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New: Tree cutting and poisoning by EBMUD

Wanda Warkentin
Wednesday September 14, 2016 - 12:42:00 PM

I recently read some articles about glyphosate use. One referred to New York City's liberal use on city parks and children's playgrounds!! Another referred to the spraying of all Northern California wildlands with unknown quantities of glyphosate, (ostensibly to eradicate native species!!!!!). Another referred to the takeover of our federal regulatory agencies by Monsanto and biotech industry. Another referred to the press aiding these practices by not reporting it. Any person involved in this practice needs to think hard about what you are engaging in. Some scientists (UC scientists?) are making a lot of money. Why are those who purport to be concerned about climate change and CO2 abundance the same people (i.e., Sierra Club and Norman la Force) who are advocating for tree cutting and spraying when it is common knowledge that large trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere? This story doesn't ring true and climate change activists, and protectors of our environment need to start routing out those who could only be engaging in some kind of purposeful (human population reduction?) poisoning of our land and waterways.

EBMUD is cutting down healthy trees, including Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine, and spreading pesticides on lands near public reservoirs that store our drinking water. they are accepting public comment about their master plan until the end of the business day September 16, 2016. Please submit comment to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com.

To find out more about how to act on this issue go to Hills Conservation Network.


Berkeley shooting this morning

Bay City News
Wednesday September 14, 2016 - 12:47:00 PM

One man opened fire on another this morning in the southern part of Berkeley, according to police. 

Officers received a report at 9:02 a.m. of shots fired at Sacramento Street and Ashby Avenue, police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said. 

An argument between two men escalated until one pulled out a gun and fired at the other man. The victim was not injured and ran onto Stanton Street to escape the suspect. 

Police closed Stanton Street for a short time while they looked to see whether anyone else was injured. 

The suspect is still at large, Frankel said. He fled south in a vehicle on Sacramento Street. 

Frankel did not have a description of the vehicle or of the gun used. 

The victim was a man from Berkeley. Police continue to investigate the shooting, Frankel said.

New: Lessig and Olson debate Berkeley's cellphone law in federal court

Julia Cheever (BCN)
Tuesday September 13, 2016 - 10:22:00 PM

Judges on a federal appeals court panel in San Francisco today questioned two prominent lawyers about whether a Berkeley cellphone warning law is unfairly alarming.

The 2015 Berkeley law, called the "right to know" ordinance, requires retailers to warn cellphone customers that wearing their device next to the body could result in exposure to radiofrequency radiation exceeding federal guidelines.

An industry group represented by Washington, D.C., attorney Theodore Olson claims the warning is misleading and violates the free speech rights of retailers by forcing them to provide a message they don't agree with.

Berkeley, represented by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, contends the message is factually accurate and gives consumers information they need to make a choice about how to use their cellphones. 

The three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not say how they will rule and will issue a written ruling at a later date. 

But during a 45-minute hearing, they made comments suggesting concerns about whether the warning gives an incorrect impression about the safety of cell phones.  

"I read that message to say, 'Uh-oh, I'm in trouble if I put it in my pocket," said Judge William Fletcher. 

"(But) I may not be in trouble at all," he said. 

Judge Michelle Friedland commented, "It seems there a real downside to having unsupported warnings all over the place." 

The third judge, Morgan Christen, told Olson, "I think your strongest argument is that people are going to be misled." 

CTIA-The Wireless Association, formerly called the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, is appealing a decision in which U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco last year declined to grant a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the law.  

The association contends the message is misleading because the Federal Communications Commission's standards provide an ample margin of safety and the agency has never said that wearing a cellphone close to the body is unsafe. 

"Berkeley's cellphone ordinance mandates an alarming point of view intended to change consumers' behavior," Olson argued. 

The message "is squarely contrary to science, facts and the FCC's carefully considered findings that cellphones sold in the United States are safe to use," he said.  

Olson, of Washington, D.C., successfully represented George W. Bush before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election dispute and later represented same-sex couples seeking a right to marry in a case that began in federal court in San Francisco. 

Berkeley claims that every sentence of the message is true and that it is in keeping with information the FCC requires manufacturers to include in user manuals.  

That information, according to the city, is that in the tests that resulted in the radio frequency limits, testers used accessories that slightly separated the phones from their bodies. 

The message states, "To assure safety, the federal government requires that cellphones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. 

"If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation," it continues. 

"Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely," the message concludes. 

The 2015 ordinance requires retailers either to post the message or to give people who buy or lease phones a paper copy of the warning. 

Lessig told the court, "Our position is that we are relying on regulations of the FCC. We don't want to get into the science. We don't have to get into the science. 

"These statements are absolutely true," he said. 

Lessig, an expert in constitutional and ethics law, briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination last fall on a platform of campaign finance reform. 

The Berkeley law went into effect this year after U.S. District Judge Edward Chen and the 9th Circuit turned down a CTIA request to block it temporarily during the appeal. 

The panel has no deadline for ruling on the case.

East Bay earthquake reported this morning

Allison Levitsky (BCN)
Tuesday September 13, 2016 - 10:19:00 AM

A magnitude-3.5 earthquake struck near Piedmont this morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The quake struck at 12:50 a.m. roughly two miles east-southeast of Piedmont at a recorded depth of 2.98 miles.

Three sexual assaults reported in Berkeley at Greek Theater concert

Allison Levitsky (BCN)
Tuesday September 13, 2016 - 10:02:00 AM

Three female victims reported being sexually assaulted while attending a concert at the Greek Theater on the University of California at Berkeley campus on Saturday night, university police said Monday. 

All three were attending the "Mad Decent Block Party," a touring dance concert featuring a lengthy lineup of artists. 

The first reported assault happened at about 8 p.m., when an 18-year-old woman standing in line at a restroom was taken to another location where she was assaulted, police said.  

Police described the suspect as a white man between 5 feet 11 inches tall and 6 feet 1 inch tall with an athletic build, brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a floral short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts at the time. 

On Sunday morning another woman reported that she was also assaulted.  

She said she met a stranger at the concert who assaulted her, describing the suspect as a 21-year-old Hispanic man standing 5 feet 7 inches tall with a medium build. He was wearing a multi-colored tank top, dark shorts and a hat at the time, according to police. 

The third victim contacted university police at 1:35 p.m. on Monday, reporting that she was also assaulted at the concert. Further information about her report has not been made available. 

Anyone with information about the assaults has been asked to contact the UC Berkeley police criminal investigations bureau at (510) 642-0472 or (510) 642-6760.

New: Victim of robbery near Berkeley's I-House knocked out

Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday September 12, 2016 - 03:53:00 PM

University of California police are looking for two suspects who knocked a victim unconscious and stole his briefcase early this morning near UC Berkeley's International House. 

The victim was robbed on the sidewalk near the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Bancroft Way at about 12:20 a.m., police said. 

One of the two suspects punched the victim, knocking him unconscious. The suspects then took his briefcase and sped away in a white sedan, police said. 

The suspects were both described as black men. One of them was described as being between 20 and 30 years old, standing about 6 feet tall and wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt during the robbery. 

The crime is being investigated by the Berkeley Police Department. Anyone with information about the case has been asked to call (510) 981-5900.

League Candidate Forums Begin

Toni Mester
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:30:00 PM

Meet the Candidates forums begin on Monday September 12 from 7-9 pm at the Berkeley Community Media Studio, 2239 Martin Luther King Way near Allston Way. Sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, these free and informative panels are open to the public, but because of the limited space in the studio, attendees are asked to get their tickets through Eventbrite.

At the Eventbrite website, register if you don’t already have an account, which will allow you to print up tickets to all the forums you wish to attend. If the website shows that tickets are available, the League encourages people to just show up. The forums held at the studio will be videotaped and broadcast on cable channel 28. At this time, we don’t know if the forums will be simulcast live, but on the day of the each forum at the BCM studio, you can check the Channel 28 daily schedule

The first forum on Monday September 12 features candidates for Districts 2 and 3. Candidates for City Council District 2 are challengers Nanci Ira Armstrong-Temple, Cheryl Davila, and incumbent Darryl Moore. Candidates for City Council District 3 are Ben Bartlett, Mark A. Coplan, Deborah Matthews, and Al G. Murray. District 3 is an open seat vacated by Max Anderson, who is retiring. 

The moderator will be Helen Hutchison, President of the California League of Women Voters and a resident of Oakland. 

The second forum will follow the next night, Tuesday September 13 at the BCM Studio from 7-9 pm and will focus on candidates for two positions on the Berkeley School Board including Judy Appel, Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, and Abdur Sikder. 

The third forum in September will be held on the 19th, same time and place, featuring candidates for Berkeley Districts 5 and 6. The candidates for District 5 are Sophie Hahn and Stephen Murphy. District 5 is an open seat vacated by Laurie Capitelli, who is running for Mayor. Candidates for City Council District 6 are challengers Fred Dodsworth and Isabelle Gaston, and incumbent Susan Wengraf. 

At each forum, the moderator will ask questions developed by the League Voter Services Committee chaired by Phyllis Gale and Action Committee chaired by Diz Swift. Members of the audience will have an opportunity to submit written questions. 

The League will hold a panel featuring candidates for the Berkeley Rent Board on October 3 at the BCM Studio, the Mayor’s race scheduled for October 6 at Berkeley Community College, and the AC Transit and BART boards, to be announced. 

Please check the calendar on the League website for updates on the forums. 





Press Release: Bernie Sanders endorses Jesse Arreguin for Mayor of Berkeley

From Noah Finneburgh
Thursday September 08, 2016 - 10:20:00 AM

Senator Only Endorsing 100 Local Candidates Throughout the Country

Today, in a remarkable development that is sure to shake up the Berkeley mayoral race, United States Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced his endorsement of Jesse Arreguin for Mayor. 

“Berkeley is known across the country and the world as a progressive, trailblazing city. And so Berkeley needs a truly progressive Mayor,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “That is why I endorse Jesse Arreguin. Jesse Arreguin will be Berkeley's kind of Mayor. He is a tireless and effective champion for workers' rights, for civil rights, and for social justice. He will not rest until Berkeley works for everyone, not just the few." 

Jesse Arreguin is one of just 100 local candidates Senator Sanders is endorsing throughout the United States for the November election. 

“I am absolutely humbled beyond words to have earned the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “Senator Sanders’ presidential campaign inspired millions of people—many for the first time—to get involved in the political process, out of the simple belief that in this country our government belongs to all of us. Throughout Senator Sanders’ career—as a Mayor, Congressman, and United States Senator—he has never backed down from fighting for the people. It is in that spirit that I commit to serving as a Mayor for all Berkeley residents.” 

Arreguin’s consultant, Noah Finneburgh, of RALLY Campaigns, said the Sanders endorsement “is an absolute, no doubt about it game-changer.” 

“I can’t think of a stronger endorsement for a candidate running for Berkeley Mayor than Senator Bernie Sanders,” said Finneburgh. “The fact that Jesse Arreguin is just one of 100 local candidates throughout the country that Senator Sanders is choosing to endorse speaks volumes about Jesse Arreguin’s progressive leadership and the kind of Mayor he will be.” 

Senator Bernie Sanders joins a long list of national, state, local, and community leaders and organizations backing Arreguin’s campaign, including the California Nurses Association, the Alameda Labor Council, SEIU Local 1021, National Healthcare Workers Union, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, the United Farm Workers, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, East Bay Young Democrats, California State Controller Betty Yee, State Board of Equalization Chairwoman Fiona Ma, former California State Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, former Berkeley Mayors Shirley Dean and 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. 




As the son and grandson of farmworkers, a passion for social justice runs deep for Jesse Arreguin. At the young age of 9, Jesse volunteered with the effort to re-name San Francisco’s Army Street after his hero César Chavez. His public service continued through his youth and college years, and in 2008 he became the first Latino and youngest person ever elected to the Berkeley City Council. For the past 7 years, Councilmember Arreguin has represented our vibrant Downtown and portions of North Berkeley. He has also served as a Planning Commissioner, Rent Board Chair, and Sierra Club Boardmember. 

On the City Council, Jesse has proven to be an effective consensus builder. He has helped move the City away from polarization, working constructively with his colleagues, local business, and community leaders to craft practical, forward-thinking solutions on pressing city issues. He has a demonstrated record of results, working to expand affordable housing, support local business, revitalize Downtown, and protect our environment. 

Jesse Arreguin will be a dynamic, hands-on Mayor, who will put forth the energy, vision, and smart, 21st Century solutions needed to bring residents from every neighborhood to the table and give people from all walks of a life a stake in Berkeley’s future. And as he has done throughout his life, Jesse will champion social and economic justice for children, families, and seniors as the next Mayor of Berkeley.  



Palo Alto and the tech shop of horrors

Zelda Bronstein
Saturday September 03, 2016 - 11:04:00 AM


Behind the story of the Peninsula planning commissioner who made national news by saying she had to leave town to buy a house for her family.

On August 10, Kate Vershov Downing, a 31-year-old intellectual-property lawyer, set the media aflutter when she posted on Medium a letter to the Palo Alto City Council stating that she was resigning from the city’s Planning Commission because she was moving to Santa Cruz. The reason for her move: She and her 33-year-old husband Steven, a software engineer, couldn’t find a house they could afford to buy in Palo Alto. Downing said that they currently rented a place with another couple for $6,200 a month, and that if they “wanted to buy the same house and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2M.”

She reasoned that “if professionals like me cannot raise a family here, then all of our teachers, first responders, and service workers are in dire straits.” The fault, Downing wrote, lies with the Palo Alto council, which “ignores the majority of residents,” who have asked that housing be the city’s “top priority.” Instead, the council approves “more offices” and “a nominal amount of housing,” while paying “lip service to preserving retail that simply has no reason to keep serving the average Joe when the city is affordable only to Joe Millionaires.”

The upshot is a place “where young families have no hope of ever putting down roots” and civic culture is on the decline, thanks to the onslaught of “middle-aged jet-setting executives and investors who are hardly the sort to be personally volunteering for neighborhood block parties, earthquake preparedness responsibilities, and neighborhood watch.”

Downing’s post went viral. Within a week, her story had been picked up by media ranging from the San Francisco Business Times, the Huffington Post, and Curbed to the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the Guardian (UK). Thomas Fuller, the San Francisco bureau chief of the New York Times, did an extensive video interview of the Downings in front of their about-to-be-former Palo Alto residence followed by a driving tour of the town. Last week she appeared live on Bloomberg News


I’d hoped to talk to Kate Downing myself. We’d exchanged emails in February 2015, when I was working on a story about the inaugural forum of SFBARF (San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation), in which she’d participated as a panelist representing Palo Alto Forward, the pro-development, smart-growth group she co-founded in August 2014. 

This time Downing she failed to respond to my repeated requests for an interview. I wonder if her reticence indicated an expectation that I would ask some hard questions. 

If so, she was right. Her statements to a generally credulous press and her posts on Medium contain a few good points buried in a jumble of obfuscation, neoliberal dogma, and startling ignorance. 

Far more troubling is the generally credulous reception she’s gotten from the media. Only Curbed, the Stanford Political Journal, and the New York Times bothered to interview a member of the Palo Alto council, Mayor Pat Burt. With the Times’ Fuller, Burt rated only a two-sentence quote (no driving tour). Bloomberg News displayed a quotation from Burt stating that the city was “looking to increase the rate of housing growth but decrease the rate of job growth” and then asked Downing if that was “reasonable.” None of her interviewers contacted members of the community who hold opposing views, in particular representatives of the slow-growth group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning

Given that Downing appears to have become a prominent spokesperson for millennial market fundamentalism, her ideas and her actions deserve scrutiny. Here’s a start. 

Are four bedrooms and two-plus baths necessary to raise a family? 

Citing the price of housing, Downing asserted that “professionals like me cannot raise a family” in Palo Alto. 

Curbed reporter Adam Brinklow asked: “Why not buy a cheaper place? There are some cheaper places.” 

Downing dodged the question. “Sure,” she said, “we could move half an hour away. But if I can afford to move half an hour away to San Mateo, what happens to the people who have to move out of San Mateo?” 

Brinklow tried again: “I don’t mean half an hour away, I mean right in Palo Alto. There are cheaper homes. Not very cheap, but not $2.7 million either? 

Another dodge: “Well, that comment about the price of the house was really just an anchor for reference. But even if I found a cheaper home, even $2 million is more than I have to spend, and anything less is usually a project. Remember, you can’t take out a loan for construction.” 

Okay, but there are non-fixer-uppers with two bedrooms in Palo Alto, presumably large enough for a budding family, that the Downings could afford—which is to say, places selling for what they paid for their new home in Santa Cruz: $1,550,000. The difference is that those places are condos and townhouses. 

What Downing didn’t tell Brinklow (and he didn’t ask) is that she and her husband wanted the same kind of house that they were renting in Palo Alto: a 4-bedroom, 3-bath detached house measuring 2,338 square feet. 

That’s what she got in Santa Cruz: a 2,751-square-foot, detached, single-family home with four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a two-car garage. In Palo Alto, that kind of house is indeed selling for over $2 million dollars. (Zillow suggests that it’s selling for the same price in Santa Cruz: the listing for the Downings’ new place said it was “$700-845k below active comparables.” Apparently they got a deal.) 

The irony is that Downing disparages Palo Altans who, she says, want to maintain the city’s suburban character, while she’s chosen to move to a suburb and to a house whose Walk Score is a “car-dependent” 39 out of 100. 

When a commenter on the Palo Alto Forward blog questioned her purchase of the Santa Cruz house, Downing dodged his question, too: “I’m making choices and trade-offs for my family, that I’m very privileged to be able to make,” she bristled. “The fact that we can afford to buy anything at all and that we have jobs that allow us flexibility is a giant privilege most working class people don’t have.” 

Nobody is questioning Downing’s privilege. It’s the discrepancy between her stated and evident motives for leaving Palo Alto that rankles. 

“Abusive” cities 

Downing’s disconnect aside, housing prices in Palo Alto really are insane. In July the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $3,806. The median home value is $2.486 million. 

Downing blames the eye-popping prices on the city’s gross jobs-housing imbalance, which she in turn attributes to the council’s having approved tons of office development but not the housing for all the people who would be working in those offices. As of 2014, Palo Alto had almost three times as many jobs (95,460) as employed residents (31,165)

The upshot, she writes, is “the bizarre reverse commute in the Bay Area where more people live in San Francisco but work in Palo Alto or Mountain View.” In her view, the fault isn’t the companies that came to Silicon Valley. 


[T]hey were invited with open arms. Part of the reason it happened that way is that in the 70s [sic] San Francisco created a stringent cap on office expansion, and it’s one of the reasons why it’s the Peninsula that became Silicon Valley and not the city of San Francisco until maybe the last 7 years or so. Companies went to where they were wanted. It’s the cities which are abusive because they take all that tax revenue from those companies but then don’t shoulder any of the burden of housing the people that work there—claiming…that other cities should bear that burden instead.
A good point (local jobs-housing imbalances stink)… 


Yes, Silicon Valley cities have been encouraging massive development without permitting housing commensurate with the number of new workers. 

The latest poster child for this sort of reckless behavior is not Palo Alto but rather the city of Santa Clara, which on June 29 approved Related Companies’ $6.5 billion, 9.7 million square-feet CityPlace project. To be built just north of Levi’s Stadium on 240 acres of city-owned land (a former landfill), CityPlace will include up to 5.7 million square feet of offices, 1.1 million square feet of retail, 700 hotel rooms, a 35-acre park, and up to a paltry 1,360 apartment units. It will create 25,000 new jobs. 

As reported in the Silicon Valley Business Journal by Nathan Donato-Weinstein: 

“This project, looking at the real estate side of it, and the fact that we own it, it’s whipped cream with a cherry on top,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor prior to the vote. “Not only will we get the development that services our community, but also we’ll reap the financial benefits of having a cash flow into our general fund for generations to come.” 

On July 29 San Jose, where housing far outnumbers jobs, sued Santa Clara over the project, alleging that the huge gap between the number of new jobs City would generate and the housing it would provide contradicted Santa Clara’s General Plan and would have profound and unnecessary environmental impacts in the region. Land use anarchy, anyone? 

…and bad history (letting Stanford off the hook) 

San Francisco voters passed the city’s office cap in the mid-80s, not the 70s, a good two decades after the Peninsula became Silicon Valley. And the impetus for the Peninsula’s transformation did not come just from local governments but from the ambitions of a giant private landowner and developer: Stanford University. 

“Palo Alto city government,” Downing avers


openly and decisively created and embraced the Stanford Research Park which now houses many of the biggest technology companies in the world (VMware, Tesla, SAP, HP, etc.) and more than 100,000 workers. Stanford Research Park LONG predates the likes of Google and Facebook and Page and Zuckerberg — it was created in 1951.The city had to re-zone that space and specifically entice tech companies to come there.
Palo Alto did not create the Stanford Research Park; Stanford did. 


University of Washington history professor Margaret O’Mara tells the story in her fascinating 2005 book Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley. Originally called Stanford Industrial Park, the project was the postwar brainchild of Stanford administrators, notably Provost Frederick Terman and President Wallace Sterling. They remade their rich but undistinguished school into a scientific research powerhouse and a vehicle of regional economic development by leveraging federal R&D monies, shrewdly exploiting Stanford’s extraordinary land holdings, and capitalizing on the area’s beauty and fine climate and California’s booming militarized economy. It was Stanford that enticed high-tech companies to come to the park, and the park’s 1960 expansion “grew out of the demands of its tenants for more space.” 

Nor, as Downing indicates, did the city of Palo Alto and its residents view Stanford’s development of its land with unconditional enthusiasm. Though encouraging high-tech industrial production was the major thrust of the university’s economic agenda, its to-do list also included building a mall, the Stanford Shopping Center. Palo Alto elected officials initially opposed the mall, fearing that it would drain revenue from the city’s downtown retail, and threatened “not to provide sewer service to the site.” 

They soon dropped their opposition. “Palo Alto readily agreed to incorporate the land developments into the city, thereby providing Stanford with public utilities and road upkeep (and providing the city with tax revenues.” Stanford doesn’t pay taxes, but the companies at Stanford Research Park and the Stanford Shopping Center do. The city “made no further efforts to control the path of development.” 

The city’s residents were not so easily pacified. When Stanford announced in 1960 that the Industrial Park would be expanded into the foothills, “neighborhood opposition…led to a fiercely fought ballot referendum campaign that President Sterling called ‘the Battle of the Hills.’” The university won that battle and proceeded with the expansion. In a public relations gesture, it replaced “Industrial” in the park’s name with “Research.” 

What Stanford did not do is change its suburban model of land use. 

A 1962 survey showed that the majority of the Park’s 10,500 employees did not live in the immediate area but commuted from communities south of Palo Alto (56 percent). Seven percent lived outside the ‘regional area’ of the Peninsula altogether. Palo Alto residents made up 21 percent of the workforce. Employees overwhelmingly depended on cars to get to work. 

And, O’Mara writes, Stanford came to be regarded as a “model city,” a prototype for regional economic development around the world—and on the Peninsula. 


[B]ecause of developments like the Industrial Park, the Peninsula was on the leading edge of the trend toward living in one suburb and working in another. The residential and commuting patterns seen in the Park in 1962 also presaged the later housing shortages that would face the Bay Area, particularly Palo Alto, where by the end of the twentieth century few professionals could find available and affordable places to live.
In a post-resignation-announcement interview, Stanford Political Journal reporter Andrew Granato asked Downing, “What do you see as Stanford’s role in housing politics, and do you think it can or should do anything?” 


Downing equivocated, praising the university for “trying to add a certain amount of housing for its employees or students or faculty,” but subtly criticizing the school for not doing more: 

I think that Stanford has always tried very hard to be a good neighbor to Palo Alto. They’ve tried to be very friendly and supportive….[A]t the same time, Stanford has been relatively quiet about what’s going on in Palo Alto and the Bay Area in general with respect to housing. 

Far from being a good neighbor, Stanford has long been a major source of the jobs-housing imbalance that Downing deplores. Now, in its largest-ever off-campus expansion, the university is planning to build a $568 million office park that will accommodate 2,400 university employees on a 35-acre site in Redwood City. Stanford considered putting the project in Palo Alto but couldn’t find enough space. 

To be sure, as per Downing’s argument, like Palo Alto, Redwood City has given Stanford a go-ahead. The university got it in 2013, when Redwood City approved Stanford’s plan for the property in return for more than $15 million in public benefits, including bike lanes, a business boot camp for Redwood City residents, a free speakers series from the Graduate School of Business, and a free shuttle for its employees and members of the public from the Redwood City Caltrain station to the offices. In keeping with Stanford’s suburban commuter model, the complex will include a gym with a pool, cafes and a small park—but no new housing. 

“After the construction is completed,” wrote Chronicle reporter Wendy Lee, “Stanford is expected to become one of Redwood City’s largest employers.” Redwood City Economic Development Manager Catherine Ralston enthused: “ ‘It’s a really great opportunity for Redwood City. It’s going to bring a lots of jobs to the area.’” 

Redwood City Council member Jeff Gee told Chronicle reporter Wendy Lee that a Stanford survey found only 8 percent of its employees living in or near Redwood City. “The Redwood City council considered and rejected allowing housing on the site,” wrote Lee, stoking some residents’ fears that an influx of Stanford employees would further inflate already high rents. 

The Prop. 13 factor 

Why do cities pursue jobs and not housing? One reason is that new housing, especially housing for families with school-age children, requires many more municipal services than commercial development. 

Another is that Prop. 13 severely constrains property taxes by limiting annual increases to 2%; only when a parcel is sold or new construction occurs can a property’s value be re-assessed. The law favors parties that hold on to their property for a long time, above all big corporate landholders. It disproportionately burdens most homeowners, especially new ones, and new businesses. One study found that enacting a split-roll initiative that taxed corporations on the market value of their property would generate $8.2 to $10.2 billion in annual revenues for California. 

Downing’s position is confusing. She stands with the Evolve campaign to maintain current Prop. 13 protections for all residential property, provide an exemption for small businesses, and establish a regular, yearly reassessment of all non-residential property in California. “Corporations used to pay the bulk of property taxes, she writes, “but now 75% are paid by residential properties, and places like Disney literally pay as much in property taxes as a reasonably sized single-family home.” 

But she also embraces the argument that eliminating Prop.13 and allowing all property to be assessed every year would discourage Nimbyism and encourage development. As one of her correspondents on Medium, Eric Kingsburgy, wrote


NIMBYism is able to take hold in places like Palo Alto because [in a system where property taxes don’t change,] more development provides absolutely no benefit to incumbent property owners….More people only means more traffic, busier parks, and more crowded schools….

A California without Proposition 13 would still face hurdles to development, and the abuse of land use regulations—no one likes crowded parks or traffic—but to a much lesser extent….Residential that bought $100,000 homes in Palo alto in the 1980s would have seen their property taxes skyrocket along with their property values, leaving them with two options: move to a lower cost area or push for measures that would make their property less valuable.
Downing responds: “Agree with everything you’ve written!” And then she refers “folks who are interested in Prop. 13 reform” to the Evolve campaign. Go figure. 


The numbers game: how much of Palo Alto is zoned for single-family homes? 

By contrast, when it comes to property values, the housing crisis, and zoning, Downing is unequivocal: the way to lower housing prices is to loosen zoning laws that restrict development by imposing “an artificial constraint on supply.” 

Her reiterated example is Palo Alto’s zoning. “Only something like three percent of the city,” she told Brinklow, “is zoned for any sort of multi-family use. For most places it’s illegal to build a duplex.” 

Brinklow asked Mayor Burt: “Is it true that 97 percent of the city is zoned R-1?” 

Burt: “That is a misrepresentation.” 

Correct. According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, 4% of Palo Alto’s 26 square miles is zoned for multiple-family dwellings, and 25% is zoned for single-family dwellings. (Forty percent of the city is zoned for parks and preserves, another fifteen percent is dedicated to agriculture and other open space.) 

But zoning doesn’t tell the entire story. The Plan also says that 38% of the housing stock is multiple-family units, and 62% is single-family. So single-family predominates, but not to the extent that Downing has implied. 

Downing supported Jerry Brown’s anti-democratic giveaway to the real estate industry 

In an interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Hiltzik, Downing praised Jerry Brown’s controversial by-right housing legislation, Trailer Bill 707, declaring that it “does everything that needs to happen.” 

It’s a curious endorsement, because one thing Brown’s proposal doesn’t, or more precisely, didn’t—since it just died in the Legislature—do is the thing that, Downing thinks, needs to happen: relax residential zoning standards in Palo Alto or anywhere else in California. 

Trailer Bill 707 specified that if a project conformed to local zoning and contained 5-20% affordable housing, it would be permitted by right, meaning without any environmental or other public review. A draconian giveaway to the real estate industry, the measure was defeated by a statewide coalition of affordable housing advocates, environmentalists, and labor organizations. 

Given her concern about the lack of civic engagement in Palo Alto—in her words: “there’s maybe one thousand people who pay attention to city government….A minority of wealthy homeowners can create a network to get candidates elected very easily”—you might think Downing would have been put off by Trailer Bill 707’s hostility to local democracy. 

Instead, Downing shares that hostility. She favors a strong, centralized state. “Countries like Germany and Japan,” she writes, 


do not make planning decisions at the local level. They make them at the national level….They do what’s best for all the people, not just the people in one small city[,] and they do what’s best for the country’s economy as a whole…
In good neoliberal fashion, she thinks planning is all about economics, and that what’s best for the economy is a state that vigorously intervenes in behalf of market freedom. At her last Planning Commission meeting, on July 27, she voted against raising the affordable housing development impact fee from $20.37 per square foot to $60, stating that the “massive and aggressive” increase would discourage the construction of affordable housing. 


I’m guessing, then, that Brown’s bill appealed to Downing because it drastically curtailed local say in development, to the fulsome benefit of property capital. “Capitalism and property ownership,” she writes, 


are enshrined in literally hundreds of thousands of laws on [sic] this country, including our constitution. For so long as the U.S. constitution still stands, this is the only system that we have and understanding its rules remains a critical element of making policy for the future.
Perhaps Downing skipped constitutional law class; the U.S. constitution says nothing about capitalism. 


Given Downing’s outrage at the “astronomical” cost of housing in Palo Alto’s and her professed solicitude for “the average Joe,” you might also think that she would have deplored a bill that greased the permit process for projects with as much as 95% market-rate housing. 

Market-rate housing, however, is all that Downing wants to see built. Responding on Medium to a correspondent who doubted the superiority of “national zoning decision-making” and “centrally created affordable housing,” Downing wrote: 


I’m only talking about lifting zoning restrictions so that more market-rate housing is legally allowed to be built in the city. So I’m most definitely not talking about “centrally created affordable housing.” My goal and belief is that housing growth (market-rate) must keep up with job growth.
She points to “places like Texas which have far fewer zoning restrictions (none at all in Houston).” 



[E]ven though they’re experiencing an unprecedented population boom, their prices aren’t soaring like California’s. And it’s because they have something much closer to a free market where people can supply enough housing to actually meet demand.
Ahem. Prices in Texas, including Houston, have been soaring—not to the Bay Area’s catastrophic levels, but soaring (50% leap in 2010-15) nonetheless. 


But let’s talk about California, and specifically our region. Here the textbook theory of supply-and-demand—prices fall as supply increases—doesn’t apply. As I wrote in 48 hills last December: 


What’s making home prices soar in our region is the simultaneous incursion of hundreds of thousands of highly-paid tech workers and a flood of foreign investment. In June the Contra Costa Times reported that “[h]igh-tech employees make a yearly average of $124,000 in Santa Clara County, $107,000 in the San Francisco-San Mateo area, and $101,000 in the East Bay.” By contrast, wrote George Avalos, tech workers nationwide average about $84,000 a year. “This is a very, very hot area to live and work,” [demographer] Steve Levy told Avalos, “and the wage growth is pushing up housing prices.”
(Levy, by the way, sits on the board of Downing’s Palo Alto Forward.) 


Downing presumably thinks that if enough market-rate housing were produced, housing prices would fall to affordable levels. I always like to ask someone who holds that view: how much housing would it take? So far, the answer has been: I don’t really know. That’s what former Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko told me. Ditto for George Mason University Law Professor Ilya Somin, who wrote a Washington Post op-ed praising Downing’s attack on “restrictive land use regulations.” I bet Downing has no idea, either. 

In her case, further questions seem to be in order: how much and what kind of new housing would it take to lower the price of four-bedroom, two-plus bath single-family homes in Palo Alto from $2.6 to $1.55 million dollars? 

The Palantirization of downtown Palo Alto 

In Palo Alto, the tech tsunami hasn’t just driven up housing prices; it’s also decimated the city’s retail sector, which has been colonized by tech offices. Things got so bad that in May 2015 the council passed a 45-day urgency interim ordinance that prohibited the conversion of existing ground-floor retail to offices. A month later it extended the ban to April 30, 2017. 

As an employee of Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies who works in downtown Palo Alto, Downing’s husband Steven is implicated in the tech displacement of the city’s retail businesses. 

Palantir, wrote San Jose Mercury reporter Marisa Kendall in April, is “taking over” downtown Palo Alto. The secretive company rents at least nineteen properties comprising 250,000 square feet, or about 12 percent of all downtown’s commercial space downtown. Office rents have climbed accordingly. Now tech start-ups are having a hard time finding space that they can afford. 

Can a city have too many (tech) jobs? 

To Downing, only a maniac would entertain this question. Responding on Medium to an unnamed correspondent who apparently asked whether Palo Alto would try to shed some tech businesses, Downing wrote: 


I don’t think Palo Alto is going to choose to get rid of the companies. If they do, their tax base will shrivel and they’ll have a hard time paying city employees and paying off all the pensions they’re already obligated to fulfill…

And…what kind of insanity is it to be trying to kill high paying jobs and forcing companies out of town when the rest of America is bending over backwards trying to attract those companies?….Everyone else in the world is looking at Palo Alto and scratching their heads at the thought of a city that thinks its grand solution is to slaughter the golden goose.
Actually, the golden goose metaphor doesn’t work for the tech industry in the Bay Area today. As depicted by Aesop and other fabulists, that bird was killed by the greed of its owners, who forced it to lay more than its customary single egg a day. 


A better analogy is Audrey II, the man-and-woman-eating plant in film The Little Shop of Horrors, whose exponential growth drew customers to the shop but whose insatiable appetite threatened to destroy everything around it. When its owner, the unprepossessing Seymour, realizes that it cannot be appeased or controlled—indeed, that it’s about to eat him—he kills it. 

Like all metaphors, this one has its limitations. Unlike Audrey II (but like zoning), the tech industry is a human artifact and thus susceptible to human control. Accordingly, some Palo Altans are contemplating additional curbs on tech’s growth in their city—for example, Mayor Burt. 

“Palo Alto’s greatest problem right now,” the mayor told Brinklow, 


is the Bay Area’s massive job growth. Cities are still embracing huge commercial development with millions of square feet of office space they can’t support….[W]e have to do away with this notion that Silicon Valley must capture every job available to it….We’re looking to increase the rate of housing growth, but decrease the rate of job growth.
Brinklow was incredulous: “You want fewer jobs?” [italics in original] 


Burt: “I know, it’s a strange idea to contend with. But this doesn’t mean we want no job growth….We want metered job growth and metered housing growth, in places where it will have the least impact on things like our transit infrastructure.” 

For a city official to espouse less job growth in his town is beyond strange; it’s unheard-of. As a challenge to the prevailing growth ideology, it’s on par with 48 hills editor Tim Redmond’s recent piece welcoming the drop in San Francisco land values that, according to the city’s Controller, would result from requiring twenty percent of the units in new apartment buildings to be below-market-rate. But you expect such radical pronouncements from Redmond, not from a mayor, especially the mayor of a Silicon Valley city who’s a tech executive to boot. 

Burt’s stated goal is to accommodate some growth and still maintain Palo Alto’s distinctive character. That means going slow, because, he contends, the rate of the region’s job growth 


is just not sustainable, if we’re going to keep [Palo Alto] similar to what it’s been historically. Of course we know that the community is going to evolve. But we don’t want it to be a radical departure….[W]e balance things….[W]e’re looking at increasing our developer fees and investing more in affordable housing. We have 2,500 units of BMR [below-market-rate] housing over the last decades, and a lot of hard work went into that.
Improving transit, said Burt, is key: “The community would be more willing to embrace new development, even commercial development, if we could solve the transit problem….[J]ust in the last year, for the first time ever, I’ve become really confident that things will get better.” 


Brinklow: “Why?” 

Burt: “The single biggest thing is probably electrifying Caltrain.” He’s also encouraged by the extension of BART to San Jose, Palo Alto’s rideshare app, Scoop; the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association; and the advent of “shared, autonomous vehicles powered by carbon-free electricity.” 

The real culprit: baby boomers “aging in place” 

To Downing, Burt epitomizes the chief culprit in the affordability crisis—not the “middle-aged, jet-setting executives and investors” named in her resignation letter but rather “older homeowners,” boomers who got into the housing market when the middle class could still buy a house in Palo Alto, and who are now, in her indelicate phrase, “aging in place.” She attributes their slow- or in her view, no-growth agenda—“they just plain don’t want to see more people in the city”—to two motives: maintaining or, better yet, increasing the values of their property; and preserving Palo Alto’s suburban character. 

What’s worse, she says, they’re elitist hypocrites. When Brinklow noted that the slow-growthers argue that the city’s transit infrastructure and water use should be limiting factors in development, Downing interjected: 


The exact same people who complain about infill housing will show up to complain when you want to expand transit….These people will say anything, but they don’t really care about congestion or water use. They care about keeping the town looking exactly the way it is….They think public transit is for the poor and apartments are for people on welfare.
Brinklow: “You allege that all of these policy objections are just a cover for a personal agenda?” 


Downing: “Well, we know that.” 

Slow growth vs. smart growth 

I emailed Cheryl Lilienstein, the president of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, and another “older homeowner,” asking if her group opposed expanding transit in town. Lilienstein replied that it depended on the kind of transit. 

“For years and years,” Lilienstein emailed, “we’ve been asking for cross-town shuttles to take us to schools, large job centers, hospitals, and community services nowhere near El Camino.” 

Regarding high-density development around mass transit—for example, at the Caltrain stations, being pushed by Palo Alto Forward, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and ABAG—she wrote: 


We oppose it. VERY few residents now living in high density housing near transit use it. They live there because they want to live in Palo Alto, and they still use cars to get where they need to go, so it’s unrealistic to assert new high density development will be car-free. It won’t.
By common consent, traffic congestion in Palo Alto is horrendous, due to the huge number of commuters driving into town. The question is, what to do about it? The issue is front and center in the current public process to update the Comprehensive Plan


PASZ’s basic position, set forth in its comments on the Draft EIR for the update, is that before increasing population, the city needs to do what it can to decrease traffic and the associated air pollution in accordance with “a set goal.” Only then, should the city “proceed with a slow housing program that prioritizes housing for those whose presence would provide diversity for an economy that serves all residents”—specifically: 


  • People who under present conditions will never be able to buy here, typically defined as the middle class: clerical workers, city staff, middle management, tradespeople, low income workers, service workers, small business owners;
  • Seniors living here who don’t own their houses or still have mortgages and want to retire;
  • The homeless.
TKPASZ wants to maintain Palo Alto’s suburban character and still build housing that’s affordable to low-income people. From their Platform: 



Reduce the maximum development volume in certain zoning districts so that when state-mandated density bonuses are applied, the resulting volume matches what current zoning maximums would allow. In other words, state density bonuses for low income housing should not be used to produce buildings that are massive and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhoods...

Development should be compatible with existing neighborhoods and take into account school impacts
I also asked Lilienstein what she thought of the transportation innovations that give the mayor hope. 


Burt,” she replied, ‘is overly confident, in my view, yet I wish his vision was possible.” Her top priority is “increas[ing] ease of movement INSIDE the city.” To that end, she wrote, 


I don’t see how electrifying CalTrain and increasing the ridership (both are good things) will do anything but increase crosstown gridlock for Palo Alto, since there is no grade separation” for the train tracks. The single greatest transformative investment would be to trench the tracks so there can be an increase in cross-town flow. Without, even the future promised technology improvements will be insignificant.
If BART is ever extended to San Jose, down the east side of the bay, how would that help us? The Transportation Management Association might put a dent in the traffic problem, but it’s basically underfunded and complicated/expensive to enforce. Scoop is a good idea, a good use of public money, but do Palo Alto worker actually use it?
Downing, by contrast, thinks that “adding housing…is going to relieve a lot of the congestion we’re seeing” by allowing people “to live in the same community where they work. If you look at the people who actually live and work in Palo Alto,” she told Brinklow, “a substantial number…are walking or biking to work, so they’re not part of the traffic.” Now most of the in-commuters live far away. 


Palo Alto Forward’s website lists “five common-sense reforms that could remove barriers to housing”: 


  • Encourage studio apartments and smaller units
  • Encourage residential units over ground-floor retail
  • Make it easier for homeowners to build second units
  • Allow car-light and car-free housing in walkable areas near transit
  • Facilitate new senior housing, including alternative models
The underlying assumption is that growth is essential to economic health and hence must be accommodated. From its platform



On its current course, Palo Alto will continue to experience traffic and parking issues from denser uses of existing buildings, but it will have turned away new businesses and new workers who no longer have appropriate housing. The very economic growth that makes Silicon Valley a gem in America’s economic crown will slowly be chipped away, hurting local businesses, school funding, and employment rates alike.
Dancing around the growth issue 


What the PAF platform never quite makes clear is whether the group can thinks the city should seek to accommodate as much growth as possible. 

Brinklow asked Downing: “What about people who argue that a city like Palo Alto just can’t ever build enough housing to really satisfy demand?” 

Downing: “I think it’s a misconception that you can never build up to demand. We have a pretty good idea what demand is: Every day, the effective population of the city [66,000] doubles from the number of people who come in just for work. That tells us something about how much housing we need. It’s not infinite.” 

But elsewhere, she indicates that growth per se is advantageous. A member of the Bloomberg News team asked her if she thought “it’s fair for a community to collectively say, we don’t want to get any bigger, we don’t want to increase our population, we don’t want to live in a more dense area.” She replied: not if it’s a job hub. “As for these companies getting big,” she wrote in one of her Medium posts, 


—that’s something to celebrate and be happy about, not to lament. It means you live in a prosperous area with lots of high paying jobs and that your city is getting tons of tax revenue to support the sort of services and programs residents want to see. The response is to build out the necessary infrastructure to make sure your city can handle the growth and plan thoughtfully about how to grow in a way that will be beautiful and convenient. The response isn’t to murder the golden goose which is making your city so desirable in the first place.
One of the qualities that made Palo Alto so “desirable in the first place” to the tech industry was the very thing that Downing would readily dispose of: the town’s suburban character. Paradoxically, that character is now jeopardized by the industry’s rampant growth. For Downing, however, nurturing that growth is paramount. Constraining it, she says, will lead to the decline of Silicon Valley. 


“[I]f [what Palo Alto is doing],” she tells Granato, 


continues this way, eventually we really are going to drive businesses and young people away. I mean it’s driving me away, right? And at that point, the locus of organization and development is going to shift; it’s going to go somewhere else. And I think that will be an extraordinarily painful thing for Stanford. It means less opportunities for its students, it means less collaboration between businesses and professors. I don’t think Stanford wants to be in a place that used to be the innovation capital of the world, but that’s kind of where we’re headed.
Forbidden questions 


I’m no fan of Kate Vershov Downing—that’s been clear since the start of this story. I confess, however, that until recently, I shared Downing’s view that cities should strive to house the people who work in the businesses within their city limits, and that those who don’t should be judged harshly. Downing calls Palo Alto and other tech towns with jumbo job-housing imbalances “abusive,” referring to their unwillingness to house their tech workers. To me, the abusiveness involved dumping their housing and traffic issues on other cities—the sight of a “Google bus” parked in a Muni bus stop makes me scowl—and clogging the roads with long-distance commuters: when I left Palo Alto at 4 p.m. one afternoon last February, it took me two and a half hours to reach my north Berkeley home in my car, lurching forward in stop-and-go traffic all the way. 

Contemplating the fight over growth in Palo Alto has made me rethink my position. Pace Downing, the Bay Area’s tech sector seeks infinite expansion. A report released by the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation project last February found that for the first time since 2011, more residents—7,600—left Silicon Valley for other parts of the U.S.—Seattle, Austin, southern California—than arrived from other parts of the country. The area still had a positive net migration, but many of the new arrivals came from abroad. The American-born workers are headed to places where the cost of living is lower; the competition for jobs, space, and venture capital less intense; single-family homes more affordable; and traffic less daunting. 

In the report’s introduction, the sponsors of the project, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, called these numbers “warning signs” that “skyrocketing housing costs and increasing traffic congestion are eroding our quality of life” and making it hard to draw and retain sought-after employees. 

In response, the SVLG and the SVCF lay out much the same agenda as Kate Downing: sustain the local tech industry’s warp-speed job growth by building a commensurate amount of housing and expanding the region’s transit infrastructure accordingly. Just so, SVLG supported Brown’s by-right housing bill, though, in a move that I suspect Downing, with her opposition to “centrally controlled affordable housing,” would criticize, it also cheered the California Supreme Court’s decision that upheld San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance. 

Concentrated power undermines democracy. I’m talking about the economy, of course. Right now about a fifth of total jobs in the region - 746,100 - are in tech. The Bay Area’s appalling income inequality and its associated housing affordability crisis exist not in spite of but largely because of the high-rolling tech cataclysm. 

But democracy entails more than economic equality; it also involves political freedom. Money talks, and these days tech oligarchs are speaking much too loudly in our public life—think, for starters, Ron Conway and Airbnb. 

This quest for endless growth needs to be put on hold and replaced with a debate over the region’s carrying capacity and relevant public policy. How many jobs and people can the Bay Area support without further degrading the region’s quality of life, its cities’ distinctive characters, and the stability of their neighborhoods? Is it worth sacrificing these things for the sake of competitiveness? Who really benefits from the competitiveness race? Should a city’s receipt of a company’s taxes obligate that city to approve housing for the company’s workers? Do people have a right to live wherever they want? Barring prospective residents from your town on the basis of race or ethnicity or gender is wrong—and illegal. What about setting a limit on density or the size of a city’s population? And where’s the proof that people living in dense, transit-oriented development drive significantly less? 

For the region as a whole, the best thing that could come out of the Downing imbroglio is the expansion of the debate that’s roiling Palo Alto - not just to every city hall, but to every state and regional planning agency and legislative body. One point of universal agreement is that neither Palo Alto nor any other city can resolve the jobs-housing conundrum on its own. But today the growth ideology reigns supreme; no questions allowed. As long as that’s the case, the conundrum will persist and worsen. 

Zelda Bronstein is a Berkeley resident and a former Daily Planet columnist. This story previously appeared on 48hills.org.

Legislature passes contractor oversight responding to Berkeley balcony collapse

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday September 02, 2016 - 02:32:00 PM

Both houses of the California Legislature have unanimously passed a bill that would bring more oversight to the construction industry by requiring contractors to disclose felony convictions for shoddy work.

State Sens. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, wrote the bill, SB 465, in response to the collapse of a crowded balcony at a Berkeley apartment building during a party in the early morning hours of June 16, 2015, in which six young people died.

Five of the six were visiting from Ireland and the sixth was 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe of Rohnert Park.

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed the bill 37-0 and the state Assembly passed it 74-0. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to decide whether to sign it.

Hill said in a statement that the bill "ensures that the state agencies tasked with overseeing the construction industry are taking appropriate steps to identify bad actors and improve building standards."  

Authorities said the balcony that collapsed at the apartment building at 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley had extensive dry rot damage that was caused by water that was trapped in the structure.  

Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the collapse but Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley declined to file criminal charges in the matter.  

Hill said the legislation requires contractors convicted of felonies or crimes related to their work to report that information to the Contractors State License Board, which regulates the industry.  

He said it also requires the board to determine whether receiving construction defect settlement information would be useful for them to fulfill their mission of protecting the public.  

In addition, the bill requires the state Building Standards Commission to look at improving its safety requirements for balconies and other outdoor structures.  

Hill said the shock over the tragedy that struck during a birthday party became outrage when it was discovered that the builder of the apartment complex, Segue Construction of Pleasanton, had a history of construction defect settlements with payouts totaling $26.5 million.  

According to Hill, the chief of enforcement for the Contractors State License Board said at a hearing earlier this year, "Had we known about the suits and the underlying reasons for them, we would have absolutely taken action."  

Hill said state law currently does not require contractors to report defect settlement cases to their licensing board, even though such disclosures are routine for doctors, engineers and architects.  


Jackie Donohoe, Ashley Donohoe's mother, said in a statement, "We hope that this bill will ultimately force contractors who build defective structures to publicly disclose their settlements. Secret settlements only help contractors hide their negligent conduct." 

Donohoe said the balcony collapse could have been prevented. She said, "We are now one step closer to the action that could help prevent this tragedy but we are not done yet" until the bill is signed and implemented. 



Cutting down the East Bay eucalyptus forests:who speaks for the trees?

Becky O'Malley
Friday September 09, 2016 - 02:14:00 PM

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

— H.L. Mencken

The NextDoor network has hosted a long and very valuable discussion of a proposal to cut down a substantial percentage of the eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills, unfortunately not accessible unless you’re a member. Close to a hundred posts on the site have highlighted criticisms of the rationale behind the plan, as well as attracting those who'd like to get rid of the trees. 

My last editorial, written because the NextDoor discussion had reminded me once again of the inadequacy of the California Environmental Quality Act in settling this kind of question, elicited this polite disagreement from John Hitchen, a good statement of what seems to be the official position on the plan for de-foresting the East Bay Regional Parks: 

“In your August 29 article "Full speed ahead, and damn the facts”, you revisit the ongoing discussion of the FEMA funded fuels management program in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills. As a retired Parks professional with 22 years of experience managing a eucalyptus forest, I have broad knowledge of the issues involved and the challenge of stabilizing these Australian giants. There are good reasons why the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, The East Bay Regional Park District, and many other environmental organizations support a reduction in the number of eucalyptus globulus trees.

“For over 15 years, the herbicide recommended by licensed pest control applicators for eucalyptus has been Garlon 4 Ultra, Not Roundup. Garlon 4 Ultra is Dow Agrosciences trade name for Triclopyr, which is not glyphosate based , nor a Monsanto product. Whether one is for herbicide use or not, it is important to provide accurate information about the material used for eucalyptus work.

“The Berkeley/Oakland Hills were primarily grasslands at the time of European settlement, with native oaks and bays growing mainly on the lower slopes of the north and east faces; along with redwoods along Redwood Creek. Photographs taken prior to the planting of the eucalyptus and other species show our hills looking very similar to the grassy hills from San Leandro south to Mount Hamilton in the South Bay. Restoring the hills to grassland will take time, but once fuel loads have been reduced, regular prescribed burning similar to what Native Americans did every 11-15 years is a beneficial method to favor native species.The idea that large trees are desirable in every landscape is at the heart of this issue-eucalyptus were planted for all of the wrong reasons-and we need not allow this mistake to damage our ecological balance here forever.

“There will always be magnificent examples of mature blue gums in our planted landscapes in places such as the UC Campus, Mills College, Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, and dozens of other locations where they do best along creek beds or close to the Bay. But blue gums are Invasive in the foggy parts of the East Bay Hills, as explained by Jared Farmer in Part 2, "Eucalyptic California” in his book Trees in Paradise. Jared devotes over 100 pages to the history, biology,economy, and sociology of the trees.

“To summarize-blue gums are the largest and fastest growing of all 700+ eucalyptus species, and were chosen to be planted in California just for that reason. But in hindsight it is clear that their planting was done for potential profit, not for the good of the earth, and we now know that it was entirely a mistake. Eucalyptus fit the definition of a weed to perfection, they are truly a plant in the wrong place.”
I ran his letter past some of my scientist friends, who offered some counter-observations. One of them, an academic ecologist familiar with our regional parks, asked not to be quoted by name because of the fiery politics which currently inflame this topic, but said this: 

“This letter contains respectful and measured language, but the assessment masks an uncertain scientific and political process that is more subjective than it is implied.
​“I will give you a slew of questions that I believe cannot be answered firmly enough to support the assertions it contains. ​
“What is the stepwise guarantee that the very expensive process of replacing the eucs with native grasses rather than much more pernicious invasive grasses, herbs, thistles and shrubs will be successful?
​“Are they proposing to start burning this ecosystem every 11-15 years, as the Native Americans in this area are believed to have done? If so, will it be in the fire season or the wet season? If native plants are adapted to fire season burns, would they be helped or hurt by rainy season burns? Evidence? Examples of success elsewhere? “If not burning, how likely are the other mechanisms proposed to successfully transform this ecosystem to a native oak woodland/grassland? Logging, herbicides, grazing with cows or goats, what else? How successful have these mechanisms been elsewhere? Evidence? 

“What are potential unintended effects of these mechanisms: erosion, herbicides, loss of adventitious use of the euc habitats, etc? 

“Are we hoping that scattered oaks will be restored? What is the future in the context of sudden oak death? What is the ecological purpose of the project, if not? 

“What monitoring will they be doing, and how much money is set aside to make sure the project meets its goals, and to try to fix it, if it is not? What is the political and ecological time frame of these actions? IE, just because current politicians are committed to starting the process, what guarantee is there that 50-100 years from now the public will want to keep taxing itself to pay to get from yellow star thistle or foxtails—not a fire risk—to bunchgrasses? How much uncertainty is built into their proposals? 

“Like them or not, the Eucs are currently here. They are a species that some humans love and some raptors and other vulnerable birds​/insects​ have come to use, although others do not. 

​ “There is a lot that scientists do not know about eucalyptus in California and about politics. "Broad knowledge" is a good start, but the devil is in the details, and humans tend not to be humble enough about the unknown. ​ 

“Decisionmakers need to ​​be aware of the uncertainty associated with removing ​eucs. The word "restoration" should not be used without specific actions and ​ costs​ associated, including the full cost of what is known as an "adaptive management " plan to respond to unforeseen consequences.​  

“Ultimately, the decision is political, not scientific. Are we ready to divert the full resources required to succeed in the goal of converting the existing ecosystem to a bunchgrass ecosystem, and what is the tradeoff? Is this the right ecological priority for the costs? 

“I will say that responding to this debate is not a quick or easy request, and it is fraught with political liability. Humans dominate the hills. What is the goal? How much would it cost to achieve? I predict that those who want a grassland will ultimately have to settle for a European grass and herb -dominated ecosystem, because the soils are too rich to exclude them. Is that what the resident humans want, or not?” 

One recent NextDoor post by longtime Elmwood resident Greg San Martin, quoted here with his permission, raises important points about FEMA’s role in the plan and about the proposed restoration potential: 

“The ugliest hills I have ever seen are the hills due east of Milpitas and Highway 880. They are brown grass most of the year and barren. Those hills look like giant piles of light brown dog waste cooking in the summer sun. If that is the plan for our hills, then it’s time to reboot the public process. "Public" seems like a dubious thing to call a process that has only become visible to most of us because of this NextDoor discussion. When communication fails, it is easy to distrust the plan even if it is well done.

“Based on my understanding of climate science, it is very difficult to accurately predict what will happen in the future and when and where it will happen. Predictions of which landscapes are going to work best on our hills as the climate does its thing may be little more than guesses if the wrong assumptions were used in the models. Removing so many trees is a major risk (to future habitability in a changing climate) that may not have been adequately considered in FEMA's analysis. Given that climate science changes so quickly, it seems likely that the climate modeling performed by FEMA for this project does NOT rely on the latest and best climate science and models to arrive at these conclusions.

“FEMA's past reluctance to accept climate science makes their climate analysis suspect in this proceeding. E.g., it took until 2015 for FEMA to require states to factor climate science into their hazard mitigation plans. See:https://www.nrdc.org/stories/fema-gets-real-about-climate-change

“That is astounding! If we go back to the Bush Administration era, there is even more evidence of an institutionalized tendency throughout FEMA to deny the existence of climate change.  

"FEMA was very slow to accept 'that future hazards may not follow the same pattern as the disasters the state has experienced in the past.' This is not evidence that FEMA used unsound climate science as a basis for their approval in the current proceeding. However, the agency's historical tendency to deny climate science nevertheless casts considerable doubt on the adequacy of their climate analysis in this proceeding. Their climate analysis may be worth revisiting.”

Since I’m not a scientist myself, the only thing I can add to these comments is my understanding of the civic implications of what is essentially a political decision to take down the eucalyptus trees. 

Like many Californians, I’ve spent my life enjoying our green and golden landscape, grassy golden hills punctuated with green oaks. Not only that, I appreciate the native plants that have been part of my landscape for the last half-century or more. 

But the climate is changing, and we don’t know exactly how. Our native woodlands are threatened by sudden oak death, now slowed by drought but predicted to return in force if the rains come back. Native bays are hosts for this plague. And if the drought persists, pine bark beetles are killing many of our other native trees. The effect of warming on fog-dependent redwoods is not well understood, but suspect. 

What does that mean for most of us? Parks are for people, segments of natural terrain which have been set aside specifically for human use, as distinct from, for example, wilderness areas which are primarily for conservation of existing resources still in their natural state. 

The East Bay Regional Parks function these days more like urban parks than like wilderness areas. In an urban park in a warming climate, trees of whatever kind are uniquely valuable for the shade they provide for picnics and other recreational activities. All Bay Area parkland is getting more and more crowded—Muir Woods is moving toward a reservations-only visitor system because of congestion, and yet we are packing more and more residents into smaller and more crowded spaces, in Berkeley and elsewhere. Where will they go for outdoor recreation? What shade trees would replace the eucs? 

The principal stated reason for getting rid of the trees in the close-in parkland is that they pose a fire risk to houses built in the high hills. Yet after the last big Hills fire we allowed the fire area to be completely rebuilt. There’s an analogy here to the much-criticized practice of permitting houses in flood plains to be endlessly rebuilt despite clear evidence that climate change is causing repeated floods. This is a topic which those of us who live in the more crowded flatter areas of the East Bay are uncomfortable raising, but we might reasonably ask why our parklands must be sacrificed to protect expensive homes built in the wrong places. 

Certainly no more of these should be built. Those of us who have lived a while in Elmwood might remember how hard we had to fight to prevent housing development on Claremont Hill just a couple of decades ago, and yet at this very moment the new owners of the Claremont Hotel are lobbying to add a lot of new condos to an already dicey area on that hill. I can vividly remember looking up from my bedroom window down on Ashby Avenue and seeing the flames licking at the edges of the hotel site in the 1991 great fire. 

We must prohibit new development in close proximity to our parkland. Also, there are reasonable measures which can be taken to provide defensible perimeters close to existing buildings. The best paper I’ve seen on the fire suppression science involved, too long to get into at this point, can be found here. 

Most important, it’s time to revisit the now-obsolete environmental analysis which is being promoted as a rationale for what might be irreparable harm to our parks. The sentimental and romanticized view of native restoration should be scrutinized more thoroughly from a political and scientific perspective before irrevocable steps are taken to destroy the current viable landscape.There's a good chance that the current proposal is neat, plausible and wrong, and it’s almost too late to correct it. 




Public Comment

New: Critical? Mass?

John Herbert
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:12:00 PM

I just witnessed, tonight, what appears to be a "socially conscious" event of something called a Critical Mass Bike Ride on Gilman Street Berkeley. Could someone PLEASE explain, to me, the logic of people attempting to deliberately cause deadly accidents on the road ways? Out of the hundreds of bicyclists, at least 25 percent of these superior minded individuals swerved deliberately into on-coming traffic. 

It boggles my mind what logic could be contrived to sustain an argument that justifies deliberate harm to others. ,

Keystone Kops Redux: Why they want you to vote no on those minimum wage iniatives: an attempt to explain

Friday September 09, 2016 - 02:01:00 PM

Sometimes the difference between incompetence and conspiracy is a timeline and just one last puzzle piece. I can explain why the City Council meeting on 8/11 was aborted, and why Capitelli and Droste were most likely asked to make sure that that meeting didn't happen. It all starts with the fact that the City of Berkeley hates ballot initiatives and will go to any length to keep them from the voters. This is because ballot initiatives actually become law, while a City Council generated Ordinance can be adopted, changed, or eliminated with a simple majority at a hastily called special meeting, even when they are officially "closed for business" (I'm sure that even Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays are not safe from such a special request). Heck, unless a proposed Ordinance held some meaning for John Caner and the DBA, the rest of us would probably never hear about it. 

Anyway, back to the 11th. It's part of election law that anyone can write ballot arguments for or against any ballot item, it doesn't need to be anyone associated with creating the item, any old citizen can do it. If the City Clerk receives multiple argument submittals, they simply choose one and submit it with the ballot. If the City Council had met on the 11th and adopted their new minimum wage Ordinance; and the folks who had already submitted their arguments withdrew them as the City planned, nothing would prevent someone else from submitting new arguments for or against either Measure CC or BB. This would run afoul of the City's desire to make sure that no one vote for either measure, so they had to delay the adoption of the new Ordinance until the final deadline for submitting or changing arguments which was 12:00 noon on August 26th (date sound familiar?). This is why the meeting was rescheduled for 11:30 AM on the 26th. Unfortunately for the City, while the State Election Code gives a 10 day review period after the argument deadline, after which no courts are allowed to make any changes, the County Registrar of Voters requested that be lowered to a week to make sure that they had time to reprogram their machines and reprint any changes. With only a week to create an Ordinance with the required notices and posting; hold a Closed Meeting to discuss litigation; and file a Petition for Writ of Mandate to remove the ballot arguments and replace them with "don't vote for either measure"; time was very tight.  

While it might have been Capitelli's wish to not look like quite the fool that led him to release the August 9th version of the new minimum wage Ordinance to you, it did give a chance to compare it with the final Ordinance to see what further negotiations occurred in between. There is very little difference between the two. The wording of the section dealing with distribution of service charges is a bit clumsier in the earlier version, but since that entire section was deleted from the first reading of the Ordinance on the 26th and no one else noticed, the difference seems miniscule. It doesn't look like all that much negotiating happened between the earlier version and the final Ordinance. 

The City considers Ordinances as fluid things, and even more changes were made on the 29th when the Ordinance underwent its second first reading. The section dealing with distribution was reinstated; the definitions of Hospitality Employer and Worker were deleted; the Service Charge now applies only to "food service, hotels or hospitality focused business" (whatever that is); and Employers are no longer required to let workers know how much they've collected in service charges, among other changes.  

After the Closed Meeting on the 29th, the City Attorney said that there was no need for any announcement since there would be no action by the Council. They had already reached a settlement to remove all ballot arguments, so their part was finished. That same day, a Petition for Writ of Mandate was filed in the County Court in Hayward by the signers of the ballot arguments for both measures, including Mayor Bates, requesting a judge order the City Clerk and County Registrar to remove all arguments for and against both meaures because they were now "false and misleading" and they didn't believe them anymore. To justify the late date, the petitioners stated that "since the deadline" they had been engaged in negotiations which had only just begun to come to fruition. A bit of a stretch, since the compromise Ordinance was included in the Council packet on the 25th, and the first first reading happened prior to the deadline on the 26th. The Writ was granted on the 1st of September, and the new replacement argument against both measures, contained in the judgement, is also a stretch of the truth. But both sides agreed to actively campaign for the defeat of both measures, and the City doesn't have to worry about citizens' ballot initiatives, for this election anyway. If they spent as much energy taking care of the City as they do trying to thwart their citizens, this might be a good place to live. But we know and they know that they won't.

NBC’s Trump-Clinton Forum: Some Questions That Were Not Asked

Gar Smith
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:33:00 PM

On September 7, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared on the same stage in a broadcast NBC dubbed the "Commander-in-Chief Forum," an event devoted to "national security, military affairs and veterans issues."

For an event that marked the beginning of one of the most critical presidential debates in US history, NBC produced a disturbing preamble -- two back-to-back interviews conducted on a mothballed aircraft carrier. Instead of focusing on the full range of domestic issues that are roiling the electorate -- lack of good jobs, declining wages, rising housing costs, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, mass incarceration, and the tandem proliferations of gun possession and police violence -- the theme selected by the National Broadcasting Corporation was focused on a narrower target: preparing for and fighting wars.

Under NBC's marching orders, the two candidates vied for the allegiance of "an audience consisting mainly of military veterans and active service members."

The evening was sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization that has received a respectable 86% Charity Navigator rating and whose mission is to "connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans."

Wouldn't the national dialog benefit from a series of similar debates held before audiences composed of (1) the unemployed and under-employed, (2) the homeless, (3) the elderly, (4) the disabled, (5) the ill and infirm? As yet, NBC has announced no plans to broadcast similar events sponsored by other public interest groups including, perhaps, The American Federation of Teachers, The Service Employees International Union, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that our national viewing audience will be tuning in to any Trump-Clinton/back-to-backs focusing on the grievances of these average Americans.

Instead, we were invited to watch two presidential wannabes competing in a rhetorical race to sound more sympathetic to the needs of soldiers and vets and more bellicose and "tough" in confronting the "threats" of a "hostile" world. Within the short, 30-minute sit-down format, many issues were left unaddressed. Here are some critical questions that might have been put before the candidates.

* On the 15th anniversary of George W. Bush's War on Terror, American soldiers are engaged in six foreign wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Over this time, we have seen a 700% increase in terror incidents and a 500%-plus rise in deaths and injuries. Would it be fair to say that the War on Terror has failed?

* The Pentagon still reserves the right to unilaterally start a nuclear war. President Obama is pushing for a policy of "no first use" of our nuclear arsenal. Where do you stand?

* In Syria, US-backed armed rebel groups are exchanging fire with CIA-backed rebel groups. Will you publically condemn this kind of meddling? If not, which side do you support -- the US-backed rebels or the CIA-backed rebels?

* Given the great expenditures on military spending over the decades, how do you explain the fact that the US has not won a war since 1945?

* During a speech before the American Legion, candidate Clinton threatened to respond to electronic hacking of US computers by launching a military strike against any country hosting the suspected foreign hackers. If you were president, would you order a military strike in response to spamming?

* What is your position regarding plans to "streamline" the Department of Veteran Affairs by privatizing its services under the control of for-profit private sector companies?

* Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently observed: "Every violent US intervention has resulted in a catastrophic blowback far more costly to our country than any of the problems our meddling was intended to solve. Our mischief has not made America safe. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies who pocketed historic profits. We have compromised our values, butchered our youth, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in fruitless and costly adventures abroad." Your response?

* The Pentagon has been avoiding a public audit of its spending since at least 2001. According to a recent Inspector General's report, in 2015, the Pentagon lost track of $6.5 trillion. Do you have any clue where that money went?

* The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was roundly criticized after its "Fast and Furious" gunrunning operation lost track of 1,290 weapons over the border in Mexico. The CIA and Pentagon have reportedly lost track of much larger numbers of weapons in Afghanistan and Syria -- 80,000 pistols and 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. How would you assure that US weapons don't wind up in the hands of our enemies?

* In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security ordered 1.6 billion rounds of high-powered ammunition for distribution to other federal departments, including the Post Office, the Department of Agriculture, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Social Security Administration. The EPA wound up with $1.4 million worth of guns. The Education Dept. has spent over $80,000 on Glock pistols and more than $17,000 on Remington shotguns. WTF?

* According to British researchers, between September 11, 2001 and September 10, 2015, the Pentagon issued more than $40 billion in contracts for guns and ammunition. But the Pentagon's accounting procedures omit any contracts below $7 million. Will you pledge to undertake a complete accounting?

* There has been much drum-beating about Russian aggression. But it was the West that broke its promise to disband NATO after Russian dismantled the Warsaw Pact. And it is NATO that has been ratcheting up pressure along the Russian border with new bases, new missile installations and military exercises.

* Are you aware of the US role in toppling the elected pro-Russian government in Ukraine that triggered the controversy over the "annexation" of Crimea? Are you comfortable with the far-right and neo-Nazi elements in the current regime?

* Do you believe that expanding America's bases and naval presence around the world increases global stability? The US maintains at least 662 bases in 38 foreign countries and US troops are stationed in 150 countries overseas. Can you tell the American public how much it is currently costing to maintain Washington's global empire?

* Why does the US maintain that Washington, not China, must exert control over the South China Sea? Why does the US maintain that Washington, not Iran, must maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf?

* Can you provide examples where provoking another sovereign nation -- be it Russia, China, North Korea, or Libya -- has produced any response other than increased truculence and intensified militance?

* On September 10, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared it was time to declare war, but not on foreign terrorists: "The adversary's closer to home," Rumsfeld said, "It's the Pentagon." Question: Do you recall why Mr. Rumsfeld issued this threat? Answer: He had just discovered that $2.3 trillion in Pentagon spending was missing and unaccounted for.

* This month, Russia has invited NATO to engage in a "positive program" for mutual military relations and has offered a guarantee of safer flights over the Balkans but news reports claim such initiatives are opposed because a revival of the Cold War "would offer arms makers a new and hugely lucrative market." How do you respond to powerful US corporations who recognize that threats of war translate into a "great business opportunity"?

* In his famous speech in Prague, President Obama promised to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons. Now, he has committed the US to spend $1 trillion over 30 years on a new nuclear arsenal. Can you suggest some better alternatives for investing $1 trillion?

* In Geneva, last month, 107 nations called for United Nations negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban to commence in 2017. The specter of nuclear war is clearly, and by definition, an "existential" threat to our country and our planet. Where do you stand on this issue?

* Mr. Trump, you have called the Pentagon "very depleted," but the Department of Defense is now spending more money (in constant dollars) than ever in its history. As Andrew Bacevich has noted: "Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them, but appears clueless when it comes to ending them. Meanwhile, 'endless war' means 'endless profits' for powerful US corporations." What is your program for ending wars? Do either of you have a detailed program for transforming the US from a War Economy to a sustainable "Survival Economy"?

* During the recent coup attempt in Turkey, the US lost access to the Incirlik airbase where 50 US nuclear bombs were stored. A US think tank reported these weapons were at risk of being seized by "terrorists or other hostile forces." The US reportedly moved the weapons to Romania but Romania has denied this. Question: Do you have any idea where these 50 US atomic bombs might be?

* The Pentagon just gave the Harris Corporation $1.7 billion to outfit the under-performing Afghan army with radios. How many meals could this money have provided to America's 15.8 million undernourished children?

* When the US provides the weapons that Saudi Arabia and other nations use to bomb hospitals and schools in Yemen, would you agree that this makes the US complicit in the commission of war crimes?

* On July 28, a US-led coalition airstrike on a village in Syria killed 45 civilians, including women and children. The next day, ISIS posted a video of the slaughter online. Would you concede that Washington's killing of innocent civilians -- with bombs and drone strikes -- is a powerful recruiting tool for people who see America as a global aggressor?

* Do you believe that airstrikes on large, populated cities should be declared a war crime?


Agnos's Shelter Ship

Carol Denney
Friday September 09, 2016 - 02:11:00 PM

Former Mayor Art Agnos's idea of putting hundreds of people on a ship offshore is overdue. Just make sure the people on board are the failed leadership robbing poor people of tents and blankets while the city builds luxury hotels and condos. 

His "shelter ship" idea on the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial page featured a photograph of the USS Peleliu, a ship offered by Admiral Bitoff as temporary housing during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. According to Agnos, 300 homeless people aboard "kept their usual routines" by day for two weeks, after which the ship resumed its military mission. 

Two weeks. Agnos breezes by the issue of how long one might need to (or have to) stay on a ship, citing instances in which ships were considered or used for housing, including Auckland, New Zealand; Dortmund, Germany; Galveston, Texas; Mobile, Alabama; and New York. 

Agnos should have kept reading. In New Zealand, cruise ships were suggestions by businessmen dismissed as unworkable by Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army, who stated that in the case of Auckland a ship "would not be suitable accommodation for a high-needs population."[1] He gave the businessmen points for "creative thinking" 

but noted: 

“A cruise ship is fine for a month but to live on it for any longer would be a strange experience for the inhabitants and it would have no sense of normality about it. I am fully supportive of a creative solution to this problem but I don’t think a cruise ship is the answer.” 

The only actual uses of ships as shelter were in emergency situations; temporary shelter for people whose houses were underwater, or for refugees escaping war. In none of these situations were ships used to address what San Francisco and many other cities face: a situation created by a business and political class who consider the places poor people live opportunity sites for high-end development. 

Auckland's housing market is one of the expensive, with property values increasing 77.5% in the past five years. The average house is more than 498,000 British pounds, or $662,489 American dollars. 

This may be technically an emergency in places where the cities have passed resolutions recognizing a housing emergency. But that doesn't mean this housing shortage wasn't carefully planned, permit by permit, for the benefit of the developers and the politicians whose campaigns they fund every election. This particular emergency was as carefully arranged as an expensive wedding. 

Using emergency measures to address long-standing, planned housing inequities leaves firmly in place the discriminatory policies which brought us to this outrage, where the "shelter ship" editorial is published the day before a Chronicle front page article touts another luxury hotel and condo project on Market Street, the exact spot where police and Public Health workers take poor people's belongings if they have nowhere to go. 

I challenge Mr. Agnos to relocate offshore, which thousands of sailors will assure him is extremely challenging. But Agnos's real challenge will be using his considerable political connections to address the priorities of a lucrative status quo undisturbed by his "shelter ship" proposal. 

[1] The Guardian, June 30, 2016 

My Problem With Exxon Mobile

Jack Bragen
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:58:00 PM

In television ads, oil and energy companies are beginning to promote the idea of capturing greenhouse gases as opposed to abandoning use of fossil fuels. I saw an article on the Greenpeace website opposed to this, stating that the idea is essentially bogus and that we need to simply switch to renewable energy. 

I wonder if scientists are even considering the potential for oxygen depletion as one of the problems with capturing combustion products.  

If you factor in the idea that the oxygen component of fossil fuel waste must be returned to our atmosphere, it makes the idea of trapping greenhouse gases into a much more complicated undertaking. In that case, you need to have algae pools in order to once again separate the oxygen atoms off of the CO2 and CO molecules. The algae pools must receive sunlight in order for them to do that.  

The above is based on very basic science that we all should've learned in grade school. I am not a college professor, far from it. However, my knowledge of science is good enough, based upon the simplest of biology and chemistry principles, that I know, in nature, you can't get something for nothing.  

I also know that greenhouse gases are produced by combining carbon with oxygen. The source of that oxygen is our atmosphere. If you trap and sequester greenhouse gases produced by powerplants, you are also trapping some amount of oxygen that belongs in our atmosphere. While oxygen depletion may more may not be a huge factor, it is nonetheless a factor. I haven't seen it addressed in the public discourse about the idea of capturing emissions.  

There are numerous other problems posed by the concept of capturing greenhouse gases, such as the cylinders cracking over time and leaking. This would make it a distant cousin to the issue of what we are to do with nuclear waste. Capturing also initially uses up a lot of energy and makes fuel burning powerplants far less efficient, not that they were highly efficient to begin with.  

In short, these advertisements--by the oil companies that try to convince the public that everything will be okay if we just give them our trust--are nothing but hot air. 

Call the Shifty Huckster to Account

Bruce Joffe
Friday September 09, 2016 - 03:28:00 PM

The Wannabe Bully-in-Chief said "we should take Iraq's oil" during the Commander-In-Chief Forum. It's a terrible, dangerous, and immoral idea. It says our nation should be a thief. How would we look to the entire Muslim world? It's is a call for enmity and disaster. And the logistic difficulty and cost, in human life and treasure, of such a nasty endeavor reveals the Nasty Narcissist's profound ignorance. The Combover Candidate's statement was a much more serious disqualification than his stated admiration for Vladimir Putin. He is making us out to be a nation of thieves. Hillary, and the legitimate news media, must call the Shifty Huckster to account for his thoughtless bluster.

Use of publicly­ owned land by car dealerships in the C-­SA District:
An Open Letter to Berkeley City Officials

69 South Berkeley Residents
Friday September 02, 2016 - 05:12:00 PM
Photo  1, from January 2015, shows the parking bay in front of 2700 Shattuck, which is regularly filled with display vehicles.
Photo 1, from January 2015, shows the parking bay in front of 2700 Shattuck, which is regularly filled with display vehicles.
Berkeley Honda merchandise blocking the sidewalk on July 11, 2015. A person in a wheelchair would not be able to pass.
Berkeley Honda merchandise blocking the sidewalk on July 11, 2015. A person in a wheelchair would not be able to pass.
Two months earlier, a Traffic Enforcement employee informed a local resident that the the owner would “make every effort to ensure that the sidewalk areas surrounding the dealerships are accessible to the public.”
Two months earlier, a Traffic Enforcement employee informed a local resident that the the owner would “make every effort to ensure that the sidewalk areas surrounding the dealerships are accessible to the public.”
McKevitt display on sidewalk and street—June 20, 2015, a month after the manager assured Sergeant Murphy that they would “make every effort” to keep the sidewalk available to the public. This photo, along with others showing display use of 12 two­hour parking spaces at this location, was emailed to Parking Enforcement and City Council members on June 26, 2015.
McKevitt display on sidewalk and street—June 20, 2015, a month after the manager assured Sergeant Murphy that they would “make every effort” to keep the sidewalk available to the public. This photo, along with others showing display use of 12 two­hour parking spaces at this location, was emailed to Parking Enforcement and City Council members on June 26, 2015.
Also on June 20, 2015, Berkeley Honda was displaying new cars in 30-­minute parking spaces on Shattuck near Carleton.
Also on June 20, 2015, Berkeley Honda was displaying new cars in 30-­minute parking spaces on Shattuck near Carleton.
August 4, 2015—less than a week after a visit by Code Inspection. “Informing” the dealership is futile. With no enforcement mechanism, dealerships also convert required off­-street parking for employees and customers into display and storage areas.
August 4, 2015—less than a week after a visit by Code Inspection. “Informing” the dealership is futile. With no enforcement mechanism, dealerships also convert required off­-street parking for employees and customers into display and storage areas.
Above photo taken on May 20, 2016 by a South Shattuck neighbor. When a dealership employee asked if she was interested in the two cars, she replied that she was interested in why they were parked on the grass. He claimed that Fiat has a permit from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (!), but when asked to see the permit, he said that they keep it in their San Leandro office. Then he suggested that she probably had better things to do with her time than follow up on this.
Above photo taken on May 20, 2016 by a South Shattuck neighbor. When a dealership employee asked if she was interested in the two cars, she replied that she was interested in why they were parked on the grass. He claimed that Fiat has a permit from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (!), but when asked to see the permit, he said that they keep it in their San Leandro office. Then he suggested that she probably had better things to do with her time than follow up on this.
Jeep inventory obstructing sidewalk access to people in wheelchairs, August 25, 2016. According to the resident who took this photo, the dealership finance manager refused to move the merchandise and told the resident to go ahead and call the City—which the neighbor did, along with informing a nearby parking enforcement officer.
Jeep inventory obstructing sidewalk access to people in wheelchairs, August 25, 2016. According to the resident who took this photo, the dealership finance manager refused to move the merchandise and told the resident to go ahead and call the City—which the neighbor did, along with informing a nearby parking enforcement officer.

TO: Dee Williams-­Ridley, City of Berkeley City Manager; Zach Cowan, City Attorney;
Carol Johnson, City of Berkeley Acting Planning Director; Phil Harrington, City of Berkeley Director of Public Works; Ann­Marie Hogan, City of Berkeley Auditor

As South Shattuck neighbors and participants in area plans for our community, we request immediate clarification of City policy concerning dealership use of the public right­-of­-way and green space in the Commercial-­South Area (C­-SA) District.

The City refuses to issue parking citations to South Shattuck auto dealers, despite repeated complaints and extensive documentation from residents over a period of many months. Dealership use of the public right­-of­-way to conduct auto sales and to display inventory violates numerous City ordinances and constitutes a public nuisance. Selective parking enforcement results in lost ticket revenue, a shortage of convenient short-­term parking spaces for customers of local businesses, and spillover traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods. This is prohibited in every other District in the City; why is it allowed in South Berkeley?

Photo 1, from January 2015, shows the parking bay in front of 2700 Shattuck, which is regularly filled with display vehicles. Allowing the use of limited public parking spaces as extended commercial gross floor area by South Shattuck dealerships eliminates numerous parking spaces (2-­hour and 30-­minute) in the area at any given time. 

This constitutes an encroachment under BMC 16.18.010.A. Merchandise is not “parked”—regardless of whether or not the merchandise has wheels. Auto dealers have converted street parking spaces into extensions of dealership gross floor area, where employees conduct business. They also display merchandise on sidewalks and green space. 

It hardly inspires confidence in the Adeline/South Shattuck PDA planning process when the City ignores existing community-­based area plans, and their emphasis on reducing the domination of the automobile, in order to encourage car dealerships throughout South Berkeley commercial districts. 

South Berkeley public space is not given equal protection or consideration; South Berkeley area plans have been disregarded; residential neighborhoods abutting commercial districts in South Berkeley must rely on institutional memory (increasingly absent) and vague discretionary findings in the absence of zoning protections that are given to other Berkeley neighborhoods abutting commercial districts. 

Attached to this letter is a 2009 memo from then-­Planning Director Dan Marks to local developer Patrick Kennedy, strongly discouraging the developer from proposing encroachments in the public right­-of­-way at 2711 Shattuck. The memo notes apparent conflict in the code, lack of standards for approving encroachments, and potential detrimental impacts of encroachments. The memo claims, “Staff will now be taking [encroachment issues] up to the City Council for discussion and direction as soon as possible. Until then... staff will be recommending denial of any encroachments to the reviewing commissions.” 

Such a Council review never happened, and the City continues to allow private interests to profit from encroachments that have the potential to prevent open space and other improvements on land owned by the public. (See for example Honda’s proposal to reserve curb space on Adeline Street for use as a vehicle unloading dock—in a location currently under consideration for community open space and a dedicated bike lane.) 

The City transferred sidewalk seating encroachment permits from Land Use to Public Works, but this and other temporary uses of the public right­-of­-way required careful consideration, a separate Ordinance, and a public hearing before City Council. (Another example: allowing vendors on Telegraph Avenue sidewalks for limited times.) Is Public Works no longer involved in this process? 

In the case of encroachments granted for parklets in North Berkeley, the public retains access whether or not they are customers of the associated cafés and other businesses. Should the public expect free access to dealership display vehicles in public rights of way as enclosed spaces to spend leisure hours? 

At the Adeline/South Shattuck Complete Streets Community Workshop, Jeff Tumlin—an owner of Nelson\Nygaard and author of Sustainable Transportation Planning—described our streets as public spaces; a “capital public resource held in the public trust,” adding that our values are reflected in their design. For Berkeley to allow entitlements that run with lands held by the City in trust for its citizenry is not acceptable public policy. The City Charter requires an Ordinance for the selling or leasing of public property. Surely an Ordinance should be required for outright giveaways. 

Yet once ZAB has granted a use permit for auto sales, all development standards in BMC 23E.52.070.F—including those prohibiting vehicle storage in South Berkeley rights of way and limiting auto display along street frontage—may be overturned by a simple over­-the-­counter AUP. The 2013 Ordinance encouraging auto sales in the Commercial­South Area District includes this glaring zoning loophole: “ The Zoning Officer may approve a modification of the standards applicable to new or relocated automobile and motorcycle sales uses if it finds that doing so is necessary to... accommodate dealership operations.” (BMC 23E.52.090.E) 

Many South Berkeley residents worked in collaboration with the City to develop the South Berkeley Area Plan and the South Shattuck Strategic Plan, both added as amendments to the current Berkeley General Plan. Like the emerging Adeline Corridor/South Shattuck PDA Plan, existing area plans and District purposes were created to foster pedestrian-­oriented, neighborhood­-serving retail and phase out “Gasoline Alley.” The City Manager, the City Attorney, Land Use Planning, Public Works, the City Auditor, and the City Council must give serious and immediate attention to the dysfunction in planning policy for the South Shattuck area. At a minimum, the City must investigate why its departments allow South Shattuck auto dealerships to squat on public lands without penalty. 

Please refer to photos and correspondence below for a partial record of violations and lack of enforcement between June 20, 2015 and August 25, 2016. 


[letter signed by 69 South Berkeley residents]

Why the PSR/Mather Holy Hill project is bad for Berkeley

Daniella Thompson
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:07:00 AM
Pacific School of Religion Campus
Daniella Thompson
Pacific School of Religion Campus

The Mather LifeWays project proposed for the Pacific School of Religion campus and its surroundings has the potential to do great harm to the Northside neighborhood and to Berkeley as a whole.

The overscaled senior housing development would do away with the beloved historic PSR campus, an oasis on the hill. Gone will be the beautiful open space, the western vista, and all but one of the campus’s architecturally significant buildings.

The Mather development would tear the fabric of a residential neighborhood, demolishing an unprecedented number of buildings, constructed mostly in the 1920s, along Virginia Street, Le Conte Avenue, and Arch Street. 

The project purports to follow the LEED Gold standard yet would be extremely ungreen, razing 16 perfectly functional buildings. As we all know, the greenest building is the one already built. 

Demolition and construction would last for years, disrupting the life of untold residents in this quiet neighborhood. 

Building senior housing on top of a steep hill is ill-advised. As a Northside resident intimately familiar with the topography, I can easily imagine the Mather residents huffing and puffing their way uphill or stumbling and falling while descending the precipitous slope of Le Conte Avenue. The Mather residents’ cars (potentially hundreds of them) and the facility’s regular shuttle buses would turn peaceful Holy Hill into a traffic hub. 

No affordable housing would be available in this project—only the well-heeled need apply, buying in with an initial payment to the tune of ~$500,000, plus thousands in monthly “care services” fees. 

There’s more than one way for PSR to overcome its financial deficit. PSR could sell its buildings individually, or it could rent a limited portion to its shrinking enrollment of seminary students and lease the rest to the general public at market rates. Yet PSR and Mather have devised no fallback plan in case their mammoth building scheme should fail. 

In short, the PSR/Mather project favors the few over the many, demonstrating a sense of entitlement so brazen, the likes of which we have not seen for decades, if ever.

Politicians deliver talk, not action

Romila Khanna
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:30:00 AM

The Republican nominee for President talks making America great again. He has a great plan to make America debt-free if he wins the election and goes to the White House. But he forgets the needs of the most neglected people. I do not share his vision of making America great by hurting the poor and lower middle class people. 

The other day I met an elderly couple on the bus. They started talking to me about the forthcoming elections. The lady asked me if I liked the policies the Republican nominee proposed. They also wanted to know my views about the future of Social Security. The couple told me they had both worked for over thirty years and had faithfully filed taxes all that time. They worried that if the Republican nominee became president their Social Security benefits would be reduced. Their Republican friend had reminded them that Social Security was a government-funded program and needed to be flung out the window along with the Affordable Health Care Act. 

All those who have contributed to Social Security must receive their due, including cost of living adjustments. When it comes to money for election chests, low-income people are urged to contribute wholeheartedly. When time comes to pay back to them, politicians deliver talk, not action.

The minimum wage victory -- a path to better times

Harry Brill
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:07:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council just unanimously enacted a minimum wage ordinance of $15 an hour beginning in October of 2018. Often reported in the media are complaints by small business owners that raising the minimum wage would be disastrous for their business. If the media included interviews with the heads of families working for poverty wages, the complaints would be far more disturbing. The narratives about their difficult lives, as well as the problems poverty causes their spouses and children, is cause to shudder. FDR, who recognized the adverse consequences of poverty wages commented "No Business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country". This moral principle applies today as well.

But although higher wages may mean lower profits, very few if any establishments will be forced out of business. In fact, the business community as a whole will benefit because higher wages means more purchasing power. Yes, it is simple as that! Consumers make up about 70 percent of our gross national product. The vast majority of consumers are working people. The dismal shape of our economy is due in part to their declining purchasing power. That MUST change to save the economy, which in turn will save jobs AND businesses. 

The proposed minimum wage law was drafted by a committee that included business as well as labor representatives. In fact, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce was involved in the recent round of discussions and signed off on the agreement. Since the Chamber represents business interests, it never would have conceded if it believed that their members would experience a significant increase in bankruptcies. 

Although there is good reason to take pride in winning the minimum wage battle along with paid sick leave, $15 an hour is nevertheless still a poverty wage. Councilman Jesse Arreguin got lots of applause when he said at the Council meeting that we have to continue this struggle until we get a living wage ordinance. The two other progressive councilmen, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson, and the activist community as well certainly agree. 

The Minimum Wage Law that was enacted two years ago by the Berkeley City Council peaks on the first of October to $12.53 cents an hour. That law lacks an adjustment for inflation. The new ordinance provides for an annual inflation adjustment beginning in 2019, which is one year after the $15 an hour wage takes effect. Also, the earlier law has no sick leave provision. In businesses with fewer than 25 employees, the current law provides 48 hours of sick leave, which is for a full time workers 6 days. For workers employed in a firm that employs at least 25 workers, an employee can accumulate up to 72 hours of sick leave, which is equivalent to nine days for a full time employee. The sick leave provision includes taking care of a family member who is ill. 

Please keep in mind that paid sick leave not only protects working people and their families. It is a public health issue as well. By discouraging sick workers from coming to work, customers at restaurants and other venues avoid being exposed to employees with contagious illnesses. Not least, co-workers are also protected. 

Significantly, the $15 minimum wage was adopted even though some on the City Council tends to be conservative on economic issues. Clearly, political pressure does work. Undoubtedly, the elections in November have given an advantage to the activists, who have been involved in this issue for a long while. Very fortunately, one thing these activists have in common; they are all long distant runners.

Is this how democracy ends?

Bruce Joffe
Friday September 02, 2016 - 09:53:00 AM

Donald J. Combover tried to paint all undocumented immigrants in this country as violent criminals. He didn't call them "immigrants" although most of them have risked their lives coming to this country because the places from where they've come threatened them with starvation, violent death, or worse. He called them "illegal aliens," a term that denigrates the humanity of the millions of law-abiding, hard-working people who take the lowest paying jobs and try to get by, raising their children to have a better life. Lumping all undocumented immigrants as "aliens" and "criminals" is a big step toward fascism and despotism. We've seen this before in Hitler's Nazi Germany, in Mussolini's Fascist Italy, in Franco's Authoritarian Spain. Where does it lead? First the undocumented immigrants, then the liberals and political opposition, then racial minorities, then religious minorities, and then ... and then poor folk who get conscripted into fighting foreign wars for the "glory of the Homeland," dying and suffering disfiguring wounds for the satisfaction of the despot's pride.  

Watching this demagogue give a speech on MSNBC shocked me as I saw, first hand, the ferocity of the untrue statements he uses to whip up emotional support for cruel policies that would destroy our free society. I'd like to fault the media for giving the Wannabe's campaign more than an hour of free air time without giving equal exposure to Hillary Clinton. But I also have to acknowledge that without such exposure, I wouldn't have seen what a dangerous threat his candidacy is to the civil liberties we hold dear. 

It now is incumbent on the media to give Clinton an equal amount of free media coverage of her campaign speeches.

Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Jagjit Singh
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:36:00 AM

We continue to coddle brutal autocratic regimes around the world guilty of the most horrific human rights violations. Consider our latest transgression in Yemen, one of the most impoverished nations in the world. We have sold Saudi Arabia over $110 billion of weapons which it has used in carpet bombing neighboring Yemen. In a grotesque effort to inflict more pain and misery, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. 

To demonstrate their financial muscle, the Saudi’s coerced the UN from removing them from a blacklist of nations responsible for killing children, threatening to withhold their UN dues. The UN cravenly crumbled to a morally bankrupt bandit regime. The tentacles of Saudi money penetrate deep into Washington. They have donated money to Hilary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation which recently received $10 million. Scores of US lobbyists are funded by the House of Saud. Red Cross President, Peter Maurer, reported that Yemen, after five months, looks like Syria after five years. President Obama bypassed Congress to facilitate the sale of these weapons. What an appalling legacy for a man who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - allowing US defense contractors to enrich themselves at the expense of human lives. 

Nothing can stop this hideous war machine except the collective will of the American people. Please call the White House comment line 202-456-1111 and demand an immediate halt to further weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

September 11

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:24:00 AM

According to the Islamic scriptures, the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son, Ishmael as an act of supreme submission to the will of God.

This year Eid al-Adha – the feast of sacrifice, will be observed on 9/11.The precise day is determined by Muslims around the world by observing the phases of the moon. The strange coincidence has invoked fears that Americans may mistake the Eid festivities as rejoicing to the tragedy of 9/11. Muslims around the country have experienced serious hate crimes fueled by incendiary comments by our high-profile politicians. This also comes on the heels of the killing of an imam and his assistant in Queens last month. Imams around the country have reached out to law enforcement agencies requesting extra security and vigilance. Many imams have decided to hold Eid festivities indoors in contrast to the customary tradition of holding the celebrations in public parks. However, Shamsi Ali, the imam of Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens still plans to host his prayer service outdoors which is expected to attract 20,000 people. As a gesture of inclusiveness he plans to invite non-Muslims to the service.  

The mood will far be more somber than in previous years with special prayers being offered to the victims of 9/11. Let’s hope this day proves to be watershed moment to heal the deep divisions of race and religion.

Apologies in Order

Chuck Mann, Greensboro, NC
Saturday September 03, 2016 - 01:01:00 PM

Georgetown University is doing the right thing by apologizing for its past support of slavery. There are other schools, corporations, political parties, governments, and families that used to support slavery. When are they going to apologize?

September Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday September 02, 2016 - 01:06:00 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! 


THE PUBLIC EYE:Trump’s Traps

Bob Burnett
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:27:00 PM

As the 2016 presidential election enters its final phase, Hillary Clinton has a slight lead over Donald Trump. While it’s still possible for Trump to win, this is unlikely to happen because of four traps he has set for himself. 

The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Clinton leading Trump by five percentage points. The current NBC news poll shows Clinton with 272 electoral votes versus 174 for Trump. 

On November 8th Trump will lose because of four traps: 

1. Alienating people-of-color. Given Trump’s history as a “birther” and his track record of discriminating against African-Americans, it’s no surprise that Trump is losing the black vote; one poll shows him with zero support. 

Nonetheless, Trump could have garnered some Hispanic support if he had taken a more traditional Republican position on immigration. Instead Trump chose to take an extreme position, calling Mexican immigrants “killers and rapists.” Even when give a chance to moderate his position on what to with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US, Trump time and again has taken the stance: “They all have to leave.” Predictably, Hispanic voters have turned against Trump. The most recent poll shows Clinton getting 70 percent of the Latino vote and Trump getting 19 percent. This has put Trump behind in the polls in Colorado, Florida, and Nevada; and it has put into play once safe Republican states such as Arizona and Texas. 

2. Alienating women. Pew Research estimates that 31 percent of the 2016 electorate will be “Hispanic, black, Asian, or another racial or ethnic minority.” Trump is not only losing with these voters, he is also losing with women. According to 2012 presidential-election-exit polls, 53 percent of voters were women. 

Trump has a history of misogyny. As a consequence, female voters favor Clinton. A recent poll found that women favor Clinton over Trump by 24 percentage points. 

3. Disdaining to raise money. Trump began the Republican primary season by proclaiming that he was the ultimate outsider and bragging that he would self fund his campaign. Once he secured the Republican nomination, he kept the outsider mantle but announced (sotto voce) that he would accept donations from his adherents. 

Trump’s problem is that he isn’t willing – or able – to pay for his entire presidential campaign and he hasn’t raised enough money to keep up with Hillary Clinton. The result is a campaign that is massively underfunded. As of August 22nd, Clinton’s combined campaign had raised $435 million and Trump’s combined campaign had raised $137 million. (For the month of August, Clinton reported raising $143 million while Trump just reported raising approximately $90 million.) 

Trump’s inability to match Clinton is due to three factors. First, because he is an outsider, he has not attracted traditional Republican mega-donors. Second, Trump doesn’t seem as motivated to raise money as Clinton is; typically, whenever Clinton flies somewhere to give a speech, she also finds time to hold a fundraiser – Trump doesn’t do this. And finally, Trump believes that he can run his campaign on the cheap because he is such a well-known media personality. 

4. Believing he can run an unconventional campaign, Trump believes that he is “the smartest guy in the room” and, therefore, doesn’t need to rely upon seasoned campaign professionals to run a conventional campaign. For example, Trump isn’t running national TV ads because he believes that he generates the same amount of news with his daily campaign activities (plus his use of Twitter). Thus Clinton is outspending Trump on TV advertising. (NPR reported that, in 7 battleground states, Clinton is outspending Trump by $127 million to $18 million.) 

Trump is also being outspent on field operations in swing states. For example, The New York Times reported that Trump’s Ohio field operations were late getting started and are underfunded: he has 15 offices in Ohio and 70 paid organizers; in contrast, Clinton has 35 field offices and 170 paid organizers. (And Ohio is the swing state where Trump has the most mature field operation.) 

At the moment, Clinton leads Trump in all the swing states – except for Iowa. Trump continues to disparage a conventional get-out-the-vote effort, but many experts believe this can generate a voter differential of several percentage points on election day. 

Bottom line: Trump is going to lose because he is alienating critical voting blocks, underfunding his campaign, and ignoring the importance of get-out-the-vote field operations. Traps he set for himself because of his personality disorder. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: New Restrictions, New Perils

Jack Bragen
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:58:00 PM

Some of the fiascos and foibles of mentally ill people, that twenty or thirty years ago wouldn't have many repercussions, in today's climate we could no longer produce without serious consequences. Society has become more tightly restricted concerning what is acceptable and what isn't.  

For one thing, we don't want to go off medication and get 5150'd. There is more of a likelihood, compared to twenty years ago, that cops will simply take us to jail. I am reading of more and more situations in which persons with psychiatric disabilities are jailed when not "behaving properly" as opposed to the appropriate action, which is to get the person into treatment.  

Society has less tolerance of deviating behavior. Law enforcement is likely to assume that an individual is high on street drugs rather than mentally ill. They also seem to have a more hands-on approach. They appear to be less lenient than they were in the past. 

Furthermore, according to one source, it is far cheaper for counties to simply incarcerate people rather than get them into treatment.  

There are also stricter guidelines concerning treatment. For one thing, there is a new procedure in place concerning benzodiazepines. They are considered narcotics, and how they are dispensed has recently changed. Secondly, psychiatric practitioners could be becoming less tolerant of behaviors that might be considered improper, behaviors that are presented by a number of persons with mental illness. I have heard of some practitioners dropping patients more readily. 

And you do not want to be stuck without a psychiatrist. Not having a psychiatrist can have serious consequences. Finding a new psychiatrist is probably more difficult than it was. I have heard a psychiatrist say that psychiatry doesn't pay as well as other branches of medicine. Plus, there is the factor of more mentally ill people vying for services. If you have a decent psychiatrist, you should hang on to her or him.  

Keeping an acceptable psychiatrist requires that you follow their instructions and not attempt to deceive them. It may require that you do not make repeated phone calls to their voicemail if you have a problem. One phone message ought to do, if you are dealing with a competent treatment professional.  

Keeping appointments is usually very important. I have missed some appointments in the past couple of years due to feeling too sedated on my medication. In those instances, I phoned the place of appointment and explained that I felt too sedated to drive to my appointment. There isn't much they can say to that. However, I have tried to improve my attendance. When dealing with a medication prescriber, it is more important to keep appointments than with a psychotherapist. However, if the psychotherapist is a private therapist, they could charge you a hefty fee for missing an appointment--not good.  

If you do not like how a mental health practitioner is treating you, you could do the following: explain specifically what he or she is doing that you don't agree with; if you can't reason with the practitioner, ask to be switched to someone else. I've dealt with therapists who were overtly obnoxious and with others who were clueless. I asked to be switched and it worked just fine. Trying to do without therapy isn't usually a good idea. 

In today's climate, it is important to show that we are making an effort at following through with treatment. If you burn your bridges with your treatment venue, you could be "thrown to the wolves," which means re-categorized into the criminal justice system or you could lose other necessary benefits.  

The above opinion is but one perspective, and other people's experiences may be different.  

THE PUBLIC EYE: False Equivalence: Trump=Clinton, Godzilla=Bambi

Bob Burnett
Friday September 02, 2016 - 09:51:00 AM

One of the strangest aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign has been the mainstream media’s decision to spend equal time criticizing Trump and Clinton. This has created a false equivalence. Imagine a political contest between Godzilla (Trump) and Bambi (Clinton). Because of the equal time rule, the nightly news would report, “Godzilla destroys Los Angeles,” and then, “Bambi ravishes community garden.” 

Science reporter Art Phillips noted a similar false equivalence with regards to climate change. The mainstream media reports on some devastating climate change event – such as record high temperatures – and then feels obligated to feature a climate-change denier. This sets up a false equivalence, as if views on the reality of climate change are equally split; the reality is that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that the earth has been warming over the past 100 years. 

The media’s obsession with false equivalence has influenced coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. Donald Trump is the most despicable US presidential candidate in modern times. Hillary Clinton is a mainstream candidate. Nonetheless, the media treats them as if they are equivalent. They’re not. Trump is Godzilla. 

The biggest Trump story has been his embrace of white-nationalist policies. It started at the beginning of his campaign, in June of 2015, with his strong stance on immigration – calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists– and has continued since. As Hillary Clinton noted in her August 25th speech: “Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia.” Trump’s mainstreaming of white nationalism is, by far, the biggest story in the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Nonetheless, following their self-imposed doctrine of “equivalence,” the media has typically followed tales of Trump’s racism with various spins on Clinton’s emails. 

To be clear, Hillary Clinton was wrong to use a private email server. It violated State Department policy. Nonetheless, the FBI and the Department of Justice have determined that Clinton’s use of a private email server was not a crime. Therefore, the email story is not equivalent to Trump’s white nationalism. 

What the mainstream media does not discuss is the fact that Donald Trump is unqualified to talk about Clinton’s emails. He is non-technical; he does not use email or a personal computer. Moreover, Trump is not a lawyer and he has never had a security clearance. 

The second biggest story of Trump’s campaign has been his willingness to lie. The independent fact checker, Politifact, reports that 70 percent of Trump’s statements have been judged “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” In comparison only 29 percent of Clinton’s statements have been judged “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” (Half of Clinton’s statements were judge “true” or “mostly true” versus just 15 percent of Trump’s statements.) 

In June, Politifact chronicled Trump’s top 10 lies of the year. Not surprisingly, many were about immigration: “The number of illegal immigrants in the United States is ‘30 million, it could be 34 million;’” "The Mexican government forces many bad people into our country;" and ,“There is ‘no system to vet’ refugees from the Middle East.” Some other Trump falsehoods: "We're the highest taxed nation in the world” and “The unemployment rate may be as high as ‘42 percent.’” 

Quoted in The Huffington Post, historian Douglas Brinkley observed: “In American history, we’ve never had a major presidential candidate who fabricated facts with the regularity of Donald Trump. He just simply makes up things.” 

Commenting on Trump’s astounding mendacity, the mainstream media has attempted to be “evenhanded” with absurd complaints about the Clinton Foundation. 

Charity Watch gave the Clinton Foundation an “A”rating; in 2014 the foundation raised $325 million and gave away 88 percent. The 2015 annual report of the Clinton Foundation Health Initiative indicates it, “helped more than 11.8 million people in more than 70 nations gain access to low-cost HIV medicines (saving the global health system billions of dollars) [and] has distributed vaccines that annually helped save 138,000 lives.” 

There is no credible evidence that Secretary of State Clinton gave favors to Clinton Foundation donors. No criminal complaints have ever been filed. 

What the mainstream media does not discuss is the fact that the Clintons are philanthropists and Trump is not. When Hillary Clinton released eight years of tax returns it showed the Clintons had donated $15 million to charity – roughly 10 percent of their income. Of course, we do not know how much Donald Trump donated because he has refused to release his tax returns; however The Washington Post found that, given his wealth, Trump gives very little money to charity. 

It’s absurd to compared Trump’s astonishing capacity to lie with the Clintons’ support for their foundation. 

Donald Trump is a monstrous individual – Godzilla. Hillary Clinton is a mainstream politician -- Bambi. They are not equivalent. To suggest they are equivalent brings discredit to the US media and distorts public perception in the presidential election. 

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



DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Turkey’s Coup: Winners & Losers

Conn Hallinan
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:15:00 AM

As the dust begins to settle from the failed Turkish coup, there appear to be some winners and losers, although predicting things in the Middle East these days is a tricky business. What is clear is that several alignments have shifted, shifts that may have an impact on the two regional running sores: the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

The most obvious winner to emerge from the abortive military putsch is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his campaign to transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to a powerful, centralized executive with himself in charge. The most obvious losers are Erdogan’s internal opposition and the Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. 

Post-coup Turkish unity has conspicuously excluded the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP), even though the party condemned the July 15 coup. A recent solidarity rally in Istanbul called by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) included the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), but the HDP—the third-largest political organization in the country—was not invited

The deliberate snub is part of Erdogan’s campaign to disenfranchise the HDP and force new elections that could give him the votes he needs to call a referendum on the presidency. This past June, Endogen pushed through a bill lifting immunity for 152 parliament members, making them liable for prosecution on charges of supporting terrorism. Out of the HDP’s 59 deputies, 55 are now subject to the new law. If the HDP deputies are convicted of terrorism charges, they will be forced to resign and by elections will be held to replace them. 

While Erdogan’s push for a powerful executive is not overwhelmingly popular with most Turks—polls show that only 38.4 percent support it –the President’s popularity jumped from 47 percent before the coup to 68 percent today. With the power of state behind him, and the nationalism generated by the ongoing war against the Kurds in Turkey’s southeast, Erdogan can probably pick up the 14 seats he needs to get the referendum. 

The recent Turkish invasion of Syria is another front in Erdogan’s war on the Kurds. While the surge of Turkish armor and troops across the border was billed as an attack on the Islamic State’s (IS) occupation of the town of Jarablus near the Turkish border, it was in fact aimed at the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). 

According to Al Monitor, the IS had been withdrawing from the town for weeks in the face of a YPG offensive, and the Turks invaded to preempt the Kurds from taking the town. The question now will be how far south the Turks go, and whether they will get in a full-scale battle with America’s Kurdish allies? The Turkish military has already supported the Free Syrian Army in several clashes with the Kurds. Since the invasion included a substantial amount of heavy engineering equipment, the Turks may be planning to stay awhile. 

While the YPG serves as the U.S.’s ground force in the fight against the IS, the Americans strongly backed the Turkish invasion and sharply warned the Kurds to withdraw from the west bank of the Euphrates or lose Washington’s support. 

The Kurds in Syria are now directly threatened by Turkey, were attacked in Hasaka Province by the Syrian government, and have been sharply reprimanded by their major ally, the U.S. The Turkish Kurds are under siege from the Turkish army, and their parliamentary deputies are facing terrorism charges at the hands of the Erdogan government. The Turkish air force is also pounding the Kurds in Iraq. All in all, it was a bad couple of weeks to be Kurdish. 

There are others winners and losers as well. 

Erdogan has been strengthened, but most observers think Turkey has been weakened regionally and internationally. It looks as if an agreement with the European Union (EU) for money and visa free travel if Ankara blocks the waves of immigrants headed toward Europe is falling apart. The German parliament is up in arms over Erdogan’s heavy-handed repression of his internal opposition and his support for extremist groups in Syria. 

Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian bomber last Nov. 24 has badly backfired. Russian sanctions dented the Turkish economy and Moscow poured sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons into Syria, effectively preventing any possibility of the Turks or the U.S. establishing a “no fly zone.” 

Erdogan was also forced to write a letter of apology for the downing and trot off to St. Petersburg for a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. All were smiles and hand shakes at the Aug. 9 get-together, but the Russians have used the tension generated by the incident to advance their plans for constructing gas pipelines that would bypass Ukraine. Indeed, the EU and Turkey are now in a bidding war over whether the pipeline will go south—Turkish Stream— through Turkey and the Black Sea, or north—Nord Stream—through the Baltic Sea and into Germany. 

Erdogan apparently has concluded that Russia and Iran have effectively blocked a military solution to the Syrian civil war, and Ankara has backed off its demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has to go before there can be any resolution of the conflict. Turkey now says Assad can be part of a transition government, pretty much the same position as the Russians take. Iran—at least for now—is more invested in keeping Assad in power. 

Iran has also come out of this affair in a stronger position. Its strategic alliance with Russia has blocked the overthrow of Assad, Teheran’s major ally in the region, and its potential markets have the Turks wanting to play nice. 

Any Moscow-Ankara-Tehran alliance will be a fractious one, however. 

Turkey is still a member of NATO—it has the second largest army in the alliance—and its military is largely reliant on the U.S. for its equipment. NATO needs Turkey, although the Turks have mixed feelings about the alliance. A poll taken a year ago found only 30 percent of Turks trusted NATO. The post coup polls may be worse, because it was the pro-NATO sections of the military that were most closely tied to the putsch. 

Iran’s Shiite government is wary of Erdogan’s ties to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Ankara’s close relations with Iran’s major regional nemesis, Saudi Arabia. The Russians also have a tense relationship with Iran, although Moscow played a key role in the nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Teheran, and Iran calls its ties with Russia “strategic.” 

The Saudis look like losers in all this. They—along with Turkey, France, Britain, and most the Gulf monarchies—thought Assad would be a push over. He wasn’t, and five years later some 400,000 Syrians are dead, three million have been turned into refugees, and the war has spread into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. 

The Yemen war has predictably turned into a quagmire, and even Saudi Arabia’s allies are beginning to edge away from the human catastrophe that the conflict has inflicted on Yemen’s civilian population. The United Arab Emirates, which provided ground forces for the Saudis, is withdrawing troops, and even the U.S. has cut back on the advisors assigned to aid the kingdom’s unrestricted air war on the rebel Houthis. U.S. Defense Department spokesman Adam Stump said aid to Riyadh was not a “blank check,” and several U.S. Congress members and peace groups are trying to halt a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. 

In military terms, the Yemen war—like the Syrian war—is unwinnable, and Washington is beginning to realize that. In fact, were it not for the U.S. and British aid to the Saudis, including weapons resupply, in-air refueling of war planes, and intelligence gathering, the war would grind to a halt. 

The Saudis are in trouble on the home front as well. Their push to overthrow Assad and the Houthis has turned into expensive stalemates at a time when oil prices are at an all-time low. The Kingdom has been forced to borrow money and curb programs aimed at dealing with widespread unemployment among young Saudis. And the Islamic State has targeted the kingdom with more than 25 attacks over the past year. 

Ending the Yemen war would not be that difficult, starting with an end to aid for the Saudi air war. Then the UN could organize a conference of all Yemeni parties—excluding the IS and al-Qaeda—to schedule elections and create a national unity government. 

Syria will be considerably more challenging. The Independent’s long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn calls the conflict a three-dimensional chess game with nine players and no rules. But a solution is possible. 

The outside powers—the U.S., Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Gulf monarchies—will have to stop fueling their allies with weapons and money and step back from direct involvement in the war. They will also have to accept the fact that no one can dictate to the Syrians who will rule them. That is an internal affair that will be up to the parties engaged in the civil war ( minus the IS and the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front.) 

The Kurdish question will be central to this. The Syrian Kurds must have a place at the table regardless of Turkish opposition. The Iranians are also hostile to the Kurds because of problems with their own Kurdish population. If there is to be eventual peace in the region, Ankara will also have to end its war against the Kurds in southeast Turkey. Turkish army attacks have killed more than 700 civilians, generated 100,000 refugees, and smashed up several cities. The Kurds have been asking for negotiations and Ankara should take them up on that. 

Erdogan has made peace with the Kurds before—even though part of the reason was a cynical ploy to snare conservative Kurdish voters for the AKP. It was also Erdogan who rekindled the war as a strategy to weaken the Kurdish-based HDP and regain the majority that the AKP lost in the June 2015 elections. The ploy largely worked, and a snap election four months later saw the HDP lose seats and the AKP win back its majority. The Turkish president, however, did not get the two-thirds he needs to schedule a referendum. 

Erdogan is a stubborn man, and a popular one in the aftermath of the failed coup. But Turkey is vulnerable regionally and internationally, two arenas where the U.S., the EU, and the Russians can apply pressure. The hardheaded Turkish president has already backed off in his confrontation with the Russians and climbed down from his demand that Assad had to go before any serious negotiations could start. 

If the chess masters agree to some rules they could bring these two tragic wars to a close. 


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











ECLECTIC RANT: Kudos to Colin Kaepernick

Ralph E. Stone
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:35:00 AM

On August 26, before the preseason football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem. He explained his action later saying he didn’t want to “show pride” in a country that “oppresses black people and people of color,” citing a number of shootings of black people by white police officers. Kaepernick is half black. In a classic case of shooting the messenger, rather than dealing with the issue of racism in America, Kaepernick is being lambasted for his protest. 

Kaepernick’s protest is reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black-American sprinters standing on the medal podium with heads bowed and fists raised at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968. Their protest was not only one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history but was also a milestone in America’s civil rights movement. 

Our national anthem — “The Star Spangled Banner” — is sung before every NFL football game. It represents our country, its people and values. Kaepernick’s protest during its rendition is his expression of disillusionment with a nation that is long on promises to end institutional racism, but ever-painfully short on delivery. 

Remember Golden State Warrior star Stephan Curry, who grew up in North Carolina while his dad played for the North Carolina Hornets, and was criticized for not speaking out against that state’s controversial anti-LBGT law when the NBA and the state’s basketball team had condemned the law? There was little criticism of Curry for not speaking out. 

Being political or speaking out can hurt your brand, cost you money, and vilify you in the eyes of the public. But don’t professional athletes have a greater responsibility than just to themselves? Because of their popularity and fame, today’s athletes have a platform to start and amplify conversations about needed change. Kaepernick says he will continue his protest – will other professional athletes join the conversation? 

Regardless, kudos to Kaepernick for his courage and continuing the conversation about ending racism in America.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Cholesterol Meds in Combination with Psychiatric Medications; Is There a Risk?

Jack Bragen
Friday September 02, 2016 - 10:12:00 AM

Remember please that this is an opinion column only, and I am not here to give expert advice.

FYI: Statins such as Lipitor to treat high cholesterol could be harmful to mental sharpness when taken over a period of months or years. Research ought to be done concerning the combination of statins with psychiatric medications, and it is possible that such research hasn't been done.  

It is my opinion that it will be huge when there arises a legal precedent for lawsuits against the manufacturers of Lipitor and other statins, based upon wrecking "normal" people's minds. We're talking about multiple billions of dollars. Statins such as Lipitor have been widely prescribed for two decades or more, and there will be very big money involved if people can prove damages.  

Perhaps there isn't funding or an incentive to do research concerning damage of statins to those who take psychiatric medications. Maybe there is an underlying assumption that mentally ill people don't really need their minds. Sure, you can make someone's heart continue working for a longer time, but you might well be ruining a person's quality of life. 

My experience with taking Lipitor was that it gave me an awful ringing in the ears, and it was detrimental to my mind, to the extent that I had several months of not writing as well. I took Lipitor for a few months, and realized that my mind wasn't as good. Upon going off this medication, it has taken a number of months for the ringing in my ears to lessen, and more months to get back my mental acuity. This is subjective, yet there has been some amount of research indicating that Lipitor and similar medications may adversely affect "normal" people's minds.  

There are other ways of lowering cholesterol. Psyllium fiber, the ingredient in popular fiber pills sold at drugstores, can lower cholesterol. Fish oil is a blood thinner that, according to studies, has a good effect on brain structure. My personal experience with fish oil is it has surprised me, in a good way.  

In the U.S., it seems as though the biggest epidemic we're up against is that of drug companies peddling more and more pharmaceuticals. Of course, certain medicines are essential, such as Synthroid for treating hypothyroidism, Penicillin and other antibiotics for treating numerous types of infections (including but not limited to Syphilis), vaccines for Polio and for numerous other infectious diseases, and the list goes on. However, we need to distinguish between which medications are necessary and which ones we can and should do without.  

A revision to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, requiring drug companies to disclose side effects of drugs in their television ads, and prohibiting misleading advertisements for drugs, is a good law. It has done a lot to make me aware that the current generation of new pharmaceuticals could be doing people a lot of harm. Prescription drugs seem to be ruining a lot of people's lives, if not simply killing people. When you see television ads for the latest mental health drugs, you ought not dismiss the list of possible harmful side effects disclosed in those ads; you should take these disclosures seriously.  

This is where educating oneself is helpful. For years I have been advocating compliance with taking medication for mental illness. However, it is my policy not to take medications that haven't been around for at least ten years. At the ten-year point, we have gained much more knowledge about what medications will do to a person in the long term.  

Concerning statins, one opinion expressed on a medical website is that they could be worse for someone who is already mentally compromised in some way. Thus, if you do not have a psychiatric illness, it could be less of a risk to take statins.  

Again, these are only opinions, and I suggest to the reader that you do your own research and make your own informed decisions. Doctors will inevitably dispense better treatment if you ask questions and if you read up on what you are dealing with.  

Arts & Events

New: ANDREA CHÉNIER: A 1st Rate Cast in a 3rd Rate Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday September 10, 2016 - 10:59:00 AM

Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier premiered at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala on March 28, 1896 and enjoyed a smashing popular success. Ever since, however, Andrea Chénier has received far more critical barbs than accolades. Giordano’s music has been skewered as “a score of the third class – music of shreds and patches, bombastic and crude, fueled by hot air.” I would have to agree with this evaluation. Nonetheless, Andrea Chénier does contain a few lovely musical numbers, and these were splendidly sung by San Francisco Opera’s Opening Night cast. All told, this Andre Chénier offered a first rate cast in a third rate opera.  

Giordano’s Andre Chénier is usually grouped with the operas of Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and, yes, Puccini as examples of the verismo movement, an Italian literary and musical movement emphasizing realistic characters drawn from the lower classes and living out their often poverty-stricken lives with brutal passions. Of course, the milieu depicted in Andrea Chénier is an aristocratic one – the Parisian salon of the Comtessa di Coigny at the time of the French Revolution and Terror. But in some ways the most complex and most interesting character is a man of the people – Carlo Gérard, a low-born servant who is footman to the Comtessa di Coigny.  

Sung here by baritone George Gagnidze, who, like the other two principals in this production, was making his SF Opera debut, Gérard dominates this opera’s opening scene. Inspired by the mob of common people agitating outside the Coigny chateau, and inspired as well by the poet Andrea Chénier’s stirring improvisation of poetic love for a France that will overthrow the rule of the aristocrats, Gérard allows the mob to invade the Comtessa di Coigny’s party, and he angrily declares his hatred of the frivolous aristocrats, prophesizing that “This is the hour of your death.” Here and throughout the opera, George Gagnidze, who was trained in his native Tiblisi, sang with beautiful tone and great passion in a role Plácido Domingo considered a far more interesting one than that of Andrea Chénier himself – which latter role Domingo performed here in 1975. One of the things that makes Gérard so complex a character is the fact that he has been secretly in love with Maddalena, the daughter of the Comtessa di Coigny, whom he has known since they played together as children. Moreover, when Gérard leaves the employ of the Comtessa di Coigny and becomes one of the leaders of the Revolution, he finds himself conflicted regarding Maddalena’s burgeoning love for the poet Andrea Chénier. In a fit of jealousy, Gérard initially writes an indictment against Chénier as an “enemy of the people,” but he publicly admits that his indictment is full of lies, and he henceforth works to save Andrea Chénier from execution and he endeavors to bring Maddalena and Chénier together.  

As Chénier, South Korean-born tenor Yonghoon Lee made an impressive SF Opera debut, singing with clarion tonality and considerable power. He also cut a fine figure as the idealistic poet who all too quickly jumps to false conclusions when his poet-friend Roucher tells Chénier his mysterious female admirer (Maddalena) is most likely a sordid courtesan. As Roucher, baritone David Pershall made the most of a small but dynamic role, singing with confidence and gusto. 

The role of Maddalena was admirably sung by Italian dramatic soprano Anna Pirozzi, who was also making her SF Opera debut. Pirozzi gave a wonderfully nuanced performance, singing in hushed pianissimo in some passages and all-out fortissimo in others. Her ravishing high notes were particularly spectacular in the opera’s closing scene, where Chénier and Maddalena link arms to go together to the guillotine. This scene, by the way, has dramatic echoes of Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Pirozzi is definitely a soprano to reckon with on the international scene. In the role of Maddalena’s mother, the Comtessa di Coigny, veteran mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook was excellent as always. Likewise, as Maddalena’s friend Bersi, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges gave a fine vocal and dramatic performance.  

Giordano’s Andrea Chénier contains a great number of small but important roles. Among them, baritone Anders Fröhlich was a fine Major-Domo, tenor Edward Nelson ably sang the role of the musician Fléville, tenor Alex Boyer was excellent as The Abbé, mezzo-soprano Jill Grove was outstanding as Madelon, bass-baritone Matthew Stump ably sang the role of the public prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville, and tenor Joel Sorenson gave a wonderful performance as the spy/informer for the Revolution who is known only as L’Incroyable/The Incredible. 

The orchestra was conducted by Nicola Luisotti, who kept the opera moving at a brisk pace. The director was David McVicar, who did a particularly fine job of staging this opera’s opening salon scene with its mincing aristocrats dancing a gavotte. Sets were designed by Robert Jones and costumes were designed by Jenny Tiramani. A brief ballet pas de deux was beautifully performed by dancers Laura Alexis and Michael Levine with choreography by Andrew George.  


Around & About Theater: Theater Explorations Classes

Ken Bullock
Friday September 09, 2016 - 01:31:00 PM

Marion Fay's excellent, highly participatory Theater Explorations classes for theatergoers & theater lovers is about to start for the Fall. Two sections: Mondays & Thursdays, both 1-3 p. m., starting this coming week--Monday the 12th, Thursday the 15th--at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda (just south of Solano, the end of the shopping district & the tunnel). 

There are 10 classes, two hours each, and five plays to see & discuss, all in Berkeley, with discount tickets available: 'Dear Master' at the Aurora, 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' at Shotgun, and three plays at the Rep.  

In addition, actors, directors & the excellent docents from Berkeley Rep will visit the classes--as well as Lily Janiak, the new principal critic for the Chronicle. 

Tuition: $100. For more info on obtaining discounted tickets, contact Marion at: marionf5@earthlink.net

San Francisco Symphony’s Opening Night Gala

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday September 09, 2016 - 02:06:00 PM

Opening Night Galas are not my thing. I find something cloyingly self-congratulatory about these events, a trait that was markedly evident on Wednesday, September 7, in Michael Tilson Thomas’s opening remarks in which he shamelessly fished for applause from the opening night audience, which predictably gave him what he so gracelessly asked for. Then MTT led the orchestra in The Star-Spangled Banner.” Do we really need to hear this patriotic pap before every single sports event and opening night musical event, as if we needed to wrap ourselves in the American flag in order to give ourselves a veneer of self-righteousness? I found myself longing for a Colin Kapernick to refuse to stand for the National Anthem in protest against all that is wrong and needing reform in our nation.

As for the Opening Night musical program, the first half was wonderful. The second half was dreadful, but we’ll deal with that later. To open the concert, MTT conducted Gioachino Rossini’s overture to Guillaume Tell/William Tell. This, of course, is a well-worn chestnut, familiar to everyone from commercials using this overture’s famous last section. However, few people are familiar with this overture’s soft, solemn opening music for five solo cellos, accompanied very discreetly by the basses and contrabasses. Nor are they familiar with the pastoral music that follows, with a poignant melody played on English horn while a flute solo soars ravishingly above. In this music, Principal Horn player Robert Ward and Principal Flutist Tim Day performed admirably. Following the last dying note of the English horn, trumpets enter with a fanfare that precedes the well-known final section’s impetuous and all-too rhythmically repetitive theme. Despite the rather vulgar insistence of the bass drum, this final section brings the William Tell Overture to a resounding and ultimately satisfying climax. 

Next on the program was famed mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who sang the aria “Deh, per questo istante solo/Ah, from this single instant” from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. In this aria, Sextus, a friend of Roman emperor Tito (Titus), sings of his anguish over actions Tito believes indicate Sextus’s treason. “If only you [Tito] could read my heart,” sings Sextus, “you would be less cruel.” Susan Graham brought off this dramatic aria splendidly, her ravishing dark tones expressing Sextus’s deeply felt anguish. Following this selection, famed soprano Renée Fleming sang the aria “Ecco: respiro appena … Io son l’umile ancilla/I scarecely breathe… I’m the humble servant” from Francesco Cilea’s opera Adriana Lecouvreur. Although this opera is rarely performed now, this aria remains popular, and with good reason. In it Adriana sings of her faithfulness to art, a cause she serves as a humble handmaiden. Renée Fleming sang liltingly in this aria, her silvery tone shining brightly throughout. Fleming followed this selection with an unannounced aria, O mio babbino, caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, which she sang beautifully. 

Next came what for me was the highlight of the concert, a duet from Mozart’s Così fan Tutte featuring Susan Graham and Renée Fleming as the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. In “Ah, guarda sorella/Ah, look sister” from the opera’s Act I, the sisters egg each other on in praising the admirable qualities of their respective fiancés. With subtle gestures, both vocal and dramatic, Graham and Fleming delicately portrayed the way Mozart both celebrates and sends-up the conventional sentiments expressed by the sisters and does so in music that both celebrates and sends-up the formulaic clichés of their musical expression.  

After intermission, MTT took the microphone to pay tribute to American maverick composer Steve Reich, who just turned 80 and was present in the audience. Then MTT led the orchestra in Reich’s 1985 composition Three Movements. This is a minimalist piece that proceeds fast, slow, fast. As in most minimalist works, rhythmic pulsation is paramount. Melody and harmony make only rare and fleeting appearances. I find this music annoyingly grating when it is not simply soporific. 

Next came a long, tedious section devoted to show tunes by George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Susan Graham sang “Fascinating Rhythm,” from the Gershwin musical Lady, Be Good.” This show tune features a “peculiar jump” in the melody, and at one point the words “fascinatin’ rhythm” sounded to me like “flatullatin’ rhythm’, a malapropism that seemed all too appropriate. Following this piece Renée Fleming sang “Summertime” from the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Fleming sang this well-known piece in high operatic style, a stylistic choice that rarely works for me. Only Leontyne Price could bring this off. Where “Summertime” should be relaxed and lilting, Fleming’s version seemed tense and strained. The concert’s final programmed piece was a duet from Susan Graham and Renée Fleming in “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from Irving Berlin’s musical Annie Get Your Gun.” Predictably, this was a hoot. Not great music, to be sure. But a hoot. Actually, I found this piece and the whole section devoted to the Gershwin’s and Irving Berlin to be dreadful and all too redolent of MTT’s overly fond attachment to Broadway musicals. Finally, as if to atone for the dubious musical value of this section, Susan Graham and Renée Fleming closed the concert with a lovely encore, the ravishing duet from Leo Délibes’ opera Lakme. 


Press Release: Women Speak: Four Architects on Design and Urbanism

Tuesday September 06, 2016 - 10:24:00 AM

In a world facing global warming and worsening problems of urban transportation and affordable housing, are architects still relevant? The Berkeley City Club Conservancy is presenting an exciting lecture series featuring Bay Area design leaders whose work promotes sustainability, historic revitalization and urban planning. All are women in a field still dominated by men. All are leaders in their field. All have exciting and insightful stories to tell about how architects respond to today’s environmental and social challenges 

The first lecture by Ellen Lou, on September 22. will focus on cities in Asia. Lou, who grew up in Singapore, will describe the ways ancient cities in China and entirely newly created cities are responding to the challenges of a sustainable future. Lou is the Director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Urban Design and Practice in San Francisco. 

The second lecture by Laura Hartman, on October 13, is titled “Inside/Out, Outside/In and will describe the interactions with landscape in the work of her firm Fernau & Hartman Architects in Berkeley. Hartman has worked closely in long-term relationships with diverse client groups--Co-Housing f or the Cheesecake Consortium, San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, and CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo-- skillfully accommodating and mediating the multiple voices of her clients. 

The third lecture by Marsha Maytum, on October 27, wll describe her firm’s work in architecture as a catalyst for change. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects of San Francisco has designed new buildings and the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of existing structures. Projects include the Sweetwater Spectrum Community a housing project for adults with autism; the conversion of an historic army fort into a resort at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, and the conversion of a former army hospital at the Presidio into the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. 

The last lecture by Allison Williams is titled Design Intent. Williams is design director for AECOM’s Bay Area Metro Region. Her projects include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Computational Research Facility; the August Wilson Center, a performing arts center in Pittsburgh PA; and the Princess Nora Abdulrahman University Health Sciences and Research Campus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (for 40,000 Islamic Women). 

All lectures will be presented at the Berkeley City Club, designed by Julia Morgan, the first woman licensed as an architect in California. Proceeds from the lectures will go the rehabilitation and restoration of this beautiful and historic building. 

Series tickets are available for $50, through www.tinyurl.com/B3CWomenSpeak, Individual tickets can be purchased throughwww.tinyurl.com/BJCWomenSpeak or at the door for $15 each. All lectures begin at 7:30PM at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley. 

(510) 883-9710. For further information go to berkeleycityclubconservancy.org