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New: BART's Still Trying to Figure It Out

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday March 24, 2016 - 12:35:00 PM

BART still has no timeline for when service will be restored between the North Concord/Martinez and Pittsburg/Bay Point stations, more than a week after a mysterious electrical spike damaged dozens of cars along that stretch of track.

"We're a little perplexed right now," BART assistant general manager Paul Oversier told the BART board of directors at their meeting this morning.

The voltage spike damages electrical components in certain train cars and took about 50 cars out of service. BART crews have inspected every inch of the tracks in the area and the electrical systems serving it, but have so far not found the source of the problem.

A similar problem damaged cars between downtown Oakland and San Francisco starting in February, but BART crews didn't get to the bottom of that problem either -- it just went away and its cause remains unclear. 

So far, this problem hasn't gone away. During commute hours, riders boarding at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station, which peaks at about 1,700 people hourly, have to board a shuttle train running between that station and North Concord/Martinez every 10 minutes. 

Riders then have to off-board and get on a different train to get to other destinations on BART, Oversier said. 

"We need to understand how significant this is to people," BART director Joel Keller, who represents the affected stations, said at today's meeting. 

Keller said he took the shuttle to the meeting this morning, and while it works, "it's not what people are accustomed to, it's not what they expect, it's not the level of service that we have provided people for 20 years. It's a step down in service." 

He called for an evening meeting in Pittsburg to hear from residents there. 

Even as the problem remains mysterious, BART officials are developing a plan to restore full service to the line. Because the glitch only affects cars with older direct current propulsion systems, it's possible trains made up of cars that run on newer alternating current systems can run through there instead, Oversier said. 

While possible, such a solution is logistically difficult. Only 59 cars capable of leading the trains with alternating current systems are available, and 42 of them would have to be dedicated to running to Pittsburg/Bay Point under such a plan. 

Meanwhile, BART is stretched thin trying to keep as many cars as possible on the tracks. After the problem first surfaced at about 10 a.m. on March 16, BART quickly went from 571 cars in service, already down from its typical 579, to 521 cars. 

The electrical spikes of up to 2,500 volts last only milliseconds but damage a component called a thyristor in the cars. BART repair crews have quickly run through their supply of spare thyristors, but each car has five of them and the spikes typically only damage one so the remaining four can be used to repair other cars. 

As of today, 541 cars were in service, meaning 12 trains were still running one car short, Oversier said.  

To get all trains back in service, BART needs to get a new supply of thyristors, something agency officials thought initially could take 22 weeks. However, they have now found a supplier that might be able to get them in four weeks. 

Three outside consultants, extensive inspections of the tracks and new diagnostic equipment have not been able to find the source of the mysterious power surges. 

Because nothing on the tracks seems to be causing the problem, BART crews are now looking into the unlikely possibility that the problem is originating in the cars themselves. But that possibility is only being looked at because no other cause has become clear. 

BART general manager Grace Crunican apologized to riders today and said sleep-deprived BART staff have been working overtime to determine the cause of the issue and get service restored as quickly as possible.  

"They look like hell," Crunican said.

Berkeley Architectural Heritage Spring House Tour, May 1, 2016

Daniella Thompson
Wednesday March 23, 2016 - 04:40:00 PM

A Ramble ’Round the Rose Garden:

Berkeley Architectural Heritage Spring House Tour & Garden Reception

Sunday, May 1, 2016 — 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) will hold its 41st annual Spring House Tour and Garden Reception on Sunday, May 1, 2016, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.

This year’s tour focuses on the neighborhood south of the Berkeley Municipal Rose Garden, including Bay View Place, Hawthorne Terrace, Vine Lane, and Euclid Avenue. 

Open on the tour will be picturesque houses built between 1904 and 1936. The architects represented include Bernard Maybeck; John Galen Howard; William Raymond Yelland; A.H. Broad; Malcolm D. Reynolds; and more.
Tour goers will also have the opportunity to visit several glorious secret gardens. 

Tour map, illustrated guidebook, and refreshments will be provided. General admission $45; BAHA members $35. 

For tour information and reservations, visit the BAHA website http://berkeleyheritage.com, e-mail baha@berkeleyheritage.com, or call (510) 841-2242. 

Two Stabbed in Berkeley--Suspect in Custody

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday March 22, 2016 - 03:59:00 PM

A Berkeley man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder for allegedly stabbing two men at an apartment in West Berkeley early this morning, police said. 

Officers who responded to the incident in the 1000 block of University Avenue, near 10th Street, at about 1:30 a.m. today found the two victims fighting with the suspect, according to police. 

The suspect was taken into custody after a brief struggle and the two victims, who were suffering from stab wounds that weren't considered life-threatening, were transported to a local hospital to be treated for their injuries, police said. 

The suspect, identified as 33-year-old Tristan Chaix, suffered a laceration and he was also transported to a local hospital to be treated but was later booked into the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he's being held without bail, according to police. 

Chaix is tentatively scheduled to be arraigned at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland on Thursday. 

In addition to two counts of attempted murder, Chaix is being held for allegedly violating his probation, police said.

New: Man Convicted of Murder for 2010 Berkeley Shooting

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday March 21, 2016 - 03:11:00 PM

A Bay Point man was convicted today of first-degree murder and attempted murder for a shooting outside a Berkeley barbershop in October 2010 that left one man dead and another seriously wounded. 

Brandon Wallace, 26, faces more than 50 years in state prison for his conviction in the shooting outside Johnson's House of Style in the 2900 block of Sacramento Street in Berkeley at 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2010. 

Gary Ferguson Jr., a 35-year-old Oakland man, was killed in the shooting and Larry Belle, who worked as a barber at the barbershop, was wounded. 

Prosecutor Matt Wendt said Wallace, who looked down when the jury's verdict was announced early in its second day of deliberations, was one of two shooters in the incident but the second suspected shooter has never been arrested or charged. 

In his closing argument last week, Wendt didn't specify a motive for the shooting but said Wallace and the second shooter fired more than 20 shots from two different guns. 

Wendt said surveillance camera footage showed the suspect who remains at large accidentally shooting Wallace, who was holding a gun, in the back of his left leg as Wallace was backing away from the scene after Ferguson and Belle were shot. 

He said when Berkeley police contacted local hospitals afterward to see if they were treating anyone who had suffered gunshot wounds to his left leg, they discovered that Wallace was getting medical treatment at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Richmond after he provided a false name. 

Wendt said when police went to Wallace's hospital room, they found blue jeans and tennis shoes that were similar to those worn by one of the suspected shooters in the surveillance video. 

Wallace's lawyer, Bonnie Narby, had asked jurors to find Wallace not guilty, saying he couldn't have been one of the shooters because he had gone to Richmond that morning to meet up with a woman he had recently met.  

Narby said as Wallace left the BART station near 16th Street and MacDonald Avenue, a man came up and asked him for change for a $20 bill but when he fumbled for change, the man tried to rob him and shot him. 

The defense lawyer said Wallace waved down a driver to take him to the hospital and checked in under a false name because he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest on an unrelated matter. 

But Wendt said Wallace's testimony that he was shot in Richmond that morning was "ridiculous" because it wasn't corroborated by ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology used by Richmond police to track reports of gunfire. 

Narby said she believes Berkeley police "rushed to judgment" by focusing on Wallace as a suspect within two hours of the shooting and said there's little direct evidence that ties Wallace to the shooting. 

In addition, Narby said the prosecution failed to provide a reason why Wallace might have wanted to kill Ferguson and Belle or that he even knew them before the shooting. 

A third suspect, 26-year-old Coleon Carroll of Berkeley, who allegedly was the driver in the shooting incident, had been scheduled to stand trial with Wallace. 

But Carroll recently pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in a plea agreement and was sentenced earlier today to 13 years in state prison. He didn't testify at Wallace's trial. 

Wendt said after Wallace was convicted today that he hopes the jury's verdict brings closure to Ferguson's family. Narby declined to comment on the verdict. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson will schedule a sentencing date for Wallace when he returns to court on Tuesday for a hearing at which the prosecution will ask that Wallace's prior convictions be confirmed, which could add more time to his prison sentence. 




Copyright © 2016 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


New: Crowds Howl at 60th Anniversary Event in Berkeley

Thomas Ferrell
Sunday March 20, 2016 - 11:42:00 AM

The city of Berkeley proclaimed March 18, 2016, “Allen Ginsberg’s ‘HOWL’ Day,” in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the first complete reading of Ginsberg’s groundbreaking poem at Berkeley’s Town Hall Theater on that date in 1956. The Town Hall Theater occupied the south wing of the old Berkeley Bowl, at the intersection of Stuart & Shattuck, in the space currently held by Sconehenge Bakery & Cafe.

Sconehenge hosted a celebration Friday organized by neighbors at the site of the original Allen Ginsberg reading.

It succeeded beyond the organizers’ expectations, filling Sconehenge to capacity, and turning people away at the door. Some who were refused entry lingered on the sidewalk, and were supplied with tables, chairs, and refreshments from inside the house.

George Killingsworth emceed Friday’s evening event. Councilperson Kriss Worthington and Arts Ambassador Susan Felix presented the city proclamation. (Worthington read an original poem riffing on “Howl,” & larded with local political references.) Music was supplied by roots trio Smooth Toad; Jennifer Stone read her poetry & made some remarks about the old Town Hall Theater, where she had performed as a young actress.

The main event was a group reading of “HOWL”, which had been divided into 23 passages by poet & musician G.P. Skratz. 

Audience members took the mike to read sections for which they had signed up beforehand. During the climactic Part III, and the celebratory “Footnote to Howl” (sometimes considered Part 4), the audience supported the individual readers with refrains of “Moloch!” (Part III), and “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (“Footnote to Howl”). These call-&-response sections were conducted by Skratz and by actor & playwright Bob Ernst. 

Ginsberg’s 1956 Berkeley reading occurred 5 months after the famous reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco—the one where Jack Kerouac shouted “GO!” from the audience.  

But Ginsberg had read only Part I of the 3-part poem at the Six Gallery (4-parts if “Footnote to Howl” is included). The poem was still a work in progress. Ginsberg continued composing the poem at the Café Med, at his cottage on Milvia Street, and during his travels through the Northwest with Gary Snyder. He gave a few readings during those months—one time at Reed College he read 3 or 4 lines from Part II—but at none of them did he unveil the finished poem.  

Meanwhile, the work-in-progress had achieved a measure of fame in local art and poetry circles, so that excitement was high when San Francisco’s Six Gallery reading was recreated at Berkeley’s Town Hall Theater. The event was organized by UC professor Tom Parkinson, an early critic and authority on the Beats, emceed by anarchist poet & scholar Kenneth Rexroth, and included readings by young poets Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, and Gary Snyder, in addition to Ginsberg. (Philip Lamantia was the only Six Gallery poet not present at the Berkeley reading.) Ginsberg’s Town Hall reading is found on the recording anthology “Holy Soul Jelly Roll.” 

Ginsberg’s notes to the recording claim that about 200 people attended the 1956 event, and that the stage was “festooned with Chinese ink brush orgy paintings” by Robert LaVigne. 

The Berkeley Town Hall reading is less widely known than the earlier San Francisco reading, but has a comparable claim to historic significance, as the city of Berkeley has recognized. 

The Town Hall Theater was the home during the 1950s of the Berkeley Drama Guild, an ambitious theater about which little is known except for an impressive program of contemporary plays, apparently running for about a month. A young David Carradine performed there, and Barbara Dane provided music for a stage production of “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas.

Donald J. Trump is the Antithesis of Abraham Lincoln (Public Comment)

Stephen Cooper
Sunday March 20, 2016 - 11:49:00 AM

In an article in The New Yorker (Feb. 29, 2016) exploring the meaning of leadership and the qualities people most associate with successful leaders, Joshua Rothman writes: "When we're swept up in the romance of leadership, we admire leaders who radiate authenticity and authority; we respect and enjoy our 'real’ leaders. At other times, though, we want leaders who see themselves objectively, who resist the pull of their own charisma, who doubt the story they have been rewarded for telling." In Rothman's final analysis, it is "[a] sense of perspective [that] may be among the most critical [of] leadership qualities."

This observation I respectfully submit, illustrates the catastrophic mistake the Republican Party – once the party of Abraham Lincoln – will make by nominating Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate and standard-bearer.

More than eighty years ago, in 1932, Dale Carnegie, the late American writer, lecturer, and self-improvement guru – best known for his still popular 1936 bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People – wrote a book about President Abraham Lincoln called, Lincoln the Unknown.  

Working on the book for years, Carnegie eventually moved to Illinois ("The Land of Lincoln") where he combed through old books and historical records and interviewed anyone alive with even the remotest connection to the former president. Carnegie was intent on unearthing the true essence of the tall, gangling man with the black stovepipe hat who so profoundly impacted our nation for the better – imbuing it by his sheer strength of character with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens – not just those with white skin.

Republicans prepared to go to the polls to elect Donald Trump ought to read Rothman's recent article, but also, they really ought to read Carnegie's historical work and labor of love about President Lincoln, our 16th President and the first Republican to ever sit in the Oval Office as Commander in Chief. If they do and, if they pay close attention to Carnegie's excellent distillation of Lincoln's character, they'll know just why they can't elevate a man like Donald Trump to the White House. They'll know that a man who revels in self-promotion (think private commercial jet emblazoned with his name and decked out with gold accoutrements proclaiming "Trump" wherever the eye can see), a man who constantly prides himself with just how many billions of dollars he has acquired – is the complete antithesis of everything that President Abraham Lincoln stood for.  

Take just one of Lincoln's lesser-known quotes that Carnegie highlights (at page 23 of his book) from Lincoln's first political speech as a candidate for Illinois State Legislature: "I was born and have remained in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relatives or friends to recommend me . . . . But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.” 

Can anyone – a Democrat, a Republican, or anyone else – imagine Donald Trump uttering anything even remotely similar? Trump wouldn't know humble if his gilded plane somehow got stuck in Humble, Texas. Trump can't stop bragging and beating us over the head with his high poll numbers and with the names of all of the alleged rich and famous people who support him – even those of dubious character (think Vladimir Putin, for one). Unlike Lincoln, Trump would not ever be content to allow himself to be kept in the background; he doesn't believe, as Lincoln did, in the wisdom of the common man – or the wisdom of any man or woman who makes less money than he does.

In short, borrowing both from Dale Carnegie and from the late four-time United States Senator from Texas and once democratic nominee for Vice President, Lloyd Bentsen, Jr.: Donald J. Trump is no Abraham Lincoln. 

About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. and federal public defender. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

McLaughlin Park Changes Approved

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Friday March 18, 2016 - 01:06:00 PM

Two contracts worth a total of $2 million to improve McLaughlin Eastshore State Park were approved Tuesday by the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors, park district officials said. 

The first contract worth $1.1 million will go to Questa Engineering of Richmond to design the final two phases of the Albany Beach restoration project. 

The project will enhance the park's beach and dunes, build a boat launch, build a restroom, renovate the parking lot and enhance the Bay Trail through the area, according to park district spokeswoman Carolyn Jones.  

The second contract for $975,000 will go to O.C. Jones and Sons of Berkeley to remove debris, toxic soil and invasive plants and re-grade a 53-foot pile of dirt that has been in the Brickyard Cove area for about 10 years.  

About 15 feet from the top of the pile will be used to create a buffer between the park and Interstate Highway 80 and provide for views of San Francisco Bay.

Jean Reba Bass Bradman
October 31, 1928 – March 16, 2016

Asa Bradman
Monday March 21, 2016 - 10:38:00 AM

Reba Bass Bradman died on March 16, 2016 at her home in Berkeley, California according to her wishes. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she grew up during the Great Depression and WW II. Her grandparents were forced out of Brooklyn for organizing unions, and she fondly remembered summers in the Catskills visiting their chicken farm and swimming in the Neversink River. 

Jean was smart, and loved to learn even though both her family, and her era, did not encourage education for girls. She was even actively discouraged at times and spoke of attempts to steer her to a secretarial track. Jean shared many stories of rebelling against teachers in elementary school and being kicked out of class to the library which was hardly a punishment for her - more like a version of "heaven." 

She loved Manhattan, and took classes at City College of New York, where she met her husband to be, Bernard Bradman, who was finishing college on the GI Bill. Together, with barely a dime in their pockets, they sailed 3rd class to Europe so he could attend medical school. At the time Europe was a frightening place where half of her family had disappeared during WW II; but it was an adventure that she took head-on and relished. She loved their time living in Paris and Geneva, barely surviving on her meager wages as a secretary. During this time she learned to speak French fluently. 

Jean and Bernard returned to New York in 1958 with their first child, and moved to Cincinnati to complete his medical training. By 1961, Bernard began what would become a thriving practice, and their third child was born. 

It was no surprise that she went back to school as soon as financial resources and her child care responsibilities permitted. She started part-time while still living in Cincinnati, and then, after moving to Marin County in 1967, she completed her B.A. at Dominican College. She subsequently attended Hastings Law School, graduating in 1973. She was hired as a public defender in Marin County specializing in juvenile law. Later her law practice extended to family law, and she was proud of her leadership role in founding the Family Law Center which still serves low-income women and families in Marin County. In 1980 she returned to New York, passed the New York Bar Exam, and represented children’s interests in complicated family law cases in the Bronx Family Court system. She always had a sharp, analytical mind, and brilliantly absorbed every nuance in a case, book, news article, or religious sermon or text. 

In the mid-1980s she parted ways with Bernard, moved to Berkeley, and purchased her beloved home on Russell Street. Berkeley suited her, and she loved her neighborhood. The Tuesday farmer’s market on Derby Street was a favorite place to shop and she was a fantastic cook, especially adept at wonderful vegetable dishes. She was one of the early members of Congregation Netivot Shalom, which has provided a safe and wonderful community for her over the last 25 years. As a member of the Netivot Building Committee, she in fact spotted the “for-sale” sign on the old Jay Vee Liquor store on University Avenue in Berkeley, which the congregation eventually purchased to build the Shul. She also was a devoted caregiver to her mother, Ethel Glickstein, who lived at the Home For Jewish Parents in Oakland, California from 1989 until her death in 1993. During these years she gradually retired from her law practice. 

Jean was a strong matriarch in the family and loved her three children, grandchildren, and extended family and friends. She was thrilled to be part of her oldest granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah in December, 2015. She is survived by her sister, Marilyn Van Der Meulen, her daughter Sandra Bradman, sons Jesse and Asa Bradman and their wives Paula and Joanna, respectively, and her granddaughters Eva and Ilana. 

As her health declined, she told her family that when she could no longer read and enjoy The New York Times, it would be time to die. That time has come and we will miss her deeply. 

Donations in her name can be made to the ACLU, the Hebrew Free Loan Society or Temple Netivot Shalom. 

Jean Reba Bass Bradman, October 31, 1928 – March 16, 2016 

Jean Reba Bass Bradman died on March 16, 2016 at her home in Berkeley, California according to her wishes. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she grew up during the Great Depression and WW II. Her grandparents left Brooklyn for the country because of violence associated with their work organizing unions. She fondly remembered summers in the Catskills visiting their chicken farm and swimming in the Neversink River.  

Jean was smart, and loved to learn although neither her family, nor her era, encouraged education for girls. Jean shared many stories of rebelling against teachers in elementary school and being kicked out of class to the library which was hardly a punishment for her - more like a version of "heaven." 

She loved Manhattan, and took classes at City College of New York, where she met her husband to be, Bernard Bradman, who was finishing college on the GI Bill. Together, with barely a dime in their pockets, they sailed to Europe so he could attend medical school. At the time Europe was a frightening place, where family had disappeared during WW II; but it was an adventure that she relished. She loved their time living in Paris and Geneva, where she supported them on her meager secretarial salary. During this time she learned to speak French fluently. 

Jean and Bernard returned to New York in 1958 , and then moved to Cincinnati to complete his residency. In Cincinnati, Bernard began what would become a thriving practice, and they moved to Marin County in 1967. 

It was no surprise that she went back to school as soon as financial resources and her child care responsibilities permitted. She started part-time while still living in Cincinnati, and then completed her B.A. at Dominican College in San Rafael. She subsequently attended Hastings Law School, graduating in 1973. She was hired as a public defender in Marin County and specialized in juvenile law. Later her law practice extended to family law, and she was proud of her leadership role in founding the Marin Family Law Center which still serves low-income women and families. In 1980 she returned to New York, passed the New York Bar Exam, and represented children’s interests in complicated family law cases in the Bronx Family Court system. She always had a sharp, analytical mind, and brilliantly absorbed every nuance in a case, book, news article, or religious sermon or text. 

In the mid-1980s she parted ways with Bernard, moved to Berkeley, and purchased her beloved home on Russell Street. Berkeley suited her, and she loved her neighborhood. The Tuesday farmer’s market on Derby Street was a favorite place to shop and she was a fantastic cook, especially adept at wonderful vegetable dishes.  

She was one of the early members of Congregation Netivot Shalom, which has provided a wonderful community for her over the last 25 years. As a member of the Netivot Building Committee, she spotted the “for-sale” sign on the old Jay Vee Liquor store on University Avenue in Berkeley, which is now the Shul. She was a devoted caregiver to her mother, Ethel, who lived at the Home For Jewish Parents in Oakland, California from 1989 until her death in 1993. During these years she gradually retired from her law practice. 

Jean built deep relationships with her family, friends and community. She is survived by her children Sandra, Jesse and his wife Paula, Asa and his wife Joanna, granddaughters Eva and Ilana, sister Marilyn, nephews Bruce and his wife Julie, Greg and his wife Shelley, her great nephews and nieces, and dear friends around the country. 

As her health declined, she told her family that when she could no longer read and enjoy The New York Times, it would be time to die. That time has come and we will miss her deeply. 

Donations in her name can be made to the ACLU (ACLU.org), the Hebrew Free Loan Society (hfls.org) or Temple Netivot Shalom (old.netivotshalom.org).



Honoring the Bagdikian Legacy

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 18, 2016 - 10:50:00 AM

On the bulletin board at our house, along with the kids’ old school photos and postcards from bygone trips, there’s a small framed handwritten note with a November 2009 date: “Dear Becky, Fight the Philistines like Hell”. It’s signed “As ever, Ben Bagdikian”.

If I were keeping score on the fight for the last 80 years or so, I think I’d report it as Bagdikian 1,000, Philistines 0. Oh, maybe the forces of evil scored a notch or two in Ben’s 96 years on this earth, but all in all I think he managed to lick them most of the time.

If you’d like to see some of the high points of a life well spent, there were many laudatory obituaries published when he died last week. As of my last Google search, the number of cites was up to 290,000 and there are probably more now. The flashiest achievement noted by many was hooking up Dan Ellsberg with the Washington Post so they could publish the Pentagon Papers. But the most influential work Ben Bagdikian did was probably his book “The Media Monopoly”, which went into seven editions, the last in 2004 under the name of “The New Media Monopoly”.

When that edition came out, Dorothy Bryant did a delightful interview with Ben for the Planet which shed light on his early years as an Armenian refugee from Turkey who ended up in New England. (Bagdikian’s Long Journey to Journalistic Heights By Dorothy Bryant Special to the Planet 06-01-2004 )

One little-known fact Dorothy uncovered is that he was actually named after the heroic Ben-Hur, a flamboyant name which he dropped as soon as possible. I noticed that in one French-language obit he was called a “Turc”, which I doubt would have pleased his Armenian family of origin.

As an adult he was devoted to free speech and to the independent press, and he was a persistent cheerleader for publications which shared his enthusiasms.

When we were trying our damnedest to provide Berkeley with a real print newspaper, he was a constant source of encouragement and advice. The framed note was sent at one of the times (the worst of several such) when we really appreciated his support. That was when a small claque of angry partisans of the government of Israel, aided and abetted by some unprincipled local politicians, attacked the Planet for publishing a letter critical of some of Israel’s policies. He stuck by us all the way. 

Ben contributed a couple of longer essays and a few shorter pieces and letters to our efforts. 

In 2007, he said this : ( Commentary: The Planet and Democracy By Ben H. Bagdikian 12-21-2007). 

I love our Daily Planet because it represents something fundamental in American democracy, fundamentals I have yet to hear in any broadcast or national news organization.  

Unlike any other industrialized democracy, the United States leaves to local communities basic powers that other industrial democracies leave to their national governments: education of our children, how our land will be used, sales taxes, where and how our highways will be built, and decisions on the community systems for water supply, sewage, fire and police departments.  

In other major countries these are national bureaucracies. In the United States, these are decided by local boards, locally elected. Do you want to know if last night your child’s middle school decided it will cut music and art to save money? Don’t wait to hear it on ABC “Good Morning America” or the CBS or CNN “Newsroom.”  

It’s a cliche that citizens need news but most serious people who pay attention to it think in terms of the New York Times, CNN and the PBS News Hour. Those and a smattering of other network broadcasts are useful for national, international or cultural news and enrichment. But they don’t produce what the Planet does.  

Our paper’s publisher, editor, reporters and essayists are more like the miracle of the bigtime comic strip’s Clark Kent of the funny paper’s Daily Planet who keeps saving his city from the Bad Guys.  

I don’t think it is too heroic to say that The Berkeley Daily Planet is a real life version of Clark Kent’s comic strip Planet, except that Clark Kent saves his city from the Bad Guys who look like crooks or demons from outer space. The Berkeley Daily Planet (even if it’s not out every day) is an example of what saves one democracy right here, at home.  

Sadly, print newspapers, including the Berkeley Daily Planet, have continued to disappear in the nine years since he wrote that. His analysis of where media ownership was going was all too prescient. Small-time operators like us just can’t afford to publish in print anymore. 

Just recently, the Bay Area News Group, part of the Media News conglomerate which has over the years acquired the suburban Bay Area organizations which published historically under local place names like the Berkeley Voice, the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury-News has announced that it will collapse the whole assortment of “brands” they’ve bought into two publications, the East Bay Times and the Mercury News. I can’t even begin to understand what that might mean, but you can read their PR release about it here. And judge for yourself. 

You can be sure it will be less news, more hype.  

Today we learned that the U.S. Justice Department has filed suit in a probably vain attempt to prevent another media monopoly, the one which now owns the Los Angeles Times, from buying up all of its suburban competitors like the Orange County Register. Good luck with that. 

Online local publications like Berkeleyside.com continue to make an effort to provide readers with local news, but increasingly they depend on opinion (which is usually contributed by writers for free), restaurant write-ups, feel-good soft features and police reports (also provided essentially for free) for most of their copy—and this remnant of the Berkeley Daily Planet is no exception, I’m sorry to say.  

San Francisco has an assortment of under-funded and under-staffed bloggish opinionated news outlets like 48hills.org and beyondchron.org, but they don’t add up in aggregate to one daily newspaper. The Hearst-acquired San Francisco Chronicle is a pale and slender shadow of its former flamboyant self, and now that Jon Carroll has retired there’s really no reason to read it most days. 

Real reporting, especially what’s now called grandly “enterprise” reporting, which used to be just plain old reporting, costs money, and the media monopolies have better things to spend their money on most of the time. Non-profits funded by liberal capitalists like Warren Hellman (Center for Investigative Reporting) and Herb and Marion Sandler (Pro Publica) do a relatively small number of investigative reports on major national topics each year, mostly using computer-assisted data mining techniques, but they are no substitute for local newspapers collecting facts on the ground. 

Ben’s 2009 piece about the need for local papers continued: 

For example, the Elmwood-Claremont folk have a love-hate relationship with the local landmark, the Claremont Hotel, and periodically some new international corporation buys the hotel and plans new local roads, an addition of condos and multi-level garages in the neighborhood.  

If it gets serious, as it has more than once, it may be hashed out in an afternoon meeting at Oakland City Hall, where a lot of people from Stonewall Road and environs, most in sweaters and sports-team jackets, some with babies in arms, go to the Oakland Zoning Board meeting, and argue it out with the hotel’s black-suited, black-shoed, black-socked team of lawyers. It becomes a civics-book demonstration of local democracy. Opponents sit near each other, and gossip and argue during breaks, and opponents who speak start their time at the microphone talking about how much they like the hotel, celebrate birthdays in the big dining room, use it to put up their visiting grandmothers, but hate the new plans that transform the open space it represents. You find no mention in the national media.  

If the hearing had been national and sessions held in Washington, it would have cost millions. It would be Section III, 4c,, paragraph S-22 of House Buildings and Grounds subcommittee agenda, and a group of $500-an-hour lobbyists who never saw the Claremont would have it at the bottom of their priority list.  

So let us not forget that many of our most important family and home problems, from schooling to sewers, are local, and that is not an arcane footnote in a civics book. It’s whether we really have a voice in some of the most central issues in the quality of our family life.  

That’s why I love the Daily Planet. I’m glad that a few other Bay Area local papers, like the Bay Guardian, deal now and then with Berkeley, though usually it’s news of some oddball event.  

And here’s the sad part: exactly the same scenario is being enacted at this very moment at the Claremont Hotel, nine years later, verbatim as Ben described it: “some new international corporation buys the hotel and plans new local roads, an addition of condos and multi-level garages in the neighborhood.” 

But this time both the print Daily Planet and the Bay Guardian are history, and no one has reported the latest Claremont maneuver as far as I can determine. I myself have heard about it only from gossip. It appears that the hotel management has met with some selected neighborhood groups, but there’s been nothing written about it, online or in print, that I can find. No one will report on that Oakland zoning board meeting this time, since even the Oakland Tribune has been subsumed into the Media News monopoly. 

What I’ve learned so far is that Richard Blum (international financier, U.C. Regent, husband of Senator Diane Feinstein) is a major financial backer of the newly christened “Claremont Club & Spa, a Fairmont Hotel.” I only know this because I was invited to the grand opening of the transmogrified interior, an unbelievably tacky party which featured a lot of actors dressed as 1920s gangsters. Blum gave the inaugural speech, in which he repeatedly gloated that as a loyal Bears fan he’d always wanted to own a Berkeley property. Evidently no one told him the Claremont is in Oakland. And the redecoration is even tackier than the party was. Oh well…I didn’t report on it at the time, my bad.  

Maybe the actors were actually there to symbolize the new ownership, a collection of slippery money men that some might call banksters. No one mentioned the roads, condos and garages in the works, though I should have guessed after reading Ben’s predictions. 

Now that he’s gone, where do those of us who are left behind go from here? One positive change is that new media makes it possible for anyone to be a reporter—not the god-like impartial reporter of the past, but a new breed of passionate engaged citizen-reporters, like all of those brave people who have used their cell phones to document outrageous occurrences.  

Here in Berkeley, a number of competent and even talented writers have been submitting work for publication in the online Planet with no compensation except the opportunity to describe the world as they see it, for which we should all be grateful. That seems to be the future, so let’s embrace it.  

Is there anyone out there who went to those neighborhood meetings who wants to report on what’s up with the Claremont? It’s the least we can do, after all, to honor Ben Bagdikian’s heritage—just keep on keeping on,by whatever means necessary.  

Functioning democracy depends on informed citizens. The Philistines never give up.

The Editor's Back Fence

Gentrification, anyone?

Tuesday March 22, 2016 - 03:43:00 PM

Public Comment

Berkeley Council's Vote not to Landmark Berkeley Bowl is Wrong

Thomas Ferrell
Friday March 18, 2016 - 01:07:00 PM

According to a fair reading of the criteria in the Berkeley landmarking ordinance, the old Bowl building qualifies for full landmark status. Indeed, many buildings in Berkeley with a lesser claim have it. It is possibly too subtle a point to argue that the neighbors may have valid arguments against Honda, AND have an appreciation for the building’s rich history, distinctive features, and presence—especially in a part of South Shattuck generally devoid of interesting buildings.  

Anyone interested in the fascinating history of the old Berkeley Bowl building, (including the ambitious Town Hall Theater of the 1950s, & the first complete performance of Allen Ginsberg’s “HOWL”) should look up Steve Finacom’s brilliant & thorough landmarking application for 2777 Shattuck. 

The neighborhood's landmarking application was not part of the continuing effort to keep Honda out of the building, and LPC essentially guaranteed it would have had no effect on Honda. We wanted to honor the building's history, and protect it from future demolishment after Honda is gone. The council’s vote to overturn the LPC is highly unusual. Either they didn’t understand or didn’t believe the neighbors’ arguments—or there is a hidden long game for development of this site unrelated to Honda.

Sex and Tomatoes

Toni Mester
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:06:00 PM

This is an article about housing, which seems to be everybody’s favorite topic these days. I’ll get to the sex and tomatoes. The problem of affordable housing weighs so heavily on the communal mind that the Berkeley City Council devoted a special session to it on February 16, and the newly formed Progressive Alliance followed with a well-attended panel discussion on March 6 at the South Berkeley Senior Center.

The MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) held an excellent forum on housing on February 20 in Oakland, and the videotape is worth watching not only to hear the experts but also to listen to the testimony from victims of displacement. In fact each of us has a housing story to tell, so it seems right to add to the discussion, especially since some areas of this subject remain to be fully aired, either because of complexity or taboo. So where angels fear to tread, this old fool has decided to rush in.

The Greying of Berkeley

At the Council hearing, Miriam Chion from ABAG gave the first presentation on population and housing trends, stating that the Bay Area senior population will increase in the next 25 years by 30%, a rate twice that of children, a statistic that flew by the ears of subsequent speakers, none of whom mentioned housing for seniors as a priority.

Attention must be paid. According to the census in 2000, Berkeley had 10,484 people over 65 (10.2%) a number that grew in ten years to 13,176 (11.7%). The 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), comprising statistical estimates between the decennial counts, shows the population over 65 at 15,057. Of course 4,570 older adults did not move into Berkeley in those fourteen years. They just stayed put because there are few affordable options for downsizing unless they uproot themselves from friends, family, and community connections and move away. In my career, I worked with seniors, and now that I’m retired myself, I draw upon my professional experience to better understand the situation of these thousands of Berkeley elders. 

First of all, seniors don’t like change and complaining about that won’t change a thing. It’s human nature to become habituated to familiar surroundings. Violent or rapid change disorients people, and the older we get, the more stuck in our ways. For this reason, many seniors are tech adverse. My older students with email usually have grandchildren who set up their computers. Boomer seniors are savvier because an Apple dropped from the tree during their 30’s, and out went the typewriters. Learning new tricks like computer skills helps seniors stay connected and enjoy better, longer lives. 

The old folks who invested in a Berkeley neighborhood decades ago expect continuity in their environment and respect for the contributions they have made with their energy and money. They voted for bonds and dutifully paid taxes and fees for years, supporting schools, parks, and street repair. The generosity of Berkeley taxpayers is legendary, but the City Council should stop counting on it. As homeowners age, they seek to lower expenses, and Berkeley’s demographics are changing. New homeowners are paying exorbitant taxes, and many of them are fed up. 

The second fact of aging is diminished physical capacity. Elderly homeowners need help, but many cannot afford house cleaning, personal care services, and repairs. Run-down and cluttered houses endanger health and safety, degrading into fire traps. The other day I stopped by an estate sale on Virginia Street to find the house a filthy shambles. And while the place was far from decomposition, the rug was grey with age and dirt, and the contents - from old magazines to spice bottles- looked at least twenty years old. At some time in the past, property up-keep stopped, as the occupants aged. 

The third inevitability is living on old money, not inherited wealth but the wages of yesteryear, which determine the size of social security and other pensions. For example, my first full time job in 1967 paid $7,000 a year, when my rent was $135 a month. I bought a house in West Berkeley in 1979 on an income of less than $15,000 and an affirmative action mortgage. The place was rotting and infested with rats, termites, and powder post beetles. I got a second mortgage from The City of Berkeley under a Carter administration HUD program called 20/20 that provided $20,000 for 20 years, the interest adjusted to income. The aim of 20/20 was to save deteriorating housing stock in blighted areas. Mine was the last 20/20 loan in Berkeley, and we know what happened to Jimmy Carter. 

After 45 continuous years in the work force, I retired on an income at 80% of the Alameda County AMI (average median income). I’m not complaining. Some of my friends are better off, many less so. A few are dead. A house requires constant maintenance but the cost of repairs, both labor and materials, rises while our DIY abilities decrease. Some people think that a house is like a gold mine, except that nobody gets the gold unless they can find another affordable place to live. The windfall that comes from selling a house is depleted by capital gains tax, relocating costs, medical expenses, inflation, and the higher cost of new housing. 

As a result, many older home owners are staying put for financial reasons including tax breaks à la Prop 13. A nationwide movement, aging in place is represented locally by Ashby Village. For lack of reasonable alternatives, elders continue to live in houses they can’t afford to leave, which contributes to the limited supply, aka lack of inventory, and rising prices for single family houses in Berkeley. 

Old economy pensions tend to be lower than the AMI, which means that most new construction for seniors needs to be subsidized. The number of homeless elders is growing with nine people waiting for each new affordable unit of senior housing. It took the City of Berkeley over 20 years to break ground on Harper Crossing, a very low-income senior housing project of 42 units. At this rate of construction, few older homeowners will find a place to downsize and instead will die in place. 

More affluent young families have moved into the flatlands, snatching up the few available houses, but most have been priced out of the urban core, find houses in outlying towns, and endure long stressful commutes. It’s a dilemma. Having mortgaged themselves to the hilt in order to secure a future for their families, the young couples find that the commute erodes quality time with their children. 

In these and many other ways, the housing needs of various age and income groups are connected, like dem bones. We can ignore these realities, wring our hands and blame NIMBYs, grey beards, techies, greed, politicians, developers, banks, capitalism or whatever. What is commonly called a “crisis” is mainly a shortage of appropriate and affordable housing, and the consensus is growing that it needs to be addressed proactively. 

The 2010 census counted 3,425 vacant units in Berkeley, about one-third for rent. The 2014 ACS put the number at 3,773. Everybody talks about the shortage, but nobody analyzes the vacancies. This one-sided thinking reminds me of the old blues song: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to laugh, and nobody wants to cry. Everybody wants to know the answer but not the reason why.” 

Form follows functions

Just as the housing needs of seniors and young families are connected, so too are the needs of women and children, especially single mothers. Price is probably one explanation for vacant units. Another could be that many new apartment buildings do not meet the needs of women and children. Here comes the sex. 

Two of the more bizarre moments in the City’s forum came from Mark Rhoades and Eric Panzer, when they referred to Zoning Adjustments Board member Sophie Hahn’s comments about the size of units in the proposed 2701 Shattuck Avenue project, a dormitory style 5 story building using modular construction and containing 70 micro units from 269 to 344 square feet each. The project was denied because the overall project was deemed out of scale with inadequate transition to the adjacent residential neighborhood and because the applicant refused the ZAB’s suggested modifications. 

Ms. Hahn was concerned that human relationships would be difficult in the tiny units, which accommodated only a twin bed with limited floor space, thereby locking in an inflexible life-style that denied guests, a partner or a child. Rhoades and Panzer found Hahn’s comments absurd, but for me, and I presume many others, her comments were refreshing - among the most insightful and sensitive heard at the ZAB, where little consideration is given to the quality of life for the inhabitants of a proposed building. The public hearings mostly deal with developers’ costs versus the impacts on the neighbors, and nobody represents the new residents. Women’s needs are particularly crucial because intimacy can result in a pregnancy, and if the apartments and the building do not support motherhood and child rearing, then an expectant woman is forced to find a new place to live. 

The interior design of an apartment building should recognize the needs of partners, families and children if development of a community is the goal, rather than simply maxing out the envelope, stuffing it with as many small apartments as possible, and expecting that the supply of highly paid young single workers will continue unabated for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile the biological clock of the millennials is ticking away. Pretty soon many will weary of finding new restaurants, bike trails, and parties and want to settle down with a partner and kids, only to find few choices of appropriate and affordable housing anywhere close to their jobs. 

Two proposed projects are typical of this short-sighted trend, 1500 San Pablo Avenue, on the site of a car dealership between Jones and Cedar, and 2100 San Pablo Avenue on old U-Haul site at the corner of Addison Street. Without delving into the relative merits and problems of these two buildings, which belong in another discussion, let’s note that both projects include long, double loaded (entry doors on either side) interior corridors without any natural light. Such a design may be appropriate for a hotel or dormitory intended for transients or students, but not long-term housing for families. Not only are the corridors energy inefficient, but the long and dimly lit hallways are not child friendly and can even be dangerous. 

Save the tomatoes

Another complaint from Mark Rhoades at the Council forum was saving tomato patches and “other things” – referring to the open space of homes located next to the arterials. By “other things” he means whatever needs sunlight: from solar panels, to the Bar-B-Q, outdoor living space, and children’s play area in the yard. Apparently buildings should take precedent over gardens, contradicting policies in the City’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for “more complete and sustainable local food production.” 

Mr. Rhoades advocates “transition zoning,” meaning that the City should eliminate the half-block-deep zoning along San Pablo, University, Adeline and Sacramento to allow for even bigger buildings - spanning the entire depth of the block. This “transition zoning” policy was floated in a draft of the last housing element, when it aroused such a roar of discontent from the flatlands that it was removed. The call to destroy our lower density flatlands neighborhoods is just class warfare by another name. Apparently the pleasures of gardens, outdoor play space, sunlight and home grown produce will be reserved only for the most affluent. 

The Berkeley City Council is faced with finding a new Planning Director. We can only hope that they select a person with enough stature, professional grit, and healing leadership to bring this community together in creating new zoning along the arterials that values the needs of residents at all life stages, preserves the neighborhoods and existing housing stock, promotes harmonious architecture, and improves our communal open space. Most importantly, we need planning and decision making that respects and promotes health, relationships, family, and community. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 






Feds Pocket $50 Billion

Jagjit Singh
Friday March 18, 2016 - 01:10:00 PM

In the past several years, the United States’ largest banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, have paid billions of dollars to settle charges of financial crimes in the mortgage market in the years preceding the 2008 housing crisis. Top regulators claimed that the record fines extracted in these settlements would provide relief to homeowners struggling with their mortgages. 

In an exhaustive investigation conducted by the Wall Street Journal has exposed a massive fraud perpetrated by the federal government. Nearly half of the $110 billion Wall Street Banks paid in settlement fines in recent years has been pocketed by the federal government and withheld from the rightful owners – homeowners. There has been no disclosure how the nearly $50 billion has been spent. 

McConnell Follies

Bruce Joffe
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:39:00 PM

Immediately after President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would not consider the nomination until after the next President is inaugurated, in ten months. McConnell holds some off-hand remark made two decades ago by Democrat Joe Biden, then Senate leader, in such high regard that he uplifts those words into what he calls "The Biden Rule," claiming it is more important than the Constitution. Really? Should such churlish cynicism pass as responsible government?  

McConnell knows very well that the Constitution gives the people responsibility for choosing a President every four years, not three years and two months, and that the President is responsible for fulfilling his duties for a full four years, not three years and two months.  

McConnell vowed to obstruct everything our President would attempt to do, immediately after the voters elected him, twice. Republicans like McConnell have tried to shut down our government services, they threatened to bankrupt the full faith and credit of our country's debt obligations, and now they want to grind up our highest court of Justice with their partisan politics.  

Maybe responsible voters will replace these irresponsible Republican Senators with Democrats in November. Meanwhile, McConnell should evoke the so-called Biden Rule to recuse himself from the Senate until after the voters express their preference.

The Social Damage Inflicted by Trump

Jack Bragen
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:47:00 PM

Very few individuals are in a position to redirect human history. With such power, there comes tremendous responsibility. Donald Trump, by virtue of being a billionaire and because of the magnitude of societal fallout from his campaign, is taking on that power, yet is failing miserably to handle that power responsibly.  

Should Trump lose his bid for the Presidency, it won't mean an end to the influence on American culture that the campaign has already carved. We could see a Clinton or Sanders Administration that will be mired in problems created by the negativity of Trump followers.  

As has happened in the George W. Bush Administration in which that presidency did indelible and extensive damage to the U.S., Trump, merely in campaigning in such a dirty, hateful, violent and cynical manner, has already done indelible damage to the U.S., and there is more to come.  

People are not better off because of Trump's influence; instead, we are far worse off. And Trump doesn't give a damn about this. This is a new movement in the U.S., and we could call it the Hate Movement.  

Under what I'm calling "The Hate Movement," various groups that are based upon racism, hatred, destructiveness, and violence could be consolidated into Trump followers, and these followers represent a grave threat of possible domestic terrorism.  

This will not go away after the election. While Clinton may have a better chance of winning the election than Trump, Mr. Trump will have spearheaded a powerful force that wants to end fairness, end kindness, and end a benevolent U.S. These are individuals who may have grown up playing awfully violent video games, who may be linked to the KKK, and who may be linked to Neo-Nazis. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security will have their work cut out for them, and will likely be working to protect the security of innocent people who are at risk from these groups.  

Will the U.S. be ruined by the Trump campaign, even if he is not elected? It remains to be seen. It is also possible that everything could settle down and that the Trump followers will calm down and go back to "business as usual," whatever that might consist of.  

If Trump wins, through a rigged election, through intimidation at the polling places, through riots on Election Day, or simply by a November surprise, then, I believe our way of life will be doomed.  

Either way, Donald Trump doesn't care that he is wrecking things and is only concerned with his own power and affluence.

Mike Deserves a House

Mike Lee
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:22:00 PM

I realized over breakfast this morning that I am an embarrassment to the city. Here you have public policy spending millions of dollars on people just like me. The end result is me and mine wind up with a sandwich and maybe a mat on the floor. Once in a while one of us maybe get a place inside because of factors beyond our control. Playing the housing game is just like playing slots in Las Vegas. You put your money (time) in, pull the handle and hope for a positive result. At least in Vegas if you hit the jackpot you get at least a roast beef sandwich 

It seems that once you attain the status of homelessness you become a non-person. A liability to be pandered to or criminalized. Never mind that at my age of 60, with an income and no inclination to commit crimes, do drugs or spend all my money at the liquor store I'm still considered an object to be managed. Talked about in all sorts of ways. Seen but never acknowledged. 

Recently I had the misfortune to interact with the City's newest scheme in combating homelessness. It's called Coordinated Entry System. In a nutshell it's supposed to be a one stop shop for homeless services. In reality it is piles of paper work and quite frankly a complete waste of time. Keep in mind that in my particular instance I am way over qualified for services. This is based on federal guidelines which take into account my age, health, and length of homelessness. Not only do I score very high on these factors I have an income and no current substance issues. I am the poster child for who society wants to see off the sidewalks of Berkeley. When the guidelines were crafted it was with people just like me that they had in mind to provide a hand up and not a hand out. 

After endless amounts of time and travel filling out stupid forms we come to my needing to prove I'm homeless. Just being there proves a need. What you think somebody with sufficient resources is going to go through this process for a bug infested hotel room? Yeah buddy I'm not going to pay for a nice clean place, let's go live in dirt and squalor. 

Let's set that silliness aside for a moment and consider who you are interviewing. I find myself in the role of being a public figure. It's not any one thing that I've done. It's probably because I’m opinionated and have a big mouth. I meet on a regular basis with decision makers within the City whom for some odd reason or another think I might have something useful to say. 

I smiled and said the form isn't necessary just pick up the phone and call the City. First person that answers you ask them about me. I'm not just any old bum but a candidate for Mayor and a very loud advocate for the community. As such I'm sort of kind of notorious here in Berkeley. 

As I walked away from this whole no-sense I thought my gawd if they treat me this way think of someone in my same exact position who is largely unknown. How do they prove they are homeless? 

The City's embarrassment arises from the fact that despite spending all this money, devising numerous schemes, five year plans, ad nauseum, they still can't get one bum off the street. I am proof positive that the system is broken. That it is charity and not solution based. 

I am truly blessed that I enjoy some skill, talents and a reasonable level of intelligence. So much so that recently a member of the dark side said I was one of the more rational and reasonable people on the other side of the aisle. I don't say these things to pump up my chest, brag or think I'm special but to point out if you can't put me in a house, how is your system going to deal with someone of less abilities or financial resources. 

The system is broken and needs to be fixed. You start by looking at this bum's situation and asking yourself this. What kind of system are we going to create to help people like Mike get a house? Not a sandwich or a pat on the head: a hand up and not a hand out.


New: REGIONAL REPORT: Developers win with “smart growth” rule

Zelda Bronstein
Wednesday March 23, 2016 - 10:33:00 AM

New rules would make it harder to raise environmental challenges to projects that cause urban congestion.  

With a big assist from the state Legislature, the SF Planning Department opened a new front in the city’s density wars last week.

On Thursday, staff asked the Planning Commission to eliminate “automobile delay,” measured by Level of Service (LOS), as a significant impact on the environment—that is, as a possible basis for a Environmental Impact Report—and to replace it with “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT).

That means that a proposed project could no longer be challenged on the basis of the traffic congestion it would generate.

Touted as an anti-sprawl policy, this change is really an aggressive pro-development maneuver that sacrifices on-the-ground quality of life to the dystopian fantasies of “smart” growth. 


Unfortunately, for now the defenders of neighborhood livability have lost this battle. As planning staff observed, the switch is mandated by SB 743, which was passed by the California legislature in September 2013. 

However, the state bureau that’s prepared the technical guidelines associated with the change, The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, has said that the new rules won’t be finalized until they’re certified by the California Natural Resources Agency in about a year. 

Nevertheless, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the replacement of LOS by VMT. 

At the Planning and Conservation League’s annual conference at UC Davis on February 27, I asked OPR Senior Counsel Christopher Calfee how San Francisco could jump the gun. Nodding knowingly, Calfee said that because the city is also its own congestion-management agency, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, it has the authority to do this. 

SFCTA — Not to be confused with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — is the sub-regional transportation planning programming agency for the city. Pursuant to state law, the Transportation Authority is a separate legal entity from the City and County of San Francisco, with its own staff, budget, operating rules, policies, borrowing capacity, board, and committee structure. But the agency is deeply enmeshed in the politics and governance of the city: its board comprises the Board of Supervisors. (The SFMTA board, appointed by the mayor, is just as deeply enmeshed.) 

At the Planning Commission’s March 3 meeting, staff from Planning, the SFCTA, and the SFMTA filed up to the podium to urge adoption of the LOS-to-VMT switch. Genuflecting to smart growth, they argued that designating traffic congestion as an environmental impact privileges automobility and thereby encourages sprawl and discourages walking and biking. Traffic engineers grade the movement of cars through intersections; a grade of E or F could trigger an EIR and result in widening a street and removing sidewalks and bike lanes, they said. 

The smart growthers’ larger argument against LOS is that speeding up car traffic is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, they contend, limiting the distances people drive—and judging proposed developments by the amount of driving they’re likely to induce—addresses air quality and climate change. 

Moreover, the traffic congestion standard puts infill projects at a disadvantage. By its very nature, infill is a latecomer to a place. In an already congested area, the traffic generated by a new infill project can easily tip the LOS into E or F territory, rendering the development vulnerable to a challenge from opponents on CEQA grounds. VMT, by contrast, is hospitable to infill, because infill increases density and mixes uses (housing, shops, offices), making it easier for people to do what they need to do without a car. 

In a January 20 op-ed published in the Chronicle, Sarah Bernstein Jones, the Planning Department’s director of environmental planning and the city’s environmental review officer, offered the example of “a new development in the dense South of Market neighborhood with 300 new housing units and local retail on the ground floor.” 


While a relatively small number of cars would be added as a result of this project, they would be in an area with highly congested intersections. Under current guidelines, this could lead to a conclusion that the project might add to traffic congestion and require several years and millions of dollars spent [by the developer] to prepare an environmental impact report.
If the same development were assessed on the basis of the amount and distance of automobile it would generate, no EIR would be required. 


I emailed Jones asking what leads her to assume that people living in a new 300-unit development would add only “a relatively small number of cars” to the neighborhood stock. Her reply was vague: 


Data shows that a much higher proportion of trips in San Francisco occur by means other than the single occupant vehicle. In a location such as SoMa, where there is already a high volume of traffic (much of it going through the area, not originating or ending there), a single building will not substantially add to overall traffic levels.
On February 29 I emailed back: 



Surely the size and type of a single building make a big difference in how much traffic the building generates. What, exactly, does it mean to say that a building “will not substantially add to overall traffic levels”? How many cars and auto trips are we talking about? Does the city have data tracking auto use generated by recent projects? If so, could you please refer me to it?
I’m still waiting for a response to these questions. 


If even a “relatively small number of [additional] cars” makes a highly congested area even more congested, shouldn’t that count as an environmental impact? 

It should not, say planners and the state. According to them, traffic congestion is a social impact, not an environmental one. As OPR puts it: 


[T]he focus of environmental review must be on physical changes in the environment. Generally, social and economic impact are not considered as part of a CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s premier environmental law] analysis. (CEQA Guidelines §15131.)….As a measurement of delay, LOS measures motorist convenience, but not a physical impact to the environment.(emphasis in original)
In other words, the palpable environment has been virtualized. It’s as if the smart growthers have literally lost their senses. Planners like to tout their commitment to “placemaking.” Indeed, “Placemaking” is the name of the community newsletter that the Planning Department launched last summer. But real places in San Francisco and other urban locales will be degraded by the replacement of LOS by VMT. 


During OPR’s February 9 webinar on the implementation of SB 743, staffer Chris Ganson said, “LOS just addresses localized congestion,” but “worsens regional congestion.” VMT, Ganson opined, “attacks regional congestion more effectively,” but—he did not add—worsens local congestion. 

Regional congestion is an abstraction that has never been and never will be experienced by anyone. Local congestion is something that everyone has experienced, and that everyone will experience more intensely as a result of SB 743. The staff report to the Planning Commission concedes as much, averring that “it is often not feasible in developed urban areas like San Francisco to improve LOS.” So we just make local traffic congestion worse by disregarding the local traffic impacts of infill development? 

Even more distressing, the abandonment of traffic congestion as an environmental impact is only one of the ways in which actual places are written off by the changes to the California Environmental Quality Act that are mandated by SB 743. Unmentioned by the staff report, the law also stipulates that 


[a]esthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment. Public Resources Code 21099(d)(1)
A mini-glossary: 



Employment center project: “a project located on property zoned for commercial uses with a floor [to] area [FAR] ratio of no less than 0.75 and that is located within a transit priority area.
Transit priority area: “an area within one-half mile of a major transit stop.”
Almost all of San Francisco is covered by transit priority areas: 


The shaded areas areThe shaded areas are “priority development areas,” pretty much the whole city 

Major transit stop: “a site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.”
Not incidentally, the SFTA is supporting state legislation (AB 1886) that will expand CEQA exemptions to include projects where 50% of the project area is farther than a half-mile from a high quality transit corridor or major transit stop. Currently only 25% of a project area can be over a half-mile away. 


Unlike the LOS-to-VMT switch, these provisions took effect in January 2014. As attorney, now also Larkspur Councilmember, Kevin Haroff noted in 2014, they 


substantially reverse a recent decision of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, in which the court found that parked cars are “physical objects” (as though there could have been a rational dispute about that) and therefore can have a direct impact on the environment.
Haroff also noted that for the purposes of CEQA review, SB 743 took off the table “two of what arguably are impacts of greatest public interest—visual and traffic impacts.” Not only is traffic congestion out as an environmental impact; so are increased glare and diminished views of public spaces. 


The reason the implementation of SB 743 has taken so long is because the draft guidelines published by OPR in August 2014 met a blizzard of opposition from many quarters. Some of the most interesting objections came from the representatives of big business. In a letter to the OPR that’s worth quoting at length, Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman wrote that 


the use of the VMT metric could potentially be obsolete before it ever gets off the ground[,] given that we now have 100,000 electric and other low/zero emission vehicles on California roads. If VMT is a proxy for GHG reduction, …it has to be pointed out that not all VMTs are created equal. A mile traveled in an electric car produces a quarter the carbon/GHG [of] the mile traveled in a comparable gasoline car. If in 10 years California is at 33% or 50% market share for electric cars and plug in hybrids, VMT will be a largely meaningless statistic, particularly if we continue to get more electricity from renewables in California which will further drive down GHG production by electric vehicles. OPR is putting in place guidelines for a 20th century world, not the world we live in, certainly not the world we are headed towards.
Here I find myself in rare agreement with the Bay Area Council. As Oakland environmental attorney Stu Flashman pointed out at the PCL conference last Saturday, for VMT to address climate change, it would have to take into account fuel efficiency, electric cars, and, a power profile source for electricity; SB 743 stipulates none of this. 


To be sure, the BAC’s main objection to the draft guidelines was that the new rules would facilitate litigation against infill development. 

It’s hard to see how that will be the case. Along with the aforementioned changes, SB 743 expanded existing CEQA exemptions for infill to include mixed-use residential and commercial projects in transit priority areas. Previously only residential development in a transit priority area was exempt. 

Who’s responsible for this debacle? For sure, the legislators who voted for it, including Assembly member Phil Ting and State Senator Mark Leno, as well as my own state senator, Loni Hancock. 

But blame also lies with the high-profile environmental groups that supported SB 743 or at least its LOS-to-VMT mandate, if not the giant sop for the Sacramento Kings’ stadium tacked on to the bill at the last moment by its author, then-State Senator Darrell Steinberg: the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, TransForm, the Planning and Conservation League, and Greenbelt Alliance. 

And as demonstrated by the cheerleading at the Planning Commission, at the municipal level the smart growth charge is being led by the planning profession. Introducing the staff request, Jones said that “replacing LOS…with a metric [VMT] that captures the physical impacts of car travel now, instead of waiting a year for state certification, would reinforce “San Francisco’s role as a leader in planning.” She reported that city staff had been actively involved in OPR’s preparation of the new CEQA guidelines. She also claimed that “easing CEQA for infill is not the motivation,” stating that the goal is to align the environmental review process with the city’s vision: “to keep people moving as the city grows” by providing safe and healthy alternatives to single-passenger automobility. 

Jones was followed and echoed by her predecessor in office, Bill Wycko, the city’s prior Environmental Review Office and, according to Jones, “the brains behind this from the start”; Planner Wade Wietgrefe; SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang; SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin; SFMTA Board Vice-Chair Cheryl Brinkman, former chair of Livable City San Francisco; SFMTA Chief of Staff, Sustainable Streets Division, Viktoriya Wise; Planner Devyani Jain; SFMTA Senior Analyst Andy Thornley, and SFCTA Transportation Planner Drew Cooper; and other city officials. 

Members of the public who added their voices to the VMT lovefest included Walk San Francisco Executive Director Nicole Ferrara; San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Director Janice Li; attorney Andrew Junius, a principal at Reuben, Junius & Rose, one of the city’s go-to law firms for developers; SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin; and SFBARFer Jon Schwark. 

In a notable equivocation, city staff both hailed and discounted “LOS reform.” On the one hand, it’s “a milestone” (Jones), “a very positive, exciting change for the city and environmental review” (Wietgrefe). On the other hand, it’s no big deal. “All we’re doing,” said Jain, “is shifting a metric that was already in the pipeline since 2013.” EIRs, Wietgrefe maintained, are “a tiny amount of environmental review,” and the “public will still have an opportunity weigh in.” 

It fell to attorney Junius to clarify matters: 


It sounds a little wonkish, but this is huge! The entitlement process takes this long [holds up his hands]—a huge chunk of that is CEQA, a huge chunk of that is transportation studies, and huge chunk of transportation studies it the LOS mess. It should have never been adopted to begin with for urban areas. Thank god we’re going to get rid of it.
Discordant reality also spurted out during Commissioner Antonini’s remarks. The commissioner began by praising VMT, calling the change “wonderful legislation” and decrying “the ill effects of LOS-type thinking that have prevailed in the Bay Area for the last fifty to sixty years”—suburban sprawl, exacerbated, for example, by the new bore in the Caldecott Tunnel. But then Antonini pivoted: 



The only thing that could be said about LOS is there are instances where the traffic is backed up on First Street going to the Bay Bridge, and you probably inhale more pollution as you walk by there with them hardly moving at all, and just idling.
Only one speaker, Sunset community activist Eileen Boken, opposed the abandonment of LOS. Boken said that Berkeley environmental attorney Antonio Rossmann recommends using both LOS and VMT. 


Curious, I emailed Rossmann, asking if he’d written about LOS vs. VMT. His reply—the most reasonable, environmentally sensitive, empirically grounded position on the subject that I’ve encountered: 


Zelda, I have not written any academic or legal briefing papers on the use of both, but while agreeing that we should use VMT as the leading surrogate to test regional transportation plans and new non-infill (sprawl) development, that does not mean we should exclude LOS in urban settings, where local congestion can become a leading adverse environmental impact.

One argument of an exclusive-VMT approach is that it avoids the establishment of mitigation measures to relieve LOS — usually widening or adding traffic lanes.

There are two responses: encouraging alternatives can also relieve LOS; and in any case, if a project shows new adverse LOS, it can simply be disapproved, or else approved in the face of public awareness that the project will turn local streets into congestion.

It’s not that high rise developers should not be left off the hook without creating more mitigation for their projects. It’s that projects that can’t be mitigated should just be scaled down.

I recently heard a VMT advocate explain that we actually want LOS 5 or 6 [E or F] because that shows that roads are being used beyond capacity and therefore people will get out of their cars. “Successful cities are the most congested.” As Justice Scalia would have said, “Argle, bargle.” Compare, say, Rome and Los Angeles. LOS helps measure the carrying capacity of the land, and it’s a valid public purpose to maintain streets that are useable by local residents in a non-stressful way.

San Francisco, given the slope and size of its streets, thrives on an FAR [floor to area ratio] of 3:1. Paris, flat and with numerous wide boulevards, seems to work on 6:1. Manhattan works on significantly higher but at a great cost to quality of life (costs and loss of freedom for group or distant travel to remote places.
At the Planning Commission last Thursday, scaling down a project that can’t be mitigated was not an option. Staff said that it would be the rare project that exceeded the VMT thresholds of significance (points beyond which a project would be judged to have a negative impact on the environment and be subject to CEQA proceedings) they’d laid out: for residential projects, 7.15 household VMT per capita; for office projects, 16.21 work-related VMT per job. And if a project did exceed those thresholds, staff would recommend mitigations à la Transportation Demand Management (TDM), meaning strategies that prioritize transit, walking, bicycling, and ride-sharing. 


Responding to a request from Commissioner Christine Johnson for “real life examples,” Jones said, “there will be projects with significant VMT impacts.” In a subsequent email to Jones, I noted that OPR had provided very details examples of such projects and asked what, specifically, would such examples look like in San Francisco? 

Her reply: “That exchange was about the situations in which we would do project-specific [sic]. It’s not possible to state in the abstract that any type of land use project would have a significant impact for VMT.” Huh? Her SF Chronicle op-ed provided an abstract example of a residential project in SoMa that would not have a significant impact for VMT, so why not provide an abstract example of one that would? 

The driving force here—you should excuse the expression—is, as MTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin put it—to accommodate growth. Concerns about “carrying capacity”—the maximum population a place can support—do not arise in the smart growth world. 

To wit: I noticed that the planners’ calculation of VMT are based on 2012 data. San Francisco Chief Economist Ted Egan tells me that according to the state’s Economic Development Department, from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2015, San Francisco added 82,509 jobs; and that the 2015 population estimates for the city have not yet been issued by the Census. I’ll go out on a short limb and speculate that the city added 18,000 new jobs in 2015. That would mean 100,000 more jobs than the ones that CTA staff fed into their computers. 

I emailed SFCTA Planner Wade Wietgrefe, who crunches the VMT numbers, asking if that massive growth could have altered the city’s work-related numbers? 

Wietgrefe replied: 


The addition of new jobs certainly will change total VMT, but will probably have a small effect on VMT per job because the addition of new jobs does not necessarily change the locations people are traveling from to get to those jobs. Of course, long term shifts in housing and employment locations will change VMT. But even our long-term forecasts produce relatively modest changes in these numbers. For example, average daily VMT per SF resident in 2040 is estimated at 7.2 versus 8.4 in 2012.
I emailed back: 



When you write that your long-term forecasts produce relatively modest changes in SF's VMTs, what sort of land use patterns (jobs-housing relationships) expectations are you assuming?



Land use forecasts are prepared by ABAG and adjusted by SF Planning. The land use scenario we currently use is the Sustainable Communities Strategy: Jobs-Housing Connections from Plan Bay Area.
Plan Bay Area, the regional land use and transportation “blueprint” mandated by SB 743’s antecedent, SB 375, also authored by Steinberg, foresees a 34% increase (190,780) in jobs in San Francisco, from 568,720 in 2010 to 759,500 in 2040. It also foresees a 35% jump (284,490) in the city’s population, from 805,240 to 1,089,730. 


It cannot be said too often that these numbers are the creation of public policy. That means two things: they are mutable, and they should be subject to public vetting. To my knowledge, the people of San Francisco have never been asked if it would be a good thing if 190,780 more people worked in the city, or if 284,490 more people lived here. 

How about asking them? 

This article appeared originally on 48hills.org. Zelda Bronstein is a Berkeley resident and former Planet PUBLIC EYE columnist. 

AGAINST FORGETTING: US Presidential Race: the Feminist Generation Gap

Ruth Rosen
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:28:00 PM

Why is there strong support for Bernie Sanders from young feminists and a tepid response to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a lifelong feminist? Why has a feminist generational gap emerged in 2016?

Actually, it’s happened before. Each generation of feminists has redefined what they meant by feminism, often in reaction to their mothers’ feminist priorities. After women won the vote in 1920, for example, young women who came of age in the 20’s and 30’s viewed suffragists - who had fought for 72 years for the vote - as dowdy matrons who wore sensible shoes. What thrilled them was the personal freedom to explore new sexual and social mores and the opportunity to forge new careers.

When second-wave feminists revived the women’s movement in the late 1960’s, their redefinition of feminism strongly rejected their mother’s lives. Even if their own mothers worked outside the home, young feminists vilified the cultural symbol of the Feminine Mystique, which cast women as mere housewives who should stay at home and live through the identities of their husbands and children.

What second-wave feminists achieved was monumental. The laws they passed, as well as the customs they changed, transformed the opportunities for a new generation of women. Young women know this, but like generations of before them, they are not particularly fired up by what their mother’s generation achieved almost half a century ago.

Now, a new feminist generational gap is challenging the Democratic party’s unity the 2016 election. As the New York Times recently summarized, “The poll numbers and primary results so far tell a simple story: Younger Democratic women are mostly for Bernie Sanders; older women lean more toward Hillary Clinton.” Depending on the state or region, young feminists under 45 years of age are passionate supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 74-year old self-identified socialist Senator from Vermont. In some states, they have given him 60-80 percent of the entire female Democratic vote. At the same time, women over 45 have demonstrated far greater enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

So why does a 73 year-old Senator from Vermont stir the passions of so many young feminists? When asked, they cite his radical platform - free tuition, a single payer health system, and a genuine disgust with the wealth inequality that has crushed their own dreams, as well as the lives of the poor and minorities. Many know that Republicans will never pass his legislative agenda. That is not the point. What matters is that they share his values and convictions, including his welcoming hand to refugees who seek safety in the United States.

Also important, Sanders does not remind them of their mothers, even though he could be their grandfather.

For many young feminists, Hillary Clinton belongs to the past. She is a formerFirst Lady, a former Senator, a former candidate for President and a formerSecretary of State. Although she has spent a lifetime supporting gender equality, child care, wage equity, paid parental leave and famously redefined women’s rights as human rights in 1995, all this feels as old as their mothers’ tales of the Sixties. They are repelled by her ties to Wall Street and the fact that she supported the Iraq War.

Some older women, moreover, have alienated Sanders’ young supporters by speaking about them with contempt. Madeleine Albright, 78, the first female secretary of state, told young women, “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done…“Well, It’s not done. And just remember that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” Gloria Steinem, 81, a feminist icon, uncharacteristically dissed young women when she explained that “younger women back Sanders just so they can meet young men.” (Both have since apologized but the damage lingers).

Young feminists, moreover have redefined what they mean by feminism. Jemma Soldati, a 25 year old who works in marketing and comedy, explains, “When my mother says she’s going to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman, to me that is identity politics at its worst. It’s putting the value of a female president over the value of a president with your values.”

Liz Phillips, a 28 year-old editor and documentarian, wrote in an email, that “It is because of the battles that women like Madeline Albright fought, that I am now able to access the education, the information, and the experience needed in order to make informed decisions, but I will not be bullied by her recent vitriolic religious depictions of “a special place in hell.”

Although she appreciates what older feminists achieved, she believes “that Sanders’ economic platform is the only one that has the capability to raise the quality of life for 99% of Americans. And I don’t want a president who will tell me that actually implementing these goals is impractical, because then all hope is truly lost.”

Listen closely and you hear echoes of the Occupy movement, voices that publicized the economic distress of the 99 percent, and protesters who really do mean that “Black Lives Matters.”

Sometimes the debates even among young women turn fierce. At some colleges, Clinton supporters try to keep a low profile. “It’s like the

tension you can often see between daughters and their mothers,” says Roxanne Euben, who teaches feminist political theory at Wellesley college. “Daughters are saying, ‘Just because you say this is what it means to be a committed feminist, doesn’t mean I’m going to do this.’” Euben further points out, quite accurately, “that the one consistent feature of feminism for the past century is that it’s always been up for debate.” 

Older women, some of whom are veterans of second-wave feminism, often agree (including myself) with the radical politics of these younger activists. But they also believe there is an important difference between movements and elections. Dreams fuel movements and challenge mainstream politics. Elections, on the other hand, consolidate what is possible, now, among the majority of Americans. Many older feminists remember the political results of their own idealism and dreams. When they voted for George McGovern, a liberal candidate, in 1972, he lost every state except Massachusetts and Richard Nixon retained the second term of his presidency. 

True, some older women simply want to elect the first female President and believe that Hillary Clinton, with so many decades of experience, has earned the right to govern. But other Clinton supporters have lived through years of discrimination at work, had children without child care, and fallen ill without health care. So they view Clinton as the perfect candidate who can advance the unfinished agenda of second-wave feminism. 

For them, electing this particular female president is not about identity politics, but an affirmation of a woman’s lifetime struggle to improve the lives of women and children, including the poor and minorities. No, she is not perfect, they will say. But at least she is experienced and electable. 

Unexpectedly, the primaries have publicized important differences among feminists. For younger women, Hillary Clinton’s emphasis on paid leave, universal kindergarten, health care and gender discrimination may not yet seem vital to their lives. Their redefined feminism also includes a struggle against wealth disparity, and an inclusive battle for social justice. For older women, Hillary Clinton seems like the one candidate who can and will address the unfinished agenda of second-wave feminism. 

When the primaries are over, and Hillary Clinton - in all likelihood - wins the Democratic nomination, debates between young and older Democratic feminists may very well dissipate. Then the vital question is: Will younger feminists give Hillary Clinton the kind of support that helped elect Barack Obama? Because that is what she needs in order to become the first woman to occupy the White House. 


Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Professor Emerita of History at U.C. Davis and a Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Movements at U.C. Berkeley. Her most recent book isThe World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America,  

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. It originally appeared on opendemocracy.net. 




THE PUBLIC EYE:Clinton vs. Trump: Consider Three Factors

Bob Burnett
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:04:00 PM

The dust has cleared from the March 15th primaries and it’s clear Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee. It’s less clear if the Republican nominee will be Donald Trump or a forced “marriage” orchestrated by GOP leaders. Nonetheless, three factors will determine who wins on November 8th. 

Theme: Although presidential candidates talk about many specific issues, ranging from healthcare reform to immigration, typically there is one dominant theme that differentiates the Republican from the Democrat. Initially, in 2008, that theme was how to handle the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Republican McCain wanted to “double down” and Democrat Obama wanted to withdraw troops. In the fall, because of the onset of “the great recession,” the central theme shifted to the economy. Obama won because voters felt he was best able to handle the economic crisis. 

In 2016, the emerging theme is national unity. Although Trump promises to “make America great again” and bemoans a broken society, his day-to-day message is savagely divisive – he disparages Muslims, Mexicans, women, reporters, the disabled … everyone but White men. Trump presents himself as “a divider not a uniter.” In addition to being a megalomaniac, Trump is a blamer. 

In distinction, Hillary Clinton is running as a uniter. She has chosen to build upon the success of the Obama Administration (Barack’s approval rating hovers around 50 percent) and promises evolutionary change: "America has never stopped being great, our task is to make America whole… It will take all of us working together to knock down these barriers to stand for the basic proposition that yes we are all created equal." It’s a positive counter to Trump’s omnipresent negativism. 

If Trump and Clinton are the candidates there will be a clear thematic contrast: “Make America great again…my way” versus “Make America whole.” Trump will hammer Clinton on trade and money in politics. Clinton will respond with evidence of his Trumps cancerous personality: his insults, mischaracterizations, and lies. 

It’s safe to assume this will be a very negative presidential contest. Trump will attack Clinton’s credibility. And, Clinton will attack Trump’s credibility (there’s abundant material). In a mud storm, voters will have to decide which candidate can lead American forward. 

Current national polls show Clinton leading Trump by 10 points. 

Media: Even though Donald Trump is weak on national policy, he garners most of the media attention because of his bombastic style. Writing in “Rolling Stone,” Matt Taibbi observed Trump “is pulling 33 times as much coverage on the major networks as his next-closest GOP competitor, and twice as much as Hillary.” Writing in “Wired”, Issie Lapowsky noted, “Nine of the top national networks have mentioned Trump a stunning 258,831 times since June. That’s more than Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and John Kasich combined.” In December, “The Nation” contributor John Nichols wrote that Trump had gotten 23 times as much coverage as Hillary Clinton. 

Trump has conducted a media-savvy campaign combining astute use of social media – particularly Twitter – and an aggressive style that sets out each morning to dominate the day’s news cycle. 

After the July Democratic and Republican conventions, the amount of media coverage given to the candidates should move towards parity, but expect Trump to continue to get more attention. Writing in “Alternet,” Mark Peysha observed that Trump has “highjacked”politics: Trump is consciously creating controversy. He has targeted, “millions of people who resent the Obama administration.” Trump will continue to be outrageous until the election. 

During the primaries, Hillary Clinton’s social media presence has not been as strong as that of Bernie Sanders and significantly inferior to that of Trump. This aspect of her campaign must improve before the election. 

Infrastructure: No matter how much they have been inflamed by the political “issue de jour” or the latest media flash, on November 8th voters have to cast their ballots. While there were many reasons for Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012, one of them was his superior ground game: Obama had more boots on the ground than did his opponents and therefore he got more of his voters to the polls. 

In 2016, there are likely to be 10-16 swing states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The campaign infrastructure will be crucial to getting voters out in these states. 

So far, the candidate with the best get-out-the-vote structure is Hillary Clinton. The worst is Donald Trump. 

Bottom Line: In a Clinton-Trump contest, there is a path that leads to Clinton’s victory. Clinton can neutralize Trump’s divisive message by campaigning as a uniter. (No doubt as Trump senses he is losing, he will become even more vitriolic.) Trump will likely continue to dominate the media, but Clinton has better grassroots support and, therefore, should turn out more voters on November 8th. 

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


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Antipsychotic Medications and Unfairness

Jack Bragen
Friday March 18, 2016 - 11:57:00 AM

Antipsychotic medications can cause breast enlargement in men, facial hair in women, involuntary movements of the mouth face and neck and upper body that are irreversible, diabetes, weight gain, and muscle rigidity. Less often, antipsychotic medications can cause loss of white blood cells [potentially fatal], and, in some instances, sudden, unexplained death.  

At the very least, these medications will almost always make a patient miserable, due to the drugged feeling, body stiffness, "motor restlessness" dry mouth, and medication-induced depression. 

The above problems are very serious. Psychiatric medications are useful in combating symptoms of mental illness that are severe, that cause dangerous behavior, and that make an individual unable to function in society. Yet, the mental health treatment system will subscribe and even force these medications on a person immediately, as a first line of treatment.  

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the fact that I have been treated for my severe psychiatric problems that could have led to long term incarceration or could have caused me to be killed due to unsafe behavior. I would never advise someone in treatment for a psychiatric illness to go off medication against medical advice—doing so is a big mistake.  

However, these medications are serious business, and should not be used unless they are truly needed. The psychiatric consumer should be lauded for the bravery they exhibit in getting through mental illness and for the huge sacrifice they are making in taking these life-damaging medications.  

Instead, we are treated as though depraved, "developmentally disabled," lacking in awareness, and essentially subhuman. A mental health practitioner once didn't give me credit for being able on my own to make a cake from a cake mix. Over a period of more than thirty years, I have been routinely presumed stupid, have been treated condescendingly, and have been complimented when I have done something as well as a "normal" adult.  

Many persons with mental illness have sustained severe brain damage, either from the medication, the illness, a combination of both, or from some other cause. Those of us who appear to be intact and functioning seem to get sabotaged whenever we try to become successful at something.  

Sometimes, it is our illness that is the source of the sabotage. We might be unable to sustain becoming a successful person due to the responsibility, stature and work that it entails. In other instances, numerous difficult events take place within a short period, and we go into "tilt" mode, like an offended pinball machine.  

Regardless of success or no success, we can't try to fight the factors that keep us coming back to mental health treatment. The illness will not go away on its own. If we try to go without medication, not only does the illness come back, but our deterioration is accelerated by noncooperation of the mental health treatment system in our attempt to do without medication. And before we know it, we have relapsed. And yet, is a big mistake to stop taking medication and lie about it.  

While it is unfair that the illness, the treatment system, family, and the courts may be forcing medication on us, it is even more unfair that we may have an illness that will worsen if we try to go without treatment.  

What are the "perks" of taking medication? We get a modicum of liberty, we stave off a disease that threatens to rob us of our mind, and we get at least a chance of having a salvageable life, a chance. And that's all we get. Unfair? Yes. Part of the human predicament? Yes.  

* * * 

Just to remind you again, while trying not to be too annoying, my new memoir is available on Amazon and can be found by clicking here. 


Arts & Events

New: The ‘Other’ La Bohème by Leoncavallo

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Wednesday March 23, 2016 - 04:01:00 PM

West Edge Opera continued its Doppelgänger season by presenting the ’other’ La Bohème, not Puccini’s but rather Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera of the same title. Based on the same play, Scenes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger, as was Puccini’s opera, Leoncavallo’s La Bohème was presented by West Edge Opera at two locations -- on Sunday, March 20 at Mills College and on Tuesday, March 22 at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse. I attended the latter performance, and never having heard Leoncavallo’s version of La Bohème before, I was curious to see how different his treatment of this story, musically and dramatically, was from Puccini’s much better known version. There are differences, to be sure; but the basic story remains the same. A group of young bohemian artists, musicians, writers, and intellectuals live an impoverished existence in tiny, drafty apartments in Paris’s Quartier Latin. Rodolfo (or Rodolphe in French) falls in love with Mimi, and Marcello (or Marcel) falls in love with Mimi’s friend Musetta (or Musette). Both couples break up, then reunite at the end, only to see the tubercular Mimi die in Rodolfo’s arms. 

Leoncavallo actually began writing his La Bohème before Puccini began his. Leoncavallo even showed his friend Puccini a libretto he was working on and suggested that Puccini might like to help with it. Puccini declined; but a few days later Puccini told Leoncavallo he was now inspired to write his own opera based on La Bohème. This put a damper on the two composers’ friendship. Puccini’s La Bohème was finished first and premiered at Turin’s Teatro Reggio on February 1, 1896, while Leoncavallo’s La Bohème premiered at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice on May 6, 1897. 

Ruggero Leoncavallo is best known, of course, for his opera I Pagliacci, a sordid tale of sexual infidelity and violent retribution among a troupe of itinerant actors. I Pagliacci, which is often paired with Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana in a double-bill of one-act operas, falls into the musical category of Italian realismo, an end of the 19th century style of music dramas drawn from life among the lower strata of Italian and Sicilian society. The stories are often tragic, and the music is often dissonant. Leoncavallo’s La Bohème fits this formula of Italian realismo quite a bit more aptly than does Puccini’s La Bohème, which latter, while it tells the same tragic story, is far less dissonant and soars far more lyrically with its sumptuous melodies than does Leoncavallo’s darker version. Granted, all we had to go on in West Edge Opera’s concert version of Leoncavallo’s La Bohème was a piano score, albeit performed with great pianistic expressivity by the company’s Musical Director Jonathan Khuner. With no other instrument than piano, however, it was well nigh impossible to guess at Leoncavallo’s talent for coloristic orchestration.  

Rodolfo in Leoncavallo’s opera is sung by a baritone, not a tenor. Here it was Anders Froehlich, who has sung with San Francisco Opera and Los Angeles Opera, who handled the role expertly with his deep baritone and excellent Italian diction. Mimi is sung by a soprano, and here it was Carrie Hennessy, who sang with great intensity and clarion high notes. Marcello was sung by Alex Boyer, whose ringing tenor was a highlight of this production. Musetta was sung by veteran mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott, who also turned in a virtuoso performance of great intensity. Interestingly, the finest love duet in Leoncavallo’s La Bohème occurs not between Rodolfo and Mimi but between Marcello and Musetta; and their Act I, Scene 1 duet was brilliantly sung. There is, of course, much good-humored banter among the Bohemians, and in Leoncavallo’s version Schaunard, a musician, has a much greater role than in Puccini’s version. Here Schaunard, who often acts as the group’s master of ceremonies, was consummately sung by baritone Michael Orlinsky. In Leoncavallo’s La Bohème, Schaunard has a girl-friend, Euphemia (or Phémie); and this caricatured figure was sung by mezzo-soprano Sally Mouzon. Colline, the philosopher of the group, was sung by bass Ryan Bradford. The Bohemians’ nemesis in Leoncavallo’s version is not their landlord but the proprietor of Café Momus, a man named Gaudenzio (or Gaudence), sung here by tenor Michael Mendelsohn, who also sings the role of Musetta’s concierge, Durand. Another character, missing from Puccini’s opera, is Barbemuche, a man of letters and patron of the arts who befriends the group and pays their bills. Barbemuche was sung by veteran baritone Paul Cheek. A chorus of tenants indignant at the noise made by the party-loving Bohemians belts forth with angry insults that lead to a fight, during which Mimi sneaks off with a young Viscount, sung by bass Ryan Bradford. When Rodolfo realizes what has happened, he is disconsolate. Later, Mimi returns and tries to reconcile with Rodolfo, saying she loves only him. But Rodolfo rebuffs her. On the other hand, Musetta, who sincerely loves Marcello, can’t stand the hunger and poverty of their existence, and so, regretfully, she leaves Marcello. Mimi and Musetta sing a tearful duet over their plight. The opera’s final scene is much the same as in Puccini’s version. Mimi returns, terribly ill and coughing furiously. Musetta sacrifices her jewels to pay for a doctor, but it is too late. Mimi dies in Rodolfo’s arms. The instrumental music of Leoncavallo is somber here, but what’s missing is Puccini’s brilliant ending on the repeated cries of Rodolfo’s “Mimi! Mimi!” 

Here Come the Videofreex

Gar Smith
Friday March 18, 2016 - 12:14:00 PM

Opens March 18 at the Roxie Theatre in SF

The odds against this film ever existing were pretty long. It started with a chance conversation when the directors Jon Nealon and Jenny Raskin shared a beer with a guy named Bart Friedman. Friedman's tales of a radical group of underground newshounds called the "Videofreex" led to a hunt for more than a hundred ancient videotapes stuffed away in various basements and attics across the land.

Many of the old tapes were in such poor shape they had to be slowly "baked" over low heat for hours to assure they wouldn't self-destruct when played on the old reel-to-reel tape decks.

The doc's initial footage is not too promising: It's nothing more than two of the founding Videofreex sharing a doobie in front of the camera and having a sublime giggle-fest. But this is turns out to be a historic moment because what the two bearded kids are using to record their marijuana-marinated merriment is a revolutionary tool—a Sony Portapak video camera, the first camera that made it possible to record live video outside a TV studio.



In 1969, the Videofreex grabbed their novel gear and set off to Woodstock, where they made a point of not recording the musicians. Instead, they chatted up the folks in the audience—including a bearded vegetarian who showed up with his date, a wooly sheep, cradled in his lap as he instructed people to stop eating meat and cease "turning your stomach into a grave." 

Some CBS employees dispatched to cover Woodstock chanced upon the Videofreex and brought them to the attention of Don West, an assistant to CBS President Frank Stanton. West fell in love with the Freex footage. It was raw, alternative, and authentic, like nothing else on TV. (At the time, most TV fare was sit-coms, Westerns, and game shows.) 

West knew there was a social revolution underway in America but network TV had nothing about what was really happening out in the streets and cities of the Sixties. "I wanted to capture the real world," West recalls in the film. (This decision would ultimately cost him his job.) 

West hired the three original Videofreex, outfitted them with the latest electronic recording tools and sent them off in a rented RV—following in the tire treads of CBS' Charles Kuralt, who first went On the Road in 1967. But the Videofreeks weren't interested in recording amusing vignettes from Middle America. Instead, they set about recording images of the "unseen Sixties," like their visit to a nature school for misfit teens that provided an alternative to military schools. They covered the Chicago 7 conspiracy trial. They filmed interviews with leaders of the Yippie movement. 

In one early clip, we hear the voice of Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman grating in the darkness: "I don't think the Yippie buttons should be sold," Abbie kvetches, "but then there's the point that nobody ever brings in money!" Speaking of the chances for an acquittal at the Chicago 7's "show trial," Abbie quips: "If it wasn't for the law, we'd win easy." 

Thanks to the Yippie connection, the Videofreeks received an invitation to film a covert interview with 22-year-old Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. (Two weeks later, Hampton was murdered in his bed during a joint FBI-police assassination raid). In his video appearance, Hampton gave a riveting performance but it's a pretty easy guess that the Black Power activist's intense, expletive-powered interview would never make it onto a CBS broadcast. 

When the Videofreex aired their "pilot" for CBS execs, they were promptly fired—along with Don West. 

As their final act, the three Freex managed to slip back into the CBS headquarters building and "steal" their videos, sneaking them out hidden inside a guitar case. It goes without saying that they videotaped the robbery. 

In 1970, the team began to grow, benefitting from the addition of some talented new recruits—a technician, an accountant, and some volunteers who actually had a gift for using a camera. The founding trio had become a collective. 

As one Freek put it, those were days when "all you had to do was walk out on the street and life would leap on your back." They covered anti-war protests, women's liberation rallies, student strikes, and rock concerts. They even managed to cover the Republican National Convention (and recorded a classic live "non-interview" with CBS's Roger Mudd). 

The collective had become something like a family. But then it had to face the question: how to make this pay? "Meaningful work is more satisfying than money," one member of the collective recounts in the film. But the truth is, being able to afford hot bowl of soup at dinnertime also has its merits. 

"We had to go to those places where history was being made because it was important to have that alternative record," another veteran recalls. And so they were on hand to cover the 1971 May Day protests against the Vietnam War. They filmed the street occupations intended to push Washington DC into gridlock. They trained their lenses on the center of the action, capturing footage of protesters being run down by angry motorists. At least one Videofreek got arrested and kept a camera rolling from inside a police bus filled with May Day protestors heading for jail. And the camera recorded a raucous, nonviolent "jail riot" that rocked the walls with anti-war chants. 

This was important footage that profiled the growing divisions in US society. But the kicker was, there was no place to show it. The best they could manage was hosting small weekly screenings in shared neighborhood spaces—a far cry from the millions of eyes watching CBS. 

They were working hard, recording important facets of Sixties culture, but without mass distribution, their video work was rendered irrelevant. They were like a team of talented chefs with a great kitchen—but no dining room. 

With limited public access and dwindling financial support, the Freex were compelled to abandon Manhattan. 

In 1974, the collective had relocated to a farmhouse in the Catskills—in a rural valley that was so remote, it was out of range of all TV broadcast signals. 

As it turns out, the nearby small town of Lanesville proved to be the perfect spot for a bunch of "dirty hippies." Turns out, they'd brought along a dusty, unused TV transmitter left behind from one of Abbie Hoffman's failed rebel communication schemes and—Voila!—America's first "pirate TV" station was born. 

The Freex prepared to make headlines: They fully expected to become the first illegal TV operation to be crushed by The Law. Instead, Lanesville's Channel 3 TV stayed on the air unmolested. And it gets better. For, as the Freex reached out to the locals, the long-time, small-town residents warmed to the newcomers and reciprocated by watching, then advising, and finally participating in the broadcasts. The documentary reveals how the community eventually went onscreen full-hog, doing their own stand-ups, reporting their own news, and creating their own satirical "shows." (The premise might have made for a boffo sit-com on CBS.) 

In retrospect, it slowly dawns that what we are watching (and what the Freex could not see at the time) was the dawn of a new era in communication—one that would overcome the historical "wealth barrier" that allowed corporations and their lawyers to completely control the domain of broadcast content. Lanesville Channel 3 was the rag-tag apotheosis of public television gone rad. 

Eventually, the advent of the Internet, the Smartphone, and YouTube would make the Videofreex' dream manifest. Now, anyone can be a "star." Everyone can be a director. Any teen or geezer can point a camera, click a keyboard and tell a story that can reach a potential global audience of millions. 

After 50 years in the Media Wilderness, the legacy of the Videofreex serves up a conclusion to cheer for. The last spoken line in the film sums it up perfectly: "Today, we're all Videofreex!" 

A local angle: Mary Curtis Ratcliff, one of the ten Freex interviewed in the film, is a Berkeley resident. She moved to the Bay Area in 1973 and gained fame for her wind sculptures. Her art is included in the collections of the SF Fine Arts Museum and the Oakland Museum. Today, Ratcliff continues to work as a member of Oakland's Mercury 20 Gallery and the SFMOMA Artists Gallery. 

A musical bonus: The documentary features several great soundtrack songs, courtesy of Buzzy Linhart.