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Flash: Say Happy Birthday to Dan Ellsberg Tonight

[This is Michael Ellsberg writing.]
Thursday April 07, 2016 - 06:50:00 PM

Today is Daniel's 85th birthday. If you have ever appreciated the work he does in the world, his tireless activism against government secrecy, and for democracy and peace, please leave him a birthday message in the comments section of the blog page linked below.

(**Please leave messages on the blog page linked below, and not in the comments on this FB post, so he'll have them all in one place**)

This is surprise, and will be presented to him late tonight (CA time) during our birthday celebration for him. Thank you!


[copied from Facebook by Tom Lord]

New: Prominent Berkeley Name in Panama Leaks files

Richard Brenneman
Thursday April 07, 2016 - 02:54:00 PM

Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Asia, posed for a photo op with then UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert “Grinnin’ Bobby” Birgeanu on the occasion of the dedication of the Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences and the bestowal on the first-time visitor of the Berkeley Medal, the campus’s highest honor, given to those “whose work or contributions to society illustrate the ideals of the university.” 

Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Asia, poses for a photo op with then UC Berkeley Chancellor Roberet "Grinnin' Bobby" Birgeanu on the occasion of the dedication of the Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences and the bestowal on the first-time visitor of the Berkeley Medal, the campus's highest honor, given to those "whose work or contributions to society illustrate the ideals of the university." 

Back when we reported for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet, we wrote about the decision of the university to rename the building housing the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. 

When the school tore down Earl Warren Hall, the building that rose in its place was named the The Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences. 

Warren was one of the university’s most famous graduates, and as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, he presided over decisions Republicans are now trying to destroy, starting with Brown vs. Board of Education, and a wide range of rulings extending civil rights and ensuring that criminal defendants were fairly treated by law enforcement and local courts. 

The building was named in Warren’s honor because as Governor of California he pushed through legislation mandating the creation of the first public health school West of the Mississippi and ensured its funding. 

Only after we mentioned the irony of the name change did Berkeley shift gears, first naming a small part of an existing building after the late chief justice, then finally giving his name to an IT building, though in truncated form as Warren Hall, which abandoned the specificity of the earlier name. 

Li Ka-Shing, repeatedly named one of the richest men in Asia, had never visited Berkeley before he parted with $40 to get his name on a building at the university attended by so many of his compatriots. 

He did, however, show up for the groundbreaking. 

So how does he accumulate all that extra cash? 

Well, the Panama Papers reveal that he was one of the many clients using the services of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm specializing in helping rich people hide their money and/or the actual ownership of their businesses. 

Li’s dealings with the law firm are among the disclosures of this report from Four Corners, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s premiere investigative journalism program. 

Via Journeyman Pictures

The Panama Papers: Secrets Of The Super Rich 

Program notes: 

  • It’s the shadowy world of secret international finance and tax avoidance.
  • “What we’re looking at here is really a parallel universe.”
  • This Four Corners investigation will reveal how the rich and powerful exploit the system.
  • “What this really says is a lot about the system itself and how broke the system is and how crazy the whole thing is.”
  • Our reporter Marian Wilkinson follows the money trail and it’s worth trillions of dollars.
  • “I was on their immigration stop list. But we’ve gotten in.”(Marian Wilkinson, Reporter) 

    This story originally appeared on Richard Brenneman's blog, Eats, Shoots 'n' Leaves. 







New: BARFer, Pro-Development Activist, Charged with Vote Fraud

Sara Gaiser (BCN) and Planet
Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 10:59:00 PM

A San Francisco real estate agent and pro-housing development activist with San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF) allegedly registered to vote using a false address in order to vote in a district where he did not reside, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office said today.

Donald Dewsnup, 49, was arrested Tuesday by San Francisco District Attorney's Office investigators and arraigned today on three felony counts of filing a false document with a government agency, two felony counts of perjury and two felony counts of false voter registration. He was released on his own recognizance and ordered to return to court on April 19. 

Prosecutors allege Dewsnup not only voted in a district in which he did not live, but also provided a false address to the California Bureau of Real Estate and used false addresses to claim membership in the Telegraph Hill Dwellers.  

The district where he claimed residence, District 3, had a hotly contested election in the fall between incumbent Julie Christensen and then-former Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Peskin's defeat of Christensen in November was seen as a significant loss for Mayor Ed Lee, who had backed Christensen, and a crucial shift in the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors. 

"San Francisco's supervisorial races can be decided by a small number of voters," District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "A healthy democracy benefits from zealous debate, but can be undermined by fraud and deceit." 

Golinger said it was "sad" that Dewsnup's actions might harm the integrity of the electoral process.  

Dewsnup is an active member of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF) a group that promotes density and housing development. The group has been openly critical of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and Peskin, among others, for what it views as anti-growth, "NIMBY" political views. 

SFBARF members, including San Francisco residents, have also been recruited on a list-serv to attend Berkeley City Council meetings and comment favorably about development proposals. They showed up in force at Tuesday's City Council meeting to support the Bates Plan for easing zoning to promote building in Berkeley, but were thwarted when citizen opposition prompted Bates and his allies to withdraw most of the scheme.  

Allegations of voter fraud against Dewsnup first surfaced last fall when he was involved in an unsuccessful effort to overthrow the leadership of the local Sierra Club chapter. SFBARF leadership targeted the club after it helped defeat several waterfront development projects and pass a measure requiring voter approval for waterfront projects exceeding existing height limits. 

Jon Golinger, a former president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and a prominent figure in both recent campaigns against waterfront development and the Sierra Club fight, said that he was not aware of Dewsnup ever actively participating in the neighborhood group. He noted that there was no need for Dewsnup to falsify an address to join the Telegraph Hill Dwellers because anyone can join online. 

"I think it's the waterfront issues that drew this person into the group," Golinger said. 

SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss today said Dewsnup does not have a regular address because he is homeless. 

Trauss called Dewsnup's arrest "without question politically motivated." She said that she believed he was targeted because he antagonized "anti-growth incumbents" by campaigning against Peskin and running for a spot on the Sierra Club's executive committee.  

"I knew that a policy change as radical as the one we're calling for would not be won easily, however I am shocked the DA would harass a housing advocate, who happens to be homeless, for trying to vote," Trauss said in a statement. "It's nakedly vengeful and political." 

A spokeswoman for Peskin said it would be inappropriate for the supervisor to comment on a criminal investigation.

New: Berkeley Historian Disputes Rhoades Claim that He Reviewed Study of 1900 Fourth Project Site

Richard Schwartz
Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 09:52:00 PM

Editor's Note: The following letter from Berkeley historian Richard Schwartz has been sent to the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission, the Berkeley City Council and LPC secretary Sally Zarnowitz and has been included in the Commission's packet for their meeting tomorrow, Thursday, April 7. The historian writes that Mark Rhoades, expediter for the project sought for the site at 1900 Fourth Street by BHV CenterStreet Properties LLC, falsely claimed that Schwartz had reviewed the information submitted about archeological findings on the site, both at the last LPC meeting and online on the project's promotional web page. The statement challenged as untrue by Schwartz can be found was here at the time of this publication. Schwartz also told the Planet today that he does not agree with statements made by Andy Galvan, the state of California's that there are no Native American remains on the 1900 Fourth site even though human remains were discovered last week across the street at 1911 Fourth.

On March 14, 2016, I used the email form on the site of 1900Fourth (the development company for the Spenger's Parking Lot Site) and asked them to provide me with the emails of Mr. Griggs, Mr. Blake, and Ms. Colbert so that I could send them important information regarding false statements I heard made by Mark Rhoades at the Landmarks' Commission meeting 3/3/16 about my involvement in their project. I never received a response. It was from visiting their website to email them that I found more false statements- this time in writing on their website- about my involvement in their project.

A few days later I used their website email form again and told them I demanded they remove the statement that "with the methodology, findings, and conclusions reviewed by Berkeley writer and historian Richard Schwartz." from their website within seven days as I was Richard Schwartz and I never reviewed their methodology,findings or conclusions to them and their statement was not factual.

I never received a response and it has been weeks since I made my demand. So I need to make Berkeley government aware that those statements made on their website about my making a review are false and that they did not respond to my two emails. 

Mr. Mark Rhoades also made the false comments that I had reviewed Archeo-Tech's work on the site which I did not. I did not comment on his statement at the hearing but then attempted to contact his company which did not respond. It was at that time I found out the statement on their website. Mr. Rhoades made these false nonfactual statements with no documentation about my involvement in this project at the Landmark Commission meeting of 3/3/16. 

Please know that in no way did I provide 1900Fourth or Archeo-Tech with any review of their work. I was told by Archeo-Tech on 5/30/14 that their report was finished but did not receive a copy of it until 7/22/14, after it had been released. 

Please take note of their false and misleading comments and their lack of response of any kind that I requested. 

Thank you for your attention on this matter. 


Richard Schwartz

New: Human Remains Unearthed on Fourth Street

Becky O'Malley
Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 02:17:00 PM

Lost in the chaos of last night's Berkeley City Council meeting was the very important announcement that human remains were uncovered last Wednesday, March 29, in the 1900 block of Fourth Street, which is claimed by some to be the site of an ancient shell mound maintained by Native Americans of the Ohlone tribe. The announcement was made during the initial public comment period by Andy Galvan, an Ohlone who has been designated by the State of California as the official most likely descendant (MLD) of the historic Native American inhabitants. According to an article in the San Francisco Weekly, Galvan frequently serves as an MLD and often supports developers. 

It was difficult to understand exactly what information he was presenting because of repeated interruptions from Mayor Tom Bates, who was trying desperately to restrict Galvan to the two minute time limit for items not on the (increasingly scrambled) agenda. Councilmember Linda Maio, in whose district the alleged shell mound site is located, attempted with only moderate success to give Galvan time to explain the discovery, which could have a significant impact on two projects on this block. 

The discovery of a human skeleton, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous, has been reported to the Alameda County Coroner to determine its probable age and origin. It was found on the site next to Spenger's Restaurant at 1919 4th Street, where a commercial addition is currently being constructed. Galvan said he has met with a project representative and an archeologist to discuss what measures should be taken to ensure mitigation measures that respect the human remains. He said that for some reason the project had been exempted from the California Environment Quality Act, but property owners had agreed to follow proper procedures anyhow. 

Galvan also said he himself was sure that the property just across the street at 1900 Fourth, where a suburban-type shopping mall and apartment complex is being proposed by an LLC represented by former Berkeley Planning Director Mark Rhoades, has no Native American remains on-site.  

He said that "...it must be made clear that in no way does this make the site across the street more sensitive. It is across the street, the parking lot. We have not found a shell, a flake. This is an anomaly." 

The exact dimensions of the shell mound or the full shell mound site were not referenced, but it appeared that he was saying that if there was a mound or a mound site in the vicinity it had stopped exactly at Fourth. An environmental impact report is being required for the project at 1900, which may elicit more information.

Berkeley Backs "Resilience"

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:41:00 AM

City of Berkeley officials today released an ambitious plan aimed at helping the city tackle numerous important issues, including natural disasters, climate change and racial, social and economic inequities.

The city's 59-page "Resilience Strategy" calls for the creation of six community resilience centers where under-served neighborhoods can receive training, supplies and other resources to better prepare for and recover from disasters. 

The centers are to be located at existing community hubs, such as a senior affordable housing complex, a historically black church, an intercultural gathering center and a center for people with disabilities. 

Berkeley officials said using those locations to promote preparedness and coordinate responses to problems is part of a broader strategy, which also was launched today, to use "interconnectedness" as a driving force to make the city more resilient so it's better able to withstand shocks of any kind, be they natural, human, economic or due to other factors. 

City officials, including Chief Resilience Officer Timothy Burroughs, said Berkeley is the first city in the Bay Area and only the sixth in the world to develop a comprehensive resilience strategy. 

The effort is the culmination of work Berkeley is doing as part of the Rockefeller Foundation's "100 Resilient Cities Network." 

Oakland and San Francisco have also been among the first cities chosen to participate in the network but they haven't developed comprehensive plans yet. Berkeley officials said a key element of building a resilient city is addressing a community's inequities, such as by racial or socioeconomic inequities. 

They said inequities place stress on people in certain racial and socioeconomic groups as well as the community as a whole and those inequities get exacerbated in a disaster, so the Resilience Strategy is designed to address them. 

The six community resilience centers are La Pena Cultural Center, the Ed Roberts Campus, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, McGee Baptist Church, the Harriet Tubman Terrace Aparments and YMCA Head Start.

It's Official -- Raiders to Richmond!

Tom Butt, Mayor of Richmond, Special to The Planet
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:03:00 AM

We have just learned that what is now Hilltop Mall will be the new home of the Oakland Raiders.

It’s been no secret that Hilltop Mall has been on the auction block (Hilltop Mall Officially on the Market, March 17, 2016). We just weren’t expecting it to go so soon, but apparently, it’s been in the works for some time.  

It turns out that it was simply a matter of the stars being aligned. Hilltop Mall is an obsolete business model that no longer works commercially, but it has a sea of parking and good access to transportation, both of which are critical to a sports stadium. And the price was right.  

The new Raiders stadium at Hilltop, scheduled for completion in early 2019, will combine mixed uses, including housing, offices and retail in high rise towers, and will be a much more compact design than what is there now. The surface parking will be consolidated into four multi-story parking structures that will also serve housing and offices, since games are typically on nights and weekends. “In fact, said Planning Director Richard Mitchel, “it will be a self-contained city, largely self-sufficient, but providing enhanced mobility to connect to to the region.”  



Artist’s rendition of the new raider’s stadium at Hilltop 

For years, the Raiders have cultivated and burnished an outlaw image that seemed to reflect Oakland, but Oakland is changing. With tech companies like Uber moving in, a hot new restaurant scene and the fastest rising rents in America, Oakland is looking more like silicon Valley and San Francisco than home to swashbuckling and bloodthirsty pirates of the Caribbean. It was time for the Black Hole to find a new home. 

Richmond, however, still fits the bill. 

“With its reputation as a rough and ready refinery town,” said raiders owner Mark Davis, “Richmond is now the appropriate home of Raider Nation. In fact,” continued Davis, “ Richmond is, in many ways, the new Oakland.” 

“Of course, the team will henceforth be known as the Richmond Raiders,” added Davis. “Alliteration is always a good thing.” 

There were a lot of factors that drove the decision. 

“Libby Schaff thinks she is a tough and savvy negotiator,” scoffed Davis, “but she pushed too hard this time. She had us over a barrel and more than tripled our rent. She better not spend it all at once, because she won’t see any more of it.” 

The Hilltop location has many advantages. Like the current Raiders stadium, it is located right next to I-80, but unlike Oakland, it also has access to markets east and west. All of the North Bay is just across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge and a short jaunt up the Richmond Parkway. Just a few miles north on I-80, Highway 4 connects to Contra Costa County and the Delta. 

They even considered the future Richmond ferry terminal. “We are looking at a fleet of DUKW’s, offered Davis, “ to shuttle fans from the ferry terminal at the Craneway to Hilltop. They can come ashore down by Parchester Village and drive right up the Richmond Parkway and right into the stadium.” 



A DUKW in Boston Harbor 


BART Director Zachery Mallet is planning a BART extension from the Richmond station north to Hilltop and ultimately to Hercules. “This is great news, said Mallet when he heard about the Raider’s move, “It will definitely accelerate completion of the project by several years.” 

It’s also a short shuttle ride from the Richmond station for Capitol Corridor riders, opening up access to the Central Valley. 

The final deal appears to have been largely the work of legendary real estate broker John Troughton, who works for Kennedy-Wilson, the owner of Bella Vista at Hilltop, Richmond’s largest (1,000 units) apartment complex. “Kennedy Wilson already has a lot of knowledge of the Hilltop Area as well as a successful investment there, “said Troughton. “We have also been promised a piece of the housing portion of the stadium package.” 

“Richmond will not commit any taxpayer money to the stadium,” said City Manager Bill Lindsay, “but we will support it in many ways as a public-private partnership. The City can provide access to low interest revenue and industrial develop bonds, and we can create an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District. Tax credits are available for some of the housing components.” 



The Black Hole 


Reaction on the City Council was mixed but generally supportive. 

“Progressives, by nature, are not professional sports fans,” said RPA spokesperson Marilyn Langlois, speaking for the three City Council RPA members. “We view professional sports as elitist indulgences that the masses can no longer afford, and we are more into social change. However, we have been able to negotiate a deal with the Raiders to provide maintenance, food and beverage jobs to unemployed Richmond residents at living wages, and they will be trained by Richmond Employment and Training Department. Many of them will also be offered affordable homes in the residential units built as a part of the mixed use stadium project. Perhaps the best part is that they will be able to walk to work. That’s a triple bottom line for us.” 

Nat Bates was clearly the most enthusiastic. As an outstanding athlete himself who once played pro-baseball, Nat is probably Richmond’s biggest sports fan. “This is the biggest thing to hit Richmond since Chevron came over a hundred years ago. It changes everything.” 

Jael Myrick also cut a deal with the Raiders, enticing them into augmenting the Richmond Promise Scholarship. “We will get $1,000 each time the Raiders score a home game touchdown,” said Myrick. “Everyone in Richmond will be cheering for them.” 

Vinay Pimple took a keen interest in the legal aspects, confiding that when he first got out of law school, he contemplated a career in sports law. “I’ve looked at this deal from every angle, and it’s a great thing for the City of Richmond.” 

A press conference has been scheduled at Richmond City Hall tomorrow to share details with the public. 

As for me, I wish you a Happy April Fool’s Day!

Why I'm Running for the District 6 Seat on the Berkeley City Council

Fred Dodsworth
Friday April 01, 2016 - 01:59:00 PM

Here’s what I put together so far for folks asking about my intentions… This is a first draft, I'm hoping District Six residents will help me refine it to better serve our community and our future. I'm sure this list of ideas will grow and evolve as I hear more from people. I'm eager to hear the new ideas our citizens imagine, and the existing ideas our current council has ignored. 

My biggest issues are related to the quality of life in Berkeley, and the cost of living in Berkeley, i.e. What we get in return for our high taxes and high cost of living expense. Further, where we do have control, I'm profoundly committed to securing our future by investing in long-term solutions to our education crisis and our climate crisis and our addiction to war and colonialism. This includes increasing our commitment to a more egalitarian society where the young and the old are treated with care and respect, where women earn on parity with men, where men and women earn a living wage for our community, where the color of one's skin or the spiritual beliefs of the individual have NO consequence in the public discourse.  

I love that some folks can still afford to buy homes in Berkeley… although that is debatable as prices escalate so far beyond most people’s incomes. We must look at means to address the profound systemic economic inequality that threatens to turn Berkeley into another entitled white suburb of Silicon Valley. I am NOT in favor of a dense high-rise downtown, with or without luxury condominiums or apartments. There's plenty of research that shows creating such living spaces only increases the desirability for those type of projects, putting enormous financial pressure on the surrounding, existing housing stock. I favor multi-income and multi-cultural residential projects that integrate families, students, the elderly, the impoverished, artists, and working professionals, in other words, a real neighborhood. Additionally I favor personal investment and ownership in these projects by those who live in there to the limit of their abilities, based on their on-going income and wealth qualifications. Specifically, I'm against the Harold Way project, which I think is a catastrophe. There are other areas of the city where development would improve our community rather than destroy our cultural, historical, and architectural heritage. 

Regarding low income housing, I favor limited-equity ownership projects like Savo Island, although I'm also quite happy to support non-profit housing as well, provided there IS NOT the opportunity for the non-profits to later sell these projects to speculators, as has happened in the past when the city decided to get out of the low-income housing business. A variety of residential projects in Berkeley currently (or at some point in the future) in bankruptcy or foreclosure are a perfect opportunity for the city to create exactly this sort of limited equity ownership almost instantly. 

I am eager to compel, through taxation, transfer fees, and mitigation fees, those who have benefited from Berkeley's windfall increase in real estate values. Additionally, I'm happy to compel on-going payments out of those same properties owners who have allowed our commercial district shops to flounder. If a commercial building in OUR commercial districts remains empty for an inordinate period of time, the rents are too high. If the owner paid too much for the building and can't lower the rents to meet the market, I don't feel it is the city or the citizen's responsibility to absolve them from their bad business decisions. It is imperative that retail spaces be occupied by jobs and producing the retail sales taxes that are so critical to our financial stability.  

In comparison, under Tom's regime we've been giving away development rights to out-of-town developers who focus entirely upon profits while ignoring/destroying the successful parts of our community that make us Berkeley. My plan would be to reel in the speculators (and their enablers among city staff) and get much, much better results which would benefit us all: Cash, real subsidized housing, support for public education, programs to get the homeless off the streets, jobs, and RETAIL TAX DOLLARS, firm, penciled out unbreakable commitments to preserving the services we have (see the Gaia Building, the Fine Arts Building, and now the Shattuck Cinemas for examples of where we gave away the store and got nothing in return). Berkeley's budget relies on retail tax revenues and transfer tax revenues but the city council is constantly undermining (especially) the retail revenue stream by allowing real estate agents and property owners to dictate polices that discourage or fail to support a diverse retail business environment. 

Regarding Green Development, the greenest, least carbon generating development is the reuse of the current building stock. It's not clear to me that anyone wins when a perfectly fine building is torn down and hauled off to the dump. Embedded carbon investments are precious and need to be treated that way. My own home is a perfect example. Neglected for 30 to 40 years it needed everything, and I gave it everything available when I remodeled, from R-19 insulation in the walls to double grazed, low-e windows, from grey water recycling and rain catchment, to 6.2 kilowatts of photovoltaic power. One of my friends and associates is Kevin Hyde, who was the engineering firm on the David Bower Center, which was designated LEED Platinum as I recall. Zero sum energy is not just an ideal, it should be a goal for all large and small construction in our community. This, too, needs to become an embedded cost for any new construction or extensive remodel.  

Regarding our damaged environment, it will take effort and new ways of looking at the interface between Berkeley and the surrounding watershed and park lands to move into new and more sustaining relationships with the world we inhabit. With more than 90,000 acres of EBRP and EBMUD reserves to our east and the SF Bay to our west, we live in a land of great beauty but we also have a critical responsibility to redefine how humans interact with the essential natural landscape, creating a sustainable relationship that improves our lot, and the world for those who will follow us. Phil Stevens, formerly of the Urban Creeks Council is advising me on how to best work with and improve our urban creeks. Kristen Van Dam, local ecologist and Master of Forestry is working with me to establish goals for our relationship with those wonderful wild lands that surround us.  

I think it's critical that the city adopt a strict contractual code of conduct regulating its employees that prohibits the revolving door that Mark Rhoades and Dan Marks exemplify... or the complete lawlessness that Ryan Lau (Darryl Moore's aide) and Nicole Drake (Linda Maio's former aide) exhibited when Mr. Lau (living with Ms. Drake) tore down his garage and rebuilt it, without any permits, without complying with zoning or fire regulations -- yet neither was held accountable. It is my understanding, that even to this day, there is no contractual code of conduct that city council members and their employees are required to sign and abide by. 

Homelessness is a problem that impacts us all in Berkeley and I've seen no substantial commitment from the city other than complaining about it, and attempting to pass unconstitutional laws that are not enforceable. More disruptive than the ever present homeless, what imperils our commercial districts is the frequently lawless nature of some of those people due to mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and the sort of desperation that leads to criminal behaviors. There are hundreds of social contract laws on the books that are simply not enforced (such as laws against threatening and intimidating behaviors, public intoxication, lewd behavior, public drug dealing on the streets, purchasing alcohol for minors, etc.). By enforcing the laws we do have, we can control much of the lawless behavior that negatively impacts our citizens and our merchants.

Younger Voters Step Up in California

Brett Johnson (BCN)
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:13:00 AM

There has been a surge of younger Californians exhibiting interest in voting in the first three months of the year, according to numbers released by the state Wednesday.

More than 560,000 people have either registered to vote or updated existing information so far this year, and 36 percent of those people were between the ages of 17 and 25, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla's office.

"We are witnessing a wave of young Californians engaging in the democratic process," Padilla said in a statement. "The timing says everything - they want to vote." 

Throughout all of 2014, there were only 425,220 new registrations or updated registrations through the state's voter website, which is only 100,000 more than totals just for this month, according to data released by Padilla's office. 

"This surge in online voter registration suggests that elections officials throughout our state should be preparing for a surge in turnout during the June 7 Presidential Primary Election," Padilla said. 

California residents who are 17 years old can register to vote if they will be 18 or older by the next election. 

Padilla's office said reaching these new voters has been one of his initiatives. Among other efforts, he has been conducting outreach at high schools. 

Online voter registration can be done via RegisterToVote.ca.gov. 

"It is vital that California voters cast a ballot to shape the future of our state and nation," Padilla said. "The stakes could not be higher during this election season." 

Another report on voter registration, which will also include registrations made on paper, will be released next month and will reflect statistics as of April 8.

Press Release: State Controller Betty Yee Endorses Jesse Arreguin for Berkeley Mayor

From Arreguin for Mayor
Wednesday March 30, 2016 - 08:06:00 PM

Momentum Building for Councilman’s Campaign with Recent Backing from State and Local Leaders

Today, Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin announced that his campaign for Mayor has been endorsed by California State Controller Betty Yee. 

“Jesse Arreguin is the Mayor Berkeley needs,” said Yee. “He is a true progressive who has fought incredibly hard for Berkeley’s working families for 15 years, as a Planning Commissioner, Rent Board Chair, and City Councilmember. And he has been a very effective legislator, passing over 300 laws that have made a difference on affordable housing, homelessness, and environmental protection. He has my full support.” 

“I am deeply honored to have the endorsement of California’s Controller Betty Yee,” said Arreguin. “She has always been a leader of incredible integrity, known not only for her financial expertise but also for her fairness, transparency, and commitment to mentoring the next generation of young leaders. We are fortunate to have her as California’s Chief Fiscal Officer.” 

Yee joins a expanding list of elected officials and community leaders backing Arreguin’s campaign for Mayor, including former California State Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, former Berkeley Mayor and civil rights leader Gus Newport, Berkeley Councilmember Max Anderson, Berkeley Rent Board Chair Jesse Townley and a super-majority of the elected Rent Board, Emeryville Mayor Dianne Martinez, AC Transit Director Mark Williams, former Berkeley Councilmembers Ying Lee and Carole Kennerly, and former Alameda County Board of Education President Jacki Fox Ruby, among many others. 

State Controller Betty T. Yee was elected in November 2014, following two terms of service on the Board of Equalization. She also chairs the Franchise Tax Board and serves as a member of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) Boards. These two boards have a combined portfolio of nearly $500 billion. Yee has over 30 years of experience in public service, specializing in state and local finance and tax policy. She previously served as Chief Deputy Director for Budget with the California Department of Finance where she led the development of the Governor’s Budget, negotiations with the Legislature and key budget stakeholders, and fiscal analyses of legislation on behalf of the Administration. Prior to this, she served in senior staff positions for several fiscal and policy committees in both houses of the California State Legislature. 

Yee currently serves on the board of directors for the Equality California Institute. She is a cofounder of the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project, which exposes California high school youth to the public service, public policy, and political arenas.



Updated: It's Still Time for a Change in Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Monday April 04, 2016 - 04:05:00 PM

As predicted, Bates & Co. bailed (for the moment) [Update #2, April 6]

A friend long interested in Berkeley's checkered planning history called me early this morning to find out what happened at the Berkeley City Council last night. Before I was three sentences into my explanation she nailed it: "DIsgraceful!"

Don't say we didn't tell you so. Last night the council majority fell all over themselves shooting down Mayor Tom Bates' trial balloons from his original proposal (dictated no doubt by the developer lobby which funded his last campaigns) to upzone what amounted almost all of flatlands Berkeley.

By the time of last night's meeting, what seemed like a sizeable percentage of the residents of the target area, both tenants and homeowners, had signed a petition opposing the Bates Plan, and many of them were at the Berkeley School District audtorium last night, loaded for bear.

Full disclosure: I was one of them. I'm getting too old to sit on the sidelines when my friends are being attacked. The last incentive was provided by the elegant old lady (like me) I see sometimes at the Adeline Farmers' Market, the one who patrols the area picking up trash because,she says, it's her neighborhood. She sternly admonished me that I'd better show up and say something, so I did, even though I don't even know her name, because she commands respect.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!! That's what the councilmembers kept asking for from the angry crowd, evidently never having been told that you have to earn respect. They were quite correct, their constituents no longer respect them, but whose fault is that?

The meeting followed the all too familiar script. Step one was that the agenda was completely reorganized, so that people who had shown up to protest had absolutely no idea of what was going to be considered when. This was all disclosed in the trademark Bates Mumble, wherein the presiding Mayor skillfully avoids the microphone and gives a good simulation of missing his marbles, though he actually knows just what he's doing. The ensuing commotion was simply too chaotic to summarize here, and the tone of the remarks from the dais and also from the audience had to been seen to be believed.

The bottom line is that all the Bates Bunch managed to accomplish is to pass a resolution imposing a higher affordable housing impact fee on future speculators who want to build more market rate luxury apartments, though just at the minimum level which was recommended by a professional firm more than a year ago. We'll ask one of the several sharp-pencilled citizens in attendance to provide key details here later.

The only other accomplishment of note was to pass, after vigorous advocacy over more than an hour by a beautiful bunch of young folks. a supplemental allocation of $15k to keep a night-time shelter for homeless kids (yes, KIDS) open throughout April. The only no vote, the nadir of civic disgrace in an evening of disgraceful performances, came from the elderly mayor, on the grounds that it was supposed to be a winter shelter, and April's not winter. Duh! Let those durn kids sleep on doorsteps on Shattuck and Telly, okay?

Don't believe this actually happened? You really must watch the video to get the full flavor. 

Is Bates Bailing on By-Right Building? [April 4 update]

Can you really fight City Hall? Maybe, just maybe, for a while anyway. There’s been a flurry of excitement on the progressive email lists this morning because it looks like Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is backing down, at least a bit, on his outrageous proposals to up-zone and up-build almost all of flatlands Berkeley on his way out the door.

One wag who shall be nameless even suggested that “we need a Republican Party to come in here and declare that Bates is a lame duck and he should let the next Mayor decide. Or just put it to a vote of the people. :)”.

But Bates seems to be a bit cowed by the uproar that his proposals have caused.

This morning our emailbox contained a “Special Bates Update”, a statement which hasn’t yet been posted on the Mayor’s (tax-payer funded) private web page in which he reiterated most of his plans for revising Berkeley’s zoning code, but, almost as an afterthought, withdraws the proposal which has generated the most flak: by-right approval for big center-city developments which would leave current residents out of the loop.

There have been dueling petitions in circulation online from both left (Berkeley Progressive Alliance) and right (Livable Berkeley). As of this writing the Progressives were ahead by about 2 to 1, and they were rallying their supporters to show up at tomorrow’s city council meeting to emphasize their opposition to the Bates scheme.

The East Bay Express has done an unusually good job of reporting on the action. Read it here: Berkeley Progressives Say Mayor Bates’ Housing Plan is a “Blueprint for Gentrification” 






[April 1] First of all, I’d like to thank the several thoughtful and intelligent citizens who responded to the request for more analysis and information which ended my last posting in this space. Their excellent contributions can be found in this issue.

The Mayor’s plan to manufacture electoral consent to give central Berkeley away to developers will come before the Berkeley City Council next Tuesday, April 5, and it’s important that all of you who never wanted to live in Speculation City inform yourselves and make your opinions heard.

A petition started by the Berkeley Progressive Alliance objecting to this scheme has been forwarded to me several times. You can read more and sign the petition here. 






You could even go to the council meeting on Tuesday—public comment starts at 7, and the mayor’s items are at various times on the agenda. Because the current council has negligently permitted the historic Maudelle Shirek Building, the Old City Hall, to deteriorate until it’s no longer usable, the council now meets in the Berkeley Unified School District board room located at 1231 Addison, with the entry at 1222 University Avenue. 

But in the long run, what we desperately need is a new city council to replace this do-nothing bunch. In this issue we’re starting up the Planet’s Election Section again. It’s open to any and all candidates for Mayor and the other open offices which will be voted on in November. 

Candidates who want to make their positions on the issues public (though I know that’s not all of them) may submit statements and/or comments of any reasonable length by email to election@berkeleydailyplanet.com, preferably in the form of an attached Word .doc or .docx file, but if that’s not possible as an unformatted text in the body of the email. 

New issues are posted on Fridays, so comments posted then remain on the home page in the current issue for a full week. However they can be submitted any day of the week and can always be read in the archives. 

We’ve already run statements from some candidates, and they’re welcome to send more if they want. Fred Dodsworth, running for the District 6 council seat now held by Susan Wengraf, happens to have sent us one today which appears in this issue. 

All too many voters base their decisions on the flood of expensive glossy mailers which appear in the last couple of weeks before any election. Without a print paper, we’re at the mercy of those with the money to pay for mail. 

There’s got to be a better way, and there is. 

If you read something here from a candidate that makes sense to you, you can send it on to your contacts by email or social media using the “Share” program in the upper right corner of the page that the article’s on. You can even use this utility to print up a few paper copies and hand them out to friends and neighbors who don’t read much online, still a surprising percentage of the electorate. 

We also welcome comments on the election from readers of all kinds, either about issues or about candidates. 


I note that once again it’s April Fools’ Day, the anniversary of the founding of Berkeley and also of the first issue of the re-started Berkeley Daily Planet in print under the management and ownership of the O’Malley family. It’s hard to believe that was only 13 years ago—it’s been a hard slog. I re-read what we said on the front page, and I think we still believe most of it, but I’m not sure how much closer we’ve come to the lofty goals we articulated way back then.

The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley City Council In Action (or Inaction)

Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 12:20:00 PM

Here's the video of the most disgraceful Berkeley City Council meeting yet. Warning: it starts itself, but you can turn it off.  



Public Comment

New: The Panama Papers Tell All

Jagjit Singh
Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 01:56:00 PM

A document known as the “Panama Papers” has exposed the sordid details of how the rich and powerful hide their wealth by using tax havens to avoid paying taxes. It’s by far the largest leak in journalism history. The world’s fourth largest offshore Panama based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, set up a massive global nefarious scheme to service their clients. Last Sunday, journalists released 11.5 million secret files from Fonseca’s database. 

Thus far, the revelations have incriminated 12 heads of state and a number of other politicians, their family members and close associates, including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, the son of Malaysian prime minister, the Saudi monarchy and the president of Ukraine. The prime minister of Iceland has already resigned and more heads are sure to follow. Relatives of at least eight current or former members of China’s top ruling body are also mentioned. In a desperate effort of damage control, Chinese news groups were ordered to purge all references of the Panama Papers. Panama’s “Snowden,” responsible for the leak, has not been identified, and has used an encrypted chat to communicate with the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the prime recipient of the leak. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists spanning many countries set aside their usual competitive nature by printing their stories on the same day. This is journalism at its finest. 

New: Berkeley's Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee: An Open Letter to Mayor Bates and Members of the City Council

Shirley Dean
Sunday April 03, 2016 - 12:15:00 PM

I am writing to you regarding Item number 10a on your agenda for April 5, 2016. I apologize for the lateness of this communication, but I experienced great difficulty in downloading the item from the City’s website, and I was unable to do so until this date.

The item sets the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee (AHMF) at $34,000 per unit as supported by the most recent Nexus Study. Raising the AHMF from the discounted $28,000 is long-overdue, particularly since the Nexus Study supported raising it to $34,000 per unit months ago. In some ways, setting the fee at $34,000 per unit in lieu of providing below market rate units on-site acts as a small incentive for the developer to provide those units on-site, if the developer wanted to escape payment of the fee. Including below market units on-site means they will be available to people faster than they would be if payment were made into the Housing Trust Fund (HTF), and if the developer chose instead to pay the fee instead of the including the units on-site, It would help the HTF accumulate funds faster. So setting the fee at $34,000 has a certain win-win to it. However, that is undone if you allow the AHMF to be reduced back to $28,000 if the fee is paid early. Takes away any incentive for the developer to provide below market rate units on-site, less funding into the HTF, and longer waits for below market units to become available.  


The Item provides two reasons [which] are stated in the item for reducing the AHMF if paid early: 

Reason #1: “Depending on the rate of return at the time, a smaller fee paid earlier could be equal in value to a larger fee paid later.” This is an unknown. Who knows what the ‘rate of return’ will be at any time in the future? So why is this being proposed when the outcome can’t be predicted? I hope that it just isn’t being offered as an extra perk for developers to pay less. 

Reason #2: “A fee paid earlier into the Housing Trust Fund also allows the City to begin providing affordable housing sooner.” Historically it appears that developing a hypothetical building with 100 below market units takes more time than developing a building with 100 units of all market rate units, or a building with 100 units that are a mixture of market and below market rate units.  

Please keep in mind that the purpose of the HTF is more than producing new below market units. As you have been told on numerous occasions – over time, in buildings with all below market units, the gap between the cost to maintain and repair the building and the rents needed to keep the units affordable to the occupants widens until large sums of additional funds from the HTF, and maintenance suffers until it becomes absolutely necessary to refurbish and make habitable those buildings once again. That’s when the HTF is needed once again. Also, the costs to the City to monitor on an annual basis and do whatever else is required, such as inspections when needed is a factor. Upkeep and monitoring below market rate units in a privately owned building which contains a mixture of below and market rate units could be done with less cost to the City through an efficient program instituted by the City, such as the Residential Safety Inspection Program you have indicated you are putting in place. This won’t happen automatically. It is time for all housing programs to be inter-related to insure that housing in this City is safe, sanitary and attractive. It is your job to ensure an effective program exists. 

Moreover, it must be made clear that all on-site below market rate units are permanent, remaining for the life of the building, even if the building is converted from rental to condominiums. 

The item also seeks to increase the percentage of below-market rate units from the current 10% to 20%. Since the item is a referral to the City Manager to return with a revised AHMF Ordinance, I strongly suggest that instead of stating that the new percentage will be 20%, that the item provides advice to the City Manager to consider increasing it to a percentage greater than 20%, but no less than 20%. Other cities are approving greater percentages. Why should Berkeley not follow that lead? 

Lastly, since the HTF is in need of funds to produce new units as well as repairing and maintaining older buildings with below market units, please discuss the idea of a business license tax fee increase for rental property owners. This is not part of Item #10 but it is on the agenda in another item when you are considering placing items on the ballot. I doubt it would be a violation of the Brown Act to discuss this matter at that time. With the rapid and large increase in rents that has been well documented, it only seems fair to increase the Business License fee for rental properties when other businesses will have seen their taxes go up when their gross receipts increase. However, why does this even have to be placed on the ballot? Why can’t it be done by legislative act? If done by legislative act, the City would have more flexibility to fix any problems that might be encountered. 

In summary, It is time to consider encouraging on-site below market units, increasing the percentage of below-market rate units in a building and increasing the funding that goes into the Housing Trust Fund.  

Thank you for your consideration of these remarks. 

New: Citizen Participation Under Attack

Rob Wrenn
Saturday April 02, 2016 - 05:54:00 PM

Berkeley has a long tradition of involving residents in decisions about land use. The idea that the people who are affected by decisions should have some say about those decisions has always been strongly supported in Berkeley and is mandated by our General Plan and by our Zoning Ordinance. But now Mayor Bates wants to exclude residents from any involvement in decisions regarding large housing projects in Downtown, South and West Berkeley, Telegraph and the Southside south of UC (but not in the most affluent homeowner neighborhoods). Bates was once a liberal but has gradually morphed into a corporate Democrat, who acts to benefit special moneyed interests rather than working for the public interest. 

Berkeley is a built out city with very little vacant land that isn't meant to be preserved as open space. New development invariably has impacts on people who already live here. A new building might block sunlight to existing homes. There might be traffic impacts. The developer's proposed design might be an ugly mess. 

Under the system that has been in effect for decades, our Zoning Adjustments Board considers these impacts when it approves new development. Modifications are often made in response to community input; conditions are often attached to the project's permit. Projects are improved by public input. (How well depends on the caliber of people appointed to ZAB). 

ZAB rarely turns down a proposed housing development; it's only happened once in recent years where the developer just refused to present a project that complied with existing zoning. Yet Mayor Bates is proposing that there be no public input, that ZAB would play no role; projects would be approved "by right" by a member of the city's planning staff, over the counter, with no public hearing, no opportunity for public input, no review by ZAB or the Design Review Commission. 

Would developers getting "by right" approval at least have to provide a substantial number of units affordable to people with incomes under $100,000 a year? No, their entire project could consist of apartments affordable only to those making high incomes. Would these projects have to be "green" with solar thermal or electric systems? No, they could be conventional run of the mill buildings, as long as they provide some bicycle parking and other things that are now quite routine in Berkeley. 

What the mayor is proposing, which is up for consideration this Tuesday, April 5 is a radical assault on the whole idea of citizen participation as well as a blueprint for gentrification of the city. The mayor has refused to vote for increased funding for affordable housing, that is housing for those with less than six figure incomes. 

If this alarms you, and I hope it does, please write to the City Council at council@cityofberkeley.info. If you want the City to make a real commitment to funding affordable housing, rather than giveaways to developers who are already making money hand over fist in the current "luxury" housing boom in Berkeley, please consider signing this petition: https://www.change.org/p/council-ci-berk... [This first appeared on NextDoor.com]

Obama Apologizes to Argentina:
Now It's Time to Apologize to Cuba

Gar Smith
Saturday April 02, 2016 - 05:44:00 PM

In an unprecedented act of geopolitical contrition, Barack Obama has become the first US president to apologize to another world leader for America's role in overthrowing an elected democracy and installing a brutal military regime. In this case, a bloody dictatorship that murdered and "disappeared" more than 30,000 civilians.

The apology was tendered on March 24, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Well, actually, what Obama apologized for was the US being "slow to speak out for human rights." Washington's military role in supporting the coup, the dictatorship and the "dirty war" was only inferred. As Amanda Taub observed on Vox World: "Obama was, unsurprisingly, pretty vague on what role the US played in that conflict."

Obama reportedly was compelled to offer the mea culpa at the insistence of Argentine President Mauricio Macri who made it a precondition of Obama's state visit—on the 40th anniversary of the US-backed military take-over. 

Obama's historic statement included the following remarks: 

"Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don't live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we've been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here . . . . 

"There has been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days. . . . Confronting crimes committed by your own leaders, by your own people—that can be divisive and frustrating, but it is essential to moving forward." [Note:You can read and watch of video of the complete speech at the end of this article.

Obama concluded his remarks by pledging to take action. He vowed to stand up to the military-intelligence complex anddeclassify new military and intelligence records that would document the human rights violations that wracked the region from 1976 to 1983. 

The Buenos Aires-based Center for Human Rights Advocates was not won over by the president's statement, however. The CHRA declared: "We will not allow the power that orchestrated dictatorships in Latin America and oppresses people across the world to cleanse itself and use the memory of our 30,000 murdered compatriots to strengthen its imperialist agenda." 

Still, it's a good precedent for the president. And it raises the bar for accountability in the eyes of the world. If Obama is planning any other foreign trips in his remaining months in office, he might expect to receive similar "precondition letters"—official demands seeking public apologies directed to the people of Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and . . . well, the list goes on. 

How about an Apology to Cuba? 

When Barack Obama flew to Havana, Cuba in March (marking the first visit of a US president in 88 years), his mission was not to cop to a half-century of US crimes directed at its Caribbean neighbor. Instead, Obama's comments at his joint press conference with Cuban President Raul Castro mixed invocations of vague optimism with incantations of Cold War admonitions about threats to "democracy" and "human rights." 

There was much in the March 21 press conference at Havana's Grand Theater that didn't make it onto the CBS Evening News. To its credit, USA Today posted a transcript of the complete press conference online. 

President Obama began his remarks by going off-topic to mention a Marine who had just been killed in northern Iraq. Obama used the soldier's death—and the Havana press event—as an opportunity to praise "US armed service members who are sacrificing each and every day on behalf of our freedom and our safety." 

That mission accomplished, he began by praising Cuba: "The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its achievements in education and in healthcare." And Obama promised that "Cuba's destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation . . . . [T]he future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else." 

That said, the President warned that, "as we do wherever we go around the world . . . , the United States will continue to . . . . speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion." 

At one point, Obama wound up ceding more ground to President Raul Castro than was necessary. Apparently fearing the Cuban leader was going to hammer America for its rampant hunger, poverty, and racial oppression, he remarked: "President Castro has also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people, and poverty and inequality and race relations." 

In fact, Castro only scolded the US for its record on health, education, pensions, pay and the rights of children. In Castro's words: 

"[W]e find it inconceivable that a government [i.e., the USA] does not defend and insure the right to health care, education, Social Security with provision and development, equal pay and the rights of children. We oppose political manipulation and double standards in the approach to human rights . . . . 

"We hold different concepts on many subjects such as political systems, democracy, the exercise of human rights, social justice, international relations and world peace and stability. 

"We defend human rights. In our view, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, interdependent and universal. We oppose political manipulation and double standards in the approach to human rights. Cuba has much to say and show on this issue." 

Obama Talks of Trade and Dollars 

Obama spoke enthusiastically of the economic reforms Washington could now expect from Havana, including: "Allowing the US dollar to be used more widely with Cuba, giving Cubans more access to the dollar in international transactions, and allowing Cubans in the US to earn salaries." (Come again?) 

Obama offered further insights into US plans to reform the Cuban economy when he mentioned "cooperation on agriculture to support our farmers and our ranchers . . . some of the new commercial deals being announced by major US companies . . . steps we urge Cuba to show that it's ready to do more business, which includes allowing more joint ventures and allowing foreign companies to hire Cubans directly." Obama also said he was looking forward to seeing "more English-language training for Cuban teachers—both in Cuba and online." 

As the world press looked on, Obama continued to turn history into a fairy tale. 

Ignoring an infamous and once-secret 1961 State Department memo—that explained the purpose of the US embargo all about "denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government"—Obama now proposed that "the embargo was implemented to encourage, rather than discourage, reforms that the Cuban government itself is willing to engage in and to facilitate greater trade and commerce." 

Do we have a disconnect here? The punishing 54-year-long US-imposed economic and trade embargo was intended to "facilitate greater trade and commerce"? 

After both leaders finished their introductory remarks Jim Acosta, a Cuban-American reporter, asked Obama whether he would invite Raul Castro to the White House and inquired why the president did not meet with Fidel Castro. Obama ignored both questions. 

Instead, he returned to the issue of "human rights" and described "disagreements around human rights and democracy" as "impediments to strengthening . . . ties." And then Obama added: "I've met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention." (He could have been referring to jailed dissidents and whistleblowers in the US but the reference was clearly directed at Cuba.) 

Acosta directed two questions at Castro. One (an embarrassment to his profession) invited the Cuban leader to indicate whether he would vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The second raised the issue of "political prisoners." 

President Castro's response was vigorous: "What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners. And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends." 

(Whether Acosta ever presented a list of political prisoners is unknown.) 

It had been agreed that the US President would take two questions while the Cuban leader would respond to one query from the press. 

At this point, Obama called on NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, describing her as "one of our most esteemed journalists." It was clear that Mitchell wanted to pursue the issue of "human rights" and Obama, turning to Castro, declared: "I'm sure she'd appreciate just a short, brief, answer." 

Castro was not about to be bulldozed. Referring to the pre-arranged time limit for the press conference, he replied: "There is a program here to be fulfilled. I know that if I stay here, you will ask 500 questions. I said that I was going to answer one. Well, I answer 1 ½." 

Mitchell pressed Castro about the recent arrests of the Ladies in White (a group of the women who have nonviolently protested against the Cuban government every week for the past 13 years). Castro offered the following response: 

"I'm going to make the question to you now. There are 61 international instruments recognized. How many countries in the world are complying with all the human rights and civil rights that have been included in these 61 instruments? What country complies with them all? Do you know how many? I do. None. None whatsoever. 

"Some countries comply [with] some rights; others comply [with] others. And we are among these countries. Out of the 61 instruments, Cuba has complied with 47 of these human rights instruments . . . 

"Do you think there's anything more sacred than the right to health, so that billions of children don't die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medicine? Do you agree with the right to free education for all those born anywhere in the world or in any country? I think many countries don't think this is a human right…. 

"Do you think that for equal work, men get paid better than women just for the fact of being women? Well, in Cuba, women get the same pay for the same work. I can give you many, many examples. I don't think we can use the argument of human rights for political confrontation. That is not fair. It is not correct . . . Let us work so that we can comply with all human rights." 

And Now, a Word from Fidel 

At one point in the proceedings Obama declared: "We can't force change on any particular country." This statement, which seemed to be totally at odds with Washington's 50-year history of sanctions and plots directed at overthrowing the Cuban revolution, roused former Cuban President Fidel Castro to pen a 1,500-word rebuttal addressed to "My Brother Obama." The full text did not appear in the Western media. Instead, US news services generally reduced its message to Fidel's statement that Cuba "has no need of gifts" from the US. (A poor translation, at best.) 

Here (gathered from the website of the Cuban government's official newspaper, Granma) is some of what Fidel had to say to Barack: 

"In 1961, just one year and three months after the triumph of the Revolution, a mercenary force with armored artillery and infantry, backed by aircraft, trained and accompanied by US warships and aircraft carriers, attacked our country by surprise. Nothing can justify that perfidious attack, which cost our country hundreds of losses, including deaths and injuries." 

Fidel made no mention of the 632 attempts to kill him. These included numerous CIA assassination plots involving everything from poisoned drinks and infected handkerchiefs to exploding cigars and seashells filled with high explosives. A 2006 seven-part documentary traced Washington's 50-year campaign to murder the Cuban leader—a pattern of covert assassination attempts that spanned nine administrations. The record reads as follows: Eisenhower (38 assassination attempts), Kennedy (42), Johnson (72), Nixon (172), Carter (74), Reagan (197), GHW Bush (16), Clinton (21), GW Bush (6). 


Fidel wrote that hearing Obama's call to "forget the past, leave the past behind, let us look to the future together, a future of hope" nearly gave him a heart attack. 

"After a ruthless blockade that lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion? 

"Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture. 

"I also warn that we are capable of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us anything. Our efforts will be legal and peaceful, as this is our commitment to peace and fraternity among all human beings who live on this planet." 

On the Question of Human Rights 

In February of this year, Amnesty International released its Annual State of the World Report and AI's interim executive director, Margaret Huang, offered the following summary: "Worldwide we have seen human rights and freedom take a backseat to misguided fear and xenophobia masquerading as patriotism. The United States has been no exception." 

Among the charges laid against the US were the following: 

* indefinite detention without trial at the Guantanamo prison 

* lack of accountability for criminal wrongdoing related to the US torture program 

* excessive use of lethal force by police in the US 

* failure to act to curb gun violence which claims, on average, 88 American lives each day 

* failing to criticize allies like Saudi Arabia for jailing prisoners of conscience "such as human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and writer Raif Badawi." 

While the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2015 faulted Cuba for its treatment of the Ladies in White—i.e., being "routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass"—HRW also criticized the US for "routinely violat[ing] rights . . . in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, US laws and practices" and noted that "racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses." 

HRW also noted other US human rights failures, including: 

* US national security policies, including mass surveillance programs, are eroding freedoms of the press, expression, and association. Discriminatory and unfair investigations and prosecutions of American Muslims are alienating the communities the US claims it wants as partners in combating terrorism. 

* Although African Americans are only 13 percent of the US population, they represent 42 percent of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses. 

* Many poor defendants languish in pretrial detention because they cannot afford rising bail costs. 

* US courts allow children under the age of 18 to be prosecuted as adults and sentenced to adult prison terms. 

* Hundreds of thousands of children work on US farms, often laboring 10 or more hours a day and risking pesticide exposure, heat exhaustion, physical injuries and acute nicotine poisoning. 

* US military veterans face systemic barriers in accessing health care and suffer from chronic homelessness. 

* The Pentagon continues to force-feed Guantanamo detainees on hunger strikes using methods that violate medical ethics and amount to mistreatment under international law. 

* The US employs "abusive counterterrorism investigations" against vulnerable American Muslims and individuals with intellectual and mental disabilities who are easily snared in FBI sting operations. In addition, overly broad "material support" charges may violate fair trial rights. 

* The US continues to conduct targeted killing operations using assassination drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. 


Human Rights Wronged in the US 

Two recent articles—one by Harvey Wasserman ( America's Astounding Human Rights Hypocrisy in Cuba) and another by Marjorie Cohn ( Stop Lecturing Cuba and Lift the Blockade)—reveal a significant gap when comparing human rights in the US and Cuba. 

Among Wasserman's findings: 

* The US has the world's largest prison population, with 2.2 million citizens jailed for offenses that include pot-smoking and failure to pay debts. 

* There are more citizens in US prisons than there are in China, a country with a population is 4 to 5 times larger than the US. 

* Rape, torture, extended solitary confinement, and other human rights offenses are common in US prisons. 

* Unlike Cuba, the US still has the death penalty, which has been repeatedly used to execute people who were later proven innocent. (George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, personally ordered the execution of 152 men and women.) 

* In the US, access to due process is significantly restricted by race and class. 

* Numerous political prisoners are being held in the US prison system charged with "offenses" as flimsy as those laid against prisoners in Cuba. Among them is Leonard Peltier, a Native American wrongly convicted of murder four decades ago. 

* Since the start of the Drug War in 1971, the US has spent $1 trillion arresting and jailing more than 41 million American citizens, mostly poor and people of color. 

* Prisoners are now viewed as "cash flow" under America's for-profit prison system, which profits from keeping people incarcerated as long as possible. 

* In the US, police are allowed to confiscate cash and other property from innocent citizens without due process. The funds are often used for the personal benefit of the police departments and officers involved. 

* A nationwide program of electronic spying has shredded the Fourth Amendment rights of private citizens. 

Wasserman's essay ends with the expressed hope that "President Obama will admit to some or all of the above amidst his cringe-worthy lectures to the Cubans on the sacred nature of human rights." 

Comparing Human Rights in the US and Cuba 

Marjorie Cohn, a law school professor and former president of the National Lawyers Guild, notes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains "two different categories of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. 

"Civil and political rights include the rights to life, free expression, freedom of religion, fair trial, self-determination; and to be free from torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention. 

"Economic, social, and cultural rights comprise the rights to education, healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; to prevention, treatment, and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike." 

Since the Reagan administration, Cohn writes, "it has been US policy to define human rights only as civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are dismissed as akin to social welfare, or socialism." 

Cohn has compiled the following comparisons: 


Unlike the US, healthcare is considered a right in Cuba. Universal healthcare is free to all. Cuba has one of the world's highest doctor-to-patient ratios (6.7 per 1,000 people). Cuba's 2014 infant mortality rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births—one of the lowest in the world. In 2014, the Lancet medical journal ovserved, "If the accomplishments of Cuba could be reproduced across a broad range of poor and middle-income countries, the health of the world's population would be transformed." 


Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. "Cuba spends a larger proportion of its GDP on education than almost any other country in the world." It is free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba. 


Elections to Cuba's National Assembly occur every five years and elections to regional Municipal Assemblies every 2.5 years. National Assembly delegates elect a Council of State that, in turn, appoints the Council of Ministers from which the President is elected. 

In the next general election in 2018, all senior elected positions, including the President, will be limited of no more than two five-year terms. Anyone can be nominated. It is not required that one be a member of the Cuban Communist Party. 

Unlike the US, no money can be spent promoting candidates and political parties are not permitted to campaign during elections. And, in Cuba, the ballot boxes are guarded by school children. 

Labor Rights 

Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join independent and autonomous trade unions. Union contacts include 30 days' paid annual leave in the state sector. Unions have the right to participate in company management, to share management records, office space, and materials. 

Union agreement is required prior to any layoffs, changes in working hours or overtime. Cuba's unions have a constitutional right to be consulted about employment law and the right to propose new laws to the National Assembly. 


The majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals are women. With women constituting more than 48% of Parliament, Cuba has the third highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world. Women receive 18 weeks of full salary during maternity leave, followed by 40 weeks at 60% of full salary. 

Death Penalty 

No one is facing a death sentence in Cuba. Cuba's last remaining death row inmate (a Cuban-American convicted of a murder carried out during a 1994 terrorist invasion) had his sentence commuted on December 28, 2010. By contrast, as of January 1, 2016, 2,943 US prisoners were on death row in state prisons and, as of March 16, 2016, 62 federal inmates were facing execution. 

Sustainable Development 

In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund hailed Cuba as the only country to achieve the United Nations' goal of "sustainable development"—"thanks to its high literacy level and a very high life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption." 

The US is well aware of these human rights contradictions. In 2015, Cohn rnotes, a Cuban delegation lead by Pedro Luis Pedroso met with their US counterparts to discuss the issue of human rights. "We expressed our concerns regarding discrimination and racism patterns in US society," Pedroso recalled, "the worsening of police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo." 

Cohn's conclusion is one our president should heed: 

"The hypocrisy of the US government in lecturing Cuba about its human rights while denying many basic human rights to the American people is glaring. The United States should lift the blockade. Obama should close Guantanamo and return it to Cuba." 

And the United States should apologize to Cuba. 



President Barack Obama's Apology to Argentina 

Full Text and Video 


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (March 24, 2016)—Good morning. It's humbling to join President Macri at this poignant and beautiful memorial in honor of the victims of the Argentinian military dictatorship and the suffering their families have endured. 

This park is a tribute to their memory. But it's also a tribute to the bravery and tenacity of the parents, the spouses, siblings, and the children who love and remember them, and who refuse to give up until they get the truth and the justice they deserve. 

To those families—your relentlessness, your determination has made a difference. You've driven Argentina's remarkable efforts to hold responsible those who perpetrated these crimes. You are the ones who will ensure that the past is remembered, and the promise of "Nunca Mas!" is finally fulfilled. 

It takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about the darker parts of its past. Confronting crimes committed by our own leaders, by our own people—that can be divisive and frustrating. But it's essential to moving forward; to building a peaceful and prosperous future in a country that respects the rights of all of its citizens. 

Today, we also commemorate those who fought side-by-side with Argentinians for human rights. The scientists who answered the call from the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to help identify victims in Argentina and around the world. The journalists, like Bob Cox, who bravely reported on human rights abuses despite threats to them and their families. 

The diplomats, like Tex Harris, who worked in the US Embassy here to document human rights abuses and identify the disappeared. And like Patt Derian, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights for President Jimmy Carter—a President who understood that human rights is a fundamental element of foreign policy. That understanding is something that has influenced the way we strive to conduct ourselves in the world ever since. 

There's been controversy about the policies of the United States early in those dark days, and the United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies as well, and its own past. Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don't live up to the ideals that we stand for; when we've been slow to speak out for human rights. And that was the case here. 

But because of the principles of Americans who served our government, our diplomats documented and described many instances of human rights violations. In 2002, as part of a two-year effort, the US declassified and released thousands of those records, many of which were used as evidence to hold the perpetrators accountable. 

Today, in response to a request from President Macri—and to continue helping the families of the victims find some of the truth and justice they deserve—I can announce that the United States government will declassify even more documents from that period, including, for the first time, military and intelligence records—because I believe we have a responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency. 

A memorial like this speaks to the responsibilities that all of us have. We cannot forget the past. But when we find the courage to confront it, when we find the courage to change that past, that's when we build a better future. That's what the families of the victims have done. And the United States of America wants to continue to be a partner in your efforts. Because what happened here in Argentina is not unique to Argentina, and it's not confined to the past. Each of us have a responsibility each and every day to make sure that wherever we see injustice, wherever we see rule of law flouted, honest witnesses, that we're speaking out and that we're examining our own hearts and taking responsibility to make this a better place for our children and our grandchildren. 

Life in the Berkeley Buffer Zone

Toni Mester
Friday April 01, 2016 - 11:21:00 AM

The Mayor has placed a bundle of housing and zoning proposals on the action calendar of the Council meeting Tuesday April 5, calling it a comprehensive plan to address the housing shortage.

The response has been fast and furious with articles from Rob Wrenn and Steve Finacom in these pages, and the email networks ablaze with indignation. But nobody should be surprised, because developers have been advancing these ideas for years, most recently at the February 16th Council forum on housing.

The Mayor’s Recommendation #9, “Establish Buffer Zones around Priority Development Areas,” is clearly the most controversial item, which up-zones properties contiguous to the PDAs (priority development areas in ABAG-speak) within 200 feet. At the forum, Mark Rhoades advocated that the half blocks adjacent to commercial corridors be designated “transition zones.” 

Developers hope that owners of homes and underutilized properties will sell, so they can expand their projects on San Pablo Avenue and other arterials undergoing transformation. The impacts on the affected neighborhoods, however, would be devastating, resulting in social displacement and demolition of historic homes. By advancing the idea in his last year, Mayor Bates has nothing to lose, except an abject display of his inner broker. 

Property owners in the “buffer zones” and allies should write to the City Council. I have already informed them that if the developers’ intrusive proposals are not taken off the table, I will oppose any bonds or new taxes, and I suggest that other threatened homeowners do the same. 

The Mayor’s recommendation #7 to establish “by right” approval of buildings is every developer’s dream: cutting costs and red tape. It’s astonishing that the Mayor would advocate for less oversight after the Library Gardens tragedy. You and I can build a six foot fence without a use permit, but an apartment building? In the words of a neighbor, “it’s bonkers.” Such allowances would also obviate notices and public hearings required by zoning law 23B.32 on use permits, prescriptions that started as the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance of 1973

If floating these neighborhood-hostile ideas was intended as a red herring, the Mayor’s strategy has succeeded. Once given the politicians’ stamp of approval, ideas gain legitimacy. In this case, they have become distractions from considering the good proposals that have been prepared by staff and vetted in the community. An increase in the housing mitigation fee and expansion of inclusionary requirements are recommended by last year’s nexus study and deserve approval. Other proposals require more discussion and work, after a new Planning Director has been hired and a new Mayor and Council installed. 


Developers hate exactions on construction of housing, which they claim inhibit its creation. But somebody has to pay for what the City offers—from vetting permit applications to hooking up the sewers—and existing property owners are taxed to the max. Air rights are what we have left to trade, so when it comes to fees and benefits, everybody has a hand out: planning staff salaries, public works infrastructure, transportation, parks, and special projects. Even a theater company wanted money as a community benefit from the Harold Way project. For the City, a new building means annual tax revenues for the General Fund. 

But those most in need of help are people who cannot afford current market rate housing, which according to the City’s nexus study are people below the area average median income (AMI). Housing is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 30 percent of the household’s gross income, including utilities. The affordability crisis is starkly depicted by the study’s figures condensed in the power point presentation at the end. The average market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Berkeley rose from $1,765 in 2010 to $2,171 in 2014, while the income required to afford market rent rose from 65% to 100% AMI, which is $79,650 for a family of three. More than 25% of renters would require assistance. 

In a review of regional housing development 2007-2014 progress report, ABAG shows that Berkeley has produced 93% of its allocation of market rate housing, but we’re not doing as well in building for lower incomes. 

The Nexus Study supports a raise in the housing mitigation fee to at least $34,000 with a maximum of $84,000; even the minimum would increase the housing trust fund by approximately $3 million. Restoring the inclusionary requirement to 20% would result in the creation of hundreds of affordable units. The Council should pass both of these proposals. 

How dense makes sense? 

Last month I invited a planner to a community meeting to explain the density bonus to the neighbors. She did her best, but after twenty minutes their eyes began to glaze over, and they started to drift out the door. Before the City tries to modify the density bonus, it would be wiser to bring us into compliance by passing an implementation ordinance as required by State law. 

Berkeley attempted this once before. Former Planning Director Eric Angstadt—with input from several commissions — drafted implementation procedures, which could form the basis of the ordinance. Other considerations might include how tenants for the below market rate units qualify and are selected, how the below market rates are determined and monitored, how much the program costs, and who pays these costs. A 2013 report from the housing director estimated the annual cost of monitoring 306 below market rate units at $226,248 of staff time. Do the math. 

Because they influence each other, the housing mitigation fee, the inclusionary % requirement, and the density bonus need to be brought into balance so that the result is creation of the most affordable units. 

Many of us have been clamoring for years to begin a San Pablo Avenue Plan, because the strip offers many good locations for affordable housing, but the City seems to have other priorities. The San Pablo Avenue zoning (C-W or commercial west) has not been fine-tuned like the University Avenue Strategic Plan that provides step-downs to the neighborhoods. The zoning on the transit corridors should be fairly uniform throughout the City. If step-downs are not guaranteed, bribery and blackmail can be used to divide the adjacent neighborhood, sowing seeds of resentment, erecting ugly walls, and degrading living conditions. 

In hiring a new Planning Director, the Council should look for a creative person who can bridge the gap between developers and neighbors. In the meantime, the Council should take threats to existing neighborhoods off the table. Developers and their allies should stop calling neighbors NIMBYs and neighbors should accept the fact that the scale of Berkeley is bound to change. Our common work is to make sure that happens in harmony, by preserving existing housing stock and supporting the best new architecture. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley

California Lawmakers Propose a Shameful Minimum Wage Law

Harry Brill
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:24:00 PM

The California Federation of Labor, which is the umbrella organization for California unions, expressed its enthusiasm for a tentative agreement reached by the Governor and State legislature to enact a $15 an hour minimum wage law. The current State minimum wage is $10 an hour. Although several cities within California have enacted a $15 an hour wage law, California would be the first State to do so. 

It would seem that only a cynic or a political sectarian would oppose the proposal. But despite the positive spin by the media a close look at the provisions should make us very nervous. The incremental annual increases of up to $15 an hour would not be reached until 2022, which is six long years from now. Moreover, small businesses (up to 25 employees), which make up the majority of California's businesses, will be given an additional year. 

To make matters worse, the $15 goal could be reached at an even later date and perhaps never. The reason is that the State's governor could put wage hikes on hold if there is an economic downturn, which is broadly defined. In effect, this provision gives the governor the power to virtually ignore the law. 

Also problematic is the failure of the tentative agreement to increase the State's sick paid sick leave law, which mandates a maximum of three days per year. But three days is not enough. As a result, many low wage workers who are ill feel compelled to go to work because they cannot afford to lose any pay. This jeopardizes not only their own health but also the health of customers and other workers. Yet The California Federation of Labor, rather than being critical, said it is pleased because the three day sick leave law is being maintained. But since the lawmakers will not increase the number of days of paid sick leave, the unions should be protesting rather than acquiescing.  

Clearly, the proposed law, which includes the governor's right to ignore it, is very hard to get excited about. So why are our public officials interested in promoting it? In fact, it is surprising since Governor Brown had been vehemently opposed to a further increase. He claimed that it would be too expensive for the State and the business community. Why. then, has he changed his mind? The best explanation comes from the Governor himself. As Governor Brown explains, "I think there will be very few business people lobbying against this bill, because they are just cutting their own throats."  

Governor Brown was referring to some stronger proposals that could be on the ballot in November. One of the ballot measures, which is sponsored by the SEIU Union that represents home caregivers and nursing home workers, has already obtained enough signatures for ballot status. The Union's president promised that the initiative would be pulled from the ballot after Brown signs the bill that he and the legislators have agreed on. Indeed, this is exactly what the lawmakers are attempting to accomplish. They want to discourage any serious pro-worker measure from being on the ballot or succeeding if it does appear.  

But the unions represent working people, and should therefore refuse to sign on unless the $15 an hour is reached much sooner, and the provision allowing the governor to bypass a wage increase is removed. With regard to the $15 an hour wage, an earlier date is achievable. According to the minimum wage laws in both Emeryville and San Francisco the $15 an hour wage will be implemented in 2018 That's four to five years sooner than what the California proposal mandates. 

In the SF Chronicle early this week the columnist Debra J. Saunders complained that increasing the minimum wage would be a job killer. Despite the evidence to the contrary, this mythology persists. That same claim is even made abroad. Germany, for example, recently adopted a minimum wage law, which resulted in employment increasing despite dire predictions from the business community. What is "conveniently" overlooked by the business community and their allies is the implication of good wages for purchasing power, which in turn encourages business to add more workers. We know that about 70 percent of domestic spending depends on consumers, who are mainly working people and their families. The higher their income, the more money they have to spend. 

To fully appreciate how low wages have adversely impacted the economy requires asking the right questions. The right and the most relevant question is "Has the tremendous erosion of spending power due to the failure of wages to keep up with inflation and productivity rates seriously hurt working people and the economy? The answer is yes, yes, and yes! If wages in 1968 had kept pace with inflation and the increase in labor productivity (how much workers produce) the hourly wage would have climbed from $7.25 to $26 an hour. Imagine how vibrant our economy would be if workers had received just their fair share and no more. Unquestionably, workers have been wronged for a very long while. So when working people struggle for higher wages, it is not only an economic matter. They are making a justifiable moral demand 

FDR during the 1930s depression understood and expressed the issue quite clearly: "No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country."

How the Bates Development Plan Would Destroy Flatlands Berkeley

Steven Finacom
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:53:00 AM

The Tom Bates Development Plan for Berkeley which will be presented to the Council on April 5 contains the seeds of destruction of pretty much every Berkeley “flatlands” neighborhood.

His proposal would permit, “by right”, up to nine story housing developments along avenues in Berkeley’s “Priority Development Areas”, districts that the Bates-led Council voted into existence years ago with soothing promises that this was not a major change for Berkeley, just a way to enable the City to qualify for some transportation grant funds.

Beyond those nine-story canyons, Bates now proposes the up zoning of adjacent blocks 200 feet back from the “PDA” zone to allow intense multi-unit development on those blocks.

Bates describes this as “higher densities for housing projects on streets along major transit corridors (with step-down height limits on the back side of blocks that face lower-density residential neighborhoods).”

This is billed as a “buffer” zone between the really big buildings and the lower-rise residential neighborhoods. What it is, in fact, is a gift of development rights to real estate speculators to wipe out those residential districts piece by piece.

An honest translation of the Bates statement would be: “a wall of nine story buildings along the major streets and, for 200 feet beyond the outer edges of those building sites, tearing down any existing houses or small apartment buildings and building dense apartment buildings or condos that are “step down” only in relation to the nine-story buildings next to them.” 

This makes the development zone several hundred feet wide, and also extends the zone of "infill" a block deep to the adjacent residential streets, in many cases. 

Most Berkeley flatlands blocks are roughly 700 feet long and about 300 feet wide (conditions vary considerably, but that’s an approximation).  

If a block sits narrow “end on” to a main street (as is the case in the neighborhoods along south Shattuck and much of Telegraph), this means that the lots slated for high-rise housing along that street extend about 150 feet deep into the block. Add another 200 feet to that, and half or more of each block becomes “developable” under the Bates plan. 

If the adjacent block sits “long side on” to a main street, as is the case along most of University Avenue, then the entire block essentially becomes a development site. The high-rise sites take up half, or about 150 feet, of the 300 foot depth; the 200 foot “buffer” beyond that consumes the entire remainder of the block and extends out to the middle of the next street. 

Most Berkeley flatlands neighborhoods are only 3-4 blocks wide or deep, if that, between major arterial streets. If you have a "PDA" on both sides, and extend the up-zoning 200 additional feet into the neighborhood, this means the potential destruction of additional hundreds of older houses and small multi-unit buildings and the conversion of the majority of the land area of some neighborhoods into dense apartment sites. 

In the Le Conte neighborhood, for example, the expanded density zones on Telegraph and Shattuck would leave only about one block width in the middle of the neighborhood untouched.  

(Ironically, this is the zone in Le Conte where Tom Bates and Loni Hancock have their home. They will be able to live out their retirement in Berkeley—interspersed with the lengthy overseas trips they enjoy—insulated from development. Vice Mayor Linda Maio won’t be so lucky. I believe she still lives in what would become a “buffer zone” next to University Avenue.) 

During a public hearing last year before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, one Commissioner who lives in the neighborhood west of south Shattuck made a vehement statement that he thought infill development—particularly the Parker Place development on his block—is the way to “save” neighborhoods like his from destruction, by concentrating the development along the transit corridors, rather than further in the neighborhoods. 

Not so fast. That commissioner’s home would, under the Bates proposal, be on land “up zoned" for apartment buildings. Sorry about that. He and his family would ultimately have the “choice” of either selling and moving, or living in an isolated house surrounded by much taller apartment buildings. 

This is no less than a proposal by Bates to convert many hundreds of flatlands houses into "sites"--pretty much the same thing that happened in the 1950s / 60s with the "ticky-tack" apartment buildings that sprang up through the flatlands, but this time on a steroidal scale of larger buildings. 

By my very rough count, perhaps 120 City blocks which partially border on “Priority Development Areas” would be directly affected by the “buffer zone” proposal. Those blocks each may average—again, a rough count—about 12-15 separate land parcels that would be part of the 200 foot “buffer”, most of those parcels containing one or more houses or a small apartment building.  

Total, that’s at least 1,800 properties in Berkeley—and probably a higher number of actual buildings—that would be intentionally rezoned so speculators and developers could buy them up, demolish the existing buildings, and then construct apartment buildings for quick profit. 

And that’s “only” 1,800 properties. It won’t stop there. Just as Bates endorsed Priority Development Areas just along the avenues, but now pursues higher density deeper into the adjacent residential neighborhoods, it will only be a matter of time before his successors and their enablers start saying why not develop those entire neighborhoods with multi-unit apartment buildings? Let’s tweak the zoning a bit more. 

There’s one last irony here. The Berkeley flatlands neighborhoods are already considerably dense, by any objective standard. They abound with duplexes, back yard cottages, in-law units, shared houses, and small apartment buildings, most of them just 1-2 stories tall, and free-standing on their own lots. 

If you drive or walk along a Berkeley flatlands street, count what you think is the number of residences. Then go back and count the mailboxes, not the buildings. In most cases you’ll end up with an “actual density” of residential units probably 2-4 times the “apparent density”.  

Residents and homeowners of these neighborhoods have achieved what I think of as “liveable density”, high residential densities where most residents still have access to light, air, sun, maybe a partial view of the hills or the Bay, some garden space, quiet at night, and a place where they are happy to live long term, not simply endure until they can afford to move elsewhere. 

Instead of recognizing that “liveable density” for what it is—an immensely creative and humane approach to providing housing for many, without stacking boxes on top of each other and extracting development profits and rents for absentee owners—Bates and his complacent Council colleagues and “growther” supporters regard those neighborhoods as something to be wiped away. This is contemptible. 

Earlier this year one resident of my neighborhood made a plea to the City Council to think of what Berkeley needs in terms of “homes” not “housing”. That sums it up. Too bad the Council isn’t listening.

Stop Absentee Predator Investor Development

Jim Powell
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:28:00 PM

Dear Berkeley Daily Planet,

Thank you for your continuing coverage of the "developer" controlled City Council's efforts to transform Berkeley into something it has never been and most Berkeleyans strongly don't want to see it become. Your reporting on this and other issues is extremely cogent and badly needed. Please keep it up.

Three observations:

Berkeley progressives need to prepare a ballot initiative to block the Bates bulldozer plan to be presented to the April 5 council meeting and be ready to pass it if necessary. 

Berkeley progressives need to prepare a ballot initiative putting in place an acceptable plan to help increase the rapidly disappearing supply of affordable housing in Berkeley -- one that is smart, well-designed, pragmatic and effective. The talent to do this is available here. It needs to be collected and channeled promptly, before the bulldozers beat us to it. 

One point that is not mentioned in your editorial or Steven Finacom's article (both excellent -- thank you), an issue that needs to be brought to the fore, is that these "developments" have not been and will not be funded locally or even "developed" locally and their eventual ownership, like that of Library Gardens, will be absentee investor profiteers like Black Rock, owner of 150,000 people's apartments all over America, and managed, like Library Gardens, by some firm with headquarters in Texas or South Carolina. The money that they generate monthly -- Library Gardens must produce on the order of $7 million a year -- DOES NOT STAY IN BERKELEY. In the case of Library Gardens, it gets pumped to where all the money tends to go in America, Wall Street. This doesn't matter whether it is rentals or mortgage payments or both. Either way, it gets grabbed by the Octopus's tentacles and disappears from our local economy and businesses. It does not circulate here. 

There is no more salient fact than this. These developments are predatory in nature, intention, and effect -- just like chain stores such as Office Depot, which forced a half dozen local stationary stores to close in two years. 

Thank you again for providing Berkeley with a free press that represents Berkeley and Berkeley values instead of the values and deceits of absentee investor profiteers and pirates and their hirelings and shills

Nuclear Weapons

Jagjit Singh
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:22:00 PM

Hosting a nuclear security forum of world leaders on Friday, April 1 2016 offers President Obama a rare opportunity to follow through on his earlier pledge to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons. 

Thus far, his efforts have been disappointing. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Obama’s record has been abysmal compared to other cold-war war presidents. 

Surprisingly, President George Bush achieved a 50% nuclear stockpile reduction during his tenure, a percentage higher than all other presidents since 1945. Comparatively, Obama has achieved a disappointing 10% reduction of 507 warheads. 

In his 2009 foreign policy address in Prague, Obama pledged to seek a world without nuclear weapons. 

In 2011 he achieved a groundbreaking New START Treaty with Russia which mandated significant nuclear weapons stockpile reductions and inspection verification protocols. Since taking office Obama has persuaded the international community to reduce their stockpiles but following the 2011 treaty, the momentum has been lost. 

For example, his administration has slashed the National Nuclear Security Administration non-proliferation budget by $339 million. To appease a Congress hostile to the New START Treaty he pledged a significant increase in weapons modernization to the tune of $1 trillion over 30 years. This is a tragic mistake. Obama could do far more to fulfill his Prague promise before his term expires.

An Open Letter to Berkeley's Council About the Housing Crisis and the Mayor's Proposals

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday April 01, 2016 - 02:39:00 PM

Dear Mayor Bates and Members of the Berkeley City Council,

There are solutions to Berkeley’s housing crisis, our urgent need for housing for families and low income Berkeley residents, but they won’t be achieved by pandering to for-profit developers, as the mayor and council majority have been doing in recent years. By encouraging 4- to 6-story apartments or condominiums all over central Berkeley and along San Pablo and soon Adeline, we’re gaining cheaply-built, ill-designed, and high-priced housing that does not serve the needs of Berkeley residents. We are fast losing the diversity, both racial and cultural, that our city has prized until the current administration.

It’s past time for the city council to work out a plan to reverse this process and begin to serve our needs, not developers’ profits. 

We need to reactivate the Housing Trust Fund so it can be put to use. The Berkeley Progressive Alliance calculates that $10 million a year would allow for 100 units of low-income housing to be built each year and it can be found by requiring developers to pay the NEXUS-recommended $34,000 per unit as an in-lieu fee if they don’t include at least 20% low-income in a project. It is outrageous that when land is so scarce and Berkeley has so many advantages as a city, the current mayor and council have radically discounted this fee. This is a huge disservice to Berkeley taxpayers and residents and all those who are being squeezed as the new buildings raise the rental rates all across town to unprecedented levels. 

Secondly, it’s time to acknowledge that the large landlords in Berkeley are making unprecedented profits and their business license tax should be increased, especially since the effect of all the new buildings has been to increase rental rates, not provide housing to those who need it most. 

Other sources of money for the Housing Trust Fund are a portion of the Property Transfer Tax and a needed tax on Air BNB and other short-term rentals. Owners, some of them not Berkeley residents, are raking in big profits while taking rental properties off the market. This does not serve our city’s residents. 

The mayor’s proposal to fast-track new developments and eliminate public input is an outrageous attack on democracy in our city. We have much more right to review and assess new construction projects in our city than the for-profit developers who’re making windfall profits here. 



Ron Lowe, Nevada City, CA
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:12:00 PM

What's up in the crazy world of Republican politics this week? 50,000 Republican conventioneers signed a petition saying they wanted to carry heat (semi-automatic pistols) into the Republican National Convention. The Secret Service said no way Jose.  

Picture the Republican convention and a shootout taking place; 50,000 Republicans, the big bad NRA gun nuts with their semiautomatics blazing away; all caught on world wide TV coverage. That would end the gun debate in America, here and now, once and for all. 

Republican politicians, who are usually at the forefront pushing their "guns everywhere" agenda, have remained silent about this latest idea. What do Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have to opine about it?

To the Berkeley City Council: "Elected Representatives of the Poor" are Missing

Elisa Cooper
Friday April 01, 2016 - 02:33:00 PM

I've been trying to raise awareness of the missing Elected Representatives of the Poor for almost 2 years, with apparently no success. This is a complicated issue, but the outcome is vital to the low income residents of Berkeley. I hope people with more political influence than me will take the time to look into this issue and start to speak up.

Dear City Council -

First I would like to thank Council Members Wengraf, Worthington, and Moore for trying to uphold the legal requirement and underlying principle of Elected Representatives of the Poor on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission.

The packet that laid out the HWCAC restructuring proposals confessed that their practice of appointing people they knew into Elected Representative of the Poor slots was not in compliance with either the spirit or the letter of the law, but they had resorted to that practice over time because they weren't successful at running elections. This is no excuse for breaking the law and depriving poor people of Berkeley of the one place they have a *right* to representation, and that's why everyone agrees that's why proposals to restructure the HWCAC were made in the first place. 

At the 3/29 City Council meeting,Cheryl Davila's supporters threw a lot of smoke bombs, and the evident confusion of City Council led not only to a confirmation of an illegal situation -- it rubber stamped an ongoing betrayal of poor residents of Berkeley. I was present at the HWCAC budget recommendation discussions where they confessed to not being familiar with the programs that they were doing the recommendations for and that they hadn't bothered to do the legwork to research them. They spent their once-a-month meetings discussing global issues and opportunities to network with Council Members. Their resulting uninformed budget analysis contributed to discrimination against the poor in City Council's later budget overview, which - I hope you remember - led to general community outrage. 

The confusion during the City Council meeting was caused by the conflation of two different issues: A) Whether Council Members can remove commissioners. B) Whether the HWCAC has to comply with State and Federal law concerning Elected Representatives of the Poor. 

It seems that City Council members were mainly concerned with (A) even though they were studying the situation through the lens of (B). I had been trying to draw City Council's attention to the lack of Elected Representatives of the Poor for many months, without response, before the Davila case brought the matter to the fore. 

The HWCAC supporters of Cheryl Davila threw numerous smoke bombs to keep (A) entangled with (B) so they could use the issue of whether Council Members could remove commissioners as a justification for hijacking a slot intended for Elected Representatives of the Poor and maintaining their long-standing illegitimate practice of appointing who they like to seats intended for Elected Representatives of the Poor. 

The HWCAC supporters of Davila claimed that their seizure of the slots intended for Elected Representatives of the poor was about "free speech", the righteousness of the pro-Palestinian position, how choosing an elected representatives amongst themselves counts as an election and "democracy", their appreciation of Davila's character, and a complete fiction about City Council's failure to confirm another commissioner they attempted to self-elect into a Representatives of the Poor seat. This is a reference to Leah Simon-Weisberg, a lawyer who leads Tenants Together: she would have made a great Council *appointee* to the HWCAC, but she realized there was a legal problem in that she was neither poor nor genuinely elected. Leah is now running for the Rent Board, and she will serve Berkeley well in that position. 

City Council was so boggled by all this smoke that they lost sight of many alternative options:: 1) Davila could be appointed to a commission where issues like Divestment from Palestine should be discussed. (Council Member Maio brought up the Peace and Justice Commission). 2) City Council could have reversed Moore's decision to remove Davila, leaving her in one of the *appointed* slots, while providing a stronger definition of the work product they expect from the HWCAC. 3) City Council could have just called Davila's supporters on the fact their points were unrelated to the underlying issue of how to fill the seats that were ostensibly reserved for Elected Reps of the Poor and continue to not confirm Davila for that seat while they came up with a plan to get back into compliance with State and Federal law. This plan would involve defining poverty criteria that would assure the "maximum feasible participation" of the poor themselves as well as a procedure for elections. 

Council Member Droste revealed her own confusion over the issue of removing commissioners and the issue of restoring the Elected Representatives of the Poor when she said she was confirming Davila *because* the City needs to have Elected Representatives of the Poor. She obviously missed the point that Davila was neither elected nor poor. (A lot of people may feel poor these days, but there are actual technical definitions that come up when you apply for student loan deferments or the phone lifeline program or various forms of public assistance. Enabling HWCAC to continue to fill out State compliance forms in a dishonest fashion does not fix the compliance problem. 

I know restating what the City Council has already done won't change anything. I'm writing this letter to remind City Council that my remaining option was to file a grievance with the State and Federal agencies that manage CSBG funds as well as the Federal Office of Civil Rights. I've been reluctant to do this because this process takes a long time and the outcome could be Berkeley losing management of CSBG funds. I'd rather get a judge to file injunction against the confirmation of Davila, but this kind of legal action seems too complicated and expensive for me to take up on my own, and I doubt any of the local nonprofits - who are dependent on the City's good will - would help me. 

Therefore, I'm giving City Council the opportunity to suggest some alternative actions I could take to protect the rights of poor people in Berkeley to engage in "maximum feasible participation" in the management of CSBG funds before the step of filing a formal grievance with any ham-handed government agencies. This isn't about how you feel about Davila, how you feel about me, or how you feel about your power over dismissing commissioners: this is about the City illegally abrogating an important right of poor citizens. I hope City Council members of good will have some viable suggestions to offer.

April Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:53:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Poet's Corner

arnie passman
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:19:00 PM

has anyone else noticed on the great fantasy map as you enter the new berkeley art museum, western european images in the lower right, an islamic garden at 11 o'clock from there, but no jewish representation. plus most telling, no african or native american picturing at all, as near as my 80 year old eyes can see? solely northern hemisphere--upper earth?, yellow and white, but no black and red. this we're told created by a zen master? 



Conn Hallinan
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:31:00 PM

The year 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rebellion. Throughout the year I will try to revisit some of the lessons of Ireland’s struggle for freedom.

Bombs explode in a subway. The victims are everyday people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows is outrage: track down the perpetuators. The people who set off the bombs are monsters and inhuman fanatics, thunder the authorities.

But the year is not 2016, it is 1883 during the “Dynamite War” waged by mainly Irish-American members of the Fenians against the English occupation of Ireland. The Fenian Brotherhood was founded in 1848. The “War” targeted the underground, train stations, city halls, public plazas, and factories in London, Manchester, and Liverpool. The war spanned four years, and in the light of the current terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe, it is an instructive comparison. 

On one level there is no similarity. The “Dynamite War” killed and injured very few people, while terrorist attacks and bombs in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, France and Belgium have murdered hundreds and wounded thousands. It is also hard to compare John Devoy and Patrick Tynan of the Fenians to the likes of the Islamic State’s Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. 

Yet there is an historical lesson here, and we ignore it at our peril. Terrorism is a difficult subject to talk about because anything other than outrage seems like one is making an excuse for unspeakably heinous acts. And yet if we are to seriously look for solutions, that requires asking “why,” even if the answers are uncomfortable. 

There are certainly easy “solutions” out there: occupy Muslim communities and torture suspects we arrest. Unleash yet more drones, carpet bomb the bastards, and, if necessary, send in the Marines. But that is exactly what we have doing for the past three decades, and is there anyone who would seriously argue that things are better now than they were in 1981? 

Did the invasion of Afghanistan muzzle terrorism? A decade and a half later, we are still at war in that poor benighted country, and the terrorism that we experienced on 9/11 has spread to Madrid, Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Cairo, Brussels, Damascus, Baghdad, and other cities. We sowed the wind in Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Did we expect to reap less than a whirlwind? 

In his book “Blowback,” the late Chalmers Johnson chronicled the ricochets from American foreign policy. We raised up the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to defeat the Russians and helped create Osama bin Laden. We ally ourselves with Saudi Arabia, the country that supplied most of the people who flew those airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, whose reactionary brand of Islam has helped create an army of jihadists worldwide. 

The flood of refugees headed toward Europe is a roadmap of U.S. interventions in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. In the case of the latter, we created a failed state, whose massive arms caches has succeeded in destabilizing significant parts of Central Africa. 

The nature of American foreign policy—as well as those of some of its allies—is where the conversation of what to do about terrorism has to begin. This is not to excuse terrorism, but to try to understand what it emerges from, instead of playing an endless—and eventually futile—game of whack-a-mole. 

For people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz the answer is simple: terrorists are evil Muslims (although sometimes just being a Muslim is enough). But how many of our leaders ask, “Why are they doing this” and are really interested in an answer? Hillary Clinton says she doesn’t think we should torture people, but she is all for bombing the bejesus out of them and overthrowing their governments. Bernie Sanders is much more sensible, but even he voted for the Yugoslav War, which set off NATO’s eastward march and led to the current crisis over the Ukraine. 

Terrorism is not a thing you can wage war against, it is a tactic employed by the less powerful against the more powerful. If you can’t defeat someone’s armies you can always blow up their citizens. Simply using military power in response to terrorism is the most efficient way to recruit new terrorists. Drone strikes are supposed to be “surgical” weapons that only kill bad guys. But as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found, drones have killed thousands of civilians. Each of those civilians has a family, and each of those family (clan, tribe, etc.) members is now a potential recruit. The drone war is a perfect example of Johnson’s “blowback.” 

Of course, terrorism generates its own “blowbacks.” The “Dynamite War” didn’t do much damage to the British, but it was a political catastrophe for the Irish. The English used it—along with the infamous 1882 Phoenix Park murders of the colonial authority’s chief secretaries—to pass the “Perpetual Coercion Act” and imprison hundreds of Irish activists. The loss of those leaders seriously damaged efforts by the Land League to stop a wave of tenant farmer evictions that followed in the wake of the 1878-79 crop failures. 

Those evictions produced a “blowback” of their own. Tens of thousands of Irish were forced to emigrate to America, bringing with them a deep rage at English landlords and the colonial authorities. That fury fed the anger that many Irish-Americans still held against the British, and that led to a revival of the Fenians and the launching of the “Dynamite War.” It was good old American know how that built the bombs that blew up targets in England. 

The “War” was actually similar to the current wave of terrorism, at least in conception. Rather than going after the English armed forces and police, most the bombs were set in public places with the explicit idea of terrorizing everyday life. The plan was to transplant the violence of the colonial occupation to the home country. It did, indeed, scare people, including many English who formerly favored the Irish cause, and turned those who were indifferent anti-Irish. It derailed the Home Rule movement for several decades. 

The Colonial authorities responded with yet greater repression, much as many of the current candidates for the White House would if given a chance. But while the “Dynamite War” was ill conceived and counter productive, it was a reflection of the basic injustice of colonialism. The Islamic State is a genuine monstrosity, but it reflects a hundred years of European and American manipulation of the Middle East’s resources and politics. When Britain and France divided up the Middle East to their liking in 1916—deliberately building in ethnic, tribal and religious instability—did they really think there would never be a day of reckoning? 

There are monsters in the Middle East, but we have helped create them. The question is, can we stop them? 

We should know by now that more bombs and troops do exactly the opposite. To seriously tackle terrorism will take a fundamental re-examination of U.S. foreign policy. It must start with challenging the idea that everything about this country is the “best,” the ideology of “American exceptionalism” that underlies so much of our strategic policies. That idea of “exceptionalism” gives us the right to intervene in other countries’ internal affairs, to subvert their political structures, and, if necessary, seek regime change. 

We preach “democracy” to Cuba, China and Russia, while being perfectly comfortable with Saudi Arabia and the other autocratic monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. People take note of that contradiction and quite logically assume that it is hypocrisy and has more to do with our “interests” than any commitment to the right of people to choose how to run their own lives. 

In any case our own political system increasingly looks like some grotesque caricature of democracy, where presidential candidates blithely propose ignoring the Constitution and violating international law, and where a handful of billionaires can dominate the public space. 

We are the most powerful economic and military force on the planet, so overthrowing a government or strangling its economy is not all that hard to do. At least in the short run. But the world is simply far too complex to fit into one model of government or worldview and, sooner or later, people will dig in their heels. 

How we respond to that resistance is what we need to examine. If the response is force, we can hardly complain when we find ourselves the target of “asymmetrical violence”—terrorism. 

The people who set the bombs have to be caught and punished, but that will not end the problem. The Irish who murdered the colonial secretaries in Phoenix Park were caught and punished, but it did not make Ireland a calm place or end Irish resistance to the English occupation. That was resolved when the British finally realized that they could no longer determine the history of another country. We must do the same. And that will take a conversation that we have not yet had. It’s time to start. 



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



REGIONAL REPORTER: When City Planners Treat Us Like Infants

Zelda Bronstein
Friday April 01, 2016 - 02:04:00 PM

The public gets dismissive events and sandbox games -- instead of serious discussions that allow meaningful input from the communities impacted by land-use decisions.

Tomorrow evening (Wed/30) the [San Francisco] Planning Department will hold a “Community Discussion” of the Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Feasibility Study (RAB) at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House. This is a re-do of the February 23 at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, where an overflow crowd of more than 200 could not be fully accommodated.

The infrastructural changes under consideration, including a proposal to take down I-280 and re-route the former freeway traffic on a boulevard through the neighborhoods, are massive and controversial. What’s also controversial, but has received far less attention, is the Planning Department’s approach to public engagement. 


Playing with strings: Is this how planners should solicit community input? 

Playing with strings: Is this how planners should solicit community input? 


Though the $1.7 million study has been underway for two years, the February 23 event was the first time the community had a chance to weigh in on the project—and the chance it had was paltry. That’s because the planners set up the meeting in a way that would dissipate the public’s authority and aggrandize their own. They chose the format I call Enhanced Science Fair: A ranking public official briefly introduces a complex topic and then directs members of the community to view poster boards arranged on easels or on the wall. A staffer assigned to each poster board chats with the small group huddled around the display. 

On February 23, the program was introduced by Citywide Planning Director [and former Berkeley Planning Director] Gil Kelley, not to be confused with his boss, Planning Director John Rahaim. Kelley showed a PowerPoint (posted here under “Presentation”) and took questions from attendees. Some queries were quite specific. Kelley’s repeated advice that people should ask “the experts” standing by the poster boards in the back of the room or write their questions on a survey that staffers had distributed indicated that he had but a passing familiarity with the RAB. The crowd grew restive. The last neighbor who spoke said, “For you to invite us here and then refuse to answer our questions is insulting.” 

Agreed. Communications Director Gina Simi tells me that on March 30 Kelley will give the same presentation, and the meeting will have the same open house format as last time, but that a panel with Kelley, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin, RAB Planning staffer Susan Gygi and Mayor Lee’s Director of Transportation Policy Gillian Gillett will also take questions. 

That’s encouraging—but only slightly: What’s missing from the panel are representatives of the affected neighborhoods and members of the public who have expertise about transit and land use, and—more to the point—who can offer well-informed criticism of the RAB. This way, only official supporters of the project are appearing as the sole authorities in the room; members of the public are cast as supplicants. 

Science Fair is one of the techniques that city planners are using to mute the public’s say in public policy—all the while purporting to enhance civic engagement. It’s one that the San Francisco Planning Department has employed, sans panel, on other occasions—for example, at “open houses” dealing with the Central SoMa Plan. Nor is this practice peculiar to San Francisco’s planners; it’s also been used by their professional colleagues in my own city of Berkeley and by the staff of the regional planning agencies, the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, in connection with Plan Bay Area. 

Last April I attended the Alameda County Spring Open House for Plan Bay Area 2040, held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds from 7pm to 9pm. Driving through rush hour traffic from my north Berkeley home took me an hour. (Public transportation would have taken even longer). The format was Basic Science Fair: there was no formal introduction, just a big room with poster boards displayed on tables that had been arranged in a circle. Each station addressed a major theme in regional land use planning, such as “Transportation System Effectiveness,” “Adequate Housing,” “Climate Change,” and “Economic Vitality.” Attendees could write their comments on a post-it, to be pinned to a poster board. 

My favorite station, however, was the one that featured a map on a table, along with colored yarn and push pins in little buckets labeled “Live,” “Work,” and “Play.” People were invited to grab a piece of yarn and two push pins, and indicate familiar routes on the map. 

These activities are suitable for the sandbox set, not the deliberations of a political democracy. They trivialize public discourse to the point of meaninglessness. There’s no way they can even begin to address the difficult issues raised by land use and transportation planning in the Bay Area. All they can yield is a laundry list of concerns, which, as the website linked above indicates, is exactly what they did. The February 23 RAB meeting had the same results (posted here under “Poster Board – comments collected at meeting”). 

Now ABAG staff, working with Barbary Coast Consulting, have created new “engagement tools” that will provide “an interactive engaging experience for participants in the Spring/Summer 2016 Plan Bay Area workshops.” As described in the staff report for Item 11 in the agenda for the ABAG Administrative Committee’s March 28 retreat, one of the tools is 

a simple online game designed for both smart phones and full computer screens that will allow participants to choose between the three scenarios and provide personalized input. The game will feature a description of Plan Bay Area 2040 and each scenario. Users will be able to click on one of the scenarios to express a preference and utilize a text box to share more detailed thoughts about one or all of the scenarios, as well as the Plan. The game will be available on laptops at the workshop and will be available online to gather continuous input that will help inform the development of the Plan.
As luck would have it, on March 28 a relevant and revealing post appeared on the website Planetizen, a great source of information on the planning profession in the U.S. Under the headline “Is Face to Face Community Engagement Dying Out?,” consultant Dave Biggs, chief engagement officer at MetroQuest Public Involvement, identified a major threat to firsthand civic participation: “angry groups disrupting public meetings.” 

“When tensions are high, Biggs wrote, “public workshops can provide fertile grounds for disruptors,” for the following reasons: 

  1. Since they are time consuming to attend, [public workshops] tend to attract the people who are most passionate (i.e., angry), increasing the likelihood of conflict;
  2. They are typically advertised well in advance, giving disruptors plenty of opportunity to organize;
  3. They provide grandstanding and mic grabbing opportunities for people seeking to influence others and steer the outcome; and
  4. Disruptors can intimidate others into not speaking their mind out of fear of backlash.
Biggs seems not to realize that timely public notice, conflict, organizing, and persuasion are all essential components of a vital democratic politics; or that disenfranchisement of the public can take many forms, including the one he proposes a solution for the problems he perceives, “pop-up engagement”: 

Pop-up engagement is a style of engagement in which organizers simply pop-up a booth or table in a busy public location, perhaps in conjunction with another event, and offer simple and fun ways for people to learn about the project and have their say. Trailblazers like Candy Chang who pioneered the “Before I Die” public blackboards that invite people to fill in the blanks have led the way for others. She’s since gone on to “I wish this was” stickers that invite people to propose solutions for community development projects. Others like Projects for Public Spaces use simple stickers to invite people to weigh in on planning choices. There are limitless way to engage people quickly at these pop-up stations. There is typically project staff on hand to chat with people, project materials, fun activities for visitors to do, refreshments, and other inexpensive ways to slow people down and draw them in.
By now, this should sound familiar. It’s as if political discourse has been reduced to the equivalent of Twitter exchanges—with one crucial difference: It’s just the public that’s being subjected to these demeaning maneuvers. The power players aren’t wasting their time playing silly games; they’re meeting with the decision-makers and shaping public policy behind the scenes. 

As transportation engineer, consultant, and activist Gerald Cauthen told me about the RAB project: 

During at least the past two years there have been ongoing meetings with local agencies, affected transit properties, MTC, state and federal agencies, and San Francisco’s elected officials here, in Sacramento, and in Washington. The tried and true method of getting the political snowball rolling downhill before the opposition knows what’s going on is already well under way. Only the public has been left out of the discussions…until last Tuesday night [the February 23 meeting].
I trust that the dignitaries participating in these meetings were not asked to write their comments on post-its, mess with yarn and push pins, or play simple online games. Members of the public ought to demand equal treatment. 

Zelda Bronstein is a Berkeley resident who formerly wrote the Planet's local PUBLIC EYE column. This article appeared first on 48hills.org. 





ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Changing the Content of Thoughts

Jack Bragen
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:12:00 AM

We can change our attitude, we can change our behavior, and we can change our mood, if we learn how to switch to different thoughts--by intent.

Intentionally changing the content of thoughts can be very powerful. Thoughts determine the meaning assigned to events and emotions. Thoughts are the "software" in our minds, are responsible for who we might think we are, what we think we can accomplish, our agenda in a given moment, and a multitude of other things.  

If our thoughts are telling us that things are good or that things are okay, we will probably not produce painful emotions. If thoughts are saying we had better worry about something, it can create a lot of anguish, anxiety, or anger.  

Thoughts are necessary. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to function and accomplish basic tasks in life, nor would we be able to take care of our family, pay bills, or even go to the store and buy a loaf of bread.  

Thoughts often come in sets. A set of negative thoughts based on one or a few negative assumptions can cause mood problems. If you change a few thoughts in a set of thoughts, it can cause your mind to discontinue the entire set and switch to something else, usually something better.  

Some negative thoughts one's mind might produce, for example, could be self-trashing and/or obsessive. "I'm fat," is one of them. "I'm dumb," "I need to go get a job," "I hate this," or even, "my mind isn't working…" These examples are just the tip of the iceberg as to the negative thoughts that the mind can produce. Listing negative thoughts onto a pad of paper can help you identify them and possibly stop having some of them.  

Most emotional pain is produced by software in the mind, and is subject to being modified or circumvented. Circumventing pain through changing the subject matter in the thinking is what I am suggesting in this piece.  

The easiest and most effective way of changing the thoughts is to change the external environment.  

(Changing the external environment is accomplished not by forcing other people in your environment to change what they are doing, but rather, it is accomplished by getting up and going somewhere else, or could also be accomplished by doing something as simple as picking up a magazine and looking at the pictures.)  

Here are some specific examples of changing the thoughts: if you put yourself in surroundings that do not focus on mental illness, such as a job, a college class, or even a temple or church service, the thoughts are redirected from the predicament of being a "mentally ill person" and instead, the mind is digesting the material in front of you. If you read a novel or watch a movie, the mind is filled with the fiction provided. If you go to Starbuck's, you are in an environment that doesn't focus on your problems. These are ways of changing the thoughts that do not involve mental gymnastics.  

Focusing solely on therapy, and continually rehashing your problems within the mental health treatment system probably won't get you well. Changing the thoughts by putting yourself in surroundings that engage the mind or relax the mind, could make you feel a whole lot better, and this is worth doing.  

If enmeshed in mental health treatment, it is good for you to forget about being mentally ill for a little while.  

The other way of changing the thoughts is through self-analysis in which we discover the thoughts that are dominant in the mind, and intentionally replace those thoughts. In some instances, this can be a very ambitious and difficult path, it is not reliable, and often, trying to do this can make things worse. Trying to "replace the thoughts" for most people, I would advise you do this with the help of a therapist.


Bob Burnett
Friday April 01, 2016 - 04:17:00 PM

[Bob will be back. He writes: "I went to Disneyland!:). PS: I didn't see Donald Trump but I did see Goofy.]

Arts & Events

I Saw the Light: A Brilliant Performance

Gar Smith
Friday April 01, 2016 - 01:06:00 PM

Opens April 1 at the Elmwood in Berkeley

Hank Williams remains the quintessential American country-western superstar. Both a singer and composer, his genius with a lyric and his charisma as a performer had an entire generation singing along to a steady parade of unforgettable Hank Williams tunes. He was so prolific that even after his death on New Year's Day 1953, his music continued to light up the Hit Parade. During his tempestuous, alcohol-fueled, pill-popping career he turned out 33 hit singles. Thirty reached the top 10 and eight reached number one. Even after his death, seven posthumous compositions landed in the Top Ten and three went all the way to number one.

So it's not surprising that someone would want to make a film about this dirt-poor boy poet from Mount Olive, Alabama. But who would imagine that Hank Williams would come to life on the screen in a portrayal by a British actor. (Can you imagine an American actor traveling to London to assume the title role in a biopic about John Lennon or Sir Elton John?) 


I Saw the Light tells an overly familiar tale of a celebrity performer whose public success runs cover for a dissolute private life riddled with pain and frustration. Tom Hiddleston absolutely inhabits this performance. Like Williams, Hiddleston is tall and lean, with a narrow face and a knowing, thin-lipped smile that makes him a dead-ringer for the country singer. And, to top it off, when Hiddleston picks up a guitar and steps up to the microphone, he sounds just like Hank. (Bonus: There's a soundtrack album with Hiddleston's covers of six Hank Williams classics.) 

Hiddleston's uncanny Impersonation of Hank Williams is matched by an equally strong performance by Elizabeth Olsen as Williams' first wife, Audrey. 

I grew up listening to Hank Williams on the radio. A lot of my relatives were displaced hillbillies, driven to California on the winds of the dustbowl. The drawls and the body language in this film ring true for me. In one scene, Hank's helpless, skunk-drunk amusement as he stands alone in his backyard using a remote control device to raise and lower his garage door—over and over again—seems like a memory from my own childhood. I had uncles like that. 

I Saw the Light is a well-told tale, written and directed by Mark Abraham and based on Hank Williams: The Biography by Collin Escott with George Merritt and William McEwan. The film has been hailed as "compelling and historically accurate" and Williams' granddaughter, Holly, has praised the film for portraying granddaddy Hank "in all of his grit and glory and genius." 

Director Abraham was determined to tell his story as accurately as possible, filming in the same locations where his real-life characters had lived, struggled and performed. Many of the folks in the film are actual country western musicians, not Hollywood actors. The music was performed and recorded in a Nashville studio set up to emulate a Hank Williams recording session, with Hiddleston and the Drifting Cowboys all performing live before a single microphone. 

Abraham explained that the film "doesn't manipulate events or make up scenes to illustrate [Williams'] talent. It delves into the people, the actual places, and the simple everyday moments that made him who he was. Then came the music. The leap from one to the other is, for me, where all the power lies." 

Looking back, many people have characterized Hiram King "Hank" Williams as "the first rock star." He was the first CW singer to become a national sensation. Everybody knew his music and sang along to his songs whenever they rang out of their radios and jukeboxes. Unlike the rest of the era's pop singers, Williams offered a rebellious, emotional dark side. His songs were filled with longing, heartbreak and desperation—the wounded, wailing core of Country. Can you imagine Dean Martin or Bing Crosby singing a song like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"? 

Years after his death, Bob, Bruce and Keith all speak reverently of Hank as the first link in the chain of rock and roll—the guy who took the blues and made it blaze. (Listen to Williams singing "Move It On Over" and see if you don't hear the echoes of rock's first mainstream anthem, "Rock Around the Clock.") 

Like the prototypical rock stars of the 60s, Hank Williams died young, burning out like a brilliant self-destructing meteor plunging through the cold sky. 

His songs are so much a part of our culture—songs like "Cold, Cold Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin'," "Honky Tonkin'"—that we sometimes don't pause to marvel at the incredible poetry that Williams built into his lyrics. Just consider the chorus from "Jambalaya": 

Jambalaya, and a crawfish pie and a file' gumbo 

'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma chère amie-o 

Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh 

Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou. 

There is almost no sense of artifice in this film. You simply accept that these are real people. Hank and Audrey are absolutely present in this film. 

Abrams does rely on one shortcut however: the use of staged black-and-white "interviews" with Hank's producer-friend-and-guardian Fred Rose. These newsreel-style clips provide perspective and direction that guide us through Hank's tumultuous career—not to mention his bouts of alcoholism, womanizing, confused and bleary-eyed performances, missed appearances and a series of torrid and tormented marriages. 

Another thing that adds to the depth and authenticity of the film is the portrayal of the female characters. From Hank's mother Lillie to his girlfriends and each of his wives, everyone is a strong and fully realized personality. These are women who stand up to their men and take no guff. 

If there is one thing missing from this portrayal, it is this: We never see Hank in the process of writing a song. Did he ever scratch his head over a rhyme or scratch out one line for a better one? He always seems to step on stage with a perfectly accomplished song already on the tip of his lips. 

Actor Hiddleston offers an appreciative review of Abrams' work as director and screenwriter. "Mark had written Hank Williams with such compassion and lack of judgment," the actor relates. "He had written the man behind the icon. He had somehow tapped into the heartbeat of a legend, with all his vulnerabilities and fallibilities, his weakness, pain and grief, and at the same time, his joy and playfulness, mischief and energy, and white-hot talent." 

"Hank's truth changed the landscape of American music. He sang what he knew about. And what he knew about was going out and meeting girls, getting into trouble, falling in love and falling out of love, loss and loneliness. His songs were so simple, but they were so true." 

I Saw the Light is, naturally enough, filled with great musical moments both on, and off stage. In one haunting scene late in the film, Hank is sprawled on a sofa, wasted and seemingly half-conscious. He looks washed up. And then he turns to Fred Rose and announces he's come up with "little song I want to try out." And he proceeds to painfully croak out a tune that we barely recognize as his classic, "Your Cheatin' Heart." 

It's all in here—from Hank's days on the WSM Barn Dance radio broadcasts to the Louisiana Hayride and all the way to the Grand Ole Opry

As the years (and marriages) roll by, we watch as Hank struggles with drinking and drugs, while his abuses and failures end his marriages and endanger his career. We see the damage this leaves behind on his spirit, his demeanor, and on his face. By the time he climbs into the car that will carry him towards his final performance, he looks like man who's weathered 40-plus difficult years on Earth. 

And that only makes his epitaph all the more shocking: 

When he died, he was only 29 years old.

Press Release: Social Change Exhibit Reception on April 2

From Marcia Poole
Friday April 01, 2016 - 09:42:00 AM

Visit downtown Oakland's historic neighborhood for an Artists' Reception of the poignant exhibit, Social Change. The work displayed is from three well-known Northern Californian digital artists: Marcia Poole addresses fracking; Pearl Jones-Trantor shows the slow disintegration of Mare Island Naval base; and Daniel Lippincott witnesses the changes in nature. These artists are also social and political activists in Berkeley, Vallejo and Oakland, so they convey their messages in deeply felt ways. Take in the art scene in Oakland and feast at the 817 Cafe - April 2nd, 1-3 PM. 

Artists' Reception, Sat, Apr 2,  

1:00 PM - 3:00 PM 

817 Cafe, 817 Washington St., Oakland, CA  

Social Change Exhibit, March 5th - April 30th.  

Marguerite: Hold Your Ears and Open Your Heart

Gar Smith
Friday April 01, 2016 - 01:52:00 PM

Opens April 1 at the Albany Twin

April is shaping up to be Music Month on the big screen with biopics about Miles Davis (Don Cheadle starring in and directing Miles Ahead), Hank Williams (I Saw the Light), and The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music.

And then there is Marguerite, a heart-rending—and eardrum-rending—send-up of French baroness Marguerite Dumont—an astonishingly tone-deaf music lover and would-be diva.

Of necessity, the film begins with that familiar statement: "Based on a true story."

This imprint is necessary because the story otherwise might not seem credible.

The film takes place in the 1920s, mostly at the palatial Dumont mansion located outside Paris. Marguerite is a baroness by virtue of her marriage to George Dumont (Andre Marcon), a dogged but distracted government official. An extremely wealthy woman who loves all things operatic, Marguerite is known for sponsoring elaborate musical performances to entertain well-heeled society swells in her stately mansion. And she also delights in serenading the crowds herself. But there is a problem: one that Marguerite's friends are either too kind—or too mean— to point out. Mme. Dumont cannot carry a tune. 


That may be putting too fine a point on it. The truth is, Marguerite is tone-deaf to the point of cringing discomfort. She doesn't just sing out of tune—she screeches. And—sadly and touchingly—she honestly believes her vocal performance is impeccable. Apparently having a great deal of money, buys a great deal of sympathy and/or accommodation. (As an ironic tonal counterpoint, director Xavier Giannoli enriches his cast with a pet peacock named Caruso, whose Marguerite-like screeching echoes in the background throughout the entire proceedings.) 

It becomes clear pretty soon, why this film was nominated for no less than 11 Cesars—the French equivalent of the Oscar. The scenery, costumes, set decorations sound, direction, screenplay and cinematography are exemplary. As are the supporting actors under Giannoli's deft direction. But the major gift to the audiences that seek out this entertaining film is the lead actress, Catherine Frot. 

In a tale fraught with emotional peaks, Frot grows increasingly adorable in her full-throated (if ill-advised) enthusiasm for belting out opera classics—and beating them bloody. 

The beauty part is that Mme. Dumont is not at all vainglorious. Despite being a wealthy doyen surrounded by fawning friends and servants, Marguerite remains a sweet and simple soul who radiates enthusiasm and longing. She would be happier if her husband was a bit more doting but this is a time between world wars and, as husband George reminds her, he is a bit preoccupied with "trying to rebuild the northern half of France." 

The plot turns on the cynical intervention of a couple of young outliers who are so bemused by Mme. Dumont's performance that they conspire to pull an elaborate prank on her—by planting a positive review in a major newspaper. 

Poor Margaret is soon emboldened to leave the small stage at her sprawling mansion and set foot on a public stage before an audience of unsuspecting strangers. Along the way, her dream is abetted by an ever-growing circle of disreputable enablers. In addition to the brooding presence of her judgmental-yet-protective manservant Madelbos (a complex and evolving character portrayed by Denis Mpunga), Marguerite finds herself engaging with a pack of young anarchists, a bearded lady and a gay, over-the-hill baritone named Pezzini (played by the super-sized, screen-filling comedian Michel Fau). 

The suspense builds toward an inevitable and excruciating climax. What will happen when Marguerite, for the first time, clears her throat to entertain an opera house filled with unsuspecting music lovers? 

It is like waiting for a (musical) bomb to go off. 

This review will not reveal what happens, except to note that something miraculous occurs. But only briefly. 

The last act of Maguerite may leave the audience struggling. Madame Dumont has been such a pleasure to get to know that it is sad beyond belief to say goodbye. 

Postscript: Marguerite was based on a real-life American named Florence Foster Jenkins. She was very wealthy, much devoted to classical music, an excellent piano player, and a God-awful singer. 

Director Giannoli happened across recording of Jenkins singing before an audience at Carnegie Hall in the 1940s. "On the cover of the record, there is a photo of her wearing angels wings and a diamond tiara," Giannoli recalls. "She is smiling at the camera and she looks so naïve, yet at the same time very confident . . . . She was used to singing to the same people in the same social circles and no one had ever dared tell her that she sang out of tune . . . . Either they were hypocrites, or they were interested in her money, or they were simply cowards. It's an amusing story, but it also exposes a cruel side to human nature that I wanted to explore." 

It is a peculiar kind of cruelty—a form of bullying that takes the form of suppressed giggles, knowing smirks, and rolling eyes—that leaves the victim of the silent judgment blissfully unaware of the humiliation. 

In an odd quirk of timing, another film based on the story of Florence Foster Jenkins is also set to be released this year with Meryl Streep in the starring role. Here is the trailer. 


And, finally, there is a short 2008 documentary on the real Florence Foster Jenkins that you can watch on YouTube. 

Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own tells "the uncensored and tragic life story of Florence Foster Jenkins. In spite of disease and delusion, she became a performing arts icon of the 20th century." 

It was written, produced and narrated by Donald Collup. www.vaimusic.com