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Carolers serenade attendees at the 2016 Alligators' Ball.
Carolers serenade attendees at the 2016 Alligators' Ball.


Flash: BUSD Bails on Lawsuit about 2211 Harold Way

Tuesday December 08, 2015 - 10:28:00 AM

In a five-minute meeting late yesterday afternoon, three members of the board of the Berkeley Unified School District approved a last-minute deal with the developers of 2211 Harold Way. According to BUSD public information officer Mark Coplan, present and voting to drop the district's appeal on the project permits were board members Judy Appel, President,Karen Hemphill, Clerk, and Ty Alper. Josh Daniels and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler were absent.

Berkeley High parent Dr. James McFadden told the Planet that he attempted to attend and speak in a public comment period as the Brown Act specifies, but found the building which housed the board locked when he attempted to enter between 5:15 and 5:45, the meeting time posted on the District's web site. Coplan said that the meeting was technically not a closed meeting, but no members of the public were in attendance.

Tom Lochner reported in the Bay Area News Group papers that 

"The deal calls for the developer, HSR Berkeley Investments LLC, to address many of the issues related to noise, pollution, traffic, construction hours and others raised in the district's appeal regarding The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, scheduled to be heard by the City Council on Tuesday.

"The agreement is contained in a letter on school district letterhead to the developer's representative Mark Rhoades, signed by HSR. It calls for a list of 11 "Additional Project Applicant Concessions" that the developer would ask the city to include as conditions of approval of the project. If that cannot be done, HSR would commit to the list of concessions by virtue of the agreement, the letter continues."
The Berkeley City Council is expected to vote on appeals to the project permits tonight, and could mandate that conditions to protect Berkeley High would be added to the permits. If that doesn't happen, the district's deal would not be binding on successive owners of the project. Hill Street Realty, the financial company which now owns the site, could flip the property to another developer, the strategy now being followed by Equity Residential, the current owner of the projected Acheson Commons on University which has been permitted but has not yet been started. 

Updated: Raid on Berkeley's "Liberty City" Has Started

Friday December 04, 2015 - 09:42:00 AM
Jane Stillwater
Jane Stillwater

At 7:49, Mike Zint, coordinator of the "Liberty City" occupation camp at Berkeley's Maudelle Shirek Building (Old City Hall) informed his email list that a raid on the site by presumably local authorities had begun. A helicopter was observed circling over downtown Berkeley. By 10 a.m. the tents had been removed by occupiers, according to news reports.

Skinner Benefits from 2016 Alligator's Ball (Social Notes from All Over)

Miss Anthropie
Friday December 04, 2015 - 10:36:00 AM
Carolers serenade attendees at the 2016 Alligators' Ball.
Carolers serenade attendees at the 2016 Alligators' Ball.

On Wednesday State Senate candidate Nancy Skinner made her debut at the 2016 Alligators' Ball, a Berkeley tradition which started in 2004 to benefit then City Council candidate Laurie Capitelli. For the full backstory, see Down at the Alligator’s Ball. Hosts this year were developer Patrick Kennedy, developer’s shill Mark Rhoades and Downtown Business Association honchos John Caner and Susie Medak.

Observed in attendance: Councilmember Susan Wengraf, now near the end of her current term, and announced mayoral candidate Capitelli, accompanied by attorney Steven Murphy, who is rumored to be running to replace Capitelli in District 5.

Proceeds of the festivities, held at a North Shattuck bar, will go to Skinner’s campaign treasury—she’s running against Sandre Swanson for the seat now held by Loni Hancock (who has endorsed Swanson.) Tickets went for up to $4200.00.  


There's no official word on what favors the alligators will expect in return for their contributions.

In a new tradition, a few straggly carolers serenaded the incoming guests with versions of popular carols updated for current events. The musicians said they hoped to appear at many holiday events in downtown Berkeley in the next few weeks and invited others to join them in song. Singing ability is not a must.

Man Was Arrested Monday for Berkeley Sexual Assault

Daniel Montes (BCN)
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:21:00 PM

Police arrested a 51-year-old man Monday in connection with the robbery and attempted sexual assault of a female University of California at Berkeley student. 

Around 11:30 a.m., the student was walking near Arch and Virginia streets near campus when a suspect approached her from behind and pushed her off the public walkway and into a secluded, grassy area, according to police. 

The suspect then pinned the victim on the ground and covered her mouth as she attempted to scream, then attempted to sexually assault her, police said. 

The suspect stole the victim's cellphone and identification before fleeing the area, according to police. 

Officers responded to the scene and located the suspect walking on Hearst Avenue near Walnut Street. Police have identified him as Wilfred Allen, a transient. 

Officers found Allen to be in possession of the victim's property. He was arrested on suspicion of robbery, kidnapping, attempted sexual assault and probation violation, police said. 

Allen has been booked into Berkeley City Jail and the case will be forwarded to the Alameda County District Attorney's office for possible charges, according to police. 

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Berkeley Police Department's special victims unit at (510) 981-5735. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can call Bay Area Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

Two Square Feet and a Whole Lot of Shaking Going On: Berkeley Council Goes After the Homeless Again (News Analysis)

Carol Denney
Wednesday December 02, 2015 - 03:19:00 PM

The only guy, just one, who spoke in favor of the new two square feet law at the Berkeley City Council on December 1st, gave an unexpected compliment to the ongoing protest withstanding the freezing weather in front of old City Hall in Berkeley on Martin Luther King Jr. Way for having strict behavioral standards.

“This town needs to have standards,” insisted Eric Panzer of Livable Berkeley, a booster group for all things developer-friendly. His compliment to the protest group which began its demonstration with a sleep-in on November 16th and included local activists, city workers, and clergy, did not go unnoticed by the wide-eyed council or by attorney Osha Neumann, who was next in line to speak and invited him to endorse the newly named Liberty City protest more formally.

Many of the Berkeley community have done just that. Around 75 people gathered in front of the old City Hall building to share stories, music, food, and march together for just over a mile to the Longfellow Middle School being used for the Berkeley City Council meeting, a larger hall than the tight 123 seat capacity of the usual council chambers. 

Liberty City has a large “No Drugs or Alcohol” sign prominently displayed by their circle of colorful tents and has now received its third warning from the Berkeley Police Department recommending that it take advantage of local shelters, etc. Their supporters spoke for hours at the Council meeting trying to stop the second reading of what most already knew could perhaps be delayed but certainly had the votes it needed to become another layer of Berkeley’s anti-homeless laws. 

The best quote of the night heard over an auditorium reverberating with chants and stomping was Vice Mayor and Council Chair Linda Maio’s plaintive defense that the two square foot law would not be used until storage was made available, and that “they are really big bins.” 

Really big bins. The photographs of rows of ugly plastic garbage bins used in San Diego and elsewhere in lieu of honestly providing low income housing never has quite the desired effect on people who wish to convince themselves that criminalizing having more than two square feet of possessions (shopping carts and blankets excepted, or so Maio claims) among other idiocies is somehow okay. Mayor Tom Bates, recovering from a fracture at home, was present over a phone system and sounded like he was gargling. 

The city councilmembers who opposed the measures tried valiantly to craft substitute motions – Councilmember Arreguin tried to add a directive making currently locked bathrooms open all night and expand the possessions footprint to four square feet while Councilmember Worthington kept getting shut down by Maio who seemed terrified of letting him speak at all. The vote apparently took place while the room rocked, at least three members of the City Council were locked in various arguments, and the clock ran out. 

That’s how democracy happens in Berkeley. The last time anti-homeless laws passed in Berkeley with this same cast of characters the ordinance was overturned by a people’s referendum and then put before voters who turned it down. So who does the Berkeley City Council majority represent? At least one guy, the Downtown Berkeley Association’s CEO John Caner who wrote the initial law (with Maio and Arreguin) in a back room, felt represented in all the madness. And he didn’t have to say a word. 

San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Saturday, December 5

Justin de Freitas
Tuesday December 01, 2015 - 01:24:00 PM
The Black Pirate
The Black Pirate
Grim Game
Grim Game

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will showcase a few of the era’s most intriguing stars at its annual winter event Saturday, December 5, at the Castro Theatre.

The event kicks off at 11 a.m. with Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate, continues at 3 p.m. with escape artist Harry Houdini in The Grim Game, and concludes with a 9:15 p.m. screening of Piccadilly starring Asian-American actress Anna May Wong. In between these screenings will be a program of documentary footage from turn-of-the-20th-century China at 1 p.m. and a French fantasy, L’ Inhumaine, at 6:30 p.m..  

Douglas Fairbanks made a name for himself between 1916 and 1920 with a string of breezy, acrobatic comedies in which genial, dapper Doug took on the world with gusto and a good-natured smile. He was the can-do, all-American boy, a variation on the same theme adopted by Harold Lloyd in his own screen comedies.  

Fairbanks’ ambition expanded in1920 with the creation of United Artists, an independent company he co-founded with Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin, that would give the artists greater control over the creation and distribution of their work. 

Fairbanks’ notion was to merge his athletic brand of comedy with costume drama. He ditched the modern clothes for period attire, donning the garb of musketeers and pirates. Abandoning the casual spontaneity of his rapid-fire comedies, he made fewer films — just one or two a year, down from four or five — with greater production values, more complex plots, more costumes, more sets, more drama. Fairbanks had found a new formula, and he would stick with it for the greater part of a decade, enjoying great commercial success.  

There were naysayers, however. Some critics bemoaned the loss of brisk, breezy Doug; they complained that the jaunty Fairbanks of the 1910s had become a stately, costumed, dramatic figure, his devil-may-care charm and athleticism only coming to the fore in the his films’ closing sequences.  

Fairbanks may have felt the same way, for in 1926 he began edging back toward comedy. The Black Pirate shows him costumed and swashbuckling as usual, but the old Doug is back in action; the film does not take itself too seriously and is full of stunts, smiles, and much broad, comic acting.  

The screening will feature Alloy Orchestra performing their original score.  

Saturday’s festival also spotlights one of Fairbanks’ former co-stars. As an Asian-American actress, Anna May Wong was forced to endure years of typecasting, playing every Asian stereotype in Hollywood’s stockpile of clichés, including a role in Fairbanks’ Thief of Baghdad. These performances brought her fame and fortune, but ultimately she left for Europe in search of better roles.  

She landed one, perhaps her best, in director E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929).Wong plays a cold, ambitious nightclub dancer, by turns manipulative and vulnerable, who becomes an irresistible object of desire for the club’s owner. Though the interracial romance was censored, the disaster wrought by Wong’s femme fatale remains intact as jealously and bloodshed bring the film to a noirish conclusion. 

Harry Houdini must have seemed an obvious candidate for movie stardom. Famous as a vaudeville performer and as a daredevil stuntman, he was a born showman. Though he was limited as an actor, his appeal is readily apparent in The Grim Game (1919), a film thought lost until a private collector’s print was recently restored. Short and rugged with piercing eyes, Houdini comes across as an earlier generation's version of Edward G. Robinson, handsome in an unlikely way, tough and scowling, but able to convey a certain benevolent humor and grace.  

During the making of The Grim Game(1919), two planes collided in mid-air, leading the producers to re-write the script around the material. For decades the only fragment of the film known to exist showed this accident, and though the filmmakers claimed that Houdini himself was hanging from the plane and narrowly survived the accident, the techniques that sustained the illusion are no more convincing today than they were then.  

Despite his fame, Houdini's acting career was not a success. It turned out that the art of the escape required a flesh-and-blood performance to hold an audience's attention; cinema, with all its sleight-of-hand editing and shifting camera angles, robbed Houdini's stunts of their veracity and sense of danger. If an audience wanted grace and daring and swashbuckling charm, they had Fairbanks; if they wanted dangerous stunt work, cinematically presented and with no editing gimmickry, they had Buster Keaton. Though Houdini was one of the most famous men of his time, his fans preferred to see him not larger than life on the big screen, but on the stage, life size and all the more compelling for that fact that he was real. 

Donald Sosin will accompany The Grim Game and Picadilly on piano.  

For tickets and information, see silentfilm.org.

Global Warming's Unacknowledged Threat—The Pentagon

Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Wednesday November 25, 2015 - 07:09:00 PM

The sobering insight that climate change can accelerate violence should weigh heavily on the minds of delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set to begin November 30 in Paris—a city that, on November 13, suffered grievously from the blowback of the Syrian conflict. But there is another looming threat that needs to be addressed.

Put simply: War and militarism also fuel climate change. 

During the November 15 Democratic Presidential Debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sounded an alarm that "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism." Citing a CIA study, Sanders warned that countries around the world are "going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops and you're going to see all kinds of international conflict." 

On November 8, the World Bank predicted that climate change is on track to drive 100 million people into poverty by 2030. And, in March, a National Geographic study linked climate change to the conflict in Syria: "A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people." 

The sobering insight that climate change can accelerate violence should weigh heavily on the minds of delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set to begin November 30 in Paris—a city that, on November 13, suffered grievously from the blowback of the Syrian conflict. But there is another looming threat that needs to be addressed. 

Put simply: War and militarism also fuel climate change. 

From November 30 to December 11, delegates from more than 190 nations will convene in Paris to address the increasingly visible threats of climate disruption. The 21st Conference of the Parties (aka COP21) is expected to draw 25,000 official delegates intent on crafting a legally binding pact to keep global warming below 2°C. 

But it is difficult to imagine the delegates reaching this goal when one of the largest contributors to global-warming has no intention of agreeing to reduce its pollution. The problem in this case is neither China nor the United States. Instead, the culprit is the Pentagon. 

The Pentagon's Carbon Bootprint 

The Pentagon occupies 6,000 bases in the US and more than 1,000 bases (the exact number is disputed) in 60-plus foreign countries. According to its FY 2010 Base Structure Report, the Pentagon's global empire includes more than 539,000 facilities at 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres. 

The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day (only 35 countries in the world consume more) but that doesn't include oil burned by contractors and weapons suppliers. It does, however, include providing fuel for more than 28,000 armored vehicles, thousands of helicopters, hundreds of jet fighters and bombers and vast fleets of Navy vessels. The Air Force accounts for about half of the Pentagon’s operational energy consumption, followed by the Navy (33%) and Army (15%). In 2012, oil accounted for nearly 80% of the Pentagon's energy consumption, followed by electricity, natural gas and coal. 

Ironically, most of the Pentagon's oil is consumed in operations directed at protecting America's access to foreign oil and maritime shipping lanes. In short, the consumption of oil relies on consuming more oil. This is not a sustainable energy model. 

The amount of oil burned—and the burden of smoke released—increases whenever the Pentagon goes to war. (Indeed, human history's most combustible mix may well prove to be oil and testosterone.) Oil Change International estimates the Pentagon's 2003-2007 $2 trillion Iraq War generated more than three million metric tons of CO2 pollution per month. 

The Pentagon: A Privileged Polluter 

Yet, despite being the planet's single greatest institutional consumer of fossil fuels, the Pentagon has been granted a unique exemption from reducing—or even reporting—its pollution. The US won this prize during the 1998 Kyoto Protocol negotiations (COP4) after the Pentagon insisted on a "national security provision" that would place its operations beyond global scrutiny or control. As Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat recalled: "Every requirement the Defense Department and uniformed military who were at Kyoto by my side said they wanted, they got." (Also exempted from pollution regulation: all Pentagon weapons testing, military exercises, NATO operations and "peacekeeping" missions.) 

After winning this concession, however, the US Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord, the House amended the Pentagon budget to ban any "restriction of armed forces under the Kyoto Protocol," and George W. Bush rejected the entire climate treaty because it "would cause serious harm to the US economy" (by which he clearly meant the U.S. oil and gas industries). 

Today, the Pentagon consumes one percent of all the country's oil and around 80 percent of all the oil burned by federal government. President Barack Obama recently received praise for his Executive Order requiring federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, but Obama's EO specifically exempted the Pentagon from having to report its contribution to climate chaos. (As a practical matter, the Pentagon has been forced to act. With battlefield gas costing $400 a gallon and naval bases at risk of flooding from rising seas, the Pentagon managed to trim its domestic greenhouse-gas emissions by 9 percent between 2008-2012 and hopes to achieve a 34 percent reduction by 2020.) 

Climate Chaos: Deception and Denial 

According to recent exposés, Exxon executives knew the company's products were stoking global temperatures but they opted to put "profits before planet" and conspired to secretly finance three decades of deception. Similarly, the Pentagon has been well aware that its operations were wrecking our planetary habitat. In 2014, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel identified climate change as a "threat multiplier" that will endanger national security by increasing "global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict." As far back as 2001, Pentagon strategists have been preparing to capitalize on the problem by planning for "ice-free" operations in the Arctic—in anticipation of US-Russian conflicts over access to polar oil. 

In 2014, Tom Ridge, George W. Bush's Homeland Security chief, stated flat-out that climate change posed "a real serious problem" that "would bring destruction and economic damage." But climate deniers in Congress continue to prevail. Ignoring Ridge's warnings, a majority of House Republicans hammered an amendment onto the National Defense Authorization bill that banned the Pentagon from spending any funds on researching climate change or sustainable development. "The climate . . . has always been changing," Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va) said dismissively. "[W]hy should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?" 

Since 1980, the US has experienced 178 "billion dollar" weather events that have caused more than $1 trillion in damages. In 2014 alone, there were eight "billion dollar" weather calamities

In September 2015, the World Health Organization warned climate change would claim 250,000 million lives between 2030 and 2050 at a cost of $2-4 billion a year and a study in Nature Climate Change estimated the economic damage from greenhouse emissions could top $326 trillion. (If the global warming causes the permafrost to melt and release its trapped carbon dioxide and methane gases, the economic damage could exceed $492 trillion.) 

In October 2015 (the hottest October in recorded weather history), BloombergBusiness expressed alarm over a joint study by scientists at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley that predicted global warning "could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century." 

This is more than a matter of "political ideology." 

The Pentagon's role in weather disruption needs to become part of the climate discussion. Oil barrels and gun barrels both pose a threat to our survival. If we hope to stabilize our climate, we will need to start spending less money on war. 

Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal. He is the author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green). Email: gar-smith@earthlink.net

Lawyer Threatens Berkeley’s Redwood Gardens Tenants with Eviction for Complaining

Lydia Gans
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 04:27:00 PM

The residents at Redwood Gardens, the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) project on Derby Street for seniors and people with disabilities are again facing issues disturbing their peace of mind and sense of security. The owners recently hired a new on site property manager and her relations with the residents do not look very promising. 

When she came to the project the members of the Resident's Council were interested in getting acquainted and suggested inviting her to their next meeting. Council Co-chairs Eleanor Walden and Gary Hicks sent her and invitation. 

Walden reported to the members on the response. “The newly hired Acting Property Manager, Liana Bates-Hall, just paid me a visit. … In response to our invitation to come to the Residents' Council meeting she categorically refused. She said she had no responsibility to meet with us as 'we don't sign her pay check'. She defined her job solely as carrying out the rules of those who do sign her paycheck. I told her that her responsibility was greater that that in that she was under the direction of the HUD contract as held by CSI and that the residents were part of the conglomerate of participants with whom she needed to work. Her manner was surprisingly adversarial and conveyed an attitude of disrespect for the Residents Council as having no authority. She said we are 'tenants' and have only one duty and that is to 'pay our rent and obey the rules'”. 

Walden further tells of saying that the residents wanted to see her resume, not surprisingly Bates-Hall refused. But she writes “Although I admit to being a bit heavy handed by asking for her resume I don't think it is outrageous. If someone asked for my resume I would be glad to provide it. She is already employed so it will not be held against her and we will know what we have to work with. I hear through my grapevine that she has a military background. And that is exactly how she has come on. Her behavior was a good example of bullying, in my opinion.” 

In the two months she has been there tenants have been increasingly frustrated seeing new rules and changes made with no warning, and with what feels like no concern for their peace of mind and quality of life. People have mentioned various issues, among them a two day notice of mandatory apartment inspection, increases in deposits and fees for various community amenities and replacement of garden furniture without regard to users' comfort. 

Though the tenants might voice complaints, they have little power to affect management practices. Management, on the other hand, can seriously affect the quality of their lives. And management is threatening to do just that. Five of the tenants have received letters from a law firm, Kimball, Tirey & St. John in Walnut Creek, accusing them of harassing the manager, Ms. Bates-Hall, warning them that they could be evicted. Eviction from the project means losing access to low income housing, being reduced to homelessness. For people who are elderly or disabled it would be devastating. 

Each of the five targeted people received somewhat different letters making various charges but basically with the same intent. The five page letter addressed to the co-chair of the Residents' Council Gary Hicks is one example. It begins with the charge that the “tenant organization … has been engaging in conduct which is tantamount to harassment.” The term 'harassment' seems to be rather open to interpretation. Some of the tenants have described their encounters with Ms. Bates-Hall as harassment. 

Mr Hicks, according to the lawyer, “through your affiliation as a member of the Redwood Gardens Residents' Council, have continually, frequently and on a consistent basis harassed her … as well as instigated other residents to do the same, including, but not limited to requesting evidence of her qualifications for her employment position … name-calling her to other residents including but not limited to calling her a bully and making false accusations against her, such as that she was hired by a company with a suspended license”. As a matter of fact this last item came from an article by reporter Lynda Carson in Bay Area Independent Media (Indy Bay), certainly not from Mr. Hicks. 

The lawyer's letter refers to the Lease Agreement stating that a tenant can be evicted for non-compliance which “include(s) … repeated minor violations of this Agreement which disrupt the livability of the project, adversely affect the health or safety of any person or the right of any tenant the quiet enjoyment of the lease premises and related project facilities...” 

People might recall the actions of management last year when they engaged in a massive remodeling process requiring the tenants to move their belongings, stay away from their units in some cases for an extended period of time, and in general creating an extremely stressful situation. Regarding project facilities, they moved a laundry to an inconvenient location and closed off the popular community room for over a year. It seems that it was acceptable for management to “disrupt the livability or the quiet enjoyment of the lease premises”. 

Furthermore, addressing the Resident's Council, the lawyer writes that the fact that some residents disagree with the “disparaging views or actions espoused by your organization … disrupts the livability of the project … (and) disturbs the peace and quiet of other residents ...” 

Several paragraphs are devoted to discussing Ms. Bates-Hall's attendance at meetings. “Her refusal is not grounds to make or express false negative inferences to act as manager of the community and you must cease any and all communications of such views expressed to other residents. 

There are other references to conversations about management among residents. Does this mean that people must surrender the freedom of speech and their right to privacy when moving into the project? 

Basically the charges and accusations made in the letter are easily challenged and the residents do have some access to legal aid. But the underlying message is the reminder that they have no power over their circumstances, they have no choice but to 'pay the rent and obey the rules'. Non compliance can result in 'termination of tenancy'. 

And a final kick, the last paragraph, in bold print, headed with the warning to CEASE AND DESIST



New: Bates Bunch Block Backs Big Berkeley Building--So What Else is New?

Wednesday December 09, 2015 - 01:19:00 AM

To the surprise of almost no one, the good citizens of Berkeley presented quarts, pounds, volumes of evidence proving conclusively that profit figures supplied by the applicant for The Residences at Berkeley Plaza (also known as the Harold Way Alley Project) were phony, perhaps fraudulently so. The Bates controllees voted enthusiastically to rubberstamp the project, of course. One speaker said "the fix is in", and maybe it is. But I never try to explain the Bates council's decisions on the basis of cupidity when stupidity will also do. And to think he sold his soul to the devil, and all he got was a lousy soccer field.

For more factual information about what happened last night, there's an excellent professional report by Tom Lochner in the Bay Area News Group papers:

Berkeley council OK's downtown high-rise project

More from me later...

2211 Harold Way: A Bad Deal for Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Monday November 30, 2015 - 09:48:00 AM

December 7 UPDATE: If you want to make your voice heard regarding the plan (it's more than a "proposal" now) to build an eighteen-story luxury apartment tower on the site of the Shattuck Hotel, demolishing the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, tomorrow is your last chance. The action starts at 5:30 at Longfellow School. You are supposed to be able to speak for two minutes, or to yield your turn to someone else. However, the Mayor is infamous for changing the rules at the last minute, so anything is possible. The meeting will probably last into the wee small hours of the morning, or at least until the witching hour, at which point the council majority will do the dirty work in front of anyone who's still there to watch.

December 4 UPDATE: It is more than ironic that as the city is in the throes of a housing/homelessness crisis, the City Council is staging a marathon special meeting next Tuesday to officially kosher a new eighteen story building containing more than 300 luxury apartment units and zero affordable units. They're in a rush because Mark Rhoades, the developer's fixer, has announced that he needs to have a done deal by January 1. 

Meanwhile, the police continue busting the homeless occupation at the Maudelle Shirek Building (Old City Hall). Come to the council meeting on Tuesday (5:30, Longfellow School) and let them know what you think about all this.


Procrastination, they say, is the thief of time. And so are holidays, it seems. I’ve spent the whole Thanksgiving weekend enjoying the company of my extensive family and studiously avoiding what I foolishly perceive as my duty to the larger society and to the future. Chances are, many readers have done the same.

Sadly, that’s probably just what our civic masters and mistresses in Berkeley are hoping. T ey’ve crammed a significant amount of essential decision-making into the last two or three meetings of 2015, just when voters are busy wondering how to roast chestnuts without building open fires and engaging in other frivolous winter holiday pursuits.

Thanks to Kelly Hammargren of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, you can see just the next week’s worth of important civic events here. This week, for example, on Tuesday, December 1, the council is expected to pass at second reading the Maio-Capitelli ordinance which opponents charge criminalizes the homeless. Protests are expected—if you care, you should come. See last week’s editorial for my opinion on that one.

The situation that’s weighing on my conscience at the moment is the monster now slouching toward downtown Berkeley. I’m making one last attempt to explain to the Berkeley City Council that if they uphold the Zoning Adjustment Board’s decision on the huge project proposed for 2211 Harold Way, they’ll be participating in an enormous give-away of the public good to private financial speculation. It’s obvious to anyone who’s attended any of the hearings, but the City Council has effectively isolated itself from the information so far.

Next week, they’ll attempt to cram years of testimony into an evening’s worth of one-minute sound bytes. They will hold a hearing and possibly make a decision on the project on Tuesday, December 8, starting early at 5:30. The meeting has been moved to a larger auditorium at Longfellow School because they anticipate a big crowd. Opponents have filed four separate appeals, and the applicants have also appealed, looking for even more sweeteners for the sugarplum already on their plate.

Letters emailed to the Berkeley City Council by 5 o’clock today (Monday , November 30) will be delivered to councilmembers in their printed packets. There’s an outside chance that at least some of them read what’s in these packets. You can (and should) also appear in person at the public hearing, but letters from voters are really important.

There’s no time like the present to do what you failed to do in the past, I guess. Here’s my own letter—you’re free to steal from it and even copy verbatim with your own signature if you want. 







Dear Councilmembers, 





Many, many hours of public hearings, pounds of paper and gigabytes of digital evidence on the folly of the project proposed for 2211 Harold Way have been submitted to a variety of your delegated Berkeley agencies in the last couple of years. We’ve attended many such meetings and read most of the materials. As active citizens and experienced businesspeople we are firmly convinced that approving the project in its current form would be a bad deal for Berkeley. 

Why? Here are a few reasons, by no means all: 


A t least $4.2 million in available mitigation fees would be left on the table as extra profit for the would-be developer. Your own consultants told you in March (via their “nexus” study) that asking developers to provide $34,000 per unit for the city’s affordable housing fund would still provide ample profits, and would not cause them to abandon their projects. Many cities in the Bay Area do this or better, as you should be aware. 

So why should Berkeley give former city planning manager Mark Rhoades and his L.A. financier clients a $14,000/unit discount on this particular deal? $14,000 times ~300 units = at least $4,200,000 lost. 

Berkeley can’t afford to lose more than four million dollars! 

During the recession, you lowered the city's mitigation fee from $28,000 to $20,000, leaving $8,000/unit on the table because you didn't want to discourage development. Now, however, we're in a building boom, but even by your own now obsolete standard you've conceded close to two and a half million to this particular applicant for no justifiable reason. 

If Developer #1 gets a deal like this, subsequent applicants may assert a justified legal claim that they should get the same deal. They will be able to charge inappropriate influence by an ex-employee, and might make the charge stick. Berkeley stands to lose many more millions if this happens. 

I attended the ZAB meeting where this low-ball figure was approved, and most ZAB members to their credit were very uncomfortable with it. They were told by city staff that the amount had been set by the council so that their hands were tied. Now it’s up to you as councilmembers to correct your mistake. 


The city needs more affordable housing, low cost housing and family housing, and this project provides none of the above. The original Measure R, which many Berkeleyans supported, specified that a limited number of extra-story buildings would be allowed in downtown Berkeley. It makes no sense that the first one built should be luxury units for rich people. Many studies now show that there’s no “trickle-down” effect in housing—these new tenants won’t be vacating low-priced units already in Berkeley. Instead, they’ll be well-off people coming from San Francisco and all over the world looking for fancy apartments with glamourous views of the Golden Gate. Middle class Berkeley families will be priced out. One commenter called this project “gentrification of transit”—devoting a prime location near BART to homes for high-end commuters who will surely have cars parked somewhere nearby for weekend excursions even if they take the train to work. 


The movie theaters are a major economic engine for downtown Berkeley, they’ll be out of service for a minimum of three years, and they may never come back. ( Remember the Fine Arts Theater, Gaia Bookstore, etc. etc.) The theater plans have shifted in the discussion innumerable times. The latest iteration might bring back small screening rooms with low ceilings in place of the existing beautiful cinemas--if they came back at all. The applicant’s appeal indicates that he even wants to back out of that offer. 


The project offers none of the significant community benefits required for extra-story buildings by the Downtown Plan. The worst insult to our collective intelligence is the consultant’s claim that rebuilding the theaters after demolishing them constitutes a significant community benefit. If that’s the case, perhaps he will next offer to demolish the Berkeley Main Library and rebuild it as condos—that would be a really big benefit, right? Rebuilding the theaters would simply be mitigation of damage the project caused, at best, with no compensation for lost revenue downtown during the years of construction. 


The project labor agreement is not a significant community benefit for Berkeley. PLAs should be a minimum for all new Berkeley projects as a social justice requirement, but this one provides no direct benefit to any Berkeleyans except for those few construction union members who happen to live here. 


The building will endanger the historic Shattuck Hotel, its guests and moviegoers by tunneling under the questionable original tile foundation. No decent geotechnical information has been supplied since putting the theaters below the hotel foundation was proposed. The whole EIR is shoddy--it was never even reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding its effect on adjacent historic resources. 


Construction will endanger and disrupt Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Main Library. Both important Berkeley institutions were essentially ignored in the EIR. The Berkeley Unified School district has filed its separate appeal which explains problems in more detail. 


The building would be an energy disaster. It barely meets the now-obsolete LEED Gold standard, when, if Berkeley is serious about our climate action plan, all new buildings should be Zero Net Energy with gray water recycling and many more up-to-date environmental measures. 


These are only a few of the most obvious errors in this proposal. 

What you should do is cancel any mandate you might have previously enacted for giving Rhoades and his clients a special discount, and then send the project back to ZAB with questions about all of these problems. 

Very truly yours, 

Elisabeth P. O’Malley and Michael H. O’Malley 

District 8 Voters since 1973 

Berkeley employers from 1979 to 2008 





If you can, send your own letter by email before 5 today to council@cityofberkeley.info; write “2211 Harold Way” in the subject line.
Writing a personalized email to the councilmember for your district might also be very effective. 





Council District:
Linda Maio 1 lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info
Darryl Moore 2 dmoore@CityofBerkeley.info
Max Anderson 3 manderson@CityofBerkeley.info
Jesse Arreguin 4 jarreguin@CityofBerkeley.info
Laurie Capitelli 5 lcapitelli@CityofBerkeley.info
Susan Wengraft 6 swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info
Kriss Worthington 7 kworthington@CityofBerkeley.info
Lori Droste 8 ldroste@CityofBerkeley.info 

We’ll be posting any good letters we get copies of—there’s already a couple of excellent ones in this issue. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Updated: Droste Appoints Ageist, Sexist to City Commission

Monday December 07, 2015 - 10:02:00 AM

An open letter to my District 8 councilmember, Lori Droste, sent upon receiving her newsletter this morning:

Lori: This time I am truly shocked that you have appointed to a key commission a person who is a spokesman for San Francisco BARF. Just in case you don't know what Diego Aguilar-Canabal stands for, here's a quote of something he wrote on the BARF list-serv, which I read from time to time:

"Also, Berkeleyside should be publishing an op-ed I sent them soon, basically chastising old people for being dicks in public. (Oct. 1, SF BARF google group, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/sfbarentersfed )"

He also made fun of the campaign to save the downtown post office, which he thought would be a good site for an apartment development. (And don't you just love the vulgar sexism of his language, and the ageism of his sentiments?)

Do you think that District 8 voters will support your appointment of this person when they learn about it? As a well-known and long-time public dick in your very own neighborhood I somehow doubt it. 

UPDATE: A reader asks, which commission? The Housing Advisory Commission. Another, older reader asks the meaning of the crude slang term "dick", which she thought used to mean "penis". Now I believe, though I'm pretty old myself, that it's also used to denigrate people who seem to be thinking with their penises instead of their brains. Not really appropriate when applied to women by men like this one who seem to be doing just that themselves.

Public Comment

2211Harold Way: a better solution

Antonio Rossmann
Friday December 04, 2015 - 04:59:00 PM

Honorable Mayor and Members of the Council:

As a business owner who chose to invest in an office move to downtown Berkeley more than two years ago, I have observed the community discussion on the proposed high rise development at Harold Way, noting with distress how the proposal has divided friends of good will and intention, and produced little by way of community consensus. As a land use lawyer and teacher let me suggest a solution, not entirely sympathetic to the property developer's perspective, but valid from the City's perspective of meeting public needs.

More than all but two other privately-owned parcels downtown, the 2211 site deserves treatment as a unique community asset. That is because it and the other two sites alone have been reserved for the high-rise development authorized in the downtown plan. High-rise development is promoted, in justification of its inevitable impacts, as the means to provide housing, create housing diversity, and realize investments in public transit. If only three sites downtown are to be permitted for such expansive use, they should serve more than the wealthy elements of the community. The developer's proposal unfortunately is so confined. 

Berkeley should draw from the examples of San Francisco and New York City and approve a project that includes between 30 and 40 percent of its units for those of modest income. Those are the ratios that San Francisco belatedly recognizes as justified to meet the housing needs of the entire community, and to attempt, equally belatedly, to ease the social friction created by that city's prior singular focus on market-rate housing. They also conform to New York City's practice, most recently evident in Mayor De Blasio's success in securing the sale of Stuyvesant Village on terms to ensure that private preference for wealthy rentals not eliminate Village housing for working and semi-professional residents. 

Three practical factors make "mixed residential" the highest and best use of 2211 Harold Way. The first is that all future residents of 2211(and downtown generally) will benefit by sharing their public space with a cross-section of the community. Our colleges make great investments to create this social diversity on their campuses; why should that investment not be extend to residential life afterwards? High-income workers will be better off with teachers or single parents at Berkeley High as their immediate neighbors. 

Second, a mixed residential use project will serve a higher community purpose than providing only for those who can afford monthly rentals in excess of $4,000. A mixed­ residential development makes more justifiable and acceptable the inevitable impacts that the project will entail, not least of which will be the years of disruption at the construction site and its downtown/Berkeley High surroundings. The trade-off, for example, of five rather than ten movie screens might be seen as worthwhile if the outcome concurrently prod uces needed affordable housing and not just that for the wealthy. 

Third, including a diversity of housing needs at 2211 Harold Way ensures that the moderate-income housing will actually get built. Housing fund contributions might make sense in smaller market-rate projects or other jurisdictions, but the hard fact remains that they have yet to produce actual housing in Berkeley. As the New Jersey Supreme Court aptly observed, "Courts do not build housing nor do municipalities. That function is performed by private builders." With an appropriate permit the builder of 2211can create the offsetting modest-income housing concurrently with that for its wealthy residents.* 

The developer will likely respond that 2211Harold Way is its project and that the City should respond to its stated profit-maximization purpose. The final environmental impact report (EIR) on the project includes a refutation of this false premise. If Members of the Council devote attention to any pages in the EIR, let me recommend pages 73-81 of the final, the comments of the retired Director of Long Range Planning at UC Berkeley, whose professional talents and integrity produced the successful approvals of UC Merced and its surrounding community. (The relevant pages are attached here.) As the commenter, Christopher Adams, points out, any development of the property will produce a profit; the City is not obligated to maximize that profit, but instead balance that profit against the project's ability to meet public community needs. 

In conclusion, let me suggest that the City Council approve a project -- one that avoids unnecessary harm such as blemished Campanile Way views -- with sufficient onsite community housing benefit to justify the unavoidable impacts of such intense development. 


'*A second but less satisfactory choice could secure moderately-priced housing by requiring its off-site availability before issuance of occupancy permits for 2211 Harold Way. That condition would still fail to create on-site diversity at 2211. 

Comments on the 2211 Harold Way Mixed Use Project Environmental Impact Report

Christopher Adams
Friday December 04, 2015 - 05:24:00 PM

The project "objectives" are vague justifications for exploitive development. The benefits of the project are not defined. It is important to read the first project objective with particular care. It states:

"Implement the Downtown Area Plan and Street and Open Space Improvement Plan by leveraging the full development potential under Zoning Ordinance standards in order to generate the revenue necessary to provide all the community benefits envisioned in the Downtown Area Plan plus additional community benefits proposed in the project application and maintaining project financial feasibility [italics added].'' (p. 2-57)

Note the phrases in italics. The applicants want to leverage the full development potential, i.e., extract the maximum height and square footage they can get from the City in order to generate revenue for "all the community benefits envisioned" in the DAP and for "additional community benefits proposed in the project application." 

The "community benefits" in the DAP are not described in the EIR so it is not possible to know what any of them are, much less "all" of them. The project application seems to consist of several separate documents which are not part of the EIR. After reviewing them I was unable to find a description of any "community benefits." 

The final statement in italics "maintaining project financial feasibility” is reasonable but misleading. Financial feasibility means making a reasonable profit; it does not mean the applicant has the right to make the most money possible. In order to be meaningful the EIR should explain what the "benefits" are and should provide an explanation of how each increment of increased leverage relates to benefits. The City is the official preparer of this EIR, and ultimately the City must approve it. The EIR must contain sufficient information so that the City and its Council, ZAB and LPC can determine if, in fact, the necessary overriding considerations are present to justify approval. This requires that the EIR establish the link between the "leverage"· being sought by the applicant and the "benefits" to be gained by the City, and the "benefits" must be defined. The EIR must explain enough so that the City can decide if the project should be approved to obtain "all" the benefits or whether a different or smaller project which generates less revenue and fewer benefits would be better for downtown and for the citizens of Berkeley. As written the EIR is completely deficient in providing this essential information. 


The EIR fails to confront the lack of compatibility of the project with its setting.The EIR states on p. 2-16 that "ZAB must find that the project is compatible with the visual character and form of the district." It may be argued that the 180-foot tower at the southwest corner is "compatible" with the Wells Fargo Building and the Great Western (now Chase) Building. But there is no way that the block-wide 120-foot high slab along Harold Way is compatible with anything nearby. Figures 2-21, 2-22 and 2-24 demonstrate that this slab extends for the full width of the block frontage. Including the south tower, which is 180 feet tall, the total width of the slab along Harold Way is approximately 235 feet. It will overwhelm the historic buildings which face it. The EIR utterly fails to explain how such a slab, forming a wall to views and sun, is compatible with the current character of downtown or with.the drawings included in the OAP and its Design Guidelines. 

The EIR is elusive about the support for below market housing. The EIR states on p. 2-19 "lf the project residential units are to be rented, 10% or 28 units are to be designated as below market [italics added]." What does this mean? Will the residential units be rented or not? Ifthe residential units will be sold rather than rented, does this mean that fewer than 28 units or even no units will be designated as below market? One of the few obvious benefits of the project is additional below market housing which is offered as some kind of balance to justify the many environmental impacts the project creates. These weasel words get the developer off the hook. 

The EIR rejects the impact of loss of views from the UC campus for specious reasons and fails to consider adequately the impact of loss of views from the west. The view impact discussion within the EIR (p. 4-1-34) focuses entirely on the views from Campanile Way within the UC campus which will be blocked by the project. The EIR verbally stands on its head to explain that this view blockage doesn't matter because the precise point from which the views are blocked is not a designated historic site. This is an absurd legalism to use in evaluation of an environmental impact, perhaps providing some protection from an EIR lawsuit but in no way conforming to the spirit of the law. 

Only in Appendix A to the EIR is there anything about views toward the campus and Berkeley hills from the west which will be blocked, and this discussion is limited to the impacts on views from streets adjacent to the proposed project. The Campanile is a visible landmark from points outside Berkeley as well as from major city arteries such as University Avenue, and there is no analysis of what impacts a 120 foot high block-wide slab will have on the views of the Campanile or the Berkeley Hills from major city arteries or either points west of downtown. 

The Downtown Area Plan EIR considered that "reduction of existing views of the Berkeley hills available to observers traveling east along east west streets in the Downtown Area (e.g., University Avenue, Center street and Allston Way) ...would represent a potentially significant impact." For unknown reasons the OAP EIR established as Mitigation AES-1: Conduct Site-Specific Visual Analysis for Buildings only for buildings proposed between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street; as if no one further to the west (for example from Berkeley High School) cared about this view. As proposed, the 120 foot-high slab of the proposed project will obliterate any view of the hills. The EIR should examine this impact and propose mitigations. 

The EIR fails to consider an alternative with a smaller number of residential units and less square feet. The EIR analyses, as it must under CEQA Guidelines, the "no project" alternative on p. ES-2, but of the other project alternatives considered none is a smaller project. The two alternatives examined contain the same or an insignificantly lesser number ofresidential units and commercial square feet as the proposed project. No smaller alternative is considered which would 1) reduce traffic and air quality impacts, 2) reduce the overpowering visual impact on surrounding historic properties, and 3) reduce the impact on views, sun, and light by reducing the height of either the 180-foot tower or the 120-foot Harold Way slab. In the opinion of this commenter a reduction in the height of the Harold Way slab would be the most effective way ofreducing the worst aspects of this project's impact. 

Any development that increases the density of the property will make a profit. In this regard it is important to remember that the City, not the project applicant is the author of the EIR (see the title page and the page following). The City is not obliged to grant complete maximization of the development of the land. The purpose of an EIR is to give the City enough information to balance the environmental impacts against other objectives. The applicants will make a profit from any difference between what the value of the underlying land is under current height limits and what the City allows them to develop. Ifthey build fewer than 302 units and less than 389,470 square feet, the land will still be worth much more than its current value. There is nothing in the OAP which requires the city to allow the maximum possible development within the increased height envelope. A less dense development can still meet the goals of the OAP, meet the basic goals of the developer, and, most importantly, have less deleterious environmental impacts. It appears that the project proponents have not included a project alternative of lesser density because they believe that they are exempt under Section 15183.3 of the CEQA Guidelines. But the EIR quotes CEQA Guidelines 15183.3 which state that "an infill project must...be consistent with the general use designation, density, building intensity, and applicable policies for the project area..." 

The EIR itself states that the project is not consistent with the permitted density and building intensity of downtown where it notes that the City must give the following discretionary approvals: 

"Use Permit to construct more than10,000 square feet of area 

"Use Permit to exceed a building height of 75 [sic. The correct number is 60] feet." (page ES-2) 

The development standards incorporated in the City codes under 23E.68.070 may be applicable to this project, but reference to them seems to be completely missing in the EIR, and there is no discussion which demonstrates if the project complies with these standards. 


Qualifications of Commenter: Christopher Adams is a registered architect and holds a Master in City Planning degree from UC Berkeley. His experience includes the design of high-rise office and university projects in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is now retired from the University of California, where as Director of Long Range Planning at the Office of the President he was responsible for the review of environmental documents prepared by all the campuses of the University. In addition he was the Campus Planner for UC Merced and oversaw the preparation of its first master plan and accompanying EIR and the design of its initial academic buildings. Note that these affiliations are listed for identification only. 

Berkeley City Council Shifts Right

Harry Brill
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:33:00 PM

On November 10, The Berkeley City Council voted to reject a minimum wage proposal that was submitted to it by its own Labor Commission. All those who serve on the Commission are appointed by City Council members. To the disappointment of the Commission and the more than 100 labor and community people who attended that meeting at Longfellow School, the Council recommended instead a very diluted minimum wage package. Most of the council members have convinced themselves that paying workers a wage that exceeds the poverty level is a bad thing for small business and the economy. 

Only Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor next year, and Max Anderson voted to support the Labor Commission’s recommendations. Regrettably, Laurie Capitelli, who is also running for Mayor in 2016, voted against the progressive recommendations of the Labor Commission.  

The Council should be paying attention to the evidence of how higher wages stimulates rather than depresses economic activity. For example, the majority of the Council is ignoring how the recent drop in unemployment in Oakland is related to the impact of the city’s minimum wage law.  

The Berkeley City Council has taken the long road to the political right. In the year 2000, when the living wage ordinance was passed, Its purpose according to Council's Finance Department was to “insure that businesses in a contractual relationship with the City pay their employees a wage that can support a family at, or above, the poverty level”. But most members of the current council refused to take the next step recommended by its Labor Commission. They opposed the proposal to extend the living wage obligation to all private employers. 

Also disappointing was the Council’s refusal to enact the Labor Commission’s paid sick leave recommendation. San Francisco provides paid sick. So does Oakland and Emeryville. Paid sick leave does not only protect low wage workers, who often feel compelled to go to work because they cannot afford to lose pay. It also protects co-workers from exposure as well as customers at restaurants who could become ill from eating food prepared by sick cooks and served by contagious waitresses and waiters. 

If you have been sick recently, could your contact with a contagious workers been the cause? And shouldn’t Berkeley voters expect that the Berkeley City Council will attempt to protect the well being of the public? 

However, reacting to the enormous pressure to increase the minimum wage, the Council approved a $15 an hour wage. But claiming that it wants to protect “small businesses”, the effective date is not until 2020. Sounds reasonable. However, since the Council defines small business as establishments that employ up to 55 full time employees, more than 90 percent of the City’s businesses escape an earlier obligation. 

In San Francisco the $15 hourly wage will be reached in 2018, which is two years earlier than in Berkeley. Emeryville also adopted a minimum wage ordinance that will provide minimum wage workers $15 an hour in 2018. El Cerrito just passed a minimum wage law that increases the legal minimum to $15 an hour by 2019. 

The Berkeley City Council should be ashamed of itself for putting poverty wage workers at the bottom of the list. 

It is not too late for us to do something about it. The minimum wage issue will be voted on sometime early next year. Demand better and fairer compensation for our poverty wage workers. Also demand that the Berkeley City Council adopt a paid sick leave ordinance. If you have the will and energy, please write them often until they see the light. 

The following email address will reach all members of the Berkeley City Council including Mayor Bates: council@cityofberkeley.info

When Is Mass Killing an Act of "Terrorism"?

Gar Smith
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:28:00 PM

After at least 14 people were murdered and 17 wounded in San Bernardino by assailants armed with assault weapons, Assistant Director in Charge of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office David Bowditch told the press: "We do not know if this is a terrorist incident." 

How can this NOT be an act of terror? 

Here's how: 

According to the U.S. Code (18 U.S.C. § 2331), it takes more than mass killing of unarmed citizens to constitute an act of terror. Under Federal law, "domestic terrorism" must "Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law" and meet three characteristics. First, an attack must appear "intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." The San Bernardino violence certainly qualifies on this point. 

But now let's examine the other two requirements: 

The slaughter of innocent civilians must also be intended to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" or designed to "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping." 

In other words, it's not enough to kill innocent Americans: the act has to be accompanied by an intent to "send a message" to Washington -- or Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, or Paris. 

So the question becomes: Why would anyone wish to "influence the policy of a government"? Why would anyone want to "affect the conduct of a government"? 

Most likely because that government has done something that has deeply angered the would-be attackers. 

In other words, for an act of wanton slaughter to qualify as "terrorism" it has to be in retaliation for some provocative action or policy committed or imposed by a "government." It has to be an act of revenge. An act of retaliation. 

So someone who murders people at a Planned Parenthood facility because of a twisted Christian conviction of "the sanctity of life" is not a terrorist. 

Someone who storms into a crowded office after losing his job and opens fire on co-workers is not a terrorist. 

Someone who plants a bomb in a mosque, church, or synagogue out of religious hatred is not a terrorist. 

Someone who dons a hood and lynches a family out of racial hatred is not a terrorist. 

The man who shot and killed a waitress in Wichita after she asked him to stop smoking is not a terrorist. 

It's not terrorism unless a "government" is involved. 

It's not terrorism unless a "government" feels it is being pressured to reconsider its policies. 

It's not terrorism unless a "government" concludes that someone is attempting to "affect" its "conduct." 

So terrorism (under the definition of Federal law) is not about dead civilians. It is all about a government maintaining its unhampered ability to impose sanctions, topple elected leaders, impose puppet regimes, and cross sovereign borders -- to engage in occupations and brutal foreign wars that claim thousands of innocent civilian lives -- without fear of being "influenced" or "affected." 

This definition is a comfort to the National Rifle Association. Under the FBI's definition, angry and/or mentally unstable, white racist males who take it upon themselves to mass-murder family members and strangers, cannot be called "terrorists." The NRA cannot be accused of advocating the arming of potential "terrorists." 

Unless, of course, your name is Cliven Bundy. 

In April 2014, Nevada cattle rancher Bundy took issue with the Federal government's claim that he owed $1.2 million in unpaid fees for grazing his 500 cows on federal land. 

Bundy definitely intended to "influence" and "affect" the government's "conduct" and he was willing to resort to armed violence to do so. Along with 400 armed supporters of a "citizens' militia," Bundy stared down the agents of the Bureau of Land Management. And Washington blinked. 

Fortunately, no shots were fired. 

In Bundy's case, the mere threat of terrorism (Note: it is a crime to point an armed weapons at a federal officer) appears to have won out. As The Guardian noted on June 1, 2015, more than a year since the headline-making confrontation, Bundy "has not seen a single federal official or vehicle on his 600,000-acre property, which sprawls 80 miles north of Las Vegas, and feels no pressure to pay a cent of the $1.2m." 

If Bundy's showdown had resulted in bloodshed, he would have been labeled a "terrorist" under the definition of the US Code. But it is unlikely that we would be hearing the NRA placing that label on Bundy and his armed militia. 

As America becomes increasingly plagued by the trauma of mass shootings, it is important to recognize where the real threats lie. When we hear the word "terrorists," we are supposed to think of people with foreign names, unfamiliar religions and ancient grudges. But, according to a study by The Guardian, Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by police bullets than by a terrorist's bomb. (And, even Fox News admits the chances of an American being killed by a Christian conservative right-wing extremist are seven times greater than the odds of being killed by a Muslim jihadist.) 

Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth. 


Exxon Mobile Exposed

Jagjit Singh
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:32:00 PM

Oil giant Exxon Mobile is under a sweeping criminal investigation in New York over claims it deliberately misled the public on the risks of climate change. Revelations have now surfaced that early in the 1970s Exxon’s own scientists concluded that there was a direct causation between burning fossil fuels and climate change. Students at Columbia Journalism School (CJS) in collaboration with The Los Angeles Times broke the story.  

In what appears to be an attempt to silence or undermine its investigation, Exxon donated $220,000 to CJS. In a heavy-handed attempt to quash the impact of the investigation, Exxon, with additional funding from the Koch Brothers, accused the reporters of misleading the public. The highly respected journal ‘Nature’ countered by publishing a damning article accusing Exxon of endangering the public good by spreading disinformation to its investors and the general public, in a desperate attempt to protect its bottom line.  

In a rare moment of official concern over the brouhaha, Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated “that if these allegations are proved to be true, it was worse than the tobacco industry and a betrayal of everything it means to be a responsible corporation”. If the criminal investigation prevails, Exxon could be liable for millions in court fees and possibly billions in punitive damages arising from its callous and willful disregard for public health and safety.

December Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday December 04, 2015 - 10:37:00 AM

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! 

What's Wrong on Harold Way? In a Nutshell:

Jack Sawyer, Ph.D, President Parker Street Foundation
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:44:00 PM

Dear Council Member

You know the problems:

1. Giving over four million dollars in reduced fees to the client of an ex-employee.

2. Destroying the Shattuck Ten, with no certainty of replacement.

3. Failing to provide affordable housing.

4. Digging under the Shattuck Hotel.

5. Failing to meet the highest energy standards.

6. Favoring the 1% (or .01%) at everyone else's expense.

Do the right thing. Send it back to the ZAB.

Thank you! 

Why Not Rational Growth? An Open Letter to the Mayor and City Council of Berkeley

Phil Allen, citizen since ‘70, resident in District 1
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:11:00 PM

By the convening of Tuesday (December 1) evening’s Work Session and Council meeting, well over thirty hearings and agenda items before the Council, the ZAB and various commissions on the matter of building 2211 Harold Way will have been heard..well more than they wanted, or anticipated. 

Of all the gatherings of facts—read and unread--presented by the concerned citizenry in the past few years at these sessions, the fact of this persistence stands out. 2211 Harold Way is a symbol of a struggle between rational growth and surrender to a clutch of vain and potent builder/investors/liars for whom capital profit is the only consideration. 

A rational plan for just growth would not wash its hands of those many who will be dislocated to God-only-knows-where because of of untenable rents fostered by the ‘market rate’ philosophy behind virtually all new housing construction in town. It would also keep what works, and works well, for the community. Specifically, the impending loss of the economically-magnetic Shattuck Cinemas was what initiated the outcry around 2211. An agreement to keep them was, as it’s turning out, seen by the developer as a challenge to eliminate them entirely. 

Instead, a happy alliance by council, board and commission majorities and the dictating developer/owner faction seem hell bent not only by replacing one renting population with another currently able to afford steep rents (while paying off student loans) but quartering them in ‘luxury’ units which are rather less than luxurious..or even roomy. 

Keeping Berkeley “just as it is” is simply not the idea behind the principled opposition to 2211 Harold Way or its underlying intents. The dereliction, blight and dis-use--often perversely maintained for tax benefit--seen at street level is as unwanted, and un-civilized, as the permanent towering blight of 2211 Harold Way and possible followers is sure to become. 

I urge the Council to send the proposal back to the Zoning Adjustment Board for further attention focused on the marshaling of current facts and requirements. I would also encourage councilors to rent (not buy) pied-a-terres in those recently-erected buildings, to get a good idea of what most of you support.

Open Letter To Mayor Tom Bates and City Council of Berkeley and the Public: What Has Happened to Berkeley?

Kelly Hammargren RN, PHN, MBA
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:07:00 PM

I heard it again the same phrase that has been repeated over and over, “What happened to Berkeley?” What did happen to Berkeley, the city that is revered for the Free Speech Movement, Independent Living, curb cuts, Alice Waters, Edible Schoolyard Project, courageous stands, Anti-Apartheid and now is poised to adopt Ordinance No. 7,449-N.S regulating the use of sidewalks and Ordinance No. 7,450-N.S prohibiting obstruction of City-owned planters and trees? MONEY

If money isn’t center stage, it is never far away greasing the wheels. The feel of it, the lure of it, the power of it drives dispensing with public promises and city plans. It means discarding values and contorted explanations and justifications for unjustifiable actions. It slides underneath the apt description of Library Gardens, “a Wink and a Blink” whispered in my ear over and over at the city sponsored Adeline Corridor event.

The looming questions is, What should happen at 2211 Harold Way? There are stacks of studies, letters and comments. Some of them I wrote myself, but the real question and answer has evolved over months of observation and hundreds if not thousands of conversations mostly with strangers. Their names are on the petitions unfurled in council chambers. 

The answer solidified after an invitation to speak at the Commission on Disability on November 18, 2015, it is what I have known in my heart for a long time. 2070 Allston Way, (Parcel 57-2027-7) more commonly known as the Postal Annex should be the site of a fully affordable mid-size residential building with dedicated accessible units. There could easily be fifty units, maybe more. The proximity to BART, bus and so many amenities makes it ideal for anyone with limited mobility and especially people who are wheelchair dependent.  

Parcel 2060 Allston A (Parcel 57-2027-6) the location of the Shattuck Cinemas, retail storefronts and basement needs to stay intact for the present and foreseeable future. The fully accessible Shattuck Cinemas with hundreds of thousands of annual patron visits are too important to the downtown economy to demolish. The Shattuck Cinemas did not lose business during the last recession and they will be critical in stabilizing the downtown economy through the next. For the present they will continue to draw people to downtown businesses during the current and pending construction including the Center Street Garage and the proposed 2129 Shattuck Avenue hotel now going through review. 

If you personally never go to the Shattuck Cinemas, know that people of all ages, all ethnicities come from across the Bay Area bypassing other cities for the selection of film provided by the Shattuck Cinemas. It is a diverse audience. Watching a movie on a home TV or device or the little rooms (if built) with 13 foot ceilings planned for Harold Way are a poor substitute for the experience of seeing film on the big screen.  

The City of Berkeley seems to have lost its way while continuing with high fives and self congratulations as if past leadership in justice and social movements is present today. The phrase from health care, “Do no harm” comes to mind. There are other sites for speculative investing and profiteering. A scaled down version for Harold Way was never offered. A development that preserves the Shattuck Cinemas as they now exist and a fully accessible affordable residential building at the site of the Postal Annex is a plan that the community can support and celebrate. Banners on buildings across the city tell us there is no shortage of luxury priced apartments. The shortage is affordable housing. 

While there were many hearings on Harold Way, public comment including carefully researched reviews by professionals and dedicated citizens who studied hundreds of pages of documents were dismissed and ignored. The Harold Way project was given special concessions by the City Council that beg for a taxpayers lawsuit and thorough investigation.  

Rather than a legacy of merit, the question remains just whose hands are hidden in HSR Berkeley Investments, LLC. Hill Street Realty www.hsr.biz a company that describes its business practices as, “creative income enhancing,” “expense reduction solutions” and “value add transactions.” Hill Street Realty a firm that labels properties as “transactions.” 

The concession gift by the City Council and excessive profits to be garnered by HSR Berkeley Investments, LLC. point to something more nefarious than just a love of high rise buildings or a naive City Council. Right now there is a hot construction market and other cities see developers making major offers to get their toe in the game while Berkeley elected and appointed officials bend over backwards to give concessions taking actions that cut into the heart of needed city services.  

What has happened to Berkeley?

Points of appeal re: 2211 Harold Way

Margot Smith
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:04:00 PM

These are my continuing concerns about the 2211 Harold Way development
to be included in my presentation on Tuesday, Dec. 8th.

The City and outside consultants relied solely on information provided by
Mr. Rhoades and company. What proof do you have that this information is accurate?

Is the Planning Department required to prove the statements of the developer are in fact accurate?
If the Planning Department is not required to check on the validity of the developer's data, who is?
Must it be we appellants? Shouldn't it be the City? There is something wrong with this process.

1. Earthquake Safety: The report from Tipping Structural Engineers regarding the
basement cinema construction under the Shattuck Hotel was based on documents
provided by Rhoades and company, and did not involve an actual inspection of the site.
Can theaters really be built there? In case of structure failure, who is liable?

2. Economic Viability:
The staff and outside consultant state that the theater complex built by Rhoades et al
will require a subsidy of $1.35 million into perpetuity and that the city would need to
subsidize the theater by $525,000 a year. Can you guarantee that the city and developer
will be willing to subsidize the theater into perpetuity?

Landmark theaters may well look at the theater's low capacity, earthquake vulnerability and
low profit margin and say "No, thank you."

Since the movie theaters are a major economic engine for downtown Berkeley,
what will happen to the downtown businesses that rely on movie patronage?

3. ABAG Requirements are not met.
In ABAG’s Determination for Berkeley, Berkeley residents should have access
to quality housing at a range of prices and rents,and that new housing should be
developed to expand housing opportunities in Berkeley to meet the needs of all groups.”

2211 Harold Way housing rents are affordable only for those with yearly incomes of at
least $155,625 to $465,000, assuming that housing is one third of their earnings.

The staff report states the "Project will include residential, commercial and cinema
uses that allow people who live, work and learn in Downtown to meet daily needs on foot."
However, according to the US Census, 2013, the average time to work for Berkeley
residents is 26.9 minutes. They are not working in Downtown Berkeley.

"The Project will promote transit as an efficient and attractive choice through its location."
This is wishful thinking at best given our already crowded public transit system.

4. The 2211 Harold Way project proposed by Rhoades et al violate
provisions of Measure R passed in 2010.

“Measure R: Shall the City of Berkeley adopt policies to revitalize the downtown and help
make Berkeley one of the greenest cities in the United States by meeting our climate
action goals; concentrating housing, jobs and cultural destinations near transit, shops
and amenities; preserving historic resources; enhancing open space; promoting green
buildings; and calling for 2 residential buildings and 1 hotel no taller than our existing
180 foot buildings and 2 smaller office buildings up to 120 feet?”

2211 Harold way is taller than 180 feet.
The only jobs it provides are people working at the building.
It increases strain on the existing infrastructure without relief.
The theaters are an historic resource which is not guaranteed.

Lack of earthquake safety, questionable economic viability and green goals, noncompliance
with Measure R passed by Berkeley voters in 2010, and the inadequate staff report should
be sufficient reasons for the Berkeley City Council to reject the permit allowing 2211 Harold
Way to proceed. 


Reject Applicant (Mark Rhoades) Appeal; Address issues in Harrison-Hendry appeal

Rob Wrenn
Sunday November 29, 2015 - 06:03:00 PM

Dear Mayor Bates and members of the Berkeley City Council,

The City Council should not allow the developers of 2211 Harold Way to weasel out of their commitment to retain the ten Shattuck Cinemas theaters in the new building. They are describing the theater complex requirements as "unreasonable" (item 2, page 2 of their appeal). The developers made the choice to propose a building where ten of downtown's 20 movie screens are located. Those theaters are important to downtown economic vitality as they are major draws to the downtown especially at night and on weekends. City policy, expressed in the Downtown Area Plan, calls for retention, and even expansion, of movie theaters in the downtown. By choosing this site, the developers took on an obligation to include the movie theaters in the new building. There should no modifications in conditions of approval for the project that in any way weaken the requirement to provide movie theaters in the new building; if anything those conditions should be strengthened. 

Conditions 17, Street Frontage Improvements and 21 and 53 Green Trip Platinum Certification should not be eliminated as requested by the applicant in their appeal. These are reasonable and not very costly requirements that the developers can easily afford. 

The Applicant's appeal is correct on one point: ZAB did rely on flawed economic data and analysis. The flawed economic data includes the pro forma submitted by the developers.  

The Harrison-Hendry appeal notes the gross overestimate of land cost in the developer's pro forma. Land cost is not $40 million as stated. The property was acquired for $20 million; that is a matter of public record and that includes the cost of the existing commercial space on Shattuck which is not part of the new 2211 Harold Way project. So land cost for the 2211 Harold Way is something less than $20 million, not $40 million. And Harrison and Hendry also note that the developer's pro-forma understates project revenues. They fail to even include an estimate of parking revenues. Per City policy, parking is not included in the rent or purchase price of the units, but must be rented or purchased separately. And the developers are providing an additional unnecessary level of parking that will bring in some revenue.This revenue should have been included in the pro forma. 

ZAB acted on community benefits without the benefit of any independent analysis of the proposed project's finances. With no independent evaluation of the project's costs, revenues and profits, there was no determination of what the developer could reasonably afford to pay and there was no way to value proposed community benefits relative to the project's profits and no way to know whether the project was capturing the increase in value resulting from the up zoning of downtown as part of the Downtown Plan process. All of this is ably addressed in the Harrison-Hendry appeal which council members should carefully review. As Harrrison and Hendry note, the EPS review did not include any independent verification of project costs but simply accepted the developer's flawed pro forma. 

What should the City Council do? 

Send 2211 Harold Way back to ZAB. Ask the developers to resubmit a pro forma with parking revenues and an acreage land cost included. Mandate hiring of an independent consultant to review the pro forma and relevant data and to advise the ZAB on what the developer can afford to pay in community benefits. ZAB should then revisit community benefits based on this independent assessment of the project. 

Harrison and Hendry make a persuasive case that the project's profits are grossly understated and that the City should be getting a large dollar amount of community benefits. To approve this project without real independent analysis of the project's finances would amount to granting the developers a huge windfall. The public were promised that new development would bring with it substantial community benefits. That will only happen if the the City Council shows leadership and sends this back to ZAB for and independent analysis and reconsideration of community benefits 

Support “Liberty City” Homeless Occupation at Old City Hall, Berkeley

George Lippman, geolippman.pjc@earthlink.net, Chair, Peace and Justice Commission (for purposes of identification only)
Sunday November 29, 2015 - 03:18:00 PM

On Tuesday Nov. 24, the City of Berkeley posted a notice declaring the occupation in front of Old City Hall illegal, and the occupiers guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. This warning from the City to the homeless occupation, now proclaimed “Liberty City,” is unfortunate news.

As Peace and Justice Commission chair, I had been calling senior city staff people to urge a stance of communication and collaboration to meet the immediate health and safety needs of the occupiers. Requests such as sufficient bathrooms and garbage cans, first aid equipment and cooperative relations with police and city staff, would also serve the interests of the neighbors and the larger community. 

Late on the 24th I talked with a senior city staffer. He depicted the notice not as a warning or a threat, but as a helpful provision of information about the illegality of the occupation and about the resources available to homeless people in Berkeley. I pointed out to him that the occupiers are there not as a squat, but as a demonstration, which is constitutionally protected free assembly and expression. I also reminded him that the broader community has an interest in the well-being of the occupation, as well as in its message of human rights for the homeless. 

For people who are opposed to criminalizing the homeless, support for the occupation needs to be a key part of the campaign in the weeks and months to come. The occupiers are putting their bodies on the line for our common objective: the primacy of human rights as a governing principle of government. A successful and healthy occupation can serve to refute the negative messaging and outright lies that are told about the homeless. 

At this moment, powerful political and economic interests are pushing for punitive measures that will increase the burdens of daily life for the homeless. On the other side, professionals and activists are arguing for alternatives that promote human rights of the homeless. 

The only people whose voices are not heard are the people at the center of the issue. This is a critical time for the community to hear from them, to see their humanity. These voices must gain a hearing at the court of public opinion. They have much to tell about how they want their lives to change, how the punitive measures affect their ability to survive; even what their condition should reveal about our society and its priorities. Instead the opposite is happening: the homeless are seen not as persons, but as a symbolic target, an obstacle, a problem to be solved. In a cynical calculus, their rights are disposable compared to the imperatives of commerce, and they are made pawns in a political wedge issue. 

Assuming that there is not a heartless post-Thanksgiving eviction, the December 1 city council meeting will be an important moment to protest the eviction threat. Council will take the required second vote on the ordinances criminalizing homelessness. After that point, the City could move quickly to evict, unless a broad show of community support is organized. 

Moments like this one are the reason I became part of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. I hoped to do more than just solve other people’s problems for them. My goal was to facilitate the access of marginalized communities to the decision-making process of the City. 

Peace and Justice functions as a human relations commission. Part of our role is to “develop ways to resolve conflict which may be applied on a local level…help create citizen awareness around issues of social justice… act as a liaison between community groups organizing around issues of peace and social justice and City government.” 

We who believe in the empowering impact of collective self-determination can help humanize homeless people in the public eye, by facilitating their efforts and their voices. 

We must hear the message of the Liberty City occupiers, who say, “We are asking to be allowed to take care of ourselves in the commons,” as they create a self-managing village with a democratic decision-making process and a code of conduct to ensure a clean and safe environment. As with affirmative action, women’s rights, and same-sex marriage, these are not “special rights,” they are human rights. 

As the homeless community finds its public voice, it should come to be seen as a legitimate constituency and an actor in the life of the city. It has the potential to be a part of civic negotiations for conflict resolution and restorative practices. This process could promote a healing that will benefit all constituencies, on both immediate health and safety issues and longer-term transformational change. To the extent that homeless people become agents for change, the pretext for them to be treated like “aliens” would be reduced. 

No longer can we sweep homeless people from city to city like, in Woody Guthrie’s expression, so many “dry leaves.” Human rights, under the international framework, begin with the right to dignity, which in turn requires self-determination. Up to 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless at some time in the year, 100 million are homeless around the world, and an incredible one billion are squatters, refugees, or in temporary shelter. These numbers are likely to explode in years to come, due to climate change and other social dislocations. 

Berkeley is moving to copy the demeaning and historically tragic treatment of the Roma people and the Irish Travelers. We can find better models for how to live side by side with the homeless. Widespread homelessness is a symptom of our troubled civilization. Respect for the dignity and self-determination of marginalized communities is essential to turning around the social and economic polarization that is rapidly growing in our society. 

Here are four ways you can take action to support the homeless and oppose criminalization. 

1. Come to the Council meeting, 7pm Tuesday Dec. 1 at Longfellow Middle School (1500 Derby Street). 

You can join the assembly and march from the “Liberty City” occupation at Old City Hall (2134 MLK Jr. Way) beginning at 4pm. You can also attend the special Council meeting at 5:30 pm, at which important measures to promote affordable housing will be considered. 

The Stop Urban Shield Coalition will hold a press conference at Longfellow at 6:30pm. 

Many critical issues are on the docket for the 7pm meeting, including, among others: 

  • Criminalization of sidewalk behavior (item 4, will probably be moved from Consent to Action agenda)
  • BPD Agreements with external law enforcement agencies including NCRIC and UASI (item 26)
  • Implementation of Tier One Recommendations from Homeless Task Force (item 29)
  • Investigation into BPD Response to December 6 2014 Black Lives Matter Protests (item 32)
2. Meet with city management to press for humane treatment of the Liberty City occupation. The interim city manager has stressed her commitment to equity. Although elected leaders apparently have directed the staff to ban the occupation, staff should be pushed to remember their constitutional and moral responsibilities. Faith leaders, students, legal and other community organizations can play a key role in expressing the moral concerns of Berkeley at its best. If your organization is interested, please contact Peace and Justice at the e-mail address below. 

3. Form a community support coalition, composed of organizations and individuals who want to make a commitment to defending Liberty City. This coalition could have committees working on outreach, material aid, lobbying, action, phone tree, and other activities. 

4. The Peace and Justice Commission will address the homeless emergency at its next meeting, Monday night December 7, 7-10pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst and MLK. This meeting will be a supportive place to have a strategic conversation. 

Police Review Commission Report on Black Lives Matter Protest

Andrea Prichett, Berkeley Copwatch
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 07:45:00 PM

Dear City Council Members,

I am writing to you in advance of the December 1st City Council meeting at which you will receive a Police Review Commission report on the police response to the Black Lives Matter protest of December 6, 2015. The Police Review Commission has done an admirable job of reviewing the evidence provided to them by the BPD and its report on the protest response. However, the PRC has been unable to hold any individual officers accountable for their wanton aggression against non-violent demonstrators. Cops who assaulted people who were within their rights to be present on the street will not suffer any consequence for their actions. If you follow the link we have provided, you will be able to see for yourself how the police response, rather than protecting the peace and safety of our community, became the single greatest threat to us and caused numerous injuries through its beating, gassing, and shooting of "less lethal" munitions. Sadly, what also becomes clear is that BPD leadership escalated events at many points and we do not believe that the few incidents of individuals throwing objects at police officers justifies the mass gassing of hundreds of people and the indiscriminate shooting of munitions at retreating demonstrators. 

One aspect of problem concerns the militarization of our police department under the leadership of Chief Michael Meehan. I know that many of you have lived in Berkeley long enough to know that in years past, our police department was able to facilitate peaceful protest and deal strategically with incidents of property destruction or violence by individuals. In fact, there was a time when BPD leadership valued its relationship with the community and worked to develop forms of community policing. Such is no longer the case and the perception of the BPD is that it is a department that is out of touch with the needs of our community including how to deal with people with mental health issues, homeless people, people of color and of course, protesters. 

We hope that this incident and a careful review of our investigation will lead you to question the current leadership of BPD and evaluate the increasingly militarized direction of the current leadership. 

Thanks for your consideration. 

To view the People’s Investigation: http://berkeleycopwatch.org/timeline/

Police Brutality & Cover-up

Jagjit Singh
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 05:07:00 PM

The gruesome killing of 17-year-old African-American, Laquan McDonald, in a hail of 16 bullets, including multiple times in the back, occurred more than a year ago. Chicago police officer, Van Dyke, who has been charged with first-degree murder began shooting 6 seconds after arriving on the scene. Laquan’s final moments were captured on the dashboard camera. 

After months of foot dragging a judge ordered the video of the killing to be released. 400 days have elapsed and every effort was made to prevent the release of the video which clearly implicates senior police officials and high government Chicago officials including Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Van Dyke received full pay during the 400 days. 

He had at least 20 civilian complaints against him, which included excessive use of force, illegal arrest and use of racial slurs. None of these complaints resulted in any disciplinary action. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s claim that he had not seen the video seems highly unlikely given that he approved a $5 million settlement to the family earlier this year, even before the family had filed a lawsuit. The Mayor and the State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez stated “they were saddened, outraged, disturbed when they saw the video.” It is a pity they didn’t express outrage over Van Dyke prior unprofessional conduct and failed to take remedial action.. The police chief should be fired and Mayor Emanuel should be severely censored for his complicity in prolonging the course of justice.

Saudi Arabia Must Go

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 07:42:00 PM

The Obama administration has intensified its trade with Saudi Arabia ignoring warnings that it is guilty of massive war crimes and human rights violations in Yemen. The sale includes 84 new Boeing F-15 aircraft, 70 of Boeing's Apache attack helicopters and 36 of its AH-6M Little Birds. In addition, the deal will include 72 Black Hawk helicopters. 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch has called for the United States to halt arm shipments to Saudi Arabia or risk being complicit in war crimes in Yemen where Saudi Arabia is continuing its intensive bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels. Thousands of civilians have died under the heavy Saudi onslaught.  

It is past time to file divorce papers and sever all connection to this xenophobic regime which exemplifies a harsh Islamic orthodoxy that is extremely misogynistic, homophobic, intolerant of other religions and excessively cruel in its archaic system of justice and punishment. Sadly, the defense contractors in Britain and the US see Saudi Arabia as a cash cow who will continue to purchase huge quantities of weapons to expand their medieval Islamic Wahhabism round the world. The U.S. has truly lost the moral high ground in its ongoing support of the Saudi monarchy. We seem to have conveniently forgotten that 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers were Saudi nationals. The lead author of the Senate’s report on 9/11 says it’s time to reveal what’s in the 28 pages that were redacted from it.

TO: Berkeley City Council members and members of the ZAB, LPC, DRC
RE: 2211 Harold Way

Charlene M. Woodcock
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 04:31:00 PM

We elected our City Council to represent the needs and interests of the residents of Berkeley, not to enhance the wealth of for-profit developers. Since five members of your appointed Zoning Adjustments Board and Landmarks Protection Commission have failed to represent our interests, a number of Berkeley residents have submitted appeals of their decisions on this project.

Before you address these appeals, I hope you will consider seriously the following questions:

1. Our city's most urgent need at this time, due to the unprecedented rise in housing costs, is housing for families and for middle and lower income residents. Why then are there virtually no affordable units being built? The city has approved scores of market rate development projects of four and six floors but nearly all are planned to be rented or sold at market rate or higher. Why allow the biggest of them all, shamefully out-of-scale with the surrounding historic buildings, to pay a reduced in-lieu fee instead of providing 20% or more affordable units? 

2. Numerous Berkeley residents who are concerned about the patently inappropriate siting of this very large building have asked the city to require the developer to provide story poles of some sort to demonstrate the height and volume of the building. The ZAB and the Landmarks Preservation Commission failed to make this a requirement of approval. Will the City Council show more respect for Berkeley residents' request and require story poles to be placed at a time convenient for the public to see them before voting on this project?

3. Where do you propose that the developer establish the project's staging area? It's difficult for a frequent Library or Post Office patron, Berkeley High student, parent, teacher or staff member, or YMCA member to envision where there is space in this very busy area between Kittredge, Milvia, Allston, and Harold Way to set up the multiple cranes and other heavy equipment, and the caterpillars, dump trucks, supply delivery trucks, etc that would be making thousands of trips, coming and going daily in this already very congested area. Have you tried to envision the consequences of construction of so out-of-scale a building on the daily traffic of these narrow streets?
4. Measure R, approved by Berkeley voters in 2010, stated "Downtown buildings should be constructed to the highest green standards and provide a limited number of new structures that are no higher than what exists now." Why are five members of the ZAB and the LPC ignoring these commitments? The highest green standards are now the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum. An example of the Living Building Challenge is Seattle's Bullitt Center http://www.bullittcenter.org/building/building-features/ The proposed 2211 Harold Way project is aiming only at a LEED Gold certification and it is 15 feet higher than the Great Western (169.3) and Wells Fargo buildings.
5. Why would the absurdly inadequate mitigation of a huge detriment, the demolition of our downtown's rich cultural and economic resource, the Shattuck Cinemas, be accepted as a Significant Community Benefit? It is ludicrous that the developer should propose to demolish our theaters and then claim his plan for ten mostly small theaters—mostly below grade with low ceilings and fewer seats—as a Significant Community Benefit. His proposal does not begin to mitigate the loss of our beautifully decorated, easily accessible, comfortably-designed financially successful existing theaters. When the city has serious needs such as a warm pool replacement, retrofit of our handsome city hall, retrofit of the Veterans' Building with its fine auditorium, repair of the city pier, funds for parks maintenance—it is inconceivable that you would allow a developer to demolish a landmarked building that houses the beautifully repurposed Hink's space for very successful cinemas and then call their poor replacement a Significant Community Benefit.
6. The Downtown Area Plan's five-year-old environmental protection, water conservation, energy efficiency standards that are still being applied to 2015 building projects are shamefully out of date, especially given the fact that the state will require Zero Net Energy use for residential buildings in 2020. When a central theme of our Downtown Area Plan was to move Berkeley toward greater energy efficiency, water conservation, public open space, reduced auto traffic, etc, why have no changes been made in more than five years to the energy efficiency standards to be met by developers of new buildings? Gold LEED is clearly deficient in the face of escalating climate change. Berkeley was once known as a visionary city. To permit the construction of many large new buildings without requiring them to be cutting edge in terms of energy efficiency and resource conservation is simply deeply irresponsible.
7. Since we now have an unprecedented number of 4- to 8-story buildings under construction all over Berkeley, may we assume that Berkeley's three building inspectors' ranks have been supplemented by additional, well-qualified, rigorous inspectors, so that we can avoid another Library Gardens tragedy?
8. What city official is responsible for considering the cumulative impact of the unprecedented wave of market rate and luxury development in Berkeley and its consequences to infrastructure, water use, pollution levels, automobile reduction, and Berkeley's prized economic and racial diversity?
I hope you will not be the City Council majority that betrays the social and environmental goals of our 2010 Downtown Area Plan that require provision of housing across economic strata, greater water and energy conservation and efficiency, and reduction of automobile traffic and pollution to make downtown Berkeley a safer, healthier, and more inviting place to be.

Recommendations for Special Berkeley City Council Work Session on Affordable Housing, December 1, 2015

Rob Wrenn
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 04:24:00 PM

Dear Mayor Bates and members of the Berkeley City Council,

The City's Housing Trust Fund is grossly underfunded and the City Council should take action to increase the funds available to affordable housing developers.

Concrete steps the City Council should take are as follows:

1) Place a measure on the November 2016 ballot to increase the business license tax paid by landlords to 2.88% with suitable exemptions for small low and moderate income landlords, rent controlled units with pre-1999 tenants, units with Section 8 tenants and an exemption for new construction of the first ten years after construction. Basically, you should follow the recommendations of former city housing director Stephen Barton, who estimates that this tax increase could bring in $5 million annually. 

2) Increase the housing impact fee on new market rate housing units to $34,000 per unit, the amount recommended by Bay Area Economics in the March 2015 draft of the City of Berkeley Affordable Housing Nexus Study. If a developer wishes to avoid the fee by building on site affordable units, they should be required to provide 20% affordable onsite units, or five affordable units for every twenty market rate units. Bay Area Economics (BAE) found, in their Nexus Study, that building 100 market rate units creates demand for 25 units affordable to households at median income and below. 

3) Tax short term rentals (airbnb, etc.) and add the new revenue generated by this tax to the City's Housing Trust Fund. The Council should adopt a policy of making an annual budget referral asking that an amount equal to the net new revenue generated by taxing short term rentals be allocated each year to the Housing Trust Fund. This annual referral should be continued until the City's affordable housing goals as spelled out in the Housing Element and General Plan have been achieved. 

Together these three actions, once everything is up and running, could produce an average of at least $10 million a year and the City could actually begin to address the enormous demand for housing that's affordable to those making less than the area median income. The staff report for the December 1 Work Session notes that as much as $36.8 million would be required to complete all the affordable housing projects identified in Request for Information (RFI) responses by affordable housing providers. Yet the report notes that the current Housing Trust Fund Available Balance is only a bit more than $3 million. 

There are many people who work in Berkeley but can't afford to live here; some have long commutes that have negative impacts with respect to air quality and generation of climate change inducing greenhouse gases. Many people who grow up in Berkeley can't afford to stay here with prevailing rents and home prices. The BAE Nexus Study found that in 2014 rents in the new multifamily developments averaged $2,537 for one bedrooms and $3,434 for two bedrooms. Using the standard affordability formula, a household needs an income in excess of $100,000 to afford the average one bedroom in a new building and an income closer to $140,000 to afford a two bedroom unit. Yet data from the American Community Survey (2009-2013) estimated the median income of tenant households in Berkeley to be $38,623, far short of what is needed to afford any market rate unit in a new building. 

In South Berkeley Census tracts, median tenant household incomes ranged from an estimated $28,816 to $37,391 in the same period. In South Berkeley, homeowner households also have median incomes below what is needed to afford a one-bedroom rental in a new building (median ranged from $72,011 to $90,938) High rents also make it hard for students to afford to attend UC Berkeley without being saddled with enormous student loan debt as housing costs can easily exceed fees. 

For profit, market rate housing developers are not addressing the city's affordable housing needs beyond providing a few below market units onsite (currently only 9% of total units; in total over 20 years only 334 units in 27 projects) or paying discounted impact fees that were based on the out of date 2010 nexus study. 

Impact fees on new development should not be the only source of funds for the Housing Trust Fund. Housing development is cyclical. When the next recession comes, it will likely slow down dramatically. The City needs funding sources that will generate revenues even during recessions. Increasing the business license tax on landlords and using new tax revenues from short term rentals will ensure some revenue flow each year. In addition, the impact fees on new development, if adequate, really only address the new demand created by the new high-end housing development and the City also needs to address existing demand for affordable housing. 

Rental and Ownership Units 

In addition to funding construction of new affordable rental units, the City should also be funding the creation of resident controlled housing coops such as those that the Bay Area Community Land Trust is proposing to create. Some Housing Trust Fund money should go toward helping tenants where practicable to buy their buildings. 

Protecting Existing Housing from demolition 

The City Council should strengthen Berkeley’s Demolition Ordinance to protect the existing supply of rent controlled housing. Each rent controlled unit must be replaced -- one for one -- with housing that is permanently affordable to low and very low income households. The City Council should support the appeal of the decision approving demolition of 18 rent controlled units at 2631 Durant, since there is no provision for inclusion of 18 affordable replacement units in the building as currently proposed.The City should not encourage demolition by neglect. Landlords should not be given an incentive to not maintain their buildings by letting them demolish buildings that haven't been properly maintained over the years because the cost of fixing the buildings now would be high. 

With respect to affordable units in market rate housing developments, the City should create a city-maintained waiting list and establish priorities that include priority for people who live and work in Berkeley. 

Streamlining the Permit Process for Affordable Housing Projects 

Projects that include at least 50% units affordable to households with incomes up to the area median income should be given priority and the permit process for such projects should be streamlined. Housing Element data for 2007-2014 shows that the City came close to achieving the Regional Fair Share housing goal for above moderate income housing; it is on track to substantially exceed such goals going forward based on projects now in the pipeline. But at the same time, production of housing for households with low and moderate incomes falls woefully short of the fair share goal The City achieved only 23% of the goal for very low income housing; only 21% of the goal for low income housing and only 4% of the goal for moderate income housing during 2007-2014. So, it makes sense to prioritize affordable housing in the permit process. 

interim measures 

Councilmember Worthington has proposed loaning the Housing Trust Fund $1 million. This makes sense as an interim measure to allow affordable housing development to move forward while the City develops new ongoing income streams for the Housing Trust Fund such as the ones suggested above. The City should also adopt his proposal to match National Housing Trust Fund grants to make sure the City does not miss out on this source of funding. The city staff report says: "The City's ability to award HTF funds to help projects leverage NHTF will hinge on the amount of funds available in the HTF". The City Council must ensure that there are adequate funds in the Housing Trust Fund so that Berkeley gets a share of the NHTF funds. The City missed the boat on applying for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities funds which other Bay Area cites received. The City needs to take steps to make sure it get a share of such funds in the future. 

Berkeley should be a leader when it comes to providing affordable housing. It's time to take action. 

Speak Out at the Special Meeting of the Berkeley City Council on Affordable Housing

From activists in the Berkeley Progessive Alliance, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley Tenants Union, CALPIRG, the Berkeley NAACP, Black Student Union of Berkeley City College, and the Better Berkeley Working Group.
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 06:47:00 PM

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 5:30 P.M.
Longfellow Middle School Auditorium
1500 Derby Street, Berkeley, CA 94703

The Council is holding a special Work Session on affordable housing. We activists must be there to speak. Let’s demand Council action on proposals made at the November 22 Affordable Housing Teach In. 

The Agenda: More Funding for Affordable Housing

Three actions the City Council must take to generate more funds for the City’s Affordable Housing Fund to pay for additional affordable housing:

• Increase the business license tax on large landlords in Berkeley;
each 1% increase in the tax could bring in $2 to $3 million annually.

• Increase the housing impact fees on market-rate development to at least the
$34,000 recommended by the Nexus study . Developers should be allowed to
avoid paying the fee by providing 20% affordable units (5 affordable units for every
20 market rate units built).

• Tax short term rentals such as AirBnB rentals and use the new revenue for
affordable housing.

Together, these actions could generate $10 million and fund around 100 affordable units
each year. These funds could also be used to create affordable home ownership through
limited equity coops and other resident-controlled cooperative housing.

We must maintain the supply of existing Rental Housing
We need to insure that affordable housing is not taken off market.
Ask the Council to:

• Strengthen Berkeley’s Demolition Ordinance to protect the existing supply of
rent controlled housing. Each rent controlled unit must be replaced -- one for one --
with housing that is permanently affordable to low and very low income
• Support the appeal of the decision approving demolition of 18 rent controlled
units at 2631 Durant. There is no provision for inclusion of 18 affordable
replacement units in the proposed building.
This action will be considered at the Council’s regular meeting on December 1
(starting at 7:00 p.m.) The appeal was submitted by Pamela Webster,
• Improve monitoring of affordable inclusionary units in market rate housing
developments, create a City-maintained waiting list and establish priorities for
housing those who currently live or work in Berkeley.

Mike yielders needed here as well. If you can’t attend the meeting, please write to the Council to express your
support for making funding and maintenance of affordable housing a priority.

Send e-mail to council@cityofberkeley.info; write “affordable housing” in the subject line. 

Individual council e-mail is as follows:

Mayor Tom Bates mayor@CityofBerkeley.info
Council District
Linda Maio 1 lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info
Darryl Moore 2 dmoore@CityofBerkeley.info
Max Anderson 3 manderson@CityofBerkeley.info
Jesse Arreguin 4 jarreguin@CityofBerkeley.info
Laurie Capitelli 5 lcapitelli@CityofBerkeley.info
Susan Wengraft 6 swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info
Kriss Worthington 7 kworthington@CityofBerkeley.info
Lori Droste 8 ldroste@CityofBerkeley.info]



Jagjit Singh
Wednesday November 25, 2015 - 06:56:00 PM

It’s been four long years since the people of Syria rose up to demand democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners. Bashar al-Assad’s response was to brutally repress the protesters, pushing his country into a civil war that has attracted local and foreign fighters, among them the terrorists of ISIS.

This long and bloody conflict has already resulted in the death of a quarter of a million people, displaced 8 million civilians internally, and caused another 4 million to flee. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have responded taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees, and while Germany opened its doors to them, the United States has accepted only 2174 since 2012.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Donald Trump and the governors in 31 states have stoked up fears and called for an immediate halt to accepting any additional migrants. Largely ignored in the debate is the role the United States played in creating the crisis. The 2003 invasion of Iraq on false pretenses was the catalyst that led to the creation of ISIS from whom the refugees are fleeing. 

A bill by House Republicans restricts Iraqi and Syrian refugees from resettling here. In a perfect world we should have paid billions in reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan for destabilizing their country and creating the refugee crisis. 

Jihadist infiltration is a legitimate concern but the tight vetting process should prevent them from entering. It is ironic that Americans are dying at the rate of 100 a day but an adequate vetting process for the possession of hand guns remains elusive. 

The current hysteria draws historical parallels the country faced in the 1930s, when Jewish refugees sought refuge here. Case Western Reserve University history professor, Peter Schulman, recently tweeted a Fortune Magazine poll question from 1939 that asked, "Should the U.S. government permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to seek sanctuary from Germany?" A staggering 61 percent of respondents at the time said NO. Among those who were denied were Anne Frank and her family. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, made desperate attempts to enter the United States and Cuba without success. 

The ordeal faced by Jewish refugees during and after World War II was portrayed in the 1976 film, "Voyage of the Damned." The film is based on the true story of the 1939 voyage of the SS St. Louis, which sailed for Havana from Hamburg Germany carrying 900 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. The Cuban Government denied entry to the passengers, so the ship made its way to the United States, where the Coast Guard delivered the following ominous message: 

SS ST. LOUIS CREWMAN: “Attention, Captain St. Louis. You are violating U.S. territorial limits. Do not approach any closer. Do not attempt to land. You will not, repeat, not be permitted to dock at any United States port. Acknowledge”. 

SS ST. LOUIS CAPTAIN: “Signal, message received and acknowledged”. 

Consumed with fear and despair a number of people jumped off the sides of the ship and drowned. The remaining German Jews who were shipped back to Germany and died in concentration camps. 

Arguments were made at the time to keep out the Jews stoking up feelings of bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism; they were perceived to be an ideological threat and posed a danger that Nazi agents may have infiltrated among them. 

Echoes of those arguments are heard in the present day narrative regarding the threat of terrorists infiltrating among the Syrians. What is most disturbing is not what Donald Trump when he vehemently opposed Syrian refugees entering the United States, but the wild cheers that accompanied his racist comments. This hostility and racism has been experienced by most early immigrants - the Irish, Poles, Chinese, Catholics, Indians and many other groups. In every case such fears have proven to be completely unfounded. There is a much greater risk from home grown terrorists who have easy access to guns. 

In spite of the Paris attacks, President Francois Hollande declared that France will continue to honor its commitment to take in a minimum of 20,000 Syrian refugees, over the next two years. 

In the ensuing debate, it is time to remember that America is a nation of refugees and we should act with compassion and humanity to honor Emma Lazarus’s famous words, chiseled on the Statue of Liberty: “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.” 

For more go to: 



Rethink Our Ways

Romila Khanna
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 07:56:00 PM

I want to find a way to make our homeland secure and peaceful. We have tried to bring security through war against terrorism. But our tit for tat strategy has failed. We are in a state of fright all the time. We want to bombard those countries where terrorists gather and train. In my opinion, it may be more worthwhile to spread vibrations of love and trust instead of animosity. My proposal would require our education departments to include instruction in the world's major languages, with special attention paid to languages of the Middle East. Our celebrations should include the holidays of other nations. We should support community interaction with international students enrolled in our colleges and universities. The better we understand other people through language and culture, the less likely that we will find their behavior incomprehensible, and they will find our responses unreasonable.



Jack Bragen
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:27:00 PM

It might or might not surprise you to know that most persons with psych disabilities are sensitive. Despite society's impression of us as brain-damaged, crude, and dangerous, many of us are none of the above and are at a loss concerning how to deal with the widespread violence perpetrated by the so-called "normal" people.  

People with mental illness can't be soldiers, police, or terrorists. We lack the capacity to handle organized, premeditated violence. Any violence that does come from a small number of severely, chronically mentally ill persons will either be random and due to a delusional system, or reactive, from being put into a situation that is threatening and far beyond what we can handle.  

At the risk of telling you something you already know, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.  

Since 2001, the U.S. has been in a continuous state of war. This affects people's minds, including the minds of mentally ill people, and the minds of people considered normal.  

I knew a mentally ill man who died not long after the 911 attacks. I believe he was deeply disturbed by the U.S. going to war. I am unclear concerning the exact circumstances of his death, but he had experienced another of his manic episodes, and his heart attack could have resulted from mania, due to its extreme stresses on the body. (When we get a little older, the chances of coming through an episode of psychosis or mania are less, due to the increased fragility of age.)  

In my personal existence, I am affected by societal changes that are Orwellian. I am disturbed by increased restrictions in U.S. society, and I am disturbed by the cloud of suspicion that now in general permeates our culture. There is either a fine line or no line between being vigilant for external threats, versus being insanely paranoid. We have an epidemic of paranoia in the U.S.  

War is bad for people who ordinarily suffer from paranoia. Fourteen years of continuous war doubtlessly etches neurological pathways in the brain. War has changed people's brain structures.  

Technological advances that have made surveillance more feasible and less costly, coupled with the general permissiveness (legal and social) in which people have learned to expect video surveillance, is an Orwellian change in our culture, and it is a profoundly bad change, with some exceptions. When surveillance solves crimes or when it holds law enforcement accountable for their behavior, these are the exceptions. However, when we expect to be constantly watched, it is as if we are under the rule of Big Brother.  

Watching the news and seeing warplanes dropping bombs on Syria or elsewhere is bad for mental health. People with mental illness do not have the same amount of insulation compared to average people. A number of persons with mental illness have probably already fallen victim to this lack of insulation in the presence of war, and they may have become mentally ill to the extent that they can't live in society, or their existence may have ended entirely.  

This is grim stuff, and I wasn't sure at first if I would send it for publication. However, if we know in advance how something is going to affect us, we are probably better able to cope with it. If it means not watching the news, or if it means getting extra therapy, these are good adjustments that will help us take care of ourselves in a wartime society, one in which peace already seems like a dream from which we were rudely wakened.  


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Coping with Emotional Pain

Jack Bragen
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 05:02:00 PM

Psychotherapy may or may not help someone with mental illness get some relief from painful emotions. In some instances the therapist believes the solution is to immerse you in your pain, in the theory that if you feel your feelings deeply, you will be cured. However, this theory doesn't work for every person with a severe mental illness, and can actually do damage. Yet there are still a number of therapists out there who practice according to this theory. As a result, persons with mental illness may become even more crippled than they were to begin with.

There are numerous reasons why this theory is flawed. The mentally ill individual likely doesn't have the ability to experience his or her pain in a safe manner. Dredging up deep pain can cause a fragile person to become destabilized. The idea that all repressed emotion should be brought to consciousness is a falsehood. No living human being, with a mental health diagnosis or not, is going to have zero repressed emotions.  

In my early fifties, I am unwilling to have a psychotherapist get under the hood, poke, prod, and try to fix my problems, because I do not have faith that anyone is qualified to do this other than me.  

Excessive therapy is analogous to doing surgery on someone, leaving them with an open wound, and releasing them from the hospital without stitching them up. Then, when the person is distressed, the belief is that they need more therapy.  

I use psychotherapy primarily as a check-in to report how things are going, and to gain encouragement. In the past fifteen years, I have communicated to my therapists that I do not want deep psychoanalysis. Therapy is also good for solving problems that arise, and for resolving conflicts.  

What, then, should we do, if we have a number of disturbing emotions and thoughts, if we have a lot of pain we're carrying around, and if this is to the extent that it interferes with daily functioning? My best answer: In many instances, we must learn to tolerate it.  

Most persons with mental illness probably carry a lot of post-traumatic stress. Rather than trying to become a "cured" person, we might be better off if we just make adjustments to remain comfortable, stabilized, and not re-traumatized.  

Meditation in the classic sense (such as Zen, Yoga, and so on) might be out of reach for some persons with mental illness, while some could benefit from it. The illness and the medication are both factors that may not be compatible with purifying the body and mind.  

I practice a type of meditation that allows me to get some amount of pain relief. However, sometimes things just feel bad and there is nothing I can do about it. This situation is normal for non-afflicted people as well as for mental health consumers. This is also an inherent part of the human condition.  

Due to how the human species has evolved from earlier forms of life, a healthy brain is designed to create some amount of suffering, including during those times when nothing is actually wrong. If we try to do mental gymnastics of some kind, including meditation practices, we may find that at least some amount of emotional discomfort is necessary to be able to survive and have balance.  

If you ask for medication from a doctor, such as an antianxiety medication or an antidepressant, certainly there is a place for this. However, these medications were never intended to make us completely free of suffering. They work by getting us roughly in the ballpark of a normal or perhaps tolerable set of emotions.  

And what about "good" feelings? Happiness and comfort could not exist if we had never felt pain and suffering.  

Learning to find pleasure in the littlest, simplest of things, is to me a part of what living is about. Taking an interest in things, being involved in life, rather than avoiding everything because it might be uncomfortable, is the best way to go.  

We are better off learning to coexist with emotional pain rather than hoping it will go away. Gaining some enjoyment including while not comfortable, is a good goal. Life entails suffering, and that's all there is to it. Doing well in life is contingent upon acknowledgment of this.  

Reminding the readers once again; I have self-published books available on Amazon or directly from LULU. This includes a very popular self-help manual, and a collection of science fiction pieces--the latter in dire need of someone posting a review! And in January, I plan to release a new title…  

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Portugal: The Left Takes Charge

Conn Hallinan
Monday November 30, 2015 - 10:46:00 AM

After several weeks of political brinkmanship, Portugal’s rightwing president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, finally backed off from his refusal to appoint the leader of a victorious left coalition as prime minister and accept the outcome of the Oct. 4 national elections. Silva’s stand down has ushered in an interesting coalition that may have continent-wide ramifications. 

Portugal’s elections saw three left parties—the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc, and the Communist/Green Alliance take 62 percent of the vote and end the rightwing Forward Portugal Party’s majority in the 230-seat parliament. Forward Portugal is made up of the Social Democratic Party and the Popular Party. 

Even though Forward Portugal lost the election—it emerged the largest party, but garnered only 38 percent of the votes—Silva allowed its leader, former Prime Minister Passos Coelho, to form a government. That maneuver lasted just 11 days. When Coelho introduced a budget loaded with austerity measures and privatization schemes, the left alliance voted it down, forcing the government to resign. 

Rather than giving the left alliance a chance to form a government, however, Silva—a former leader of the Social Democrats—insisted that the alliance pledge in writing that it would maintain the country’s role in NATO and commit itself to euro zone financial rules. Portugal is a member of the 19-country euro zone, those countries in the 28-member European Union that use the euro as a common currency.  

Silva’s threat was real. While the president’s term only runs until January, the constitution requires a six-month delay between the appointment of a new president and fresh elections. It would have been eight months before the left alliance could take power and roll back some of the more onerous austerity measures that Forward Portugal had installed. 

In the face of growing outrage and a threatened general strike, however, Silva finally asked Socialist Party leader Antonio Costa to form a government. 

Portugal is the victim of the great 2008 international banking crisis. At the time, Portugal’s debt was small and its public spending modest, but speculators drove up the price of borrowing beyond what the country’s small economy could manage. Through no fault of its own, Portugal suddenly found itself on the edge of bankruptcy. 

In 2011, the “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund—lent Portugal $83 billion, but in exchange instituted an austerity regime that raised taxes, slashed education and medical care, cut wages and pensions, and drove 20 percent of the population below the poverty line. The crisis forced almost half a million young people to emigrate, and Portugal ended up with one of the highest income disparities in Europe. 

The left alliance government is unprecedented in Portugal, where the Communists and the Socialists have locked horns since the 1974 Carnation Revolution overthrew the 48-year old dictatorship. But four years of austerity have apparently convinced everyone on the left that there needs to be some immediate relief. 

The Communists and the Left Bloc have agreed to temporarily shelve their demands to exit NATO and the euro zone, and the Socialists have agreed to roll back austerity measures, cut taxes, and raise pensions and wages. Privatization will be on hold. 

There are still major differences within the alliance, however, and not just over dumping the euro and getting out of NATO. The Communists and Left Bloc want debt reduction because much of the country’s encumbrances are the result of private speculators, not profligate public spending. The Socialists did not mention debt reduction during the election and, at least for now, seem committed to repaying all debts. 

However, the new government is pledged to loosen austerity’s grip and to challenge the Troika’s tight-fisted formula for economic recovery with one based on economic stimulus. If successful, that could model a new strategy for the rest of Europe, where, in spite of years of austerity, economies are still sluggish or in recession. 

Even in countries that show growth, the rate is relative. Spain, for instance, is growing at a respectable 3 percent, but unemployment is over 20 percent—close to 50 percent for young people—and its gross domestic product has still not reached pre-2008 levels. Wages have declined in nine out of 14 quarters. According to Simon Tilford of the Center for European Reform, Spain’s recovery is not due to austerity, but rather, to low interest rates, the declining value of the euro, and a worldwide fall in oil prices.  

Certainly the new Portuguese government will not be welcomed by Madrid, where the declining popularity of the rightwing Popular Party’s threatens its control of the Spanish Parliament. It is not unlikely that the Dec. 20 elections in Spain will produce a very similar outcome to Portugal’s: the Popular Party will lose its majority to the center-left Socialist Party and the left Podemos Party. Whether that will result in the kind of coalition that Portugal’s left has stitched together is not clear, in part because the centrist Citizen’s Party is a bit of a wild card and there are complex politics around Catalan independence. 

However, even if the smaller Spanish parties cannot unite a’ la Portugal, they will put the brakes on the Popular Party’s austerity policies and its push to muzzle the media and curtail mass demonstrations. 

The Portuguese model may end up having an influence on the rest of the European left, where conversations are going on about how to begin moving the continent away from the policies of the Troika. There are at least two major currents now engaging the left, the so-called “Plan A” and “Plan B.” 

Plan A—supported by the United European Left/Nordic Green Alliance, the group representing the left parties in the European parliament—calls for democratizing the European Union and the European Central Bank, taxing the rich, raising wages, funding social services, and creating jobs through public investment. Plan A is backed by Spain’s Podemos, Greece’s Syriza, and Germany’s Die Linke (Left Party). 

Plan B was launched Sept. 11 by five key figures in the European left—Oskar Lafontaine, a former leader of Die Linke, Italian parliamentary deputy Stefano Fassina, Jean-Luc Melenchon of France’s Left Party, and two former Syriza leaders, Zoe Kostntopoulou and Yanis Varoufakis. Plan B is somewhat more nebulous than Plan A, and not everyone who advocates it is on the same page. While it doesn’t contradict Plan A, most of its advocates are not sure the EU is really reformable. 

According to Liam Flenady of Green Left Weekly, the September call “remains intentionally open to what this Plan B could look like.” For one thing, it comes off sounding a little wonky: “Parallel payment systems, parallel currencies, digitization of euro transactions, community based exchange systems…euro exit and transformation of the euro into a common currency.” 

Not all of the five left figures are in agreement. Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, is for staying with the euro, while the Italian Fassina is not. No one openly attacks Syriza, but most supported Popular Unity, the anti-euro split from Syriza that failed to win any seats in the last Greek election. 

A Plan B summit is set for the end of the year. 

The disagreements between—and within—the plans reflect the enormous complexity of the task facing Europe’s left, including how to present a united front while still searching for solutions that are not obvious. Is trying to democratize the euro zone like teaching a pig to whistle: can’t be done and annoys the pig? Can a country withdraw from a common currency zone without the Troika destroying its economy? Do countries within the euro zone have the right to experiment with different economic strategies? 

Greece was forced to swallow the Troika’s medicine, in part because Syriza assumed that the Troika was essentially rational and actually interested in resolving the crisis. It was not, because the Troika saw Syriza’s resistance as the precursor to a continent-wide movement against its austerity policies. 

Portugal is charting a somewhat different path than Syriza. Instead of head-on confrontation, the left is trying to maneuver while strengthening its base by improving people’s lives. Disagreements will eventually surface—hardly an unhealthy thing—but the Portuguese alliance has decided to kick that can down the road. 

On Nov. 20, the Portuguese united left used its majority to approve a law allowing same sex couples to legally adopt children and permit lesbians to obtain medically assisted fertilization. That little act hardly shakes the foundation of the EU, and one doubts it caused the Troika to tremble. But suddenly Portugal is a little bit kinder place than it was a month ago. 

Small things can lead to big things. 


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






Bob Burnett
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 04:58:00 PM

It’s likely the US will form a new coalition to wage war on ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What remains to be seen is who will do the heavy lifting in this coalition. Which nation will be willing to put boots on the ground?

(There are several acronyms used for the same group of jihadi terrorists: ISIS, ISIL – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – and DAESH – an acronym based upon the group’s full Arabic name. While a tiny minority within Islam, ISIS is an ultra-conservative Muslim sect.)

In Hillary Clinton’s November 19 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, she said the US goal should be “to defeat and destroy ISIS.”

Secretary Clinton laid out a plan to defeat ISIS: 

The United States and our [current] coalition has been conducting this fight for more than a year. It’s time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes and a broader target set.

Approximately 63 nations are part of the current coalition. These include historic allies such as France and Great Britain, and allies of convenience such as Iran and Russia. 

Secretary Clinton continued: 

…we should be honest about the fact that to be successful, airstrikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS. Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East… If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities…But we can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission.

Who are the “local and regional ground forces” we’re counting on to occupy ISIS’ territory? 

Ideally, it would be Iraqi and Syrian forces. Unfortunately, Iraqi forces have proven to be unstable. The New York Times observed that, in 2012, after US troops left: 

… tensions began rising between the Sunnis and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki... Salaries and jobs promised to cooperating [Sunni] tribes were not paid. There seemed little room for Sunnis in the new Iraq. The old Sunni insurgents began to look appealing again.
Many experienced Sunni commanders went to work for ISIS. 


As a result, Iraq has three distinct armies: the Sunni army that operates in the west (often with Shiite commanders); the Shiite army and militias operating in central and eastern Iraq; and, the Kurdish Peshmerga that operates in northern Iraq. 

Each army has issues. The Sunnis are notoriously unreliable. The Shiites have the backing of Iran and, therefore, are regarded with suspicion when they enter traditional Sunni territory. Although the Peshmerga has proved to be the most effective opponent of ISIS, providing them with arms is controversial; some US analysts believe giving the Kurds heavy weapons will inevitably lead them to fight against the central Iraqi government, as well as Iran and Turkey, and form their own nation. 

West of Iraq is Syria, a fractured nation of 17 million. (Roughly 5 million have fled since the civil war started in 2011.) It’s an autocracy, dominated by a Shiite Alawite minority led by Bashar al-Assad. Syria is 75 percent Sunni Muslim, 10 percent Alawite, 6 percent other Shia Muslim, and 9 percent who are primarily Christian. The country now has three segments: in the west are Shiites supporting Assad. In central Syria are Sunnis fighting Assad. And, in the east is ISIS. 

Hillary Clinton aptly summarized the situation: 

On the Syrian side, the big obstacle to getting more ground forces to engage ISIS… is that the viable Sunni opposition groups remain understandably preoccupied with fighting Assad… So we need to move simultaneously toward a political solution to the civil war that paves the way for a new government with new leadership, and to encourage more Syrians to take on ISIS as well.
Recently, The Washington Post reported the CIA has been successful recruiting Syrians to fight ISIS. 


If we can’t count on Iraqi or Syrian forces to provide reliable “local and regional forces” to fight ISIS, who can we count on? Many neighboring countries have their own agenda. Iran would fight ISIS but would also occupy Sunni territory, take the oil, and support Assad. Turkey opposes ISIS but is deeply suspicious of the Kurds (18 percent of their population). Saudi Arabia opposes ISIS but is deeply suspicious of Iran. Jordan and Lebanon are primarily concerned with ISIS incursion into their territory. 

By treaty, the US respects the primacy of the Iraqi central government over the interest of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. But the Kurdish Peshmerga are the most effective boots on the ground versus ISIS. It’s going to be complicated – the US will have to placate Iraq and Turkey – but the US should fully arm the Peshmerga, enable them to conquer ISIS, and in effect, permit the Kurds to have their own state. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Uncalled-for "SAFE" Act

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday November 28, 2015 - 04:55:00 PM

On November 20th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4038, the Orwellianly misnamed "American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015" (SAFE ACT) to drastically limit the number of Syrian refugees able to enter the U.S. In addition, 31 state governors do not want Syrian refugees as do the Republican presidential candidates. The U.S. Senate is unlikely to pass it and even if it did, President Obama said he would veto it.  

Obama has directed his administration to accept at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year. 

The U.S. already has in place a tough screening process for immigrants. If it did become law, under the SAFE Act, a Syrian or Iraqi alien would face additional hurdles. Under the SAFE Act, a Syrian or Iraqi alien "may not be admitted as a refugee until the FBI certifies to DHS and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that he or she has received a background investigation sufficient to determine whether the alien is a U.S. security threat; and may only be admitted to the United States after DHS, with the unanimous concurrence of the FBI and the DNI, certifies to Congress that he or she is not such a threat." These hoops are so onerous that few if any refugees would ever be admitted to the U.S. And that's the House's goal. 

The United Nations estimates that 800,000 refugees have journeyed to Europe, coming mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The European Union estimates that another 3 million more will arrive by 2017. Given that the refugee crisis is at least partly caused by our "war against terrorism," the U.S. has a moral obligation to resettle refugees into this country. H.R. 4038 is a shameful response to this crisis. 

According to James Madison, the U.S. House of Representatives was established as the lower house, intended to be "of the people." If the branch of government "of the people" pass anti-refugee legislation and our politicians shout xenophobia, the hate will trickle-down and give "the people" permission to exhibit extreme Islamophobia -- the dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims.  

Consider that according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll, more than three-quarters of Republicans (76 percent) and Tea Party members (77 percent) agree that Islam is at odds with American values and way of life. A majority (57 percent) of political independents also believe that Islam is incompatible with American values and way of life. In contrast, only 43 percent of Democrats say that Islam is at odds with American culture, while 52 percent disagree. 

It is ironic that all this is happening just before Christmas where the spirit of generous giving should be paramount.  

What would Jesus do? 


As an aside, I highly recommend Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced, about a vehemently assimilated Muslim corporate lawyer in Manhattan, now playing at the Berkeley Rep through December 17. The play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

Arts & Events

New: The Twice-Over Fall of the House of Usher: A Macabre Double-Bill at S.F. Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Wednesday December 09, 2015 - 12:24:00 PM

I have never been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. His macabre stories and morbid sensibility hold no interest for me. I can understand why, historically, they might have appealed to earlier generations, especially, turn-of-the-twentieth-century generations. To me, however, Poe’s writings are, if you’ll pardon the pun, a dead letter. Imagine my chagrin at having to sit through – then write about – not one but two operas based on Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.  

This double-bill, which opened at the War Memorial Opera House on Tuesday, December 8, and runs through Sunday, December 13, is comprised of Claude Debussy’s unfinished opera La Chute de la Maison Usher, and Gordon Getty’s Usher House. Debussy read with interest the translation of Poe’s story by French poet Charles Baudelaire. Debussy, who had a leaning of his own toward the exotic and mystical, was inspired by Baudelaire’s evocation, in impeccable French, of Poe’s exotically perverse mysticism. So Debussy sketched out a musical draft of an opera based on the Poe-Baudelaire story, working on it intermittently from 1915 to 1917. However, Debussy never completed this opera; and it became the task of the English musicologist Robert Orledge to find a way to piece together Debussy’s scattered sketches and make a short, one-act opera of La Chute de la Maison Usher.  

Where opera is concerned, Debussy’s undisputed masterpiece is, of course, Pelléas et Mélisande, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck. I have seen several wonderful productions of this opera at the Opéra Comique in Paris, one in 1965 with sets by Jean Cocteau, and one in 1969 with the original sets by Jusseaume. I might also mention a fine 1997 San Francisco Opera production of Pelléas et Mélisande with Frederica von Stade as Mélisande and Simon Keenlyside as Pelléas. With my love of Debussy’s music, I came to La Chute de la Maison Usher hoping the genius of Debussy would somehow work musical miracles on this morbid story. Alas, it didn’t. Oh, there were a few patches, here and there, that featured Debussy’s unique orchestral coloration and tonality, and conductor Lawrence Foster did his best to make this score attractive. There were even one or two moments when vocalists were given some lush passages to sing. On the whole, however, Poe’s turgid prose simply doesn’t hold up, even sung in French. The role of Roderick Usher is here performed by noted baritone Brian Mulligan, who sang with robust tone and fine French diction. Usher’s old friend, simply called L’Ami in Debussy’s libretto, was ably sung by baritone Edward Nelson, who also exhibited excellent French diction. The mysteriously conniving doctor, simply called Le Médecin by Debussy, was sung by tenor Joel Sorensen, whose squeaky voice and poor French diction made him hard to bear. Finally, Lady Madeline, who gets to sing only a few bars of music, was impressively sung by mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Piccolino. As for the staging of this opera, well, it was tricked out with otherworldly video projections filmed by video production designer David Haneke. Fragments of stone walls, a swampy lake, a raven perched on a wall, evoked Poe’s spooky world of Usher. The stage director, David Pountey, tried to make everything eerie, but it just seemed tedious, especially since there’s no action whatsoever, hardly any dialogue, and many lengthy bits of monologue. In the context of Debussy’s oeuvre, La Chute de la Maison Usher is definitely a downer. 

The idea of staging a pairing of Debussy’s La Chute de la Maison Usher with Gordon Getty’s one-act opera Usher House seems to have originated at the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff, where this double-bill premiered in June, 2014. Our current San Francisco Opera double-bill is a co-production with Welsh National Opera. Gordon Getty’s Usher House is another telling, in English this time, of the same Poe story, only in this version the role of Lady Madeline is performed by two interpreters – one a dancer, rivetingly performed by Jamielyn Duggan, and one a singer, mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Piccolino. Another quirk in Getty’s version of this tale is the fact that he makes Edgar Allan Poe a leading character by identifying him as “L’Ami, the friend.” This role was beautifully sung by tenor Jason Bridges; and Roderick Usher was again robustly sung by Brian Mulligan. Getty, who, like Debussy, wrote his own libretto based on Poe’s story, made the role of the doctor into a far more sinister villain than he is in Debussy’s version. In fact, Getty’s libretto all too neatly divides the characters into three good guys, one unfortunate female victim, and one bad, bad villain. It’s almost a comic-book version. The villainous doctor, here called Doctor Primus, was ably sung by bass Anthony Reed. In Getty’s opera as in Debussy’s, the staging is tricked out with video footage that endlessly moves right and left, left and right, for no apparent reason except to simulate action where, in fact, there is none. Video shots of alleged Usher ancestors dressed in period costumes are occasionally superimposed on the interior shots of Penrhyn Castle in north Wales, presumably to evoke the weight of history on this dying Usher line. The score by Getty is highly percussive. It works all right, but is hardly memorable. The best thing about Getty’s Usher House was the inspired dancing by Jamielyn Duggan.  

New: Theater Review: 'Or' at Berkeley City Club, Staged by Anton's Well

Ken Bullock
Friday December 04, 2015 - 04:58:00 PM

The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating, and in theater, the proof's in the show. This's where Berkeley troupe Anton's Well--which staged a splendid three-hander, Pinter's 'Old Times,' at the Berkeley City Club last year--scores in returning to the scene with Liz Duffy Adams' "costume comedy" 'Or,' also cast for a threesome, about the English Restoration and the first successful female playwright, Aphra Benn--in a show which displays perhaps the most tried-and-true value in live theater: Trouping.  

Anton's Well, named for Chekhov, takes the idea of theater as a little republic of equals seriously, though it presents it with a nice, light touch. Founder and director Robert Estes stated, when the tiny company put on 'Old Times,' that he wanted to work with the people he loves. And here he--and they--have done it again, demonstrably, in a show about significant people in past history loving each other maybe a little much ...  

A threesome, but more complicated than just a ménage à trois. Mary Jo Price, who was in last year's production of 'Old Times,' is forthright and forthcoming as playwright (and former government spy) Aphra Behn, who in turn is trying to write a play and get it staged, as well as manage a multiplex love-life without seeming to be anything but busy. At the start, she's approached at home by a well-dressed and mannered man in a festive mask, professing his dedication to her. Later, she meets with famed actress Nell Gwyn ("pretty, witty Nell" of Pepys' diaries, consort to Restoration Rakes, nobility and to Royalty, played by a girlish, wayward Colleen Egan), and must again make choices beyond those of casting--especially at the reappearance of the masked man and also of a former lover (and fellow spy) thought to be both a betrayer and long dead--each played by a dynamic Paul Stout. 

This is where 'Or' comes closest to the histrionic Restoration scene it attempts to portray, in the characters not only being involved in or admirers of theater, but both actors and charactors playing several roles each--with the exception of Price, who plays a single role, though true of her portrayal of Behn, both playwright and spy--a double role in itself--as well as the multiple role of promiscuous lover. Even so, it's often comes off more like the "experimental" Swinging London of the 1960s than the hysterical, split personality of London of the late 1660s--less the bawdy comedy of Wycherley's 'The Country Wife' than the daffy cinematic sex confusion of the film version of Ann Jellicoe's 'The Knack and How to Get It.'  

(The tensions of a past Puritan Revolution and a future Glorious Revolution of the mddle class; the belief in the Divine Right of Kings--with Behn as a staunch partisan--and a philandering monarch, Charles II, resented by a taxed-out populace and a future contractual king "hired on" by Parliament all crowd together in the wildness of the Restoration scene, where Lord Rochester, atheist, blasphemer, poet and one of the more notorious Court Wits, a friend to both Behn and Nell Gwyn, could deal out an impromteau lampoon to a laughing King Charles' face: "Here lies our sovereign lord the king,/Whose word no man relies on;/Who never said a foolish thing,/Nor ever did a wise one."--and die at 33 of the combined effects of drinking and syphilis, converting to Puritanism on his death bed. 

This brings up another difficulty, which Orson Welles remarked on as the principal problem in playing Shakespeare in America: "Where a king is seen as a gentleman with a crown instead of a hat." Stout's portrayal of Charles is adroit, but more that of a slumming aristocrat, not a semi-divine monarch with feet of clay. But this touches on another distinction: the play captures an imaginary first meeting between Charles and his future mistress Nell Gwyn. Egan's charming, wanton Gwyn's much more naïve than her original, who leaned out of a coach in Oxford when derided by a crowd, mistaking her for her French rival in the King's affections, Louise de Kérouville, and saying: "You're mistaken; I'm the Protestant whore!") 

But again, the proof's in the pudding, in the cast's enthusiasm, mirroring the director's; in the set which makes a kind of door-slammer farce into a quick-change curtain parter; in Bert Van Aalsberg's light design--and in the company's intention to entertain, as announced in the Anton's Well website description of the play: a comic romp.  

Adding contrast and lightness to the play before--Pinter's 'Old Times'--and the one to follow 'Or'--the Bay Area premiere of Christopher Shinn's Pulitzer Prize-nominated 'Dying City,' another three-hander, about Iraq (opening December 11)--is the mark of a good theater company. It's a good play for the Holidays, going into its final weekend. 

This Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2, Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant. Tickets: $17-$20. antonswell.org

Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue
Opens December 4 at The Roxie in San Francisco

Gar Smith
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:41:00 PM

This was the first time I ever teared-up while reading a press kit. I guess this is just more proof that any encounter with Janis Joplin is bound to be emotional. For survivors of the Sixties, there are certain moments that are emotionally welded into the collective memory: the Kennedy assassination, the walk on the moon, and Janis Joplin exploding on the screen during D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop. And I'm sure the impact of Janis' hurricane performances will continue to blast people off their feet and cause younger jaws to drop for decades to come. (Look at the Monterey Pops crowd shots after Janis has left the stage. Stunned, wide-eyed people smiling and mouthing the universal reaction: "Wow!")

Amy Berg's long-in-the-making bio-doc packs in a lot of "wow" moments but it also offers a backlog of "ows" as it follows the hardscrabble kid from Port Arthur, Texas on her roller-coaster ride from withering local ridicule to international acclaim.


A big-hearted tomboy hurt by childhood jeers, Janis spent her life looking for love and acceptance. She found a good measure of both in the cheers and applause of her audiences. It was harder to find the same security in the arms of another. 

According to Berg, "the most striking thing about Janis is how utterly lonely and unlovable she often felt once the crowds went home." Through it all, Janis was "a vessel for our collective pain—the raw, eloquent voice through which our suffering gets duly acknowledged and nakedly expressed." 

When she unleashed her rendition of "Ball and Chain" at Woodstock, Joplin was not only channeling Bessie Smith, Odetta and Big Mama Thornton, she was also evoking Otis Redding. 

Deeply hurt as a young woman taunted for being ugly, Janis became a powerful engine of female empowerment and, in the process, she became something of a beauty in her own right. Stomping the stage, shaking her hair and body, she became a goddess of intense sexuality and fierce honesty. She got her revenge on her childhood tormenters by prancing in bikinis and posing for avant-garde nude shots dressed in feathers and beads. 

The pain and need that she expressed on stage prompted other artists to pay unique tribute in the form of songs addressed to Joplin—Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," the Mamas and Papas' "Pearl," Joan Baez's "In the Quiet Morning," Don McLean's "American Pie" ("I met a girl who sang the blues/And I asked her for some happy news/ But she just smiled and turned away….") 




Unfortunately for this reviewer, the DVD I received was damaged. About halfway through, the images and sound began to freeze and stall. This proved an insurmountable problem, especially since one of the immutable laws of nature is: You can't interrupt Janis Joplin. 

Apologizing to the friends I had invited to watch the film with me, I recalled an encounter I once had with legendary rock promoter Bill Graham. 

It was on the UC Berkeley campus where Janis had just staged a show (in Pauley Ballroom, I believe). This was post-Big Brother and Janis had performed with a band of pick-up musicians. The band wasn't tight and Graham was displeased with the result. Referring to Janis' incendiary performance and the band's warmed-over back-up, Bill kvetched: "It was like being offered a fine filet mignon served on a dirty plate." 

I ditched the screener. This review is based on the first 50 minutes—up to Joplin's breakout moment in Monterey and well before her tragic flame-out at the age of 27. (I'm looking forward to watching the entire film on the big screen.) 

Thanks to Joplin's family, Berg's film not only displays the typical scraps of childhood—from early photos to grade reports—but also captures Janis' emotional struggle in the form of diary jottings, journal notes, postcards and letters-to-home. Janis' thoughts are brought to life by Chan Marshall (a southern actor and singer also known as Cat Power) who sounds enough like Jopin that it's like having Janis, herself, providing the on-air commentary. 

There are abundant interviews with schoolmates and fellow musicians, including members of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Everyone who survived appears to have aged well. Sam Andrew, Bob Weir, Peter Albin, David Getz all share their memories. Dick Cavett (improbably, it would seem, one of Janis' many lovers) also agreed to a coy personal interview (one that ends in a revealing explosion of delicious laughter). 

Janis' romances ranged from The Grateful Dead's Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, to Johnny Winter and actor/singer Kris Kristofferson (who, ironically, later appeared opposite Bette Midler in "The Rose," the story of Joplin-like blues-belter and her star-crossed boyfriend). 

In Chan Marshall's voice, we hear Janis excitedly sharing the news of a new "boyfriend. He's also a Capricorn " Janis was referring to Country Joe McDonald who also appears in the documentary. While Country Joe insists the two were just platonic pals, it's clear that he deeply loved—and still misses—the little girl with the big grin and gut-busting cackle. 

Let's close this review with Joe's song, "Lyrics to Janis." 

Into my life on waves of electrical sound
And flashing light she came,
Into my life with the twist of a dial
The wave of her hand — the warmth of her smile.
And even though I know that you and I
Could never find the kind of love we wanted together,
Alone I find myself missing you and I, you and I.

It's not very often that something special happens
And you happen to be that something special for me.
And walking on grass where we rolled and laughed in the moonlight
I find myself thinking of you and I, you and I, you.

Into my eye comes visions of patterns
Designs the image of her I see.
Into my mind the smell of her hair,
The sound of her voice — we once were there.

And even though I know that you and I
Could never find the kind of love we wanted together,
Alone, I find myself missing

You and I,
You and I,

Janis sings "Little Girl Blue" on the Tom Jones Show, 1969. 

New: Peter Brook’s LA TRAGÉDIE DE CARMEN at S.F. Conservatory of Music

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday December 05, 2015 - 03:52:00 PM

In 1982 Peter Brook presented in Paris a scaled-down version of Georges Bizet’s ever-popular opera, Carmen. Staged in a gigantic converted sports arena, Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen was conceived as a drama for the masses, not your usual lavish opera spectacle but rather a version of Bizet’s opera that stripped everything to its dramatic essentials in order to highlight the structure of tragedy which Brook believes underlies the ‘Carmen’ story. Brook cut away about a third of the narrative, producing an 82-minute version of Carmen that was a model of dramatic condensation and narrative clarity. Brook also eliminated, or at least minimized, all the factitious appurtenances of “Spanishness” that have adhered to the ‘Carmen’ story, choosing to emphasize instead an archetypal primitiveness, a trans-historical quality, with suggestions of ancient Greek tragedy, that enhances the suggestion of universality in Brook’s tragic vision. In Brook’s Paris production of La Tragédie de Carmen, African drums introduced the Habanera music.  

On Friday evening, December 4, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music presented the first of two performances of Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen. Director Heather Mathews honored Brook’s story-line and musical abridgement, but she regrettably re-inserted all the Spanish “local color” that Brook sought to eliminate. Whereas Brook’s version was set in a circle drawn in a sand pit – i.e., a site of primitive ritual – Heather Mathews placed the drama in the shadow of a hokey piece of stage scenery depicting, first, the outside of a plaza de toros, then, when rotated, the inside of Lilias Pastia’s tavern and, in the final scene, the inside of a bullring.  

Meanwhile, Conductor Curt Pajer faithfully limited himself to Brook’s scaled-down orchestra and cast, and Pajer made good use of the connecting music that arranger Marius Constant provided for Brook’s original 1982 production. Thus, at the S.F. Conservatory, La Tragédie de Carmen began not with Bizet’s overture, but with a haunting solo by violist Sam Nelson, whose opening phrases were soon discreetly accompanied by the 14-piece instrumental ensemble. Whereas Peter Brook opened the drama with Carmen brooding over a deck of cards she continually shuffled in seeking to know her fate, Heather Mathews opens the drama with Carmen asleep under the arches of the plaza de toros, where she is encountered by the young, innocent Micaela, who is searching for her home-town boyfriend, Don José, for whom she has a letter from his mother. Carmen, who has not yet met Don José, takes an immediate dislike to Micaela, and taunts her, then haughtily leaves the stage.  

Don José, a low-ranking army officer, arrives and encounters Micaela, who launches into Bizet’s familiar music when Don José sings, « Parle-moi de ma mère. » Micaela is here sung by Ellen Leslie, who displayed a bright, clear soprano voice and excellent French diction. Don José is here sung by young Mexican tenor Mario Rojas, who impressed me greatly when I heard him sing the role of Nemerino in L’Elisir d’amore last April here at the Conservatory. Rojas, one of the youngest ever to win Mexico’s Plácido Domingo scholarship, sang the role of Don José with superb clarity of tone and impressive power. He is clearly a lyric tenor with a great future. Carmen is here sung by mezzo-soprano Marissa Simmons, who possesses a very deep mezzo voice that is somehow lacking in subtlety of coloration. Simmons possesses, however, the charismatic stage-presence that is needed to bring off the role of Carmen successfully.  

Following Micaela’s brief interlude with Don José, Carmen again enters the scene and again taunts Micaela. A fight ensues, with the two women scratching one another’s faces and pulling hair. This fight between Micaela and Carmen replaces the fracas involving Carmen and the cigarette-factory girls in Bizet’s Carmen. Don José breaks up the fight. Carmen, annoyed by Don José’s intervention, begins flirting with him, almost taunting him. Don José’s superior officer orders him to lock up Carmen, which he does, but only half-heartedly, because he is already under Carmen s seductive sway. Carmen suggests that if Don José lets her escape, she’ll meet him later at her friend Lilias Pastia’s tavern, where they’ll drink manzanilla and dance the seguidella. All this, of course, is familiar to us from Bizet’s Carmen. Seduced by the gypsy, Don José lets Carmen escape, and is demoted in rank by his superior officer. 

Now the scene changes to the interior of Lilias Pastia’s tavern, where Carmen entertains various lovers. Don José enters, and is immediately jealous of a man who drunkenly persists in making advances to Carmen. Don José engages this drunkard in a fight, knocks him out cold, and apparently finishes him off with a strangling choke-hold. The drunkard is carted off by Carmen’s fellow gypsy-women, while Lilias Pastia, here sung brightly by soprano Alexandra Gilliam, boasts of the conviviality of her establishment. Carmen herself begins dancing provocatively for Don José. Suddenly, Don José hears the bugle sound the call for all soldiers to return to camp. He protests that he must obey the call. Carmen ridicules him, singing, “Taratata, and off you go. Is this all that love means to you?” Don José, overcome with passion, assures Carmen he loves her very deeply, and off they go to bed. Gypsy-women discreetly cover them with a blanket. Their post-coital sleep is disturbed by a man who enters, throws off their blanket, and says, in spoken recitative, “Didn’t Carmen tell you about me? I’m Garcia, her husband.” A fight ensues, and Don José kills Garcia. This is material straight out of Prosper Merimée’s novel, which was left out, however, from the libretto fashioned by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy for Bizet’s Carmen.  

Now the noted toreador Escamillo enters Lilias Pastia’s tavern, and he begins flirting with Carmen. Don José is again jealous, and he picks a fight with Escamillo, going at him with a knife. Carmen intervenes, and Escamillo thanks her for saving his life. He assures Don José they’ll meet again in battle, and he’ll be better prepared next time. Escamillo is here sung by baritone Justin Gaudoin, who vocally is not up to the macho role of Escamillo, singing lightly and almost effeminately as the brave bullfighter. However, Carmen seems entranced by Escamillo.  

The scene changes now to the inside of the bullring, where Carmen watches from under an archway as the off-stage bullfight takes place. Don José enters and seeks to pursue their love affair, but Carmen tells him all is over between them. “Then you don’t love me anymore?” sings Don José, imploringly. He insists, “Carmen, there is still time for us.” She is equally insistent that it’s over. “You may kill me, if you wish, but I’ll never give in. I live free and I’ll die free.” Just then, Escamillo’s dead body is carried through the arena on the shoulders of two men, the toreador having been fatally gored by the bull. Don José makes one last attempt to kiss Carmen and win her back. When she coldly rebuffs his kiss, he stabs her, and she dies, the music ceasing and the stage-lights dimming to black, as Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen comes to a suitably tragic end. In Brook’s view, the notion of individual fate is paramount in the ‘Carmen’ story, just as in Greek tragedy a headlong individual dares to challenge society’s laws, moving “beyond the pale” of conventional society, and ultimately falling victim not so much to the vengeance of society (although that too), as this over-reaching individual falls victim to hubris, or over-bearing pride, a fate that awaits all three of the principal antagonists in Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen. Although the Conservatory staging of this opera by Heather Mathews makes only a half-hearted attempt to render Peter Brook’s stark vision, the searing intensity of Brook’s streamlined narrative retains its power, especially when sung by the brilliant Mario Rojas and the charismatic Marissa Simmons. 

Altered Christmas Carols in honor of the DBA*

Carol Denney
Friday December 04, 2015 - 11:17:00 AM

(to the tune of Jingle Bells)

Chorus: profits first! profits first

civil rights can wait

all we want are shoppers

even if they’re full of ha--ate!

kick the poor off the streets

they’re just in the way

we don’t really need a law

to jail the poor today 


(verse 1) we’re the DBA 

and we have some advice 

we can make big dough 

on the housing crisis 

if you’ve got a roll 

you’re welcome here in town 

but if you’re poor then here’s the door 

you can't just hang around (chorus) 


(verse 2) maybe it's unkind 

but try to understand 

you’re better off in jail 

unless you’ve got a grand 

here’s a ticket for you 

we do it ‘cause we care 

public streets are really neat 

unless the poor are there (chorus)  



*Downtown Berkeley Association – they wrote the anti-panhandling, the anti-sitting law, & the anti-stuff law 




(to the tune of Silent Night) 


where are the poor 

sleeping tonight 

housing is a human right 

I got a ticket for just sitting down 

I got a ticket asleep on the ground 

I got a ticket for Christmas 

at least they were thinking of me 


ticket me now  

ticket me now 

I tried to get rich 

but I don’t know how 

Berkeley streets now belong to the rich 

everyone else can go sleep in a ditch 

I got a ticket for Christmas 

at least they were thinking of me  


if I lie down 

they get in my face 

I thought this 

was public space 

these “ambassadors” act like it’s theirs 

talk about it but nobody cares 

I got a ticket for Christmas 

at least they were  

thinking of me  


where are the poor 

sleeping tonight 

housing is  

a human right 

I got a ticket for just sitting down 

I got a ticket asleep on the ground 

I got a ticket for Christmas 

at least they were thinking of me 

(to the tune of Angels We Have Heard on High) 


city council up on high 

who’s in charge of your police 

none of you can tell me why 

they won’t leave the poor in peace 

oh…….city councilmembers 

please won’t you say something 

oh…….city councilmembers 

please won’t you say something now 


is this the best you can do 

all these stupid Christmas lights 

can’t the poor enjoy them too 

don’t we have some civil rights? 



your police have swept away 

all my friends and even me 

for just being here today 

for just sitting peacefully 



rich people get asked to stay 

poor people get asked to leave 

we’re so tired of going to jail 

for the things that we believe 











(to the tune of Joy to the World) 


guess who’s in charge of this whole town 

it is the DBA! 

they run the city council 

they run the police department 

they’ll run you out of town 

they’ll run you out of town 

if you have no money just get out of town 


guess who’s in charge of your civil rights 

it is the DBA! 

you’d better hope they like you 

‘cause otherwise they’ll bite you 

they’ll run you out of town 

they’ll run you out of town 

if you have no money just get out of town 


guess who’s in charge of public streets 

it is the DBA! 

if you put up a poster 

you will not win a toaster 

they’ll run you out of town 

they’ll run you out of town 

if you have no money just get out of town 


guess who’s in charge of elections 

it is the DBA! 

except for Measure S 

they lose a few I guess, but 

they’ll run you out of town 

they’ll run you out of town 

if you have no money just get out of town 



(to the tune of Oh, Christmas Tree)

oh, DBA, oh DBA

what happened to your conscience
oh, DBA, oh DBA
what happened to your conscience
you chase the poor at Christmastime
for simply asking for a dime
oh, DBA, oh DBA
what happened to your conscience


oh, DBA, oh DBA 

you’re just a bunch of bullies 

oh, DBA, oh DBA 

you’re just a bunch of bullies 

we need to eat we need to sit 

and sometimes even take a shit 

oh DBA, oh DBA 

you’re just a bunch of bullies 


oh DBA, oh DBA 

you spend a lot of money 

oh DBA, oh DBA 

you spend a lot of money 

a little bit on Christmas lights 

a lot destroying human rights 

oh DBA, oh DBA 

you spend a lot of money 


oh DBA, oh DBA 

we wish we had your budget 

oh DBA, oh DBA 

we wish we had your budget 

for all you’ve spent getting nothing done 

we probably could house everyone 

oh DBA, oh DBA 

we wish we had your budget 

(to the tune of Oh, Come All Ye Faithful) 


what’s wrong with our county 

and our city council 

why are there families living 

out on the street? 

why do our planners  

only build for rich people? 

they keep on building condos 

they keep on building condos 

they keep on building condos 

that we can’t afford  


why do these merchants 

let themselves be harnessed 

for fascist agendas of  

the DBA? 

real estate interests are  

driving the agenda 

of chasing round the homeless 

of chasing round the homeless 

of chasing round the homeless 

all over town 


no correlation 

exists between panhandlers 

and depressed effects on the 


our public spaces 

should belong to all of us 

let’s take back public spaces 

let’s take back public spaces 

let’s take back public spaces 

and our civil rights 




(to the tune of Away in a Manger) 


away in a dumpster 

with no place to go 

the young, poor and homeless 

just try to lay low 

the stupid ambassadors 

chase them around 

the same here in Berkeley 

as every damn town 


what’s wrong with our city 

that won’t house the poor 

why won’t they build low 

cost housing no more? 

our dumb politicians 

don’t return our calls 

developers have most of 

them by the balls 


we have empty buildings  

to shelter the poor 

just call off the cops we'll build 

campgrounds galore 

community values  

support those in need 

but our politicians  

are harnessed by greed 


just follow the money 

you’ll see what we mean 

these green shirts aren’t here 

just to keep the streets clean 

ambassador fascists 

are DBA staff 

the rich get well treated 

the poor get the shaft 

(to the tune of The First Noel) 


the DBA doesn’t represent me 

but it wants to control 

everything that we see 

public streets and public space 

public benches downtown 

you can’t hang out in public 

if a green shirt’s around 


why is this town run by the DBA? 


if you look like you have dough 

then they welcome you in 

if you’re poor then they’ll sweep you 

right into the bin 

they tried hard to make a crime 

out of just sitting down 

out of panhandling too 

and just hanging around 


why is this town run by the DBA? 


politicians really suck 

when they scapegoat the poor 

instead of putting vacancy fees 

on empty stores 

we kicked Measure S butt 

and we will not back down
these ambassadors need to get

run out of town 






Our Town Is Not For Sale (Mary Don't You Weep)  


(chorus) oh, Mary don’t you weep don’t you mourn 

oh, Mary don’t you weep don’t you mourn 

greed's not one of our values 

our town is not for sale 


big money's in the house today 

buy your ticket and pay to play...greed etc. (chorus) 


politicians look so crass 

lining up to kiss developers' ass...greed etc. (chorus) 


all they build in this town to rent 

is luxury housing for the 1%......greed etc.  


Skinner used to be on our side 

til developers took her for a real sweet ride...greed etc.  


one of these days and it won't be long 

Skinner's (Caner's, Bates is) going to learn to sing this song... ...greed etc.  


if I could I surely would  

shut down the DBA for good...greed etc. (chorus) 


one of these days and it won’t be long 

Caner’s going to have to move along...greed etc. (chorus) 


one of these nights around twelve o’clock 

this old town’s gonna really rock...greed etc. (chorus) 


Caner’s mad and you know what for 

he can’t tear down our posters anymore...greed etc. (chorus) 


long as they kick the poor around 

take my shopping to another town...greed etc. (chorus) 


(to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) 


god rest ye, merry gentlemen 

unless you’re on the street 

in that case you had better learn 

to keep moving your feet 

we’d love you if you had a lot 

of money but you don’t 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 

out of town 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 


we used to care for strangers but 

we don’t care anymore 

two square feet of stuff or else  

we’re showing you the door 

our holiday tradition here 

is kicking round the poor 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 

out of town 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 


you ask why not building housing for 

the people on the street? 

offending rich developers 

means election defeat 

and you can read the story right here 

on our balance sheet 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 

out of town 

here’s a bus ticket somewhere out of town 







(to the tune of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) 


we’re sleeping in the midnight clear 

because we have nowhere to go 

we can’t afford the rent anymore 

we don’t have that kind of dough 

the rich have housing and we have none 

it just doesn’t seem very fair 

but Maio, Droste, Bates, Capitelli 

and Moore do not seem to care 


the people of Berkeley are fast asleep 

they think we’re a liberal town 

they think it's just a big mystery 

that there's no housing around 

there are no jobs housing shelter space 

or campgrounds but still they can’t see 

why everybody can’t just go home 

they say, “it's working for me!” 


until the voters turn out to vote 

we’re stuck with this cheese-headed crew 

so when you meet the non-voters we 

hope you’ll encourage them to  

please boot this council majority  

stupidity’s tipping the scale 

unseat these losers and do it soon 

before this town is for sale 










(to the tune of Deck the Halls) 


deck the halls with fake compassion, 

fa la la la la, la la la la 

jail the homeless that’s the fashion, fa la etc. 

decorate with shiny plastic, fa la etc.  

profits make you feel fantastic, fa la etc. 


hail the DBA before us, fa la… 

tales of poverty just bore us, fa la… 

we don’t care who sleeps in doorways, fa la… 

just so we get rich in more ways, fa la… 


don’t believe the Daily Planet, fa la etc. 

if you see a copy can it, fa la etc. 

big developers are truthful, fa la etc. 

and, of course, their money’s useful, fa la etc. 


you can suck my dick Jon Caner, fa la etc. 

can we make it any plainer? , fa la etc. 

while you are enjoying turkey, fa la etc. 

we will be boycotting Berkeley, , fa la etc. 


all our favorite stores are gone now, fa la etc. 

this repression can’t go on now, fa la etc. 

leases no one can afford now, fa la etc. 

think it’s time to cut the cord now, fa la etc. 


hear the Department of Justice, fa la etc. 

DOJ says you are busted, fa la etc. 

HUD says they will stop the money, fa la etc. 

criminalization isn’t funny, fa la etc. 





New: Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE at S.F. Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:16:00 PM

Gioachino Rossini’s comic-opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia is universally hailed as Rossini’s masterpiece, and the public acclaim accorded this opera overshadows Rossini’s other noteworthy accomplishments, both in comic-opera and opera seria. Perhaps the popularity of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is what persuaded San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley to revive this work just two years after a new production opened here in Fall 2013. Much remains the same now as in that earlier production. Many cast members have returned, although in 2013 this sparkling production featured alternating casts, while the current Barber of Seville is content with a single cast for all performances.  

Let’s start with the principal singers. In 2013 baritone Lucas Meachem sang the role of Figaro in the first cast and was replaced in the second cast by Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen. In the current production Lucas Meachem sings all five Figaros, and this is a plus, for his robust performance is riveting. His voice, while not always powerful in the lower range, is always gripping in the high notes. In 2013 mezzo-soprano Isobel Leonard sang the role of Rosina in the first cast, and she was paired with young Mexican tenor Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva. That was an inspired pairing, for these two singers were outstanding. Isobel Leonard is perhaps the most exquisitely expressive opera singer in the world today, both vocally and dramatically. One simply can’t take one’s eyes off her whenever she is onstage, for she is not only beautiful but is always doing something interesting with her interpretation of a given role. Isobel Leonard is without a doubt the finest Rosina I’ve heard other than the great Theresa Berganza, whom I heard here in this role back in 1968. As for Javier Camarena, his local debut in 2013 was absolutely sensational. Here was a young singer on the brink of what will surely be a star-quality career.  

In the current S.F. Opera Barber of Seville, the role of Rosina is sung by mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, who sang this role in 2013’s second cast; and Almaviva role is now sung by René Barbera. In the Sunday matinee I attended on November 29, Daniela Mack handled Rossini’s coloratura passages with aplomb, and her voice packed plenty of power in the upper range, although her chest tones often sounded smothered. For his part, René Barbera got off to a slightly slow start but came on strong in Act II, in which he included the often-cut aria “Cessa di più resistere,” (as did Camerna in 2013). As I noted of Barbera’s performance last Fall in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (see the Nov. 14, 2014 issue of this paper), René Barbera’s head-tones are a bit sharp-edged. But this comes with the turf in Rossini’s writing for the tenor voice. In any case, Barbera’s singing in Act II of this year’s Barber of Seville was powerful and passionate, though I’ll still take Javier Camarena’s Almaviva over René Barbera’s, and Isobel Leonard’s Rosina over Daniela Mack’s. 

Doctor Bartolo is not exactly a secondary character, for he features prominently in a role straight out of commedia dell’arte as an aging codger who foolishly aspires to marry his young and pretty ward, Rosina. However, as portrayed by Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli, who also sang this role in 2013, Doctor Bartolo is such a figure of ridicule that he is easily dismissed, both vocally and dramatically. On the other hand, the relatively minor role of Don Basilio is here sung so splendidly by the stentorian bass Andrea Silvestrelli, who sang the same role in 2013, that this character surprisingly stands out. Given the athleticism of Silvestrelli’s bass voice, his famous aria, “La Calunnia,” is here even transposed a whole step down from its original. Likewise, the role of Berta, a maidservant of Doctor Bartolo and secret supporter of Rosina, is here reprised from 2013 by the veteran mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, who shone in her aria di sorbetto, or ‘sherbert aria’, (an Italian commercial break), “Che cosa é questo amore.”  

Where the staging is concerned, director Emilio Sagi has emphasized the Spanish quality of the story, portraying Seville as a sun-drenched Andalusian city full of men and women who move with the fire and intensity of flamenco dancers. In the opening scenes of Act I, this flamenco-like posturing may even seem excessive; but we accept it as a potentially valid approach. When dancers keep on intervening throughout the opera to accentuate the Spanishness of the action, how-ever, we may find the staging a bit over the top, which it is. In earlier stagings produced here, director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle also managed to emphasize the Spanish setting of this opera; but he did so without going completely overboard, as in this production. In this revival of Emilio Sagi’s original staging, director Ray Rallo has even added to the Spanish touches, and these additions are always a bit more exaggerated than in the 2013 original. Is this embroidery an improvement or a drawback? I don’t have an answer, but the fact that the question arises says much. Conductor Giuseppe Finzi, who also led the 2013 premiere performances, kept the opera moving at a suitably brisk pace, while attentive to details along the way. 

Several minor characters deserve notice. Baritone Edward Nelson sang the role of Fiorello, who appears so prominently in the opera’s first scene, then myster-iously disappears henceforth. Baritone Efraín Solís ably sang the role of Ambrogio, a servant of Doctor Bartolo’s who is enamored of his fellow-servant Berta. Matthew Stump, a bass-baritone, notably sang the role of a military officer who is drawn to intervene at the moment a furor occurs when Almaviva’s disguise as a humble student, Lindoro, threatens to destroy the carefully laid plans of Figaro and Almaviva. 

All told, the wit and musical agility of Rossini the composer make Il Barbiere di Siviglia the perennial favorite that it is. And this is as it should be. The sheer ebullience of this opera is astonishing, even today when we’ve had the opportunity to hear it over and over again. Viva Rossini!  

Berkeley Civic Meetings: November 30 - December 6 plus Dec 8 Harold Way Appeal

Kelly Hammargren for the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Monday November 30, 2015 - 08:08:00 AM

We have a number of very important meetings coming up. Note City Council will be at Longfellow on Dec 1. The last City Council meeting of the year is December 15 and then we get a break in city meetings after December 17 until January 19. 


Monday, November 30, 2:30 - 3:30 pm, City Council Agenda Committee, 2180 Milvia, draft agenda for December 15, 5:30 pm Berkeley Economic Profile, Dec 15 7 pm draft agenda includes many contracts, paving plan, demolition and dwelling controls, link to packet http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/Agenda_Committee__2015_Index.aspx 


Monday, November 30, 7:15 - 9:00 pm, Berkeley Progressive Alliance, 2043 Lincoln at Shattuck, (Election committee renamed from Sustainable Berkeley Coalition and forming a PAC) Agenda, Teach-in, Town Hall, PAC, Media, surprise guest unconfirmed.  


Monday, November 30, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Zero Waste Commission, 1326 Allston Way @Acton, Ratcliff Building, Willow Room, Zero Waste Goals and Strategic Planning, Redesign/Rebuild of Berkeley Transfer Station 


Tuesday, December 1, 5:30 - 7:00 pm, City Council Worksession, 1500 Derby, Longfellow Middle School, session on Housing, Housing Trust Fund, Affordable Housing, BMR (Below Market Rate Housing) Trust Fund, agenda link http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2015/12_Dec/City_Council__12-01-2015_-_Special_Meeting_Agenda.aspx 


Tuesday, December 1, 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm, City Council, 1500 Derby, Longfellow Middle School, #1 ADU #4 on consent - 2nd reading of sidewalk ordinance - homeless criminalization, #24, ZAB appeal 2631 Durant - 18 control rent units to be demolished, Homeless Task Force Recommendations, City Employee Living Wage #32 Dec 6, 2014 Police Response #33 increase FAR (floor area ratio) Telegraph Ave, #34 Affordable Housing Action Plan agenda link http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2015/12_Dec/City_Council__12-01-2015_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx 


Wednesday, December 2, 7:00 - 10:00 pm Planning Commission, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, No agenda available on line, link http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Planning_Commission_Homepage.aspx 


Thursday, December 3, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Housing Advisory Commission, 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, BHA (Berkeley Housing Authority Programs, Bridge Housing and Food, Community Needs, CDBG, Housing Trust Fund, Short Term Rental Agreements, http://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Housing/Commissions/Commission_for_Housing_Advisory/12-03-15-FullPacketpdf.pdf 


Thursday, December 3, 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Public Hearing on Community Needs, 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, purpose of this Public Hearing is to hear from Berkeley residents what services and housing are needed for low-income people in their communities. This information will be used to help shape the City of Berkeley"s Annual Action Plan for funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. City staff will also present information on accomplishments of projects supported with Community Development Block Grant, Emergency Solutions Grant, and HOME Investment Partnerships funding in Fiscal Year 2015. 


Thursday, December 3, 7:00 - 11:30 pm, Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, 1065 Ashby Ave - Signage, 2101 Shattuck - signage, 2777 Shattuck Ave - any mountain - landmark designation, Reconfiguration Shattuck Ave - agenda link http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Planning_and_Development/LPC_and_DRC/LPCAg120315.aspx 


Friday, December 4, no city meetings 


Saturday, December 5, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm, City Sponsored session on Zoning and Planning, 2870 Adeline between Russell and Oregon, Harriet Tubman Terrace. part of Adeline/South Shattuck Corridor planning. All welcome.  


Tuesday, December 8, 5:30 pm - 2211 Harold Way appeals - special city council session. Longfellow Middle School, 1500 Derby, Please plan to attend and bring friends. People are needed who will cede time to speakers.