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DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: European Union Elections: A Crossroad

Conn Hallinan
Tuesday April 02, 2019 - 08:23:00 PM

As the campaigns for the European Parliament get underway, some of the traditional lines that formerly divided left, right and center are shifting, making it harder to easily categorize political parties. In Italy, a right wing coalition calls for a guaranteed income, larger pensions and resistance to the heavy-handed austerity programs enforced by the European Union (EU). In France, some right wing groups champion the fight against climate change, decry exploitation of foreign workers and growing economic inequality.

In contrast, Europe’s political center seems paralyzed in the face of growing disillusionment with the economic policies of the EU. Even the social democratic center-left defends doctrines that have alienated its former base among unions and working people, pushing such parties to the political margins.

If voters seem confused, one can hardly blame them, which is not good news for the left and the center-left going into the May 23-26 elections. Polls show center-right and center-left parties, which have dominated the EU Parliament since it first convened in 1979, will lose their majority. Parties that are increasingly skeptical of the organization may win as many as a third of the seats in the 705-seat body. 

However, “Euro-skeptic,” like “populist,” is a term that obscures more than it reveals. In the polls, the two are lumped together in spite of profound differences. The Spanish left party, Podemos, is not likely to break bread with Italy’s rightwing League/ Five Star alliance, but both are considered “Euro-skeptic.” Podemos, along with Greece’s Syriza, Portugal’s three party center-left alliance, and La France Insoumise (“Unbowed”) are critical of the EU’s economic policies, but they do not share an agenda with xenophobic and racist parties like the League, France’s National Rally—formally, National Front—and the Alternative for Germany (AfG). 

Which doesn’t mean that the upcoming election doesn’t pose a serious threat, in part because the Right has adopted some of the Left’s longstanding issues. 

In Italy, Mario Salvini, leader of the League, says the EU elections will be fought between a Europe “of the elites, of banks, of finance and immigration and precarious work,” and a “Europe of people and labor.” Take out “immigrants,” and the demagogy of the Right sounds a lot like something Karl Marx might write. 

In France, young right-wingers put out a lively environmental magazine, Limite, which wars against climate change. Marion Marechal Le Pen—granddaughter of Jean Marie Le Pen, the rightwing, anti-Semitic founder of the old National Front—rails against individualism and the global economy that “enslaves” foreign labor and casts French workers on the scrap heap. 

Of course, she also trashes immigrants and Islam, while advocating for a “traditional Christian community” that sounds like Dark Ages Europe. 

During the 1990s, the center-left—the French, Spanish and Greek socialists, the German Social Democrats, and British Labour—adopted the “market friendly” economic philosophy of neo-liberalism: free trade and globalization, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization of public resources, and “reforming” the labor market by making it easier to hire and fire employees. The result has been the weakening of trade unions and a shift from long-term stable contracts to short-term “gigs.” The latter tend to pay less and rarely include benefits. 

Spain is a case in point. 

On the one hand, Spain’s economy is recovering from the 2008 crash brought on by an enormous real estate bubble. Unemployment has dropped from over 27 percent to 14.5 percent, and the country’s growth rate is the highest in the EU. 

On the other hand, 90 percent of the jobs created in 2017 were temporary jobs, some lasting only a few days. Wages and benefits have not caught up to pre-crash levels and Spanish workers’ share of the national income fell from 63 percent in 2007 to 56 percent today, reflecting the loss in real wages. 

Even in France, which still has a fairly robust network of social services, economic disparity is on the rise. From 1950 to 1982, most French workers saw their incomes increase at a rate of 4 percent a year, while the wealth of the elite went up by just 1 percent. But after 1983—when neo-liberal economics first entered the continent—the income for most French workers rose by less than 1 percent a year, while the wealth of the elite increased 100 percent after taxes. 

The “recovery” has come about through the systematic lowering of living standards, a sort of reverse globalization: rather than relying on cheap foreign labor in places where trade unions are absent or suppressed, the educated and efficient home grown labor force is forced to accept lower wages and fewer—if any—benefits. 

The outcome is a growing impoverishment of what was formally considered “middle class”—a slippery term, but one that the International Labor Organization defines as making an income of between 80 percent and 120 percent of a country’s medium income. By that definition, between 23 and 40 percent of EU households fall into it. 

For young people, the “new economy” has been a catastrophe. More and more of them are forced to immigrate or live at home to make ends meet, putting off marriage and children for the indefinite future. 

This income crunch is adding to a demographic crisis. In a modern industrial society, the required replacement rate of births to deaths is 2.1. The world’s replacement rate is 2.44. If economies fall under 2.1, they are in for long-term trouble. Eventually the work force will be insufficient to support health care, education, sanitation, and infrastructure repair. 

The EU posts a replacement rate of only 1.57. Germany is one of the few EU countries that has shown a rise in the ratio—from 1.50 to 1.59—but that is almost completely due to the one million immigrants the country took in four years ago. 

The three countries that are leading the crusade against immigrants—Hungary, Poland and Italy—are in particular trouble. 

Hungary, where strongman Victor Orban has made immigration a central issue for his rightwing government, is struggling with a major labor shortage. Orban recently rammed through a law requiring Hungarians to work 400 overtime hours a year to fill the shortfall, and he has been berating Hungarian women to have more babies. 

In Italy, the rightwing League/Five Star Movement rode anti-immigrant rhetoric to power in the last spring’s election, but with a replacement ratio of only 1.31—the lowest in the EU—the country is losing the equivalent of the population of the city of Bologna every three years. All one has to do to see where this ends is to look at Japan, where an aging population has created such a crisis that the normally xenophobic Japanese are importing health care workers. China has similar demographic problems. 

Playing on fears of a migrant “invasion” alarms people, but is it an assured vote getter? In recent German elections, the AfG ran strong anti-immigrant campaigns but ended up losing badly to the Greens. The latter have a more welcoming posture vis-à-vis migrants than even the German Social Democrats. 

If Germany does not address the problem, its population will decline from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and the workforce will be reduced to 54 percent of the population, not nearly enough to keep the country’s current level of social spending. 

Much was made of recent electoral gains by the anti-immigrant neo-fascist Vox Party in Spain’s southern province of Andalusia, but if Spain does shut down the flow of migrants it will be in serious difficulty. The country’s population has declined since 2012, and there are provinces where the ratio of deaths to births is three to one. More than 1500 small towns have been abandoned. 

Polls indicate that immigration tops EU voters’ concerns, but just. It is only a few percentage points ahead of the economy and youth unemployment. 

The right—in particular Hungary’s Orban—has done a masterful job of tying “liberal” to the neo-liberal policies of the EU. Unfortunately, it is an easy argument to make. Most “liberals” in the west associate the term with freedom, democracy and open societies, but many people in the EU experience “liberal” as a philosophy of rapacious individualism that has dismantled social services, widened the gap between rich and poor, and enforced a system of draconian austerity. 

Of course Orban, Marine Le Pen, the League’s Matteo Salvini, and Germany’s AfG are interested in power, not the plight of the EU’s 500 million citizens. And for all its talk of resistance, the League/Five Star Movement government folded when the EU nixed an Italian budget that included a guaranteed income and higher pensions. 

Global migration is on the rise as climate change drowns coastlines and river deltas and drought drives people out of arid climates in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America. By 2060, as many as 3 billion people could be affected. 

Which argues that the Left and center-left has a responsibility not only to resist the economic philosophy that currently dominates the EU, but to see immigrants for what they are: potential allies and the future. 

As for the Right, it is useful to recall some not so ancient history. In 1934, the Nazi Party’s German Labor Front struck a medal that read “Tag Der Arbeit” (“The Day of Labor”) and featured a Nazi eagle grasping a swastika, each wing tip embracing a hammer and a sickle—but the first victims of the Nazis were communists and trade unionists. 


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













Comments on Senate Bill 50, Planning and zoning: housing development: incentives.

Dr. Peter Andersen, Professor of Communications, San Diego State University, retired
Tuesday April 02, 2019 - 09:39:00 PM

(This bill is co-authored by, among others,State Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks.)

Senate Bill 50 undermines CEQA. Projects may be exempt from the CEQA if they are in jobs rich or transit rich area or if they are in the 10% to 25% of the housing that can be built outside of job rich or transit rich areas.

The bill undermines general plans and eliminates future zoning and general plans that are inconsistent with this law

The bill changes the entire legal burden of proof from the developers to agencies (cities, counties, planning boards). These local entities have to prove in court that they are in compliance with law when disputes occur. This is like a person having to prove themselves innocent in court (which is logically impossible).

The bill conflates and mixes 3 different needs pretty randomly: homeless shelters, low income housing, and affordable housing in one bill where the rationale for each is very different.

The bill uses frighteningly vague and/or tautological in many sections. For example it defines housing as housing. It defines disapproval as disapproval. This fails freshman English or logic.

The bill is a major assault on neighborhoods of single family homes. Evidently living in a single family home, according to the bill, is a luxury we cannot afford in the alleged housing crisis. Indeed, the bill may have the perverse effect of people who want single family home moving out of cities into suburban sprawl developments. 

The bill requires an extremely short one to two month time period for the local agency to prove a development is bad. This is an impossible burden to put on already swamped local government agencies. 

The bill has no infrastructure requirements such as transit, schools, or parks. 

The bill provides no appropriations for the imposition of additional work and most importantly, no appropriation of additional infrastructure to support additional development. Transit should precede development. Indeed, the only mention of appropriation is for fines to local municipalities and counties. This is a large transfer of fiscal responsibility from the state to localities. 

There is no mention of new transit or transportation in the bill. It would be wrong to impose substantial new housing and density with no way to move people in and out of their community. They do try to channel funding into transit rich areas but new development could be in job rich areas with no transit, which would drive to people to cars. Moreover this is limited to rail transit and ferries, two modes of transportation that is unavailable in most areas of most California cities. Moreover, 25% of development can be outside transit rich areas with no limit on sprawl development. This a huge foot-in-the door to promoting sprawl with little or no environmental review, general plan, zoning regulations on such projects. 

If a development is within a .25 miles of transit there is no limit on the height of the building and no restriction of the floor area ratio. 

The bill never mentions sprawl, nor does it restrict sprawl. The only mention of sprawl is an unsubstantiated assertion in the preamble that discriminating against low income housing promotes sprawl. 


All Species Commission in Uproar at Berkeley Council Meeting

Bernard Marszalek, for a ludic society, http://ztangi.org
Monday April 01, 2019 - 09:56:00 PM

After a year of disputatious hearings, Berkeley’s All Species Commission has finally delivered a recommendation to City Council.

Another Berkeley First was the establishment, several years ago, of the All Species Commission (ASC). During its first year it provided guidelines for proper attire for dogs, regulated healthy pet food, monitored pet salons and motels, and issued licenses to pet-care providers.

It was one of the most successful new commissions established and the Mayor and City Council took great pride in their foresight and pioneering efforts to establish it and looked forward to other cities adopting a similar institution.

But in the autumn of 2017 things turned sour. An overflow commission meeting heard angry Berkeley residents vociferously complain about the over population of squirrels and crows that were harassing them. Not the least of the mischief was that squirrels were digging up the Resilience Gardens the City has been promoting with free seeds, compost and classes under the State’s Grow Your Healthy Food campaign.

And the crows have been disturbing residents’ Well-Being Regimen sponsored by the County Well-Being Agency (CWBA). Complaints had been pouring in to CWBA immediately after they launched their Morning Meditation Salons (MMS). These were held to train neighbors to meditate together early in the morning before work. But nobody could meditate with the constant daybreak aural assaults from hyperventilating crows. Quiet chirping of little birds would aid mediation, but the crows were like feathered soccer bullies.

One especially irate individual threatened to poison the squirrels and crows at a winter meeting of ASC and received a standing ovation from many residents in attendance. All hell broke out among the commissioners and they summoned the police to restrain the murderous resident. The officers who arrived refused to do so and instead threatened to arrest the apoplectic commissioners. Calm only returned to the hearing when MMSers in the audience positioned themselves between the commissioners and irate citizens and spontaneously began meditating as a group. 

That initial meeting was followed by more contentious ones, with pro and con positions increasingly polarized. After that first meeting, police presence was ordered by the City Manager. And at the subsequent meeting, the Mayor warned that police overtime was too costly and he would disband the commission if they could not conduct civil meetings. However, raucous meetings continued until the city summer break arrived and all commission meetings were suspended until the fall. 

During the summer, one commissioner took a long anticipated vacation to Alaska and while there had an epiphany upon viewing the numerous eagles. 

At the first autumn meeting, again filled with the usual contentious crowd, along with their contending picket signs, symbolic caps, scarves and chants. And, too, the bedraggled Mayor and Police Chief arrived ready to close the proceedings. The commissioner who had vacationed in Alaska took the floor to offer a solution. Rising slowly and unfurling a large photo of an American Bald Eagle, the commissioner quietly presented a remedy for an issue that tore apart the City for almost a year. 

“We are going to import six eagles equally gender divided and establish three nesting sites throughout the city. The eagles will dine on the squirrels and as a dominant bird chase all the crows to the neighboring town of Albany.” 

The audience was aghast. Some cried in appreciation of the ingenious solution, others quietly departed unable to mount an offense against the preeminent American symbol, and most applauded wildly, including the Mayor and the Police Chief. 

Author's Note: I have lived in Berkeley for over three decades and have attended numerous Commission Hearings. Berkeley’s commissions are citizen-staffed institutions that solicit community responses to current city-wide issues and send recommendations to staff in various city departments and to City Council and the Mayor. They are mainly an exemplary means to facilitate informed opinion as a basis for positive legislative outcomes. 



Just Too Simple a Solution?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 29, 2019 - 05:15:00 PM

There is general agreement in the Bay Area, or certainly in Berkeley, that we now have a shortage of housing for low-income people, even those who are fully employed. Today’s Chronicle reports that the median home purchase in Alameda County is now about $785,000, and in neighboring counties it’s over a million. And that’s the median. The rental situation is even worse, so many Bay Area workers are left out.

It’s tempting to believe we can build our way out of this situation, particularly if we took those beginning econ classes in high school or college. A little learning is a dangerous thing, but if you got into the more sophisticated realms, beyond that old hat neo-liberal trickle-down theory, you’d learn that it would take something like 50 years for the kind of apartments now being thrown up all over Berkeley to become available to the masses at affordable prices. Also, these shoddily built rentals can be expected to fall apart after about 40 years, so do the math. Yes, they do have marble counters in the kitchen, but they’re structurally shaky--remember Library Gardens.

Lately there’s been a lot of theorizing about novel ways to solve the Bay Area’s shortage of affordable housing. “Affordable” is a term of art fraught with peril, since in some definitions it means accessible to two-income families earning more than $100,000 a year. But even in those rare jurisdictions which mandate a $15/hour minimum wage (not yet Berkeley) that only adds up to $30,000/year from a single wage earner, many of whom are supporting dependents. Where are these families supposed to live? 

One reason that housing is expensive here is the shortage of buildable land in the Bay Area, constricted as it is by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Recently some Berkeley City Councilmembers have seized on the idea of rezoning single-family areas so that more homes can be added to already-developed neighborhoods. But UCLA Geographer Michael Storper commented that ”If you look at the bigger picture of economics and metropolitan growth, you’ll see that we need aggressive, ambitious policies aimed at, not just increasing housing density, but also inclusivity. No policy that doesn’t offer a substantial set-aside of housing at about half the market rate is going to have any chance of dealing with displacement in a meaningful way.” 

If you allow four homes to be built on a given lot, the land will become approximately four times as valuable. As a result, each home will cost more to build and therefore will need to sell for more. With the Bay Area’s current tech boom, ready buyers are easy to find no matter how much the price is inflated, so low-income workers are priced out. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could come up with a method of cheaply constructing small homes which could easily be placed on unused urban sites, and even moved around if better sites became available? There’s been a flurry of interest among architecture students and home builders in the idea of “tiny homes”, designed to be inexpensive and moveable, but only a few demonstration models have actually been built. 

Now, however, a group of forward-looking citizens has figured out how to get these homes. They’ve seized upon a truly practical idea. 

It’s called “buying an RV.” That’s right, practical moveable small homes have been been around for a long time, and they sell for a lot less than $700,000. 

Even before RVs (sold as “recreational vehicles” but livable all the time for many) added engines to the package, there were towable “mobile homes, which were called “trailers” in the olden days. 

They worked just fine. 

I know this because I spent a summer in a cute little trailer somewhat smaller than today’s RVs, with a two-year-old and a very tall husband, and I was 8 months pregnant to boot. This was in Bloomington, Indiana, where the temperature got up to 110 on occasions. With the addition of a beach umbrella and a couple of lawn chairs, we were comfortably housed. 

Last Tuesday a couple of hundred people, including me, wasted three or four hours of our lives listening to the City Council gnash their teeth about complaints that RV owners have been parking on Berkeley streets. Oh, the horror. 

The reported grievances boiled down to littering, parking violations and discharging human waste into storm sewers. All of these are amply covered by existing laws—why aren’t they just enforced? Why do we need new laws to drive the well-behaved residents away? 

Mind you, the complaining homeowners whose grievances were invoked were, with a couple of exceptions, nowhere to be seen. They appeared to be part of what Richard Nixon called The Silent Majority, per Wikipedia “an unspecified large group of people in a country or group who do not express their opinions publicly.” Such people have been alleged to live somewhere in the political cloud for most of my adult life, but I’m happy to say I've seldom if ever meet them in reality. 

Many of those who did speak in the public comment period at the council meeting on Tuesday were articulate Berkeley RV dwellers. They included a couple of the usual anti-social rowdies, but also a young African-American family who want to live in Berkeley because of the good schools, a recent student at U.C.’s Journalism School, a retired veteran and others, all part of what used to be a typical Berkeley mix. 

The saddest part of a dispiriting evening was comments from two well-dressed boys, perhaps 10 and 12 years old, bought to the microphone by their father. The younger one identified himself as an elementary school student, and said that a white RV which sometimes parked in front of his school frightened him so much that he needed to call his parents to walk him home much of the time. His brother, more of a middle school age, said that he also was frightened a lot of the time. 

Then the father stepped up and used his sons’ fearfulness to justify asking for a ban on RVs. It was a pathetic display of what seemed to be baseless anxiety. 

If we do nothing else, we need to open a dialogue between those who live in vehicles because they can’t afford other housing and the people whose houses (or schools) they park near. It sounds kinda corny,a cliché, but on Tuesday what kept running through my head was a line from Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address: there's nothing to fear but fear itself. 

Couldn’t one of those worried parents just knock on the door of the RV home and find out who lives there? Or wait until someone comes out and strike up a conversation? They might be surprised by what they'd find out. 

One of the best things about raising kids in Berkeley, I always thought, is that they learned to be comfortable with everyone, anywhere in the world. They’ve led interesting lives because of this. 

How deeply sad that these little boys have instead learned to be afraid. Is this what our children are learning these days? Rogers and Hammerstein got it right: they have to be carefully taught. 


Can we do better? 

And while we're at it, can we find a place for our friends who live in vehicles to park and live safely and legally? How about an RV/trailer park somewhere? 

The council voted 6-3 on Tuesday for a bad law full of loopholes which ultimately would drive RV dwellers out of Berkeley, though enforcement will be suspended until the staff comes up with a workable permitting scheme, which might be never. 

Thanks to Councilmembers Harrison, Davila and Robinson for holding out for a better solution. 













Public Comment

The "Missing Middle" Report and the Berkeley General Plan

Hon. Shirley Dean, former Berkeley Mayor
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:47:00 PM

Editor's Note: This open letter to the Berkeley City Council was originally submitted on March 24, 2019 before their March 26 meeting. Item 22 was postponed until 4/23, and Item 23 passed on consent.

Re: Council Agenda, March 26, 2019, Item 22, Missing Middle Report, and Item 23, Referral to the City Manager to Scope Process and Estimate Costs of a New General Plan

Since I will not be able to attend the Council Meeting to be held on this coming Wednesday, March 26, I am forwarding my thoughts on Item 22, the Missing Middle Report. I must say in the beginning that the four years I spent as a member of the Planning Commission and the then-named Board of Adjustments, 15 years as a member of the Berkeley City Council and eight years as Mayor, this item comes very close to being the most destructive of the quality of life for Berkeley residents that I have ever seen.

I well understand the need for housing in the East Bay and throughout all of California. However, those who seek to find a solution to the need for housing through a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not only fail in their quest to ‘fix’ the housing problem but also destroy existing livable communities. I believe a real solution can be found, but it must be carefully crafted to consider existing conditions and geography unique to a community and importantly, job availability in and near that community. Given recent scientific information that we have just 12 years before we face irreversible climate change, we must address land use with its closely related cousin, traffic congestion, immediately. 

I’ve lived in Berkeley for over 70 years and all during that time, Berkeley has had a “housing crisis.” The city’s response has been to allow small residential lot sizes as low as 2,000 ft, second units, ADUs, and increased density in our Downtown and along major commercial corridors – all of which have resulted in a city that is one of the most dense in the East Bay. Of course density isn’t the only factor that must be considered by planners, but it is interesting to note the following East Bay cities (with at least 50,000 in population) density numbers (people per sq mile) dating from 2016: 

Berkeley 11,580 

Alameda 7,437 

Hayward 3,507 

Oakland 7,528 

Fremont 3,010 

Richmond 3,652 

San Leandro 6,781 

And then the 2016 densities for the cities listed who are said to have initiated the missing middle approach: 

Minneapolis 7,664 

Houston, 3,842 

Chicago 11,883 

Portland 4,795 

And in six of the largest cities in the Silicon Valley area where most of jobs are: 

Cupertino 5,386 

Palo Alto 2807 

San Jose 5,808 

Mt. View 6704 

Santa Clara 6841 

Sunnyvale 6947 

Well, those are 2016 figures and there certainly have been some changes since then, but it gives one an idea of what is happening. Berkeley is already up there in density, but has it made any difference? People, particularly those with moderate and low incomes, throughout the region are driving long distances to their employment in the jobs being generated in the Silicon Valley increasing congestion and adding to the already high levels of greenhouse gasses, while cities like Cupertino joke about building a wall around their community. 

But existing density certainly isn’t the whole story by any means. Berkeley also has to consider that our city is bisected by the Hayward Fault that is predicted to be the most likely to have a 7.0 earthquake or over in the region. We also have National Geologic Survey mapped landslide and liquefaction areas, as well as CalFIRE designated high fire risk zones where homeowners are currently seeing their fire insurance policies cancelled. Most of the streets in the North Berkeley Hills are so narrow (less than 24 feet wide) that it currently is not possible at times for a fire engine to respond to a fire. Authorities are stating that The Big One or the predicted continuation of droughts will result not only in disastrous loss of life but the greatest losses to the local and regional economies ever experienced. 

With all of these conditions combined, it has not been denied that should Berkeley experience a fire fueled by the high loads of underbrush and trees that is currently expanding because of the recent rains, and driven by the easterly “Diablo Winds,” it will be near impossible to safely evacuate residents. Keep in mind that evacuation problems increase as the fire moves swiftly down the hills, more and more people must join the exodus. This is not just a problem with the hills – it’s a problem for all of Berkeley as the fires in the future will move more rapidly than ever before, and we know from recent years that most of the people who will die will be the elderly and disabled. 

So there needs to be a clear and convincing explanation given by each and every member of this City Council as to the specific reasons why each of you want to consider adding more and more density to Berkeley? 

Yes, we need to provide housing for the numbers of people that are here now. A good many of those people are students. It should be accepted that since the University invited them to attend this campus, the University should find a sufficient number of housing units that they can afford. I would strongly suggest the University consider the Chancellor’s House and surrounding land, all University parking lots (cutting down the number of faculty and staff cars entering the campus would be a plus in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions), increasing the density in Albany Village, using the Blake Estate, for student, faculty and lower income staff housing. If there isn’t enough available University land to accommodate the need, the University should adopt a policy to enroll and employ only the number for which they can provide the needed housing. Berkeley is the only campus in the UC system that is literally landlocked, the other campuses need to take up the slack, and yes, even create yet another campus. 

And while we are at it, how about those communities in Silicon Valley where the jobs are being required to provide the thousands of housing units that mesh with the numbers and types of jobs they are offering. Such a requirement would certainly tend to cut some of these long commutes that are generating the devastating climate changes we are all experiencing. The time has arrived for BOLD thinking that will actually make a positive difference in improving our lives and those of our children and grandchildren.  

As important as all of the above is to consider, it is equally important to understand that implementation of the “missing middle” will result in wholesale displacement of current affordable housing – both owners and renters. We talk about “Berkeley values” and certainly avoiding displacement and gentrification is high on that list. 

Developers are not all evil corporate types that want to build large apartment buildings. Many are ordinary people who want to make an investment for their future and turning a single family home into a duplex, triplex or fourplex is just the thing they want to do. You must know that is already happening. Currently elderly homeowners are being regularly approached by real estate people about selling their homes “as is.” We are seeing and experiencing more and more of that as many long-standing reputable real estate offices are being bought out by corporate interests, homeowners are aging and families are finding it harder and harder to live in congested, unfriendly cities. There is a constant drumbeat in the newspapers about the large numbers of people leaving the Bay Area for Colorado, Texas, Oregon and Nevada with some real estate offices actually specializing in helping people make such moves. We all know people who have left and as those properties are renovated, units expanded, some even become small condo complexes, the price goes up. I’ve never seen one go down, have you? And the face of Berkeley is changing as we lose our racial and economic diversitiy. This is happening and will accelerate and become the irreversible future forever if you pursue the proposed upzoning of our current R-1, R-1A, R-1 and R-2A areas. 

I’ve read the article written by Mayor Arreguin and Councilmembers Harrison and Hahn that was published in The Berkeley Daily Planet on March 22, 2019. I don’t disagree with their well-intentioned reasons why they want to amend Item 22. However, it seems to me that to carry out the process that they have outlined would be far, far better applied to Item 23, submitted by the Mayor to create a new General Plan.  

So, I wonder why not make the bold move to: dump Item 22; approve Item 23 to create a General Plan; hold the Regents’ and Chancellor’s feet to the fire on the current student housing issue by adopting and implementing policies to build student and other University related housing on campus land and curtail enrollment to match available affordable housing; persuade ABAG to allocate regional housing goals focused on those locations where jobs are being created; work to convince the State Legislature to change their one-fits-all approach to housing policies; create neighborhood compatible affordable housing on the North Berkeley and South Berkeley BART sites; and require affordable units within existing and proposed developments rather than paying in lieu fees. I urge the Council to consider taking these kinds of steps which will direct the City’s efforts to make Berkeley a livable community for everyone. That’s what good planning is all about, not just processing applications received from developers.  

Thank you for considering these views.  















Mike Zint No Longer Has a HUB Social Worker

Marcia Poole
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 01:55:00 PM

Greetings Mayor and Berkeley City Council members.

I appreciate the attempts all of you have made to solve the ever growing problem with our unhoused community. When I write to you, it is not with an adversarial attitude - it is with the desire to give you information that you may not have and that could help you redesign structures and policies.

Mike Zint is a friend of mine whom I feel very close to. I am aware of many of his health problems and often reach out to the City of Berkeley when I see Mike going through difficult times that the City could resolve. He has had 4 social workers through the HUB in the time that he has been housed by Berkeley at the border of Oakland and San Leandro. Some of these workers have been very helpful in temporarily resolving situations that have put him in great physical jeopardy. The last series of incidents involved the rains penetrating through his ceilings and walls and making his place uninhabitable. HUB and the City had his landlord, who they contracted with, repair the outside and then the inside of his apartment. He now does not live in a watery swamp, but he still has water coming out of the wall in an area of the bathroom. This has been ongoing for several months. The basic problem is that Berkeley contracted with a slum landlord who was being prosecuted by the City of Oakland for negligence in his maintenance of housing and who Oakland refused to do business with anymore. The same issues that Oakland saw arose for Berkeley with this landlord

Mike Zint has stage 4 emphysema and COPD and has great difficulty physically moving about. He now weighs under 100 pounds and is on medication to help him walk, talk and do the normal daily functions. The medicine works and he is able to live alone and get along. The problem, though, is the continual mold that seeps in through the walls and ceilings from the previous water damage. Berkeley's HUB attempted to move him to an apartment in Berkeley two months ago, but it fell through. Now, the social worker who was assigned to him has left the HUB and he has found himself with no worker and no one who is responsive to his needs. 

His lease renewal is coming up at the end of this month (March). His worker was trying to place him in Berkeley before the expiration of the current lease. Now, he has no worker and has to negotiate without the knowledge of what he legally should do in this situation and what is expected of him. Since the HUB appears to be in constant transition of workers, he and others who had a helpful social worker are again left stranded in untenable situations. 

I know Berkeley is trying to hire and train more social workers for the HUB, but since they are down to about one full time worker who has to deal with all of their placed clients, as well as help people that are constantly coming in seeking housing and coordination, I think Berkeley has found itself in a real bind that effects its ability to function. I am amazed that Berkeley's HUB has been able to operate at all, given the circumstances. We have a real emergency regarding the staffing of HUB and I wonder why they have such a turnover. Perhaps the social workers are overwhelmed by the work load (I would guess) and at some point see exit as their only solution. I don't know. But I do know that it is totally understaffed by trained personnel and that the housing situation will only get worse in Berkeley, not better. They need help. 

Please have someone contact Mike Zint (510.563.9162) and finally place him into an apartment where he is not so stranded and abandoned. Please help him do more than barely survive his living quarters. We could use his help in Berkeley as a conduit between the unhoused and the City workers who seek to help those in need. And please help the HUB by fully staffing them with qualified workers and not create burnout for the staff there

Election Day Holiday is Not a Good Idea

Kelly Hammargren
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:43:00 PM

tem 4 in the March 28, 2019 agenda for the Berkeley City Council Budget & Finance Committee Regular Meeting is Refer to the City Manager to Designate Election Day as a City Holiday sponsored by Council Members Robinson, Davila and Hahn.

I’ve been following national voting since 2011 when I realized that 58.2% of eligible voters did not vote in 2010. It was worse in 2014 when only 36.7 of eligible voters actually voted. 2018 was a record year for congressional elections with 50.3% voting. Donald Trump was elected by 27.2% of the voting eligible population. These numbers come from www.electproject.org a source that uses the voting eligible population not who is registered.

Designating Election Day as a holiday does not solve the underlying issues of why people do not vote. While making such a designation will carry drama and the City can pat itself on the back for creating such a holiday, there are unintended consequences.  

If one looks nationwide beyond voter IDs and voter roll purges, the 2016 and 2018 tactics that had the most impact in making voting more difficult to impossible for those who wanted to vote were:  

Eliminating or greatly restricting early voting Limiting the number of polling locations Providing an inadequate number of working voting machines/stations/ballots in relation to the expected number of voters  

If the real goal is to remove obstacles, then expanding early in person voting as a compliment to absentee ballots is an action to take. Make voting easier by investigating the feasibility of the City of Berkeley permanently providing early voting location(s). Develop an ordinance that is a model to ensure that the three maneuvers listed above are addressed and then lobby the State of California to extend voting hours on election day and extend voting to imprisoned felons. 

A holiday declaration is no guarantee that a voter will be free to exercise that privilege. There are a myriad of jobs that still require people to show up for work regardless of holiday designation.  

We should worry that other states and cities that do not have the California option of unrestricted absentee ballot designation follow Berkeley’s lead and use the Election Day Holiday to close down early voting and restrict absentee ballots to only the most severely disabled.  

Election Day as a holiday sounds so progressive as it is and has been promoted by presidential candidates. It is easy to get caught up in a holiday as a solution to low participation of eligible voters, but I would hope that this City looks deeper than promoting a solution that may be just one more holiday to make an out of town four day weekend, a longer vacation or super shopping promotion sale day.

Freelancing: The New Road To Poverty

Harry Brill
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:33:00 PM

The issue of worker exploitation refers obviously to the unfair treatment of employees, who are underpaid and given very few or no benefits. That doesn't only include employees on the payroll, but also refers to workers who are misclassified as independent contractors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, If workers were properly classified, the various additional costs to employers, including paid sick leave, medical coverage, and unemployment insurance, would be about 40 percent more. 

But in recent years there has been another unfortunate development, which involves working people who are neither on an employer's payroll nor misclassified. 

I am referring to the phenomenal increase in freelance workers. Just in the last four years, the number of freelancers increased by more than 8 percent compared to only a 2.6 percent for the entire U.S. workforce. These workers, rather than being employed by a company, are instead self-employed. This has been viewed by the mass media as a tremendous gain because so many working people have decided to set up their own business. 

For a long while, when our economy was expanding in ways that created new opportunities for workers, that perspective was appropriate. But no longer. Too many freelancers earn very little and receive no benefits from their clients. As the climbing number bankruptcies reveal, the chances of becoming a successful entrepreneur are very small. 

The advantages to the business community of doing business with freelancers are immense. Instead of maintaining a staff that receives regular, uninterrupted wages and benefits, they dole out work to freelancers at a relative low cost because the freelancers usually compete with other freelancers to obtain work. The lowest bidder typically gets the business. 

The number of freelancers exceeds 57 million, which is about 35 percent of the workforce. For many it is not their only source of income. But more than 15 million are now freelancing exclusively. The percentage who earn their living only by freelancing rose substantially during the last four years from only 17 to about 25 percent of all freelancers. This trend is likely to continue. 

Although many freelancers make a good living most are financially stretched. Two-thirds of freelancers have to dip into their personal savings at least once every month to pay their bills. That is three times more than non-freelancers. Except for very few freelancers, their work situation is unpredictable. They have to endure periods when they do not get any work at all. When work has not come their way, their income is zero dollars. Only their expenses remain. 

To obtain contracts for a particular assignment they often bid for jobs that are posted. One commentator noticed that bids could be made as low as one dollar an hour! Since they are not employees, the minimum wage laws do not apply. Obviously, the fierce competition for business between freelancers keeps the average income fairly low. In addition, many corporations don't pay their bills for as long as 45 to 60 days. The long waiting period is a burden for many of these workers. In fact, some business customers violate their contract by not paying at all. In the last year, 40 percent of freelancers reported that at least one of their customers failed to pay them. According to a study by the Freelancers Union, which represents many freelancers, the average freelancer is stiffed by businesses about $6,000 a year. 

Nevertheless, the number of freelance workers continues to increase. If present trends continue, freelancers will make up by 2027 a majority of the workforce. A combination of factors, including job loss, more employers are converting full- time to part- time jobs, and stagnant wages are forcing many workers to strike out on their own. But in this increasingly competitive environment, finding job assignments on a regular basis is very difficult. For most freelancers, their work is intermittent. 

Ironically, since freelancers are self-employed, they are not counted as unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics even during those period when they are not obtaining any work despite their efforts. This anomaly contributes to understating the official unemployment rate. 

There is an important lesson to learn from the experience of most freelancers. For the vast majority of working people, individualistic rather than collective solutions do not work in the current economic environment. What gave working people a tremendous advantage in the past was adopting mainly collective rather than individualistic alternatives, particularly by organizing and working with labor unions. Workers cannot generally make major achievements by just working alone. They must continue their collective efforts on behalf of ALL workers -- no tribal stuff -- to improve their standard of living and quality of life

Boat Night at the City Council

Carol Denney
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:20:00 PM

The frustration of RV and tent dwellers trying to keep their jobs, school schedules, and families together hit a peculiar peak on Tuesday, March 26th, 2019, when a small item about obtaining a grant to address a couple dozen abandoned boats was suddenly championed as a solution to homelessness. 

Be careful what you ask for, was all some observers could think. There's nothing some of the Berkeley City Council would like better than to sell you a permit to live in a broken boat at the bottom of the bay. 

This is the frustration which will be harnessed to grease the path for the "missing middle" campaign to dissolve zoning protections and load every available space with the new definition of housing, where the bathroom, kitchen, heat, and windows are considered fussy over-reach and developers without constraints suddenly are hip-deep in a lot more land to monetize. 

Without honest rent control the person who moves in isn't the guy who's managed to keep his job at Trader Joe's while living at the HereThere tent village. It'll be the tech worker - again. It'll be the people who think stepping over prone bodies on the way to the Eazybaked concert is just the way it is. 

So watch what you ask for. You want your city staff to leverage grants to recycle old boats, you really do, before some do-gooder makes a slow leak of toxic materials worse. And just as with "tiny" homes, there's no ceiling at present on what a canny developer will charge for a breadbox. 

The best suggestion I've heard regarding "infill", which is ravaging the neighborhoods around me without addressing affordability at all, is to hook any approval or permit both to current habitability standards (which require heat, cooking and sanitary facilities, a window, etc.), and make sure any "missing middle" housing is affordable to anyone living on the minimum wage.  

If this is honestly about addressing the housing crisis, instead of soaring profits, then let's make sure the most vulnerable to the housing crisis are part of the picture. 



April Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Tuesday April 02, 2019 - 08:56:00 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! 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Resolving Problematic Behavior--What It Takes

Jack Bragen
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:29:00 PM

For me at least, not speaking for anyone else, I have had moderate behavior problems that were solved by an understanding of the consequences of the behaviors. 

The above is not absolute. In some instances, I changed how I behaved because I gained the insight that what I was doing was wrong. In other instances, I experienced negative consequences and I realized that if I continued, I would have worse consequences. 

Definition of Insanity: "Doing the same thing and expecting different results." A widely thrown-about truism--even a cliché. In some instances, this is not applicable. If you want to be a writer or an actor, or if you want to pursue anything that's hard, you need to persist, even to the point of apparent senselessness. However, the above saying is more applicable to "negative" and detrimental behaviors. 

For example, now I am struggling with confronting my tobacco smoking addiction. I am at a point where I have no acceptable way of smoking cigarettes. I am not at able to give you the details. However, the incentive is big enough that, so far, I've been able to cut my consumption of cigarettes by half. 

If you give someone a big enough incentive to change what they are doing, it is more likely they will change what they are doing. The prerequisite is that the person's thinking must have a good enough level of clarity. I haven't always had this clarity. Compliance with treatment, cognitive techniques, and a lot of deep thought have furnished me with more clarity than I once didn't have. When I gain the insight that a behavior doesn't work, it is the first step toward addressing that behavior. 

Jack Bragen's books are available on Amazon and through other vendors.

ECLECTIC RANT: Mueller Investigations and Election Security

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:38:00 PM

It is much too early for Trump and his supporters to be gloating about the Mueller Report's conclusions as spun by Attorney General’s William Barr’s summary. What is needed is the full Mueller Report with all the underlying support. Then we can all objectively decide. Regardless, Trump is unfit for office. 

The Mueller investigation did indict 26 Russian nationals and three Russian companies. These indictments provide additional support for the Intelligence Community Assessment report on Russia's consistent goals "to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” This was done through cyberattacks and Russia’s state-run propaganda. For example, attacks were made into voter databases and software systems in at least thirty-nine states. In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber hackers tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. 

Now we have been alerted to the vulnerabilities of our election systems, including the relative ease of voting machine hacking, threats to voter registration systems and voter privacy, and foreign disinformation campaigns aimed at confusing voters and inciting conflict. We have very limited time to address election security vulnerabilities before the 2020 presidential election.

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:23:00 PM

I recently spotted another sign that BART is becoming increasingly "streetified." 

Originally, a pristine refuge for work-bound commuters, BART has now become part of the extended urban stage. Today's riders routinely encounter any number of social justice intrusions—from homelessness, to hygiene, to high-heads, to homicides. 

And now, we've got anti-BART posters appearing inside the BART cars. 

Case in point: Numerous smaller-than-a-dollar-sized mini-posters can now be spotted calling attention to a recent "police homicide" on the BART system. The posters read: "Justice for Sahleem Tindel. Killed by BART Police. Joseph Mateu, Murderer." 

The first one I spotted was perfectly located. It was pasted onto a Vimeo ad that read: "How to reach your audience, everywhere, all at once." 

Warren Speaks Her Peace 

I first heard Elizabeth Warren speak on the UC campus in Pauley Ballroom when Warren was the keynote speaker at the 2010 Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. 

I found Warren to be warm, self-effacing, intelligent, engaging, intensely human, and fiercely committed to seeking out injustice and righting wrongs for people abused by the powerful, be they banks or political regimes. (You can see the video of the event by clicking here.) 


During her March 11 Town Hall appearance on CBS, Warren set an insurgent tone in the first minutes, spurning the programmed format of a two-seat back-and-forth conversation with Jake Tapper. Instead, Warren abandoned her chair, walked away from Tapper, and strode to the edge of the stage to get closer to the audience. That was body language with a message. 

Warren managed to greet nearly every questioner by name and fixed her stare on each speaker with the eager intensity of a puppy waiting for the chance to charge after a tossed ball. 

While Donald Trump's body language has all the allure of a parked truck (and his boringly repetitive hand-signs prominently feature the covert circled-thumb-to-forefinger evocation of the White Power movement) Warren raced about the stage like a wind-up toy, shooting off ad-libs and seasoned jabs while outlining a series of what seemed like around 40 progressive action plans. She owned the stage and had a bill-of-sale for the TV screen as well. 

When it was over, I turned to a friend and exclaimed: "Elizabeth Warren makes Ellen DeGeneres look like a wallflower." 

Why Warren Doesn't (Yet) Have My Vote 

Before Warren's Town Hall debut (in response to an invitation from Warren's campaign to suggest topics for the candidate to address), I sent the following note: 

Please support Tulsi Gabbard's call to challenge militarism. Stop "forever wars" and illegal "regime change" interventions. Challenge the Pentagon's wasteful—and unaudited—spending. Demilitarize our economy and foreign policy. Call out the powerful corporations that profit from war. Redirect Pentagon funding to support public health, education, safety, housing, and environmental restoration. Instead of Trump's "Space Force," call on the Pentagon to create an "Earth Force" that will respond to help "homeland communities" destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and drought. Instead of dropping bombs, the Pentagon could be planting trees. That would be a practical response to the goal of achieving "national security." 

Bernie Badgers the Bombmeisters 

After intense lobbying from anti-war organizations, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has belatedly added a critique of the Military-Industrial Complex to his political platform and issued a call for tapping military funds to finance much-needed social programs. On the same day that Warren made her Town Hall appearance, Sanders issued a critique of Trump's proposed FY 2020 budget that read, in part: 

"At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined, Trump is proposing an $861 billion increase in base defense spending over a 10-year period. And he proposes to pay for it by cutting over $1 trillion from education, affordable housing, nutrition assistance and the needs of working families over a 10-year period. Trump’s proposed increase in base Pentagon spending could make public colleges and universities tuition-free over the next decade. This is a budget for the military industrial complex, for corporate CEOs, for Wall Street and for the billionaire class." 

Is Trump Targeting SNL or TLS? 

I think I just realized what's behind Donald Trump's ridiculous threat to have Saturday Night Live investigated for Alec Baldwin's mocking impersonation of the "Mango Mussolini's" White House antics: 

It's all just a plot designed to insult Late Show host, Stephen Colbert.  

Attacking Baldwin while ignoring Colbert? That's like seeing Glenn Close come that close to winning the Best Actress Oscar. That's got to sting.  

De-Nuke the Chron's Coms 

Do we need a campaign to denuclearize the Chronicle's comic strip pages? I'm pondering this out of concern about the psychological impact of Lio, the wordless comic strip kid who enjoys terrorizing classmates with giant robots, hanging out in graveyards with his pet squid, juggling skulls and femurs with the Grim Reaper, and making light of global apocalypse by fetishcising about atomic bombs. 

On March 19, for instance, Lio was shown happily pedaling his tricycle across his front yard hauling a cart carrying a small, nuclear-armed missile. Left behind on his door was a sign reading "Out to launch." 

Some people (myself included) tend to feel that nuclear bombs are no laughing matter. But Lio doesn't just play games with toy bombs: the strip frequently features drawings of nuclear explosions erupting in the background. While I haven't done a rigorous check, I'd wager that, to date, Lio has "detonated" more nuclear bombs that Kim Jong-un. 


NO-TO-NATO Protests in DC March 30 thru April 4 

According to the United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) Coordinating Committee: "The threat of war hangs over the world. The NATO war alliance is at the center of that threat—from the seemingly never-ending wars by NATO powers in the Middle East, to the burgeoning, new nuclear arms race."  

Trump has called for a $750 billion surge in war spending—funded by cuts in social spending—at a time when NATO’s reach is expanding far beyond its provocative encirclement of Russia and now seeks its first South American beachhead in Colombia. Add in US military expansion across Africa (under the banner of AFRICOM) and you have around 1,000 US/ NATO bases installed in more than 70 foreign nations. 

While NATO pretends to be dedicated to a "peace-keeping mission," it has repeatedly breached international law to invade and attack more than a half-dozen countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO's wars have targeted civilians and cities, adding to the growing global refugee crisis. 

The presence of US troops and weapons frequently violates the laws and sovereign rights of smaller nations and can impose devastating health and environmental impacts on nearby communities, exposed to aircraft noise and chemical pollution.  


NATO is coming to Washington DC in April to "celebrate" its 70th birthday and it will be met by an "unwelcoming committee" of anti-war organizations. The week-long span of protests will begin on March 30, with a "US Hands Off Venezuela" march by a broad anti-war coalition. 


No-to-NATO protests are being held around the world—in Belgrade, Canada, Norway, and Italy. In the US, the capitol protests will begin with a March 30 rally at Lafayette Park followed, on March 31, by an Anti-NATO conference and a Concert for Peace. 

On April 2, there will be a "Yes to Peace and Disarmament Counter-Summit. On April 4, the Black Alliance for Peace will host an evening summit to "End Militarism and War." Events continue through April 5, with a series of demonstrations, concerts, conferences, speakers, art displays and nonviolent civil disobedience. 

UFPJ notes that NATO's celebration of war constitutes "a special act of desecration" given that "NATO chose to celebrate itself . . . on the anniversary of the assassination of one of our country’s greatest champions of peace and social justice, Martin Luther King, Jr." A special event celebrating Dr. King is set for April 4 with a tentative march from the MLK Memorial to Freedom Plaza. 

For all the details on the various protests and events now being planned, check out these sites:  




PS: World BEYOND War recently hosted a No-to-NATO Webinar. One of the participants was Anna Maria Gower, Serbian-British artist now based in Berkeley. As a child growing up in Belgrade, Gower survived NATO's bombing of the capital. You can watch the webinar here. 

CODEPINK Calls Out California Congressman 

In his campaign literature, California Congressman Pete Aguilar (31st District, San Bernardino) is hailed as an advocate "for affordable health care and quality education," a politician who has "protected the health care of ALL Americans [and] . . . uplifted the voices of every American family." 

CODEPINK is not impressed. In the run-up to the 2018 election, CODEPINK reports, Aguilar's Peace Action voting record was only 18%—"the worst of all House Democrats." Moreover, Aguilar accepted "$173,000 in legal bribes from the Military Industrial Complex for his 2018 election campaign, the 7th highest amount among House Democrats." 

Let's Replace the "Selectoral College" with Real Democracy 

Elizabeth Warren and a growing crowd of progressives have joined the call to replace the Electoral College with direct, popular, democratic elections. 

The Bold Progressives organization makes a convincing argument by noting that, if our presidents had been chosen by popular vote: 

• George W. Bush and Donald Trump would never have been president. 

• The Iraq War would not have happened. 

• We would have made big progress on climate change and green energy. 

• Trillions of dollars wouldn’t have been squandered on tax giveaways to billionaires and big corporations. 

•The Supreme Court might have 8 justices appointed by Dems. (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh were all appointed by Bush and Trump.) 

Here's the Bold Progressives' remedy: "Every Democrat running for president in 2020 should be standing alongside Elizabeth Warren in calling to eliminate the Electoral College so the popular vote determines the next president -- and pass a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right of every American to vote." 

There's also an online petition campaign calling for replacing the Electoral College.

Arts & Events

Garrick Ohlsson in an All-Brahms Recital

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:19:00 PM

I always enjoy hearing pianist Garrick Ohlsson, and it doesn’t matter much what music he plays. However, when it comes to piano music by Johannes Brahms I can’t say my enjoyment is anywhere near its peak. Not counting the two piano concertos, Brahms’ writing for piano almost invariably strikes me as learned, perhaps erudite, but rarely thrilling. This was the case in the all-Brahms recital performed, albeit quite brilliantly, by Garrick Ohlsson on Thursday, March 28 at Herbst Theatre.  

Ohlsson opened the program with the youthful Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Opus 2 by Brahms. For his first works to be published, Brahms chose the two piano sonatas, Opus 2, written when he was a few months short of 20 years old. In the F-sharp minor sonata, we encounter the work of an ambitious young composer trying his best to come on strong. This sonata is extremely dramatic from the outset, as Brahms hammers away with octaves and dense chords. Here is the Brahms who was dubbed “the young, heaven-storming Johannes.” He seems to be trying to outdo Beethoven at Beethoven’s own game. To me, however, it reeks of an academic attempt at emulation. One may credit Brahms for aiming high, but for me this youthful Brahms sonata never caught fire. No matter how much I admired Garrick Ohlsson’s technical virtuosity and rigorous musicianship, the writing itself never caught my imagination. 

Interestingly, what for me was the highlight of the concert was the second of Six Piano Pieces (Klavierstucke), Opus 118, composed by Brahms in his late years (1892-3). The Intermezzo in A Major was a simple, lilting lullaby. There was no effort here to show off erudition or arcane musical structures. Here Brahms relied solely on a lovely melody, and he brought it off beautifully. As did Garrick Ohlsson. The following Ballade in G minor, however, took us back to the thundering Brahms of his youthful compositions. Here, too, one had to admire Garrick Ohlsson’s masterful handling of stormy, difficult music; but I can’t say I found this piece enjoyable, much less thrilling. Likewise for the following three works that rounded out the Six Piano Pieces, Opus 118.  

After intermission, Garrick Ohlsson performed another late work, Three Intermezzi, Opus 117, composed in 1892. Brahms himself called these pieces “Lullabies of my pain.” The first Intermezzo is in fact a lullaby, but it is a strangely sad lullaby. It is as if this lullaby was written to put one to sleep in order to withdraw from life’s troubles! The second Intermezzo is austere, bleak, and wistful. This is autumnal music in every sense of the term. The third and final Intermezzo is almost a funeral march. In all, these Three Intermezzi, Opus 117, struck me as perfect music to accompany Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame (Fin de Partie). Although beautifully performed by Garrick Ohlsson, this is hardly endearing music, much less enthralling.  

The final work on the program was a youthful piece by Brahms, Variations and Fugue in B-flat Major on a Theme by Handel, Opus 24. Written in 1861 when the composer was 28 years old, this set of variations is, once again, erudite but hardly enthralling. Set beside the jaw-dropping intellectual rigor of Bach’s Goldberg Variations or of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, these Brahms Variations pale in comparison. They are academic in the extreme, and though mildly entertaining and requiring considerable technical virtuosity from the pianist – expertly performed here by Garrick Ohlsson -- they just don’t grip the listener.  

I must say, however, that the Herbst Theatre audience gave Garrick Ohlsson thunderous applause when he completed the fugue that concludes these Variations on a Theme by Handel. To me, Ohlsson was more impressive than Brahms. Oh, and by the way, the encore Ohlsson played was, thankfully, not by Brahms. It was Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2. Now this was enthralling music! 

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, March 31-April 6

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:02:00 PM

Worth Noting and Showing Up:

Tuesday – The City Council agenda includes a proposal for a Vehicle Dweller program. People living in RVs includes children in our schools, workers in our city. With 89% of Berkeley rents > $2000/month* and a full time $15/hour job paying $2,600/month before any withholding, it should be clear why people are living in vehicles. The people who don’t have enough resources for vehicle sheltering are in tents, shelter beds, doorways and literally on the street.

Wednesday – The Planning Commission hearing on moving lot lines on contiguous properties a tactic being used to game-the-system/avoid paying the full affordable housing fees (In Lieu Mitigation Fee) to the City or include affordable units in for sale condominium projects.

Wednesday - David Brower Center – Panel on California’s Drinking Water Crisis

Thursday – The Housing Advisory Commission has a full agenda of important issues.

Saturday – Berkeley Portrait Project Opening at the Brower Center

Sunday, March 31, 201

No City meetings or events found

Monday, April 1, 2019 

Personnel Board, 7 – 9 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Conference Room, Agenda: Requests for extension of Temporary Animal Services Assistant and Provisional Accounting Office Specialist III, 


Closed Session Police Review Commission – Board of Inquiry, 5:30 pm, at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: Complaint #2449 


Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 5 – 6 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain Cancels 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 

Berkeley City Council, Tuesday, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 1231 Addison Street, BUSD Board Room, Agenda: Consent Calendar: 2. Contract - Shattuck reconfiguration, 3. Budget referral year-round opening West Campus Pool, 5. Opposition to ACSC to Eliminating Settlement Conferences for Unlawful Detainer Cases, 7. Public Outreach and Educational Meetings on Electrification, Action Calendar: 13. Funding Eviction Defense Center and East Bay Community Law Center, 14. New Marina Fee, 15. DEIR Upper Hears and 2020 Long Range Development Plan, 16. Cannabis, 17. Vehicle Dweller Program, 18. a.& b. Safe Lead-Paint Practices 


Wednesday, April 3, 2019 

Board of Library Trustees, 6:30 pm at 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, Agenda: Consent:III.B. Holiday and Early Closing Schedule, C. Reappoint Diane Davenport, Action: IV. A. Budget, B. Search firm to Recruit Director 


Commission on Disability, 6:30 – 9 pm at 1326 Allston Way, Willow Room, Public Works Corporation Yard, Agenda: 1. Secretary accessibility concerns, 2. IKE Smart City Kiosks, 4. Wheelchair charging facilities, 5. RV parking, 6. Coordination with Zero Waste Commission for efforts affecting disabled, 7. San Pablo Ave. Plan, 8. Navigable Cities 


Public Works Commission – Paving Subcommittee – 12 -1 pm, at 1947 Center St, 


Planning Commission, 7 – 10 pm at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 9. Public Hearing on Eliminating residential Off-Street Parking Requirements for all new dwelling units in the R-S (Residential Southside), 10. Public Hearing on Amendments to Inclusionary Housing Regulations (moving lot line on contiguous lots under common ownership), 11. Policy Referral Matrix 


Senior Wellness Fair: Homerun to Wellness, 10 am – 1 pm, at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center 


California’s Drinking Water Crisis, 6 – 9 pm, at David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, free – RSVP, https://browercenter.org/exhibitions-programs/programs/ 


Thursday, April 4, 2019 

Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment & Sustainability Committee, 2 pm, at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room 1st Floor, Agenda: 2. a. & b. Green Stormwater Infrastructure, 3. Considering Multi-year Bidding for Street Paving,  


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Habitable and Sustainable Housing Committee, 5:30 pm, at 2001 Center St, Law Library 2nd Floor, Agenda: 5. Improving resilience 


Cannabis Commission, 2 – 4 pm, 2180 Milvia St, 6th Floor, Agenda: VII.A Youth use cannabis studies, C. Mission statement, D. Work plan 


Housing Advisory Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 5. Possible Subcommittee for a. City-Owned Property 1281 University, b. Housing Trust Fund, 6. Presentation Education/Workforce Housing Initiatives by BUSD & BeHome Berkeley, 7. Possible recommendation to revise Housing Trust Fund Guidelines, and BUSD predevelopment Grant for Local Teacher Housing, 8. Possible Recommendation on Operating Funds for Community Housing Development Organizations, 9. Predevelopment Loan Proposal for 2527 San Pablo (SAHA), 10. Bi-annual Housing Policy Report, 11. Social Housing Summit, 


Landmarks Preservation Commission, 7 – 11:30 pm at 1947 Center St, Multipurpose Room, Basement, http://www.cityofberkeley.info/landmarkspreservationcommission/ 

1619 Walnut – designation landmark or structure of merit 

2018-30 University – exterior alterations 

1915 Fourth St – exterior alterations 

2019-2020 – CLG Grant Application 

Berkeley Rose Garden 



Friday, April 5, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 

Saturday, April 6, 2019 

Berkeley Portrait Project Opening, 6 – 8 pm, at 2150 Allston Way, the Brower Center, 


Berkeley Bay Festival, 11 – 4 pm, at Shorebird Park Nature Center, 180 University 


Sunday, April 7, 2019 

350 Bay Area Action Legislative Committee, 1 – 3 pm, at 2530 San Pablo, Sierra Club Bay Chapter Office, limit 30 (small room) – use link to sign-up 




Source for Berkeley Rents in Worth Noting comments 

* https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/ca/berkeley/ 


Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

1722 Walnut – rescheduled – 4-23-2019 

1050 Parker – Parker – Medical Office Building - 4-30-2019 

2700 Tenth – Pardee Parking Lot - 4-30-2017 

1444 Fifth St – 4 single family dwellings - 5-14-2019 



To Check For Regional Meetings with Berkeley Council Appointees go to 



To check for Berkeley Unified School District Board Meetings go to 





This meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 


When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY