New: The time to increase affordable housing requirements is past due

Kate Harrison, Berkeley City Council, District 4
Monday June 12, 2017 - 06:59:00 PM

In the throes of a significant affordable housing crisis, the time for action is now, not at some distant point in the future as proposed by the authors of Friday’s opinion piece on Berkeleyside.com, including District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste. -more-

New: Trickle-down market-rate doesn't create affordable housing: an open letter to the Berkeley City Council

Dr. James McFadden
Monday June 12, 2017 - 10:35:00 AM

One of the co-authors of [Councilmember Lori] Droste's Berkeleyside [opinion] article on housing, Karen Chapple, debunks the myth that creating more market-rate housing will produce any short term relief from the affordable housing crisis. -more-

New: Ideology vs. Housing

Steve Martinot
Saturday June 10, 2017 - 03:49:00 PM

Okay, let’s go over this again. Some people just can’t seem to lose that funny attitude they got from high school economics that the “law of supply and demand” always works. They keep trying to bamboozle us with those old sound bytes and abstract generalities: “There’s a housing crisis,” “We have a housing shortage,” “We need to build housing.” Build, build, build.

There is no “housing crisis.” There is only an “affordable housing crisis.”

To be sure, abstract generality has a certain flair. It appeals because it hides the collateral damage. Don’t get me wrong, abstract generality has its place – like on a mathematics department blackboard. Some mathematicians have quit that discipline, however, once they realized that what they discover abstractly could someday be used to build new weapons.

That "build" mantra actually constitutes a knowledge crisis because it is already a weapon. These days, it gets fired at random, to the detriment and destruction of truth, and historical experience, and real economic process.

After all, for whom is there a crisis? It isn’t a crisis for developers. It isn’t a crisis for the banks. And it isn’t a crisis for the high income people coming into town, bidding up the price of a home. It is only a crisis for low income families who suddenly find themselves looking for a affordable place to rent, and can no longer find any because it has been bid out of reach. Building market rate housing will not resolve their situation; indeed, it is its very cause.

Why doesn’t the supply-and-demand concept work?

The “S&D law” doesn’t work because there are two forms of demand, and they are contradictory.

There is an external demand, people coming into the area looking for housing. They are the ones willing and able to pay $4000 a month for an apartment. If we assume they are paying 30% of their income for rent (the HUD standard for affordability), it would imply that they are earning $160,000 a year. They are the ones jacking up the “market rate.” If they did not exist in large numbers, we wouldn’t be seeing the exorbitant elevation in rent levels.

But wait a minute. Did I just say "affordability" means 30% of income maximum? Yes, that is the HUD standard. "Affordable" housing is housing that rents for up to 30% of the tenants income, whatever that income might be. Remember that. It replaces "markets" with a principle of livability. And it falsifies the dogma of supply-and-demand thinking. -more-

Page One

Skinner's bad housing bills pass state Senate

Zelda Bronstein
Friday June 09, 2017 - 09:53:00 AM

A follow-up on last week’s story about three dangerous bills being pushed by State Senator Nancy Skinner: All three passed the Senate. SB 35 was approved by a vote of 25 to12, with no vote recorded for three senators; Skinner’s SB 167 was approved 30 to 10; and SB 595 passed 27 to 12, with no vote recorded for one senator. Skinner voted for all three measures, which now move on to the Assembly.

Also, AB 943, the bill that would raise the percent needed to pass citizen-initiated ballot measures to reduce density or stop a development from a simple majority to 55 percent, was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 72 to 2, with no votes recorded for six assemblymembers. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, representing the 15th Assembly District, which includes Berkeley, voted Aye. AB 943 now goes to the Senate.

From July 21 to August 20 the State Legislature is in summer recess. The last day for each house to pass bills is September 15. The last day for the governor to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature is October 15. -more-

Public Comment

How effective will the Paris climate agreement be?

Harry Brill
Friday June 09, 2017 - 11:59:00 AM

Governor Brown has become a hero almost overnight. He harshly criticized President Trump for his "reckless decision" to pull out of the Paris Climate agreement. Moreover, he aims to do something about it. Committing himself to playing a leadership role, Brown vowed that he and others will not just stand by. "California will resist this misguided insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle".

About the unusually favorable press he got, one prominent reporter refers to the California Governor as "one of the nation's foremost proponents to address climate change". Willie Brown, a former politician, who is now a free lance writer for the SF Chronicle also sings high praise. "Jerry Brown is in political heaven" and on the issue of climate change "Brown is going to be our premier".

Nevertheless, as an activist with a coalition of environmental groups complained, "It's hypocritical for Brown to call himself a climate leader". He supports fracking, which is a process that not only boosts fossil fuel production. It does so by polluting our air and water. Fracking also worsens climate change, which Brown agrees is very dangerous. In addition, even though Oakland's City Council voted against importing an estimated 10 million tons of coal per year, Brown refuses to oppose these efforts, which the investors are now appealing. The coal trains will impose substantial health hazards on those who live in west Oakland. The governor who complains about the long term risks of climate change nevertheless doesn't care about the destructive health impact the coal will have, particularly on children. . -more-


Tejinder Uberoi
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:18:00 PM

In yet another bizarre twist in the Sunni-Shia divide, Saudi Arabia has declared a fatwa on neighboring Qatar accusing it of aiding and abetting (Shia) terrorism. Following Saudi Arabia’s lead, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen broke diplomatic and commercial ties.

What profound Saudi hypocrisy! For decades, Saudi Arabia, home of 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers, have used their oil money in funding madrassas (religious schools) all over the world which serve as launching pads for terrorism. They have waged war on neighboring Yemen using British and US weapons slaughtering thousands of civilians making us complicit in Saudi war crimes.

Never losing an opportunity to be at the center of attention, Trump thrust himself into the bitter Persian Gulf dispute boasting that he had orchestrated the Saudi-Qatar divorce proceedings unaware that Qatar is a US military partner, headquarters of the US Central Command. It serves as a major intelligence hub in the Middle East and the base where the US plans and carries out airstrikes on the Islamic State. Qatar also has strong academic ties to American Universities providing funding for six prominent university Middle East campuses. “Professionals” at the Pentagon and Defense Department were stunned at Trumps’ insistence on hurling a nasty curve ball at a close strategic partner. Meanwhile, news reports cite Russia might have planted false articles exaggerating friendly ties between Qatar and Iran. Saudi Arabia is also trying to neutralize Qatar’s enormously popular Al Jazeera Arabic media. -more-

Terror in London – Again

Jagjit Singh
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:19:00 PM

Lurking below the surface of the latest attack is a serious problem. In a British-Muslim population of 3m there is a staggering number who are in danger of committing violence. According to British security services, there are 23,000 Muslims who are in serious danger of becoming radicalized. That is a very sobering number.

May’s government is under intense criticism for her decision to cut 20,000 police (1/6 of the police force) including 1,300 armed officers who were sent to Libya. The British and the US are committing the same blunders over and over again. Attacking or sending arms to Muslim countries will invariably cause a backlash. Remember, the bomber of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester was a British Libyan. Weston governments, including the US, have flooded the Middle East and Afghanistan with billions of weapons to enrich their defense contractors. The Trump administration has boasted signing a $110 billion of weapons with Saudi Arabia which exports its extreme Sunni ideology all over the Muslim world. This is sheer madness and must stop. May also visited Saudi Arabia and signed a huge weapons deal, the details have been buried by British authorities.

What other factors drives young Muslims to violence? There are two principal sources – the Internet and the harsh passages of the “kill infidels” religious texts. The British would do well to elicit the help of Muslim religious leaders (perhaps a simple survey requesting an anonymous feedback on the root causes of radicalization might be helpful). -more-


Speak up on Tuesday for affordable housing in Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 09, 2017 - 09:57:00 AM

If you’re part of the majority of Berkeleyans who voted to throw the rascals out in the recent November and March elections, Tuesday is your chance to speak up for what you voted for.

That would be, by most counts, to put an end to turning the prime downtown building sites, the ones close to BART and other transit opportunities, completely over to unbridled luxury market rate housing developers, the ones targeting San Francisco’s tech overflow, which are cleverly designed to absorb flight capital from Russia, China and elsewhere. If you think we don’t need any more of that kind of trash, you should show up on Tuesday to support just-seated Downtown Councilmember Kate Harrison’s proposal to , at least, exact a decent number of reasonably priced units from speculative developers to prevent wholesale gentrification of our city's core.

That would be Item 53 on Tuesday’s Council agenda, which requires developers to provide $34,000 per market rate unit or 20% of the total units in their buildings for affordable housing. That means genuinely affordable housing, accessible for low income people, not just for the well-heeled. The figures are based on a consultant’s study completed for the city of Berkeley in 2015 based on 2014 data. Even that study doesn’t even take into account that rents have risen by 22% to 28% since then, so it should be well within builders’ ability to comply.

The Berkeley Progressive Alliance, which backed the newly elected councilmembers, summarizes it thus:

  • Sets the affordable housing fee that developers would pay at $34,000 per market rate unit if paid when construction begins, or $37,000 per market rate unit when the building is occupied (usually two to three years later.)
  • Requires that 20% of all units be affordable to Low and Very Low income families if developers opt not to pay the fee.
  • Adds an inflation adjustment to the fee based on the California Construction Cost Index every two years AND
  • Requires that developers state upfront whether they will pay the fee or build the units. Currently, developers can wait until the project is almost complete to make this decision, making it difficult for the city and non-profit housing developers to plan.
This is a good start to reform the practices of the previous council, which have allowed a vast oversupply of unaffordable (and ugly) Big Boxes to be built all over Berkeley, luring affluent San Francisco commuters but doing nothing for strapped local renters .

Berkeleyans should be warned that the noxious Trickle-Down crowd, the San Francisco BARFers, a developer-funded group which masquerades under the faux flag of Bay Area Renters Federation, seem to be planning a full court press at Tuesday’s meeting, bringing in their arrogant supporters from elsewhere to lobby against the proposal. One would hope that the newly elected councilmembers and the mayor won’t be fooled, but Councilmembers Droste, Maio and Wengraf, holdovers from the last bunch, might be tempted to vote with BARF.

As we discussed in this space last week, the idea that market-rate (read pricey) developments eventually become available to the less affluent has been widely discredited, in disparate locations like London and India, not just in San Francisco and Berkeley.

It’s really too bad that it still seems to take a parade of public commenters to pass the simplest,most obvious reforms at the Berkeley City Council, but that seems to be the case. Showing up is half the battle. At least the new council is starting the meeting earlier, so it will be over by a reasonable hour. Come on down to speak up for Item 53.


Berkeley City Council Public Hearing

June 13; 6:00 p.m. (note earlier starting time)

Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

And if you can’t make it, please write to council@cityofberkeley.info to express your opinion. -more-

The Editor's Back Fence

National Desk

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:27:00 PM

What happened in the Senate on Thursday?

1) Anyone on the Senate committee which interviewed James Comey who has been to law school, and Comey himself, has passed a course in the law of evidence. Various kinds of evidence are given various degrees of credibility in a courtroom, with a contemporaneous account near the top of the list, right up there with deathbed confessions. Smart fella that he is, Comey was expertly creating exactly the evidentiary record he will need for whatever happens next. Kamala Harris, another smart cookie and a former prosecutor as so many of them are,then asked a whole series of questions calculated to elicit the right record from Comey, unanswerable in open session but surely to be asked later in closed session. Trump and his obviously sleazy Vegas mouthpiece didn't have a chance against those two.

2) Anyone seen any Mafia movies lately? Dialogue: "a) Do you want to go on living? b) I hope you do what I want. c) Since you didn't do what I want, you're dead." Trump obviously made Comey "an offer he couldn't refuse", and when Comey refused, he was fired. QED. This was not a simple "hope".

And for the real story about what's been going on in Washington, watch this: -more-


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: About Obtaining "Reasonable Accommodation"

Jack Bragen
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:06:00 PM

When I was in my mid-twenties, in one job, among of the half dozen or so jobs I'd had in which I was reasonably successful, my disclosure of my psychiatric disability came about because I was suspected of being high on something. I had been at the job about two weeks or a month. The employer, in observing me, believed I appeared drugged in some way. The job was delivery driving. When the employer confronted me, I disclosed that I have to take psychiatric medication and I am schizophrenic. That was sufficient for the employer, who didn't fire me and instead was somewhat more helpful in accommodating me to the position. -more-

THE PUBLIC EYE:Angry Trump, Angry Supporters

Bob Burnett
Friday June 09, 2017 - 11:50:00 AM

Five months into the Trump presidency, Donald's erratic behavior has spawned an avalanche of "what's wrong with Trump" theories. Rather than speculate on his psyche, it's sufficient to label Trump: an angry man whose actions are fueled by the anger of his supporters. For many observers, Trump's psychological profile matches that of individuals afflicted with the so-called "Dark Triad." Writing in Psychology Today, Glenn Geher considered whether Trump met the three criteria: "Psychopathy: The tendency to show little regard for the thoughts, feelings, and outcomes of others. Narcissism: The tendency for one to show a particularly high focus on oneself. Machiavellianism: The tendency to manipulate others for one’s own personal gain." Geher concluded: "Does Donald Trump demonstrate the features of the Dark Triad? ... Absolutely and unequivocally." -more-

Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord: the great prevaricator strikes again

Ralph E. Stone
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:09:00 PM

In pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trump presented some false numbers for the pullout – notably that the Accord would result in the loss of 2.7 million U.S. jobs by 2025.

This is inaccurate because Trump does not take into account normal job rate loss and creation, jobs shifting towards more "green" sectors, and the tangible benefits of cleaner air, water, and less risk of natural disasters along U.S. coastlines. Even Trump’s own senior advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have shared their support for the Paris Accord. Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobile executive, has said that it is possible for the reduction of carbon emissions and job growth to occur simultaneously.

What Trump is really doing by leaving the Accord is protecting the fossil fuel industry, not U.S. jobs. It is not coincidental that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and 21 other Republicans, whose campaigns have collected more than $10 million in oil, gas and coal money since 2012, sent a letter to the president urging him to withdraw from the Paris Accord. -more-

Arts & Events

OPERA REVIEW: Quinn Kelsey Sings the Title-Role in RIGOLETTO

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:13:00 PM

Though he has sung here before in various roles, Quinn Kelsey returned to San Francisco Opera this season as Rigoletto, in what has become a signature role for this Hawaiian-born baritone. Verdi’s Rigoletto, his “revolutionary” opera as the composer himself called it, opened on May 31 and runs through July 1. I attended the second performance on Tuesday, June 6. Adapted from Victor Hugo’s play, Le Roi s’amuse, Verdi’s Rigoletto focuses on the jester, Rigoletto, who wields his caustic tongue at the expense of the courtiers surrounding the Duke of Mantua. But beneath the hard-boiled exterior and the barbed wit, Rigoletto has a soft heart for his beloved daughter, Gilda, whom he keeps under lock and key in a vain attempt to protect her from the depravities of life at court. There is indeed an almost Shakespearian complexity to Rigoletto’s character; and Quinn Kelsey succeeded in bringing out all the nuances – the humiliation, the self-pity, the anger, the desire for vengeance, and also the deep abiding love for his daughter – that make Rigoletto such an interesting character. -more-

OPERA REVIEW: An Uninspiring DON GIOVANNI at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 09, 2017 - 12:15:00 PM

In a revised version of the 2011 production, Mozart’s Don Giovanni opened on Sunday, June 4, 2017, at War Memorial Opera House. Making his company debut was Italian director Jacopo Spirei, who combined forces with German visual artist Tommi Brem to create a totally atemporal and unlocalized staging of Don Giovanni. Jacopo Spirei has remarked that, “Don Giovanni is an opera from the past that challenges our modern times with questions and provocations. We are creating a show that establishes a direct dialogue between the past and the present, the 18th with the 21st centuries. We explore the world and themes of the opera with contemporary eyes, in search of Don Giovanni, a man always on the run and who can never be pinned down.” -more-

Back Stories



Speak up on Tuesday for affordable housing in Berkeley 06-09-2017

The Editor's Back Fence

National Desk 06-09-2017

Public Comment

How effective will the Paris climate agreement be? Harry Brill 06-09-2017

Qatar Tejinder Uberoi 06-09-2017

Terror in London – Again Jagjit Singh 06-09-2017


New: The time to increase affordable housing requirements is past due Kate Harrison, Berkeley City Council, District 4 06-12-2017

New: Trickle-down market-rate doesn't create affordable housing: an open letter to the Berkeley City Council Dr. James McFadden 06-12-2017

New: Ideology vs. Housing Steve Martinot 06-10-2017

Skinner's bad housing bills pass state Senate Zelda Bronstein 06-09-2017


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: About Obtaining "Reasonable Accommodation" Jack Bragen 06-09-2017

THE PUBLIC EYE:Angry Trump, Angry Supporters Bob Burnett 06-09-2017

Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord: the great prevaricator strikes again Ralph E. Stone 06-09-2017

Arts & Events

OPERA REVIEW: Quinn Kelsey Sings the Title-Role in RIGOLETTO Reviewed by James Roy MacBean 06-09-2017

OPERA REVIEW: An Uninspiring DON GIOVANNI at San Francisco Opera Reviewed by James Roy MacBean 06-09-2017