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New: UC Berkeley Student Diagnosed with Measles, Rode 25-A Bus

Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Monday August 31, 2015 - 09:23:00 PM

A A University of California at Berkeley with the measles rode on public transit and spent time on campus before diagnosed, Berkeley Public Health officials said today. 

The student was diagnosed and placed into isolation on Aug. 29, but was probably contagious as early as Aug. 24, officials said. 

During the infectious period before the rash appeared the student spent time on the UC campus and in the community. On Monday Aug. 24, the student took the AC Transit bus 25-A from campus at 3:30 p.m. and returned by the same bus at 5:30 p.m., officials said. 

City and state health officials are working with the university to identify those living and working in close contact with the affected student. 

The measles virus is highly contagious and can linger in the air for up to two hours, so residents could have been exposed in a number of places, officials said. 

Symptoms develop anywhere from seven to 21 days after exposure and include fever and a facial rash. 

Those at highest risk from measles are the unvaccinated, infants, pregnant women and those with impaired immunity. Those who have had the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine are at very low risk, officials said.

Press Release: Jeff Scott Resigns as Director of Berkeley Public Library

From Abigail Franklin, Chair, Library Board of Trustees
Monday August 31, 2015 - 05:36:00 PM

The Berkeley Public Library announced today that Jeff Scott has officially resigned from his position as Director of Library Services, effective September 8, 2015. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as the Director of Library Services of the Berkeley Public Library. I have enjoyed my work here at the library and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” stated Mr. Scott. Jeff Scott has served in the role of Director since November 2014. 

“I have appreciated the enthusiasm for library services that Jeff has brought to Berkeley and wish him well,” said Abigail Franklin, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees. 

The Board will initiate a search to fill Jeff Scott’s position. In the interim period, Sarah Dentan, Acting Deputy Director, will serve as Acting Director. 

Chair Franklin commented, I am so proud of our library system and our four newly renovated branches. I have full confidence in our dedicated staff and management team to continue to provide excellent service to the Berkeley community.” 

The Board is scheduled to meet on September 9th, at which time they will discuss the details for a new director search. 

“We feel the role of the Director of the Berkeley Public Library is a terrific opportunity, and we look forward to proceeding with that selection,” said Chair Franklin. 

The Agenda for the September 9th meeting will be available on the Library’s website later this week: https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/about/board-library-trustees 

Man Gropes Girls in UC Berkeley Strawberry Canyon Pool

By Bay City News
Friday August 28, 2015 - 03:15:00 PM

An adult male suspect allegedly sexually battered several female children between the age of 9 and 13 while they were swimming at the Strawberry Canyon Pool on the University of California at Berkeley campus on Thursday afternoon, UC police said today. 

Campus police said they received a report at about 5:45 p.m. on Thursday that the suspect swam up to each victim, grabbed her leg and/or buttocks and then swam away. They said it's possible that there are additional victims. 

UC police describe the suspect as a white man of unknown age with brown hair and facial stubble. They also say he has a medium build with a pot belly and was wearing red swim shorts. 

Although the Strawberry Canyon Pool is on the UC Berkeley campus, it's in a secluded area above California Memorial Stadium, where the Cal football team plays. 

UC police said anyone with information about the incident should call them at (510) 642-0472.



Berkeley Rearranges Those Deck Chairs One More Time

Becky O'Malley
Friday August 28, 2015 - 01:46:00 PM

“My mind is made up—don’t confuse me with facts!”

That was my father’s refrain when, as a typical teenaged know-it-all, I confronted his long-held beliefs with my own ideas. That was way back in the fifties when he was still struggling to remain a Republican. The last Republican he voted for was Senator Tom Kuchel, but he maintained his Republican registration until he died in his nineties. Of course, this was mainly at my Democratic mother’s instigation, who was wont to send irate telegrams signed by his name and “lifelong Republican”. Over the years, both Senator Kuchel and my father were deserted by the Republican party that they wanted to believe in.

Sometimes when he repeated that mantra it was in all seriousness, and sometimes he was mocking my own seriousness. Either way, I’ve been frequently reminded of my late father’s maxim as I compulsively continue to track the Titanic 2211 Harold Way project through the Berkeley political process.

The descriptive adjective above is chosen deliberately—I’ve seldom seen anything that better illustrates the cliché about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. At the Zoning Adjustments Board last night, during the “study session” which preceded the regular meeting, various commissioners raised questions about the color of the tinted wall of glass, the tiles used on one face, the trees on the roof garden, and myriad other minor points, but tried desperately not to confront the totality of the problems which this monster promises to create for Berkeley. 

There was a beautiful full moon last night, and as I walked down the steps of the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall after the ZAB meeting I saw it rising majestically above the also-beautiful art deco sculptured face of Berkeley High School. My enjoyment of the view was spoiled, however, when I imagined the huge mass of the proposed Residences at Berkeley Plaza (RatBP) looming over the school, emitting a flood of artificial light into the night sky and obliterating the moon. 

The evening provided yet another depressing demonstration of how Berkeley’s decision-making process conspires to prevent the putative decision-makers from addressing a proposed project as a whole, but confines their scrutiny to the minutiae.  

From the commission secretary’s announcement: “…the Study Session will begin at 6:00 and then closed at 7:00 to accommodate the regular ZAB meeting. It will be re-opened at the conclusion of the regular ZAB meeting if necessary, this is anticipated to be around 9:00 p.m. The ZAB discussion may be continued to this time, otherwise this time may be dedicated to public comment. Each public speaker will be allotted one (1) minute.” 

The public had dutifully showed up at 6 under the reasonable assumption that some public comment would be allowed at that time before the meeting started, as is the custom with other civic bodies like the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City Council. Instead, however, the commission voted to postpone comment until after nine, and in fact it was at least 9:30 when the public finally got the opportunity for one minute soundbytes.  

And quelle surprise! By that time many who'd put in speaker cards had gone home.  

Why should this matter?  

Because public comment on this project is shaping up to be the most reliable way of conveying information to a commission hamstrung by a woefully inadequate Environmental Impact Report and their own process and staff. Watching well-informed and well-qualified public citizens attempting to convey important facts in the form of one minute soundbytes is reminiscent of what they used to say about Ginger Rogers: she did everything Fred Astaire did, and she did it backwards in high heels.  

Hired out-of-town consultants for applicants are given at least 20 minutes per appearance. Berkeleyans make do with one minute each, yet they convey more information. 

In the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles, Berkeley’s public citizens have managed to put some relevant facts which have been glossed over by staff and expensive consultants into the record of this project. Last night they tried one more time to also get the information into the heads of the commissioners, and against all odds some ZAB members seemed to be getting it. Others, needless to say, did not. 

Last night three relatively new facts which were not addressed adequately in the EIR were brought to light. The most worrisome one was the latest promise from developer’s advocate Mark Rhoades to re-build ten cinema screens for Landmark Shattuck Cinemas. This was referred to by one commissioner as a “significant community benefit”, though as several speakers observed it’s nothing more than a mitigation of the huge detriment which would be created by demolishing the existing cinemas.  

The scary part is that Rhoades’ latest version of the shape-shifting plan for the project locates four of the new theaters underground, under the principal building on the landmarked site, which is the original Shattuck Hotel, built in 1910. The shoddy EIR did not recognize that the hotel was built on an old creek bed with attendant danger of liquefaction in an earthquake, and that it still had its original ceramic tile foundation. The EIR did call for a structural engineering report on foundation questions, but it wouldn’t be done until AFTER the building permit had been issued and demolition and construction were underway. 

Speakers pointed out two alternative dangers: (1) The study would document the suspected hazards and—Oh So Sorry—the theaters would never be rebuilt after all or (2) the project would indeed burrow under the historic hotel, the theaters would be built, and in the Big One it would all collapse, killing both hotel guests upstairs and movie fans downstairs. The Library Gardens tragedy would loom small as compared to that scenario. 

Another problem which the application, the EIR and numerous staff reports seem to have missed altogether is the interaction between the California Enviromental Quality Act and Berkeley’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance. Former LPC Commissioner Lesley Emmington Jones cited eight specific questions about these complex technical legal issues in a letter signed by five former LPC commissioners with at least 40 years experience among them. I was one of them.  

Other signers included another person trained as an attorney, Anne Paxton Wagley, recently retired after 8 years on the commission, Jill Korte, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for many years, and Rose Marie Pietras, a principal planner for Contra Costa county for more than 20 years, with several stints on City of Berkeley boards and commissions to boot. She was unceremoniously dumped from the LPC by Mayor Tom Bates when she expressed doubts about this project.  

Lesley Emmington Jones was one of the original authors of the LPO and was a longtime staffer for Berkeley Architectural Heritage. She wasn’t able to stay for the second part of the session, however, so ZAB members missed their chance to ask her to explain her complicated analysis.  

The third glaring problem, perhaps the most egregious, is that this whole discussion has been based on the premise, originally set forth in the 2010 Measure R, that new buildings would be no taller that Berkeley’s two existing tall downtown buildings. The developer has been claiming that the RatBP building, now up to at least 194 feet, would fit this criterion. 

This turns out to be—a lie? Do our civility and moderation tsars allow us to use that very clear word anymore? Well, it’s at least an error of fact. 

Citizens Charlene and Bill Woodcock followed Ronald Regan’s axiom, “trust, but verify”, and hired a professional surveyor at their own expense. He concluded the two tall downtown buildings are at least 10 feet shorter than the proposed new building would be. 

Charlene’s letter and the surveyor’s letter can be found in the last issue of the Planet. It’s less than a page—but she wasn’t able to finish reading even this succinct communication in the allotted minute. I do hope the commissioners get around to reading it. 

And in a nutshell, that’s why this is a terrible way to make a decision about a project which could make or break Downtown Berkeley. Even the conscientious among the commissioners were prevented by time limitations from doing the due diligence which is desperately needed.  

The best informed and qualified among them, Sophie Hahn (Berkeley High, Stanford law school, BHS parent) who always does her homework, was interrupted not once but twice in her attempt to pose an admittedly lengthy list of pertinent questions for the record. In the 6pm-7pm segment, Acting Chair Denise Pinkston cut Hahn off after four minutes, saying she’d have plenty of time to finish after 9 o’clock. 

But the applicant’s representative didn’t bother to hang around for the second part of the “study session”. Hahn nonetheless tried to finish stating her concerns after 9, but she was yet again cut off by late-arriving Chair Prakash Pinto, who wanted to say something himself. 

Both chairs should take time to acquaint themselves with the substantial body of studies documenting the fact that women are interrupted more often than men before they truncate Commissioner Hahn’s valuable contributions. I know, I know, it’s just not fair that someone should take more than four minutes of valuable time just because she happens to have read the EIR.  

This is unlike, I strongly suspect, the majority of her colleagues, whose minds seem clear of those confusing facts. When LPC members were asked how many had read the EIR before they voted on this project, only two out of nine had done so, and I expect that if asked the ZAB commissioners might have a similar report, based on what they said last night. 

But fear not, there’s an app for that. Or at least a work-around. Public citizen Moni Law, who practiced for 20 years as an environmental attorney in other states before moving to Berkeley, displayed a draft version of what’s she’s working on: CLIFFS NOTES on 2211 Harold Way EIR* (*Everyone Ignores Reality), a one-page document complete with yellow and black parody cover. It’s a study aid “for those who have not read the 506 page EIR, yet vote on its contents as allegedly sufficient (i.e. the Landmark Preservation Commission… and Zoning Adjustments Board.)"  

The presentation is satirical, but its preliminary list of seven defects in the EIR is quite serious, with a promise of more to come in the next draft. It might even help the City Council, now trying to steer this project from behind by switching commission appointees in and out, if commission decisions are eventually appealed to Council, as they seem likely to be.  

We can only hope that ZAB does its job so that won’t be needed. 

Unless, of course, minds of commissioners or councilmembers are already made up, so citizens can’t confuse them with facts. That’s happened before, hasn’t it? 

It might eventually be necessary to ask a judge to explain it all to them.

The Editor's Back Fence

Public Comment


Jagjit Singh
Sunday August 30, 2015 - 09:38:00 PM

The ISIS atrocities continue to invoke raw emotions of disgust and outrage. There has been a steady barrage of unspeakable atrocities from beheadings to mass executions, tossing gay men from roof tops, destruction of priceless archaeological treasures and a host of other despicable acts of mayhem.  

Military might will only have limited success. There will be other disaffected Muslims eager to replace their fallen comrades to achieve martyrdom and the afterlife pleasures with the mistaken belief that God condones such gross behavior. It is up to the majority of Muslims to break their long silence and voice their outrage.  

Every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam will smear the image of the faith and generate a groundswell of disaffected Muslims to reject their faith. For example, ISIS rapists claim that the Koran condones the violation of women captured in battle. Quaran 5.33 states that taking the life of an innocent is tantamount to taking the life of all humanity. Quaran 49-13 forbids violent acts against civilians, especially, women and children and enjoins Muslims to promote human rights, dignity and liberty for all.  

God clearly embraces diversity otherwise he would have created a mono-culture. The Hizmat tradition promotes education for all – no exceptions. Twisted ideological interpretations denigrate women; Mohammed’s wife, Aisha should be a role model for all Muslim women. Muslim women must rebel from the suffocating head and body coverings which are anathema to the basic teachings of Islam. 

New: Old vs. Young? or Professional PR?

Vivian Warkentin
Sunday August 30, 2015 - 09:32:00 PM

Thank you Becky O’Malley for calling out the old people vs. young people gambit that is being fomented to discourage opposition to the urban density machine that has taken over Berkeley’s planning. The classic false argument, ad hominem attack, is often used in the absence of reasonable argument by those who stand to benefit. 

In liberal progressive Berkeley circles the main stream media is scoffed at and scorned. But our local media are proving to be reliable handmaidens to the power elite who want to change the character of our town and others without consultation. These forces have infiltrated our media and our civic organizations, and created numerous astroturf green lobby groups to propagate their vision of our future reality. 

“Berkeleyside”, self described as “Berkeley’s independent news site”, might be better spelled Berkeleycide. The comments section allows anonymous jeerers and cheerers, as needed, to join in the corporate developer chorus as pretend regular people. If you have ever commented disagreeing with the their prevailing wind, the pouncing comes hard and fast from nicknamed trolls. The latest in manufactured consent. 

At a recent Berkeley City Council meeting a young man made a speech using the argument that “frankly’ the people opposing the Harold Way project were old. Turning to the audience he added meaningfully, “and privileged”. So he is throwing in his lot with the corporate developers to build a 300 unit high rise with apartments going for $3000 to $4000 that he will need several roommates to afford, and that will be managed by corporate managers like the ones who don’t give a damn at Library Gardens? Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. He is either 1)being paid, 2))the son of a developer, or 3)seriously duped about who his real friends are. 

Once upon a time buying a home or renting was affordable in Berkeley to those who made a modest honest living. If the youth of today had been alive then they would have taken advantage of the same opportunities. Most who have lived here for decades could never afford what houses sell or rent for now in their own neighborhoods. We are not the ones who have ruined it for the next generations. 

Who has speculated, fooled and foreclosed on homeowners, destroyed old neighborhoods and gentrified? It is the same banker, developer, elite UC urban planner political class who are now using every trick to poison minds and point blame at those who critique the nonsense of their phony self enriching, land grabbing climate change remediation scam.

New: Hurricane Katrina

Jagjit Singh
Saturday August 29, 2015 - 02:24:00 PM

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that devastated the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people, forcing more than a million people to evacuate. President Obama echoed the sentiments of many of the local residents stating, "what started out as a natural disaster became a man-made one—a failure of government to look out for its own citizens." Many patients in hospitals, jail inmates were left to die. Many African-Americans desperately looking for food were gunned down by police for ‘looting’. 

Remember the man in charge of disaster relief, Mike Brown, head of FEMA, who received accolades from President George W, Bush, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.’’ His qualification - he was the commissioner of judges at the International Arabian Horse Association who spent a year investigating whether a breeder performed liposuction on a horse’s rear end. This along with other major policy missteps will remain the enduring legacy of President Bush. 

The storm laid bare the deep rooted inequalities affecting people of color. African Americans have borne the brunt of the disaster, displaced by gentrification. According to the Urban League, the income gap between black and white residents has increased 37 percent since 2005. Thousands of their homes remain abandoned. Much of the healthcare has been privatized. Neighborhood schools have been replaced by charter schools. Sadly, the people left out of the recovery are renters, the disabled, the elderly and people of color.

New: Stop, Think and Save Human Wealth

Romila Khanna
Saturday August 29, 2015 - 02:25:00 PM

In the U.S. we seem more bothered about foreign enemies attacking us than about danger to our own citizens from within. 

Why do we let people die each day from gun violence? I heard someone saying we are racist in the USA. I don't think that remark applies to all citizens. But I do know that we allow people to hurt each other for the slightest cause and then blame the media or the new papers. The right to bear guns seems the big roadblock. 

Gun violence is everywhere. If some people want to create a war zone here, they should think about moving to those tragic areas on the planet where bloodshed is a daily event. We have no right to hurt or kill others. Human life is not to be treated like a log of wood. 

We are not barbarians. Let’s change gun laws so that only public safety officers are allowed to carry guns on our streets.

More on Smart Growth: an Inter-generational debate

James Shinn
Friday August 28, 2015 - 09:12:00 AM

Attached below is a dialogue I recently had with my grandson about “Smart Growth”.. He had written to me critiquing some of the points I had made in my latest Daily Planet letter. He raised some objections and questions others have raised, so I responded in some detail. I hope you will find this "inter-generational dialogue" of public interest. 

Hello Grandson Sam, 

Thanks for your very good comments. The piece I wrote was originally just an off-the-top-of-the-head email to a correspondent who posed a bunch of questions. It wasn’t meant to be an article, but after I wrote it I thought, “why not just send it to the paper and see what happens!”. So, it was a bit incoherent—but it nonetheless generated some reader reaction—which was the objective. Now, to the several questions you raised in your email: 


Q. 'I find intriguing your argument that the desirability of an urban area increases with the extent to which it harbors high-rise buildings. Based on my experience with apartment-hunting, and on that of numerous peers, I would counter that an apartment/condo's desirability is more strongly correlated with an array of other urban amenities (e.g. proximity to bars, affordable shopping and public transit) rather than with the character of the skyscape itself. After all, few people (especially my age) are going to be willing to pay premium prices to live in a commercial downtown area that offers few recreational attractions. San Francisco certainly seems to be attracting people in unprecedented numbers, but I think the drivers of this attraction are more complex than the city's skyline. Specifically, it has more to do with the allure of finding easy(-ish) employment in the lucrative computer programming industry. "

A. High rise RESIDENTIAL structures downtown help create density, and thus the cultural amenities that you mentioned, and that people look for. When I worked in Dallas as Director of International Affairs for the city we had high-rise BUSINESS structures but we lacked high-rise residential structures,and the city was dead at night. We worked to attract high rise residential structures. This was a successful endeavor. “Smart Growth” was a good strategy in the Dallas context. Dallas has lots of cheap land. It has lots of room, and reason, to expand—both outward and upward. But San Francisco is not Dallas. Also, concerning potential purchasers, these San Francisco structures are not intended for beginning professionals at your level. They are "luxury units” specifically intended for upper-income renters/buyers—many from overseas. In sum, the problem is that in San Francisco, and Berkeley, we are terribly land-scarce and adding more people and density to the mix just aggravates terrific existing problems of price, gridlock, and environmental degradation. The reasons people come here are complex, as you say, but high-rises are certainly one of the important drivers of demand. After all, high-risers create excitement. Why else does Dubai, where there is plenty of land to expand outwards, build the tallest residential structures in the world in the center city—even though they are at the same time starting to create gridlock on their freeways as commuters/ suppliers try to get into the central city. 

Q. "The argument about demand elasticity is good, but its precision could perhaps be enhanced. You say that demand is inelastic (i.e. it doesn't change) in response to an increase in average rent prices. However, you go on to suggest that the Bay Area is unique in that an increase in rent (presumably due to the construction of these luxury high-rises) actually leads to an increase in demand for said apartments and their accompanying "vibe" (if I have understood correctly). Technically speaking, in this case price is highly elastic with respect to demand, but in a negative fashion (since demand increases with price)." 


A. The demand elasticity argument is a bit complicated, but I’ll try to clarify—at least as it works in the San Francisco context: In SF they build more high-risers, throwing more floor space on the market—but they price this new, luxury floor space at ever higher levels. If there were a constant level of demand for SF floor space then the price that these owners could demand for this space would be seen as unrealistic—and wouldn’t sell, and over time would tend to fall. Simple law of supply and demand. This is the argument of the smart-growthers—that more supply will have a moderating effect on affordability for everyone. This argument probably is true for Wichita, Kansas where there is not a great, bubbling demand to be downtown—i.e. where demand for floor-space in the overall area remains relatively constant. In this environment, there is demand-price elasticity. People will only agree to buy the new space if the price is consonant with existing levels, or even dropped, given that the new space is flooding the market with new supply. But in SF, and potentially Berkeley, the demand for this downtown space is not elastic—it doesn’t respond negatively to asking price in relation to supply because wealthy buyers in this tech saturated area, and from overseas, are prepared to pay almost any price just to get to the “heart of the action”—to the “vibe”, and a key “icon” of this vibe is the residential high-rise. And foreign buyers believe this even more strongly. High wealth individuals all over the world—in the Middle East, Russia, China etc. etc. see hugely tall, residential high-risers as a symbol of success and wealth. To have a penthouse on the top floor, or an apartment on almost any floor, of one of these monsters means you have arrived. 


Q. "I would caution when attempting to directly associate high-rise construction with rent increases. After all, average rents in San Francisco have been growing outrageously on their own. If these planned "smart growth" buildings are simply satisfying this demand, who is to say that they're accelerating the increase in rent relative to what it would have otherwise been? I think what you're getting at is more along the lines of: these new luxury buildings aren't going to do anything to stem the recent and ridiculous growth in rent prices. Instead, they could end up perpetuating it, which nobody wants (except maybe developers). "
A. I would agree with your comment that “after all, average rents in SF have been growing outrageously on their own”. True enough, but the point is that High-risers just help bump this to a new level. Instead of being a partial solution to the problem, as smart-growthers argue, they are actually dumping more fuel on the conflagration—for the reasons described above. 


Q."Your point about "absentee ownership" is interesting, although it seems a little incongruous with the rest of the discussion. After all, why would these wealthy Chinese businessmen (who by definition rarely stay at their apartments) be so concerned about how many skyscrapers are visible from their windows? Perhaps these are the buyers whose demand is price-inelastic, since they'll pay for a place to park capital regardless of price. But we don't necessarily know that they're the same buyers who will gravitate the most toward the new units created by smart growth development. If they're truly absentee, their perception of the city's "vibe" is likely only weakly correlated with proposed smart growth strategies. "  

A. The Chinese buyers buy into these buildings for a variety of reasons: The apartments may be parking lots for capital, better for investment speculation than negative interest return Swiss accounts;; they are occasional second-homes; they are vacation pied-à-terres; some are going to AirBnB; some are for offspring attending college, etc. etc. There are many, many reasons why they find these high-risers VERY attractive—but they do. 

Q. "I found the discussion of the other factors (e.g. drought, fires, Dodd-Frank) stimulating yet a little misplaced in this piece. You rightfully suggest that these factors will contribute to the real estate bubble's inevitable burst, but the implication of this is that virtually all development in the area (not just "smart") is inadvisable. This may be true from a long-term investing perspective, but I'm not sure that it furthers the debate surrounding the nature of optimal urban planning practices for the next few decades. (Also, I found myself wanting more details regarding your Vancouver example, since I'm not very familiar with the city.)"  


A. My cautionary note about the economy was meant just as “an anchor to windward”—in nautical terms. Right now, we’re in a rapidly expanding, classic, fiscal and economic bubble. I do not believe the time horizon for this is “the next few decades”, as you suggest. I believe it is much. much closer. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am against all real estate construction in the Bay Area as a result of this prediction. I wouldn’t be involved in downtown, mid-rise construction of apartment buildings if I felt otherwise. I simply feel that urban planning needs to take a cautious approach. If we hit a really severe recession, vacancy rates in half empty, luxury high-risers have a much greater impact on the local economy, and city budgets, per square foot of floor space, than on far smaller, low and mid-rise residential structures. Urban planners need to be Swiss-like in their caution. 


Q. "While your last piece discusses a specific proposed development in Berkeley, this article appears to focus mostly on San Francisco. Since the causes and effects of heightened urban development vary between the two locations, I think your argument would benefit from a clearer scope."Your solution of "modest, midrise, in-fill and affordable housing options" is appealing, yet lacking in specifics. I am certainly no expert in urban development (in San Francisco or otherwise) but as I mentioned on our recent call, perhaps one way to strengthen this argument would be to point out opportunities to re-purpose existing, dilapidated buildings in the city (which is exceedingly land-scarce) as a more tenable form of smart growth."
A. My argument applies directly to San Francisco because "the proof is already in the pudding” in that city. But, the same, underlying factors of demand inelasticity are working their way through the Berkeley economy as well . And the question we face, as we are today on the cusp of beginning to build a series of high risers, is: do we want to create the same tsunami of construction here as well, when it clearly is absolutely unnecessary for the future health of our city. We are already, as you propose, re-purposing dozens and dozens of existing, dilapidated buildings in the city—and there is potential for a GREAT deal more of this. We simply don’t need the high-risers to succeed. But the question is: how to wake up the populace in time! 

Keep the informed criticism coming. As you know, I always love a good debate! 

Love, Nonno

What is to be Done about Gentrification in Berkeley?

Thomas Lord
Thursday August 27, 2015 - 04:22:00 PM

This is part 2 of a 2 part article. See also Berkeley's Progressives: Fighting to Make Gentrification Even Worse

Berkeley can't fight gentrification if it doesn't understand what gentrification is. Here, we have a problem.

We labor under neoliberal nonsense about gentrification

In the popular imagination, gentrification is merely the replacement of the poor with the better off; often the displacement of the less-white with the more-white; the replacement of the shabby with vibrant; in short the so-called "upgrading" of a neighborhood or region. 

Too often, policy researchers and practitioners in a neoliberal framework conceive gentrification along those lines. For example, the recently trumpeted Urban Displacement project at UC Berkeley proposes: 


"Today, gentrification is generally defined as "the transformation of a working-class or vacant area of the central city into middle-class residential or commercial use"."
It is critical to these scholars to portray gentrification as a kind of passive process, more or less an act of nature or a shift in the weather. 


Furthermore, these scholars must deflect attention away from the impacts on people. 

Gentrification is, in their genteel discourse, "the [subject-less] transformation" of an "area of the central city". 

Since it is an "area" that is "transformed", any impact on people must be treated as a separate issue which these scholars dub: "displacement": 


"While the vast majority of literature and media attention on gentrification focuses on class-based analyses, the deep history of racial residential segregation and income inequality in the United States results in gentrification being a clearly racialized process. Gentrification is often associated with white middle class households moving into low-income and communities of color." [....]  

"Residential displacement occurs when a household is forced to move from its residence or is prevented from moving into a neighborhood that was previously accessible to them [....]" 

Gentrification may lead to displacement, and/or displacement may lead to gentrification – but not necessarily. 



Not only do these researchers treat displacement apart from gentrification, they confine their attention to households and ignore the questions of communities and local economies. 


From such dismal conceptions of what gentrification is in the first place such researchers are unable to relate its causes to public policies, or to discuss its human relevance other than in the most superficial terms. 

Unable to identify real causes they are confined to discovering merely the warning signs that gentrification is underway. 

Their contribution to policy is not a constructive guide helping local economies and communities thrive. On the contrary, they have published an alleged weather map of where gentrification is forecast to be as inevitable as it is unexplained. 

Worst of all, by concentrating on a narrow "transformation" from "working-class" to "middle-class", these researchers can not apply their theories to cases of gentrification that don't take place in "the central city" or that do not "upgrade" from proletariat to petite bourgeoisie ("working-class" to "middle-class" in their terms). 

What is gentrification, really? 

Here is the key to understanding gentrification: 

To the working class, real estate is primarily an object of utility. We live there. We form families there. We become small entrepreneurs. We age there. If we are homeowners we may keep some of our savings invested in the form of a dwelling but primarily our interest is to have a place to live and thrive. 

To the real estate speculator, real estate is exclusively a source of rent. They collect lease payments, mortgage payments, and capital gains upon flipping. 

Gentrification occurs when there is a coincidence of, on the one hand, speculators anxious to find ways to lend out their excess capital; on the other hand, a community vulnerable to large increases in rent extraction through a process of new investment. 


"The owners of residential real estate know that if a previously working-class area becomes "gentrified," ground-rent - the value of land - is sure to soar. As soon as they sense the bare possibly of gentrification, the landlords will do all they can to drive their working-class tenants out. " -- Sam Williams. (A critique of crisis theory (blog))  



The signs and symptoms are familiar. As market rents go up the working class is immobilized, unable to relocate within their home market. Rent increases and evictions pick up. Mortgage resets and tax increases put the squeeze on. Step by step communities are broken up as people leave, leaving behind the stranded. 


Meanwhile, by any means that works, speculators grab up properties and raise all forms of rent. Perhaps they build a high-end playground or perhaps they build a new student ghetto. The history of Library Gardens illustrates the ambiguity and ambivalence of speculator plans. Only the bottom line matters: a radical shift upwards in the amount of rent being extracted, even at the cost of communities and local economies. 

Emergency steps that Berkeley can take 

End overcrowding: A lax stance towards overcrowding students in apartments generates windfall rent profits and accelerates the process of gentrification towards an enlarged student ghetto. Additionally, over-crowding creates public health risks and risks associated with fires, earthquakes, and structural failures. Progressives should lead the charge to deny landlords the option to overcrowd students into apartments. 

Plan investment:Not all speculative investment is bad! Berkeley should welcome speculators even while preventing them from crushing established communities and economies. Progressives should convene the community and innovative experts to map out profitable investments that would enhance rather than shove aside incumbent residents. 

Spotlight economic development: Believe it or not, Berkeley has a (dusty, neglected) master plan for economic development that goes well beyond enabling the most destructive forms of real estate speculation. Progressives should lead a renewal of public attention to the need for a diverse economy characterized by maximizing wages, not corporate profits; an economy that rejuvenates Berkeley's historically vibrant grass roots entrepreneurial spirit. 

Drag speculative stakeholders to the table: Berkeley's major landlords and property owners need to come out from the shadows and work with progressives to develop a plan to move forward. 

Agitate for neighborhood preservation: Short-term rentals (e.g. "AirBnB") and in-law unit add-ons need to be balanced with a renewed call for neighborhood preservation or else, before long, our "residential" neighborhoods will be overbuilt and flipped to become de facto commercial districts with unstable tenancies and a sharp increase in absent owners. 

Shine a spotlight on City planning staff: Staff's lack of transparency and controversial actions have raised questions of corruption: Is the planning department functioning in appropriate pursuit of Berkeley's master planning and policies? Or has it gone rogue, a revolving door of favoritism, manipulating rather than empowering resident participation, and exposing the city to ever greater liabilities? A thorough investigation and perhaps a short moratorium on development permits is called for. 

The most important thing.... Progressives must find a way out of their shrinking bubble of party allies, office staff, and key donors. The people most absent from long-term city planning at this juncture are the majority of residents. Progressives should take the lead in raising public awareness and building public engagement.

Black Monday

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday August 28, 2015 - 04:31:00 PM

Following last Monday’s historic market decline which saw stock prices tumble across the globe, a plethora of economists swarmed onto network media outlets to offer their explanations on the causes which precipitated the sudden free fall. Perhaps the best analysis was offered by Michael Hudson, distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, and author of the book, "Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy." 

According to Hudson, China’s sudden decline was a direct result of the high volume of small speculative buyers diving into the market with the mistaken belief that there would never be a downturn. 

Conversely, the US market is still a reflection of the 2008 bubble where all the growth in the economy has been principally in the financial sector, benefitting the 1 percent. 

Stocks prices have been inflated by the Fed who poured $4.5 trillion which Wall Street used to generate enormous profits. Pension funds were able to borrow money at 1% and invest in the stock market with average yields of 4%. Private companies went on a buyback frenzy driving up stock prices which triggered huge bonuses for executives. Hudson stated that there has been a divergence between the real economy and the FIRE sector – finance, insurance and real estate. He was pessimistic on the future of the real economy and was highly critical of Wall Street banks who have an undue influence on the political process.


New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: More About Aging

Jack Bragen
Sunday August 30, 2015 - 09:28:00 PM

For many people, the twenties are a third decade of making mistakes and living with the results. We might not yet be aware that some of the things we do could have permanent and far-reaching effects on our lives for ensuing decades.

Thinking back on it, I had far more and far worse emotional and cognitive problems in my twenties. I was severely depressed much of the time, was having a great deal of difficulty with work, wanted badly to meet my soulmate, and was far less stable compared to now. I had not yet learned a number of things concerning how to survive. I also wanted badly to have a number of things that I wasn't getting. I was inadequate to face a number of the challenges that life was giving me.  

The twenties are a very hard decade for a lot of young people. Someone said that the two main challenges of the twenties are work and relationships. Yet, I believe there is much more to it than that. You haven't yet learned a number of life's lessons. And, when this is compounded by having a disability, you could have a very trying time of it.  

Making it through the twenties intact is a significant achievement for someone with mental illness.  

My early thirties were difficult also. The main lessons were those of how to survive. I had to learn how to deal with some very difficult people, some of whom were assaultive. People in my environment "messed with" me, trying to sabotage my mind and wreck my living situations. My cognition wasn't very good. I was unwise.  

By forty, I had some idea of how to survive, to manage my symptoms, to behave myself, and to deal with other human beings, some of whom aren't nice. By then, I had accepted that I can't adapt to most work situations, and wouldn't want to if I could. By then I was married to my wife Joanna, and this improved my life a thousand-fold. My discipline level was improving, and I had begun working to become a writer.  

Part of what you might get, if you live long enough, is clarity of thought. Yet, it takes work and it takes practice to get good use of your mind--it doesn't come automatically. This is especially so if you suffer from psychosis, a disorder that can throw a monkey wrench into the thought processes.  

At some point, I learned how to think clearly while on medication. This entails pinpointing and discarding residual delusions. It involves thinking about how to think. It involves an understanding of how my mind can fool me. And it involves access to a deeper level of awareness, which is an acquired ability that doesn't come automatically.  

I have been able to accept not having many of the things I wish for. I have learned how to defend myself against bullies with nonviolent strategies. I have learned to accept and deal with ongoing hardships.  

If in your twenties and miserable, please realize that life can be better when older. This is largely due to the learning curve of how to face life's challenges and crises, and it is due to having a change in attitude. You can learn from difficult situations, even if you feel you had done nothing wrong to precipitate them. It is only by experiencing the pain brought on by difficulties and mishaps that we learn to become better people.  

It is widely known in psychiatry that people with schizophrenia when they get much older often get a reprieve from symptoms and do better for their remaining years. This seems applicable to both me and my older brother. So, when you get older and your body is falling apart, at least your mind starts working.  

Having been stabilized for nineteen years, it is only in the past three years or so that I've had a really good level of clarity, in my own humble opinion. There are many things to look forward to and this constitutes a good reason why we ought to take care of ourselves.  


This is just to remind you that my self-published books can be bought on Amazon. If you don't like Amazon, hard copies can also be bought directly from LULU.com.  






New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Europe’s New Barbarians

Conn Hallinan
Monday August 24, 2015 - 02:17:00 PM

On one level, the recent financial agreement between the European Union (EU) and Greece makes no sense: not a single major economist thinks the $96 billion loan will allow Athens to repay its debts, or to get the economy moving anywhere but downwards. It is what former Greek Economic Minister Yanis Varoufakis called a “suicide” pact, with a strong emphasis on humiliating the leftwing Syriza government. 

Why construct a pact that everyone knows will fail? 

On the Left, the interpretation is that the agreement is a conscious act of vengeance by the “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—to punish Greece for daring to challenge the austerity program that has devastated the economy and impoverished its people. The evidence for this explanation is certainly persuasive. The more the Greeks tried to negotiate a compromise with the EU, the worse the deal got. The final agreement was the most punitive of all. The message was clear: rattle the gates of Heaven at your own peril. 

It was certainly a grim warning to other countries with strong anti-austerity movements, in particular Portugal, Spain and Ireland. 

But austerity as an economic strategy is about more than just throwing a scare into countries that, exhausted by years of cutbacks and high unemployment, are thinking of changing course. It is also about laying the groundwork for the triumph of multinational corporate capitalism and undermining the social contract between labor and capital that has characterized much of Europe for the past two generations. 

It is a new kind of barbarism, one that sacks countries with fine print. 

Take Greece’s pharmacy law that the Troika has targeted for elimination in the name of “reform.” Current rules require that drug stores be owned by a pharmacist, who can’t own more than one establishment, that over the counter drugs can only be sold in drug stores, and that the price of medicines be capped. Similar laws exist in Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, Cyprus, Austria and Bulgaria, and were successfully defended before the European Court of Justice in 2009. 

For obvious reasons multinational pharmacy corporations like CVS, Walgreen, and Rite Aid, plus retail goliaths like Wal-Mart, don’t like these laws, because they restrict the ability of these giant firms to dominate the market. 

But the pharmacy law is hardly Greeks being “quaint” and old-fashioned. The U.S. state of North Dakota has a similar law, one that Wal-Mart and Walgreens have been trying to overturn since 2011. Twice thwarted by the state’s legislature, the two retail giants recruited an out-of-state signature gathering firm and poured $3 million into an initiative to repeal it. North Dakotans voted to keep their pharmacy law 59 percent to 41 percent. 

The reason is straightforward: “North Dakotans have pharmacy care that outperforms care in other states on every key measure, from cost to access,” says author David Morris. Drug prices are cheaper in North Dakota than in most other states, rural areas are better served, and there is more competition. 

The Troika is also demanding that Greece ditch its fresh milk law, which favors local dairy producers over industrial-size firms in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. The EU claims that, while quality may be affected, prices will go down. But, as Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz found, “savings” in efficiency are not always passed on to consumers. 

In general, smaller firms hire more workers and provide more full time jobs than big corporations. Large operations like Wal-Mart are more efficient, but the company’s workforce is mostly part time and paid wages so low that workers are forced to use government support services. In essence, taxpayers subsidize corporations like Wal-Mart. 

A key demand of the Troika is “reform” of the labor market to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers, establish “two-tier” wage scales—new hires are paid less than long time employees—and to end industry-wide collective bargaining. The latter means that unions—already weakened by layoffs—will have to bargain unit by unit, an expensive, exhausting and time consuming undertaking. 

The results of such “reforms” are changing the labor market in places like Spain, France, and Italy. 

After years of rising poverty rates, the Spanish economy has finally begun to grow, but the growth is largely a consequence of falling energy prices, and the jobs being created are mostly part-time or temporary, and at considerably lower wages than pre-2007. As Daniel Alastuey, the secretary-general of Aragon’s UGT, one of Spain’s largest unions told the New York Times, “A new figure has emerged in Spain: the employed person who is below the poverty threshold.” 

According to the Financial Times, France has seen a similar development. In 2000, some 25 percent of all labor contracts were for permanent jobs. That has fallen to less than 16 percent, and out of 20 million yearly labor contracts, two-thirds are for less than a month. Employers are dismissing workers, than re-hiring them under a temporary contract. 

In 1995, temporary workers made up 7.2 percent of the jobs in Italy. Today, according to the Financial Times, that figure is 13.2 percent, and 52.5 percent for Italians aged 15 to 24. It is extremely difficult to organize temporary workers, and their growing presence in the workforce has eroded the power of trade unions to fight for better wages, working conditions and benefits. 

In spite of promises that tight money and austerity would re-start economies devastated by the 2007-2008 financial crisis, growth is pretty much dead in the water continent-wide. And economies that have shown growth have yet to approach their pre-meltdown levels. Even the more prosperous northern parts of the continent are sluggish. Finland and the Netherlands are in a recession. 

There is also considerable regional unevenness in economic development. Italy’s output contracted 0.4% in 2014, but the country’s south fell by 1.3%. Income for southern residents is also plummeting. Some 60% of southern Italians live on less than $13,400 a year, as compared to 28.5% of the north. “We’re in an era in which the winners become ever stronger and weakest move even further behind,” Italian economist Matteo Caroli told the Financial Times

That economic division of the house is also characteristic of Spain, While the national jobless rate is an horrendous 23.7 percent, the country’s most populous province in the south, Andalusia, sports an unemployment rate of 41 percent. Only Spanish youth are worse off. Their jobless rate is over 50 percent. 

Italy and Spain are microcosms for the rest of Europe. The EU’s south—Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria—are characterized by high unemployment, deeply stressed economies, and falling standards of living. While the big economies of the north, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany, are hardly booming—the EU growth rate over all is a modest 1.6 percent—they are in better shape than their southern neighbors.  

Geographically, Ireland is in the north, but with high unemployment and widespread poverty brought on by the austerity policies of the EU, it is in the same boat as the south. Indeed, Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the annual conference of the leftwing, anti-austerity party Sinn Fein that Greece considered the Irish “honorary southerners.” 

Austerity has become a Trojan horse for multinational corporations, and a strategy for weakening trade unions and eroding democracy. But it is not popular, and governments that have adopted it have many times found themselves driven out of power or nervously watching their polls numbers fall. Spain’s rightwing Populist Party is on the ropes, Sinn Fein is the third largest party in Ireland, Portugal’s rightwing government is running scared, and polls indicate that the French electorate supports the Greeks in their resistance to austerity. 

The Troika is an unelected body, and yet it has the power to command economies. National parliaments are being reduced to rubber stamps, endorsing economic and social programs over which they have little control. If the Troika successfully removes peoples’ right to choose their own economic policies, then it will have cemented the last bricks into the fortress that multinational capital is constructing on the continent. 

In 415 BC, the Athenians told the residents of Milos that they had no choice but to ally themselves with Athens in the Peloponnesian War. “The powerful do whatever their power allows and the weak simply give in and accept it,” Thucydides says the Athenians told the island’s residents. Milos refused and was utterly destroyed. The ancient Greeks could out-barbarian the barbarians any day. 

But it is not the 5th century BC, and while the Troika has enormous power, it is finding it increasingly difficult to rule over 500 million people, a growing number of whom want a say in their lives. Between now and next April, four countries, all suffering under the painful stewardship of the Troika, will hold national elections: Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland. The outcomes of those campaigns will go a long way toward determining whether democracy or autocracy is the future of the continent. 


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










New: ECLECTIC RANT: Bernie Sanders: Drawing Massive Crowds Yet Still Considered a “Long Shot?”

By Ralph E. Stone
Saturday August 29, 2015 - 02:14:00 PM

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an unabashed democratic socialist, is making quite a splash in the media and on the campaign trail, drawing massive crowds wherever he goes. The question is, can an independent, democratic socialist win the Democratic nomination for president? What follows is my view of the Sanders’ campaign to date. 

What is democratic socialism? “Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.” 

In general, democratic socialists like Sanders want to ensure that every person has access to housing, health care, education, meaningful employment, and transportation. Furthermore, Western socialists of all stripes typically support progressive social policies such as gender equality and tolerance of differences. In particular however, Sanders advocates for three things that should be the backbone of the Democratic Party. These include reducing economic inequality, removing the rigged influence of the rich on our political system, and of course most importantly, preventing climate change. These aren’t just issues that the far left supports; these are broadly popular issues on which our political system is massively out of step with what the public wants. 

Specifically, Sanders favors, among other things, universal healthcare, free public college education, a $15 minimum wage, keep and expand social security, is pro women’s rights, is pro gay rights, and is an advocate for climate change. 

Given what Sanders stands for, why should a “socialist” label cause fear and trembling in voters? I bet most of these Americans could not explain what they mean by socialism. To me, it basically means a redistribution of wealth or publicly-funded programs that capitalism will not pay for. We already have many so-called socialistic programs in the U.S. such as our progressive tax system, social security, public housing, unemployment insurance, medicare, schools, libraries, etc. I like to think that most of these programs provide social safety nets for the havenots in our society who otherwise would fall through the cracks when unregulated capitalism goes awry. You know the kind of capitalism that got us into our financial mess under the George W. Bush administration. Looked at this way, socialism equals compassion for the less fortunate in our society. What’s to be afraid of? 

Ultimately, Americans should want a democratic socialist government to provide a society for the benefit of all. But can Sanders win the Democratic nomination? I am not optimistic. Sanders will likely do well in the Iowa caucuses and in New Hampshire, which have progressive, liberal traditions. But will he win over the moderate voters? He will have a harder time in South Carolina where over half the population is Black. Sanders will have to show he can appeal to moderate voters. 

Money will become a problem for Sanders. Hillary Clinton so far has amassed a war chest of $60.6 million while Sanders has raised only $15 million. If Sanders does well in the early primaries, money will continue to come in. If not, money may dry up. 

Hillary Clinton is slipping in the polls. In fact, a recent poll shows Sanders leading Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in New Hampshire. If Clinton fails to get her email problem behind her, she will probably slip even more. If she does, Joe Biden will likely enter the race. Biden down the road would probably then pick up Sander’s liberal and progressive followers and have appeal to moderate voters. 

Sanders appeals to many liberals at the moment but the national Democratic Party is unlikely to nominate an independent democratic socialist. Instead, the Party will go with a mainstream Democrat like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. However, Sander’s candidacy is raising issues that might otherwise be ignored and has shown that Americans have nothing to fear from a democratic socialist. 

We shouldn’t count out long shots however. Remember, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Jimmy Carter were long shots, but went on to be the Democratic nominees for president. Even Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully pursued the GOP nomination twice before becoming a two-term president. Amazing things can happen in politics. We might even end up with a Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump race. 

I will vote for Bernie Sanders in the California primary and vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election.

Arts & Events

New: New Esterházy Quartet Plays Beethoven’s 15th & 16th String Quartets

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday August 29, 2015 - 02:13:00 PM

On Friday evening, August 29, Berkeley’s Hillside Club once again hosted The New Esterházy Quartet in their series of concerts devoted to Beethoven’s Late Quartets. The program for this concert featured Beethoven’s 15th and 16th Quartets, the former in A minor, Op. 132, and the latter in F, Op. 135. The A minor Quartet is one of three late quartets by Beethoven in which he experimented with the structure, going far beyond the Classical string quartet structure of four movements. His Op. 130 contains six movements, his Op. 132 has five movements, and his Op. 131, (which was actually composed after the Op. 132 Quartet), contains seven movements.  

As the A minor Quartet opens, the cello is heard introducing the low notes with which this work begins, though the violins and viola quickly join in. The dotted rhythm of the first subject generates almost obsessively the pure lyricism of this movement . Everything here is short-lived and succinct. A poised march-like entry lasts only four bars before giving way to the dotted motif. The second subject is allotted only three fleeting bitter-sweet appearances. One has the impression of a concerted effort to arrest momentum. The second movement, however, seems an exercise in perpetual motion. Here there are only two elements, artfully combined in a subtle web of contrapuntal brilliance. The central section of this Allegro movement spurns all counterpoint and offers instead a dance theme borrowed from an earlier piano Allemande. The third movement, a Molto adagio, is sub-titled “A convalescent’s Hymn of Thanksgiving to God, in the Lydian mode.” Here, Beethoven, who was frequently ill throughout the years 1825-6, offers an almost mystical meditation on overcoming illness. It is a heartfelt set of reflections, somber in tone yet offering hope. Twice there are moments marked, “Feeling new strength,” characterized by broad melodies, sonorous textures, trills, decorations, and a general feeling of exultation. The fourth movement features a march, which, brief as it is, brings us back to the mundane world after the quasi-mysticism of the previous movement. However, as the march transitions into the work’s finale, there is a shift to the sublime. Now, in the finale itself, Beethoven explores a waltz-theme, as it were, a valse triste. Yet it is by no means so triste as to preclude a triumphal flourish as the work concludes.  

Beethoven’s final string quartet, the Quartet in F, Op. 135, marks his serene return to the Classical style. After the Sturm und Drang of the experimental quartets, Beethoven no longer feels the need to venture into uncharted territory. Rather, he stakes out ever-new space within the familiar territory of the Classical, four-movement quartet structure. Here there are no surprising, audacious key changes, and the proportions are strictly conventional. The viola opens each movement and often leads in stating the main subjects, accompanied in the opening moments of the work by pizzicato from the cello. The Allegretto offers brief, succinct episodes, which are frequently interrupted only to start each time anew. The second movement, marked Vivace, is a scherzo whose main feature is a clanging motif, suggestive of the pealing of bells. The third movement, whose tempo markings are very precise – Assai lento, cantante e tranquillo” (“Fairly slow, singing and peaceful”) – offers a pensive meditation. The finale is preceded in Beethoven’s score by the words “Muss ist sein? Es muss sein.” (“Must it be? It must be.”) Prior to playing this Op. 135 Quartet, violist Anthony Martin explained the origin of these words in a joking remark by Beethoven. However, the very fact that the composer chose to memorialize these words at the beginning of the final movement of his final string quartet suggests that he saw a larger sense in these words than a mere joke. Many scholars and musicians have taken these words to be a farewell to composing. Indeed, after completing the Op. 135 Quartet, Beethoven composed only the alternative finale to the Op. 130 Quartet, and these two works share a common, sunlit serenity that rises above all notions of struggle, sorrow and pain, radiating instead an almost Apollonian affirmation.

New Esterházy Quartet Plays Beethoven’s Late Quartets at Berkeley’s Hillside Club

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 28, 2015 - 04:28:00 PM

Locally based, The New Esterházy Quartet offered on Wednesday, August 26, at Berkeley’s Hillside Club the first of three concerts dedicated to Beethoven’s Late String Quartets. This series of concerts presents a wonderful opportunity for Bay Area listeners to hear an internationally acclaimed string quartet perform the monumental late quartets of Beethoven’s mature musical genius. Moreover, Berkeley’s Hillside Club, now nearly 100 years old in its present form, having been rebuilt in 1924 after the disastrous fire of 1923, is a small, 100-seat concert hall with excellent acoustics, and it offers the best possible venue for listening to chamber music. I cannot insist strongly enough on this point. Chamber music should not be played in cavernous auditoriums such as Zellerbach Hall, where I happened to hear the Takács Quartet play Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130 last December. That experience was less than satisfying. (See my review of Dec. 14, 2014 in these pages.) 

This same Beethoven quartet, as performed by The New Esterházy Quartet in their opening concert in the current series, could hardly have been more rewarding. In the intimate confines of the Hillside Club, there was an immediacy and presence that was totally lacking when I sat near the back of Zellerbach Hall for the Takács Quartet. But that was not the only difference. I faulted the Takács Quartet for playing the opening movement of Op. 130 in far too light-hearted a manner. By contrast, The New Esterházy Quartet faithfully rendered all the brooding recollections of sorrow and suffering that underlie Op. 130’s opening Adagio. This is essential, as it fore-shadows the utterly wrenching despair of the work’s fifth movement, the remarkably somber Cavatina. Beethoven’s friend Karl Holz reported that the composer “wrote the Cavatina (‘short aria’) amid sorrow and tears; never did his music breathe so heart-felt an inspiration, and even the memory of this movement brought tears to his eyes.”  

Even in the intervening movements prior to the Cavatina, The New Esterházy Quartet’s interpretation allowed room for hints of the emotional struggles to come. Granted, the work’s second movement, a brief Presto, evokes the simple rewards of joyful music-making. However, the heavy-duty workout required of first violinist Kati Kyme in the Poco scherzoso movement suggests there are underlying issues. More-over, the next movement, designated alla danza tedesca, suggests the melancholy hidden beneath a joyful German country dance, which the composer appreciates but cannot enter into wholeheartedly in a naïve and spontaneous manner, for in his lonely isolation he lacks the sense of community such a country dance presupposes. The tragedy of the ensuing Cavatina, according to J.W.N. Sullivan, is the “yearning for the unattainable, for that close human intimacy, that love and sympathy, that Beethoven never experienced.” 

One would do well to recall that Beethoven’s original final movement for Op. 130 was the monumentally somber and demanding Grosse Fugue (usually listed as Op. 133). Although the New Esterházy Quartet decided to play the alternative finale Beethoven wrote at the urging of his publisher, who wanted something lighter and more accessible than the Grosse Fugue, (which The New Esterházy Quartet will play on Sunday, Aug. 30), the very fact that they had faithfully rendered all the brooding and sorrowful qualities in this work’s first and fifth movements, and had also hinted at the sorrows underlying the intervening movements, made their decision to play the straightforwardly affirmative finale perfectly acceptable, even rewarding. Whereas in the Grosse Fugue Beethoven went back to Bach and the basics of classical music to work out in extremely intellectual fashion the emotional issues underlying the earlier movements of Op. 130, in the alternative finale, marked Allegro, he opted for a more Classical approach that sings its affirmation in a tuneful rondo form. 

Critical response to Beethoven’s B-flat Quartet has generally been mixed. Maynard Solomon refers to it as “the most enigmatic of the late quartets.” Paul Bekker, writing in the early 20th century, found the B-flat Quartet “a suite, almost a pot-pourri, of movements without any close psychological interconnection.” On this latter point I totally disagree. To me, the psychological progression from the melancholy underlying the “alla danza tedesca” movement to the heart-wrenching suffering of the Cavatina offers the hidden key to the emotional issues at stake in this Quartet; and they are issues of loneliness and isolation. This is Beethoven, near the end of his life, looking back in anguish at all his failures to find love, and anguishing as well over the sense of isolation stemming both from his deafness and from the immense distance between his own exalted notion of music and the more pedestrian expectations of his public 

At Wednesday’s Hillside Club concert, the B-flat Quartet was not the only work performed by the New Esterházy Quartet. They opened the program with the first of Beethoven’s Late Quartets, the E-flat Quartet, Op. 127. For this work, Lisa Weiss played first violin, later trading places with Kati Kyme for the B-flat Quartet. Anthony Martin is heard on viola, and William Skeen on cello. The E-flat Quartet is Classical in structure with only four movements. It opens with heavy chords, marked Maestoso, and they are majestic indeed. The opening Allegro unfolds with lilting lyricism, which Joseph Kerman sees as the guiding impulse of this Op. 127 Quartet. The second movement, marked Adagio, opens slowly and offers ornamental variations that transform the original theme into something new. The third movement, marked Scherzo, offers the work’s only contrasting elements as it proceeds in fits and starts, and bumps its way along amidst pizzicato plucking from the first violin and viola. The finale, marked Allegro, opens with an upbeat ‘walking tune’, then offers dance rhythms that border at times on the fantastic. Toward the end, this robust sonata movement undergoes surprising key changes before returning to the home key of E-flat and rounding off this work in exultant fashion. 

The second in this series of concerts at Berkeley’s Hillside Club devoted to Beethoven’s Late Quartets is on Friday, August 28, at 8:00 pm, featuring the A-Minor Quartet, Op. 132 and the Quartet in F, Op. 135. The third and final concert is on Sunday, August 30, at 4:00 pm, featuring the Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, and the Grosse Fugue, Op. 133. 


Around & About--Music: Curious Flight's New Season Opens

Ken Bullock
Friday August 28, 2015 - 04:21:00 PM

Brenden Guy, clarinetist who plays with the Berkeley Symphony and other prestigious Bay Area ensembles, founded Curious Flights a couple of years ago, a concert series featuring fine local musicians and ensembles and works not always heard hereabouts.

On Saturday, August 29th, Curious Flight's new season opens at the San Francisco Conservatory with 'An English Portrait,' music from the British Isles being another feature of the ongoing concerts. Adler Fellow soprano Julie Adams will be soloist with Miles Graber on piano performing John Ireland's Songs Sacred and Profane, followed by Brenden Guy on clarinet with the One Found Sound string quartet. St. Dominic's Schola Cantorum will sing Vaughan Williams' Valiant for Truth, Benjamin Britten's The Shepherd Carol, and My Spirit Sang All Day by Gerald Finzi, under the direction of Simon Berry. Arnold Bax's Sonata for Two Pianos will be played by Peter Grunberg and Keisuke Nakagoshi, the program concluding with John Kendall bailey conducting the Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble in Britten's Sinfonietta, Op. 1. 

Saturday, August 29 at 8, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street (near Van Ness & Market), San Francisco. $20-$50. curiousflights.org

Around & About--Theater: Lower Bottom Playaz Perform August Wilson's 'King Hedley II'

Ken Bullock
Friday August 28, 2015 - 03:37:00 PM

The Lower Bottom Playaz, out of West Oakland, have moved Uptown to the Flight Deck to perform the next-to-last play of August Wilson's series that covers a century of black life and society in the Hill district of Pittsburg, 'King Hedley II.' With the completion of the series in a few months, when LBP puts on 'Radio Golf,' they'll be the first ever to have performed the series in its chronological order, as envisioned by the late playwright. And the troupe brings an unusual sense of authenticity to the project--real community theater. Directed by founder Ayodele Nzinga. 

Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p. m., with 2 p. m. matinees on Saturday and Sundays through September 6. The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland. $20-$50. lowerbottomplayaz.org 332-1319