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Protect Aquatic Park at Wednesday ZAB Meeting

Charlene Woodcock
Tuesday November 07, 2017 - 02:13:00 PM

I hope everyone who cares about this small gem of a park will defend it with your letters and presence at the ZAB meeting this Wednesday. A huge development has been proposed for the site adjacent to the park on the east side. Aquatic Park provides habitat for many birds and a very pleasant respite from urban life with a walk along the lake and an inviting, imagination-inspiring children’s playground, in spite of the nearby freeway. In the past few years several new five-story apartment buildings have been built along University Avenue just a block from the park, adding several hundred new occupants. This alone should be cause to protect and enhance the park, rather than threatening it with a proposal to greatly increase the built density of the adjacent site to the east. From 55,000 square feet to up to 475,000 gross square feet of R&D and office space (in a Mixed-Use Light Industrial zone) and paved parking from 130 spaces to 830. More than 70 carbon absorbing trees would be lost, some of them mature at 30 to 40 feet tall, since the development covers virtually all available space. Obviously, such a large, dense development would totally change the character of the park that runs alongside it, now a tranquil, wooded space enjoyed by families, hikers, rowers, and birders that saves a bit of Berkeley’s natural setting and provides an important bird habitat. It also, importantly, provides resiliency in the face of climate change and sea rise that is what we need in the open areas close to the Bay such as that targeted by the proposed development.

Berkeley Chamber Opera, Live at Berkeley's Hillside Club

Tuesday November 07, 2017 - 02:15:00 PM

There’s probably no place in the United States except New York City that offers more live opera performances of all kinds than the Bay Area. The commendable broadcast presentations of the Metropolitan Opera in movie theaters have increased public awareness of opera, and now fans who are ready for the next step in the opera experience have ample opportunity to see this art form up close and personal, in small houses for reasonable prices.

The list of local companies is long and getting longer: Island City, West Bay, Verismo, West Edge and Bay Shore Lyric are just a few.

Now Berkeley Chamber Opera, a relative newcomer (third season) on the scene, is gearing up for its second production this year, following its very successful production of Menotti’s The Consul in August.

Verdi’s Luisa Miller will be performed in Berkeley’s intimate Hillside Club on Sunday afternoon, November 12, and Saturday night, November 18. 


The title role will be sung by Eliza O’Malley, a company founder who is a veteran of many Bay Area productions and a fervent advocate of what she calls “locally sourced opera”. 


Locally-sourced food has been all the rage for a while now, but locally-sourced opera? 

Berkeley Chamber Opera hopes to provide just that—productions which showcase the work of the Bay Area’s wealth of resident professional talent in accessible settings, at a price which is affordable for a wide range of opera fans. 

Many who have been introduced to opera through the popular Metropolitan Opera films haven’t yet experienced the unique excitement of live performance. 

Berkeley Chamber Opera intends to change that. 

BCO is dedicated to presenting local professional opera singers in staged productions with a chamber orchestra in intimate venues in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Eliza O’Malley, who grew up in Berkeley, created BCO as an outgrowth of her work singing leading roles with such local opera companies as Verismo Opera, Handel Opera Project and Goat Hall Productions and producing concerts with the Dazzling Divas

The conductor will be a distinguished pioneer of the Bay Area opera scene, Jonathan Khuner, a longtime Berkeley resident who is now Music Director for West Edge Opera, the company which morphed from the original Berkeley Opera, which performed for years under his baton in Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Theater. He appears frequently with many Bay Area companies—he conducted Berkeley Chamber Opera’s Capuleti e Montecchi last season. This past summer at West Edge he led Thomas’ Hamlet and Frankenstein by Libby Larsen; next summer he will conduct their production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This coming March he will lead Island City Opera in La Sonnambula.  

In addition to his participation in local opera, for decades Khuner has served as assistant conductor for San Francisco Opera, NY Metropolitan Opera, and Chicago Lyric Opera. Occasionally he works abroad, most recently conducting Arjuna’s Dilemma in Kathmandu (2016). 

Director Ellen St. Thomas has performed in concerts and shows across the Bay Area as a lyric soprano. She also cofounded two opera companies: Open Opera, dedicated to free operas in Bay Area parks, and Island City Opera in Alameda. 


Maestro Khuner says this about the upcoming BCO show: 


Luisa Miller is a fairly early opera of Verdi (1849), but, like his next major work, Rigoletto, is already masterful, and even more impassioned. Based on a fiery early 19th century play by Friedrich Schiller, the opera's scenario highlights a tender love affair trying to bloom amid vicious class hatred and unbridgeable generation gaps. The explosive dialectics of the German author have been remolded into a rich vehicle for warm Italian operatic romanticism, with high-tension arias and ensembles, climaxing in a powerfully tragic conclusion.” 



Luisa Miller, by Giuseppe Verdi  

Opera in Italian with English supertitles, with chamber orchestra 

Sunday Nov 12th, 2pm, Saturday November 18th, 7pm 

Berkeley Hillside Club
2286 Cedar St. (at Arch), Berkeley

Tickets: $35 general, $20 Students/Seniors, Children under 12 free 

Buy online from Brown Paper Tickets, by phone, 1-800-838-3006.

ECLECTIC RANT: Mostly Symbolic Declaration of Opioid Crisis a National Public Health Emergency

Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday November 07, 2017 - 02:29:00 PM

On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump declared that the opioid crisis is a national health emergency. Better late than never, considering that about 64,000 died from drug overdoses in 2016. In San Francisco, deaths from opioids were from 100 to 120 per year from 2006 to 2014. 

Trump's declaration was largely symbolic. Symbols are important, but he failed to announce new federal money for local addiction treatment programs. The danger, of course, is that future federal funds will be redirected from other health care programs to the opioid crisis. 

Another "Just say no" campaign won't end the opioid crisis. What is desperately needed is increased funding for treatment, prevention, education, and recovery support services, as well as research to identify and promote strategies to reduce demand. President Obama changed the long-standing policy on combatting the growing opioid painkiller and heroine epidemic through public health, not criminal justice, programs. The Trump administration has reversed this policy. About 80,000 Americans are incarcerated for drug-related crimes alone. Harsher drug policies are costly and bring a low rate of return. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that prescription opioid abuse, dependence and overdoses cost the public sector $23 billion a year, with a third of that attributable to crime. An additional $55 billion per year reflects private-sector costs attributable to productivity losses and health care expenses. 

Unfortunately, the drug industry worked with members of Congress to pass a little-noticed 2016, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016) that sabotaged the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) anti-opioid efforts. Remember Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who Trump had named as his anti-drug czar, recently had to withdraw his name from consideration. He was the primary sponsor of the lobbyist-written legislation to hamstring the DEA, all in pursuit of making drug enforcement less of a nuisance to deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies.  

Marino's bill changed the standard under which the DEA could intervene when it saw suspicious behavior – kind of like introducing a new rule that all students need to get straight A's in order to graduate and then acting surprised when the graduation rate falls. Selling opioid painkillers is big business for Big PHARMA

In July, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced that she is expanding her wide-ranging investigation into the causes of the current opioid epidemic by requesting information and documents from four additional pharmaceutical manufacturers and three opioid distributors.  

In September Senator McCaskill released a report on the initial findings of her investigation into whether pharmaceutical manufacturers played a part in the overutilization and overprescription of prescription opioids nationwide that have contributed to America's opioid epidemic. 

Now, Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced legislation (S-1960) to repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 that hampered the DEA. 

If Trump declaration of an opioid emergency is to more than symbolic, he should begin by urging Congress to pass S-1960. You can bet big PHARMA will go all out to defeat it.

Let’s Move to Alamo

Toni Mester
Tuesday November 07, 2017 - 02:22:00 PM

Kevin Burke thinks that people who live in Berkeley should be required to buy sunlight, and presumably other amenities like quiet, privacy, and views. There’s some validity to his modest proposal because such valuable features sell real estate. But I have a better idea. Let’s move to Alamo, where he lives, and enjoy those luxuries together. More than 60 homes are now for sale in this lovely unincorporated community in Contra Costa County, the lowest going for $1 million, about the same as a new backyard condo in West Berkeley, and the highest, 7 Country Oak Lane, a 21 acre estate selling for only $39 million. I could go for that; give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. 

I should be able to buy a house in Alamo because I’m a “rich white woman” according to Watson Ladd, who added that note to his critique of floor area ratio at the last Planning Commission meeting. Mr. Ladd, an activist with East Bay for Everyone, formerly East Bay Forward, doesn’t approve of protective zoning for the same reason as Kevin Burke; it might restrict another property owner’s right to build to the max. Silly me, I thought that maintaining property values was one of the functions of fair zoning, meaning zoning for everyone. 

Having been brought up by land-rich, cash-poor parents and continuing in that tradition, I believed in property ownership as the way to gain financial stability and security. My father taught us to buy a house by age 35 so that at the end of a 30-year mortgage and the beginning of retirement, we would have some equity to leverage into old age. After his death by drunk driver, I got a portion of the settlement, pitifully little to compensate for my loss, but enough to put a down payment on a dilapidated house in West Berkeley. The humongous termite report dissuaded other buyers, but I was young and energetic. So after working forty years day and night, paying off two mortgages, and two hip replacements later, I get to retire in an atmosphere of hostility toward homeowners. This is the deal I offer the young YIMBYs: you can have my house if I could be your age again and get my father back. 

Berkeley homeowners: let’s just sell and move to Alamo. Let’s abandon our efforts to keep our neighborhoods livable, affordable, and equitable. We’re all rich, and Alamo is a wonderful place: low density, quiet with privacy, sunny country views, highly educated residents of mostly European heritage with a median family income of $170K. 46% of the households own two vehicles; 43% own three. The median home price is only $1,890,000. Almost everybody (98%) has health coverage, and 88% are homeowners. They probably all have an opinion about Berkeley. Once there, we can serve as experts on the subject. Let’s move to Alamo. 

Flash: The Poor Tour Hits the Road Again

Carol Denney
Friday November 03, 2017 - 04:00:00 PM

On Friday afternoon, November 3rd, a storm was brewing in Berkeley. Winds chased dry leaves into corners, grey clouds gathered, and people on the street tacked any tarps they had down over their belongings anticipating rain.

Some of the group gathered near the HERE/THERE sculpture at Adeline Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard were packing up in anticipation of an eviction the next morning from BART property ordered by federal court. Others had already packed out, setting up on median strips or elsewhere throughout the city. There are estimated to be about a dozen small tent cities throughout town, but this one, a loose aggregation of people called "First They Came for the Homeless", gathers together not just for safety, but to openly challenge laws criminalizing poverty and homelessness.

"About this time last year we were doing the 'poor tour', evicted from site after site," stated Adam Bredenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the case opposing BART's eviction, who found me a place to sit while we talked. "We never went into the shadows because our survival depends on our visibility."

"We stuck together, and we're still sticking together," said Bredenberg, a dignified young man who has been with First They Came for the Homeless for years longer than the ten months' stay on BART property. "We're having to bounce around again."

"This is a semi-permanent solution," he said, watching the orderly, cooperative efforts to prepare for both eviction and hard weather after ten months of relative peace in one spot. "It would be nice to get six months or a year." 

Mayor Jesse Arreguin, still in the first year of his administration, had sent a message to Berkeley constituents only hours earlier complimenting the group and pledging city assistance: 

"If you have lived in Berkeley any amount of time, you've likely noticed the growth in homeless encampments, a direct correlation of the region’s lack of affordable housing. Over the past 30 years, 80 percent of government funding for homeless and mental health services has been cut and the homeless population has grown exponentially.  

While my administration is taking steps to open a new shelter in West Berkeley and build new units of below market housing and emergency shelter in the downtown area, we know that we don’t have the resources to shelter for everyone who needs it. As a result, people will continue to live on our streets. 


That’s why I have long believed that the HERE/THERE encampment should be allowed to remain. Unlike many homeless encampments, it has set rules, including a noise curfew, prohibits alcohol and drugs and keeps the area clear of debris. It functions like a well-run tent village and provides shelter for people who would otherwise be sleeping in doorways and park benches. In other words, it is a model we could potentially replicate in other camps --perhaps with some around the clock security -- moving forward. 


I am saddened that BART is not willing to let the HERE/THERE encampment stay, but am committed to helping members find a new location..." 

Adam Bredenberg responded stoically to this news. "People don't understand the situation the world is in, and especially this region," he said. "There's a shelter crisis because people aren't thinking right. They won't give us the tiniest little thing because it would fuck up their system and their ideology." 

I asked if he was present for the recent court hearing, and he said yes. Did the judge seem sympathetic, I asked? 

"I'm sure he was sympathetic, but he didn't have a solution." Bredenberg told me the judge had asked absurdly judgmental questions about the group - did they have jobs? were they on drugs? Bredenberg said it was a lot like reading the internet comments, but added "it doesn't matter. He's got to do his job." 

Bredenberg noted with soft irony the fact that BART's property was referred to as "private" while obviously being open to the public and thus "public" at the same time, a trick the University of California uses in legal settings as well. 

I asked about his take on Mayor Arreguin, who had spent his first days blaming the Berkeley City Manager, Dee Williams-Ridley, for chasing First They Came for the Homeless from one side of City Hall to the other within only a few dozen feet from his inaugural giant human peace sign event. 

"Arreguin is hedging his bets," responded Bredenberg, who noted that Arreguin's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness has been meeting for over a year without managing to create a safe outdoor space. There are some modest improvements and expansions in a few shelter settings, such as allowing pets and adding more beds, but Bredenberg's point, echoed on paper by federal court Judge William Alsup, is that decades of an inadequate response remains inadequate. 

"I went two or three times," says Bredenberg of the mayor's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness, saying that aside from the public comment period no one gets to contribute. "You can sit there knowing the answer to a question, but you can't say anything. No one from this camp is included." 

The Mayor's website even today, November 4, 2017, the day the 72-hour eviction stay runs out for the HERE/THERE tent city, has a roundabout way of excusing the city's refusal to provide a legal area for people to rest and set up personal shelters; "It is our hope that people living in encampments will choose to live indoors." 

Bredenberg says no one from their group is actually on the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness, which is composed of city council representatives, police, and city staffers. He got tired of having to sit and listen to the city voices without being able to respond. "I would go back as a participant," says Bredenberg. Which seems only fair. 

But Mayor Arreguin's statement needs at least one correction; the awkward, poorly worded part that says " we know that we don’t have the resources to shelter for (sic) everyone who needs it..." and it isn't the peculiar grammar that's the problem. Berkeley hasn't in several decades even considered putting the money it spends on chasing people pointlessly from one location to another toward simply renting available space, space it could even legally commandeer. 

Even commercial Airb&b rates for house rentals hit lower than the $15,000 per person the city is budgeting for their Pathways project beds, and that's with bathrooms, kitchens, the full housing monte. Berkeley has the money, and spends literally millions of the public's dollars helping downtown property owners promote their businesses instead of addressing the most pressing human needs. Berkeley does have "the resources to shelter for (sic) everyone who needs it", and the math is easy to do. It just hasn't wanted to honestly commit to providing housing with the money it spends anyway, preferring an exhausting, debilitating, humiliating system of temporary shelter even the federal court describes as "admittedly insufficient." 

Where is the legal campground? Judge Alsup is requiring that by November 28, 2017, the City of Berkeley and plaintiffs' attorney Dan Siegel provide more specific resolutions than those Mayor Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council have considered sufficient for their first year. The "we spend a lot of resources" refrain the city has used for years to fend off criticism while confiscating belongings and jailing the poor may have turned a corner. 


Public Comment

A Judge Allows an Eviction, but Sends a Signal

Carol Denney
Friday November 03, 2017 - 06:55:00 PM

The headlines said "Homeless Camp Evicted", or "BART Can Kick Out Homeless." But the federal judge handling the case also sent a signal to the City of Berkeley and anyone watching that business as usual might be over. 

HEREIN a practical plan for shelter for its homeless during the coming winter. Do not simply recite
the programs the City purports to offer, for they are admittedly insufficient. Submit a plan that will
shelter substantially all of Berkeley’s homeless. The Court is not ordering the plan to be adopted but
wants to be informed, and the parties and counsel to be informed, concerning the scope of possible

"By the same date, Attorney Siegel SHALL PLEASE SUBMIT his proposed plan. Be specific.
Name soccer fields and open spaces he would convert to tent cities. Failure to be specific may be a
sign that there is no practical solution." - Dated: November 1, 2017. 

We all remember what was happening last year around this time; the country was reeling from the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Berkeley, in contrast, had elected a purportedly more liberal majority, defeating a raft of candidates more likely to vote with Mayor Tom Bates and the developers who've been using housing issues to widen the income disparity that puts Berkeley in the very top echelon of income gaps nationwide. 

The understanding for those of us who worked to elect the new council was that the raids on tent groups would stop, the rhetoric about "outsiders" being responsible for homelessness would end. Some of that rhetoric is evident; the "Pathways" project report, for instance uses the very latest in "housing first" argot to soothe liberal observers who rarely note that it only offers temporary shelter for approximately 50 people, leaving hundreds on the street. 

But the "Poor Tour" chasing people with no place to go from place to place around town goes on. "First They Came for the Homeless" continues to serve as a model for self-organized, self-governing, resourceful communities of people in need of housing. But the obvious; square footage somewhere for the group to harbor safely, continues to elude the current Berkeley council majority. 

The judge in this case acknowledged that BART is not responsible for housing anybody. But U. S. District Judge William Alsup pointed directly at the city as an entity which is "equipped to remedy the problems associated with homelessness" and gave it a month to "submit a plan that will shelter substantially all of Berkeley's homeless." Berkeley may find a new way to sidestep taking practical steps to end this obvious, heart-breaking crisis. But while it may be true that some Berkeley voters have become numb to the issue, at least one federal judge is clearly fed up. 



An Open Letter to Mayor Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council

Moni T. Law, J.D.
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:09:00 PM

It is with a heavy heart that I write this reflection. I attended last night’s City Council meeting with the hope that this important issue would finally receive the attention it urgently deserves. These matters were not new or before the council for the first time. Many of these issues were at the end of the council’s agenda at least three occasions last year, with time running out- just as it did again last night.

Over 20 residents remained patiently from 6pm- 11 pm last night. It is very unfortunate that the council imploded, argued, sparred, and disintegrated while the urgent issue of community policing, implicit bias training to eliminate racial profiling, and accountability for use of excessive force hung in the balance - and died on the vine. 

Our Police Review Commission is sorely overdue for reform: it is known as the first in the nation, but it has not been updated for 45 years! The ‘Board of Inquiry’ is an exercise in futility and frustration, and I know from experience. The idea of citizen oversight is meaningless when those commissioners are not granted the right to relevant documents. It is a process inflicting more harm than good when the complainant is forced to endure interrogation of an attorney for the police officer (who sits near you in full uniform), and the complainant is then excused and not allowed to stay for the questioning of the officer. 

These urgent items were brought forth a year ago by citizens seeking changes to avoid the horror of December 2014 when citizens including Cal students, nonviolent #BlackLivesMatter protestors, clergy, and bystanders were beaten, tear gassed and emotionally traumatized by the militarized police response to a peaceful march. I encourage you to watch again the videos of officers throwing a woman to the ground, striking people including a member of clergy with hard batons, throwing tear gas and flash grenades, etc. We can and must do better. 

The list of prior studies on racial profiling were outlined by Council-member Harrison last night not as a ‘long speech,’ but I would have hoped that others on the Dias would have considered that relevant information providing context for your deliberation. 

A Federal Court settlement agreement in the matter of Law v. City of Berkeley includes a number of promises made by the BPD. Some of those promises have not been fulfilled, however. I remain optimistic that the City and Chief Greenwood will remain true to their word. The City of Berkeley has the opportunity to have the best police department in the nation, responsive to all communities, committed to justice for all, engaging in best practices. 

Unfortunately, we appear to get stuck in a political quagmire where some people in our city become collateral damage. Our democratic process must include the ability to take in the constructive ideas of many and formulate sound public policy, laws and practices. This town is filled with thousands of the best minds and experts on these issues. Let us move forward and get the job done. Please. I won’t give up. These issues are too important. I love this city too much to give up on it (or its leaders).

Repeal Costa-Hawkins

Harry Brill
Thursday November 02, 2017 - 03:18:00 PM

Steve Martinot's Planet article makes several good suggestions for providing affordable housing to Berkeley residents. Among his excellent proposals is substantially increasing fees for developers. If they refuse to pay, their property should be transferred to non-profit organizations that are committed to expanding affordable housing.  

I would also add that it is essential that we attempt to repeal the notorious Costa-Hawkins California Rental Housing Act, which effectively abolishes rent control. A bill to repeal the law has been introduced in the California legislature (AB 1506). Although the bill is now on hold, a vote is expected next year, it is not too early to lobby California legislators in both the Assembly and the Senate. This act, passed in 1995 by a majority of Democrats and Republicans, has been a classic case of Robin Hood in reverse. According to the real estate firm, Zillow, the median average current monthly rent in Berkeley is over $3,000. A studio is about 2,000, and $2,900 for one bedroom.  

It is no surprise, then, that homelessness in Berkeley has skyrocketed to over 1,000. Also not surprising is the change of mix in the Berkeley population. According to a Census study, between 2000 and 2015 Berkeley added more than 7000 households with incomes over $100,000. During these years, Berkeley lost over 6,000 households with incomes below $100,000. The percent of Berkeley's black population declined considerably from almost 19 percent in 1990 (19,309) to 9 percent currently (11,241). Undoubtedly the sky high rents mainly explain why so many low and middle income blacks and whites have given up on Berkeley. 

To build a massive campaign to repeal Costa-Hawkins we must understand a very important issue. It is a mistake to interpret the conflict as one sided on the control issue because it makes those who favor rent control seem unreasonable. The reality is that landlords favor complete control over how much rent they can charge. So due to the enactment of the Rental Housing Act, tenants have very little leverage which as a result has been financially devastating and in many instances has destabilized their lives. However, repealing Costa-Hawkins will certainly not empty the pockets of landlords. Even if tenants prevail landlords would receive a fair return rather than the excessive rate of profit that they are currently exacting.

Trumpty Dumpty

Jagjit Singh
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:03:00 PM

Sheriff Mueller and his posse of law men are closing in for the kill. Paul Manafort and Trump are cut from the same cloth – followers of the 11th commandment – look after thyself. Given the choice of spending years in prison or “ratting” on his Republicans, he will undoubtedly choose the later. If Manafort sings, this will likely trigger a cascade of events bringing us closer to the “big fish”.  

Another of the “basket full of deplorables” is Rick Gates who was indicted and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign was has pled guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about a Russian contact. Both are likely to cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence. It’s likely the astute Mueller will charge the duo with state crimes to circumvent a possible presidential pardon. Neither are known for their political skills but merely for the Russian and Ukrainian contacts which strengthens charges of Russian collusion. Remember, Trump was loath to criticize Russia and even shared Israeli state secrets with the Russians.  

A major concern is “the master of the art of distraction” might initiate a war with North Korea to rally Americans around the flag. 

But if all goes according to plan Trumpy Dumpty may have . . . 

Cruz Silenced

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:33:00 PM

The feisty, no nonsense mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, was silenced, denied an opportunity to testify before the House. She had been extremely critical of the lackadaisical Trump administration’s response to the devastation caused by hurricane Maria. It seems likely that the White House leaned on compliant lawmakers to prevent Cruz from voicing more criticism of FEMA and the White House. 

Borrowing from Trump’s playbook, Cruz took to Twitter to denounce FEMA’s lack of response to the urgent needs of the people of Puerto Rica. 

The Republican majority, for the second time canceled the hearing, with no date for it to be rescheduled. 

To add insult to injury, a $300 million no-bid contract was awarded to Whitefish Energy, a tiny company based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Montana. 

A leaked copy of the contract prohibits the federal government from auditing Whitefish's work and shields it from other details of the company's records. 

"In no event," the contract says, will the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, FEMA, the Comptroller General of the United States, "or any of their authorized representatives have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements" of the deal. 

How convenient!

Berkeley Abuses Homeless Elders

Marcia Poole
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:13:00 PM

The City of Berkeley knowingly engages in elder abuse and abuse to dependent adults by allowing many homeless to live (and die) on the streets, sidewalks, in doorways and parks of Berkeley. They provide few facilities for the elderly and dependent adult homeless to sleep, keep clean , use bathroom facilities, feel safe, have peace of mind, or have ready and adequate nutrition. Many of these elderly and dependent adults citizens feel abandoned, isolated, threatened and hopeless.  

The City of Berkeley harasses, intimidates and causes great emotional upset and instability to these elderly and dependent adult homeless people by the threatening them and making them move from place to place over any given 24 hour period. Berkeley does not provide sufficient shelters or places where the elderly and dependent adult homeless can go to get out of the inclement weather. They do not treat these elderly and dependent adult homeless individuals with kindness and consideration, but make them feel that if they violate any of the new and old ordinances aimed at the homeless in Berkeley, that they will go to prison. The City of Berkeley is truly guilty of committing elder abuse and abuse to dependent adults. 


The City of Berkeley is committing elder abuse and violating various penal codes: 

(368 b 1. 2. 3.) 

by allowing "a person, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits an elder or dependent adult to suffer With knowledge that he or she is an elder or dependent adult Unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.";  

(368 c) 

by allowing "a person, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits an elder or dependent adult to suffer With knowledge that he or she is an elder or dependent adult Unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering."; 


by "willfully threatens to commit a crime which Will result in death or great bodily injury to another With specific intent that the statement ... is to be taken as a threat Causes person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety."; 

and violating Welfare & Institutions Code (15630) 

by "Known or suspected abuse of elder or dependent adult by physical abandonment, isolation & neglect."

# Want to Preserve your Backyard Sunlight? Buy an Easement

Kevin Burke, Alamo
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:00:00 PM

Toni Mester's recent oped ("Backyard Dwellings") laments new construction which threatens sunlight in backyards in Berkeley's R1 district. She uses this argument to object to new construction in R1. "The homeowners in the R-1A have very little security that they will be able to maintain their backyard sun, peace, and privacy," she writes. 

Fundamentally, the problem is that construction on neighboring lots can impact your lot; if your neighbor builds a tall structure, it may cast a shadow on your land for part of the day. I am happy to report that there's a solution to this problem that doesn't require any intervention from the Berkeley Zoning & Adjustments Board. 

Homeowners who wish to preserve sunlight in their backyards can purchase an easement from their neighbors. An easement is a legally binding document forbidding the neighbor from using their property in a certain way. For example, the easement may forbid construction higher than 18 feet, or within X feet of the property line. Buy an easement from your neighbor, and you can have all of the sunlight that you desire. The other great thing about an easement is it doesn't require any new legislation from the Berkeley ZAB; you can buy one today! 

Of course, you may not be able to meet your neighbor's price for an easement. In this case, your neighbor probably values the ability to build new housing more than you value your sunlight. Asking the ZAB to restrict the neighbor's ability to build, after this, is essentially the same as granting you a sunlight easement at below market rate. This reduces your neighbor's property value, since they're no longer able to sell that easement at the market rate, or build housing to the height allowed by the zoning code. Frankly, I think that's unfair to the neighbor, and rewards a lack of imagination on the homeowner's part, to imagine the types of structures that could be built on the land near them. 

There are many reasons neighbors might value new housing more than existing homeowners value sunlight. One is that it's really difficult for renters right now, and housing is really expensive. Statewide, one in three renters pays more than half their salary in rent. Since 2010, Alameda County has added 55,000 new jobs and only 15,000 new housing units. Those extra workers have increased competition for apartments, and rents; since 2014, the average price of an apartment in Berkeley has increased from $2321 to $3124. This high price means there's heavy demand for new housing. 

If you want your backyard sunlight, you can have it: buy an easement from your neighbor to stop them from obstructing your light. But given the high rents Berkeley's renters are willing to pay for housing, and the high demand for new construction, you better be willing to pay up.

November Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday November 03, 2017 - 02:57:00 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! 


SQUEAKY WHEEL: American NIMBY Warriors

Toni Mester
Friday November 03, 2017 - 02:56:00 PM
to be demolished and replaced: 2129 Ninth Street
Toni Mester
to be demolished and replaced: 2129 Ninth Street

The revision of the R-1A zoning may finally come to a vote at the Planning Commission at the third and hopefully last public hearing Wednesday November 15 at the North Berkeley Senior Center. A discussion on a related topic, accessory dwelling units, is also scheduled for that meeting. The agenda should be available on-line at the Planning Commission webpage on Friday the 10th

The Friends of R-1A Move-on petition has 235 signatures from neighbors who support equitable zoning to allow the bulk of development at the front of the lot and a one-story home in the backyard. We also endorse the regulation of the over-all floor area in proportion to the lot size, a variable standard known as the floor area ratio (FAR), which encourages flexibility in the design of two units as either separate buildings or a duplex. 

The Southside Neighborhood Consortium, a group of long established neighborhood associations including the Claremont-Elmwood, the Dwight-Hillside, Willard, Piedmont/Parker, Bateman, and Stuart Street/Willard, has submitted a white paper recommending a one-story limit for the rear unit, retaining the 20-foot rear yard setback, creating larger side setbacks for the rear unit, and imposing a maximum FAR of .5. They added that the “second unit exterior must relate to the main house in building materials and other design details.” 

For many years, the current zoning in the R-1A has created distress and conflict among neighbors, as the allowance for two three-story buildings on one lot is an excessive entitlement that favors the applicant over the adjacent property owners because buildings of that size located in the inner block produce detrimental effects such as shadows, noise, and loss of views including the sky. Since 2010, the City Council and Zoning Adjustments Board have three times referred the R-1A zoning to the Planning Commission. 

In the original referral in 2010, the Council suggested that one building be 75% in floor area of the other and that FAR, lot coverage, and setbacks be considered. In the eight discussions so far, the Planning Commission has only agreed that the two sections of the R-1A, West Berkeley and Westbrae, be zoned the same, which would eliminate the differential in rear setbacks that currently exists, and that 4500 square feet would remain the minimum lot size for a second unit. However, that minimum does not apply the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which are allowed on single-family residence lots of any size. 

Rather than providing the flexibility of FAR, the Commission discussion has boiled down to whether the rear building should be one or two stories. And while a one-story building in the rear would be less detrimental, the height of the rear building alone is not a sufficient response to the Council referrals, as the existing patterns in West Berkeley are widely variable because of its zoning history. In 1949, most of West Berkeley was zoned R-2 and R-4 and down-zoned to R-1A in 1963 but without specifying the dimensions of the second unit. When in 1991 the City Council adopted “uniform height limits” for all buildings, regardless of where they are located on the lot, the height of a rear unit could go as high as 28 feet on the average or 35 feet with an administrative use permit (AUP). That height limit also regulates all houses in other zones and has proven problematic for neighbors in the R-2 and R-2A as well. 

While critics of the Friends of R-1A have charged us with “down-zoning” the passage of the uniform height limits was not an “up-zoning” because the designation of the area was not changed upwards in density to R-2, R-2A or greater. Two units remained the same, but the dimensions were altered to a greater height, a change which was not vetted in public hearings at the Planning Commission, as required by California planning law (§65103), even though the change had the potential to reduce the owners enjoyment of their private property and its value. 

Another common regulation that is used elsewhere in the Bay Area, the daylight plane, has also been neglected even though some Council members requested that it be considered, and staff included several examples of the daylight plane in the July meeting staff report. The daylight plane of 45º ensures that adjacent properties will not be deprived of sunshine when a new building goes up, either in the front or rear of a lot. 

Regulating floor area will not restrict the number of households that can be located in West Berkeley, but it does ensure that both larger and smaller households will be provided for. Most East Bay households, about 80%, are three persons and fewer, and over half are either one or two persons. Two large houses of the same size on the narrow lots of West Berkeley will exceed the limit of four bedrooms per parcel. A fifth bedroom requires an AUP and more than five requires a use permit with a public hearing. Although the staff routinely recommends approval for excessive bedrooms, such buildings can easily become mini-dorms rather than housing for two larger families, as most of the demand for housing in Berkeley comes from students. As UC continually increases admissions without providing a comparable amount of new student housing, the potential for building mini-dorms can become a problem for neighborhoods. 

Keep West Berkeley Affordable 

Friends of R-1A have been criticized for labeling our petition “Keep West Berkeley Affordable” and accused of misleading the public. In that case, the UC Urban Displacement Project must also be misleading because our assumptions are based on their research as well as our first hand experience fighting gentrification in our neighborhood. 

The excessive entitlements of three-story uniform heights, have initiated instances of demolition of low-income houses and rent-controlled apartments. An example of attempted displacement was John Newton’s application in December 2016 to demolish 2212 Tenth Street, a 1080 square foot home inhabited by a family of four - two educators and two school age children - and build two houses of almost 2,000 square feet each. After the initial hearing, the ZAB approved a revised project in a split vote in February. The neighbor to the south appealed to the City Council, who remanded the project to ZAB in June with instructions to further reduce the rear house and investigate whether the tenants were informed of the pending demolition. When the matter returned to the ZAB in August, the staff recommended approval of a smaller rear house but after reviewing the evidence, said that since the tenants had not been informed of the impending demolition as required by City law, they could only leave voluntarily. The ZAB also wrote a codicil prohibiting the owner from harassing the tenants into leaving. 

Another example is Mark Rhoades’ application to demolish two buildings, one with six rent-controlled apartments, and build seven new buildings with 18 units total at 1155-1173 Hearst, in the R-2A zone. Although the current tenants were assured that they would be given precedence to rent in the new development, that promise was withdrawn just before the hearing in September, resulting in the ZAB continuing the hearing off-calendar. 

According to the Southside Consortium, “UC Berkeley Planning Professor and former Planning Commissioner Karen Chappel has published academic research that finds that expanding the inventory of high-end housing in traditionally lower-income neighborhoods encourages gentrification by sending ‘signals to the market that such neighborhoods are desirable and safer for wealthier residents.’ A simple truth is the larger the unit, the more it costs to develop and the more it subsequently costs to rent or buy; and adoption of the SNC recommendations would best achieve the City’s goal of encouraging more affordable housing by making land values more affordable for the construction of smaller, more affordable (unsubsidized) units while also respecting the original purpose of the R-1A Zoning District.” 

West Berkeley has traditionally been one of the poorer sections of town and still has a high proportion of low-income residents. The latest ACS (American Community Survey 2011-1015) estimates that 7.5% of the total Ocean View population is below the poverty level and a whopping 20.2% in the Rosa Parks area. About 10% of whites in both sections live in poverty, while 16.7% of Hispanics in Ocean View and 35.3% in Rosa Parks. With higher income residents moving in, displacement of the poor becomes a real problem as the people who are employed washing dishes in the restaurants, cleaning houses, doing construction, and learning English at the Adult School are forced to find housing in places like East Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo, Antioch and further and commute in to work. 

Ultimately, it will fall on the Council to decide a basic issue of zoning equity. They could start to unravel the uniform heights debacle by abolishing the current allowance for two houses of equal heights in the R-1A and creating more livable standards or they can reinforce the division between the haves in the R-1 and the have-nots in all the other residential districts. The R-1 will continue to have two and three- story houses at the front of the lot and a smaller ADU in the rear, assuring privacy, open-space and sunshine for those families. In the R-1A, the great majority (68%) of the houses are small one-story and less than 1500 square feet. If a two-story rear house is allowed, the cheapest way to add area would be to keep the small front house and add a bigger rear house that would tower over it and all the adjacent properties, removing privacy, open space, and sun; just the reverse of what the R-1 enjoys. 

NIMBYs of Berkeley, unite! All you have to lose is ass-backwards zoning. 


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 





ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Giving Yourself Permission to be Happy

Jack Bragen
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:05:00 PM

Some of the things I see on television (yes, I commit the awful sin of watching TV sometimes) are completely uninteresting--that is, unless, for the viewer, it is good enough to see the zooms of barely covered or partly blurred out body parts, usually female. (In writing, it would be known as "gratuitous sex.") On the other hand, men who are successful in acting, unless they are good actors, have a standard male physique brought about, no doubt, by Hollywood trainers and probable cosmetic surgery.  

Once you've succeeded at something, then can you be happy? Are famous people happier than the vast majority of unknowns? Actors and other famous people, and also multimillionaires, seem to gloat a lot. But does the high of being rich and famous ever wear off? Are they really "the beautiful people"?  

What about the rest of us? Is it good enough to drive a used Toyota, live in an ordinary dwelling, eat ordinary food, and be an ordinary person?  

For many with a psychiatric illness, if the illness is disabling, getting up to the level of "ordinary" or "normal" is the sought after greatness. It is like the three characters in Wizard of Oz. "If I only…" had "normality" everything would be okay, and then we could be happy people. 

However, it is not like that. Happiness can be obtained through an understanding of ourselves and an understanding of the mental causes of unhappiness and happiness. While this does not preclude some amount of discomfort, or even suffering (that will still happen some of the time) we can decide it is okay to be happy. 

Goals are great, but they aren't everything. Recently, the television was on, on a Saturday night, and I beheld "Creature Features."  

As a child and young teen, I was really into all of the Godzilla movies (originally made in Japan, with dubbed English), and old science fiction from the 1950's (I wasn't born until the 1960's), that would never have made the cut in the filmmaking standards of the past forty or fifty years.  

The stuff was very low budget, and it moved at a snail pace in comparison to the fast-moving, action packed stuff of today. You would have a scene in which almost nothing happened, and this could last up to a couple of minutes. There was a show called, "Outer Limits," there was "Twilight Zone," and there was "Creature Features" emceed by Bob Wilkins on a Bay Area TV station, I forget which one.  

So, seeing "Creature Features" once again, made me glad. The movie that was on recently was called, "The Milpitas Monster." It was a huge thing, about fifty feet tall, with wings (this thing could fly), it had big talons, and it would eat garbage out of garbage cans and dumpsters, leaving behind a huge mess to clean up.  

It was nostalgic to see shots of the rolling, grassy hills that once existed in large quantities in the Bay Area. This movie was from the 1970's. In the film, Milpitas appeared somewhat rural. While I am not certain of exactly when "Silicon Valley" came into existence, this was before the first Mac's were invented. And, there were no cellphones. 

When things were slower, people had time to do things like read or play a game of chess, or perhaps, five-card draw--penny ante of course.  

I was almost attacked by three men outside of Macy's about ten or maybe fifteen years ago--I was reading a book on a bench at night. The bench has since been removed, and there is better security at Sun Valley Mall in Concord. 

It is no longer "normal" to read a book in public. The irony of Kindle devices, and Kindle "fire" comes from the fact that in Nazi Germany, books were burned. In "Fahrenheit 451," old science fiction, the "firemen" were employed to go after everyone's books, douse them with gasoline or perhaps kerosene, and burn them up in a big pile. In the movie version, which I somehow remember better than the book (which I had read earlier) an old woman chose to go up in flames along with her books.  

Amazon has a near total monopoly on book sales. No longer do we have little bookstores everywhere, or bookstore coffeehouses. In the 1980's, before the dawn of Starbuck's, there was a chain called "The Upstart Crow." They had books, coffee, sandwiches, and sometimes live entertainment. Supposedly, they folded because of over-ambitious management that tried to expand it too quickly.  

People are being deprived of opportunities to be happy. They got rid of the Barnes and Noble near where I live, and this was about five years ago or more--to be replaced by a nondescript retail store, Home Goods. I used to go to the Barnes and Noble, which also had a Starbuck's inside it, I would look at their sci-fi section, often purchasing an Asimov's Magazine, and I would sit for a while in the Starbuck's while I waited for my wife to be done at Target.  

Now, we have television remote controls that you can talk to and that talk back to you. We have automobiles that are supposed to stop for pedestrians, and we have a phone in everyone's pocket with access to the internet, which in turn has access to unfathomably huge pools of human knowledge. 

But, we also have cyberattacks, in which people's money and privacy can be ripped off, we have cyber-bullying, and we have an expectation that everyone is supposed to carry a smartphone. My wife's smartphone kept dialing numbers while it was in her pocket.  

I still like little transistor radios, and I gain pleasure out of reading and writing. 

I'm giving myself a break from so much self-criticism, and from the idea that my life isn't good enough, because I feel that I'm doing valid things with my life. But a huge purpose isn't necessary to be happy--all you need to do is learn how the inside of your head works. Once we are able to edit out some of the mental garbage, we have more power to use our minds as we wish. 

Being happy with what you've got probably entails that you do some of those things like sitting down to read, watching corny, low-budget sci-fi films from the 1970's, or doing something besides playing with your phone.

THE PUBLIC EYE:Trump’s Tax Cut Challenge

Bob Burnett
Friday November 03, 2017 - 06:51:00 PM

After 9 plus months in office, Donald Trump has accomplished little. He's very unpopular and has failed to fulfill his major campaign promises, Major Republican donors are withdrawing funding. In response, Trump has embarked on a desperate campaign to cut taxes. Even though Republicans control Congress, tax reform faces an uphill battle. 

According to the political website 538 Trump's popularity has remained stable for five months; it's currently at 56.4 percent disapprove and 38 percent approve. Nonetheless, Trump's base is sticking with him; the latest Gallup Poll indicates that 78 percent of Republicans approve of Trump. 

Trump's poor performance has affected the Republican Party. In the aftermath of the GOP's latest failure to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, GOP fundraising has tanked . 

In a desperate effort to assuage the biggest Republican donors, Trump and the GOP congressional leadership have embarked on a tax-reform initiative that promises big tax cuts for corporations and billionaires. (Senator Elizabeth Warren says that, over ten years, Trump's plan will add $2 trillion to the deficit.) Given the composition of the Republican base, it's not a sure thing that the GOP tax-reform initiative will succeed. 

Recently Pew Research updated their landmark study of American political behavior. Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives , Market Skeptics, and New Era Enterprisers; for a total of 42 percent of the electorate. To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite these four segments. 

Trump's problem is that he has made different promises to each group. Core Conservatives (13 percent ) are deeply skeptical of the social safety net and favor lower tax rates on corporations and high-income individuals. This is the most politically active of the four Republican groups and is primarily composed of non-Hispanic white men. 

The key Core Conservative issue is tax reform. Representative GOP Core Conservative politicians are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Most of the support for Trump's tax reform initiative will come from Core Conservatives. 

Country First Conservatives (6 percent) are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups. They are predominantly white non-Hispanic and and, of the four groups, the staunchest supporters of President Trump. 

Pew Research says the key Country-First Conservative issue is immigration. Pew notes that no (zero) Country-First Conservatives agreed with this poll statement: "Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents." "Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives... say that 'if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.'" 

Country-First Conservatives have vastly different attitudes about corporate taxes than do Core Conservatives; only 35 percent of Country-First Conservatives want to see business taxes lowered. (Representative Country-First Conservatives are Iowa Congressman Steve King and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.) 

Pew Research doesn't assign a distinct category to Conservative Evangelical Christians. Members of this group -- which overwhelmingly supports Trump -- are split between Core Conservatives and Country-First Conservatives. According to Pew Research, "68% of Country First Conservatives... say that it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values." 44 percent of Core Conservative share this sentiment. 

Identification as a conservative evangelical is an important consideration because the most important issue for this group is not tax reform but rather the set of issues that evangelicals lump under "religious liberty." (When conservative evangelicals talk of "religious liberty" they usually mean the freedom to discriminate against a particular group -- gays, blacks, immigrants, whomever -- on the basis of a fervent religious belief.) 

Market Skeptics (12 percent) stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system: "An overwhelming majority say it 'unfairly favors powerful interests.' Most also say businesses make too much profit, and they are the most likely Republican-leaning group to want to raise taxes on corporations (55%)." This is the Republican group least inclined to support tax cuts for corporations and billionaires. 

The key issue for Market Skeptics is reduction in the size of government. Many would call them Libertarians; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a representative member of this group. 

New Era Enterprisers (11 percent) are a catchall GOP category. They are younger and less socially conservative than the other groups. "While they are not affluent, a large majority (72%) say they are generally satisfied with their financial situation." Interestingly, this is Republican group least approving of Trump's conduct in office: 39 percent view it negatively and 38 percent have mixed feelings. 

After Core Conservatives, New Era Enterprisers are most likely to support tax reform. They believe the economic system is fair and have a positive view of corporations. 

Summary: To push tax reform through Congress, Trump needs to unite the four segments of the Republican Party. Given the Pew Research data, that appears to be a difficult task. A key element of the tax-reform proposals are substantial cuts for billionaires and corporations. 

It appears that only two-thirds of Republican voters approve of the proposed tax-reform plan (Core Conservatives and New Era Enterprisers). Given that Republicans will get no Democratic support for their tax-reform initiative, it's reasonable to assume that Trump and the GOP leaders don't have the votes they need. 

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Brexit & A Brave New World

Conn Hallinan
Tuesday October 31, 2017 - 03:14:00 PM

As the clock ticks down on Britain’s exit from the European Union, one could not go far wrong casting British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as the hopeful Miranda in Shakespeare’s Tempest: ”How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t.” And Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May as Lady Macbeth: “Out damned spot, out, I say!”

With the French sharpening their knives, the Tories in disarray, the Irish demanding answers, and a scant 17 months to go before Brexit kicks in, the whole matter is making for some pretty good theater. The difficulty is distinguishing between tragedy and farce. 

The Conservative’s Party’s Oct. 1-4 conference in Manchester was certainly low comedy. The meeting hall was half empty, and May’s signature address was torpedoed by a coughing fit and a prankster who handed her a layoff notice. Then the Tories’ vapid slogan “Building a country that works for everyone” fell on to the stage. And several of May’s cabinet members were openly jockeying to replace her

In contrast, the Labour Party’s conference at Brighton a week earlier was jam packed with young activists busily writing position papers, and Corbyn gave a rousing speech that called for rolling back austerity measures, raising taxes on the wealthy and investing in education, health care and technology. 

Looming over all of this is March 2019, the date by which the complex issues involving Britain’s divorce from the EU need to be resolved. The actual timeline is even shorter, since it will take at least six months for the European parliament and the EU’s 28 members to ratify any agreement. 

Keeping all those ducks in a row is going to take considerable skill, something May and the Conservatives have shown not a whit of. 

The key questions to be resolved revolve around people and money, of which the first is the stickiest. 

Members of the EU have the right to travel and work anywhere within the countries that make up the trade alliance. They also have access to health and welfare benefits, although there are some restrictions on these. Millions of non-British, EU citizens currently reside in the United Kingdom. What happens to those people when Brexit kicks in? And what about the two million British that live in other EU countries? 

Controlling immigration was a major argument for those supporting an exit from the EU, though its role has been over-estimated. Many Brexit voters simply wanted to register their outrage with the mainstream parties—Labour and Tories alike—that had, to one extent or another, backed policies which favored the wealthy and increased economic inequality. In part, the EU was designed to lower labor costs in order to increase exports. 

Indeed, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982 to 1998) pressed the EU to admit Central and Eastern Europe countries precisely because they would provide a pool of cheap labor that could be used to weaken unions throughout the trade bloc. In this he was strongly supported by the British. Union membership in Britain has declined from over 13 million in 1979 to just over six million today. 

The Conservatives want to impede immigration, and also have full access to the trade bloc, what has been termed the “have your cake and eat it too” strategy. So far that approach has been a non-starter with the rest of the EU. Polls show that only 30 percent of EU members think that that Britain should be offered a favorable deal. This drops to 19 percent in France 

The Conservatives themselves are split on what they want. One faction is pressing for a “hard Brexit” that rigidly controls immigration, abandons the single market and customs union, and rejects any role for the European Court of Justice. 

Another “soft Brexit” faction would accept EU regulations and the Court of Justice, because they are afraid that bailing out of the single market will damage the British economy. Given that countries like Japan, China and the U.S. seem reluctant to cut independent trade deals with Britain, that is probably an accurate assessment. 

While the Tories are beating up on one another, the Labour Party has distanced itself from the issue, quietly supporting a “soft” exit, but mainly talking about the issues that motivated many of the Brexit voters in the first place: the housing crisis, health care, the rising cost of education, and growing inequality. That platform worked in the June 2017 snap election that saw the Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority and Labour pick up 32 seats. 

Divorces are not only messy, they’re expensive. 

This past September, May offered to pay the EU 20 billion Euros to disentangle Britain from the bloc, but EU members are demanding at least 60 billion Euros—some want up to 100 billion—and refuse to talk about Britain’s access to the trade bloc until that issue is resolved. All talk of “cake” has vanished. 

And then there is Ireland. 

The island is hardly a major player in the EU. The Republic’s GDP is 15th in the big bloc, but it shares a border with Northern Ireland. Even though the North voted to remain in the EU, it will have to leave when Britain does. What happens with its border is no small matter, in part because it is not a natural one. 

Those counties that were a majority Protestant in 1921 became part of Ulster, while Catholic majority counties remained in the southern Republic. During the “Troubles” from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, the border was heavily militarized and guarded by thousands of British troops. No one—north or south—wants walls and watch towers again. 

But trade between the Republic and Ulster will have to be monitored to insure that taxes are paid, environmental laws are followed, and all of the myriad of EU rules are adhered to. 

Other than trade there is the matter of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended the fighting between Catholics and Protestants. While laying out a way to settle the differences between the two communities through power sharing, it also re-defined the nature of sovereignty. Essentially the Irish Republic and Britain agreed that neither country had a claim on Ulster, and that Northern Irish residents be accepted as “Irish, or British or both, as they may so choose” 

Such fluid definition of sovereignty is threatened by the Brexit, and most of all by the fact that May and the Conservatives—at the price of a two billion Euro bribe— have aligned themselves with the extremely right wing and sectarian Protestant party, the Democratic Unionist Party, in order to pass legislation. While the pact between the two is not a formal alliance, it nonetheless undermines the notion that the British government is a “neutral and honest broker” in Northern Ireland. 

May did not even mention the Irish border issue in her September talk, although the EU has made it clear that the subject must be resolved. 

Talks between Britain and the EU are barely inching along, partly because the Conservatives are deeply divided, partly because the EU is not sure May can deliver or that the current government will last to the next general elections in 2022. With Labour on the ascendency, May reliant on an extremist party to stay in power, and countries like France licking their chops at poaching the financial institutions that currently work out of London, EU members are in no rush to settle things. May is playing a weak hand and Brussels knows it. 

Eventually, the Labour Party will have to engage with Brexit more than it has, but Corbyn is probably correct in his estimate that the major specter haunting Europe today is not Britain’s exit but anger at growing inequality, increasing job insecurity, a housing crisis, and EU strictures that have turned economic strategy over to unelected bureaucrats and banks. 

“The neoliberal agenda of the last four decades may have been good for the 1 percent,” says Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, “but not for the rest.” Those policies were bound to have “political consequences,” he says, and “that day is finally upon us.” 


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


Arts & Events

THEATER REVIEW:Inferno Theatre's 'Dracula,' running through November 18

Ken Bullock
Friday November 03, 2017 - 06:58:00 PM

Violin and accordion (Carol Braves and Lana Palmer) process into the playing space under the dome atop Brooklyn Preserve near Lake Merritt, introducing the new version of 'Dracula,' adapted and staged by Giulio Perrone, the founder of Berkeley's Inferno Theatre, a trick-or-treat of ensemble theater, bringing the atmospherics and the strange interrelations of Bram Stoker's vampire masterpiece alive--or at least undead--to audiences this autumnal season ... 

Inferno produced 'Dracula' at their home venue, Berkeley Community Church, five years ago. This staging features not only a new, dynamic cast (Joshua Morris Williams, Michael Needham, Ben Elie, Lana Palmer, Laura Zimmerman, Danni Horwitz, Olivia Dunn, Caitlyn Prather, Carol Braves), but a new script by Perrone. 

The new script has a different sense of emphasis, a different feel. Jerome Solberg, who sometimes has assisted with Inferno productions--and who I think first saw them perform with the previous staging of 'Dracula'--was at opening night for the new version, saying to Perrone afterwards that the new version succeeded in further coalescing the storyline ... 

And the new cast takes it up and runs with it, giving it more texture and nuance than its somewhat festive predecessor had. 

The Transylvanians still greet Jonathan Harker, on his way to Castle Dracula, with evasion and alarm. Renfield still raves and exults in his asylum, begging for vermin. Mina and Lucy are still visited by night, bearing strange marks and demeanors the next morning. And Doctor Van Helsing still prepares his garlic wreaths and stakes ... 

But "all is changed, changed utterly ... "  

It's an entertaining and absorbing evening of theater. 

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7 through November 18 at Brooklyn Preserve, 1433-12th Avenue at E. 15th Street, off International Boulevard, near Foothill. $20-$25; Thursdays, apy what you can at the door. Tickets & info: www.infernotheatre.org or 825-0449 


--Théâtre de la Ville, Camus' 'State of Siege' at Zellerbach Hall 

"The end of the world, but not our country." 

A comet appears above Cadiz, "a comet of evil," arousing fear of some disaster. A young cynic, Nada (Philippe Demarle), warns "from the distance of contempt" of what may ensue. The population is galvanized by anticipation--and dread. Finally, the plague itself, embodied as a grotesque man (Serge Maggiani) and his statuesque, chic and efficient secretary (Valérie Dashwood), appear, the Plague demanding to rule "on my own terms"--and the city's officials hurry to collaborate with him. 

This is the start of Théâtre de la Ville's production of Albert Camus' 'State of Siege,' 1948, as adapted by their director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, which Cal Performances has brought to Zellerbach Hall. 

"Plague strikes an actor in his speech" ... "How far we are from theater. Now we are in the world of pain" 

Théâtre de la Ville has played at Zellerbach twice before in recent years, staging splendid perfomances of Ionesco's 'Rhinoceros' and Pirandello's 'Six Characters in Search of an Author.' 'Rhinoceros' (and some would say 'Six Characters' as a predecessor) 'is from that fashion of postwar dramaturgy--Ionesco, Beckett, Adamov, Genet--dubbed "Theater of the Absurd" by Martin Esslin in his book of the same title in 1961, when it was published in London, over a decade after the movement had begun, though its monicker in Paris originally translates just as "New Theater," like New Wave, referring to its dramaturgy as being drawn from older avant-garde theater, especially Surrealist, without being doctrinaire of any movement. 

Esslin plucked the term "Absurd" from Camus' 'Myth of Sisyphus;' Camus had taken it from Kierkegaard. Camus' novel, 'The Plague,' published a year before 'State of Siege,' has genuinely Existentialistic absurd qualities in Camus' sense. 'State of Siege,' which critics found disappointing, partly because it wasn't a dramatization of his novel, is also very different from what Esslin later dubbed Absurdist drama. Instead, it has roots in what was the mainstream of French theater from the 17th century, as it was transformed by Victor Hugo and the Romantic Movement in the 19th and by the modernism of Jacques Coupeau's followers in the 20th (Louis Jouvet, Jean-Louis Barrault), a theater of declarative, even epigrammatic poetic language, spectacle and romance--and a civic theatrical form. 

"Easier to be heaven's accomplice than its victim!" 

At the core of a complex plot is a pair of young lovers who end up leading the resistance to the Plague and his collaborators, finally assisted by the Secretary (who seems an oddly elegant bureaucrat, bjut has strange affinities in her appearance and actions onstage with the role María Casares--who starred in Camus' plays and in his life--created in Cocteau's film 'Orfée,' the Princess or La Morte, Death, which Casares vaudevillized onstage in Paris in the 90s in George Tabóri's play 'Mein Kampf'). 

Théâtre de la Ville, as in its previous appearances for Cal Performances, dazzled the audience with its brillance at using all the means of ensemble acting, stylization, lighting, sound, technology, scenery and stagecraft to deliver the message and the complex experience of a play that is both allegorical and immediate, creating figures and scenes that embody a vision of humanity that ranges from the intimate to the social, from happiness to the anguish of death and dysfunction, decisively connecting what seem to be opposite extremes.

L’État de siège by Albert Camus in Berkeley

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:20:00 PM

Written in 1948 during Franco’s Fascist regime in Spain, Albert Camus’s L’État de siège (State of Siege) may have gained a new relevancy in Trump’s America. Brought to our shores by Théàtre de la Ville-Paris, State of Siege was performed October 21-2 under the auspices of Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall. Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota calls State of Siege “a grand allegory,” one that may help us face “the horrific perils such as we are now experiencing.” Though this play has clear albeit oblique references to both Fascist Spain and Nazi Germany, Camus’s State of Siege has eerie resonance in today’s world of Trump’s megalomania. Though nominally set in Cadiz, Spain, State of Siege offers a Kafkaesque view of totalitarian government everywhere it rears its ugly head. In some ways, this play reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984, for here too the meanings of words are turned on their heads. When a vote is scheduled in this play, one totalitarian functionary explains to another that the electorate is free. If they vote for the existing totalitarian government, he says, it proves they are free. If they vote against the oppressive regime, he says, it proves they are misled by sentimentality and are therefore not free. Such is the logic of dictators. I can imagine Trump saying this. 

When State of Siege opens, a comet dramatically roars overhead, frightening the locals, who superstitiously construe it as an ill omen. However, a local nihilist, appropriately named Nada, declaims to anyone who will listen that they are already in deep shit and don’t need a comet to bury them deeper in excrement. Nada, a frizzy-haired maverick played with great panache by Philippe Demarle, eagerly climbs a scaffolding to harangue the locals with his nihilism. Initially, Nada’s rant against superstitious fear of the comet and his assertion that he believes in nothing, strike a somewhat sympathetic note. Later, however, when the existing “do-nothing” government is overthrown by a usurper known as The Plague, we begin to see Nada’s nihilism in a different light. In fact, it is soon seen as fitting right in with the totalitarian regime instituted by The Plague. When the Plague’s secretary, an avatar of death played as a glamorous blonde bombshell by Valérie Dashwood, listens to Nada’s nihilist assertions, she says, “This one seems to be the kind that believes in nothing, and that kind always proved very useful to us.” As for The Plague himself, as played by Serge Maggiani, he speaks in a soft, oily voice, and, with a twinkle in his eye, he almost beguiles the locals into believing he has their interest at heart. The populace thus colludes in its own oppression. The plague is both a physical or medical epidemic and a psychological one, based on fear. If the populace fears becoming infected, they will blindly do whatever they are ordered to do by the authorities. The man called The Plague is the cruel embodiment of this regime based on fear. 

As staged by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, State of Siege is a profound experience of ‘total theatre’. Two years ago, Demarcy-Mota brought to Cal Performances his wonderfully provocative production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author. State of Siege is an even more provocatively physical production: it assaults our sensibilities with noise, movement, special effects, music, and even dance. (At one point, snatches of the instrumental opening bars of the aria “Casta diva” from Bellini’s opera Norma are heard, though why is an open question. Is it because The Secretary is about to proclaim all love-making prohibited? The words “Casta diva” mean “chaste goddess.) The Secretary also proclaims that everyone must obtain a Certificate of Existence, and to do so they must first obtain a Certificate of Health. When a citizen complains that he couldn’t get a Certificate of Health until being issued a Certificate of Existence, the totalitarian world-order takes on a distinctly Kafkaesque double-bind.  

Meanwhile, a pair of young lovers, Victoria and Diego, passionately plight their troth and initially obtain the permission to marry from Victoria’s father, the Judge. However, under the regime of The Plague, The Judge, played by Alain Libolt, does an about-face and rescinds his permission for them to marry. “The law is the law,” he states. Love is now outlawed, he sententiously points out. Victoria, played by Hannah Levin Seidermen, and Diego, played by Matthieu Dessertine, go back and forth over how to combat this regime that threatens to suppress their love. In the end, Diego joins up with a group of rebels who have fled Cadiz by moving to a ship offshore. There, on the open sea, beneath an open sky, they breathe the air of freedom denied by the “law of the land” in totalitarian Cadiz. For Camus, the sea and the sky allegorically present an infinite horizon of freedom. State of Siege can be seen as a cri de coeur for all rebels to return to nature for inspiration in their resistance to oppression.  

At Victoria’s urging, Diego overcomes his fear of being infected, and he realizes that the love he shares with Victoria is the root of everything that is morally right in this world. Thus, he must fight any totalitarian regime that seeks to deny love. Overcoming even the fear of death, Diego refuses to accept a compromise offered by The Plague and The Secretary. Holding Victoria hostage, they offer to release Victoria and spare Diego’s life only if Diego promises that he and his beloved will flee Cadiz and cease their rebellion, thus handing over Cadiz to the totalitarian authorities. Diego refuses this compromise, asserting that some causes are worth dying for. Realizing that their game is up, The Plague and The Secretary abdicate their rule over Cadiz, though they kill Diego in a parting shot even as they move on. As The Secretary says, “As long as I can remember, it has always been enough for a man to overcome his fear for the machine to start to go wrong.” The ‘machine’, as she calls it, is the plague of totalitarian rule. However, for Camus, the plague has no power over the man who claims his own freedom and the freedom of his fellow men. 

A Stunning Chopin Recital by Pianist Daniil Trifonov

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:23:00 PM

On Monday evening, October 30, Davies Hall was nearly filled to capacity with audiences who came to hear the much-heralded 26 year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov in a recital of works by Frédéric Chopin and various composers who were influenced by Chopin. Though this was not Trifonov’s first appearance in Davies Hall, (he performed with the San Francisco Symphony in 2014 as a Shenson Young Artist); Trifonov’s reputation has grown considerably in the ensuing three years, largely based on appearances at Carnegie Hall and in Los Angeles with Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In the January 9, 2017 issue of The New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross devoted an article to Daniil Trifonov in which Ross stated that, “What sets Trifonov apart is a pair of attributes that are seldom found in one pianist: monstrous technique and lustrous tone.” Ross also quoted no less an authority than Argentine pianist Marta Argerich as saying of Trifonov, “What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It’s also his touch -- he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.” 

Coming with such strong recommendations, Trifonov did not disappoint. Here is a pianist who combines awesome technique, formidable power, gorgeous tone, incredible delicacy, and acute sensitivity. To be sure, the highlight of Trifonov’s January 9 recital here was his consummate rendition of two major works by Chopin – the Variations in B-flat Major on Mozart’s “Là ci darem la mano,” Opus 2, and Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Opus 35. These works were performed in the recital’s second half, while the first half was devoted to a potpourri of works by various composers influenced by Chopin.  

I use the term ‘potpourri’ advisedly, for inexplicably – and unfortunately –Trifonov ran many of the works together in this half of the program. Thus, only the first piece heard – Federico Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin (1957) – and the last piece heard – Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin (1902) – stood out. Otherwise, one hardly knew when a piece by Schumann ended and one by Grieg began, or when Trifonov was playing Samuel Barber. When the pianist refuses to pause and acknowledge applause between one work and another, audiences can get lost. Even Tchaikovsky’s Un poco di Chopin, from Eighteen Pieces, tended to get buried in the shuffle. 

I personally found the opening work by Mompou delightful, though my seat-mate found it boring. Mompou, a Spanish composer who worked in Paris, based this set of Variations on Chopin’s familiar A Major prelude (Opus 28,no. 7). Mompou’s work also contains in the tenth variation a quotation from another well-loved Chopin piece, the Fantasie-Impromptu, Opus 60. As for the Rachmaninoff set of Variations, it was full of interesting turns, brilliant melodies, and chords sounding like the tolling of bells. Daniil Trifonov was perhaps at his best in this expansive work by Rachmaninoff. 

After intermission came the works by Chopin himself. His Variations in B-flat Major on Mozart’s “Là ci darem la mano” is a wonderfully inventive set of variations on that seductively simple melody. In this piece, Trifonov elegantly shifted gears from a delicate passage one moment to a thunderous passage requiring dazzling technique in the next moment. The word demonic comes to mind in Trifonov’s mastery of this piece associated with Mozart’s demonic Don Giovanni. The final item on this recital program was Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor (Opus 35). This work is most famous for the Marche funèbre, which Trifonov played with great solemnity. The Finale, marked Presto, was in Trifonov’s hands a whirlwind of energy, and it too had a hint of the demonic in it. To his utmost credit, Trifonov’s demonic element is all in the playing, not in any mannerisms or histrionics, and in this all-important respect Trifonov differs greatly from an earlier wunderkind pianist, Ivo Pogorelich. With Trifonov, happily, it’s all in the music and in its precise yet inspired execution.  

Daniil Trifonov will return to Davies Hall twice more in the 2017-18 season. On February 27 Trifonov will be joined by his teacher, Sergei Babayon, in a recital program for two pianos; and on June 22-24 Trifonov will join the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.