courage to hope for better times to come, and this is indeed the turning point of the opera. Mozart’s music seizes on hope and, in the allegro section of this aria, gives it sublime expression. There is an exhilarating rise from a C-major arpeggio to a high A, followed by a ravishing concluding trill.  

The action in this opera is swift-moving. In fact, it never stops until that moment, late in Act IV, when Susanna sings her first and only aria, ”Deh! vieni, non tardar” (“May it come quickly”). Here, just before the opera’s final nighttime scene in the garden -- with its deceptions, recognitions, and reconciliations -- Susanna briefly pauses to sing of the true joys of love that will soon be hers. Beautifully sung by Lisette Oropesa, Susanna knows, of course, that she will be overheard and mis-understood by Figaro, who, hiding in the bushes, has begun to doubt Susanna’s fidelity. She sings partly to tease and baffle her beloved Figaro, who thinks her words refer to an assignation with the Count. But because we the audience are better informed than Figaro about the tricks to be played on the Count, we under-stand that Susanna’s aria has a deeper, truer meaning wherein she sings of the joys to come in her marriage with Figaro.  

Finally, through all its twists and turns, the garden scene brings about the humiliation of the Count, who humbly asks for pardon from his wife. She graciously forgives him, bringing the opera to a happy ending. In this opera’s secondary roles, veteran mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook was a superb Marcellina; tenor Greg Fedderly was a sympathetic Don Basilio; bass-baritone John Del Carlo was a robust Dr. Bartolo; bass Bojan Knežević was an over-the-top wine-bibbing Antonio; tenor John Easterlin was a bemused Don Curzio; and, finally, soprano Maria Valdes was a lively Barbarina.  


Rethinking Our Priorities

Romila Khanna
Monday July 06, 2015 - 11:27:00 AM

It seems absurd that our Congress debates sending our tax dollars to save other nations. We need to help our international communities, but at what cost? I hear that we should send our money to ensure safety and growth for other nations. Why are we forgetting our own? It is strange that first we attack other nations and destroy their resources, and then we start sending them aid. It is high time we focus on ensuring safety and growth for our own nation.  

Due to poor education and therefore insecurity, some people join gangs and get into the habit of taking drugs. All this makes them violent. As a result every day in one city or another, people are shot to death by handguns. I know gun manufacturers and gun shops pay taxes. But it is tax collected at a heavy cost. Many lives are destroyed by casual violence for a handful of dollars in taxes. 

I wish federal and state money was used to build a healthy and happy society rather than a society of neurotics. Rethinking is possible if we choose to change our priorities. Our own country first . Our own country moving along the path of health, happiness and prosperity.