Full Text

Patricia Jones


New: Citizens for East Shore Parks Honors
the Life of Sylvia McLaughlin,
Grande Dame of Environmentalism,
who Advocated for Parks, Open Space and the SF Bay

Sally Douglas Arce
Thursday January 21, 2016 - 01:59:00 PM
Patricia Jones
Patricia Jones

Sylvia McLaughlin died at her Berkeley home on Tuesday, Jan. 19. She was the co-founder of Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) and served on its board of directors since 1985.

“We are deeply saddened by Sylvia’s passing and send our well wishes to her family,” says Robert Cheasty, president of the board of Citizens for East Shore Parks. “She has left us an inspiring legacy of parks, open space and environmental activism. She was an inspiration to us all and would want this important work to continue for future generations.”

This past November, McLaughlin was honored at CESP’s 30th Anniversary Brunch. McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, which is uniquely citizen-inspired, was named after her in 2012. CESP galvanized the opposition to commercial development of the shoreline, championing public access and a single shoreline park on the remaining open space along the east shore of San Francisco Bay from the Bay Bridge into Richmond. The Park runs 8.5 miles through five cities: Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany and Richmond. 

Sylvia McLaughlin helped create the Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC), a permanent state agency to regulate filling the bay and shoreline development. BCDC was the first agency of its kind and is the model for coastal zone management worldwide. 

“Sylvia was more than an environmental mover and shaker,” Cheasty says. “She mentored many of us through example. Although Sylvia was already known for her work with Save The Bay and was in her 70's, she served as Secretary of CESP from the beginning. She hosted events in her house, chaired various working committee meetings, did fundraising, visited a raft of elected and appointed officials, and made public appearances at hearings and Board meetings whenever she could.” McLaughlin was part of a “flying squad” (with CESP President Robert Cheasty, Sierra Club leader Norman La Force and former Golden Gate Audubon Society Executive Director Arthur Feinstein) that met with state and local officials to push the park into existence, to ensure that there were proper protections for habitat and to facilitate a good balance between public use and conservation. 

McLaughlin was a gentle, but strong, activist, who began her work before the term “environmentalism” was in common use. “She was a master at reaching out to diverse stakeholders, be they Independents, Democrats or Republicans, in advancing the work to protect our shoreline,” says Patricia Jones, CESP executive director. “Sylvia poured her heart and soul into parks and open space projects and one great example of her regional footprint is the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.” 

In addition to Citizens for East Shore Parks, she co-founded Save the Bay, along with Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick, and Urban Care, a Berkeley group. 

Sylvia Cranmer spent her childhood in Denver, where she developed a love for nature and the wilderness. She completed a degree in French from Vassar College. In 1948, McLaughlin married UC Berkeley geology professor Donald Hamilton McLaughlin. He was a UC regent appointed by Gov. Earl Warren in 1951 and spent most of his professional career with Homestake Mining Co. of San Francisco, serving as the company's president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was dean of UC Berkeley's College of Mining and a professor of mining engineering, and he was a member of the UC Board of Regents for 16 years. 

A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. 

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Sylvia McLaughlin be made to Citizens for East Shore Parks (www.eastshorepark.org). Donations can also be made to Save The Bay (www.saveSFbay.org/sylvia). Save the Bay is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  

About Citizens for East Shore Parks 

CESP is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1985 to counter development proposals put forth by Santa Fe Railroad to build large-scale developments on its shoreline properties in Albany and Berkeley. Although a number of people shared the dream of an open shoreline and the idea of a park along the shore, no group existed to advocate for this dream to become reality. Environmentalists from the Citizens for the Albany Shoreline, Emeryville Shoreline Committee, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Save the Bay, and the Sierra Club banded together to form CESP. 

Other like-minded environmentalists quickly joined, as did elected and appointed officials who shared the vision of a shoreline park. Over a period of 30 years, area residents and organizations have fought to preserve more than 2,000 acres of open space in one of our nation's most densely populated urban regions. The mission of CESP is to create a necklace of shoreline parks from the Oakland Estuary to the Carquinez Strait. 


New: The Lady in the Van—A Playwright's Driveway Is a Lot to Be Thankful For

Gar Smith Opens January 22 at
Thursday January 21, 2016 - 02:03:00 PM

Opens Friday at the Landmark Clay and Century 9 in San Francisco
Opens January 29 at the Landmark Albany Twin in Berkeley

Maggie Smith is British acting royalty. At the age of 81, she is a multiple Oscar-winner and has been honored as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire -- the female equivalent of a knight. Best known as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films and as Downton Abbey's dirk-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham, Smith's title role in The Lady and the Van has won her nominations from both the Golden Globe and British Film Academy.

The latest honor for her stint as a proud and beleaguered vagrant is well deserved. It's quite a stretch from the corsets and courtesies of Downton Abbey to the Uptown Alleys of London's Camden Town—the unlikely one-time haunt of the irascible homeless rascal known as "Miss Shepherd"—but Dame Maggie inhabits her role as a daft, defiant street queen. She hoists her soiled skirts and runs away with the picture. 


But there is another key role in the story. Playwright Alan Bennett, who took pity on the desperate vagrant one day and invited her to briefly park her disabled van in the driveway of his home at 23 Gloucester Crescent. Little did Bennett realize that the van—with Miss Shepherd inside and her ever-growing bags of trash and refuse accumulating on the outside—would settle in and occupy the space for the next 15 years. 

Director Nicholas Hytner offers this description of the van lady: "She's ungrateful, ungracious, aggressive, rude, armor-plated, never gives an inch, smelly, stubborn. But she's kind of magnificent because she doesn't compromise. She lives exactly the way she wants to live.... She turns all those smug middle-class English people upside-down." 

And here is Mr. Bennett's take on his tenacious tenant: "She did exactly what she wanted. She also had no sense of humor at all. I never saw her laugh. She talked of herself in the third person, which is always a danger sign, I think. She was very strong-willed. Her will was much stronger than mine." 

Living in the Bay Area, with its own retinue of homeless souls roaming the streets, many audience members will find Miss Shepherd a somewhat familiar character—someone who lacks everything but bravely compensates with a sense of strong-willed self-importance. 

It was only after Miss Shepherd's death in 1989 that Bennett began to learn the surprising secrets of her life. (He first wrote about Miss Shepherd in a memoir in the London Review of Books. The Lady in the Van was later produced as a London stage play in 1999, staring Maggie Smith.) To Bennett's amazement, he discovered his rogue tenant once had been an artist of great renown in the concert halls of Europe. At one point, she tried, and failed, to become a nun. Throughout her later years, she was haunted by memories of a violent death and felt herself on the run from the law. Late in the film, Bennett opens packets of souvenirs from Miss Shepherd's hidden life. (It's easy to believe that the old performance playbills and other artifacts are, in fact, the actual memorabilia from Miss Shepherd's past.) 

Because The Lady in the Van is based on actual events, the producers decided to film it "on location"—on Bennett's driveway and inside his actual home. 

As Bennett, Alex Jennings was tasked with inhabiting a split personality—playing both a man who is simply trying to live his life and another man, a fretful observer, who feels compelled to write about the experience. Looking like a dowdy, bespectacled Peter O'Toole, Jennings captures Bennett's prissy habits and delightful dialect (a Northern strain of regional British that I'd never heard before). 

The filmmakers decided the best way to portray Bennett's divided self was to write roles for two Bennetts, living side by side in the cozy home, bickering, trading advice, and slinging complaints. As Bennett, Jennings is, quite literally, "beside himself." (Watching one "Bennett" tossing a book across the room where it is caught be the other "Bennett" will leave your brain wondering, "How the F did they DO that?") 

There are several subplots. The lady in the van makes mysterious visits to a distant domicile. A shadowy extortionist haunts her. (A very improbable story, it would seem.) Bennett is seen caring for his aging mum, who is becoming increasingly incapable of caring for herself—at the same time the playwright has become the unwilling steward of the seemingly indomitable Miss Shepherd. 

There are many hilarious lines ("The air freshener is behind the Virgin" rings in the mind) and several wacky exchanges that tumble into Monty Python territory. 

Special effects are limited to several appalling heaps of human feces (Sorry, Mr. DeMille, I wasn't ready for that close-up) and an ascension scene at the close that is simply divine. 

Late in the film, a gentleman shows up to complete Bennett's lonely personal life. As he's seen moving in, he tells Bennett, "I'm here. You don't have to talk to yourself any more"—thereby prompting Bennett's ever-present doppelganger to vanish. Finally, the closeted playwright and the lofty Londoner are reconciled. (One suspects the fellow seen settling into 23 Gloucester Crescent is Bennett's actual real-life mate.) 

This also is a guess, but I'm fairly certain that it is Bennett himself that we see in the final shot, wheeling down the street on a bicycle to join the small crowd gathered in the driveway of his home for the unveiling of a large blue wall plaque honoring Miss Shepherd. (Look for it the next time you're sightseeing in London.) 

One last note. The Sony Pictures press release regurgitates one of moviedom's oldest clichés when it describes the Shepherd/Bennett meeting as "a relationship that will change both their lives." Demonstrably not true. Neither character transforms the other (although, by the end of the film, Miss Shepherd herself somehow transmogrifies from "surly" to "adorable"). 

When all is said and done, these two people are who they are. Deal with it: and enjoy a lot of smiles along the way.

North Berkeley BART Station Closed to Check for Person on Tracks

Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday January 19, 2016 - 02:32:00 PM

Some trains are moving through the North Berkeley BART station this afternoon but the station remains closed as crews investigate reports of a person on the tracks nearby, a BART spokeswoman said. 

BART officials said shortly after 1:30 p.m. that the station was closed.  

BART received reports of a person walking on the tracks just north of the station and halted trains in the area to investigate whether anyone had been hit by a train, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. 

As of about 2:15 p.m. crews have not been able to determine whether anyone was on the tracks. Some trains are moving through the station but others are turning around at MacArthur station in Oakland, Trost said.

Flash: Alert: Panoramic Way still closed to vehicle traffic, shelter in place lifted.

Berkeley Police
Tuesday January 19, 2016 - 02:30:00 PM


The shelter in place has been lifted for Panoramic Way. While PG&E works to restore power, vehicle traffic is still restricted. Panoramic Way is closed at Canyon Road and Prospect Street.

Emergency Traffic is able to access the area, but normal traffic is still prohibited until further notice. If you have a medical or police emergency dial 911.

For more information regarding the outage you can call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 or visit their website at WWW.PGE.COM.

We will continue to provide updates as information develops. 


Due to multiple downed active power lines on Panoramic Way, the roadway is closed. No traffic is being allowed in or out at this time. The Berkeley Fire Department and Berkeley Police Department recommend that all persons on Panoramic Way shelter in place until further notice.  

Please stay away from downed power lines.  

We are aware that the power is out in the area and we do not have an ETA for service to return. PG&E is currently on scene working on the problem.  

We will provide updates as more information becomes available.

Press Release: Downtown Berkeley Business Association Promotes "No More Sick Leave" Policy at Tonight's Council Meeting

John Caner
Tuesday January 19, 2016 - 09:56:00 AM

Dear Downtown Employers:

The Berkeley City Council needs to hear from you TODAY. At tonight's meeting the Council will be deciding whether to adopt a new paid sick leave ordinance, OR "Postpone adoption of the Ordinance until businesses have had a chance to assess the impact of the news state Paid Sick Leave law on business operations".

Please come and speak at Council Council meeting TONIGHT to voice your opinion (7pm at Longfellow Middle School Auditorium, 1500 Derby Street) , and/or write the Mayor and Council TODAY at council@cityofberkeley.info, and or call the Mayor and Council also. 

Below are the ways the proposal under consideration differs from the new state Paid Sick Leave law that went into effect July 1, 2015: 

  • Creates a two-tiered system for large and small businesses. Employees of 'Large Employers' (more than 10 employees) would be able to accrue more paid sick leave (72 hours instead of 48 hours).
  • Allows employees to use all of the paid sick leave that they have accrued, instead of allowing employers to limit use of paid sick leave to 24 hours per year as in the state law.
  • Does not require that an employee work at least 30 days within a calendar year in California or in Berkeley to be eligible to accrue paid sick leave.
  • Allows employees to take sick leave to care for a non-family member.
You can read more about the proposed sick leave ordinance on the City website at: 

30. Paid Sick Leave Ordinance; Adding Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 13.100 

(Continued from November 10, 2015) 

From: City Manager 


Review and consider the attached Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO), including the potential benefits and impacts of the ordinance on employees, employers, and the community and either: 

1. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance adding Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 13.100; 


2. Postpone adoption of the Ordinance until businesses have had a chance to assess the impact of the new state Paid Sick Leave law on business operations. 


John Caner, CEO 

Downtown Berkeley Association

Updated: Bay Bridge is Open Again

Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday January 18, 2016 - 04:57:00 PM

Three westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge have reopened about 30 minutes after protesters shut down all lanes just east of Treasure Island this afternoon, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Protesters announced just before 4 p.m. they had shut down Bay Bridge traffic heading into San Francisco. They posted photos of several protesters chained to cars stopped across the bridge. 

Members of protest groups Black Seed and the Black Queer Liberation Collective took responsibility for the protest in a statement, citing recent police shootings.  

"We are here to move towards an increase in the health and wellbeing of all Black people in Oakland & San Francisco," the groups wrote in a statement.  

They are demanding divestment of city funds in policing, investment in affordable housing, the resignation of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the termination of San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr and Oakland police Chief Sean Whent and the termination of police officers involved in several recent shootings. 

As of about 4:30 p.m. the protesters had been cleared from three lanes of the bridge and traffic was moving again, though delays will likely persist as the 30-minute closure caused massive backups, according to the CHP. 

Another protest shut down the off-ramp to Interstate Highway 80 in Emeryville earlier this afternoon. That off-ramp remains closed, according to the CHP.

Press Release: Black Queer Liberation Collective Black.Seed Shuts Down Bay Bridge

From Mia Birdsong
Monday January 18, 2016 - 03:54:00 PM

For the second year in a row, the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP) put out a call for 96 Hours of Direct Action to reclaim Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s radical legacy and take a stand against anti-Black racism and terrorism. In a courageous display of solidarity and the spirit of MLK, Black.Seed, a Black, queer liberation collective, has shut down the Bay Bridge as a show of resistance to a system that continues to oppress Black, Queer, Brown, Indigenous and other marginalized people throughout the Bay Area.

Today, January 18th, Black.Seed has shut down the west-bound span of Bay Bridge. Cars are blocking lanes and individuals are chained across lanes to demand investment in the wellbeing of Black people. Motorists on the Bay Bridge can follow the action by tuning their radio to 107.9, a temporary radio station broadcasting the event. The action can also be followed on Twitter: @APTPaction

Over the last few years, we have seen San Francisco and Oakland destroyed by police murders, rising housing costs, rapid gentrification, and apathetic city officials. Last year, we saw dozens of police murders throughout the Bay Area; since June of 2015 in Oakland alone there have been eight Black men murdered by police.

Today Black.Seed celebrates and honors the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Historically, our people have had to take drastic and dramatic measures to highlight the systemic abuses that harm our communities. 51 years ago, those who came before us participated in direct action in Selma, Alabama, to speak out against the harms of racism and oppression. It is this very spirit of resistance that flows through our lives and actions, in the Black Out Friday, Black Brunches, and highway shutdowns of today.

We are here to move towards an increase in the health and wellbeing of all Black people in Oakland & San Francisco. We stand in solidarity with APTP and demand: 

  • The immediate divestment of city funds for policing and investment in sustainable, affordable housing so Black, Brown and Indigenous people can remain in their hometowns of Oakland and San Francisco
  • The resignation of Mayor Libby School
  • The immediate termination of Chief Greg Suhr
  • The immediate termination of Chief Sean Whent
  • The immediate termination of the officers involved in the murders of Richard Perkins, Mario Woods, Yuvette Henderson, Amilcar Lopez, Alex Nieto, Demouriah Hogg, Richard Linyard, O'Shaine Evans

New: Has the NRA Targeted the President for Assassination?

Gar Smith
Monday January 18, 2016 - 03:28:00 PM

The NRA's response to the President's emotional January 5 plea for increased background checks on gun sales was to be expected. But the statement posted on the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) website later that same day raises serious concerns about how far the NRA is willing to go to protect the country's lucrative gun industry. 

The official statement on the NRA-ILA website included a provocative graphic that seemed intended as a not-so-subtle incitement to assassination. 

It is not easy to find a photograph of the back of the president's head on the Internet. But the NRA found one—and they chose to display it on their website.  

The photo offers a perfect "assassin's view" of a target. The message is clear; no superimposed crosshairs are needed. 

Equally troubling, the headline above the photo invoked the phrase "Executive Action." As Wikipedia notes: "Executive Action" is a term used by the Central Intelligence Agency starting in the early 1950s that "refers to assassination operations. 

The use of such inflammatory wording and imagery (especially in a time of irrational and paranoid anger among many extreme gun enthusiasts) seems irresponsible and deeply disturbing. 

(The complete NRA-ILA posting can be viewed here: 


[Note: A check on January 18, discovered that the controversial photo appears to have been removed from the Google image archive. A secondary use of the image appears below.] 

Message Sent; Message Repeated 

It did not take long for the NRA's murderous meme to start spreading across the land. 

The very same day, Nashville's The Tennessean ran a story that reprinted the NRA's provocative headshot of the president. Instead of the phrase "executive action," however, the paper's editors subsituted the phrase "takes aim." And they went so far as to attach a blue USA TODAY "bullet hole" to the back of the president's neck. 


Outraged readers responded with a flood of letters to the editor. 

One reader wrote: 

"I found it hard to believe that a professional newspaper would publish such an inflammatory picture of our President. What were you trying to tell your readers? Should they aim at the blue dot in support of guns? This picture is disgraceful and a total disrespect to our president." 

Another reader responded with: 

"You have impacted our community for sure, but it won't have the impact you say you want. Not if you promote the shooting of our president the way you did in yesterday's paper…. 

You put a target on the back of the president's head and then article after article poured out hatred toward him. 

It couldn't be more plain. Do you remember Dallas Nov. 22, 1963? Do you remember the motel in Memphis and the balcony? . . . . It doesn't take much to have these situations. 

When I saw your paper I simply couldn't believe you would be so irresponsible. If you were not alive to remember these dates and places, I do. I remember President Reagan, George Wallace, President Truman, John Lennon, the list goes on. How could you be so callous!" 

The Tennessean is owned by the Gannett Corporation and is part of the USA Today chain. The paper has had a mixed political past. In 1976, Tennessean reporter Jacqueline Srouji was exposed as an FBI informant (who may also have acted as an agent provocateur). On the other hand, The Tennessean was also home to journalists ranging from Al Gore and his wife Tipper to Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam

In his emotional East Room speech, the president noted that "Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns—30,000" and noted that "we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency." 

If we are serious about our responsibility, as a society, for ending this epidemic of wanton slaughter, the NRA should be held to account for its provocative—and apparently intentional—combination of words and image. While it is important to respect the protections of the First Amendment, this appears to be a classic case of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded (and extremely well-armed) theater. 

Gar Smith is an award-winning investigative reporter, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, and the author of Nuclear Roulette.

Updated: Second Challenge to Downtown Berkeley Harold Way Development Filed

Becky O'Malley
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:27:00 PM

On Wednesday a Berkeley citizen activist, Kelly Hammargren, filed a challenge to the Berkeley City Council’s December 8 approval of an 18-story project at 2211 Harold Way in Berkeley, on the landmarked site of the historic Shattuck Hotel, which occupies almost the full city block bounded by Shattuck, Kittredge and Harold. Now a second petitioner, Berkeley resident and BART commuter James E. Hendry, has filed another challenge to the same project .

Both plaintiffs have filed, “pro per”, i.e. as individuals not represented by an attorney. 

“Pro per” is a legal concept which allows individuals to represent themselves in court without the need for an attorney. (The term is an abbreviated form of the Latin propria persona, and is also called by another Latin term, pro se, “for one’s self”. ) 

It is not uncommon for suits filed pro per to switch to representation by law firms after filing. A new citizens’ group has been formed to support the lawsuits with volunteer work, including compiling the administrative record, and fundraising for legal expenses. 

The Hammargren "Petition for a Writ of Mandate" alleges violation of the California Environmental Quality act as well as other City of Berkeley legal requirements. In particular, the petition alleges that the council on December 8 failed to even address the mandatory findings required by CEQA and therefore never adopted them as the law requires. It also charges that the 302-unit luxury apartment development proposed for the site would effectively result in increasing housing segregation in Berkeley. 

Kelly Hammargren, a registered nurse who holds an M.B.A and has worked in health care management, was an early participant in the Save Shattuck Cinemas protest, started because the original project plan would have eliminated the 10-screen film theater which is part of the Shattuck Hotel complex now on the site. 

Hendry, an economist by profession, has presented evidence at numerous City of Berkeley meetings regarding deficiencies in the city’s review of the Harold Way applicant’s financial information. 

As opposition to the Harold Way project grew beyond the original focus on the loss of the film venues, Hammargren became a co-founder and convener of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, formed to support appropriate development of affordable housing for Berkeley. 

Hammargren’s 75 page petition states that Berkeley “ failed to make necessary findings and violated procedural requirements under CEQA. The approval of this Project constitutes an abuse of discretion, because the City relied upon speculative assessments, rather than required studies and was based upon incomplete, incorrect, deceptive and misleading information.” 

A major CEQA violation alleged is that Berkeley failed to consider all feasible mitigation alternatives as required by CEQA, specifically by failing to consider the “preservation alternative” required when historic structures would be demolished. It says that the City of Berkeley in making this omission relied on the applicant’s erroneous representation of the purchase price of the property as $40 million, when in fact it was $19.8 million, and therefore concluded that a preservation alternative was unaffordable. 

Further, the petition claims that the city of Berkeley as lead agency “violated CEQA requirements by its failure to properly evaluate the Project’s significant impacts upon water, sewage, seismic safety, shadows, wind velocity, transportation, traffic, air quality and noise, affordable housing at all income levels, nearby elementary and high school students, and diversity.” 

The document notes that because the project would contain 302 luxury “market rate” units, but zero affordable “Below Market Rate” inclusionary housing apartments, it would reduce diversity in Downtown Berkeley and the city as a whole. 

It charges violation of California’s the U.S. 1968 Fair Housing Act, saying that “the Project results in further segregated housing in Berkeley by not including very low income to moderate income residents in the 302 unit building...By electing to pay a small, discounted ‘in lieu’ fee to build affordable housing elsewhere long into the future, [Berkeley] is enabling the furtherance of disparity in housing availability for persons of all economic and racial backgrounds. This policy, pattern and practice has contributed to the reduction of persons of color residing in Berkeley, i.e. a racially disparate impact. Such a disparate impact upon persons of color has been ruled by the Supreme Court a violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act." 

It charges that the project and its construction would adversely impact sensitive neighbors, including two nearby Berkeley Unified School District schools, Berkeley High School and Washington Elementary School, as well as Berkeley City College, the main branch of the Berkeley Public Library and the YMCA. 

Other challenged aspects of the city’s environmental review include: 


  • Traffic, especially as it affects Berkeley High School.
  • Transit, because BART service to downtown Berkeley is overloaded.
  • Seismic risk, particularly because no independent review of excavation under the original 1913 hotel structure was performed, and the design ultimately approved by the city council calls for building film theaters underneath that part of the hotel, which is shown on a state map as a liquefaction zone.
  • Sewer capacity, because the project’s impact on the aging downtown sewer system never received the “site-specific study” which was mandated by the EIR for Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan.
  • Disruption of Downtown Berkeley small businesses, such as restaurants and retailers, for which the film theater provides an economic engine, during the construction period and after.
The Petition for a Writ of Mandate asks the court to set aside the existing EIR and approvals for the project, and to bar demolition and construction until a legally adequate EIR is approved. 


Her full petition can be found here

Hendry’s petition makes some of the same claims and charges as Hammagren’s, but focusses particularly on the inadequacy of the analysis of the project’s relationship to mass transit in the City of Berkeley’s Environmental Impact Report. It says: 

“A major concern of the Petitioner is the Project’s significant reliance on public transit, while at the same time adopting almost a cavalier attitude about its assumed availability. The stated goal of Berkeley’s Downton Area Plan, as well as for this Project(based on the Statement of Overriding Considerations), has been to promote “transit friendly” development. The Project states it is providing state of the art programs to encourage Project tenants to reduce car usage and use more public transit yet the EIR bases its estimates of transit usage on data from the 2000 U.S. Census, data that is now over fifteen years old. As a result, the estimated increase in public transit usage resulting from the project will be significantly higher than modeled.” 

It lists as a second concern, similar to one in the Hammargren petition, the City’s continued use of information it knew to be inaccurate in assessing the economic feasibility of project alternatives as required by CEQA, despite have these errors repeatedly brought to its attention. 

A third major concern is the lack of analysis of the effect of displacing the Habitot Children’s Center which is now a tenant in the Shattuck Hotel complex. 

Hendry’s petition can be read here





Note: the author of this report is a member of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition and of the group which has been formed to support these petitions. 

The Berkeley Daily Planet is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to the Berkeley Daily Planet. We're fine with other publications basing their stories on our stories, but please note the correction in this one and correct yours accordingly.  









New: Get Ready for BAMPFA: UC's New Art Museum and Film Archive Set to Open in January

Gar Smith
Monday January 18, 2016 - 01:26:00 PM

The Berkeley Historical Society is currently offering an exhibit entitled "Art Capital of the West: Real and Imagined Art Museums and Galleries in Berkeley" (running through April 2, 2016). This made the BHS the perfect spot to host a presentation by Lawrence Rinder, the incoming director of the spanking-new, soon-to-open Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Rinder recently appeared at the BHS's exhibition room in the Veterans Building (1931 Center Street) to offer an insider's peek into the architecture and mission of the stunning new downtown venue. 


As we discovered in the course of his introduction, Rinder boasts quite a resume. In addition to serving as curator for 20th Century Art at BAMPFA, Rinder was the founding director of SF's Watts Institute for Contemporary Arts and dean of the California College of the Arts. Rinder is also a poet, a playwright ("The Wishing Well"), the author of a novel (Revenge of the Decorated Pigs) and co-author of a text-and-photos novella (Tuleyome). 

While Rinder grew up on the East Coast, his family has Bay Area roots. (His grandfather,Ruben Rinder, was cantor at San Francisco's Temple Emanuel.) 

Walking to the BHS' lectern to the applause of a packed house, Rinder began his illustrated slideshow presentation with a photograph of an ornate structure that once graced the UC campus. Erected in 1881, the building (long demolished) is believed to have been the first art museum built on the West Coast. According to Rinder, the building may also have been "the first university art museum in the country." Harvard University did not get around to building its Fogg Museum until 1895. 

Rinder had assembled an eclectic assortment of images for the evening's presentation, ranging from architectural shots to photos of art and costumes in BAMPFA's extensive collections. One of the more memorable images was a photograph of legendary screen vamp Greta Garbo, posing in a long, elegant dress. It was followed by a slide showing the back of the photograph. It was signed by Garbo and it read: "Dear Willy, Love and French kisses, Greta." 

"Was that 'Willie' as in William Hearst?" the Planet inquired. 

"Umm. Quite possibly," Render replied with a mischievous grin. After all, the Hearst family was one of the university's major financial benefactors and also donated a vast trove of rare artwork to the museum. 

Rinder next took the audience inside the shambles of the abandoned UC Press Building for a look at what the project's architects (Diller Scofidio + Renfro) had to work with. After the building's offices had been emptied and printing presses removed, the structure became a haunt for squatters and graffiti artists. 

Some of the graffiti was quite outstanding, Rinder confessed. He showed some examples, including a major "tag" that covered the walls of the signature spiral staircase in the building's lobby. (The architects preserved the famous staircase in the new design.) 

Rinder surprised the viewers with the revelation that this particular patch of unsanctioned wall-art turned out to have been the work of the some members of the Berkeley Police Department. One large section of the "cop tag" depicted a well-executed image of the Campanile bell tower. The artful cops also covered a large part of the staircase wall with huge letters spelling out the phrase, "Urban Shield" (the name of a controversial joint military-police martial law exercise). 

The cost for the new building was only $112 million owing, in large part, to the decision to retain the six-story administration building along with the sprawling space to the west that once housed the facility's massive printing presses. The only trade-off, Rinder noted, was the increased costs of securing the temperature and humidity requirements essential for the museum. 

The new facility will provide five times more space for displays and collections. There will be 10,000 ft.² for the display of artwork and another 10,000 ft.² will be devoted to the film arts. 

By storing much of its collection (including the largest pieces) in UCB's storage site in Richmond, the downtown facility will have abundant space to display its permanent and moving exhibitions. There will be matinees and evening events with plans to screen around 450 films per year. While the majority of the films will be from the PFA collection, Rinder noted that additional works of classic and rare cinema will be culled from the Archive Network, a coalition of film archives located at universities in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. 

In addition to the large screening rooms, the new BAMPFA site will also provide small two-person viewing booths where visitors can watch digitally screened versions of film classics. 

And, in what is certain to become one of the most-talked-about innovations, the BAMPFA building has been designed to screen films on the outside wall overlooking a small parklet on BAMPFA's north side. (Rinder hopes it may be possible to develop some of the University Hall property across Addison street to expand the viewing space for future al fresco cinema lovers.) 


Rinder justly boasted that the building is LEED Silver-rated—with the possibility that it maybe elevated to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's Gold status—but he admitted it was still shy of the David Brower Center's top-of-the-line Platinum rating. 

Rinder promised that the new museum will continue to exhibit the works of the beloved painter, Hans Hoffman. In fact, a special Hoffman exhibition is being planned for the first year of operation. 

And what's to become of the old BAMPFA building on Bancroft Way? The old site was closed because of seismic concerns and the Americans for Disabilities Act had given the building demerits for ramps that were too steep for ADA compliance. Rinder explained how the massive Mario Ciampi-designed structure may be updated with sturdier, more secure walls to improve its ability to survive an earthquake. According to UC administrators, these seismic upgrades would still leave the building unsuitable "for anything but classrooms." (This judgment may leave future students feeling a bit expendable.) 

BAMPFA's opening gala will be held on January 28. Don't fret about tickets: the event was sold out long before it was announced publicly. Following the gala premiere, there will be a members' preview, followed by a student preview. The museum/theater complex will open to the general public on January 31 and the historic opening day event will be free. 

The building will be open from 11 to 9 Wednesdays through Sundays with new films shown every day. Regular admission will be $12, with discounts for seniors. Visitors younger than 18 years will be admitted without charge. If accompanied by an older person, that individual will also be granted a free pass. 

Martin Luther King Speaks on Inequality

Quotes Selected by Harry Brill
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:50:00 PM

King's American Dream: "A land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."  

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death".  

"We need a radical reordering of our national priorities."  

"Laws only declare rights; they do not deliver them. The oppressed must take hold of laws and transform them into effective mandates."  

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."  

"There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice."  

"The curse of poverty has no justification in our age."  

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary."  

"When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared."  

"I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls."  

"It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home."  

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men"  

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."  

"The time is always right to do the right thing."  

"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."  

"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream".  

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."  

"The plea for unity is not a call for uniformity. There must always be a healthy debate."  

"Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."  

"Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation."

Richard Lerner, 1939-2015

Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:50:00 AM

Richard “Dick” Lerner, anthropologist, political organizer and gardener, died Dec. 16 surrounded by family and friends. 

He was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1939 and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. He came from a family of activists. His father was an organizer, writer and photojournalist for the United Electrical Workers of America, one of four unions expelled from the AFL-CIO for their left politics. The other unions were the Leather and Fur Workers, the Mine, Mill and Smelter Union, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. 

Dick published his father’s memoir, “Course of Action,” in 2012. 

Dick was and active citizen and community organizer in Berkeley for several decades. He helped run many successful local election campaigns for the progressive Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) and was a founder of the LeConte Neighborhood Association. He loved all things cooperative. He served for many years on the Board of Directors of the Federal Cooperative Credit Union in Berkeley. 

He graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1962 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and went on to teach three years at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He pursued a PhD program in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and completed his degree on agricultural cooperatives in India. His India photographs and cultural artifacts are preserved at the Hearts Museum of Anthropology. They were the subjects of a major exhibit at the Museum in 2006. 

After the passage of the National Historical Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in the early 1970’s, Dick and other San Francisco district civilian employees has the unique opportunity to do innovative work to implement the new environmental and cultural protections passed by Congress, In 1974, Dick was the first anthropologist hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Among his specialties were historical archaeology, ethnobotany, and documentary filmmaking. Dick was often acknowledged for pioneering work in tribal relations and for the standards he set for cultural resource programs related to the Corps projects. 

He remained active in professional societies and authored and edited numerous confere3nce papers and articles. He was also responsible for the San Francisco District/s research contracts and academic institutions. These studies resulted in many volumes covering prehistoric and historic archaeology, linguistics, ethnohistorical and ethnobotanical subjects. 

After years of retirement, Dick recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Army Corps of Engineers for the 24 years he worked there as an anthropologist. The occasion for the award presentation was the 23ed Annual Consulting with Tribal Nations Federal Training Program held in San Francisco kin October 2015. 

His family described him as “valiant, loyal and tenacious.” 

Donations in Dick Lerner’s honor may be made to Bay Nature or Doctors Without Borders.



Updated: Welcome to Speculation City (Formerly Known as Berkeley)

Becky O'Malley
Sunday January 17, 2016 - 01:38:00 PM

Welcome to Speculation City. Berkeley has bullseyes painted all over it, and it’s only just begun. Today’s Chron has a front page story about how priced-out San Franciscans are moving to the East Bay, and while it spotlights Oakland, you can be sure that wannabe developers and their faceless LLCs are gobbling up Berkeley properties as we speak. Berkeley's become another one of those great places to drop in, make a buck and leave town.

An eagle-eyed reader has directed my attention to an under-the-radar Christmas Eve submission by something called Mill Street Residential. This seems to be an enterprise which hopes to erect yet another building of at least 18 stories, cheek-by-jowl with the impending Colossus of Rhoades, the hideous Residences at Berkeley Plaza, which is slated to be right across the street on the site of the Shattuck Hotel. Read all about their plans here.

And soon, when these twin towers and their inevitable successors are lined up on Shattuck, it will be Welcome to the Concrete Canyon, the new normal for what we used to call Downtown Berkeley. 

Why should you care? 

Well, first of all, why should I care? 

Lucky me, it’s not in my backyard. Actually, I don’t have a backyard at my house, but anyhow, I live pretty far away. 

It’s not in my front yard either. My home has never had a view of the bay or of anything except Ashby Avenue traffic, so Whatever Happens Downtown Stays Downtown, as far as I’m concerned . 

Some say it will completely block the view of the Golden Gate from the Campanile on the UC campus. 

So? I don’t go up to the Campanile very often anymore. In fact, I tend to avoid my alma mater, because its continued uglification is painful to watch. I lost interest in the corporation formerly known as Cal when they built that gymnasium- cum-hideous-parking-garage at Memorial Stadium. 

But this week I devoted way too many hours to reading the Petitions for a Writ of Mandate which a couple of heroic Berkeley citizens have submitted in an attempt to persuade the City of Berkeley to do an adequate environmental review of 2211 Harold Way. Now I have a pretty good idea of why we should all care about the mess that either incompetence or corruption is making of our hometown’s downtown. If like me you settled in Berkeley because you wanted to live in an interesting diverse town, it’s goodbye to all that. 

Just for today, I’m going to put aside the new proposal for the “Shattuck Terrace Green Apartments”. I must say that these days when I hear the word “Green” I reach for my air freshener, because it’s a pretty good indication that a bullshit vendor has come to town, aimed squarely at one of those bullseyes. There’s nary a new cash-register-multiple proposal that isn’t greenwashed, it seems, and this one is no different. As it glides through the city’s rigged permitting process, we can just sit back and smell the compost. 

The most striking new information I gleaned from reading the petitions for a better CEQA review of 2211 Harold Way which were filed this week was the expert delineation of what could be called the gentrification of mass transit. Economist James Hendry pointed out in the petition he authored that the main argument for allowing 300+ expensive units to be plopped down on the site of a historic building was the site’s proximity to mass transit, especially BART, and yet BART is maxed out. (He should know, since he rides it to work in San Francisco every day.) 

Does anyone seriously believe that occupants of these high-rent apartments won’t own cars, won’t store them on adjacent residential streets, won’t use them every time they want get out of town? They’ll only use BART to commute to work, if at all, and as it gets more jammed they’re likely to be able to afford to drive. 

Meanwhile, the legions of service workers who are needed by a town increasingly dominated by two industries, education and food, will be forced to drive long distances from cheaper towns not served by BART. There will soon be no place for poorly paid restaurant and administrative workers to live in Berkeley. Every expensive unit that we build downtown displaces a potential working family which could be housed on that same site. 

And yet Berkeley is reserving the best sites near BART for the rich, who don’t need them. Makes no sense. Goodbye diversity, hello oligarchy. 

CEQA requires the City of Berkeley to study the impact this building will have on the environment, but that’s exactly what its EIR didn’t do where the reality of existing mass transit is concerned. Hendry documents the facts and figures to support his contention in exquisite detail. Read it by clicking here

Meanwhile, the other petition, signed by Kelly Hammargren, a registered nurse with an MBA who did health care management at Kaiser, does a great job of documenting a dizzying variety of problems with the city’s EIR, a report which, while lengthy and expensive to produce, contains some major mistakes. The biggest bomb (which Hendry also covers) is that better alternative designs, including one which might have protected the historic hotel, were never studied because city staff claimed they would be too expensive to guarantee the developer’s desired level of profits. That conclusion was based on faulty figures supplied by the developer and never vetted by city staff, especially the backers’ claim that the purchase price of the site was less than half of more than twice what it really was. 

Another important argument is that this project is significantly different from what the 2010 Measure R plus Berkeley’s Downtown Plan and its supporting zoning authorized. In fact, it’s a classic Bait and Switch scam in a sizeable number of ways too numerous to list, but to get the gory details you’ll just have to read the whole petition yourself by clicking here

Why did these two intelligent citizens do all the work of producing these legal petitions all by themselves, without any help? The short answer is that they didn’t. 

Well over a hundred citizens who spotted the huge holes in the process contributed many hours of testimony and many pages of exhibits to the discussion process, all of which were largely ignored by the Berkeley City Council and its appointees to the Zoning and Landmarks commissions. Now all this information forms a great record for the trial judge to use in evaluating whether the Environmental Impact Report should be revised. And many of those who testified at city meetings helped formulate the appeals. 

Why didn’t the citizens’ groups have a law firm do the work for them? Well, in a trick which has become all too familiar, the ultimate council decision on this project just happened to be scheduled right before the winter holidays. Backers, which include the City’s Planning Department, were betting, correctly, that it would be hard for working attorneys to launch a major new case at a time when they were busy with family matters and end-of-the-year business. But by submitting these petitions pro per, these two heroic plaintiffs were able to get the public’s foot in the door before the January 14 deadline for filing appeals, and it will now be possible to engage one of California’s excellent environmental firms to carry the ball. 

And this is where we get to the public participation part of the program. Public interest environmental law firms traditionally work at a sizeable discount from their corporate opponents, and they usually hope to recoup their fees by winning cases. But everything else about exercising the constitutional right to pursue legal remedies is expensive, almost prohibitively expensive. Copying costs alone can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. 

A group is now forming to support what Kelly and Jim have started. [Full disclosure: We intend to be part of it.] There are two ways to help: work and money. You can contribute either or both. Plaintiffs want to compile the administrative record themselves, which will save lots of money but need lots of work from volunteers. And if you can’t contribute money you can work to raise it from those who can. 

There is research underway to determine what the best legal format for such a support group should be. To find out how to help: Watch This Space.

The Editor's Back Fence

Don't Miss This

Monday January 18, 2016 - 01:32:00 PM

More ‘Progressive’ Than Thou

This year’s Democratic primary season has become a contest to claim this label — but in American politics, it has always had a slippery definition.

Public Comment

New: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.’s Timeless Vision

Michael Nagler
Monday January 18, 2016 - 01:22:00 PM

He came out against the war. Against all advice. 

In his famous speech opposing the Vietnam War at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King announced to the world his departure, or rather expansion, of his role as civil rights leader to that of a prophet warning “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, my own government,” that they had put themselves on a course “approaching spiritual death.” Just as Gandhi honed his nonviolence in South Africa and then felt that he was ready to carry the struggle into the heart of the empire, King here announced that he had enlarged his passion from those of his own race in one region of the country to the policies of that country itself. And just as Gandhi knew that his real target was larger still, that in offering “an ocular demonstration” of the power of nonviolence he was really offering humanity a way out of its turmoil and suffering, I will argue that no less was true for King. In the Riverside speech he said: 

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. 

A recent commentator has pointed out that four things right now are degrading our image in the world: Donald Trump (and the fact that people take his candidacy seriously), our heavily armed—and sometimes shooting--presence in more than 100 sovereign nations, police abuses of power, and guns. Are they not all symptoms of the “madness” that lay, and still does, behind King’s use of the term to refer to the most glaring symptom of his day, the Vietnam War? 

The term “perennial philosophy” (from the older Latin version, philosophia perennis) was popularized by Aldous Huxley to refer to a perennial strand that runs through the theology, and later the worldview generally, of virtually all known civilizations. The term that’s most commonly used today, coined in 1978 by Thomas Berry, is the “New Story.” Somewhat misleading (since it’s far from new), but useful enough: this “story” holds that life is sacred, that we are put on this planet for a sublime purpose – namely to realize that sacredness and live up to it – toward which we are moving more or less consciously and more or less erratically. When a people loses sight of this high purpose it drifts off the path to that extent, and can veer towards the “spiritual death” of which King spoke. 

Today in particular we have drifted dangerously far indeed, and because we have for the first time the raw power to destroy life on Planet Earth the return to perennial truth could not possibly be more urgent. King, like Gandhi, was fully aware that ultimately he was engaged in this very struggle. Let me cite just three elements of his vision that show this, starting from his own words: 

  • · We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” civilization to a “person oriented” civilization. The rediscovery of the path is always a rediscovery of our selves, of our true nature. It means, among other things, a rediscovery that we have resources within us that make it quite unnecessary for anyone or any civilization to exploit the Earth – or one another.
  • · I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be; and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. Our true relationship to one another is not competition, but completion. We need each other. The organizing principle of human life is neither uniformity nor separateness, but unity-in-diversity.
  • · Man must evolve for all human conflict a method that rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love, Nonviolence (aka love in action) is as at home in the ‘New Story’ as violence was in the one where we now find ourselves. I would go further: nonviolence is essential to the contemporary recovery of the perennial philosophy, as violence became inevitable when we drifted away from it.
It is because we did not follow King that far that we are losing ground even in the particular area where many did follow him, the delegitimization of racism. This shows us exactly what we must do: learn and institutionalize nonviolence in its full bearing, including its setting in the worldview of connection and complementarity. Fortunately, this is happening, here and there, and slowly increasing. We do not have to invent it out of whole cloth; but we do have to get behind it with our individual drive and talents and together make it the contribution of our age. 

Michael N. Nagler writes for PeaceVoice, is Professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and is author of The Nonviolence Handbook and The Search for a Nonviolent Future.

The Structure of Our Political Disconnect

Steve Martinot
Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:34:00 AM

Institutions vs. constituencies

A structural disconnect has made itself evident between the Berkeley City Council and the people of the city. Three major crises face the people of the city – a crisis in housing (dislocation), a crisis of homelessness (criminalization of poverty), and a crisis of policing (racial profiling and militarization). In each, an institutionality has risen against constituencies (aka real people), and in each, council has sided in both comportment and policies with institutionality. Indeed, it is council’s focus on strengthening institutionality rather than in protecting the people affected by those institutions that has generated these crises.

Though council has not been unanimous in this, it evinces a disturbing consistency – the same six voting for institutionality and three voting for constituency. As a constant element, it indicates a disturbing ethical corruption among the six (aka machine behavior). But it also reflects a disturbing acquiescence (to council’s own institutionality) by the three – disturbing because any crisis requires extreme imagination and audacity as a response. Both the six and the three abandon constituency by hiding in their respective institutionalities. With many twists of logic in their discussions, they all pretend that there is a symbiosis between the two (institutions and constituencies). As a political crisis, it marks a profound disconnect of governance.

But the disconnect does not just emerge from ill-advised choices. It is produced by an underlying structure that is itself corrupt, and which imposes its own exigencies. To see the political crisis as conditioned by an underlying structure does not excuse the council. Instead, it highlights the council’s inability or refusal to resist that more profound structural corruption. And too often, that refusal expresses itself in a preference for disparagement, scorn, and procedural machinations against those facing these crises without protection and calling for justice and fairness.

Let us briefly outline these crises, and then examine their underlying structure.  

The crisis of policing, germinating for decades, erupted in massive malfeasance a year ago (December 2014) with injurious attacks on demonstrators calling for justice for police victims nationwide. Those injured remain uncompensated to this day, in part because the context in which their injuries occurred remains unaddressed. That context is the uniformity of police behavior found across the country in the form of racial profiling, routine harassment and brutality (mostly against people of color), a regimenting demand for obedience (police officer as “commanding officer”), and an impunity of operations. Tasers, as instruments of torture, now gain acceptance as a technology of obedience. Forty years after the civil rights movements threw out the racism of Jim Crow, cities are still struggling with police racial profiling. The fact of police contracts with federal fusion centers (e.g. NCRIC-Northern Cal. Research and Information Center) imposes federal authority and policy on matters internal to the city (not to mention surveillance). In other words, the police are only partially under local civilian control. They mark a reduction of local autonomy essential to self-governance. Yet those contracts are renewed by city council without question.  

Housing has become unaffordable because of the massive development proposed by Plan Bay Area. Its promised influx of high income residents has induced unconscionable rent increases by landlords opportuning on that promise. Since rent control is prohibited by the Costa-Hawkins Act, a crisis of dislocation and exile of families has been the result (in SF, and now beginning in the east bay). Only massive affordable housing (wherein rent is set at 30% of income by HUD) will stem this crisis, because market rate housing has become affordable only by the wealthy. The city promises affordable units in all new developments, but that is an empty promise since a mitigation fee allows developers to avoid such inclusion. Corporate developers favor buildings of uniformly market rate units because they are more profitable, and the absence of government regulation makes recapitalization easier. City council has kept the mitigation fees low (against recent Nexus Study recommendations), thus revealing a pro-gentrification orientation that ignores neighborhood protections.  

The economic distortion of the housing situation has exacerbated the problem of homelessness, which has become a humanitarian crisis throughout the state. Yet the council aggravates it for its own purposes. It has consistently refused to provide public toilets or showers, so that by proposing ordinances against using the streets, it succeeds in creating a social hostility to the homeless for their uncivil "behavior." It had already fostered such hostility when the police crushed a number of encampments under bridges and highways at the edge of town, driving the homeless toward the city center, where their presence would engender complaints. When the city then uses the police against the homeless, it appears as the protector of civil society. By cutting funding to local services and drop-in centers, it increases the desperation of the homeless, creating conflict in the low income neighborhoods, in which it can appear as arbiter, again with the police. It then uses its aura as protector to undermine neighborhood resistance to planned (market rate) housing development. 

The political crisis

This marks a profound political crisis whose underlying principle is the exclusion of people from governance. The homeless are never invited to discuss what could be done by the city to alleviate their situation (they are to be exiled). Indeed, when they set up an "intentional community" by which to organize and govern themselves in accordance with all laws, that too is crushed. Neighborhood associations are not given a seat at the planning tables with a vote, though what is planned will profoundly affect their destiny. And police impunity is protected, as a power that lies well beyond political or social accountability (cf. the so-called “patrolman’s bill of rights”). 

Though this crisis of governance appears as an ethical problem (which could ostensibly be resolved by elected "better" people), it is in reality a structural disconnect. To begin with, the structure of representation ideologically legitimizes the disconnect between representatives and the constituencies they represent. It enables policies to be produced in the name of constituencies that play no deciding role. It requires that the constituencies be held responsible not for making policies but for obeying them. In obeying those policies (as law), the constituencies end up representing what their alleged "representatives" have done. Thus, it both inverts representation and violates the most fundamental tenet of democracy, namely, that those who will be affected by a policy should be the ones who articulate and make that policy. In fostering housing policies that will sacrifice present residents for the benefit of future residents, councilmembers are doing something they were not elected to do. 

The Costa-Hawkins Act is another example. Though two-thirds of all urban residents are renters, they are barred from protecting themselves against "economic evictions" by that act. 

The impossibility of representation

We know intuitively that representation is difficult simply because constituent districts are diverse, with opposing class interests, ideological differences, racial hierarchies, and cultural distinctions, etc. No single delegate can represent all these at once – especially not in the case of hierarchies (class and race). The interests of dominant and subordinate remain irresolvable. 

This inability to represent all marks the first degree of separation. The second degree is the fact that a representative has nothing concrete to represent. No district meetings have occurred in which people make political decisions on issues for a representative to carry to a council or assembly. Thus, delegates only represent a demographic. They then have to invent a political coherence for their district, upon which to make policy. Their political decisions thus evince only a rhetorical foundation. 

In a democracy, people talk politics first, choosing issues and making decisions in local assemblies, after which there are elections of delegates charged with representing those decisions. In representationism, elections come first, and the representatives are the ones who then talk politics. The very concept of politics gets corrupted through this inversion. 

How the higher body becomes its own constituency

By whatever means, every district delegate must find a way to deal with this political disconnect. They can try to represent specific groups. They can invent a general interest for the district. Or they can succumb to the highest bidder. 

When powerful outside forces like corporate developers approach a city, acting under the authority of something like the Plan Bay Area, the third possibility becomes most prominent. Nevertheless, the first two exist. With no foundation to involve constituent communities in the political decision process, representatives tend to turn to their own assembly or council membership as their primary political environment. The assembly or council becomes the source, in the absence of an assembled constituency, of minimal cooperation and support. That is, representatives act through agreements with other representatives (“I’ll support your measure if you support mine”). Through such “horse-trading,” the assembly becomes the de facto constituency for each member. By default, the delegate’s district-oriented concerns get reduced to the question of reelection. 

Because opposed interests resist compromise at the district level, the “horse-trading” paradigm is unacceptable. In housing, for instance, corporate interests and community interests stand in contradiction. Corporations seek profitability and easy recapitalization possibilities. Communities need economic stability and the maintenance of diverse cultural traditions. To foster the interests of neighborhood communities against the destructiveness of economic dislocation will mean to collide with corporate power and the gentrification from which they benefit. To try to compromise community interests and corporate interests with inclusionary housing will only end in developers buying their way out by paying mitigation fees. 

The hearings

The paradigmatic corruption of the political disconnect finds its highest expression in the structure of hearings. "Hearings" pretend to be the arena of democratic participation in policy-making. But instead they function as representationism’s disguise, thwarting participation and disempowering people, too often humiliating them in the process. 

There are two kinds of people who come to hearings. There are those who come by invitation and report on matters the council has made an issue for itself. They give the council information it needs for the projects it chooses, presenting graphs and data, and discussing the benefits of the project. They get to sit at a special table, and enter into dialogue with the council. 

The other kind is those who come to council to present a problem, to ask for assistance with a problem, or to contest a policy under discussion insofar as it promises to be a problem. When people come from the neighborhoods, or from the homeless, or from the many victimized by police racial profiling, they come to get justice and surcease from the social forces or discriminatory practices that oppress them. They do not get a table, nor a dialogue. They stand in line, are given a minute or two to tell their story, express their desire for justice, or argue for a solution to the problem, and then sit down. When a group of constituents approaches council with a common problem, neither cohesion nor coherence is possible. Their various orations on the issue get fragmented by the sequentiality of the line, and lose cohesion. Similarly, coherence gets drowned out by the shift from one speaker to another. Each person who approaches the dais must begin again, while remaining unfinished when time runs out. The public hearing is only a way of "toying" with participation. 

In sum, constituents are reduced to monologic space, while invitees are granted a dialogic space. In monologic space, there is no give and take, no exchange of ideas, no ability to resolve issues (all the things that constitute "politics"). And those to whom one speaks have no necessity to answer. Though for the invited – business people or social experts – the hearing becomes a place of warmth, conversation, and the resolution of issues, for the rest, the structure of monologue grants speech but not voice, and exclusion from decisions that will affect them. 

The democratic spirit would mandate that if large numbers of people felt strongly enough to take time to come to council, the issue should be considered serious, and more time given to each speaker – or create a setting of dialogue. But only the opposite, restricted time and reduction to monologue, occurs. 

Thus, the representationist structure corrupts the meaning of “government by the people.” It irrefutably reveals the non-representational character of representationism. 

The effect of the hearing paradigm is to create a political class distinction between people. There are the "participants" and there are the "constituents." The first receive honor and influence in the context of dialogue, and the others are reduced to commentary in monologue. 

Most often, this political "class" difference represents a difference in wealth or power. But pragmatically, it takes the form of institutional credentials, a political recognition associated with institutional positions – such as corporations, commissions, business associations, etc.). Credentials give one access to dialogue with policy-makers. Those without credentials get reduced to merely fulfilling procedural requirements. 

In conclusion

Representationism falls prey to three anti-democratic processes, the creation of political classes, the suppression of constituent political participation, and representationist control over political thought and decision-making. When representatives succumb to an elitism of thinking they know what is best for the city, they succumb to a form of corruption fostered by representationism itself, through its structural disconnect from the people. Different officials may resist this structural corruption in different ways, or use it, but however they act within it, it will corrupt them. 

This does not mean we must not hold elected officials accountable for their corruption. They must be held responsible for not resisting and thus not changing the structure that corrupts them. 

Our necessity, on the other hand, is to return the power of dialogue to the constituencies, to neighborhood assemblies in which to discuss and make policy, and through which to give elected officials something real to represent. 

Saudi Arabia

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:34:00 PM

In yet another blatant attempt to stifle free speech, Saudi Arabia executed a much revered Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr and 46 other dissidents. Nimr had been arrested multiple times, including his involvement in protests after the Arab Spring uprising. His activism dates back to his grandfather who long stood in opposition to Saudi oppression of the Shia minority. Nimr promoted a rare new democratic model calling for the support of the oppressed against the oppressor, no matter their religion, their sect and their ethnicity. He was a unifying voice who won the admiration of many young Sunni men and women. 

In contrast with the grotesque ISIS head chopping spectacles that have stirred the wrath of Washington and much of the Western world the Saudi’s who engage in similar acts have been greeted with deafening silence. 

With declining oil prices the Saudi government has had to cut back on spending on a population who have long been pampered and insulated from that dreaded 4-letter word, WORK, importing large numbers of foreign workers to perform menial labor. Unconcerned about human rights violations by the Saudis, the US has supplied close to $100 billion in weapons sales during the past five years, including banned cluster bombs which have been used against a largely civilian population in neighboring Yemen. Rivers of Saudi money and weapons have also flowed to the demonic ISIS. Furthermore, the Saudis have exported their harsh brand of Islam, Wahhabism and funded Madrassas (religious schools) to ensure a steady stream of new terrorist recruits willing to commit egregious acts against infidels to ensure a coveted place in the afterlife.

Comment re: Legal Challenge to Berkeley's Harold Way Decision filed yesterday

Al Murray
Friday January 15, 2016 - 01:53:00 PM

I have read the article pertaining to the aforementioned. The issues with the EIR have been explained and are very important for the reader to understand. However, there is another important area the article does not address, which is that the development has not plans in the project for those individuals with disabilities. This project does not confirm and address any units that will provide for Seniors and/or individuals with disabilities. The Berkeley Commission on Disability addressed this issue at one of their Commission meetings concerning the need for disabled units. I know you will be following up on this topic. If you are able to investigate this aspect also it will be very beneficial to those who have those Disabilities.  

Thanks in advance.

Glad to See a Civic-Minded Citizen Step Forward

Sheila Goldmacher
Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:58:00 AM

A big thank you to Kelly H for continuing to hold the city accountable for its poor job done with regard to the Harold Way project. She shows us by her action what true citizenship requires - not greed - but indeed caring for the needs of all the citizens of the city. Time for the rest of us to join her and others in this effort to clean up the project entirely and helping the members of the city council to find the exit doors. They have not served us well at all.


Jagjit Singh
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:43:00 PM

In flip/flop movements, the arc of the universe seems to be bending towards and away from social justice.

Much like the other unsung hero, Nelson Mandela, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has languished in jail for decades only to emerge from the shadows helping her party win the November election by a landslide. Unfortunately, the rise of democracy has been accompanied by a racist and xenophobic demagoguery against the Rohingya (Muslim) minority.  


According to a Yale study the appalling abuse of more than one million Rohingya may amount to genocide whose conclusions are reinforced by a United Nations report to the Security Council which accuses Myanmar “of committing crimes against humanity under international criminal law.” Aung San Suu Kyi is unable or unwilling to oppose the popular Buddhist sentiment of oppressing the Rohingya. Her willingness to sacrifice principle for political expediency, is deeply disappointing. 

Sadly, our own Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama, continues to remain silent in the wake of the Rohingya genocide of 67 concentration camps where the unfortunate Muslims languish. 

The global and UN response has been hugely disappointing and the plight of the Rohingya has been ignored by most Muslim countries. The few unsung heroes are aid groups like Save the Children, Fortify Watch, Doctors without Borders and Human Rights Watch. In a cringing capitulation, the US embassy in Myanmar, scrupulously avoids all references to the World’s forgotten stateless people.

Promises. Promises?

Thomas Lord
Friday January 15, 2016 - 01:55:00 PM

Governor Brown says that if his ecologically ruinous peripheral tunnel project is denied, water might be cut-off to Silicon Valley.

But he's not making any promises.

Parking for the Ruling Class, but not for the Working Class!

Russ Tilleman
Friday January 15, 2016 - 12:03:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council recently voted to allow for-profit developers to remove parking spaces from their new buildings. But the Council did not require developers to pass the cost savings on to the buyers or renters of the units in those buildings. This giveaway to developers will increase their profits and will also increase the difficulty of finding a parking space on the already-jammed streets. 

The City Council claims to be pro-public-transit, but if you take a look behind Old City Hall, you will see the parking spaces there that are reserved for the City Council members to park their own cars! 

Hypocrisy is alive and well in Berkeley government. Another reminder for us that there are two sets of rules here: one for the people who make the laws, another for the people who have to obey them.

A Proposal For Campaign Finance Reform

Thomas Ulatowski
Friday January 15, 2016 - 11:57:00 AM

Even JFK complained about the high cost of running for elected office! To try to get elected our political system requires candidates to spend so much for media adds that it practically forces them to take bribes from multinational corporations and special interest groups. So it is no wonder that our politics are in disarray. 

Consider this fact. It is far easier to study and to evaluate difficult ideas when they are in print. This is why educational institutions use expensive textbooks and important business and governmental reports are distributed on paper. Therefore, my proposal for campaign finance reform is to make more use of the written word by requiring candidates to register their plans in written reports which the voters could analyze in depth. 

Here's how my proposal would work. Once a politician gets his name on the ballot, his next requirement should be to submit a position paper. Then the government would mail these papers to the registered voters. (Spanish translations, Braille versions and audio recordings could easily be made available.) The critical point is that by campaign-finance standards this proposal would be extremely cheap! Also, since no one can get elected without communicating with the electorate, it would be reasonable to require the candidates to pay for their report's reproduction and distribution. 

These reports would be our primary focus for evaluation of the candidates' proposals; so there are a few things we can require from the candidates in order to make these documents as enlightening as possible. The length of these papers should be limited to about two to three pages (shorter for local offices, longer for statewide or national offices which involve more issues). The short length will force the candidates to get right to the heart of their intentions. The candidates should be required to list all of the issues which concern them and tell how he or she intends to deal with each issue. Also, we should request the reasons for their choice of issues and the motivation for their proposed course of action. These requirements should make the reports very revealing. 

Of course, there is no objective formula to determine whether these requirements are met--the voters will have to decide this for themselves. However, if candidates duck any of the requirements, it would be correct for the voters to count that against them. 

This proposal should improve democratic participation because civic groups could meet to read and discuss the reports. In addition, the reports will contain positive proposals, unlike media adds which are increasingly negative. The most significant consequence of this proposal is that it will level the playing field so that non-incumbents who generally have far fewer financial resources will have a better chance to publicize new ideas and to get elected. This improved competition should produce better elected officials. 

One final point: Our current campaign finance law (which limits political speech during the campaign) can't be constitutional. I imagine that it was upheld by the Supreme Court only because there was no apparent reasonable alternative. This proposal is the reasonable alternative.

Finally Reject The Trans Pacific Partnership

Glen Kohler
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:50:00 PM

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is blatantly anti-America and anti-American Citizens. Our laws are here to protect us from the likes of big national and foreign corporations, which have shown again and again that they will always act against public interests if there's a buck to be made by doing so. 

It ought to be inconceivable that an American President or American Senators and Representatives would bow down to big dollars from overseas, but that is exactly what is taking place before our eyes.

Flint, Michigan

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:46:00 PM

There has been growing concern in Flint Michigan of lead contamination in the drinking water. The poisoning of the water began after an unelected emergency manager appointed by Governor Snyder switched the city’s water source to the heavily polluted Flint River in a bid to save money. Lead is an extremely hazardless contaminant that can cause permanent health damage including memory loss and developmental impairment. Tests at Virginia Tech reported that the water could have been treated for as little as $100 a day. The mayor of Flint revealed that it would cost $1.5 billion to fix the city’s crumbling water infrastructure. State officials have ignored residents’ complaints for over a year. Last February, tests showed alarming levels of lead but officials told residents there was no cause for concern. 

Numerous emails from the EPA were ignored. Governor Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, email sent to health officials admitted Flint residents were, "basically getting blown off by us." 

In a futile effort at damage control, Governor Snyder declared a state of emergency after learning federal prosecutors had opened an investigation into Flint’s drinking water. The scandal reeks of bureaucratic ineptness and there have been growing calls for Governor Snyder to resign or face impeachment.



Jack Bragen
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:36:00 PM

I have heard it said that the main issues people deal with in their twenties are work and relationships. Yet, there are plenty of people in their forties who continue to have these struggles. A television show called, "The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" (while this particular show fails to maintain the "suspension of disbelief" that fiction is supposed to have) points to the idea that, for many people, these are issues keep coming back.  

Persons with significant psychiatric disabilities may never in their lifetimes resolve the issues of work and relationships and may be permanently impaired in those areas.  

This means that we must watch others of our age and younger experience the good things in life--money, houses, cars vacations, and the joys and challenges of parenthood, while we are stuck in institutional housing and are dependent on meager Social Security, for most or all of our adult lives. To put it succinctly, this sucks.  

Numerous persons with mental illness have resorted to drug addiction and/or suicide attempts, not just as a direct result of having a mental illness, but also because of the painful and deprived circumstances that come with mental illness.  

Additionally, persons with mental illness tend to develop "medical" complications (from poor diet, poor self-care, and the health risks of medication) by the time we reach middle age, and often die young of what would normally be considered "natural causes."  

In comparison to how people live in third world countries, and also in comparison to "guest workers"--who perform tasks that many US citizens consider distasteful, for less than minimum wage--we are not that bad off. Yet, before we became ill, many of us were brought up with the expectation that we would have better circumstances.  

In comparison to the lives of millions of less fortunate people on our planet, we are better off.  

Yet, there are some persons with mental illness who have become homeless or permanently incarcerated. These are the ones who have fallen through the ample cracks that exist, who have failed to remain in treatment, or who do not have family or an adequate mental health treatment system to meet their most fundamental needs.  

Housing is a huge challenge for many of us. If we live on SSI and/or SSDI, we probably can not afford to pay rent unless we have Section 8, or unless we live in some type of subsidized housing. I have briefly lived in the area of Concord called "the Monument Corridor." This is a bad part of Concord, an area in which many disabled people are forced to live because the rents are somewhat more affordable. A disabled person, if they have a roommate, may be able to afford this sort of housing.  

Persons with severe mental illness may sometimes lack the living skills that are necessary in order to live independently. Choosing the wrong roommates or other bad decisions may lead to not being able to maintain housing.  

Merely having adequate housing is the second biggest area of difficulty for persons with mental illness, second only to staying medicated.  

If we have good living skills and if we can keep our symptoms under control, we have a chance at a life with a modicum of comfort and independence. We may not be able to live under marvelous circumstances, and we may not have many of the good things in life that working professional people take for granted. Yet if we can remain housed, clothed, and fed, and if we can avoid being 5150'd or arrested, it is a good achievement.  

Persons with mental illness often do not live under great circumstances. However, if we are fortunate, we can enjoy at least some of life's good things.  


ECLECTIC RANT: GOP Fiddles While Earth Burns

Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 15, 2016 - 12:00:00 PM

There a scientific consensus on global warming. In the scientific field of climate studies, which includes many disciplines, the consensus can be demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change. So a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. “...the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.” In other words, more than 95% of scientists working in the disciplines contributing to studies of our climate, accept that climate change is almost certainly being caused by human activities. Global warming is no longer about science -- it is now a political, economic, social debate.  

Global warming is caused by several greenhouse gasses emitted by humans in a variety of ways. Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories, and electricity production. The gases responsible for the most warming is carbon dioxide (82%) methane (10%, and nitrous oxide (5%). 

What are some of the likely effects of global warming? Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles; sea level rise became faster over the last century and sea levels are expected to rise between 7 and 23 inches by 2100; global average temperatures have increased 1 degree Fahrenheit; precipitation is increasing across the globe; floods and droughts have become more frequent -- and severe; fresh water availability is on the decline; and climate change migration and infectious disease transfer are on the rise. 

The Paris climate control accord is a promising start. What is needed is a treaty, which under the U.S. Constitution, would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. Any climate-change treaty would be dead on arrival in the Rebublican-contolled Senate, which recently rejected elements of a new Obama plan to cut power plant emissions.  

Prior to Obama's visit to Paris, the GOP-controlled Senate voted 52-46 for two measures: one that would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (limiting power plant emissions), and another that would revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan is the largest component of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which would achieve the carbon emission cuts he is promising the world. The vote is symbolic as Obama vetoed the bills.  

The president could enact an executive agreement, which does not require Senate consent. However, the next president could repeal the agreement. When it comes to a climate deal in Paris, an executive agreement probably does not meet the “legally binding” demands of the accord because the president alone cannot keep the promises set forth in the accord. For example, the Paris negotiators want firm emissions-control agreements. But only Congress can set specific national limits on greenhouse gas emissions and only Congress can approve a proposed $10 billion Green Climate Fund as Congress alone controls the purse. Thus, President Obama can only achieve a climate control with the consent of Congress. 

There’s no mystery as to why too many in Congress, including the Republican presidential candidates, deny global warming. It is because the oil and coal industries have conducted a vigorous campaign for years now, primarily targeting Republicans, to cast doubt on the science of global warming.  

Let's look at what the GOP presidential candidates say about global warming: 

Donald Trump,  

--"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." 

--"This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice."  

--"In response to the chilly temperatures, Trump tweeted, "Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!" 

Ted Cruz,  

--“And many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem cause the science doesn’t back them up. And in particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there’s been zero warming. None whatsoever.” Real climate scientists – who understand this issue far, far better than Cruz – disagree. 

Marco Rubio,  

--“We're not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate.”  

--"We're not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government wants to."  

--"Humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of these people out there are trying to make us believe, for the following reason. I believe climate is changing because there's never been a moment where the climate is not changing. The question is, what percentage of that or what is due to human activity? If we do the things they want us to do, cap and trade, you name it, how much will that change the pace of climates change vs. how much will it cost to our economy?" 

Jeb Bush, who has made varying statements on climate change, said that he believes humans are partly responsible for it. but cautioned against actions that would harm the U.S. economy.  

Ben Carson; during a visit to California seemed unaware about climate change and asked to see the science demonstrating climate change was caused by human activity. California Governor Jerry Brown mailed Carson a copy of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with a letter asking Carson to utilize his "considerable intelligence" to review the material. The IPCC) is the scientific body created by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization to provide regular assessments of the state of climate science for policymakers. 

According to a new poll, at least 70% of Americans believe that global warming is real and supported by scientific evidence. Realizing that denying global warming is not a viable campaign issue, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are combining half-hearted denial with an anti-action, economic argument. 

Reaching an enforceable climate control treaty is the ultimate goal to arrest global warming and climate change. Without such a treat, Republicans and their paymasters will continue to oppose climate change action, all while the Earth burns.

Arts & Events

Alexander String Quartet’s Final “Mozart in Vienna” Program

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday January 15, 2016 - 02:41:00 PM

My routine of playing tennis every Saturday morning was disrupted by the ongoing rainstorms of El Niño, and as a result I was able to attend the Alexander String Quartet’s final “Mozart in Vienna” program at 10:00 am on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. These “Mozart in Vienna” programs have been presided over each Saturday by music historian-in-residence Robert Greenberg, who introduces the works to be performed and lectures on their salient musical attributes. Brooklyn-born Greenberg, who was referrred to by The Bangor Daily News (Maine) as “the Elvis of music history and appreciation,” treats his lectures as a kind of stand-up comedy routine, and he comes off at times almost as a carnival barker. Nonetheless, Greenberg knows his music, and he is at his best when, as he did on January 9, he coaxes the Alexander String Quartet to play the very phrases the lecturer wishes to call to our attention. 

The program on January 9 consisted of Mozart’s String Quartet in F Major, K. 590, and Mozart’s Viola Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614. These are very late works by Mozart – the former, composed in June 1790, is the last string quartet Mozart wrote; and the latter, completed on April 12, 1791, is the composer’s last chamber work. The Alexander String Quartet, which celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2011-12, is comprised of Zakarias Grafilo, violin, Frederick Lifsitz, violin, Paul Yarbrough, viola, and Sandy Wilson, cello. For Mozart’s Viola Quintet, the Alexander String Quartet was joined by guest violist Charith Premawardhana. 

In discussing Mozart’s F Major String Quartet, Robert Greenberg noted that Mozart may have concocted a white lie regarding the origin of this work. Upon his return from a visit to King Freidrich Wilhelm of Prussia in Berlin in 1789, Mozart allegedly put it out that he had played before the king, who rewarded him with a golden snuffbox filled with a hundred louis d’or and a commission to compose six string quartets. Only three such quartets were actually written by Mozart, and were nicknamed the “King of Prussia Quartets.” The problem is, however, that apparently the king did not receive Mozart, gave him no gift, and commissioned nothing from him. Mozart seems to have concocted the gift-and-commission story as a way of saving face; and he presumably still harbored hopes that when he eventually completed the set of three, not six, string quartets, he might find favor with the king by presenting them to the music-loving Friedrich Wilhelm. Alas, this did not happen, and Mozart subsequently wrote to his friend Puchberg on June 12, 1790, “I am now compelled to dispose of my quartets (this wearisome work) for a pepper-corn fee just in order to lay my hands on some cash.”  

Whatever may be the origin of Quartets K. 588, 589 and 590, we cannot help appreciating them as examples of late Mozart’s expansive notion of quartet-writing. Unlike the earlier set of six quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn, Mozart now emphasizes a concentrated unity over dramatic contrasts. This is particularly evident in the F Major Quartet, K. 590. Robert Greenberg noted the apparently simple material out of which Mozart builds each movement in this quartet. Greenberg called our attention to the opening bars consisting of a rising arpeggio followed immediately by a scalar descent. From this simple structure Mozart created a scintillating dialogue between the first violin and cello, with the cello introducing the second subject. The development is short but concentrated, and after a lengthy recapitulation the first movement ends on a strangely offhand gesture, almost fading away. The second movement, an Andante, is built on only one theme. Indeed, it is almost no theme at all, but merely a rhythm, out of which the entire movement is constructed. Beethoven, Greenberg noted, much admired this Mozart quartet and was inspired to write a similar movement based on a rhythm in the second movement of his F Major Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1. The third movement of Mozart’s F Major Quartet offers asymmetric themes in a minuet which opens with seven bars and a trio which opens with five bars. The final movement, an Allegro, offers a rondo theme developed in concertante fashion by the first violin, and excels in dazzling counterpoint. First violinist Zakarias Grafilo handled the concertante passages in brilliant fashion. 

After intermission the Alexander String Quartet returned to the stage, augmented by Guest Artist Charith Premawardhana on second viola. Robert Greenberg returned to introduce Mozart’s Viola Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614. Greenberg noted the Haydnesque gaiety and rusticity of the opening theme – two violas that sound like a pair of hunting horns. This fanfare and its accompanying trills return throughout the first movement. Soon the first violin begins to soar above the lower instruments, at one point reaching a high D. After several long runs by the first violin, the hornlike fanfare and its trills return to close out this opening movement. The second movement, an intricate Andante, is structured as a theme with variations. The theme itself, sung initially by the first violin, sounds like an aria, and it has been likened to Belmonte’s aria “Wenn der Freude Thränen fliessen” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. With each set of variations, the music becomes more complex and more chromatic, even introducing unusual dissonances. The third movement begins with a minuet while the trio section offers a German Ländler dance in which the first violin sings a country fiddler’s tune over a drone-like accompaniment by the cello. This too seems a tribute to Haydn. The fourth and final movement, a rondo marked Allegro, is constructed on a single theme, yet another tribute to Haydn. However, to Haydn’s straightforward approach to single-themed movements Mozart adds his own concentrated polyphonic writing. The simple opening theme is given complex fugal development that anticipates Beethoven’s use of fugal material in his own late string quartets. Here Mozart offers virtuoso passages for the first violin, admirably played by Zakarias Grafilo, and the Viola Quintet in E-flat Major rushes to an energetic close. 

Although I missed my usual Saturday morning tennis game, I was admirably compensated by the opportunity to hear the excellent Alexander String Quartet in their final “Mozart in Vienna” concert.